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 started this post a couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing to attend my first market (after a long break) but decided to wait until the market was over before completing it, so that I could share my experiences along with a check list. What I have put together is a general list of things to take with you, that you can use as a guide for your own market preparation. And hopefully you will learn from my mistakes!
I can report that I really enjoyed the market. I sold enough to make it financially worthwhile, got to test out my displays, my packing and my products, and I was able to talk to customers. I even sold one of the tea cosies that my mum knitted (as well as a few of my own!) Overall it was a great start on my journey back to markets. I made a few mistakes but recovered from them, and learnt a lot at the same time.
Is your market indoors or outdoors? If it is outdoors are you going to have shelter provided or will you need your own. In my case I have a 3m x 3m portable gazebo that I can erect for outside markets, so that is on my checklist. If you are attending an indoor market it pays to check whether you are allowed to set up gazebos inside as many markets will not allow it.
If you are outside remember to have something to secure your gazebo or marquee in case of strong winds. (Yes – something I forgot to take with me). You can buy weights for the legs or make them yourself – just remember them and remember to put them in place because it would be quite disastrous to have your shelter fly across the market ground if the wind picks up!
It also pays to think about whether you need walls for your structure. I had two walls with me, but as I ended up on a corner site I only used one, as a backdrop.
My set up at an outdoor market with the back wall up.
2. Display furniture
How are you displaying your products? I will be taking a table, some shelves, a screen and some boxes that provide different heights for displays. Doing a run through at home is always good so that you know how things will look on the day. Make a list of all your props so that you can check them off in your packing. Then be prepared for changes. My stall was moved to a corner position on the night, so it would have been useful to have a second table – something I will definitely be taking next time. I am also thinking about floor covering – it makes a difference!
The shelves worked well to display the tea cosies but I wasn’t happy with the rest of my display – tweaking is required!
3. Cloths and props
A table cloth that reaches the ground is an important part of a good market set up. Apart from making your table look good it also gives you an excellent storage spot that is out of sight. I find it handy for hiding the storage boxes that my products are carried in so they are at hand for packing up at the end of the market.
If you are using props for your display these need to be on your list. Most of my props are teapots for displaying my tea cosies so I need to remember these otherwise there will be some floppy crocheted piles on my shelves!
It is a bonus when your props double as storage
Lighting is important whether you are at an indoor or outdoor event. Events indoors can sometimes be gloomy so having some lighting to brighten your display is a great way of attracting customers. Outdoor events that go into the evening will definitely benefit from lighting, and even daytime outdoor events can be gloomy so some lighting to brighten your space will help.
The range of possibilities for lighting is wide. If you don’t have access to power during your market then the range of solar lighting is large and affordable these days. I have some rice-paper-style globes from Ikea that are solar powered that cost about $15 and add light in a nice way. Another option is battery powered lights – rechargable or not. I have a rechargable flourescent light that gives great lighting (from the auto section at a hardware shop) and fairy lights from Big W that run on two AA batteries. All of these provide flexible lighting solutions……if you remember to pack them. Ahem. If the bright light is still plugged into it’s charger on the bench at home it isn’t much use when night falls…..
If you do remember to take your lights, make sure you know how you are going to attach them to your display and pack cable ties, bluetack, hooks etc, depending on your needs.
I have a banner with a stand lets people know who I am and what I am selling. One of the best responses I had to my banner was from a man who said ‘I know that name, ‘a little bird made me’. Let me think – your mother is Elizabeth, and you are Theresa and you live out in Bywong.’ It turns out he is the local courier who delivers my parcels – that my mother always signs for.
6. Bags and packaging
When people buy your products it pays to be able to package them so that they will travel home from the market safely. Paper bags with handles suit most items, but have a think about the size of your products and make sure you have bags that suit those items best. I have carry bags that will accommodate cups and saucers, and tea cosies but a pair of earring would be lost in them, so I will have smaller bags for those small items. If you have a fragile product it is good to be able to wrap it in tissue paper or bubble wrap to cushion it on it’s trip home. Having your packaging branded is good to do before hand too – in my case I use a stamp with my logo to mark the bags as being from my business.
7. Admin Box.
This is the box that holds all the things that you will need for each market, so that you don’t have to find and pack them everytime. The admin box is where you put:
(a) Business cards or fliers
People like to take a card so that they can look you up when they next want a product like yours, so having a pile of cards or fliers is an easy way to ensure return custom. They also provide a great discussion point with customers who are asking whether you sell on line etc.
You need to be ready to give change to the first customer who comes along! And it helps if you remember the KEY to your cash box and don’t leave it sitting on the bench at home, 20 kms away. Ahem. Luckily my parents willingly drove home, found the key and returned it to me. After all of that I didn’t have to make change for any customer – they all had the right money or used my card facilities!
(c) Credit card facility
Again – if you have the facility for people to pay by card they are more likely to purchase from you. Make sure you have any connecting hardware, that you have tested it and that you know how to operate it. If your eftpos facility gives paper receipts carry a spare roll.
(d) Notebook and pen
For taking orders, fo writing reminders to yourself about what has worked and what hasn’t, for writing out notes for customers, or taking down phone numbers, this is important to have.
(e) Repair kit
Accidents happen, both to your products and to your display. Having a small kit with sticky tape and duct tape, a screwdriver, scissors, pins, and whatever else you might need for your set up is sensible.
Because there is nothing worse than running out of battery on your phone, your eftpos facility, your lights etc. Having the right charger cords and plugs, plus a power bank if there is no power provided, takes a lot of stress out of managing your stall.
8. Price tags
The best way to ensure sales is to have the prices for your products clearly marked. If people have to interrupt you serving another customer to ask how much something is they will often walk away instead of asking. If you can’t put a price on each item, make sure that you have clear and easily visible signs that announce the prices. Ikea picture frames are handy for making your signs look professional without breaking the bank.
9. Drink bottle and a snack
Keeping hydrated helps you to maintain your energy levels while you serve customers. A low mess snack to help keep your energy levels up is important. High protein snacks like nuts are a good option here.
No point going to a market if you have nothing to sell! Make a list of your products and then tick them off as you pack them, so that nothing is missed out and left behind, Then check that you have packed all your boxes in the car so that you haven’t left one behind either (not my mistake but a very common one for other people I know!)
Having a box for each product category helps keep track of what you are packing
If you have other ideas that you think should be added to the list do let me know!
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.
The resurgence of my creativity has continued! Over the last couple of weeks I have made more tea cosies, have poured tea-scented teacup candles, have potted succulents in tea cups and have crocheted succulents in tea cups! I have also made more reusable tea bags. The idea of using a theme and creating around it is working well! And being creative continues to be the best therapy for my busy, overwhelmed brain. The last few weeks have been hard, with both my boy and my middle child experiencing difficulties that have impacted on the whole family. Having something creative to sit and do while the world is crumbling really helps my sanity! The fact that people also give me lovely feedback on the output doesn’t hurt either!
This was highlighted this morning when I ducked out to deliver a tiny teacup crocheted cactus to someone who I have communicated with online but haven’t met in person before. On the drive into town I was feeling awful – tired, overwhelmed, and close to tears. But after meeting with this delightful young woman who was genuinely interested in meeting me and in what I do, I walked away with a smile and a much lighter heart. In discussing what I have been doing I also had some ideas on a new product (still in the tea cosy line) that I am going to work on over the weekend. Replacing my feeling of stress with the feeling of being creatively inspired was the best medicine!! That and a cup of tea when I got home and the rest of the day has been much better!
I had a similar experience a few days ago when I received a message from a friend who lives interstate, telling me that she and her husband love what I am doing and want to invest in me, and could they order a pineapple tea cosy like the one I had just made. Now this message on it’s own would have been a highlight, but the author of the message is a very talented artist, whose work I have admired for about 20 years, so to receive that sort of compliment just made me glow inside!!! I am happily working on a new pineapple, tweaking the pattern as I go, because I think I might publish this one too! The lovely thing is that the first pineapple came about as a a result of a comment that one of the women who follows my Facebook page made about another cosy, which has a succulent on top (the green one above). So the collaborative process has been lovely!
Growing this ‘tea obsession’ has meant visits to various op shops, and more frequent visits to Spotlight to buy wool. The funny thing is that I have enjoyed tea and the rituals around making tea for a very long time. But it is only now that my children are noticing how much I enjoy tea – or in the words of my boy, how much I am ‘obsessed’ with tea! I have been taking them op shopping with me, which they enjoy as they get to find things for themselves, and my boy likes to tell the shop assistants that his mum is obsessed with tea and tea cups and tea pots. Then he tells them about all the things I make that he thinks are awesome, and everyone comes away with a smile. I complimented him on his social interaction with some counter staff yesterday, after he told them about the delivery I was making, and he said ‘you are really good at talking to people too Mum.’ To receive such lovely compliments from this boy who has worked so hard to overcome some significant battles has really been lovely. He tells me that my obsession with tea is quite nice really!
These days it is hard to know how to write about the difficulties that my children are facing. They have a right to privacy, and I have to weigh up the greater good of sharing their/my struggles with mental health to reduce stigma, versus their right to privacy. I think that this in part is why I haven’t blogged as much over the last year or so. What I can share is that I have learnt a new appreciation for the public school system, where they have no choice but to embrace diversity and be flexible in their approach to educating students who don’t fit into the ‘normal’ box. While one of my children has thrived in the Catholic education system, the other two have not, and it has been detrimental to their long term mental health. Luckily I know more now, so have felt comfortable making the latest round of changes for my middle child, and she is already happier and more positive. But it means I have to re-establish relationships with yet another school, getting to know the staff, keeping track of how she is being supported, and generally starting from scratch again. That in itself is exhausting, but on the bright side, the new school is the one that my boy will probably attend for High School so at least they will know me by that time!
My collection of tea pots to use as models and for trials is growing!
The other exciting news to share with you from the farm is that it snowed last weekend! With no snow all winter it was nice to have an afternoon of it just before winter ended! The kids and dogs had a great time out in it – even if they refused to dress warmly for it!
While I am still uncertain how all of this tea obsession will go in the longer term, in the short term it is providing joy, and that is what I will focus on! I hope that you are taking care and finding joy in small things around you too.
Since I last wrote all sorts of things have happened here in the nest, both with my business but also on the farm. Let’s get the colourful exciting pictures out of the way first! I have been busy playing with both fabric and wool, and trying out new things. I made my first large batch of tea bags and listed them on my Etsy shop (the link is at the top of the page).
I also played with bright colours and bobble stitches to make a tea cosy for a custom order and then, because I like it so much, made another for the Etsy shop!
On Monday I received a commission to make a series of tea cosies for a cafe! I will reveal all when they are complete, but I have had fun developing a repeatable pattern which I will publish once I have ironed out all the bugs! This is a picture during an early stage of development!
I have spent quite a bit of time at appointments and in waiting rooms this week so having my portable crochet habit with me has been useful. At the hairdressers on Wednesday I finished this water lily that I had been making using a pattern from Make my day creative.
On Thursday and again today I made lots of little hearts,
and kept perfecting that pattern!
On the home front much more has been happening. Last Saturday we met and decided to trial (before formally adopting) a new dog. It is exactly one year since our beautiful boy Milo contracted pancreatitis, and then died three months later. My boy has been patiently waiting for another dog of his own but I was keen to make sure it was the right dog, and that we were ready. Shadow seems to fit the bill. He is a Belgian Shepherd who was rescued after living rough in the bush on the outskirts of Canberra. Searches have not been able to locate his owners, so a rescue group set out to find him a new home. He has the most beautiful nature and is completely dedicated to my son. The downside is that he is not fully toilet trained at the moment, but that is possibly due to stress, as he is improving daily. With a week to go in the trial I think it will be hard to say goodbye to him and expect that he will become a permanent part of the family!
Saturday brought us other excitement with the discovery by the artist in residence of an injured kangaroo down near our chook run. We cared for him during the day until the Wildcare rescuers could come and take him for treatment. A photo sent through last night shows him doing well, so we are all very happy that Roger (as the kids named him) is doing well! His friends seem a bit suspicious of us though and seem to be keeping an eye on us all!
The other thing I can show you in photos is my new haircut. It has been a while since I had it done – a combination of finances, time and more time seemed to keep delaying me, which meant that by the time I got to the hairdresser she had a lot of hair to work with! I love the end result! I had to take a selfie to share the new look with you!
So there you have it – a week in review! Now to get the fire going because it is cold today, and then to keep working on that pattern! A cup of tea might be in order first though!
I hope that you have had a great week wherever you are!
I have been reflecting over the last week on what it is that I am doing with my time! When I worked full time I seemed to have more time to sew, to blog, etc. Now that I am self-employed I seem to be running in circles all the time. I am not sitting idle, and am not spending hours surfing the internet, yet I seem to not get to the things that I want to do. This was frustrating me for quite a while, until I realised that the things that I have added in to my days are the very reasons that I am no longer working full time.
Over the last few years I have had to shift my priorities. I have had to change my parenting style. I have re-invented our day to day life. (Not just once!). The reason that I have less time available to sew, or blog, or return phone calls, or pay bills (oops!) is because I am more present in my children’s lives. I am still not engaged at the level that I could be, and am certainly not a saint (heaven forbid) but I have come to realise that by spending more time putting the children first our life is better. Now when my boy is starting to get angry and lash out I can normally pin point the cause within a few minutes. I can usually remember the strategies that will help him to calm down without escalation. (Usually. Definitely not always.) When my artist-in-residence is collapsing in a ball of spiky frustration I can see where it has come from and help her to unravel and calm down. (Sometimes). And when my eldest chick is having completely out of character episodes of appalling behaviour I have no idea. Until I empty her rubbish bin and realise that she has been sneaking her little brother’s snacks – full of gluten – and her body is attacking itself.
Much easier to be kind to myself when I think about what we have dealt with each day and how we have resolved it!
I have had a couple of great moments this week that I wanted to share. I was fortunate enough to be invited to see Mary Poppins, the musical, being produced by the Free Rain Theatre Company at the Canberra Theatre. (One of the amazing up-sides of the Human Brochure experience has been invitations to so many wonderful events!) I took the artist-in-residence and we absolutely loved it! It was, to quote Mary herself, ‘practically perfect, in every way’. We even had a chance to have our photos taken with some of the cast afterwards!
The artist-in-residence having a night at the theatre.
This weekend just past was also very special. The Handmade Markets were on, in a new location here in Canberra. I am still not at the point where I am ready to return to having my own stall, but I love my role in the background of the markets, which allows me to interact with all the market designers on an individual level. The exposure to so many talented people is a true delight. Even better, I was able to take the children with me and when we stopped to talk to different stallholders the children had the chance to interact with them too. They got to taste beautifully handcrafted chocolate (thanks Cicada chocolate!), to receive hugs and rainbow roses from GG’s flowers (special hug thanks to Gayana), and the artist-in-residence was able to talk to different artists about their work and her own art. Mick from Leafy Sea Dragon presented her with one of his cards depicting one of his own artworks as an encouragement to another artist. She was thrilled!
The eldest chick and her two friends ran their own business throughout the markets, providing stall holder support. They were exhausted but very happy and very proud at the end of the weekend. This band of 12-year-old young women are learning about money management, customer service, hard work, planning, and innovation at a young age and I could not be prouder of them!!
I also managed to sneak myself a treat on Friday night. I had an hour to fill between finishing helping with the market set up, and when I was to collect the children from their father’s house. I thought about ringing friends etc but decided to take myself into town for a meal on my own. We have an area here called ‘The Hamlet’ which is where the gourmet food vans park, and various funky shops are tucked away. I went to the Mr Papa van – Peruvian Street Food. Oh my goodness.
The burger made with slow cooked pork belly, sweet potato, and a very tasty sauce and salsa combo is heavenly! I then followed it up with a little trip to the Frugii Dessert Laboratory where the ice-cream alchemist creates beautiful ice-creams, and desserts! (The owners are also delightful people!)
I had the choux pastry with hazelnut cream, and blood orange syrup. And even better – I had time to sit and enjoy and just have time to myself. Talk about bliss!
A custom order set for a baby overseas
After all this inspiration my plan was to sew, design, and create all week. Hmmmm…… the best laid plans! Between routine medical appointments, school meetings, housework, and general family commitments, I have managed only a very small amount of sewing.
An ipad case, coin purse and key fob for a birthday girl in Melbourne.
The good news though is that I have created some new pattern templates, which is speeding up my process a lot. (Instead of measuring and cutting each piece I am now using a template to cut each piece – such a simple thing but one I just hadn’t done!!) I also finally made a key ring fob – something on my ‘to do’ list for a long time. I like it! Maybe I should make some more….. where is that ‘to-do’ list again?
Wandering on the farm is a delightful pastime
The dam is the source of much entertainment – and home to some venomous snakes!
I love the skies out here!
I did spend time with my boy down at our dam finding rocks, sticks and long grasses to try and create ‘survival tools’ like spears and knives. We haven’t been particularly successful yet but we have had a lot of fun trying!
And I indulged in some fabric shopping – with no particular project in mind! It is just so lush! The new range from Skinny la Minx, via Hawthorne Threads. Drool.
Now to decide what to do with it! Choices, choices, choices!
I hope that you have been able to find time for yourself in your week too.