Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Aspiring Artisan: Old World Primitives


Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Stephanie Baker, and I live in New Jersey with my husband and four cats (one shelter cat, one rescue, and two who we took in off the streets). I got my start loving primitive things early while growing up in an 18th century farmhouse in a small town in New Jersey.

Spun Cotton Bunny Ornament
Spun Cotton Rabbit Ornament with Carrot

Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I love to travel with my husband, and go hiking and camping in the wilderness with my camera, binoculars, and spotting scope. I have hiked a trail where a wolf crossed my path far in the distance. I have sat in a watchtower high atop a 10,000 foot mountain while watching a grizzly bear use the trail that I was just on minutes ago (and waited for him to leave before returning to it!). I've had to change course to keep a respectful distance from a huge old bison bull laying next to the trail. I live for this sort of thing... and one of the greatest perks of being my own boss is that I no longer need to get a permission slip to go an do so whenever I wish or can afford to.

Chenille Calico Cat Ornaments
Victorian Calico Cat Chenille Ornaments

I also enjoy growing my own organic food, antiquing, reading, going out dancing with my husband, and playing with our herd of cats. I have also been know to obsessively check for that perfect 18th or 19th century farmouse in the country that we will one day move to.

What first made you want to become an artist?
I have wanted to be an artist my whole life. At first, I tried working regular 9-5 jobs, which then evolved into 9-6 jobs, and I hated every second of it. I found it to be soul-crushing. Years before I made my escape, a friend of mine who was living my dream lifestyle tried to convince me to run away with him and join a traveling circus. I hated the fact that I had become so tied down to my house and job that I had to tell him, "I can't" while he went on to explore the Amazon rain forest and squat in an abandoned castle in Spain without me. From that point on, I resolved to break the chains holding me down. I quit my day job in 2007 and have been continuing to work towards my goal of total freedom ever since.

Roderick Cattingham
Roderick Cattingham - A Primitive Cat Doll

Please describe your creative process.
My cloth dolls start with a series of sketches that I turn into a set of pattern pieces before I begin sewing and stuffing. (Before I started making dolls, I thought that stuffing would be the easiest step, but it's actually the hardest! It's amazing just how much stuffing you have to pack into a doll to get it to look full and properly shaped.) For my dolls with sculpted faces, sculpting with Paperclay comes next. Painting, coffee staining, baking, sanding, and various antiquing processes follow to give each doll an old, worn, and primitive look. Final details are then hand sewn.

For my ornaments, I usually find my inspiration during the hunt for the perfect antique image to use as the face, and then build each character from there. I begin by twisting and shaping a chenille body (chenille ornaments) or twisting and shaping a wire armature (spun cotton ornaments). After making a wire armature for a spun cotton ornament, I then spin my cotton around it until I have my desired body shape, and then I dye the body with tea to give it an aged look. I hand dye crepe paper for the ornament's outfit while the body dries overnight. Keeping wet crepe paper from tearing or sticking to itself while being laid out to dry is a good exercise in patience. Once the ornament body and the crepe paper are dry, I often just spread out my supplies and let a character spring to life without a pre-set idea of what the final product will look like.

"Prudence" A Primitive Cloth Doll with Sculpted Paperclay Face

Please tell us something about your subject matter, a little background into why you make art about what you do.
My style was inspired by a childhood spent growing up in homes built in the 1700s, where I was surrounded by antiques and pieces of the past. My "clubhouse" was in a barn that contained the ruins of a centuries-old blacksmith shop. Weekends were spent at flea markets, garage sales, scavenging off the roadside, or digging in the yards of old abandoned houses. Our Christmas tree was decorated with antique and homemade ornaments. My work reflects my connection to the past, and is made to look like something I might have found in the barn or the attic at one of my childhood homes.

Chenille Dog Ornaments
Chenille Dog Ornaments

What specific steps you are taking to grow your Etsy shop?
I try to add as many fresh new products to my Etsy shop as I can on a regular basis. I have promised myself that I will get started on making Halloween and CHristmas designs earlier than last year too.
Extreme Primitive Cat Doll
Primitive Folk Art Cat Doll

What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Follow the Golden Rule when you run your business - treat your customers as you would like to be treated if you were the customer. Also, be as active as you can in the Etsy community - it's a great way to network, make new friends, and get your new shop noticed. And don't forget to support the community by shopping handmade, too!

Spun Cotton Cat Ornament
"The Fisherman" Spun Cotton Cat Ornament

How do you promote your work?
Blogging, social networking (Twitter, my Facebook fan page, etc.) being active in the Etsy community, word of mouth (always carry your business cards!), and being active on teams like the Aspiring Artisan's Guild.

In ten years, where would you like to be?
Either living off the land in an old farmhouse in a secluded rural setting, or living full time in an RV and traveling to all of the most beautiful places in the country. I would like to keep making my crafts as long as my hands will let me and spend as much of my free time outdoors as possible.

Visit Stephanie's Etsy Shop

Old World Primitives on Flickr


  1. Great post! Kind of bummed we don't get to see the real you, though Steph, but I can understand perhaps being shy about that.

    While reading about your creative process, I couldn't help thinking about the time you said you were baking your cat's pants. That made me laugh!

  2. Great article! I'm glad to have learnt more about you Stephanie!

  3. I loved learning about you. Your dolls are so fabulous! I have to say I'm with Mari - I was hoping to see a photo of you, but I understand. If I would have known you could opt out on that, I probably would have :)
    Maybe someday we will get to see you! But again, great interview!

  4. What a great Article! Your work is great Stephanie! I love your dolls! they are so cute!

    It's good to know more about the person behind the shop!

    Have an awesome day!


  5. I love your adventurous spirit! What a great post!!

  6. Fabulous interview! Love your ornaments and dolls--very cool getting to know the person behind them a little more :D

  7. So great to learn more about you, especially the very involved process that goes into your beautiful creations. Your childhood sounds like a fabulous adventure!

  8. Great to get to know you Stephanie (a fellow Baker here :D)! You have had some great adventures :)

  9. How great to get to know you better, Stephanie! I always love the cozy feel of your shop. Fabulously nostalgic ;)

  10. Loved this! Totally agree with the part about 9-5 jobs being soul crushing, and so glad you quit that so we can anjoy your wonderful creations! Oh, and I'm so glad your photo got added, love being able to put a face with a name, and you're so pretty, too!

  11. wonderful interview! love your work and is great know you better Stephanie!

  12. Thanks, everyone (and to Brooke for putting this interview and post together)! Sorry about the tardy studio photo addition. :X

  13. Hi Stephanie, Do you ever offer the bunnies and carrots like you made in 2009? I saw them on Pinterest and love them. Marge