Hop up, jump in...

My daughter LOVES Handy Manny (warning, there's an audio clip that starts when you click on the link). She will dance to the theme song, she recognizes the voices of the characters and gets really upset when I change the channel on her in the middle of an episode. I've tried to find Handy Manny toys for her age - she's almost 17 months - but haven't had any luck. Can't even find a t-shirt for her.

She's a very hands-on kid - she likes to examine things and try to take them apart. She also likes to do things that we do... quite typical for a toddler, I imagine. She's seen us use tools around the house and I don't know if she connects the tools to Handy Manny or not, but she likes to be right there beside us when we have to use any of our tools.

Yesterday, she was using one of her toys as a hammer. It wasn't a small toy or a soft one, it was a fairly large, heavy plastic toy that could do some pretty serious damage if she connected with the window properly. I decided then and there that I was going to make her some tools of her own.

Sure, we could have gone and picked up the plastic tool set from the store today, but that would defeat the purpose... we don't want her trying to hammer the windows or hitting herself in the head.  We also don't want to be stepping on more of her toys and yelping in pain while she's sleeping (we have a lot of plastic building bricks... a lot). So I decided to make her a soft tool set out of scraps of fabric and felt I had.
We have a massive roll of newsprint, thanks to Keith's job at the local daily (if you want some of this paper, check at your local paper... some places sell them for $10, but you can get a heck of a lot of paper for that), that we've been chipping away at for Maddy's colouring experiments, and it also makes for terrific pattern paper. I drew rough sketches of the tools I wanted to make - a saw, hammer, screwdriver, wrench and pliers - with chalk and cut them out. I didn't follow the lines to perfection, but added anywhere between 1/4-1/2" extra for a seam allowance.
I picked out the materials I was going to use on each tool and cut them out. The felt I used isn't the best quality, but it's decent, and paired with a strong thread, it shouldn't tear easily. Keep in mind, these are toys for a toddler; I'm pretty sure I'll be remaking at least one of these toys by summer. For the rest of the material, I had scraps of mostly 100% cotton to use, with the exception of the tartan, which is a poly/cotton blend.
I decided that rather than sew up the pieces with the right sides together and then turn them out and fill the with the fiberfill, I was going to just to a top-stitch. Sure, it's not as clean looking, but for simplicity, nothing can beat it. The biggest downside to that plan is that if you have an older machine, like I do, threads can go wonky and look really, really bad. But, these are toys for a toddler, presumably your own; if they object to playing with toys with a few flaws... well, I'm not one to judge, but Maddy didn't care. Neither did I. If I were to make these to sell to the general public, though, I'd be much more careful, and likely use my mom's much newer machine.
So I filled all the pieces with plain fiberfill - nothing fancy, nothing special. I have 2 bags of this stuff and even with this project, it doesn't look like I'll ever be getting rid of it. I don't use any special tools to tuck the fill into corners or tight spots, either... just a knitting needle and my fingers. I don't see the need to buy fancy tools for things you can either find in your home already... I was pushing out corners in my wallets and purses for the longest time using the handles of our butter knives. Perfect 90˚ angle, so why not?
I managed to get all the tools put together without doing any hand stitching, except the hammer - I had to do a quick whip stitch to attach the head to the handle. While they aren't the most sturdy tools, they are fairly firm - the firmness of any filled item will depend on how much fill you put into it. And the strength of your fabric and thread, too... you can't expect something like lightweight cotton to hold a lot of fill, nor can you expect a lightweight thread to hold material together to keep all that fill inside. I used medium to heavyweight cottons for the most part, with the exception - as I mentioned before - of the poly/cotton tartan. I am not going to lie and say there were no problems with the tartan... that handle of the screwdriver was by far the most difficult thing to sew and keep together once I filled it (the thread count is very low so there's no dense tension that helps keep things in place). I also used upholstery thread (347, to be exact) as my thread... as a nylon thread, it is more durable and has more strength. I also ran out of thread and didn't get to do the nails and screws I had wanted to do as well.

I like the tools I made. There are definite improvements I would have to make before I would even think of selling these to the public, but it took me just over 2 hours from drawing to giving them to Maddy to complete this project. Compared to my other work, 2 hours is nothing; it takes me 4-5 hours to make a purse and 2-3 hours to make a wallet. I'm going to show my work to my mom (my best sewing-educated judge) and see what she thinks. Maybe, just maybe, I'll have sets of these on my table at one of the craft shows this fall.

Next up for non-Etsy projects is sewing up the summer tops and dresses for Maddy. I'm hoping to get started on them next week and I will definitely post photos and give updates as to how the process is going. These will be the first pieces of clothing I've sewn from scratch in 20 years, so it should be interesting. Terrifying, but interesting.


Stepping back

I've had a sketch for this wallet in my notebook for a while now. In my head, it seemed really simple - a classy exterior panel, and three interior pocketed panels - two for cards, one for change/receipts/cash. I actually made a pattern for this project and measured everything really, really, REALLY carefully, taking seam allowances into consideration - for a change. I cut my chosen material, pinned it all, and ironed it to the specifications I needed. I put different weights of interfacing inside for stability (but not weight) and sat down to put it together.

If you look really closely at the centre panel - the gorgeous floral print on the cream field - you can see where I've had to rip out stitches. Twice. You'll also notice the botton is larger than the top - they're 2 different pieces because I apparently measured incorrectly, not taking a seam allowance into consideration for that piece. Don't get me started on how badly I cut the exterior panel...

I've put this project aside for now, for fears of destroying it completely. I like the concept and I know I can finish it, but just not now. Instead, I'm going to go back to what I know - small pouches and card wallets, with a few shoulder bags thrown in.

I'd love to expand my repertoire but time isn't allowing it. I'm working on retooling my banners/avatars/backgrounds for everything, again... no one has told me that they need to be, but I'm a graphic designer. I need to design something besides wallets. I've got a couple of ideas I want to get working on, but there's a pile of material that's constantly calling my name to get sewn up, too.


For the time being, I'll stick with what I've been doing. As I mentioned before, I'm planning on incorporating embroidery into more of my work - something that should make what I do more unique and put it into it's own niche, because according to some, that's what you need to sell anything on Etsy. Mostly, I like to do it and think it looks cute. If people like it, great; I know some people won't, but they probably weren't going to buy anything in the first place.

But that's a post for another day.



I made that list on Monday.

It's Friday.

I've done exactly one thing on that list - a new Etsy banner. And even that I haven't actually finished completely.

It hasn't been a busy week, it's been a badly organized week. Every day I've tried to get things done, but it's been really nice out (23-28C) and Maddy looooves being in the yard, so we've been spending a lot of time outside. When we're not outside, we're playing inside. I could spend less time playing with her, but she's developing some bad sleep habits so we've been trying to wear her out before bed.

Most of that list is marketing-related, something I need to get working on much more. But I also need to make more product to market, so that's what I'm spending today doing.



A stitch in time...

I've been trying to figure out ways to incorporate embroidery into my work, and beyond this piece, I haven't had much solid success. In my pile of work that I've messed up (aka 'stuff that I'll eventually give to Maddy to play with'), I've got a few pieces that I tried to include some embroidered elements. It took a while for me to realize that although I knew I had the skills (self-taught, too... which surprises me more than you'd expect), I had no idea how to use them... PROPERLY.

I tend to rush my work. This isn't a shock to anyone who knows me - I'm that type of worker who will charge ahead, full speed, to get my work done as fast as possible so I can spend more time slacking off. Years of being a designer/editor and having to make small, stupid change after small, stupid change should have taught me that slowing down and checking things over before I think I'm done would be beneficial, but no.

So my need to slack - apparently, still - has firmly embedded itself into my new work life. Only in the last couple of weeks have I started to consciously take my time and make sure each step is complete before I move onto the next. Slowing down and being patient with my work has had one massive positive result: ZIPPERS. I like working with zippers so much (so far) that everything I've made in the last 2 weeks has a zipper. Now that I've conquered the zipper challenge, I'm totally ready to start working embroidery back into my pieces.

Such as the piece in the photo at the top of this post. Eventually - possibly Thursday - this will become the outer shell of a wallet I'm going to sell. I don't have any other embroidered pieces ready to go, but I'm purposely waiting until I've finished this wallet to see how using something like this works.

I like embroidery. I find it soothing. Maddy does not and makes it really difficult to do any work during the day, but I'm determined to get her to accept that this is what I'm going to do while she's playing. And because I do all my work freehand, there's no pressure of having to follow lines or a pattern... I do 'draw' an outline in chalk, but more often than not, I'll use it only as a general guide so I don't end up losing track of the space I can use.

I'm also working on a butterfly for Maddy's room. It's not perfectly symmetrical, but I think it'll be cute. I've been trying to work with Maddy in choosing the colours that will be worked into the piece, and when it's done, I'll frame it and hang it up. If all goes well, maybe it's another potentially sell-able product. Or maybe it'll just be one of those things I do for friends and family only.

Things are starting to pick up with my shop and my work... I'm trying new things, searching for new ways to promote what I do, and it looks like I'm getting more first-time viewers into my shop. No sales yet (!!!!!!), but they'll come. I figure if I keep working on what I'm doing and improving the product, it's only a matter of time until I get my first sale, and then my second and then it's an avalanche I can't keep up with. Yep, that's exactly how it's going to be... when it finally happens :)


Adding pieces to the puzzle

We live in a small house - maybe 700 sq ft - so finding space to do anything is a problem. It's even more of a problem when you need a large flat surface to cut material on. I could use the kitchen table, but it's usually occupied with my sewing machine, piles of cut material for projects, and whatever else we can squeeze on there. I was working on getting a bunch of material cut last week for future pieces and had to resort to using the top of our dryer in the laundry room (which is bigger than our bathroom and just a smidge smaller than Maddy's room) to cut. Not particularly easy when there's a rack full of not-quite-dry clothes to the immediate right, piles of neatly folded material on the washing machine on the left, and plastic storage tubs right behind. Small houses, while cozy and cheap, suck.

I was telling my mom about the issues I was having cutting material and she offered to get me a cutting board. I already had a self-healing cutting board that I thought I'd never use (it's turned into one of those things I can't imagine being without), but it's fairly small and virtually useless for the larger pieces of material I need to cut for the bags I've started making.

So on Saturday, my mom bought me a 36"x60" cutting board (not that brand, though... we got a Unique one). She had one when I was growing up that she stored in the kitchen with her sewing machine, and used it a lot because there were no self-healing cutting boards back then. Over time, it got lost or wrecked so she couldn't pass it on to me, so I got a brand new one.

(An aside - H.A. Kidd and Company is my favourite notions/supplies company... and not just because they're Canadian, but because they make damn good products.)

Another wonderful addition to my sewing life has been this:
A tackle box.

I had thought about getting a tool box to help keep all the bits and bobs I have in order, but none of the ones at the store seemed to fit my needs. And they were more expensive than the tackle box I did end up getting, which is also made of recycled plastic, so two birds, one stone and all that. I'm still working on a way to keep all the zippers in order (a safety pin through them all didn't work) but I like how everything has a place and I can see what I have without having to dig everything else out to find it.

I've got a pile of pieces I need to finish up before I can list them, but I'm aiming to have at least one piece in my shop every day. Whether or not that actually happens is another question, but it's nice to have something to aim for.


Finding the path

See that pouch there? The one with the super-soft faux suede exterior and cute tartan interior? The one that should be appearing in my shop later this week?

It's part of the creative epiphany I had yesterday. It's also the first thing I've ever put a zipper into, but that's not important right now (well, it is, but it isn't).

Yesterday was Star Wars Day, and as a fairly big Star Wars fan (eps. 4-6 more than 1-3), I decided to make Yoda's 'Do or do not. There is no try.' line from Empire Strikes Back my personal mantra. (If someone feels really generous *ahem, Denise*, I'd love this shirt for my birthday :).) No more piles of things I'm going to try or waste time thinking about trying; I waste enough time as it is, I need to spend what useful time I do have being productive.

And then Etsy sent out their latest Success email - making mistakes is okay, learning from them is even better - something I've needed to hear from someone besides Keith (who's encouragement I always appreciate, no matter what) and my family. I have a massive pile of mistakes I've made, but I can probably look at every piece and find something that I can take from each one and use it in the future. Kind of ties into the whole Yoda, thing, too... in a slightly indirect way.

And I finally found some patterns and designs that are just for me. I think the biggest problem I've had up until now with most of my work is that I've been trying to outdo myself at every turn. My skill level isn't much above intermediate beginner, but I was setting myself up for a guaranteed fail on almost everything I was working on by choosing designs that were geared towards experienced seamstress/seamsters. So now I've finally found things that don't frighten me by point two of the instructions and I think I can actually produce some pretty damn decent pieces at a quicker rate than I was before.

I was working on a new purse design for almost a week before I had my epiphany... I had spent four or five hours trying to figure out how to put a decorative band around the top of the bag. FOUR OR FIVE HOURS... that's just ridiculous by anyone's standards. So I've set it aside and I will return to it, just not any time soon. And that's perfectly fine with me.

Now that I've turned that corner, I can start looking at other parts of my business and figure out how to straighten them out. Like the complete lack of organization that just seems to run rampant throughout my life... I keep meaning to do something about it, but haven't found the time (or desire) to do so. With what I'm hoping will be more useful time available to me, there should be no excuse. Or, one hopes.

A week ago, I was ready to throw in the towel, I'm feeling good about where this is headed now. The only thing that can hold me back is me. Funny that it took this long to figure that out, but at least I realized it before I did just stop and turn my back on it completely.