A Bed Stuy Artist Crafts Handmade Lampshades

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By Isabel Song Beer, Brooklyn Paper

When one thinks of social media virality, perhaps videos of an artist creating vintage-inspired silk lampshades aren’t the first thing to come to mind, but with a combined 1.36 million followers on Instagram and TikTok, 29-year-old Ivy Karlsgodt has created an expansive online audience by filming the process of hand making intricately embroidered and beaded lampshades for her Brooklyn-based small business, Ace of Shades.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, Karlsgodt was temporarily laid off from her job working in the costume industry in New York City.

a glowing lamp with a green floral shade

A lampshade created by Ivy Karlsgodt in her Bedford Stuyvesant studio. Photo by Paul Frangipane

Facing a looming overabundance of time indoors, like so many New Yorkers, she decided to explore a new hobby. However, instead of attempting to bake loaves of shoddy sourdough or learning how to roller skate, Karlsgodt decided to try designing and hand-making vintage lampshades.

In an effort to redecorate her room to befit her style, Karlsgodt had initially turned to Instagram for some inspiration where she found images of intricately beaded and embroidered lampshades which fit her maximalist vision perfectly.

“I really wanted to try my hand at making it, partly because it looked really fun — the process is kind of similar to hat making, which I have some experience with — and because they are expensive,” Karlsgodt told Brooklyn Paper. “I was like ‘I can’t buy one of these, that’s a good $500. I’ll just make a couple for my space.’ And then I really loved the process and just decided to keep it up as a hobby, maybe have a little Etsy shop so I can afford the materials, because they’re not cheap either.”

In an effort to learn more about how to make the lamps, Karlsgodt watched instructional DVDs by artist Mary Maxwell, thus beginning her venture into the intensely niche community of lampshade crafters.

closeup of hands working on a lamp shade

Karlsgodt works on a lampshade in her home studio. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“It’s obviously a pretty small community, but most other people who make these types of lampshades are like older ladies, and it was kind of a trend in the ’80s and ’90s to make these lampshades,” Karlsgodt said. “I picked up some techniques from there but I was also able to pick it up very quickly because I just already had a lot of professional sewing experience.”

Utilizing transferable skills from her experience in the costume industry, Karlsgodt quickly felt confident in her lampshade designs and craftsmanship and decided to share the efforts of her labor on social media.

“So I made my first couple of lampshades and I thought ‘I’ll make little process videos or whatever to sort of advertise them on TikTok,” said Karlsgodt. “And then it just blew up right away.”

Karlsgodt’s first post on the social media app quickly garnered nearly 300,000 views with tens of thousands of comments. Subsequent posts have accrued millions of views, leading to a brand partnership with Julie, an emergency contraceptive company, as well as the opportunity to re-create mini lampshades and sconces for the Home of Clara and Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.

Despite her dizzying ascension in popularity across Instagram and TikTok, Karlsgodt wasn’t personally very experienced with using social media, especially not as a tool to peddle her wares.

filming with a phone while at work

Karlsgodt films herself creating lampshades for her small business, Ace of Shades. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“I thought it was a strange move for me actually, because I’ve never really been a big social media person, like I don’t ever post on my personal pages,” Karlsgodt said. “So why I was like “I should have a TikTok page,’ I don’t really know. I think I had gotten TikTok like a month before [that first post].”

Even if the decision to post videos on social media wasn’t the most calculated or meticulous, when watching Karlsgodt’s videos it becomes immediately obvious why they are so successful. Sitting serenely at a vintage desk with a luxurious olive green chaise and quirky artwork in frame behind her, Karlsgodt often starts each video with a demure smile and wave before immediately launching in.

Quick shots in rapid succession show step-by-step how each creation starts as a skeleton of twisted metal, before being meticulously transformed into a lush and opulent work of art — all while the soft croons of familiar retro jazz songs play in the background.

Perhaps the videos move at too quick a pace to glean detailed instructions on how to make your very own vintage-inspired lamp, but for Karlsgodt, that isn’t the point.

sitting on a chaise lounge and working on a lamp shade

Karlsgodt’s videos have garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and interactions. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“My main thought was that the process is fun to look at,” she explained. “You know, even if it’s not necessarily a tutorial — it could be — but mostly I get comments saying like, ‘I don’t even like these lamps, but I like watching you make them’ which I’m like, fair enough.”

The videos certainly have helped boost Karlsgodt’s online business, Ace of Shades, where she sells stocked lampshades and accepts commissions for custom works. She was able to commit to the business full time in 2022, a little under two years after launching her TikTok page.

“The one thing I do struggle with sometimes … because I have this big following and these take a long time to make, I cannot keep my site stocked,” said Karlsgodt. “Like, I’ll spend a week making four lampshades to restock my website and they will sell out in 10 minutes.”

The lampshades, some of which can take up to 30 hours to complete, are priced in order to reflect both the material Karlsgodt uses in each creation as well as the labor. They are expensive, sometimes over $1,000, but since Karlsgodt started her social media pages, she doesn’t often get comments complaining about the pricing.

glowing lampshade with pink floral fabric and beaded trim

The lampshades can take up to 30 hours to create. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“I think it’s because I show the process and you can see that it obviously takes me a lot of time and all that,” Karlsgodt hypothesized. “So I never really get comments complaining about my pricing. I get people saying all the time, ‘I can’t wait until I can afford this, I hope you’re still making these in 10 years when I can afford this or I’m saving up’.”

As her business continues to grow, Karlsgodt has had to make some lifestyle changes to attempt to meet the demand – she recently moved into a new apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant with larger studio spaces to accommodate her work and will soon be looking to hire some part-time assistance to help her keep up with the demand.

“It’s very surreal,” Karlsgodt said of the almost rapid growth of her business in such a short time. “I really never thought about owning a business, that never occurred to me. I studied theater costuming, I didn’t think I’d be running a business, I never really thought of myself as a leader type, honestly. So it’s been a learn-as-I-go situation. As far as the admin stuff, I don’t know anything about that, I used to barely have to write emails for my old job so this is all very new.”

Another venture Karlsgodt is considering is offering classes or workshops to make the lampshade-making art form more accessible.

“There’s not a lot of resources to learn how to do it,” said Karlsgodt. “There’s those instructional DVDs and there’s probably a book or two out there, but I’ve never read them. I learned a lot from older lampshade makers and that’s how I think a lot of these more niche things are – things are just passed down sort of orally, so I would love to teach.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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