July 12, 2013

Turning your passion into business - Part One

Sample hand dyed wool pack from Woolin Rouge
Many years ago I was a freelance translator, working with marketing materials and ad copy from English into Brazilian Portuguese. Since I loved what I was doing, was very good at it, was reliable and fast, clients were abundant. After a few years I decided to open my own translation agency. Within two years the agency was profitable, and by the time I sold it to a competitor - some 10 years later - we were translating into over 150 languages, managing about 1,500 freelance translators all over the world, and had a roster of returning clients which included Ben & Jerry's ice cream, software companies, medical device companies...

Thus, I am naturally attracted to entrepreneurs. I was delighted a couple of weeks ago when Traci Suzanne Marvel from Woolin Rouge contacted me after checking out my blog. Traci and her partner Sylvia have just started a business doing what they love: selling their own hand dyed wool and quilt patterns. They have turned their solid background in business, art, and quilting into a venture which will definitely translate into success while they have fun doing what they love. A winning combination!

For all of you who wonder how this can be done, read on as I interview Traci (this post) and Sylvia (next post).

Traci Suzanne Marvel

1. When and how did you start working with wool?  
I believe my love affair with wool began while working for the Bigfork Bay Cotton Company. As their Sales/Marketing Director, I had the opportunity to vend at several retail and trade shows. I found myself very drawn to the folk art exhibitors who designed with wool and textured fabrics. There is such a pureness about bringing together natural fibers, simple design and hand stitching.

I have hundreds of sketchbooks filled with drawings. I also paint and sell my folk art paintings in my Etsy shop. Every time I'd put a painting up for sale, I'd blog about it. Sylvia (my partner in Woolin Rouge) followed my blog. She mentioned to me that my designs would translate wonderfully into art pieces made with wool.

I shared the idea with Lynn Stalowy, owner of Bigfork Bay Cotton Co. She agreed to license our designs as it would be a wonderful way to promote Aurifil's wool thread. Bigfork Bay Cotton Company is a distributor of Aurifil thread so the partnership was perfect. That is how Woolin Rouge Designs came to be.

2. When did you decide to start your own business? What did it entail?  
Like I mentioned, Sylvia really took a liking to my artwork and she felt a calling to bring it to life. I loved the idea of being able to cross market Woolin Rouge's patterns with Aurifil's wool thread. With Lynn's OK we forged ahead.

The most important part of starting the business for me was a catchy name. We thought and we thought and we thought. Then one day I was in the shower and out of nowhere, like a lightening bolt came this idea:
Woolin Rouge Designs
A Cabaret of Folk Art Designs Projects So Easy
Anyone Can~Can Do Them!
Then I had a vision of Mimi La Mutton (a sheep) dressed up like a can~ can dancer. She would be our mascot. Once we had that and the backing form the Bigfork Bay Cotton Company, I new we were well on our way.

3.Where does inspiration for your patterns come from?
My inspiration comes from an array of different things. I am an artist by nature. Not a day goes by that I do not crave to create something! I try very hard to live in the present moment and take advantage of all my senses. Whether I am composing a photograph, creating a painting, writing a song or designing a textile piece the world outside me becomes silent and all I can hear, see and smell are the going ons of what lives inside me.
Holly Birdie by Woolin Rouge, featured on the cover of MagicPatch magazine.

Growing up I was introduced to many forms of artistic expression. Living in the Bay Area allowed me to go to live concerts, plays, musicals, ballets and museums on a regular basis. I also have a wide range of life experiences. Everything from living in a tee-pee to being flight attendant to traveling from sea to shining sea teaching. I find myself tapping into my memory bank quite often.
I never know when or where the next idea is going to come. They just do. Paul Klee once said this about how his art came to life, "Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void." That is exactly how I feel.

4. What is (are) the best thing (s) about your decision to start your business?  
In my lifetime, I have helped start up a plethora of businesses from restaurants, to airlines, to electronics and home furnishing stores to e-commerce sites to fitness centers , to quilt shops and pattern companies.

I have helped make so many other people's vision's come true. I feel I have put my time in. When a set of unforeseen circumstances came up with my job position, I had a talk with God and asked if perhaps now was my time. So far, it appears that God is in favor of this transition. With God in the lead, Sylvia and I are working toward realizing our own dreams. That is the best feeling to turn over the reins to God and let Him lead you down the path you are meant to be on.

5. What are the drawbacks, if any?  
Honestly? Money. That is the plain and simple truth. Sylvia and I are working on a shoe string budget. Every day we wake up and say "God, if this is what you want us to do then you will provide for what we need". So far He has! We are so appreciative of each and every order that comes in and we treat each one with loving care. I believe that this draw back will eventually take care of itself. It is just a matter of time.
I am always saying, "inch by inch the snail reached the ark."

6. Please introduce us to your family.  
My husband and I married in 1997 and it was one of the best things I ever said yes to! He is a hunter and I am a vegetarian. It is true opposites do attract. I am very fortunate that he is very supportive of my artistic journey. I am also the proud mother to a son David and a daughter Sky. David works as a Graphic Artist and Sky is pursuing a career in Video Production. I suppose the artistic gene runs deep in our family. What a blessing. And then there is Cowboy. Cowboy is my handsome dog. He is not only my best friend, but my muse. He spends countless hours with me in my art shack keeping me company.

7. How do you juggle your family commitments and your business?  
My children are grown now and so it is just me and my husband at home. I really don't have too many commitments that I am obligated to. I find myself working on Woolin Rouge Designs all the time. I think about new designs, I think about planning our booth for market, I think about blog posts, I think about new classes to teach, I think about how to help quilt shops with merchandising... My mind never stops!

Woolin Rouge isn't my only business - I also sell my fine art photography and paintings in my Etsy store. I have collectors across the globe! You can also find my photography at the Sundance Resort Art Gallery.

8. What do you do for relaxation?  
Walk. I've started a walking program. I walk in the early hours of the morning. It gets my creative juices flowing and gets me prepared for the day ahead. I also love to head out into nature with my husband. He brings his float tube and fishing gear and I bring my easel and art supplies. There is nothing more relaxing to me than that.

9. Do you have any advice for someone contemplating starting their own quilt-related, or craft, business?  
Starting your own quilt or craft business takes tenacity, courage, hootzpah and time. Lots and lots of time. You have to have a passion for what you are doing as it soaks up the minutes and hours of your day and nights too. But if you have a passion for your business then it doesn't matter and everything about it becomes exciting. One of my favorite quotes is by Harvey MacKay, "Find something that you love to do and you will never have to work another day in your life."

Congratulations on your new venture, Traci and Sylvia! Stay tuned for Part Two where we learn about Sylvia!


  1. Olá Denise!Como vão as coisas e a vida?E seus filhos e neto?Hoje finalmente recebi OK do médico,não será preciso operar os pés,graças a Deus.Adorei este postagem,parabéns.Vou esperar o segundo tempo.BeijoGRANNNDE,Deus te Abençoe

  2. Thank you for a great encouraging post!


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