Friday, November 29, 2013

Product review: Ceramic Watercolor Art by Faith Givings

Happy Purple Weekend!  The first day of my open house was a bit slower than we hoped for, but it was still fun and well worth the time to rearrange the living room and dining room.  We're open again tomorrow ("Small Business Saturday", as American Express calls it) from 10-5.  If you're anywhere near the Milwaukee area, please click here for my newsletter, which contains all the information on this weekend's show and the two shows I'm doing in December.

Since I blog on Fridays, and since I have a house full of Faith's ceramics, I thought it would be a perfect time to show you what she makes and tell you a bit about how she makes it all.  She might write a guest blog showing some of the process as we create a piece made with a bay leaf I used to make soup with this Thanksgiving.  Intrigued?  Stay tuned after the holidays!  Well, continue to stay tuned throughout the holiday season, but this project won't get started until the hustle and bustle is over.

I first met Faith at the Bead&Button Show.  I noticed she had an ad in the program that said if you say, "Nice buttons," you get 50% off.  I had to see if they really were nice buttons.  They were, but I bought an iris pin and a cat pendant instead.  No big surprise for either of those.  We chatted for a long time, and we have since become friends.  My dad saw her at another show, and they got to talking, and they ended up talking about me.  I hope they said all good things!  :D

Faith makes a wide variety of ceramic products: ornaments, pins, pendants, tiles that can be hung on a wall (because "hangable" supposedly isn't a word), serving trays, buttons, and probably other items.  She has so many, I wouldn't be able to keep track of them all, even if I was the artist!

Here's how our Christmas tree looks right now:

While there are a few ornaments I made on the tree, the vast majority of them are Faith's.  She brought so many that I had to put some of them on a separate table!  Here is one of the ornaments close up:

Each of her ornaments is packaged on a sturdy card, very securely so you don't have to worry about the item coming off before you're ready.  On the front she gives a list of what she makes, and on the back she tells you about what she does:

The process begins in my garden...

With my grandmother's rolling pin, I press freshly picked real flowers & intricate leaves, along with my original handcarved designs, into fine, white clay.  You might see me in the garden, in my little studio, or in the wavy patchwork of sunlight where the magnolia and ginkgo branches meet, at the big old picnic table in my Wisconsin backyard.

During a 6-8 week long process, I gather local perennial favorites, wildflowers, & occasional "volunteers".  I carefully press, dry, & sand each one, glaze by hand with my signature "watercolor" technique, & kiln-fire each piece twice.  I make one piece at a time, by hand, and am honored to have you choose my work for your home or for gift giving.

Wow!  That's pretty impressive, isn't it?  Let's see some more of her ornaments, shall we?

Here are some Wisconsin ornaments:

She has other locations, too, like New York and San Fransisco.  There are more locations in her Etsy shop.

Here are a few inspired by nature:

She even brought a few holiday/winter-related ornaments, such as a holly wreath, a snowman, and a Star of David.  Here's a very cute Christmas tree:

Here's one that's right up our household's alley:

 "EXTERMINATE standard holiday decorations!"

(For the uninitiated, that's a Dalek from Doctor Who.  Also, this one's been purchased - by us - so if you'd like one, you'll have to ask her to make one for you.  She can do different colors, although Steve says, "Purple isn't canon.  We can't have a purple Dalek."  Spoil sport.)

That's enough of the ornaments.  Here are some buttons:

Yes, that big Wisconsin one is a button.  You'd need a huge buttonhole for it, or you could even sew it on some fabric and frame it.  That'd be very pretty.

Here are some pins:

She brought some pendants, too.  She has them on rubber necklaces and put them in organza bags in such a way that the pendants can be seen pretty clearly, and the whole thing can be hung on hooks.  I was all set to take them all out of the bags, but Steve noticed the necklace loops.  He's smarter than I am.

The one other type of product I have to show you are her hangable tiles.  I don't care if spell check says it's not a word, I'm using it anyway.

You can really see the pressed flowers and leaves on the tiles.  They're so pretty, and the colors are just gorgeous.

I think the thing I like best about Faith's items is the colors.  Most of them are muted and look like watercolors.  She does have some more vibrant colors, but they don't overpower the pieces.  They all look natural.  Her original designs are interesting and intricate, and the colors compliment them nicely.

"But what about the quality, Traci?  Will I have to handle them with kid gloves?"  Good question, dear reader!  I wondered that myself, because the pieces I bought from her seemed very fragile.  She says that they're very durable, though.  It takes a lot to break them.  She produces an unbelievable number of pieces each year, and she says she's not very careful with them and only breaks about one a year.  Even so, I'm still not going to try to snap them in half just to prove I can't.  :)

So, now that you know all about Faith and what she does, here's how you can get in on the action:  If you come here tomorrow (here's that newsletter with the information again), she's offering a buy one, get one free sale.  The free one is of equal or lesser value, of course.  That's quite a deal!  Stock up for gifts, and justify getting items for yourself because they're free.  That's how my logic works, anyway.  If you are too far to come (or if you're pinned down under a bookshelf), you can check out her Etsy site, which has a number of items I don't have here.  There are a few coupon codes on her Facebook page, but you do have to look for them.  Think of it like a scavenger hunt, where you can see many pictures of other items on your way to finding the codes.

Thanks, Faith, for bringing so many beautiful items to my home and for allowing me to share your work with my friends and family!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Purple Weekend and stamped curtains

Hi, all!  Those of you who have gotten my newsletter and/or are my local friends on Facebook have heard plenty about my Purple Weekend open house (first blogged about here).  If you've missed it and are in the Milwaukee area, feel free to take a look at my newsletter for information on this show and the other two I'll be at this holiday season.

Steve and I are cleaning like mad people, and I'm even getting to that shelf above my desk that has been a mess for a very long time.

Frisco has been helping create more of a mess ever since he started going up in my window sill.  He likes to sit up here:

And flick things off of that little ledge when he isn't kicking them off trying to get up and down.  All the things on the left side came down, then he stretched over to the right side and started flicking things off there.  Then he decided to use my curtain as a hammock and take a nap:

There were little things all along this ledge.  Flick, flick!

Look at this adorable little face:

He's lucky he's cute.

Wait.  This is a craft blog, isn't it?  Not a craft (cat) blog?  Okay, then I'll tell you about the curtains Frisco is shown napping in.

They're regular off-white/natural curtains, and for some reason "cafe-style" sticks out in my head.  I bought them when I lived in Waukegan for my craft room/office there.  I took foam stamps and acrylic paint and stamped them.  Yup, I stamp everything I can get away with.

Here's a better picture of one of the curtains when it was in my last house:

I stamped two curtains, and they both look about the same.  You see the little splotches all over the place?  If I remember correctly, I accidentally made a splotch and decided to "dot up" the rest of the curtain.

The words are "Inspire", "Laugh", "Create", "Love" (behind the bin in the above picture), and "Dream".  The shapes are corners, moons, stars, flowers, swirls, cats (of course), and other miscellaneous things.

I had a really good time making them and am glad that I could hang them in my new home.  Even though I can't see everything, they fit in with the style I want for my studio.

Now that I think about it, I can draw the curtains when the sun shines through in the late afternoon.  Huh.  I never considered that.  I usually squint or leave the room.

Ahem.  Anyway.  I think this would be a good project you can do with your kids if you need to change their curtains.  Don't need new curtains?  How about a tote bag?  Don't have kids?  Well, that didn't stop me.  I had a grand ol' time stamping away.  It doesn't take too long, and if you're thrifty you can find the foam stamps at a good price.  The paints aren't expensive, either.  Just make sure you get washable paints if you're using them on fabric. 

I gotta run.  That shelf isn't going to clean itself (or it would have done so by now)!  Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you local folks on Friday and/or Saturday!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Vistaprint for small businesses

I'm a little hesitant about writing a review of an online store because we really all should be supporting our local businesses if at all possible.  However, I've checked into the prices for some of the items I'm going to show you at local businesses, and there's no way I could afford them.  So, before we begin I'd like to recommend that before you purchase anything from Vistaprint, check your local printing businesses and support them if you can.  Now I feel a little better.  :)

When I decided to start my business I knew I needed business cards.  Everyone needs business cards, right?  I saw the ads for Vistaprint and decided to check them out.  They frequently have sales for free business cards or other products (you only pay shipping and processing), and you can't go wrong with free.

Vistaprint has a number of designs to choose from, and you can just plug in your information.  Here's one I found particularly tempting:

I've gotten this design when I tried out their free hat and a notebook.  It's cute, but I've never been one to use a design others could also use.  That works for many people, and that's great, but it does not work for me.

Fortunately Vistaprint has the capability to upload images, and they provide templates you can use in Photoshop so you have the right resolution.  If you try using an image with too small of a resolution, it's not going to look right in the final product.  It'll be all choppy and pixelated.  Also, the templates give you guides so you can make sure nothing will be cut off.  Having flowers cut off is artistic - having your phone number cut off means you'll lose business.

Here's an example of the business card template:

You'd want to keep your info inside the light blue frame.

I downloaded the template and created my full business card in the graphic, and it was perfect when I received it.  I've changed the information on my business card a few times, and each time I uploaded a new graphic before purchasing.

Something important to keep in mind: sometimes you have to pay an upload fee to use your own graphic in place of their designs.  It's around $5 or less, and sometimes there are sales that waive the upload fee.

Here's my current business card:

Based on this style (which I completely created in Photoshop), I downloaded more templates and designed a number of product images so my business has a cohesive look.  If you use choose to use one of their designs (like the purple butterfly/flower I showed you above), you can keep using that for all of your marketing items.

The first thing I bought after the business cards was a banner:

Anyone who walks by knows exactly whose table it is.  The banner doesn't come with holes, so I used my Crop-a-dile and punched holes and put eyelets (grommets) in the corners.  I hang it on the tablecloth with safety pins.

I also use business cards oriented vertically for earring cards.  I designed the graphic not only to have my "look" and basic information but also with two periods where I want to punch the holes:

I punch holes where the periods are, put on sticky earring card adapters (found here on the Fire Mountain Gems website), affix my pricing labels, and put the earrings and backings on.  Here's how that looks:

My first attempt had the earring hole guides (the periods) wide enough so the adapter fit between the holes, but while they look low enough, sometimes the earring wires interfere with hanging on the rack.  For my second order, I lowered the guides about 5mm, which will hopefully solve that problem.  (The first earring card picture is the new card, and the other pictures are with the old cards.)

If you want an earring rack like is pictured above, check out this blog entry for how you can make it yourself.

Vertical business cards can also be used as product cards for pieces that don't go on earring racks:

I cut them apart, affix my pricing labels, punch holes, and tie them onto the pieces:

My first attempt had seven product cards to each business card, but that was one too many.  On most of the product cards I had to trim my pricing labels, and that was a pain in the tuckus.  Tukus?  Ass.  It was a pain in the ass.  It lengthened the time it took me to label my pieces, and I had these little sticky slivers I had to deal with.  The new cards as shown in the first picture have six product cards to each business card, and that should work a lot better.

When I'm at shows, especially outdoors ones where I sell my magnets, I like putting magnets on my car doors to advertise my business:

I'm hoping that people will come up and say, "Hey - I love those red flowers on your car!  Can you make some for me?"  That hasn't happened yet, though.  Still, I think the magnets help me look professional.

Here's that magnet closer up:

It's simple - my logo, company name, my name, and the website.  It's the same as the banner but sized appropriately for the size and resolution of the magnet.

I'll show you one final thing, although Vistaprint has an unbelievable number of items you can purchase with your logo or other information on it (pens, shirts, hats, tote bags, flash drives, etc.).

You may have read about (or heard me talk about or picked up my flyer at a show for) my Purple Weekend open house I'm having on Black Friday and that Saturday.  If by chance you know nothing, you can read about it here.  I'll be posting more about it on Tuesday.  Anyway - I wanted lawn signs so people would know whose house is open and not wander into my neighbors' houses.  I priced these at a local shop, but for only two signs, it would have cost over $60.  The prices get better for volume orders like politicians would buy.

I was considering making my own signs with my Cricut to save even more money than the $24.98 a piece (for full color on both sides) I was going to have to pay on Vistaprint (plus shipping), but an e-mail with a wonderful sale came in.  Woo hoo!  I quickly designed my lawn sign to be generic enough for this open house and future ones:

While Vistaprint has good prices on the actual items (especially when they're having a sale), they do have high shipping and processing costs.  I figure it all evens out in the end.  If you're lucky, you can hit a sale like I did recently where many of the individual items were on sale, and there was free 7 day shipping on orders over $50.  I loaded up on the lawn signs, holders for the signs, another magnet for the car (since one of them went missing), new earring cards, and new product cards.

The quality of the items I've purchased from Vistaprint has always been excellent, and their shipping is usually quicker than they estimate.  If you're looking for business cards and all the marketing materials needed to look professional, I can't recommend Vistaprint enough.  I do suggest that you create an account there and look in the e-mails for sales before purchasing to help your dollar stretch even further.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Mom's bezeled earrings (finally)

Whew!  What a busy weekend I had!  The comedy show at Karma Bar and Grill was fun - the food was good, and the comedians were pretty funny.  The chairs, however, were extremely uncomfortable.  If you go, bring a pillow.  :)

The Jewelry at the Domes show was good, but the weather was horrible.  Sunday there were tornado sirens, but we only had rain and high winds.  Not fun for packing up and loading the car, and the weather affected how many people turned out.  Some brave souls did show up, and we were all glad for that.

Now that my Triptych saga is over, I can finally show you the earrings I made for my mother's birthday that I told you about.

A number of years ago my friend Cindy showed me how to stitch around things without holes in them (typically called cabochons), which is called bezeling.  You use beads of two different sizes, and the smaller ones cinch up the ring so the focal piece doesn't fall out.  There's no glue involved, and it always amazes people that the center doesn't fall out.

Here's the first one I made:

The focal here is a polymer clay bicone that Cindy made.  It's so cute!  The necklace is tubular peyote and took forever.

I wanted to show you another bezeled piece I made, but it seems to have gone missing.  That's a little distressing, as it's my favorite necklace.  It has to be around here somewhere.  It's probably on my desk, which means I'll never find it.

Hmm.  Anyway.  I really like this technique because you can have fun with it.  You can add fringe around the outside edges, but my favorite thing to do is to just add nubs.

This necklace uses peanut beads and 15/0 seed beads as the nubs:

The necklace on that one is also tubular peyote, but with peanut beads it took a fraction of the time.  I loved this necklace, and I sold it last December.  I almost didn't want to give it up, but it has a good home.

Here's the necklace I made for my mother ages ago that precipitated making the earrings you will eventually see:

The center is a snowflake obsidian cabochon.  The nubs around the edge are the same 15/0 seed beads as are used to cinch up the bezel in the front and back.  The necklace is a spiral rope.

When I went shopping for appropriate snowflake obsidian cabochons for the earrings, I decided on 8mm rounds from Fire Mountain Gems.  They currently have some 10mm rounds and some ovals that would have worked, too, but I don't remember seeing them when I was shopping before.

Here is what they look like, unstitched:

I actually got one to stand up on its side!  Woo hoo!  As you can see, the front is domed, and the back is flat.  That would be fine for bead embroidery where you want the cabochon to lie flat on the material, but for a fully beaded bezel, that flat back can be a little tricky (more on that later).

I also found it hard to hold on to the little buggers while I was stitching them into the bezel.  8mm doesn't seem that small until it keeps flying out of your fingers.

Here (at long last) are the earrings I made for Mom:

I bezeled two cabochons for each earring and linked them by having one nub in common.  I could see the same technique used to link three of them for an interesting "pendant".

Here are earrings I made to sell with just one cabochon a piece:

I think they look like gears.

The basic construction of beaded bezels is a ring of tubular peyote with 11/0 Delicas to fit around the focal and one or more rings of 15/0 seed beads on each side.  Usually one round is enough, but if it's loose, then I use two rounds to make sure it's not going anywhere.  For these cabochons, though, I felt the flat back needed three rounds, but the piece was too small, and the beads were buckling.  I decided that looked like crap and took it out.  I tried again, skipping every other bead, and something interesting happened:

I got a little star on the back!  It's not perfect, because of the number of beads back there, but it's pretty darned close.  One of my friends told me she kinda preferred the back to the front.

Here are the most recent pieces I've bezeled:

The thing I like about these pieces is that I used a different color for the nubs, and I started adding them a row closer to the front than I usually do.  That gave the pieces a ridge which frames the stones nicely.

Do you have any bezeled cabochons you'd like to show off?  Send me an e-mail at with the picture, and I'll post about it!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Product review - Santa key from Oriental Trading Company

This will be the quickest review in history.  :)  Tomorrow and Sunday I'll be at the Mitchell Park Domes for our annual Jewelry at the Domes sale, and today I set my table up:

Tonight Steve and I are going to a comedy show we bought a Groupon for.  Busy busy busy!

But I have just enough time to review something I recently bought and to show you what I did with it.

I was flipping through the Oriental Trading Company catalog and found this:

Pewter Santa keys with this saying on the card:

If you have no chimney
on Christmas Eve,
Awaiting the presents
that Santa will leave,
Just hang this key
by the door for him,
And all the gifts
will be left within.
So cute, and so beadable!  They come in a pack of 12 for only $12.50.

Once you remove the card, it looks like this:

The back is flat, but that did not hinder my beading efforts, and the keys look to be very good quality.  I do wish the little dip in the middle of the loop wasn't there, but I don't think it will hang crooked.

I stitched two strips for the shaft of the key and one for the loop:

I did one in red with green nubs, too.  I think they're adorable, and I hope they sell!  If anyone wants to get the Keys for Santa from Oriental Trading Company, let me know at, and I'll send you guidelines for how I stitched the above key.

Since the key is pewter, it's probably best to not let any children suck on it.  Of course, you wouldn't let your children suck on jewelry anyway, so it's probably a moot point.

Off I go!  Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013 LBS Challenge - Part 4 - Finishing

This is the fourth and final installment of my 2013 LBS Challenge bracelet, "My Milwaukee: A Triptych".  If you missed the previous parts, you can catch up here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

For a quick refresher, here's the finished bracelet:

At the end of part 3, all of the bead embroidery on the bracelet was complete.  The backing needed to be stitched on, and all of the figures needed to be glued on.

First, though, I needed to finish the movie screen.  Steve had made me a screen out of styrene and painted the edges a dark gray:

I didn't take process shots of how to make the screen because, frankly, I was in a hurry and feeling a little frantic, since the piece was due that evening.  :)  What I did, though, was to take the Fish Fry and a Flick logo and print it small enough to fit in the screen.  I adhered it using scrapbooking adhesive (Mono, to be exact), and I brushed two coats of sealant over it.  You can see the final result here:

I'd like to say that a logo, book cover, or any copyrighted material should never be reproduced and used in a project to be sold.  Since I'm never going to sell this bracelet, I figured it was okay to use the logo.

After I set aside the screen to dry, I put the Ultrasuede backing on using my Mono adhesive again (next time I'll use E-6000):

I trimmed the backing to match the front, and I started stitching the three layers (Ultrasuede, interfacing, and Ultrasuede) together:

I believe this is a whip stitch.  I put some beads on and stitched from back to front, close enough that the beads were right next to the previous stitch's beads.  I think of it as a "roll stitch", but after doing some research, it appears to be a whip stitch.  Anyway, I like the look it gives to the piece, and it hides the interfacing very well.  Also, if you mess up like I did and trim a little too much from one side, you can hide your mistake by adding more beads.  No one will notice!  (Hopefully)

Once I got around to the left edge, I added the other halves of the snaps.  I figured it was better to get the hard stuff out of the way right away so I'd be less frantic later.  I was going to stitch the snaps only on the Ultrasuede backing (which would have been VERY easy), but Steve thought they would be more sturdy if I stitched through all layers.  He was right (of course).  Even though I won't be wearing the bracelet much it would be better if it was as sturdy as possible.  It was a bit difficult to do it without the thread showing on the front, but I think I succeeded.

Before continuing on with the rest of the edging, I tested the snaps to make sure they were in the right place:

Whew!  It fits!  You can see that one of the waves popped up again, and when I was done with that section of the edging, I glued it back down.

Here are a few more looks at the snaps and the edging-in-process:

One thing I really wanted to do was to sign the piece, but I couldn't because that would tip folks off during the Challenge voting that it was mine, and the pieces were all supposed to be anonymous.  I did the next best thing - I sewed this in between the layers:

So when this bracelet is found 500 years from now and someone super-X-rays it (or if it falls apart), they will know who made it, when it was made, and what it was called.  Yes, I like to dream big.  :)

Here's the bracelet after the edging was finished but before the figures and screen were glued on:

Here's the "movie-goer" section in process:

And here's the guy in the rowboat:

This figure was originally standing, but Steve cut the poor guy's legs off and glued them back on in such a way that he could sit down.  I think it looks really good!

Here's the whole middle section again:

I did have some problems with the screen and the standing guys staying standing, but that's because I didn't give the piece enough time to dry before moving it and because I used the wrong glue.  Fortunately I was able to glue them back on before the challenge voting, and I think they're still where they're supposed to be.  Once I get the piece home (after the Jewelry at the Domes show this weekend), I'll repair anything that's wobbly and let it sit in an acrylic case so it's protected.

Here's one final look at the other sections and with me wearing it:

It's been an absolute pleasure sharing my process with you.  I hope you've enjoyed it, too!