Trendy Thursday: How to Keep Up With Trends

If you’re running a business,  you’re busy,  that’s a given.  There are probably a lot of hats on your head and trying to add one more may seem impossible,  but it’s necessary.   Anyone doing garment decoration or really decoration of anything,  be it mugsblankets or patches,  needs to be aware of what’s trendy.  After all,  you don’t want to be offering items decorated with camels when everyone has decided their new love is llamas.

Luckily,  keeping up with the latest trends doesn’t have to be difficult or particularly time consuming.   Here are a few ways to keep on trend without spending a ton of time.

Use Social Media –  Follow your competitors.  Follow the feeds for the companies that make or sell equipment and supplies for your decoration discipline.  If you create garments or hats,  follow fashion blogs or sites that cover trends in the items you decorate.  Social media can be a great tool for collecting a lot of useful information in one place.

Talk to People – If you have employees,  particularly if they’re in a variety of age groups,  talk to them about what they like/notice/have seen people wearing. If you have kids, or know people who have kids,  talk to the kids about what’s hot in their world right now. Definitely talk to your customers,  as they can be your best source of industry or interest specific trend information.  Create a e-mail box or a billboard where people can post interesting articles and information they’ve found.

Go to Trade Shows – Yes,  a trade show can be a significant investment in time and money,  but it’s also a place where you can kill a variety of birds with one stone.   You can view the newest equipment.   You can visit multiple suppliers and see what new supplies are available.   Seeing what new things are being offered gives you some advance notice of what upcoming trends might be.  Trade shows are also a great place to learn,  with seminars that teach a variety of decoration techniques.  Trade shows offer a number of ways to gather information on trends in one place with one visit, so they’re well worth the time and effort.

Subscribe to Magazines – Whether they’re trade journals or something more general interest,  magazines can be a great tool for staying current on trends.   Many trade journals can be received in digital format and some are free to those who work in the industry.   Subscription prices for digital formats of general interest magazines are also available.   As a bonus,  many magazines will have electronic newsletter subscriptions available.  In these newsletters they spotlight articles they think are important,  which may also be a way to spot emerging trends.

Go Shopping – Maybe your shopping trip is to an actual store,  or maybe you shop online,  but spend a little time each week visiting stores to see what they’re offering.  This is particularly relevant for garment decorators,  but it really has benefit for any kind of decorator.   Doing a little shopping (and it can be of the window variety, where you don’t spend money) helps you stay current on what’s on the way in and what’s on the way out.

The main thing to remember is just to keep your eyes and ears open.   Anything could be the piece of information you need to clue you in to the next big trend.  Stay alert and stay interested, and your business well be poised to ride the next big wave when it arrives.

There’s No Substitute for Stabilizer

I’ve seen the question so many times I just mostly make a resigned sad face when I see it now,  but it still bothers me.   The question usually starts with the words “Can I..” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper or printer paper or plastic grocery bags as stabilizer for embroidery.  I get the idea behind the inquiry – stabilizer can be expensive,  or at least more expensive than a roll of freezer paper.  Things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are also usually at hand and don’t need to be purchased specially.  I also suppose,  to some people,  using a common household item might be less intimidating.  There are understandable reasons why people might pursue the option of using something other than the item specifically designed for the purpose,  but there are also several reasons why that’s not usually a good idea.

Before I go into the reasons why we think using things like freezer paper is not the ideal option,  I do want to address the one exception,  using freezer paper for applique.   When cutting patterns for applique,  freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes.   It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a fabric you are intending to draw or paint on,  as raw fabric tends to wrinkle.  Keep in mind,  both these activities are embroidery adjacent,  not actually embroidery,  so I still stand by that statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery.  Now let’s discuss the reasons why we think this is so.

Reason 1:  Many stabilizers are designed specifically for machine embroidery – I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started life as pocket lining or something,  but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are intended specifically to be used with machine embroidery.   This category includes poly meshfusible,  and adhesive backing.  Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.

Reason 2:  An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery – Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind.  The proper marriage of backing or topping,  fabric,  thread and digitized design will create the most professional look and the best outcome.  Using a stabilizer designed for the fabric you want to embroider and the type of look you want to create will give you a much better chance of a successful finished product.

Reason 3:  An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production –  Designs tend to sew out better when they’re stabilized properly.  There’s less puckering,  fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product.  Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.

Reason 4: The right tool for the right job – Freezer paper is designed to protect food from freezer burn.   Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce and pasta home from the store.   Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs,  to improve stitch-outs and to help provide a professional finished appearance.  Using products as they were designed will generally bring about the most successful outcome.

In a nutshell,  those are the reasons we think embroidery should be stabilized with machine embroidery backings and toppings,  but we’d love to get your take on this topic.   Have you ever stabilized your embroidery with something other than standard stabilizer?   What was the result?  We’d love to know what you think.

Marketing Monday: 4 Lessons From a Month of Blog Posts

Back at the beginning of July,  I issued a challenge to myself.  I wanted to see if regular updates on our blogs,  Threaducate and SubliStuff,  made a difference in our readership.   So I decided to write a blog post for one or the other of the blogs each of the five days of our work week,  for the entire month of July.  The goal was to see if this made a difference in the attention people paid to the blogs,  in the readership of older posts,  and simply to see if I could fit daily blogging into a schedule that always seemed to be packed with things to do.   I won’t lie,  the goal I’d set for myself was challenging,  but I learned a lot as I worked to meet it.   Here are some of the most important things I learned.

Ideas come from everywhere – One of my main worries was coming up with ideas for a new post every day.   Some days,  that was tough.  Gradually,  though,  I learned that a post idea can come from anywhere – someone I follow on social media,  a discussion with a co-worker,  looking back through older posts,  something I read,  something I watched,  something a competitor said.  Anything could be fodder for a post,  I just had to figure out how to frame it to make it applicable to the subjects of our blogs.

I had time,  if I made time – Anyone who has any part in managing or running a company knows that there are always more things to do than there are hours in which to do them.    The things that get done most often are the things you consider priorities.  Prior to the month of blog posts,  blogging had slipped on the priority list,  since there were always other demands on my time.  In July,  I made blogging a priority and rearranged some other things on my schedule to make it happen.  Sometimes that meant I wrote a paragraph a day until I got a post done.  Sometimes it meant I wrote several posts when I had a spare few hours.  I won’t say it was always easy,  because it wasn’t,  but the time was there,  if I made blogging a priority.

There are no old subjects,  only old posts – I’ve been writing about machine embroidery since 2007,  and about sublimation since 2010.  That’s a lot of informative posts with helpful tips and thoughts that are now several years old.  Looking back through the blogs allowed me to reprise subjects that were still relevant,  but had last been touched on in a post several years ago.   It’s a good reminder that old content can often be repurposed and reintroduced to an audience that may not have seen it before.

Not every post will be a home run, and that’s o.k. – A lot of us,  I think,  get focused on making things perfect,  and so we tinker and tweak and do everything but actually put the content out there and let people see it.  We got so focused on what we don’t like about something,  we forget to notice all the stuff that’s really good.  Yes,  I have certain standards for my work.   Yes,  I always want it to be the best it can be.  Yes,  sometimes my best isn’t as good as I’d like it to be and yes,  that’s o.k.   Sometimes the important thing is putting your work out there,  despite what you see as glaring mistakes, or clear imperfections.  The likelihood is that what you see as huge, blaring problems most people won’t even notice,  and that they’ll still benefit from interacting with your work.

In the end, my blogging experiment did seem to have an impact.  We had increased readership,  both of current posts and old posts.   We had new subscribers to the blogs.  Writing every day reminded me that writing is what I do, and I needed to do it more often.   While I don’t expect to,  or really want to continue writing a post a day,  I will be blogging more frequently.  I hope you’ll be reading when I do.