Kaizen

Kaizen = continual improvement.

I love this concept . . . when you take something that is good and change it to make it even better. This works for creative projects, relationships, financial health, physical health and all aspects of life. It's a great concept and it was a Kaizen week for me!

I received an inquiry from a children's museum in the USA who wanted sock raccoons that could withstand daily 'play' and the washer and dryer. I responded that my sock animals probably were not strong enough. They countered with an offer to send me new material so I could try a different method in order to make them museum-children-playing worthy! 

I was intrigued by their persistence and honoured that they liked my design enough to push me to try to improve it for their benefit and mine. It was a win-win! 

So I spent some time at the fabric store and asked the experts for advice. I came home with a bundle of arctic fleece samples and redesigned the raccoon by replacing the felt material (eyes, nose and tail) with fleece. Then I tossed him in the washer and dryer, took before and after pictures and he turned out great! I sent the photo evidence to the museum and they doubled their order and I've got a few weeks to complete and send! 

I appreciate the opportunity to consider improving the design. I could have said "no" and left things as they were but as the concept of Kaizen suggests, take what is already good and change it! In fact, this experience has inspired me to book a regular time each month to consider what else is good and could be changed to be better!

Continuous change can be exhausting and contentment is a virtue, so I'm not taking the Kaizen approach to every minute of every day . . . there are times to relax and celebrate and enjoy things as they are!

But I love the idea that creativity doesn't have to stop once something is made or designed! I like my new raccoon design and using new material has opened up other ideas too. A good Kaizen week!

Wading in . . .

One thing I've learned in this creative business is that wading in can be just the right pace!  Sometimes ideas need to be slowly explored and evaluated as we go rather than trying to decide and commit all at once.

For instance, this past year I explored the idea of applying and setting up shop at a permanent farmer's market. I looked into the details and thought that it seemed quite manageable. I emailed the organizer and asked ten questions. He returned my email with his answers and I decided to apply. The application itself took some time, some decision making and needed some good photos etc. Then a few months later, my application was accepted and I was given a date to show up to a jury who would view my products and either approve or reject them. The first date got cancelled due to scheduling issues for the organization and a second date was then set for the following month.

By the time the actual jury date came around, other life circumstances had happened, new information had come my way regarding my own calendar commitments for the year and it was beginning to look like being a vendor every Saturday was NOT a good fit for me. I didn't know this months ago when I started exploring, but I knew now. So I sent an email a few weeks before the jury date and thanked them for the opportunity and withdrew my application. 

I have no regrets! Had I jumped in to the deep end right away, I would not have learned some of the information I needed in order to make a good decision and one that I could follow through with. Wading in . . . one step at a time . . . allowed me to explore and get closer to the answers I was looking for. 

What are you considering these days? Is there a way to wade in, explore, learn new information by taking a few steps? Go for it! Wade in, the water's fine! 

Bear Ears and Lazy Bones

I've heard people say "I'd do more creative things but I just don't have time", or "I'd work on crafts but I just don't have a craft room!" 

So this photo is of my legs, wrapped in a furry blanket, watching our son's volleyball game while cutting out bear ears for some polar bears I'm working on. I wasn't feeling great tonight, some tough pain, and I didn't want to sit at the table or stand at the counter . . . so I grabbed a few supplies, got comfy and made a stack of bear ears! It's a slightly boring task, monotonous and not too challenging, but it is also very rewarding to later grab a stack of pre-made parts to add onto the bears for the finishing touch. It saves me time in the end and it served as a good distraction to my own pain challenge this evening!

I've learned that being creative is not a one-size-fits-all kind of life!  Being creative is just that . . . "being" creative. It involves you being who you are, in the stage of life you're in, doing what you can with what you have and offering that to the world. Even if your projects don't go out anywhere beyond your own home, the creative time spent did something in you, changed you and probably relaxed you (if you didn't get too perfectionist about it! :) )

Maybe there is a project that you've been wanting to try or finish but procrastination has gotten in the way. Maybe you have felt like you need a craft room or a large area to leave your supplies out but because of family or roommates or space constraints, you can't. Here are 3 ideas that might solve these challenges and open up some creative freedom for you! 

1. "I need a flat surface to store my craft/project on."

Bike stores have huge cardboard boxes that are strong, mostly flat, and can be easily transformed into a "drawer" for sliding under a bed. You can alter the box into two drawers or simply one large "tray" that your project can stay on and be lifted out onto a table when there is room. A little duct tape and cardboard go a long way! Visit a bike store near you today . . . they're happy to get rid of boxes.

 

 

 

2. "Craft storage systems are expensive."

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Be patient! Second hand stores often end up with storage containers that other people have tried but found not quite right for them. . . but It may be just right for you! Be willing to start with a 'less than perfect' set up. You might use glass pickle jars for awhile and then when you find something that works better, just recycle the jars and switch systems! I think it's fun to keep improving your storage so that it's effective for you but it doesn't have to be expensive. I've heard of people using an old sturdy suitcase and clear zip lock bags to contain their supplies. It keeps supplies together, contained, organized and all in one place. Why not? Find out what can work for you and go for it!

3. "I want to start and finish a project on the same day". 

Visit  SimplyKelly  here!

Visit SimplyKelly here!

That goal can be a challenge! Sounds like you may need to set aside specific time on your calendar to do that. I know some people who save their projects for when they go on holidays. If that works for you, go for it. If those types of days are hard to find on your calendar, here's another idea.

 I have a friend,  SimplyKelly who has started to make and sell watercolor paintings and art cards. She found some good quality colourful file folders that were not being used and thought that they might make good cardstock for behind the paintings. She glues the watercolors to the cardstock, then puts them under a stack of books to dry flat, then adds ink details, then signs them, takes photos and gets ready to package them up for orders and sales. Each step require separate kinds of time and energy but once put together, they make beautiful cards. If you're willing to do your projects in stages, then instead of trying to complete the whole project in one day, you could complete one or two steps one day and still have a great sense of accomplishment. 

If being creative is what you want to do but there are a few obstacles in your way . . . make yourself a cup of coffee, get comfy and do some creative researching . . . check out pinterest and search google for ideas of how other people DIY their creative endeavours or rooms and then, go for it!! 

Hobby or Business?

These past few months I've been wondering . . . if I really want to make this business boom, then I need to engage in it much more seriously. I will probably need to be willing to do at least these top 5 priorities:

1. increase the number of shops who sell my product.

2. be willing to sell in a public vendor environment (festivals, craft fairs).

3. spend more time advertising (facebook, instagram, pinterest etc.)

4. spend more time creating product.

5. eliminate other things from my to-do list to make room for this. 

 

So I had to ask myself, is this what I want? 

I decided to go back to the beginning and ask myself the question that other people ask me, "How did you get into this in the first place?"

About 5 years ago, my endometriosis and adhesions had created such a spiderweb in my abdomen that my intestines decided to stop working properly. They "froze", so to speak. So upon the advice of doctors and to avoid abdominal surgery again, which can make things worse, I started blending my food into drink form. This helped me gain the proper nutritional value I needed from food and reduced the pain of eating. It was an inconvenience, but allowed me to function well for about three more years before a medical procedure was necessary. 

During those years, since "dinner" could be swallowed in one glass size, it meant that while other people were going back for seconds, I sat there watching them eat and crunch and swallow. I got a little restless, but I didn't want to just leave and sit in another room, I wanted to engage in conversation and linger around the table with my family and friends. So, I came up with this idea: What if I had a small craft that I could hold in my hand and do at the table, that only required as much space as a placemat needed? I found a few lonely socks in my laundry room and began to create! 

It became so much fun and such a  relaxing distraction for me during tough pain times as well, that it became a part of my everyday coping strategy! 

So, back to the question . . . hobby or business? If my daily pain decreased to the point that my daily routine opened up enough to allow for more time and energy spent toward building a business then maybe I could pursue it as a bigger business. But the reality is that pain is still a part of my everyday routine. It requires time and rest and doctor appointments and exercise. 

I do have a few tourist shops in Jasper and Whistler that sell my product for me and a few more in Edmonton and Langley too. It provides just enough "demand" that a few hours per day of work can supply enough product for when they order throughout the year. Right now, based on a few hours a day, I have over 120 sock animals finished, tagged and ready for shipping as soon as the orders come in early Spring!

So I guess, it is a hobby AND a business. A hob-business, a hobness? Whatever it is, it is the right balance of creative enjoyment and practical sharing with others and making a little money on the side! I'm grateful for that and will accept that it is part of my story . . . a gentle story that leaves room for caring for myself, my family and those whose paths I cross. And for those who joke with me about showing up on Dragon's Den someday . . . I don't think so . . . and I'm quite okay with that! :)

Two Hours a day!

It is a quiet month for my sockart business! Spring orders have been filled and shipped to the stores, my ETSY site is full with a fresh selection for people to order . . . but it's quiet. And it should be. It's back to school September! That means that most people are into the routines and schedules of the fall. 

So what do I do in the meantime?

Two hours a day. That's what I do.

Two hours is enough to slowly build up my sock animal product so that when the busy season starts again, I'm ready! 

Within two hours I can do one of the following tasks: 

Write a blog post like this one!

Write a blog post like this one!

Organize socks into sets: green for Yoda, black for Darth Vader, brown for moose!

Organize socks into sets: green for Yoda, black for Darth Vader, brown for moose!

Or . . . put all the good, ready to use, basic colours that I use regularly into a box (and throw out the ones that I'll never use).

Or . . . put all the good, ready to use, basic colours that I use regularly into a box (and throw out the ones that I'll never use).

Or . . . pre-make eyes, ears, tails or antlers to be added to the Canadian themed animals for Whistler and Jasper stores. 

Or . . . pre-make eyes, ears, tails or antlers to be added to the Canadian themed animals for Whistler and Jasper stores. 

Or . . . tidy my storage shelves in the hallway. Since the supplies are so colourful, I try to keep everything in clear plastic bins (thank you Canadian Tire sales!), white file boxes and label them with a similar look. This way as you walk by, it is fairly uniform and tidy. 

Or . . . tidy my storage shelves in the hallway. Since the supplies are so colourful, I try to keep everything in clear plastic bins (thank you Canadian Tire sales!), white file boxes and label them with a similar look. This way as you walk by, it is fairly uniform and tidy. 

Since I share this hallway space with the family, I try to keep it looking pleasant and stress-free (while still functional for my needs). And, the more tidy things are, the more motivated I feel to create something! (It's like when you clear the counter, and put the dishes away, you suddenly want to bake cookies!)

Since I share this hallway space with the family, I try to keep it looking pleasant and stress-free (while still functional for my needs). And, the more tidy things are, the more motivated I feel to create something! (It's like when you clear the counter, and put the dishes away, you suddenly want to bake cookies!)

Ever wondered about starting a craft? a project? But thought, "I just don't have time!" 

Try 2 hours a day . . It adds up!

For my photos of what I've been up to, see my facebook, or  pinterest or etsy or instagram!

Portable Workshop

The origin of my sock animal business is that is was established through illness. (See About page for more story). That means that it needs to stay somewhat rooted to that so that on difficult pain days, I can still enjoy this business! That means my workshop needs to be portable. 

This past week, I made some improvements to the box that I take with me from couch to table to bed:

This is a file box that I covered with photos of past creations and use to carry the bigger items like stuffing, and 5-10 sock animal bodies that I'm working on. That's a bear for Jasper "Bear's Paw Bakery" peeking out of the box.

This is a file box that I covered with photos of past creations and use to carry the bigger items like stuffing, and 5-10 sock animal bodies that I'm working on. That's a bear for Jasper "Bear's Paw Bakery" peeking out of the box.

The top box is shallow and fit perfectly across the length of the bigger box but it needed a way to rest on the edge. Thanks to a friend's suggestion, I hot glued a few chopsticks as supports and they worked great.

The top box is shallow and fit perfectly across the length of the bigger box but it needed a way to rest on the edge. Thanks to a friend's suggestion, I hot glued a few chopsticks as supports and they worked great.

This box contains the basic spools of colour most commonly used and a few compartments for various parts that relate to the animals I'm working on. In this particular box are bear tails, ears and eyes. 

This box contains the basic spools of colour most commonly used and a few compartments for various parts that relate to the animals I'm working on. In this particular box are bear tails, ears and eyes. 

Except for commissions of specific creatures, I keep all eyes the same. This has made it simple and easy to find consistency with my animals. 

Except for commissions of specific creatures, I keep all eyes the same. This has made it simple and easy to find consistency with my animals. 

The spools are on a few shish kabob sticks with one side removable and the other glued down. I can grab one thread and that spool is the only one that unravels. It works great! 

The spools are on a few shish kabob sticks with one side removable and the other glued down. I can grab one thread and that spool is the only one that unravels. It works great! 

Past creations - easy to look at and get inspired or remember how I made them!

Past creations - easy to look at and get inspired or remember how I made them!

Star wars, batman, racoons, moose, bears, geese, squirrels, wolves and mice!

Star wars, batman, racoons, moose, bears, geese, squirrels, wolves and mice!

Muppets, robots, Darth Vader in Christmas sweaters, Oscar, Rudolph Snow Monster and minions. Good times!

Muppets, robots, Darth Vader in Christmas sweaters, Oscar, Rudolph Snow Monster and minions. Good times!

I am grateful for pain and illness, in a strange way, because it constantly challenges me to find ways to do what I love and solve the problems that arise because of it. Cardboard, hot glue, duct tape and suggestions from friends wandering by can make an awesome portable workshop! Give it a try!

* If you do deal with physical challenges or illness or pain, you may enjoy reading my other blog that is full of encouragement. Click here.

Chip Away

Time seems to come in small chunks, small opportunities and surprising windows of creative energy. If we wait until an entire day off presents itself, well . . . there's always laundry or yard work to do too.

So, another alternative is to 'chip away' at something!

I'm finishing a master's degree right now and my health requires that I take good care of myself. So my day is divided between studying, regular house-stuff, rest and creativity. 

These little bears were made in a few days during my study breaks. During one break, I'd create the main body form. Later that day, I'd curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and create the ears, nose and tail. The next day, I'd dig through my box of supplies and find the perfect 'sweater' for them to wear and later that day - attach it on. It felt good to have completed a small cute project in the midst of heavy-brain-studying-work! And then, at the end of the week, someone bought them! Bonus! 

 

 

Break the Rules

Most of what I do is with socks: Sock animals, sock characters, sock people. However, occasionally I come across other material that is just so perfect for something that I'm willing to break my own rules and try something new.  

Someone donated three scarves to my creative stash of supplies. The green color immediately reminded me of Oscar the Grouch (Sesame Street), the blue was definitely Cookie Monster color and the white, shimmering scarf reminded me of that monster on the old classic Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer movie (1964). 

I made the basic bodies for these characters from socks, stuffed them with the regular stuffing that I use and then covered them with the scarves sewing them down into the sock material. They were fun to make and stood about 12" tall when they were done. 

 

Variety

I'm grateful to have a steady supply and demand relationship with a few tourist shops in BC and Alberta where I send them a box full of Canadian sock animals. But after making 20 bears or moose or Canadian geese, I'm ready for something different!

Robots! I just looked through my supply of socks and felt and decided to make whatever came to mind. I looked up some classic images of robot toys and metal robots and challenged myself to make them out of soft material instead. These went to be sold in a coffee shop in a trendy neighbourhood in our city. (This grey sock robot is about 6" tall with a tiny sock bear in it's arm,  2" tall).

The bonus to adding variety is this . . .  as you add new and unexpected products to your stock of items for sale, it may peak someone's interest who would normally pass by your regular line of creative work. It is a way of building a bigger audience by appealing to different likes. It also keeps my own sense of creativity fresh and challenging. 

As you can see on the bottom of the page, I've 'tagged' this blog post with key words that can direct people to my site if they search for them on google. It's like an open door for new viewers to visit my site. So, if you're a new visitor, welcome! :)

 

Lighting for Photos

My photography skills are quite basic, so I asked my husband for help each time I wanted to post something on ETSY, Pinterest or Facebook. I wanted a clean, bright consistent look to my little creations. However,  I didn't want to ask my husband all the time and if I took the photos myself, I ended up spending lots of time touching them up on photoshop.

So, I made a light box!

Very simply, it is a cardboard box with the sides and top cut out. I taped white tissue paper over the cut out areas and found three lamps to shine the same amount of light into the box. I use 'Daylight' bulbs at 5000K for bright and clean light. The results is consistent, white background with limited shadows and consistent photos regardless of what time of day it is!

Let the Material Inspire

Sometimes, it is helpful to just dig through your box of materials and see if anything catches your eye. I had this one blue sock, on its own, not very long but the material was sturdy and in good condition. The texture struck me that it looked like the scales of a fish. So, it became a fish. I didn't set out to make a fish that day, but the material inspired the idea!