With the summer of 2021 fading, it's time to share some news with you.
Several months ago, when there was still snow on the ground, I reached the point where I had a decision to make. My oldest son outgrew my own size range, and I realized that I would need to choose whether I would size up my patterns just for personal use... or take the step into a fully expanding and updating my entire pattern collection.
This has been a difficult decision to make. When I started this design journey back in 2014, I had preschoolers at home. Over the past 7.5 years, our family's story has gone through some unexpected twists and turns. I'm proud of how I've grown as a designer over these years, and grateful to those who have supported and encouraged me through the ups and downs... but I remain a very small, independent designer. Deciding whether or not I am capable of taking on the challenges of expanding my size range and all that that entails... that's a really big ask. Deciding if I can and if I truly want to do this has really taken getting honest with myself.
I have decided. My kids are growing up... and so will Pollywoggles.
But if I'm being real, then I want to take this one opportunity to also share some of why this decision has been hard, and what I think this expansion will look like. Walking this road... it's going to happen one step at a time.
Designing began for me as a hobby during the fledgling years of the PDF sewing pattern industry. If I imagine myself back then, I think of getting into a kayak on a quiet tributary and starting to paddle... not really knowing where I was going. That tributary led to a river and that river grew in size and speed. I did my best to keep up, improving my skills as I went along. I felt driven to be a good representative of what a small self-made designer could be. I wasn't alone... there were lots of other boats on the river. As I travelled downstream, more and more boats joined. Newer boats. Boats with motors. Bigger boats, with more than one person. And I continued to paddle.
There is something to be said for paddling a kayak. It's comforting, being the one in control. You won't run out of gas. You won't run into mechanical issues. It's so much quieter than a motorboat. But it's also a lot of work. Paddling alone. Making all the decisions. Fighting through the rough waters by yourself. Knowing that if you get tired you'll slow down, even stop, and the only way to keep going is to start paddling again.
I'm not sure what people generally think of when they imagine the people behind the patterns that they purchase. The truth is, we're not the same... not even close. There are designers for whom this their career and they make the income to prove it. Others may or may not make enough in sales to cover expenses. Many designers work while their kids are at school or daycare, and there are a handful of us who homeschool. We all have different niches... some are technical and some are practical and some are a blend of the two. There are those who work with and share the job with a partner or with team of other designers under one brand. Some have assistants that take care of all or most of their social media and communications. And though I am honestly a little afraid to ask... I think there are still a few like me... some who still do it all by themselves. Pattern Designer. Photographer. Writer. Graphic Designer. Webmaster. Customer Relations. Sales. Social Media.
It's a lot. I'm not complaining; the "independent" part of being an Indie Designer is one of the things that I do feel defines me. But as more and more designers go professional, by hiring assistants and working in teams, and customer's expectations and perceptions change... I can't help but feel more and more alone. To attempt another analogy... I feel like an artisan from a crafters market sitting at a dinner table with boutique owners. Though I may deserve to be there... I don't really fit in.
And then there is the other part of my life. The person I am when I'm not trying to be a designer.
At the same time that I started Pollywoggles... our family started homeschooling. We planned to homeschool through the elementary years. I thought I was prepared. We weren't going to do "school at home"... but I had great ideas for how we would "learn through play", at least until they were ready for middle school. I wasn't worried. I believed the experienced homeschoolers that assured me that learning comes naturally to kids.
My oldest was 5, so we did the alphabet. And it was hard. Really hard. So was rhyming. But he was only 5... it would be okay. Letter names and letter sounds continued to be hard. Then he was 6. Then 7. And still the alphabet was hard. He was smart as a whip... clever and determined. I was surely the most terrible teacher. I definitely didn't fit the imaginary picture of what a homeschool mom "should" look like... I just couldn't seem to do the whole routine and sticker charts and workbooks thing. The confidence and hope I had in the beginning was crumbling... and I felt lost. I was afraid that I would make the same mistakes with my younger children that so obviously failed their older brother.
By the time he was 8, I knew that this wasn't really because I was a bad teacher. I had learned what dyslexia is, and even without any sort of assessment, I knew that this was why reading and writing was so incredibly hard for him. I could recognize too that his younger siblings struggled as well, though in different areas and not as severely as he did. Knowing this meant that we had a word for the challenges we were facing... but it didn't make it any easier. And by now, I'd completely lost my confidence.
Many times, I would hide from my homeschooling doubts by burying myself in designing. I'd put in more and more hours in the hopes that if I only worked at it harder, then some day it would actually mean that I was contributing something of value to my family. And then the guilt I would feel for putting those hours into designing instead of working harder to teach my children, and the disappointment when my efforts failed, would cripple me. I couldn't bring myself to quit though... not either part of me.
By the time I reached the 6th year... sixth year of Pollywoggles and sixth year of homeschooling... things started to get a little better. For the very first time, I actually made a small income. It was just a few hundred dollars, enough to cover the cost of our Christmas presents for that year, but what a feeling that was. I had also given up on thinking that I would ever fit the role of the Pinterest-worthy homeschool mom. When I thought about it, I was still terrified that I was completely failing my kids as their teacher. So I just had to not think about it. My kids were by now so far behind what would be considered their "grade level" in reading or writing that putting them in school was no longer an option I felt I could allowed myself to consider. I accepted that we would continue homeschooling into the middle school years. We had figured out some things that were working for us... and I just had to trust that I was doing enough.
Then Covid came. The past year and a half has been long, and though our life at home stayed mostly the same... so many other things changed. The homeschooling community changed. The designer community changed. The sewing community changed. It's taken a mental toll, a physical toll, an emotional toll. There have been wins and losses. With homeschooling, we've had to learn to celebrate the things that we are good at and work hard at the things we are not, and I've been learning to do that with myself as well.
There are things that I am good at and things that I am not. The things that are important, I will keep trying to learn to become better at... whether that is as a mom or as a designer. The things that are not important, I've finally started to realize I can let go. I can't be or do everything. I am just me. There are things I'm good at. And there are things I am not.
Which brings me, finally, to this size expansion. My pattern collection is not huge. Only about a dozen and a half patterns. Some of these patterns have been updated before. In 7.5 years, I've always felt that each and every pattern has deserved my very best. There are a few that I have chosen to retire... but most of them have been updated as my technical skills have improved because it never felt right making new patterns better and leaving the older ones behind. I've added value to them over the years, like the addition of Large Format and Projector Files. Because I'm still small and keep a tight rein on my expenses, there are other things I don't offer, like layers. I make up for it though... my pattern lines are meticulously placed so you never get confused by intersecting and overlapping lines, and my unique paper-saving assembly methods are second to none. My point in saying all this is that this Expansion will involve more than just throwing down some extra lines on the patterns and calling it a day. This Expansion will be the a full-on, back-to-square-one, every-pattern-deserves-the-best Expansion Update.
And that's going to take time.
I will be including my new size range on any new pattern that I design... but right now, I don't know when that will happen.
I've already started working on updating some of my existing patterns... but I don't know yet which of those patterns will be the first to be re-released.
My best guess is that it will take me 1-2 months of steady effort for every single pattern update... which means a rough timeframe of two to two-and-a-half years. Of course, that's if all goes well and let's be realistic... there will be complications.
In two more years... this homeschooling family with be heading into the high school years. Will we be ready for that? Will I?
Think about what has happened over the last two years.
Kinda makes it hard to look that far ahead, doesn't it?
So for now, my plan is this:
I am committed to updating and expanding my patterns... one at a time. The new size range will include tween/teen sizing up to approximately 18/20... and I can at least show you this: my new size chart.
As for what and when? I will update my patterns based on what my kids need at a given time. I started designing for them; I will expand my designs for them. That's as much commitment to a timeline as I'm able to give.
And that's it.
You won't see big events or contests or celebrations as I roll out these updates. My energies will be going fully into the patterns themselves... I don't have the mental strength or the physical time to make a big deal for each one on social media. I'll post on my page, and my group, and in my email newsletter... but it's going to be low key. I would love if you would spread the word by showing off any of my patterns that you make, or recommending them to others. Your words are of so much more value than mine.
As for me though... I am eager to get these pattern updates out to you, and I want to keep any momentum that I do achieve going as long as I can. But there must be balance too, and I can't allow myself to put designing in the role of escape from homeschooling my kids; they need me first.
Perhaps... some time in 2024 or so... the time will come for that BIG celebration. Funny thing, when I do the math, that puts us right around Pollywoggles' 10th Anniversary. And I will look forward with hope for when that day comes.