Saturday, May 26, 2012

Facebook Flounce (Sort Of)

I've been thinking a lot about the role of social networking in my life. Many of these have not been happy thoughts. Then I stumbled upon a video from a TEDx event that has framed the whole movement in a completely different way. I would highly recommend setting aside twenty minutes to watch this video, maybe not right now, but soon.

Wow! My reaction to these ideas is fairly deep horror. You see, I have one very strong foundation-level goal in my life, and it's based on the ideas of a man named Harry Hay. The particular concept that has become my underlying motivation is called subject-SUBJECT consciousness. It posits simply that every person enters into every situation with a lifetime of accumulated experience influencing their perceptions and the choices that they make.

This is easy to understand. It gets complicated, however, when we try to do anything together. Every person's idea of what we are doing is unique. It takes a lot of work to reach a place where we can agree on a set of actions that are acceptable to all while simultaneously remembering that we can never fully understand the motives of another. All people need a chance to speak their minds, especially if their needs are not being met.

The bottom line here is that I've set a real goal to live my life in a way that grants every other person's reality the same weight as mine. We are equal participants in our shared experiences. It's not easy. Reaching meaningful agreements takes time, sometimes quite a lot of it. Deep friends challenge each other, help each other to look at themselves critically, and support each other as they grow.

The opposite of treating others as equals with important subjective experiences is to treat other people as objects, existing to be used for whatever purpose we need them to serve at the moment. This sounds evil, but it doesn't have to be. It can be as benign as reading a social media newsfeed in order to stave off loneliness. Sometimes when we do this, we are using others and their stories to take the place of deep connections in realtime, with those same people or with others.

With social media, if someone says something that's personally challenging, it's easy to just scroll down to the next item without a moment's thought. There's no commitment to engage with them and work through it. In fact, people who try to do that are often called "a bummer". They are ignored or unfriended altogether. We're not on Facebook to get serious, after all. We're just sharing some fun stuff, right? The problem for me comes when this light and fluffy discourse makes up the majority of my social interactions.

And this is why I'm limiting my time on Facebook. I don't want the majority of my social interactions to be easy, quick, and shallow. Instead, I'm going to actively cultivate deep friendships with people who can eventually agree to really be there for each other, especially when the going gets tough. That's when the good stuff in life happens! Challenges help us to grow.

I'm not saying that I will be leaving Facebook. There are many good reasons to maintain the type of connections that it affords. What I will be doing is recognizing the limitations of this type of communication and asking people who engage online to take the conversation into realtime by utilizing antique technologies like (mwa-ha-ha) The Telephone.

If you've made it this far, maybe you are interested in these ideas, too. Do you want to cultivate our "physical real", "real time" relationship? Send me your phone number and let's chat! I know, it's scary, huh? Wanna talk about it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seattle's U District Show

I know that the show was almost two weeks ago, but I just haven't had time to write about it until now. I've got a big batch of unplanned downtime that I'm trying to make up for, and my leg still isn't healed well enough to weave. Grrr...

About the show, though. It was OK. I'm starting to notice a theme and hoping that it's as easy to fix as I think it is. My booth keeps getting placed in pretty much the worst spot in the show. I think it's because this is my first time doing all of these shows and I don't know what to ask for. As a returning vendor, I know how the show is laid out and can ask for what I want.

In this case, the show was a big one, maybe five or six blocks long. Down at one end was a block that felt kind of "tacked on". One side of the street had the very loud and ostentatious Verizon booth, but the rest of that side didn't have many booths. (Maybe there were one or two waaaay at the other end of the block, but nothing near my end.) On the other side of the street were some textile importers, a couple other artists, and me. Where were the big, beautiful and impressive artists' booths? Back in the main part of the show.

That said, I did fine. This was a challenging show, partly because of its size, and partly because of the many college kids there. College kids aren't generally investing in gorgeous, handmade clothing, even if they have the money for it. They don't usually think of their clothing purchases as an investment and are often horrified at the idea that they might be wearing the same garment, beautiful as it is, in twenty years.

I have somewhat anticipated this and created a lower-priced, wider-appeal item just in time for the show: pillows!

[Photo by Spencer Hall. When I get a link to his website, I'll post it in the comments.]

The new display looked great and sold OK. They really are turning into a loss leader, though. I don't seem able to move the quantity of them that would be required to make them a featured item. But they weren't really designed for that, anyhow. They're designed to give me an item that can be sold in multiple other outlets.

I learned a "truism" from another vendor at this show, and I have to say that it rings true for me... People spend more money when the weather is gloomy. For me, I've always attributed it to needing cooler weather for people to enjoy trying on my garments. What he said, though, is that people are happier and more likely to "just look" on sunny days. When the weather turns grey, they spend more money to cheer themselves up, and this seems true even for people who are not selling outerwear.

Well, it sure was true for me at this show. Saturday was warm and sunny. I sold a few things, but not enough to make it worth registering with Washington's tax entities, replacing my tires, driving 8 hours, and dealing with the complications of an unfamiliar city. (Thanks, Dave the GPS! I couldn't have done it without you.)

But everything changed on Sunday. We opened in a drizzle, which is usually a very bad thing. People don't come out in the rain. But these aren't just any people, these are Seattle-ites. One of them said to me, "If we didn't go out in the rain, we'd be shut-ins." There were almost as many people in the rain as there were in the sun, and there were enough breaks in the rain to get people trying on my garments and buying them.

You can't really tell, but in the photo above, everything is soaking wet. The rugs can each hold a gallon of water or more. The drapes are drenched and sat with their feet in filthy, oily street water for a day. Gotta love polyester, though. Hang them up, spritz with suds and spray it off with a hose and they're good as new.

I did make more money at this show than at many others, but not enough to really justify the long trek. Next year I'll try for a spot in the heart of the show and see how that does. I think it'll be worth it.

There was one big hassle of the U District show, and one that I was keyed into by someone who used to vend there. It's a college town and the show is set up on a public street. That means lots of "amped up" college kids roaming the streets basically until morning. There is far more traffic than the security guards can really keep an eye on. I know this because I set up a cot and slept in my booth on Saturday night. I was awakened three separate times by the sound of my booth zipper being opened. Now, to be fair, the reports are that these kids don't really steal anything. They are just curious and move things around. A vendor of garden art came in on Sunday morning to find their garden stakes stuck in the ground up and down the block. Nothing that bad, really. College kids can't be expected to understand just how much this stuff means to those of us who do it for a living, pouring everything we have into the items in our booths.

And this weekend I'm in Wilsonville, between Salem and Portland. After this I've got six weeks in the studio to produce just as much as I can before the "Big 3" shows in Washington. More on that later...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Portable Pillow Workshop

The pillow blanks arrived just before the trip to Seattle. I guess I never realized how much space 60 pillows would take up.

I was able to stuff some before I left, but most of them were waiting at the sewing shop to grab on my way by and stuff on the road.

There are two operations for each pillow. First I need to inspect the sewing while turning it right-side out. (Those corners take a bit of time to get right.) Then I need to scrunch and stuff the pillow into it. It ends up taking over a minute each or two hours per batch.

Here are a couple of shots of my little stuffing operation. The end result was 6 storage boxes of pillows. I hope they're popular!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!!!

Well, y'all pulled through for me and it looks like I get to keep on weaving for a while longer. (I keep phrasing it this way because I'm never sure if or when I'll make the mistake that sends this business in the direction of most other startups.) Now that show season is officially here with my first "big" show in Seattle's UDistrict this coming weekend, I think I've made it for real.

There are a few more shows with fees to pay, a few booth modifications, a tune-up for the van, loan payments, and the ever-present "overhead" but otherwise the money that I make at these shows will be going toward new yarn to keep it all running and, finally, profit!

Thanks to the folks who heard my call and preordered black cloth, the same amount of money came in as I had expected to earn at the show last weekend.

I continually struggle with the question of who makes up my community. Is someone a friend, just because we've known each other for a long time, even if we rarely influence each other's lives? Is someone a friend because they clicked "Add Blossom As A Friend" on Facebook? How about if we read each other's blogs but have never met in person?

Experiences like this past weekend blur the distinction even further. I was laying in bed, high on pain drugs, getting up to change burn dressings a couple of times a day, and answering emails from people who want to place orders for cloth: a nurse in Colorado, an alternative energy consultant in San Francisco, a member of my spiritual community, living in Chico.

And the answer that I come to is that the words don't matter. We're all one big, complex community of sorts. The internet makes it all that much faster and more complex. I really just need to focus on these definitions for the people I expect to live with. Everyone else, unless they've shown themselves otherwise, are friends.

Thanks, friends! I can't wait for us all to see the results of our investment in this batch of black cloth. It's coming...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Help Me Get To Seattle By Buying Black?

Well, the infection that I wrote about yesterday got way worse over the last two days. I just got home from another trip to the doctor. They told me that I was allergic to the SSD antibiotic cream that I've been faithfully applying to my burn. As the "infection" got worse, I was more generous in my application of the cream. They've switched it for an ordinary bacitracin cream and think that it should look better in a few days.

Buuuuut, I can't set up a booth and stand on this leg all weekend greeting customers and selling garments. I was supposed to pack the van today and set up for the show tonight.

So I'm in trouble. These medical procedures are expensive and have now caused me to lose a batch of income. I really needed this income to pay for my trip to the first big show in Seattle next weekend. In a couple of months, I'll have some show income to cover things like this, but this is all hitting me right after I've paid all my fees for the year but before I've started making money.

Along with all of the bad news, I have had more interest in the black cloth than any other color that I've woven. So I want to ask a strange favor of y'all who read my blog...

Who wants to help me get to Seattle by preordering a black garment?

And here's what you'll get: a new black garment, delivered by the first of July at the absolute latest. (It will only be that late if this leg injury prevents me from weaving for another whole month.) Black cloth will cost 15% more because of the thread price, but I'll give it to my faithful friends and blog readers for the same price: $300 for a ruana, $150 for a shawl. And, I'll cover the cost of shipping.

So, what do you think? Do you want a black garment yourself? Can you help me get the word out to others?

Here are some photos of the threads that I'll use to make your cloth. First, the many spools in two shades of matte black.

Then, the plied threads in over 20 shades of shiny black with little splashes of dark colors.

And a closeup of the colored threads. Don't worry, though. These will not overwhelm the black. They'll be sparse enough to just make it look iridescent.

And finally, for those who aren't familiar with my garments, this is a ruana in deep purple. Yours will have the same luxurious drape and weight, but in dozens of shades of black.

And here is a shawl. It's a square approximately 53"x53" with fringe on two ends.

If you want to place a preorder, just send an email to me: blossom (at)

There are two options to get the payment to me. If I can call you to run your credit card over the phone, I'll have the money before my trip. If you pay me by PayPal, I'll have it in time to cover costs for the trip home.

If you want to pay by credit card, be sure to include your phone number in the email so I can call you to run it. If you want to use PayPal, just send the payment to my email address.

Please don't send your credit card number through email. That's just not safe. :)

Thanks so much for all of your support over the years and for helping yet again as I work to overcome what I hope is the last great obstacle to total self-sufficiency.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gross Photo Essay: Tick Bite & Burn

If you're easily grossed out, I'd recommend skipping this post.

A few days before May Day, I went for a walk through my favorite meadow, barefoot and wearing jeans. I've done it hundreds of times before, but this time I picked up a tick. That's also happened a hundred times before, but I usually catch them before they burrow in.

Not this time. He got deeply embedded in my leg in about 20 minutes. I gently but nonchalantly pulled it out and checked to make sure that his head was attached to his body before I crushed him. (Why is the tick male? I don't know.)

The bite hurt immediately. Actually, that's how I found it so quickly. By morning it had swelled up and started to look a little infected. By the following morning it had developed a wide necrotic center with a 1" ring of infection. Time to go to the Urgent Care clinic!

They did a 6 mm punch biopsy to remove most of the necrotic flesh and be sure that all the tick parts were removed. They cauterized it with silver nitrate, put a bandaid on it and sent me home with a 10-day course of antibiotics to prevent systemic infection, including Lyme disease.

And here's where the photos begin. This is what it looked like after removing the silver nitrate soaked bandaid. The black is from the chemical. The smear is from me wiping it off with gauze before realizing I should photograph it.

And here's where it gets interesting, in a Darwin Awards kind of way. A couple of days later, the center looked and felt infected so I thought that it would be a good idea to use hot epsom salt to draw out the infection. The idea was simple: I'd put the hot liquid in a cup and seal it over the wound. As it cooled, the suction would pull out some of the infection.

What happened instead was that the top layer of skin peeled off. I was kind of mystified as to why this happened because the water didn't seem that hot. Well, I've since recalled some basic chemistry stuff and realized that Epsom salt can hold five times as much heat energy as water. (At least, I think that's what the numbers from WolframAlpha mean...) While hot water would cool down before it burned you, hot epsom salt water might not. And in this case, indeed it didn't.

But see? It doesn't look that bad. It's just one layer of skin, right?

Now I don't know that much about healing burns so I thought that the right thing to do would be to keep it clean and let it get plenty of air to dry it out. Remember, I'm on antibiotics that should keep it from getting too infected. These next photos were taken one each day so that I could keep track of the thing.

Here's an angle with sunlight showing just how deep it's getting.

And then the pain kicked in. I mean, it had hurt all along, but yesterday the pain just kept climbing until I could hardly see straight. This last development just took a few hours. The level of pain and the rate at which it was increasing sent me back to Urgent Care.

The doctor said I had a slow-developing deep second degree burn with secondary cellulitis. This means that the burn was bad and that the infection was spreading through the fat layer deep under the skin.

Here's the last I saw of it before the nurse fixed it up. Notice the pink that extends about 2" in every direction. I hadn't noticed it before, but it's actually really important. It's what told the doctor that the infection was spreading.

The nurse smeared it in silver sulfadiazine cream, covered it in petrolatum-soaked gauze, then about 10 sheets of dry gauze, wrapped it with 2 rolls of gauze, and a held it all together with a layer of self-adhesive rubber bandage. I'm told that this is standard dressing for large burns, and I took notes on the order and amount of dressings because I need to clean and redress it myself twice a day for a while.

The doctor noted that a burn like this must be causing a lot of pain so he prescribed Tramadol. I'm not a big pill popper, but let me just say that it's kind of amazing how good these drugs are. The pain is greatly lessened, sleep comes easily, and there are no other noticeable side effects. [Update: I just had my first daytime dose. "Sleep comes easily" is an understatement. It should read "This stuff drags you under the surface of consciousness like the kraken latching onto a dinghy."]

When I opened up the dressing this morning, I was a little surprised at how disintegrated it is. There's really no structure at all, just a deep, soupy mass. I gently cleaned it with Hibiclens, being careful to only rinse away the truly liquid parts of the wound. If some part of this is going to become skin, I don't want to jeopardize its integrity. The water evaporated quickly because this thing is HOT, and I immediately covered it up with fresh burn dressing.

So, what does this mean for business? Well, first off it delays the introduction of black cloth by about a week. I learned from the blue beam that I should not make the complex decisions that it takes to wind a beam while my mental capacity is compromised. I spent three days plying black threads so I'm ready to start winding as soon as I get back from this weekend's show. And, even if I have to spend most of the time sitting, I need to go and do this show. All this doctor stuff is super expensive.

Instead of weaving, I'm spending the next couple of days doing things that I can while sitting at a desk: price tags, signage, branding bags, etc.

And this is why the retail price is twice the wholesale price. The markup has to cover the time and materials that it takes to present items to customers in a professional manner. Wholesale pays for production, retail pays for getting it to customers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Scannable Price Tags

My bum leg and pain meds have had me in a weird place for being productive. I'm loopy enough that I can't risk making a big mistake in winding the black beam so I'm spending my time preparing for a new, more accurate, and faster checkout process.

The point-of-sale software that I already use has the ability to use the iPod's camera as a handheld barcode scanner. Because it can pack more information into a small space and has more error-checking, I chose to use the QR code format for my scan tags.

I tried really hard to use a pre-existing Avery label size, but found that there is enough jitter in the paper-feeding mechanism of my cheap printer that this wasn't feasible. They just wouldn't line up consistently, so I went with old tech: a paper cutter and glue sticks.

First, I used an iPod app to create the codes, then used Illustrator to lay out the sheets using the smallest code size that was consistently readable without errors.

After the sheets are laid out with the correct information and the correct barcode, they need to be sliced up and kept separate.

I then designed a sheet for the tag itself. The size is based on the barcode tags, leaving a margin around the edges and enough room at the top for the string hole. The front side contains a pared down version of my business card.

I used the inkle loom as a convenient way to measure out and cut lots of string to the same length, and again as a way to keep them from tangling after I tied the knots and before I threaded them through the tags.

Here's a shot of the final result: professional hang tags with the garment name, price, and a functional barcode on the back.

And here's my new labelling kit. There are blank hang tags, spare code slips sorted into separate envelopes, and a glue stick. This will travel to shows in case I need to repair or replace a tag on the fly.

The next thing to work out is a register scan sheet for sales. At the show, for instance, I'll be selling scarves at a steep discount to make more room in the booth for pillows and throws. Rather than change all of the tags, I'll hang up a sale sign and ring them up using a sheet of codes behind the counter. Simple! You see this sort of thing all the time at grocery stores.

The whole goal here is to compensate for a thing that happens at a wildly successful show where I'm so busy jumping from customer to customer that I sometimes forget to record the sale accurately and have a tough time reconciling inventory afterward. I've even made mistakes in calculating totals and undercharged people. One time I charged someone $30 for a $300 garment. Thankfully, she came back and paid the difference - minus a 10% discount that I gave her for being honest!

I'm hoping that spending a little extra time now will give me more time and energy to focus on customers at shows while improving the accuracy of my checkout and inventory management.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pricing Pillows

I'm super fair in how I set my prices. I earn a decent wage for my design and weaving time. Careful tracking of my hours for three years of production weaving tells me that the cloth needs to sell for $50 a yard wholesale or $100 a yard retail. When I make a mistake like I did on the blue beam, it takes longer and I earn less. It's not the customer's fault that I made that mistake. When materials cost more, like on the black cloth, the price only increases to cover the cost of materials and no more.

I have put the line of throw pillows into production to convert small pieces of cloth into merchandise that can be sold. One of my background goals is to reach new markets with them and make sure that they are profitable enough that I can afford to make lots of them if they're a hit.

In the last month, I've pulled my garments from all of the galleries that were showing them because they just don't sell in that environment. People seem to visit galleries for art and not garments. There are other galleries that specialize in housewares. I am rolling out the pillows alongside a line of sofa throws with the hopes that these items are more readily understood by customers and embraced by designers.

But I've been so busy with show prep that I didn't take the time to cost them out. To be fair to myself, I also didn't know what the costs were going to be until I was well into the process of making them. This is partly due to cashflow. I hired the seamstress to design them before I had the money to buy pillow blanks, for instance.

Well, now that I've got the numbers and ran a quick cost calculation, I realize that I'm kind of in trouble.

1. If I want to be paid my full rate for weaving the cloth that's going into the pillows and charge full markup on the materials and labor to make them, they need to cost $30 each or $50 a pair. This is too much for a 12" throw pillow.

2. If I don't get paid for my weaving but charge full markup on labor and materials, the cost drops to $16.50 each or $28 a pair. This is unsustainable.

3. If I charge full price for the weaving and charge no markup on the labor and materials, they cost $20 each or $35 a pair.

You'll notice in the last option that I am fiddling with the retail price calculation. This is kind of bad. It means that I must sell all of the pillows myself. They cannot be sold through galleries, showrooms, interior designer specification, or anything else and still be affordable.

My plan for now is to sell them myself, using pricing model #3 until I can find outlets who can charge the prices in #1. When they start to move at those prices, I'll increase the prices in my booth to match.

The Loss Leader

I'm starting to realize that these pillows are a thing that stores call a loss leader. They are not as profitable as other items in the shop, but they draw in customers who might not have stopped otherwise. The other thing that makes them work is LOUD, CLEAR ADVERTISING of the fantastic deal to be had on these items. It's what grocery stores are doing with the 3'x4' painted signs in the front windows. For the first time in my booth, I'll be hanging advertising signage to grab people's attention with a low price and get them in the booth.

Another part of the equation is the length of the sales cycle. At the next few shows, I'm going to need to learn how to sell cheaper items faster. I'm hoping that this happens naturally, that people don't need to spend as much time thinking about a $35 purchase as they do a $300 one. I'll also be streamlining the checkout process for increased inventory accuracy and accurate calculation of volume discounts. (one for $20, two for $35, four for $60)

More on the checkout process later...