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Archive for March, 2013

It was bound to happen eventually: I had a slow sales month. 

When I made Storied Threads my full-time job, I knew that in order to make it financially viable I’d have to make a certain daily average in sales, and until March I’ve not just met that goal, I’ve exceeded it significantly.

So I can’t complain, and as I said, it wasn’t realistic to believe that every single month for the rest of my life was going to see brisk activity and I wouldn’t have a dip here and there, but I nevertheless looked at my so-so Etsy sales with some concern. What if all those other months were flukes and this is what I had to look forward to? I wondered, fearing for my financial well-being.

It was tough to accept that there were some things I simply could not influence, like the overall economy and people’s spending habits, but that’s the reality of it.

Rather than worry about things I couldn’t control, I decided to try and channel my anxiety productively and find some way to reverse the trend (although, admittedly, one month is not really a trend), and that leads to my announcement of the week: Storied Threads is now on Tumblr.

This was, in hindsight, a no-brainer decision — a customer once referred to my tent at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire as “the Tumblr tent” — but it took me a while to pull the trigger and actually set up a Tumblr account. I already have a website, an Etsy shop, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, so the thought of managing yet another social networking site was a little intimidating.

One of the things that finally sold me on it was this article on Mashable about the pros and cons of promoting a small business via Tumblr, and this one particular fact sealed the deal:

“Here’s the breakdown of who is using the blogging platform, according to Mark Coatney from Tumblr: In the U.S. the audience tends to be younger — 56% of the service’s 25.2 million monthly visitors are under 34, and users skew slightly more male (52%). If that sounds like your average customer, you may want to give it a go.”

How much more perfect could it be for me?

My Tumblr account is new and growing slowly, but I’m hoping it will attract new customers, and next time I’ll be worrying about keeping up with the demand. That’s the kind of stress I like.

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When you’ve been doing something for a couple of years, and making money at it to boot, it can be easy to get cocky, and think you know all the tricks of the trade. So when I had the idea to start offering embroidered ties at cons, I thought it would be a piece of cake — open up the back of the tie, spray-glue it to a piece of stabilizer, hoop it up, and embroider. Voila! Cool, geeky tie.

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My second attempt at tie embroidery.

My first attempt, though, was not so pretty. There was a bunch of looping thread on top of the design, and while I managed to salvage it with a lot of Fray Check and some careful thread trimming, I knew I had to do something different. So, I changed what kind of stabilizer I was using, and I tried basting the tie down instead of gluing it. The result, if anything, was worse than my first.

So, I put the project on hold, and hit the internet to find out what I was doing wrong.  Happily, one of my favorite embroidery sites, Embroidery Library, had a tutorial up on this exact topic, and I read it through. And then read it again. And then printed it out and brought it up to the studio, and read it some more before attempting any more ties.

 

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Final Seal of Rassilon tie embroidery.

I followed their advice to the letter. Glued the inner layers together, to keep them from shifting around during stitching.  Pinned the outer layers to the inner. Marked my center using their methods, and simply glued the tie to my previously-hooped stabilizer, instead of hooping the tie itself. (Which, honestly, would NEVER have occurred to me!) And the result? About five million times nicer. There’s no looping on top of the stitching, and the result is clean and lovely, and a product I’ll be proud to offer to my customers.

 

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Yeah. I’ve got nobody to blame for this one but myself.

I should mention, too, that this wasn’t the only lesson learned in the process of embroidering all these ties. There was also the lesson I seem to re-learn once every six months or so which is Don’t Rush.  You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles. Or, in this case, messed up ties that can’t be saved and instead have to be cut off the hoop because you managed to accidentally stitch three layers of tie together. I spent about 10 minutes futilely trying to pull the stitching out and salvage the tie, but it was a lost cause. There was swearing involved. Lots of swearing…

In the end, though, all of the lessons learned were worth it. I have a lovely bunch of geeky ties to sell at ConnectiCon this summer, and on Etsy once I properly photograph them for listings. And I learned more about my craft, and that is always a good thing.

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Kaylee and Idris, working hard last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, I had a great day of all embroidery in the studio.  I got tons of patches made, embroidered 5 bags so they’d be ready to assemble, and generally got a lot done. I quit for the day with grand Thursday plans — make the five bags, go to the fabric store for some supplies I need, and be ready the next day to make a few things I need to have done for my sister’s wedding next week.

That night, in the middle of my Downton Abbey marathon, I thought, “Huh, my throat is feeling a little scratchy.” And hour later, I was trying to cough my lungs out of my chest, and it was clear I was getting sick.

Four months ago, getting sick would have meant calling my boss, telling her I was sick, and taking one of my many, many accumulated sick days. It would suck, but I’d still get paid, and no harm done.

Now? Now I’m self-employed. There’s no such thing as a paid sick day anymore.  And yet, by Thursday, it was clear I wasn’t going to do anything productive. Not for days.  I was running a fever, my sinuses were so filled that my whole face hurt, and on Sunday I even made Mike live in the dark with me when I was awake, because the lights hurt my eyes.

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Mike’s vest for the wedding, being modeled by Torso Johnson.

And all the while, the orders kept coming in. Which is good, really. I mean, I need people to order things if I’m going to make this work. (And I AM going to make this work.) But with every order, my stress levels rose. How would I fill them on time? Would I get caught up before leaving for the wedding? There’s nobody but me to do this stuff, and I was flat out.

By Monday, with three pages of un-filled patch orders in front of me (not to mention the bag orders that had come in as well), I knew one thing I had to do. Every time I make a patch for an order, I run a second at the same time, and it goes into stock for whatever show I’ve got coming up next — in this case the Connecticut Renaissance Faire this May.  So on Monday, feeling a bit better, I brought down my bins of patches, sat under a blanket at the coffee table, and started filling orders out of stock.

It’s never a thing I like to do.  Obviously, I need a full booth at the show if I’m going to do well. But making decisions like that is one way that I can catch up when I need to, and try to buy back a little bit of lost time from things like illness.

Now it’s Wednesday, and I’m back up in the studio. The bags I embroidered a week ago still aren’t made, but I’ve only got 6 days left now before I leave for the wedding, so I’ve had to re-prioritize.  That stuff will get done first, and when it is, I’ll make as many bags as I possibly can before I leave for Virginia for five days.

And when I get back? I’ll probably start pulling patches from stock, to get caught up all over again.

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