By Caitlyn Watson

What is something you love to do that contributes to the lives of others? Do you bake, repair things, or paint? Do you enjoy woodworking, writing poetry, or playing a musical instrument?

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte Stairs enjoys being a part of Cadets, playing the glockenspiel, and participating in marksmanship classes and biathlons. Her favourite hobby, however, is spinning, dyeing, and weaving wool.

“I became interested in textiles in 2012, at age 11,” said Charlotte. “My older sister, Courtney, was getting her degree at New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and exploring textiles. She let me try her spinning wheel, and I really enjoyed it. I then bought myself a drop spindle to get started.”

Charlotte is the eighth of ten children born to Dean and Stevie Stairs of Lewisporte, Newfoundland. The couple was introduced to home education by a friend, and they began homeschooling their oldest daughter, Jasmine, in 1993. “We do strongly suggest that when beginning home education, you surround yourself with like-minded individuals,” Dean and Stevie encouraged. “It can be a trial to attempt to do this all on your own. The support and encouragement gained from a network of empathizers and advisors is valuable. HSLDA also gave us confidence and training in how to approach the school system when [the system at that time] was in a hostile frame of mind.”

Homeschooling gave Charlotte a unique opportunity to watch her parents manage their own home-based business. “I have been learning things that you might not think about, such as budgeting, supplying and working with customers,” the sixteen-year-old explained. “Since I am at home, I am around to see and learn about these things, and this business is worked into my school assignments.”

As Charlotte expanded her abilities, she realized that she needed an outlet for her creations, and she began selling them at local craft fairs. Her brother then pointed her to a store in the capital that was interested in selling her wool, and eventually two more stores approached her to market the wool as well. “If you want to start a business, first make sure it is something you like, because you will be doing a lot of it!” she laughed.

Her parents have been excited to see Charlotte’s achievements in this area. “It was a natural outcome for Charlotte to start her own business,” agreed Dean and Stevie. “She showed persistence in her interest to spin wool and kept building her stock. She has learned valuable life skills and gained friendships and mentorships from all ages, and it has been exciting for our whole family to watch and be a part of her success!”

Charlotte is continuing to grow in her knowledge of different dyes. “For the last year, I have been exploring natural dyes and the process of collecting dye material and learning what colours they produce,” she said. “For dyeing, the process usually starts with boiling down the materials with water so that it draws all the colour out. Meanwhile, I soak my wool, either spun or unspun, in a bath with water and a mordant (the binder that makes the colour stick). The mordants I use are alum, vinegar, or salt,” she delineated. “Then I put the wool into the dye bath and let it soak until I get the colour I am happy with. Lastly, I rinse the wool and let it dry.”

Want to follow in Charlotte’s footsteps and start your own business? Charlotte was happy to provide practical tips for her fellow entrepreneurs. “Start small and test the market. Provide something that people want and focus on those things, and price your product reasonably, so that you make a profit and don’t undercut yourself,” she advised. “Keep track of your expenses, and manage your income to allow for growth, upkeep, and your own salary. Finally, make connections with people! Pursue them, don’t be afraid to ask, and follow up.”

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