The Scalding Truth – An Expose on Building a Small Business

GreenWoolDyePot

Every hooker knows what the picture here is all about.  Dye pots.  They’re hot.  When I teach beginner dyeing one of the first things we go over is the safety sheet, “dos” and “don’ts” of safety because dyeing wool is a hot affair (you can quote that).

Yesterday I was dyeing four and a half yards of straight up Cushing Silver Gray Green for a 3′ x 5′ commission I’m working on.  I usually like to play with making recipes for my colors, but the customer loves this color just as it is and it makes it super bomb proof to reproduce in the event I need more.  I’ve dyed wool so many times and yet I am never cavalier about the fact that those pots are HOT.

Yesterday, however, I lost my focus for a moment while pouring out one of the pots while the spent dye water was still pretty hot.  The scalding water hit the side of the sink and splashed on to my stomach, burning me through my shirt (ok, I wasn’t wearing a work apron…dumb).  I recoiled, which splashed a bit of the water on to my face.  It wasn’t a good scene.

How does an experienced dyer get burned?  Carelessness.  It’s really that simple.  If you’re focused the chances of this happening are slim to none.  But I was very tired yesterday.  I have been working from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days lately, sometimes longer, up to sixteen hours a day on occasion.  And this brings me to today’s topic: the scalding truth about building your own business.

This is not going to be a “woe-is-me-this-is-so-hard” downer kind of post.  This is actually going to be a “go-out-there-and-kick-it” kind of post, but I think it’s important to go out there and kick it with realistic expectations, because it is unrealistic expectations that cause discouragement, disappointment, and quitting.  If you think, “This is really hard. I must be doing it wrong,” and you make all kinds of adjustments (you spend an hour a day in meditation, you make sure you have time to exercise, you take breaks, you go to yoga class, hell, you just savor your wine or Jack Daniels over dinner) and it’s still damned hard and impossibly 16 hours a day time consuming at times, you may think, “I’m just not cut out for this.  Those other people must just have it (the Mary Pickfords of small business owners) and I don’t.”

NO.  It’s damned hard.  It really is.  There’s nothing wrong with you.

There.  Doesn’t that feel better?

Who am I to say this?  Well, here are my proposed qualifications.  I have a Bachelors’ degree in business administration/marketing from the University of Delaware and was regularly tortured with case studies which I had no idea would come in so handy thirty years later.  I grew up in a family business which grew to seven figures and it was damned hard for my father and brother, primarily, and the rest of us at times, to build that.  I worked for a small independent real estate company for a decade, and the level of integrity, dedication, and yes, love, the owner there brought to that enterprise remains an inspiration to me.  My own mentor has a strong business background as well as being a very fine artist and sometimes when I’ve asked her, “Do I have to do that?” her unflinchingly honest reply has been, “If you want to be successful you do.”  I have watched with unending admiration the building and growth of Beekman 1802, where we are so very fortunate to be collaborating artisans, and Josh and Brent don’t have a lot of downtime.  (Do Josh and Brent have any downtime?)  And finally, I have been on this odyssey that is Parris House Wool Works since 2011, full time since 2013, and it’s teaching me a great deal about the real world of small business, and more importantly about myself.

It’s pretty hard.  So, for those of you either in business already yourselves (many studio owners out there reading this have waaaaaaaaay more experience than I do and I welcome your comments), or those thinking about making that leap, this blog post is for you.  May you find it reassuring.   I hate to bring up the overly used analogy of childbirth, but I’m going to.  If you went in to that experience not expecting any pain or discomfort whatsoever, and then experienced pain or discomfort, you might also experience undue fear and discouragement instead of being able to better endure one of life’s most rewarding moments.  Other relevant analogies might be marathon running or producing an epic piece of art.  In any case, these things can be…you guessed it…damned hard.

So let’s get specific.

You are going to need to work long hours.

Unless you somehow have the capital (which I will talk about later) to hire a staff from the get go, you are going to need to work long hours, at least some of the time.  In fact, if you are the one in charge of creating this thing, even if you do have a staff, you’re probably going to have to work long hours.  There is just a lot to do, and much of it has nothing to do with the actual product or service you are providing.  You will be amazed at the amount of peripheral work that materializes in any business, including marketing tasks, social media (I do not consider this optional in 21st century enterprise), accounting, and if you have an on line shop or shops, keeping those updated and sharp.  Getting help with these functions is important, but in the beginning the chances are good that you may not have the cash flow to do that.  Once you do, you will probably hit another growth phase and you’re going to be up to your ears managing that growth and creating your product or service, which is what you got in to this in the first place for.

You may not make a profit right away.  In fact, you may operate at a loss for a few years.

Sad, but true.  Not that long ago I read an incredibly keeping-it-real and yet inspiring Facebook post by Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802.  They had gone to pay for a doctor’s visit for Brent and their debit card was declined because their account only had $1.71 in it. That’s right.  Beekman 1802.  That company with a full blown food line in over a thousand Target stores nationwide (highly recommended, by the way – delicious products and supportive of small American farmers).   Josh and Brent have plowed every last available dime that business makes back in to that business, while also giving grants to small farms annually AND helping to support over 160 small artisans like us, and that’s how it is in the early years.  It just IS.  So, if you think you’re a failure because your new small business isn’t a money vending machine, think again.

In the case of Beekman 1802, there is not debt on the business.  This is a well publicized fact that they offer out when asked about their business practices in public interviews.  However, this may not be possible for you.  You may need to take on some debt in order to purchase initial inventory, build a studio or work space, or buy equipment necessary for production.  If you are offering something that’s strictly a low overhead service, like on line coaching for example, these costs will not be nearly as high.  If you do take on debt, it’s going to be critical that you service that debt and pay it back on time every time to build or maintain an excellent credit rating.  And that costs money.  Do everything you can to pay that down or off, which means not taking money out of the business for anything non-essential.

This need for initial capital and the ongoing cost of doing business is where product vs. service companies may differ substantially.  For example, Parris House Wool Works not only makes a physical product, we supply others who are making physical items for their own use, and occasionally for their own resale. In order to buy at the best wholesale prices, we often need to buy in quantity, and that is sometimes painful.  But again, that pain is normal.  If it hurts a little to make this month’s inventory buy you haven’t failed.  You’re running a young business.

You will reach an awkward stage where you don’t feel like you’re making enough to hire help, but you also know in your bones that if you don’t it’s going to stunt your growth.  Hello!  Waving to you from just that place!  And I’m going to solve that, because here’s the thing about having a small business all your own: you solve things you never thought you could and move on to the next challenge.  Eventually this becomes a valuable life analogy.

It’s not always going to feel good.

I recently read an essay by blogger Mark Manson about life purpose and pursuing dreams, and serendipitously, this essay was also referenced by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Big Magic” which is this month’s pick for our Hooks & Books book group here in Maine.  Mark’s essays are not for the faint of heart, so brace yourself.  What Mark wants us to do when we are considering pursuing dreams is to be really honest with ourselves about “what kind of shit sandwich” we’re willing to eat.  Those are his words, not mine, but the point is clear.  Nothing is going to be unicorns and rainbows all the time, and whatever passion you choose to pursue, it better be one that you’re willing to eat the inevitable shit sandwiches for.

Yesterday was a shit sandwich day in my business life.  I have too much on my plate right now because of deadline convergences beyond my control.  I am not yet at a point where I can pay for too much help (see the previous topic points).  I was tired, and I burned myself on the dye pots. After that, I had to make a phone call to find out what the heck was going on with a glitch in an ordering system I work with.  And that’s just a mild shit sandwich day.  They happen.  And when they happen to you, you have not failed.  In fact, you are working through problems and issues that are your best education, and you will get better and better and better, and way more confident, about handling future problems.

You are going to have to juggle your time so that your personal life is not sacrificed.

This is my first year as an empty nester.  It is so much easier for me to do this than it would be were my sons still little boys.  I completely get that, and if you are a business owner with small children, I bow down to you.

At the other end of things, if you are caring for elderly relatives, I bow down to you as well.  

Your personal life always – always – has to come first.   Sometimes making that happen without dropping the ball on your business is a challenge, and it’s a continual issue.  Sometimes you’ll have to drop the ball on your business, and that’s ok.  Once again, you have not failed.  You will only feel as though you have if your expectation is that you can always do it all.

You are going to need to market yourself.

And by marketing yourself I will always mean being you, not trying to be anyone or anything your aren’t.  Having said that…

Your customers and clients need to know you exist.  When my father was building his business in the 1950s through the 1980s, he had way fewer options for this than we do today.  Are we not the luckiest generation of business owners ever to walk the planet in that we have the internet?

This blog post is not a how-to on marketing, so I will not go in to what I think you need to do specifically.  I’m not expert on that myself and I’ll leave that to the business coaches, social media pros, and your ability to Google.  I’m just saying that if you have any qualms whatsoever about shouting to the rooftops that you’re here, that your product or service is pretty darned awesome, and these are the all the ways a customer can find you, your damned hard business may be super unbelievably damned hard.

But again, the silver lining is that this aspect of the business is fun.   I have met so many wonderful people in our craft through social media and the internet, including people who have much to teach me.

If you aren’t as in love with the internet as I am (you still have to use it – sorrynotsorry), there is no overestimating the value of face to face contact either.  I have gained so much not only for my business but for my personal growth just going out and teaching, meeting new people, chatting about our craft, going to events – all of that.  There is no substitute.

I suppose this gets back to Mark Manson’s post about finding your passion, the part that doesn’t include the words “shit sandwich.”  It had better be a thing that you love so much that you can’t NOT do it, that you want to live it, breathe it, talk about it, and DO it.  If this thing you’re doing is that kind of thing, marketing yourself may just feel like talking about your favorite subject to people who dig it too.

This brings us full circle to…you’re going to need to work a LOT.

Sometimes when things are particularly intense with Parris House Wool Works, I’ll vent a little bit on my personal Facebook page.  I’ll post that I’m working twelve to sixteen hour days and that I need a freaking break.  I’ll disappear from my personal Facebook for days because there’s no time to even look at it, because if I do the distraction is completely unaffordable.  It is during these times that well meaning friends, including professional business coaches, urge me to chill out, take a long break, stop pushing so hard.  I usually acquiesce and say, “Yeah, you’re right” and then feel like I’m somehow failing in my work because there are times when I know with my deepest intuition and common sense that I have to push that hard to accomplish what I want and need to.

But that’s how this post came to me.  I realized I’m not failing, and if you can relate to all of this, neither are you.  If I look at every successful venture I use as a role model, every business person I’ve ever admired, every athlete or artist or writer I hold in high esteem, they all say, in one way or another, “It’s damned hard.”  They also say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The caveat here is that there may well be people who can make it all happen without any of the damned hardness I’ve outlined above.  Hooray for them!  I think they are exceedingly rare, especially in businesses that create a physical product or have significant capital or overhead costs.  I think they are nonexistent in some industries, for example, the restaurant business.  Does anyone work harder than a new restaurant owner who wasn’t bankrolled by a trust fund or something?  I’m watching from afar a brand new craft brewery go together in Norway, Maine and whew, that looks like a nonstop work campaign.  If you are one of those people who can make this seamless and never end up with a you-know-what sandwich on your plate, ignore this entire post.

If you are not, then I hope you will take heart.  If you are the owner of a small enterprise that you are hopelessly, madly in love with but are still struggling with sometimes, take heart.  If you are thinking about starting that small labor of love, take heart.  It’s like raising children, making art that’s really you, becoming an athlete, going as far as you can at this particular moment in yoga, or anything else that brings you a little closer to the best version of yourself – it’s hard.  And that’s ok.

Happy entrepreneuring and happy hooking!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

On Partner Yoga and Creativity…

Is anyone else feeling a little heavy and out of shape, mentally and physically, in this post holiday season?  I know I am.  The scale has certainly let me know, as has the waistband of my jeans, but it’s more than that.  It’s that feeling that I need to get clarity and lightness on a whole host of things.  So, with this in mind, my husband and I, total yoga beginners, signed up for the four week Partner Yoga class at Halls Pond Healing Arts in South Paris, Maine, which is the creation of the amazing, creative, loving, nurturing Katey Branch.  If you’re local, I highly recommend checking out the wonderful yoga classes and healing opportunities Katey offers.

Partner Yoga is not just for couples.  With us in class were a pair of friends and one grandmother/granddaughter duo.  But regardless of who you are with, you learn a lot about yourself, your partner, and the notion of collaboration and unity in general.  It occurred to me that there are strong parallels in this practice to the practice of creativity in our lives.

Creativity is not always a solo act.  In fact, it may never be a solo act.  

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For some reason I can’t do this activity without cracking up.  So much for centered tranquility.   Photo credit: Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts

Normally when I think of yoga, I think of it as something that is done by a single body, albeit in harmony with everyone else in the world who practices it, but you know…without another person IN the pose with you.  A rather strong feature of my personality is that I’m very much the “loner.”  I like working alone.  I like exercising alone.  I like making decisions mostly alone.  I really like thinking and/or meditation alone.  Most of the time, I like creating alone.  Or so I think.

I may be suffering from what I could call “the alone delusion.”  Do we do anything alone?  For an avowed introvert like me, this is an unnerving question, and I think I have to answer it in the negative.  NO.  No, we really don’t do anything alone.  The romantic image of the cloistered artist, hermit-like in his studio, undistracted by “the world” is, well, BS.  Because no matter how physically alone we are at any given time, no matter how much we’ve taken ourselves away from the world (I confess I was running from a certain brand of civilization when I left suburban NJ for rural Maine), we are still in the company of everyone we’ve ever known, living or dead, who’s had any influence at all in our world view and our vision.  Of course, it is up to us to choose the partners who will share our poses, and reject those who are stunting or harmful to us, or continually pull us out of our best alignment, but we simply never truly practice alone; not in yoga, not in art, not in life.

Why would we want to?  The examination of that question is the subject of full length novels and psychology books.   Suffice it to say that every time we consult a mentor for our art, business, or life, we are bringing a partner in to our creative pose.  I have one primary mentor in rug hooking, and several others who I consult when it’s clear my work and my life will be the better for it.   There are times when I want the only voice to be my own (or as my own as it can be), and other times when I want a chorus of opinion.  Like a great yoga instructor, our creative mentors are there to suggest gentle adjustments, new creative poses, and remind us of the fundamentals of our art when necessary.  They are also there to stand back when we say, “No, that doesn’t feel right for me right now” and let us find our current best orientation.

Creativity involves falling over sometimes.  

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This is a great way to fall over.   Photo credit:  Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts

As you can tell from these photos, when it comes to yoga, we’re total noobs.  We can’t find perfect alignment (not even close); we can’t even always stay vertical in the vertical poses or properly horizontal in the horizontal ones.  We fell out of the pose pictured above multiple times.  Like, literally fell out of it.

Our instructor is, of course, expert in yoga, and there was a couple there who have been practicing for around seventeen years.  One of the other newbies described them as “flexible as hell.”  We all laughed because this was the perfect descriptor.  Yes, yes, they are.  We are not.

What makes them flexible as hell?  Practice, dedication, attention.  I thought a lot about the term “flexible as hell” and it came to me that perhaps that couple is beautifully, humanly flexible and the rest of us are actually frozen in place.  We are frozen in place by sitting at desks, walking with our shoulders stooped by the weight of our lives, by the absence of play, by not fully inhabiting our bodies.  We are frozen in place by lack of practice and INattention.  The analogy to our creative lives is clear.

Creativity can’t draw its first breath without an openness to patient practice, dedication, and attention. When we first start with something we’re likely to fall over a lot.  We’re going to miss the alignment we want sometimes.  We may even get frustrated and walk away until we can try again. We’re going to take work apart and start over (our Maine studio hookers call this “reverse hooking”).  I recently hooked the face of a dog three times before it looked right to me, with breaks in between attempts to calm my nerves.  I also dyed four colors for that dog to get two that were right for it.  I’m not saying that you have to be an expert to be creative.  In fact, you do not, and maybe that’s the ironic point of what I’m saying.  An absolute beginner can create something wonderful if he or she is ok with the possibility of falling over…the possibility of failure on the first try, and the second, and maybe the third and beyond.  Paradoxically, the cheerful acceptance of imperfection and the application of persistence during the journey is what will lead to perfection down the road.

I’m still falling over a lot.  I teach classes in those things I feel I can and bring in teachers with more time on this road for those I feel I can not.  I’m ok with that.  One day I too will be flexible as hell.

Creativity requires you to stand up for yourself…and to yield.  

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With apologies for minor midriff exposure. We’re a little chubby right now.  Photo credit:  Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts

In order to correctly get in to the pose pictured above, you have to maintain the integrity of your own pose, while also accommodating, as you are able, the pose of the other.  In much of partner yoga, there is a balance to be found between standing your ground and yielding. As you can see, we’re not too good at this yet.  Draw what life analogies you will.  In this particular pose, at least we’ve gotten our heads together.

There’s this magical collaborative “getting of heads together” that happens in the Maine studio with the Tuesday group on a regular basis.  It begins with a hooker looking puzzled, stumped, possibly putting her frame down on the floor and walking away from it to view her work from afar.  Sometimes she sees what she’s looking for.  Other times she doesn’t.  When she doesn’t, something collaborative often ensues.  The whole group is brought in to the process:

  • “Do you think the value jump between these two colors is too much?”
  • “I don’t think this color is working.  What do you think?”
  • “I just don’t think this background makes my elements pop the way I want them to.  Thoughts?”
  • “I don’t like this part of the pattern.  Do you think I could just hook over it or change it?”
  • “This is not working.  HELP!”

The Parris House Hookers are NOT shy about answering these questions.  Almost everyone has an opinion, and while those opinions are always expressed with respect and affection, they do get expressed.

At this point, the hooker (the creative) will take it all in to account (we never really create alone) and make a decision.

The beautiful thing about this is that everyone ends up happy.  Whether our advice is taken or not is completely immaterial.  In fact, the only thing that matters is that the hooker whose piece it is is happy with her decision and outcome.

In creating anything, there are times to stand your ground and times to yield.  Sometimes you are not only strong enough in the process to hold your own, but you absolutely must. A well-intentioned peer may look at your piece and offer up an alternative that simply won’t work for your vision of it.  Other times that alternative might feel like just the adjustment you were looking for, that for whatever reason wasn’t going to come through you that day.

In my own creative life, I am feeling the need this year to yield quite a bit less.  As beginners in anything, and I am not far off from a beginner myself, we often lean heavily on whatever solid foundation has helped to build our skill and thus we find ourselves in safe and familiar territory.  Creativity, though, wants us to be flexible (as hell), and I find myself with quite a few projects in mind this year that may help me get there.

Winter is long in New England.  It’s a great time to reflect.  Look for ways to let creativity live in your life, ways to melt what’s frozen in place for you.  Yoga does this for the spirit, the mind, and the body and is a creative practice all its own.  Creativity can live in as simple an act as cooking dinner, and in endeavors as complex as the finest art forms.  The point is, it’s available to all of us and it’s good to ponder its nature from time to time.

Happy post-holiday regrouping and happy hooking! – Beth

 

 

 

 

What’s New for 2016

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Kim Dubay’s starter yarn bomb for the Parris House fence is standing strong against the Maine winter.  

This may be the longest gap in blog posting this page has seen in a couple of years, but I’ve been crazy busy in spite of the blog’s dormancy.  December had Jen and I feverishly hooking and sewing pillows for holiday orders of our exclusive Beekman 1802 collection, and here in Maine I was in need of several clones to help with the Etsy orders, the studio requests, and most importantly, preparing for a holiday with all of my family at home.  As my sons and other precious family members continue to leave to go back to work and college, I confess that I am terribly behind in my work life.  Unlike last year this time, however, I’m A-OK with that.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am extremely committed to Parris House Wool Works and to everyone involved with it, from our Tuesday group to our on line customers to my students, mentors, suppliers, teaching venues, teachers…everyone.  And that will never change.  But about three days in to this two week hiatus, after I had shipped the final Beekman pillows before Christmas, something became very clear to me:  everyone needs to take a complete break sometimes.  (Yes, yes I am a slow learner…).

Having said that, the break is over, 2016 is upon us, and new adventures are in the offing.  So what’s on the agenda for 2016?

Teaching Opportunities/Class Offerings

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  • This year I will be returning to the Squam Art Workshops for the Spring 2016 session.  I could not be more excited!   What is completely new this year is that in addition to teaching my beginner class, Modern Heirloom, I am teaching the next level class, Hook What You Love.   Maybe some of you are a little weary of my gushing about Squam, but I can’t help myself.  I love, love, love this venue and everyone involved in it.  I highly recommend it to students.  It will change your life.
  • Through my connection to Squam, I was introduced to Amy Stein, fantabulous founder of Craftwork Somerville just outside of Boston.  I love what Amy has created at Craftwork Somerville, a complete maker and learning center for art, craft, and more.  This is the wave of the creative future, providing a space where everyone can embrace and develop themselves as creative people, whether that has been their primary focus in life or not.  And that makes for such an exciting teaching venue!  I will be teaching The Art of Hooking there in March for the first time and am looking forward to the experience and the chance to get down to the Boston area again.
  • I will continue to offer classes and workshops through the Maine studio.  Please look at (and check back often to) our Classes & Workshops page on the site.   The next one coming up is the Beginner Dye Class.  There are only spaces for four students and at least one or two are already spoken for, so please sign up early.   What is new is that I will be using Eventbrite for class sign ups from here on out (unless you are physically in the studio when you sign up), to make for a consistent sign up experience.    You can go to Eventbrite to find our offerings by clicking on the new widget on the right column of our website.
  • Beginner Rug Hooking will continue quarterly, but truly, if anyone would like that class at any time it is readily available by appointment as well.
  • A new workshop, Yes You Are & Yes You Can, is in the making, and I will announce the date for it as soon as I have it more organized.  This workshop came about because I think I have heard, “I am just not talented” and “I really can’t even draw a stick figure” about a hundred times each.  Well, yes you are talented and yes you can draw something worth hooking and I’m going to show you how.  Stay tuned.
  • I will also continue to seek out the very best and most dynamic guest teachers for the Maine studio, so please stay tuned for new offerings. You may recall that last year we had Mary Delano come to teach a wonderful class on wool applique and Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking came to teach Me, Myself, & I, which everyone thoroughly loved.  More to come!

Shows & Events

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  • I will be returning to the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival in the fall.  What a wonderful experience that is.  A quick search of our blog archives will give you more information on this amazing festival in upstate New York founded by the Fabulous Beekman Boys/Beekman 1802 and their fellow business and community members in Sharon Springs.
  • I am very excited to announce that I will be involved this year with the Home Garden Flower Show’s May Fair at the Fryeburg Fair Grounds in Fryeburg, Maine.  This is a huge event, drawing 10,000 visitors or more, in May and I am thrilled to be a part of it.  Details to come.
  • I plan to make at least one, possibly two, quality pieces to submit to Hooked in the Mountains 2016, sponsored by the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild this October in Essex Junction, VT.  This will be the first time I have submitted work for show and I am both excited and nervous about the prospect.   If you have never experienced Hooked in the Mountains, now is the time to go.  Hundreds of rugs are on display, the variety of which is mind boggling, and there are wonderful vendors from all over the country.  Not to be missed.
  • Once again I hope to be vending at some of our local hook ins, including The Keeping Room’s Harvest Hook In in the fall in Hampden, Maine and Hooked Treasure’s Spring Fever Hook In in Brunswick, Maine.

New Ways to Shop

  • This has been in the works for a while with unforeseen circumstances causing a little delay, but very soon you will be able to shop Parris House Wool Works not only on Etsy, but on our own website via our Shopify plug in and on Amazon Handmade.  I will announce when these shops are up and running.

Miscellaneous Happenings

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  • Look for something special from Parris House Wool Works in the 2016 November/December issue of Rug Hooking Magazine.  :)
  • We are going to try to get both a live/in person and on line book group off the ground called Hooks & Books either this month or next.  The first book we’re going to read is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Stay tuned for more information and if you are interested in joining us you might want to order the book now!
  • I plan to create a decor and herbal pillow line for our own shops much as we have created one for Beekman 1802.  The Beekman 1802 line reflects Josh & Brent’s style and brand, which we adore.  The Parris House Wool Works line will reflect our own, which is a bit different.

You may have noticed that there’s a decided shift in focus toward teaching, events, and finished pieces.  This is not accidental.  While we will continue to offer the very best quality supplies and materials for our craft, I have discovered that my passion is firmly in the realm of spreading this craft far and wide to new students, followed by actually making pretty and unique things.  Success only comes with passion, and while there doesn’t seem to be a cookie cutter road map for some of my 2016 goals, I find both the opportunity and unpredictability welcome.

That’s enough about us!  We would love to hear what your plans, goals, and dreams are for the new year, so please feel free to comment here or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest!  (Our YouTube channel is still a work in process…)

Happy hooking and the happiest of New Years to you!  – Beth

A Big Thing in a Small Package, a Magical Little Mat by Susan Feller of Ruckman Mill Farm

Many of you may already be familiar with accomplished fiber artist Susan Feller of Ruckman Mill Farm in West Virginia.  Taken from an article that appeared in RHM’s Rug Beat: “Susan is the author of Design Basics for Rug Hookers and a frequent contributor to Rug Hooking Magazine. Her websites are www.ruckmanmillfarm.com and www.artwools.com.”

Susan has dual degrees in history and art, and also a resume filled with accomplishments in her work life.  I would encourage you to click on every single hyperlink in that opening paragraph, however, like all biographical blurbs, nothing there begins to fully describe Susan.

I already knew a few things about Susan’s work when I went to a meeting of the Maine Tin Pedlar ATHA chapter last summer, where Susan was doing a presentation on design.   She was also selling her beautiful hand dyed wools, patterns that range from traditional to way-out-of-the-box contemporary, and her really unique and fun to work with Design in a Box Fraktur kit.  I bought two sets of those, one for Jen and one for the Maine studio.  One of our hookers has already used it to create a personal gift rug.

There were two other reasons I made sure I was there, however.  One was to meet Susan herself and the other was to view a portion of her Year Study project that I had seen online.    Between November 4th, 2013 and November 4th, 2014, Susan created a 5″ square study and fiber design for every day of the year.  The results were nothing short of breathtaking.

First, let me describe Susan.  The first word that comes to mind is creative, followed immediately by high energy.  Simultaneous with both is passionate and caring.  When I introduced myself to her she immediately knew who I was and had things she wanted to say to me – valuable, important things from an experienced artist to a newbie.   This energy and graciousness are part of the reason I would like to be able to bring Susan to our studio to teach a class at some point in the future.  It is impossible not to be inspired by her.

The Year Study squares are just crazy good.  So many materials, colors, techniques, design styles, every one completely unique with a story all its own.   I knew I wanted one and asked Susan to just reserve my birthday square for me,  June 21st.  I didn’t care what it looked like, what the design was.  I trusted completely that it would be the right square and that I would love it.

I was not disappointed.  In fact, I was thrilled.  And here is where you must forgive me for getting a little metaphysical.  You may use the word superstitious if you are so inclined.

Above my sewing machine in my work studio (not the studio space where we have Tuesday group, but up in the inner sanctum over the garage where I actually create), I have a bulletin board with things that inspire me about where I’ve been so far in this creative journey and where I want to go.  It is there that I pinned the paper copy of Susan’s design study that came with my square.

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There it is in the lower left corner.  I leave the other items on there for context.  I’ve got a beautiful, loving postcard from Forest Eliot at the Squam Art Workshops where I teach, my somewhat salty reminder to never give up, and pic of Jen and me with Josh and Brent at the Beekman 1802 Mercantile for which we make custom pillows.   Tucked right in there is Susan’s study for my birthday square.  It is called, “Trip to Teach.”

The square documents a teaching trip Susan took through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.  When I told Susan how much it meant to me later, she indicated that she had learned a lot on that trip, both through contact with her students and in the quiet of long car rides between destinations.

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So, why was this little square like a message from the fiber art gods (or at least one fiber art goddess…) to me?

I wrote a blog post in October about getting back to the reasons I started Parris House Wool Works to begin with, and how I had gotten a bit off track from those in trying to keep up with the small, but time consuming, retail side of things.   This was in explanation for closing the physical studio all but for Tuesday group.  Here is an excerpt:  “… making stuff is going to be a focus that shifts in to a primary position for me, and equal to that is going to be teaching.   There is nothing in my work more rewarding than sharing this heritage craft with new hookers.  Nothing.  If I just repost the link for my experience at the Squam Art Workshops, I think it will be a matter of ’nuff said: click here.   I am sooooo looking forward to returning to Squam in 2016…”  And what I did not know then was that yet another two teaching opportunities would come to me in the next weeks.

Here is the map of Susan’s teaching trip, rendered in wool, silk, fantabulous colors, and imagination.

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I believe art objects are like talismans.  Maybe they are not literally imbued with magic…or maybe they are.  I don’t know.  This one came at just the right time to say, “Hey, yes…stay the course.  Make those crazy pieces in 2016 that are forming in  your mind.  Teach everywhere you can. Here’s an artist that could and did and does.”  Maybe the art objects aren’t the talismans.  Maybe the artists themselves are.  In fact, I know they are.

So how about it?  What would make a nicer holiday gift to yourself, or to someone you love, than one of the many Year Study squares that Susan still has left in her shop?  To view and purchase them, click HERE.   You might just see one that inspires you, the way mine turned out to be just the right one even sight unseen.

Happy dreaming, happy shopping, and happy hooking.  – Beth

It’s Small Business Saturday!

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It’s Small Business Saturday! 10% off everything in the Etsy shop with coupon code SBS2015! I made the decision not to have the physical studio open today because my boys are home (a precious rarity), however, I *am* extending this discount through Tuesday, December 1st both on Etsy and in the Maine studio (that means you, Tuesday group!). We’ll just celebrate in person a little late.  In the meantime, please shop your local small businesses today and send a message in support of entrepreneurship in America.

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Registration for Spring 2016 at the Squam Art Workshops is OPEN!

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Once again I am like a kid in a candy store hopping up and down with excitement about teaching this coming spring at the Squam Art Workshops.  For a synopsis of what this impossible-to-describe-in-words arts retreat is about, click here for last year’s blog post.

The full array of offerings are available here, including, once again, my friend Sarah Sousa’s wonderfully creative and cathartic class, Found Poetry.

This year I am teaching two hooking classes, one for beginners, and one for intermediate students – those who have hooked before, maybe taken my beginner class last year, and want to try some new things.

I am offering Modern Heirloom again to beginners.  This year’s design is of a Luna moth because I saw quite a few of them at Squam last year and I think they are part of the magic that is Squam in the evening.

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For those who took Modern Heirloom last year, or who have mastered the basic loop pulling technique, I am offering an intermediate class called Hook What You Love.

My example for this is the scene looking out of my office window in Maine, however, the idea is for the student to come up with her own design of something near and dear and create her own fiber art interpretation of it.

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If you have never been to Squam, I can not possibly recommend it enough.  You will find tranquility, joy, and an atmosphere of open creativity among the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet.  You will also be lodged in gorgeous rustic but comfy cabins along the shoreline of Squam Lake in Holderness, NH at the Rockywold Deephaven Camps.  And the food is plentiful and delicious (let’s not forget the food!).  This is a place to get away from everyday stresses and distractions and rediscover what is dearest to you, among people who “get it.”   And, you will go home having made new friends, learned new skills, and, I guarantee it, having discovered something new about yourself.

Don’t miss this.

Happy dreaming and happy hooking! – Beth

What Are These Ladies Gathered For???

Left to right, Beth Miller (owner, Parris House Wool Works), Judy Labbe, Sharon Warren, Wendy Baird, Connie Fletcher (owner, Seven Gables Rug Hooking), Ellen Marshall (owner, Two Cats & Dog Rug Hooking), Libby Armstrong, Cathy Newell, and Edna Olmstead. (Missing from photo, Kim DuBay, owner of Primitive Pastimes, and Sandy Warren).

We had a fine time in the Maine studio yesterday!  Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking visited us again.  She’s been with us quite a bit this past fall working on a very special project that is completely her brainchild, called “Me, Myself, & I.”  This project took the form of a very informative class on more advanced rug hooking techniques, and the result is a collection of absolutely amazing self portraits hooked by the ladies you see above (and the two that you don’t see).

Connie will be setting up a beautiful exhibit of these pieces at the 3rd Annual Paris Hill Hook In on November 7th.  If you are in attendance, you will have the opportunity to view it.  If not, we will plan other ways to share it with the hooking community.

Want to join these ladies plus quite a few more every week for hooking fun and festivity?  Come to our open hooking every Tuesday at the Maine studio from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.   Coffee, tea, and goodies are provided in the morning, bring your own lunch and stay in to the afternoon!  Our group is like a good family – always welcoming, always supportive.  Join us!

Happy hooking! – Beth

New Maine Studio Hours (or Lack Thereof) Become Permanent – A Very Honest Blog Post…

Not that all of my blog posts aren’t honest.  Really, I think the only studio owner who posts more frankly than I do has to be Christine Little of Encompassing Designs up in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.  If you don’t follow Christine’s blog, you absolutely should, and you can – just click HERE.  You should also shop her amazing patterns, hand dyed wools, and everything else she has in her magical – and I do mean magical – shop.

So, if you’ve been following along on line, you know that I have closed the Maine studio for the month of October except a) for our Tuesday hooking group which will never be given up unless I’m dead or there’s a zombie apocalypse (although I might want to teach the zombies to hook…) or something, and b) by chance or appointment.  I did this for two reasons.  One, I knew that October was going to be a very busy month of catch up on all kinds of business related matters.  Two, I wanted to see how much more I could get done on primary goals for this studio if I were not sitting retail hours four hours a day every day.

We are about three quarters in to October, and the results are very clear.  I need to keep this structure for the Maine studio permanently.

I honestly don’t think much will change.  First off, our online shop is available 24/7/365.  I will still be uber available in person for appointments and often available by chance.  I welcome wandering hookers in to this studio with open arms, offer them coffee or tea, and stop whatever I’m doing for good old fashioned hooker fun.  This will continue.

However, chances are good that I *will* be in the middle of something else that’s a little different than the something else I’ve been in the middle of before.

Recently my husband said to me, “I want you to remember what you started this business for in the first place.”  This was in response to a recent large scale commission I received from an absolutely lovely customer in New York state, and the order of yet another of the Beekman 1802 silhouette pillows.  I clearly get a big bang out of this type of work.  I love working with the customers to get a design just right, to chat colors with them, to make something that is so meaningful to them that they can be as proud of it as I am when it ships out the door, to be part of a human story. I LOVE that.

Here are a few custom pieces I made in the past, where heart and hands came together in projects that I have never been able to forget.

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This is a view of Lake Willoughby, Vermont, commissioned as a gift to her husband by Kate Huntress.  Design assistance by Daniel Rosenburg.

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This rug was done for the Dadey family, in celebration of the precious life of their daughter, Elizabeth.  Design adaptation for hooking by Daniel Rosenburg, design by Elizabeth Dadey.

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This one was a real labor of love, a Rufus Porter-esque interpretation of the Beekman farm that we made as a gift to Josh and Brent. Design collaboration with Daniel Rosenburg, who drew it first, and then I tweaked the design based on additional pics of the farm I had. We had not yet visited in person!

All three of these rugs were made with the able design assistance of Dan Rosenburg, and I will be calling on him in a heartbeat when I think a particular request demands his style and expertise, however, more recently I have been handling all design myself, including on the current large commission I’m working on.

When I first got the idea for Parris House Wool Works in 2011, custom rug making was my vision.  Specifically, I wanted to do custom rugs of people’s homes, camps, or special locations, probably because I myself am a person very rooted in places that speak to me.  I also wanted to make pieces of my own design and imagination to simply make and then offer out in to the world for sale.

Shortly after really launching Parris House Wool Works full time in 2013, though, I quickly got caught up in an emphasis on the retail aspect of rug hooking.  As you know, we make patterns and sell supplies – quite a lot of them (and that won’t change – in fact, stay tuned for a new and improved way to shop later this month).  And while that has been going on, I have all but stopped really hooking, with the exception of the made to order pillows for Beekman 1802 (God bless you, Josh and Brent), and the finished piece orders that come through the Etsy shop.  I have made fewer and fewer epic custom pieces, or put another way, those things that I originally set out to do.

So now, if you stop by for some good old fashioned hooker fun, you may have to wait a few moments at the door, and I encourage you to knock and ring REALLY LOUDLY, because I may be upstairs in the work space I’ve been organizing for the express purpose of what I call “making stuff.”

Like me, and like Parris House Wool Works, this space is a work in process that has a long way to go.  You will notice it is very contemporary, and that is because some boobs in the late 80s/early 90s knocked down the original post and beam carriage house on the Parris House and put up this thing in its place, between the house and barn where what is traditionally known as the “ell” would be.  There’s no accounting for taste, but unless I win the Powerball and can knock it down and put up a proper post and beam repro, I’m stuck with making the best of it.

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Sewing area, light box for photography, soap drying racks.

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This view out of the work space doesn’t hurt.

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This is where things are still quite messy. Ever use a big air hockey/pool table as a work surface? Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. The antique but built like a fortress serger under the window was my grandfather’s, then my father’s. My grandfather came over from Italy a master tailor around 1910 through Ellis Island, then taught my father the trade. That machine is a treasure. Shelving holds my stuffs, my shipping supplies, my beekeeping helmet, and whatever else I can fit on it.

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Seriously antique desk which I have coveted for over a decade in the home of some dear friends. They recently gifted it to me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Eventually, I want the wall it’s on to be a mini dye kitchen, because it’s directly opposite the plumbing in a master bath, but that’s for another year.

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My yoga loft. Yep. That’s what I do in it on the rare occasion I actually make myself do it. Which needs to be much, much more often.

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Another treasured vintage item, my Paris Manufacturing Company sewing table, complete with built in yardstick. I love this thing. Right now it’s the place I sit, write, and look out the window, because again…dat view…

So, making stuff is going to be a focus that shifts in to a primary position for me, and equal to that is going to be teaching.   There is nothing in my work more rewarding than sharing this heritage craft with new hookers.  Nothing.  If I just repost the link for my experience at the Squam Art Workshops, I think it will be a matter of ’nuff said: click here.   I am sooooo looking forward to returning to Squam in 2016, and I even have my prototype pieces all made up for the classes I’m teaching there, but I can’t reveal those yet.  ;)

While a very wise mentor once said to me, “Never apologize, never explain,” and for the most part I completely agree with that, I felt this post on why I’m suspending the studio hours in Maine was probably in order, and would also give other artisans a chance to offer feedback on their own journeys in finding the best balance of activity for their work and creative lives.

So that’s it.  Again, feel free to knock at the Parris House door when you are in the area, or call me for an appointment.  Watch our website and Facebook page for regularly scheduled classes and events that will continue to be offered, I suspect in increasing numbers, this year and next.

Happy creating and happy hooking! – Beth

Win a 3′ x 5′ Hit and Miss Rug to Benefit Maine Medical Center’s Family Assistance Program!

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Those of you who follow our blog faithfully know that two of our Tuesday hooking group members in Maine, Irene Adams and Cindy Mitchell, are kidney transplant recipients.  For more on their powerful stories you can click here.

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Cindy Mitchell, left and Irene Adams, right.

Both of their lives were saved through organ donation and their surgeries and care were performed by the Maine Medical Center Kidney Transplant Team.  Everyone who loves Irene and Cindy could not be more grateful to the donors and to Maine Medical Center.  In addition, we recognize that there are still others going through this difficult process, and that they could use a helping hand.  Maine Medical Center has a Family Assistance Program fund to provide just the kind of help these other patients and their families need, and we wanted to help.

As a result, we have partnered with Maine Medical Center to raffle this stunning 3′ x 5′ hit and miss rug, which is being hooked with a whole lot of love by our Tuesday group, including Irene and Cindy themselves!  We’re digging deep in to our wool stashes and producing a colorful alternating block rug of stars and stripes.  We think the joyful pattern is appropriate both to the heritage of hit and miss hooking and to the joy we’ve experienced in seeing Irene and Cindy regain their health.

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Maine hooker extraordinaire Edna Olmstead works on our raffle rug outside of her home on a pretty day.

We’ve been working on this rug for months.  Every Tuesday someone is working hard on a square.  The rug went to our Sunset Haven Hooking & Hiking Retreat in September, where the attendees took turns working on it.  It’s been to the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival in NY, and on November 7th, it will be displayed (finished we think!!!) at the Third Annual Paris Hill Hook-In.

Tickets for a chance to win are just $10 each or 6 for $50!  The rug is valued in the thousands of dollars, so a winning ticket is quite the bargain for a rug that is, in reality, one of a kind and priceless.  The prize will be drawn on November 5th, 2016 at the Fourth Annual Paris Hill Hook-In; you need not be present to win.  We are looking to raise as much as $20,000 for the Family Assistance Program fund.

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So here’s what you can do to help!

  • To purchase tickets, contact Beth Miller at (207) 890-8490 or parrishousewoolworks@gmail.com.  I will guide you in payment options and how to receive your tickets (either by snail mail or email image).
  • Consider selling our tickets (there are 2000 of them so help is welcome!) at your event, shop, studio, or hooking/knitting/crafting group.  Again, contact me for FMI.
  • Share, share, share this blog post on your social media, on your email lists, newsletters, and among friends!  We thank you in advance for being our individual town criers on this event!
  • Stop in to Maine Medical Center’s Kidney Transplant Center in person to buy one of the first 100 tickets sold.  They are selling them right in their office area.
  • Consider making a donation directly to the Maine Medical Center Family Assistance Program fund.  We have already had someone do this and it was very touching.
  • Consider becoming an organ donor.  Our lives are forever enriched because Irene and Cindy were recipients.
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Corner detail from the raffle rug.

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Under construction. Look at our beautiful stash colors!

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A finished end. Stars and stripes forever!

Thank you for considering being part of this ambitious fundraiser, borne of gratitude.  Every ticket sold, every contribution made, every social media share, is greatly appreciated.

Good luck in buying the winning ticket and happy hooking! – Beth

How to Freeze Sliced Apples. It’s Easy!

Well, it’s apple picking season in Maine, and in many other areas of the country too.  For many this is a time to pick a local orchard, pack up the family or friends, and have a wonderful excursion.  I like going to apple orchards too, but I have no excuse to pick because we have more apples than we can handle coming from our own trees at the Parris House.  I have to settle for the cider and donuts at commercial orchards.

Earlier this week my husband, Bill, and I did some apple picking.  We by no means got all of them, but we got a good first haul.  He does the ladder picking; I do the lower branches.

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We have an apple peeler thingee from Pampered Chef.  It’s not quite as robust as the ones I see in the Lehman’s catalog, but it does ok.  Bill is the apple peeler guy.  This peeler also has an attachment to spiral cut the apples, but we use that for when we want to cook them down for applesauce.

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Next, I cut and core the apples using another handy dandy Pampered Chef tool, but you can get these from a variety of suppliers as well.  I just got invited to a lot of Pampered Chef parties at one point in my life.  Also, I do not look thrilled in this photo.  I think I was saying, “No…take a picture of just the apple slicer…”

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As you’re cutting and coring, throw your apple slices in to a solution of 1 quarter cup salt to 1 gallon of water.  You can also add a little lemon juice if you like.  Both the salt and the lemon juice help to keep the apples from discoloring.

Once you have the solution pot just about to the point where you can’t add any more apples and still coat them, drain the apples in a colander and then start measuring them for your freezer bags.  We put about two pounds in to each gallon freezer bag this morning.  I like a lot of apples in my pies and cakes, plus two pounds is a nice manageable amount for other recipes.

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We do not have a vacuum sealer.  That is on my wish list along with a pressure canner and a cider press.  However, we find that if you use a straw to suck all the air out of your bags and then quickly (as in instantly) pull the straw out and seal the bags, it works well.  Not as well as a vacuum sealer, but pretty well.  I’ve had apples keep a very long time in the freezer using this method – like two years.

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If you know you are using your apples for pies, you can certainly freeze them with the sugar, spices, and flour already tossed on.  Because I use these apples for a wide variety of recipes, I freeze them plain.  This is also the quickest and simplest way to preserve them.

We froze eighteen pounds of apples this morning (with many more to go) and I have about another eight pounds simmering on the stove for applesauce.  If you’d like a tutorial for making applesauce, please see my blog post from 2013, HERE, from our “How To” tab.

Happy picking and happy hooking! – Beth

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