Today I’m thinking a bit about what it means to be in business. I started out, as many do, by turning a hobby (knitting) into something to do in exchange for money. All of my early work came by word of mouth. I knit shop samples for my friend Ellen who owns Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm. I printed up some business cards at home and left them at the local yarn shops who in turn referred me to their customers who knit sweater pieces and needed someone to assemble them. Assembly and repair turned into knitting complete sweaters.
Before too long I had a website and a bigger audience than my hometown. I got commissions from people far away who I’ve never met.
I kept on knitting samples for Ellen and that work plus a knack for finding errors in knitting patterns turned into an opportunity to do some tech editing and test knitting for a knitwear designer.
When I added handwoven goods and knit socks to my inventory I had to shift my mode of operation. Word of mouth was not going to get scarves and socks out of my studio and into the hands of buyers. I started small, approaching a local gallery to see if they’d carry my work. When they said yes it was time to develop more marketing materials: hang tags and sock bands to reveal fiber content and washing instructions and woven labels to sew into my scarves. Oh, and I got to learn about commission. The gallery takes a percentage of the selling price of each item.
Though I secretly hoped to sell out quickly (and who doesn’t?) the reality was a slow/steady stream of sales. It was manageable. After more than a year I started to think about approaching a second gallery. I’d been doing the local farmers market and a craft fair, but those are a lot of work. Hauling goods, setting up tent, table and displays, and dealing with weather. I enjoyed talking with customers about my work, but I also hoped for more sales if I had a wider audience.
I agonized over this decision. I didn’t think I was ready to handle the extra volume. The gallery was over an hour away so I wouldn’t just pop over to replenish stock. I worried about my capacity to keep up with the inventory when my scarves, hopefully, sold. I finally decided to move ahead. Sales started slow, but picked up around the holidays and I’ll soon have been there for a year.
I still worry about my capacity. Every time I take on a knitting commission I fret about the time I won’t have for weaving. And whenever the knitting queue is empty I worry that nothing new will come along. Because after more than 5 years in business I still haven’t settled on just weaving or just knitting. And I’m not interested in hiring any staff so it is just me, juggling the two crafts (and marketing, paperwork, finances and long-range planning.)
Next challenge? I’m looking at another gallery……
If you’re local, I’ll be at the Norwich Farmers Market Saturday Sept 19 and again October 17. 9-1 Route 5 (we’re outside until the end of October). And I’m at the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds October 3&4. Come find me in the main vendor pavilion.
I’ve just started using Instagram, follow me if you’d like to see more pictures.