Quilt Shop Confidential

So I run a little quilt shop out of my home now, and I’ve tried my best to make it shop-like. It’s a seperate room with an almost separate entrance. You know that front living room that no one uses? The one off the front door that also goes unused? There.

That’s where I made it.

It’s tiny but fierce. Super cute too, bolts lining the walls. Old trunks line up under the large picture window (you knew there was one in this room), filled with markdowns sorted by color. A rainbow of deals and pretty.

Big table in the middle for cutting fabric, small table next to it for setting down your purse or extra bolts. Cashbox tucked discreetly underneath.

But because it’s in my house, people sometimes act like a visit. They want to take their shoes off (please don’t, your feet will freeze here over the old basement).

They can see the electrical panel in the corner (can’t really hide it) and get glimpses of some renos still in progress (lack of trim, half a wall on the other side of the staircase – which you knew was near the front door too.)

But when they are there a while, and feel comfortable, that’s when they talk.

See, there’s all sorts of things about running a business and dealing with customers and nothing out there about how much, in some industries, you become a companion or therapist.

Someone is having their first grandchild – you can tell they are nervous. Another sad, as the quilt they are making might never get used. Maybe it will work this time.

Some quilts get dropped of with not really a deadline, but could I do it sooner rather than later? It’s going to the hospital and no one knows how much time they have left.

It’s a wedding, it’s a graduation – finally! It’s a just because the grandchild asked and well, what could they do really? (I understand. So much!)

It’s a sigh and sometimes mock frustration and a quilt made with love, even though the sweet elderly lady insists her brother is an asshole but even he deserves one of her quilts before either one of them die. It’s got their mother’s fabrics in it, see.

I also see the nervousness of first quilts, the lack of confidence and then the beauty gets unfolded.

It’s seeing the new quilter come back and try again and again, and saying to her one day that I noticed how much her work has really improved. She left beaming.

It’s the perfect binding fabric for a vintage quilt that had the edges worn off and needed replacement. The relief it can be used and loved just a little bit longer. And how well the binding fabric matched.

She comes in with her mother – or father even – slowly up the walk. Mind the step. Good sturdy handrail they tell me. I let them fill my ears as their child picks the fabric.

She comes in with a limit sometimes – a “please can you split this between the card my husband sees and the cash I have”.

She comes in when her pension cheque from the Teacher’s union gets deposited. Her fun money. We joyfully pull the prettiest fabrics off the shelves for “just because”.

She counts her change out of an envelope – her earnings from selling what she makes.

We joke often, “Don’t let me buy!” she says, “I have more than this at home!” Sometimes I give a running subtotal, sneaking in a small discount where needed. Once or twice, her card slaps down on the counter – “Don’t tell me, just run it.”

We talk. About her kids, her grandkids, her husband. We talk about the news, roll our eyes at politics, and shake our head. She asks about her phone, because I’m good with those things I guess. She wants to know did I get the same bank changeover notice and what did it mean? She didn’t understand what they told her. Should she call them back? And what about these fancy cards these days? Well how about that, look at the sales on your tablet and that little white thing they can tap. The beep lets them know the money is flying away.

We talk about color and how the fabric feels and the difference between imperial and metric – she never could get the hang of it. And what is the difference between flannel and flannelette anyway?

Her hand is on the doorknob – the well I should let you go, the follow ups and one last question and wow this house is amazing. No, you’re not bothering me at all.

Her name is probably Linda, Susan, Janet, Lois, or Cathy (Kathy).

She’s a customer, a client – I know her ups and downs, her family members, her job woes, the little things her husband did that are annoying or wonderful, her fears, her hopes, her dreams.

She’s not just a customer.

She’s a friend.

Ideas and projects are everywhere

For a week I’ve had various blog post ideas ramble on through my head but no time or inclination to write. Today I sit down, with time, and just.. *poof*. Most of them left my head.

I had a bout of activity this week, getting to things and feeling like doing them. So I woke up this morning feeling like I did a workout because I was still at it 8pm last night, pressing and folding fat quarters for the shop and sewing more blocks for a scrappy quilt I’m working on.

Quilting has taken over my house. There’s the shop and my sewing room, of course, but we moved the sewing room to the smaller bedroom and the longarm is now in the living room. My desk has always been in the living room but now it has a sewing space next to it – because who wants to go upstairs for that?

Also it’s much easier to watch Netflix and monitor social media and talk to Ron on Slack while he’s working if the laptop is next to my sewing machine. (Yes laptops move too but the sewing room doesn’t have enough space.)

There’s also extra stock and large rolls of quilt batting in the niche in the kitchen. I had set up a kid’s area for the grandkids here but had to put half of the toys away (they didn’t use those ones) to make room for old bolts and extras.

Our living room is one big great room so the dining table is pushed off to the side – half covered in papers and stuff anyway, and the couches are corralled near the stove but still pushed back to allow enough floor space to lay out a quilt for photos, or to cut batting.

The longarm, of course, takes up center stage – being twelve feet long and five feet wide. Bags of customer quilts and under it and piled near it out of traffic areas. The piles only make sense to me. Underneath are longarm supplies, cut off pieces of batting, more store stock, my own quilt tops I need to quilt soon, and bags of some projects I’m working on.

We do have two small couches or loveseats to sit on, but right now you can only sit on one because the other has quilts piled on it and the fabric for a customer quilt piled on the seat, and some empty bolts I need to make sure are removed from inventory.

The other couch is behind a temporary work table because even though I use a large folding table for a desk and sewing area, there’s still no room to cut and I got tired of using the floor.

The trunk turned coffee table has extra projects I need to get to – curtains to hem, extra blocks and fabrics I need to prep for other things. They were sort of tossed there because I did, in fact, use this couch to lounge on this morning, under my fuzzy blanket, scrolling through social media and catching up on silly ipad games as I waited for my tea to steep.

I did leave a recliner empty for Ron. There’s a clear spot on a coffee table next to it, with space for his mug.

So yes, do come over. Just expect to leave with fabric fuzz or threads on you, and maybe we need to move something before you sit down or get fed.

Burnout recovery

In the last year or so I spent as a customer support person whose main job was done in the browser, we had an extension we used that caught all spelling and grammar mistakes in everything we typed. It also did a word count.

The first week in use I got an email with my weekly wrap up. Over eighteen thousand words.

A few more weeks, and I went from 18 to 20 K a week, depending. More if there was an emergency. It counted any text I inserted via shortcuts – pat answers I could send in a few key strokes – but it also didn’t count anything else I did on my laptop outside my browser, like Slack discussions, so I figured it evened out over time.

Curious me got to thinking about how many words in a novel and how much I was writing.

A quick Google just now reminds me that 80-90k is a good novel length (mass market fiction) so it doesn’t take hard math to realize I was writing half a novel a month or so. Or, a 300 page book in a year.

No wonder I stopped blogging; I was out of words.

A lot of my mental energy went to my job. No disrespect for the company or people therein, it’s just the nature of intense customer service jobs like that. I read one time that the average length of time someone lasts in that position is 3 to 5 years. I did it officially for 6.

Oh, I knew I was burnt out. I just wasn’t fully aware of how much. Apparently it’s not normal to just crash every 2 or 3 weeks and sleep most of the weekend if you can.

I keep tabs on some friends from my old circles, of course. I see some struggle and I want to sit them down, grab their arm, yell where needed. Stop, just stop. It’s not worth it.

Once I got my feet under me and thought I was rested everything I had put on hold for 3, 5, ten years came at me. Like a car crash in slow motion, someone mentioned.

I actively avoided my laptop for months. I rearranged my work desk, disassembling my setup. I switched to paper for most new work tasks – easy when my customers were not techie people. Almost everything can be done from an iPad.

I slept most of the summer. I learned how to nap. I made a bucket list of things to do for my upcoming 50th birthday, wild things, things completely inappropriate for a grandmother.

If not now, when, though?

Every so often I’d get back to my laptop. Things would physically hurt. I’d change chairs, find a new setup. All the old pains from carpal tunnel, tech neck, sitting for hours on end, would come back in sometimes less than 20 minutes. I even had a mouth guard to stop grinding my teeth.

One day I was driving myself into town, to the mall or something – not an errand or a have to or yet another appointment. I was humming. It felt.. odd. I had to think about what I was feeling (also a new thing).

I was… happy?

It had been a while.

Getting my shit together

I got a planner. Again. This time they had free printables on their site so you could test it out – just like the 50 some odd other ones I’ve downloaded and tried.

But now something stuck.

So I took myself to my local print shop, got my Passion Planner (dated, weekly Sunday start) zip file printed off and bound with a cover, and while I waited, went over to Michael’s and bought way too many stickers and washi tape rolls.

I’ve been fairly consistent in using my planner, and my handy coil notebook that was my usual spot of too many to-do lists has become more like a bullet journal, but just the collections and general brain dumps.

Notebook = random crap, stuff for later

Planner = organized week. Plus pretty stickers.

Does it help me get things done? Sometimes, mostly. At the very least, when I keep track of the things I did get done, it helps me to see that my “lazy” days had plenty of things done – just not necessarily the things I intended.

I like this planner because it has weekly wrap ups and places to track the good things that happened. there’s also a monthly review. This has been super. A weekly overview is good for me, and I’ve placed a sticker or washi tape bit to help make some things more visible. Highlighters on meal times naturally divide my day so I can transition to each chunk.

Like over the last week, I knew I had plenty of quilt drop offs from customers, and in my head I thought to myself 4? Maybe 6?

I went through each bag and my notes – with the date of drop off on most of them – and after making a thorough list, I also put a star sticker on each day of that week when I had a drop off. Like a nice starry scatter graph there it was – eight in total. Okay then. No wonder it felt like a lot – it WAS!

I cover up some of the time slots because I don’t have a lot of things that have to be done at certain times, but this planner has space under those for general lists. So I know what I have to do this week in total, but don’t feel like I’m stuck doing any one thing at a specific time or day. Each day has a box at the top for that day’s focus, and since I’ve been a shop owner on my own for over a year now, I have some established routines. Monday is admin day, Friday is newsletter day and usually lots of customers. I can juggle the middle days with quilting or whatever. Thursdays I now label with catch up so I can stop and regroup before the weekend.

Because I’m up early, I’m in bed early, so I tape over the time slots past 7 or 8pm and use them for other things. Right now the weather and how many customers stopped in. Bad weather is usually no customers – which is fine because I can also look up thru the day and see how busy I kept myself.

It’s also really helpful for me to gauge how much I can or cannot do. I remember before Christmas I was talking to a friend in text chat, and sent her my list of things I wanted to do over the two week break I gave myself over Christmas. “Sweetie,” she typed, “this is two MONTHS of work!”

Breaking things down to fit in my planner was eye opening, because the first thing I noticed with one I tried last year was there wasn’t enough room for all I wanted to do. Well, duh, because it was too much.

I also realized I try to plan things as if I’m having a really good energetic day where I accomplish a staggering amount, and not plan it to the bare minimum. Which, to be fair, is still good. So plan for an average day, not the best ever.

It’s also helping for prioritizing. I tend to work on things that are URGENT and need to be done RIGHT NOW so I’m learning ways to make deadlines that involved other people so I can make progress on longer term things. If I make a deadline just for me, I’ll blow right past it. If I’m checking in with someone once a week and have to tell them two weeks in a row there’s no progress on a specific project…. that’s harder.

So Sundays are now planning days, along with rest and relax, there’s now reflection – on the past week, on how I’m progressing, however slowly. As long as there’s a step forward it’s still ahead, right? It was hard to get out of the tech mindset and the constant grind and hustle and GO GO GO with the endless stream of questions and content and things to see and share. I feel like I had to destress from job burnout, like deschooling kids do with they start homeschooling.

Now I stop and ask: does it align with my overall shop goals? Is it really helping? Is this stressful or will it be? I’m learning how to guard my yes.

Anyway. An accurate weekly overview is helping me overall. I can see at a glance what’s working, what’s not and can adjust accordingly, without feeling tied to a schedule.

I’m a work in progress.

Candy for the brain

“Can you believe this got bad reviews?”

I asked Ron this question, with my eyes closed, and my face snuggled up to his bare chest. We were watching tv in bed and I had just felt him chuckle at the campiness of RuPaul.

And yes, me facing away from the tv with my eyes closed also counts as watching. I consume a lot of shows this way – eyes closed, or head turned away while I’m doing something else. The bar is low when all you need is some background noise droning on that you can pay attention to in bits and pieces.

We all know how the detective series or romantic Christmas movie is going to end and missing a few details in the middle is almost irrelevant by the time we get to the good parts where we have to pay attention.

My Netflix queue is probably quite predictable in places – current binges, a movie or three for the weekend to watch together, shows Ron doesn’t like (bloody and violent) that I watch when he’s busy, and a few standbys to fall asleep to. Ron isn’t a true crime fan, but even he agrees the narrator of Forensic Files has a soothing voice. This series is especially good for naps.

I like non-English films sometimes, if the story is good, and when you take a chance on them the stories often are quite good. Dubbed is better since reading the subtitles (always on anyway) take a lot of concentration when I’m sleepy, and I can’t sew or make dinner and read captions at the same time. Occasionally there’s a show or movie enthralling enough it sucks me in and I don’t care – like the Korean detective that time travelled through the tunnel.

I mean, I’m aware I have pedestrian tastes. Almost every English movie in the Action & Adventure section has been watched at least once, even when you take out the overlap with Sci Fi. Honestly, the only ones left for me to view is the entire Batman catalogue and Lord of the Rings (which to be fair, would be excellent falling asleep material even if it does take a week per movie).

Sometimes I’m watching a Nigerian movie and think the story is so good it could have come from Hollywood, then I just enjoy it anyway. Watching ScandiNoir detective short series makes me want to visit Iceland – a place that was not previously on my bucket list.

The only issue I’ve had with dubbed films so far is the lack of variety in the voice actors. I’m starting to recognize them by the sound of their voices.

And I’ve noticed Netflix taking chances on lower budget films and series – maybe movies that wouldn’t have aired elsewhere, or in limited runs. Some look like film student projects. There’s a range, of course, like anything, but there’s been a few gems.

We’ve cut the cable cord so long ago now it’s weird when a “regular” tv show winds up in our queue. The obvious commercial break and canned laughs are weird and out of place. And of course, when we don’t have to watch what’s next in the evening lineup because we’re too lazy to channel surf, the bad sinks down the list.

Sometimes I do miss a Prime Time Lineup and would love a way for Netflix to just have a “tv” option where it takes the next episode of a few series in my list and throws them at me, sequentially, for those times when I’m not binging.

Otherwise, give me my early evenings and the droning explanation of mitochondrial DNA or the dubbed Spanish dramas or even the “Bitch, PLEASE!” as Ru tries to find AJ’s PopPop as they tour drag shows around the US.

I’ll cuddle up tighter to Ron and breathe it all in as I drift off and enjoy it all the same.

It’s about time

It’s weird, not waking up to an alarm after so many years. No pulling myself out of bed and stumbling to a laptop to check on the neverending help desk of tickets and Slack conversations and issues that might have cropped up overnight.

I lay there and wait, usually. Wait for my eyes to adjust to the dark room, my ears to fully open (they are always first) and listen for the sounds of the traffic.

A dozen cars in a row, turning the corner, means it’s 7:30ish, up here on the ridge. The perfect time to get downtown around 8. Except I can lay there until at least 8, when my reminder to take the morning meds dings at me. By then I usually have more than one eye open, scrolling through Twitter replies and Facebook ones that have happened overnight. Checking Twitter for any local news, with greater more orange and frustrating words muted. It’s a lot different with most of the have-to WordPress news gone. A lot lighter. Weird too how different things are even from this time last year – let alone two.

I can stretch a bit. Catalogue what parts of my aging self are hurting or tense, or not today. Open the curtain and gaze at the sunrise, late and low in the winter. Take my time.

I can sit here – tea and toast – two tiny slices from the smallest loaf of expensive bread I have ever seen, lightly skimmed with peanut butter and apple jelly, like when I was a kid – comforted by the simple life before when I was kid.

I don’t have to hit the ground running. There’s another hour anyway before my youngest (the only kid left in the house and now an adult) even gets out of bed or is ready for conversation. An hour or so before I see the first customer of the day after flipping the sign on the front door.

But messages are trickling in. A Facebook ping here, an email, a reminder from the husband. I haven’t looked at my planner yet but I know what’s there, as today’s quilt is right next to me, nagging. It’s been there a week since I’m a little stumped, but I’ll push through. I have a headache that is dissipating, from the late night out at a guild meeting where someone gave me two more of their quilts for me to finish, so the pile is growing.

It’s different, the things I do now. It’s more relaxed. And even though I woke with my usual late night crash hard sinus headache, there’s no more neck tension from endless days of sitting at a laptop for hours. No more teeth grinding and jaw clenching. No more grind 24/7, and a whole lot more of just taking it easy and unlearning bad work habits.

No one to tell me what I’m supposed to do next either, and no one to hand the work off to, so that’s a whole other post I guess.

It’s different, and I had to get used to the quiet and my own thoughts and being the sole person responsible for handling things. Also not panicking and freezing because of that.

I’ve been trying a lot of new things, or new to me now or things I haven’t done in literally years. This weird bit of being a strong independent woman and business owner. This part where I have to get used to taking care of myself for a change.

I’m going to try this new thing – morning pages if you’re prone to old school thinking. Everything blogged is new again if you’re into the tech side. I guess?

Ah look, tea refilling time and moving on with today.