Curiosity and the Maker Movement: with Ryan Kulp of Stitch+Saw

Words: Seth Braverman

Photos: Carly Mitchell

Ryan Kulp is a husband, new father, and maker. What started as a Christmas card project while he was living in Austin, TX, eventually became Stitch+Saw, the moniker under which Ryan now makes cross-stitched pendants, greeting cards, prints, and other jewelry from his home in Colorado Springs. Part of the resurgence of young couples moving to—or back to—the Springs in the past couple years, Ryan and his wife, Monet Moutrie, returned to the town where they grew up to be closer to family as they begin to expand their own. When not helping his father-in-law run their alarm business, Security World, or spending time with his family exploring the mountains, you’ll often find Ryan creating in his garage-turned-workshop, burning with a curious productivity as he crafts wood, metal and fiber into the keystone of his brand: his cross-stitched pendants.

"Being able to actually work with your hands is appealing to our generation."

With Stitch+Saw, Ryan finds himself taking part in the Maker Movement. Never heard of such a thing? Ryan explains it as "a response to the digital age.” He goes on to say that, “being able to actually work with your hands is appealing to our generation." The Movement, which marks the first decade of the new millennium as its genesis, is about more than just making things by hand. With the Pandora’s box of both disembodiment and empowerment from the internet, and a thin job market post-Great Recession, there’s been a surge of young folks starting their own small businesses and brands, wearing an array of hats––from designer to craftsperson to account manager. Part do-it-yourself and part entrepreneurial endeavor, this return to hand-made, locally-sourced goods has been something of a national phenomenon.

On the Stitch+Saw website, you’ll find the goal of Ryan’s work is to “create pieces that make people smile and reflect on the small things that make life beautiful.” When discussing the Makers culture, Ryan uses phrases like “slowing down, community-focused,” and “conscientious consumerism.” It sounds like the reshaping of a world view—one that sets its sights on the nature of work and the quality of life, on how we spend and make money, on locality and integrity, and on an intentional grounding and regathering.

I sat down with Ryan in his new Westside home to ask him a few questions about Stitch+Saw, what fuels the heart of a maker, and living in the Springs. As he answered over the hush of the space heater, baby Lucy bounced and cooed under her daddy’s beard.

What’s mightier, the stitch or the saw?

Probably the stitch. I mean, the saw could cut the stitch. But then the stitch could stitch it back together. Laughs. Part of the appeal of the name is the contrast. Contrast makes things stand out. A lot of what I do combines traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine crafts, and I kind of feel the same way about myself. The contrast in anything is what makes it. My work–-the wood, the metal and the cross-stitch–-those aren’t things that you necessarily think go together. The pieces themselves carry a balance.

 What led you to design jewelry?

I took up cross-stitching for a Christmas card project, which lead to wall hangings. I had a friend who said she wanted to wear one of my wall hangings and I decided I would make that possible.

How did you transition from knowing what you wanted to make to actually knowing how to make it?

After I had the idea, I tried to just do it and almost cut off my fingers. This lead to a search for some help. A jewelry supply store recommended a class at a place called Creative Side in Austin. They taught me the basics of metal-smithing and it shaped my approach and design. After taking a few jewelry classes, I was able to make other pieces such as lattice pie earrings and a pretzel pendant–and I was hooked!

How long do your signature pendants take to make?

Start to finish, over three hours. It depends on whether I make one or multiple at a time. The latter is obviously more cost-effective.

Do you think the Maker Movement, overall, is sustainable?

"I don't think you can lose the part of you that is inclined to create. Though it can be held down by circumstance, it can return too."

The Maker Movement is at a high point right now. It may not stay that way forever, or for long, but the makers that are propelled by things other than money will always be around on some level. Those who are savvy enough to market their products well and are truly skilled at their craft or have a unique vision will continue to, or someday see, financial success. There will likely be those that transition into other industries, but they can take their ethos and experience into new endeavors. I don't think you can lose the part of you that is inclined to create. Though it can be held down by circumstance, it can return too.

What advice would you give to a young creative or maker?

Just, if you have an idea, make it, do it! Start out simple: make something, learn from it, and do it again. And keep on doing it. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Find someone who’s done something worth doing and ask lots of questions.

What did your folks do for a living?

My mom worked in health care billing. My dad, for a while, worked for his father as a woodworker. They made storage for photo negatives—wood boxes, made out of oak. Toward the end of that, he was making humidors, cigar boxes. They were lined with Spanish Cedar. You’d open up the box and the smell would be unbelievable, especially if there were a few Cuban cigars in there.

Are those some of your earlier memories, him working in the woodshop?

Yeah, I would work up front and answer phones, and then go back and help sand when I was about eight.

Is there any connection when you’re creating in the workshop to that world or to him?

Oh, big time. I feel like it connects me to him and my grandpa, who used to do fine woodworking.

You’ve been in the Springs just over a year. What have been the advantages and the difficulties of being a part of this community?

"There's room here. It's not oversaturated yet, and it's a growing city."

We were tied into the creative community really quickly after moving back. There’s different sections of that in the Springs. It’s accessible, welcoming. There’s room here. It’s not oversaturated yet, and it’s a growing city. And there’s no end to the inspiration from nature and wildlife, the geography. The main difficulty has been sourcing materials. There are no jeweler’s supply shops.

What would you like to see more of in the Springs?

I think that the Springs has a lot of momentum going right now. I really hope to see more folks opening brick and mortars, more studio space, more food, more places you can go to celebrate the community, more venues, and more community events. More really good restaurants. Crystal Park Cantina does it well: good ingredients, a good Colorado mountain, Mexican aesthetic. The Principal’s Office at Ivywild and Adam’s Mountain Cafe are also favorites.

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