Edited for language and reposted from katwise.net.
I have lots of guests at my house this weekend, and they are all still sleeping. I am stealing this quiet morning moment to attempt to write a little….
Today marks two years since I decided to put out a tutorial about how to make my sweater coats. All those months ago I never would have realized what a journey that would take me on. It’s a nice day for me to pause and reflect on how that scary decision to share my sweater secrets has had so many heartwarming repercussions.
People often tell me how brave it was for me to throw open the gates and unveil my hard-earned sweater secrets in a tutorial. How generous it was to share the tricks it took me years to figure out, and to give others my blessing to make my designs and sell them. It is nice to hear that, but every time someone gives me that praise, I have to cast down my eyes a bit and not take so much credit.
The truth is that I wrote that tutorial not because I was generous, but because I was scared. Two years ago my Etsy shop was getting so crazy that there was no way humanly possible for me to keep up with the demand. I was getting so many emails that sometimes it would take me 10 hours a day to answer them all, and I barely had any energy left over to sew. The interest in my work was amazing and validating, but it was running me ragged. I think other people out in Internet Land saw what was going on with my shop and took it as an opportunity for themselves. First one copycat sweater shop appeared. Then another a month later. Then two more. They just started popping up on Etsy faster that I could keep track of them.
At first it felt like a knife to my heart. How can someone do that to another artist? How can they imitate my very personal designs and take credit for them? So many people were even copying my own words and putting my (trademarked!) name on their listing. I took it very personally and felt quite wounded and confused by my fellow artists. I am sure many people had only good intentions, but still…. I was amazed how unscrupulous some of the people were being. It made me feel really vulnerable.
As I write this I realize that I could easily write an entire blog post about the complexities and implications of being copied, and all the paranoia and personal growth it engenders. I know a lot of people who read this are other crafters who have probably dealt with the punch in the stomach of being copied. And let’s admit it: We are ALL copycats too. None of us sprang forth from a vacuum. We are all subject to become intoxicated by the contagious awesomeness of our fellow artists and let their voices mingle with ours without necessarily realizing it. So, let me tuck the whole “copy-cat” discussion away for another day, because otherwise it will distract too much from the point of what I am writing today. I only mention it so you can get an idea of where my brain was a few years ago. (Also, I am pretty over it now).
One of the people who gave me great advice during this time is a gal named Michelle who makes corsets. Her Etsy shop is called Damsel in this Dress, and I highly recommend you check her out. Not only is she a remarkable seamstress, but her business sense and motivation are very inspiring. Plus, she has an ability to be hilarious and insightful and warm all at the same time. I think I might be older than her, but she feels like an older sister to me.
During this time a couple of years ago she gave me a talking to which was very instrumental to how I chose to push my business. Michelle reminded me (in her sassy way) that if I only sell sweaters, I will be copied. But if I choose to share my whole magic world, and weave the sweaters into the narrative of my big crazy life and colorful home, then the sweaters will cease to be just objects to wear. Instead my sweaters will be little fragments of this charmed life, and people will want them not just as clothing, but also because they are authentic manifestations of my whimsical world. Anyone can make sweaters, but only I can be me. Everyone has their own
Me being Me.
magic that they can put into their creations, but no one else has MY specific magic. My stories, my friends, my travels, my heartaches, my luck, my art. By sharing my world a little more, the sweaters become more like little bouquets from my garden – little ephemeral gestures that get trapped in woolly form and tossed like confetti out to the world. No one else is selling that. It kind of renders the whole notion of copycats obsolete.
Empowered by this realization, I started to feel liberated from the fear of being copied. I realized that in order to make peace with all the copycat stuff, my only choice was to embrace it. I could exhaust myself trying to outrun all these new sweater coat shops that kept popping up, or I could turn around and throw open my arms and hug them. By just shifting my perspective, it was possible to see these other shops in a kinder light. Instead of wishing them ill, I could befriend them. Instead of feeling like a victim, I could feel like a mama hen whose job was to nurture all the chick-a-dees.
So, yes. Writing the tutorial was a scary decision. I worried that giving everyone permission to dip into my creative well might drown me out. But it was my best chance of letting go off all the negative feelings. It was kind of like standing at the top of a cliff and knowing that you just have to go balls out and jump. So, I didn’t hold back. I just sat down one night and wrote the tutorial. I kept making more cups of tea and typing and not filtering the information I was sharing. I could feel the momentum happening, and I knew it was the right decision. The tutorial basically just wrote itself. In the end I scarcely had to even edit it. (If you have read it, you may have noticed the lingering typos and jumbley bits…whoopsy!).
So you see, this tutorial was not born from a place of awesome generosity; so much as it was a way to confront my fears. I don’t think my brain was even in a place where I could see the impact it might have on other people, I was just doing it to work out my own issues. I really could not have predicted the crazy amazing fallout that began to shower down on me almost immediately. It quickly became one of those utterly mesmerizing moments in life where you practically hear a children’s chorus in the background singing songs of validation.
I thought I might sell 100 copies. I mean really, how many people want to make these silly coats anyway? Dude, I sold a thousand copies on the first day! A thousand copies! I was like, WHAT?????? It set off a roller-coaster in my heart. To date I think I have sold 10,000 copies. I NEVER would have guessed that there were 10,000 people out there who would look at these strange clothes and say, “I want to do that!”
See, this is what I looked like as a teenager on Long Island. No wonder i got made fun of so much!
I mean, seriously, I am the girl who got mercilessly teased my whole entire life for the way I dress. I have gotten used to strangers driving by in cars and shouting “FREAK!” at me. I had to grow really thick armor to deal with all the rejection people gave me because of my quirky appearance. After so many years being made to feel that my eccentricities were unattractive, how on earth is it even possible that now ten thousand people would want to wear the clothes that I make? (When I think about this, I want to travel back in time and give Junior High School Me a hug and whisper in her ear that someday people will understand and love her. It kind of makes me emotional. It makes want to do an “It Gets Better” video for freaks.)
THAT, in a nutshell is how all this tutorial business affected ME. It took me a while to wrap my brain around the fact that sharing that sewing information could also have an effect on OTHER people too, beyond simple amusement. I started to get emails from people relating their experiences making sweaters. I heard from folks who had never sewn before, or who used to be very artsy but had to put that part of themselves on the back burner for whatever reason. Somehow the whole sweater upcycling thing was accessible enough to let them reignite the light that they had in themselves. I think that the nature of sewing with sweaters is so forgiving that it compels people to experiment more and not be afraid of getting it wrong. It is such a great art form for those of us who were never very good at coloring in the lines. I have been dazzled by how many people have gotten so into sweater coat making that they took the plunge and opened businesses.
Last time I looked on Etsy there were over a thousand items labeled “Katwise inspired”, which kinda make me feel like, woah. I don’t even know what that means! My heart flip flops when I hear from Moms who were able to make enough money sewing sweaters to afford to stay home with their children. That makes me pause and put my hand over my heart. So often when someone becomes a mother, they end up pushing a lot of their own creative enrichment to the back shelf so that they can focus selflessly on their kids. The notion that Mothers can actually grab their creative energy and use THAT as a means to give even MORE to their kids is just kind of like, *head exploding*. I have heard from people in recovery from addiction or illness or bad relationships that have dove into sweaters and found it a comforting way to rebuild their sense of themselves. Or people who never gave themselves permission to be kooky, and then they just decide to go for it and discover how well it suits them.
Hooray for Everything!
My FAVORITE is then I hear from teenagers who grasp on to the craft as a way to define themselves. I think inside me there is still a misfit teenager who feels the sting of being an outcast, so to think that anything I have done could comfort anyone else just makes me feel very lucky. Basically, it has just been a continual parade of heartwarming stories. I don’t even feel like I can take credit for any of that stuff…I am just the messenger and the witness. I am the lucky one!
Gosh, this blog post is getting long and introspective and tangential. My friends are all waking up and I can smell the coffee and breakfast being made downstairs, So, I am gonna try to sum up this morning’s sentimental dribbling. Basically, I just want to say THANK YOU… To all the people who care about what I do and make me feel like my pathetic little scratches at the surface of life have any sort of impact. That is the best feeling, and I hope that you have people in your life who make you feel that way too. I am sending out a hug to everyone who has been generous enough to support my work, battle for my silly sweaters and share their stories with me. I am really happy that we are on this journey together. Love love love.
(I hope this does not come across as tacky self promotion, but here is a link to my tutorial in my etsy shop in case you are curious….)
Also, I want to put together another Facebook album of the sweaters that people have made using the tutorial. I would love it if some of you sent my your most favorite shot of you (or someone) wearing a sweater you made. You can email it to email@example.com and put “MY SWEATER” in big letters in the subject. It is so fun to gather these together and see what fun stuff you guys have made. Thanks!!
Posted August 12, 2013