Monday, March 29, 2010

Sewing Class: Skirting the Issue

Pattern: Simplicity 2655, View A
Material: 100% linen vintage tablecloth
Modifications: Omitted pocket ties.
Purpose: To be comfortable supervising while kids play outside this summer.


I had to stay up just a tiny bit later than I had hoped, but I finished making this skirt and I'm oh so happy with it. As a self admitted sewing hack, successfully completing a classic construction was very satisfying. Forgive the pictures... I don't usually photograph things as large as me, and I'm a terrible model.

I don't *love* the girl scout green color, but I do like green in general and I may consider dyeing this a darker shade at some point in the future. Really like the fabric drape and softness. I adore the gathered pockets, though I'm not convinced they don't lend an obvious "saddle bag" appearance in a typically problematic area (but I consider pockets to be necessary mothering equipment, and could not be omitted). Frankly, those issues pale in comparison to the fact that I followed every single step and it turned out fitting me perfectly. I took my complete measurements accurately right before making it, and that was crucial. It's always shocking to calculate your sewing pattern size when you're used to seeing vanity sizes on ready to wear clothing. But once you remind yourself why you're confronting the reality (to look great, right?), you'll be mentally prepared to make it happen.


I haven't tried a "real" pattern (even an easy one) in a while... when you thrift regularly, like wild horses couldn't drag me away from doing, most personal sewing tends to be altering hems, changing out dated buttons and other minute tailoring details. Clearly my sewing and direction-following skills have improved drastically since last time, and I'm very excited to try some other patterns soon. I have a bunch lingering from previous short-lived bouts of motivation (this was pulled from the same pile), and I would like to make some more summery pieces in anticipation of warmer days to come.


Yahoooo!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From the Kitchen: Challah Cinnamon Rolls

Official Day 1 on Easter vacation from Etsy:

  1. Bake cinnamon rolls for brunch with friends. Check. (Actually, I did this yesterday since we were leaving the house at 8:30 AM).


  2. Palm Sunday Mass and delicious bacon-infused brunch with friends. Check.

  3. Relax! (and/or iron some of darling husband's shirts while the wonderful man folds the kids' laundry that I hate to do). Check.

  4. Get bored of "relaxing" and finish sewing cute pocket skirt from vintage linen tablecloth. Check.

  5. Eat more cinnamon rolls. Check.

I've posted two other recipes for cinnamon rolls here (years ago when my photography skills were.. eh... not so good), but these are at least as moist and tasty, though probably not much different. Today's recipe used a challah bread recipe for the dough. I wanted enough to feed a crowd (and no one starves if I can help it!), so I made enough for 24 good-sized rolls. I'll cut that down to 12 here, but if you double it, just use a large roasting pan (full chafing dish size) to bake, and monitor the cook time to make sure you don't end up with mushy buns... which brings me to another important point. Here's the disclaimer: these can be incredibly addictive and may cause undesirable increases in dress size :) Enjoy responsibly.


Challah Cinnamon Rolls

Dough:

7/8 cup lukewarm water
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup melted butter or canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp instant yeast
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Filling:

1/2 cup butter (melt 1 tbsp of it in 9x13 baking pan and spread to cover bottom and sides)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar

Icing:

3 oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners sugar (use more or less to get a consistency you like)

Mix all dough ingredients by hand or machine until all flour is thoroughly incorporated. Allow dough to sit in covered but not air-tight bowl at room temp for 2-3 hours. For filling, soften butter and in a separate bowl mix well the cinnamon and sugar. Stretch dough into a rough rectangle about 9" x 13" (I do this on a silicone sheet liner for easy rolling). Spread butter (1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) evenly onto dough leaving 1/2" margin on each side to seal. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture over butter. Roll the long edge of the dough into a cylinder, then cut into 12 circles with a sharp knife. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange in buttered pan and allow to rise until the rolls have risen to fill the pan where all sides are touching. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and sugar has carmelized. Cool completely in pan. Mix all icing ingredients to get a consistency you like, thinning with milk or adding more sugar if necessary, and ice the cooled rolls. I put all the icing in a freezer bag and cut a corner to roughly pipe a swirl on each one (I wanted it to be easy to cut into individual rolls). Ta da!


You just won't be able to get it to your mouth fast enough, I promise :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Etsy Thoughts: Becoming Real

I feel like I'm becoming real. A real business. It's an uncomfortable feeling. I just received my 3000th sale.

Have you read the classic children's story, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams? I was reminded of it when musing over some recent Etsy growing pains.

Part of my love of Etsy is that it has been, up to this point, basically a continuous flow of affirmation that I'm good at something, that someone out there who doesn't know me personally is glad that I exist. In a world of kids too young to think about how mommy feels, and a husband who is very grateful for me but perhaps not overly verbal about it, my Etsy interactions have become a big confidence booster and something to think about on down days. But now, after some recent harsh and unwarranted comments, it's a whole lot harder to use that as a pick-me-up.

But when I dug up our copy of The Velveteen Rabbit and re-read the part about becoming Real, I felt better. This is from the book:

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


I do want to be Real, and maybe this is the kick I need to get over my perfectionism. It is truly impossible to please everyone, all the time. While I never want to stop trying, the sooner I incorporate that reality into my business philosphy, the sooner I'll be able to accept my successes and failures as they are and deal with the more important issues of staying viable, providing great customer service, and continuing to create products I am proud to call my own.

TheJuneBride News: In the news!

This is the local news feature from the recent Blue House Ann Arbor grand opening event... being photogenic isn't really my thing, but I can't even complain about the picture. Hooray for happy accidents :)

Love local? Love art? Check out Ann Arbor's Blue House - AnnArbor.com

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Life in a Nutshell: Uninspired

Blah. Ho hum. Lacking motivation. Mediocre.

I have a few things going on right now that are just sucking the creative energy out of me. I am not in the mood to make things. This is a rarity in my life, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I've been wringing a watered-down version of satisfaction from mops lately in a desperate attempt to find joy in housekeeping. Honestly, it's not working that well. With three young kids, cleaning is like digging a hole while someone fills it up just as fast. And also yells for a snack and soils a diaper. Probably doesn't help that it's raining outside.


I have Etsy-type projects I want to do, but I just can't seem to get any joy out of actually doing them. Maybe I'm burnt out. Need a vacation. I am planning to close my shop for just over a week for Easter, but for some reason I'm struggling to wait till Saturday to click the "vacation mode" button. This is very strange since I love having my very own shop. I suppose this probably happens to everyone from time to time, but I just never thought my day would come.

The dreamy side of me imagines happy children running barefoot in the grass while I do yardwork. Or maybe refinishing some furniture. Or at a good old fashioned rummage sale and sifting through decades of junk. Reading a book and not thinking I should be doing something else. Or taking a nap and waking up feeling good about the rest of the day.


I want to make lemonade from my lemons but I'm all out of sugar at the moment. I guess I'll go wash something so I can wash it again later...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Get Crafty: More about Silk Dyed Easter Eggs

As you may or may not have realized by now, I am addicted to small, colorful things. Like buttons. And kids. And these to-dye-for Easter eggs (pun intended!). The instructions are here, adapted in 2008 from Martha Stewart.


Well, I have an upcoming market event and want to display these amazing dyed eggs to show potential customers just how fun and fabulous my little kits really are. I needed eggs to show but without the hard-boiled egg smell lingering around my table for the full 6 indoor hours of the event. That would surely nix any chance for making friends with the neighbors :) So my wonderful mother-in-law gave me a quick how-to for blowing out eggs. I had never done it before, but she's been doing it that way all her life and is officially an expert.

The instructions:

  1. Using a small-tipped knife, gently peck at the pointy end of the egg and make a hole large enough to at least allow you to insert a tooth-pick. I was no good with the knife, so I stuck a thumbtack through a piece of paper on the counter, point up, and tapped the egg on it to make the hole. Since you don't see where you are hitting, this adaptation was less precise, but it worked for me.

  2. Then use the same technique (whichever worked for you) to peck a larger hole, maybe 3/16" to 1/4" diameter, in the rounder end.

  3. Insert a toothpick into the larger hole and mix it around to scramble the yoke.

  4. Blow into the smaller hole and the contents of the egg will come out the larger hole, hopefully into the bowl you had previously placed there for this purpose.

  5. Submerge the hollow egg in water to partially it, cover both holes and shake vigorously to clean, then blow the water out again. The eggs can then air dry, or you can begin the wrapping/dying process right away.
Egg blowing hints from my recent experiences:
  • Wear an apron!

  • Have a towel handy to wipe up gooey egg that will inevitably get on the counter.

  • If you gag easily, do yourself a favor and don't watch someone else do this. And don't let your weak-stomached kids watch either. (My 2 yr old boy started coughing and gagging when he saw me doing it, and said, "Those eggs awe a wittle bit gwoss!")

  • Plan ahead to make a quiche or French toast or other egg-heavy dish to use your newly made scrambled eggs :)
Tips for getting the best results when dyeing with silk (I'm assuming you've already read the instructions here):
  • This tip is basic, but please make sure your scraps are silk, not polyester! Not all ties are silk, so you need to check the labels. Or you could buy my kit and not worry about it :) If you use polyester or other non-natural fabric, your eggs will turn out whiter than the day they were laid.

  • If you get the silk scrap wet before wrapping, it will cling better to the egg, so you can get better coverage even with the smallest scraps. You can pull the silk on the bias to get more coverage than you might think, so even very small scraps can work.

  • There's no way to make the egg perfect on all sides, but I always try to get one very nice looking side - To do this, make sure the silk is as smooth and flat to the eggshell as possible on one side of the egg (with the right side of the fabric against the egg) and folded to cover the rest of the egg, then place the smooth side down in the middle of the white cloth... Wrap the egg in the white cloth very tightly, trying to keep the fabric pressed as tightly to the egg as possible, securing with a twist tie on the opposite side from the "nice" side. The resulting pattern on the twist-tied side will always be less distinct than the smooth side since there will be small pockets where the silk wasn't in close enough contact to allow the dye to transfer well. Since a picture is worth a thousand words... here's the visual:





  • Be careful when wrapping blown eggs because you can crush them (I have!).

  • You can use any non-reactive pot for the boiling. Martha recommends glass or enamel, but I always use stainless... the eggs turn out beautifully and the pot is no worse for the wear.

  • If dyeing blown eggs, you can boil longer (try 40 minutes) to get even more vibrant colors.

  • Silk scraps are reusable for dyeing multiple batches of eggs... darker scraps work best, but I have reused scraps with only a small decrease in the color vibrancy between batches.

  • To successfully dye blown eggs, you will need to keep them underwater. You can place a glass lid on top of them, a strainer insert, or anything stove-top safe that will keep them submerged without crushing them. If the weight seems like it might crush, place a glass canning jar in the bottom (open side up), and it will protect the eggs.

  • Very occasionally, even a silk scrap will produce a very light colored, boring egg. This is disappointing and unpredictable, but even that egg can be re-dyed with a different scrap, so all is not lost. Maybe not so edible after two boilings, but it should end up lovely looking!

  • Another interesting fact: Older eggs make easier-peeling hard-boiled eggs than fresh. Eggs can last months in the refrigerator without a significant loss of quality.

  • You can use brown eggs, but try to use the darkest scraps as your end result will always be muddier-looking on brown eggs than white, and light colors may not show up at all.

Once you get it down, you have an official license to go crazy with this technique. If you have silk pieces left over that definitely won't cover an egg, you can cut out cute shapes and use those to dye on an otherwise white egg. Make sure the silk shape is on the "nice" side, and make sure the white cloth is very tight in that area. Be especially wary of silk lint here, as even tiny bits will give you color where you'd rather not have it. Getting the shape wet is critical here. You know you want to give it a whirl!

And, because I've been Fightin' Irish since 9th grade, I couldn't help myself:


I hope those tidbits help you get the best results from your egg-dyeing experience! Dyeing eggs this way is one of those rare situations of honest-to-goodness happy surprises... you're sure to be pleased, no matter the outcome :) Like anything, practice makes perfect, so don't throw away the fabric after you're done... go make another batch!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Etsy Thoughts: Why Google Rules

After being featured in the Etsy Finds daily shopping email twice in 3 days, I've been all caught up on my orders for a while now and life (at least the Etsy part of it) is going back to a more sensitive version of normal. I've learned a few things and am now able to look back at the avalanche of orders and see just how and why I was able to get more than an average month's worth of orders in 4 days. This little rehashing of the events illustrates why Google and its many free functions make life better for small business owners like me (and maybe like you!).

Here is where Google Analytics kicks butt in the stats department. Here is a snip from the site views option, with my added details:

That's a lot of extra traffic! More impressive, that's a lot of traffic that actually converted into a lot of sales (percentage-wise, above average conversion!). Taking a closer look, the view below shows what a huge chunk of that came traffic from the email features, which shows up in the "other" pie slice. I'm happy to see real diversity in this pie chart because it means I'm doing pretty well in all sectors... I'm getting features that are sending people to my site (referring sites), I'm getting notice within the Etsy community via treasuries and front page features (direct traffic), my items are showing up and being clicked on in Google searches (search engines) and I've got a little going on with email here. Very nice...


I also like to check what sites are referring traffic... sometime you find out about a feature you didn't know about (like the one at toysblog.it). The snip here lists the top referring sites. Clearly I had a mini heart attack to see RegrEtsy on this list, but since my overall views are pretty low (meaning I don't get a ton of features relative to visits from Facebook, etc) and nothing of mine is to be found anywhere on RegrEtsy (Thank you, God!), I am assuming this traffic is from people I know in real life who read both RegrEtsy and check my shop. If it's you, knock it off... you're killing me!


But when I do find a feature, like the one at http://www.toysblog.it,/ I go check out how much traffic it gets, even if it's in Italian. Google ranks websites based on traffic, and there are many websites that you can use to look up the rank of any given website. I use PR Checker, if only because it was the first one I found.


Google assigns its ranking within a range of 0-10 and it's exponential (like the Richter Scale)... every increase in number means a tenfold (or more) increase in site popularity/traffic. I was happy to see that the toysblog.it feature was on a website that has a 6. To compare, this blog (Domestic Bliss) is ranked as a 2 (last time I checked it was a 0, so I'm happy about that!), my Etsy store is a 4, Etsy.com and MarthaStewart.com are both 7s, Yahoo.com and NYTimes.com are both 9s, and the only full blown 10 I've ever seen was Google itself (seems fair). Page rank checkers are also useful for the increasingly frequent occasions when blog writers solicit you for items for a giveaway or a product review... if their site get a ranking equal or lower than this blog, I assume they are just looking for freebies. I have yet to check a soliciting blog and find actual readership, so I do not send samples anywhere at this point. Incidentally, if anyone wants a free review of a product on a low-ranked, barely-read blog, feel free to send me stuff :)