Why I Still Visit Etsy Every Day

While I haven’t received any criticism for my most recent about etsy, where I delved a little bit further into the conflict I feel about the changes etsy has been making, I have been thinking all week about the artists that still sell on their work on that platform.

Just in case it wasn’t clear, I love being able to search for just the right handmade gift from my living room. I love running into new artists in cyber space and sending the links to my husband and my friends when I think they would like them. I like introducing people to new art by artists they hadn’t found yet. (Ya’ll know it’s true, because it’s my day job.) Etsy has always been an irreplaceable tool for discovery.

When I am stuck on a particularly difficult passage in my novel or just need a break for creative inspiration, I pull up etsy and browse through listings of my two favorite things to shop for: self-striping sock yarn and pottery.

self-striping sock yarn I found on etsy
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore self-striping sock yarn from White Birch Fiber Arts. I want this for my feet.

A sock knitter can never have too much sock yarn, and as a former dyer, I know just how much work the self-striping yarn is. I don’t have the patience to do it myself most of the time, but I am more than willing to throw down $30 just for the experience of knitting with it. Self-striping sock just never gets old.

With pottery, I’m a little more discerning with my purchases. If I purchase pottery, it’s likely coming from someone I know like, FriesenArt, because I can buy it locally. (I’m drinking coffee out of one of her wheat mugs right now!) But I love browsing through the beautiful shops on etsy, favoriting pieces for future gift ideas, and imagining just how full of robin’s egg blue vessels my house will be when my boys are older.

But these bowls from AbbyTPottery keep grabbing my attention.

berrybowl
Berry Bowl.

yarnbowl
Yarn Bowl

Now, imagine the yarn from above in the yarn bowl and that berry bowl full of cherries. Can you imagine the squish of the wool? The crisp contrast of the orange against the blue bowl? The slick glaze cool to the touch. The water droplets sitting on the skin of the freshly washed cherries? The heft of the bowl in your hand as you sit back down to your laptop ready to delve back into teasing out whatever conflict is giving you trouble.

Or is that just me?

Kicking off the 2015 Garden: Indoor Planting

Garden planting time might be my favorite time of year. The weather is finally turning warm, it’s pleasant to be outside again, and the whole world feels full of potential. This March has been warm and sunny so far, and in a fit of vitamin-d influenced optimism, last weekend, I started our 2015 garden.

spinach_seedling
Our first seedling of the year was this little spinach sprout. I planted three pots worth of spinach, which are living in our dining room window. I have three more pots to plant next week, to hopefully keep greens in rotation most of the spring. We didn’t have much luck planting greens in the ground last year. A combination of too much clay and ants made the leafy parts slow to grow, but the plants quick to bolt, so I’m sticking with pots this year.

tomato_seedlings
I am attempting grow all of our summer vegetables from seed this year. We spent a ton on seedlings last year, and this year I’m hoping to grow more plants. We currently have about two dozen little tomato seedlings, and I’m hoping to put them all in the ground.

basil_seedlings
Last year was a disaster four our herbs. We got a late start on them and the soil in our yard was so poor, the only thing that took was the mint. I missed fresh basil so much, that this year I’m hedging my bets and have a whole pallet of basil seeds sprouting.

Basil seedlings are so cute and determined looking, I find myself peering into the tray multiple times a day, just admiring their fortitude.

root_vegetable_seeds
If our Earth boxes are thawed enough, because last week they were still big blocks of frozen dirt, I’m going to bring them inside and start our first rounds of root vegetables. We also had trouble with these in the ground last year, they grew, but they were slow to take off and by the time they were sizable, they were also bitter. The ones we ate small, however, were delicious.

I’m hoping that planting the spring vegetables inside this year will give us more opportunity to get the yard ready for summer veggies and herbs and flowers. Our soil is so full of clay, I could take up ceramics and never need to buy it. We’re planning on working the compost we’ve been making since we moved in a year and a half ago into the soil and building up a few inches above the ground–we did this last year, but we decided we needed to go a few inches higher than that.

What are you planting this year?

Why Shopping on Etsy is Problematic

Last week, Wired Magazine ran an online story about etsy alienating it’s base in the interest of making money. There is no shortage of articles about how etsy has lost it’s soul. Just a couple of weeks ago, I told my own story about closing down my etsy shop. While my decision had just as much to do my personal change in focus as it did with etsy’s policy shifts, I feel no less disappointed at the transformation of the handmade marketplace into a corporate one.

Etsy was the place to go when you didn’t want to buy from a box store. It was a place where you could easily find unique, handmade pieces. It was a reliable source for gifts that had a story. Etsy was the site that connected the consumer directly to the producer. You knew when you shopped on etsy that you were helping an artist fund her dreams.

Buying through etsy was also subversive. You were taking a stand against consumer culture one piece of handmade jewelry or vintage tableware at a time. Your purchase wasn’t just a new handbag, it was a protest against mass production and etsy was the standard bearer.

With Etsy becoming a publicly traded company, that protest starts to feel a little flimsy. The oomph is out of the gesture because the primary focus is no longer on the independent artist, it’s on how to maximize profits for the company at large. Sure, etsy will still connect you with an artist,if you take the time to sift through the pages and pages of trendy mass produced stuff to find what you’re looking for, and that artist will still get your money, minus the small fee etsy takes.

Charging fees to sellers has always been the way etsy makes money. Compared to the price of running a brick and mortar store, etsy is relatively inexpensive: $.20 to list, a small percentage when something sells, a few dollars a week to boost listings. It’s a humble investment, and when you’re looking for a place to launch your fledgling handmade business, etsy sounds like a steal.

The way etsy attracts it’s sellers through campaigns like Quit Your Day Job, which features shops that make a living wage for their sellers feels disingenuous. The series plays on the romantic daydreams of office workers who hate their jobs, promising that they too might one day work from their own sunlit studio. While grist.org reports that only 18% of etsy sellers are able to make a living from their shops, etsy sells the promise of a living wage to budding entrepreneurs who have little chance of making it. Meanwhile, etsy collects more fees from small sellers struggling to just have their items seen, let alone purchased.

The system favors those sellers who already have a high volume of sales or have the money to invest in etsy’s on-site advertising before any sales are made. Whether the artist is selling or not, etsy is making money. Charging sellers just to get their products seen is likely to cost them more as making money takes precedence over providing a unique marketplace. Making this switch turns etsy into the kind of company shoppers like me were trying to avoid in the first place. The site’s focus has become less about helping the consumer find the perfect product, and more about producing profit, through luring in new sellers.

And yet, there are still artists on etsy whose shops are a big part part of their business plan. Some don’t sell anywhere else. If we want to keep the focus on the artists, the ones whose dreams to make a living from their art are completely legitimate, what is a consumer to do?

First, I would do a little digging and see if the artist sells anywhere else you can purchase from: her website, a local boutique, a craft show, etc. Buy local if possible and keep that money in your community. But if you’ve found the perfect self-striping sock yarn from an indie dyer two states away who only sells on etsy, then go ahead and buy it. Your purchase is still helping that artist live her dream, even if etsy isn’t.

Some Links for Tuesday

It’s been kind of a rough week for us, so I’m sharing some of the things I’ve been enjoying lately and taking a rest. Have fun, and feel free to share some of the stuff making you happy this week.

1. I received a wholesale catalog from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild at the day job today. I can’t sell anything out of it in my stores, but there was something on every page I could see selling spectacularly in some other type of shop. See especially, planet plates, disappearing liberties mug, and Freudian slippers. What’s not to love? (There was also a Miyamoto Musashi plush doll that doesn’t appear to be available on their website yet, but how cool is it that there’s a Musashi plush? It doesn’t look like Toshiro Mifune–who played Musashi–which is a little disappointing, but I might have to buy it anyway someday.)

2.I don’t think I can eat cheese anymore. It’s sad, because I love cheese, but lately, it makes me feel sick and twisty on the inside. Enjoy your cheese while you’ve got it, people. (Yeah, there’s no link here. Please visit your local dairy instead.)

3. Right now I’m knitting Buckhorn Cowl with the current PFA KAL. It’s a fun, quick knit. I should cast it off tonight or tomorrow.

4. When I finish with the cowl, I’m going to swatch for the Mesmeric Cardigan. It might be the most complicated sweater I will ever knit.

5. Did you know my husband also has a blog? He’s building a video game called Dig, Robot, Dig!

6. Since my husband gets me, he sometimes sends me stills from Toshiro Mifune movies while I’m at work. Here are two of his latest, from Scandal

scandal1

scandal2

(Have I ever mentioned that I studied Japanese in high school and college?)

7. This led him to starting another tumblr of Mifune gifs. They are magnificent.

Scary Stories

Thank you so much everyone for the great show of support over my last post. It took me two months to figure out how to write those words, and now that they are out there, I feel liberated.

I also feel this horrible pressure to produce a stellar follow up. I look at my word processor with a little bit of fear now, thinking about how I am going to top the last post? Or, screw top it, just match it? How am I going to do that consistently, two or three times a week, every week, forever?

The obvious answer is, of course, to put my butt in a chair, my fingers on a keyboard, and start typing. For a long time though, even that was too hard for me to do. I would sit down and the ants-in-the-pants feeling that prompted me to learn how to knit just so I would have something to do with my hands–that can’t keep still, have to fiddle with something anxiety that settles in my jaw and hardens my shoulders–would paralyze me with tension. If I let it go too long, it turned my stomach and knots up my neck until I can’t see for the pain radiating through my head.

I used to open up a word processor and fear my potential. I would sit numb in front of my computer, the ability to think having fled in the face of this big, scary thing I said I wanted to do. Not wanting to take the time to search out the right words was easy to blame on being busy with work, being tired from the kids, being burned out by school. Closing the lid on my laptop was so simple and authoritative an action. No writing today.

November 1st, I sat down at my computer and told myself to write 2000 words. No pressure. “They don’t have to be good words,” I said to me. In fact, let them be shitty words. Let them be boring words, just write them. You can always change them later.

That’s how I got through the whole first draft of my novel.

Nanowrimo taught me how to write everyday. But I was still afraid to do simple things in my story–honest things–like have two characters who are fighting get really pissed off at one another. My climax was the most amiable, life-changing altercation you’ve ever seen. The problem was, in my head, this pivotal confrontation was monumental, but the conflict on the page read as trivial at best.

The final third of the novel hangs in the balance, and I’m afraid to let the main characters say too many mean things to each other in case the reader stops liking them?

How stupid is that?

Not only does that not give you, as the reader, enough credit, but it completely undermines the whole point of the story. No conflict = no story. If my characters were sensible people, he and she wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in in the first place, and you probably wouldn’t ever read it, because it would be boring as hell.

(You’re enjoying all this vague talk about my novel, aren’t you? What’s not to like?)

Fear of readers not liking my characters kept me from committing to a crucial scene, and fear of boring you now made this a really difficult post to write. Scariest of all is what I’m planning to do next–which is to pursue writing as my (eventual) main source of income.

Isn’t that the freakiest shit you ever heard of?

Scares the pants off me.

Not only does seriously pursuing a freelance writing career involve sitting down at my computer every day and facing the fear that my words are fucking lame, but it also means that I have to drum up the courage to make for myself the profession, but have always feared I’d fail at.

What’s even more horrifying though, is not trying at all.

It’s Time for Something Different

Some of you may or may not have noticed that I closed down my etsy shop a couple of weeks ago. I tweeted about it last week, but otherwise, I closed it down fairly quietly. It was not a bittersweet moment for me.

dinning room before

The glamour of selling hand dyed yarn and fiber lost it’s appeal about two years ago. If you’ve been reading my blog since May 2013, when we had to leave our cozy little apartment and I didn’t have a place to dye for awhile, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I’ve bounced around with what I’ve shared with you since then, a little sewing, a little printing, a little gardening, even a free knitting pattern or two. Each and every one of those things was so much fun in the moment that I wanted to share them with you, hoping you’d be diverted as well.

But as I go back and read over some of my posts, I have to admit, that I am less than impressed.

calbedpulloverstorage

I can tell I was just dashing off posts as quick as can be–and lets face it, they were pretty shallow.

minerva

One of the reasons I closed down my etsy shop was that I just didn’t feel like I fit in there anymore. I love the DIY lifestyle. I love making my own chicken stock and yogurt, I love processing my own yarn from a big greasy fleece. I love composting and gardening and making my own soap–but you know what’s left after you do all of those things?

A mess.

messydesk

A big fat one.

But etsy is selling a curated, tastefully simple, DIY lifestyle these day, and kind of leaving the DIY out of it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a million, brilliant artists still selling on etsy, but most of the time those artists are buried in a sea of not-so-handmade listings.

airbenderstripes

When it comes to the fiber arts though, my competition remained largely other indie dyers and small farmers, and I was completely cool with that. What I was not cool with was the ever increasing price it cost just to get product views.

When I was really having fun with dyeing yarn and doing my yarn club, I could make a couple hundred dollars or more a month off my web sales, after etsy and paypal fees. Not enough to live off, but a couple extra trips to the grocery store if need be or a part for the car, that sort of thing. A couple of years ago, etsy introduced search ads, which allowed you to put your product at the top of the page when someone searched for the keywords you used on your listings. You could cap how much money you wanted to spend on search ads each week, and I thought it was effective. I put my reasonable cap on and saw an increase in sales and in page views when I used them.

tiny_dino_knit_before_it_was_cool_notecard

A few months ago, they switched the search adds to a bidding system which was not cost effective for a small shop like mine. The minimum cap was about $1/day. I gave it a try one month–while admittedly not doing a whole lot of other promotion–and paid about twice in fees as what I made in sales. I turned it off the next month and received hardly any page views and no sales. I don’t think I’d ever had a month with no sales since I opened my shop, but in December and January it was zilch, zippo, nothing.

I’m not blaming etsy’s new systems entirely. I have already said my heart wasn’t in it anymore, but the recent changes were the nail in the coffin of my little etsy shop. It feels like, as etsy has switched from a website where you go to find handmade originals, to where you go to find what’s on trend, that etsy is more preoccupied with selling the idea of a lifestyle rather than the goods that make that lifestyle possible. I thought etsy was supposed to be a stepping stone for launching a handmade business, but it feels to me now like it’s more concerned with nickel and diming the indie artist out of their studio space.

It certainly wasn’t the right place for me anymore.

clementines and cherry blossoms

And I feel like, while I was trying to fit into that etsy aesthetic, so was my blog. My identity as a blogger was confused. My writing was mediocre at best.

I wrote in November about sticking with Nanowrimo for the first time ever, even though I have goddamn degree in creative writing. I haven’t stopped writing since I started back in November. I’m putting the finishing touches on a draft of a novel, and hope to start searching for an agent sometime later this year. It’s taught me a lot about myself–one of them being that I tend toward caution when I really want to kick and to curse and to generally stir up a fuss.

uterus

Writing my novel has shown me that while I don’t believe in censorship, I certainly was practicing it on myself a lot, telling myself this was too controversial to write about, or that was too political. That I would write “fuck” too many times and offend someone.

carrotjuicemarla

And now I kind of don’t give a damn.

What’s this mean moving forward? I’ll still write about my knitting and my gardening, but I might also write about books or my writing. I might piss you off. I might insult you. Mostly, I hope to make you laugh, or to motivate you to live your dream. Because I have always wanted to be writer, but I never had the courage to let myself be one before.

imadeit

Free Pattern: Chunky Baby Mittens with No Thumb

My gift to you on this, the day after Thanksgiving, the first Day of the Christmas season, a new free pattern!
chunkythumblessinfantmittens

It’s that time of year when I start frantically making sure my family has warm things to cover their heads, hands, and feet, because the weather has decided it’s pretty much winter. Since I have a wee little one this year, I got to make the simplest, quickest pair of mittens there is. Chunky mittens with no thumbs! Just a cuff, and a hand! And on size 10 needles, these little suckers are done in no time. If you have a baby in your circle, these are a super quick, fun little gifts to help keep teeny tiny fingers warm this winter.

mittensforscale With lego rocker chic for scale. Is the axe part of her show? Who knows?

In the pattern, I say to use DPNs, but please use whichever method you are fond of. Obviously, you can see I knit my mittens using magic loop, which has been my default lately, mostly because finding one circular needles is usually easier than four DPNs in the same size.

Materials
50g Chunky Weight Yarn (Shown in some old Brachiosaurus Bulky, but Wool of the Andes Bulky would substitute perfectly.)
Gauge
4 stitches per inch in Stockinette
Needles
1 set US Size 8/5mm double pointed needles
1 set US size 10/6mm double pointed needles
Tools
Darning needle

Pattern Key
BO– bind off
CO– cast on
K– knit
P-Purl
K2tog– knit 2 stitches together (a decrease)
st(s)—stitch(es)
St st— Stockinette stitch

Pattern
CO 18 stitches onto smaller needels
Spread evenly over three DPNs. Join to work in the round
Cuff:
K1 P1 for two inches or until cuff reaches desired length
Hand:
Switch to larger needles.
At the beginning of the next round, switch to ST stitch, adding two sts in the first round for a total of 20 sts.

Knit every round for 3 inches.

Decreases:
Row 1:K3, K2tog repeat around
Row 2: K around
Row 3: K2, k2tog repeat around
Row 4: K1, K2tog repeat around
Row 5: K2tog, repeat around
Pull yarn through sts, and weave in securely.
Weave in all ends.
Knit Two.
Block

chunkybabymittenswithnothumb

It’s 5am on a Saturday, and I Have Been Awake for Ages

Good morning all. How are you this lovely, cold Saturday morning. I am sitting in bed, in the dark, because I have very successfully woken myself. The last time the baby woke up to eat, about an hour and a half ago, he woke me up out of the middle of a sleep cycle. To avoid falling asleep while I was feeding him, I started thinking about work–well, apparently nothing gets my blood boiling in the pre-dawn hours than thinking about things I can’t do anything about until Monday.(He, of course, ate and went back to sleep immediately.) Next time, I am going to try to think about something more fun, like flowers or yarn.

It’s November 15th, and for the first time ever, I am keeping up with Nanowrimo. Usually by now I have completely given up on the whole endeavor. My first weekend in November is notoriously busy, and so I always start out the month a few days behind on my word count, and then I never catch up, and by the beginning of the second week I am too daunted by the sheer volume of words I am missing, and instead of writing for writing’s sake for the rest of the month, I just give up on the whole enterprise completely and for the rest of the year the only thing I write are blog posts and grocery lists.

Considering I have a degree in creative writing, this is pretty embarrassing.

This year, I decided I was really going to finish. I didn’t have a story idea until the last minute, and I have done absolutely zero planning. I’ve always been a fly by the seat of my pants sort of writer anyway, so this whole making stuff up as I go along and having no plan is fun. Not sure how much substance my story has, but that’s not the point right now. The point is to write everyday, and that’s what I’m doing.

Only took 2 1/2 years after graduating to get my writing mojo back.

Now that I am writing everyday though, my other work is slowing down a little bit. After finally finishing Brock and Felix’s Flax sweaters last week, I had a small bout of startitis and cast on Wheaton which I think is too gorgeous for words. I am knitting the worsted weight scarf version, because while I think this pattern is stunning, I am also aware that I have a very short attention span for knitting anything that turns out to be a rectangle. But I think a blanket, or even a stole in this pattern would be the epitome of luxury.

I am also working on a pair of mittens for Brock. I am using Skinny Fit Mitts as a template because I like the cable pattern on them a lot, but the pattern was written for someone with tiny hands, so not only am I changing it up by making them flip-tops, I am also having to lengthen and widen the thumb gusset, lengthen the hand and figure my own decreases for top.

And since it is supposed to snow today, I really need to make Felix a pair of mittens. I am just going to use my chunk wool and knit him a pair of thumbless mittens. That should be quick, and I hope to do it this afternoon after I finish my word count.

What are you working on?

Some Woolly Things

It’s November 1st. We had our first freeze last night. The air is crisp, and we’ve started breaking out the woollens.

Socks Hanging to Dry in the Bathroom

Socks Hanging to Dry in the Bathroom

Just in time, I finished Brock’s sweater last night (don’t I know how to party on Halloween), and it’s upstairs taking a bath right now. I only have one sleeve left to knit on Felix’s sweater, and then I am taking a break from sweaters. Especially this sweater. I have been knitting Flax, almost exclusively, since August. I am going to knit socks and scarves and mittens and hats until the weather warms up again, I think.

…or maybe not.

Things around our house have changed quit a bit in the last couple of months. Felix has aged out of my work’s program that allows babies to tag along with mama’s (can you believe he is 6 months old already?), so my husband and I are working alternate schedules so we don’t have to send (or pay for) Felix to daycare. While I think this is the best move for our family, it is taking some getting used to. It doesn’t help that I have been throwing myself into my day job hardcore and coming home exhausted physically and mentally exhausted, and then with nighttime baby wake ups, I tend to stare at netflix or pinterest a lot these days rather than produce anything. There have been weeks lately when 3 or 4 nights out when I have been too tired to knit–and that is tired indeed.

I am not folding, by any means, but I stepping back from fiber production a little bit for awhile. It’s just all too much right now–as evidenced by the complete lack of posts around here.

The good news is, I’m not actually going anywhere, just giving myself permission to slow down. Right down my ideas, get to them when I have time, and just enjoy my knitting and spinning for pleasure instead of for production right now.

I’ll still blog about what I’m doing. For instance, at the show I was at in October, I demonstrated how to solar dye in mason jars.

wool rainbow
I have two sets of these little half ounce pieces that I’ve dyed. I’m planning to spin them up in rainbow order and chain ply them. The only thing left to decide if I want to do one skein or two skeins.

It’s also November, which means Nanowrimo! I started my novel this morning and met my word count. So far so good.

How’s your November looking?

Oh, Heeeey There

There’s nothing like a missing cat to make you take a month-long break from blogging, but that’s what happened. No worries, she’s home safe, but what was supposed to be a long, relaxing Labor Day weekend turned into a stressful fret-fest when the cat disappeared on the first day and didn’t return for six days. When she was in the yard one morning when we were leaving for work, she mewed and scowled at us very loudly. How dare we take so long to find her. Where had we been?

Anyway, that lovely time, on top of preparing for knitting classes, fiber festivals and general life are my excuses, and I dare you to challenge them.

First things first: the fiber festivals! This year I am only planning two shows: the Holton Fall Festival on October 11th. I will be part of the Sheep to Shawl demonstration, talking about solar dyeing in mason jars, and of course selling my wares.

In November I will be at Twisted!, which is so much fun to do. Twisted is Nov. 7th and 8th, and we will be on the first Friday art walk.

Now, here’s what I’ve been up to this last month in instagrams.

All-in-all, it was a pretty good month. What have you all been up to without me?