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.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Enjoy The Lazy

I'm on a crafting break.

Not on purpose, I just haven't felt like working on anything lately.  Maybe it's the sudden arrival of Spring, who shows up in California unannounced and looking very much like Summer.  Weeks of rain have been trumped by unexpected sunshine and warm temperatures, windows are open, snow boots are off.  Even the gym is getting more pleasant to be in--our giant warehouse is freezing all winter long, necessitating a ridiculous number of layers (I'm usually in 5) but yesterday I went up to my locker in the employee area and pulled out my emergency shorts that haven't seen the light of late afternoon since October of last year.

Right now I'm writing with the windows open, the air flowing in over the rumbling street traffic, and as a result things feel stupidly pleasant.

Not that I'm complaining.  It sounds like I could be, but I'm merely stating facts.  I'm not busied with making stuff, I'm just enjoying the nice weather, and I'm okay with that.

I think it's really important to have a balance in your life between productivity and laziness.  You have to be relatively productive some days in order to truly revel in the days when you choose not to be.  I've spent a good amount of time being uber productive lately, especially in the crafting world, so I feel totally okay with taking a quick break from it.

Break is kind of a funny thing to say, though, because I'm still working a full time job, and maintaining a few blogs and Twitter accounts, and having a relationship and seeing friends and parents and still finding time to sleep and eat on occasion.  Really what I'm doing is being down in my few moments of down time, and I guess since I tend to be sort of a busy body it feels like being lazy.

That is pretty awesome.

But I know me, and I won't be able to keep this up forever.  Next week I'll probably find a new endeavor to preoccupy me before and after work hours, and I'll be sure to take lots of photos so I can share the process with everyone.

For now, I'm off to enjoy the, spring...sunshine.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Much Is Too Much Awesome?

As you may or may not have heard, my most recent foray into new and exciting crafts has been embroidering.  I started off with some flower outlines, which I worked on until I felt I was okay enough at technique to attempt something more complicated than the equivalent of needlework paint-by-numbers.

This is the last piece of the flowers that I worked on, practicing chain stitching (orange) and filling in (pink).

I might go back to it if I can think of something awesome to do with the finished product (suggestions?) but for now it's relegated to sitting next to the remote on the coffee table.

For my first stab at what I consider real embroidery, I decided to take an idea I'd had previously and tweak it to embroidery specs.

My buddy Adam makes super fantastic paintings of robots and zombies and dinosaurs and other things and for a long time I've wanted to take his art and use it in a collaborative kind of way.  I've already made a screen of the penguin-buster (so I could give Adam a penguin-buster shirt for his birthday, and also make some for the rest of Team Awesome) so when it came time to pick an embroidery subject it was a no-brainer for me to head to Adam's blog and grab some inspiration there.

I went with the first dude on the on page, this guy:

I like his whole "What, Me Worry?" air, and his relatively simple lines that I figured would lend themselves to a beginner embroiderer like me.

I sketched out a free-hand drawing of Cla1r@nc3 on some of the new fabric I got at the White Elephant Sale, then set to.

The process is pretty slow, but also very low-stress.  I get why Marin picked embroidery as a medium (though her stuff is so far beyond what I'm doing that it doesn't even belong in the same category).   She makes really, really beautiful pieces based on hunting and skeletal imagery, like this gorgeous pelvis piece:

In any case, after a night or two of stitching while watching archived Daily Show on Hulu I had most of Cla1r@nc3 finished.

This morning when I got home I decided to use the hour and a half before work to try and complete him, and after half an episode of Mad Men he was pretty much all done.

I think (after examining the original painting while writing this post) I'm going to go back and fill in his eyes and monitor thingamajig with some yellow floss and then he'll be done for reals.

It's encouraging to have completed him with relatively little difficulty, and whatever I make next will probably move in a more advanced direction.  I don't know if embroidery will become a mainstay in my skill set, but it's a fun distraction for now.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fun New Things

My voice is finally back, and yesterday I used it to complain through the Oscars at Stephanie's house.

I don't care about the Oscars at all, so I'm not going to waste time blogging about them suffice to say that the show would've been better had all the presenters been suffering from laryngitis as well.

Earlier in the day Adam (Stephanie's awesome husband and my soul-twin), Stephanie, my mom and I went to the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale.  If you live in the Bay Area, you've probably heard of this thing--it's a huge benefit sale for put on by the OM's Women's Board and it happens in a ginormous warehouse on the Oakland waterfront.

Most years, Mom and I go for the preview sale (we get passes from a friend and get to shop before the actual sale date, which is how the cool kids do it) but this year we were both busy and sick (alternately, and sometimes together) and just couldn't get there, which meant that for the first time ever we had to go on the actual day of the sale.  The last day of the sale, to be more specific.


1. Hipster central!  Way to be Bridge-and-Tunnel, The Mission.
2. Clusterfuck.
3. Nothing left.

We did manage to find a few things, though (in between getting bumped by glassy eyed folks stunned into a shopping daze).  Steph picked up an antique thimble and a fondue pot, Mom got a few greeting cards that she was really stoked on, and Adam helped Steph compile a stack of records for the bargain price of 50 cents a pop.  I was mostly interested in the Craft section, which is usually awesome but, lo and behold, was severely lacking come the date of the sale.  It lead me to truly appreciate those yearly passes we get, and to feel sorry for anyone who has to restrict themselves to coming to the sale weekend.  If you've never gone to the preview sale, you are seriously missing out.

I was hoping to find some embroidery floss, fabric, and a more comprehensive book on embroidery than the one that I'm currently using.  It was a win for the fabric and the book, but as far as yarn and thread went the vultures had already picked the bones clean by the time we showed up.

Still, I took home enough fabric that I can be embroidering for the next year without having to restock, and a giant needlework bible by McCall's to refer to while I do it.

When I finally got home last night I started working on a new piece of embroidery that I may or may not give to someone special (will have to see how it turns out).  So far my skillz are mediocre--I get the concept, but my lines aren't the tidiest and every once in a while the floss bunches and I wind up with little thread puckers.  But it's about the process, and each time I make a stitch I think I'm getting better at it.  It seems to take longer than knitting, but maybe it's just because I'm slower at it, or concentrating harder on what I'm doing.  In any case, it's a fun new thing, and fun new things are good.