Talking Shop and Stitching with Thread Honey Owner Jenn Riggs

This ain’t your grandma’s cross-stitch.

Forget the stitches of kitschy kitties or cheesy proverbs. Embroidery is having a modern, millennial-led renaissance, and at its forefront: Jenn Riggs, the owner of Thread Honey (and fellow 90’s child). Inspired by pop culture and with a passion for the handmade, Jenn’s work is the perfect marriage of new-age design and hand-stitched tradition. Her shop is full of eye-candy embroidery patterns, kits, and pieces that’ll have you needle-and-threading contemporary stitches in no time. She’s a bad-a business owner and awe-inspiring creator. And not to brag (on her behalf) or anything, but she’s got a book on embroidery coming out this fall! NBD. Everyone, meet Jenn!

About You:

How did you first get started with embroidery? 

My grandma taught me how to embroider when I was eight years old but it didn’t really stick because I wasn’t interested in the embroidery patterns that she brought for me to work on. The patterns were light blue snowmen and I remember being not very excited to work on them. It wasn’t until I was studying visual arts in college that I realized I could blend my newfound knowledge of art theory with the tradition of embroidery. I started making patterns for my own embroidery projects in illustrator then bringing them to life.

Tell us about your journey to starting Thread Honey. 

I started Thread Honey in the Fall of 2014. I originally started an Instagram account so that I could share my embroidery designs with the world and then as I started gaining an audience lots of people wanted to know where they could buy my work. I started an Etsy shop that winter and it took me over a month to get my first sale. I was working a full-time job as a graphic designer at the time and Thread Honey was a great side hustle where I had an outlet to explore my creativity. When I first began my business I only sold physical embroidery hoops and now I have expanded to sell embroidery supplies, patterns, kits, clothing items, patches and more.

Why do you think the millennial generation has a renewed interest in embroidery and stitching? What do you love about the millennial generation? 

The millennial generation has an appreciation for tradition that I think that previous generations didn’t have. We’re interested in the embroidery experience that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers also shared in, but we’re not afraid to make it our own. The thing I love most about the millennial generation is that they can respect the past while still looking to the future and embracing new takes on old traditions.

What inspires you? How do you kickstart your creativity? 

I’m inspired by music, art, TV, travel, and books. I really find inspiration in everything and try to blend all of the things that move me into my embroidery process. I can go long stretches without feeling inspired and I think that’s okay. Trying to force yourself to be creative is absolute torture. I think artists are too hard on themselves to be constantly making new things, a lot of the time it comes in ebbs and flows.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through running your own business? What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? 

Something I didn’t realize when I first started Thread Honey was how much it was going to be a trial and error process. I spent a lot of time on a few different ideas that went nowhere but instead of looking at that as a failure I now know a few different ways of not to handle my business. The best trait that I think budding entrepreneurs can possess is persistence. There will be many times that you can feel burnt out, overwhelmed or you lose sight of the grand scheme of things, but if you can push through those tough times and keep pivoting as you find a direction that works for you it will be all worth it.

You have a book coming out later this year (!!!) What has been the creation process of that book been like? 

Yes, I am SO EXCITED about my first book, Embroidery Now, published through Hardie Grant Books. It will be released this October and pre-orders will be available very soon! The book is intended for beginner and advanced embroidery artists alike and is written so that any person who picks it up, even with no prior embroidery experience, will be able to create the projects included in it. The book presents 30 projects that will transform your home and wardrobe through the art of embroidery. Projects range from embroidered hats, sandals, earrings and dresses to tea towels, table runners, tote bags and lampshades. I really wanted to showcase that through the art of embroidery you can make old things new again. At the beginning of the book, I completely break down the embroidery process, letting readers know what materials and equipment they’ll need as well as teaching the 10 illustrated stitch techniques that the reader will use to create all of the projects in the book. My goal is that after readers finish the book they will feel inspired and continue their journey with embroidery.

For me writing a book really is like having a baby — it takes nine months and you have to give up your body, mind and soul for it. Haha! Lots of sleepless nights and countless hours of work but when you’re done you’re so proud of the work that you’ve put out in the world. I have a deeper respect for the publication process, the book writing experience takes a lot of effort from a whole team – the writer, different editors, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, and publicity teams are all working together for the goal of the book’s success and it takes months of editing, re-editing and then editing again to make it happen. 

For you, why is creating by hand so important? 

There are so many things in this world that are disposable just because it’s more convenient. Fast fashion and cheap products are made and then immediately thrown into landfills and we’re losing our connection to each other in the process. When you make something by hand and then sell it to others or you buy handmade products you have the knowledge that you are directly working with another person and not a huge business conglomerate or a machine.

Tell us the story behind your favorite pop culture-inspired piece. 

I’ve started to move away from pop-culture-inspired pieces in recent years, instead favoring designs that come 100% from me. It used to be easy to embroidery quotes from my favorite movies or TV shows but over time I wanted to move away from that so I could feel more ownership over my art.

How have you built and embraced your social media community? 

I started my Instagram handle (@threadhoney) before I even opened my Etsy shop in the Fall of 2014. Back then the community of embroidery artists was much smaller and it was so fun to reach out to fellow millennial makers in a tight-knit group where we all knew one another. When I first started on social media I had no real goals, I just wanted to share my embroidery work with the world. To find an audience of people who like and respond to my work has been an absolute dream. 

Favorite collab you’ve done? 

I really enjoyed working with COACH and creating a custom hoop for Rexy, The Coach Dinosaur a couple of years ago. It was my first time working with a large, mainstream company and made me realize how modern embroidery was really having its own moment. 

The Fun Qs:

Your desert-island meal? 

I can eat tacos for breakfast lunch and dinner!

Favorite ’90s movie? 

Ooh, this may be the hardest question on here…I think I’m going to have to go with Clueless.

Favorite out-of-office activity? 

I love to practice yoga. I’m attending a two-week-long yoga teacher training course in Costa Rica at the end of the month and I can’t wait!

What song is the soundtrack to your life? 

“What a Day That Was” by The Talking Heads

You can follow Jenn on Instagram @threadhoney, on her website, or at her Etsy Shop. Pre-order Embroidery Now on Amazon.

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