Tracy Terbell

... is the mastermind behind Ball of Fire. In 2010, Tracy Terbell started crocheting catnip toys for Oscar, her newly adopted and boisterous kitten. As the story goes, this tiny hobby soon evolved into something bigger. Today, Tracy makes magic mushrooms, googly eyed octopi, a wide variety of vegetables, and even pierogis through this undeniably successful catnip toy business.

Talk about the beginnings of Ball of Fire. What inspired you begin this endeavor? 
My business began as it probably does for many creative people:  I had a lot of folks telling me "have you ever thought about selling your stuff?"  I learned how to crochet in 2004 and fell in love with it.  Before long every friend I had was the recipient of a scarf or other "beginner's project" as my skills improved and I tried new techniques.  The inspiration for my most popular items, the catnip toys, happened when I got my kitten Oscar in early 2010.  By that point I'd learned how to crochet in the round.  I made a few fun toys for him, including a pill (I was going for the old capsule look, with one side a solid color and the other a variegated color) and a carrot made with scrap orange yarn.  He loved them and it gave him something to chew on and kick besides my older cats!  I kept making them and with the feedback I got I decided to put in for a craft show. I did my first No Coast Craft-o-Rama that December.  I continued to focus on unique catnip toys and also toys for people, like googly eyed octopus and other creatures.  I felt that there were already many talented people making beautiful knit & crochet scarves and hats, and rather than compete with that I wanted to carve out my own niche.
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?  
I feel like I've always been creative in some ways.  I was in band, orchestra and choir all through high school, and have sung with a few local avocational choruses over the years I've been in Minneapolis.  I took up cross-stitch in junior high and did a lot of projects, both with and without patterns. I don't do much of that any more but I still love it. I started sewing in the last few years and I enjoy it, finding it very challenging.  I am definitely someone who needs an "art" outlet.  My full-time job as a Minneapolis firefighter is rewarding and challenging in many ways, but my crafty side still needs to be fulfilled.
How has Ball of Fire evolved? How have you evolved?
I'd say my business has evolved most in what I make.  My work has gotten better, more polished. There's no way to rush hand-made items but I've been able to make the process a little more streamlined for things I make the most of, like the catnip carrots. I try to add new things to the mix - it's really gratifying to have people return and say "I bought a carrot last year, what do you have this year?"  My confidence in pricing things and proudly putting my work out there has increased.  That was such a challenge in the beginning.
Why is local important?
Local for me is all about connection. I love the "craft show life" even though I only do a few a year - meeting other vendors, chatting up the people who visit the shows, answering questions about my creations - I love all of it.  I am consistently amazed by all the cool things people dream up and create!  There's such an abundance of talent everywhere you look, and I think it's important to support that and get out and meet people face to face. Sure, you can find stuff at Target or even local chains like Patina, but buying directly from the artist feels better to me. I love being able to tell that story when I give something as a gift, or when I display it at home.
blue crab
How has living in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through Ball of Fire?
I can't say Minnesota has specifically impacted my work, other than that I love living here and think the unique creative community we have keeps me inspired.  My work with the Minneapolis Fire Department helped inspire the Ball of Fire name and logo, a twist on the traditional maltese cross using a ball of yarn and crochet hook instead of the crossed hook and axe.
Magic Mushrooms
What do you see for the future of your business?
I'm trying to be more productive, working on things consistently year round vs. working frantically as fall (typical show season for me) approaches.  I've sold my things at Digs (38th and Grand), Urban Tails (22nd and Lyndale), and recently began selling at Gallery 360 (50th & Xerxes).  It's great to have my goods in local shops but it's also a challenge for me, as a one-woman operation, to keep up with demand - a challenge I need to focus on which requires me to be more "business-minded" and less "hobby-minded."  Sometimes this is hard...I feel guilty working on personal projects when I should be working on Ball of Fire stuff, but if I frame it another way I'm lucky that people like my work enough that I need to make more.
Do you feel like making and creating through Ball of Fire allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself? 
I think the "contributing to something larger" question is a lot like the "local" question. Certainly being a firefighter in the city I live in and love is a valuable role, and one where I feel I get to make a difference. But growing Ball of Fire and putting myself out there in a creative role helps me feel connected to community in a way that my regular life and job does not.
Check out Tracy's work here: