Ahhh! There is so much to love when it comes to Sarah K. Benning’s work. Not only is her attention to detail spot on, but her embroidery work and color captures so much sunshine and cheer. Our London Fair is so lucky to have Sarah K. Benning!
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
I am Sarah K. Benning and I make contemporary embroidery, so my business name is pretty straightforward. Sometimes I wish I had gone in a different direction, and chosen a different name for my business, but when I first opened my Etsy shop I had no idea how much it would take off and what it would turn into! Most of the time I like that my actual name is the same as my business name. I think it’s good to remind my customers and my followers that there is, in fact, a real person behind the products and social media accounts.
Have you always been passionate about design?
I have always been passionate about bing an artist. I grew up surrounded by artists and creative professionals, so it always seemed like that was a real possibility. I attended an arts high school, and later received my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to be anything else.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft?
Despite having taken many classes in the Fiber department at SAIC, I didn’t start embroidering until after school. I opened my Etsy shop in 2013 selling hand-stitched greeting cards. My shop quickly grew to include embroidery hoop art and I have never looked back. I am constantly pushing myself to hone my skills and further develop my unique voice. My current body of works consists of hand-stitched pieces depicting house plants, oceans, and moons.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
Since I am self-taught in embroidery, I don’t use a lot of traditional stitches or techniques. I approach my pieces more like illustrations since each piece starts as a drawing and is then painstakingly filled in with thread. I try to keep my embroideries fresh and contemporary in terms of technique and subject matter and try to avoid falling into predictable patterns. I don’t like to get too comfortable in my work, because then it feels like I am a one person factory turning out the same things over and over again. What’s the point of being a self-employed artist if you can’t allow yourself a little creative freedom? (I always keep my fingers crossed that my followers and supporters will be just as excited about new work as I am!)
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Of course, I’ve had many major and minor failures over the past 2.5 years. It’s important to view these failures as learning opportunities, rather than catastrophes. There is a lot of pressure to always be perfect. Social media and branding adds to this pressure and can magnify the inevitable failures. As anyone who has ever used Instagram or Pinterest knows, every independent maker/artist/designer/stylist/etc. is effortlessly living the perfect, natural-light-filled bohemian dream (ha!). But, as I have learned, it’s not always that easy. I have had to work really hard to create a separation between my business and my personal life. I highly encourage other small business owners to do the same. Cut yourself a break, because you are only one person (at least in my case) trying to manage every aspect of your business from product development to packaging and shipping and everything in between.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
There have been plenty of sacrifices along the way. First and foremost is probably sleep. Especially in the early days, when my business was first picking up and I was still working a full-time day job, I was constantly working 16 hour days and barely finding time for things like food and sleep (not to mention a social life!) But I definitely don’t regret any of it, it’s been an amazing experience to build a career for myself by doing what I love.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
The proudest moment since I started Sarah K. Benning : Contemporary Embroidery was the day I was finally able to quit my day job. It was a year and a half in the making, but it was so gratifying (and only a little scary) to leave corporate security and take the plunge into full-time self-employment.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
Right now, I am transitioning between living and working in Upstate New York to living and working in Menorca, Spain. Besides the obvious challenges of moving my business to another continent and learning a new language, Menorca has been an incredibly inspiring place. The landscape and plant life are amazing and, even though I have only been here for a month, the change of scenery has already impacted my work.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
Because of my fine arts background, I started out with a lot of confidence in my technical abilities. The business side of things, on the other hand, has definitely been more of a trial by fire. I continue to learn as I go and do my best to learn from my mistakes.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Exhaustion. I reached a point where I had to choose between continuing my day job or committing to my business, because physically and mentally I couldn’t do both anymore. It was an easy decision.
What are some inspirations for your work?
Lately, I’ve been deeply inspired by the plant life and landscape of Menorca. I know I already mentioned it, but it is such a beautiful island and most of the time I can’t believe I live here. I also look at a lot of Mid Century Modern design and more contemporary process-based art practices. I love Tara Donovan’s work. I love how she builds her incredible installations one little piece at a time.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Have faith in yourself and what you are doing. Chances are, if you are really pumped about what you are making, other people will be too. Also, be open to constructive criticism, but stick to your instincts.
Don’t miss out on our London Fair coming up November 7+8 at the Old Truman Brewery! You can find Sarah K. Benning online here: