World Crafters are people who make things in different parts of the world. Some turned their hobby into a profession, some are balancing a day job with small crafty business, some chose to keep their hobby and just enjoy making, creating and giving. Behind each stitch is a story…

Almost a year ago I found the coziest and prettiest Instagram account – Every time I see these chunky, cozy, textured, cabled big knits I just want to wrap myself in them. Today the maker and owner of La Reserve Design, aka Chunky Thick Wool Blanket Specialist, Alison, is talking about yarn, inspiration, craft social media and makers community. 

Do you remember your first stitch? What was the beginning of your knitting story?

The first thing I ever knit was a long circular tube made from a children’s spooling kit given to me by my grandmother. I remember being so proud of my first “knit” project, which was pretty much a useless tube of uneven stockinette stitches. When I was a bit older my grandmother taught me how to do the garter stitch. I think this is how most people start knitting – a relative or friend teaches them the garter stitch and then for years all they can knit are squares or rectangle scarves! My grandmother is a wonderful lady and without her I would have never picked up a pair of needles, but her knitting lessons pretty much ended with the garter stitch. Since then I have taken many workshops, watched pretty much all of YouTube, and continued to learn as much as I can from friends and family about the craft.

What made you turn your hobby into business? Was it a conscious decision or it just happened on its own?

Turning my hobby into a business was definitely not a well thought out or calculated plan! I was all over the place the first couple of months I tried to sell my knitwear – making yarn runs every couple of days, not calculating my costs or time properly, and basically trying to figure it all out on the fly. I love knitting large chunky blankets, which, as you probably know, are very satisfying to make but quite costly in terms of yarn consumption and labour. I decided to list some of my items on Etsy on a complete whim. I remember turning to my fiancee and saying: “What have I got to lose? Worst comes to worst I’ll never sell anything, but the upside is I can continue to fund my craft addiction without spending my paycheck on yarn every month.” 

I would love to talk about social media a little bit. How important is the social media for a successful craft business right now? How to find a healthy balance between being active on social media and still devote enough time to your business? 

This is an amazing question! The truth is I’ve never been very active on social media in my personal life (I’m that person who has had the same profile picture since 2012). I was very hesitant to get involved with social media at all for my knitting because I felt ‘it just wasn’t me’. I started an Instagram account for La Reserve Design as a way of connecting to all of the beautiful and inspirational makers I had stumbled across online, without any intention of growing my following or even posting my own content. I very quickly became addicted to the whole thing. I love the instant feedback and I am constantly blown away by the support and creativity of the handmade community that has developed on Instagram. I’ve been so lucky to connect with some amazing makers, and have even become involved with a community called Our Maker Life, which is holding an offline makers’ meet-up this summer!

I remember you opened a very interesting discussion in your Instagram feed about sharing the process of your work with others and how it can actually turn against you, when some people can overuse it and even steal your ideas. Did you find a way to balance the desire to share your knowledge and the need to protect your copyright?

The supportive and creative nature of this IG community inspired me to share my process online like an open book, and I’ll admit I was very naive to the fact that there might be consequences to trying to grow a business while revealing all my makers secrets. After this realization I threw the question out there on IG, and I was overwhelmed with comments and messages that confirmed that this is something that as a community we all face. While I recognize that there is nothing proprietary about knits and purls, it’s hard to feel like your ideas are being copied or re-sold without care for the time and effort it took for their initial development.

This issue is something that I talk about all the time with the Our Maker Life team as we try to strategize ways to encourage everyone to create their own patterns and find their own identity online, along with giving credit to the makers they were originally inspired by to create. I recently began taking over the Our Maker Life blog every week with “Tip Tuesday”, where I share one of my makers secrets with the community at large. For me, this is my way of staying open about my process and connecting with everyone while maintaining some control over what I chose to share.

Having a craft business definitely requires some skills that go way beyond actual knitting/crochet. From your experience, what things did you have to learn apart from your craft to keep your business going?

I’m definitely still learning all the skills that make a good business run smoothly! I had to seriously up my photography game to be able to sell things online (just through photos). I’ve also had to learn a lot about accounting and bookkeeping to keep my craft business healthy. When I first started selling my knitwear, my father, who runs his own business, sat down with me and crunched the numbers so to speak. It taught me a lot about looking at the big picture of my small project and trying not to get bogged with too many creative ideas before making sure it makes overall sense for my business.

What advice would you give to someone who is just thinking about opening her/his craft business, Etsy shop for example? Looking back to your start what would you do differently, if anything?
My one piece of advice for anyone starting any project is to manage your expectations and be patient. If you’re looking for an overnight success the handmade marketplace is not the place for you. If you’re looking to start a project you can be proud of then you have nothing to lose. Looking back I wouldn’t do anything differently. What I love about my Etsy store is that it’s all mine. My mistakes, my successes, and all the uncertainties in between are all mine. Opening my knitwear store has really felt like I am doing something for myself – so in that sense I wouldn’t change a thing.
Time management. Always a fascinating thing to talk about with crafters – it seems like it is our worst enemy 🙂 How do you balance creating/Instagram activity/working with clients and your life in general? 
Time management is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from running my own craft business. At first I largely underestimated what my time was worth and took on too much to chew. By nature knitting is a labor intensive, and it’s easy to undervalue your time when you start out. After making one of my largest custom pieces, a hand knit queen sized chunky blanket, I realized I had only made about $3.00 an hour on the whole project. I was like “Okay, that was a real labor of love. Now it’s time to re-evaluate what I’m making and how much my time is worth.” 
 Are you an yarn-a-holic? How big is your stash?

I am definitely a yarn-a-holic! My day job and background is in textile design, so I go totally gaga over anything fiber related. Recently I’ve been very good about not adding yarn to my stash without a clear plan for its use. I have a bad habit of buying beautiful yarn just because it’s beautiful, and then being too hesitant to use it for anything because I don’t want to waste it. I live in a fairly open concept 1 bedroom apartment which is a great motivator to keep my yarn stash under control!

Do you have a clear “dream” destination for your business or you just enjoy what you have right now and go with the flow? 

The dream for my business is to turn La Reserve Design into a full time (or almost full time) job. I’m not sure what that job looks like yet, but I’m sure it’ll involve a lot of hard work to get there. I wouldn’t call it a “go with the flow” attitude, but more like I’m on a very flexible plan at the moment.

The series are called “World Crafters”, as I believe our surroundings can have a great influence on our work. Would you mind telling about your corner of the world? What’s it like? What energy does this place have? 

I was born and live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and I agree that my surroundings have definitely had a large influence on me and my work. Canada is known globally for a couple of things, but it’s reputation for cold, long winters are no joke. I think this is why I love chunky knits so much. Sometimes I see beautiful, intricately knit scarves with lace patterns on them and I think:“When would you wear that? The snow and wind would blow right through the hours of work that went into this design!

Montreal is a pretty unique place in Canada. It’s located in Quebec, with a predominantly French speaking population in an otherwise English country, and has an enormous restaurant/ food scene, with a vibrant local culture. While my investment banking friends fled to NYC and Toronto after university in search of the corporate experience and salaries, those of us who chose to remain in Montreal are pursuing slightly more creative endeavors. Thinking of my extended circle of peers, young professionals are pursuing paths like: textile design, cooking and opening restaurants, personal training, graphic design, interior design, and so on. Although no place is perfect and Montreal certainly has it’s own set of politics, I firmly believe that growing up here has made it possible for me to start my own knitwear business.
What “gifts of knitting” did you get from your craft?

I would have to say knitting has taught me patience and has forced me to slow down and sit still for a couple of minutes everyday. It has also taught me that ripping out a project that doesn’t feel right is all part of the fun, and if I were to extrapolate on this idea to other parts of my life: it’s never too late to do something new or start over. The biggest gift of all has been the amazing community of fellow makers I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with (have I mentioned Our maker life yet? 🙂 ). The handmade community has taught me so much about pursuing a creative business and that supporting each other is a win-win. You know what I mean? “Success is not a zero sum game” or “Supporting someone else’s success doesn’t take away from your own” and all that good stuff!
Dear Alison, thank you so much for sharing your knitting story with us! You can find Alison on her Instagram and in her beautiful Etsy shop – La Reserve Design, where you will find not only her gorgeous chunky knits, but also patterns for them! 
Have a great creative weekend!