Today, Candy Glendening of Candied Fabrics and Art Wall's dining room has offered to answer some questions about her business, how began, and what keeps her going.
(AW) How did you get started dying fabrics, and how did that lead to where you are today?
(CG) I've been a quilter for 27 years. The 1st 17 years a lot of the process was shopping for fabric. "Back then" there wasn't a lot of choice, especially in my budget range and/or where I was living. 12 years ago, an article in a quilting magazine got me started dyeing my own fabric. It was great fun, but problematic because I didn't have a space "safe" for dyeing. 10 years ago we moved into a house with a very rough basement. I finally had a space I could devote to dyeing, and I was in earshot of my young kids playing upstairs. As my skill in dyeing fabric increased, my shopping for fabric decreased, and pretty soon I was working solely with my hand-dyed fabrics. I also began to feel more and more compelled to make quilts that came from ME not a pattern. I wanted to have a recognizable style, but I didn't know HOW to get that. This was very frustrating for me. In 2005 I discovered the world of artists blogs and I devoured them. Slowly I learned that art wasn't all that mysterious and I began to develop my own aesthetic. I did my 1st art festival in 2007 and had a wonderful day enjoying compliments, talking about my work, and not making a lot of sales. After some thought, I realized that I needed to have something else for people to buy--something they would use everyday, made with my fabric, reflecting my love for color and pattern, in the hopes that at some point a few of those folks would need some of my art as well.
In the summer of 2007 I had offered to test a notepad holder pattern for Kathy Mack of Pink Chalk Studio. The outside cover became a mini art quilt for me, which I then turned into something functional--"Everyday Art." Kathy and I were both thrilled with the results, and she graciously allowed me to make these to sell. I had dyed silk and velvet scarves as gifts in the past and I decided to offer those for sale as well. About a month before my 2nd show in the fall of 2007, I made myself a large tote bag to hold all the things I would need at the show, dyeing canvas and treating the outside of the tote as another mini-quilt. When I started using it, I got rave compliments and was encouraged to offer them to sell as well. At the end of the show, I sold some art, but I sold all but one of the scarves and 6 of the bags! I wrestle back and forth between making the "Everyday Art" because I know it has a better chance of being sold, and wanting to only make art for art's sake. The good side of all this, is that I continue to work through artistic motifs and color palettes, even while making my "Everyday Art"--every piece is one-of-a-kind, so I'm always doing something new. I also support my passion monetarily, and get to buy a new toy (tool) every once in a while! 3 years into the selling part of my art, I've just completed 2 commissioned art quilts, which never would have happened if I hadn't been showing and selling my work--and without the Everyday Art, I wouldn't have had the strength to set up that booth and spend that exhausting day/weekend on my feet.
(CG) The house is clean, my studio is organized, my boys have something to do that they want to do (homework and practicing is not something they want to do), my hubby is involved in his own thing (which includes making a delicious dinner), I've dyed some fantastic fabric in the delicious new color palette I'm raring to play with, and I have an idea to work through. What I've been learning about my process is that I begin to become obsessed with something--I think about it at odd hours of the day, I start to write blog posts about it in my head, it builds up until I just have to MAKE IT! When this energy coincides with the clean house, etc...I can enter the zone, and I love being there.
(AW) If you could name one thing that has helped your business grow the most/fastest what would it be?
(CG) Hand-dyed silk scarves. They are beautiful to see and feel, people can give them as gifts, they can buy more than one...I'm getting better at inventory control, so I'm pretty sure I sold 308 last year. These are the only things I make where I can come close to actually making a profit, but every time I place an order for another 12 dozen scarf blanks I have to breathe deep breaths.
(AW) Can you talk about marketing vs. making?
(CG) The good: blogging! I love doing it and I know it's an important piece of my marketing pie. The bad: photographing and processing. It is a HUGE time suck, I've never taken the time to truly understand my camera and photoshop, so I know I take way too long to do things.
The ugly: getting people to buy online. I've truly done very well at my local art fairs, I wish I could have more online sales. I've expanded my blog into a full-fledged website to both make my art more accessible and to sell it right alongside my explanations. I've had an Etsy shop for quite a long time but it's not a good fit. Although I hear they're adding some functionality that could make it easier, I don't know if I want to do the Etsy-specific things that successful folks seem to do (treasuries, re-listing every day, figuring out the best time to list). To me, all these activities seem to be more about getting a random person to see and like one little thing that flashes in front of them. It gives me no joy to think about doing these things. I'd much rather be getting to know folks through blogging, commenting on other blogs, tweeting and Facebook. These are all much more personal ways to communicate, and I enjoy them thoroughly.
(AW) Besides "making" what are a few other favorite past-times?
(CG) Eating dinner with my family, reading science fiction, um..that's pretty much it. Does reading blogs and tweeting count? Or is that all marketing?
(AW) Of course they count! It's a win:win if they're fun for you. Candy, what's a teeny tiny thing that makes you happy?
(CG) Diet Coke!
(AW) It's Diet A&W for me--or a nice glass of bubbly. Candy, I appreciate your openness. What I find the most valuable about your "journey" is your thought process (and experimentation) that lead you to offer several different items, all with a central theme. You still get to do what you love while offering items that you've found to be tried and true, though I think 2010 will be the year of the art quilt for you.
Thank you again, it was a pleasure learning a bit more about your world.