Inna MacFarland, a native of Russia, is the owner-operator of Twisted Sign at 6009 Ridge Ave. (Photo by Elizabeth Coady)

by Elizabeth Coady

When she was 20 years old, Inna MacFarland threw herself into adulthood by packing her bags and leaving her native Russia to study accounting at Temple University.

Fourteen years later, the same daring that carried her 5,509 miles from Rossosh, Russia is on display again as she launches her new business, Twisted Sign, in Roxborough. “You have to take risks to succeed,” said MacFarland, 34, a petite brunette who opened the personalized wooden sign shop at 6009 Ridge Ave. on August 1. “I think change drives me and makes me better.” (Ed. Note: MacFarland is her married name. She requested that her Russian maiden name not be mentioned because her identity was stolen when she came to the U.S.)

The “do-it-yourself rustic wood sign studio” is already booking and is proving popular with the Pinterest set, and groups celebrating birthdays, bridal showers, girls’ nights out and family gatherings. The price of the activity ranges between $30 to $55, depending on the size of the sign. The initial 500 flyers MacFarland had printed and posted outside the door were quickly distributed. Another 1,000 are on order.

The craft studio nets a perfect five stars on both Google and Facebook, with MacFarland getting kudos for making the work “super easy and fun” and being “really helpful.” The concept is simple: would-be artisans choose a wood slate that they want to paint with a personalized message. First, they stain or paint an initial foundation on the wood, then affix pre-selected stencils to the board and hand-paint in the spaces of the stencil. The messages — and the execution of the projects — can range from simple and silly to elegant and poignant. But the end result is always having fun in the making — and taking home a one-of-a-kind adornment for the home or office.

“I did this before and had a really good time, so I wanted to do it again,” said Monica Rotzal, 55, who one recent evening brought three childhood friends, a sister-inlaw, a future daughter-in-law and a son’s girlfriend to the Roxborough studio for fun. And Rotzal, whose family owns the Rockledge German dining landmark the Austrian Village, already has her third visit scheduled.

On this Thursday evening, she’s painting a white stag on a wooden plank as a gift for her mother’s Pocono retreat. The bottom of the board reads, “Welcome to our mountain home.” Across the table, her friend, Renate Rauchut, 48, is connecting six great-grandchildren to their great-grandparents on a family tree. To Rotzal’s left is her friend, Andrea Sebzda, 55, of Warminster, diligently applying paint to a pumpkin and fall leaves on her board.

Sebzda started the project intending to give it to her sister for the holidays. But after meticulously working on the pumpkin and leaves, she had a change of heart. “I’m keeping it,” she said. “I’m working too hard for this thing.”

A convivial air fills the brightly lit studio furnished with four large pine tables as these tight-knit friends work on their personalized creations. A gallery on the business’ website depicts the many designs made by patrons. Many first-time customers have already returned for a second visit. Twisted Sign invites artisans to bring snacks and dishes to make the event a real party.

MacFarland is having fun, too. A forensic accountant for the last six years, MacFarland said she always wanted to own her own business. Last year, after visiting a similar do-it-yourself gallery and deciding that she could do it better, she began to come up with a concept. Then last summer, when the space on Ridge Avenue became available, a friend in real estate called and gave her the nudge she needed.

“I put everything together in a month,” she said. “You know, if not now, when?”

MacFarland, who is married and has a 2-year-old son named Timmy, launched the studio while she was still working full-time. “So much was going on, it just never completely registered with me that I own a business,” she said. “It was probably after two weeks. I closed the store one night and realized, ‘Oh my God! This is my place! This is so cool! I did that!’”

She’s already thinking of adding more locations in the future. “The end goal is to make it big,” she said. “Right now it’s ‘What’s Twisted Sign?’ The goal is, ‘Oh Yeah, Twisted Sign is awesome.’”

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