I am sitting at home with a large cup of tea reflecting on the weekend that was – the Handmade Market. It was a big weekend – loads of customers, lots of sales and lots of lovely discussions about wool, tea, teabags, the environment, and everything in between! I sold out of reusable tea bags, have very low levels of stock to list in my online shop, and generally need to get back to work to restock – not a bad position to be in! First of all though I need to clean my house – the last week of intense preparation means that once again my housework was at the bottom of the list of priorities – oops!
A few highlights of the weekend in pictoral form – including a photo of me that a customer took and sent to me!
What next? Possibly a market in August, otherwise focusing on rebuilding stock and filling custom order will be my priority over the next week or so! (After I sleep, clean, and catch up on all my messages!!)
This is the perfect time of the year for making – it is cold outside but inside in front of the fire, with the winter sun shining through the glass, is perfect! My fingers have been busy with new creations and returns to old ones, and gearing up for the next Handmade Market on 28 and 29 July. And I have been trying out my self-description as an artist! I have been surprised at how easily it rolls off the tongue and how people just accept it as a fact! I am reminded that confidence is everything – if you are confident in yourself then others accept that you are authentic.
I have filled a few custom orders, and created some new designs in the tea cosy range. This custom order, for the Devonshire Teas being served at the Henry Lawson Festival in Grenville a couple of weeks ago was fun!
Of course I have also been busy growing my second business as a Thermomix consultant! It has been wonderful to rediscover my creativity in the kitchen as I am reminded again about all that can be achieved with food and good equipment! I have been enjoying getting out and meeting customers, and having that time for myself on my own terms! Occasionally I think I am mad for trying to grow two businesses at the same time, but they both provide such different inspiration and energy to my life that I am going to keep them both going and see where it leads me! (I was a bit excited when Thermomix released a new recipe collection aimed at High Teas though – the overlap seemed too perfect!) I have uploaded a few recipes to the Thermomix Recipe Community website, so if you are interested in Pineapple Whip, Gluten Free pizza bases or Gluten Free Banana Bread, head on over and have a look! I have also been playing with hiding vegetables in snacks with these spinach scrolls!
I had a moment of madness a few weeks ago when, after a cortisone injection in my shoulder left me in considerable pain, I decided to play with a pattern I had found on Pinterest as a distraction from the discomfort. I shared it on my personal Facebook page and my friends started requesting them straight away! I ordered in some nice thick cotton from Bendigo Woollen Mills and have started filling orders for *drum roll please* “Dishcloths of Holey Profanity”. They are based on the pattern created by TeezToppers but I have added in my own variations to make them suit my style. I haven’t decided whether to continue this as a full line in my handmade business but they are certainly providing a pile of fun for my friends at the moment! I say that these are the perfect dishcloths for tackling yet another mess in the kitchen that you didn’t make!
In addition to fresh tea cosy patterns I have also been working on restocking jewellery for my online store, Trove and The Collective Store in Brisbane. Next I think it will be time for some candle making as I have some teacups that are just crying out for a bit of love!
Of course all of this wonderful time to create does come at a cost. I dread having to open my studio door at the moment as it is chaos in there, and I keep hoping no one drops in for an unannounced visit as my housework is definitely below standard! But my sanity is relatively secure so I am happy despite the guilt!
I hope that this season finds you with time to do the things that are important to you!
My attendance at the Handmade Market went really well! Not only did I sell tea cosies, cup cosies and reusable tea bags, but I was able to talk to so many interesting people over the weekend! I think that the face to face interaction with customers is one of the absolute best things about selling at a market. They get to hear your story and you get to hear theirs, and it fills up my creative soul to have this interaction!
Of course one of the lovely things about selling at a market is the delightful compliments that you get along the way. I think my favourites were ‘You have made me smile’, and ‘I can’t help but be happy when I look at your stall’. Wow – talk about hitting me right in the emotions! What a privilege to be able to give people joy like that!
On the technical side of things I was pretty happy with my stall set up and display options (there is a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time when it comes to our local recycling centre – the shelves I bought for $10 could not have been made to fit any better!)
Post market is always a time for filling custom orders, some analysis, some housework, and some planning. I added a bit more into the mix this time, as I have started in my new role as a Thermomix consultant so was also looking after customers, bookings and cooking. Then along came a fantastic opportunity that threw a spanner in the works – well, slowed down all attempts to catch up on housework anyway! I had a call from a friend who asked if I could make 30 tea cosies in a space of 8 days to be used at the launch of the High Tea service at Pialligo Estate. They wanted some fabric, some woollen, and for me to be as creative as I wanted in their design. What a dream brief!! Of course I took it – and then sat down to assess what I could achieve in the time allowed. The end result was 20 woollen cosies and 10 fabric dome-cosies. The interesting thing was that my imagination and creativity didn’t diminish as I worked, but actually grew! It was as if letting myself be free to create kept feeding the ability to create – it was so much fun!
I spent hours working out patterns for silly things like puffy hearts, macarons and amigurumi birds, which will never be reclaimed in financial terms but which were massive investments in terms of creativity. My mother stepped in to help by creating knitted cosy bases that I then embellished, and my kids became very used to me saying ‘no – I have to keep working’ when they saw me sitting in front of the fire and TV with my hook in hand and thought that meant I was free to attend to their every need! My Dad kept my wood box full, and drove my son to school. Mum bought me groceries when I ran out of the basics, and I carried wool and a hook wherever I went. And then I delivered them, on time, and with my fingers crossed that they would be liked.
Through this process I truly realised for the first time, despite being told by other people over time, that I am an artist. I take ideas and create them from wool, through a complicated series of knots and twists with a hook, and they are unique, beautiful and works of art. I had started to accept this in my subconscious but delivering my work to a room full of staff who were preparing for their High Tea service cemented it. I am not a ‘crafter’, or a ‘hobbyist’, or even a ‘crocheter’. I am an artist. Talk about a rush of joy and self worth! I highly recommend taking a commission that pushes you to your limits to really learn about who you are artistically and creatively!
I have always found it hard to accept praise and believe it, and have struggled with my own self worth for many years. Taking this step of announcing to myself, and now to all of you, that I am an artist is empowering and freeing. I have worn many labels over the course of my life, and continue to wear many now – mother having been the dominant one for the last few years. Adding ‘artist’ to the list is definitely about something that is just me, and I like it!
What next? Well, I have another stall at the next Handmade Market on 28 and 29 July, some custom orders to fill, a Thermomix business to grow, and a creative force to release! Ha – that sounds scary! What I actually mean is that I have lots of creative ideas continuing to grow and gather in my head, so I need to get them out and into the world. Stand by for more updates!
Just popping in quickly to let you know that I am still alive and very busy being creative! This weekend I have my return to the Handmade Markets in Canberra after a 4 year absence! Well – I wasn’t really absent, I was working for Handmade Canberra, but this is my return as a designer, so it is a bit exciting! I have been flat out making and designing and getting carried away with ideas, so here are a few of the products I will have on sale and on display at the markets this weekend!
All that colour!! I will be back soon to fill you in with more detail of what has been happening in the nest, what other projects I have on the go and, of course, how the markets go, so stay tuned!
This year has started with a bang but I still feel like I am back in the twilight zone between Christmas and New Year, where I am never really sure what the date or day is. I find myself constantly wondering if March is a long way away, and being unsure of which weekend it is that various events are happening. I swear it is because my brain is too full, and not because of my advancing years.
Despite this sense of time escaping me, or perhaps because of it, I have been rather productive. I have been analysing what works for me in my product lines,and what was a great idea but hasn’t really translated well. As a result I am working on producing my tea cosies in ‘collections’. I am still to fully tease out the names of these collections, but in theory there will be a classic collection, a colourful collection and an artisan collection. I am not rushing into the final details for this plan because it seems to be benefiting from some reflection and refinement! As part of the classic collection I have been working on some repeatable patterns, with the intention of being able to keep them easily stocked in my shops, and with the longer term intention of releasing the patterns for them. So far the classic collection consists of spots and stripes!
I also finally had a chance to play with an idea I have had for a while of combining patchwork and sashiko stitching to make some insulated dome tea cosies, and I am very happy with the results.
And of course some flowers were created and applied with gay abandon to a number of cosies.
One of the lovely discoveries that I have made over the last month or so, with thanks to a helpful friend, is the wool from Bendigo Woollen Mills. It is wool that is grown near my home, and processed and died in Bendigo, so is 100% Australian. It is also beautiful quality wool, so I am switching over to only use that wool in all future creations, which means that I will be supporting other Australian small business people in the process.
And I finally have my products in place at The Collective Store in Brisbane, and in Trove in Canberra. (On reflection perhaps my sense of displacement in time has more to do with the sheer amount I have achieved so far this year!)
My initial display at Trove, Canberra
On the home front we have a slightly different landscape after my eldest chick was accepted to attend a boarding school located about 4 hours from home. She has settled in well and is discovering the differences between her all-girl Catholic school and this co-ed agricultural fully residential high school. She will be home at the end of this week for a few days and I am looking forward to seeing her. I must admit that I am very happy that the advent of smart phones means that I can stay in touch with her much more easily than when I was at boarding school myself. Back then (in the dark ages) my sister and I had a phone call from my parents once a fortnight, or we had to dial the international operator to make a reverse charges call to them, and letters written and mailed that took a couple of weeks to arrive. Now I can be texting with her before breakfast, send her a photo of something happening at home, and she has it instantly. I am trying not to smother her with contact, but it is nice knowing that it is there when she needs it.
The two chicks who are still home in the nest are having their ups and downs. I, and they, have fallen back into some old habits, which means that old patterns of behaviour aren’t changing in the way that I need them to. My current task is to form new habits myself, and then with them, in the hope of improving behaviour and school attendance respectively. This parenting gig is hard and I have been tested a lot over the last few weeks. I am definitely at the point of needing a break, so am working on putting steps in place to see if I can manage some time away. Fingers crossed!
For now though, it is time to sit and contemplate whether to crochet or sew this evening. Tough choices! I hope that your weeks aren’t getting lost in the fog of being too busy, and that you are finding time to do little things for yourself.
Fanfare please! Da da da da dum…………Big news from the nest today. Starting from 1 February 2018 you will be able to find a selection of my products stocked in Melbourne! I know – interstate even! I have signed an agreement with the wonderful in.cub8r gallery and emporium, found on Smith Street in Fitzroy, to take over one of their ‘cubes’ and make it all about tea!
After that news everything else seems a little pale in comparison, but there actually is more news! The holiday period has been delightful. We have had a house full of visitors several times a week, lots of kids laughing and playing, and generally sharing time happily. And this means that I have had time to get some work done on my business. Planning, scheduling, making and a bit of dreaming have all been happening. I even did my filing and bookkeeping (just a few months or years overdue – ahem). Of course this is how I was able to make the arrangements to start stocking my products in Melbourne. There are further plans like that in the works, but I am sticking to my plan and not getting ahead of myself.
All of that lovely time to work means that there are new products in the pipeline, while some will be quietly retired as not really representing my brand. I am eagerly awaiting some deliveries before I show you part of the new range I have planned, but can share my latest crochet pattern here today. This came about after watching a friend put one of my cosies on her steel teapot. I realised that it’s different shape meant that she was likely to burn her fingers putting the cosy on when the pot was full of hot water, and started looking at a design that would address the massive range of different shapes and sizes that teapots come in. A few different ideas clicked together and the end result is this new design – classic, flexible, a little bit different and ridiculously practical despite it’s beauty!
The theory behind the design is that if you can slip a hot teapot into a cosy without having to fit the cosy over the spout and handle, the chances of being burnt are reduced. So instead of slipping it over the top of the pot, the pot slides in from the side of the cosy, and is then fastened with a cord to shape the cosy to the pot.
The design is so simple that it provides its own embellishment and doesn’t need any added if you want to maintain that classic style.
But of course I can’t just leave things alone, so there is a rainbow and flower version coming along in the next day or so too!
Speaking of rainbows and flowers, here are two recent creations completed and listed in my online shop. The Ladybug’s garden cosies are always popular, and everyone is unique.
And rainbows lend themselves to needing statements, so this time I added a proper statement – “Tea”.
It isn’t quite world domination by tea cosy, but it is a good start!
The next few days here are going to be extremely hot, so my plan is to move between the pool that I bought the children for Christmas (honestly one of the best ideas I have had in a long time) and the beautifully cool family room where my wool is all set up waiting for inspiration to hit while I have downtime from supervising the children making whirlpools and floating in an inflatable flamingo.
Stay cool, leave water out for the animals, and look after yourself. This year is definitely going to be a marathon not a sprint. (And if you are reading this in the northern hemisphere do the opposite – stay warm, and make sure your animals have shelter, but still look after yourself!)
All of a sudden it is December and I am meant to be thinking about putting up the Christmas tree and getting my presents ready. Having just finished the celebrations for my boy’s 11th birthday it came as a bit of a shock when I realised that my eldest chick finishes school this week and that Christmas is only three weeks away! What have I been doing with myself?
The short answer is focusing on family and on making. The longer answer includes market preparation for a market that was cancelled for technical reasons, managing medical appointments for all three children, and trying to stay on top of the basics like feeding them and keeping the house clean. (Some of those have been more successful than others!)
My son turned 11 last week and wanted to celebrate with a sleepover with three friends. One of them couldn’t make it but the two that did come had a great time and he truly felt that he had celebrated his birthday as he wanted to. Phew! It was pretty low key – I took them to the movies then we came home and made pizza, then they played games, built Lego, shot Nerf guns and slept! Gone are the days of elaborate themed cakes and parties, treasure hunts and party bags, and what a relief that is!!
I have not started on my Christmas making or buying! With not a lot of money around there won’t be extravagant purchases this year, but there will be handmade gifts, made with love and with the person they are being made for in mind. Now to remember to actually make the list and make the gifts! I suspect that, like last year, pyjamas will feature heavily for the younger generation. I like to tell them that it means that they are wrapped in love when they sleep, but really it is because you can’t have too many pairs, and they don’t have to be an exact fit!
As for all the making – well that has been going well. When the market last week was cancelled I even managed to list quite a few of my products in my shop, so feel free to have a browse at what I have there now. A few new tea cosies, some new cacti, jewellery, and even bookmarks have found their way onto my workbench over the last few weeks. I did a big analysis of my products after the last market (just like I recommended in my last post) and did some streamlining of both products and processes as a result. While any handmade business will always be a work in progress, I feel better about my set up at the moment, and ready for the next market I am attending, the Makers + Merchants Twilight Market in Goulburn on 15 December from 5 – 9pm. Goulburn is about 40 minutes up the highway from where I live and I am looking forward to another regional market after the great time that I had at the Gundaroo Market. Being able to meet new customers and talk about my products is fun, and I know a number of the other stallholders who will be attending so catching up with them will be great too!
For now though, I am enjoying the sound of rain on our tin roof, the sight of our tanks and dams overflowing, and the ground soaking it all up. A great day to be at home making and planning and thinking! The danger is, of course, that it means that I am already putting in orders for supplies to use in new product ideas that keep popping up. Next year is going to be busy when all the parcels arrive!
I hope that you have had a great week and that the lead up to Christmas isn’t too crazy. This year my focus is on keeping our celebrations simple and meaningful. We won’t be spending money we don’t have on food we don’t need, or rushing around trying to see all the people we haven’t seen for the last twelve months. Instead I will be working with the kids on making our decorations, making presents for teachers and special friends, and talking about how we can remember the meaning of Christmas and live it in our daily lives. Lofty aspirations are better than none I have decided!
Yesterday I attended the Collected and Created Gundaroo Market as a stallholder and am pleased to report that it was a great day! Not only was the venue lovely (the historic Soldiers Memorial Hall in Gundaroo) but the whole market was well planned, attended by beautifully talented local creators and collectors, and had the whole community supporting it. All my thinking about attending markets, branding, displays, etc, came together seamlessly and I had a lovely day telling the story behind my products, selling to interested customers and generally enjoying the whole experience.
Of course although I am the face of my business the reality is that it doesn’t happen without the team behind the scenes. My parents provide such huge amounts of support that make it possible. Yesterday Dad drove over to Gundaroo (about 15 minutes cross country from us) to help me unload my car, then he came back with my two daughters in the afternoon to help with the packing up. In the meantime Mum looked after the children, tidied my house, and gave me the peace of mind to be away from home for the day.
Now we are the in after market phase and although my first inclination is to sit back and chill for a few days, the reality is that I don’t have time! Last night after going through and counting my sales, working out the overheads and determining the level of profit (important so that you know whether you truly made money or just had fun) I also sat and assessed stock to determine where the gaps are that need to be refilled before the next market in two weeks time. A quick online order to supplement my supplies, a list of products that need to be made, and a plan is starting to come together.
After market analysis is important so that you can see what sold well, what didn’t work, what you need to change in your display and what you forgot! One of the stall holders I spoke to yesterday said that she was surprised by what sold and what didn’t, and I had to agree. Even with knowing your target audience, and researching what you think will sell best, until you actually hit the event the predictions are just that, predictions. Things that didn’t move at all at my last market went like hotcakes at this one, and items that I thought would really appeal to the community didn’t move at all! This doesn’t mean that I will abandon those products but I will think about how to make them more accessible, appealing, and inviting to my customers.
Things to think about before your next market:
How do you keep track of your stock? Is there a better way to track what sold and what didn’t? Do you need a spreadsheet that you mark off as items sell, a notepad that you make notes on as things move, or an inventory system connected to a point of sale that provides a full retail experience?
How did your display work? Where there products that didn’t move because they were lost in the display, or items that customers couldn’t easily see? Do you need more height variations, more signs, or different ways of showing pricing?
How did your stall set up work for you as the seller? Did you have a place to take money and wrap purchases without crowding customers? Did you have a place to sit when you had a few minutes break? Did your cashbox and credit card facility work for you or was it too unwieldy and awkward?
Do you have supplies to replenish your stock, and how long will supplies take to arrive? If you have enough for the next event but none for the event after that, assuming you sell the same amount, is it time to order more now so that they are ready when you need them?
How did you feel about the experience? Were you happy talking to customers or did you feel overwhelmed? Did you find that people were queuing to pay for items because you were too busy? (I know – there are worse problems that can happen, but if customers get tired of waiting they will just walk away instead.) Do you need to have someone else to help you serve customers for the next event? Were you tired, hungry, thirsty or stressed? What can you do to change that for next time?
What was your most frequently asked question? If the question was about how much something cost, it is time to rethink how you display your prices. If it was about what a particular item was, it is time to rethink how you package and display that item. If it was whether you made all of this yourself then that is a great conversation starter! Thinking about these questions can help you to be better prepared for next time.
Having now addressed all of those questions myself I am off to conduct another Distance Education session with my son, then start making lists. There are some packages that need to be rethought, some signs that need to be made, and a shelf unit that needs to be painted to provide more height on one table. Plus some blue wool and fuzzy green ‘cactus’ wool to be sourced!
I hope that your after market analysis gives you lots of inspiration to keep growing your business.
I am preparing to attend my second market in this, my revitalised small business life. And while I would love to report that all has been smooth sailing i would be lying because that is not how life happens. For anyone!
On the product development side I have lots of positive things to report, including new earring designs, key rings, wine charms, stitch markers, and more ideas that are coming together. I have enjoyed finding new ways to make tea related paraphernalia and the process of sourcing supplies, learning new ways to craft things, and thinking about packaging and branding. The products in the following photos are all available in my shop, with more if you would like to see the whole range.
I have also been crocheting away, making tea cosies and delivering orders. This cosy is my current favourite and sold very quickly so I am inspired to play with this style a little more. You really can never have enough ladybirds in your life!
That is all pretty positive isn’t it? What has real life got to do with all of this? My chicks and I have been having a bit of a rough life over the last few weeks. My eldest ended up in hospital for a week unexpectedly (she is receiving great treatment and support for what ails her and will be fine) and the ripple effect through the family is still being felt. Existing struggles with school attendance have been magnified, and anxiety levels are high. I saw a friend briefly this morning after a horrible couple of hours at home and answered her query about how I was with a very breezy ‘I am great’, then realised that I was great in that exact moment, standing in the sunshine on her front step, even though a couple of hours earlier I had wondered if the sky was about to fall in. It is a useful reminder that there are lovely moments even in days of stress.
Big changes are happening in the latest round of strategies to make life better for my chicks. My beautiful boy is now doing a combination of Distance Education and school attendance, which makes me his supervisor. Not a fun job but we have had some nice moments in amongst the tough ones in the short time we have been doing it. The long term challenge here is to understand how he learns best so that I can support him to gain the right skills to go on and succeed in life. He hates to make errors so any process of asking questions or asking him to give answers is fraught with anxiety, and therefore aggression, for him. In order to give him the best chances I need to stay calm when I really want to scream at him to just do it. Oops. Best keep working on not saying that!
Oh how I wish this was true!
My biggest girl is planning a huge adventure, going to live with their father for a while. She will be living overseas, attending an International School, and being exposed to all sorts of amazing experiences. I am going to miss her but this is the best decision for her at the moment and she deserves to have a chance to live as a teenager without feeling responsible for her siblings and her mother. I keep stressing to her that she is not to feel responsible for her father, and that it is his job to look after her, not the other way around, but only time will tell how that one goes. This is not a decision that I thought I would be making, but it was my suggestion that she go, and I am really comfortable that it is the right decision for her, and that we need to try it as an option for her. And seriously – what teenager doesn’t get excited at the thought of moving to the other side of the world and getting to see and do amazing things for a few months or longer?! (I admit openly that I am very envious of the experience she is about to have!)
As for my middle chick, well, she is still struggling at the moment. I haven’t quite worked out the next strategy for her, to help her to feel safe and secure enough to attend school, but I do have a project to keep her busy for the next few weeks. Today we had a blank library box delivered to our house, as part of a larger community project to see 10 little libraries installed in our community. She is going to design and then paint our box before it is installed, possibly at our driveway, to hold books for passersby to borrow, swap, etc. I am really excited about this project so am keeping my fingers crossed that she maintains her enthusiasm too!
The blank canvas is so exciting in its possibilities!
That is the real life part of running a small business. Family and homelife will always have priority, and plans for products and for growing a business will always be affected by whatever surprise event comes along. And that is where the tea comes in. Over the course of the last few weeks as we have moved in and out of crisis mode, tea has been a constant theme. Sharing a cup of tea with a friend as we talk over the latest development in our lives, finding time to sit and drink a cup of tea as a break from being in a hospital room, or sitting at home with a book and a cup of tea to clear my head. Tea has kept me going in the way that wine would have in my younger days. My favourite flavours at the moment are a Red and Green Vanilla Rooibus, and New York Breakfast (a black tea with almost maple syrup notes) and a refreshing herbal green tea. In my younger days (when wine was the answer, not tea) I was a focussed clothes shopper. I could be in Melbourne for a meeting and pop out at lunchtime and buy my year’s wardrobe before getting back to the meeting. (I was living in Darwin and shopping wasn’t great there!) These days I don’t buy clothes and shoes like I used to, but I can hit T2 and stock up on flavours, present my loyalty card and be back at the car within an impressively short space of time. Same focus, just different products!
Anyway, that is it from my little corner of the world. Preparing for the Collected and Created Market in Gundaroo on Sunday 19 November from 10 – 4, living a real life, and drinking lots of tea. I hope your real life is in solution mode rather than survival mode!
Thank you to all who reached out to share and support when I was having a tough time last week. The great news is that things have continued to improve since then, so much so that I had one morning this week when all three children were at school! Of course I had left my crochet bag at home, so wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself for a while!
I have managed to get into the sewing room, and my other favourite making place, my armchair, and produce a few new things this week. After a special request I made another pineapple tea cosy – tweaking the pattern as I went, and am very happy with the results.
Then I decided to play with the idea of a cactus tea cosy and love this result!
Some time in the sewing room meant some dome style tea cosies and a wrap around cosy! My fabric stash is being re-discovered and I am loving it!!
A few more tiny cacti have grown in tiny teacups and I made some trivets with recycled t-shirt yarn. You might say that it has been a productive week!!
In the midst of all of this Spring has sprung (finally) so that might explain the additional energy I have had – all that vitamin D soaking in! My ‘to-do’ list is long at the moment – cleaning the house, finally painting a couple of rooms, getting some more sewing done, listing things in my shop…… so let’s hope that the sun stays out for a few more days!
I hope that you have had a creative and inspiring week.