On the Road to Houston

 

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I found myself on a familiar road this weekend, traveling to Houston.  I have lived in both Austin and Houston for many years of my life.  This weekend, however, found me specifically going to Houston to attend the International Quilt Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.

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Traffic was heavy in Houston even around the noon hour on Friday when I arrived.  I enjoyed traveling through most of downtown driving behind a 1960’s 220S Mercedes-Benz, although I felt sorry for the guy driving because it was a stick shift, with almost solid stop and go traffic!  It did, however, let me pretend to maybe be traveling in Europe rather than in Houston.

The hotel I stayed in, the Westin Houston Downtown, was exceptionally nice!  Clearly I am not accustomed to such luxury, because I got pretty excited over the amenities, including a bathrobe, lighted makeup mirror, waterfall shower, and a REALLY nicely detailed room.  Sumptuous!!  I can definitely recommend this place if you are ever in the downtown Houston area.  It is conveniently located near both the convention center and Minute Maid ballpark, and other downtown attractions.

The George Brown Convention Center is simply HUGE.  A friend at work told me that her daughter was there once for a volleyball tournament, and that this building holds 100 volleyball courts.  After seeing the inside, I can believe it.  One end held the food court, then about a million retail booths (mostly related to quilting of course), and then there was the quilt show at the other far end of the building.  Thankfully many, many chairs were located along the lengths of the walls for a place to rest weary feet.

Enjoy the photos.  I will be posting more of the beautiful quilts during the week.  Just too many for one post!

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On The Bias

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Finished Bias Binding

I’m not sure what sewing rock I’ve been living under, but I spent some time this weekend  relearning how to create buttonholes (with an attachment), and learning how to make my own bias binding from my fabrics.  As to the buttonholes, I learned the “old school” way how to make them using the zig-zag stitch on my machine many years ago, and am able to do this very well.  I have to admit, though, that using the special buttonhole foot for my Baby Lock machine makes it a fairly simple task!  We’ll call that discovery Number 1.

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1/2 Yard fabric squared, 1/4″ seam stitched on three open sides, and first diagonal cut made in top layer of fabric.

Discovery Number 2, however, really is just a sewing wonder.  I’ve now learned how to *somewhat* easily make bias binding.  I say somewhat because it involves a few steps, but after my second try I had it figured out, and I have to tell you it’s like magic!  I still don’t quite see how it works; all I know is that it does.  If you are a quilter you may already know how to do this, but in case you don’t let me refer you to the website of Pat Bravo.  She has a simply fantastic tutorial there that will guide you through the steps to make your own bias binding out of any fabric.  No more limits to the few colors of bias binding that they stock in your local fabric store.

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Seams pressed and cutting lines being drawn.

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Rotary and scissor cuts being made.

That knowledge, along with my Simplicity Bias Tape Maker that folds/presses the bias tape for you, gave me exactly what I needed.    Once complete, my original 1/2 yard of fabric yielded a little over 9 yards of bias tape. I also see from searching online that there may be a special foot for my machine that will fold and sew the bias binding to my project, so I may still check into that via the shop where I purchased my machines.

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Simplicity Bias Tape Maker at work.

Also, in looking further at Pat’s website, I see that she designs fabrics and creates her own patterns, both of which are sold at my favorite online store for quilt cottons, hawthornethreads.  So yeah, you bet, I ordered some of her luscious purple and aqua fabrics.  They have the modern, clean, crisp designs I love so much.

So why, you ask, did I need to learn how to make buttonholes and create my own bias binding?  I’ll reveal the reason tomorrow!  Do you have a favorite way to create bias binding?

Sewing Space

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Sewing Studio

As today is the last day of September and National Sewing Month, I thought I would share a few other ways I have my sewing studio set up for ease of use.  Please see my post from last Monday to see my favorite methods of fabric storage.

There’s one thing you can’t ignore with sewing, and that is how you set your space up for cutting fabric.  One of the main reasons I like to sew smaller items is that it makes setting up the space for this task much easier.  I only use a 2′ x 3′ cutting mat, along with my 2′ Omnigrid ruler, 6 1/2″ Omnigrip square, and rotary cutters for all these chores.  The real trick here is to get your cutting board at the right height for you, so that you don’t develop unnecessary back problems!

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Cutting Table

Along with my cutting space I also wanted an organized area to store all my patterns I have developed.  I knew that narrow trays would be the perfect solution.  I found the right combination for cutting/storage at the Container Store, by combining two of their 16″ stackable Elfa drawers with six narrow trays and one medium tray. These trays pull out for easy access to my patterns, and in fact the top tray holds my rotary cutters and extra blades as well.  The deeper tray at the bottom holds my Toughtek fabric, which is quite heavy, and the freezer paper I use for all my pattern making.  Labels on the fronts of drawers make contents quickly known.

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Layers of Cutting Table Top

I added the Container Store’s “stick on” silver melamine to the top of the unit, and attached four casters to the base.  I have never needed to use the locks on the casters (stays steady enough for cutting without the need to do that), but  this addition makes the entire unit easily movable for times when you might need the space for other things.  Since the melamine top is approximately 21″ square, it is not quite the right size to support the 3′ x 2′ cutting mat.  Another solution – I purchased a lightweight 1″ thick drawing board, which just happens to be exactly 3′ x 2′, from my local Michael’s store to give my cutting mat the support it needs.  Perfect!  And again if space is needed you can easily take the cutting mat/board combo off the top and store away as needed.

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Sewing Table Drawer

The other thing that helps me the most with my sewing tasks is my large sewing table.  I have to admit I splurged here and purchased a dining table for my main work area.  This table is big…long enough to hold three sewing machines side by side.  And yes sometimes I have them all set up at once, and can quickly roll my work chair from one to the other.  I have my regular machine and my serger, and a second regular machine that has black thread and a walking foot for sewing the Toughtek bases to my pet beds.  And the best thing about my table is the built-in narrow drawer, which stores all my thread, scissors, and other sewing instruments.  Keeps all that away from the kitties and neatly stored.  All in all, a perfect sewing room guaranteed to keep me happy!!

Do you sew, and if so do you have a favorite way to set up your sewing space?

 

Fabric Storage

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In honor of September’s National Sewing Month, I thought I would share my favorite methods of fabric storage.

To store my lovely fabric stash of quilt cottons, I recently purchased some white glass front shelves from Ikea. The glass doors help protect the fabric from dust and my kitties. But the best part is that you can easily see just what you need, without digging through a stack of fabric. And to be honest, I just love looking at them all neatly folded and color sorted. It’s like a nicely organized bookshelf, except there is fabric instead of books!

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I have all of my scrap or small yardage quilt cottons, that I typically use for my quilt block beds, stored in small canvas bins on Elfa shelving from the Container Store. These little canvas bins are available in different sizes, and are nicely accommodated on different shelf depths. They also come with a clear plastic label area. Again I have them color sorted, but rather than type out what colors are in what bins, I just used the fabrics themselves for the label fronts, so that I know which bin to grab on my next project.

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For bulky fabrics, like my minky fabrics, I have found that nothing works better than these large canvas pop-up laundry bags I found at the Container Store. They are wide enough, and deep enough, to hold quite a few yards of the fabric. Since I stock 37 colors, I purchased several bags for color sorting.  And, in my case, the bags fit beautifully underneath my large sewing table. An extra bonus!!

My utility fabrics (canvas/muslin/batting) are stored in large clear plastic tubs with lids that I got at my local Target store. I do have some unwashed bolts in the room, but like to transfer the fabric to these tubs once washed. Choosing clear containers lets me quickly keep track of my inventory of fabrics washed and ready for cutting.

Thanks to Lucy for assisting with the photography.

How do you store your fabrics? I would love to know!

Sewing the Seeds

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Beautiful Fabrics

Have you ever flirted with the idea of turning your sewing hobby into a profitable business?   If so you aren’t alone.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), small enterprises account for 52% of all U.S. workers!  However before you take the entrepreneurial plunge, you might want to consider:

The Value of Time

Creating items for yourself or family/friends on your own schedule is fun, but what about receiving orders from customers that need to be filled on a strict schedule?  Running a business is great in that you can take breaks to run an errand, or you can choose to work late in the evening as opposed to working early in the morning.  Unlike your typical 8-5 desk job, you have a great deal of flexibility, but with that you also have a lot of responsibility.  You will find that time is no longer your own in a different kind of way.  It’s true that when you own a business you actually work more hours than if you work 40 hours a week for someone else.  So be careful what you wish for, and be sure to discuss this time commitment with others in your household.

Financial Commitment

Do you have the initial funds that will be necessary for you to start your business?  If not are you able to borrow the money?  Try to make a list of the costs that will be necessary, and develop a financial plan.  Some costs will be up front, while others can be spread over a period of time.  If you need more expensive items like equipment, find out if these items can be purchased and paid for over a set period with no interest charges, to save on the initial start-up costs of your business.  All businesses take time to grow, so don’t plan on turning a profit too soon.

Getting Creative

So you have decided you have the time/money and still want to start a sewing business.  Do you know what type of business you want?  There are so many choices.  Do you want a retail store or would you like to sell online?  Do you want to sell sewing supplies or actually create items for sell?  Are you great at altering clothing?  Maybe you love making patterns and would consider selling those to others?   Would you like to write books for people that sew?  Or maybe you would like to teach sewing classes.  The point here is to think through all the possibilities and choose one that best meets your own time, financial, and creative needs.  Find a niche and fill it!

Business Savvy

Once you have decided on the type of sewing business you would like to have, start thinking of a good business name.  Do searches, by going to a website for domain name registrations, to see if the name you like has already been chosen by someone.  You definitely want a unique name.  Even if you won’t be selling online you will eventually need an online presence, so choose your name wisely. You should also search the US Patent and Trademark office to see if the name you have chosen is trademarked.  You might also check to see if your chosen business name is being used in social media – on a Facebook Page (this is different than a personal Facebook site), on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on any other social media you might use.  Once you find an available name you like go ahead and register it as a domain name now (about $10).

It would also be a good idea to register this name as a dba (doing business as) name with your local county and perhaps your state.  Most states should have an online website for this type of information.  You will also need to register with your state comptroller’s office if you will be filing a sales tax return.  Find an attorney or tax accountant to help you with the decision on what type of business you want to have – a sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc.  All have different legal and tax implications.

Finding a Mentor (or two or three)

Find as many good mentors for your business as possible.  Bounce ideas off of friends and family.  In business areas where you are weak find someone who can assist you.  One friend that really helped me was a serious quilter, and she gave me “shortcuts” for sewing.  She also happened to have a master’s degree in business!  Read, read, read, and watch online videos.  There are so many online resources out there now to help those wanting to start their own business.  The Small Business Administration has a great website.  I sell online with Etsy, and they have a remarkable network of resources for folks starting creative businesses.  If you will be selling online, also check out other sites like Craftsy, MadeIt, and Big Cartel to see what online stores might work best for you.

The Big Learning Curve

So now that you have many of your business plans firmed up, it’s time to get busy and LEARN!  This means completion of everything you need to do prior to hanging up your “Open” sign.  If you have new equipment learn how to properly use it.  Take lessons if necessary.  If you are selling items learn about branding and pricing, and how to source materials.  If you want an online business you will have to learn how to set up an online store(s), and will need to make enough items, or purchase enough supplies, to stock a store.  You will also need to learn the ins and outs of shipping.  Learn all you can about advertising and photography.  Learn how to make use of social media to assist in advertising your business.  For some it’s a sharper learning curve than for others, but if you just make a list and tackle things one at a time it will help.  Determine what you need to learn first and start there.  Oh, and be sure to enjoy the process along the way!

Trust me the rewards of all your hard work will be worthwhile, and in ways you can’t even imagine.  There really is nothing like owning your own business.  It is still the American dream and definitely an accomplishment to be proud of!