Turn Your Hobby Into a Business

There comes a point when just about every hobbiest suddenly realizes that they have overdone the gifting of their beautiful creations to relatives & friends. It happens to all of us at some point - ceramics, knitting, jewelry making, whatever - at some point the relatives & friends start to turn out the lights & pretend they're not home when they see us coming up the walk with a package in hand. It's understandable. If there wasn't a limit to how many sweaters, ceramic doodads, & fused glass necklaces a person needs, we'd be keeping all those creations for ourselves! The thing is, we can't stop doing what we're doing because, a) we love it; and b) because most of us have a stash of expensive supplies to keep us doing it into the next millenium and continue to buy more.

So, what are we to do? One possibility (& the one that I recommend) is to turn semi-professional & sell those beautiful creations instead of giving them all away. It really isn't all that difficult or costly to turn your hobby into a nice little part-time business & there's several terrific advantages to it.

The first advantage is that as soon as your handmades have a dollar value - Eureka! - your relatives & friends will look at your gifts in a whole new light. Funny how knowing that you could have sold that sweater for cold hard cash makes your friends & relatives downright glad to get it. It's screwy, I know, but that's how it seems to work.

The second advantage is to your wallet. Even if you don't make a good return on your labor when you first start selling (& you probably won't), at least you will recoup the cost of your yarn & supplies. And, that means you can waltz on down to the yarn shop to buy the yarn for your next creation - without guilt & without breaking the household budget. This is a wonderful thing. Once you've built a reputation & a following of customers, you'll be able to command a decent profit on your labor. Until then, selling your creations will at least give you enough cash flow to feed your yarn buying habit & a little to boot. What's not to like about that?

The third advantage is to your ego. Until you experience it, you can't imagine the thrill of hearing compliments on your work from perfect strangers. And, there's no bigger compliment than to have that perfect stranger dig out their wallet to spend hard-earned cash on something you made. Take it from me...you'll be walking on air the first time it happens...& the next...& the next.

The fourth advantage (& my husband's personal favorite) is the tax advantage that comes from a home-based business. Don't misunderstand...the IRS has specific guidelines as to what constitutes a bona fide business & what is just a "hobby," but even part-time businesses can deduct the expenses of doing business. Even if all it does is cancel out the income tax obligation on the money you make, it's a great thing, & worth the bookkeeping. Get the advice of a tax consultant to get your business off on the right foot & keep the IRS happy.

Finding a marketplace for your creations isn't all that tough, either. My first suggestion is to get yourself some business cards, carry them with you at all times, & pass them out like candy. Take a look at the sidebar on the right side of this page. There's a link there for Vistaprint. It's the company I use & I highly recommend them. They give you 250 business cards FREE...yep, FREE...just to try them out. There's a small charge for shipping (like, five bucks). If you can find a better deal than that, please let me know. I purchase 500 at a time. Cost is $3.99 plus shipping. When I first went into business I purchased the blank business card stock & printed my own on the computer. I think it ended up costing me something in excess of $20 for 100 cards, after figuring in the cost of printer ink. Not the smartest move I ever made. Now you know why I use Vistaprint. LOL

Ok, with business cards in hand, put on the nicest example of your work (that cardigan sweater, felted purse, hat & scarf, whatever) & go out trolling for compliments. The minute that checker at Safeway says, "Gee, that's a nice whatever," hand her your business card & say, "Thank you! I made it myself. Shall I make you one?" The technique works! I've made felted purses for: a clerk at my post office, a barrista at my favorite Starbucks; my hairdresser; & my doctor's receptionist, just to name a few.

Find out about your local farmer's market, craft market, & gift fairs. The cost to have a booth is generally very low & I've had good experiences in all of these venues. Online opportunities for marketing your creations include: Craigslist, eBay, & Etsy. Personally, eBay has worked the best for me, but Craigslist is FREE & Etsy charges a mere 20 cents to list your item for sale - so there's nothing much to lose from trying all three. There's a link in the sidebar to Etsy. Check it out.

Last suggestion is to enlist the public relations skills of friends & family. Give them some of your business cards & ask them to pass them out for you, too. Plant enough seeds out there & something is bound to grow!

Questions? Comments? Feel free to get in touch with me. If you'd like to turn your hobby into a business, I'm pulling for you!

Machine Knitting - A Follow Up...

Marie over at Knitted Gems writes:

"I'm a bit miffed that it would only take you 3 hours to knit when it took me Much longer. However, you did note that the scarf was double knitted, right? I don't want people to think that I'm Molasses in January (smile) over just plain (stocking stitch) knitting."

Quite right, Marie, it would be unfair to tag you with the label of "slooooow knitter!" Double knitting takes...surprisingly enough...DOUBLE the amount of time (GIGGLE) & I haven't a clue how to accomplish that on the knitting machine. My interpretation of your beautiful scarf employed straight stockinette. The resulting fabric is not as dense & perhaps not as warm for your Pennsylvania winters, but I prefer the better drape & less bulk of the lighter fabric, anyway.

I'm glad for your comment, Marie, because it brings up an important point that I neglected to mention in previous posts.... It is not always easy to convert a handknitting pattern to machine knitting. So for the person who's only comfortable working straight from a pattern, using a combination of machine & hand knitting may not be in the cards. I consider myself a "free form" knitter (crochet, too) & am very experimental. If something just isn't working, I'll rip it out & do it again. Fortunately, with the speed of the machine, ripping out & redoing something isn't the onerous job it was with handknitting (who the heck doesn't mind ripping out 20 hours of hand work? I'd rather fall on my knitting needles!)

Next question:

"Something I would like you to address on the machine knitting, the quality of machine knitting. Sometimes the knitting comes out too tight or too perfect. How do you seamlessly switch between the machine and your stitches? Wouldn't there be a line running between the two?"

There can be an unhappy line showing where you stopped the machine knitting & picked up the stitches on conventional needles, BUT with a experience comes the ability to be able to choose the right size needles to closely match the gauge of the machine stitches to your own tension & way of working by hand. Then, too, I find that I'll switch at a point where any difference is either minimal or will be camouflaged by later embellishments. For example, I may use the machine only for knitting that 3" of 1-1 ribbing & then switch to regular needles to make the increases & start a pattern stitch on the body of the sweater. Or, perhaps, knit the ribbed band & stockinette on the body up to that point where I'm going to add an intarsia design or begin a Fairisle yoke. Does that make sense?

Thanks for the comment & question, Marie. And, again, super job on the Big Dipper scarf. I love it!

Knitting Today and Everyday: Little to Show For#links#links

My Etsy pal & fellow blogger over at Knitted Gems writes:

"I've been knitting several hours every day. Yet, I feel like I am not making any progress on my Big Dipper Scarf..."

Since this ties in so nicely as an example of why I frequently turn to the knitting machine on my projects, I thought I'd show you her beautiful project & tell you how I would interpret this design & accomplish the project my way.

The 1st photo is, of course, the scarf in progress. The second photo is the finished scarf. Isn't it great? Nice choice of color & I really like the simple design concept. It really is distinctive.

Here's how I would interpret this design & bring it to completion in about 3 hours...

This is really the ideal project for the knitting machine because it's basically straight stockinette stitch & uses a relatively smooth worsted weight yarn. I personally haven't had much success machine knitting the very textural boucles, novelties, & handspuns without jamming up the works, so when working with those I'm pretty much committed to needles in hand for the entire project. In this particular project, I would choose to do most of the knitting on the machine & the handwork would be done at the end, adding the Big Dipper embellishment.

The machine I use for this type of project is the Singer LK100. It's considered a "hobby knitter" by the machine knitting crowd. It's a very basic machine, very inexpensive (I got mine off eBay for a mere $30) & dead simple to use. It has a tension adjustment & handles yarns in the sport, worsted, & chunky weights just fine, 'though I like best the finished result in the worsted weight yarns. My rule of thumb gauge for this machine in worsted is 16 sts & 23 rows = 4", but I can increase or decrease that a bit using the tension adjustment.

Using that 16 & 23 gauge, my "pattern" for this scarf would be: Cast on 20 sts. (for a 5" wide scarf) and then knit in straight stockinette stitch (*k1 row, p1 row) for 207 rows (36"). Bind off. Here's the beautiful part...I can do all of that on the machine in less than 2 hours! That's casting on - knitting - drinking a cup of coffee - knitting - answering the phone - knitting - going to the bathroom - knitting - binding off. (GRIN) This same scarf, knitted with needles in hand, would easily eat up 20 hours of my time, especially now with the worsening arthritis that's stealing my manual dexterity.

Now comes my favorite part - the design.

There's a couple of ways to add the Big Dipper design - duplicate stitch is one, but I'm not crazy about that technique on a scarf where you'd see carried threads or knots on the wrong side. I would suggest beads stitched on with a single ply of the yarn, a complimentary color of quilting thread, or the dreaded invisible thread that I personally find a pain to work with. Pearls would be nice & look very much like the finished project in the photo. Aternatively, a nice sparkly Swarovski crystal with that Aurora Borealis effect would be a good choice. I'd "audition" several bead candidates by laying them out & then standing back at least 3 feet to see how well each works. All that's left is to thread up the needle to attch the 7 beads and...Bob's your uncle...the Big Dipper scarf is ready to wear or sell or brag about. And, I'm off to cast on that yummy silk blend I just bought & have been dying to get my hands into.

Using a combination of machine & hand knitting to fly through these projects may not be everyone's cup 'o tea, but it works a charm for me. I highly recommend it for anyone who (like me) is into instant gratification or quickly becomes bored with some knitting projects & can point to a pile of UFO's (unfinished projects) in their knitting stash. It's also a great option to consider if arthritis is beginning to steal your mobility & preventing you from knitting as much as you'd like to. Like I said, it's been a godsend for me. It's made me more productive, unleased my creativity, & put real enjoyment back into my daily knitting.

If you decide to give machine knitting a go, I'd suggest starting with an inexpensive "hobby knitter" like the Singer LK100 or the Brother Incredible Knitting Machine. Both are inexpensive & simple to operate. Check out eBay to pick up a bargain. I saw an LK100 recently, new in the box, for less than $50 with shipping.

Felted Purses, Hats, Clothes, Gloves,etc. & Machine Knitting

I've been terribly remiss in posting my activities since my return from Hot Springs I'll finish that story soon for those of you waiting for the second installment. Long story short, I bought some property there. More later on that.

Have been digging in & working furiously on my fall line of felted purses, hats, gloves, & the designer sweaters. That single minded focus has really paid off, too. I've finished:
  • a nice green, rolled brim felt hat
  • a pair of convertible Fairisle mittens
  • a couple of scarves
  • a nice felted tote/handbag I call "Danube"
  • a cabled woman's sz. medium "T" in wheat color silk/rayon
And, I've cast on (or at least picked out the yarns & fibers for):
  • a woman's sz. medium intarsia sweater in autumn color leaves & grapes design
  • An infant sz. 6 mos. cardi & beret in a yummy plum color silk blend
Now, before you go thinking that this woman must be some kind of super speed demon, I have to tell you that some of these projects have been "in the works" for several weeks - I didn't design, cast-on, & finish these items in the short span of the past 10 days! While I'd love to be the superwoman that can do that, I'm not.

Still, I am able to invest less time in many of my projects than the average knitter simply because I'm not above turning to my trusty knitting machine(s) to accomplish the very straightforward portions of a project, such as stockinette & 1-1 ribbing. I personally find this sort of knitting tedious. I'm far too eager to get on with the detail work & embellishing that makes my designs distinctly my own to spend hours on such routine knitting. Aside from the Fairisle & intarsia projects, most of my creations will be knitted in part on the machine & I make no apologies for it.

Now, I know that there's some purists out there who might wag their finger & argue that I can't honestly say that my creations are "handknits" when I've used the machine for parts of them. Frankly, I think that's just a lot of hogwash. It's my opinion that using the machine is just a matter of using another tool - no different than using a circular needle instead of double-points or straight needles because it's the easier or faster method. Knitting on the machine is still "handknitting" - it's my unique design & I have my hands all over it from cast-on to finished creation...ergo, it's "handknitted." Perhaps I'd hold a different opinion if I were using one of those whizbang electronic knitters that you simply feed in a pattern, set up the yarn, & turn it on to knit the project all by itself. Then I suppose there'd be a basis for argument there. I don't have anything that sophisticated.

I currently have two knitting machines. The Singer Memomatic 327 works well for fingering to sport weight yarns. The Singer LK-100 (considered a "hobby" knitting machine) works well for worsted, chunky & some novelty yarns. Both machines are older, used, & I bought them on eBay for a song. They are, without doubt, two of the best investments I've ever made. They've saved me hours & hours of precious time & allowed me to spend a greater amount of time on the truly creative aspects of my work. Speeding right though that tedious ribbing or 14" of stockinette on a sweater has also resulted in more finished projects & fewer UFO's (un-finished objects). That's a winning combination for me.

If you're like me & take no pleasure in knitting 3" of 1-1 rib or two thirds of a sweater in stockinette stitch, I suggest you look into the joys of machine knitting. There's a great Yahoo forum, too, that you can turn to for more information & advice on machines. Go here & sign up. You'll thank me later...

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Wet Felted Flower Necklaces

Over on the Free Form Crochet Group (Yahoo), Pippen put up this link to a German felt artist whose work simply blows me away! Truly exquisite work, this. Check it out at http://www.elfenzartes.de/bilder/filzranken/gallery.htm

Hot Springs Village Arkansas - Guests of NRPI


Taking a little break from the yarns & needles this weekend to travel to Hot Springs, Arkansas (former home of the Clinton's). This is quite the adventure for me. I haven't stepped foot in the "South" since a short 6-mo. stint at Ft. Benning, Georgia in 1968 as an army wife. It's taken almost 40 years for the memories of that rather unpleasant experience to pass & for something to come along to encourage my return. That "something" was another birthday & the creeping realization that, before too many more moons go by, I'll be signing up for AARP & claiming that paltry senior discount at my favorite restaurants. Now...if that was a senior discount at my local yarn shop, it might be something to actually look forward to! Still, I suppose it's good to begin thinking about such things, since the alternative to old age is death (& I'd rather not think about that at all).

Long story short...I stumbled upon information about Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, a rather large, gated, golf & recreation community being developed & sold through NRPI (National Recreational Properties, Inc.). Wrote away for the brochures...liked what I saw...particularly liked the low cost of living in Arkansas...& accepted NRPI's offer to fly me & my husband out there for a little look-see at their expense.

Yesterday was spent taking off our shoes & baring our souls in airport security lines & drinking bad airline coffee for the 5 hour flight from Seattle to Little Rock (by way of Dallas). This is an exhausting trip for anyone - it's grueling for someone who's still shamefully addicted to cigarettes, as I am. We had a 1 hour layover in Dallas, so I dashed outside for 1/2 a smoke & paid the price by having to go through the security line again to get back in. I could rant for an hour about the injustice & persecution perpetrated on smokers, but it'd probably fall on deaf ears, so I won't....another rant for another time.

When we left Seattle it was a perfect 68 degrees & blue skies. We arrived in Little Rock to 97 degrees & humidity so oppressive it was hard to breathe. NRPI put us up in the Doubletree in downtown Little Rock, right next door to the old Statehouse building & just down the road from the Clinton Library. The whole riverfront area has undergone a gentrification project concurrent with the building of the presidential library & there's some very nice parks, museums, & upscale restaurants in what's known as The Market District. Unfortunately, no amount of building renovation & fancy facades can hide the poor who live beneath the underpasses & along the river revetments. We have a very nice view of the river (& the homeless) from our hotel room. I suppose I shouldn't find this the least bit surprising. We are, after all, looking here because of the low cost of living as well as the advertised attractiveness of the Hot Springs Village enclave. Since low wages & high unemployment often go hand-in-hand with low cost of living, I suppose the view from our hotel room should have been expected. Sad to see it all the same.

Now, as to our accommodations...I have to say that I'm more than a little disappointed & greatly surprised by a Doubletree (Hilton Hotel) suffering such neglect. The room was reasonably nice, clean, & the beds comfortable, but the draperies would not open & I had ask TWICE for ashtrays for this "smoking" room. The common areas are certainly not up the standards of other Hilton Hotels I've visited. The lobby furnishings were in disarray - coffee cups & old newspapers littered the cocktail tables, & the enormous expanses of floor-to-ceiling windows are positively grimy. There were no less than 6 couples & 3 airline crew all standing in line to check in - with a single desk clerk.

We chose to dine in the hotel the night of our arrival. In spite of the fact that there were less than 15 people in the dining room, we sat & sipped at our water for over 15 minutes before the waitress (who'd obviously never waited tables before in her life) came to take our order. I tired of waiting for my appetizer (soup) & coffee after about 15 min. & went outside for a 10 min. cigarette break. And, in case you're wondering why we didn't ask our waitress about the status of our order, it's because she promptly disappeared after taking it. The main course finally came shortly after my return - the soup never did - the coffee came after a second request - the cream after the 3rd request. Needless to say, the young lady did not receive much of a tip.

I decided to try cooling off in the pool. All I can say is...YUCK! The pool filter was broken & the water did not look clean. There was an enormous amount of old cigarette butts around the pool - really old - I'd wager no one has used a broom out there in weeks. It was after dark & there wasn't a single light on in the pool or in the surrounding area. It wasn't just yucky, it was creepy out there. Since there wasn't another soul swimming when the temp was still 87 degrees, I can only assume I'm not the only guest that decided to take a pass on the pool.

Under normal circumstances, I would bring these things to the attention of the hotel manager, but since we're here as guests of NRPI, I believe I'll discuss it with them, instead. They're paying good money to accommodate their prospective customers in this hotel. Surely, they would prefer that their customers are happy, comfortable, & in a "buying" mood when they wake up tomorrow. I can't believe my husband & I are the only ones disappointed with the accommodations.

Part II tomorrow- we take the tour of Hot Springs Village....

Attention Deficit Disorder & "The Artiste"

I've come to the conclusion that I must have an undiagnosed case of Attention Deficit Disorder! In the past week I have started 6 new projects & finished....one! Part of the problem, I know, is that I get so excited about a new design idea, I just put whatever I'm currently working on aside & jump right in to the new project.

I think it might help if I were the type of artist who comes up with an original design for, say, a purse & then proceeded to make a half dozen. That's more methodical & probably even more efficient, particularly for an artist, like me, whose focus is on selling her works & making a living. But, that's neither the way I work or, in fact, want to work. Here, again, I see evidence of the ADD. I NEVER do two of anything in a row. I just can't do it. I grow bored half way through the second one & it ends up in that great stash of "projects I'll finish someday." For example, the one project I have completed is a really nice rolled-brim felt hat - part of the new Fall designs. I like the design & enjoyed working it up, but I couldn't face doing another right away. Oh, I'll eventually make that half dozen purses, just not one right after another & no two ever exactly the same. Of course, that is one of the most marketable aspects of my creations - the fact that each is unique.

Come to think of it, maybe ADD isn't such a bad thing for me to have.

Custom Yarn Kits...An Update

The custom yarn kits I showed in a previous post sold very well at the market last weekend & I only have six kits left. Since I'll be travelling this weekend & won't be in my accustomed spot at the market, I listed the remaining sets on Etsy. You can find them at http://FroggyYarn.etsy.com

Because I'm working my little fingers to the bone on my Fall line of felted purses & clothing, I may not find time to produce any more of these kits, so if you want one for Christmas gifting, better hurry. I do have some other wonderful frogged yarns in my stash that I can substitute for the ones I included in the listings. Feel free to contact me if you're looking for a particular color, texture, or fiber content. The kits come with two center-pull balls of recycled yarn - enough to complete a smallish project like a hat, scarf, or mittens.

Felting Tip to Keep the Roto-Rooter Man Away!

Here's a little unsolicited advice....

NEVER, EVER felt wool in your washing machine without FIRST enclosing your project in a securely closed WHITE pillowcase or zippered laundry bag!

I am shocked over how often I come across felting instructions on websites, blogs, & patterns that fail to mention this important step in the felting process. This is a major omission that, over time, can produce catastrophic consequences for the felter & for everyone who lives in the felter's household. The omission is unintentional, I think - the result of the pattern writer forgetting who's in their audience & simply assuming that it's "common knowledge" thing that doesn't need to be restated. I've heard tales of woe from more than a few Newbies who learned this felting lesson the hard way - by writing a big fat check to the washer repairman or to Roto-Rooter.

All wool yarns cast off fibers during all that agitation in the washing machine. Some yarns, like mohair, produce an incredible amount of balled up lint. Those cast off fibers felt up into little nasty balls that can clog up a washing machine pump & drain pipe like you wouldn't believe! And, while it will take many felting projects to do so, they can even congeal into a mass so large & so impermeable that it can clog up your main sewer line. In any case, be prepared to pay through the nose to fix the damage that could have been prevented with an old pillowcase & a rubber band.

Enlcosing your project in that pillowcase or lingerie bag is a crucial first step to felting happiness. It not only protects your project, it protects your wallet.

Pass it on....

Next Season's Handbags & Clothing

I've been spending some time researching the fashion trends & am now beginning to work on my fall line of felted purses & clothing. It's been fun working with the lovely tropical colors & pretty pastels during the Spring & Summer seasons, but I'm really excited to be moving into the colors & styles that I think we all tend to associate with Fall & Winter...the earthy tones; the warm & cozy look of worsted & chunky wools; hats & gloves & scarves, etc.

On the fashion runways we're seeing fur making a big comeback & it's showing up as collars on oversize knit cardigans as the preferred winter coat. If you're opposed to using fur in your designs, take a look at the long nap Angora fibers as an animal-friendly substitute. I made an evening bag recently, felting a chocolate brown Angora beaded clutch that (I think) looks every bit as good as mink.

Metallics are hot this season, too, & not just in silver & pewter as in past trends. Gold is playing an equal role this next season &, personally, I'm delighted. I've always been drawn to gold over silver, particularly in metallic yarn. Can't wait to work with those metallics again & have plans to incorporate them into my felted bags designs - perhaps some evening wear, as well.

Speaking of handbags - they're going bigger, heavier, & with a more masculine look. I notice heavy hardware embellishments - buckles, leather strapping, grommets, etc. Straps are shoulder length, even when carried as a handbag.

Clothing is going a bit more oversize this next season, too, which translates into requiring more yards of yarn for sweaters & dresses. Prices for finished knitwear will spike a bit as a result of our increased material costs...I'm estimating a 20% increase in my prices for both handbags & clothing.

Lastly, the "Mod" look is showing up on the runways again. Seems we'll be seeing more sweaters & dresses with the bold intarsia graphics of past forays into the retro mod look.

So far, I'm not seeing any real trend favoring a particular color for fall - no "buzz" that plum, or cranberry, or forest green (for example) will be all the rage. Perhaps something will emerge later as a stand-out color for the season. We'll just have to wait & see. Meantime, I'm keeping the yarns & threads in the classic earth tones & leaving room in my designs for embellishing with trend colors if I start seeing a demand.

I'm off to the drawing board. More later....

Fabulous New Supplier - Purse Handles and More

Received a very nice e-mail from Lauren Abrams, the artist creator of LaBeana Bags Pursewear, sending along the link to her new website at http://www.labeanabags.com/. I'd heard of Lauren's great talent for designing beautiful purse handles from Prudence Mapstone (of "Knot Just Knitting" & Free Form Crochet fame). I had not, until then, seen any examples of her work, however. To say that these resin handles, buckles, & embellishments are "beautiful" is feint praise, indeed. Here's a sample of what you'll see at her website:

You really must go take a look....
Hey! Where'd everybody disappear to so fast???

My Latest Creations - For Christmas Gifting

Along about this time every year I start trying to come up with Christmas gift giving ideas for those "hard to buy for" types in my family & for a close-knit circle of girlfriends I've had since high school. I start this early because, quite frankly, it often takes me months to try & come up with something more than yet another hat & scarf set or felted bag. But, this year it looks like I've got my dilemma licked early. Huzzah!

About 2 weeks ago, in the course of my regular early morning web surfing, I came upon a polymer clay artist who had embellished the ends of some old knitting needles with her poly-clay beads. They were very cute & very unique, & while I'd never intentionally copy another artist's design, I'm not above "appropriating" a great idea & putting my own spin on it. I filed the idea away for another day & returned to a couple of current projects, like Rosa Azul, instead.

A day or so later, I was pawing though my enormous stash of frogged yarns - all those lovely balls of color & texture, looking like a pile of giant fuzzy beads waiting to be strung - when I remembered those knitting needles wit
h the poly-clay beads. Suddenly, a germ of an idea started to form. A couple of balls of my most sumptuous yarns together with a custom pair of decorated knitting needles (& a few stitch markers to match) would make a unique & totally unexpected gift for several knitters on my Christmas list! I spent the rest of that afternoon picking out yarn, rounding up some knitting needles in the appropriate size, & playing around with polymer clay. By the end of the day, I had 4 custom knitting kits finished, wrapped in tissue, & safely tucked away for Christmas gifts.

As I was quietly congratulating myself on being able to check 4 names off my Christmas list, it occurred to me that some of my Froggy Yarn customers might also be interested in these kits - either for themselves or as gifts. So, I put my other works in progress aside & spent the next couple of days making up another half-dozen kits to list in the Etsy shop & take to the next Saturday art market. Here's the photos of several kits that will be put up for sale.

I think they're cute & clever. I'll let you know if anyone else thinks so.

Is it Fulling or Felting?

I, tend to label everything that has to do with shrinking wool as "felting" or "felted." To be precise, however, most of my projects are primarily "fulled" wool with the occasional "felted" elements added as embellishments.

Fulling is the process of knitting, crocheting, or weaving wool yarn into fabric prior to shrinking. Generally, felting uses raw, unspun wool (roving) that is made into a matted fabric, either by hand through a process of wet abrasion or through the use of a felting needle. In both fulling & felting, the end result is fundmentally the same - a dense & strong wool fabric that will neither pull apart nor unravel. And, in both, this is acheived by subjecting the wool to shock in hot water, cold water, & agitation until the individual hair fibers swell, tangle, & mat into a cohesive mass. There is a visual & textural difference between the two in the final fabric. Fulled wool is fluffier & the individual stitches or weaving pattern may still be visible in the final fabric. I tend to think of felted wool as having a smoother texture, but that isn't always the case. It can be quite textural, in fact.

So why do I persist in calling my work felted? Because it's a familiar term to most people & one that requires no further explanation. Prospective customers are out there looking for felted handbags & hats - not fulled ones. I'm merely giving my clients what they think they're looking for. It's really all just a matter of semantics anyway.

Buy Direct From the Artist - Let's Talk Etsy.com

Take a look at the right hand sidebar, just below my profile, you'll find a new addition to this blog. It's a link to Etsy.com , an online marketplace for independent artists, artisans, & crafters to sell their creations direct to the public, often at discounted prices. If you've never heard of it before & have never visited the site, you have no idea what treasures you're missing! If you enjoy your local arts festival & never fail to return home without some new artist's creation or handmade treasure, you're going to love Etsy. There you'll find orginal art, exquisite jewelry, pottery, beads & findings, stained glass, handmade clothing & accessories, sculpture, soaps & cosmetics....I can't possibly list all the wonderful creations. Suffice it to say, whatever it is that floats your boat in the way of arts & crafts, you find it on Etsy.com

Check it out today...and if you happen to think that a woman can't have too many handbags or you're a knitter in need of yarn, custom needles, or stitch markers, be sure to visit my Etsy shops: Irrational Exuberance and Froggy Yarn .

Speaking of "Frogged" Yarn....Beware the Hard Cases

I feel like I've spent an hour wrestling alligators! This is one of my recent thrift shop acquisitions that I am currently in the process of frogging. It's a top name designer label, long-sleeve, V-neck pullover in an absolutely yummy silk/cotton/rayon blend. Cost....$2.99! But, my oh my, ripping this sweater out has been a real chore because of it's slubby texture. I spent the past hour in front of the TV unraveling a single sleeve. Even so, I have more time than money &, in the end, my labors will be rewarded with supply of beautiful, high-end yarn that cost something in the neighborhood of 1/2 cent per yard & several hours of my time.

There's actually two different yarns here. The first is a pale pastel multicolor that reminds me of the recycled sari silk yarns that are all the rage right now. The main ply is off white (presumably the cotton fiber content) & it is plied with rather large silk slubs in pale, pale blue, pink, & taupe. The second yarn (the one that appears shiney white in the photo) is a flat ribbon type yarn that I have guessed is the rayon content of the sweater.

I picked this sweater based on the following criteria:

  • Designer Label - These are often made of yarns that are custom to the designer & can't be purchased in the retail market. Since I make one of a kind garments, I prefer to work with yarns that are unusual or one of a kind, too.
  • Fiber Content - A similar yarn blend of cotton/silk/rayon would easily run $15.00up for a 100 yd. ball at my local yarn shop. I am guessing I'll end up with at least 600 yds. of usable yarn - a $90.00+ retail value.
  • Clean & Excellent condition - If it's not clean or shows obvious signs of wear, I'll pass it by, regardless.
  • Special Attributes - In this particular case, the yarn has a wonderful hand to it. I'm sure it would feel great against the skin. Excellent color, texture, drape & movement in the original garment were real selling points, too.

Here's what I've recovered, so far. I estimate the larger ball at approx. 100 yards. The smaller ball is 25-30 yards.

For all of its positive aspects, the texture of this yarn makes it more difficult, time consuming, & frustrating to unravel. Mohair & Angora are also difficult to work with. Take my advice & keep that in mind when selecting sweaters to recycle - especially if you are new to frogging. Just getting the hang of taking out the seams & bind-offs can be enough of a challenge for the newbie. Don't make it worse by choosing yarns that refuse to unravel smoothly, too. When you do take on a frogging project like this, take frequent breaks or run the risk of coming to hate the whole process so badly, you never want to try frogging another sweater as long as you live.

The truth is, I don't often take on these challenging projects, myself. Fortunately, they are a bit like labor & childbirth...I tend to forget my past miseries once I'm holding that precious final product. That's why I have more than one child & it's why I have frogged more than one of these "hard cases."

I'll post a photo of that final precious product of all my hard labor as soon as it's finished.

"Frogging" - Quality Stash Yarn Dead Cheap

I used to purchase ALL of my yarns & fibers at full retail price from my local yarn shop. The day that I fell in love with a gorgeous skein of yarn & had to put it back because I couldn't afford it (it was $42 & I needed 6!), I decided I HAD to find a more economical way to acquire those delicious yarns. I'd heard of women who purchased quality sweaters from thrift shops & rummage sales, unraveled them (called "frogging"), & reused the yarn. So, I Googled to get more information on it. Eureka!

That was 3 years ago. Now, before I begin a new project, I go shopping at my local thrift shops & clothing resale stores FIRST to see if I can find a high quality, designer label sweater that can be frogged for the bulk of my yarn needs. By & large, they are wonderful merino wools, cottons, silks, & blends that would easily cost $15++ for 100 yards at my yarn shop. The average woman's sweater will yield 600 yards or more of good usable fiber. Not bad for an average cost of $5.00. I still support my local yarn shop through my purchases of embellishing or accent fibers, but I am no longer priced out of creating that gorgeous silk or cashmere sweater I want. It's the best of both worlds, I think. Oh, I'll admit that I still do splurge & pay retail from time to time on some super expensive yarns, but since I'm economizing when I can (through frogging), I can do so without guilt.

My only problem is....too many sweaters, so little time! I can't seem to leave a beautiful, high quality sweater on the rack. I never come home with just the one for my current project - I bring home six! My yarn stash now overfloweth! Since I can't possibly use all this gorgeous fiber myself, I've decided to share my bargains with my fellow fiber artists who are also feeling a bit of sticker shock at their local yarn shop & don't want to "frog" for themselves. Thus, "Froggy Recycled Yarn" was born as a small sideline business to sell my excess stash on Etsy.

I you'd like to try your hand at frogging, there's some excellent tutorials on the Net. You might want to start here: http://www.neauveau.com/recycledyarn.html or try searching "frogging yarn" or "recycled yarn." Should you decide that the whole process is just too labor intensive or mind-numbingly dull than you can stand, you can check out FroggyYarn.etsy.com to see what I am offering - & still at a bargain compared to retail. And, if you're not familiar with Etsy, you should be. It's a wonderful community of independent artists selling their wares - a terrific source of great stuff often at bargain prices. Check it out.

Free Form Beading, Embroidery, Knit & Crochet

As is my custom every morning (while waiting for the coffee to brew), I fire up the computer to check e-mail & do whatever "housekeeping" needs doing on my website http://ebonyglenstudio.com/. While I enjoy the 1st cup of Joe, I check in on some of my favorite forums, websites, & blogs. Breakfast is, indeed, the most important meal of the day. And, it's this morning fix of caffeine & about a billion bytes of inspiration from other artists that I breakfast on. It's a tall glass of "creative juice" that gets me going & keeps me going throughout the day. (OK, OK, enough with the metaphors already!)

This morning's fix included another visit to Myra Wood's site http:myrawood.com to drool over her exquisite work in free form crochet, beading, & embroidery. Words simply cannot describe the beautiful & inventive work of this fabulous fiber artist. You must go take a look. Myra exemplifies the true spirit of Free Form that takes knitting, crochet, beading, & embroidery out of the realm of crafting & elevates them all to the level of a true art form.

Myra is just one of the stand-outs in the arena of free form fiber arts. There are dozens more that I admire & draw inspiration from. By following their links to the people & places they admire, my list grows daily.

What a delicious way to start the day.

1st Photos "Rosa Azul" Blue Felted Handbag

This bag is coming along nicely - but not finished.

I often take photos of my works in progress in order to see what's working & what's not - sort of a "forest for the trees" thing. It's co
mmon, I think, for the artist to get too finely focused & too caught up in the detail work to see the flaws in the overall design. It's easy to overwork a project, too, & end up killing it. That's why painters will stand back from the easel frequently or turn the canvas upside-down. I've even used a mirror to look at my paintings & have found glaring flaws that I simply couldn't see otherwise. I know writers that will put their manuscripts away to let them "percolate." When they come back to them, it's with a fresh perspective that will either spur rewrites or tell them that their book is finished.

This photo is a good example of what I'm talking about.This is my perspective of a project most of the time. At this distance, I'm happy with what I see. But, when I step back & look at Rosa Azul as a whole (as in the top photo) I can see that it still needs.....something. It's bottom-heavy, I think. The eye is drawn too quickly to the flower embellishment & just stops there. All art, like a good story, needs a beginning, a middle, & an end. This bag has a decent middle (the pointed flap) & a bang-up ending (the flowers), but the beginning is so weak it's almost non-existent. I need to work on that...& quickly. The big art festival is just 2 days away & I want this piece to be there.

Wish me luck!

Firefox, Java, & Yahoo Sitebuilder Incompatibility

'Nuff said?

Free Form Crochet Group on Yahoo

Woke up this morning to a lovely message from Kesam in Israel. Kesam is a member of the Free Form Crochet group on Yahoo, too, & she was kind enough to take time to write & say nice things about my work & the new website. What a nice way to start the day!

The Free Form Crochet forum is a truly awesome gathering of incredibly talented & creative people from all over the world. I check in daily to read the posts & check out the latest photos. Always great inspiration, instruction, & encouragement from a great group of friendly people who welcome the "newbies" in with open arms & instant friendship. There's terrific diversity there, too. There are some "purists," of course, whose work is focused on free form, but there's also knitters & spinners & felters & fiber artists of every stripe. The common thread (pun intended) that holds us all together is an appreciation for the art of free form.

I'm a newcomer to the art & to the group, myself, having stumbled upon the link on someone else's blog or website a couple of months ago. Here's the photo that just blew me away & led me to this great group of folks:

This is the creation of Diane Olsen. How could anyone look at that & NOT want to know who created it, how it was done, & want to learn how to create such beauty themselves??? Check out http://freeformcrochet.com for more info about this fabulous art form. There's a link there, too, to the Yahoo Group forum at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FFCrochet/join.

Now, I'm off to "scrumble" something up for a new bag I'm working on. Huge annual arts festival coming up this weekend & I want to have something there that will make people sit up & take notice.