By Marisa Edghill

Getting To Know – Krista Steel-Varsakis of RainCityKnits

Krista RainCityKnitsThe Getting To Know series features interviews with makers, artists, designers and small business owners at all different stages of their careers. I’m always interested in how other adventurers in the world of creative entrepreneurship run their businesses, get inspired and how they got started in the first place.

I have the biggest crush on RainCityKnits! Cushy hand-dyed yarn in bold, bright modern hues. What’s not to love? Krista, the woman behind the brand, is all about sustainability, fun colours and some serious getting down to business.  Let’s get to know Krista: 

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Hi Krista! To start with, I’d love to know a little bit about you and your business.

I’m a Vancouverite who had to travel and live around the world to realize how much I loved my hometown. I learned to knit while on a university exchange in small town New Zealand: a country with more sheep than people.

RainCityKnits was born out of a love of bright colours – an antidote to the the endless grey season here on the West Coast. We strive to offer high-quality products that are ethically created, without compromising on aesthetic.

Prior to launching RainCityKnits, I worked internationally on issues of sustainability and social justice. My passion and commitment to these issues guide my business practices.

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What’s the story behind the name RainCityKnits?

Those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest are very familiar with rain. Vancouver is often referred to by locals as the Rain City. I wanted the brand to reflect the location from where RainCityKnits comes. Rain also evokes a desire to snuggle up in warm woolens so the name just fit. If I could go back and change things, I’d probably re-think the word “Knits” and go with “Dye Studio”.

Drying Yarn

How did you get into dyeing yarn?

Truthfully, I couldn’t find the colours that I wanted on the quality of yarn bases that I like to knit. My experience has been that bright yarn colours are often seen as childish. A function of this attitude is that the truly bright colours are often limited to acrylic or other “economical” yarns. I tried dyeing some bright colours on a lark one day and here I am.

Do you prefer dyeing or knitting?

I don’t really think I have a preference. They are different activities, performed in different contexts. Dyeing is more “organic” than knitting, in that you can experiment more while having successful results. Knitting is more regimented and repetitive. They appeal to different aspects of my personality.

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What have you been knitting with your yarns lately?

I’m currently working on a sweater coat by a Norwegian knitwear designer in our Steel Grey Worsted. I’m a huge fan of Nordic designs. I love the tendency toward “strong shapes” that are modern, simple and unfussy. I just finished a pair of socks that use our Graffiti yarn and Hot Pink accents by Vancouver-based designer Holli Yeoh.

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How would you describe your relationship with colour? Do you have a favourite?

I’m a huge fan of bright colours. I’m particularly interested in neons at the moment. I love seeing a super bright colour like Electric Coral paired in a sweater with a neutral like a cream-colour. Lucky me, neons are super popular at the moment, which is great. I’ll still love neon after the trends move on too.

Where do you find inspiration for your brand?

I take a lot of my inspiration from the street fashion I saw during my time living in London, UK. I admired the boldness of the younger Brits who aren’t afraid to mix colours and patterns together and thought “Why can’t this be the case with knitting too?”. I like the idea of taking something traditional like knitting and pushing toward a more modern aesthetic.

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RainCityKnits seeks to use ethically sourced fibre. Could you tell us a little bit about that and why it’s important to you?

When RainCityKnits started out, I sourced all my Merino Wool from a Uruguayan mill. The employees there were organized as a Worker’s Collective – a popular way of structuring a labour force to ensure fair rate of pay. As the business has evolved, I’ve expanded my range of fibre to represent customer requests from a variety of suppliers. I work closely with yarn distributors to understand the supply chain involved in the cultivation of the fibre I use, favouring Fairtrade and Organic yarn bases where possible.

I am hoping to work with a local farm to source fibre closer to home in 2015.

Yarn Dyeing

What’s your best-selling item?

The best selling item at the moment is our Graffiti and Highlighter Yellow colourways. I think the craziness of these colours makes for fun knits and something a little bit different than what you might find elsewhere.

Which is your favourite item?

Personally, my favourite yarn colourway is Electric Coral. There’s something about this colour that just makes me so happy. I actively have to talk myself out of knitting everything from this colourway, with moderate success….

Yarn Drying

What does your typical work day look like?

One of the neat things about running RainCityKnits is that no two days are the same. There’s constantly a shifting list of priorities and tasks. That said, I’ve developed a bit of a structure to help me be as efficient as I can be. Mornings are spent taking care of admin stuff – responding to emails, invoices etc. The boring stuff to many makers, although I do enjoy getting things organized.

Lunch is spent at the dog park with my 2.5 year old Labrador Retriever, Pamela. Working in the neighbourhood means that I’m able to spend a lot of time with my dog. We have a group of “dog friends” over there who we meet at noon every day. This midday checkpoint actually helps keep me accountable timewise, which is perfect since I am easily distracted.

After lunch, I’ll head over to my studio to get the dyeing process started. I’m very lucky and the studio is located a short walk from our home in Railtown. The studio itself is part of an artist-run centre which offers 22 studios for rent at a really reasonable rate. This has allowed me to expand RainCityKnits.

I dye to order. To keep things organized, I work with a dye rotation schedule of about 14 days, which means I dye one colour once per fortnight. For example, I dye all my Hot Pink colours together on Day 1 and then my Vermillion (Red) colours on Day 2 etc. This leads to a slightly longer turnaround time for customer orders, however it means that I’m able to minimize wastage of water / dye and also to keep my wholesale customers happy too.

Throughout the day, I make a point to look at my social media – especially Instagram. This also helps to keep me feeling connected to the world outside! I love seeing what customers are doing with our yarn!

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What do you love about running your own business?

There’s so much that I love about running my own business. I think the best part of running RainCityKnits is that I have complete freedom to take the business in any direction that I choose. It turns out that I have a strong point of view about colour and I have found a way to share my viewpoint. I actually never considered myself to be artistic before I started RainCityKnits. Running my own business has allowed me to develop a creative part of myself that I haven’t given much credit to before. That part is pretty awesome.

I also really love the flexibility that running my own business provides me in terms of scheduling. I know this is one of the parts that appeals to many self-employed folks. That’s not to say that the hours aren’t long – they are! – but I am able to choose when I work.

What do you find the hardest?

The hardest part of running my business is flying solo a lot of the time. At first, working alone from home was a novelty. I’m quite a social person though and at this point, the novelty has worn off a bit. Loneliness is super common with self-employed folks, and emphasizes the importance in ensuring one has interaction with people outside of work through social activities, community involvement etc. Pamela the Lab and I have just signed up to be volunteer visitors at an Adult Day Centre, which we’re both excited about!

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Do you do many craft fairs?

I do 3-4 fibre related shows per year. In the beginning, I did do a few non-fibre specific shows and through that process, found out who my demographic really is: knitters, crocheters, so essentially fibre people.

The shows I attend – including the Knitter’s Frolic  in Toronto – are full of enthusiastic customers. I really love meeting customers face to face and sharing in their excitement. Working alone in the studio, it can be easy to forget about the big picture. When I go to a show, I’m reminded just how awesome fibre people are. The days may be long, but it’s totally worthwhile.

What do you do to get inspired when you’re feeling drained?

If I’m feeling drained, I’ll usually take a walk around the neighbourhood into adjacent Gastown and check out what people are wearing. I find that process really reinforces my overall vision by reminding me of what I love! We are a very urban brand so it makes sense to take inspiration from the heart of the city.

I also find that shifting gears away from work really helps me too. Meeting up with friends, doing something fun and non-work related and usually silly helps a lot. When I do return to work, I’m more inspired.

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If you could spend a day with any maker/artist, who would that be and why?

This is the toughest question yet! There’s such an insane amount of artistic talent out there. In terms of my own industry, I really admire Stephen West for his creative knit designs. He is someone who pushes the envelope in terms of re-imagining what knitwear can be and he’s gained a huge following from a diverse range of knitters too. I love seeing older folks knitting and wearing his designs. He proves that everyone can appreciate edgier styles.

I’ve just discovered visual artist Alison Shields who works out of the same artist centre as I do. She uses very simple tools – tracing paper and pencils – to create these layered drawings that are different than anything I’ve seen before. Her pencil drawings hint at natural landscapes without being too overt. I’d love to watch her creative process.

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What is one thing you wish you had known when you launched your business?

When I started, I had no idea that my little hobby would grow into a business. As a result, I didn’t have a bookkeeping system in place. When tax season rolled around, I had nearly a year’s worth of accounting to catch up on. My advice, boring though it may be, is to get some basic bookkeeping system set up. There are lots of online systems that can help – I personally love StitchLabs, which is geared toward crafters.

Also, if you plan to sell online through a platform like Etsy, be sure to do your research on your tax obligations to customers in the regions to which you sell. Again, not the most exciting way part of running a business but super important. You don’t want a nasty surprise at the end of the tax year when you find out that you should have collected tax from customers!

Treat yourself to some RainCityKnits goodness.

RainCityKnits yarn shop on Etsy

Connect with Krista

Instagram – @raincityknits

Blog – RainCityKnits

Ravelry – RainCityKnits group

Twitter – @raincityknits

Facebook – RainCityKnits

Pinterest – @RainCityKnits

What did you learn from getting to know Krista and RainCityKnits? Share with us in the comments!  

Oh My! Gift Guide: Make It Merry

Oh My! Gift Guide | Week 8: Make it Merry

This holiday season, we’ve asked some of our favourite creatives, bloggers, makers and OMHG members to join us in rounding up great gift ideas. For our final week,  instead of gifts to buy, we’re rounding up lovely things to make during the holidays.

PDF Christmas garland and gift tag set from Evie Barrow

This adorable printable garland and gift tag set from Evie Barrow is the sweetest thing, download + print + cut your way to a creative Christmas!

Free printable wrapping paper sheets for small packages from Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

Wrap up your small packages with these free printable wrapping paper designs from Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn (also be sure to check out her 12 Patterns of Christmas project)!

kirigami snowflakes

Paper snowflakes are always a fun holiday tradition! Free printable templates can be found here.

Paper Ornaments

Print, cut and fold these adorable Scandinavian-inspired paper ornaments from Sam Osborne.

Happy Happy Art Collective; 24 Days of Christmas Printables

The talented folks of the Happy Happy Art Collective have been sharing a free printable every day of December, go visit them to find this sticker set from Denise Holmes and a whole pile more!

stockings

There’s still (a little) time to whip up new Christmas stockings. Here’s a lovely project from our archives.

Cranberry Wreaths

Add a special touch to your holiday table with these Mini Cranberry Wreaths from Say Yes.

For more great holiday ideas, follow our Merry Makers board on Pinterest:

Follow Oh My! Handmade ‘s board Merry Makers on Pinterest.

How will you be celebrating the holidays this year? Handmade details and a big turkey dinner? Or perhaps kicking back with some take out and good friends? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Oh My! Gift Guide: Book Week

Oh My! Gift Guide | Book Week

This holiday season, we’ve asked some of our favourite creatives, bloggers, makers and OMHG members to join us in rounding up great gift ideas. This week, we’re all about books – books for little people, books for big people, books for creative people. Books, books, books! Make sure to read all the way to the bottom of the post, where you’ll find a fun surprise! But first, here are the books we think will make great gifts this holiday season:

Show Your Work

Kim’s Pick –  Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

“Showing off what we make – for fun, for sale, for other people – is the way we get our creations noticed. Artist and writer Austin Kleon lays it all out in this tiny, perfect book: why sharing is important, and how to do it so it makes you happy. This book would be a great gift for anyone you know who makes stuff, especially if they blog about it, do it for a living, or want to blog about it or do it for a living.” – Kim Werker is an editor, writer, and podcaster, and the author of Make It Mighty Ugly.

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Lyndsay’s Pick – Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad

“This is a magical book of two little girls cooking their way to understanding the world. My two year old son and I both love it equally. It shows them making terrible mistakes in the kitchen (fallen tiered cakes, escaping octopus tentacles, burnt fish) and then continuing to learn and try, eventually coming up with beautiful simple french dishes that give adults back their sense of childhood. It’s a story of friendship, cooking and discovery. The illustrations are what makes the book truly special – Julie Morstad is an artist and illustrator and I’ve always loved the vintage children’s book feel of her artwork. I also simply adored any books with drawings of food or cakes or dessert when I was a kid – they’re the books from my childhood that stand out, so I hope this one will stand out for my son when he looks back.” – Lyndsay is a baker, blogger, freelance writer and photographer. Her main focus is Coco Cake Land, a modern cake and desserts blog featuring original cake tutorials, recipes and simple modern party ideas. She lives in Vancouver amongst the mountains, ocean and urban life with her husband and toddler son.  

lettering books

Shauna’s PickCreative Lettering and Beyond & Hand-Lettering Ledger

“Creative Lettering and Beyond is a great beginner’s how-to guide to learning lettering. (Though I’m a bit biased as this is my book!) And the Hand Lettering Ledger by the super talented Mary Kate McDevitt is one of my favorites in terms of inspiration. I love looking at her gorgeous lettering and love that she shows how-to steps.” – Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn is a hand lettering artist and illustrator living in Orlando, Florida. She loves vintage typography and emphemera and has an unhealthy obsession with purchasing books that she doesn’t have room for. Her work can be seen at www.shaunaparmesan.com and prints can be purchased at www.shaunapanczyszyn.etsy.com

Easy Gourmet

Marisa’s PickEasy Gourmet by Stephanie Le

“I love pretty much all kinds of books but I have a serious weakness for beautiful cookbooks. Easy Gourmet is filled with tantalizing taste combinations and stunning pictures that will leave your stomach growling. From the simple to the sublime, the spaghetti to the shrimp rolls, Stephanie’s recipes challenge you to get creative in the kitchen while producing gourmet dishes that don’t need to be saved for special occasions. I think this book would be a wonderful addition to any cookbook collection.” – Marisa Edghill is the author of Washi Style (UK edition / US edition) and a featured artist in Pinterest Perfect. 

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Jessika’s Pick – Goodness in Unexpected Places gift pack from House of Anansi Press

“Marisa tweeted me a link to this set last month and I immediately bought the books for my 10 year old Ila but also so I could read them first. The Cat At The Wall by Deborah Ellis is about a little girl who finds herself reincarnated as a cat into a Palestine village in a house with a small boy who needs help and finds the answer to how one cat, or any one creature, can make a difference. In A Simple Case of Angels by Caroline Adderson it is the holidays but no one in Nicola’s town seems very happy. After her dog gets in trouble Nicola winds up volunteering at a local seniors home with a friend and they find out some of the residents are being held against their will. Freeing them brings out the very best in both Nicola and her badly behaved dog June Bug. Both of these books will make hearts of any age grow three sizes bigger, all filled up with goodness, giving, and grace.” Jessika is the cooperative director of Oh My! Handmade, learn more about her here

Creative Block

Shauna’s Bonus PickCreative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas by Danielle Krysa

“This is a go-to book for sure. I love this because it makes me feel less alone when I get artist block as well as giving me ideas on how to push past those blocks.” Filled with advice and projects from 50 successful artists, this would make a wonderful pick for artists and creatives in your life.

See more books we love over on our Pinterest board!

But wait, before you go – a special announcement! To spread our love for Books, we’re declaring this week Book Week! We’ve teamed up with publishers and purveyors of awesome things to bring you a week of giveaways. Each day we’ll be sharing a new and exciting giveaway! Here’s a hint of what’s to come and where to find it…

Oh My! Book Week | 5 Days of Bookish Giveaways

Monday – that’s today! See details below.

Tuesday – Does colouring bring you great Joy? Find Tuesday’s giveaway over on the Oh My! Handmade Instagram account.

Wednesday – While Pinterest might not be perfect, it is bursting with creative inspiration. Wednesday’s giveaway will be found on our Pinterest Books Board.

Thursday – Making doesn’t always have to be pretty, in fact, sometimes it’s better when it’s ugly. Join us on Facebook on Thursday for this mighty fun giveaway.

Friday – A special surprise for one and all! Make sure you’re following Jessika on Twitter so you don’t miss out on the fun!

Oh My! Book Week | Day 1: Creative Lettering & Beyond + Jet Pens Sampler - enter on ohmyhandmade.com

We’re giving away a copy of Creative Lettering and Beyond featuring our very own Shauna Lynn + a set of 5 brush pens from Jet Pens * – Shauna’s favourite pens for lettering!

*In case of a Canadian winner, Jet Pens prize will be a $25 gift certificate.

Giveaway open to US / Canada only. Winners chosen at random on Monday, December 22.

Enter here by letting us know your favourite books for gifting (or a book you’d love to receive!) in the comments. Get an extra entry for sharing one of our giveaway graphics on your website, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

This giveaway is now closed – Congratulations to Catherine Denton for her winning comment! 

Special thanks to Walter Foster, Jet Pens, Peter Pauper Press, Omiyage, Sasquatch and Scout Books for supplying us with all these awesome goodies to share with you!