Keep on Knitting on: How one woman turned her hobby into a career

By Michelle Annette Tremblay

“I was ready to give up,” says Lee Ann Garrett. It was Friday, and she was feeling discouraged. She had left a stable day-job six months earlier to pursue her knitting passion. With much encouragement from her husband, Ian Geerkins, she had been knitting up a storm, selling baby hats at the Belleville Farmer’s Market and sending out knitting-pattern book proposals to publishers in North America and the United Kingdom. When the first rejection letter came she was disappointed, but took it like a champ, choosing to focus on the silver lining.

‘Knit Hats For Babies’ was the first book of Garrett’s to be published, and came out in 2013. Photo by Christina Anne Photography

‘Knit Hats For Babies’ was the first book of Garrett’s to be published, and came out in 2013. Photo by Christina Anne Photography

“They turned down my proposal, but they provided a good framework and feedback,” she recalls. The Belleville native used this framework as a reference point when she prepared her next couple of proposals. Then she waited. And knitted tea cosies. And waited some more.

She remembers that Friday and the days that came after it clearly. “I confessed to Ian that I was losing hope. It had been six months, and I hadn’t gotten any more responses from the publishers.”

The registered nurse was considering going back to her old job, even though she wasn’t really enjoying nursing anymore. She had bills to pay, and felt like the responsible thing to do was to go back to work and just knit as a hobby. But two nights later, on Sunday, as she was lying in bed with her laptop, she received an email that changed everything.

It was from Leisure Arts Publishing. They were not interested in the book she had pitched about tea cosies; however, they were definitely interested in her pitch to write a book about knitted baby hats. She was thrilled. The email had come at just the right time. It was like a life raft for her hopes and dreams of being self employed, doing what she loved. Then, the very next morning she received another email, this one from Search Press Publishers in England. They weren’t interested in a book about baby hats, but they were very interested in her idea to pen a book about tea cosies.

“I was stunned - talk about serendipity,” says Garrett. She corresponded with the publishers, collected her advance, and got to work measuring, creating patterns, knitting, and writing.

Now, four years later, she has had three books published in a span of three years. ‘Knit Hats for Babies’ came out in 2013, 'Twenty-to-Make: Easy Knitted Tea Cosies' came out in 2014, and 'Diaper Cover Sets' was published earlier this year. Garrett’s books can be found online and in various retail locations across Canada, England and Australia. She attends a few large-scale events throughout the year, such as Belleville’s Mistletoe Magic, and she still sells her baby hats at the Belleville Farmers Market, as well as women’s knit fashions such as infinity scarves and felted hats. The creative entrepreneur also sells her knitting online at Etsy, an online platform where artisans from all over the globe can promote, display and sell their wares.

Lee Ann Garrett was on the point of giving up on her publishing dreams when she finally received her first positive response after six months of futility. She barely had to wait two days for her second pitch to be accepted. Photo by Ian Geerkins

Lee Ann Garrett was on the point of giving up on her publishing dreams when she finally received her first positive response after six months of futility. She barely had to wait two days for her second pitch to be accepted. Photo by Ian Geerkins

“It’s hard to keep up with the demand,” Garrett admits, with a happy chuckle. But these days she has an assistant who helps with the embellishments for her baby hats, and even her husband does some stitch-work for her when the pressure is on to finish designs for customers.

“Having the books published has definitely given me some credibility,” she says. A few of the retail shops in Belleville that carry her hats and scarves have put together displays, showcasing her books and letting shoppers know that she’s local.

“People really like to buy local,” says the pro-knitter. But it’s not just locally that she’s having success: 'Twenty-to-Make: Easy Knitted Tea Cosies' reached number two on Amazon.UK last year, and she is being featured in Vogue Knitting’s Holiday issue later this year. Garrett says she couldn’t have made these achievements without her family’s encouragement.

“My family has been hugely supportive,” says Garrett. Not only have her husband and adult daughter cheered her on during these last four years since she took the leap of faith to pursue her passion, but it was originally her grandmother who got her interested in knitting in the first place.

“My grandmother would knit me Barbie doll clothes, packaged up in a Red Rose Tea box, for Christmas every year. Since this was always my favourite gift I decided to design and knit my own.” She was 10 years old. Garrett describes embellishing her doll clothes with scraps of fur, sequins and beads, to make them stylish and unique.

As she got older her knitting skills grew, and by the time she was a teenager she was making sweaters for herself and her mother. She occasionally copied other people’s patterns in those early years but over time used her own designs more and more often, becoming increasingly adept and measuring, experimenting, and creating original patterns. It’s a process she still loves today.

Husband Ian and daughter Sara, the latter shown modeling one of her mother’s women’s knit fashions, have been extremely supportive of Garrett’s pursuits. Photo by Ian Miron

Husband Ian and daughter Sara, the latter shown modeling one of her mother’s women’s knit fashions, have been extremely supportive of Garrett’s pursuits. Photo by Ian Miron

“My goal, at the moment, is to self-publish some of my single patterns and sell them on-line,” explains Garrett. “I also have another book starting to edge its way into the back of my head, but after having three books published in three years, I want to wait a bit before I start another one.”  At the moment, Garrett says she’s happy focusing on selling her knitting and books at various juried shows.

“I love designing small interesting pieces, and embellishing them,” says the artisan, whose work has been described as whimsical, fun and funky. Even though she’s been working through a whirlwind over the past four years, Garrett is still inspired, and will sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a new cool idea for a design. She also likes to share her passion with others. On Wednesday afternoons she teaches a drop-in knitting class in her home.

“It's mostly a fun, social time,” says Garrett, adding, “I'm planning on starting more specific classes in the future.” 

In the meantime, she is happily preparing for the busy Christmas season just a few months away, uploading more photos to her Etsy page, and of course knitting, experimenting with new patterns and designs, and feeling grateful that she didn’t give up on her passion.

To view or buy Garrett’s knit designs, visit her Etsy page at www.etsy.com/ca/shop/FarmFreshKnits. She will also be at the Etsy Show in at Grant Hall on the Queen’s University campus in Kingston on Sept. 26.

Most of her time this fall will be spent at the Belleville Farmer’s Market until it gets too cold. Her Christmas appearances will be Mistletoe Magic at Belleville’s Albert College on Nov. 14 and at the Quinte Christian High School, also in Belleville, Nov. 20-21.