Inside Underground Crafter

Lindsay LewchukDesigners 2 Comments

A self professed “solopreneur,” the Underground Crafter (Marie Segares) is the genius behind the vastly educational yarn focused podcast, the Creative Yarn Entrepreneur Show. After the privilege of being interviewed by her twice – once for Indie-Design Gift-a-long 2014 with the other admins (Nina Machlin Dayton, Alex Tinsley, Simone Kereit) & then again last week – I got to wondering about this creative & what she is about. Marie graciously agreed to allow me to interview her. She shared many purls of wisdom for designers fo all levels – Enjoy!

Marie modeling her "Warm and Textured 1-Skein Cowl"
Marie modeling her “Warm and Textured 1-Skein Cowl”

You have taken entrepreneurship to the stratosphere with your crafting “solopreneurship” & all the diversity it entails. Tell us about your entrepreneur offerings & how you balance your time between each individual venture.
I started out my career as a health educator and soon moved into non-profit management. When I started Underground Crafter in 2008, my plan was to make some “side income” selling my crocheted items at craft fairs. Pretty soon, I learned the craft fair scene wasn’t for me, and the teaching side of my business took off. In 2010, I added in designing, and in 2011, I started blogging and teaching knitting. Over the next several years, Underground Crafter grew into a sizeable part of my income, but it also was a refuge from the stresses of my work.

In 2013, I decided to leave the working world and become a full-time solopreneur (a solo entrepreneur). After working from home for about a year, I became addicted to podcasts, and I started my own one, the Creative Yarn Entrepreneur Show, in August, 2014. It’s a business podcast focused on the needs of yarn industry indies, so I talk about all things business and yarn.

I divide up my work between teaching college and graduate school courses, freelancing for clients in education management, and the yarn related stuff. I’ve learned that I’m more effective when I focus on only one type of work each day, so I set up my schedule for the week based on that philosophy. Today is a Creative Yarn Entrepreneur day, so, for example, I had two podcast interviews scheduled in the morning, I watched a YouTube over lunch about producing video podcasts, and after this interview, I plan to edit the audio on my next few podcast episodes.

In the podcast you mentioned you teach and this intrigued me right away. What & where do you teach and how does teaching fit into you being a solopreneur?
My background is in adult education. As I mentioned, I started out as a health educator so I’m very comfortable teaching in non-traditional settings. Unlike a lot of crochet and knitting teachers, I don’t do any teaching at a local yarn shop, although it’s something I’d like to investigate in the future. I teach 30 Saturdays a year for a local union. For this 10-week cycle, I’m teaching crochet, but we usually alternate with knitting a few times a year.

I like teaching for a few reasons. Financially, it usually pays the highest hourly rate of any of the work that I do, and there is generally a very short lag between when I teach and when I get the money. This is a huge plus in terms of keeping a steady cash flow when I might wait a year to get paid for a design published in a magazine! It’s also a great way to keep up with trends – what types of patterns or yarns are students asking about or bringing in, for example? And, you can get pretty immediate feedback which is hard when you’re selling patterns online. As far as how it fits into my life as a solopreneur, well, in some weeks I wouldn’t see anyone besides my boyfriend and the cats if I didn’t teach, so it is always a good reason to leave the house and interact with people.

Self-published verses 3rd-party publishing, I see you have both. What are some of the pros and cons of each publishing type? How do you decide which is right for you or is it a pattern by pattern basis? Do you have any advice for budding designers on picking between the two?
As I see it, the pros of third-party publishing are diversifying your income/guaranteeing cash flow; getting help with aspects of publishing you don’t understand, can’t afford, or aren’t very good at (such as photography and tech editing), and reaching a different and/or larger audience than your own. It might also be a chance to work with specific people, such as editors or photographers you admire. The cons are that sometimes your creative vision may be compromised in an unpleasant way by the involvement of others, delays in yarn support delivery can cause you to either pay exorbitant shipping fees or work your fingers to the bone to make a sample (or both!), and some publishers are less than scrupulous and your guaranteed income becomes a visit to small claims court. And, of course, the delay from submission to publication. So if there is a big trend or seasonality to your design, sometimes that doesn’t translate when you publish with a third-party and it comes out eight months later.

Sunshine of Your Love Blanket and Pillow Set
Sunshine of Your Love Blanket and Pillow Set

The pros of self-publishing are TOTAL CONTROL bwa ha ha. Sadly, that is also the con. Unless you happen to be masterful in all aspects of publishing patterns – writing, editing, photography, layout, marketing, designing, and sample making – then something will either be subpar or you will need to contract some services out.

For me, I tend to self-publish my spontaneous ideas. I review the submission calls for all of the publications that I’m interested in working with as they come out. If I have time in my schedule and something on the mood board inspires me, I submit a proposal. I’m currently self-publishing more free patterns than in the past because I’m experimenting with different ways of monetizing the Underground Crafter blog.

For budding designers, I would recommend trying out both! emphasis added because it is such great advice! See what works for you and your business. Some people exclusively self-publish and others exclusively submit to third-party designers, but many designers have variety in their catalog. As much as some folks on Ravelry might have you think, there is no right or wrong answer – it really depends on what works for you business. When I didn’t work from home, I hated self-publishing because I could never find time to take pictures during the day. Now, I enjoy it! If you’re struggling with the question, you may want to check out my podcast episode about identifying the right magazines to target. It’s helpful in thinking about where (or why) you might want to third-party publish.

Your Ravelry designer page reveals your 138 diverse crochet & knit designs. How long have you been publishing your designs and where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I started designing as soon as I started teaching. While I have always experimented with crocheting without patterns, I never wrote anything up until I had students ask me for a specific type of project or to learn a certain stitch. A lot of my inspiration comes from my students! They might want to learn a particular technique, make a specific type of project, or even just get some practice reading patterns. And, of course, living in New York City, I get a lot of inspiration from my fellow New Yorkers on the subways and streets. I’m also a heavy stitch guide user. I love pouring over them thinking about future projects. Sometimes, all of these come together in a perfect storm – a student wants to learn a particular stitch, I see someone wearing a type of project on the subway, I have a great yarn at home, and then I just go to town.

What is your design aesthetic?
I would say my aesthetic is cozy urban. (I just made that up. Is it a real aesthetic? I don’t know.) I’m not into the whole “this isn’t your grandma’s crochet” movement. What exactly are you saying is wrong with my grandma’s crochet? She happened to be a skilled artisan who even went to a needle-arts trade school instead of high school during the Depression, thank you very much.

Do you have any patterns featuring eco yarns?
I have some patterns using Galler Yarns Inca Eco, including my Pineapples for Everyone Shawl (which is actually a recipe pattern that can be crocheted with pretty much any yarn, but with a different look, obviously). I love the softness of the yarn. Unlike a lot of “kitchen cotton” yarn, it doesn’t feel itchy or stressing on the hands at all. I also have made quite a few scrubbies and baby gifts with it since it is both organic and dyed with low-impact dyes. I wrote up a few of my favorite scrubby patterns as 7 Circular Summertime Scrubbies all of which can be crocheted with one skein of Inca Eco.

My All Weather Cowl also uses a great (but sadly, discontinued) eco friendly yarn, Galler Yarns Aztec Boucle. This is actually my all time favorite cowl to wear. It feels really nice against my neck and though it does stretch with wear, every time I wash it, it goes right back to its original size!

Using tail wags, Puddles tapped out a secret fur-interview question for Marie’s kitty’s, Marie translated their answers for us.

James Bond & Cappucchino
James Bond & Cappucchino

Of course, I’m all for inter-species dialogue. My cats are Cappuccino and James Bond, but they are more often known by their secret nicknames. We rescued them from a very unfortunately living situation in the summer of 2013 and quite literally saved their lives. (I share more of the story in this blog post.) Both are huge crochet fans. Cappuccino has transformed a large bulky yarn swatch that I used to use as a double crochet stitch demo in my beginner classes into his own personal window seat blanket, and James Bond enjoys lounging on a ripple blanket that MC’s aunt made him when he was a child. As for the knitting, that’s a bit more dicey since Cappuccino is very enamored with circular needles.

Find Marie around cyberspace in the following places:
Underground Crafter
Creative Yarn Entrepreneur Show
Pinterest: |
Ravelry: |
Twitter: |
She’ll also be a guest on Marly Bird’s Yarn Thing live podcast next week (Thursday, 2/12)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *