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Melissa Whitmer makes her own custom signs with wood, stain, stencils and paint. She also offers classes, private or open to the public, so others can learn how to make their own crafts. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

What started out as a hobby turned into a business for Melissa Whitmer, who makes and sells home decor, and travels to teach DIY craft classes.

“I started just doing signs as orders,” said Whitmer, who began her business, Whitmer Crafts, in October 2016.

While selling some of her products as a vendor, customers asked if Whitmer taught classes. The questions sparked an idea for Whitmer, wife and mother of two who works as a daycare provider during the day. Now she ventures to wineries, restaurants and breweries to teach people her tricks. At private home classes and parties, she offers her services in basements, garages, and patios. Her garage studio, where she does her own individual craft work, also serves as a class space.

Whitmer doesn’t just host classes in Lonsdale — she also ventures to Lakeville, Northfield, Savage, and Farmington among other locations up to 45 minutes away. Coming up at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the Lonsdale American Legion is a craft and sip session. The featured craft is a sign that says “Grandkids make life grand,” a potential Mother’s Day gift.

Registration for all Whitmer’s classes close two days before the event. All materials are included, and she charges according to those costs.

Wood, stain, drills, paint and stencils are the main materials for Whitmer’s signs, her main craft.

At Whitmer’s sign classes, the students choose from six to eight stain colors. Whitmer’s stains are water-based, not oil-based, so they produce little odor and dry faster.

Whitmer requires her students to drill the wood boards together themselves. She said the process is easier than some women expect, but it can take a while to share the 12 drills for larger classes.

“We buy all our wood from Generation [Building Center] in Lonsdale,” said Whitmer.”My niece helps me print my stencils, and a couple high school boys cut the wood and drill holes in them.”

Whitmer owns a stencil printer, which allows her to customize her own sayings for the signs she makes.

“When [students] register, they pick from 50 designs on my website,” said Whitmer.

After designing the sayings and printing them, she peels the letters off the stencil paper and uses a sticky transfer paper to move the stencil onto the wood. When she teaches a class on DIY signs, Whitmer tells her students to pull the stencil off as soon as they finish painting. If certain paint dries on the stencil, Whitmer said it makes the peeling process more difficult. For small and intricate lettering, Whitmer uses a tweezers to pull away the stencil scraps. Depending on the design, Whitmer said this step may take the longest.

“All in all, it’s two to three hours for a class,” said Whitmer.

Sometimes Whitmer shakes up the routine by teaching custom classes. These sessions feature other craft products like ladder shelves, plant stands, yard Jenga and yard dice.

Now that Whitmer teaches up to six classes a week, she’s hired an assistant to teach her classes as well.

Jessica Turek of Lonsdale took Whitmer’s classes a couple times before selling her own products and expressed interest when she found out Whitmer wanted an assistant. Her first class is Wednesday, April 18 for a community ed class in Prior Lake.

“Usually each person gets to choose their own [design], but mine is a tall welcome sign,” said Turek. “We see a lot of variety in the classes we do.”

A complete listing of Whitmer’s classes is available at facebook.com/whitmercrafts and whitmercrafts.com.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-744-2551. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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