How a Fiber Artist Keeps It Together with Weave

Jamie Chan may be the busiest person you don’t know. She and her husband, Blas Herrera, run several arts-and-crafts- related businesses in San Francisco. She makes her own line of hand-dyed knitting yarns and fibers. And she trains high school teachers in math and science at San Francisco State University. Besides running their companies, the couple is raising a daughter, 1-year-old Kira, who has her own social calendar to manage.

Chan is one of the artists consulting on Intuit’s Weave, a free app designed to help crafters organize and manage projects. “I really like how they listen to artists and care about creative small businesses,” says Chan, an active social networker who created a Pinterest pinboard for craft businesses. “It’s not perfect, but it’s very promising and getting more and more intuitive.”

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently spoke with Chan about why she uses Weave, what advice she has for other artists who are interested in starting their own businesses, and how to make those cool needle-felted beads.

ISBB: How did you get interested in fiber art?

Chan: I was in grad school at San Francisco State University, getting a master’s in evolutionary science, and was bored with all the reading and writing. During my down time I learned to knit. I couldn’t afford to buy all the fancy yarns in boutique shops, so I learned to make my own, how to spin it, and how to dye it by hand. I opened a web store, Mary Jane’s Attic, on Etsy in 2005, and it took off. In 2008, we opened Urban Fauna Studio and taught people how to knit, spin, and felt with sustainable and locally made products.

You operate a certified San Francisco Green Business?

Yes. My husband has a degree in environmental sustainability and social justice, so that was important to him, and I wanted to have a handmade business with domestically produced products. We use ecologically and socially considerate manufacturing practices (sustainable raw fibers and woods, biodegradable products, recycled materials, and no petrochemicals). We offer products that we feel will give back to the environment or support sustainable businesses.

How do you split your business responsibilities?

My husband runs the customer service and sales aspect of the business. He teaches knitting, spinning, and felting and has more interaction with customers. I focus on finances, place orders, pay distributors, handle email and invoices, do the tax returns. I also make the product. Sometimes I dye all weekend, sitting in front of a giant pot of water — I smell like a very wet sheep!

Tell us about your craft events business.

We also have a business putting on arts and crafts festivals that host hundreds of crafters each year. We produce street fairs and nighttime events to showcase the work of local artists. We also offer workshops to help people get their handmade businesses off the ground. Just because you like making something doesn’t mean you will be successful as a business; there are essential skills that every creative entrepreneur should learn, and Bazaar Bizarre SF tries to help artists learn in a supportive environment.

What do you tell artists who want to start a business?

You have to learn to do the math to figure out if what you are doing is a good investment. You have to balance your time, get socially networked, and have enough hours to create product. Sometimes you need to know when it’s time to close your business. If you are an artist, you have to be new and innovative to keep growing. It’s very important to be sure you’re not straying from your goals. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are all so engaging, it’s easy for me to get distracted. I may plan to leave a couple of comments, and three hours later, I’m still pinning. You really have to learn how to organize your time, which is why I use Weave.

How are you using Weave at the moment?

I use it to keep my to-dos in line with freelance projects and deadlines. Right now our biggest to-do is our house hunt, which is a very complicated process, getting all the paperwork together and meeting all the due dates in addition to managing our studio. I organize it all in Weave. It’s easy to manage complex tasks, because of the back and forth in real time. I’ll share a task with my husband, and he helps me complete it in his time. Or, he might add an amendment and create a new to-do. Weave keeps me on the go with gentle reminders for organizing my business, social life, and everything in between.

Can you recommend an easy project to make with your hand-dyed fiber?

Making needle-felted beads is easy and fun. Needle felting is the process of turning wool into 3D felt forms or fabric. Felting needles have tiny barbs on a triangular or star-shaped needle. The barbs catch on the strands of wool, entangling them and producing a solid wool object. Using a felting needle and wool, you can make round beads and embellish them with all kinds of designs and shapes, then string them up for a funky handmade necklace.

How to Make Needle-Felted Beads:

Materials

  • One felting needle
  • Wool roving in several colors
  • A foam pad to felt on
  • Embroidery needle, thread, or cord for stringing

Safety

Take care to keep your fingers and body parts out of the way of these very sharp needles. Put the needle back into its protective sheath when finished. These needles are fragile: They can bend and snap if used improperly.

Instructions (see photos below)

Roll a small length of wool into a tight ball, tucking the ends of wool in as you roll the ball tightly against the foam work surface. Holding the felting needle from the bent end, poke carefully into the ball to secure the wool in its ball shape. Be sure to poke your needle in a straight up-and-down motion (similar to a sewing machine needle), poking into the foam pad. Move the ball on the pad as you needle your object.

Once you have the desired size, continue to felt the ball with your needle until it is in a good, smooth shape and held tightly together. Roll it in between the palms of your hand, like shaping dough. You can add extra bits of yarn and roving to create designs and letters on your beads. String up your beads using a strong embroidery needle and enjoy your necklace.

Tips

  • Remember felting will reduce the overall size of the object being created by 30 to 50 percent.
  • Try embellishing the ball with colored patterns or felt yarn in fun designs such as polka dots or swirls.
  • To make a cat toy, put a bell in the center of the ball when first creating it, so at the end it will ring.
  • Experiment with “wet felting.” To wet felt, rub clear unscented dish soap onto hands, dip the ball into hot water, and gently roll the ball in your hands until it’s as smooth as you want it. Rinse the ball in hot water until it’s not soapy, reshape, and dry.

About Kristin Ewald

Kristin Ewald, a former Time Inc. editor based in California, has written frequently for the SMB audience. She is also a small business owner who helps companies write and produce user-friendly websites.
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2 comments
Maria967
Maria967

Very interesting interview. Thanks