Crafting a new life ‘Away Up North’

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When Down East magazine selected Maine products for their 2013 holiday gift guide, they chose to include Glenna Oliver’s handmade wool Christmas stockings and decorative pillows, and featured both on the cover of the December issue.

Glenna, who creates her unique gift items in a cozy workspace in her Bethel home, was contacted by the magazine in late September and asked to submit five items from which the editorial staff could choose.

She had recently received Maine Made certification, joining more than 2000 Maine companies who offer everything from gourmet foods to furniture. The certification allows her to use the easily-identifiable “Maine Made” tags and labels, and to have her products included on the Maine Made website and in kiosk displays.

“I found out in late October that my products would be in Down East, but I didn’t know they would be on the cover,” she says. The magazine chose three of the five items she sent and provided links to Glenna’s shop, called “Away Up North,” on Etsy, the on-line marketplace where she sells her products.

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That exposure helped to boost her already strong seasonal sales, and kept Glenna at her sewing machine far into the night in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

A new life in Maine

Glenna and her husband Mark moved to Bethel in 2010, after selling the family marina business in New Jersey. The recent emptynesters were ready to make a new life for themselves.

They had discovered western Maine through camping with their children at South Arm Campground on Lower Richardson Lake, in Township C. Although they had no prior connection to Bethel, they were drawn to the area, and thrilled to find the perfect house waiting for them, nestled into a wooded lot.

“It was time to sell the business in New Jersey, but we weren’t ready to retire, so we knew we would both need to find jobs once we moved to Maine,” Glenna says.

Mark quickly found work in his field—he now works at Moose Landing Marina in Naples—but Glenna, who had been a stayat- home mom throughout their marriage, hadn’t yet made up her mind about what direction to pursue.

“Away Up North” on Etsy Her daughter, Caitlin, suggested turning a longtime hobby into a business. Glenna had always loved to sew, and over the years had created quilts, clothing, and gifts, but she had never thought about using her crafting skills to make a living.

Caitlin knew that the online marketplace, Etsy, where individuals sell unique and handmade goods, would be the perfect showcase for her mom’s talents.

“Years earlier, a friend who ran an antiques store had asked me to make some Christmas stockings for her to sell in her shop,” Glenna says. “We still have four of them that we use for our own family every year. My daughter knew all about Etsy, and she suggested setting up an Etsy shop and making Christmas stockings to sell.”

They searched the Etsy website for Christmas stockings to see what was already being offered, and found nearly 9,000 listings—a number that has since increased tenfold as Etsy’s popularity has grown. But none were quite like Glenna’s designs, which are made of wool fabric, lined with muslin, and appliquéd with rustic motifs such as pine trees, bears, and moose.

Glenna set up a workspace in the large open area overlooking her living room, and opened her on-line shop in October of 2011, the same day Mark started his new job at the marina. “Things got crazy,” she says, as the stockings began selling right away.

She was surprised at how well her new business venture took off, and after the holidays she decided to add decorative throw pillows and small balsam pillows to her product line.

“Originally, all of the balsam came from our own Christmas tree,” Glenna says. But the pillows, too, have become popular, and she has had to find additional sources for the balsam filling, especially after receiving an order for 90 of the pillows, to be used as wedding favors.

She credits Etsy’s support system for helping her navigate the process of starting an on-line business.

“Etsy is there to help you with all the nuts and bolts,” she says, providing on-line tutorials, forums, and local events for its members.

Glenna joined the Etsy Maine Team, and has become a team leader for the group, which is comprised of more than 800 Etsy sellers from across the state who share resources and ideas.

Sales of her Christmas stockings have doubled or tripled each year, with orders starting earlier than usual last year, and picking up even more with her inclusion in the Down East gift guide.

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