Michele Costa of DeKalb describes her job as a fiber arts blogger, designer and teacher as “hitting the lottery.”
“I can’t believe that it’s really my job, to be able to find a creative way to connect with people,” Costa said.
Costa is a crochet and knitwear designer, the creator of the blog, Stitch & Hustle, and the founder of Stitch Up Events.
When Costa heard about the lack of inclusivity and diversity in the fiber arts industry, she said her heart broke and she saw a need for community.
Costa was part of a free panel discussion, “Creating a Culture of Connection and Inclusion,” on Aug. 2, part of the Stitches Midwest conference at the Schaumburg Convention Center. She also taught three workshop classes.
Costa met with MidWeek Reporter Katrina Milton to discuss her blog, designs, Stitch Up Events and the importance of inclusivity in the fiber arts industry.
Milton: How did you start your career in the fiber arts?
Costa: I started knitting and crocheting for fun. I had a stressful job, and I did it to destress. When we moved to DeKalb from Miami, I changed jobs and had a different lifestyle. My husband suggested starting an Etsy shop. I sold out, about 30 items, in five days. It was in October, right before Christmas. The timing was great, I got in at the right time.
Milton: How did your career take off?
Costa: Etsy asked to feature my work in their pavilion, a one-of-a-kind show and merchandise mart. There were 600 curated artists and mine was the busiest in the Etsy-featured area. Other makers asked me how I made my things and how I found success. That’s when I started selling my designs and patterns. I turned my Etsy shop into my own brand. I found my love in designing. I started my blog in March 2016, and it blew up in three months. I was running three businesses at once: the handmade retail on Etsy, selling my designs and the blog.
Milton: What is one of your most recent designs?
Costa: I have always been inspired by architecture. The collection I have coming out in September is six pieces entirely based on the Willis Tower. The tower is a mathematical feat. The collection is based on the prisms that form to make the Willis Tower.
Milton: Are you originally from the DeKalb area?
Costa: I grew up in New York City in a culturally diverse setting. I’ve always found comfort in different cultures. I realized I didn’t see a lot of diversity in knitting and fiber events. My blog showed me that community was needed. I made a post asking if people would be interested in attending an event coordinated by me, and more than 200 people said yes. That’s how Stitch Up Chicago launched. When it was first held in 2017, 45 people attended. In 2018, 70 people. This year, there are 120 people signed up.
Milton: When did you decide to start Stitch Up Events?
Costa: I know there’s an interest in gathering together and community, so I decided to close the retail business that started it all. The Etsy shop was a gateway for me. It was a stepping stone to finding my real calling of being a community builder and designer. Now I am able to serve myself, my passions and my community.
Milton: How is community tied into what you do?
Costa: Community is important to me, and I have a unique perspective as a white woman from a culturally diverse background. The panel at Stitches Midwest in Schaumburg is about the lack of diversity in the industry. I held Stitch Up Brooklyn and plan to hold Stitch Up events in five cities next year. I launched the company [Stitch Up Events] because I saw a need for diversity and inclusivity.
Milton: Why is inclusivity and diversity important to you?
Costa: I heard stories I didn’t know happened, and I knew something had to be done about it. I think it’s important to create a safe and inclusive space and to offer more opportunies so that there’s a seat at the table for people that want it. I felt compelled to act and not be a bystander, to be inclusive. I want to tell people ‘I hear you, I believe you, and together, we can make a difference.’
Milton: What do you teach?
Costa: I teach all levels of crochet and beginning and intermediate knitting to children 8 years old and older and adults. I also teach projects, where you show up and leave with a hat or scarf. I think teaching is a creative way to connect with people. Retail was 100% business driven, and what I’m doing now is 100% community and creativity driven.
Milton: Did you ever think that you’d be doing this?
Costa: I wanted to crochet for a living and make it a sustainable business, but now three business ventures later, I never imagined this life. But did I dream of it and thought that by busting my [butt] it would happen? Yes. Now I have a new lofty set of goals. … For me, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I can’t believe that this is my job, that I get paid to do this. I love knitting and crocheting. I’m so happy that I get to use them as a way to step up and create a safe and inclusive space to do the things I love. I’m living my best life every single day. Sometimes I’m described as “a party on feet,” and that’s great. This is my jam.
Milton: Do you have any advice for readers?
Costa: You can get any goal you want if you’re willing to hustle hard. I’ve realized that I’ll never be an architect, but I’m an architect of clothing and design and community. What I do certainly has architecture in it. Just have fun with it. Be creative, have fun and live your best life.
For more information about Michele Costa, visit www.michelecosta.com.