And lucky you, Kate is giving you the chance to win one of her cute creations. I'm super jealous... You will get the chance to choose your favorite prize, so scroll down to enter the giveaway!
Before that, you should definitely check out my interview with Kate, and not just because she's a wordy gal like me! I love the inspiration for her shop name, as well as the story of how she started making these amigurumi. Oh, and find out what amigurumi are!
Tell me a little bit about yourself!
I've been doing arts and crafts my entire life. My father is an artist (oil painting, he's a graphic designer by trade), and my mother has always been a handmade enthusiast (mainly knitting, but when I was growing up she did a lot of quilting and now is into furniture reupholstery, rehabilitating her "roadside treasures"). So as a child I was always around plenty of art supplies. I liked drawing best, but I did everything from painting to pottery. I always took art classes in and outside of school, up through AP art in high school.
I started crocheting only after a long dormant period of creating. I had gone to college thinking I'd major in studio art, and wound up taking not even one class in it (getting a low score in AP art was a major setback for me, and I really regret that I took it so hard!). Instead, I majored in sociology with a focus in media studies. I went on to work as a magazine editor in New York City, and later moved to California to pursue a graduate degree in sociology. Near the end of my graduate career (I made it almost all the way to a PhD and coauthored an academic book along the way), my mom taught me the basic crochet stitches while I was on a trip home back east in spring of 2011. It had always bothered me that I had never gotten the hang of knitting -- my mom is a great knitter, and her mother, whom I was very close to, was an amazing knitter -- but crochet came miraculously easily. Before that weekend was out, I'd taught myself granny squares, and within weeks I'd made an afghan!
I found lots of inspiration and kindred spirits on Ravelry.com -- I had no idea so many people were into crochet, and that there were so many things you could do with it. My first amigurumi (Japanese for, more or less, soft knitted toy) was a very simple owl made for my husband, but after that, I took off. Between books and the internet, I taught myself all kinds of crochet techniques (Tunisian crochet, tapestry crochet, intarsia), and I soon started designing my own patterns for amigurumi.
Making amigurumi really turned a corner for me -- it reawakened this part of me that had been dormant for years. For the first time since high school, I find myself drawing all the time, and my patterns are born from these sketches. (I've also had to relearn some basic math and geometry that my high school self thought I'd never need to know later!) I was crocheting every day, and creating new things all the time, and pretty soon my friends' and families' homes (not to mention my apartment) were overflowing with the stuff.
When people I made things for would show my crochet to their friends (in particular, new moms -- I'm at the age where I make a lot of people baby gifts), they'd inevitably ask, "Is she on Etsy?" I only had a fuzzy awareness of Etsy at the time. But by last winter, disillusioned with academia and starting a new 9-to-5 job (I work for an internet startup), I started looking into it more seriously. I bought every book I could find on starting a handmade business, and on Groundhog Day (see, more animals!) Small and Great Crochet was born. It's funny, because it often feels to me that this is the last thing I would have wound up doing, but people who've known me the longest always say it absolutely makes sense.
Where did the name of your store come from?
I love this question! It's one I almost never get. I'm a lifelong animal enthusiast, and animals are my favorite things to crochet. My shop name is basically the reverse of "all creatures great and small" (I loved the James Herriot books as a child). I create "small and great" crocheted versions of all creatures great and small. (I do make accessories and crocheted food and other things as well, but like I said, animals are my favorites!)
Why did you start making goods for Small and Great?
Like I said, I'd pretty much given everyone I knew as much crochet as they could handle, and people kept encouraging me to try selling my wares. I was really nervous about it -- most handmade businesses fail, and I was not convinced that this was going to be viable. But it was just something I really wanted to do.
I started out making hats and accessories, thinking that that was what I needed to sell in order to seem "serious." When friends would see my shop though, they'd always ask where all the little animals and creatures were. I started adding those, and to my surprise, people actually started buying them! Now I'm refining and refocusing more and more on the animals (and other amigurumi like my fruit and doughnuts), since those are what people really seem to love, and really they're what I'm most passionate about making.
What is your favorite item?
I have two favorites. One is my crochet octopus, which has been popular at shows and which I just finally added to my Etsy shop. My friend Alex, who has consistently been really encouraging of my crochet, had the idea I should make an octopus -- that it would combine making something that has some weight and is three-dimensional (the octopus' head/body) with the softness of yarn (the octopus' frilly tentacles). I think he was absolutely right! The octopus is satisfying in so many ways. Also, I've found that people really, really like to put them on their heads (one recent customer intended to turn hers into a fascinator).
My other favorites are my crocheted doughnuts. Being from the east coast, I am often nostalgic for Dunkin' Donuts, but one of my favorite hidden treasures in San Diego county is Peterson's Donut Corner in Escondido (just typing this is making my stomach growl -- also I'd link to them but yeah they don't have a website, that's how old-school it is!). It's a nearly 50-year-old mom-and-pop that makes a huge variety of homemade doughnuts, and my colorfully "frosted" crochet doughnuts were inspired by a craving I had one day. The doughnut pattern was also an especially satisfying design challenge -- making something with a hole in the middle -- and I was so happy with how it turned out. I do remember a little math!
What is your most popular item?
My most popular item is my Tiny Teddy. Tiny Teddies aren't actually that tiny, it's mainly me making an Arrested Development reference! But I got started making them as baby gifts for friends, and they consistently sell out at craft shows. They're fairly simple -- little striped cotton bears -- but people seem to like them. I do sell a large number that are intended for babies (and oh my gosh do I swoon when someone sends me a pic of a baby with a Tiny Teddy!) but plenty of adults buy them for themselves. People just like cute stuff.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
All over the place! Like I said, most of my designs start from sketches -- a while ago, I drew a giraffe and I am just dying to make that into a crochet reality. Some come from custom orders, or from animals my friends like. I also try to just keep my eyes open. I started doing crochet foxes after one day last March when I was walking down the street and I saw a group of teenage girls. Three of them were wearing shirts with foxes on them, and I just thought, "Okay, foxes are the new owls." I'm now trying to figure out what the next fox will be!
Outside of amigurumi, all of my crocheted hats and scarves are made with hand-dyed yarn. All my yarn colors are inspired by gemstones, but not just any gems -- specifically, the streets in the SD neighborhood of Pacific Beach that are named after gemstones (most of the neighborhoods in San Diego have "themed" street names, something that I find really endearing). So even when I'm doing something like a hat, there's still that element of inspiration from nature.
What makes your store unique?
Everything I make is handmade by me, from my own patterns. You won't find it anywhere else! My accessories are made with hand-dyed yarn, which I like to think makes even basics like slouchy beanies and infinity scarves just a little bit different. Especially in my animals though, I try to carry through what I think of as the small and great aesthetic -- cute, modern, colorful, and (just to be clear), cute.
What is the toughest part about making your goods?
How long it takes. I'm pretty fast at this point, but crochet does not go quickly! Even my simplest pieces are hundreds of stitches… and then they need assembly, embellishment, and so on. I do everything -- from painting the eyes (more on that in a second) to embroidery -- by hand, by myself. So it's a very slow process. I have a day job, so I can only make so much at a given time.
At the same time though, when people ask me if I wish my work were somehow "scalable", or even if I would hire other people to do it, I always say you know, I really wouldn't. I think a lot of what is special about getting something handmade is that it was just that -- hand made. Made by my two hands. I don't want to sell you something that I could mass-produce. I want to help you find something that you (or the person you give it to) will want to hold onto forever. If it were mass-made, if it weren't for every bit of me that I feel like I put into each object I crochet, it just wouldn't be the same.
I think a lot of my thinking on this comes from being part of a family that really values handmade items. My maternal grandmother, who was a remarkable knitter, passed away several years ago, and I miss her all the time. I feel closest to her through the things that she made for me -- she put her love into her knitting. Even though most of the time I'm crocheting something for someone I'll never meet, I want them to be able to see the love and care that I put into each item -- it's something you can't buy at the mall. Gosh I hope I don't sound too sappy!
Do you take custom orders?
I do! My amigurumi are all made-to-order, so I make it clear in the listings that you should choose what color you want, etc. Same goes for eyes. I couldn't find safety eyes that I liked, so I buy clear eyes and hand paint them using nontoxic, non-water soluble paint. Though safety eyes are (in my opinion) pretty darn safe -- I'm an adult and I can't get them to budge once they're on -- if a customer wants embroidered eyes, I'm always happy to do that too.
For fully custom orders -- e.g., a whole new animal that's not even offered in my shop -- I encourage people to email me and we'll talk. Sometimes I can modify an existing pattern and have something made relatively quickly (e.g., I could turn my crochet horse into a unicorn without a crazy amount of work). For other ideas -- like my giraffe! -- it's going to take a lot longer. I love doing custom work though, it gives me ideas for new things to make.
When is the last day I can order in time for Christmas Day?
On Etsy, I say December 1. But realistically, December 15 would most likely work. My timeline really varies depending on the complexity of the piece, and if I can get it made for you in time, I want to help you have a special gift under the tree!
Where can I see more of your work and buy a gift?
Other: Ravelry.com -- if you crochet too, you can find my designs (including the free pattern for my amigurumi fancy goldfish) at http://www.ravelry.com/designers/kate-wood
Are you going to be at any shows soon, so I can see your work in person and say hello?
As of now, just Patchwork Santa Ana on 12/1. I'll be in Space UU at the corner of Second and Sycamore. If you look at the map on their site, I'll be in that big orange bag that says "More Art + Craft Vendors." There's some possibility I'll squeeze in an extra show in December (most likely on 12/8) -- I have a couple of opportunities for that, I'm just trying to figure out if I really can handle doing two shows in two weeks again!
Isn't Kate great? I'm a huge fan of her work and I'm so glad that I can feature it. :) I mean, she hand-dyes yarn, hand-paints eyes, and creates her own patterns. That's. Just. Amazing. By the way, don't you just adore the "Small and Great" banner that she crocheted. So, so cute!
Let's get to the giveaway! For your prize, you will have your choice of an octopus OR a tutu teddy OR two donuts. Which one is your favorite?
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