Laura Burkett worked in corporate marketing and brand management for 20 years before her life changed dramatically. An assignment in Europe led to a year-long immersion stay in Italy to learn the language and appreciate the culture firsthand; this turned into three years, where she apprenticed under an Italian leatherworker and learned how to make and design leather goods. In 2008, she moved back to the US and started her handmade leather goods business, featuring totes and bags under Laura Burkett Designs.
Elizabeth Crane Swartz started to experiment in the handmade jewelry business in 2005. When she moved to Providence in 2017, she made the jump to become a full-time artist with the retail name Elizabeth Crane Swartz Designs. During the pandemic, Swartz taught herself needlepointing – not just the stitching, but also designing her own canvases after becoming disenchanted with many of the more “traditional” designs available in stores. With her online followers and customers gaining interest, Swartz expanded her needlepointing: “I used to be a hand-painted jewelry designer who liked to stitch, and now I’m a needlepoint designer who also makes jewelry,” she jokes.
“Needlepoint,” Swartz explains, “is basically paint-by-numbers.” Many crafters buy pre-designed canvases, choose the desired fibers, and follow along with the painting. Completing the sewing aspect of a needlepoint project could take between a few days to a few months. “Finishing” a needlepoint project – the process of sewing a finished canvas into an object, such as pillows, cuffs, or even shoes (Swartz has a pair of those, herself) – can take as long as six months; many needlepoint shops are backlogged because of the boom in popularity due to the pandemic.
Magic occurred when Burkett and Swartz met a year and a half ago. At the time, Swartz rented a space at Mad Dog Artist Studios in Pawtucket. Burkett had recently taken over the 6,000-square-foot art complex, and while passing by Swartz’s space one day, noticed a needlepoint clutch and was drawn to the bright, bold, geometric shapes in the design. Burkett had already been using bright colors and stripes from durable Sunbrella material on the inside of her bags, so the contemporary aesthetic of Swartz’s needlepoint canvases felt perfect for a color pop on the outside.
Burkett, realizing the long process of needlepoint, decided to design a bag that would showcase needlepoint fashion without the hassle and long wait periods of a custom finishing. Instead of finishing just one of Swartz’s pieces into the leather bag, it instead has a clear sleeve so that the sewn needlepoint canvases (designed by Swartz or others) can be interchanged.
It’s a chic, utilitarian way to “self-finish” a needlepoint canvas; the artist can show off their stitching and use their product right away. One bag: many different fashion options to display all of your needlepointing. “It’s instant gratification,” says Swartz, who has since relocated her studio to above Your Bike Shop in Warren. The bag doesn’t offer a permanent “finished” solution, but it does offer satisfaction and versatility. Learn more at LauraBurkettDesigns.com
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