Friday, February 15, 2013

An Interview with...Emily Parson Greene of Sophie's Toes

October 2012 Vogue Knitting Live

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. I met Emily in Chicago at VKL. I went home with some of her gorgeous yarn in Raspberry that will most likely end up as a lace shawl.

You can find Emily here and here on her blog. She has a Ravelry group here and you can see her amazing quilts here.

What is your favourite dyeing technique?

I lay my skeins in a large jelly roll pan (6 at a time) and squirt on the dye with squirty (ketchup) bottles.  I set the dye by steaming them in crockpots.  I have a bank of crockpots set up in my garage and it looks like I’m having a chili cookoff!

How do you choose the fibers types and determine what weights of yarn you stock?

I always determine the fiber and weights of yarn by what I like to knit.  I knit with my yarns constantly.  I like superwash merino sock yarn and other luxury (merino, cashmere, nylon) fingering weight yarns.

Every now and then I find a new base that intrigues me and I try it for a while and see if it is a good seller.  Sometimes, I will keep it around even if it isn’t a great seller, just because I really believe in it and love knitting with it myself.  (I’m looking at you Merino-Silk).

How do you come up with names for your yarn?

People like really fun names.  I’ve noticed at shows that people look at the color and pick up a skein they like, then they look at the name, laugh, and that seals the deal!  One of the first yarns colors I sold was green/gold/brown named “Handsome Park Ranger”.  People loved it and talked about it so much that I realized the importance of a fun or meaningful name. 

Knitting is so personal, and people love to knit with yarns that have meaning.  “Christmas Lights, Farmer’s Market, Summer Vacation” are all examples of names that give the yarn more meaning so the knitter has a true keepsake.  Usually the names come to me pretty easily, if not, I take a poll of my family or my friends at Knit Night.  Somebody always comes through for me with a good idea. 

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale?

I am really organized and efficient when it comes to the dyeing, and I have gotten to the point where I can dye 100+ skeins of yarn in a day (a “day” being the 6 hours that my kids are in school).  Doesn’t that sound impressive?!  Ha!

However, the actual dyeing is just a fraction of the process.  The rinsing, skeining, tagging, listing, selling, packing, shipping take much more time than the dyeing.  And that’s just for Internet sales.  Add more time (preparing, loading, driving, selling, reloading, unpacking) if you are taking it to a yarn show.

Do you look at other dyers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?

I am very happy with my own “style” and I don’t spend time looking at other dyers’ work in order to be inspired.  

That being said, I am a knitter too.  I do walk the aisles of the yarn shows when I get a chance, and admire other hand dyed and hand spun yarn, especially when it is done with techniques other than my own.  Occasionally something really unique comes home with me for my own personal stash.

Are you a knitter as well?

YES!  I am an avid (my family might say obsessed) knitter.  That’s how I got started down this path in the first place.  I knit a lot of socks and wanted to be able to have any color I wanted.  I was already spoiled in this way with dyeing fabric to have colors that I couldn’t find in stores.  As a quilter, I had learned a decade earlier how to dye fabric. 

The wool yarn uses a different type of dye and a slightly different process than the cotton fabric that I was used to dyeing, but I knew if I could dye fabric it was a pretty small learning curve to switch over to doing yarn also.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Well, not a formal business plan like a person would take to the bank to obtain financing.  But I do have a vision of what I want my business to be like and it is written down for my own reference.  It helps to clarify things.  I evaluate my plan on a regular basis and set yearly goals. Goals like: how much money I would like to make in a year, how many shows I would like to do, how much time I can commit.  It has changed pretty drastically, considering the fact that my youngest was just two and not even in preschool when I started this business.  Now all three of my kids are in school for a full day.  There is a world of difference between dyeing during naps and dyeing six hours a day! 

Do you have a mentor? 

Yes.  I have quilter friends who sell dyed fabric at quilt shows and they have given me lots of advice.  Melody Johnson taught me to dye (fabric) in 1995.  Her partners Laura Wasilowski and Frieda Anderson have given me lots of advice over the past few years about how to set up a booth and do shows.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My business was based on the Internet from the beginning.  What was life like before the Internet!?

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

This is a hard one.  With three kids ages 8, 11, and 13, we have a very busy family life.  I have learned to be very flexible, because the hours I have for work change constantly.  I now have more time during the day to work, but less time at night (oh, for the days that they went to bed at 7pm!  Now my oldest is up til 10!)  I usually try to limit my work time to the 6 hours that they are in school, but they are old enough to understand that the 2 weeks before I am going to a show that I will be fitting in work after school and evenings.   And on the flip side, sometimes we are busier with family activities -- summer especially -- and I have to let go of some of the work stuff and remember that it’s not worth making myself (and my family) crazy.

As wild as it gets sometimes, I feel very blessed that my life is so full with work and family. I think it is good for my kids to see me work hard and enjoy something that is my own.  And it is especially very rewarding when they show interest in what I do.  (And when they pitch in to help me break down the booth at the end of a show!)

August 2012 Stitches Midwest

How do you deal with criticism?

When I worked as an artist before I started the yarn business, I developed a thick skin.  It wasn’t easy, and it took a long time.  I am the oldest child, a people pleaser!  But eventually you learn that you can’t please everyone all the time. 

I have (rarely—thank goodness) seen things written on the Internet that were less than complimentary about my yarn.  Of course, it stings!  All of that hard work—putting yourself into something that you make and offer up to the world!  First, I try to look at it objectively and determine if there really is something that I need to adjust in terms of my product.  If not—if it is just negative--then I try to shake it off and just remember  a) the thing about not being able to please everyone, and b) some people are just unhappy and/or negative, and there is nothing you can do to change that. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dyeing yarns?

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of advertising, promoting, social media.  I know people who have made things and put them on etsy and wonder where all the customers are.  But you can’t expect people to just stumble upon you, no matter how great your product is.  There is much more to having a real business than making your product.  Listing an item for sale is not the end, there is still more work to be done.  You really have to work to get your pictures and your story in front of people’s eyes. 

When I started I already had a knitting blog and a quilting website.  I was able to direct people to the etsy shop who were already familiar with my work.  I have a friend who sells handbags and she started by promoting her etsy shop to her wide circle of friends on Facebook.  Getting involved in forums helps too.  Ravelry is wonderful!

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