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Knitting Up a Business Plan

I think about yarn and knitting a lot. Some people in my life might even say it consumes too many brain cells. At a recent service at my synagogue, we spent some time interpreting the 23rd Psalm. When the rabbi asked about the first line — “The Lord is my shepherd” — someone referenced sheep. The rabbi questioned us further, asking what we thought of when we heard the reference to sheep. I smiled privately to myself and wondered if I was the only person in the room who had thought of yarn and knitting. Of course, that was not the intention of the question, but I just couldn’t help myself. Someone says wooly lamb, and my mind wanders to the many projects that the lamb can help me produce.

Of course, like most serious knitters, I have often wondered about taking my love affair with the craft to the next level and building a business around it. I have watched with more than a little curiosity as some of the heavy hitters in the industry like Brenda Dayne of Cast-On, Debbie Bliss of Debbie Bliss Yarns and Debbie Bliss Magazine, and Norah Gaughan of Berroco have made a go of it. I have thought a lot about different types of business ventures involving yarn, knitting, and creativity. Would I design a new line of baby sweaters or would I open a yarn shop complete with baked goods and coffee bar where my customers would visit and stay a while a la Friday Night Knitting Club? Would I start an online store instead where I would sell either my own handknit items or those made by multiple artists?

While the focus of my business is not clear, I have given a lot of thought to a few guiding principles.

  1. My business will have an online presence. I have spent most of my career designing, developing, and managing software and websites. I believe in marketing via the Internet. I also believe that social networking can help build a business. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Tara Hunt talks about it in her book The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business and in this video that introduces her book.
  2. I like the idea of starting a business that operates on the principles of the Fair Trade Federation. According to their website, “The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. The Federation is part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty.” I like the idea of helping craftspeople around the world earn a fair wage for their work. The concept fits with my own personal value system. This video from TenThousandVillages does a great job explaining the concepts behind the Fair Trade Federation. MayaWorks is a business that I have followed and admired for several years that participates in the Fair Trade Federation.
  3. I also like the idea of using my business to give back to the community. From a young age, my daughter has believed in social action and has actively sought out opportunities to help others. Even elements of her Bat Mitzvah were infused with her desire to give back to the community. When it came time to select kippot for her Bat Mitzvah service, she chose to order knitted ones from Kippah King, not because she was so enthralled with knitted kippot, but rather because the Kippah King donates 10% of its profits to the buyer’s choice of two different Israeli-based charities. She further personalized the donation by selecting Yad Eliezer for her charitable donation, an organization that provides food relief to very low-income families, capitalizing on her interest to help the homeless, a topic about which she spoke a great deal at her Bat Mitzvah. Like my daughter, I believe in giving back to the community. Ironically, people like to work with companies that give back to the community. So while I’m helping others and feeling good about myself in the process, I’m actually supporting principle number 1 — increasing my whuffie (see number 1 above).

If you were to start a knitting or yarn business or any business for that matter, what kind of business would it be? What would your primary focus be? And what would your guiding principles be?

I was 5 years old in 1969 when several hundred thousand people converged at the Woodstock Festival just 100 miles from where I grew up in New Jersey. Although my family and I were not at the festival, I do remember listening to many of the bands as my sister and I started to develop our own tastes in music. I remember, too, my dad playing Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie records for us, and most of all, I remember listening to the messages.

Forty years have passed since Woodstock and a lot has happened since then. But some of us — about 1400 strong — managed to recapture that peace, love, and harmony through music and art at M’korstock on Sunday, May 31st.

M’korstock, a festival of music, arts, and shalom, was held on Sunday, May 31st throughout the day at Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ . It featured a juried craft show and a variety of musical acts including, but not limited to:

There were so many special moments throughout the day. But for me, one of the highlights of the day was meeting Peri Smilow and singing with her. The M’kor Shalom and Antioch Baptist Church choirs and ensembles had the privilege of singing two songs with Peri on Sunday. One of the songs we were scheduled to sing with Peri was called One Small Step, about the crossing of the Red Sea. But if one listens carefully to the lyrics, one realizes quickly, that the story is not about Moses, but rather, about a simple, ordinary man named Nachshon. During rehearsal, Peri explained to us that the song comes from a midrash that tells us that maybe — just maybe — Moses was a little busy when they left Egypt. When the Israelites reached the Red Sea they had Pharaoh’s Army behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. The Israelites were arguing about what to do, when Nachshon took a step forward towards the water. You see, he figured that if Pharaoh’s Army was behind him, then that direction certainly meant going back to slavery. Surely that had to mean that freedom was the other direction. And so Nachshon took One Small Step towards the water. And then another. And then another. Until finally, the water parted and the Israelites escaped to freedom.

The true message of the story, of course, is that change requires that we all take one small step forward. You see, Nachshon is all of us. Peri, if you’re out there and reading this, thank you for reminding us of the importance of taking action.

Inaugural Sweater

A few weeks before the Democratic National Convention and the official nomination of Barack Obama, I began work on a Mandarin Jacket by designer Nadine Shapiro, owner of Woolplay in Haddonfield, NJ. I had fallen in love with the jacket when I first saw it on Ravelry and was delighted to see that its designer was the owner of my very own local yarn shop. Comprised of hundreds of mitered squares out of approximately a dozen variegated colorways of Koigu yarn, the jacket presented new challenges and I was anxious to both construct and deconstruct the pattern.

I worked on that sweater throughout the Democratic National Convention.  It was my constant companion as summer days waned and I prepared for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I continued to work on it as we marched with great hope and anticipation toward the presidential election. My mandarin jacket captured the harmonies of choir rehearsal as we prepared for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. service.

As Inauguration Day approached, it became clear to me that I had to do whatever was necessary to complete my jacket in time for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Somewhere between the Democratic National Convention and the election of Barack Obama, I had subconsciously begun to link my mandarin sweater with this wonderful “Yes we can” change that was sweeping the nation.  It had suddenly become very important to me to finish that sweater in time for the inauguration. I stayed up extremely late on Monday, January 19th so that I would be able to wear it for the inauguration of President Obama.

While I was finishing it, I still couldn’t quite verbalize why it was so important to me that my mandarin jacket become my inaugural sweater, but after I saw it completed, it all became clear. As I gazed at all of the colors, I saw the sweater as something that represented the melting pot of our country. We come from all different countries, ethnicities, races, religions, and walks of life. Separated, each variegated skein of yarn is beautiful in its own right. But when knit together, all of those variegated colors and those many, many stitches become a stronger and more beautiful fabric. I guess in some strange way, because I worked on this sweater throughout the Democratic Convention and the remainder of Obama’s campaign and ultimate election, his words about coming from different places but being “one” somehow became knitted into my sweater.

Suddenly, as I gazed at my completed sweater, it was crystal clear why I had to complete it in time for the inauguration. It represented the knitting together again of our fragmented nation—the unifying of the many races, religions, and ethnicities that make up the fabric of who we are as Americans.

Of course, Barack Obama said it much more eloquently in his inaugural address.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.  –President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

And indeed, my mandarin jacket will forevermore remind me of the patchwork heritage that President Obama so magnificently described.

Mandarin Jacket

Mandarin Jacket

As the violence between Israel and Gaza escalates and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue unabated, I am reminded of tikkunknitter’s TikkunTree Project. It seems that now, more than ever, we are in great need of tikkun olam—rebuilding the world—and that is just what this project is about.

 

You haven’t heard about The TikkunTree Project yet? Then allow me to tell you about it. And then you, too, can become a part of this wonderful project.

 

The TikkunTree Project will be an art installation of a life-size tree consisting of a tree trunk and branches, leaves, peace doves, and candles, all crafted by knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists. Tikkunknitter, the project’s sponsor, seeks to encourage people to think about peace between Palestinians and Israelis through this peaceful community-building project. She refers to the project as “knittivism,” a blend of knitting and activism, and encourages anyone who has an interest in peace and community building to participate. As Leslie (tikkunknitter) notes on her blog, you don’t have to be Jewish, Muslim, or Christian to participate in this project. The TikkunTree Project website includes a variety of leaf, dove, and candle patterns for the project, as well as an address for where to send submissions.

 

If you belong to a knitting group and would like to publicize this worthwhile project, Leslie has made it very easy with her Share the News link. This link will take you to a page on her blog with full- and half-page PDF flyers, as well as business cards that you can print and distribute at your synagogues, churches, local yarn shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, libraries, book stores, or anywhere else that allows you to post flyers.

 

Please join me in helping Leslie get the word out about the TikkunTree Project and lets help peace grow one stitch at a time.

Promises to Keep

My parents taught me right from wrong at a very young age. It is, in my opinion, something that all good parents should do. Thanks to my parents, I learned to respect and learn from the differences among people instead of fearing them. My circle of friends always reflected these early teachings and as I got older, I was proud to be known as someone who stood up for other people, even when it was the unpopular thing to do. It meant that I did not always get to stand with the popular crowd, but that was OK with me. Even then, I understood that that kind of popularity was fleeting and standing up for what was right was more important.

 

My parents passed on a few other things during those formative years, which I have also carried with me into adulthood. Two of my favorite pastimes—singing and knitting—date back to those early days, as well. And each ties to one of my parents. My love of music comes from both of my parents, but my love of singing comes specifically from my Dad. As for knitting—well Mom is responsible for that one. Mom and her aunt, my Great Aunt Anna, taught me to knit one summer afternoon when I was six-years-old. I guess even then I sensed that the rhythmic beat of the needles was like music.

 

I wrote the essay that follows a year ago, but it seems especially appropriate this year as we look forward to the realization of Dr. King’s dream—the inauguration of our first African American President of the United States.

 

*    *    *

 

I sing, therefore I am. Or so it has always seemed. My Aunt Marlene—my mother’s sister—was the first to announce that I would be a singer. I was still a baby. It was 1964, the year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Our family had made its annual Thanksgiving trek from north Jersey to Arlington, Virginia to spend the holiday with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. As the story goes, though I was only four months old, Aunt Marlene listened to my melodic cooing in the playpen and announced that I was going to be a singer.

 

And she was right. I have always loved to sing—school chorus, school musicals, summer camp, around a campfire, accompanying my father on the guitar. For me, singing has always been joyful, and I have always sought out any and all opportunities to sing.

 

 

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Change is Coming

I am reminded every single day that I am not a perfect man. I will not be a perfect president. But I can promise you this. I will always tell you what I think and where I stand. I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you when we disagree. And most importantly, I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again. — Barack Obama, October 29, 2008

These are some of the many reasons I voted for Barack Obama. I like his honesty and his cool-headedness. He is intelligent and surrounds himself with intelligent, level-headed people. He is not afraid to take a stand.

Of Sunflowers and Knitting

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.” Helen Keller

I love this quote almost as much as I love sunflowers. Perhaps my summer birthday plays a role, but whenever the sun shines, I can’t help but turn my face towards the sun and bask in all its glory. I used to joke that if I was to die and come back to life as a flower, it would surely be as a sunflower.

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love sunflowers and knitting, so it seemed only fitting as I searched for a name for my new blog that I should somehow combine these two passions. So welcome to the world Sunflower Knits. I am Sunflower, and I love to knit.

I draw my knitting inspiration from many sources—nature, music, my Jewish heritage, my passion for social justice—and it is about these things that I plan to blog. I plan to explore not only topics of interest in the fiber arts world, but also how my passion for fiber arts is so often knitted together with my passion for other things in life. And if from time to time I wax poetic about sunshine and sunflowers, well, so be it—we all have to draw inspiration from somewhere.