Piggledee is 7! Thoughts of Selling Handmade Creations Online

Happy anniversary to Piggledee! I almost couldn’t believe it – it’s been seven years since I first started my tiny handmade business. My previous law career had lasted for five years – six if I include one year of a paralegal job after moving to Australia. So Piggledee would be the longest-held “job” I’ve ever had.

I fondly remember the first year of starting this business. My ex-partner and I lived in a little apartment in Sydney. My kids were 3 and 1. I worked on a cheap sewing machine on a dining table at nighttime, mainly after a day of looking after the kids. It was exhausting but at the same time, hugely therapeutic. After four years of being a stay-at-home mother with a developmentally-challenged daughter, I was sorely missing my personal time. I was itching to do something for myself.

Honestly, I had no idea how to start a home-based business. But with my typical impatience, over-confidence (arrogance?), and optimism, I started it anyway – and learned things along the way.

Here are some moments down the memory lane.

piggledee early days

The reality of sewing at home with little ones around. Mommy’s toys are baby’s toys!

piggledee early days

But luckily, my babies were kind enough to model my bags for me (sometimes for – shhh – chocolate for wages).

piggledee early market

I started up my business selling at local weekend markets. It was fun meeting real customers, but I soon found online to be more suitable to my lifestyle.

piggledee early market

My first-ever dedicated sewing room – until I got my first industrial sewing machine, I sewed with an entry-level Janome and a second-hand overlocker (which, amazingly, I still use every day).

In future posts, I’d like to share some of the insights I gained over the years, on how to start and maintain a home-based handmade business. If you are interested, I hope you’ll sign up to get my blog posts by email, if you haven’t already!

 

 

 

Reusable Straw Cases (Long Version)

Surprisingly, I’ve already had a few orders for reusable straw cases. I had no idea there were so many reusable straw users out there. How wonderful!

straw case by piggledee

 

Don’t they look soooo cute all lined up?

straw case by piggledee

These are extra-long versions to fit up to 10.5″ straws. The regular size is perfect for 8.5″ straws.

straw case by piggledee straw case by piggledee

I particularly love the Snoopy one, because the blue lining matches the outer fabric. A tiny detail like that make a pouch even more special.

Coincidentally, my kids and I were watching a documentary called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead last weekend. I thought it might brainwash, I mean persuade, my kids to try green smoothies sometime. They loved the movie, and promptly let me add “just one” kale leaf to their smoothie that day, lol.

Then a lightbulb finally lit up. Juicing = straws! I have never been on a juicing diet before, but have noticed that juice places are popping up everywhere. Duh, straws are not just for kids’ milkshakes – I am embarrassingly slow to catch on sometimes. Juice shops, however, all provide eco-unfriendly plastic straws. So what would an eco-conscious grownup do? Why, tote reusable straws of course (along with, ideally, a keep cup).

straw case by piggledee

Here’s another favorite of mine – coffee-themed fabric. If you look closely… can you see straws? Though for iced coffee and frappucchinos here it looks like. Anyway, there is a straw case for everyone. :)

The straw cases (in two size options) are available at my Etsy shop.

Reusable Straw Case

Do you use reusable straws? They are fantastic. We (well, my kids mostly) use stainless steel ones. The opening is big enough for thick smoothies, easy to clean, and unbreakable. No more plastic straws, and soggy paper straws.

So when a customer asked me to make a reusable straw case, I was delighted. It’s just a variation on my cutlery case (like this one), but longer and narrower. It will fit up to four straws perfectly.

reusable straw case by piggledee

I also padded the pouch – just in case you might want to use glass straws. I love padded pouches anyway. So cushy, soft, and cuddly.

reusable straw case by piggledee

Isn’t the blue strawberry fabric adorable?

reusable straw case by piggledee

The navy blue and white stripe is for a grownup man. I love that a grownup man would tote reusable straws! So cool.

As a bonus, you can use this as a cutlery case for adult-sized forks and spoons. Yay for versatility

reusable straw case by piggledee

reusable straw case by piggledee

These straw cases are hygienic, because it’s easy to turn the pouch inside out, rinse it, and it’ll naturally dry out in a few hours. They are also machine washable, like most of these pouches I make.

These straw cases are now available in my Etsy shop (just search for “straw”).

 

 

From Idea to Shop: Water Bottle Holder

I thought it might be fun to journal the process of designing new products and getting them ready for my Etsy shop. So here it is – chapter 1, water bottle holder.

the IdeaI’ve been wanting to make insulated water bottle cases for years. Why? Because summer in Australia is hot, and there is nothing worse than drinking lukewarm (or worse, warm) water after a workout.

You might ask, so what took me years to make one? Doesn’t it look simple enough? The sad-but-true answer is: I’m scared of maths. Yes, I’m fearful of calculating diameters, circumference, radius, and all those dreadful primary-school level stuff that seemed unavoidable when coming up with a round-bottomed pattern.

But this January, motivated by the sheer heat wave that lasted for days, I finally bit the bullet and went for it. Hooray!

lemon lime water bottle holder by piggledee

The design: As you see, the design can’t be simpler. I used a layer of insulation material, and PUL for the lining. PUL makes the case more water-tight. Another benefit of PUL is that it’s stretchy, so is easier to sew the fiddly bit of attaching the circular bottom to the side panel. There is no closure like a snap button, velcro, or drawstring (all of which I considered). This makes it easy to access the water bottle.

water bottle case by Piggledee

I admit, the maths part was hard, but online calculators like this helped me tremendously. Thank you, modern technology!

Product testing: I immediately began to use the case every day. I took the baby to the gym, to walks, and to parks with the kids. And yes, the insulation worked, especially when I put ice cubes in the water. This wasn’t surprising. But I also noticed something else – just having that bright yellow bottle case brightened up my mood. It made exercising more fun. Plus it made me want to drink more water, which is a good thing, right?

Shop readiness: Now that I was in love with my new water bottle case, I wondered if I can make them for my shop. Luckily, a lovely customer asked me to make one for her, to match her lunch bag. So I took that as an opportunity to work out a formula to fit her larger water bottle. After a few hours of fiddling, crunching numbers, and making more samples, I think I got it right. Here are all the samples – with all the sample bottles in my house to test them out. By then, my tiny studio was super messy!

sample water bottle cases by piggledee

These water bottle cases are now available at my Etsy shop (in the brand new “water bottle holder” section). I have two sizes available by default: small and large. The small size will be good for small water bottles like mine (or my kids – see the pink plastic one in the photo). The large size will be good for larger water bottles and (bonus!) most wine bottles. Now who wouldn’t want to take a chilled bottle of wine to a picnic? Or use them as a chic and eco-friendly gift bag? Anyway, if you would like me to modify the size slightly to fit your special water bottle, please message me.

small water bottle case by piggledee

The water bottle

Pocket Apron Skirt with a Touch of “Kawaii”

Okay, I might have lied a little in my last post – that I wouldn’t wear “kawaii” fabric as a garment. Because this week I made this for myself, and I’m in love.

Pocket apron skirt by Piggledee

Is it an apron? Is it a skirt? Is it a tool belt? Or… could it be a combination of all three? Yes it could! I’m not sure if it’s a “garment” per se, but I wear this all day long, so it feels like a garment.

Pocket apron skirt by Piggledee

The grey elephant border is actually pockets, divided into 6 sections. Six pockets, woohoo! Because, as a work-at-home woman with a tendency for forgetfulness and disorganisation, pockets are essential. You can say I’m totally lost without pockets. And do you know how many commercial garments come with no pockets at all? Like yoga pants. Or pyjama pants. Not to mention dresses. Without pockets, I’m constantly looking for things – my phone, pens, paper, scissors… Very frustrating.

So when I saw a naturopath / massage therapist friend wearing a short wrap-around apron with lots of pockets (handmade in Indonesia, with all the patchwork loveliness), I knew that was it! I had to have all.those.pockets. She graciously lent me her apron so I could examine it closely – and shamelessly copy the design.

Well, with a couple of minor changes. First, I wanted Piggledee cuteness of course, so used this classic grey elephant fabric remnant. The rest of the apron is 100% linen grey fabric that was chopped off from an IKEA curtain because it was too long for my windows. Recycle and reuse in action, my friends. Besides, I love the look, feel, and drape of pure linen, wrinkle and all.

Second, I made the apron wider than my friend’s, so it would look more like a wrap skirt. This way, I could leave the house and not look like I forgot to remove a kitchen apron. Here’s my friend modelling my skirt apron. It’d look more skirt-like if you wear the apron under your shirt or sweater.

Pocket apron skirt by Piggledee

Pocket apron skirt by Piggledee

Does it make sense to have pockets at the back though? Oh yes it does. The apron/skirt look so much cuter with elephants marching all over you, don’t you think? Plus this way, you can wrap the apron around you any which way you like, and still have pockets in the right spots. Except… you may not want to put your phone or scissors in the back pocket – in case you might want to sit down (yes, I did sit on my phone to learn this valuable lesson – but fortunately it didn’t crack).

I haven’t decided whether to make these for my shop. If I do though, wouldn’t it be great to use natural plain linen with some gorgeous Echino prints? I might have to make myself another one at least, just so I can wash one while using the other.

 

 

It has to be kawaii! Keepcup drawstring bag

The last Facebook market was so much fun. Thank you to everyone who came to browse and purchase. It’s always wonderful to connect with my regular customers, and make new(ish) things with them in mind.

One of my favorite creations for the market were these reusable shopping bag sets. Another favourite is the wristlet wet bag pouch, which I made specifically for a keepcup (reusable coffee cup) with a few utensils. I was also pleasantly surprised that my reusable sandwich wraps were popular, even with grownup fabrics.

After the market ended, I just wanted to keep making more stuff. So I made something for myself: A keepcup pouch!keepcup drawstring bag by piggledeeSquirrels in blue. So, so kawaii! (can you hear me squeal like a school girl?) I did ask myself: is it a tiny bit age-inappropriate for me to use this kiddy fabric for myself, being a 40-something grown woman and all? And the answer is, of course not! Okay, I might hesitate wearing this fabric as a garment. But for a pouch that would live quietly inside my backpack or handbag, the fabric absolutely has to be kawaii. Otherwise, where’s the joy?

keepcup drawstring bag by piggledee

This drawstring bag is just the right size for an 8-oz keepcup. I can also squeeze in a small reusable handkerchief and a child-sized fork and spoon. I’m pretty pleased how it came out. (Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with or compensated by the keepcup company. I just think they make great sustainable products.)

I also lined the bag with water-resistant nylon fabric, which I happened to have in this blue that matches the Squirrel fabric perfectly.

keepcup drawstring bag by piggledee

Plus I also happened to have this pretty blue cord that I once ordered by mistake – and now put to a good use.

keepcup drawstring bag by piggledee

Maybe I’ll make more of these cuties for my next market.  I can’t wait!

 

Facebook eco market this weekend!

It’s official. After a whopping 9-month break of some hiccups in my life, there will be a Piggledee Facebook market this weekend, from Saturday, September 16 at 9am Sydney time. wristlet keepcup case by piggledee

Sustainability is the theme of this market, with many creaions promoting the “reuse, refuse, and recycle” spirit. Like sandwich wraps and snack bags with water-resistant and food-safe nylon lining.

sandwich wrap by piggledee

sandwich wrap by piggledee

And lightweight drawstring shopping bags that are perfect for shopping at farmer’s market or pack-your-own grocery shops like this one.

drawstring eco bag by piggledee

Do you love coffee? I sure do! And with these wristlet wet bag pouches, you can carry around a reusable coffee cup (there are so many pretty ones out there )and save disposable cups from landfill. While at it, carry your own cutlery as well, so you are not tempted to use disposable ones. Waterproof PUL lining means you don’t have to worry about staining your handbag or diaper bag with drops of leftover coffee.

keepcup eco bag by piggledee

keepcup case by piggledee

Sustainability has been on my mind for a few years now, and in my own quiet, personal way, I have been mindful about how I live – like reducing waste, avoiding plastic shopping bags and packaging, shopping at second-hand shops rather than buying new, and cooking at home instead of ordering takeaways.

Piggledee child's apron
But what about my business? Am I being as sustainable as I can with Piggledee? I mean, I buy brand new fabrics and supplies from overseas (many made in China with who knows how much pollution it caused along the way). I ship my products using brand new packaging that might end up in landfill. What about all the fabric scraps that keep accumulating in my tiny home studio? Am I being a hypocrite? This has been a tough question for me.

In the end, I can’t be perfect. But I can do better. I can, for example: (1) make more (and more enticing) eco-friendly items, like the ones I’ll feature at this online market; (2) reduce waste by using scrap fabrics that I might otherwise throw away; and (3) not buy so much new materials, but use the ones I already have more efficiently.

If I do all of these above, I’ll probably feel better about buying brand new, imported fabrics – so long as they are utterly cute of course. Because for you and me, life should be fun, joyful, and beautiful. Sustainability doesn’t have to mean carrying old, tattered, ugly shopping bags to local grocery shops. Well, plastic supermarket bags are ugly to begin with, aren’t they? So are plastic ziplock bags. What child would be delighted to see another brown paper bag or plastic ziplock bag in her lunch box?

sandwich wrap set by piggledee

But these? Can you hear your little one saying, “yes please, Mom – you are the best!”  See, you can be fashionable and eco-friendly at the same time. It’s a winning combination in my view.

And while we are on this topic, can I also recommend Al Gore’s new movie, “Inconvenient Sequel“? I was afraid it was all doom and gloom this time, but no – it was surprisingly positive and powerful. Also the Slow Home podcast is pretty awesome (and the hosts Brooke and Ben McAlary live in the Blue Mountains, like me!).

Anyway, I hope you can stop by this weekend, even just to say hello. Updates are on my Facebook page!

 

Birthday bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets

I might have said this before, but I love customer feedback. Feedback is invaluable in improving my designs and coming up with new ones. Honest feedbacks are the most helpful, and the most honest customer I have in that department – is my mother.

My mother – who has always been an amazing supporter of my little business, always tells me exactly what she wants. And when she’s not happy with a particular product, I do hear from her!

So when I showed her my small Echino bucket bag to see if she’d like one of these for her birthday this month, she said she loved the Echino fabric, but she wasn’t sold on the bag design. She wished there were outside pockets – like some of the previous bags I made for her. She finds the pockets really useful, and an entire bag with just one fabric showing is a bit boring, she said. See, she’s honest.

I felt deflated for a minute (because I loved the original bag), but then I recovered and started cutting for another bag.

Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

 

Here’s the bag I made for her – small bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets…

Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

… and two inside pockets as well – four pockets in total. It does take a fair bit longer to make this bag, but the added feature of large outside pockets does make the stunning Echino fabric stand out more. I still like the original, all-over design, too though… which one do you like better? Here’s the two of them together. Meanwhile, Happy birthday, Midori!
Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

 

Autumn – and another Echino bucket tote

It’s getting cold in the Blue Mountains. I love all the seasons here, but autumn is particularly lovely. Here’s a view from my studio right now. What a glorious day!

Autumn in the blue mountains

In Japan, we think of autumn as a season of creativity and reading – a time to resurrect your brain after a mind-numbingly hot and sweaty summer. And even though the summer in the mountains is mild, I feel a surge of fresh creative energy these days!

Bucket shoulder bag by Piggledee

 

So, here’s another Echino bag in the same smaller bucket bag design I showed you last time (that bag, by the way, has sold already and is on its way to a new home in the US as we speak – woohoo!).

Bucket shoulder bag by Piggledee

How cute are these budgies? Well, they are more realistic-looking rather than “cute,” but I love them anyways. Budgies were my childhood pets growing up in a small apartment in Japan.

Echino Bucket shoulder bag by Piggledee

Etsuko Furuya’s designs are often large-scale, so they shine in larger items like this.

The natural colour of linen will go with a lot of different outfits, but I also have this print in hot pink and black.

Echino budgie fabric

It’s available in my Etsy shop now.

Polar Bear Fabric Storage Box

Here’s something super cute that I made for a customer today.

polar bear fabric storage box by Piggledee

 

 

It’s a fabric storage box! How adorable is this polar bear fabric by Japanese designer Mico Ogura? She actually designed a similar polar bear fabric last year, which had sadly sold out quickly.

But miracles do happen, and this year she again came up with this equally-cute polar bear fabric. I love all the colors, but the grey one is particularly beautiful, don’t you think? Paired with natural, off-white lining, its cuteness is subtle enough for a grownup to use.

polar bear fabric storage box by Piggledee

 

Fabric boxes are fantastic to organize things around your house. I’d think of diapers, baby clothing, kids’ toys, etc. But see, books might work well as well!

polar bear fabric storage box by Piggledee

Cook books, kids’ books, that tend to scatter around the house can be neatly piled up in one of these boxes (not that they are neatly organized in my house, unfortunately…).

And if you are wondering if I am ever going to finish that sewing pattern for these boxes, I’m very sorry! Yes I am going to finish it as soon as I have some free time. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

If you are interested in purchasing one of these boxes, they are on my Etsy shop. The polar bear one is not listed, but if you send me a message, I’d be happy to custom make one for you, too (while the fabrics last, that is – the grey one is nearly sold out!).