A tale of two custom orders

Kids having fun
After my last craft show, I decided to try an experiment. Instead of making all my upcycled book cases ahead of time, I would make some to order. Customers could tell me what kind of tablet they had, and I'd make the case to fit it. They could also choose the lining fabric.

Here are the first results of my experiment.

Custom order #1: A complicated collaboration

Jane* wrote me to say she'd fallen in love with a tablet case I'd sold in the past -- Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. By any chance, she asked, did I have another copy of the same book?
retro kids book made into tablet case
Nope. But I'd be happy to look around. I couldn't find the exact same one, but luckily, "Uncle Arthur" was prolific, publishing multiple volumes, each with a Norman Rockwell-esque illustration on the cover. I gave Jane several options, then ordered the one she liked from a fellow Etsy seller. This one:
retro kids book
Hooray! The custom order was inching closer to completion.  Or so I thought. I received my order quickly, but it took me a few days to realize it was the wrong Uncle Arthur book. It was this one. 
retro kids book
Oh, no! What would I say to Jane? But I was lucky -- the Etsy seller rushed me the correct book and graciously allowed me to keep the wrong one (phew -- no need to confess I'd already sliced it apart). And Jane was very understanding about the delay.

The next step -- choosing the lining. I pulled a few fabrics from my stash and sent Jane photos. She liked them but...she wanted to look around just in case there was a better option. And there was -- she found this fun, retro fabric online and sent it to me.
cute kitten fabric
I love it! The red background matches the fire truck on the book cover perfectly. And best of all, Jane didn't want the extra fabric back (seriously?) How did she know I love cats?

Here's the finished case. It only took 4 people (me, Jane, and 2 other online sellers). I hope Jane likes it as much as I do!
custom tablet case finished

Custom order #2: An easy-to-please 8-year-old

My next custom order came from a mom who wanted a case for her young son. She choose this one from my Etsy shop.
retro science textbook
I'd gotten it just a few weeks before. It was over 50 years old, but in near-perfect shape. I love the retro illustrations inside.

So far so good. Next, fabric options. Luckily, some of the upholstery samples I'd gotten from Zero Landfill Seattle matched the colors and theme of the cover.

But I worried that an 8-year-old might have trouble choosing. Not at all -- his mother wrote back within hours. They chose Fabric #2:
choosing lining for tablet made from retro science textbook
Good choice! Did her son want a pocket on the inside panel? No, better not, answered his mom, who knows what he might decide to put in it? Thanks to mom's quick responses, I was able to finish this custom order in only a few days.

Ups and downs of custom orders

These 2 custom orders reminded me of what's good and what's hard about custom orders. I'd learned this lesson making custom Scrabble bracelets.

Custom orders mean more interaction -- between me and the customer and, occasionally, between me and another seller. It takes more time. But it also opens up new possibilities. The tablet case that Jane ended up with could not have come from me alone.

When I'm making something for a specific customer, it changes the way I work. It feels more serious. This is already paid for, after all. If I slice the book spine or drip glue on the lining, I can't just push the book aside and forget about it. I have to confess to a customer and try to make reparations. Can you tell I stress a bit?

Do you take (or make) custom orders? What's your experience?

* Not her real name.


  1. I rarely do custom orders - too much pressure to get something done in a prescribed time and then there's always a chance the customer will decide they don't like it. In weaving I've been lucky with custom orders in that the customers all loved their purchase but in custom dyeing wool customers have a certain idea in their mind for a color and when they see it in person it's not what they pictured - luckily I can eventually sell the custom dyed wool but it did take me much longer to attain those colors than my regular dyeing.

  2. I agree about the time pressure. So far, I haven't had any color complaints ; > Have you thought about asking folks to provide a color code (like CMYK or Pantone) so there's no disagreement?

  3. Also, I think the new Etsy design seems to encourage customers to ask for custom orders. I wonder why?

  4. I enjoy doing custom orders. Yes, they take more time, but I always learn so much from my customers that the extra time is worth it. And the final design probably never would have come about but for my customers' "visions" and ideas. As an added bonus, it's fun working together!


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