1.27.2009

seeing spots

You know how much I love polka dot fabrics, so I especially love when I find colorful and unusual variations on the theme in a vintage fabric—it doesn't happen all that often. And not often in purples and oranges either. A recent Ebay purchase—

vintage polkadots

I'm sad to report that my posts may be pictureless for a while. My trusty (and beloved) Canon Powershot A80 is on it's way to the factory for a fix. It's been acting up lately—with a smeary pink blog in the viewfinder instead of whatever is supposed to be there. It only happens occasionally but it's a known problem and they'll fix it for free so I packaged it up and shipped it off to Illinois this morning. Of course, I frantically photographed products all weekend to tide me over while it's gone. I probably should buy a backup camera but I'm holding out until I can afford a really good digital SLR.

I know I haven't been posting often and I can't believe how quickly January has gone but I've been working away at several projects that have been keeping me busy. I have added lots of new buttons to the website and will be listing more in the coming weeks. I've arranged to purchase a very large group of buttons from the estate of a seamstress in New Mexico and the photos of them look gorgeous. Can't wait for the package to arrive!

I'm also working on a custom embroidery job—the cottage I made a pattern of for Susan at T-Party. This is definitely not a beginner's project and is taking me much longer than I thought it would. I'm working it on a heavy cotton/linen and I'm getting a serious case of eye strain counting threads for the cross stitch parts. Almost done with that so I'll be able to move on to the embroidered details—lots of lazy daisy flowers and leaves. If my camera gets back in time I'll try to take some pictures to show you.

1.19.2009

shopping trip

What do you do when you wake up on a Saturday morning and it's minus twelve degrees outside? Go shopping, of course! Hey, it was warmer in my car than in my house :)

Actually I had planned this trip earlier in the week. For some reason, since around Christmas, I've been selling tons of vintage buttons. And I do mean tons. I'd had an order that was so big it filled one of those flat-rate boxes and cleaned out about half the buttons on my website. So, I really needed to get some new inventory. Luckily, one of my favorite vendors at an antique mall about an hour away had lots of new stuff so I easily replenished my supply. That and the two auctions I won on Ebay should keep me in buttons for a while. At least I hope so. Now to get them sorted, photographed, priced, and listed. This is going to take a while so don't look for new listings until next week at the earliest.

I also found some cute aprons and linens, some of which have petit point embroidery like I talked about a few weeks ago. So, I'll leave you with some eye candy today. I have a custom embroidery job to get started on so I'm heading into my studio for the day.

petit point rooster
A petit point rooster in bright colors from a set of six ivory linen cocktail napkins

petit point violets
A petit point clump of violets and matching border from a vintage handkerchief

bonnet girls
A dresser scarf with designs on both ends—cross stitch girls in red bonnets with orange and red French knot flowers

1.16.2009

good intentions

I've been following the many discussions about the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) regulations but haven't talked much about it here. It's overwhelming to say the least (just try reading the original documents and you'll see what I mean). It seems, from much of what you read in the media, that the regulations only apply to children's toys. Not true. It affects every product that is intended for children under 12, including the vintage children's items I sell on my website.

The intentions of this bill were good—who doesn't support protecting children from harmful substances—but did anyone actually read the bill before voting on it? It's so vaguely worded and overreaching that it's going to have devastating consequences for small businesses that make children's products. And ones who resell them, too. That means thrift stores, eBay sellers, and children's resale shops. I've heard some talk of exemptions for this but nothing has been settled.

Basically, I'm required to certify that my products don't contain lead or phalates. And the only way to do that is to send them to a lab to be tested. It's quite expensive and they do what's called destructive testing so the item is destroyed during the process. Obviously that puts me (and anyone who sells one-of-a-kind items) in an impossible situation. It's one thing for a manufacturer who makes thousands of the same thing to comply with this law; it's quite another for the small businesses, many of them sole proprietors working out of their homes, to be able to. Or afford to.

So, what can I do? I can continue to sell the hundreds of dollars of children's inventory I have on hand and risk being prosecuted. I can throw it all out. Or hold onto it until some time in the future when the laws are amended. I'll definitely have to scrap my plans for the bibs, embroidered burp cloths, and children's aprons I was working on developing. Luckily, children's products are such a small percentage of my business that this won't put me out of business. Unfortunately, the thousands of artists and crafters whose entire line is children's product are going to be forced out of business.

What can you do? Read more about it (links below), spread the word around the crafting community, join some of the online groups, and sign the petition. It very well may be too late to do anything about this but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

A few links (there are hundreds—just google CPSIA):
Save Small Business from the CPSIA
Handmade Toy Alliance
National Bankruptcy Day
Fashion Incubator
Etsy-The Storque-Craftivism
New law could wipe out handcrafted toy makers
Pelosi's Toy Story
CPSIA-Central

1.12.2009

customer service

I've recently had two frustrating experiences ordering from online companies and it's got me thinking about how important customer service is. I always go out of my way to package orders carefully, ship them quickly, and communicate by email with customers. Ordering online can be scary for some people and I want to make the process as easy as possible for them. I almost feel, as an online company, that I'm responsible in some way for their online shopping experience. So, it always disappoints me when companies larger than mine seem to care so little about it.

I ordered some pants for a Christmas gift for my husband on December 8th from a company that shall go unnamed. I'd been getting their catalogs for some time but hadn't ordered and I decided to take advantage of their free shipping offer. I received a confirmation email that my order was processed and then nothing. I waited a week and a half and called them. The item was in stock but they were busy and it hadn't shipped yet. The person I spoke to was nice enough but clearly didn't care. I waited some more. Finally, four days before Christmas I got an email that the order had shipped. And it arrived on Christmas Eve. I was steaming mad by this point and thought really hard about just refusing the package. I'm sorry but there's just no excuse for waiting three weeks to ship an order. If you're that busy, maybe you should hire some extra help for the holidays—it's not like there aren't people who need jobs. Lesson 1: Ship in a timely manner and, if you can't, let the customer know.

The second order was from a company that sells fabrics for cross stitch. I have a custom order scheduled and I wanted some nice linen to work with. Again, I got a confirmation e-mail but then no communication at all for a week. Last Friday I got the email that the package had shipped and it arrived today. But, when I opened it there was only one of the three items I ordered and that one was the wrong size (larger than I ordered so that worked in my favor). I called, they were very apologetic, but now it will be another week before I get my stuff. Lesson 2: Check and double check every order before it leaves your premises. I print out an extra copy of every invoice to include in the package and I check off every item as it goes into the box. And I pack one box at a time or keep them far enough apart that there's no confusion.

I seriously doubt if I'll ever shop with either of these companies again. There are other clothing companies and other shops that sell embroidery materials; shops that will ship orders on time and include the right things in the package. I have lots of choices. Lesson 3: (the old standard) You only get one chance to make a first impression. If you have a business you want people to shop with you again. It's much easier to get past customers to return than to attract new ones, so why screw that up. And, if you do make a mistake, make it right as quickly as you can.

Just some advice in case you're thinking of starting a business of your own.

Update: I received the second package from the embroidery supply company and guess what? It only contained one of the two missing items. So, I called again and was told that the third item was backordered. And how exactly was I supposed to know this? The person I spoke to didn't seem all that concerned when I told her I wouldn't be shopping with them in the future. Now, that's a poorly run business!

1.07.2009

ice...not so nice

ice

I don't think I'll be making that trip to the post office today after all :)

It started snowing late yesterday and, luckily, I threw down some salt on the patio as it was starting. That helped today when I had to clean off the ice that formed from the freezing rain that fell on top overnight. It literally lifted off in sheets. Unfortunately that won't happen on the driveway. And it was quite a slippery walk down to the mailbox to mail the small packages that would fit in the box. Thank you post office for online clip-and-ship! At least some of my orders will ship today.

It's been quiet here the past few days. I've been sewing buttons on the baby quilt—almost done with that! And doing some cleaning and organizing. Nothing exciting enough to talk about or show pictures of. Although that dust bunny under the bed was pretty impressive :)

I'm also dealing with changing my address—three pages worth of changes! No, I haven't moved—you would have heard about that. Our county did a big readdressing project to make it easier for 911 to find people. Instead of a rural route box number we'll now have real street addresses, plus our area is getting it's own city name. It will be really nice to have a proper address. You'd be surprised how many places question the address, thinking it's a post office box number. It's not but it's hard to get people who've always lived in a city to understand how it works out here in the country. Yes, FedEx and UPS really do come to my house. But think about all the things you'd need to change and times that by three for the businesses we have. New business cards and letterhead, all the suppliers, payment processors, banks. It's crazy!

I'll make more calls today—it's not like I'm going anywhere!

1.01.2009

resolutions

First off, happy new year! I didn't do anything special to celebrate—in fact, I fell asleep before midnight so I missed the whole thing. You'll see as you get older—sleep is more important than staying up late partying :)

I'm not big on resolutions. It's easy to make them but much harder to actually keep them. Been there before.

Last year I resolved to do my bookkeeping at the end of every month and I actually followed through. This was an easy one to keep. I just thought back to the end of March last year and how many hours I spent trying to track down what I paid for something or how many miles I drove to that antique mall. Except for December's, which I'm in the process of doing now, every month is in a folder and done! And that's going to make my taxes so much easier to prepare for.

This year I'm going to be smarter with purchasing supplies. Buying in bulk really does save, although you shouldn't buy more than you have room to store or be able to use up. Take packaging materials. I often run down to Staples when I need mailing envelopes but it's much cheaper to buy them in larger quantities from a company like Uline. I already buy lavender in 15.5 pound bags and last year I began cutting that with buckwheat hulls to keep costs down. All of which keeps me from having to raise my prices.

What else? I've felt kind of guilty about some of the comments from readers who say they stop here every day to read. Because I haven't been blogging every day and I haven't done a Stitch School post in months (in the blogging world that's forever). I'll try to do better.

And, I'll make the same resolution that everyone makes—to eat more healthfully and to exercise more. I used to say I was too busy but now that I work at home that excuse just doesn't cut it anymore :)

Now I'm off to my studio to continue with the big cleanup I started last week. I've thrown out two big bags of stuff so far and it's looking better already!