I am very happy to bring you an interview with the very talented and colorful knitwear designer Kristin Nicholas!
Welcome, Kristin. Why don’t you start by telling us how you got into crafting?
My mom was a big sewer – she made a lot of the clothes my four sisters and I wore when we were little. My grandmother was a quilter, crocheter, embroiderer, baker and sewer. So I guess you could say, it was in my blood and the important women in my life really encouraged me.
There are many facets to your career! You are a knitwear designer, an author, a decorative artist, to name a few, and you herd sheep! How did it all come about?
Man, that is a long story and not one that I want to bore anyone with. Let’s just say that I grew up sewing and then learned to knit in college. I was in grad school at the beginning of the big surge of interest in hand knitting in the early 1980’s. Somehow I read an article about handknitting yarn in a trade magazine and thought that would be a cool job. I can’t believe I was actually able to land a job and then have a great career as the Creative Director at Classic Elite Yarns for 16 years.
As for the author part, after I stopped being the Creative Director, I had to do something and because Julia was almost a toddler, I didn’t want to go away from home to work. Where I live in the boonies, there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity anyway. So I got a book deal with STC to do Knitting for Baby with my friend Melanie Falick. After that, I did Kids’ Embroidery (now sadly out of print, but I have copies available on my website) and I have followed with 3 more books including my latest on knitting Color by Kristin.
As for the decorative artist part, I have been really interested in color all my life and the painting filled a creative need. It is different than knitting and stitching and at first I didn’t think I could do it. But I tried and had some success and so now it is just part of who I am. When I decorated this house, I didn’t have any money for wallpaper and so I painted the walls to look like wallpaper. It is a whole lot of fun but you have to be fearless!
And the sheep part?
I met my husband Mark when I was on an exchange program at Oregon State University in 1979. Before we were married, we bought 4 Romney sheep (some people get engagement rings, we bought sheep instead). Mark grew up on a dairy farm and is a true farmboy (like Pa Ingalls on Little House on the Prarie). I grew up in the NJ burbs but always had a great desire to live on a farm with animals. I suppose I am fulfilling one of my childhood dreams because, man, do I live on a farm! Right now, there are two lambs in my kitchen. We have 300 sheep who will all be lambing (birthing in sheep-speak) soon. We mostly sell their meat at local Farmers Markets and are passionate about agriculture and land reclamation (that means taking a piece of forgotten farmland and returning it back to productive crop, hay and pasture). We are really busy but it all works together!
Are you a work-at-home mom or do you have a work space out of the home? If you are a work-at-home mom, how do you juggle your work duties with your mom duties?
Yes, I am a “work-at-home” mom. And boy is it a struggle. I find the best way to get things done is to make lists and check off the duties and ideas I complete. It is so tempting to just wash those dishes if they are sitting there in the sink but then a half hour is gone and you can’t get it back.
I do have a studio space that I keep separate from our living space – that helps. I can keep stuff that I am working on out and noone else goes in and messes it up. That said, I am usually in the kitchen on my laptop for my computer work because it is the warmest room in the house.
And I will admit, if the school calls and Julia has a problem, I drop everything and tend to her. She is a juvenile diabetic so I have to be extremely aware of her needs. My family and our farm definitely come first!
What inspires your creativity?
Deadlines – real or self-imposed fictional! I have always been a last minute procrastinator and love the creative burst of energy I get as a deadline approaches. Because I don’t have a “boss” to set the deadlines, I set them for myself and try to adhere to them.
I also just found a great tool called “Freedom.” It is an internet program that shuts down your internet connection so you can’t waste time surfing the net. It costs $10 and it is so worth it! Check it out.
What do you think has been your biggest struggle as a working mom?
Lack of structure and as my husband says “getting off task.” But you know, that is multi-tasking and someone has got to wash the dishes and do the laundry.
What are your goals for yourself or your business for your future?
I am working on some book ideas (formulation stages in my head) and need to get some book proposals written. I find that if I do the proposal, I can determine if I am interested enough to write the book. If I didn’t like writing the proposal, I scratch the idea and try to think of something else. Doing a knitting or craft book takes at least a year of my life, so I’ve got to love doing it!
I’m also doing more desktop publishing of my designs to sell on my website and I am looking into doing some e-books on my own. I think e-publishing is a great thing for independent authors to do. Some of my interests and ideas aren’t exactly publishable (by large companies).
I also run “Getting Stitched on the Farm” Knitting and Stitching Weekend Retreats at our farm a few times a year. It’s great for me because I don’t have to leave my family. I also give the students a look at my life – both creative and farm – and they learn so much that they wouldn’t learn from a retreat held at a hotel.
What other hobbies do you like to dabble in?
I like to cook and do a little baking once in a while. I also love to take photos for my blog.
What is your favorite way to relax?
Sitting outside in an Adirondack chair, watching the sun go down on our mountain with a glass of red wine and a good magazine. That is heaven!
Do you have any advice to give other women who are interested in starting their own small business?
As the Nike slogan says, “JUST DO IT.” If you have an idea, any idea for a business, start small and slow and see where it leads you. But the hardest thing, I think for most people, is to actually take the jump and do it instead of just thinking and talking about it and saying “what if?”
I think too many people are afraid of failure. Failure is fine and it is actually part of building a business. If one thing doesn’t work, I try another. I have had many failures and I look back on them and say “oh, yeah, what was I thinking?” But in all honesty, I always learn from my mistakes.
I will say that it is really easy to start a business now with the internet, blogging, and Etsy – way easier than it was as short as ten years ago. The hard part is getting noticed though. That is why interviews like this are great. Thank you!
What is your favorite game to play with your daughter?
I asked Julia this question and she said her favorite thing to do with me is “hang out and bake and watch movies on the DVD player.” We live out in the country so there aren’t any kids close to us for her to play with.
This has been great Kristin. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
My main bit of guidance would be to follow your passion whether it be sewing, quilting, painting, photography – whatever. If you have passion, success will follow. You may not get rich (goodness knows I’m not) but you will feel satisfied and have a very interesting life.
And if you have the chance, time and money, take some classes because you always learn something new – either about yourself or the technique the class is centered on.
I invite everyone over to my blog “Getting Stitched on the Farm” to have a look around. And I thank you for inviting me to the “Renaissance Mom” series. I feel honored to be included with all the other great Moms!
Thank YOU Kristin!