Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photographing Your Handmade Items

Ah...It seems that taking care of your animals is not the end all be all of alpaca farming. While I find it the most relaxing I do also enjoy the fiber aspect of my job. Creating items from alpaca fiber is a lot of fun. However, I want to sell them too. There are a lot of ways that you can market your fiber. The most common is via the internet. Yet you can market your fiber at craft and fiber shows, offer classes, give demonstrations, join spinning groups and of course there is the Etsy store. Etsy is the mecca for handcraft items. Posting your items on Etsy is done in 1/2 hour. At least not the first time. I learned the hard way by setting up a store and then sort of winging the photographs. The pictures of your items are the single most important aspect of your store.
I am not a photographer. In fact I don't really have the patience for photography. I just want to put my item on a table and take a photo and be done with it. Unfortunately that is not how it works. So I decided after my initial attempt at my Etsy store I would pull everything off my site and restart after I did some thorough research. I started with the Storque blog on Etsy. I found a really great article by a photographer. She demonstrated how to build a light box-a suggestion that my professional photographer husband had recommended a long time ago to me. This box basically helps control the light so you can take better photos.
The link to her blog is Copy and paste this then scroll down to the bottom of the page for the DIY light box. There is a lot of information there for the camera shy.

This is a photo of my box. In spite of not looking so great it has turned out to be a lifesaver. I don't have a professional camera and frankly don't know how to use half of the settings on my Olympus Stylus Tough. (It can be used that is a thought!)

This is a photo of a skein of yarn taken in the light box.

And a skein outside of the light box.

How I did it.
I placed my light box on a stand. I turned a magnifying glass with a built in light on and placed it at the side of the
box. I placed white stock board paper in the bottom and at the back of the box. I turned off the flash and put a shadow adjustment on the camera. Then I began to think I how could enhance the photos by staging a bit. The draw back with the box is that you are limited on the size of items that fit into it. A skein of yarn works great but a gum ball machine is too tall. I searched around my house for some small items as the wood bowl seen in the photo at the top. It took me about four hours to complete this session and I took photos of about 10 items. I was getting tired and annoyed toward the end. I suggest that you set up your props and products the day before so you will be ready to focus only on the photographs. It is too distracting running around all over the house looking for stuff.

And speaking of stuff -try to be creative in your staging. Use color to enhance your product by placing it on a cloth or stand that makes your work pop out. I am thinking of putting my 2 oz rovings in a trifle bowl or perhaps on a tray that has a complimentary color to the roving. For example if you create felted flower pins you could place your pins with a small hand shovel or clay pot in the background maybe some soil scattered in the foreground. You get the idea...

Make it fun and creative so that it won't seem like work, but part of your overall project. The photos you can keep as records of your work or to submit to juried shows. Think of the broad picture (no pun intended).

Once your photos are taken you can upload them to a site <""> to crop or fix the color saturation, etc. This site was suggested to me by Twirly Curly Bird. See her Etsy shop at I highly recommend that you use this site or another similar one to clean up your photos before publishing them. Although I am still working on a few details such as the larger items that won't fit in my 12 x 12 x 12 light box. One step at a time. At least I have a store back up and running. And it has some pretty neat photos!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dyeing the Color Spectrum

My mom gave me Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan for my birthday back in September. I finally cracked it open and was delirious with the dyeing possibilities. I couldn't wait to get myself set up in the kitchen. I wanted to use her 'dyeing your own color wheel" instructions and get a spectrum of colors in alpaca. I was curious to see how alpaca would take the dye. Of course it is beautiful as I expected. I started off by reading the instructions, but not reading them at the same time. I screwed up and wasted a whole of McCormick food dye in yellow. I realized that I needed some coffee, a shower and music. I made a cup of joe, showered and put on some Regina Specktor/Cheb Khaled/Johnny Cash. My brain was ready.
I started by mixing the dyes, correctly this time. My jars were labeled and I had some alpaca seconds washed and ready to go.
Basically I soaked the fiber in 1 part vinegar 2 parts water for 30 minutes. I let it strain and then added it to the mason jar with the dye. I then let it stand for 30 minutes and then into the microwave for 2 minutes for the dye bath to run clear. After microwaving I rinsed the fiber and let it dry. Now I have a beautiful array of colors. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in dyeing. I have read several dye books and I think this Ms. Callahan's directions are very clear and well written. Don't take my mistake at the beginning as a fault of hers. The directions were clear. I was just not at the table. The photos are also of high quality and not over done or cluttered. She includes some really clever methods of dyeing cones, the parking meter method for stripes on yarn, and "mozzarella-style" dyeing with raw fleece. Cannot wait to post another dye method from this book!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Dyeing Crazy Day

I spent almost the entire day dyeing skeins of alpaca. Each skein is 110 yards of white 'paca. Alpaca really absorbs the colors well and I ended up with some nice finished products. I mixed Wilton Cake Dyes in mason jars and dipped entire skeins in bowls of color or striped dyed them with a basting brush. I choose hues from yellow, orange, copper to blues and greens. I also finished plying a few hand spun skeins. I let all the skeins dry outside on a dryer rack in the sun. A perfect day for fiber arts. I am scrambling about as I have an expo at Forest Hills Eastern high school on Saturday where I hope to sell some of these beauties.

This skein is alpaca/llama mix. I had some Christmas bling to jazz it up a bit. It was dyed in walnut husks. I plied in a string of red quilting thread with tiny pom poms. I am imagining a nice scarf knitted up from this one.

Enjoy your Fiber Arts Day! Check out Wonder Why Alpacas to see more Fibery Fun!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Art Tarts

As snow is threatening to fall today and I still have to do a few winterizing chores I will be a bit brief today...

This is one of my newest items that I sell at expos and on line. Curly Bird Express helped me brainstorm to come up with this cute packaging. I thought that I would share.
I used 100% alpaca and/or alpaca hand carded with various materials; silk, fire angel, cotton, other wool, some hand dyed, thread, sequins, etc. Placed about 1 /4 oz into a coffee filter and packaged them into bakery boxes. I topped off the 'tarts' with a felted bead. I thought this would be a fun gift idea for spinners or felters.

Check out all the fabulous fiber arts happenings at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Preparing the Garden for Winter

Ahh. That time of the year when the beautiful colors of summer have faded and we are left with a monochromatic landscape. I like the change of season and enjoy the rest of work from the summer months. Yet I miss the splashes of purples, pinks and oranges that I tuck in my garden between the eggplants, beans and tomatoes. I am keeping the back 1/2 of the plot for dye plants. Last summer I put in fox glove, marigolds and geraniums for the sole purpose of dyeing. Unfortunately I did not get to use any of them. I actually ended up loving the colors too much and did not want to cut them!
Back to garden preparation...I am late getting my garden prepared for winter. I was going to start this morning but I was too cold. When the temperature rises to about 50 F this afternoon I will pull out all the dead plants. I then typically spread a layer of new compost from the huge pile that I have written about in previous blogs. I cover the garden with tarps and place some of the fire pit logs on top to hold them in place over the winter. This system works pretty well. By the time we can actually plant in Michigan (which is about May 20th) the soil under the tarps is weed free. I just hoe it a bit and rake it. Sometimes I add more compost and then I plant my veges. I make a diagram of the garden and order all the plants during the winter. I have tried seeds and started them in the basement with lamps..Way too much work for me. Plus I sometimes forget to water the seedlings. I decided plants are the preferred route for me. Once I have planted the plants I usually place straw in a fairly thick layer all over the garden. It helps keeps weeds down and to retain water. Then I put my yard art in and voila..ready for summer.
I also have a few currants and some blueberry bushes that I need to take care of too. They keep being eaten by the deer or the occasional goat escapee. Grr. So I think this year I am going to keep them fenced. They are still small and never get a chance to grow. Their branches must be really tasty.
Hopefully it will take me only a couple of hours to get this job done. I want to spin this afternoon!