Editor's Note: This is the next post featuring local mom and dad artists and creators in our Made by Mom and Dad Gift Guide.
Belinda Briggs started sewing back a few decades ago when home economics was a required middle school course and the class project involved sewing a stuffed animal.
Briggs, who lived in Massachusetts at the time, made two - one for her mom's house and one for her dad's house. And while sewing became a kind of hobby, she never considered it career material. She'd go on to earn a master's degree in biology, worked in wetlands and then moved into information technology. Then, the kids came along.
"I grew up as a latchkey child and felt so lonely," Briggs said. "I didn't want that for my kids."
Looking for that seemingly mythical work-family balance, Briggs, now a mom of two in Morrisville, tried a variety of different jobs, sometimes part-time work at the company where she'd spent much of her career. But the hours just weren't compatible with her needs for family time.
Her business, Belinda Lee Designs, making decorative pillows from her home, came about almost by accident a couple of years ago. Her children, who attend a local Catholic private school, wear uniforms to school and wanted something to personalize their look. Briggs would monogram their backpacks and other pieces. Pretty soon, she was monogramming the bags and items of other kids at the school.
She started thinking the work might actually be a business. She presented her plan to her husband, complete with the goal of saving money from her then part-time job to help start up the business. He was on board.
"I was so determined to make it work, I agreed to everything under the sun," she said.
Pretty soon, she was not only monogramming items, but sewing drapes and even a complete nursery set with bumper, quilt and more. She didn't consider specializing in one product until a local interior designer asked her to make pillows for her favorite clients with messages on them.
Once Briggs was done with the project, the customer was so impressed, she told her that she needed to focus on the pillows.
"She said, 'this is it,'" Briggs remembers. "'This is what your business is going to be. You will be making message pillows.' I said, 'you're crazy.'"
But that client, who would end up providing Briggs with lessons to ensure that the pillows come out just right each time, was the one who was right.
Briggs saw the popularity of the pillows that she sold online. And she realized how much easier it was to focus on one item instead of having to learn how to complete a variety of new projects all of the time.
"The more personalized they were, the more they sold," she said of her pillows. "I started filling up my Etsy shop with that kind of thing."
Today, Belinda Lee Designs is growing with orders for her family tree pillows, announcement subway art pieces, other message pillows and embroidered wall art. She loves to work with customers on their custom orders, saying sometimes her best ideas come from them.
She's worked hard to improve on her designs, finding the best way to place the zippers, for instance, and creating pillows that can hold up to use over many years. They are washable.
She has more ideas for ways to grow the business. She'd love to see her kids, now in elementary school and middle school, helping out.
"The whole thing has been pretty mind warping," she said. "It's like an MBA on the road."
Check Briggs' website for more information and to see her work. Orders in the continental United States must be placed by Dec. 4 to arrive in time for Christmas.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.