TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, April 28, 2008

Etsy: The Handmade Revolution

I have a store on Etsy called Rayela. I also have one on eBay, Rayelart. Everybody who shops online knows about eBay. They love it, hate it, use it or ignore it, but they definitely know it's there. Not everybody knows about Etsy.

Etsy, now in its third year, is an online marketplace with an agenda. Its founders want it to become THE place to shop for handmade goods through a community of small businesses who may offer a real shopping option in opposition to the corporate world. The founders, staff and most of Etsy's sellers are on the young, under-thirty side. Robert Kalin, known as Rokali around Etsy, co-founded the venture and acts as spokesperson for its vision:

The Etsy culture grew out of the Indie movement: young artists, designers and crafters who have re-defined fashion, function and design in the last ten years. The Indiepublic website is a starting point for many young sellers venturing into this marketplace. Etsy, Indiepublic and others have taken the handmade pledge, vowing to buy handmade whenever possible as an effort to support small-scale production and ventures.

Etsy has been growing by leaps and bounds. My store is one along 8280 others at the last count. Etsy allows three types of product to be sold: handmade by the seller, supplies and vintage (over 20 years old). This means that the range of products found there is huge, especially since many sellers don't read the rules and sell other things that are not allowed. My focus on Etsy is handmade textiles from around the world, vintage or remnant pieces that can be used as supplies. And, when I can, I have things I make on there, too.

Etsy is a marketplace packed full of eye candy. Sure, there is what I would consider "junk", but there are also oodles and caboodles of wonderful things in all three categories. Jewelry is the most competitive category, but fiber enthusiasts will find excellent sources for raw materials such as yarn, wool, and fabric along with finished textile products from wearables to decorative pieces. I have some of my favorite Etsy fiber artists linked in the right hand column of this blog. Explore them and you will see some of the wonderful treasures I am describing. Several have already written articles on their work for this blog. You will find them under the Etsy label, also in a column on the right. Fiber artists on Etsy can be found in many categories: hats, bags, pillows, sculptures, textiles, and quilts are some obvious keywords to use in searching for them, but many others abound. I distinguish within a category what I consider "art" apart from its normal function. This is a big can of worms, but in my opinion, not everyone who makes a bag is an artist and not every bag is art. I make bags and most of them are just bags. Fun ones, but nothing to knock you socks off. Dreamwoven, however, knocks your socks off with her hats:

The hats go beyond function and become art, transforming the wearer into a sculpture. I think she is my all-time favorite hat maker. Someday, I hope to own one of her pieces!

Fashionknitwear is another knitter making accessories into art. She doesn't have much in her shop, but she challenges the boundaries of what a shawl, neckwarmer or wrap should look like. This piece obviously keeps one's neck warm and it can be pulled up on the head as a hood.

Then, there are lots of fiber people making home accessories. Some use traditional techniques while others also explore the edge. Hedgehoghillcrafts of Maine does some nice felt work using blanket stitches:

A Stitch in Dye of Austin, Texas uses color explosively. She quilts, makes accessories and sells her hand-dyed fabric on Etsy. She also has a wonderful blog, http://stitchindye.blogspot.com, worth visiting.

IVANandLUCY, another Southerner from Louisiana, transforms pillows and bags into altered art pieces. The artist's Montessori training shows in her pieces which are dominated by earthy colors, vintage images and buttons.

Several international fiber artists reinterpret their heritage in a new way. Saffronmarigold takes traditional Indian designs and incorporates them into her line of interiors: bedspreads, curtains, table cloths and pillows.

Finally, there are those who play with fiber, traveling far in the world of imagination. SCRAPdannymansmith is a wild Chicago artist. He describes his process: "I TRY TO MAKE THINGS IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF CONTROLLED LUNACY". His work is prolific, exploring the limits of both fashion and sculpture.

Etsy welcomes all of these varied fiber artists. Some have become quite successful there, while others struggle to maintain visibility in a highly competitive market. Selling on Etsy is pretty accessible to most people: the process is quite simple (although there are many kinks that still need to be worked out), the listing price at 20 cents an item for four months is affordable, and the staff have made seller education a top priority. There are many ways to connect with other sellers, network, learn business skills, ask questions, and grow on Etsy. I use the forum regularly and have found most of the other sellers on there helpful and usually courteous. It's open to buyers as well and there have been heated posts about different topics in the year that I have been there. Only an estimated 2% of Etsy members use the forum, so it does not reflect the main body of sellers, but it is still reflective of experiences most sellers and buyers think about.

There are also virtual labs (live workshops and online classes), chat rooms, street teams (members unite by craft, location or interest) and the Storque, Etsy's newsletter which is packed with articles on products, special focuses, announcements, and so on.

Rob Kalin (Rokali) explores Etsy's first five years in a Storque article:

"In early April of 2005, I sat in an orange chair facing an open window. It was nighttime and the lights were off. I was back in Brooklyn after a brief residence in Paris, and I was about to sketch the initial ideas that would become Etsy. Working with three friends – Chris, Haim and Jared – Etsy went from these ideas to a site live on the Web in about two months.

Now, thirty-three months later, Etsy is a company with fifty employees, a community with over 650,000 members, and a marketplace with over 120,000 sellers in 127 different countries.

We launched in June of 2005, which means we're right in the middle of our first five years. Where are we headed? What do we need to get there?"

The book Swimmy by Leo Leonni represents Rokali's vision for Etsy:

Together, Etsy sellers can hopefully revolutionize product development, merchandising and the purchasing process around the world. Already, a sizable number of Etsy sellers have indeed become self-sufficient through their Etsy shops and have thus quit their daytime jobs. But, is this indeed a revolution? Recent forum posts have been questioning the ability of small businesses to stay small once they are successful. Some sellers have been talking about how hard it is to produce, photograph the product, list everything, provide customer support, do all the shipping, attend to marketing and grow without hired help. Etsy's rules stipulate that sellers can only represent themselves or a collective of family members and friends. I work about 60 hours a week on my business (which does include this blog!), which leaves very little time for creative endeavors, socializing with friends, reading or pursuing other interests.

On the face of things, Etsy seems like a simple solution to the home-based business. It is an excellent point of entry for beginners or hobbyists, but for the serious artist or seller who wants to grow their business into a full-time job that provides a decent salary, health insurance and benefits, Etsy can only be one egg in the basket. This is especially challenging for artists producing all their own products. The top sellers on Etsy tend to be supplies vendors who sell inexpensive beads and findings and can replicate their photos and listings with the same product over and over.

However, on the product development side of things, Etsy does provide consumers with a true alternative to mass-produced items of the Walmart standard. I do believe that everything helps. There are many, many sellers on Etsy who make wonderful products out of recycled items. Along with the green and fair trade movement, all of these little fish can somehow band together to fulfill the Swimmy model. We are still swimming with discordance, but in time, perhaps the ripple effect will grow into a true revolution. I invite you to join in and take the Handmade pledge!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tired Quilters in Paducah are On Their Way Home

Paducah welcomed thousands of quilters for a week of wonderful quilt-related shows and vending opportunities. The main attraction, of course, is the American Quilter's Society quilt show. But, everybody else (including me!) piggy backs on to the influx of these quilters who double the city's population and bring a much needed source of revenue for local businesses. Quilters come from all over the United States and from around the world. These cars were parked side by side at a lot close to the Quilt Museum:

There have been thousands of quilts to see, shopping opportunities at every turn, good food, perfect weather (no mosquitoes and the dogwoods are in bloom), classes, new friendships made, and just an all around good time with creative fabric addicts. Now, the exciting week is over and everybody is tired. Pooped out, exhausted, swollen feet, ready for the favorite couch or chair. Time to go home....

I went around and caught some photos of quilters who said they were tired, very tired:

All her bags are packed, she's ready to go...

Husbands have reached the end of their patience, too:

The trolley helps quilters back to their cars, buses, and hotels...

Everybody goes back to where they came from...

The city empties out and Paducah goes back to its normal pace. Sure, there is plenty to do, but nothing like when the quilters are here! We'll miss all of you! We thank you for all your support, your good will and all the life you bring to our fair city.

Remember that we are here year long and love having visitors the rest of the time, too. Come again and avoid the crowds! The museum will have new exhibits, there are lots of things happening in Lowertown (including the upcoming Lowertown Arts Festival in May), downtown Paducah has new businesses and restaurants and the area has lots of camping and shopping opportunities. So, come on down! Or, over, or up- guess it all depends on where you are! We'll be here, ready to welcome you back once your feet have had some rest!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Paducah Quilt Show Experience

Yesterday we went to the Quilt Show here in Paducah. We represented a microcosm of all the thousands of women who were also there: Me, now living here in Paducah, my Mom, Donna Biel from Mondovi, Wisconsin along with my auntie, Nyla Gislason from Boston, and my friend, Diane Gerlach, from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

My Aunt Nyla and my Mom in front of a Japanese exhibit.

As usual, the show is an experience of sensory overload with all its colors, textures, throngs of people, vendors, and the wonderful quilts. We started at the back end and worked our way to the main exhibit hall. A big mistake!

As you walk, you see rooms with aisles of quilts:

There are people everywhere!

Great vendors with oodles of patience, cool gadgets, the latest books and tools, and fabric, fabric, fabric!

The Scissors Man

Tina, from The Guild was working the Bernina booth (she sold me my Bernina)

This woman was very entertaining- she had a powdered glue product, Bo-Nash, that magically repairs holes, hems things and has thousands of uses. We all bought it.

Diane with a Hmong vendor.

The mistake we made was that there was so much to see that we got tired. We should have started at the main hall and worked our way out to the vendors. By the time we got to the quilts, I had no patience for taking good photos, even though I saw one quilt after another that I found inspiring and interesting. Then I found out that we are not allowed to post photos online of single quilts, so I guess it's just as well... So many colors and textures!

Each of us were drawn in different directions, with our own color preferences and thematic interests. Above, Diane looks closely at a quilt of a woman looking through a windowed door.

I was especially drawn to quilts with international or cultural themes. I saw one of a Native American where the face was solid embroidery. I was amazed at the artist's ability to capture so much expression with such density of thread. Another, Cool Camels of Egypt, made me laugh.

A quilt that was titled something like "The Burning of Baghdad" moved me. I remember the artist's name, Donna Hussein, and imagine, that like me, Donna married into another culture and uses her voice to address concerns there. I found the quilt powerful and would love to learn more about her work.

By the time we got to the Best of Show, our legs, feet, lower backs, and hips were screaming. Concrete floors claim their victims. The winning quilt was obviously gorgeous, interesting, and worthy of its prize. We heard that it took four years to make.

We hurried by and kept moving to the exit, joining hundreds of other women who were piling up in corridors, outside, anywhere where they could sit, remove their shoes and breathe a sigh of relief.

My mother is a real trooper though! At 70, she is in way better shape than I am. She could have kept it up for a couple more hours. She was a little tired, but more than that, she was happy to have had the Paducah quilt show experience!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Woo Hoo! Our booth is up and ready! Paducah Quilt Show 2008

Dear Reader- Are you here in Paducah for our annual quilt show madness? If you are, then you must, I mean, MUST come visit us! I'm part of a fiber art group here in Paducah which is in the process of choosing a name for itself. We've been meeting for two years with no name and finally, the time has come. Tentatively, I'm referring to us as "Paducah Fiber Artists". Three of us have sublet a retail space downtown, 212 Broadway, just a few blocks from the Convention Center where the real madness reigns. We have lugged our boxes, set up our shelves and have our wares ready for the taking.

There's me and my crew, Rayela Art, with gorgeous textiles from around the world:
  • Ralli quilts
  • Indian saris
  • Indonesian sarongs
  • Textile stamps
  • Carved textile hanging rods
  • Kuba cloths and antique hats
  • Turkmen robes
  • Vintage kimono
  • Molas
  • Kilim rugs
  • African beads
  • Uzbeki suzanis

Then, there is Helene's Handye, with loads of eye candy for the serious fabric addict. Bob and Helene Davis have hand dyed fabric, including shibori, Helene's quilts, and boxes and boxes of high quality commercial fabric (up to 15 years old, but never used and crisp), sold by the pound (under $3).

Helene's Quilts

Hand-dyed fabric:

Irene Reising is our third member and she has stacks and stacks of vintage quilt tops, a few antique sewing machines, and fabric.

Irene, on the left, ended up being a big customer with our sarongs!

In other words, if you love fabric, you will love us! We are tired and excited and very happy to be here with all of you!

A note on Rayela Art product for the computer savvy quilters:

We don't have a credit card processor at the booth. You can, however, use Pay Pal to pay for your purchases. You can use your computer or go to the public library a couple of blocks away and pay your total through your account. We'll hold your purchases until payment hits our account and then give you your goods. We are also offering free shipping or 10% off on purchases over $100. We can ship whatever you don't want to carry. Nice deal, eh? Checks and cash are more than welcome.

Etsy and eBay product: Rayela Art also has lots and lots of product on Etsy and eBay that is not available at the booth, especially small, interesting textile remnants from around the world. You can purchase these online and we will bring them to the booth where you can pick them up and save on shipping. The links to both online stores are at the right hand side of this blog- look for the Etsy and eBay logos.

Bob Davis and Diane Gerlach, yakking away about the show.

Helene Davis tagging her fabric.

We guarantee a fun time with us and a healthy selection of great fabric, textiles and quilts. That IS what the quilt show is all about, isn't it?

Lovely Tatiana advertising our wares.

A special thank you goes out to Tatiana and Diane Gerlach (who drove ALL the way down from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to save me from true madness!) for both of their hard work and organizational skills. Pam Heaverin, also a member of our group, will be there during the second half of the week. Thanks, Pam!

Pam Heavrin

We welcome all of you to Paducah and wish you a wonderful stay wherever you are in this fair town of ours!



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