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30 September 2013

My new studio, part 2

As promised, here is part 2 of a look-see into my new studio. Can you see Nora the mouse below, who was teasing you in part 1? She guards my latest purchase.....

......an original vintage Singer sewing machine cabinet.

It works, it has a foot peddle and a box for bobbins - see Nora for more details ;-)

I think I'm in love with it.

....especially how it folds away....

.... like so....

On the wall above my not-yet-named-Singer-sewing-machine-cabinet, are all my yarns. Finally, I can see them and remind myself that I have plenty of yarn and must-not-buy-more-yarn-just-cos-it-looks-pretty. Ha, we'll see!

Part 3 of a glimpse into my new studio is coming soon, if you like to have a nosy around and do link me up if you have pictures of your crafting/creative space.


25 September 2013

Crafting for guys

Since I started my online shop, I've been asked time and time again if I could design something for the guys out there. Friends and family have been constantly telling me that there aren't enough gift ideas for men. I'm not sure how true that is when I look at all the lovely things to buy in online shops but something I have noticed is that there aren't enough designs and gifts for guys that have been totally handmade and hand-crafted.

It's a very female centred craft and handmade revolution we're going through and it's always a surprise to find a guy who embroiders, knits etc and that sadly appears to extend to handmade gifts, which seem to be about 90% feminine in style.

Maybe it's because the crafting and handmade phenomenon is mostly made up of us ladies, so we naturally create feminine designs because we know the female population will appreciate them. 

What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

With this in mind I have recently made it my mission to create something just for the guys. Yup, I already sell handkerchiefs, which are aimed at men and women but I wanted to go that one step further and even pop "Gentlemen" in the title of a new design. Soooo, let me introduce to you, 'The Gentlemen's Gift Set'.

Similar to my 'Accessory Gift Set', this set includes a personalised handkerchief and a pair of cufflinks in matching fabric. Currently on offer are four types of fabric to choose from - blue, red, green and mustard yellow. The set comes in lovely gift wrapping and is 100% handmade by me in my little studio.

I have plans for another gift set for the guys, so stay tuned and do let me know what you think. 


23 September 2013

Claireabellemakes reviews Cherry Brooch

The fabulous Claire of Claireabellemakes has reviewed one of my new designs, the Cherry Brooch, over on her blog today. Head on over for a look see and if you've not come across Claireabellemakes before, then get signed up. She runs a wonderful craft blog and equally gorgeous shop, so you're totally in for a treat! And if you want to know more about Claire, then have a read of the interview I did with her this year.

22 September 2013

My new studio, part 1

As promised, a glimpse of my new studio!

It's a single room in my new home, which is completely dedicated to designing, making, creating, crafting, writing, photographing and dreaming...in other words my little zone of paradise.

As I was taking snaps to share with you all, I realised that instead of bombarding you with photos and in order to do it justice, I should split the blog post into 3 parts, so here's part 1.

This is my desk, with a fabric covered pin board above, holding all my embroidery threads (and within easy reach) and lovely, inspiring treasures. 

On the back of the door, Mr Robin kindly holds some embroidery hoops, as well as the most beautiful embroidery created by my friend Ruth. She made it for my wedding day.

Above Mr Robin is the cutest bunting I won as part of Claireabellemakes giveaway. I think it brings out Mr Robin's freckles nicely don't you think?

On my windowsill I have in easy reach my sewing box (pink with green handle in the corner), pins, scissors and a biscuit jar full of colourful thread. Oh and my first knitting project - the bear. Next to Bear sits Vladimir and Estragon the bunnies. These were knitted by lovely Ruth again.

And here's Nora the mouse. She guards a certain desk, which I'll be sharing with you in part 2!

If you've blogged about your studio/creative zone, I'd love to see it, so please do post a link below.


20 September 2013

Autumn knitting

With the nights starting to close in and a refreshing chill in the air, I've started to dream about all things wooly. More specifically, I'm getting really excited at the prospect of staying in with my knitting needles, a cup of tea and watching Strictly on the TV. With that in mind, I'm looking for some new knitting projects and I was wondering if you could help me? 

I really want to make two sets of a matching scarf and hat; one in black (to go with my orange coat) and one in wine red/dark pink (to go with my brown coat). I'm thinking about a beret with a pattern on it and a chunky scarf, possibly with a cable pattern.

Can you recommend any patterns, shades and types of wool? Did you knit up a scarf or hat last year? Any thoughts, comments, links to patterns etc would be greatly appreciated and I'd absolutely love to hear about your autumn knitting projects! You can find me over on Ravelry, where I'll be, possibly daily, seeking out colour inspiration and great free patterns.


14 September 2013

Exciting news!

I have some fab news to share with you all!
I have officially joined the team at This is your Kingdom as a writer and reviewer!

This is your Kingdom is a website dedicated to lovely things to see and do in the UK and is written by a great team of contributors from all around the UK.

I first came across This is your Kingdom through Kim Lawler, who only went and built their gorgeous website! As soon as I saw the beautiful designed site and had found out all about it, I was completely hooked! I then couldn't quite believe it when an email appeared asking if I would like to join the team. Yes, it's safe to say, I screamed with excitement...and of course, said yes!

I will be writing about lovely things to see and do on a monthly basis and will of course let you all know, so that you can get in there first and visit said lovely thing! If today feels like a day for exploring something new, then head on over to the site and if you're interested, you can read This is your Kingdom's little interview with me here.

Oh and just a little heads up, I'm off to sunny Portugal next week for some much needed lying horizontal on the beach with my book. I will have limited internet access until I return on Friday - just in case you were wondering why your email went unanswered. Both of my online shops are in vacation mode but you can still view my products in my Notonthehighstreet store.

Happy weekend everyone!

13 September 2013

Wish list - DIY blinds

As you all know, my wish lists are taking a DIY and home decor theme at the moment, as I get inspired to decorate my first home. This week I'm looking at DIY curtains and blinds. I've found some great ideas and tutorials to have a go at. 

I absolutely love this tutorial by In My Own Style and that fabric is gorgeous isn't it!

This is a great, simple and effective way of accessorising an ordinary blind by Poppytalk

Martha Stewart to the rescue! This is a brill tutorial and just think of all the lovely fabric you could use.

I love this no-sewing tutorial by The LifeStyled Company and ooh that polka dot fabric is gorgeous!

I've found so many other wonderful ideas, images and inspiration out there that I've decided to start a Pinterest board. If you have any tutorials, beautiful images or tips on making your own curtains and blinds, I'd love to hear/see them, thanks!


Picture 1 by In My Own Style
Picture 2 by Poppytalk
Picture 3 by Martha Stewart

11 September 2013

Has Christmas come early?

A lovely customer contacted me the other day to say she was purchasing a red polka dot Letter 'Chief Handkerchief as a Christmas present. When I read the word 'Christmas', I couldn't quite believe it. Has summer well and truly gone? It certainly feels like autumn outside but Christmas just around the corner, really? Don't get me wrong, the thought of jingle bells and Christmas smells have been dancing around my head for the past few months as I prepare new designs and get my shop in ship-shape order for the festive rush. I just haven't been sure at what point to share my Christmas designs with you all. So, I've decided; if my wonderful customers tell me that they've written their letters to Santa and are excitedly shopping with festivities in mind, then I guess it's time to the ring the bell and say Christmas shopping has begun!

This year I have created three very festive embroidery designs, which are available as brooches or handkerchiefs and can be purchased in both my Etsy and Notonthehighstreet shops. I hope you like them! 

First up, is Mr Snowman, who comes complete with hat, scarf and carrot stick nose. He's very pleased to meet you all. Though be careful when you shake his hand!

Christmas tree has been embroidered in three different shades of green and comes topped with a golden star to make a wish on!

A festive sprig of holly comes with three berries, each in a different shade of red.

Does this put you in the mood for Christmas or do you feel it's too early to be thinking about turkey, mince pies and sherry? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

6 September 2013

Starting an online shop, part 4 & 5: money and prices

Picture this:

You've just worked a full week in the day job. It was a full on week with highs and lows. At the end of the week your Boss informs you that due to doing such a great job, all your wages for the week will be given back to the company and you have to organise the administration of this. There is no room for protests; you simply have to lump it.

Ok, this is a pretty horrid scenario, isn't it? No one would stand for this...would they? Well, you'd be surprised. Many of us in the craft world do. When underselling our designs, we literally give them away for free or work for nothing. Not only that but we're also undercutting all those hard working designers/crafters/makers who do this to pay the bills. That's not good karma, eh?! 

Ok, if you're with me, I'll get down from my soap box and talk numbers and formulas. Don't worry we're not doing multiple equations, it's all easy peasy but do have your calculator at the ready if, like me, your mental arithmetic is a little dodgy.

Right, there are two key areas, which I'm going to focus on: pricing your products and tax.

Pricing your products

There are many methods available for working out how much you should charge but each of those formulas pretty much all have the same ingredients, so you might find one that suits you better but this is the formula I follow.

Baseline Costs + Time (hourly rate) + Marketing = Wholesale Price

Baseline Costs + Time (hourly rate) + Marketing x 2 = Retail Price

Your baseline costs include all materials used to make your product. And I mean everything! For example, don't forget to add in a small percentage of things like glue. You might only use a little bit but you still paid for the glue to use on your product. Also, if you've purchased a tool or machine to make your products with, take a very small percentage of that and add it in. Why? Well, as your business moves forward, you may need to purchase additional or new tools and without those tools, the product couldn't be created. And remember to include the cost of the jiffy bag/parcel you're posting your products in.

Now, figuring out your hourly rate may seem like a tough one but remember, if you want your business to pay the bills and ooh, maybe be a full time profession, then you've got to pay yourself properly. I'm not talking bankers' bonuses; my point is simply to be fair on yourself and to also be realistic. I pay myself the hourly rate I get in my day job and over time give myself a pay rise, like you would expect in the day job. This isn't being greedy, it's being serious about running your own business.

Marketing is all the effort you put into promoting your product. From tweeting about it, letting your Facebook fans know about the latest design, to all the time spent photographing and uploading your product into your online shop. It's a lot of hard graft, so the time spent doing this should always be included. The key thing to remember in this part of the formula is that you only need to take a percentage of this. For example, if you spent an hour photographing, uploading and sharing your new design on social media sites, then you end up selling this one design to 60 customers, then you've only spent 1 minute marketing each of those 60 items sold. This can be a tough one to work out as you don't know how much you'll sell, so it may come down to guess work to start with but over time you'll have more stats to work this out properly.

By adding up your Baseline Costs, Time (hourly rate) and Marketing, you have your wholesale cost. When you multiple these by two, you have your retail cost. Now, a word of warning. Don't panic if you see the figure and think that's too expensive because it's not. This is how all retail shops do it - the multiplying of the baseline costs etc. Some multiply by more but from what I've gathered, never less than two. But why multiply? Well, you want your business to grow and move forward don't you? To do so, you have to spend and the only way you can do this is by making a profit. That's how business works!

Ok, we're nearly there, just two other costings you must factor in: packaging and postal costs.

The cost to package your product can either be added on top of your retail cost, e.g.:

(Baseline costs + Time (hourly rate) + Marketing x 2) + Packaging = Retail Price

Alternatively, you could give your customers the option of gift wrapping at an extra cost. For example, all your products could come wrapped in tissue paper for free but your customers could also have the choice of  a more bespoke gift wrapping at an extra cost. To work out the cost of your bespoke gift wrapping, simply add up the cost of all the packaging used and I mean everything! If you've wrapped the box in ribbon, then add that in too. If you're going to opt for tissue paper and baker twine, then make sure you add this in to your retail price.

Postal cost is very straight forward. It's the cost to post your product. To start with I made up some example parcels of all my products, went to the post office and asked for the price to post in the UK and internationally. I now have an electronic posting scale and an official Royal Mail postal guide, which is one of those big ruler type things that identifies whether the parcel is a large letter or parcel. This allows me to work out the cost from home, which is especially useful if I'm designing a new product that is a completely different size.

And that's how I work out my pricing! Grab yourself a cup of tea if you haven't already and we'll move on to tax!

Yeah I hear ya', tax is urgh on top of urgh but actually, this section is a lot shorter.

Firstly, get yourself registered with HMRC for self assessment asap. It's very straight forward. You're given a unique code and some login details, then all you do is fill in each page of the self-assessment form online. You can save it as you go along and do it in stages, so you can easily come back to it. When you've finished, you simply submit it and you never know, you might get some money back!

The one bit of advice I would give for self assessment is to be super duper organised with your figures - your out-goings and in-comings that is. Basically, record either in a spreadsheet or good ol' pen and paper, every time you make a transaction related to your business. For example, if you buy a new sewing machine for the purposes of making your products with, then record that cost in your out-goings. When you sell a product, record that in your in-comings. As you will see when you log in, the self-assessment form breaks your out-goings down into sections, such as supplies, travel costs, electricity and so on.

If your keen to be even more super duper organised, once you're registered with HMRC, log in and have a look at the form for all the categories used relating to out-goings. Now plug these into your spreadsheet, so that you can easily put any money spent into the right category. I know, I know, this sounds super boring but seriously, I'm speaking as someone who's learnt the hard way. Yup, on filing my tax return, I had to work all  these categories out from a pile of receipts. If any of you watch Black Books and can remember the scene where Bernard Black goes to see his accountant with a pile of receipts in his pocket, this was me the first time I filed my tax return. It really wasn't fun; so seriously, get organised before your file your tax return, then most of the hard work is done for you.

And that's it! I truly hope this helps and remember, I'm writing this as someone who is still learning, so I'm sure there's plenty more advice out there but maybe this will give you a starting point.

If you have any questions or any advice, please do comment below.

Source of calculator image: Colouring Pages 101. 

1 September 2013

Blog Gem - Gracie's Garden Bazaar

I love everything about this blog. It's beautiful, elegant, magical and completely inspiring. As a fellow embroidery artist, I am in awe of her work and couldn't wait to find out what inspires such stunning stitchery. So, lets find out! Hello there, who be the face behind the blog?

My name is Cassandra and I create hand-embroidered and painted illustrations under the name Gracie's Garden Bazaar. I've always loved drawing and painting but I truly fell in love with hand-embroidery a couple of years back and it felt like I found the drawing medium I was always searching for. I live with my husband and five year old son in Northamptonshire and when not stitching I love reading, gardening and baking with my 'Junior Great British Baker'in training.

What's your creative space area like?

My family have very generously surrendered one half of the dining room to my creative exploits and everyone knows not to touch anything! I have worked pretty much everywhere in the house but where I am now seems to suit best. I have one desk to 'make' at and another for computer work. Since starting to sell prints and cards of my embroideries I found myself in front of photoshop a lot more, so really felt like I wanted two separate areas, especially so I didn't have to keep tidying everything away. Bit lazy really! 

If you had to take only one of your crafts to a desert island, what would it be and why? 

Unsurprisingly, it would be hand-embroidery, especially as it is such a portable craft. I love the fact that it is a 'slow craft/art' and you have to dedicate your time and concentration to it. It's nice to go into a kind of zone when stitching and being a nostalgic soul means I enjoy the feeling that I'm using the same stitches as others have throughout history. Also, I'm sure a needle and floss would come in handy on an island somehow. 

How do you work and get inspired?

I'm a serial list maker so usually have a list nearby of ideas that I want to explore. I find storybooks are usually my main source of inspiration and colour is definitely another major influence. I often find I keep magazine clippings or images on Pinterest of striking colour combinations and wait for the right illustration to need it. After mulling over an idea I'll start sketching on paper and when I'm happy with the design I'll scan it and then print out some black and white copies. I'll then try out some different versions with coloured pencils and when I find the perfect one I'll transfer on to fabric and then start painting and embroidering. Although the colour scheme and line design are decided, my stitching method is freestyle so it gives me enough freedom to still let the design evolve and change as I'm working.

What top tips would you give to any novice bloggers and those thinking of selling their designs?

Just go for it! Don't be intimidated by the success of others, be inspired instead. If you look back on the early posts of blogs you really admire you will most often see their content or even style has evolved greatly. Also, if you are thinking of selling your designs, online marketplaces like Etsy and Folksy are such perfect places to give it a go. But even if you are doing it as a hobby don't be afraid to price your goods realistically so they do reflect the time and skill involved. When makers sell they're goods too cheaply it undervalues 'handmade' and makes it very difficult for other makers in the same marketplace for whom this is the main source of income.

Is there a story behind the name 'Gracie's Garden Bazaar'?

I've always made up stories to go with my sketches so late one sleep deprived night a new character flitted into my imagination. 
'Gracie has many talents and like any good heroine, she lives under a curious curse…she cannot stop making lovely things! Everything, and everyone, inspires her. This may sound like a blessing rather than a curse but Gracie’s poor fingers ache, her eyes grow tired and her small cottage is bursting at the seams and into her garden. This is where a glimmer of hope enters this story...At twilight, those in the know gather for the arched wooden gate to open. It is then that Gracie’s Garden Bazaar takes place. People come from far and wide to choose a ‘gracie make’…it is said that whatever you choose, luck will come along. They all know the story of Gracie, who pours her heart and soul (and some magic) into everything she touches. But as Gracie’s visitors unburden her of her makes they also leave their own stories and woes (yet more inspiration). What a vicious circle is woven!'
So Gracie sort of became my ‘bloomer wearing’ alter ego and provided me with a way to combine my illustrations, storytelling and also use the vintage textiles I've always collected in a light hearted and (I hope) an engaging way.

If you could go to a Creative Blog Award dinner with any 5 people/fictional characters (dead or alive), who would you choose? 

Kate Bush, Atticus Finch, Luna Lovegood, Dylan Moran and my own 'Gracie'.

And finally...book & tea or film & wine?

Well, definitely a book but could I swap the tea for wine?

Thank you so much Cassandra! It's been absolutely wonderful hearing more about you, your work and how you get inspired! And wow, Atticus Finch, what an interesting, fictional character. Just imagine the conversations at the dinner table! 
That's very good advice about pricing your products properly; I couldn't agree more!
The story behind Gracie is gorgeous. I instantly picture Gracie and her garden bizarre - a book in the making me-thinks! 
Thanks again Cassandra and happy stitching!

I hope you all enjoyed this month's Blog Gem. Coming up on the blog soon: my new studio; next topic in the starting an online shop series and inspiration for decorating the home. See you soon!

All of the images and interview answers are the copyright of Cassandra at Gracie's Garden Bazarre.  Please do not use without seeking permission first. Thank you.


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