Wednesday, October 29, 2014

making progress like molasses

I don't know what it is, but I am in a capital F-Funk.

Everything I'd like to do seems to be preceded by a whole bunch of other tasks, some of which I want to do, some I really don't, and others I'm not sure if I can.

I want to do more sewing to both grow my shop offerings and to make a bunch of personal things I have in the queue. To do that, I need to finish the sewing studio. To do that, I need to finish the cutting table. To do that, I need to assemble it. To do that, I need to finish painting the bases so that I can attach and stain the top. I've managed to get exactly one coat of paint on one of the cutting table bases. I'll need at least two coats of paint, and another coat or two of poly. That single coat took forever. Even mother nature was laughing at me as she rained down falling leaves into my wet paint, and now it's too cold outside to even finish the job.

So to do that, I need to clear space in the studio itself, but it has inexplicably become overrun with toys as well as all my junk because I haven't finished out the shelving yet, so I have nowhere to put anything. To do that, I need to figure out what to do about the rug so that I can face being down there. (I finally ordered a rug several weeks ago. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, so I was trying to get used to it. In the meantime, the cat had several large disgusting incidents all over it. My husband tried to clean it up, but used way too much cleaner and way not enough rinsing. I've tried scrubbing at it with water several times, but I fear the whole thing may be ruined, which really pisses me off. Last ditch effort may be renting carpet scrubber to try to fix it. And probably drinking a bottle of wine to take the edge off.) To stop this from happening again, I need to actually HANG the door that I purchased to prevent it in the first place. To do that, my husband needs to modify the door. I don't feel like I can do this myself because he started modifying the frame, and I expect he had a correlating plan to do the door the same way. So all that being said....I just feel stuck. I feel like there are just too many things, and they all feel overwhelming.

I'd like to be on top of the laundry situation because not being on my game is spiraling out of control over the rest of the house.. To do that, I need to clean out the laundry room which is currently filled with both scraps of and full sheets of drywall. I can't physically move the 4x8 sheets by myself (probably), so instead I just get frustrated that they are in my way. I'd like to move them into the garage, but to do that I need to either organize it or face the fact that no, we will not be parking a car in there this winter. All of this basement/laundry disorganization prevents me from other issues, like storage of outgrown clothing, what else can or should be moved to the studio from the former office/now playroom. There's this crazy domino effect, and I seem to be the only person bothered by it. But I feel like it's more than I can tackle on my own. I'm not great at asking for help. Maybe it's because I have this insane rolling list in my mind (yes, even more than I've outlined here!). There's an order that I feel things need to be completed, and I think I'm just crap at communicating said order. Plus it's not like time is this unlimited thing, and my timeline never seems to align with those of the people I need help from.

Usually I can get out of this sort of cycle by just writing things down, or talking it out or something. But it's not working for me this time. This time I just feel overwhelmed. Rather than feeling motivated by my list, I feel sort of crippled by it. 

So I feel stuck. And in a funk. And altogether crabby about it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some thoughts on pricing on Etsy

Crochet Booties

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and for handmakers, now is the heart of the busy season. As soon as the calendar clicked over to fall, I could see my Etsy shop views and favorites start to double....and even triple. I've been making enough sales to keep me rather busy, but I'm not overwhelmed just yet. However, making products, listings, re-listings, shipping things's all got me to thinking a lot about the way I run my shop and the way I've set my prices.

Want to know a secret? When I opened up my shop, I had no method to pricing. None. I simply threw out a number that felt sort of ok and went with it. I sold quite a few kids hats in the early days, and I priced them all pretty much the same. I thought, well, a kid's hat should be about.....this much, and I held that price despite differences in quality of material, varying complexities in pattern or color changes, and just went with it. I did price enough to cover the cost of materials and a little bit of pocket money to, most likely, buy more materials. But for my time? I pretty much didn't get anything for my time.
Slipper Socks
Don't get me wrong, I love making things. But when you are taking time from your family, your leisure time and your own sort of want something to show for it in return. I don't think that's greedy, I just think that's fair. Ironically, the more complex and time intensive a project is, I'm more likely to give it as a gift than for something for sale. I recently had someone inquire about the Nova sweater dress I'd knit to see if I'd ever consider making them for sale (by the way, thank you SO much for your interest! That was so sweet!) My first instinct was, good lord, how would you even price a whole sweater?! I mean, I can't just say $40 because that's what you might pay somewhere like baby Gap, because what if it takes me a month? But I also can't just say $300, because that's astronomical.

So I decided to actually work it out. What WOULD it cost to make that dress? In the past, I simply searched for similar items on Etsy and priced myself sort of in the low end of the middle of the pack. But after doing a bunch of research, and an incredibly enlightening conversation with the lovely and talented Elizabeth Ivie of Ivie Baby, I came to the conclusion that it makes MUCH more sense to look at my actual process and workflow to set my prices. I made myself a little spreadsheet, and it really opened my eyes. Even for the few existing items in my shop, I was paying myself a really wide and nonsensical variety of rates....some as low as $2/hr. Wow. What's minimum wage these days? Somewhere around $7? I've definitely done those jobs, as cashiering and filing work bought my first car and got me through the early years of college. Knitting and sewing certainly feel like more skilled labor than swiping canned food through the scanner. And yet I was only paying myself a fraction of that rate. And why? I'm certainly much more proud of anything I make in my shop than I was of those neatly alphabetized files.

I'm still working through it, but I think I've come to a couple of conclusions. First, an hourly rate doesn't make sense for knitting. For example, it takes me about 3 hours (roughly - I rarely have that much time in a single block in order to measure this!) to make one mitten. Double that, because most people order two mittens, and we're up to 6 hours. Conservatively, another hour or two for finishing work (it ALWAYS takes longer than you think it will!) and the we're up to 8 hours. 8 hours x $7/hour = $56. FIFTY-six dollars. FOR BASIC KID'S MITTENS. They're cute. But I'm not certain they are $56 cute.

Toddler Mittens

So....hourly rates for knitting sort of don't make sense. However, an option commonly used by commission knitters is a rate per YARD of knitting. This can range from $0.15-0.25 per yard of yarn depending on the difficulty of the pattern. I can easily do some mathematical wizardry (ahem multiplication and division) and figure out how many yards of yarn I'm using based on the total yards in the skein of yarn and the weight of the finished object. It's been pretty enlightening for me to work those numbers on the current (and super long list of potential future) items in my shop.

Hourly rates DO make sense for sewing though. Yardage doesn't, because yards go by in a snap when you're talking fabric! Plus there are all kinds of other details from cutting, actual sewing, finishing, and details like buttons, snaps or zippers to consider. Elizabeth said that she looked around at what professional seamstresses charge, and set her rates accordingly. When you are selling independently, you are not only the designer and maker, but you are also responsible for all of the back of house accounting, billing, shipping and marketing - those overhead costs really should be factored into your rates.

Even if you are selling as a hobby, it's important to price your work fairly. Some people are doing this as a full time gig, and it would be wicked tough to survive at $3 an hour. I've been working on a pair of socks (off and on) since June. So given the time investment, and the fact that good, solid quality sock yarn can cost $10 on its own, it's sort of heartbreaking to see people selling a pair of handknit socks for $12. I don't think you can even get Smartwool socks for less than $20 without some sort of monster sale! Obviously everyone should do what feels right for them, but the implication to buyers might be that ALL handknit socks should be worth $12, and I just don't believe that's true.

Snap Scarf
 I realized one more thing that I think is key for me to keep in mind. I - and other crafters and makers like me - might not be my ideal client base. Let's face it, I learned to knit and crochet and sew and who knows what else because I want nice things for just the cost of materials. I'm WILLING to invest my time and energy into learning these skills and into the time it takes to make them. I am not willing to pay for someone else to do this (mostly - I do still buy handmade from other people when I just don't have the time to pull something off or the desire to do it as well as they do!). It's important for me to realize that other people would much rather make the trade off to pay someone else to do the hard work and for them to buy the finished object. After years and years of mass production, there are plenty of people out there who actually want to seek out artisans to make them beautiful handmade things. And THOSE people are my actual client base. They understand that the cost of handmade goes beyond the wholesale price of paper and ink, or yarn, or fabric. It's much more than that. It's time. It's talent. It's hard work. And it's care.

So those are my thoughts on pricing these days. How do other people do it? What is handmade worth to you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chai Cider, my fall drink of 2014

I chuckled to myself the other day when someone on facebook posted a link to the 25 Things All Basic White Girls Do During the Fall, because so many of them are hilariously true. And in years past, I've been as excited about that pumpkin spice latte as all the other basic white girls. But I have to admit that while yes, I have had one this fall....I didn't really like it this year. I'm not sure what it was, but it just wasn't doing it for me.

A few weeks ago, while on the road for work, I saw a slightly different fall offering on this little coffee shop's menu, and I gave it a try. Apple cider chai....and I'm in love. I've even asked Starbucks to make them for me, though truthfully I have no idea what that coffee shop does to make them. The Starbucks version actually wasn't quite as yummy. My home version, happily, came satisfyingly close.

And even better, it's basically not even a recipe. All I did was heat up cider...and use it to steep my chai tea. Easy, yummy. It's definitely my go-to drink this fall!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall traditions, and works in various stages of progress

Just like the rest of the country, or so it might seem from my facebook feed, we've done the obligatory fall rites of passage this past week.

(I had to zoom in really far in order not to capture any unsuspecting families)

Almost immediately afterwards, we went above and beyond with the fall traditions.

The knitting was essential, as I was trapped beneath a sick person and couldn't risk moving. I only wish I'd thought to turn on the lights before we sat down...or that I wasn't working on something in black at the time.

If only I'd thought to grab one of my other projects! I'm plugging along slowly on my cardigan, and have only managed to miss one buttonhole which should have been worked "at the same time." You know you're in for it whenever directions toss one of those your way!

I've also got some gorgeously smooshy Skacel SimpliWorsted which is working up quite quickly and nicely. (I got it at an adorable new to me LYS called Bungalow Quilting and Yarn. They also carry all of that pretty Cotton + Steel fabric I see all over the blogosphere....dangerous.)

Speaking of fabric and why sometimes you really SHOULD buy it in person...

The two on the right are from and are both "navy." (sweatshirt fleece and ribbed knit) Now, I like both colors on their own, but they were meant to go into one project, so that's just not going to work for me. Even now, looking at the listings in better light, it's OBVIOUS they are different colors, but I didn't expect it to be so drastic. So, rookie mistake on my part. The gray herringbone* is from Joann Fabrics* and is likely destined to be a snap scarf. I'm going to take the sweatshirt fleece with me next time to see if I can get a decent match, or at least a passable contrasting color. And all of those projects are just waiting for me to get a little more work done on that table!

*this post contains affiliate links

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Woodworker I am not

I feel like the cutting table is the lynch pin to this whole sewing studio remodel project....and construction has begun! I've been agonizing for weeks about what sort of style I'd like to shoot for. I love the aged and whitewashed finishes I've seen lately on blogs like Yellow Brick Home and I Heart Organizing....but I've been on the fence. My sister has been advising me against it, so I'd been willing to be pushed one way or another. 

While shopping for lumber, I sent her one last photo to give me a final vote. A stack of navy swatches I'm thinking about for the base, and either a white wash stain, or straight up natural oil. The verdict? Well, I definitely brought one home...and I'll save the results for later!

Meanwhile, I'm SO getting a label maker at some stage of this renovation....I canNOT handle this!!! Do you see an extension cord somewhere in there? Please?

I sort of felt like I was channeling a toddler at many points this weekend...."I do it mySELF!" There's a fair chance that this table might be equal parts wood and wood filler....but at least all my limbs and appendages are intact, and I think I only got one splinter.

I spent a lot of time boxing myself in.

See above for some of my soon-to-be-wood-filler-filled-mistakes....and the reason I now understand why everyone in blog land is obsessed with the Kreg Jig. That's the second bit I snapped by the way. I only have, oh, approximately 16 holes that need to be drilled on an angle, and a billion that go at 90 degree angles. I snapped both bit within about an hour of one another on those angled holes. That pretty much put an end to my progress. But in better news, I've acquired two new bits and I'm hoping to make more progress as soon as I get a few free hours!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The best use of my time

It's been a totally crazy couple of weeks at work, and it doesn't look like that's going to let up anytime before the end of the year. It was one of those weeks where I really had to push beyond my comfort zone and take on tasks and responsibilities that I haven't done before. I won't say everything went perfectly, but we all survived and no one cried, so that's pretty good, right? All that to say that to make the deadline I had to shuffle up my work schedule and blogging fell off the list. Anyone miss me? :)

Also, remember how I devoted myself to finishing things?

Whoopsie...I got distracted. Apparently I thought shiny new things were more important than my finishing promise to myself.

The orange hat is to go along with last year's pumpkin costume - it still fits (I'm pretty sure...), the hat no longer does.

I basically took the idea from the split brim toddler hat but used the worsted weight yarn I had on hand. I modified the stitch count based on Tin Can Knit's Barley hat, and completely forgot to pay attention to the rate of increases, which is why the top is pointier than I'd intended. I also didn't feel like ripping it back, so I stuck a pompom on it and called it a day. Also, toddlers who hate hats love hats with pompoms. Just FYI.

And the slippers? Well...I got cold. While I love love love my tall slipper socks, I don't like wearing them with non-skinny jeans/leggings, so I've been thinking about a new short slipper pattern for a while. According to Pinterest, I learned about thrums approximately 36 weeks ago, and they popped into my head again last week thanks to Ysolda's series of posts about them. What's a thrum? Short story, it's a cloud of soft and warm that evidently sort of turns into a weatherproof felt layer as you wear it.

I love her pattern, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I started working on my own basically by just adding thrums to a pattern I've had in my library for about 5 months. It turned out ok, but not perfect. It fits and all, but because it was worked top down, I couldn't try it on until it was finished. I have some plans hatching to figure out a way to work them toe up....and the bonus is that the little "hearts" made by the super warm thrums will be right side up if I go toe up!

Oh, and I've got this on the horizon....

It's also possible I bought this screen printing kit: (affiliate link)

Yep. I clearly cannot decide on the best use of my time. On the bright side, I haven't totally
abandoned my goals - I've definitely worked on both my socks and my sweater (just enough to realize that I'd missed one of those dastardly "at the same time" directions, so I'll be looking into the adventure of an afterthought buttonhole in the future!) this week, so I'm not a total scatterbrained disaster!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finally finished

Ravelry says that I finished this Nova sweater dress in June.

That's not entirely true. Yes, I finished the knitting. Yes, I wove in the ends. I even bought grosgrain ribbon and buttons at some point shortly thereafter. But I put it away. I didn't have it in me to finish it.

You see, I was going through a hard time when I knit this dress. There was a painful loss in my life, and it was all I could do to just mindlessly knit, row after row, a little shaping but mostly stockinette for miles. It was therapeutic. It was something to do other than cry. I needed something to hold on to, to rip apart if it wasn't working, to put back together again because it could, in fact, be put back together.

I pulled it out a few nights back. I on a high after finishing my wallaby sweater for the Commuter Knitter finish-a-long. I didn't put this dress on my list, because I didn't know if I'd be able to. I was happy to realize that when I got it out, I didn't see it as a sign of pain, but as a symbol of making it through.

I hadn't quite realized how much it had helped me until I was listening to another podcast this week, from Michelle of ACTually Knitting (who, by the way, I think has such a soothing voice, great for a podcast). She was talking about how the simple act of knitting has helped her get through some really hard times this past year, and wanted to start a discussion of what other people had done or achieved or accomplished #becauseofknitting. At first I thought of my awesome knitting group and the slow but steady growth of my shop, but as she kept talking and started revealing the deeper things, the real things, I realized that knitting had helped me too.

(on more technical notes, I wish I'd sewn all the buttons on so the direction of the thread was the same, but I didn't. I tried lining the back of the buttonhole side with ribbon, but it didn't work out. I did line the back of the buttonband, but I didn't use backing buttons and I'm still not sure what they are for. The ribbon at the hem will hopefully stop that edge from flipping up the way stockinette garments so often do, despite the garter stitch border. The yarn used is toddler friendly Lion Brand Baby Soft and Bernat Softee Baby acrylics in DK weight. Overall I really enjoyed the pattern, and I think the only change I made was to reverse the order of the shaping stitches in the skirt.)