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Ten Dots Textiles

Ten Dots Textiles

Ten Dots Textiles

February/March 2020 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Fiber
Ten Dots Textiles Classic collection

Pieces from Dotstry’s Classic collection are elegantly simple.

Tenisha Dotstry

When we move from place to place, the containers that hold and haul the stuff of our lives take on special meaning: the tie-dyed backpack, the worn leather dopp kit, the sticker-covered guitar case. As a well-traveled military veteran and maker of baskets, Tenisha Dotstry understands this better than most.

“We lived out of our seabags, always running back and forth to see each other,” Dotstry recalls of the early days of her 15-year marriage, when she and her husband, Thomas, were both in the US Navy but based in different states. Together, the couple have since moved nine times, most recently settling in Seattle where he’s second-in-command of a submarine and she maintains her studio, Ten Dots Textiles.

“Very simple, very clean, things that can go with every decor” is how Dotstry describes the artful modern baskets she crafts out of coils of thin cotton rope. “The one constant we have is that we’re always in a different location,” she says of her peripatetic lifestyle. “Because we’re always in a different type of house, I want something that can work in any home or office.” Her bestselling Classic collection offers basic, everyday round and oval bowls in solid, neutral colors. For her Signature line, she lets loose with more abstract shapes and elaborate constructions, “blinged out” with hand stitchery, touches of color, and rhinestone accents. There’s a subtle nautical feel to many of her pieces, conjuring the memory of a day at Virginia Beach or an urn Dotstry admired on the island of Crete, which she visited while deployed on the USS Enterprise. “Water is always a source of inspiration for me,” she says, “because the sea always changes.”

A bubbly 38-year-old with a quick, infectious laugh, Dotstry grew up grounded, in rural southern Maryland. “We were isolated. Farms and tobacco fields, that was pretty much it,” she says. “My family was creative, crafty, independent. If something was needed, someone was making it.” Her mother, an expert seamstress, passed that skill on to Dotstry, who as a little girl used old sheets to make dresses that her sister would model in pretend runway shows. After high school Dotstry considered becoming a fashion designer, but ended up studying music (playing clarinet, trumpet, and piano) until deciding that wasn’t for her. Following the example of a cousin who had joined the Navy, she enlisted in 2001, eventually serving as a nuclear electronics technician.

“You know Homer’s job on The Simpsons, where he sits in front of the nuclear reactor panel and makes sure things don’t happen?” she says, referring to the animated TV comedy. “That was my job, essentially, except on an aircraft carrier. Looking back, I realize how cool it was, especially being female. Not too many people have been able to do that.” Sewing became her respite from high-pressure responsibilities. “I became a crazy-obsessive quilter. I would leave work and start making quilts, just to help process things, get my brain to shut down.”

After leaving the Navy in 2007, Dotstry kept quilting and dreamed of selling her work: “I always knew I needed to make something with my hands, and for other people to want it.” Then on December 28, 2014 – she remembers it well – the women in her online quilting group were making bowls out of rope wrapped in fabric. “I said, that’s cool. What happens if you do it without the fabric? So I made this wonky bowl.” Two years and much experimentation later, she entered her baskets in her first craft show. “I thought, ‘You know what? I like what I do, so maybe other people will, too.’ And I sold out,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was like – oh, OK!”

Now, business is thriving as she continues to expand her portfolio of forms. “I have notebooks upon notebooks of ideas,” says Dotstry, who has begun to draw on her extensive album of photos and on memories from her Navy travels to places such as Singapore, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates. “I’ll be doing a lot of exploring. More color, more bling.”

To Have and To Hold

Sew Happy: Dotstry’s home studio is equipped with a “big mommy” industrial sewing machine and two smaller ones. At work with her dog, Dan Schultz, by her side, she plays ’80s and ’90s teenybopper songs – Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys. “I have to listen to happy, bouncy music while I sew.”

Fill ’Em Up: Don’t be afraid, she tells customers, to put her baskets to work – say, for an artful arrangement of bread, cheese and fruit. “They’re washable. People say, ‘You put food in them?’ I’m like, ‘All the time!’”

As You Like It: She welcomes custom orders, such as the rose basket of pink and red handpainted petals she created for a flower girl to carry at a wedding.

Gather Together: Wherever she relocates, Dotstry connects with the local craft community. “When I started selling, I realized how hard it is for us out there, in a world of mass-market everything. Support handmade artists! We work hard, and we love what we do.”