Knitted Gifts, Carved Wooden Signs, and Other Business Startups

A Connecticut woman who specializes in knitted gifts and a Michigan man who makes carved wooden signs are among readers highlighted in this ongoing feature who established successful business startups.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1979
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Carved wooden signs turned out to be the right business startup idea for one man in White Cloud, MI.
PHOTO: HARRY KLAUS


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The following are business startups that readers established after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.    


Knitted Gifts

One day last year I attended an arts and crafts show, and after viewing the large variety of handmade items on display I began to think about selling my own handicrafts. After all, I'd been crocheting Christmas, wedding, and baby presents for friends and relatives for quite some time! I figured, why not use my skill to make some extra money?

That same week, while still toying with my business idea, I read MOTHER EARTH NEWS for the first time and there was a piece entitled "How to Go to Work for Yourself." I read it and reread it, and finally decided to follow the article's advice. So, I registered with the tax department (at a cost of $1.00), invested $25 in a set of business cards, spent $75 on a supply of yarn, and began crocheting! (I even used my vast mounds of leftover yarn to create a variety of multicolored vests, afghans, and the like.)

Within just a few months I had a large enough stock of clothing and gift items to really start business. My work had been displayed at three arts and crafts shows and I was beginning to create my own designs (some of which were submitted to needlework magazines). I'd been working steadily on custom orders (as a result of a commission to sell on consignment at a local gift shop) and—after having an article accepted by Crochet World—I'd even been asked to do a regular column for that publication!

Each craft show has earned me approximately $45 per day, my custom orders have proved even more profitable, and I have a future steady paycheck from Crochet World coming my way. Sure, it may take some time for my business to make its first million, but meanwhile I'm sure having fun getting paid for my hobby!

Barbara A. Chojnacki
Pawcaluck, CT  

Carved Wooden Signs

After living in suburbia for most of our lives, my family and I finally bought a piece of country land and began construction of a home. That undertaking required quite a bit of cash, though, so we soon found ourselves kicking around a number of moneymaking ideas.

At first we tried out a basement cleaning/junk-hauling business ("I Pick Up Profits From a Pickup"), a venture that provided us with numerous fringe benefits. (The most abundant of such gratuities were scrounged items that had either been thrown away or left behind, many of which became building materials for the 40-foot geodesic dome we were constructing.) Our enterprise also provided a fairly good income on the average, but it quickly became clear that the earnings were not steady enough to meet our needs.

As it turned out, however, I'd acquired quite a few woodworking implements from those hauling jobs, including a saber saw and a Skilsaw, and I'd paid about $100 for a router and a few assorted bits to round out my tool supply. The router had already had a couple of trial runs: first at the request of a friend who needed a sign with his name carved on it, and several more times when (after I noted how well my first attempt at the craft had turned out) I produced a few placards as gifts. Shortly thereafter I read "Dimensional Wood Signs ... How to Make 'Em and Sell 'Em", Parts I and II respectively,  and I knew without a doubt that I could turn my hobby into a profitable venture.

At first business was rather slow,. but my family took on a variety of small woodworking jobs—in addition to an occasional junk hauling gig—and somehow we managed to survive. Then my skills began to improve, my reputation spread, and I was being commissioned to build signs for organizations (including a series for the local chamber of commerce) and individuals alike. As my enterprise expanded, so did my assortment of appliances. Before long "Signs by Harry" could produce just about every type of placard imaginable and had grossed $7,500 in its first 12 months (this year I expect to double that amount!).

My family and I put plenty of hard work into our home sign business, but none A our good fortune would ever have come to pass if it hadn't been for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. In fact, I still often refer to Wow first sign craft articles to help me along in the course of my workday. And—every other month—I eagerly anticipate the arrival of the latest issue wondering what new do-it-yourself idea you'll involve me in next!

Harry Klaus
White Cloud, MI

Home Food Business 

I belong to a food coop in Middletown, Connecticut that not only sells the best natural foods around but also boasts a magazine/book section and a free lending library. Therefore, MOTHER EARTH NEWS is readily available to me. As a result, I've had quite a bit of help from you over the years, particularly in setting up home businesses.

For example, you ran an article called "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Free Lunch ... It's Called the Solar Greenhouse!" After reading that piece, I promptly built myself a "hothouse" (largely from free, recycled materials) and began selling organic produce to the Middletown Co-op. (The greenhouse expanded my growing season and provided me with enough surplus fruits and vegetables to bring in quite a nice profit.)

Shortly thereafter I stumbled upon a write-up called "Sprouts Fill Our Pockets With Cash" and I immediately added sprouts to the kinds of produce I was selling to the co-op and to local restaurants. I planted the shoots in little "greenhouses"plastic shoe boxes with lids and delivered them still growing in their containers to my customers. (Alfalfa sprouts—plus a blend of alfalfa, crimson clover, radish, and fennel—became my specialties.)

Business proceeded fairly well for some time, and then one day I discovered you article entitled "How to Start a Home Bakery of Your Own." I realized that the establishments that bought my organic veggies would be likely candidates for the purchase of home baked goods as well, and that such a project would be a convenient way of bringing in a little extra money. So I invested a few dollars in some pans and fresh-ground flour, and set out to bake a passel of whole-grain loaves. Before long I started playing around with some recipes of my own: I came up with a few unusual varieties of bread—such as carob-raisin-cinnamon-whole-wheat—and then sales really began to pick up. (One-and-a-half-pound loaves of my novel recipe—which cost me 40¢ apiece to produce—sell for 9¢ each.)

I'd noticed, too, that consumers were growing more and more fearful of sugar- and preservative-laden foods, and I thought there must be some way around using those hazardous ingredients in the production of many popular edibles. Consequently, I began experimenting with dessert and snack food recipes. In no time I had three big sellers: [1] Homemade Halvah (a Middle Eastern sweet made of toasted sesame seeds, carob powder, sesame butter, and honey), [2] Peanut Witter Cups (a confection prepared from carob powder, peanut butter, and honey), and [3] Carob Pudding (a blend of carob powder, honey or barley malt, and regular, soy, or nut milk) ... or Fruit Pudding (the same recipe with arrowroot and fruit juice substituted for the carob powder).

My home food business—dubbed "Johnny Random Cottage Industry"—has provided my family and me with quite a comfortable living for a number of years now. All because MOTHER showed us that-even in the midst of today's oppressive economy - self-sufficiency is not impossible!

Hyman Srulo
Durham, CT

Hand Braided Rugs

Like many of your readers,  my husband and I were trying to gather together enough money to buy a small homestead ... but it seemed that our goal would take forever to accomplish if we had to depend on one salary. I wanted to contribute to the savings we'd been slowly accumulating, but with five children to care for, I knew I couldn't hold down a regular job. Consequently, I put myself in your hands in the hope of finding a home-based source of income.

As luck would have it, I came across an article entitled "Grandma's Four-Strand Braided Rug" that was definitely for me! I knew I could get all the scrap material I needed—free for the hauling—from two clothes factories in my immediate area, and I was aware that handmade rugs would be a hot item at the local flea market. But where, I wondered, could I get the money to rent a flea-market table for an extended period of time?

Once again, I trusted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS and—as always—she came up with the solution in a piece called "How to Earn $500 a Month Recycling Metals." The children and I promptly gathered up a horde of aluminum cans and transported them—along with my offspring's old metal swing set—to a nearby recycling center. With that money in our pockets, we set out toward the flea market.

There we rented two stands at a cost of $3.00 per table per day and I displayed my wares for sale. I'd made two sizes of floor coverings: a 2' X 3' rug priced at $3.00, which takes an average of two hours to cut, sew, and weave; and a 3' X 5' version for $5.00, which takes about three hours to produce (my daughter helps me with the braiding). The young'uns accompany me to my selling post every weekend, and sales have been averaging $20 to $50 per day!

At this rate—thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS—my family's "fantasy" homestead is very close at hand!

Joan Walters
Edgewater, FL 


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