Back in January Eve received a package in the mail from Australia (it is by far the longest journey anything she has received has undergone!). My sister had purchased a gorgeous set of handmade stuffed Matryoshka dolls (aka Russian nesting dolls). Immediately Eve started playing with her new toys, taking off their ribbons and putting them in the box in which they came to sleep.
I was so touched by my sister’s thoughtful present (and the fact that she bought something from Etsy!) and by the beautiful workmanship of these dolls. I looked up the store, Two Black Rabbits, and immediately fell in love with everything. I’m talking some seriously adorable sewn items for babies and toddlers. I wrote to the owner, Jan, to tell her how much Eve loved her new presents and to see if I could interview her on my blog. I am thrilled that she is here today to share with you her work and the story of what brought her here today. (There’s also a great lesson in perseverance!)
Tell us a little bit about your work and how you got started with it.
Craft has always been a big part of my life. There is nothing better than coming home from a busy day in the business world and sitting back creating something. As a young child I learnt the basics of sewing, knitting and embroidery from my mother but with her being right handed and me being left handed, it posed special challenges to convert the process to a left handed perspective and to this day I still find myself doing things with my right hand- perhaps because I just gave up and copied my mother anyway. I always made my own home furnishings such as cushions and curtains and would often make them for friends and family since it was so such more cost efficient. When my children were little I made toys for them and clothes for my daughter. I can remember many years ago making enough toys to fill an entire stall at my son’s school craft fair. I did this because I loved making toys and for no financial gain.
In the last few years I decided I would like to learn quilting and that opened up a whole new world for me and my lovely husband as well. My husband actually enjoyed helping me choose fabrics but he didn’t want to learn sewing! There are so many additional skills associated with making a quilt and it was from this that I developed a better sense of colour coordination, colour value, themed fabric combinations, applique techniques and so on.
I remember my first quilt attempt. I proudly showed my children and asked both of them whether they would like it. They both politely declined and said they didn’t really need a quilt at that time. My daughter did say to me that she didn’t think it had any real theme! I think they were secretly cracking up laughing about that quilt. That was lesson number one. The quilt had to have a theme! I look back now and that first quilt is really the most dreadful thing that I have ever seen and I remind my husband that he actually helped me choose the fabrics. There was no underlying theme to the quilt and it was just a random combination of green, purple and grey.
Despite being very embarrassed that I created such a horrible thing, I have kept it and I often bring it out and we all have a bit of a laugh about it. The next quilt was just so much better and I think they improved from there. My grandson came along and so I did not just make him one quilt but six and my daughter in law suggested I sell them. I also had already made every member of the family and my friends one or two quilts and so they started piling up and I wondered what on earth I should do with them. It was then that I thought about trying to sell them online. I tried a small Australian handmade web site but with no success. I thought perhaps quilts weren’t the thing to be making particularly since they require a huge time and cost investment. It was then that I thought about making other things such as children’s clothes and asked my sister if she would be interested to help with some of the sewing and here I am now. My range is constantly evolving as I try to develop my own unique products.
What is the story behind your shop’s name?
This was probably one of the hardest things to do in the initial stages. The first name I came up with was just a combination of my first and middle names but then I thought I needed something different, something a bit more modern. I guess I am still not 100% happy with the ‘Two Black Rabbits’ name (two representing my sister and I, the rabbits because I love my little pet bunny and black because I felt the name just needed some sort of colour) and I have thought of a few better ones since but maybe I can use them if I open another shop or two. I am constantly blown away by the fantastic names that people come up with for their shops.
[Editor’s note: I think Two Black Rabbits is such a fantastic name with a cute personal story behind it!]
What do you like most about having your own creative business? What do you find most challenging?
There are so many things that I love about my little shop which is really still in its infancy. It is not only being able to pursue my creative passion but overcoming the challenges and the new knowledge that is required that accompanies having an online shop. I particularly enjoy meeting many lovely customers and I must say my United States customers and sellers are my favourites. I have been sent special thank you messages and photographs of their children wearing something they have bought from my store. Sometimes they share with me the special events that are happening in their lives such as weddings and the expected birth of their baby, parties that their children may have worn one of my garments to and so on. I am so glad that I opened up my shop to selling internationally! I also must not forget the many fellow Etsy sellers that I have met along the way and who are so willing to help with advice. One lady from the USA gave me some tips about the differences between Australian and US names for things- for example diapers and nappies, spots and polka dots and many more. I also love to support the fellow Etsy seller community and appreciate how they are willing to let me use their patterns to sell on line (with acknowledgement of course).
Each stage of the process has posed its own challenges. In the first stage I had to understand the online transaction process and pitfalls and how Etsy works in every detail. I then had to be a photographer and marketer and become familiar with Facebook and Pinterest and so on- it’s never ending and I still haven’t explored that to the extent that I know is required. I panicked when I received my first order but it’s all second nature now. Currently my main challenge is definitely time. Having enough time to not only do my full time job but to keep up with my custom orders and have enough time to create new prototypes and product designs. I think this must be the same for everyone though. It is always about enough time.
[Editor’s note: I can definitely relate to this challenge!]
What inspires you to create?
I am inspired by the feedback that I receive from my family and friends and of course from my many lovely customers. I have a deep appreciation of beautiful fabric and how it can be further enhanced by putting it all together to create something with its own character and beauty. It is hard to explain but it is something deep within you that inspires you to create and I think that isn’t really driven by anything to do with financial gain.
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
Handmade items are extra special because they are made with love and passion rather than by a mass produced facility where profit making is the main motive. They bring with them a little bit of the artist or creator who made them. Handmade items also offer something unique that cannot be purchased from a department store and they are usually made from quality materials that won’t fall apart in a short period of time. For the items that I make, my focus is on turning beautiful quality materials into garments for little people that can be handed down from one child to another. I want to make something that a parent would be proud of their children wearing and that would make the children happy as well. I certainly know that my children loved me making them things. It didn’t matter what it was and it didn’t have to be perfect. It was just that I had spent that bit of time making something special just for them. From working with my customers on special orders, they are after something special and unique for their children- something made just for them.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
One of the most special things I have received is a crochet blanket from my mother in law. When I think of the enormous amount of time that she invested in it, it will be treasured with love. My daughter, now aged 20, still has the baby blankets that her grandmother made for her. They will always be treasured and precious.
When you are not making art what do you like to do with your time?
I love to spend time with my family but as my little business grows and my children find their own paths in life, I am happiest when I am working on the things I love creating. I could do it all day every day.
What is something people might not know about you?
My working life is so very different to my home and creative life. I am a qualified accountant and working with numbers warrants a very different approach to the creative side of my life. I live in Adelaide, South Australia and about 5 years ago we bought a reasonably large house- plenty of room for the three of us (me, my husband and my daughter who is studying at university). Since I started my business the once reasonably large house now seems cramped. I have taken over the living room, the rumpus room and part of the family room with garments, supplies and of course there is the fabric and I keep buying more!
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
Don’t underestimate the amount of time that is involved in creating a business or pursuing your hobby more seriously. There is also so much to learn in transacting on the internet. Be patient and be prepared to be disappointed along the way but if you hang in there, work hard and be willing to continually improve and re-assess, and of course stay positive, it can be very rewarding.
Thank you so much for joining me on my blog, Jan, and be sure to check out her shop!
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