A Junkie’s Confession

I have a problem, and it’s time I come clean. I live for the thrill of the next high, the rush of adrenaline when I find the next drug. It’s a hard, hard life, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop myself from seeking out the next thrill.

I am a craft junkie.

I started out when I was just a child, with embroidery. My mom would let me buy those iron on Aunt Martha design envelopes and some embroidery floss and a little tea towel and off I’d go. It was a gateway craft, though – enough to get me hooked on making¬†things, but not enough to satisfy my desire, no, my NEED, to be creative. I did some latch hook kits, then I did a little sewing of things like kids’ shorts, slacks for myself … I progressed in to making fabric covered photo albums when my kids were small. Then I found quilting, which led to more sewing. And soap and candle making. And now I have found my next big thing – vinyl.

I bought a Brother ScanNCut when they first came on the market a few years ago. I used it a few times, but honestly, it scared me so much I was almost afraid to touch it. It just seemed so complicated to use, and I was afraid I would do something to really screw it up. But one of my New Year’s (Non-) Resolutions for this year was to learn how to use this machine. And I can say with some pride that I’ve at least conquered my fear of this machine, and I’m using it to make t-shirts and other items. And I’m having a BLAST with it!

So that I could get the full effect of the vinyl, I also bought a heat press, and the combination is exciting and fun. Aaaaaaaaand … it’s led to a new business line for me (oh come on, you HAD to see THAT coming!). It started with this t-shirt I made for my daughter …

She saw a similar design at a show we were at earlier this month, and she really wanted it. The shirt she saw was a tank top, and the cost was more than $40! I didn’t have a tank top, but I did have a tee, and so we tried it out. Not only did she love the way it turned out, so did many of her friends.

 

These are shirts I’ve made for her friends, who wanted their home state instead of a heart inside the Texas. I’ve started calling it the “Transplanted Texan” shirt. LOL

I also bought a few transfers and tried those out as well …

But my plan is to do more of my own designs and fewer purchased designs.

You can look for these on the website in the near future; I’m just want to get some better photos first. ūüôā

 

It Took Over My Entire Life

In my last post, I revealed plans to move to primarily an online presence around mid-year, after the spring shows are done, and I talked about cutting back the product line I keep on hand. Neither of those were easy decisions to make. I have come to really enjoy getting out and meeting people at the shows, talking to them about my soaps, and being able to offer a wide product line. However, as my hope to make this a viable business started to wane, I began to resent certain aspects of running it. Between resentment and disappointment, the joy began to seep out of the entire process, and that’s where the depression started.

I am no stranger to depression; I’ve dealt with it off and on for a good portion of my life. And really, I think everyone deals with depression at some point in their lives, some of us becoming clinically depressed, and some of us dealing with just plain old depression. But regardless of how it’s classified, I almost always realize that I’m depressed when I lose interest in doing things. The one that usually gets my attention is when I have the desire to sew or quilt, but not the ability. I realized last week that I had a problem when I thought about making a quilt but then decided it was too much work to clean up the studio. It’s not really that bad to begin with; there are some things on the cutting table that I need to put away but it’s not like I’m walking hip deep in crap or anything. I thought at first that maybe I was tired, but it happened again. And again. And then yesterday, before I made the decisions about the business, I thought that sewing would be a great way to take my mind off of my troubles, but I realized that the business has sort of sucked the joy out of sewing, too. As I sat here thinking about it, I realized that what I really need to do is create boundaries with my business. Even a smaller scale operation will get out of hand if I let it – and I think that’s where my primary issue is in the first place. I try to do more than I can, and that stresses me out, which then begins to wear on me, and after a while I find myself where I am now – depressed and irritated and wishing I’d never started a business in the first place.

Chris and I were talking about this yesterday, and we agreed that it’s out of hand. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, my work space when I started this business was my office. My desk was in there, and I cut and stored the soap there, too. When I started with the embroidery business, I needed a place to store the blank products, so I installed three large plastic shelves (think garage storage) in our bedroom. Somewhere around September, I realized that there wasn’t really enough space in the office for everything, so I started to store some of my soap in the hallway between my studio and the garage, which leads to my studio. By the end of the year, I’d moved my “office” space to the studio, and started to turn the former office in to a storage room. But that wasn’t enough space, either, so now a good chunk of stuff is in my studio, and under the bar in our dining area, not to mention the wagon I have that holds my big pails of oil. Every time I turn around, I’m out of space, and the business has taken over half of the downstairs area, and moving up the stairs in to our bedroom. There is not a place anywhere in this house that I can get away from it, because everywhere I go, every place I look, there’s some bit of my business.

And because I require the use of a stove and sink (and sometimes the oven), my kitchen is always in use, either by my business, or to prepare meals. I don’t do both at the same time – one is done before the other begins – but it creates a LOT of dishes to be done, and sometimes I feel like I am NEVER done with cleaning the kitchen. There have been days when I have done dishes six times and still couldn’t keep up completely.

I want – I NEED – to claw back space that shouldn’t be used for business, and to create areas of my home where it’s just not acceptable to store business related items. I was so gung ho for a while there, I lost sight of the need to maintain a work-free zone for myself and my family. It’s going to take time to get to the point where I’ve “de-businessed” areas, because I’m not going to just throw that stuff away or donate it. But my current goal is to not add to the mess by buying more things I need to store. I will be doing some embroidery work on some t-shirts in the hopes that I can sell some of them at upcoming shows, in my Etsy shop and on my website, so keep your eyes open for them.

 

Self-doubt and the Modern Woman

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concerns – for myself, my business, my general state of affairs over all. I’m doing a lot of soul searching, because I think I need to know what’s truly bugging me. I keep coming back to one thought – I’m just not happy. We all go through it – at some point, we realize that we’re just not happy. We’re not happy with where we are, what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re not happy with our mate. Fortunately for me, my unhappiness has nothing to do with my husband. It has everything to do with my business. Everything that is bothering me is a result of my business. And so, I’ve made a decision, one that isn’t what I hoped to be considering after a year in business, but one I think is best for me and my family.

After the spring shows are over in May, Suds & Stitches will become primarily an online business. I will do the occasional show, but for the most part, it will be online. I will also be cutting back on the number of soaps I keep stocked – perhaps six to eight “regular” scents/bars that I keep on hand at all times, and a few rotational/seasonal type fragrances, for not more than 15 variations available, with the exception of the Soap of the Month Club offerings. Soap of the Month will still continue on, of course, and I will still offer lotions, night cream and lip balms. I will also continue to offer monogramming and the occasional embroidered items. ¬†And I will continue to pursue some wholesale opportunities, so if you know anyone with a small business who might be a good fit, let me know.

This is not where I wanted to be at this point in my business, but the reality is, we’re just not making money. The booth fees are high (often $100+ for each show; we have one coming up that I paid almost $300 to be in), and for items that sell for, on average, $5 each, we have to sell a LOT of soap just to break even. My hope was always that we’d eventually be able to stop doing the shows and just move to an online store (and maybe eventually, a brick & mortar), but I thought I’d have more repeat business before that happened. We do sell quite a bit of soap at our shows, but after taking in to account the cost of gasoline, booth fees, food, the occasional motel, and the cost of making product, we’re usually lucky to break even.

For the most part, our customer base has been fabulous, but we’ve missed some sales I thought we’d make. People who encouraged me to do this, to expand into making more wax items, more soaps, more lotions, embroidery, and who swore they couldn’t wait until we did it so they could buy the things they requested. I understand that things come up, and no sale should be counted on before it happens, but I’ve had so many people who claimed they “couldn’t wait” who then never placed an order or came to a show to see what we have to offer. I’ve offered discounts and coupons that no one ever took advantage of, and made sure that not only was I competitive with my prices, but that I offered more than others – more variety for shirts, bigger bars of soap, show special discounts, and other things. Things that no one took advantage of, and things that no one showed any interest in at all. It’s depressing. People at shows who “just love” this t-shirt or that, but wanted it in a different size/color/style. People who swore they were going home to place their order on the website, then never visited it at all. People who would PM me on Facebook wanting special discounts, shipping offers, etc., who then wouldn’t buy whether I gave in to their requests or not. Friends who wanted me to make this fragrance or that and they would DEFINITELY buy it, but when I made it, they were no where to be found. I’m not bringing all this up to make people feel bad; it’s just part of the process I’ve gone through to make the decisions that I’ve made.

I’m looking for another job. I have hope that I can find something soon so that we’ll still have¬†money in our bank account that we can use to pay off some bills, and maybe take a little vacation. I’m not looking in just Houston, because let’s face it; no matter what people tell you, this is still an oil town, and without the oil, there aren’t many jobs. I want to stay in Texas at least, but if I can’t … well, things happen that are sometimes out of our control and we have to roll with the punches. It’s what I’m best at doing, after all.

One area where owning my own business has impacted my decision making, however, is in trying to shop local and small as often as I can. It’s not always possible, because sometimes local places don’t have what you’re looking for, and small doesn’t always have the variety. But it’s taught me to try the local places first, because when I can purchase from one of them, maybe I’m helping to keep their doors open. And there is little that is more depressing than having to close your business.

All in all, owning my own business has¬†been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot from it. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything. But perhaps now it’s time to move on and find something else to do.

An Awakening

This morning, I came to a realization – I’m not happy. My marriage is good – better than it ever has been, I think, so that isn’t the problem. It’s my business. My weight. My house. I feel like it’s all pretty much spun out of control. When I look around me and see that my house is a wreck, my business isn’t where I want it to be, and as a result, I’ve gained weight … well, it’s time to change pretty much everything except the husband. Him I plan to keep for a very, very long time. I guess you could say he’s just stuck with me.

Before I took a shower this morning, I did the dreaded deed – I stepped on the scale. As I stood there staring at that horrible number, it dawned on me that I’m not happy with most aspects of my life. Only my marriage and family bring me any joy right now; the rest of it just drags on me and makes me feel depressed. I realized that if things don’t start to change, and soon, I’m going to be in some pretty serious trouble. And I also realized that not being accountable is not going to help, either. So, this is my confession, my new beginning, if you will, because today things have to start changing. Today, I have to take control of my life once again and stop screwing around.

I know I’ve said this before; we all have, haven’t we? At some point we hit a wall and we think, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! But this is seriously ridiculous. I am stunned and embarrassed by my weight right now. I would DIE if anyone walked in to my house at this point, and my business … well, yet another weekend of lackluster sales isn’t making me want to run out and sign up for more shows. So, here is my very basic beginning plan for each one in turn.

My weight – first of all, my biggest issue is night time snacking and eating the crappiest of foods. Before I sat down to write this, I threw a Lean Cuisine frozen meal in the microwave – not the best choice, I thought, but better than anything I could have pulled together for myself from a fridge full of left overs that need to be thrown out and a pantry full of things that I probably shouldn’t eat at all. When I took the meal out of the microwave, this is what it looked like …

Believe it or not, overall the taste wasn’t terrible. I added a little Tony Chacerie’s to give it a little more flavor, but after eating it, I was still hungry. I looked at the calorie count – 170 calories. Wait, what? Only 170 calories, and this is supposed to be a FULL meal?!?! Are you freakin’ KIDDING me?? I could eat TEN of these and not even get in the number of calories I can¬†eat in an average day (according to the iPhone app Lose It!), but it would provide me with more than two days’ worth of sodium. And I’d probably still be hungry. So I added a Dannon Light & Fit Greek Yogurt, and I will probably find myself digging around for something else after that, because according to the Lose It! app, I should be eating about 2,000 calories just to lose weight (yeah, I have quite a bit of weight to lose so I get more than the “standard” 1,200 calories that many diet plans seem to think women should live on).

Today’s weight loss goal – go grocery shopping and do some food prep for this week.

My house – Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Honestly, the downstairs isn’t so bad, but upstairs, my bedroom is the place where everything that otherwise doesn’t have a home lands. And it houses a good bit of my business inventory. It isn’t very peaceful or restful, but it IS big. It’s time to do some spring cleaning all over the house, though. I tried to do the FlyLady thing recently, but it was 12 or more emails a day, most of them trying to sell me something. It just about drove me insane. I do like the basic premise, however – focus on one area of the house each week, at first getting to the point where it’s presentable, then doing deeper cleaning as you go along, while maintaining the presentable part. This week, it’s going to be tricky, because we have a show mid-week (this is the first time I’ve ever had a show that wasn’t on a weekend), but my focus spot is going to be the studio. I chose the studio for two reasons – it’s the very first thing people see when they walk in to my house, and it will require the least amount of deep cleaning. Most of the focus will be on clutter, and that’s something I can handle easily. Also, as a “bonus” Chris and I will spend a fair amount of time on getting all the laundry caught up.

This week’s house goal – declutter the studio and get all the laundry caught up

My business – This is the one that’s most difficult for me, because I’m not sure what to do to fix the issue. I’m not sure I CAN fix the issue, because I’m not positive it’s my issue to fix. I’ve been in business for a year now, and sales are lackluster. I thought it was my product, but now I don’t think that’s it, because after talking to several vendors over the last few months, everyone seems to be experiencing the same results, even at shows that were once very good. I don’t know if the problem is that people are getting away from handcrafted items, or if it’s that people just aren’t spending money, but the only booths that seem to have a lot of people looking and buying are those who are selling clothing, jewelry and/or other accessories. I didn’t keep a blow by blow record of sales by¬†the woman across from us this weekend, but I think her weekend was much better than mine (she was selling “boutique” clothing). The couple to the right of us were selling a variety of things – jewelry, purses, and other trinkets – and they seemed to stay fairly busy, though I’m not sure what kind of sales they saw. We did ok ourselves, but not, “I can live on this” ok. We did, “Well, this is nice extra pocket money if I don’t reinvest every penny” ok. And my online and Etsy stores aren’t exactly on fire, either. We also paid for a motel for one night for this show, further eating in to my profits.

I’ve also been looking for a job, with no results. I don’t want to abandon the business, but I thought if I could find a job, I could continue the business on the side. So far, no luck finding a job, and many of the jobs I do see are part time. It’s crazy; I really don’t understand it. At this point, I’m ready to apply for part time bookkeeper jobs and try to get clients to hire me on a 1099 basis, so I can have several at once. I was looking through jobs last weekend and there wasn’t a ton of stuff out there, and then it hit me – I don’t recall seeing any jobs listed with any of the O&G majors, and only a few with the indies. There are a lot of medical jobs – for which I am not trained. There are retail jobs – which don’t pay much, are part time, and would interfere with my show schedule. And there were some accounting jobs, which require an accounting degree, preferably a master’s degree and a CPA (even when it’s clear the job doesn’t need a CPA; they’re doing that because these companies know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of young people out there with a CPA who are desperate to find a job and will work for enough to pay back the crushing student loan debt they accumulated over those years).

I went to a business seminar last year, but frankly I’ve forgotten a fair amount of what I learned, so …

This week’s business goal – Go to the show on Wednesday, and read through the course materials from last year’s seminar. Continue to look for a job.

And there you have it – a week’s plan in writing. I am also making notes in my calendar to help me stay the course for the week. I will try to remember to report back here periodically, because I want to keep track of how things are going. If I were more disciplined, I would do a daily post to keep track of what’s going on and how things are going, because that’s really the only way to remain accountable to myself. Maybe I’ll try doing that … but it probably won’t happen (I may be trying to turn over some new leaves, but I’m also realistic).

Sleep? What sleep?!

A few¬†weeks ago, we bought a new mattress. Our old mattress cost us a small fortune, and just three years after we bought it, we started having problems with it. Unfortunately, the dealer who sold it to us went out of business, and we never got a response from the manufacturer, so we were a little leary of buying another expensive mattress. So instead, we bought a low priced yet very comfortable mattress, foregoing the box springs this time around. Our box springs are still in excellent condition, so we didn’t see a need to replace them. We waited for a week for the mattress to be delivered.

I wish I had my old mattress back.

This mattress has been terrible. The comfortable mattress we tried out in the store is not what we received when it was delivered two weeks ago. While the model is the same, the feel is vastly different. The day after the mattress was delivered, we went to the dealer and told them we wanted to exchange it because it was so uncomfortable. Our sales lady told us that normally, they want a customer to use the mattress for at least 30 days before exchanging it, but I told her that wasn’t going to happen; I’d gotten a grand total of about two hours’ sleep the night before because this mattress was a ROCK. We tried the mattress in the store again, and again, it was not comparable to what was delivered. They agreed to exchange it after we used it for a week. Last Thursday, we went back and picked out a new mattress, which is supposed to be delivered tomorrow. But the last two weeks have been excruciating. And we’re still not getting any sleep.

So that’s why I haven’t been really active lately. I’m just so far beyond tired, I’m not even sure what I’m doing anymore. The lack of sleep has cut the¬†productivity levels for both of us, and I’m way behind on soap making. And making everything else as well. Over the weekend, I did actually order in some t-shirts for some Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter designs. I’m not even sure how many Valentine’s Day shirts I’m going to make this year, because we only have a couple of shows before the holiday. Instead, I might make myself one or two to wear to shows and then concentrate on the St. Patrick’s & Easter shirts. One thing I do know is that I seriously need to get more soap made, and fast!

I’m still working on re-organizing the studio/office and storage room. Today I finally got my Container Store order, and I began working on the storage room. It seems to be somewhat mindless work, which is what I need right now. It will take me a while to get it completely done, but it’s still being worked on, and eventually I’ll be finished.

The other thing I’m working on is a complete rebranding of my entire business venture. I’m combining the embroidery/fabric arts and soap/cosmetic businesses in to one entity, and I’m building an entirely new website, complete with new photos, a vintage/retro feel, and some new products. I am hoping to roll out the rebranded business the first of February, and I’m really very excited about it. I’m using WordPress for my website, so I’m learning a lot as I go along – this is the first website I’ve built that didn’t have some sort of pre-built “plug & play” template that guides me every step of the way. I did buy a skin for it, to give it the look I want, but I’m doing all the work myself. Fortunately, since I’ve used WordPress for my blog for years, using it for my website isn’t completely foreign to me. It feels a bit like a new pair of the comfy shoes you’ve had for years, but now need to get used to the new pair. Keep an ear to the ground to find out more about the relaunch/rebranding!

By the way, are you following me on Instagram? If you’re interested in finding out what I’m doing, head on over there and follow me. I post photos of fabric projects, soaps, embroidery … you know, whatever I happen to be doing that day. Maybe you’ll see me doing something you just can’t live without! ūüėČ

And in closing, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t ask if you’ve signed up for the Soap of the Month Club yet. Each month, you’ll receive a new bar of themed soap. February’s soap has a Valentine’s theme, and I have to say, I can hardly wait for it! I already have March, April and May soaps planned out, and I assure you, they’re going to be super awesome. So don’t forget to sign up. Shipping fees are already included in the price, so if you buy the option that’s less than $50, just choose local pick up. Soaps will go out the first week of every month, and if you sign up now for the first shipment in February, you’ll receive a free gift with your first shipment! And don’t forget, shipping is free when you spend $50 or more in a single order.

Well, that’s pretty much it for now, but like I said, stay tuned; big things are in store for Old Fashion Soap Co., and Jill’s Fabric Arts!

The Apron

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I met Jerri at a show in the fall. She was working for a vendor at one of the high school FFA shows I did, and she was interested in getting some embroidery done for Christmas gifts. So, I did an apron and chef’s hat for her middle granddaughter, and bags for all three of her granddaughters. I also did some bags for her daughter and daughters in law, and when I delivered them a week or two before Christmas, she asked if I could do an apron for one of her daughters in law. I said I would be delighted.

It hasn’t exactly been a delight …

I used See & Sew pattern B5125, and the pattern states, “YES! It’s EASY” so like a sucker, I fell for that. And honestly, it SHOULD be easy, but the directions were sort of stupid. The part about attaching the flounce was fine, but the binding around the neck and arms? Stupid. The directions made it appear as though a raw edge would be the product of constructing this area, which was ludicrous, and it wasn’t reflected in the photograph on the pattern envelope. Being a quilter, I decided to do it more or less the same way I bind a quilt, though I had already cut the pattern pieces out and felt obliged to use them. I could explain how I managed this, but suffice it to say, it sucked. Next time I decide to make a pattern like this, I will instead cut and make wide bias tape and use it to bind the appropriate area.

I had originally hoped to have the apron done in three days, but that didn’t happen because of the problems I had with the binding. I spent a lot of time, and tried a lot of options, before I landed on one that I thought would be the best way to finish this particular piece, and I’m fairly happy with the way it turned out, though next time I’ll be better prepared and have a solid game plan. I ran in to further problems with the pocket, which was not part of the original apron View A. I took the pocket from View B, and cut out two of them. On one, I monogrammed it as the customer requested, and then I sewed the two together to make the pocket appear to be lined. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the apron, even though it took far longer than I expected, due to design issues, the holidays and my daughter landing in the hospital for several days. At any rate, the apron is on its way to it’s new owner, and I am on to the next project … more on that on Wednesday.

Another year, another attempt to organize

sewing

If you follow me on social media, you might know that I have a fairly consistent problem with organization. I mean, I can find things most of the time, but not always. I tend to lose my phone in the studio a LOT. It’s become so frequent, Chris bought me a Tile for Christmas so I can find my phone AND my keys! I am more organized in the studio than I am anywhere else in the house, and that includes my office. In fact, my office is so bad, you’d think a paper factory blew up in there and that all the papers started reproducing instantly. It’s really, really bad.

I mean, it’s mind-blowing how bad it is. And no, I won’t share photos because I’m far too embarrassed about it.

walmart

But I’ve realized that part of the reason why I keep having this problem is that I have all these revelations when I’m cleaning, but I promptly forget them as soon as I am “finished.” So, I’m writing this post while I clean and organize so that I can refer back to it when I need help (and hopefully, to keep me from needing help like this again).

  1. I wait until the paper piles on my desk are threatening to fall over and bury me in an avalanche of paper before I will address the issue of filing.
  2. I am really bad about accumulating a bunch of stuff without stopping to think where I might store said stuff.
  3. I don’t take advantage of offers for help. When someone says, “I’ll help you with that,” I either wait for them to tell me they’re ready to help, or I just don’t ask for assistance.
  4. Never start tearing a room down eight hours before you’re supposed to host dinner, even if the guests are your family. You’re never going to get it back in order in time for dinner that evening. Or the following evening, and maybe not the evening after that.
  5. Try to plan this type of project for a time when the weather is supposed to be good, or try to have another area largely cleaned out so you can just pack the room up and move everything out of it. This gives you a blank canvas with which to work, and it makes things SO much easier. If you don’t, you end up moving things in shifts – empty one bookcase on to the table and move it, then empty the next bookcase in to the one you just moved, and move it, and repeat. It’s like a bizarre game of leap frog, and really no one ends. You mostly just end up feeling like a frog that’s been run over.
  6. Organizing costs a LOT of money.

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I started writing this post more than a week ago, and I’m still not finished with the organization of the studio or the office, though I have made significant progress. The studio and office are now combined in to one space, and I am using what was once my office as a storage room. But life keeps getting in the way, and I haven’t been able to devote large chunks of time to this project. I am really hoping that I can, by the end of the coming week, be mostly done with the studio/office area. The storage room might take a little more time, if only because there are a LOT of things in there, and I need to find homes for them all. Right now, it’s usable space, and I can find things, but it’s not very organized. Also, we have plans to add some additional storage elsewhere in the house, but that will require a trip to Ikea, and we have not had the opportunity to do that just yet; I’m hoping that will be possible this week as well.

It is my fervent hope that my next post about this subject will be to share photos of how far I’ve come, and how much nicer the overall functionality of the space is, and I further hope that post happens before the end of the week. So keep your eye on the blog and watch for a wrap-up post about organizing the studio … it’s time to put this to bed!