Best of the craftyweb: an interview with Dotty Red

Welcome to the second of my quarterly 'Best of the Craftyweb' posts for 2012.

The very first blog I ever followed was
Dotty Red written by the talented Suzie Vallis. Suzie is a busy woman! She's a mother and also runs a small business making the most lovely homewares, bags, decorative items and so on. I figured that you guys, if not already following her blog, would love to know a bit more about her, so here goes:

Hi Suzie, what's on your sewing machine right now?  

"Hearts and hangers... My staple make is lavender-filled hearts and hangers. At present I have two machines on the go and one is set up with the feed dogs down for freeform embroidery.  So I embroider the fabric using a stabiliser then I move to my main machine and sew them up. I used to only have one machine but then it needed first aid when I was in the middle of a deadline... so I searched for a while for a good second hand machine at a similar quality to my main machine. Oh how I love my sewing machines!
"For the Jubilee, I have some beautiful Union Jack flag ribbon and it looks great against the linen of the heart with little red, blue and white buttons.  I have to confess I didn't really think about the Jubilee or the Olympics, until I got asked what I had...  Ahhhhhhhhh... So I have been beavering away designing and hand sewing some pretty felt badges with crowns on plus a few sparkly beads and making too many Olympic winner badges/corsages..."

And what one item could you not do without in your crafty world? Why?
"My sewing machine... I love her! Fabric... erm... lots of it! Masses of inspirational books. My cutting mat and good scissors.  Oh sorry, you did say only one!"

How would you describe your style?
"I am quite a bohemian at heart and I think this is reflected in my work. At this very moment I am putting together a Business Plan and I am thinking of descriptive words to use... my list goes like this...  Vintage handmade, Retro, Quirky, Honest, Funky, Bohemian, Happy, Cute and Fragrance.  
"I want my work to be beautiful but I want it to make you happy and smile. I have a bit of a thing about being happy, that happiness is not in the big things like money and the size of your house but the pretty mug you had your morning cuppa in, sticky ice cream all over your bag after a day on the beach, the smell of grass after it has rained... silly... maybe, but it does indeed make me happy and then I SMILE! My work is very fluid, I am not one for rules and following patterns, at times it's quite childlike, almost innocent.
"I am a beach girl and my boys also adore being by the sea.  We like nothing better than time on the beach. I am beach hut mad: too many little ones around my home. I adore little sailing boats drifting across calm water and their sails catching the light. So it is not really a surprise to find my main line of products is very beach inspired. Fabric Boats. Bunting. Beach Hut Lavender Hangers. Seaside print fabric cosmetic bags to keep the sand off all your bits and bobs.

"My sewing style has changed over the years but it comes from my heart... always. I am influenced by books and blogs and I worry as I see similarities in my work to others, then I say to myself 'There are only so many ways a cupcake can be sewn'."

Where would you like your business to be in a year’s time? 5 years' time?
"In my dreams... I will have a shop in a seaside town, it will have a beautiful bay window facing on to the beach, pretty bunting hanging across it and inside the shop it will be filled with so much handmade goodness. Oh my, I have even decorated it, it's painted in beautiful shades of blue and lemon, just like the sea, sand and the sky.  One wall will have the prettiest floral wallpaper, and on the main desk will be handmade cupcakes in matching colours, (I love a bit of baking). In the summer I will have a pretty table and chairs for you to sit outside and sip lemonade and enjoy the views and leave with some handmade bliss in a pretty brown paper bag tied up with string - all the best parcels come tied up with string. I will have a few buckets of fresh flowers with a few posies of country garden flowers made up (I am a trained florist). In the winter it will be toasty cosy and, even on wet wild days, it will always be a sunny place to be.  It will smell of Christmas spices and warm your heart. Yes, my little shop will be a such a happy place.

"OK OK in reality (oh I was enjoying the day dream!) I am just about to commit to sewing as full time job.  I have tried to study for two years to be a teacher's assistant and I love it, I get so inspired by children. But with the recession and the government, there have been so many cut backs. Only I could have gone in to study a career as a mature student, pay out my fees and accomplish so much more than I thought possible of myself, only to have it all taken away by a government who no longer seems to value this role. Oh that's very outspoken for me! I need to work around my children, it's been a tough learning curve for all of us. So I move from serious hobby sewer to it being my job, to put food on the table and roof over our heads. I am indeed scared and sometimes sick with worry in the wee small hours. But its my only option if I don't want my children in expensive childcare six days a week and they beg not to be, which does not make it any easier.

So here I am right at the edge of a life changing moment. FULL TIME MAKER!
Five years time...  It's been a rough ride to just get here!  But I have great drive and I truly love what I do. I am going to review my situation in six months: I have to pay the bills, it's just me and my boys so, if I can't do it, I will have to face reality.  I have no one to fall back on, but let's not go there, let's be positve. If all is going to plan, I will be heading towards that shop. Little steps. A website.  Work shops. My product in as many lovely beach and creative shops as I can.  at the moment, I have to like the shop and the owner before I can sell to them but maybe for survival I need to think about this! If I move I may have to look at getting premises as I will be down-sizing and my sewing room will be no more. I want to aim to have a line of products and I am still designing and finding my own lines by trial and error.
 When I can buy a luxury item and not feel guilty, I know I have reached my five year goal."

How do you balance family life and working on your own business?  Do the kids get involved? Do you still enjoy sewing just for pleasure, for example?
"Oh I love this questions. It's the reason I do what I do. It is the most important thing to me. The balance is great, admittedly a little stressful. Both my boys know I sew, they love it, my eldest is my manager! My youngest will sit with me while I sew and suggest different fabrics and I often help with my lavender filling. We have chill out time at weekends when we all do our own thing. I sew, my youngest draws and my eldest reads. I discuss it all with them, we have Dotty Red meetings, what's to be made, what they think.  Yes, they are very much involved - they need to be, I have taken over two rooms and a trail of mess is left behind me.
"It's been hard the last two years with study and working in school. I have sewn mostly in the evening when they go to bed.  I am a night bird so I sew till one am and I don't really watch telly. We laugh that the living room is the boys' room as I don't use it; even when I have friends over, we all tend to sit in my kitchen.  It's a big lovely room with a secondhand pine table right in the middle of it. I love being in this room, it's so warm and welcoming and I always having something ready to serve friends and the numerous children that pop in. So it's a mad crazy lifestyle.  My neighbours think I am a bit batty but, you know, it works for us.
"I still sew for me too. I am guilty of having a couple of quilts for my children not finished and a pile of 'make do and mend' clothes that need work, but I do play. I make myself a bag each season, I love having handmade textiles around the home! I think they give it warmth and love and, when you make them yourself, they add memories. My knitting has lapsed; this makes me a little sad as I love to knit, it's so rhythmic and calming. But the wool basket is by the sofa and, on the odd evening I get to curl up with a glass of wine, I pick it up."
Please recommend some blogs you follow, sites you like to browse or online shops you visit.
"Oh I enjoy reading blogs! I read my first one years ago: Simple Sparrow, now blogging under a different name (Ed: I think it's  It doesn't seem to be working right now but their Etsy shop is here) and my second one was Soulmama.  Through links I got to Treefall and Posie Gets Cozy.  I still go back to them, I made some lovely cyber friends.
"I still love finding a new blog, someone just started out; I love watching them grow and develop their style. A favourite of my family was Monkee Maker, now no longer blogging, but we would all gather around the laptop to see what funny story she was telling that day. My must read is Dots and Spots, I love her work and her business is very inspiring, she manages to keep her blog family-orientated and it's beautiful.  Oh and don't tell her... I want to live in her house. It's so me! LOL
"Online shops: I get my felt and buttons from Paper and String.  Always had great service from Sarah and the quality is excellent.
"It's a problem at the moment. I do support people I like and small local businesses but I need to think of my sales and if I buy at retail I have to charge my customers more. I have been researching wholesale. I just found an amazing zip seller in the States and my zips have gone down from £1.45 to about 35p and no reduction in quality.  Yes, I pay postage which takes it up about 5p a zip more but that is still a huge saving for me. So lots of surfing at the moment and pricing up. Etsy is cruel, I want most of the things I see...
Time is something I always run out of so I try not to lose hours on surfing. Once a week I try to have a night of reading blogs and updating my blog...if I have time!"
Suzie Vallis, loving your work and your style - your daydream shop sounds gorgeous!  I can't thank you enough for your honest responses and wish you all the best for your new full-time maker status.  Keep us posted, eh? 

Peeps, I'll be answering some questions over on Dotty Red sometime soon, so go and visit.

Who would you interview if you could choose anyone on the blogosphere - or anyone at all, for that matter?Are there any questions you'd like to ask Suzie?  Or me??

love youse!

S x


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