Today's interview (the third in the series) is with Bobbi of Kittygrrlz. She creates fun and exciting handspun yarn using fibers handdyed or carded by other with other fiber artists, a beautiful example of collaboration. You can read more about her fiber-y life on her blog.
How did you get started with knitting?
I was vending (with jewelry) at the DIY Trunk Show in Chicago, in November of 2004. As I like to say, this show changed my life! Their local SnB group was there giving free knitting lessons. Since I had a Chicagoan helping me out, and it was pretty quiet in the morning, I went up and got my free lesson. They started me off with some needles and a skein of basic yarn, and, honestly, I never thought I would get it. I was all thumbs. But, I took it home, promptly bought some PURPLE yarn, and just started knitting . . . I actually still have that first piece - which most resembles a table-runner, I think. :)
How did you get started spinning?
I came across the YARN WENCH site and just loved her handspun yarn. I totally splurged and bought one of her skeins and I LOVED it. So, I started knitting with hand spun yarn, mostly hers. By the Trunk Show the following year - 2005 - I was there selling mostly hand knits and wearing a sweater I had knit! Then, Lynn (the Yarn Wench) started dyeing fiber and I just so loved her colors - they are truly amazing and inspiring - and I thought, well, if I could spin, I could get the fiber, spin the yarn, AND knit it. What I didn't quite expect is how much the spinning would take over! I try to continue to do both but admit that spinning has really become my first love. So, I am one of those who came from the knitting side of it TO the spinning. I have thought about dyeing, but quite honestly don't think I want to invest the time into it when there are so many great dyers already out there. I'd much rather use that time to spin - and knit!
As far as choosing fiber - I am most attracted by color. Then the type of fiber. I get almost all of my wool from the Yarn Wench, but also buy carded batts from several etsy sellers. I venture out sometimes and try new dyers, if the color or fiber strikes me, but especially now that I have to watch my fiber budget, have been sticking to my favorites. I do feel that spinning fiber dyed by other artists help keep my items "handmade" throughout the process. I also like supporting other independent artists and etsy sellers. At times I wish I could support more of them!
How did your business begin?
Well, I have had my own website for a long time but had only sold a couple of jewelry items from it. And, I had done a couple craft shows. But, in 2005, I heard about Etsy from a fellow librarian. She had a shop, which led me to the site and so I thought I would sign up. At first, I didn't make full use of it - I just listed my items and that was it. (And oh how I cringe at those first listings with the bad pictures! it's amazing I sold anything at all!)
Once I started spinning (in December of 2006) I really started putting more effort into both my own website AND my etsy shop. At the beginning of this year, I also separated out my hand knits into their own shop - kittygrrlzknits.etsy.com - so I could better promote the yarns vs. finished items. That first year with yarn - 2007 - I really focused on promoting on Etsy - I was in the forums and did showcases and just tried to establish a presence there. Towards the end of the year, though, and into this year, I started doing outside advertising - places like Ravelry and Knitty and on various blogs. I've also managed to snag a spot in one of the Etsy Co-op ads and just managed to get another one recently.
Did you set out from the beginning of it to be self-employed?
I started out selling jewelry in hopes it would give me some extra income - a "part-time" job that would help me feed my creative side. I never thought of it as just a way to "support my hobby" - I wanted it to be an actual business. So, I did a lot of the official things like registered my business name, applied for the tax id numbers, etc. (I'd already had the domain name - just had to put more effort into the website). To be honest, though, the jewelry thing didn't last long - and I don't think it would have worked out. I just didn't have what it took to make it a sustainable business. I threw a lot of money at it in an attempt, but when I started knitting . . . and especially when I started spinning . . . I thought, now THIS IS something I could do full-time.
What led to your self-employment? Did you quit a dayjob to do this full-time?
At the beginning of this year, things really started to pick up and I started to seriously consider if I could make it a full-time gig. Then, right around that time, I found out the project I was working on would be "over" by July 1, thus my job would be ending. This really cleared the path for the option to spin and knit full-time. Over those months, I debated it endlessly. I did apply to a couple jobs I felt I was qualified for, but I didn't apply for everything that came along. As time went on, it just seemed all signs were pointing to me doing this full-time, and who was I to argue with fate, right? There is a part of this that I want to express but am not sure how to word it. I'd always secretly wanted to do something creative full-time, but my obsessively practical side always won out. Which is weird given some of the other "leaps" I've made in my life. But, I always feared the uncertainty and loved the stability of my job. I'm also one who didn't HATE the job I had - I actually liked it quite a bit - so wasn't trying to escape a bad environment or anything like that. So, I hoped maybe some day I could do something like this, but just wasn't ready until everything aligned and made it obvious that NOW was the time!
How did you make that difficult decision?
After I found my job was ending, I looked for related jobs to my experience, applied for a few, but in the meantime I was having some of my best sales months EVER! It really seemed like now was the time, everything kept pointing to Kitty Grrlz full-time and NOT finding another library job. I didn't jump in totally unprepared, though. I knew I had some money saved. I knew I had options if things didn't work out. Back-up plans abounded! But, I also felt this was the time to make the leap! While I DID make the conscious decision to go full-time, I also have to be honest and say it also sort of came about on its own. What else was I going to do? Job ending, Etsy sales up? I think the main thing, though, is that if I didn't think I could make a go of spinning and knitting full-time, I probably would have stepped up the job search a bit.
Now that you are full-time, what’s a normal working day like?
Ha, I think the question should be, what would you LIKE it to be like, and what is it ACTUALLY like?
I really want to get on a normal schedule - similar to the one I had when I worked. I'd like to get up in the morning and do my Post Office run. Have my yogurt. Check my email/site/blog. Then, spin. Take a lunch break. Spin some more. Etc. . . . In reality, I've been sleeping much later than I should, and have been spinning into the wee hours of the morning! But, even with the schedule not being quite what I want, I have been working ALOT. My boyfriend warned me that I'd probably be working even MORE without the full-time job than with, and he was oh-so-right! I just finished a 3-day show which basically had me out of the house at 6am and not home until 7pm or later. I've got spinning to do, knitting for upcoming shows to do, pictures to take, items to list, etc. Last week I was basically working from about 8am to past midnight every day. I LOVE it, though!!
How is this different than before? Is it easier or harder to be creative in your full-time fiber artist schedule?
Since I am trying to keep a similar schedule as to when I was working, it isn't that much different - except for the timing, I guess. I am staying up much later! As for the creative part of it - I actually think it is the same if not a little easier to be creative since (in theory) I DO have more time to work on fibery pursuits. I have been cramming for shows the past two weeks, but now have 3 weeks before my next show - I am looking forward to being able to just spin and knit what I want - I have a huge list of what I want to do - ideas for new yarns, and things I want to try. So, creatively, i think it is better . . . I think the main difference can be summed up like this - When I had the full-time job, when I thought of something I'd want to spin, knit, or try - I'd have to wait until i got home and rarely I had time that day and it sometimes would be weeks or months before I got to it - NOW, when I think of something, I can just spin it if I want, or at least get the fiber out and ready to go. Last week, before my show, I was so tired of spinning bamboo. So, I decided I would try corespinning - and I DID! If I'd had the day job, I probably never would have gotten to it!
Can you explain the process from fiber to finished yarn? Do you plan it out ahead of time?
Well, this is sort of hard to answer. Usually, I start with a fiber and often times the fiber helps tell me what it wants to become - an art yarn, or something simpler? Or, maybe a Navajo 3ply? So, I start with the fiber which is very much related to color. Then, I prep it. Sometimes, while prepping, I will change my mind about how I'm going to spin it - if I think it's better suited for a different type of yarn I'll change my plan. On occasion, I may start with an idea of a project or type of yarn and then find a fiber to spin it - but I almost always start with the fiber. And, I almost always choose that fiber by color. For my FunctionArt yarns, the fiber is the first part and the second part are the yarns to spin in - which I take a lot of time in selecting. I look not only for color but also for texture and how I think they will work together with the fiber and each other. I just . . . think I "wing it" most of the time and just spin what inspires me at the moment. Or colors that I love.
How do you name your yarns?
First, I have different "types" of yarns - FunctionArt art yarns, Batt-tacular yarns spun from carded batts, Beautiful bamboo which is of course bamboo, etc. THEN each one has a colorway name. Sometimes these names come from the name of the fiber colorway (Lynn does name her colors, too, and often times they are so perfect I don't change them) and other times I name them things I think of - either inspired by the color or something that struck me while spinning it. I love the names, though, and while sometimes it is hard to come up with just the right one, will continue to name all of my yarns.
What do you wish you’d planned for before you went full-time?
Well, I think I had thought of a lot of things and was prepared, but looking back I'm not sure it was wise to take a vacation right at the beginning. We had planned it before any job decisions had been made, and I figured it may be the last chance for a vacation for awhile, but it really threw me off my schedule and routine. (It was a great vacation, though!)
What has surprised and delighted you about being a fiber artist?
Hmm . . . that I'm actually doing this??? There are times I just randomly think, "Oh my god, I don't have a job" . . . but, of course, I DO have a job, it's just different! Then there are the moments when my practical side screams, "What are you doing!?!?" But, I just love being able to spin all day!!
Anything else you want to add?
In reading Folktale's interview last week, I was struck by the fact that I, too, was such a writer when I was young! I wrote ALL the time, even up through college and even a bit once I was out. It really tapered off, though, once I started with the knitting and spinning . . . so i just love the connection of "spinning yarns" !