Maker Profile: Joslyn Villalpando, Owner of J.Villa Workshop
Hi Joslyn! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Joslyn Villalpando. I was born in Ohio, but have been in Chicago for 8 years. I live in Logan Square with my lovely husband, puppy Winslow, and our baby. I'm such a homebody and some of my favorite time is spent crafting and planning in my home studio while my husband cooks and blasts Billy Holiday or Sam Cooke records.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I came to the city with Teach for America after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a Fine Arts/Art Education degree. I taught art here in the city for 8 years and went to graduate school for Art Education at the School of the Art Institute while teaching. My master's thesis was all about cultivating community through craft and fiber art so I took a few studio fiber art classes during my time there and fell in love! My favorite was Intro to Fiber and Material Studies. I took all night courses so I remember each one of those 3 hour classes being this magical little time after work where I learned how to spin yarn, weave, sew, embroider, dye, and bind books with 20 or so other women. I remember that class as being very transformative. I mimicked this class with a group of young girls who I was teaching at the time and we formed a little fiber club for my thesis project. I taught them 5-7 different fiber techniques and skills and we had a big showcase at the end. It was so empowering to see them share their work with family and friends and make connections through the pieces and the processes. One girl brought her mom to the showcase, who only speaks Spanish, along with these amazing knit and crochet pieces that her mom had made over the years. She was able to translate for us and show us the pieces her mom made alongside the ones she made with her mom after learning a little bit in fiber club. This kind of connection formed through the passing down of skills and traditions was wonderfully powerful to watch!
When did you decide to switch from teaching elementary art to start J.Villa Workshop? Were you doing both at the same time?
In my 5th year of teaching while furiously writing my thesis and various other essays and papers, I was craving time to just make again. I missed having the time to sit and embroider or paint or weave after spending my days teaching and my evenings at my computer. I also missed my friends! So I advertised several craft nights at my house. The first was a holiday theme and I taught my friends how to make little embroidered stuffed felt ornaments. I baked cookies and made a hot spiced bourbon cider and it was the merriest night I had in a long time! I hosted a Valentine's Day printmaking gathering a few months later and that's when I realized how crazy in love I was with this concept of hosting, gathering, teaching, and making with my dearest friends. It led me to a lot of dreaming. Could this be my life, everyday? How can I turn this into a viable career? My mind was swirling with ideas. I hated thinking about the actual business side and taxes and money blah blah blah, but my mind whirled with ideas to teach and venues to help me host these workshops.
I started with a weaving workshop at Nina, the yarn store in Wicker Park, and slowly tried my concept out at any restaurant or bar that would have me. I did this at night and on the weekends while still teaching. I overlapped full time teaching and my business for 2 years before going down to part time teaching for another year. Now, I continue to work part time with my old school network, KIPP Chicago, in art education development and museum education coordinator while continuing to build J.Villa Workshop.
What draws you to crafting and bringing people together?
I am always making and learning and I've always loved teaching. I knew I wanted to be an art teacher pretty quickly in High School and I loved my job as a CPS art educator, even though the daily grind began to really wear me down. There is something about bringing what you love to people and spreading that knowledge and tradition that is extremely satisfying and wonderful. My grandmother was a maker and I inherited her sewing box and other materials. I adore the idea that I am teaching people today the same skills and concepts she enjoyed learning 50-60 years ago. I love digging into the history of women and craft and honoring and celebrating traditional processes while adding contemporary concepts.
What did your transition to J.Villa look like? Was there a certain point that you just knew it was what you had to do?
I am still working on that transition, but I love having two fulfilling jobs. I still get to work with kids and curate art shows at our museum, The Children's Museum of Art and Social Justice, in Pilsen. I'm not sure what the future looks like and how I can continue to balance both when they could each easily be full time. It's a luxury right now doing both, working all day, most days. But it doesn't feel like work. Embroidering samples for an upcoming workshop while binging some Netflix series is way more fun than "work" so I can easily spend 12 hours a day "working!" I'm not sure how I can possibly maintain this luxury after a baby, but I'm soaking it all up now.
You're so skilled in so many art forms! Do you have a favorite to do yourself vs a favorite craft to teach?
Thank you! Luckily, my years as an art teacher allowed me to explore and learn a ton of various processes. I definitely hone in on one thing at a time and become obsessed with a particular way of making for weeks or months at a time. In grad school, it was weaving. After my summer course learning to weave on the floor loom, I bought one and would spend any free second weaving. Because I loved the moments when I first learned to weave, I love teaching the craft. I so enjoy watching people fall in love with something that I remember learning and immediately loving too. I don't know that I could ever choose a favorite, but if I had to, I really enjoy teaching people how to embroider. There's a really interesting history of women in the US and embroidery and how the craft was used in the 1700's versus today. I like sharing this story and watching people find their groove while stitching. You can't embroider and hold a cell phone so people really relax into the process and chat and laugh and enjoy each other. Its lovely to witness.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love honoring traditional craft, but I draw tons of inspiration from contemporary imagery and pop culture. Social media is a rabbit hole of inspiring contemporary artists and crafters and I learn a ton seeing what others are doing with tradition craft media. I also really love how social media has encouraged sharing these skills. A lot of artists post videos of themselves making so others can learn and join in the community. They're also teaching workshops like I am. I'm inspired by utilitarian craft and often find myself wanting to teach people how to make things they can use around the house or give as a gift. I've always been proud of using the things I make, from woven table runners to hand embroidered cocktail napkins. Teaching people how to make macramé plant hangers is fun because I know they can go home and hang it up with a plant right away.
How do you connect with your supporters and community?
Social media allows me to connect with my community and makes it so easy! I also have a mailing list where I share craft history, tidbits, how-to's and such. One surprising thing about starting this business is how freakin' amazing our Chicago community is and how crazy small it can feel! After hosting at a venue, I'll get several emails from other venues that would like to host a gathering because they saw it on their friend's Instagram. People have been wonderfully kind about introducing me to their friends and spreading the word on what I'm doing. I've been met with nothing but enthusiasm and support in my collaborations and partnerships. I love our city!
What are some brands/makers that you are excited about that we should know of?
OH SO MANY. Each workshop I leave people with 8-10 Instagram accounts they should follow, specific to what we are learning. I really believe in sharing sources and others' work that inspires me because its not a secret that a lot of makers are working in the same vein I am. The more the merrier.
I especially like sharing sources of people doing things that I know I will never be good at or be able to teach. For instance, I love calligraphy, but I know my limits as a maker and this is not something I'm good at. My friend and fellow teacher, Samantha Meyer @samanthameyerstudio, teaches calligraphy and has formulated a class that makes it super accessible and fun to learn. I have mad respect for the girls at Nina (the yarn shop in Wicker Park) like Jen Plumridge @jmplumridge who teach beginning knitters workshops and Heidi Gustad of @handsoccupied who also teaches knitting. I have been wanting to learn knitting for years and will definitely go to them when I find the time. Festive Collective @thefestivecollective is an awesome Logan Square space that hosts tons of workshops from piñata making to weaving to donut decorating.
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
I read once that during all major wars in which the U.S. has been involved, handcraft experienced a resurgence. It makes a lot of sense that we retreat from an often unbearably sad world full of hate and violence into something that makes us feel grounded, connected, and at peace. There is a similar feeling in shopping small and supporting local makers. It feels like we have control over our lives and the direction of our communities when we are watching things happen in our country that are out of our control and often very disturbing. Shopping small gives us control and so much pride. It feels good to hand my money to the exact person who made what I am buying. I loved registering for baby items from Claire Boockmeier of @wolfechild or Sydney Walters of @thegreyboys because I know them and they've become friends and they make beautiful things! Of course I greatly enjoy the convenience of Amazon Prime, but there is something so unsettling about this convenience too. It's too easy to forget the humanity behind clicking on a link and ordering something that shows up at my door two days later. I opened the door the other night for our Amazon delivery person, as he was running from his truck bundled up to brave this below 0 degree weather. He dropped the box, thanked me, and ran back to his truck to keep delivering. It felt so strange to me and leaves my stomach queasy, for all sorts of reasons. Ugh.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I continue to feel passionate about my work because I get to keep teaching. Even if I've taught the same thing 10 times, each time is to a brand new group with people who approach the process in a new way. I learn a lot watching what other people bring to the lesson. I often learn a new way of doing things that I can incorporate into future workshops. I'm so encouraged and inspired by people who continue coming to my workshops. It's insanely humbling to have someone come back for their 3rd, 4th, 5th workshop and I feel a huge sense of dedication and responsibility to provide quality, fun, worthwhile gatherings.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your brand?
It took me awhile to fill a workshop. I would beg my friends to come in the beginning so I could at least take photos of them to spread the word. I cancelled a lot of workshops in the beginning for lack of any participants. But, I trusted it would grow because I knew deep down that people were looking for what I was offering, even if they didn't know they might enjoy a craft workshop. I have people come to workshops and tell me right away, "I am so not crafty so I don't know what the heck I'm doing! Don't judge me!" Then they start working and go, "oh I can do this and I actually like it!" That sentiment is what spreads by word of mouth and brings new people to me and I love that it has grown slowly this way. It feels like everyone that comes to a workshop found it from an honest and enthusiastic source. It feels very natural to grow this way.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
We don't have time not to! I have always believed "the more the merrier" in doing what I'm doing, at least. If I'm teaching weaving and someone wants to buy looms from me to also teach weaving, wonderful! Spreading the word and bringing more people into the craft community just means good things for us all in the end. I'd be lying if I said I don't feel a twinge of competition sometimes, but I don't let that thought dominate my mindset because my teaching and business philosophy is bigger than that. I also really believe that the energy you put out is what you get back. So, selfishly perhaps, I know that if I put out good vibes and connect people with other makers, that positive energy will come back to me. It's also pretty amazing to watch what can happen to us small businesses when we support each other through social media posts and word of mouth. The growth that is possible is incredible! That's pretty powerful and is something truly unique to the female community, I think.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
I just know I will forget too many! But, here are some... Simi Botic @simibotic is my best friend and a health coach in Columbus, Ohio. She is 100% of the reason I knew I could turn my business dream into a reality. We share and dream a lot together and she's walked me through everything from writing down big goals to finding an accountant and learning to use accounting software (SO not my favorite part of running my own business). I would truly be a lost puppy without her love, support, and encouragement! Jamie Tubbs of @prophetgypsyrobot is creating unique weavings and she is just a truly wonderful human being. I have one of her pieces in our nursery and just love it. Claire Boockmeier of @wolfechild is so intelligent and thoughtful with her making and business and I've learned a ton from her. I admire Katherine Corden of @katherinecorden.art so much because she's pursuing her passion of painting on the side as she's a physical therapist and I totally respect the task of finding that balance! I've collaborated with Laurie Baker of @lbfinds a ton and I hail that woman's work ethic! She's a powerhouse and has created a really cool, curated feed of scavenged vintage finds to purchase. I really love the duo behind @filigreesuppers because their whole model is about supporting local makers to create the most beautifully designed and curated dinner parties. I admire their attention to detail and their insane ability to throw incredible dinners every month. Nikki of @feminest.co, a coach for female creatives, helped me identify the core principles of my business and find a lot of depth in the why of what I'm doing.
How do you deal with periods of self doubt?
Oh man. The most helpful thing is getting together with many of the above women friends and hearing their stories of self-doubt. If they have it in all of their success, its ok that I do too. It feels good to say it out loud and then let it go and keep driving forward. It's easy to be in that place when a workshop isn't selling well, but its also good to be rational and discover why it may not be selling well. I try and take myself out of the equation, it's not personal, and find the reason(s) and then make changes. Because I'm the only one in charge of my success, I am in complete control of how well things go and that actually feels really good and powerful to me. Teaching in public schools taught me to focus on my locus of control and make things happen! No excuses and no blaming other factors/people.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
The greatest resources are the people who take the time to sit and listen and chat and dream with me, from my sister to my husband to my best friends and other local creatives. I'm so lucky to have such patient, supportive people around me. It's also good to find people doing similar things to say what you don't want your business to be. As much as I appreciate the paint and sip classes for getting people painting and creating, I don't want my workshops to feel like a step-by-step tutorial to lead people in all creating the same outcome. By saying how I wanted to be different than that, I was able to name the necessary and important components of building each workshop.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
Again, so many! I've always loved The Barrelhouse Flat because of the craft cocktails and it was where my husband took us on our first date. After doing several workshops there, I love it even more because of the warm and kind people working there. I love Antique Taco (best tacos in the city), Bang Bang Pie (the nicest people and best pie), District (great furniture shop and super wonderful owner), and Festive Collective (a beautiful collection of party supply resources from 4 women owned businesses).