Sunday, 1 May 2016

Ponderings on the future

I have been thinking lately about what I need to do to promote my work better and to get well known in the industry so, forgive me but I am going to 'think aloud' for a bit. I have been working at this for 12 years but still haven't managed to reach break even point. It is hard to break through into the upper reaches of the profession, the commercially produced books and the stalls at the big needlework fairs etc. I love the community of friends that I have made through this work but so much work has got me nowhere in terms of making a living.
So, what do I need to do? Needlework fairs are expensive. The cost of the stall is more than I am likely to make in sales (let alone the cost of the materials to sell etc) I can't see me ever making enough to change that as my charts range in price from £7-£10 and the stalls seem to start at about £650- £1000. So as I see it, I have 2 options. A) Run my own needlework fair - this is maybe not as far fetched as it sounds, previous posts have shown that there is interest out there both from retailers and stitchers for a fair, dedicated to needlecraft, that is cheap enough to attract the indie's who have vanished from the big fairs. If anyone is interested in forming a co-op with me to organise this, please message me. B) Get sponsorship from a bigger business to cover the cost of the stall. I don't know if I can get anyone interested in this idea (especially as I am quite a shy person who hates approaching people) but from my limited understanding of tax, if a company sponsors someone then they can write it off against tax which long term means they break even on the deal. I don't know for certain if that is correct though and I don't know anyone to approach anyway even if I did have the nerve.
Commercially produced books - I have a lot of ideas that I am working on. The calendar book is coming on well, it will be ready by the end of the year - maybe by the end of the summer but the search for a publisher will be a long winded process and may be ultimately futile. There are other ideas too but as I sew nearly all of my work myself it takes a very long time for me to get enough work together.
A YouTube channel is another idea that I have been pondering. Some tutorials, a few pieces about some of my works and their inspirations. I'm not sure if anyone would be interested but it's worth a shot.
Art exhibitions. This is an option with a narrower client base as far as my charts and kits are concerned but I would love to have an exhibition of work at the castle. I am not ready for it yet, there are several more works that I want to add to the collection first, some are ongoing, some are in my head and some haven't started forming yet. I have done a couple of other small exhibitions and it was fun
OK so that's what I have been pondering, forgive the long and rambling post but sometimes you have to say things aloud in order to make sense of them. Any (constructive) thoughts welcome.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I'm sewing again :)

I'm finally manage to sew again which is a great relief. I'm working on a piece of goldwork. It is not for a design to publish, or for a class, or indeed anything that may make some money but I am enjoying it and that is what counts right now. The piece is for a retirement card and is proving very tricky in places but I am enjoying the challenge (and enjoying that I don't have to write instructions) I think it has been good to take some time to do this as I have been putting in a lot of time and I feel the old draw to get on with it that has been missing. Only problem is I need to finish by friday :)
Once I am done with this I have an actual commission for a ring pillow to do - now that's exciting!!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

I'm Back

It's been a while since I posted on here. With all the different social media outlets it's very easy to let one slip.
I have never been good with words, never been able to keep a diary, or indeed ever been comfortable with anyone reading what I write. I have hit a rut though, lost my creative drive, so I thought that maybe talking about it might help inspire me and drive me on.
It's hard trying to make a living in a creative field. It's a luxury item, people cut back on them when money is tight, though I know people who happily spend £3 a day on coffee which lasts 10 minutes but moan about spending £10 on a pattern which will last months. This is something that has always frustrated me. 
All stitchers will spend money on stash, threads and fabrics bring great joy and we all buy more than we ever use but patterns don't hold the same draw. Copyright theft has destroyed the industry, it's depressing to spend months designing a piece, sewing it, writing the instructions etc and then only sell a few copies at best because so many people just want free things. I can't work free though, I wouldn't ask someone else to do their job without pay, why should I? 
I have never made a living from this work, no matter what I try I don't ever seem to break through. I am teaching classes now which I enjoy and get lovely feedback from but there aren't many people who want to learn. I try to get pieces into magazines but it's hard to know what they are looking for, I have even done some speaking engagements (very nervously) but it doesn't ever get me into the black. I keep trying to think of different angles to try. I have created cards and prints from my work, tried selling original works, bespoke works such as ring pillows, I am working on a new line right now too which I keep trying to get right but the drive to complete it has gone.
I still sew and I still design but I'm not finishing much. I've done a few projects for friends but no new releases in ages. So basically I need a kick. I need to get moving again, to find inspiration and the urge to finish projects. That's why I have come back to the blog, to talk to people, try and find a way forward.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Is it difficult?

I had a really interesting discussion on my Facebook page yesterday about how it wasn't always easy to tell how hard a design was to stitch. Hopefully I have managed to rectify that now. I have added difficulty ratings to each page of the Speciality Stitch designs. Each design gets a rating from 1 to 5 with 1 being the easiest and 5 the most advanced. I would recommend complete beginners started with a 1, though if you are an experienced cross stitcher, crewel worker etc then a 2 should be pretty simple. You can see a description of the ratings here  or just access the page by clicking on the rating under the design. 
All of my designs come with very detailed instructions which are especially written to be clear to someone who has never encountered the stitch before. Even if you have encountered it I always recommend reading through all of the instructions first just to be clear (JN I am thinking of you :) )
Above all I am always happy to answer any questions that anyone has about any part of one of my patterns. I have discovered over time that what makes perfect sense to one person won't necessarily be clear to another so if I can find a way that does I will certainly try.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

My first Art piece

Here it is, my first piece of artwork designed purely for sale. It is an embroidered detail on a linen background and will sell at £325 plus p+p. More details are on my website.
It doesn't have a name at the moment, I can't decide if I want to give it one and what it would be if I did. 
I am very pleased with it, it is a pretty piece so I really do hope that it can find a home.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

What's in a name?

As the schools go back and I can start working longer hours on things I am starting to think about the release of my first 'Fine Art' piece. I am pondering the name of the piece. How important is a name? Is something likely to sell better if it has a name or will it be fine just being itself? Could a bad name actually reduce the perceived value of the piece? I give all my Hardanger patterns girl's names. This started after I created my first big piece 'Emmanuelle'. I spent ages trying to think of a good name for it but everything just sounded trite so I gave it the name of the person who I had created it for. I like giving them girl's names now as it gives them a sort of personality for me. It can take long enough working out which name to give them as it is.

I may carry on with the tradition and give the Art pieces girl's names too. It's going to take some thought.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Knowing your own worth.

I am working on a piece today that I hope to be able to sell as a Fine Art piece and the difficulty that is haunting me is how do I price something like that. I have clocked up 13 hours on it already. If I was scrubbing floors or filing papers for a living the minimum that I could expect to get in this country for that time is £80.34. I am only 1/2 way through this project at the best estimate, so I'd be looking at £160 just on the creation, that doesn't even take into account cost of materials or and fee that a seller might require. The best I could look at for commission is 25%, most places charge a lot more. So when I release a piece with a price tag of £250+ what will people's reaction be? I guess most people will laugh, but then, wouldn't you want to be paid for your time? Where are the people who paid a fortune for a spirograph picture by Damien Hirst? Embroidery doesn't hit the same market that paintings do. I remember watching the play 'Art' by Yasmina Reza (and thoroughly enjoying it) where friends fall out when one of them purchases a white painting for a silly sum of money. This always comes to mind when I think about selling my work. I wish that I could sell my work for a sum that would pay me minimum wage. When you look at art do you see the time and skill that goes into a piece or just look for the gimmick? (OK now I'm singing a chorus from Gypsy) When I release this piece I will charge what it is worth in time and costs, I won't be able to put any value on for art or skill though. Who knows if I'll be able to sell it? Probably I won't, maybe I'll just end up with a house full of beautiful pieces but still no income. Maybe I'll find an art patron who loves my work because it isn't 'off the wall' and zany. Maybe it's all just dreaming.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Public Speaking

I have signed up to do my first speaking engagement. I shall be doing a talk and a workshop for the Leamington and District  branch of the Embroiderers' Guild. I am very excited about this (and a little nervous). I have plenty of time to prepare though. It's 3-4th October 2014.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

School holiday ponderings

It's that time of year again when things become especially difficult for the self-employed, School Holidays!! This year, aside from the usual finding it hard to fit everything in, I shall also be considering the future of the business. My daughter goes up to senior school in September, is this the point that I should be saying goodbye to India Grace Designs and finding a job that pays money?

Like all parents I want to set a good example for my child. I have to lead by example and show that hard work brings rewards. The thing is, it doesn't! No matter how hard I work this business doesn't make money. I guess you can't sell what people don't want to buy. It doesn't matter to her if I have pieces published in magazines, she just cringes and accuses me of showing off if I get them out. She just looks at the financial side of things. To be honest I can't blame her, she misses out on things that I could afford if I went to work for an employer. She has had other benefits though in that I am always there for her (she's at an age where she doesn't always see that as a good thing) I wish that I had been able to make a living from what I love. I am still going to keep trying, after all - paid employment doesn't grow on trees, who knows how long it'll take to find a job? I just want her to be proud of me and I admit I'd like to be able to hold my head up high and say that I have succeeded.

Monday, 15 July 2013

What next?

I am trying to work out what to work on next at the moment. I have several very pressing projects on the go but I'm not sure which to go with. My priority has to be to find something that will bring in some money, I can't keep going on the way that I am. I am currently working on a book idea, a piece that I hope to get into a magazine, some fine art pieces, a new work to be sold in chart form and the knot garden pieces. 
I feel like I have a really good idea for a book that will fit well with the mood of the time but this has to be a long term project, there's no way that it will bring in any money in the near future as I have a lot of work to do and then there is no guarantee that I can find a publisher.
The magazine piece is a more likely way to make a bit of income but again, there is no guarantee of take up, the pay is very low and it takes quite a long time.
I am really keen on the idea of working on fine art pieces right now, of course I can't guarantee that they'll sell and they can't be cheap given the amount of work that goes into them. I would love to do some commissions. I would love to do an exhibition. It will take a lot of work though and if I am not constantly releasing new works will people stop looking?
I have designed a lovely new piece that I want to sew as my next 'chart release' this would be the quickest thing to work on but chart sales are too low, I need to take some risks and try and find something that does stand a chance of selling. I need to sell 10 charts a day to make a living, I don't sell anywhere near that many.
The Knot Garden series was a very big hit at my recent demo sessions. I have completed 2 of 4 and I am about 1/4 of the way through no.3. My hope is that I can interest English Heritage in them, either as charts, kits, cards, prints or all of the above, again - no guarantees.
So, 5 good ideas, all time consuming, requiring a lot of work and no guarantee of making anything from them. I have tried working with a rotation before, saying on X day I will work on this and on Y I shall work on that, but once I start working on a piece I tend to become absorbed by it. I have a couple of model stitchers helping me out with the book idea but can't afford to pay people to do it. I guess I'll just have to go with what feels right and hope like mad that something works.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Can I talk to you?

One of the things that has come out of my demo sessions at SewArty (last one on Sat afternoon) is a suggestion that I should consider some speaking gigs. I love what I do and I love talking about it. It appears that people enjoy finding out about it too. I have a particularly distinctive style that draws from many areas and I am able to talk a little about the history of the styles and show their influences on my work. If you belong to a group which employs speakers and would find it interesting to host a talk/demo about embroidery then please get in contact with me.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Enjoying the company of Artists

I did another session at SewArty this morning. Or rather I enjoyed another session all day. This is a pretty solitary profession. I spend most of my time alone, that's just the nature of self employment so getting a chance to work with other artists has been fabulous (that and it's a lovely light and sunny room to work in) It has been wonderful chatting to people about my work and my inspirations and seeing how other artists work. I spent the afternoon working alongside my old Art teacher which was lovely. She was demonstrating monoprinting which my daughter enjoyed having a go at and had the most wonderful scrapbooks of work. It's a shame that there isn't a way that I could do this more often. Over the last week I have had the chance to talk to people who work with screen printing, needle felting, batik, machine embroidery, encaustic art and many other crafts. It's a shared experience which you rarely get unless you can afford a studio. I love my work and, though it often depresses me that I struggle to make a living from it, I don't want to stop. I will miss this opportunity though.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Demonstrations and classes

I had another lovely demonstration session at SewArty of Kenilworth this morning . It's lovely to get the chance to talk to people about what I do because it is a very solitary occupation. A couple of people were interested in taking my 6 week Comprehensive Hardanger course and, of course, I'm always happy to do it. It needs a few more people before it is cost effective though so if you are interested, please contact me.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Support Independent Retailers - Independent's Day 4th July

Today in the UK it is Independents Day. A day when we try to raise the profile of independent retailers in an attempt to save our High Streets. Imagine a world where everything you buy is controlled by 5 or 6 giant firms. Everything you buy is going to be controlled by what these people want. The pile it high, sell it cheap mentality rules. There is no place in these giants for individuality or creativity. Employee conditions will also deteriorate - why take care of your employees when there is nowhere else to go? I know it's hard, money is tight (believe me, as an independent retailer myself money is very tight) but even a small purchase at an independent retailer helps. When you purchase from an independent you are helping a family put food on the table, when you purchase from a giant you are adding another number to the balance sheet of a fat cat company that (in many cases) can't even be bothered to pay the tax it should.  

I don't know how much longer I can keep my business going. I should have shut down years ago. I guess there just isn't the market for my kind of work. There are a lot of people out there though who do sell the things that you want/need. Help them before it's too late. Before every shopping centre has exactly the same shops and we live in a world without variety and choice.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Come and see me in action

I am doing a few demo sessions at a local craft store over the next 2 weeks. SewArty of Station Road, Kenilworth is hosting exhibitions as part of the Warwickshire Open Studios event. There are 3 artists whose work is on display over the 2 weeks and a series of crafters who are coming in to do demo sessions and classes. I really enjoyed talking to people about embroidery this afternoon and loved seeing the work that is on display. I will be there again on friday morning and the week after on tuesday morning and saturday afternoon. I would love to see people if anyone fancies popping in.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bespoke Art

I have been wanting for a long time to work on some 'fine art' embroidery pieces. Something larger scale and working with different styles and fabrics. I have decided to offer a High End bespoke design service to create beautiful individual works of embroidered art. I would work with the customer to create something personal to them, maybe to celebrate a wedding or a birth or just to be a piece of featured artwork to compliment their decor. Prices would depend on the types of embroidery involved and would be calculated to cover the amount of hours involved in sewing it and the costs of materials/frames etc. If you would be interested in this then please email me to discuss it.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

It's been a while since I posted - oops!

I keep forgetting to post things on here - sorry!! Here's my latest design, just released today. I have called it Ariel. It's a sampler of several different styles of hand embroidery in a quilting inspired pattern. It was a fun one to stitch and a good introduction to other styles if you have only tried cross stitch before.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Coming soon - PDF Chart option

My website is now back up and running thank goodness. Hopefully that's the last time it'll be down. Over the next few days/weeks I shall be adding PDF sales options to the site. I have always resisted doing these as copyright fraud is such a big problem in this industry but postage has got so expensive now that I have to go with new ways of doing things. Each PDF will be clearly identifiable as to who it was sold to so hopefully that will reduce the problem.
The PDF copies will be 10% off the regular price (and of course minus the postage) The speciality stitch ones will be ready quite quickly as they are already formatted for PDFs so all I need to do is edit the website to show the option. The Cross Stitch ones are not done yet so if there is one that anyone is particularly interested in, please let me know and I'll put it to the top of the list. It'll take me a couple of days to edit the website to put the PDF options on for the speciality stitch charts so please bear with me (or ask me to prioritise a particular one)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Tale of a design

Whilst I’m waiting for my website to get back up and running properly I thought that I’d talk a little about the design process from idea to charts.

A design usually starts with a vague thought. I’ll have a shape in mind or a colour scheme that I want to play with. This stage can take hours or, in some cases, years. I always play around with the idea in my head until I have a pretty good idea of how I want it to look before I even attempt to put it down ‘on paper’. Once I start physically designing it, I will have the shape and structure of the design sorted but the details evolve in the ‘drawing’ phase. The designs don’t always come out in one go. Some flow easily but others fight back. ‘Crystal’ for example was an idea that I had had I mind for ages. I knew how I wanted it to look in the centre and out as far as the hardanger part but it took well over a year to finally put together the whole design.

The design process isn’t finished once I have it all mapped out on computer. Sometimes things just don’t look how you expect them to when you start to sew them and then it’s back to the drawing board. This is the main reason that I don’t usually work with a model stitcher. I have to take my hat off to Ylva Saleem here who has stitched a couple for me and has put up with sending daily progress scans and being regularly asked to unpick and try something different. This obviously means that releasing a new design is never a speedy process. On average one of my speciality stitch designs takes 3 months to sew, obviously some more and some less. I try to sew for a minimum 3hrs per day. I admit to not being the world’s fastest stitcher, mainly due to dodgy wrists and the ability to get sidetracked rather easily. I find it best to set targets for how much to achieve per night, I’m rather competitive so don’t like to lose, even if it is just a self set challenge.

I love it when I complete the sewing stage of a piece. I think that’s the best part of it for me. It is however closely followed by the worst part – writing the instructions. I want my designs to be accessible to all, no matter how much experience you have so I write detailed instructions for all parts of the design. The only exceptions are cross stitch and backstitch as I do assume that anyone who is thinking of tackling one of my designs has usually tried cross stitch first. (If however you are completely new to embroidery and would like detailed instructions in those stitches then contact me as I have written some in the past.) Every stitch has hand created diagrams. These are not a quick process. I have never found a graphics programme that meets all my needs so I usually have to work between 3 different ones to get the results that I want. I am pleased with the diagrams that I create and I hope that they are clear for people, they drive me mad as I do them though J I did run a ‘test’ session a few years back where approx 50 people tried out a design and the instructions and then gave me feedback. I found that really helpful for refining my existing instructions and creating future ones. It taught me a valuable lesson that you never know what someone is going to find tricky so try to cover all bases.

I am steadily building up a ‘stitch glossary’ and one of these days I am going to create a pattern that only uses these stitches. My problem is that I always want to do something different, to experiment and play about. I am punished for that at instruction writing stage. I am currently trying to work up the nerve to tackle the instructions for the lacy edge decorations which is probably why I am writing this. Procrastination is something that I excel at. This is the first chart that I have done that uses the lacy edge and that’s going to need a lot of diagrams! Over the years I have rewritten and updated the instructions, which has meant going back over old designs and bringing them all up to the same standard. Hopefully if you tackle one of my designs now it should all be clear and easy to understand. If it isn’t then please email me and I will try to make it so.

All in all I’d say it takes an average of 6 months for a design to go from a spark of an idea to a completed chart. It’s a great day for me when I can finally put it on my website for sale and I love getting feedback from people about them. One advantage of this type of design is that you can (in most cases) choose your own colours to sew them in. Some people have sent me photos of works that they have done and when I get enough I shall add a gallery page to the site. Much as I love creating them, their purpose is to be designs for others to sew so this is, hopefully, just the start of their journey.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A new set of pieces and a magazine feature

This is Liza, the 4th in my series of 7 pieces designed around the Gentle Arts Sampler Threads. She is available now in the Australian Magazine, Creative Embroidery and Cross Stitch. 
These designs didn't quite make it out before Christmas, but then they'll take a little while to sew so it's probably the right time. 4 Lacy edge hardanger decorations. It's going to take me a while to write the instructions as I think there'll need to be a few new diagrams created.