Many people have hobbies, but only a select few turn those hobbies into a second career. That’s exactly what Jamee Pierson did.
Seated behind her serger sewing machine, Pierson, of Monroe, seamlessly runs a fresh pair of child size leggings along the feed dogs through the needles and presser foot of the contraption as it creates flawless hems as the leggings take shape. Just as she uses her know-how to crank out local stories as a reporter at the Newton Daily News, her crafting is another outlet to showcase her talent.
“I just really enjoy doing it,” Pierson said. “It kind of uses my graphic design side, in that creative outlet versus my writing.”
She first learned to sew in her parents’ Monroe home, just a few blocks from where Pierson and her family now reside. It was her mother, Natalie Pendroy, who taught Pierson how to sew when she was just 8 years old. Pendroy remembers starting her daughter off with simple things, little projects where she was “just sewing around the square.”
In her youth, Pierson participated in 4-H, and she had submissions in different contests through her work there. Then as she got older, her high school activities kept her too busy to find time to man the sewing machine.
It wasn’t until college where her sewing skills would resurface full force.
Pierson began her crafting business adventure her senior year of college, and the hobby has done nothing but grow over the past 10 years. Pierson recalls her mother had purchased a new sewing machine, and that freed up her mom’s older machine for Pierson.
It’s still not clear to Pierson why she decided to start this adventure. She hadn’t been doing any serious sewing in the years leading up to her first project. Her husband, Tony, witnessed the beginning of the business idea.
“I think what originally motivated her was just a way to kill time and burn off some ‘nervous’ energy. She has always enjoyed crafting/sewing as far as I know, that led to opportunities to try selling her stuff,” Tony said.
Whatever the motivation was, it set into motion a hobby that would stick with Pierson for years to come. She started off small, making tote bags for carrying books.
“I don’t remember why I decided to make those, other than that they were fairly easy and people could use them. I started with that and then it was a year or two when I started a business, per se,” she said.
Pierson started her Whatever Floats Your Tote business with an inventory that included baby blankets, burp cloths, changing pads and more elaborate totes bags. She has largely been geared toward babies and kids merchandise, only offering a handful of adult items along the way.
Pierson found more things she liked to make, adding plush blocks and hair accessories and anything that seemed like something she could craft.
Tony and she had started a family at this point. With two girls of her own, more ideas came to her that she could add to her line. About three years ago, Pierson began to make children’s leggings.
“I had kids, and they wore leggings — fun, different leggings. And that just kind of exploded,” she said.
With the popularity of the item, Pierson has started offering matching shirts to go with her leggings. She uses a Cricut machine to create matching designs to iron on to shirts and onesies. She offers a wide variety geared for both boys and girls.
“Girl stuff is a lot easier. There’s just more of it plus the hair accessories,” Pierson said. “But I really am working to expand stuff for boys because I know moms like to buy for their boys too. I’ve been trying really hard on that. I make little hats for boys.”
Pierson is constantly keeping up with what the popular looks and patterns. Her mother is always impressed with how well she keeps up with the latest styles that parents are looking for their kids. With two daughters of her own, she has her own personal sources on what everyone is wanting to wear.
All in the Family
From her simple start to her success in her craft business, Pierson’s mother has been there to help. Without her teaching, Pierson would never have gone on to accomplish what she has.
“I give a lot of the credit to my mom. She taught me how to sew,” Jamee said.
When Pendroy was teaching her daughter to sew, she had no idea the skill would grow into the hobby it has become.
“I thought after college that would be it. I never thought she would go to this extent — doing the craft shows and that kind of thing, not at all. It was a total surprise to me,” Pendroy said.
It was a happy surprise, of course. It has given the mother and daughter duo something to enjoy together and share a common interest.
“It’s just been a fun time. It’s been a fun time for just the two of us to spend time together and share in that interest,” Pendroy said.
The pair goes to almost every craft show together, and they each have their part to play in preparation for craft show weekends. Jamee makes all of the selections from fabric to design. She will cut out each pattern, then the sewing process begins. With hundred of leggings and other items to sew and create, she enlists Pendroy’s help in sewing the blankets and helping with the finishing work on her burp cloths, bibs and blocks.
On craft show weekends, her mom is a self-described “gopher.” Pendroy would help Pierson load up her inventory and head to the craft show location. She would start getting things set up, then Pierson would join and put the finishing touches on everything. Pendroy’s gopher duties have been scaled back since Pierson purchased a van, a vehicle that rolled off the lot in 1984, the same year Pierson was born. The new addition has been along on the last few show weekends. The age of the vehicle hasn’t stopped its usefulness in the slightest.
“It holds everything and that was the main objective. Tony has already started thinking about a different van, maybe a little nicer. It’s serving its purpose right now,” Pierson said.
While Pierson’s mom plays a big role in helping Pierson with her craft, her husband helps out too, though he doesn’t credit himself with much.
“I try to support her projects by more or less staying out of the way. I try to keep the girls alive and make sure she has what she needs,” Tony said.
Pierson said Tony does help with a few of her products. He helps put the elastic in the leggings and helps stuff the blocks. His number one job is to take care of the couple’s two daughters while she’s at craft shows. Pierson calls craft show weekends “daddy weekends.” Her daughters are used to the crafting because they grew up around it. Both girls understand it’s their mom’s “work,” and though it takes up some of her time and space in their house, Pierson is still a dedicated mother.
“She never lets it get in the way of her time with the girls,” Tony said.
Pierson attends nine craft shows in a year, three in the spring and six in the fall. Pierson’s bigger shows are at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The shows she attends have an emphasis on handcrafted materials. Tom Callahan, who runs the Arts and Craft Show at the fairgrounds, he takes special care to have genuine “Made in the USA” products that other major stores have gone away from.
Vendors like Pierson put a lot of effort into their products and because of that, customers are not only buying an original product, but one that has a personal touch in its production. It’s a product you won’t find anywhere else but at these events.
“It’s really important to have crafters like Jamee involved, as she has done a lot of our shows over the years,” Callahan said. “I have often said that when we do shows and bring all these crafters together it’s like a big family reunion because they almost all know each other and share a lot of common interests in life. A common thread runs through these people — good, hard-working, honest people.”
Pierson gets a lot of return customers. Pierson and her mom were at Des Moines craft show in early fall where her selections for Halloween and Thanksgiving were available. Pendroy said a few customers were asking about Christmas designs.
“They said, ‘aren’t you going to have any Christmas?’” Pendroy said. “(Jamee) said she’d have that in November, and they were like ‘OK we’ll be here’ She’s got a following in that way.”
Much of that stems from Pierson’s desire to keep her line affordable. Everything she sells has a price tag of $20 or less. Many customers have commented that her items could be sold for much more.
“I get that comment a lot, ‘you know you could be selling this for a lot more,’” Pierson said. “But I know what it’s like to be a parent too. I get excited seeing people buying two outfits versus people buying a shirt.”
That is a major push for event organizers like Callahan. There is an emphasis on high-quality merchandise, that hasn’t been mass produced and yet is sold at an affordable price. Callahan said it’s important for the public to know the each item is made with individual care.
“A lot of pride goes into this as well by the exhibitor. And they enjoy what they do,” Callahan said.
Pierson is always researching new items to try and add to her constantly growing repertoire. She tries to have something new every craft show season.
“I’m always anxious when she tries something new that it will flop, but she just keeps hitting home runs,” Tony said.
Pierson said she plans to introduce a monthly age blanket option to her line. Most parents will mark their baby’s age with monthly pictures as they age. Pierson has ordered different fabrics for those and the parents will be able to add whatever creative element to it to match their style.
Many of the additions depend on how much time each item takes to construct. Some items do well but are time-consuming to make. Therefore, Pierson will simply stop offering them. Different items have been phased out along the way as she shifts her focus to other projects. In fact, Pierson no longer makes totes, the item that started this enterprise.
Pierson plans to keep her craft show circuit for many years, but she can picture her items in a boutique somewhere down the road. Pierson is content to keep her hobby to crafting weekends and leave extra time to spend with her family.
Whatever the future may hold, it’s clear Pierson’s crafting business is a labor of love.
“She just thoroughly enjoys the craft,” Pendroy said. “I would have been tired a long time ago making all the leggings that she makes. I like the little projects that I can finish and be done, but she just keeps going and going.”
Contact Pam Rodgers at 641-792-3121 ext 6531 or firstname.lastname@example.org