Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Grandfather's Legacy

My grandfather's grandfather was a knife maker. He invented--and I promise, I'm not making this up--the serrated-edge bread knife, a story Grandad would've told you in a heartbeat if you'd asked. All through the late 19th century, his company manufactured knives in northern Ohio, and continued until two world wars made steel so expensive that they couldn't maintain the patents and competition made the company less profitable.

It never went out of business, though, and through 2007, my grandfather continued to run it nearly single-handedly out of the warehouse building his father had purchased. In November of that year, my grandfather died and the business came to a halt.

Had I ever won the lottery, buying that company and building it up again would've been one of my fondest wishes. No lottery for me, I'm afraid. But it's been very cool to see what's happened to the legacy my Grandad left behind.

One example? The image, above, is a commissioned sculpture using the parts from the factory that were originally designed to manufacture the signature Christy Knife, the sliding-blade pocket knife my great-grandfather invented after dreaming about it late one night.

From an email I received from my aunt:

The Fremont Public School Art teachers were commissioned to create a
sculpture for Memorial Hospital. The sculpture reflects Louise
Nevelson's work, a Russian born American Abstract Expressionist. The
sculpture is Mind, Body, and Spirit. The pieces used to develop this
sculpture have been donated by the Christy Company.
They are the boxes and patterns used in production. The patterns were
used to make castings. The castings were used to make the machinery,
that was used to manufacture Christy products.

I think Grandad would've liked that.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Just when you think you have it all figured out....

I know I pretty much threw up over all y'all with that last post, but apparently I had some things that needed getting off my chest.  I think at the time I was going through the process of letting go of what I thought Pretty Jane was meant to be--but I had no real idea what Pretty Jane was becoming.  It might've come off as grumpy and bitter and for that, I'm super sorry.

Here's the funny part, though: this past weekend, I took part in the Inman Park Festival, one of the biggest annual street markets here in Atlanta.  I was there under the Pretty Jane name, but had designed my booth to really promote Whipstitch, since the last few months that's where my energy has been going and it was where I saw myself moving professionally.  I took about four dozen Pretty Jane pieces with me--the same styles I've taken before, but a pared down selection.  The Lily reversible jumper, the Abigail pinafore, the Jacob western-style boys' shirt.  Some of those hand-dyed knits I showed you a few weeks ago.  And guess what?

I sold them.  I sold those puppies like crazy.  I think I expected to go and have folks really interested in the fabric and the classes (which they were) and largely ignore the clothing, almost as though my designs were a prop to promote everything else.  But that's not what happened at all.

I've been telling my husband for months that the reason I do all three--design, teach, sell fabric--is because they feed one another and build off one another.  I guess part of me kept thinking I was exaggerating that a bit, and that I'd come to a point where it was no longer true.  I got my feelings all hurt by someone else's bad behavior and was feeling pretty down about my abilities and vision as a designer.  This past weekend really changed that for me, and made me more aware of the true interconnectedness of all the things I do--which was such a joyous, joyous discovery.  I hated the thought that any one of my teeny triumverate would have to give way to allow the others to grow.

Pretty Jane will live on--I'm reconfiguring the website to move my few remaining pieces over to the Pretty Jane Etsy shop (the shop I set up ages ago and never listed in), and hope to see the same level of excitement and acceptance there that I did in my little booth this past weekend.  If you were one of the lovely people who came by and smiled and said nice words and bought a jumper or a shirt, thank you!  You can't know how good your compliments and enthusiasm were for my soul.

Soon: photos of the booth, featuring all the yummy designs from this spring, and images of up-and-coming Etsy deliciousness, debuting over the next few weeks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Finding Myself

As I regroup, I came upon this quiz (via PlayIsTheThing) and figured it was worth a go. I wonder if I was unduly influenced by the fact that I adore the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility far beyond good measure? In my defense, as a former teacher of Literature, I'm kinda required to love Jane Austen, even if I do prefer Jane Eyre (still the funniest book I've ever read).

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where Have You Been, Pretty Jane?

Away. Busy. Overwhelmed. Changing directions. Moping, occasionally.

I've been going through A Thing.

On the one hand, I've been starting a new venture--have I mentioned Whipstitch yet, my baby, my passion? It's really taking off and becoming so much more than I ever, ever thought it could be. I mostly blog about it separately rather than here, but there are a lot--A LOT--of gray areas, and sometimes I want to bring the overflow of all that excitement to this venue more. I'm sorry I haven't done that.

On the other hand, Pretty Jane has been doing some...well, not really growing. UNgrowing? Is that a real thing? And I didn't want to write about it--still don't really, so forgive me if I'm abstract and oblique when it comes to details today. Perhaps I'll feel more like elaborating as time goes by.

As Whipstitch grows, I've had to do a lot of hard thinking about what Pretty Jane IS. Ironic, no? When I've been building up and building up with posts and previews and giveaways of the spring line. I've said since the beginning of this company that I didn't really believe that Pretty Jane, as a company, was what my life holds for me--but with equal utter certainty, that Pretty Jane would lead in a very direct way TO what my life holds for me. The success and excitement and anticipation and satisfaction that I am currently seeing with Whipstitch leads me to see the truth in that vision, and to be very, very grateful for it. It also necessitates some changes of structure.

I wrote earlier this year that I was scaling back on Pretty Jane, planning to sew every piece myself again, that I'd had enough of playing Sisyphus and trying to push that boulder up the hill. My plan was to reduce my scale and focus more on my family. As soon as I began to do that, Whipstitch moved in as an entity with its own motivation, and has shown me what needs to be done next. That has been nothing short of a revelation for me, and I am so, so grateful.

To cement that, there have been bad experiences. There has been a lot of hurt. Reading a post over on Kelly Rae's blog today really drove that home for me. She alludes to a lot of the behavior that has led me to want to walk away from Pretty Jane altogether, the kind of insecurity and dishonesty that seems to come out with fangs bared when the economy gets bad and suddenly people feel threatened. Hypocrisy shows up then, too. I want very badly for my work, especially the creative part of me that is Pretty Jane, to be about so much more than just the stuff I make. I want it to reflect who I am and what I stand for and what matters most in this world.

It's been hard to feel passionate about Pretty Jane at a time when I feel a little defensive. But here is what I've learned, and where I stand: I love designing, and I know the things I make are good. I know that imitation is constant and relentless in this field--in any field. I also know that often inspiration and imitation are difficult to distinguish, and that it is possible for two individuals to have markedly similar ideas with no contact between them.  It saddens me to see so many people who could so easily work together and learn and benefit from one another work AGAINST each other and struggle needlessly. I feel a little ill when one individual accuses another of stealing an idea or a design or a concept and then turns right around and does the exact same thing.  Consistency is a reflection of one's ideals, and inconsistency is a reflection of a lack of character.  It makes me sad to see so much insecurity, so many people marking out territory in what is, essentially, unimportant--yes, I know that there are designers whose livelihood depends on the income from their design work, but I also know that none of this matters as much as our families and our friends and our spirits and our hearts. I will sacrifice none of those things in order to get ahead, and I will not go to the mat to fight over who invented what and who got there first.  You want it? Take it. I'll just go make something better.

I suppose this sounds as though I disagree with what Kelly said; in fact, I don't. I feel very strongly that each person who designs and innovates should get full credit for what they do and what they create. I also feel that duplication is a part of the free market, and as such, is the price each of us pays for putting our ideas out there. Kelly gives excellent guidelines for a personal set of checks-and-balances to determine if you, in your heart, feel that you have appropriated someone else's ideas prior to selling them for profit; I urge you to read what she has to say.  It allowed me to work through some of the lingering ickiness I've been feeling, so that I can let it go and make a constructive new start.

One of the things I love most about Whipstitch is that it gives me the opportunity to sing the praises of other creators and designers. I've always felt a little hesitant to link to other sewers (and children's designers, especially) on this blog because I know that some of them DON'T want their work to be associated with any other designer--a concept I find deeply foreign and so confusing. I'm thrilled to talk about and talk up and revel in the ideas of others, and I feel so liberated to do that through Whipstitch.

And so, having digested all that, Pretty Jane has begun to tell ME what needs to come next. I'm leaving the boutique in which I've been a member for over two years, and am no longer taking custom orders. As of May 1, Pretty Jane will be Etsy-only, and I feel so, so good about that decision. No more pressure to produce volume--did I ever mention that manufacturing has always been the bane of my existance?? I love design, but manufacturing is HARD! No more pressure to try to outsmart the consumer and predict what they'll want--I just get to make what I like, and if others like it, too, well that's one more reason to greet the day with gratitude.

I hope none of this comes across sounding anything other than jubilant. I'm so thankful for everything Pretty Jane has offered me these last two years, and have learned so much. A lot about who I am and who I want to be. A lot about how to run a business and how to treat people, both of which feed directly into Whipstitch and are allowing me to experience the true happiness I am finding there.  Even the bad stuff has been good, really.  It has forced me to take a long look at my own motives and see if I measure up to the standards I set for others, a practice I think few of us do often enough.

I'm not leaving this blog. Just FYI. But it's becoming more personal in nature, more about me and my family and less about Pretty Jane. Pretty Jane has always been me, anyway, that part of me that wants to run and play. How sad that the last year or so I've felt like she was getting too rambunctious and needed to be told to settle down! Time to let her out again--thanks to all of you who've been so kind, you've been the balance to the mean voices, the insecure competitors who have taken the fun out of the game. I'm taking my toys and heading back to the Big Sandbox, and I hope to meet your smiling faces there for a long time to come!

The sun has already begun to shine, and shine bright, over at Whipstitch.  It's headed back over here, too.  See you soon, with my smile on...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Convo with my Husband

Him: Do you even blog anymore?

Me (snippily):  YES, as a matter of fact, I DO.

Him:  Really?

Me (saucier):  YES!

Him:  Um, when?

Me:  When you're not looking.


Me:  I'm a busy woman! I can't be expected to blog every day.

Him:  How about ANY day?


Him:  Love you.


Me (grudgingly):  Love you, too.

(He turns his back)

(I stick out my tongue)

Him:  I can see you in the mirror.  You know that, right?

Me:  I don't have any idea what you're talking about.  I have to go blog now.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Preview #4: Instant Wardrobe

When did I say this next preview would be posted?? Let's just pretend it was today, shall we? All better then.

Here, then, is the Instant Wardrobe for girls.

The Abigail pinafore, always a popular seller. Plus a pair of shorts, a pair of long pants, and an appliqued tee.

All in coordinating fabrics, to be worn in nearly limitless combinations:
Wear the Abigail alone.

Wear the Abigail with the tee.

Wear the tee with the shorts.

Or the tee with the pants.

Or the Abigail with the pants.

Or the Abigail with the shorts.

Or the Abigail with the tee with the shorts.

Or the Abigail with the tee with the pants.

You get the idea.

In lots of different fabric combinations, as you can see. The pants and shorts in cotton are mostly flat-front with a hip pocket, but some are elastic waist. All the linen pants are elastic waist, with a wide leg for roomy playtime (oh, and ALL the linen is machine washable, just like the cottons, because I can't be bothered with anything else!). I'm partial to the giant dahlias and the apple dot, but I'm pretty wild about the Jay McCarroll deer-and-shrooms up against the Michael Miller pretty plaid in peony pink (say that five times fast).

Personally, I've always gravitated towards separates as a shopper and as a dresser. But this spring, I'm concentrating a little more on coordinates in general and on "sets" of clothing--not outfits necessarily, but a mini-grouping that can be worn lots of ways. Makes me feel as though I'm getting more from less, and that seems to be how ALL of us are feeling right now.

Next up: Tween Time!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hey! I'm a Wreck!

Check out this article about the discovery of the Pretty Jane off the Australian coast.

And like, I'm a trained archaeologist who always wanted to do underwater work on shipwrecks, ever since my grandfather took us snorkeling among them as kids. Plus, I'm totally of Scottish descent, and I've always wanted to go to Australia! Is this some kind of sign?? Or am I just really, really overworked and thinking crazy-making thoughts?