Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Etsy Teams

Etsy is a fantastic online marketplace for handmade crafts, but it turns out to be way more than that. It's a thriving community of people who do craftwork. Many of them are hobbyists who want a little side income from their work, and many are professional artists and craftsmen who are making a real living at it.

There are many features of Etsy that encourage community to develop. Adding other artists' work to your favorites sends them traffic while showing some of your personality to your shop's visitors. Treasuries are a more structured way to show off your personality and other people's work by grouping items together in a beautiful way. Circles act like the friend networks on social services like Facebook and Twitter. And then there are Teams.

Teams are groups of people working together. There are many reasons why people form teams - to support common causes, because they are near each other, because they engage in the same craft, and much more.

I've joined four teams so far. At this point, I don't want to overextend myself. What's the point of being on a team if I can't contribute meaningfully to the work that team is doing?

Here are the teams that I'm on:

Etsy Weavers - This team is quite active, discussing all kinds of things relevant to creating and selling handwoven items on Etsy. If you're a weaver who sells on Etsy, I'd recommend joining this team. There are a lot of great folks on it.

SASsy Critiques - Members of the Sellers Assisting Sellers Team (Mentors) answer specific questions to help you hone your shop. This seems like a great resource. I'm spending time reading their archives before I ask for help myself.

Etsy Weave Team - This team isn't very active right now, but I'll stick around a while and see what happens.

Rogue Valley, Oregon - This team is made up of people from the area where I live.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Weaver And The Woodworker Are Friends

I've been using a jankety part on my loom since some time last year. When I converted the shuttle from a downward pull motion to a side-to-side motion, I did a quick job of it with a section of 1" dowel.

Well, it's giving me callouses. When I was last in Portland, I spent a lot of my time with my good friend, Cobb. He is, among other things, a woodworker. I told him about the handle that I was craving and he said, "Let's make you one!"

After a day for the glue to dry and a few hours of work, we made a beautiful handle.

This handle could have worked for much longer if it hadn't been for one big flaw. See the single eyelet on the back side? Well, it causes the handle to twist in my hand as I throw it back and forth. The torque is what has caused my discomfort.

And, after just two months of sitting on my desk, I've finally drilled the holes, mounted the hardware, and tied it into place. Tomorrow will be my first day using it. I can't wait!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Business Goal Review

One of the things I get to do regularly as a business owner is to set goals for myself and review my performance on achieving past goals.

My performance reviews are pretty painless. My last goals were created four months ago when I stopped doing contract work:
• get an auto-advance mechanism
• acquire enough material for several batches of weaving
• design one or two hoodless garment styles
• put in an average of four hours a day creating new inventory
• learn the skills and create the workflow to run a web store

My next goals are even more easily achievable:
• keep putting in the hours to create new inventory
• maintain a fresh web store
• hire a copywriter/editor for the web store
• get my work into one brick-and-mortar store
• find summer shows in the area
• build a portable booth

And then there's the long term. I created this chart as a way to visually represent the phases I expect my business to go through in the next few years.

I am just beginning this phase right now. I'm producing cloth, but it all needed to be cut and sewn as it was woven in order to update my web store. Between beams, there will be little plateaus in finished merchandise production while I prepare the next beam. Sales are fairly minimal, which is to be expected. Until I have enough cash from in-person and web sales to fund the next marketing push, I'll just keep creating the merchanise. At the end of this phase, I will have been able to create a presentation that's good enough to get me into a store or two and see me through some small shows.

Once I've got enough inventory to start moving up in show quality, I'll also be moving up in income regularity. I'm able to save some sewing and listing to keep my store fresh between beams, so the inventory line smooths out. More stores and other regular outlets will smooth out the sales line, too.

In this phase, I'm able to hire some of the work to be done. An assistant or two to weave and sew while I design and wind the next beam will eliminate downtime between beams altogether. A sales team to go and do more, bigger shows will bring up the sales rate to match the higher production rate.

This is my goal: a cottage industry that can comfortably support four or five people living together in a small spiritual community. I have no reason to think that my goals are unreasonable. I've made it this far! All it takes is perseverance and discipline. I've got to get up every day and put in the hours, even if I have little hope of real sales for months of time and many hundreds of dollars in material costs. It will eventually all be worth it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Bluebird Design Work

In between weaving, cutting, sewing, photographing and marketing the Arctic Fox cloth, I'm excited to be exploring the ways I can combine the various shades of blue that have newly arrived in my stash.

One of the first things I had to do was to wind the yarn onto smaller cones for portability. I spend a lot of time in meetings here. That's a perfect time to play with color ideas.

I've now got a bucket of sample cones that I can take to meetings. Perhaps this coming week I'll settle on a set of plied threads that I can use to achieve the effects I want on the bluebird beam.

So far, I've done lots of "color combo" tests to see which shades go well together. The good news is that they all do! I haven't seen even one set of test colors that I thought looked bad together. This means that I would have to work hard to come up with a bad design for the next beam. Maybe I won't try to be too fancy at all, and just go with a random smattering of my favorite 18 shades of blue, brown and grey.

It's more likely that I'll come up with a gradient progression that I like. Not too busy, though! Vibrant, but subdued.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yarn Size And Math

I recently had to get a lot more technical in my understanding of yarn sizes. I've been calling them things like "that really thin one" or "the fluffy fat one". This doesn't help me to know what the finished cloth will be like when I start plying threads in the warp. Since I ply my weft threads to make fairly thick yarns, I have been unable to reliably repeat the cloth weight, either. I get it close, but there can be a lot of variation from one garment to the next. That's part of why I always weave a garment with its matching parts all at once.

Even before I'm working with the threads in the studio, I have to order them through the mail. It's nice to know just what I'll be getting and how far a 10 lb cone of 16/2 cotton will go, for example.

Before I start with the technical stuff, let me say that I'm not at all sure of any of this. It's what I've pieced together from the little information I could find on the internet layered with my own mathematical ideas. If anyone knows better or could point me to good books or other resources on the topic, please let me know.

Here's what I've learned: there's a formula for worsted wool and cotton that lets you know how many yards of thread are in a pound. You just have to know two magic numbers. For wool, the number is 560. For cotton, it's 840.

Here's how it works. For a single strand of size 1 yarn in worsted wool (called 1s, pronounced ones), there are 560 yards per pound. A thread half that size is called 2s. Half the size means twice as long for the same weight, 1120 yards per pound. If there are two strands of it plied together, it's called 2s2 (twos two) and written 2/2. Each strand is half of a size 1 yarn, but there are two of them, giving 560 yards per pound again, just like the original 1s.

This is where the labeling scheme came from: Strand Size / # of Strands. To convert to yards per pound, multiply the fiber multiple by the strand size and divide by the number of strands.

8/2 Cotton = (840 x 8) / 2 = 3360 ypp
16/4 Worsted = (560 x 16) / 4 = 2240 ypp

This is pretty straightforward. It gets a little more complicated when combining threads and trying to calculate the size of the resulting yarn. I've started calling threads by their "size" instead of their factory name. The stuff that follows is my own collection of ideas. I might be totally wrong, but it seems to work...

If I don't care how many individual strands are in the thread, an 8/2 thread is the same as a 4s thread so I call it "size 4", meaning 1/4 as thick as "size 1". Two of them is the same size as a 2s, which I call "size 2", 1/2 as thick as "size 1".

Now, let's look at a complex weft combination with 5 threads: 2 @ 8/2 plus 3 @ 24/2. I can divide each of the top numbers by the number of strands to get a single yarn equivalent. This gives me...
4/2 plus 8/2,
size 2 plus size 4,
1/2 of a size 1 plus 1/4 of a size 1,
3/4 of a size 1,
which I call "size 1.33"

That last step is tricky. If size 2 (2/1) is half of size 1 (1/2), then we flip the fraction to translate between them. This means that 3/4 of a size 1 is called size 4/3 or size 1.33.

At last, I have a standard way to assign a size to my weft yarns. When I make a sample blanket, I can now track the yarn size along with the color. After it's been wet finished, I'll see how the different sizes behave and be able to produce a dependable cloth of just the right weight.

The two photos below are lit from behind by the sun to give an idea how much light comes through each cloth, and therefore how thick it is. It's really tough to convey weight and texture through images! The dark one is much thicker than the one that's letting light pass through.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Product: Open Caftan

I'm excited to add a brand new product to my line. This caftan is open on the sides for maximum ease of movement.

The challenge in designing this garment was making sure that it is durable enough to last through many years of wear and many trips through the wash. In wearing it, the weight of this heavy cloth is all concentrated on the shoulders. To help distribute that weight, I added wide flat-felled bands to the sides of the neckline. The inside is smooth and comfortable on the shoulders.

Then, at the points of the neckline, I attached a thick piece to the front and back. This stabilizes the spot that gets the most stress, preventing is from stretching or tearing.

But, the wearer doesn't have to worry about any of that stuff. Just throw it on, pack it in a suitcase, toss it in the wash, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Design: Open Caftan

Today turned out nothing like I expected. A few friends stopped by out of the blue. One of them bought a ruana from me last year and wanted another one... sort of.

He loved the colors and feeling of the ruana-weight Arctic Fox cloth, but wanted his without the open front, something he could slip over his head and have it stay put. It would be half ruana and half poncho, a wide caftan with open sides.

This design is especially challenging because of how much strain a slashed neckline would put on the cloth. At the V in the front and back, the cloth is already cut and would want to tear. I needed to come up with a design that would heavily reinforce those two spots while giving a little extra strength to the sides of the neckline to hold up the weight of this heavy garment. I turned, of course, to my old towel mockup.

As I work on these new patterns, I take the extra time to write down instructions so I can replicate what I did. This helps to make sure that any successes are repeatable.

And this one looks like a success! By treating the side seams like a feature and putting them on the outside, the inside of the garment is smooth and comfortable on the shoulders. The point reinforcement ends up with between 4 and 12 layers of cloth in different places, made strong by stitching together. This ensures that the neckline will stay stable and last for years.

I badly needed this sale so I dropped everything to create the finished garment today, too. I'll post pics of the final result tomorrow. (If you're curious to see it, I'll be listing it on Etsy earlier. I just don't have time to create another blog post until tomorrow.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Yarn Is Here!

I'm very excited about the new yarn for the next beam. I'm also glad that it arrived this week. I've got about a week left on the Arctic Fox beam. In my spare time I'll be trying to design the new Bluebird beam so I can get winding as soon as the Arctic Fox is done.

I really thought I was going to go with Blue Jay as the color theme, but I think it'll be the Tree Swallow instead. Looking at these yarns in person, the Jay is just too dull to use these brilliant blues. I don't like the name "Tree Swallow" for marketing my cloth, though, so I'm calling it Bluebird.

I'll be winding off a small cone of each color so I can carry them to meetings and wind up sample warp combinations. When I'm done weaving white on April 1st I should know just what kind of design I'll be winding in blue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Custom Weaving Orders

Today I set up a new service on my website: customized weaving. I'll be rolling it into my Etsy shop over the next few days.

The first thing I do on each beam is to produce a sample blanket with many of the weft colors I think I'll use. Then I create a range of products and list them.

At that point, there's still a good chunk of the beam left to weave so I start replacing items that have sold and making duplicates of listed items for my inventory.

There are colors on the sample blanket that I'll never use. There are colors in my stash that I never even sample.

This is where it becomes interactive. I've set up a page on my website that shows the products that I make, and the range of colors that I've sampled.

This allows anyone to place requests for weft colors that they'd like me to weave. Unless you're asking for a color combination that I don't think I can sell to someone else, I will cover it with my standard return policy: a full refund if you're not absolutely satisfied.

With all of that said, I'm excited to offer the custom weaving service. Now you can get something that isn't possible in very many places: garments woven just for you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weaving White Cloth In Mud Season

It's kind of funny, deciding to weave white cloth in the muddiest season we have on the land. It means I have to jump through ridiculous hoops to keep it clean.

When I'm weaving, I get used to always having a clean rag on hand. Any time I touch the greasy mechanics of the loom I thoroughly wipe my hands before going back to the cloth. Little smudges here and there are no big deal since all of the cloth will be washed with organic soap before it gets cut. Besides, I designed the cloth with a lot of brown and grey stripes so it will hide dirt and need laundering less often.

My real chance to get it dirty in a way that would show is on the way into the dryer, in the cutting, the sewing and the location photography.

In the laundry shed, I'm manipulating 12 yards of twisted up, wet, heavy, 60" wide cloth so it's impossible to keep it off the floor. I cover the muddy concrete floor a white blanket to keep the cloth clean on the way into the dryer.

When I carry the clean, dry cloth back to the cabin, I'm concerned about two things: mud and wrinkles. I carefully accordion fold the 10 yard bolt in the laundry shed and wrap it in a blanket to transport it across the 1/4 mile of mud.

On the sewing table, there are many cuts that need the cloth to drape onto the floor. Again, I use a blanket to keep dirt off the cloth. No matter how many times I sweep, the floor is not clean enough to let white cloth touch it.

Once it's cut into single garment chunks, it's easy to keep it on the clean sewing table. The only other chance to get dirty comes if I take it outside. The only reason I would do that is for location photos.

When I do, the garments get wrapped in a blanket, put inside a zippered tote bag, and carried carefully to the location. Then, since I'm usually shooting more than one garment, I carry a clean blanket that I can use to hold garments waiting to be shot.

Yeah, it's kind of crazy what I go through with this cloth, but it's well worth it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New: Mandarin Ruanas!

Hot off the design table, it's a new garment style!

The Mandarin Ruana has no hood. It has a mandarin collar instead, giving it a more tailored look and a sturdier feel.

These will be arriving in my Etsy store in a limited quantity to gauge interest. I'll try to keep one in the store at all times, but you may have to wait a few days if they get popular.

Sewing Pattern Development, Continued

I woke up this morning completely uncertain about the new collar design. Even the shorter and thinner version of the collar felt a little bulky under my chin. If only I could take out some of that cloth...

Then I remembered that a mandarin collar curves down in the front. Rounding off the square front would take away some cloth right where I want to be rid of it.

To figure out how to make that shape I got out the main book I use for reference:
Pattermaking For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. In the chapter on collars, she shows how to make a pattern for it.

Of course, like all patterns, it needs to be modified to work with handwoven cloth. I needed to add an extra allowance for the bulky cloth on the top seam and for the flat felled seam connecting it to the garment.

Since I had to do another terrycloth test, I decided to try shortening this one as well as rounding the corners. What a pain that was! The shorter the collar gets, the less room there is for error. I had to pin it almost every inch to get it to behave.

It came out just as I wanted it and let me know that I do want the collar rounded and that I do not want it that short. The proportion to the rest of the ruana would make a tiny collar feel timid.

Instead of sewing another whole test, I decided that using my final cardboard curve template to cut and topstitch the existing square collar would be good enough. Even though my curves didn't match, I liked the result. It was very hard to cut into my expensive cloth without the absolute certainty that would have come from sewing just one more test, but I didn't want to take another hour to cut and sew another towel over such a minor change.

So I cut my cloth and the collar turned out fine.

The last thing to do before cutting the neck hole was to make sure it was placed carefully. Since I can make the back of the collar match the main body of the cloth, I want to be sure to cut it so that happens.

I did it and the final garment turned out beautifully. I'll list it tomorrow and notify the people who inspired me to design it. Woohoo!

Friday, March 18, 2011

One Item A Day? Check!

A few weeks back I set a tough goal for myself: to create, photograph and list one new item a day until I've created all the products that will be made from the Arctic Fox beam.

Well, I'm doing it! I meet this goal by photographing batches of things on some days, giving me time to create more on other days.

Thanks to for the beautiful graph.

That big flat spot are the months of waiting for my auto-advance mechanism to arrive from AVL. Grrr. Yeah, there's going to be downtime while I set up a new beam, but it's not going to be that much!

Sewing Pattern Development

Along with all the weaving, sewing, and marketing, I've got a big challenge to meet right now: to create a hoodless ruana. Several people have requested it and I've decided it's high time I start to make some of the things that people request.

The difficulty comes in figuring out how to distribute the weight of the garment to keep it durable. My ruana cloth can be quite heavy, and all that weight is pulling on the very weakest part of the garment: where the neck is cut. The wearer needs to be able to carelessly throw the front panel over the other shoulder. If someone is sitting on a part of it when they stand up, they shouldn't have to worry about the effect on the garment.

With a hooded ruana, this is all taken care of. The flat fell seam that attaches the hood triple-reinforces the neck hole. Without a hood, I needed to figure out a way to give that same reinforcement and make it look beautiful and intentional. I decided to use some sort of collar.

The tough thing about all this is that I haven't done much garment design in about 20 years. (Am I really that old?) For the original ruana, I adapted a Burda pattern to work with handwoven cloth. I didn't have to do much but choose from an assortment of neck hole shape options, remove the lining and convert the seams to flat felled.

Today I decided to finally tackle the design and testing of a few collars. Terrycloth is a great simulator of my handwoven cloth. It's got a similar weight, and it distorts similarly if it's stretched during sewing. And we've got lots of worn out towels here on the land.

First, I tried the lazy method just to see if I could get away with it. I made a collar that stood 2" above the 1" felled seam, making for almost a 3" rise altogether. The method is lazy because I finished the collar front by rolling it and topstitching at the same time as the front of the garment.

I was not happy with the results. The collar is WAY too tall. This makes the stiffness of the front seam into a problem. It looks fine on the dress form, but real people have chins and need to look down. The tall and stiff collar front pushes up into the chin and feels awful.

So, back to the drawing board. I need to make the collar first and flip it right side out. The I need to roll the front seam on the ruana in to match it before starting to attach the collar.

This second collar design is a winner. (and I'm now the owner of a strangely formal terrycloth mantle)

There's lots of fiddly sewing to get all the stitches in place on that front seam, but it is much lighter, more comfortable, and professional-looking.

Tomorrow I'll figure out a stitching order that lets me finish the rolled front seams and collar with a single, circuitous topstitch. It's a small detail, but one that might impress the few who notice it.

I may play with shortening the whole thing even more. I really don't want to draw attention to the collar. I want it to do the work it's engineered for without becoming a major design feature. Any comments would be welcome!

I can't wait to see how people respond to this new garment. I should have the first one sewn and photographed tomorrow and up on the store by Saturday.