Sew Big or Go Home!

After months of weighing the risks and considering various safety precautions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials finally issued a press release in July announcing the cancellation of the 2020 State Fair of Texas. There have only been a handful of times in the fair’s 134-year history that the event has been cancelled. The first time was in 1918, when Fair Park was converted into a temporary Army encampment during World War I. The last time the fair was cancelled was during the years of 1942 through 1945, during World War II. Considering the fact that annual attendance in recent years has exceeded 2.5 million people, it should come as no surprise that officials opted to cancel this year’s fair in the interest of public safety. Various solutions were considered, ranging from limited daily attendance and pre-sold tickets, to health screenings at the gate and social distancing on the fair grounds. Ultimately, the challenges of safely hosting such a large event posed too great a risk to public health and safety so organizers decided to shift their efforts toward preserving as many events and contests as they felt could be held safely.  

Over 900 of the creative arts contests will be held virtually this year, including three culinary contests, which will be judged based on decoration and design instead of flavor. Several new categories have also been added to the roster, including mini butter sculptures, cookie and cake decorating, nail art and face masks, just to name a few. Although the winning designs will not be publicly displayed as in previous years, participants will still have the opportunity to take home a ribbon. The State Fair of Texas hopes that its virtual creative arts contests will encourage people to continue to engage in the community from the safety of their homes. Frisco resident Katie Garcia has been submitting her handbags into the needlework and sewing contests for the past few years. Her unique, eye-catching designs earned a blue ribbon and a red ribbon in last year’s fair. The popularity of her handbags and accessories generated so many requests for custom pieces that her hobby eventually evolved into a home business, the Handy Tandy Shop.

Mrs. Garcia grew up in Tulsa and moved to Texas 14 years after graduating from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, majoring in finance. She currently works as the Director of Order Management for TurboChef Technologies, Inc., a business that produces commercial high-speed ovens for companies like Starbucks. She and her husband, Michael, decided to move to Frisco when they were expecting their first child because of the award-winning school district. Mrs. Garcia started sewing only six years ago, after admiring a line of designer bags that seemed a bit too expensive, considering their simplicity. Since the design seemed simple enough to learn, she decided to take a sewing class for beginners at a studio in Oak Cliff. After learning the basics, Mrs. Garcia self-taught herself by reading blogs and watching YouTube videos in her spare time. The idea to participate in the creative arts contests at the State Fair of Texas came after her mother participated. “A few years ago, my mom submitted photos that she took on vacation for one of the contests and ended up winning a ribbon. I thought – if my mom can win, I can too!” In 2018, Mrs. Garcia submitted one of her handbags for the first time. Although she was not able to win a ribbon, her design did earn an honorable mention. When she entered again the following year, her monogram handbag earned a blue ribbon, while her holiday handbag earned a red ribbon. Mrs. Garcia recalls the overall experience as both exciting and challenging. “It was fun. It’s like a shot in the dark, because you don’t know how many people are entering or what you’re up against. There were a couple weeks of anxiously awaiting the results.”  

Mrs. Garcia always enjoys sewing gifts for friends and family members, designing custom pieces inspired by each person’s unique tastes, or creating baby items designed to match the theme of a nursery. She has also created sports-themed bags and accessories for each of the major Texas franchises and pieces designed to match the theme of special events. Handy Tandy Shop sold its first bag two years ago and Mrs. Garcia currently creates around eight to ten pieces per month. Despite her recent success, Mrs. Garcia still vividly recalls the rocky start of her sewing career. “I took a home economics class in middle school and I actually put the needle right through my finger! So that experience really put me off for a while. But eventually I got the nerve to try again.” Last December she held Handy Tandy Shop’s first open house to showcase the collection to a small group consisting mainly of friends. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Garcia planned to hold quarterly or semi-annual open houses but decided to postpone until next year. 

Between working full time, helping her children with virtual learning and working on efforts to grow the Handy Tandy Shop, life has been busier than ever. Mrs. Garcia’s daughter, Taylor, managed to take a children’s sewing class at Sew Fun Frisco right before COVID-19 hit. She enjoys spending her time using Mrs. Garcia’s old sewing machine to make little clothes and accessories for her American Girl dolls, in between Zoom calls. Like many people, the quarantine also inspired Mrs. Garcia to start sewing homemade protective face masks. “When I first started, I made around 100 masks. I had only intended to make some for myself, my husband and my family. But one day I posted a picture on Instagram and my phone started buzzing with requests. I remember just thinking … shoot! I didn’t mean for this to become a thing! So I used whatever fabric I had on hand. I couldn’t find any elastic, so I ended up using elastic hair ties and that worked! But I bought all the hair ties at the store, so I had to stop when I hit the 100 mark.” Yet despite being passionate about sewing for fun, Mrs. Garcia found it difficult to enjoy creating items that were not inspired by their intended recipient. “I really wasn’t into it at first and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized it was because I really like to customize designs for a specific person; I like shopping for the perfect fabric, color, animal, Disney character — whatever they’re into. So eventually I was able to design a few for specific people and I felt a lot better about that.”

This will be Mrs. Garcia’s third year entering the creative arts contests at the fair and the winners will be announced October 9. This year has brought unprecedented hardships, but it has also reminded us just how strong and caring our communities are when faced with adversity. Despite the enormous setback’s businesses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Garcia remains optimistic and continues to pursue her efforts to build her brand, using social media in lieu of the exposure the fair would have provided. She looks forward to hosting more open houses next year and she is excited to be adding vacation bags to the upcoming Handy Tandy Shop collection. As more and more consumers realize the importance of supporting local businesses and minimizing the environmental impact of long-distance shipping, Mrs. Garcia is proud to have a business that handmakes each piece right here in Frisco. 

Mrs. Garcia’s handbags, accessories and baby items can be viewed on her Facebook and Instagram pages @HandyTandyShop or via e-mail handytandyshop@gmail.com.

Juliet Cimler is a freelance writer and project manager for a biotech consulting firm in Frisco. She has a B.S. in Business Administration and is pursuing an M.S. in Computer Information Systems.

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