What do you think of when you hear the words “spinning wheel?” You know, that old wooden thing they used hundreds of years ago to make yarn from sheep’s wool in order to have clothes and blankets. Some may think of Rumpelstiltskin, the old tale of a poor miller who told the King his daughter can spin straw into gold. Locked away, she was demanded to spin gold or face death. OR you may think of an Amish community, sitting in a candlelit room. Point being, what you don’t think of is a 30-year-old in 2016 sitting behind a spinning wheel with a handful of sheep's wool, a crafty mind and Pandora tunes.
It was this past Christmas when I discovered the art of spinning. I was looking to expand my craft products and typed into Google, "Where does yarn come from?" The search results blew me away. Yes, most yarn is factory made, but there is a small community of people that actually spin their own yarn, with the wheel and everything. My mind was overwhelmed and excited at the potential of making my own. As I stared at photos of spinning wheels, I thought, “This is it!” My next craft was in sight!” I researched spinning wheels for the next three weeks and by the fourth week, it was in a box on the front porch. Bursting with excitement, I put the wheel together the same day. I was a proud new owner of an Ashford Kiwi 2 Spinning Wheel and I could not wait to fulfill its destiny!
It took two hours to assemble, but alas, it was ready. That wheel was ready to spin, ready to create, ready to put a stamp on my next craft adventure! The package also came with 2 lbs. of Polwarth, just one of many different types of fiber! From alpaca to mohair to bamboo to silk, the variety is endless. I even read you could spin dog hair, I have not tried this yet, though my hairy mutt would make a great test experiment.
The Polwarth I received came in the form of Roving, which means it has already been carded and combed; or processed. To be noted, fiber is not cheap! In hindsight, those 2 lbs. were an incredible deal considering I would ruin most of it while practicing. It took two months to go through it all, meaning it took two months to figure out how to spin.
Frustrating to say the least, those first eight weeks were spent practicing, practicing, and practicing. Without much progress in month two, I was slowly losing sight of my spinning dream. Video tutorials made it look so easy and I was far from getting it. I would compare spinning to that rub your belly and pat your head exercise, but on steroids. The amount coordination it takes to spin is unreal. You are doing so many things at once, so quickly, it is enough to make your head spin. Before I could understand the instructions, I had to learn the language like double treadle, drafting, pre-drafting, scotch tension, orifice, bobbins, and leader thread, just to name a few!
So this is the process. You take your pre-drafted fiber (slightly pulled, thinned out), start treadling (food pedals), grab your leader thread (or starter thread), put the fiber next to the leader thread and start spinning, the fiber will catch on to the spinning leader thread, then start drafting (pulling on the yarn to thin it out) to control the amount of fiber that goes onto the thread and through the orifice and finally onto the bobbin. Important to remember: 1) Treadle slowly and 2) Draft fast. The combination of these two things ensures you are not over-twisting or under-twisting. Again, easier said! You do this twice to create two “singles” – one on each bobbin. Then you ply the two singles together in the opposite direction. Confused yet?! Then there is this wooden object called a Niddy Noddy, this strange wooden stick allows you to stretch out the yarn and count the yardage. Then you have to wash the yarn to "set the twist." Let the yarn soak in warm water with wool wash for 10 minutes, then you have to whack the yarn against the side of your house to get the excess water out and to “shock” it. Lastly, you hang the yarn to dry in hopes that it hangs straight. If it twists at the bottom, it means it is over-twisted. Whew! I think I covered it all. It took practice, practice, practice to get this reasonable down pat.
I remember waking up some days and saying to myself, "THIS will be the day I figure it out!" I said that for nearly eight weeks and then one day at the end of February, it clicked. I figured out what worked, what didn’t work, and got really good at whacking the yarn against the house. I even sold a skein or two online, much to my surprise! I would not call myself a pro by any means, but what a joy to find something that intrigues you, decide you want to learn how to do it, put in the time and effort it takes to figure it out, and see the end result. As the saying goes, you can do anything you put your mind to!
After 2 years of thinking about, to planning it, to eventually packing the car...my 1st market is finally over and I'm happy to say it was a success! My nervous stomach was at rest an hour in and I was able to truly enjoy it. Everything went smoothly and even had a few sales! There was a decent crowd and I was told it was a "slow day" due to a festival in town, so I'm anxious to see how different it will be when I return in 2 weeks. My neighbor was super nice and several vendors came over to introduce themselves to the newbie. I feel confident about my market abilities and in my product! The customers were great, very complimentary about my animals, several took business cards, ah it was such a relief. Though I've been working toward this for 2 years, I felt like yesterday was the first day of my handmade career. It validated my dream, which was all I was truly looking for. Thanks to everyone who helped make it such a great day!
2014 was an incredible year for Simply Hooked. I can't even count the number of forward steps it took; truly more than I could have ever asked for. My overarching goal was to perfect my product and increase my visibility, check and check. Perhaps only I would notice this, but a crocheted hippo today looks far better than it did a year ago. Practice, practice, practice.
The most exciting part of being in a craft show is the booth, hands down. All of my dreams about owning a small handmade store one day will essentially come true for 4 hours on a Saturday under a 10x10 tent with no walls. I have the freedom to arrange and decorate it however I like and the chance to let my inner child's desire to play with a toy cash register go nuts. (without the sound effects). The first element to this excitement arrived yesterday, the banner! It's the first thing people will see from far away and hopefully what draws them over. After his debut in Times Square, Hank the Hippo has earned the right to sit high and proud on this 8 foot outdoor vinyl sign and get the attention of children everywhere. The show I'm applying for requires a photo of your booth completely set up so they know what everything will look like. Easier said for people that have experience in craft shows! I, however, will be setting up my entire booth in the driveway just to take pictures for 10 minutes then break it all down. So I'm ordering all the parts now. I've got three weeks to get this done and upon approval, I'll be holding down the Simply Hooked fort on October 11th.
I was surprised by the stickler requirements:
I've been so engulfed in filling these requirements that I ALMOST forgot about my inventory. Once I have all of these basics, then I'll get to do the fun part! Decorate with inventory. I'm going to put all of large and medium animals on my 4x8 table in basket trays lined with canvas. My 4x6 table will have my kitchen accessories along with space for flyers and business cards. Then I'm going to buy a 3 tiered basket shelf to go in to corner to display the mini animals (penguins) and seasonal items (pumpkins). I need to order my credit card reader to accept card payments, get an apron and change for cash, a calculator, pens, cut out my signs and place them around the booth with alligator clip sign holders...and the list continues. The booth is racking up in cost, but I find comfort that everything is a one time purchase then I'll be set to go craft show crazy whenever I want. I should have the whole booth completed in two weeks, I can't wait to post photos of the end product. Wish me luck!
As I continue to prepare for my first craft show, I find myself running into all the small things...that are a big deal! First, there's inventory of course. My large animal inventory is completed, now I'm focusing on making smaller items that I can crank out faster and have a lower price point. Because let's face it, not everyone wants to spend $40 on a stuffed animal! I get it. So I'm making miniature versions...like the little penguins.
For the sake of variety, I also started looking for smaller kitchen products. It finally dawned on me two days ago...magnets! They take very little time to make and I can sell them for $2 or $3 each, which is a great price point for market customers that want to grab something quick. I'm beyond excited about the possibilities of these magnets. So far I've only practiced flowers and breast cancer awareness ribbons, but the possibilities are endless. I can make anything small, stick an adhesive magnet on the back and be set. Experimenting is the best part!
The 1st of September sparked my love for the Fall season and then it hit me...time for seasonal products! I'm going to have pumpkins and candy corn galore, then on to reindeer and snowmen. I'm excited to introduce my Simply Hooked Collections next month. Back to the drawing board...
I'm almost two years in to my crochet business venture and finally feeling prepared to do my first craft show. My recent move to Tampa, FL has presented several craft show opportunities and I'm anxious to get started. I'd say about 80% of my business is making stuffed animals, 10% kitchen accessories and 10% baby blankets. I feel okay about the animals, I have a wide variety of 30 completed and ready to sell (though I'm working toward 50!). The kitchen accessories and baby blankets I've only done on an as need basis so I'm lacking in inventory. Thus, I dedicated this past week to kitchen/home accessories only and I'm excited about the potential! I'll have two tables in my booth full of animals, but will leave space on one of the ends for the "Simply Hooked Home Collection" which will consist of ...
1) Coffee Mug Koozies and Coasters (Koozie Only Option Too)
2) Can Koozies (Solids, Multi, and Game Day Colors)
3) 100% Cotton DIshcloths (Solids, Multi)
Possibly the coolest thing that has ever happened to me occurred this week. On Monday I was looking at tweets from Michaels Arts and Crafts store. They were asking people to send them pictures of things they had created with Michaels' products using #MadeWithMichaels and some sort of surprise was in store. I didn't think much of it, I've been so consumed with marketing my website and product lately that I thought this would be another good outlet to pursue. So I submitted Hank the Hippo...
All of the #amigurumi I crochet are #MadeWithMichaels :) Great yarn selection! @MichaelsStores #handmade #crochet
I got a direct message on Twitter Thursday afternoon from @MichaelsStores saying they loved the hippo and want my permission to feature him on their billboard in Times Square tomorrow and social media. Say what!? I quickly responded with a yes and spent the rest of the day telling friends and family about this exciting news. I eventually figured out why they were doing this, apparently Michaels was going public on June 27th and they had a bell ceremony that morning. The rest of the day they were featured on the NASDAQ billboard in Times Square and they chose to show people's creations during the day. Best part, they were going to livestream the entire day so you could see your pictures.
Needless to say, I was glued to my computer from 8:00 to 11:05 when there he was, Hank the Hippo in Times Square! Something I made with my passion to start a handmade business was sitting there in the busiest intersection in the entire country for the longest 5 seconds of my life. It was overwhelming, I'm so thankful that Michaels decided to feature people's creation, genius PR! I wasn't going to get more followers, website views, or sales, but hey, this was pretty darn awesome! I could only take a picture of my computer screen, but still so so cool! Hank is a star :)
I hope this blog attracts some comments because a group discussion on this subject is far more interesting! If you could make your dream job clash with reality (i.e. able to pay bills), WHAT WOULD YOU DO? Up until this point in my career, everything has been relatively smooth. After college I was stuck in retail stores and coffee shops trying to figure out how to get out and eventually I did. The light went off one day, no one cared about my 4-year degree, it was no longer enough; I needed a specific skill, but what in the world would that skill be? I struggled with this question for months.
I started reading self-help books and finally found one that stuck, "A Cure for the Common Life" by Max Lucado, that sounded about right! He suggested that we look for careers that are a cross between dreams and reality. Ding ding ding! It makes perfect sense. At the time, my dream job was (and still is) to be a writer. If I could get paid to sit in front of a fireplace with a full pot of coffee in a cozy cabin and write about my thoughts, views, and experiences....I would have found my Utopia. BUT, that kind of thing doesn't exist; at least not immediately. My reality was a desire to work for non-profits, I wanted a meaningful career, one that made a difference. I was on the phone with my mom one night when she said, what about being a Grant Writer? Hmm, I'd heard of them, but had no idea what they really did. A quick Google later and there I was, the answer. Needless to say, I hit the ground running. I took an online course, volunteered at a local non-profit and was eventually offered a job. I said goodbye to making coffee and hello to my new found career.
That was 3.5 years ago, before I discovered crochet. Life is all about evolving. You discover new things, learn new skills, have new experiences and your life evolves from these things. Your perspective changes, your goals change; you evolve. When I learned how to crochet in October 2012 I almost immediately knew I wanted to make a small business out of it. My full-time job was in the office, but my heart was with my crochet dreams. I started waking up earlier and staying up later to pursue this small business dream. I'm nearing two years in now and I'm every bit as motivated, if not more, than ever before. When I'm not sitting behind a desk, I'm perfecting this skill, learning new techniques, and trying to master the art of marketing. I had an epiphany early on that maybe this was my new specific skill and just maybe it could become a full-time job one day. I'd love to end this blog with, "it happened!" but I can't. I'm still working toward my goal, I'm learning something new every day and I'm perfectly okay with that. The day will come, but in due time. I've still got a lot of learning to do.
So when I hear people talk about pursuing their dream jobs I'm always curious what that is. I love that we're all so different; we all have different interests, different goals, different dreams. I've told you mine. Now what's yours?
When I started learning how to crochet, it didn't take long to realize that it comes with its own language. I remember looking at my first pattern and thinking I was losing it; what the heck does 2sc, sl, and dc mean? It comes natural now, but for a long time it felt like I was learning how to read music. When I got plugged into social media I would often see people post things like, "I messed up the 14th row and now I'm FROGGING!" ...you're what? My 5th grade context clues helped me solve the mystery and eventually discovered that FROG means to unravel your work and start over. FROG = As frogs say "ribbit, ribbit, ribbit;" when you realize you made a mistake while crocheting you "rip it, rip it, rip it" or - you frog it. I had been "frogging" for months and didn't even know it!
Another term I saw often was, "Check out my WIPs." This was a little easier to figure out; it's simply an acronym for Work In Progress. The biggest understatement in crochet. I thought it was just me until I met other crochet hookers. It's almost impossible to have just one project going on at once; while you're in the middle of one you think of another and another and you just can't wait to finish this one before you start. So you end up with animals without legs and blankets just big enough to cover a mouse. It happens. If you walked into my apartment knowing nothing about crochet you might be disturbed to find animal heads made of yarn laying around. "Is this girl cray?" No, I just crochet!
The versatility of crochet is truly an unrecognized phenomenon. Most think it’s just for blankets and dishcloths, but let it be known that literally anything and everything is a possibility! I’ll never forget the first time I saw a crocheted peanut butter and jelly sandwich, seriously? The world of crocheted food is amazing. If you have some “Googling” time on your hands, it’s worth a search! This brings me to my first crocheted food item, Three Peas in a Pod! I saw someone do this a while back and I have been meaning to do it for a long time now. I hunkered down yesterday and got it done. If you know anyone who is having triplets....what a perfect baby shower gift, right?!
I was focused on stuffed animals for a solid year until I watched Pixar’s “Planes.” I thought, wait a minute, I could put eyes on a plane and actually make it look pretty cute. Thus, Arthur the Airplane was born. A plane then turned into a car (Conner, available here! I was officially hooked on crocheting inanimate objects. My point, the wide world of crochet is endless. You can make anything, everything, and more. I very much look forward to experimenting with more off the wall crochet ideas! If you have any new ideas, leave them in the comment area below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks!