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Etsy Tips: Products, Promotion & the Holiday Rush

Rachel Gillet of Rachel's KnitKnacks Etc.

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Please welcome Rachel Gillett, owner of the Etsy shop Rachel’s Knit Knacks to Craft Buds! Rachel works in publishing by day and is a knitting queen by night. I had fun chatting with Rachel about her handmade shop, promotion and getting her store ready for the holidays. She’s got some excellent advice about running your handmade business, so you will definitely want to soak it in.

Rachel, many knitters I know take their craft with them everywhere from work, to the movie theater to the car (for working on projects at a red light). What’s your favorite non-traditional place to knit?

Knitting isn’t just your grandma’s craft anymore. Knitters today come from all walks of life, with varied time commitments. So for many modern-day knitters, I feel that the craft is not always something we can allot a set time and place for, but rather we fit it in when and where we can. True, it’s great to make time for one’s self to sit down to a movie and knit away, or to gather with fellow knitters in the local coffee shop. But for so many 9 to 5ers, or 5 to 12ers, or whatever the schedule may be, it’s about stealing those precious moments of peace and using them to create something wonderful.

I like to take advantage of any time I’m in transit to squeeze in a little (or a lot of) knitting. Road trips are the absolute jackpot when it comes to finding some quality knitting time. This summer I took a trip with my boyfriend to Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN, which was about a 14 hour car ride either way. Needless to say, I returned with a bounty of knitted items to boot – as well as a new-found appreciation of hot showers!

Chunky Slouch Hat Slouchy Green Beret Pixie Hood Brown

I see you started your Etsy shop a few years ago. What have you learned about being an Etsy store owner that you wish you would have known when you got started?

I could easily run down a list of things I wish I had known when I got started – skills that would have been great to have up front – but then again, half the fun of owning an Etsy shop is learning new things along the way. If you had asked me three years ago what SEO tactics I planned on using, I would have probably stared blankly for a while and then muttered something about needing to check Wikipedia.

These days, I can confidently say I know the value of acquiring photography and editing skills, using networking to your fullest advantage – word of mouth is still a viable option in this technology-driven age – and using descriptive language to bring alive your product for shoppers. But I feel that all of these skills come with time – unless you are already an expert in these areas – and that’s perfectly ok!

However, there is one little nugget of wisdom I feel is vital for any shop owner to have from the get go. When you are creating something and putting it out there for the world to see, it is absolutely necessary to be proud of what you are creating. When I first had the idea of starting my shop, the concept was met with a lot of doubt. “Do I really expect to make a profit from knitting?” “Do I feel confident enough in my product for people to spend their hard-earned dollars on it?” Even thoughts of, “I hope people don’t think this is juvenile,” slipped in. Still, after I shrugged off some of this doubt and opened Rachel’s Knit Knacks, it was a struggle to keep the faith in the beginning. Only after my first few customers and positive ratings did I truly begin to appreciate what I was doing here, and my only regret now is not having been able to see that sooner. In an age of monopolized mass-consumerism, during months of low sales, you can always take comfort in knowing that what you do and what you create is special, and you should be proud of all your accomplishments.

Bow Headband by Rachel's Knit Knacks

How do you come up with inspiration for new products?

Whenever I come up with a new design concept, it is usually driven by my desire to clothe someone close to me – myself, my friends, my boyfriend, or family members. That is always the starting point for me. I’ve been told that perhaps this is not always in the best interest of my business, since there are so many other markets out there. But for me, inspiration is the key to a great design. Maybe one day I’ll keep a pooch in my purse and have a baby strapped to my back, in which case, you can look forward to all sorts of Shih Tzu sweaters and baby bonnets!

I also like to push the envelope in what can actually be feasibly created through knitting. Essentially, anything that is generally created with traditional fabric can also be knit. Once you realize this, the options are limitless. Sure, silk woven ties are more common place, but there is also something to be said about a retro-inspired, knit necktie. Some people make the mistake of thinking that knitting is reserved for the colder months, but societal conventions are fickle, so here’s hoping knit earrings and hair bows become the next big thing!

What has been the most helpful tool in terms of promoting your Etsy shop?

I have to say, my most faithful client is my best friend, Michelle. She contributes a lot to the brand in that she gives me honest critiques of my beta designs, inspiration for the sort of items she would want, and she is also one of my lovely models. For example, since she currently sports a natural afro, she has a lot of great know-how as to what other women with naturally curly hair look for in accessories. It’s actually because of her that my flower clips came to be! And in return, she sports these clips, bows, and headbands on an almost daily basis. It’s a win-win situation!

Blue Flower Headband

Why do you like to support handmade shops during the holiday season?

I love knitting special gifts for my loved ones during the holiday season. It’s a great way to show that I went out of my way to make something special just for them. In that same vein, shopping handmade shares these ideals. There are so many crafters out there just waiting to create something that suits exactly what you are looking for. Also, using Etsy is just as easy as shopping on Amazon or other online retail venues. Certainly, your wait time to receive your item may be a bit longer, but the benefits of shopping handmade far out-weigh any perceivable down-sides. For one, there’s that extra level of customer service, where shoppers can know that when they reach out with questions or special requests, they are talking to the creative minds behind their purchases.

Are doing anything special to prepare for the holiday shopping rush?

When the holiday shopping rush pops up its head, I go into overtime in an effort to bulk up my inventory. It’s vital to preempt the rush, and oftentimes you can see me knitting winter hats in the summer months. (It’s quite a sight to see someone soaking up some rays and toying with chunky yarn and oversized needles!)

Knit Leaf Earrings

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Rachel! Aren’t these knit leaf earrings adorable? If you like what you see here, why not visit Rachel’s Knit Knacks and add it to your Etsy favorites?

Rachels Knit Knacks logo

For more tips on preparing your Etsy shop or handmade business for the holidays, check out the Etsy Holiday Bootcamp, which brings inspiration, checklists and tips to your inbox.

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Book Review: Sew Serendipity Bags

Yesterday we were lucky enough to interview pattern designer and author Kay Whitt (and there’s a giveaway of the book at the end of the interview!). Her first book was Sew Serendipity: Fresh and Pretty Designs to Make and Wear and she just recently released Sew Serendipity Bags. I had the pleasure of receiving a copy to review and make a project from!

The layout of the book is nicely divided up into skill level so you can choose between Simple, Intermediate, and Challenging. It was fun to look through all the projects but I appreciated knowing what I was getting into based on the skill level rating. The book is spiral bound so it easily lays flat and has a nice sturdy envelope of full size pattern pieces in the back. There is a wide variety of patterns and styles so you may not love everything in the book but you’ll definitely find some favorites. Projects include a lunch bucket bag, cross-body purses, duffel bag, ruffle hobo bag, backpack, diaper bag, laptop messenger bag and many more.

The introduction of the book includes techniques  on sewing, working with hardware, and working with stabilizers so you’ll have all the knowledge you need as you make the patterns. There are a total of 12 patterns. Many of the patterns offer different size options.

Once you choose a pattern, the instructions clearly tell you what fabric you’ll need along with any other materials (marking pencil, safety pin, etc.). There’s also a handy list for each pattern telling you the finished dimensions of the bag. Each pattern shows you Kay’s initial hand drawn sketch on the first page. Then in the following pages there are hand drawn illustrations for many of the steps. For example, the Green Grocery Bag (you can see my version below) has a total of 22 illustrations.

 

My Project

I chose to make the Green Grocery Bag in small. I liked that even though it was in the “simple” category it had some nice details. The bottom of the bag is finished with a French seam and is completely lined (including the pocket) so the final product looks great and is durable. The bag can be folded up into the pocket for easy storage and has a loop to put around your wrist. The sides of the bag have pleats so it’s nice and roomy.

I found the many illustrations extremely helpful so I always had a visual reference as I was making the bag. The instructions are very detailed. I did have to re-read each step of the instructions a few times to make sure I completely understood what to do next. All in all, I think my bag turned out well and I look forward to using it! (And if you’re wondering, the exterior floral fabric is from a vintage sheet and although you can’t see it, the interior is a green fabric with white polka dots.)

 

Free Pattern

Want to check out more of the book AND get a free pattern? Head on over to Sew Mama Sew where they’re offering PDF pattern and instructions for the Lunch Bucket Bag!

Designing Patterns for a Craft Book: Kay Whitt

Kay Whitt I’m pleased to introduce Kay Whitt, author of Sew Serendipity: Fresh and Pretty Designs to Make and Wear (F+W Media).

Kay’s new book Sew Serendipity Bags is all about sewing purses and totes! For the last decade, she’s also designed and sold her sewing patterns through an online shop. She’s carved out a niche for herself in the design world by being true to her style. I love these Q&As because there is so much to learn from each other’s experiences.

Kay, I see that your first design at Serendipity Studio was released in 2001. How did you get started designing patterns?

I have sewn all of my life. My mom taught me to sew when I was a young girl and I have had needle in hand ever since then. We always manipulated commercial patterns to suit our needs as I was growing up, so I understood how pieces came together as a whole. It wasn’t long until I was dabbling on my own to create patterns, so I did this sort of thing informally throughout my youth.

I have a degree in education and spent the first nine years of my professional career as an elementary school teacher. While teaching school, I continued to create and sew, sometimes selling my creations to coworkers during the holidays. That was my springboard for jumping into pattern design when I was looking for a change in profession.

Sew Serendipity Bags

I talked with shop owners and showed them my work, asking if the type of sewing I did would make for a good pattern. With their support and enthusiasm, I started the company in the spring of 2001.

I also resigned from teaching that year to focus solely on the pattern business and creating designs. I began with appliqué driven design work and evolved into formal clothing drafting of pattern pieces in 2005 with the aid of some drafting software. I am living proof that you don’t have to have a degree in art or design to make the magic happen!

Sew Serendipity Bags Sew Serendipity Bags

Can you tell us what we can expect to see in your book Sew Serendipity Bags?

Sew Serendipity Bags is just that . . . a book with 12 unique bag designs! I have included variations with some of the bags, so you are really getting 20 bags if you account for size and handle changes.

The book is split into three project sections: simple, intermediate, and challenging, so there is something for the beginner bag maker to a very experienced one. I also included my favorite techniques for bag making in a photographed section.

Just like in the first book, I have hand illustrated all of the construction steps in the instructions. The styled photography of the finished bags is just beautiful and I am so excited to share this new book with everyone!

Sew Serendipity Bags

How do you come up with inspiration for new patterns? Once you have an idea in mind, what are the steps involved in releasing a new pattern for your shop?

I am inspired by a lot of things. Sometimes it is a piece of fabric, sometimes an article of clothing seen on TV, the Internet, or in a magazine. I let my brain work on it for a while and eventually a design is born. This happens a lot at night when I would rather be sleeping, but my brain is ready for work! I usually start with a rough sketch, then begin drafting those pieces into my software so that I can work through a prototype in fabric until the design is how I want it. As with anything, some designs go easily and some require more work. I love working that part out until it matches the vision that I originally had for the design.

Sew Serendipity Betty June dress

Speaking of the “business side” of your creative business, what do you find to be the greatest challenge? And, what’s the best part of running your own business?

The greatest challenge is to try and stay on top of everything at once! I still pretty much do it all myself, so between processing orders, thinking about new designs and working through those, talking with customers, visiting shops, and oh yeah….writing books, I stay pretty busy! The very best part of running my own business is that it is so flexible. I can move my schedule to suit my personal needs. I also love that the business’ direction is charted by my personal drive and instinct for design.

What is your number one tip for running a creative business?

The number one tip I have is to develop a unique style and do it well. It becomes a sort of signature for your work. People know my designs without having to look at the information on the pattern! It is always best not to try and “be” anyone else. Stay true to your own style and trust your instincts.

Giveaway!

Thanks Kay! We are excited to offer a copy of Kay’s new book, Sew Serendipity Bags, to one lucky winner! To enter, just leave a comment on this post about bags, totes or purses. What do you like? Winner will be announced Friday, Oct. 7. This giveaway is now closed.

Craft Book Month Winners!

Chosen by Random.org, the winners of the Craft Book Month linky party are:

B Yazoo

Bubble Pants, submitted by B Yazoo

Doodle Stitching book + Japanese fabric from Craft Buds

3: Libby Jones

Autographed CosmoGIRL Cool Room book + Kona Charm Pack from Craft Buds

24: B.Yazoo

Cloth Paper Scissors book (from Interweave), Paper + Craft book and Fiskars decorative-edged scissors from Craft Buds

11: amorette

Girl’s World book by Jennifer Paganelli, courtesy of Sis Boom.


The Practical Guide to Patchwork
book courtesy of Dewberry Lane.

16: Jenniffier- Orange and blue Quilt

$25 shop credit to My Little Sunshine Handmade

15: Katy @ The Littlest Thistle

2 sewing patterns of your choice from Pattern Patti

21: Kirsten @ gemini stitches

Three vintage sewing patterns; selections from Goofing Off

5: Butterfly Apron

 

iPod Pouches by Kirsten at Gemini Stitches

iPod Pouches submitted by Kirsten at Gemini Stitches

 

Congrats to our winners! Winners, please leave a comment on this post (e-mail required), and we’ll be in contact! We thank you ALL for linking up your craft book projects all month long, and for inspiring us with your creativity.

Prizes and Sponsor Love:

Doodle Stitching + Japanese fabric Autographed book + Kona charm pack

Paper Crafting Books + Scissors

Girl's World Book Sis Boom

Practical Guide to Patchwork / Giveaway from Dewberry Lane Dewberry Lane shop

My Little Sunshine Handmade BWS tips button

Pattern Patti on Etsy

Free Patterns from Books: Knitting & Crochet + Winner

Today is our last day of free patterns from books and your last day to link up your projects to win some great prizes! In the past weeks, we’ve featured patterns for the homebags, kid’s toys and softies, and jewelry.


From Knitting in the Sun (Wiley): Knit Sunhat

Windansea Hat from Wiley

 

From Knitting it Old School (Wiley): Ahoy Sailor, Sweater

Ahoy, Sailor sweater from Wiley

 

From Knit, Wrap, Repeat (Lark): Snugg Neck Warmer

 

From Teach Yourself Visually Crochet (Wiley): Magnificent Shawl

Magnificent Shawl from Wiley

 

From Interweave Press: Assorted free crochet projects

 

And the winner of Modern Mix chosen by random.org was #23, Jenelle, who said, “I think that waiting to see how the book pitch went would be the hardest part for me too. It’s amazing that just by writing your blog, you were already taking the first step towards being published. Congrats and thanks for the interview!” Congrats Jenelle and I’ve sent you an e-mail!

 

Wrapping Up: Craft Book Month

It’s hard to believe that Craft Book Month is almost over. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing the craft book love with our readers, and hearing your questions and comments about the publishing industry!

Stay tuned next Monday for another author Q&A and book giveaway we’ve saved for October, just to keep the party going. And in case you missed some posts along the way, click over to see a full list of Q&As, book reviews and posts.

Giveaways

It’s true! You can still enter your project through the end of the day tomorrow, September 30 to be eligible for prizes. Open this post in your browser for the inLinkz tool again. And while you’re at it, why not check out some of our amazing submissions so far and leave someone a lovely comment? You can find the button to link up and rules here.

And now some love to a couple of our sponsors. Sis Boom has some great new dress patterns in the shop! I’ve sewn the Jamie Dress, and it’s super easy to follow these patterns, because they show you step-by-step photos.

Dewberry Lane is a great little shop featuring books, patterns and quilting notions. Although the store is currently closed for maintenance, we’d like to invite you to follow Rachel’s blog Scrapendipity Designs for updates!

Practical Guide to Patchwork / Giveaway from Dewberry Lane Dewberry Lane shop

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