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.
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.
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.
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