Friday, August 31, 2012

{new prints for the kitchen!}

When last you saw our kitchen, it was sporting a homemade spice rack that looked something like this:


However, I get easily bored, and this particular decoration has been in my kitchen for over a year. As such, it's time for a change in scenery.

One of my favorite things to browse for on Etsy are the wonderful prints and photographs that sellers create, particularly the kitchen-themed ones. So many clever and lovely ideas. Here are some of my favorites:


Drool worthy, right?

But, just when I was about to go crazy ordering a bunch of mis-matched prints (because I couldn't decide which ones I loved more) I realized... hold on a tick... I draw AND take photos! Why can't I just decorate my kitchen in my own prints? Duh.

So I took my favorite bread recipe and I doodled away:


And then had some fun and added a splash of color to it:


Fun, right? I'm already in love with it, especially in a pretty white frame. I can't wait to get it into my kitchen so I can bake straight from this print rather than digging out my tattered bread recipe out each time.

(**UPDATE: Pssst! You can now buy this print here!!)

Once I was finished giggling over my bread print, I made another.  This time, a tea print of one of my favorite quotes. ('Cause I'm a total tea junkie... and tea mug junkie, more specifically...)


Hooray! Now the next step is to get some frames, some good food photographs, and create something awesome on my blank kitchen wall. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 27, 2012

{small things i'm thankful for}

It has been a long week, even though it seems like it's just starting. I've had some very exhausting days, so today I'm taking the day off away from the computer and work and other demands to enjoy a little Oregon summer before it passes by.

Here are some lovely things I'm thankful for this week:

- Drawing custom versions of this card. It makes me so happy knowing I'm a part of someone's special day!
- Avett Brothers concert! It's like a little slice of North Carolina here in Oregon. :) Also, it's fun to people-watch. We made a game of counting the number of maxi dresses, epic beards, cowboy boots, and tie-dyed outfits in the concert crowd. It was a lot.
- Tanner making me a delicious chocolate-strawberry-banana smoothie when I came home crying from work one evening. And then spent the rest of the night making little jokes to make me smile. I love him.
- Reading my Kindle. I've been devouring books lately. I'll share some of my favorites soon!
- All your lovely comments on my blog posts. They make my day, really! I promise I read each and every one, even if I don't get a chance to respond to them all.
- Watching "Julie & Julia" with Tanner. Both of us giggle like little girls during chick flicks, and one of us is a weeper (hint: it's not me). Also, Meryl Streep is amazing. She also reminds me very much of my mother, and I think it every time I see her on screen. Remarkable.
-  The entry date for the Christmas craft fair in Portland is only a week away... I really want to submit my shop, but I'm so nervous about getting accepted/getting my act together before Christmas!
- Episodes of Top Gear. Yes, I'm the awesome girlfriend who introduced my boyfriend to the world of hilarious British car shows, and damn if they don't leave us in tears we laugh so hard.
- A working freezer. After a year of eating soggy ice cream (I just assumed since all of Oregon doesn't have A/C, that apparently no one has a working freezer, either?) we finally called the apartment and they brought us a brand new one the next day. I've never been so happy to have so much trouble scooping rock-solid ice cream.
- New curtains from IKEA.

Tanner and I spent a small fortune on home accessories at IKEA last week, and he did an amazing job installing some new, breezy curtains in the living room. I love sheer curtains because they look beautiful while still letting in the natural light. The difference to the room is astonishing. It feels so much cozier.



P.S.- ignore the clutter creeping into the photo, and the obvious bland-ness of apartment living. Gotta work with what we're given. Focus on the curtains, people. ;)



Here's a tip about curtains, just in case you didn't know: always hang them higher and wider than your window. It will give your room height and openness. A tiny window looks practically cathedral-like with the right curtains.

What little things are you thankful for?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

{things i've learned as an etsy seller}

This week my Etsy shop turned six months old! Can you believe it?? Even in the short amount of time it has been open, I have done over 240 sales and I have learned quite a lot about the intricacies of handmade selling. In honor of this momentous six month anniversary, I've decided to put together a post of what I've learned in case there are some folks out there who are thinking of taking that leap and opening their own small business.


1. Do your research. So I did an excessive amount of research about selling on Etsy before I actually opened my shop (I read almost every article Etsy has ever published... literally. This tome of info is particularly helpful) nothing quite prepared me for actually owning a shop. Though I'm going to give you some more specific tips below, the first and most important tip I can share is to do your research. Read the articles, browse the blog posts, read tips on the forums. Basically, make Etsy your home base and start from square one: learn how to build a banner for your page all the way up to how to sell wholesale orders to retailers. All of it will be useful at some point in your journey, and you can never be prepared enough. I was thinking about opening a shop about a year before I did, and I'm glad for the time I had to get my stuff together. I had my banner prepped, my policies written, my shipping costs figured out, my supply orders calculated, my product descriptions written, my photos taken, and a good amount of product ready to show in my shop. I even sent out some "test orders" to my family members with questionnaires attached, such as: how long did this take to get to you? Does the product live up to your expectations? Did it arrive in good shape? Are you happy with the packaging? What additional feature of this order would you like to add, if you could? Their feedback helped me change the way I packaged my orders as well as gave me an idea of how much shipping cost/times varied by order size.
That being said, I had this notion that as soon as I opened my shop I would be busy right away. It actually took about a month before my sales picked up, so you do have time to play around with your shop and design after you open it, and of course, it's always an evolving process. It's helpful to be prepared beforehand, but you don't necessarily have to do a years worth of research like I did... I'm just OCD like that. :)

2. Make friends with your neighborhood postman. Chances are, you'll be going to the post office a lot (or that's the hope!). It's always a good idea to make friends with the postmen (and women) there, since you'll be interacting with them pretty frequently.
Help those postal folks out and do your research in advance: know how much postage will be, know what your customer's timeline expectations are, and set your standards up in your shop profile. Unless you want to be going to the post office daily, I suggest you list when your shipping days are. Do you ship one day after the order? Do you go to the post office Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays? What about weekends? What about holidays? What if an order comes in on Friday afternoon?
My shop tells customers that orders get mailed 1-3 business days after receipt. That being said, customers really appreciate fast shipping. It's the quickest way to the very center of their hearts (check out my feedback if you don't believe me). There's nothing worse than ordering the coolest thing ever online and then having to wait 2 weeks for it to show up. If something unexpected happens (and it probably will, at some point), keep in touch with your customers. I generally try to ship my orders out within a day, but if I can't get to the post office on time, I send a quick message to thank them for the order and let them know when it'll be in the mail. Customers appreciate it, and the ensuing conversation is a fun way to make a new friend. :)


3. Go international! Speaking of shipping... don't be afraid of sending things international! I didn't do international shipping the first month I was open, mainly because I was afraid of the customs papers. It's not that bad... seriously. If I can do it, you can do it. But make sure you follow correct procedures -- you don't want customers to get their orders held up in customs because you filled out the paperwork incorrectly. I reference this handy guide for my customs questions.
Remember the post office folks can be a big help here, but they can also be pressed for time... do them a favor and fill everything out in advance, and make sure you stress that you're sending out merchandise. I've had more than one occasion where the postman thought my letter was simply correspondence and tried to leave off the customs form. Know the rules, and stick to your guns on this one. International orders can be a big part of your business - don't pass up the opportunity just because you're leery of paperwork! :)

4. Be prepared for custom orders. Wow, this is one I never expected. I heard about custom orders, but I thought this was for shops that specifically advertised doing them. I had no intention of making a custom listing for my shop initially. I just thought I would make some cards, make a couple sales, run to the post office now and again, and be done with it, easy as pie. No one told me that when customers love your product, they love every iteration of your product. They'll want it bigger, smaller, in different colors, in different amounts, with personalized detailing, with a monkey, with different fonts, different textures, different orientation. They'll want to change your product in subtle and in big ways.
My advice to you is: know your limits. Chances are, you're a one-person show trying to hold down a small business all on your own. Custom orders can be a lot of fun, but don't be afraid to say no if you can't fulfill a request in a timely fashion, to your high standards, or if you feel a request compromises your artistic vision. It's your art, and while it's nice to be admired for it, don't lose track of where you want to go. I once had a customer ask to buy my artwork on a mug. While I thanked him for the clever idea, I also gently told him that (for the time being, at least) I enjoy making and selling cards, and I didn't want to stray too far from that vision.
Personally, I love doing custom orders, but I discovered they took up a lot of my free time. When more orders started coming in -- particularly custom ones -- I got quickly swamped and stressed by them. Set up fair perimeters for you and your customers: I made a cache of the most popular custom edits to my cards and set up a new custom listing that cost a little more. This enabled me to earn a little more for the extra time I was putting in to do custom orders. Don't short yourself. Customers will be willing to pay a little more if they're getting something special in return.


5. Keep track of your expenses. I'll be honest. Taxes were one of the huge reasons I almost didn't open an Etsy shop. Every single article I read about self-employed taxes said something a little different, and the information overload was making my head spin. In every state the rules are a little different, and nowhere is the process simple. The only clear-cut rule I could sort out of the chaos was this: keep track of your expenses. Everything will be a little easier come tax-time if you have your paperwork in order.
I'll give you a little tip I learned two months in: use Outright. It's a life saver, no joke. When I first started selling, I had this amazing Excel spread sheet that I made from scratch, totaling everything from Paypal fees, to mileage driven to the supply store, to cost of postage stamps. I mean, it was a work of art, people. The equations I got that thing to run would make a statistician weep. But I quickly discovered that there was a big difference between keeping up with two sales a day, and twenty-two sales in a day. It became too much: I just couldn't keep up with every single Etsy listing fee, sold fee, auto-re-listing fee, Paypal fee, shipping fee, postage fee, etc etc etc.
That's when I got Outright. It connects to your Etsy and your Paypal accounts and it logs every single transaction for you. All you have to do is enter your extra expenses. It makes beautiful graphs, shows you your net gain/loss and even helps you calculate your quarterly taxes! It's amazing, and best of all, it's free. It makes your life way less stressful, trust me.
And, speaking of logging your expenses: make sure you keep track of everything, including receipts. And I'm talking everything. Mileage, gasoline, pens you bought, food you ate, website fees, even the cost of the electricity you used while crafting. All of that will help your taxes stay in check and let the IRS know that you are putting a lot of money out there in order to get some in return.

6. Join social media. It may sound cliche, but when you're in the business of self-employment, you are a one-man-band. You're the crafter, the accountant, the shipper, the receptionist, and the publicist. It's up to you to toot your own horn. Make a Facebook page. Join Twitter. Get an Instagram account. Pin a bunch of stuff to your Pinterest boards. Write a blog. Get a business email address. (Do you know mine? It's brittany@darkroomanddearly.com) Make yourself business cards. Put all that information on the back. Hand them out to strangers. Go to craft fairs. Advertise on other blogs. The more people can recognize and associate with you, the more likely they are to visit your shop. Make the experience personal. Etsy is a great place to find real people making real things, but it's also very easy to get lost in the mix. Make yourself stand out.

7. Do something unique. Speaking of making yourself stand out, make sure the products you're selling are fresh, clever, and unique. No one likes a copycat, and there's nothing worse than working really hard on a new product, delight in gaining some popularity with it, and then see 10 more sellers pop up with items just like it. I've been lucky enough not to have this problem, but I know this is an ongoing issue for Etsy sellers. It can be really disheartening to see your own work duplicated in other shops, so stick to original ideas. Not only will it be more ethical, but it's amazing how much better unique items sell! If you can think of a great concept that no one else has thought of yet, you'll not only have the edge on the market, but you have a better chance of catching the attention of buyers. I speak from experience when I say that the more clever and original cards in my shop sell much more quickly than some of the more generic ones I throw together. Be inventive! This is your time to shine!


8. Make yourself a brand! When I first starting selling, my shop was a real mish-mash of colors and style. Granted, it's still coming along, and it has a ways to go before it's completely uniform, but it's important to "brand" yourself for your customers. If you have a bright blue Etsy banner and bright orange backgrounds to all your pictures and everything is taken at different angles and nothing is cohesive, it's going to be very hard for customers to recognize your "style." Pick a theme, a pattern, or a color scheme and stick with it. Logos can be a great part of branding, too, especially if you have a bunch of social media sites. Make sure customers can recognize your logos and banners and color schemes from one site to the next.
I went through several iterations of Etsy banners before I settled on one, and several different backgrounds for my photos before landing on a neutral white. Keep in mind that Treasuries are a big part of Etsy, and a lot of times what determines if you get selected for a Treasury is if your colors and style match the chosen "theme." Neutral backgrounds with brightly colored product really pop on the screen. Take great photographs and make it interesting. I know I'm more likely to click on products that look beautiful on the screen, and much more likely to purchase them. You worked hard on your stuff, so show it off!

9. And finally, Make life easy on yourself. Plan your shop like you're going to make 1,000 sales your first year. Have adequate supplies on hand and a fool-proof process for getting things done in a hurry. I learned this the hard way. When I started selling, I was only doing a couple sales every few weeks, so it was a very easy process for me. I drew all my cards out by hand, hand wrote all the envelopes and thank you notes and drove to the post office every single time I got an order.
Then, suddenly Father's Day started approaching and my Darth Vader card went Etsy-viral. All of a sudden I was having to hand draw 5-10 orders a day on top of all the custom versions that buyers requested. I was spending every waking moment drawing, packaging, and driving to the post office. I even had to call Tanner a few times from work to have him package up some orders for me to get them out in time. It was a very hectic month, and I barely made it through with any sleep or hair left on my head (not to mention running all my colored pencils down to nubs). I learned a valuable lesson, though: I needed to make my shop easier to mass produce. There was no possible way I would be able to hand draw all my cards through another crazy holiday season.
So, I taught myself how to make cards on Photoshop. I created my own templates, my own brand logo, and scanned in all my drawings to digitally color them. I learned the exact postage of each of my order sizes and bought stamps to match so that I could mail them from home. I pre-packaged a lot of my best sellers before the orders came in so I could simply pop them in the mailbox on my way to work. Suddenly, my shop was so much easier to take care of. Custom orders involved cutting and pasting digitally rather than re-drawing the entire card. I was only visiting the post office for international orders. It took a lot of trial and error to get the process right, but it was a great change to make.
The moral of this story is, make life easier on yourself. Access your process and make sure that it is streamlined, fast, and easy to reproduce, just in case your sales pick up. That, or get yourself a totally selfless boyfriend like I have to help with your orders. (He knows the postmen by name now, too!)


So that's it!
Happy birthday, Darkroom and Dearly shop! I look forward to another exciting six months!



What tips have I forgotten? Do you have any other words of wisdom for beginning Etsy sellers out there?

Monday, August 20, 2012

{arm paaaaaaar-tay!}

If you've been checking out some of my posts earlier this month, you've probably heard me mention the Arm Party, as hosted by {yellow heart art} and {much love, illy}.

Over the past month or so 100 bloggers paired up, swapped info, and got crafty! We've been living in the grade-school throw-back memories of when friendship bracelets were the bomb.

While I was busy making {macrame bracelets} and {nautical Turk's Heads} for my swappin' buddy Ashley (her adorable blog is {the sweet ashley life}... check it out!), she sent me some of her own crafty bracelets. Now that they've arrived safe and sound in my mailbox, I'd love to share her creations with you!



How cute is that envelope? :) She sent along a little card that said she saw from my blog that I am an outdoorsy person (heh heh yup!) and so she tried to make the bracelets in earth tones to match. I was so touched by her perceptive thoughtfulness! :)




Aren't they just lovely? I just love the charm bracelet and the turquoise one with the beads braided in... I stared at that thing for 20 minutes just trying to figure out how she did it. So clever! :)

By the way, you can see her post about the bracelets I made for her {here}.


Thanks, Ashley! And thanks to Leonora and Illy for putting together such a fun Arm Party! We're linking up all the crafty bracelet-ness today, so check out this link to see the rest of the DIY awesomeness:

Friday, August 17, 2012

{diy: nautical turk's head bracelet}

You may have heard me mention in previous blog posts that I used to be a sailor.
Well, I suppose I am still a sailor, I just haven't had much of a chance to go sailing lately.

When I lived on the east coast I was pretty active in a local sail racing group; I often crewed aboard 18 foot sloops known as Buccaneers (fitting, eh?), and I even helped my skipper take second place at the national BNAC regatta in 2010 (woot woot!)

But you may also know that I used to be a deckhand aboard the tall ship Spirit of South Carolina. I lived, worked, and sailed aboard that 145' ship for six months, and though it was some of the toughest, grittiest work I have done in my life (plus lots of puking), it was also some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. And the most beautiful. There's nothing quite like living aboard a wandering vessel that spends most of its days governed by the wind.

Sailing is an art that requires an intimate knowledge of knots. You use them constantly while aboard, and most of the time a correctly tied knot will save your life, so you have to know how to tie them correctly (and quickly). On the other hand, there are some lovely knots that are merely decorative, and the Turk's Head is one of my favorites. Most sailors have their own intricate versions of these tied around their ankles or wrists, sun bleached and salty from years of wear.

While doing the arm party bracelet swap with Ashley this month, I had some fun reminiscing on my ol' sailing days and whipping up a nautical bracelet to send via snail mail.

Here's the tutorial so you can all feel like salty pirates, too!


Supplies needed:

6-10 feet Paracord (or about 10 times the diameter of your wrist. I bought a 16 foot length and used about half of it)
A round object slightly larger than the size of your wrist (I used a coke glass)
Scissors
Craft glue


Don't cut your paracord; I bought mine in a length of 16 feet and cut it to size after I had made the bracelet. This allows you a little room for mistakes.

Now, this is a somewhat complicated tutorial to explain through pictures. I'll do my best, but I also recommend checking out {this site} because it animates the process for you and makes it a little easier to follow along. I'm not that tech-savvy, so my photos are all stills. Sorry, folks. ;)

Also, a couple quick notes: first, make sure you're tying this knot pretty loosely. As the knot progresses, it will get tighter and tighter, so make sure you have enough slack to work with!
Second, to distinguish what part of the cord I'm talking about, I'm going to use some rope-tying terms. Are you ready? Standing end will refer to the end of the cord that is standing still throughout this process, and working end will refer to the end of the cord that is being actively used to make the knot. Make sense? Good.


1. Drape one end of your cord around the top of your round object (I used a drinking glass), leaving a tail on the top. This will be your standing end. Wrap the working end around the back of the glass.
2. Wrap the working end up and to the left of the standing end, creating an X.
3. Wrap the working end behind the glass and over the top left section of your "X."
4. Now tuck the working end underneath the top right section of your "X."


With me so far? Good.
5. Now spin your glass a little toward you so the bitter end is almost tucked underneath and you can see more of your cord. Here's the trick: criss-cross the top left and right sections of your X to create a new X, with the top left part of the X now on the top right.
6. Weave your working end over the top right of your new X and under the top left of your new X.
7. Rotate the glass toward you again a little more. You should see another X where the cord has overlapped itself. Weave your working end over the top left of the X and under the top right.
8. Rotate your glass a little more. You should now be able to see your standing end again! Once more with your fingers, criss-cross the two strands of cord to create a new X.


9. Weave your working end over the right side of the X and under the left side. Now you should be back to your standing end. Great job! The hard part is over!
10. From here, you just have to follow what you have already done. Weave your working end alongside your standing end, doing the same over, under weave that you did the first time.
11. When you arrive back at your standing end, you should see that one of your strands has doubled and you are now preparing to go around another time, following a different strand of braid.
12. Follow the cord around again, over under over under, until you arrive back at your standing end. Now you should see your braid is doubled. You can stop here if you want, but I like going around another time for a triple braid.


13. Once again, weave your working end around, following the strands you braided before.
14. When you arrive back at your standing end, you're finished!
15. To hide the ends, carefully slide your turk's head knot off the glass and tuck the ends underneath the bracelet. Cut the excess off with scissors and use craft glue to secure the ends out of sight.

You're all finished! Now you should be able to slip the bracelet on and you shouldn't see any ends sticking out -- it looks like an infinite celtic knot!


You could also use this knot to make awesome-looking cozies for your glasses and mugs, and impress your friends. :)



Monday, August 13, 2012

{wahclella falls.... again!}

Wahclella Falls is one of my very favorite waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge. I've been there fifty five times already this year.

Just kidding. This is a total exaggeration, folks. I've really only done this hike six times in two years, but there are hundreds of hikes to do in the Portland area, and I try not to repeat myself, so hitting any of them more than once (much less six times!) is really something. In fact, you've already seen me post about this hike twice. Here and here. And guess what? You're about to see me post about it again. Can we say it together? HOORAY! (Sarcasm?)

This hike is beeeeautiful and only 2 miles long, making it the perfect afternoon jaunt with a dash of gorgeousness. We went on a hot, steamy day, the kind that makes you not want to hike very far. But the best thing about this waterfall is that it's tucked into a mossy, fecund gorge wrapped in high stone walls. As soon as you turn the bend into this magical place, you get a blast of cold, water-soaked air in your face. Natural air conditioning. Love it.

I could seriously sit here all day.











Friday, August 10, 2012

{diy: macrame bracelets}

Hey lovely readers!  Summer is in full-swing, and what better way to enjoy it than with a little summertime reminiscing, am I right??

When I was as a girl in the hot hot 100+ day summers of the south, I loved spending my days playing in the pool, climbing trees, painting my fingernails, and making pretty braided bracelets with all my friends. Friendship bracelets were all the rage, remember? I must have made 485592696 keychains and anklets with hemp and embroidery thread between the ages of 10 and 13.

It's been a while since I've made hemp bracelets, but a few weeks ago I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, {yellow heart art}, and knew I had to jump back on that bracelet bandwagon! She and another blogger, {much love, illy}, decided to organize a summertime "arm party." This party involved bloggers signing up, getting partnered up, and making each other summer bracelets via care packages. Something like 150 people got back to their childhood roots, wove themselves some rockin' bling, and mailed it to someone else across the country.

Since this has been so fun, I decided to share the love and give you a tutorial of one of the bracelets I made. This particular knot I remember fondly as a child (some things stick with you forever) but I was happy to find instructions for the sliding closure knot (clever!) via {honestly, wtf}!

So without further ado.... let's begin your own arm party!


Supplies:

2 lengths of 30" embroidery thread
2 lengths of 20" embroidery thread
1 length of 10" embroidery thread
Scissors
Circular charm


Cut your pieces of embroidery thread to length. You'll need some kind of circular charm to be the center of your bracelet. The embroidery thread needs to form a knot around it, so the charm should be thin enough to accommodate this.


1. Fold your 20" piece of thread in half and loop it through the charm, making a knot. Do this with the other 20" piece on the other side.

2. Find the center of your 30" piece of thread and put it behind the 20" piece, making a backwards "4" with the left end overlapping the right end.

3. Tuck the left end under your 20" thread and through the loop of the "4" you created, completing the knot.

4. Pull the knot tight and slide to the top.


5. Now repeat steps 2-4, but backwards. Create your "4" on the left side this time, with the right end overlapping the left end of the thread.

6. Tuck the right end under the 20" thread and through the loop of your "4."

7. Pull knot tight.

8. Continue alternating knots down your embroidery thread in this fashion until you have a suitable length. It should wrap about half-way around your wrist. Remember that you need to leave room to make the sliding closure at the back.

Tie a double knot with your loose ends and trim the excess.


When you have finished your macrame knots, tape your charm to the table to hold the bracelet flat, then overlap the loose ends of your original 20" thread pieces (there should be four of them) and use your cut scraps to tie them in place.


With your remaining 10" piece of thread, find the center and loop it behind the back of your bracelet, creating the knot as in steps 2-8. 

 

Repeat this knot several more times until you have a good sized closure (about 1/2" or so).
Tie a double knot with your loose ends and trim them off. Then try on your bracelet for size to make sure you can open and close it with enough "wiggle" room. Tie knots in the ends of your 20" pieces and trim off the ends.

Voila! Your very own macrame bracelets!




By the way, it's really hard to take pictures of your own wrist with a 50mm camera lens. There's just no graceful way to get your arm and your eye far enough away from each other to get your wrist in the photo. Awkwaaaard.
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