Friday, May 14, 2010

A violation of our privacy

Go here and type in your name.
If you are as freaked out over your listing as I was over mine:
cut and paste the link
click on HELP
find the link that says you want your listing removed
then confirm it by email.

Now the bad news.  There are other sites like this.  And it takes time to remove your private information from all of them.  I find this whole thing disgusting.

dj runnels

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A wacky way to increase store traffic

This is such a good tip, I'm almost afraid to share it with you. But please read it thoroughly and don't abuse it, okay?

When I began my yarn business on eBay, no one had heard of Life's an Expedition yarn and therefore no one was searching for Life's an Expedition yarn. Since most of my yarn is blended colors and blended fibers, I wasn't even coming up in searches for "cotton yarn" or "red yarn." So I tracked down some wholesales for Noro, Laines du Nord, Sirdar and other famous yarn brands and listed those as supplies. That way, people looking for Noro Kureyon, for example, would wander into my eBay store and see the Life's an Expedition yarn.

This is sort of a circuitous route to increasing traffic, I admit, and it's not as sound as having sought-after merchandise with good key words. But sometimes you have a product or series of products that are not searched-on or do not have great key words. Or maybe the tags are so over-used that they do not benefit you. Then your store sits there without traffic. So I brainstormed some ideas that could apply to these offbeat stores or products. These ideas do not replace using good tags and social media and all the other things we know to do. We're just playing "what if."

  • If you sell milk soap, you already know that people will search on that term. But what if you are getting lost in the huge sea of milk soap listings? Perhaps you can come up with some unusual scents to supplement your line and get a little attention. While it's true that more people are going to search for lemon or cucumber or vanilla, that doesn't help you if you are coming up low in Google searches. I know of a soap maker who created a beer soap. Before you shreik, "ew!" hear me out. Granted, most people will not search on beer soap, but when they do, she will be higher in the ranks than her competitors. Can you come up with an offbeat flavor or variation to supplement your normal line of whatever you sell?
  • I have struggled for years to sell my odd, peculiar, unconventional handbags. You would think that having something different would make them popular with a smaller segment of people, but it's been tricky. I don't even bother to use unique as a tag. People tag their merchandise as unique all the time and 95% of the time, it isn't unique at all. So for some products--such as my bags--I have found that it is beneficial to tag according to ambience or the character of the piece. For my bags, I use such tags as hippie and bohemian. It helps a little. I know that purse, messenger bag and clutch are practically useless in the vast internet sea of bags. Okay, so I'm still floundering with this concept, but maybe you can apply it to your own shop. Can you come up with a theme to some of your products? Something beyond vintage or retro.
  • If you sell jewelry, you know that a tag such as bracelet or necklace is like a drop of water in the ocean. You might try creating a torc or a circlet or something with a name that is unusual. This presumes that the piece you are promoting really IS a torc. If you are thinking, "Who the heck searches for a torc?!" well, you see that woman in the front row wildly waving her hand in the air? Yes, that would be me. I search on torc. I search on whatever offbeat jewelry name I can think of because when I want jewelry, I want something really unusual and often I have trouble finding anything unusual. Again, typing in unique or unusual doesn't work. Most of the pieces tagged with those words are not unusual.
What do you do if your product is a _____? Something that has no name?
  • Ah, the great unnamed hard-to-tag gizmo. I've got several of those. They are the kiss of death in Google searches. I make handwoven wall pockets that no one else makes, anywhere. At a craft show, people flock to these things. But I don't even know what to call them. No one searches on wall pockets, but wall decor is too vague. One solution I've tried in the past is to list wall mirrors, coat racks, etc., in the hope that people searching on those will browse my store and see the wall pockets. Can you think of any related items that you could make and sell--items with searchable names--that will bring people to look at your uncategorizable or unnameable items?
  • Remember my dilemma with yarn. Can you stock up on supplies of a famous brand name that pertains to your craft? Or you could do a little destash once in a while just to bring people in. Maybe customers will forget they were looking for Grumbacher oil paints when they see the drop-dead amazing painting you did. Maybe a destash of a famous fabric brand will lure someone into looking at those wacky quilted thing-a-ma-jigs you invented.
Some of these ideas will not help you in Google much. For example, there are so many hits for oil paint... eh, forget it. But within your own hosted venue, it might help.
WAIT. Before you run off and ruin the tagging universe, please realize that a targeted search using solid key words that pertain to your product is what shoppers want. Please don't sabotage that ideal by abusing tags. There's a big difference between getting creative and getting abusive with this.

For example, it just isn't right to tag your handknit scarf as a sweater on the off chance that someone looking for a sweater will like your scarf. Instead, you will attract someone looking for a sweater, sees your scarf instead, gets mad and leaves.
A more creative and legitimate approach would be to add felted wool leaves to several of your scarves and start a whole nature theme. Or adding leaves in shades of purple and black, instead of the more predictable green or autumn shades. Or using gingko leaf designs--something specific--because although many more people will search on leaves instead of gingko, you will stand out in searches when someone really does type in gingko. Or even coming up with work that incorporates name variations, such as gingko biloba.

Or if you were using maple leaves, you could use...umm...whatever the Latin word for maple might be. Acer? Yes, I realize that people are more likely to search on
maple than acer, but the point I'm making is that if you are desperately scrounging for legitimate tags, adding a personal touch to a product and adding an unusual tag might just help. In other words--brace yourself for another tree pun--we are talking about branching out in your product base or tagging. Not cheating with your tagging.

I am afraid that people will misinterpret some of what I have written here, so I feel compelled to add this: Please read Etsy rules about tag abuse before you go out there and create chaos, okay?

And also, if you are going to give funky names to your products, watch out for copyrights. I named a yarn Godzilla without realizing that name is not available and now I have to rename and relabel it. (Hanging my head in shame.) But you know, a yarn named Steve is very unlikely to violate any copyright. I'm not saying a yarn SHOULD be named Carl, but at least it's different.

dj runnels

Visit my shop: Life's an Expedition

Friday, March 19, 2010

dj's tunic -- easy beginner knitting pattern... sort of

I call this "sort of" a pattern, because I do not literally use or write knitting patterns. I draw schematics and go from there. But to my ADHD mind, this is much easier than trying to read those laborious k2p2 lists of directions in 8 pt. type. SCREAM! I hate those. Also, cut me some slack here. It is free, after all.

The dj tunic is knit in one straight piece. Straight garter stitch. No increases or decreases. You will need to cast off for the neck and use a couple of stitch holders, then cast back on when the back of the neck resumes. If you can visualize that and if you can get comfortable with my penchant for stream-of-consciousness non-directions, you can do this.

I made a large tunic, not because I am overweight, but because I am temporarily not svelte so just deal with it, sister. So whereas everything I write is for a large size, if your own hips are slimmer or larger than size 14, then please adjust accordingly. And if they are smaller, btw, I hate your guts. There. It had to be said.

Please select a yarn that is dk gauge or smaller. I have some here. You want a nice, soft drape to the garment, so that the drop shoulders will flutter off into cap sleeves, perhaps revealing one strap of your tasteful camisole worn underneath. Length falls to low hip on me. Size large requires roughly 1100 yards.

Do a swatch of the yarn of your choice on the needles of your choice and figure out your stitches per inch.

Let's say you have chosen a yarn and needle combination that gives you 5 st per inch. My size large tunic has a 50-inch hip measurement, which is a generous, loose fit. But the front hem is only half of the circumference of the tunic, so you will cast on 25 inches worth of stitches. 25 inches x 5 st per inch = 125 st.

FRONT: If you would like a more finished edge that will not curl, cast on a number that is divisible by 4 and work in k2, p2 ribbing for half an inch. Then switch over to straight knit, all the way across, every row, which is what we call garter stitch. But if you don't feel like doing a ribbing, just use garter stitch throughout. When the piece is about 18 inches long--or roughly from crotch to armhole--divide the stitches by three. Use your judgment here. I'm short in height and I'm short-waisted. You may want the length shorter or longer, according to taste.

NECKLINE: You are dividing the stitches into thirds. Put one shoulder on a stitch holder. Cast off the center third to make room for your noggin. The other shoulder stays on your needles. Continue knitting it for five inches. When you finish with one shoulder, put that on a stitch holder and knit the other shoulder for five inches. When the shoulders appear even, it is time to join them by casting on the same number of stitches that you cast off five inches ago. I don't get too precise with these numbers when I work. If I divided the stitches into approximate thirds, then casting on about 1/3 will work fine. If anybody gets so close to me that he is staring at my neckline and counting the stitches, it's time to poke his eyes out. Ya know what I mean? Here is a turquoise work in progress that looks a bit squished, but it isn't. I had to scooch up the stitches to keep them on the needles for the photo.

BACK: Knit in garter stitch until the total piece measures 43 inches. Allow a little room for the k2, p2 ribbing at the end if you started with ribbing. If not, just knit your heart out to the very end.

The five-inch neck opening is off-center in this piece. I've got about 3.5 inches skewed to the front while 1.5 inches of the neck opening are skewed to the back. I did this so that the back of the tunic wouldn't be high up against the back of my neck. You don't have to do it this way. Heck, like I'm going to tell you what to do? I think not. You can have the neck centered between the front and back, closer to a tabard. Or you can have the neck opening entirely in the front. If you have a low neckline in the front, you will reveal more skin or more undergarment, so take that into consideration. I didn't design this to be worn alone. It has a low neckline and wide armholes on me.

When you are finished, try the tunic on with the side seams pinned together. Mark where armholes should go. The lower they are, the more slouchy and airy the tunic will be, but you will also be showing more of the shirt or whatever you plan to wear underneath. Then sew the side seams with matching yarn.

If you crochet, this would be a great variation in a loose, open crochet stitch. Make sure you use a soft, light, pliant yarn or you'll end up with a bulletproof vest.

Best wishes!

Visit the Life's an Expedition yarn store on Etsy.
dj runnels

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reflections on my nephew Ethan

I excel at procrastination of difficult tasks and this one is more difficult than most. I want to pay tribute to my late nephew, whose birthday is today.

It is agonizing to have to go through February, March and April all in a row. We lost Ethan February 14, 2009. His birthday is in March. His body was found Easter Sunday, 2009. And if you've ever gone through bereavement, you know that the first year of holidays is painful. But the second year is something of a shock because you realize--oh, great--we get to go through the same holidays again and he still isn't here and it will be this way every year from now on. While the rest of the world is aglow with red hearts, birthday cakes and Easter eggs, my family feels a collective lump in the throat and a dread of turning the calendar page.

Not that it matters. Because Ethan is gone every day, regardless of the month. And we miss him all the time, not just on his birthday.

Still, a birthday is a birthday and just because Hallmark never seems to come up with a card that conveys the right thoughts for this sort of occasion, I will give it a shot.

Ethan: I cannot wish you a Happy Birthday. It doesn't sound right at all. There is nothing happy about a birthday--or any day--without you on this planet. But that's our failing, not yours. That's just the miserable human feeling of being a surviving family member. I want to think bigger than that. I want to honor you and your memory and stop whining about how I feel. Happy or not, Birthday or not, this day is still about you. You brought a great deal to this world, to your friends, your family, your causes. And to my heart, in particular. While it is bittersweet to write this, I know that the world is a better place for having had you in it and that deserves to be said. It must be written and damn it, I will write it, even if I must look through my tears and feel past the lump in my throat. I am blessed with having known you.

My mind starts to get jumpy now with emotion. This is so hard. I have been meaning for so long to write a tribute to you. I don't see how I will ever do it. The scope of the task overwhelms me and makes me wonder if I should just write about you in short blurbs instead. I don't know the answer. I'm losing my train of thought. Pick a specific, dj. Something specific.

I had a dream about half a year before your accident. I have it written down somewhere. It was a dream about a frontiersman or naturalist in the woods and he was warning us about impending death. When I dreamed this, I thought of you, but the character in the dream didn't look like you. Or at least, I didn't think, "Oh, there's Ethan," when I had this dream. I just remember that the naturalist in this dream reminded me of you, that he was very savvy about backwoods survivalist training, that he knew the woods very well, that he knew we were all in danger and we needed our wits about us to get through what was coming. The dream foretold doom. I knew that much. But I certainly never foresaw losing you. Now when I think about this dream, I wonder what it meant and what, if anything, I should have done differently.

Probably nothing.

Because I don't think you would have lived your life differently. You lived it to the fullest and it was through your various trials and your closely-held ideals that you reached the point you were at in the final months of your life. Maybe that is the lesson to be learned here: live according to what you believe. Better to grab all the adventure that life has to offer than to reach age 90 without having reached out. Better to take risks than feel safe and bored. Is that the message?

No. This isn't it. And that's okay because if I failed to capture what you stood for at this point, March 16, 2010, 11:55 CST then...fine. I'll give it another shot another day. I must try again another day.

Until then, it okay if I call you that in public? Well, you cannot stop me, can you? I think I see a slight grin as I call you that. You love audacity in others and you will not quench mine.

aunt dj

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Paper mache mannequin heads

People have been asking how to cover a styrofoam mannequin head with papier mache. I have mannequins for sale, so I am guessing these people want to emulate my technique and make their own. I mentioned this to my husband, who is known for his wit, and he instantly replied, "First, take a wire brush and give the styrofoam a good scrubbing. Next, take some battery acid..."

I'm pretty sure you can see why I married him.

I have four left, most of them papier mache, so I am reluctant to impart my techniques just yet. If you can make one, why would you buy one from me? But maybe after all my mannequins are sold, I will write a tutorial. It is a fair amount of work and my papier mache skills have evolved over time, so with the exception of people who have used this craft technique before, I'm not sure this project is for everyone.

I began in papier mache...oh, don't roll your eyes like that! You tell long stories, too! And anyway, my stories are funnier than yours. Nyah. I began making papier mache puppets as a child. My mother had a lengthy magazine article about how to make puppet heads, sew costumes for them, construct a stage and so on. There was even a storyline, a cohesive theme and an actual script to go with these puppets. But mostly I remember the puppets.

OMG. I was going to write a tutorial about how to make puppets but I suddenly realized that I would like to make puppets and sell them. Rats. Jotting this down as idea #572 and I don't know when I will get around to the first 571 on the list. Never mind that I can barely walk through my yarn studio or my inventory room. Gotta go!

Visit Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

dj runnels

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I must apologize to Guatemala.

Since 2004, I have imported and sold handwoven Guatemalan goods on eBay--primarily tablecloths, place mats, table runners, napkins. Every time I unpack a new shipment, I am astonished once again by the skilled craftsmanship. The threads, the colors, the precision of the weaving process, the flat smoothness of the finished piece--all exceed my expectations of that which is handmade. It just doesn't seem humanly possible to create these weavings, let alone to create them under impoverished conditions, using primitive supplies, against a backdrop of political uncertainty and natural disasters.

Hurricane Stan was one of those natural disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the United States tried to recover from the overwhelming destruction left in her wake, there were other hurricanes in other countries. Hurricane Stan was one of them. Few focused on this latter storm, yet it swept through middle America in October 2005 and annihilated entire villages, including the villages where "my" weavers lived.

Some of the weavers barely escaped with the clothes on their backs. Others were not that fortunate. Hurricane Stan brought horrific mudslides that entombed villagers within their very homes, leading government officials to declare some of these areas graveyards.

I cried when I heard this. In my Chicago suburb so far from that disaster, I held in my hands spectacular linens of a quality that I will never match, stunned by the intricate designs I will never master. I realized these linens were created in a backdrop of severe poverty, at a level I will never experience. And I read the tags that many of these linens bore: "Handmade by ____." In many cases, the weaver signed his or her first name on the tag.

The weaver's work reaches me through Fair Trade, an organization that ensures that its member artisans receive fair wages for their work. Without Fair Trade, wholesalers can gather up these goods for pennies and make enormous profits in resale. But weavers allied with Fair Trade make more income than they would make selling their cloth in local markets. I whole-heartedly support Fair Trade and feel this is the least I can do to help make up for the fact that I get to buy and resell these goods.

This week, I am acutely aware of these weavers, their wares, their lives, their deaths. That's because I took about 20 hand woven dinner napkins and painted designs on them. I wanted to move this merchandise off of eBay (where the seller's fees are very high) and list them on Zibbet. I am not allowed to do this unless I either (1) categorize them as craft supplies or (2) impart my handmade touch. I chose the latter. Using fabric paint and permanent ink, I sketched some cave paintings, primitive designs and trees. But I know my paint and ink, although heat set, will fade sooner than the vibrant color of the cloth. Even worse, my artistry pales (an unwanted pun) to that of the Maya.

I listed the napkins but thought at length about the original weavers. I thank them for what they contribute to our world. I honor my sisters and brothers who continue to weave for the comparatively rich Americans who will never know the depth of their sacrifices. I apologize for daring to doodle on their cloth, because I fear I may have diminished, rather than enhanced, its beauty. And I pray that the money I pay through Fair Trade is enriching their lives enough to justify what I do.

One of my designs is a tree. It's a dj runnels kind of tree. I have drawn similar trees for years, countless times, in notebooks and paintings. I've drawn these trees on driveways with sidewalk chalk, surrounded by my children. I've drawn trees without leaves so that my children could fill in the leaves. I've drawn trees with blank leaves that my children could decorate or color in. The dj runnels trees have a long history. These trees now grace some of these Guatemalan napkins and my thoughts ran in two directions as I drew them. One thought was, "Gee, I hope I'm not ruining this perfectly good napkin." And the other recurring thought was the phrase "tree of life."

By tree of life, I mean the sense of connection I have to the weavers of these napkins. We are connected, the weavers and I. But also you and I. And you and they. We are all connected along the branches of humanity. Our ancestors form the roots of our current existence. We live and die, nurture and decay, interconnected in lives that network across the globe. Woven blessings pass through my hands and into yours. Or in some cases, woven blessings pass from them to me and I scribble on them and THEN they go to you. I feel I owe Guatemala an apology for this. But on the other hand, I like that I am sharing their precious work with you, even if the middleman or middlewoman just had to put her two cents' worth in there.

Did I participate in the creative endeavor? Or did I desecrate it?

Or maybe, as my 8th grade algebra teacher so often urged me to do, I can reduce it to even simpler terms: Maybe it was wrong, but I enjoyed doing it, anyway.

UPDATE: The Guatemalan linens I sold on eBay are no longer available, but I have incorporated Mayan work into my own handicrafts for Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Friday, January 22, 2010

Online customers I have known and loved

10:49 PM
I'm waiting for an eBay customer to pay me so I can put a shipping label on her package and order a carrier pickup for Saturday morning. I have another order going out, but it's a large, 14-pound box of yarn and the customer chose Parcel Post--wisely, I believe, since it cut her shipping fees in half--but I can't ask for pickup on it unless someone else pays me for a Priority order. Too much detail for you? Sorry.

But as I'm sitting here next to this 14-pound box of yarn, I am reminded of a customer I loved--not because she ordered large amounts of yarn at a time, although that didn't hurt. :o) She had a serious medical condition and spent a great deal of time knitting and crocheting. I think she was bed-ridden a fair amount and probably spent some time in hospitals and in doctor's waiting rooms, yet she never complained and seldom mentioned her illness. I think perhaps she didn't want to burden me, but it was no burden. She was a tower of strength and it was inspiring to talk with her through sporadic emails.

I try not to latch onto customers too much. They will tell me little things about their personal lives, but it's still a business arrangement, so I have no business asking endless questions about why they are in the hospital or why they are making so many chemo hats. I listen to them. I tell them that I admire what they do. I treat them like any interesting person. But all too often, they will slip away and--I'm completely sincere when I say this--it's not their yarn orders I miss. It's not about the money at all.

This customer I am thinking of would sometimes tell me how frustrated she was because Paypal wasn't working for her and she could not make a payment. Sometimes she would buy $500 or $1600 worth of yarn at a time, and... well, Paypal can get a bit crazy with large payments, especially on a large shipment going to another country. Early on in my relationship with this customer, I said something that now strikes me as very stupid. I whimsically said, "It's okay! Relax! It's just yarn. Not a liver transplant."

That was when she confessed that I was right, that she was too stressed, that it is, indeed, just yarn. And that she wasn't being much use to her clients when she was in this state of mind. She never did volunteer to me what she did for a living, but it was around this time that she mentioned that she had a tumor. I felt like a total jerk for my crack about a liver transplant. I have not made such a mistake often, because I learned not to say such things. You never know what a customer is going through. Divorce. Bereavement. Cancer. You just never know.

She ordered yarn from me several times a year, for years. I tried to listen and accept whatever she did choose to tell me. One of my last orders from her went unpaid for a few weeks. I was terribly worried and wanted to know if she was okay. I sent emails that went unanswered. I had no business calling her. Well, okay, I suppose eBay does allow that. But what if she had died? Can you imagine an eBay seller calling you right after a family member has died? Just what you need, people hounding you for money in your hour of grief! I don't know. Maybe the family would have taken it as a friendly call. More likely they would have seen me as a pushy seller wanting her money and I wasn't willing to risk being perceived that way. When this woman did finally contact me, it turns out she had, indeed, been in the hospital. I cried to learn that she was still alive.

But the day did come when she stopped ordering. I went to her eBay feedback page every week or so, but the feedback stopped appearing and she stopped ordering from everyone--not just me. I had grown to care about a woman I had never met, a woman whose career was a mystery to me, yet a woman for whom I had created affectionate nicknames and with whom I felt a bond as she went through various medical incidents and household crises.

I will not send a letter to the woman's family to ask if she still lives. The fact that she no longer answers emails makes it likely that she no longer does. But I carry a special place for her in my heart. She sometimes told me that she was having such a rotten day that the only thing that went right was receiving a box of yarn from me. She meant it, too. I made a difference in her life and she made a difference in mine. I will never forget her.

I wish that were the end of this story, but it isn't. I used the plural of "customers" in the headline. There have been others. A woman in New York had diabetes, lung cancer and Lyme disease. I once named a yarn after her and she got a kick out of that. A woman in San Francisco nursed her father with cancer. A long list indeed. These women knitted up a storm and donated time to nursing the sick. Sometimes they were the sick. I packed those yarn orders with a lot of love. I hope they felt the love and not just the yarn.

dj runnels
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