Cathy Callahan spent a good portion of her professional career as a window dresser for indie boutiques in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Often when it was time for her window displays to come down, customers and passersby would want to purchase the things she’s made for display. Those requests sparked an indie craft business for Cathy who went on to sell her work at fairs like Renegade, Maker Faire, Bizarre Bazaar, and Felt Club, finding satisfaction in having her crafts live longer than just a month or two in a store window.
While she was developing her craft business, Cathy was also becoming a well-known blogger. Her blog, Cathy of California, was known as a source of vintage inspiration. Cathy has a long-standing love of vintage craft books and would order them on eBay, then post the beautiful, sometimes quirky images she found inside. For years, when you thought of a blogger who embraced 1960’s and 1970’s vintage style, you thought of Cathy. She appeared on the Martha Stewart Show in 2009 demonstrating how to make straw flowers and went on to publish a book with Chronicle, Vintage Craft Workshop, in 2011.
Last week Cathy chose to close down her blog for good. We’re Facebook friends and when she posted that the blog was going to disappear, I became curious abouty why she had decided to end this portion of her online crafty life. What makes a blogger of eight years decide that blogging is no longer something they need or want to do? Cathy’s story speaks to the way that online interactions between people in like-minded communities has changed over the last five years. When it comes down to it, the big question here is do you really need a blog in order to be successful as a professional crafter and designer now?
In an interview with CRAFT back in 2006 Cathy described her plans for her then brand new blog this way: “I have just launched my crafty website and blog. My blog will focus on crafts and design from the 1960s and 70s. I will be featuring images from my collection of vintage books, magazines and ephemera as well as some found photos,” and she stuck to this plan for several years
Reflecting on those first few months of blogging recently, Cathy described them this way. “I was really excited about it. I was getting ideas and I wanted other people to be as excited as I was. I just decided to start sharing all these images that I was finding in these amazing books. It just seemed to be my mission, my role in the craft world, to share all the inspiration from the ’60s and ’70s and I started getting this response like, ‘Oh my gosh. My mom made those. My grandma made those.”
At first I was excited and was posting almost daily. I will add at this point in my life I was caring for my mother who not doing very well. Doing a blog and making things to sell was a really good way for me to handle stress. I also had the time to blog so I wasn’t feeling pressured to post. I found a cool image, scanned it and up it went.
But things began to shift and her interest in keeping up the blog waned after several years.
I just read my blog start to finish before I shut it down. From my vantage point it was going really well from 2006 – 2009. It’s clear that I was excited and really into it. It started to get stale around 2009. That’s when it started to feel like a chore to me. In retrospect my idea of sharing vintage images perhaps just had about three years of life in it. And when you look back on 2006 blogging was the only game in town. Blogging is kind of time-consuming. But now there are other ways to share images and promote that take no time at all.
A blog at that time worked more or less your “calling card” – a place where you could let the world know what you were up to. But I was always out there meeting people and doing shows which is where most of my big opportunities came from. I think a lot of people thought that doing a blog was enough but to me it had to be backed up with in person interaction. The blog was a way for my publisher to see what I was all about, but my relationship with my editor began as an in person introduction through a friend who also worked at the publisher. Same holds true for my Martha appearance – my name was passed along to one of her producers by someone else who appeared on the show.
Because she wasn’t depending solely on her blog to develop business relationships, letting it slide didn’t feel terribly risky. And Cathy began to feel hemmed in both by the name of her blog and by its concept.
The name Cathy of California was kind of a joke. I needed a name for my Etsy shop and a friend made it up in about 15 seconds at Starbucks one morning. The idea stemmed from products that were sold in the 60s that were labeled “_______of California”. It seemed to stick and then that’s what I named my blog. Also at that time it seemed like everyone had their ‘craft name.’ Here’s the thing: that name will now forever be associated with a ‘vintage’ and that is limiting to me in terms of how I’m growing my business. Going by my own name makes much more sense and gives me more options.
Cathy will be launching an updated version of her website soon, with a focus on the jewelry, accessories, and home collections that she’s now working on full-time. There will be a nod to the old Cathy of California in an “inspiration” section of the site where you’ll be able to browse images of things that inspire her, including a selection of images from her old blog.
If you’re a long-time blogger like Cathy (and me), have you ever felt hemmed in by your blog? Has the popularity and ease of Instagram or Facebook made blogging less fun, or less relevant? And if you’re newer to the online craft scene, do you feel like having a blog is necessary for success now? Can you point to other designers and makers who have found success without a blog?
P.S. If you’re interested in how blogging can change as you change you might like this post on the benefits and pitfalls of inhabiting a tiny niche.