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A contemporary embroidery artist builds a thriving creative business and life outside of the city



SARAH K. BENNING
Artist & DIY Designer in Keene, New Hampshire

{Photos by: Sanders Three, Davey Mandesea & Sarah Benning}


I’m excited to invite you to my conversation with artist, embroiderer and DIY designer Sarah Benning. Sarah spends most of her days embroidering and lives in a historic, quirky and colorful Victorian home with her partner, co-worker and musician, Davey Mandesea. Sarah's life might sound like a story from the past, when embroidery was a more widely practiced creative medium, but she has been able to bring this antiquated art form into the 21st century. Sarah has built a successful and sustaining career as contemporary artist, creating one of a kind hand stitched artworks, DIY kits and digital embroidery patterns.


Looking at what she's built you might think she's always worked in this medium, but Sarah wasn't always working in thread. She studied painting while attending college in Chicago. At the end of school she felt creatively burnt out and didn't know how she would be able to build an art career or find gainful employment in the arts. At college, it was constantly reinforced that in order to be a successful artist one has to live in a big city. With the high cost of living and stiff competition, Sarah couldn't see herself clawing her way into some semblance of an arts career in the metropolis.


Instead, she decided to throw caution to the wind and move from Chicago to Albany, NY to be closer to her partner Davey. She took a job as a nanny and in her downtime began experimenting with embroidery as a creative medium. She found that the much lower cost of living and the less stressful lifestyle reinvigorated her creativity and gave her more free time to experiment. She got a job working and a grocery store and spent all of her free time building her stitching skills and experimenting with patterns and designs.


Documenting her work and process on Instagram in the early days of the app Sarah amassed an enormous online following that helped her begin selling her work. In just a year and a half, she was making more selling art than she was making working at the grocery store. This was when she decided to try to make art her full time hustle. She has slowly built a sustainable art business by constantly evolving her work and offerings to keep up with the wants and needs of her customers. Now, both Sarah and Davey work full time to run the business.


After a few years in Albany Sarah and Davey moved to a tiny community in New Hampshire. They had homesteading dreams and were excited to have more space to spread out and grow. A short while later they realized that living in a community of under 800 people didn't feel quite like the right fit and they started looking for properties in other small communities that were walkable and had slightly more local amenities.


Finding their home online was what ultimately made them choose Keene. A crumbling three-story Victorian with enough space for a studio for Sarah's art, a studio for Davey's music and plenty of room to grow. Their bright, playful home is the embodiment of Sarah's creative sensibilities. It is still a work in progress, but Sarah and Davey have enjoyed the process of spending their free time going room-by-room repairing, painting, wallpapering and making it feel truly like home.



A self-professed introvert, building a creative community in their new town is also a work in progress. A small college town, Keene had all of the benefits of a small town living with the added benefits of more cultural offerings and a thriving downtown. Covid made it much more difficult to meet new people, but now that people are vaccinated and businesses are open again, Sarah has gotten proactive and has started a local craft night to connect with other creative folks in her town.


Sarah running an embroidery workshop

I am so inspired by Sarah’s creative journey of taking a leap from side hustle to full time artist. I also really appreciate her journey of leaving the city and moving to a tiny community before realizing that a slightly larger small town felt more like home. Sarah’s story speaks to both the intense amount of work it requires to build your own business and also the tremendous rewards of having more autonomy and flexibility in your life.

This is a story of making your passion your profession, being open and willing to make creative evolutions, rural entrepreneurship in the digital age, the lost art of embroidery, and so much more. I hope you enjoy it.



I encourage you to peruse Sarah’s online shop or consider taking one of her workshops.


Thank you Sarah (and Davey) for sharing your story and images from your daily life with us!


LINKS

Sarah's website

Sarah's Instagram

Sarah's Facebook