June 23, 2008
Today, it’s all about more bags. (I did warn you that I have a wee bag problem. As in, I like them too much.) Many of you have enjoyed collecting the different fabrics and sizes of BigBags, BabyBags and NeedleBooks from Lawre’s Laine, and I thought you’d have fun learning a bit more about this indie artisan that you have supported. Her work is top notch and it’s always fun to unpack a case of her bags when new orders come in.
Loopy: Hi Lawre! We like having your wonderful bags here. How long have you been sewing and do you remember the first thing you made?
Loopy: My mother taught me and my 2 sisters to sew when we were 7 or 8 years old. I do not remember what it was I first sewed, I just remember ripping seams, again and again, until they were RIGHT!! I hated it then, but am very thankful now! I sewed funky clothes during the 60′s (that never fit) and clothes for my daughter in the 70′s (which did) I don’t like fitting clothing – I’d much rather sew home furnishings and decorative things. I really liked sewing teddy bears from an old mink coat!
Loopy: All of that attention to detail when you were young really paid off. Your workmanship on your bags is beautiful. What made you get into making bags as a business?
Lawre: First I took an early retirement from the telephone company and needed a little more income and something to keep me busy. I am a hand-spinner, so decided to sell hand-spun sweater kits with hand-made buttons and stitch markers. Way too time consuming and not enough knitters ready to dive into knitting with anything hand-spun, much less a whole sweater! But the yarn is the reason for the business name- “Laine” is French for “wool”. While spinning all the yarn for the kits, I found that I did not have a bag big enough to carry 1 1/2 pounds of “fluff” and the bobbins and all – so I made myself a BigBag. Other people liked them and before I knew it I had a few orders for bags. With the help of my sister Jane and my group of spinning friends, I developed the final design: the pockets, beads, length of handles, firm bottom, you name it.
Loopy: That’s funny, because the first bag I bought from you became my spinning bag (spindles, oil, scissors, etc.) and then of course I needed another one for my knitting projects right away. What is a typical day like for you. Do you sew all day long?
Lawre: I have a part-time job with Strauch Fiber Equipment Company making drum carders, ball winders and swifts, so I only work on Lawre’s Laine Thursday through Sunday. I usually get up around 6, make a BIG pot of coffee, feed the family (I can wait, but the dog will not!!!), take care of the e-mail stuff, and then get down to the real stuff around 7:30 or 8. I will sew until I have all the sewing done on the order I am working on and then do the finishing on all of the items – put in the grommets, cut the leather for the handles, etc. My husband is great – he does most of the house work and cooking. How lucky am I?! I will work till 5 or 6 and then usually braid the leather handles while watching TV at night.
Loopy: Your husband does the housework and cooking? Yes, that sounds pretty darned lucky on your end! Do you have a workshop where you create? What things are “must haves” for your sewing room?
Lawre: Our largest bedroom has been converted into my sewing room and most of the basement has been fitted out with the tools for processing the leather and finishing everything. I would love to have a bigger space because I am always juggling the areas and moving stuff around. Have I mentioned I am a dreamer? The “Must Haves” are:
A: my industrial leather sewing machine – I needed a machine with a “high-rise” pressure foot to sew the many layers of tapestry. It turned out to be a walking-foot leather machine, so I can sew the leather as well.
B: my 4′ x 8′ measuring and cutting surface. I actually could use a larger cutting space so I could lay out a whole hide for cutting, but this one works fine. I would love another 4′ x 8′ table for ironing- plus a professional steam iron, but no space for that!
C: I found this cool leather slicer, so I can cut a 1.5″ length of leather and then just pull it through the slicer to achieve the four pieces needed for braiding. I was cutting each little strip separately – what a pain. Leather stretches and isn’t really flat to start off with, given that cows are round and a bit lumpy! A good rotary cutter is also needed.
D: All the other tools – grommet and rivet setters.
E: Last, but maybe the most important are my Ott Lights. Good color matching is impossible without good light.
And, oh yea, F: the computer – I do almost all my shopping on-line, and I love it!
Loopy: I’ll bet there are some seamstresses out there who think your work area and equipment sounds wonderful. Are you a knitter? If so, how long have you been knitting and what do you like to make the most?
Lawre: Yes, I am a fluff-a-holic!! I love the look, the feel, and the smell of fiber….Wool, silk, alpaca, cotton. even the fluff from my dog, Vanny. My mother started this, too. She taught my Brownie Troop to knit and I spent more time by the frog pond than I really want to think about, but that was my mom – do it over and over until it is RIGHT! I started knitting sweaters and they are my favorite. Cable work is so much more fun for me than color-work, but right now I am working on the best sweater. I got a kit at Maryland Sheep and Wool that has seven colors. It is fabulous and is done with slip-stitches, so all one color is used on any row. I also love socks – great carry-with-you and pick-up any where projects.
Loopy: We’re glad that you knit, and really glad to hear that you like to knit socks, in addition to sweaters. For any other artisans out there, do you have any advice in starting up a business and marketing yourself?
Lawre: Do what you know and love and don’t be afraid to experiment. Use the internet as much as you can. It is a wonderful resource, especially for those of us who live in rural areas. I buy almost all my equipment and supplies from on-line stores and almost all of my fabric comes from online sources as well. I can shop at 3am in my PJ’s, from all over the world. And the shipping costs are less than the time spent driving all-over. As for marketing, I am not sure I can help much there. I was very lucky – a sales rep saw my Bags at Holly Spring Home Spun in Powhatan, Virginia, and contacted me. I also did a few craft shows, and soon discovered that it can be a good advertisement, but it is good to be selective and choose venues that attract the people who will ultimately be your customers. So I guess figuring out who your customers are and where they will be found is a good thing.
Loopy: Good advice, Now, any mistakes that you made along the way that you want to share?
Lawre: Boy, oh boy – that is a loaded question! I have done things that I might now do differently, but this whole thing has been such a learning journey for me. I sometimes am not as aggressive as I should be and have let others steer me in a direction I would not have chosen and regretted it. My husband says that I don’t push my business enough. I think I tell him too much!! There is one thing that is a continuing challenge – the web site. I have a very hard time getting around to updating it. I first tried to blog frequently – yikes. And, I am not gifted in the record keeping area, so come tax time, I have major stuff to do. Every year I vow to be better. One year I just might get there.
Loopy: Well I think most creative people have way more fun doing the creative end of things than the business end of things. You sound very normal! Tell us about your family.
Lawre: My husband Michael, and I live in Blacksburg, Virginia with our fiber producing dog, Vanny (yes I do spin her fur into the most wonderfully soft yarn!). We moved here about 12 years ago and feel we came to heaven. A small college town in a rural setting in the mountains – who could ask for more? Gardening is my 2nd love, but finding the time is a challenge. Right now I am enjoying the strawberries that have just started ripening and it looks as if the apples, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes are also going to have bumper crops. The rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks share the bounty too. I have become the garlic queen – there is nothing better than fresh garlic from your own garden. If you haven’t discovered the joy of home-grown garlic, give it a try. Plant in the fall and harvest in mid-summer, Yum!
Loopy: Home-grown garlic? That sounds like a fun plant for the garden! Anything else you’d like to add?
Lawre: I would love to thank everyone who has supported and encouraged me in the past 3 or 4 years. It is hard to believe that Lawre’s Laine is so young and has grown so. This could not have happened without all of you! AND Life is an adventure – try to enjoy the RIDE!