A while ago I saw that Caroline over at Becoming a SAHM was starting a new linky called ‘Creative Challenge’. The idea is to post about any creative activity that you’ve been up to that you are trying to do better or more often or challenge yourself in some other way with it. When I saw this it was around the time that I was just setting up Sewn Down Purple Lane, and I thought this was particularly fitting for the Creative Challenge linky theme, because although I’ve been creative with my sewing for a while, I was now stepping up a notch and challenging myself to selling my creative wares. I’ve been meaning to write about this and join in with the linky with this post for a while, but as long as I have my sewing machine with me, the default is to sew rather than write about sewing, so it took until coming on holiday with no sewing machine to write this.
First I thought I’d write a bit about my background in being creative, before moving on to how I’m finding the new challenge now that it’s well underway. I’ve enjoyed sewing (as well as other crafts) for as long as I can remember. I took Textiles as a GCSE subject, which was some lovely creative relief from the more academic subjects. As a teenager I made some of my own clothes and bags, but as university and young adult life took over, I didn’t sew as much – though I did a lot of cross-stitch as a stress reliever during exam periods. Just before Andrew – now 3 years old — was born, I got my machine back out and altered a pair of curtains with some Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric to make them long enough for his room-to-be; this gave me a taste for sewing again!
I also got into using cloth nappies on Andrew. When I was pregnant again and realised we would have a 21-month age gap and therefore two little ones in nappies, I bought some more to expand our nappy stash. The trouble was though, Andrew at nearly 2 years old was getting very big for standard ‘birth-to-potty’ nappies, especially his night nappies that needed to be boosted for heavy wetting. So I set to and sewed him some huge toddler nappies and fleece covers using fabrics upcycled from clothes and flat terry nappies. That’s where my upcycling journey really began. I tried various designs and types of nappy, making my own patterns as I went along. Now the majority of nappies and waterproof wraps that we use are mummy-made, mostly from fabric that used to be something else wearable, and I’ve sold many of our mass-produced cloth nappies.
After I started making nappies, the need arose to do something about the dribble situation with Joel – now 17 months old – who wet through bibs spectacularly faster than Andrew ever did. The trouble was that the standard dribble bibs that we had been bought had just one layer of absorbent fabric. That’s when I thought to use fabrics with nappy absorbency levels in a bib, again upcycling from clothes and flat nappies that were no longer useful to us. I sewed some bibs with a funky front fabric (from patterned cotton clothes), a stay-dry backing fabric (fleece or synthetic knitted) next to his skin and other clothes, and a hidden layer of terry cotton for ultimate absorbency. I’m pleased to say that these super absorbent dribble bibs have been fantastic at keeping his chin and top dry despite his dribbling skills that rival those of a top footballer. I also like the bandana style — it looks more stylish than a classic round baby bib, and it flaps around less so doesn’t get in the way especially when he was in the crawling stage.
My latest fascination is sewing with the gorgeous woven fabrics that are used as baby/toddler slings – one long piece of fabric is wrapped around parent and child in a secure position – hence the name ‘wrap’. I got into babywearing in this way when Joel was born. It’s quite easy to come by so-called ‘wrap scraps’, smaller pieces of wrap that are left over when weavers make the wraps, or when one is chopped up and converted into a sling with buckles, or if one is damaged somehow. There are so many possibilities for upcycling this lovely fabric – so far I have made waterproof bags, purses, bibs, glove clips, nappies and (probably my favourite for the name) ‘wrap scrap nappy wraps’! Well done if you’ve followed all the wraps here.
I’ve also figured out how to convert some of our adult clothes that are broken in part or too small into clothes for the boys – for example leggings from jumpers, small trousers from bigger trousers, slippers from jeans and a shirt, and a coat for babywearing that fits over both Joel and me when I’m carrying him on my back in the sling. I never throw any kind of fabric item away, even Daddy has learnt to give me his old stained shirts and worn through the knees trousers – there’s always something new I can make with them.
Having done all sorts of sewing for my boys, I eventually decided to set up shop. I say ‘eventually’ because I’d been thinking about it for a while but waited for a good time to do it. With our relocation to a new city, and the boys being at an age where it’s manageable to work around their routines, it seemed the right time. So I started sewing items to have in stock (mainly bibs, clothes and nappy accessories like waterproof bags and washable wipes), set up a Facebook page and Etsy shop, and offered custom slots for things other than the in stock items. And that’s about where I’m at now.
My biggest challenge at the moment is marketing and advertising my creative products. I’m happy doing the creative stuff, but I have very little idea about the business side of things. I know it’s pretty easy these days to set up an online shop with little prior knowledge, but running that shop successfully isn’t as easy as you might think. Pricing is an interesting issue that I’ve had to tackle recently: I’ve read that it’s essential to hit a sweet spot — too cheap and people will wonder about your materials and doubt the ‘handmade’ nature of your stuff, and too expensive and they won’t think it’s worth buying. I’m also discovering that it’s all well and good getting likes on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and comments saying how lovely my sewn goodies are and how great my ideas are, but turning those into sales takes some work. I’m still learning how best to do this, so I don’t have a huge list of tips; in fact if anyone has any advice to offer me on this matter I’d be very keen to hear it.
The most important thing I need to remember in this challenge is that I’m doing this because I enjoy sewing a lot. I find it hugely satisfying to complete a project, especially something that is very practical and looks good at the same time. It’s also a good feeling to use fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away or into the recycling bank, and make new items from old, giving them a new lease of life. I might find the business side of my tasks more boring than the creative ones, but I know I need to work at these too if I want it to succeed. At the end of the day, though, I doubt being a WAHM will make us millions, but just to cover the cost of my materials and earn a bit of pocket money doing something I love would be brilliant. That’s the plan.