Today I’m rounding out my interview posts with none other than Terri Johnson of Terri Johnson Creates! Terri comes to the Silhouette world by way of her love for sewing and machine embroidery. As a teacher, she shares her knowledge and creativity through the wildly popular All Things Silhouette Conferences, hands-on retreats, instructor licensing courses, blog tutorials, a Craftsy class, and her own online educational platform – Terri Johnson Academy.
Terri and her husband have lived all over the United States and as far away as Japan, thanks to his career in the Navy, but now make their home just outside of Washington, DC. Their family includes two adult daughters and four precious grandsons, ages 1 to 5. On a personal level, I am so proud to be a member of Terri’s first group of licensed instructors. She sets such a great example of strength and grace for all of us, no matter what life throws her way, and it was truly a privilege to be able to spend some time talking with her and getting to know her better.
Your sewing and embroidery background goes back to when you were very young. Did you ever have other crafting interests?
I started sewing in high school and like most other women my age, I’ve tried a variety of crafts over the years – crochet, beading, ceramics; if there was something out there, I’ve tried it. But sewing and machine embroidery are my first loves, especially smocking and heirloom sewing.
When did your passion for sewing and embroidery become your profession?
Over the years, I began teaching sewing classes at several different shops, both here in the DC area and as we traveled. One of the last stores I worked in simply didn’t have a vision for education or customer service and I just couldn’t continue to work there. I decided that I was a pretty smart girl, and if they could have a successful sewing business then I could too! So while my husband was in Bahrain for 13 months, I opened a small sewing instruction studio. It didn’t take me long to realize that many of my students were coming to me after spending big bucks to buy their machines in other stores that didn’t provide instruction. So my business expanded to include selling sewing and embroidery machines and eventually became a full-fledged store with fabric, software, a classroom, etc. I closed that store in 2013, after owning it for 13 years.
Where does the Silhouette fit in with your creative pursuits?
When you’re doing machine embroidery applique, the embroidery machine will first sew out what is known as a placement stitch. After this stitch is sewn out, you place your fabric over it, then the machine sews a tack-down stitch. Then you remove the hoop from the machine, trim the fabric close to the tack-down stitch, and place the hoop back into the machine to complete the embroidery design. For simple shapes, that’s ok, but can be rather difficult for more intricate ones.
Around 2011, I figured out that you could cut your fabric pieces for machine embroidery applique with an electronic cutter. I found this very intriguing. Not having to trim in the hoop was revolutionary!
I then started exploring the different brands of electronic cutters and decided that the Silhouette was the one I wanted to go with. I called the company, placed an order for five machines (the minimum quantity for resale), started demonstrating them at my store, and they took off like gangbusters!
Why do you think the Silhouette was so popular with your customers?
I was hosting an embroidery club each month where I would demonstrate a new technique. There was no charge to attend, but on club days people always wanted to buy whatever I had demonstrated that day. For people in the embroidery world, who often spend tens of thousands of dollars on an embroidery machine, the Silhouette is more of an accessory – they didn’t think twice about purchasing one.
Did you ever try any other brands of cutting machines?
I did. I had my Silhouette first, but I also own several other brands of digital cutters, none of which can compare. Honestly, the difference is not so much in the cutting abilities because each machine works in a similar fashion. They all can cut. The real key is the software. I’ve often said that when you purchase a Silhouette, you’re paying for the software and they give you the cutter for free!
I totally agree! Most people don’t realize just how powerful the Silhouette Studio is and all of it’s capabilities. The Basic Edition is free to all – you don’t even have to own a machine to download it. And if you choose to purchase a higher level edition, it’s a one-time cost.
That’s right. Silhouette America never charges for software updates.
You played a large part in the development of Designer Edition Plus for Silhouette Studio. Tell me a little more about that.
When I owned the store, I got a call from Spencer Livingston, Vice President of National Sales for Silhouette America. He wanted to know what I was doing in my store to sell so many Silhouette machines. He said “You’re a sewing store? And you’re selling Silhouettes? You’re not a crafting or a paper-cutting store?” He just couldn’t wrap his head around it.
So he and my sales rep flew out from Utah to visit my store. We did a demonstration of the Silhouette and he was shocked at the number of ladies that showed up. I gave him a tour of the store and showed him some of our multi-needle machines that sold for between $14,000-$15,000. He was absolutely blown away. I told him, “If you will get the [Silhouette Studio] software to open machine-embroidery formatted designs, it will blow the sewing machine world wide open.” Am I the only reason this happened? No. But I did keep pushing it enough that Silhouette began looking into it. I then worked closely with the software development team, beta testing and troubleshooting, and within a year or so they introduced Designer Edition Plus at Silhouette Summit in Hawaii.
How many Silhouette machines do you currently own?
I have all three versions of the Cameo, a Curio, and a Mint.
Is there one that you prefer over the others?
The Cameo 3 is my favorite, mainly because of the dual-carriage feature. I like the storage compartments and the place where you can run the cord underneath. I also like that you can use the Deep Cut blade without voiding your warranty. And now I have a pretty fancy pink one! (Note: At the June 2017 All Things Silhouette Conference, Silhouette America presented Terri with a special edition Cameo 3 that features a pink lid and pink tool carriage. This special edition model will be available to the public beginning in October 2017, with proceeds going to help fund breast cancer awareness and research.)
Do you have any favorite Silhouette-related tools or products?
I love Terial Magic because it lets you cut fabric on the Silhouette!
Where did the idea to start the All Things Silhouette Conference come from?
I was hosting retreats locally, mainly for my store customers, but I continued them even after I closed the store. During that time, I traveled to Birmingham, AL for the Everything Applique conference where I taught classes and had a booth where I did demonstrations and sold Silhouette machines. It was a great venue and I sold about 40 machines while I was there, but it was a very long way from home. When I returned to Virginia, people kept emailing me and saying, “Come to the South and do a retreat!” but I just didn’t want to travel that far again. So I opened up a map and decided that Atlanta was a good location. It was in the South but not too far for me to travel. I’d been hosting retreats here [in Virginia] at the Wyndham and they put me in touch with the Wyndham in Peachtree City. So I decided to hold some retreats there and I loved it! I loved the facility. I loved the people. And I just kept looking at all those big meeting rooms and that beautiful amphitheater and thinking about all the embroidery retreats I’d been involved in, knowing there was nothing like that in the Silhouette world. I knew how popular the embroidery conferences were and I didn’t see any reason we couldn’t do something similar for Silhouette enthusiasts, especially since no one was out there offering Silhouette education. I felt like we could reach so many more people without much more work than I was already doing for the hands-on events. Well, it IS a lot more work to plan a conference than a hands-on retreat, but it’s been worth it!
Even though you knew it would be popular, were you surprised at how quickly the first conference sold out?
I might have been a little surprised at just how quickly it happened, but not the fact that we sold out. It was something I really believed in; a whole “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing.
In addition to the conference, you’ve now begun offering an Instructor Licensing course as well.
Yes, that grew out of people emailing me almost daily and saying, “Come to Chicago! Come to Minnesota! Come to Michigan! Come to California!.” etc., etc. etc. and I couldn’t do it. So I decided that Instructor Licensing would be a good way to educate people to do what I do so that they could go back to their local areas and teach.
What is your favorite part about the All Things Silhouette Conference?
Definitely meeting the people face-to-face!
When you’re not crafting or sewing, how do you like to spend your time?
My favorite place in the whole world is the beach and I like nothing better than spending time with my family, especially my grandsons.
Anything new coming up?
We’ve got our first Curio retreat scheduled for September. So many people have been asking for classes with Mags Bonham and Cindy Pope so we’re excited about that. The Curio is just beginning to catch on and education is always the key when there’s something new being offered.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to express how appreciative I am of everyone and thankful for all the support they’ve given me, especially these past few months. We’re working hard to plan future conferences and are always glad to have new people join us!
Terri, thank you so much for helping me and my readers to get to know you better. And thank you for putting so much effort into the All Things Silhouette Conferences and the many other events you’re a part of. My life is so much richer for having met you and I know that there’s a host of others who feel the same way!
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