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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Penny Pouch - Easy DIY

This is a little pattern that I've been playing around with for awhile. I think I finally have all the kinks worked out of it so, I thought I'd share it with you. It's a little zippered purse that's the right size for credit cards or drivers license and some cash. It has a keyring attached to one end and the whole thing will fit nicely in your pocket. It's great if you just want to grab your essentials for a quick run to the grocery store or any place that you'd rather be hands free!


I started out making them out of fabric scraps - which works fine but you'd really need to line it and then you have to deal with two extra layers of fabric which reduces the overall size and changes how the zipper is put in.

What I ended up using is Marine Vinyl - yup, the stuff they use to make boat seats. Waterproof (of course!), sturdy as all, easy to sew, self lined, doesn't fray or stretch, colorfast - what more can you ask for?

Here's how it goes...


You need one 4" x 5" rectangle, two strips that are 2" x 5", two strips that are 3/4" x 4" and a zipper that should be at least 6" long - you'll be trimming it to fit later.

Put the zipper in first by taking one of the 2" x 5" strips, placing the edge of the fabric very close to the zipper teeth and sew a close (1/8") seam. Leave at least an inch of zipper hanging off both ends of the strip, you'll trim this later
.

Sew the second 2" x 5" strip to the zipper in the same manner. Now you have to create a zipper stop at each end. Do this by simply using a zigzag stitch at each end. Make sure to open the zipper before closing both ends - you want the zipper tab to be within the body of the zipper.


                                                    Once you've zigzagged over the ends of the
zipper you can clip the remaining pieces of the zipper even with the fabric. This is the face of the bag - so simple!

Now to make the keyring tab. Sandwich the two 3/4" x 4" strips wrong sides together and stitch all the way around as close as possible to the edges.


Now you're ready to assemble the purse. Slide the keyring onto the tab, fold the tab in half and place the ends centered over the zipper at the edge of the fabric. Stitch the tab in place. (Pretend like this photo is actually in focus!)


Now sandwich the bottom and top pieces right sides together. Remember to leave the zipper at least halfway open so you can turn the purse right side out after stitching, and make sure to keep the keyring out of the way as you stitch the two sections together. Use a 1/4" seam allowance. When you're finished, clip the corners, open the zipper as far as you can and turn the purse right side out.




A chopstick or knitting needle work well to push the corners out. And - you're done! How easy was that? These make great little stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, teacher appreciation and on and on! You could make these longer or place the zipper higher or going in the opposite direction. It's a really easy, very versatile item that has hundreds of uses and is easy to alter to suit your needs.


Try making a few - send me pictures of what you come up with! We'd love to share your ideas here on the blog!



Saturday, October 10, 2015

To Amazon or Not to Amazon




I'm just gonna start this by telling you that I have been an Amazon seller since 1994 - over 20 years. I think it's safe to say that makes me an expert on selling through the Amazon platform.

This is the story of my experience with Amazon.

 I owned a used bookstore for over 25 years. After a few years of struggling along what I noticed was that if I was going to be able to make a living from my store, I was going to have to figure out how to reach more customers - brilliant, right? As I was researching how to get into the mail order side of my business I came across Amazon. They were launching a new division. They were going to allow used book dealers to post their merchandise on the Amazon website. My husband thought I should try it putting my books on the site. As scary as it was I made the decision to try it, if it didn't work out in a couple of months I would pull out and try something else.

It was a bit complicated to get started, there were many emails with instructions and such, I was by no means a computer expert but with my husbands help, muddled along, got our database together, figured out FTP and uploaded it one afternoon. Then, we waited... what happened was completely unexpected and overwhelming. Within minutes we started to get orders. Lots of orders.... so many orders that before the end of the first day, we had to put our store -  'on vacation' so that we could process the orders that had come in and order shipping supplies!

Yes, it was expensive - we paid $39.99 per month for the site plus 15% of sales. For a little bitty bookstore just starting out that was a pretty big hit to the budget. But the old adage, "it takes money to make money," is absolutely true. Selling on Amazon more than tripled our business immediately. In less than 10 years it helped make our store the largest used bookstore in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We grew to more than 3000 square feet with over 50,000 books on the sales floor. We were selling over 6000 books every month, making over $250,000 a year in sales! The biggest problem we had was keeping up with demand. The important thing to understand is that  this never would have happened without Amazon.


Fast forward to today. I sold the store three years ago and moved out of state.  I've been a jewelry artist for over ten years and I wanted to focus on growing that business. It's a struggle - I'm the entire business, manufacturing, marketing, sales, shipping, bookkeeping, social media department etc...  For anyone running a business you know that it can be an all consuming venture. It's not a reliable income, it can be very much feast or famine. So, like any business you realize that if you're going to sell enough to make a living you have to reach more people. In the art business that generally means doing shows - Argh! what a pain!! A two day show means a minimum of four days work and a lot of expenses. Displays, packing, travel, hotels, meals, set up and sitting on site for usually two long days hawking your wares. There are no guarantees that it's going to pay off. I can tell you horror stories all day long about friends who shelled out hundreds of dollars in fees to sit at a show for two days and came away not even covering the expenses!

Or, you try to find galleries or shops to take your work wholesale or on consignment. Most of the time this situation is expensive - average consignment commissions are 70% artist - 30% gallery. Wholesale is worse, most retailers want to give you 60% of your asking price to purchase your work. So we all became Etsy sellers because we could work from our studios, reach thousands of customers, the fees weren't as bad as the galleries or nearly as much work as shows... great, right?

It worked pretty well for awhile - but before we knew what was happening Etsy began to implode. Pretty soon the people who were visiting your site weren't buyers... they were other sellers looking for better ideas to boost their own lagging sales. Then Etsy made some business decisions that may have worked out well for them, but not so great for the rest of us - and once again, the handcrafters began looking for a new platform.

What you'll find is that it's pretty slim pickins' if you want to sell on someone else's platform. Sure, there are lots of them but they don't come close to the powerhouse of Amazon. Here's how it breaks down according to an article in PC World: Etsy is the largest platform with 875,000 registered merchants, a number that is steadily dropping. Finding out how much the average seller is making is much more difficult but if you read the forums on Etsy it's a pretty sad state of affairs. Hundreds of merchants are listing but a very small percentage of them are doing more than covering the cost of their supplies and many of them don't even make that.

If you combine the total of the next four biggest platforms, Bonanza, DaWanda, Zibbet and iCraft you'll only have a total of 173,000 registered merchants with pretty much the same results that the merchants on Etsy are having. If you're a US seller, only Bonanza is based in the US and selling through European platforms creates it's own headaches. Nevermind you say, you'll go it alone - set up your own website and learn SEO, RSS and all the rest of the techno alphabet soup!


Everyone has a website, Facebook, Twitter, a blog, Instagram - you work really hard to make these platforms look professional - it's hard, we're not computer wizards - we're artists! But we struggle along trying to understand all the technobabble because, who can afford to pay $500 to an expert to develop and maintain a website? Does this help? Are you making a living from your craft? Probably not, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average income for a crafter is less than $30,000 a year. I don't know anyplace where you can get by on that kind of income.

So, let's talk about Amazon - yes, Amazon has fees - so does every other platform out there. if you fairly compare features Amazon is not the most expensive. The professional level on Shopify is $79.00 per month plus fees and they have no where near the branded power of Amazon. I had a Shopify site for several months - made a total of two sales - dismal.

 Everyone shops on Amazon - it's easy, convenient, secure, fast and has everything - it's right in your living room. You have to understand and appreciate the value of what you are paying for - think of all the time and money you spend trying to get your work in front of people who are willing to pay you for it. Did any other crafters or artisans garner a prime time story on a national news channel (CNN) when their website launched? Amazon already has all the technical know-how, security, infrastructure, and marketing skills; but best of all, Amazon already has your customers, millions of them! That's what great about Amazon - they are marketing geniuses and they have more money than you're ever gonna have for promotion. If you could double or triple your business wouldn't that be worth $39.99 a month?

But what about that small print you say? Yup, Amazon has lawyers - they write up those agreements to protect Amazon. So does Etsy and Ebay and every other platform out there. But seriously, if you believe that Amazon wants to steal your products and sell them for themselves you're delusional and should definitely look into other options. Amazon already has a great business model, they allow other people to sell their merchandise through the Amazon website - they've been doing it for over 20 years. It works for both parties - and you know what they say..."if it ain't broke, don't fix it."



You have to make up your mind - are you trying to make your art your business or, is this a hobby or a part time venture? If you're trying to make a living then you have to think like a business owner and use the left side of your brain instead of your heart to make decisions concerning your business. If you  just love to craft and don't want to be buried in your projects then stick to the church bazaar and yard sale circuit.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Yea, I Fixed That!

I almost never buy jewelry, why should I? I usually just make my own. But once in awhile I see something that catches my eye. We were on vacation earlier this year and my daughter and I were shopping one afternoon. We found these nifty little bracelets called 'Gingersnaps' - they have a little piece in them that you can 'snap' different charms into. Aww, now who doesn't want a sparkly turtle? So, I bought one, made a nice, inexpensive souvenir from our trip.



I wore it one day while we were still on vacation, then packed it up and brought it home. When I opened my travel case - it was broken. Dang it! I hate when that happens. But, serves me right for buying 'cheap'. So I fiddled around with it a little bit, decided that I could probably glue it and it might hold up for awhile. OR - I could make something else out of it, something better, something sparkly and unique!


So, I took the whole thing apart, kept what I thought might be useful for other projects - waste not want not! I dug around in my stash of beads and such until I came up with a color scheme and some beads that I thought worked well together. I ended up with this...


A little more my style... I love the colors and I prefer toggle clasps to the lobster claw that was on the original piece. I also really like that it looks like a watch but it isn't. Win - Win situation for me, I still have a souvenir from my vacation, I can still get more of the little snap on charms if I want something different which is a pretty cool feature and I ended up with a one-of-a-kind piece that I love!


Moral of the story, don't throw away old or broken jewelry. The components can usually be worked into something new that you can continue to love and wear!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bears and Bears and Whale Tails? Oh My!

Something I've learned about myself is that every once in awhile it's important for me to kick start my creativity. If I work too long at one particular type of craft I find myself losing steam and it becomes harder and harder for me to come up with something that feels fresh. As soon as that happens I know I need to be poked in that part of my brain that comes up with new ideas.

Kickstarting isn't always complicated, sometimes it's as simple as buying a magazine and taking a look at what new products or trends are coming down the pike. Seeing another artists methods can trigger an idea, attending trade shows is an almost overwhelming stimulus to new ideas, but one of my favorite kickstarts is always classes or workshops.



A couple of weeks ago I went to Pennsylvania to visit Jean Van Brederode in her studio - Charmed I'm Sure. Jean was running a workshop on kiln enameling with liquid and powdered enamels. The finished project was this bracelet of polar bears. Once I saw the picture, I knew that I'd found my kickstarter!


Jean is the perfect person for visiting if you need a little inspiration boost. Her studio is jammed with the coolest tools, supplies and finished projects - you don't even need to do anything but sit there, you can't help but be motivated to create something. And Jean is a generous and patient instructor.

So, we watched a short video presentation about the project we would be working on, Jean gave everyone a printed instruction sheet, tool kit and all the supplies we needed for the bear project.


 We spent the next six hours learning about hydraulic presses, pancake dyes, kilns, enameling with liquids and powders and a host of other things related and not related to the project we were working on!


The process of creating the little bears was enough to get me percolating with ideas on what to make. I  knew that I wouldn't be happy making just one piece so I made sure to put holes in the sides and tops as well as making bears that faced in both directions. I also made a couple of bears with a tab on top thinking that they would make really cute necklaces. While I was at it, I made two whale tails just because Jean said I could!



At the end of the day I had a little pile that looked like this:



I gleefully drove home with  my little stash envisioning all the adorable things, rustic things, sparkly things that could be made with these delightful little copper bears!

The first thing I made was this bracelet - I love that it feels chilly with the cold and snow but sparkly at the same time - like the sun on snow. Glass is almost always my medium of preference so of course I had to have some white and clear lampwork beads in there and silver is the perfect shiny accent.

After that there was no stopping! I made several more pieces...




Two more bracelets and the necklace using one of the tabbed bears. AND.... I haven't even used the whales yet!

This was the perfect day for me - I seriously kick started my creative brain process, I learned something new, had a great day with a fun bunch of other creative people and made new friends - oh, and for a bonus, had a delicious lunch!

So the next time you're sitting in your studio pondering your pile of stash and drawing a blank - check out the internet - there are classes and workshops everywhere! If you live near Mechanicsburg, PA - go see Jean - she'll inspire you!

Monday, August 31, 2015

DIY - Eyeglasses With Class!

Eyeglass chains are one of my favorite things to make, they're such a personal statement of your style. They're also the perfect combination of form and function - who doesn't want to look great while doing something practical? An eyeglass chain keeps your readers or sunglasses close at hand, saves you time you would have wasted looking for them and looks great whether you have them hanging around your neck or perched on your nose!

These chains are also a pretty easy do-it-yourself project.

So, if you're feeling a little crafty - give it a try!



First thing you need to do is think about the colors - maybe you're a cool blue or a spicy orange - whatever it is you'll need to gather a few items to get started:


You'll need an 18" length of chain - I like to use enameled chain because it's comfortable against your neck, really durable, colorfast and it comes in about a zillion colors.

You'll also need the components - an important thing to keep in mind is that you'll need two of each bead or component because you'll want to make each end of the chain symmetrical.

Finally, you'll need lots of jumprings and two rubber ends. I use 18gauge colored copper jumprings because they're sturdy and add a little extra pizzazz! The ends are made by tightly wrapping a set of rubber O rings with wire.







Now to the fun part!






Start by putting together the components. You can use simple wrapped loops on either end of a bead or two, just remember to make two of each component. You can lay them out along a ruler making sure that you have 5" or 6" of components, remembering that your O ring connectors will take up about an inch and also allowing for your jumpring connectors.




Now to assemble your components!


Think about how the piece will look hanging next to your face as well as hanging around your neck. Your components shouldn't be overly large or heavy. The finished piece shouldn't weigh more than two or three ounces. If you have larger pieces, add them first - that way they'll end up closest to the chain and furthest from your face.



What!? Yes, it's just that simple!



Put on your happy face and get out there! There are fun things to see and read!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blooms for June!

We had a wedding to go to this month - of course, cause it's June! So, I got my outfit together - white linen pants and an awesome seafoam green top - very pretty. But I still needed a great bracelet to pull it all together. I wanted something really colorful, fun and loaded with pizazz!




I ended up with tons of glass flowers, enameled beads and toggle and a  mountain of colorful accents from Yvonne Irvin.



Definitely feeling ready to party at a wedding!


Monday, November 10, 2014

PDF or Not?

     I've been seeing a trend in the online stores lately. In addition to the physical item there is also the option of purchasing  the electronic or video files for the step-by-step instructions so you can make the product yourself.

     My daughter-in-law is a member of a site for educators that is built on this premise. You create digital files of lesson plans or other classroom activities and make them available to other members of the site for a fee. It's called Teachers Pay Teacher and it's and enormously popular site.

     I wanted to make an apron with a retro feel for a friend as a holiday gift. I went online and found that hundreds of patterns are available to purchase. Most of them are original patterns from Butterick or McCalls etc...
     These are usually reasonably priced and a great way to find a pattern that is no longer made by the company.

     This made me curious - and I started doing searches for patterns or instructions for other items. I found patterns for a purse that I wanted to try that I couldn't find a commercial pattern for anywhere!


     This one was a free download - and from this pattern I was able to make this:


So, I continue thinking and decided that I like the idea of making step-by-step instructions for some of my most popular items and at the same time continuing to sell the physical item for people who aren't inclined to try a DIY project. This could open up an entire new market and help me combat the loss of sales on Etsy to the Chinese ready made companies that have flooded the site.

What do you think? Is this going to cost me sales? Am I going to start seeing my currently unique items flood the market? Do people really want to make everything themselves?

Much to think about before I step into the void...



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