Just Me and My Puppy, and Her Puppy, Thinking

comments: 35

PuppiesAudrey and I decided to take the day off yesterday. We've been rather pensive, really. Even Plumpy (Audrey's puppy) looks a bit . . . weighted down. It's raining, and muddy, and cold, but clearly, spring is on its way, and we're ready for a fresh start.

Thank you, each and every one, who commented on the post below. I'm really touched by your cyber-pats on the back -- thank you -- and relieved by those that have recognized that self-employment, even lovely, creative self-employment, is not . . . charmed. It's about as charmed as my pretend vision of the country, or jolly England. I know you know this. I'm flattered and honored to be any kind of inspiration, but I'd be fairly uncomfortable with it, too, if I didn't think I'd communicated my perceptions, struggles, and realities honestly. I think the joys are pretty obvious. I mean, those pretty much are what you think they are.

But as with anything else that requires you to pour every ounce of your strength and talent into it, it's a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, a lot of stress, too. And I share it with you not so much because I am interested in encouraging you to start your own business, or not start your own business -- I really, honestly, truly have absolutely no idea whether or not you should start your own business, and I would never, ever presume to encourage or discourage anyone to do or not do so. Not because I don't really care but . . . this girl has her hands full. I mostly -- almost entirely -- care about whether or not I'll be able to continue to do it. I share it because I'm trying to figure it out, too; since I work mostly alone and thus talk mostly to myself, it's good to have conversation. And if through my own honesty I can shine a little light that helps anyone else, well, that is more than I could've hoped for. My goals: They're basic. Survival is one. A general sort of not-too-delusional happiness is one. I do what I can to keep these coming. I try to control what I can, brighten a few corners with pretty things, and not contribute to suffering in the world as much as possible. But . . . a girl's gotta pay the rent! And she's got puppies to feed!

As you might know, Debbie Bliss is one of my great inspirations, not only for her designs, her yarns, her books, and her beauty, but for her longevity in her industry, and her flexibility. A couple of years ago, I read an interview with her in Interweave Knits, and it has both inspired and haunted me ever since. But I am grateful -- truly -- for its lessons, which wedged themselves into a crevice in my mind and have never been all that far from my own thoughts about everything I am trying to do myself. This is from the spring 2004 issue of IK in an article called "Design Sense & Sensibility" by Brenda Dayne:

" . . . Debbie has published over twenty books of knitwear designs for babies, children, and adults, and has become one of the most hardworking and prolific designers in the business. Despite her publishing success, however, she's found it difficult to make a living as a handknit designer. 'People often assume that if you have books in print, and are selling patterns for publication, you're doing well,' she says. But the reality of making a living from handknitting is that it is 'very, very difficult.' "

Even for Debbie? Oh my. Really? Wow. It continues, and don't you think this sounds just dreamy:

"Prompted by a desire to turn her design skills into a profitable business, Debbie opened a childrenswear and yarn shop in a quaint and trendy London neighborhood in the spring of 1999. The shop showcased her kids' knits in a setting plucked from a 1950s' nursery. Displayed amid a chalkboard, school desks, and diminutive chairs were Debbie's child-size cardigans, miniature Aran pullovers, whimsical hats and mittens, and her signature booties designed with tiny ears and eyes to look like baby animals."

What, and I mean what could sound cooler than that. We would love that! say we. We would shop there everyday! But let's keep reading:

"Word of the quirky little shop soon spread, and it became a sort of pilgrimage destination for handknitters from around the world. The pilgrims, however, were more interested in visiting than buying. . . . At the end of her three-year lease, she reluctantly decided to close the shop doors."

I read this in bed one night, after about a year and a half of owning Ella Posie. I sat straight up as if someone had attached a string to my head, and pulled. The light bulb went on. If this could happen to Debbie, I had to accept that it could certainly happen to me. It happened all the time, to good, talented, hard-working people who were doing everything right. Granted, Debbie admitted that it was difficult to balance running a shop with designing, and family obligations -- but who doesn't need to balance these things? Having popularity, spewing adorableness, doing good work, and offering inspiration don't automatically pay the bills or buy groceries. Failure isn't even necessarily personal; it's just . . . I don't know what it is. Statistical. It depends on so many things. I don't have a degree in business. Nevertheless, you'd be surprised at how few people buying something it can really take to keep a thing alive. Not all that many. We are simple people, we yarny types. We're not trying to be millionaires. We're trying to pay the bills, and keep doing what we're doing. Customers who make choices about where to shop, who see value in helping keep independent, neighborhood businesseses alive, make that possible.

I don't write this with the intention of sending you sullenly, guiltily into my store, I really don't. But I do urge you to consider your own relationship to whoever it is that inspires you -- consider and honor it by recognizing the reality, be it financial, practical, or temporal, behind that person's . . . availability . . . to inspire you.

I've received many private emails from shop owners and designers in the past day who have inspired me to follow up with this post. I feel a responsibility to speak not only for myself but for them.

I also encourage you to consider spending some of your money at local, independent businesses, in your own neighborhood, wherever that may be. Here are some reasons why. I find them extremely compelling, in an empirical way.


Thank you for saying what I've been thinking lately! You're a wonderful writer and I very much enjoy reading your daily thoughts.

Alicia, I don't even know you and I want to give you a hug. Your honesty is very much appreciated. I do hope that while you're giving insite to those like myself (who definitely need some), you're able to figure some things out for yourself. I hope you had a very nice and restful day off yesterday.

GREAT POST! I had no idea how hard the "bussiness end" of crafting reall was..until i jumped in, head first. Let's just say, it has taken me over a year to recover from the year of "doing exactly what I always wanted to do!" I went back to my teaching job this year, and I now have MORE time to devoted to my craft! Ironic..but very true!

What wonderful thoughts! I need you to collect them all, bind them beautifully (of course) and sell them at Amazon!
I'm now thinking of all the independent craft sites that I frequent and how I can afford to start purchasing regularly...

Thank you for this post. It echoes a lot of the feelings and thoughts I have been experiencing lately.

P.S. Could Audrey and Plumpy be any cuter?

Thanks again for your insight into the crafting business. Any type of self employment is difficult and often less rewarding than previously thought. I know because all I ever wanted to do was write for a living. Then I began writing freelance over a year ago and it is NOT what I imagined it to be. Now all I want to do is craft for a living but I realize that it might just suck all of the fun out of my hobby. It did with writing!

But I can't help harboring that dream of one day owning my own store. And your posts don't serve to turn me away from that dream at all. I'm happy that you are shedding some light onto the darker side of store ownership, that way I won't be blindsided if I ever encounter it myself. So keep it coming! And thanks!

Oh My Gosh, your puppys are adorable.

I love and truly appreciate this post and your honesty. These are a lot of the reasons I shop indie and create myself. xo

I have decided to lurk no longer. I have been reading your posts and agree wholeheartedly with you.

As someone who is trying to set up a small business, it aint easy!
But I agree with you, for me small is better!

What a wonderful post - I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I'd write pages and pages in agreement if I wasn't so swamped in my own version of these issues! Thank you for writing about your experiences. You are an inspiration. Just as you were struck by the Debbie Bliss' situation, I'll guarantee that there are readers out there for whom your writing has made them sit bolt upright in recognition.

My two cents on the phenomenon you describe: I think part of the issue here is particular to when your customer demographic is a crafty one. I know I'm guilty of visiting beautiful stores, or looking at handmade products on the web, purely as inspiration for my own work. The I-Can-Do-That phenomenon. Which is fantastic, and one of the best aspects of the craft blog world, in my opinion. (Though I'm talking inspiration, not plaigarism here.) Sometimes I make a conscious decision that yes, maybe I could make something myself to satisfy a need for a certain item, but this person here is trying to make or supplement a living, and my buying her product will help her do this. Also, I find an extra benefit in this for me: it takes away the guilt I feel at buying something I could possibly make myself, and also some of the burden of this. If I had to make all my own clothes and gifts, I'd never ever make the slightest dent in my list of projects. There's enormous pleasure for me in owning something well-made by someone else, who brings a whole different world of skills and inspiration to her work.

Oh gee.... I have written pages! Thanks again for raising these issues.

You know... I think you are fascinating. I really, really do. I'm not just saying that 'cuz you're all blue and stuff. But I also want to hear more about Audrey, lady of mystery and complete adorability! I just want to dip her little leather nose in chocolate and munch it down, she's that adorable!

I totally know how you feel. I used to own a yarn shop (right here in Portland) and it was alot of hard work, human relations, and gumption. Congratulations on having a wonderful business and a wonderful attitude!

wow. amazing post. amazing. I wrote a ton, erased it, worte again, but I can;t write today. thank you for being real and wonderful. and I would have killed to go to that debbie bliss shop.

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your thoughts on this topic. Whenever possible I do make it a point to eschew the major designer labels and typical mall haunts in favor of the as-yet undiscovered talents out there. In my region of the country, it seems to be an unpopular concept, however, so I do 'hear' the stridency of what you are saying. It takes perking up just a few more ears and opening a few more eyes and I applaud you for putting your "best" out there -- on the web, in your words and in your photos.

I'm in total agreement with "girlprinter" who said, "my buying her project will help her do this." It's at THAT level that I can support somebody's dream and ultimately, support my own as well. I'm no artist, but there's more to expressing my own passion than involving commerce in the equation, and what you are doing here is such a brave and wonderful thing. I hope you continue to find what fulfills you, even if it means making changes. Do whatever it is that keeps you happy and free, surrounded by the people and things you love the most.

another wonderful post. well said.

how cute is audrey?!

Your posts are wonderful. Thank you for sharing your life and your experiences. I am also pretty taken with Audrey !

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is so inspiring to read a post such as this one ( and the many others you have posted in the past as well).

This solitary world that you wrote of...this rings so true. I think there are so many of us who are driven by our passions and then we have to mix in the public relations/accounting/manufacturing mix that comes with hoping to make a living through these creative passions.

I know as a small business owner, I make a conscious effort to shop with customers who use my products when they create their handmade goodness--recently is was a wonderful mixed media piece from Portland artist Lisa Kaus. Sally Jean's jewelry ( I seem to shop a lot in Portland for living so far away!) Greeting cards, knitting cases for friends. I always try and support these artists and their small businesses so that they can continue to do what they love.

I hope you continue to write of your experiences, as there really is a common creative thread that weaves among us all...nifty to think how the internet is doing that for so many of us. I did have a grandmother who actually was a member of a sewing circle, and as someone mentioned in a blog post one day....this is really a modern day sewing circle in so many ways.

Thank you! thank you! thank you Alicia!

that was so wonderful. I agree that this is a modern sewing circle! it is such a relife to know that i am not alone with the sales. its so hard to keep going, but your post really helps.

i dont want to be spammy all over alicia's lovely blog but, i know of a few resources that could potentially help people's online stores. if anyone is interested, my email addy is listed on my blog.

I really agree that some of the problem is its hard to reach people outside of the crafters circle. Many of us look at things and think "i can make that!". I do it all the time, and i know that 99% of the time i am too busy to even think about making it. One of my personal long term goals is to help raise awareness for designers everywhere in the indie world.

Like i said, if anyone wants to chat about this, please email me. Or, if anyone has any ideas on how we could help fix this problem!

It is so interesting to follow your writings on business ownership, because I'm considering opening a shop in Minneapolis at some point. I appreciate your frankness and the detail you give.

I think in part changing the way consumers in general behave is the solution, but of course there are economic and social forces at work that are much larger than any small movement like this one. That's a hard fact, because it either means excluding people (such at those who can't afford to pay the often higher prices on handmade things/ at independent businesses) or not paying enough for the work. I guess the revolution must, as all revolutions seem to, begin on the small scale--with the individual and her choice. And a healthy local economy means buying food produced locally, drinking coffee made by local (not chain) coffeeshops, shopping at local businesses. I'm not sure where the anomaly of the small business on the internet falls in this equation--not local, but not a mega-corporation, either.

thank you for writing such a wonderful post. it is really interesting to read about the businessy side of crafting for a living.
Also i can really relate to what girlprinter wrote. I make it a point to buy indie even if i know i may be able to make the products myself. i've actually written about just that on my blog as well.

Love your post and your thoughts. I am not a crafter (I try but still suck)but can appreciate the effort that people put into their handmade work. Definitely agree on your thoughts on buying more products made by independent designers!

Love your puppy too!

Do you know what? Your Dad was right - you should be a writer.

Much love from the English countryside.

I'm actually strugling with this myself form a sshoppers kind of view. They are not the cheapest options (I know why but money is not plentifull) si I'm trying to get a buyin policy in place that e makes me think about where I'm going to buy what instead of shopping for inspiration one day and then buy presents in a big company because I forgot about them.. It may include buying present in advance.. I think I'll blog about it..

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com