“I’m a better mom now. I’m less grumpy,” says Valerie Asbury, reflecting on her decision give up a career in graphic design to strike out on her own as a fiber artist. “The hardest part was giving up that security, but now I feel released from the weight of the world.”
Asbury, who earned a master’s degree in textile weaving, also mastered knitting and tatting, and in 2009 opened Fibers Studio on Etsy to showcase her hand-made accessories. “I am happy to have so much variety in what I do,” says Asbury, who lives with her husband and three children (ages 6, 7, and 12) in Lexington, Ky. “It’s really limitless, and I can change gears anytime I want.”
ISBB: How did you get started making things by hand?
Asbury: Before I was five, I did oil painting with my grandma. She was a very hands-on, crafty person. She took me under her wing, and over time I started sewing with her and my great-grandma. I went from embroidering a sampler to sewing sundresses and on to quilting. Learning to do these things with my family has been a tradition for as long as I can remember.
After 20 years as a graphic designer, you quit to become a crafter. Why?
I needed to feel more connected to my work. I had really young kids, and I was trying to think of something I could do in my home that was more fulfilling. Weaving was an option, but I couldn’t really take my three-foot loom to my kids’ doctors appointments! I taught myself to knit and started making ribbon scarves and smaller things. When my great-grandmother died, I inherited her tatting supplies, and I thought maybe I should sit down and learn that. It took a week, then it clicked. I’ve kind of fallen in love with it.
What do you love about the work you do now?
The process of creating. There’s a repetitive way you move with very, very simple tools. You get into a rhythm, as if it’s part of you, to make a unique piece of art come to life. You are doing something you love and getting to be yourself. It’s really comfortable, because you’re creating in the moment. That’s what keeps me coming back.
How much time do you spend on your blog and social media to promote your business?
About 25 percent. The more you write and post, the more traffic you can drive to your website. I look forward to seeing who comments; I like that social interaction. I didn’t realize that someone in Norway was actually on my page, and someone in Hong Kong. Facebook is more helpful in the social aspect of communicating. People take more time with it. I’ve only been on Pinterest about six months. I know when someone pins, but I’m not sure if it’s driving traffic. Etsy is a very useful tool to get your stuff out there.
How does Weave work into your schedule?
I started with Weave to track the time spent for my projects, so I could figure out my pricing. Now I use it to plot out projects with due dates, the to-do’s, the steps I need to complete by a certain date. It is very good for project planning and averaging in the cost of materials. Weave gives me a nice little reminder that I really need to pay attention to that deadline. It helps me to stay on track.
What is the next to-do in your business plan?
I’m getting ready to open my own art and coffee shop. I want it to be a place for people to come to be part of the community. I want to buy and sell the work of local artists. I hope to give back by offering space to create art quilts and build community for those who have been through Alzheimer’s as a family or as caretakers, by participating in the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative. I also love teaching and introducing kids to crafts. Instead of going to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a birthday party, come to me and create a little piece of art, so you go home with something you made. That’s the dream.
What is your best advice for other crafters with a dream?
Don’t just jump right in. Take the time to really make a plan. Go to people who offer free services to learn and get advice, your library, the Small Business Administration in your area, and SCORE for free business mentoring. Trust in yourself to know the life you want to lead. No one else knows that as well as you do.
You’re carrying on the family tradition of teaching your daughter how to tat. Can you share some basics with us?
To get started, you will need a tatting shuttle and basic crochet thread, plus a small crochet hook to take mistakes out.
Hold the shuttle in the right hand between thumb and index finger with the thread wrapped around your left hand, holding it between your thumb and index finger. This becomes the “ring thread.”
To make a double stitch on the ring:
1. Wrap the thread from your shuttle around your right hand with your shuttle hand, pass the shuttle under (forward) and then over (backward) the left-hand ring thread. Tighten the thread on the left hand with your ring and pinkie finger on the knot and a half-stitch should be on the left-hand ring thread. (The thread actually has to literally “flip” on your left hand thread.) Your shuttle thread needs to be tight during this.
2. For the second part of the double stitch, take the shuttle in your right hand, go over (forward) the left-hand ring thread and then back (backward) under the left-hand ring thread. Pull down with the shuttle hand and tighten as before with your ring and pinkie fingers. Now a double stitch will be formed. Hint: If the double stitch does not move on the ring thread, then you have not created the proper double stitch and the thread did not “flip” when forming the knot.
To make a picot (an ornamental loop):
Make the first half of the double stitch, but do not tighten completely. Leave a space between the last double stitch and the first step of the picot (for example, a quarter inch). Form the second part of the double stitch and tighten both stitches at the same time. A little loop should appear, or we call this a “picot.”
For the ring on my blog, the pattern was: five double stitches, a picot, five double stitches, a picot, five double stitches, a picot, and five double stitches.
To close the ring:
Hold the last couple double stitches on the ring you just made with your left thumb and index finger. Pull with your right hand to shorten the ring thread until you’ve completely closed the ring. That’s it!