TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Searching for Fiber Art Supplies on Etsy

September means that many of us kick into high gear, producing as much as we can to sell or to give away as gifts during the holiday season. That may mean that we might want some interesting supplies to work with. Where to go in this maze of cyber options? Well, I would like to recommend Etsy as a one stop shopping experience. If you are not familiar with Etsy, it is a marketplace for sellers where each has his or her own shop. Etsy's focus is on handmade arts and crafts, but sellers are also allowed to sell vintage items and supplies.

I have a store there, Rayela Art, and have put most of my "eggs" in this basket. I believe Etsy is the best venue out there in terms of affordability, design, and the community experience it offers. The big drawback is that searching on Etsy can be a nightmare. Many of us also sell on eBay where search is based on drop down menus that start at the most general and work themselves down to the most specific. But, eBay is a clutter nightmare, has become expensive and recent changes in feedback make it a less than pleasant selling experience.

Etsy's system is based on tags that each seller uses to describe the item. This might work if sellers understood how to use tags, but many don't. Improper use of the tags creates chaos. And, search is also time sensitive, so if you look for something specific, the closest match that was listed most recently will pop up, even though your exact item might have been listed a few months ago and has since dropped into Etsy's black hole. Although Etsy's system is not intuitive, understanding how it works can help you find fabulous supplies that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. I wrote another post, How to Search on Etsy, that gives an overview into the many "fun" options Etsy offers in a search experience. Both new and experienced shoppers might find new tips in that post. In this one, allow me to give you a tour on shopping specifically for supplies. Click on the images for larger detailed photos.

When you arrive on Etsy, the front page has a column on the left with entries into the site. The images showcased in the body of the page are favorites that Etsy members have compiled into treasuries. Etsy staff pick different treasuries througout the day so that the images are constantly changing. This is a huge deal for sellers. Every time one of my items has made the front page, my store has increased dramatically in activity. Now, let's zoom into the categories. You can begin your search by entering one of these general descriptions. This list is a little deceptive because all of these categories will take you to handmade items only except for Supplies and Vintage. Those two categories make up a tremendous amount of inventory offered by Etsy sellers for the obvious reason that it is easier to list something that you are re-selling than something that you made (in terms of quantity). Almost all of my items in my Etsy store are supplies or vintage, even though they may be handmade. They are not allowed to be tagged handmade, unless I make it myself. I simply do not have the production time to stock my store with my handcrafted items.

Let's zoom in on Supplies:

That takes you to a page with another breakdown of categories, which sellers may or may not use to describe their item. Note the number of items available in this category at the time of this photo: 293,242 !!! Now, notice the category for commercial. Again, all supplies which are not handmade by the seller will be tagged as commercial, even if they are handmade.

We go into commercial and find that there are 245,709 items listed there, more than 90% of the total items under supplies. This can be very confusing to the buyer as this is not clearly explained by Etsy.
Several months ago Etsy changed their search system to default to handmade items only. There is wonderful commercial fabric on Etsy as well as handmade fabric that might have been imported or found in thrift stores that will not show up under a general fabric search. This change affected my sales profoundly as most of what I have does not show up in the default search anymore. Supply and vintage sellers have asked that Etsy remedy this by making these search options more visible to the buyer, but so far there are only promises of long range plans which will offer a better system.

Let's zoom into a specific fiber art supply. I typed "knitting" into the search bar within the commercial category. Now we have only about 50,000 items to look at, much of which will be yarn.

Now, let's say you want bamboo yarn. If you just type bamboo into the search bar, narrowing the results, other bamboo items will also pop up:

So far we have been looking at search results using the List view. You can also see the results in gallery view which gives you larger images and a more attractive buying experience (right, top of page):
If you searched for knitting supplies without going into commercial, you would get only handmade offerings:
I think this separation confuses buyers, pits sellers against each other (there is resentment as all sellers pay the same fees, but vintage and supplies get less exposure). However, knowing that there is division will help buyers to find what they are looking for whether it is handmade by the seller or not.

Even with this low exposure, Etsy supply sellers have the most quantity of inventory offered on Etsy. I haven't looked at any recent statistics, but although they may have the most quantity, they may not necessarily bring in the most revenue as a great part of their offerings are low ticket items, under $10. One way to find the serious sellers who have an abundance of selection is to go into the Buy tab just above the search bar. There you will find the different ways to search on Etsy, including a link that takes you to Sellers.

Once there, you will see that at this time there are 233,695 sellers! The default selection shows who was the last to update their store. But, you can also search by number of listings. If you look at the low end, you will find pages and pages and pages of sellers with no product: dead stores. But, if you look at the high end, you will find the sellers who have taken their Etsy stores seriously, stocked them to nth degree, and who probably have excellent reputations. Savvy sellers will have good descriptions of their store focus underneath their name. If you page through the first 10 pages, you will find that most of these sellers offer supplies.

From Japan with Love has 2,604 items! Now how do you find anything with so many listings? Etsy only allows us 10 categories, so we try to lump things into these as best as possible. You can also search within the store using your own key words. But, beware! The search will default again to Etsy's larger categories each time you use it, so you have to make sure you are searching within the store, using the drop down meny on the tool bar. I typed in geisha to see what Japan with Love would offer and found a nice selection:

I hope those two tours help you find some new ways of searching for wonderful supplies on Etsy. Believe me! If you need beads, yarn, fabric, felt, needles (make sure you take a look at tools), rubber stamps, patterns or anything you can imagine as a supply, you are likely to find it on Etsy. There have been discussions on Etsy about what exactly the word supply means as anything, if you repurpose it into art, could be a supply: toasters, tvs, etc. Fortunately, most sellers on Etsy are pretty good about being reasonable in what they offer.

Finally, Etsy is about building relationships. It's "who you know". Every seller and buyer on Etsy has a favorites tab where they put what they like. Some keep them private, but most are visible to the public. If you see a store you like, click on their favorites and almost certainly you will find another seller you will like. Etsy sellers have organized themselves into street teams and other groups by theme or interest and market themselves together. The Fiber Focus group on Ning that I started, also has several Etsy sellers, and here I want to point to a few who offer some interesting fiber supplies. Click on their image to visit their store:

I would not be a good business person if I didn't also direct you to my shop on Etsy, Rayela Art. My emphasis is on ethnic fabric remnants, textile stamps, and other handmade supplies for fiber artists although I also have a nice selection of commercial cotton fabric. I have textiles and fabric from India, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand and many other countries.

If you enjoy supporting small businesses, then Etsy is the place to shop! All of us appreciate the business and strive to provide excellent customer service and quick shipping. Many of us also sell finished items that are uniquely ours. I hope this post convinces you to start your search for supplies and gifts on Etsy. Sure, it might be a frustrating process sometimes to finally get to what you want, but if you see it as an adventure, you will be thrilled to find all the treasures you didn't know you wanted!


  1. WOW! Thank you! I'm one of those "low"/"dead"/"no listings" sellers because i found it so daunting and confusing to list. Maybe NOW i can figure this all out :}

  2. Just catching up on blog posts.

    This is very helpful. Well done.

  3. Rayela, Thank you SO much for including our website on your wonderful list! Your Fiber Focus is a great group!


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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