craft business, Embroidery

Making Memory Pillows


Believe it or not, this type of memory pillow is probably the easiest of all to make as the button placket serves as the closure.  Essentially, you cut a square to the desired size + 1/2″, place fabrics right sides together and sew all the way around. Turn inside out, give it a good press and insert a pillow form.  Instant memory pillow!  Here’s a tutorial that explains the process in greater detail, in case you need it.

Construction Notes:

  • This pillow is 16″ square.  Most L/XL men’s shirts will yield a 16″ square pillow.
  • Consider interfacing the front sections of shirts that are loosely woven or made of thin fabric.  Pellon SF-101 is my go-to interfacing.
  • Align the button placket and baste the top and bottom edges before stitching.
  • Use a 3/8″ seam allowance and finish the edges by serger or sewing machine.
  • Be aware that the button placket will likely be off-center if you want the entire chest pocket to show.
  • Take the time to match plaids along the sides.  A walking foot is your BFF.
  • If you like to taper the edges of the pillow to avoid bulk at the corners, I recommend NOT doing it on this particular type of pillow  – especially if you have an overstuffed pillow form.

Inscription Label:

This particular label is hand embroidered because I do not own an embroidery machine. The font is Century Gothic. The verse was printed on fabric using my inkjet printer and stitched using perle cotton.  Cost and turnaround time are the reasons I decided to DIY.

You do have lots of other options if you abhor hand stitching:  DIY on your embroidery machine (lucky you!). Design your own stitch pattern or buy a digital embroidery file for a couple of bucks. Having someone else make the label is also an option, but it will set you back $8-$15 per label.


Change is the only constant

Last night, I attended a lecture given by Meg Cox, a former WSJ reporter, who now writes about quilting for various publications.  Her talk covered the recent consolidation within the sewing and quilting industry.  The old guard is now retiring and closing/selling those businesses (think HandiQuilter, Fons & Porter, City Quilter, and NQA as examples). Many segments of the business are now owned by a handful of corporate entities like F + W who look at it solely from a business perspective. (See my previous post on magazines and F + W here). Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine is no longer someone’s pride and joy dedicated to a subject about which they are passionate. Instead, QNM folded because it didn’t meet certain circulation, revenue and other metrics set forth by the parent company.  Ms. Cox even hinted at the possibility that we’d see even more layoffs industry-wide before the dust settles.

Quilting is $6 billion a year industry. What’s driving the recent changes?

  1.  The “average quilting customer” is aging.
    The average quilting customer is still affluent and well-educated, but she is well into her 60’s. Chances are she’ll actually quilt and sew MORE once she retires, but the way in which she spends her quilting dollars will likely change.
  2. While the Modern Quilt Guild has helped spur interest in quilting and sewing, younger sewists don’t have near the disposable income of today’s “average” quilter.
  3. Project preferences have changed – think tote bag and lap quilt made with precuts instead of a Baltimore Album bed quilt.
  4. Handwork is definitely experiencing a rebirth. While the maker may use precuts and make a small project, there is a use of hand (or machine) embroidery to add a personal touch to the item.
  5. Online shopping has definitely changed the retail landscape.
  6. YouTube, Craftsy and similar web based learning portals have made it possible to learn on your own if no classes are available in your area.

My thoughts:

I’m 15 years younger than the “average” quilter, but I am more into quilting experiences rather than buying more stuff. Look at the growth of quilting related travel – tours, retreat centers, etc. I’ve taken two trips within the past four months that were strictly for quilting.  My bucket list includes several quilting/craft related trips. Even though retirement is still years away, hubby and I are starting to look at RVs with a second room I can use for quilting/office work while we are on the road.

The things that I do buy have special meaning for me or are a designed to make my sewing more productive or easier.  I received a Singer Featherweight as an anniversary gift. Now, I am searching for original accessories to go with my sweet little machine. I splurged on sterling silver TJ Lane thimble 10 years ago and it is one piece of equipment that is always packed in my travel sewing/embroidery kit.

In my opinion, it seems as if sewing machine manufacturers must also think this average customer is willing to shell out $10k plus every time she buys a new sewing machine. One new machine I saw advertised at the AQS Show boasted a show special of 60 payments of $168 each for a brand new sewing machine. That’s over $10,000 for a sewing machine at a quilt show. We all know that  quilt show prices tend to be pretty sweet.

I found it ironic that Ms. Cox pointed out that she already had all the machines she would probably ever need, so she didn’t plan to buy a new sewing machine. I’ll probably buy another machine at some point, but I won’t spend anywhere near $10k for it unless I buy a longarm machine.

So, who’s sewing these days?  Students in my maker club at school. Millennials with small children. (Can you believe they are asking for garment sewing classes???) Young adults setting up their first homes. Empty nesters. People who got off the hamster wheel and went in search of a simpler life. People who like to make stuff. People trying to save money. What you don’t find are face-to-face classes at times convenient for working folks. Hence, the surge in online learning. But people are beginning to discover that the best teacher is one who works right beside you for a series of lessons while you learn the basics. Then, online learning makes “sew” much more sense.

With our society’s need for “instant gratification” and limited time, it’s no wonder that precuts, kits and fabric cutting systems (manual/electronic) are such hot items.  Missouri Star Quilting Company is probably the undisputed leader in selling precut fabrics. I found it quite humorous when Ms. Cox relayed that MSQC started Block Magazine on its own rather than accept an unfavorable magazine deal from F & W (Jenny Doan – you go girl!).

Will the rise in online shopping mean the end of the LQS? I don’t think so. I do think that shop owners will need to be more proactive and extend their offerings to include some garment sewing options (Oliver + S, Children’s Corner) and needlework supplies.  An ongoing Sewing 101 class might be worth looking into to help those newbie stitchers develop their sewing confidence (and sell more items!).  Our LQS will have to get creative and add value to convince shoppers to visit their store first before they let their fingers go shopping online.

As the title of this post indicates, the only constant is change. One of my favorite LQS closed its doors a year ago.  Hancock Fabrics shuttered its stores. My local Baby Lock and Bernina dealer recently changed hands after 25 years with the same family. My local Janome dealer now has his adult children working in the store.  I buy my quilting books from and my magazines are mostly British imports.





The joy of multiples

Bet you thought I was talking about twins or triplets!

Well, in a way I am.

I mean investing in duplicates of commonly used sewing notions and outfitting each work area with essential items to help improve productivity and save your sanity.

For example, I have 3 magnetic pin cushions – one at each of my two sewing stations and one at my cutting table. I’m debating buying a 4th one to keep in my rolling sewing machine tote.  I already have a travel notions bag that contains items I simply don’t want to be without at a retreat or while teaching a class. Now that I am teaching classes 2-3 times a month, I’m slowly adding duplicate rulers so I can merely grab and go.  One thing that I can advise is to mark all of your items with your name or some identifying mark like decorative washi tape. Good quality sewing notions aren’t cheap and you don’t want to lose your favorite pair of scissors or 12-1/2″ square ruler.

I am also going to do with with my make-up bag. A couple of weeks ago, we had to go out of town to attend a funeral.  My toiletry bag was carefully packed and hanging in the bathroom while I put on my makeup that morning before we left. It was still there when I returned 2 days later. No makeup, no toothbrush, no nothing. I was able to borrow a toothbrush and made do with my host’s shampoo and soap. The only makeup I had with me was a pressed powder and lipstick. Fortunately, I had a hairbrush and lotion already packed in my suitcase. We were also in a very rural area with the nearest shopping 45 minutes away. It’s not like I had a drugstore 1/4 mile up the road like I do at home. Sheesh!



Finding Balance

After all this time, you’d think I’d remember how hectic the first month of school can be.


The past three weeks have been a blur. I’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and breathe school. No time for gardening, housework or sewing. Thank goodness hubby was away at an ATA tournament the past 10 days. I’ve managed to keep up with the laundry, but the fridge is empty and my tomatoes need to be harvested.

So tomorrow – Saturday – is a “no-school and no-computer” day for me. I will piddle to my heart’s content around the house – run errands, iron clothes, fill the bird feeders, tend the garden and S-E-W.

I have some biz things to make and some pants to hem for me. The hemming is important because those pants represent an effort to achieve BALANCE.

You see, the kids at my school have to wear a uniform. After much thought, I decided that I needed a uniform, too.  So, a business casual look – a jewel neck rib knit 3/4 sleeve top with khaki pants – it is. My niece sells Premier Jewelry, so I’ll be accessorizing my uniforms  with some style. It might seem a little casual to some folks, but I crawl on the floor to fix computers, squat down to shelve books and sit in a rocking chair for storytime. (This outfit also works quite well when I teach sewing classes or meet with quilt clients.) I adore skirts, but they don’t work so well in my line of work. A v-neckline is definitely more flattering on me, but the jewel neck means I don’t have to worry about flashing my cleavage in front of a fifth grader or parent.

My first installment of uniform tops arrived today – courtesy of an end-of-season sale at Belk’s. Pants are from Eddie Bauer that were purchased last fall (and have been sitting in the to-be-hemmed pile ever since – my bad!).  The end goal is to streamline my morning routine so I can ease into my work day. Things definitely do not go better for me if I am rushed.







It’s quiet – ’cause school’s back in session

Yes, school in these parts starts back God-awful early.

Our summer was cut short due to an adjustment of the yearly school calendar.

The good news is we’ll be completely done before Memorial Day next year.

The bad news is it’s early August and I’m seeing way too many pictures of my friends at the beach and lake on FB and IG. They don’t start school until after Labor Day. 😦

Sewing-wise, I am working on a mosaic quilt, pillows from a bridal gown and a family wall-hanging featuring clothing/pictures from all 6 grandkids for a special couple. Some pattern editing to come, but this year’s start to the school year has been much less hectic than last year’s.  Thank goodness!





When the competition closes its doors…

Hancock Fabrics is no more.  The location near me finally closed its doors. 

I fondly remember many a Saturday morning spent as a kid with my mom as we made the rounds to Cloth World and Hancock’s to look for fabric. You see, Mom made just about all my clothes until I reached sixth grade. When I got older, we made the trek to Buckhead for special fabrics at Sew Magnifique. Sadly, Sew Magnifique closed many years ago and the only place left to get quality dressmaker fabric in Atlanta is at Gail K’s.

With Hancock’s closed and it being a Sunday (Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday) it meant a trip through all of the construction traffic to Joann’s to pick up a few items I needed and to use a gift card I’d received for my birthday.

I had a stack of coupons with me (and on my phone), which the cashier dutifully scanned during check-out. Be aware: Joann has changed its coupon policy! Books are no longer eligible for coupons, die cuts are not allowed…read the mice type…and my 15% teacher discount which used to good be on EVERYTHING is also now restricted. The recent sales flyers have also featured 30% discounts instead of the 40-50% discounts as in the past.

Is this lessening of discounts and a more restrictive coupon policy because Hancock’s has closed (no need for as deep discounts to be competitive) or is it because the sewing/craft market has changed?

Yes, online sales are increasing, but according to one industry source,  80% of sewing/craft shopping is still done locally either at a brick & mortar location or a “pop-up” shop (like at a guild meeting).  People go to a particular location because of relationships they develop with staff at the store or because the shop has the tools/supplies they need at fair prices. Hancock’s was my go-to place for general fabric needs and if I needed help when I got stuck on a sewing project (NOT quilting). The staff at my local Hancock’s had a depth of sewing knowledge that is sadly lacking from most big box craft stores.

So now, I have to hunt for other places to meet the sewing needs that Hancock’s used to cover. Inconvenient, yes, but I am beginning to see an opportunity for me to fill some of the void – at least on a local level.



Should I take my craft business full-time?

Unfortunately, there is a no one-size fits all answer to that question. It really depends on your personal situation.

I’m a member of 3 very different craft business development groups (ICAP, Craft Industry Alliance and Make Sell Grow).  The leaders are quite knowledgable and while yes, they do want to sell you their services, they really want to see your business grow and succeed. Quite often, you are encouraged to take your business full-time and the group leaders introduce you to individuals or provide case studies of those who have done exactly that. Always keep in mind, however, that these examples are the exception, rather than the rule. 

Most people with a craft business have a day job or another source of income – savings, retirement income or spouse/partner. I found this article mentioned on the Fractured Atlas blog to be quite enlightening, even if it discusses theater rather than the craft industry.

Examples just from my local quilt/craft community:

  • A former teacher colleague bought a well-known LQS 5 years ago. She has several p/t employees and she works f/t; yet her husband is still working f/t a large company because they count on the income and benefits from his job.
  • One of the t-shirt quilt companies (the competition) has p/t employees, but she still works f/t as a nurse.
  • Another quilt shop owner worked f/t as a nurse until recently. She has several part-time employees and a now retired husband.
  • A pair of fellow quilters recently started an online quilting show. One works f/t as a manager for a large IT company and the other is between jobs (but her hubby works f/t).

    There are several other examples I could give, but the common thread is they don’t rely on their craft businesses as their sole source of income.

According to this article that appeared in Forbes, two-thirds of all small non-employer businesses (sole proprietor or single member LLC with $1k or more in annual revenues) reported less than $25k in revenues in 2011. That’s revenue, NOT profit. The average revenue for all companies in the non-employer category was $44,000.  Chances are your “take home” portion of that will be about half. Will $22,000 provide you with enough income?  Only you can decide that.

Perhaps you are in a situation where the day job disappeared and you don’t have a choice but to take your craft biz full-time. Another LQS owner did just that – complete with SBA loans, biz plan like no other craft biz I’ve ever seen and knows exactly how much revenue per square foot she needs to be profitable.  She started her biz from scratch four years ago and I have a feeling it will still be in biz a decade from now.  Her husband recently retired and she has stepped back some and turned over the day-to-day running of the shop to someone else, yet she remains on top of things.

This time last year, I seriously considered leaving teaching to roll out my after school craft clubs 3x a week with a day spent teaching at a homeschool co-op. I would make up the rest of the needed income by doing loose-leaf filing at downtown law firms 2 mornings a week. This would wouldn’t replace my teacher salary, but it would keep me busy, which was hubby’s primary concern. Fortunately, a job transfer came through at a site closer to home. I haven’t hung up my school librarian hat just yet, but it is definitely getting closer!

So, if you want to run your craft biz full-time – get out there an do it! But don’t feel like a failure because you choose to run your biz on a smaller part-time scale. Relax, you’re in good company.