Some people don’t believe it when I say that I’ve been running a business for 15 years. They look at me and tend to perform a quick body check, scanning me from top to bottom and then bottom to top. They see my face and although it looks younger, it still belongs to a 29 year old. The reaction I tend to hear the most is, “You don’t look old enough to have done 15 years of anything!” I’ve learned to take the compliment and take it all with a grain of salt. Honestly, I’m just happy that I made it this far.
I knew that this is what I wanted since I was about 7 years old, so for Christmas and birthdays I always tried to ask for things that would help me get started. At this point all I had were a few crochet hooks, a pile of yarn, and a bunch of ideas. My first hook was a Susan Bates size G that was given to me by my great grandmother Vivian. It was a light blue color and is still to this day one of my most prized possessions. By the time I entered high school, I had more hooks, more yarn, more ideas, more business savvy, and a pair of knitting needles. I had started to teach myself how since my grandmother didn’t know. I was also teaching myself crochet stitches and techniques that my grandmother had never even heard of, but I wanted to know everything.
I started my business in my Freshman year of high school. Then I went by a different name, George. It was a nickname that my friends had given me. My last name is Lucas and I love Star Wars, so it worked. The nickname stuck for a couple years and even my teachers called me George. So, when I started my business and I was looking for a name, my friends and I came up with “George’s Homestyle”. I made a pile of scarves and would work on making things during class. I discovered in fourth grade that having something to work on with my hands actually helped me pay attention to my teacher’s lessons. My teachers in high school typically didn’t care if I worked during class so long as my grades were good. I made As and Bs. My very first commission was my history teacher. It was a fuzzy red scarf made with Bernat.
My next commission came from an online friend. He wanted a black blanket for himself and a light blue one for his mother. Each blanket took about two or three days to make each. It was November, so I was about to go on vacation for Thanksgiving weekend. Here’s little 15 year old me in Georgia…
And now in Virginia with two completed blankets.
I was so proud of what I made. The black blanket was made with a chevron stitch and the second was made with a new shell stitch that I taught myself, and then my grandma while I was in Virginia. My friend was very happy with his blankets.
I knew that crochet alone wouldn’t be enough to sell products, so I taught myself how to knit and how to use a double ended crochet hook for Tunisian crochet. The results were amazing!
I’ve known how to sew since I was 6, but in my Sophomore year of high school I did wardrobe in Stagecraft. I absorbed as much knowledge and information as I could. I even worked on costumes instead of having lunch and my teacher would pick me up on weekends to finish up on wardrobe or work on whatever needed to be worked on around the theater. I learned how to follow a blueprint, use power tools, how to paint properly, use a serger, build a table, and some basic theater lighting and sound. Stagecraft was easily my favorite class in high school. I’m even still friends with my teacher and he recently did a photo shoot with me for this website. After all of these years, he is still one of my biggest supporters and sources of encouragement.
You’re the best, Sturgess.
After I graduated high school, I changed the name of my shop to Darksun Illusion. Not long after that, I realized how super pretentious that name was and a friend and I came up with Mystik Designs, almost instantly I added “Magic in every stitch”. The name was perfect because it was simple, easy to remember, and even sounded like “my stick designs” which was appropriate for a business with knitting.
Around this time I was making costumes for LARPing and going to the Renaissance Festival. I tried to sell some things on eBay, but I knew absolutely nothing about taking product photos.
Everything about this is wrong. Humble beginnings.
The concept of selling online was still relatively new. Not a lot of people were doing it and we were all just sort of playing things by ear. Etsy didn’t even exist yet. Selling as an artist was a challenge. Storefronts weren’t interested in selling handmade things and people have a stigma that handmade means cheap or low quality. On top of it, my parents weren’t very encouraging either. They wanted me to get a “real job” and said that this was “just a hobby” and that I’d never “make any real money”. I don’t know what kind of money they think I’ve been accepting this whole time, but that’s neither here nor there.
After partnering up with my friend Ashley, things started to improve almost instantly. For one, I could actually model the things that I created.
Huge step up.
We exploded with creativity. We started getting our hands on anything that could be turned into art. We started making fairy wings.
We even made a pair for her cat.
We would wear our wings out everywhere and were asked to take pictures all the time.
Ashley and I made a bunch of wings, but sadly they never sold. We ended up donating them as a prize for a costume contest at a convention. They took up so much space and we couldn’t figure out how to ship them without it costing a fortune. We didn’t do the proper market or business research ahead of time. It was a lesson well learned.
It was around this time that Etsy had started to gain some popularity. Finally there was a platform for artists that handmade their items to sell their wares. I jumped on board immediately. I started switching to making things like hats and scarves because yarn was so much cheaper than fabric. My skills as a knitter were vastly improving and I was starting to feel comfortable with the quality of my work as well as my abilities as a designer.
I was constantly expanding and improving on my ideas.
At the time, I still couldn’t take decent pictures. I went from this:
And finally landed here:
I was still making things with fabric, but those didn’t seem to really sell. I decided to focus on knitting and stopped sewing.
If I came over to hang out, this is usually what I looked like. Covered in yarn and bringing bags of yarn everywhere I went. For a while, I had so many orders that I had to work on constantly that I almost didn’t have time to hang out. It was really lonely, but soon I just started bringing my business with me everywhere I went so I could still spend time with the people I cared about.
Somewhere along the way, I started to model for other Etsy shops. This was my first shoot for Ruth Nore Designs. I was so nervous. My expressions were very frozen and I was stiff. We also used the timer for every single shot. “It makes the images crisper,” Ruth insisted. It took hours to do a shoot and then we’d only have a few pictures compared to other shoots where you’d have hundreds in that same time frame.
Over time, I got a little more comfortable in front of the camera.
Almost a little too comfortable. I did a pinup shoot for a movie that I did wardrobe for.
It was ironic that I was the Head of Wardrobe for this movie and they repeatedly offered me a role that had a topless scene and then asked me to do some pin up. There was a character in the movie that had a lot of porno mags and calendars with sexy women. We couldn’t use licensed or copyrighted material, so we had to make our own. I turned down the role of the topless vampire bride and agreed to do the pin up shoot. My stipulation was that I wouldn’t actually be nude or show anything, so with the power of trick photography we took some amazing shots that I, and even my parents, were really proud of.
My dad took this picture. I made sure my parents knew what happened before it happened so they could hear it from me instead of finding out some other way. I still have this calendar in my house as well as the porno mag I was on the cover of.
I got to be a part of a panel for the movie at a convention. My parents were so proud!
But all the experience with modeling paid off. My own product photos started to improve.
They got much better the more shoots I did. I continued to model for Ruth and she allowed me to use her setup to do my own photos. She was really one of the most incredible and helpful influences in my career as a small business owner. Ruth always helped me have confidence in my work and my abilities as a model, designer, and business owner. She gave me so many helpful tips that I needed to hear and pointed me in the right direction. It helped me find the right resources to make my business better as well as help me shape realistic goals that got me to where I am now. Seriously, thank you Ruth.
Mystik Designs helped take me places that I never thought were possible. For a while I helped create costumes for drag queens.
Which lead to other opportunities as a model and seamstress.