On a busy Sunday afternoon, Liz Scott chatted with customers about her wares at Lakeside’s Local Makers Market.
Known as The Patchwork Punk, Scott makes handmade pillows, figures and bags from her home in Mechanicsville and sells them at local markets around town.
It’s a long way from her former job as a cake decorator at BJ’s Wholesale and before that as a shift chief at Taco Bell.
Scott was one of 47 million people who resigned or changed jobs during the pandemic, known as The Great Resignation. But instead of starting a new gig, Scott used her incentive checks to buy a “posh” new Singer sewing machine and launch her company as The Patchwork Punk.
“I’ve been sewing since I was a little kid,” Scott said.
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During the pandemic, she started sewing masks before they were mass-produced. When there was no longer a demand for homemade masks, she started flipping through her old sewing patterns and found a pattern for plush stuffed animals. “I was like, Hey, I could make that!”
She started making stuffed animals with big eyes and brightly colored anti-pill fleece. People responded. Then she learned how to make the basic structure herself. Now her stuffed animals are more complicated — she makes dinosaurs, bearded dragons, crested geckos, and more, selling them for $45 to $125.
Scott started selling her items on Etsy and in local markets, but stopped selling on Etsy when the site increased their rates. Now she sells her items on Instagram and on her own website. But she says she sees the majority of her customers in local locations like Lakeside’s Local Makers Market and Safe Space Market.
“The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the labor market. At some point, all non-essential businesses were told to close if employees couldn’t do their jobs from home,” said Chris Chmura, CEO and chief economist at Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics. “When it was safe enough for more businesses to open, time away from work gave people time to consider alternatives. Some chose to look for more flexible jobs. Others found new careers, alternative employers or created even a new startup.
“Workers often consider such changes during their careers, but the pandemic gave them a quiet place to brood on the next chapter of their lives.”
More than 472 million payments totaling $803 billion in emergency financial assistance went to households affected by the pandemic, according to the US government. In Virginia, more than $19 billion in stimulus checks were released to households during the pandemic.
According to data from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, most households spent their first stimulus check on household necessities, while the second and third stimulus checks were kept or used to pay off debt.
And some recipients, like Scott, used it to start their own businesses. But it hasn’t all been easy for Scott. Now 37, she had to go back to her father’s house in Mechanicsville to make ends meet. And she works harder than ever before. But it’s worth it, she said.
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When she worked as a shift chief at Taco Bell, she said she drove to work one morning and was fed up with the inconvenient hours and low pay she daydreamed of driving into oncoming traffic.
“I got out at the next exit, called and quit my job,” Scott said.
She then moved on to a job as a cake decorator at BJ’s Wholesale. But again, she ran into the same problems: inconvenient hours and low pay. Although she worked part-time, she said she would work up to seven days a week.
“That was the breaking point for me. I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work for me,’ Scott said.
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She tried to look for another job, but she couldn’t find one. “I realized, ‘I have to hurry,'” Scott said. Then she started The Patchwork Punk.
Scott said she’d like to make enough money to get her own place, but with the rise in rents around Richmond — which are now up to $1,300 a month in the metropolitan area, according to data from the CoStar Group — she’s not. think that will happen soon.
Either way, the job change was worth it, Scott said.
“Before, I had never been satisfied with the work I was doing. It was never anything creative. It was food service and retail. I’ve just had enough,” she said.
Now she can be creative every day. Whether she’s picking up hard-to-find fabrics at local quilt shops like Quilting Adventures on Lakeside Avenue or buying new merchandise like bags made from recycled materials, every day is a new challenge, mentally and physically. Scott hopes to grow her business and is saving for an embroidery machine.
“I work harder and longer for less money, but I don’t want to drive against traffic anymore,” she said. “And I’m starting to get close to making the same money as before the pandemic.”
PHOTOS: The Patchwork Punk