‘It just kind of took off’: Nautical sign business is a nod to owner’s love of Milford

MILFORD — Like many people in the past year, Pamela Hadden Tomlin took up a new hobby when she suddenly found herself spending more time at home.

Unlike most, though, the Milford native’s new hobby has grown into a cottage industry — and run out of an actual cottage.

“This whole thing kind of came out of nowhere,” she said of her new business, Ipswich River Craft. “It’s hard to believe it still hasn’t even been a year.”

The business sells custom signs using the maritime signal flags that ships use to convey messages at sea. Tomlin, 58, said she also has branched out to shirts, hats and other products, all displaying custom messages.

“Newly married couples like to display their names, or the names of their boat or their house,” she said.

In fact, the first sign Tomlin made carried the name of a house — her own.

“When my husband and I moved to Ipswich, we got this tiny little postage stamp house on the water,” she said. “It was so small we called it the Clambox.”

Last January, Tomlin decided to spell out the home’s name using wood blocks painted like nautical flags, and attached the sign to the front of the house. A few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic began and she found herself sitting around the house.

“By April, I had watched every season of Grey’s Anatomy, and I was bored,” she said. “A friend came by to visit, pointed at the sign and said, maybe I should make more of them.”

Tomlin said she placed an ad on social media advertising the custom-made signs, and by the next morning she had 10 orders.

“It just kind of took off,” she said.

Kate Langley, herself a lifelong Woodmont resident, was one of Tomlin’s first customers.

“I saw it on Facebook when she had just started and I thought it was such a great idea I had to have one,” she said.

Langley, a fellow Foran high graduate who now teaches in Milford, described Woodmont as “my favorite place on Earth.” When she ordered her sign, there was only one choice for a word that would exemplify a sense of home.

“It says ‘Woodmont,’” Langley said. “I hung it above my collection of sea glass, and everyone that sees it wants to know what it means.”

Now, coming up of the business’s first anniversary, Tomlin estimated she has sold about 700 signs. Business has been so brisk that at Father’s Day two neighbors and the son of a friend were coming by to help out.

“They bring their dogs, and we spend the day painting and dancing around the garage,” she said.

Tomlin said the nautical theme was a nod to her childhood in Milford.

“I grew up in Woodmont, and spent a lot of time at the Milford Yacht Club,” she said.

In fact, one of the first signs she made was a MYC one that she gifted to the club in gratitude for the happy time she spent there, she said. Due to her involvement in Milford-centric social media pages, she said many of her early orders came from Milford.

Tomlin attended Lauralton Hall and Joseph A. Foran High School, graduating in 1981. She then went south for college, graduating from Rollins College in 1985 before spending the next 20 years working in television production in New York City. For the past 15 years she said she has worked off-and-on in various television projects before her accidental career change at age 57.

“It’s been quite a ride,” she said. “Growing up, going to Lauralton, I never thought I’d be spending my days getting covered in paint.”

But she said she has found that she enjoys working with her hands, and the best part of her work is seeing the personal messages that people request - things like “Gratitude” or “Family” painted on a sign that they then hang over their doorway or above family photos.

There’s really only been one drawback, according to Tomlin.

“I haven’t had a manicure in a year,” she said.