This is why I don’t plan my blogging in advance…

 

blogging_by_the_seat_of_your_pantsYears ago, when I first started blogging, it was about sharing.  About taking an experience that you wanted others to know about and taking the time to write about it. In my mind, it was about letting you know that you were part of this collective thing we call life.  And that part of me that likes to connect with people, with life and its experiences, even if the blog was about Make and Do, really liked that.

But as time has passed, blogging from the seat of a small business became about your ranking on the internet (amongst a whole load of other things), publishing schedules and writing for your business. The spontaneity and pure joy of writing got watered down for the material gain of a digital one-up-manship. Blechh.

I made the decision that I wasn’t going to write to any schedule, other than the rhythms of my own life. It allows me to enjoy the process and hopefully, write from a place that is real and intentional.

And today is a good example of why this approach to writing works just fine for me.

I woke up early. Silly early.  Like 5:00 am.  And when I looked out my window at the very weak sun muscling its way through my glass, the green from the willow tree in my front yard literally made me pull my neck towards it to see the intensity of its beauty. In just one week they had turned from mud like clumps hanging off the end of the branches to green diamonds winking at me at this insane hour.

And I was overwhelmed with the feeling that Spring always brings – about regeneration, the chance to start all over again, a clean slate. Each year, without a doubt, it reminds me of the bigger picture.

Part of the joy of doing what I do is that while involved in workshops, people’s lips tend to loosen and you hear about the trials and tribulations of what they are experiencing. Ageing parents, babies not yet conceived but much longed for, unsuccessful marriages, financial woes, unbending partners – there is very few things that have not been discussed in the four walls of the Studio. You can see the pain that some people bring to the studio like the first opaque layers of onion skin – there but not there.

And when I see a morning like this, I want to write to remind folks that sometimes, the ebb and flow of the seasons is also a way of telling us that life is always moving underfoot and taking time to see how it shifts will remind you that everything changes. Good and bad. Ying and yang.  The bigger picture. The human side.

And if I had been busy writing my pre-planned blog post, I would have never noticed the tree in my front yard. And yes, the blog post might have helped my ranking and maybe meant that more folks would have seen the business side of what we do.

But I would rather they see the human side.

Enjoy!

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Is sewing in the genes? Maybe you need to ask my daughter….

I cannot believe it has been a month since I last wrote my blog post about my two vintage weddings – I wish someone would grant me the wish to slow down time as it passes at such a rate as I am getting older, it scares me. And as my older two children go back and forth between my home and their Dad’s (husband number one for those who have read my previous post)- when they come back after an extended stay at his house,  I have to hold back my urge to cry just a little at how much they have changed in just a short amount of time.

I notice the passing of time most when I have that rare moment to just watch my children (as opposed to correcting, yelling or just being a bossy mother). My son who is now 15 has a girlfriend and spends most of his time in his newly forming social circle.  He still loves me but I can see that his needs from me as his mother are changing. And I am okay with that.

However, my daughter Sydney who is 13, still wants very much to have me around. She is both independent, sweet and needy at the same time. She often mills around in the background of the Studio while I am doing something Studio related….she tells me about her day and often asks about what I am doing. On many occasions, I have asked her if she wanted to join me when I was sewing and she usually looked bored and said no.

But this last week, she asked me if we could sew together and not only did she ask but she had a project that she has seen and wanted to do for her trip away with her Dad the following week.  It does make me laugh as she has no fears about sewing – no preconceived inabilities that adults come to the Studio burdened with – so even though she hadn’t been in front of a machine in ages, off we went. Here is the bag she wanted to make (no, not the one she made…this is what they call the teaser!). Prepared to be impressed:

Sydney's first sewing project

Sydney’s first sewing project

So off we went  - she could chose any fabric(s) she wanted and was in charge of tracing the pattern from the original, laying it out and cutting the various pieces which she did quite happily (these are the bits that I don’t like doing so it was quite a nice fit!).

And after three plus hours and a few cross words (she thinks I don’t pin enough!) this is what her bag looked like – she even took all the photos as she was so happy with it (it was her idea to fill it with some of her products in one of the photos which made me laugh as that is so her if you knew her). Her photos really impressed me as well – maybe she has not only my sewing gene but my curiosity about the camera as well?.

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We didn’t have webbing for the handles (which was quite expensive) so I showed Sydney how to make her own….

And yes - it has a dreaded zipper!

And yes – it has a dreaded zipper!

 

This gives you an idea of scale.

This gives you an idea of scale.

Have a wonderful Easter! Make sure you take some time just to watch your children….

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Two weddings, two husbands but both weddings were vintage

 

My first wedding was almost 17 years ago, in my parents beautiful wooden barn in Vermont on a hot day in July, back when the word “vintage” didn’t really apply to a wedding theme. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say, that DIY weddings were pretty rare.But I knew that I really wanted a wedding that was about me, my family and the beautiful part of the world I grew up in (and still think of as home) – Vermont.

So we set about using what we had on hand – my parents barn, my mothers wedding dress -

My Mum's wedding dress, quite a few years later...

My Mum’s wedding dress, quite a few years later…

(once we managed to get the 1950′s pointy-ness out of the boobs), flowers from the surrounding gardens (sunflowers in majestic full bloom), my sisters cake making skills and my Dad’s all around DIY craftiness – we created what to this day, was an absolutely gorgeous occasion.  I still have people that came that day tell me what a great day it was.

But with the greatest will in the world, this marriage wasn’t meant to be a keeper. So we divorced, I packed up my memories from my lovely first wedding and set about putting together a new life.

And then ten years later, I got the chance to do it all again.  I met my then boyfriend, who had convinced me, after years of dancing around the subject, that we should get married and he was ready to become my husband, version 2.0 (better and without all the bugs!).

And even though it was a different marriage and an entirely different set of expectations, I still wanted it to be about me, us and our three children. So this time, we had the ceremony in our neighbours garden and the party in ours….we made more bunting than I even thought any one singular event would require, got my Mom and Dad busy with erecting rain and sun shades (this is England after all!), my sister again came up trumps and made a croque-en-bouche which we were still eating days later.  And again, my vintage wedding number two was beautiful.

I think the singular, ultimate, intimate thing you can do on your wedding day is to at some small level, impart your own special uniqueness on the day. This is why I was so pleased when I was asked to be part of the Secret Vintage Wedding Fairtaking place the 23rd of March at a soon to be revealed location. I love the idea of the non-cookie cutter wedding that your passions are reflected in…and if you can make it about what you love (with the one you love!), then even better.

We will be there as well with our pop up crafting workshops - you can have a go at making bunting or paper pom poms.

If you can come along – please pop by and say hello!

This weeks give away is all about the tools of the trade!

It’s week two of the Great British Sewing Bee and I want to talk about the tools of the trade and how you can win one of the staples to any sewing kit – a pair of Fiskars 21cm All Purpose scissors!

Anyone that comes to the Studio knows that I believe strongly that you need to have the best tools you can afford to be able to sew with joy. Nothing is worse than thread that snaps all the time (or leaves “thread dust” all over your machine), needles that are blunt and plastic headed pins that melt when touched by an iron. My favourite go-to scissors are Fiskars – we use them here in the Studio and I recommend them to the students in our beginning sewing workshop All You Need to Know to Sew. And now you have a chance of winning a pair – just watch the video below (my daughter Sydney watched last week and stepped in to do the production this time – have a look!) and please, start sharing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

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PS – Sydney has said that she is available for weddings and parties! :)

 

Yes – it is the Great British Sewing Bee – watch me try to be Claudia Winkleman as I announce our great giveaways!

We are so excited about the beginning of Series 2 of the Great British Sewing Bee that we thought we would offer a great giveaway each week – and here is our first one which is great for those of you that want to learn how to sew!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So how is my year of intentions going?

Is it really almost February?

I am sure that it was just New Years Eve and my head was full of the possibility that a,  fresh-out-of-the-box, new year allowed you to consider.

Or in my case, not possibility but intentions.

I made a deal with myself. I would allow myself to have a wide open attitude to making a list of intentions. I would also allow myself to revisit them and revise (if needed!) at the end of each month. And I also made one of the most difficult intention of them all – that I would share my intentions with you to hold me accountable.  A no brainer really – but still one that is not fun because one you say it OUT LOAD the heavy work begins – the doing versus the saying.

So how am I doing?  Well – the desktop (both wooden and screen) is definitely looking much better. I even ventured into my Dropbox account which has become my repository for all filesinnospecificorder (it was pretty scary).  I have decided that that  one needs to be broken down in to minute tasks before I even start to tackle that. And with a really long time line…..like December 2014….but at least it is on my radar.

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I made an intention to be more active – it was time to stop pretending I was comfortable with not exercising. I wasn’t. It just didn’t feel right. So I joined a running group (their motto:  No Mean Girls – love it)! and for the last three Sundays at 8 am it has become my church (that photo is my feet a few Sunday’s ago…ready to go!) PS _ Hips are not actual size!).  I love it. Not all of it – but even the notallofit is forgotten at the end of the run. But there is talk that a 5k charity run would be possible and I even think that a 10k is what I really want to try….

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I also said I would take more photos and I am – sometimes a few days with no activity and then suddenly, I get the urge. And the photos on my DSLR are definitely getting better. I am even thinking of buying a different lens but that really involves getting involved on a cerebral level to investigate what I need and I just want to enjoy the creative freedom for the moment. I don’t EVER do selfies but I took this one trying to show my son about exposure….

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I am doing a bit more preparing for sewing (pattern tracing and also research for new patterns to use) so I am counting that toward my sewing intention. This is the one that I have just added to our dressmaking workshop as I loved working with it and even put a zipper in to make it a bit easier to get in to.

And I am working on transferring some of our most popular workshops to a digital format so that people can log in and sew out. This intention was one that came out of an intensive 16 week workshop about small business strategy  - it really helped me see what other possible outlets there were out there. But now the hard slog starts – finding the right software to do the job and then start the process of writing (which is another of my intentions). This intention is that one that I am quite sure will be the hardest to try and achieve.

So I am getting there – January please exit the building in let Mr February take your place.

I know from a recent conversations that sometimes happen in our workshops that January isn’t always the kindest month. As a matter of fact, some of you were really struggling for a variety of reasons.

Want to know the good news? February is right around the corner so you have a chance to say goodbye to January and set some new intentions for February!

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How to use your books as a table, intentions and photos…

I needed to find a way to use some of my larger coffee table type books that were getting too big for my bookshelves. The end result seemed like a nice opportunity to engage with my intention to take more photos (thanks Catherine Just. for reminding me that photos are best taken when looking for the simple things)…

books as a table

Don’t ask how my intention to keep my desk top organised is going…

 …notsogood.

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Instead of making commitments for 2014, I have intentions….want to see what they are?

I often make a very long list of things I want to achieve at the beginning of the new year….imprinting it in my brain and then forget to tell anyone. Or only mention it in passing… but I know that by telling it to anyone who will listen means I suddenly, have made myself accountable for actually doing it. So here I am…telling you.

In August of this year, I made a deal with myself that this was going to be the year of learning for Make and Do. Running a business on my own for three years was leaving me tired and a bit cranky. But I knew there was a better way of running my business so I opened myself up to finding out how I could do it. And many of these resolutions are a direct reflection of “my year of learning”.  So here is my list!

1. Get my desktop organised!  This is what it looked like two minutes ago –  you will see my latest banner for the website, my emails, a Minecraft printout my six year old has left open (!!!) and these loads of files that are just sitting there.  I spend WAY too much time trying to find things on my computer and it is time I need to be doing other things. So my number one priority in January is to put everything in its place or delete it!

desktop_screenshot_resolution2. I have always been a “back of the envelope” kind of girl, but that hasn’t been working very well lately (mainly because I can never find the blasted envelope!).  So I have made an intention  to piece together what 12 months of an organised business would look like (the main thrust for this has been the last four months of my enrolment in an intensive business strategy coaching course run by the renowned Tara Gentile). This has really helped me sharpen what we as a portal for creativity have to offer and I look forward to sharing this slightly different, but exciting, direction in the new year.

3. Take more photos.  I took a fantastic workshop by Lyndsey James and it has completely reignited my creative photographic spark by demystifying DSLR’s. I used to take photos many many years ago – back when you actually had a darkroom- but as with anything that you don’t use, you forget.  And then as fate would have it, one of the ladies in my group on the Tara Gentile course was Catherine Just - an amazing photographer who has had her prints published in National Geographic and O Magazine. I took this photo of my daughter Sydney using a filter she suggested for my humble iPhone and I love it. She has really inspired me to connect with my camera whenever I can.

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4. Catherine also took the photos for one of my favourite business mentors/gurus  Danielle LaPorte . Danielle has written one of the books I have made it a resolution to read this year - The Desire Map.  It comes out in January and I can hardly wait for it!

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5. Fiona Pullen, who runs the Sewing Directory, said that one of her new years resolutions was to sew more. I know that might sound a bit like telling a fish to swim, but when you run a small business you start to spend your time on things like marketing and admin and less on the thing that got you interested in the industry in the first place, you suddenly realise that you aren’t sewing anything like as much as you did before. My main interest is in quilting – I find myself designing them in my head, scribbling them on paper and then doing nothing with them. The other thing is my Mom is a master quilter and I have made it a resolution that when I am back in the States this summer, we will make a quilt together – even if it is a small one – as I don’t want to let that opportunity pass me by. I am looking forward to blogging about it.

6. This is the year that I make a commitment to getting active again. Much of what I do involves sitting down – either on a sewing machine or on my computer and I have noticed what I would call “spread” creeping in. I also found a journal of mine from not that long ago and I wrote about going out for an easy, enjoyable 4 mile run. I can assure you – going out for a 4 mile run now would not be easy nor enjoyable!  I have always been an athletic person but I guess my commitment to my business overtook that priority. So this January, I am opening myself up to different ways of moving (I have always fancied boxing oddly enough!) to try and regain some of my muscle slippage.

7. Write more. I really love writing but I tend to do it in my head more than on paper or screen. So this year, I am going to put together my writing schedule – I want to write more magazine articles for higher profile magazines across several industries and want to write more guest blog articles.  So this year, my commitment is to take the writing out of my head.

8.Even though this is the last one, it is the most important – be open enough to ask for help.  I am the first to put myself forward to help  a person in need but shy off asking for or saying yes to offers of help. This year, I am making big changes on that front.

So that is my list of intentions – what I will make a commitment to happen in 2014. I will check back in and tick some of them off the list or let you know how I progress on some of the others.

How about you? Do you make commitments at this time of year? Do you stick to them?

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Maeri Howard is the founder of the Make & Do Studio where women learn to make their Pinterest boards reality. She teaches sewing skills to hundreds of women every year in a fun & friendly environment.

Ready to finally learn how get crafty with skill? Get Maeri’s newsletter where we cover all kinds of things fun and creative – click here!

I think I may have found my creative magazine nirvana!

I stumbled across this magazine while reading a blog post from Sew Mama Sew and if I was to tell you that I was almost drooling while reading about the content, I would not be lying.

You see, I have a secret addiction to fonts, layouts and typography as well as my usual creative ventures.  I could spend hours looking through magazines that are as interesting layout wise as content wise.

And I think Uppercase might be just the magazine that manages to bridge the elusive arty without being farty gap.

Uppercase_creatve_magazine

 

I have yet to actually get a copy in my hand but I have made that my mission in January.

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And if you want to see the entire number 19 issue, you can see the digital version in its entirety for free -  here  you go.

My inner typo chic is so happy!

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So you want to buy a used sewing machine? First part of a three part blog post

 

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“I friend has said I can have her Mum’s sewing machine. Should I take her up on her offer?”

“I saw a machine listed on ebay, would you tell me if it is one to bid on?”

“I was at a car boot over the weekend and there was a sewing machine for £15 – would you buy it?”

Stop, stop,stop this uneducated madness I say!

I have been asked this question many, many times and I spend alot of time discussing with people what they should know about purchasing a used sewing machine. I decided it was time I wrote about it  (plus it gave me an excuse to show you a photo of one of my oldest machines – my Jones hand machine)!

This was originally going to be one post but as I got writing, I realised that in order to give you the full treatment, it was best spread over three updates. So I apologise as perhaps you don’t want to “stay tune for what happens next” but it would be a very long post otherwise.

There are two kinds of sewing machines (hand powered and electric) and for the sake of this post, I will discuss electric. If you want me to, I am happy to share my knowledge about purchasing a hand cranker (yes, that is what it is called here in the Studio!) in another post but my experience is that they are mostly for decorative purposes so less things need to be considered.

So- you are staring at a lovely 1960′s retro looking sewing machine. And you think it would be a sweet addition to your sewing room.  Can I just say, I am a huge fan of older machines so I am the first to tell people that an older well looked after machine is a great thing to have. But the issue is that it has to be well looked after and very often, used machines come with a complete lack of knowledge of when they were last used, where they were stored etc and this is why it is really necessary to proceed with caution when staring at the used machine.

When I am asked to look at a machine, here is what I look for (and I come armed with a spool of thread and a fresh size 90 needle – more revealed later):

  • does the machine come with all the extra bits that make it easy for you to use at home (a lid to store it away with and a key to lock it if it is a lockable wooden lid, a box of additional sewing tools such as extra bobbins and an instruction booklet are the basics I look for and dare I point out the obvious  - a power cord?).  Finding any combination of these that are part of an old machine is hard to find as normally, it will l have misplaced when moved between new owners. I will give you links at the end of where to go for the missing bits so don’t let that be something to put you off – it is just an additional cost if you decide to replace them (and depending on the make of the machine – the additional costs can start to add up).
  • in preparation of giving it a test drive, if you are able to check the belt to see if it is dried or cracked do so. If the belt does appear to be a slightly faded black colour and has cracks, I would be aware that running it might mean that it will snap (it has happened to me a few times – quite exciting to hear the “thwack” and then watch the rubber fly off).  You can decide if you want to take the chance or not. Also, if you are able to look at the motor and the bobbin race, check for excessive dust as again, this would make me think twice about firing it up as if there is alot of dust, it is indication that it has been sat unused and not cared for for an extended period of time.
  • checking the electrical connection is absolutely essential and there is no grey area on this one – don’t plug it in if in doubt. Older machines do not have an “on/off” button so essentially when you plug it in, it is on.  So the wiring is wonky or the plug is hanging off the end of the wire – I wouldn’t turn it on and this is where perhaps, I would consider getting an engineer to look at it.
  • Look for missing tension parts – springs etc.
  • Double check to see if it still has its spool pin as sometimes, this has been removed or snapped off.
  • Manually turn the fly wheel to see if the feed dogs are engaged and that it can move through a full set of stitches (if not, it may be seized up or rusted).

That list should help you get a better idea of whether you want to buy it or not. If you want to research purchasing missing bits:

Resources for older sewing machines:

  • contact the manufacturer direct for a missing manual- Google is the one to go to for this. Some have links from their website, others do not. Just depends on the company.
  • there are PDF manuals for downloading on the internet: this one says free but as this is just a huge list of external links to other sites, it can be hit or miss if it is free and if the links are still updated (I did click on one which took me to a dating website…hmmm). This one has a very complete section and you can download them as a PDF ( I looked for one for my Bernina and it had it for $10.00 – or £ 6.50 – which seamed reasonable to me).
  • Getting additional parts for your machine can be a bit trickier and the price that you pay can vary widely:  I did a google search for an accessories box for my singer 99k and got varying degree of success with the search. Ebay came up trumps but also found the parts via sewing parts.co.uk but they did seem a bit pricey. It all comes down to research!
  • And lastly, before you purchase anything from a dealer online – do a search with the dealers name plus the word “reviews” – you may be able to find feedback from other people who have dealt with the dealer and will be able to see if they are a reputable dealer or not!

So that my friends, is part one. Hopefully, it will help you decide if you  want to proceed to the next step…. the test drive!

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P.S. – have you had an experience when buying an older machine you want to share with me? Feel free to share by commenting – link at the top!