“Progress isn’t guaranteed. It’s not inevitable. It’s something that has to be fought for.” – Barack Obama”
Sometimes, to know how far you’ve come, you have to look to the past. The past isn’t someplace I like to spend too much time in, but I definitely like seeing my progress laid out in a way that is so much more clear upon reflection than it ever was while I was in those moments!
Progress? It’s not linear.
I have to remind myself of this regularly, y’all. I *know* it, but there’s knowing, and knowing. It is easy to get discouraged when you’re in one of those valleys or twists in the road, but they are totally normal. When the low points get you down, it’s sometimes helpful to take a retrospective through your history to see the progress that you’ve actually made.
In my case, I’ve definitely taken some twists and turns, but of course there is measurable progress once I look over my history. When I started my yarn and fiber business, I lived in tiny Shelby NC, and my work looked like this:
For a while I just sold yarn – just spindle spun, then wheel spun as well once I got my first spinning wheel. I sold retail on Etsy, at small craft shows, and at the local farmers market. Eventually, my LYS started selling some of my yarn, too, and then hosting me to teach Intro to Spindle Spinning – my very first teaching experiences! I purchased a drum carder and added carded fiber to my offerings. I also sold some knitted and felted items. I was the smallest of small time but steadily growing.
I started traveling to bigger shows, in other states. It was a thrill to vend in Chattanooga TN, Columbia SC, in other cities in NC like Durham, Raleigh, and Charlotte, and then in my hometown of Baltimore MD. I got a little bigger, a little more well known. I taught classes at other yarn shops, and in with my local Etsy group. We started organizing our own shows and I used my experience as a promoter and organizer from the goth club days to help out and get stuff done.
My marriage fell apart. I moved out. I started dyeing fiber in my new place. I was struggling to pay rent and keep my business going and not drown in depression and heartbreak. I was experiencing my first serious twisty, unexpected detour.
I moved back to Baltimore. I teamed up with my then boyfriend to start making BIG knitting needles, crochet hooks, plus spindles and fiber tools. I did some of the big craft shows here, and was a teacher and co-organizer of Spinquest in Front Royal VA for several years, partnered with some amazing fiber artists. I started helping as a booth hand for Wild Hare Fiber Studio at fiber festivals, and that allowed me to get my wares into shows I would not have been able to, otherwise. [I am so grateful to Melissa for this!]
I felt like I was really getting somewhere! I took classes/workshops with Lexi Boeger/Pluckyfluff, Heather Lightbody/Girl With A Hook, and Jacey Boggs Faulkner. I taught classes in spinning textured yarns. I OPENED A STUDIO SPACE, outside the house, totally legit! I started carrying other fiber artists’ work in my studio, and I added items like buttons and some finished creations. I sent BIG tools all over the world.
I set up and ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund a new workshop space to expand production of big tools. That was a huge deal, because it was a lot of work and coordination, and the fail rate for peer funded campaigns is well known to be high. I used all my expertise from my previous endeavors to plot out the management of the campaign and fulfillment, and it paid off. We sent out all rewards, built the workshop, and even got some new woodworking tools and wood. Then shortly after, the bottom fell out of my relationship and eventually, I lost everything. It was a huge setback for me, and it was the start of a series of big changes.
I lost my studio space. The economy was dragging and it was getting harder and harder to afford rent. I moved the studio back home, which is cheaper but makes doing certain things like dyeing and washing fleece more difficult. I watched sales slow down due to a lot of factors. I tried to make up for that by teaching more, and introducing new products like my Arcanity jewelry, plant podlets, and tiny tapestries. I am traveling less and doing more small and local shows. Things feel smaller right now but I’ve learned that the ebb and flow is normal and remaining calm is key. I also have some amazing things happening like my Artist In Residence position at FiberyGoodness, and some future writing gigs that will look AMAZING on my resume.
Growth, progress – it truly isn’t linear. My business has expanded and contracted and expanded again – sometimes in very unexpected directions. And here’s the thing – after this long winded recitation of my history as a small business owner and fiber artist – this applies to you, the fiber artist reading this. Your journey in fiber arts will also go in unexpected directions. You will find some parts of your experience to be smooth, easy, fulfilling. Some of it will be frustrating and maybe even unsuccessful. That’s okay! You might try weaving or tatting or spinning and HATE it. That’s okay too. It is a twisty, exciting journey to be a fiber artist, and the challenge is to keep traveling on the road even if you take a couple of wrong turns along the way.
I’m not the same fiber artist that I was when I started. I have tried crochet, knitting, weaving, macrame, spinning, felting, dyeing, sewing, and more. I only regularly use a few of these skills. Each exploration builds knowledge, and that’s the key. Some things I’ve tried, I’ve hated at first and it wasn’t until much later that I developed a liking for them. I tell my students this all the time! You don’t have to love all the fiber arts, and you don’t have to feel bad about not loving one of the fiber arts that everyone else loves. You also can totally change your mind down the line!
And when you decide to pursue one of the fiber arts, remember that progress is not linear. You might start out strong, putter along for a while at one skill level, then finally advance to the next level. You might shoot up the levels and become a master really fast. You may only ever be at a beginner’s stage, but as long as you love doing it, that is ALL that matters.
In the end, you just have to love what you are doing, whatever it is.