We’re excited to introduce you to Carolyn Benforado. Artist, clothing designer and lover of all things fiber, Carolyn has been creating all of her life—thanks to her art teacher mom, a do-it-yourself (and design-it-yourself) ethos was instilled at a very young age. If you’ve ever come to the CraftOptics booth at a trade show, you may have already seen Carolyn’s work—she’s done some truly amazing quilt samples for us. And if you live in or near Madison, Wisconsin and appreciate custom clothing, perhaps Carolyn’s designed something for you. She’s been using CraftOptics since 2013 and reports having the right tool with the right light made her a total convert.
There are a couple things about creating that really appeal to me. One is the chance to be in “the zone”— my fellow creators know exactly what I’m talking about! There’s that sense that the rest of the world just fades away.
I also enjoy the problem-solving aspect of creating. There’s a sense of accomplishment when a client comes in with a project they’ve envisioned, and I come up with a way to make it happen. I love using my design brain to make a project come to life.
I’ve spent my whole life around fabric and art. I’m a bit of a “fiberholic”! If something is made of fiber, I want to know all about it.
My love of creating is also genetic. One of my aunts was a designer for Junior House (once a well-known women’s clothing company) and my mom was an art teacher. In my family, if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself and you had to figure out a way to make it with something that was around our house.
People in my family also did a lot of handwork. We are Norwegian by heritage and had traditional Norwegian folk costumes with intricate embroidery around our home.
That background is where my passion for art and fabric started. When I was younger, clothing was such a big thing. I always wanted to have whatever the new “thing” was but putting a twist on popular items drove my spirit for making things. And once I learned how to make one thing, I was always on to something else.
I was always curious about why something was made a certain way and loved the problem solving and design brain that went into creating something. I went to school for painting, drawing and textile design. I used to create custom clothing for a local company, a business which I later bought out and moved into my home. People come in with ideas and fabric and leave with custom garments.
My mom gave me a Norwegian folk costume that was complete and beautiful except for one thing—it was missing a headscarf, called a skaut. A skaut is unique to the folk costumes of the Voss, which is a city on the west coast of Norway. The headscarf is only for the married women—it’s a sort of shorthand for who’s already taken.
I decided to make a new one, but it was a bit of an intimidating project. These scarves are made from extremely fine linen and have an all-over cross-stitch in a complicated pattern. I would definitely not have been able to make it without my CraftOptics.
The skaut turned out very well and it was even photographed for a book. My mom recruited me to wear the costume—complete with the skaut—every year for a style show in my hometown of Stoughton. This is a Wisconsin town just south of Madison that has a very large Norwegian population.
The owner of CraftOptics and his wife—an amazing artist—came to me back in 2013 with a request to make quilt squares for the demonstration table they take to shows. The designs were brilliant, but with so much detail that I originally turned down the commission. At the time I was working on adult garments, not tiny detail. They gave me a pair of CraftOptics and it was like walking into a whole new world! I’ve been using them ever since and they truly changed everything.
There are so many reasons. One is the ability to see fine detail. For instance, when I was making the quilt squares, they involved black stitches on black fabric, and that’s almost impossible without CraftOptics.
Another is the light. When I first got my CraftOptics, my son was in middle school. He had a lot of activities and often I would just wait for him—either out in a school hallway, on a practice field or in my car. Because of the DreamBeam light, I could just keep a bag with my latest project in my car and I always had something to do—whether I had 15 minutes or an hour. I’ve sat in a car in the pitch black, or in a hallway with horrible lighting and it never mattered because I had my own light. I could do tiny details, minuscule beads—anything—because I had the DreamBeam.
Last, having my CraftOptics reconnected me with the joy of handwork.
This is going to sound like a tagline, but it’s really true! I always say that CraftOptics give me Clarity, Comfort and Confidence.
Because I can see the details of what I’m working on—that’s the clarity—my body isn’t tense, it’s comfortable. The first time I tried them I could just feel my shoulders relax like I was in a hot shower!
And because I was relaxed, I had the confidence to try something new. I’ve started—and completed—so many new types of projects because of CraftOptics.
Most of the work I do is privately commissioned art for private clients. One fun thing I’ve gotten to participate in are special projects for American Girl dolls. If you google the company and “Herstory” you’ll find a program they use to celebrate young women and girls who are doing amazing things for climate change, gun control and more. And they’ve also done a program to honor the women of COVID, like paramedics, teachers and grocery store workers. I make the accessories and do the tiny embroidery.