I’ve never fancied sewing to sell before. I’ve been asked why a few times, and these have always been my reasons:
* I’ve always found that sometimes I enjoy sewing and sometimes it is a pain. So, I’ve never wanted to feel obliged to sew.
* I’ve never made anything I thought was good enough to sell.
* I’ve still not got round to learning how to use a sewing machine. Hand sewing is slow, so I’d only have a small output.
* And finally , I generally have enough (too much!) to do, so I couldn’t think when I would fit it in.
However, last year I started a time-bound project (my Desperately Seeking Susan doll) and realised that I was only going to finish in time if I started sewing during my commute to and from work, which takes me around two and a half hours a day there and back. Being quite private about my hobbies meant that I did feel a bit self-conscious at first, but by the time I’d finished the project I’d mostly got over that – very few people pay attention, really, and the few comments I received were positive. I work best to deadlines, so I found that having mini-goals (THIS bit finished before I got to my final stop) was fun. Another unexpected benefit – my job can get stressful, but now instead of sitting on the train reading through my work emails with a sense of dread, I would actually find myself looking forward to the journey. I was less stressed when I got to work as a consequence, and when I got home too. And far from feeling “obliged”, when I finished my project I found that I kind of missed commuter sewing.
So, I had found some time – time that wouldn’t conflict too much with my family and home life, or my work life, or my blog, or my sleep. But that was only one project. If I was going to sell, I would need something that I could cut beforehand and then assemble, trim and finish quickly enough to make it worthwhile. And funnily, something I had been working on recently seemed to fit the bill.
When you’re handsewing it’s the hemming that really kills you, timewise, and it’s also hard to keep your stitches even and straight enough to give a finish anything like as good as a sewing machine can. Well, I had recently been lucky enough to find a whole stack of brand new upholstery fabric samples at good prices. These do not fray at all when cut, so they don’t require a hem. Initially I thought it seemed thickish for doll clothes, but I decided that it could work, with the right pattern. I really wanted to design something for my Monster High dolls. It took me loads of graph paper and several failed attempts before I got there, but I managed to come up with a pattern I was happy with. I posted pictures of some of my early attempts on this post. When I had finished this pattern, I found that I soon came up with a whole host of ideas for dresses. Every piece of fabric I had bought – and I had bought a LOT – suggested something different and interesting to me. It was just that without a deadline or a set time to do it or any firm reason to do it, these ideas just sort of floated round my head, annoying me.
I suppose you can see where this is headed. Eventually, these three factors – 1. the pattern, the fabric and the ideas, 2. the commuter sewing initiative and 3. the Etsy shop that most doll collectors consider opening at some point – all sort of synced in my head. My shop is called Tippets For Mice (I’ll explain later) and I’ve just finished my second week of commuter sewing for it. This is what I have made:
I finished four dresses the first week (the stuff on the hangers) and five the next (the stuff worn by the dolls). The target I have set myself for a week’s commuting is seven dresses, and I’ve got no doubt that I’ll get there, if I stick at it. I hope that you like them? I’ve had a lot of doubts about this project – would I be gutted if nothing ever sold? Is it really rubbish that only I think is good? – etc etc. Well, nothing has sold in the week since I opened but I’m getting views and stuff marked as “favourites”, and I’m finding that I’m quite happy with that right now. I’m not devastated and embarrassed, anyway, which is good, really. Of course, if I’ve sold nothing after six months, I’ll probably get tempted to hang up my needle and thread and write it off as a learning experience … All in all, I’m feeling quite proud of myself for trying, though. I tend to be a dreamer rather than a doer, so I’m quite shocked and pleased that I’ve got it together to make the shop a reality. I think that to make it last, I’ll have to be patient with myself and allow myself to take breaks (to read a book some weeks on my journey instead, for example) and I’ll also have to add some variety. I already have about three more ideas for hemless, portable projects I can work on, I just need to develop the patterns.
I remember many years ago I read a post by a doll blogger who was rather disparaging about “people who only write blogs as a promotional front for their Etsy shops and never share anything else”. Well, I don’t want things to get to that point, but I hope you don’t mind if I post about what I’m doing, now and again? I’ll also put a link to the shop in my sidebar, when I’ve got a minute to figure out how to do it.
Lastly, about the phrase “tippets for mice” … Have you ever read “The Tailor of Gloucester” by Beatrix Potter? In this story, the Tailor is poor, so:
“He cut his coats without waste, according to his embroidered cloth; they were very small ends and snippets that lay about upon the table—”Too narrow breadths for nought—except waistcoats for mice,” said the tailor.”
The mice who live in his shop hear what he says, and it gets them thinking:
“The little mice came out again, and listened to the tailor; they took notice of the pattern of that wonderful coat. They whispered to one another about the taffeta lining, and about little mouse tippets.”
(A tippet is an old word for a scarf or a shawl) …
Making doll clothes has always made me think of this story. When we sew doll clothes, a tie or a handkerchief is a more than sufficient amount of fabric, and a fat quarter is a bounteous excess. Like the mice, I save tiny scraps and ribbons from packaging because I know they will be useful. So – Tippets for Mice it is.
It would be nice to get some feedback from you about these dresses and this venture. As always, please do let me know what you think.