Sew Witchy: Pitching the Book

When I decided to try to find a publisher for my book, Sew Witchy (née Sew Craft) I had a vague idea of what I was doing.  A few year prior I had done a round of submissions on a fantasy novel.  I knew writing a nonfiction proposal would be a different process, so I did what I always do: turned to Google.  There is a wealth of information out there on what should go into a nonfiction proposal.  Most of it talks about what information to include and how to organize it.  Not many have actual samples of actual proposals.  I spent several caffeine-fueled days researching comparable titles, market demographics and making notes of those points I thought were the most important take-aways from the book.  What I ended up with was this: Continue reading Sew Witchy: Pitching the Book

Intentional Energies

” … it is important to keep in mind the Aristotelian notion that ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ When we have emptied a space of that which once occupied it, if we aren’t intentional about how we want it refilled, we are simply leaving things up to chance. So after intentionally clearing a space, it is just as important to be intentional about the energies that will fill the area.” — Clearing Spaces, Khi Armand, p. 28

Making it Work: Updates

I can’t believe it is April already.  January seemed to drag on forever, and now it is Spring (well, in theory, it’s still occasionally snowing and cold here).  I spent much of the last three months waiting on one thing or another, working towards deadline after deadline.  Now, with the last deadline almost here, I have a moment to catch my breath.

My house is still working through foreclosure.  I’ve made plans to move in June, presuming I can get things settled on the custody of my daughter.  By the time of my hearing later this month I’ll have spent nearly $4000 on legal fees to sort things out.  It might end up costing me even more and drag on past June.  I’ve contingency plans for housing in case that happens.

The housing and custody issues have only occupied 3/4 of my time.  The rest has been spent on my book.  The publisher, Llewellyn, has given it a new name: Sew Witchy.  I spent most of February and March making edits.  I added a whole new section on sewing basics, including descriptions of various stitches use throughout the book.  My editor also requested that I add a few more projects so I spent several weeks buried in mountains of muslin to make a robe and hooded cape pattern.

It’s eye-opening to write about basic sewing stuff when I’ve been sewing for so long.  Stopping and having to describe things that I do automatically now required a lot of effort on my part.  Fortunately, my editor is a self-proclaimed sewing newbie, so she pointed out all the spots that needed expansion.  Even so, I spent a lot of time second-guessing my writing, wondering if I was explaining things adequately.

This week I’m busy taking the last of the photos for the book.  I understand now why so many sewing books rely on illustrations rather than photos for step-by-step instructions.  You don’t have to deal with lighting or fabric that won’t lie flat or wrinkles that won’t release no matter how much you press them.  I have an even greater respect for people who can work a camera now.

I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks about the book.  I figured people might be interested in reading the proposal I sent out when I was looking for a publisher, and how I got my agent.  There will also be more customer profiles and book reviews and sewing weirdness.

Dealing with the Change: A Witch Ladder

Life, being life, has kept me dancing, jumping, skipping, crawling and occasionally crying the last few months. There is the house situation which may or may not be resolved in the next few months. There is the custody battle that has sprung up like a stop animation monster from the house situation. There is the book, which has a new title and release date (which I’ll write about later). There is an upcoming move several states away that is also a result of the house situation. There is C2E2 coming up in a couple of weeks. And there are the daily ups and downs of depression, anxiety, parenting my children, being with my husband, writing, sewing, remembering to eat, responding to the demands of two cats who have come to be much loved members of our family.

It’s been busy, you all.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found my daily practices becoming more necessary and more relevant to me. Lighting a candle to call on Hestia, or sitting at the family altar for a few minutes just to breath have provide signposts along the way. Part of this can be explained by my work on the book. I have been going through edits and working on projects for pictures. This last week I’ve been putting together a box of projects to send to my publisher for the cover photo shoot. Working this much on the theory and practice of magic and paganism is bound to reinforce a more mindful practice.

Today’s job was to put together a witch ladder to go into the photo shoot box. I had in mind what I was going to make: a ladder in shades of green and silver and gold, something rich with ornate ribbons and sparkling buttons to hold wealth and prosperity magic. After all, this would possible go on the cover of my first book, so I want to put as much energy as I can into ensuring its success.

I went through the workshop, pilfering bins of all the odds and ends that I’ve squirreled away over the years. All the bits of ribbon and lace, all the buttons that have never been put to use in a vest or skirt. I dug out beads and charms that have lain, undisturbed, like a fairy tale princess waiting to be awakened to their destiny. I piled them up on the sewing table, after I had shoved everything else out of the way to make space. I pulled out a piece of fabric twine and thread and needle and got to work.

I had several false starts. Ben kept interrupting for snacks and drinks and to make him a bandolier for his NERF darts. Every time I had to stop and start again I found my original intentions scattered and had to pull them together. And every time that happened the renewed intention was changed slightly. I clipped out black and white edge lace that I had used on a set of corsets, isolating the designs. I found a set of silver butterfly charms I had picked up on clearance, or perhaps from a thrift shop who knows how long ago. Felt charms–a heart and a skull–I had created almost a decade before ended up pinned to the twine. By the time I added the silver heart-shaped button at the bottom, I knew that what I was creating had nothing to do with prosperity.

I was praying for the strength to come out of the near catastrophic events I’m going through. I prayed for change, for transformation, for finding a life after the end to this latest chapter of my life. I was making that prayer real in ribbon and buttons, thread and lace. By the time I had tied the last bits of embroidery thread in red, white and black, I felt a profound sense of release.

This witch ladder will go into the photo shoot box, and I hope that it makes it onto the cover. I have plenty of magical and practical energy already going into helping the success of this book. What I need now is to give a bit of effort to keeping upright and moving forward while things around me are torn down. That way, when the destruction ends, I will be able to pick up the pieces and create a new life.

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention 2018

I’ve been vending at Midwinter Gaming Convention since the first year they opened up a exhibit hall in 2011.  I missed two years, 2013 and 2014, when I had stopped sewing for a while.  It has been a pretty family friendly event.  My family and I have LARPed and played games there so that it was a bit of a mini-vacation while I worked.  All that said, this is my last year vending at the event.  I’ll be moving out of state in a few months, although even if that weren’t the case I doubt I’d be back.

It comes down to money, really.  The first two years I vended I made a great profit, enough to pay for the trip and then some.  My gross was never spectacular.  But it was a nice first of the year convention, and again, I treated it as a gaming retreat that I could enjoy with my family.

However, over the last three years I’ve made less and less each year.  I attribute this to falling attendance.  It’s hard to judge membership numbers from exhibit hall traffic, but this year’s lack of attendees was painfully obvious.  The trickle of people strolling through the hall was never more than twenty at a time.  There wasn’t even the usual rush of people between events.

With a lack of traffic, vendors and exhibitors had plenty of time to gossip.  Scuttlebutt was that some of the larger LARP groups hadn’t come back.  Last year a largish vampire LARP group had set up their own event the same weekend, which happened again this year.  One game developer said she shut down demos in the game room at 8:30 pm both nights because no one showed.  Wandering outside the exhibit hall it was much the same.  Lots of empty tables that were set up to host pick up games and a game room that was only half full every time I peaked my head in.

The lack of marketing didn’t help, either.  In year’s previous links to vendors have been posted on the Midwinter Gaming Convention website, as well as blurbs posted to its Facebook page in the run up to the event.  This year none of this happened.  There was a new vendor room director, although I don’t know if their job duties included online marketing or just onsite organization.  Either way, the running of the exhibit hall left a lot to be desired, too.  There was never a final call to inform people that the exhibit hall was closing each day, so people were still wandering around as vendors were trying to shut down to go eat.  Similarly, people were allowed in early on Saturday and Sunday before the official start time.*

I didn’t lose money on this weekend, but that’s just because I was there on my own, I was able to crash in a friend’s room, and people fed me all weekend long.  As it was I made a third of what I did that first weekend in 2011.  And as disappointing as that is, I’m upset with the way that the whole exhibit hall is being run.

From talking to other vendors I found out that the convention is charging $200 a booth for new vendors. I am a legacy vendor so I only pay $50, which is what a booth cost in 2011.  Seeing the drop in numbers, I don’t feel the new charge is justified.  Especially when it seems that the convention is inflating its number of attendees.  I have e-mailed the convention a couple times in the last few years asking what the end number of attendees was for that year’s event.  The answer has been a steady “thousand”.  This year I heard that the convention was telling some people that this was their best attended event to date.  The highest badge number I saw was in the 960s and was a Sunday day pass.  Yes, technically, one could round up and claim a thousand attendees, but that then leads me to question how this can be the best attended event.

Look, I get the semantic tricks one can employ to make an event look larger than it is.  But for vendors and game developers, having accurate information is essential in deciding which events to attend.  Travel, hotel and food costs all have to be taken into account along with the booth fee.  When you are told that an event gets a certain amount of attendees, you can figure how much you expect to make and decide if it is worth your time to go.  You can’t do that if conventions mislead you.

Charging $200 for a table at a general gaming convention that gets less than 1,000 members is too much.  Midwinter Gaming Convention has just announced it will be expanding the exhibitor hall for 2019.  That announcement makes me nervous because I doubt they’ll lower their booth fees, and so they’ll be making more money off the wallets of vendors.  If this expansion isn’t met with increased outreach and marketing on their part, it will hurt future vendors even more.

Honestly, I want Midwinter Gaming Convention to succeed and grow.  It would be great if they played up their family friendly atmosphere; perhaps offered some sort of family pass.  Reaching out to the Gothic Lolita and steampunk crowd would help as well.  I know that at least one year they had a Lolita fashion show.  I also hope they reconsider their booth pricing.  Otherwise, I suggest other vendors take a pass on this show.


*I’m not referring to the early hour on Friday when VIP are allowed into the exhibit hall and hour before official opening.  Instead I’m talking about coming in ten minutes before the hall is supposed to be open on Sunday and finding members browsing.

Making it Work: Myself Amplified

Well, we survived 2017, a feat that I think deserves a round of applause, or a stiff drink.  While last year was especially tough because of a few things I’ll get into in a minute, it was also a year of good things for me personally, professionally and mentally.

On the professional front, 2017 saw my best income ever.  I grossed $10,000 from sales at conventions, commissions, work on e-book and book layout projects and the sale of my first book.  And while my net was a little less than half that, it still is better than I have ever done.  I really wasn’t doing anything different from what I’ve done in the past, so I think this is more a result of the other gains I made over the year.

Creatively, this was the most full-filling year I’ve ever had as well.  I took on lots of commissions that required me to learn new skills and level up in my sewing technique.  I felt confident in my abilities and really enjoyed the work and the challenges it presented.  And getting back into writing with Sew Craft was like coming home.  I have wanted to see my work published since I was a child.  So fulfilling that goal has given me a boost that no amount of money can match.

It hasn’t all been awesome commissions and writing about magickal properties of fabric, though.  Emotionally, this year was rough.  My depression and anxiety are being controlled, but are still present and not being helped by the monthly uncertainty of whether or not I’ll have health insurance.  Also not helping is the situation with the house, and the custody battle with my ex-husband it has triggered.  I have spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling together documentation, talking to lawyers, and sitting in courtrooms when I could be working.

With all of those external stressors, it would be easy to write 2017 off as a bad mental health year.  I have had one success, though.  I have, for the most part, killed off my Jerk Brain.  It hasn’t bothered me for months, and the couple of times it has reared its malicious head, I have vanquished it easily.  This bugaboo has plagued me my entire life (my first memory of it comes from kindergarten) and I had resigned myself to living with it my entire life.  So to say that getting ride of my Jerk Brain has helped my overall happiness is an understatement.

It’s been mostly the happenings in the larger world that have been awful and taxing.  I’ve tried to not let things like the recent passing of the tax plan, or the repeal of net neutrality get me down.  I keep thinking about places like Puerto Rico and Flint and the people there who are living with far more imminent dangers.  The events of 2017 have pushed me further left, to the point where I am no longer coy about my more “radical”* beliefs: Universal Basic Income, universal healthcare, federal legalization of marijuana, federally mandated equal pay and family leave.  I used to keep these beliefs to myself, and I understand now that doing so has contributed to where the country is now.**

Overall, what 2017 taught me was that I needed to embrace what makes me happy and act on it apologetically.  The world as it is will put pressure on me to give up on my happiness.  It will be unmovingly cruel, it will try to break me financially and emotionally.  But I owe it to my past self to stick to my happiness.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  I am myself amplified.  That is what I take with me into this new year.


*”Radical” to the conservative members of my friends and family who still believe in prosperity gospel and bootstraps and the like.

**Not that I am blaming myself, individually, for the current state of affairs, but there seems to be a large, silent majority willing to let bigoted family members go unchallenged, for example, just to avoid confrontation.

Book Review: Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand

Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
Root work + shamanism = a useful book.

The first time I was aware of how an environment affected me was in 1994-1996. I had moved to Laramie, Wyoming to go to school. The years I was there I felt unsettled, unraveling. I eventually moved away, heading for Chicago (which presented its own environmental issues) and didn’t really connect my unease with the town. Over the next few years, whenever I would travel home to visit, stopping in Laramie to see friends, the general sense of bad energy would hit me. I eventually came to recognize that the town, for whatever reason, just doesn’t jibe with me.

I think that is one of the reasons I related so strongly with Khi Armand’s Clearing Spaces.  It is a book full of advice in recognizing and diagnosing problems in one’s environment.  Armand then offers practical advice on how to address those problems.  He acknowledges, also, that some problems might not be fixed, and that, especially when dealing with genus loci, compromise might be necessary.

What I enjoyed about the book is that Armand discusses ways to treat the environment that don’t involve feng shui.  In fact, he introduces several concepts and practices that I had never heard of before.  For example, he talks about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing technique of reconciliation.  The idea of coming to terms with your environment, rather than trying to impose your will on it, was particularly interesting to me.

The book is grounded in root work, shamanism and paganism, with an understanding of and reference to the cultures that contributed to those paths or “modalities”. This blend of various paths feels organic rather than forced in his prose.  Armand also uses the term “technology” in references to practices like smudging, feng shui and the like.  It’s a call back to past times when spells and charms were worked as practical matters alongside other, mundane activities.

The greatest benefit I got from the book, however, was the introduction to the term “helping spirits.”  For years I have worked with Turtle, but eschewed the term “spirit animal” so as to not participate in cultural appropriation.  No other terms ever encompassed what Turtle means to me, though.  But when I read “helping spirits” it was like a light clicked on in my head!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning this term has helped my relationship to Turtle grow and deepen over the last few months.

Finally, on a completely aesthetic note, this is one of the most attractively laid out books I’ve read in a long time.  Flipping through it felt good.  I spent some of my time reading, just looking over the pages, admiring the design.  That sort of attention to the page space is completely in keeping with the rest of the book.

 

Event Report: Geek Craft Expo

Last weekend I headed over to Madison, WI for the Geek Craft Expo‘s Midwest market.  I had heard of the show from crafters I met at the Made in Nerdwaukee event, and it hit all of my buttons, vending wise.  Geek Craft Expo is a series of craft fairs around North America which focus on handmade geekery.  It’s the sort of craft fair where you find crocheted Yoda ears, dice boxes, fandom inspired bath bombs, and jewelry made out of circuit boards.

This was one of the best planned and run events I’ve ever attended.  There was a score of volunteers who helped vendors unload.  The background music that ran the whole gamut of fandom musical tastes: from “Real Folk Blues” to the Quantum Leap theme music.  The room was decorated with standard Halloween fare, there was a scavenger hunt for the kids who came by, as well as trick-or-treating, a make and take, and costume parade.  More importantly, for me, was the well-stocked vendor lounge with snacks and bottled water.

The last bit was important because I managed to lose my voice for the entire weekend.  I had been sick for the week leading up to Geek Craft, yet still managed to drag myself out to vend.  I spent most of the weekend behind my table, communicating with customers through notes and pantomime.

As well-run as the event was, traffic and sales were disappointing.  I don’t blame the event runners at all; their March expo was a huge success.  This time around, however, they ran afoul of football season.  I estimate that the total crowd over the weekend was a little under 1,000. By contrast, the crowd at their March event was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.  On the one hand that meant I didn’t have to interact with as many people while sick and speechless, but that also meant lower sales than I had expected.  As my booth neighbor, Moira, pointed out: “The conversion from browser to buyer is right where I expected it, but there just aren’t enough bodies coming through.”

And to their credit, the people in charge acknowledged the low attendance.  When the show closed and people started packing up they made the announcement that future shows would be scheduled well outside of football season.  I appreciated their candor.

I barely made booth, which means I lost money once I took gas and expenses into account.  I am honestly not as upset as I otherwise would be about the low sales.  Everything else was so nice about the event, that it sort of washes out in the end.  If I end up being in the area when the next expo is planned, I will definitely be signing up to vend.

 

Client Spotlight: Sarah G.

If I were to have a patron, Sarah would be it.  Over the last year she has commissioned several skirts from me, choosing the most whimsical, geeky, STEMy fabric imaginable.  As a client, she is a joy to work with.  So, when she approached me about creating a Miss Frizzle cosplay, I said yes without hesitation.

What Sarah wanted was simple in it’s vision: a matching skirt and shirt that would look like a dress, with the wide elastic of the skirt acting as a belt.  Being a busty woman, Sarah wanted to avoid the problems she’s had in the past with fitting dresses to her figure.  We talked at length about what kind of shirt would work best for the costume.  Though she was hesitant when I brought up a button down, she said she trusted me to make it work.

I understand her trepidation.  Button down shirts can be difficult for women with large breasts.  Not only is there the button gap issue, but in order to fit a shirt to your bust you often end up with a garment that looks like a tent.  In this case I had the advantage because I would be sewing the shirt from scratch.

Simplicity 9818 Pattern
For an all purpose button down shirt, this pattern is about as easy as they come.

I chose a pattern I already had on hand: Simplicity 9818.  I’d used the pattern before to make a shirt for myself, so I was familiar with the instructions.  The pattern itself stopped two sizes short of Sarah’s measurements.  This is where having multiple copies of a pattern on hand helps.  Using pattern paper I first traced the largest size, then I slid the pattern paper over, matching the markings with the smaller, inner size, and traced the larger size again.  From that pattern I made a muslin to make sure the sizing was correct.

If I were making the shirt for every day wear, I would have added bust darts up from the waist to make it a bit more tailored.  Since it was going to be tucked into the skirt and needed to look like part of the dress, I didn’t.  When she got the costume, she told me she was over the moon with the fit.  For once she had a button down shirt that fit her measurements.  Her trust in me had been well founded.  And it’s responses like that, the feeling of pulling on a piece of clothing that just fits like it is supposed to, that make this job so satisfying.  As someone who got into sewing because I hated going clothes shopping, I love that I can help others in that regard.

Microbes - Lime & Teal by Erin Hayward
I love the retro future design of these microbes.

The fabric Sarah chose, Microbes by Erin Hayward, is what really made this outfit work.  The design is recognizable for what it is, and it has just the right cartoony look to it.  With her wig and plush lizard, Sarah said that people at DragonCon immediately knew who she was.

This is an aspect of cosplay that I really love: going out in a character that other people relate to on a personal level.  To see a beloved character in the flesh, so to speak, to be able to interact with them, get a picture with them, connect with them, even if only for a moment of pretend, is one of those small moments of joy that help offset the horribleness of our current reality.  There are shootings and poverty and people without health care or power and natural disasters and suffering the world over.  Those things need our attention and help.  But we also need to have moments where we can retreat and recharge.  And this one small action, dressing up as Miss Frizzle, had ripple effects.  While I made the costume I felt happiness.  When Sarah dressed up, she felt happiness.  Those who saw her, not only in person, but in pictures posted on the Internet, felt happiness.  That is no small thing.

I’m already working on more skirts for Sarah.  I’ve sewn enough for her that they almost warrant their own post.  For now, I leave you with pictures of Miss Frizzle, out and about at DragonCon.  I hope seeing them brings you a moment or two of happiness.

Miss Frizzle Cosplay
Look at that wig! Look at that lizard!
Miss Frizzle Cosplay
I love the saucy pose!

Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.