Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Few Ideas for Safe Shopping on Etsy...

... and similar online marketplaces. 

If you are like me, you would rather have your wisdom teeth extracted (again) instead of battling hordes of shoppers, busting doors and fighting mature adults over ninja trains, gothic fairy diaper dolls, and action figures that really should not have been resurrected from the 80s.  

Online shopping is more popular than ever.  Reasons include convenience, the ability to compare prices easily, curing boredom, and impulse buying.  While I agree with these reasons, I feel there are different reasons for shopping on Etsy, Artfire, etc.  Convenience is definitely a factor, but people often come to Etsy because they want something more than the average online shopping experience.  They want something special, something lovely, something unique, and something that makes a difference.  Paying a little more for a beautiful sweater isn't so painful when you know that your money went directly to the talented person who made it, a person who wants to do things differently and make their own way in life.  (Some Etsy sellers even let you pay for the pricier items in installments).  Furthermore, the quality and design of a handmade item is usually superior to anything you will find at the shopping malls.  
What is a shopping mall?

Unfortunately, there are bad online shopping experiences and while the good outweighs the bad by far, the bad ones are the most publicized.  It's human nature to want to tell the world when you feel you have been wronged.  

Here is a list of my personal guidelines for safe Etsy (and Artfire, and Craftsy, and eBay, ...) shopping:

LOOK AT THE SELLER'S FEEDBACK SCORE - This is obvious but there are things to examine.
1.  Feedback as a buyer.
2.  Feedback as a seller.  
3.  Responses to negative feedback (if any).  The way someone handles a negative response says a lot about their character and the way they do business.    NOTE: Just because that person has 1 or 2 negative feedbacks (or more if they do a LOT of business) doesn't mean they are off limits.  Examine the feedback, see if reasons are listed.  If someone just leaves a negative and there is no explanation, to me that is a worthless report. 
4.  Also remember that shops with lots of small items are going to have MORE feedback usually, as feedback is left for each individual item.  
5.  Do not abandon a shop just because they have made very few sales!  The quality of the feedback can be more valuable than the quantity.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  

LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES - How do you know this shop is making everything they claim to make by hand? This may not apply to every seller, especially if they sell vintage items or supplies.  
1.  Look for images of the shop's work in progress, studio, owner, etc.  This can often be found on the shop's "about" page.  If not, seek other sources...
2.  Find another site associated with that shop.  Often shop owners have links to their blog, Facebook page, etc. available.  Blogs are great for finding out more about the shop and the owner, a glimpse into their creative world.  
3.  If this shop has nothing like this available, contact them and tell them you are interested in their work.  Ask them about their craft, their process, etc.  
4.  Keep in mind... some artists and artisans would rather spend their free time creating rather than social networking;  furthermore, they may feel "technologically challenged."  

Obviously there are exceptions to all of these "guidelines."

CONTINUITY OF LISTINGS - Does everything in the shop look like one person (or small guild) created it?  (Again, this will not apply to vintage or supply shops).
1.   If it's an artist selling items with their artwork, look for the actual artwork in their shop.  Also look at the image quality and resolution of the listings, make sure it isn't something they ripped off/downloaded from another shop.  Ask them for a clearer image if it looks sketchy.  Or say "This is lovely, do you have this available as a print?" OR "This image is lovely, does it have a name?" 
2.   A shop is selling 1 leather handbag, 3 velvet corsets all in size XS, 1 pair of silk stockings, 20 friendship bracelets ... and the "about" section indicates very little other than the fact that they love "all things artsy."  I'm not saying this isn't legit, but it probably merits a little research.  For the sheer sake of entertainment, you should at least message some questions concerning their inspiration and process.  
This image is irrelevant.
3.   Descriptive listings.  How well does the shop owner actually know the item they are selling?  Most artisans love to talk about their work, the fibers that went into the scarf, the old barn supplying the reclaimed wood for the bench, the smell in the air that lingered as they shot the image of Uther Pendragon's stomping ground.  There should be a story behind every handmade item, even if it's as simple as "this is so soft and cozy" or "I made this using reclaimed vintage carpet fibers from an old pet store."  
4.   With all that said, my shop is a haphazard array of art, jewelry, glassware, crocheted items, and even CDs.  A lot of people probably look at my shop and say "What the heck does she do, exactly?"  If you look closely, however, you will see a very common theme... trees.  Also, if you look at the jewelry, the stationery, even the album artwork on the CDs, you will see images from the actual artwork that is also available in my shop.  Of course, the crocheted items are a bit out of place, but I really don't want to manage multiple shops.  

SHOP POLICY - This is another obvious source, but it is often overlooked.  
1.  How do they handle shipping fees/overcharges?  Shipping is not a handmade item;  therefore sellers should not profit from shipping fees.  However, it can be difficult to predict shipping fees.  As a shop owner, I would rather overestimate and promptly reimburse as needed, as opposed to underestimating and going broke.  
2.  How do they handle returns?  
3.  Do they seem to have a pleasant approach to policies or do they seem to be scolding you before you have even made a purchase (my personal pet peeve)?
4.  What is the estimated shipping/processing time, what do they offer, etc.?  Shops that do a lot of business are going to need a longer processing time, especially if they are making the item or items to order.  While it is important for the shop owner to be realistic up front about the length of time it could take for you to receive your item, it is important for the buyer to realize the importance of shopping in advance for certain items.  
free to pet or scratch behind the ears
5.  Smoke free/pet free home.  How important is this to you as a buyer?  Most sellers will let you know what kind of environment they work in.  

1.  Be specific about your needs in the "message to seller" field during the transaction.  If there are choices, let them know what you want.  If offered, do you need it gift wrapped, do you need an enclosure card, what do you want it to say, is it going directly to the recipient ("do not include invoice").  
2.  Make sure your shipping information is accurate.  
3.  If it's a big ticket item, ask the seller to add insurance to the shipping fees.  

1.  If you should have received your order yesterday and you're getting frustrated today, give it another day (unless you paid extra for a shipping upgrade).  Verify the shipping method you paid for and look in your "purchases" section to see if the item has been marked as "shipped."  
2.  If the item has not been marked as "shipped" and you should have already received it according to the shop policies, by all means, contact the seller.  It's possible they just forgot to mark it as shipped.  

Sellers love feedback.  It's not just because they like a nice feedback score, they want to know they are doing the right thing.  Most artisans take great pride in their work and they want the buyer to love it as much as they do!  I have had buyers to send very happy messages to me personally about their purchase, yet they forget to leave feedback in the official feedback section.  Personally, I am COMPLETELY okay with that.  What matters to me is a happy customer and I understand some people don't get into leaving feedback.  If someone has a small or a low feedback score, however, and you are happy with your purchase...

These are just suggestions, loose guidelines, and a lot of words.  If you fall in love with something online, don't rule it out just because it doesn't meet one or two of my personal guidelines.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Merry and Bright

note cards
gift tags/enclosure cards
messy business
I go through about 4 of these punches a year!  
Wassail wine glasses

Cranberry Cordial glasses

Friday, November 2, 2012

How to Make a Butterfly Fairy Dress!

Here are some slaphappy instructions for making this dress.  If you have very basic crochet and sewing skills, you can master this.

First of all, you need to be able to crochet a basic fish net stitch.  You will need some worsted weight YARN -- I used Lily Sugar'n Cream. You do not need anything fancy and it will not take a lot of yarn for this stitch.  Use something fairly durable, soft and silky isn't the way to go here.

You will also need TULLE (I prefer spools) in colors of your choice.  The amount you need depends upon how full you want the skirt.  I used about 3 spools here (7 on the blue dress below).

Other things you need...
-- a crochet needle (I used size I or 5.50 mm)
-- an embroidery needle
-- sturdy thread to match your bodice
-- a cotton, stretchy camisole to match the bodice
-- sharp scissors, fabric scissors if you have them
-- ribbon for decoration

Use the child or a dress form to determine the size you need for your foundation row (it needs to be snug).  I prefer joining the bodice in the end since I'm going to be adding tulle and stitching it to a camisole.

Fish net back and forth until the bodice is the right length to fit the child.  PLEASE NOTE:  This stitch will stretch a lot once the tulle is added.  If you are adding a lot of tulle it could double in length, so be careful not to make the bodice too long.  For this particular dress the bodice has 14 rows, but it all depends on the yarn and the size you need.

Be sure to secure the stitch when you finish.  I always add another string of yarn into the last stitch to tie everything together, just to be safe.  Simply weaving in the ends is not going to be enough for such an airy stitch.

Your bodice should be a big rectangle.  You may have noticed by now that I do not normally write patterns or instructions (and that is probably for the best).

Now for the fun part... adding the tulle!  You can be as sloppy or as precise as you like here.  I like to use the spools of tulle, it's a lot easier for measuring and cutting.  Just roll out the spool, cut with some sharp fabric scissors,  and remember, you are going to need each strand to be TWICE the desired length.

If you are planning for the skirt to actually function as a skirt (no leggings needed), you will need a lot of tulle.  I still recommend using a little slip or tights underneath.  For the butterfly dress, we were planning to use leggings so I added just enough tulle to make it full and fancy.

As for colors, be creative!  My daughter wanted to be a monarch butterfly, so I used (in descending order of quantity) orange, black, yellow, and fuchsia.

After you have your strips of tulle ready, you can simply pull the strands through the openings in the bottom of the bodice.  When a strip is halfway through the opening, tie it into a double knot to secure it.  You can make the skirt as full as you like, but remember, the more tulle you add, the more your bodice is going to stretch.  For this dress I used two strips of tulle in each opening along the bottom, and at least one strip in each opening in the next row above.  For the blue/purple dress to the left, I used almost twice as much tulle, and the the yarn in the bodice was almost too soft and stretchy for that.  Again, just use a fairly stiff yarn if you want to use a lot of tulle.  Even that scratchy Red Heart Super Saver stuff works well for this.

Now you have a fish net rectangle with a lot of tulle hanging from it!  Let's make it functional by finding a matching camisole.  I like the cotton camisoles at Target, especially the ones with the soft lacy trim.  Any cotton, stretchy camisole will do as long as the color is right and matches your bodice.  I was lucky enough to find blue ones at Target this summer to match the blue flower girl dress.  Finding a black camisole was easy.  Make sure the camisole has a snug fit!

Go find a needle and some matching thread.  I suppose you could use a sewing machine for this but I felt more comfortable doing this by hand.  Position the bodice over the camisole so the ends meet directly at the back center (or as close as possible).  Sew the bodice to the camisole along the top.  Use lots of stitches and secure them well.  I am neither a a sewing expert nor a sewing instructor so I wish you the best of luck here!  Just make sure you use plenty of stitches, sturdy thread, and if the thread is a good match, all those crooked stitches wrapped around the yarn will not be noticeable.  When you are finished, the bodice should be securely attached to the camisole and the opening should be at (or near) the back center of the camisole.

Now it is time to stitch the camisole together with your matching yarn.  I like to use slip stitches then go back and tie with several pieces of yarn.  If you feel like the closing looks messy, take some pretty ribbon and tie some bows back there for distraction.  I am a lace/ribbon/bow/trim hoarder, mainly because I am impatient and I like distractions.

You're almost finished!  Decorate it however you like -- I added lots of ribbon to the monarch butterfly dress.  For the flower girl dress, I attempted to make my own silk flowers.  I made enough for two dresses and I burned myself a few times.  Just be careful if you do this and there are tons of tutorials out there for making these.  Of course, you could just buy some silk flowers or (even better if you have the time) find some at a local Goodwill store, flea market, etc.

It was fairly cold this Halloween (yay!) so we used a plain black stretchy shirt underneath, plain black leggings, black socks, and ideally black shoes (but my daughter wanted to wear pink sparkly shoes... it worked).  I decorated her black leggings with strips of tulle (see photo, this was a 30-second decoration) and painted her face a little, which she loved.

I was going to attempt to make the wings, but after having a sinus infection all week I broke over the day before and purchased wings at the some big Halloween chain store.  By the way, those stores are not child friendly in my opinion.  Why should my kids have to see a plastic yard scene from SAW or disfigured zombie babies when they walk in the door?  Lesson learned.

Believe it or not, it took us twice as long to come up with the "sweet, cute, friendly werewolf" outfit for  our older daughter.  I can only take credit for the disheveled furry "leg cuffs" and that thing hanging on her arm.  Oh, I smeared some blackish grey paint on her face.  Fortunately my husband found a mask at a local costume rental shop, as the chain stores only had scary, mean grizzly werewolves (and no "normal" wolves whatsoever) with severed arms hanging from their jaws.

-- Help your little one get into and out of this dress!  It is made to fit snug, there are tons of holes in that bodice for little arms to force their way through, and you do not want a struggling child caught in this mound of fish net and tulle!  A strong, angry child could possibly destroy this dress in a fraction of the time it took you to make it.

-- This is not an easy care, wash and wear type of dress.  Wash it by hand if needed and lay flat to dry (be sure to shape it properly).  It's fine for play as long as they aren't bouncing off of the walls.   With that said, how durable are those cheaply made costumes at Target or Wal Mart?  I can assure you that this dress, if made properly, will not only be more durable but 10 times more beautiful than anything (affordable) you will find at a chain store.

-- Do not attempt to sell your creations unless you have made quite a few and tested their durability on actual children!   So far, the dresses I have made have not fallen apart after a few outings, but I am still not to the point where I would personally want to sell these.

-- Feel free to experiment!  If you want a more durable bodice and you have the time, single crochet all the way around.  For the last 2-3 rows, double crochet to give yourself openings for tulle.  You could even create a bodice with straps or sleeves that will not need an attached camisole.  I personally like the fish net design, not only because it's quick to create, but it has lots of decorating options.  Furthermore, if I am going to devote the time and effort to crocheting a solid, functional sweater,  I am probably going to let it remain... a sweater.