Playing with ‘straplines’

ETSY has been busy re-designing shop-fronts. I have used that as an opportunity to re-think how I describe what it is that I do. I seem to have outgrown my first strapline, ‘Coast and Country Textiles’: firstly because with the advent of my greeting cards range, I no longer offer textile products alone; and secondly because my work has naturally graduated towards the coast rather than the country. Time for a re-think.

Playing with straplines is an interesting  activity. It has forced me to take a step back and look at my work from the outside. I have had all kinds of conversations with myself as part of the process and in the end I have decided to go with ‘Contemporary Coastal Style’. I will live with that one for a while and see how it feels.

In praise of the pinny

I’ve been branching out a little in terms of my product range which now includes 100% cotton screen printed Avocets and Oystercatchers aprons. I’m delighted with how they’ve turned out. They look great and are so easy to wash and wear. I’m certainly going to add a few more of these to the range and am already busy planning the next design…..

Branching Out……

The last few weeks have seen me branching out a bit in a bid to expand my portfolio of products. I have recently completed designs for two aprons to match my Avocets and Oystercatchers tea towels. They are currently in the process of being screen printed and I can’t wait to see the results. I’ve really enjoyed returning to the drawing board and having some fun with my sewing machine as it’s so easy to get caught up in the process of making already established designs to fulfil orders. I may find myself with a bit more time in the near future to focus on the design side of things as I’m currently ‘in talks’ with a local freelance sewer who I’m hoping, will turn out to be my knightess in shining armour. Exciting new steps ahead I think….

Ta-dah!

My brand new website is now up and running. http://www.karenwalshe.co.uk

I’ve been working on it for a while now and am quite pleased with the results. I used a moonfruit template (http://www.moonfruit.com) which I found pretty straight forward and as you can see, I had fun creating links all over the place 🙂 

Do let me know if you come across any glitches. I’ve tested it out a few times but you never know – I may have missed something. 

Around the World Blog Hop

Last week the lovely Lisa from The Quilting Bird (http://thequiltingbird.wordpress.com) asked me if I would like to get involved in an around the world blog hop. I was delighted! What a fabulous thing to be asked to do and what a wonderful way to link up with bloggers I have been following and others I hadn’t yet met.

The rules of the Blog Hop are 1) Acknowledge the person who nominated you 2) Answer four questions. 3) Link to one to three bloggers to carry on the Around The World Blog Hop, it’s like passing on the Olympic flame!

So here goes………

What are you currently working on?

Like many people I would imagine, I am currently working on a few different projects. In fact, I end up wasting time trying to decide which one to work on when I find myself with a bit of time spare.

One of these projects is my first ever quilt. Last year my mum bought me some of Lynette Anderson’s books for Christmas. I love the ‘cottagey’ feel to her quilts. Having never quilted before I decided to start with the Flower Spool Quilt in her book ‘Country Cottage Quilting’. I just loved the fact that it was made up of tiny squares. It brought me right back to my childhood when my mum would sew my summer dresses and I got to choose the fabric. I always went for the same sort of thing…..pretty flowers…the tinier the better….and always blue!  I also loved the way that her quilts incorporate appliquéd motifs of things like cotton reels; quirky birds; pretty flowers; and a host of cottage garden images. As appliquéing is what I do most of the time when I sew I thought this would be a perfect way to get into quilting.

LynetteAndersonFlowerspooldesign

This is a photo from Lynette Anderson’s website. Mine won’t be as professional as this but it gives you an idea of what I’m working on at the moment.

I have been working on this quilt for over 6 months now and am hoping to get it ready in time    for Christmas so that I can give it to my 10 month old step granddaughter as a pressie. Two months to go – fingers crossed!

Alongside my first quilt, I’m also working on trying to keep up with orders for my cushions. Since investing in some professional product photography the orders have been coming in pretty regularly. High quality photos really do make all the difference.

I’ve sold out of my Curlew cushions so it’s a busy weekend of sewing ahead, particularly as an order for one popped into my inbox this afternoon.

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This is my curlew cushion – inspired by the lovely estuary town where I live.

How does your work differ from others?

I always find this a difficult question to answer. The owner of the local gallery shop says that she was attracted to my products because of the high quality of workmanship. It’s hard to say those sorts of things about your own work but I do know that I take a great deal of care and have always been a perfectionist.

My style has changed quite a bit over these last few years. I used to make seaside inspired home accessories like beach huts and bunting cushions. But since I moved to Topsham my work has become more refined I think – more subtle. So instead of the usual sailing boats and quirky seagulls cushions which can be found in most seaside towns, my products now depict elegant wading birds using fabrics that mirror the soft dusky colour pallet of the South West wetlands.

So far I have designed cushions featuring Curlews; Oystercatchers; and my signature design, Avocets. Two of those have been turned into screen printed tea towels which have proven to be very popular. My plan is to have tea towels available in all three of my current designs and in time, to grow my range to cover a whole host of wading birds.

Why do you write/create what you do?

When I was younger I dabbled in bits of dressmaking and then just stopped sewing…..until four years ago when I had a sudden urge to make and frame a lightly stuffed seagull. I shyly showed them to a local shipowner who loved them, bought them, and my business was born.

I don’t think it is at all a coincidence that four years ago was the time when I met my other half. I finally felt free and grounded. I had never thought of myself as a creative person until then. I guess it was just waiting to get out.

I find sewing a great way to relax and put aside the stresses and strains from the working day.

How does your creative process work?

I love the feeling I get on a Saturday or Sunday when I know I have a whole afternoon to myself when I can take over the kitchen table, put a Jane Austen audio book on, and settle down to a a few hours of sewing. Time just goes by and I find that I’m wholly absorbed by what I’m doing. Some processes are more relaxing than others. I always get a little tense when I’m about to do the Avocets’ beaks. Free motion machine embroidery stitch doesn’t give you much room for getting things wrong when it comes to delicate bits like that. But I’m getting better….and quicker…..and am freeing up more. My favourite bits are the swirling lines on the wings. I love allowing myself to be completely free with those so that they look like lightly sketched pencil lines.

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Passing on the Hop

So that’s me…and now I would like to introduce you to the lovely Cathy at Blueberry Patch and the equally lovely Amie of the Sewing School who will be taking up the mantle and hopping the blog to their parts of the world.

http://cathy-blueberrypatch.blogspot.co.uk
http://sewingschool.blogspot.co.uk

Getting it right…

I recently attended an introductory ‘School for Startups’ session in Exeter led by the legendary Doug Richard and found myself putting my hand up in response to one of his questions. Suddenly I was suddenly transported into the parallel universe of ‘Dragon’s Den’ as Doug threw question after question in my direction, putting me on the spot, and forcing me to answer some very pertinent questions about my ‘business’ in front of everyone! I was terrified. But there was no letting up until he had drilled down far enough to find the stumbling block to future growth…namely my pricing structure….but more about that later.

Although I was incredibly nervous during this grilling, I knew that it was an amazing opportunity. I knew also that I just had to be brave. There was no point attending one of Doug’s seminars if I wasn’t going to throw myself into it. You get out what you put in, as they say. And I learnt so much!

The first thing I learnt was that I actually have a business. Until that point I had been very confused about whether it was a hobby or a fledgling business. Doug made it very clear (resulting in lots of audience laughter at my expense) that my venture was indeed a business. I found this very reassuring. I also found it reassuring that I apparently am already doing a lot of things right:
a) I am selling on ETSY (although I didn’t know at the the time that Doug has been involved with ETSY); Folksy; my own website; and have recently started selling through the new Country Living magazine online store.
b) I have a clear ‘image’ (coastal inspired textile products) and was able to articulate why customers might want to buy my products and how my work stands out.
c) I offer free p&p on my website (and on ETSY and Folksy) and ‘absorb’ at least part of the cost of the postage into the price of the product.
d) I know exactly how much it costs to make each product (in terms of the materials used such as fabric; buttons; thread; bondaweb; labels etc)
e) I have a two tiered pricing structure (direct to the customer prices and trade prices)…..
…..and that’s where it started to fall apart.

“And how much do you charge for your labour?” asked Doug and I was silent. “How long does it take you to make a cushion?” he pressed. “And how much should you charge for the time it takes to make it?”. “If you landed a big order tomorrow how much would you pay someone per hour to help you make the 200 cushions ordered?”. And I stumbled.

It’s easy enough to include some labour time into my ‘direct to the customer’ prices but my trade prices don’t take labour into account at all. For some time now (in fact three years) I have been selling to local shops. My trade prices have covered the cost of materials with a little extra on top (£2.50ish per cushion). No wonder I’m not yet a millionaire!

I have told myself that it doesn’t really matter. Sewing is my hobby and isn’t it nice that successful shop owners want to buy my products. And as long as I cover my costs……

But Doug’s grilling has taught me that if I want my business to grow I need to attend to my pricing structure and I need to include labour time in my trade prices. This, I realise, will mean that the cost of my products should increase quite dramatically. As Doug said on the day, “You already know that a customer will pay £30 for a cushion. You don’t know that they won’t pay £50”.

I have been doing lots of research, finding out how much other designer makers charge for similar products. And I have been doing lots of talking to the owner of the local gallery shop who stocks my products. We are working towards a gradual price increase which feels like a step forward in the right direction. I’m told that I need to be careful about increasing my retail prices too much as I am just starting out and am not yet ‘known’ (in the way that people like Poppy Treffry and Jan Constantine are known).

But I imagine that this journey is one that many of you have found yourselves on. I would love to hear your story and how you went about getting your prices right.