Saturday, July 25, 2009

A little respite

My working days are usually busy and I manage to work 7 days a week, but Saturday mornings I always visit my elderly parents who live about 15 minutes away. When I return, my husband and I sometimes go out on errands and grab a bite to eat. Today we decided to take a drive to Half Moon Bay. I love the name of that town! We live on the peninsula that separates San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean and it is just a 20 minute drive over the hill to the coastal town of Half Moon Bay. It is often foggy there during the summer months of June and July and today it appeared (we can usually see the fog as it rises up above the hills) that it was either not foggy there or at least partly sunny so we ventured over the hill to the coast.

Yes, there was fog, but for the most part it was high and mostly over the water, not so much in town. Those black dots are surfers in wet suits -- the water is cold in this part of California. We stopped at a little cafe and ate our lunch outside and then I popped into a rather new yarn shop, "Princeton Yarns" just to browse. I wasn't shopping as I already have plenty of yarn in my stash and projects on my needles -- which there isn't a lot of time to indulge in anyway :).

Next we stopped at a place called New Leaf Market, which is similar to a Whole Foods market. We had not stopped there before so I wanted to see what they had and I bought some new products -- have you ever seen green granola??? Well I never had either and it is wonderful and very good for you too. The brand is Living Intentions and the ingredients include organic buckwheat sprouts, local blackberry honey, organic coconut, organic golden raisins, raw brown rice bran and germ (grain free), organic sunflower sprouts, organic banana, organic sesame seed, green protein superfood blend (organic hemp protein powder, organic spinach powder, organic spirulina, chlorella, organic alfalfa leaf and organic dandelion leaf), organic vanilla and Himalayan crystal salt. We nibbled on this as we drove home and both my husband and I enjoyed it. I will definitely be stopping to pick up more of that in the future.

Then it was back home and back to work in my studio.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 4

Well this post should wrap up the story of 'How KaratStix Came To Be'. I must say that a lot of this couldn't have happened without the support of my brother Tom, and other family members too. He created the first prototypes of the needle gauges for me as I didn't have the tools. He helped me determine what equipment was required and was there for me in the early planning stages as I needed so much a sounding board who knew what it took to make these. We traveled together to a Woodworkers convention in Las Vegas in July of 2007 on the hunt for laser machines. We also learned of a really neat facility in our area, a business called TechShop.

TechShop's tag line says "Build your dreams here" and that is just what I did. For an affordable monthly membership fee I was able to use a laser machine to develop my products and refine them and determine really whether the laser machine would do what I needed it to, and which machine was the right one for my business. The machine at TechShop was similar to the one we ended up purchasing, but the one we chose was more powerful and does the job better. TechShop is opening up other locations so check out their website and see if they have one near you. They have lots of fun machines and equipment to use for those of us who can't afford them or keep them at home, and offer lots of classes. There's so much to choose from: vinyl cutting, 3D printing, woodworking and metal working equipment, embroidery machines, and much more. This was a fantastic way to test out the process, develop things more and make sure we had tested the market for my ideas.

My brother and I considered becoming business partners and he is still a big part of the business, but he has created a business of his own, which he operates on the side of his day job. His business runs the laser jobs for my business. I give him the files and he cuts them on the bamboo when he has the time. Sometimes I will cut them, but he does the majority of the jobs. I do the designing, the coloring, the finishing and various other tasks that go into making the items. And of course, the shipping, the online listings, the accounting, the ordering of materials, etc.

Several of my family and my husband and I pitched in the money to buy a laser machine and we took delivery of it in April of 2008. My brother has it set up at his work location. Sometime I'll take a photo of it and post it on here so you can see what it looks like. It works like a computer printer in a way -- you send a file from a computer to the laser and it cuts and engraves the various lines on the bamboo, sort of like printing ink on paper.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 3

So finally a prototype was finished after returning to the drawing board a few times and this was the result - almost 8 inches long and 4 inches wide, with a 2 inch stitch gauge at one end and a 6 inch ruler along one side and the metric ruler along the other. A lot of metric and US holes, and I had to put some sort of design on there, but this one isn't my own art -- that came later. I did sell a few of these to a store in Half Moon Bay, along with lots of my buttons. Fengari is wonderful little knitting shop in downtown Half Moon Bay. I haven't had time to stop in there in a long time so don't know if they have any buttons left.

This design evolved into today's Crafter's Rule. You can see more of my designs in my Etsy shop and at my Flickr page.

I had some other ideas too, some may still evolve into something. So now I had some wares to sell and I went around to knitting shops in my local driving distance and had success at the first three stores. I always called first to set up an appointment. Some stores weren't interested. I'm relieved now that they weren't as it pushed me to look for other ways to sell my wares and so I considered the internet. I had heard of Etsy from a forum I had visited on the internet which had also inspired me, and so I studied Etsy, opened an account and finally in the middle of December 2007, exactly a year to the day after I had left my day job, I posted my first listings and within 24 hours had my first Etsy sale!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 2

So buttons were born and I thought I was onto something here -- I was even able to obtain more coconut shells from a local restaurant that would have ended up in landfill. The process of making them was fun, but labor intensive -- and each one was unique, although I was able to make coordinating sets, no two would be identical, but I loved that about the coconuts. I made the holes big enough for yarn needles as I envisioned these being attached to felted handbags (I have a couple of those in my own collection of bags), and as focal buttons on sweaters, and I even made a few rings with copper sticks as shawl pins. Oh, I had lots of ideas in the early days. I have read that when people convert to eating living raw vegan foods, that their creativity reaches new heights, and I can testify that this definitely happened to me!

So I was sitting on the patio making buttons and had ideas for other tools too, and I also had a very supportive brother who is very skilled and crafty in his own way with wood. I wanted to use bamboo though and had an idea to try and make a needle gauge of some kind. So I made a pencil drawing and gave it to my brother and he worked on making a prototype for me. I was so anxious to see the end result but it took a few months before I saw it, or so it seemed. In the meantime I kept making buttons and thought about what to call my business.
Well, things were seeming a bit tropical, coconuts and bamboo would be the main materials -- natural, healthy for the planet, and strong. I love palmtrees, so coconut palm trees would be part of the logo. I wanted my business name to reflect the idea that I was turning trash (coconut shells) into treasure (buttons) and bamboo (stix) into gold (karat). My first name is Karen and my maiden name is Stixrud and the name then slipped into place -- KaratStix -- which felt like my own name even though different. And sounds like 'carrot sticks' which seemed so healthy too :). So now you know how the KaratStix name came to be and how it relates to coconuts and my raw food vegan lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 1

After working in a technical job for many years, I took the leap in late 2006 to fulfill my very strong desire of building a new kind of lifestyle. My husband and I were in our early to mid-50s, and had just been married in September that year after having been together for 13 years. He had plans to retire in the not too distant future (he retired last October) and I wanted to see if I could build a stay-at-home business to help finance our retirement years -- before he retired. As I had no retirement income of my own (if you are reading this and in your 20s and 30s and you think you have lots of time to save -- start now), it was imperative to me to be able to help support a lifestyle that would allow us to thrive at this time in our lives, mentally, emotionally and financially. So I left my job in Silicon Valley (I was writing software installation programs) with the intention of figuring out what business I would have.

I took the first few months of my new found freedom lifestyle to explore ideas and at the same time I also started a new eating lifestyle -- a living raw food vegan. I have always loved food of all kinds and though I had been fairly slim most of my life, the sweets, fats, pastas, breads, etc. had taken their toll and I did not think that this was a healthy way to eat. I had always naturally gravitated away from alcohol, cigarettes, pills, etc., but I did love coffee (for a time I actually thought a venti decaf latte made with whipping cream instead of milk and sweetened with equal was healthy!!!) and so you ask what does this have to do with 'KaratStix'? It will become clearer :)

I started eating all of this amazing food that I had never experienced before -- in the raw anyway. Especially young thai coconuts -- I was making some amazing smoothies -- pina coladas to die for! (no alcolhol) and raw chocolate smoothies, and desserts without sugar that tasted like heaven! And they were good for me :). So one day I had just opened a coconut and was tossing this big shell in the trash (and another transformation had taken hold of me -- the 'green' lifestyle too :) ) and it dawned on me that many other people in the world were taking these and making things with them -- not throwing them away. I wondered what I could do with it. I still hadn't figured out what my business was going to be, although I did know I wanted it to relate to knitting.

So I took the coconut husk/shell out of the trash and decided to carve away the white husk to reveal the shell. What fun that was -- discovering what the coconut shell actually looked like under there :). And it didn't look like all the other coconut shell products I'd seen before. I cleaned it out real well and set it outside in the sun to dry for a few days. I didn't have any cutting tools, so I took a hammer to it to see how hard it was -- it was pretty tough. So I thought that was good, and I did manage to break it up into odd shapes. I had a dremel tool so I started sanding on a piece, smoothing the edges and surfaces and I liked what was happening. And then I was thinking what could I make with this? Stitch markers? Beads? Buttons??? I drilled a couple of holes. I took out a woodburning tool and made some designs and then there were some colored pencils that came with the woodburning tool so I colored on some. Hmmm. This was fun! I then remembered that I had some koolaid packets that I had kept to use on some wool that I had wanted to try dyeing. So I jumped up and threw some of the buttons into some dye.