Stephanie Woodson is a sewing blogger. She moderates a Facebook group for sewing bloggers, she’s guest posted on Sew Mama Sew, and most recently she’s had a tutorial published in Stitch magazine. It’s safe to say she’s an active participant in the online sewing community.
This isn’t the first online community that Stephanie has been a part of, though. For four years Stephanie was an avid online sweepstaker. She spent hours each day entering sweepstakes in the hope of winning prizes and cash payouts. Last week Stephanie and I were talking and I asked her how her former online community compares to her current one. Are sweepstakers like sewing bloggers? Is there a cultural difference in the way people interact online between these two groups?
What she told me was really fascinating and speaks to what I see as the specialness of the online sewing community, specifically our support and encouragement of one another’s creative pursuits and our celebration of each other’s successes.
Here is Stephanie’s story.
When was the last time you earned $10,000 in under five minutes? You might scoff when you see an, ‘Enter for a chance to win X,Y, or Z,’ commercial flash across your TV screen, but for four years I would dash for a pen and paper to write down the details. My first prize was a backpack full of school supplies from Mead, delivered to my college dorm hall. I ripped open the box and gleefully waved the nondescript black bag at the bored upperclassman sitting behind the desk, saying ‘I won this! It was free!’. He was not impressed, but I sure was.
Slowly I became more strategic. I discovered that I could scan online sweepstakes forums for leads and listings and set up Google alerts for specific prizes. I called my mom, elated when I won my first ‘real’ prize – $300 in cash from ABC’s ‘ Brothers & Sisters’. I was hooked.
There is an entire online sweepstaking world where people trade information, brag about their wins, and discuss tactics. I hesitate to call it a community, though, because no one seems to forget that by sharing information they’re hurting their odds of winning. Once I posted about an iPad win, for example, and instantly received a message warning me to keep quiet until I’d received it; apparently some people try to disqualify winners before they are confirmed, in the hopes of earning the prize for themselves. It’s more like a pack of wolves than a family.
After graduating from college I worked in the non-profit field where planning events and managing volunteers on a slim budget maxed out my mental and emotional energy. After work I entered online sweepstakes to relax and recharge. Sitting on the couch with my husband, watching TV, while typing my email thousands of times in a row was perfectly satisfying. I continued to win $100 and $200 checks regularly enough to keep me entering, and then finally hit it big. I got an email from CBS informing me that I was the winner of the 2012 Survivor Player of the Week sweepstakes. I won $10,000. That was best envelope I’ve ever opened!
I continued to enter daily as we started planning to have a child, searching for anything baby related and plugging away as my belly got bigger. I stopped working a few months before my due date and spent more time browsing Pinterest, glancing wistfully at my inherited sewing machine, collecting dust, and I began to feel my interest in sweepstakes wane. I thought more about what I wanted to make for my son. I browsed sewing blogs, trying to convince myself to try just one more project after several previous failed attempts to teach myself how to sew.
I finally started sewing and ended with something I was proud of and excited about: an Amy Butler pouf. Working from home in a new city, my audience to share my new interest in sewing with was limited to my husband and my dog. I started to think more about starting a blog devoted to crafting and dove in on a WordPress site in September of 2012.
This is the Grainline Scout Tee I sewed using silk from an oversized men’s button down I found at Goodwill.
What I didn’t expect was how fulfilling it was to have a mental challenge once I became a stay-at-home mom. Right now, for example, my brain hurts from trying to learn shooting in manual mode on my DSLR camera, using Inkscape to digitize a pattern, and how to ‘waterfall’ ads. While I love spending time with my son and am happy I have the freedom of choice to stay at home, it gives me something to think about while he is building a block tower for the millionth time or I’m pushing him on the swing for 30 minutes straight.
What I also didn’t expect was the supportive relationships, and friendships, I would develop by being a part of the online sewing world. I started a sewing blogger group on Facebook and invited anyone I thought might be interested. Now the 550 bloggers in my group ask questions, share weekly posts, and spread the word about invitations for creative challenges and blog tours. Instead of receiving a virtual side-eye for sharing information like opportunities for publication like I used to in the sweepstaking world, people reciprocate and celebrate one another’s successes.
While I can’t remember the name of a single person I interacted with in the sweepstaking forums I haunted for four years, after just a year of being engaged in the sewing blog community I have friends across the United States, and all over the world, who I’d invite out for coffee in a heartbeat if I were nearby. My first paid craft pattern was just published in a magazine and a reader took the time to hunt down my blog and email me. Just as surreal as winning a big check, but more emotionally gratifying; a complete stranger liked my project and was going to make it herself!
It’s easy to think that I won the $10,000 for five minutes of work when I was sweepstaking, but I am positive that if I’d accounted for all the hours I put into it over the years, the hourly wage would be laughable.Tweaking my blog’s ad strategy and having a project get positive feedback gives me the same thrill as searching out unique and poorly publicized sweepstakes – but it will hopefully snowball into a long-term income stream and a sustainable and fulfilling career for me.
When I worked full-time I always had proof of my day; whether it was an empty inbox or a productive meeting. Staying at home with my son can easily slip into Groundhog Day, with no supervisor talking about my progress and no evidence that I accomplished anything. Entering 30 sweepstakes during nap time often yielded nothing but a dent in the couch. Sewing something, editing photos, sketching out a new toy idea all energize me; the act of creating and documenting the process keeps my mind engaged and makes me a better parent outside of naptime. There is one major similarity between the two hobbies and phases of my life that stands out, though. When I talk about what I do in my spare time the reaction is exactly the same as when I was a sweepstaker: “huh?”
Catch up with Stephanie on her blog, SwoodsonSays. And if you’re interested in the concept of contests and giveaways as they relate to the sewing world, you might like my post, The Real Truth About Blog Giveaways.
Are you a part of another online community separate from sewing? Is the culture similar or different? I’m wondering what factors you see as contributing to how a communal online culture develops.