July 15, 2013

Turning your passion into business - Part Two



You read about Woolin Rouge - an online store selling hand dyed wool and quilt patterns - and their creators, Traci and Sylvia, on my previous post. Now you have a chance to read my interview with Sylvia Gauthier and to find out, from her perspective, what it is like to start a business based on something you really enjoy doing.

Sylvia brings her own strengths to their new business venture: a passion for sewing and quilting, and her ability to turn Traci's drawings into very cool wool patterns!

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Sylvia Gauthier


1. When and how did you start working with wool?

I started working with wool when I realized how adorable Traci's sketches would be when made with wool. After starting out with wool felt, I quickly moved on to felted wool. It is a dream to work with. Literally anyone can applique with wool. It is very forgiving.

2. When did you decide to start your own business? What did it entail?
I wanted to turn Traci's art work into stitcheries, quilts, and wool penny rugs. Once I made the first sketch into a wool quilt, Star Light Snow Bright, we had a business meeting at Traci's house. It was only the second time we had ever met face to face. She lives in Montana, I live in Wyoming. We developed our relationship over the phone and emails. We have spent quite a while developing our business to where it is today by taking "baby steps". We started out with Bigfork Bay Cotton Company licensing us and producing our patterns, then we designed a few more patterns. After some frustration finding the exact wools we needed to design with, I created our own palette of 335 colors of wool. We never really dreamed we would be in the wool business but so far it is working out really well.


Aleena, Woolin Rouge's newest pattern, available soon.
3. Where does inspiration for your patterns come from?
My inspiration comes from Traci's drawings. As soon as I see the drawing, I know how I want to "color it in" with wool. We always discuss how we envision each design and we are always respectful of each others opinions.

4. What is (are) the best thing (s) about your decision to start your business?
Working with Traci is by far the best thing about being in business. I also enjoy dyeing wool, and creating. I feel like I have all the fun and Traci does all the work. She is head of Marketing and that's something I wouldn't be good at.

5. What are the drawbacks, if any?
Even living so far apart hasn't seemed to affect anything. So far I don't know of any drawbacks. Taking "baby steps" the way we did, we never went into debt with our business, and we had the advantage which most businesses don't have of being licensed for our patterns so we didn't have the expense of making our patterns. We were very blessed to have such a great support network behind us in the beginning.

6. Please introduce us to your family.
My husband Alan is a recent Cancer Survivor. He is retired from Operating Engineers so he has plenty of time to run packages to the post office for me. Together we have 7 children: I have 3, he has 4. Our children are all grown; in fact, some of our grandchildren are grown too. The 13 grandchildren run in age from 2 to 23. Joey is our adorable poodle.

7. How do you juggle your family commitments and your business?
I babysit 2 of my grandchildren 2 days a week, so those are what I call my days off. I do get to do computer work on those days but no dyeing wool. My family has always been so supportive of my work. I made quilt shop samples for years - Bigfork Bay Cotton Company was one of them - so when Mom was sewing, she was working. My husband had the hardest time understanding when I'm at work and when I'm not.

Holly Birdie by Woolin Rouge
8. What do you do for relaxation?

I sew, of course! I hook rugs, embroidery, quilt, read, and we have a 5th wheel we go camping in. I know, a 5th wheel might not be camping to some, but I don't go anywhere without a toilet and bed. Between our kids and grandkids, there is always something to do.

9. Do you have any advice for someone contemplating starting their own quilt-related, or craft, business?
Baby Steps! Take it one thing at a time. The more you think about what you want to do, and where you want it to go, the better off you are. It is work. Everyone who quilts thinks it would be so great to work in a quilt shop. They don't realize that shop owners rarely have time to sew anymore. You have to want the business side of the business, not just the fun side. For us, we have to think about what kind of customer base we will be targeting, and how a quilt shop will be able to use their existing products to make our patterns, not just what we think is cute.

Finally, If you do have a partner, you need to be able to respect their ideas, and to be able to handle their criticism. Above all, you and your partner must always communicate.

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Are you inspired yet? You can learn more about these two very creative ladies here. I wish Traci and Sylvia lots of success on their new venture. Their hand dyed wool makes me want to start a new wool applique project right away...

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