So…I have a job. It’s a pretty neat job as jobs go. It is part time, and has a few different components but the basic theme is teaching nutrition to elementary school students and helping initiate a cafeteria reform program to encourage healthier lunchrooms.
As some of you may have heard, for most sellers Etsy has been slowly tanking since they went public. August 2013 saw some big organizational changes including the option of designers outsourcing the making/shipping of their products. This opened up the Etsy market to hundreds of thousands of new shops, changing much of the dynamic from artisan products to mass produced imports. So this kind of sucked, and my sales declined quite a bit for the next 6 months. It has been a year and half since that change, and although my sales have increased, they’re still not back to 2010-2012 levels. I increased the number craft/art shows I participate in, dropped the local farmer’s market as it was definitely not profitable, and worried about the security of my income a LOT more.
I tend to be somewhat conservative, business and money wise. When I was growing up, my family made their income from the commercial fishing industry and you may have heard the saying “Spend money like a fisherman.” There was either a lot of money or none at all. As an adult, I’ve tried for a more secure middle ground. My idea of “security” is vastly different than most though; I’d never (even as a child) had health care until the recent standardized program, I’ve never had vacation or sick leave, no 401k, and so on. I’ve mostly build security by having little to no debt. I own my house outright, no car payments, and I really try to keep our overhead low. We shop at thrift stores, grow much of our own food, do most repairs ourselves, and try to lead a good life with what we have now rather than what we can pay back later.
But I don’t have a lot of disposable income, preferring to spend time with my family and working in our non-profit land trust project rather than working to build a hefty savings account. So when my sales drop, I see a pretty immediate affect. As a sole proprietor I also don’t have any protection if I’m injured on the job, which is inevitable given that most of my work involves repetitive motion. Because of the way I’ve chosen to run my business, I basically make enough but not much more than that. I could change things….I haven’t raised my prices in 6 years in spite of the fact my fiber cost has doubled since then. I do little or no wholesale, so that I can keep my price points low. I want people like me to be able to buy my yarn. Maybe I couldn’t afford to knit a dozen $200 sweaters, but I could save up and make one. Maybe not all of my knitting could be with $20 per skein yarn, but certainly some of it could be. I could outsource the making to other spinners who are willing to work for a pittance and profit off of their labor; they’re out there, both locally and internationally. I could switch most of the production to millspun, as Spincycle has done. I could focus on being an indie dyer and move toward little to no handspun.
However, I like the way I run my business. I just wish the sales were a bit higher and more consistent. Except that I can’t keep production spinning for years. Yeah, forgot about that.
In May of last year I contacted a former employer about a coordinator position. This employer is federally funded and is geared toward research and education for agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, and community members. The position was already filled, but they continued to stay in contact-applying for a grant which would allow me to join their program. I began in October, and the position runs through the school year. 18 hours a week, teaching kids about nutrition, a nearly perfect fit with my lifestyle. I can still make yarn but would have a financial cushion. I could spend time teaching kids during the year instead of just during the summer months as I normally teach a summer camp program at a local college.
Yesterday I discovered that the original coordinator position has re-opened, and I was asked to step in as interim. I haven’t begun yet, but this job sounds great. Exactly the sort of thing I have experience doing, and makes use of my inclination toward teaching as well as program organization and management. It also allows me to work with adults including the senior population. I think it even pays a bit better.
The drawback is that it is a year round program. This should be a good thing but I do teach full time for 7 weeks in the summer and adding a part time job to my schedule during a super busy time on the farm….is daunting. However, I think the biggest thing is that I am so very used to being self-employed. My whole life operates according to the seasons. I don’t know if most people can even conceive of this. Here’s a tiny part of what it looks like:
Jan-March: replenish yarn inventory, focus on homeschool, start working in the greenhouse, work on seed distro program, first farm intern arrives in Feb or March, catch up on admin duties like grant writing, applications for craft fairs, web design.
April-June: decreasing focus on yarn, more homeschool, 3 or 4 interns to education and manage, much work on planning/growing/installing 2 acres of annual food crops.
July-Sept: teach 7 week program at college, 3-5 interns, continue work on garden but begin CSA plus harvesting, food preservation, fall garden, try to get a week long family camping vacation in, mid August begin replenishing yarn inventory, back to homeschool in the fall.
Oct-Dec: extremely busy with yarn business including 6-8 craft fairs plus busiest Etsy quarter, finish farm harvest and food preservation, interns leave late November, work on seed distro program by harvesting/curing/processing seed, knit/crochet 100+ ready to wear items for sale, christmas.
So the year round thing is worrisome but do-able. But they also wanted to know if I’d be interested in full time employment! Full time! I do like the work–both practically and ideologically–but what a change that would be. In regard to financial security…it would be pretty awesome. Health Care! Vacation! 401k! But right now, I just don’t think I can give up the rest of what I have going on. If nothing else, I have a 13 year old who’ll only be spending every day with me for a few more years at best.
And yarn. I love yarn. I love fiber. I’m wrecking havoc on my body parts by spinning 200ish pounds of fiber a year, and I’m accepting that I need to change what I’m doing. I can’t do this full time for the next decade, even if the money was great. My fiber goals is 2015 are: buy an e-spinner (cheaper than replacing my knees and ankles), design 6 more patterns, do more sewing (my first fiber love), increase number of yarn subscriptions (I’d love for 25% of my business to be memberships!), learn to use my knitting machines, do more home yarn parties.
I felt like I was working, working, working in my thirties. Maybe my forties will be about working less but making more. That would be pretty darn awesome.
Speaking of awesome, I did promise some yarn photos. I have a limited amount of this new yarn-Bliss, a single ply fingerling, 100 gram skeins measure 329 yards, 50% Baby Alpaca and 50% Mulberry Silk. Pretty amazing. I really can’t even describe the softness.
I’ve also been selling quite a bit more art yarns, both Thicket and Thin as well as Shearlocked. So I’ve been making more of that as well. Right now, my shop is decently stocked with over 120 different colorways or products. I’ll probably have another 20 over the next couple of weeks. Don’t forget that January is my Knitting For Pleasure month. I offer a coupon code for 10% off (KNITTINGFORPLEASURE) because I want to acknowledge and reward all of the dedication and hard work my fellow knitters put in over the fall and early winter for holiday gifting. This is the time to do something for yourself. As for me, I’ve been into stranded colorwork lately and thrummed mittens. I’ll post a photo of those projects too.