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Path to Yarn – Out of the Cubicle Forest

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. and I ran a business. Yesterday I moved into cubicle-land but today I leave it behind.

Yesterday we left off at January 2009, when I made my Escape Plan.
The plan was simple. I needed 3 of the following 4 things to happen:

  1. My sales to reach $XX/week for 3 out of 4 weeks, for 3 months in a row. (This would show consistency.)
  2. My savings account to grow to $XX (to cover those weeks when my sales weren't as high).
  3. Open 2 wholesale/consignment accounts (I thought this would provide me with another stream of income, other than Etsy, but I soon realized that wholesale sales wouldn't help my bottom line as much as just selling the yarn full price in different venues).
  4. Some press for Blonde Chicken Boutique (that happened in March!)

This plan both gave me a goal (sell enough yarn, save enough money) and a metric to measure my progress.

No longer could I just complain about my dayjob; I knew what I had to do to quit!

I talked the plan over with my husband and he was comfortable with it, except he wanted to add something. He wanted me to not just keep up my books, but to print off a little report explaining sales and expenses. Although he didn't know it was called this, it's essentially a Profit & Loss Report (I used to have to do these for the pottery studio).

The report isn't for him, he doesn't even see it (unless something super exciting or weird happened), but he knew that if I assess it monthly, I'll be more diligent & responsible in my bookkeeping. (I'm the one that tracks the bills/household expenses and he knows I'm a tyrant when I really commit to something!)

My dayjob income was our family's primary income. Without it, or something replacing it, we can't pay 75% of our bills. So quitting my job was not taken lightly by either of us.

But Jay didn't want that to stand in my way, either. So we got out all the bills. We made up a budget (we've done this before, but we wanted to refresh it). We brainstormed ways to cut the cut-able bills (cable, for example) and ways to get rid of the things we could pay off (our car's nearly paid off!) Once we could do those things, and our monthly expenses lined up with my monthly yarn-income (for 3 months in a row), he'd feel completely comfortable with my quitting. I agreed.

(Side note: I hesitate to share all this, because I'm intensely private and this seems nearly too much. But SO many people have asked me how I made the decision and I want to be as honest as possible. We thought and prayed and planned HARD before it happened. We made concessions. We argued. We made up. This decision doesn't just affect me, but the whole family and without Jay's support, I would have been frozen by fear and uncertainty a long time ago.)

So January began with these goals in place. During both January and February, I made my sales goals! Yay!

In March, I learned that due to the state budget “crisis”, the University (my dayjob) was offering a buyout. 3 months pay + 6 months of what the state paid for my health insurance + some other bonuses.

I was overjoyed. Jay and I sat down and did more math, more planning. We asked ourselves, Will the buyout help us reach the goals in the Escape Plan? Or will it happen too soon?

We agreed that the buyout money would go to pay off the car and go into savings. My business would become the primary income in August (I got my last regular paycheck at the end of June). We knew we couldn't coddle the business, it needed to start supporting us as soon possible, so that if this crazy idea wasn't going to work, we'll know sooner, rather than later.

We decided it would work. I applied in April, but had to wait until May to find out if I was accepted. During this excruciating 2 months, we stuck with the Plan. My sales continued to be where we needed them, I started to look at health insurance plans.

I found that I was approved for the buyout, but I still needed to work until June 30th (and I won't get the buyout money until months later). That last month in the dayjob was so hard, so depressing. Coworkers stopped talking to me. No one acknowledged my birthday. People kept saying, “Oh, how cute”, about my business. Oh, and because my apartment was being renovated (and made more expensive) we had to move by July 12th.

But it happened! My last day rolled around and here I am, writing about the path that led me here!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below!

Thanks for coming along on this path with me, it's been to remember what exactly brought me here!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

Path To Yarn – Moving into Cubicle-land

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. Yesterday, I ran a business, but today, I move and lose it.

After working at the Kil'n Time for 2 years, I wanted a change. Jay & I had always wanted to move to Tennessee and we decided now was the time. We were young, underemployed (neither of our jobs required the Bachelor's degrees we had) and had few responsibilities. 2 weeks later, we lived in Johnson City, TN.

We launched blondechicken.com (it looked a bit different then) the week after we moved. I was selling my handdyed yarn straight from this website, not Etsy. I waited for the sales.

Nothing.

I imagined that my experience as a store manager of a pottery studio would provide me with another interesting, arty job. After a month of searching, talking, applying and interviewing, I had landed two jobs: office temp at the local state university and barista at Starbucks in the evenings.
In July and August 2006, I worked 80-90 hours a week. I had no time to make any yarn, let alone market my “new” business.

By September, I quit Starbucks and was busy temping around campus. I worked full-time, had all the responsibilities of a regular employee, but had no benefits or time off. I temped in the same position for nearly a year before I was hired to do the job I was already doing.

This time in my life is the hardest to write about. It was the “dark before the dawn” or whatever, but at the time, I didn't know there would be a dawn.

I started to fear that I was an office drone and would always be an office drone. My coworkers were miserable women in their 60s who hated what they did, and had hated it for 40 years. They monthly counted down until retirement, weekly counted down to payday and daily counted down until Friday.
It sucked me under.

One day my mom and I were wandering the local art supply store. The owner commented on my mom's shawl, one I had knit from my handspun yarn. My mom (of course) gushed about the beautiful yarn I made and the shopowner asked me to sell some in her shop.

In April 2007, I gave her 12 skeins and they hung in the attached art gallery.
Not a one of them sold and she returned them to me in October 2007.

After a year of the soul-sucking, I got a job in a different department in November 2007. Same job, better pay and MUCH better working conditions. When I went home from work, I actually had energy! I even had something approaching ambition.

In one of my energy-filled Saturdays, just a week after I started the new job, I took pictures of those unsold skeins of handspun and listed them on Etsy. (you can see them here)

They sold by December!
So I spun more, listed more, they sold!
By January, I was spending my days (at the day job) reading about succeeding on Etsy and my nights spinning.

And that was it.  I dedicated myself to building a plan that would get me OUT of cubicle-land and INTO the doing what I wanted. I read everything I could about small businesses. I learned all I could about the yarn industry. I tried every marketing strategy suggested. I spent hours in the Etsy forums and reading business blogs.

A year later, January 2009,  I made the official  Quit-My-Dayjob Plan. More on that tomorrow!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

Path to Yarn – Debbie Stoller changes my life

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. Today, Debbie Stoller changes my life.

After graduation, I moved back to Ohio and got a job at the paint-your-own-pottery studio, just until I found something “French-y-er”. 3 months after graduation, I got married  in a beautiful ceremony on a sunny day.

No matter how hard I looked and how many jobs I applied to, I wasn't offered a single job that required a BA. I was confused, frustrated and missing my friends.

I joke that I started to knit after a few months of marriage out of boredom. But it's not far from the truth. I didn't have any friends in town (I had moved to a different part of the state than I grew up in) and we couldn't afford to go out much. Jay's only hobby was video games, so I needed something to keep my hands busy.

In October of 2004, I heard the editor of my favorite magazine, Bust, was coming to the local indie bookstore.  Debbie Stoller was going to talk about her new book, Stitch ‘N Bitch.

I went to the reading, as a Bust subscriber, but after hearing her talk about knitting, I decided to pick up her book (and have her sign it!) and give knitting another chance.

I went home that night and started reading,  not knitting, just reading. By the next morning I had discovered Craftster, Knitty and the whole online knitting community.

Unlike my first knitting book, this one had clearly written instructions, not just pictures. And if I didn't understand something, I now had access to a zillion people who could answer my questions!

I was still working at the Kil'n Time and by now (3 months in) I'd become the Assistant Manager. The manager wanted to move on to other things and offered me the job. It was a small business with an absentee owner.  The manager was responsible for EVERYTHING: financial reports, employee relations, buying stock, customer service.

I took the job and loved it. Everything about making the business better,  more efficient and more fun was so exciting. After just a few months of management, I remembered how I loved selling those friendship bracelets. I started to think…maybe I loved this even more than French Lit?

As my love for & knowledge of business-y stuff grew, so did my knitting. By Easter of 2005, I had knit my first (giant, ugly, mohair) sweater and in March I started my first knitting blog to record my dyeing experiments.

By June I called my dyeing, knitting, designing work Blonde Chicken Boutique, after the nickname Jay's Poppa gave me before he passed away. Jay always teased me with it (so un-feminist, I thought!), and it seemed like an appropriately silly name. I opened a shop on Etsy (I was one of the first 100 shops!), but only listed 2 or 3 skeins.

In January 2006, I approached the local yarn store (there were two, but this was the artsy-er one) and offered to dye custom yarn for her shop, on yarn they provided. This way the start-up cost to me was only the dye and my time.

The owner jumped at the idea and, because one of her employees had just quit, offered me a job. (I took it, but continued as the manager of the Kil'n Time, too)

My custom-dyed yarn sold well in her shop and my job gave me insight into what other knitters look for in a yarn and the questions they have. I've always been a self-taught knitter, preferring to substitute yarns and knit my own designs, but the yarn shop taught me that very few knitters work like that. Many crafters want patterns and explanations and guidance.

I learned so much from the Kil'n Time, the yarn shop and the beginnings of BCB, but it wasn't enough to save me from the cubicle. Tomorrow, BCB gets a website, I move to TN and into cublicle-land.

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4:30 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

Path to Yarn – Learning to Knit

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

Yesterday the crafty-ness started at home. Today, I got to college and learn to knit!

I went to a beautiful little University, 8 hours away from home, deep in southeast Tennessee. After a freshman year filled with what-should-I-major-in? torture, I decided on French Literature.

I absolutely loved books and I love language, and I had taken 4 years of French in High School, so it just made sense.  I imagined myself as a French professor, at a small college (perhaps the one I attended), spending my days teaching a few dedicated students the joys of Prevert's poetry, while reading and writing and always learning.

And it wasn't until I was a Teacher's Assistant my senior year, that I ever doubted the plan. During my first day to teach the class, I stood up….and was blank. All those faces staring at me! I started shaking and blushing and stammering (in English!)

While I denied it at first, I knew: I was terrified of standing in front of people – how did I think I was going to be a professor? I didn't really acknowledge that teaching WASN'T for me until a year after graduation, when I started to apply to grad schools.

By this time, I was deep into knitting and dyeing and business-stuff, so moving on from French Lit was a little easier.

But wait, let's go back to college!

All along, I did little crafty things. Making dinners for my roomates, scrapbooking, handwriting letters to my best friend.

But my senior year, I stumbled into the craft section of the bookstore. This was in 2004, when big, gorgeous knitting books were just starting to hit the shelves.

I bought Knitting Pretty, got really hideous mauve acrylic yarn and some metal needles. When I got home, me and my roomate Lindsay sat on my bed and tried to decipher the instructions.

We would read slowly, look at the pictures, look at the yarn in our hands.

Casting on was a breeze (backwards loop cast-on) but the knitting, not so much.

We were completely stuck at the “pull loop on right needle through loop on left needle”. What? Pull what through what? The pictures showed the yarn wrapping around the right needle and in the next picture – bam! The new stitch is made!

Eventually we got it and I knit maybe 50 rows on that scarf before it went in a bag and I focused on gradutation, moving back to Ohio, and planning my wedding.

Tomorrow, I get married (to Jay) & get obsessed (with yarn)!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer at 3! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

The Path to Yarn – It starts at home

This week I'm celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

My earliest memories involve crafty-ness. When I think back, I can only picture vignettes of a crafty life, although certainly the signs were around me everyday. Here are my favorite crafty memories.

5 yrs old – My mom & I are hunched over a coloring book. She is beautifully coloring in her page, while I'm scribbling on mine, stopping often to admire her page. She teaches me to outline the sections before coloring them in, while all the while gushing over my “art”.

7 yrs old – My Grams sewed bridesmaids dresses for anyone in our church who got married. She kept all the shiny scraps and I fashioned  clothes for the tiny dolls in my dollhouse. I made a “footstool” for the dolls out of a spool, cotton batting and fabric. Grams gushed over my creativity.

10 yrs old – Mom is graduating from Nursing School. There'll be a big ceremony in December, right before Christmas. This warrants a Very Special Dress. Grams takes me to the little Jo-ann's and tells me to pick ANY fabric and pattern I want. We get a princess-cut dress with a BIG bow in the back and a full skirt. The top is dark green velvet and the bottom is red/green gingham taffeta. I really hate velvet (still do) but Grams insists I can't have a cotton top with the taffeta skirt. She's right, of course, and the dress makes me feel like a princess. I tell EVERYone that Grams made it. They don't seem impressed.

This experience cements my belief that having something made just for you is luxury and decadence and fabulousness. I forgot this for a few years (high school & college), but now I believe it with all my heart. True fabulousness is a taffeta skirt.

13 yrs old – On one of our (many many) trips to the craft store, my mom goes down the bead aisle. She shows me jewelry-making supplies, like thoset she used as a kid. We get a few kinds of hemp and some beads, but she promises me we have lots at home. When we get home, she pulls out a tin that she had at my age, filled with beads and other jewelry stuff. Jackpot!

I become obsessed with braiding jewelry and attempt to sell friendship bracelets at church camp. A few people buy them but my bracelets are soon confiscated. Undeterred, I make more & try to sell them on the school bus. I'm not so great at the “sales” part, but I love the making.

14 yrs old – I drown myself in books. I barely lift my nose out of one for the next 6 years. When I do, there is a huge barrel of legos (for building!), crayons and colored pencils (for drawing!) and piles of construction paper (for collages!) on hand. But anything other than reading is simply an interruption.

While I spend Saturday afternoons reading, my mom ( while working full-time) & Grams slipcover every pillow in their homes, alter old clothes, bake gorgeous cakes, grow amazing gardens and spend a lot of time on crafts I don't understand (covering cardboard boxes with floral fabric?).  It's just part of life, this making.

With a start like this, how could I have done anything BUT became a full-time crafter?

Tomorrow, I learn to knit (or rather, I share the story of learning to knit!)

bcbrelaunch

PS. Don't forget: I'm answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 2pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I'll answer at 2! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don't forget there's a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

Five Podcasts I Listen to Every Week

5 podcasts

Podcasts have been by my side at every step in this creative journey, since 2006. From dyeing my first skeins, to spinning every night after my day job, to my first big craft show prep (spinning for 5 hours per day is booooring – ya need some entertainment), to my first days self-employed. I talk about the books I read every month, but I hardly ever talk about this super-influential medium and I'd like to fix that.

This week I'm honoring the medium with a kind of “podcast week” here on the blog. Today I'll share my favorites, tomorrow I'll introduce you to my podcast and on Thursday I'll tell you how I started a podcast in one week (after three years of thinking about it).

The whole process of creating my podcast has me thinking about my favorite podcasts and how much the “scene” has changed since Jay bought my very first iPod Shuffle in 2006, to listen to the very first podcasts I discovered: Cast-On + KnitCast (This episode of Cast-On influenced my entire business direction.) Soon I was mainlining CraftyPod and CraftSanity and This American Life and Stash + Burn.

I listen to  different podcasts today, but I love them just as much as ever. Before I share my own tomorrow, I wanted to talk about podcasts from a listener's perspective. The following shows are my inspiration – not just in podcasting, but in life. (True Story: When someone gets in your head with their voice, you carry them around with you.) I find it hard to describe what's great about a piece of media, so instead of telling you what it's about, I'll just tell you when I listen and if you're curious download an episode or two and try it for yourself!

5 podcasts I listen to every week:

Unmistakable Creative

Srini is my go-to running partner. (He doesn't know. In reality, he's only consented to the Oceanside Pier while discussing exceptionalism.) His interviews with creatives keep me company as I train for my upcoming 10k. The length is just right for keeping me from looking at my watch + I always have 100 new ideas to write in my journal the minute I end my run. Bonus points for interviewing as many women as men (there's a huge gender divide in the business podcast-world. It makes me crazy.)

Slate Podcasts

I started with the Political Gabfest and now subscribe to them all, via the “daily podcast” feed. I listen every week while sewing or washing dishes. Bonus points for being one Jay and I both like – perfect for road tripping.

Alton Browncast

You know I love a nerd, and Alton's a big food nerd. Lately he's been interviewing the most interesting food-people + it fits perfectly into cooking a bit-longer meal while cleaning up as I go.

Elise Gets Crafty

This one's brand-new but has already earned a spot in my weekly rotation, usually while I'm cooking dinner – it's the perfect length for a quick dinner!

Pop Culture Happy Hour

This one just makes me happy and is the perfect sewing companion. I'm pretty sure Linda Holmes and I would be friends.

3 more favorite podcasts:

I don't listen to these every week – but they're on heavy rotation:

Nerdist – I love the casual, conversational style of interview and Chris Hardwick hits all my nerdy buttons. Jay + I save up episodes and listen together during road trips. It's often pretty long, which is perfect when you're staring down a 4 hour drive.

While She Naps with Abby Glassenberg – I love Abby's honesty and authenticity when it comes to how she runs her business. She talks to a wide variety of people in the fiber art world…but of course I'm biased because she invited me on as a guest. 🙂

CraftLit – I dip in and out of Heather's amazing podcast, picking up specific books and following along. This is a totally genius solution if you: feel like you missed out on “getting” literature (or you just never read it), are learning English, are homeschooling, or just want to seem/feel smarter.

Your turn!

You'll notice I don't have any strictly-business or strictly-knitting podcasts (although there are a zillion of each.) The truth is, after being bored to tears the last time I looked for new ones (um..3 years ago?), I haven't even tried any new ones (unless people I already read start a podcast, like Elise + Abby.) I'd love to find some new ones – what do you listen to?
You can click here to tell me in a quick 5-question survey.