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Archive for April, 2012

Luftmensch

Not too long ago, Mike and I discovered a fantastic word — luftmensch. Literally translated, it means “air person”. And in a more practical sense, it refers to a creative person who has no practical business sense.

I was reminded of this word recently, when dealing with a particular vendor. This is somebody who had, two years ago, made me a garment which I LOVE, and which I get compliments on all the time. I had written to them to custom order a new one — different fabrics, same exact style. And they replied that, in fact, they’d never been able to get that style to work, and really, I’d be happier if I ordered something else. I replied that they had already made me one, and it worked fantastically. I even sent them pictures of me wearing it, so they could see how well it worked. And — despite having already made it (and one would assume still having the pattern lying about somewhere) they flat-out refused to make me another. They even had the gall to tell me that I’d “just have to buy something else”.

The whole thing was very frustrating, and struck me as incredibly poor business sense — if it works, and if you’ve already figured it out, and if the customer is happy and is handing you their credit card, why on earth would you turn them away? In the end, I did not “just have to buy something else” — I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t about to compromise my vision. Instead I just made myself something not identical, but very similar to what I would have ordered from them. All this vendor accomplished was to lose a sale — and, frankly, any future sales. The whole thing left such a bad taste in my mouth that I have no plans to ever buy from them again.

It made me think, though, about my own business — a luftmensch is something I never want to be. I won’t say I never turn down commissions, but when I do, it’s for incredibly well thought-out reasons. For instance, I once had somebody ask me about making a Superman outfit. I started doing the research into design and materials, and eventually realized that it was unfeasible — it was fabric I was unaccustomed to, a design like nothing I had done before, and with the amount of time I’d have to spend to get it right, it would have cost him far more than it was realistically worth. In this instance, I recommended the customer look into the cosplay community, where I was sure there’d be somebody who already makes superhero costumes who could help him out a lot more affordably than I could.

It also made me think about other people I know who, while great creatively, maybe aren’t so hot at the practical side of running a business. People who use social media not just poorly, but in ways that are actively annoying, thus having the opposite effect than they intend.  Or who start a business mere weeks before a show, and then have to scramble to actually get all the things they need to run it, begging and borrowing from other people. People who don’t verify the rules of a venue before a show opens, throwing vendors and performers into turmoil when they arrive.

So, look. I don’t want to be those people. So if you ever see me acting like a luftmensch, just let me know, okay?

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Creative Collaboration

Art cannot exist in a vacuum. We are all influenced by artists who have come before us, and by the world around us. My Etsy store alone is filled with influences from a variety of pop culture sources.

But sometimes, we are more than just influenced — sometimes, we collaborate, and accomplish something even more brilliant than anything we could have done alone.

A while ago, I digitized a couple of pieces of Gallifreyan to use in embroidery. I sell quite a few patches of the Time Lord Seal, and both patches and messenger bags with the Doctor’s name on them. My friend Ashley lives down south of the Mason-Dixon, and runs a shop called Corsair’s Boutique.  It’s an interesting thing — our shops are similar enough that we can chat new ideas, vent frustrations, or gush over embroidery designs, and yet just dissimilar enough that we don’t worry about stepping on each other’s toes. We also have a healthy dose of respect for each other, and on the occasions when we DO find ourselves inspired by each other, we always ask first.

Photo by Michael Stepien

Or else…we collaborate.

Ashley makes a garment she designed called Cincher Skirts. She IMd me, and said she’d had this great vision of putting my Gallifreyan embroidery on one of them, and from there the ball got rolling.  We plotted together the length of the skirt, and where the embroidery would go, eventually deciding on a hem trim effect that blended the two designs together.  That it would be done on a TARDIS-blue fabric was never in doubt by either of us.

I sent Ashley the embroidery files, formatted for her machine type and hoop size, and in exchange she promised me the prototype skirt.

Photo by Michael Stepien

 

 

While the skirt was being made, we even brainstormed outfits for it.  We both had the idea of doing a cropped jacket, since you wouldn’t want to lose the cincher part of the skirt, and I realized that my Jasmine Jackets would be a great match.  It gives the outfit a little bit of a steampunk feel, which is also a great alternative way to wear jackets that I had previously only envisioned for belly dancers.

She sewed like a madwoman, fitting bits in between filling orders for her customers and working at her day job, and got it to me JUST in time for the Great Model Shoot. So, I put together an outfit, and screwed up the courage to go and pretend to be a model. (Which, by the way, is WAY harder than you’d think! I just don’t have the instincts of how to move and stand to make fabulous pictures the way some of these folks do.)

The end result is a full-on creative collaboration. A skirt made of elements both Ashley and I created (though the skirt ITSELF is all her), an outfit we brainstormed together featuring both of our products, and photos taken in a studio by professional photographers.

This is the way creativity should be.

Photo by Yvon N'Chonon

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A year or two ago, I read an article by a freelance journalist that talked about the pros and cons of working the way he did — being his own boss, working gig to gig.  To be honest, I don’t remember most of the article, but I do remember that he said that if you make your living in this way, you’ll become a workaholic. That any moment not spent working means your not making money which means your’e wasting time.

And I scoffed. Not me! When Storied Threads became self-sufficient, I planned to set a schedule and stick to it, and work a regular work day. I mean, why wouldn’t that work?

Storied Threads is still not how I pay my bills. It’s getting there, and I can see it growing every year, but for now, I still have a day job with a steady paycheck, vacation time, and insurance.  I work in the studio every night when I get home from work, and I work full days up there on Saturdays and Sundays.  A few weeks ago, I took a vacation week, and spent the whole thing in the studio, and it was AMAZING. The one exception to all of this is Friday nights, because that’s Date Night, and I will not sacrifice my one night a week with Mike.

But that’s all okay. It’s still not a full time job, so I have to give it time when I can. And I still know how to relax, right? I mean, there’s Date Night.

But I’m starting to wonder.  When season two of “Walking Dead” started up, we made plans with friends of ours, who lack cable TV, to come over once a week and we’d all watch the most recent episode together.  But…that meant a second night of the week that I wasn’t in the studio, and every week, I felt guilty.  I’d make sure Idris was working, running patches while I sat downstairs and listened with one ear to the TV, and to the other to her noises through the ceiling, so I could go upstairs if a thread broke or she ran out of bobbin thread. And once, I didn’t even do that — I just went upstairs and worked while my friends hung out, and later let Mike give me a re-cap of the episode I’d missed.

Right now, I’m sick.  I’ve been sick since Friday, actually. I came home from work early and slept all afternoon. Saturday, I told Mike I’d take it easy while he was at rehearsal, and I kind of did. I ran patches, and maybe did a little work upstairs, but mostly laid on the sofa downstairs while I listened to Idris running. And by Saturday night, I felt much better. Hooray!

Sunday, all ambitious, I went upstairs in the morning and did proper work. I cut patch blanks, I pre-shrunk fabric for a commission, I prepped a dozen or so packages for shipping, I made a bag that had been ordered off of Etsy. I was a dynamo until about 10:00 in the morning. And then the energy crash hit, and I was out. I laid on the sofa and cuddled my dog and when I heard Idris stop, I pried myself off the couch and trudged upstairs to see what was up and started her running again. That lasted until 2:00, when I knew I couldn’t keep going up and down stairs, shut off the embroidery machine, and went to sleep on the sofa. And stayed there until Mike got home from rehearsal at 5:00.

So, now it’s Monday. Clearly, pushing myself to get work done yesterday didn’t do me any good, I have relapsed, and I’ve called in sick to work. I’ve promised myself that I’ll stay out of the studio — no matter how many patches get ordered, no matter how hard I’ll have to work the rest of the week and next weekend to catch up, I will stay downstairs, I will loaf under blankets and snuggled by however many pets want to snuggle me, and I will get well.

My view as I write this. How can I NOT get better surrounded by this much cuddling?

But it’s HARD. I’m home! Shouldn’t I be taking advantage of this time to get work done in the studio? Make up for time I lost yesterday? As it is, here I am, writing a blog post instead of sleeping. Thinking about doing website updates, as long as I’m here. At least I can do that without ever leaving the sofa.

But I can’t just stop. I can’t just lay here and let my mind rot in front of the TV and my body fully rest.

But I swear — I’m not a workaholic.

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