One of the biggest questions I had to ask myself when I decided to start selling dyed fiber was how do I separate myself from the pack? How do I make my fiber stand out and be recognized from other dyers’ work? It was not a question that I could answer over night since I was still finding which paths I wanted to forge into the fiber world.
At the time I was very intrigued with recreating colors such as those of the famous Doctor Who scarf and the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). I had no idea what an impact on my business ethics and on what course I wanted to set this would have. To start, recreating colors on fiber with acid dyes became a big learning curve in handling colors. At that point I had already decided to take on squeeze bottle dye work as opposed to Stove Top Immersion Dyeing or other forms of working with acid dyes. I knew I did not want to dye yarns but stay strictly with fiber. My first round of color matching started with discussing it with dye companies. The issue here was that squeeze bottle dye work is not the same as immersion work and the figures they gave me to color match did not take this in mind. The result was way too much blue dye for my TARDIS. Also the blues involved clotted quickly in the squeeze bottles which meant straining had to happen at the time of applying dyes, not days before hand.
Through trial and error I slowly began to get a handle on the dye quantities for squeeze bottle work and fine tuned the colors for the Doctor Who scarf. It was at that point I met up with someone who actually owns the scarf seen in the Shada episode of Doctor Who. What I learned was that the colors I was recreating had been determined by someone who had just guesstimated and they were not fully accurate. I was sent a color of swatches of colors to try and match.
The whole project was frustrating me and making me quite depressed. I could not figure out why and thought that maybe dye work was not for me. A friend was looking at some of my non Doctor Who color ways in my shop. She said to me, “Just do you. Don’t do already created stuff. It’s not who you are.” This was quite profound. I spent some time contemplating the whole recreating these colors effort and looked through Etsy shops making recreations of Doctor Who items and it dawned on me that I just did not want to do this. It felt wrong. Was it copyright infringement? Wasn’t it just piggy backing off of someone else’s creativity? I did not like how I felt about it and decided that this was a huge learning curve that I needed to take and run with right then and there.
I ran across a shop on Etsy called Katwise. Katwise is an artist who makes sweater coats from upcycled clothing. These are artsy, flamboyant, wonderfully colorful works of art. Once a month she previews her goods on Facebook, then has a set date and time when she has her shop update. Every month she uploads her new items and within 10 – 15 minutes they are uploaded and sold. All throughout Etsy I found artists copying Katwise designs. How does someone deal with this? Her unique items were being copied by so many people. How this artist handled this is a lesson to us all.
Katwise embraced it and wrote fabulously colorful digital tutorials on how to make her coats and hand warmers. You can go to her shop right now and see the tutorials only there as the coats still to this day sell out despite all those who copy her work. Her shop opened in 2006 and to date she has sold 38,225 items. She remains a success despite those who knock off her designs. It took me a while to realize that no one can make these coats the way she does. Each artist has a certain something.
Back when I was growing up my mother had a gourmet shop, cooking school, weekend restaurant and catering business long before gourmet shops were a thing. The woman who came in to do the weekend lunches was a friend of mine. The first weekend she did the lunches instead of my mother, I sat down to a gorgeous meal. For desert was my mother’s chocolate cake made by my friend, not my mother. All the ingredients in the cake were the same, the same butter, eggs flour and chocolate. But the cake did not taste at all the same as when my mother made it. I was dumbfounded that it could be so different. I realized at the time that the cook was part of the recipe. It was not just the materials used, but the cook as well.
So when people were making Katwise coats, they did not quite look the same. they did not have the Katwise energy in them that only she could put in them. Each and every cook and artist has their own energy – their own way of how they produce what they do. It is the essence of handmade. I know a Katwise coat the minute I see one. Many people know at Allons-y! fiber arts braid the minute they see one.
Over the years as a dyer I have managed to find my own energy, my own methods and ways of creating dyed fiber. My exactness in how things are done has translated well into my gradients which are at the heart of my business. I have searched out different fibers when possible to separate myself out in look. And along with finding and creating my own look have come the copiers. At first when this happened I was annoyed. But I had to think back to Doctor Who and TARDIS blue and remember that it is what it is and it is retail after all and I should be complimented that anyone thinks my dyework and choice of fibers and custom blends are worthy enough to copy.
So embrace it and run with it I say! And enjoy the lessons and processes along the way because that will never stop – which is good because it is an opportunity for growth!