Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Shannon Steinberg of Woodsy & Wild

Shannon of Woodsy and Wild

This is the 10th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2019 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Zippered project bags have a pretty standard look, but Shannon of Woodsy and Wild has managed to elevate the simplest of shapes, with roomy pockets, functional handles and fashionable fabrics. Her Birch bag is one of my favorites, as it’s small enough to stash in a large tote, but big enough to stuff full and use as a primary carry-all.

Tell me about how you started a project bag business?

I took a break from my academic career a few years ago when I was pregnant with my second son to spend more time with my kids, but I realized pretty quickly that being a full-time, stay-at-home mother was also leaving me feeling unfulfilled. I had started sewing a few years earlier, and decided on a bit of a whim to give opening a small business a try. I couldn’t quite find the exact project bag I wanted, that gave me the same joy as the beautiful, lovingly hand-dyed yarns I was knitting with, but I knew I could make it. So I spent a lot of nights in my sewing room after my son had gone to sleep playing with prototypes, and fine-tuning, and problem-solving, and that creative thinking and challenge really brought back something I had been missing.

Eventually I had enough confidence in what I what I was making, and my husband gave me some gentle encouragement to believe in myself and put my work out there, and I opened an Etsy shop. I love making beautiful things for other makers, and the creative challenge of designing new things and maintaining a growing business, and haven’t looked back!

Floral zipper bags

What did you do before you launched Woodsy and Wild and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?

I’m a scientist by training — I have a PhD in microbiology and immunology. I think my attention to detail comes from that background, and it helps me a lot with the product development process.

In science, one of the things that it really teaches you is to embrace failures and learn from them — day in and day out you are trying new things and a great many of your experiments don’t turn out the way you thought they would, but you can always learn something from them. When I’m designing a new item for the shop, it generally goes through a lot of iterations and prototypes before I’m truly happy with it (those sky-high standards also probably come from my scientific background!), which probably would frustrate a lot of people, but I really enjoy that fine-tuning!

And the other thing that a PhD-level training really instills in you is the ability to research, to figure out for yourself just about anything. I don’t have a background in business, or design, or manufacturing, but I do love to teach myself new things, and owning a small business is always throwing new challenges at you. Whenever I need to learn a new skill, whether it’s how to work with a new kind of hardware or how to build a new website, I really enjoy researching all the knitty gritty details, even if most people would probably just skim over a lot of it and get right to the creating. And I’m always confident that with enough time and research, I can figure anything out.

Gray project bag

How did you decide on the types of bags to create?

I started Woodsy and Wild because I was having a hard time finding exactly what I wanted in a project bag. I have a natural, minimalist aesthetic, and if I’m going to carry something around with me everyday, and leave it sitting out in my house, which is what I do with my project bags and other knitting gear, I really want it to fit in with my style and my life. I find a lot of beauty in strong, well-made materials that will age well and evolve over the life of an item, which is why I only use natural fibers and solid metal zippers and hardware.

It was also really important to me to design bags that would fit in with my daily life — I have two little boys, and we travel often. So, secure pockets and closures are designed into all of my bags because I need things to stay put when I toss my bag in the car or an airplane overheard compartment, and to keep little fingers from making off with my scissors and stitch markers.

I love the rustic elegance of linen, and I designed my signature line of project bags (the Birch Bag, Sapling and Maple Tote) to really celebrate that. They have the soft structure of a crisp linen, with clean design lines that show off the fabric while adding some features that make life easier for a knitter. And I love how they get softer and develop a lovely gentle rumpled texture the more you use and love them. They’re really my dream bags.

How do you find your unique fabrics?

I think a lot of that comes back to my love to research. I have a lot of patience for searching all the nooks and crannies of the internet for good sources! Most of my patterned fabrics come from various online fabric shops, and some of them are small-batch, digitally-printed fabrics from Spoonflower. There are so many indie surface pattern designers there creating beautiful designs, I can spend hours pouring over all the options!

The waxed canvas I use in the Maple Totes comes from a wonderful U.S.-based, woman-owned small business; they hand-wax every yard with the most gorgeous-smelling local beeswax. A gracious tip from a fellow project bag maker led me to them — I love how kind and collaborative our indie fiber business community is! I’m also very lucky that my LYS is also an amazing sewing and quilting shop, and the owner will often clue me in to new fabrics that she thinks I will like, and order extra for me of special fabrics (like all the lovely Rifle Paper Co. fabrics I love!) and she even helped me get in touch with and set up a wholesale account with my linen supplier.

When and how did you learn to knit?

My grandmother taught me when I was very young, probably 5 or 6 years old. She also taught me to crochet and hand sew around the same time, but the knitting is what really stuck! We lived pretty far away, but whenever we went to visit I remember her inviting me into her stash of yarns and fabrics and letting me take whatever I liked, and helping me get started with a new project. And then the next time we visited I would show her what I had made! It was a really special way to keep her close even though she was hours away.

I put knitting aside for quite a while as I got older, but I picked it back up when I was working on my PhD because I needed somewhere to channel my creative energy and help me manage the stress. That’s when I discovered Ravelry, YouTube knitting tutorials and knitting podcasts, and I spent the next few years teaching myself all the things! I still get to knit with my grandmother, and I’ve even been able to teach her a few things! I’m hoping we might get to teach my oldest son how to knit together in another year or two.

Red needle case

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting and sewing?

In addition to making bags, I also do a lot of garment sewing. Sewing and knitting are really my only crafty hobbies, but I also love to cook and have an ongoing love affair with sourdough bread baking. And I am an enthusiastic, if not very skilled, gardener.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned running your fiber business?

I think running a fiber business has been like introvert therapy for me! I’m naturally very shy and reserved, but the fiber arts community is so engaging and it’s easier to get to know someone when you know going in that you have a shared love of craft! Owning a business has encouraged me to get involved and participate in conversations and actually get outside my comfort zone. And there are so many opportunities to meet and talk to new people, whether it’s on Instagram or Ravelry, at my local Sip ‘n’ Stitch, or at events.

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