Spotlight: Betsy La Honta, Product Developer in the Maker World
Betsy La Honta grew up in a home filled with creativity and the supplies to take time to play. She is now product developer for C&T Publishing and gets to play and test new items for her job. Her latest journey has been developing patterns and ideas to use kraft-tex, a durable cellulose material that is perfect for making bags and other craft items.
How did you get into what you do creatively?
I don’t think there was ever a time when I wasn’t doing something creative, so it’s just been a journey and evolution from one type of thing to another. (I prefer to think of it as a journey rather than not being able to stick to one thing.)
When you design something, what questions do you ask yourself?
I usually start by figuring out what my goal is for that particular project. For example, if I’m working on a bag design, what’s the purpose of the bag? How will it be used? What features will it need to be the most useful? Are there features I can add that will make it fun and different, but that are still doable for the average sewist on a home machine?
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Sew Kraft-tex Bags: Tips & Techniques for Working with Kraft Paper Fabric?
“You can do it!” I love kraft-tex and want to help people understand how to work with it–it’s really not hard, I promise!–and to gain the confidence to dive in and give it a try. It’s really easy to use and you don’t need any special tools. And hopefully, since we’ve made all the mistakes you can make, we’ll steer you clear of those. We want to just give you the information you need to successfully make your kraft-tex bags.
How did you decide which bags would be good candidates for a Kraft-tex transformation?
Fortunately we have a great selection of bag designs to choose from in our previously published books, so it was a matter of going through and selecting a good variety of bags of varying sizes, uses, and construction skill level.
We also wanted to have some bags that used a lot of kraft-tex and some that used a little, so that even if you only had a small-ish piece (or perhaps leftovers from another project) there would be a pattern in the book you could try.
Kraft-tex works so well when combined with fabric that we looked for bag designs that had the best opportunity for substituting sections of fabric with kraft-tex. (And it doesn’t work well for things like gathers and pleats, so we generally avoided patterns with those types of details.)
While working on the Kraft-tex bags in the book, what other uses for the material came to mind?
I think it would be great for mixed-media and bookmaking and I’m thinking about trying some of those types of projects myself!
What is Kraft-tex, and what are your top three tips for working with it?
Kraft-tex is a cellulose material—basically paper—that is very strong, flexible, washable and dryable. My top three tips are:
- If you’re going to be sewing with it (and some people don’t) be sure to wash it first at least once (twice is better) or use the Pre-washed version of the kraft-tex. It is stiff in the unwashed form and any pattern you’re making where you’ll be turning it inside-out (like a bag pattern) is WAY easier if you’ve got some flexibility. (Ask me how I know!)
- There’s nothing intimidating about it so don’t worry about having any special tools or skills. Try a project or a pattern, use the tools you have and have fun!
- Experiment and share what you make and learn! Kraft-tex hasn’t been available as a craft material all that long and we’re still learning as we go. We’d love to hear from people about their projects and creative explorations.
In your day job, you work in Product Development at C&T Publishing. Does that mean that you get to play with lots of new creative toys? What do you look for in new products?
I wear a lot of hats at C&T, Product Development being one of them, and I’d have to say it’s definitely a fun part of the job! And yes, I do get to see all kinds of fun, creative “toys” and ideas.
Basically, we’re looking for products that fit our mission, which is to innovate, educate and create. We’re looking for products that can either inspire you creatively, teach you something, or provide a new and/or easier way to do something. (Or all three!)
What is your studio like? How is it organized?
I’m very fortunate that my husband (in the interest of domestic harmony) constructed a “shed” for me in the backyard. (I think having piles of projects scattered throughout the house was getting on his nerves.) It’s one large room with great light, piles of fabric, art and craft supplies and lots of peace and quiet. It’s definitely my “happy place.”
And I wish I could tell you how it’s organized, but sadly it’s not. (Unless random piles on every horizontal surface, including the floor, count as organization.) It seems like I’m constantly working frantically towards some deadline so there is very little organizing going on…it’s usually just a big mess!
What tools and materials are most important in your studio? How do they improve your work?
When I’m working on kraft-tex projects my most important tools are my rotary cutter and rulers, my Clover Wonder Clips, a bone folder, a good pair of scissors and my sewing machine. I find it’s a lot like cooking…there are probably half a dozen things I use all the time (and would need if ever stranded on a desert island) and the rest is just “nice to have”.
Good quality, solid, basic tools make all the difference in the quality of your work and your frustration level when working on a project.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
The background noise varies depending on my mood. It’s often music of some sort because I’d get WAY too distracted by movies or audiobooks. Sometimes I’ll have sports on the TV and sometimes I just prefer peace and quiet.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?
I usually do have a finished product in mind, but the end result often ends up a lot different that what I had planned. I’m always learning a lot as I go through the design process and sometimes the idea I have in my head just isn’t possible with the tools and/or materials I have on hand and I find I’ve worked my way towards a design that just doesn’t work. I then have to re-evaluate, re-work and try to get there from another angle. (I rip out a LOT of seams.)
I’ve learned to use really inexpensive materials for the first couple of rounds of designs. (I like to use drop cloths from the hardware store because they’re fairly heavy and I can make notes and take measurements right on the material as I’m working.)
How many UFOs do you think you have?
I try not to think about it, but since you’re asking, there have to be dozens…
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I’m very fortunate that at least a part of my job does involve creating so I get to spend part of my “work life” doing that. But for personal projects, yes, I’d love to create daily but the reality is that days (even weeks) can go by when I don’t get a chance to head out to the “shed” for some creative time. (I can get pretty grouchy by that point.) It’s definitely one of my goals to do something (anything) creative on a daily basis, even if it’s just a small thing.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
I think we’re all born with a curiosity and openness that naturally encourages creativity and we can lose that over time as we learn to operate in the “real” world. The key to encouraging your creativity is letting go of all the stuff that’s holding you back. Some people are more comfortable being “creative” in that way. But I definitely believe that anyone with the desire to tap into that part of themselves can develop those skills with some dedicated time and effort.
When did you first realized that you were creative? What did you make?
My mom was a very talented artist and craftsperson and was always trying new things. She encouraged her kids to do the same. So creativity was a given in our house. I didn’t realize until much later that not everyone had weaving looms in the dining room, or macramé projects on the wall or pretty much unlimited access to art and craft supplies. I was definitely more inclined towards sewing and the art projects. (A new box of 64 Crayola crayons was my idea of heaven.) Anything that took large amounts of patience (knitting!) were NOT my thing.
Which current trends are you following?
Mixed-media, watercolor, non-knitting (Knitting with your fingers? Cool!), anything having to do with colorful, fun and happy!
What kinds of projects do you hope to explore further?
I’d love to have more time to play with/learn about watercolor and mixed-media…I can’t resist all that color!
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