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I’d Give You A Kidney

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It means I love you…?

How many times have you said/heard/read the words “I’d give you/her/him a kidney”.  We say it to our best friends, to our loved ones, to our children. It’s seemingly synonymous with “I love you”.  But how many people actually mean it?

In the summer of 2015 my husband was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure. He’s been on daily dialysis ever since. Although he’s on the waiting list for a new kidney, we were told that his best chance is a love donor.

His brother was the first person to spring to mind as a donor, as it’s said that fraternal matches tend to be the closest.  Unfortunately, for personal reasons, he declined to donate.

Then my husband’s best friend – the best man at our wedding – came forward to get tested. He went through months of testing, only to pull out at the last minute for personal reasons.

What now?

With no other family or close friends to offer, I felt that the ball had landed in my court. We had previously considered and dismissed the idea of me donating because we have two children. It would mean that both parents would be out of action whilst recovering from surgery, and childcare would fall to my extended family. There were other considerations too: Would work allow me to take sick leave, for what is essentially elective surgery? Would the children have to miss school? Who would help us through our post-op recovery?

In spite of the doubts, complications, difficulties and worries, I have decided to give my husband my kidney.  My rationale is simple: In the absence of any other live donors, I cannot in good conscience sit idly by and watch my husband’s health deteriorate.  Not when I have the power to do something about it.

Am I scared? You bet!

But am I sure? Heck yeah!!

And in the meantime, if I can raise awareness of kidney disease and of the donation process, it’s the least I can do.

Donation, donation, donation

The day I decided to donate my kidney, I also decided to donate a portion of my sales to Kidney Research UK, so that other families like mine can get the help and support they need now and in the future.

I may well post more about my experiences as the weeks and months go by, so please follow my journey and help me spread the word.

Who would you give a kidney to?

Niobe x

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The Great Mates Rates Debate

Let me set the scene.

cha-chingI’m at work (because I still have a day job *sigh*), and I hear the cha-ching of an Etsy sale coming from my phone. I am still quite new to the Etsy game so each cha-ching still fills me with schoolgirl excitement. I do a little happy dance in my chair and my colleague leans over and asks, “What are you so happy about?” A conversation ensues where I tell her about my online business and all the things I make, I show her a few pictures and she ooohs and ahhhs in all the right places.

But then she says the words I always dread after a conversation like this, “Oh, well you can make me a father’s day card then.”

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, Hey cool, you made yourself sale – you go girl! But here’s where the water gets a little muddy: What she actually meant was, “Oh, well you can make me a father’s day card for free then… obviously I won’t be paying you; I know you!” And I know that this was the true meaning of her statement because, sensing my discomfort, she went on to suggest that if I made her the card, she would do me a favour in return.

Hobbycraft accept cash, all major credit and debit cards, and gift cards.

Not favours.

Let me tell you a (1)

The whole conversation left me feeling a little grimy and disappointed, because people are only so bold when it comes to home businesses. If I ran a shop (dream big people!) she wouldn’t walk in and say to my employee, “Hey, I know the owner so I’m just going to take these.” or “Don’t worry I know the owner, so I’m going to take this and then next week I’ll babysit her kids for an hour.”

And this is someone I work with, not even someone I deem to be a friend. As for my actual friends, they are easily divided into two categories; the ones who are just like my colleague and expect something for nothing (good old mates rates!) and the ones who are not.

ARIYANAH  cardTake my best friend for example: She asked me to make her two cards. I was going to do them for nothing, because she is my oldest, truest friend and is more like family than a lot of my actual relatives. But do you know what she said to me? “Charge me properly, please. No mates rates. I want to pay you what you deserve.”

At first I felt a little odd sending her an invoice but not only did she pay, she actually gave me extra as a tip. When I thanked her, she said, “This is how it should be; you’re running a business and don’t expect any special treatment. Period.”

2016-04-24-18-01-39 (1)I have another good friend, who offered to pay me for a couple of cards I made for her, but I refused. She has since ordered two more, but has insisted on being charged the full amount for both this time.

She admitted that she didn’t feel at all comfortable with me making the first two for free, as she knows a lot of time and money went into them.

These are true friends in my eyes. These are the people who understand me, what I do, why I do it and what I’m trying to achieve.

Now this is very paradoxical because a huge part of me wants to give those friends a discount (at the very least!) precisely because they are willing to pay the full amount. I want to reward them for their friendship, but they won’t let me! And you know what? Rightly so.

As unnatural as that feels to someone like me (I can be magnanimous to a fault at times!) I am starting to believe that is exactly how it should be. Otherwise, you will be using up valuable time and resources making freebies for your friends, when perhaps, from a business perspective, those resources and that time would be better spent on paying customers.

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Potentially, when you’re starting up, a lot of your sales will be to people you know, as they’re the easiest people to reach and they will want to help you on your way. But if they truly want to help, then these transactions should indeed be SALES, and not freebies. And they should pay what your products/services are worth. Their investment in you is not only a great advert but also a great confidence booster; it shows you that they believe in you, and it will persuade others to believe in you too.

When I make it big and I have a chain of stores (a girl’s gotta have a dream!), I will absolutely have a friends and family discount, but while I’m in my start-up phase, perhaps mates rates is something that is best left on the shelf.

And I think true friends will not only understand that, but encourage it.

What do you think?

niobe

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Thoughts on Thortful

What is Thortful?

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thortful.com

I was approached through my Etsy shop by a company called Thortful. They specialise in printing and sending cards designed by artists, illustrators, cartoonists etc… from across the globe. As a customer, the premise is that you choose a design, and they print and send it either to you, or directly to your chosen recipient. You can choose to have the inside blank, or personalised with your own message, or even with your own handwriting (using their Apple or Android apps). For the most part it’s like a cross between Funky Pigeon/Moonpig and the likes of Redbubble/Zazzle.

What are the cards like?

The cards are A5 in size, printed on ultra smooth 350gsm card. They feel really nice and the print quality is pretty decent. On the back, there is a considerable amount of Thortful branding, although they do also credit the designer with the name of their company and a short bio. Each card costs £2.99 + postage of 64p (a first class stamp, very reasonable). The cards are delivered in a brown envelope. It is not hard-backed, and I have read a review from someone claiming that their card arrived bent. This appears to be an isolated review, however, and I’m not sure that the absence of a hard-backed envelope is a deal-breaker.

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Card front & envelope

 

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Card back with heavy Thortful branding

 

What’s in it for me?

Basics

As a designer, I am able to upload up to 20 of my designs, for free and without exclusivity. I retain all rights to the images. I can retire any or all of my designs at any stage. There is no contract. When you have more than 10 designs, you are eligible to be featured on the Thortful homepage, and across their social media platforms. I currently have 12 designs uploaded, but have yet to be featured (although I am still very new, so I will need to give this some time).

thortful creators
Featured creators on Thortful homepage

Profit

When someone buys a card, Thortful take care of the order from start to finish (printing and posting). I do nothing. And I earn 50p from every sale. Designers are paid monthly, through Paypal once sales have reached at least 10.  It remains to be seen how popular my card will be, and Thortful appears to be a business near the beginnings of its growth, so I doubt this will be a money-spinner. Still, an extra trickle income would be nice.

Security

I have attempted to ‘steal’ my own designs from their website (using the right click button) to check if my work is vulnerable on Thortful, but it seems to be fairly secure.  I’m sure anyone bloody-minded enough could find other methods (screenshots, etc…) but I doubt they would, and even if they did, I’m pretty sure the resultant image wouldn’t be of a good enough quality to do anything untoward with it.

Profile

You get a profile on their website, but you can’t add much to it.  It would be nice, if nothing else, to be able to add social media links – perhaps this feature will be added later? Essentially,  if you want to use this as another way to promote your existing business, you really can’t, as it is very insular and limited in that respect. Having said that, if you treat your Thortful profile as a separate entity to the main bulk of your online business, then it’s fine. I have used the CushoPeas branding, rather than the Cushobi branding for that very reason. It feels like a separate branch of what I do, so I have made that distinction clear on Thortful.

Service

I want to stress the point that, before I joined, I had a few email conversations with a member of the Thortful team and they seemed genuinely nice. How refreshing!  They also made the process easy and pleasant – and that counts for a lot in my book.

What is Thortful’s web presence like?

Reviews

As it stands, Thortful have 96 Trustpilot reviews with an average rating of 9.6 out of 10.  I checked out the two negative reviews (as I always do!) and one referenced heavy Thortful branding on the back of their cards, while the other referenced a bent card. Both of which I mentioned earlier, neither of which are deal-breakers. And both times Thortful responded in a positive, helpful way to the complainants. I was also pleased to read that they’ve taken on board the comment about excessive branding and have promised to address the issue in due course.

Social Media

Socially, Thortful have 2,180 Facebook followers, 3,176 Twitter followers, 488 Instagram followers and 79 Pinterest followers.  Those stats could use some work, but like I said, they seem to be a growing business and I think that they’re full of potential, and numbers could – and likely will – soar over time.

What’s the app like?

I can only speak for the Android app here but with 5,000 downloads and a 4.7 out of 5 rating, it seems to be doing fairly well.  It’s got a nice clean design, it’s laid out for ease of use, and it’s fit for purpose. I like the idea of being able to incorporate your own handwriting inside your card, but am yet to try out this feature and therefore cannot attest to how well it prints.

 

What’s the verdict?

All in all I think Thortful is full of potential and I’m excited to watch them flourish.  For designers it’s a fabulous idea, but I can’t imagine it will bring in huge numbers of sales until more awareness is raised. Still, there is *seemingly* no harm in trying it out and seeing how things develop. If nothing else, it’s another weapon in the online crafter’s arsenal.

Why not check it out and let me know your thorts (see what I did there??)

niobe

 

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The World’s Most Expensive Card

Materials + Labour + Expenses + Profit = Wholesale x 2 = Retail

The above seller’s formula is what most craft business owners are told to use when working out how to price their items.  It’s what is fair.  I mean, let’s face it, as much as we crafters, artists and other creatives do what we do because we love it, if we’ve taken the leap into selling our makes, it’s because we want to see a return for the time, money and passion we’ve invested.

And rightly so.

But, see, there is a fundamental flaw in using the above formula that most, if not all, crafters also have to take into consideration; what consumers will actually pay.  Most of the time the two figures don’t even come close to each other.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a popular item and work it through: The featured image on this post (see above) is a bespoke card I made for a customer whose friend’s last name is Fox. She saw and fell in love with my button fox wall art (see below) and asked if it could be turned into a card. My answer was, and is always, “of course.” Because I love a challenge and I am a people-pleaser to the core.

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My framed button fox took me about an hour to make. Let’s say I pay myself the current UK national minimum wage – because this is work – that would be £7.20 for the labour. The materials cost around £5.00, expenses would be around £2.00 and I always try and give myself a profit of around £5.00 on each piece of wall art. That gives me a total wholsesale price of £19.20 and a retail price of £38.40.  Would people pay that? I’m still undecided – and at wholesale price, Finn the Fox is still unsold!** – but for a piece of wall art, it’s a possibility.

Now, let’s take the formula apply it to my fox card. As a reference point, the fox is the exact same size in the wall art as it is on the card.

So, again, it took about an hour, perhaps a shade under this time, so I’ll set it as £6.30. Materials varied slightly (no frame, different paper) so they came in at £2.20, expenses stayed at £2.00 and it’s a card, so I usually allow a profit of just £0.50.  That gives me a total of £11.00 wholesale and £22.00 retail.

Take a second to digest that.

£22.00 for a greeting card.

£22.00.

£22.00?!?!?!?!

OK, so clearly that’s never. going. to. happen. So here’s what I did:  I took away my labour costs and sold the card at wholesale price, which brought it down to a much more respectable £4.70.

Can I just say here that this handmade hustle is HARD.  Because I can guarantee you that there are hundreds of card makers (and other crafters) out there completely and consistently underselling their work. The main bulk of my business is cards, but there really is no profit in them. When I make and sell a card, I do so purely for the enjoyment, and I’m OK with that. I’ve made peace with that.

What I really want you to take away from this though, whether you’re a creative or not, is that the next time you see something that’s handmade and think HOW MUCH?!?!?! please first consider this formula, consider the maker and consider the time and care they’ve put into creating it. But most importantly consider this:

They are probably STILL selling themselves massively short.

** Somebody very lovely has since bought Finn.  I hope he’s enjoying his new home – I certainly miss him!

niobe

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Wonky Stitches

Life of an artist

I don’t purport to be a true artist.  There are many more talented people out there who deserve that title.  But I use the term “art” to mean anything which is made by a creatively inclined individual.  So whether you are a knitter, as sewist, a cartoonist, a painter or a cardmaker, you are an artist for the purposes of this post.

And as an artist, let’s see if you recognise this scenario: You have an idea for a piece of art.  You plan the piece of art. You make the piece of art. You hate the piece of art.  Sound familiar?  You are not alone.  I truly believe that this is something we all do at some point.  In fact you may find yourself at a point where this happens again and again.  You start to doubt your work, doubt yourself.  You feel like you aren’t good enough. You wonder whether it’s time to throw in the towel (the knitting needles, the paintbrush….)

Your own worst critic

Artists are their own worst critics.  I have a friend who is a cake maker.  Her cakes are stunning (and they taste amazing – a winning yet not always achievable combination).  A couple of months ago I asked her to make a cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday so she asked my daughter what type of cake she wanted.  My daughter requested a pink cake in the shape of a 5.  The day before her birthday my friend turned up at my house and practically threw the cake at me, wailing “Take the bloody thing, I never want to see it again, you’re lucky I didn’t throw it against the wall!!”

After the outburst I looked at the cake (as a non cake maker) and asked what was wrong with it.  Because I thought, as usual, that it was stunning.  She went on to explain that the icing wouldn’t roll properly, the ribbon wasn’t long enough, she couldn’t get the gems she wanted, and about half a dozen more things that made it, and I quote, “the worst cake” she’s ever made.  While I tried to make light of it and reassure her that it looked incredible and that my daughter would love it (it did, and she did) part of me, as a fellow artist, completely understood where she was coming from.

You are good enough

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the details, in the perfection of our craft, that we fail to stand back and take a look at the bigger picture, which is, quite simply; we are good enough. Our art is good enough.  I can tell you right now; that piece you made but tossed aside and refused to put in your online shop because of that thing that went wrong? It’s good enough.  And that other piece that you made, and then hated because it didn’t turn out quite right? It’s good enough. You are good enough.

One man’s seconds is another man’s masterpiece

How do I know this without seeing your work?  Because art is about the labour of love. It is as much about the concept, the creative process, the passion of the artist, as it is about the finished piece.  I personally love to see a wonky stitch, a smudged pencil line, a piece of ribbon that is a fraction too short, because it reminds me that is has been handmade, that it was a labour of love, that the artist has given me a piece of themselves.  It reminds me that it was made by a human being, not mass-produced in some factory, and that we are all vulnerable and fallible.

And that, fellow artists, is a beautiful thing.

See it through their eyes

And so, the next time you feel disgusted, frustrated, distraught because of a piece of your own art, don’t discard it yet! First, do what I am *trying* to do myself: Look at it through someone else’s eyes. If you have someone whose opinion your trust (which I know as an artist is difficult), then ask them what they think. Stand back yourself and look at it as if you were not a knitter/illustrator/cardmaker. Ask yourself, would a layperson notice that stitch? That smudge? That wonky ribbon?  Would they care even if they did? Is that flaw the only reason you are not happy with your work?  How about the 99 other stitches that are perfect?  Can it be fixed? Altered?

Does it even need to be?

If at the end of all of that you still don’t even want to look at it, then fair enough.  But instead of throwing it away, can it be used for a giveaway? Sold for seconds? Give as a present? Used for scraps???  Even if the only thing you can take away from that particular piece is a lesson learned, then it still has great worth.

And, hey, if you do still decide to chuck it, I’ll happily take it off your hands! 😉

Here are some of the pieces I have made and then hated… Feel free to share links to some of yours in the comments.

 

niobe

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Be Unexpected

No place like home

I live in Essex but grew up in South West London, in a part that is incredibly culturally and socially diverse. Today we visited my parents who still live there. While I try and visit as often as I can, life does, unavoidably, get in the way at times and as such it always astounds me how quickly things can and do change.

A couple of visits ago I noticed some graffiti murals that had seemingly sprung up from nowhere. At first I thought that they were just the random Banksy-esque scrawls of a delinquent (albeit a talented one), but as it turns out, the council actually commissioned the pieces.

Step back, look deeper.

Taken at face value these could just be the bold brush strokes of some nameless talent, but as you look closer, or rather step back and look deeper,  you can almost hear the voice of the artist. Every time I’ve seen them since, I have noticed some detail that I missed the time before, have understood a little more about what each one is trying to tell me.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

While some people will inevitably deem them to be nothing more than garish eyesores (and honestly, I hope never to socialise with those people… sorry), I believe them to be stunning, modern pieces of art. For me, they are the embodiment of all that art should stand for and be: They dare to be different, to say exactly what the artist wants to say – irrespective of what others think, to be controversial. They evoke discussion and they call into question – really challenge the concept of – what is beautiful.

I love them and they evoke in me, as a creative type, the sudden urge to make something unexpected… What do you think?

niobe

 

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An Apple a Day

Apples remind me of my mother

My mother is a retired nurse. She came to the UK at the age of 19, all the way from Barbados and moved from hospital to hospital until she settled on one in South West London. She lived out her career there as a paediatric nurse, and a darn good one at that.

Growing up, there wasn’t a pill, potion or proverb that my mother didn’t possess in order to fix whatever ailed us. But more often than not she’d conclude that drinking plenty of fluids, or having a cup of sweetened tea, was all that was necessary.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Whilst I only recall mother using this particular phrase once or twice, she loves to come out with these pearls of wisdom, as if she had coined them herself. This particular one reminds me of her and her relentless positivity. Her belief that, perhaps, we are all responsible for, and in control of, our own destinies.

Teacher’s Pet

Apples also remind me of my father. He’s a retired school teacher. 40 years in a boys school in South West London and he managed to earn the respect and admiration of most, if not all, of his students. One of his ex-students is now an MP, and even in his 40s, this man still refers to my father as “Sir” when he’s campaigning door-to-door.

An apple for Teacher

My father would always stand up for his students if they’d been wronged, would always fight their corner when others had washed their hands of them. He was an awesome teacher; firm but fair and so down to earth that the boys always wanted to be in his good graces. I’m not sure that any of them bought him actual apples, but metaphorically speaking, he had an orchard full.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… Except sometimes it does.

So apples remind me of my mother. And apples remind me of my father. But I am my own person and I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. So while I wanted to create something that reminded me of my parents, I of course had to put my own, silly, sarcastic spin on things.

So I took an apple… made it pretty… and then made it… well… me! 🙂

 

niobe

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Sea Life Trio

It started with blue.

My button art pieces are inspired by many different things. Sometimes something I’ve seen, sometimes a suggestion from a friend. This week I was inspired by a colour. I bought a pack of gems, which were beautiful shades of blue and turqoise, and I knew I wanted to use them. But what to make? Well, the colourway instantly made me think of the sea, and much of my button art so far has been of animals, so it wasn’t long before the idea of a seahorse came to mind.

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After some playing around to get the shape right,  Sid was born.  I should say here that I name all my button art, it started with Eddie the Elephant; he was such a grand labour of love that I felt he’d taken on a life of his own, that he deserved a name, and the trend has since continued.

Sid is stunning – if i do say so myself! -and I was very pleased with him, but for the first time I felt that even though he was finished, I wasn’t.

So the following day I made Doris…

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…and then yesterday, Trevor joined the fun.

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I’m not sure if they are meant to be together, like a triptych, or whether they’re just a ‘range’ within my art, but there you have it. Perhaps i’ll male them some more friends, perhaps they’ll stay as a triple act. Who knows?

Sometimes thats the thing with art, you end up with something that has almost manifested itself. I certainly didn’t plan this gorgeously sparkly trio of sea life, but here they are.

sealife trio

And it all started with blue.

What inspires you?

niobe