Lessons From a Dumpster Dive

Last week as I was running errands in town, I noticed giant sample books sticking out of the trash can at an interior decorator’s shop.  I gathered up my nerve and went in and asked if she would mind if I took them.  She was happy to give them to me and even helped me load them in the truck!

I had no idea what kind of samples were in the books, but one of my quilting friends runs a Girl Scout troop and they can always use art supplies.  Last month she made little worry dolls with the girls, and I thought maybe these samples could become blankets or rugs for worry doll shoe box houses.

It turned out these samples were for window coverings, and the more I went through the boxes, the more amazed I became. So much thought went into the product presentation — not only to make the product attractive to customers, but to make the samples organized, informative, and long-lasting.

The boxes themselves are covered in interesting fabrics, with magnets keeping them closed.  The handles look like they belong on purses, and the little chain holding the logo tags even has a lobster clasp, like a nice bracelet.

Nice hardware for a catalog.

Then you get into the actual samples.  Every color of every product is represented!

Tempting stacks of samples to peruse.

One deck of samples, fanned out.

Samples are framed in matte board for color and opacity comparison.

What really struck me most was the organization.  Every sample has an information label, every product has a section header with size and content info, and every single thing is labeled with where it belongs in the sample box!  Most of the information is for the customer, but there is also information for the interior decorator, about displaying and re-storing the samples.

Plastic display board that demonstrates how the shades roll up.

A few years ago, I saw how much work goes into simple paint chip cards on How It’s Made —

and that gave me a clue as to the number of decisions and processes that must have gone into making these elaborate sample boxes.

My own work is much less structured.  I have followed the example of the Greek potters that I learned about a few years ago, and tried to just go ahead and get a piece finished with the idea of the moment and the materials I have on hand.

My usual routine is to choose a cute pattern from my files, and then amend it to fit whatever material I have on hand.  I might see a pattern for a quilt of fall leaves, made in silk, and change it around to make a quilt of daisies made out of pink polka dot cotton.  I feel like I have accomplished a well-thought-out project when I have completed four steps – cutting, piecing, quilting, binding.  If I was really on a roll, I might embellish with some beads or buttons.

But seeing the amount of planning and design in these sample boxes made me think about the opposite approach — what would it be like, if just once, I planned a project down to the nuances of hardware choices, fonts, and labels?

I don’t know if I ever will, but it’s something to think about.