Hand crafted for the holidays

Small local businesses offer unique gifts

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Sarah Johnson with Farm Gal Soaps cuts bars of soap in her workshop near Hardy.

Handcrafters prepare unique and personalized items. Some do it as their full-time job, for others it is their side hustle. Regardless, local support of their businesses could make for some fun gift giving and even better gift receiving.

Farm Gal Soaps

HARDY — Farm Gal Soaps features handcrafted goat milk soaps and natural body products.

“They’re handcrafted for you in small batches,” said Sarah Johnson, owner of Farm Gal Soaps of Hardy. “I am not a mass producer.”

Johnson said she started Farm Gal Soaps after attending a Farmers’ Market helping her oldest daughter sell some baked goods.

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Lyndsay Alstott, owner of Pallet Junkie in Fort Dodge, works on a customizable sign for Christmas.

“While I was sitting there, I thought I could probably make soap and sell it,” she said. “Earlier that year, we had a friend of mine, for use as an outing for our homeschool, show us how she made soap.”

After some trial and error, Farm Gal Soaps was born.

Johnson said she first started selling bars of soap and later added lotion, bath bombs, shower steamers, rubber ducky bath bombs, laundry soap, deodorant and most recently hand sanitizer.

“It’s all things I knew people were using that wanted more natural products,” she said.

Johnson makes her Farm Gal Soaps using fresh goat’s milk. The 35 to 40 gallons of goat’s milk comes from a local family in Renwick.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Regina Suhrbier shows some of the pieces available through her side-business “Esparto Studios.”

The goat’s milk is used in the making of her bars of soap and lotion. Powdered goat’s milk is used in the making of her bath bombs.

Her laundry soap is also made with goat’s milk, as she utilizes her unscented soap in the laundry soap.

Johnson prides herself in the fact she uses all natural ingredients.

“The bath bombs do not have any of the chemicals like all the ones the stores have,” she said. “Mine have the goat’s milk, coconut oil and mango butter – so when you take a bath you are not itching when you get out. Your skin feels really, really good.”

Although her hand sanitizer and deodorants do not use goat’s milk – they are still all natural.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
These are some of the artistic pieces Suhrbier out of books, including quote prints and necklaces.

“I just look out for those chemicals people don’t like,” she said.

Her laundry soap is just that, not a laundry detergent.

“Laundry detergent at a store has detergent cleaners in them that they put in motors to keep motors clean,” she said. “That’s why I can’t call it a detergent. It doesn’t have the detergent additives to it. It is a true laundry soap. It doesn’t take much and cleans just as well.”

Her products may be missing those chemicals found in popular store’s soaps and lotions – but they don’t miss the scents.

Some of her most popular scents are “Mr. Macho” – a scent she said that resembles Axe Body Spray; “Champagne Bubbles” and “Blueberry Thyme.”

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Top: J & J Candles is based out of a new shop built in May of 2019. The shop is located at 2971 200th St., Manson.

Johnson is open for making custom orders. If you like a particular scent, but not the color – that is not a problem.

“I just really try to take care of my customers, because that’s what makes me happy – when they are happy,” she said.

You can visit Johnson’s Facebook page to keep up to date with her offerings or visit her website at www.farmgalsoaps.com.

Pallet Junkie

What a better way to greet people to your home with a personalized welcome sign or a customized piece of home decor.

-Messenger photos by Kriss Nelson
A gift box full of products from J & J Candles is displayed.

Lindsay Alstott, owner of Pallet Junkie in Fort Dodge, offers all of that and more.

“I make signs of all sizes and colors as well as custom, personalization of signs,” she said.

Alstott said she has been making these creations full-time for four years. She began making signs and wooden snowmen and scarecrows out of pallets – thus where the name “Pallet Junkie” came from.

In addition to personalized signs and signs for all seasons and occasions, Alstott has also been making what she calls “Scrabbles” – name signs made in Scrabble form.

Alstott also hosts classes, helping attendees to make their own creations.

Currently, she works out of her garage, but is hopeful to expand further in the future.

Pallet Junkie products can be found at area craft shows or can be ordered by finding Pallet Junkie on Facebook or by emailing Alstott at palletjunkiesigns@gmail.com.

“Buy local and support your hometown crafters,” she said. “This is what puts food on the table for my family.”

For those wanting a custom sign for Christmas, Alstott recommends placing your order by Dec. 11.

Esparto Studio by Regina

Looking for a gift for your favorite book lover? Or a unique gift for anyone that is hard to buy for?

Regina Suhrbier, owner of Esparto Studio by Regina has several pieces that can help you out.

Suhrbier creates home decor and accessories from books. Those books, she said have been saved from an uncertain feature.

Suhrbier was inspired by Margaret Whiting, a Waterloo artist. She became familiar with Whiting’s work while Whiting had pieces on display at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum in the early 2000’s. Whiting uses discarded law books, science books and more to create her art.

“It gave me a different look at using something other than painting or photography as a material to work with. I was just fascinated by it,” she said.

Using paper to create her pieces, she said led to the naming of her business, “Esparto Studio.” Esparto, she said, is a type of grass used in the production of making paper.

When she first started, she began making purses out of books, then moved onto making book-clocks. Soon she found herself with a large inventory of the guts from those books.

“I started to do other things with the pages,” she said, adding the two primary things that came from that are jewelry and quote prints.

There are no two quote prints that are alike.

“Every page is different,” she said.

The quotes, she places on the book pages come from inspiration of the title of the book – not necessarily about the words on the page.

Quote prints, Suhrbier said can be personalized or customized as well.

Some of the most popular quote prints Suhrbier makes are those that are leadership, motivational and inspirational-themed.

Quote prints are made from recycled frames and range in price from $10 un-framed up to $20 framed prints.

Another product that is made from pages of books and other recycled items are necklaces.

Necklaces, Suhrbier said are available in all shapes and sizes and are made from recycled cosmetic container tins.

Typically for the Christmas season, Suhrbier said she makes Christmas trees from book pages, but this year, has turned to making ornaments using old cookie cutters with music pages. Those ornaments, she said will be available at Liberty Market in Gowrie.

Suhrbier said she has sold her pieces all over the world, including Australia and the United Kingdom.

“It’s a part of me. I have been doing it for so long,” she said. “I have always been a creator of things. I have to have that creative part of my life.”

Suhrbier said she sells her items online at https://www.facebook.com/espartostudio; http://www.iowabookgal.com or at her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ESPARTOstudio

Suhrbier often attends local craft shows and her pieces can be found locally at Liberty Market in Gowrie, Miry Clay Pottery in Dayton or at the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association.

J & J Candles

What started out as a college class project has turned into a full-time career for Janis Collier-Miller.

“It was a project for an accounting course for Iowa Central in 1996. Our group, we had to make a product, keep track of cost, profit and loss and our group decided to do candles,” said Collier-Miller. “I had so much fun with it, after we were done, I decided to keep going.”

Twenty-four years later what started as a part-time business done out of her home has turned intto a full-time career out of a new shop she built in May, 2019.

Collier-Miller said she sells eight- and 16-ounce candles, wax melts, car fresheners, room sprays, reed diffusers, barn wood boxes that can be personalized and wax melt and candle warmers.

All of J & J Candle’s products are handcrafted with the exception of the wax melt and candle warmers.

For Collier-Miller it’s more than just selling candles and fragrance products.

“I have T-shirts that say ‘all it takes is one scent to bring back a thousand memories.’ The fun part is, like Grandpa’s Pipe, in particular, that one has been really popular lately – it brings back memories. It is fun to see the smiles on people’s faces when they smell something that reminds them of something good,” she said.

Another play on memories of the past, Collier-Miller said is a fragrance she has comically named, “Reindeer Poop.”

“Reindeer Poop smells like the old ribbon Christmas Candy from old tins,” she said. “People smell it and it just brings back good memories. I love what I do and I love making people smile.”

J & J Candles, located at 2971 200th St., Manson is open on a limited basis; but Collier-Miller said her products are available in 25 stores or by contacting her directly through her website at www.jjcandlesmanson.com or through her Facebook page. Shipping through her website is a flat-rate of $5 and she also offers free delivery within a 30-mile radius of Fort Dodge.

Oftentimes, Collier-Miller said she will direct those interested in any of her products to those businesses that stock her goods.

“What I am trying to do, because it helps all of us, I am huge on supporting small businesses and all of the businesses that I am in are small businesses,” she said. “I try to steer my customers to them. I will ask them where they are at and try to steer them to those stores.”

J & J Candles also participates in fundraisers with groups where they give 30% of the sales back to the group.


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