#MarchMeetTheMaker gave me a different prompt for each day to create a social medial post throughout the month of March. This is a compilation of all of my posts. It is long, so sit back with your favourite beverage in a cozy spot. It was a wonderful challenge for me, to think about some topics and explore some ideas that have been swirling in my head. Thank you to everyone who followed along with me.
Day 1. “Favourite to Make”
This bag has become a classic for my business. I have made a lot of them so I can produce it without too much thinking, which means I can listen to CBC radio. The design represents a lot that Topsail Canvas has become known for: simplicity, durability, functionality, with a bit of snazz brought out in the piping.
I love the creative process of designing a new bag. But sometimes the old familiar styles are very comforting. I also love this bag as an everyday catch-all when you head out and about. The little pocket on the outside keeps your phone or wallet secure and a D-ring inside keeps track of your keys. Sling it over your shoulder and away you go.
Day 2. “How you started”
My mother started this business 28 years ago. I moved home to rural New Brunswick 16 years ago. I needed a job so started sewing bags piecework for my mother. 7 years ago I took over the operations of the business, doing all the bookkeeping, sales, ordering, design and production myself.
Working for myself as a home based business would provide me with the flexibility that I wanted for our family lifestyle. I have always enjoyed making things. As a child I learned knitting, sewing and carpentry skills. I find them all a bit similar; you take a bunch of pieces and connect them together into a three dimensional object.
So, although creativity is in my bones, it was a bit of circumstance that I ended up doing this business. I’m quite content and have learned so much about myself along the way. These winter days I am dreaming of summer days wandering up the road to this local field.
Day 3. “Flatlay”
Here’s a photo I took a couple years back. I love arranging bags to create an image. I was having so much fun pairing all these different brightly coloured canvas interiors with the grey exterior of the bags. They reminded me of pots of paint. Then I saw petals of a flower. So I grabbed an apple blossom off a nearby tree for the centre.
Day 4. “Tools & Materials”
I use a JUKI industrial sewing machine with a walking foot. It’s like a tractor the way it climbs right over a stack of 15 layers of canvas and then back down to 4.
Other important hand tools are the little snips for close cutting threads, a wooden square for marking the bottom corners and a centering ruler that my father made for marking spacing between webbing.
Another amazing tool that my father made is that little wooden one with a carved star in the handle and a flat wedge on the end. Instead of ironing, I use this to crease the folds over for the hems on the top of the bags and pockets.
Day 5. “Detail or Close Up”
The first step to a lot of the bag designs is to stitch down the top hem. This is when the handles get tucked under and the Topsail Canvas logo tag gets sew in. I always backstitch at the top of the handle attachment for added strength. It is heavy polyester thread so pretty tough, but I know there can be a lot of strain on the handle attachment, so it gets extra care.
The canvas and webbing are cotton, so they will get soft and worn with use and washings.
Day 6. “Full or Part Time”
With these two monkeys around, how am I able to do anything but nurture them through this world full time?! Add to that the co-management of a household with Papa Monkey, and there doesn’t seem like much time left for a business. However, it is my work at Topsail Canvas that brings my financial contribution to the household. So, yes it is ‘full time’ but the reality at the end of a week is more like ‘part time’ hours actually spent being productive in the studio. There are sooo many distractions!
Day 7. “Less Glam Side”
For me the less than glamorous side of the business is the chaos inside my head. This photo is meant to represent my brain. (But also the fact that sometimes I need a shower but I’ve got too much to do and my hair is driving me crazy and the closest thing is a clothespin.)
The chaos is that in a micro business like this YOU are everything: The Boss, The Seamstress, The Design Department, The Marketing Department, The Salesperson, The Shipping Department, The Sewing Machine Repairman, The Firewood Stacker, The Bookkeeper and The HR Department. So when one department wants to talk about something with another department, and maybe express concern, or get some clear direction on a problem, or ask for time off, or figure out why tasks haven’t gotten done… well it all comes full circle with all the voices in my head chattering away. And sometimes I feel like I'm only barely holding it together with that little clothespin.
Day 8. “Product Range”
I have about 45 different styles of bags that I make. Some are variations in shape providing a similar purpose: for instance, a dopp kit/ toiletries/ makeup bag can be either a triangle, cylinder, or brick shape. Everyone has a preference. Same with tote bag shapes, zippers and pockets. There are so many options, depending on what specific function we need it for.
One bag that has been a thrill to discover its versatility is The Eastport Locker. (the small one in the back left of this photo). Although originally designed to carry 5 bottles of wine or craft beer, I have seen them used as lunch bags, knitting bags, general totes, etc. It has open bottom sleeves on the inside, so when you put your water bottle, wine or craft beer in, the bottle sits right down on the bottom of the bag. Any sleeves you aren’t using lie flat against the sides to open up the space for bigger items. This is definitely one of my favourite bags.
Day 9. “Story Behind Name”
Topsail Canvas. My mother started this business with her friend Maggie who was a sailmaker. They wanted to keep the door open to make sails as well as bags. In the boating world the topsail is one of the upper sails on a square rigged ship. It is all one word and pronounced ‘topsel’. Here are a few other boat terms that are pronounced differently than they are spelled:
A few years ago I decided to name each bag style after types of boats, parts of boats, or seabirds to keep the theme going. We have always been sailors in my family so the connection is strong.
One confusion that the name has created in recent years is the source of my materials. There are many businesses that repurpose old sails to make beautiful new bags. Most of these are the Dacron synthetic material that is used for sails these days. Many years ago sails would have been made from cotton, but I am not repurposing ancient sails to create my bags. I buy new 100% cotton canvas for these bags. Sorry to dash any illusions that some of you may have had.
Day 10. “You”
Hi, I am Sadie, the face and voice behind these Topsail Canvas posts. Generally, I am a one-woman show, but currently I have hired a part time employee for a few months.
I live in Mascarene, New Brunswick, Canada with my husband and two boys. I grew up on this stretch of rural road - it is a lovely 7 minute walk through the woods, along the creek, and over the bridge to Gramma & Grampa’s house.
I have a separate studio building across the yard from our house where all the bags are sewn. Stop by anytime.
Fun facts about me:
I love looking at the tops of trees silhouetted against the sky.
I lived in the Yukon for 4 years.
I knit a sweater at age 7 and still love knitting and working out patterns.
As a teenager, I sailed to Australia and back with my family.
I like to sit in the morning sun with my coffee.
Day 11. “Reducing Waste”
I would love it if every bag used the fabric really efficiently, but it doesn’t happen that way. There are always odd sized pieces piling up. I sew these into zippered pouches, which are useful for so many things. I find that once my customers have bought a couple, they are back for more, rummaging through my bin of miscellaneous sizes and colours to find the perfect one for the task at hand.
I called it The Ketch, as a spin off from Clutch and Catch-all.
A ketch is a type of sailboat with two masts; the taller main mast is in the front, with the shorter mizzen mast in the back. The mizzen is located forward of the steering (rudder post), in contrast to a yawl which has its mizzen mast behind the rudder post.
Day 12. “Hands at Work”
Our hands are such amazing tools. They are the perfect clamp, the perfect guide, as all the little muscles do their thing to hold the material just so. I really notice it if I get a cut on my finger - it seems like I absolutely need that part of my hand all day long. How many times have we wished we had another hand. This is why I love the knee lifter on my sewing machine to raise and lower the presser foot. It is also fascinating to experience ‘muscle memory’ as our hands and bodies move about to perform a task that we have done over and over. Sometimes I stop mid stitchline and just observe which muscles are completely engaged at that moment. Handmade is certainly something special.
Day 13. “Photography”
My husband is a photographer so in theory I have a simple solution to getting excellent images of my work. The reality is that he is not around when I need a photo taken, and the coordination is just another item on the to-do list. So most often I take the photos myself with my iPhone. However, this photo of the bag on the edge of Passamaquoddy Bay is from a photo shoot he did for me last summer (I think it took us 4 months to coordinate!).
Often I use our firewood pile, a shingled shed, the clapboards on the side of the studio, or the floorboards in the house as the backdrop for photos. I feel like it gives a representation of the outdoor rugged nature of the product.
For detailed product listing photos on the website I used to do them with white backgrounds, however I recently switched to taking all photos in the same wooden chair. Hoping that maybe it would help people get a general sense of the bag size before combing through the dimensions in the product description.
My dream is to have a good spot permanently set up in my studio where I can take quick spontaneous photos.
Day 14. “How I learned”
As a kid, I learned to sew on my mother’s treadle sewing machine. It had a single top thread and no bobbin, creating a chain stitch. This was great for learning because if I had to take a stitch line out I simply had to find the end and pull, just like opening a grain sack.
I remember having a pair of shorts that I loved, so I wanted to make a pair just like them. They were still in good shape, so I didn’t want to take them apart to make a pattern. So I created the pieces by measuring and adding seam allowances and examining the construction in detail, especially how the zippered fly went together. They turned out okay. I wore them.
I think this is where I got my love of figuring out how things are built, coming up with my own designs, and simplifying construction where possible.
So I guess I am primarily self taught (except the guidance from my mother). But sometimes I feel like it could be helpful to take a basic sewing class, to learn the standard methods of doing things rather than reinventing the wheel all the time.
Day 15 “Motivation/Goals”
This is the wall of bags in my studio. On the left side I have one of each style shown in the grey/turquoise combo. On the right side is all the bags that are sewn up and ready for sale/shipping right now.
I currently offer various sales channels…. customers can walk into my studio and buy off this shelf or place an order, they can contact me through Facebook or Instagram or email to place an order, they can order through my website, buy from me at a craft show or market, or buy from a retail store that purchases from me wholesale.
I make a lot of bags ahead so customers have a selection to choose from, but also make orders of custom colours and sometimes custom designs.
One of my goals is to determine which of these sales channels work best for me and my customers. Maybe all of them!
I also wonder if there are too many choices in styles and colours. Is less more? It can be overwhelming on the website or in the studio looking at all the options.
Diversify or simplify?
Stock styles or one-of-a-kind creations?
My motivation is certainly the enthusiasm of my customers - you guys are great!
Day 16 “Workspace (tidy/mess)”
I work best when things are tidy and organized, however the reality is more messy. I did clean up a bit before taking these photos. Right now there is still that huge stack of bags on the cutting table that need tags and website profiles before I put them onto the shelves. There are stacks of bag kits cut out ready for sewing. Boxes of scraps to be used whenever I can. Prototypes and design notes scattered about.
Sometimes I long for an uncluttered room with everything behind doors to calm my mind. But there are always partially finished projects that get set aside.
And peace of mind can be achieved by simply enjoying my surroundings -
I love the character and feeling of our studio building and the view out the windows to the fields and apple orchard is so peaceful.
(P.S. My husband built the timber frame studio - he’s pretty amazing)
Day 17 “What I’m working on”
Well, it’s Sunday so I’m not working on Topsail Canvas projects today.
However, in general I am building up my stock. There always seems to be such a panic of sewing for me before shows, so I’m going to attempt some more proactive planned sewing this year.
I always have orders to sew - custom colour combos or out of stock standard items.
For new products, I’m working on a knitting collection. This will include appropriate sized pouches as well as knitting rolls for long needles, double points, crochet, circular or a combo. Also the new project bag I designed a couple weeks ago, the old ditty bag, and a few others that are particularly suited to knitters. The Knitters Nook will be on the website really soon, I hope.
Day 18 “Mistake or Lesson”
This story is mostly a case of me not asking enough questions, learning someone else’s perspective, doing some thorough self reflection and moving forward with a clearer vision of what I want.
I was supplying a company with a run of small totes, sewing a custom label on the outside with their logo, and sewing these Topsail Canvas tags on the inside. I then learned that the inside tags were getting cut out. I was indignant; how was the customer to know that it was a Topsail Canvas bag? Hmmm…. But maybe the bag is completely rebranded and is now their product? Does it matter where it is made? If I look into my own closet, I have a Columbia jacket that was made in Vietnam. I don’t know the actual name of the company or factory in Vietnam that made it. So why did it matter to me that people knew that Topsail Canvas made this bag? Why can’t I just be a somewhat anonymous manufacturer? I got paid for the bags - isn’t income the point? I finally came around to the fact that I am proud of the work I do and want to be responsible for them throughout their life. If someone has a problem with a bag, I’m okay with them showing me what happened, in fact I want to know so I can continue to improve. So, I now have it written into my policy that I want to be recognized as a manufacturer and that the tags shall stay in the bag.
So, even though I was hurt and annoyed, the end result is that I feel stronger about managing business transactions and have a clearer idea of what is important to me.
(Just in case anyone is wondering, this story is NOT about Cricket Cove. They have been absolutely wonderful to work with over the years. Donna is so appreciative and kind, always paying invoices promptly and recognizing me in social media posts. I’m tickled pink to work with local businesses, especially Charlotte County)
Day 19 “Dream Collaboration”
My dream collaboration has something to do with this: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Repurpose, Recycle.
I like the concept of having only things around us that we really like; so reducing what we purchase in the first place, thereby reducing the amount of resources from our planet that need to be used.
However, once we have an item, let’s reuse it as long as possible. The bag in this photo may have originally been clean and new enough to use for groceries or an office meeting, yet now it is worn and frayed, but it is still strong enough for carrying firewood.
I can often replace worn handles or a zipper or stitch closed a frayed hole. The bag may not be as perfect as when you bought it, but it will continue to work for you.
I do recognize the reality of those top shelves in our closets where bags gather that we just don’t use anymore - it’s the wrong shape, the colour doesn’t work, have too many in that size, etc. You don’t feel right throwing it in the garbage, but it’s silly to keep it. I’d love to figure out a way to retrieve any of these Topsail Canvas bags from your closets and give them to women’s shelters or food banks or just anyone who could use a sturdy bag for carrying their life with them. Keep the bag alive.
Many crafters are repurposing old materials to create new products. So maybe if your bag is truly done and has no more life in its original form, I could cut it apart and make something new with it?
And finally, the last bits would go into recycling - sending the old pieces off to get mashed up so new fibres can be created.
These are thoughts that have been swirling in my mind. This is the first time I’ve tried to write something cohesive. I don’t currently have a proper return policy for my products, but I think if I ever get to one, it will include a lot of these elements.
So maybe it’s a collaboration with the planet? With women’s shelters? With all of my customers?
Day 20 “Design Process”
My designs usually start with something that I need. Of course I have a ton of bags, but often there is something that isn’t right or things don’t fit and I just don’t have the best one for the task at that moment. So I start sketching and measuring and adjusting pockets or stitch lines, adding seam allowances and figuring out what goes together first, second, etc. Then I try it, and usually I then scratch at and adjust my notes. I have posted some of these scrawled notes in the past (knitting bag design Feb 19th).
Function is the initial focus to create the right size and shape, then an assessment for strength and durability, and then I sit back and make an overall aesthetic assessment - it has to look right.
This is a computer bag I made for myself. I’ve made this in a horizontal style before with the outside pocket for the charge cord and other accessories. For myself I’ve been using one of the large Ketches to go to meetings with my computer and the appropriate papers or file folder. However, I realized that I wanted a bag with the zipper across the short end. I use a portable external hard drive for all my files, so it is plugged in most of the time. When I want to take my computer from the studio into the house, I’m lazy and I don’t want to unplug it. So it is slipping around precariously on top of my computer as I go across the yard just waiting for disaster to happen. So, now my computer goes in endwise, the plug is sticking out the top and the hard drive is tucked down into the pocket - I don’t have to zip it up, but it all feels secure and I’ve got the canvas for better grip. (There’s been a lot of ice this winter, so I grip hard!)
Right, so the next step is to create a profile for it on my website where I can get the dimensions of anyone’s laptop to create a custom bag. Oh, and determine a price. I’ll add that to the to-do list.
Day 21 “Throwback”
This is one of the original bags made by Topsail Canvas. I took it to Acadia University with me - 26 years ago - eek! - but it’s still a strong bag.
This style was very popular - I’m guessing that MANY of you either have one or know someone who did/does.
When I renamed the bags I called this one The Anchor, because it anchored the business for so many years. I haven’t made this exact style recently. I’m trying to work out an improved construction for the heavy canvas. We were breaking so many needles because there is one spot on the top band where the layers of canvas stack up extremely high!
Day 22 “Proud of”
I am so proud of New Brunswick; the province where I live and grew up.
Through the years it has been viewed as the less glamorous cousin to its Maritime neighbours. David Myles (also from NB) has a great song about this, encouraging people to stop on their drive through to Nova Scotia and PEI.
I love the diversity of New Brunswick - the rugged Bay of Fundy coastline, the sandy warm waters of the eastern shores, the fishing communities, the farming areas along the Kennebecasis and St. John rivers, the vast expanses of forests through the middle, the French Acadian villages in the northeast, and so much more. There is so much to explore right here in our backyards.
And then I go to a craft show to sell my bags alongside other artists and craftspeople. It’s like a big reunion; we have all crawled out of our studios that are spread around the province to display our creations. Every single time I am filled to the brim with excitement and pride for the exquisite things that everyone has made - right here in New Brunswick. These are our people. This is what they can make for us! So amazing.
(Topsail Canvas is located in Mascarene, which is in the Southwest corner of NB south of St. George on the back road to the Deer Island Ferry)
Day 23. “Top tip or advice”
This is my favourite quote of all time. I have come back to it over and over throughout my life. Often when I am feeling flustered or unsettled, I can usually trace it back to one of these things. I wasn’t being kind, I was dreaming of greener pastures, or I was beating myself up for not doing a better job - if I’m giving it my best with what I have, then that’s all I can do, so it’s okay.❤️
(Do the best that you can, in the place where you are, and be kind.)
Day 24 “Customers/Feedback”
The most common feedback I hear is that these bags never wear out. They say it almost sheepishly because they feel bad that they won’t be back for a replacement for awhile. But that’s okay. That’s the point. I want to build strong durable products that will work with you for a long time.
The bags are designed to be used, even for heavy things like all these apples. I have to coax the cashiers at stores that it’s okay to fill ‘er up. My husband needed to move a bunch of sand one day so he used the tote bag that was carrying his trail building tools.
Sometimes I get excited about a new product and the bags get out in the world before they have really been properly tested. I’ve been wondering how to encourage customers to please let me know if something pulls out or let’s go. Most people seem shy and don’t want me to feel bad, but honestly your feedback would be doing me and future customers a huge favour.
Day 25 “How it’s made”
(I haven't figured out how to insert my little video here, sountil I figure that out, you will have to go the Topsail Canvas Facebook page or Instagram Profile.)
This sped up video makes me laugh - especially when I get the scissors out; it looks dangerous!
Wouldn’t it be great if I could whip out bags this fast.
This is the simplest of bags, but many of my designs are variations on this with added pockets or strap length or zippers.
36 seconds of silly entertainment.
Day 26 “Self Care”
Sleep. I have made it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, all the time. I really notice a big difference if I skimp on it a few days.
Fresh Air. Sometimes I’m shocked at how few minutes per day that I was out in the fresh air. And it is so therapeutic. The sun is getting stronger these March days. Try this: around 10 am, find a corner facing southeast out of the wind and just sit with your eyes closed and feel that sun on your face and listen to the sounds around you.
Walking. I love the even symmetrical activity of walking. Maybe it’s because when I’m sitting and sewing or working on things my body is all twisted up. But stride out in a walk with those arms going. It feels so good.
Look at the tops of trees. Those silhouettes against the sky, they almost always make my brain smile. And the phrase ‘chin up’ to get through something tough; well you have to look up to see the tree tops so maybe there is a physical emotional connection when you lift your head up.
Day 27 “Anything goes”
I’m choosing “Availability/Flexibility”
One of the biggest perks of being your own boss is the flexibility of working hours. It’s is also one of my biggest struggles. It is so easy to take off for a couple hours in the middle of the day, but then I’ve got to make up those hours in the evening? Ugh.
I have also explored different thoughts on availability to my customers. Is the business always open? Are there times when the door gets locked and the manager goes home to her family? I think it used to be more straightforward. But now with websites, social media and smartphones, we are able to run these businesses anytime from anywhere. I have updated my website while waiting for a doctors appointment, responded to comments on social media while traveling and answered business calls in the house in the evening. There are so many ways to look at this. It could be called disruptive, or it could be called flexible - an amazing freedom that allows me to travel, run errands or go for a walk midday and not be tied to a desk. Also, my business is retail, so if my customers work day jobs, then they will be shopping on evenings and weekends. Maybe it is best that I am open and available during those times.
But sometimes it is healthy to choose to proactively check out and not ‘work’. It is definitely a dance.
So this March Meet the Maker thing … I saw it last year and really got excited to try it this year. But turns out we were going to Florida for the first 10 days of the month for a family vacation - Aaah! Work vs. Family time. I could have auto scheduled the posts, but I’m not quite comfortable with that yet. My compromise was that I prepped all the photos and text for the posts ahead of time, so all I had to do was slip away for a quiet minute to post each day, then I was right back to vacation. It felt a little disconnected and lacking in spontaneity. But it worked for me. I’m not very good at writing under pressure, so I had to have it planned out.
So, I’m sorry if my posts at the beginning of the month led you to believe that I was stitching away in my studio, when in fact I was sitting under a palm tree in Florida.
Day 28 “Packaged”
I usually ask my customers “Would you like a bag for your bag?” And most often they say they are happy to carry it as is or tuck it into another bag they already have. But there are certainly occasions where it is raining outside or it is a gift that they need to hide from their friend. I have used various styles of bags - bought new pretty plastic bags or collected clean plain plastic or paper bags to reuse. In the efforts to reduce single use items in our lives, my dream is to switch to reusable cloth gift bags like the ones in this photo. It is certainly not a new idea - I have watched Rachel Morouney from Hidden House Pottery make her own fabric bags for years for packaging her product. This past Christmas, I sewed up a bunch of simple seasonal print bags and used them for anyone who wanted a bag. I have a rather large stash of fabric scraps so I plan to sew more out of various colours and patterns. Yes, it is extra time and expense for me, but buying new is costly as well. And hopefully people will reuse the gift bags again, passing them along through their family and community.
It just feels like the right thing to do.
Day 29 “Most difficult make”
These cute little bags with their round ends … there is something aesthetically pleasing about a circle.
But damn it is difficult to make. Trying to sew the cylinder side piece to the circle bottom without any puckers. I know it’s just a math problem to figure out the diameter, the circumference, etc. But then to stitch it perfectly while twirling around that little circle. Grumble grumble.
Maybe I just need to eat more pie. (This would have been a good post for March 14th).
Day 30 “Support”
When I need help with something business related, I often google it to see what’s out there. I am also a member of several Facebook Crafter Community Groups. I love the search function on these so I can read any relevant discussions prior to asking my question. I try to take workshops when I can. It’s hard to justify the time and money, but I always come away refreshed and energized simply from the interaction with other like minded people. It all helps with the swirling thoughts in my head.
For emotional personal support - that comes from many sources. My parents instilled confidence in me as a child and continue to be available and encouraging whenever I need them. My husband listens to me ramble on about everything, my kids respect my home-based business.
Support is my niece inviting me to join the girls running group at her school, our neighbours allowing me to sit in these beautiful chairs to watch sunsets over Passamaquoddy Bay, friends coming over for a glass of wine, fellow crafters gathering at shows and markets, and all of you commenting and encouraging me to continue.
“It takes a village to raise a kid” …. well maybe it takes a village to keep a business going.
Thanks to everyone.
Day 31 “Product in use/wild”
These bags are made for adventures. I love it when you send me photos of where they have traveled, how they fit into your life, what they carry, etc. I’ve got a big selection of photos on my website.
www.TopsailCanvas.com - ‘Out & About with a Bag’