Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Yarn

Remember the push in the last few weeks to sell my stuff before Xmas? Well, it worked well enough and now I'm seeing the first results from all that sales work: new materials for my next batches of weaving.

I get great exercise as a weaver. Not only is the giant AVL production loom akin to a treadmill, but I also have to transport all of the materials in and out of the forest where my cabin studio lies. This entails a half mile hike up a pretty substantial hill, across a bunch of mud, and up one last incline to the cabin. I can only haul 100 lbs of stuff at a time, so it takes a while to get anything done.

Here's the view on my back porch once I got the new boxes of yarn up the hill. Those purple and orange boxes are the yarn I already had in stock. Their inscrutability is the reason I got clear boxes this time. Yeah, clear plastic is more brittle and costs more, but I'm about to have way too much yarn to look through boxes every time I need some. I need to be able to see the whole stash at once and know how much I have of each color. With about 100 lbs of yarn coming in every month and at least 75 lbs getting woven up, it's only going to get more complicated.

And here's all of my yarn sorted into colors in the new boxes. You can see my production pipeline by looking at the volume of colors here. The next beam will be various shades of white. Then comes navy blue. I'll need to get more blue yarn before I will be able to weave that beam, but I've got a pretty good start. Then comes forest green, then burgundy. I need a lot more yarn for those two beams, but I've got plenty of time to get it.

Oh, and the back porch staging is temporary. Water gets into everything in this environment whether we think it's sealed or not. Those boxes will all have to fit in the cabin somehow.

Now that I've got all the yarn, it's time to bring my warping setup up-to-date and get warping! Woohoo!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Web Marketing Notebook

Web Marketing. This is a huge topic that encompasses just about every part of our experience on the internet. My recent posts on the topic have created a lot of conversation here on the land. People are asking me how I got so good at it.

First, let me say that I'm not so good at it. I've read TONS on the topic, especially from the brilliant folks at Etsy. I've integrated a tiny part of what I've read into my own shop and have had some success at it. I can't claim credit for the ideas at all. I'll be rereading these articles and integrating more and more of the concepts as I wrap my head around it.

I know that I've written about Evernote in my blog before, but this is a great time to demonstrate it. It's the web clipping/note storage service that has changed the way I find information, store it, read it, and share it.

I live in the forest with no internet in my cabin. To find information, I sit with my iPhone or my MacBook in the common house and search the web. When I find something of interest, I clip it to my Evernote account instead of reading it right then. This way I don't have to spend so much time using the internet in common space. Before I leave the wifi, I sync Evernote on my iPhone. I have it set up to manually download the content of certain folders so I can read that content when I get back to my cabin. Then, I sometimes use the iPhone client to make a plain text copy of the note which is easier to read.

I have all kinds of notebooks on all kinds of topics, but there's one in particular that I want to share. Click on the link below to read all of the stuff that I've read to learn as much as I know about web marketing. This is a live notebook, so keep coming back to read new information as I add it.

Web Marketing Notebook


Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Solstice Astronomy

In my last blog post, I skipped a bunch of steps in explaining why the Midnight Solstice Lunar Eclipse was such a rare thing. My friends were asking for clarification, so I thought I'd post it here, too.

[The whole shebang. The height of the sun and moon is what we're trying to figure out.]

This is the diagram from yesterday's blog post. We're looking for the answer that the moon at its highest point is 20 degrees from the zenith and the sun at its lowest point is 24 degrees from the horizon. The questions I want to answer are: How do the 43 degrees and the 23 degrees fit into this? Where do those numbers come from?

[The Earth and how Wolf Creek's sky fits into the picture.]

This diagram shows where the 43 degrees comes from.

It's a simple set of geometry that makes the number of degrees in the altitude of Polaris the same as the latitude of the place where you're standing. When we point a stick directly at Polaris, that stick is parallel with the Earth's axis, 43 degrees above the horizon. That's because Wolf Creek is located at a latitude of 43 degrees North. Perpendicular to that stick is the equator.

[On the Winter Solstice, the North Pole points 23 degrees away from the sun, giving us short days and a sun that's low in the sky.]

Once we know where the equator is, we can make use of another bit of geometry - the tilt of the Earth's axis compared to the plane of its orbit around the sun. This is 23 degrees.

At the Winter Solstice, the North Pole is pointing away from the sun. In the sky, this puts the sun 23 degrees below the line of the equator, which it crosses at the equinoxes. That's 90 (the zenith) minus 43 degrees latitude minus 23 degrees axial tilt, giving a final answer that the sun will rise to only 24 degrees above the horizon on the Winter Solstice. This is the lowest solar noon we will see all year.

With a full moon on the Solstice, we know that the moon is directly opposite the sun in the sky. That's why it's full. This means that the moon will be the same number of degrees above the equator as the sun is below it. The gives us 90 degrees (zenith) minus 43 degrees latitude plus 23 degrees axial tilt for a final answer of 20 degrees below the zenith or 70 degrees above the horizon. While the sun is at its lowest, the moon is at its highest. While we measure the sun at solar noon, we measure the moon at lunar midnight.

And that's what all those angles and mumbo-jumbo in the last blog post meant. Once we get a look at the whole picture piece-by-piece, it all makes sense. We can get an idea of just how rare it is to have a lunar eclipse at lunar midnight on the winter solstice. It won't happen again in our lifetimes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse

A couple of nights ago we got to see a spectacular event: a full lunar eclipse at midnight on the Winter solstice.

[Sun and Moon, Midnight and Noon, Winter Solstice]

This little chart shows a slice of the sky from North to South in order to demonstrate how to calculate positions on the solstice.

1. Find your latitude. You can do this by using your sextant to measure the altitude of Polaris. (or look it up on Google Maps.)
2. Subtract your latitude from 90 degrees to get the altitude of the equatorial line. (In this case Polaris is 43 degrees up from the horizon so the equatorial line is 43 degrees down from the zenith.)
3. The Earth is tilted 23 degrees on its axis. This is the reason for the seasons.
4. The altitude of the sun at noon on the winter solstice is 23 degrees down from the equatorial line, the lowest it will ever be.
5. The altitude of the moon at midnight on the winter solstice is 23 degrees up from the equatorial line, the highest it will ever be.

From this day on, the sun will rise and the moon will sink until the summer solstice when they will have completely changed places: the sun will be high in the sky and the moon will just skim the hills.

This eclipse was so rare because it happened, not just on the right day, but at the precise moment when the moon was at its highest point for the whole year. This was, of course, true only for people near our longitude, the Pacific time zone. For others, the eclipse just happened on the solstice.

I'm extremely glad that the snow stopped and the sky cleared just in time to see the eclipse at its apex. Wow! I don't ever remember seeing the moon so high in the sky. (I'm usually asleep by 9:00 in the Winter and the sky's usually cloudy anyhow, so it's likely that I never *have* seen it!) It was just a dark red disk almost straight up. An hour later it was heading west and still just a sliver.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Cloth Design

While I wait for the yarn and loom parts to arrive, I'm taking advantage of the time to design the next batch of cloth. I'm basing the technique on two successful features of my past weaving: randomness and pointed advancing twills.

All of my design inspiration comes from nature. In this case, I'm calling on the pattern in the center of the Orb Weaver Spider's web.

The beam will be warped in shades of white to conjure visions of wedding dresses, bunnies, and other symbols of Spring. The pieces will be woven with a variety of colors from off-white, tan, grey, and black to rich, vibrant colors. The end results will range from chaste to garish.

Since I'm still quite new at designing cloth for production, I'm glad for the time to do it carefully. Using a textile CAD software called Arahweave, I've worked to design a weave structure that behaves the way I want it to.

I had several goals in mind when I set out to design this cloth. I wanted to play with a slowly advancing twill where the "eyes" in the pattern become a minor feature compared to the dominating zigzags. I also wanted the zigzags to advance slowly enough that they cause visual tension against the straight stripes of the warp. I want people to subconsciously wonder if the zigzags are really meandering and how that might be possible.

After I had the weave structure designed, I sat and played with yarn colors. One thing that sets Arahweave apart from other weaving CAD software that I've tried is its extremely robust yarn modeling capabilities. I like the organic effect that comes from using multiple threads plied together on the bobbin, and Arahweave lets me model that.

It's so easy to try new color combinations that I just sit and play with it. When I get a combo that I like, I save an image of it.

This "play" has led me to a new effect that I can't wait to try. With a warp in shades of white, the structure will be obscured if I weave with white thread. It will be highlighted if I weave with dark thread. If I ply the two together, it seems like the structure will play peek-a-boo, disappearing in white-dominant sections and being revealed in dark-dominant sections. I hope it's as cool in person as it is on the screen!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Business, Busy-ness

[The hills in the morning]

Whoa, what a month! I've been way too busy surviving as a newly independent weaver to write in my blog. I'm only writing now while I lay in bed with orange juice, hoping to stave off what feels like another bout of that very tenacious flu from November.

First, I had to take the (few) piles of cloth in my possession and make them into saleable garments. For the holiday gift-giving crowd I chose scarves as my main focus. They're affordable because they don't use much cloth. And, my bold patterns are perfect for an accessory like that.

I also had another challenge: design a functional ruana. The first piece of handweaving I ever bought was a ruana and I remember the instant attraction of that classic garment. I also saw how well they sold at the Renaissance Faire. They are the staple. I have an agreement with my previous "employer" that I won't use her cloth designs or garment patterns. Thank goodness for McCall's! Their pattern 3448 is called the One-Hour Poncho. It's perfect! They give 4 main variations on the shape so I chose the simplest one with a hood and modified it to remove the lining and flat-fell the seams. If you like to sew, grab an old blanket and give this pattern a try! I don't mind sharing it because the value in my work is that I did it, not the source of my pattern inspiration.

[Look at C. It's a hooded ruana!]

Once I had my stuff designed and produced, I had to get started selling it, and quick! Because of my rural location and the fact that I hadn't foreseen my independence early enough to create "craft show quantities" and apply for holiday shows, I decided to focus on my online retail presence.

I started out making software decisions in my usual manner: compare features, look at potential upgrades and future features, etc. In this way I decided to go with ZenCart on my own private website. It allows for extremely refined discount terms, free shipping on orders of a certain amount, coupons, special features, upcoming items, and more.

So I set it all up in time for Black Friday and realized one fatal flaw in my plan. There are few customers visiting my site. A number of people read my blog, but nobody treats my website as a shopping destination. Why would they? The store is brand new. It takes time to develop repeat business, and time is the one thing I don't have. If my scarves don't sell by the end of December, I may as well pack them away until next

Then I remembered Etsy, the online marketplace for all things handmade. They've got what I don't - traffic. And not just any traffic, either. The people browsing that site are informed shoppers who want handmade goods. Etsy's listing fees are cheap and they only take a small percentage when an item sells. I dove in with a passion!

Thankfully, Etsy makes it easy. They want their sellers to succeed so they've written TONS of stuff on how to structure your shop, shoot your photos, write your descriptions, promote yourself, and more. I knew that time was short and that I would greatly benefit from learning the ropes of this new world, so I spent about 30 hours in 2 days digesting as much of this information as I could.

And then I set to work. First, I set up Google Analytics so I'd know how much traffic my shop was getting and which parts of my effort were actually making a difference. Every day I worked like a dog to shoot product photos, write descriptions and list new items. I did everything in my power to promote my shop and make it an attractive place when people arrived.

My friends helped me get the word out. Holy cow, LiveJournal and Dreamwidth! I had no idea there were so many people on there willing to help a friend of a friend. My traffic spiked to 10x the normal level on the day those friends got involved. Thanks so much for your help!

I forget that I'm pretty good at marketing stuff. I've spent years learning how to use my camera to capture what I want. I've practiced writing for most of my adult life and, while I'm not the best writer, I'm usually able to convey what I mean and tell my story in a way that others can understand. Now I'm learning my way around Google and their system of content ranking.

And then there's all the extra stuff I've put into my Etsy store: a sale rack, gift certificates, self-service layaway, coupon codes that I've sent out to mailing lists, and more. Now I'm rapidly acquiring the one thing you can't fake: trust. As people place orders, receive them, and leave positive feedback, other customers can see it and feel more confident buying from me.

With all of that said, I look forward to setting up a better light booth so I can photograph my garments in good light regardless of the weather. I also expect to revamp my banner, bio, store description, and product descriptions once the holidays are over. This was a great "Version 1.0", and has done well with that reality in mind.

Another thing I did to raise money and get the word of my store into the world was to host a series of trunk sales in Portland. The Etsy store hadn't yet done much and getting to Portland was bringing my accounts dangerously low when good luck struck. Some sanctuary visitors arrived and bought things from me. The timing was perfect! They got beautiful garments and I got money for gas and food.

My goal with all of this was to raise enough money to buy a few hundred pounds of yarn and an auto-advance mechanism for my loom. This mechanism helps me make cloth faster, which is an important factor in keeping my prices down.

I was nervous about the trip so forgot to take good pictures of my setups at the three events I did. Below is the one picture I did take. It's the corner of one of two tables at Shabutter. Thanks, House of Butter, for hosting me and my trunk sale.

[Oskrr helping to demonstrate the softness of my pouches]

Between the Etsy store and the Portland Trunk Sale, I've made it! I placed the order for the auto-advance mechanism and a few hundred pounds of yarn. I'll be weaving again in two weeks, with new merchandise appearing in my store two weeks after that. So, look for my Spring Line in late January. The theme will be "Light, Bright, and Classic."

As soon as the holidays are over, I'll be looking for the Spring and Summer shows to sell my work. If anyone knows of a good show for high-end handcrafts, located between Ashland and Portland, leave me a comment. I'd love to know about it!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last Chance For Holiday Orders!

I've been so ridiculously busy setting up my Etsy store that I didn't write about it on my blog. Well, it's not too late! The Post Office says that orders shipping out today or Monday will still arrive to continental US addresses by the 25th.

I've got clothing, housewares, bags, gift certificates, and more for special prices as low as $15. Be sure to check out the Sale Rack! You can even put pricier items on layaway by following the instructions in my "Shop Policies."

If you visit my Etsy store, http://WeavingMonk.etsy.com, use the coupon code BLOG2010 to take an additional 15% off.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

How To Price Your Craftwork

I'm writing this piece for several reasons: 1) to address the critique that the prices on my web store are too low and 2) to help other artists and crafters figure out how to start really making a living from their work. I realize that this is a special skill and I'm happy to share my opinions on it. Enjoy!


One of the most difficult things for an artist is setting a price on the finished work. For professional crafters it's a little easier. We often make variations on the same thing over and over again so we have a good idea how much time is actually required to do it.

In this post, I'll walk you through the steps of pricing your work for wholesale and for retail. If you price your work fairly, you will be able to stand by your prices with resolve. You will also be able to "wheel and deal" while knowing just how low you can go and still make a living.

Before you get started, make sure you are very familiar with your market. Who else is selling? What are they selling? How much are they charging? Are you prepared to compete directly or do you want to sidle up next to them by offering complimentary products?

It's extremely important to make sure that you're ready to sell wholesale when you price your work. Imagine what you would do if a local boutique offered to buy a large number of pieces every month from you. If you're a serious crafter who wants to make a living from it, you will want to be ready to sell to that boutique and be happy doing it! You will need to already have created a fair wholesale price.

Pay For Your Time

First and foremost, pay for your time. If you're crafting as a business, this is the place where you, the crafter, make your money. To pay for time, you need to calculate your time per piece. You won't be able to accurately do this after making one piece. Depending on your type of work, you may not know even after making 20 pieces. After 100 or so, you will probably have started to create a workflow and may be getting a good feel for the time you need. Most craft production requires doing the same step to multiple pieces before moving to the next step. Time yourself making a number of pieces and calculate the "per piece" time. If you take breaks or get interrupted, don't forget to stop the timer! If it takes 45 minutes to do one step for 10 pieces, that's 4:30 for each piece. Figure out all of the per-step times per piece and add them together to get a "minutes per piece" or "hours per piece" figure. Now, decide how much you should make per hour. Be honest about your skill level and charge appropriately. Don't ask your customers to pay extra to make up for your lack of skill. In my case, I'm a skilled weaver and should earn $25/hr for my weaving time, including every aspect of loom setup and cloth production. I'm not as skilled at sewing, so pay myself only $15/hr for those tasks until I get better.

Don't forget setup time! In my case, it takes about 30 hours to prepare the loom for weaving 90 yards of cloth. That's 20 minutes extra per yard.

Pay Your Taxes

If a one-yard piece takes 20 minutes of setup, 1 hour of weaving and 2 hours of sewing, that's .33@$25 + $25 + 2@$15 = $63.33 for labor. And don't forget that you're responsible for taxes on that income, too. I figure on 25% income tax. That's $63.33 for me and $21.11 for the tax man giving a final price of $84.44.

When you get to this point, if the price seems too high to compete with what's on the market, don't change the price. Change the product, change the marketing or change the production. Maybe you can make a similar product that would sell for a higher price, maybe you can market this one differently, or maybe you can speed up your production.

Pay For Materials

The next step is to estimate your material costs. How much of each material is used to make a piece? Don't forget about waste! If some of a material ends up on the floor, think hard about ways to prevent this, and then calculate a higher material cost to cover it. Also, don't forget to factor in the shipping of your materials. Let's say for this example, that my yarn costs $15/lb including shipping, and 2% ends up on the floor. That means I am spending $15 per pound and using 98% of that pound. $15/98% = $15.31 per pound of yarn used in finished work. If you can, weigh the finished pieces to figure out how much materials each one is using. Otherwise, keep track of how many pieces you can get from a set amount of your raw material. Let's say my woven cloth pieces each weigh 1/2 pound. That's $7.66 in yarn per piece.

Again, if this seems high, there are a few things you can do. Use less expensive materials or use less of them. Customers are smart, so don't try to fool them into paying a high price for low quality materials. Have you considered using recycled materials? This is a great way to reduce cost, and sometimes even increase the quality of the materials. (Think of thrift store cashmere sweaters vs. new wool cloth.) Using recycled materials also opens up a new market to you: eco-conscious customers.

Pay For Your Overhead

Next, you need to cover your production overhead. Figure in everything that you need to pay in order to produce your stuff: studio rental, electricity, heating, transportation, a tool budget, and more. Take your time to think of everything that you need to do your work. A bookkeeper can help you here. Add up each of these expenses per month and divide by the number of pieces you can reasonably make in a month. Notice we're not talking about how many you can sell or how much it costs to sell them. That will come later. Do, however, remember that you will be spending some of your time selling. Assess your production capacity based on the time you actually have available to produce your merchandise. Let's say that it costs $1000/mo to keep the studio running and you can make an average of 250 pieces a month while leaving enough time to sell. Each piece needs to pay $4 toward production overhead.

This is the place where you can get quite creative looking for alternatives. Can you rent studio time to others who want access to your equipment? Do you have space to rent out to other crafters? Is there a local collective you could join to pool your resources? Can you cover some of your costs by teaching your craft? Little bits of money you reclaim every month will add up fast!

Your Wholesale Price

To calculate your final wholesale price, add all of these together: $84.44 + $7.66 + $4 = $96.10 each. This is the absolute minimum that you need to make from each piece to stay in business and pay yourself fairly. It's fair at this point to round up to a nice round number. (I'd use $100 in this case.) This makes it easier to remember and gives you a little something for the time it will take to negotiate and fulfill wholesale orders.

Your real wholesale price is a secret. Don't be tempted to negotiate below this price. Start wholesale negotiations with a higher price so you've got room to bargain, and end the negotiations if you're being driven below it. Selling below your actual wholesale price can easily put you on a slippery slope toward dissatisfaction with your work when you find yourself slaving away and seeing little profit for it.

Your Retail Price

The goal in setting a retail price is to cover the time and costs associated with getting your items purchased by customers. If you can find enough outlets to buy your merchandise at wholesale and sell it for you, then you won't even have to worry about this.

Many retail stores use "keystone" markup, meaning that they mark things up by 100%, doubling the wholesale price. Some markets are cheap, with customers only accepting a 15% markup. I've also seen luxury stores with markups as high as 250-300% or more, necessary to pay for a prestigious location and other services like parking and security.

Rather than try to guess what your sales and overhead are going to be, you can start out just using the 100% markup. This means that you are expecting to earn just as much from your selling as you do from your crafting. This is a good way to start because you won't know how much time and cost is associated with sales until you've done it for a while and you can't begin to sell without setting a price. So, at first just double your wholesale price to find your retail price.

This simple method requires you to watch your expenses. Make sure you've got the income before you gamble on "extras" that may not actually enhance your sales. Later on, you may need to use a higher markup, but you probably won't know how to figure the new markup until you've been selling for a while.

When the time does come to increase your markup, there are some expenses that you may be looking to cover: show fees, travel expenses, signage, advertising, packaging, collateral material, and more. These expenses are all directly related to selling your products and should come from your retail price.

You can figure them in the same way as you figured production overhead. If you're considering a per-piece sales cost like fancy hang tags, add it directly to the price of each item. If it's a monthly expense like a magazine advertisement, divide the expense by the number of items you sell in a month and add that amount to each item.

And, actually, you're not going to add these costs to each item at all. You'll be modifying your markup to cover the new costs and then applying that markup to each item. It's best, for the sake of your customers, if you only raise your markup once or twice a year, and even better if you only apply the higher prices to new items as they're introduced.

Periodic Review

Be sure to keep your wholesale and retail prices clear in your head. Expensive sales choices increase the retail price, not the wholesale. You may be shooting yourself in the foot if a wholesale customer comes along and you ask too much (or too little!) because you're not clear on your own costs and prices.

Review your costs periodically to make sure that you are charging what you really need to make it all worthwhile. This is a business after all, and it's easier to stay excited and engaged as a business owner when the money is flowing well. Enjoy it!

*Disclaimer: I’m just a crafter and small business owner, not a financial or legal professional. These ideas may work for you or they may not. Always make sure you understand local business and tax laws and consult financial and legal advisors when you need help.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Web Store Product Photography

[Natural light product shoot. I especially like the grocery bag diffuser on the fill light.]

[And here's the result. Not too bad, if I do say so myself!]

The last few days have been ridiculously busy. In between all the meetings, chores, bookkeeping, policy drafting and visitor facilitation, I've also been revamping my web store and preparing for holiday sales.

Mostly, this consists of shooting and editing LOTS of photos. I've got about 30 types of products. Each one needs about 5 different photos to show various features. So, I've had to get very organized about the shoots. I am getting good at remembering which products have been shot in which poses.

I set up a scene and then style the pieces within that scene one at a time, shooting and checking shots for each one. Then, I go into Aperture to straighten, crop, color correct and otherwise tweak each photo. This is also where I name the shots (in a standard way) before exporting them at a web-ready size. Then, I set up the next scene and do it all over again.

It's really tough to do natural-light shots this time of year. It's rainy, limiting the places I can shoot with good light, and a cloudy sky has huge variations in brightness. The clouds are roiling overhead, changing the lighting every few minutes. It's super hard to set the camera's exposure and have it stay good. Auto-exposure is also ridiculously undependable when shooting items of different colors. I just have to do the best I can to adjust manually and fix my mistakes "in post-production."

[My jankety storage box, tissue paper, track light, clip light setup]

[...and the result]

Because of the difficulties with natural light, I created a setup today so I can do color-balanced high-key product shots inside the house, it's a silly rig with a plastic storage box, white cardstock, tissue paper, clip lights, and more. Thanks to the flexibility of modern digital SLR sensors, though, I can get away with it and the results look great! The final shots have even light with warm and cool soft shadows and a seamless white background. Keep checking my web store to see these images in their intended environment. blossommerz.com/shop