When you hear the word “embroidery,” you might not immediately think “artform,” but for Carrie Burch of Stitch Folks, embroidery is just as much a medium of art as painting or sculpture. An Ohio native, Burch is a graduate of Biola University in Los Angeles and a five-year resident of Grand Rapids. Her embroidery company, Stitch Folks, has been featured in Magnolia Journal and Better Homes and Gardens. The success of her online Etsy shop continues to grow month to month, bringing in dozens of new orders, each one as exciting as the last.
What is your background and how did you decide to pursue art (specifically embroidery) full-time?
I moved to Grand Rapids five years ago and I have since worked in art education, interior design and styling, but I always end up coming back to embroidery. In 2013, I had an art degree under my belt and was working in the food service industry with no future plans. I would often think back to when my art professor told my graduating class that very few art majors continue making art after they graduate. I was determined that after the hard work I had put into my degree, I would not be part of that statistic.
How’d you avoid that?
One day, I found myself blindly walking up and down the aisles of a craft store and I ended up in the embroidery aisle. After designing and stitching a few projects for family and friends, I was encouraged to open my Etsy shop in 2014. I feel a bit of shock and excitement every time an order comes in.
How did you know that you could make Stitch Folks your career?
Stitch Folks existed as an evening hobby for quite some time. At some point, I realized that business was flowing in consistently and I could make the same amount of money doing embroidery as I was making in the food service industry. So, I quit my food service job, set up Stitch Folks in my living room, and committed to working full-time toward my dream. For a while, I worked more hours while making less money, but I didn’t care — I was a million times happier.
How has your embroidery transitioned over the course of your career?
Over the past five years, my work has changed and evolved more than I ever dreamed. I started by making simple cross-stitch and progressed my skill into more realistic portraits. I have even created some politically charged work inspired by the Women’s March on D.C. and large, minimal outlines of hands inspired by the #MeToo movement. I am always trying to rethink my priorities, be true to my style, while also considering my bank account. My goal is that my shop will progress into a personal art practice, creating work that is gallery-ready, while being able to employ and mentor young people who also dream of a career as an artist.
How do you manage your life, outside of creating, without getting bogged down with everyday tasks?
This isn’t something I have mastered, but I have figured out a few things that help me personally. Since I often work from home, I create a quiet space separate from the rest of the house that is for art-making. I can leave my artwork out, come back to it later, and let the space exist as my ‘office.’ I also see art as a priority, not only because it pays my bills, but because I’ve seen what my soul feels like when I go too long without creating.
What was it like being featured in Magnolia Journal?
Stitch Folks’ feature in Magnolia Journal could not have come at a better time. I was experiencing a bit of a burnout after three years of embroidery and had been wondering if Stitch Folks had run its course. A Fixer Upper producer purchased a family portrait for the Gaines family after finding me on Instagram. I was very excited to create work for someone I respected. I was even more thrilled when Joanna Gaines loved it enough to feature it on Jo’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide in Magnolia Journal. That little stamp of approval and increase in income gave me the encouragement and boost to keep moving forward.
Who are some artists you look up to?
Eliza Fernand’s politically driven quilt work continues to impress me. Matt and Kristin Fowler’s long time project, Nest House, used their skills in home and garden design to build community within their neighborhood. Dana Doll’s community, Treetops Collective, is a place that celebrates our new refugee neighbors in West Michigan and the creative gifts they bring. There is also a new art gallery on the west side of Grand Rapids called Muse, and a new creative workspace downtown called Little Space Studio that are both great.
Find Burch’s work at stitchfolks.net.