A rose by any other name

I've had this purse sitting in my bag o'things to finish for probably 2 months now. It's the same basic design as this purse in my Cargoh shop (and will be listed for the same price later today... hopefully) but in keeping with putting different finishing touches on this line of purses, I had no idea what I was going to do to make this one 'special'.

Wow, that's a long, awkward sentence.

Anyhoo, I didn't want to just slap something on and be done with it. So I figured, why not try to do something that goes with the interior? The lining is a very unique floral print, mostly abstract (or what I call abstract) but not easy to replicate. The flowers in the print are roses and I've been thinking about trying my hand at making fabric flowers for a few weeks now... perfect opportunity, right?

Wrong. Oh, looking at it, it looks like it's a very rough rose, kinda tattered, unique. Pick it up and it falls apart. Maddy took it apart once all by herself. I tried to stitch it together as I went (the second time) but it just wouldn't work for me. I know there are people who can do this, no problem... I can't. I don't know why, it may be the size of my hands (they're fairly big) or not being able to comprehend how to hold the piece properly so I could sew it together... it just didn't work.

So I decided to try felt. I've been working with felt a lot more lately - mostly as appliqués on the pouches I've been making - and feel really comfortable using it.
I think it looks great. The colour of the photograph doesn't do it justice - it was taken at a weird time in the morning where I couldn't get good light anywhere... but compared to the first flower, a vast improvement.

That's not to say I won't try fabric flowers again. I will, but I'll have to work out a method to do it that I can work with. I do like the concept of a tattered, messy-looking flower for some of my pieces, but for the time being, I'll stick with felt.


Starting the week off right

Two things:

First, I was chosen as one of Cargoh's Things we love today.
More specifically, my tan cotton slim case was chosen. Thanks to the awesome folks at Cargoh for that :)

And today, I made this:
This is the best picture I could get before Maddy whisked it away. She's named him 'Lellow'... it's how she says 'yellow', which is the only colour she wanted him to be. He's (I think he's a 'he') made out of cotton, eco fi felt, and is filled with scrap fabric and polyfill batting. He's mostly handstitched, with the exception of the two pieces of cotton. I'm debating offering this up for custom order - would there be interest? Drop me a line in the comments if you are interested and if you have any other suggestions.

My Etsy shop stock is still 15% off until Thursday. As of Friday, that shop will close and I will move most of whatever remains (I'm hoping there won't be a lot) to ArtFire and Cargoh. Some of it I will remove from sale completely and make it available only via craft sales and possibly by special request. I'll try to make sure I post updates frequently. It's going to be a busy week with all the hubbub of closing the shop, stocking another, getting the website up, setting up a shop there...and it's still 90 or so days until Christmas. Yay.


Guide to the unknown

For years, I've usually worked whenever the local MCC Relief sale was taking place. I've heard about the wonderful pies and cookies and other delicious treats; the unique crafts and products available from Ten Thousand Villages there. This year, I finally made it.

And it's a good thing I did, too... I remember my mom having this book around a lot when I was younger, but she says she never actually owned it - she just borrowed it from the library a lot. I knew the second I saw it hidden on one of the tables that not only did I need it, I had to have it.

The sticker on the cover says $6. By the time we had reached the books, the prices had all been slashed in half.

I paid $3 for this book. Three dollars.

Do I think it was worth it?

Um, perhaps.

Yeah, I guess.

I have a small booklet outlining some of the same stitches that are in the one I picked up today, but not with the detailed instructions like the new one has.

I've been interested in learning new needlecrafts since I started doing more embroidery. Smocking is one of the techniques I've seen finished a thousand times; and it seems way easier than I thought. Like simple. I say that now, but wait until I actually try it and cry in frustration every five minutes.

 I really like the tips and tricks that are included for people like me, who have been clipping corners very badly for months now. A pin to keep from clipping the threads? Genius!

The book covers embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, appliqué, quilting, patchwork, macramé, crochet, rug-making and lacework; each section goes beyond just those, like the lace section...

Goes into tatting. Like smocking, tatting is one of those techniques I've seen and admired but never thought about how one would go about creating it. My mom apparently knows how to do tatting, something I never knew. Huh.

That's Maddy's hand, helpfully pointing something out. She likes my new book, too... she keeps crying whenever I take it away from her.

One of the things I'm most excited about in this book is the section on weaving. I know the basic weaving techniques - back and forth, over and under, etc, etc, etc - but I've never quite understood how different colours are introduced or how patterns are made. Now, apparently, I can find out.

I've been doing a lot of embroidery lately, and this book is going to hopefully help me expand on my stitch repertoire. I can see doing a sampler in the near future so I can at least try out the stitches and narrow down which ones are doable and which ones turn out looking like rat's nests.

Just a reminder that all stock in my shop is still 15% off.  Be sure to check it out if you're looking for early holiday gifts.


It's gotta go

This is the last week for my Etsy shop to have stock in it, so if you've had your eye on a piece, pick it up now. If you live in Brandon and would like to save yourself the shipping costs, drop me a line (same if you live in the surrounding 50kms or so).

Next Friday, I'll have a new shop to open and hopefully a new website to launch, as well as new stock in my Cargoh shop. Keep checking in to see what else I might be getting off the ground.

Fresh coat of paint

I've just redesigned my Twitter background to something a little less in-your-face (I hope). I'm not sure if it'll work with the new Twitter layout that's slowly coming out, but I like the geometric lines so much I'll probably use it somewhere else if it doesn't.


Rain, rain...

First day of fall and I could see my breath outside when I popped out a half hour ago - at 1pm - to take this photo. It's raining and cold and just ugh. We never really had a summer, but it looks like it might warm up this weekend to a whole 19˚C. Sad when we get all giddy over a high like that, but it's been a pretty ugly year in terms of weather around here, especially for the farmers. Too much rain, no warmth, late harvest, if any at all... ugly.

But onto happier news. Or somewhat happier... I'm still planning to close out my Etsy shop within the week. I've signed on to upgrade my ArtFire account and plan on listing some pieces in my very neglected Cargoh shop. And then there's the new website - nisseworks.com.

My website is being designed by my supertalented brother-in-law (his website's here). I've decided to include a 'shop' feature on my website. I've done a lot of research into e-commerce and shopping carts, trying to find one that a borderline web design Luddite, like myself, can use and not crash the entire internet. I checked out what a lot of the blogs I read use for their shop sections and read a lot of reviews, and have decided to go with Ecwid. One of the first things I noticed about Ecwid was that their website is easy to use - very straightforward, uncomplicated, something I could move around quite easily. And they're free and a lot of crafty-types use them, so win all the way.

I didn't expect to have to step out on my own so soon... I was hoping to spend a few years on Etsy, build up a customer base and then move onto my own site so I could control stock & orders. I'm not mad that I'm moving on so much sooner, I'm mad at how it happened. I'm more than a little scared at going out on my own, but I don't think that anyone would be cool, calm & collected if they were in my position. And really, the upcoming holiday season is the perfect time to launch something like this... fingers crossed, I end up being busy with orders & requests. Heck, I'll cross my toes, too, if it'll help :)


Making it up

This is my primary workspace, outside of my desk. It's our kitchen table, theoritically seats 4 when it's not covered in my sewing stuff and also isn't in our tiny war-time house kitchen. (We can't open the apartment-sized oven if someone's sitting at the table. That's how small our kitchen is.)

Yes, it's disorganized. Some would say mess. Others would say, 'Oh, wow. That's a disaster'. I seem to work best when my workspace looks like this. Can I find everything I need at the drop of a hat? Heck, no, but I can't do that when it's nice and tidy, so what's the difference.

I also clear everything off the table every 2 weeks to make bread. It's quite the challenge when you have no storage space, except under the table itself. That's something I'm going to have to rectify soon because there's a furnace vent that is on the verge of being covered and in a house with crap for insulation, we need all the vents to be as clear as possible.

But back to my work. That tote bag is the first piece I've made that wasn't done for a craft show in a month. And I love it. The lining, the duck cotton exterior, the eco-felt flower that I embroidered on the outside... it's the perfect tote for any occasion. I'm hoping to have it listed in my Cargoh shop by the end of the week. First, though, I need to build a light tent.

I've been trying to come up with designs for a few new pieces lately that (a) are within my skill range; and (b) within my price range. We've got some pretty amazing thrift shops here, as I've mentioned before, and there have been some pretty killer finds beyond the scarves I wrote about before.

Like these. Lovely pieces of soft corduroy, beautiful wools and whatever-the-blue-plaid-is (I think it's a cotton/wool blend)... I'm excited to be moving beyond cottons, especially into wools. I have a lot of it, all in suitweights and all in dark hues, but I'm trying to be as stingy with it as possible right now. It's too nice to just hack up for any project under the sun or cut for something I never intend to make. Right now, I've cut a few pieces to use in a iPod/iPhone sleeve design I've come up with.

Progress is being made. Decisions are being made. Pieces are being made. I want to have as much as I can in place for October 1 - what is essentially going to be the beginning of holiday shopping for me and my shops - but I don't want to be making things for the sake of making them to sell. Quality in my work - and workmanship - is something I need to focus on right now. And I think it'll show in the pieces I've got planned.


Closing the door

photo via sxc.hu
I've mentioned before that I wasn't happy about some things that go on with Etsy, specifically their treatment of the sellers themselves and the actual operation of the site in terms of ease of use.

Well, today, thanks to a glitch in the system, every seller who had been included in every treasury made had their full name displayed. Not just shop name - oh, no - their full theoretically-legal name.

Which goes against their own privacy policy.

There's going to be some pretty ugly results from this. There are a lot of unhappy sellers there now, and a lot have left, disgusted with a variety of issues.

I'm done. I am so done with Etsy. This wasn't just the straw that broke the camel's back; it's the one that buried it in the sand... much like the heads of Etsy's admins.

That said, for the next 24 hours - from 1:30pm CDT Monday, Sept 20 to 1:30pm  CDT Tuesday, Sept 21 - everything in my shop is 10% off. EVERYTHING. And because Etsy doesn't have the ability to adjust prices without going into every single item and change them, I'll refund the 10% at the PayPal checkout.

Happy shopping :)

(I'm still at Cargoh, though... and likely moving to ArtFire soon. Like by the end of the week.)


Frugal finds

Four scarves, $2.25 at the local MCC today. One wool, one hand-screened, one typical 70s design, one thin. The photo - with it's not-so-great lighting - doesn't do the colours justice.

As I mentioned on Twitter a few hours ago, I'm really getting into this 'being thrifty' business. I'm going to start looking at the second-hand/thrift/restores more and more now... there's no way I could ever hope to find anything like these scarves in a big box store, even at what might pass for a normal retail price. Even the small bundles of material I keep coming across are incredibly unique and totally worth more than their price (usually between 50¢ & $1).

I'm working on starting a few new lines of product in the coming weeks and I'm hoping to do one made completely out of material and fabrics I've found the thrifty way. I'm always intrigued when I come across a piece made of repurposed fabric, and I hope others are too.


Packing up

At some point in the next few weeks, I'll be moving this blog - and hopefully everything contained within - to my new website nisseworks.com. I've wanted to have everything - my blog, an online shop, portfolio - in one place for a while, and I managed to catch an awesome deal with Netfirms for hosting last week. I'm in the midst of doing some research on what will be the best shopping cart for what I plan to do (Ecwid's leading the pack so far, but the WordPress widget looks good too).

Once this blog has completely moved, there will be a post letting visitors know to head to the new site. I'm hoping it all goes smoothly and that eventually, I'll have an online shop that I can be proud of (I'll still keep my Cargoh shop, but my Etsy shop will be closing by Jan 1/11).

So, apologies in advance if something randomly goes missing or there's no blog here at all one day. I'll try to do this without messing everything up, but I'm a borderline Luddite when it comes to this type of thing.


On a quest

I'm trying to get back into the work groove as smoothly as possible - it's only 10:45 am and I've already made 9 loaves of bread (including 2 cinnamon & 1 raisin). Next on my list o'things to do today: organize myself for the next 3.5 months.

The holiday season is the prime money making time for crafters and artisans. I need to get in on that like there's no tomorrow. The question is, how to do that most effectively. I've been reading a lot of online articles and how-to's over the last week or so (when I wasn't embroidering or stuffing tiny pin cushions) about what the experts claim to be the 'best' methods. This business is still fairly new - not even a year old yet - and I feel like it's not quite at the point it should be at yet.

On one hand, I worry that things are never going to pick up and that I'll have to go find a 'real' job in the new year; on the other hand, I want to be a success, but don't want to sacrifice my goals and aims to please the market. I've heard and read so many times that in order to be a successful crafter/artisan (and I don't use those two titles interchangeably, but as a complementary pair), you have to produce what the people want. Well, that's fine and dandy, but what if it means changing what I do? Where does the creativity of the crafter/artisan come into play? Or is that the point where you say 'Am I doing this to make money or to be creative?'.

It's a fine line crafters and artisans tread... I know that if I go back to work at a 'real' job, I won't continue doing what I have been for the last year. Creativity, for me, will take a backseat to bringing home a paycheque... bills need to be paid and I really don't think the bank will accept a purse in lieu of a mortgage payment.

And now, here's a question for my readers: what types of bags, pouches, cases - all handmade - do you like? I'm trying to figure out where to focus my attention next, and I've had some decent ideas and suggestions so far, but I'm always open to new ones. If you want to be specific and have a link to something that you really like, feel free to pop it into the comments, too. Thanks :)


Learning lessons


My first craft sale this weekend.

On the up side, I learned A LOT.

On the down side, I didn't even sell enough product to cover my table fee of $25.

I'm not terribly upset or distraught... I needed to find out how sales actually worked, especially in this rural-based, primarily-middle-class region. I have an idea now of what works and what doesn't - but I also know that what didn't work at this sale may be the absolute killer at the next.

A brief list of the big lessons learned this weekend:
  • Just because you're selling something no one else at the sale is, doesn't mean you'll have no problems selling your product. Anyone who sews has pin cushions coming out their ears; needlebooks, while 'cute' and 'smart', are a great idea, perhaps not the best execution.
  • Having an eye-pleasing display is important, especially if it includes various kinds of baking. Baking always sells fastest and first. The table next to ours was completely sold out one hour & 20 minutes into the sale. 
  • While my parents have lived in Carberry for almost 14 years, I never did. Most of the people I know there are either friends of my parents or my younger sister. Probably the best thing I did for this sale was ask my mom to help me at the table. She knows EVERYONE in town and is much more outgoing than me...she brought in all three of my sales.
  • Don't be saddened that the older couple across the way can sell homemade underwear; take their approach to selling, sift through it and see what might apply to you. Their table was overloaded with product - and not just homemade underwear - to the point where customers had to go through piles of tea towels and knitting and blankets just to get to what they wanted. More often than not, they'd find more than what they were looking for at the bottom of the pile, because something they had to sort through to get there caught their eye. That doesn't mean I'm going to haphazardly pile my product on my next table, hoping that people will go through it to find what they want; it does mean, however, that I need to work out a display that makes the customers go from one product to the next without losing their focus.
  • Signage is so important, more important than I thought. I made up a couple of placecards with my business name on them, but that was it... until I got frustrated trying to explain to my mom - my helper for the day - which product was which. Then I made handwritten signs that I just kind of slid into the baskets. Next sale, signs and perhaps even a brief description on the signs will be accompanying the products. Also, a pronunciation guide for nisse (niss-eh) and a little historical background to what the word actually means. 
Yeah, I only made $17 and had 3 sales, but quite a few people did pick up the postcards I made up and there was some interest in doing some custom work in the near future. But more people know my name now than did on Friday and that's what I see as the biggest achievement from the sale. There aren't enough articles or tutorials in the world to learn these lessons.

A sale here, in rural southwestern Manitoba, will not be the same type of sale as one in Florida. Or even Winnipeg. There are very few - if any - craft sales held in the spring or summer around here. Craft sales and fall suppers go hand in hand for us, and everyone in the crafting/artisan world here knows when the big sales are and where the best ones are. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience, to say the least... and one that I'm sure I'll repeat over and over again, but with slight variations, for years to come.

I hope.


    PSA or plea?

    I'm waist-deep in unfilled pin cushions for this weekend's sale, but I had to post this:

    This Is Handmade.

    If you think this messenger bag is overpriced, or that this purse isn't worth $24, especially after watching those clips... then there's no hope in changing your mind. And if you think that my work - or any other independent handmade artisan's work - is worth the price we ask, then please, remember us this holiday season.


    On the radar

    We assume people like shopping at Walmart or Target and so don’t offer an alternative. We assume people like showing up at a party wearing the same thing as three other people and so we don’t offer to help them shop for some vintage clothes. We assume people don’t mind having the same coffee table from Ikea as 20,000 other people and so we don’t tell them about the woman down the street who makes coffee tables from recycled wood.

    -'don't write them off', by Tara Gentile (scoutiegirl)

    I'm still quite sick today, but when I read that article from Tara Gentile (scoutiegirl) this morning, I knew I had to step up and start promoting the world of handmade more than I have been. There's a whole argument about why handmade should be the preferred choice, but getting that through to the vast majority of the public is an impossible challenge for one person, never mind a small handful of vocal handmade 'activists'.

    So here's what I plan on doing. I plan on encouraging my friends and family to look to handmade and small independent artisans for their Christmas gifts this year. I plan on only giving handmade gifts, even if they are my own. I plan on promoting the world - and the benefits - of handmade products to everyone who visits my table at the craft sale next week. I plan on trying to purchase more independent and handmade products, including visiting more farmer's markets. I live in a very Wal-mart-based city, so finding a wide variety of handmade/independent work can be a problem, but there has been a massive influx of immigrants from around the world to our city in the last few years; their influence continues to grow in the community, from restaurants to a monthly women's fair.

    I want to be able to have a viable alternative to purchasing everything at a big box store with underpaid (and underappreciated) staff. I would much rather pay a few dollars extra, knowing that money would go into the pocket of the artisan who took the time to put their own effort into creating something I would enjoy.

    And now I'm going to go back to my embroidery and attempt to get better.


    Handled well

    The local Habitat for Humanity Restore has officially become my favourite place to shop. The bag and linen in the photo above cost a whole $5.50 today. And based on the brief bit of research I've done, I walked away with quite a steal.

    Unfortunately, there are no identifying marks on the bag, beyond the I.D. tag, and the only clue that it was vintage was the phone number and penmanship. Rather than a seven digit phone number, it was only four...and the handwriting screams pre-1950s.  But the well-worn handles and scratches and creases on the body of the bag prove that this bag is not only vintage, but well taken care of.

    I don't care about the paint spots on the bag... I'd rather have something that showed it was used and used well. Pristine pieces are for collectors and museums; I'm just someone who wanted this bag. I'm still not sure what I'm going to use it for, but I'll use it. Hopefully as well as the previous owner.

    And yes, that lock does say 'Cheney'. No relation to the former V.P., as far as I can tell.

    Aside from the handles of the bag, the lining is my favourite part. It's a soft, light material that has held up well over the years... no stains or tears, not even in the small pockets that line one side. The zipper works well and the lock looks to be in good shape... no key, though.

    The linen... oh, the linen. I had a lot more vintage linen in my hands that I could have bought for anywhere between 50¢ and $2, but I went with only $8.75 in change and spent all of it (not pictured: simple woven basket, bamboo picnic case and heavy shower curtain that I plan on using as a table cloth for my table next week). But this linen was something I had to have. The colour in this photo isn't quite how it looks in real life... it's more mustard than shown, but I bought it more for the stripe that runs through it. It's a decent size - 4'x4' or so - and will make a few nice bags, once I find a design that I think would work well with it.

    I've become a big fan of finding the hidden deals, especially on vintage/retro pieces. I don't know if that's the budget-conscious mom in me or the Scottish blood in my mom's family coming through... either way, it could make for some interesting purchases. Much to Keith's chagrin :)


    Hack... hack...

    I'm getting sick - chest cold, head cold, etc, etc, etc - so I'm just going to post a few pics of stuff I've been working on and then I'm going to lounge on the couch until my head explodes.

    New business cards, with my Cargoh shop address. I'm handing these ones out at the craft sale next week, so I figured I may as well try to get as much info on them as I could. I know keeping the info as minimal as possible is a better idea, but hey...I'm not one to follow the crowd. Printed on Epson Premium Presentation Paper Matte, using my Epson 50 Artisan. Cut using my Cricut Trimmer.

    Now, this is not a good photo of this particular piece, but it's the best of the bunch. This is also the first time the receiver will be seeing this iPad sleeve (tada, Bruce!). I'll have more info on the sleeve - and the challenges of working with such a large piece of faux suede - in a few days when I can sit up for more than 10 minutes without falling over.

    And I've finally gotten around to making labels for my pieces... I know, I've already sold 5 pieces and sent them out without any identifying marks and that's just dumb. So I've got 6 yards of off-white twill tape and my logo & website printed onto a sheet of Avery T-Shirt transfer paper. It's much easier to put them together than I expected... now all I have to do is figure out how to put them on my already-finished and listed pieces without destroying them.

    With that, I'm going to go wrap up in a warm blanket, attempt to do some embroidery and try to get healthy... *sniff*