You either love her or hate her, with that all-knowing smile and those practical Oxford shirts. But Martha Stewart is the most powerful domestic icon in the world, and she has the TV show, magazines and product lines to prove it. There aren't any other celebrities who can survive a five-month prison term, and still demonstrate how to torch a creme brule, straight-faced without irony.
Last Wednesday, Michelle SaintOnge, a Halifax textile designer, learned exactly how powerful Stewart is after she appeared on her daytime show. SaintOnge's blog, printcutsew.com---a DIY screenprinting tutorial---was shut down by her web host for 14 hours because it consumed almost 50 percent of their servers' international resources.
SaintOnge is a perfect fit for The Martha Stewart Show. She's attractive and friendly, her coveted screenprinted wall-art and handbags are colourful and clever, featuring naughty, unrepentant animals that are too cute to scold. For the show, SaintOnge created personalized shirts for Stewart's beloved French bulldogs, Sharkey and Francesca. But as it turns out, a little persistence and being nice was what got her the spot.
Months ago, Blythe Church, a local artist who creates felted sculptures of household objects, attracted show producers' interest after she won a contest. Church never appeared on the show, but passed on the producer's name, to SaintOnge, who had just launched a line of handbags.
"When I was sending around a press release for my bags, I thought, 'maybe they'd like this stuff, it's handmade,'" she says. SaintOnge didn't have the direct contact information, but after begging a magazine employee, was put through to the producer.
"She saw my stuff and loved it, but asked, 'Can we do this? Is there something that the viewers can do at home?'" SaintOnge convinced her it would work out. "Later, she told me she wasn't a believer in the beginning, 'it was only because you were so nice.' They had done a segment on the woman who wrote The Power of Nice, and she really believes in it."
Next, the producer had to convince Stewart that SaintOnge was up for the challenge. For more than four months, SaintOnge worked on an idea for the segment---showing Stewart how to print cat and dog images onto raw canvas bags---and once they were happy with the concept, she had to make "tons of tons and tons of samples. Once they liked the samples, they had me write a tutorial, then do a video of the process." The troducer took all the materials to Stewart. The next day SaintOnge received a call asking if she could be there in two weeks.
"Apparently that's a little quicker than usual," says SaintOnge. "Martha hates Valentine's Day, so she didn't want any more Valentine's Day crap going on. She was getting mad at the staff: 'What's with all these dinky Valentine's Day crafts? I can't stand it.'" SaintOnge believes that's why Stewart pushed to show her print "The Audience" on air. It's a dog watching a couple in bed.
On Tuesday, she did 10 hours worth of prep in the craft room, surrounded by shelves and shelves of every tool, fabric and notion available, which "for any crafter would be a total dream. It's unbelievable."
On Wednesday she showed up at 7:30am for a dress rehearsal; some segments are shot live, others are pre-taped. SaintOnge's was live, but Stewart wasn't there.
During the live 10 minutes, SaintOnge looked poised and confident, even as Stewart awkwardly pushed the squeegee up and down the printing frame, and SaintOnge had to correct her. "We were moving fast, and Martha was kinda screwing up. I was dying on the inside," SaintOnge groans. "'Oh my god, what is she doing?' I never even anticipating her not knowing how. I feel really bad because I didn't have a chance to show her; I met her five seconds before the segment. During the commercial break it never occurred to me to go over to tell her quickly what to do. She wandered off and looked at my stuff. It was crazy---she really loved it and was totally gushing."
SaintOnge wasn't paid to appear on the show---Stewart's praise goes a long way, as does the exposure, apparently. But the producers encouraged SaintOnge to come up with new ideas, and she already has a few. Things are looking good for this designer.
Michelle SaintOnge on The Martha Stewart Show, available on marthastewart.com. See her live at the PechaKucha lecture series, Thursday, February 19 at Garrison Brewery, 7:30pm, $4.
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