Munich Conference 2018

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In September  Julia from Sew Curvy  ( the organiser of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry) and I, together with our husbands, flew to Munich for a few days.  The lads were indulging in photography, sightseeing and beer ( not necessarily in that order) and we were busy attempting the conference organised  by the folks behind The Patterns of Fashion – The School of Historical Dress.

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The book 5 was also launched there! A treasure!

The conference was held in the Bayeriche Museum and attracted  A LOT of attendees – crowds aplenty!   It was amazing to meet up with people you only knew from the Instagram or Facebook 🙂

 

The programme was varied and interesting, with seveal fascinating lectures, and the museum itself  was a gem too.

a few favourites below…

 

 

The biggest discovery was this – a girl’s jacket and skirt in heavyily slubbed silk…

The dress display was next door to weapons and hunting exhibition, also some fascinating objects!

and the only way to get the best angles….

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The hosts of the conference  ran the show nicely,  the food was good ( that soup with sausages was amazing!) and locals friendly…

The only irritating thing – the organisers asked  us not to take any footage of the lectures – especially the slides….  and yet a few folks were doing this…. almost all the time :-(((

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In the evenings we  made a point of sampling the local cuisine, and for three days we were full of potatoes, sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels…. and cake….

And since the hotel we stayed in had an excellent sellection of  gin, late evenings were spent sipping new mixtures and playing Cards Against Humanity…

On the last day we were supposed to go  on an excursion to a museum of corsets nearby – but the realisatin that the nearby means 3 hours on the coach, each way, we simply couldn’t handle it – too peopled out! And a combination of bad sleep ( Munich centre is very noisy)  and  having spent 2 days surrounded by people meant  the prospect of a busy day like that just too much for my introverted soul. We managed to swap the flights for a day early and had a relaxing morning wondering around the  town, its fabrics shops and cafes instead 🙂

IMG_9248   This was my first conference of this kind  and although I have enjoyed it, I discovered it was far from my natural habitat – I was exhaused afterwards!  Still, glad to have made the trip and to have met with the folks there 🙂

 

Summer events 2018

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It sure was a rather busy spring and summer for us!  Let us have a brief recap…

  1. Medieval Wedding

The end of spring  started with a medieval wedding of two friends – I made some of their finery and Lucas  ( Timelight Photographic) was their official tog – for both the prewedding photoshoot and for the big day as well 🙂

I was attending an equestrian event in Devon earlier on that day, but fiished early, packed up and drove to the venue in dorset just in time for a lovely evening with the newlyweds:-)

 

2. Peterborough Heritage Festival

This is our regular event, as I was  yet again portraying Catherine of Aragon, whereas Lucas was the Old Scarlett gravedigger on one day and the HIghwayman on the other. We also did a very busy school day on Friday –  kids do ask the best questions, never boring!

The weather was well, like most of the summer, scorchingly hot, but somehow we managed in our wools and silks -the natral fabrics do breathe well and covering the scin from the direct sun has a trememdous impact! as was keeping to the shade…

and a few images from John Moore Photography…

and the ‘after hours’ feels….

3. Huntingtonshire HIstory Festival

This was a cracking mid 17th century event in the centre of the town – outside displays, battle drills etc, Cromwell’s Museum tours, as well as individual displays. I was demonstrating  lacemaking techniques, and Lucas was talking about medicinal practices of the era. We were based in a lovely courtroom – and it was just a few steps to the adjoining room where the public could witness a proper trial of  the folks accuses of siding with the roualists… lots of fun! (for details check the Cromwell Museum )

It was just a one day event, but a very busy one – we wre both hoars from talking by the end!

during the day…

and a short video of the plaited bobbin lace 🙂

 

4.Milton Keynes : Victorian Weekend  at the MK Museum

Again,  this is our regular event where I display a variety of clothing from the era, both originals and replicas,

There is a lot going on at the museum – soldier display,  tea with Queen V, sidesaddle show,  Dickens telling stories… lots. you can see it all well captures in Timelight Photographic album here-

5. Tudor Joust at the Hampton Court

An amazing spectacle  organised jointly by Griffin HIstorical and Past Pleasures, with  international jousters. Great fun, despite the heat, and a great privilage to be invited too!

Again, proper media coverage by Photosm – here  – below a couple of images of us 🙂

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And a few  behind the scenes, taken during the rample around the palace

Including a bit of a ‘glide’ practice i always fancied having a go at 🙂 not as tricky as it looks, simply a lot of tiny, fast steps. Though a rumba  might work just as well 🙂

 

6. St. Neots History Festival

Another regular one – this year it was a multi-period event with a lot of things going on –  craft demos, suffragets, barbers, quacks and philosophers ( Lucas as Newton included),  entertainment and kids games.

 

 

I was talking about the history of the sidesaddle and  many a delighted child got to sit on my trusty old Mayhew:-). Lots of folks seems realy surprised at the construction details and could finally understand why we dont fall off that easily – the pommels give us a good purchase! 🙂

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Next summer is already looking just as busy – if you fancy hiring us, the full list of what we can do is here  🙂

Are we free? The struggles of a professional historical interpreter…

 Today we are addressing  a rather sensitive issue –  what happens if people do not take  your job seriously because  your job is somebody’s hobby… It has been brewing on my mind for a few months ( years really!), and … Continue reading

Running a Costuming business part 4:Getting Real

You are a creative person and would like to run a creative business full time.  You have read the success stories, you have chatted to friends, and everything looks peachy – so you are leaving your mundane day-job and are … Continue reading

That Bespoke Thang…

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Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked  questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?”  And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it –  I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”

 

 

The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs,  ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and  even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical  clothing,  a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.

So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least  as far as my own merchandise is concerned..

  Off the Peg items:

* Fabric

* Labour –   a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it

*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc

*Packing/postage/delivery if required

*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!

 

 Bespoke items.

  • Fabric

 

  •  Labour –
    • initial measuring  session with a client
    • drafting their specific pattern
    • making up a mock-up ( toile)
    • fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
    • cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
    •  assembling  the garment proper,
    •  fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
    •  final assembly of the garment(s)
    •  adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
    • pick up session  with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot  with TimeLight  Photographic too, if you wish 😉
    • after-care –  small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight,  or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the  original one is worn out, etc.
  • time  (apart from actual making of the garment)-
    • fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
    • consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style,  fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc.  For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
    • research. Lots of research.
    • sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
    • writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
    • chasing up clients  to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)

 

  • notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc
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    packing/postage/delivery if needed

  •  

    my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.

 

  • stress!  I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)

 

See the difference?  A riding habit that looks the same  will take 3 times as long  if made bespoke – and that is usually  true for every other item.

Above – a bespoke habit  worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370

 

Another thing to consider is  the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to  consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.

Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward-  the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing  their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love  to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!

But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And  I don’t charge for that! 😉

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Running a Costuming Business, part 3:The Art of Objectivity

 

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A short follow up on my earlier posts, ( part 1 and 2), dealing with running a creative business – not only a costuming one I suppose, but applying to many art- and craft-related business as well.

This point has come up recently, but in quite a few places, and so I though it was worth discussing it here. I have mentioned ‘constant learning’ and pointed out how important it is if you want your  business to succeed, but  I neglected to mention one important thing:

MISTAKES.

…and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, mistakes are  your friend.  They show  you clearly in which areas you need to improve, they make you aware that there is yet more research to do/ techniques to study, and  as a result, you get better! The thing is, everybody makes mistakes- but not everybody learns from them.

I am often asked by  folks for an opinion on their creations – and they all ask me for an honest opinion. And an honest opinion I give, highlighting both the points of excellency, and  stating what areas could do with some improvement (as a college teacher I have had decades of practice on how to do this, at least now it comes  handy for my own business too!); and guessed what?  A few folks are happy,  a few take the comments on board and apply in their future work, a few listen, thank me and ignore whatever was suggested – and that is all fine. However, quite a significant  percentage are angry and actually resort to abuse,  (“how dare you criticise my gown! I spent months working on it!” ; “You are just  jealous, you must hate my work –  all my friends are saying this piece is perfect!”; and even “go fuck yourself, you ‘know- it-all’,  my work is faultless; afraid of competition, huh?”).  They do make for an interesting read sometimes, and sometimes they leave me puzzled – so after some thinking and a few discussions with friends,  I realised  an important thing:

Very few people are able to view their work objectively.

It works in both directions. Some  people create amazing things  but in their own eyes they are nothing special, just ‘something I made’ . The are the perfectionists, never satisfied with the end result, and sometimes suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. As a result they do put their own work down, and either under-price it or, if making things for themselves, they get disappointed with the lack of perfection. Usually  they just need a bit of a boost, usually from another person whose opinion they feel they can trust, to start looking at their creations in a different light. Sometimes their sense of underachievement may come from comparing their own work to other artists to whom they look up – and that issue can be dealt with as well.

If you think you might be one of these folks, there are a few things you may do, to try to look at your own work in a more realistic light:

  • Read up on the Impostor Syndrome and ways to overcome it; (a good start here)
  • Set yourself realistic goals. Aim high, yes – but in small steps rather than one huge leap.  Take small steps, each bringing you closer to your ideal.
  • Identify the issues that you think your work has, write them down and then discuss  – ideally with a specialist in the area, an outsider who will be objective, but if you have friends who are able to tell you what they really think, that can work, too. Seek out a few good, informed opinions – if none of them perceive the same issues as yourself, there is a high probability that the issue is really only in your own head! If they agree and state that there is something upon which you can improve, don’t despair. Simply note the advice and plan for how to deal with it. This is one of your targets, and gives you something tangible to work on, whilst on your way to ‘perfection’.
  •  Talking about perfection – well, it means something different to  everybody.  I  usually assume absolute perfection is unattainable, but one can damn well try to get as close as possible! Do not over-obsess though – that one, tiny, skipped stitch you found on the inside or that one buttonhole 0.2mm out of alignment?  It will most likely not be noticed by 99.9% of the population…
  • Know your limits: everybody has different strengths and different weaknesses – use your strengths to your advantage.  You can make a great piece of clothing with a commercial pattern, but when trying to pattern things yourself you end up in a mess?- either take lessons or a course in patterning, or just concentrate on doing what you are good at! Or, if you cannot follow a pattern at all and get lost in calculations, but can free-hand them with ease and the end result is amazing – well, ditch the patterns! There are may ways leading to the same result, all of them equally good.

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  • Don’t always compare yourself to the top of your profession. Yes, look up to them and learn from them, but also take time to compare yourself to your peers, and also to those who are just starting out.  This is crucial – and works for many walks of life.  I  had a similar experience in Mixed Martial Arts quite recently –   for the last year or so I have been trying to spar with the best fighters, thinking that these guys are the ones to learn from. I was right, but only partially.  I was learning, but couldn’t see it, and the fact that I was having my arse handed to me again, and again, and again, wasn’t particularly motivating. I did some sparring with the beginners, and enjoyed the teaching and coaching part, but it was only when I came across somebody who was my peer, more or less,  when I understood how much I had learnt. These guys were not the cage fighters I usually worked with, but blokes who had been coming for the last year or so – fit, young and looking quite formidable. I sparred with them a few times half a year ago or so  and was just about able to handle it.  So now I expected something similar – but it turned out much better. Suddenly all the moves that I wasn’t able to pull with the ‘pros’ now worked! I seemed faster and more agile – although obviously I wasn’t – they were just a bit slower than my usual sparring partners. My ego soared! At least until the next round when  I was ground to dust by one of our pros…  it is a lengthy example but I hope it shows how working with all, levels, higher and lower can help you understand your own capabilities: Working with the best can provide you with inspiration and will make you learn; working with peers will help you assess your own work better and you learn from each other a lot too; working with beginners will help you realise how far you have come – and will help them to improve as well.

 

 

* Take photos of you work and if you are feeling particularly low, have a look at the old ones.  more often than not, you will see how far you have come!

*and a final note – Do not use the Impostor Syndrome as an excuse for sloppy work – if  one sleeve is longer than another, if the collar doesn’t align or the hem buckles it is not you telling yourself you are trying too hard to be too perfect and most people won’t notice it anyway. Grab that seam ripper and set too work, it will be worth it!

 

Now, let us have a look at the other end of the scale.

Some people are not able to see their own mistakes – and the reasons may be  numerous, ranging from a case of Dunning- Kruger Syndrome  to the fact that your family and friends may be pumping you full lies so that you stay happy. Or maybe  you are starting  on a long road and are so ecstatic about the first step as a whole, that you cannot see the details which could be improved (been there, done that, got the tee shirt. I now cringe when I look at those ‘masterpieces’ I used to be so proud of!)

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one of my early corsets…. essentially a tube. but gosh, i was so ecstatic about it!

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4 years and about 60 corsets later…. getting better!

Most often, the apparent confidence in one’s own brilliance comes not from an over-abundance of self esteem – but rather a lack of it. Often, people are bought up in the belief that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all cost – and that admitting to one is just as bad. Years of self delusion, denying all possibility of any fault, usually re-enforced  by the white lies that family and friends ( and often paid so called ‘experts’ and life coaches whose business depends on your thinking you are doing great…)) feed you, and you somehow loose the ability to see your mistakes – and most importantly, to learn from them.

Now, if you are making things for yourself, and love what you doing – that is really all that matters – especially when  you are happy about your results. You are happy and that’s the end of it – enjoy it, and what everybody  else is thinking does not matter at all.

However, if  your professional career depends upon it, and you are making things for other people, this can be detrimental to the development of your business and indeed can stop you from fully realising your creative potential. It will also make you very unhappy – you are producing fantastic things, but nobody wants to buy them – why?  If you want to succeed, you need to understand how to adjust your perception – even though your mind is telling you clearly that there is no fault with the product, it is just that all of those other people are wrong, and being awkward! ;-0).
There are a few techniques that may help:

  •  It is very difficult to judge your own work accurately – so seek the opinions of outsiders, just as mentioned above. Try not to get upset when critical advice is offered, but do take notes and decide which parts need more work. Make sure the ‘experts’ you are asking for advice are indeed knowledgeable folks with experience and not just a friend of a friend who once made a hankie….
  • Assume from the start that what you have just made may have faults. Although lots of art is deeply subjective, at least in costuming things can be made easy – you cannot  ‘objectively’ state how pretty something is, but there are measurable quantities and aspects – below are two of my check-lists, for corsetry and off-the-peg  Victorian dresses. Lists like that are  great, and you will soon find that in time they become mental check-lists, and that you are  noticing a mistake as you work  along and correcting it as you go – much easier than doing so after the garment is finished!

 

  •  Seam ripper is your best friend –  it is frustrating, dull and infuriating, but it is really worth it to rip and redo a wonky seam!
  • …as is the tape measure. You may not see that the collar is uneven, but you cannot argue with the tape informing you kindly that one edge is half an inch higher than the other….  These may be details – but oh, so often they do make a difference between a mediocre dress and a superb outfit!
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Your Best Friend

  • Get some distance – after you make a garment,  put it away overnight, or at least for a few hours and go for a walk, or do something different. Then look at it with fresh eyes and try to asses it as somebody else’s work. I once spent a whole day working on a replica bolero jacket for a museum. I was battling with a lurgy and not feeling great, but decided to soldier through.  I shouldn’t have. I felt better the next day and one look at the garment made me go: “Oh, crap, I need to do the blasted thing again”.   There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just did not seem right, I went through my checks with a tape measure etc, and realised what was the problem : the bias bits were not done well enough, the trim was a bit uneven, buttons just a notch out of alignment… I spent the whole day remaking it from scratch. As it turned out, the client liked both –  but I felt better knowing that I had made an item better suited for public viewing
  •  As in the opposite spectrum, perform frequent ‘reality checks’. Seek advice from people you admire, compare your work to your peers’ and study together, help beginners –  a few times, I have realised my own mistakes only after seeing them on a student’s work. And the occasional bitch-and-stitch sessions can be not only educational, but fun 🙂

 

  • As before, do take pictures. Compare your old work with new pieces; if you are learning and improving, there will  be clear evidence of it, and it will sharpen your ‘mistake hunting’ senses. By the same token, if you look at the skirts you made over the last 3 years and they all feature an uneven hem – well, you know precisely your next personal improvement goal!
  •  Having said all that, don’t go over the top trying to find out the slightest faults in every single item. Improving is one thing – loosing your joy in making things is quite another, and it is never a good thing trying to make a living doing things you don’t enjoy any more…

 

Funnily enough a friend with a psychology degree once noticed –  The people who claim to suffer from the Impostor Sydrome  usually are suffering from the Dunning- Krugger – and the other way round…. our psyche is tricky, so as you see, it is not easy to be objective in such cases,  but the essencial thing is the realisation that neither syndrom is a reason for shame and in either case you can most likley improve!

Well, that is it – I believe my first blog ever with more text than pictures, a rarity!  I hope my musings were not too hard a read and that they may help some people. If you have any ideas on other techniques people can use to learn how to assess  their own work (more or less objectively), please share in the comments!

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Dear customer….

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This will be a little bit different from my usual posts, and possibly a little controversial, but I feel some things simply have to be said. Running a business has its ups and downs, pros and cons, its challenges and its rewards. I love running mine – and the only thing that sometimes makes me pause is the interaction with some of my potential clients. Usually online, sometimes at trading events. I feel I have been very lucky in general, and my customers are at least 90% lovely people (I became friends with many of them), but over the years there have been enough of the less-than-perfect kind to make up that the 10%.

To be honest,  in most cases people simply behave in a particular way because they are oblivious to certain facts about the way of that life people in my line of work lead. They simply do not realize how rude they can sound – I believe if they did, they would be mortified! True, some people are dicks and nothing can change that,  but most of them are simply unaware that their behaviour can cause offence.

This is not simply my own opinion – quite a few folks  running small craft & art related businesses have experienced similar treatment, and probably for the same reason; I suppose that other small business may have been on the receiving end, too.

Below I am going to list the most common ‘faux pas‘  that I have personally come across. Usually small things, but small things do accumulate and can lead to a very negative client experience. And, hopefully, small things are also easy to amend. Some of the interactions mentioned may only be perceived as less than pleasant  from my personal perspective – as a very happy introvert I tend to  have a very specific perception I suppose – things that make me want to turn around and run away may make another costumer jump for joy, for example – but I think some of the  situations are relevant no matter what your personal traits may be.

So without further ado, this is my private list of ‘issues’ – and how they may be avoided!

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 Email/online interactions:

*Being polite matters!

Polite clients are a pleasure to deal with, and as a result I am willing to go the extra mile for them. I either offer a discount, or a free postage, or do additional high quality finishing work, just because they have been a joy to work with. If you are rude to start with, I am unlikely to accept your commission in the first place – despite what everybody seems to think, people in the creative industry rarely do sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting for some work to miraculously happen to them, and are not therefore simply happy to accept anything from anyone – and so:

*Remember that written word can come across much more harshly than when spoken.

*I understand that nowadays formality tends to be often forgotten, but please when writing to me try to address me by my proper name, and not diminutives or ‘ huni’, ‘sweetie’ etc.  This is a personal pet hate – I understand that some people just use  endearments  automatically, but neither my family, my friends nor even my husband call me ‘sweetie’ . For a complete stranger, in a strictly professional situation, it is simply off-putting,  at least for me. My name is Izabela – please use it and we will all be happy.

*Please do not ask me to copy the work of another designer; especially if you want it at a fraction of the original price, (more on the cost of bespoke, art items and pricing in the industry can be read about in the this post – A Queen on a Budget, please.) Also, do not  be offended if I cannot take your order because it is something that we do not make – in such cases I will attempt to provide links to other people who specialise in that area, (shoes, fantasy and fancy-dress costume, etc), I simply know my limits and if I decline to accept an order, it is for a good reason. We specialise in historically accurate clothing – if you need a fancy-dress Victorian costume with medieval sleeves and Regency silhouette, in lycra, we may not be the best choice – but we probably know people who can make it for you, so we will endeavour to provide you with an alternative solution if we can!

*Book well ahead – I tend to be booked up to 6 months or more in advance. Yes, I can sometimes have an emergency slot  available, but often I simply cannot provide you with a full Regency finery for ‘next week’ – it is nothing personal, there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to do the work – especially since those rare emergency slots are already digging into my personal time and rest.

9. planning - in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

*Be prepared to sign a contract and don’t be offended when we ask for a deposit; It is simply a part of running a business in a proper and effective manner, and avoiding running at a loss. More on running a business here – and even more, especially on contracts, here.

*Do not be offended if I do not accept your friend request on Facebook. I may be old fashioned, but I keep my personal account  for family and friends – which means people I have met, interacted with, liked, and deal in person often. Having an item made does not make you a friend – yet. Over the time if we meet often enough and find we like each other that may change, (and often does), but since we are starting from a professional footing, simply keep in touch through my page until such a time comes when we may change the status quo.

*also – I do not offer a free advise/tuition/consultation service via fb or email. We do provide the service if needs be, but it is a hourly paid job.  At the moment, if I was to answer every message/ email asking me for advice, opinion, etc   i would probably not have time to do anything at all   – we get about 10-120 on avarage. Per day. So nothing personal, but I cannot help you unless you book us in advance for a specific thing, billable by the hour… and the fact that you masquarade your request for help/ free advice its by putting a few sentences about how much you admire my work, does not really change it. Sorry!

  • my Youtube channel visitors… 80% of your messages and questions is answered in the credits of the video. Watch them, please, before asking. I am happy to answer more in depth/ interesting questions, but if you wish to know where I get the cotumes from (sic!) or my shoes from, all the information, with the liks is in the credits at the end. Also, google…..
  •  also youtube – please don’t write to me demand that I make  videos on a topic/ era you would like to see. I am happy to take commissions for videos on demand, but they won’t be cheap – research, making specific clothes,  shooting the video, editing etc – it will take several months and will cost around 2-4k ( GBP). I make the videos  you can watch for free, using stuff I have available to me at the moment. If you want me to spend more time doing that, do click on a few adverts – takes a few seconds but makes a difference to my revenue! ( since monetising my videos, I have become more aware of how many people out there rely on their online revenue, so i do click on stuff as well, helping other online artists:-)

St Neots WWI Comemorative July 2014-13

Fittings/home visits.

Dear customer, when you are coming to me for a fitting, please remember that I work  from a small studio, with basic facilities, and not desgned for hosting guests.  And so, please:

*Do tell me how many people are coming along – unless otherwise specified I expect only you. I need to know if there are more people as there are problems of space as well my personal issues. To me, the sudden invasion of 5 people when I was expecting 1 is just like a punch to the face. Suddenly instead of the controlled, serene environment  I am used to working in, the situation is changed into chaos, when everybody is everywhere, all talking very politely no doubt, but nevertheless very distracting. I do need to concentrate when I am fitting toiles, taking measurements and discussing designs with the client. Loud chatter, however amicable, is not helping.

*Ditto children –  my studio is not at all child friendly – there are lots of sharp objects around, lots of antique stuff, expensive silks-  so unless you can keep your offspring under control (which means another person to do so while you are busy working with me), preserving any Health and Safety rules will cetainly be tricky – in which case I would have to decline the commission.  Please let me know beforehand so that we can come up with appropriate solution to the situation.

*Do not ‘pop by’  without an appointment. Not only may I not be in, but I may be busy, either working on urgent stuff or working with another customer, (who may be in a state of dishabille), so I would have to turn you away from the door. Again, nothing personal, but it may feel like rejection, so please always ask when is a good time if you need to see me in person.

*Try not to be late.  I usually have 2, 3 appointments on any fitting day, usually, for efficiency’s sake, one after another. If you arrive late, it may impact on another appointment, so please call to let me know if you are running late. If you want me to put aside a whole day, or afternoon just for you, that is fine – but my time comes at a cost. You don’t pop round to your lawyer, doctor or dentist more or less at the time that suits you, so please extend me the same courtesy; working from home doesn’t mean that I am any less busy!

* don’t expect me to work on holidays/ weekends. I often do, and I do suggest weekends to my customers who cannot make it otherwise,  but please  remember, that  our line of work means we are usually away at the weekend.  So if your contract says  that the fittings will take place, as agreed, in the beginning of a month, please make sure you are available. We can adapt – but all summer we are away weekends, working at events, so if you forget to book a day off it may be another month or more before we have a weekend at home!

*

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  • please understand that we  usually cannot come over to you for fittings. Unless  previously agreed on and arranged it is smply not possible as I will need to carry my tools with me ( and believe me, the machiness are not light) and there will be additional charge for travel cost and time used.
  • Don’t be offended when  I cannot offer you your drink of choice or other refreshments. Being a small studio room, it has basic facilities – there is a a look and a tiny kitchenette where I keep  stuff i use for myself – fruit teas, coffee etc. I don’t use milk or sugar, I don’t keep biscuits around – so i wont be able to offer anything else I already have.
  • Ditto wifi –  I opted out of wifi at work to limit procrastination – so don’t be surprised whn I cannot provide you with a free wifi access for the duration of your visit…

At markets

*I am always delighted when people who follow me on social media come to have a chat at the markets. However, please remember that  unless you comment/like/interact with the page, I will not know your name. And even if I do, I may not recognize you, if your profile picture features a fluffy kitten or happy puppy.  Please introduce yourself and then everything will be fine – I know who I am talking to and will try to remember for the future 🙂

*Also, the mere fact that you follow me on facebookPA/twitter/ insta, etc, does not make you eligible for a discount at the stall…. or in the online shop. Sorry…

* Please remember that at markets,  I am working. You may be visiting for your leisure or for business – though for majority of people the former is the case.  You may want to come and have a good time, chat and exchange experiences tips etc – it is all fine, but , as I said, I am at work and need to treat everybody the same – which generally leaves very little time for idle chatting, am afraid. There are a few relaxed moments but usually the markets we attend tend to be heaving with public, and we have little time for lunch, let alone relaxed talk. So however much I might love to do so, I need to earn my living and serve paying customers instead 😦

Talking of lunch – please, let the stall holders have their lunch in peace! Trying to answer your questions with a mouth full of bagel is not a nice experience for anyone! We usually have one of us or a helper to front the shop when one person is eating – but people still manage to dodge them and sneak in at the back of the stall to talk to the person who is currently enjoying their lunch.

*Do not ask me to work for free.  Whatever tips and advice on costuming I can give I will, and a great deal of information is on the blog here anyway, but do not ask me to provide an ad hoc workshop/lecture for your benefit, for free. This happens quite a lot – a recent one was in Bath, during the market there; let me quote it for you..

-Two women were spending quite some time looking at the stays/corsets and other items, and by looking I mean taking off the hangers, turning upside down, inside out etc. After about 5 minutes of them discussing how the things go together (and meanwhile blocking access for other interested customers) I asked politely if there was anything I could help them with. The answer was:
Yeah, actually, we make stuff like that ourselves, for us and sometimes for sale, and we tried these styles before and they didn’t really work well, so we are just trying to work out the construction details – could you please explain to us how you put these together? Oh and these ones too? (at that point one of them took a notebook and a pencil out).
I looked at her and asked – ‘What do you do for a living madam?
‘Why, I teach the flute’.
‘Could you please explain to me how you play the flute? Could you teach me now, just the basics?
She looked at me, completely taken aback.
‘Why, well, I could, but I charge for my lessons!
My response? ‘So do I’….

She actually saw the point and was rather embarrassed, and apologized, but it sort of sums up the fact that a lot of people do not take what I do for a living seriously and assume it is ‘just ‘ a hobby – I suppose other people running craft or art based businesses are often faced by a similar situation.

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*Another point – you don’t generally go to let’s say, a baker, or a carpenter, have a look around, finger the goods, sneer and announce that you can do it better than they, and/or possibly cheaper. So please refrain from doing it to stallholders at the markets.  Even if you indeed, can make the items better and at a lesser cost. Just incredibly rude.

*please ask before touching the clothing. And make sure your children are under control – especially if they are eating at the time – we did have a few mishaps involving children, dogs, icecream or a burger….

And finally, some interactions from the online shop.

To start with, let me quote some of the messages/emails directly

* am interested in the blue dress, but it is not my size, can you re-model it so that is 3 sizes bigger?
* am interested in the blue riding habit, I clicked on the link but it takes me to the shop based in the UK. Can you please post the link to your USA branch? Otherwise I would be unable to purchase as shipping and customs duty are expensive.
* am interested in the grey skirt, i clicked on the link to the shop but it gives price in pounds. Why is there no Euro? I don’t like working out the conversion rates myself.
* are the measurements American? How many centimeters in an inch?
* I like your corsets! I want one but in different colour, and in my size – can you make me one for this Saturday? Would the price be the same?
* I love the pink Victorian gown in silk, but is too expensive! I can spend max £150 on a thing like that, would you consider selling it for £150 (postage included), or making me a bespoke one for that price?
* the riding habits are lovely, but why are there only 2 available? and why not in a range of sizes, and colours?
* am interested in the medieval Burgundian gown, but can purchase it in July only – can you keep it for me? I am not saying I will buy it, just considering and would like to know it is still available in July.
* I want a bespoke one, when are you able to make me one? (my answer – am now booked till October) – whaaaatttt!!!! October??? this is ridiculous, I need one for June! how can you run a business like that! Can you not shift other people so that mine can be made first?

Well…

Here I feel  the very fact that  we have an online shop may be put to blame – people simply assume that we are a much bigger business than we are – and flattering as that may be, it often causes  awkward situations.

Also, people assume that our ideology is the same as that of big chain stores and find it difficult to understand that we do not carry a huge stock of the same items in a range of colours and sizes.  Our field is quite  narrow, and I like to think that I specialise in unique and individual items – so our  stock items, though usually in ‘generic’ sizes are still unique. I have no desire to create the same dress in 6 different sizes and 3 different colours – this would not only kill the joy of making an individual item to me, but poses a question of stock control, space, cost, etc. We are a small business, and I have no particular desire to grow into a huge one. Might happen – might not. At the moment I take pleasure in making items unique – even our stock corsets have individual touches that make them unique. Nowadays,  many people are motivated by finance alone – and whereas, as a business you have to be, to some extent, I am in the happy situation where I can make what I want to make and enjoy it – and I treasure the enjoyment coming from creating one specific item much higher than profits coming from mass producing shirts.

And as for being booked well ahead – well,  we often are booked for more than 6 months in advance. Asking me to move other clients around so that your stuff can be made earlier is not only disrespectful to me but to other clients as well – imagine that it is the the other folks who are asking me to shift you around…. just not professional. And it doesn’t mater if you are a Russian princess,  a celebrity, local theater, or an individual  – once the contract is signed,  your order is treated in exactly the same way as everybody else’s.  Full equality.

 

Regency Stock April 2015-6

Well, that’s about it, I think – a bit of a rant, maybe, but as I have said, a lot of the problems stems from misunderstanding of the industry, and not malice. I do not wish to offend anyone and I think there are few people who go out of their way to offend others, especially if they want to develop a professional relationship, so I think maybe this post help both parts to understand each other a bit better.

And if you run a home/craft based business and you have experiences similar situations, or have something to add – please comment!

Green Stripes Beach and Bandstand (35)

Sewing Fast and Slow

Regency Stock April 2015-6

 

OK, so I do have a bit of an reputation for being a fast sewer. And because of that I have been exposed to a variety of opinions  ranging from ‘ Wow, you sew so fast, you must be good!’ to  ‘ It really must be crap, nobody can make it properly in that time’.

 

The fact is, however – neither of these sentiments are always true.   You may be labouring on one item for ages – but that in itself doesn’t mean that the finished item will be a masterpiece – it may still be ill-fittng, badly stitched etc.  Similarly – you can make items fast – and  that in itself doesn’t mean they are poorly made. There are exceptions to every rule, but the most important thing is –

 FIND THE PACE THAT SUITS YOU

 To produce a quality garments you need to be working at a pace  you are comfortable with. If you rush it – it will be reflected in the final look; but if you  procrastinate too much, you may loose interest/heart to the project , get bored – and that will show in sloppy work too.

 If you are in the comfortable position of  sewing just for yourself, as leisure,  do take your time. Unless, off course there is an unexpected event this weekend and suddenly you have an urgent need of a new frock… If you are earning your bread sewing things, you will need to find a pace you are the most efficient at without compromising the quality.

 I get asked a lot, how I can  make things quickly – and the answer is – not every item is made quickly – this simply depends on the purpose of the garment, the client’s purse and my own private time constraints .  The most important factors are the purpose – and the quantity you are making.

 The purpose of the garments  will  considerably influence the speed at which you can produce an item -. If you are aiming at  historically accurate garments and are making everything by hand ( the ‘before Singer’ eras)  because your garments will be shown to the public etc – it will take much longer than a garments that looks fine, has handfinished details but inside seams machined.  But if you are making modern clothing and are free to use sewing machine, overlocker etc – that would cut the timing considerably.

a few examples

1. –  2 17th century gowns,  one handmade ( 1660 style, in green silk); and a 1634 in blue satin with machined innards and the rest handfinished.  The handmade took me  5 solid days of stitching; the other one only 3. But can you spot a difference ? unless you look very, very closely, you cannot…  (more on  making the blue gown  and construction details here)

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insides all handstitched

 

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insides channels machined

 

2. Tudor gowns – this one  is completely handstitched – petticoat, kirtle, gown – every single stitch.  Took 2 solid weeks

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kirtle detail

These two were made using a machine, with hand finish – all inside seams are  machined, but lining is inserted by hand, all visible seams, eyelets etc are hand stitched. Each took about a week.

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 A post on making Tudor kirtles and gowns is here  and the French hoods here

3. Napoleonic bling –  military lace sewn by hand ( 6 hours each side)

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and on a machine, with hand finishing –  3 hours each side

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A short tutorial on the machine style is here

 The other factor is the quantity – how many items of the same sort you make. In short – experience.  The more doublets/corsets/bustles you make, the easier it will get and  the faster you will become. This is mostly down to the fact that if you are making a new piece of clothing, you do take your time considering the best way of  putting it together, you make mistakes – but this is a very valuable time, as with every mistake, ever minute spent pondering on how on earth do these two bits fit in, you learn.  My first corset took 3 days as I was just experimenting with techniques.  Nowadays I can make simple corset in 3-4 hours, and if anything, is is better and much more structurally sound than the one I made in 3 days…

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With that in mind, if you feel  you would like to speed up your sewing,  these are the tips I found worked for me:

* quality sewing machine and tools.   The machine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to be reliable.  You don’t need an industrial model straight away – though I love my semi industrial Janome for its speed – just make sure it does its job consistently and without mishaps. Also – do that the advantage of the many different attachments. I love my ruffler for example – without it  it would take me much longer to make flounced petticoats, gathered chemises etc.

 It is worth investing in some specific machinery if you make lots of similar items -for example, for corsetmaking getting an eyelet setting press  meant  shaving at least 30min off the complete making time.

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ruffler in action

*take notes. If you are working on a new project, just jot down bits that caused you problems –  next time you wont have to work it out from the very beginning. I admit I had problems working our suspenders production – and since i wasn’t making a lot of corsets with suspenders , the first  couple of times i had to work out how to make the things, made mistakes and wasted time.  Once I started making a lot of them – I simply made a sample one and pinned it on a board, within reach if i ever need to be reminded how to put the thing together.   Sorted, no more wasted time.  you can always take photos and scribble on them too 🙂

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* Practice – basically  that’s where the experience kicks in. The more you make, the better you can get at it ( practice makes perfect!) but remember to practice only the bits that worked – repeating the mistakes again and again wont do you much good, o matter how long you spent practicing it :-(. The more you sew,  the more you will learn about how different fabrics behave, which stitches, needles, setting to use – almost automatically, without  sitting there and looking for the manual.

* if you are making clothes mostly for yourself, save the mock ups and make them into generic patterns, you can then adjust them  ( neckline, hems, sleeve length etc)  to fit in with a new project – and it will save you at least an hour or two on making a mock up from a scratch. The same  applies to your repeat clients; or, if you are making a lot of stock items,  a few graded hard patterns  will  not only speed the work up, but also ensure consistent sizing.

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* Neat work environment. Well, this actually doesn’t work for me at all, by work space is consistently chaotic, cluttered -some would call it messy, even… but I generally know what is where. I have attempted a neat work environment, works for about 2 days and then  get s back to its original  chaotic state.  But if you are a person who can tame the chaos, and organize the space well – that would help too!

* plan ahead. Time management is essential, especially if you are running a business –  I have written a whole post on just this issue – here

*outsourcing.  Sometimes it is simply easier and faster to rely on others who are better at certain things. I can make handwoven braid, lace, etc – but I know I cannot make the braid as fast as those who specialize in it. So when time is an issue, I buy my braid, points, laces from people who are expert.  Money well spent!

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beautiful handwoven braids from Nordulf

* limit procrastination. Yes, I am guilty here too… when time is of an essence and I know I need to concentrate I simply try to eliminate the procrastination  sources – switch off facebook, usually.:-)…  I answer my emails once a day in the morning, then switch off the  outlook too, so no notification, pings etc distract me.  It is not always possible, but when it is, it is great. I found I work much faster when I go to my Stitch and Bitch sessions at Julia, at Sew Curvy –  I haven’t got a laptop with me, I put the phone aside, and all I can do is work ( and chat)  – and  am at my most productive.

* set a time limit. If you like competing against yourself and enjoy a challenge – set a deadline.  I work best when on a tight deadline, it motivates me far more  than anything else – and I love it. Not everybody’s cup of tea as some people find it stressful – though there is a way around it, if you are willing to have a go. If you set a deadline  on a bit of sewing that is not hugely important  and failing it won’t influence your work in general, you can see whether you enjoy the challenge.  And if you don’t – back to time management and planning….

*music.  Again, different music works better for different projects –  so find out which tunes motivate you, jeep you alert and happy. Similarly, for hand sewing I love audio books and learning languages.  while stitching hems is pretty boring, listening to the Game of Thrones  etc makes the task not only enjoyable, keeping your mind occupied and stopping if from looking for distractions, but  you will sew faster too.

  Having said all that – remember it is not always a race.   I do often have to rush things for myself, as I ‘squeeze ; private projects in between the commissions ( best example , a ballgown in 24hours here_)- but  I also have a few long term bits I work on and I enjoy taking my time – I am just finishing  a lace making project I started about 3 years ago, for example:-)

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 So find your own pace, the pace that works for you, and stitch happy ! 🙂