Sunday, 15 December 2013

Starting a crafty business - what are you trying to do?

What are you trying to do, for goodness sake? 
What are you trying to do - it won't work, whatever it is ... 
What are you trying to do, woman?  

And so on ...

If you're thinking of turning your hobby into a business, the moment you mention it you'll be asked this question, with variations in exactly where the emphasis lies, by everybody who thinks they are anybody in your life, and by plenty of people who are nobody in your life.

However, this question is most usefully asked by yourself, to yourself - and answered by yourself. 

Ok, what you want to do is to start a business from the craft or creative hobby that is your passion. 

We know that already! 

But what sort of business and what is your eventual aim? 

Are you trying to be able to give up a boring, ill-paid job and, instead, do what you love, all day long? 

Are you trying to make your fortune in a year's time with the simply BRILLIANT whatsits you craft? 

Are you trying to make a bit of extra money doing what you love in your spare time? 

Or are you trying simply to subsidise your hobby? 

Perhaps you want to try to use the creative hobby you love to raise the profile of a cause about which you are passionate?

There are many, many legitimate reasons to want to turn your crafty hobby into a business - few, if any, are bad reasons (unless your hobby is making nuclear weapons and the reason for turning it into a business is try to rule the world ...) although some are less likely to be successful than others. 

You really do need to decide what YOU are trying to do, before you dive in. 

Now, I can't and won't give any advice on your brilliant whatsits and your intention to make a fortune in a year's time, except you must go elsewhere for this sort of business advice - have you tried Dragon's Den?

If you want to pack in a boring but secure job, and try to replace a steady income with the proceeds of your own creative efforts, the best and only advice I will offer here is to carefully consider your circumstances. If you and/or your family rely on your income to pay the costs of food, housing and utilities, you must make sure that you have a sound financial plan in place to take care of these essentials before telling your boss what to do with your job.

You can start this planning by looking at where and how you can cut your outgoings, and how you could supplement your income if necessary. And it probably will be necessary; typically it can take four or more years after startup to replace a previous mid-range salary. Most new businesses don't even last that long!

So what's left? 

Part-time/spare time, of course, is far less risky  - and who knows how far, and to where, it might  lead you? 

Wait a minute, I hear you saying. I want to be a business person, not a glorified hobbyist!

My answer to that is that you are no longer a hobbyist if you treat your hobby like a real business - and you can start doing that right now, while still only crafting in the odd free minutes you can grab while baby's sleeping, or the day in lieu you take for working the bank holidays, or the half-hour break from exam revision. And if you are unemployed and hoping against hope that you might just be able to make it in the self-employed world by developing a creative hobby, you can most certainly treat your hobby like a business, right now, without compromising your benefits and as a bonus learn useful skills.

Just read tomorrow's post to find out more!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Why bother trying to help ...

... if offering an honest opinion when it has been asked for is considered hurtful and upsetting?

On a forum I've been frequenting for the past couple of years, new members thinking about, or in the process of,  turning their crafty hobby into a small business often post asking for advice and opinions. 

Being in the fortunate situation of having run a successful part-time specialist sewing business for the past several years, and having run a very successful part-time home baking business while living overseas some 25 years ago, I think I have some experience to share, and I try to help others when I can.

I also enjoy learning about the trials and tribulations of other crafters in other areas of the country. Sharing experiences of UK craft markets and customers in these difficult economic times is really helpful, too. Most of the writing on these subjects come from the USA, and although always interesting, is of doubtful relevance here in the UK.

However, I won't beat around the bush if someone asks for opinions on an idea. I will give my honest opinion, neither dressed up not toned down, and will not mince my words if I think an idea is ill-advised or ill-considered. 

I also refuse to call a spade an implement for  manual garden-soil disturbance, and cannot abide posters who make suggestions that one need  not 'bother' complying with business and taxation law. It seems to be a fairly common 'folk' belief that there's no need to register with HMRC or even abide by the recommendations of Trading Standards or Environmental Health, if one's business is 'small enough' - although no-one is ever able to define how small is 'small enough'...

However, it seems that this particular forum is losing its way and becoming nothing more than a cliquey bunch of histrionic people who claim 'hurt' and 'upset' if any member expresses disagreement with their own pet opinions, even when other opinions on a matter have been specifically requested!

Sadly, several experienced and successful  craft-business owners are being and recently have been treated like rude and naughty children for doing nothing more than offering their honest opinions when these are requested, and for issuing warnings against what they consider may be a dodgy business practice or an overly-risky decision.

So I'm on the lookout for another creative/small business forum with an active UK membership - somewhere with a more down-to-earth ethos, with less diddums diddums soppiness about it.

A pity, as I'll miss some of the members.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to post a series of 'advice' posts which will pull no punches and which will be full of MY unvarnished opinions and of what does and doesn't work for ME. 

Starting tomorrow, with 'Starting a crafty business - what are you trying to do?'

Monday, 4 November 2013

Christmas rush!

I am busy busy busy and my internet is intermittent after the recent windy weather. Well, it's more intermittent than usual!

As usual, I'm very happy that I haven't put my business on-line at all, given the vagaries of rural broadband. When my current contract expires, I'll be moving onto Boundless Communications, which is a specialist rural provider and provides fast broadband through a microwave network. When that happens, I might think again about going on-line with my business (or part of it at least) - we will see.

To be frank, I don't actually need to go searching for more customers - they seem to find me - but it would be nice to have a website just containing photos of my work, to which I could point prospective customers who are 'just enquiring'.

Ah well, I suppose it's better to be a little too busy than scraping about for work! 

Back to the sewing machine now after that short break!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Let's give credit where credit is due

This is a post I never thought I would write.

In praise of Primark!

Picture of a Primark shop window and name above the window
A rare thing, sadly - a discounter with a social conscience
Primark clothing is cheap, no doubt about it. Monetarily, for us in the West, that is.

It's not so cheap for those who lost their lives, their limbs or their loved ones in the Rana Plaza disaster back in April this year. See my post here. (warning - scrolling down that post, there is a graphic photo which may be upsetting. Wait - which ought to be upsetting).

However, although often reviled for all sorts of things - sometimes with justification, sometimes without - Primark has, unlike almost all the other companies involved which used the Rana Plaza factory sewing facilities, stepped up to the mark in this desperately sad situation, not only expressing its frustration at how long it is taking to agree on compensation for the Rana Plaza, but in the meantime arranging 'emergency' payments equivalent to normal salary (vanishingly little in the budgets of multinational brands) for the affected workers and their families.

Having paid all those affected - not just those on its own production line - their wage for the first three months following the disaster, when no agreement was forthcoming by other brands, they paid another three months. I suppose they anticipated the September meeting in Geneva, under the aegis of the International Labour Organisation, might lead to some agreement or resolution about compensation from the other brands using the factory.

Sadly this was not to be, and most of the brands did not even bother to attend the meeting. Disgraceful!

Thus the parent company of Primark, Associated British Foods, has quietly and unilaterally,decided to continue with these payments for yet another three months. 

Their corporate governance section, and the head of it, Paul Lister, are to be commended on this action.

Of course it is too little too late, of course a miserable £30 a month isn't going to bring back anyone's loved ones, and of course it's nothing more than closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but heck, the other brands - Walmart/Asda and Benneton among them - don't even know the stable has got a door, still less that it was left open and that the horse bolted after having a good sh!t inside it.  

The stable needs mucking out and they don't want to get their hands dirty doing it! Oh no, that would mean admitting some degree of responsibility towards the people who enable them to make simply HUGE profits.

I never thought I'd say it, but tomorrow I'm going to buy some clothes from Primark. Just socks, so I'm not exactly the last of the big spenders, but I'd rather let a company that admits its responsibility openly, and shows contrition in a useful way, have my money than one which doesn't.

This BBC piece is interesting. 

I don't usually hold much truck with high-up company execs, and too often corporate governance largely consists of producing glossy brochures extolling company actions  and 'achievements' which are no more than minimum legal requirements (ask me how I know - I had a long affair with somebody very high-up in that line of 'work'). 

Paul Lister, though, does appear to have a genuine concern for the victims, together with an understandable - though carefully-expressed - annoyance with other brands which are clearly reneging on their moral, if not legal, responsibility. His and his company's attitude is refreshingly responsible in the mucky morass of buck-passing that marks this disaster.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A bit of advice from an old hand

... on the purchasing of fabric. 

Buying online is not easy when it comes to fabric, but often there seems to be no other option.

Imagine having to buy your vegetables from an on-line retailer who can't tell you - and doesn't care! - if what you are buying is a carrot or a parsnip, or whether the potatoes you've ordered are Maris Pipers or Jersey Royals. 
Abakhan fabric shop in Manchester city centre
This is a rare beast - a city-centre fabric shop!

As for whether the plums have got mouldy spots on them, well, if the seller doesn't know if he's selling big fat Italian plums which never seem to ripen, or squishy English Victorias - just that they're plums, and have stones in the middle - why would you even expect them to care?

That's the equivalent of what many sewers and crafters throughout the country encounter whenever they buy fabric. 

Although I chuckle to myself when browsing fabric websites and see statements such as '100% polyester silk' and 'pure linen cotton' (yes, I have seen both of those within the past few months!), it really isn't funny and could be considered fraudulent at worst, misleading at best. It is certainly 'sharp practice'.

There are all sorts of problems with the online purchase of fabric, even from the very best of shops.

Accurate colour-matching is well-nigh impossible, and until 'telefeel' is developed, no estimate can be made of the hand, weight or drape of fabric. How opaque is this fabric? Will it need lining? What shade lining will enhance the pattern colours? Will that fabric crease too much, or will the other fabric hold a crease at all? 

None of these questions can be answered with any real degree of accuracy by even the best web-site.

Some of the better suppliers make valiant attempts to address these problems, with mixed degrees of success. I especially enjoy the sometimes tongue-in-cheek descriptions on Croft Mill's website, which is written by enthusiastic experts. Their website has a useful glossary, too. 

Samples help, of course, but are often too small to give a real indication of drape and hand, and if the pattern of the fabric is large, may not even give a good rendering of the colour. Sending for samples merely adds to the delay, uncertainty and expense inherent in any sort of remote purchasing.

This is a fabric shop - unless you already knew 
it was there, would you know what it was?
A large number of old-established, reliable fabric retailers shut up shop in the past 20 - 30 years, only to be replaced a few years ago by an influx of new sellers, many of whom have just jumped on the bandwagon of the needlecrafts boom, and have no knowledge of what they are selling at all.  

Of course there are many reliable, knowledgeable retailers of all types - I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise - but it can be hard to find those which don't have an internet presence.

Especially if you're a new sewer, it's easy to think you have no option but the internet. For some of you, that will be true. Long before the days of the internet, mail-order fabric supply was flourishing to areas remote from fabric retailers.

There might be fabric retailers closer to you than you think, though! 

Although it's rare to see fabric shops while driving to the supermarket, wandering along the local High Street, or having a day out shopping at a mega-mall, they are still around.

They will most probably be in the 'poor but respectable' part of town, in the part where recent immigrants live, on the old open market, on a slightly down-at-heel trading estate, on the edge of a regeneration project that never quite got regenerated, in an old mill, a deconsecrated church, under the railway arches or round the back of the bus station.You get the picture. 
Liberty silk-and-wool on a market stall
Quality fabrics at bargain prices

These shops may not be in the first rank of fashionable retail destinations, but by 'eck you can often find some bargains!

Even the more up-market fabric retailers are usually to be found in a lower-rent area - the space required for fabric storage, the relatively low profit margins and lowish turnover dictates this.

Dismissing market stall fabrics - as some do - as being limited to 'cheap and nasty' garish polyester prints is simply foolish (and often a form of personal insecurity or lack of confidence) when there might be fabrics like these on the left available!
Inside a big fabric warehouse
Fabric, fabric everywhere! Someone reviewed 
this shop as 'not having much in'.

Claiming that there is 'nothing much' in a fabric shop because the stock isn't 'displayed' but is merely stacked in rolls as a space-saving measure, is both lazy and untrue.

Shopping at a well-stocked fabric retailer is a delight for the senses. Unlikely colour combinations jump out at you as you caress thick velvet pile; a tumbling river of chiffon catches in the draught from the door and ripples sinuously as if alive. 

Go on,  if you normally make your fabric purchases on-line, hunt around on yellow pages,  get on a bus which goes through the low-cost areas and peer out of the windows, or visit the local open market - and find a bricks-and-mortar fabric retailer to visit, and wallow in the sheer sensuality of it!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

It's happened again

Unethical buying - or just economical?

Someone who doubtless wants to get the best price they can for the items they make and sell either in person or on-line, thinks that others don't deserve to earn decent money for the work they do.

Last time (as mentioned in this post, it was someone stating that they would like to see, in craft fairs and the like, 'more affordable' - ie cheaper – and more original clothing than that available in High Street shops. 

I asked why on earth anyone would think that unique garments made here in the first world would or could be made and sold - for a profit, of course - at a lower price than those made by poor folk paid pennies to work in appalling conditions in China and Bangladesh.

There was never any response. Well, there couldn't be, could there?

Now, in the same forum, we have someone remarking – in a discussion about faulty imported-from-the-third-world beads and charms and what to do with them – that

        It's a shame there aren't many charms of good quality but for 
        similarly low prices around.


I asked if it was not perfectly reasonable to expect to pay a higher price for items of better quality, and reminded the poster that we as skilled craftspeople rightly get annoyed if people want to pay 'imported tat' prices for our high-quality work, and that others deserve no less,, no matter where they are in the world or what they may be making.

I don't expect any sort of sensible response to this,either.

Why don't people just exercise their brains a little, and think?

The only shame in the matter is surely that those who buy such items so very cheaply would so openly care less than nothing for the people who make them.

Out of sight, out of mind  is a very old maxim with a very current validity, it seems.

In days gone by, when news came slowly if at all, and in limited quantities - ie, as much as a newspaper could print - there was good reason that many people didn't care about what was going on in the world - they didn't know what was going on in the world. Not so nowadays!

I am an atheist but sometimes I think it would be convenient to be religious, so that when people say to me 'Why do you care?' in a dismissive sort of way, I can at least embarrass and annoy them by saying 'Because I'm a Christian, like I thought you were, too' instead of having them toss their head and walk off, leaving me feeling embarrassed and angry when I answer 'Because it's the right thing to do'.

Here endeth today's lesson!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fabric purchases

Buying fabric

Buying fabric has to be one of my favourite pastimes! It has so many possibilities, and I'm incredibly fortunate, here in the north-west of England, to have a range of fabric retailers within easy reach. 

I love cottons, for practical purposes, and I adore brocades, silks, embroidered taffetas and other super-luxury fabrics, too.

Here are a couple of recent purchases on the line after washing, and all wrinkly!
Fabric with a design of silver birch tree trunks
Maybe a skirt?

This one on the left is called 'Silver Birch'. I bought it because I liked it, without any purpose in mind, but now I'm thinking it could make a very interesting, versatile and flattering straight skirt, with its combination of neutral colours and what are effectively vertical stripes.

The fabric below was bought for apron-making. It's 100% cotton in a light upholstery/curtain weight - considerably heavier than a dress-weight - with a lovely smooth finish. Although very creased on the line, it took only a brief pass with a hot iron to get it looking pristine. All these qualities make it ideal for aprons. In addition, it's printed in the UK by a highly-regarded British company, normally sells for between about £12 and £15/m, very occasionally as low as £8/m - and I paid £1/m. Yes, you read that right - £1/m. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

bright abstract printed cotton for aprons
To become cheerful pinnies.
I've also got a couple of very floral-y florals in the washing machine as I type. Cath Kidston, eat your heart out!

I'll start cutting out some more aprons tomorrow. I've got two lovely - and very different - patterns drafted, both of which I'm familiar with so can complete quickly, but want to work on a third design to the stage when I have a pattern drawn up, marked and cut out on the brown wrapping paper I like to use for patterns I intend to keep. 

As they used to say on Blue Peter and on cookery programmes: 'Here's some I made earlier'. These are almost-dry, ready to bring indoors, iron and fold. The spotty fabric has been very, very popular this year - but I think I'm using the last of it. I'm unsure if I'll be able to get any more.
Colourful aprons hanging on the washing line
Freshly-washed aprons on the washing-line

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Yet another new sewing machine

Well, it's new to me!

I've acquired another  Singer 28K handcrank; her serial number dates her to the first half of 1908. She came from a rural car-boot sale via a friend, for the grand sum of £8.
Singer 28K handcrank sewing machine made in 1908
Singer 28K, made in Kilbowie, Clydebank
Scotland, in the first half of 1908.
We put her on my dining room table, changed her needle, wound her bobbin on my ~1914 Jones Family CS (as the Singer's bobbin tyre is missing), threaded her up - and she sewed. Not quite perfectly yet; the tension mechanism needs a thorough cleaning, and the stitch length adjuster is jammed, but the application of plenty of WD 40, followed by a good dose of sewing machine oil in all orifices and wherever metal meets metal, will soon solve that problem, I have no doubt. 

Jones Family CS sewing machine, described as 'As supplied to HM Queen Alexandra'. This machine dates from about 1914 or 1915.
Jones Family CS 'as supplied to HM Queen
Alexandra', with 'coffin top' case seen behind.
The lid to her accessories compartment is missing - I think it was a sliding lid, so it must have slid right off - and she has neither accessories nor cover - which I think would have been a 'coffin top' similar to that of my Jones Family CS, seen on the right here. The desirable bentwood cases came a bit later, I'm sure.

How many domestic machines of any type are still perfectly functional at 105 years old? There are literally thousands, probably millions, of century-old hand-crank and treadle sewing machines still doing useful, often vital, jobs all over the world. 

I wonder if the men and women who made these machines a century and more ago had any idea at all of the heritage they left us? I wish my old machines could talk! I'd love to know about some of the garments they made, the women who used them and the conditions in which they were used. Gas-light? Oil-lamps? Or did they push a table to the window and place the machine there when they needed to sew? 

I love my slick computerised machines and overlockers, make no mistake about that. They sew slick, quick and beautiful. They need judicious coaxing, caution in the fabric put through them, specialist servicing and a kind, considerate user. They also need a reliable electricity supply. 

My old machines produce a perfect straight stitch on any fabric that can fit under the presser foot, and are so relaxing to use - on short seams at least. They offer the ultimate in control, stitch by single stitch, which can be invaluable for some projects, and the torque on them is amazing. With a good quality new needle they will go through the thickest, toughest layers of fabric like a hot knife sliding through butter. They do all this on only a generous supply of sewing-machine oil and the muscles of a human's right arm. They do have a great thirst for oil! 

Most sewers, if they buy sewing machine oil at all (it must not be used on computerised machines), buy it in a wee little bottle which costs a couple of pounds for about 100 ml and lasts for years and years. I buy ten times as much - a litre - for less than a fiver and it lasts me about a year. They drink the stuff, I think! 

As long as I could get hold of lubricant, I could sew through the Zombie Apocalypse and the collapse of civilisation as we know it, with my old handcranks. Let's hope it never comes to that, though!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


For McMillan Cancer Support.

Last Friday, 27th September, as most people will be aware, was the day chosen for 'the world's biggest coffee morning', raising funds for this very worthwhile charity. 

All over the UK, in towns, cities and villages, coffee (and tea!) was being brewed, cakes (and bacon butties!) were being served, and goodies and treats of all sorts were being sold, in homes, parish halls, schools and venues of all sorts in towns, cities and villages all over the country.

As a therapy radiographer who, back in the dawn of time, trained and qualified at one of the largest specialist cancer hospitals in Europe before taking further qualifications and then travelling all over the world,  I am all too well aware of the many and varied forms of help needed during a cancer patient's journey. 

So when I heard that the manageress of our village's social club was organising a coffee morning and planning to have stalls, I volunteered myself to have one.

I have a reasonably-large stock of bits and bobs which - for whatever reason - have not sold as well as I thought they would. I have to confess this is usually because I've been taking them to entirely the wrong venues, as when I took a stall at the Village Market in May, I sold lots and lots! 

The problem is that sometimes I can't resist making things that I want to make, without giving much thought as to what my target market at my usual venues want to buy, so it's hardly surprising that they don't sell,

Anyway, I packed up - and dragged a few hundred metres down the lane into the village - ten full aprons, ten half-aprons, half a dozen of those tube-like containers for storing your supermarket plastic bags, ten coathanger safes, ten strings of floral bunting and about four dozen lavender bags. I'd spent most of Thursday making, then filling, these lavender bags; the house smelled gorgeous and I was high and dozy on the fumes.

Craft table and items for sale at the coffee morning
Half of the table after
customer attacks!
The photo on the right shows my table after it had been well and truly ravaged by hordes of old ladies, the vicar, the mayor of the Rural Borough, his daughter and an eccentric woman said to have pots of money. 

By 1.30pm all I had left was three full aprons, one 
lonely lavender bag and four strings of bunting. 

The organiser kissed me when I gave her all my takings, just keeping a fiver back as I'd had to buy the lavender. 

To tell you the truth, I was glad to 'get rid' of these items, especially to such a good cause. It has freed up space in my home, and in my imagination and creative flow.

Then at about 5pm, there was a knock at my front door. A woman could not get to the fund-raiser, but a friend had told her I had bunting for sale. She bought what was left, so that was another £20 to add to the total raised!

The bunting was cheap, being made by a quick-and-dirty method, as were the lavender bags. 

I'll do tutorials on them soon. 

Sometimes quick-and-dirty is best for both the seller and the buyer ... as long as it's a nicely and skilfully-done quick-and-dirty.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Some thoughts on the economics of home sewing

I've not been around very much lately. Too busy, but I've been thinking a lot, looking for answers to questions.

How expensive is cheap clothing?

On a forum I sometimes frequent, a poster stated a few weeks ago – apropos a discussion about what to buy and sell at craft fairs and hand-made markets -

I see really simple dresses in stores that are way too overpriced. People are always looking for clothes that are unique and affordable.

I was incandescent with rage at the sheer arrogance of this statement, but calmed down and decided that I should be more benevolent towards my fellow humans, and put her post down to mere (??) ignorance, so I responded in a more temperate manner than I actually felt, as follows:
Mass-produced clothing which is sold in shops is made, in the overwhelming majority of cases, by poor people in third-world countries being paid a few pounds a week, and whose workplaces seem not infrequently to fall down or burn up - or both! - with them trapped, sometimes even locked, inside. 
If the garments produced by these people are to be considered 'overpriced', why on earth would anyone imagine that a dress made individually by a skilled person in the first world would, should or could possibly be purchased for less money (which is what is usually meant by 'more affordable') than a dress which could well have been made by one of those poor, dreadfully-injured women still lying in a Bangladeshi hospital, or by a hungry child who should, by all rights, be at school or simply playing.
Whether we buy a £2 Primark t-shirt, or a £40 Zara t-shirt, can we say that either one is really overpriced?  If we were asked to pay the true cost of these garments in the coinage of life itself, it would be incalculable. 
Overhead view of collapsed Rana Plaza building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, which held several factories and thousands of workers
Rana Plaza collapse, Dhaka,
April 2013 (rijans CC)

I find the thought of someone being forced to work in unsafe, unhealthy, even life-threatening conditions just so that we can casually buy cheap clothes to throw away, to be simply appalling. 

I KNOW it happens and yet I have still bought the jeans, the t-shirt. 


Because I could. No other reason. Shame on me!

I'm what is most kindly described as 'in my senior years' now, and In my younger years, sewing was most certainly a money-saving activity. In the last quarter of a century, though, things have changed very much, and sewing your own garments is now considered, by many people, to be a vaguely eccentric hobby, and certainly not an economy. 

We in the wealthy West benefit from cheap labour in Third World countries, mainly in Asia. This labour is predicated upon cheap fossil fuels, global debt, central banks and a cavalier attitude to environmental damage and occupational safety, if indeed either of the two latter are acknowledged at all. 

What, then, is the real cost of these cheap garments - and, indeed, all the other items so dear to our consumerist lifestyle? 

Corpses trapped in debris of Rana Plaza building, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Destruction and death (rijans CC)
The cost is life itself, human dignity and freedom, the environment we are leaving to our children and our grandchildren, and our own self-reliance and independence. 

Of course, there are large companies, multinationals even, who see that it is generally in everyone's best interests to ensure that their workers - whether a department manager in a UK business place  or a lowly-paid seamstress in Dhaka - are treated in a fair manner and work in safe conditions. These companies are usually members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is also associated with international trade union organisations and NGOs. 

An unexpected view down the road

We have exported much of our manufacturing capacity to the cheapest available producers.  

Losing this capacity, and the skill bank that accompanies it, may well not be sustainable in the long run, especially with carbon footprint questions increasingly rearing their heads. What will happen then? 

Let's look at this a bit differently; it can lead to an interesting journey.

Imagine you can't cook, and you don't have a kitchen in your house anyway, or any other facilities to cook, except maybe an electric kettle and some teabags. It doesn't really matter, though, as you have a nearby restaurant always open, willing and able to serve you with food you enjoy at a very reasonable price, at the times you wish to eat. This restaurant imports its dishes from far away, which is why it is able to sell them so cheaply, and as a result, everyone has sold, given away or thrown away all their cookery equipment and converted their kitchens into home theatres, saunas or guest bedrooms. There are similar restaurants in neighbouring villages and towns, which has resulted in all the local food shops closing and the little take-aways and fish and chip shops losing almost all of their business. Just a few still survive  here and there.

Now imagine that owing to some disagreement in which you have played no part whatsoever, the proprietors of all the restaurants suddenly decide that you and the other people aren't the sort of customers they want, and that they aren't going to cook the food you like to eat, so you have to go there at off-peak hours, eat food that disagrees with you or even take the left-overs, if you want to eat at all. You have no other option, as you can't cook, the food shops have long-since gone out of business and the take-aways and fish-and-chip shops are only open occasionally - the nearest one is ten miles away, anyway, and blisteringly expensive.

Is this type of scenario a risk when domestic capacity for other forms of manufacturing is lost? There is no longer any competitive lever, and it becomes the customers who are vulnerable and the producer who is king.

Although clothing nowadays is cheap - amazingly cheap - it's also very common for clothing to be ill-fitting and badly made. Most people ‘outsource’ their clothing to retailers, and don’t have any say in its design,  and no manufacturing capacity at all. 

Hence they don’t have a choice if they need an item of clothing - they have to take what retailers provide at a price they can afford. If all retailers provide a similar supply … well, that’s the way it is. 

The retailers force the factories to cut and cut their prices to the bone, so the garment workers wages are cut still further and their working hours increased. The garments sold by the retailer are even more badly made by workers with an even lower skill level. 

Thus the continuing economy of home sewing for those of us who are all or any of non-standard retail sizes, have no desire to wear 'fast fashion', who cannot afford designer originals but who have designer tastes, who want something 'different', who hate shopping, or who cannot easily shop, who are creative, who just like to use a machine, or - for that matter - any one of a heap of other reasons. I sew for several of the already-mentioned reasons, and another one not mentioned - I can access a wide range of fabric very cheaply!

I'll finish with a Victorian cartoon which gently mocks two fashionable young women who are clearly at the forefront of technology and all things modern.

19thC cartoon - two smartly-dressed young women talking about clothes

Gertrude:  My dear Jessie, what on earth is that bicycle suit for?

Jessie: Why, to wear, of course!

Gertrude: But you haven't got a bicycle!

Jessie: No, but I have got a sewing machine!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Summertime, and the living is easy ...

... I love it, and can do without the ridiculous warnings of a 'dangerous heatwave'.

Although I know there are 'vulnerable' people out there, nothing more than common-sense is needed for anyone capable of getting out and about by themselves. 

I'll leave mothers to care for their squalling kids as best they can; keeping your, and their, cool is really not rocket science - it's done, and done very well I might point out, by people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and income-levels in countries as diverse as Australia, Argentina and Arabia. So don't tell me that 'it's the heat!; when your obnoxious brat screams or spews  - especially when there are half a dozen other kids in the same space, none of whom are screaming or spewing like yours. The difference is that those kid's mothers have functional brain cells which they haven't destroyed for the sake of a short-lived high ...

It's not 'the heat', it's your own damned laziness and/or lack of common sense.

It appears that 'the elderly' are especially at risk. I'm elderly myself, and I am probably at less risk than most other people my age in the UK - and many far younger people - because I am not daft.

I was on the bus yesterday and a woman about my age looked really quite ill. She was fanning herself frantically in an effort to keep cool, and was mildly relieved when some good-hearted soul offered her an ice-cold bottle of water - still sealed - from her bag. She held it against her face and neck. The good-hearted soul urged her to drink it, but the hot woman refused saying she wasn't thirsty. The good-hearted soul told her, quite correctly, that didn't matter that she wasn't thirsty, she should stop frantically fanning herself, relax her body and sip the ice-cold water slowly.

Misery-guts me jumped in at this point, and said that it would also help if the hot woman removed her jacket and headscarf which were clearly heavy and tight, so that the slightly-cooler air flowing through the windows and door - which the helpful driver had opened by this point - could be of some assistance. 

The hot woman had reached her stop, and got off - fortunately, we saw, into a shady area, with someone waiting to meet her - and the bus continued on its way. The good-hearted soul and I chatted. I pointed out that the hot lady had probably had on a bra and knickers, maybe a vest and a pantie-girdle 'for support'. She certainly had on a blouse tucked into a medium-weight skirt, a pair of heavy-ish tights, sturdy shoes, a cardi, a jacket and a headscarf. It was 27deg C outside; hotter in the bus with no a/c. 
'All that underwear?' asked my new Pakistani friend in amazement.  She was well-covered with clothing, certainly - but it was all loose and light. Certainly no tights, cardis, or thermal undies!

Folks, if you see some old lady wearing a white acrylic cardi and American Tan tights sweltering in the heat, don't just think 'poor soul'. Be as rude as you like and TELL them to take off than hideous cardi, remove those dead fish tights, roll down the pointless girdle, wad up the thermal vest, rip off the fugly headscarf and drink some cold water even if they don't think they are thirsty - and STAY ALIVE! It's probably easier for me to be rude in this way, as I'm an old woman myself.

If worse comes to worse and she's your granny, and you just can't bring yourself to be rude like that, maybe you could tell her instead that she won't 'feel the benefit' of her thermal undies when the heatwave ends - as it will, all too soon. 

Tahe care and keep cool!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Blogging, selling, self-promotion ...

... it's difficult to really know what to write.

Here's one of the fabrics I mentioned in my last post - one of the fabrics I bought just because I like to look at it and to feel its texture. 
photo of silver-grey embroidered silk
silver-grey pure silk- a photo cannot do it justice
It's a silver-grey pure silk - almost, but not quite, of taffeta crispness - with charcoal-grey silk embroidery. I'm very, very tempted to buy more to make a Victorian dress. Not that I have anywhere I could wear such a thing, but I would make it my business to find somewhere, once I had my lovely outfit!

Now that was easy to write.

Being English, I find it immensely difficult to blow my own trumpet. Self-promotion seems, somehow, very wrong. I know I'm supposed to be proud of what I do well - I am - and not afraid to say so - that's the hard bit. It's boasting. 

I know that making lovely things is my job, but marketing them is an important part of my job, too. After all, if I want to carry on making things I love, I need to sell some of the things I've made. I've read the books and visited the websites; I know what I should be doing - according to the marketing gurus, anyway - but I just can't. More, I won't. I don't see why I should do anything which really creeps me out. I loathe and despise the 'hard sell'. I very deliberately turn my back on pushy salespeople and walk away from them while they're still talking. If they persist after that, I can get very unpleasant indeed, should I need to. 

SO, maybe that explains to you why I've been finding it a bit awkward and uncomfortable even to blog about what I've been making.

It strikes me that it would be all too easy to write an endless advert - and what's the point of that, other than to annoy people?

What I'd like to do is natter on about some of the things I've made, offer a few simple tutorials and know that a few people read my blog because they find it vaguely interesting. What do you think?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Summer at last!

Isn't it simply lovely to have sun? Let's hope we get a lot more of it! Sunshine makes so many aspects of life easier and more pleasant - laundry being one of them.

Washability is important for almost all my products. 

So in the recent good weather, I've spent time washing fabrics I'd bought earlier in the year, and hanging them out to dry in the sunshine - I won't sell anything that can't be washed (except for things like lavender bags and wheaty warmers, of course, but even they get their base fabrics washed before making-up, to remove any fillers or finishes) and the best way to ensure there'll be no disasters in the laundry area is to do-it-myself first. 

Then I can tell prospective customers with total confidence 'Yes, it'll wash' and I know that any future shrinkage or colour loss has been minimised, too. Who wants to buy, for example, an apron that they can't just fling in the wash, hang out on the line and then run an iron over? No-one, that's who!
blue fabric hanging on the line
Pretty blues
cottons and polycottons printed with stars and transport motifs
Cars, stars, boats.

I love how my fabrics look on the line!

fabric with cats; fabric with herb plants
Cat print and herbs
I'm very, very lucky where I live in some of the loveliest countryside in England, yet  a bus-ride or two will transport me to several fabric-lover's heavens where I have no problems getting gorgeous, quality cottons - and other fabrics - at breathtakingly reasonable prices. 

A fabric printed with pigs, and one with farm animals
Piggies and a farm
Fabrics with retro floral prints
Retro florals
So I can make these pretty aprons - they bring colour to my garden before the flowers start to bloom - and lots of other lovely, lovely things!

Colourful aprons hanging on washing line
Pinnies on the line

I have to ask - is there anyone else who buys fabric just to look at? I understand being reluctant to cut into beautiful  fabric - especially when it's expensive -  for fear of making a mistake, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about just buying it because you love it - like you might buy a picture for the wall, I suppose.

Here's one I bought with no intention of making anything at all from it. I have another one which I love to just look at, and one I like to stroke, which I'll post next time.
Fabric with elephant print
How could anyone not love this?