TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rayela Art makes it on Etsy Finds!

Morna alerted me that one of my suzanis made it on Etsy Finds today.  First time ever! Woo hoo!

Although vintage and supplies sellers pay the same amount to sell on Etsy, rarely do we get the attention the handmade sellers do.  Even the search system defaults to handmade, excluding us from search results.  The rationale was that the site was started to benefit artists and crafters and that vintage and supplies are pretty much just a nod of appreciation, categories that compliment the site but not the focus of the site.

This might seem reasonable, except that Etsy sees any alteration on an item as a handmade product.  If you add a button to a thrift store jacket, you can list it as handmade.  Plus, most people don't tag their things correctly, break all the rules of what is allowed and what isn't so that those of us who do follow the rules really end up at a disadvantage.  It's frustrating. 

Still, I appreciate being included in this selection and hope that it does send people on over to my store.  Sales have been very slow so hopefully this will help a bit.  The piece shown is a vintage suzani.  Gorgeous hand stitching in the well recognized Uzbeki style in bright colors against a burgundy background.  These embroideries are used on the walls and are made, even today, in towns all over Uzbekistan.  My piece is probably from the 1970's.

Visit Etsy Finds to see the other wonderful work included today, too!

And, thanks, Morna, for the heads up!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

TAFA blossoms. Come join and be a member! Oh, wait! Is your website ugly?

On February 1st of this year, I launched my latest project, TAFA.  Using a blog format, in fact the same template as this one as I like it so much, textile and fiber art artists and businesses join as members.  Their member profile is listed as a blog post, showcasing their work and internet presence.  In the middle column, members are grouped in various categories which again lead to their member post.  Their blogs form the blog role.  Members can pay for or earn sponsor spots in the right sidebar.  We now have a facebook fan page and a private group, also on facebook, where members can meet, interact, toss ideas around, and hopefully create new friendships and business relationships.

Taki and Katsu Brave the Rain by Stacy Polson

In less than a month, our traffic is excellent, our membership has grown to 50 (around 20 still have to send in their info so I can set up their profiles), and an idea has blossomed into a beautiful reality.  Every new member that joins brings a special focus and talent, enhancing the site and broadening interest.  My goal is to have TAFA reflect the wide diversity of the little niche we all share via the various fiber arts: quilting, knitting, crocheting, felting, needlework, basketry, weaving, spinning, and so on.  I envision it as bringing together people from around the world through their own representation or through supporting businesses.  I would like galleries, stores, museums and handmade supplies to join, too.  Fair trade businesses, small importers who specialize in vintage textiles and basketry...  All observing a certain aesthetic in the quality of work and a respect for its provenance and the materials that were used.  In time, we will probably grow out of the blog format and have to move to a platform that can support a large membership with excellent search functions.  I would love it to become the resource people use to find connections for their needs.  A gallery searching for new artists, a writer looking for material, a new artist seeking inspiration, and so on. Who knows what potential there is once you bring all this talent and knowledge together.  About 20 of us are active in our facebook group and it floors me to think of the combined knowledge we have as a group.  It really is wonderful!

Sunset Composition by Gericon Designs

TAFA came to me as a concept born out of several places of frustration:
  • Several of us sell on Etsy which was hailed as the handmade market at its inception some five years ago.  It has become junky with cheap crafts, has minimal seller tools, a bad search engine and caters to a younger crowd who neither has interest in nor can afford quality handmade work.
  • The economy, of course, has thrown most of us into survival mode, desperately longing for the affluence of the 1980's.  Most of us cannot afford to advertise or get a foot in a door in those pockets where our work or product could be sold.  As a group, we can perhaps, inch our way in.
  • Social media barged into our lives and many of us were forced to learn a whole new way of accessing our markets.  Fiber Focus is almost two years old, a time when I began to really explore what all of these new tools were.  The learning process is constant and frustrating, but has resulted in this whole group of people, tied together through our cyber connections.  We know each other, yet not really.  I kept bumping into the same people here and there and kept wishing for a list where I could see where they were.
All of things were itching away inside of me.  Last year I began to move more and more into helping my peers with their businesses and realized that I have a gift that way.  I am good at bringing people together and enjoy seeing their skills improve so that they feel confident about what they can do and where they want to go on the web.  And, finally, I realized that the fiber community is huge, enormous, almost endless.  I admit that I was trying to figure out how I could make an income within this niche that I so love, where I could use my skills, help others, and somehow it all morphed into TAFA.

Natural yarns available at Paloma Textiles 

There is a membership fee of $25 to join TAFA.  I've had three or four people question why a fee would be charged for a blog.  Believe me, after almost a month of working non-stop on the project, I can tell you that I have earned every cent.  It's an enormous amount of work.  If it continues to be this labor intensive, I may even have to raise it.  But, given this economy, I felt that $25 is an affordable contribution towards a new venture.  I feel the burden of member investment in this, too, and want to see TAFA succeed because of the trust they have put in me, in my young idea.  So, for the last three weeks, I have been glued to the computer, turning into a blob, visiting hundreds of websites, answering questions, sharing knowledge, setting up structures and building blocks.  Yes, it has been a tremendous amount of work, but the only reason it is succeeding and blossoming so beautifully is because each of these members saw the potential and jumped in with me.  Without them, I would be going bla-bla-bla into thin air.  They have been a wonderful support, blogging about TAFA, telling their peers about it, posting the logo around.  This is the beauty of viral marketing, of believing in something together.  It's really has been so exciting and so gratifying!

Antique Japanese boro kimono, Sri Gallery

So, is TAFA open to anyone working with textiles and fiber art?  Unfortunately, no.  I am burdened with the task of ensuring quality control on the site.  I hate this role, abhor it.  But, there is no way around it.  "Bad" sites and product (it is all somewhat subjective, isn't it?) dilute the potential for the rest of the members.  TAFA is intended to help those who have a serious web presence achieve a wider audience.  That means that you have to have good photos, an interesting and well made product, a web site that is easy on the eyes.  In other words, professional.  I have been using link lists to visit sites and extend membership invitations.  About a third of them have led to dead sites (the economy?) and then the great majority have led to truly awful websites.  Ugly, ugly, ugly.  I guess I never realized it was so bad out there because I had never spent this much time visiting so many sites.  It amazes me that people who can understand composition, color, balance and visual delight in making their work can't translate that into their websites.  I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings or cast judgment or anything like that.  But, I can't describe how awful it is to spend hours looking for product and people and being visually assaulted like this.  I understand that many of these sites belong to people who consider themselves technically challenged.  However, blogs and web templates have become so user friendly that anyone can learn how to use them.  If you can knit, sew, weave, or felt, you can definitely learn how to have a simple yet beautiful blog or site.

Felted nesting bowls by Papaver Vert

The biggest challenge is photography.  I understand that.  Look at the photos in this post.  Do you see a common thread (no pun intended)?  All of them are excellent photos of beautiful product.  It does take a lot of time, energy and patience to learn how to create decent photos.  Take a class (see Intarsia's recent guest post), read tutorials online, understand your camera and photo editing program.  If you don't have it in you, then find someone in your community who can do it for you.  Do a trade, pay them, give them a bag of potatoes....  whatever.  Once you have your photos, you are over your biggest ugliness hurdle.

African Threads

The ugliest sites seemed to have used a similar template, perhaps frontpage:  A busy textured background with tiny thumbnails of the work and lots of big bold type.  Ugly, ugly, ugly!  Ouch!  The goal of having a website is to highlight the work, not to have big bold type all over the place.  If you have one of these sites, get rid of it.  Start fresh.  Here are some tips coming from my very biased, unprofessional opinions:
  • Keep it simple and clean.  Solid background, simple type.  Keep colors to a minimal palette.  It's easier to read dark type against a light background, although many artists like to use a black background to show their work.
  • Don't use tiny thumbnails unless a professional web designer lays them out in a slide show that is easy to use.  I saw many newer web designs that use this layout now, but still preferred sites that I landed on with nice, medium sized graphics that didn't have to be enlarged.
  • Create pages that make sense: About/Gallery/Contact/Links/etc.  Don't have an endless amount of links that open to pages that can't be found without a header.
  • On the newer sites, go easy on the java.  Some sites were so java heavy that it was hard to get to the product and see what there was inside.  For those of you who don't know what this means, some sites have flashing graphics that introduce the site or even within it, try to showcase the product in a fun way.  It's annoying and time consuming.
  • Take the music off.  I'm sorry, but if I click on a page and music comes on, I'm out of there like lightening.  It's not even about taste.  I've usually got my own background stuff going on (NPR, books on tape, my music, dogs barking, etc) and don't need to add another layer on top of it all.  
  • If you can't figure it out on your own get help.  Most teenagers know how to set up the basics of a blog or web template nowadays.  There are also people with a great deal of expertise, including TAFA member Aynex Mercado, who can turn out a gorgeous template for you.  
Hope that helps! If you have an ugly site, you will not make it into TAFA.  And, you won't sell much or generate interest in what you do.  The loveliest quilts will look awful if the photographs are bad, if they are reduced to tiny thumbnails and if they are swallowed up by busy graphics and fonts.  Show your work some love and give them a place of honor.

Oshiwa Namibia Team

Finally, TAFA is not only about product and service, but also about people.  When I look at a potential member, I evaluate their product, their work and try to sense if it is a labor of love.  There are several criteria I keep in mind: uniqueness, technique, materials used, how the product will enhance the rest of the group and how the member may potentially affect the rest of the group.  For example, a couple of members have joined who are very insular, quiet people, but they have incredible products and their blogs are exceptional.  People contribute in different ways.  Some are boisterous and fun while others might be quiet and introverted.  Textiles and Fiber Art are products.  They are made by people and ultimately, the people who represent them are what truly matter in my book.  I want TAFA to be green, fair trade, artistic, full of eye candy, handmade, gorgeous and so on, but more than anything, I want it to be good.  There is so much violence and cheapness in our world.  I am dreaming up my little utopia, united by some fibers and woven into a tapestry of unexpected delight.  Join us (ugly websites can still be our friends...) and support us as we explore this new place called TAFA.

Fireball by Sue Reno

Note:  All images in this post belong to the respective TAFA members.  Visit all of our profiles to learn more about each member.  Click to visit TAFA



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Intarsia Concept Offers A Basic Online Product Photography Course

by Tara Agacayak, Intarsia Concept Co-Founder

My partner Figen Cakir and I met through our love of art and craft which is ironic considering that our husbands work together - a fact we didn't learn until months later! With two separate businesses selling handmade, culturally-inspired products from Turkey, we naturally began projects supporting local artisans in our community. Figen runs The Knit Box, featuring natural Turkish yarn, handknits and knitting accessories. I started Citara's Handcrafted Boutique to highlight modern home and fashion products reflecting traditional Turkish techniques and motifs.
In building our online businesses, we conceived of Intarsia Concept (IC) as a venue to share our experience and learn from the experiences of others. IC is for people who want to turn what they love into what they do. For us it is our love of Turkey, art, design and culture. For you it might be rugs, quilts, tapestries ... (fill in the blank here).

One of the things we learned working in a digital environment is that selling products online is vastly different than selling them in person where visitors can see and touch our products. In person they get the full impact of color and texture. Because they are handmade, our customers understand the care that goes into each product because they can see all the detail imprinted by the artist.

But selling online is completely different. In this two-dimensional environment your potential customers are people who click away in an instant if there is nothing to keep their attention. So when we started IC, one of the first things we wanted to do was put together a course teaching basic product photography skills. We're proud to report we have finally done this with Diana Brennan from D.S. Brennan Photography. We hope that this course will not only help independent designers and artists like you take good photographs of your projects and products for the purposes of selling, but more importantly that it will also help you present your work in a way that honors the love and care with which you have created it.

Because it's not just about what you do, it is also about how you communicate that to others. Good photography is one way to broadcast your artistic message. Whether you are selling something or not, a well-photographed image speaks a thousand words.

If you're interested in attending the Basic Product Photography Course to learn how to present your work at its best, registration is now open. The self-paced e-course begins Monday, February 22nd but is only open to the first 50 students who register. As a special thank you to Fiber Focus readers, anyone who registers from this blog will receive a $5 refund with the coupon code {prodphoto10}. In addition, for each registration that comes through this community, member Catherine Salter Bayar will donate $5 to Nest, a nonprofit that gives micro-loans to female artisans.

Tara Agacayak

 Figen Cakir

Note from Rachel:  Catherine has contributed several posts on life in Turkey and her business, Bazaar Bayar.  Click here to see them.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Try This Quilt Binding Technique: Eliminate Corner Bulk!

by Donna Hussain

An advantage of belonging to a quilt circle is that group members share their quilting skills. In the past year I have learned how to discharge the dye in fabric to uncover hidden colors and create new fabric patterns, how to embellish my quilts with machine thread play, and a new way to bind my quilts.

Of the three new skills, the binding technique is my favorite. Binding is what covers the raw edges of a quilt after the top has been decorated, bundled with batting and back fabric, and then quilted by hand or machine.  In the past I have used a mitered corner technique for my quilt bindings.   Unfortunately the bulk in the corners often gave my quilts a slightly rounded corner instead of a crisp right angle.  The new technique eliminates that problem and is much easier to sew. The binding works for all square or rectangular quilts regardless of their size.

I suggest that you make a small quilt to practice the binding technique that I describe below. Cut two 8½ x 11 inch rectangles from two different colored fabrics. Label one fabric as the quilt top, the other as the quilt back. Cut batting the same size.  Bundle the front fabric, batting, and back to make a quilt. Baste or quilt the three layers together.

Binding Directions

The binding fabric required for this exercise should be 12 inches square.

Step 1
Cut two 2 inch wide strips of fabric two inches shorter than the quilt length from the binding fabric.
Cut two additional 2 inch wide strips of fabric two inches shorter than the quilt width.
Cut four 2 ½ inch fabric squares.

Step 2
Fold each fabric square in half on the diagonal, wrong sides together.  Press the folds.  Open the pressed squares wrong side up. Draw a pencil line on each square parallel to the fold as illustrated.  The parallel line is a cutting line. It should be ¼” away from the fold.

Step 3
Cut along the pencil lines. Discard the cut-off fabric. Repress the folds. You now have corner triangles with folded hems for your binding.

Step 4
Place your quilt front-side up.  Put one of the binding triangles with hem-side up in each of the four quilt corners. Be sure the right angles of     the triangles align with the right angle edges of the quilt corners. Pin or baste the triangles in place.
Step 5    
Fold and press the binding strips lengthwise in half.  Press the folds. Center these strips along the top, bottom, and sides of the quilt front with the raw edges of the strips aligned along the edges of the quilt. While centered strips will partially cover the corner triangles they will be one inch short at each end. The strips must not overlap.  Pin or baste the strips in place.
Step 6  
Machine stitch the binding fabrics to the front of the quilt close to the edges of the quilt. Remove all pins and basting stitches.
Step 7     
Turn the binding to the back side of the quilt. Poke the binding in the corners to get crisp right angles. Pull the binding so that the binding seam is at the very edge of the quilt, not visible when looking at the quilt front. Pin the binding to the quilt back, and then stitch the folded edges to the back by hand.

Folded edge of the binding needs to be stitched (hemmed) to the quilt back by hand.

The binding measurements in this article are appropriate for both small and large quilts.   However, you can enlarge the binding strip widths and the size of the corner triangles if you choose. But be sure that the binding strips are centered and do not overlap in the corners. The finished look of the quilt will not change.  However, the width of the binding at the back of the quilt will increase.           

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Introducing TAFA: The Textile And Fiber Art List


Hot off the press!  An idea that I've toyed with for years is finally becoming real!  The TAFA List is now live!  What is it?  Well, it's an illustrated database of people and businesses who share the love for textiles and fiber art.  It's a membership based group that hopes to access larger markets by coming together under one umbrella.  My hope is that fiber artists, fair trade groups, galleries, writers, collectors, museums, designers, creative entrepreneurs and anyone else who wants to be a part of it will want to join. 

The list is in a blog format. In fact, I used the same template that I used for this one, but with different colors.  Each post showcases a member with links to where they can be found online.  Having a web presence is one of the criteria for becoming a member.  TAFA, a cyber community, provides links to each other.  Here is a sample of what a member post looks like:

Bonnie Samuel Designs

I am a fiber artisan, creating with textile and mixed media. My work reflects my love of nature, incorporating bold color and light play to set a mood. Fiber art brings all the mediums I love, like painting and sewing, into my work. Textiles have a deeper meaning for me than just creating my art, however. Indigenous peoples worldwide depend on the production and creation of fiber and textiles for their income. Their work reflects their cultural heritage and traditions handed down generation to generation. The world of fiber art today has many expressions, so interesting in depiction, but also in the need of the artist to portray an emotion, mood or make a statement. To explore this more, I write a blog themed, "fiber in art, culture and life."

Earth is the Sum of Its Parts with Strings Attached
21"  x  21.5"  July 2009 
By Bonnie Samuel

Artist Statement

My life experiential path has been diverse, yet of great value in building a foundation for my avocation as a fiber artisan.  Through years in various careers, I remained involved in art, building skills with different mediums. Each experience has added to a collage of interrelated segments,  that in recent years has brought my art expression into focus.

The quilt art format combines creative elements I find most interesting and expressive – fabric, stitch, thread and painting. I find quilt art allows the use of design and texture to employ the richness and emotions of color expressively. Shapes, representational or abstract, are utilized in purposeful images to evoke an emotion, memory or bring focus to the message expressed by the art piece.

Fiber art is a rich, fulfilling and creative medium for me. It is an expressive art form, diverse in methods, construct, visual applications and employs a variety of skills. Fiber art is challenging and enriching for me as an artist and I think, too, for the viewer.

My imagery is meant for the viewer to identify with, have a good laugh, raise a fist in affirmation or simply enjoy.

Location: Ames, Iowa, USA
Online Store: The gallery on my website.
Blog: Bonnie Samuel Designs
Memberships: Surface Designs Association, Studio Arts Quilters Association
Languages spoken:  English and according to my British friends, "American" English.

Tags: fiber artist, indigenous textiles, art, mixed media, natural fibers, quilt art, dyeing, textiles, painting, artist

The members links are grouped into similar categories in the middle sidebar.  So far we have categories for Websites, Etsy, 1000 Markets, and Facebook Fan Pages.  These will grow as groupings become apparent.  Themes and locations are also listed as are the member blogs.

Membership Fee:
There is a one time set-up fee of $25 to become a member, no renewals. 

Referrals and Accountability:
As TAFA uses a blog format, the comments area for each member post can be used by the member for updates and for outside referrals.  For example, let's say you know someone on the list.  You can leave a comment saying how wonderful that person is, yada-yada, OR maybe you had a bad experience and want to warn others of that.  The comments are moderated and the negative ones might not necessarily be posted, but they will be kept.  If a member gets several negative comments, a conflict-resolution committee will be established to investigate the situation and the member just might get kicked off of TAFA.  I doubt this will ever happen, but felt that there needed to be a venue for accountability.  For example, let's say a gallery is asking for things on consignment, but they never pay their vendors.  We would not want to encourage that kind of behavior.

Facebook Group
Members will have the option to join the TAFA Facebook Group.  The group was set up for members as a place to discuss ideas on how to market the group and to network with each other.  Not all members like or want to be a part of facebook, so major decisions also include a mailing to all members.  But, facebook is the largest social media network around and it has great tools that we will be able to use to our benefit.  As TAFA is in a blog format, it has been registered with Networked Blogs and each new member will show up as a post.  Anyone who becomes a follower on facebook to the blog will be able to share the posts as they go live, a huge potential for viral marketing.

The third sidebar contains an area for sponsor ads.  Only members can be sponsors.  The ads cost $10 a month or $100 for a year or they can be earned through membership referrals.  Refer 10 members and you get a year for free.  As the list grows, this will give increased visibility to members who want to be sponsors.  The funds generated from the sponsor ads will be earmarked to marketing the whole group.  We will hopefully be able to advertise in mainstream magazines and sites that are too expensive for most of us on our own.  More info here.

Membership Form
Interested?  Would you like to join TAFA?  There is a process to the madness.  This link will take you to the membership information.  You will have to put together the info that you want on your member post and pay the membership fee.  You get a welcome email and can then join the TAFA facebook group.  As TAFA grows and blossoms into a full-fledged resource, it will generate more and more connections for all of the members.

Spread the Word
Word of mouth always does the best job in giving a new idea the ground level support it needs.  If you like the concept, whether you join or not, tell your people about it.  If you have a blog, you can use the logo with the link in your sidebar: http://tafalist.blogspot.com/

TAFA will be a great place to inspire blog post ideas, to find new connections and product sources and to share our love for textiles and fiber art.

Go take a look!  Then come back and give us some feedback on what you think of this new endeavor.  I am very interested in suggestions that might make TAFA the best it can be!



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