Friday, February 26, 2010

snow day photo shoot

It was one of those lemons-into-lemonade days. Yesterday was my daughter’s second consecutive snow day and I had a lot of work, looming deadlines, to-do list a mile long. You know the scene. Fortunately she likes to help with photo shoots so we did the one I had planned for this Saturday.

I am also very lucky that she is one of my biggest fans so she gets excited to see the new work I bring to the shoot. And she has an excellent eye - a real gift for fashion photography. Here’s a little story with pictures of how the shoot went. I chose the above red checked skirt as an outfit for the darker aprons, but it looked a bit too Dorothy-in-Oz in the finished pics. This picture makes a super sweet portrait of photographer and model though - Edie's own brilliant composition.

This is one of my favorite aprons so far. Blue gingham is a big part of my visual vocabulary. I spliced together two button-down shirts to make the skirt. The sash and pocket are from a piece of vintage home-d├ęcor fabric. I cannot bear to part with this one just yet. I picked up these shoes cheap at a thrift store and thought they might work for photo shoots, but I just cannot manage the heels. I’ll have to re-shoot this one later.

Then we tried these sandals. No, not quite. A bit distracting. I think they will work with the spring/summer skirts, though.

We decided these classic mary-janes would work the best. They blend in with the dress to make the background outfit more uniform.
This is another favorite apron. The fabric combo just sings for me: repurposed orange linens, new flame roses print, striped sash and pocket from a button-down shirt, surfer-print shirt collar trimming below the sash. Some, like this one, I need to photograph in poses appropriate for a variety of juries. “Tattoo alarm,” said my photographer.

Trying another pose hiding the ink.

This lovely Springy apron was made from an XL shirt. I kept the line of the hem along the back and side which I used for the skirt. The sash and pocket are a vintage print in fantastic Florida-orange colors, trimmed with a blue gingham collar.

Another pose.

Catching the model tying one on. We both love the soft percale lining all the bibs. Just like the sheets on the bed at Grandma’s house. Very cheery. I use this on the black and earthy aprons, too.

I call this pose the "apron salute." This apron is rather...unusual. Sometimes I make something and I think, I’m brilliant! Then immediately I think, No one will ever buy it. It’s too weird. Time will tell. This is new mustard fabric in a print of frogs, turtles, and lily pads-with-flowers, the sash and pocket are a vintage 70s (?) floral in murky mud-at-the-bottom-of-the-frog-pond colors, and I trimmed it with a bright pink plaid collar.

Trying different props. I am wrapping this up with one of my photographer’s fave aprons. I cut apart, then pieced the shirt back together so I could have a large enough piece for cutting the skirt in the circle-skirt-like pattern. The pocket and sash are from one of Jack Thurston’s shirts (more on him in an upcoming post). Here is Edie’s analysis:

"The green collar brings out the wonderful green in the rainbow stripe. The blue thread noticeable on the pocket blends the pocket and the stripe together wonderfully. The light purple fabric is perfect for the blue thread on the front and the red on the back. The paisleys on the trim and pocket have superb detail and the gingham is a beautiful summer green."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Oh, they're ART."

This post is dedicated to Anders, a snowboarding dad who co-chaperones our kids’ downhill program with me at Ascutney Mountain. We’ve been spending the past five Fridays there with several other parents and lots of kids. Our children are in the same class and are friends.

Anders and I were getting to know one another and as I told him about my work (”I make aprons and skirts and etc, etc,…blah, blah…”) he seemed attentive so I continued “I use new designer fabrics but I like to combine them with vintage and recycled fabrics that I get from local thrift stores…”) and he jumped right to the core of it by interjecting in a lightbulb-just-went-on-over-his-head manner “Oh, they’re Art.”

And I instantly felt so grateful to him for his perception and I don’t know if I said “Thank You,” but I certainly felt it. I know I went on to confirm his statement by telling him everything I make is one of a kind. It’s important to me to make functional items that people will touch and wear and find useful in their everyday lives but I am not mindlessly cranking out multiple look-alikes of any certain product. Though I want you to wear it in your kitchen and wipe your hands on it, it is not “just an apron.” It is special. Like you. There are sometimes groups of sisters but there are no two exactly alike.

When I see vintage aprons they are always very interesting and unique. I think this is because they were all made, not bought. For the most part, vintage aprons were made individually, as a creative outlet, with the wearer in mind. It is this kind of special one of a kind item I am trying to make available for those of us who don’t sew our own.

Though I am constantly striving to make the construction process more time-efficient, the process of hunting down and selecting interesting materials and composing them together is a very thoughtful and inspired one. And it builds in an exciting way for me. First I pick individual fabrics that I like. Then I decide what they are appropriate for. There are piles in my workroom labeled “aprons,” “sashes,” “skirts” etc., plus five or six big trays of collars and cuffs arranged by color.

The next step is more exciting: pairing 2 fabrics in a not altogether obvious matchy-matchy way to be the basis for each piece. Lots of cutting, sewing, and other mysterious processes ensue until I have a pile ready for the next, most exciting step of all: finding just the right collar or pair of cuffs to trim each piece and stir it up. That third element changes all and brings the piece to another, higher level of interest. And then marrying the three with the finishing sewing steps and seeing the results is very satisfying.

I am not much taller than these 6th grade novice shredders and their skier friends. That's me on the far left.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

vintage fabric inspired body art

Happy, happy.

This post is dedicated to Audrey, my very young at heart, 70 year old customer from Florida. When we met at the Norwich Farmers Market last Fall I noticed a small rose tatto on her wrist and asked her about it. I was doing research at the time (conducting a informal questionnaires about people’s tattoos and their experiences getting/having them) in preparation for getting my first one.

I’ve spoken with Audrey on the phone several times since then and she’s always very encouraging of my business and tattoo plans. And I love the non-specific orders for aprons she places such as “Just pick out the prettiest. I trust your judgment.”
This is her latest order: two of the prettiest Gardening Aprons.

She called me again this morning and I was finally able to report that the tattoo is finished and I have pictures to send her.

Why am I showing off my ink on this blog? The design of my tat is all about my passion for vintage fabrics. When you get a tattoo the design choices are endless. It’s going to be there forever. Now how to decide? I first thought I wanted a tattoo of a beet because I saw a couple of cool beet tattoos and I was really appreciating our fantastic beet crop last summer. But I soon realized that was just a whim.

I asked myself: what have I always loved visually, emotionally and spiritually and will probably continue to love? Answer: vintage fabrics, especially florals. So I gathered together my very favorite prints and considered what aspects of them I liked. I like the definitive, yet delicate outlines, and the distinctly vintage coral pink colors in this group. I brought them all to my consultation appointment with Jim DuVal of Yankee Tattoo in Burlington, VT to help impress upon him my aesthetic vision.

Actually Jim is a big reason why I finally got a tattoo. Though I’ve always enjoyed seeing them on other people, I hardly ever saw one that I liked enough to want one like it. But I became familiar with Jim’s work through facebook and so much of his work had qualities of line and color that I loved, I knew he was the man for the job. Here's Jim at work (one of the few non-hammed up pics from this session). Also of note: I am wearing a sweater crocheted by my grandmother, Marion Curtis, who I try to channel in my textile work. She made it for me when I was in middle school. I totally snubbed it at the time but have gotten a lot of wear out of it now that I am old enough to know better*.

Here’s the fabric I took the design from, side by side with the finished work. It needed to lose the trellis and gain some black outlines to give it a sweet-but-with-an-edge vibe (hey, it’s a tattoo on my muscle-y arm after all). And, ta-da!, the finished ink below. As my friend Michelle astutely observed, “Kind of bad ass but really beautiful at the same time. Hey, kind of like Mountain Ash Design!”

* tip-o-the-nib to Eva Sollberger!

Monday, February 8, 2010

about my staycation

Well, there has been a bit of a hiatus on this here ol’ blog, but don’t worry, folks, MAD has been happily thrumming along. It’s time for an update.

Since this blog is a chronicle of the unfolding adventures of my start-up, home-based, be-my-own-boss craft business, part of the discovery process is in figuring out how to integrate it into the rest of my life, while still having a life.

And what I have been working on with intention in 2010 is creating a guilt-free balance in my life between work, non-work commitments, and personal time.

My business being thus far mainly focused on retail sales at vending events there is a distinct annual cycle to my life and work flow. During the past three years it has looked a bit like this:

Starting in early January and going until sometime in March: turn down no opportunities to play outside in the snow or socialize with the friends I don’t have time to see enough from July – December; procrastinate on doing taxes, then eventually do them; tinker around a bit with new product designs; start getting applications in for farmers markets and Spring shows.

Then, a couple weeks before the first vending event in late March, start sewing like crazy day and night until said show has occurred. Then continue all aspects of the business at a fairly reasonable pace until the Summer vending events begin in earnest.

From July until mid-late December continue to sew madly between vending events to restock inventory. Also often get inspired to tweek and invent products based on customer feedback & new ideas taking very few full days off other than pre-scheduled family vacation time away.

Time off gets more and more scarce and sales increase in proportion until my last show around Dec 21st, after which I collapse, congratulate myself, and get into holiday nesting mode. This is not my ideal work/life balance.

So what happened this year, meaning - in early 2010?

Well, Since early September 2009 I’ve been visioning plans for expansion in 2010 that promised to make much more “productive” (read: work-oriented) use of my time early in the following year. But when the kids returned to school after their holiday break, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to kick back into full gear work-wise, despite my intentions to do so.

During this time my friend, glass artist Terry Zigmund, kept posting on facebook about the 3 week trip she was on in Costa Rica. Realizing I needed more exhaling and rejuvenating time, I decided to enjoy a staycation for as long as Terry was away.

I dabbled in my year-end bookkeeping and filed my 2009 sales taxes, but I let myself off the hook and I saw my friends, enjoyed a lot of time with my family, escaped to mid-century Mexico in Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, La Lacuna (can’t get myself to use the English definite article the title was published with), xc skied over to my neighbors’ several times for friendly visits and went snowboarding as much as possible.

I was good about keeping my Puritan work ethic at bay and not feeling guilty. I was making up for all those times last Summer I didn’t go to the beach with my friends! I thoroughly enjoyed this time of physical, social and spiritual replenishing. Plus we had great snow.

Towards the end of the 3 weeks I was starting to worry a bit if I’d be able to get back into a disciplined work schedule but when the appointed Monday came along, it wasn’t a problem.

I love my work and I feel very blessed and lucky to be able to swing this alternative lifestyle and make so many of my dreams come true.

So here I am happily working away, for about three weeks now.

Much of my work time so far has been spent timing my production of skirts and aprons so I can accurately figure out my labor costs, an important aspect in pricing as I prepare to offer them for sale in stores this year. I am making HUGE batches to be extra efficient and this timed production will be going on for a while. Sneak peeks of the batch in progress are illustrating the post you now read (if you’ve gotten this far – wow).

Other than the valuable data that will come from this project, I just happen to be building up my inventory and that’s terrific, too.

This is also a big spending time of the year as I order all the supplies I don’t have on hand and can’t get at my local thrift stores: serger thread, bias binding, (*ahem*) bolts of gorgeous new designer fabrics. (feeling the palpable excitement?)

I’m very excited about what the year may hold in store. I have plans to work hard, but also to keep striving for balance. 2010 feels like a good strong number. Plus it’s the Chinese year of the Tiger. Powerful, positive things are going to happen. RAOWR!