Nicole Vasbinder: The Queen of Puff Puffs

NAME: Nicole Vasbinder

WHERE ARE YOU: I’m in Petaluma, CA. It’s about 45 minutes North of San Francisco in the Sonoma Wine Country. It’s where American Graffiti and Peggy Sue Got Maried were filmed and while it has a small town Americana vibe it’s quite sophisticated and progressive. Although I’ve only been in Petaluma 2 1/2 years I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1995.

COMPANY NAME: Queen Puff Puff & Stitchcraft



CRAFT TOOL YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT: sharp fabric scissors

FINISH THE SENTENCE: When I am not sewing purses I am…… usually cruising the web. Live Journal, Bloglines, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter…. ahhh. such a time sucker! I also love thrift shopping and vintage hunting.

How and when did you decide to make the transition from working in the garment industry to making your own handbags?

Owning my own business has always been my dream. My dad started several businesses and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. But I wanted to learn as much as I could while being paid. So I worked in a bunch of different garmento jobs like designer, merchandiser, freelance artist, sales & production assistant, etc. and absorbed as much as I could. I started making bags because they are quick, don’t need to come in different sizes and don’t take much fabric. I gave them all away as gifts and people seemed to like them and suggested I sell them. In late 2003/early 2004 I was going through a rough time between getting divorced and my dad passing away. It seemed like the time to make a change and I needed something just for me. Life is too short to work a job that doesn’t make you happy, you know? So I shared a booth at the first Fashion Co-Op in SF with Susan Beal and sold my stuff for the first time. We were crammed into a 4′ x 5″ space and it was chaotic and scary and wonderful. That first taste of success hooked me and I’ve been doing this ever since!

Tell me about the SF Seamsters.

The Seamsters are a collective of women owned businesses that is made up of me, Jennifer Pellecchia of Hambone & Jennicakes and Deborah Maciel of Chic Cosas. We all do sewing and fabric based businesses so we can go in together on fabric & supply purchases. We also share booth spaces at shows and do group advertising & promotion. So press coverage for one is press for all. It’s also nice to have other people to brainstorm and commiserate with.

You recently started Stitch Craft which is your own teaching studio.
How is going? What kind of classes can people take there?

It’s going really well! I have been teaching sewing classes since 2004 when I started freelance teaching at Stitch Lounge in SF and at Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley. But when I moved to Petaluma I realized that there weren’t any sewing studios in the entire North Bay that reached out to a younger and hipper audience. So I started StitchCraft. We have all sorts of classes from super beginning pillow & totebag classes to more advanced things like draping and patterndrafting as well as special events like Halloween costume workshops. Some of the most popular classes have been the A-Line Skirt class and the Summer Blouse class. We also sell tons of fabric and trims (new & vintage) as well as independent patterns like Titus, Betsy Ross, Oliver + S and Sublime Stitching.

People sell their goodies in different ways. Would you say most of your sales are internet based, wholesale orders or do you sell like hot cakes at craft shows?

It depends on the time of year. Wholesale tends to be busy from February to April and then summer craft shows are June/July. Then you have the next round of wholesale from August to September and now you are in the thick of holiday craft shows and website sales. I also do a bit of consignment. I pretty much pursue all sales avenues and try to have as many revenue streams as possible.

I’m sure you have been asked this as many times as I have, but where did the name Queen Puff Puff come from?

Ha! My very good friend Roxanne of Cheetah Velour fame found these vintage knitting magazines from the early 60s. All these horrid sweaters had names like the Easy Enid, Rod’s Ski and the Queen Puff Puff. The actual sweater was awful with the giant crochet puff balls hanging off of it but the model had this awesome dark beehive and winged out eyeliner and all my friends said “That’s you!” So it became my nickname, my Live Journal name and then the name of my company. Everyone calls me QPP for short.

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A Sample of The Sampler with Alison Gordon

NAME: Alison Gordon

WHERE ARE YOU: Weymouth, Massachusetts (about 20 miles south of Boston)

COMPANY NAME: the Sampler


BLOG: same!

CRAFT TOOL YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT: my rotary cutter….I use it every single day.

FINISH THE SENTENCE: When I am not mailing out oodles of fun packages I am sewing up a storm and working on the Boston Bazaar Bizarre (I’m one of the organizers)

1)For those that have never heard of The Sampler explain what it is you guys do over there.

The Sampler is a fun marketing & promotional tool for indie businesses. Each month, independent crafters, artists, shops, zines and record labels who run web-based businesses send samples and promotional materials to a contribution pool. All the samples are photographed, posted to the site and then are portioned out, put in little packages and sent off to Sampler subscribers all over the world. Samplers are also sent to over 40 different media outlets to help get press for our contributors.

2) How long have you been working at The Sampler? How has it
been being the new head honcho?

I started working for the Sampler answering emails in January of 2007, and I became boss in January of 2008. Its been a lot of fun, but a lot of hard work being in charge. The monthly Samplers take up a lot more physical space than I was prepared for, so the office is pretty cramped! For now, I work alone and it isn’t so bad, but if I needed to add space for another worker it would be tough. I’ve got loads of amazing volunteers in Samplerland that help me keep the most important day to day things under control: blogging and emails.

3) Why do you think contributing to The Sampler is a wise marketing move for a small Indie business?

The goal of the Sampler is to get your products into the hands of prospective shoppers. If you’ve participated in a craft fair, you know the importance of having people see your items in person…touch them, examine the quality up close. It isn’t always easy selling things over the internet because people can’t have that experience. With the Sampler, a shopper gets a whole box of items where they can see up close exactly how well made your item is. They can also get exposed to a whole group of crafters that they may not have otherwise know about. With all the amazing craft sites out there, its difficult to find that thing that sets you apart from the competition. By contributing to the Sampler, you’ve made more of an impact because the customer already has a sample of your work in their hands.

4) What is the best piece of press a Sampler contributor has
ever received due to one of your mailings?

hmmm…I don’t think any single piece of press was better than another. In each case, it is usually a pretty big deal for the crafter. Our contributors get featured regularly in Venus, Craft, Bust and can often be found in Real Simple, Readymade, and even Better Homes and Gardens. We’ve heard from lots of our participants to be on the watch for these magazines’ holiday gift guides for many more features! My favorite bit of press was from when we participated in a gift lounge for the 2006 MTV Movie Awards. Anne Heche was photographed wearing a sleep mask by Hambone & Jennicakes, which ended up in OK! Magazine

5) Tell me about The Sampler Coloring Book, I just discovered
it and I am totally smitten!

Back when the Sampler started, we needed content to get people interested in coming back to the site. We had lots of fun stuff: games, coloring pages, and interviews. As the Sampler has grown & changed, some of these things have had to take a back seat to the mailings…but they will be back next year!