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‘I just like to create’

3 area artisans share how they got started with their craft

Albert Lean Tammy Fink was a young child when her mother taught her how to sew her own clothes.

From there, she expanded into quilts and other home decor, and in the years since, she has dabbled into sewing everything from table runners to aprons and pillows. She has learned upholstery, repurposing furniture, sublimation printing and making jewelry, among other crafts. 

“It’s easier to tell people what I don’t do,” Fink said with a laugh. “I don’t knit, and I don’t crochet.”

Fink worked for Mayo Clinic for 25 years until she injured her back and had to leave the position. 

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with my days?’” she said. 

One day she went shopping at Junktion Market when it was still on Main Street, and she started talking to Penny Thompson, one of the co-owners, who also had previously worked at Mayo. Fink said she was looking for vintage fabric to use for some sewing projects, and Thompson told her they were looking for someone for the store. 

“It exploded from there,” Fink said. 

Fink began selling her creations there, and when Junktion Market moved downtown to Broadway, she also started teaching classes. She has taught classes on making gnomes and also has made kits for gnomes and signs that are sold through Albert Lea Community Community Education. 

She estimated at least 800 to 1,000 gnomes have gone through the doors of Junktion Market, whether through classes or from people buying them in the store. 

“I like to create, and I like to do many different things — whatever comes into my mind,” she said. “And other people seem to enjoy it, so that’s even better.

She says Junktion Market has been great to work with and says she enjoys being able to support a local business through her work. When she makes her gnomes, she also tries to support local thrift stores when possible, buying buttons, pins, jewelry and other items to use as embellishments and also enjoys repurposing other items. 

Her work is sold under the name of Auntie’s What-Knot Shoppe, and Fink said she completes custom orders as well. People can reach out to her through her business page on Facebook. 

She credited her mother, Louise Hagen, who helped get her interested in crafts from the start and who still helps her. 

In February she expected to also start teaching classes through Northbridge Mall that would be set up for social distancing. 

“That’s where my passion is — the teaching of classes,” she said. 

‘I just like to create’

For more than 50 years, Albert Lean Patti Hareid has traveled to the North Shore: first with her parents, then with her husband, then with her children and now with her grandchildren. 

One of the things she and her family have always done while there is dig around in the rocks on the beaches and try to find pretty rocks. 

In the beginning, she said, it was agates that many people were after, but over time she has been more interested in the more unique rocks that are unpolished or bumpy or that may have holes in them. 

“I’ve been collecting them, bringing them home for years — boxes of them,” Hareid said. “And one day I thought, ‘I should do something with these rocks, but what?’ What do people do with these rocks?”

About seven years ago, she started looking online for ideas and first started with jewelry — learning how to drill holes into the rocks and attach them to leather cords for necklaces. Little by little, she started buying beads and other things to add to the jewelry. 

“That was really fun to create and try to decide what went with what,” she said. “At first, you messed up and the glue didn’t hold. It’s really a huge trial and error thing.”

She also bought a rock tumbler to make smooth, shiny rocks.

Then came the task of figuring out how to set up a website and catalog her items. Though she did have a website up and running, she has since transitioned into selling her creations solely on Etsy. 

Hareid said she then started making family portraits out of rocks and also enjoys building scenes that remind people of their experiences on Lake Superior, which is taking up more of her time these days. She said the scenes are actually her best-selling pieces. 

“That’s my favorite thing to make, different little scenes,” she said. “I try to pattern them out of things I’ve seen. … I call them Lake Superior on the Shelf. If people have fond memories, they can get a rock view picture and put on their shelf and remember, ‘Oh, I remember when I was there.’”

Aside from her Etsy shop, Hareid said she used to have some of her items for sale in a store that has since closed in Albert Lea, and she has some of her items for sale in a store in Spooner, Wisconsin, where they have another house. She also goes to craft fairs sometimes and sells items there. 

Hareid said creating has given her a hobby. 

“It’s not the money — making money doesn’t really have anything to do with it,” she said. “I just like to create. It gives me pleasure to be creative.” 

Hareid’s pieces can be found on Etsy.com/shop/lakesentiments.

’It’s been really fun to finally have a hobby’

Alyse Anderson of rural Alden started her business in October 2019 when she was looking for a side hustle. 

An anticoagulation nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System, she said one day she was shopping at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts when she saw supplies there for metal stamping. 

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it?’” she said. “I started watching YouTube videos and ordered some supplies and slowly started teaching myself from YouTube videos and groups on Facebook. I joined as many as I could to learn as much as I could.”

From there she started adding other things — everything from earrings and bracelets to rings and keychains.

Locally, her best-sellers are her earrings, sold at Homestead Boutique. Through her Etsy shop, her best-sellers are her hand-stamped copper and brass bookmarks. 

She said it has been a huge blessing to have the Homestead Boutique to sell her items at locally. 

Of her earrings she sells at the boutique, her most popular ones are faux druzy. She also sells wooden earrings and a variety of others. 

Anderson said she usually does most of her creating between supper and bedtime so she doesn’t keep her children — ages 2, 5, 7 and 9 — up from her hammering. 

She used to do all of her work in the kitchen, but as she accumulated more supplies, she moved to the basement to give herself more room.

In addition to giving her some extra money to spend as she initially intended, she said her creations have given her a hobby. 

“I never really had a hobby before, so it’s been really fun to finally have a hobby,” she said. 

In addition to her Etsy shop — in which she has sold items to 44 states — and her selection for sale at Homestead Boutique, which she updates every couple weeks, she also sells at the farmers market and tries to do a couple vendor shows. She hopes to sell at Wind Down Wednesday. 

Her items are sold under the business name Always Alice — what she said came about because people are always mispronouncing her first name. 

She said most of her items are made to order except when she mass-produces items for shows. 

“I always thought it would be something very small but it’s turned into something larger than I ever thought it would be,” Anderson said.