My New Venture – Thingummy Bags 8 months on

In January I wrote about my new venture into selling handmade cotton bags on Etsy.   Eight months on I thought you might be interested in an update.    

First of all, what or who is Etsy?  I was surprised as to how many people have not heard of Etsy.  It is an e-commerce website which provides a marketplace for people around the world to sell and buy handmade and vintage goods.  They charge a small listing fee and transaction fee for every item sold.  It is USA based and a similar UK company is Folksy, I’ve not had any success selling through them. 

  
I have found that it is not just a case of listing goods and hoping someone comes along and buys them.  There is a lot of competition out there and my only hope of selling my cotton bags is to make them unique and ensure that the shop always looks good.  It takes time and hard work.  I have to keep up dating the shop so that items show up on Etsy searches by checking tags are sufficient to draw in prospective buyers and second guessing what people will put in a search tool so that my bags will pop up. 

  
I gave the shop a name – AarTee Designs and called my cotton drawstring bags ‘Thingummy Bags’.  I bought pretty tissue paper to wrap them in when posting off to buyers.   There is nothing nicer than receiving a present, and from the reviews it is clearly appreciated.  Also I always respond within a few hours to a buyer by email to thank them for their order and I endeavor to post a Thingummy Bag within a day of receiving payment.   Customer satisfaction and a good purchasing experience is all important.  

  
Getting the price right has been an absolute headache, because of the competition.  How people can sell bags at such a low price and make a profit beats me.  Even now I don’t sell them at a decent profit.  I use expensive 100% quilting cotton material and it is recommended that pricing should be the cost of materials x 3, this would mean a bag I sell at £12 really should be £15.  I don’t buy lengths of material, which would reduce costs, I buy fat quarters so no two Thingummy Bags are identical.  At the moment I am reticent at increasing my prices because I am competing against similar bags at £7.  It could be they are not as well made and I have heard it said that when prices go up so do sales – something to think about.   

  
Thingummy Bags are various sizes and can be used as knitting bags, lingerie bags, they are ideal for keeping your smalls in one place when traveling, they also make great shoe bags.   One of my main sales pitches is that a Thingummy Bag can be used for anything that you might store in an unattractive non-Eco friendly plastic carrier bag.  After discovering PUL, a waterproof material, the Thingummy Bag range now includes wash bags and nappy bags.  I have made large swimming bags to order from a customers choice of fabric pattern.   Customers have also bought Thingummy Bags to fill with goodies and give as presents, making two gifts in one. 

  
The first few months I was astounded as to how well Thingummy Bags sold, to such an extent in April I was beginning to panic that I couldn’t make enough bags.  Then in May and June sales completely slumped, which was very depressing.   At this point I thought it was time to look around to find other ways of selling.   One lovely lady in the local wool shop agreed to take a few bags on trial, but within a few weeks she moved into a larger shop as a joint venture with another lady who didn’t want to have my bags, so I took them back.   Then I tried another shop which had just opened up, selling local craft goods and renting out shelves at £20 a month with 20% commission on a sale.   May was quite a good month but then there were no sales in June or July, but she said sales in whole shop were very low. I have not renewed renting a shelf, it is cheaper to leave my goods on Etsy. 

  
I was due to foray into the craft stall world at the end of August and made lots of bags but because of a hospital appointment on the same day I have had to cancel.   I hope to sell a lot more Thingummy Bags within the next couple of months as I have some fabulous Christmas fabrics to make into gift bags of different sizes. 
Please spread the word and pay my shop a visit at http://www.aarteedesigns.etsy.com.    There is a 10% blog readers welcome discount quote code WELCOME15

  
The next daunting hurdle is completing an online HMRC tax return!  I’ve not made any profit yet but as a sole trader have had to register. 

A New Venture – What a Minefield!

I said in my first post of 2015 that I would tell you all what I have been up to in the “quiet” months since November.

With the run up to Christmas and the dark evenings, I spent the time making Christmas presents, knitting, crocheting and sewing.   I dusted off my old work horse of a Singer sewing machine and put it into action again.

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I bought this splendid machine, which weighs a ton, when I was 19 after getting fed up with hand sewing clothes.  Back in the 60’s you couldn’t get anything on hire purchase if you were under 21 so my father had to stand guarantee.  Those were the days!

Amongst the many things I made for Christmas were lined cotton drawstring bags; one for knitting projects and a smaller one for my granddaughter, both proved to be very popular.  Following a throw away comment that I didn’t know what to do once Christmas was over as I had nothing else to make. I was encouraged, quite vocally, by family to make more things and sell them using an on-line market place such as Etsy.

When I got home after Christmas I dug out a bag full of material scraps and visited my local fabric shop who were selling fat quarters at half price so I stocked up with supplies.

What is a fat quarter you ask?   Popular with quilters, and absolutely ideal for making cotton bags, a fat quarter is a 1/4th yard cut of fabric that (usually) measures 18″ x 22″.

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I set to and made several bags using two contrasting exterior materials and a further contrasting lining, with mitred corners to give a flat bottom so the bags will stand up.

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Making the bags with flat bottoms was time consuming and the issue of pricing your product comes into play. At what stage do you decide price over the time it takes to make an item? There is little point making anything at a loss.  I could make the bags faster with straight seams and leave the choice of base for custom orders along with the type of ties and size.

There is a lot of information on the internet about pricing home-made goods.   Generally you are suggested to work out the cost of materials, how long it takes to make plus profit.  Initially my bags worked out at £24 each, which was a little worrying when you look on Etsy and Folksy and see similar bags ranging between £4 and £12.   I was told that generally people will buy the more expensive product as it is usually deemed to be better quality, so I thought I would go along with that maxim.

I searched both Etsy and Folksy websites for drawstring bags and felt a bit deflated.  There is so much competition, they seem to be very popular and at this stage I almost shelved the idea.

There is a lot to take on board, after all I am setting up a small business, the most important one is tax.  Was I trading for a profit or just selling goods as a hobby?  If you are “carrying out a trade with a view to making a profit” then it’s trading.   If you sell items you have made at cost (i.e. you enjoy making items as a hobby and sell surplus items at the cost price of the materials, or at a loss) then it is not trading.  I want to make a profit so I am going to have to look into this further.

Still undeterred, I set up my Etsy shop with the name I have always used when making things, AarTee, the phonic of my initials.  Before that I checked there wasn’t another shop with the same name – fortunately I am the only AarTee Designs.  I also re-opened the Folksy shop I had used several years ago and I set up a Facebook page.

https://folksy.com/shops/AarteeDesign
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AarTeeDesigns
https://www.facebook.com/ThingummyBags

I took photos, decided on a product price and uploaded my products.  At the moment I am only selling to the UK and Europe, I feel a bit daunted about selling goods further afield.  I will take a look at what the requirements are to trade outside the EU shortly.

The name ‘Thingy Bags’ came to mind, again before using this, a bit of internet searching was required to see if anyone else was using the same name. Unfortunately there was, so ‘Thingummy Bags’ were born.

Why use a plastic bag when you can use a Thingummy Bag?

The pitch being “Ditch that plastic bag”.  They can be used for shoes, knitting/craft bags, lingerie, separating dirty laundry when away and countless other uses that we use unattractive carrier bags for.

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i get lots of views and several ‘likes’ but it’s getting the product sold that is the name of the game.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could fund my retirement by Thingummy Bags?!   Well I can always dream and in the meantime I will be happy making my bags to stock the shop or as customer orders.

If you sell handmade goods on-line please let me know of any pitfalls you came across that you had not counted on.

Are You a Starter or a Finisher?

Some people are natural “starters.” They live for the creative beginning of projects, but not the day-to-day execution or the follow through. I start things but don’t always finish. My energy comes from seeing new ideas and kicking things off. Apparently Starters love prototyping an idea, but once they’ve figured it out, they’re ready to move on to something else.

That definition makes me a Starter, especially when it comes to knitting. Although there is an enormous sense of achievement when I do finish a project, I have several projects waiting in the wings along with some collecting dust because I just lost interest.

Knitting yarns are a draw to me like a bee to pollen. I can spend as long in a wool shop as many do in a book shop. Online wool shops are also my downfall and I have boxes of wool and half made projects. I suppose strictly speaking I should refer to my stash of wool as a ‘stash of yarn’, not all is actually wool, a lot is a mixture of acrylic and wool and some is 100% acrylic. I do have some skeins of alpaca because I love the feel of it but don’t actually have anything in mind to use it for – yet.

This is my stash of yarn. If you look carefully you will see an unfinished crochet Minion, which seemed like a good idea at the time and I hope to have finished by Christmas. In fairness there are a lot of odds and ends following the actual completion of projects.

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There are three parts to every project, starting, finishing and everything in between. It is the everything in between bit I stumble over.

My problem is that I see a pattern I like and order the yarn without really thinking things through or taking into account what else I have on the go. A good example of this is when I saw an attractive and different cardigan pattern by Bergere De France with the wool on offer and rashly bought it. This was about 4 months ago and I am yet to start it, so on this occasion I am not even a Starter.

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The other issue is my liking for unusual random dyed wools, such as Sirdar Crofter DK. Having never made socks before I bought some of the Crofter wool and pattern. I did actually finish soon after I started, but only one sock and that was at the end of August. Yesterday, the beginning of October, I started its pair. Silly really as they don’t take that long to knit.

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I suppose I could call myself a procastinating finisher, I need to set myself goals. Spurred on by my imminent stay with my daughter and grandchildren, this cardigan for my granddaughter, also knitted in Sirdar Crofter, which I started in July, was completed a few days ago.

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Around about the same time I was carried away with the idea of a cable jumper for my grandson, that way they would both have something knitted by Grannie given to them at the same time. You can see how far I have got with this one. I have set myself a goal for completion – It will be a Christmas present for him, that is December 2014.

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I don’t always buy wool for new projects I do start things using yarn from my stash. There are some great and quick ways of using up leftover yarns, such as tea cosies. This is one I finished recently, despite the fact I am not sure what to do with it. I just liked the pattern, which was an on-line freebie. I can’t even make them to sell and recoup some of the cost of the wool, as patterns like this one specifically state they are only be used for personal use and not for commercial purposes.   I suppose I could give them away on the condition that a donation to a charity such as Macmillan is made, that’s an idea!  Anyone want a tea cosy?

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Then there are the red mittens I decided to make last night for my grandson to go with his Bristol City football scarf, which I gave him last Christmas. Just one mitten to finish by Thursday but as it only took one evening for one mitten this will be achievable.

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Not everything I make is knitted, I do crochet sometimes. This last photo is not only a great stash buster, jargon for using up yarn, but also started and finished with everything in between done without a break. My eldest daughter saw this on Kirstie Allsopp’s Fill Your House For Free and asked me if I had time would I make one. I did on both counts.

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If this post manages anything it will succeed in prompting me into finishing my outstanding projects, whilst I wait for my next purchase of exciting wool to be delivered.

Are you a Starter or Finisher?

My Afghan Blanket Crochet Project

crochet dressHow many of you are old enough to remember crocheted dresses in the 60s and early 70s?   Do you recognise this pattern?  It brings back lots of teenage memories for me.  Always wanting to be in the height of fashion and working in London in the late 60’s (that ages me!) I made several dresses.  My sister-in-law crocheted her wedding dress and  bridesmaid dresses (in sugar almond colours) – such a labour of love.    Then crochet seemed to fall out of fashion and I have not picked up a crochet hook for many a year; that is until recently.

There is a treat of a little wool shop in town called The Wool Bar.   A warm welcome is guaranteed and you will always find people sitting at the old scrubbed pine table in the window with whatever they are making at the time.  Either they have called in for the help and advice which is forever at hand or they just want some “knit and natter” time.   The shop is a treasure trove, full of fabulous yarns, including Louisa Harding and Debbie Bliss as well as unusual designer yarns.

Last year The Wool Bar ran an Afghan blanket project in which 70 people joined in.   I thought it was a great idea and when it was announced that the 2014 Afghan project would be crochet this year, rather than knitted as the previous year, I decided I would join in and make a Afghan blanket.   When the call was given that the yarns for the project were in, I eagerly trotted along to the shop for my wool.   What a choice of colours faced me, making a decision on colours was very difficult!

The way this project works is to initially purchase 30 balls of wool, the suggestion being 6 balls of 5 colours, but of course it could all be of one colour or combination.   I opted for berry colours and bought by King Cole Merino DK (100% superwash wool)  in Cranberry, Heather, Old Rose, Fuchsia and Wine.

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 We are then sent via email, once a month, two patterns for either 4″ or 8″ squares.  It is up to us as to whether we want to do a combination of large and small squares, all small squares or all large.   There are no rules and regulations but the idea is to get through 3 balls of wool a month and depending on the pattern it depends on how many you can make out of the 3 balls.    These are some of the patterns:

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 I have found some of the designs difficult to get the grip of, especially getting the tension and size correct, so have unravelled and remade my squares several times before getting them right.  So far I have crocheted 5 large squares and 3 small ones.   There is a Facebook page which is really useful because  we can discuss the latest patterns and any difficulties, such as changing up or down a crochet hook size to get the correct tension for the design.  We also share our progress and its fun to take a look at the other shades my fellow Afghan Project people have chosen.

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This project will take 10 months and then there will be the task of putting all the squares together.  I daresay a further head scratching decision will have to be made to choose the colour to use to join them. 

Having started this project I thought I should find out what an Afghan Blanket is, especially as a number of friends have asked me.

An Afghan blanket, also called a “throw”, originated in Afghanistan and is made of coloured yarn, knitted or crocheted in geometric shapes.   There are three main styles, mile-a-minute, join as you go and motif.   The Mile-a-minute Afghans are usually one piece with a minimum of stitches.   Join as you go, are made from different pieces, one beginning where the last leaves off.  Finally, the Motif afghan, the one I am making, is the most popular and complex, and made from many different small pieces, which may be of the same design or different designs but typically the same size.

Quite what I will do with the blanket once I have finished I am not sure.  In hindsight, I wish I had chosen more neutral colours because I could have used it on my bed but I fell in love with the idea of berry shades.   At the moment I am thinking I may auction it and give the money to Macmillan Cancer Support so I am spurred on to complete this exciting project and look forward each month to the next patterns dropping into my inbox.   In a few months time, I will publish another short post to update you on the growth of my Afghan 2014 project.  

Back in the Blogging Saddle

Funny how things happen.  All of a sudden just in the last week several people have mentioned that they miss reading my blog.   It’s been 3 months since I wrote anything; to be honest I suppose I just got out of the habit and I have certainly not missed the pressure I felt to write regularly and post to the blog.

What opening line do you use when starting to write blog post after a long break?

Hi people I’m back!  Bet you wonder where I have been.   Or, simply start to write as though there has not been a break. 

I think I will go for the last one with an apology to those who have missed the blog.

I’ve coped with the fatigue, nausea and destroyed taste buds that come with chemotherapy albeit since the change in regime in September, it has been manageable with a cocktail of anti-nausea drugs.  In the big scheme of things my side effects have been nothing compared to what others go through so I am thankful for that.  After the initial dosage which was too toxic for my body leading to unscheduled stay in Intensive Care  with sepsis, I was taken off the intravenous drip and given half the dose of the chemo tablets.  Fingers crossed that this milder (!) regime of chemotherapy has done its work and killed off any rogue cancer cells that may be lurking in my lymph nodes.  My last chemo is next week, it seems to have gone on forever.  The CT scan, due in two weeks, will tell all, but I have a good feeling that it will be clear.   I am back at work three days a week, which is draining but satisfying, it makes me feel life is getting back to  normal.

What have I been doing the last few months?  Well certainly nothing in the garden.  With the constant rain it is like a quagmire.  I  took a hoe to the bottom flower bed this morning just to loosen the flattened soil, and I wondered where the sound of rushing water was coming from.  Turned out to be the waterlogged soil and as I moved one part, water was oozing up from another section.  I decided to leave well alone after that, coupled with complete exhaustion after just 10 minutes! Another reason why the garden has not had much of my time.

Back to what have I been doing.  I have resumed the gentle art of knitting and crochet.   It has been most satisfying –  I won’t dwell on it being tough on the budget!  The local and online wool shops draw me in like a moth to a flame and I find it hard to resist the wonderful yarns on the market these days.  I have a large stash (a knitters term for a collection of yarns) waiting to be used.   I have discovered the brilliant website www.Ravelry.com which was described by someone as “like Facebook for knitters”.   It is full of patterns, a lot of which are free to download, along with other members sharing their projects complete with notes and the yarns they used.   The other website is www.loveknitting.com, their wools arrive in organza bags which makes it all the more special.  I have bought the most wonderfully soft alpaca wools which I am totally obsessed with now.

Family and friends received a wealth of handmade gifts for Christmas.  My daughters had gloves and neck warmers, and my grandson had his first football scarf and hat.   This is knitted using a circular needle to give it is regulatory double thickness and in obtaining the length of 60″ I felt I was never going to get to the end.  So glad I didn’t have a seam to sew afterwards, it was just a fringe that finished it off.   The hat was minus a pom-pom as my grandson refuses to wear hats with a pom pom.

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For my granddaughter I knitted her a Fairy Doll.  I sewed and stuffed as I went rather than knit all the pieces first and then sew it all together once finished, it made her creation all the more fun watching her come to life so to speak.  Her legs were a little longer than they should have been, giving an overall height of 14″.

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Another of my many Christmas knits was a Christmas Pudding tea cosy, made to order for daughter #1.  There are so many patterns on the Web eventually I cobbled one together of my own design, although a christmas pudding is a christmas pudding so there was nothing too original about it.  I used a great fluffy white yarn called, appropriately, Snowflake for the icing top.

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I’ve also been busy making a woolly hats to sell on my resurrected on-line shop AarTee Designs on Folksy.  Although this is not been too successful, there are so many knitted hats on that website the competition is great.  I found this when trying to sell handmade cards on the same site a few years ago.   However, since being back at work I have made a few to order which have gone down well.  I am donating £2 of every sale to Macmillan Cancer Support as the very hard working nurses have been a wonderful support.

What project do I have on the go now?  Mainly it is a scarf for my Dad’s 90th birthday at the end of February.   I am using a beautiful baby alpaca, in a random blue to purple shading, it  is a dream to knit.  It will be my constant hug to him as he wears it.

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My blog may well now become more handicraft based than garden based but having written the above I remembered how much I enjoyed it.  I do have a number of other knitting and crochet projects on the go but I will write about them another time.

It’s good to be back!

Embarking on a New Project

It’s funny how an idea can snowball.

We have a great wool shop in the town called The Wool Bar, it sells wonderful interesting wools, has unusual patterns and if you have any knitting/crochet problems there is always someone to help you out. A few weeks ago I joined their Facebook page and since then have gathered lots of ideas for knitting projects. There is only so much I can do in my small garden and not being at work at the moment am beginning to get exceptionally bored. I need other things to do and an opportunity of trying to make a little extra money also.

There was as a great knitting pattern/wool pack for a slouch hat on The Wool Bar FB page which I bought to set me going. I thought I would buy a few more balls to make a selection of hats, unfortunately they didn’t have any more of the King Cole Galaxy DK wool. When I got home I ordered from the Black Sheep Wools website four other balls in an assortment of shades. It arrived in just a few days, so I was up and running, circular needles at the ready.

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It has been a long time since I have used circular needles so had to have a quick reminder courtesy of You Tube – such a great way of learning how to do anything. Within two days I had finished my first hat.

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I had a Folksy shop a few years ago to sell handmade cards, so have revisited it with a view to revamping it to sell my knitted hats. I am under no illusions, there are so many doing the same thing so the competition is enormous. The prices vary incredibly, one shop sells hats at £5 each and has what seems like good trading figures. Other Folksy shops sell handmade knitted hats for as much at £20. The dilemma now is how much to sell them for. The wool was £3.29 a ball, only one required for each hat and it took me two days to complete. This will take a little working out.

Aware that I have to make a small supply before re opening the shop but at the same time not make too many in case nothing sells. There is a shop at the top of my road that sells polystyrene in all shapes and forms including heads. I will get one as it will be better for showing off the finished product rather than photographing them flat, it may look a bit more professional. Before I go to the shop, I’ll advertise on Freecycle in case someone has one to give away for nothing.

Caught by the knitting bug, and the excitement of having something definite to spend my time on, I purchased a chunky hat pattern and Sirdar Click Chunky wool yesterday and finished off another hat this morning.

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Another discovery is a great website called Ravelry which is packed full of projects and patterns, some of which can be downloaded and all can be saved to your own library page. I can see that this is a website I will be visiting often.

The market for handmade cards is overflowing these days, but I may also look at selling cards and notelets using some of my better photos. This brings another dilemma of what to call a shop on Folksy that sells hats and cards. Thinking cap on! By the time I have made enough hats and cards I will have come up with an idea I am sure.

© Hurtlingtowards60 and Hurtled to 60 and Now Beyond ©AarTeePhotography; Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited