I know you don’t want to hear this but I’m going to tell you anyway. I’ll say it quickly. It’s only199daysuntilChristmas. So for me this means keeping one eye on day-to-day orders and the other on, yes, Christmas stock; and its fair to say that already I’m ‘robined out’. Stitching robins and holly berries whilst the sun is baking hot outside, well, it’s just not right. Yesterday I jumped ship and took a half hour breather through my garden, up the banking and to the railway embankment. Here’s a quick tour for you.
Mr Dear Emma smiles as he roots around in my carrier bag of findings. Yes, to some they may look like weeds but for those of us who like a good poke about in the undergrowth with a stick, a trample through boggy fields or lay in hiding for hours at the prospect of even a glimpse of some wildlife, these “weeds” mark the start of a pretty special time of year.
I live in a station house on the edge of a disused railway line. Aside from the “train enthusiasts” (we have steam trains that pass through), clutching their huge booms and fancy cameras that descend on us twice a week, the disused part of the railway line is uninteresting to most but to me and a handful of others, its a bit of a secret paradise.
Cabin fever was setting in so I took myself off for a breath of fresh air and a poke about. I was only away for 15 minutes or so but it was enough time to blow away the cobwebs.
Wild strawberry plants line the gravel track that runs parallel to the line. Nestled amongst an abandoned Royal Mail carriage grow primrose, cowslip and broom.
Above – Broom and Germander Speedwell
In total (and to my untrained eye) I counted eight varieties of wild fruit or flowers which included Germander Speedwell, Common Broom, Scotch Broom, Meadow Buttercup, Purple Tufted Vetch, Wild Strawberry, Bluebell and Forget-me-not.
So, Mr Dear Emma, not bad for a bag of weeds.
Every now and again we should jump outside our comfort zone and do something that makes us just a little bit scared, to remind us we are still alive, and to see just what else we can do. We can get so used to what we know, and who we are, that we don’t think we can surprise ourselves anymore. Early this year I was invited to deliver a weekend of classes by Sally from Needle & Thread workshops. “Me?” I thought, “You’ve got to be joking! I can’t teach!” I’ve been asked many times if I can teach but I’ve always shied away from it believing that to be an inspiring teacher I needed a special skill. However this time, the request coming on the back of another leap of faith – the Country Living Christmas Fair – I was on a high, confident. Yes, I’ll do it and anyway it was 6 months away – I’d have worked out how I’d do it by then…
I wanted to show just how bloomin’ well inspiring a well oiled sewing machine can actually be. So I spent the week leading up to the workshop weekend retracing my sewing journey looking to understand what really excites me about what I do. Sometimes we forget what took us in a particular direction in the first place; what thrills us and makes us come back for more time and time again. The introspection helped and eventually I was prepped, I was perky, I was ready… I was still scared as Hell!
Sally’s Needle and Thread venue, in Eagle’s Hall, Lincoln, is a very rural and beautiful location indeed. On arrival Sally had already prepared the top of the range Brother sewing machines, one for each attendee, remaining on hand to sort out any which may have misbehaved. Whilst I generally panicked and fretted, my roadies fanned and piled my fabric, artistically arranging my workspace.
At this point I was so nervous I could barely recall my own name, let alone explain how to ‘raise a feed dog’. However, once the attendees began to arrive, I realised they weren’t the Sewing Police here to arrest me for breaching the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, they were instead my own kin and all was well!
We immersed ourselves in vintage bark cloth, fat quarters, fine linens and lots of other fabricy loveliness, spending an uninterrupted 6 hours working hard on our own creations.
I was so impressed with the speed at which the ladies worked.This type of project would normally take 2-3 days
There were no kids or partners demanding our attention, just lots of tea, cake and delicious food to help relax us and stimulate our creative juices.
It was a special weekend and I loved it probably a little too much and yes, I really did surprise myself. Here are just a few of the dozens of photos Sally & I took of the gorgeous work produced once I had shared the Dear Emma love. The standard of work on both days was incredible even though most ladies had never tried this technique before.
Below – Just a few of the completed pieces.
In hindsight, I can’t believe I doubted my ability to share my passion for what I do to enthuse and inspire others. I loved sharing, so much so that, yes, I’m going back for more.
Next date for my freehand machine embroidery and applique workshop with the weekend of the 27th & 28th September 2014. Go to www.needleandthreadworkshops.com to book.
Above – Sally & I Above – Amazing work from Day 2
Special thanks to my roadies who came to help spread the Dear Emma love
Working alone for most of the day can be great for production. 9.15 in the workshop and I’m fully prepped (night before), fingers at the ready and the machines are co-operating and I press ‘play’ on the DVD. I work fast. I’m completely absorbed in what I’m doing and it’s only my growling stomach that reminds me that I need a break. These golden bubbles of time are very satisfying and here is an example of what this time looks like.
I’ve made these brooches for sometime and reserched their shape from pictures and drawings, never having actually studied them in real life. However, a trip this year to France offered me a great opportunity to watch and photograph them.
Still and quiet. A magical moment for me.
This particular one was happy to be photgraphed and here he is.
Above. This shot was pure fluke. No idea how I took this.
Dragonfly brooches are fiddly and time consuming to make and require a lot of stitch work on their wings. However, this effort is well worth it.
Here are a few photos of the process (in a nut shell)
a. The template is designed and the various components i.e. wings & body cut of of fabric.
b. These are then bonded to a stiffened cotton and the stitch work begins using freehand machine embroidery, various cottons and a lot of patience (a full dictionary of swear words is also essential). This is the most time consuming stage and one where if I’m not fully focused can end badly, often involving my fore finger and a fast moving needle! (Blood isn’t an attractive colour on a dragonfly wing).
c. Sequins stitched on and ready to be cut out.
d. Once cut out they are then bonded to felt and left overnight to dry.Brooch bars are then stitched on and finally into their boxes and sent on their way.
On a good day I can make 20 brooches but after that I’m desperate to get out of the workshop for a change of scene and a smell of fresh air.
It’s easy to see why dragonflies are a bit special and despite the brooches being a chore to make, the end result is worth it.
Sometimes I struggle to say goodbye.
It’s early. Very early. Too early even for the birds. From some far off distant slumberland I can feel tiny fingers gently lifting my firmly shut eyelid.
“Mummy? Who would win in a fight? A killer whale or a great white shark..?”
My brain doesn’t compute. It can barely understand the question, never mind answer it.
“Cos… I think it would be the shark because, did you know, that a shark’s teeth point backwards so that there is absolutely, definitely, no way at all, that…..”
I reach for the alarm clock and hold it to my forced-open eye. 05.23. I groan and try and pretend that my 7 year old is actually still fast asleep. Who am I kidding? I know he wants his question answering so I sneak a peek from under the warmth of the duvet to see a wide eyed, blonde haired boy kneeling beside me, grinning and ready to argue with my response.
“Well…” I say… and so my day begins.
Like most parents, my days are filled with very important questions that absolutely need answering, such as the shark and whale fight club debate.
But there are other questions I get asked with answers that come more readily to me. Recently I’ve been asked a lot about how to make a success of the Maker’s Market and Craft Fair circuit and, providing I don’t get asked before 7am, I can usually present an answer which should prove helpful.
It’s true to say that I have had my fair share of disastrous events where I’ve not sold a sausage, but then I have also experienced the nirvana which all us makers dream of. It’s not an urban myth, providing all the variables are spot on, you can sell lots and lots! So for those of you who are thinking about revealing your soul on a 6ft x 4ft table, here are a few of my answers for you to peruse.
Q: How do I know that my work is good enough?
A: Don’t ask your friends
You have to make your work your absolute best – none of this “it’ll do” attitude. The customer will notice and so will you when it’s laid out on your stall. Your work has to make you feel proud and confident so don’t ask your friends for their opinion – they will always be kind and won’t necessarily tell you the truth. I’m not suggesting that you approach complete strangers in the street to conduct Apprentice style market research, but think about asking people who you know would give you truthful answers and ask the type of person your product is aimed at.
Q: How do I know what to charge?
A: Don’t listen to old people
Let me tell you a true story. After hours spent snipping tiny pieces of vintage fabric and arranging teeny toadstools all in a row my toadstool glasses cases were the bee’s knees and looked oh so cute on my stall. People admired them, had a squeeze but gently placed them back. That’s OK I thought, at least they smiled… Along came a sweet looking elderly lady who picked one up and squinted to see the price. Then she threw it back on stall as if she’d discovered a dead mouse in it and firmly informed me she could make one for £2.00 and that I should be ashamed of myself for charging £8.50. I was offended to say the least and was ready to run home crying into my skirt. But as I’m a thirtysomething professional, and didn’t want to smear mascara down my face, I grew a thick skin instead.
Pricing is a tricky one but it’s important to get it right for everybody’s sake. If something seems too cheap it undervalues your work but, on the other hand, you don’t want to bring it home. Work out how much it cost you to make in time and materials then work out how much it is worth. Do some research into the cost of similar products, think about who you will sell to and where. You may have spent hours lovingly hand stitching each piece but some customers don’t really care about that, they will buy it if they love it not because of the time you spent making it. Be honest with yourself but remember – you’re not a charity.
Q: Where can I go to sell my work?
A: Where you would go to buy it?
I’ve spent many hours staring into my tea as coach loads of customers walk straight past
my stall and then spend £2 on a factory produced candle. Location is high on the list of ‘get it rights’ so it’s important you know your market. This will save you money (stall price/travel expenses/time) and face. It can be soul destroying when you sell diddley-squat, sick of smiling at customers, you’ll just want to go home.
Visit as many local events as you can to see what else is being sold there. Talk to the stall holders, find out stall price, if there’s commission, what the average footfall is and what the marketing strategy is. You need to be confident the event organiser is working for their money. Designer/Maker events usually have an eclectic range of exhibiters and having your work vetted before they accept you is a good sign as it means quality is important reflecting on the standard and the variation of work they are looking for.
Q: How can I catch the customer’s eye?
A: It’s more than showing a bit of leg!
You’re accepted, the date is set and you’re working like a demon to get your pieces finished but you need to think about your stall. Don’t think of a flat 6 x4 ft trestle table but think of your own little shop. Consider what your products say about you as an artist, what is the common thread running through your work and could this be a theme for your stall? You need to catch the customer’s eye and draw them in, then you need to keep them there. All this without looking desperate! While visiting other events jot down a few notes on your favourite stalls then practice at home, think about colours that enhance your work. Often a simple and clean approach is best and whilst props are good too be prepared for punters to ask how much they are! It can take me the best part of 2 hours to stop faffing with my stall and even then I am constantly tweaking it throughout the day. It’s exhausting but fun!
I’ve learnt by trial and error and you may well too before you find your groove but remember even if you have followed all of the above, sometimes customer’s purses stay firmly shut! But don’t be disheartened. Chin up and at least you can spend your time contemplating the bigger questions of life like what does the moon taste of or how do wind turbines make electricity mummy?
This gallery contains 12 photos.
Are you like me? Do you look forward to autumn when it’s getting dark outside and people haven’t got round to closing their curtains? Their rooms lit up like exhibitions begging to be looked at. I can’t help myself. I … Continue reading
“But I don’t have the time!” I yelled.
“So you need to make time!”
We were arguing…sorry…sensibly debating, why I didn’t have time to blog.
Arhh! I hate that saying, ‘make time’ What does that mean? How do I make time?
I can make decent lemon curd sandwiches when the kids can’t decide what they want for breakfast. I can even, sometimes, stretch to making pancakes if I am in a good mood and am up at 6am. And sometimes, sometimes, I can even make the beds before leaving for school.
Mr Dear Emma and I often fantasize about what we could get done if we didn’t have to sleep. We would pad about the house to soft music and low lights doing all the things we never get round to doing. Him making more homemade wine, writing all those stories he has, reading all those books he’s amassed. Me making a freezer full of healthy meals, so I would never be stuck at dinner times, and ridding the lawn of dandelions. Together ticking things off the to-do list, Freeing up space on Sky+, replacing that broken banister spindle, watching those DVD box sets still in the cellophane, completing tax returns, shopping around for cheaper house insurance.
I hear Margaret Thatcher could survive on less than 3 hours sleep a night. Some might say that, judging by the job she did, she really should have had more – but I bet she had really cheap house insurance.
Anyway, this is me blogging the only way I know how. Squeezed in between school runs, cutting out, sewing, cursing when the needle jams, 3 day event-ing – not the horse variety, but the Designer/Makers fairs, invoicing, posting, emailing…..blah blah…Oh, and making quick after school teas from the contents of our fridge. Thank God for quick cook pasta and pesto!
Dear Emma’s blog won’t be about me. Who on earth wants to know about me? It’ll be about having an idea and making it happen, about an inspiration and making it real, step by step, mistake by mistake, skirt tucked in knickers, witchy-warts and all. It could be ugly, but then, surely there’s beauty in that too?
So here is me making time to sit down and write a bit of blog. Yes, there’s toys on the stairs, ironing in the basket and the milk still on the step. We slept in as usual but hey, I’m not paid to run the country.
I’m going to start blogging, Watch out!