Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

A good and patient man

There have been a lot of bear posts lately, I realize that.  It's the most popular item for the holiday season, and each one is so different -- and each story is so different -- that I like sharing them.

This set also comes with a story, which I will tell, but first I have to give credit where credit is due -- to Mario, who learned this weekend that he could tie a 16" necktie on a stuffed bear.  Thankfully said stuffed bear did not have its arms and legs in place when this occurred, because it would have just made it more difficult.

The woman who ordered these bears had a special request. Could I make a set of 2 bears in a week?  They're for her 2 daughters, and the clothing provided is from her grandfather, who is expected to pass away within the next few weeks.  The bears were his idea, and they picked out the clothes together, but then he surprised her by saying he wanted to be the one to give the bears to her girls.  She thought she'd just take the clothing and put it aside until after the holidays, but he had other ideas.

So she contacted me to see if we could play beat the clock together and make a special gift from her grandfather to her daughters.

All I can say is that grandpa had some serious style.  I've gotten every kind of fabric imaginable for these bears, and they're all special because of what the garments mean to people, but this was one of the first times I really regretted cutting up a  piece of clothing.  The ivory-and-black herringbone jacket was silk/camel hair, and the black-and-gray houndstooth check was silk/wool.  Both are luscious to feel and the insides of the jackets, when exposed, made for a nice lesson in men's tailoring.

(Actually the guts of the jackets are up on a shelf in my workroom for me to study at leisure after the holidays, when I might actually have time to sew for me -- or Mario -- again).

Her other request for these bears, aside from speed, was that they have neckties.  Her grandfather is known for his tie collection and he handed over a lilac silk and a maroon paisley for this project, and in addition to the ears/foot pads, she asked if I could make tiny neckties for them.

Turns out I can.

This is definitely not something I'll do too often -- it was a little bit of a pain working with tie silk on such a small scale, and an adventure for Mario tying a tie that small -- but it really finished them off in a style appropriate to the donor of the garments.  (I know I could have made a faux tie, but I decided to try for the real thing -- and in case you wondered, a bear's necktie is 16" long).

P.S. I ended up getting a third order from her, a combined-fabric bear for her mom.  I kind of like that one (in the center) best of all.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sweater Bears

I have to say these are two of my favorite bears thus far.

Certainly not because of the fabric -- while that sweater knit looks really cute and I love the variations in color that gave me so much to work with, it was a loosely woven acrylic and even with interfacing on the back, it wiggled and frayed and caused lots of profanity in the workroom.

But it was worth it in the end, don't you think?

I didn't end up using every bit she gave me; the patches got packed up the box with the bears to return because the larger one just didn't work on the back of the bear, and I didn't want to ruin the sweater front with it.  Instead, I worked the cufflinks through the sweater knit on the front, to look like badges, and I cut down the two monogrammed hankies so the bears could wear them like scarves around their necks.

Just as cool, the buyer said she has a few friends waiting to see these guys because they're considering similar projects.  So the sweater twins might help bring in a little more income, which is always welcome at the heating season time of year.

Custom requests have become the biggest part of my Etsy business.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised; the way Etsy has changed recently with shops being permitted to hire outside manufacturing and yet still call themselves "handmade," the only way to guarantee your item actually is "handmade" is to contract for its making yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New York State of Mind

Almost two weeks ago I took the bus up to NYC to meet up with some sewing friends for's 13th birthday party. We toured the McCall's pattern company, and there was fabric and wine and conversation and cake, and more fabric, and more wine, and a good time was had by all.

I treated myself to Amtrak home because I didn't feel like spending 2+ hours on the bus, but the train stopped somewhere around Trenton and I still ended up spending 2+ hours getting home, just in slightly more comfort.

I always look forward to going to New York, because I always go for some fun purpose: a play, an exhibit, a meet-up with friends. And I always come home grateful that I don't live there.

Manhattan wears me out. Too many people, too much traffic, too much noise. Too much much. Every time I go, I come home a little less hostile about Philadelphia, at least for a while. Here I may only be 4 feet from my neighbors, but it's better than 4 centimeters while trying to cross a street. I think New Yorkers have a bad reputation simply because they're guarding what little precious personal space there is left in that teeming city.

It usually takes a day or two for my brain to settle back down, to a point where I can hear myself think, to be able to write or come up with anything out of the ordinary.

I know people who live there. I know people who did, and wish they still did.

I will never be one of them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Take time to breathe
So I've been temping since late July in my friend's office. It’s been a good gig, 3 days a week (of my choosing, so I can rearrange the schedule to prep for craft shows – or recover from them), and the money's been welcome to replenish the savings account.

But it’s really reinforced the fact that I don’t want to be in an office anymore.

Which is not to say that I won’t do this again, when funds are low and I get an offer I can work with, but I've discovered that getting by with non-traditional jobs is much more up my alley.

Mario and I recently did a homesteading workshop in upstate NY, and one of the things that I found most interesting was that the happiest people seemed to have no “traditional” jobs – the woman who ran the workshop has a small farm, a popular blog, has written several books, and teaches archery part-time at a local resort. She lives a small, local existence with barter (of goods or of her time) being a large part of her personal economy. Another presenter teaches, but also raises pigs, does pig roasts, writes and does lumberjacking. Other presenters also have several smaller income sources that add up to almost enough to get by, and that seems to satisfy them.

After 30 years of doing a job I never particularly enjoyed (but whose salary I was very attached to because of the life it gave me), I’m over it. Each year I worried about getting a good raise, and about whether or not a co-worker who didn't work as hard, but who was less prickly, was making more than I was.

But you know what? It doesn't matter what she made (though yes, it still irks me that she was paid more for doing less) because what I was making was more than enough for the life I wanted.

I’m currently making about half of my old office salary, and before you ask, yes, Mario does contribute to some household bills, but until his own house sells, he’s paying a mortgage and utilities on a place he’s not living in – and there’s no current tenant, either. So the bulk of the expenses (mortgage, utilities, food) is coming out of my income and savings. Things will even out at some point, but for now, it’s all good.

My main takeaway from how much my life has changed in the last year or two is this: What is my time worth? What do I need so badly that I’m willing to trade my time to earn the money to pay for it?

 How we spend our time is how we spend our lives. I’m choosing not to spend mine trapped in a place where I’m not happy, not contributing anything and certainly not making anything.

I know everyone’s situation is different, and not every can – or wants to – walk away from a good 9-5 job, but this is where I am right now, and it works for me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

And more bears

It's getting close to the end of custom request season (there is a limit to how much I can get done before the holidays; I have to sleep sometimes), but I got an order a few days ago that I couldn't resist.

The buyer contacted me and said she's been keeping this sweater of her dad's since the 1970s and could I make two bears from it, one for her and one for her sister.  She also included two monogrammed hankies, a pair of cuff links and two fire department sleeve patches, and told me to use whatever I chose out of the lot to make them special.

All the stories I get with these custom requests are touching, but is there any better way to get straight to my closely-guarded soft spot than a 40 years dead firefighter dad, and you're still holding on to his stuff?

I don't think so.

These will be special.  For me as well.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bear Season

It's been a busy time around here.  The upcoming holidays means the start of custom bear season, and here I'm sharing my last 3 orders.

First, a bear made from an argyle sweater.  The buyer wrote to me and said that she lost her husband a few years ago, and has two small children.  She and her husband were active in the youth ministry at their church, and children he mentored are now old enough to marry and have children.  There's a baby due soon who is being named after her late husband, and she wanted to have a bear made for them from one of his sweaters, complete with monogrammed bib.

The two little bears are for her kids, because I remember how much it sucked to lose my dad, and at least I was old enough to have memories of him.  These kids won't, but at least they'll have bears.

The second bear, the turquoise one, is from a sort-of repeat customer.  I made a bear and quilt combo recently from an outfit worn to a new mother's wedding, and was contacted afterward by the recipient, who turned around and ordered a bear for her brother made from the outfit that grandma wore to his wedding.

Lastly, a set of 3 bears.  The purchaser there said that her mother was a very elegant, tasteful woman, and to prove it she sent me two of her mother's jackets, a dark purple and a black one.  Very tasteful, very elegant.  Very dark.  I asked if I could add a third fabric to break it up, and chose a small floral that kept the dark tones but added enough light that you could actually tell the other two fabrics apart.  Lilac bows and embroidery for the nose/mouth finish the brightening.

I love doing custom work more than anything -- every piece comes with stories about the wearers of the clothing, the recipients of the bears . . . some lovely stories and a new challenge every time.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Winter is coming

And so are the holidays.

Whether we like it or not.

Whether we're ready or not.

I've got something useful & beautiful for everyone, all 10% off with discount code WINTERISCOMING.  Shipping is always free.