Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coming Along

Oh, little craft blog, how cruelly neglected you are!

It's not that I don't love you.  It's just that when there are a million things on your plate, something has to go in order for you to scarf down the whole meal.

Obviously I haven't been doing much in the way of crafting lately.  Even at our bimonthly craft nights chez Stephanie I mostly focus on eating brownies.  However, there are two things I've been working on lately that I really wanted to share but just haven't had the time to until now.

One is the thing I alluded to in my last few posts, the special project that was (cue fancy reveal music now!) for Stephanie.  Steph loves cameos and zombies, so when I saw the "Lolita" cameo (a female skeleton in profile) I felt like she needed to have it.

After browsing Etsy for a while I figured out that I could buy the supplies to make at least 3 full necklaces for less than it would cost me to buy a completed one, so that's what I did.  I got 6 of the cameos, and 3 settings, some chain, and some jump rings and clasps, and after a few shipping hiccups I finally put together the awesome: one for her, one for me.

And four other cameos left over to do whatever I want with.

The other thing, the incredibly slow-going thing, that I've been working on is another Halo 3 inspired embroidery, the Bulltrue Medal.  You get the Bulltrue Medal when you manage to kill someone in the middle of a sword lunge, which is a tricky thing to do.  I feel like I should get some sort of medal for attempting this piece, which is far more complicated and annoying than the crossed swords I did a while back.  Hopefully I will have a proportionately greater sense of accomplishment once they're finished.

Because the fabric I chose is too dark for the black carbon paper I used on the swords, I drew the image on the back of the piece and am embroidering it upside down, which is proving to be the least efficient way that I could go about working on this.  Oh well.  It's still coming out alright, though when I look at it up close I can see that my heart's not in the attention to detail quite the way it should be.

But it's coming along and looks pretty good so far, if you ask me.

Give me another month and it'll probably have some eyes, and maybe it'll be completed by Christmas.  :-p

Monday, August 2, 2010

Crafts On Hold

I've been anxiously waiting to finish a piece for a friend but have unexpectedly found myself sitting on hold for the past week and a half.  I ordered all the parts off Etsy and 3 out of 4 arrived within a few days, but the final piece (which is a stupid yet integral part) has yet to show up.  I'm also getting frustrated that the seller has so far not responded to my conversation asking where the heck my stuff is!

I'm thinking that I will have to just reorder this part from someone else and wait another week for it to show, but I'm bummed because (if you hadn't noticed...) my posts have kind of slowed (too many non-crafting projects going on :-p) and I was looking forward to putting up some fancy photos of my work.  Oh well.

Will show off my accomplishments as soon as possible. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Fantastic Notions Case!

I've have crafted a busy world for myself, thus my latest reason for being MIA (from this blog at least...) for the past couple weeks.  It's not set to get any better, either--this week is chock full of activities, from visiting with my newly-returned-from-Brazil lady friend and her new daughter to helping Oleg move, I am booked solid.

But nevertheless, I wanted to finally post the photos of my new notions carrying case, which I made, and which is such an ultimate success that I'm super proud of it.

Like many of my projects, I laid it all out on the ironing board in the kitchen.  This is just the planning phase, but it gives a good idea of where I was going with it.  I wanted something to hold all my needles (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 10 1/2) and crochet hooks (dwarfed by the number of knitting needles) and a few other things that are necessary to my yarn-work process--thimbles, embroidery needles, scissors, measuring tape, stitch holders and markers.

After sewing elastic holders to the gold piece of fabric, I finally sewed the lining into the outer shell, which was a long piece of blue vinyl that I've had sitting in my fabric stash for-ev-er.

It all came out exceptionally well, and travels perfectly, folding in three's to make this cute little hand-bag sized contraption.

When unrolled, it looks like this:

Ta da!  Now I never have to worry about whether or not I have the right sized needles, or scissors, or hooks, and my knitting bag isn't anywhere near as disorganized.

Being this busy I don't expect to have much time for blogging for the rest of the month, but I will be working on a new craft (as soon as my Etsy-ordered supplies get here): a brief foray into jewelry making.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So Tired.

This week is the second week of compulsory clinic, which is where I teach all the munchkins their beam and floor routines for the competitive season.  It's long, and tiring, and Monday I was at the gym for 13 hours, and Tuesday I was at the gym for 8 hours, and today I was at the gym for 8 hours...and suffice to say, humans were not built for more than 5 hours of gymnastics at a time.  It is just too much.

The worst part is that I have no time to actually exist beyond work.  This morning (after sleeping a full 10 hours) I got up and finally found a little bit of time before I had to go to the gym.  I considered knitting but got sidetracked while trying to assemble all my materials.  The sunglasses case that I've been using as a notions storage space broke a few weeks ago, and I've outgrown my home-made needle purse (I want to carry more pairs than it can handle) so instead of knitting I found myself very calmly and quietly beginning a new project: pimped out knitting supply carrier.

I took out my tupperware bin of fabric and found this swath of blue vinyl I've been holding onto and decided that would do fine.  I also chose a cream and gold speckled something-or-other to line it, and after ironing both I laid out the project on my ironing table.  The new carrier will hold 7 pairs of needle, 5 crochet hooks, 2 stitch holder, stitch markers, measuring tape, scissors, thimble(s), pen and maybe a few other things if there is space. 

It will be exciting to use, but it was even more...not exciting, but nice to start making.  I'm sick of spending my only waking hours at work or too tired to do anything more challenging than be horizontal.

The good news?  Family vacation in 7 days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Halo Swords

Steph asked why I haven't posted any photos of the finished swords yet, and the simple answer is I'm busy.  This week is compulsory clinic at the gym and the first week of summer camp, both of which I have a hand in.  Yesterday I was up at 7:30 am to be in by 8 am and then stay until 8 pm.  Today my schedule is less demanding--in at 12, out some time after 6...--but I'm still tired and looking at a full week of similar days.

Add to that I've been on hold with Capital One for the past 30 minutes trying to close an account I don't remember opening and have no information for (something tells me this is going to be a whole bureaucratic clusterfuck, and their hold music is pure awful) and things today feel pretty annoying.

Though this really has nothing to do with my failure to post photos.  So here they are!

Oh my God, the hold music for Capital One just got worse...

Here's a detail shot, so you can see my increasingly precise embroidery skillz...

And the finished project, framed and ready to hang (I don't know where).

I'm going to blame my busy schedule for the lack of any progress on my current project, the Bulltrue medal, that I haven't worked on since last week's Craft Night.

Would write more but it's getting late so I should probably dress myself, review the floor routine one more time, and hope this hold music comes to an end before I have to go to work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Embroidery is the New Knitting

I finished my sword.  Swords, actually.  I used the armor emblem as a model, which features two crossed swords (which, now that I'm looking at the emblem, are crossed much lower than they are in my piece--oh well)

and embroidered them in white on blue fabric.  Because the fabric was dark and patterned with even darker peacocks and vines, I wound up having to draw the image (via carbon paper) on the reverse side and embroider it backwards.  I kind of liked that, though, because it left me with an incredibly neat and clean reverse side (and the front of the piece looks no less fantastic).  It took me about 4 hours to do the whole thing, which is not the best time-to-product ratio, but that's the nature of this particular craft--if you rush it, things look sloppy.

This morning I got started on my next project, which is going to be the Bulltrue medal

(which you get for killing someone who's in the middle of a sword lunge).  Seems like a good progression to go in.  I don't know why exactly I'm so interested in Halo 3 themed embroidery--probably because playing Halo is pretty much the exact opposite of embroidery, and I'm all about juxtaposition.

I have some other medals printed, some weapons I want to do (shotgun, sniper rifle) and plan on eventually making Master Chief himself.  And after that?  Zombies (because I play Left 4 Dead, too).

Monday, June 7, 2010

3rd Annual Indie Mart

Yesterday was Indie Mart (hello to any visitors who've come to the Brisk Blog by way of a business card you picked up yesterday!  And if you expected robots, you're probably looking for my buddy, Adam). 

The night before the sale Adam, Steph, Oleg and I spent some time figuring out our display, and semi-early Sunday morning we loaded into our respective cars and headed out to Thee Parkside to spent some time sitting at tables on Wisconsin St. and watching hipsters stroll by.

The weather happened to be beautiful, which meant a lot hotter than I'd expected for San Francisco.  In a black t-shirt and jeans, I was over-dressed.  By noon, I'd said, "It's so hot I feel like I'm going to die," at least a dozen times, cut off the sleeves of my shirt, rolled up my jeans as far as they'd go and taken off my shoes. It wasn't enough, so finally Stephanie and I made a cursory trip around the mart to see if I could find a thin, cheap dress to buy.  Most things were thick and heavy, or vintage and overpriced, and I was beginning to lose hope when we unexpectedly stumbled on a seller who not only sold everything she had for $10, but happened to stock a thin pink dress that was exactly what I needed.  I changed clothes and we resumed sitting in the sun for the next few hours (we all have sunburns to prove it).

Our table, full of dinosaurs and robots and finger puppets, proved incredibly popular with the children of Indie Mart.  This dude got two puppets and seemed pretty stoked on them.

People also really liked Adam's prints of poster art (minus the text) and tiny paintings of swimming robots and dinosaurs.

My favorite thing was hearing the noises people made when they put puppets on, because everyone's was different from the noise I usually make when wearing them, and seeing the puppet shows that happened later on in the day when everyone was a little tipsy.

Our display for the puppets was pretty cool, thanks to some mannequin hands that Adam had been purposelessly storing in his house for the past few years.  We spray painted them various colors and stuck them in an egg crate and voila, wound up with a sweet display.

After a few hours of sitting, we got kind of bored and Adam said he wished he had a giant grumple puppet to play with, so I made one.  Turns out I'm awful at large-form embroidery with yarn so the eyes came out kind of janky, and after three tries at making a mouth I gave up and did a make-shift temporary tape smile for the puppet.

All in all, it was a fun day.  The economy is still crap so it seemed like most of the vendors sold less than they expected, us included, but it was no biggie. 

Sitting in the sun that long really took it out of me, though, and last night I slept 11 hours to compensate.  How crazy that being stationary in heat can get so exhausting.

This week I'll probably be less about crafting and more about other activities, but I think when the urge does strike again I'll tackle another embroidery project--maybe this time, I'll make a sword.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nothin' But a G-Thang

I'm excited to have finally given Adam and Stephanie their house-warming gifts because it means that I can post the embroidery piece I made for Stephanie: a gravity hammer.

For anyone who doesn't know (and I'm guessing most of the readers of this blog don't) a gravity hammer is a weapon from the hugely popular and wildly successful Xbox game, Halo 3.  Two years ago Stephanie bought Adam an Xbox for Christmas under the assumption that this was a selfless gesture as she'd have zero interest in playing video games herself.  Boy was she wrong!  After they started playing Left 4 Dead, Stephanie realized that she was a total gaming nerd, and henceforth we have been gaming buddies and Halo 3 team mates.

While Steph finds the standard run-around-and-shoot-folks Halo games a little tough, she excels at a special game (that goes up for one weekend every month) called Grifball.  It's kind of like football, only there's 4 players to a team and instead of tackling one another, you smash your opponents with gravity hammers.  

Stephanie is the best Grifball player I know, so it seemed only natural to give her something that would forever memorialize her skillz.

I also like using the foofy, lady-centric medium of embroidery to make something so traditionally out of the female realm.  I will probably keep it up, so look forward to an embroidered Master Chief in the future.

In other crafts, the grumple army is continuing to grow.  I managed to make a handful over the weekend, though not as many as I'd planned on, and a few last night and the night before.  Indie Mart is Sunday and I want to have as many finished puppets as possible by that date.  I'm at around 45 right now, and I think I can plan on bringing at least 60 with me.

It's getting more difficult to decide what colors to use, but any time I have that thought it's immediately followed by, "Whatever--it's not like it matters if you have too many pink ones," and then I just grab some more yarn and keep knitting.

Last but not least, my Craftastrophe post this week also addressed the intersection of the gaming world and the craft world, which (when you get right down to it) are not that far apart.  Give it a look and see what you think.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Indie Mart

The Grumple army is slow growing, but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to add a good number of members over Memorial Day weekend.  The gym is actually closed for Saturday and Monday, so I have an unprecedented three days off in a row!  It's a break I definitely need and I'm psyched to spend it relaxing and reading and crafting.

This morning I spent about an hour winding bobbins of yarn so that my craft bag is full of new colors for Grumpling, and then I made one little sock monkey inspired Grumple (pictures next week) who turned out pretty adorable.  I anticipate making more because I'm guessing he will be pretty popular.

All of this finger puppet making madness has been inspired by Adam's invite to sit with him at the upcoming Indie Mart and sell knitted things.  I've never heard of or been to Indie Mart before, but I expect it's exactly what it sounds like, and that it'll be a nice way to pass a Sunday, and maybe make a few bucks.

In any case, I like my bag o' yarn and am ready to start whittling it down. 

Side note: with all those balls rolling around together, strings tend to come undone.  I decided this morning to start taping the loose ends down and half-way through that changed my mind and started using rubberbands.  It works awesomely well and is so simple I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.  If, like me, you struggle with craft bag messiness due to unravelling balls of yarn, I strongly suggest buying yourself a little bag of bands and straightening that mess up.  So much easier!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


We are going to eat your face.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


We're past the two-hand mark.

I have to come up with a name for these creatures.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Army Grows

So I made good on my plans.  Tuesday night I came home after work and finally, after weeks of inactivity, got crafty.

It took me a while to get going, mostly because I felt a sort of knitter's-block when it came to the kind of puppets I wanted to make.  Originally (with the first batch) I just free-knit and decorated at will, and those guys turned out pretty awesome.  At last week's craft night I attempted to recreate the magic but wound up with sort of weird results. 

I sat for a while, contemplating the best direction for my puppet knitting, and then made a quick decision not to fix what isn't broken.  One of my favorite puppets (and the first one I ever knit) was this guy:

So I grabbed a ball of yarn and made him a brother.  And then a mother.  And another, and another.

Seven puppets does not an army make, but I figure that if I try to make at least one every day from now until June, I'll be able to join Adam at his whatever-festival with a sizable puppet army.

The only drawback is that they still take me between 45 - 60 minutes to make from start to finish, and that seems like an incredible time investment for something so tiny.  If I'm going to sell them for a reasonable price, I will have to decrease that by at least half.

That is, if I can bring myself to sell them.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Like To Read

It's Tuesday, so if I don't want to slip into blogging obscurity that means it's time to author a post.  Unfortunately I've been lazy about bringing my craft bag in from the car so I still don't have photos of the finger puppets.  Instead of heading out to get them I've decided to write this post bare (well, not naked...just without photos) in the hopes that it will motivate me to write a second post on Thursday featuring the puppets.  I'm also planning on spending some time tonight making new ones, so it's possible I'll be able to get more photos and then actually have something exciting to show off :-)

I wrote out a little calendar for myself the other day so I could get a visual idea of how my time is breaking down and it made me feel so stupid.  Based on my calculations, I have more than enough time to fit in all the stuff I'm saying I don't have time to fit in, so there's really no excuse for not getting to things.  Hopefully I will continue to be motivated to fill up my time with worthwhile pursuits.

One thing I did that I haven't done in a long, long time was go out and buy some books.  Mostly I've been relying on the library for my reading needs, but I happened to have a gift certificate to a book store in town and this weekend I decided to finally make use of it.  I discovered writer Lorrie Moore and bought a book of her short stories, as well as Bright Lights, Big City (which I've wanted to read for a while but is never at the library).  I also got Push because I picked it up in the store and found it compelling enough to read (and since it's been movied I doubt it'll be checked in for a while) and I Am Legend, which was also moderately compelling when I flipped through it (though, vampires?  Really?).  I haven't seen either movie version of the books I got so I have no preconceived notions going into reading them.  Lastly I got Gideon, which I wasn't too attracted to just by reading the synopsis or flipping through the pages, but it won a Pulitzer and I'm curious to see whether I think that's any reflection of its readability.

I've been reading Bright Lights, Big City for the past 3 days.  I really like it, and I'm sad that it's so short, and that I'm devouring it so quickly. And I doubt anything else that McInerney wrote or writes will ever compare to it--it's got that first-book thing going for it--so it's not even like I feel like I've discovered a new author to follow.  I know this is most likely a singular experience, which is kind of a bummer.

It's been a long time since I read a book that I really liked, and that I felt both sad and excited about finishing.  I've read lots of books that were average and then a few that were a little above or below, but nothing since Snow Crash has really pulled me in.  I miss when reading was like that.

So here's a list of books that completely sucked me in.  If you like this blog, you might like them, too.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Captain Correlli's Mandolin and The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts by Louis Des Bernieres
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
1984 by George Orwell
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
Fight Club and Diary by Chuck Palahniuk
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Sofa Issue

I guess I only blog on Tuesdays now.

This past month has been odd, which is why the lack of crafting and blogging about crafting.  As usual, everything has decided to happen at once.  My friends and I all seem to be going through a period of transition, though it's hard to figure out exactly from what to what, and suddenly stuff that was figured out and taken care of is up in the air.

Times like this are weird because they so clearly illustrate how impermanent everything in your life really is and they make you go all introspective and emo.  As cliché as Palahniuk's Fight Club has become, there's always been that line about the sofa that's stuck with me long past the expiration of the book's cultural relevance:

"You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life.  Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled."

That's how I've been feeling lately--like I thought I had this sofa issue handled, and now all of a sudden it's a big question mark again.

On the one hand, it's a little stressful.  On the other much-more-Zen hand, it's good to be reminded that regardless of how comfortable you might be at the moment, the sofa issue is never really handled.  It's easy to forget that there's never a definitive answer or solution for anything because life is nothing but impermanent and ever-changing, and while you might have figured out your job or your housing or your hobbies for now, eventually those things will all change.  They have to, and the only thing you can do is try to be prepared.


In any case, my lack of blogging and motivation to blog or make things worth blogging about is just like everything else: temporary.  Adam mentioned to me that he's doing a festival soon and will have extra booth space, and he suggested that Brisk and I come along for the day.  I said maybe I'd make a bunch of finger puppets, and then Adam remembered that he has a box of mannequin hands (who knows why...) that would make for a pretty awesome display.  It'd be worth it even if no one bought any, so I think my puppet army might actually come to fruition now that I have a goal and a timetable to put it on.

The cowl I was working on is still unfinished, and I'm really not sure what I'm going to think about it when it's done.  It could wind up being another project that gets all the way to the bind off before I finally decide it's stupid and frog it, or just as easily could wind up awesome.

I guess the only way to know for sure is to pick up my needles and get the thing done.  Like most things.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aaaaaand...We're Back

I feel like such a schmo for how little I've been crafting (and blogging about it) lately.  I promise I really have been busy with other things, though. 

Last weekend I was planning on driving up to Portland to visit an old friend.  My boyfriend and I got 4 hours up I-5 to Redding, stopped for lunch, then spent an hour and a half waiting on the side of the road in a tiny town while authorities cleared the highway of a 20 car pile up that we'd avoided by about 20 minutes.  We discussed our options for a while and as much as I wanted to see my friend, I made the call that I'd rather not die driving through snowy Californian mountains in the dark and we headed home. 

I spent the next week house-sitting at my parents' place, hanging out with the chugs, Minnie and Louie.

House-sitting isn't awful, but I much prefer being at my own place so a week of living at my parents kind of sapped any creative urges I might've had.  I brought some knitting with me but didn't work on any of it the entire time--just watched a bunch of cable television in awe (I don't have live tv at my apartment...just streaming Netflix and Hulu).  What a bunch of crap there is out there.  And no, buddies, I shouldn't watch America's Best Dance Crew--it's cheerleading, only less interesting.

I did manage to finish the hat for Kaili in time to give it to her for her birthday, however (and thanks to the Portland debacle we actually stopped by and saw her for a minute, cracked out on sugar and spazzing over some deflating balloons).  I'll still try to get a picture of her wearing it eventually.

The only other thing I'm working on right now is my first cowl (that I decided to make just in time for summer).  I'm using this grey yarn I really like: Lion Brand Wool-Ease in worsted weight Oxford Grey.

I've been shying away from acrylic yarns over the past few months but this is a really nice blend of acrylic and lamb's wool--very soft and easy to work with.  I've found that when it comes to natural fibers it's just as easy to find scratchy, tough-to-knit yarns as it is with acrylics.  This blend gives you no hints of artificality or natural roughness--it's just really, really soft.

I also really want to pick up some of the new bamboo yarn from Debbie Stoller's Stitch Nation line, Bamboo Ewe.

It's a 55/45 blend of bamboo and wool in worsted weight that comes in lots of vibrant colors, and like the Lions Brand yarn it has an amazing soft but firm texture that I'd love to knit with.

My boyfriend and I had a conversation about bamboo yarn one day when he said, "You should figure out how to make yarn out of bamboo because it has a bunch of great antimicrobial properties that would make it ideal for hats and scarves."  To his surprise, I told him that bamboo yarn was already a thing, and a few days later I picked some up so I could make him a hat and scarf.

I enjoyed working with bamboo yarn so much that I went on an Ebay shopping spree.  Unfortunately I discovered that you can't trust listings when they say "worsted weight" because your yarn might just show up and be fingerling, and unless I want a lot of bamboo socks I'm SOL.

Bamboo blends can be pricey when you're not getting them online, but Stoller's yarn is completely affordable at about $4 a skein even in the store (the Lions Brand is the same, price wise) which is part of the reason I'm so excited about it (I also like that she's increasing awareness about bamboo blends...hopefully other yarn companies will follow suit).

Unfortunately I can't afford to buy things I need, let alone things I really don't need like more yarn (I have a cabinet full.  And a shelf) so my Bamboo Ewe experiments will have to wait.

For now, I'm happy working the Wool-Ease cowl.  I'm not using a pattern; I browsed Ravelry for a while to find a good one, but it's basically just a giant leg warmer and I figured I could handle that on my own.  What I'm not liking is how often my stitches are falling off the needles.  Time to get some circular 11s...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crafting For The Adorable

Seems like it's taken a while, but I've finally picked up the knitting needles again, this time to make a birthday present for a little buddy of mine, my boss's daughter Kaili who's turning 2 this weekend.

Kaili's just about the cutest kid I've ever seen, and a few days ago my boss mentioned that she wanted to commission a hat for her because she couldn't find anything nice and simple in the shops (I guess they're all shaped like pumpkins, or have bear ears attached). Since I'm heading to Portland this weekend and will be missing her birthday party, I decided to just go ahead and make her a hat as a gift (material goods are a perfectly acceptable substitution for actual love and affection, right?).

I wanted a yarn that would flatter her, and since she's a little blond ball of awesome with blue eyes I decided to go with the same steely grey yarn I used to make the special order elbow length Rococo gloves a few months back.

GlovesFingerlessRococoBlueGrayElbowLength by you.
Yeah, those ones.

I figured that the blue would make her eyes pop (in an un-scary way) and that the muted color would go well with most outfits.  Though, now that I think about it, she does wear quite a bit of pink...

Anyhow, I've got the first part of the hat band finished and am working on the body.  There's a craft night at Stephanie and Adam's this evening so hopefully I'll be able to finish the project before I leave for Oregon.  I'll have to get photos of Kaili modeling the finished product--not because I want to showcase my own abilities, but because she's just so flippin' adorable.

The hat pattern I'm using is a free one from Ravelry--and yeah, hats are simple enough that I shouldn't even need a pattern (and truthfully I'm not following it verbatim...) but sometimes you just need a quick reminder on all those decreases for the crown.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Team Awesome Clothing Exchange: Crafty Shopping

This weekend Nnekay and Heather hosted one of everybody's favorite events, the Team Awesome Clothing Exchange.  I don't know who first suggested it, but for the past two years the ladies of T.A. have gathered every few months or so to give their closets a good purge, and to do get some free new-to-you duds--a total win-win! 

Most of the time when I go through my things with the intention of clearing out some space I'll wind up hemming and hawing over certain items, but when you know your things will end up in the hands of a good buddy it really gives you that extra bit of motivation to get rid of it.  As Stephanie summarized, "I love when I feel unsure about something until I see one of you put it on and it looks way better than it did on me, and then I think, 'Yeah, I should give that up."

It's also awesome that we're all very different shapes and sizes, from six-foot tall Mary to five-foot-two Tamar, and no matter what winds up in the pile it can theoretically find a home with one of us.  I didn't even need a mirror while trying things on yesterday, I just stood in front of Nnekay and asked her if the thing I was wearing looked good (and if it didn't, I threw it to someone who'd wear it better).

The clothing exchange is like a thrift store shopping experience minus all of the annoyances of travel time, fitting rooms, budgeting, and you get to drink wine!

You also get to try on fantastic outfits, or laugh while your friends try them on!  See how Nnekay and Heather found matching shirts?  How about those sweet red cords?  And don't overlook Tamar in the pink "buttcheek" long-johns and silver sequined party dress.  Awesome.

Clothing exchanging can get pretty tiring, though.  After a good two hours of trying things on and flinging them from friend to friend, you can get pretty wiped.  Once everyone's filled their take-home bags with the clothes they want, the hosts collect the rest and drop it at the Goodwill.  That's free shopping, wine, and charity.

This was my favorite ensemble of the evening (next to the no-pants look I cultivated for the majority of the time...): lu'au hat, disco tank, leggings as pants (noooo!) and Mary's size 9 party boots ala 1998.

Best.  Look.  Ever.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Etsy Wetsy

I just got back from a leisurely bike ride around Alameda during which I spent a while thinking about blogging, and Etsy, and the great puzzle that is web traffic.

Thus far, the Brisk Blog post that's gotten the most traffic was The Bain of My Etsystence, where I discussed my frustration with the Etsy Treasury (apparently I'm not alone in my experience) so I thought today that I'd head back to that topic and talk about my overall impressions of Etsy, and what it's meant to the Brisk shop.

I started knitting fingerless gloves last summer with the intention of both creating a catalog of patterns (that I would eventually sell in addition to the gloves) and accumulating a large stock of ready-made pieces that I could list in an Etsy shop.  I spent about five hours every day knitting, before work and sometimes after, and finished around 40 pairs of gloves by mid-October.  I felt like that was a good number of items to have available, and patterns to have completed, so I recruited my models and we had a long photo session at one of Stephanie's craft nights, and then I was ready to start listing.

I'd done some research into Etsy before starting to list with them so I did as they advised and posted one item at a time every few hours (this supposedly helps generate traffic to your shop by putting you in greater rotation in the just-listed areas).  I didn't do things that I would've had I known better, namely make all image titles descriptive (glovesfingerlessbluehearts, for example) instead of just leaving them as the default numeric label that my camera gives them, but I did start this blog, and pay attention to tags, and make sure to use important keywords in the first 140 characters of text (which is what will show up when a search engine is displaying Google-ish results).

However, that's not enough to generate traffic to your Etsy shop.  Etsy itself is pretty clear on this--you really have to work the system to make people wind up in your store.  You have to get Treasury listings happening (especially if you ever want to wind up on Etsy's front page through more than just a wish and a prayer), you should post in the forums every few hours, you should try to join an Etsy Team (which is essentially a group of shops that cross promote), you need a Twitter, a Facebook, and YouTube and Flickr accounts don't hurt either.

I've played with all of that, and I've played with search engine optimization (thanks, Oleg) and monitored everything via Google Analytics (thanks, Stephanie) and after about 6 months I have to ask the question: if I'm doing all of this promotion for my shop, why do I need Etsy?

I don't feel like I get any traffic to the Etsy shop simply as a result of it simply being part of Etsy.  Most of my traffic comes through word of mouth from my friends, through Twitter, and through this blog.  In fact, if I look at Analytics today, this is what I see:

My Etsy shop (which I have not been promoting lately, partly because of how I've been feeling about Etsy overall and partly because I've been focusing much more internet effort on Brisk and WITAT) has gotten a mere 149 visits--18 from Google (one person searched for "Christopher Ross Belt"--WTF?) which I'm sure Etsy has a certain role in just by being the thing that is Etsy, and 45 that came directly to the site (typed the words into the address bar) and the rest via Twitter and blogs and Flickr, etc. 

And I'm not saying that I expected any different, but I'm wondering if it's worth my while to bother continuing with the Etsy shop at all.  My listings are starting to expire, and I haven't bothered renewing any of them.  20 cents, btw, seems a completely fair price to me for a four month long listing--that is definitely an Etsy win.  So is the small percentage they take of each sale, I think about 3%--totally fair.  But is it useful to be aligned with Etsy?

I'm starting to think it's not.  At least, not that much.

For all the traffic I bring to my blog(s) I might as well just depend on myself to get people shopping at Brisk, and not worry about doing the same amount of SEO (that's Search Engine Optimization, something you need to Google asap if you 1) are selling online and 2) don't know what it means) for a completely different site.  It's true that no traffic is bad traffic, and having an Etsy shop doesn't hurt Brisk, but all things considered if someone asked me for advice about starting their own Etsy shop, I'd probably tell them that if they're really interested in generating online sales, they need to be prepared to take initiative on their own and not assume that Etsy is going to do anything for them at all.

You can create a shop with Paypal (Adam has one) and then focus all your energy on a blog.  You can list a few things with Etsy, which I think is what I'll be doing from now on, and use it as sort of a tertiary means of generating traffic to another web address, but unless you really, really want to bust your ass working the system that's specific to Etsy and get immersed completely in the Etsy way of life, then I don't know if you're going to get what you want from the site.

I've sold almost all of my gloves at this point.  Most of the sales were around the holidays (prime glove time) and the majority were to people I knew who'd seen the gloves and wanted to get them for themselves or friends.  I sold three pairs through Etsy (though I think one was to a friend of a friend) and got another order from a repeat customer who wanted an extra long pair of elbow length gloves (and that lead to a Twitter user ordering her own custom elbow length pair, which I handled through Paypal and not Etsy).  I also sold one pattern to a very nice lady who said it worked just fine, which I was very happy to hear.

So for any of you who are reading my blog because you're in a similar boat, starting an online shop or thinking of starting an online shop, that's been my experience.  It hasn't been bad, and I haven't been depressed by it (one of the things my boyfriend kept telling me was that as long as I'm having fun, it's all good) but I'm not trying to make a living from this.  This is a side-project I work on when I'm not at my regular job.  If you're in the same place, and especially if you like blogging and Twitter etc., then I'd say do what's most fun, which is probably not playing the Etsy game; no one has fun stalking the Treasury page, believe me.

If you're really serious about becoming an Etsy behemoth though, be ready to put in those long hours--I mean, no one else is going to do it for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Forward

Last week was incredibly lazy.  Most days I woke up early enough to get up and be at least mildly productive before going into the gym, but made the executive decision to stay in bed and enjoy semi-consciousness instead.  But this kind of thing can only go on for so long before you find something to take your mind off it, and now it's 9:35 and I'm up at the computer starting to get back in the swing of things, which means it's time to post a blog (finally).

This weekend the nice weather continued and I was struck by the desire to revel in the open air, which is why Oleg and I wound up taking a tour of random Oakland locations that are pretty.

If you're not an Oakland native (Oleg's from San Francisco) then you probably have no idea but there's a ton of naturey stuff in this city that's perfect for enjoying the outdoors.

We started by walking around the Morcom Rose Garden, which was completely empty of flowers but still nice and airy and good for a post breakfast walk.

It looked like this, minus the roses.

The garden is one of my favorite places in Oakland because it's right in the middle of the city (off Grand Avenue, home of Lyn & Lu's cafe and the best breakfast in the Bay Area) but it's a serene, natural place that feels completely un-urban, and un-city-like.  You might as well be in rural Connecticut for all your know, but guess what?  You're in Oakland!

It's a real life representation of the complexity that I love about this city--just when you think Oakland is one thing, it shows you another side and you're not so sure.

From there we drove up to Piedmont and decided to take a walk around Mountain View Cemetary.

No, we're not goth.

The cemetery is very pretty and incredibly not morbid (as cemeteries go) so people make frequent use of it as a place to walk their dogs or run or, like us, stroll.  But if you're not from Oakland, you'd probably never notice it, let alone think it was a good idea to take a walk through it. 

Oleg was skeptical at first but eventually came around to agree that it was a nice place (though it would be nicer without all the dead people).  My response was that the dead people weren't doing anything to anybody, but this might be a result of my own lack of hang ups about grave sites.  They bother me about as much as house plants.

Anyhow, since it's spring all the weeds are blooming and there's tiny yellow flowers all over, making it even cheerier than usual (for a cemetery).

From there we started back to the car but made what we thought would be a quick detour to the Chapel of the Chimes.

No, I did not set out to take Oleg on a religious tour of Oakland.

A few months ago our friend Kevin took some photos of Adam and Stephanie, and one of the locations they visited was Chapel of the Chimes.

 Don't they look sharp?

After the shoot all I heard about for a few days was how awesome and beautiful the place is, and since those kinds of statements make me instantly curious to see for myself, I said we should check it out.  Also happy to try his hand at disproving claims of awesomeness, Oleg agreed.

We're happy to report that Chapel of the Chimes is in fact awesome and beautiful, and that our friends are not liars with no taste.

It's a mausoleum, which I wasn't really expecting (I thought the "chapel" or the "chimes" would be the more important thing) with complex architecture featuring lots of open space, gardens, and fountains.

Oh, also, shelves and shelves of entombed ashes.

Oleg was perplexed as to why so many of the ashes were in book-shaped containers, and I agreed that it was a little weird, especially considering how shelf-like their final resting places are.  I suppose there's some sort of allegory to the book-of-your-life going on with that decision, but it's still kind of weird.

We spent a fair amount of time walking through the place, and did eventually manage to find the actual chapel, which is probably the least impressive looking part of Chapel of the Chimes.  We also passed a post-office-box-looking spot that was the home of Upton "Buddy" Sinclair, who is not the Sinclair responsible for The Jungle (buried in Washington, D.C.) but someone whose parents must have been fans.

From Piedmont we drove up Broadway Terrace into the Oakland hills and down past Lake Temescal (where we didn't stop, but this is what you missed out on, Oleg)

and then wound up turning into the Mormon Temple.

If you're a kid in Oakland, chances are you've watched fireworks from the viewing platform at the Oakland Temple at least once.  It has nothing to do with being Mormon, or even religious; it has to do with this incredible effing view:

The Mormons were smart to pop their flagship Oakland location in a spot offering such a pristine view of the entire Bay because it gets so many of us non-believers up there, and once you're there, you might as well go Mormon, right?

Or not.

We walked around the temple for a while then drove on up Skyline Boulevard past the Chabot Space Center and down Redwood Road to Redwood Park.

When I was little my family was pretty poor, which meant that all the activities we did together had to be free, or relatively free.  We wound up doing a lot of hiking, which is how I wound up getting to know so many of the Skyline area trails.  In the 80's they were less maintained but absolutely gorgeous as a result, and if you were a kid it was very easy to imagine you'd been plunked down in some sort of medieval fairytale.

I spent years running around in this environment with friends, making up stories and games, and it was a truly magical part of my childhood.

Oleg and I weren't really in our hiking gear though so we stayed out in the picnic area at the front of the park and spent most of our time relaxing on a picnic table and watching a near by family play Mother May I.

It was a lovely way to waste the day, and to put a cap on my week o' laziness.