Etsy darling Taylor Hart has transformed her fondness for crocheting amigurumi into a full-blown career. It was only after she was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy that she was able to re-prioritize her life and make the changes necessary to be able to establish her business, Nothing but a Pigeon, and publish her first book, Crochet Taxidermy, 30 Quirky Animal Projects, from Mouse to Moose. We caught up with Hart this week.
SDTC: Can you describe who you are and how you got to where you’re at now?
TH: Whew! Where do I begin? I’m originally from Columbus, Ohio. I grew up there and went to Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) where I majored and received my BFA in Still Based Media Studies (which is a fancy term for wet photography). This was before digital was a thing. I graduated in 2003 and struggled to find work in my field. I worked odd photography jobs here and there but wasn’t really happy with what I was doing with my life.
During this time I had met my future husband Matt and we decided to move in together and get married. I was twenty-seven and the economy was taking a turn for the worst. Both my husband and I decided to pack up and move to Austin, Texas, where there seemed to be more opportunity for us and it would give us a chance to start over fresh. It was hard at first to find work. I took a job in a call center working for the city and Matt landed a job at a well-known architecture firm. Life was on the upswing. It wasn’t my dream job of course, but it paid the bills and in between the calls I was able to crochet.
I had picked up a beginner DIY crochet book and slowly worked my way through every project. I then discovered a book of crochet amigurumi (little plushie toys). That’s when I really fell in love with crocheting. I made all the cute little things that I could and started selling them to co-workers and friends. I then began making my own designs and patterns and slowly turned my hobby into a part-time job. I ended up selling on Etsy and on S. Congress (a tourist spot in Austin) during First Thursday. I applied to shows and met a bunch of crafty ladies in the community. I then joined a local craft group called Craft Riot, which helped open doors for me and my little crochet business now named Nothing but a Pigeon.
During this time I fell ill and was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. I had hundreds of mini visual seizures daily and suffered from severe migraines. At one point I was on nine different anti-seizure medications, making it hard for me to read, carry on conversations and live a normal, productive life. I couldn’t even get up to go to work for days at a time. I was so unhappy and fell into a deep depression.
I promise there’s a happy ending – this part is important because if I didn’t go through everything that I did then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My husband and I decided that it would be best for me and my health that I quit my city position and stay at home to focus on my health and crochet as a full-time career. I put in my two weeks’ notice and instantly felt a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. Little by little all my symptoms started to trickle away and I was able to work out again. I was much happier and healthier mentally. I also ended up weaning myself off all my medications and slowly stopped having migraines as well as visual seizures. I knew my job with the city was stressful but I didn’t realize that it was literally killing me.
With my new found health I vowed that I was going to do anything I could to be the best person I could possibly be. I would take risks, push myself, and try to achieve all my dreams and crush my goals. I owed it to myself for those three years that I felt I had lost…so here I am.
I just wrote my first book Crochet Taxidermy, 30 Quirky Animal Projects, from Mouse to Moose and am already compiling patterns for book number two! It’s been a long, bitter sweet journey to get to where I am today but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Can you walk us through a typical day in your life?
My typical day would be coffee with my husband and our two dogs, Lucy and Sophie. I try to check my e-mail first thing in the morning and follow up with messages as well as my Etsy shop. I devote at least two hours to running/walking outside in the morning. I know that seems like a lot but since I have health issues it’s really more of a necessity and maintenance for me physically and mentally. After that I come home to shower/eat lunch and get right into crocheting. Some days I’m on the couch with the dogs watching Netflix and working away on taxidermy heads or I’m out in my studio mounting and packing up orders to be shipped off. Other days I run errands like dropping off heads to local boutiques or hitting up the local craft store to get more supplies.
Lately, I’ve been working on Crochet DIY Kits that will soon be available online. This has been fun because I get to be creative and design new critters. It’s a lot of trial and error and pattern writing, but it’s fun when you make something new and adorable! The not-so-fun and glamorous days would be plaque staining day. Ugh, that’s the worst. I also hate going to the post office to mail out orders. I’m pretty sure everyone hates going to the post office though.
Matt usually gets home around six or so and we will typically eat an early dinner and cuddle with the dogs. I work fewer hours during the week but usually work weekends doing stuff here and there, so it all adds up. It’s not a fast-paced type of job but people tell me I’m a granny at heart, so it’s basically my dream job.
What gave you the idea to crochet trophy heads?
It’s actually a really funny story…I was trying to crochet one of those faux fox scarves but the head I made looked utterly ridiculous so I ripped out the stitches and took it off and left it on the kitchen table. When Matt got home he picked it up and put it up against the wall and informed me that I should mount the critter instead. The next day I went to a craft store and bought a wooden plaque, stained it and we both tried to figure out how to mount the little guy on the plaque. We finally figured it out and proudly displayed our little fox on our wall for all to see. All our friends that came over got a kick out of it and started to request different animals. I slowly figured out how to increase and decrease my rounds to form certain shapes for certain animal heads. The Woodland Creatures are the first designs that I made. The fox, skunk, mouse and lastly the deer all came together as a series. My techniques improved over the years as I developed my own methods and perfected them. Later on came the Safari Friends and then the very popular Nautical Creatures.
What is your favourite crocheted piece you’ve ever done?
The Woodland Creatures are near and dear to my heart because they are the first critters that I designed, but I’m quite fond of the jellyfish. They are truly the most fun to make and I love watching people’s faces light up when they see them.
Why are you drawn to crocheting as a medium?
I’ve always been a creative type of person. I love to use my hands to create things, but crocheting wasn’t something I’d ever thought I’d do as a career. It kinda just happened organically. It also feels good – it’s like therapy to me. It’s never been “not fun” for me.
What can we expect from you in the next year?
I’m so glad you asked! The introduction of my Crochet DIY Kits are going to be a game changer for me. It’s physically impossible for me to keep up with the demands of making all those trophy heads. My hands literally can’t take it, so the kits will be a nice way for me to still be able to design patterns but not have to spend all those hours creating them. I’ve also started teaching workshops, which is super fun. I love meeting new people and interacting with them. I see another book in my future and have actually started to write down new patterns, which is always fun and rewarding.
What advice do you have for other young women starting out with their own creative businesses?
Gosh! I’ve made so many mistakes, but I think that’s how you learn. You have to take risks and jump in head first. I was lucky enough to have met a lot of other small business owners through Austin Craft Riot, and we all helped each other out with advice and any types of questions or concerns. There was great support there. Eventually you find your own way and figure out what works best for you. I guess the one thing I would change if I could is my constant self-doubt. When you’re doing something you’ve never done before and are living outside your comfort zone, it’s easy to question yourself. When I was writing my book I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I was a nervous wreck. I remember not being able to sleep or eat and felt like barfing on a regular basis. I was totally living outside my comfort zone every day for a year and a half. I was scared of disappointing people and letting people down if I didn’t do something right. I look back and laugh at it now, but at the time it was fatal.
Trust in yourself. Try not to doubt yourself. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take risks because they may just pay off. Know that you don’t need anyone’s approval and that will set you free.