I really love when a customer has a project in mind and asks for help in choosing fabrics, especially when their idea is something a little bit different...
In Autumn last year I was contacted by a regular customer, Val, to source fabrics for some curtains for her living room. Not much unusual there, I thought, as I've supplied plenty of curtain fabric before and people generally want about 6-10 metres, which I've often got in stock already.
Val lives locally and had visited the house several times, as well as making a point to say hello and give us a hug at many of the shows, so I was really happy that she wanted to use more Japanese fabric in her home. However, I must admit I was a little surprised when she asked for a full roll of fabric which is 36 metres!
I source fabrics direct from the manufacturers in Japan, and the minimum quantity of each design is a 36m roll. So I have to be very discerning about which designs and colourways to stock. When I receive a delivery of fabric, I roll each 36m down into 4 smaller bolts, folding the fabric in half as I go, to create bolts which are more manageable to cut for web orders and take to shows. The rolling process is quite laborious and I have honed my skill at this over the years so I can now roll 36m accurately in about 20 minutes. Which is great when I have a delivery of 50 rolls...
Sometimes customers need more than my 8-9m bolts (see the previous post about fashion brand Eponine), so I have to custom-order their fabrics on the roll for them.
One thing I always keep an eye on is the exchange rate between the £ and the Yen. When I first went to Japan in 2005 the rate was incredibly favourable and everything seemed quite cheap...now, sadly, this is no longer the case. So my fabric's base price is in Yen, then there is the cost of shipping to the UK. I can choose either air freight (arrives within a week) or sea (arrives within 3 months) and pay accordingly. Obviously, from a practical point of view, air freight makes more sense but costs more. Once the shipment lands in the UK it then has to be held in a warehouse while it clears Customs. I am charged a warehouse holding fee and then a whopping Customs charge which is usually roughly 20% of the price of the goods. Then I have to pay a courier to deliver from Manchester airport to my house, over 100 miles away. So the seemingly reasonable wholesale price of fabric (or sashiko, or whatever), doubles by the time it arrives on my doorstep. And is variable depending on the exchange rate on that particular day (did I also mention the rubbish exchange rate that banks give, and the extortionate fees they charge to send money abroad?).
Anyway, I'm digressing hugely, and maybe I should write another blog post about how I feel when customers at shows say loudly that the fabric is expensive at £10 a metre...
Back to Val's curtains!
The point of that long-winded explanation was to say that when a customer wants a large or special order, it makes far more sense to combine it with the next order I make to Japan, rather than order one roll to be sent just for them. Val is lovely, and was more than happy to wait a few weeks, and then even came to the house to pick up her precious roll.
After a lot of consultation with her husband, she chose this beautiful fabric, depicting Japanese cranes on a background of waves and chrysanthemums.
The fabric comes in four colourways, but Val is very much a purple girl so it was obvious which one she would choose.
After several email updates, Val finally got her copious curtains completed and I was delighted to see the finished result! Although we are now under lockdown so I cannot go and visit in person as planned, I'm so glad that Val and her husband can enjoy their time in such charming surroundings.
Notice the other Japanese touches in the room - a sashiko koi carp based on a design by Susan Briscoe; some exquisite kogin work; patchwork cushions, and a gorgeous quilt made from one of our Japanese layer cakes.
I'm sure you will agree she's done an amazing job!
In fact, the next blog post will be all about what customers have made, so if you've made something and not sent a picture to us, please do so as soon as possible for a chance to be featured. In the meantime, all customer 'makes' are displayed on our gallery page.
Stay safe, and keep stitching
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I started Japan Crafts in 2006 and have been bringing wonderful fabrics and techniques to people in the UK ever since.