Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Tea Party Doily; a Short Story

People sometimes ask where I get the ideas for my designs. Most of them come as a result of planning and deliberately trying to come up with an idea, but every now and then a  design just seems to happen naturally. Maybe because they are spontaneous,  I think that these are often  my very best designs.  Here is a short story I wrote about how I came to design my "Tea Party Doily,"  with the help of my daughter Bethany (Bree.)  I hope you will enjoy it!

April 21, 1995

“Mama, can I have a birthday party?” asked Bree.

Kate looked up from the doily she was crocheting. “Remember '9 triples',” she told herself. “Well, you can have one on your birthday, Baby,” she said. “But that is not for a long time.” She was used to being interrupted in the middle of a design, and had taught herself to make mental notes so she wouldn't lose her place. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time she had to go back and recount the stitches anyway.

“When will it be my birthday?” asked Bree.

“Not until November, a long time from now.”

Bree frowned and sighed, and turned back to her coloring book. She carefully added several extra purple candles to the pink cake she was working on. “I need a new purple,” she said, holding up the short stump of a crayon for Kate to see.

“That's because you use it so much,” said Kate. “What you really need is a box full of nothing but purple and pink crayons.”

Bree cut her eyes up slyly at her mother. “You could get me one for my birthday,” she said.

“I don't think they make such a thing, but if they did, I would get you two!” said Kate. She recounted the triple crochet stitches she had just made; nine, okay, now she needed to add 3 more for the base of the pineapple; 12 triple crochets. She added the stitches, then leaned forward to make a note in the tattered pad she kept on the coffee table in front of her. Bree watched her writing. “What does that say?” she asked.

“It says 'Briana is my Sweetie Pie,' ” said Kate. Bree giggled and got up from the rug she had been laying on. She climbed up onto the shabby old couch and snuggled in close to her mother, to the great annoyance of a large calico cat who was sleeping on the other end of the couch. “What are you making today?” she asked.

“A doily.”

“Another one?” exclaimed Bree. “Didn't you already make a whole bunch of them?”

Kate sighed. Yes, indeed, she had made 'a whole bunch' of them, dozens and dozens in fact. But thread crochet was her specialty, her first love in designing. She looked at the doily she was working on. It was pretty, but it was nothing special; there was nothing about it to make it stand out from the other doilies she had made in the past. “Nothing to make it stand out from all the doilies that every other designer in the world is creating, either,” she thought ruefully. “Maybe I should add some beads or something.”

“Can I go outside and play?” asked Bree. “As long as you stay in the yard; don't go out the gate,” warned Kate. Bree climbed down off the couch and ran out the front door, her unruly mop of dark blond curls bouncing.

Kate turned back to her work. “I need to come up with an idea, something unusual and different,” she thought. “I sure need something to perk up my sales.” It was tough being a single mom, and supporting her family on nothing but the money her crochet designs brought in made it an even greater challenge.

The door opened and Bree ran back in. “Can I have some string?” she asked. “You are not going to tie anything up, are you?” Kate asked cautiously, glancing over to make sure that Callie was still sleeping at the end of the couch.

“No, it rained last night, so I am going fishing.” Ever since she was big enough to walk, Bree had loved to tie a piece of crochet thread to the end of a stick, and pretend to “fish” in the large puddle that collected at the end of the porch every time it rained. She held out a twig she had brought in from the yard. Kate clipped a short length of thread from an extra ball of thread, and tied it to the end of the stick. “Be careful,” she said. “Don't poke yourself.”

Bree skipped back outside and Kate turned back to her doily. “Okay, now,” she thought. “I need to come up with an unusual doily, an unusual design; hmmm, now what can I do?”

Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of a telephone. Kate jumped up and rushed to answer it. There was only one phone in the old farmhouse, and it was mounted on the wall of the kitchen at the back of the house. In her hurry to get to the phone before it stopped ringing, she almost tripped over Bree's tricycle, which had been left in the kitchen doorway. She leaped awkwardly over the toy, clutched wildly at the counter to regain her balance (nearly upsetting an African violet in the process), and picked up the receiver on the fourth ring. “Hello?” she said breathlessly.

“Miz Green? This is Kenny down at Tommy's Garage. I just got through checking out your car.”

Kate's ten year old car had refused to start the morning before. Mr. Thompson from down the road had tried to help her jump-start it, as he had done several times in the past, but this time the car refused to cooperate. Kate had called a wrecker and had it towed to a local garage, and had been dreading hearing the diagnosis. She had a feeling it was not going to be good. “What did you find out, Kenny?” she asked. “Well, you were right, you do need a new battery,” said Kenny, “but it looks like the starter is out, too.” Kate sighed. “How much is all that going to cost?” she asked. “Well, with parts, labor and tax, it comes to $378.95,” he said, “and we can have it ready for you tomorrow afternoon.” Kate closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead; she could feel a headache coming on. But she had no choice but to have the car repaired. “Okay,” she said. “Go ahead and fix it. Thank you, Kenny.”

She hung up the phone, poured herself a cup of coffee and went back into the living room. She leaned against the frame of the window which overlooked the front yard and pulled back the lace panel that covered the glass. She could see Bree squatting at the edge of the puddle, carefully holding her 'fishing pole' so that the string dangled in the exact center of the water. “Three hundred seventy eight dollars and ninety five cents,” she thought. There went the money she had been saving up for a computer. “How on earth am I going to work this out?”

She mentally went over her finances; what could she cut out or put off in her already tight budget? “If I could only perk up my sales,” she thought. “If I could just come up with something to make my designs stand out from the crowd.”

She saw Bree jump up and run toward the house. “Did you catch anything? Kate asked her as she ran through the door. “No, but I got a few nibbles,” Bree replied. “And guess what, Mama? Today is Hooty Bear's birthday!” “Oh, it is, is it?” said Kate, guessing what was coming next. “Yes, so we need to make him birthday cake and have a party for him!” exclaimed Bree. “Okay, we can have a party for him, but how about we make him some birthday cookies instead of a cake?” said Kate. Bree considered; “can we put pink frosting on them?” she asked. “Well, yes, if I have everything we need to make it,” said Kate. “I will check.” “Good!” said Bree. “I am going to go get Hooty Bear dressed for his party. He has to look real pretty!”

Kate wondered at the possibility of this. 'Hooty Bear' was Bree's most beloved toy. He had led a pretty rough life, and was as tattered and well-loved as the Velveteen Rabbit. Bree's father had bought the teddy bear for her on a business trip to Houston when she was two, and originally, his name had been 'Houston T. Bear.' But Bree's mispronunciation of the name, 'Hooty Bear,' had stuck with him, and he had become her constant companion. Laying her fishing pole on the couch, Bree skipped down the hall to begin preparations for the party.

Kate went into the kitchen and started pulling out the ingredients for sugar cookies. She took the last stick of butter out of the refrigerator, and wrote “butter” on the shopping list she kept on the counter. Then, as she remembered the repair bill, she glanced over the list, wondering what she could cut out. “Maybe I should try to find another job,” she thought. She had mulled over this option many times in the past, and always came to the same conclusion. The expenses of taking a job outside the home (new clothes, newer and more reliable transportation, safe and dependable daycare for Bree) far outweighed any additional income she could possibly make. And in all honesty, she knew in her heart that her crochet designs were the key to her future. There had to be a solution, if only she could come up with it!

As she mixed the cookie dough, her mind wandered over the possibility of designing crocheted clothing. Clothing designs were not really her thing, but she could probably come up with a few patterns for jackets or tops. But the thought of writing the patterns in different sizes worried her. She dropped spoonful’s of dough onto a cookie sheet, wondering how much it would cost to hire a professional technical editor to do the sizing on a pattern.

As she placed the cookies in the oven, she decided she was just not a clothing designer. “I am a doily and potholder girl,” she thought. “I know there are enough threadies out there who want my kind of designs. I just have to give them something fresh and new. Something with a vintage feel, but different. What can I do?” She made a couple of cream cheese and apple butter sandwiches on wheat bread (Bree's favorite) and cut them into quarters.

She poured apple juice into a small pitcher, and took the cookies out of the oven. Bree came into the kitchen. She had dressed herself in her Easter dress and wore three strands of old faux pearls Kate had given her. Hooty Bear wore a pink ruffled dress that had been Bree's when she was a baby, and a strand of blue glass beads. “Ohh, you both look so pretty!” exclaimed Kate. “Do you want to help me put the frosting on the cookies?” Bree grinned and nodded vigorously, her curls bobbing. “Okay, let's put an apron on you so you don't get your dress dirty,” said Kate. Bree rummaged through the drawer that held Kate's vintage apron collection, and chose a dainty yellow apron covered with tiny pink roses for herself. Then she dug through the drawer again, and selected a Christmas-print apron for Hooty Bear. Kate tied the aprons around their necks and lifted Bree up and placed her on a stool in front of the counter. Together they covered the cookies with thick, pink frosting.

“Okay, are we ready for the party now?” asked Kate. “Not yet!” said Bree. “I will go get everyone together, then you come in with the cake- I mean the cookies- and we will all sing 'Happy Birthday' to Hooty Bear!” “Okay,” said Kate, “let me know when you are ready.” She untied the aprons from Bree and Hooty Bear, and Bree hurried off to her room.

Kate straightened up the kitchen a bit, still straining her mind to come up with an idea. “This is giving me a headache!” she thought. “I need to just let it go; an idea will come when it is supposed to.” She knew from past experience that trying too hard to force an idea usually didn't work. Her best ideas had come at odd moments, often when she least expected it. She made sure to keep a note pad with her at all times, so she would be prepared whenever inspiration struck. “And it better strike pretty soon,” she thought.

“Mama! We're ready,” shouted Bree. Kate placed the cookies, sandwiches and juice pitcher on an old wicker tray. She took a small white candle and a box of matches down from a cabinet, snuggled the candle in the pink frosting on one of the cookies, and lit it. Then she picked up the tray and carefully carried it down the hall to Bree's room.

As she entered the room she saw that Bree had pulled her old braided rug into the center of the room, and had placed all her dolls and stuffed animals in a ring around it. Hooty Bear sat at one end of the rug, with his pink skirt careful spread out around him. In the middle of the rug, Bree had placed an old pink doily that Kate had given her. On the doily, she had carefully arranged her tiny porcelain tea set, placing the tea pot in the exact center, and one cup and saucer on each of the six scallops that ringed the outer edge.

Looking at Briana's arrangement Kate gasped; she had a vision of a doily, topped with a tiny tea pot and cups and saucers all done in crochet. That was it! It was perfect! It was the idea she had been searching for!

“Sing, Mama, sing, so Hooty Bear can blow out his candle!” exclaimed Bree.

As she joined Bree in singing “Happy Birthday, dear Hooty Bear,” Kate's mind raced over the details of the doily she would create. What colors should she use, pink, blue? No, green, light green and cream, with pink roses- yes, little tiny roses appliqued to the sides of the tea pot and the cups, in dark pink! Oh! French Rose! French Rose by Aunt Lydia, that would be perfect! Did she have any? Yes, there was probably half a ball left over from a sachet she had made last summer.

As she munched on the tiny sandwiches and sugar cookies, she began to plan the stitches she would use for the doily. Pineapples? No, that would probably be too fussy. She needed to keep the stitch pattern fairly simple, so that the tea set would show to its best advantage. It was going to be so sweet; Kate could hardly wait to get started on it!

“Are you okay, Mama?” asked Bree. “Oh, yes, Sweetie, I am fine,” said Kate, “I am just thinking about something.”

Bree looked at Kate over the rim of her tea cup and raised her eyebrows. “A doily?” she asked. “Another doily?”

“Yes,” said Kate, “another doily. But this is going to be a very special doily; I think it just might be the best doily I have ever made. And do you know what, Miss Briana? You are the one who gave me the idea for it! Thank you so much, Sweetie!”

Bree smiled smugly and sipped her apple juice. “You are welcome,” she said. “Now will you let me  have a birthday party?”

The Tea Party Doily is my best selling doily pattern of all time, and still my personal favorite!
Copyright Elizabeth Ann White for BellaCrochet 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Designing Crochet: Customer Service

Last year I did a series of posts on designing crochet. I covered several subjects, from writing patterns to using testers. But one very important thing that I haven't covered yet is customer service. If you are going to publish your designs, you have to keep your customers happy. My customers make it possible for me to do what I love; design and publish my own  crochet patterns. I am so grateful to them, and I want them to know how much I appreciate them. So, I give them the best service that I possibly can.
This means first of all, making sure that they receive what they paid for. I send out follow up emails and convos on every pattern that I send out from my Etsy shop, to let the customer know that the patterns have been sent, and thanking them for their purchase. That way, if the email with their patterns attached goes to their spam or junk mail folders, they will know to look for it. Some shops handle this differently, and ask the customer to notify them if they don't receive their pattern within 24 hours, but I think that once the customer has paid for a pattern, it is up to me to make sure they receive it.
Secondly, you must make sure that the customer can actually make the item from the pattern you have written. This means answering any questions they may have. I have all of my patterns tested for accuracy and clarity, but sometimes someone will have a question. When they do, I get back to them as soon as possible. Most questions can be answered with an email and a close up photo of the item in question, if I have one available. From time to time I get questions from beginners, or someone trying something for the first time. My friend Shirley Brown, who did Customer Service for Annie's Attic, used to say that she often felt like she was teaching folks to crochet over the phone. There have been times when I felt like I was teaching someone to crochet through email, but I always keep at it until the customer understands what to do.
Customer service also means building a relationship with your customers. I maintain this blog, a Facebook page and a Ravelry account (although I am not on Ravelry everyday) in order to stay in touch with my customers. Sometimes I feel a bit stretched thin. I get emails from two different email accounts, questions and messages from, convos from Etsy, messages and comments on Facebook, messages on Ravelry and comments here on the blog that I read everyday. From time to time Annie's Attic forwards me messages that have been sent to them.
I try to answer every message I get in a timely manner, but sometimes I fall behind. But if a customer takes the time to write me, I feel it is important for me to write them back.
The secret to good customer service is really no secret at all; just make your customers happy, and let them know that they are important to you and that you care about them. If they are happy with the patterns and the service they have received from you, they will come back to purchase  more of your patterns in the future. If not, they will buy someone else's patterns. It is as simple as that.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Contest Winner!

Whooo is the winner of my contest?
Why, the winner is Ms. Diva!
I plan to have more contests in the future, so please check back often.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

1000 Sales on Etsy Contest

This contest is now closed. Thank you for visiting!

Last month, I reached a milestone; I made my 1000th sale from my Etsy shop. And it only took me three years to do it!
To celebrate, I am having a contest. I will be giving away a box full of goodies to one winner.
There are eight different printed patterns. I don't have very many of my patterns in printed form, since I sell most of my patterns as pdf's. These are some from my wholesale orders.
And since you can never have too many hooks, I am also giving away a set of yarn hooks, a set of steel thread hooks, and a gauge measuring thingy.
The yarn hooks also come with  a nifty little pair of folding scissors.

And this package contains the one hook I cannot live without; a size 7 steel Boye hook. I plan to be buried with one. Seriously.
And honestly, I am not really sure how you use this contraption, but it looks impressive. I am sure more knowledgeable crocheters know what to do with it.
And of course, there is thread! I will give the winner 10 balls of thread in some of my favorite colors. Some are new, and some are from my stash.
Uh oh!

 Do you know how hard it is to take a picture of a tower of thread on a windy day?

Here they are, all boxed up and ready to go.

In addition, I will give the winner their choice of any 5 pdf patterns from my Etsy BellaCrochet shop:

I will select the winner at random and mail out the box next Friday, February 10th, 2012.
To enter, just leave me a comment, and be sure I have a way of  contacting you, so I can get your mailing address if you win.

Thanks to everyone for helping me make 1000 sales, and good luck!

This contest is now closed; thanks to everyone who entered!