Knit wit Self-taught young knitter quit school, job to craft a career weaving woolly wearables
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2019 (1574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s the coldest night of the year and inside a cosy North Kildonan cafe, knitter Janine Myska is spinning her yarn.
Not the woolly kind, as one might expect from an expert knitter, but the proverbial sort that details exactly how the charming, 24-year-old Winnipeg entrepreneur went from crafting simple tuques on a loom to operating her own successful online-based knitwear and pattern company.
Seated at a table for two, Myska sets forth that her flourishing company, Knits N’ Knots — knitsnknots.ca. — got off the ground three years ago when the then-21-year-old was a student of Food Science at the University of Manitoba. Around that time, her mother bestowed upon her a plastic, circular knitting loom on which she speedily churned out roughly 50 simple woolly tuques.
“They turned out really nice,” recalls the milliner, who instantly began posting photographs of the double-brim toques on her Instagram account for all of her 20 followers to admire. (Her first @knitsnknotswpg Instagram post on Feb. 18, 2016 shows her sporting a chunky white tuque with a large pom-pom and black stripe; it garnered 109 “likes.”)
“My friends were buying them,” she says with a laugh. “But it was hard collecting payments and keeping track of e-transfers.”
Undeterred, the crafter from North Kildonan purchased more yarn from Michaels art supplies and craft store — these days she orders from Lion Brand Yarns in Carlstadt, NJ because the company’s wool is “the perfect thickness, has an ideal blend of wood and acrylic, the best colour options and feels like a high-quality brand” — and set about looming more lovely lids.
But as many makers can attest, wool isn’t cheap; and at a cost of $10 per roll for a hat she was selling for $15, she was barely making ends meet, even with her side gig as a bartender at Winnipeg Jets hockey games.
So, in order to gain more exposure — and money — she launched her own online shop on Etsy, a mega-popular e-commerce website that’s focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies. To date, the website boasts 54 million registered members, 35.8 million buyers and 1.98 million sellers.
At her virtual store (www.etsy.com/ca/shop/KnitsNKnotsWpg) people from all over the world — her first international sale came from Australia — began scooping up her handcrafted goods, which include a variety of infinity scarves, tuques, headbands, cowl scarves and other crafty creations such as crocheted afghans and baskets.
“I was spending 20 hours a day knitting,” she recalls, pointing out that her online following was continuing to grow. And then when one of her hats was featured on Etsy’s Editor Picks, the interest in her knitwear began to take off. “I would sleep from 4 to 8 in the morning. And I would hear the ‘cha-cha-ching’ on my phone and know there were more orders coming in. It was really fun, actually.”
In the midst of all this fibrous artistry — around the same time her @knitsnknotswpg Instagram following reached an impressive 15,000 — Myska graduated with a Bachelor of Food Sciences degree. Later, she landed a quality assurance job in the packaging department of McCain Foods Canada in Portage la Prairie.
“I was working 12-hour shifts plus commuting three hours a day,” she says, adding her responsibilities as a quality assurer included checking frozen food products for texture, colour, salt and defects. “I had to cook up fries and eat them every half hour.”
Not surprisingly, she quit her job at the french-fry plant and enrolled in a Master’s program at the University of Manitoba. But after learning about a Third + Bird urban market — a popular curated bazaar where more than 100 local artisans and small business owners peddle their wares — that was scheduled to take place on an upcoming weekend in the basement of The Bay downtown, Myska pulled out of university to dedicate more time and energy to her growing business. Besides, she admits she was spending more time watching instructional YouTube videos on crocheting than taking notes.
“I just wasn’t into it,” she says without regret, recalling the moment in time when she decided to focus more time and energy on her growing business. “I really wanted to get into Third + Bird urban market and thought it would be so good for my business.”
When her application was selected by a panel three weeks prior to the event, Myska hired a carpenter to construct a 10-square-foot booth and posted on Instagram that she was looking for people interested in knitting.
“I hired 10 people (women of varying ages) to help knit Sock Monkey toques for the market,” she says.
‘It was crazy. People were running to my booth. It was like a mosh pit’ – Janine Myska, on her entry into the Third + Bird urban market
And it paid off. All 120 of the popular winter hats sold at the market in only 20 minutes.
“It was crazy. People were running to my booth. It was like a mosh pit.”
Afterwards, she slept for a week and woke with a determination to teach herself how to crochet — by watching Youtube videos.
“I started crocheting clothes for fun,” says Myska, who found inspiration for her crocheted knitwear on Pinterest, a social media website that currently has 250 million monthly users. “I saw something that had that hippie kind of vibe I liked and ended up making something that looked completely different.”
Her bohemian-style, long-fringed crocheted vest comes in four different colours and can be ordered online for $175. A pattern for the funky cover-up and seven other knitted creations can also be purchased at her Etsy store and website.
Once paid for and downloaded, the patterns include instructions on measurements; necessary hooks, yarn and yardage; notes on whether there’s a right side or wrong side; details on sewing seams; and stitch-to-stitch instructions.
“At the end is a stitch count and instructions for seaming or adding a fringe,” says Myska, who wants to take her already lucrative business to a new level with pattern-making.
Her immediate goal — along with developing an instructional YouTube channel — is to have at least 60 patterns up for sale on her sites. It’s a doable target that stands to be a lucrative addition to her existing multiple income streams, which include advertising on her website and her finished products.
“A passive income is the best kind of money,” she hollers as the chatter in the coffee shop picks up to an uncomfortable roar.
Afterwards, a quick glance on Instagram reveals that there are more than 25,000 peeps following the “happy-go-lucky lover of wine and sunshine”; and at her Etsy shop, it’s clearly stated that 768 knitwear enthusiasts have made purchases from the “self-taught knitter and crocheter who loves craft beer, burritos, and her puppy named Pancake.”
“I’m not rolling in the millions or anything, but it’s enough to let me knit and write patterns full time,” she says a day later in an email. “And it’s growing every year and there’s potential to make a lot more money.”