Wednesday 3 October 2012


The Little Shop That Wasn't (For Me)

This weekend, on my daily pilgrimmage for bread and milk I walked by the shop that I was interested in.  And there were people in there!  Not shocking in and of itself, obviously, but it's been boarded up forever and I didn't actually think anyone would want it but me.  'Aha!', I thought, 'the universe is sending me a sign!'.  I didn't have an appointment scheduled to see it but I figured as the agent isn't local and he was physically there and so was I, I'd loiter around until the other viewer left and then introduce myself.  Which I did. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'I just shook on it with the other viewer.'  And do you know what?  I was relieved.

Here's my very technical drawing of the space.  It's a corner unit with a chunk out of one corner for the main door, full height windows to two sides, and a internal door to a tiny bathroom on the back wall.  The total dimensions are roughly the same as my current space but the available wall space is a whole lot smaller.  To store my fabric in its current shelving would take up most of the wall space, which would leave me to work in one of the windows like a very boring parody of Amsterdam's red light district.

And here's my current working space.  One door, one half-height window (so I can work in front of it), a whole lotta wall and work space.  Looking at it like that, it would have been madness to cut into my profit margin by £400/m.  But it was something I was seriously considering doing for two reasons:
  1. The sewing room is the land of misfit furniture
  2. I have trouble staying 'on task' in my house
The first point is sounds simple enough.  Throughout Operation: Save Our Collective Lives I've replaced furniture that doesn't work with our lives and house with furniture that does.  The misfit furniture then moves to the garage or, if it is a semi-fit for what I need, into the sewing room.  But it's not the furniture that I need for the sewing room to work: my sewing table is too small for more than one machine at a time, there's an erstwhile two seater sofa that's being used as a surface to stack stuff on, and I'm using a old TV unit for pattern storage.  Consequently the room gets messy quickly, I'm frustrated with swapping machines constantly, and I don't feel happy and productive when I'm in there.  But guess what?  None of the misfit furniture would have gone to the shop.  Ergo, if I was willing to spend money to kit out the shop so it's the best use of space, I should be willing to spend money to improve my current space.  In fact, I should be willing to spend more money as it saves me the shop expenses in the long run.

Which moves me onto point two, which is harder to overcome.

When I am very busy, I work at my best.  But by 'busy' I mean I have orders to fulfil, when there are already expectations on me by customers.  What I struggle with is creating more business, be that through promoting, marketing, working on new patterns or designs, actively seeking opportunities, etc.  Truth be told, it's the fear of putting myself out there. I've been talking with a good friend a lot recently about holding myself and my business back through fear of failure and how this is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Getting a physical shop would force me to work really, really hard to cover its expenses but more than that, I'd be telling myself that it's okay to take this seriously as a business.  To do many businessy things because I absolutely had to and should do as a legitimate business.  The number of people who've asked, 'What are you going to do now that your kids are both at school?' with the undertone of you should go back to proper work definitely sows seeds of doubt in what you're doing.  And that doubt is multiplied if you are the one holding yourself back. 

Long story short, the shop was not to be but it made me analyse where I'm at.
  • There are definitely less expensive ways to feel legitimate  
  • If I was willing to invest in the shop, it's okay to invest in things that are not the shop  
  • I need to structure my time better
Thoughts or advice?


  1. I absolutely agree that you should get the furnishings that work for your space -- that makes real sense given that you would have spent the cash in a new shop.

    As I read what you wrote I thought, maybe you should hire a freelancer to help you with the business things you don't like doing. Some of that would be accountability -- you'd have a deadline for new designs if you hired a publicist who needed to know when those would be ready. And some of it might just be off-loading some of the things you don't like doing, or that take up a lot of time you need to spend on other stuff.

  2. I'm the same... I seem to always procrastinate until I need to get going and really under stress but then is when I really get productive.
    I used to work as supervisor in a very large team and I was always on top of everything, I had my notebook, I wrote down everything I had to do in order of importance and checked when I actually did it, at the end of the day I usually had some time left to get involved in new projects or to study.
    Now I work from home and I feel like I'm the least organized person in the whole universe.
    I think it's because we are staying home and we can see what has to be done and we are here and we could just do it.

    Than, for me, there's the fact that if I know that I still have to do my washing up or mop or whatever I can't concentrate properly on other tasks, unless I really have to because the deadline is getting closer.

    As you can see unfortunately I don't have many advice to give but would love to sit here (metaphorically at least) and wait for some wise ladies who can help us!

    I love working from home and being here for my daughter and caring for my house and still being able to work but hey, it's not that easy as it sounds!

  3. if you have ikea nearby, you could kit out your room for a faily small budget. Some of the australian bloggers have kitted out sewing rooms almost totally in ikea. the expedit seems to be a good way to store fabric and patterns. and they sell huge tables, or just the legs for your own cheaper top from a diy store. Good luck and i'm jelaous you have an actual sewing room! I have a dining table that means everythig has to be put away everytime.

  4. It's been a long time since I commented and I've been following your blog a very long time - yes, you're already out there, honey!
    I just checked out your store and it's full of desirable goodies! You do know our kids are getting bigger, right? Only I noticed that certain patterns for tunics, tops and party frocks need to be bigger now that my daughter is going to be 5 (sob!)
    Oh, and don't you also supply an exclusive online boutique?
    You're already doing, you just need to do more, ok?
    I'd welcome some tips on structuring time when you've figured it out ;)

  5. I think if you're interested in workspace that isn't your house then you can find it where there's not necessarily a street entrance. If you walk by it on the way to the store, you're paying for a spot that gets foot traffic. Maybe look for more of an "office" than a "shop"? An upstairs-y space?

    I'm in this frame of mind with you. Working at home is so distracting. In my imagination of productivity, getting out of the house is key. Not that it's realistic for me any time soon. Have you seen Sewaholic's posts about her office? She looks to be in an office building. Kind of a boring one, but she made it her own and it looks productive!

  6. I know exactly how you feel. I find myself putting off the 'businessy' job, because I love the creative jobs and the writing jobs so fill most my time with them but then once a week I have a big blitz on all the boring admin/money earning bits so then I can enjoy the rest of the week.

    I thought I needed a seperate space to work out of the house to stop me getting distracted so last year I paid to have my garage converted into an much a it pains me to say it I can count on one hand the number of times i've worked out there! I set my sewing machine up there and made it into a sewing room (and kids playroom) instead.

    I think writing down the jobs you have to do (and keep putting) off helps you to focus and just set aside one time a week to do all the nasty jobs and then you will be relieved that you don't have to do them again for another week and can relax.

  7. I think even if you don't have orders to fill there are still expectations on you by customers (military coat pattern? Skater dress pattern?). So maybe you need to change the way you think about the tasks that you have to do. If you set yourself a deadline for each activity then you have pressure, which will hopefully make you work harder. You know you need to get your *rse into gear, so do it. Doesn't matter how many time management tools you use, or blog posts you write asking for advice, or books you read on 'getting things done', (which are all forms of procrastination in themselves) the only person who can increase your productivity is you. You are allowed to procrastinate a little bit more by re-organising your sewing space and getting fit for purpose furniture though ;)

  8. Many, many times I wish I could whisk to Scotland in a blink (most involve drinking). Alas. So a little remote help.

    I agree with the idea of getting an office type space if you must get out of the house. No need for foot traffic. Are you good at putting artificial pressure on yourself? Set up some kind of automatic transfer of your "rent money" into a savings account and work your butt off to cover it. Worst case you're out nothing. Best case some motivation and money towards furniture and an eventual shop.

    A few practical tips. I tend to whittle away my time if I'm not paying attention and tracking it. But I also get paralyzed by a giant to-do list. Try two simple things.

    First, track how you spend your time every day. You might be surprised and amazed. Good tool for doing that is here.
    I use the calendar part on the left to write down what I'm doing all day. Jot yourself a few goals in the upper right hand and see where the day takes you.

    Second, try time boxing. Sometimes an icky task will only take a little bit of time, but ends up taking all day because you won't start it. And then you find that instead of filling out the staff spreadsheet you're commenting on a friend's sewing blog (ahem).

    Once you try the first two, use this tool from the same guy in #1 and try to set yourself some priorities.

    All his free and lovely tools here

    I'm not affiliated with David Seah at all, have just had a lot of use for his free tools. He's generous with his stuff. And I'll buy the skater pattern AND upsized versions of some things if that counts for anything.

  9. I also work from home but not in a creative process. It's so easy to get "off task." I often thought of renting office space (which was a ridiculous notion for me). However, I worked for an amazing psychologist once who said (and this applies to so many areas of life), "At some point, you just have to reach into the pond and grab a fish." Not everything has to be forever. If you don't like that fish, throw it back. The regrets, I believe, come from not sticking one's hand in the pond. Best of luck. Your work will speak for itself. I find it amazing.

  10. This resonates so strongly with me! I've yet to reach the point where all there of mine are at school, but already, I'm wondering where I'll go with my handmade ventures when the time comes. It sounds as if your flirtation with the shop space has clarified lots of things for you, which is a really positive step. It absolutely sounds like a good idea to channel some funds into making your workspace more workable for you. I don't have any advice to offer as I'm the queen of procrastinators, but I am striving to be more 'business-like' in approach to planning and making.