When Lilian Charapich crochets she often works in a continuum. One strand of yarn is worked by one needle in a continuous sequence to create something unique. Each adjacent element is not particularly distinct from the other, yet each time Charapich completes a product it is somehow far from lacking in visual intrigue.
A stay-at-home mother of two in Oak Harbor, Charapich turned her love of crocheting into a small business operation in 2014 on Etsy, an online global marketplace that focuses on selling handmade and vintage items. Her page on the site, MadeByLilian, created a modest virtual storefront for the few crocheted items Charapich began selling after her daughter was born.
It wasn’t until a customer requested what would become her most popular item later that year that Charapich began selling to customers across the nation and all over the world.
Charapich’s success kicked off with a huntress-style, crossbody cowl neck vest inspired by the bow-and-arrow wielding heroine from a recent popular dystopian series.
Charapich has always held a strong belief that the customer knows best what they want, so when the item was commissioned through Facebook she scoured the internet for a way to make her customer’s vision a reality.
“I did a little research, I found a pattern and I crocheted a few samples of the vest,” Charapich said. “After, I posted a few to my Etsy page and within days they all sold.”
“I couldn’t believe that someone would actually find me on Etsy and buy my stuff,” she said.
This was only a small taste of the demand for the item Charapich would come to experience. Though orders for the vest slowly rolled in initially, by December 2014 Charapich was receiving several a day from places including Tokyo, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Between Dec. 1 and Dec. 22 of 2014, Charapich was crocheting so many vests — about 22 total — that she injured her back and wrists.
“People were requesting them FedExed overnight all across the country, paying ridiculous amounts of money for these cowls,” she said.
The art to her craft is not in the endurance and consistency it requires, but in her ability to construct something complex through a simple process she has spent years mastering.
Each vest takes Charapich several hours to craft, roughly three to four hours, and each is made to perfection according to Charapich.
“When I buy something that’s handmade, I’m definitely looking for perfection. I put a lot of pride into what I do, and I expect it to be perfect.”
Considering the time and attention to detail each item takes to craft, Charapich sells her vests for $90 a piece, though this is becoming increasingly difficult.
“I have seen my vest sales go down because Etsy has become so inundated with them and people are selling them for far less than they’re worth,” Charapich said. “I’m getting undercut by people who don’t care about what their time is worth.”
For Charapich, it’s discouraging to see new crafters undervalue their time and, as a result, feel an impact herself. Still, she takes the lull in sales as an opportunity rather than a setback.
“It is opening the doorway to expand locally,” she said. “Above all, anything that I do craft-wise is really therapeutic and this break is giving me the time to stock up and try making new things.”
Recently, Charapich taught herself to embroider and she is dabbling in sewing projects for her business.
Using a free-motion technique, she embroiders unique designs onto pillowcases she hopes to sell online and at craft bazaars this fall. She’s already had moderate success, with several orders underway.
Notably, Charapich recently began receiving requests for pillowcases featuring portrayals of her customers’ family members using materials such as baby clothes and work uniforms.
“I had a family whose dad is going to deploy and they brought me a piece of his flight suit that I used to embroider a drawing of him on all their pillowcases,” she said. “I put the kids’ nicknames under it and each kid is going to get a pillowcase when he deploys.”
Charapich has done similar projects for grandparents and plans to continue crafting decorative pillows as request continue to roll in.
“Some of my most popular items are from when someone comes up to me and says, hey do you think you could do this for me… ” she said.
As Charapich continues crafting, she hopes to focus on producing quality items that are both unique and requested by customers.
“I appreciate when someone purchases from my small business, and I want to pass that on by making something they appreciate,” Charapich said.
“What I do is a little bit old school, but I really enjoy it,” she said.