As a craft-artist, I often have the pleasure of making one-of-a-kind items for my customers. I can use a special tie to make a case for your Kindle, or design origami jewelry to match any outfit. I can even make jewelry to match your Kindle case! Custom orders are always a treat for me. I love the challenge of finding just the right paper for the earrings, or the perfect tie to coordinate with the one you have provided. And there is a special satisfaction which comes from making something that already has a home.
Nevertheless, I was surprised by the request I received when I was poking around at a yard sale a few weeks ago. The yard sale had advertised neckties, so I went out of my way to stop by. Indeed, I found the mother-lode: bags and bags of gorgeous, unusual ties. The owner told me about his life as a magician and collector of ties. I told him of my life as a craft-artist and showed him my necktie purse. His eyes lit up. "Can you make a suit out of ties for me?" The challenge of this project both intrigued and intimidated me. "Hmmmm....... How about I start with a vest?"
I was pretty young when my mother taught me to sew. I loved the sense of freedom that came from choosing a pattern and fabric and making clothes that actually fit (I maxed out at just over 5 feet tall - my mother knew that knowing how to sew would come in handy). I eventually realized that patterns were merely guidelines which I could alter to fit my needs. Over time I learned that I could even make my own patterns from scratch. As a result, when I started working with neckties, I was able to create my own purse designs. And I was able to expand the product line to include e-Reader and iPad cases when these were requested. I have even made cases for weekly planners. As long as I have the dimensions, I can make a case. And now, challenged with making a suit of ties, I know I can do it - though I might need to add more hours in my day and perhaps grow a few more arms to do the work!
I am looking forward to more custom orders around the holidays. Is there any gift more meaningful than one that is specifically made to order? A friend recently gave me 7 ties which had belonged to her husband who died this past year. He had been a teacher and artist and his ties reflected his life and interests. I made 7 iPad cases for his grandchildren. They now have memories of their grandfather to carry with them.
Here are some examples of my custom creations. Perhaps I can help you personalize your gifts this holiday season!
Custom Nook Case
Custom iPad Case
Custom Pouch Purse
Custom Origami Necklace and Earring Set
"Where do you get all of the ties?" I hear this question a lot. I wish I had a simple answer, but I get ties from so many different places. When I first started making necktie purses, I bought individual ties from thrift shops, trying to match them as I picked them out. Then, having bought all of the good ties from the local Goodwill, I gambled and bought a few bags of ties from eBay starting with "small" lots of 60 ties, then progressing to more impressive shipments of 200 ties. Once, on a lark, I advertised on Craigslist , offering to pay fifty cents per tie. I was shocked by the number of responses I received. I never imagined there were so many people with bags of ties sitting around their houses. One man drove up from Massachusetts with 3 boxes of ties - 167 total - which had belonged to his father who had recently passed away. Another woman mailed me 2 ties. I sent her a check for $1 and included a link to my on-line album of purses. After seeing the pictures, she started buying ties at thrift shops for me. She continued to send 2-3 beautiful ties at a time, making little to no money on the transaction. She told me she enjoys shopping at thrift shops. I have a relative who mails boxes of ties from thrift shops and estate sales in California. She and her husband enjoy the hunt for ties, and I reap the benefits.
More recently, I have been getting bags of ties from people who have seen my purses or heard about my business. In the past two weeks, I have received ties from 5 different people - some of whom I have never met. I have found that I can often match several ties within a bag donated by one person. For instance, The Case of the Golden Opportunity and The Case of the Rustling Leaves were each made with two ties donated by one person. The colors match perfectly.
At first, I was surprised by this. After all, men are not wearing more than one tie at a time. Why should they own ties that match? But I suppose that most people are naturally drawn to certain colors and this is reflected in their wardrobes. I welcome these donations, knowing that I will almost always be able to make several purses or cases without digging into my stash of ties.
Occasionally, I come upon a tie that is so unusual I am almost certain I will never be able to use it. Surprisingly, I have found matches for some of these ties.
Arizona Sunset is one of the best examples. I never thought I would find two ties featuring orange and purple. Who would have worn such ties? And after I made the purse I wondered, who will carry such a purse? Perhaps nobody - it is still available...
I still shop at thrift stores occasionally - you never know what treasures you will find. But I also love being known as "the tie lady" and coming home to find a bag of ties hanging from my door knob.
I stood in line at the fabric store last week feeling completely out of place. I held my single bolt of interfacing, surrounded by carts piled high with bolts of material in coordinating colors. I watched and waited as small amounts of each bolt were measured and cut, wishing they had an express line for those of us with just one item. I chatted with the woman ahead of me in line, and asked her what she was planning to make with the material in her cart. She sheepishly admitted, "I'm not sure what I will do with it, but I simply fell in love with the colors and designs. Maybe I'll make a king size quilt." I told her what I make out of ties, showing her my purse and she said, "Oh, it's so nice to meet a fellow quilter." Hmmmm..... I never think of myself as a quilter - certainly not in the same league as someone who makes a king size quilt.
Moses hides in the jumble of ties
When I got home, I walked into my sewing room to put the interfacing away. In an effort to control the chaos of disorder that threatens to overwhelm me, I have come up with a system for organizing my tie collection. Every time I enter the room, I must remove at least 5 ties from the laundry basket and sort them by color onto hangers. This time, as I did so, I realized that my collection of ties is not that different from the piles of small cuts of material that quilters bring home from the fabric store. Each tie is a single cut of material. Each hanger holds coordinating cuts. Each item I make is a small quilt, with carefully chosen colors and patterns.
My favorite - and most challenging - part of the design process is matching ties. Visitors are always surprised when they see my tie collection and I enjoy watching their eyes grow wide as I open the closet door. Occasionally I worry that collecting ties has become an obsession. I am simply unable to drive by a thrift shop without stopping in to see if they have ties - and it is uncommon for me to walk out empty-handed. I never pass up a good tie (indeed, if you peeked in my closet you might think that I never pass up a bad tie either!). In order for me to coordinate colors and patterns, I must have a huge variety of ties to choose from. The process of building my stash might be different from that of the quilter I met at the fabric store - she chose colors and patterns with purpose, whereas I buy ties randomly, hoping they will match something I already have. But the result is similar - an ever-growing collection of material to organize, store, and hopefully use someday.
Two days ago I received an order for two dozen pairs of earrings and six dozen Christmas ornaments. I also found two new shops to carry my products. I went abruptly from having boxes overflowing with inventory, to wondering whether I have enough stuff to make a spring craft fair worthwhile. I feel a bit like Goldilocks, searching for Baby Bear's bowl of porridge. I have too few orders, or too many; too much product, or not enough. I wonder if Baby Bear's "just right" bowl of porridge actually exists in this business.
January and February were slow months for me. I packed away the Christmas-themed items, anticipating that I would not see them again until next fall. I worked on new products and new displays, mulling over what worked well - or fell flat - last year. I put old things on sale. I cleaned up the workroom and organized my inventory. I bought new supplies.
Then March arrived and, in spite of the foot of snow on my driveway, I realized that spring is just around the corner, but marketing season is already here. All of a sudden it's time to make decisions: Which craft shows will I do? Should I sell to the same stores as last year? Scope out new markets? Change prices?
As I see my inventory dwindle, I suppress my worries and calm myself with the thought that there really aren't too many jewelry or purse emergencies. I remind myself that I can continue to make things at a pace which suits me - focusing on the quality of my products and taking pleasure in the design and production process. I realize that for my inner Goldilocks, "just right" means working at home with uncommon materials and creating unique objects which make people smile.
In the beginning, I named purses simply so I could identify them in conversations with customers. The names were boring and practical: Pink and Blue and Paisley or Maroon and Green. But over time I came to see each purse as an individual work of art. The process of combining ties was trickier than I originally thought. Sometimes the colors matched perfectly, but the patterns on the ties contrasted too much. Sometimes the colors were not quite right, but blended surprisingly well nevertheless. Sometimes the colors and designs were perfect, but the dimensions were slightly off.
Good colors, but the geometric pattern fights with the soft floral design
Colors slightly different, but they blend together well
Good colors and designs , dimensions slightly off
I believe I have learned from experience and I strive to make each purse a visual treat - a practical work of art that you can carry with you.
I am fortunate to have a friend who is a writer. She helps me name the purses and eReader cases (in fact, she came up with the idea of naming the cases in the spirit of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books: The Case of the.....). Finding the right name has become an eagerly anticipated ritual for both of us. Sometimes the names are obvious, other times we take twists and turns and end up with a name that even we have a hard time explaining. Sometimes the process is organic, other times it is fanciful. Always, it is fun and creative. Here are a few of my favorites:
Started as It's Black and White. Then Red All Over. Then Ebony and Ivory. Ended up as Perfect Harmony. Perfect!!
Stream of consciousness: Winter Scene, On the Slopes, Skiing, Downhill Skiing........... finally: It's All Downhill
For my brother, Mark, the Baltimore Ravens fanatic, there was only one option: The Case of the Raven Lunatic
I have found that people are drawn to objects which have names. The names help create human connections to inanimate objects. The names also emphasize the one-of-a-kind nature of the products. Naming my necktie products helped me to understand and acknowledge that each piece is a work of art. I hope my customers see this as well.
I was surprised when a brief trip to Maryland to celebrate my brother’s birthday brought unexpected business opportunities. I thank my sister-in-law, Sarah, for asking me to bring some of my products to the birthday party. I thank my brother’s friends for being interested in hearing about my process – and then purchasing gifts for themselves and others, and offering to spread the word about my business. I thank my mother’s friend for allowing me to create purses from her husband’s ties to preserve his memory. I thank my friend, Robert, for contributing to my ever-growing stash of ties.
I am gradually learning that my new profession has value. Certainly it is different from my previous profession. But my products make people smile, bring back fond memories, and add color to the world. And these things are worthwhile.
So, I will start working today on the custom orders I received while on my trip. It is truly a labor of love to create items that already have homes: purses and eReader cases that will be filled with memories even before anything is actually placed inside them.
One-of-a-kind marbled paper
“Isn’t that paper a pleasure to work with?” I realized Sarah was a kindred spirit when, in all seriousness, she asked me this. Only someone who works with little pieces of paper – which other people would call scraps – would appreciate paper that folds easily and cuts straight. Paper without grain. Paper with small patterns in vibrant colors.
Meeting Sarah has meant more than finding a fellow paper-crafter, however. Sarah is an amazing paper artist. Not only does she make beautiful, fine-crafted book charms (www.bookcharmsmaine.com), she also creates the most gorgeous and colorful marbled papers. She has a fantastic eye for color and design. And she has kindly shared her paper with me, allowing me to create one-of-a-kind origami earrings with her one-of-a-kind paper.
I decided that the teardrop shape (which uses only one piece of paper for each earring) would showcase the paper better than the other earring styles. Here are a few samples:
Thank you, Sarah!!
The smell of freshly baked cookies greeted me as I entered the crowded Prime Toyota waiting room yesterday. It's a large waiting area with a pool table, cafe (free cookies and coffee!!), television, children's playroom, and computer work-stations - a pretty pleasant place to hang out while your car is being serviced. I found an empty seat at one of the tall tables, pulled out my box of tiny holographic paper squares, and began to fold origami earrings. My sole table-mate smiled at me. "Either you are doing something really interesting," he said, "or they have let you out of the loony bin for the day." I showed him my craft and for the next few hours we chatted as I folded and assembled earrings. After he left, the woman at a neighboring table came over to see what I was doing. Another woman overheard the conversation and wandered over; she even invited her husband to watch me fold. Several Prime Toyota employees expressed interest. One man asked if I was playing some kind of game. By the time my car was ready, I had made 6 pairs of earrings; and I was out of business cards.
My goal at Prime Toyota was to get my car serviced. It was a chore that had to be done. I did not view it as an opportunity to meet people and network, or to market my business. I took along my craft to help pass the time, keep my hands busy, and to be productive. I love knitting in public and have always enjoyed the conversations that take place when I do. Perhaps I look safe and approachable as I knit or fold. Or maybe people are interested in the fact that things are still made by hand. Whatever the reason, making earrings in the car dealership turned a necessary chore into a pleasant experience and marketing opportunity. I am tempted to pretend to get my car serviced on a weekly basis so that I can sit and craft in the Prime Toyota waiting room and network. Do you think they would notice?
I have been making origami Christmas ornaments using recycled gift bags to sell at upcoming holiday craft fairs. I start by cutting the bags into 2-3-inch squares. As I was getting ready to throw away the scraps, I realized that I might be able to make earrings with them. Earrings, after-all, start with squares ranging from 3/4 - 1 3/4 inches. So I rescued the scraps from the recycle bin, cut smaller squares and experimented. The result was glittery, holographic, colorful holiday earrings (will post pictures to website soon). Certainly not earrings you might wear every day, but fun for a special occasion.I have had a similar experience making purses. I saved scraps of ties, with no clear plan of how to use them. Then I saw an example of a crazy quilt and experimented with a new purse design. The result was the first pouch-style purse. There are several of these patchwork purses available on the website - and I have a whole drawer of scraps waiting to be used.This process reminds me of an artist whom I met several years ago. Willard Wigan creates microscopic art using specks of materials - dust, fibers, grains of sand. Although I have no intention of going to this extreme, I appreciate his use of scraps. And I reassure myself that saving scraps is not always a sign of hoarding. So far, my scraps have only taken over one drawer. Or maybe two...
As I was taking apart and ironing ties to make a purse yesterday, I thought about where the ties had come from, who might have worn them, what path they (the ties) had traveled to end up in my hands. These two particular ties were, I believe, from Goodwill. I have gotten pickier about the ties that I buy. I avoid ties which smell of cigarettes (almost impossible to wash out completely) and those with obvious stains which would be difficult to work around.
So I was surprised to encounter a stain on one of these ties. It was subtle and in an unusual location – far up from the flap and almost camouflaged by the tie’s intricate pattern. Fortunately, the stain washed out fairly easily and I was able to use the tie. But I wondered about the source of the stain. Thanksgiving dinner? Office party? I realize as I handle ties that they each have stories and memories - and sometimes stains.
My favorite batch of ties came from a gentleman who was cleaning out his father’s house after his father had passed away. The ties were gorgeous and unusual, colors and designs from a different era. As I made purses from these ties, I sent pictures to the man who sold me the ties. I ended up making purses for his nieces for mother’s day – gifts made with their grandfather’s memories.
So as I deal with stains and imperfections, I know that I am also dealing with memories and events. And isn’t it nice to create something useful with that history? Something that will, itself, create memories.