Over the past decade, I’ve chased a lot of wild dreams about how I might earn a living doing something, well, different.
Because somehow doing all the NORMAL things we’re taught we’re supposed to do wasn’t enough. Yes, I went to college, and yes, I even have a graduate degree. And, on most days, I find my Regular Career quite satisfying. (I’m a hydrologist when I’m not knitting.) I often don’t mind Going Through the Motions of Life.
It’s what we do.
But sometimes I wander a little.
There was the time I wanted to be an event planner. And the time I wanted to be a real estate agent, before 2008 at the height of the market of course. Or a house flipper. (Too much HGTV during that particular stint in life.) I guess I’ve kind of always wanted my own business, which never occurred to me AT ALL in my younger years. Mentoring women to be entrepreneurs wasn’t such a Big Thing like it is now.
There was the time, after reading the Four Hour Work Week*, my big idea was to manufacture cute wheelbarrows with fancy, bright prints to jazz up the mundane tasks of pulling weeds, hauling firewood and raking leaves. Any woman’s Yard Work Dream. Who wants a boring ol’ black, navy, or brown wheelbarrow?
For two months, my husband and I were going to start a permaculture plant nursery.
And then we were going to open a distillery (which I still think is a good idea, but I’ve happily settled for sampling vodka and other spirits from the micro-distilleries boldly opened by others in recent years…).
Oh! And the food truck. Our town in the Middle of Nowhere has ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE to eat, so I was going to do everyone a service and open a food truck. Until I crunched the numbers and decided standing in front of a griddle in a glorified tin can during the heat of summer might not be All That after all and instead was a miserable way to quickly Go Broke.
Despite all these hair-brained tangents, I kept going to work like people do. On bad days, I was inspired by Christine’s world adventures and lived vicariously through her globe trotting lifestyle, always wondering: how would I do that?
Then we had Reed.
It’s true what they say. Having a child changes everything.
I wasn’t able to return to my previous full time job after having Reed. I needed a part time gig, and my old position was a full time program only. So I started racking my brain. What could I do? What did I want to do?
It felt like my big chance.
(Years later, I now believe EVERY DAY is a Big Chance.)
I had asked myself these questions before. It’s not like it was the first time I thought about Going Rogue. But it felt more pressing then as I looked at my infant son and our rural life and wondered what the next chapter might look like, newly jobless for the first time since high school.
While I quickly found a near-perfect part time gig that I still love and the immediate fear of poverty and living under a bridge with my baby was put to ease, I still wondered. What might be in store for me? What can I make happen? What do I love to do?
What can I say, I think I was channeling Oprah.
I saw other women online who appeared successful in a crafty sort of way with Etsy and the like. My brain was going down that road a bit.
Goat milk soap? No.
Cross stitch kits seemed to be making a comeback, but I hadn’t picked up an embroidery hoop since age 8. No.
I had all kinds of wild ideas on my list, on top of all the other Maybe-This-Maybe-That possibilities I’d cycled through all the years prior.
Then one day it hit me. I was on Ravelry and saw Martina Behm’s Brickless. At the time, it had something like 2,000 projects. (Today, there’s nearly 5,000 projects for that pattern.) I remember doing the math. Two thousand times $4.00 USD each. This woman made $8,000 USD off a scarf.
That was my golden ticket. I remember looking at then itty bitty Reed and calling my husband with an enthusiasm not dissimilar to how Neal Armstrong must have felt when he landed on the moon and proudly announcing, with sincere relief, I HAD IT ALL FIGURED OUT.
I will make a pattern for a scarf one time and sell it 2,000 times and pay all my bills.
Now you’re probably chuckling by now, especially if you are also a knitwear designer. Clearly I didn’t exactly do a very thorough job on my market research for knitting pattern designers (which was actually quite unlike me at the time as Number Crunching is one of my strengths…but the overhead seemed quite low and Number Crunching felt superfluous…at the time).
So what did I do?
I grabbed a skein of yarn from my Little Yarn Store and quickly set about making the most basic triangle scarf of all time and uploaded it to Ravelry.
At the time, I wasn’t an expert knitter (nor am I now). I was a daily knitter but not nearly as obsessive about knitting as I am today.
And I had never designed a pattern but I figured how hard can it possibly be?
Just thinking back to these moments, now 3 ½ years ago, makes me laugh at myself. But I was determined.
Fake it to you make it, right?
Anyway, I uploaded that first pattern to Ravelry and anxiously awaited my 2,000 sales.
Nothing happened. Like, literally, NOTHING HAPPENED.
Not even a lousy five bucks.
I was undeterred and made more patterns, and STILL nothing happened. No money. NOTHING. Just Ravelry staring back at me through my computer screen in this horribly mocking sort of way.
What were you thinking?
While I quickly realized my math was a little off (okay, a lot off) and discovered perhaps there was a little more to this knitwear design thing than I had paused to consider In the Beginning, I found that I loved it. I enjoyed the work. Even when I was messing up (all the time).
I soldiered on, driven just as much by my determination to be successful as I was by my love of knitting. I was inspired by other designers. I stayed the course. Every time I picked up my knitting, I told myself I was working.
Note I did not quit my day job.
Years later, I now have my blog and realized I love writing as much as I love knitting (which I kind of already knew, but that’s a story for another day.) My designs are now modestly more successful, although I will say I typically still land squarely within the most common bracket of designers’ sales on Ravelry. (Ravelry reports most designers selling patterns on their site earn under $50.00 USD monthly). I’m in good company. On many levels. I like the friends and colleagues I’ve made through this work, and I sometimes can break even on my Yarn Habit, if I don’t add in the value of all the TIME I invest.
We’ll just ignore that little detail for the time being.
I still have my eye on the prize and feel confident good things are coming. At least that’s what I am working toward. I’m nearing four years in and just as motivated today as I was then, if not more so. So thanks, Oprah.
I love the work, and that’s what counts.
*Affiliate link. Thank you for your support!