13 March 2009

Creative Hiatus

As my last semester as an academic winds down, I've found that a creative hiatus has been forced upon me. Instead of hooking and designing, I'm briefing and researching. I graduate in less than two months with a J.D. and an M.P.A. After that, the grueling process of studying for the Colorado bar exam begins. Somehow, I don't think I'll be able to really get creative until July 30: the day after the bar exam.

In the meantime, I do have a wee bit of good news. I'm still getting custom orders in, which gives me just enough creative inspiration to not go stagnant. I'm still teaching classes, and one of my students is advancing far enough that I'm designing custom projects for her to complete. She will soon advance to the point we'll need to sit down and figure out if I'm her teacher or her designer. And I was just approved as a Stunt Stitcher for Stitch Diva. I'm really excited about that gig; test crocheting new designs or recreating existing ones for trade shows. So exciting.

My only big creative plan to fill the gap between now and the bar (besides filling custom orders) is to submit some patterns to publishers. If I can get even one published, that would make my creative year.

I don't anticipate blogging very much until after the bar, but those brief moments when I do, I'm sure I'll be sharing something special.

Until then, dear readers,

18 January 2009

Do-Gooding with a Kapital K

Ah, Kiva. If you haven't heard of it yet, then you are living under a rock with no web access. Seriously, though, Kiva is the leading microlending site on the web, empowering regular ol' folks (read: people like me) to give give personal loans to people who need a little bit of money (read: usually between $200-$800 USD) to get their business (read: livelihood and means of survival) where it needs to be. There are no real banks involved, and the money comes from regular ol' folks who give $25+ USD a pop until the loan is funded. When the loan gets repaid, the money sits in your Kiva account as a credit, waiting to help another person in need. Oh, and you, the lender, get paid interest. As if you were a bank, and as if you would do this to make $0.17 USD off of the $25 USD you lent out.

I love Kiva. I love the time they take to partner with reputable organizations. I love the team fundraising aspect (although I always have a tough time picking which of my teams will get my funding credit). I love that repayments get fed back into Kiva, ready to help another person. I love the community aspect. I love that you can read about the things your loan went to that helps someone a thousand miles away. Kiva just flat out rocks.

And it costs less than getting a venti Caramel Macchiato twice a week at Starbucks. So why not build up your karma and do something good for the world, and perhaps your waistline, and visit Kiva today.

28 December 2008

RAINN-drops keep falling on my head...

GoogleAlerts is quite amazing. Give it a set of search parameters to look for, and it will email you every time those parameters whenever the GoogleBots find whatever it is you're looking for, you get an email. Brilliant!

This morning, I woke up to an email GoogleAlerts. It wanted me to know that CurrentVine.com, a blog dedicated to "fast and fun doses of entertainment," had featured my online fiber arts store because I'm a RAINNmaker. Check out the mini-feature on my store and how to make your own contributions to RAINN.

Thank you, GoogleBots, for spreadin' the news, and thank you, Dear Reader, for supporting RAINN.

27 December 2008

Noro! Noro!

I've had my eye on Noro yarns for quite some time. They have a "look" about them that is, for the most part, unique. Yes, there are other manufacturers that make varigated yarns, and yes, some of those manufacturers make self-striping yarn, and yes, some of those manufacturers make long-repeat self-striping yarn, but no one does smooth color gradation quite like Noro.

For those of you who don't know, Noro is a Japan-based company that makes minimally-processed, hand-dyed yarns. The yarn that made them famous in the hand-knitting (and crocheting!) world is Kureyon, a 100% wool yarn. This is a "love it or hate it" yarn. Haters cite the VM ("vegetable matter") that comes from the lack of processing, the scratchiness, the knottiness, the price, and the random color splices. Lovers cite just one thing: the color.

It took me months to finally break down and try it. I bought several skeins from yarn swappin' Ravelers on the cheap. Kureyon tends to run about $8/skein, and I picked up my first batch at $6/skein, including shipping. I got 10 skeins of colorway 150, which is a grey/blue/white/lavender/green colorway. Not my favorite colors (too cool - I'm an autumn!), but a good way to start with the yarn.

I found out a few things. The VM wasn't any worse than handspun, hand-processed yarns, so that didn't bother me (in fact, I'd rather have more VM/less processing than the other way around - check out Blackberry Ridge Wool Mill for more information about wool processing). I got through all 10 skeins with nary a knot or color-splicing issue. I didn't find the yarn any more scratchy than an average wool, and the scratchiness went away with a brief soak in Eucalan Wool Wash. And, despite this being the worst colorway for me, I still loved the colors. So, I got more. A few previews from my Ravelry Yarn Stash:

As you can tell, I'm sold on Noro. Love it. I find it easy to spit-splce the ends if I want continuous color (or just to avoid weaving ends, which is a major motivator). The colors are amazing. Non-fiber artists are amazed at the color and think I have some sort of magical skill with yarn when they see the finished product. It comes in amazing colorways. Even the strange colorways are still amazing because they manage to blend them all together in a seamless way.

I've worked several projects now in Kureyon, but my favorite has to be hats. It makes amazing hats that get rave reviews. Best of all, since it's 100% wool, it's even for the outdoorsy-types who need a solid hat that can handle dirt and wetness while still remaining warm and feeling dry. I made a few helmets for my husband, and he loves them. Here's a few pictures for you to enjoy:

He said he'd pay about $45 for them, but in my pricing calculator, even at the highest margin, they come to $40 at the most. Amazing...

Anyway, my love for Noro continues to grow, especially since I just discovered Silk Garden. All the gorgeousness of Kureyon with the silkiness of, well, silk. I'm sure I'll be creating more with it in the very, very near future!

22 December 2008

Light my fire

I've been told that one of the first rules of online sales is not to put all of your proverbial eggs is one proverbial basket. You should spread the love, so to speak.

I've been on Etsy for nearly two years now, and while I love Etsy (and will probably never leave), the site is growing faster than the developers and administrators are able (or willing) to keep up with. Some very basic functionality - multiple image upload and better search capability are two that come to mind - is completely missing, and there is a U.S.-centric focus that, even for someone in the U.S., is somewhat appalling. As a seller with over 1/3 of my business coming from overseas, I have a strong interest in making the "international site" truly international.

And so I've been searching for other avenues since I started on Etsy. PinkPurpleOrange. Dwanda. Mintd. All have great features, but they all seem to have one or more of the major Etsy pitfalls as well. Ebay Stores are out of my price range, and I don't want to reduce my work to bids and auctions. Having my own site is economical, but a programming nightmare for someone who is spread so thin. It seemed like Etsy was my only option.

Enter Artfire. The site is only in beta, the interface is still a little clunky, but it already has a zillion more features, one-step listing that takes less than 5 minutes a listing (you mean, I don't have to block out an hour of my time to list 2 items?), flat-rate billing, seller stats (what? I want to know where my traffic comes from?), and polite customer service. I couldn't resist - I had to sign up. The customer service and flat-rate billing alone are reasons to branch out. I've heard others say that Etsy had great customer service back in the day, but I've used site archives. It looks like RevolvingDork was a jerk from day one. And Artfire has someone on the site, blogging, or tweeting all day long, helping out others. Artfire actually advertises its site (wow - advertising to bring in traffic - what a concept). I feel like I have nothing to lose.

And so, you can find me on Etsy and Artfire now. Only time will tell how things will play out, but at least I have my eggs in different baskets now. If you'd like to "diversify" too, register on ArtFire.com here.

17 December 2008

"Where my stitches at?"

Another semester is winding down, and I just finished entering in my end-of-year financials. I can't believe 2009 is just two weeks away! I suppose y'all have been wondering where I've been this year; my blog has been conspicuously dormant throughout 2008. Rather than provide you with excuses, I thought I'd give a recap of the year, and let you decide.

2008 ushered in the toddlerhood of my daughter, which has made crafting, er, interesting. Gabby loves to play with my ball winder, is fascinated with unspun roving, and things center-pull balls of yarn are hours of entertainment that end with Mami pulling out her hair and attempting to extricate Gabby from a hundred-yard pile of tangled $25/skein mohair blend. Not to be outwitted, I taught Gabs how to actually use the ball winder and swift, and put a crochet hook in her hand. She can't chain yet, but she'll get there soon.

I've been blessed that my mother-in-law has taken up spinning again full-force. She's a fiber gal, born and bred (her daddy invented the CVM breed of sheep - renowned for both its fleece quality and its yumminess). She even put herself through college breeding and showing sheep! But I digress. She's taken up the wheel and I get a steady stream of handspun yumminess. Of course, this yarn, for the most part, has languished in my stash, but I have it nonetheless.

That isn't to say that I haven't been productive. Between law school and finishing my masters degree, I've found time to make my hooks happy. I've actually busted through quite a bit of my stash with my new favorite project: arm warmers. I love them. They're cute. They're fast. They're versatile. They make great gifts. Yay Arm Warmers! I've made lots of them to date - Ravelry lists 10, but I've made several more.

A few of my arm warmers, as taken on my iSight camera (hence the cruddy quality):

And speaking of Ravelry, I'm addicted. The number one reason why I haven't blogged that much here is because I'm doing my project synopses on Ravelry. I love it. I love the linking and the sharing and the rating and seeing all the other cool things people are doing. BUT - I just found out that only Ravelers can view you on Ravelry, which means that the great big Internet (including you, faithful blog reader) can't read my "Lessons Learned" from my projects. I think I've come up with a happy medium: post all the yarnie detail on Ravelry, and display finished items and general overviews here on my regular blog. That way, if you want the Knitty Gritty detail, you can check out my Ravelry crochet project notebook.

I've also been churning out lots of scarves. I've had a ton of yarn that's just been languishing in my stash. Orphans from bargain bins. Mismatched lots. Pretty yarns I just couldn't resist buying but didn't have a use for. I busted out about 20 scarves, and I sold most of them at Handmade Militia this past weekend.

Hats are another big thing. I've been working on expanding my line to be more unisex. I made several male-centric hats that have been very popular with the guys in my life. I figure I'll make a few more before I call it quits (for awhile). Unfortunately, guys are boring to crochet for. Dull colors, simple designs... they hate fringe and curliques and can't understand why it matters if I use a slip stitch or crab stitch on the edge of the beanie.

I haven't felted much lately, mainly because we don't have our own washer. I have to go to my mother-in-law's to complete felting. Although we get along, this just isn't something I have a lot of time for. Felting in her ancient machine takes a long time (like, 6 cycles). So I've avoided it. Unfortunately, I found out at Handmade Militia that my felted baby booties are still wildly popular, so it looks like I'll be busting my feltable wool stash on more booties. Le sigh...

Teaching and designing have also picked up a bit. I'm still teaching over at TACTile, but I've expanded to private lessons. I love that. I've also started designing, and some of my designs are available either on Ravelry or in my Etsy Shop. I'm submitting a few designs to Interweave Press for next year's Fall edition - keep your fingers crossed for me!

And finally, life in general. I'm still in the Navy - I was selected to the JAG Corps this November, and now I'm hoping and praying my actual commissioning goes through. I'm still in law school and still working towards a Masters. With luck, I"ll be done in May. I'm still a full-time Mommy, and I still do my best to make time for my dear husband. So life has been hectic. But I'm still here, still hookin', and still loving this thing called fiber art.

My resolution for the new year (well, the one related to Kastroll Kreations) is to blog at least once a week. To keep in touch with you, Dear Reader, for it's you that this blog really exists for.

'Til next blog,

12 December 2008

Handmade Militia

Happy Friday!

In a little over 24 hours, I will make the (short) trek north to Fort Collins, where I will join a battallion (okay, it's more like a detail) of crafty folks who want to help you give unique, awesome, handmade gifts that support real people (like me!).

Handmade Militia will be at Gallery Underground in Old Town Fort Collins. The official address is at 109 Linden Street, but Google Maps freaks out with that address. Better to go to the intersection of Mountain and College, find the Avery Building's Big White Statute, and walk down the stairs to the show. The show goes from 1100 - 1900 (that's 11:00AM to 7:00PM for you non-militant folk), and will feature some fabulous artists.

As always, I will be donating 10% of my gross sales to RAINN, the national sexual assault advocacy center.

Buy handmade this holiday season!