Hello. I’m Ashley Lee Zhong, creator of Snapdragon Brand and designer of Ribbon Candy Crochet dreams. If you’ve been following along on my socials for awhile, you already know that. Hope you’re doing well. If you’re new around here, welcome and salutations!
I invited you here today to introduce you to my truest love.
My love is a little unconventional. I’ve been told by many that I should find something simpler…
My love is still a bit rough…but who isn’t?
I see the potential in this love and it’s the only thing I truly want in the entire world.
Meet my truest love: the “Pickle House.”
For the last five years, all of my friends, family, and any unlucky strangers who happen to sit by me at the bus stop, have been forced to listen to me talk about the Pickle House…extensively. But for your benefit, a short, emotionless description of the home might be: essentially a shotgun house, built into the cement shell of an 1860s derelict pickle factory, lovingly situated in a haunted forest.
Perfect, right? She's not photogenic from every angle yet, but you get it, DON'T YOU?
Sorry if you thought I was talking about a fella. No, I’ve been talking about the true love of a real home this whole time... I’m talking housing security. A place where I can have a real bed and wash my clothes ANY TIME I WANT. A place to make my own. A place I can develop and improve upon, invest in, create art in, and SHARE.
The house portion of the factory is relatively small, but there's plenty of room for a real bed!
When I met the Pickle House for the first time, I saw a place that could be all those things and more. It’s the impossible dream that’s kept me going these past five *exceedingly shitty* years.
Sorry for cursing. It’s not really my style, but I can’t think of a better description for the trajectory of my adult life thus far…
An impossible dream can be a curse, but it can also be salvation. Especially when it feels like there’s nothing else to dream about. That’s what the Pickle House has been for me--a concrete dream that I could touch and fantasize about a future in.
The exposed factory shell is attached to the back of the home.
In the past five years I’ve toured the property twice and gotten to be on a first name basis with the owner. And (we’ll *say* three times) have taken the opportunity when I was road-tripping nearby to detour, park in the lot across the street like a creepy, creepy stalker, and just enjoy being in the proximity of my dream.
Don't worry, in addition to being located in a haunted forest, it also comes with a real kitchen and all the amenities of an actual home.
Yeah, I had it bad. In the past, I’ve always had some “crush” house in my back pocket, something I could latch onto and redesign in my head for fun. But there was something different between me and the Pickle House. It was real love this time.
What could I do with this space? This home feels like limitless potential.
All it took was one phone call to Rocket Mortgage to know that on my own, there would never be any kind of home I could afford. By myself, with the resources I have and the credit I’ve built, I'll rent forever.
But I’ll tell you more about that later…
Rewind 4 years and I’m living in Rochester, NY with a husband who begs me not to embarrass him today. My crime: wearing my granny square cardigan to lunch. We’re meeting one of his older lady patrons. I have discovered that it is not unusual for young men who play piano to have a small harem of ladies, young and old, propping them up. At that time, I’m a part of it too, supporting him through grad school, living in his world, by his rules. And presently, I’m a bit shook:
I’m out of work after bouncing between a series of low-wage assistant jobs, feeling the smallest I’ve ever felt, and surviving off of a dwindling life insurance payout. My father had died a year earlier. My mother died six months later. In our married relationship, I carry all these things alone. And in this dark time, my husband would deny me the small happiness of choosing my own clothes…if I let him.
Historically, I would have changed my outfit if he’d asked me, or at least toned it down. But today, I added a pair of crushed velvet, high heeled boots to the ensemble. They made me considerably taller than him in several ways and perfected the outfit.
I looked so good I made him take my picture…
That day I wore my granny square cardigan to lunch despite my husband’s protests. Because the seed had already been planted: SOMETHING MUST CHANGE.
So what did I do? I made more cardigans. I wore them and I sold them and I paid his rent with them. I got myself an artist’s studio, so that for the first time in my life, I could have my own place to create, where no one could touch my stuff or dictate my process. I could close the door and work on something I chose to work on. I cut up thrifted bed sheets to make into ball gowns. I trimmed hundreds of pom pom earrings. I started teaching crochet lessons all around town. And I was just about to start work at my favorite place in the world: Sewgreen Rochester, a recycled fiber arts store.
…until the pandemic hit. We were ALL there--I don’t need to explain what those early days were like to you. For me, eventually, they turned out to be the perfect chamber for transformation. Like many people, the quiet of the pandemic gave me opportunities to change my life in ways I never expected:
through therapy, intense crocheting, and some tough growing, I ended up losing 160 lbs…
Considerably lighter, I returned DC to be near people who loved me. I got my own studio apartment, lovingly dubbed the “Crafty Cave,” where I could be surrounded by my yarn and fabric and granny squares. I got officially divorced. I started looking for work in the area. And during my free days I crocheted, died from years of exhaustion, crocheted, listened to new music, and crocheted.
The Crafty Cave: my entire world. This is how it looks when I pull my mattress down for the evening. Normally, I keep it against the wall for space.
I was dealing with decades of feelings I hadn’t let myself express. I was peeling off the layers of veneer I had learned to wear so that I didn’t “hurt” people like my husband, my parents--It had seemed so easy to hurt the people I loved by simply doing the things I enjoy, wearing the clothes that make me happy, cutting my hair the way I like. I deeply felt the disappointment of not being the person they thought I could be...if I would just change everything about myself. I used to try so hard in my co-dependent way.
But laying on the floor of the Crafty Cave, I couldn’t help but feel that all of this exhaustion and turmoil within me was happening because I just physically could not do what other people wanted me to do anymore. I’d hit the wall. Popped. I could not make those “little” concessions any longer because those little things that make me happy, like wearing a brightly-colored granny square coat to lunch, make me who I am. And I can’t give them up again.
This meditative time in the cave was the first time since middle school that I’d had a real break to THINK. Actually think about myself, my life. It seems like everything speeds up when you’re a teen and it doesn’t slow down until you die. I finally had the opportunity to pause my life and STARE IT IN THE FACE. When you take it head-on, the way I did, it's heavy work. But it’s how I do everything.
It’s taken so many nights in my bed on the floor, repeating to myself: “you can do whatever you want,” over and over like a mantra as I fall asleep. I can do whatever I want. I can wear whatever I want. I can express my femininity in any form I choose. And this one is HUGE: for the first time in my life, I can eat whatever I want.
Choice awakened me. And it made me dream again. I shaved my head and turned 30. I got close with my college buddies and remembered that spending time with REAL friends doesn't hurt. Through the chaos of this personal evolution, I was also experiencing a crochet (R)evolution.
THE Ribbon Canyon Blanket that helped me unlock the potential of Ribbon Candy Crochet.
Back in Rochester, pre-divorce, I had started the initial experiments that would someday become my Ribbon Canyon Blanket pattern. But naturally, with the upset of the move, and the divorce and my soul being reborn in fire, yadda, yadda, etc. Ribbon Canyon Blanket was delayed until the spring of 2021. By then I’d figured out how to make the blanket, hadn’t the slightest idea how to explain it to other people, but DID have the distinct impression that the design KICKED ASS IN A WAY NO BLANKET IN HISTORY EVER HAD. I’d never released a pattern before though, and I was scared that I would do it wrong and everyone would hate me and send me angry emails until I died.
In the early summer, I completed my sample blanket with yarn from my stash and I HAD to show someone. But I was kinda nervous about sharing the design through my social media. I decided to share it on the subReddit r/Crochet--I really trust that community for helpful feedback and honest opinions. Through the night and morning, the post garnered a lot of positive attention. By the next evening I felt encouraged enough to start on the pattern process. And, it WOULD be a process.
Explaining my pattern-writing-learning-curve merits its own blog post. For now, just know that it was HARD. It took months. It was real work. Maybe the most difficult brain work I’ve ever done. I started with an empty page and created my own format, my own system of building blocks from scratch. And I did it with very, very little income. In order for an artist to invest time into new concepts, like Ribbon Candy Crochet, they need some kind of money to live on. But I was still out of work and had nothing. So I cut every luxury from my life, like tissues and clean laundry and gas for the car. I lived on eggs cooked in every style. I felt like some kind of crochet monk. And every good thing, every comfort in my life was a gift from a friend.
My original sample of Ribbon Canyon Blanket shot by @perceybentley (Instagram)
Here I was, doing the best work of my life so far: out of savings, out of credit, and skating on the thin-ice-miracle that was my apartment building forgetting to charge me for 7 months.The rent thing has come back to haunt me BIG TIME, but it helped me survive that daunting, exhilarating, creative moment when I really had NO OTHER ANSWER to my problems. That’s also where Adam started pitching in hard-core. I never would have made it without his help.
This is Adam. He’s my best buddy. We met in college--he was a tiny baby freshman when my friend group adopted him. From staging our own annual “prom,” to show tunes in the most echo-y DC metro station, we’re two kids who really shine in each other’s company.
Adam has always been a wonderful friend. But these last two years in DC, he’s become an incredible supporter of me and my art. He says he’s the rock that my kite is tied to. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Some days it feels like I’m still here because of his incredible pep talks and miraculous ability to ground me.
They called us the A-team in college: Our first "Prom." I'm the girl in the center and Adam is growling...
Adam really believes in my work. He wears it too! Every weekend, he stays with me in the Crafty Cave. I start the weekend a frantic mess from the stress of the previous week, and by Sunday Adam’s gentle spirit has completely mellowed me. We turn my mattress into a couch for two and we spend our time doing photoshoots for Snapdragon Brand, cooking innovative brunch, chilling in the bathroom “lounge” to be LITERALLY anywhere else in the house for a moment, watching scary movies, and thinking about the future.
For a while, we thought maybe our future would be a small shop in Takoma Park. Adam’s got a stable income as a therapist and could support me financially while I built the business. He was looking for a project and a social outlet and I needed work desperately. We would move in together and build a crafty life. But we searched extensively and the only affordable properties we could find in the area were triple-net leases. These would gain us no equity for a monthly rent payment, a large shared "responsibility" fee, and a long-term initial lease. Risky and expensive once all the fees were added up.
Then, Adam’s parents suggested that we purchase a home in the neighborhood. A comfortable space that we could live in and run a yarn/hobby shop out of, with classes and workshops etc. They could offer us a co-signature (so, so generous, it still blows my mind) and Adam might be able to qualify us for a mortgage based on his income.
We genuinely pursued this idea for a while, but we’re on the Maryland side of DC here. There is NOTHING affordable in our neighborhood. A 1,200 square foot bungalow starts at $600,000. This is a number beyond my wildest dreams. Neither of us could wrap our heads around it really--we called it “Mansion Money.”
If you recall that phone call to Rocket Mortgage all those years ago, and the present state of my finances, I would not be much help in the procurement of a half-million + home. In both our minds, the proximity to DC had value for the business, but then again, this was not the area either of us planned to live in forever...
You see where this is going now, right? How it’s all coming together? The house stalking, and dream chasing, my telling EVERYONE about my dream house, the personal evolution, the crocheting, the future planning, the property search…
One day when we were driving, months into our property search, Adam just said to me out of nowhere: “Why don’t we buy the Pickle House?”
He really just offered me my dream like that.
I almost couldn’t speak. I had never raised the Pickle House as a prospect for us because I knew it was unusual and it would be YEARS of work and it would never be a “normal” house. I thought I was the only one who could love it and see its potential. But Adam saw it too, without me even asking him to.
The house is really sunny and open, considering it's nearly a bunker.
I was ready then and there to share my impossible dream with Adam and we’ve been working blindly toward the Pickle House together ever since. You're probably curious (everyone asks, don’t feel bad), so I’ll tell you. We are not romantic, just friends. But friends who now share a vision, and friends who want to spend the rest of their lives working in the Pickle House together. Making art, growing food, flourishing in nature, and sharing our home with you through classes, small yarn festivals, gallery shows and so much more.
Our un-official anthem for the Pickle House project has been "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" by Starship and we sing it HARD.
Now for the boom. Why am I telling you all this? I was uncomfortable asking before, but I know you’re here because you like me for some reason. And, maybe after hearing my story, you’re curious to see the project take shape…so I need a little help.
If you’re still interested and want to learn more about the project, Read On:
Here’s where we are in the process:
We have a signed contract and we are got a mortgage with a 5% down payment. The house is not on the market (so you can’t poach it!) and we are dealing directly with the owner who is so, so lovely.
We were able to get to this point because of: Adam’s parent’s co-signature, Adam’s income as a therapist, $5000 from my brother and $5000 from my mother’s will (finally finished the probate process after all these years). I wonder at my privilege to have access to these resources. Everyday I am dizzy for a moment, thinking about all the people who are helping me to do this, to live my dream in the place I love.
I feel like I have a golden ticket that I didn’t earn. It's like my brain can’t accept that something so good could happen. But I am learning to embrace the support and recognize it for what it is: Love.
Adam and I would never have gotten to this point without the kindness and intervention of others along the way. But now we’re here, and it is becoming apparent that we need drum up thousands of dollars (rather quickly) to complete the process.
Here’s what we need specifically:
-I need to earn $10,000 or so for the closing cost alone. We had planned to roll this into the mortgage, but because of the unusual features of the property, our mortgage type does not allow it. We've done lots of due-diligence and this mortgage is still our best (maybe only) option.
-We need to have more than $2000 in inspections done, and that is out of pocket with our mortgage type.
-We need to move from one state to another, more than 3 hours driving time and that is going to cost us.
Will you please help me in some way?
Here’s how you can help:
1. Please help me by sharing my posts on Instagram and Facebook (I’m @SnapdragonBrand on all socials), following me on Youtube or sharing a link to my shop on your own page. I’m so excited to tell the world about Ribbon Candy Crochet and with just a little help from you, my reach could grow exponentially.
I know it is an insanely money-tight time for people everywhere. So if you’re struggling too, please know I’m not asking for your cash. But, if you like my stuff, could you tell all your friends who like crochet and unusual fashion and bright colors about me? I feel like if more people just KNEW about my crochet patterns and printed clothing, I would sell more. I need to put myself out there to a wider audience.
2. Please consider purchasing from my website.
To earn the remaining money to put toward the closing costs and required inspections, I am adding special handmade-by-me crochet products to the store for the first time, including several listings for a CUSTOM SOUL SHAWL. Look out: my crochet will be priced according to a living hourly wage for my area, quality supplies, and my fine artisan finishes. I am selling my art to fund the purchase of a home where I can make art forever!
Any sale on my website of crochet patterns, printed clothing, or accessories will go toward our housing goal. So know that shopping with me is a really simple way to fund this project.
3.Please consider contributing to our GoFundMe.
If you just like me and want to help with this project, I have also created a go-fund-me to cover the myriad of costs we’re coming up against. We aren’t allowed to use crowd-sourced cash for a down payment, but it can help us with SO MANY other surprise costs like well inspections and maintenance for my darling decrepit minivan. So if you want to send me $5, that's a wonderful place to send it.
Here’s how you can come enjoy the space too:
I’ve talked extensively about how this would be a real home for me and Adam, but it’s been the plan since the beginning to open the property to the public.
The grand plan would be for Adam and I to retain small private spaces within the house, while leaving the remaining HUGE factory space open as a gallery, classroom, and meeting area.
Imagine attending weekend retreats at our Pickle House, afternoon workshops, fiber nights…a Crochet BALL?
I have been specifically vague about the location of the property in this post, but know that our home would be easily accessible from the Philadelphia area, all of South Jersey and the shore. There is inexpensive lodging and camping ALL around so you can come for special events like a Spring yarn festival, small crochet conference, or a gallery show by your favorite fiber designers.
Adam and I have HUGE design dreams for this space and you’ll be with us through the whole process. We will be documenting and sharing every project, every major step we take with the property. I know I personally follow like 50 Instagram accounts of normal people taking their time to transform a space, so I know that we could entertain you as we slowly evolve the property to fit our rainbow dreams.
Additionally, the Pickle House would serve as the home base for my newest venture: American Crochet Factory. This new company is a “floating” factory of cooperating crochet artisans, earning a living wage from their homes by crocheting my designs, crocheting other cooperating designer’s work and selling their originals for fine art prices. I’ve been developing my structure and business model for more than a year and will be able to start building a crochet community once I have stable housing. This project has the potential to improve awareness of current unfair crochet labor practices, raise the value of crochet on the market, and provide stable work for local and vulnerable populations. American Crochet Factory strives to be the model for ethical, scaled crochet production.
So, now you know my past. You know my hopes and dreams for the future. And you know how you can be a part of my process.
To everyone who follows me, shares their attention and kindness with me, know that you’ve been spending it on a real person who feels and appreciates it. Your encouragement over these last 7 years of Snapdragon Brand is what’s kept me going, even when I didn’t know why I bothered. If you’ve bought my patterns or granny square pants, you are part of the reason that I am still here. You’ve fed me and given me purpose.
If you’re curious about my next chapter, and you want to see me make some of the things I’ve shared with you, please take a moment to share my work and mayhaps send a little cash my way. That’s the only way any of this will be possible.
With all my heart,
Ashley Lee Zhong