Amanda Van Den Elzen of Seymour hopes to be the DIY Hero. The self-described hippie is accomplished at the art of crocheting and is known around the area for her crocheted tops featured at festivals.
The top prize in the contest, sponsored by Barnwood Living, is $ 25,000 and a two-page feature in Make: magazine.
“I founded Almightyemu Crafts in 2016 when I started selling crocheted hats and scarves via word of mouth and Facebook,” she said. “I expanded into local craft sales in the following years, hosting booths at places like the Greenville Lioness Craft Show and Rock the Dock Green Bay.”
At those sales, Van Den Elzen found that the most popular item she produced was a crocheted crop top. The top, featuring an open midriff, has what she calls a “Bohemian vibe,” and it is a style that “Good Morning America” reported is making a comeback. At her booth, she models the top and generates a great deal of interest.
“I’ve had more than a few women say they wish they could wear a top like this and I say, ‘Why can’t you?'” Van Den Elzen said. “In talking to them and telling them they would look beautiful. in one, they light up; they find out they don’t have to be skinny in order to show their midriff. ”
Van Den Elzen makes the tops, and her other items, so that every one is different. She works during any spare moments and usually has a bag of yarn and crochet hooks with her.
It’s all part of her frenzied life that includes a full-time job as a finance learning specialist at US Venture in Appleton. She forages for edible plants and mushrooms, raises chickens and supports her husband’s professional off-road racing career by acting as his spotter and radio communication during races.
Still, with her craft bag at hand, she makes crocheting a priority. Having been at it for 27 years, it is a craft she learned from her mom when she was only 5 years old. In her late teens, she says, she taught herself more intricate stitches and patterns.
“I’ve always loved to experiment with crocheting techniques, and that gave me the foundation to create interesting shapes and textures in my freehand work,” she said.
As her skill level advanced, Van Den Elzen began creating patterns that are sold online. She has a strong online presence, and when an item she makes has people asking how she made it, she responds by making a PDF of the pattern and selling it as a download.
A recent pattern, featuring a modified granny spike stitch, had more than 4,000 downloads. Although she doesn’t have a written business plan, she does credit her job as giving her insight into return on investment and how to price products.
“The return on investment is often more about time than money,” she said. “Instead of reacting and making a pattern to sell, I consider the time aspect and if it would be more profitable to make a few tops. Even though the business is small, I have a business mindset. ”
That mindset also applies to her husband racing business, VDF Racing, a business that she says is difficult to monetize with expenses that are over $ 100,000 a year. It makes her challenges seem small in comparison. Yet, she is serious about making Almightyemu a success.
“It is kind of a dying art,” she said. “People need to recognize the value of making something with their hands; being able to take yarn and a hook and make something. It’s amazing to say, ‘Thanks, I made that.’ I am so thankful that my mother passed this along to me. ”
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Whether or not she is named the DIY Hero, she is excited to be a finalist. From the earliest days of her career, she believes that each experience has bred another more challenging one. After high school, she began by selling pizza. She met someone there who told her about a job at an automotive service center. That piqued an interest in cars and racing, and she met her husband at a race track.
That led to a move from Illinois to Seymour and a job at US Venture where her career has steadily advanced. At the same time, she has embraced entrepreneurship.
She is currently working on completing a bachelor’s degree in human resources while helping her husband and running her business; a business that is named after her high school nickname, Almighty Emu. When she says that time management is her biggest challenge, that sounds like an understatement.
“It’s about setting strict boundaries with my time,” she said. “I set boundaries at work and when I’m at home, and have goals and priorities for myself. I am an antsy person, and it helps that I can’t sit still and need to constantly think and constantly make. ”
That need for constant movement has her planning to grow her business by offering in-person and online classes in crocheting. Organization is a priority and she keeps a huge whiteboard in her craft room to track dates, sales, inventory and expenses.
“One of the biggest takeaways from this is to be careful not to spread my focus too thin,” Van Den Elzen said. “I keep things on a smaller scale because I recognize I could not keep this up as a primary business on top of everything else I do. I set goals that are realistic and know how to make a profit. I see people who are new to crafting and they undersell themselves, and it hurts the whole community. When you make something, it has value. ”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is the co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.