Conversation with Joanne

This is a repost of an interview I did with Tara Gentile who at the time was writing the Handmade PA blog.  She has since moved on to Scoutie Girl.  If you have not read her blogs I suggest you do.  She is very bright and has a passion for hand craft.

Originally posted on August 18th, 2009

IMG_2925What is your training in art & design?

I have a degree in Textile Design from The Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. Dennis has a degree in Art from Tyler.

When & how did you begin Steel Pony?

Our actual start year was 1992. I had been a Design Director for a Large Company and had been traveling something like 8 months out of the year and was very burnt out so I left to start an small import company doing private label programs. While I was building that I met Dennis and he was looking to do something creative. We started as a t-shirt company doing screen prints of our paintings and quickly ran out of money so we started hand painting other people’s shirts. Since my background was design it was a natural progression. For me working with Fiber is not a choice but a necessity. It is truly my passion so I am constantly trying new techniques.


What signifigance does the name “Steel Pony” have?

In the old days a Steel Pony was another way of saying a sewing machine. Because they were made of Steel and they had to work like a horse.

Describe the woman you envision wearing Steel Pony clothing.

Our Clothing has always been more a lifestyle and a state of mind rather then an age oriented product. Generally our customers are creative themselves, they are other artists, people who work in the arts in some way. They are women who are very individualistic and secure in who they are.

steelponyoutfitWhat are you goals for the future of Steel Pony?

Goals are a hard thing to define. We have never had a business plan and kind of always had a go with the flow attitude. We will continue to experiment with new techniques and reach out to all age groups. The Pony Project is a particular passion for me right now. It is the most creative part of my work and my assistants work. My goal there is to spread the word on that so it will grow and blossom into something really worthwile.

If you weren’t creating & designing full-time, what other passion would you pursue full-time?

That is a really good question and I ask myself that on a daily basis but I keep coming back to working with fiber. I guess I would be running around to do workshops on fiber and traveling to the places I have not yet been.

I have been doing interviews for Handmade Philly and would love to profile you.  Please e-mail me if you would like to be featured at

Meet The Brainstormers

Meet the Brainstormers…….This blog report comes from my notes and observations at the first meeting of The Brainstormers. Obviously everyone has their own perspective so details may be missing, but I do plan to get the facts straight.  Those of you who were also there can correct me in the comments! 

So we all met last week at the Steel Pony studio ( of Joanne Litz and her business partner/husband Dennis Wolk. What a gorgeous studio! Located on Reed Street in South Philly, I was mostly worried about finding a parking space on those narrow car filled streets.  But, hooray, there was an open space right across the street.  Of course I find out later that there is a free parking lot next door…  Note for all coming next time – free lot!

Once we felt everyone had arrived, we gathered at a rectangle table and began by introducing ourselves, our craft and what we hoped for and wanted out of the group.

Dennis, Joanne, Jeanne, Nicole

Jeanne Lombardo is the owner/artist of Intuition (, whose tagline is Funktional Art. She’d love to have a consignment shop someday and currently works in a commercial design firm by day.  

Nicole Bruno owns A Stitch in Design ( (Note from Nicole: PLEASE don’t look at that site!! It needs to be updated big time!).  Nicole is an accountant with an MBA and loves to sew, quilt and make items to give away as gifts but is at a point where she feels it’s time to focus on the selling.

Dana Henry was at one time a writer for Grid, a Philly magazine working towards a sustainable Philadelphia. As a freelance writer she looks at the workshop as a way to possibly put together a guide for small art/craft businesses to help them with their marketing plans in a writing style that is not business speak.  Something more like “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World” by Isa  Moskowitz ( 

Ruth Schanbacher (our fearless Handmade Philly leader) talked about the history of Handmade Philly and how her interest lies in education and positive promotions for artisans.  Manufactured Dissent ( is an online magazine she created in 2007 for artists although she admits to not keeping it up lately.

I was next, Jan Cohen ( and spoke about finding my brand with the handbags I make.  I try to never buy any new fabrics.  By rescuing decorator fabrics from the landfill, constantly hunting down finds at Goodwill, Salvation Army and yard sales, I’ve “gone green”.  “Restyle ~ recycle” is on my card but how to make that new or different from ALL the others who are doing it also.  And yet, it is a popular but important theme……..

Next were Rachel and Jennifer representing Square Peg Artery & Salvage (, a handmade crafts and arts consignment shop at 108 South 20th St.   Rachel is the owner and likes to stay behind the scenes while running a tight ship.  She says Jen came by one day, introduced herself and seems to have never left!  A massage therapist in one part of her life, Jen is also a creator of soap products using all pure ingredients.  She says if you take each element out of her products they could all be eaten separately…….but probably not recommended. 

Jan, Jen

Dennis talked about his new line of handmade, hand sewn leather bags called Journey Bags (  He and Joanne have run Steel Pony for 17 years but in the last few years because of the economy, upscale wearable art has been harder to sell. They’ve done outdoor events, they’ve done indoor events.  They’ve had sales people but mostly now sell wholesale.  Joanne is starting to think about forming a co-op of artists who all have a vested interest in the business.

A really great, wide range of people, backgrounds, education, interests kept us talking and drinking wine (with healthy munchies) for over 3 hours until we decided that we’d meet again in April. We chose the last Wednesday of each month to brainstorm and figure out how to make it all work.  We decided to select business points from the agenda and have each member of the attending group sign up for one or more aspects that they feel they need help with.

healthy munchies!


We also agreed to allow a few more people in to round out the group a bit more, but wanted to keep the group as steady as possible. Workshops, books, shows, sales, business cards, photos……..all was brought up and dissected.  We definitely acknowledged that we might start with one theme but on any given gathering anything is open for discussion. 

And there was lots of laughs too as we got to know each other and found it comfortable to talk to other people who share your own ideas with a feeling that we were creating a great opportunity for all of us. We hope everyone can benefit from these brainstorms!

‘Til April 28th at 7:00.

Interview with Christine Fragment

Some of her work

What is your training in Art & Design?

I have actually never had any formal training in either art or design.  I started using Illustrator, Publisher, and InDesign at my office a few years ago.  I fell in love with it.  Everything I know is self-taught.  I’m now currently learning 3D modeling for construction management use too.  I can’t wait to move from my department to the other.  It may also help that my step-dad is a well-known artist (

What significance does the name LilGriffin have?

Griffin is my maiden name.  Because of my older brother, all through high school I was known as Little Griff.  My dad & step-mom used to call be lil’ bit (and they still do).  I just couldn’t part with the name.  🙂

Tell me about your background.  What path lead you to what you are doing now?

I’ve been working with a local Construction Management company for the past 6 years.  I love it there.  My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, had a brain injury back in 2006.  He’s been on disability ever since.  To save money on our wedding, I made our invitations, favors, and centerpieces myself.  I instantly fell in love with it.  I started making my own cards for people’s birthdays.  That led to invitations, which also helps pay the bills.
I use recycled or “tree-free” paper / envelopes.  I earned my Green Advantage certification through work (, which basically documents my knowledge of sustainable design, and energy efficiect products & techniques.  I have become quite passionate about recycling and using renewable resources.
Mini Card H #1

Of all your creations which are your favorite?

I honestly love the mini-cards, but they don’t sell well online (pics attached).  They usually sell better in person.  However, I love when I get to do custom work; which is pretty much any invite or save the date that I do.  The pickier the person, the more fun it is for me.  And I sometimes still amaze myself when I fulfill their wants / needs.

What are you looking forward to?

Right now – the summer.  Hehe.  This is actually going to be quite a busy year.  My husband & I have 5 weddings to attend.  We’re each in 3 of them, but not all the same 3.  I’m doing the Save the Dates and Invitations for 4 of them.  That’s keeping me quite busy.  Also, I have a niece or nephew due in the fall.

See Our Ad in GRID Magazine

GRID Magazine is a new Philly magazine
focused on sustainability here in the city
and practical, low cost things to do, cook,
places to visit, ways to lower your bills and
HANDMADE stuff like ours. You can read the
whole magazine on-line at
Our ad is on page 7!

Philly Etsy Team at Swap-o-Rama-Rama

The Philly Sewing Collective’s event today was by all accounts a success. Swap-o-Rama-Rama, a clothing swap which was held at the Old Pine Community Center, featured workshops, a fashion show, a dj and vegan baked goods by Baked and Miss Rachel’s Traveling Fare.

Members of the Philly Etsy Team were there, leading some of the workshops on sewing and manning a team table where we gave out handmade goody bags to the first 100 people who signed up for our mailing list. The goody bags were filled with items which were donated by our team members. Swap-o-Rama-Rama was held as part of Design Philadelphia 2008.

Exciting Events in October

There are a lot of great events to check out this month! Here’s a quick list so you don’t miss out:

October 11
Craftadelphia, to be held at Mew Gallery in Philadelphia. 11 fabulous vendors plus live music by Brian Dilts; David Janes and Emily Shick.

October 18, 2008
Craftadelphia, to be held at Mew Gallery in Philadelphia. This event is part of Design Philadelphia 2008, so vendors will be focusing on green and sustainable design.

October 19, 2008
The Philly Etsy Team will be giving away 100 FREE goody bags at Swap-O-Rama-Rama which is being held by the Philadelphia Sewing Collective on October 19th. The goody bags will be filled with handmade, independently designed items from our team members. Swap-o-Rama-Rama is being held as part of Design Philadelphia 2008.

Event Date: October 19, 2008 Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm Location: Old Pine Community Center 401 Lombard Street Philadelphia, PA 19144

Description: Swap-O-Rama Rama is a clothing swap and series of do-it- yourself workshops in which a community explores creative reuse through the recycling of used clothing. ** Please bring clean clothes to swap as part of admission.

Admission: $20, $10 for seniors **
For More Information:

Philly Etsy Team Sews Goody Bags…

On Sunday, the Philly Etsy Team met up at Mew Gallery to sew goody bags, which we will be giving away for FREE at Swap-O-Rama-Rama* on October 19th. The goody bags will be filled with handmade, independently designed items from our team members. So far we have about 50 sewn, but we’re hoping to make as many as 300.

[*Swap-O-Rama Rama (SORR) is being held at the Old Pine Community Center: 401 Lombard from 12-5pm. SORR is a clothing swap and series of do-it-yourself workshops in which a community explores creative reuse through the recycling of clothing. ** Please bring clean clothes to swap as part of admission. Admission: $20, $10 for seniors ** This event is being held as part of Design Philadelphia, the largest annual celebration of design to be found anywhere in the U.S.]