Sunday, June 28, 2015

A past project uncovered.

You know you've been sewing a looong time when rediscovering evidence of early projects feels a bit "archaeological".
On Saturday morning, I was going through the Menswear Pattern Library* shirt patterns to source enough shirt front and pocket patterns to teach pattern matching. This is in my Mad Skills class where we just blast through about ten techniques in samples. Much to my surprise and delight, I found this:
This is the very first men's shirt pattern I ever used, to make three shirts for my friend Ian at church. It was 1980 and I was 15. How I know it was this pattern is the tracings on the pocket piece. The fabric was a leopard print jersey with very little stretch (thank goodness). The other two were white and midnight blue satin.
Oh the folly of youth, to take on making shirts out of knits and satins!
Anyway, the tracing was my first attempt to match a pattern for a pocket, and it was quite apt, given I was about to teach the technique that evolved from this attempt. (It was successful, but these days we save the pocket piece from being scribbled on)
But wait, there's more. I sent the photo above to Ian and he told me he still had the shirt! His lovely wife Shirley unearthed it and sent me this photo:
Great pattern matching eh, not bad for 15.
Ian was, is, pretty zany and fun, and this shirt suited him, both in colouring and in personality. Of course it's quite tame compared to the shirts I make for MrC, but 35 years ago it was pretty different!

*My shop has a collection of menswear patterns, many of them vintage, that anyone can borrow for a gold coin donation ($1-$2) which we then spend on more patterns. We do this as there are much fewer options for menswear patterns even with Thread Theory's excellent work in that area. Plus, I love the cut of many of the 1960s-1970s patterns; they are cut for a slim fit and many of our customers and students prefer this shape.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Midwinter Affair Night Market 2015

That's our stall, in a biiig Bedouin tent. It rained, and rained, and rained. But the people came anyway! Roads were closing all over the middle of the North Island but somehow it all happened anyway.
Thanks to strong North West winds on the previous Thursday when the tents were erected, they had to be closed at one end and the open end facing AWAY from the pathways, so the poor punters had to trudge through increasingly muddy, slippery grass to come into the tents.It was a pity it didn't either blow OR rain, as if it had stuck to one or the other, the fair would have been easier!
But everyone was happy - they had their yummy eats and mulled wine and gumboots, and we chatted to lots of Wellingtonians, and locals, and gave out lots of postcards and class flyers, and we EVEN sold some lampshades!
Not quite as many as last year but given the numbers were much lower, we were delighted. And because lampshades and rain are NOT great companions, we made use of big rubbish bags to pack them and get them back to the car.
We stayed the weekend at Amelie Rose Cottage, not the fabulous Plum Tree that we love, which has sold and is no longer a holiday let - but just across the road. A lovely double bay villa.
My sister and her family came over for the fair and for the night - and it was a very novel experience to be woken up by a curious 6 year old nephew, knocking politely on our door then coming in and telling me off for getting "too tired at the market, Mamush, you shouldn't have let them get you so tired."
My sleep-fuddled brain finally clicked that this was Peter's roundabout way of telling me to GET UP. So, we did!
It is Sunday afternoon now and I am so pooped I can hardly move. I fell alseep on the drive home even.

Perhaps Peter had a point?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Full Circle, almost.

Well, we got interesting news last week. Our landlords from our little shop in the CBD came in to ask us if we would be interested in getting out of our lease early. Hmm. Business has not been fabulous and while we're not losing money, we're not really making any either, but with only a couple weeks to act, this was very left field.
Why? Well, The Golden Mile, as Lambton Quay is known, is the street in Wellington where all the High St shops are - the overseas ones that sell fast fashion and high turnover stuff that if you are reading this blog probably leave you about as unmoved as they do me. And they need somewhere to go, right?
So, over the past year as the small, independent businesses in our area of the mall's leases came up, no one was renewing, until less than half of us were left. We knew something was up, and when rumours of Top Shop coming to the Golden Mile started appearing in the papers, we weren't all that surprised. Not that anyone has confirmed this to us, but it is pretty obvious anyway.
This post is not about the despicability of those involved in flicking us out, or why, however. It is a mixed blessing as business had been slow down that end of town. Lack of signage meant we were the best kept secret on the Quay. Bringing the whole business back into the one big shop means more staff there (because I am not about to let anyone go!)  more stock, and more TIME.
More time to grow our online sales, tutorial support and social media presence. More time to develop product. More time to do those things I was moaning about in my last post I only had about 4 hours a week to do. Having that extra person working in the shop several days a week while I am not trying to order and manage for two shops is like having four hours a day instead. I am in Heaven!
So all in all, it has been a horrible week, but now the decisions have been made and paperwork signed, I am well happy to be out of it.The one very large regret is letting down all of our wonderful regular customers who supported us. Knowing it is not US who has let them down but circumstances beyond out control is no consolation to them I am sure.
Once we are moved out, which happens on Thursday, we'll have the excitement/chaos of massaging all the extra bits of furniture and shop fittings into our already fairly full space. Mel, our manager from Lambton Quay, is the most amazingly organised person I've ever met, and I know she is itching to get into it - Melping as we call it! I am so excited to have her back in Marion St as I know I can just let her get on with it :)

Yes indeed, every cloud has a silver lining and I am looking forward to a much expanded empire involving more internet and less bricks, mortar, landlord problems, leaky ceilings, signage drama etc etc.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Chiaroscuro - an artistic term for the use of bold contrast between light and dark. I love that word - first learned in Art History class in my last year of school. A whole year of going deep into the mysteries of Renaissance painting.
I love it because it says so much about life, which is often a canvas of dark and light. Bloggers often present the light, because who doesn't want to put their best foot forward, and who really wants to read a bunch of sad and bad anyway?
The trouble is, without the dark, with just light, there is no depth, no third dimension. I would think that my posts are pretty honest - I am not a candy coater at the best of times, and yet sometimes I get responses that show, my life comes across as a fairy tale. HA! Love it!
Now, I have blessings both earned and gifted aplenty. I would never deny it. But just to give you an idea of what it is like, I want to describe a "slightly more eventful for effect" typical day.

I wake up between 7.30am and 8.30am. I do not sleep well, sometimes I am awake most of the night, and so I sleep as long as I can. I get up, make a smoothie, and read some blogs, check Facebook, email etc.
About 9am I shower, dress, and head out. Sometimes I pop into a local supplier to pick up a few things. Mostly though I drive straight to work. First stop however is Custom, my local coffee shop, for a large flat white to take away, a catch up with the Custom crew and the other regulars, many of whom are local business owners also.
 My fave coffee shop is never usually this empty
Also, I apply my lipstick while waiting for my coffee. It's a ritual now. And because you look to me for beauty tips, it is always a 24 hour stay, either L'Oreal or Maybelline. And red. This way none of it leaks into the tiny wrinkles radiating from my lips, resulting in a Heath Ledger as The Joker grin guaranteed not to sell craft supplies to anyone.
"What type of scissors were you looking for?" Nah, it doesn't work. 
I get into the shop about 9.30-9.45, switch on the PC and deal with any genuine emails. You know, the ones that are not from some idiot suggesting that they can transform our website. Pretty soon my trusty assistant arrives - this is going to be Ben or Karyn, and they get the shop ready and open. 
The day goes like this: we share stories of what we did since we last saw each other. We answer phone calls, serve customers, I ring or email suppliers with orders or queries, deal with Etsy orders. Orders arrive via courier.
Not our courier, our guy is very cool - he has a beard AND a curly moustache!
 We unpack these, I take the invoice into the office and produce price stickers, or create a label sheet if it is something we bag up ourselves. I ring or email suppliers asking why something is missing, letting them know they have sent the wrong colour/size/style, find an alternative supplier if I have to. I reckon I spend 30% of my time chasing errors, omissions and finding new sources. Some days a rep will turn up and I look through folders, have a bit of a harmless gossip, stroke new fabrics, that kind of thing. The Trusty Assistant handles most of the customer service so I can waste spend time on this stuff. And in Excel, where I keep track of expenditure and cashflow to the last cent. I may also do pay roll, reconcile our accounting system, or other creative pursuits *ahem*.
Meanwhile the amazing Melissa is holding down the fort at our small shop in the heart of the business district, and the two of us are cross referencing stock levels, organising transfers of stock, new signage, all kinds. Melissa is a rock and she holds down that shop by herself, and also runs our big shop on Sundays solo so we can have a day off.
If I have got the admin off my back, I try to spend some time in the afternoon either making lampshades, working on commission work that may include lampshades, cutting and sewing bunting strings for sale, making prototypes for various products, kits etc, preparing classes and instruction sheets, taking photos of the shop or product for our Facebook page. This is the stuff that everyone imagines a business owner doing all day. I am lucky if I get four hours a week towards it. Mostly because it is very trying to do anything requiring concentration when you have to stop and deal with the phone and dealing with customers whom I love btw don't get me wrong. My Karyn and Ben and MrC who all partner me on different days, are fantastic but inevitably we get so busy two people need to be in the shop, or a tricky sewing or cake decorating question needs my assistance. Such is life!
At 4.45 on MrC's "office job" days, he walks in the door and I gratefully throw a pile of jobs at him - please pack this lampshade kit, please change that flickering fluoro tube, please ring this woman you promised we could find x for and tell her we can't, please give me a hug and a kiss and take over, please!!!
 Really, sometimes we waltz around the shop when our wedding song comes on the play list.
Then I often DO get an hour of peace to finish jobs, since all the suppliers close at 4-4.30.
We shut at 6pm, although often there is a sewing class on, and Leimomi and her students arrive from 5.30 onwards so the shop is usually full of laughter and energy as we walk out. Some nights I head off to a sewing group, go to a weekly open mic comedy night, or have dinner with one of my friends (we have monthly date nights so as to ensure we do get to see one another!) But most nights, I go home, make or unpack dinner, do some dishes, sit on the couch and watch TV or play on the netbook, because I am too tired to do much else.
On Saturdays, three of us work the shop - MrC and Karyn out front and my job is to teach a class each week. I love Saturday! I try to keep my classes to a half day which is the best because I have the luxury of three hours of uninterrupted business time. My only task is to balance the spreadsheets for the week. And some Saturday nights, I perform!
Sunday is my day off. I try to spend it doing only things I really enjoy, in my own time. Lately this has involved sequins, ahem.
If that sounds glamorous, I'm not telling it right! Satisfying yes. But a lot of it is boring, frustrating, repetitive and has more to do with understanding finances than designing amazing things. And communicating with people who have stuffed up without being aggressive, just assertive, but that is always tricky. And without all of that, there's no fun stuff, so it must come first.
Because financially, most businesses live on a knife edge. Even successful ones. Mess it up - get carried away with buying lots of something that doesn't sell, put too many staff on, and you can be staring at the bottom of an overdraft the bank won't extend.
Lately we have had sad news about the seemingly sudden fall of high profile businesses - BHL being one of them.All we have seen is the light, so when the dark comes it is sudden and we can question what was really going on all that time.
Our business is successful because I have twenty years experience working in businesses, writing business cases, being involved in business strategy, but also looking and thinking and being curious about the places I have worked. I tell you though, I no longer have "opinions" about what other businesses should have done or not.
So if I have a request, it is to please don't fantasise about being in business - please don't get into it with your head in the clouds. It is hard work, and if you are an employer, people's livelihoods are on the line. Responsibility.
 Nuff said. :)

UPDATE: I started this post weeks ago and have kept picking at it. And as I did, a big black shadow has fallen over my business, with light breaking it up. More on that in my next post!