Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

goodbye2014-hello2015Photo by Patrick Fitzsimons

I think January is a great time for reflection and planning and they’re traits that are firmly embedded in anyone that goes through teacher training; where you’re constantly encouraged to self-reflect and plan for improvement.

Well on that theme, this is a post that I originally meant to publish at the New Year and that I started writing notes for around the end of October last year. Oh well, it is still January….just!

What did 2014 bring?

2014 best bits

  • publication of my first book on sewing; “The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking” which almost sold out a month after publication and has remained at number 2 (occasionally number 1) in Amazon’s chart for dressmaking books since publication (only pipped to number 1 by the Sewing Bee book…..grrrr!)
  • invited to be a regular contributor to Love Sewing magazine
  • my 2nd year of being a regular contributor to Sewing World magazine
  • popular new styling collaborations with Clary Fisher
  • publication of my book about fashion design for kids “My Fashion Label”
  • being featured in the Molly Makes Sewing book-a-zine in December.

So, what awaits in 2015?

2015 new horizons

  • 8th year of teaching dressmaking and pattern cutting
  • 5th year of writing this blog
  • 4th year of MIY Workshop
  • 4th year of MIY Collection
  • some new MIY Collection sewing patterns
  • teaching for the first time at the Knitting & Stitching shows at Olympia and Alexandra Palace
  • more writing
  • a lot more life outside of work.

Back in October, this post started out as a slightly maudlin reflective post on my thoughts about other peoples’ blogs. I was tired, reeeeally tired and I was spending too much time keeping up with (or rather, trying and failing to keep up with) what everyone else in the sewing community was doing.  Rather than inspiring and motivating me, this exercise was starting to depress me. Knowing what’s involved in earning a living from a creative business, some of the blogs I was looking at just didn’t add up to me.

I suppose what I was searching for was authenticity and some kindred spirits. Authenticity makes for interesting and meaningful reading. Here’s my glamorous authentic reality: I have to pay myself each month, if I don’t, my rent and bills aren’t going to be paid. I’ve heard people running lovely creative businesses talking about not paying themselves. I don’t understand how this works other than having financial support from elsewhere and surely if a business doesn’t eventually earn you some sort of a living then it’s simply an expensive hobby?

There seems to be a business model followed by some popular blogs who are giving away lots of content (patterns) for free.  I think it works like this; a blog becomes popular, the blogger starts to accept advertising, the more popular the blog is, the more revenue is earned from advertising thus enabling the blogger to give away more free content which in turn makes it more popular (everyone likes something for nothing) and so it goes on.

I’m stubborn (a fact confirmed by people who know me well!) and I want to keep my blog ad-free, so I won’t ever convert to the advertising business model.  The flip side of that decision means that I need to earn a living from the intellectual property that I’ve built up over years of study and working in industry, through teaching, writing and selling my patterns not giving them away. While I do give away tons of free advice and tips on my blog (and students use my patterns in class for free), I won’t ever be giving away loads of free patterns. What you will get from me is an ad-free blog with original, high quality content that you can trust to be accurate and unbiased.

Over the last few months, every time I came back to my notes on this post I tinkered, edited and wrote more, but worried that maybe I should never actually publish it. Maybe this was frowned upon in the craft blogging world – to actually be honest and tell it like it is?  Not be bitter and negative, but simply an open and honest post about the reality of my business in an attempt to reassure and encourage others through a bit of authenticity.

Back in October, I came across a really thought provoking and refreshingly honest post via Instagram and discovered the wonderful Abby Glassenberg, here’s that post: http://whileshenaps.com/2014/11/fabric-designers-earn.html I imagine most home sewers will be shocked by what it reveals.

While I was on Abby’s site While She Naps I had a nosey around at her other posts, lovely patterns and podcasts and felt I’d found a much longed for breath of fresh air and more authentic voice; the way Abby approaches her business is so refreshingly open and honest. I sent Abby a bit of a gushing email as I wanted to her to know how much what she was writing about resonated with me and how it had really helped to drag me out of that slightly gloomy mood I had found myself in and encouraged me to think that perhaps it’s ok to be more open and honest in a blog. We’ve exchanged more emails since that first one, so I’m reassured that she doesn’t think I’m some kind of crazy stalker woman and I look forward to our future correspondences.

Now feeling nicely rested after a Christmas break and with a bit of perspective reading back through my original notes, I decided I should publish this post to offer an insight into my world, to try and encourage others in similar positions and to say thank you to some of the people who have helped me. The online sewing community is a funny old place. On the whole I think it’s hugely supportive and encouraging, but I do get the feeling that some of it can be a bit clique-y and “closed shop”.  Despite that, I’ve connected with some wonderful sewing and crafty people online (and in person) over the last few years who are becoming a great support to me.  They’re people for whom I have a lot of respect and who’s work I admire (in no particular order):

So, here it is – the authentic reality of running a business like mine:

  • throughout 2014 I worked on average a 60h / 7 day week with just a few exceptions,
  • in 2014 I had 2 weeks holiday,
  • currently, my business is just me and as well as all the nice stuff like teaching and developing new patterns and writing for books and magazines, I’m responsible for paying all the bills, I do the admin, book-keeping, marketing, social media and all the cleaning, including the toilet,
  • my social life pretty much disappeared in 2014, all work and no play makes a person pretty boring and much as I love my job, not everyone I meet wants to talk sewing.

Luckily I’m aware that for the last year I’ve been a bit too all work and no play and I know that it’s not sustainable or healthy, so 2015 will be bringing a few changes to my life both inside and outside of work:

  • more reading – my mind was too busy and too tired in 2014 and it was my worst year ever of reading, I struggled to finish anything I started and as a lifelong bookworm I hated it,
  • I’m going to nurture the positive connections I’ve made with people in my industry and stop being preoccupied with what everyone else is doing,
  • I will be ruthlessly saying no to anything that doesn’t fit in with the “grand plan” that I have for my business,
  • more exercise – I already make time for and enjoy exercise (I’ve written previously about the benefits I get from it here),
  • learn to play a musical instrument – something I’ve been thinking about for too long and that I now want to turn into reality.

Here are some thought-provoking blog posts I’ve read recently about the realities of working to earn a sustainable living in the craft industry:

by Abby Glassenberg:

http://whileshenaps.com/2014/11/work-for-free.html

by Eternal Maker:

http://www.eternalmaker.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/spotting-difference-on-copying-in.html

I’ve also previously written about similar subjects:

https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/luck-vs-hard-work/

https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/my-talk-at-craftaganza-aka-notes-on-a-ramble/

My good friend Liz of Quilty Pleasures gave me a little pearl of wisdom early on in 2014: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Oh how true and I shall be trying much harder to heed it in 2015.

4 responses to “Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

  1. Hi Wendy,

    I always thought the life of an independent business must be hard but it is not until you read the experiences of someone you know that you realise how hard it can be.

    My daughter has started working for a small Brighton company just round the corner from you and taking an interest in her work has made me realise a lot. The “want it now and want everything” mentality of this world means nobody values anything or anybody. Getting something as cheap as possible means that people are dumped for the corporate. Our joint new year resolution is to avoid the chain for the independent. So no more Starbucks, Costa or Pizza Hut for us and a world of quality and customer service awaits. It may cost a few pence more but it will be worth it and we may only manage 1 trip in 5 weeks instead of 1 in 4 but what a trip that will be.

    I am also going to apply this resolution to my sewing life. I am going to treat myself to an over locker. I have scoured the internet read blogs and chosen my model but although I want it now I have decided to buy it from an independent family run business which is fairly local, but also provides servicing. It will be a while before I can drive there but I am sure it will be worth the wait.

    Wishing you a brilliant and successful (and musical) year and I hope to get to one of your courses soon,

    Maria

    PS I also have a milkman – use them or loose them.

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    • Hi Maria, thanks for your comments and good for you!
      I also avoid the big chain coffee shops and haven’t shopped in Tesco for years, it does make life occasionally a bit more complicated, but nothing a bit of patience and organising can’t solve and it means that all the profits made by the company stay in the local area rather than being spirited away to some corporate HQ in another country. We have so many really good independent coffee shops in Brighton I don’t really know why anyone would go to one of those big chains.
      Exciting news re the overlocker!! I’m sure you’ll keep it very busy – time to branch out from leggings ;o)
      I hope you have a fab 2015 too (I hope your daughter is enjoying her new job), I’ve almost got 4 notes now….!!!
      See you soon.
      Wendy

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  2. Hi Wendy,

    Firstly thank you for the mention 🙂 I read this post because I think you have had a year very similar to mine and I was wondering how you had found it. I too have been working 60hrs or more a week with no time off and I’ve come to the same conclusions as you that I need to say no a lot more!

    My 2015 is all about taking more time off and taking a break too. On the reading front I found a couple years ago I was no longer reading because of the business so I set up an online book group, we aim to read a book a week (I managed it last year despite moving house and writing my own book!)

    If you’d like to join it’s on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/52books/

    Hopefully we’ll both get much more balance this year.

    Fi x

    PS. Huge congrats on the book sales!

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    • Hi Fi,
      You’re welcome, you were a great support to me last year when we were both going through similar turmoil!! But hooray we both survived intact and hopefully the better for it:o)
      I will definitely check out your book group thanks, I’ve got off to a good start and so far have read Tove Jansson “The Winter Book”, Hilary Mantel “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” and am now reading George Orwell “Animal Farm” which I’ve been meaning to read for years.
      Hope you’ve settled into your new home – looks like the sewing room is being well used ;o)
      Wendyx

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