So I’ve decided that September will be Custom Month at Acton Creative! This special month came around because in order to have time to complete a custom project before the holidays, I need everybody lined up by October 1. Weaving… well, it’s not the quickest art form out there. And to start at the very beginning (there’s a song in there, right?) designing/weaving a bolt of fabric, handing it over to my seamstress, and delivering it to a customer by mid-December, that takes more time than you’d think.
Thus, the theme for today is custom! When I look up the word in the Thesaurus, it shows the following – customized, tailored, particular, special, handcrafted, and handmade. (Interestingly enough, there are 4 dictionaries and/or thesauruses sitting by this very computer! We need them all because they’re SO drastically different? Clearly, we have a problem. But I digress.) Those words accurately capture my goals for each project. Weaving fabric specific to the client and creating products he/she can enjoy forever!
In order to have a great experience for everyone involved, I’ve learned there are a couple of steps to be tackled along the way. First, discern who is an actual customer, and who isn’t. People throw out ideas for custom pieces all the time! “Would you ever make…”, “You know what my Mom needs…”, “Let me tell you about my idea that would be so cool…”, etc. Starting out as an artist, I felt like I needed to give everyone very serious consideration and at least ponder their ideas. But as I have put a few years and plenty of experiences under my belt, I have learned that folks always have great ideas! And many of them feel the need to share EVERY ONE of them with you! Now, I say that with a good sense of humor and a little sarcasm, but no malicious intent!
People get excited meeting someone who is doing creative things and they want to be a part of it. Their creative ideas could be brilliant! But, at the end of the day, I am not responsible for making their ideas a reality. This is where a little education and a little self-confidence steps in. A custom project needs to be beneficial to everyone involved. So, a few years back, I figured that my starting dollar amount for a custom project is $200 – they usually end up much more than that. For me to stop what I am doing, meet with a client, plan a project, prep materials, set up a loom, weave the fabric, pay the seamstress – it needs to be worth it.
Once I had established the value of my time/energy, it became much easier for me to listen enthusiastically to whoever is talking a mile a minute about the next best thing, waving their hands around, and watching me expectedly. I could then get excited right along with them, but not feel pressured to take the project on. Usually the prospect of putting a dollar amount to it instantly changes their perception. It can be humorous watching their faces when I tell them what I’m worth! I don’t get offended, but instead take it as an educational opportunity to explain the process. Most folks simply have no idea how long and involved something is. Why would they? It’s not like there are a lot of weavers out there.
I’ve also learned that I can simply say, “No, thanks” when I just don’t want to. Life is too short! (Do you watch the Big Bang Theory? I always try to pull up my inner Sheldon at those moments!)
Once I have filtered out the actual clients from the excited idea-generators, I start things up with a thorough interview. I attempt to ask enough questions to get a good read on what they want at the end of the process – what things matter the most, where I have creative leeway, specific elements to be highlighted, etc. If at all possible, I do the interviews in person. There’s something about reading a person’s body language that is critical. Plus, I want the client to feel comfortable with me so they can ask questions, throw out ideas, make requests, etc. Usually we’ll chat over a cup of tea/coffee since that is the best way to get to know someone! (I’m sure there have been studies done somewhere.)
By the end of the interview, if I’ve done my job correctly, I will have the parameters of the project spelled out for both of us. I have a pricing sheet and an idea of my calendar ready before I meet so I can provide fairly accurate expectations. This time with the client is really the most important part of the process – the rest is simply execution.
In some cases, there are personal elements to be added to the fabric. I love working with a family’s neckties/scarves/clothing to create a new heirloom! Joan requested wallets made from her Dad’s neckties, and later, clutches created from her Mom’s silk scarves. We used Roberta’s mother’s hand-stitched hankies as the lining for a series of wallets for the many girls in the family. Cindy provided me with items from both parents to create a variety of handbags for family and friends who loved them. It is such a sweet, poignant process of repurposing an everyday item to create something new that will be cherished and most importantly, interacted with on a regular basis instead of sitting in a closet or box.
In other cases, clients want a unique color/size/material incorporated into a project. Linda wanted a table runner in fall colors with lots of texture. The Montgomery’s needed a runner to cover the top of their ultra-long half-height bookcase. Diane requested a holiday table runner. Kim asked for a Messenger Bag in her company colors. You get the idea!
For me, there are really two sides of the process – the client relationship and the actual project. They both challenge and excite me in unexpected ways! So, I am really looking forward to this fall’s line-up of custom projects! My hope is that many people will be opening up uniquely handwoven gifts this holiday season!