Aw. What was it they said in Jurassic Park? "Life will find a way." Evidently it did. And speaking of Jurassic Park:
Kate thought he was the dragon.
P.S. Thank you for all the Scary Dragon/Cute Dragon comments to the previous post, friends. It was like, "Make Smaug!" "No, make Toothless!" I think I'll play fair and aim for Awesome. P.P.S. Once I stop procrastinating by making other non-draconic creatures, I mean.
Every summer, I sit at the pool with winter-amnesia and think, "Hey, this is exactly like Singapore but without the claustrophobic masses of people and the suffocating humidity!" and wonder how I could ever have had any emotion other than joy and peace and goodwill toward men, women, children and small animals.
Then January happens and . . . oh, yeah, I remember now.
Seasonal bipolar disorder, is what I call it.
The locals call it "Uffda, It's Above Zero Today, Let's Go Jogging Outdoors In Shorts."
And January turns into February.
And February stays forever.
look what the good ladies at Sew Mama Sew have got up their sleeves for the next six weeks to take us into spring (may she vanquish winter forever and ever, amen)!
Check out the guest list!
I will be there. With a soft toy.
Among some very serious soft toy engineers.
I do not consider myself a serious soft toy engineer.
I rather imagine myself a cardboard person who also sews bags and clothes because she can't find stuff in the stores to buy. And sometimes toys, because her children asked her nicely.
But, honest self-assessment aside, I am very honored and a bit frightened to be among such distinguished company.
So frightened, in fact, that I went off the deep end two weeks ago and started sewing so many soft toys that we might need a house extension unless I consider selling some off just to make room to move around.
But the children all said, "Yay! Another one! Please don't sell this one!" whenever they came home from school to find me wild-eyed and with bits of stuffing adhered to my clothes.
So, catastrophic sewing room notwithstanding, I know I'm on the right track, because my children have excellent track records in toy quality-control and market sampling.
And that is the end of my story.
Until March, when you can find me on SMS sharing a softie sloper/block (because I sew everything from slopers and blocks, so why should toys be any different?). In the meantime, enjoy the series, make some stuffed critters with the guests, donate a toy, win a Pfaff machine and chase away the winter blues.
Last week, I finished filing my state taxes and balancing my 2014 ikatbag accounts. A little bit of hair-tearing ensued, but all was well in the end. I think it's funny that I'm all Physics and Engineering and whatnot, and I'm still abysmal at number crunching. Death to the stereotype that Science people are also Math people! Bosh. This time of the year is also when I entertain thoughts of shutting down the business, I loathe record-keeping so much. I sit there with my calculator and spreadsheets and strong, strong tea and ask myself, "Why can't I just sell one thing? Like just pdf patterns? Or just etsy items? Or just get paid for publications? Why is it that I can creatively multitask and multi-media dabble, and multi-child co-craft but I can't for the life of me document these various arms of my business without getting them all mashed up together up in my head?" I think I need an administrative team, is why. Like a secretary to field all my email, and not just the ludicrous ones that beg for free tutorials and free dress patterns in their preferred size. And a legal advisor to sit me down and translate legalese into English and to draft all my formal letters and tell me all about copyright and why I should not accept this contract and that assignment. And a financial accountant to do, well, all those number things that give me rash just to think about. And an editor. And a chef to feed my children, and a driver to get me library books and interfacing and zippers and bring my children to gymnastics and swimming. And a cleaning crew so my house doesn't fall to ruin every time I have a deadline to meet. And that's just taking care of the basics. We haven't even considered the other people I'd like to employ to enrich my life, like a personal trainer, drum instructor, violin teacher, Spanish language coach, hairstylist that does house calls, aikido sensei . . . I'd probably also need a resident sorceror, to magically add hours to my day to squeeze everything and everybody in. So what were we talking about before I went off on my Rant of Discontentment? Running a business. Right.
So I have a craft business. Yes, I admit that publicly. I started officially sewing-to-sell about 6 years ago but it took me at least a couple of years after for that fact to sink in and for me to accept that I was, once again, working. That I was in employment. That I had income. That I was no longer a hobbyist only. That my work was public and priced and accountable to customers and the tax people. That there were expenses and profits and overhead to document. That there were legal things to know and financial things to do and marketing things to perform. That there were now different standards and expectations on my work. That I needed a different way to use my time than when I was just sewing to blow off steam after the latest naptime power struggle. Yet it seems like I am holding back. I have said no to endorsements and reviews and advertising. I have said no to projects and assignments and commissions. I have said no to collaborations. I have said no to publication. I have said no to commercial outsourcing. Some of those Nos have been actual words, turning away actual email, letters, suggestions from actual people. But some of those Nos have been only in my head as I close doors to possibilities and fantasies. I am not unhappy about my Nos. I think, were I at a different place in my life, I might have said Yeses. I would like to publish a book, design for a big corporation, launch a sewing movement, lead a team to teach in a third world country. And at the end of my life, I'd have been able to say, "Look what I did - single-handedly transformed the way America sews by bringing flat pattern drafting into every home seamstress's sewing room!" Oh, that would have been grand. Stark truth: I have only 24 hours in a day. And it takes quite a few of those hours to not only start a business but to maintain and grow it. So this is what my business looks like right now - it is more cottage industry than empire. My etsy store is only erratically stocked. I write patterns whenever. Occasionally I am in some magazine or book, and never as the author. Abby Glassenberg, toy and pattern designer and author of books like Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction and who blogs at While She Naps, recently emailed to pick my brain on the state of my sewing business. We talked about choices and motivations and considerations and other things that are behind why some people craft as a hobby rather than for profit, in spite of all that indicated they'd be roaring business successes if they so chose. Read her post here - I share some of that conversation, alongside others who have made similar decisions with their hobby/business. The irony is that turning one's hobby into a business (and I don't mean accepting adverts or sponsors on one's blog; I mean actually selling the physical work of one's hands) is an intensely personal decision for something so public. And I get the sense that many of us who similarly say no sometimes feel regret, as if they might be passing up something that they should be saying yes to.
Some of you might have read my earlier post about my first business - ikatbag is my second - when I was in college. I was young, energetic and enterprising. And on summer vacation. And single. And not a mother. Time was wide open and the road ahead unpaved. Oh, I had fun in those early years. I stopped because college ended and I began my 'real' career as a teacher. But I don't wonder what might have happened if I hadn't. There was no question at the time: sewing was always hobbyesque, and while my business was a wonderful and lucrative learning experience in marketing and production, it was simply a full-time job for three or four years, never a profession or career. Now, years later, I am at that same place, except with children and my own house to run (and meals to cook and laundry to do). More than physical responsibilities that splinter my time, I also have different roles to play to people who need me to be there for them: mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, occasional teacher-helper, crafting coach, party planner. I think that we need to develop thick skins as artists and know what motivates us as hobbyists and/or businesspeople. By that I mean that we should not be ashamed if our art is motivated by profit - we have bills to pay, after all, and it is a perfectly honorable way to earn an income. Nor should we be ashamed if our art is motivated by other things: expression, or pleasure, or prestige, or the esteem of our peers. That motivation will cause us to set our expectations and standards accordingly. When our work becomes public, we put pressure and expectations on ourselves to constantly improve our art and we feel obliged to keep abreast with what's trending, what's in demand, what people like. When we slap a dollar value on that same work and attach both our reputation and heart to it, it becomes even more so. And that in itself is not a bad thing, because it helps us do the best work we can and it shows respect for our craft and for the artistic community we are a part of. But it's a big enough investment of ourselves that we would be wise to know why we do it, so that we can be true to ourselves while doing it. For me, time and timing are a somewhat Big Deal. Because I don't have a lot of it right now, and not just for actual sewing. Let me clarify. I can mass-produce like a maniac because I've been doing it all my life. And I can do it with loud music blaring and while talking to my children and while Skyping Mum in Singapore and while alternating between stirring soup on the stove and watching TV. But creative designing - the truly artistic aspect of my work - I can only do in a vacuum without distractions, and without deadlines. Anyone who's had to incubate an idea will know this - you cannot produce it on demand, and there are no rules to tell you when you've Got It. You'll know it only when it happens - that moment when the various floaty, ethereal inspiration things in your brain coalesce and you just know: this is it. Yes. It can happen anywhere - in the shower, while bouncing sub-ideas off a friend, in the car in the pick-up line at your kid's school, as you watch your toddler play. But it very, very rarely happens when you will it to. It's a delicious thing to do this on your own time - sometimes I sit on an idea for years before it is fully cooked and pops out of the mental oven, so to speak. And even then, those years are never dormant - other, earlier inspirations are concurrently percolating, so that at any given time, any number of developing ideas can hatch and demand to be put on the production line to be turned into fabric, cardboard, wood, words. That is my mind on creative mode: unorganized, unsystematic, non-linear and unconstrained, completely opposite to what it has to be when I am mass-producing or accomplishing chores or checking off to-do lists involving homework and meals. It's different for everyone but my own rule-of-thumb business guiding principle is this: when the Time I need for creative incubation intersects serendipitous Timing, I say Yes. And I slot the comparatively mindless mass-producing in the gaps. And I don't worry about what a full-fledged business is supposed to look like, or other people's definitions of ambition or enterprise or balance. Because some months my craft looks like a hobby. Other months it looks like work. And still other months, it just looks like taxes. Over to you: is your hobby your business? Or not?
The Blog Around the World Hop is making a stop at ikatbag today!
The hop is a virtual chain of self-featuring blog posts. Someone invites you, you talk about yourself and your creative process, and then you invite a few friends to carry it forward and the process continues. Anyone who reads these posts learn about you, the person who'd asked you, and the people you linked to - the end result is everyone getting to know many, many more creative people as they jump from link to link.
I was invited by Melissa Mora from Melly Sews and at the end of this post, I'll invite you to visit a couple of my bloggy friends so you can read more about who they are and what they do.
What am I working on?
There's always something. Right now it's baby bibs for a new baby in the extended family. Last week it was a sweater dress. This past week, it was another sweater dress, while trying to will myself to cut out and sew a faux leather jacket (already bought the lining and zipper, so not allowed to back out). I have a tutorial series partly in my head and partly sketched out in my notebook and fabric from a friend's new line that I'd promised to promote by having it guest star in that tutorial series. I also want to sew pants - I have an old trouser block from 2011? 2012? that I muslin-ed and forgot about that will be a nice starting point. I am also writing (fiction) again, which I haven't done in years, and which is a delightful change of scenery from sewing. I wish I could say that I also have grand cardboard plans at the moment, but I don't. Alas. All I can say is that our treadmill died last week and our new treadmill arrived yesterday in a gloriously delectable cardboard box. And the children have staked their claim on it, so perhaps there will be some cardboarding happening soon.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Erm. How about "I procrastinate on a smaller project by starting and finishing even larger projects"? Like the time I procrastinated on sewing a dress for a wedding by writing an entire tutorial series. Or the other time when I procrastinated on finishing a bag pattern by writing, finishing and releasing an unplanned second pattern?
I think everyone's work is different. That said, I feel most different when I sew clothes because I don't use commercial patterns and instead sew out of my head, from body measurements. It was how I was taught, growing up, and I never knew anyone sewed any other way until I came to the US.
Why do I create/sew/cardboard?
Mostly to exorcise the ideas in my head that arise from watching my kids at play. They play a lot, and they're hilarious to spy and eavesdrop on. Many of the toys I've made for them are to fill gaps and needs in their play scenarios. For example, the Chicken and Pig were created at a time when my kids were into playing farm and lacked actual domestic livestock playthings. And cardboard is a supreme medium that allows me to not only make for my kids, but with them. We have had no end of fun (and mess) cardboarding together.
How does my creating process work?
This is a long story, so I'll give you the flowchart versions: TOYS:
Watch children play
Suddenly have an Idea
Abandon all other responsibilities (sleeping, cooking, interacting with society at large, other projects-in-progress) and brood over Idea
Brood some more and wait for body to feel physically ready to transfer Idea from brain to fabric/cardboard/wood
Look at children/self and suddenly realize old clothes no longer fit because children have grown older/taller and/or self has grown positively or negatively in various dimensions
Go shopping for clothes
Get on Pinterest
Assimilate ideas and consolidate emergency outfit in head
Go shopping for specific fabric in exact shade of non-negotiable color
Make other projects, including toys (see above), bags (see below) and entire tutorial series(es) and launch new sewing patterns
Accept random and unexpected alterations requests from husband and children, causing self to
Recoil in disgust and suddenly feel motivated to return to garment idea
Miraculously draft pattern overnight
Dig in stash for alternative fabric that should have been used all along because it was perfectly viable but to which I was completely blind
Go swimming as reward because cutting was such an ordeal in itself
(Months later) make.
See bag in store*
*or catalog/online/in own brain
It's clear, isn't it, which kind of projects are my favorites and which kind are not?
For a less flippant account of my creative process, see this post on Whipup and this interview on Apartment Therapy. Now, meet my friends Amber and Karin, two ladies who are well-traveled, smart and talented multi-media artists inspiring in their execution and thorough in their creative process. And they both love cardboard! Amber Dohrenwend is an American living in Tokyo, Japan. She started blogging about her adventures making toys and furniture out of cardboard after she and her husband made a set of cardboard chairs and a table for their 1 year old daughter. Living in a dense urban environment without a car, she wanted to share her ideas for using cardboard to make life in the city easier, less wasteful and more fun. Read more about her love of play, design and creative living at www.thecardboardcollective.com
because it's a cold and snowy week and I tried an outdoor photoshoot with Emily behind the lens and I'm freezing and half asleep and slouchy in most of them. But wanted to include this shot anyway you could see the real shade of blue of the fabric.
Which isn't even the real color; this is closer to it:
So this sweater dress. When I wear it for real (i.e. out of the house), I'll add leggings but I couldn't be bothered for this photoshoot. Bad attitude, I know. Blame winter.
Okay, the deconstruction.
Raglan sleeves and a self-bound (i.e. with the same fabric, not faced) neckline that ties
or hangs open.
The dress is just a fitted thing with a slight Aline bottom half.
Because the fabric is see-through, it has a full length jersey slip, which you can see pictures of in the previous post.
The slip has darts, but this outer dress has no darts at all, just seam shaping.
The sleeves I especially like. They're three-quarter length and the cuffs are random selvedge bits that I sewed on just so they didn't end in a folded hem.
Here I am experimenting with belts, just because I think this dress is super versatile (and also because what else is there to do in the winter)said that already, sorry. This is not my favorite belt.
I like this belt a lot more, but it still needs to be a tad wider.
More daft effects (winter, apathetic boredom, etc.)