Bellinghams’s strong and vibrant arts community is made up of individuals who put countless hours of love and work into it. One of those people is Shelby Sneva, who fulfills many roles: she’s a fine artist, a craftsperson, a teacher, a dedicated family member, and the entrepreneur behind her leatherworks business, Sown Designs.
Sneva is a Western Washington University alumni, where she focused on painting and sculpture, but her penchant for sewing started early and stuck with her.
“I thought painting was going to be ‘the thing,’ my passion. I love painting, but sewing was something I always did,” she says. “I got a sewing machine when I was 6– like an ancient Singer sewing machine– from my grandma … [and] I kind of just taught myself to sew, I made myself clothes and knickknacks and whatnot.”
Around 2003, Sneva began experimenting with leather. Her mother, an interior designer, brought her sample leather cuts and encouraged Sneva to find a use for them.
“I was sewing up a storm and she was like, ‘What can you do with this? We have a ton in the backroom of our furniture store,’” recalls Sneva.
She made wallets for friends, which were a hit, and when requests started rolling in for more complicated projects, her work naturally evolved into bags and other accessories. Today, she makes wallets, bags, bracelets, earrings, other accessories, and even recently a leather collage that was shown in a Mindport Exhibits show. For special projects, she’ll even work with individuals one-on-one!
Sneva still uses lots of reclaimed leather from furniture stores, gets some of her brightly-colored leather from PeggySueAlso Leather out of Tacoma (etsy.com/shop/ PeggySueAlso), and buys larger hides new for big projects. Her leathercrafts are colorful and well-designed, and you can see how she utilizes smaller pieces of leather in bright patterns or nature-inspired motifs, like suns and mountains.
After officially starting Sown Designs in 2007, Sneva’s business blossomed thanks to partnerships with local boutiques and markets. She tabled at the Bellingham Farmers Market for seven years, has recently been part of the Bellingham Makers Markets, has traveled to indie craft shows for miles around (like Urban Craft Uprising in Seattle).
“It’s a great community for an artist to be supported,” says Sneva about our indie arts scene. “You just meet a ton of people, and the more people you talk to, the more … you can get to make connections.”
Sneva was also a teacher for over a decade, and still loves guiding folks in connecting with the arts. She’ll occasionally do workshops with students or for events (she once led the sewing of a 17-foot caterpillar for the Procession of the Species parade), and happily opens her studio up to curious folks during art walks.
“If people can go out and hit up art walks, that’s a really cool thing to be able to go into people’s studios and see what they’re working on,” says Sneva. “It doesn’t mean you have to buy things! It’s just going and seeing what’s new and fresh and out there.”
If you’d like to say hi to Sneva and see her leather works in person, make sure to visit the Waterfront Artist Studio Collective on Bellingham’s First Fridays (the event includes an art walk)! The building is home to 17 amazing artists, and your interaction is key to supporting them.