It's a hot summer here this year. The kind of heat that pushes you onto the sofa where you sit dumbfounded most of the day. The kind that makes you watch the mail pile up in the letterbox because you can't bare going out to get it (though, paying your 8 yr old in icy-poles works pretty well too!). The kind where the only moments of clarity you have each day are when you jump into a cold shower morning and evening, draw breath quickly, and alertly enjoy the tingly, cold spray. In those moments when my head is finally clear and I can string sentences together, I've been pondering over a blog post. I miss blog reading. (and writing!) Maybe this is my year to bring it back for me? (though I maybe not be completely coherent until Autumn!)
2016 was a big year for us. We started selling English Paper Pieces online, and I found the process of developing a business, a strategy, a budget, resting all my hopes on my techy husband and his ability to build us a laser cutter, completely terrifying, at times overwhelming, but mostly engaging and fulfilling. Tim and I have always been good friends, so I found myself often relieved that I was starting a business with him, someone with whom I've had a lot of practice in communication and conflict! We also had a lot of help from my graphic designer buddy Hannah, and my brother Josh who's studying a Masters in Business Admin and enjoyed using me as his guinea pig (and I was grateful to oblige!). As someone who needs to process my ideas and decisions out loud, I've been blessed with a family to listen and process with me.
At the beginning of the year, I listened to Abby Glassenberg's podcast episode with Lindsay from Hawthorne Threads. I really enjoyed the whole interview, but her comments about digital fabric printers being finicky have stuck with me all year. It was like a little insight into their world of running a business that reminded me it wasn't always going to be smooth and success. She probably didn't mean her words to inspire, but they have given me courage every time our laser broke down (we eventually, over the holidays, built a new one, which has been working perfectly!), every time we made a mistake, every time things haven't gone to plan, or we just didn't plan enough (or couldn't know enough to plan). I have imagined the folks at Hawthorne Threads with their heads inside the belly of a grumpy Fabric Printer, and I have known that these butterflies and regrets and stresses and embarrassments and waiting, unknowing, are all a normal part of starting a manufacturing business, especially one where you're using newish technology to do an old craft differently. And they have made the successes (of which there have been plenty also!) all the more sweet.
I have been hand-stitching almost exclusively for a year now, and I have to say I'm surprised I haven't tired of it yet. I even had a list of machine sewn quilt ideas drawn up at the start of the year because I assumed my machine would still get some attention, but I never made them. English Paper piecing is slow, but it suits my semi-social self. I say semi because I'm pretty much a homebody, with three extrovert children and an extrovert husband and friendly neighbours, and I spend my life feeling much less interrupted if I'm sitting on the couch or at my dining table stitching. I've even gone as far as to pack my machine away and it comes out for binding and quilting when I need it. My sewing room has also started to look more like a garage (used only for storage) than a creative workspace.
We've come to the end of our 2nd year living in the country and the winds of change have blown upon us. The changes come partly as a result of changing times, and the impact they have on the Christian organisation we work for, and who provides our big house in the country, and partly from within. There have been things that have been perfect for us here - homeschooling next door to my homeschooling brother and his wife, letting our kids have the experience of making friends, exploring creeks, interacting with animals and new folk, often without our direct supervision. I've loved having a safe environment in which to set them free. It's been the perfect setting for starting an online business, with our low cost of living and generous neighbours who have offered babysitting and help packaging. But, we live on campus at a small Bible College, and for the last 2 years, we've had to decide not to run the course due to low enrollments. And Tim and I, thinkers and teachers and creatives at heart, have started to feel a bit lost and solitary in this beautiful farming community. We've missed the crowds and robust conversations that come from living in a university city, and we've wondered whether again, it's time for a something new.
This has left me wondering if the things I feel I need in my life are actually mutually exclusive. I love the space and quiet and beauty of the outback, and the engagement of the city. But there's parts of both that make me shrink and shrivel. How do I live a full life in one or the other? This year I've already started to read and think and understand. I want to know how much comes down to planting yourself in the best ecosystem that suits your personality and needs, and how much is learning joy and contentment wherever you find yourself. Tim and I have begun putting strict boundaries around our weekends, the Saturday for housework and cooking, so that the Sunday can be for resting and reading and talking over things. I love the space it's started to create in my brain and heart.
So far the plan is to stay out the year here, and move around Christmas, maybe to Victoria where the weather is cooler, the homeschooling rules lighter, and where friends of ours are working in community development. But that is as clear as the plan gets. The lack of clarity keeps me awake at night, but I want to give time to see what we learn about ourselves this year, and what opportunities arise to make the decision well.
The other part of the plan, or at least, the conversation, is radical down-sizing. Because Tim and I have given our lives to volunteer Christian work, we don't have savings or own anything of value. Our experience of the rental market has been expensive and unsettling, and so we've been following the Tiny House movement in the States for sometime, wondering how we can take their values and apply them to our situation to provide our family with housing that is simple and affordable and allows us to keep living generously. Tim's ready to buy a trailer and start building, but I, rumbling around with all the other questions at the moment, am still processing.
This conversation has lead me to rethink my fabric stash. Over the last year or so I've been receiving fabric from manufacturers and designers, which has been an amazing gift, but it leaves my old stash almost completely unused. I've been thinking about the way I use fabric and make quilts and have decided that this year I want to A) drastically reduce my stash to what I use all the time, and B) make more scrap quilts that show me again how I love to mix prints and colours. For too long I've been letting the designers do all the work by sticking to a single collection! And so, I've decided to host a kind of BOM club called Ice-Cream Soda (which you may have seen on Instagram or Facebook). I'll be offering papers-only or papers-and-fabric subscriptions over a 10 month period to make the quilt that I've started above. The fabric subscription will include (24) 2 1/2" x 22" strips from my stash and new collections through the year. I think this will be a great way to test all our scrappy courage and help me clear our shelves ready for the next chapter. (and the money from destashing will help us move to the next chapter too!) Sign ups will open on the 3rd February, and the blossom tutorial is already on my MAKE page. I'll post more information here soon!
And finally, speaking of my MAKE page, there's a few new quilts, never blogged about, that have tutorials up and kits in the shop if you'd like to take a look!
And so! I'm looking forward to this year with a kind of quiet hope. I'm glad for this little space on the web to share my ramblings and pretty colours, glad for you on the other end of the line. Here's to more making, thinking, connecting and finding our place in 2017.