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The downside


Want to know the dark, downside of being a business owner?  Especially in the early days, when it’s just you and a dedicated band of loyal friends who have more faith than common sense (love you guys…you know who you are).  It all falls on you.  As advertised, I am vending at Cairo Shimmy Quake this weekend.  And boy do I not want to go.  Scratch that.  I want to go.  The spirit is more than willing.  The flesh, however, says that in this year of the plague, my cold logged, snot drenched, behind, should seriously spend the weekend in bed, resting.

But I can’t.  I have committed to vending this event.  I have committed to the 8 hour drive through Death Valley in a car with no air conditioning.  I have committed to at least one 14 hour day (Saturday).  And I do want to go.  I enjoy vending.  I enjoy meeting new people, and talking about silk.  I like the surprise when I tell people all the things I do to silk.  I like hearing about people’s projects and what they are making.  I like guiding them to a good silk for their project.

But there is that downside.  The side that says “I’m sick, I should be sleeping.”  And that is the downside of company ownership.  Yes, I’m sick.  But I can’t take the weekend off to sleep it off.  Because as the owner, good company representation ultimately falls on me.  So I am packed.  The hobo-mobile is ready to go.  My helper bee knows what time to expect me tomorrow.  Now to sleep as well as possible, and hope tomorrow brings better energy levels.

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Subscribe Now!

Subscribe Now

When I post a blog, I always go to my blog page and see how it looks.  And when I posted on Thursday, I noticed something I had not previously seen.  Namely, that I did not have a subscribe button on my blog.  I sat in stunned disbelief, blinking at my screen, trying to figure out how long I’d been missing the subscribe button.  And when I went back through my site statistics, I found that I had had 11,000 visitors to my blog…yet only five subscribers.  And only four of those actually count, since one of them was me, checking to make sure my blogs posted!

Based on those numbers, I can draw two possible conclusions.  First, it’s entirely possible that I am a lousy writer.  While I fully admit to this possibility, since I know at least one of my posts has been linked to another blog, even if my writing is boring, it is generally useful information.  Which leads me to conclusion two:  sometime during construction of my site, I forgot to put a subscribe button in an easily visible location!

And since I made my site myself, I have no one to blame but myself.  But that also means I can fix it myself.  Which I did.  So now, prominently displayed on the right sidebar, is a subscribe button.  If you have been educated, entertained, or even frustrated over something I’ve gotten wrong, please subscribe!  And TELL me what I got right or wrong.  Information flows both ways, and I don’t know everything.  Clearly I don’t know everything…or I wouldn’t have forgotten the subscribe button at the very beginning!

Now that I am done admitting my error and correcting it as best I could (two years later, but hey!  Who’s counting?) Next week we’ll return to our regular silk weave and history posts.

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What it’s like to vend

Vending 2017, to vend

I started my life in customer service.  First in a pizza parlor, next in a buffet, then a car parts store, finally at a hotel.  I am actually really good at customer service.  I genuinely like people, in small, one on one doses; the introverts dilemma.  So vending events was not a leap for me.

I started vending for Janie Midgley, running her booth at her Wiggles of the West Competition (a fantastic event, sorely missed).  And I quite enjoyed it, not just because she paid me with sick amounts of merchandise.  It let me play to my strengths, talking one on one with customers about what they were looking for.  So when I started Damask Raven, and before I even had stock it was suggested to me that a solid way to get my name out there was to vend, I immediately started planning what a vending space would look like.

So what is it like to vend?  I pick the events I am likely to attend early and start contacting vending coordinators.  If my application to vend is accepted, I locate a hotel that’s nearby, or ensure there is camping space if it’s a camp event (SCA, Ren Faire…).  I try and locate helping hands.  I have really good friends who have stepped up to help on weekend events (you know who you are) and wrangle the boyfriend in  to helping on the week long camping events (thanks baby).  Ideally, I have the hobomobile packed the night before.  On a really good day, I have also gassed the hobomobile the night before.  I leave as early as possible so that I can get checked in at either my hotel or my vending location early.

Once the vending space is open for set up, it becomes a mad dash to unload the hobomobile and move it before setting up the finished vending space.  This and tear down are the primary reason I need helping hands.  Truly, once set up is done one person can more or less run the space alone.  But that set up and tear down are a bitch when done solo.

Once set up done, it becomes a waiting game.  You wait for someone to approach you and engage them in conversation.  But there is an art to doing this, a way to impart knowledge without going for a hard sell.  Most people hate the hard sell, and if they feel you are pushing them to buy, they will leave.  So really, just talk to people.  The ability to engage complete strangers in random conversation is the most important part of vending.  You don’t even have to talk about what you are selling.  Just connect with someone.  You may sell something.  You may not.  But if you make a good connection, that person will remember you.  And maybe recommend you next time they know someone who is looking to buy.

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Learning new things

You think you have the idea for your next post.  Just a quick blurb about the thing.  Then you start to do some light research on the thing.  And realize, like Jon Snow, you know nothing.  Now, this is not inherently a bad thing.  It can be a VERY bad thing if you proceed to write on what you know nothing about.  If you’re smart, you’ll slow your roll, figure out how to pivot the idea.  I’m trying to be smart.

I’m already certain I will be re-visiting several of the blog posts I’ve written during this trek.  Updating them with more current or accurate information. Among the things I actually DID know, is that fashion in Asia changed as dramatically and rapidly as fashion in Europe did.  Why wouldn’t it?  Now to prove it.  And there in lies the bulk of what I don’t know.

While I want very much to learn about the various dynasties, a simple Google search revealed just how challenging this could be.  Being all about silk is fantastic, if you’re of European descent and you want to know all about Italian Silk, or French Silk, or Spitalfields Silk.  But when you are truly obsessive, when you want to track it back to the source, and the source is something you know nothing about…like, say fore example, China…out comes the old college research ability.  Skills I thought I didn’t need anymore.  Like the humbling time I confessed to my dad that yes, I did in fact need algebra.  And he laughed at me.  Because he’s my dad.

I know Nothing
Yep….that’s me!

So I return again to the Google cave, having randomly selected the Song Dynasty to start with.  And immediately hit upon a Fantastic Blog.  Which happily is a jumping off point.  Oh, and so is this $99 book.  Which I found through for the bargain basement price of $78.  But, when one quests for knowledge, one hits the books.

I learned!
All that college learning…

And hopefully comes out the other side having learned something useful.

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On Failure

On Failure

Yesterday, I wrote about Success.  But what about failure?  Statistically, any business or venture is more likely to fail than to succeed.  But really, it depends on your definition of failure.  If you take the dictionary definition: an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful.  All told, that’s a pretty nebulous definition, given that success means different things to different people.  For one, success may mean being able to cut your day job to part time.  In which case, enough sales to supplement your day job would count as a success.  For another, being fully self-sustaining so you can QUIT the day job…in which case, only enough sales to supplement the income would be a failure.

But again, is it?  In a more nebulous sense (meaning NOT the dictionary definition) failure is a state of mind.  You only truly fail when  you fail to learn from mistakes.  Did you overspend on marketing, cutting in to your operating budget?  That’s a mistake to learn from, and not even necessarily fatal.  It’s just something to learn and move on.

Did you not practice as much as you could have, leading you to not even placing in the competition?  Or what if you practiced til your feet bled, but the first place winner just had that extra spark?  How you react in that situation determines whether or not you are a success or a failure.  You can scream about how unfair it was, how much you practiced, how you feel robbed of your opportunity.  Or you can acknowledge that today was not your day.  Go home, do more, try harder.  And maybe next time it will be your day.

Failure is very much a state of mind.  You can let life’s set backs hold you down, you can rail and scream about what went wrong.  Or you can acknowledge it happened, dust yourself off, and move forward with plan b….c…d…and plan e.  However many plans it takes for you to reach your personal definition of success.  You’re only a failure when you quit trying.

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On Success

On Success

You’ve done it!  You’ve fed the muses and kept them happy.  They in turn are feeding you inspiration.  And all that hard work is starting to pay off.  Maybe it starts with a bang, you launch your business, and it’s an overnight success story.  Or maybe it’s a slower burn.  A post like here, a sale there…it’s more gradual, but ever upward.  It’s slow, but you know you’re on the right path.

As wonderful as success is, it also comes with a side dish of bitterness.  See, success will show you who’s really in your corner.  You’re true friends will continue to support you.  They’ll cheer on every post like, every sample sold, every customer response, good or bad.  They may offer critique, but it will always be constructive (hey, have you thought of this?)

You’re not so true friends and full on haters will start with venom.  It probably won’t be as obvious at first.  Snide asides.  Hints that something is off or less than perfect.  The trick is to weed out the genuine pieces of helpful advice, the things that can help you move your business forward and in to your next level of success, from the bitter remarks of a jealous friend.

I don’t say former friend, because even jealousy can pass and someone can find they are genuinely happy for your success.  Or it’s entirely possible that in your flush of success, you turn in to a bit of a snot, and what is offered as genuine critique is blown all out of proportion by you.  In which case, pull your head out!  Seriously, success gets awfully lonely and if you turn in to a snot, you will chase all your friends away.  Then when you need a friendly ear to run an idea by, all you’re left with are sycophants.  And there is no way to improve when surrounded by yes men (or yes women).

So celebrate the wins, big or small.  Keep your friends close, but listen to the haters.  Sometimes your next direction will come from the most unexpected source.

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Patterning...The Tome

The easy part of pattern making is knowing that I can’t draw a straight line.  Seriously.  Even with a ruler, my lines tend to veer off page.  Which means patterning for me is finding a good program that won’t break the bank.  Not actually as easy as one might think.  There are A LOT of good programs out there.  All offer excellent packages, with excellent options.  Most are over $1,000.  Which breaks the bank for me.

Burda University did offer an excellent class on pattern drafting using Adobe Illustrator.  Which was my introduction to Adobe Illustrator.  And it’s a lesson I’m sure I will revisit as I work my way through patterning and decide to offer digital downloads.  But first I want to know how to make and print actual patterns.  And for that, I need books.

Fortunately, as a long established bibliophile, I actually had a ready collection of books on Patterning in my collection (I also have books on beekeeping, horseback riding, trance dancing, and Mongolian history…I am eclectic in my tastes…).  So for my deep dive in to the world of pattern making, I will be pulling on Pattern Making for Fashion Design, Make Your Own Dress Patterns, The Pattern Making Primer, and Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear.  As an added bonus, I have actually read three of the four before deciding to start this venture.  Pattern Making for Fashion Design is an epic, text book, looking tome which reminded me freakishly of math class, so that one is new knowledge.

And since I REALLY want to have at least one pattern available by the time I hit Hot Raqs, I have some motivation to hit the books…college style.  And I just have to remember that while practice makes perfect, perfect is the enemy of the good.  My first pattern doesn’t have to be the height of couture, it just has to be good enough for people to follow directions and for all the pieces to fit together without extra inches.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, but practice makes perfect.  I’ll get there.  With practice.

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Busy busy busy

busy busy busy

No, not another cloth weave.  While I will continue with my descriptions and details of different silk weaves, that is just one of my projects.  And to give my brain a break from this is that, I thought I would outline some of my plans and upcoming events.  Busy, Busy, Busy.


So far this year, Damask Raven is confirmed vending at Hot Raqs, Miss Fisher Con, and Cairo Shimmy Quake.  Also plan to be vending at West-AnTir War and Great Western War.  Additionally, am teaching three classes at Costume College.  So this is shaping up to be a very busy year.


And on top of vending plans, I am learning to make patterns, hopefully soon to be on sale everywhere Damask Raven vends, and learning to digitize embroidery, for that perfectly matched trim.  And because I feel I’ve been neglecting my blogging here at Damask Raven, I set myself the task of writing one blog post a day from two days ago until Hot Raqs.  Now, that isn’t entirely selfless.  One of the classes at Costume College is a class on different silk weaves.  By writing the posts, I’m prepping myself for that class.  And hopefully sharing some knowledge along the way.


So I am juggling.  A lot.  And learning a lot.  Pattern making is new to me, and once I get the hang of it, I’m looking forward to a series of blog posts highlighting my progress.  With the thirty seven posts in thirty seven days I set myself, I will probably start that soon, as it is a learning process and curve.  And continuing to show off the Baby Lock, although I’ve decided to speed up the lessons a bit with that.  Also have to keep up with stain removal and the Folly of Dry Cleaning Everything.  So more posts to come, and  I will try to mix it up, so as not to bore everyone with this is that blog posts.


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Washing Silk

While I do plan to create more videos…eventually… it is a right pain in the butt to set up the camera, ramble…coherently no less….for at least five minutes, edit out the ums and ahs, and get the video posted.  Traditional blogging is much quicker and so I will probably blog more than I vlog.  At least in this first start up bit where I’m still getting my feet under me.  Plus, I’m sort of cheating with this blog by basically copying my care and feeding page for your perusal.  I updated it, after much trial and error, and am fairly comfortable with what I’ve come up with as a means and method of washing silk.  It takes a bit of time, but mostly it’s hurry up and wait.

So, below are the instructions I have come up with for The Care and Feeding of Silk…also known as Washing Silk and can be found at the links to the left.

Care and Feeding of Silk Fabric

That may be a bit dramatic. Silk doesn’t ACTUALLY need to be fed. But it does need a little TLC to maintain its beauty. Here is what we do when making beauty with Damask Raven silks.  These were the steps obtained after much trial and error, using different soaps and soap combinations.

You may choose to Color test a small swatch. Believe it or not, even with huge advances in dyeing technology, lots of times the fabric will still bleed the excess dye off during washing. This doesn’t mean you can’t wash the fabric, just make sure you are ok with the level of bleed off before dunking the whole big piece. More than likely (but not guaranteed), it will only bleed off once and future washings will result in no additional loss of color saturation. Added bonus to washing first: bleed off will occur in the wash water, rather than on your skin during wearing.  I am a very impatient person.  Also, I accept that color bleed is a fact of sewing life, so I skipped the color swatch.  But do what you are comfortable with.

Color Test: Fill a bowl with lukewarm water. Add a teaspoon of your intended cleaning product. Soak the swatch in the bowl for a fifteen minutes. Rinse the swatch in cold water and roll in to a white towel. If any of the color transfers, there is dye bleed off.  VERY IMPORTANT!  Not just silk, but ANY fabric you buy, is prone to color bleed.  Ever wash a red sock with a white towel?  That is color bleed.  Not saying there is no way to avoid it completely, but if there is, I haven’t located that secret yet.  I promise to share if I do.

Now to wash:

  1. Fill your sink or wash basin with lukewarm water. Ok, not to the top. Leave some room for the fabric so you don’t slosh water all over the place resulting in flooded desolation. Also, lukewarm is something I had to look up. Seriously, I had no idea it was warmish, closer to cold, water. Seriously, who does that to themselves?
  2. As the sink is filling with lukewarm water, add a very gentle soap. I use one tablespoon to a full sink of Dr. Bronner’s Baby Soap. DO NOT use detergents like Tide, Gain, or anything with harsh chemicals…not even Woolite.  I actually began washing silk with Woolite and the color bleed was alarming.  I was pretty convinced my red fabric was going to come out pink from color loss.  While that didn’t happen, and my red is still a vibrant red, the color loss was minimal when using Dr. Bronner’s vs. Woolite.
  3. Submerge your fabric. If you purchased more than one piece, wash each separately and change the water between washes. You don’t want to wash a vibrant red then find the blue in the next wash is now purple from bleed off. You truly don’t need to agitate it any, since when you start the rinse, you will be handling the silk plenty.  I have found that after the fabric is submerged, walk away.  Leave if for at least an hour.  If you happen to be walking by and feel the need to swirl the fabric around, go ahead!  But really, it isn’t necessary.
  4. Move the fabric to the side and pull the plug.  Once the water had drained,
  5. Refill sink with cold water and a half cup of vinegar to begin the rinse. The vinegar serves several functions.  It helps break up the Dr. Bronner’s which is still in the fabric.  It helps the fabric keep a lustrous look to it. And, most importantly, it helps the dye to set.  Let soak another hour before draining the sink again.
  6. While your fabric is soak/rinsing, lay out towels on a large flat surface, end to end.  Like you are creating yardages of towels.  You don’t need so much that you have yard for yard of your silk, just enough that you can roll the silk.
  7. At this point, you have two options:  A) Refill the sink with plain water and let the fabric sit 30 minutes, or B) Let the cold water run over your fabric while you push the water gently through. Think washerwoman on the river bank while you make sure there are no suds left on your fabric. If you choose option A, make sure to follow through with option B when the thirty minutes are up.  They probably wouldn’t really damage the fabric, but might cause you some irritation if you are wearing your new dress with a patch of dried soap pressed against your skin.
  8. DO NOT WRING OUT THE FABRIC! I know it’s hard. You wash the dishes, you wring out the dishcloth. Twisting puts stress on the silk. While silk is generally not as delicate as its reputation leads one to believe, you don’t want to distort it or add wrinkles where none need to be.
  9. Take your newly washed silk over to the towels you have laid out. Spread your silk as best you can on the towels. Unless you have bigger towels than me, you will probably have to fold the silk over on itself. This is ok. Once you are satisfied with your silk arrangement, begin to roll the towel up with the silk inside it. This is gentler than wringing the fabric and will press the excess water out.
  10. Unroll the towel and leave the silk to air dry. This gets especially exciting when you have cats, because they REALLY like silk. If you had to fold the silk to lay it on the towel, you may have to turn the silk once to let the other side air dry.  OR, and this is what I did to keep the cats off:  you can buy a clothes rack and drape the silk over that.
  11. Once the silk is dry, use a pressing cloth and a cool to low heat iron to iron out the wrinkles. Suggested: Test your irons heat on the swatch you color tested. Better Suggestion: USE A PRESSING CLOTH.
  12. Cut and sew your beautiful new fabric in to your new dress or tunic.
  13. Share your pictures at Damask Raven and show us all how you do History in Style.