Skirts, and Sanity

comments: 48

SkirtrosaYou might remember back in January when I cleaned my closet. (It's sad that I just wrote that sentence. If you do remember this, I'm scared, for both of us. But we'll save that convo for another day.) Anyway, I was excited then because I hung up my 47 skirts, most of which had been rolled up and stuffed in one of those hanging shoe bag things, or were just literally flopping off of every shelf. I'm happy to say that most of them are still hanging today, five months later.

You might also remember, if you've been hanging around Posie long enough, that for several seasons in '03 and '04 I designed a lot of skirts for my product line. These were some of the last ones I did, the Country Girl Skirt (with the big gathered pocket) and the Tweedy Rose (with the big flowers) for fall 2004. This lovely model is Kara, my friend and our sometime-assistant at Ella Posie. These photos were taken by another friend, Brian McDonnell, whose eye for a good shot I really like.

SkirttweedyroseI'd done probably a dozen or so different skirts while I was doing them, mostly designing things I wanted for myself, for the most part, and then making them in sizes from 4-6 up to 16-18 (my size). I made all the prototypes and my seamstress made the skirts, and they sold fairly well but I wouldn't say they, like, blazed a blistering trail out of the store or anything. But then again, what does. Nevertheless, it's amazing to me how many times someone will ask me if I'm still doing skirts or if I'm going to do skirts, and though I'm usually not terribly swayed by requests, I'm starting to rethink the skirt thing. Especially since it is one of the parts of my line that I am confident someone can help me with, and do even do better than I can. Also, the amount of fabric around here is just getting insane. I'm slowly making my way through spiffing up the house and that studio is just completely out of control.

SkirtcecilyThe reason I stopped doing skirts was because fitting people is not that fun. It sort of opens you up to a whole new brand of expectations, especially, of course, if you're not really a clothing designer! Part of the challenge (here I go again) of being a small, indie designer is addressing the expectations that your customers have when they shop for anything, anymore: The stuff must be very high quality, very reasonably priced, very quickly delivered, very cheaply delivered (which is pretty tough with gas prices and in turn shipping prices being what they are), with great customer service. And it must fit. And very pretty packaging doesn't hurt. This is how giant, corporate retailers sell (sort of -- I personally don't think consider my $88 mail-order shirt from Anthropologie stuffed into a plastic bag and envelope "prettily packaged") and as small designers with little web sites that we maintain by hand to sell our things (made by hand) we are absolutely competing. The behemoth manufacturers and retailers who have the wo/manpower, overseas labor, money, and machinery to make things happen in a way that raises customer expectations in general -- they force us to meet the same expectations, and, we do try. Oh, we do!

SkirtvioletBut when things must fit someone, it adds a whole other layer of challenge. Handbags don't have to fit, little birds don't have to fit, flower pins don't fit, and scarves look great on everybody. I'm really lucky that I have only had maybe three or four returns in the past four years, and usually they have to do with sizing issues. It is also such a pain for customers to have to return things in the mail that I am really loathe to inconvenience them in this way, but what can you do. People tend to also make a lot of requests with clothing that they don't do with other items -- can it be shorter/longer/bigger/ smaller/have the pocket on the other side/have no pocket/be purple. The answer to all of these? No. Nope. No can do. I don't like saying no, but I know it's all I can say here, and stay sane.

Skirttweedyrose2 I was interviewed for a podcast last week with Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood of the web site Craft Sanity (not sure when the interview will be available, but I'll let you know). This is a fairly new web site that is devoted to podcasted interviews with people in the indie craft industry and it is fantastic. I am completely new to podcasts -- didn't really know what one was actually, but basically you click on the link and then the thing plays, it's that easy -- but I have been working my way through the interviews. Jennifer is a great listener and an intuitive, sophisticated  interviewer -- I thought her questions were right on, and in the interviews I've listened to (so far I'm through Denyse Schmidt, Drew the Crochet Dude, and Leah Kramer from Craftster -- I'm beyond flattered to be asked to be among them) I'm amazed to have such an intimate look at the inner workings of these businesses, and hear their creators' stories. I'm a terrible joiner, not one inclined to group endeavors, not one to ask for much help, very rarely do anything other than slog through and figure it out on my own, inefficiently (and loudly, with much ranting and raving) reinventing wheels right and left. Most people who find themselves happiest when alone, making something, are probably like this (though savvier, possibly quieter, with less raving). But as I listen to the interviews, and see where these folks have been and where they are, it's incredibly inspiring to me. Inspiring and encouraging and reassuring. Nevertheless, it is hard not to be struck by how almost everyone, even the much-revered Denyse Schmidt, talks about how it is a struggle to keep everything going. How, although she's been in business ten years, she often doesn't remember to take time to appreciate the "successes" she's achieved because she's too busy worrying about the next thing, about everything else that needs to get done,  about how to make sure the whole thing doesn't suddenly disappear. (She didn't say exactly that, but this is sort of how I heard it -- projecting, etc.) You're never just hanging out, enjoying it. Really. You should be, sometimes, but there's usually not time. 

It's funny, because she says it in such a lovely, gracious, apologetic, I'm-not-complaining,-really-I'm-not sort of  way, but my head was just wagging back and forth with recognition and understanding and sympathy. It might be hard to understand unless you've been there (and I obviously haven't been anywhere near as far as she's been) and have left a full-time, paycheck-paying career to make a go of it -- but she said something like, you know, the more stuff you have going on, the harder it is, but that's what it takes. And I knew what she meant. It "takes" about as much as you can possibly do, and sometimes, more. People have a very romantic notion of what is so charmingly called cottage industry -- and we industrious cottagers are loathe to dispel the notion because it somehow breaks the spell, and we can see in their eyes that . . . it's not what anyone wants to hear. And plus, they're probably not doing exactly what they want to be doing, so they're usually more like, "Okay, well I've gotta get back to the OFFICE, and you can shut up now, please, princess." And so we feel really bad about that. But it doesn't make the work that much easier, when you love it, really. And it takes not only quality of work but quantity of work -- not just quantity of customers (though that's nice) but all these other things like, in her case, notecards, and Amish seamstresses and their brokers, and books, and fabric lines, and employees, and second books, and teaching, and several kinds of product lines -- to keep it all happening. A lot of stuff.

So I'm starting to think -- it's not just me. It's not just me that thinks it's hard, and it's not just hard because it's me, and everything's hard for me because I'm a total loser, etc., etc. I mean, I do think that way sometimes, that it must just be me. But listening to the interviews, which is almost like having a conversation with these people, and doing things like reading Amy Butler's FAQ page again, which you know they wrote only after having to slog through every single one of those issues all on their own, gives me such respect -- a renewed, invigorated respect -- for these women (and men) and makes me more determined than ever to deserve to be doing what I'm lucky enough to do, and make it successful, and even to identify and take time to enjoy the successes as they come, instead of worrying about what else I need to do to make it work better. Some days, more days, I must see that things are exactly as they should be, and perfectly good enough, even -- certainly -- great.


I would never say you were a loser! Your things are beautiful and you do such a wonderful job. I have heard what goes on in the retail business as "The Wal-mart Effect"....everyone wants cheap and fast... well those two words do not go together in my opinion. I have polo shirts from high school that were not made in China that have not fallen apart.. I cannot stand the ones out there now because of their cheap quality. I also have a wool sweater from the Gap from high school (hmmm, graduated in 1987 if that tells you anything).. that is in impeccable shape... you cannot say that about the sweaters from there now. You only find that quality in clothing, etc in items where someone took pride in their work.
I love the pics of the skirts you posted (you have prompted me to find/make patterns for myself and find cool material -- shame on you!).
I can only imagine how hard it is... I have a hard time doing things just for my daughter and myself, much less for the friends I want to make things for.
I think you are wonderful!


As I make things in readiness for a long-weekend show tomorrow, your post is soothing my soul that is harrowed up by all the things that are thwarting my making of lovely things in pretty packaging. It takes so much patience and perserverance to go on crafting and running even a little business, and I am grateful that you can speak about it so makes those of us in the midst of it felt understood and those who support us understand behind-the-scenes better. This "reality vs appearances" is such a deep and good thing to keep looking at in business and marriage and mothering and most anything, I am supposing.


Oh Alicia.

How on the mark you are with all of this. I paint murals, and when I'm not busy, I'm worried because we could really use the money. And then when I do get busy, it's hard too, because then, you know, I'm SO busy. And all the little things I make, people always say "you could sell these." But I'd need to charge a lot to make it worth my time, and who can compete with Target and Walmart?!

I think it's like this for most small business owners...

this is such a wonderful post. i've been making things for some upcoming craft fairs, and etsy, and have this crazy back and forth of loving it and thinking it's so difficult, and how will i ever make money from it, and should i try, and will i feel comfortable enough(monetarily) teaching puppetmaking, doing puppet shows, and selling cutie-pie gifts here and there...patching together a creative life. but i'm inspired, too, by you! and i love the way you think out loud about it, because it is almost like having a bit of a chat with a friend in person. thanks, and those skirts with the pockets make me want to perish with happiness.

First off, these skirts are amazing! Also, the photos are excellent & your model/asst. is so adorable! My favorite pic is the one w/the dog up on the fence. Wonderful! I respect you so much - you are so talented! Your skirts, handbags, everything are lovely.

first of all - i love the photos.

Second of all - I love your honesty, that is why you have such a great following, for being so honest with us, letting us in and making us see that we are not alone in how we think - so thank you for that, but also know - you are not alone in thinking the way you do!

Another person who has struggled with this is Mary Jane Butters of Mary Jane's Farm (and she might be a good partner for your aesthetic, too). Look at and email her. Her creative director is a friend of mine.

everything you do is so beautiful. You have great tatses and I love these skirts!

Although I don't run my own business, I totally understand what you are talking about! I have been thinking a lot lately about the fast pace of life and how insanely hard it is to “live in the moment.” You have truly become someone that I admire and your words are so inspiring. It really helps to know that there are others out there that are going through the same thing. I know it's a constant struggle but I want you to know that your creativity and light have definitely made a difference in the world (very much in me!) and we're so glad that you're doing your thing! Thanks so much for sharing this.

Oh and I love the skirts! So pretty!

i love all the things you're creating! it's wonderful, like dreaming...!
carry on, please! there's a "little girl" in germany for which watching your photos is like being on holidays or even more.
thanks so much for sharing!
it's so inspiring!
(i'm sorry for the mistakes i make in english...)

PS kara looks both: so romantic and strong - seems to be a very special woman!

I don't have a shop or anything like you do, but I do knit a lot. And it's infuriating when I'm making a shawl and someone walks up to me and says, "Oh that's pretty. When you're done, I'd be willing to buy it from you for $20." And I'm thinking in my head, the yarn ALONE in $44 and then you haven't even paid me for the time it takes to make something like this. There are a lot of people who just don't understand that not everything is made Wal-mart cheap and fast. When people actually take the time to work hard on something, the price has to go up.

By the way, the skirts are so pretty. I especially like the Country Girl one.

Alicia- It is always so interesting to read someone else's thoughts on a subject- and in particular this subject- and instantly think they have a backstage pass to the workings of your own mind.

It is nice, if not comforting to know other's share the same thoughts & fears when it comes to running a small business. It can be so solitary sometimes. I think, at least I hope, that although the behemoth retail corporations have set a certain standard for the general buying public, I like to think that there is another buying public that is hungering for quality/hand made items. I think that people are re-discovering home & nesting and an appreciation for things handmade....that is my hope.

Many of us, I would say that most of us who read your blog and all of the other blogs who speak of handmade goodness, are proof that there is an appreciation for handmade, quality items. I would much rather purchase gifts for others and gifts (!) for myself that were handmade than an item know "w"here.

I often sit and dream and doodle about my business. Things I would like to achieve over time. Things I wish we could do "if" only we were bigger.

The reality.....

-We photograph the products on a small table in our dining room window because it has the best light
- My husband is the photographer
- I write the catalogue
- My husband is the web designer when he is not working full time as a computer programmer
- The products are everywhere
- I often feel scared that everyone will not have the same appreciation for something that I have spent a large sum of money on and I will be stuck with if it does not sell
- Sometimes I "pick" your order at 6:30am. Sometimes I "pick" your order at 10:30pm. Sometimes in between.
- Sometimes I am at the post office at 7am and sometimes at 11pm (thank goodness they keep these hours!)to get everything shipped
- I worry that someone will not "get" my next great product idea!!
- It is hard to give up your next great product idea that you LOVE..when no one gets it!
- I go to work everyday outside of my safe little nest and give my good day time hours to someone else's company.
- I save my BEST self for my little enterprise--no matter how tired I am.
- I am tired.
-Sometimes I am too tired to make things...which is how it all started
- I love what I do.

Thank you, Alicia. Your post today helps carry me through...and I am sure many others who are reading.
...sorry I got a little long winded, but I feel so passionate about this subject and whether you are aware or not I think a few of us meet here everyday for a little coffee klatch...thanks for keeping the minutes of the meeting.

omg. I'm in love with those skirts. I couldn't even sufficiently read and process your post as my mind keeps wandering back to those ...skirts!

I want - I need - one of those skirts! they are awesome - gina

Okay, so I'm officially a weird cyber Posie stalking type geek now. Maybe I'll start a fan club and we'll hold weekly meetings and everyone has to wear floral and eat off pink plates and drink tea from a proper tea set and gush about all things Posie. I'm going to be President, because it's my club and I can. Unfortunately everyone will have to fly out to NZ to attend the meetings, but that's a small detail and molehills will not be made out of mountains. Or something.

It's not just you. I, for one, am extremely grateful you keep on keeping on.

And re-think the skirt thing.

mesclun says: May 10, 2006 at 01:16 PM

I've had a small business for twenty years in which assistants have come and gone, but most of the time it's just me facing every workday. Yes, it IS hard - hard in a way that people who don't work for themselves have difficulty understanding. It's a little like being a parent - even when you aren't working there is a part of your brain that never turns off, there is an underlying anxiety that no matter how hard you try, you may just screw up and drive all the customers/clients away.
I worked for a while in a museum and what really astounded me was the fact that even if I didn't get my work done, I still got paid. No such luxury in the world of the self-employed. Even though I love my work, the job of running a business is exhausting and after twenty years there are days I still feel like I'm running in place. And yet when I think of quitting and doing something else, the alternatives I come up with are the same job with a different name.
Over the years a number of people have wistfully told me how much they envy me because I work for myself, wishing that they could quit their jobs and do the same. I have given materials and contacts to dozens of people to help them get started with their own businesses and to date only one person has followed through. There's a reason for that - It's damn hard work! And I think it takes a certain kind of person who is willing to give up the sanity and structure of the regular work world for the uncertain adventure of working for themselves. It isn't always fun, it certainly isn't always pretty, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. (Though a support group for those of us who work weekends and into the night to meet those deadlines would be wonderful.)
And now I should get back to work before the boss fires me (I wish!)

You've made some insightful observations about the design "cottage" industry. Thanks for sharing!! =)

I'm looking forward to listening to your podcast.

I'd just like to say that you are a great inspiration & everything you make is so pretty. I had lost my passion for sewing until I found your blog & looking at all your pretty things gave me back my passion, so now I eagerly await every new post.
Also, I love the skirts & the brown shoes, Wish I had a pair like that they are exactly what I've been looking for, but have not found.

Lindsay says: May 10, 2006 at 02:29 PM

if you start making skirts like that again in size 16 i will give you my firstborn.

I love your thoughts Alicia and all I can say is that they Push Me Forward.

When I am commissioned for a quilt, the love is so deep and so strong that I will do whatever it takes to satisfy, but then part of me dies when I find out how much it really costs me, in my time alone. This quilt (the one hanging on the wall)

...took me over 40 hours to produce not including design time or shopping, etc. I am builing a new site to sell more of my items and quilts. It is hard looking at the "truth", but I love it so and will not give up what I love. I know you won't either.
I also work full time as an animator during the day, so all of my valuable creative time is used by someone else...for now. (We still need to buy a house :) ) But I will keep pushing forward with you torwards my goals and dreams.

yay for skirts and your darling kara! and yay for skirts that are not size 0!

another yay for this entire post and all the comments, and all the wonderful people who are fighting the big box. i often think those of us who work on our own businesses must be a bit nutty, but it is so wonderful to hear that people everywhere, and even the people i look up to *cough*, are going through the same struggles i am.

ooh I can't wait to hear your podcast!

those photos are wonderful and your model is hot. very nice! although I hear you on steering clear of clothes. I got it all the time and I was selling vintage. 'do you have this in another size?' uh, no.

I love your posts about the reality of cottage industry. I spent the morning just thinking about when I could even face thinking about a business plan. I'm afraid to even consider it because I know it is going to be such a challenge.

Very insightful there, Miss A. And gosh oh gee, those skirts are gorgeous! Are you going to make any more? (har, just joking!)

three words, dear one:

You know what? I loved these skirts the very first time I spied them on your many years ago? I waffled then, for some unknown (and now foolish) reason, all the while ordering other items from you. I deeply regret it, and so, please, if you will, give them one more shot. If only so I can have that which was meant to be mine, so many times over...

And yes, the rest of your post resonates all too clearly for me, and my life. It's a struggle. A constant, unrelenting struggle. As always, thanks for the sounding.

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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