Since time immemorial, monogramming has been a beloved tradition to add significance to household items and clothing. And though many may not have their own lace handkerchiefs to pass down to their grandchildren, Mary Kathryn Burke of By the Lake MKB Designs, operated locally, is making it easy to personalize memorable gifts and items of value.
A Texas native and former social worker, Burke settled in Minnesota with her family in 2013 and, before long, discovered a uniquely Lake Minnetonka way to pursue her passion for embroidery and sewing—sails.
“I had a neighbor drop off her old sail at my house and said, ‘I am sure you can find a way to make something from this,’” Burke says. “I ended up doing sail items, and that’s where there was a market within my community.”
The more retired Lake Minnetonka sails that showed up on Burke’s driveway, the bigger the creations. Soon she was crafting wristlets, then sail bags—all able to be embroidered in a variety of ways, from a boat name and number to a monogram or birth year. Soon, By the Lake MKB Designs was born.
That Burke found her way to this career isn’t surprising. In the South, monogramming is a lasting tradition to honor one’s family and history, Burke explains. “My name is for both grandmothers, so it’s sort of a nod to them. [Monogramming] has been present for all my life.”
In the North, not so much.
“I went to college in the Northeast with all my monogrammed things, and everyone was like, ‘What!?’” Burke says. “Doing monogramming in Minneapolis was really hard [at the start], so it did take people realizing and discovering that it could be done.”
But Burke soon uncovered a burgeoning interest in her community across multiple generations—from grandmothers to young parents—finding a niche in sail bags and discrete monograms (far from the 6-inch letters of her youth) that suit a more Northern taste.
What Burke has seen is part of a “long-term trend of personalization” that author and University of Minnesota professor (retail merchandising) Juanjuan Wu says is driven by increased accessibility, evolving technology and more variety in customizable items and options. “As the kind of unique individual each one of us is, personalization, when affordable, is always more desirable than standardization,” Wu says.
Burke offers a selection of sail-crafted, customizable bags and wristlets alongside a variety of products from other woman-owned businesses. Think duffels, tea towels, etc. Clients work with Burke to select fonts, designs, symbols and colors to adorn their chosen product. And now more than ever, Burke has found herself crafting personalized gifts for clients’ friends and families.
“During COVID-19, I really saw that need for … personalizing gifts to make it more meaningful,” Burke says, adding that many sought a new way to connect with loved ones when it wasn’t possible to see them in person. “People just felt a need to do something nice for someone else. It just brings them joy … building a connection with things you love.”
For locals looking for unique host/hostess gifts in time for the holidays, Burke suggests dish towels adorned with an outline of the lake with “Lake Minnetonka” embroidered below. And for a gift that’s as functional as it is adorable, Burke loves monogrammed four-bottle canvas wine totes to hold all the goodies—from spirits and wine to festive snacks and sweets.
Mary Kathryn Burke of By the Lake MKB Designs breaks down some personalized gift suggestions that can help ease holiday shopping quandaries.
The Biggest Sellers:
- Sailcloth Items (sail bags, wristlets or toiletry bags)
- Dish Towels (a Lake Minnetonka outline or applique of the state of Minnesota)
- Fur Pom Hats (monogrammed or with applique of the state of Minnesota)
- Kids’ Accessories (pullovers, duffel bags, zip pouches, backpacks, etc.)
- Dish Towels (last name initial or couple’s monogram)
- Zip Pouches (personalized for small accessories)
- Turkish Towels (perfect to use on a boat)
- Lake Minnetonka Dish Towels (embroidered outline of the lake with “Lake Minnetonka” underneath)
- Four-bottle Canvas Wine Tote (a single last name letter monogrammed or a state of Minnesota appliqued with a festive fabric: Fill the tote with your favorite holiday spirits, a hand towel, cheese/crackers, etc.)
- Linen Hand Towel (idea for a guest bath or powder room)
- Linen Cocktail Napkins (mark the holiday or a special event)
- Bath Towel Sets (great for a new homeowner, college student or newly-married couple)
- Pillowcase Sets or Pillow Shams (idea as a wedding gift or for a college student or younger children)
- Tissue Box Covers
- Wreath Sashes
For the Boater or Adventurer:
- Sailcloth Products (wristlet, toiletry bag or ditty bag)
- Sail Bag (with the boat’s number or other monogram)
- Boat Tote or Canvas Tote Bag (consider using the boat’s name, the owner’s last name or monogram)
- Canvas Tote Bag or Dish Towels (highlight digitized handwriting for grandparents)
- Monogrammed Throw/Blanket, Boat Tote or Pillow Shams (for parents)
For the Kids:
- Duffel Bag, Backpack, Zip Pouch, Lunch Box
- Terry Hooded Bathrobes
- Bath Towels
- Hooded Bath Towels
- Fur Pom Hat
- Jewelry Round
- Sail bag
- Sailcloth Wristlet
- Turkish Towels
- Stacking Set Trio
- Tote Bags
- Sailcloth Toiletry Bag
- Dopp Bag
- Bar-to-Go Bag