1000 words

These are two pieces from my Etsy shop. While the pieces themselves are pretty awesome (if I do say so myself), the photos leave a lot to the imagination.

And that's why I've decided to take new photos. Like these:

While making a photo light box can be easy - or complicated - I think I've found a really simple, inexpensive way to create a light box effect.


87¢ of Bristol board - or heavy posterboard.  And my laundry room with a south-facing window and useful shadows.

It also helps to have a someone in your house who knows about white balance and shadows in photography, too.

I'm going to be spending my weekend re-shooting all of my pieces for my store. It's a small - but beneficial - part of the marketing plan that I'm 'launching' tomorrow. Another part of that plan is a re-tooling of this blog, which includes a slight re-design and the addition of additional pages. Forewarned is forearmed, so don't be too surprised to see a new layout this weekend. I hope.


Relief... but not relaxation

Crazy, insane, busy day today. I'm tackling a nasty to-do list that will hopefully be cleared off by the end of the day. Amongst the wonderfully fun things I am attempting today are:
  • a marketing strategy and plan. Aren't they the same thing? Heck, no. It's like I'm re-living grade 11 Accounting all over again.
  • spreadsheets. Two of them - a 'cost per produced item' one and my business ledger. Again, grade 11 accounting is finally paying off.
  • banners, avatars and redesigns. I'm not happy with the banner here or on my Etsy store (same with the avatar there), so I've been tinkering with them all for about a week now. I should have specs done in about a week.
  • making a light box. Oh, yes, I will... from scratch. Or I'll try to make one, give up and continue to use the floor of my war-time house as the background for my product photos.
  • product descriptions. Now that I've had my store up and running for a few weeks and haven't had a sale yet, I'm starting to look at why people like to look at my stuff but not purchase it. Part of what I've come up with is going to be the marketing strategy and plan; the other part - and probably the most important part - is how I present what I am selling. Re-photographing all of my pieces is one step, but the descriptions I have written for the pieces themselves needs work. It's going to be a very 'yay for thesauri' project. 
Keith has agreed to watch Maddy today and I'm eternally grateful for that. I should have the entire afternoon to get through the majority of this... and I have to get it done. I set April 1 as the 'launch date' for my marketing to start and I refuse to let another deadline pass me by. Time management is a big issue for me (and us as a family, really) right now and if I can't start arranging my own work time properly, then what's the point of trying to get this business off the ground?

I should probably get to work on that list now. *sigh*


Taking missteps

Things are... progressing. Slowly, but surely... I'm having issues finishing anything I've started, usually because I get lost halfway through. This week, I've learned the benefits of reading - and following - instructions, SLOWLY, as well as trying to keep myself from becoming too overwhelmed. Of course, both of those lessons went in one ear (eye?) and right out the other. Yee. Haw.

I've started half a dozen projects this week and I think I could theoretically put on in my store. That's not only a lot of wasted time, but a lot of wasted material. I figure that within the last week, I spent close to 20 hours working just on these projects - that's just the cutting and sewing, keep that in mind. And I've got one semi-reasonable piece to put in my store. Yikes. At this rate, I'm going to have a lot - A LOT - of 'flawed' pieces to give away to family and friends.

But I'm trying to stay positive by looking at different designs and procedures that might make my job - or my attempt at it - a bit easier. I'm not a professional seamstress by any stretch - I'm a recreational one, if anything. But I know my limits and don't want to start thinking I can do things that are well beyond my abilities (which usually results in... that's right, wasted time and materials). There's also that risk of boredom if I stick with doing one thing, over and over again.

Which is why I was quite happy to find two books in Chapters' online store that I could finally use the $30 gift card I got for Christmas on.

Bags of Inspriation and Carry Me were the two books I ended up choosing. There were hundreds of others I may have liked, but these two seemed to be the ones that would (a) help me come up with some new ideas and (b) teach me some new techniques in the easiest and simplest ways possible.

 A few of the projects in Carry Me.

I haven't had much of a chance to really go through either of them, but from the brief glimpses I've had, these books are going to help me a lot. There are some things that I'm just not interested in in both books, but for the most part, they both are definitely worth the price (and Carry Me includes the pattern pieces for each project in the back... big, BIG help).

For the time being, I'm going to keep plugging away at what I've started to branch out into this week - wallets (not just for carrying cards anymore!), laptop sleeves and brush/pen rolls. I wish that I had more time - or at least more consecutive time - to do my work. The start-stop work pattern that exists for me is very, very challenging and I'm finding that my to-do list is just getting pushed back every day. It's a daily battle - work on projects or attempt to get some business stuff done?

Sigh... maybe sleep is overrated...


In honour of spring...

Old Twitter background.
New Twitter background.

Next up, this blog.  However, with Blogger announcing new templates, I may wait a bit. Or try one of the new templates out. All depends on how much procrastination I can fit in.
(Both backgrounds were designed with Adobe Illustrator CS4.)


Spring has sprung

And has it ever... when Keith left the house at 3:30 this afternoon, there were only a few sprouts. At 5pm, there were hundreds.


Lessons learned

Spring is apparently here. It's been here for a few weeks, actually, which is a bit unheard of in my neck of the woods. The sight of green grass and warmer temperatures has made a lot of people - including me, for the most part - happier. I wouldn't say that there's a great outbreak of SAD around here, but months of cold and only 8 hours of sun and 2+ feet of snow makes people grumpy. Myself included.

I've managed to introduce four new pieces to my Etsy store this week. I had intended on a few more, but buttonholes got the best of me. Lousy - and kind of inexplicable - excuse, I know, but it's true. And I have a photo to prove it.

I have tried to make buttonholes with my sewing machine, using the handy-dandy buttonholer attachment. Failed miserably. So I figured that they had to make buttonholes with hand at some point in history and did some research.

That photo above? Yeah, that's what I ended up with, following the instructions. I wouldn't say I'm an expert embroiderer or needlepointer, but I am decent. That button hole there? Eep. Wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. I had done up a couple of other wallets with the handmade buttonholes and decided that they were not worth attempting to sell... the holes turned out so bad that I felt bad even giving them to Maddy to play with.

I've come to accept the fact that I cannot make buttonholes to save my life. I love buttons, though, so what to do with a cookie tin of random buttons (vintage, military, tiny, massive, all kinds)? I think I have a solution: I have a few dozen sew-on snaps in silver, black and clear. I'm going to try using them as the actual closure, while using a button as a decoratation on the outside... if that makes any sense.

Over the next few days, I hope to be posting a bit more what I'm doing - and hope to do - as well as what blogs I'm addicted to for inspration and ideas. And, with fingers crossed for some free time, there's always the potential of some cosmetic changes coming to this blog... or not. I'd side with not at this point in the week. Heck, I'd say it's a sure bet right now :)


Perchance, to dream


Being the mom to a 14-almost-15 month old, I don't get a lot of sleep. Especially right now with two teeth coming in... I can hardly wait until this stage is completely over.

Long story, short, I have four new pieces in my Etsy store and hope to have at least one more up by the end of this week. No major appointments (yet) or out-of-town trips to take, so I should be able to get some work done that does not involve spreadsheets or calculators.

And I will have a new post tomorrow, perhaps in the morning. It all depends on how Maddy sleeps tonight and how I'm feeling in the morning. There wasn't enough coffee in the world this morning to help me find my bearings... perhaps it was a good thing she went for an early nap at 8:30 am.


Keeping above water

This is what my desk currently looks like.

I may try to straighten it up later today, but laundry and finishing up some pieces for my Etsy store are a bit more of a priority. And taking care of Maddy. And trying to sort out the grocery flyers for next week's shopping trip.

And that is why my desk looks like a disaster area. I will say, though, that I can be organized when I have to be. Anything that is really important - personal info, financial info, etc - is open, reviewed and filed away pretty quickly. It's all the extra stuff that piles up... like my 1970s headphones (which still rock today), month-old flyers and hand creams that seem to multiply like Gremlins.

I will be posting lightly this weekend as my favourite fabric store is having a massive sale and I'm in need of some new material and notions to work with.  I will post an update on my store when (not if) I've got the new pieces up and will try to post something about what I plan on attempting next.

Have a good weekend!


Meandering about

Since I opened my store, it's been a little difficult to keep motivated. No sales - yet - and the realization that I made a massive mistake in the pricing of my products haven't helped. I fixed the pricing problem (I underpriced my bags by a good 40%) and now I'm waiting for a sale. One of the great things about Etsy is the community, and with that community comes some awesome and invaluable resources. The Etsy Seller Handbook has been a lifesaver. I didn't do a lot - or any, really - research before I launched my store and now there's a lot to catch up on, but the handbook has been nothing less than a godsend. I highly recommend it to anyone just starting out with an Etsy store and little-to-no experience in running a business.

I have managed to crank out a dozen or so new pieces. I finally learned how to do a proper lining, "designed" a new card holder (the green argyle/white piece in the bottom of the photo above would be the new "design"... really, it was just something that was going one way, didn't work so I tried something else), and wasted a fair bit of scrap material trying to come up with a brush/pen wrap that just did not want to work. It's been a bit of a frustrating week.

I went into this knowing that bags/wallets were not going to be the only thing I would produce. There's no way I could be content pigeon-holing myself like that; I still hope to do a bit of graphic design, probably artistic prints, for my store and I am working on prepping a bunch of photos to put up for sale. Spreading myself to thin is always a worry, but at this point, things are going fairly well... especially now that I'm caught up on the bookkeeping that was being put off, and off, and off.

A somewhat-aside: for patterns, go to BurdaStyle.  I love the selection and variety of patterns they have, even the free ones that members have come up with... these two have caught my eye and will likely be added to the pile of things I want to try.

Now that I've got a new pile of pieces to finish up - buttons, snaps, velcro, not to mention checking on wonky threads and weird seams - I'm going to step back and try to get working on a cloth book that's been in the bottom of one of my material baskets for a few months.

I read the Peter Rabbit series when I was young; someone in Keith's family gave Maddy Peter Rabbit for Easter last year. She's at that age where she's learning a lot and if I can tie rabbits together with the alphabet, I'll do it. The book is all on one piece of material, which is great, but the instructions don't make a lick of sense. I'm hoping that my mom can help me decipher them tomorrow when I take it out to their place to cut up. Worst case scenario - I can make a bunch of quilt blocks to frame for Maddy's room.

I'm hoping that things pick up soon with the store. It hasn't gotten completely desperate yet, and I don't actually see that ever happening, but it's a bit of a kick to the ego when people don't buy your stuff. But it is March... people still have Christmas bills to pay off and if people are like us, they're starting to come out of their hibernation modes. I can come up with a million excuses and rationalize every single one of them... sometimes, it's the only thing that can keep a person going.


Number cruncher

I'm back from the mini-holiday we took, visiting family in the eastern portion of the province.  Sadly, no little helpful gnomes broke in and did all the tedious, but necessary, work that I've been putting off for a while now.

So I get to spend my evening doing spreadsheets and cost analysis thingies. Oh, the joy.

Still working on getting organized and should have a semi-stable schedule starting tomorrow, which means *hopefully* some new product. I'll try to post some progress photos at the very least tomorrow night after Maddy's in bed.

I'm having sudden flashbacks of grade 11 Accounting with the pile of paperwork that I have to enter. Blergh.


Exploring the options

When I decided I was going to start a business, the biggest challenge wasn't learning how to run the business... no, it was coming up with a name. I have an odd - and lengthy (both in terms of time and explanation) - connection to gnomes and wanted to call the business gnome-something. I searched for other businesses that had gnome-something names and every single one I'd thought of was gone.

So I resorted to using a thesaurus to come up with a name. Imp, elf, troll, imp, pixie, sprite... none of them struck a chord with me. I wasn't going to give up, though.  I googled 'thesaurus gnome' and the name I needed turned up in the results: nisse. Long story, short - a nisse is a household gnome who works at night, keeping the family and farm safe.

Two problems remained, once I settled on the name: 1) how to pronounce it - just like 'niece'; and 2) a logo.

My first attempt at a logo:

Do. Not. Like. 

I liked it when I came up with it. The more I saw it though... yeah, no. It was bland and boring. Safe. It'd be nice for a high-end collection of china, but not for what I plan on doing. 

Almost every logo I've designed up to this point looks like my first logo - straighforward, takes no chances, right to the point. This new one is a bit flashier. I wouldn't call it risky by any means, but it's definitely outside my comfort zone. I like that it's got a tried-and-true (for me, anyway) element to it - white text on black background - but the use of a calligraphic brush in Illustrator to create the 'background' was something I've tried before but was always disapointed with.

And now that I've printed up a whole pile o' business cards, I'm kind of stuck with it. I'm sure that over time, it will change, but for the moment, it says what I want it to. Or, at least, I hope it does... it's all part of this branding thing I keep reading about (or I think it does).

We're going out of town for the next three days to my sister and her husband's in Winnipeg and then up to Keith's parents' in Beausejour. I've already got a pile of paperwork to take with me, most of which is hopefully going to help me make my Etsy store better. I don't know how much time I'll actually get to work on anything, but it's a 2-hour drive to Winnipeg and then another hour to Beausejour, so I might get something done.

I'm also hoping to come back from this mini-vacation rejuvenated a bit. I'm starting to get a little weary of making the same thing over and over again, and it worries me. I don't want to stop being creative but I also don't want to burn out. There's a decent stack of patterns waiting to be experimented with when I get back; only question is am I willing to take a stab at trying them.


Judging the book by it's cover

I like notebooks. Well, more journals than notebooks, but that's beside the point.  If you ask my sister, she'll tell you how much I like journals.

Too much.

I have a stash of notebooks in a plastic tub in our crawlspace for two reasons: 1) I don't have room up here to store 10-15 books like that; and 2) I refuse to use them.

I know I'm not the only person who buys beautiful and unique notebooks and doesn't do a thing with them. I've moved them, looked at them, put them on display... but won't write in them. They're just too... precious, for lack of a better term. I have a lot I could put in them, but nope... just can't do it.

At least until last year.  I have 3 Moleskine Plain Cahier Journals that I picked up on eBay 5 or 6 years ago. It wasn't until I started seriously thinking about what I was going to do as a business that I finally broke down and used one. It wasn't as painful as I thought it was going to be... in fact, it was kind of liberating.

Once I decided what I was going to do for a living (or attempt to do for a living), there was only one notebook I could use.

I can't remember when - or where - I picked this notebook up. The cover is a soothing tan suede that is a bit rough, but I like it. The wraparound tie has broken twice since it became the notebook, but it's still long enough to do up. It sits open well, the binding is almost perfect and it takes ink quite well. (I use a Pilot Hi-Techpoint V7 Grip most of the time - in blue and black; the rest of the time it's whatever ballpoint I can find.) I love this book and should I ever find another one (or 5), I will definitely be picking it up.

Right now, I've got the tan notebook and two of the three Moleskines in use. I try to always have a book in whatever bag I'm carrying, too, for jotting down notes or quick sketches. I'm still working on a system for keeping pens and pencils attached to the books, which I'm hoping ends up as something that is not only functional but marketable. There's also an idea that's been bouncing around for a few days for a mini-messenger bag that would be able to hold a notebook - or even a netbook - some pens and maybe a pocket (or two) for clips or sticky notes...

And they said I wasn't creative in high school... pfft. 


Making strides

I'm not the most organized person in the world. I actually cropped the photo of my to-do list above so the disaster that is my desk wouldn't be made public. I will say, however, that as disorganized as I am, I can usually find things with little-to-no problem. That's because I have disorganized piles... that's the key. Piles.

With this new business venture (which you can find here - nisseworks Etsy store), I've been trying to get some kind of structure into my life, which isn't exactly the easiest thing with a 14-month old. For the most part, this is a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation... at this point. There's the ongoing search for spreadsheets that I can use to keep track of profits, inventory and costs vs. pricing. I have some experience using spreadsheets, but most of that was when I was in high school, 17 years ago, so there's a slight learning curve to that particular aspect of running a business.

I have some inventory - completed product - that I haven't listed yet, but I plan on having at least one product listed a week. If not more, depending on how sales go... I don't want to put 100 things the store and sell nothing because it's so saturated; I'd rather put 30-40 pieces in the store and hopefully hit the right markets with good quality work.

Having a 14-month old and being a work-from-home mom is infinitely harder than I would have ever expected. My iPod Touch - which may end up being the best Mother's Day gift EVER - lets me do a lot of the things I used to do when Maddy was down for her nap. And yes, I will take a few minutes, usually once an hour, to do a quick tour through my email, Facebook, Twitter and Etsy... and then I get back to spending time with Maddy, which lately usually involves getting her off the sidetable and away from the shoes.

Finding time to do anything that involves a stretch of time longer than an hour is really hard. I'm lucky that Keith is willing to watch Maddy on his days off and has no problem taking her out for the afternoon if I need some peace and quiet (with our house, my office is in the corner of the living room, right where Maddy plays, so it's rarely calm). I'm trying to set up some kind of schedule for nisse.works-work that still lets me do all the mom and household stuff that I've been doing for the last year or more.

What do I hope to get out of all of this? Happiness, for one. I'm tired of being inexplicably angry at my job, which ends up seeping into the rest of my life. I honestly think that working for myself, even if it doesn't bring in as much money as my last few jobs have, is going to be one of the best things I can do. There's also the whole working from home/raising my daughter thing, too... childcare was just not an option (without having to work 2 jobs, anyway) for us, so this was the only choice we could make.

I'm hoping to plow through quite a few of those points on that to-do list before it gets much bigger. Keith has already agreed to take on a few things for me (research, picking up loan/grant apps), which I appreciate so very much, and we're working on shifting some of the household chores so there aren't any more laundry-dishes-supper-making days that fall into one person's lap.


Head-bopping, toe-tapping goodness

I work better when there's music around me. I've tried to come up with a perfect playlist on iTunes to help me keep motivated and failed miserably.

But a few months ago, I found my saviour.


Seriously, check them out. The variety of stations is impressive and there's something for everyone... I swear. I'm hooked on Sentimental Journey and Vegas Baby, and I'm only 33. And their holiday stations  are on ALL YEAR ROUND. See how awesome this station is?

And they have apps for mobile devices. No excuses.. go check it out now.


Mad skills

When we had our daughter last year, Keith and I knew that we'd have to make some changes, one of the biggest of which was our finances. It's not like we were spending all our money on crap or constantly living right on the edge of the poverty line, but with an additional body in the house - and my decision to be a work-from-home mom - we had to make some adjustments.

The easiest way, I thought, to juggle the finances was to stop our reliance on store-bought, prepared, packaged food. I've always liked to cook and bake, thanks to my parents encouraging me as a young kid to learn how to use the appliances in the kitchen. I still remember making my dad a variation on the Denver omelette when I was 7 or so. One of the first badges I got in Brownies was for baking. I find being in the kitchen pretty relaxing, for the most part.

Then there's the 12 or so years I spent working in restaurant kitchens. But that's for another time.

My mom was the biggest influence in my cooking aspirations. She didn't go back to work until my younger sister was 6, so she had a full meal for us 5 nights a week (Friday and Saturdays were her 'nights off'). Mostly simple meals, always meat-potato-veggie. I imagine that her upbringing - a widower for a father, the only female in the house, heavy influence from the Scottish grandfather living with them - had a lot to do with the straightforwardness of most meals. I don't remember having anything as extravagant as lasagna until I was 11. We grew up without sugared cereals (but always had brown sugar available to coat our puffed wheat) or tinned pasta... and even after living on my own for almost 14 years now, I'm perfectly okay not having either. Guess we weren't really missing out on much.

About a year ago, my mom decided it was high time I learned how to bake bread.

I was terrified.

Bread, from what other people had told me, was one of the easiest things to do. I'd seen cooks on TV make bread and it just looked so finicky. I didn't want to deal with that.

Long story, short... I can make bread with the best of them now.

Even if the recipe I use is completely different from the one that everyone else uses (milk? nope. eggs? nope. overnight proofing? heck no!).

The recipe I use is supposed to be for 4 loaves, but somehow I always manage to get 7 out of it - 5 plain, 2 cinnamon. I don't dare double the recipe because we don't have enough room in the freezers for 14 loaves of bread.


And yes, as a matter of fact, I do use my dryer in the third (!!) proofing round. There's a south-facing window right above it and the laundry room is the warmest room in the house. Two birds, one stone.

While the bread was rising on the dryer on Friday, I made a double-batch of baking powder biscuits from a cookbook of my grandmother's. I've made these biscuits a few times and they're great. The last batch I made, I added some shredded cheese and a few herbs just to add a bit of flavour. This time around, I threw in raisins, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a slightly brazen attempt to make something that resembled scones.

Once I figured out that if I didn't actually roll out the dough and just pressed it to about 1/2" thick, they worked great. Turned out fabulously and they're almost half gone already.  Maddy LOVES them, I'm definitely putting them into the regular baking rotation and Keith... I think he likes them. He must. He eats them when I offer him one.


Making bread has become a biweekly event; I've been trying to get some other baking done during those days, too, to take advantage of the hot oven. I think next time it's going to be a toss-up between these biscuits and the mini chocolate chip cookies that I have to give away to people almost as soon as they come out of the oven, as I would eat every single one of them if I was given the chance.

Cooking, baking, sewing... geez, you'd think I enjoyed being all domestic or something.


A slight uptick

We've been pretty lucky - and not - this year. It certainly hasn't been as cold as it usually is. There were no stretches of -40C longer than a few days, but the snow... so much snow this year. It's nice to have the white stuff for snowmobilers and farmers, but come on... when the snow is even with our front porch landing, it's a bit much.

This week, we've seen the temperatures increase to daytime highs above freezing, which means added humidity and hoarfrost most mornings. I took these photos a few days ago when the frost was pretty thick, but only on the westward side of everything. A little odd, if you ask me.

I'm starting to go a little stir-crazy now that it's getting warmer. I've started thinking about my garden plans this year and whether or not I should expand the veggie garden and what to do about the flower gardens. And the rose bushes - move or leave them? That all depends on how many times Maddy runs into them once we get the fence up in the backyard and let her roam free.

I've got a pile of catch-up work to do - including a post that I'm going to attempt to get up tomorrow - before the weekend is over. Likelihood of actually getting through the entire pile? Slim to none, but it doesn't hurt to have a goal, right? Even it is futile :)


nisse.works is open and ready for business.

Finally :)

Tomorrow's an off day with baking and organizing taking precedence. Then back to the grind on Saturday, I guess. 

One of the heavier weights is off my shoulders. Now to work on getting rid of the others...


Just about there...

Today's the day.

*deep breath*

My Etsy store should be live by this evening, barring any tech disasters. I used my camera yesterday, so it should be good to go; my computer's kinda slow, so I'll shut it down while I'm taking product photos; I've got 99% of my bio/policies/etc. done, just need to get Keith to take a look at them.

There a slight feeling of trepidation with all of this - this is the first time I've put myself out there, things I've designed and created, for other people to see (and maybe, just mabye, buy). For the majority of my career, I was a faceless name, just someone who built ads for a living. Now, I'm completely and utterly responsible for everything - product, promotion, financing... terrifying, really.

But I should really get to work. *deep breath*



I'm not a web designer by any stretch, and the last 2 hours have proven - yet again - that I still haven't learned anything after trying to re-design the blogs I've had over the last 7 years.

I can make a mean batch of fudge, though... that counts for something. Right?

Taking a breath

In the crazy, hectic, nutso life I live, I've apparently decided to sign up for the 2010 lovely package exchange, hosted by oh, hello friend. I haven't got a clue what I'm going to put in my package, but I've already got an idea of how I'll be presenting it :)

Like I said, it's been a little busy here lately. Maddy is into - and on - everything, Keith's working longer shifts on what are usually his days off, the house just seems to be one small step away from being thrown into utter chaos... more or less, this is how it's been for the last 14 months.

I'm a few days away from officially opening my Etsy store. I've got quite a bit of product done with just some final, small details to finish up; the digital side of the store - the banner and avatar - are done, but I still have to get a bio/welcome message/buyer's message done up tonight. If I don't think of something new to sew.