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Hello Etsy: Branding and Media Workshop Antwerp, Belgium

February 23, 2011

Monday night, I had the opportunity to attend an Etsy workshop here in Antwerp! And lucky me, not only was it presented by Matt Stinchcomb, it was in English.

I want to bullet point a few of the more important items Matt spoke about.

Establishing your brand:

Write a Mission Statement – Develop a simple and direct statement defining your mission. Matt made the example that your mission statement should be able to fit on a T-Shirt.

What Are you Making – What makes it special? Will someone want to pass the word about your product to others? Is it unique enough to stand out from the crowd? Do not pigeon-hole your self into making something your don’t enjoy creating – What will be business be like in 1 year? 3 years?

Who is your customer – Identify who your customer is by creating a customer profile. Is this who you want to target? What does your customer value and are you providing that for them?

Make a Budget – Don’t underestimate yourself and your skills. Charge appropriately.

**Abandon what is not working for you**

Develop a Marketing Plan:

Tell your story – This is so easy to do. Create a connection with your buyers by telling them why or how you made an item. Give them the story to hang onto and to tell others. This can be done in many ways – item descriptions, blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Let them know there is an actual person creating these pieces.

Social Media – Do it! Facebook, Twitter, Blogging. People are reading.

Public Image – Good photography is king! Create a consistent visual style.

I could go on, but I thought these were great points all DIYers can work with. There were 2 other key phrases that Matt used while giving his presentation that I thought were important. Micro Production and Reconnecting. What we are doing by creating is micro production – hands on manufacturing in our own small way and putting money back into our communities and pockets. What we are doing is trying to reconnect the consumer to the process, the materials and the creator. I would like to believe that most people value this.

Parting Gift from Hello Etsy Workshop
Parting Gift from Hello Etsy Workshop

I felt that this was a great opportunity to meet some of the local artisans in my new community. Thank you so much to Matt Stinchcomb, The Dutch Handmade Team and Etsy!

Valentine’s Day

February 16, 2011

I am one of those parents who gets more into making Valentine’s than the kids do. This is the first year both kids are in school and on top of that, we were invited to a Valentine’s Party. I figured that this was my chance to continue practicing my cookies decorating skills.

I made a total of 5 batches of cookies – 3 sugar, 1 chocolate sugar and 1 eggless sugar (for the vegetarian Indian students). This ended up producing over 200 cookies. Yikes!

I used 4 different sized heart cookies cutters and about 5 colors of icing. I did what I had said previously and purchased couplers and a few more tips. This made my life so much easier.

I managed to bag up over 30 large cookies for the students and made an entire tray for the party. I also included some red velvet heart-shaped Whoopie Pies (recipe link here) in the center. I came home with an empty tray, which made me feel pretty good.

And the kicker…I didn’t take any pictures except for one crappy one with my itouch. And here it is:The Only Picture of the Valentine's Cookies

My attempt at being Dutch

February 8, 2011

I have been so inspired by the cheerful colors and patterns I see everyday in Belgium. I am not exactly sure where these vibrant color combinations come from, but it seems to be a Dutch thing as you don’t see this as much in France and Germany. I like to think that it is the Dutch way of keeping happy during all their grey and rainy days.Pillows for Chloe's bedNow that Chloe is out of a crib and into a bed, I have set out to assemble a Dutch looking bed filled with fun patterns and colors. My first (and ongoing) step was to start a Granny Square afghan. I will blog more on this later. Once the colors were firmly established, I went up to my local fabric shop ( if you live in Antwerp, check it out- Juljia – it is awesome!) and chose the fabric for the accent pillows and trim. Although I assembled them all differently, I only documented one – the button letter pillow.
Button Detail

I decided on using white buttons for the letter with a dark, solid background, so it would stand out. We currently do not have a printer, so once I found a font I liked, I zoomed in on it and traced it from my computer screen. I found that this still was not large enough, so I used the skills I learned in 4th grade art class and made a good ‘ole grid and enlarged it by hand.
Pillow Project

Once I had the size I liked, I traced it onto a piece of fusible interfacing and ironed it onto the back side of the pillow front.
Pillow Project

I then followed the outline with straight pins so I would be able to see the outline on the face of the fabric. (Pins not shown in picture) I started with sewing the largest buttons on first and them gradually worked down in size, filling in the spaces.
Pillow Project
When the letter was entirely filled in with buttons, I finished off the pillow with piping and sewed it together.

I am very happy with the final result and now have grand plans to make pillows for our couches with hearts using buttons. One more step done for Chloe Dutch bed!
Accent Pillow for Chloe

 

Year of the Rabbit

February 2, 2011

I bit off a little more than I could chew with these Chinese New Year cookies. I didn’t have cookie cutters in the shapes I needed, so I made patterns and hand cut each cookie. Maybe not a huge deal, but couple that with the fact that I have to practice using royal icing on about 150 more batches of cookies before I can do it well –  it was a little too much to take on at once. I made a promise to myself that this will be the last batch of cookies I make until I gather up the proper supplies to ice cookies properly.

Initially, my intentions are good. Know what colors I want to use, layout the design and take my time. I am not sure at what point this all slips away. That’s when I get sloppy and just want to get it done. Regardless, I still learned a few things on this batch. I found a royal icing recipe I like (I will share that later) and I managed to sort and mix my icing out appropriately without wasting huge amounts.
Chinese New Year- Year of the Rabbit

I am semi-pleased with the results. The fortune cookies turned out good for a novice cookie maker. I had the right intentions with the cherry blossoms, but I accidentally used a #3 tip instead of a #2 for the piping. The lanterns turned out a little weird and some of the bunnies look a little creepy. There is always next year. Year of the what?
Fortune Cookies

The good news is that I now own multiple #1 and #2 tips as well as couplers! It’s a good thing since I will be making Valentine’s cookies for the kids to give to their classmates. I can’t wait to get started!

Melting Snowman Cookie

January 20, 2011

I have been dying to try to make these melting snowman
cookies for a while now. I have to admit that I went into this
project a little half-assed. I chose a random sugar cookie recipe
and didn’t check to see if I had all of the necessary colors for
the icing. On top of that, my kids were home while I made these,
which makes anything about 10x more difficult. I chose this sugar cookie recipe from
Foodtv.com. It was the first one I came to that had a full
five-star rating and also seemed quick to make. I was able to bang
them out fairly quickly using just a plain 3″ circle cookie cutter.
The cookie itself tastes good and I will be using it again. I have been a
little obsessed with royal icing since Christmas. It is really
difficult to master and I want to be the mom in town who makes
those amazing, almost-to-pretty-to-eat cookies. Against my
better judgement, I made the icing using raw egg whites instead of
merengue powder. I feel like this made all of the difference
in the luster of the icing. No more dried or cracked finishes. The
main issue is that you need to work Quick! This may have been the
most ideal cookie to start with for using the egg white icing since
precision is not important. I threw the icing onto the cookie and
quickly heated my marshmallows and stuck them on
with my heavily greased fingers. I started out with applying the
orange carrot nose. I know now that the icing should be a bit
firmer for the nose so it doesn’t droop. I added the scarf and
button in some not so fabulous colors. Then, without black food
coloring, I threw a little bit of it all in to make a brown which I
used for the eyes mouth and stick hands. I had forgotten to go back
to the smaller round tip after make the scarf, so the eyes are a
little bulgy and the stick hands are a little fat. I told you
I did this half assed.

Considering my lack of organization, they turned out cute. Not cute
enough to give away, but nice for a 2 hour (OK, maybe
3) project.

Ikea Stools ala Sarah London

January 18, 2011

I love Sarah London, OK, I guess I am a little obsessed with her.  I am always excited when I receive new posts in my inbox and I thrive to live with color and craft like she does.  I have been thinking a lot about Sarah London’s work and brilliant color combinations recently. I really wish I could just have her magically appear in my apartment to help add some spice to my decor. Instead, I have been using the approach of WWSLD (What Would Sarah London do)?

My first project was to personalize my kids art table. I recently picked the table and chairs up at my favorite thrift store and decided the stools need to be covered. It turned out to be a great project to use up scraps of yarn.

I made a cover for each of the stools. I am so happy with the final results. I love that I was able to turn these so common Ikea stools into something unique. 

No Excuses.

January 17, 2011

Here I am.

I have found myself in the most extraordinary position. The one we all dream of. If only I had more time, didn’t have to work, had the house to myself. That is me. Here I am.

I have never been the type to depend on others for things, even my husband. But I find myself in this position – living as an expat in Europe for my husband’s job. Sending my kids to school everyday and trying to learn a second language. I am trying to make the most of it. All of it.

My goal is to use this time to create and share, and maybe sell a thing or two. It has always been my dream to make and sell as a full-time gig, but I will take what I can get. In the meantime, I will use this vehicle to share my projects. I have no excuses for making this happen except my own procrastination. No excuses.