Q &A with Abby Glassenberg
written by Annie Newman, Photos by Lisa Neighbors
Abby Glassenberg is not your average Wellesley mom. When photographer Lisa Neighbors and I (the unofficial Wellesley Women Artisans crack reporting team) visited her in her home studio on a sunny morning in late February, she opened up about starting her home based business, her love of art, and her approach to balancing the pressures of family and work. A self-proclaimed introvert, she is amazingly open and real in her extensive online persona. She explains that she loves to be alone, but she has historically relied upon her online relationships for a sense of community around her craft. Since 2005 she has shared her creations and her ideas on design, technique and the online culture of craft through her blog, whileshenaps.com. More recently, the Wellesley Women Artisans (WWA) community has also filled a void and provided a venue to meet like-minded women.
Abby is building her business out of her home in the College Heights neighborhood – she has a sewing studio in her expansive master bedroom and an office set-up on her main floor. She dedicates 25 hours a week to creating unique patterns for stuffed animals, splitting her time between sewing, writing, and running the business. All this is a challenge, but one that she has nicely integrated into her family life by managing a relatively regimented household. She loves working from home because it allows her little snippets of work, as time permits. (Every inch of her home is a gallery, featuring her extensive art collection–I recommend conjuring up an invite!) Asked about sleeping in and working out of her bedroom, she chuckled. “The photo lights changed things–it now feels like we sleep in my studio. It may be time for a new house!”
Abby created her first plush toy when home with her first child. “We went to Book Babies at the library and I checked out a vintage craft book. I made an elephant out of white flannel with cherry button eyes. The next day, I made another. My husband asked me what was going on? That was the beginning.” By 2007, Abby had a show at the library featuring 53 animals. She recalls, “It was fabulous. I had all the glass cases, including the Children’s area.” Right after the show, she started making birds–in fact, she made birds for 2 ½ years and eventually wrote her first book, The Artful Bird, which includes 18 patterns. Published by Interweave in 2011 it was named an ALA Booklist Top 10 Craft Book that year!
In this book, she found her true passion, making patterns and writing technical instructions. Abby explains that she reads cookbooks and technical manuals like other people read novels. Her second book, Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction, was published by Lark Crafts in 2013 and named an Amazon Best Book of the Year. It’s no surprise she likes to educate others–Abby has a master’s degree in education from Harvard and taught middle school social studies in Mississippi and Massachusetts before becoming a textile artist and the mother of three girls, ages 3, 7, and 9. Abby enjoys teaching people to sew and opening their eyes to the joy of designing their own stuffed animals.
She was kind enough to reflect upon a series of probing questions:
Where did you go to School? What was your major?
I grew up in Potomac, Maryland and went to Johns Hopkins for college where I majored in History. Then I did Teach For America and taught middle school French and Social Studies in the Mississippi Delta for two years. After that I got a master’s degree from Harvard in education and worked at a non-profit serving under-resourced public schools in Boston for two years. Then I went back into the classroom and taught 6th grade social studies at Brown Middle School in Newton, MA, before becoming a mom, textile artist, craft book author, and craft blogger.
How long have you lived in Wellesley? From where did you move?
We’ve lived in Wellesley for nearly 9 years. We moved here from a condo in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. Wellesley is a wonderful place to live with a family. We are very happy here!
What’s your favorite (or least favorite) spot in town?
We love the Duck Pond and the greenhouse at Wellesley College.
What’s your favorite activity in town?
We like to go to the library and check out books! We’re also pretty fond of going out for ice cream.
When did you start making artwork?
I’ve always been a maker, even as a kid. I bought a sewing machine after taking Home Ec. in 8th grade. It was a Bernette 330 and I had it for 23 years. I now have a Janome. I started sewing every day when I became a stay-at-home mom in 2004 and started my blog, whileshenaps.com, in May of 2005. I had one of the first Etsy shops when Etsy was still in beta (July 2005).
Describe your work?
I have a creative business. I design and sell sewing patterns for stuffed animals and dolls. I draft original sewing patterns, make samples, write instructions, draw templates, take process and product shots, do content marketing, answer customer emails, and write books. I license patterns to Simplicity and have patterns published in lots of magazines. It’s a crazy, full-time job of fun!
Do you work alone or collaborate?
I am the President and CEO of Abby Glassenberg Design so almost everything I do is alone. I do collaborate online doing guest posts and blog hops and I have a podcast that airs twice a month in which I talk with leaders in the sewing industry.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m not a big one for inspiration. I just sit down and work every day, whether I feel like it or not. I read a lot of blogs (over 200!) and I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I’m a big fan of graphic novels and I read craft books like they’re novels. I love technical instructions.
Where can people see your work?
You can see my work on my blog, whileshenaps.com. You’ll find links there to everything I do including my blog archives – 8 years worth of posts about how to run a creative business and how to design and sew stuffed animals.
Why did you join Wellesley Woman Artisans?
I co-founded the Wellesley Women Artisans with Elizabeth Cohen a few years ago. It’s been terrific! For a long time I thought I might be the only artist in town. It turns out there are lots of artists here and it’s wonderful to connect and support one another on a regular basis.
What are your ambitions for art in the community?
I’d like for people to know that there are artists in their midst. I’d like outsiders to begin associating Wellesley as a town that fosters art and artists.
We live in a wonderful town and there are people making art all around us. WWA is a place that nurtures that art-making and helps to bring it out into the community. I’m so thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far and I can’t wait to see what the future brings!
What are your personal and professional ambitions?
I hope to raise caring, smart, interesting children and I hope to run a successful creative business. So far, so good.