Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

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

Monday, February 08, 2010

On the radio!

A little while ago I took part in a local radio programme, teaching a local DJ to knit. I have expected the DJ, a former stand up comedian, to maybe not be completely positive about knitting, but in actual fact he was extremely enthusiastic and picked it up really quickly and didn't seem to think I was a mad woman, which is always reassuring. You can hear the broadcast (and the scouse accents!)by clicking the play button Sean Styles Radio Merseyside

Hope you enjoy it!

for now
Ruby xxx