After attending Renegade Craft Fair Chicago, I just HAD to get to know some of the wonderful designers! Lucky for you, I’ve spoken with many designers, Etsy shop owners, handmade business owners and more. Get ready to learn from the best folks!
Today we get to meet Jenna Richards from My Old Kentucky Homespun!
How did you get started with your craft?
I first discovered fiber crafts as a young girl. I remember being fascinated that you could take something with seemingly no dimension and make something 3D that you could use or wear. My first fiber encounter was making finger crochet bracelets and keychains. In 5th grade I completed my first weaving project, a tapestry weaving with a reindeer. We were asked to do some volunteer work in 7th grade and my best friend helped crochet scarves for a charity. She showed me the basic crochet stitch and I caught on like wildfire. Around this time my grandparents were moving from small town Kentucky to Louisville, where I lived. In the move they wanted to downsize and I was given a blanket that my great-grandmother crocheted. I coveted this blanket and still use it to this day.
Fast forward a few years and I am taking my first Fine Art Class in college. In this class I was given the opportunity to learn how to knit. We started from the bottom and built our way up. We first had some practice making rag yarn from recycled fabrics of our choice; I chose my Catholic high school uniform. The next step was to create our own knitting needles from wooden dowels. Lastly, we took a fieldtrip to what became one of my biggest inspirations: Sweet Home Spun in Henry County Kentucky. JoAnn, Sam, and Samuel Adams own and operate Sweet Home Spun where they raise sheep and allow the community to congregate in their restored 19th Century Low Dutch Meetinghouse. My professor and mentor, Adrienne Callander wanted us to experience the entire process of creation from raising the sheep to the finished product. I decided that I would join the fiber department at my university and do a dual concentration in Fibers and Ceramics.
A few months after my first trip there, I worked up the courage to attend a Second Sunday meeting. This was only the beginning of my wonderful relationship with JoAnn Adams. She saw me waiting in my car and came out to personally invite me in. When I expressed interest in learning how to spin, JoAnn offered to teach Adrienne and me on Wednesday nights. She provided a wheel from her shop and would not even take money for the lessons. We spun on Wednesday nights for close to six months until I purchased that wheel from her to spin at home. Since this time in 2010, I have purchased a total of ten fleeces from JoAnn that I have spun.
Recently, I learned that my Great-grandmother worked at a local iconic mill as a spinner when she was raising my grandmother, Louisville Textile Mills, later Louisville Cotton Mills. When I found out about my familial connection to textiles, I felt that I was destined to be involved in fiber crafts/arts.
Do you do anything to stay inspired and what motivates you to create?
I tend to be a very goal oriented person; I find that what helps keep me motivated is to set deadlines and goals that I want to reach. Spinning is relaxing and cathartic for me so I rarely find myself lacking in desire to work on my craft. Like nearly every artist and craftsperson, I have gone through periods where I was not as productive as others.
Most recently I have found my inspiration in working towards goals specifically for craft fairs. I recently participated in the Renegade Craft Fair, Holiday Market in Chicago. I was working toward the goal of having 100 skeins of yarn by the fair date. Also, I was interested in spinning a variety of yarns that could appeal to a wider range of people. For this specific fair I had four main yarns: Alpaca, Corriedale/Romney Wool, Camel Blend and Indigo Dyed Corriedale/Romney. Recently I have been spinning 100% Romney Wool that I will Indigo dye in the yarn. My next craft fair is in Chicago April 18th and 19th, YarnCon.
How did you get started with Etsy?
I created an Etsy shop in 2010 as the primary means to selling my yarn. I heard about Etsy from friends who were having success selling pottery through the venue. I have only recently reopened my shop.
What are your biggest challenges selling on Etsy?
The biggest challenge I face selling on Etsy would definitely be exposure. As a shopper, I personally find it difficult to locate the exact product that I am looking for. The most important thing for me as a seller is to select a title that makes sense for my product but includes as many descriptive words as possible. It is equally important to select relevant keywords so that buyers can find your product when they are searching.
The other issue I am working to solve with exposure to my Etsy shop is date and time of listing. I am trying to determine what days and times are good to post so that you reach the highest number of viewers. Once other people post into the category your item can be quickly “buried”. Other solutions to this issue are to “renew” the listing, in other words bringing it to the top of the page and “promoting” your listing, which will actually make your listing an ad on the page for the specific category. The benefit to promoting the listing is that it appears closer to the top of the page during your promotion period. In both of these cases, you have to pay for this exposure.
In addition to exposure, I have found that most people who are looking to purchase yarn want to see and feel it before investing. It may be beneficial in the future to offer purchase or lend of small samples of the yarns for online only customers.
What do you do to promote your shop?
I am currently running a small paid Etsy promotion running some of my listings as ads when you search for yarn. I find that word of mouth is also important. While at the Renegade Craft Fair, many customers asked about an Etsy shop. This led me to decide to relist my new yarn on Etsy (I had previously been on a hiatus).
I think another benefit would be to give face-to-face customers a coupon or coupon code in hopes that they will find your shop online either to recommend to a friend or so they will become a repeat customer. I plan to test this theory out at YarnCon. This would also allow some customers to see and feel the product in person but make the decision to purchase later.
What social media do you like to use and how do you use it?
My favorite social media platform is Instagram. What I like is the format of posting an image with a short blurb. I like to engage the viewer with an interesting image to make a particular point. I am generally trying to promote something new I am working on, an art opening, or a market that I am participating in.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the way that I feel when I am spinning and the accomplishment of finishing a skein of yarn.
What are two pieces of advice you would give to new Etsy shop owners?
If someone was just starting off on Etsy, I think it is important to tend to it frequently, if not daily. I think it would be beneficial to post one item daily rather that every item at once. This will keep your newest listing at the top so that you are not “buried” immediately. I cannot stress enough good titles, accurate and detailed descriptions and carefully chosen keywords. The images that you choose to represent the product are also important.
What are your hopes and aspirations for your store and where do you see yourself going from here?
I hope that my store gains popularity. Once the store has a decent number of likes and followers, it seems like it is easier to get the word out and make sales.
Any tips for following your dreams?
In high school, I applied to three universities for three different programs: Industrial Design, Engineering and Architecture. I thought this would make it easier to decide what I wanted to do. I did not get in to the Industrial Design program, which was my first choice so I decided that I would be an Engineer. At my best friend’s graduation party, I spoke to her aunt who graduated from the program that I was about to enter. She asked me if I was excited to start. I remember this moment very clearly and realized I was not excited at all. I did not love engineering. I did not want to be an engineer. So I decided that I would switch my major and started taking the required introductory to art classes with the intention to enter the interior design program. In my very first art class I met Adrienne Callander and JoAnn Adams; I knew that I wanted to pursue fine art and craft.
Many thanks to Jenna for sharing her wisdom with us! Be sure to visit her shop and support handmade!
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