A little background...
Embroidery was still very new to me when my little business started by accident. I had begun to teach myself cross-stitch and hand embroidery in the evenings because my 9-5 office job was dull and not fulfilling me. It was a great hobby! Easy to learn through YouTube videos, inexpensive materials and I could do it all whilst watching TV.
Only 3 months after first picking up my needle and thread, I opened an Etsy shop selling my hand embroidered t-shirts. Delicious Monster Tea started as a very, very small side hustle and a way to earn a little pocket money. But slowly it grew and grew. I started my own website. Fearne Cotton wore one of my t-shirts. In December 2017, I was still working my 9-5 job and running a thriving creative business in the evenings and weekends. I was working 80-90 hours a week. It nearly broke me, but I'm so glad that I put that ground work in because 6 months later I had quit my office job to focus on the business full-time.
When I quit my job to single-handedly run an embroidery business, it was only 2 years since I had first started to learn hand embroidery. I was, and still am, 100% self taught. I hadn't had those years of toiling away in private, making mistakes and learning from them. All my mistakes were happening within the business, something that is very clear when I look back at some of the very first products I made and sold!
All of this meant that my confidence in my embroidery skills was low. I could do back stitch and I could have a bash at satin stitch, but that was about it. I wasn't confident enough to try different techniques, and I definitely didn't feel able to call myself an 'embroiderer' or feel comfortable to join in with other embroiderers on Instagram and in Facebook groups. *Imposter syndrome claxon.* So I didn't! I kept on doing what I was doing, sticking to what I knew. I felt very lucky to be able to have made my hobby into a business, but I think that if I had kept it as a hobby my skills would have developed very differently.
I can't pinpoint exactly what changed things for me, but I think I'd attribute it to a mixture of external validation (people on the internet saying they liked the things I made!) and internal validation (being self employed and working alone helped enormously in terms of having time to develop and work on my own feelings of self worth). In January 2019, I had a creative idea. My brain's normal reaction to such an idea was "Oh, how nice. Such a shame you don't have the skills to do that." But this time was different! My brain said "Excellent! Give it a go!"
The idea was a fully hand illustrated and hand embroidered calendar for 2021. I began to create each page month-by-month in real time. Each page was filled with hand embroidered illustrations of the wild flowers in season that month, and I planned to add information on sunrise and sunset times, the moon phases, and other details of seasonal change.
When I first had the idea for the calendar, it was a personal project. I planned to create something for myself - afterall, embroidery had started as my hobby! I was very, very excited. But then, along the way, I started sharing the idea as part of my work and it morphed into something else - a product. I planned to photograph each page and create a printed version that would be available to buy.
Slowly I began to lose my passion for the project as it turned into a work commitment and the time involved started to feel like a chore. After Christmas I was so behind - I had about 60 hours of embroidery to do on the calendar in order to 'catch up' - I was dreading it. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to dread time spent on your hobbies! I had no excitement for it, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a passion project. So, I just stopped!
Quitting is not failure
Sometimes it's difficult to stop doing things you don't enjoy, but despite quitting when something is unfinished, there will always be something that you've learnt along the way that will be transferable into other areas of your life. Despite having a half finished calendar sat in a box, I have learnt lots of new embroidery techniques, I have built confidence in my design and embroidery skills, and I've discovered a new passion for botanical embroidery which has sparked several commissions (including a wedding dress!) and of course, the flower t-shirts!
I've also learnt an important lesson about creative hobbies. When I first started the business, embroidery was my hobby. It slowly morphed into a side hustle and now it's my full-time job. But when your hobby is also your source of income, it can be difficult to separate work from down-time. The calendar was supposed to be a down-time project - hobby embroidery, not work embroidery. But the boundaries blurred and it accidentally turned into work embroidery, and I think that's where it went wrong for me. I'm trying to remind myself that it's OK to create just to create - not everything that I embroider has to be for work.
I'm also going to try and find some new creative outlets that aren't related to work at all so that the boundaries don't blur too much - pottery is top of my list!