Thursday, July 29, 2010

100 Mermaid Tiaras

From time to time, I have a request to make a lot of something I've invented.  Springing from the designs I make for little girls to play fabulous dress up, I made some, I must say, amazing mermaid costumes.  They went over so well I had to make new patterns for a total of three sizes to fit girls three to as old as eight.  Then they clamored for accessories, shoes, purses and of course jewelery.  Most desired was a tiara.

It grew into a Mermaid Teaparty for 100 girls. They liked them last year so much we decided to make that the take home gift.  That meant 100 mermaid tiaras.  100.  One Hundred!!!

As I sat there doing each step 100 times, I thought about where I started making things for the ballet students at a ballet school near me that changed me into becoming a designer and craftsman, over a decade of work all told including  a masters degree, internships, working in shops that made things for Lion King, American Ballet Theater, Disney World.  I thought most about the bump up from making something for fun and making as my job. There is a difference, the biggest is that when it's your job, you have a budget, deadline, and expectations to meet, if you want to keep that job.  It can't languish in a sewing bag until I get the itch to work on it some more.  I have to do it now!  Feel like it or not.

 They also have to be of professional quality and in this case especially, all the same.  Four and five year olds notice whose is bigger, more sparkly or not the same color and let you know about it.  Even if exact consistency is difficult, it is more easy than quelling 100 mermaids question, "why did she get the pink one and mine is purple."

I've done enough big projects it's worth describing how to do this.  It seems straight forward, but surprisingly, it isn't what you'd think.  The steps are:

  • Make your prototype and edit it down to the amount of materials and time you can afford.  (Double the amount of time you think you'll need.  Trust me, just do it.)
  • Make a test batch run of between five to ten.  Here you'll find the bugs, the pattern piece that needs adjusting, the glue technique that was fine making one but not for more,  that your materials estimate was too big for the flowers but too little for the sparkles, etc. restructure the steps of your process for a better flow from piece to piece.  Fix ALL those bugs Now!
  • Proceed with the production run.  Make sure to take breaks when you notice your sensitivity to the task being frustrated.  Pace yourself.  Stop before you get too worked up.  Pushing through all of a step will just mean you'll have to go back and do them all over when you discover what just a little fatigue or frustration did to your work.
  • When you finish, do something nice for yourself.  A treat or a phone call to a friend, your favorite trash on TV, whatever gives you the feeling of your batteries being recharged.
  • Go back and check your work.  Make a check list of all the features and go over each piece for each checkpoint.  Fix your mistakes.
  • Photograph one for your records.  You never know, it may turn up in your portfolio to other clients to get new work so take this step seriously.  Even if your client is hotfooting it, do not skip this step.  Keeping your job depends on it.  It helps to have a semi-dedicated set up for this.  It does not take a lot but if it means just plopping it down and snapping the shot, it will help you meet your deadline.
  • Pack your work up well so it is delivered in the same condition it left your shop.  If possible, add a little pizzaz somehow.  Let your work be like a present to your client who wants to be as excited about it as you are.
 I have failed to do all of these steps at one time or another. I was disappointed in myself each time.  Take it from someone who has been there, this time 100 times, these are not hard and the effort will come back to you many fold.  Right now, I'm imaging 100 mermaids.  Yes, it'd definitely worth it.

Note:  I left the sequins off the production version.  Although they would have been fine for the five year olds they were intended, I was concerned about younger kids getting their hands on their big sisters tiara!  My client liked the finished ones even better than this prototype I showed her.