Saturday, February 6, 2016

I have class

This summer's embroidery class
A class, anyway.

For the past two summers I've taught an embroidery class at a kids history camp.  They have a weaving segment but they wanted another colonial-era craft and that's how I got in.

Last fall, the arts league in my neighborhood (which is apparently the it place to send your kids after school) decided to add a sewing class on Tuesday afternoons.  Actually, they decided to add evening classes as well, but since I was the only applicant with daytime availability, guess who got the kids?

Yep, the one who's not totally comfortable with them.

Though they're actually a pretty good bunch.  I'm having more difficulty adjusting to the adults in charge and the other teachers, all of whom are So. Very. Serious.  Agreed, teaching is serious work but does it have to feel like a trip to the dentist?

The kids are all from the local public school, which isn't just any Philly public school - it's partly supported by the University of Pennsylvania, which means that there's dire competition to get the kids in, and lines of parents camping on the sidewalk when they open kindergarten registration.  The year they went to a lottery system in the middle of day 2 of the camp-out almost led to rioting.  Well bred rioting, but still . . .

So these kids are being well educated.  They're for the most part comfortable financially (this place ain't cheap).  They're smart.  And they're being squashed into little, tiny boxes that leave no room for being a kid.

I've got a group of 8 girls, from 3rd to 6th grade.  I started them off on embroidery, rather than sewing, because (a) I was more familiar teaching it, and (b) I thought it was a good way to get them used to the idea of sewing, threading needles, taking time, etc.  I prefaced the lesson by saying, "Look, I'm self-taught.  I'll teach you the way I know how to do it, but if you know another way, or find one that works better for you, then do it.  So long as you get the end result you want, there's no right or wrong."

You'd have thought I stripped naked and danced on the table.  "There's always a right way."  "If you do it wrong, you're done."  "Things can only work one way."  "Can you come teach our math class?"

Math may have only one right answer, kids, but art is its own thing.  Considering that all they take at this place is art-related classes, it kind of disturbs me that no one has ever mentioned this before.

In addition to believing firmly in "rules," they also firmly believe that the world is a very nice place, that bullying has been eliminated and that life will always run smoothly.  I almost feel like I'm performing a public service by teaching this class and exposing them to a different viewpoint.

I remember this age.  I was in third grade when I lost my dad, and by sixth, I had completely lost whatever self-esteem I might have been born with, believing that I was shy and unattractive.  However, and this is a big one, I never doubted that I was smarter than most of the kids who tormented me, and I needed the safe haven of coming home to books and making things, both of which were a place where my mind could go and rest from the stress of school.

I hope for their sakes that bullying is a thing of the past, but I doubt it.  Kids are going to be kids, no matter what.  I'd just like to get them to realize, before I'm done, that they need to have something that's theirs, that they know they're good at, that gives them a calm mental place to retreat to when they need it.

Just in case I can't manage it all in one semester, I just signed on to teach the spring class as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Month-End Review: January

Annie & Katie - enemies 99% of the time
Once upon a time, I used to do these for the garments sewn for myself each month.  I can't believe how long ago that feels.

Now, I'm going to try to do a quick review post here each month, just to tally what I've gotten up to and keep myself accountable for the production goals I've set myself.

January was pretty good, considering there were more than a few days where it was uncomfortably cold in the workroom.  Instead of bringing the machine to another room, I just worked quickly and in short spurts, filling in with housework (which needs doing anyway) and doing a lot of finish work on the couch in the evenings.  It worked.

January totals:  8 toddler dresses, 10 teddy bears, 44 microwave bowls, 14 potholders, 7 new product (still not quite tweaked to my liking, so no description yet).

Two of the stores that carry my work are closing, both of them a little ahead of their time for their locations, so I need to look for a few new venues.  Shops aren't big money-makers, because they generally sell on consignment, but I like having my work out in places where I don't frequently do shows.

I started teaching an afternoon sewing class at the arts league in my neighborhood.  Yesterday was the 5th class, though the week 4 was canceled due to snow.  It's going pretty well, though the vintage sewing machines (which are lovely) are complicating things because each one is different and the kids are having trouble adapting to different methods when they have to change machines.  It's a work in progress.

Nicky, turning the couch gray, one hair at a time
I'm looking forward to the start of spring show season, just to get out of the house a little more.  There are two booked already, one on April 24th in Bala Cynwyd and another in West Philly on April 30th, but not many places schedule this early.  I'm haunting all the local handmade crafters' groups on Facebook for new venues.

Now it's February, and I'm back to the machine.  This week is mixed projects - I need a few more size 2 dresses, and I had to drop off a half dozen bears at a shop, so there need to be a few more of those as well.  We'll see what else happens by the end of the week.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Thoughts on Turning 52

1.   How the fuck did this happen?  Sorry, I think I also started last year's birthday post with a similar sentiment, but the thought occurs every year - how did this happen?  And when?  Was I not paying attention?

2.  52 is better than 42, which was a hell of a lot better than 32, and let't not even talk about 22.  The best part of aging is that every year, you give less of a rat's ass about all the things that bothered you in the preceding decade.  If 52 is any indication, I'm going to be a dangerous old woman.

3.  I wish I had as much physical energy as I do mental.  I get tons of ideas, and have about half the follow through that I'd like.  When I had the energy, I had no idea what to do with it.

So there you have it.  Another year, a few more cranky thoughts about the aging process.

Monday, January 25, 2016


I cleaned out the scrap bin this week and took some time to make a new batch of potholders.

They're not the most lucrative thing I sell, but they always do well in the summer and at Christmas craft shows (cookout season and stocking stuffers), and it goes with my policy of not throwing anything away if I can possibly use it.

These are all made from 3" scraps.  If it's smaller than that, it's allowed to leave the building.

I've also been keeping up with my self-imposed to do list each week.  The first week, I made 8 toddler dresses, the second week, 10 jointed teddy bears, and last week I made 36 microwave bowls and 14 potholders.  This week's goal is 10 more stuffed animals, plus I have a custom bear to finish and special order recycled t-shirt scarf.

If I can keep going at this rate, I should have a nice pile built up before craft show season starts.  And since there's still close to 2 feet of snow outside, I have no reason to want to abandon my sewing machine to leave the house.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Process Stories, or R.I.P. David Bowie

Photo courtesy
This one's going to meander.  Bear with me.

A few nights ago, Mario and I watched the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's on Netflix.  I wasn't feeling well and he thought a fashion movie would perk me up.  It did, but not in the way he intended.  While the bio of the store was fascinating, and I loved seeing all the designers and others who've worked with the store over the years, my favorite part, hands down, was the section on the creation of the holiday window displays.  (You can see them here).

The absolute joy in creation displayed by the entire display staff and all the artisans and workshops employed in making all those wonderful windows -- glass mosaic, luxurious upholstered animals, fantastic paper creations, ingenious woodworking, glowing copper birds -- was so obvious that it blew me away.  Would I rather be one of the profiled designers (a good number of whom don't even sew!) or one of these unnamed but very lucky makers?  

Maker, all the way.  They do stuff.

Another recent movie:  The Chef.  I wasn't expecting a lot, but from the opening scene, which showed the chef fine chopping herbs and vegetables to make a meal for his son, they had me.  It wasn't just a story about a chef, it showed the work.  

The work is what gets me every time.

Which leads me to this morning's very sad news. People who are immortal shouldn't be allowed to up and die on us. On the other hand, like I saw on Facebook this morning,

"If you're ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie."

Amen to that.  And even though I'm sitting here listening to Bowie songs with tears in my eyes, I'm grateful for so many years of wonderful music.  Kudos to him and to his family for being able to keep his illness a secret so that he could do his final work and leave us with a farewell song like Lazarus.

Only David Bowie could make a video to basically announce his own departure, and make us love him for it.  Only a true artist would spend the last months of his life creating something new, and working through his own feelings about his impending death in a way that could benefit everyone who listened to his music.

For him, it was all about the work.

I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring.  

P.S.  Also this article.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Welcome to Nevermore

Once upon a time, I was a serious recreational shopper.  Not just recreation - it was therapy and just something to do when I was bored.

I'm not much of a shopper anymore.  I've gotten to the point where I have so much stuff it occasionally makes me anxious, which then turns into multiple trips to the thrift store to offload a few bags and boxes.  But the mass never seems to go down.

Though I diligently read minimalist blogs, I'll never be one of those either.  While I like the idea of less, coming home to an empty white room with just a few well-chosen things in it would make me even more antsy than excess.

I may not define myself by my possessions, but the things that remain, slowly but surely, are well chosen, it not few in number.  I like the house to look a certain way.  It needs to speak to me, to let me know that I still live here, even if I've divested myself of several decades worth of crap.

So that's the deal these days.  Mostly out, very little in.

Except today.

These two ravens (or crows, I'm not sure which) followed me home from a local shop.  I've been eyeing them for weeks, and generally that solves the problem - by the time I make up my mind, the thing I've been waffling over is long gone.

They were still there.

It was fate.

*With thanks to my friend, Karla Kizer, for the title.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year, and Year End Review

Katie on her favorite pillow, i.e., Mario
Well, that went quickly, didn't it?

Somehow or other, it's already 2016, and like the rest of you, I will continue to write 2015 until sometime around Valentine's Day.

I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that the year's over and I'm starting prep for a whole new season, but my actions are ahead of my brain because I spent a few hours yesterday in the workroom doing just that.

There's a plan for 2016, brought about by some of my shortfalls in 2015.  I started the year with high hopes of being able to do everything, as we do.  Every craft show, every last-minute event, all while having a fully stocked Etsy shop and plenty of time to, you know, have a life.

Right.  And then said life intervened, and I took that long stretch of temp work and didn't do a lot in the evenings, and I had a few other things that threw me off track.

I did do a record number of shows last year, and between in-person custom work and shows, I doubled what I made the year before.  So that's good.  Fuck, that's very good.

On the other hand, I really let the online side of the business slide partway through the year because I didn't have a separate, dedicated inventory of items for the shop.  So every time something sold at a craft show, it got pulled offline.  And when I came home from the show and made more, if I had a show the next weekend, there didn't seem to be any point in photographing and listing it, much less paying the fee, if I was only going to pull it again the following week.  So the numbers dropped there, both physically and financially.

The vintage shop is predictable, though I do have a big backlog of things to photograph and list.

The plan, then, for 2016 is this:  each week, I'm going to make one thing, and one thing only.  I'll start making it Monday and finish making it Friday, and spend the weekend cleaning up and cutting out the next week's thing.  I'll also schedule set times during the week to photograph and list what's been made, and to do the other invisible things that make an online business exist.  (Nobody tells you about those, and they take more time than sewing).

This week, I'm making dresses.  I got ahead of myself last night and made one, but there are three more cut out on the table.  The goal for the week is a total of 8 dresses and 5 new Etsy listings, which can be either vintage or handmade.

With all this making, I'm also going to attempt to do two separate inventories, one for online and one for the beginning of show season.  I have a number goal for each item I make that I would like to reach before the official start of things in April.

We'll see how it goes.  I'll try to keep posting my numbers here to hold myself accountable.

*** On a veterinary note, Annie is feeling like her old self again.  The vet called with her biopsy results and they weren't good, but for the time being, everything is fine.  I'm not going to put her through chemo, so I'll simply keep an eye on her and feel her up more than she's going to like, and we'll play it by ear.  There's no saying that the cancer will recur any time soon.

Lily has finished up the last of Annie's antibiotics and it seems her urinary tract infection has cleared up nicely.  They both thank you for all your good wishes and crossed fingers over the last few weeks, and so do I.