Wednesday, 31 December 2008

End of Year Part II

Now here are my goals for 2009, with commentary:

1. Continue food and exercise plan.
I have made up a food and exercise diary on an Excel spreadsheet to help with this. I can see my motivation for exercising will probably be a problem, so I'll try to come up with some strategies to overcome this.

2. Save money and travel at end of year.
I've made up a budget (gosh, I love Excel!). Craft supplies are not a built-in expense! Knowing that everything I spend money on will be right there, recorded for posterity is really helping me think twice about buying things. The terrible exchange rate lately is really helping to cut down on impulse purchases on Etsy as well.

3. Sell at a shop or market at least once.
I'm already regretting setting this goal. What was I thinking?? But it will be a huge achievement if I can pull it off and I'm sure it will give me a massive confidence boost. If I sell anything, of course!

4. Project: write an appreciation letter once per week.
I like the idea of a year-long project. I heard about a survey recently - one group of people kept a diary about things they were grateful for, a second group of things that annoyed them. At the end of 3 months, the grateful people exercised more and reported higher levels of other positive attributes. I thought I'd do something similar with my own twist. Perhaps if I'm happy with them at the end of the year I'll have them bound.

5. Project: do a drawing once per week.
2009s version of keeping an art journal.

6. Practice piano once per week.
Now that the hobby room is tidy enough that I can actually sit in front of my keyboard, I'd like to use it! At the moment I'm thinking 1/2 hour per week is do-able, but I'll see how it goes.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

End of Year

four years old and fancy-free, originally uploaded by sapaho.

Here is the bit where I think about my New Year's resolutions and come up with some goals for next year. I've never really liked the idea of resolutions, or goals in general for that matter. In the last few years though, I've seemed to enjoy torturing myself with great long lists of "Goals" and "Things To Do".

At the start of this year, for example, I wrote a list of Near Year's resolution in the first page of my art journal. The style of writing is a bit flowery as I guess I was in an arty frame of mind. I will now reveal way more of myself than I feel comfortable with by listing these and reflecting on them, one year later:

1. Take a drawing course - don't be afraid.
I didn't end up doing this, more because of time and money restrictions than anything else. I didn't even get much time to practice drawing. In the last few months I started to formulate some ideas on what kinds of subjects and styles I would like to work on though.

2. Have more confidence in myself - take more risks.
Erm, I went completely backwards on this, in the craft department anyway. I pulled out of meet-ups, only went to 1 Brown Owls session and even procrastinated about visiting hand-made shops because of fear of meeting way-cooler-than-me people. In other areas of my life, things were a bit better. I travelled overseas and secured a contract position at my work.

3. Record all my ideas - everything is useful.
Hm, didn't actually have all that many ideas this year, so it wasn't that hard! My head's been in other places. An issue I did have was finding the time to follow through on the ideas.

4. Keep an art journal - at least once a week.
I certainly did keep an art journal, but not once a week! There are 13 pages filled in. Sometimes I didn't get time, sometimes I wasn't inspired. If I didn't have an idea beforehand, then I didn't bother. Perhaps I should try some doodling. I did find some blogs dedicated to art journalling. I read them regularly and they're very inspiring.

5. Keep in contact with my friends more.
Hm, yes and no. I emailed my regular friends more, but the friends I don't see very often I saw even less. It's a combination of shyness and laziness, I guess.

6. Make healthy eating and exercise into a habit again - take back lost ground.
I had my ups and downs on this one. I joined a gym at the start of the year and was going great guns for about 5 months, following my program and attending 3-4 times a week. I can't believe I was motivated for that long! A few factors suddenly came along that made the whole thing just crash to the ground. One of them was that I realised that I'd actually put on 10kgs. I struggled on for a few months, but one day I decided to chuck the guilt and the membership card out the window and do things differently. I'm loosely following the program from a book called Walk Off Weight and eating healthy in a way that suits me; things are going much better for me.

7. Turn the spare room into a studio, not just a storage room - make it inspirational.
I am working on this one - slowly but surely! I am finally just now starting to get the storage worked out. I faced up to reality 2 weekends ago and threw out a whole bunch of stationery-type stuff that I'll never use. That freed up quite a bit of space. I can see now that everything's going to fit in. I'm not at the 'making it pretty' stage yet, but it's coming.

8. Go on a holiday - continue life's experience.
Well, I certainly did this and then some! My trip to Japan in November was the most amazing experience I've ever had, and it changed me in ways I never anticipated.

I'll talk about my goals for next year in the next post. I don't want to bore you all too much in one go!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Busy Little Beaver

So many things have happened! I think I'll start with the trivial and work my way up to the 'wow'.

I cancelled my subscription to Handmade Magazine. I really should have checked it out at Mag Nation before I subscribed. Lesson learned! They put out three Christmas editions in a row, and I don't do Christmas. Even if there had been one or two generic projects in it, I would have been happy. There's a big emphasis on patchwork, quilting and beaded jewellery-making as well - again, things I'm not interested in. I saw a special Spring issue in the shops a few months back, but I was never sent it as part of the subscription, so I don't know what was going on there. Although, after I called up to cancel it, I received the final issue and it had a couple of nice embroidery patterns in it. But only a couple out of about 40 projects. So schnyeh. I'd rather have the back issues of Craft: Magazine. I love that mag - I always want to do every project in it! How many magazines can you say that about? I really wish there was a local equivalent. Speaking of cool mags, I asked for a subscription to Frankie Mag for Christmas. If I don't get it then I will definitely subscribe this year. I went to buy the latest issue last week from Mag Nation, but the guy said it wasn't there yet and was maybe coming out late. His indifference was inversely proportionate to my distress.

I used the refund I got from Handmade to buy a membership to Brown Owls for 2009. I'm not too sure about this. Don't get me wrong - I went to one session this year and it seems to be a lovely group with fabulous people. However, I pulled out of three Etsy meetups in a row due to extreme shyness and a sense of inferiority. (No, I didn't really hurt my back.) So I don't know how many sessions I will actually make it to. I feel really silly now thinking back on those last-minute mind-changes, but meeting new people is for me like public speaking while someone is running their fingernails down a blackboard for other people. It's multiplied by 100 when my crafts are involved. I wish I could blog at people, or something like that. I'm so much better at writing than talking. When I have the time to think about what I'm going to say I do much better. If it weren't for the internet I might not have any friends! And I probably wouldn't have a job either.

Anyhoo, now I will talk about my new book, Beginners Guide to Braiding: The Craft of Kumihimo by Jacqui Carey:

Book cover

I bought it as a reward for myself for reaching my first weight loss goal. It explains how to make kumihimo braid using the marudai, which is the frame used traditionally. Here is a picture of one:

Marudai frame (not from book - stolen from interwubs)

One of the first things I realised is that my foam disc can only be used to make one type of braid. There are many other types (square, flat, etc.) and patterns that can be made on the frame. These involve sliding the cords back and forth around the frame as you work. This would be a massive pain if using the disc, as the cords are all stuck fast in the slits around the disc, plus you'd really need a frame so you can use both hands to move the cords around. Also, you can attach weights to the braid to control the tension and make it looser or more dense, which you can't do with the disc. Thankfully, the book explains how you can make your own marudai from cardboard. Cool! Literally hundreds of different colour and patterns combinations are shown. The instructions are very clear and are accompanied by useful diagrams. The pictures have that special grainy, off-colour look that you see in books from the 70s and 80s, but I think this just adds to the charm!
Now I just need a whole bunch of this:

Bunches of biron - Japanese silk threads - from the website

Interestingly enough, when I did some quick Googling I found the author's online shop: Carey Company. Unfortunately, the prices are a bit too much for me. Thank goodness for cotton and cardboard!

A few days ago, I started this embroidery:

I saw the pattern on a blog (sorry, I read so many, I don't know which) and just fell in love with it. I know I've said I don't do Christmas, but it combines 3 of the things I love best about it - Christmas trees/ornaments, reindeer and sausage dogs. I know sausage dogs aren't particularly associated with the season, but they are so adorable, I just want to associate them with everything! I'm hoping to incorporate him into a pouch somehow; I'd like to make up 2-3 embroideries and then break out the sewing machine and make a bunch of pouches and bags in a big batch (well, big for me, anyway!).

Last but not least, I sold my Kokeshi Doll 1 after it being on Etsy for 9 months. Here's a reminder photo of it:

Turns out, the buyer is the owner of a shop in Northcote. Turns out, he and his partner are really cool and they want to stock my work! :0

*pause to let that sink in*

So if I can make about 10 dolls, they would be interested in seeing them. Ten is a huge amount for someone with as little spare time as me! I have a second finished one which I'm not happy with and never posted about cause I think it looks like a stubbie with a face, and a third one I'm nearly half way through that I was never really satisfied with either. Perhaps I will get them out and try to see them with less critical eyes.

Speaking of, the other day I wrote a list of New Years' Resolutions / Goals For 2009. I've become strangely interested in self-improvement the last few years and it always gives me a feeling of optimism to write a list of goals. Some of them are crafty and some not, but they are all to do with improving my life. I will have a look and think about the current year's list next week perhaps.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Please help independent crafters!

A new law may be passed in the U.S. that requires all toys and childrens' garments to be tested at the manufacturer's expense before they can be sold. These tests can cost thousands of dollars and will probably wipe all small and independent businesses off the face of the earth if the law is passed. More info from the Craftzine blog:

We've been following the CPSIA [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act] development, and it's apparent the groundswell of protest is in full swing.

Petitions are being signed by the thousands, letters are being sent to Congress, and small business owners are mobilizing to take action against what they believe are unreasonable demands being placed on them by a law that will take effect on February 10. The new legislation will mandate that every part of a child's toy and clothing be tested for lead before it can be sold to the public.

The law was passed in response to high levels of lead being found in toys manufactured in Chinese factories, but does not take into account the thousands of small businesses who make toys and clothes in much smaller numbers, and many of them by hand in their own homes or workshops. If the law goes into effect as it's currently written, they will have to pay up to thousands of dollars to test just one set of handmade goods.

The lead test costs a minimum of US$180 [I have read of higher figures, ranging up to US$500 per component], and every part of the sample toy or garment would need to be tested separately before the product would be deemed safe. This includes buttons, thread, nuts and bolts, etc. Those who make one-off items would need to have every single item that they made tested. Incorporating this cost into the sale price of the item/s would make it impossible for independent crafters to make a living. I understand that it's important to keep children safe and not expose them to toxins where possible, but this Bill is very poorly thought-through. For more thoughts on the wider implications, see this blog post.

If you sell anything on Etsy or another U.S.-based website that could be construed as a toy or children's item, then you will be affected. I will be.

Please sign the online petition.


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Flurries of activity

Mini monster is finished!

Perhaps one of my New Years' Resolutions should be to take better photos!

He's a few days late, oops. I'm terrible with deadlines. I love to do things for people and send them things, but I'm no good at actually organising it to be done. I have an excuse this time, though. You see, Boy downloaded Sim City 3000 for me. I'd mentioned to him that I was a bit nostalgic for it. I'd been completely obsessed with it about 6 years ago. Then my computer died and I lost all my cities, as well as my not-quite-legal copy of the game. I grieved, and I moved on. Other computer games filled in the gap. None of them had quite the same charm, though. Now it's back in my life - and it's back with a vengeance! My first city is named Lennyville (after my laptop). I may never craft again. (Just kidding.) Actually, SimCity is quite a good game for the crafter, as you can leave it running on the slowest setting and do some craft while you decide what to build next. As long as I keep one eye on the info bar where any problems or complaints come up, I'm easy!

Anyway, monsty is finally done. I thought ahead a little bit and made all of his arms and legs first before I started on the body. That way I got the fiddly bit over and done with, and I didn't have to worry so much about running out of yarn and/or not being able to re-create what I had done before. I think I will do it that way from now on. I had some trouble with his hair. First I tried embroidering it with eyelash yarn for a fuzzy look. I failed completely. No, it wasn't me, it was the yarn. Grr! I DON'T recommend doing this. The fuzzies on it make it impossible to pull through the hole, and the yarn is very weak so it snaps when you try to pull it hard. Resulting in much aggravation. When I switched to plain black acrylic I had much more luck. It took quite a while to cover his whole head though, and I'm not all that happy with the result. To me he looks like an army recruit! The monsters definitely need hair, though. They just look naked without it. The three methods I've tried are:
1. needle felting (Monstrous Muriel);
2. embroidery (mini-monster);
3. holding eyelash yarn together with the yarn used for the body (Scary Selby)
(I know I've only shown 2 of those up til now, sorry!)
Needle felting is the most aesthetically pleasing to me and the least pain in the butt to accomplish. With this particular monster, I decided to use black buttons for the eyes, but I immediately regretted it. That indefinable aspect that gives the face personality was missing. I made a last minute decision to embroider on some eyebrows, and that helped a lot. It still takes time for me until the bits of haberdashery I've attached seem to meld together into a face and they 'come alive'. I don't really have time for mini-me to sit there and develop a personality - I have to send him off straight away and just hope the recipient can see something in him. I also sent my swap partner the green and purple Japanese braid that I showed you in progress in the last post. I couldn't think of anything to do with it straight away, so I neatened up the ends into tassels and put it in with the package. I figure the green is quite festive!

I got so excited about working on monsters that I even got out the long-neglected Scary Selby and finished off his head as well. I've only got his arms to go now! Selby has the most adorable face; I can't wait to show him off to the public.

Last Thursday I also went to the Kris Kringle Night Market at Northcote Town Hall. I'm so glad that some of my friends could come along as well and support the handiness. I picked up some neat stuff:

There's an elfy Christmas decoration from jellibat, a little pouch to keep my USB stick in so it doesn't get lost in my bag, and a giant pincushion from the MS Society stall. I did get a couple of other things, but I can't show them to you because they're gifts. Even though I spent a little more than I would normally on these items, I loved doing it because I know they're made by someone from start to finish, not just churned out of a pollution-belching factory somewhere.

My copy of Japanese Braiding for Beginners arrived on Friday as well. I'll talk more about that next time. That one was a reward to myself for achieving my first weight loss goal. I've been buying way too many presents for myself lately, though! I promise I will save up more money next month for travelling!

Work has been very very busy, and it's been annoying that I've had to spend my spare time organising things. Now that I've finally finished something though, I just have to decide whether to finish my current braid next, start a new mini-monster, or do the sausage dog with antlers embroidery I found on a blog the other day. Decisions!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Zine Time

It's all about the zine right now for me. I've been working away on writing my travel zine. One reason I'm writing it is that joined a(nother) swap on Swap-Bot for a longer zine, and this is the topic I most want to write about right now. The swap is due on 2nd January. I hope think I can finish it by then!

Sister Diane's Christmas Digest zine arrived in the mail tonight too:

It has a hand-cut cover with genuine Christmas wrapping paper decoration, and a personal message from Sister Diane. What a sweetie! I'm having a lot of fun reading it.

I'm also well into my Etsy Swap item. It's a mini monster. One of the ideas was to make a smaller version of something you normally make, so I ran with that. He's in a lovely, sparkly festive colour. Sorry it's a bit fuzzy - I was on the phone at the time I took the photo:

All my monsters seem to have something sticking out of the crotch during the creative process. What's the go with that?

In other zine-related news, I've set up a free (basic) account on ArtFire and listed my zines on it. I'm just waiting to see what happens (if anything). It's interesting to compare ArtFire with Etsy:

Etsy - US$0.20 per item for 4 month long listing, plus 3.5% commission on sales.
ArtFire - Free account: can list up to 10 items. Paid account: flat rate of US$7 per month. No listing fees or commission fees on individual items. (At that rate, I'd have to list over 50 items per month for ArtFire to beat Etsy on fees. That's not taking Etsy's commission into account though. I'm not very good at maths.)

Etsy - Have to fill out 5 separate pages, so it can take a while. Tagging system is quite good though - it gives you suggestions to refine your tags. Categories are very straightforward.
ArtFire - All fields are on a single page. So for example you can download photos while filling out other fields. Very fast. Also has extra features such as 'Inspiration' field and how many hours it took to make the item. Much better! Category system is a little confusing, but they are refining it with user feedback, so I'm sure it will improve with time. With the free account, you can only list one copy of each item, so I'll have to be quick off the mark to relist a zine once it sells. Don't know yet if it has the 'relist' feature that Etsy has or if I'd have to start from scratch each time. ArtFire is more obviously geared towards artists that make one-off items.

Etsy - Has been around for about 5 years; has a lot of word-of-mouth marketing and a huge seller base. Does some advertising in magazines and websites based in the U.S., but many people complain that they don't do enough marketing.
ArtFire - Has only just begun (it's still in Beta, I believe) and is a bit buggy. Not very many sellers yet. This could be a good thing though - not too much competition! However, they've done a huge amount of marketing geared towards buyers already: they've purchased the back cover of Craft: Magazine for the next year, advertised on TV shows in the U.S., etc. People are very happy about this!
Also, thanks to Twitter (where the admin of ArtFire have an active account), I have noticed that they are listening to/acknowledging requests from users, and often tweaking the site to accommodate them, sometimes within just a few hours. There have been very few user-initiated changes to Etsy in the time I have been using it.

Etsy - When a potential buyer does a search, the most newly listed items come up first. Because there are literally millions of items for sale, if your item was listed some time ago, there's practically no chance of a buyer sifting through enough items to find YOUR little gem. Many sellers are tempted to renew items regularly to push them to the top of the list, instead of waiting the 4-month period for them to expire. Of course, this costs US$0.20 per time, eating into one's profit margin. It's a dilemma.
ArtFire - Apparently every item that's listed appears on the front page for a certain amount of time, giving every seller some great exposure. The seller base is expanding rapidly though, so who knows how long this will last.

Etsy - Has the bog standard forums and favourite list. Many people complain that the search feature is a bit crap. Sure, you can search by colour or sellers that have recently sold something, but you can't search by base country of seller. What the? Features such as the Treasuries seem to be more for sellers to play around than for buyers to find what they are looking for.
ArtFire - Has all of the standard features of Etsy, plus a few others such as Badges and a Karma score that can be earned. (I haven't managed to find out too much about these yet.) A big one is that you can customise the currency you want the prices shown in. Some terms are different, e.g. 'shop' in Etsy is 'My Studio' in ArtFire, and sellers are referred to as 'artisans'. There's much more of an inclusive, community feel to it. The categories are slightly different and have more emphasis on different materials and artforms. ArtFire is definitely geared towards artists - of all kinds.

Whether one site is 'better' than the other remains to be seen. This post was a lot longer than I intended it to be, as per usual!

More updates as they happen.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

She's back

Well, it's been some time and I apologise for that. I've been back from Japan for two weeks now and I've been completely silent. I can't describe how absolutely amazing Japan was. In one word, it was brill! I'm writing a zine about my trip and observations. The working title is A Foreigner in Tokyo.

It was an intense 12 days of experiences - exploring, observing, walking, eating, drinking - and buying! I will mainly stick to the crafty stuff for your benefit. The store-bought travel guide was very useful for some things, but the only shopping it really touched on was electrical goods and vintage kimonos, neither of which I could really afford. Thankfully just before I left I just happened to stumble upon the most useful thing ever. I have to give unlimited amounts of gratitude to Marceline and her zine Tokyo Shopping Guide. This little guide helped me find all the crafty, cute, kawaii and kitsch shops I would never have found out about otherwise. Zines to the rescue!

The first craft shop I came across however was completely by accident. It was Day 5 and we had transferred from Tokyo to a small town at the foot of Mt. Fuji called Hakone.

A view of Mt. Fuji from Owakadani.

Boy and I were wandering down the street looking for a place to buy some food when I happened to glance through the window of a shop and see wool! My heart skipped a beat! I immediately went in and started rummaging around. It was one of those wonderful, old-fashioned shops where everything is all piled up, and the lady writes down the prices on a piece of paper. I bought a few kimono fabric squares, an amigurumi cow kit, some buttons, a crochet book called Magic Scrubbers Part 9 and my favourite find so far - a kumihimo braiding kit!

Braiding in action.

A few days later, we went to Tokyu Hands, which is a life-enhancing department store dedicated to all things fun and creative. Boy and I got some fun and creative stuff there! The top floor had a decent-sized craft section. It was interesting to see the types of crafts that were represented: e.g. glass engraving and leather-working. There were even a couple of whole calf skins! Euw! I only bought a couple of little things - some buttons and a stencil. The stationery floor was amazing! And amazingly crowded. Boy and I had a really quick look at everything, but nothing topped the rubber stamp making kits that we found. They came with a carving tool, 'blank' rubber stamp block (very similar to what erasers are made of), an ink pad and a handle for the stamp to slip into. Cool! Later in another store we picked up a whole set of tools with different profiles for advanced carving! This could be very fun!

My last crafty experience was on Day 10, which was a designated 'big shopping day'. :) After spending the morning in the electrical goods suburb of Akihibara, we went to Fabric Street, in Fabric Town. Well, it's actually called Nippori, but the whole place is filled with fabric and sewing accessories shops, so they must have thought they would just run with it.

I love this place!

The biggest shop was one called Tomato. It has a separate haberdashery shop, and then a main fabric shop with 5 floors. It was very exciting. I bought some kawaii buttons and beads, some braid, a frog plushie kit, some fat quarter packs, and some 1-2 metre lots of of some cheaper but still cute fabrics. I stood in a corner of the shop and quickly boned up on the Japanese for "one metre please" and "two metres please" before I approached the counter and I seemed to do OK. Interestingly the fabric with the cute kokeshi dolls on the black background was one of the cheapest in the whole shop. They had so many fat quarters that it made my head spin. In the end I just chose some pre-matched stacks with about 8 pieces each and 2 slightly larger pieces. Then I checked out some of the smaller shops on the street. One seemed to specialise in American quilt-making supplies, another had some random but great stuff. I could have bought a lot more, but I was aware of how the Australian Dollar had recently dive-bombed to pathetic lows, as well as the weight limit on my suitcase, so I was in tight-arse mode. I did stock up on some extra-large ricrac and pompom edging though!

Throughout the trip, I did no crafting whatsoever, and I didn't read anything longer than a menu. I thought I'd go crazy, but I didn't even realise until after it was over. I did however, put a lot of energy into writing and decorating my travel journal. I think that this was enough of a crafty/arty/writy outlet to satisfy me during the trip. Spending 12 days in an almost constant state of excitement was pretty draining - the first five days or so after I got back, I did very little, crafty or otherwise. I was suffering from a major case of the post-travelling blues. Then I got out my kumihimo braiding disc and gave it a try. It's my new favourite craft! I've churned out tons of five braids in different colours and materials, branching out from 8-strand to 16-strand thicknesses. I just don't know what to do with them, that's all. I've seen them made into keychains, necklaces and bracelets, but that would involve a foray into the realm of jewellery making that I've never been willing to take. When you think about it though, for every need that requires fairly thick string or cord, I could use a kumihimo braid. My brain is whizzing.

Kumihimo braid - 16-strand thickness using acrylic yarn; the first braid I made in 4 colours with cord from the kit.

In other news, I received my Etsy Christmas swap package last week. It's a beautiful illustration of a bird in a tree. I hung it in the loungeroom above the entrance to the hobby room and I love looking at it!

So pretty!

Also, I sold some zines while I was away! After a drought of about 6 weeks, I finally sold 2 copies of the Thrify Crafter zine. I also had a bulk order for 6 copies each of two of the smaller ones. That's so exciting! It's really spurring me on to write more.

Oh, yeah and P.S. here's a photo to prove I was really there!