Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Yarn & Whiskey

A black woman wears a T-shirt that reads minding my black owned business.

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled, taking place from October 15-24, 2021. Tickets are now available!

While Tammi of Brooklyn-based yarn&whiskey hasn’t yet realized her dream of opening a yarn shop/whiskey bar — which I would totally be a regular of — she launched her project bag-making business in January 2020. Using her collection of African print fabric, she creates bags to spark the feeling of “elegance, pride, and fearlessness” that she gets from these colors in her fellow crafters.

How did you decide to turn Yarn & Whiskey into a business?

For many years, I dreamed of having a yarn shop/whiskey bar, hence the name yarn&whiskey. But in 2019, when I decided that I would go back to school full time, I thought making project bags could be a way for me to earn an income while studying. Then the pandemic hit. I started yarn&whiskey in late January 2020 and by March when things were pretty bleak around the country, I had no desire to make project bags. I switched to making masks and gave them away for free for several months before deciding to sell them. After making about a thousand or so masks and by November, I was ready to switch back to bags. Around this time, Darci Kern reached out to me because I was promoting bags again and asked me to be part of her Fiber in Color box for January 2021. I wound down the mask making, ramped up bag making, and have not looked back. I’m back in the bag business and loving it.

Box bags with a green and pink botanical print.

How would you say your project bags are different from others?

I use wax prints in my project bags and the bags are reversible. I like to use bright prints for both sides of the bags and I do my best to coordinate the prints so they look great together without being too matchy. I also use wax prints for my pouches, which have a 3D/popcorn bag design that is enhanced by a high quality metal zipper. Unlike other box totes, my pouches lay flat when they’re not in use, which makes them easy to tuck away. I also make the pouches in five sizes, including two sizes that are great for storing your hand knits.

The zippers I use were chosen because a lot of high-end designers use them and I want to bring that same quality to my customers because I think every detail matters. I use a waxed cotton cord because it makes a tight and smooth cinch that produces less wear on the fabric than a rope drawstring. I buy my fabric from other people of color — mostly other women, small business owners, and purchase my zippers at a retailer out of Queens, NY.

I have also sourced fabric directly from Nigeria and Ghana because I am always on the lookout for prints that aren’t seen much here in the States. A lot of thought and care goes into my choices for trimmings and notions, the hand stitching done on each project bag, and the sustainable qualities of the packaging I use for shipping. I hope it shows in the products I produce.

You recently enrolled in a textile program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. What does this entail and how do you hope it will inform your business?

In my program, which is a one-year program, we’re mostly focusing on designing prints and learning the process of making prints digitally and by hand — which means a lot of drawing and painting. I’ve also got a weaving class, which I already know will be my favorite. My creativity is definitely being pushed. How will it inform my business? That remains to be seen. I am so grateful for the time to learn for the sake of learning. Every day I come to class with the knowledge that not everyone is able to walk away from a stable and steady income in order to pursue a passion and I couldn’t do this without a lot of planning and a supportive partner. I am extremely grateful, whatever the outcome.

A collection of bright zipper box bags.

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

It’s OK to stop making a thing that is profitable but is burning you out. When the pandemic hit, I pivoted to making masks. Masks far outsold project bags month after month, but I felt like my creativity was stagnating, so I killed mask production and made the decision to only make bags. Sales through my website were down for a few months, but after posting more bag content on Instagram and vending at a couple of virtual events, including Indie Untangled, my sales shot up again. I ended up getting wholesale orders and lots of interest in my products. I am glad I stuck to my decision.

When and how did you learn to sew and knit?

I took my first sewing class at a place called Sew Fast, Sew Easy in midtown Manhattan in the late ’90s/early 2000s and followed that up by enrolling in a few fashion design classes at FIT, just to enhance my hobby. I may have also taken my first knitting class there, but I’m no longer 100% sure about that. I do know that my first project was a scarf made with Manos del Uruguay yarn and it was about 8 feet of garter stitch. Yes, I still have the scarf.

Red yarn peeking out of a blue and red floral drawstring bag.

What are your favorite skeins in your stash?

Oof, that’s a hard one. But if I had to choose a favorite of the moment, it would be the yarn I have from FlYY Dyed. I’ve got several DK skeins of Rachel’s yarn that are within eyeshot of my workbench. They’re in bright hues of yellow, pink, and orange and looking at them cheers me up when I’m feeling grumpy. Don’t ask me what I’m going to use them for. I have no idea yet, but it’s a comfort to know they’re here when I need them.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

I’ve got Textures Unite by Stephen West (a wonder of multiple colors and textured stitches) and Seelig (a brioche design) by Katrink Schubert hibernating on my needles because I’m not 100% sure where I left off. Plus both patterns are a bit complicated for me at the moment. I’m actively knitting Saknes by Zanete Knits, which is a cable pattern with just the right amount of difficulty and interest.

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