Four Years of Bitchin' Stitchin'
With a title like that, I sort of feel like you know what you're getting yourself in for with this blog post. November 2019 marks a whole four years since I picked up needle and thread, ordered a questionable quality hoop from China and tried to make sense of a smelly old book I'd bought in a charity shop. Ultimately, much like the many recipe books I have bought and consulted, the techniques were totally ignored and my journey began!
For those who may not know, I first took up this amazing craft as something to get me through the cold winter months. It was another classic case of trawling through Pinterest, finding some images of embroidery and thinking to myself 'I can probably do that'. In all honesty who doesn't look through 99% of Pinterest and think that and then cry into a glass of wine when their creation looks nothing like the stylised image. I got lucky however (or maybe it is just the anti-social granny in me) and managed a sterling effort of the craft from the very beginning. Sure I may only have used one stitch, the fabric tension was atrocious and the overall finished piece left a lot to be desired but it was mine and I felt unbelievably proud of myself. I was also itching to do more!
Little did I know that just five days after my initial attempt of creating an embroidered piece that I would have created my first ever (utterly ridiculous) design that would become so popular with friends and colleagues that two days later I would be 'branding' my work. Less than two weeks later I would have a makeshift logo, a Facebook business page and orders coming in. Not your average start to a 'business' that's for sure. In fact this has been the main point I have impressed upon anyone who has asked me for advice on starting their own business. Take your time. Don't rush into it and make sure that you have time to really perfect your craft. Even if you have people beating down your door trying to order from you- they can wait and more often than not they will still be there when you're ready to set off. This is the best way to avoid looking back and cringing at your early work, which is something I have to say I was guilty of doing around two years ago. The best advice I think I ever got from a fellow maker was to remember that my first customers were just as happy with my work back then as my customers are now.
This rushed start also meant that my branding was way off the mark and actually reflected my own lack of self belief in this venture which is not something I truly realised until a long while after I became The Sewing Alchemist. I have had so many wonderful compliments on my business name and branding which has really helped me stand out and be recognised, even when I am out and about at events. Branding is everything and I honestly don't think I would have got this far and had so many brilliant opportunities if I had remained with my original, punny name however witty it may have seemed on day one.
With time you build your identity, create a portfolio of work, become a trusted seller and of course develop your skills. I don't think I will ever stop learning. There are still plenty of stitches I am yet to try or find daunting, still areas that I think I need to work on and still lots to learn in terms of being a good businesswoman.
That being said I have had an incredible four years so far with so many amazing opportunities that I never thought would come my way. Being featured on Buzzfeed, getting my work in Rock n Roll Bride magazine and teaching embroidery to the Martha Brook team definitely are top of my list! Although it is of course important to have goals and be focused, I don't think you should put pressure on yourself to accomplish certain things by a set time. Sometimes you just have to let the opportunities come to you and all of the examples above did! My first 'big break' with Buzzfeed didn't happen until almost a year of being a 'business' and certainly gave me motivation for more! So if you don't feel like you've had your 'big break' yet, don't worry, it'll come.
There have been many wonderful things about owning this business and the number one thing has to be all of the amazing small businesses and their owners that I have met along the way. I can honestly say that on this journey I have made some true friends, some I have had the opportunity to meet and work with and others who I have not. It is so comforting to be on this crazy roller coaster with them and swap stories of bizarre requests or worrying shipping mix ups! I also have to say that I have the best customers, many of which have become friends and who still blow me away with all their orders. I mean, to have people on double figures is incredible!
As much as the small business community is amazing, there are sadly bad parts to it as well and the most prominent has to be plagiarism which has become more and more apparent as the small business boom continues. I myself have experienced this particularly badly on two occasions where people have posed as potential customers to gain insight into designs and pricing, only to go away and set up their own makeshift business. I am sure that there are many more out there doing it even now without my knowledge. I also know that this is a problem shared by many in this community which is absolutely heartbreaking. To think that when I started this business four years ago, the only embroidery I could see was overseas and of a totally different style to mine, to now see thousands on offer on sites like Etsy. It is the same across the board and something that many small businesses are struggling with. I mean, how do you compete with people offering similar products at often half the price? It really is sole destroying but please remember that you cannot put a price on quality and experience.
This year has certainly been one of the hardest for me both personally and professionally. Areas of my business I once enjoyed such as Instagram have now become a battle and have naturally had a huge impact on not only my sales but my mental health too. I firmly believe that managing your social media presence is a full time job in itself and hours need to be spent to really work it out and create engaging content. It is something that I have and continue to struggle with but I am trying to take it less seriously. The main point I have taken away from my struggle with Instagram this year is not to put all my eggs in one basket. If Instagram disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, what would I do? Where would my sales come from? How would people hear about my work? But most importantly, does it really matter who 'likes' you online if they aren't going to stop your business bombing?
So where to next? Well what I can tell you is, that I am 100% committed to carrying on this crazy journey. This little business of mine will be getting a slight face lift because, hey four years of business really takes it out of you. I am super excited to reveal my refreshed look and hope that it will show a whole different side to this previously hot pink filled business!
But most of all I am just going to keep winging it...