I'm so happy to have Elizabeth with us this month for our Made by Mama feature. She's half of the team behind Sweet Paprika, yarn dyers and knitwear design. She also designed and provided the yarn for the Autumn Hike Hoodie from the Knittin' Little Fall/Winter 2016 collection.
Through February 5th, Elizabeth is offering 15% off Sweet Paprika Designs Stacatto Organic yarn. This is the same yarn used in her Autumn Hike Hoodie design from our Fall/Winter collection. Use code KNITTINLITTLE15 at checkout!
So tell us how it all began. How and when did you start knitting?
I tried to learn to knit on my own from a book when I was 8 or 9, buy my tension was way too tight and I was using horrible plastic kid's needles and I just couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Luckily my grandmother came for a visit and taught me to knit when I was 11 and I haven't stopped since! I was always a crafty kid and learned crochet, sewing, and basic weaving and embroidery before knitting. Knitting and crochet have stuck with me the most over the years, but I've been getting back into the sewing and weaving lately.
So, I've been knitting and crocheting since I was a kid, but it was while I was unemployed for a couple of months while living in England that I first thought about starting my own knitting business. I began by doing some sample knitting for another designer, which led to a freelance tech editing career and once I got back to Canada in 2007, my sister Debbie and I launched Sweet Paprika Designs.
Could you explain what Sweet Paprika Designs is?
Sweet Paprika is a hand-dyed yarn business and we also design knitting and crochet patterns and kits. When we started out Debbie and I both did a bit of everything, but as Sweet Paprika has grown we realized we needed to each take responsibility for an aspect of the business. With her background in costume design and fine arts, it seemed natural for Debbie to take charge of the yarn and dyeing, and my tech editing experience has been invaluable in heading up the pattern side of things.
What makes Sweet Paprika unique?
Because we started out both dyeing yarn and designing with our own hand-dyed, from the beginning it’s been very important to us that our yarn looks good in any project. For this reason we specialize in semi-solids and subtle variations that give a depth to your projects without competing with the design.
We’re very picky about our base yarns and will often try many, many options before adding a new yarn to our line. We want to offer high-quality unique yarns that we know our customers will love as much as we do.
We’ve also been experimenting over the past few years with working with local producers to create custom yarns that are 100% Canadian. It’s truly inspiring to visit the farms where the sheep or alpaca are raised, and to be involved in the entire process from washing the fleeces to dying the finished yarn. It’s very important to us to support local industry when we can, so this is an area of the business we hope to gradually expand over the coming years.
When designing our knitting and crochet patterns, our goal is to create patterns that are both fun to make and easy to wear. We have a variety of patterns for all skill levels from basic to adventurous and we try to include a large range of sizes when appropriate. We enjoy experimenting with interesting techniques and finding the perfect finishing details to make a project look just right.
I love the rich and saturated colors in your palette. Where do you come up with the inspiration for these?
Often from nature, sometimes from customer requests, sometimes just from playing with dyes, experimenting and seeing what happens! When working with a new yarn we’ll usually dye a whole bunch of very small skeins in different colours to try out possibilities and then pick which ones to develop further. That way can we make sure each yarn line is cohesive, I like designing patterns with more than one colour, so enjoy having a palette of colours that work well together.
I love hearing about how people juggle their business and their family - I guess it makes me feel normal! haha! What does a typical day look like for you?
On a typical weekday I’m home with my 3-year old son during the day so I’ll try to get an hour or two of work time in during his nap and then another couple of hours in the evening when my husband is home from work. I often work a longer stretch on Saturdays but try to reserve Sundays for family time. My sister Debbie and I usually have a weekly check-in to make sure we each know our goals and priorities for the week and we talk almost daily on the phone to keep each other up to date.
Balancing parenting and a business is certainly a challenge at times, but I do appreciate that it gives me the flexibility to be at home full-time with my son – something that was always important to my husband and me. My husband is very supportive and although he’s not involved in the day-to-day running of the business, he’s great at offering suggestions and helping me brainstorm. He’s my go-to person when I get stuck on naming a pattern!
What have been the best and worst parts of running your own business?
The best part has been creating something, watching it grow, and learning a ton of skills I wouldn’t have otherwise (web design, bookkeeping, photography…). I also love connecting with the wider knitting community both online and in person.
The worst part is balancing the business with the rest of my life. It often feels like there’s so much to do and never enough time, so it can be hard to turn off and feel like your work is done for the day.
I really love how the Autumn Hike Hoodie turned out using your Stacatto yarn. Which yarn base do you think is the best for knitting for children and why?
This depends on who the parents are! I really love the Staccato Organic worsted merino for kids. It’s soft and knits up quickly, BUT, it will felt if not washed properly so I only use it if I know the parents are well-versed in washing hand-knits. If I’m not sure, my go-to kids’ yarn is Minuet which is a DK superwash merino and comes in lots of fun colours.
How do you share your love of yarn with your little one? Do you have any fiber related books you read with them?
My son has been surrounded by yarn since he was born. So far he loves helping me use my ball winder and swift to wind yarn. He occasionally gets to visit Aunt Debbie at the yarn studio and has “helped” with fleece washing, labeling, and telling us his colour preferences. He seems to like buttons as much as I do, so he always gets to pick out a few of his own when I go button shopping. He’s started making requests for me to knit him things and it’s always gratifying when he picks out his clothes in the morning and chooses something I knit him. So far we haven’t read any fibre related books, but that’s a good idea!
Feeding the Sheep (this month's book club pick) was my favorite to share with my son the summer before he turned three and he might relate to the activities in it as well! At the end of the story, we find that the mother has been processing all this wool to knit a sweater for her daughter. What has been your favorite thing you’ve knit for your little one? Or any children’s pieces you’re looking to try?
It’s so hard to choose one! My current favourite is the Little Leif hat I just knit this fall because my son asked for me to knit him a hat, chose the colours himself and I get to see him wear it every day this winter.
I’d like to try making more kids socks. So far I’ve only made my son one pair (which he’s now grown out of), but I have Clare Devine’s Sock Anatomy ebook that I’ve been meaning to work my way through.
Where can knitters/crocheters find you (online, shows, websites, etc.).
I’ll be at the Knitter’s Frolic in Toronto in April and the Prince Edward County Fibre Fest in May. We also host a monthly knitting tea and the occasional knitting picnic in Montreal if you’re ever in the area! You can check the events page of our website for up-to-date information.
Thank you again Elizabeth for sharing your story! I am loving that Zippity Raglan pattern. I'm always on the lookout for cute and easy sweaters for the kids. Elizabeth will be giving away TWO copies of her pattern to two commenters. Just leave a comment below and the winner could be you! Winners will be announced next Monday and contacted via email or Ravelry message so be sure to leave some contact info! Happy knitting!