Joslyn Villalpando is a crafter of experiences. Her passion for bring people together to create has evolved into a business that allows her to do just that. J.Villa Workshop has quickly gathered a strong community of makers that seek fun and inviting opportunities to try something new. We were invited to join a weaving workshop and since then have been following Joslyn around to see what she will be up to next. Every part of her various workshops, which include weaving, embroidery, printmaking, watercolor, and many more, are thoroughly planned and thought through. With the wide variety of unique experiences you will find yourself constantly on her website seeking out what class you'll sign up for.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I started J.Villa workshop this past Spring and I am OBSESSED with this work. Previously, I taught art for 7 years in CPS. I felt wonderfully fulfilled with this work, but there’s a certain pace of life that teaching full time demands, and it caught up with me.
I’ve always been a maker, from painting to weaving to embroidery and I love dabbling in all sorts of ways of making, but there is a passionate teacher in me that gets so much gratification in bringing others into what I love so much. I have always loved the concept of the sewing circle-where people come together to chat, eat, drink, and MAKE something together, so a few years ago I started holding craft gatherings in my home. I’d invite my friends and come up with a theme for the event. One was embroidered holiday ornaments and spiced, bourbon cider. Another was a frou-frou, pink party with a gin cocktail and block print valentines. To me, there is no better way to spend time with my favorite people than a good, cozy craft gathering. JOY!
I love the whole DIT (do-it-together) idea so much, it was my thesis projects for my master’s degree at SAIC. I studied how craft and fiber art can facilitate connection making and community building. I took a weaving class and a fiber & material studies class during this time and fell totally in love with the magic of each new process I learned so my heart lies with the fiber arts, though I also love printmaking and watercolor.
It was around this time that the idea for J.Villa Workshop was brewing in my head and it’s gone through many phases to get to what I do now. The whole concept of my business is curating craft gatherings for people in various spaces around Chicago. I love to highlight the venue by featuring a drink or treat special that pairs with the craft. So, at The Barrelhouse Flat, the mixologist created a beautiful, floral-note cocktail to go with our embroidered flower workshop. Ten ladies and myself sat in the parlor room upstairs, sipping this cocktail, embroidering, and chatting about our jobs, roommate stories, making art, and The DivaCup (I learned a lot that night)! Another craft gathering example happened at Bin36, where we sipped mimosas on a Sunday morning and made block printed tea towels in their outdoor patio area.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Joslyn.
I was equal parts excited and heartbroken to stop teaching my honeys at the elementary school so I’m super lucky to now have a part time job working with arts programming for 5 schools. I spend 2-3 days a week looking for grant opportunities, working directly with the arts teachers, and facilitating the art shows that happen at our gallery space in Pilsen. The other part of my week is spent dreaming up new ideas for a craft gathering. I like to keep them between 2-3 hours and most of the time, people leave with a finished handmade product so I’m always brainstorming and trying out new ideas. I spend time meeting with new venue partners, collaborating with other creative, and hosting 2-3 workshops per week. If I have extra time, I like to weave on my floor loom or little frame looms. Oh! And I’ve also been working on ideas for little craft kits to sell through my site. Currently, I only have weaving kits, but I’d love to offer embroidery and printmaking kits too.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am so inspired by what others are doing to push traditional craft in contemporary ways. Instagram is FULL of insane examples of really cool work people are doing in embroidery, weaving, printmaking, watercolor, calligraphy, and macramé.
I also find inspiration while meeting with the venue partners. I recently met with the event coordinator at Soho House Chicago and I came in not knowing exactly what craft I wanted to bring yet…then we started talking about how the political debates are coming up and how its voting season and I felt immediately inspired to create a gathering that allowed people to make a social/political statement by wearing something they embroidered with their political image/logo of choice. We bounced ideas back and forth and so many light bulbs went off and it grew into a solid plan within an hour. When ideas hit me like this one, I can’t stop working on them or let anything else distract me until they’re fully realized (at least as a rough draft). It leaves me feeling a bit like a mad woman!
How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?
When I was teaching full time, this was the hard part. Toward the end of my time teaching, it was really hard because a large portion of my energy, heart, and thoughts were with my future venture. I made time on the weekends and it never felt like work because I love it so much. You know when people say, “find what you love and make it your job?” or “when you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work?” and all that? What I’m doing now, J.Villa Workshop, couldn’t feel more aligned with those sentiments.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started?
I say, talk to anyone and everyone who will listen to your ideas. Saying it out loud helps you flesh out your plans, but also take time to listen to what people have to say and questions they ask you because it’s all so invaluable! There will be advice you take and advice you throw away, but it will help you form a plan that’s authentic to YOU.
Look into what other people are doing that is similar to you. Here too, there might be parts you take and parts you leave, but seeing how others are making it happen will guide some of your decisions. I was super inspired by Alice, the daughter of my sister’s wonderfully creative boss, who started Alice’s Table, a business that hosts flower arranging workshops around Boston. Talking with her when I was first generating ideas for my own venture was insanely helpful.
I also know that my business will change in different ways so I try and stay really fluid and open to what each new partnership and collaboration brings.
Do you like collaborating on projects? What are some perks? Some challenges?
YES! I feel so lucky to collaborate with different venue partners, creatives, bloggers, and makers. I really believe in putting out there into the world what I love and all of my ideas and then experiencing the manifestations of it all! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about natural dyeing. I learned a bit in grad school and want to return to it. I talked with a few people and have been brainstorming ideas for a workshop. Then, yesterday at an embroidery workshop, one of the participants told us all about her love of natural dyeing! So now we’re talking and collaborating and dreaming up workshops to do together-I love that stuff!
Sometimes I find partnerships challenging when I am putting more love, time, and energy into something than the partner is when the project is mutually beneficial. I don’t dwell on that for too long though because there are too many positive people/collaborations to invest my energy in!
What keeps you motivated and making?
Great question! I can certainly have days when I am so discouraged by low ticket sales or a frustrating partnership or something. But, in my heart and soul, I know there is space for what I’m doing in Chicago! I am energized by the feedback I receive at each gathering and by the people who come back for more workshops. When I get discouraged, I try and put my energy into thinking about how to reach more people with what I am doing because I know how positive the experience of a craft workshop is. I’m building momentum, slowly but surely, but I know it takes patience and a lot of hustle!
Do you have any advice for someone who is curiously creative but is studying or working, in an entirely different field?
I love this question. I think this can happen a lot with people, even if they love their job, that they seek a creative outlet. I just had a return participant take an embroidery workshop after taking a weaving one months ago. She’s an attorney who works a lot of hours, as you can imagine, so she doesn’t have time for a longer art/craft series of lessons. I think my craft workshops are perfect for people like her who want to learn something new, but also participate in a fun, unique experience that doesn’t take too long.
Sites like Dabble.co and Verlocal are making it easy for people to try things out without a huge commitment to it. I think its so important to take time for experiences and there’s a wealth of creative things to do around Chicago.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know if this counts as advice, but it made so much sense…I was with a friend and we were talking about teacher burnout and how it affects so many teachers earlier than we’d like it to! He was telling me how he knows he’s not burnt out because the grind of teacher life still excited and energizes him. This made so much sense to me because I probably work even more hours now, doing my own thing, but it never feels like a grind because I’m truly in love with what I’m doing! If anything, I have to stop and make myself put down my work at 10 p.m. and go to bed when I could totally keep going! I’ve never felt that before so I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
Photography by Olivia Ozner and J.Villa Workshop