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.

 

So long, 2016

It’s difficult to believe that we’re standing at the cusp of another new year. It seems like only last week that I was wondering what the new year would bring, and what I’d be doing after being laid off from the job I’d held for the previous six years. Little did I know, expect or imagine that I would be where I am today. While others may not agree with me, I think that this year has been an amazing journey and a lot of fun, and I’m glad I’ve been able to shift gears and find something new to do that I truly enjoy.

I’ve learned a lot about how to run a business, and what I’m good at (the creativity of coming up with new products) and what I need to work on (dealing with people who ask questions designed to either stump me, make me feel or look stupid, or people who have ideas about handmade soaps that are incorrect). I’m better at talking to people than I thought I was, but Chris excels at it. Both of us being somewhat anti-social, that was a big concern for me, but we’ve both handled it quite well, and Chris exceptionally well. But to be honest, that man can do ANYTHING he sets his mind to, so I shouldn’t be so surprised at how well he does with salesmanship. I’ve also learned that I cannot please everyone – a difficult concept for me when I first started out, but less difficult as time goes on.

“Do you have Sandalwood soap?” (“Not right now, but I am thinking of adding it because I get asked for it a lot.”)

“I bought this soap from  you last year, but you don’t seem to have it now.” (“It wasn’t me, but maybe we can find something else you like even better.”)

“Are all of your soaps vegan?” (“No, I like the fluffy lather I get from using lard, but let me show you which soaps are vegan.”)

“I’m looking for all natural soap; is your soap all natural?” (“There is no such thing as ‘all natural’ soap, but here are some that don’t have fragrance oils in them.”)

And so forth and so on.

The single biggest issue I’ve had is running out of stock and not having some of my most popular fragrances all the time. In our defense, I’ve made about 50 or so different soaps over the last nine months, and I didn’t know starting out what was going to be a big seller and what wouldn’t be. We took half of July and the whole month of August off from shows, and set about making soaps for the fall. We had NO idea that we’d run out of all of that soap in September! I mean, we just did not expect that sort of response. I’ve tried cutting back the number of soaps we have in our “core line up” but the reality is, every time I take a soap off the table, we either get requests for it, or our sales slip. We never do as well when we’re out of our best selling soap, Pride & Joy, for example, as when we have it. But we see almost an equal slip when we’re out of Born to be Wild and In the Air Tonight. I am currently working on building up stock for all of our soaps, and it’s going to take a while. The plan is to make four batches of each soap, and when we start selling the third batch, to make another two to four batches, depending on how quickly it seems to be selling. I also think that a big reason why we do so well at most shows is because we do offer a large variety of soaps, so we’ve decided to have at least 20 different types of “core” soap at each show, as well as a few seasonal soaps. Start looking for some Valentine’s fragrances coming in the next couple of weeks, along with some St. Patrick’s and Easter soaps to follow very shortly. I am also expanding our regular line of lotions and creams, and I will be making them in larger batches so they’re always available.

But what about the embroidery side of the business, you may be wondering.

Well, I’ve learned a lot there, too. I need to get more items done and photographed well to put them on the website. In addition, I will be adding some new things like place mat sets, table runners, small quilts and the like (it is, after all FABRIC arts). It will take time to get all this stuff done, but as it’s completed, I’ll take photos and post them on the website. And don’t forget – this side of the business is completely customizable, so you can contact me at any time to request something and I can make it for you.

I’m learning about website design. Earlier this month, I transferred my hosting from eHost to Shopify. There are a couple of reasons for this, but most importantly was that I wanted the shopping experience to be fun and pleasant for my customers. I’m still working on it – I have photos that need to be taken and I’m not completely thrilled with the way the site looks right now. But I’m no webmaster, so I’m having to learn a little at a time, while trying to run the business, and do the books for both my business and Chris’s business. I could work 20 hours a day and still not get everything done I need to do, but I’m trying. If you know anyone who can do a killer website who might want to barter for soap or custom embroidery, let me know. 😉

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has purchased soap and/or embroidery from me over the last nine months. To be perfectly honest, I’ve put a LOT of applications/resumes out there to go back to work, and no one is beating down my door to hire me. This business HAS to be successful, and 2017 is the year it needs to be successful. So every time someone buys something from me, and every time they come back, or they tell me just how much they love something I made, it is just the most incredible feeling in the world. I never want that to change, because I enjoy it so much. So, head on over to the website and make me feel good by placing an order. 😉 If you do, I’ll give you a 15% discount off your $20 order; just use coupon code EOY15 at the checkout. At $50, you get free shipping, too! This offer is only good until Saturday, January 7, 2017, so don’t wait. Order now and make sure you get the items you really want.

Our first show for 2017 will be the Second Saturday show at Parkgate Community Church in Pasadena, so make plans to stop by and pick up some fabulous handmade soap!

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2017 be everything you want it to be!

Water, water everywhere

Four years ago, Houston and most of Texas was caught in one of the worst droughts we’d ever seen. We prayed for rain, begged even. I swore that if it ever rained again, I wouldn’t complain because the lack of water was just staggering. I knew that once it started raining, it would be as if someone had turned on the spigot and forgot about it, and boy, was I right. Texas had so much rain in May that it would cover the entire island of Manhattan all the way to the top of the Empire State Building, four times over! Literally trillions of gallons of water has fallen on the Lone Star State since the first of May, and we have little hope it will stop any time soon. On June 2nd, Houston had already seen 80% of it’s normal rainfall for the entire month of June – that’s nearly eight inches of rain in less than 48 hours. I’m pretty sure that at this point, my feet are growing webs between the toes.

Sadly, all this rain has caused much chaos, loss of lives, and property damage. So, really, in the grand scheme of things, I have no right to complain or be upset, and there was that little thing I said during the drought. But just for the record, I was supposed to be at the Bellville Market Day today, peddling my soaps and other items; it was cancelled due to rain and flooding. I was very sad because I had really been looking forward to it, but I’ll be there in September (the next Market Day) with bells on, and hopefully no need for a life jacket.

During all this rain, though, I’ve been making progress on multiple fronts. My Star Wars quilt is coming right along – all the blocks are put together, and now it’s down to sewing the sashing between the blocks and making rows. I’m hoping to get a fair bit of that done today, because I’d really like to get this quilt finished up. Chris thinks I should try selling it once it’s done, but I haven’t decided about that yet. Maybe, but … I know he’d like to have it, too, so I’m on the fence about it.

Also, I’ve been prepping to make up a bunch of burp cloths to take to shows to sell. I did some looking around, and I found that a lot of people really like these, and they are fairly quick to make. I’m using flannel instead of cotton on mine, though, and I think they’ll turn out really well. I’ll post a photo when I have a few made up. Additionally, I’ve started doing some embroidery on towels to sell, and I may add other items to my line as I go. So, there are big things happening here.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little about my soaps, since that’s where most of my efforts are these days. I know that a lot of you are sewists/quilters, and I know that for me, at least, one of my biggest issues is dry skin. I hate using lotions when I’m sewing because I don’t want it to get all over my fabrics. That’s what makes me so happy about my soaps – I don’t have to use a lot of lotion to feel like my hands are moisturized. One client recently told me that she’s seen a lot of improvement in the skin condition on her hands, all because of my soaps. She was experiencing cracked, bleeding skin and within days of starting to use my soaps, it stopped. Another client posted this on her Facebook timeline:

So when I give Aubrey baths I would usually use Johnson Johnson bath time soap and I started noticing she would gets bumps on her skin so I switched to aveeno and that didn’t do anything different. I started using Old Fashion Soap Co.& her skin has been amazing! It’s so soft and no bumps. Definitely my favorite soap for sensitive skin.

If you have dry skin issues, or if you just want your skin to be in better condition (and with the summer sun and heat, who couldn’t use a little help with that?), please take a look at my website, Old Fashion Soap Co., and place an order today. You’ll be so glad you did!

Take the money & run

Yesterday was my last day in Corporate America, so “Take the Money & Run” by the Steve Miller Band was my theme song all day. Yep, I’m that kind of nerd, but I have come to accept and even embrace my nerdiness. LOL After going to the office one last time to turn in my computer, badge and assorted CorpAm paraphernalia, I went in search of the last bits of stuff I need to start the Amy Bradley Campers quilt.

Amy Bradley's brilliant quilt pattern, Campers!

Amy Bradley’s brilliant quilt pattern, Campers!

I am crazy about this pattern! I first saw it when I was shopping at my favorite LQS, Painted Pony & Quilts, a few months ago. They had to order the pattern, and I got it ages ago, but I didn’t have time to dig in to it. Now I have lots of time to devote to making it. It’s my first project post-CorpAm. 😉 And I have the PERFECT fabric for it …

Adorable Route 66 fabric by Robert Kaufman

Adorable Route 66 fabric by Robert Kaufman

I first fell in love with this fabric a few years ago when I visited another favored LQS, Sew Contempo. Sew Contempo became All Brands last year, and I think it’s better than ever, but I digress. I didn’t buy this fabric the first time I saw it, but it haunted me, and eventually I gave in and made a trip all the way back to the store (which is about 50-ish miles away) to pick up a couple yards. It has acted as my inspiration for the rest of the fabrics, and will serve as a larger than called for border in my final quilt. Speaking of the rest of the fabric, I am really excited about the colorway this quilt has taken on, and the cute fabrics I’ve found for the campers …

Route 66 Coordinates

Route 66 Coordinates

I think it’s going to be really cute. Now, the original pattern is like, child sized, or maybe wall sized?? Well, you know that’s not going to work for me, so I’m going to add at least one more column of campers, and some additional borders. While I certainly love Amy’s original pattern, I want something I can actually use as a throw. Oh, and did I mention that this will be my very first applique quilt ever?? Ambitious? Perhaps, but I think it will be totally worth it.

I have been toying with the idea of using my Brother CutNScan to cut the pieces for the campers, and I’m going to give it a shot tomorrow, because I don’t have a lightbox. I could order a lightbox, but it will be sometime next week before it gets here, at the earliest. I could build a lightbox, but after pricing the lights for the box, it would be cheaper to order one off Amazon. Trust me, I’ve looked every where I can think to buy one locally, except for the camera store, because I KNOW how much they’ll cost there. I never could afford a lightbox when photography was my main hobby! But the CutNScan has possibilities …

At any rate, words cannot begin to describe how excited I am about starting this project. I am really looking forward to putting together different fabrics to make the campers, and I’ve even toyed with the idea of mixing colors within in the blocks. *gasp* But seriously, how can you go wrong with a retro camper quilt?!?

I’ll keep ya updated on my progress; Lord knows I’ll have plenty of time to post now that I’m not working. 😉

WIP Wednesday

Wishes BOM blocks done!

Wishes BOM blocks done!

Finally, all of the blocks for the Wishes BOM quilt are done! It’s taken me more than a year to get them finished, but finished they are! This is the first sampler quilt I’ve made and I wasn’t really prepared for the amount of cutting, and odd sizes, and that alone took a lot more time than I was expecting it to take. But I will say that I learned a lot making these blocks – a lot about making sure cuts are accurate, about making sure piecing is precise (and that 1/4″ seams are uniform) and about color choices. I think the next time I decide to do a sampler quilt, I will use my Accuquilt Go! Baby to cut the pieces. I’m hoping to upgrade to the regular size Go! later this year, so then I can make bigger blocks, but for now, the smaller blocks would work just fine. At least my cuts would be accurate, for all that my sewing sometimes look like a drunken sailor has taken over my studio.

Now it’s time to sash the quilt. I’d like to say I have everything planned from here on out, but the reality is, I don’t. I am trying to decide whether or not I want to use grey, white or black Kona cotton for the sashing. Right now, I’m leaning toward black or grey. I wanted to like the white, and it was my original choice, but I felt that the blocks get lost in the sea of white when I tested it out. The yellow tends to wash out significantly, and it really pops with the black, but overall, I think I like the grey the best …

Once this top is completed, I think I’m going to work on making myself a blouse. I’ve been reading Nancy Zieman’s book Pattern Fitting With Confidence and I think it’s time I try using some of the things I’m learning. I want to make a button down blouse, so I’m considering using Butterick B5300  for my first attempt at fitting. It’s a semi-fitted shirt made from woven fabric, so it will lend itself well to making a muslin, I hope.

But my real goal for this year is to reduce the overall number of UFOs I have, not increase them, so I am headed out today to see if I can find an extension table for my Pfaff Creative 4.5. I am hopeful that the table will be usable with or without the legs – with the legs when I want to take it with me, without the legs when I want to use it in my Horn Quilter’s Dream sewing cabinet. This is how I used my Janome 8900 for almost two years, and it was the perfect set up. With luck, I will be able to do the same with the Pfaff.

So, what’s on your work table this week?

WIP Wednesday

My first WIP post for 2016 gives me the chance to report that I’ve been getting on with the sewing this week – a good start to my new year, I think. I am about to start my 11th block for the Wishes BOM from 2014, so I wanted to take a look at all the finished blocks together.

Month 10 completed

Month 10 completed

I like to take photos of my works in progress often, because a lot of times, I can spot things in a photo that I don’t see in person. This works really well for color selection in particular, but also block lay out and how things are coming together. Also, a photo is an invaluable tool when I’ve got the lay out set and then have to take the quilt off the wall to sew it together. Usually I do this one row at a time, but even then it can get really confusing if I don’t have something to use as a guide. I use both my camera on my phone (down & dirty shots) and my Canon 60D (when I’m a little more serious about better photos). Those lay out photos have saved me a lot of time and frustration over the years!

Anyway, I’ve not yet got these blocks in any particular order, because I don’t plan to follow the lay out of the original pattern. I was a part of the Facebook group for this BOM and I began to notice how many people were using the same fabrics as the original pattern, and how just about all of them followed the same lay out. I guess I’m a rebel, because following the sample to the letter just doesn’t really appeal to me. I prefer to choose my own fabrics and determine my own lay out, unless the lay out is integral to the design of the quilt, which is clearly not the case with a sampler such as this one.

Now I’m starting to think about the sashing between the blocks, and I don’t think I’m going to use white as originally planned. I think I might use grey or maybe even black. Right now, grey is the front runner but I’m holding off on a decision until all the blocks are finished.

So, what’s on your worktable on this first Wednesday of 2016?