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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I want to tell you a story

I have always felt that my blog is incomplete. That because I avoid talking about much of the disagreeable, non-knitting related things that have happened over the last couple of years the full story hasn’t been told. And after previous discussions with readers of this blog and my own growing feeling that this blog should reflect my life as a designer and a person, I have come to the conclusion that without the ‘back’ story sometimes things, make little sense. I also think its relevant to other people who may be thinking or being pushed along the perilous road of self employment and using their craft to support them financially. So enough of the justifications, let me begin...

When I met my husband to be, he was a partner in a family print firm with his parents and brother. His role was Graphic Artist. To supplement my art teaching and design income I began to work part time in the office. Just over two years ago a decision was taken for his mum and dad to retire and his brother decided to leave the business. If the business was to continue, my husband would have to buy his brother out. At that time we were in the planning stages of publishing A Stitch in Time and as we planned to move into publishing with this book we felt we needed to keep the business going. In addition to this there were other related business matters arising from the state of the business, outstanding debts, equipment leases - all sorts of exciting things. If we had shut down the business at that point, by the time debts had been cleared there would have been nothing left, and for a business that had been in existence for 30 years, it didn’t seem the way to go. So my husband and I took the risk of taking over the business. The business was valued and primarily due to the value of the property in which the business was based, we had to take out a substantial mortgage on this building to pay my husband’s brother his share. My husband’s parents kindly agreed to wait for their share.

Things since then did not go according to plan. The recession hit and hit badly. Our town had too many printers and as a small firm, we were unable to compete with the larger firms and the print business began to loose money rapidly. I guess here is where we should have shut down, gone bust. But my husband and his parents had worked with the firms we owed money to for 30 years and too many businesses had gone bust on us and we know what it feels like to be on the wrong side of that equation, so we didn’t. We pumped every penny we had personally or could borrow into the business to pay bills and wages but it didn’t make any difference. So we stopped printing last July and had to release the staff, which was a very difficult time. The wonderful UK bank also decided to stick in a knife and demanded repayment of our overdraft. Cash flow basically stopped whilst £10,000 was taken from us. The Bank was inflexible and at no time in the last two years has it done anything to help. Nothing.

Then on August 5th, as many of you know, my mum suffered a massive stroke, and for a time life stood still.

However, there were still complex issues to sort out with the old business, the premises, the debts and at the same time, try and move forward. Still produce knitonthenet, A Stitch in Time, other designs. Earn a living. I haven’t actually been paid since December 2008. Nearly every penny we earn goes to pay off the debts of the business. Very likely we have done the wrong thing, but morally we feel we did it right. Unfortunately, we have debtors who haven’t behaved in the same way and in addition to dealing constantly with our debt situation, I have to fit in chasing our debts.

Before christmas we decided to try and raise some capital selling some of the old equipment from the print firm. It is a very bad market out there as many printers have gone bust, banks won’t lend money to them to buy equipment etc., so trying to sell equipment into that market is not very easy. We therefore turned to a trusted company, who we had bought equipment from in the past. They took several pieces of our equipment to demonstrate to potential customers and managed to sell a couple of them. The agreement was that they had borrowed the equipment to demonstrate and we would be paid straight away on sale. In December they sold a piece of equipment for us and our share was £2500 which would have helped the situation enormously. We are still waiting. Despite ringing them almost daily, we have received bouncing cheques, false promises, changing stories and very little of the money. They have been paid for the equipment. We have not.

And this is the situation we find ourselves in yet again. So you can imagine, none of this goes hand in hand with being creative, looking forward, being able to invest in your future. It all drags you down, pulls you back, eats up every minute of your time and makes me sick. I can no longer bring myself to trust people. And that saddens me so much.

The only thing we have left from the business is the building which costs us a lot of money just to keep every month. We bought at the peak of the housing market in the UK and practically since the day we bought it, prices have dropped. We knew we couldn’t sell as we would still owe money to the bank for the mortgage at the end of it. The market has stabilised slightly since the new year and the property has been valued at just slightly less than when we bought it, so we are going to take a chance and put it on the market this coming week and see if we can manage to sell it. We unfortunately won’t get anything out of the sale but if we can clear the mortgage its one more debt out of the way.

So there you go. This all takes constant time, energy and money. And this alone, without obviously, mum. could take up every moment of your life. But we have refused to give up and have continued to create and have managed to get Arbour House functioning as a separate entity and I’m very proud of what we have somehow managed to achieve despite everything colluding to stop us. We have an incredibly strong relationship and pull together at all times. Without this we could not have got through. And we have somehow managed to exist on thin air. With us being in this together, we have no supporting income. If we don’t create and don’t put our product out there, we don’t eat. Its as simple as that. And of course, for a great deal of the time there has only been the two of us, doing everything. The magazine, the designing, the books, the administration, the invoicing, despatch, everything.

Despite this being a long post this is still a greatly condensed and simplified version of the complexities of the business wind down - I wouldn’t want to bore you with all of that and I don’t want you to think that this is looking for sympathy. But when I look back on this blog it doesn’t always make sense. This post ties up all the loose ends and hopefully helps you understand why sometimes posts are erratic even when I say I’m going to post the next day. When you spend half the day on the phone to the bank, debtors, creditors etc., you become too tired to talk to be honest. And things don’t often get done on time, because of all these other issues that we have to deal with. Like now, we have to arrange to go and see our solicitor about the equipment issue. We have to tidy up the property so we can sell it. There is just so little time.

I feel positive about the future though. Creativity is flowing. I have commissions and I have plans, books in development, wonderful collaborations with amazing people and fantastic books being published by us, by some of the most talented people I have ever met. Life is turning a corner and I refuse to be dragged back down. My song is Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and in Frank’s immortal words:

Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.
That’s Life!

Ruby xxx


Anonymous said...

That is a lot to deal with. It sounds like you really are turning the corner though, and you have the right attitude.

The recession has made life pretty difficult for me too, but has maybe given me a chance to go in a different direction... If it wasn't for the recession I might still be in a job I hated... I'm still trying to find a new career but getting closer and closer to figuring it all out!

Here's to the future!

Deadly Knitshade said...

Tons of respect to you and your family. I've been through similar upheavals in the last year and have no idea how people like us pick up and do it anyway.

We do though. We always do. You're a great example of laughing in the face of the horror. Keep it up.

I really hope things settle down and you get to relax. You deserve it.

Best wishes

Lauren xx

Woolly Wormhead said...

Huge hugs, I can imagine just how hard it was to write this post and I have total respect for you for sharing this with all of us.

Things are on the up for you, you're coming through the worst of it; kudos for hanging in there.

A positive future is just around the corner, which is thoroughly deserved. x

On another note, my mum just put her house on the market, to sell up and move to her little plot of land in Ireland and live her dream. Within 2 weeks of putting her house on the market, she got an offer for the asking price. The market is much more stable now, so here's hoping you can sell the business premises too.

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you, Ruby. The vibe I get is that a corner has been turned, but I can well imagine how utterly draining all this has been for you. Try to think to 5 years ahead, when this will all be in the past - and it will, truly. All the best.

Gill said...

I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to write all of this - for simply reading it leaves me feeling upset at the huge unfairness of it all. That you have chosen to take a moral and honest approach but in return had such a shoddy response is appalling.

Wishing you all the strength and tenacity to get through it. You deserve better.

Mrs Juzzie Green said...

Ah Ruby, I feel for you.
Take care
I'll be thinking of you.

donnag said...

Thank you for sharing with us, Ruby. My heart goes out to you and your family. As someone who has been self-employed for over 20 years, I know how hard it can be to keep your head above water. You are so creative, kind and generous, and you deserve better. It will come to you, no doubt.

abby said...

Really inspiring to read your journey. The fact that you can continue creating whilst under such pressure is incredible - an example to us all to keep going and stay strong during times of adversity. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Sadie said...

I'm so sorry you've had to go through all this. I really hope that things improve for you and your family soon.

Susie Hewer said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for sharing. If it helps at all, there are lots of us out here in a similar situation who know how you're feeling. It can be hard to stick to your principles and do the right thing.

Big hugs to all of you.

I hope you manage to sell the house quickly and for a fair price.

Above all, remember that you have Northern Grit coursing through your veins and draw strength from the love of your friends and family.

Love and best wishes,

the_lazymilliner said...

Ruby, good to hear your story....I think many of us are experiencing our own share of financial troubles, and it's good to know we're not alone.

gerry said...

Very brave to share this, but hopefully cathartic too? So much support for you out there, if only it could be turned into something tangible!

So sorry, life does its very best to give you a battering when you have other plans. Know how hard it is to be creative when things are falling apart around you too, but you're doing an amazing job, massive respect to you.

You're in for a round of luck soon and then you'll look back on all this and ... well, not laugh that's for sure! xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much for your incredible comments over the last 24 hours. I was a nervous wreck about publishing this post but truly believed it needed to be aired. You've made me cry and you've made me smile, but most of all your support gives me strength.

Ruby xxxxx

Unraveling Sophia said...

You are amazing - I had no idea! You always come across as positive and energetic. In your place I would have been flattened. I admire you so much and your creativity is wonderful. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that some developer will see potential in your building site and pay you the big bucks for it! {{{hugs}}}

alabama whirly said...

What a completely outstanding, generous and genuine person you are / if only everyone had treated you with the same integrity then maybe this blog post would have been different. It feels like you have morally done the right thing but it's even harder to do that when you can't afford to do it. I'm sure that many good things will come from it for you both, you do so much and everything you do seems to me to be considered and beautiful. I wish I could help you in some way and I'm sure all of us will continue to support you and your work. your mum's illness hasn't made it any easier so sending all the best wishes to all of you and especially sending love x x

laceandsteam said...

Blogspot needs a (love) button.

Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do. I love the magazine and your designs very much and will be here waiting.

heidi said...

I really hope that you will be able to sort this out as soon as possible!!

and I really do hope that it will all turn out for the very best for all of you:)

Aruba Blue said...

You are both incredibly brave, determined and have the strength to follow your dreams, no matter what! You continue to inspire me. I am proud to know and love you - always here, Cath xx

GreenPea said...

What integrity you and your husband have. People in the future will remember that and your great fortitude. Thank you for remaining so cheerful throughout for us all.

Catherine said...

Lots of hugs your way! You can hold your heads high for doing the right thing.

Anything you manage to do on the net for us is just adding positive to your karma.

As for those who have taken advantage of you being good people, they too will feel karma.

Us fiber people love you and will help you any way we can!

Norah said...

Ruby, thank you for sharing that with us. I'm so sorry to hear that you had to go through all that, but I admire you and your husband so much for doing the right thing. I hope that things start to look up soon.

Corinne said...

I am so sorry you and your family have to go through so much. I hope all the messages you have recieved will be of some comfort.
Thanks for all you have created so far. I am a big fan of your designs and really enjoy making them- I've recently started the Miss Laverty motoring hood-
Hang on tight, Ruby!

Liwella said...

What can I say? Probably not a lot more than to send you some virtual hugs and tell you to keep your chin up. It will be worth it.


Suzanne Deal-Fitzgerald said...

It's awfully hard to fess up, and spill your heart out like this. Sometimes it just takes every strength in you to be able to accept that others are on your side, and pulling for you. I don't know why, I think some people have spent their lives being providers, fixers and suppliers, and can't imagine being in need or even "broken."

So...I send the ghosts of Frank's mob to fix the creeps that have messed you guys up...and am thinking good thoughts to a swift recovery in a time that's been trying to many of us.

Argyle Rabbit said...

I already own A Stitch In Time but I am going to buy the Vintage Christmas Knits Collection RIGHT NOW. I know it's not much, but I dearly hope it helps. I spent 8 months of the previous year sleeping on floors and scrimping every cent to get by, so I understand how hard it can get.

Best of luck! xxx

Anonymous said...

I understand how you feel as me and mine have and still are going through a similar experience- what keeps me going, the love of my family. I have a loving supportive husband, two beautiful children, a beautiful grandson and a recently 'acquired' beautiful daughter-in-law. I have sisters who are always there for me a two best friends, what more does a girl need. When we'll turn the corner I don'e know but I know when I do it will be thanks to all of these beautiful people, I hope you are also surrounded by people such as these. Take care and keep on blogging. This is my first visit to your site as I have just recently taken up knitting again in a bid to ease my stress, it works.
Good luck, my thoughts are with you and I'll continue to support your website. xxx

Paulette said...

Your honesty and integrity are to be commended. Your story inspires others to do the same. I will pray daily for your success and hope that in some small way that helps!

Linda said...

Dear Ruby, I don't know how I missed this post but anyway found it now. I am sending my biggest hugs to you both and wishes for future happiness and prosperity. If you ever need any help, not sure how but if there is anything I can do, contact me. xxx

Anonymous said...

Bless your heart love. This thing called life has a way of knocking us on our bum from time to time doesn't it. Sending you strong, healthy, blessed, peaceful, vibes xoxo

Vera Amos said...

You are an inspiration, keep your chin up. Your attitude is amazing. Love Mitford by the way.
Nicky xx

Gudrun Johnston said...

Gosh that is so much to deal with....and as others have said amazing that you continue to create and keep your chin up. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you lots of cheerier moments.....spring is on it's way!

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