Kari Mecca of Anaheim, California, can’t remember a time when she wasn’t curious about anything creative. She credits both sides of her family: Her father’s side has artists, architects, and business owners, while her mother’s side has embroiderers, sewists, and teachers. “Creativity is simply in my blood,” Kari says.

Her mother always had embroidery or sewing projects lying around that piqued her interest, but she was 10 years old when she tried her first real sewing project. She and her sister, Sheri, sat at their grandmother’s dining room table stitching pajamas in a Holly Hobby fabric. “My sister’s pajamas were perfect,” Kari recalls. “Mine were not!” Afterward, she took any art or sewing class she could. “I eventually started ironing and sewing for hire,” Kari says. “I had to support my habit—or should I say, hobby.”

Her mother, Mary, and grandmother, Dorothy (who felt she was too young to be called Grandma), were the two biggest creative forces in her life. Kari spent many childhood vacations at her grandmother’s house in San Diego, where her aunt, mother, and grandmother would be in the kitchen planning and sewing projects together.

“They were encouraging, inquisitive, and supportive—they loved sharing what made them happy!” says Kari. “I know the feeling, because I feel the urge to dance and sing (and I don’t do either well) every time I see a student’s eyes light up with understanding.”

In many ways, Kari feels like she’s been in the crafting/sewing business all her life. “From middle school on, anything I made, I’d talk my mom into selling at her office,” she recalls. “When I was 15, I made my first big seller—a macramé frog for the bathroom. The frog’s mouth held the soap, and his feet held a bamboo towel ring.”

Kari stumbled into smocking when she spied a project in a stitching book. She began making smocked doll clothes and selling them in a local shop, where she later came across an issue of Sew Beautiful magazine. Inside was an announcement for their “Most Beautiful Clothes in the World” sewing contest.

“If you think about it, that’s a pretty hefty title,” says Kari. “But being in my 20s and fairly fearless, I entered my own design, the Fairy Garden Dress. I actually won first place in Girl’s Heirloom Sewing, which included a trip to the School of Art Fashion!”

That phone call from Martha Pullen telling her she had won the sewing contest was the defining moment that launched her career. “That win—judged by Martha Pullen, Margaret Boyles, and others—told me that not only could I sew well, but I could also design,” says Kari.

What most people don’t know is that one of the sleeves was sewn on wrong side out, but because of the short deadline, Kari had to resort to what she hated at the time—silk ribbon embroidery—to finish. “From there I started writing articles, publishing design plates, and writing my first book, Silk Ribbon Whimsies,” Kari says.

“If I had only known how prophetic the word ‘Whimsy’ would become! My line of patterns came next, then another book, and I opened my web store. Actually, a customer asked if she could use my business for her final project in her web design class. She got an A, and I got a beautiful website!”