An Interview with Abby Glassenberg

This month's Artist Interview is with Abby Glassenberg. Abby is the sewing pattern designer, craft book author and teacher who runs the blog and podcast While She Naps. She's also a cofounder of the Craft Industry Alliance. Recently when the New York Times wrote about changes with Etsy, Abby is one of the people they made sure to consult for the story (you can read the article here). Abby sends out a weekly newsletter and it's one of the few that I always read.

I'm so happy to have her here today.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, soft toys, family

ab: You have an undergraduate degree in history from Johns Hopkins and a master's degree in education from Harvard. You worked as a middle school social studies teacher before becoming a textile artist and mother of three girls. What drew you to sewing and blogging in the first place? Did you grow up sewing and creating? What role does your background as historian and teacher play in your business today?

ag: I’ve always been crafty and enjoyed making things with my hands. Growing up I loved origami and making beads from polymer clay. I took art classes afterschool in junior high and high school and have always found art-making to be relaxing and satisfying.

I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economic class. Before that time I had no exposure to sewing. We didn’t own a sewing machine and neither my mother nor my grandmother sewed. I was a terrible Home Ec. student and ended up getting a C- on my final project, a pair of Bermuda shorts with the wonkiest seams you’ve ever seen! But, I saw the potential in sewing of making real, useful things and I was hooked. I used some of the money I’d been given for my Bat Mitzvah to buy a Bernette 330, a very basic Bernina machine. I didn’t really know how to use it very well, and didn’t have anyone at home who could help me, so although I sewed off and on for the next two decades I would often get frustrated or confused by a pattern and give up.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Sewing Machine, Bernette

In 2004 I was teaching middle school Social Studies and left my job in March when I had our first daughter, Roxanne. Shortly thereafter I discovered blogs through an article in the New York times and decided to start one myself in May of 2005. I called it While She Naps because it was really just a way to document crafty things I was doing while my baby napped. Quickly I began focusing on sewing and with the blogging community behind me I finally figured out how to use that Bernette 330 to make my ideas come to life.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Turtle, Soft Toy

ab: You turned your passion for designing and sewing into a thriving business, but your business is much more than just sewing and designing. Over the years you've meticulously crafted a patchwork of related income streams to make up one unified whole. Did you start out from the beginning with a plan of where you were heading or did your business grow more organically? What is your favorite part of what you do?

ag: The business definitely grew organically. If I’d had a plan I wouldn’t have named it While She Naps which to me sounds like a mommy blog! From the start I enjoyed sewing stuffed animals and that led me to begin sewing birds which were really more like soft sculpture. I had a few shows and then wrote my first book, The Artful Bird, with Interweave in 2011. Right after it came out I pitched my second book, Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction, because there really wasn’t a comprehensive guide to soft toy design in the craft book market.

The process of writing those books opened my eyes to two things. First, the profit potential of selling patterns and second the legal and economic issues at play in the crafts industry that I hadn’t understood before. After the second book came out I began selling my own PDF patterns which continues to make up a large portion of my income and I began writing about and exploring the bigger issues at play in contracts, royalty structures, licensing deals, etc.  That work led to my podcast where I interview industry leaders and to Craft Industry Alliance, the trade association for craft business owners that I co-founded in 2015 with Kristin Link of Sew Mama Sew.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Felt Menagerie Kit

ab: One aspect of your business is educating, empowering and advocating for creative entrepreneurs. Your thoughtful take on the craft industry is valued by so many creatives and I know I echo quite a few others when I say that your newsletter is one of only a couple that I read word for word each week. On your website you state that your newsletter open rate is over twice that of the industry standard and your newsletter click rate is almost seven times that of the industry standard. So many people who are your readers (and podcast listeners) aren't your customers. How do you feel about that component of your business and what advice would you give to other creative entrepreneurs who are also cultivating communities of people who are not necessarily customers?

ag: I say go with your gut and keep things simple. You're 100% correct that when I first began writing about the industry and including industry news in my weekly newsletter many of the people in my audience were pattern customers interested in sewing stuffed animals. That meant some of my content wasn’t relevant to them. Over time, though, my list has diversified so that many players in the industry including publishers and executives subscribe. As my newsletter has gained in popularity I’m now able to monetize it directly through classified ads, same with my podcast that I now monetize through sponsorships, and those companies pay for those opportunities. Although I couldn’t have predicted that things would develop in this way it just felt right to continue forward because that’s where my passions lay.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Quilt

ab: In one of your newsletters you mentioned that you like to respond to every email you get, not because you have to, but because you enjoy it and because you believe that building relationships, one by one, is how you build a good business. Has this ever backfired for you? On the flip side do you have an example of an out-of-the-blue email that you answered that led to a valuable relationship for your business?

ag: That’s true, I do answer every email. I really enjoy reading what people write to me and writing back. I learn so much from my readers! They’re really important to me. I can’t say it’s ever backfired per se. I’ve gotten some crazy emails and some that are highly critical at times, but I have a thick skin and I’m fairly good at setting limits so I don’t think it’s been a problem. So many great things have happened to me through emails I’ve received. Right now, for example, I’m on a plane on the way to Houston for Quilt Market. I’m able to go because a fabric company emailed me out-of-the-blue and asked if I would teach two business-related sessions for them. That gig paid for the trip!

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, quilt, fabric

ab: Not only do you wear many hats, but you do a lot. How do you manage to fit everything into your days? What strategies do you have for times when you're feeling overwhelmed or uninspired? What are your favorite ways to relax and de-stress?

ag: I really have two jobs. Beyond my business I’m also the stay-at-home mom to our three daughters who are 6, 11, and 13 years old. Although at times I chafe against the time constraints of having to work around my family’s schedule, it’s actually the best thing for me. I have limited blocks of time to work and so I’m super productive! I will say that this year it’s proved challenging to find time to sew during the week. I do a lot of other kinds of work on weekdays like interviewing people, pitching story ideas and collaborations, writing, and editing. On the weekends, when people aren’t in their offices, I sew. Right now I’m working on an English Paper Pieced baby quilt and I’m designing a muppet-style puppet which will soon become a pattern.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, muppet, puppet

ab: You've mentioned before that although your blog and your business have changed a lot over the years the one common thread is that you continue to always follow your curiosity. Can you talk a bit about what that means for you? What drives that curiosity? Where do you see it taking you next?

ag: I feel like the home sewing and quilting industry is a microcosm of the whole world. Every social, political, and economic issue that takes place more broadly is also playing out here in this niche and so I find there’s an endless amount of interesting stories to discover right here. The mainstream media only covers craft when there are big things happening like Etsy’s IPO and this leaves a huge space for me. In an industry that previously had very little press coverage, I’m the press and I absolutely love that role.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing

Thank you, Abby, for taking us into your sewing room and sharing your thoughts with us!

Dear Reader, you can connect with Abby:
While She Naps

Want to read my other artist interviews? You can catch up here. And find more inspiration from the Sketchbook Conversations series of mini, sketchbook-related interviews, all of which can be accessed here.

*Photos in this post ©Abby Glassenberg, While She Naps. Used with permission.


  1. Hi Anne,
    Great interview! I could hear Abby's voice in my head as I read her responses - I listen to her podcasts on my ride over to my sister's nursing home, and I really enjoy them. So nice to see Abby with her children, as well as samples of her work. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the interview, Judy! Always happy to have you here. :)

    2. Thank you so much for listening to the show, Judy!

  2. Clicked over from Abby's newsletter. As you mentioned, it's one of the few I read word for word. Great interview!

    1. Hi, Diane. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview! Thanks for stopping by!


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