That’s what you’ll hear when you give one of these unique made-right-here-in-the-neighborhood gifts

The holidays are a time of mass-manufactured items and stores galore. In East Dallas, we have more than enough places to shop, but is it worth the traffic and trudging through checkout lines at the mall? Gifts for friends and loved ones might be even closer — and better yet, made locally. We found a few crafty neighbors who are hard at work this holiday season.


Kara Fletcher, Studio Design Lab

Kara Fletcher. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Gift idea: Embroidered initial pillows
Price range: $49-$64
Where to find it:

Kara Fletcher worked for interior design firms

for years until she was laid off in January 2010. The industry hadn’t been doing well, and it came as no big surprise to her.

“It was my turn,” she says of the layoff.

So she decided to try sewing, and she pulled out her mom’s old sewing machine on which she and her sister had learned when they were kids. The 40-year-old Singer only frustrated her. So she decided to buy a new machine. And what she bought, basically, is a Bentley.

The Swiss-made Bernina 830 has a touch screen and does many tricks, including computerized embroidery. Only 4,000 of them were made, and they cost about as much as a good used car. But the machine allows Fletcher to create any design she can imagine.

It’s not just about having the right tool; it’s about knowing how to use it, she says. That sewing machine and Fletcher’s creative mind are the basis of her Studio Design Lab.

She started out making complicated designs, such as her “dragon pillow,” inspired by business trips to China. But when she took them to shows, such as the Urban Street Bazaar in Oak Cliff, buyers were more interested in simpler designs, especially the initial pillows.

Now she sells about 100 of those a year, many of them custom to order. She uses eco-friendly bamboo felt or recycled felt whenever possible. Clients often send her swatches for inspiration, and she will send fabric swatches so clients can be sure the color and texture is just right. Neighborhood clients can save on shipping and meet Fletcher to pick up their pillows or have them delivered by UPS.


Dylan and Pamela Dowdy, Dowdy Studio

Gift idea: whimsical T-shirts and prints
Price range: $16-$41
Where to find it:, the Dowdy Studio wagon 

Dylan and Pamela Dowdy. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Dowdy Studio started out in 2007, but the husband-and-wife designers just moved their business to our neighborhood a year ago. Dylan and Pamela Dowdy rented a small warehouse behind Goodfriend and Good-2-Go Tacos/Cultivar Coffee, where they often park the Dowdy Studio “wagon,” the trailer where they sell their goods.

Oh, and about those goods. The Dowdys are artists who print their designs on T-shirts, hoodies, messenger bags, pillows and coasters. Dylan is a self-taught artist whose designs are whimsical and often have nautical touches, such as the whale with piano keys for teeth or the merman who is a lumberjack.

New this season is a pirate with a ship for a hat, waves for hair and whales for a mustache. Dylan also is the screen printer, and as a former set designer, he has a knack for building things. He outfitted the wagon with its displays, and he jigsaws his and Pamela’s designs into clock faces.

Pamela’s designs are whimsical in the same way as Dylan’s, but her style is different. Plus, she leans toward cats. New for this season is the pirate kitty with a peg leg and eye patch.

The couple started Dowdy Studio as a side business while they were dating. Now Dylan runs the business full-time, and Pamela is a designer for Fossil. They were married two years ago.

Since winters are so mild in Dallas, Dowdy Studio rarely prints on heavyweight hoodies. Instead, they have lightweight cowl-neck sweatshirts for ladies this season as well as a lightweight unisex pullover hoodie. Their pillows make good gifts for anyone, Dylan says.

“The manlier the design, the girlier the back will be,” he says.

The couple designed the interior of their little warehouse space to look like a boutique, and they sometimes throw parties there.

Find Dylan and Pamela’s wagon outside Good-2-Go Tacos and Cultivar Coffee most weekends or at, and catch them wearing their “Drink Local” T-shirt at Goodfriend.


Wendy Millsap, Lakewood Candle Company

Wendy Millsap. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Gift idea: Bonnie and Clyde candle, the most popular scent and Millsap’s favorite, too
Price range: $15-$36 at retail stores, $5.50 and up for custom orders
Where to find it: Random, Talulah Belle, Times Ten Cellars,Dallas Museum of Art,

The way Lakewood Candle Company ended up on the shelves of the Dallas Museum of Art store is “a perfect East Dallas kind of story,” says Alison Silliman. She’s the museum store’s general manager and also its buyer, and she lives in Vickery Place.

Silliman’s home was on the Vickery Place centennial home tour, and Lakewood Candles burned inside each house as tour-goers walked through. So when the museum began gearing up for its current Posters of Paris exhibit and was on the hunt for corresponding local products, Silliman thought of Lakewood Candle Company.

She tracked down its owner, Old East Dallas resident Wendy Millsap, and their conversations led to a limited edition collection of candles, each one emblazoned with a Paris poster and matched with “scents that make sense,” Silliman says.

It was a fitting culmination, especially since Millsap launched her business on the home tour circuit — Junius Heights, Swiss Avenue and Munger Place are among the others for whom Millsap has designed commemorative candles.

Her first foray into candle making involved ladling wax from a pot on her stove to create Christmas gifts. Millsap still hand-pours her candles (not with soup ladles, of course), and about a year ago, she quit her sales job to pursue candle-making full-time.

Neighborhood wine bar Times Ten Cellars sells Millsap’s candles, as do Random boutique in Hillside Village and Talulah Belle in the Lakewood shopping center. Talulah Belle owner Elizabeth Mast, who just opened home design store Hess next door, also is working with Millsap to create a private label Hess candle, expected in first quarter 2013.

Another of her private labels is being shipped to places such as Amsterdam and Hong Kong for a company so big that we’re not yet allowed to mention the partnership in print.

All of these candles are made in Millsap’s prairie-style home.

Jennifer Blumenstock, Three Bishops

Jennifer Blumenstock of Three Bishops. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Gift idea: nature-inspired necklace
Price range: $125-$300
Where to find it:, Talulah Belle, Gemma Collection, Blueprint, Hemline, Susan Saffron Jewelry

Jennifer Blumenstock occasionally picks up a cracked nutshell or a yucca pod on morning walks around her neighborhood near White Rock Lake. She uses these nature objects as inspiration in her jewelry line, Three Bishops.

Actually, some of the tiny treasures she uses as molds for her pieces. She applies precious-metal clay onto them and then bakes them in a kiln. The organic matter burns away, and she’s left with, say, a teensy golden leaf perfect for a dainty chain or a stargazer-shaped pendant for a long necklace. No two are the same.

Blumenstock worked for several jewelry makers and then learned metal smithing at the Creative Arts Center. Her two sisters, Natalie Martin of Fort Worth and Melody Bishop of Los Angeles, are partners in the business (hence, three Bishops). Natalie manages sales and business, and Melody does marketing.

Three Bishops pieces have appeared on TV shows including “Vampire Diaries,” “Entourage” and “Dallas,” thanks to Melody’s work. Three Bishops also makes what Blumenstock calls “shaker necklaces,” which look like clear lockets with loose gems inside. Also popular are her bangles, hoops and pieces made with turquoise, smoky quartz, red coral and other stones.

Blumenstock says she loves to watch fashion shows online and come up with ideas for jewelry to pair with the clothes. Natalie says her sister always knows what’s next in fashion.

“She’s always had a wonderful talent for that,” she says.


Chris Unruh, One Fish Two Fish

Gift idea: potted plants
Price range:
Where to find it:, craft shows

Chris Unruh Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Chris Unruh is experimenting with doll heads these days.

Some people don’t really get it, she says. But when she uses them to mold cement heads, which she then hollows out and plants succulents inside, some people love them.

Unruh, who went to FIT and designed jewelry in New York for five years, discovered hypertufa, a porous material made of Portland cement, peat moss and either pearlite or aragonite, on a road trip in March 2010. She was on the way to her grandmother’s funeral and reading her stepmom’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine when she found a story about the stuff. The cement mixture is great for growing plants.

Aside from doll heads, Unruh uses yogurt cups and found Styrofoam forms to make hypertufa planters.

“I get excited about trash the way some people get excited about chandeliers,” she says, pulling pieces of Styrofoam from a bin.

Unruh’s company, One Fish Two Fish, sells online, and she is at craft fairs and shows at least two weekends a month. Some of her designs are smooth and geometric; others are rough and rustic. She uses found auto glass as sparkly mulch for the plants.

“This glass came from a wreck on Garland Road,” she says.

Unruh credits her husband, Steve Dickson, for hauling around untold hundreds of pounds of Portland cement. They were married two years ago, and Unruh works part-time for her husband’s structural engineering firm. She also sells her handmade jewelry at

The Live Local cornucopia

All of these products are the work of neighborhood-based entrepreneurs. Give them as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers or prezzies for the office. Better yet, buy one of each and make a Live Local gift basket for your favorite neighbor.

Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters

Marta and Kevin Sprague started roasting coffee fulltime almost two years ago after many years as serious hobbyists. All of Noble Coyote’s coffee beans are certified organic or from farms that use fair-trade and shade-grown farming practices. Part of the proceeds of their Café Momentum Blend go to Café Momentum’s mission of teaching culinary skills to at-risk youth in Dallas. Find Noble Coyote at Jimmy’s Food Store, White Rock Local Market and Order from and get free delivery in the White Rock area.


Lakewood Brewing Co.

The first kegs rolled out of neighborhood-based Lakewood Brewing Co. this past summer. The local brew is available by the glass at Goodfriend, Bryan Street Tavern, Cock & Bull Pub, Cosmos and too many places to mention here. But if all goes according to plan, our neighborhood beer label will be available in bottles at Lakewood Whole Foods (which also serves the beer on draft) before the holidays, says Lakewood Brewing Co. owner and brewer Wim Bens.


Wackym’s Kitchen

Neighborhood resident Paul Wackym started this cookie-baking business in 2009 after the company he worked for folded. Thank goodness for silver linings. Wackym’s crispy cookies, in flavors including margarita, salted caramel and oatmeal walnut currant, are delightful. Find them at Central Market, Green Spot, Good 2 Go Taco, The Grape, Jimmy’s Food Store, White Rock Local Market and several other places around Dallas.


1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix

This martini mix is not just the brine from an olive jar. Rather, it is the juice of olives. Neighborhood resident Kenneth Hamburger II basically revolutionized the dirty martini after losing his job as a Lamborghini salesman in 2008. His mix is featured in many neighborhood bars, and you can buy it by the bottle at Spec’s, Central Market, Centennial, Big Daddy’s, Sigel’s and other liquor stores.


Garden District bloody Mary mix

Our neighbors know how to mix a drink. Neighborhood resident Stephanie Sanoja spent two-and-a-half years working with vendors and manufacturers to have her Aunt Gladys’s bloody mary mix commercially produced exactly how she wanted it. And we all benefit from Sanoja’s hard work because her perfect bloody mary mix is available at Talulah Belle, Brumley Gardens, Kindred Spirits and Spec’s.


Carnival Barker’s

It’s a little dangerous to give ice cream as a gift because, you know, it melts. But for the ice-cream fiend in your life, Carnival Barker’s is sublime. Owners Aaron Barker and Sarah Miller produce flavors including the Fat Elvis, with peanut butter, bananas, candied bacon and a honey swirl. But there are simpler flavors, including strawberry and vanilla bean. Find it in the neighborhood at Jimmy’s Food Store.

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