I Love Ponies, They’re My Friends

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A long time ago, I spent pretty much every waking hour doing this sort of thing.I was even pretty good at it. Look!

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I uncovered a shoebox crammed with rosettes when were moving and took them out and ironed them all recently. It has done nothing to quell the rampant desire I have to get back in the saddle, quite literally.

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These are the first two I ever won, back in 1987. I bet that’s before some of you were even born. I got a clear round jumping and I think the 4th was for a grooming competition (grooming ponies – how times have changed!). This is the pony, Sparky, that I was paired up with – still the best pony EVER.

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He died when a girl gave him too much water when he was too hot, poor Sparky. I still miss him.

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Also still miss that Puffa waistcoat, and Bubbles. He was about 900 years old when I rode him, but he lasted a very long time after that even. What a guy.

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Action shot! That was my last pony, Misty. She was pretty much unhinged, but also a real beaut. She was frightened of trees, bushes, insects and used to just decide she’d had enough when we were out for a hack, turn around and cart me home, whether I liked it or not. A headstrong young lady, just like I was. I recall having to shout after my cousin, a much more experienced horsewoman than I, to point her at the sea to stop her, when were on the beach. Good times.

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Ponies even featured in our honeymoon – we went riding round Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas. The horses were all going nuts because it had rained so hard that there were rivers flowing through the rocks and they’d never seen it before. I had to go after Lee after his steed took a detour down a ravine.

I miss ponies.

DITL Revisited

I quite enjoyed the last Day In The Life we did! It was really fun to see everyone’s Instagrams – if you would like to look back ‘pon it, check out the IFDayInTheLife hashtag. I’m @tinyotterpaws.

I actually had a pretty super-fun packed day so had lots to photograph. The most depressing photo has to be that conker though – already! It’s less than 20 weeks until Christmas. Time is flying past.

The winner of the Christmas cross stitch kit, by the way, in case you thought I’d forgotten, is Rebecca. Yay!

50% Off Mega Sale Weekend

50% Off Mega Sale Weekend!

This weekend sees the return of the mega 50% off sale event at The Bellwether.

From midnight tonight until midnight on Sunday 16/08 (BST), you can take 50% off  your order with the code YAYMC.

It’s open internationally, though free shipping only applies within the UK. It applies to everything, so stock up!

Feel free to share this with your loved ones, enemies, etc.

Happy shopping!

PS – for earlybird blog readers – the code might just work now if you tried it…

Day In The Life – Tomorrow!

Day In The Life - Join Us!

Never knowingly over-prepared, that’s me. But tomorrow, my good pal Marceline and I are reviving Day In The Life in a new format – an hourly photo over on Instagram.

You’ll find me on Instagram as @tinyotterpaws. Or click here if you are on a clever phone. Join in if you like, it’s fun to see what everyone gets up to. If you do, or just want to see what we are doing, then check out the #IGdayinthelife hash tag.

Giveaway – Christmas In August

Christmas Ornament Cross Stitch Kit From The Bellwether

I’m giving away this little Christmas ornament kit as he’s the last of a discontinued line. I have been hanging on to him, thinking I’ll get round to stitching him up for myself one day, but because I’m nice like that, one of you good people can have him instead.

To enter this fine contest, simply leave a comment below – you can say hello or tell me something exciting, or leave a link to something interesting you’ve read lately. There will be extra brownie points for retweets, shares, etc. I’ll put all the names in a real-life hat next week and pick a winner. This is open internationally, because it’s nice to be nice.

Bonne chance!

Honest Business – Juggling A “Proper” Job & Being A Designer

Following on from my post last week about not quitting your day job, I wanted to highlight how it works for someone other than me. Looking at my local designer peers, I was drawn to Sally from Hand Over Your Fairy Cakes as I know that not only does she design the brightest jewellery around, she is also a bona fide fancy doctor. I am slightly in awe of her, so we had a virtual chat about how she “does it all”.

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Claire: So, Sally – tell me about your day job?

Sally: I’m a doctor, specifically working as a registrar in Acute Medicine. No one ever knows what that is (even some other health professionals) so I’ll try to explain a bit – a registrar is a mid- to senior-grade doctor, over 4 years after graduating from medical school. I work in the field of Acute Medicine which covers the medical receiving unit; this is the place you go when you are initially admitted to hospital under the care of the medical team from either A&E or your GP.

I treat patients with all kinds of conditions, including strokes, heart attacks, pneumonia, meningitis, etc and our unit is open 24 hours a day. I also look after the High Dependency Unit at my hospital which is where people who are critically unwell go for organ support treatments unavailable elsewhere in the hospital.

As well as all these sick people I also see a lot of patients who can be managed as an outpatient and I help to run the General Medical Clinic. I work a lot of long shifts, both days and nights and a lot of weekends, but I love my job and I don’t intend to give it up anytime soon.

Claire: And could you tell me a bit about Hand Over Your Fairy Cakes?

Sally: I design and make laser-cut acrylic jewellery and sell it online on various platforms and very occasionally at craft fairs, although less of those recently. I’ve also branched out into enamel pin badges and stationery in the past couple of months and it seems to be going well so far (fingers crossed!).

I run my business on my own, including designing and making jewellery, marketing and PR, accounting, photography, packaging and shipping items, emailing customers and retailers and everything else that comes along. The tasks are never ending, but I try to keep my to do list up to date!

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Claire: How do you make time to take care of business alongside saving people’s lives?

Sally: I set aside certain periods of time to dedicate to my business – if I have an evening or day off, I prioritise my to-do list so I can get the most important things done first. I try to prepare for times when I know I’m not going to have much time to work on business-related things, for example, if I have a week of night shifts, I’ll cue social media posts for that week so that my online presence doesn’t just shut down for a week. The lead-times on my orders are significantly longer than other similar businesses but it’s difficult to avoid; I try to make up for it by producing original products you can’t get elsewhere.

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Claire: How about job satisfaction? Do you get a different sense of achievement from the two different jobs?

Sally: Definitely! I love the high-pressure, fast-paced environment of acute medicine and I like to counter that with the creative process of designing and making jewellery. I also develop skills in one job that I can use in the other, for example, the fine motor skills I’ve practiced whilst making tiny items of jewellery helps me perform fiddly practical procedures in the hospital. Communication with patients, relatives and other hospital staff has helped me effectively communicate with retailers and deal with difficult customers. Prioritising tasks is very important in both of my careers; I think they complement each other more than most people realise.

Claire: Would you consider giving up the day job to concentrate full-time on HOYFC?

Sally: I don’t think I would. I love being a doctor and if I gave it up I would miss it and the many challenges that come along with it. At some point in my career, I may go part time and dedicate more time to Hand Over Your Fairy Cakes, but then again, I also have the option of closing up my business for a while if I need to concentrate on medicine. I like having the option!

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Claire: Where do you see yourself a few  years down the line?

Sally: If all goes well, in a couple of years I should be able to apply for Acute Medicine consultant posts which will mean I will likely settle down in one hospital (rather than moving all over the place as I do at the moment) which will give me a bit more stability and hopefully less night shifts!

In terms of Hand Over Your Fairy Cakes, I’d like to expand to have some more international stockists and I’m enjoying my foray into other non-jewellery products and I’d love to design more. One day, I might even hire an accountant to help me with my tear-inducing tax return!

Claire: Ha, you and me both, Sally! God bless Excel. 

And that’s that – hopefully you enjoyed this little insight into a fellow full-time/full-time worker/designer. Give me a shout if you’d like to chat about your own situation – I’d love to hear how other people make it work for them, and why, too.

Honest Business – Don’t Quit Your Day Job

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Image by Canvas Flair.

One of the things that I used to get asked a lot is “when are you giving up the day job?”. I suppose it’s natural for people to look at me and my business and wonder why after over 10 years, I still haven’t gone full time.

There’s a simple answer to that – I don’t want to. In fact, I’m a little offended that you even asked. Because actually, this is something I feel really strongly about and I don’t think is acknowledged anywhere nearly enough. Settle in, I have a lot to say about this.

Long-term readers will be no doubt unsurprised to hear me say that part of this pet peeve stems from Etsy and their evangelising that quitting your day job be your goal when you set up as a designer/maker or artist. They have a whole blog series about it, where once a month, they present you with a portrait of a successful Etsy business who ditched the drudgery of the traditional working week to focus on their artisan business. I have no problem with this at all. I even enjoy reading them from time to time – for example, the recent Satsuma Street story. I am a fan of Jody’s work and so I found that quite interesting to see more about her and her process but I couldn’t care less if she works full time, part time, or not at all, alongside it. The series has some good pointers and makes you think about some aspects of the business side of designing and making from a different angle which is never a bad thing though.

What really grates on me is that I feel this is an unbalanced view. It gives the implication to other designer/makers, and indeed to their customers and the world at large, that unless you’re working towards emulating “living the dream”, then you’re a failure. That to not be in your studio or work space 24/7, working on your “niche”, that you’re somehow less inspiring or less successful than those who are. That bothers me, a lot. It’s by no means restricted to Etsy, of course. We’re all guilty of comparison (it’s the thief of joy) and one-up-man-ship and this implication of failure for not being full-time is part of that (but that’s for another day).

Sending the message, directly or indirectly, that you’re somehow not as successful as those full-timers is also, I feel, damaging to those people who are out there with a creative talent who are thinking about getting into selling their work. Becoming a full-time designer/maker or artist is not something you just fall into overnight, and behind so many “success stories” is the recurring theme of “I worked bloody hard to get here”. If you’re faced with an insurmountable goal from the get-go, we might miss out on some amazing talent who just don’t bother to try.

For my own personal situation, I have never ever been about wanting to quit my day job. For all I sometimes complain about my job, I do actually, for the most part, enjoy it. I work hard at it and have built up a whole wealth of skills that help me in my business, too. Being able to come to work and use my brain for something other than cross stitch allows me to exercise parts of it that would otherwise turn to mush. There is the odd day, I will admit, where I would rather stay at home and get stuck into a project, because I am a mere human, but overall, it’s just never been about that for me.

Working for a big company allows me to learn essential business skills, how to communicate with people, how to present information and puts me in touch with a ready-made potential client base (because y’all know I am not beneath hawking my wares in the break room at Christmas time, or setting up a Valentine’s Day card stand in February).

I’ve had a variety of jobs and worked for companies of varying sizes, so I have a wide experience to call upon. That time I cried in the Ops Director’s office because I couldn’t work out the right ratio for a refund budget – I do actually now look back upon that and am glad I went through the embarrassment, because it led to me learning all sorts of stuff I never would have if I’d continued muddling through on guess-work. I’ve done work-based courses that led to qualifications that allowed me to progress and ultimately earn more money, all of which has been a safety net to fall back on in leaner times in my own business.

Could I have taken such a prolonged break over the past year if I didn’t work full-time? No, of course not. Having the financial freedom to do stuff like that just makes sense to me. Sure, I have to compromise on time, and sometimes I have to work late into the night to meet deadlines, or get a particular project finished. But I wouldn’t really change it, because for me, it works.

The UK designer/maker scene is fairly supportive and friendly, so I have gotten to know a fair few women (for they are overwhelmingly female) who have very successful day jobs they wouldn’t dream of giving up – we’re talking doctors, lawyers, fire fighters, that sort of thing. Does it make them any less of a success in their business? No, it does not. If anything, it makes them all the more driven, that they can fit in making a go of it alongside saving lives and fighting crime.

Shift work is also possibly something to do with it – I work shifts in the broadcasting industry, so it allows me to structure my business time differently from someone who works in a shop, for example. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but I probably manage to wring out a little more time during the week and during the day, than someone having to be at the whim of “normal business hours,” whatever those are these days.

For those of you think this sounds like sour grapes – you couldn’t be more wrong. I am genuinely thrilled if you want to go full-time with your business and get to a position where you can. I’ll support you to the hilt. But it is not the be-all and end-all and it doesn’t make you more of a success than the next person. Working hard and winning at business is for everyone and I just want to celebrate this small corner of the diverse community that is indie business.

If you are reading this and thinking, shut up, I’m totally working towards being a full-time needle-felter/keyring maker/sock knitter, then this article from Kim Lawler is a good and useful read about preparing yourself financially. Some other useful reads:

Don’t Quit Your Day Job – why working whilst you establish a business can be a good move.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet – experience on working whilst building a business to a scale-able state from Huffington Post.

Get Your Project Moving Whilst You Work – some good advice from Harvard Business Review.

None of these are rocket science (and none of them are places I’d usually go for advice) but they all have some relevant points and offer food for thought if you are thinking of taking the plunge.

Coming up next week, I have an interview with a very clever designer who manages to be a doctor and a designer at the same time. Do pop back and read that, as it’s a great insight into the life of a very busy person.

Me, I’ll keep on keepin’ on and most resolutely won’t be quitting my day job any time soon!*

*Unless I win big on the scratch cards, then you won’t see me for dust.

Make Tea Not War & Other Stories

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I recently started up a new Instagram account to list all my extra supplies, books, vintage stash and seconds on, don’t you know. You’ll find that account here – I’m @thebellwetherer. My main @tinyotterpaws account is still the place to go for dog photos, pictures of my dinner and day-to-day behind the Bellwether scenes snaps.

19859528316_19a1935911_bAlso on my de-stash Insta is a collection of vintage Japanese pennants I’ve been hoarding. My office needs organising, so they’ve gotta go! Have a rummage through!

New Things New Things NEW THINGS

I’ve been adding a bunch of new stuff to my various retail outlets lately. Here’s a selection:

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I made these neon pink hoops ages ago but just got round to adding them to the shop.

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A whole plethora of new badges have appeared, including Coffee & Netflix, Good Egg and Bad Seed.

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And my personal favourite of all the recent new-ness, these tiny wee OK! banners.

Also of note – the Not On The High Street sale continues, which has a bunch of my cards and cross stitch kits in it, at half price.

And last but not least, I have two of these fuck the dishes tea towels left, priced at just £10 including postage. I keep thinking I’ve run out and then finding more in boxes. I should really finish unpacking!

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A Very Special Surprise

At the end of last year, I was super-thrilled to work with my transatlantic cross stitch counterpart, the wonderful Julie Jackson of Subversive Cross Stitch on a very special commission.

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Julie tells it better than me, so you should read the story behind it here. It was a really cool collaboration and I’m pleased to say that the commissioner and the recipient were bloody delighted with it. Yay!

Take It As Red

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This is what my hair looks like now. I stopped procrastinating and finally did it, having told no one of my plans. I really like it! I’m told it will fade quickly, so I’ve got all sorts of potions to try and keep it vibrant. I keep catching sight of myself, or my hair out of the corner of my eye and wondering what that red thing is…

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth!

Honesty is the best policy, so they say, and honesty and transparency in small, indie business is something that you don’t see a lot of. So many one-man bands portray the image of “we” and “us” when it’s just one person in their pyjama bottoms all day at a laptop.

I guess they feel that they have to project this image to appear professional, but NEWSFLASH – people LIKE supporting small businesses. They like your personality and they want your stuff BECAUSE it’s made by you. If they wanted another faceless corporation, I assure you, they’d still be on Amazon. They want the “I” and the “me”.

Personally, as a business owner and an indie shopper, I actively seek out the behind the scenes snaps, the true reflection of life in the creative lane, and it all adds value to my purchase or sales. I like to get to know the person behind the brand, how they work, and all the love and sweat and tears that go into producing their ace work.

Yesterday, I spotted Kim from Finest Imaginary‘s snap of her workspace – she was, ironically, supposed to be taking a photo for a magazine of her workspace – and this is what it looked like:

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Firstly, let’s take a moment to pause and respect the majesty of that mug.

Secondly – and I am sure Kim won’t mind me saying this – what a mess! A happily creative clutter of things. You can almost sense the activity just looking at it. This is what the desk of a busy, creative person looks like. Just like their brain, it’s got 18 things going on at once, and although to the outsider it doesn’t look ordered, I bet she knows exactly where everything is.

I mean, I do love a neat and tidy desk as much as the next guy, but the reality is that very few people live and work in a Pinterest fantasy. Here’s my spare room office from 2 weeks ago, before we floored the loft:

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Truly a mess.Not even much of a creative one, at that. I couldn’t do anything in there, but have since rearranged it so whilst it’s still busy, it’s a bit less bomb-sitey. It did make things a bit more ordered in my mind to tidy up, but really, I think I’ve accepted now that I’ll never be featured as anyone’s Desk Idol. I’m happy with my creative clutter. It’s better than idle neatness, as another wise Kim once said!

Hit me up with your own messy desks!

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Super-Easy Desk Lunch

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I am so bored of lunches eaten at my desk, another cardboard sandwich from the Co-op hastily stuffed down whilst working on something or other. Last night, I thought about what I really wanted to eat. I love ramen noodle soup and haven’t had any for eons. I could eat it every day. Plain-ish, sure, but tasty and sustaining. And, as it turns out, super-easy to make in the hovel of a kitchen we have at work.

You will need

  • One packet of straight-to-wok noodles (I used Amoy fine noodles)
  • Chicken stock powder (I used Knorr reduced-salt)
  • Two spring onions
  • Cooked chicken (optional)
  • Boiling water

To make…

  • Cut up the spring onion into small slices. Cut on the diagonal if you’re feeling fancy!
  • Add to a large soup bowl.
  • Add the noodles.
  • Add a dessert spoon of chicken powder to the bowl and pour over a cup’s worth of boiling water fresh from the kettle.
  • Tear up some of your chicken and add to the bowl.
  • Add some soy sauce if you have any to hand, or some pepper, or just enjoy as is.

Tasty, quick, hot and fresher than those supermarket sandwiches. You could add chillis or something, if that is your bag, too.  I’m going to keep a stash of noodles in my drawer for lunch all the time! My colleagues were envious.