Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Sale: 20% off and free shipping!

The Holiday Sale is in full swing in my Etsy store with 20% off of everything until Monday at midnight. To thank you for reading my blog, I've set up a coupon to give you free shipping, too. Use the code "BLOGNOV2011" during checkout.

And, of course, you should come by early for the best selection.

Weaving Monk on Etsy

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photo Booth: Good Enough For Now

In anticipation of the arrival of my new photographic backdrop and in preparation for the Black Friday sale on my Etsy store, I've built a photo studio large enough to photograph my garments.

It's just my warm weather show booth with a wall from my bright white popup canopy used as a flash diffuser. The end result is a white box that bounces light from all angles.

What I've got for an illumination source is one remote flash unit that's triggered by the camera's flash. (The clip light is a "modeling light" to show me where the light is bouncing. It's too dim to actually show up against the flash.) The flash light does two things - it gets diffused through a translucent half-wall and enters through the open half of that wall to bounce around inside the studio. Since every surface is white, including the back wall on both sides of the camera, the light really travels around. It gets into every crevice so that even though there's only one light source, none of the shadows are truly black. And since the flash doesn't illuminate the cloth directly, all of the light looks very soft.

You can see the rest of the photos online in my Etsy Store

There is still a rack of items that need to be photographed and listed tomorrow in preparation for my Black Friday Sale.

I've finally solved the problem I've been having with Etsy. You see, I have not had enough inventory to let some sit aside just for Etsy. This means that I have had to take down my online store every time I go to do a show. Well, no more! I've allocated some inventory just for Etsy. It will be available even when I'm off at shows.

Tomorrow's todo list is pretty ambitious: set up a Black Friday sale on my Etsy shop, design and write a newsletter announcing my sale, including an additional discount for newsletter subscribers and Facebook followers, and finish the photography and listing on all my Etsy items before Thursday night.

If you're not signed up to receive my monthly newsletter, now would be a great time to subscribe and be included in this fantastic sale.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Portland for the Weekend

Whew! We made it!

Wispr and Audrey worked long and hard beside me to get the stuff done in time for this show. We wove, cut, and sewed half a booth's merchandise in just a few weeks.

This is an intimate show with just few, high quality vendors. If you want to come and visit, all the show details are here: FACEBOOK EVENT

Aaaand, if you are awaiting a Kickstarter reward, I've got them with me. Stop by and pick it up! Otherwise, I'll be mailing them out in the coming weeks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Photo Studio

Running a business requires me to wear many hats at the same time. I've been so busy with prep for the last two shows of the year that I almost forgot about another development thread that's about to become critical. I need matching, high quality photos of my work in order to move up to the next level of juried shows. And to get those photos, I can hire someone to shoot them or I can invest in a backdrop to shoot them myself. Of course, that's what I will choose. It saves money in the long run and gives me more flexibility to reshoot pieces as often as I need to meet new criteria.

Since I'm going to Portland this weekend, it's a perfect time to purchase the canvas for my new backdrop. I just need to know what size I'll need. So, I went into the portion of the basement that will house the photo studio and started mocking it up with a 12' chunk of canvas that I already had.

In the end I decided that an 8'x12' backdrop will be perfect. I can pull the walls in for better light bounce on tall subjects like ruanas and push them out for wide subjects like shawls.

Thankfully, Audrey just finished an MFA in painting so she can paint the photo studio gradient on the canvas once I get it here. There may not be time to paint it for my first set of applications so those may go out with an unpainted seamless backdrop. It's still way more professional than what I have now!

It seems strange to spend time on the day before I leave doing something other than organizing things for the show, but this is important stuff, too. It's so much easier to find things like a seamless 8x12 canvas backdrop in a city than it is out here in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The purple cloth is happening fast!

The Autumn show season has seriously depleted the inventory and the studio move ate up the time that we needed to replenish it. So now, yet again, we're rushing to catch up. The uncluttered holiday show season should be enough time to refill the inventory shelves, but right now we've got to get enough done that the racks are full this coming weekend for the Invitational Artisan Fair at Trinity Episcopal in Portland.

For my next color I've chosen a navy and purple combo. This lets me weave cloth that looks bright blue, dark blue, or many variations on purple.

There are now three of us working in the new basement studio. I weave the cloth, Wispr stitches the ends, I wash and dry it, Audrey cuts the garments apart, and Wispr sews the cloaks. It's real teamwork in action!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bäversnaps, an Unusual Swedish Liqueur

And now for something even more different than the last post...

In trying to locate resources on how to process beaver scent sacs, castors, to make perfume from them, I kept running into sites in Swedish talking about a drink made from them. I found it hard to believe, but I've pieced together enough of the story to share it. Thank goodness that I have enough experience with Germanic languages to get the hang of written Swedish. I still can't understand a word of it when it's spoken at full speed.

Many Scandinavian people have a strong tradition of drinking small amounts of strong liqueur during a meal. In Swedish, they're called Snaps, in German it's Schnapps. In Sweden and Denmark especially, there's a related tradition of distilling the liqueur at home or flavoring a simple aquavit with herbs grown at home.

And, believe it or not, Castoreum is one of the flavorings that people use.

Here are the original pages that gave me the most information:
Bäverhojt, of course! A must-have for every holiday table.
Mix the castoreum with spirits.
Let it sit for at least a month, add to more brandy and it's ready to drink!
Tastes like the devil and smells like turpentine.
You will smell like beaver for a week afterward.
(This author is obviously not a fan, right?)
Once you have the glands, put them in 400 ml of 80 proof liquor in a glass jar.
Let stand for 4 months.
Strain the cloudy liquid through a filter twice.
This gives about 300 ml of essence.
For flavoring a 750 ml bottle of vodka, use between 5 and 15 ml, to taste.
One beaver can flavor 20-60 bottles of snaps.
If you drink the pure essence, people with an ordinary sense of smell will be able to detect it on you for two weeks.
The text is long-winded and doesn't really say anything new but shows some great photos, removing any doubt as to whether they were using the castors fresh or dried. These are fresh.
This article reinforces that 80 proof liquor should be used in the extraction (oops!) and that it takes several weeks to several months.
It does, however say one thing that I haven't heard elsewhere, which is that some malt whiskeys use castoreum.
It also says that the extraction should be done in a sunny window. I'll follow that thread in my research and see who else thinks so.

And, lest you think that Beaver Snaps is some kooky redneck thing, here's a review of the 25 best snaps in Sweden by Apéritif magazine.
"Tied for first place... [omitted] ...and BVT HJT, representing Bäverhojt, made with castoreum and tasting very good with hints of whiskey."

And, finally, here's my recipe:

1 pair of fresh Beaver Castors, about 1/4 lb
1 pint of 190 proof Everclear
Drop the Castors into a mason jar and cover with the Everclear.
Shake vigorously several times a day for the first week. This will drive most of the castoreum out of the sacs and into the liquid.
Let sit until the sharp head notes disappear. (I'll let you know when I know how long that takes and whether sun was better than shade.)

Then, to make the Snaps, I'll follow a conservative version of the Swedish recipe:
5 ml Castoreum Extract
75 ml unflavored vodka
Serve ice cold in chilled cordial glasses

Sooooo, when my back-woods culinary genius friends return from their wilderness adventure, I'll ask them to start thinking about a Swedish meal that would be complimented by Bäversnaps. I think my first batch will be ready by Spring. If other perfumer's reports are accurate and time removes the raw urinary notes that dominate the head of this essence right now, it will be left with a smell and flavor like whiskey, new leather and juicy fruit gum, all saturated with vanilla undertones. Yum!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holy Beaver! (Not for the squeamish)

And now for something completely different...

People who've known me a long time know that I have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. If you walk around with me, you'll watch me locate and identify flowers, plants, mushrooms, and animals by smell way before we can see them. Not only can I smell them, but I derive deep pleasure from unusual fragrances. This week, for instance, I was in the bay area for about 12 hours, but I slipped away for to walk a few blocks and visit an osmanthus shrub that I knew would have at least a few little flowers on it.

I ran an essential oil company for a few years, mostly to give me access to high quality natural perfume ingredients. There are many things that you can only buy in quantities of over $100. This becomes feasible when I sell most of it and keep a tiny bit for myself.

And, in all of the time that I ran that little company and formed relationships with fragrance ingredient vendors, I could not get my hands on high quality, unadulterated animal musks. Most of them are illegal, and for good reason. Others are legally obtainable, but so rare that I could never afford them. And then there's one that comes from local sources, is legally obtainable, but still evaded me, mostly because I was living in a city. It's beaver musk, also known as castoreum.

You can find this stuff online, but I am very wary of this kind of stuff. There's so much deceit in the perfume world. I've heard many horror stories of people paying lots of money for ingredients only to receive the items and have them obviously adulterated. Musk pods are scraped clean and filled with synthetic musk-soaked styrax grains or worse.

For years, I've kept my eyes and ears open for access to the original source - the trappers themselves. Finally, at one of the shows in the mountains of Oregon, I met a fur trader who deals with local trappers. I asked if he could get access to castor pods and he was neither shocked nor resistant to my request. His response? "You want Beaver Castors? I can get you as many as you want!"

Let me tell you a little about these things. The beaver uses this substance to mark territory and attract a mate. The glands are typically dried and allowed to age for a number of years before being used.

Like many "animalic" perfume ingredients, a little goes a long way. In high concentrations, this stuff smells like a full bucket of male cat spray that's started to rot.

When I bought them, I expected them to have been dried already. These were not dried at all. They were as fresh as a package of grocery store liver, with liquid in the vacuum bag and everything. I don't retch easily, but I almost lost my lunch when I opened the package and stuck my nose in it. I really should have known better.

The magic of animal musks happens when they are diluted. When I set the open package on the ground and walked about twenty feet away, the fragrance was incredible! It's like vanilla syrup, juicy fruit gum, pine tar, and wet leaves all mixed together. It's delicate, powdery, and pervasive all at once. This is why castoreum has been used in many of the most expensive perfumes on the market for over 100 years.

Since they were so fresh and had already spent a couple of days in the mail, it was important that I get them preserved IMMEDIATELY! I dropped one pair into Everclear right away in case something happened to the others. I knew that 190 proof alcohol would prevent them from rotting.

To dry the others, I decided to try the food dehydrator. This took a little negotiating with the household since there's a chance that it will be permanently scented like beaver butt. We decided that if it was, I would get the house a new one. On the other hand, I think that adding a little beaver musk to our dried fruit might be AMAZING. Read about Kopi Luwak if you think I'm crazy.

Thankfully, we have a drying shed on our property. It's a little screened in cabin with electricity to run the dehydrator. I put one pair of castors into it and plugged it in last night. The others went into the freezer until I knew whether the dehydrator would work.

I weighted it down with a rock to keep wild critters out of it in the night.

I awoke this morning to find that our whole valley smells like castoreum and that the pair I put in last night were drying up nicely. I was so impressed with the results that I pulled the others out of the freezer and put them into the dehydrator this morning.

Tonight, I think the pair that was in overnight will be dried up and ready to age. The others will get sealed up again tonight and put out to dry in the morning. In reading about how fond animals are of this fragrance, I don't want to take a chance with coyotes, bears, fox, bobcats, mountain lions, wood rats, elk, deer, or anybody else deciding that they want to get into the drying shed and steal my beautiful castors.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Road Trip For New Looms

(Scroll down for pictures. There's lots of story first...)

Starting a business is tough. Starting a business without adequate financial backing is even tougher. Starting a business without financial backing in the midst of global financial crisis is really, REALLY tough. But I'm doing it anyhow, and it's working for the most part.

I have an exciting story to tell, but I want to frame the context first... This past Summer, I hosted a Kickstarter project and raised about $5,000. Over the last few months, I've been able to trickle out the rewards to many of the people who supported me. Many others are still waiting for their rewards to arrive. I've never explained myself because I expected that I would have them all out by now. There is one major thing that's slowing down the shipment of rewards: inventory flow.

In order to have my shows be successful, I need to make sure that I have enough inventory on the racks. And for a while, I was out at shows every weekend and didn't have the time to make as much stuff as I wanted. It was totally out of balance, in favor of capitalizing on the shows that I had already committed to. When I started the season, I didn't really understand that there would be a narrow window when the shows were happening and the weather was right for my stuff. This meant that I had no choice but to deplete my inventory to get stuff out to customers at the right time.

Another factor in this has been "production bottleneck". I have only one loom. That loom takes 100 hours to set up for weaving. During this time, no cloth is being produced. This greatly contributed to the depletion of my inventory. Others in the collective can weave the cloth and sew the garments, but nobody but me can make the design decisions and set up the loom. I'm also the only one who can go out and sell, so the production really suffered for a while.

And then there's cash flow. When I earn money at shows, I need to look at how to spend that money to solve the most pressing problems in the business. This is the crux of my work as a business owner.

So, this season I made a few hard decisions with my eyes on the long term...

  1. upgraded the van to be a dependable mode of transport

  2. stocked up on yarn

  3. moved the studio into the basement of our house to cut rent in half

  4. bought two new looms

And this brings me to the exciting meat of this post - a grueling transportation adventure to bring two production looms home.

This part of the story actually started a while ago. I posted in various weaving forums that I was looking for a second 60" production dobby loom. Well, I found one in North Carolina. The price was right. Even if I spent $1,000 to get it out here, it would cost less than buying one reconditioned from AVL. Awesome, right?

It took a few months for it all to come together. I had settled on a plan: take Greyhound out there, rent a UHaul to bring the loom back to Greyhound and pay to ship the loom home again using Greyhound Package Express. The total bill was $1,000 plus 7 days of my time. The money I expected, but the time away from the studio was tough to allocate. I did it, though, and then something happened with Greyhound. They gave me a confirmation, but never charged me and my ticket never appeared in their system. The time came for my trip and I couldn't go without paying an extra $600 for a rush ticket. No way!

And then, I got a response to an ad I had put on Craigslist. A man with mechanical expertise was driving out here from there. He was willing to break down the loom, wrap it in palette plastic and bring it to Northern California if I paid for his gas. Yes!

In the meantime, another loom appeared. A friend emailed to tell me that a 48" AVL production loom had appeared on Craigslist for REAL CHEAP and that she would loan me the money if I didn't have it. And it's true, I didn't have it.

I decided to get this loom, even though it's incompatible with my others for one good reason. It wasn't long ago that I was an apprentice and I remember one frustrating reality: that I was unable to exert any creative control. Well, we're a collective here, and that dynamic feels even worse. This new loom is on permanent loan to Wispr. He'll be able to play to his heart's content and develop his own style and his own line of products if he so desires. We'll work out the finances of it, but this looks like a great way to help him to get financially and creatively independent from me and my weaving.

And finally, after much planning and financial sorcery, the whole plan came together. I sent gas money to the man who was driving my loom out here. While he was driving, I made my travel arrangements. I would rendezvous with him in Yuba City, put one loom in my van, and go to sleep at a friend's house for the night. Then I'd leave early in the morning and drive to Santa Rosa, break down and pack the second loom, and drive over the mountains and home again. It would be a 36 hour trip and cost another few hundred dollars in gas.

And, that's just what happened! The only unexpected part was that I picked up some travellers on the way down and helped to support the occupy movement in the bay area. It was nice to have company and lively conversation for the drive down. I didn't take pictures of the two snowstorms, the traffic, or any of the beautiful scenery, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

What's next?

Well, I've got to get the blue/purple cloth ready to weave. And then, while Wispr and I take turns weaving on it, I'll be using the second loom to warp and thread the sandstone cloth. So this time, instead of 2-3 weeks of downtime between beams, the next batch will be ready to weave as soon as the first one is done. And that's how it'll be from now on. The increased efficiency will ensure that I don't run short on inventory again any time soon. And, it'll let me use the money from the next show to pay for the small loom and ship out the rest of the Kickstarter rewards before Christmas.

And, as has been the case since I started this venture, I don't have two pennies to rub together, but I have invested the money that I did have to create greater opportunity for the flow of abundance in the near future.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Photographing Color

Here's a video to do two things: show the color of my next batch of cloth and demonstrate why photographing this stuff is a nightmare.

When you watch it you'll notice that the beam looks pure blue when photographed from a distance even though the closeup shots show that it's about 50% purple. Weird, huh?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cutting, Sewing and Storage

The temporary basement studio is coming together! Today I put in another gigantic set of shelves to hold cloth and finished merchandise. Each shelf is a full 8x4 sheet of plywood. This storage area will also serve as a communication center, letting the cutter and the tailor see exactly what work there is to do.

This picture is extremely distorted because the space is so long and skinny. I had my back against a wall to take it.

As you look from left to right, you can see the 8' cutting table through the cloth shelf. Then comes the sewing work table, the sewing machine, and finally the yarn storage shelf. Behind the yarn shelf is a 6x8 general storage area.

And here's another view to show the size. On the far right you can see the shear wall on one side of the main weaving area. And yes, the sewing area really is that bright. It's nice when sewing to be able to see very well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Studio Move

I'll write another post to talk about why, but here are some pictures of what I've been doing.

The new Serpentine Arts & Crafts Collective has finally found a home to rent for the Winter. One thing that made it easier to afford is the fact that there's room for my weaving studio in the basement.

This truck contains the possessions of 3 people and half of my storage unit.

I left half a day late for Hood River so that I could be there for moving day and celebrate with the community for one evening. When I returned from that show, three of them had left for a two-month camping trip. Did I mention that teaching forest skills will be a big part of our new collective's work?

Next, I had to kludge together a "good enough for now" sewing studio. The reserves of garments are getting low and I've still got two shows this year.

Then came the lighting. The new studio has no natural light so I needed to bring in a lot of light in a hurry. I chose fluorescent, not because I like it, but because of the cost of fixtures and utilities.

Then came storage. The basement has a tendency to be a moist environment. Even though this one is dry and contains a wood-fired furnace that heats it before heating the house, I still need to have all yarn and inventory inside of plastic boxes.

Stacks of boxes make access difficult, so I sought out some shelving. What I found was the right price, but HUGE. Each shelf will take an 8x4 sheet of plywood to finish it and hold 10 boxes when it's done. That's 40 boxes of yarn on one shelf. I got another one that I'll be using for finished cloth and merchandise inventory.

And all the while, I was traveling to work every day and bringing home one vanload of studio every night. You see, I needed to finish winding the deep purple beam before I could move it. I'll post good pictures as soon as I can.

Here's the studio two days ago with the beam all wound and ready to move.

And then, yesterday was the final moving day. I wouldn't have made it if it hadn't been for Wispr. There just aren't enough hours in a day. While I took apart the loom, he removed the air conditioner, packed the first vanload, swept the storage space, spackled the walls, and more. After a 3:00 lunch at home, we went back to move the loom and got it all in the house by dark.

You may have noticed one theme in all of this... Every time I turn around there is more startup cost for the business. It's rapidly depleting the reserves, but there's really no choice. The reduction in rent and space for more people to help with weaving will make it up soon enough, but for now it's a little harrowing to spend so much money.