My Story


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?

Not me.

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.

Dang.

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.

Bam.

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?

Right.

Anyway, I uploaded that first pattern to Ravelry and anxiously awaited my 2,000 sales.

Ha.

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!

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

25 Comments

  • Reply homemadefarm October 15, 2016 at 5:54 am

    I loved reading your story.Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Katrine Birkenwasser October 15, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Love the story, thanks for sharing! It’s the worst when NOTHING HAPPENS, but then you learn and next time you’ll do better. Or at least that’s what I tell myself 😛 There’s also the 30 dollar limit before Ravelry charges you for pattern sales, so if there’s no Ravelry invoice it means you didn’t do very well the previous month!

  • Reply Kimberly October 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Witty and candid blog! I read it so fast, laughed aloud an then reread it to my husband. You’re an author!! How about a book?
    I’m dating myself but you remind me of Erma Bombeck. She left big shoes to fill, but, you have the talent and raw vulnerability we readers can relate to.
    Kimberly
    PS. Never lose your enthusiastic spirit!

  • Reply Kat with a K October 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I absolutely love your writing. I appreciate that you do this while having a young child and work outside the home! I am not sure I would have been able to find the time to do that when my children were little! You discuss the million dollar question – how to make a viable living while doing something you love. It is a worthy discussion and one I would like to see continued. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply Wendelika Cline October 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a fairly new knit designer, too, who just happened to stumble upon your blog via Pinterest. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply Julie Crawford October 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Got to hang on to the dream, for sure! However, just because you don’t make enough money to pay all the bills with your designing an blogging doesn’t mean it isn’t giving you value. It’s immensely satisfying to build a community, and your Pinterest followers number is incredible! So you are clearly doing lots of things right.

    • Reply Andrea @ This Knitted Life October 16, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Thank you dear. I would love to have you join my group board on Pinterest. It is called Knitting Forever. You always have such fabulous photography on your site. Surely your pins must go VIRAL. xoxo

  • Reply Alina October 16, 2016 at 7:04 am

    Thank you so much for sharing, dear Andrea! I am often having “who am I” kind of thoughts. I graduated from the university with honors, worked and still working in my profession, but still have no idea if it is the right thing for me… I was 18 when I entered the uni, what could I know back then?! But I figured out that it’s never too late to learn, to grow and to change things in life. As for pattern designing, it’s definitely true. If I were into this for money, I would give up long time ago. One patterns takes me 4 months to complete in average and it is so so so much work to create professional, well-explained and interesting pattern, but I love it so much that I can’t imagine now NOT doing it. So, the only thing that is left is to keep going 🙂 And I agree with others about your writing – it’s really exquisite!!!

  • Reply itsallaboutpurple October 16, 2016 at 7:53 am

    they say that the creative mind always wonders!! i would say you are creative beyond your years!!!

    i was a nurse, i always wanted to be a nurse and was super satisfied with my choice. then a stay at home mom, then i worked with my husband in our business. that facilitated the flexibility i needed to be around for my kids. they are grown and gone (yes, that does happen) and now at 58, i am not able to work, i have multiple sclerosis…so my career involves trying to get though the days happily. making the most of every minute. sometimes, it’s exhausting.

    i enjoyed your story and the raw truth of it all!!! have a happy sunday!!!

    • Reply Andrea @ This Knitted Life October 16, 2016 at 10:06 am

      MS is hard. I watched my uncle battle MS my whole life. How ironic (painfully so) that nurses and doctors must also battle such serious illness. They should be exempt based on acquired karma, in my opinion.

  • Reply Zoe - floral and feather October 16, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Loved reading your story – I can definitely relate! I got all excited when I opened an Etsy store earlier this year and then… nothing but tumbleweed. 10 months on and I’ve made 3 sales, but I’m sticking with it because I enjoy it! Thank you for sharing.
    Zoe | floral and feather

  • Reply pumpkin sunrise October 17, 2016 at 9:13 am

    very interesting! I think it’s hard to break out and be super popular among talented designers. I have thought of it but I know how much work goes into writing and testing out a pattern before the sale of it!!

    Good luck you might just make $8000 one day 🙂 I’m your cheerleader!!

  • Reply Susanne October 17, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you so much for this post Andrea! I feel like I’ve gone through a bit of a similar path as you! It’s good to hear a knitwear designers take on the actual reality of making money as a designer – I needed to hear this! It’s not as easy as we might imagine sometimes … And you are definitely an amazing writer, I love your dose of humour peppered in through each of your posts!

  • Reply Kat October 17, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Loved this one. I was just clearing out old notebooks a few weeks ago and discovered one where I had written down some sort of hysterical plan to make the blog a big $$$ maker. Obviously I am still not rich from the blog, but I am doing things that make me happy. Keep writing, keep knitting. Keep sharing.

    I also read your post and thought of another that was just written by another blog pal, http://www.sarahrosemary.com/2016/10/17/on-metrics-and-self-worth/

    Different angle, but part of the same story.

  • Reply Stefanie October 18, 2016 at 8:54 am

    It’s always interesting to read another person’s journey. Thank you for sharin.

  • Reply Meet knit designer Andrea Hilton. - Knit.Crochet.Shop. January 14, 2017 at 4:15 am

    […] can read all about my Big Start here, but basically I thought I could design a pattern once, sell it, and make money. This was nearly […]

  • I would love to hear from you! Please say hello.

    %d bloggers like this: