Riley Konesky spent her summer days at the front desk of the Whitehall Borough pool.
When she wasn’t checking IDs to let people in, she was busy turning balls of yarn into little critters to make kids happy.
“The patrons love it. They’re always like, ‘Oh, what do you have today?’” said Konesky, 17, of Whitehall, who has worked at the front desk for three years.
This summer, just a few months after she started crocheting, Konesky launched Crayon Crochet Critters, where she sells handmade crocheted toys online, at the pool and at community events. She will have a stand at the Whitehall Borough Community Day on Aug. 24.
Coworkers often stop by to check-out Konesky’s latest creations and, along with pool patrons, will buy their favorites to take home.
“It’s pretty amazing that she’s so talented and she just picked it up out of nowhere,” said Madison Seitzinger, 18, a lifeguard at the pool.
Konesky, who is headed into her senior year at Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy in West Mifflin, learned from a classmate during study hall how to crochet in April.
“I was hooked,” she said.
After learning that basic pattern for an octopus — and how to crochet in circles — she was able to adapt it to make other critters. “I kind of took it to the next level.”
All six of her little cousins, ages 8 to 12, then wanted one. They put in personal requests for her to make things like unicorns, dogs and elephants.
“I was like, oh my goodness, well then I have to do it,” she said.
She laughs at her first octopus and its loose stitching and eyes drawn on with a sharpie. In just four months, her skills have majorly improved.
Konesky started watching YouTube videos and following them to learn how to make various critters. She also uses her own creativity to make new animals. More recently, she started following patterns for some of the larger items, like the mermaids she’s made.
At first, it took her an entire day to make a little octopus. Now it takes roughly 20 minutes.
The amount of time, though, depends on the item and its size.
Calling herself “over-eager,” Konesky started making critters for the little kids at her school.
She made all nine kindergarteners octopuses, then elephants. For their kindergarten graduation, she let each child pick an animal that she made for them.
Teachers started telling her that she should sell the little critters. She figured this would be a good way to recoup some of the costs she puts into making them.
At the beginning of summer, she launched a website: www.crochetcritters.webnode.com, to sell the animals. Their price depends on their size and the time it takes to make them. She also built Instagram and Facebook pages for her business, which she’s calling Crayon Crochet Critters.
She added “crayon” to the name in honor of children who are on the autism spectrum, as crayons can be used to represent how each child is different, yet they all matter — something her mom, a school nurse at Pittsburgh Public’s Conroy Education Center, has a shirt indicating.
On her days off, Konesky goes to her mom’s work to help. The students with special needs “light up” when receiving a crocheted critter, she said.
She plans to donate one crocheted critter to a child at her mom’s school for every critter purchased.
For Konesky, crocheting is fun. She likes to keep her hands busy.
Actually, she says she listens better when she’s doing something with her hands. She crochets at school, during musical theater rehearsals and on the school bus. This summer, she brings her crocheting to the mall when she’s hanging out with friends and even snuck a ball of yarn and a crochet needle into Kennywood Park, where she spent her time in line finishing a little duck.
At the pool, colleagues say they enjoy watching Konesky make the critters.
They even took one of the animals into the water to see if it could float, said Beth Madison, 20, a lifeguard.
Konesky estimates she’s made more than 200 critters thus far. During a concert in Brennan Plaza, kids swarmed the pool entrance to buy her little animals. She sold them officially at the borough’s dive-in movie night at the pool, where another line formed around her.
She has a stock of about 80 already ready for community day.
Riley also offers people the chance to personalize or pick-out a different kind of critter. The most unique request she’s received thus far was to crochet a Hulk Hogan doll for a teacher at school to give as a baby shower gift.
Riley loves watching kids come to the pool with their little critters.
“These can become these kids’ little stuffed animal buddies,” she said.