Looking through the eyes of an online craft business

By Ardeana Hamlin, BDN Staff
Posted July 26, 2010, at 5:56 p.m.

For Michelle McLaughlin, the eyes have it. The plastic eyes she custom paints for knitters, crocheters and stitchers of dolls and animals are what caused her Internet business, Suncatcher Craft Eyes, to go international.

“Last week,” she said, “I had orders from Iceland and South Korea.” In the past months she has received orders from Sweden, China, Thailand, United Kingdom, Spain and Mexico.

It wasn’t a road McLaughlin, who lives in Hampden, expected to take. But in 2004 she became disabled with a back problem and needed something else to do. She fell back on the lessons her mother, a seamstress, had taught her — crocheting, sewing and other needlework skills.

She made items such as hats and scarves to sell at etsy.com. “I even made dog hats,” she recalled.

Soon she was crocheting Amigurumi dolls and animals, a Japanese take on crocheting popular with those who like to mess around with yarn.

It took awhile, McLaughlin said, but the crocheted items she made began to sell. In the process, she became bored with the plastic eyes she purchased to embellish the facial features of the toys.

“I wanted more colorful and realistic eyes for my projects so I started making them,” she said.

She begins with clear plastic eyes, which are fastened to fabric with a locking metal or plastic washer that keeps it securely in place, purchased in quantity from a supplier. Then she paints the eyes in opaque, translucent or shimmer colors in more than 40 hues.

“All my eyes are painted to order,” she said.

Meanwhile, McLaughlin’s health improved and she was able to go back to her regular employment as a medical transcriptionist. But she continued to conduct her online business.

“It was very easy to start an Internet business,” she said. “It’s very easy to use etsy. You get a PayPal account, you post photos of what you want to sell and wait for people to buy what you make.”

But she found out fairly quickly that her handmade crocheted products weren’t all that different from other products found at the website and it took awhile for the selling part to begin.

Then she had an aha moment and decided to offer some of her hand-painted eyes for sale. When she sold her first pair of eyes and received positive feedback from the buyer she knew she had a product other crafters wanted.

McLaughlin, who grew up in Bangor, said she started with about $20 of clear plastic eyes, and things grew from there. She said she learned about running an online business “just by doing it” and by seeking out websites that provided information about running an online business. She found etsy forums and craftster.org especially helpful. “I also just Googled around the Web,” she said of searching for information about running an online business.

She said it took about six months for orders for the eyes to start coming in steadily.

“I had to find the right product,” she said. And it turned out to be not a product she crocheted, but an item other crafters needed in their work.

Her advice to those who aspire to start a Web business: “Come up with a product that’s unique. Have an objective eye toward what you are doing. Start small, keep expectations low and work hard at it.”

For more information about Suncatcher Craft Eyes, visit http://www.suncatchereyes.com. The website features free patterns for Amigurumi crocheted creatures.

Snippet

The Seal Harbor Library will hold a fundraiser raffle featuring a hand-hooked rug. The rug depicts Little Long Pond and was designed and handcrafted by Melina White of Seal Harbor Rug Co.

Tickets may be purchased through the library at a cost of $5 a ticket or $20 for five. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit library programs, especially those pertaining to children.

The drawing for the rug will be held Sept. 3.

For more information, call the library at 276-5306.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/07/26/living/looking-through-the-eyes-of-an-online-craft-business/ printed on July 24, 2014