Saturday, October 06, 2007

Learning The Ropes

I have been collecting aprons for a few years. I’ve always had one or two pretty ones that I’d dig out when my mom was making tamales at Christmas time or when I used to serve up lattes at Troy Café, but ever since my days as Mothra Stewart in the apron-wearing band Stay at Home Bomb, my love for this useful little accessory has grown steadily. A few years back I began scouring thrift stores for vintage aprons and recently I’ve started sewing my own. They’re relatively easy for a beginning seamstress like me. A simple waist apron requires that you be able to sew a few straight seams and that’s all, but they can be very feminine and elaborate too.

Stay at Home Bomb

I started sewing about a year and a half ago after having to whip up a poodle skirt for my daughter to wear to a school dance. After a little success with that I started making bags, simple gifts sewn from Mexican oil cloth, homemade dresses and skirts, and worked my way up to a button down shirt. My friends are always gracious and seem to appreciate the things I make for them. I like to think they really like their gift, but I’ve had a nagging doubt that makes me wonder if they’re just being polite and they’re secretly rolling their eyes when I gift them with yet another homemade treasure.

Homemade "treasures"...

This weekend I decided to put myself to the test. I wanted to see if my aprons were something that only I and my friends would like or if they could appeal to impartial shoppers. My friend Angie came out to visit me from California with the intention of joining me in our very first craft fair. We gathered up a bunch of aprons that we’d sewn over the summer, rigged up a coat rack with a CD holder on top and set up on the street. Phoenix’s art galleries hold openings the First Friday of each month and local crafters set up tables in the vacant lots that dot the downtown art neighborhood. There are usually musicians who set up makeshift stages. There are no fees, no auditions to play; it’s completely DIY so you have to be willing to take charge of everything. Some vendors mooch power from the galleries and shops by running extension cords; a band last night brought their own gas powered generator, some go unplugged. Angie and I took some camping lanterns, but we didn’t need them because we found a good spot under a street light on the busy corner of 5th and Roosevelt.

"Get Your Red-Hot Aprons Here!" The tenacious Angie Skull.

We were so excited all day, ironing our aprons, pricing them, making a cute poster, rigging up the coat rack so that we could hang our aprons. No sooner had we set up our aprons than a huge gust of wind kicked up and knocked our rack of freshly pressed aprons onto the ground. We picked them up dusted them off, but the wind wouldn’t let up. Our apron poster fell over about a hundred times, our rack and all the aprons fell over 3 more times and we were seriously bumming thinking that we would have to take turns holding up the rack all night. When my husband and daughter showed up with sandbags they’d “borrowed” from a construction site. We weighted the coat rack down so that it would teeter in the wind but not fall over without giving us a chance to catch it.

Our mood improved after that but we still had to hover pretty close to our stuff. The up side of that was that we heard everything people said about our work and it was all complimentary. The downside is that we behaved like preschool mothers on the first day of school, not because we were worried about our aprons but we didn’t want to have an unsuspecting shopper get knocked over by an avalanche of aprons. I think we scared the customers away. After a couple of near accidents, Angie and I really did end up having to take turns holding up the rack. It was demoralizing. I was ready to pack the stuff up and give up, but Angie, who is one of the stubbornest people I know, insisted that we stay. After a while a large parade of zombies passed by. About fifty or sixty people dressed like something out of Night of the Living Dead walked through the crowd, all of them in character. Not one was smiling or chatting with a friend. That cheered me up, as zombies always do. A few minutes later, a group of people dressed in very fine and elaborate Ghostbuster outfits rushed by on their way to solve a case. A local roller derby outfit, The Coffin Draggers were there selling sweets to raise money for their team. How could I be bummed?

After three and a half hours, Angie had sold three aprons and I’d sold one. I had told myself that I’d be happy if I sold even one apron, but the one I sold was to a friend, so I proved nothing. I did learn lots of things my first craft fair. I learned that I should iron my aprons the night before, that I should check the weather report and most importantly, that I have friends who appreciate (and even pay for) my homemade goods just because they’re my friends. That is the sweetest lesson of all.

Click on my Flickr badge in the blog margin to see some more of my homemade aprons.


Jenny Lens said...

Ohmygawd, your aprons are ah-mazing! I don't say that as your friend, but I am blown away. One reminds me of quilts, it's lavender, mauve, pink with teal green trim, like a flower looking downward, with petals spreading outward.

My only suggestion is every apron have a pocket, but what do I know? Would that work on my fave apron I just described?

I use a black apron from the art supply store when I eat veggies so I don't get mango juice when eating the fruit or green veggie juice when making or drinking and mess up my old white tees. LOL!

I'm surprised you haven't gotten into quilting bees!

Keep it up! One of the many things I've learned, long ago and reiterated today, is you can't judge your work by others. That's why I love being online and in books, docs, mags, etc.

I initially took photos and got back into it to spread the word and keep our legacy alive: the people I shot, not me. But I never ever thought about how this would change my life, and bring so many good people and activities into my life. That's what the sewing is doing for you!

Being creative opens up our world, but not everyone is ready. Too many don't know what season it is, unless they see decorations in a store. They don't feel the fall coming, see the sunlight change colors, the air become drier and cooler, and feel the changes each day (starting in August). Will they notice the flowers starting to bloom in a few months, or only notice something when the gardens are in full bloom?

So how can they recognize the beauty, thought, etc that goes into each of your aprons and other things you make?

The people who appreciate my work and me are not my neighbors. My neighbors downstairs think they are hot to trot cos they work in online video and hang with their 20-something pals. They don't "get" who their upstairs neighbor is. So what, I have tons of 20-something friends from all over the place who "get" me. I know you know what I am saying.

So what if people walked by and you only sold one apron? And all the odds were against you -- that wind situation would have blown my cool. Alice, you know me, I don't have patience for that kind of stuff. So the fact you hung in there is something to be proud of!

Seriously, think about quilting. I think you would love that, just wonder if there's a cool quilting bee around you? I was stunned to find out how that's really picked up in the last decade.

Quilting is so relaxing and creative. Don't think traditional, you can find books and I bet examples online of really wild quilts that have one thing in common: lots of cloth, and add some embroidery and beads and sequins, and off you go. You can tell I've done it and I miss it. How I loved to embroider when I was a kid, up through college. I gotta live long enough to scan my MFA project, quilts, weavings, yarns and beads and threads. But I digress . . .

Hang in there, and keep sharing your stories and more photos. I loved seeing examples on your table and your flickr gallery.

I'm so busy rebuilding my blog/site and so busy with online ideas. My head is about to explode! I've been searching for YEARS to figure this out. Although my money was stolen by a "seedy" producer, I'm determined to do this, with no idea how to pay my bills this month, as usual.

People are responding and it's not just about selling the photos. Too early to discuss, but in trying to find ways to promote my photos, I'm finding ways of building other businesses too. I gotta raise money for the photos, and in doing so, my world is expanding online.

I feel like the white rabbit, so much to do and so late. So I LOVE reading about your crafting!!

Keep doing what feels good. The desert zombies don't know what they are missing.

Gotta drink my morning tea, later than usual. Listened to a great webinar about online marketing and social media groups.

Have to type up my notes, then get back to my new

I'm gonna link to you and your nice blurb about me. Hope I can send some traffic your way and more can enjoy your great blogs and aprons.

Much love as usual. YOU INSPIRE ME.

Anonymous said...

don't give up, when I did the punk rock drive in. NO ONE bought anything, no brownies, no buttons or postcards. But you have to keep on trying, which I know you do this anyway. Next time will be Better!


Lise said...

It sounds like you made the best of a bad situation. Next time you may want to talk to some of the other vendors in advance to get advice on specifics about the location, the clients, stuff like that. Each fair is different and even though you didn't sell very much this time you could show the exact same aprons in another location and sell out. So don't give up, just do your homework. The aprons are sweet!

Anet Yepiz said...

Hi Alice and
Angie wow those are great aprons...I've been crafting myself...I will send you a photo of what I've been doing too ......