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January 14, 2014
Colorful Entrepreneur

Susan Carlson crochets at the next level with her blog and business 

The minute you walk into her house, you are inundated with colors — color on the walls, color in the furniture and decorations — it’s a kaleidoscope of color everywhere you look.  What’s especially interesting is that much of the color comes from custom crocheted pillows, blankets, lamp shades and décor.

This is not your granny’s crochet.

Susan Carlson has a house that matches her personality — vibrant, bubbly and full of life. This fun with colors is how she has grown a successful online business, which almost ended before it started due to a terrible car accident.

Although Carlson initially learned to crochet from her “little granny,” much of what she learned back when she was 9 or 10 didn’t stick.

“She came one time to stay while my parents were out of town and she taught me how to make granny squares,” said Carlson. “I made my dad a scarf. A very, very long scarf because I didn’t know how to fasten off. So my dad got this ginormously long scarf.”

Carlson didn’t pick up a crochet hook again until she was in her mid-30s.

“The online world opened up and crochet blogs started popping up,” said Carlson.  “My very first project after that really long rest was a ridiculously large blanket.”

At this point she knew how to finish off as she had relearned what her grandmother taught her and then built on that through YouTube videos, online blogs and books. Once she got started she said she just couldn’t stop. She said that when she was growing up, her teachers would say that she didn’t know when to stop.

“Stop talking,” she added with a laugh.

Her business got started because she didn’t know when to stop.

“I had given about as many gifts as I could,” Carlson said. “Family and friends you can only give so many crocheted items to. I had so much around I decided to start selling them.”

She started by doing local craft fairs and sold items in a Salt Lake boutique. Then she decided to open an “Etsy Shop” online. Etsy.com is an e-commerce website that allows people to sell handmade or vintage items in individual “Shops.”

“I was crocheting like crazy, preparing to open my shop,” she said.

However, before Carlson was able to open that Etsy Shop, there was an unexpected twist in her life. She headed North one day on Tooele’s Main Street after picking up a pizza, when a driver pulled out of the Macey’s parking lot next to McDonalds right in front of her.  She said that he was just a young kid.

“He did not see me and I did not see him,” said Carlson. “I did not even have time to press my brake.”

Fortunately the driver she hit was OK, but colliding into the side of his vehicle, Carlson’s knee was injured and her left hand was badly hurt. Three of the four metacarpal bones were broken and her ring finger was crushed. The future of her new business venture was suddenly in question as she was taken into surgery.

“The surgery was brutal, it really was,” said Carlson.  “They place four plates and 20 screws in those bones.  I since had to have an additional surgery to remove some of the plates and screws.”

The surgery was followed by three months of painful therapy. Driving in to Salt Lake three days a week and going through three hours of therapy a day was hard on her, she said. For three months she couldn’t pick up her crochet hook.

“You don’t realize until you’re going through it the small delicate motions that a hand makes,” Carlson said. “All these tiny little muscles that I didn’t use for that time, I had no function in them. I couldn’t bend my fingers, I couldn’t spread them. You don’t even think about picking your fingers up off a surface. I couldn’t do it for the longest time.”

However, her “not knowing when to quit” attitude helped her persevere through the tough times. Surprising even her surgeon, Carlson continued her therapy at home and eventually received almost all her mobility back in her hand. Only the finger that was crushed has yet to return to full mobility.

“I really am pleased things went so well,” said Carlson.  “I’m very, very, very grateful.”

With her hand back in working order, Carlson’s company, Felted Button, was soon open for business. Initially starting out by selling her custom design crocheted items, Carlson has moved over to creating and selling patterns.

“I don’t like to do custom items because you’re under this intense time crunch and there is no creativity involved, and I didn’t want to keep making the same things over and over again,” said Carlson. “I’m distractible. I want to do something new every time.”

She recalled going to a craft fair once where she saw a lady who had made 400 hats in different shades and colors, but using the same exact pattern.

“I would go nuts,” Carlson said. “I knew right off the bat that I wanted to design my own patterns.”

Having learned the tips and tricks by doing patterns for others, she set out creating her own designs and marketing them in her Etsy Shop as well as on Ravelry (a large crocheting and knitting community) and Craftsy (a company that sells yarn and video tutorials).

She said she had to learn to take better photographs, and sometimes the patterns she created took 20 trials to get right. Once those patterns are created, tested by friends or customers, and loaded up on the sites along with 50-60 pictures to help the crafter, Carlson said it runs itself.  She now has a worldwide audience.

“Once it’s set, it is so low maintenance, and I make money when I sleep and when I work another job. It’s brilliant!” Carlson said.

Her phone jingled and she said, “I sold four patterns since we’ve been sitting here; one to West Virginia, one to the Netherlands, and two to Canada.”

“As my reach gets bigger in the world it expands exponentially.” she said.

Carlson said she loves the business.

“It’s the best job,” she said. “I work it when I want to. There is something that is so cathartic and relaxing (about crocheting).”

Carlson has gone on to win awards for her patterns and has had one of her pieces featured in a major crocheting magazine.

What does the future hold for this energetic entrepreneur? She said she is currently working on getting all her patterns with international symbols so she can market to the non-English speaking world and, of course, to continue to create new patterns.  If you want to add a spark of color to your dull winter, you can check out her blog at FeltedButton.com.

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