Friday, June 21, 2013

Favorite Shops: Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery

If you grew up with parents, relatives, or family friends that embroidered or did counted cross-stitch, you can probably still picture a lot of the projects in your mind.  Some of them might still be in your house, tucked away in an attic or closet.

Day-of-the-week kitchen towels decorated with teapots.  A sampler with a baby's name and birthday surrounded by cross-stitched bunnies and teddy bears.  A Hummel figurine-esque child praying "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" at his bed, with a big smiling crescent moon in the window.

In a word:  cutesy.  In hyphenated two words:  old-fashioned.

Needlecrafts have come a long way since then.  Men and women are using embroidery and cross-stitch as an artistic medium and a political forum.  They are creating pieces that are satirical, shocking, and even NSFW.

I'm excited by the possibilities of using a traditionally feminine craft to create something beautiful and subversive, but sometimes I still crave CUTE.  Where can I find patterns that fulfill this desire for cuteness, but with a contemporary style?

This is when I turn to Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery, an independent cross-stitch pattern company owned by friends Amanda Jennings and Ashleigh Gilberson (and their smiling pumpkin mascot, Sugarloaf.)  Their patterns take after the Japanese style of kawaii--a type of cuteness that includes characteristics like large heads on animals, putting smiley faces on inanimate objects, and a simplicity of design.  These elements make their patterns cute in a way that avoids the "country kitsch" style that used to reign supreme in counted cross-stitch.

In the past, they had patterns that mostly focused on a single image with wordplay, like a piñata with the caption, "You are smashing!"  They also have a series of "Around the World" patterns that focus on  images from individual countries.  Many of these patterns have been temporarily pulled as they are moving their business to a new online site and redesigning the pattern documents.

The new patterns are available to download instantly after purchase.  Once you download a pattern in a PDF file, you get a 1-page introduction to cross-stitch, a list of all the thread colors you need (with their color numbers for both DMC stranded cotton floss and Cosmo), a computerized image of the final product in color, a pattern that is in black-and-white symbols, and a color key showing which colors are represented by each symbol.*  It's a clean setup that is easy to follow even for a beginner, which I was when I purchased my first pattern.  They look great when printed out, but they are also useful on the computer screen.  They are formatted so that you can enlarge the pattern on a computer or tablet, which makes it easier to see the symbols.

*Instead of transferring a pattern directly on plainweave fabric, like cotton, counted cross-stitch involves using even weave fabric that contains holes, like aida cloth or linen.  The holes turn the fabric into a type of grid, which is then used to figure out the pattern (literally counting how many squares of the grid need to be stitched).  I create the cross stitches by pushing the threaded needle in and out of these pre-existing holes.

Cute, user-friendly patterns are only part of the reason why I am a fan of this company.  The other reason is that Amanda and Ashleigh have taken cross-stitching, which is normally a solitary hobby, and turned it into a collective experience.  They have become best known for samplers that they release to customers (or "subscribers") in stages, with the subscriber not knowing how the final project is going to look until the final stage.  They take "pre-orders" for the pattern several weeks in advance.  The pre-order comes with a file containing all of the aforementioned elements, but instead of a pattern for the entire project, it only has patterns for frames that will eventually contain pictures.  Starting on the "official" release date, Amanda and Ashleigh e-mail parts of the patterns at regular intervals.  Subscribers stitch each stage of the pattern as it is released, filling in the frames as they go.  Once the final stage of the pattern is released, subscribers can then finish and frame the project.  If someone buys the pattern after the first week, they will receive every stage of the pattern until that point and are added to the number of subscribers receiving future stages of the pattern.  If someone buys the pattern after all stages have been released, then they will receive the complete pattern.

Frosted Pumpkin has done several yearly samplers, in which they release one part of the sampler for each month.  Each sampler has a theme--2011 was fruits, 2012 was desserts, and 2013 is woodland creatures.  The 2013 Woodland Sampler was the first pattern I purchased, and I can't believe I am already halfway done!
January--Kissing dear couple
February--Raccoon . . . in eternal darkness
March--Mushroom in a terrarium
April--Jackalope in the rain
May--Mr. Gnomey and the Sprout Gang
June--Firefly in a mason jar
The whole shebang
They have also released seasonal samplers for winter, and spring.  Today is the official release date of the summer sampler, and they are planning an autumn one as well.  Each seasonal sampler has 25 square frames that contain food, animals, and other objects that best represent that season. The summer sampler will be the first one that I will try to complete as it is released--and with 5 squares getting released every week for five weeks, I will be quite busy.

I love the element of surprise inherent in this setup.  I have no idea what images will appear in the frames, but I know they will be beginner-friendly.  I like the style of their other patterns, so there is little chance that I am going to be displeased.  It also gives me something to look forward to each week and month, a little present I give myself that lasts all year.  Releasing each sampler in stages has the added effect of turning patterns into stitch-alongs--a crafting experience in which the participants work on the same project at the same time.  Beginners feel more confident because they know that they can turn to other people for questions.  Experienced stitchers engage in friendly competitions to see who can stitch each stage of the pattern first.  Early completed patterns, unusual patterns, and unique touches might be featured on the Frosted Pumpkin Facebook page.  While counted cross-stitch projects tend to be uniform by nature, that doesn't stop people from going in different directions, like having the jackalope stand underneath a rainbow or providing a girl mushroom companion to the boy mushroom.

Amanda and Ashleigh have been taking intensive business classes from their local extension of the Small Business Administration.  These classes have helped them form strategies for building a loyal customer base.  One of these strategies appears to be providing incentives for subscribers to become invested in the sampler beyond the satisfaction of completing the project.  Several days before the release of each month's pattern for the 2013 Woodland Sampler, they post a Facebook status asking for guesses on that month's pattern.  The first person to make a correct guess receives a free pattern of her choice.

The Summer Sampler provides even more opportunities to get involved.  If 400 people buy the pattern by the day the last part is released (July 19), all 400 people will receive a free pattern that won't be for sale on the website or to people who buy the pattern after that date.  As of June 9, they had already reached 200 people and celebrated by pledging money to a Kickstarter campaign benefitting a farm in their community.  They are also holding a "speedy stitcher" contest.  People enter by e-mailing them a picture of that week's completed stage of the pattern by midnight on the Thursday after the release of that stage.  Out of the pool of people who are able to accomplish this for each stage of the pattern, three people will get a free copy of the upcoming autumn sampler.  The contest began with the frames, which I was unable to complete in time, but it gives me a goal to work towards on future samplers.

As a result of a combination of cuteness, surprise, community, and competition, Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery isn't just a pattern company--for me, it is a full-on addiction.  I am looking forward to what the future holds, both for Frosted Pumpkin patterns and to see how Amanda and Ashleigh grow as entrepreneurs.


  1. Found your blog through the Frosted Pumpkin. :) They are my favorite pattern store too!

  2. Yay...What a great article on The Frosted Pumpkin and the gals behind it. Love everything about them.