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Kelli May-Krenz

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I’ve known since I was six years old that I would live my life as an artist. For me, creating is like breathing—I simply must do it.

As an only child growing up in a little river town along the Mississippi River, I was inspired to create and make things. My imagination and curious nature loved being on the river, exploring beaches and collecting nature’s treats to bring home to use in my art.

The simple joys of my childhood have always stayed with me.

I learned about gardening, how special it was to have a clothesline by a row of lilac trees, how to dry glassware with tea towels (spotless), how water (the river, our pool) would fill me with endless ideas of things to create.

My neighbor Tish (like a grandmother to me) had beautiful vintage dresses she kept in what I thought was a magical armoire. She spoiled me by letting me play endless hours of dress up. Still smitten with vintage dresses, fabrics and broches, these memories influence my art style today. I am grateful for that.

I adore well-styled spaces, cool packaging, logos, collecting pieces of nature, vintage metal pieces, antique religious shrines, and the color of old gold. Being curious and noticing the tiniest of details in life will always give me great joy.

I knew for a fact that in middle school I was going to be a graphic designer. Not sure how I even knew what a graphic designer was, but I knew I would be one.

I noticed type on everything: how pages in magazines were laid out, greeting cards at the local Hallmark shop, wrapping paper, even the tissue paper. I would save bits of all wrappings and create with them. I absolutely love wrapping gifts, and I am pretty sure that love comes from all of my trips to the Hallmark shop.

My world was special, having great parents who saw my talents and completely encouraged and supported my art and learning about all the ways I could create.

Art will always be a place of joy, healing, and centering for me. I know it is within me and can fill my spirit back up. Forever grateful for this.

My first year of college was spent at Mount St. Clare, a Catholic college. Even though I was not Catholic, I won an art scholarship in high school to attend. The buildings were old and cool, and with stone floors, vintage shrines, and statues, history was all around me.

I do believe my love for shrines, religious items, and vintage books all started that first year at Mount St. Clare college. Forever, I have collected shrines, made shrines, stitched shrines to honor things in my world.

My dream was to go to Iowa State University and be in the college of design. Being 17 when I graduated high school, my parents did not want me going so far from home so I waited until my second year of college to go attend ISU.

Iowa State University has an award-winning design program, hard to get into and huge if you make it through. I soared and loved it with my entire being. I spent my time wearing vintage clothing and learning design and illustration, photography, and metal smithing, and I was delighted to see that a world of typography was a very real thing. I loved it.

I graduated with a degree in graphic design and fine arts. Started designing for ad agencies and doing illustrations too. So much to learn in the real world of design (eye opening), and still I loved what I was creating and doing fine art on the side.

My career has taken me to wildly successful places for many Fortune 500 companies.

My desire to travel and experience more big cities took me to NYC, Dallas, Naples, Florida, and now full circle back to a little river town. I adore traveling to Europe and all things French.

My world kept opening to more fashion-related projects with Neiman Marcus, Marshall Field’s, Target, to name a few. Beautiful packaging and branding became huge for me. I was thrilled to work with Estee Lauder, Revlon, Target, and lots of others. I was finding my voice, traveling to New York City lots, and loving every adventure. The garment district was completely incredible, with shops of fabrics, trims, beads, vintage everything. I continue to pull great inspiration from these things in my daily studio work.

At the young age of 27, I started to feel like I could do more of what I love if I had my own studio. The ability to pick my clients and projects greatly appealed to me. I took a jump that many found risky and quit my full-time art director job. I started my own studio called it Designer + Friend (after my black lab and I), and I have never looked back.

I continue to set goals and go after each one knowing that there is no risk in trying. This has served me well. I love the art of presentation, which comes in handy when setting goals and making them come true. I dream big; I face every fear no matter how big or hard.

It’s what I know.

I always go with my gut feelings, which truly work once you get in touch with who you are and what makes you happy. Happiness is everything; do what you love.

Layer your life with things you love.

My world changed at 39 years old. I faced a renal artery aneurysm and was told that the chance of surviving was 50/50. I knew that I had so much more to do in my life, so I made a list of all the things I would change to find real happiness once I survived.

I healed, divorced, and changed my world—building toward more happiness.

While healing, I started stitching more and more, finding it calming and comforting.

Blessings opened to me in wild ways. Hard stuff came along with them. Life has not been paved with easy roads for me, but my art has always been a constant source of goodness.

I am now married to my forever love (our story should be a movie, really).

Living in a home that was once a church, it seems fitting that I would start stitching shrines.

The peaceful feelings inside this home are incredible.

I love that you can celebrate and bring honor to everything with hand-stitched shrines.

The first year of moving here, I designed a line of greeting cards called Pearl Button’s World after our little JRT Pearl Button (my studio muse). I launched this line at the National Stationery Show in NYC. Creating cards with positive, quirky messages and my deep love for dogs remains in my constantly evolving card line.


I now design fabric lines, online classes, and original artwork that I sell on Etsy and in galleries.

Forever stitching new ideas, creating new art, and sharing with others, I stitch every night at bedtime. I’m constantly pushing my imagination to bring new layers of storytelling.

I design online courses to share my passion with others: everything from paintings to stitched spirit wands, hand-stitched spirit dolls, and stitching sacred shrines. To date, I celebrate 15 online classes. I find that more creativity comes from using what you have. There is so much to learn in slowing down to stitch— embracing the perfectly imperfect.

My online course Stitching Sacred Shrine is very popular, with lots of beautiful art being made.

Here is a look inside my process of Sacred Shrines.

STEP ONE

Gather inspiration from colors, textures, found objects you adore. You can look to vintage fabrics, bits of trims, natural found treasures (stones, driftwood, shells). Anything you love is pure inspiration.

Create a board with all of your gathered goods.

STEP TWO

Make a paper pattern, place on cotton batting with fabric on top. Trace and cut out.

Start playing with bits of fabrics, collage them like a puzzle, and keep moving until you like what you have; then start hand stitching in place. Use a variety of threads and styles of stitching.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Thomas Jefferson

STEP THREE

Add beads, trims, torn bits of ribbon. Stitch, stitch, stitch—the more layers, the better. Tell your story with your materials.

STEP FOUR

Cut the same pattern out of cardboard or thin plywood using a jigsaw. Carefully.

STEP FIVE

Choose an image for a shrine window. Vintage photos, hand-stitched words, metal findings, nature’s gifts, photos of loved ones, a quote hand written, or a pressed flower or leaf.

Let your imagination tell your story.

My entire life has been learning, recreating myself with new dreams to fuel my passions.

I have always loved making new things look time-worn—storytelling with my art.

I live a very positive, focused life and each day I say thank you for giving me this day.

New dreams.

Continue creating more fabrics, teaching in-person retreats, sharing goodness and ways to live more positively. I also plan to design a cool inspirational art book.

My forever loves—dogs, family, friends, and my talents as an artist—have given me a wonderful life.

I’ve known since I was six years old that I would live my life as an artist. For me, creating is like breathing—I simply must do it.

As an only child growing up in a little river town along the Mississippi River, I was inspired to create and make things. My imagination and curious nature loved being on the river, exploring beaches and collecting nature’s treats to bring home to use in my art.

The simple joys of my childhood have always stayed with me.

I learned about gardening, how special it was to have a clothesline by a row of lilac trees, how to dry glassware with tea towels (spotless), how water (the river, our pool) would fill me with endless ideas of things to create.

My neighbor Tish (like a grandmother to me) had beautiful vintage dresses she kept in what I thought was a magical armoire. She spoiled me by letting me play endless hours of dress up. Still smitten with vintage dresses, fabrics and broches, these memories influence my art style today. I am grateful for that.

I adore well-styled spaces, cool packaging, logos, collecting pieces of nature, vintage metal pieces, antique religious shrines, and the color of old gold. Being curious and noticing the tiniest of details in life will always give me great joy.

I knew for a fact that in middle school I was going to be a graphic designer. Not sure how I even knew what a graphic designer was, but I knew I would be one.

I noticed type on everything: how pages in magazines were laid out, greeting cards at the local Hallmark shop, wrapping paper, even the tissue paper. I would save bits of all wrappings and create with them. I absolutely love wrapping gifts, and I am pretty sure that love comes from all of my trips to the Hallmark shop.

My world was special, having great parents who saw my talents and completely encouraged and supported my art and learning about all the ways I could create.

Art will always be a place of joy, healing, and centering for me. I know it is within me and can fill my spirit back up. Forever grateful for this.

My first year of college was spent at Mount St. Clare, a Catholic college. Even though I was not Catholic, I won an art scholarship in high school to attend. The buildings were old and cool, and with stone floors, vintage shrines, and statues, history was all around me.

I do believe my love for shrines, religious items, and vintage books all started that first year at Mount St. Clare college. Forever, I have collected shrines, made shrines, stitched shrines to honor things in my world.

My dream was to go to Iowa State University and be in the college of design. Being 17 when I graduated high school, my parents did not want me going so far from home so I waited until my second year of college to go attend ISU.

Iowa State University has an award-winning design program, hard to get into and huge if you make it through. I soared and loved it with my entire being. I spent my time wearing vintage clothing and learning design and illustration, photography, and metal smithing, and I was delighted to see that a world of typography was a very real thing. I loved it.

I graduated with a degree in graphic design and fine arts. Started designing for ad agencies and doing illustrations too. So much to learn in the real world of design (eye opening), and still I loved what I was creating and doing fine art on the side.

My career has taken me to wildly successful places for many Fortune 500 companies.

My desire to travel and experience more big cities took me to NYC, Dallas, Naples, Florida, and now full circle back to a little river town. I adore traveling to Europe and all things French.

My world kept opening to more fashion-related projects with Neiman Marcus, Marshall Field’s, Target, to name a few. Beautiful packaging and branding became huge for me. I was thrilled to work with Estee Lauder, Revlon, Target, and lots of others. I was finding my voice, traveling to New York City lots, and loving every adventure. The garment district was completely incredible, with shops of fabrics, trims, beads, vintage everything. I continue to pull great inspiration from these things in my daily studio work.

At the young age of 27, I started to feel like I could do more of what I love if I had my own studio. The ability to pick my clients and projects greatly appealed to me. I took a jump that many found risky and quit my full-time art director job. I started my own studio called it Designer + Friend (after my black lab and I), and I have never looked back.

I continue to set goals and go after each one knowing that there is no risk in trying. This has served me well. I love the art of presentation, which comes in handy when setting goals and making them come true. I dream big; I face every fear no matter how big or hard.

It’s what I know.

I always go with my gut feelings, which truly work once you get in touch with who you are and what makes you happy. Happiness is everything; do what you love.

Layer your life with things you love.

My world changed at 39 years old. I faced a renal artery aneurysm and was told that the chance of surviving was 50/50. I knew that I had so much more to do in my life, so I made a list of all the things I would change to find real happiness once I survived.

I healed, divorced, and changed my world—building toward more happiness.

While healing, I started stitching more and more, finding it calming and comforting.

Blessings opened to me in wild ways. Hard stuff came along with them. Life has not been paved with easy roads for me, but my art has always been a constant source of goodness.

I am now married to my forever love (our story should be a movie, really).

Living in a home that was once a church, it seems fitting that I would start stitching shrines.

The peaceful feelings inside this home are incredible.

I love that you can celebrate and bring honor to everything with hand-stitched shrines.

The first year of moving here, I designed a line of greeting cards called Pearl Button’s World after our little JRT Pearl Button (my studio muse). I launched this line at the National Stationery Show in NYC. Creating cards with positive, quirky messages and my deep love for dogs remains in my constantly evolving card line.


I now design fabric lines, online classes, and original artwork that I sell on Etsy and in galleries.

Forever stitching new ideas, creating new art, and sharing with others, I stitch every night at bedtime. I’m constantly pushing my imagination to bring new layers of storytelling.

I design online courses to share my passion with others: everything from paintings to stitched spirit wands, hand-stitched spirit dolls, and stitching sacred shrines. To date, I celebrate 15 online classes. I find that more creativity comes from using what you have. There is so much to learn in slowing down to stitch— embracing the perfectly imperfect.

My online course Stitching Sacred Shrine is very popular, with lots of beautiful art being made.

Here is a look inside my process of Sacred Shrines.

STEP ONE

Gather inspiration from colors, textures, found objects you adore. You can look to vintage fabrics, bits of trims, natural found treasures (stones, driftwood, shells). Anything you love is pure inspiration.

Create a board with all of your gathered goods.

STEP TWO

Make a paper pattern, place on cotton batting with fabric on top. Trace and cut out.

Start playing with bits of fabrics, collage them like a puzzle, and keep moving until you like what you have; then start hand stitching in place. Use a variety of threads and styles of stitching.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Thomas Jefferson

STEP THREE

Add beads, trims, torn bits of ribbon. Stitch, stitch, stitch—the more layers, the better. Tell your story with your materials.

STEP FOUR

Cut the same pattern out of cardboard or thin plywood using a jigsaw. Carefully.

STEP FIVE

Choose an image for a shrine window. Vintage photos, hand-stitched words, metal findings, nature’s gifts, photos of loved ones, a quote hand written, or a pressed flower or leaf.

Let your imagination tell your story.

My entire life has been learning, recreating myself with new dreams to fuel my passions.

I have always loved making new things look time-worn—storytelling with my art.

I live a very positive, focused life and each day I say thank you for giving me this day.

New dreams.

Continue creating more fabrics, teaching in-person retreats, sharing goodness and ways to live more positively. I also plan to design a cool inspirational art book.

My forever loves—dogs, family, friends, and my talents as an artist—have given me a wonderful life.