Friday, December 9, 2016

a few words, heart and soul

Etsy is composed of thousands upon thousands of sellers. I formed my business, Kissa Design, in 2007, after working a 9 to 5 in advertising and publishing for many years, although I think my business had been coalescing, gradually, from my many different interests, along my particular path through life. 

I joined Etsy in 2009, and reintroduced a unique form of paper ornament making to the big wide web world when I listed my first ornaments for sale that year under my own brand name, Star Urchins. The interest in my work has been astounding.  

I have been making these ornaments all of my life. They are a traditional Polish form of folk art called jeżyk, originally made from tissue paper to use as decoration during the harvest and holiday seasons more than 100 years ago. I was taught as a child by my mother who learned how to make them from a dear Polish friend when they were teenagers, and who intentionally brought them forward into my creative lexicon as a hands-on way to connect me to my Polish heritage.

My Etsy shop has become my body of work, my portfolio, created over many years, and was based on a tiny glimmer of an idea: to shine a modern light on a traditional, even humble, folk art craft that has been near and dear to me, and to move it beyond the Christmas tree into the realm of year-round decorative use. 

I created a vast, vivid and colorful, one-of-a-kind collection of paper artworks, and built it from the ground-up, based on my exploration of different textures, forms, sizes and techniques. During this process I created ornaments both little and large, hand-glittered "Sparklers", tree toppers, stemmed bouquets and magnets, "Wall Urchins" and more, hand-formed from my vision and imagination. At the time of my shop's inception, there were no other sellers of this particular craft form to imitate. 

My work is my own, my shop was fully conceptualized by me. My over 1300 Etsy sales represent thousands of handmade works shipped around the globe, all handmade by me. My words written throughout my shop, my web site, my blog and everywhere else are all my own. My photography, styling and editing are my own. My brand is my own. All of the press I have been so fortunate to receive has evolved from my own merit. I am an example of an independent artisan, the heart and soul of an original small handmade business started from scratch, literally from a blank sheet of paper. And I thank you, sincerely, for your continued patronage, past, present and onward throughout the new years. -Kathleen./Kissa Design

Thursday, January 1, 2015

about the artist: Kissa Design

Kathleen has been a gardener all her life, and was called a "free spirit" early on, due to her carefree yet spirited personality. After receiving a B.A. in archaeology and English literature at the University of Michigan, she worked at a national advertising agency for many years.

"It was a good experience overall, and I learned a lot about that side of business, but I always felt a strong pull towards my other more creative interests, and to working with my hands, so I started exploring some of the traditional crafts handed down through my family." Thus, her business, Kissa Design, was born in 2007. Kissa, which means "cat" in Finnish, is a play on her nickname, Kat, and is also a nod to her Finnish heritage.

"I especially enjoyed exploring the paper folk art ornament first taught to me when I was a child; it became a means to connect me to my Polish heritage. At different points in history it was called a porcupine ball in the U.S., but its name was derived from the Polish word jeżyk, meaning hedgehog. Today, this type of ornament is most commonly referred to as a 'Polish star'." She presented her colorful, modern work to a new generation of crafters through the handmade marketplace Etsy, and a global revitalization of the craft soon followed. Kathleen says that her popular handcrafted ornaments, which she named Star Urchins, are the perfect marriage between current vintage and modern design aesthetics. Her work has appeared in Coastal LivingThe Wall Street Journal, and in Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living and BUST magazines, as well as on numerous blogs and web sites, including BuzzFeed,, Apartment Therapy, Design*Sponge, Food52 and more.

Kathleen is a certified Master Gardener with a passion for transforming small static urban landscapes into personalized retreats. "I like to encourage harmonies between nature and the urban environment, to infuse age-old gardening techniques with modern strategies. Why not try to grow corn in the city?", she urges. "My Finnish mother grew up in the country, adjoining a family farm in the Upper Peninsula, where land and fresh produce were plentiful; my Polish father on the east side of Detroit. But even his family had a small vegetable plot, and they also raised chickens there. I really feel I am a good blend of the two. I am 'a tale of two gardeners', and I guess you could say that I'm 'a tale of two peninsulas' as well. I deeply crave connecting with the earth the way farmers do, and the serenity and sense of space that the Upper Peninsula can provide, but I still enjoy the diversity of cultures and the challenges of a more urban environment."

In addition to having been a garden design consultant, illustrator and coach, she is an artist who has designed across many media, from digital page to paper, and has produced countless drawings, paintings and other handcrafted goods throughout the years. Her primary design influences come from nature and her family's many crafting traditions.

"Above all, I believe everyone, no matter where they live, should have beautiful surroundings..." she says.

A vital part of her personal surroundings are what could be called "unearthed treasures." Her passion for neatly designed antique, vintage and modern furniture, art and decor led her to open a second Etsy shop that she hopes to continue to expand upon in the future.

Kathleen currently lives in small community near Detroit, Michigan USA. She calls her own backyard "... a continual work in progress/test lab," and each year adds to her "moonlit garden" intoxicating fragrances and dreamy colors of soft whites, pastels, and silvery blues and greens, mixed with bright accents of modern color.

on the shore of Lake Superior, in Michigan's U.P.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

taking time for tea

To me, fine porcelain teacups represent many things: a time gone by, when ladies gathered in parlors to chat about other ladies in other parlors (black and white movie version); grabbing a moment to savor zen in the middle of a hectic day; the importance of appreciating the fragile and temporary qualities often inherent in beauty...

These past few months, I have been working on my vintage inventory. Deciding to part with collections, no matter how atypical they are from the rest of the examples in my eclectic collage called home, has never been an easy task for me. But sometimes one just has to let go and send the vintage love on to others; keep a favorite one (or two) from the collection and don't look back when the others go... Every piece may have a history, but it should have a future too, where new memories of cherished times will be revealed, and less dust gathers.

teacups with floral designs suggest one should "stop to smell the roses"

Monday, December 3, 2012

six hundred (and one) blessings

At the beginning of last month I was celebrating 500 sales in my handmade shop on Etsy. Just one month later, I am celebrating number 600 (and one)! Each sale has been a blessing.

I was a child when my mother decided to teach me and my siblings how to create the spiky paper Polish folk art ornament she happened to learn to make as a teenager. She had raised us with a deep understanding of our Finnish heritage, and wanted us to feel connected to our Polish roots, too. We still have some of the ornaments we made back then, but it wasn't until much later that I looked at the craft more seriously as a folk art form, and explored the various uses for the ornaments within a modern context. What followed has been an amazing journey. I am both humbled and awed by the support of the Etsy and extended artisan communities, as well as my fabulous family.

Last week one of my handcrafted tree toppers was featured on Apartment Therapy (, alongside tree toppers from West Elm, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and others! And thinking back to the little girl who twirled her first points to create this magical spiky paper tree decoration, I never could have imagined what would result from the humble little handmade blessing that was bestowed upon me. Thank you to all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

the tomato cycle

I'm not what you would consider a tomato lover. I don't have a healthy appetite for them. But each year I plant a few, and experiment with new varieties, in addition to growing two of my favorites. And every summer, when I'm picking them in mass quantities, I ask myself why I do this, plant so many. For the most part, I give my tomatoes away, keeping aside one or two a week for myself. But fortunately, I have family who eat them like candy; so I'm doing it for them (I tell myself). Maybe one year I will plant a variety that will revolutionize my dietary menu. Experimentation and the thrill of discovery... isn't that what gardening should be about?

(from top, clockwise): Big Daddy, Yellow Pear, Italian Ice, Orange Wellington

My crop this year included Big Daddy, a wonderfully sweet and meaty tomato that holds up well when sliced for sandwiches such as vegetarian BLTs (with soy bacon) or atop a toasted bagel with cream cheese; Yellow Pear (an heirloom variety), which is so prolific in my garden that I have a hard time keeping up with the harvest (but this is the family favorite); Italian Ice, my current favorite due to its very mild taste and firm texture; and Orange Wellington, which in my opinion is the most beautiful slicing tomato I've ever grown. 

I prefer to plant indeterminate varieties, or those that grow continuously until first frost, because part of the fun for me is to see how large these plants can grow in their single season (the Yellow Pear is always the winner, growing beyond two stacked tomato cages in height). 

Of course, I already have my eye on a couple of new varieties for next year. And I'm sure I will find room in my small garden for just a few more...  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

garden-inspired jeżyk

When I can find the extra time, I enjoy creating garden-inspired versions of my Star Urchin ornaments, handcrafted by upcycling old garden design magazines, otherwise slated for the recycle bin. As you'll see, I am particular about the images that I use to create each ornament, which can add to the already time-consuming nature of this art form.

For this first ornament, that I titled Greens (size 4-inch), I was inspired by the mid-century design aesthetic of highly sheered garden hedges. I carefully selected pages featuring evergreen and deciduous shrubbery, being mindful of using complementary images as much as possible, so as not to detract from the final finished form. Creating a harmonious composition through the use of color and texture follows a basic garden design tenet:  

This bright and cheery ornament was made using various pictures of Narcissus, or daffodil flowers, and features fresh garden hues of yellow, orange and green; the result is a lovely homage to spring and its riot of colors after the long, gray winter here (size 3-inch):

This ornament was made using pictures of Canna 'Pretoria', with its dramatic yellow-and-green variegated leaves; the delightful mix of color and pattern adds a tropical twist to this repurposed-paper modern folk art ball (size 4-inch):

While these ornaments can be used the traditional way, hung on a Christmas tree, they also make great garden-themed gifts for gardeners, horticulturalists or landscape architects, and can be displayed as decorative art pieces on a coffee table, desk or book shelf throughout the year. Visit my shop to see my current listings; additional ornaments are available for commission only.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

lavender harvest

Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso' in my garden

It's that time of year again! I've begun the lavender harvest, gathering stems while the flower buds are at their peak and contain maximum fragrance, spreading them out on old window screens to dry. My entire house smells of lavender, and I guess I do, too, because I am often asked what is this wonderful fragrance I am wearing, during the harvest season, lol... 

fresh lavender stems in vintage lavender glass 

Shown here is my favorite variety, Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'. I've had great success growing it in informal raised beds (mounded planting beds) in my zone 6 garden. I have placed a few other lavenders throughout my garden for ornamental purposes (and for the bees of course!), but Grosso is my first choice for crafting projects and fresh bouquets, due to its amazing fragrance and prolific production of long-stemmed, high-yielding flower spikes. It wouldn't feel like summer to me without this fabulous plant in bloom in my garden. Additional lovely lavenders for zones 5/6 include Lavandula augustifolia 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote Blue'.

Lavender is best dried hanging in small bundles or spread out on drying racks
(I use window screens) in a hot, dry and dark space, such as an attic or loft.
After the lavender has dried, strip the buds from the stems to use in sachets.

When growing lavender, whether for personal use or for a small business, it is important to plant successively, adding new plants every couple years or so. This helps to ensure that your supply will remain steady, as older plants' production diminishes or ends after about 7 to 10 years. I currently have a dozen Grosso lavender plants of various ages in my garden, and my small harvest each year provides me with more than enough lavender buds to last through to the next harvest season, when once again, this versatile plant will fill the midsummer air with its lovely fragrance.

My collection of hand-sewn lavender sachet dogs, cats, bears, moons and stars.