Boxes of multicolored wool, geometric patterns and a giant machine with hundreds of small knitting hooks filled the sun room of Lorraine Murray’s small home. Coming out of the top of the 3-foot-long knitting machine is a tower of wires with wool strings and dryer sheets attached to reduce the static electricity, Murray explained.
Murray began knitting after moving to Vermont when her friend gifted her with a knitting set for her birthday. Now that she’s back home in Austin after 11 years, Murray continues to create her custom winter wear and expand her business under the name Sourpuss Knits.
“You know, I guess my story is I moved to Vermont and learned how to knit for functional reasons, and I fell in love with it,” Murray said.
Though all of Murray’s products are made out of her home, the business has moved from being a crafty hobby to a full-time job, after launching her own shop on Etsy, the online marketplace, in 2011 and investing in a knitting machine.
“I just wanted to make money at being creative,” Murray said.
Though she is working to include pieces that can be worn all year long, most of Murray’s current products are designed for winter, such as hats and scarves, which are made of American wool.
“Since I’ve been focusing on winter, I like natural materials,” Murray said. “When I was hand knitting I was using acrylic, and it’s just an inferior material, and it’s synthetic. I just don’t want to use acrylic.”
Each piece takes about one-and-a-half to three hours to produce, which includes the washing and drying of the wool, the hand seaming and the addition of pom-poms on the top of hats.
“When you’re buying things on Etsy, store front has a lot to do with it; I saw that first,” Sourpuss Knits customer Hannah Johnson said about first looking at the online store. “When I looked more into her custom pieces, the workmanship was just amazing. They are really well made.”
Johnson is from Ohio and purchased a cowl — a small neck scarf — from the Etsy store a month ago. Murray admits that, because she makes winter products, she doesn’t sell a lot locally.
“I feel so silly doing what I’m doing in Austin,” Murray said. “I’m like hats and scarves, and no one can really wear them here. I definitely don’t sell a lot in Texas.”
But Melissa Taylor, close friend and fellow Etsy shop owner, said Murray’s products are perfect, even for Texas’ climate.
“It’s perfect for Austin, and it’s really versatile to wear in the spring and early into the fall,” Taylor said. “The wool is a fabric that really helps your body to adapt to whatever temperature it is.”
Taylor and Murray, who met originally through Etsy a year ago, frequently meet up and discuss the future of their small businesses and expansion.
“I think the biggest challenge for both of us is figuring out how to increase our reach and visibility,” Taylor said. “As a small business owner, you have limited resources so deciding how to best spend your limited amount of resources and where to focus your attention.”
Business aside, Murray likes focusing on her love of colors and geometric designs, which inspire all of her products. While she is considering going into manufacturing sometime in the next few years, Murray is slow to give up producing handmade goods.
“I feel like what I create—there really isn’t much out there,” Murray said. “The color of things is really important to me. I just like creating fun stuff, and people like it.”