Shifting gears

I keep saying that I'm busy and that things are crazy, but in reality, things aren't that busy or that crazy. I've been trying for 4 or 5 months now to start up a business that is floundering, through no fault of my own. There's been an insanely intense learning curve along with the start of this business, something I wasn't really prepared for. I'm not saying that I'm ready to throw in the towel and get a job in "the real world", as some people like to tell me... I'm not sure what I'm ready to do, but it's not quit.

There's been a lot of debate lately - both internally and with Keith - about what I hope to get out of *all of this*, this business I've attempted to start. I still question myself, almost daily, if sewing cute bags (and I do think they're cute, and I don't think much is cute beyond baby animals and Maddy) is what I should be doing as a career. I like sewing, but is it an effective way to express my creativity.

I had decided a couple of months ago to use July to make non-Etsy pieces - things I was planning on selling at the two craft sales I'm hoping to be in this fall. I'm still sorting out what exactly I'm going to do up, but so far the list includes:
  • pin cushions, if only because I need another one.
  • needle books, because I definitely need some to store my embroidery needles in, as the random bits of fabric that are tangled in the loose floss I have just doesn't work anymore.
  • small change purses/wallets, because I can make those with my eyes closed (and some look like I have... ahahahahahaha...whew)
  • key fobs/lanyards, because I may need one as the caribiner on my key ring is old and a pain in the butt.
That's all I've got so far, but that may be enough. Biting off way more than I can chew isn't beyond the realm of possibility, but time isn't exactly on my side for the rest of the summer and I like spending time outside. Choices, choices...

But if I want to be successful (and happy), then the ugly choices are going to have to be made on occasion. Fingers crossed, though, that the end result is worth it.

That gorgeous pink poppy in the lead-in photo was a lovely surprise in my garden last week when it bloomed. I remember seeing it last year, but nothing ever really came of it, beyond what I thought was a different kind of fern (the leaves are very fern-like, but hairier, for lack of a better term). This spring has been fairly wet (to put it mildly) and I wasn't expecting much to come of my backyard hodge-podge flower garden, outside of the usual daisies, hostas and tiger lilies.

But that poppy... there were five blooms all total. That photo doesn't do the brilliance of the coral of the petals justice... or the deep, royal purple of the centre of the flower. Just breathtaking... and a definite inspiration for a colour combination in a future piece.

We had a few storms and torrential downpours here on the weekend, so when I went out Sunday afternoon, I wasn't that surprised to see the petals gone from the flowers. But what was left - where opium is most commonly found - is just as stunning. I'm not someone who marvels over the beauty of plants and flowers for the most part (especially what some may consider to be 'classical' beauty), but I'm willing to say that the poppy - both in bloom and after - is the most beautiful flower I've ever seen.


Blood suckers

Can I tell you how much I hate mosquitoes?

They are making it really hard to enjoy what little summer we have. Because we're in the middle of the continent, far away from any major bodies of water that affect air currents, summer usually lasts 4 months AT MOST. More often than not, 3 months. It sucks.

I'm not a hot weather fan, but a nice day for me is between 20˙ and 25˙C (68˙-77˙F), sunny, with a light breeze (enough to move the leaves). Humidity and excessive heat make me grumpy and angry... and sticky.

It's been raining here a lot lately, which means we're stuck inside a lot. Because of this rain, there is lots of standing water means lots of mosquitoes, which means it's bloody annoying to be outside for more than 5 minutes at a time. We've been out a few times in the last week, covered in whatever insect repellant we have on hand, but still get bitten. So a few minutes outside end up being hours of scratching and days of scarring.

We want to go outside. We put up a fence and got Maddy toys to play with outside. I have a garden I need to take care of... outside. My city will not be spraying anytime soon, if at all...and only will mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus start appearing in the traps, and the province tells them to.

In the meantime, we're stuck inside. Today, I'm going to attempt to get some work done on my computer while Maddy plays. Depending on her mood, it should go well, but she's been rather cranky lately - probably due to not going outside as much - so we'll play it by ear.

If things go well, expect some changes to this blog. Additional pages, a new banner, some general tweaking... all depends on the clinginess of a moody 17 month old.


Spools of fun

One of the best purchases I made during the day of yard sale-ing was this wicker sewing box. I've been half-looking for one for a couple of months because the pencil case I use to store my embroidery floss and needles in is just not working. I know, I'm surprised too.

I picked up this box for $2. Perfect size, decent shape, the elastic to close it needs to be replaced, but for $2, you can't complain.

Two dollars for the box alone was a steal. The box and the contents for $2? When I showed my mom the contents, it was like we'd discovered some glorious treasure... but when you consider we're both seamstresses - of different skill levels, but still - and like nifty things, it was like finding a treasure.

There were many spools of thread. These five - the wooden spools - are probably going to end up sitting in my thread box forever, never to be used, because they're wooden spools. I don't expect that they're worth anything to a collector, but they're worth something to me, a history nut. Like the spool in the top left corner - from the T. Eaton Company, a company that was once the cornerstone of retail in Canada, and no longer exists. There are spools from J. & P. Coats (top right and bottom left) and Clark & Cos. Machine Cotton, two companies that merged into Coats & Clark, one of the premier notions companies around.

And then there's the Corticelli spool in the centre. I can't find anything about Corticelli the company (as in, I don't think it exists anymore), but did find this wonderful book - Corticelli Home Needlework - from 1898.

I've been looking for vintage needlework patterns and designs, so this book couldn't have come along at a better time.

And because I'm having issues finding anything about the company, besides photos of their threads and some patterns, I have no idea what this tool is for. Tatting? Wrapping? Decoration? Not a hot clue... my mom thinks it has something to do with tatting, but searching on Google Images turned up nothing. It's just over 2 3/4" long, tapered and more brassy than gold. It's also slightly flexible, but not bendable. If you've got an idea of what it is, please let me know.

And then there's the 45 adapters. I have no 45s. I don't even have a record player. But I'm keeping them, if only to show to Maddy one day so she can tell me that I'm full of it and people never used wax/plastic disks to to listen to music. Although, she could turn out like me and be a big fan of music on LP/EPs... but that's highly doubtful as we don't have a record player, but I'm sure my parents' are saving theirs - that still works! - for just that reason.

I'm going to try to get this box organized, along with everything else, for what I'm hoping will be an insanely busy 6-8 weeks. I've got plans and ideas for the craft sales coming up, and the Christmas shopping season unofficially begins in July... still no sales in my shop, but I'm keeping positive about it. There's no point in wallowing in negativity when it's more draining than working at being a success... at least that's what I'm telling myself.


Treasure trove

The town where my parents' live had a 'Kick-off to Summer' thing yesterday. It started with an amazing breakfast at the local firehall, prepared by the volunteer firefighters. For $6, steak, eggs, potatoes, beans, toast and drink. Six dollars...I think I could buy the eggs and bread for $6.

Anyhoo, after breakfast, we went around town checking out the various yard sales to see if anything piqued our interests. First stop, a little desk for Maddy for $5. Now she'll have somewhere to put everything else but what should be on a desk, like laundry soap and tape measures (like mine:) ). We also managed to find a little phone for her (not the Fisher Price one, but a vague facsimile) and a stuffed Cookie Monster, her third, because you can never have enough Cookie Monsters.

I wasn't looking for anything specific, but I had said months ago that I wanted to check out sales this summer for old jewelry and fabrics. I didn't find any fabric, but jewelry... oh, boy.
This box? $5. That's Maddy's hand, grabbing one of the many dozens of clip-on earrings. All of the jewelry I bought was from the same sale, and there's no doubt that it all belonged to an older lady (the telltale 'older lady smell was pretty obvious) who had taste. For the most part.

Like I said, for the most part.

A lot of lovely brooches. If I had anything to wear them with, I'd wear these brooches all the time. But I live in t-shirts and sweats... don't think this would go with anything like that.

One of my favourite pieces. A Celtic knot in sterling silver. Definitely keeping this one.

I'm debating what I can do with a lot of this stuff - some of the necklaces and strands of beads I may end up taking apart and using in other projects. There are a lot of really nice pieces that use some absolutely beautiful stones, too...keep them for costume jewelry for Maddy or attempt to sell, either as a whole piece or as part of a new project? Like I said, quite beautiful.
See? Nice, eh?
There are a lot of green stones in this collection. I don't know if the green relates to her birthstone or if she just liked green... I would have preferred that they were all sapphires, but I'll take what I can get for now :)

Many strands of "pearls". I have two real strands - one from my grandmother as a confirmation gift and one willed to me from that same grandmother. (I'm Anglican, BTW.) I honestly don't know if any of the strands I bought yesterday are real. The only ones that might be are the ones in the photo above - they came in a box from Eaton's, so the chances are probably better that they're real. The closure for the strand, at the very least, is quite nice.

I am definitely keeping these zirconium pieces, if only to let Maddy have them one day. The choker does not even come close to closing around my neck, but it is a unique setting. And the case is blue velvet... that alone makes them pretty special.

This is my favourite piece. There's Scottish blood in my family, on both sides, so it's nice to have something you can wear to declare your heritage. And they're just beautiful. The workmanship is quite lovely and they have probably never been worn, as the clasps have tarnished so much they're black. I don't care if it's vintage or a replica, it's nice. And I will definitely be keeping it.

I did manage to pick up a pretty full grab bag of sewing notions for only $1 - zippers, ric rac and lace - that will be a a welcome addition to my already-full sewing toolkit.

And who can turn down a jar of buttons, beads and other little bits? No one, especially if it's only 50¢.

And a sewing box. My embroidery "kit" - and I use that term really loosely - is a pencil case right now. That means the floss is basically a big knot that I have to go through anytime I want a new colour. Not fun. This sewing box, which I will explore in a future post, is perfect. I may have even stolen it out from someone else's nose. Oops.

I paid for all the jewelry I bought at one sale and was walking away when I saw this box. My mom gasped when she saw it and I carefully opened it.

Vellum writing paper. About 50 sheets.

And vellum envelopes.

This little writing set is in pristine condition. Only one envelope - the one on the left of the last photo - is slightly discoloured. The previous owner must have stored it in a chest or wrapped tightly in a blanket or something to keep it in such good shape. I love this set. I certainly do not plan on using it and have sealed it into a plastic bag for the time being, until I can get something a bit more non-plastic to put it into. It's beautiful and something I want to give to Maddy in the future. Cost: $2. And I can't find anything to do with "Barber Ellis Cameo Deckle Edge". If anyone knows something about them, please let me know.

I'm probably going to spend the day looking at everything, doing a quick inventory...hopefully coming up with ideas for some of the pieces that don't quite scream 'Keep me!'. If you have any ideas, feel free to drop me a line...I have little-to-no experience with stones - real or artificial - and would rather leave pieces alone than mess them up completely.


No spooling...

I made quite the killing making the rounds at the yard sales in the town where my parent's live (not my hometown, but where they've lived for 14 years). I spent $20 or so and walked away with mounds of stuff.

I have photos and a half-written blog post basically showing off, for lack of a better term, what I managed to pick up today. But it's late and I'm tired. And a stretch SUV just drove by my house and I need to find out if they made it around the curve on our street (I'm guessing yes, with a lot of difficulty)... long, story short - I'm going to bed. Post should be up tomorrow sometime.


Swallowing the bitter pill

There are a few things in life that drive me absolutely nuts: stupid people; drivers who don't use their turn signals; rudeness; and shortsighted, blame-everyone-but-me, ignorant (but not in the 'stupid' definition, because stupid people have their own reasons for garnering my head-shaking and eye-rolling) twits.

Things - sales, views, whatever - at Etsy have apparently been in upheaval for the last few months. I wouldn't know because I stocked my shop the day after the proverbial shit hit the fan. What that proverbial shit is, I have no idea... still. I'm not going to throw around accusations or spread rumours, but some sellers are quite upset with how Etsy runs their website.


I haven't got a bloody clue. I don't have a problem with how Etsy runs their website and, as an extension, their business. Or their office.

No business is perfect, including our own personal businesses. Or Etsy. Just because we give them money (20¢/listing, every 4 months, and 3.5% per sale) to essentially give us some space on their server to upload photos and try to sell our products does not mean we - the sellers - have any right to butt our noses into how things run.

I give lots of businesses money all the time. I give the government money all the time. I have absolutely no say in how they operate, no matter how inefficient or shoddily I think they are doing so. I certainly do not think that when I book a table at a craft show that I should be able to tell the co-ordinators how to set things up, how to promote, or go crying to them at the end of the show accusing them of 'not holding up their end of the deal' (that's not a quote from an Etsy forum post, as far as I know, it's just something I wanted to put in quotes for emphasis) because I didn't sell enough or anything.

Nope, the only person responsible for making sure my products sell is me. And me alone. There is no rule that Etsy is the only place you can sell your home/handmade products or vintage pieces or supplies online. It may be the most popular, but it is certainly not the only. There's Artfire and Zibbet and even eBay, just to name a few. But if you want to be 'noticed', you go with Etsy.

Am I happy with my experience with Etsy so far? Yeah. I still haven't sold anything, but I will. Do I think Etsy is doing a good job? Sure, but I'm just a customer (and that's what a lot of people forget). Do I think they could do more to help the sellers (and even buyers) to get the most out of their experience with Etsy? Of course, but what business can't improve their customer relations on some level?

Not everyone is going to be happy with change (or what they perceive as a lack of change), but oh lord, the way some people go on in the Etsy forums, you'd think that the world was ending because the admin chose to use black pens over blue without consulting the sellers first. (Totally random, made-up example, just to help prove a point.)

I'll close with this: if you aren't happy with the results of what you're paying for, be it Etsy or a mortgage provider or a shoe brand, MOVE ON. How much energy can one waste bitching all the time? Based on what I read on forums (and this applies to ALL forums, not just Etsy), a lot... like life-sucking amounts of energy. I'd hate to be one of those people.

Tomorrow, I'm going to *hopefully* create a few new pieces to list in my shop, because I want to. And then I'm going to work on improving my shop and making my brand more effective, which may, in turn, bring me a sale. I may also keep researching new products to work on for the craft shows I'm entering this fall. All depends on time and organization, something we all know I'm deficient in :)

But it's what I have to do to improve my business so I can be successful... and if I don't do any of that and continue to not do any of that and then wonder why I have no one looking at my work or any interest at all in my work, the only person I can blame is me. No one else. Maybe some people need to start taking responsibility for themselves and stop blaming everyone else.

(the photo? yeah, no relation to the post at all...but it is the second year in a row I got a shot of a bee in that plant. woo, me.)


Cheesy goodness

My daughter isn't a picky eater, she's a difficult eater. And it's not her being a brat; in fact, it's because she reacts so badly to some foods that we've decided to completely avoid those that cause her breakouts. Like tomatoes. And eggs. Just scary.

She loves cheese, though. LOVES IT. She also likes toast, which is usually made by me from scratch. I've gotten quite bored with making grilled cheese sandwiches for her every couple of days, so last night I decided to try something that still combined cheese with my bread recipe - cheesy bread.

It was quite simple, really. We usually have cheese in the house (see Maddy's love for it) and I've always got the ingredients for bread on hand, so it was just a matter of finding the time to make them. Luckily I'm a fan of letting bread rise as long as possible, because I let this batch rise for 4 hours yesterday. Turned out beautifully.

I'm definitely going to make them again - with more cheese and seasonings, and will have to do some up with a cinnamon/sugar topping (something else Maddy likes). Yes, I know I could make these infinitely healthier if I were to go with a whole wheat flour, but if this is the one grain-based product in my life that hasn't made the change (and I've gone whole wheat or whole grain for everything else - rice, pasta, crackers, cereal), it's not the end of the world.

I'll put the recipe and directions up after the jump (because it's kinda long and I really don't want to have a post that you have to scroll forever to get through), so you can try it too. And you don't need any fancy instruments or skills to make this - I have 2 feet of counter space and I did them. You can too.


Time is not on my side

Summer months are the optimal time to start planning for and getting your shop ready for the holiday season. Etsy's holiday season picks up from October through December. Harvest and Halloween seasons pick up as early as August, so start stocking up on and listing your holiday offerings now in preparation for the seasonal rush ahead
     • Media Tip: Press outlets begin finalizing their holiday issues and series in the summer. Have your holiday items listed, tagged, and available now for buyers and PR reps looking to pull items for holiday gift guides.

Oh, holy crap.

I am not expecting to have anything from my shop catch the eye of any media folk and wind up in some magazine in time for the holiday season. I may be talented, but I'm not that talented.


No, this just reminds me that the first craft sale that I want to be part of is in 3 months. Three months. Ninety days. Again, oh, holy crap.

I'm not sure what I'm going to sell at that sale, but I don't have enough stock for a sale. And trying to sell the same things I have in my Etsy shop is not going to happen, either (mainly because if I tried to do that, it would be just my luck to have everything in my shop sell online at the same time people are buying them off of me at a sale).

There's a small list in my notebook for ideas of what to make/sell at the sale (this is only the first; I'm aiming for two more, and I know there's at least one more for sure), but haven't actually started any of it. I've decided that I'm going to try to get as much product done and ready to list in my shop by the end of June so July will be when I come up with new products. What those products are is another question.

I've been debating about opening another shop, either on Etsy or one of the other online handmade sites (like Artfire or Zibbet), to see if I can sell my efforts elsewhere. But how much more time can I devote to doing things that may or may not sell? Already, it's what I think about the majority of the time; it's what I spend my 'spare' time doing; and it's an even more difficult financial commitment for someone who doesn't have an income. So, yeah... do I keep all my eggs in one basket or start spreading them out, even though it could be a waste, which is what I'm doing now is turning into.


Sometimes I wonder if things would have just been easier to keep working rather than putting all this effort into something that's not exactly succeeding (which is no one/thing's fault but my own)... at least by working at home, I get to spend time with Maddy and drown my sorrows in cartoons and reruns all day.


Poking the bear

I don't remember the last time we - as a family - had a chance to actually sit back and relax. I don't know if it's because we just believe we don't have any time now that Maddy's getting older or if my work is taking away what free time I used to have, but it would be nice if we - Keith, Maddy and me - could just stop all the fussing and rushing and go-go-go for a few days.

But, then again, if we did stop and relax, I think I'd have a breakdown because I wasn't doing something. I used to slack off with the best of them, but in the last few years - especially since Maddy was born - nothing drives me more nuts than doing nothing. Idle hands, devil's playground... well, not really. It's more of a 'I know I can be productive - let's see how' thing. Gets frustrating sometimes... tiring, too.

With three months of an open shop under my belt, there are many, MANY areas of this business that I need to focus on and learn more about. Promotions and marketing, for one; time organization for another. It's not enough to just produce pieces, you have to sell them to people, too... and putting pretty pictures of them online doesn't mean a damn thing. People can't see you if you don't show them where you are.

There's been a debate - for lack of a better term - in the Etsy forums for the last few months about why sales and views have been down. If you told me that without any back story (or accusations), I would think that a lack of sales would be because:
  • the economy still sucks. The government and banks and economists can all say it's getting better, but all those people who were unlucky enough to lose their jobs 18 months ago are not going to be spending money on luxuries; they're going to be paying off bills or putting away some extra money just in case this happens again.
  • the handmade fad is starting to wane a bit. A couple of years ago, when the economy started to nosedive, lots of people turned back to homemade/grown/produced products to save money. Lots of those people sold their products, too... and now everyone and their dog makes something to sell. Add in a flooded market and you've got the perfect storm as to why no one is buying anything.
  • there's a lot of crap out their and people don't have time (or the desire) to sift through it all. I went to the big local craft show last fall and wasn't impressed at all. There was a lot of amateur "crafters" who really should have just kept their work in their garages or basements to save themselves the hassle. I'm not saying what I do is the best in the world and that everyone loves it, but there's a reason Regretsy exists. 
  • people got lazy and expected Etsy to do everything for them, including promotions and marketing. And solve their problems. Surprised some didn't expect Etsy to also tie their shoes and brush their hair.
I'm in the 'I don't blame Etsy' camp, mainly because I see Etsy as no different than the facility hosting a craft sale. It's my job as a show owner to make people see that I exist. I am in charge of promoting my shop and making people want to stay in my shop to make a purchase. Sure, it's nice when people find me through Etsy, but based on what Google Analytics is telling me, very few people do. I get more visitors from Twitter, this blog and other blogs I comment on than through Etsy.

Does that bother me? Nope.

Why not? Because the internet is a big place, and I count myself as lucky everytime someone finds me through Google or Craftgawker or some other method. I refuse to blame others for my failings, unless it's completely justified and provable. If I want people to see my work and buy my work, I have to do the work to get them, their eyes and their wallets to my shop. It's as simple as that.

And the internet is ever-evolving. People need to realize that. Things change, and usually it's for the better. What's the harm in letting people do their jobs and accepting that sometimes, "fixes" can take a little longer than expected because, well, they just do.

I know it's quite possible I'm going to end up slammed for what I have said and I really don't care. It's what I honestly believe and would have loved to say it in the forums, but anytime someone tries to say something like this (ie. it's not necessarily Etsy's fault you have no sales), they get ripped apart by the complainers. I'm willing to learn my lessons and try new things to get people's attention; I refuse to let other people force me to stand idly by and wait for "fixes" that I shouldn't need to operate a successful business.

So, yes... marketing and promotion. Need to work on that. And tweaking my photos, as well as gearing up for fall craft sales. I may be trying to come up with some new products soon and hope to post about them as they come along... although, based on my posting history thus far, there's no guarantee. Perhaps there's someone I could blame for that...

(the marigold pictured above is one of many that I picked up today at the best garden centre in the area - The Green Spot. I hate marigolds as a rule - something that dates back to when I was 5 or so and ate some of the seeds... pointy damn things going down... but these marigolds are going to be used in my battle against mosquitoes and aphids. Wish me luck:) )


Ha HA!

After months of short, dense batches of bread - due to a transcription error on my part - the batch I'm doing up today is rising. And it's rising above the edges of the pans FINALLY.

This may be my biggest accomplishment this week. And I helped build our fence.

Who knew that 1/2 cup of water would make so much of a difference?


On the fence

Things I learned while building a fence:
  • Any plan you had at the beginning will be trashed before you even start.
  • A yard stick can be your best friend. 
  • Measure twice, cut once is not enough; measure a dozen times and then measure again before you cut.
  • There's a good chance the reason you got a killer deal on your lumber is because it's all the stuff they couldn't sell to anyone else. 
  • A post hole digger is not the same thing as a post hole auger.
  • Wet ground is not easier to deal with.
  • Rhubarb plants have massive roots.
  • Toddlers like to think they're helping by bringing screws to the builders two at a time.
  • Posts will magically shift and bend out of place overnight, and the movement won't be noticeable until the fence is done.
  • You will run out of the one size of wood you need the most, but will have oodles left over of the size you only needed a couple of.
  • Cut wood soaks up water like a sponge.
  • $3 work gloves protect your hands from splinters just as well as the $20 do.
In the end, building a fence with Keith and his parents was an experience. It wasn't great, it wasn't horrific, but I know now the process of it. After three days, we're mostly finished - only two gates left to do up. Keith's on holidays for the rest of the week so we should be able to get them done up before he goes back next week.

I love how our yard looks now, though... it looks much bigger and tidier, at least until you see my very overgrown garden that's going to be fixed up this weekend. I like how we not only have a way to keep Maddy in the yard, but also added a lot of value to our property. We have a fairly large lot and are on a corner, in between 3 schools. Our sidewalks see a lot of traffic throughout the day, so having a fence up to cut down on some of the sound is nice.

Next up for the yard is doing up my garden. We're going to the garden centre on Friday to pick up the plants, seeds and soil to put them in on Sunday. I've got a general idea of what I want to do for veggies this year, but I'm still debating what to do about flowers. I have a lot of daisies that I'd like to move, but they're in bloom right now and I really don't want to risk killing them. I could always just do a variety of generic flowers - pansies, petunias, marigolds - but I'd also like to try more butterfly- or bee-friendly flowers in our front garden.  Decisions, decisions...

We're planning on spending a lot of time outside this summer. I'm going to attempt to coordinate my work so that I can actually do some of it (ie. embroidery) outside, while Maddy runs around the yard playing. Really, I'm just looking forward to having somewhere besides the house to spend the summer relaxing.