23 March 2020
We spoke to Sarah Slovensky of Hoffelt & Hooper Co. about her experience in the corporate world, how it led her to stitching and how healing embroidery can be for those struggling with their mental health.
Hi Sarah! What can you tell us about yourself?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town on gorgeous Whidbey Island. It’s a magical place of the coast of Washington state, covered by massive cedar and fir trees and surrounded by the beautiful Puget Sound. When I went to college I didn’t go far from the island. I went just a couple of hours North, almost to Canada, to Western Washington University in Bellingham.
I was never one of those people who knew what I wanted to do for a career, so I went the practical route and majored in management information systems. I also met my husband at college in an SQL database class. Yes, we are nerds! When I graduated, I remember calling my mom and hysterically crying because I felt so unprepared to start my career. I wasn’t passionate about it and feared working in the corporate grind. I had always known that a desk job wasn’t for me, but I also had no clue of what I should be doing.
I started to develop a dream of being my own boss someday and came up with a ton of creative and slightly wacky business ideas, but had zero confidence to be able to take the leap. It’s a terrifying thing to leave a steady pay check and benefits and I certainly didn’t have the courage at that time. Little did I know how much the corporate world would take from me over time until I was at my breaking point.
Was that breaking point the reason you started stitching?
After a number of years in the corporate world at a large retail company working in the buying offices, I hit bottom. I’ve always suffered from anxiety and depression but I was able to get by for the most part without really acknowledging how bad it was. Over those years it steadily got worse and worse as I felt trapped and unfulfilled, until a major change in my job pushed me over the edge. I admitted I needed help.
I was lucky enough to get the help I needed with a great team of doctors and the support of my family. It was rough and painful and not something I’d wish on anyone, but after a few months of medication and lots of therapy I was feeling better than I had in a long time.
Depression is a disease no different to any physical condition, though there is a stigma around it and the ways it should be treated. We all are different and need different ways to get better. For me it’s medication, the coping techniques I learned in therapy, and embroidery.
At what point did you pick up your first embroidery hoop?
The first time I picked up an embroidery hoop was probably on one of my worst days. I couldn’t get out of my own head and was trying to find anything to distract myself. I got lost in it. I taught myself through books, researching online and following other stitchers. It didn’t just quiet my mind, it allowed my creative side to flow out and explore.
I felt fulfilled for the first time in my life. Four months after I first picked up that hoop, I quit my job and launched myself face first into the world of embroidery and being a small business owner.
Sometimes you just have to go where the wind takes you! How did you develop your style?
Most of my work is floral, or includes some fauna or greenery element. Nature is pretty darn amazing and I love being able to capture that beauty within my work. I’ve also always dreamed of having a cut flower garden to make arrangements and sell at local markets. Nothing big and fancy, but like a side business that compliments my embroidery work!
An idea for the future then! Do you have a favourite piece of art that you have created?
My custom orders are always my favourite because they come with amazing stories and I get to know a little about the people behind them. Nothing makes me happier than hearing how something I’ve stitched made someone smile, or cry happy tears. It’s incredibly humbling to know something I made might be in someone’s family for years to come.
The piece I had the hardest time letting go of was a custom embroidered leather jacket. It was for a bride to wear at her reception and it made me want to get married all over again (to the same man of course!). It was a beautiful dove grey jacket and I covered it in peachy pink floral patches. It was a ton of stitching but the result was gorgeous.
Perhaps you’ll have to make your own one day! Do you have any crafters that you look up to?
A bunch! I love seeing what other stitchers are doing and I love learning about other crafts. I’m lucky to live in a very community based and artistic place that’s inspiring. One of my favourite things is to hear people’s stories and how they started their craft/business.
A crafty community is often key to creativity! What advice can you give to people who are thinking about taking up embroidery to help their mental health?
Just do it. Let go of the ‘I’m not crafty’ or ‘it won’t be as good as…’ thoughts and try it. It’s easy to pick up, low cost, and so rewarding. It definitely takes practice to master the stitches, but that’s the fun of it! You get to make so many neat things with your own two hands as you learn more about it.
For me it helps to shut off the constant noise in my head. It takes enough focus to tune out the rest while still being relaxing. I found a huge sense of accomplishment with it as well. Starting and completing a project and seeing that final result is incredibly rewarding. Plus, you get to display your work when you are done to have that daily reminder of accomplishment.
Perfect advice. So, moving forward, what does the future hold?
I’m never really sure where life is going to take me, but I have a few goals for the next year. I want to spend more time teaching and writing and potentially write a book. All my kits include a pretty in-depth instructional booklet that I write, but I’d like to take it a step further and add more embroidery information as well as speaking about mental health. The more we talk about mental health the smaller the stigma will become.
I’d also like to start creating more wearable pieces of embroidery. I love all the hoops that can be displayed, but there’s something special about taking that art and bringing it outside the home into your everyday life.
Speaking of which, can you give us a snapshot of your day-to-day life?
It involves a lot less stitching than you might imagine! I spend a good chunk of my day doing the business side of things like putting together kit orders, updating inventory, answering emails, social media, creating listings with photos and copy, writing instructions and so on.
I also have two pups that are demanding of my time to play with them. That’s probably the best part of my job, being able to be with them all day. Otherwise, I’m designing and then stitching up those designs for custom orders and kits. Owning your own business can sometimes feel like you work 24/7, but it’s never really felt like a job to me. I love just about every minute of it… minus trying to figure out my taxes!
Thanks for taking the time to chat Sarah… we’ll leave you to (enjoy?) your taxes! Find out more: