Jen Spilly Designs
handmade for woman and home

spillymade blog

Handmade for Woman and Home
Posts in sewing school
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!

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
No excuses...

I can’t even begin to make reasonable excuses for why I haven’t posted a single entry to my blog in over a year. What I can say is that a lot has been happening! Between finding myself doing a full-time job volunteering at school and being a mom, I have found myself with little time to do the other things I should be doing like sewing, teaching, writing and concentrating on my business. Truth be told, the business has now transformed itself into something of a sewing school. I found a way to squeeze in about 6 hours of teaching a week plus prep time through all of fall, winter and spring of last school year, as well as getting in a couple of easy summer camps. I am now starting up my second session of the current school year and things are definitely ramping up again as my volunteer obligations seem to be ramping down.


girls with totes


I am teaching an almost full roster of kids Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. I have a range of experienced and beginner kids to work with including a group of fourth grade boys who are as excited as any girl I have ever taught. I have to admit, I was not prepared for the enthusiasm of boys wanting to sew to touch me in the way it has. I love it!

As the classes flourish, The Mr. and I are brought again to the idea of me moving my studio out of the house and into a local office/studio space. It really is difficult and draining to have to set up and take down five sewing machines, supplies, a cutting table and ironing board three days a week, all the while feeling like what I really want is to be able to add more classes and workshops for adults without further inconveniencing my family. The kids really do need their own rooms and I need to spread out and feel independent of being “at home.” There are a couple of possibilities in town so I am hoping anyone who reads this will cross their fingers for me!

For now, I am spinning with possibilities and ideas for what could be if I had the space, time and wherewithal to make it happen. I feel a change is on the horizon…a good one! Part of my list of goals and possibilities is that I will continue to return to this space to update anyone interested on what is happening. If you are one of those people, thank you, and please keep checking back. These things have a way of either happening quickly or not happening at all. Let’s hope for the former!

sewing, sewing schoolJennifer