What are you doing for the "Oh the Craftiness of Me" Friday Challenge?

First of all, what do you all think of my new template?

On Saturday I posted about a wonderful challenge happening over at Oh The Craftiness of Me to make something beautiful out of things you would otherwise throw away. I’ve decided that I am going to try to make a new display head for my hats, since many people have commented that my styrofoam heads are neither interesting and nor eco-friendly. Today I spent some time digging around my apartment for suitable “trash.”

Two days ago my landlord send a crew to investigate the wobbly stairs leading up to my front door. I came home from class to discover a brand-new stair case and this piled up along the fence:

The remains of my old stair case (complete with rusty nails) piled on top of my ferns. You can also just barely see a discarded saw-blade laying in the leaves. Since they also left a shovel and a level, I figured they’d be coming back to clean up. But so far the pile is still there, so I grabbed one of the nicer scraps of wood to serve as a base for my head.

I also found this:

No, I didn’t find this one in my yard! I found it on my counter, where my fiance left it after he drank the rest of the soda last night. I am thinking I will use this to form the neck of my new display head.

And finally there is this:

I actually have three grocery bags full of junk mail, old receipts, articles assigned in last semester’s classes, and various other paper detritus. I’d been saving it to make my own recycled paper, but now I have way too much of it and was planning to send some of it for commercial recycling. I’m going to turn it into paper mache instead!

The deadline for the challenge is May 9. What do you have planned?

And don’t forget to stop by Oh The Craftiness of Me and enter Becki’s giveaway for some of her cool recycled magazine flowers!

Beginners guide to product photography on Etsy

If you have ever asked for a critique in the Etsy forums, you’ve probably been told to work on your photographs. There are many talented photography artists on Etsy, but there are also a bazillion people who make jewelry or clothes or decorated trinket boxes. Or hats. Many of us never thought we’d have to be camera pros to sell our non-photography art. But of course when it comes to selling online, photography really can make or break your shop. After all, people can’t pick your item up, admire its fine workmanship, try it on, or any of the other things that shoppers in brick and morter stores do all the time. Our product photographs are the only representatives of our work.

First, a bit of a disclaimer: When I ask for a shop critique, people often tell me to work on my pictures (that and my banner. I really need to make a new banner!). This tutorial will not help you have perfect, front page worthy product photos. But I have improved my photography a lot since I started two months ago and my goal with this tutorial is to share what I have learned because I really do think that every little improvement helps.

Step One: Find the Macro setting on your digital camera. This is essential if you sell jewelry or any other small items, and very useful for taking close-ups of details on larger items. Using the Macro setting on the camera will put your item in focus and the background out of focus. Depending on the size of the item and the angle you shoot, you can get part of the item in focus and part out of focus. The icon for macro looks like a little flower.

Step Two: Find good lighting. Most people recommend indirect sunlight. I take all my photos outside on my porch which is always shaded. Early morning or late evening light works really well. Whatever you do, do not use a flash. It will wash out your colors and reflect oddly off your product. If natural light is not an option for you, you can make a light box. I haven’t actually tried that yet, but lots of people swear by it.

Step Three: Find an uncluttered background. Interesting backgrounds are great, but only if they don’t draw away from the item. If you take a picture of your earrings hanging off a sunflower that stands tall in a field full of crows, it might make an interesting picture. But if I glance at the photo and can’t figure out what you are selling, or can’t see the earrings clearly, I won’t buy them. This is the part I struggle with the most, and the focus of most of the photo critiques I get. For my hats, I usually let the wooden planks form the background. For my purses and haircombs that I don’t want to put on the ground to photograph, I keep a large white piece of plastic handy. Also, think about how your photos will look in list view–the thumbnails are tiny! You want to make sure your item stands out.

This is the picture I took of my blue peacock feather hair fascinator. As you can see, I’ve placed it on the plastic on the porch. I’ve photographed it from the side because I think that is an interesting angle. Because I’ve used the macro setting on the camera, the front feathers are in focus and the feathers toward that back are a bit blurrier. But you can see that the picture is dark and the background looks more bluish gray than white:

Step Four: Download Picassa. If you have another photo editing program that you are more familiar with awesome. I use Picassa. It’s free and easy to use. Once you have downloaded picassa, you can fix up your photo to make your item look as appealing as it does in real life.

Step Five: Crop your image. You want a nice picture of your item, not a scenic view of your photographing space. Open your image in picassa. Once Picassa is open, double click on the item from your library to edit it. The edit box with have three tabs: Basic Fixes, Tuning, and Effects. Under “basic fixes” choose crop.

It will give you a drop down menu of different cropping options. I always crop square (“CD cover”) because that is the shape of the thumbnails in list view in etsy. You may or may not want to do that, depending on the shape of your item.

Here is my cropped image:

Looking better, but still too dark and the background is still not white.

Step Six: Select the neutral color. One of the advantages to a white background is that it gives you a neutral color. In picassa, go to the tuning tab. Click on the eye dropper under “neutral color picker.” Then click on the part of your photo that should look white. You can click on the magic wand to have it automatically select the neutral color, but it doesn’t always get it right. This will get the blue-grey tinge off your background.

After neutral color picker:

Better, but still too dark. Still under tuning, click the magic wand next to highlights. This will brighten things up:

So, one more time for effect. Here is the “before” photo in our make-over series:
and after:


Hope that helps at least a little!

The couple that crafts together…

As many of you know, my wedding is coming up in July! I will spare you the mushy details of how we met and how much we love each other (this isn’t a kissing blog). But I will say that I first knew that I was in love the first Halloween we spent together when he agreed to make plaster hats with me. A creative urge is a wonderful thing to share with your life partner!

In keeping with this creative spirit, we are having a DIY wedding. I’m making my own wedding dress, he’s making his tux, we made our own “save the date” cards with hand-carved linoleum block stamps on hand-recycled paper. Now we are working on making our invitations. We wanted to keep the same general aesthetic as the save-the-dates, but we also wanted to try something new. So this time, the handmade paper is round, and we are airbrushing the designs.

If you want to make round paper, I recommend using embroidery hoops for your paper frame:
Here you can see our paper drying on a piece of canvas.

Before airbrushing, we cut stencils of our designs onto plastic stencil sheets we got at Micheals. You can either use a craft knife, or a special heat tool for cutting stencils that actually melts the plastic. We used the heat tool.

Here is the fiance airbrushing our tree design onto the round paper. This is what it looked like when he was done:
Next, I airbrushed a blue peacock next to the tree:
We will be adding a green peacock on the other side of the tree and decorating their tails with real peacock feathers. Because handmade paper doesn’t feed through a printer very well (especially when it is round), we will be printing the actual invitation information on commercial vellum paper.

Hopefully we will get a batch of these done by the end of the month so we can get them in the mail!

Inman Park Festival

The last weekend of April my neighborhood hosts a festival and tour of homes. I live in a historic area of Atlanta, so there are lots of big old beautiful houses from the 1800s. I didn’t actually participate in the tour of homes because the tickets were expansive. But the big old homes make a great background for the rest of the festival, which consists of funnel cakes (breakfast of champions), art stalls, and music.

I picked up some lovely treasures at the festival and I am excited to turn them into my own art. Saturday morning we stopped by a booth run by an elderly woman sitting holding an umbrella for shade. She had several tables full of vintage buttons, old purses, cookbooks, and all sorts of little vintage finds. I got this lace tablecloth from her $2.00:

I think it was a steal, but I guess that’s what happens when a seller thinks “old tablecloth” and I think “2 yards of vintage lace.” I can’t wait to get it cleaned up so I can turn it into something (knowing me, probably a hat).

I also got this lovely sterling silver brooch from her for $4.00:

It needs to be polished, but I think it would look lovely on cocktail hat with a spray of feathers behind it, don’t you?

Sunday we went back to the festival and realized we’d missed an entire street the day before. I found a booth that would have made a jewelry maker dance for joy–it was full of beautiful rocks and pendants. The seller also had a ton of nice sea shells for a buck a piece so I picked up a starfish:


And I’m not sure what this is, but I thought it was cool:


And I got a sand-dollar:


Once again I am envisioning these decorating hats, with feathers sprouting from them.

Of course, we wanted to make sure that we supported local artists too, so we picked up this really cool metal bird bath for our garden:


The festival was a lot of fun, even though I did get a little bit sunburned!

A great eco-friendly creative challenge!

In keeping with my April Earth Day theme of creating things with recycled materials, I want to share with you all a great creative contest I found. Becki of Oh The Craftiness of Me is challenging her readers to create something to reduce, reuse, and recycle for her weekly Saturday Challenge. From her blog:

“Create something made from something you would be throwing away. It could be anything, candy wrappers, newspapers, cellophane, or milk jugs. Create something new out of your trash!! You will have two weeks to complete your submissions.”

To enter, and see the fabulous prize, be sure to check out Oh the Craftiness of Me!

And you should know that Becki is an expert on creating wonderful things from what the rest of us call garbage. Over at her etsy shop, Delightful Deceits, Becki has cards and other things made from recycled paper. Recently she has started making these amazing recycled paper roses:

So go ahead! See if you can impress her with your recycling creativity! I will also be entering the contest, and will track the progress of my efforts here on my blog.

Etsy Day 2009

Today is the first Etsy Day! A lot of us who sell items on Etsy.com spend a lot of time promoting our own shops, or occasionally picking one other shop to feature. But all of that only does so much good, and in the spirit of collective good, a bunch of Etsy sellers came together and declared April 24 Etsy Day. The idea is to spend today promoting Etsy as a whole, because so many people don’t know what it is.

Most people reading my blog probably already know that Etsy is a website where people can sell handmade or vintage items, as well as supplies for making handmade goods. So today I am going to take a moment to talk about why I think Etsy matters.

To be upfront, this whole running a business thing has been abit odd for me. I love making things, and I like the idea that other people might want the things that I make. I cannot afford to just leave handmade items laying around as gifts for whoever wants them.

But I’ve also been a long to critic of consumerism and corporate capitalism, and thus trying to get the hang of things like marketing in a way that doesn’t make me feel dirty or hypocritical has been difficult.

I like Etsy because I really do feel that it allows me to sell my crafts in a way that doesn’t conflict with my other values:

1. Art and Creativity Are Valuable too! At a time in US history when budgets for arts education are being slashed nationwide, it is nice to see venues like Etsy springing up online that specifically focus on arts and handmade items. Not only can you buy and sell handmade items on etsy, but the forums are always full of people discussing techniques and the Etsy Storque runs frequent How-to segments. That means you can actually go to Etsy to learn how to make things.

2. Etsy is not corporate capitalism. Ok, let’s be honest, it probably is. Etsy does charge people to sell their items and I’m sure the people who run etsy make a lot of money doing so. Good for them. Etsy still allows me to say “cheap mass-produced, animal-tested soap? No thanks! I’d rather get handmade soap from lilachillsoap, who uses milk from her own goat and wax from her own bees.” With Etsy, I can say “wear the newest, most popular thing that everyone and their mother is wearing? No thanks! I’d rather have my own vintage style with a great dress from hellcatvintage.” I either know directly where my purchase is coming from and who made it, or I know that by purchasing vintage I am reducing waste. Either way, I win.

3. Etsy allows for personal connections. Shopping on Etsy can be like shopping anywhere else on the net: quick, impersonal, click-a-button-and-you’re-done. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also be small-town-market meets the digital age. I spend probably more time than I should in the Etsy forums or in Etsy chat rooms. When Etsy seller jdsgemsnd‘s first granddaughter was born, her etsy friends were among the first to know.

For all of these reasons, I love Etsy! Etsy provides one way to strive for more ethical consumerism.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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Happy Earth Day! Etsy Review: Everimprovingme

April 22 is recognized as Earth Day here in the United States, and so for my etsy review I wanted to highlight a seller who is doing her part to help the environment. I bought this reusable sandwich bag from Everimprovingme, because I was actually limiting what I brought to work with me for lunch in an effort to reduce waste. It’s carrying an apple in the picture, but normally I fill it with slices of cheese. Johanna, the genius behind Everimprovingme, custom makes these bags for her customers out of the fabric of their choice. I love the teal color if this bag. The inside is lined with a waterproof pul fabric so that the bag can be easily washed. She also makes them with muslin linings if you do not want the pul. Everything about this purchase was perfect–the communication for a custom order, the price, the shipping, and of course the bag itself.

I asked Johanna to tell me a little more about how she started making these bags and how she saw the handmade movement fitting into an eco-conscious lifestyle. Somewhat unexpectedly, the story of these bags begins with a tragedy: the death of Johanna’s father last year. Johanna says:

“I really thought I’d lose my mind. For awhile I did. Tom (my husband) encouraged me to start crafting again. I really wanted to make things that had a purpose. To bring life to something though I know that sounds a bit out there.”

I don’t think that sounds out there at all! I think that the impulse to creation is a natural, and very healthy, response to loss and mortality.

On the handmade movement:

“I think the handmade movement will not be ending anytime soon. I think people are looking for a balance and buying handmade and reusable items makes people feel like they are heading closer to achieving that balance.”

So how do Johanna’s bags fit into Earth Day?

“I hope to stop the trash from piling up so much, maybe start taking the piles down. I know its not just me, but I believe if we all do something it will happen. Really I think that is all it takes everyone just doing something. We have to stop waiting for the other person to take care of it. There are no other people you know only us. If we do not step up who else will, and if we step up others will too.”

Johanna’s efforts to “take the piles down” are not limited to her reusable bags. Her story also carries reusable bamboo face scrubbies. Being clean does not have to be wasteful! She also has plans to start making cloth diapers, women’s products, and market bags.

Every year, the USA generates 230 million tons of trash! How much of that is discarded sandwich bags? Thanks to Johanna of Everimprovingme for giving us a way to reduce our trash.

If you want to stay up to date on the happenings at Everimprovingme, check out Johanna’s twitter and her blog.