Be You & Shine Your Light Bright - Part 1: In Your Community

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I recently shared on social media about the challenging side of maker world. I'm humbled and overwhelmed by the messages I have received. After such an overwhelming response and realizing I am not alone in these experiences, I decided to expand on that social media post and talk about three of the biggest challenges of Maker World and what I have learned about them:

  • community aspect
  • defining our own self worth 
  • finding your tribe

Weighty stuff to be sure, but important stuff I think. I am splitting this up into 3 posts because it is a lot to process and I think each topic on their own is too important to gloss over.

So let's start with the community aspect.

I first heard the term “Maker” when I started my business Instagram account in January 2016. As I began to find other creative accounts this word kept popping up: “Maker”. Then, after I launched this blog in March 2016, I started to hear it A LOT.  Truly it seemed like “maker” this and “maker” that kept popping up everywhere. Along with social media accounts, Facebook groups also started coming across my suggestions feed.

And so many times “maker” was followed with the word “community”.

Now, community is a word I knew and was fond of. I had long been a supporter of building a community, not a following on other social media platforms. But this “Maker Community” was new and interesting. Have I stumbled upon some amazing group of creative people scattered all over the world but coming together online? Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: keep reading...

Sidebar: I will do a future post about being a “maker” but for this post I want to stay focused on the “Maker Community” aspect.

A year later I have come to think that by associating those two words “Maker” and “Community”, that a silent pressure is created and it actually, in my opinion, can be stifling to your own individual creative calling. Being part of a community is incredible. But so is our individual calling. You should not have to sacrifice one for the other and it concerns me that I see pressure to do so in groups and with hashtags like "community over competition".  I support and use the hashtag but worry it is misleading. You can, and should, have BOTH in harmony!

Personally, I love competition. It pushes us. It pushes ME. It makes us (me) do better. It inspires us (me) to work harder and achieve our (my)  best results. I also believe it is in our DNA. It is in fact instinctive.

Putting it scriptural:
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

I am also a huge fan of community, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I truly believe it is in  our best interest and it is our responsibility to be in community and be of service to one another.  Lifting people up comes naturally to me. I have been accused of "people pleasing" and "kissing up". Neither are true. I just find it natural to support people.

Putting it scriptural (again):
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.
Heb 10:24-25 (NLT)

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Gal 5:13 (NLT)

I am not trying to give you a sermon. I want to give you the basis of my belief. My ethos.

With this blog, for example, I want to impart my knowledge to you and share things that have helped me succeed as well as share failures that have taught me lessons. I am not worried about "giving it away" because ultimately, the core of my business is to best serve my customers and the community. It is just that simple.

I want to share my knowledge to support, encourage and empower you to make your own decision for YOUR journey. So, for example, when you ask how much should you charge for something you make, I can give you the well used and pretty standard pricing structure. I can tell you to look at what the “market” calls for in competitor pricing. I can suggest you charge what you think you're worth. I can suggest you charge what you think you can get. I can suggest lots of things.

Still, none of us are the same and no one can know all of someone else’s factors. Only YOU know what pricing formula works for you and your target market and your customer base and only YOU have to feel like you are satisfied at the end of a day. A dollar in New York City is not the same as a dollar in Peoria, Illinois for example so can you really charge the same in both? I don't know. That is for YOU to decide. This applies to all areas, not just pricing of your creations.

When we share knowledge, I think it should be given freely so that the person receiving it can then apply it (or not) as it suits their own course. Only you (or me for myself) can ever decide how to use information we receive.

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To me, this seems natural.  We are making handmade creations so it is natural to me that each business would be as unique as the “Maker” behind it.  No cookie cutter format works for all of us. This is what makes what we do so very very special: who we are as individuals. Maintaining that individual clarity is very freeing. These recent experiences have really taught me that.

So be that. BE YOU!

Still, being part of a community is equally awesome.  After all, in business or in personal journey, isn't it all about people, relationships and having an impact on each other? Life IS about community. It’s about adding value and serving each other well.

Having that resource for encouragement and support from people who are in the same trenches as you can be invaluable. Being able to shine YOUR light and bring something to your community is essential and fulfilling. It is about what we can do that adds value to the community that matters. We can only do that by being ourselves. By shining our OWN light. It is not about conforming but rather bringing something TO the community.

So do not dim your light so that others may shine. That is not what "Community of Competition" or being in community means. As I elaborated more in this post, it's not about self-deprecating humility where you knock yourself down just to lift others up. Nor is it about being equal.

Because the truth is that some businesses will not make it. For one reason or another that is a fact. You can root for them and support them but we all have a different path. Being part of a community does not mean helping another succeed at the expense of your own success. 

And while I am a huge fan of the COMMUNITY aspect, I am weary of things I have seen when pressure is applied to follow certain thoughts or methods or a process that may not work for all under the guise of "community over competition". I have to wonder if that truly serves the community or is that serving the agenda of THAT group leadership?

I have come to learn and accept, after much turmoil and these experiences, that all Maker groups are not for everyone. There are too many unknown undisclosed factors and agendas (whether it is to sell merchandise or get people to believe in or practice a certain methodology or something else) that work for some and maybe not for others. They serve a purpose to be sure but may not be a good fit for all. And that is ok.

I SAID: THAT IS OK.
(we will talk more about this in posts 2 & 3 of this series)

The journey to discover this for myself was bumpy and not without hurt, but I've got it now. And it is so important for those challenges to shape and help us grow and move forward. And just as important to share them so others can learn and grow.

So I encourage you to sharpen others. Shine YOUR light and lift others up. Serve your community well. Not at your own expense and not out of jealousy or hidden agendas but out of love and fellowship. Show compassion to those who may need it if they hurt you and add value where you can. THAT is the value of being in community. And the value of being YOU!

I go back to that scripture:

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.
Heb 10:24-25 (NLT)

 

 

Rhinebeck Newbie

It's that time of year. Looking back over the past and maybe making a list of what you want your 2018 to look like. Maybe you need more of this in your life?

Have you heard people bring up "Rhinebeck" in conversation and wonder what the heck they were talking about? And why they said it while gazing wistfully into the distance? I first heard the it uttered during the load-out of a Broadway show I was working on. Someone was happy the show closed before "Rhinebeck" so she could attend, because otherwise she wouldn't have been able to get time off to go. So - she was happy to be unemployed because it meant she could attend an event that wasn't a wedding, family vacation, graduation, etc. I thought, "This thing must be pretty awesome."

I'm definitely more of a sewist than a knitter/crocheter but I'm curious about all kinds of fiber arts. So, of course, I googled. The official name is New York State Sheep and Wool Festival and it began in 1980. It's held on the Duchess County Fairgrounds in beautiful Rhinebeck, NY (hence the nickname) on the third full weekend in October every year.  Workshops, competitions, livestock displays, and vendors, vendors, vendors. It makes me think of my county fair days back in Ohio - but much more colorful! I'm lucky to live about an hour away from Rhinebeck so I thought it would be fun to check it out for myself. I'm so glad I did...

I had work-work on Saturday morning (and was getting over the flu) so I wasn't able to go that day, which is the 'big day.' I was originally bummed about this but there was still PLENTY to see on Sunday. Looking back, I think it was a good thing I had to go on the second day of the festival. I overheard that Saturday was their highest attendance EVER so I would've just been dealing with that and not able to see the loveliness. As a vendor told me, "My advice for first timers is this: Look on Saturday, buy on Sunday." I don't know how I would've been able to hold back but I think it's good advice!

I grabbed a friend and hit the road early. We made a stop on the way to real-life meet some lovely people: @vanessa_knits, @premknits, @sere_k_nity, @knittysknittycreation and @lnsandbe. They all attended Saturday and were heading out. I wish we could've visited more but there was just time for a quick meet/visit and some festival coaching from the ladies. They made me feel much better about being a first-timer and what to expect.

The "festival" part of the name of this event is so appropriate. There really is a fun, festive air to the entire scene. It takes place on a picturesque fairgrounds and there are so many makers, doing their thing and excited to meet other makers. Along with the over-200 vendors, there are competitions, livestock displays, demonstrations, workshops, book signings, an equipment auction and even kids' activities. Pace yourself!

I didn't take any workshops and I (regretfully) did not get to see the canine frisbee demonstrations, but I did walk around aaall the vendor booths. I thought it would be the best way to get a real overview of why a maker would be so excited to go to Rhinebeck. Let me tell you - I get it! As you may expect, the majority of vendors were yarn-focused. I found one lone sewing booth (Hi Brooklyn Haberdashery!) along with many rug-hooking and roving vendors. If you are looking to pick up any new skill that involves wool, this event will start you on your way. I've always wanted to start needle felting so I was in heaven. (And I later heard from a co-worker the roving prices were great, which made me feel better after the fact because I bought a few big puffy bunches of it!)

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I've always wanted to start needle felting so I was in heaven.

Not to doubt your superhero abilities but YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER ANYTHING. That yarn you saw just as you were leaving and had already hit your spending limit but maybe you'll find later on-line? Gone to history... A system I've used on some vacations is to take a photo of the sign of every landmark/park/attraction before I take any photos at the landmark/park/attraction. That way my organizing is done for me and I don't have to stop to write notes. I didn't take my own advice at Rhinebeck and I'm kicking myself now. And remember to clear out your phone storage before you go! I did manage to pick up many, many business cards. One of the great parts of an event like this is discovering new stores and sources.

I heard many vendors taking orders to ship items direct to customers. Many stalls were even set up as more display/touch-and-feel areas than straight-up shopping areas, which I thought was a good move. The staff was free to really talk to people and take time with them instead of working around the crowd while trying to restock. Some vendors bring special Rhinebeck-y items that are limited edition (keep an eye out on Instagram in the weeks leading up to the big event) so definitely seek those out and pick them up if you want the special kit or limited-edition yarn for that year. But don't be shy to ask someone working the booth if you want to order something and if they have any deals on shipping. 

Many vendors have gift items for display as well. Finished garments and projects, decorative objects and toys share space with materials and supplies. Next time I'll budget for holiday gifts as well as my craft materials. 

My favorite unexpected discovery was Sweitzer's Fiber Mill. It was my first time seeing corn, soybean and mint yarn! (Yes, I smelled it and, yes, they caught me.) They were very nice people. Their focus seems to be on fiber processing but they had some lovely items of their own to offer (see above photos). Some of the colors were inspired by the photographs of the owners' daughter, Lilli. Hence the name "Lilli's Rainbow Yarns." Hearing that definitely tugged at my mama heartstrings. Unfortunately, I found them late in the day after I'd spent my budget.  I didn't buy anything on the spot but I'm looking forward to buying some of their yarn in the future.

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Yup.

I Ran my fingers through that.

A word about festival merchandise: If getting the tote bag, t-shirt, etc. is important to you, think about taking advantage of the pre-sale and pick up option available on the festival's website. I saw a 'Sold Out' sign on the merchandise tent for multiple items. And why wait in line to buy something you already know you want? This is the Super Bowl of Yarn for many people - you may find yourself being one of them!

As with any large event, planning is key: There are many, many small buildings spread out over the grounds (among vendors set up outside buildings along the walking paths) and it's easy to get overwhelmed. In the week before the festival, I took some time and wrote down the names, building numbers and stall numbers of the vendors I didn't want to miss. While I was at the festival, I realized the stall numbers weren't very helpful. The stall numbers aren't displayed as clearly as the vendor's name, so it ended up being extra information I couldn't use. The program that is provided with admission is fantastic. It has a great map and a full list of vendors. 

Some nitty gritty stuff...Parking was free and very well-organized. I saw only one small water fountain so plan to either buy water or haul around a lot. The bathrooms were excellent but, given the fact this event attracts a majority of female attendants, there were lines as the day wore on. The fairgrounds are very well-maintained with paved paths that can be navigated easily. As per usual in this part of the country, the terrain is hilly but I did see people in wheelchairs and motorscooters that were getting around without difficulty. There's a bag check! I personally like to lug around my purchases in order to keep spending in check, but that may not work for everyone. 

This event is very popular (and not in a major metropolitan area) so housing options fill up quickly. If you are really excited to attend, book workshops and a hotel ASAP. (As a guideline, workshop registration this year opened on June 1.) I am lucky to live within driving distance but I heard that all hotels within a 30 minute drive were sold out. Also, in case you didn't hear, Indie Untangled hosts a trunk show the Friday night before Rhinebeck in a hotel near (but separate from) the main event. I heard it was a busy, busy place but definitely for good reason.

The booths get very, very, very crowded very, very quickly. As lovely as fiber artists are in general, I did experience some light jostling ... I'm not going to say shoving. Maybe because it was Sunday and people were filling out their shopping lists. Who's to say? Also, I'm going to wait until my daughter is around 7 or 8 to share the Rhinebeck shopping experience with her. She's beyond stroller age but I witnessed some heated exchanges around a stroller in a booth and would not like to put either of us through a similar experience if I can help it. If I do choose to take her with me next time, I would bring along someone to sit with her, watch the sheepdog shows, take her to the petting zoo and let her visit with lamas.

Oh, and a veeeery yarn-y friend of mine directed me to this post before I went and I found it helpful.

i'm guessing that face was made because I was high on wool fumes.

i'm guessing that face was made because I was high on wool fumes.

Just to finish things off, here's the roundup of my purchases. Lots of colorful roving from Bartlett Yarns, sashiko needles from Brooklyn Haberdashery (two different lengths!), and lovely white fluffiness from Twist of Fate Spinnery. Oh, and some yarn from Dragonfly Fibers

the obligatory haul photo...yup, i'm a sucker for roving.

the obligatory haul photo...yup, i'm a sucker for roving.

I'm so glad I made time to visit this lovely event. It really has it all - beautiful scenery, passionate attendees, and sheep!

Me & Milo Together Again: My New Collaboration With Manos Del Uruguay

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This may be one of my favorite collaboration projects ever and I am honestly having a hard time containing my excitement enough to even type this up. Let me start here: I LOVE MANOS DEL URUGUAY Fibers. Period. This is my second design collaboration with Manos Del Uruguay Milo and it is still mind blowing that I get to work with them.

So let me take some time to tell you why and then you too can fall in love.

Manos Del Uruguay has been a creative fair trade leader for over 40 years. Started by a cooperative of women, who became the first to fully fund a local kindergarten in their town, Manos is more than just great yarn. The brand and company represent the very ethos this blog is about: feeding and seeding back into the community.

On top of that awesome mission, their yarns are simply drool worthy. I have not tried them all yet, but I plan to. Currently continuing my love affair with Milo which is an incredible merino wool & linen blend. The fiber is so interesting because it works up creating a textile that is soft and comfortable and luxurious and just a delight to wear. Milo creates a drape that is luxurious and perfect for any garment.

This design is inspired by the history of Manos Yarns. I wanted to create a piece that has texture and shape but  can be for every woman. A piece that can celebrate the journey. I named it the Montevideo Pullover simply as a tribute to how Manos del Uruguay began in 1968 at a local market in the city of Montevideo. I knew what I wanted to create and feel I have achieved it.

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In the beginning I was torn about whether to crochet or knit to create my vision. But after a few swatches I knew crochet was the ticket.

I wanted to create something where the maker and wearer could have fit options. Some may wear it as a snug fitted dress. Some a loose winter dress with boots. Some as a pullover poncho. I wanted to crate something that could be as diverse as those who would create and wear it. Crochet allowed me to have that flexibility exactly as I had envisioned.


The textile and fabric came together like a dream. I added in a few details to give it that little something special. I had recently been experimenting with random pops of stitch changes and this was the perfect project to put that into action. I love how it came out.

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This design came together over a few months and of course took on a path of its own. It is quite a gift that I had some personal travel planned during the same time I was working on this project because it inspired the stitches along the way. So yes, this design has some miles on it. I worked on it in New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago and many places in between.

I could not be more pleased with how this design came out. It is more than I envisioned. It is more than I hoped. It is truly a design for every woman and I think that celebrates what the Manos Del Uruguay mission is all about: making something for ALL!

Thank you again to the Manos Del Uruguay team for allowing me the honor of this collaboration.


And because I love it so much and I know you will too I am offering up the Free Pattern on the blog. Want me to make you one? OK - order it here!

Finding Your Fiber Community!

This is such a fun fiber story and the perfect follow up to The Secret To Social Media Success post. One night, in the wee hours when I should have been sleeping but was up late crocheting away, I took a break and hopped on Instagram. I LOVE the Instagram "discover" feature. Have you used it? I can honestly say I have found some of my favorite accounts and fiber friends using this feature. It is such a great way to truly randomly discover new people.  And one such person is Alex Reynoso, of Alex Creates.

It must have been about 1:30 am my time which meant it was even later for him and he was listening to some amazing music and knitting and spinning his fibers. I thought I had hit the Instagram "discover" jackpot trifecta: A fellow New Yorker, A fiber artist AND listens to great music. So I messaged him and struck up a conversation. Of course, my very first question was: "What are you listening to?". "Childish Gambino" he replied. "WHO?" I answered. And just like that I hit up the iTunes, bought some great new music and had a new fiber friend.

Over time I got to chat with Alex more and discover his fibers. I had never purchased indie hand dyed yarn over the internet or social media (more on that in a future post) but this seemed like a good time to take that leap. Especially because Alex is one of the few indie dyers to offer chunky fibers. So I reached out, clicked his website and bought some of his luscious hand dyed ombres.

I was not disappointed. The colors are so vibrant and fabulous and the weight of the yarn is somewhere between worsted and chunky which is a great hat and scarf weight. It has a great texture too. I really love the way the yarn worked up for my hat giving the illusion of Fair Isle without having to do the work to create Fair Isle color changes. That is a dang nice bonus! I wish there was a bit more of the color in the ombre. The hat was perfect but I ended up frogging the scarf because it was just so much ivory. So I went with making 2 hats, which I just love. I may make a scarf out of all the left over yarn and ivory from those skeins. I haven't decided yet. I really love the texture of the fiber so hate it to go to waste.  I have some holiday plans for the green ombre I got too. 

And, I am very excited that Alex wanted to team up with me & Vanessa of Vanessa Knits for our Urban Jungle Collaboration featuring 3 designs inspired by the awesomeness of New York City. Two knits and one crochet.  Read more about the collaboration here.

The fibers for this collaboration range from fingering weight to chunky and are just delicious. The color scheme for this collaboration is the perfect depiction of the concrete but beautiful urban jungle New York City is.  The first design of the 3 piece collection is the Gotham Nights Scarf by Vanessa Knits, to be followed by a chunky cowl and a spring crochet wrap. The perfect accessories for you to make and enjoy!

I am so thankful it was just my good fortune to be wandering the halls of Instagram in the wee hours on a crochet break. So if you have not yet hit the instagram discover link, what are you waiting for? You never know what inspiration or friend you may find! Or have you already found new fiber friends through the discover feature? Would love to hear your stories below in the comments!

 

The Secret To Social Media Success

I was recently included in a list of people who make social media better. It was incredibly humbling and I am honored. Not just because it was created by a professional content creator and marketer, but because it is really a message about social media and what makes it work. Especially for small brands. The secret sauce? Just Be Social.

For real. That is it. Seems simple right? I mean the thing is called SOCIAL Media. But yet it is not simple. I see so many struggle. Let me break it down for you & get real. Ready?

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Social Media is not a broadcast radio network. It is not a television channel for you to just run ads and broadcast content. It is full of noise from blind random contributors. Post & run is NOT a strategy. Sure you CAN do that. But there is minimal payoff (if any) and that is not what it is about. It is about people. Period.

Social Media is an amazing thing and yes there are lots of strategies and marketing perspectives out there. I may or may not agree with some of them. But for me? For my brand?  I look at it slightly different than most. Yes, it is marketing. Yes, it is a way to reach new audience. But most important, it is a way to CONNECT. Let me take it to you from a different perspective. The Grandpa Small Business owner perspective.

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My hero is my grandpa and my small business, 144 Stitches, is named after him. When I was a kid, one of my fave things to do was skip school and hang out with my him. I spent most weekends with him as a toddler and he became my best bud as I grew up. In fact, looking back, I probably learned more applicable life lessons from those days with him than in any classroom!

He was a cool dude let me tell you. He had swagger before swagger was even cool to have!  Somewhat older in years, he was a businessman in New York City. I did not really know what that was, a "businessman", but knew someday I wanted to be it too because I wanted to be as much like him as humanly possible.

One of the businesses my grandfather owned was a paper goods company. No, this isn’t glamorous, but we never ran out of napkins or plates so there’s that bonus. This business stood out to me, not because of the products but, because of the people.

I used to go with him when he would stop by stores who carried his product on those days I skipped school to hang out with him. Grandpa gave me a nickel or dime to go play at “the machines” and he would go about his business talking to store clerks, shopkeepers and owners about business, their families and life in general. It always seemed like these were his friends, not  customers. He knew their families and I played with their kids. Some came over to the apartment for poker games or dinner.

I also distinctly recall when we would ride down the streets and Avenues of Harlem and the Bronx, where he worked and had his warehouse, in his silver Cadillac with his custom tags, that people would yell out his name and wave as we passed by. They knew him and they knew his car. “Hey Mr. Al” or “Yo, Mr. G” they would say. It made me feel proud because he was clearly loved by so many.

I always thought it was interesting just how many people knew him.
Was he famous? No.
Was he a hero? Only to me.
Was he a politician? Nope, not even close.
He was a neighborhood businessman and that was his turf. Those were his people!

I always wanted that. Not for the fame and money - I wanted those connections. It left an impact and imprint on me.

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When I started my business as an online store I was crushed a little bit inside. I knew I would never have what he had. Without a cash register or storefront how would I make those neighborhood and customer connections? Who would I have a cup of coffee with or bring flowers to for their wife after birth of a child? How would I achieve those relationships? I had achieved only a small piece of the dream by starting my business.

Then I had an epiphany. I CAN HAVE THAT! Just different.

When I started managing my own brand I decided to do it differently than the norm and make it what I had thought I missed out on and social media became my store front. My “neighborhood”. I can go days on twitter without mentioning my products. Just interacting with people and building those connections.

It is not an easy task and I will tell you it takes work for sure. You can't force it. Just like opening shop in a neighborhood, starting out on social media is a slow build.  But it can be done. I am in fact creating an updated modern online version of the connections and relationships like my grandpa had.   

My platform of choice is Twitter, though I thoroughly enjoy Instagram as well.  Each is different and gives me different audiences. It is like having two store locations!

While I do post and share my links to products and special sales events, I do not use social media to spam people with my offerings or as a broadcast channel.  I have seen small businesses with twitter accounts that are merely link farms or post only products and sale info. Sell. Sell. Sell. Look at this product. And now look at that one. Look at this celebrity client endorsing me. And now look at this. That is broadcasting and not connecting.

It isn’t really the social media experience I wanted for my customers, or for me. I want something with meat on the bone. So I deliberately made an effort and started tweeting about NON business related things. Let that sink in for a minute.

Seems to go against the purpose right? Nope. It IS the purpose!  I use social media as a relationship builder to get to know people. I use it to JUST BE SOCIAL. Revolutionary right?

If there is a television show I enjoy, I tweet with people about those shows. If I need a break in my day I join a twitter chat. I like fitness and am a FitFluential ambassador, so I tweet about that. I tweet about things that interest me and engage with others who have interests like mine. In doing so I have developed and cultivated relationships, friendships, and yes, customers too.


When people I tweet with or interact with on Instagram come to meet me at my shows it is so incredibly awesome. These are just a few special moments out of many many more when I get to connect offline with my online neighborhood.

I love when I do events and people come to see me not just to shop but also people who I have connected with on social media. It is still surreal.  I think to myself, "You came just to see ME" and I am so grateful. I have met amazing people. And yes, some jerks. But hey, the world is a big place and there is an unfollow button available to us.

Social media is what we make it. I have decided to make it my neighborhood.

I have met some of my closest friends via social media. I have a group of women I mentor, all met through social media. I have connected with other small businesses for partnerships through social media. I have launched a campaign to give the homeless hats and scarves, through social media. and yes, I have made sales. In 2016 ... ONE THIRD of my sales traced directly back to social media somehow. So yes, I AM building that business but also building so much more.

If you are looking to use social media as a broadcasting tool then I have no advice for you. If you are looking to use social media to connect, grow and engage with people then I say pull up a chair and join the conversation!

When I spoke at an Etsy event on turning Twitter into my shop storefront people were amazed and so many noted how it never occurred to them.  They wanted to know how to use Twitter or Instagram as a marketing channel. I wanted to teach them how to use it as a SOCIAL channel. Those two are related for a small business. At least, my grandpa would say they are.

So what is the secret to social media? Just like my friend Joel Renner says: #JustBeSocial

The Urban Jungle Collaboration Series

OH YA KNOW, HANGING OUT IN MY URBAN JUNGLE - AT THE PLAYGROUND NYC STYLE

OH YA KNOW, HANGING OUT IN MY URBAN JUNGLE - AT THE PLAYGROUND NYC STYLE

Anyone who knows me for more than five minutes knows I am New York City born and bred. I wear it with pride. I am old school NYC too, pre-gentrification & beautification and escalated rent rates. Back when graffiti wasn't just an art but it was tagging up the subways and claiming territories like flags in the air. Back when riding the subway was both efficient and risky. Back when I was the only white girl in Harlem on any given day when I went to hang out with my grandpa when he visited his businesses. Most of my childhood memories, rough around the edges as they may be, are in the landscape of NYC. My city and the one that shaped me. It is so much a part of my DNA.

I have traveled the world and lived in many post codes. Just like Jenny from the block Jennifer Lopez will always be from the Bronx, I will always be NYC baby. No matter where I am, I am a New Yorker.

So it is no surprise that it was only a matter of time before the roots of my being and the city I love became the focal point for a collection. But this is not just any collection. This may be one of the most incredible undertakings I have been blessed to be part of. Because just like NYC is truly a melting pot of people and inspirations, so is this project. I have teamed up with fellow NYC fiber artist Alex Reynoso of Alex Creates and Vanessa Black of Vanessa Knits to create a series and collection inspired by that great Urban Jungle: New York City.

OK, yes, Vanessa is a Jersey Girl. But hey... we love her and she has them good East Coast Vibes. So we let her pay the toll to cross the river and join us on this adventure.

The collection consists of a limited series of designs by myself, Vanessa and showcases Alex's hand dyed fibers. Alex may even toss in a design of his own. Each Kit will be available in limited quantity while supplies last. When they are gone they are gone.  Check the kits out below as they each become available.

The first design & kit is the Gotham Nights Scarf. It is simply magnificent. Inspired by the New York City Skyline and how the city literally lights up on a clear night, Alex carried that sparkle over in to the fiber. He created a magical colorway that translates the Gotham Nights perfectly.

As Vanessa began to work up this super scarf, Gotham Night Sky quickly took shape.

Vanessa says: "This design was inspired by the NYC skyline at night. It starts with the glistening sparkle in the gray, cement sidewalk. As you raise your eyes you see the skyscrapers lit up with a yellow glow from the lights inside. Finally, you look up to the night sky - dark, but still able to spy the twinkling lights of the stars above. Made in fingering weight yarn, this exaggeratedly long scarf can be wrapped around multiple times for added warmth or worn loosely as a statement piece."

And what it is ... is  more than a statement. It is a MASTERPIECE!!! Get the Kit here.

 

Kit Shop Featured Maker: Vanessa Knits

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You guys: I could not be more excited about the December 2017 Featured Maker: Vanessa of Vanessa Knits. OK so I will just tell you that I adore her as a human being. I admire her as a fellow woman in small biz. And, I am constantly inspired & blown away by her knitting ninja skills. The woman CAN KNIT!

I got to meet and laugh and knit with Vanessa when she came to our first Stitch Up Chicago event in February. And it has basically been a fiber love fest ever since not to mention all the love and friendship she showed me when I lost my Sadie. This woman is the real deal y'all!

So yeah I was beyond thrilled when Vanessa wanted to be part of the Kit Shop Maker Cooperative. I mean HECK YEAH! And wait until you see all what she has in store for us. In fact, we have teamed up with another indie fiber friend for a very special collaboration. But more on that coming soon. So stay tuned and for now check out Vanessa's kits in The Kit Shop and enter below to win the Super Maeve Cowl Kit!

Now, let's get to know miss Vanessa a bit more when I ask he the Stitch & Hustle Maker 5 Questions:

1. Tell us your name and a little about your craft and business.

I am Vanessa Coscarelli Black. I've been crocheting for over twenty five years and knitting for about seventeen.  I have had a crochet hook or knitting needles in my hands for as long as I can remember! My small business is VanessaKnits and my focus as of late has been to design modern, yet classic knits that have visually appealing textures. I come from a long line of makers and am proud to continue the maker lifestyle into the next generation.  I am a Jersey girl, a wife, mother, animal lover and the original #minimamamaker !

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2. What inspired you to start your handmade adventure?

I was blessed to grow up in a family of makers in a variety of industries.  Using one's hands to make was a necessity in my parents and grandparents generations -- there was no money to simply go to the store to buy a new dress -- you had to make it!  No contractor to call when the walls needed repairs -- you did it yourself!  This "do it yourself" mentality has always been very appealing to me.  I find that makers, no matter what field they are in, are bright, creative and innovative.  Being around tailors, painters, mechanics, shoemakers, contractors, etc my whole life was a huge influence in how I got to become a maker by profession.
 

3. What is your one favorite thing about what you do? 

I had a VP level role in a big financial services firm for years and although that work was fulfilling in a different way, the maker role is completely different.   I love that after a few hours of work I have something tangible to show for my time. Something that will be gifted, keep someone warm or teach them to learn a new skill.  This is all very rewarding to me.

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4. What is one goal you have for this season? How are you doing with that goal?

For the winter season (but really 2018) my knitting goals are to learn brioche and knit my first pair of socks.  I bought the needles to knit socks and lots of yarn -- that's a good start, right?

 

5. Since this is about community, what other makers inspire you (can be any maker field, does not have to be fiber arts of course)?

Oh my goodness, there are SO many but here's a few (and please know that I could easily list 100 more)!  This account @stitchandhustle for cultivating a community of makers who are empowered to take their businesses to the next level. @premknits for her ability to teach knitting skills to newbies via her patterns -- and her awesome yarn dyeing skills.  @sere_k_nity for being a supportive friend who finally succumbed to my peer pressure and released her first pattern to much success! @kittysknittycreation who not only is a wonderful knitter, crocheter and macrame artist, but also works as an RN which is probably one of the most important jobs of all. @mutzebyashley because she had the balls to invest in high quality fibers for her knitted pieces and it is paying off! @tripleknotstudio for being able to manage three kids, a job outside the house and her maker business flawlessly.  @maisondene who's sweater designs are so wearable and whose photography is always stunning. @bristolivy who I aspire to knit and design as well as (give me another 25 years or so 😅). @allaboutami who was the first crochet blogger I started following years ago and who now has grown her presence exponentially. @tina.say.knits who is undoubtedly one of the most talented knitters in her age group I've ever come across. @kristyglassknits for making a YouTube channel dedicated to interviews with fiber artists -- Seriously, check it out!  @boylandknitworks and @dreareneeknits who are two of the most talented knitwear designers -- they're basically knitting geniuses!  Finally, @terrefermepottery who creates one of a kind pieces of ceramic vessels that convey to the buyer the amount of meditative skill required to make such a piece.

Last but not least… Link us up baby! How can people connect with you:

Website: www.vanessaknits.com
Etsy Shop: Vanessaknits
Facebook: www.facebook.com/vanessaknits
Instagram: @vanessaknits
Ravelry: vanessaknits615

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The Handmade Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Ok you guys... in an ideal world I would make every single gift I ever give. But let's be honest... that is just not possible. Plus, I like to give things I may not know how to make and support other artisans and makers buying from them. So I am still giving the gift of handmade (but made by a fellow creative and their hands not my own). With holiday mayhem, Black Friday and Cyber Monday and deals abound, I wanted to take a minute to share with you some of my fave handmade gifts ideas. Click each photo below to be taken to the shop directly.

Flowers are such a great hostess gift if you are going to a party or dinner. How about a handmade twist. If you follow me on social media, you know the wooden handmade flowers I have are one of the most valuable and important things I own. In that spirit,  I bought these from Stephanie at Triple Knot Studio and LOVE them. They are made so well, and she gives such care to shipping. A perfect gift that lasts a lifetime.

 

Want a little razzle dazzle? How about the perfect gift for your crochet or knit loving maker friend something that is really special? Check out this beaded hand dyed yarn from VanessaKnits. The color is one amazing aspect but then the pop and sheen of the sporadic beading makes it really just so special. 

 

One of my favorite things about being in a community surrounded by other talented peeps, is how I also get to support them Tanya posted this hat on Instagram one day and I instantly knew I had to have it. Sure I can get the colors and make my own but chances are it would look different and why copy when I can get the real deal from the original designer? Tanya so graciously sent me one and I have literally worn it nearly every cold day since. IT IS MY FAVORITE HAT EVER. Get one for yourself or if you run out of time to make all the gifts, get one for someone else!

 

The Sexy Knitter Tool Kit is in my bag and the perfect gift for makers on the go. I cannot tell you how many times I have been so happy to have this handy kit in my bag! You can get them in a variety of fun sayings and images on the tin cover. I love the mini sheep tape measure too.

 

 

Three things I NEVER leave home without: My yarn, my favorite TooShayCrochetHook handmade hook and my knitting project bag with my Clever Cove pins. For real.. this is me putting each in use while at a Coldplay concert. The bag is perfect and I decorated it with two of the cutest pins from the Clever Cove Shop on Etsy. . The hooks are my favorite because not only are they handcrafted wood handles, but the paint and design is just so special. I have a full set!

I have been a fan of my handmade crochet hook cases from Soyun Park ever since I got my first one a few years ago. I now have three - 2 for hooks and one for knitting needles. Soyun always does an amazing job with detail and her works stands up to my every day use. I LOVE THEM! If you have a special maker in your life or want to truly treat yourself, I cannot recommend Soyn's cases enough!

 

 

If you follow me on social media then you know one of my favorite things is my mug collection. It is not just fun, but really encouraging throughout the day to have a bit of fuel on a mug with a message. The one that started it all, this blog and my gusto if you will, is my Create. Hustle Repeat. mug from Small Glow. I am such a fan of Zenia and her maker small biz Small Glow. She took some time off after the birth of her new baby but is back with a whole new line of Boss Babe gear that is the perfect gift for all your maker tribe. And even for yourself!

 


If you are looking to to stat an amazing new project  then check out the kits from Mama Knows Luxury. Because trust me, Sarah (mama) KNOWS! I myself am currently working up something fun with her big merino wool and I tell you that this would be such a treat to get as a gift. For real... this is so much fun that you may want to get a kit for yourself. I have designed home items. accessories, and am working on a poncho now. SO MUCH FUN TO BE HAD WITH THESE!!!


So there you have it... awesome handmade finds for people who love handmade or even to Treat Yo’self this holiday season.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS !!!! 
xoxo
Michele
 

A Hedgehog & A Butterly For A Perfect Match

One of the most exciting things about the internet and social media is the world it opens to us. As a small business and fiber enthusiast I find it especially exciting (and freakishly overwhelming at times). I have had the pleasure of connecting with some incredible fellow fiber friends. One such fiber find is Hedgehog Fibres.

For about 6 months I had seen the vibrant colorways created by Beata Jezek's Hedgehog Fibers stream across my social media feed. Bright colors. Bold combinations. All of it so exciting. And what I love most about Hedgehog colorways is they are fearless. They scream personality. They are, in essence, me in a fiber. 

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So when I got the opportunity to collaborate with Hedgehog for the Galway Shawl, well yeah... I was kind of stoked. OK, I WAS SUPER STOKED! I may have run around to all my fiber friends so excited saying "GUESS WHAT I GET TO DO". My friend Laura may or may not be able to confirm this ;-)

Now I want to say something about the team at Hedgehog: I have so much respect for how this collaborative process has progressed. Every detail was met with ease and attention. It was not a matter of "let's send you some yarn and make something". Oh no, they care about every bit of the makers that will get their fibers. They care about their customers and makers and creating things to best serve them. It is such an honor to work with such an amazing team. After a few emails to talk about inspiration and colors and texture we landed on the Aran Merino base and a crochet shawl inspired by the flight of a butterfly and the colors of the fields in fall in her Pod colourway. All was set for a collaboration of beauty.


When the yarn arrived I was BLOWN away. The colors are way more vibrant in person (like how is that possible???) and even my friend Laura said "THEY GLOW"! I mean Beata must have some magic in those dye pots in Ireland. I seriously could not stop looking at the colors. When I wound it up to cake the skeins they kept the vibrancy too.

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I love the weight and texture of this fiber. It works up so easily and is not clunky. As a crocheter and a knitter I am always excited about yarns that work well for both. This yarn is one of those. The design itself went through a few tweaks and changes along the way to get the drape and shape that I envisioned.

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Once I settled on the shape though, it flowed with ease creating my vision.  A vibrant butterfly emerged and I could not wait to block this beauty.

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A drop of my fave Eucalan in the blocking bucket with some water followed by a quick soak and my butterfly was ready to rest and let her stitches settle.

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You know the saying a watched pot never boils? Well I am sure there is a saying "the watched block never dries". I kept checking but had to leave this beauty on the blocking mats overnight. In the morning though, the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen emerged and the drape and shape are perfection. I could not wait to wear it and show to my local fiber friends.

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And now - The Hedgehog Fibers team and I want to share this beautiful collaboration with YOU! You can get the free pattern here and enter below to win a KIT to make your very own:  yup 2 skeins of this beautiful fiber, hook, pattern and toggle. And check out Hedgehog Fibers. Make your world a little more colorful!

Truly The Heart Of Mine

I was so excited when Wool And The Gang asked me if I wanted to try the new crochet kit for the Heart Of Mine Jumper. Like excited is probably an understatement. I may have squealed in excitement! I mean come on... the honor of them asking me to try a kit... and a CROCHET Kit. Yes... EXCITEMENT!

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Ok so first I have to tell you that even though knitting has become a mainstay in my life, my first love and passion will always be crochet. So whether they ask me to review a kit or not, Wool And The Gang offers some of the most fun and awesome crochet kits. As a hooker these are not always easy to find. So I was already a fan and have made several of their kits. (See all their awesome crochet kits here). Anyways... back to this gem.

When the kit arrived I was blown away. I had just finished designing my Tuckoe Knit Scarf using Wool And The Gang Wool so was excited to switch to a crochet project. PLUS... SO MUCH COZY! They send enough for all sizes. Not all companies do this so I was really excited about that and the option to make any size I wanted. I could not wait to dive in.

The pattern was super clear and easy to follow. The diagrams helped when I had to add the sleeves. Their construction is a bit different than how I design garments so those diagrams helped. It worked up so fast that I made a whole sweater in a single day. I could not believe it. I blocked it - assembled it and have already gotten more yarn to start another.

And now - the most awesome folks at Wool And The Gang are giving one of you guys a Heart of Mine Jumper Kit Too!!! YES!! HOW AWESOME!!!! Enter below and if you don't want to wait to see if you win, Wool And The Gang is giving our community 20% off their Crazy Sexy Wool AND my all time favorite Shiny Happy Cotton Yarn AND ALL THE KITS!!!! WHAT?? Yup - use code 144Stitches through Sunday 11/19/17 at midnight.

Thanks WATG for always keeping crocheters in mind and yes, you have that Heart of Mine ;-)

Oh Gemma!

Oh my oh my the celebration of our November Featured Maker: The Queen Stitch continues with a bang. Exclusive to the Stitch & Hustle Kit Shop is the Tweed Gemma Kit.

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The kit features Deluxe DK Tweed Superwash Wool from Universal Yarn. Katie has come up with a kit that allows you to make not one, but TWO Gemma Scarves!

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What I love most about this is that unlike many triangle scarves, the Gemma is proportioned just so and makes a perfect wrap on those colder days.

And... In a doubly awesome opportunity you can win a Gemma Scarf made by Katie herself or the Kit to make your very one. Now that is some awesome! Enter either or both giveaways below and check out the Gemma Kit here.

So much awesomeness!!!!




Kit Shop Featured Maker: The Queen Stitch

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Although my business name is The Queen Stitch, my real name is Katie - and I’m the featured Kit Shop maker for the month of November! I am primarily a crocheter, though I’ve recently learned to knit, embroider, and weave. Crochet is my first love, and we’re in an open relationship. So, while I play with other crafts for a little while to clear my creative headspace, I always go back to crochet. Colorful, fun, inclusive, flirtatious, I see no reason why knitwear can’t be all of these things at once, and so I wanted to prove it – thus the Queen Stitch was born. My designs are usually a bit different in terms of structure, texture and color. Some of my favorite designs are a flamingo halter top, a lemon wedge bralette, and a backless sweater.

I first connected with Michele of Stitch+Hustle after she reached out to me about my women’s march protest vest, which read “I am more than my pussy, but she great” and I was honored to contribute to her blog! This will be my second contribution and I am so proud of her, the community inclusion in the kit shop, and all the fun projects that will come out of it.

My pieces are inspired by a lot of pop art and cartoons. Sometimes I’ll see a pin or a print on Instagram and think to myself – I could crochet that. That’s how the lemon wedge bralette came into being. I follow a marketing artist called @lizzie_darden, and she made lemon slices and sticks of sage look like a bikini, and I was like… doin’ it! I follow a lot of artists on Instagram – I think it’s about 50/50 of fiber arts to other types, and it’s usually these others that inspire my best knitwear!

 

 

 

 

 

 Though, I remember I saw a hot pink crochet kink outfit by @hanaquist that changed my life. Every new strange onesie photo in the wilderness by @lordvonschmitt - I really wish I could go camping with him and all his gorgeous models! I just bought this bare breast knit top from @responsivetextiles that made me the belle of the house party the other weekend. I could go on… I am just so continuously in awe of all the makers in the community.

 

I sometimes get inspired just by texture as well. @miskunn has this magical bobble pillow that I looked at and thought, I wish I could wear that. Which is how the bobble sweater sprang into being. I think that might be my favorite thing about creating. Seeing something in my head, grabbing a yarn and a hook and slowly watching it appear it front of me. It’s like the design flows right down my arms, going from behind my eyes to in front of my eyes. Plus then I get to wear it.

Alternatively, my least favorite parts of the craft are all practical things, rather than the conceptual and artistic. I live in New York City, my apt is approximately 500 sq feet, and I have another person sharing that space! I see this pictures of people’s gorgeous organized spaces and I’m like… how the frick do they do that? And living in NY isn’t even an excuse. I look at @debrosse_nyc and her space is Type A perfection. Meanwhile I’m sitting on my couch, under approximately 50 skeins of yarn wondering if I have a problem.

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I’m not a total loss yet; I usually sort my many works in progress into different project bags. I have the attention span of a beta fish so I like to switch between projects. That way, I’m technically still switching it up, but I’m always working. I always find it interesting when people give tips on making because it seems like the creative process is so different for each person. I’m very much of the “do you” school of thought.

My creative goal this winter is to remind everyone that knitwear doesn’t make you anything other than cozy. I catch some flack from my friends for going to bed early and making knitwear. Knitwear doesn’t make you frumpy, it doesn’t make you grandma-like, it doesn’t make you anything.  You can be hot, smart, active and ambitious and wear knits, you can go to bed whenever you want and wear knits. I have a couple fun projects lined up towards this goal in terms of re-branding, photoshoots, new patterns – so stay tuned for some more fun!

 


Make Sure to connect with The Queen Stitch:
Website: http://thequeenstitch.com/
Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheQueenStitch
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheQueenStitch/
Instagram: @thequeenstitch

Get Your Stitch On! It's The Ultimate Maker Co-Op

I have known of co-ops my whole life. Maybe because of my hippie-dippy upbringing. A few years of my childhood were spent hanging out with my mom's boyfriend (at the time) and he was a total hippie - refurbished VW Beetle and all. He was a super cool dude and shared a big piece of land with a bunch of other really cool dudes (and dudettes). We would build our own houses and grow food and play music and go on the river in rafts and stuff. It was where I learned about community and giving more than you take. Ah - that was a time in my life where I really felt like my world was right. Sure I was 5 years old, but hey... I know a good thing when I see it!

The littlest hippy of them all

The littlest hippy of them all

Fast forward to about 2 years ago when I was inspired to launch this blog and build this community to be more than just a platform to share my knowledge but truly feed into maker lives. I had no idea that it would grow at the awesome pace that it has but I feel so incredibly blessed it has and also feel like we are all just getting started. I knew it was time to revive those co-op roots.

Since launching the blog, I have had the idea to bring that co-op vibe that I loved as a kid into my maker world. I mean the word itself - co-operative means: "a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.". All of that is EXACTLY what I envisioned for Stitch & Hustle.

Putting it into action takes work. It started with posts and sharing and then led to Stitch Up Chicago and bringing people together to share, be in community and knit together. But Stitch Up Chicago was just the beginning. Here comes the next step: The Get Your Stitch On Kit Shop!

This Kit Shop has quite truly been over a year in the making. I am beyond thrilled to be here. Writing this. Launching this. It is surreal. So many hours and hours upon hours have gone into this. Abbey and I have poured our hearts and energy into this for YOU! Selecting fibers. Editing listings. Updating designers. Changing and doing all of that over again. But each step of the way, I have been blown away by the response of everyone involved. It is so incredibly exciting to work with a group of talented designers and makers to bring this to reality.

The Get Your Stitch On Kit Shop! is truly For Makers, By Makers. Featuring some of the most amazing talent of our community you can now get a kit to make that awesome item you saw in your Instagram feed. This is a chance to feed directly back into the maker community as well by getting kits from your favorite makers.

To celebrate the launch and first year of the Kit Shop, we have a Limited Edition Kit from Crave Yarn and only a handful of these exist. Amor has selected the chunky soft squishiest Alpaca fiber and dyed the perfect shades of blue. Get the Kit here.

And that is not all. Beginning November 1st, one of our fabulous designers will be featured each month for the next 12 months! You will get to know each of our amazing designers on a deeper level and we have something special planned for each month with the Featured Maker.

So I encourage you to visit the Kit Shop. See all these wonderful projects that you can make or give as a gift to your favorite maker for them to make. In the truest hippy-dippy co-op vibe, let's support each other and share the love.

The Great Granny Blog Hop of 2017

Welcome to the Great Granny Blog Hop of 2017.

First and foremost I would like to thank each of these incredible fellow bloggers for being part of this hoopla. I cannot tell you my excitement to be hosting a blog hop with these inspiring gals! And next I want to give a HUGE thank you and shout out to Lion Brand Yarn for sponsoring this granny extravaganza. Not only did they provide each of us with the yarn we needed for our creations but they are sponsoring the HUGE giveaway for you to win. What can you win you ask? You can win ALL YOU NEED TO MAKE ALL 6 PROJECTS! WHAT?!?!?  This is what I am saying!!!

THANK YOU LION BRAND!!!

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Ok so let’s get into the who what where of it all. Well first let me tell you that participating we have:

Nicole www.naturallynoracrochet.com
Jess www.makeanddocrew.com
ChiWei www.1dogwoof.com
Jessica www.mamainastitch.com
Kristawww.rescuedpawdesigns.com
Michele (me)  www.stitchandhustle.com

Now what exactly IS the Great Granny Blog Hop of 2017? Well… it is an exploration into that classic granny stitch. I admit, I was late to the Granny Square. I had already been making hats and scarves and such when a customer requested a traditional granny style blanket for a baby gift. I was a bit intimidated at first because it is an icon. The Granny Blanket is something you pass down for generations. And to be honest, I had never made one. So I did a quick google search and was so shocked by the simplicity of it. I started playing with the yarn and just loved the granny instantly. Now, I do my granny a little differently than most, I know. But it works for me. I use the more traditional method for my patterns though.

Anyway - the customer loved her blanket so much she ordered another full size for a wedding gift! Meanwhile, I had started to fall in love with the Granny. I started experimenting with different ways to incorporate the Granny theme into other designs beyond the basic square. This led me to the Ella Hood Scarf (free pattern here) and my Wonderland Shrug. I started to love the good ol’ Granny in a whole new (less intimidating way). So then I got the idea to team up with some of the amazing fellow bloggers who inspire me for the Great Granny Blog Hop (see what we did there) of 2017! Each of us has created an incredible fun pattern with a new twist on the Granny.

It is such an incredible thing to be able to take something classic and timeless as the art of crochet itself and give it a new spin with our own personality. I am honored to have teamed up with these gals for this project. So check each blog out and enter below to win all you need to make ALL SIX GRANNY PROJECTS from Lion Brand.

For my project I wanted to take a new twist on the classic poncho. I had already fallen in love with Lion Brand 24/7 Cotton from my Summer Cottons Collection and new it would be perfect for a fall themed poncho. It is also a great weight fiber for transitional weather so I knew it screamed Fall Cozy and would be ideal for this project. And it comes in FAB Fall Colors!

I could not be more pleased how it turned out. I added a couple of strategically placed buttons and suddenly had much more than a poncho. It is a shirt! A cape. A Shawl. And yes, A Fab Fall Poncho. I gave it as a gift to my good friendand co-host of Stitch Up Chicago, Ali of Ford Explorer Knits on our recent knit day. She loves it too!  So get the free pattern here and enter below to win all you need to make one for yourself! (eligible in USA & Canada only)

Market Season Redux

Oh Autumn... how I love you and wait for you all summer long but still you sneak up on me and cause a fright. Anyone else?

time for sweater weather is near

time for sweater weather is near

I find myself spending August clinging to summer sunny days and lightweight cottons while dreaming of sweater weather, layering up and cozy season. That duality always makes it hard to fully get into market prep and hustle mode for busy season. Then all of a sudden, as if to be a complete and utter shock, it is September and I am like... WAIT! WHAT?? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? I must now make all the things. lol

But the truth is that there is no need for panic and stress. (Maybe just a little) :-) With some planning and organization all will be well and you too can be ready for a thriving market season.

Booth is Up at 2016 One Of A Kind Show Chicago

Booth is Up at 2016 One Of A Kind Show Chicago

Part of my own "stress" is because I have made a change this year to my own show schedule. After 4 amazing years, I am sitting out the Chicago One Of A Kind Show. It was a hard decision but sometimes when those tough decisions come easy we know it is right! I am opting for a couple of much smaller area shows and events. I will miss the creative vibe and all my customers from OOAK but I felt this year it is time for something a little different.

But I still have to prep and plan and get ready for a new kind of show vibe. It is exciting. Like starting all over again. What will work and what won't? I ask this daily. Smaller spaces and new and different spaces will mean a new booth set up. Finding new ways to display my work and create an inviting "shop" is so fun. I am really excited for the challenge and creative opportunity to show my work and meet new customers. It all feels new and exciting and that is such a great feeling. I cannot wait to see what it brings.

So as you get ready for craft and market season keep in mind that it should be fun. Make lists. Have coffee and just do your best! And don't forget: visit the Stitch & Hustle Craft Fair & Market Series for all your market prep inspiration. From how to find and apply for the right markets to setting up your display for winning sales to selecting the right POS system, we've got you covered! And don't forget our handy checklist to help you Prep & Pack for Success!

Happy market season y'all!

Feel free to share your market prep tips in the comments as well.

It's A Pom Pom Party!

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If you know me then you know Pom Poms make me smile. They do. It is like a little POP of awesome.

Someone once told me that Pom Poms on hats originated in the Scandinavian Navy for sailors to prevent them from hitting their heads when entering their quarters. I have no idea if that is true or not. But I do really like that story and have certainly passed on that tale a time or two. It is simple and gives Pom Poms a bit of a noble purpose.

But for me? They are just awesome and fun.


As a matter of design they add contrast or whimsy to an item. I can use them for color pops too. And lately, I must say, I have gone on from Pom Poms to Tassels, but that is for another day. Let us stick with the Pom Pom shall we?

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So when I heard that Craft Yarn Council was hosting a Pom Pom Party for September, well, um... YES PLEASE! Not that I need a reason to celebrate Pom Poms but I love Pom Poms and I LOVE parties so it felt like it was calling me to join in the fun.

They have so many fun ways to join the party: CYC will be hosting a Pompom-Along September 11-15 to show you all the ways you can make and style your pompoms. On social media check the hashtag #pompomparty too.

Be sure to follow them and the Pom Pom Party on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week and check out their Pinterest board for even more ideas!  And check out all these fabulous projects featuring Pom Poms.

And that is not all... LEGIT.. WAIT THERE IS MORE!!! 

I teamed up with the incredible team at Clover USA to bring you ALL YOU NEED to make your perfect Pom Poms (and tassels)! Check this out and enter below to win the WHOLE POM POM MAKING KIT!

I used to use cardboard scraps to make my pom poms. Yes, this works but dang it is a pain in the butt and they were always uneven which meant lots of trimming and shaping.

Then I stumbled on to the Clover Pom Pom Maker. Have you seen it? This thing is the bees knees of pom pom making and now I cannot tell you how I lived without this for so long! It is so easy to use and Clover offers a variety of sizes so you can pretty much make any Pom Pom in any size you need. I make poms poms in seconds now and also - a great way to repurpose scrap yarn!

Now I know, because it happened to me, that upon first sight these handy tools can seem odd or overwhelming to figure out. It is strange to me now looking back because truly once you get the hang of it they will be your best friend. I highly recommend this how to video from Brittany at B. Hooked on how awesome these Clover USA Pom Pom Makers are.

Like I said, once you get the hang of it, these will become one of your favorite tools in your tool box. I was so happy when I reached out to Clover for this post that they wanted to sponsor this giveaway. You can win a Clover USA Pom Pom maker kit! WHAT? I KNOW!!!!!  Enter below.

 

 

Disclosure: Clover USA sent me the Pom Pom Makers free of charge for the purpose of this review and collaboration Although this is sponsored content, opinions and review are my own.

Influencer Marketing 101 For Your Maker Business

To follow up on my Brand Partnerships and Mama Knows posts, I wanted to go deeper into this world of Influencer Marketing.

Even without my marketing experience, as a blogger and a small business owner, I am quite familiar with the world of influencer marketing on both sides. Influencer marketing can and does work when it is authentic and real and done right. Anyone who knows me from my old days has heard me glob off a good rant or two about the down sides and the “false influencers”. They are real. But aside from that, true authentic influencer marketing can work not only for the influencer and their community but for brands as well. And, I am advocate of true, authentic influencer programs.

Having said that, without proper planning or execution, it can also go terribly wrong and damage a brand and cost them customers.  I recently had an experience of Influencer Marketing gone very wrong and it made me want to share some how-to tips and turn it into a positive to help YOU, the Stitch & Hustle community. Let this experience help you guys set up for a WIN!

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I’ve also invited Alissa Trumbull, a good friend of mine who works in social media marketing, to share some tips to help YOU plan and execute an effective and successful influencer marketing program. I have known Alissa for a many years and she is a voice I trust on this topic. As someone who supports and builds small brands (and big ones) I am honored she is taking some time to share insights with us. Also Alissa is truly one of favorite human beings on the planet. Together we've come up with Influencer Marketing 101 for Makers! So let's dive in…

What exactly IS influencer marketing?

Simply put, influencer marketing is when you utilize niche, community, (or celebrity influencers in some instances) to promote your product or service. Influencer campaigns are a wonderful tool, if utilized correctly, as they get other people talking about your brand.

Who is an influencer?

An influencer is anyone who impacts the lives of your target audience and has sway in your audience’s decision-making. Using the crochet and knit world as an example, this could be someone like Stephanie from All About Ami who always has new projects or great finds to share or Jess from Make And Do Crew who is always introducing us to new yarns and ideas. Remember that the best influencers don’t have to have the highest follower count. You need to look at the purpose and goals of your brand and the campaign to determine who is the right fit.

Take Time. Make It Personal.

Take Time. Make It Personal.

How to Create an Influencer Campaign:

  1. Figure out your end goal and working budget.
    Do you want to drive sales, increase brand awareness, or something else?
    Does your budget include compensation or just product or both or something else?
  2. Select your influencers.

    Ask yourself: "Which influencers speak to my audience?" Think about who your audience will be most receptive to and target influencers in that demographic. Is it stay-at-home-moms? Craft pros? That one music star everyone’s talking about?

    You are not confined to only niche or only celebrity influencers for a campaign. Often creating a tiered set of influencers can be beneficial, as long as the influencers you select are authentic to your audience and you build an authentic relationship between your brand and them.
  3. Do your research.

    Find out more about the people you’ve selected, their audiences, and expected payment. You have to take the time to dive deep and see the value and make sure it is the right fit. Some of the best influencers may have a small but active and dedicated following.

    Make sure the influencers you consider adhere to the FTC Endorsement Guides.

    Pare down your list to one that is manageable for your budget (whether that is in actual cash, event tickets, or product giveaways, etc.) and provides a good fit to meet your goals.
  4. Start reaching out!

    Get in touch with the people you really want to participate first. Don’t ask everyone at once. This helps ensure that you are not promising too much. If you only have the ability to send ten (10) samples, email 8-10 people. You may not know the response, but should always expect that everyone will say yes. Sending more offers and emails than you can deliver sets yourself up for failure and damage relationships before you can even build them.

    The spray and pray model for building an influencer community – and yes, this is a community you are building – is not effective and can end up with people having a negative taste about your brand and you feeling overwhelmed. Create lists and tiers and go from there. It may take more time but will set you up for the win!
     
  5. Be enthusiastic AND gracious.

    You are asking people to enter into a business partnership with you to test out your product or speak kindly of your brand. Approach potential influencers as if they are doing you a favor (because they are).

    Share the details and goals of your campaign and let your enthusiasm come across. You WANT to get people excited. Your enthusiasm can build the interest you want, and those whom you reach out to will respond positively to your energy and good vibes.
     
  6. Be clear in your ask!

    Let each person know what you would like from them and what you are prepared to offer. Your offer does not need to be the same for each person. Perhaps you create different offers for each influencer tier. Again, go back to the research and what is a good fit.
  7. Set deadlines.

    In your initial email, be clear on the dates of your campaign (when the campaign is taking place, when you need content completed by, etc.) and ask for a response by a certain date. This reply by date is very important, as it sets up a clear expectation that if they get back to you after this deadline, you may not be able to accommodate them for this specific campaign.

  8. Be prepared to say no.

    Some influencers may request more from you than you are able to give. Some may even ask for the moon in a pretty little box with a bow. While you may roll your eyes as you sit at your computer, make sure you decline graciously. You are growing the brand and may cross paths again!

  9. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

    Communication is key to planning a successful collaboration. From your first email, all the way through your final follow-up, it’s important to keep your updates clear, consistent, and personal. Don't let all that enthusiasm go to waste and fizzle away by sending generic emails and updates. If you are ONLY sending general and generic updates then you are not building a relationship. Ask questions. Engage people. Build the relationship. Keep their interest and use that enthusiasm to be contagious.

    If your marketing plans change and your strategy changes it is always best to communicate with people you have already reached out to. People (bloggers especially) plan content calendars and are people after all. We are humans behind these pages. People are excited and get others excited about your product, especially after you have contacted them directly to build that excitement. When you have a strategy change that changes a collaboration, communicate that to keep the relationship intact.
     
  10. Bring your campaign to life.

    Contracts are highly recommended to ensure mutual responsibility.

    Have a plan (and share it with your influencers) for how/when you’re going to amplify your influencers’ content on your social channels.

    Keep the energy and enthusiasm going all through the campaign. Treat your influencers like the VIPs they are - regardless of whether your supporter is large or small, or has a targeted or diverse audience, remember they are your customers first. Treat your influencers, customers and other supporters with respect and consideration for any time, money or effort they’ve shared with you.

    Think about every step all the way up to your packaging. The Reveal can be one of the most important parts of building a relationship with a customer (and influencer), and taking time to add a personal hand written note, extra gift or just a word of thanks can make a big impact in your favor. 
     
  11. Follow up

    Make sure your selected influencers are set to post their content and that the agreement is met.
  12. Wrap It Up & Track Your Metrics.

    (Is your social engagement up? Are you seeing an increase in conversation about your brand? In website visits? In sales? Track everything to know what is and isn’t working.) Numbers matter but look at more than numbers to see if there is actual influence. Are they engaging? Are people responding? Do they respond to their community and comments?

Last but not least, remember to thank the people who participated! Again, this goes back to building relationships and maintaining brand message and keeping it personal.

And remember, Influencers are not one-and-done, but should be viewed as part of your brand’s family. Who knows? You may want to reach out for another campaign in the future so build on this relationship!

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Here’s the biggest takeaway of all: Any marketing effort is to BUILD customer base. Are you creating Relationships that are long term and will grow with you and convert sales? Are you keeping your brand message and relationships in EVERY interaction? Are you missing opportunities to build and create your team of support? If you take the time to write a note how much MORE value will it add?!

As a blogger, I work with lots of brands. Small brands, big brands. You name it.  I am contacted by brands often and I also reach out to brands to collaborate for my own small handmade business as well as this blog. It is so important that the brands I work with and share with you guys are brands I can truly believe in. Not just the product but the company. Getting "free stuff" is far less important than what I can BRING TO YOU GUYS and the value I can ADD TO MY COMMUNITY. Sometimes I don't even get "free stuff" but the brand is so awesome I want to share about it.

Effective Influencer Marketing for your brand is more than just randomly contacting people with a following or with a blog. It is about connecting your brand and brand message with the influencer and their community in an authentic way. It is about contacting and connecting with the right people and growing those relationships. And it can work for you!

ORGANIZE & PLAN

ORGANIZE & PLAN

Stitches Midwest - Worth It Every Time!

I first heard of Stitches Midwest in 2013. I had recently opened my Etsy shop and just been accepted to appear in the upcoming One Of A Kind Show in Chicago. I knew it was time to step it up a notch and fill in some holes in my self taught crochet knowledge so I searched for area events and voila... my discovery of Stitches Midwest. As luck would have it, Drew Emborsky (The Crochet Dude), who was a big inspiration of mine and a name I recognized, was teaching a class, so I knew it was serendipitous. I enrolled right away and was grateful for a local find!

IN CLASS LEARNING WITH DREW

IN CLASS LEARNING WITH DREW

While it seemed to be more a knitting event, I had a blast and the class I enrolled in was simply fabulous. There were several A-Ha! moments and "oh man that's HOW you do that" light bulbs going off in class with Drew. I learned so much and could not have been happier and, in fact, we are friends to this very day! I also shopped until I dropped (for real) in the market and discovered all sorts of tools, fibers and delights. I learned Tunisian Crochet and discovered the Big Alpaca Bump from Becca Smith. That was also the year I met indie dyer Katie of Dragonfly Fibers, who I have worked with ever since.  A total success!


In 2014 I returned with Katie to grab my enormous haul of incredible hand dyed delights she made for me. For real... it was So. Much. Yarn. I wandered a bit and got to discover Karen and her company Fringe Supply Co with her lovely rosewood hooks and notions for fiber folk. That was also the year I met Stephen West and Steven Be,  which launched our fiber affair. (more on that later). So all in all... another success!

I had to skip 2015 due to being on location for a shoot so was super excited to return in 2016, even though the event itself somehow seemed a bit smaller. My fiber business was taking off and thriving, I had just launched this blog and was dialing in to go full time and full steam fiber dream chasing so I had a feeling it would be special. It was more special than I could have imagined.

Due to my schedule, I wasn't able to take any classes but was able to see some amazing humans and tear it up in the market. I got to spend some time with The ShibaGuyz Shannon & Jason Mullet-Bowlsby in person. We had basically become social media besties at that point so being in the same room was just too fun. And of course, Jason & I landed in a deep discussion about photo apps. I mean, no one was surprised by this.

And HUGE Bonus, Shannon introduced me to Theresa & Ron of The Buffalo Wool Co.. Not only are they two of the nicest human beings I have ever met, they have an incredible story and fiber. You know I didn't leave empty handed. Please check them out - you will NOT regret it. 

Then I made a mad dash over to Steven Be's booth for what can only be described as fiber fabulosity and the birth of our fibar antics and mayhem! At this point, I had to resort to using my auxiliary shopping bag because the yummy fiber finds were just to good to leave. I needed to get All. The. Yarn. It was my introduction to Freia Fibers and I have never looked back. And of course there's always time for fun fiber antics with Steven.

I hopped over to Yarn Culture New York where I met Patti and discovered her amazing fibers, including Crave Yarn. I was immediately in love with the colors and textures of Crave Yarn, appropriately named by the way because I was craving it on sight and it was SO SOFT! I also had to grab some of her Rosy Green Wool Cheeky Merino because it was very interesting and a bit heavier than most DK weight fibers and the colors are so vibrant. Total score!

A quick haul to the car to unload the day's finds and then a yarn break to recharge. It's a good thing I keep my picnic blanket in the car. Convention entrance seemed to be a good place to park for a minute.

It's a good thing I keep my picnic blanket in the car.

It's a good thing I keep my picnic blanket in the car.

Fully recharged I was super excited to stop by and see what the gals at Dragonfly Fibers had for me this year. I also finally got to meet Nancye, the other half of the magnificent dyeing duo!

And I was not disappointed. Normally I am drawn to their bulky Super Traveller but the new gradient kits had me swooning over worsted & dk weight like never before. Their colors are always so vibrant and fun.

 

Before heading out, I wanted to stop by the Halos of Hope to thank them for all they do. I have been partnered with Halos of Hope since 2014 to make and send chemo caps to cancer centers nationwide. You can read the full story here. 

Even though I had partnered with Halos for years, I had never met Pam in person. It was such a treat to see her there. She is spunky and fun and fabulous and genuine and exactly all the things you can imagine of such a kind person.  I was blown away by this beautiful woman and sharing a few minutes with her.  We bounced around Stitches Midwest booths and laughed and it was so much fun to connect. The absolute highlight of my day and a perfect way to cap off Stitches Midwest 2016.


When the Early Bird registration email for Stitches Midwest 2017 arrived I was ON IT! I was particularly excited when I realized Shannon & Jason (The Shibaguyz) would be back teaching the classes I missed last year. SCORE! And they added Jason's photography class. Um... HELLO please take my money and sign me up!

Now... before I get into the market madness and all my fabulous finds (and trust me, this may have been the BEST YEAR YET), let me do a little classes review first. Short review: THEY WERE SO GOOD. I learned so much. Longer review...

The Alter to Fit class was great to fill in some gaps in my self taught design knowledge. I also learned so much from hands on measuring and what I call Designer Math. If you ever want to get a pattern but Alter it to Fit, this is the class to take. If it comes to a town near you sign up, you can also get started online here.

Fab Crochet Fabrics was so good, though it did fly by. The class was small enough that Shannon & Jason taught a bit more conversationally than by following a strict layout. I feel like we could have gone on all day. It was such a joy to discuss and learn about texture, drape and how to determine the right yarn and stitch for your project. What a great thing to be in a room full of creative people on the same page as you. I just didn't want the class to end. THESE WERE MY PEOPLE!

The photo class was great but definitely too short. What was super cool is that it was interactive. Learning stances. Learning about lighting. Not from seats but from being up with our cameras or phones and doing it. It was great to have a photography class that focused on FIBER. What we are trying to show and feature in our work. So many great tips tricks and hacks too that I am blown away.  OK... so that is the classes.

 

Now on to the market... and Oh - Emmmm- Geeeeeeeee. If you follow me on Instagram you saw the awesomeness as it happened!

One of the best parts of Stitches Midwest is seeing fiber friends who are too far to see often. One of my faves is Steven Be. At first when I didn't think I would make this year's event missing out on a shopping day with Steven be was the worst part. But then when I was able to attend, well it was of course a highlight. His whole team, Missy, Pippin, Erin and the King Bee himself, are all so much fun to play yarn with.

And they curate some of the most FANTASTIC fibers that make me swoon. Colors and texture... it is a sensory overload upon arrival in the best way.  I may have stopped by a few times over the course of the event, going back for more each time. I even got a new Blue Sky Kit for the most incredible cocoon I cannot wait to make.

Speaking of seeing fiber friends, of course I stopped by Dragonfly Fibers a few times and may have left with 2 large bags of yarn. Thank you Nancye!

 

I made my way over to Yarn Culture New York to visit with Patti and see all her new fibers. Oh my goodness, her offerings are always so classic and modern all at once. It is that perfect balance. The new "joy" weight of Rosy Green Wool Cheeky merino is so fabulous and is indeed full of joy. Of course I had to grab some in shades of blue and cannot wait to design something fabulous... for the Fellas! We had time to chat a bit and cook up a few new ideas together so stay tuned... because some fun things from us are coming soon.

The other great thing about Stitches Midwest is discovering all of the amazing new Fiber Friends. I found an incredible hand carved size S Crochet Hook when I met Sandy & Dennis from S & S Camelid Co. They have an Alpaca Farm and sell the big Bump's of yarn! Rugs will be made!!!

making important yarn decisions with Dami of Magpie Fibers

I also met Dami from Magpie Fibers. Dami gets me. I had breezed by Magpie on my first trip as I must have been in a daze and missed her offerings. Thankfully she tagged #StitchesMidwest in an Instagram post and it caught my eye as I searched the hashtag. So I made a point to head to her booth.

After staring at her fibers for what must have been an eternity, she came over. Clearly I needed assistance lol. You know how it goes... you see a fiber you REALLY want to work with but you don't have a plan yet? Lord knows I don't need to grow my yarn stash. So the staring game begins. Between me and the yarn. It tells me to take it home and I tell it I must first devise a plan. Dami could see I was clearly in over my head staring down her incredible offerings so I am glad she came over to introduce herself and help.

I think what made me an instant fan of hers was that before she asked me if I needed assistance she offered to join me in the stare down. THIS IS SOMEONE WHO GETS IT! So we stared. Then we chatted. Then she helped me come up with a plan and I cannot wait to show you what I make.

Truth be known, there was no way I was going home without some of her fibers. But at least I can feel better about it now with a plan. :-)

So many incredible finds. Over the next few months I will be showing you some close ups and launching special collaborations and projects that showcase some makers and finds from the Stitches Midwest market. We have some really special stuff planned for you guys and you know that means a few AWESOMESAUCE giveaways too.

Click the photos below to get to the vendor site of some of my fave finds. 

If you have ever considered attending an event like Stitches, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Being around YOUR people. Supporting small businesses. Learning and meeting fabulous humans.  It's been 5 years since my first Stitches Midwest. Some years I took a class and some I didn't. Every year was different. Some vendors the same and some new ones to discover. Always awesome. Always worth it.

And of course... when you go... make some time for antics and a hat lesson with Steven. Enjoy.

Mama Knows Redux: Tips & Tricks Working With Big Stitch Merino

Since sharing my first project with Mama Knows Luxury, I have been asked about how the fiber works up. I am no expert on Merino Top (the official name for Big Stitch Merino) but have been working with this stuff for weeks now so can only speak from that experience. And my experience has been AWESOMESAUCE. I mean I have beat the heck out of it. I knit it. I crochet it. I frog it. I do it again. I have no complaints.

I am finishing a hat design, did a scarf and just published a free basket pattern after doing the barstool/placemats ... oh and I am kicking around a blanket idea. For real you guys. I JUST LOVE IT and am having so much FUN. You know I will always give you the straight talk about fibers. This is fab! It is big chunky merino and I was having a blast and it is super fun and holds up so far.

Sarah has a blog post that she wrote that dispels and explains many of the myths about working with Big Stitch Merino. And as I continued with exploring and playing with my Mama Knows Luxury stash, I also found a few tricks of my own. And now I will share those tricks with you :-)

Trick one: Do NOT pull it. No yanking, no tugging and certainly NO PULLING. When I frog the wool, I just do it a little gently. Then it stays pretty in tact with no fraying or separating. Also - when I frog it, it is better to leave it laying out yarn ramen style instead of making it back into a ball. This just keeps the fiber from one extra set of tugging.

 

some rare occasional extra fluff

some rare occasional extra fluff


Trick two: Do not pull at it (in case you missed it the firs time). Yes, there is some shedding and I had two snag issues while working up the fiber. To me that is minor and nothing to fret about. Certainly not as many as you might expect based on the nature of the fiber. You may see a little morsel shed off here and there or even a little chunk of the fiber as you work up. LEAVE IT ALONE. Do not pull at it or pick it. Because then it will fray and cause deterioration of the fiber. What I did was just tuck it in. Easy peasy.

Trick three: Get the Felt Kit from Mama Knows. For real. This will be your new best friend. And, to be honest, I use it for my bulky merino too such as scarves and sweaters. I use this kit not just when it comes to the ends, but if a little tiny bit starts to fray off (which only happened once to me) then i just felted it back into place. Boom! GET THIS KIT.

Trick four: This is the mack daddy of all my tips. You ready? Hand felt the merino as you work it up. WHAT? That sounds so tedious and hard! Michele you must be crazy. Did you just say that? HA! It is so easy. Watch this little video and you will see it is so easy and so helpful. It secures the fibers. It toughens it up. It makes it your friend. It is a few extra minutes of work that will make your project come together with so much ease it is worth it.

Well, now that we've got a handle on how to handle this yummy Big Stitch Merino... how about another project? Sticking with my "More Than Just Big Blankets" theme, I came up with another fun home decor item. Super easy to make and great if you want to get your feet wet with Merino Top wool. I bring you: The basket. Again, I opted for hand crochet but you can certainly use the Big Stitch Hook. Get the free pattern here and get the fiber from Mama Knows Luxury.

So go get some big chunky fiber and explore... don't worry about those myths. Have some big ol' big merino fun!