(This article originally appeared in the February-March 2022 print edition of the South Baltimore Peninsula Post.)
Kelsey Holden’s German Shepherd/Lab mix Bohdee is the inspiration for her home business, Good Dog Designs. Bohdee shares a rowhouse with Kelsey and her husband on S. Charles Street, where Kelsey operates her one-woman machine embroidery company that specializes in custom orders, “punny” designs, and seasonal gifts.
Her products for men, women, kids, and dogs range from hats and bags to bandanas and leashes. Bohdee, of course, models all of the dog products. While interviewing Kelsey for this story, I had the privilege of meeting Bohdee, sporting a custom bandana and leash, and I can confirm he is indeed a good dog.
Good Dog Designs is now part of the “Made in Baltimore” network of local makers and businesses. This past year, Kelsey shipped about 300 custom orders across the country and sold even more in bulk to local retailers, including Sugar Boat Goods and Gifting in Federal Hill and Pat’s Porch in Catonsville.
A city resident since 2014, Kelsey started the business in 2018. At the time, she was working 9 to 5 for a healthcare company. “I didn’t have much creativity in that job,” she recalls. “I just was looking for a creative outlet and so I was like, ‘well, I’ll just take an [embroidery] class and see.’”
Kelsey took her first embroidery class at the Foundery makerspace at City Garage in Port Covington, a place where people with common interests gathered to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. After completing the class, Kelsey rented an embroidery machine from the Foundery and created an online Etsy store, fielding custom orders.
When the Foundery closed in 2019, Good Dog Designs was out of commission for nearly a year until Kelsey reignited her passion and purchased her own industrial embroidery machine in 2020. With COVID-19 forcing everyone to quarantine, Kelsey doubled down and grew her business online. “Everyone needed some sort of way to get through the pandemic mentally, and my coping mechanism was embroidery,” she says.
Kelsey sources her materials from Baltimore-based Allstitch supplies and makes her designs to order. If you don’t see a garment you like on her Etsy page, you can send her a link to one and she’ll order and embroider it before shipping the final product to you.
Kelsey walked me through the process of creating an order from scratch. Once she gets a request on Etsy, she creates the design in the embroidery software, Embrillance, on her computer using fonts and icons and then transfers that design onto her embroidery machine in a process called digitizing.
Then it’s time to prepare the materials. First, a tiny component called a bobbin is wound with white thread and placed in the base of the machine, directly under the needle. The needle is then threaded with the desired color and is guided through the top of the machine to the needle head. A pair of curved scissors can help easily guide the thread through. The fabric that’s getting embroidered is stretched taut on a hoop and secured between two circular frames that fit tightly together so that the fabric does not move during this process.
Next, it’s time to start sewing. Kelsey places the hooped fabric under the needle and turns on the machine, which churns out the uploaded design. Whenever the needle with the colored or “top thread” punches through the fabric, it catches the white thread from the bobbin below to create the stitch. It takes less than 10 minutes for the machine to stitch a design on a hat.
Kelsey is not completely removed from this automated process, however, as there is always the risk of machine error. Throughout the embroidering, she keeps an eye on the operation, swapping thread colors, refilling the bobbin if needed, and making sure the hoop stays taut.
This year, Kelsey hopes to broaden her catalog of custom items and collaborate with local artists and makers. As a member of the Made in Baltimore community, she continues to make new local connections, collaborate with other makers, and attend fairs and craft festivals.
“I would love to expand and do more Baltimore-themed apparel and accessories,” she says, “maybe incorporate some iconic graphics and designs into them that resonate with [those of us] who love everything Baltimore.” – John Thomas