Nov 102011

I walked my fingers through my wool yarn the other day, touching and rearranging the skeins, admiring their colors. In reality, I was pondering the idea of introducing a new line of products in JN Originals, my shop on Etsy which features crocheted and felted items.

Whether you’re a small shop owner like me or have a large business that reaches into every household across the nation, I suspect that all sellers go through some sort of “research and development” phase—more than one phase, to be sure, since the marketplace is fickle. What’s “in” one year is “out” the next. The super-long, fuzzy “eyelash yarn” scarves of four years ago, for example, have given way to shorter scarves that keep you warm but don’t flap into your face when a gust of wind comes along. If you’re lucky, as a handmade seller, your timing is on and what you sell leaves your doorstep almost as soon as you create it. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? In reality, there is always a certain amount of risk involved, so you can’t afford to make too many of any one item, or you’ll get stuck with product you cannot sell. But without experimentation, your business is stuck in the water like a ship without sails because nothing is ever static.

Before I began selling handmade goods on Etsy, nearly everything I made was gifted to those I knew, both family members and friends, so to some extent these people represented the source of my market analysis. Their “oohs” and “aahs” translated into the sections of my shop including hats and scarves, felted journals and needle books, coffee cup sleeves, fingerless gloves and flower brooches. What I have discovered, however, is that people’s admiration or appreciation of these items does not necessarily result into sales. What people are excited about receiving for free does not excite them so much when they have to reach into their pockets. And there is always a price point beyond which they will not tread, no matter how wonderful your product may be. I have also learned that what sells well online may not sell equally well in person at craft shows. In a word, we’re all on a perpetual search for that one special item that will make our business bloom and sales take off. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. I tried selling felted napkin rings on Etsy and failed, for example. Research and development can make the bravest among us grow faint of heart!

Despite the risks associated with any new item you introduce, there is something magical about the research and development process. You check out your competition for similar items and decide how you want to stand out. Finding a unique angle must always be your goal, for you simply cannot assume you are the only person to generate that idea. And when you finally unveil your product, it feels somewhat like a gift you unwrap and pass around to get everyone’s reaction. So, that is what I am doing below, where you’ll see a small felted bowl that represents a new product line in my shop. What do you think?!


Click on image to learn more about this Challenge.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Feb 102011

Last week I promised to introduce more participants from the 52 Weeks Challenge which is now in its sixth week. Before I do so, however, allow me to recap for you how the challenge works, and to show you what I worked on this last week. The challenge, which was started by Kym of Fabric Fascination, asks each participant to finish one project of any kind each week, and then to post a link to a photo of the completed project on Kym’s blog. Even if you are starting late (as I did), you are welcome to join the group.

I think it would be embarrassing to list how many unfinished projects are lying around in my house, but this challenge is allowing me to tackle the fringes of the so-called pile. This last week, as my husband and I watched a marathon of Jonathan Creek movies  during the evenings, I worked my way through nine felted wool needle books, sewing buttons to covers and crocheting beaded cords to close the books. I had previously crocheted the covers and fulled them in the washing machine, and had cut out felt circles for the pages. However, I had been putting off assembly because the sheer stack of books was so daunting. I am glad to report that these needle books are now completely finished, and are in the process of being listed in my Etsy shop for sale.

Nine Felted Wool Needle Books

Let’s meet some other 52 Weeks Challenge members who have also been completing weekly projects.

Log Cabin Quilted Bowl

Chadyienne, who posts about her quilted items on her blog, Cedar Point Designs, is an amazingly prolific sewer from Minnesota  with more than 20 years of quilting experience. She started selling her patterns on Etsy in 2009, beginning with her Sun Burst Tabletopper, and continuing with her Pine Forest and Jack O Lantern table topper patterns. Chadyienne’s shop name, Cedar Point Designs, is based on a piece of lakefront property she owns in Minnesota, where she hopes to retire one day. In the meantime, she is keeping her needle busy with her beautiful fabric bowls and coin purses, wall hangings, table toppers, table runners, and other quilted items. Most of her items feature her own designs. Chadyienne’s favorite technique is paper piecing.  Besides her Etsy shop, you may find Chadyienne’s work in her ArtFire shop, on Zibbet, and at the Calico Barn in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Gotcha Orange Magnetic Needle Nabber Flower Improved

Rose of Hawaii is the owner of Big Island Rose Designs on Etsy. She is a fellow BBEST (Boomers and Beyond Etsy Street Team) member, and blogs about her sewing interests at The Rose Journal. Rose, whose inspiration is her mother, Mabel, began sewing and crafting as a little girl, making doll clothes and toys. When she was 10 years old, she graduated to her first “real” sewing machine, and won a Singer district sewing contest with a dress she made. Her mother taught her how to embroider, and her father gave her stamps from his collection that Rose used for collage work. She is happiest when working with fabric, paper and buttons, and all three of those materials can be found in her Etsy shop, where she specializes in making fabric wearables, sewing notions and gifts—all of them featuring fabric yo-yos. Her blog is filled with tutorials and friendly sewing tips that she calls Monday Night Tidbits. One of her more recent Tidbits is to overlay your digital scanner glass with a transparency when scanning items (such as jewelry) that might otherwise scratch the glass. What a great idea! Among my favorite items in her shop are her Needle Nabber Flowers and Needle Candies, both of them designed to keep your sewing needles and pins in a handy place.

Dolphins at Sunset Quilted Wall Hanging

Stacy Lajoie Edell is both the mother of a seven-year-old and the manager of an auto finance company, but when she isn’t sleeping, she is thinking, breathing and dreaming about fabric. “I am a self-professed fabricaholic,” she says. “I visit a fabric store almost daily during my lunch hour and love to collect fabric. Unfortunately, I collect more than I cut. I am proud of my collection and often sew before and after work as well as on weekends.” Stacy now lives in Florida, but she previously lived in Maine for almost 30 years. She has been sewing and quilting for more than 20 years, and sells her quilted goods on Etsy at Quilting Diva. She has sewn more than 400 small quilts and wall hangings, and loves to make totes, bags and coffee cozies.

Rose Pendant Agate Beaded Necklace

Jacqueline Gikow of Jacqueline Jewelry specializes in handcrafted semi-precious stone and precious metal jewelry, as well as beaded necklaces, beaded earrings, beaded bracelets and home decor accessories. “Whether you are looking for a trinket or a serious investment, my aim is to provide hand-crafted products that are well-made, lasting, and unique for the casual craft lover as well as serious collectors,” she says.This New Yorker who is inspired by stones and beads with bold colors brings to her work her experiences in pottery, graphic and industrial design, and computer programming. Although Jacqueline is a self-taught jewelry artisan, she is no stranger to the art world. She has degrees in sculpture and art history, environmental design, and industrial design. She has also written two books, Graphic Illustration in Black and White and Polymer Clay: Creating Functional and Decorative Objects.

Swarovski Crystal and Glass Pearl Bridal Tiara

Christine is a Tennessee graduate student in community agency counseling, but Mozella Designs on Etsy is her creative outlet. “My jewelry inspiration comes from current trends and classic fashion,” she says. “I’m still new to jewelry making, but I really love learning new techniques and making different kinds of jewelry.” Her shop name is a tribute to her mother, who passed away when she was younger. Christine writes in her blog, My Jewelry Box, about her enthusiasm for jewelry-making, which recently included attending the Intergalactic Bead Show in Memphis, Tennessee. There she purchased moonstone cabochons, freshwater pearls, semi-precious beads and handmade-by-women Kazuri stones from Nairobi, Kenya. I can’t wait to see what she does with these new additions to her collection!

Next week I will introduce the final members of the group. Meanwhile, please visit this week’s list of participants at their blog and/or online shop addresses.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission.

Oct 222008

Much like the ebb and flow of the sea, many handcrafts surge and recede in popularity. Today there is a high level of interest in the art of felting, but in reality this craft goes back as far as the history of man. Asian nomads used felt for their tents, their clothing and their floor coverings. Brides got married while sitting on a cloth of white felt, animals were sacrificed on a felt blanket, and Mongolian horsemen hung felt figures inside their tents to bring them good luck and ward off evil.

Felt in the traditional sense consists of wool or animal fibers that, when washed in hot water, shrink and lock together to form a sturdy, thick fabric. This is known as wet felting.The fabric can be cut without the edges unraveling, and is relatively resistant to moisture. This makes felt perfect for domestic uses such as hats, coats, shoes, blankets and much more.

Today artists can take wool roving (yarn that has not yet been twisted or spun into strands) and felt it with their hands using hot water and soap. When the wool is laid out in layers going in different directions, and those layers are rubbed or agitated, this causes the barbs of the wool fibers to grab onto each other and permanently interlock. When you crochet or knit with wool yarn, and then wash the final product on a hot cycle in the washing machine, you are doing essentially the same thing, except that this is known as fulling. Cutting up wool garments and shrinking them in the washer is also fulling. Sometimes artists will combine synthetic (acrylic or nylon) or plant-based (cotton, linen or hemp) fibers with animal fibers, but the best fulling results take place with protein-based animal fibers. Traditionally felt is created from sheep wool, but technically you could full fibers from rabbits, cats, dogs or even your own hair.

Needle felting is the commercial answer to dry felting, or interlocking wool fibers without the use of water. Barbed needles puncture wool fibers repeatedly, causing them to interlock. Fabric can be formed in this way, and fibers can be permanently attached to other fabrics as well. Needle felting can be accomplished both by hand, or with a special sewing machine tool. Clover makes a range of hand needle felting tools that are available in many fabric and craft stores. Commercial felting machines like Baby Lock‘s Embellisher or Nancy’s Notions Fab Felter speed up the needle felting process considerably.

Boomer artists have explored both wet and dry felting, producing a wide range of products. Chrissie of makeyourpresentsfelt, for example, has created this adorable Felted Egg Cosy.

Felted Egg Cosy

Check out this lovely Needle Felted Daisy Brooch by Lori of DreamWhimsey.

Needle Felted Daisy Brooch

Sue of Felt4Ewe wet felted this beautiful Inlaid Flowers Hat.

Inlaid Flowers Hat

Evelyn of creationsbyeve utilized hand felting to produce her Purple Dahlia Bag.

Purple Dahlia Bag

Nothing could be closer to the traditional wet felting tools of soap and water than Cross My Heart Felted Soap, created by Kimberly of thewildhare.

Cross My Heart Felted Soap

While Carol of SandFibers is usually known for her beaded creations, this Fiesta Swirls Felted Cuff features needle felting.

Fiesta Swirls Felted Cuff

Liz of lizplummer made the foundation felt of her Cocoon Small Textile Wall Hanging by hand.

Cocoon Small Textile Wall Hanging

To learn more about the art of felting, you may wish to explore the following books:

  • Crocheted Pursenalities: 20 Great Felted Bags, by Eva Wiechmann
  • Fast Fun & Easy Needle Felting: 8 Techniques & Projects–Creative Results in Minutes, by Lynne Farris
  • Felted Crochet: Bags, Pillows, Bowls, Hats, Throws, by Jane Davis
  • Not Your Mama’s Felting: The cool and creative way to get it together, by Amy Swenson
  • Pursenalities: 20 Great Knitted and Felted Bags, by Eva Wiechmann
  • Quick & Clever Felting: Over 30 Stylish Projects Using Felt Applique, Needle Felting, Wet Felt and Other Easy Techniques, by Ellen Kharade
  • The Embellisher: Let’s Get Started! by Myfanwy Hart
  • Warm Fuzzies: 30 Sweet Felted Projects, by Betz White

© 2008 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at