Story by Mikhayla Dunaj
Photography by Emily Sobecki
One look inside Mykhanh Wither’s Niles home would reveal totes and totes of yarn.
Scattered throughout the rooms are stuffed animals, blankets, slippers, half-completed projects and keepsake sweaters and skirts for a young girl, all with one common thread – they were crocheted by Mykhanh.
“I taught myself to crochet about 15 years ago after I had my first son,” she says. “I was given [crocheted] blankets, slippers and gifts at my baby shower, and I was just so intrigued. I was wanting to learn how to do this.”
With the help of a how-to crochet book and a set of hooks, Mykhanh started making simple things like blankets that were “nothing fancy,” she says. After she got bored, she challenged herself with slippers, hats and more. On most gift-giving occasions, Mykhanh gave something she had crocheted, especially at baby showers.
Today, the designs are more intricate, and the hobby has become both Mykhanh’s obsession and business, TLC by Mykhanh.
“At some point, I mustered up enough confidence to realize everybody likes what I am doing, and it’s good enough,” she says. “I thought maybe I could take my hobby and passion for creating these new things and make a little extra money from it.”
Five years ago, Mykhanh and her oldest son, Dylan, were brainstorming catchy names for her business. They immediately thought of how tedious and time-consuming crocheting can be. Tender loving care came to mind, but with a personal twist – Tender Loving Crochet by Mykhanh.
“A lot of love goes into each item. A lot of patience and time is spent on each thing,” Mykhanh says. “Just adding my name to my company name would make it more personal.”
Mykhanh’s creations vary from potholders, scrubbers and slippers to her most popular item, stuffed animals. One of the most satisfying things for her is the excitement when someone receives their order or makes a purchase from her. This is especially true for children who fall in love with her stuffed animals, when she can see that in a small way, she put joy into their life.
“I really like the fact that I can meet someone and sell them one of my products and then a year later, I run into them again, and they remember me and tell me how much this gift meant to this person or that they’re still using my product and it still looks great,” she says. “It’s very cool that a part of me, a part of what I’ve made with my hands, is part of somebody else now.”
With four children of her own, Mykhanh’s crocheting time is segmented throughout the day when she can fit it in.
“I’m constantly starting a project and then I’ll set it down and do something, and I’ll pick it back up and work on it,” she says.
Depending on the size of each item and her experience making it, the process can take anywhere from five to seven hours total.
Mykhanh’s children play a role in the business, too. Dylan, 15, is her business partner, tagging along to every craft show to help set up and socialize with people. His own crocheting career started, and ended, with a small Barbie scarf he made for his sister. After that attempt, he decided it wasn’t for him.
Her 7-year-old daughter, Mya, loves to see the creations her mom makes by hand. Before each stuffed animal leaves their home for a show or to be shipped, Mya gives it a hug to ensure it has been given love, Mykhanh says.
For the holiday season, TLC by Mykhanh features themed stuffed animals like reindeers and snowmen. To celebrate Thanksgiving, Mykhanh offers crochet pumpkin hats for babies. Her usual crafts and displays also incorporate festive colors, she says.
Her work, which can be found at various craft shows and the Buchanan Farmers Market, has been welcomed into homes from Michiana all the way to Texas and New York.
“I’ve learned through the last five years that in this local area, there is a community of different crafters,” Mykhanh says. “Going from different shows, it’s interesting to build relationships with these other crafters and see not only how they’re growing in whichever craft they decide to do, but also to get their input on what I’m doing, as I’m always do looking for suggestions and ways that I can make my products better.”
Those who want to contact Mykhanh can email her at email@example.com. Custom orders can be made via her Etsy at etsy.com/shop/TLCbyMykhanh.
“The whole reason that I love it so much is that I can take something, create something and put a little bit of joy and happiness into somebody’s life,” Mykhanh says. “It makes it worth all of the hours I’ve spent. I would definitely encourage people to try it. Really, you never know what you can do until you push yourself just a little bit.”