I’ve been trying to write this blog post for most of this year but events conspire against me.  I actually did knuckle down and write it once, and then the entire thing mysteriously vanished, unrecoverable and unsaved.  Meanwhile, the story actually changes as my business grows and so here I am having another bash at it.

At the very start of this year (2017), I didn’t have a sewing business at all, nor did I particularly want one.  I was returning to IT contract work after a year of maternity leave and had the nursery places booked.  I just needed to find work and get on with juggling responsibilities and paying the bills.  However, things didn’t go to plan; the contract market was sluggish and I wasn’t anyone’s first choice, having been out of the market for a year.  A couple of interviews came up and one even turned into a job offer but was then withdrawn at the 11th hour, leaving me devastated and anxious while the childcare bills mounted up.

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Fabric all over the walls of my house, even where kitchen cupboards should be

I had started collecting fabric while I was on maternity leave; most of it was vintage fabric (with the occasional bit of contemporary Marimekko) which ended up framed on walls all over the house.  I made a few simple cushion covers for friends as a way of passing the time waiting for a job to come up and somewhere along the way I got hooked on doing what I do.

I think the big turning point was going to a flea market and coming across bundles of beautiful (and originally very expensive!) remnants which were being sold by an interior design company.  I sorted through them and kind of knew instinctively which would sell well as cushion covers.  Then I handed over every penny I had and dragged an extremely heavy bundle of offcuts and remnants back to the car.

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the posh remnants which started it all, and they sold extremely well!

I made a few more covers and my technique started to evolve.  Envelope backs (a simple overlap of fabric and no zip) felt suddenly amateurish and so I began the efforts to learn how to sew invisible zips.  There were a few disasters (wrong zipper foot on machine, cheap zips that wouldn’t stay in place while sewing, you name it – I’ve done it) but now I have a single supplier of zips that I like.  They get ironed before being sewn and they are totally invisible!

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Never ending supplies of invisible zips, teeth lightly ironed before being sewn
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Just a few short months ago I had no idea what an invisible zipper foot was…
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Invisible zips in situ

Then I realised I needed a proper channel for selling.  Etsy seemed like the obvious choice and so a shop was quickly set up.  And a business name!  What on earth should this venture be called?  I decided to keep it simple and consistent and so Blue Lizard Textiles it was, tying in with my blog and also my IT company (which is Lagarto Azul, Blue Lizard in Spanish).  I had a popup shop mentality: this was all a temporary bit of fun and no need to think too hard about corporate identity as it would probably all end the following week.  However, I did go ahead and set up social media accounts for my business and they’re all still growing too (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram)

And then in the spring Clover, my four year old, became seriously ill and was expected to be in hospital for a lengthy period.  Time to throw in the towel?  I thought yes initially, but then realised we would need a home based income more than ever as it now looked unlikely I would return to corporate life in the near future.  And so my life then revolved around cutting and sewing whenever I was at home, and marketing via social media and buying new supplies when I was in hospital.  It was extra pressure in a way, but it was also a welcome distraction as our lives became increasing distorted.

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Oh I do love a linen!  And a botanical print! 

By early summer, Clover was at home recovering and the business was slowly growing.  The profits weren’t staggering and actually are laughable compared to my old job but I was still enjoying it 95% of the time.  The fabric piles continued to grow, an almost exact split between brightly coloured vintage fabric from the 50s through to the 70s and various assortments of contemporary fabric.  I’ve often tried to work out if there’s a theme to the fabrics I use but it’s hard to define.  I’m certainly very fussy about what I buy and I think the common themes are botanical, geometric and retro.  The modern fabrics have to be high quality as well as desirable and I try to make sure I’m selling something that no one else is!  And let’s be clear about something here: I could never design a fabric myself in a million years.  What I can do though is spot a decent print at 100 metres, whether its 60s curtains at a flea market or a misspelt Ebay listing.

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Fancy something blue?  Theres’ everything here from 50s botanical barkcloth to Christian Lacroix, 70s floral curtains to contemporary linen block print mountains

So summer was going well.  Until my breast cancer diagnosis fetched up in early August.  Again, I thought about whether I should continue and decided there was no reason why not.  I’d need the income more than ever during treatment and actually it’s pretty easy to pace myself and work around commitments and so I decided it was business as usual.  August also saw the arrival of my first overlocker which has taken things to a new level of workmanship.

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The overlocker: initially object of terror but now I’m utterly dependent on it AND can actually rethread it in a couple of minutes!

One aspect of it I’ve really enjoyed is the photography.  It’s an extremely competitive market out there and product photos have to demonstrate your wares in so many different ways:  cut out, close up, scale, lifestyle and so on.  The time I can spend on photographing each cushion is extremely limited but I’ve managed to create a bit of a routine now: cushion flat on a white board accompanied with a reflector for the cut out shot, then cushion on chair or sofa with accessories and wall decoration for the lifestyle shot.  I try to keep things varied and in keeping with the fabric being used and have a small arsenal of chairs, vases and so on to arrange in various combinations.  My house has very poor natural light and so I also keep a close eye on the weather and time of day as this can make a huge difference to light quality.

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Plain linen twill cushions with a Marimekko backdrop
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One of my favourite vintage fabric finds in a seasonal flat lay
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Some fennel and other pretty plants picked from the allotment, ready to be used in a photoshoot
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A brief bout of toddler sabotage!
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The finished article

And so here we are, skidding towards Christmas and the end of the year.   Things are still going well; I work around the rollercoaster which is my health and try and pace myself.  There’s piles of fabric all over the house, waiting to be cut and sewn then photographed and listed (I already have covers in over 40 different fabrics on Etsy)  It’s a great distraction and there’s never a shortage of fabric I want to buy although I do try to impose limits.  I’ll hopefully post again soon and show you some of the new arrivals…