Monday, December 29, 2008

Random Finds: The Story of Stuff

I just ran into this link while doing some internet research regarding taxes. Since it is unrelated to taxes, either this was a case of search engine confusion or serious procrastination on my part. Basically, I found this educational online video about consumerism, consumption and the global economy. It was an interesting and eye-opening 20 minutes and 40 seconds, and well worth a viewing. It smacks of environmental guilt-fueled propaganda for recycling and tree-hugging, but we have to start somewhere in repairing the production and destruction processes that are currently poisoning people and land. It is called The Story of Stuff.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Life in a Nutshell: Mixed Blessings

Bah humbug! Though I really am feeling festive in general, there are a few things pertaining to Christmas, winter and busy holiday times in general that need to escape from my mind before they sour the Christmas spirit within. Please forgive me while I vent...

Radio stations that switch to 100% "holiday" music beginning on Black Friday - Come on... Is that really necessary? It just gives me the creeps.

Christmas cards covered with glitter - Where do I begin? They are pretty and they surely share warm wishes, but man are they messy! Surely I would rather receive a beglittered card than none at all... wouldn't I? I mean, isn't it more important to participate in Christmas tradition and "goodwill towards man" than be able to leave the house without a trail of glimmery powder showering from any part of you that inadvertently brushed against the offending salutation? I'd hope so, but I can't be sure.

The indiscriminate and excessive use of the word "doorbuster" - I think this should be replaced by the phrase "checkout line extender" as it pertains to Christmas sales. No one is really busting a door to get in... they're just waiting an extra 30-90 minutes trying to get out. Unless of course the sale is at a store no will go to with any excitement anyway... like the pharmacy... in which case "doorbuster" should be replaced with "inconsequential".

Pixos, Moon Sand and Kota the (giant, electronic, and expensive) Triceratops - Like many kids, my kids watch TV. And they see commercials. The aforementioned toys have been heavily advertised this year and my 4 year old (still an innocent, unspoiled child) has been seduced by the colorful catchy promotions. Damn you, product marketing! But at least I have learned that starting in early November, On Demand and DVR will pay for themselves if you can use them to avoid commercials all together. Not that we are purchasing any of those toys for the hopeful child, but we will now have to try twice as hard to find other gifts that are equally enthralling.

Commercials by pet stores advertising "memorable" gifts for your pet - How memorable can a pet gift be? My guess is that any gift you could give your pet would be decidely less memorable to a dog than the aroma of another dog's nether end. What do you think?

Well, that was cathartic. Now I can go about my business and stop feeling disgruntled when I hear the words in traditional Christmas carols changed to become generic holiday tunes. I encourage you to find out what irks you about the holidays and get it out before you turn into a Scrooge. Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Positive Feedback

Who doesn't love it? I just did a custom order for one very interesting ultramarathon runner who found me through Google. Not only am I completely happy that Google is directing people to my Etsy site (click here for more info on how that was accomplished with relative ease and minimal exertion), I had fun making the order (an animal ears hat for a big man) and I am thrilled with the caliber of the feedback he left when he received it. How happy? This happy:

"Ordered on Saturday, arrives on Thursday? Unpossible! Who *is* this woman? I'll tell you who she is: she's the valedictorian of the Viking, the superstar of the Singer, the badass of the Bernina, the... oh, you get the idea. From the fantastic communication, to the stylistic packaging, to the epic product itself, my only regret is that there isn't a higher feedback rating than 'Positive.' Etsy really should offer an 'off-the-hook' rating. I'd click on it until I developed a callus. Karen, in a world of half-measures, you are a breath of fresh air. Thank you for a wonderful transaction, from start to finish. Keep making the world a better place! - Erik"

Flattery may be the way to a woman's heart after all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Product Review: Oh Brother! Brother Innov-is 80, that is.

I got a new sewing machine! It's a Brother Innov-is 80 Project Runway Limited Edition. I'm just so thrilled I can hardly type!

It is a major upgrade from the basic White model I have been using since 2003. That was a gift from my mom because I was "getting married and you should have a sewing machine". It was true... Lord know how many times I've needed to darn some holes in my husband's church-league softball jeans. I learned how to sew on my mom's Viking... a 20 year old workhorse that is only now needing to be replaced. The White was good for learning too, but I'm definitely at a point where daily use will kill one of us, and I'm betting it's not going to be me. Dropped stitches, lack of creative potential, frequent bobbin jams... I was losing hair and sleep.

But I went to a local Brother dealer called Leabu and bought the new Brother with my hard-earned Etsy profits. It was priced $100 less than I was expecting to begin with and came with a $40 rebate! That dealer has truly excellent customer service and offers lifetime sewing lessons by appointment with any sewing machine purchase, so I was happy with the whole process.

It has sooo many utility and decorative stitches, one step buttonholes and eyelets, an alphabet and a 7mm stitch path. I'm in love! It has a button for start so you don't even need the foot pedal. That was strange at first but I have to say it is a nice thing if you have kids literally underfoot... less unexpected sewing when some be-diapered baby sits on the pedal. The LCD screen is handy and shows what you've selected, and I've found it to be pretty intuitive and easy to use. I've completed some orders on it, and every stitch is perfect. The thing beeps if you've made a selection that is incompatible with other settings or if you forget to lower the presser foot, for example. I would love a serger too, but this machine has an optional foot that can cut and would give similar results if used with an overcast stitch. The bobbin apparatus is a 360 degree movement instead of oscillating, which causes less jams and is easier to clean. Top-loading the bobbin is a cinch and the clear window lets you know if you're about to run out of thread. The upper thread pulls off the spool instead of turning the whole spool, so the whole process of sewing is a lot quieter now. And did I mention it's self-threading? I have no trouble threading the needles myself, but it is faster.

So far, I am completely pleased with my purchase and I look forward to using it instead of fearing the jams like I did with my White for the past couple months. In it's defense, it could use a tune up beyond the disassembling and cleaning. It was not made for the abuse I put it through and I'm looking forward with a smile at the new and exciting things I will be able to produce with my new machine. I'd recommend it!

*Update 1/23/09: I'm still in love! It's been a couple months of daily use and the machine is wonderful. I have not yet broken out the foot pedal and am very happily using many of the functions regularly. Not as much decorative stitching yet, but the basic functions are like gold and everything works as perfectly as I could have hoped. It has already paid for itself in the amount of work I have been able to accomplish, jam-free, since I bought it. If you are thinking about purchasing this machine, I would definitely say go for it!*

*Update 3/24/09: Someone asked about using this machine for thicker materials... I have not tried thick leather myself (jacket suede was no problem), but I have used it for sewing some very thick items using 3-4 layers of duck cloth and it worked like a dream. I woud assume that if you use leather needles, it would do fine on leather. The foot lift can go up extra high to get really thick stuff in and out, and I know there is an adjustment method for the foot height so you can theoretically get over a thick bump (welt, thick seam) in the sewing path without causing bunching or uneven stitching, but I have yet to use that (and I use it everyday). Like any non-commercial machine, however, I'm sure it has limitations and you'd want to be careful not to burn out your motor by making it work too hard. Hope that helps!*

*Update 4/8/09: In response to the comment question about the Innov-is 40 vs 80 for a beginner... after reading a good initial review of the 40 here by Consumer Reports, I would recommend getting the best one you can for the price. I have my own business based largely on sewing, and the Innov-is 80 purrs like a kitten on a daily basis and has paid for itself many times over in the six months I have owned it. The machine I used for the prior 6 months was as basic as basic can be, so I'm sure the the Innov-is 40 would be great choice for a beginner. It got great reviews, has many stitch functions seen on more expensive models and is a great price for a computerized machine, priced around $400. The 80 has more built-in functions, including an alphabet and a keypad stitch selector instead of a dial, but the price goes up to $600. I got mine for a lot less, but barring a super deal, the 40 would certainly suit a novice and many dealers will accept trade-in upgrades for a year after purchase, so if she really loves sewing and wants the 80, that could be an option. Hope that helps!*

*Update 6/15/09: For Nichole - My machine was a floor model that had been used as a "test machine" for a few weeks or a month at Leabus, so that accounted for a big chunk out of the price (and basically guaranteed that the machine was in perfect running order!). There was also a Brother rebate going on at the time. If I had it to do over and knowing what I do now about the quality of the machine and the truly great support and customer service at Leabus, I would have bought it there at full price. It's worth it. It's still very quiet, I still have not used the foot pedal and I am loving it even more as I learn more things I can do with it (vs the very basic White machine I had prior). I have not needed any of the lessons there (the machine is running perfectly and I'm not new to sewing), but I'm keeping my eye on the classes in case something catches my eye. The owners have been helpful every time I've gone in, and I've gotten advice from them that was so honest it kept me from purchasing a poorly designed sewing machine foot from them (they seem to have a very steady business from returning customers... always a good sign!). I will be buying a serger later this year and I am going to buy from them again. Hope that helps!*

Friday, November 21, 2008

Etsy Thoughts: Taxes on my Mind

Since I started by shop in February, this is obviously my first year that a schedule C will be required. I started the shop for fun but I was clearly doing enough business to file taxes on it. I have registered for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the Federal government, obtained a Michigan State Sales Tax License and submitted a "doing business as" (DBA) form to get a Certificate of Assumed Name. And, since I'm consigning items at various boutiques around the country, I will have 1099s. And I have a work area in my house... what about business use? Life has gotten a little complicated.

I suppose the thing that keeps me feeling okay about it is that I have been keeping good records. I may very well have to wade through excess amounts of receipts and statements to assess my tax liability, but at least they are there. It would seem fortunate too that my dear husband's employer always withholds too much any way (or we have enough kids that the child tax credit does us good) so I am not likely going to have to actually pay anything, we will just get a smaller return than normal. I am in luck when it comes to outside advice as well, since both of my parents are self-employed, my mother-in-law used to work for H&R Block and my father-in-law is a tax attorney. But I'd like to be self-sufficient in this area. I file our personal taxes each year using http://www.completetax.com/ (as recommended by my mother-in-law), and that has made the past 4 years much simpler than it could have been. I'm not sure what this tax season will allow... I might not be able to do it that way again since I may have "earned income in a state in which I do not live" via consignment... I'll have to figure that one out.

There must be a good way to keep track so taxes aren't a pull-your-hair-out stressfully loathesome thing to do. Maybe I need tax software that I know how to use (I have Quicken but cannot figure out how to reconcile things!). Maybe I need a legder and an extra 2 hours a day to keep track of daily business. Suggestions? I'm listening...

TheJuneBride News: On the front page, finally!

It finally happened! After months of working much harder at treasuries and making friends on Etsy, I was featured on the front page. Thanks to fiveforty, an awesome Canadian rugweaver/jewelry designer. So what if it was 3 AM. So what if it was an item I don't carry in bulk. Since mid-summer, my goal was to be on the front page by the end of the year and that it actually happened is a huge morale boost. Here it is!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Oooh... curating the Front Page!

That's right! I made a treasury that appeared on the front page of the Etsy site! Whee! Only problem was that I didn't realize until a week after the fact when another Etsian who I featured tipped me off. So how did I get this picture of the grand event? Etsy keeps Flickr site of archived front pagers that can be found here. You can search for your shop name and it'll bring up anything that includes you in any way (curated, featured or alternate). Anyway, I'm pleased. Very pleased. It's the next best thing to being featured yourself.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Etsy Gift Guides

Whilst spending some time on Etsy not listing or doing other useful things, I realized that I hadn't checked the gift guides lately. Much to my pleasant surprise, I found that I had items featured in two of them. Here are my braggy snippets:



I was also featured simultaneously in 5 Treasuries and 1 Treasury West, and was alternate for 3 more. Moreover, I was recently an alternate on a front page list. So close! But I will say things have been looking up since I began my new strategy of a) making more treasuries, b) renewing items right before treasuries expire and c) commenting on treasuries and discussing in the forums. I feel that my shop is becoming more well-known around the Etsy community and I am much more at ease with how my business is progressing.

I have recently been offered more drop ship, wholesale and boutique consignment opportunites than ever. I don't do drop shipping because it necessarily gives up control that I am loathe to part with. If nothing else, Etsy provides almost complete flexibility. As a commitmentphobe (albeit one with a husband and three children), I LOVE that flexibility. Or maybe just knowing that it's there. Wholesale can be OK if the price is right. Consignment is something I haven't tried yet but am going to try with my iPod cases at a boutique in Boston. The terms make a sale there worth more than my wholesale prices, so I think it will work out well. I love to make those cases and am making more than will readily sell on Etsy alone.

Current projects to better the business start with working on my Microsoft Access file to better manage my inventory and bookkeeping. I am also learning more about filing taxes for the year, studying up on Schedule C. Good times. Perhaps more fun is my latest attempts to control my workspace (well, actually I tend to work wherever the kids are playing, so maybe it should be called my storage space). Organizing fabrics, tools and notions is a chore, especially when you've let it go unchecked for as long as I have. Oh baby! I have so many projects in mind and so little time to actually do them. And sometimes I come up short in the motivation department too. But one day I'd love to run a tight ship rather than a sinking one, you know? Ditto for the house in general. I'll keep plugging away, one junk drawer at a time.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

TheJuneBride News: To Market, To Market

Tomorrow local Etsy takes over the Ann Arbor Kerrytown Artisan Market. I'm pretty excited about it. I have a table, a fabulous Etsy friend to hang out with, a little bit of organization, and lots of stuff to sell. I'm hoping the weather is nice. Since I don't frequent markets with my wares, I have no idea what to expect in terms of sales or even what sort of turnout we'll get. There as an article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle about it (click here to read it) and flyers around town, so we'll see. If nothing else, I'm out of the house alone for about 6 hours... what's not to like?

*Update: It was worthwhile, but not overly so. Very educational however! Will do it again...*

TheJuneBride News: I'm Seeing Stars

It's not everyday you get to see this on Etsy, so I snipped it to show off. In case you don't know, a blue star indicates a treasury that you are curating, a gold star for treasuries that feature your item, and a silver star if one of your items is an alternate for that treasury. Fabulous!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: VI - Bookkeeping and Taxes

Last but not least in the world of Etsy is bookkeeping. You won't know if you made a profit unless you keep track of what comes in and what goes out. Your level of bookkeeping should keep pace with your level of buiness activity, and if things feel disorganized, they probably are. Don't wait until taxes are due to figure out if your business needs to file a Schedule C. If you get audited without filing and it turns out that Etsy is more business than pleasure, there could be trouble.

  1. KEEP GOOD RECORDS! Very important, and often ignored. I was not financially organized for the first 4 months of my life on Etsy, and it took some doing to get to a point where I could say with certainty that my shop was actually turning a profit. For tax purposes you will eventually need to keep track of your inventory and cash flow to be able to legitimately file a Schedule C income tax form (required for sole proprietary businesses), so there’s no time like the present to start!

  2. My personal solution is a homemade Microsoft Access database. Excel can be fine for lower volume sales and expenses, but Access will allow you to do more with the data - you can manipulate it in more ways without retyping the info. Anything that lets you spend less time doing the grunt work and more time making things will lead to a happier, more-productive you. Both Access and Excel will be able to accept the .csv (comma separated values) files that you can download from Etsy and PayPal that include detailed information about your Etsy fees and all of the data contained in each PayPal transaction. With Access, I am able to print labels for each listing, generate reports that allow me to copy and paste information to reduce the typing required when I list, and link information between Etsy and PayPal to find out exactly how much profit I make from each item I sell. You can do so much with it that it is worth a browse of a MS Access tutorial if you already have the software on your computer.

  3. Information that you can download from Etsy includes detailed data about your sold items (found at the bottom of the page in the 'Sold Items' tab in 'My Etsy') as well as your Etsy Bill (found at the bottom of the page in the 'Etsy Bill' tab in 'My Etsy'). From PayPal, you can download all account activity, or a filtered version of it, by going to drop-down menu of the 'History' tab while logged in to your account, and selecting 'Download History.
Hopefully this info will help you get started or just become more efficient in managing your Etsy shop. You should love what you do, or you should be doing something else!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: V - Shipping and Feedback

Shipping packages and leaving buyer feedback might seem totally straightforward, but it's actually important to consider each before you have to do either.

Shipping Items

  1. Have very clear shop policies. Imagine foreseeable situations and think about how you want to handle them. Being clear can save a world of headache and generally makes the buyers feel more secure in their purchases. Set time frames for payments and shipping, conditions for potential returns and exchanges, and explain anything that might cause a glitch in an otherwise smooth transaction (turnaround time, custom orders, etc). Having something to refer to in a tricky situation can save your sanity and make you more credible.

  2. Estimate shipping as best as you can. You can use www.usps.com to calculate approximate shipping for various sizes and weights of packages, so offer different shipping prices to different countries based on what it will actually cost. Personally, I offer 3 shipping prices: US, Canada and Everywhere Else. It is OK to have a surcharge for international orders since they are more work (they can require customs forms, First Class Intl can’t be printed through PayPal, and they must be physically handed to a postal worker, etc). The amount you charge for shipping an item will not have Etsy fees taken out of it when the item is purchased, so don’t necessarily lower the shipping when you want to reduce the price. Your shipping price should also take into account all of your packaging costs, including business cards, labels, bags, mailers, boxes, tape, printer paper and ink, and anything else other than the product that goes into a package before it hits the mailbox.

  3. Buyers don't like grossly inflated shipping costs, especially international, even if it is the only way that they could get that particular item. I have read about this often in the Etsy forums... potential buyers can get angry because some items are prohibitively priced in the shipping department. I would venture to say that if you upped the price of the item and lowered the international shipping, you might do better than keeping shipping at actual levels. This might seems the opposite of what I've said above, but it is something to think about. Shipping costs vary greatly depending on origin, desitnation, size and weight, but if you want to sell something, do think about shipping and how it might be perceived by a potential buyer.
Getting and Leaving Feedback

  1. Since your reputation is based on sales and feedback from your buyers, a happy buyer equals a successful seller. Give buyers the benefit of the doubt. Be patient and polite all the time (but don’t be a doormat… your time is worth something and you can draw the line… with a smile, of course!). Tossing in a free gift from time to time can help endear you to a customer and might lead to a return visit to your shop. Be yourself and reveal a little personality in conversations with your buyers. Etsy is about the process as much as the product, and people like to feel good about who is making their item and are willing to be more patient with you since they know you are a real person and not a factory.

  2. Leaving quality feedback for your buyers is important for many reasons. It gets your shop name “out there” in one more arena, it encourages buyers to leave feedback for you, it showcases your great products that someone has already snapped up, and it is good for the Etsy community at large by providing a look into potential problems or a history of botched transactions. Quality doesn’t mean positive. If you are worried about the kind of feedback a buyer might leave for you based on how a transaction progressed, you will want to wait for them to leave feedback for you so you can temper anything unpleasant by preserving you ability to defend yourself in the feedback you will leave for them.

  3. If you are very worried about getting negative feedback based on a buyer’s history of leaving it, you do have the ability to cancel a sale, thereby removing the buyer’s opportunity to leave you any feedback. Obviously you lose the sale by doing so, but you will need to weigh the consequences of negative feedback on your reputation. If you haven’t gotten much feedback yet, a negative response from a buyer could do much more damage than if you have closer to 200 positive feedbacks, where a negative will round down to 0 and you will still have a rating of 100% positive.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: IV - Selling Items

Captain Obvious says, "Selling items is what you have to do in order to have a successful shop anywhere". You can make the best things in the world, but if you can't get someone to buy them... well, you know. I've been on Etsy just a little over 6 months and I've had just about 450 sales to date, just so you can feel some confidence in my information. Making sales is almost as much an art form as making the items. That's why God created business school. I've never been, but Etsy has cleared up a lot for me in the word of consumer behavior and just how to be effective with your marketing. I still have a lot to learn, I know, but here are some practical tips I've currently found to be helpful:

  1. Don’t undervalue your handmade items. Perceived value is related to price, so don’t feel bad charging what it is really worth for your time and effort. Reducing the price will not necessarily sell it faster, in higher volume, or at all. Use a pricing calculator to reveal hidden costs (i.e. overhead) in producing your items to make sure you are covering your bases. Think of it this way: If someone asks if you will sell a product wholesale and you can’t cut your price approximately in half and still make enough profit to be worth your time, you aren’t charging enough.
  2. Advertise yourself by being a presence on Etsy. Post in the forums, heart other shops, leave comments in the treasuries or make your own treasury. Showcases are an exception, in my mind. I tried a main showcase and a subcategory showcase and didn’t even get more views, let alone sales. Common experience has indicated that many sellers experience the same thing. A $15 main showcase slot costs the same as renewing 75 items, so spend that money where it will do the most good.
  3. Don’t let slow times get you down. Slow and steady wins the race, right? As Michael from Arrested Development would say, “Keep your head down and power through.”


One note about sales: You can't necessarily assume because a shop has a high number of sales that they are successful. in my case, for example, I sell handmade items and vintage buttons. The handmade items bring in more money because I have to pay myself for my time, though the button sales really beef up my ratings because I sell more of them for less. Ultimately, the buttons might not be considered "worthwhile" since they do require the same work as handmade items to list, yet fetch more in the long run. But I think, by listing a variety of things that appeal to a variety of niches at a variety of prices, I get more views in my shop as a whole and, consequently, more sales.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: III - Making and Listing Items

Making your items to sell is usually the "fun" part, it's what you like to do and probably why you wanted to have a shop in the first place. But it isn't just that simple and there are plenty of other steps in process of making a successful shop. This section is about getting started with making and listing.

Buying Supplies and Making Items

  1. Shop around for cheaper supplies, both for creating and for shipping. A great suggestion from Captain Obvious, but it will help you earn more in the long run.
  2. Making the items should be the best part, so make sure you enjoy the process! You’re not a factory and you shouldn’t feel like one just to make a buck or two. But then, if this is your day job, you will have to make things that people want to buy, so you will have to find that balance in your shop. Hopefully that won’t be a problem!
Listing Items
  1. Take the best photos you can. This seems obvious, but there is a lot of stuff on Etsy that is poorly photographed, and it doesn’t sell. Regularly critique your photos, compare them with photos you like of similar items from other shops, and think about which one a potential buyer would be more likely to look at based solely on the first photo of the listing. Try different lighting (indoor/outdoor, with/without a flash, different exposures, different backgrounds, different angles, closeup or at a distance). There are a lot of good resources out there, so read up if you think your pictures could use some work.
  2. Don’t list all of your items at once (no “grand opening”). Etsy is primarily organized by most recent listings, so you are wasting precious exposure by listing them all at the same time. Instead, maybe list one or more items per day (depending on the volume you want to sell), or renew an old item if you don’t have a new one to list, just to keep your shop current. Try to have one of each major type of item you sell “at the top of the pile” so potential buyers find your shop. Personally, I aim to renew one listing of produce bags, an iPod case, and list several new sets of buttons every day or two. I also relist things when similar items have just been sold. People can’t buy your stuff if a) it isn’t there or b) they can’t find it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: II - Setting Up Shop

Setting up shop on Etsy was a fun time for me... you get to create an environment to showcase the things you love and love to make. There are two main things that you should do to turn a blank shop into your shop:

  1. LOOKS: Create a banner, an avatar, a profile description, and determine your shop policies. I use The Gimp freeware for creating a banner (760 px by 100 px), and simply shrink a photo of one of my listed items to avatar size (75 px by 75 px). My suggestion would be to make your banner appealing to you and relevant to your shop or, at the very least, not completely random. But what do I know? What you put in your profile and shop policies are very personal, so no one can tell you what to write there. When in doubt, go with your gut.
  2. ORGANIZATION: Create appropriate sections. If you are going to sell different types of things, make sure it’s easy for your shop visitors to see right up front what you sell. Make it as descriptive or plain as you like, but make sure it is obvious what will be in each section.

And that's it for now. Just creating those things will take a little while. We'll get to more about shop policies, listing items, and all the rest in a bit. Have fun!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Etsy Tutorial: I - Links

I want to share some links that have been really helpful to me as I started out on Etsy, from the very basics to shipping supplies and crafting inspiration. Hope this helps! Comments are always appreciated!

USEFUL AND IMPORTANT LINKS

Etsy – http://www.etsy.com/
Etsy backup website (if Etsy goes down) – http://fix.etsy.com/

Accepting payment – PayPal, RevolutionMoneyExchange

Calculating shipping costs - US Postal Service

Pricing your items - page about pricing handmade bags in specific, page about pricing handmade goods, page with general pricing help

Downloadable pricing calculators - http://etsy.ppcalc.com/, http://chris-parry.blogspot.com/2007/12/free-spreadsheet-for-pricing-your-work.html

IRS Tax Guide for Small Business - http://www.irs.gov/publications/p334/index.html
Starting a Business and Keeping Records - http://www.irs.gov/publications/p583/index.html

Shipping supplies – Uline, Royalmailers (good for quantities in the 100s), Sam's Club (good for packages of 25)

OTHER GREAT LINKS

Photo storage and hosting - Flickr
Promoting your site - http://selfpromotion.com/
Crafting inspiration – Craftster
Knitting/crocheting best site ever (free patterns) – Ravelry
Photo help – Strobist blog
The Gimp (similar capabilities to Adobe Photoshop, but freeware) – http://www.gimp.org/

Please please please comment with any more great sites pertinent to anything Etsy/crafting/photo/supplies/business related. We can all benefit from a little shared knowledge!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Etsy Thoughts: What to Sell? (or "One Shop or Two?")

Let me tell you about a recent experience. I was browsing Amazon.com for cheaper mailing supplies for my Etsy shop. I looked at a few things and found exactly what I was hoping to find. Large quantity, bulk discount, low shipping. Perfect. But as I was browsing around the online store looking for other items that could be helpful and would be eligible for combined shipping, I noticed something. Something odd.

Look at these photos:



A toilet wheelchair. A set of poker chips. Mailers. Exercise equipment. And a cable accessory.

This is a representative sample of the 346 items sold by that vendor. Really? Yes, really. There were really just those 5 types of things... what you see in the pictures and variations on a theme.

The store was called Good Deal Hunting. OK. I was expecting it to be hunting supplies.

So that experience got me thinking about my shop. What do I sell that would make people go, "Hmm...?" What does my shop name imply?

So my shop name is TheJuneBride because, frankly, I am a June bride and I liked the sound of it. I don't think it commits me to a category of items the same way "Karen's Button Emporium" would. I've gotten feedback both ways about it too. Some guy thought I should sell more wedding related merch, but another person (a world-famous author, as it happens) told me she thought it was "classy and elegant". Of course I was flattered, as the comment was unsolicited. But since Etsy doesn't let you switch names, the point is moot if I'm only going to have one shop.

And what do I sell? In the handmade arena, I mainly sell iPod/gadget cases, baby hats and baby booties. For vintage supplies, it's buttons, trims and other sewing hardware-type items. That's it with a few odds and ends tucked in here and there. I'm not sure if that is as random as the toilet wheelchair and poker chip combo, but it certainly falls into 2 categories. I don't know if it bother people who want handmade items, or if it bother people who want supplies.

Now Etsy has changed their default search tactics to prevent "category bleed"... basically, they want searches to produce results that are more in line with what the search intended to pick out. If someone searches for "shirt", my shirt buttons will never show up now. This has hurt sales since only people who are looking for buttons find buttons now, but as time passes, things are recovering. I am findig that having a variety in my shop turns out more regular sales. I just deactivated all listings that are not iPod cases, brooches or buttons because I'm taking my shop on vacation. Sales are dramatically down. This could be a fluke, but I don't think so.

So, in conclusion, variety is good. Especially if you are an incontinent computer repair person who is rehabilitating a broken leg and enjoys playing poker. I'm going to stick with one shop, at least until Etsy gets their alternative up and running.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Random Finds: Some Things Don't Translate Literally

For example, here are the pattern instructions for a very interesting shirt from the German website Brigette, translated into English using an online translator. See the site to read the original German version. I was amused.


Loud invitations, but ebb-tide in the wardrobe? The Glamor Top of the designer Duos of whisk & Tiedeken from Berlin is to be after-sewn refined and nevertheless completely fast.And in such a way it goes:

Time: 3 to 4 hours
Material: 1.80 meters jersey (1.40 m broad), suitable yarn, sewing machine




1. The Top (Einheitsgröße) consists of a trapezoid, a shoulder volume, the cuff and two Bindebändern. The exact mass of the individual cut parts you infer from our pattern. One transfers, cuts this mass to paper her out, attaches her on the simply lying material and cuts everything too (seam addition of 1 cm is already inclusive).

2. Arm holes sew, by cutting according to the dimensions from the upper two trapezoid corners to the marked point 22 cm each. Holes then with 3.5 cm broad and 46 cm are enough for Stoffrest einpaspeln. For sew machinist inside with little experience, but no fear sounds complicated, then it goes: One folds the Stoffstreifen along centric, hits their sides to the center, irons her, framed with them the arm cutouts and quilts her firmly.

3. Sew subsequently, shoulder volume at sides and upper edge of the trapezoid. Feststecken in addition the volume right on right at the trapezoid and sew on. The open side of the arm cutout is closed thereby. Importantly: the front Paspelkante of the arm cutout before the fixed sewing inward folds, thus the Top falls better. Fold, inside along the first seam with needles feststecken and in the shade of the seam from right sew on afterwards the shoulder volume.

4. Bindebänder to the cuff sew, then all right on right fold, the Bindebänder together-sewn and their ends close, but: the cuff on length of the lower edge of the trapezoid leave open. Bindebänder invert, which cuffs sew right on right to the lower edge of the trapezoid. Keep the width, i.e. one must stretch the cuff when sewing something. Sew on then exactly like the shoulder volume in the shade of the seam.

5. So sieht's then out: Simple Top refines in the back is bound. The two Bindebänder are interlocked in front afterwards on the hip.

Regina Tiedeken, 33, and Friederike of whisk Parlow, 35, created internationally the break-through. 2004 was too " the former female assistants of Vivienne Westwood as German newcomers to London; Fashion RK the Embassy" invited. Meanwhile one can buy their drafts in New York, Tokyo or Athens. But still also with us - in their own shop: Almstadtstraße 7, 10119 Berlin.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Extreme Makeover for the blog formerly known as Domestic Bliss

Hello... I know, I know... A shocking change. I was never expecting this site to go all commercial, but, well... here we are. Content shouldn't change, I expect. I am hoping that by merging this site with my Etsy efforts, I will update more often. Yay! Everyone wins.

Soon all of the site construction should end and we'll awaken to a beautiful new page full of hope and life. Don't worry, I'm faster than most Michigan road construction projects... I promise.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Etsy Thoughts: Could This Be Brilliant?

In my middle-of-the-night musings about Etsy, selling my items, and the potential for actually turning a profit, I stumbled upon the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, I don't need Etsy. *Gasp!* I think an active Etsy shop will be the best asset to this new idea, but I think it might not actually be necessary.

Since I am at least somewhat technologically-savvy, it occurred to me that all someone really needs to sell something safely is a website of any kind to showcase the items for sale, not even a secure one, and a PayPal account. Seems too simple, and maybe my rudimentary conclusions are not fully formed from lack of actual experience with it. But I think I am going to try something and see what happens with it. Here's my new 4-step plan:

  1. Set up a website to showcase my handmade products. Possibly even this website (I guess we'll see!).
  2. Tell people to contact me via email if they would like to buy something.
  3. Send a PayPal email invoice for amount due.
  4. Ship items when payment clears.
If this works, there are a lot of advantages. I wouldn't have to give Etsy listing fees or a percentage of the sale price. I could use my own html and tagging to (hopefully) attract buyers, and feature any items I want without restrictions, moral and legal considerations aside, of course. The Etsy account would help in the credibility/reliability category. It would also give customers a second location to purchase if they would prefer to use it.

Downsides to this plan would be that customers could not leave feedback, though I could allow comments in some location. On the payment end, since I wouldn't ship without payment and items wouldn't be "unlisted" unless I unlist them, nothing is off-the-table to other buyers until payment does clear. Thusly I wouldn't have to fear the "non-paying buyer" phenomenon that seems to plague Etsy (and of which I was once a hapless victim). Etsy might make it easier to be found by potential buyers, but perhaps not. People go to the Etsy website to buy handmade items, but they also search using google and other search engines, so only time will tell what gets more attention.

Something that wouldn't change is where the money goes. PayPal still gets their cut of each transaction going in, but the credit/debit accounts they offer make it really easy to use those funds for business purchases both on and off the internet.

Those are my thoughts today. I'll ponder them further. It seems like it could be done FOR FREE using a combination of Blogger (or other blogging site), Flickr (or other photo/photostream site), and PayPal (or other payment handling site like Revolution Money Exchange). Free is good for small start-up businesses, and the fact that people would have to contact me directly to purchase items that I have made seems reasonable and appropriate to the arena of handmade items.

Thoughts? Feel free to comment. Bubble-bursters are welcome.

*UPDATE 6/27 - I guess I'll be my own bubble burster. You can't use Flickr for commercial purposes... could get your account terminated! So don't do that. I'm sure there are other options, but, after a little more time under my belt on Etsy, having an umbrella site so people can find you is great thing, even with the fees. There are ways to be more visible on Etsy, and experience will help with that. I will be posting int he future about some general Etsy lessons, so check back is you are interested. Thanks!*

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Etsy Thoughts: Hey! Look at me!


It's been just about 2 months since I opened my Etsy shop. I've sold 106 items. Not bad. That's better than I had hoped, though not as lucrative. Lucrative might not be the right word. Since I'm not doing this for my livelihood but rather my sanity, money isn't the primary goal. But it really is a good indicator of objective success in the business world and certainly would be a welcome asset to the game.

This week things have been slow. As I have learned, March is the month with the consistently lowest sales across the board. Seems to be the consensus amongst Etsy sellers as well as the economy at large. Some blame the tax season, others the rebound from Christmas sales. I don't much care, but it has been a little bit disappointing to be a one-woman show and to see the effects so clearly.

Since I seem to be able to make more things than are currently selling, I have decided to put more effort into marketing my site and trying to increase traffic. You can't buy something if you can't find it or don't know it even exists.

The clever thing that Etsy developers are doing to a) get the best profits and b) keep Etsy looking consistent in each shop is to not allow any html aside from what they have set up. What does that mean in the practical sense? No blinking pictures, no neon text, only 5 pictures per listing and just 14 tags in addition to your item title. This is good for people who like to browse the shops and not be bombarded with overt advertising beyond the item photos and description. Also for some epileptics (not joking... I actually read a recent forum post by a seller who was glad of this fact because her epilepsy was triggered by light patterns!).

Since you can't add your own html, your Etsy shop can't use meta tags to get outside search engines to take more notice. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of meta tags, they're basically tags included by site developers that only search engines can see, and they are used to help rank sites by relevence. Among other things, they will help determine if your site is on the first page to pop up, or the 492, 294th. Thusly they are a critical element of search engine optimization. The first paragraph on a page is another place search engines look for keywords to help rank your site, so writing your descriptions to appeal to both humans and search engines can be a real art form... one that most Etsy sellers aren't quite as proficient in, including myself.

So no outside search engine help other than your item description, and the 14 tags you get for each Etsy listing are easily outweighed by the most important factor in the Etsy world: the timing of your item listings. When a potential buyer searches for something using the Etsy search function, the listings automatically come up with the newest listed items first. The buyer can then organize them by price or listing date, but if your item was not listed in the past week and the price is in the middle of the pack, you might not get noticed. Here's where another great source of revenue comes in for Etsy: relisting items before they expire. Listings are up for 4 months, but because they essentially get "buried" by newer items, by renewing items before they expire (for another $0.20 listing fee, of course), you can keep your items close to the top and in the eye of the consumer.

So it would seem that an outside website, in which you could make the most of meta tagging and keyword usage, one that links to your Etsy shop, would be a very good thing. It would get general searches from search engines rather than searches through Etsy, but if someone is looking for a quality handmade item, introducing them to Etsy could be a very good way to get a great repeat buyer.

Other Etsians favor Flickr for getting some shop attention. I haven't used it beyond general photo sharing on my family blog, and hardly that, so I'll be looking into just why they like to use this, how it can be a useful tool among your marketing strategies, and the best ways to utilize it for your purposes.

More arenas of potential marketing that I'd like to research include submitting a site to the major search engines, Facebook, MySpace, online forums outside of Etsy, online classifieds, and more focused blogging.

That's a lot to digest for a relative Etsy newbie like myself. I'm going to go sleep on it and hopefully make some exciting new discoveries tomorrow. That and work on writing the best descriptions, taking the best photos and making the best products.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Get Crafty: Silk Dyed Easter Eggs


Oh, I've been bad. So so bad. No posting in a long time because I've been having so much fun with my Etsy shop.

But I just did a cool project with my kids and I just had to share it with you before Easter has passed and it is no longer relevent.


Last year I encountered a Martha Stewart project for dying Easter eggs with old silk ties or blouses (she also mentioned silk boxers, but I'd rather not mix that idea with something I might potentially eat... You decide for yourself).

Anyway, here's the rundown:

1. Get old silk ties. I got mine at a local thrift store.

2. Wrap eggs in swatches of silk, then cover with a square of old sheet or other tight-woven white cotton fabric and twist-tie tightly. The better you get the silk tight around the egg, the better the pattern will transfer.

3. Put eggs in enameled pot, fill with water to cover eggs and add at least 1/4 cup vinegar. The vinegar will apparently do bad things to your non-enameled pot. I don't have an enamel pot, but I didn't want to find out the hard way exactly what would happen. So I put eggs in a Reynold's oven bag inside a regular metal pot and filled the bag with water and put some water outside of bag. Vinegar went inside bag with eggs.

4. Heat to boiling, reduce to simmer and cook 10-20 minutes, depending on if you want to eat the eggs or not.

5. Remove from heat, cool down, and unwrap. Voila! No mess, just really neat eggs!


Have a Happy and Blessed Easter!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home Sweet Home: Disinfecting the House after the Flu

Well, no posts here in a while because we've been held hostage by a particularly virulent strain of stomach flu. Explosive, unpredictable, double-ended. Enough said.

I, not completely over it yet, am trying to begin sanitizing the house. Since I'm a novice in the cleaning-up-after-sickness business, I googled it, as you might have expected from me. eHow had a nice rundown on the basics of house disinfecting. A lot of that was obvious and I was doing it as a matter of course - WASH YOUR HANDS, keep the sick person in one area of the house, take out the trash, wash the soiled linens in hot water, clean the bathroom, use a bleach solution to disinfect all surfaces, wash dishes used by the sick person, etc, etc. I am not sure why I was the very last to get sick yet I was the one up all night with the sick little ones. I'm sure I washed my hands at least 100 times a day (not exaggerating!) and used hand sanitizer in between... my hands are red and chapped to prove it. But that doesn't negate the fact that I was vomitted near and occasionally on. Gross but unavoidable when you've got 3 under 4 and they're all losing their dinner at the same time.

So, after checking off the basics, I still had all of the kids' toys that have nooks and crannies in which lurk the seeds of contagion. So I had another search to do. About.com had an article about sanitizing toys which was somewhat useful. Most results dealt with cleaning toys in a commercial daycare center setting, but were still informative about some methods of cleaning hard-to-sanitize items. Fisher-Price also had similar information, but was more geared to family home settings.

Summing up the collective wisdom, I have decided to top-rack dishwash the Duplos and other small plastic toys in a mesh bag (the kind you might use to keep your unmentionables from floating all over in the washing machine). Haven't done it yet since we're not 100% better, but it will happen. I'll post more if something unexpected happens there.

I will also be borrowing my mother-in-law's carpet cleaner to clean a particularly unlucky part of our living room rug (and hopefully other carpets that need it anyway). I am going to get some sort of surface/air sanitizer to spray the rest of the kids' toys that can't go in the dishwasher (Yay Lysol!). I'll be cleaning the bathrooms (again!), washing the bathroom rugs (again!) and changing everybody's sheets (again!). And, even though it's below freezing here right now, I'm insanely entertaining the idea of opening up the house for a half hour or so with the attic fan on just to move some fresh air through our house.

But right now, I'm going to go lie down because I'm tired just thinking about all of the cleaning I'll be doing when I feel better. Not particularly fun, but a real necessity if we ever hope to entertain at our house again. It'll be worth it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

TheJuneBride News: More Baby Booties!

Well, I have to take back mt previous statements about fleece and baby booties. It is possible to use fleece, as long as you don't use it for the sole. Or as long as I don't use it for the sole, since no one said you were having any trouble with it. Enough italics... onto the pictures.



As you can see, not only was I able to figure out a pattern, I was able to successfully size it up for different ages. They needed an internal elastic cuff to keep them on, but they have no exposed stiching on the outside. I think they're adorable and...


They're available in my Etsy shop! Check it out to see more of what I've been up to...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Home Sweet Home: Cleaning for Company

It's Thursday. That means I clean my house in the morning. I'm not generally a schedule freak, but Thursday is Grandma Day. My (absolutely wonderful) mother-in-law comes over from about 11 AM till around 5 PM so I get to be free to do as I please. I am the envy of my friends, to be sure.

I love my mother-in-law and we are certainly like family at this point. But I still like to have a clean house when she comes over. Not to say that we live in squalor when she's not around, but sometimes we do. *Cringe* Oh well, once a week cleaning is better than once a month cleaning.

My routine, if you could call it that, starts out with a big bag. I run around the downstairs of our colonial and put everything in it that's out of place (usually toys). Then I empty the bag of things into their respective rooms. With an honest attempt to involve the tots into the process, I sort the "stuff" into the many niches where they belong. I also start a pile at the bottom of the stairs of everything that needs to go up, and take an armload anytime I have to go up anyway.

Once the floors are clear of clutter, I move all easily moveable objects and vacuum. This is quite a satisfying part of the routine since I never feel like I didn't really need to vacuum. I get some sort of strange satisfaction from opening the dustbin and seeing what sort of shape the lint, hair and crambs have made. Sometimes it's a cone, sometimes a perfectly round ball and, on very rare and delightful occasions, it is two perfectly round balls of dust bunnies. With the 3 kids and all the snacks they eat (or crumble) all over the house, I try to vacuum everyday and I am always amazed by the amount of stuff my vacuum cleaner picks up.

After that I either vacuum ot sweep the tiled kitchen and wood dining room floor. Next it's the counters... empty and load the dishwasher, wipe the counters using Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface Spray and hand wash anything that needs it. Then I use some Softscrum with Bleach to white my white enameled sink. If I still have time, I wipe down the bathroom surfaces with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and maybe, just maybe, I clean the tile floor in the kitchen and bathroom using a Swiffer Wetjet. I find it does a pretty good job getting up the easy-to-remove grunge with minimal effort and time.

At that point my house is look just about as respectable as can be hoped for a house whose average occupant age is somewhere around 11.5. Then the businees of the day can proceed. I get to go run whatever errands I want, and Grandma can do whatever it is she does on Grandma Day. What happens on Grandma Day stays on Grandma Day...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

From the Kitchen: Super Bowl Appetizers

I feel bad posting about food on Ash Wednesday (a day of fasting and abstaining from all meat, for you non-Catholics out there), but I have been remisce in my posting and need to catch up. Both recipes can be meatless, so it could be worse...

The first is a recipe idea from the wife of my husband's first-cousin-once-removed (his is a family who insists on know exactly how they are related to each other, thusly i must be correct in my distinctions or who knows what might happen?). At any rate, she brought them to a family reunion and they were sooooo delicious, and insanely easy. Here's it is:

Laurie's Pizza Poppers

Ingredients:
1 loaf frozen bread dough, thawed per package instructions (or a 1 lb loaf of freshly made bread dough, as I did)
Couple tbsps canola oil (any oil, really)
Pepperoni, if desired (I am not a fan, so I didn't use it this time)
Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Cut dough into 1" blobs. Heat oil in non-stick skillet on medium-high. If you want, tuck a piece of pepperoni into each blob and seal. Drop blobs into skillet, flipping to brown both sides. Remove when golden and sprinkle with parmesan cheese while still hot. Serve hot!


The second recipe is named because you can use any kind of shredded cheese you have on hand, as long as it isn't all one kind. I studied in Australia in college, and when my boyfriend (who is not-so-coincidently now my husband) came to visit me, we went to a fabulous little Mexican place and ate the best chili con queso I have ever had. This is not quite as good, but still so so so good (and not at all good for you). When I can eat dairy again I will resume my experimentation to duplicate the original recipe. I have a feeling it involves creme fraiche and fire roasted peppers, and I'm not willing to play around with that unless I can eat it myself. Here's a good recipe in the meantime:

Grab-bag Chili con Queso

Ingredients:
4 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 tbsp canned pimientos (or some thin-sliced fire roasted red peppers, if you want to be fancy)
1/2 can diced tomatoes with green chilis, drained as well as possible
1/2 cup milk or cream (whole milk is best, but not terribly critical)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups (at least) of whatever cheese you have on hand (I used a combo of mozzarella, monterey jack, colby, and sharp cheddar... I wanted to get rid of some of the bags I had floating around my refrigerator)

Directions:
Melt butter over medium heat. Sautee onion, adding tomatos an pimientos when translucent. Boil for about 5 minutes to reduce liquid. Add milk and sour cream, stirring well, until very hot. Remove from heat. Add all cheeses and mix well until completely melted. Serve hot with tortilla chips.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Home Sweet Home: Family Room Renovation, Part II

Oh goody... completing this project was such a confidence boost. And now I get to brag about it.

After the new carpet was in, all that remained between me and complete domestic bliss (temporarily, at least) was to cover up the hideous brick fireplace surround and build a new mantle over the old one. Sounds easy, right? Actually, if I could do it, it couldn't have been too tough.

Here's the before picture, ignore the lack of carpet:


Once I drew up my ideal plan for the wall, I went to Lowe's and bought my materials - a 4'X8' piece of 3/4" MDF ("medium density fiberboard"; I had them cut it to my specs for convenience), another board, lots of trim and one length of decorative crown molding. We ripped off the existing trim on the front of the mantle, and left the rest to be covered up. I had my handy hubby cut out the actual hole for the fireplace, then I took over.

Before anything else, since the weather was obliging at the time, I masked and spray-painted the existing fireplace glass door frame, since it was ugly and we had to take it out anyway. I chose a hammered bronze finish, and it looked like a whole new thing when I was done. I used plastic wrap and masking tape to keep the paint off the glass parts, and it really worked well for that. Nothing leaked through the plastic.

I used heavy duty liquid nails and my husband's brawn to adhere the MDF to the brick surround. Once that was set, I replaced the fireplace screen on top of it, then jumped into the trim work. I put a piece of MDF on top of the existing mantle to be a new surface for the mantle. Another thinner piece of MDF on the front, attached to the top piece with some small L brackets. Under that I attached the decorative crown molding, securing the bottom onto the additional board I had purchased. Lastly, I mitered the corners of some door trim to frame the fireplace screen and edge the flat part of the new surround.

Well, it wasn't really "lastly", because after that I had to patch the trim nail holes and caulk where the separate pieces met, then paint 2 coats. But I was on a roll and I knew I would be soooo happy with it. And I am. Can you tell? Here's why:


I could just cry with delight.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Home Sweet Home: Family Room Renovation, Part I

When we moved into this house, we knew we would be ripping up most of the carpeting in the house because there were hardwood floors hidden underneath. But the one room, other than the kitchen, that didn't have hardwood floors was the family room. Here's a picture from the end of 2004, when we were busy with new baby #1, finishing the kitchen and refinishing wood floors in some of the other rooms...


Yikes! Needless to say, this room was not a selling point when we moved in. At the bottom of the picture you can see the ceramic tile that was in one corner where the door to the garage opens into the room.

By February 2007, 2 years and another 1.5 kids later, I had had more than enough. About 6 months earlier I had made a pact with my husband that I would get into shape and get back into my ideal weight range, and then he would get me new carpet. Seemed fair, but I, just joking at the time, stipulated that if I got pregnant again before that happened, I would get new carpet anyway. So, this carpet was installed a bit sooner that I had originally hoped, but in hindsight I wouldn't have it any other way. Both the baby and the carpet are beautiful, but require regular cleaning to keep them looking nice.

Here are some pictures of the carpet removal:


Since we were planning to redo the hearth and mantle, I wanted to attach some wood to the brick facing where the carpet would go. I also had to put a new board in at the step into the kitchen. I ended up staying up quite late that night. Just the table saw, the electric planer, and me:


And the after picture:


This project, more than anything else about our work on the house, made me realize some things. When you get used to living around things that initially made you cringe, it can be hard to instigate change... but when you do get around to it, it feels soooo nice (especially on my toes).

Friday, February 1, 2008

Home Sweet Home: Family Room Renovation, Part III

This post is out of order, but since there was a special request, I'll get over it.

Since we moved into this house almost 4 years ago, the family room has been the winter of my discontent. Until last February. During that time, I (quite pregnant) ripped up the awful old brown carpet, the awful older red flowery outdoor carpet that was used instead of padding, scrapped up the even older linoleum tiles under that... and then we had new carpet and real padding installed. That was step 1... a post is in the works.

The next step was to build a new fireplace surround on the existing hearth, incorporating 2 new Ikea bookcases with glass doors. That happened in October, and boy oh boy am I happy with the results. There'll be a post about that too.

Then, sometime in November I finally got my family pictures up on the wall. I had them up before we started the renovation, but they were not up-to-date or well-placed, and every time the door slammed to the garage, they would all tilt this way or that. So...

What I did this time was to make a template using a really big piece of paper (it's actually a big roll of kid art paper, and it's already made its blog debut as the background for most of the pictures of small things I've posted so far). I laid it down on the floor and arranged the frames on top of it, mixing the wood and black frames as evenly as I could for visual balance. Don't judge me, but most of my frames were collected over a couple years from CVS, and they cost $3-4 each, on average. When I was happy with the arrangement, I put a sticky note on each frame with a number, then traced the frame on the paper and wrote the number in the middle. Then I taped the big paper on the wall with the frame outlines where I wanted them, using a level to keep things straight. Placing the hangers was the tricky part. I had to measure each frame to figure out where the nail should go, then make a corresponding dot on the paper. I put each hanger right through the paper and hung the picture on top to make sure it was in the right spot. I had to move a few nails because the pictures didn't end up where I wanted, but the errant holes were hidden so I didn't bother doing any patching. When all the pictures were hung, I took them down, pulled off the paper and put them back up. I also put a clear plastic "bumper", the kind you use for making cabinet doors close more gently, on each lower corner of each frame, hoping to keep them more level.



A key ingredient to keeping them level was to move them to a different wall than the one with the door that always knocked them off kilter. They unlevel themselves a bit over time, but it's easier to get them back in shape. For the trouble wall, since it was the biggest in the room and needed some pictures too, I used two large collage frames from Linens'N'Things (about $33 for both). They took up lots of space, were balanced, and each had two locations for hangers so they can't become crooked when the door slams.


Good luck if you are trying to make a wall collage too. If you find any secrets for keeping the photos from tilting, come back and leave a comment!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Home Sweet Home: When It Rains, It Pours

Or doesn't pour, in Wednesday's case of my washing machine fabric softener dispenser. Mere weeks ago I was cleaning the lint from my 3 year-old ailing dryer. We bought the washing machine at the same time as the dryer and they were installed on the very same day. Last night, while folding baskets of the long-neglected laundry, I discovered grease spots on several articles of clothing, including my new pants. Oh calamity! Oh help!

Having determined that someone had not left a tube of chap stick in a pants pocket, I checked everything to make sure there weren't any other oddities about the load of laundry. It seemed that a few articles from a previous load also had grease spots, but not the whole load either time. I am young, but I have enough siblings and have lived long enough to see the ravaging effects of both a tube of chap stick and a brown crayon going through a cycle in the dryer. It ain't purdy, take my word for it if you have never been privy to such a scene of devastation. But this time, since the whole load wasn't affected, my guess was that it was somehow related to the fabric softener dispenser in the washing machine.

For the past several months at least, I had noticed a yellowy, waxy build up in the fabric softener dispenser. I also knew that there was a way to remove the dispenser to clean it, but it turns out that, yet again, the instructions were not correct about how exactly one was to go about doing that. Way to go, Sears. Turns out that no amount of twisting would do it, just brute force pulling straight up. More elbow grease prying the top part off the bottom part to free the cup in the middle. Once it was all in pieces, I got an old toothbrush and scraped the build-up out under a stream of hot water. It really looked like dirty crisco, not to be unappetizing (if lard substitutes ever really could be appetizing in the first place).


Also, the actual "dispenser" part, where the softener drains out small holes during the first fast spin cycle, was really clogged and some fabric softener was still standing in there. I poured some hot water in and prodded at some more build-up until I had water flowing well out of one hole and tolerably well out another. I just kept pouring and prodding until, all of a sudden, a third drain hole opened up. It had been so clogged that I didn't even see it. That's how bad it was. Ewww. Once everything was cleaned up, put back together, and the dirty rinse water was drained, I ran a load with the clothes that had the greasy spots to see what happened. I used lots of detergent, hot water, and no fabric softener (I was just too annoyed that it had been such a pain).

The result? Clean clothes with no hint of grease anymore. Hooray!

Monday, January 28, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Itty Bitty Baby Booties

I'm on a kid kick (and have been since somewhere in 2004). I am trying to make some cute, durable, comfortable, non-slip, difficult-for-a-baby-to-remove baby booties. Since I don't follow directions well and have an incurable superiority complex when it comes to crafts, I decided to make up my own pattern. That fact, of course, led first to my utter failure. I speedily disposed of the resultant "booties", but then saved them for a moment to take a photo for posterity before tying them in a bag with a stinky diaper lest someone think they were worth rescuing. If you have a weak stomach, look away:


Yeah. Mmm-hmmm. And yes, that really is shelf liner I was trying to use for a non-slip sole. Not much to say about that other than "Ugh."

But then I figured that perhaps all my struggles with fleece were not necessarily due to my lack of skill so much as perhaps fleece was never meant to be used for baby booties. Intriguing idea, and it exonerates me for part of the crime above (for the record, I am guilty of sewing the booties together in the wrong order so the tongue was on the outside, but that didn't really make them much worse than doing it "correctly"... after all, there's no right way to fail).

So my next thought was to "repurpose" some wool felt from my old winter peacoat (the lining was ripping and beyond repair, but clean and I was given a beautiful new one for Christmas). My husband paused for a moment to remember the good old days before I unceremoniously started in with the scissors. At the time I felt a bit like a whale hunter cleaning the catch, ripping out the tissue-like lining and cutting the sinuous threads holding the whole thing together. Cutting out the pieces was quick and sewing it together was quicker. Here's the first pair:


After that, I decided it would be necessary to zigzag over the raw edges for stability and cuteness-factor. I also added some faux-petals under the snap. Here's the second pair:


But I really wanted a non-slip sole, so I again "repurposed" some suede. I also tried to make them boyish since my baby is a boy. I used a snap in the back (not shown) to hold them on better, but I'm not 100% satisfied. My boy was able to kick them off, but socks may have helped. Curbing that natural inclination towards cute girly shoes was tough, but I am fairly pleased with the results. Here's the third pair:


But I would like to possibly sell or at least gift some of these, so I just had to tweak my pattern make some wrap/kimono style. I will have to do some more work before they stay on well, but they look nice. Here's the fourth pair:


I just can't help myself now... I will have to try some mary jane type shoes and toddler slippers and other related projects. You can expect more on this topic, to be sure.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

TheJuneBride News: Etsy!

What did I do today? Well, a lot of things, none of them particularly creative. But what am I mentally stuck on at the moment? Etsy. You know you want to go check it out.



I'm hoping to do something for real tomorrow. My folks will be moving soon, so my mom bequeathed to me a large quantity of fabric from some of her past projects, real or imagined. Did I mention that being handy and artistic runs in the family? Also saving ridiculous amounts of stuff in hopes of putting it to good use one day. I applaud her efforts... I will give it a good home. I skimmed the selection today and am looking forward to diving in tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Get Crafty: Hemming Your Own Pants

Let me think about how to say this without offending myself: I am not short, but "petite" length pants definitely tend to fit better. Sometimes I complain to myself that it's such a pain finding pants of the right length, but then I remember my tall best friend. She couldn't find pants that fit either, but it sure is a lot easier to shorten pants than to lengthen them.

I have basic sewing skills, thusly I am qualified to hem pants in the traditional way. (If you don't have basic sewing skills but you have an iron, some fusible tape, and the rudimentary ability to line things up, you are qualified to "hem" pants too). A lot of people have their pants professionally altered, but just shortening the length of pants is really so simple, I can't imagine paying someone else to do it. It took less time to do it myself than to drop it off at the tailor's. But then, not everyone is handy.

Since I just bought some new *smaller* pants that were too long, it was time to hem them. Normally I wait until the last minute... like those black pants for a special occasion that I just didn't get to hemming, and I'm rushing to do it before we leave the house in 10 minutes to go to a friend's wedding. Oh well, no one's perfect. But this time I didn't procrastinate, and it didn't take very long to hem both pairs of pants. I think they turned out great, and were worth the small effort for the near-professional results.

Both pairs of pants needed to be shorted about 2.5 inches. I turned the pants inside out to make the process easier. The existing hem was roughly 1 inch, so I simply cut off the hem all the way around without measuring particularly.


I then folded the raw edge up about a half inch, pressed it, then folded that up about one inch and pressed again. Still inside out, I sewed within an eight inch of the top fold. I turned it right-side out and...


Tada!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

From the Kitchen: Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Treats

This is a bit of a combination of two separate "crisped rice cereal" recipes I found on various off-brand boxes. Survey says they were definitely worth making again.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Treats

Bar Ingredients:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup margarine
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 regular package marshmallows, minus however many you eat
6 cups crisped rice cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
Topping Ingredients:
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:
Microwave margarine in bowl until melted. Mix in brown sugar and peanut butter until smooth. Fold in marshmallows until covered. Microwave until marshmallows are large and melty. Mix until smooth, microwaving more if necessary. Fold in cereal gently to avoid crushing it. When mixture is evenly coated, mix in chocolate chips. They will likely melt a bit, but that's OK. Press into greased 9"x13" pan. Melt topping ingredients in microwave and mix until smooth. Spread onto bars. Let cool, then cut into bars.

Home Sweet Home: WD-40 Looks Great on Everything

Except clothes. And food, now that I think about it. But I love the stuff. Some recent uses have been de-squeaking a vibrating baby chair and getting an ancient sewing machine purring like a kitten after struggling to run at all. Today I finally got to one of my most annoying "To Do" items - unsticking the rear window wiper arm on my vehicle. I blame salty roads, but basically the blade wasn't hitting the window despite the arm moving. A little hot water to rinse then a little WD-40 did the trick. We're back to functionality and I'm feeling handy again. While I was at it, I de-squeaked the wheels on my vacuum. Another minor annoyance solved. This is shaping up to be a productive day after all...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Life in a Nutshell: Reading

If I were in a paying profession, I'd get kudos for doing independent research that could help solve work-related problems or make myself a more productive employee. Not so for this stay-at-home mom. All I get is the satisfaction of knowing I'm doing the best I can for my family. Luckily, that's enough for me. Hopefully my reading and research will lead to happier, healthier kids and a less-frazzled me.

So, I didn't exactly do anything notable today other than manage to survive 90 minutes in a quiet library with 3 tired kids. But I guess that's why God created tomorrow...

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Life in a Nutshell: A Better Me

Today's spare time has mostly been about self improvement.

This morning, I flip-flopped kids with a mom friend of mine so we could each go to the gym to work out. Having small kids is a great excuse not to work out because it's just so hard to work around them- their naps, their snacks and meals, and their personalities. Especially when they're potty training, a state of being that would describe the older 2 of my 3 children (and no, they're not twins). Especially when they're in the terrible twos, another state that would describe the same 2 kids (neither is actually two years old... funny how that happens, isn't it?). But we did it. And we survived. And now I'm really tired and will probably defer the cooking of dinner to someone else.

Then, when they were all napping (or playing quietly in their rooms and not napping), I got to do some reading and educate myself about the apparent imminent recession, presidential candidates, and current events. Delightful and rare. It probably only happened because I'm tired and didn't feel like doing anything that required moving more body parts than just my eyes, but still, it was nice.

And now, having actually applied makeup before 5 PM, another rare delight, I intend to give myself a long-overdue pedicure. How's that for a change of pace?

Later I may or may not hem some new pants, fold the laundry, take care of some financial matters, update my family blog, and/or file important documents. But for now, it's all about cute toes and a glass of iced tea. A happy mom leads to a happy family, and I think that is something very worthwhile indeed. Don't you?

From the Kitchen: Shredded Chicken, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways... Oh, I'm too lazy to list them all, but here are two great recipes that use shredded chicken. When I am planning to shred chicken, I simmer boneless skinless chicken breasts for an hour or so and then let them sit in the pot until I'm ready to deal with them. Then I just throw all of the cooked chicken breasts in a bowl and go at them with two forks for a couple minutes and *voila!* juicy shredded chicken.


Chicken and Cheese Crescent Chimichangas

Ingredients:
· ½ cup chopped onion
· 2 garlic cloves, minced
· 3 tbsp oil
· 2 ½ cups shredded cooked chicken
· 2 8 oz cans Pillsbury crescent rolls
· ½ cup salsa
· 2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheese

Directions:
In a large skillet sauté onion and garlic until onion is tender. Add chicken; cook over low heat until thoroughly heated through, stirring occasionally .Remove from heat. Add 1 cup cheese to chicken mixture and mix evenly. Separate dough into 8 rectangles, pressing the seam to seal. Spread 2 tsp salsa onto each rectangle to within ½ inch of edge. Put heaping 1/3 cup of chicken mixture onto each rectangle and roll up the sides to seal in the chicken. Place seam-side down on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2 tbsp remaining cheese. Return to oven for 1-2 more minutes.

Alternative:
Use 1/8 of a bread machine dough recipe for each chimichanga, patting dough thin before adding salsa. May require a few more minutes of cooking time, but this seals better and cooks up more bready than the crescent rolls.

Savory Dill Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
· Small bunch green onions, chopped (or 1/4 cup chopped onion)
· 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, if you like it
· 2 tbsps fresh dill, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried dill weed)
· 1/2 cup sour cream
· 1/2 cup mayonaise
· 2 cups shredded cooked chicken

Directions:
Mix all ingredients while chicken is still warm. Refrigerate until cold. Serve on bread or lettuce.