When the Academy Awards air this Sunday night, Sheri Hall will be paying special attention. Not because she is up for an award, or because she has any sort of stake in the outcome, but because, for the first time in her life, she has a connection with Oscar.
Oscar the Slouch, that is.
Sheri knits hats, her newest design being “Oscar the Slouch”. When I say “knits hats”, I mean that it is what she does from sunup to sundown virtually every day. “One of the best things,” Sheri says, “about my knitting habit, is that I can take it everywhere. That is also one of the worst things.” But it is that dedication of her time and her talent that has brought Sheri where she is today, anticipating that her “Oscar” hat is making an appearance in 100 “Swag Bags” for certain members of the press, as well as the presenters and nominees of this weekend’s 84th Academy Awards.
That’s right: she had to make 100 hats – plus one for display – and every single one of those famous people we’ll be watching up on stage will have the opportunity to get one. Sheri admits that she got slightly bored, making the same hat over and over, but she says that changing the colors – and, of course interesting movies from Netflix – kept her focused and entertained.
Sheri began her knitting business on http://etsy.com, which is a well-known and respected web site for vintage and handmade items. Sheri didn’t even know how to knit until, seven years ago, while working at Main Street Kids in Worthington, Minnesota, she was inspired by a co-worker’s knitting skills. She says she loved it from the start, but that it took a little practice before she really knew what she was doing. Soon, “like every beginner knitter, everyone I knew received scarves or a dishcloth. Then I moved onto hats…baby hats. They are just so much cuter and faster than adult hats.” It was this obsession with making baby hats that led her to Etsy.
“I found myself looking on Etsy at all the cool things people were making and I thought, ‘Hey, I need to give this a shot and at least see if I can support my knitting habit.’” So, in June 2009, Sheri opened Oops I Knit it Again (http://OopsIknitITagain.etsy.com or http://www.facebook.com/#!/OopsIKnitItAgain). She remembers how excited she was when she sold her first hat. Then, by the end of the first week, she had sold five or six more. Her business has steadily grown since then.
This is not the first business that Sheri has begun. While living in Worthington, she and her business partner and friend, Jackie Johnson, ran “Re-Find” together up until Sheri moved out of town. That business background helped her know what she was getting into with Oops I Knit it Again. Knitting, however, is a skein of a slightly different color.
Now, working at home and being self-employed, she has discovered that there are perks and dangers. One perk: you can knit in sweatpants. One danger: skeins of yarn have threatened to take over Sheri’s house. Sheri’s family, however, has risen to the occasion. Phill, Sheri’s husband of 22 years, is now the main cook of the family. Sheri knows she couldn’t do what she does without him. “My wife is one of the most original, creative persons that I know,” Phill told me. “She never ceases to amaze me.”
Their children, Cody – a junior in high school – and Caitlin – a freshman at Hennepin Technical College, where she studies photography – have also been great about lending a hand. “I think one of the biggest changes [that the business has brought her] besides having a little extra money, is that it has changed how things are done around the house. My husband and our two kids have really had to step up and pitch in and do whatever needs to be done.” Though, she laughs, to the casual observer, “It probably looks like I’m just sitting around watching television and knitting while they do all the work.”
Though Sheri can make a simple hat in 15 minutes, some take her up to two hours. “Some nights I stay up really late just because that is a time I can actually get knitting done without interruption. I believe my all-time record in one day was 23 hats. I don’t think I can ever beat that record!” She does have a couple dependable knitters she can call on in extremely busy times – like Christmas – but she doesn’t necessarily see her business expanding to other full-time workers, at least not in the near future. She would like to branch into adult hats someday, but for now just does not have time. “I wouldn’t mind having more time to design and write up some patterns. Right now there are some things no one else can make because I haven’t had time to write down the pattern so it would be fun to develop some of those other aspects of the job.”
I asked Sheri about her inspiration as she creates new patterns and designs. “I never really know for sure what will inspire me or when I am going to be inspired for a new design. I tend to be most inspired by color. I can drive by any random object and see different color combinations and my thoughts now go straight to, ‘that would be a cute hat’! I try to stay away from what everyone else is making.”
The “Oscar the Slouch” hat is one of those patterns that is not written down. In fact, she developed the design specifically for the Oscar Awards. Sheri has more unique pieces, too, many of which are bought by photographers worldwide (as well as locally) to be used as props and “costumes” for their clients. Selling on Etsy means, of course, that her clientele is not limited to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the place that Sheri now calls home. “One afternoon in 2010 I got an email from a set designer who was working on the Smurf movie, asking if I could overnite a pom pom blanket and a hat to the set location in New York because they needed it for filming the next day. Of course I said ‘sure’ and then we frantically made the blanket and got it sent out and then waited until this last summer to see if it even made it in the movie! It did!”
Not long after the movie, Sheri got an email from a magazine. They wanted to use one of her hats on their cover. Then, this last summer, she got an email from the founder of “The Artisan Group” (http://the artisangroup.com) which is, “a juried group of artisans that provides handmade gifts for celebrity award show gift lounges and celebrity gift bags.” Sheri says, “I didn’t think too long about that opportunity before I accepted!”
“I will be gifting some members of the press at the MTV awards later on this spring. We do not get paid to do the bags, in fact, it costs us money! But it’s really all about advertising, so I decided to go for it. I also have 30 items going in Mothers Days gift bags for celebrity moms including Hilary Duff, Kim Kardashian and Beyonce! I was also recently chosen to put an item in a special gift bag that will be going to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and their daughter Suri!” Sheri says that most of the celebrities who have gotten her hats have gotten them through gift bags, though she added, “I sold one to Jennifer Garner, but didn’t have the guts to ask if she was THEE Jennifer Garner. I thought that would be rude.”
One of Sheri’s customers, excited about Sheri’s rising fame, called up KSTP TV (an ABC News affiliate) in Minneapolis, and suggested that Sheri would make an interesting story. Jason Davis and a film crew showed up at Sheri’s house a couple weeks ago and they are expecting to air her story on Sunday after the Academy Awards, and then again on the noon news on Monday. I asked Sheri – who was my neighbor when we both lived in Worthington – if all of this fame is going to go to her head. “Well I really don’t feel that famous or anything! The day Jason Davis called me and asked to come do an interview, I was sitting in my living room in sweats and I’m not sure if I had finished my hair or my makeup and I was thinking, ‘I’m pretty sure if you could see me now you wouldn’t be thinking I was famous.’”
Sheri never expected her work to be on the cover of a magazine, or in a movie, or in the swag bags at the Academy Awards or to be making hats for Beyonce’s baby. I think that’s part of the fun now – to see how far this knitting hobby has taken her. Shows like the Academy Awards are all about stories – big-screen stories – and Sheri’s story, while not on the silver screen, is making a lot of people very excited for their friend.
She’s making her customers happy, too. And that’s nothing to slouch at.