How did you originally get into the business of making things?
As a teenager, I used to buy vintage clothes and transform them. I’m an awful seamstress, but I guess my love of crafting started with fabric and a homemade wardrobe.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
I’m a classics major and a teacher. I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep within the teaching community. I love my job but I hate the dramatic part of it. It’s so much role playing: the ideal person, a guide, an optimist, the kind teacher, the concerned adult or the severe disciplinarian. I’m not a morning person and being on stage every day at 8 a.m. is hard for me. Because I’m very demanding with my students, creating the good atmosphere and the right amount of structure for each student is exhausting!
I quit my job in Chicago because my teaching style didn’t mesh well with the school’s policies. Sometimes I’m a pretty rebellious character. My yarn business and my daughter were both born in Chicago. Creating yarns was so exciting, rewarding and positive. The people I met in the fiber community were open, kind, generous and witty, as compared to the stifling nature of my teaching job. The school was a cute but terribly unhappy little place for me. When things didn’t improve after my daughter was born, I refused to be an unhappy mother. Thankfully, my husband agreed so we packed up our things, put our American life behind us, and moved back to France to be closer to our families.
What steps did you take in transitioning to full time Etsy selling?
None! My decision to quit was quite fast. I knew I could count on making a minimum of $500 monthly. That’s a good place to start. It’s allowed me to put being a stay-at-home mom first.
What is your favorite part about the spinning process?
I can’t say that I love dyeing, but using my own hand-dyed fiber is my favorite part of the spinning process. I’m always curious to see how colours and shades will blend together. Sometimes I’m not very happy with how the colors look on the roving but, once spun, they turn out beautifully! I am quite addicted to the movements of spinning — it’s slow, quiet, peaceful, and meditative.
In your opinion, what benefits are there to buying hand-spun vs. commercial yarns?
They are totally different! When you buy hand-spun, you can touch another person’s work. Even if a buyer doesn’t realize the time I spent on their skein, I think they can feel the quality of the workmanship. As an indie dyer, I feel I should point out that every hand-dyed skein is completely unique. One could say that every skein is a piece of art. As a knitter, I perfectly understand the benefits of commercial yarn. Some are so beautiful, but hand-spun is a one of a kind gift. It’s something special you offer to yourself or you add to a project.
What are your best marketing tips?
- Being a kind person helps a lot. I hope that the people who find me via Etsy, Facebook or Twitter think of me as a nice person.
- Ravelry is a fantastic resource for people in the yarn business.
- Making connections locally is also important.
- People buy what they like, but they have to see it first. Renewing items regularly seems to increase interest.
What is your most popular item or line?
My funny flowers used to be very popular. Now there are a lot of other people offering similar items. I sell a good amount of organic yarn too, both commercially spun and hand-spun.
Any memorable custom requests?
I once had an order to spin 48 skeins and loved it. I’d love to sell mostly wholesale to local yarn stores.
What have you found to be unsuccessful promotion?
I paid for a lot of advertising on a couple of different sites, but I’m not sure it was worth the cost. I don’t have any other regrets, except that I miss Chicago. I find American knitters are more open to trying out unique artisan yarn.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Being a good mom, a good spinner, a good dyer, a good wife and a good business owner all at the same time. Not having a set schedule is wonderful, but sometimes I procrastinate. I have to be work hard to be self-disciplined and self-motivated.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Not spending all the money in my Paypal account on gifts for myself! I also find it impossible to resist all of the beauties on Etsy. Then there are all of the numbers and the paper work. Oh, and waiting at the post office makes me crazy!
Have you met any of the animals that supply your yarn from local farms?
Local farmers are raising sheep for their meat. Most of them have lost all interest in wool production. I’ve spun some wool from a local breed called the Caussenarde, but I would not spin it regularly. This summer I’m going to have a chance to meet the sheep that supply my merino yarn. I’m organizing a big fiber festival July 9-10 in Sauliac sur Célé (Lot, France) and my favorite farmer will come with some of his flock. He lives in the French Alps and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet him in person.
What goals do you have in store for the future of Spin Span Spun and Athena’s Thread?
As of now, I’m happy with my situation. I sell everything I have the time to make. I’d love to increase my wholesale and bulk orders and see my yarn in the windows of upscale yarn stores around the globe. I’d love to travel, meet knitters and share my passion!
For the moment, we can’t live only on the money from SpinSpanSpun. I’m at a point where I can’t do a lot more by myself, and that’s why I’ve found a business partner. We will be launching some new products soon and maybe in a year or so we’ll be able to expand the business enough to live off of the profits.
We’re looking into French fiber sources, natural dying, sock yarn and kits. Both of us are passionate about supporting our local farmers. We’re exploring all kinds of ways we can use local resources to make our products both unique and environmentally friendly. I’m also working locally to encourage farmers to consider raising animals for fiber. It’s my dream to become an ambassador for French wool. It would be a real personal accomplishment if SpinSpanSpun became synonymous with hand-spun yarn!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’d like to add that Etsy changed my life. I think it changes lives everyday, especially the lives of women. It also made me more bold; I’m an introvert by nature, but I’m organizing a big fiber festival in France this summer. It’s scheduled for July 9-10 in the Lot, the département where I live. It’s a spectacularly beautiful corner of France. I’m hoping that anyone who reads this interview, and is interested in coming will contact me. The French are just beginning to rediscover the joys of spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, felting etc. This festival is just what we need to fuel a crafting renaissance.
Thanks to Myrtille for sharing her story. You can see some of her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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