From Craft Drawer to Career

by Petra Jones

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Whether she's making metal clay rings, teaching workshops or producing new learning resources on this fascinating clay-like material, Hattie Sanderson's craft business is, in her words, a "one-woman show." After a career including work as an art director, Sanderson became a stay-at-home mom and made a pivotal decision to set up her own home craft studio--she's never looked back. Twice winner of the RandL Matteson Jewelry Design Award, Sanderson now produces an entire product range (HattieS®) intended to help others create their own metal clay designs--from instructional media to ring-sizing inserts, lettering stamps and even hallmark kits.

Craftwork has been a part of Sanderson's life for as long as she can remember. Sanderson says, "It was not because I knew I had a love for the arts, it was because the 'craft drawer' at my home was a readily available form of 'self entertainment.' I had six siblings and my parents owned and operated a busy dairy farm as well as a stock car speedway. If we couldn't make our own entertainment and stay out of my mother's hair, she could always find another chore for us to do. That craft drawer became a favorite escape for me with its various scrap papers, glues, glitters, crayons, paints and fabrics."

Sanderson went on to take graphic design courses in her junior and senior years in a working classroom, where she learned every aspect of the printing business including design and typesetting before deciding to get a degree in graphic design as a "viable way to make a living through a creative channel." Sanderson says, "Over the years I worked in various print and multimedia service jobs, eventually working my way up to the position of art director. As an art director, my duties were to manage job production, freelance artists, inventory and purchasing all while staying under budget and meeting deadlines, [which] taught me the ins and outs of running a business."All invaluable experience for the moment when she was to begin her own craft business, but it wasn't so much planned as a natural evolution of her hobby. Sanderson reveals, "Upon the birth of my first child, I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and set up a studio in my home to 'play' in various fine craft media. I worked mostly in two-dimensional media including fiber and painting. Before long I started to teach small classes to support my 'art habit' so I could purchase more supplies."

Sanderson began looking to transfer her ideas and designs into three-dimensional forms, so she made the decision to return to college to learn metal smithing. It was at one of these classes that she first learned about metal clay--a new material that would transform her craftwork forever. Sanderson enthuses, "I was so intrigued that I purchased fifty grams of fine silver clay and a kiln to fire it in. I was fascinated by the possibilities of this clay-like material that can be formed, molded and constructed into an infinite number of designs in fine silver, limited only by my imagination and skills."

But learning her new craft was far from easy. Sanderson explains, "I learned to work with the material on my own because at the time, the product was so new that there were very few workshops available around the country and even fewer books on the subject. There was no such thing as an online forum where you could simply type in a question and get a hundred answers within the hour like there is today." When Sanderson began teaching others how to work with metal clay, ideas for teaching resources and aids for working with the material rapidly began to emerge. "It was born out of my need to create products and design aids that I could give to my students so that they could go home and repeat the design and construction techniques that I was teaching in workshops." The very first product sold outside of Sanderson's workshops was a HattieS® Patties ring insert designed to control the shrinking of metal clay during the firing process so that the finished ring turns out the correct size. After spending a year developing them for her own use and perfecting the idea in her studio, Sanderson let her students try them out.

The idea was a success, but success brought its own set of challenges. Sanderson says, "The biggest challenge has been finding a balance between business time and family time. When you are self-employed, it is very easy to put in 60 or 70 hours a week and still not get everything done while you are growing your business. My solution has been to predetermine what time I will shut down the studio on any given day and stick to it. Word spread by word of mouth and, before I knew it, I turned my basement into a mini-factory and mail-order house for my small product line. I barely had any time to be an artist, but I was making money." Sanderson needed to find a way to free up more time for both her craftwork and teaching.

A talk on her HattieS® Patties product range at the PMC Guild International Conference led to Joe and Speedy Peacock, the owners of Metal Clay Supply (, offering to manufacture, promote and distribute her products. Sanderson says, "This was definitely divine timing. This relationship would allow me to once again focus my time on being an artist and instructor." Sanderson is currently working on the release of a new line of HattieS® QuikArt™ Ring Shank Templates (easily cut-out ring shank designs) and a forthcoming technique book on metal clay ring making.

Sanderson's story just goes to show how a craft business can change over time. Sanderson explains, "I earned my bread and butter by selling my finished jewelry through various shops and galleries and would teach workshops when I could fit them in. Over the years, the tables have turned and I now spend most of my time designing, teaching and consulting. My intention is to teach workshops for as long as I still enjoy it and feel I have something to contribute to the metal clay world. When this part of my journey ends, I hope to create much more jewelry to sell. I have dozens of sketchbooks waiting for me when that day comes."