KOEL Stories

The Woven Path: Courtney McLeod

KOEL Stories
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Courtney McLeod used to have a hands full working as a manager at a busy vegan restaurant in Toronto. Completely burnt out, she uses embroidery as a means to cope with the stress, and soon after decided to turn this healing outlet into a full-time job after moving to Philadelphia. Till this day, it’s still one of the best decision she has ever made. Loving every single moment of what she does, Courtney is learning and growing through the running of her Etsy shop, DearestQ. Find out through the interview we had with Courtney the difficulties of running your own craft business and the advice she has to give! 

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5 Facts about Courtney McLeod

Early riser or night owl?… Early riser. I love my job and I start working as soon as I can in the morning!

A song to get you into the creative groove… Seventeen by Sharon Van Etten. I love her most recent album and like to listen to it while I work.

What did you aspire to be when you were 5?… A lego display artist. I had a lego obsession when I was a kid!

3 essentials we can find in your bag… A nail file, hand cream and my card case. 

If you weren't an embroider, you would most probably be doing… Weaving. I actually took quite a few courses on weaving in college and would love to get back into it if I had room for a floor loom.

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1. Tell us about your background and what led to you choosing embroidery as a craft.
I've been crafting and working on art projects ever since I was young. It was all I ever wanted to do. So I went to an arts high school and then to OCADU, an art college in Toronto, for their material art and design program. I did some embroidery projects while I was in college, but I majored in surface design and weaving and didn't heavily involve myself with embroidery until a few years after graduation. I stumbled upon some embroidery supplies while tidying my studio in Toronto and decided to make a sampler. After posting a few embroideries I made on Instagram, I received a lot of positive feedback and even sold some to friends. I find embroidery the most relaxing craft and I love that, unlike other craft mediums, I can take it with me wherever I go - I can work on the road or at the cottage, or I can embroider while watching a movie. I don't need to be in the studio to complete an embroidery project and I don't require expensive equipment. Once I started stitching and exploring all different colors and stitches, I couldn't put it down. It’s been three years and I still love this craft as much as I did since the beginning. 

 2. What made you want to take your passion to the next level?
I had been working as a manager at a very busy vegan restaurant in Toronto. Working 50 hours a week, I was burnt out. I didn't enjoy my work and I was using embroidery as a means to cope with the stress. When my husband and I decided we were going to move to Philadelphia, I decided I wanted to give my best shot at turning this part-time hobby into a full time job. After saving up a good amount of money, I left my job and I'm so happy I did! I was worried I would feel empty after such a busy job surrounded by so many people, but my business keeps me connected to many other makers. Even though moving in to a new place is hard, my craft and the community I work made me feel at home. While this job is less stressful than running a restaurant, I believe it's also due to loving what I do. 

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3. Tell us more about your Etsy Shop, DearestQ
I run all my business from my bedroom in Philadelphia and sell my pieces through my Etsy shop. I like the convenience of having everything close to me. I have a mix of ready-made pieces as well as some DIY patterns that people can try their hand out on my Etsy shop. I included pictures and detailed instructions regarding the stitches used, as well as how to frame an embroidery so it produces a polished after look. I love getting feedback from people who give embroidery a try after being inspired by my work, and taking the time to learn from one of my patterns. It's the best feeling in the world. 

4. What kind of materials do you like to work with?
My pieces are embroidered on linen fabric. I love the weave and texture. I mostly use DMC cotton embroidery threads but have been delving into other thread companies, as well as some silk threads. I've recently started wrapping my hoops in different types of wool yarn. I was looking for an alternative that would be more in line with the soft textures of my pieces. It's a lot of work but I think it's worth it! 

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5. What is your favourite piece of finished product and what inspired you to create it?
My vintage jean jacket! I love spring flowers and tulips, and just had to embroider them on my jacket. It took me around three months to complete it and I wear it every chance I get. The design is from a commission I did for a friend back in Toronto so it also reminds me of home.

6. How is the yarn scene like in Pennsylvania?  
It's really good. There's a store downtown called Rittenhouse Needlepoint that is stocked with so many amazing threads I’ve never heard of and the staff there are so helpful. I only shop for my threads at big box craft stores, so walking into this amazing shop almost made me pass out from excitement. 

7. Is there any interesting or particularly memorable/interesting moment in your career as a professional maker? 
An important lesson I learned fairly early was that I have to know my worth. A lot of makers struggle with pricing. If you charge too much people won't buy it, and if you charge too little you are under-valuing your work and it's just not worth it when you're trying to make a living from it. I used to charge my pieces what turned out to be around $3 an hour and I wasn't even factoring in my material costs! I always try to take note of the time spent on my designs when I'm pricing my works. I admit, when I changed the prices of my embroidery pieces, my sales went down. But I feel so much better about each sale because I know that I'm charging the appropriate amount for the time and effort put into each embroidery. 

8. Advice for those wanting to make the switch into crafting full time?
Get ready to work harder than you ever have! From taxes to shipping materials, customer service skills and learning to photograph your work, there’s a lot to learn and grow. Sometimes it can be hard to make anything, but in the end it's worth it. It feels amazing to be doing what I love, and seeing people sending me pictures of my works in their home makes me extremely happy and grateful.

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Photo Credits: Courtney McLeod