i want to see your office chairs!

Friday, January 29, 2010

I confess to having a web analytics service that I check compulsively. It's neat because you can see what phrase people Googled that led them to your blog, what country they are from, what other posts they clicked on in the archive. So I've learned something: people all over the world are recovering their old office chairs using my tutorial! This old post from back in Novemer 2009 gets the most visitors of any other post on my blog. And that brings me to this request: please, please, please send me photos of your finished chairs!!! Just click on "email me" over in the sidebar and send me a jpeg of it. Once I get a couple, I'll post them.

making it in the usa

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In my 20-year career in the apparel business, I witnessed the complete and total shift away from the manufacturing of fabric and clothing in the USA to making it all in the Orient. When I was first starting out, you could actually "run downtown" in New York City to check up on your production run. There was no placing of orders way  before knowing how much you sold, no predicting trends a year ahead, no international flights or FedExing. Now that's just the way it's done. Now it's a novelty if an article of clothing is made here.

With all the wastage involved, shipping costs, and duty rates on top of it all, it boggles my mind that it's still cheaper to produce things overseas. I guess the savings involved in using cheap labor just trumps everything. Third world countries don't provide health insurance or living wages to their workers and labor is still a chunk of the cost of an item. If a company has a conscience and doesn't want to buy into all that, do they just price themselves out of the market? I don't think most companies even question it anymore. But if it were me, I'd think it would be worth it to take a second look at producing in the USA again.
And, well, it is me! That's why my tiny little company is thrilled to be doing business with American Apparel. They are actually producing here in the USA, paying their employees decent wages, providing health insurance and good working conditions, exploring organic fibers, recycling their scraps, and making a decent, price-competetive product. They pay $12 per hour to start (and that was a few years ago- it might be more now), while a 3rd world factory might pay $1 per day for similar work. Yet, American Apparel has found a way to still be price-competetive on the most price-sensitive item in the market: the tee shirt. No duty payments, or overseas shipping costs might have a little to do with it. Having a vertically integrated business might have something to do with it (no middlemen or extra mark-ups along the way). What's not to love? Ok, so they've been busted for using illegal aliens, but who hasn't been in LA? At least they were paying them fairly. So they've had a few racy ads- whatever! Read more here.

I just received my first batch of tee shirt blanks from American Apparel and found them to be of excellent quality and fashionable fit. I still can't believe they support us little people by providing a pricing structure that allows for no minimums! I ordered a dozen total tee shirts divided between a few colors and sizes.  I spent all last weekend appliqueing my little heart out and I couldn't be more pleased with the end product! The tees are listed in the shop already.
Eat your heart out Fruit of the Loom!!!

bad habits die hard

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Generally, I'm pretty disappointed that Domino magazine is gone and that the publisher decided to give me Glamour Magazine to finish out my subscription. The two magazines are not remotely comparable, but as long as it's here, I read it. I have to give Glamour credit ,though, I actually found this recent article on sleep useful. I find myself in a vicious cycle of never getting enough sleep. What can you do if you're a mom that can't afford a nanny? When else, besides after the kids are in bed, are you ever going to have time for yourself or to make stuff or to work?

Even though I'm busier than ever with the opening of my Etsy shop and freelance work picking up, I decided to follow the recommendations in the article which is to try to get between 7 1/2  and 9 hours each night as well as go to bed and wake up at consistent times every day. I've never been able to do it in the past, but I decided I really need the extra energy, boost in mood, and bonus weight loss.  Really, it's so logical- we all know we feel better with more sleep, but why can't we follow through?

So I managed to get 8 1/2 hours for two days in a row! I had to force myself to not start any absorbing projects after the kids were in bed. The first day I woke up 1/2 hour before the alarm, went downstairs for a cup of coffee and a browse through the J.Crew catalog before the kids woke up and the chaos started. For some reason, it didn't seem so chaotic. For once I didn't yell at the kids to hurry up, and I wasn't late dropping my boy off at preschool. Hmmm.. this is pretty cool. The second day, I felt like running a marathon, but instead I did a boatload of design work for a client, did a bunch of push ups, actually got dressed and put make up on, and made a home-cooked meal for dinner. Rock on! Then day 3 came around and I only got 7 hours. I got hooked on a tv show and blew it on the bed time. Today I'm paying for it! I had chicken parmesan for breakfast, spent the morning web surfing, and spending too much discretionary income on silly stuff. I was supposed to be cranking out more designs for my loyal client who happens to have a deadline, but I went on Regretsy.com and couldn't help myself.

I bought this Regretsy t-shirt from zazzle.com . It's an actual quote from an Etsy seller. Do I need it? Absolutely not! The sale benefits something, I think- oh who cares! Next, I check out some of the Regretsy inside joke reader-designed fabric at Spoonflower. I really should do some work... oh look! They have fabrics with the Regretsy "clone kitty"!

designed by Lynda Williams
These are from a Photoshop contest on Regretsy. So other people besides me get sucked into wasting too much time on Regretsy!

 designed by Kurt Storey

designed by Sarah Robertson

designed by Natalie Backus

 designed by Christine Gunn

Spoonflower is a really neat resource. You can design your own fabric in Illustrator or Photoshop or whatever, send the file to Spoonflower, and have any amount of yardage printed up on your choice of fabric. Or you can buy other people's designs- then that person gets a commission. I'd really like to try it... first I think I'll buy a couple of yards of one of these. I love this last one by Christine Gunn. It  looks like a pretty paisley from a distance, but then a closer look shows it's the "clone kitty" and "garbage elephant"! It is so clever, I think I need to buy a few yards of it in bamboo/cotton just to see how it feels, make a skirt to go with my new t-shirt- some tax deductible R&D... oh crap, it's 1:30, I'm craving McDonald's, and I still have designs to start!

I'd like to do better tonight on the sleeping, but I might have to catch up on work and Project Runway is on...

i did it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Worst economic downturn since the Great Depression- whatever. Notoriously slow shopping month- who cares? Dreary and freezing cold weather- no problem! My shop is open! I made my January 15th self-imposed deadline and got some items listed before midnight. I'm still tweaking and adding of course. I'm on my third banner design and I'm not sure it's the last. I have no tops listed because my American Apparel t-shirt blanks just arrived. I have ideas for some accessories and baby-sized outfits to make in the coming weeks as well. Thanks to Mom and Dad for coming up to watch the kids so I could concentrate!

Thank you friends for your support and encouragement! Off I go to applique some t-shirts...

chirp & bloom spring photo shoot

Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome to the lowest budget photo shoot ever!!! I hope it doesn't look it, but I am not a trained photographer, have no equipment but a tripod and an 8 year-old digital camera with a delay as slow as molasses. For the cost of a bouquet of flowers, a few pairs of footless tights, and some snacks, I now have photos of my wares on bodies! Thank you to my very agreeable little accomplices!
"jumble" skirts
These pieced skirts are made from scraps of reclaimed clothing as well as new fabrics, about a 50/50 mix. They are easy to wear, with a delicate lingerie elastic waist. A tiny crochet lace trim finishes off the hem.

"rosebud" dress
 The 100% cotton gingham of this dress is new, but the appliques are of reclaimed material. Wear now with a turtleneck and leggings, later without the layers.

"shirt skirt"
I have been making these skirts out of the stacks of shirts I have been collecting from my thrift sources. The variety of color available is amazing! I keep the plackets and pockets intact and add on a contrasting waistband with adjustable elastic in the back. I went ahead and lined them in cotton lawn trimmed with an eyelet ruffle that just barely peeks out at the bottom.

More to come...

perfect edgestitching

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I've been on a roll this week! My machinery is agreeing with me, and I no longer have that feeling that I'm sewing with oven mitts on. I'm still on track to open the chirp and bloom shop on January 15th.

I owe this in part to the lovely people at Hayes Sewing Machine Company. When I bought my Babylock "sewing computer" from them, it entitled me to a couple of free sewing lessons. I didn't think I needed any, but they were free, so I thought, what the heck. Whoa, am I glad I went! I was so big for my britches, I didn't even know what I didn't know. Gone are the days of just eyeballing my topstitching and hoping it comes out straight. I told the Hayes people I was really trying to perfect my edge stitching on pockets and hems and they steered me to this special foot called an edge joining foot.

I would never pick this out on my own from the rack of about 1000 different feet they sell. Edge joining? But I guess that applies to sewing on a pocket.
It has an ingenious guide that you butt up to the edge of your pocket or hem and keep there to stay on course while you sew. You use the adjustable needle positioning of your machine to set how close to the edge your stitching will be. That's something my old Singer didn't do.

An added bonus is that it makes stitching in the ditch effortless. The guide fits in the groove of the seam and with the needle positioned dead-center, it is easy to keep the stitching right in the crack. My waistbands never looked better. I'm using it constantly.

It even makes sewing trim on easier.

Well, off I go to do more sewing, but here's another sneak peek into my shop: the mood board for early spring.

the packaging dilemma

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's getting down to the wire now with the Etsy shop opening. I'm sticking with the January 15th date, although it looks like my selection won't be complete. I don't think my t-shirts will arrive in time, but that will give me something to list the following week.

Time to think about how to package and mail stuff in case I actually sell something. It really is a dilemma. Most clothing companies have gone to recyclable plastic mailers made of partially recycled material. The advantages are the cheapness, lightweightness (reduces shipping cost), and waterproofness. Then even though the outer packaging is waterproof, the clothes inside are individually bagged in more plastic. I know why they do it- to keep them clean during the picking process in the warehouse- but I still don't like it. "Recyclable" is somewhat of a loose term when it comes to plasticy substances if you ask me. The Lands' End mailer I am examining right now has a #4 recycle symbol on it. Here in Delaware only #1 & #2 plastics are taken. #4 goes straight to the landfill.

If I went this route, Uline makes a tear-proof polyolefin mailer that is a very cheap option at $24 for a case of 100 12x15 1/2 mailers. I'm just not ready to give up on something more green yet.

In my searching, I came across a plastic mailing product that is actually biodegradable. Now we're talking! EcoEndure is onto something. Their polypropylene is molecularly altered to degrade over time. Bacteria can actually break it down! It is certified compostable! A pack of 25 8 1/2 x 11 mailers is a doable $12.60, but there are two problems: they are clear and 8 1/2 x 11 is the biggest size. They are meant for mailing booklets and papers. I can't see mailing clothing in a clear mailer. Now come up with a bigger, opaque version, and that would be exciting! That is, if people actually composted them and didn't send them to the landfill anyway.

I'm seriously considering CareMail mailers . They are made from unbleached 90% recycled paper that is 50% post consumer which I feel is "less bad" than the standard plastic variety and I like the way they look. They claim to be rugged and are cushioned too. They can be recycled yet again with your mixed papers. Maybe the mailers would be durable enough to be used multiple times- you wouldn't do that with the plastic ones. It would be even better if they were compostable, but the two real problems I have with them are the price- $1.15 each if you buy 25 of the 10 1/2 x 14 3/4 size and the fact that they are not waterproof. I was trying to avoid having to use a plastic bag inside, but maybe that's not such a huge concern. It would have to be pretty wet to soak through the package. The mailman would have to leave it on an unsheltered porch during a storm. Don't most people have a storm door that packages can be tucked inside of?

Probably the most green thing to do would be to just reuse boxes I already have. I ordered a couple of small fabric pouches from Sweet and Light recently, and Jayne mailed them to me in a flattened cereal box turned inside-out and taped around the edge. I don't know if most people would find that cute, but I appreciated it enough to start saving some cereal boxes myself. I like the looks of the Care Mail mailer better, but you can't beat the price of the cereal box! She did use a small plastic bag inside for protection, though, so I'm back to how to deal with the water resistance problem. I guess I could use grocery bags, but they are so trashy. I'm trying to be an upscale yet green brand here!

I'm open to suggestions. Please comment if you have any!

a chirp for christmas

Monday, January 4, 2010

Whew! The holidays are over and the kids go back to school tomorrow! Between the blizzard and the winter break, we've had plenty of together time. Actually, the hubs and the grandparents did a lot with the kids while I was in the basement trying to make progress on sewing stuff for chirp & bloom.

Can I just say that I have the sweetest husband ever? He's more of a Amazon/Home Depot/Gap kind of guy, but he went and got himself set up with an Etsy account just so he could get me something I would like for Christmas. And this is after threatening to just wrap up the sewing machines I had to buy this year and stick those under the tree.

Out of all of my "favorites", he picked this sweet little bird necklace by Sue Urquhart of Lulu Bug jewelry in Santa Rosa, California. I find birds uplifting and cheerful. They are part of why I love working at home- I get to have the windows open and hear the chirping of the birds. The necklace is made of a material called "PMC" which stands for precious metal clay, the precious metal being silver. It's a relatively new material that's only been around for 12 years or so. I have only a vague idea of what is involved in metalsmithing, but what I usually picture is gobs of red-hot molten stuff getting poured into molds. Not so with PMC.

It handles basically like regular clay and gets fired in a kiln. Sue etches the imagery for her jewelry onto brass plates and prints the textures onto the clay. The technique allows for fine details which get even finer as the clay shrinks (about 15%) in firing. There is some finish work after the firing involving brushing and filing. I'm sure it's all a lot harder than it sounds, but not as hard or limiting as traditional metalsmithing. Sue's blog has all sorts of interesting tidbits about it.

See? Not all jewelry has to be made overseas in mass quantities.