Monday, February 13, 2012

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

I thought I had a handle on my monthly deadlines and schedules. It seems I was sadly mistaken! Whether you make your living by working at home, like I do, or work in an office, it is so very important to have tasks scheduled so they get done before they are due. This is not rocket science! When I worked in an office, it worked flawlessly most of the time. Working at home is a whole new world!

Most of my work revolves around machine embroidery designs and embroidery quilting. While neither can be described as a quick and easy task, I have set my schedule to allow me to get as much work done as possible without driving myself crazy or finding that I’m spending too much time at my desk or in the sewing room. Balance is definitely the key.

I had a spurt of energy and inspiration at the turn of the New Year, and my new schedule shows it. I had become convinced that I could do more embroidery designs and spend more time making quilts than I had been. After all, years ago, I would spend eight hours in my sewing room, making quilts, and never thought about it. It was my weekend sewing time. Household chores got done during the week, in the evenings after returning home from the office.

Now that I work at home, I feel a bit of guilt for spending so much time doing what used to be my weekend pleasure. Even though it is my job, making quilts and digitizing embroidery designs is so pleasurable, that it still doesn’t feel like work, even after several years.

Last year, I would really hustle to get my deadlines met at the end of each month. The last week of the month was spent meeting obligations, while the first week of the next month was spent in answering questions and fixing any mistakes made the previous month. The middle weeks were mine to do as I wished. Generally, I didn’t work as efficiently as I should have.

Recognizing that I should have been using the middle weeks to actually get my work done, I changed up my schedule. Guess what? It actually works! Imagine that!

Now, I meet my monthly obligations a couple of days early and use the last days of the month to do follow-up. With embroidery, this means making sure everything is listed accurately. With the quilt embroidery, it means answering questions and, possibly, revising my work.

I then let myself enjoy a few days of leisure, which usually involves some sort of work because I truly do enjoy it. This also gives me a break between one deadline’s work and the next, which is important because each month is a different project. Keeping fresh is key!

I now spend the middle weeks doing my work, wandering between making quilts and digitizing machine embroidery designs as I feel the need to do so. Since what I do is art/creative, it is easier to accomplish my goals if I don’t force it. As long as I meet my goals, nothing else matters.

In an office setting, that isn’t always true. But, you still have some flexibility to schedule your time to use it most efficiently. I tried several schedules until I reached this one that seems to work for me; changed it if I saw an area for improvement.

You can do this, too! Your boss will honestly appreciate a motivated, organized employee who meets deadlines ahead of time. They might persist in wanting you to do certain things at certain times, but you can show them the light! Just tell them you’re making quilts.

If nothing else, it will confuse them and they will go away!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bring Colors to Your Idea

I’m always writing about embroidery and machine embroidery designs, as well as the various embroidery supplies like thread and stabilizer, but I rarely talk about the most important part. The embroidery machine! Let me rectify that with my thoughts on actually choosing a machine that’s right for you. To be fair, I won’t be mentioning brand names.

First, you need to set your budget. Only you can decide how much you can afford. If you decide to finance your machine, do so in a manner so that your purchase will be paid off in one year with payments that you can afford. With my first machine, I financed it and ended up hating it long before the thing was paid off. My second machine was an embroidery-only machine (no sewing capabilities) made by an “off” brand manufacturer better known for sewing patterns. It is my absolute favorite machine and cost about $300.

Once you have an idea of what you can afford, you need to decide what features you absolutely must have in your embroidery machine. The best way to do this is to visit the websites of each manufacturer. If you have a local dealer, do NOT visit them until after you have done your online research. In my experience, the dealer salespeople usually don’t know much about embroidery and even less about the machines. They will also try to sell you on items that aren’t necessary. Be armed with knowledge before visiting.

The biggest feature you will need to decide on is what size embroidery stitching field you want. The most common is the 4”x4” (100mm) hoop. This is also the least expensive option. The bigger the stitch field, the higher the cost of the machine. But, while one brand with a larger hoop may be very expensive, another brand might still be within your price range. It is very important to fully explore what’s out there. Please do not assume that the biggest “name” or highest price will be the best option! I cannot stress that enough!!!

The next thing you’ll need to decide on is how you want to get embroidery designs into your machine. All of mine have used a specialized card which acts like any CD, floppy disc or flash card. My most expensive machine also allows me to connect to my computer via a USB cable. Other machines use floppy drives, memory sticks, and thumb drives. Lots of options! And they all work well.

Finally, what type of machine do you want? Most embroidery machines for home use are a sewing machine with an embroidery attachment. If you don’t want another sewing machine, look into the embroidery-only options. For home use, though, these machines only offer up to a 5”x7” stitch field. If you want a larger field, you either need to buy the sewing/embroidery combination or opt for a multi-needle industrial machine. Some of the sewing/embroidery combo machines are as expensive as the multi-needle machines, so if you are opting for one of those very expensive machines, personally, I’d go with the industrial model.

If you do want the sewing/embroidery combo, once you’ve decided on the embroidery features, you will then look at what the sewing features offer. Look for a needle up/down function and the ability to automatically lock stitches in place (instead of back-tacking). Make sure it offers the number and type of decorative stitches that you would like, and that it has enough advanced features to justify the price.

Once you go to the dealer, they will tell you that you need to take classes on the machine. NONSENSE!!! Many people learn to use their machines quite well on their own. If you feel confident enough to learn on your own, negotiate a lower price on the machine. The dealership offers the classes for “free” to their purchasing customers, but the added cost is tacked onto the price of the machine. You can usually get a couple hundred dollars discount! This is more money that you can spend on all those yummy embroidery supplies!

Do your homework in advance, and you’ll be a happy embroiderer for years to come!