Jen Spilly Designs
handmade for woman and home

spillymade blog

Handmade for Woman and Home
Return & Reset
The Little Beach.jpg

If you know me and see me or talk to me on any kind of a regular basis, you know that I have been in a state of “getting back to sewing” for a long time. 

A couple of years ago, I was renting a studio in downtown San Rafael and teaching sewing to kids after school. Things were going well. My classes were full and I had people begging to get into my classes. My original plan was to teach in the after school hours and use the other hours during the day to work on my own stuff - bags and accessories to sell in my online shop. The problem was that I got so busy that I was spending all of my non-teaching hours prepping for classes. I was shopping for supplies, tracing and cutting patterns, preparing project kits to make classes go more smoothly… Outside of that, time to exercise and shower in the morning and do extensive volunteer work at the kids’ school, I had no time left over to do my own work. It got so that people forgot that I ever made products to sell  in the first place… I became simply a sewing teacher. 

Teaching was only ever meant as a way to pay for the studio rent. I never wanted it to become the entire business. Plus, I was not loving the work. Most of my students were great, but let’s face it - kids are kids, and I already had two of my own. I was getting home at 5:30, having to keep track of my kids’ whereabouts after school by phone or having them come to the studio and do homework while I was teaching (which was always a disaster), and I was always feeling rushed for dinner and my house was always a mess. Plus, the very nature of an after school program of any kind implies “day care” for some parents, which means some of my students just weren’t as passionate about learning to sew as others.

Spring of 2015 was my last full schedule. After teaching a little over that summer between family vacations, I made the decision to end the classes altogether and move out of the studio. I could have changed gears and dived right into trying to produce enough product to keep paying the rent, but it wasn’t in a great part of downtown so instead I sold off as much of my stuff as I could and moved what was left back home. That was exactly two years ago.

Two Years…. 

In that time I have done little in the way of getting my business to do anything but sink further into the unknown. I’ve made a few things here and there to sell and I’ve sewn some custom pillows for people, but that’s about it. That’s not to say I’ve had nothing to do. I spent the rest of the 2015-16 school year as a full time volunteer fundraiser for our elementary school (work that I was doing before, but stepped into full force when I stopped teaching). And the, I proceeded to do the same for the following school year. Now, with both of my kids at the middle school (where I have vowed to hold back on my own volunteerism and let some other parents pick up the slack), I have some time on my hands and I am trying to motivate myself to use it. 

I have ideas, the outlines of plans, I definitely have skills. My problem is procrastination and brain fog. There are things that have slowed me down. But I have been feeling a surge of energy coming on these last few days. I am ready for some clarity and productivity to manifest. It’s time to stop letting exhaustion, fear, and grief hold me back and instead, to maximize the hours I have while the kids are at school and hanging with friends to recharge and reinvigorate my work. 

** The image above was taken on October 17, 2017 at a place my family and I call "The Little Beach." It was a favorite spot of Bear, our chocolate lab who we had to put down that afternoon after his long fight against cancer and a number of other health issues. He was 14 and The Best Dog Ever! My first baby, he was the most loyal, lovable and faithful companion a family could ask for. Somewhere out there, he is romping with a pack of labs or bathing in a patch of sun. We will miss him forever!

Bear 10:18:17.jpg
Jennifer Spilly
One Little Word... Reach!
Utah Mountain

Off and on for years I have followed Ali Edwards' blog. Not because I have a particular interest in scrapbooking... I really don't, but just because I like her style. I admire her ability to track her life in a creative way. I am, in fact, horrible at the life tracking, photo keeping and general presentation of our family's life events for posterity's sake. I've tried, but the task is just overwhelming - not like the old days where you developed your film at the local drugstore, picked the good ones and slapped them in an album. No, now we all have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of images to sift through, edit and sort, file and store. Painful! Still, I find myself heading back to Ali's blog from time to time. Usually this happens at the start of the year when she's introducing her "one little word."

I've wanted to choose "one little word" in years past. I've come close. Silent brainstorming gets me to the point of coming up with an unwritten list, but then I fizzle out, get distracted and give up. This year, however, I feel a pull to participate. I feel the need to reflect, dive deep and investigate. So, on a hike a few days ago I listened to Ali talk about One Little Word on the Elise Gets Crafty podcast. I started making a list of words on my phone right then. I knew this time I would get farther.

I made a list of about twelve words, but no matter what other words came, one alone spoke to me. REACH.  

REACH, both a verb and a noun, can be your final goal or the act of getting there. However you look at it, REACH is beyond wherever you started. REACH means you are either doing something about attaining your goal, getting that "thing" or you have already arrived. Either way, I think this is a pretty powerful way to approach a year where I am trying to figure out the direction of my business, find ways I can grow personally, creatively and professionally, and, most importantly, get out of my comfort zone and make real change no matter what that might look like twelve months from now.

My plan is to work through REACH, to do the exercises outlined in Ali's program to truly connect with my word. But even if I don't do it all and simply just think "REACH!" as I work through the steps of 2017, I will be ahead and will reach some of the goals I set out for myself.

This is my commitment to a more thoughtful and mindful year ahead. In 2017 I will REACH beyond...

Jennifer Spilly
Right Now
Instagram Best Nine 2016

Instagram Best Nine 2016

It's been a while. Checking in to share my Instagram Best Nine of 2016, the posts that received the most likes over the past year. It turns out that these images are some of my favorites too. It seems the moments and achievements that touch us most deeply are the things that speak to others about ourselves the most deeply too. Over the past year I started doing some block printing and hand dying, I had a couple of awesome vacations with beautiful vistas and tasty cocktails, I took a stab or two at building daily creative habits, my kids grew (and I have the pics to prove it!). And two things will forever be so: 1) I am a sucker for pics of my kids from our annual Christmas Tree Trek (especially with silly faces and Santa hats) and 2) my husband sure knows how to light a tree... he's always the most popular guy on the block this time of year.

For anyone reading, I wish you a Happy New Year and leave you with a list of thoughts on where I am in my life right now, Taking Stock inspired by Pip of Meet Me At Mike's. Make your own list, it's fun and harder than you'd think...

Making : lists
Cooking : Enchiladas
Drinking : coffee and wine, what else is there?
Reading: In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney
Trawling: Hot for Food Blog and Lauren Toyota... I'm not vegan, but she's inspirational.
Wanting: a new couch
Looking: forward
Deciding: on my "one little word" 
Wishing: people find peace
Enjoying: twinkly lights
Waiting: to speak
Liking: fresh flowers
Wondering: how to get it all done
Loving: my old dog
Pondering: a cleanse and a better fitness plan
Listening: to old vinyl with N
Considering: classes and workshops... for me!
Buying: groceries... really, it never seems to end
Watching: family movies with the kids
Hoping: it all works out
Marvelling: at the freedom of birds
Cringing: when I think ahead to January 20
Needing: nothing
Questioning: my direction
Smelling: geranium
Wearing: my Blundstones almost every day!
Noticing: friends who seem to have it together
Knowing: that they probably really don't
Thinking: about classes and workshops
Admiring: creative people
Getting: rid of extra stuff, making room for the Holiday haul
Bookmarking: One Little Word
Disliking: the tween years
Opening: Holiday cards
Closing: the year
Feeling: a little stuck
Hearing: my own voice
Celebrating: new beginnings
Pretending: that I am not a procrastinator
Embracing: my babies who aren't babies anymore

Natural Beauty & Announcements
Shadows & Bike Tracks
Shadows & Bike Tracks

We are currently on our annual vacation to Crested Butte, Colorado and I must say that due to some massive rainfall (sorry fellow Californians!), Mother Nature is in rare form. Yes, it is ALWAYS beautiful here! This is our twelfth year in Crested Butte and we have yet to be dissappointed, but this year is by far the most spectacular when it comes to just all out beauty. Our schedule usually gets us here just as the wildflowers are wilting. This time, however, I am constantly finding myself in awe of the variety of flowers and colors I find at every turn. Each day I hike with the dog along the same trail, and each day a new  scene draws my eye - new varieties of wildflowers waving in the wind, clouds of every shape and color imaginable, critters peeking out of bushes and scuttling along the trails, mountain reflections like paintings on the lake. I could go on and on... it really is amazing. Here are just a few highlights...

Sunny Flowers
Sunny Flowers
Courageous Caterpillar
Courageous Caterpillar
Mount Crested Butte Reflection
Mount Crested Butte Reflection
CB at Sundown
CB at Sundown
Real Mountains (looking like a painting)
Real Mountains (looking like a painting)
Morning Hike at Peanut Lake
Morning Hike at Peanut Lake

In light of all the beauty and relaxation, however, there is still work to be done. So... keep your eyes peeled here or on the Sewing Classes page of my website. The Fall sewing schedule should be up in the next day or so. I am revamping the format a bit with Monday and Tuesday classes running longer sessions focused primarily on the beginning sewist. Wednesday classes will be completely new and improved featuring Wednesday Workshops, one-time three hour classes focusing on one project each time for the experienced sewist. These will be one-off classes where students will complete a specific, pre-planned project in one three-hour class. Stay tuned for more information!

Fruits, Veggies & Creative Friendships

Strawberries What a great day! Back in May I was lucky enough to pick up a session on our school auction to draw with fellow parent, Neiley Royston. Neiley is an amazing artist who composes beautifully dreamy illustrations inspired by her weekly meanderings through the Marin County Farmers Market. Today, I had the pleasure of finally taking my little field trip with Neiley, her daughter and a friend to the market, choosing some fresh, art-worthy produce and flowers and heading back to Neiley's home to get to work.

A few hours later I had created a fun collection of my own. Let me be clear... I like to draw and do often with my kids, but I need some serious help. Normally, I don't share my drawing with anyone but my kids, but I've wanted to develop this skill for a long time. Neiley finally gave me the confidence to trust my own instincts and just keep working. As "they" say, "we are our own worst critic" and I certainly look at these little art works and think of many things I would do differently a second time around. However, I am pretty proud of myself. Even if the drawings aren't what I would consider perfect, the process alone and the chance to get to know a fellow creative soul right down the street is worth any fear I might have sharing this work on the internet.

We started with line drawing some fennel...


And then I took a stab at a rather adult looking beech mushroom...

Beech Mushroom

I played with watercolors and still life...

Melon, Cucumber & Purple Pepper

And then a little blended watercolor pencil...


Finally, when I was home, I couldn't resist doing just a little more so I saved a few of the strawberries I bought this morning and...


To top it all off, it actually rained. I mean, like, it really rained... in July!

Neiley & Jen with Market Flowers

Here's to creative friendships, trusting your instincts and rain!

art, friendsJennifer
Goals, Intentions & The State of Things

  Palms in the Evening

...tempting you with a pretty pic to get you to read my long analysis of the state of things.

My friends and family get semi-regular glimpses of my home and creative life on Facebook and Instagram, and my local school community stays connected with my business through my class offerings, but it is no secret that the original intention of my business seems to have gone by the wayside.

My original goal and intention was to run a creative business in which I design and produce textile goods - bags, purses, pouches, camera straps and other original fabric items - and sell them online, at craft fairs and eventually in local shops through wholesale accounts or on consignment. I planned to market my work the same way as many other creatives with Etsy as my shopping cart linked to my website. The site would feature a blog bringing interested people regular content with behind-the-scenes glimpses into my process, tutorials, lifestyle features, and inspirational links. All of this would be augmented by a presence as a business on Facebook and Instagram.

Instead, I ended up teaching a lot of classes and not making much of my own work and, in turn, not selling or writing much at all. I look at my shop and I have a mere 20 sales (there have been other sales via personal contacts and craft shows, but still, not many). I have a handful of inventory left over from the last couple of years because I never applied myself to the relisting process on Etsy and I lost steam doing updates on my Facebook business page. By spring of this year, I found myself extremely burned out on teaching classes as well.

With teaching, it started out as a side thing - a couple of years ago a few people asked if I could teach their kids. I figured, "Why not?" One day a week in my living room quickly grew into more until I had to rent a studio just to keep my household sane. I was eventually scheduling four days a week plus private lessons on weekends to accommodate everyone who had interest. So many students were happy to sign up again and again that they became "advanced" and wanted to choose their own patterns but still work in a group setting to benefit from my help.

All of this sounded great, even successful, in theory. The reality was that I was dreading class because I knew it would be an hour and a half marathon each day of racing from pattern guide to pattern guide, sorting out pieces and steps, and troubleshooting problems when steps were skipped or done wrong only for lack of teacher attention. An hour and a half on any given day may not seem like a lot, but when you figure in all of the additional time it took to prepare projects for classes, help select and often shop for fabric and notions, guide students through pattern steps and troubleshoot, clean and prepare the studio for each day's class, manage all different kinds of personalities, not to mention schedule and publicize the classes for each session so they get filled... well, it's A LOT!! At one point I had 24 students (6 per class) and almost all of them were doing different projects...

Complaints? No! Whatever frustration or burnout came from this process is my own fault. I simply wanted everyone to be happy and so I let my students pick their own projects as they gained more knowledge. This was a mistake. In fact, most of the time I really enjoy teaching sewing to truly interested students. There is nothing quite like the moment a true beginner completes her first project and clearly can't wait to run and show her mom that she actually made something useful. Ultimately, I needed to put more time into finding a way to streamline the process so everyone continued to learn and have fun, but so I could stay relaxed and sane.

With regard to designing and creating product, I'm not sure if it's lack of time, lack of inspiration, lack of energy or something altogether different that has killed my momentum here. I really don't know. Looking at how classes have been going though, it's no wonder that after all the preparation and execution needed for classes, I didn't have the drive to make my own work.

I suppose some people might find themselves in this position and think it may be time to give up, but I have no intention of doing that. What I am going to do is take this as a sign that I need to reevaluate my business, restructure my class format, set some real goals and streamline my schedule in order to maximize my creative time. And so, I begin again on this blog if for no other reason than to document my own thoughts, to remain accountable to myself. It's not as if I have a huge audience here, but if I put it all out there - even if no one else reads this - at least I will have some record of the process.


Sewing Selfie  

Here's to a lot more of this ^ and a lot less of nothin' going on around here in 2014! For a year that started out somewhat average and normal, 2013 ended on a definite upswing. The whirlwind of renting and moving into my own studio bookended by an active, family-filled Thanksgiving weekend and a generous and more family-filled Christmas was stressful and often frustrating. There's not much that makes me more uneasy than living in clutter and disorganization. Thankfully (and just in time for the New Year) I am now feeling relieved to have time in the studio to settle in, ponder new designs, get crafty and teach some enthusiastic students.

I feel so many opportunities on the horizon... I hope you do too, in whatever it is you choose to do this year! Happy 2014!

New Sewing Schedule Now Online!


An official newsletter is coming soon with updates on sewing classes, the new studio and a possible VERY last minute holiday shopping experience and studio warming! Until then, I wanted you all to know that the updated sewing schedule for Winter and Spring is now available on my website. Check out the Sewing Lessons page for more information. If your child is new to my classes, be sure to complete the registration form and pay as soon as possible to hold your child's spot. Repeat students can forego the form, but still email and pay right away for your preferred class.

You'll also find updated and simplified information and pricing for Private Lessons and Lessons for Two (Sew & Sew). Email me to schedule a time!

All lessons now take place in my new studio located at 875 Fourth Street #7  in downtown San Rafael.

Keep your eyes peeled for more information about classes during the Winter Break, a confirmed "Crash Course" schedule and Open Studio hours. Feel free to email me if you are specifically interested in Winter Break sewing or the addition of a Weekend Kid's Sewing Basics class.


This tiny little space (to go along with the tiny little picture of it) is about to become what it was always meant to be... Miss G.'s very own bedroom! Nope, I am not going to quit sewing - although the from the looks of my shop, one might think I had. No, in fact, the thing I have talked about with so many friends, family and acquaintances for so long has finally come to pass. I will be moving my sewing studio out of our house along with my entire operation, including all of my sewing classes!! The big move will likely happen VERY soon - like within the next week...

That's right! Last week The Mr. and I went to check out an amazing little space on Fourth Street right in the stretch of Downtown San Rafael that I have been hoping for. The building is clean and nicely put together with a lovely entry staircase and waiting area. My space has two glass entry doors, big white walls, a partitioned storage area, clerestory windows and adjustable gallery lighting. I am crazy excited! How can I not be? I'll be able to spread out and spend my days doing what I love, set up all my teaching machines and leave them out, and expand my offerings now that the use of my space will not be dictated by the needs of my family. I am looking forward not only to the ability to work in a dedicated and focused environment, but also the chance to participate in all the Downtown San Rafael has to offer for artsy craftsy folks like myself.

What else? Well, the obvious and even bigger bonus is being able to give my kids the space they need. They have both been wanting their own rooms for so long and I feel this move has come at just the right time. I am really happy to be able to provide this for them. I know it will be a great opportunity for them to grow in ways they never knew possible.

Photos of all three spaces I am sure will be coming soon! Stay tuned...

Just a Little Something I Whipped Up...

My current Tuesday and Wednesday classes are made up of girls who've been sewing with me for the better part of a year. By now, they are all pretty confident sewers. So, when trying to decide what project we should do next, I had a few goals in mind:

  • It would be useful;
  • It would include interfacing;
  • It would involve multiple pieces (this is good practice in organization, sewing mechanics and patience);
  • It would involve turning corners (oddly, one of my favorite skills to teach young minds!);
  • It would require very little ironing AND could be measured out almost completely by the students themselves!
  • AND... Whatever we decided, it would NOT be American Girl Doll clothes! Though I love all sewing, trying to make tiny little seams with a bunch of tiny little hands was starting to drive me a little nuts!

With young sewers I am finding that it is very easy to have them continue to sew simple, straight lines over and over churning out stacks of useless items. It is important to me, however, to get them adding skills and techniques  to their repertoires so they can eventually begin working on projects at home. So, in order to hold their interest, I encourage my students to make things that they can use and that look impressive to the non-sewer.

What I decided on was an idea I have had in my head for a while - a notebook cover. A fabric cover with a flap to hold a Moleskine Notebook, size 5 x 8.25 (or something similar), and a facing pocket to hold a pen or pencil and other odds and ends. Now here is the sad part... the picture of the one I made... I only had an hour to whip up a sample before picking the kids up at school today...


Notebook cover 1

To those who don't sew, it probably doesn't look that sad. But, the rest of you, you see it! Yup, the darn thing is too small. :( I know it's not that big of a deal. Good thing I made the sample up so I can add an extra half-inch onto the pattern for the kids. Regardless, it's very cute. Two of the girls started theirs today and they seem pretty excited. Here's the inside...

Notebook cover 2

It looks a little better opened up. Not so obvious that it's too small! The little bonuses are the covered metal button on the front (the girls LOVED making these) and using the hair elastic as the button loop (they think this is genius!). Tomorrow I'll have five more students starting these - wish me luck!

In other news, I am starting to think about Christmas. I cannot believe it is almost here AGAIN!! Maybe this will be the year I make new stockings for us all and truly deck us out in some Handmade Holiday Hoopla. We. Shall. See.

holidays, sewing schoolJennifer