I have been sewing a lot lately and it’s been really fun, even though it’s not how I imagined it would be.
I’m making pillows. Lots and lots of pillows. I’ve created my own patterns, then silk-screened, hand-painted, or had them printed at Spoonflower, then sewn them into 18″x18″ pillow squares. My intention is to sell them – maybe on etsy.com or at a craft fair like the Urban Craft Uprising. I don’t quite know yet. But let me back up a bit….
When I was working in corporate America and things got tough, I would often say, “I’m going to quit this job and open a fabric store!” In fact, one time I actually did quit my job and when I told my boss, she jumped up, gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so happy you’re finally going to open your fabric store!” No, I told her, I was taking another programming job. I was actually pretty surprised that she took my little fabric shop fantasy so seriously.
But I do love fabric. When I was in high school I worked at a decorator fabric store with my mom, and even though it was in a dingy warehouse building, I loved being around all of that beautiful fabric. I loved when the fabric reps came in and showed us their new lines. I loved helping people chose fabric and seeing it transformed into beautiful curtains or slipcovers or upholstery.
But when I quit my job and and jumped into the void (almost two years ago now) I didn’t think I really wanted to open a fabric store. There were already three really great ones in my neighborhood. But I did start thinking about the idea of getting into the fabric design business. I took a textile design class last year which I loved, and purchased and read a bunch of books on the topic. But it hasn’t been until this year that I’ve actually made any progress with the idea. And I think Krypton is why.
Krypton is helping me get over my fear of thinking: Who the hell do I think I am, at my age, to take a risk like this and try to do something so completely different with my life, when I could be making really good money consulting, programming, or web designing? I should have better insurance. I should be saving more for retirement. I should be saving for my kids’ college educations. Even as I write those words, the doubt creeps in. And I have to constantly remind myself that I am so much happier having slowed my life down, spending more time with my kids, pursuing what fulfills me. That following my heart is the right thing to do. That Todd and I will eventually be much more successful this way. That I’m approaching my life the way I’d want my kids to. I sure hope I’m right! But only time will tell. And I am still doing web design – it’s just freelance now instead of working for someone else.
Other times I think that what I’m doing is the product of a mid-life crisis. But a crisis is really a turning point, isn’t it? A crisis, while potentially dangerous, can also be an amazing opportunity to take a new path and have new experiences. I watched a documentary recently where Sting said something like “Millions of years ago there was some crisis in the ocean that prompted creatures to move onto land.” Even though I can’t remember it exactly, I think about that quote a lot. Evolution is caused by crisis. So if this is a mid-life crisis, then I am embracing mine. But back to the pillows…
After taking the fabric design class and having read and re-read my fabric design books, it became clear that fabric design could be a pretty tough business to get into. The market seems to be saturated with ‘surface designers’ and the likelihood of making much money or getting licensed by any of the big fabric companies seems slim. Fabric isn’t made in American anymore. It’s made overseas by big companies in big quantities. So, what to do, what to do…
Could I make my own fabric? I wondered. Why not give it a shot? And that’s how I got into this pillow making business. Making pillows is my first attempt at designing and making my own fabric, then sewing it into a final product. And I’m loving it.
“I’d like you to meet my pillows.”
This whole idea evolved from the ‘Ship-It Journal‘ I presented to my Krypton group a few months ago. Our Krypton group, which started as a group of people taking an on-line/in-person course created by Seth Godin has evolved into a regular book-club type of meeting, but instead of discussing a book, we are supporting each other as we present a project we’re working on, in the form of a Ship-It journal. Ten of us meet every other week from noon until 2pm, and at each meeting one of us presents our project idea, and the rest of us give feedback. Then we go around the table and each person gives an update on their respective projects. It’s been so cool.
Writing your project down, then talking about it in front of a group of impartial listeners is an invaluable experience. Not only does your project become real, but it might even become something much different than what you started with. And checking in regularly keeps up your momentum. You don’t want, week after week, to say, “I have nothing new to report.” That never happens. And the best part is that everyone loves to help everyone else and has so much to offer in the form of feedback, advice, expertise, and ideas. I always leave those meetings feeling exhilarated. And every person in the group is pursuing a really great project.
So for my Ship-It Journal I said that my goal was to make pillows and then sell them at the Urban Craft Uprising, my most favorite craft sale, on July 12th in Seattle. Which seems pretty funny to me now because when I wrote that down, I hadn’t even created a single pillow, and the deadline for applying was April 11th. But it was something that got me going, and even though that deadline has come and gone, I have created three designs, set up a silk screening and sewing table in my home, and have so far made eight pillows – which certainly isn’t enough to sell at a craft fair, but it is enough for me to learn a heck of a lot about the process, and what it’s going to take to make pillows that people might want to actually buy. And new ideas keep flooding in. This could go anywhere. And that’s really the whole point. Just start something. Just do it. And amazing things will start to happen.
And that’s why things aren’t how I imagined they’d be. Obviously I thought it would take less time. But just getting ready to do your first silk-screen takes a lot of time: buying supplies, creating the design, printing it onto a transparency, burning the screen, choosing and buying the fabric and paint, washing, cutting, ironing it, and finally figuring out how to line it all up. Once you’ve done all that, the actual silk-screening goes really quickly. Unless there’s a problem with the screen. Then you have to do it all over again. Ugh.
Then once you’ve got your stack of silk-screened fabric squares done, they need to be heat treated to set the ink. Finally it’s time to sew. And it’s actually the sewing that takes the most time, especially since I’m sewing in piping and zippers. But when I’m all done sewing, turn the fabric right side out, and insert the pillow form, it’s magic. It is so satisfying to see what I’ve created. I love it. And my kids seem to love it to. I always feel the need to show off every pillow to them, because they are my biggest fans, and totally pump up my ego. They’ll say things like, “I love it! Can I have it?” or “Is that one for me?” or “That’s amazing mom. How did you do that?” Which of course makes me beam with pride. I also think it’s cool for my kids to see first-hand that it’s possible to make things yourself, and even more importantly, that it is incredibly gratifying to do so. But can I make money doing this? I have no idea…
So what’s next? Well, my Ship-It Journal has changed a bit, but I’m keeping my ship-it date of early July to sell a pillow, somehow, weather it’s an etsy shop or a craft fair or through a retailer. I also need a name, a logo, a way to package them, and if I do a craft fair, a way of displaying them. And I’m sure there’s much much more to consider.
My pillow studio
While I was on Spring Break I read a really great book by Twyla Tharp called “The Creative Habit” and it made me think so much about me and my pillows. I’d recommend this book to anyone pursuing a creative endeavor, no matter what your medium is – dance, writing, making anything, being an entrepreneur or a CEO. One (of the many) ideas reiterated throughout the book is to know your craft – all aspects of your craft – and work hard at it. She talks about how creativity isn’t just talent, it’s a passion fueled by dedication and sweat, or, as she says, “greatness is more the product of hard work, habit, and perseverance than it is about talent.” So while I would love to knock out some pillows and sell a whole bunch of them, I really need to allow myself the time to make them, from end to end, repeatedly, and make them great. I like them a lot so far, but I have only just begun to make fabric designs, silk-screen on fabric, and sew pillows, so I need to keep at it and get better at it. As I sew up each pillow, the next one gets a little easier, and each one teaches me something.
My first design was inspired from a Christmas card I made a few years ago where I wrote down my New Year’s resolutions in the form of inspiring verbs. I took those words and added some new ones, and silk screened them onto the fabric. Here’s what some of those pillows look like:
I know, this is kind of a bad blurry picture, but I don’t feel like revealing too much just yet, which might be weird of me, but I kind of want there to be a Grand Opening! type of thing when I have a whole line of completed pillows available to sell. So stay tuned!