Hand-Crafted Gifts

The History of Wool Chambers


Luba and Jon were born. Luba in Moscow (Russia) and Jon in Tumby Bay (Australia).

The house Luba (then Luba Vdovina) grew up in had a beautifully painted Zhostovo tray proudly displayed on the living room shelf. It would eventually inspire Luba to paint.

Luba’s father taught her to paint throughout her childhood. He was an amateur artist and Russian historian. As Luba got older, he even got Luba’s help with artwork to be displayed in the museum where he worked.


At 7 years old, Luba learned to knit dolls and clothes for her dolls in an after school class. She had already learned some basic knitting from her mother, but this class expanded on her skills.


At 9 years old, Luba won first prize in a craft competition.


At 10 years old, Luba moved with her family to Australia, and began to learn to speak English. (Today, her English is better than her Russian.)


At 11 years old, one of Luba’s school friends paid her 50 cents to draw a dolphin for colouring in. This was Luba’s first ever art commission, which was immediately spent on lollies at the school canteen.


Luba won $80 in an after school competition for the painting below:


This is a photo of Luba in art class.


Luba created an Etsy account to see if she was able to sell online. In choosing a store name, it needed to be unique, but given the broad range of handcrafts she enjoyed, she didn’t want a name tied to a specific type of product. Of all the names that weren’t already taken, Handcrafted Gifts was the best. Below is her first ever sale, which sold for USD$5. This was the first of over a thousand items she would go on to sell as Handcrafted Gifts through Etsy. Mostly jewellery and handspun yarn.


Without enough money to buy herself a spinning wheel or even a spindle, Luba made her own spindles. After some experience spindle spinning, she found a second hand Ashford wheel for $80. She had to assemble it herself, and couldn't figure out how the pieces went together until she bought the book "Beginning Spinning" (published 1972, reprinted 1985) from eBay with pictures of spinning wheels inside.

Luba still persisted making spindles, and after some trial and error she sold the successful ones on Etsy. Below is a wooden dowel sharpened with the larger hole of a pencil sharpener, a wall hook, a gemstone bead, and grommets designed to stop a kitchen sink from leaking. It sold for USD$15.

Before the industrial revolution, it was common for people with very little money to paint cheap household items rather than buy expensive versions. This allowed people to feel like they have a luxurious item on a budget. Luba tried to carry this tradition forward, and can even name the city each style was first developed in and how long ago.

The spindles below were made with cup coasters from Bunnings Warehouse (Luba’s local hardware store) for 80¢, which were perfect for painting on. The difficult part of its construction was finding the exact centre of the coaster and holding the drill perfectly straight while making the hole. A close friend made Luba a special rig, allowing her to mark the exact centre of all the coasters for drilling. The first one ever sold is on the left. Luba sold 18 in total.


Luba enrolled in Certificate IV in Art and Contemporary Craft to help her craft even better jewellery, and learn more about sales and marketing. Ironically, this gave her less time to craft, sell, and market her work than she had before.


Luba began a three year degree in Bachelor of Arts, which covered a broad range of handcrafts including ceramics, printing, painting, drawing, sculpture, jewellery, and textiles. It was a requirement that all students experienced all crafts, even if they thought they knew which one they wanted a future in.

Other students created works with strong themes, often depicting a problem in the world and implying a strong opinion about it. This was radically different from how Luba approached art, because Luba already had access to enough world problems and opinions on the television. She preferred artwork as a respite from the problems in the world. This made it very difficult for her to make things that fit the curriculum.


From all her profits selling spindles of her own construction, Luba reached out to Joshua Lynch, one of the best wooden spindle makers. He became her new supplier, sending boxes of untreated spindles ready for painting. At the time of writing, Luba has sold 212 painted spindles supplied by Joshua Lynch. The image on the left is the first one she ever sold, which sold for USD$60 including international shipping.


Luba found her old high school friend Jon Chambers on Facebook, who was studying to be a teacher at the time. Jon taught her about photography, and together split the cost of a camera. Luba used it to take higher quality photos of her work while Jon used it to make movies. (Above, the image to the left was Luba's old camera while the right was the new camera.)

Jon also used the movie special effects skills he had learned to make a tiny Luba sit on the spindles she had painted, and was particularly proud of how little time it took him to draw the shadow of her arms projected onto the spindle.


Trying to attract more commissions to her art, and fulfilling Jon’s desire to practise making movies, Luba released a tutorial teaching how to paint. Looking back now, Jon feels embarrassed by the shaky camera work during the introduction and Luba feels embarrassed by the everything else. She says she paints better in her natural position without having to bend aside for a bulky intrusive camera.


Proud of Luba’s level of historical accuracy, Jon wanted his computer mouse painted using the style developed in the Russian town of Gorodets. Pictured below is Master Chief from the video game Halo slaying a Sangheili with an energy sword.

Gorodets style typically opposed large patches of empty space, so there were many different authentic designs an artist would use to fill any leftover empty space. Jon researched and selected the design he felt looked most like splattering alien blood, and researched the exact colour a Sangheili bleeds. Authentic artists wouldn’t go this crazy filling up every tiny bit of space, but Jon demanded the Gorodets style to be more extreme than authentic, almost a parody of Gorodets, to compensate for how un-Gorodets the item and subject matter was.

Based on the reference images she was given, she enlarged the heads and shrunk the limbs to match the proportions of authentic artwork from the time period. The design also illustrates which mouse button is used for shooting and which is used for throwing grenades.

Luba didn’t enjoy the subject matter at all, but received a fair commission for her work.

Jon still uses this mouse today, however the polyurethane was not strong enough to withstand three years of daily use. Luba has since switched to a far more durable two part epoxy, which probably would have prevented the damage, but it’s too late now.


After years of begging, Luba finally permitted Jon to marry her, taking on the name “Chambers” which would eventually become the new business name.

Jon abandoned his dream of becoming a teacher. Although he loved working with even the most difficult of teenagers, after his first placement he decided to instead pursue something, anything, that wouldn’t involve interacting with teachers, year level coordinators, or principals. He wasn’t sure what, but eventually decided he’d try to become a bestselling fantasy fiction writer. This granted him access to the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.


Luba rediscovered her old copy of “The Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook” by Deb Robson. This inspired her to buy 40 different breeds of fibre, but minimum order per fibre was 100g per breed, and 4kg of fibre was too expensive. So she asked around on Facebook, trying to find three more people to share her order with. The number of people she found wasn’t three, but closer to thirty. So she wrote up a waiting list and continued getting more packs in, graciously keeping herself at the bottom of the list. It was a long time before she was ever able to try them herself.

Jon released his first book. He hired a very talented artist for the cover, and a very talented editor to polish his writing. (These two talented people happened to be the same person.) He also made a website supporting his genre of fantasy writing, and directed and produced the audio book, with different actors for each character. Then, after only selling to the close friends and family members who felt sorry for him for all the money he had wasted, Jon decided that he was, again, in the wrong career.

The trouble was, if he stopped promoting his book, he would no longer be eligible for the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme. To help her poor struggling husband, Luba conducted her business under Jon’s name. This let him keep his benefits, and gave him something useful to do (designing business cards, fibre labels, company logo, and the website) while he waited to find a real job.

Jon made the website above with Adobe Muse, but it was far from perfect. He reached out to professional web developers for advice, who suggested he learn to code. (The website you’re looking at right now, Jon has written in five different machine languages, enabling it to process Paypal and credit card payments, track inventory, display price and postage, and update Etsy automatically.)

Selling 25g samples was what Luba had become famous for, so the website allowed people to order in that quantity. Also, because Jon wanted to show off his new coding skills, the website also allowed people to order 26g, 27g, 2301g, or whatever number above 25 the customer wanted. This was a crazy idea at the time, and probably still is, but it worked.

It was Jon’s idea to keep the price per kilogram consistent across all weights. This made the 25g samples cheaper than ever before, but Jon reasoned that many retailers give small samples away for free, and his website was at least getting something in return for the sample. “No one buys samples forever,” he said, “and if a small fraction of customers eventually buy a kilogram, it will all pay off.”

A small fraction of the customers did eventually buy a kilogram, so it definitely paid off.

Jon also hated the “update quantity” button online shops have, and was determined to create a shop without one. Many customers were confused, and reached out asking how they were supposed to enter their quantity. Instead of adding the button, Jon animated the cart information flying across the middle of the screen, and also animated a ghost of each item flying toward the cart information as soon as the quantity was above zero. It must have worked, because no one has asked how to enter the quantity since.


Jon and Luba began attending markets selling fibre to promote the website. It worked. Customers from the markets began reordering online.

The side hobby of retailing wool grew until it had completely devoured Luba’s craft room and occasionally most of the kitchen. Rather than spending her profits on lollies like she would’ve done two decades ago, Luba insisted on feeding every dollar to come out of the venture back into it. And so began the construction of a 9m by 5m workshop. Below is the progress as of 18-9-2019.


The decision to abandon the name “Handcrafted Gifts” was a tough one. On the one side, it represented 11 years of flawless customer service with over 1300 items sold through Etsy, over 500 through the website, and 630 five star Etsy reviews. Also “handcraftedgifts.net.au” had earned a reasonable google ranking, which would be thrown away if the name changed.

On the other side, the legal owner of the business name “Handcrafted Gifts” and website “handcraftedgifts.com.au” was refusing to sell. He could therefore legally stop Handcrafted Gifts from trading at a moment’s notice, and changing names would only get more difficult to do as the business grew.

The business name “Wool Chambers” and domain name “woolchambers.com.au” were both registered within minutes of each other, to stop anyone else from stealing it. “Wool” represented Luba’s top three bestselling products (spinning fibre, yarn, and spindles) while “Chambers” was a pun that tied the business to Luba Chambers, Jon Chambers, and hopefully one day their daughter Tania Chambers.

Background image is copyright to Max Boughen.