Oscar the Slouch

21 Feb

Wouldn't you love to get a swag bag with an adorable hat in this adorable packaging?!

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.

Oscar the Slouch - for girls!

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.

Sheri Hall! Her daughter, a college photography student, took this shot.

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.

A pile-o-Oscar-bound Oscar hats!

Oscar the Slouch - for boys!

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.

The Pixie hat! I've run out of synonyms for "adorable"...

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.”

This is one of the cutest things I've ever seen in my entire life.

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!”

The kind of blanket used in the Smurf movie...

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://theartisangroup.org) 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 Sunday after the Academy Awards and then again on the noon news the next day. 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.

Again, adorable.


16 Responses to “Oscar the Slouch”

  1. gardenfreshtomatoes February 21, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Kudos to your friend, and to her supportive family for helping make this possible!
    And, naturally, to you for writing this wonderful piece about an inspiring woman.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 21, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      Thank you so much! About a month ago it hit me that I should ask her if she’d be willing to be written about…and what a fun story it was to cover! The pictures themselves are enough to make me … almost…want another baby!!!

  2. Minnesota Prairie Roots February 21, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    What an absolutely incredible and inspiring story with roots in rural southwestern Minnesota. I love how Sheri used her creativity to grow this into a business. Just shows how far talent and determination will take you.

    Her creations are absolutely adorable.

    And to you, Gretchen, this is an excellent piece of reporting.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 21, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you, Audrey! Yes, talent and determination and the internet!! Yes, her work is wonderful and the pictures are so fabulous.

      And guess what? They’re going to print it as a full-page article in the Daily Globe on Saturday! How fun is that?!

  3. bitsandbreadcrumbs February 21, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Wow, her hats and blankets…and those hanging pieces, all just adorable. No wonder she’s getting so much attention, and I hope she’ll be even more successful. Thanks for posting about her!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 21, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Yes, I hope, too, that the advertisement will pay off for her. Not only does she have to pay to have her items in the baskets, but, of course, the time and yarn cost, too. I don’t know how she could resist the opportunity, though!

  4. hotlyspiced February 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    What a great post Gretchen. I have heard of Etsy. I’ve heard all about these Oscar gift bags that are given to all the presenters. They are filled with incredible merchandise. Your friend is incredibly talented. Her hats are just gorgeous and I love how her passion has become a great business. So lovely that all her family are so supportive.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks, Charlie! I’m not used to interviewing people and then having to write it up, but it was fun! It was an easy story to tell. Yes, Etsy is rather amazing – I’ve not spent much time on it, but what I’ve seen is impressive. I read that the gift baskets are worth like $75,000.00 US dollars. Kinda makes a person jealous of all those celebrities!

  5. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com February 22, 2012 at 1:48 am #

    Kudos to your super talented friends — and thanks for posting such cute baby photos!! My uterus definitely skipped a million beats 😉

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

      I know! I keep drooling over the pictures – even though I don’t have any desire to have more kids! I think I’ll look at this post in the future when I need a smile!

  6. Just A Smidgen February 22, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I got so excited I ran over to etsy and favorited and then to facebook and liked! What a talented friend you have and an awesome, inspiring creative story! I love those photos and can’t wait to order a hat for little Annie (my niece’s daughter) xo Smidge

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Awesome! I know – her hats (and those pictures) are definitely something to drool over! I’m so glad that your wee niece is going to get one! She will be adorable!!!

  7. Malou February 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Great post, Gretchen! Those baby pictures are just sooooooo cute!

  8. Marti Smith February 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Nicely done, Gretchen! Enjoyed your article very much. Though I have to say, the most charming, enchanting thing about all those baby pics is that they are all sleeping so nicely. They are alive?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 23, 2012 at 6:48 am #

      Yes, I don’t know what the photographer’s trick is…a nice place for the wee ones to be fed, perhaps?! Thanks, Marti – it was a change from the way I usually write, but a good challenge. I enjoyed it a lot.

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