Friday, October 1, 2010

Hazel Village Giveaway *CLOSED*

There's Penelope Rabbit, 

Catalina Mouse, 

Reginald Fox, 

and countless other fanciful, mischievous and playful character's from Jane Van Cleef's new Etsy shop  {click here}.  And one of these sweet creatures could be YOURS!

Just fill out the survey below to enter your chance to win her giveaway hosted here at Bedtime Tales:

*Giveaway CLOSED OCT 15*

We are honored to welcome Jane Van Cleef {blog here} as a guest on our blog today.  We always enjoy learning about other Etsy shop owners and their adventures in business.  It is also fun to share our love for handmade creations.  Without further delay, here are Jane's answers to a few questions we had for her:

1.  Tell us a little about yourself and your woodland creatures!  

Jane:  Well I started making these woodland creatures in April. I made the first one on a Saturday when I felt like trying something new, and then I just kept making more. And when people responded well to them, which was gratifying and unexpected, then I had actual reason to keep making more. And it has basically snowballed like that all summer.

Part of the fun for me is making up little stories about the animals. The basic story is that they live around a pond in the woods. I'm not sure quite where, but it's probably in western New Jersey or Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near the Delaware River. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, so I imagine them in that kind of patchy forest, among the ramshackle fieldstone houses and mill ponds. Anyway, the animals visit each other's houses a lot, usually with the results of their latest household projects (pickles, pottery, berries, whittled goods, etc.)

Some major influences on my young brain, as you might imagine, were Jill Barclem's Brambly Hedge books (lavishly illustrated tales of industrious hedgerow mice), the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (in which you learn how to do every single kind of old-timey household project), and that phenomenal scene in the Disney Cinderella where the mice and birds make her a fluffy pink dress.

The animals have the motor skills of adults, although don't ask me how they bat things so dexterously with their stubby little paws. But by and large, they have the personalities of really cool five-year-olds. I have a baby sister who was born when I was fourteen, and I think I learned a lot about small children's minds by hanging out with her. Now she's 12 and I'm 26, and her relationship to the world has more complexity and less insane glee, which is as it should be, but the insane glee lives on in the woodland creatures. 

2.  How did you get involved in sewing?

Jane:  Sewing was always my favorite thing. I remember getting ready for my fourth birthday party with my mom: we were going to have a beanbag toss and I was really, really excited to make the beanbags with her. My mom sewed sometimes, but actually my dad got really into it when I was five or six. We made quilts together for my baby cousins, and at some point he taught me how to work the sewing machine. Eventually he had enough and moved on to other projects (he has written a lot of long-form poetry based on world religious texts, which you can find here). But I glommed onto sewing because it was my favorite thing to do. I made things all the time, and learned a lot by trial and error, books, and sometimes human instruction.

I had been making doll clothes all along, but I started making human clothes in middle school. They were very bad at first, but fortunately I didn't always realize it so I wasn't too discouraged. Sometimes I used commercial patterns, but often I messed with them, and soon started making patterns from scratch. So now I have a hoarders-style box of brown paper, newspaper, and tissue paper patterns that I couldn't imagine throwing away. I really gotta go through them though.

I was a smart kid and I got into Harvard. A note about this: when I think about how many facts I knew in high school, it amazes me and makes me sad I forget them. Also seriously happy that I'm not in high school. Anyway, at first in college I studied biology, but about halfway through I realized that all I wanted was to make things. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it was a big revelation at the time. I ended up majoring in fine art. My senior thesis was a sewing and commerce-related conceptual project: I opened a functional clothing store where people could buy funny-looking waterproof garments to prepare themselves for global warming. It was called Climate Change Preparedness Center. Its none-too-updated website is here. You can read an article about it here.
Well after college I moved to Brooklyn and worked as a freelance seamstress, and read Fashion Incubator a ton. As a result of this I really learned to sew (Note that none of the Preparedness Center garments had zippers in them). I've also worked for a toy manufacturer here in the city, which taught me some specific tricks about sewing toys, and also how to design toys that will pass safety testing. And now here I am, making woodland creatures like my life depends on it.

3.  Can you describe some of your creative process, and maybe tell us about your working space? 

Jane:  Why thank you for asking! I actually moved recently. Now I live in a house, an actual house, in Brooklyn. It's my friend's house that she grew up in. She keeps chickens in the back yard. Anyway, this house has a "loft," a term which implies high ceilings but in fact this loft has the opposite. But who needs standing up? And this is where I work. It has a skylight and sloping eaves, and you get up there by climbing a ladder. It's like being on a ship. It is amazing. I have a long table to work at, with drawers and shelves to store my supplies. And I have an industrial sewing machine and a computer desk, with a couch across from the computer so I can watch internet TV while I'm doing the hand-sewing parts of the animals.

It's been fun organizing the space for one specific task, that is, the woodland animal industry, instead of for general sewing. It lets me put everything in its optimal place, at least in theory. I'm not fully unpacked yet.

I've started a lot of mini manufacturing enterprises over the years, and most of them ended up with me making a lot of things that no one wanted to buy, and therefore losing money. So finally I get it, and have been careful to not let that happen this time. I started really small, and improved things whenever I noticed they needed improving. I only made one of each animal, and replaced them when they sold. This is sort of a concept from lean manufacturing, a cult-like management theory that I'm pretty geeky about. I learned about it from Fashion Incubator, the same blog where I also learned to install zippers.

That said, I'm trying to stock up on best sellers so I have enough for the holiday season. I'm scaling up in a fun and kind of overwhelming way. I just bought eco-fill stuffing in bulk, and I just bought 20 yards of fabric. Which is enough to make about 200 animals. Which is insane. But I've sold about 90 already, between Etsy, shows, and wholesale, and that was during the summer. So here I go

Thank you Jane!   It's fascinating to learn that you once opened your own shop in college and also spent some time working for a toy manufacturer in the city.  It's also interesting to hear that your current workshop is in a loft with slanted ceilings and skylights!  How fun!
Thank you so much for sharing the details with us!

-CK and Becka


What I Did Today said...

These are just so adorable! Thanks for the giveaway!

vanessa @ silly eagle books said...

These are extremely gorgeous--I love every single one of them! And how fun to learn more about the artist behind them. Thanks for the fun giveaway!!

Anonymous said...

Visiting from Saturday Situation and I'm happy to stumble upon Ms. Van Cleef's etsy shop, as these woodland creatures are completely lovely!

Diva said...

How cute! Thanks for visiting during my SITS Day. It was wonderful to see how much I have in common with so many women. Following you on Twitter now! said...

Thanks for stopping by acting balanced again! these characters are so cute! I've entered to win, and now I'm following you back :)

Donna Perugini said...

I loved reading about your entreprenural skills. Do you do any 'custom creating' for the public?

Becka and CK know me..I'm a children's book author (re-issuing my books). Let's talk!

CK and Becka: Thanks for having this interview with Jane! You did an excellent interview!

Jenni said...

They are all so cute!


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