Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Confessions of a handmade wanna-be

Dear readers,

I confess. Yes, it's time I come clean.

I've wanted to live this dream of being in the handmade business for a long time. And now I am. But it's not an easy dream. It's an expensive dream. To maintain this illusion that I am "making a living" from my handmade sales, I must confess to the following:

♠ In 2007, "Projects By Jane" was created to indulge the vanities of one woman - moi. I wanted to reach out to a teeny tiny percent of people in Singapore who had heard of "handmade" and not run away screaming.

♠ To start off this "Projects By Jane" project, 2 major captial injections were provided by hubs. The first one made in 2007 was for a Brother sewing machine. It turned out Brother died after a few years. Hubs made another major capital investment for a Janome sewing machine.

♠ In June 2011, "Projects By Jane" entered the bag patterning market which was already very congested. Every Jane and Mary had a pattern to offer. The sales dribbled here and there. Barely enough to pay for the software (another capital injection by hubs) used to create the patterns.

♠ In 2009, to enter the US market, I used a vehicle called Etsy. Time, money and effort was poured into it. It took 3 YEARS to achieve 200 Etsy sales - most of them pdf bag patterns which sell at a very low price. No need for a calculator to find out how little was made.

♠ I never became successful in monetary terms but I always made it sound like I was successful. Every sale was celebrated with a yay! or a tweet or a facebook status update. My 80th sale. Woo hoo! Like that.

♠ The last 5 years alone, I have misappropriated the family funds to finance the fabric supplies I need for this handmade dream. To the tune of $2600. Yes, money that could have gone to buy food and milk for my kids. And the potato chips they always ask for.

♠  I tried to make a music video to promote my handmade bags. Someone suggested "China Wine" but I vetoed it because Singapore is not in China. Also I prefer tea. Anyway we finally tentatively titled it "Singapore Sling" but because I kept dancing like a chicken (flapped my arms constantly), it was never released.

♠ My family gave up the dream of a clean tidy home because I'm always busy sewing.

I only thought of myself and my own stupid handmade dream.
Is it time to wake up?

* * *

Oooh, finished another recessed zipper shoulder bag. Once more using a Munswell Collection fabric. This bag was made using the last remnants and I had to be extra careful when cutting. I have some scraps left which I know I will somehow make into something one fine day. Can't let such lovely fabric go to waste.

Don't you think this bag deserves a polka dot lining as well?


mel@all.wrapped.up said...

ahhh...I can totally sympathise with this post. Whilst some lucky people can manage to live off their handmade business alone, I think for the rest of us it's an outlet for our creativity with the side benefit of self-validation. I think we all need something we're moderately good at, and you are definitely good at sewing.

Every sale is celebrated and every comment is read (well the nice ones) undoubtedly with a smile, I feel it brightens up my day. Everyday is mundane otherwise.

I think you should definitely continue with your crafting and selling. Beside, think of the fact that you get to buy all the fabric you like under the guise of 'business' whereas when you just craft for fun, it kind of just sit there in a box.

Definitely don't give up!

corinna said...

no no no no no! Please continue making these lovely bags! This one is soooo gorgeous and didn't you post once that your crafting saves your life? You make so many people happy and at least yourself too! Money is not everything. The joy is not payable and raise your prices!!
(I'm quite tempted to buy this one)
And btw there are other addictions which are more ezpensive :-)

Bethany said...

I sympathize. I was totally going to get rich when I started making bags. How disillusioned I was! I've realized I'm not going to make tons of dough, but as long as I cover my costs and get some enjoyment out of it I'm fine with that. Granted--I don't have the investment you do as I don't do craft markets. I do often think, though, that I need to find a rich guy to marry so I can sew all day long :)
And Jane? EVERYthing deserves a polka dot lining :)

SIL 1 said...

As an extended member of your congregation, I'm going to send in a complaint soon. Your hubs might just be facing the court of MIL soon for misusing funds to further your *ahem* career. Maybe a light sentence will be given, considering the music video was not released. Lives were spared.

Suzee said...

First of all I love the bag!!! and polkie dots are awesome for anything =)
I know exactly what you say about starting your business. I've only been in selling on Etsy for about a year or little over maybe. Sometimes I dont think its worth the taking pics, posting, mailing,etc. But then I think, someone wants that item I MADE! so I'm ok. It use to bother me if I didnt get sales after some time, but now I just say oh well, I sew because I love to. point said. Things that don't sell I give as gifts at the end of the year. so every one is happy!! lol
So no don't wake up. do what you love. SEW! keep that dream going! you have many fans out here! ME ME ME! lol

Kandi said...

Well I know where you are coming from here. I think you could look into the costs you have incurred as your hobby money and if you make some money back then it's all good! Some people spend thousands on golf memberships, gym memberships, drinking every other night, we spend on fabric and buttons and trim and every few years a sewing machine.
Don't give in, as long as you enjoy making keep on doing what you are doing xx

punkychewster said...

I love that flowery fabric! And YES totally deserves the polka dot fabric. But you know I'm biased.

BTW, do NOT ever, EVER stop what you're doing because you feel you are NOT successful. Maybe in monetary terms you have not achieved what you feel you should. But, you have just ONE life. Are you happy creating and crafting, cutting and sewing?

And definitely not after reading your story of how crafting became your source of rejuvenation!

So long as your family is not dying of starvation, and not living in complete filth (and anyway, why can't they pick up after themselves!) do what you LOVE!

So don't even let me hear you talk about this again!


Wahida said...


I have been following your blog for some time on and off... when life permits and am totally inspired by your work. I am a major bag enthusiast and am trying to make bags on my own for awhile now. It started out a way to recycle old clothes into something useful and has now graduated into some more using crazy quilting/patchwork material among other stuff. Whenever I need a pick me up and or motivation to get back to the sewing machine all I have to do is look up you blog and I feel like I can someday make things as beautiful as your wonderful bags. I live in Bangladesh and in my previous life was high school biology teacher. I have even told some of students who travel often to Singapore that one day if I ever make to Singapore I will have to find this person who makes the gorgeous bags and own one of them. If I lived there... I would love to learn bag making from you in person.
So please do not get disheartened. I do satin cutwork and create runners and other things along with bags. And it take alot of time and of course money and I dont always get people to buy them. So I know how you feel but at the end of the day, do realize that you are an inspiration to so many out there on the web who are your blog follower and bag lover.

Wahida Mostafa
aka Zaffran Jhola

Susana said...

Jane como dijo SIL usted ya tiene congregación y tampoco puedo ver el video , estaréE salvada?
Querida jane usted ha hecho un presupuesto de lo que ha gastado en estos años pero acaso tiene precio que su familia tenga una esposa y una madre feliz?Serian ellos felices si usted no pudiera disfrutar de lo que hace?
Puede mirarlo desde otro punto,puede contar la cantidad de calzados que les compro a sus niños desde el 2007,le puedo asegurar que mis hijas superan sus sueños ,los míos, y los de alguien mas.
Yo le enseño a mis hijas que deben perseguir sus sueños ,no son un logros ,son sueños .Acaso su esposo y sus hijos no viven del amor que les da?
Eso es intangible ,como los sueños.

Dee said...

Hey Jane,
I can soooo relate to your struggle between cost and money making.
I have been embroidering for many years and used to sell my embroidery through two craft co-ops. I made very little money out of my endeavours and had to give up when I returned to a regular office job. I made better money from teaching than from my own sales but still not what could be called a wage.
As many other commentors have already said. It is very difficult to make money out of hand made items. It is more important to view it as a hobby that gives a small return on the outlay.
A bigger question is - Do you still enjoy the sewing? Do you still enjoy the markets?
If the answer to both of these is "yes" then the answer to your other questions are self explanatory.
If you no longer enjoy it, then it is time to ask other questions, like what specific aspects do/don't you enjoy. Then do more of what yu do enjoy and less f what you don't. It sounds simple but we all know the doing is never as simple.
Goals change with time and recognising that and allowing yourself to make the changes with it can be quite hard.
Another thought... is teaching an option for you?
teaching sewing or bag making. I used to teach through a craft shop, a craft group and privately. I hope to return to teaching as this really drives me t keep coming up with new patterns. Teaching isn't for everyone though as it is quite draining in many ways.
You have mentioned that you get more pleasure out of the more complex patterns and finishings like embroidery, although need to mass produce items to "pay the rent" on the stalls. This can be a big passion killer. Do you need to view this a bit differently?

The outlay in sewing machines and programs isn't wasted though as both are learning and tools. A good sewing machine will last for many years. You are right about lots of bag patterns on the market. there are many variations. Do you enjoy making the patterns?

I look forward to seeing what you decide to do.

BTW... I love this bag, it is sooo cute and the dots, what is it about polka dots that are just so good? we all seem to love them.

And to encourage you further. I have been using the red bag that I bought for my daughter. It is an excellent bag to use with heaps of pockets and very attractive. Now she has reclaimed it and is using it. And naturally she is getting compliments on her bag.
You have a real talent for bag making where do you want to take it?

Fiona said...

Hello Jane, I've been reading your blog on and off faily regularly now, and feel compelled to comment on this post! I've been sewing for a few years now - started out with clothes for my kids, then progressed to clothes for myself, then I started sewing bags. I just opened up an etsy shop to sell these - and reading this blog post is very sobering! Made me rethink my motivations!

PS. Your bags look lovely! I definitely think you should keep at it.

PPS. I'm in Singapore too.

antmee said...

I laughed when I read this post! Is this insensitive of me? Everybody thinks you are maybe packing the needles away but I think you are one of us addicted to fabric types!?

Thank you for not releasing your music video! One aweful 23 million dollar video is enough for this week/year!

Stick to bag making. You have real talent there.

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