How Hiring a Handyman is like Buying a Crochet Pattern

Stick with me, here!

Last winter, our (very old) house was freezing. Even with the furnace running full blast, we couldn’t get the temperature above 60 degrees (to be fair, it was below -20 degrees outside!)

house cartoon

Obviously, that’s not good. So, one item on this summer’s to-do list was to get attic insulation.

You get what you pay for

You can hire a dude to throw some insulation in your attic for pretty cheap. But I’m not an expert in insulation. How do I know if it’s really going to keep our house warm? How do I know if I’m getting a quality product?

toolbox

I believe that with most things, you get what you pay for. We found a company that cost a bit more, but I could tell they were craftsman who took pride in their work. They gave us references, brought photos showing the kind of work they do and carefully answered our questions. They were even honest about what improvements wouldn’t help, even though doing that work could have meant more money for them.

And, their work has a lifetime warranty, meaning that I can call them if I have trouble with their product! I love quality workmanship and a great company!

Now, let’s chat crochet patterns…

Every once in a while, I get a comment on my facebook page saying something like, “why is this pattern $5? I can get one for free online.”

Yes, you can get a free pattern online. But what’s the quality of that pattern?

I’m not saying that all free patterns are bad. In fact, many big companies use free patterns as a form of advertising, so they spend big bucks to publish quality patterns to give away to their customers.

But there are a lot of patterns that someone threw up on their blog or Ravelry. How do you know the pattern is correct? How do you know that you won’t be pulling your hair out halfway through because they instructions are terrible?

crocheting progress photo

When you buy a pattern from me, you’re paying for a quality product. You’re paying for:

  • A well-written pattern complete with progress photos
  • The right to email me and get help if you have trouble (like a warranty!)
  • A very large archives of photos and videos to help you through every step of the process
  • A happy crocheting experience!

I can’t tell you how many people email me asking for help on a cruddily-written free pattern that they found online. I tell them that they’ll need to contact the designer for help… and very often, they tell me that the designer doesn’t reply! To be frank, if someone posts a pattern on their blog, they don’t have an obligation to help you!

What result do you want?

If you’re very skilled yourself, then you might be willing to take the extra time to sort out the hassles with a poorly-written pattern. If I was skilled in insulating attics, maybe I’d be willing to hire a cheapo guy and finish up the work myself.

But most of us aren’t designers or handymen. When we start a project, we want it to be easy and stress-free. That’s what you pay for when you buy a quality product!

The Minimum Wage Myth (& 2013 Financial Wrap-up!)

The Minimum Wage Myth

Floating in the ether is the idea that designing is a minimum-wage job. It’s an easy myth to buy into, because when you first start, it’s common to spend dozens of hours putting together a pattern that yields a few hundred dollars. And no one likes earning $4 per hour. Or even less.

However, it’s a mistake to think that minimum wage is the ceiling salary for your craft business! Whether you’re designing, crocheting finished items for sale or writing books… you’re starting a business. And businesses are rarely profitable in the first couple of years.

Over time, as you build a following, diversify your offerings and make your business more efficient, your business will grow! And you can earn more than minimum wage! You can even earn a real salary! I’ve chatted to a number of folks in the yarn world who are the primary wage earners for their households or who make as much as they did as they did in a ‘regular’ job. It’s possible!

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

If you can earn a real salary from crafting/writing/designing, then why doesn’t everyone do it? And why does the myth of minimum wage earnings persist?

Running a business

Running a successful craft business requires more than doing your favorite craft all day long. It requires marketing, doing a little accounting and probably some website editing. It has boring parts. Check out Tara’s great post on the difference between a hobby and a business.

It isn’t easy, and frankly, it isn’t always fun (Although, don’t get me wrong, it usually is!)… but if you have a passion for a particular craft and want to start a business, then I want you to know that with effort, you can make it work as a career!

2013 Financial Summary

I began FreshStitches in 2008, at which time I worked various part-time jobs concurrently. It was about 2010/2011 before FreshStitches became my full-time job.

You can check out my previous year’s financial reviews: 2010, 2011, 2012 and mid-2013.

Here is a graph of my 2013 income sources:

sources of income

While the majority of my income comes from FreshStitches (mostly pattern sales, but increasingly kits as well), a tidy bit comes from writing books and teaching. This is where time is a real luxury: the 11% I earned in book royalties is from books that were released in 2010 and 2012!

I truly believe that diversity is key. While it might look like I could quit writing books & teaching and still earn 70% of my salary, that philosophy misses the interconnectedness of the components. I can’t tell you how many people see my book in the store, and then come to my website. Or take a class with me and then follow my blog.

The business side of running the business is about finding what works! On a related note, check out Abby’s post on the economics of selling patterns… it’s good!

The 2013 mid-year Financial Review!

At the end of every year, I post graphs of my income sources (check out the posts for 2012, 2011 and . I do these analyses for myself, since knowing where your business is getting its money from is key to figuring out where to go in the future! I figure that since I’m already crunching the numbers, I may as well share, right?

business meeting cartoon

Since it’s (almost) the middle of 2013, let’s take a look how how the year is going!

FreshStitches Pattern Sales

As most of you probably know, my main business is pattern sales. Here’s a breakdown of the sources of pattern sales:

Graph of pattern sales, by source

Because I run a Ravelry shopping cart on my site (and so sales from both my website and Ravelry go into the same ‘pot’), I haven’t done the calculations to separate them.

If you glance at past years, you’ll notice that the percentage of my sales coming from Etsy has continued to decline. On one hand, I think it represents the fact that I’m putting less effort into keeping up with the changing search criteria and features on Etsy (which is a bad thing). On the other hand, it could reflect that the sales on my website and Ravelry are just accelerating faster (which is a good thing).

You’ll also notice that this year, there are more sources of sales, including Craftsy, Ravelry LYS sales and a myriad of other sites/ways that I sell my patterns. While none of these constitute a huge percentage yet, I think they’re an important component of my business plan.

Stacey’s Income

While pattern sales are my ‘main’ gig, I also sell kits, teach, write books and do other stuff to earn an income. Here’s the graph of my income sources:

Income sources for a professional designer

I actually haven’t done this graph before, because in previous years, my income streams have been much less diverse! This year (and well, the last 1/2 of 2012), I’ve been focusing on offering fun & exciting kits, as well as getting myself into the teaching universe.

You can tell by the graph that these non-pattern income streams are making a sizable part of my income. I think what can’t be represented by a graph is the way that these alternate tasks help my pattern sales, as well. For example, someone takes my class and then buys one of my patterns as a result.

I think that this diversification is key, and I expect it to continue in the future!

Lessons for Designers

The main reason I share these graphs is because when I began designing, information about designing as a small business was scarce. I make a living from my design work, and although it certainly takes time to build a business, I want others to know that it’s possible!

In some ways, the graph is misleading. It’s tempting to think that in January, I got a check for 11% of my income from Craftsy, and another check for 11% from Martingale… but it doesn’t really work that way. The income stream for a small business owner has ups and downs.

worried

I might get a nice fat check the quarter after my book comes out, but it dwindles after. And I might finish a freelance project one month, but that same payment won’t be repeated the next month. Even pattern sales might be booming one month (usually around the holidays!) and less booming another. These graphs are averages over months.

And… every business is different! What works for me might not be what works for you. But, here are a few lessons that my graphs tell me… and maybe they’ll be helpful for you!

  • Show your work on different sites. Four years ago, I thought Etsy was just a ‘starter’ until I got my own website together. However, today, it still provides a solid chunk of my pattern sales. If I had shut down my Etsy shop, I wouldn’t get those sales!
  • Diversification is important. Sure, if I didn’t teach, I’d have more time for pattern-writing. But would that extra pattern writing provide the same income? Probably not. Because by diversifying what I do, I reach different people. And that’s important!
  • Social media is key. If I wrote great patterns and then didn’t tell anyone, I wouldn’t sell very many. I have no doubt that my sales are directly related to the effort I spend telling people about what I’m up to.
  • Do what you love. When I started, people told me that I couldn’t make a living selling stuffed animal patterns (and that I should do knitted garments, instead). But I LOVE stuffed animals, so that’s what I did. And it’s working. Because people can tell when you love your product.

Was this helpful? Even if it wasn’t, I hope it was fun!

You’ll get an update in 7 months… gasp, I still can’t believe the year is nearly halfway done!

My favorite relaxing knitting projects…

It’s day two of Knitting and Crochet Blogging week!

4th Annual knitting and crochet blog week

Today’s topic is to write about a project inspired by your mascot. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll remember that I’m a Manatee, because I love to knit projects that are fairly simple and relaxing.

So today, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite patterns for relaxing knitting!

What is relaxing knitting?

Relaxing (or mindless) knitting usually means that you’re knitting slightly below your skill level. For example, if you just learned to do cables, then a cabled sweater isn’t going to be relaxing. However, if you’ve been knitting cables for 20 years, then a lovely cabled sweater might be very relaxing for you!

I’m accomplished at knitting cables and lace and sweaters… but with these skills, I still find myself checking the pattern often, so they aren’t relaxing to me, yet. Projects that are relaxing to me are typically ones with an easy-to-memorize pattern or repeat, simple colorwork or short rows are allowed.

For me, relaxing knitting doesn’t mean boring knitting. Sure, I could do a blanket in garter stitch… but what’s the fun in that? To be fun, a project needs a little bit of interest!

I’m going to show you some of my faves… feel free to check them out for yourself! Who knows… you might find these patterns either too complicated or boring… but I highly recommend that you find your own collection of relaxing patterns for yourself!

Wingspan

Wingspan by Maylin is a simple-to-memorize and beautiful shawl pattern. I’ve knit two!

Wingspan knitting

Although the pattern is easy once you get it, you have to do a repeat or two to internalize it. I’ve written some tips for knitting Wingspan to help!

Stripe Study

I’ve knit three shawls from Stripe Study by Veera Valimaki… because it’s such a pleasure to knit!

Stripe Study Shawl by Vera Valimaki

The pattern uses simple colorwork (changing colors every couple of rows, with the yarn carried up the side), an easy-to-remember short row pattern and increasing (placed at stitch markers) to create this delightful shawl!

The main downside is that it’s asymmetrical, and so is tricky to wear. It’s the only thing that’s stopped me from knitting a fourth!

Pogona

Pogona by Stephen West is another fabulous shawl. I’ve knit two!

Pogona by Stephen West

It’s a little bit of effort to start up (you’re placing quite a few stitch markers!), but once you get going, it’s just stockinette and reverse-stockinette with regular increases at the stitch markers. Love it!

Basic Sock

The Basic Sock by Churchmouse Yarns is my default knitting project. Take any sock yarn, and you’re guaranteed to get a great pair of socks!

Basic sock pattern knitting

A sock isn’t relaxing the first (or second time), but once you’ve knit a few pairs, you get the ‘formula’ of the sock. I cast on, knit the cuff for a while, check the pattern for the heel-turn instructions, knit the foot and then decrease for the toe. That’s a lot of relaxing knitting in there!

I’ve knit 6 pairs from this pattern!

$5 in Paris

$5 in Paris is a fabulous top-down sweater pattern… I’ve done two with plans for more!

$5 in Paris by Anna Peck

A sweater isn’t usually very relaxing, because there’s lots of shaping and seaming, but this one is different! Starting at the neck, you increase regularly until it’s time to separate the sleeves, then the body is plain and simple knitting! The color changes of the stripes keep it from being mundane.

Because they’re 1/2-length sleeves, there isn’t even any shaping, there! Easy!

Citron

Citron by Hilary Smith Callis is another fabulous, but simple shawl. I’ve made two!

Citron Shawl Knitty

The cute little ruffles are made by increasing and decreasing quickly… and the remainder of the shawl is made by regularly-spaced increases. Cute and easy!

And you?

What are your faves? What’s your ‘go-to’ relaxing knitting project?

Any of my faves that you’re looking to try?

Urban Edge (book review) and reflections on the changing yarn industry

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to witness a small revolution going on in the world. And I think I just saw one land on my desk.

The Traditional Yarn-World Divide

If you were to ask me, “What do you think of when you hear ‘Leisure Arts’?”… I would say, “Books about: crocheting 24 hour baby afghans, learning to crochet in 10 minutes and making doilies.” (a quick glance at their website confirms my associations). Leisure Arts is known as the publishing company that makes the booklets that appear in Big Box craft stores.

Let’s jet back to the year 2002. This publishing philosophy came to be as a reflection of a more general divide between Big Box stores (Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, Michaels) and LYSs (Local Yarn Stores): Big Box stores carried cheap (i.e. icky) yarns and LYSs carried high-end, luxury yarns.

Fast forward a decade to 2012… the times, they are a-changin’! The gulf between Big Box stores and LYSs is narrowing. Lion Brand (a leader in the Big Box yarn-world) now produces the LB Collection: a line of fine yarns only available online and in it’s LYS-like Studio Store. Debbie Stoller is just one big-name designer who has put her name on a line of reasonably priced, high-quality yarn (Stitch Nation) available at Big Box Stores. And on the other hand, luxury brands have developed reasonably-priced acrylic and machine washable yarns that match the high standards expected by LYS customers and owners (think Berroco Comfort and Cascade Superwash).

What does this change mean?

This slow fuzz-i-fication (yes, that’s a technical term) of the boundaries between Big Box stores and LYSs shows us one thing: customers are no longer satisfied with scratchy yarn, frumpy clothing patterns and limited choices.

Not everyone in the US is a quick car trip away from an LYS (For instance, my mom lives in Kansas and is more than an hour away from an LYS). But, nowadays, even folks out in farmland can hop on the internet, and drool over fabulous pattern on Ravelry and yearn for oh-so-soft merino. The increased awareness of amazing patterns & yarns has lead to a boom in online LYSs (like WEBS and Jimmy Beans Wool), but nothing can replace touching the yarn and seeing it in person. So, Big Box stores have incentive to make yarns and books available to this new breed of demanding customer.

And so, back to Leisure Arts. To be a successful, on-trend publishing company… they can no longer simply publish booklets for Granny Square blankets. They’ve gotta step it up. It seems like they’ve heard the call, and published Urban Edge.

Book Review: Urban Edge

Urban Edge (if you haven’t already gathered) is published by Leisure Arts… and is a fabulous deviation from the company’s stereotype.

The book is written by the Shannon Mullet-Bowlsby from ShibaGuyz, and features patterns for crocheted garments inspired by urban life. The designs are innovative, and the book includes patterns for a hoodie, a waterfall cardigan (I’m seeing those everywhere!) and a saucy cocktail dress:

The stitch patterns included are also guaranteed to keep a crocheter’s interest: cables, amazingly interesting stitch patterns (did you see the cover garment?) and fun colorwork.

Why this book is a Revolution

As a crocheter, I’ve felt particularly entrenched in the divide I discussed at the beginning of this post. There’s a stereotype that crocheters only like cheap yarn and they only shop in Big Box stores. To counter this perception, I’ve met crocheters that would never dare step foot in Jo-Ann’s, for fear they would be viewed as perpetuating this awful perception.

But there’s a beautiful middle ground that accepts the roles of both types of shops (and yarns) in the world. I was delighted to see that Shannon selected yarns from both sides of the divide when making the samples in this book. You’ll see garments crocheted from Malabrigo and Takhi, but also yarns made by Caron. It’s about finding the right yarn that works for your project.

As a designer, I couldn’t agree with Shannon’s message more: he has created beautiful designs, and he wants to help you make them! It doesn’t matter where you live! He wants you to make a beautiful garment that you’ll adore, using the yarns available to you.

Rock on, Shannon!

Features of the book

The designs are beautiful. There are a few other features that sets this book apart:

  • Each design is sized from small to 3x.
  • Patterns are provided in charts (when appropriate) as well as written instructions.
  • Contains detailed descriptions of stitches you’ll be using in the book.
  • Detailed instructions for novel finishing techniques.

You ready to get crocheting?

Urban Edge is a fabulous book with tremendously inventive crochet designs. While there are patterns accessible to all skill levels, those with a daring spirit will be kept on their toes with adventurous stitch patterns in some garments.

Kudos to Shannon. And kudos to Leisure Arts. Great job.

Crocheting in Rounds: free download

I love crocheting in the round! It’s easy to crochet circles… but also squares! I’ve put together this easy reference guide to get you started crocheting circles, squares and granny squares:

Download the pdf version of the guide by clicking here.

What can you actually do with these patterns? Lots! Here are a few ideas:

  • Crochet a hat. Make a circle, and continue increasing until the circumference of the circle is about the circumference of your head. Work plain rounds until it’s long enough to be a hat!
  • Crochet an awesome rainbow rug. Pick a super-bulky yarn (or fabric strips) in bright colors. Crochet a circle, changing colors every few rounds. Continue until it’s the size you want!
  • Crochet a washcloth. Pick a cotton yarn. Crochet a square, and keep going until it’s a handy washcloth size.
  • Make a pillow. Use either the square or granny square patterns to make 2 equal-sized squares. Stick a pillow insert between the two squares, sew up around the edges- and you have a great pillow!
  • Crochet an afghan. Work the granny square pattern until it’s the size you like for a blanket.

These are just a couple of ideas… the possibilities are endless!

A Crocheter's Guide to Pattern Reading- free download

Do you know how to crochet, but feel like patterns are a foreign language? You’re not alone!

Many of us crocheters learn how to do the stitches from a family member or friend, and don’t learn to read the patterns until much later. And it’s true, reading a pattern can be scary… but well worth learning how! Once you can read a pattern, you’ll be able to make anything!

I teach a class called ‘Pattern reading for Crocheter’s’, and since I want all crocheters to be able to read patterns… I’m sharing the ‘helpful hints’ page from the class with everybody!

Click here to download this page as a pdf (much better resolution)!

Of course, I know this hints page isn’t a substitute for the full class… but I’m hoping that it’ll help you with a few tricky parts about pattern reading!

And of course… feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section- maybe it’ll become a future blog post topic!

Review of Knitting Pleats by Olga Pobedinskaya

I got a chance to peek at Knitting Pleats while at TNNA in June (a big needlework trade show), and I was instantly drawn to the stunning shawl on the cover. I had a spare minute to flick through it, and I was impressed: it’s full of really creative and modern pieces.

So, when I got a chance to review a copy of Knitting Pleats, I let out a little ‘squee’! I’m delighted to announce that the book is just as lovely as my initial impressions told me it would be!

About the book

There are oodles of knitting books on the market… and it’s sort of hard to imagine a completely new topic. There are piles of sock books, books full of sweater patterns, knitted stuffed animals… but a book all about pleats? Now that’s new!

A book that covers a topic that I have very little experience with is instantly attractive! And, in addition to a novel topic, the author has a style that isn’t often seen in American knitwear. She’s of Russian-Ukranian descent, and she blends influences from her personal background, Japanese patterns and geometry and Western styles into an incredibly unique and modern series of garments and accessories.

Check out this Accordion Bag:

Isn’t it fabulous? I mean, have you ever seen a knitted bag like this before? And don’t you want to knit it right now?!?

I’m also in love with Silver Darts, a gorgeous t-shirt:

I’m scheming about what yarn I’d want to knit it from, now!

Features of the book

I’ve already said that the designs are novel and beautiful. But, I also love the information that’s inside this book.

The introduction contains a section called ‘Understanding Knitted Pleats’, which is fairly comprehensive: explaining how to make vertical and horizontal pleats, in both stockinette and garter.

For me at least, this sort of additional information is what makes a book worth buying. It’s more than just a collection of patterns, it’s a jam-packed bundle of information that gives you the foundation you’ll need to understand what you’re knitting, and maybe even design your own garments with pleats!

I also love that this book contains illustrations of knitting techniques that you’ll need for the patterns in the book.

I find that, when I’m knitting from a book, it’s not always convenient to run to the computer to look up how to do a new stitch… so having that information in the front of the book is a real plus.

Finally, I really like that the patterns the book are arranged in order of difficulty: easiest first. That way, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into!

Drawbacks of the book

I really like this book, but there are a couple of tiny negatives that I can’t go without mentioning.

The first negative (which is echoed by a couple of other reviews I read on Amazon) is that I wouldn’t really knit all of the patterns in this book. Some of the garments are just too ‘out of the box’ for my taste.

In my opinion, though, if I knit 2 patterns from a book, then it’s worth the price (since individual patterns from the designers that I love are in the $6-$8 range). And, there are certainly a couple designs that will hop onto my needles in the future… just not all of the ones in the book!

Another little downside is that there isn’t a resource guide for the little extras used in the book. Mostly, I’d love to know where to get the handles for the Accordion Bag, but I’m sure I can source them on my own.

The Review

Grab it! This is a well-written book, full of useful information about pleats in addition to some lovely patterns. The patterns cover a range of difficulty levels, so anyone proficient with increasing/decreasing and reading a pattern will be able to get a start.

If you’re a traditionalist and only want to wear plain sweaters… then maybe this book isn’t for you. Or who knows… maybe it’ll inspire you to get out of your knitting comfort zone!

Book Review: Craft Activism

This post is half book review and half ‘ooh, I got to play dress up with the trunk show!’. Gale Zucker, who I regularly sit & stitch with on Tuesday nights, is the photographer for Craft Activism. So, when she had a book signing at Knit New Haven (my LYS), it was super-awesome. Which was fitting, because the book is, too!

Craft Activism by Joan Tapper and Gale Zucker is one of those fabulous rare-breed of craft book that you actually want to read cover-to-cover. It’s a tour of crafty folks who use their crafting skills to raise awareness of an issue, spread a message to their community, or in some cases, as a vehicle to create a community itself (yup, Ravelry gets a shout out!).

Above, Gale showing off the Fussy Cuts Blanket with her sit-and-stitch group… another great community!

This book really satisfies my crafting-ADD: the crafters and projects cover quilting, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and even tin-can cutting! The beautifully written stories of these awesome artists make the book worth buying… but, the part that makes me (the one who will attempt anything crafty) completely giddy is the projects! Each awesome artist-feature is accompanied by a project that reflects the spirit of the artist’s work. For example, the book showcases Ruth Marshall, who knits biologically accurate pelts of endangered animals. The pelts are time-intensive and a true labor of love… but the book provides a pattern for an ocelot-inspired knitted scarf… now that’s a project you and I can tackle!

What project am I dying to start next?
At the book signing, I tried on the Sun-Tea dress, which I had seen in the book, and already had in my mental queue:

The second I tried the dress on, I knew I had to make one!

It’s cute, flattering… and as a novice sewer, actually doesn’t look too hard to make! Since it’s sewn with old t-shirts (which don’t frey when cut), the seaming is much easier than with regular fabric. And want to know my favorite part? If you pick a t-shirt with a pocket, you’ll get… a pocket in your dress! Awesomeness!

What’s my favorite cause?
I absolutely love the Red Scarf Project! It’s a small component of a group that sends care packages to foster children who have aged out of the system and who are in college… and otherwise have no family to lend support.

As part of the Red Scarf Project, knitters and crocheters from all around the country make red scarfs. Then, on Valentine’s Day, each former foster kid in the program receives a hand-made scarf in their care package with a note! How awesome is that? Can you imagine how incredible it must feel as a college student with no family to receive a handmade scarf… and knowing that someone is thinking of you? Incredible! That’s why it’s my favorite cause!

What’s the most ambitious project in the book?
I nearly fainted over the artwork by Lisa Anne Auerbach, who creates knitted sweaters with witty and politically-fueled messages… incredible statement pieces in wool! Inspired by her work, the book contains a project for a cardigan that promotes the ‘Share the Road’ message frequently touted by urban bikers:

(Yup, that’s me trying the real thing on!) As an urban biker, myself… I’m in love! But, I’m not going to fib- there’s some serious colorwork going on!

Who needs to run out and buy this book?
Well, obviously, it was me!

Seriously, though, this book would make a great gift for any crafter who’s mindful of social issues and the impact of craft in the world at large. The projects in the book range from simple to pretty intricate (like the cardigan, above).

While this book contains well-written patterns, it’s not a ‘how to book’… so don’t expect to learn how to knit or crochet or quilt. But, if you have remedial knowledge of the crafts, you’ll be able to pick up and get started on a great project!

If I hadn’t already bought it, I’d be putting it on my Christmas list!