Photography by Emily Sobecki
Standing inside her garage, New Buffalo resident Robin Quackenbash is surrounded by power tools, engine oil, and shovels one might find in the garage of a typical Michiana resident.
However, instead of leaving space for her to park her car, the rest of the garage is filled with handmade jewelry and the workstation at which Robin creates it. In fact, Robin is decked out nearly head to toe in her pieces — from the leather earrings dangling close to her face to the ring she twirls around her finger, one of the first rings she ever hand stamped. As a bonus, many of her pieces use recycled materials.
“I think what made me fall in love with what I do was being able was to take a blank piece of metal and use words or an image to create something meaningful,” she says. “It uses almost all of your senses — except for taste, of course.”
Robin is the owner and creative force behind Mitten Beach Designs, a business selling jewelry made with recycled belts and hand-stamped metal. With her necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings, Robin can give old materials a new life, complete with personalization that makes each piece unique to the wearer.
“They are so uniquely one of a kind,” Robin says of her pieces. “You can be sure no one else is going to be wearing the piece you have on. They are such personal pieces.”
While her business stamping leather and metal is now Robin’s pride and joy, it wasn’t always a labor of love. She first tried her hand at the craft around five years ago. It turned she hated it and promptly threw her tools into the back of a closet where they would sit and collect dust for years.
“I said, ‘this is not for me,’” Robins says, laughing as she recalls the memory. “I’ve done crafts my whole life and usually pick them up really quickly, but this I didn’t.”
It wasn’t until 2019 that she again picked up the art.
She was spurred to dust off her tools out of her closet and begin crafting with leather and metal by a women’s retreat hosted by her church. As Robin was put in charge of creating welcome bags for the women, she wanted to create personalized items for each attendee. While doing so, she finally fell in love with stamping.
“It was immediate,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do this, and I knew I wanted to make gifts for people. I love leather and metal together, so that’s what I decided to do.”
From there, Robin’s love of the craft grew quickly, and it wasn’t long before she launched Mitten Beach Designs, named after her beloved southwest Michigan beaches.
After deciding that recycled belts were the perfect material to use for her bracelets, Robin began taking her work on the road to different craft shows and farmer’s markets. So far, she says her work has received a positive response, with many customers strongly connecting to the messages Robin stamps into her pieces.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “It gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes that just a few simple words I put onto a piece of jewelry can mean so much to [a customer]. I have so many stories of people who will buy a piece and come back later and say, ‘This is what this means to me’ or ‘This is how this got me through something.’ It’s just heartwarming.”
Robin says she has been touched by each and every person who has shared their story with her. A former school teacher, Robin spent her career helping students “find their words.” Now, in her retirement, she hopes to help a different demographic do the same thing through Mitten Beach Designs.
Going forward, Robin says she will keep that goal as her primary focus as she continues to grow her business.
“I just want to plant the seed and get the word out,” she says. “Inspirational wording and messaging might be something we look at and not think much about, but a few months down the line something might happen that just makes the words spring to life and really help a person. I just hope to spread motivation and inspiration.”