We recently spoke with Jessie Cornicello, the mom behind Hands in Handmade. Jessie and her husband grew up in Lynbrook, and we are very lucky to still be within a few minutes of our families. They have two adorable children– a four year old son and a two year old daughter.
Jessie, tell us a little about yourself and how “Hands in Handmade” came about:
I have a degree in Sociology—by day, I work in Public Health research and evaluation, with a focus on behavioral health. I was based in NYC for about 5 years, but after I had my son, I switched to be an off-site employee. My company is global, and I work with some amazing women who set a strong example of being working moms. I work 32 hours a week, which gives me the flexibility to work and be present for my children—I am incredibly lucky to have this blend. I am also very fortunate that my kids have an amazing babysitter who my children adore.
We officially launched Hands In Handmade in January 2020. My mom is a nursery school director, so even before my kids were born, I was exposed to progressive and thoughtful views on the importance of early childhood education. From the time my son was little, we tried to incorporate as much sensory play as possible. When my son started to walk, we built our first sensory table. I love sensory play, and I wanted to create a home that really embraced that. Over time, we have built up our collection of open-ended play and process art supplies. We built a table for family members and continued to refine the model. My husband and I love building these tables together— he has been incredibly supportive of the business and an amazing sounding board. We have created a small workspace in our basement, but most of the building happens in the middle of our living room.
At the end of 2019, my sister-in-law’s friend saw our table and asked if we could build one for her—and this was a huge turning point for us. This was the first time we even considered selling them or creating a business. I was very fortunate to connect with Janeen Violante at Hudson Valley Graphic Design who helped me launch it from an idea to a business. She helped me to overcome some of my own internal hesitation (which I think a lot of female entrepreneurs face) and to set up the foundation of a business (thinking through marketing, sales, pricing).
Since then, we have sold a few more tables, but we have also pivoted a lot of our energy to sensory kits. We know that the tables are a commitment—they take up more space in the home and are a challenge to ship, but we feel strongly that even if you don’t have a dedicated sensory table, there are so many amazing benefits to sensory play (e.g. fine motor, language development, problem solving, creative thinking) that every child should be able to enjoy. Our kits include a filler (e.g. rainbow rice), some manipulatives (e.g. gems, animals), and some tools (e.g. scoops). The goal is that these materials are open ended and can be used to spark a child’s imagination. Each time a child revisits the kit, there is a different way to play. We have sold these kits to families across Long Island and have shipped several to families around the United States. We have a few themed kits (construction, outer space, unicorns, a “one year old” kit) but I love to work with moms on designing custom kits that meet the needs and interests of their children. You can order the kits on Instagram or check out my Etsy shop at HandsInHandmade.
My hope is to expand to workshops, classes and events—I think some parents want to try sensory play and process art, but they are hesitant to make the leap. My goal for these in-person classes is to empower parents to introduce this kind of play and create a space where children are encouraged to focus on the process, not the product.
To compliment the business, I have been using Instagram (@handsinhandmade) to share ideas and inspiration for play. I was finding that a lot of play/art Instagram accounts are very staged—the room is neat or there is no child present. The goal of my Instagram account is to keep it real with play and art. My photos are of my children’s hands engaged in play or making. I am not an early childhood expert, but I love being able to share ideas or thoughts on what works in my home. I hope that parents can use my account to feel inspired to use what they have at home to help your children create and play.
During quarantine we put a big folding table in our playroom and created a dedicated art space—and I love it. My children can pop in and out of creating all day, and I don’t have to clean up their projects from the kitchen table for every meal. This has been really transformative for the way we are able to do process art. We can use the same piece of paper for a week and just keep adding on. The walls are covered with art and storytelling. My suggestion for parents during quarantine is to think about creating a space in your home where your children can create. With a little practice, your children will be able to use the materials responsibly and giving them access/ space to create will make them feel a lot more empowered. Don’t ask them “what is it?”, ask them “how did you create it”.
My children are an active part of this business—they help me to make kits and test out ideas. I have all of my kits supplies in my office, and every time they come in, they dive right in. This is how I know these kits work—they should be full of things that make your kids want to go HANDS IN!