Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lil' Cottontail - Just in time for Easter

I found this adorable little bunny hat pattern in Susan Anderson's Itty Bitty Hats book. (I love and highly recommend this book!) I thought it very sweet but not nearly fuzzy enough to do justice to a child's inner rabbit. So after a brief search at a local yarn sale, I found an relatively inexpensive, fluffy, white, baby boucle' yarn with which to experiment. The pattern was not written to work with a bulky yarn but after a gauge swatch and some math I had a workable modification.
I have never worked with boucle' yarn before and I do not hesitate to say that it is a pain with which to knit. It does not slide as nicely on the needles and keeping yarn tension is more difficult because it tends to bind up a bit as you knit. Mistakes are much tougher to see due to the fluffiness and, since I tend to check my work visually for mistakes as I go, I found this particularly aggravating. However, for all its frustrations, the fabric created from knitting with the boucle' has a very interesting and soft texture. The fluffiness factor is nearly rabbit perfect and it seems as though it will be warm and comfy next to the skin, which is important since this is a stocking cap after all.

I am a little disappointed that the boucle' yarn does not knit up with the same stretchiness that worsted weight or even baby yarns have so I do have plans to modify the pattern further (and perhaps beyond all recognition) to a use a different knit pattern, such as a 1X1 or perhaps even a 2X2 rib to try and increase the stretchiness. I will update this post later on once Cottontail version 2.0 is complete to let you know how things turned out. In the meantime, this little hat is quite a fun number and my kids (ages 2 and 4) just love it. Since they are the target demographic for this hat, that is all that is important.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My First Sale

I have made my first sale from my online shop, Hynek's Handmade. A wonderful woman (she must be wonderful because she liked my product) from Elgin, Illinois purchased a little boy's layette, which I had dubbed 'Weigh Anchor'. She made her purchase via PayPal last Friday afternoon, an event which left me momentarily giddy and had my 4 year old son saying, amidst hugs and kisses, "You did it, Mommy! You did it!" Thus, begins my crash course in the nuances and technical requirements of selling and shipping from a web based store.

I use PayPal so as to entertain credit card purchases. I have used PayPal to make purchases for a couple of years now but this is the first time that the money flow has ever been incoming. I discovered Friday afternoon, after the bank had closed it's books for the week, that you have to be a 'verified' PayPal customer to receive payments. This is a process which requires a test 'handshake' between PayPal and your bank account. Thus, I was not going to be able to claim my payment from my first sale until the handshake posted this morning. Already, I am three days later than I prefer in completing my end of the transaction and shipping the product. Not the most auspicious start; but I figured hey, I am new at this. So I penned a quick thank you note, printed up care instructions, gathered up my packing materials, and staged it all to be ready to go first thing this morning. That's when I discovered that the small flat rate box I was confident that I had was no where to be found. Oops.... Well, at least that is cured with a quick trip to the post office near my house. No great delay.

When I first set up my Etsy shop, I had settled on Priority Mail Flat Rate shipping as my method of choice. My thought was that that most of my products were small enough to fit in the smallest of the flat rate boxes which meant $4.95 to anywhere in the USA, a price that seemed reasonable at the time. However, no matter how I folded my little nautical layette, it would not fit in the small Priority box with out mangling the box, a very unprofessional package to say the least. So I located a box that did fit and, with a quick perusal of the USPS website, found that I could still make that $4.95 shipping payment. However, I also discovered that I can probably figure out a way to ship my products for less with a comparable amount of transit time. Ah, but that is a issue I will have to address another time. I must get my beloved first sale shipped to that wonderful woman in Illinois, who is probably already beginning to wonder where the heck her purchase is and why is this seller being such a slacker. I also have to pick my son up from preschool and get all my errands finished before the forecasted snow storm hits trapping me in my house for the next 24 hours; but these are all trivial details.

I walked in to the post office for the second time today, once more giddy with delight at the thought of completing the process of my first sale. The post mistress was great and a font of good information, I wish I could download her brain into my computer. It turns out that Priority Mail does not include package tracking. This is an extra service which costs additional money, beyond the $4.95 that I allotted for shipping. This is the point where I slap my forehead as though I should have had a V-8 and realize that, as a SAHM, I have been away from the business environment too long. OK, so I have had an inept and naive last few days, but I am going to remedy the situation with the shipping comparison spreadsheet that I am building tonight. I am determined to optimize things a bit and make the chaos of today improbable in the future.

The important thing is that the precious little 'Weigh Anchor' set is now on its way to Elgin, Illinois. I hope it gets there alright. I hope my wonderful first customer likes it. I hope it withstands the drool and spit-up to which it will soon be subjected. I hope I measured it right when I sized it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tending My Knitting

I have been knitting since I was in the 5th grade. I give credit for this to two wonderful women, neither of whom knew how to knit - my mom and my grandmother.

I surprised Mom when I expressed an interest and I remember the look on her face when she told me that it was something that she couldn't teach me. As a parent myself, I now understand what that look meant - "I really wish I could help you, darling, but I just can't. I feel helpless on this one." Seeing my disappointment, Mom suggested what my parents have always done when they did not know something, getting a book. She and I made a special trip to the library and we found a how-to-guide to knitting. Then she dug out her mom's (Grandma Emily's) double pointed sock knitting needles and some old rug yarn which had both been living at the bottom of her sewing box for 25 years or more so that I could practice the stitches pictured in the library book.

A couple of weeks later, I was visiting my grandmother in Houston. She saw me sitting quietly with the library book in my lap practicing my knitting and asked me about it. After I explained what I was up to, she observed that I was running out of yarn. She called a good friend of hers, who knitted, and asked where to shop for such things and got the name of a needle arts store not too far away. I remember walking into that store and being amazed at all the different yarns in the bins that lined the walls from floor to ceiling. Then there were the all the different types and sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks hanging from the floor displays. I was in heaven.

Grandmother explained to the shop keeper what I was doing and I showed the woman my sampler. She made a suggestion for a real first project, a garter stitch afghan in two colors. She wrote down the instructions, set us up with yarn and a pair of knitting needles. I spent my entire two week summer visit with Grandmother working on my afghan. Grandmother was very proud and told all her friends about my project. I still have it to this day tucked away in the bottom of our blanket storage. It is a study in learning to knit. You can see in the stitches where I finally learned the nuances of yarn tension and consistency.

Until I reached my 30's, I had always been shy about my knitting. I made a sweater for Mom, a couple of scarfs for cousins, and a sweater for a college boyfriend (which took a ton of courage). But for the most part, my projects were for personal use and the frequency of my knitting became few and far between. Then our friends started having babies and I picked up my knitting needles again to discover that I liked knitting baby clothes. The projects are small, relatively quick, and satisfying to complete. The compliments on the handmade layettes I have given away have done much to bolster my confidence.

Now I am a stay-at-home-mom seeking a way to feel as though I can provide something to our financial bottom line. After reading some encouraging articles about other women who have made successful businesses with their knitting, I have illusions (or maybe delusions) of grandeur for my own knitting potential, never mind the fact that such businesses have a much lower success rate than even restaurants. But, I have put together a simple business plan, have been chanting the mantra, "Start simple and small and work up", and have picked up my needles again. In the weeks that it has taken me to organize and build a small inventory, I have learned some new techniques/skills and have experimented with different yarn. I have all kinds of product line ideas and I love the creativity that is flowing. So we will see what happens. In the meantime, you can check out my new online store, Hynek's Handmade, on Etsy.