"First, You Get Crazy"
I did not start out expecting to become a plastic product manufacturer. I only wanted to felt the fifty-plus hats that I had just finished knitting. Our farm is about 20 minutes away from the kids' schools, and I spend a lot time waiting in the car for kids. I knitted hats while I was in the parking lots of stores and schools. I knitted hats while I waited for the kids to get allergy shots, and, oh yes, I knitted hats during the long waits at the orthodontist's office. I really got a lot of hat knitting done.
My fiber friend, Laurie, who owns the Lavender Fleece, invited me to accompany her to a craft show. She needed some help and suggested that I try to sell some of my hats if I could felt them in time. I borrowed her wonderful antique wooden hat block to get started with but she needed it back before I could finish felting most of my hats.
O.K., what can I use now? Laurie suggested a bowl. That was great! I had tons of bowls, plastic, copper, aluminum, and glass. I never gave thought to which ones were shaped like heads. Yes, I know the pattern suggested using bowls, but please!!! The fancy ones from the home parties, (I love those bowls) had flat bottoms and big lips. I only know a few people with flat heads and big lips, so that would not work. The beautiful copper mixing bowls, well, they were excessively deep. A few of the glass ones could have worked, but the bowl was too shallow for my pattern. I really was getting frustrated.
I decided to do a search on one of the Internet auction websites. I am fairly nuts about antiques and figured that a few of the ancient hand-crafted wooden head shapes would do nicely with my antique-ish farm decor. I was on a mission. Then, I was shot down. The prices were quite a bit more than I could afford. Well, way more than I wanted to spend!
I thought that perhaps begging Laurie would solve my problem. She was busily using the hat block to felt her own hats. She needed her hat block. Her response was a teasing... "I guess you'll just have to make your own!" I was not thrilled with that answer. I think I mumbled a bit into the telephone. "OK, I will!" That made me a little crazy.
I immediately called my brother in law, a dentist, and ordered an exorbitant amount of products. I knew how to use them, as I had been a dental assistant for many years. I got a few skeptical looks from my husband and three kids, but that only made me more determined. I wasn't going to spend money I didn't have for something I was only going to use well, 50 times right now and probably only once or twice a year for the next year or so. You know how fads are.
I finally made a shape... please do not ask me to describe that long, involved and arduous procedure, but it turned out to be perfect! I placed that "positive" sculpture into the impression material and prayed that it would "set" correctly with no bubbles, flaws or imperfections. Trying to pull the object out of the impression material was nearly impossible. I refused to give up. Finally, I released it and out popped the perfect shape for blocking hats. The piece of hydrostone weighed nearly 20 pounds though. Not very convenient. I built and rebuilt the mold until I had achieved the next two sizes that I needed to finish my barrage of knitted hats. I surprised even myself, but told my hubby and the kids " Well, of course, what did you expect." After several more days of trial and error, I had three head shaped hat forms. Only, it ended up costing me a lot more than the nice wooden antique ones from the auction site. That made me a little crazy!
I felted up my hats and sold most of them at the craft show the following weekend. The really fun thing was that several people were astonished at how perfectly shaped the hats were. A few ladies, who had knitted and felted their hats on bowls, rather sheepishly asked me if I would make them the same head shapes to sell. I was not about to put myself through all that mess again. So, they suggested that if I ever was to produce the hat shapes to let them know. They all said that they would take one of each size.
I am not sure how the owner of a plastic firm, who lived right next door, heard about this my interest in developing a prototype, probably through my hubby, but after a few hours of talking with him, I was back in the kitchen perfecting my molds as per his suggestions. He could do something with this and something with that and a bit of tweaking here and there and voila! It would be simple! Finally, after nearly 1 year of perfecting and polishing and making all sorts of little adjustments here and there, we were ready to produce the first Hat Shapers prototype. I was not sure about what to do next.
Since I owned a French Angora Farm with nearly 100 beautifully colored animals, I often attended fiber fairs and festivals. I sold my angora, as well as other exotic fibers, llama, alpaca, camel, yak, qivuit, etc., so, I was already going to a wool fiber festival to sell my beautiful fiber and I decided that I would put up a sign up sheet, along with the Hat Shaper prototype, and see if anyone at all would be interested in having one and sign the paper. Yep, they were. A felting teacher, who was about to start a hat felting class in the next building, asked if she could borrow a few of the samples I had brought with me. She actually used them right then in a felting class she was teaching at the show! After her class was finished, she came back and offered to buy 100! She was so tired of bowls and balloons and balls and these met all the requirements of a real hat-felting teacher. When she explained about the hot water and the steam working with felting hats and that the shapers had not melted, I was ecstatic and relieved. That part of the felting process and that way of making hats was fairly new to me. Incredibly, the amount of cash she gave me was the exact amount I needed to start up production at the plant.
I put my order in for 100 of each size. They never came. I made telephone calls and there were excuses. There were promises made and still I waited. I waited and called and begged. There was no time for the plant to stop all the big money making stuff and do my petty little hat shaper. I guess the owner got a bit upset with me as I heard the magic words that had put me in this position in the first place, "I guess you'll just have to do it yourself!"
"O.K., I will." That made me a little crazy.
My husband, who probably did more than I will ever give him credit for, drove me more than and hour away to the manufacturer's plant. After only a few minutes of instruction from "the boss," we were ready. We produced our own Hat Shapers. All by ourselves. It was great. The heat, the noise, the smell of melting plastic. I loved it. I was "doing it myself." It was really crazy.
I put a notice out to everyone who had signed my paper at the fiber festival. They all wanted three or five or nine Hat Shapers. I was thrilled. People were even sending me addresses of yarn and fiber stores, and suggesting that I send out an email to them. I realized that I was truly in a business that I had never thought of before. After making trips back and forth and back and forth to the plant, I started to get a little crazy. I started looking for a machine! $16,000, $20,000, $40,000! I started to think I was really crazy. My brilliant husband decided to see if he could make a thermoforming machine. That made me a bit crazy, too! He found one and he made one. It works great, as well as the big expensive one at the plant. I am not sure we were so crazy with that move.
In just the last few weeks, I have had several teachers of the art of felting, and several felting milliners, call and ask me to try for other shapes and sizes. I hemmed and hawed a bit and then decided that I will just have to get a little crazy here and go for it. So, look out, I am challenged and excited to create diverse, affordable tools for the wonderful world of fiber and fiber management.
First, I have to get a little crazy.
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