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Hanging out with Beatrix.
Photo by Lauren Dubois.

Beatrix, our beloved bulldog and Storied Threads’ official mascot, turns eight years old today!

When we were getting ready to buy our house, my husband said he wanted to get a dog. He hadn’t had one since college and really missed being a dog owner. I wasn’t as keen on the idea at first, and I was definitely hesitant to get a big dog like Mike wanted, and then he suggested a middle ground in getting an English bulldog. Again, I wasn’t entirely on-board with it because — and I joke about this now — I thought bulldogs were kind of ugly.

But the more research I did into the breed and the more I learned about their temperament, the more I warmed up to the proposal — and the more I changed my opinion about their looks. I can’t believe I ever thought they were ugly dogs. I think my Beatrix is the most beautiful dog in the world, and I can’t imagine life without her.

We love our girl so much, we’ve used her as a model on a couple of pieces of merchandise, including a Bulldog Lover Geek Merit Badge and a laptop bag.

And guess what? She’ll be with me Saturday when I visit the Connecticut Renaissance Faire! I’ll be there working in the guest author area near The Shady Emporium, so come by and wish Beatrix a happy birthday!

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MistyStreamRB1I’m still finding my new stride, and creating new embroidery designs has suffered as a result. But once in a while, something catches my eye, and I take a photograph I feel is worthy of putting up for sale at Redbubble! Today’s new photograph is one I took on my morning walk, of the early mist rising up off of a stream as it ran through the trees. You can find it on clothing, mugs, notebooks, and more in my Redbubble shop.

Click here to shop the new design!

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TomServoIt’s been a while since I’ve done any serious sewing or costume designing. So when my husband, Mike, came to me recently with an idea for his outfit for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, it seemed like a great way to get back into things.

We’re both fans of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and even recently got to see the live “Watch out for Snakes” tour they did. And yet, when he said, “I want to do a Renaissance Tom Servo!” I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how that would work at first. Servo is a robot made out of toy parts, a gumball dispenser, and with a hoverskirt in place of legs. How on earth were we going to make that into  an Elizabethan outfit for him to wear while on stage?

TomServoSketchStep one, therefore, was for him to draw me a sketch outlining his idea. And step two, once I knew what his vision was, was to go find some fabric. Once his idea was down on paper, I could see exactly how it would work – the wide epaulettes and puffy pants would actually work perfectly for creating a Servo-esque silhouette in Elizabethan clothes.

Fabric shopping was the next step, and we found some great materials – but my favorite was a shiny gray fabric with wide stripes on it that would work perfectly to evoke Servo’s arms made of Slinkys.

TomServoDoubletWrapSo, I wrapped Mike up in duct tape, like you do, and drew on him all the lines of the pattern I wanted to create for the doublet body. I sketched in where the double row of buttons would go, to mimic Servo’s engine block front, and then OH SO CAREFULLY cut him out of the cast I’d made.

The duct tape got cut out in pieces, and I carefully traced it into a pattern from which I would make the perfect doublet.

At least, that was the theory.

In practice, despite making a muslin mock-up first and doing a fitting and everything, I still managed to get it not quite right.

TomServoDoublet1It’s hard to see in this picture, but the pieces didn’t line up QUITE right in front. Instead of the front edges lying parallel to each other, they overlapped perfectly at the top – and that overlap gradually narrowed as it reached his waist.  Which meant that I could easily place my double row of buttons at the top, but at the bottom, the fabric didn’t line up properly, and my fastenings wouldn’t work.

All the best laid plans (and patterns) of mice and men, yadda yadda yadda.  I spent a little bit of time being annoyed at myself, wondering how I’d managed to get it wrong, and then it was back to work.

TomServoDoublet2Mike and I together did some serious brainstorming about how to fix it, and decided to essentially add a stomacher over the entire front which would be buttoned down over the opening.

I added some hidden snaps that would function as the actual closure, holding it all shut under the stomacher, and the buttons over the top.

And in the end – it actually came out to be a serendipitous accident. The rectangle of extra fabric down the front ended up looking even more like Servo’s engine block than the buttons alone would have. It wasn’t how we’d planned the doublet at the beginning, but the accident improved the design.

And here it is! The final outfit. Complete with white puffy pants with black inset panels and bands to mimic Servo’s hoverskirt, a red flat cap for the top of his gumball dispenser head. I’m really happy with the end result. And, even more importantly, so is Mike.

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If you’ve been following me on Facebook this week, you’ll notice I’ve been a bit more active than I have in a while. My goal is to make that the beginning of a new trend for us, but first let me backtrack a little.

As you might know, we stopped doing conventions and renaissance faires last year and went to an online-only business model. The shows were becoming too much work for too little income, due in large part to the glut of pop culture cons in the New England market, and we knew that by dropping the shows we’d have to reorganize our household as well as our business. I went back to having a day job earlier this year and my husband followed suit over the summer — a necessary step to make ends meet.

The unforeseen consequences of this move is that we’ve lost a few steps in two important areas: creating new designs and keeping up our online presence.

This entire year has proven a challenge in trying to find Storied Threads’ “new normal” and we’re still figuring that out, and will be for a while yet, but I want to ensure my awesome customers that the business is alive and well and simply in a transition period. Don’t worry; we’re not going anywhere!

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Artwork is Work

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen quite a few posts popping up on my personal Facebook page feed touching on the topic of paying a fair price for artwork — and I use “artwork” in the broadest sense to include drawing and painting, photography, writing, and what I’ll call fabric art (costuming and clothes making, embroidery, etc.).

The problem of artists being asked to provide their products and services for free has long been an issue, but a related issue — the one I saw being addressed on Facebook — is establishing what it really costs for artwork. Back when I was doing clothing as part of the business, I noticed that more and more often, someone would look at one of my pieces and then check out the price tag, at which point their smile of admiration would turn into a skeptical frown and they’d say, “Ooh, that’s expensive.”

I’d usually let the comment pass and resign myself to the fact this person wasn’t going to buy the piece, but inside I was always thinking, “No, it’s priced exactly how it should be priced.”

But even that wasn’t quite true; my pieces were priced lower than they should have been. Nearly all clothing costs less than it should, and that was part of the problem: the average person has gotten spoiled by getting their daily clothing for cheap, so unless they’re looking to buy a “designer” piece — the kind of clothing that rationalizes its exorbitant cost by slapping a big-name label on it — they’re going to get sticker shock over anything that’s handmade by a single person.

This excellent article breaks down the cost of making clothing by hand, and why you’re probably still underpaying for handmade clothing, and it made me think about the breakdown of doing business for me. I don’t get the sticker shock reaction as often, but it does happen on occasion when someone comes to me looking for custom patch work.

(I’m not going to go quite as in-depth on the math as the linked article, so don’t worry; there will be no math.)

The first step in the custom patch process is digitizing an image, which I do by loading a JPEG into my embroidery program and converting the design by hand. Yes, by hand. Mine is not the kind of program that magically transforms an image into an embroidery file (and if any such program exists, I’m unaware of it).

I charge a flat fee of $20. If you poke around on Etsy you can find people offering the same services for as little as $5, so it could be argued that I am overcharging. I instead argue that anyone digitizing images for $5 is grossly undercharging for their services. I did some research and found professional embroidery shops that charge a digitizing fee based on how many stitches the design comes out to.

One shop I found charged a sliding scale fee per 1,000 stitches; the more stitches involved in the design, the lower per-thousand-stitches fee the customer paid, but that could still add up. Their minimum fee was $24 for a 3,000 stitch design — four dollars more than what I charge for any design, regardless of size.

To help put this in a little context, I took a look at the Knope/Wyatt campaign pin-style patch that’s running on my machine as I write this. That design, which is fully embroidered, is a little over 12,000 stitches. At market value, the cost for simply digitizing that design would be $115 — $95 more than I would charge.

Most of the custom requests I get are for fairly simple designs that take me about two hours to digitize. At the federal minimum wage, I should make $14.50 for that work — but as we can glean from the information I’ve already provided, digitizing embroidery designs is not a minimum wage job; it’s skilled labor, as my clothing-making contemporary noted, and the going rate for skilled labor is more along the lines of $25 an hour. Ergo, a two-hour digitizing job should cost the customer $50, not $20.

Bear in mind, this is a very streamlined example of a custom commission. Often a customer wants some adjustments made to the design, which means I have to go back in and play with it — sometimes extensively — so that’s more labor hours covered by the $20 fee. The customer continues to get a bargain.

That, however, is not the end of the labor component, which is factored into the cost of the patch itself. Making a patch involves prep work — hand-cutting blanks and stabilizer, ironing the stabilizer to the fabric, loading the machine’s embroidery hoop with stabilizer, and threading the machine — and then running the patch itself, which very rarely goes smoothly. Thread runs out mid-project and has to be replaced. The machines have to be periodically cleaned out and oiled. It is not a set-it-and-forget-it process.

And then there are the unexpected issues that pop up. Even the cleanest designs can “hiccup” on the machine, and in a best case scenario, I simply re-thread a needle and push a button and everything is fine from there on out. In a worst case scenario, I have to perform minor surgery on the machine to clear a thread tangle, and then clean up the botched stitching on the patch so I can try again — and that doesn’t always work, which means I have to scrap that patch and start over, and that means I’ve just lost even more time.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that I have to pay retail, or close to, for all my materials. Getting a line on wholesalers is tough for a very small business (believe me, I’ve tried), so I have to rely on sales and coupons to keep down costs, for myself and, by extension, for my customers.

Could I lower my prices more? Sure — if I didn’t want to actually make money on my business.

Yes, what I do is my art, but it’s also my business. It’s part of how I make a living. A lot of people make their living off their art, and they too often undervalue their art, so please think twice before complaining that someone is overcharging for their hand-crafted wares.

No, it’s isn’t expensive. It’s priced exactly how it should be priced.

Except that it isn’t.

Artwork is work. Always pay artists what they are worth.

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RIP Adam West

We were saddened to hear of Adam West’s passing over the weekend, so we’d like to simply thank him for entertaining us as Batman, the Gray Ghost, Mayor Adam West, and yes, Captain Tom Churchman in “Zombie Nightmare” (MST3K version, of course), and for giving us one of the greatest lines in cinematic history, as immortalized in this (retired) patch design of ours…

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