Janesville19.3°

Milton woman hopes sticky stuff can be a career

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 1, 2012
— Connie Hilton is one of those lucky people. She has found the thing she loves to do.

In her case, it's creating things with duct tape and teaching others how to do the same.


Now, all she has to do is figure out a way to make money at it.


She's already part of the way there. She teaches classes in duct tape design for Blackhawk Technical College, which also is where she's going to school to learn how to run a business.


How does she love duct tape? Let her count the ways:


-- Versatility—"You can do basically anything with it," Hilton said as she showed visitors around her 10-by-10-foot basement workroom.


-- Speed—Unlike many crafts, it doesn't take long to finish a duct tape project.


-- Durability—It will stand up to a lot of punishment, although it is a lot heavier than cloth, she admits.


-- Ease of repair—"Just slap on another piece of duct tape."


-- Variety—Duct tape has come a long way since it was first used to seal ammunition cases in World War II. The variety of colors and patterns is amazing.


Hilton will travel to Walmart, Target or Michaels craft store to obtain colors that are made exclusively for those stores. Her most-used color is the traditional gray, because it's by far the cheapest. She often uses it to line the insides of handbags.


Her favorite place to buy tape is Dave's Ace Hardware in Milton because it's close, the prices are competitive, and she likes to support a local business, she said.


Yes, she's quite familiar with the cult favorite Canadian TV comedy "Red Green," in which duct tape figures prominently.


No, she has never fixed a duct with duct tape.


Hilton gets ideas from books and YouTube videos, but she creates her own patterns, cutting them on a board designed to cut fabric squares for quilts.


"I do it my own way," she said as she showed her visitors how she can take a zip-locking bag, cut it down to size and surround it with a dragon-pattern duct tape, soon producing a zip-locked coin purse.


She's been doing needlepoint and other crafts for years. About a year ago, she interviewed for the position of craft instructor at the Hidden Valley RV Resort in Newville.


She needed a quick demonstration, so she made something with duct tape. She got the job and had the best time teaching vacationers.


She later got a steady gig teaching the senior citizens at The Gathering Place in Milton. One project involved multicolored duct-tape poinsettias for the Christmas season.


Hilton has become so well known that she rarely goes out in Milton without someone pointing her out as "the duct tape lady."


"I knew I liked doing it, but until I started doing it last summer down at the campground, I didn't know that I loved it," she said. "And who wouldn't like to do the thing that they love?"


She has worked plenty of jobs, mostly in retail. She was laid off from Lab Safety Supply, giving her the opportunity to do what she always wanted to do: go back to school. She's one semester away from an associate degree in business.


Hilton is not the first person to make flowers and handbags with duct tape. But she hopes to make a career out of it. She's hoping to provide entertainment at children's parties and teach crafts. She also sells her creations on Etsy.com, a website that specializes in helping people sell homemade wares.


Most of the things she makes are containers—purses and all manner of handbags. She designed one to protect her Kindle, one for her laptop computer.


She also makes flip-flop house slippers, wall art and fantastical flowers.


"Every project that I make is something new. Every project I make, I'm excited about it," she said.


Hilton also gets a kick out of teaching adults as well as children.


"I am a student, and I need this job. But I also want to do it. I really want people to learn," she said.


Hilton's crafty ways with duct tape also have become her solution to the age-old problem: the high cost of accessorizing. She always has a purse that matches what she is wearing, she said.


And if she doesn't, she can quickly make one.


DUCT TAPE CLASSES

Connie Hilton plans these six-week courses, titled Duct Tape Escape—Handbags & More! All class times are 6:30-9 p.m.:


-- Mondays starting Feb. 20 at The Gathering Place in Milton.


-- Wednesdays starting Feb. 22 at the Blackhawk Technical College central campus, 6004 Prairie Road (County G, between Janesville and Beloit).


-- Wednesdays starting April 11 at Evansville High School.


For more information, contact Mark Triller, coordinator of community education at Blackhawk Tech, (608) 757-7701, or go online to blackhawk.edu and click on "Register Now for Community Ed Courses."


Hilton also teaches a separate class at 1 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at The Gathering Place in Milton. Cost is $5, and attendees are asked to reserve a spot by calling ahead to (608) 868-3500


Hilton's Facebook page is "BTC Duct Tape Escape."



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