Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Cyanotype with Craftiosity



Before I tell you all about this fantastic new craft I’ve discovered, I’m going to start with a disclaimer: I’ve always had mixed feelings about subscription boxes. I’m all for a lovely surprise every month, but as a self-confessed control freak, I like to know – and choose – where my money is going. That said though, I’m also a craft slut. Why buy it for £10 when you can spend £87 on all the materials and have a go yourself?!?
And this is where Craftiosity come in. Moira started her business to free people up to be creative and try out new things in their own time, in their own home. She has scoured the web for the most modern techniques (or modern projects using traditional techniques!), and brings them to us monthly, in a smartly designed box containing all the materials plus instructions. No massive outlay, and no need to spend hours researching – unless of course you get hooked, having had the opportunity to try something you’ve been interested in for a while, but never had the chance or excuse to get started!

Cyanotype with Craftiosity

That out of the way, I was super excited to receive my Craftiosity box, and it was such a treat to unwrap. Beautifully packaged and put together, with small glassine parcels to explore (it’s all mostly recyclable too, which is obviously another big thumbs up), I was like a kid at Christmas!
I knew in advance that it was going to be a ‘cyanotype’ kit, and that it would be something to do with making images using the sunlight, but the postcard inside explained that the process was invented by scientists back in 1842, and then soon after repurposed by botanists and architects.  I would be using special chemicals, mixed together and ‘painted’ onto a set of greetings cards. I’d then pop some bits and bobs on top, and expose it in the sunlight to create a silhouetted print.
As well as the necessary chemicals and equipment, the kit contained some skeleton leaves, string, and small wooden pegs – just some examples of items that would produce some clear/interesting silhouettes.
Cyanotype with Craftiosity

I had some good fun looking around for things that I thought would produce a crisp, clear shape, and decided to go for a crafts theme… I’m nothing if not predictable on-brand! Paintbrushes and rolled up paint tubes, some ornate scissors, a large needle, crochet hook, pliers, buttons, and some laser-cut charms. Ready!
Then I read the instructions. Nope. Not ready.
First I needed to do the sciencey bit and prepare my cards with the chemicals, and leave them to dry in a dark place for a few hours. I donned my protective gloves and cracked on, feeling like Doc Brown or Albert Einstein or similar, and then hid my freshly painted cards (and some A4 watercolour papers – I got carried away) in the utility room Cupboard Of Doom overnight.



Right! Ready again! Faff around styling all my objects, checking Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration (cards and paper still in Cupboard of Doom, as I was utterly paranoid about accidentally exposing them ahead of time). Realised it was only 15 minutes until I had to leave to pick up my daughter from her first day at pre-school, and decided to try again later.

Agh! Right. Finally! The sunshine was out and I had nowhere to go for an hour or two. I was mostly excited to try out the crochet themed objects, so rather than go slowly and use the provided items first, I jumped straight in. I soon found out that (surprisingly), the tips in the instruction booklet were pretty bang on: ‘If your object is pressed down onto the paper, you’ll get sharper lines. If it comes away, you’ll see a fuzziness where the light gets underneath’. My objects were all different thicknesses, so when I sandwiched them between my piece of glass and the greetings card, my crochet hook rolled around, and my teeny granny square wasn’t pressed down firmly enough. The scissors looked great though, as they were heavy enough to not allow much sunlight to get underneath.

This craft is actually really good for me, as I like to see quick results (no delayed gratification here, thank you very much), and so 10 minutes of bright sunlight later, I was able to take my print inside to give it a quick wash. All of the area that had been exposed to the sun had turned a gorgeous shade of indigo – my favourite colour – while the bits underneath my objects were a greeny yellow from the remaining chemicals. Once I’d  rinsed the card a couple of times though, the beautiful contrast between the white card and the indigo print became clear. Spurred on, I went back to my collection of crafty bits to decide what to print next! I’d learned from my first print that the items that didn’t lay flat wouldn’t produce such a clear print, so I discarded the paint tubes and a couple of other things, going instead for some sewing-related objects: a needle, safety pin, and some buttons. This probably ended up being one of my most successful prints, but I still wasn’t put off from experimenting with a more fibre-based theme… see if you can guess what this is:

Cyanotype with Craftiosity


I used large and small granny squares for the A4 papers, and think I’m actually going to do a few more of these, once I’ve really got the technique down: I wish I’d been less impatient and used blocked squares, which are stretched out and lie flat, and would have produced much crisper lines. Also I’ve found that I like to see more of the indigo colour, with a rougher edge, from when I’d originally treated the cards with the chemical mixture. The kit contained more than enough chemicals for the pack of greetings cards provided, and so I still have a few more pieces of watercolour paper prepared for another day, hurray!

Cyanotype with Craftiosity


All in all, I’ve really enjoyed the whole Craftiosityexperience, from the initial unwrapping, to the process (and the ways in which I could combine my own ideas with the instructions), results, and even the follow-up – I’ve just joined Moira’s ‘Creative Adventure Tribe’ Facebook group!

Previous months kits have included screen printing, bath bomb making, embroidery, and book binding; and inspiration aplenty can be found on Craftiosity’s social media pages! Boxes can be ordered singly (great for a control freak like me!), or on a fixed term or rolling monthly subscription. They’d make a fantastic gift for anyone who struggles to find something really original for their loved ones (ha, don’t we all?!)

Cyanotype with Craftiosity


My Craftiosity cyanotype kit was gifted to me, but this review was unpaid, and all words and opinions are my own.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Vero - my initial observations

For anyone floating around online over the weekend, maybe you’ll have come across at least one friend mentioning Vero… it’s a social media platform that’s actually been around since 2015, but which for some reason has had the most enormous flurry of hype over the past few days. With the tagline ‘True Social’, they’re marketing themselves as a more true-to-life way of sharing your activites and ideas. I only signed up two days ago, but I’ve had a chance to find my way around a bit, and have straightened out my thoughts into something that might be interesting for another newbie to read… 


THINGS I LIKE

I LOVE the flexibility of having everything within one account on Vero. At the click of a button, I can set anything I post to be shown to all of my followers, or just to close friends/family, and there are even 2 ‘levels’ inbetween! This means that I don’t have to choose between having a personal and a business account - and therefore maintaining both, and it means I don’t have to search my soul too much before sharing a photo of my children (however, I am mindful that there are always risks online, so no bashing there please!) The only problem was choosing my user name, ie whether to be Liz Chan or Fickle Craftroom!

I also ruddy love that the Vero feed is chronological (no stupid algorithm hiding posts from me anymore – yay!), and I think that this one feature alone will pull a LOT of people away from Instagram. I even wonder whether this will cause IG to rethink the very unpopular changes they made last year... and whether they might even be too late...? I realise this is probably a little bit premature of me, but food for thought nonetheless? If I scroll for long enough, I will get to see everything posted by the people I have chosen to follow (y’hear that, Instagram?!). I feel sad that little gems of accounts that I’ve stumbled across get buried beneath the big boys sometimes, and I’ve seen the algorithm damage a lot of small indie businesses this way.


ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

One thing that’s really good about Facebook these days though, is the community feel, specifically talking about the groups. At the moment I do feel a little bit isolated on Vero (obviously this is partly caused by the app being so new, and so I don’t yet have the same number of followers, connections etc yet). Hopefully this will get better the more I myself reach out and interact, but I do think that a group functionality would be a great addition – especially as Vero is potentially one app containing the best bits of FB and IG.

I’ve realised that I do actually really like the grid layout of Instagram; I can see at a quick glance if an account is one I want to follow, whilst also seeing the larger format images in my feed. I don’t really want to spend too much time scrolling through a person’s page in the very first instance. Also, whilst the book recommendations etc have their place, and could be useful if that’s what I was actively seeking, I just don’t want to have to wade through all of that to get to the good stuff.

One thing I'm not sure of yet, is how to find people without knowing their exact user names. Ideally I'd like Vero to give me suggestions of people to follow, based on my interests, my existing followees, or by importing contacts from Insta or Facebook (they don’t yet have this capability). If I could easily find people then this would also contribute to lessening the isolated feel too.

It wasn’t especially clear at first what the difference was between ‘following’ and ‘connecting’ with someone. Turns out that following is kind of like what you do on Instagram with other accounts. Connecting is more like becoming ‘friends’ with someone on Facebook (also – when you connect with someone, Vero asks you to categorise them as a close friend, friend, or acquaintance. This will later help you to filter who can see your posts accordingly.


In conclusion, I’m very excited by what this new app, and the potential it has to offer – I just need all my friends to join now, to keep me company!  I’m going to send a link to this post to Vero themselves, and report back on any feedback I get, so I’ll keep you posted!

If you have anything to add, or can help me with any of the above, I'd love to read your comments!

P.S. come find me on there! I'm Liz - Fickle Craftroom ;-)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

#CraftAsTherapy

You know that feeling when someone is combing your hair, or tickling your back, or the one just before you drift off to sleep… it’s a kind of floaty, contented, semi-conscious state where you could almost feel yourself going cross-eyed. If you were a dog you’d probably start twitching your hind leg a bit.  

Last night I realised that this is what crochet does to me. The repetitive movements to create each stitch, the tactile squishy softness of the yarn, the gradual changing of the colours…
My brain is fully absorbed in the task at hand, yet strangely free to roam. Problem-solving, imagining, planning… I am relaxed; I am zoned out, but I am busy, happy and productive.

Is this what we call mindfulness?


In today’s fast pace, pressure, and the constant distraction of social media (I must admit to having paused writing this post to scroll through Instagram at least three times!), my crochet hobby – or obsession – grounds me. It’s so important for my mental health, to not only take time out from all of life’s admin, but to reach this state of semi-conscious focus in which to let my mind wander.

I’m not one for sitting still; nor do I watch much tv. I used to devour books like chocolate, but I’m finding I have less patience or motivation for reading these days. My hands need to be busy, and this need - if unmet – can often make me incredibly anxious.

Do you remember last years craze for colouring books? I skipped over this one, but reckon the effect must have been much the same… I’m so glad that there’s a growing awareness that we need to take a step back sometimes. Creativity (without the need for perfection) is such a great outlet for the stress of living a busy life, and it’s fantastic that this message is hitting the mainstream.

Have you experienced this sort of trance within your hobby? If so, what is it?


End note: The hashtag #CraftAsTherapy was launched in 2015 by Mandy of Red Agape, and now has over 300,000 Instagram posts! 


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How to know when to let go

It’s no secret that I love planning and organising; lists and spreadsheets are my kryptonite. Combine that with parties, AND crafts, and I’m done.

Having lived in London for most of my twenties, I was lucky enough to have access to indie makers with original ideas and quirky products, pretty much whenever I wanted. The amount of markets and craft fairs was unreal, and I was in consumer heaven.



By the time I started my own creative business, I was living on the London/Surrey borders, and the opportunities to shop small were diminishing. And then when I admitted to myself that I really wasn’t a London girl any longer, I really felt like the only way to reach independent designer-makers was online. I’ve always really prided myself on choosing cool little gifts for people, that wouldn’t be recognised immediately as being from x high street store, and aside from Not on the High Street, there was nothing. Zero. Zilch.

So I thought, why not go back to my roots in Marketing & Events (Sheffield Ski Village, I miss youuuuuu!), and start up my own version of these awesome little markets, only OUTSIDE of the big smoke? There are some awesome business models out there (Crafty Fox being just one – but in London, yet again), but social media was clearly showing that cool creative people are everywhere, so why not provide the opportunity for them to exhibit a little closer to home? Lower fees, a captive and ready audience, and enough enthusiasm to fill several airport hangars, let alone a local function space. And so, six months or so ago, bolstered by the success of Fickle Craftroom, and encouraged by my growing relationship with other creatives and bloggers, I decided to start pursuing one of my ultimate dreams. Fickle Fairs was born!!

I decided to run some workshops in the lead up to a late Autumn/early Christmas fair, in order to drum up a bit of extra local awareness, and carefully curated a calendar of various current and classic crafts. Some of these were more successful than others (DIY neon signs was a sellout, felt ball garlands a washout), but I kept on, reaching out to other local creatives for collaborative workshops and projects, and plugged my workshops everywhere I could. I actually even priced them far too low, convincing myself that they weren’t for profit, just for the sake of building awareness, but I enjoyed them more than I thought I would (my mum was a teacher, and the combination of seeing the amount of admin she brought home, with my abject terror of training anyone when I worked in Finance, has always utterly put me off teaching).



I spent HOURS researching the best venue for a craft fair, and finding talented local people to get involved. We set the date.

It’s fair to say that I did feel massively encouraged by the response – for 17 people to apply for a BRAND NEW venture, willing to part with their own hard-earned cash and time, and so close to Christmas as well, is amazing. They weren’t just any old craftspeople either, they are all hugely talented and interesting. But I needed 30 people in order to be able to afford the venue, table hire, insurance and some advertising.

I could have accepted the 17 and gone with a smaller venue, but for want of a better phrase, it would have felt a bit meh. In order to draw people in to actually SHOP, rather than simply chancing upon a side room in a cafĂ© (or whatever we’d have ended up with), we needed a larger-scale event. If people were putting their faith in me to promote their businesses, offer drop-in workshops, and make sales, I owed them better than that. If I wasn’t able to afford a wide-spread marking campaign then no matter how many stallholders we had, it would have fallen flat. I would have been out of pocket, and people would have lost faith.

This time, although it was a difficult decision, I ultimately knew when to say no, even when it felt a bit humiliating, and I was turning my back on a long-held dream. But when I try again, I will have learned a little more. I still feel passionately about bringing the quirky outside of London, but maybe Fickle Fairs needs to grow a bit more, get a bit braver about reaching out, asking for advice from the bigger boys. Next time it will work.

 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

#worklifebalance ... and the school holidays

So Easter is almost upon us....

Since Becca is still small, I do not get a lot of work done during the weekdays - she'll 'help' with odd bits, and I might manage a bit of packaging up orders while she's entertaining herself. She likes to have me close by during her downtime (ie when she used to nap, but now just chills out watching cbeebies), so I generally spend that cuddling her whilst doing my planning and social media. Emails, phone calls and speaking with suppliers happen as and when through the day (making me feel - and probably look - like I'm constantly on my phone, rather than paying attention to my daughter). By the time both kids are in bed and dinner with my husband is done, it's 9pm and I'm shattered! But that's then my making / website / blogging time for an hour or two. Or drinking #allthewine if it's been a particularly stressful day!!

But then the holidays start, and it all goes to pot! Don't get me wrong, it's so nice to be able to take my big boy along on our mini adventures, but having my deliciously boisterous boy at home as well as my two-year-old little miss does rather change things.

He has his own chest of drawers in the Craftroom :-)
So without further ado, here are my top tips for keeping your small business afloat over the school holidays:
  • The first, and most obvious one is to close for a week, if you can afford to. Turn your shop onto holiday mode, and put out a notice on social media, remembering to include your return date. Then make sure you reply to all emails and send out all orders immediately upon waving your little darlings goodbye at the gate on Monday. Alternatively, you could just pop a banner across the front of your site stating that whilst you are accepting orders, there will be a delay of x days until dispatch. Include a note on any confirmation emails or receipts too, just to cover yourself.
  • Take it in turns with other parents to host a playdate - then you can all get a break at some point! This can work out beautifully over the summer holidays, if you nominate one day a week in which to get the kids together, then every parent (I refuse to generalise and say 'mum') knows they'll have, say, 5 Thursdays out of 6 to themselves.
  • Share out the holiday with your other half if possible. If they can even take just one day off then it all helps, and it shouldn't necessarily all fall to you just because you're self-employed. Your income depends on you actually working, after all! 
  • On the days when you're staying home, or local, try and allocate roughly the same time each day, to some independent play, or down time. Obviously the length of time depends on their age, but I do believe it does everyone good to have to entertain themselves sometimes - plus it helps to punctuate and reset the long day a little. Even just half an hour after lunch each day will help you to get through your emails.
  • Another obvious one, but get making together! Give the kids a box of crafting goodies (or the contents of the recycling box!) and see what they come up with. Or if there's a step in your process that they'd be able to do, such as sticking address labels and decorating packages? Or counting stock! They will feel valued and get a big boost to their self-esteem, knowing that you trust them enough to let them 'work' with you.
  • I don't know about yours, but my kids always behave WAY more nicely at the beginning of the week and then decline towards the end, so plan your activities accordingly! For me this means that we try and plan the big exciting days out for Monday or Tuesday and I don't work at all, and resort to a pyjama-and-movie day on Friday (and I can work next to them)! 
Stock check and blurry photo courtesy of my 6 year-old
There we go - my 6 top tips. How you do manage to get work done during school holidays, whilst also making sure your littles are having fun and quality time? Xx

Post-teatime painting = wine

Monday, 27 March 2017

Crafty events and a bit of market research

Hello!

So in my last post, I touched on some plans I was making for running some crafty events here in Hertfordshire... It has long since been a dream of mine to shake up the traditional craft fair and get some of the fresher designer-makers showcased in cool events OUTSIDE of London. I don't know about you, but whenever I see a sign advertising a local craft fair, I get all excited inside, visualising handmade bits and pieces that I'd never seen the like of before. I imagine being totally inspired, and getting to kit out my house and wardrobe with quirky, completely original accessories, created using crazy new techniques I could only dream about...

And then I'd turn up to find the same old decoupage greetings cards, maybe a patchwork blanket or two, cross-stitch country garden scenes, knitted figurines........... I don't mean any offence to anyone reading this who may make these things, honestly I don't. But wouldn't it be brilliant to see something new? LOTS of new things! All under one roof!

There are loads of fantastic new-wave craft fairs going on in London, such as Crafty Fox, Renegade, SoLo, Bust Craftacular, and The London Artisan, as well as the regular markets such as Spitalfields, Camden and Portobello Road. But seriously. There are modern makers and daring designers ALL OVER this country, and they shouldn't have to travel all the way to the capital in order to get their goodies noticed.

Photo courtesy of www.instagram.com/northern.craft/

Organisations like Northern Craft (in Leeds), Handmade Nottingham, and MADE Brighton, are doing a brilliant job of showcasing the cool cats in other parts of the country, and I think that it's high time my dream became a reality here in St Albans! We have excellent transport links, being within spitting distance to the M1 and M25, and a superb rail network to boot. Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties are awash with indie creatives, and I just feel like the general population is looking for ways of supporting smaller businesses these days. Not On The High Street is now probably the first place people will look online for a slightly different gift, and Etsy is becoming more widely known in the UK now as well. But for an actual shopping experience, I would like there to be something more...

Which leads me onto the second part of my plans! Alongside the opportunity to browse and shop the coolest and most innovative handmade products outside of London, I would also like to hold some workshops. I'm imagining pre-bookable classes in unusual crafts such as giant knitting, as well as some more casual drop-in sessions. Add a drop of prosecco, or some tea and cake and I think that's my dream day out right there!


Oops, if you've got this far then well done and thank you!! This post wasn't meant to be such an emotional outpouring!

Anyway, I have put together a wee survey that I would MASSIVELY appreciate your help with. It takes on average 2 minutes to complete, and just runs through some questions about your ideal event. The link is HERE, and I will love you forever if you could do this for me! I've already started reaching out to some potential teachers and venues, so the ball is already rolling. I just need to bite the bullet and do it *gulp*

Sorry - finally - what do you think to this name / logo? My first idea was 'QUIRK', but maybe it's better to link it to Fickle Craftroom a bit (and to incorporate the word 'fair' or 'market')?

Thank you sooooooooo much xx


Monday, 27 February 2017

Current Projects (of the non-making variety)

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to let you in on a few of the projects I've been working on so far this year! It started, of course, with a brand new look for the website, which has had some lovely comments so far. All feedback is useful though, so if you've had a mosey and found any problems with the navigation, or design, or if you think there's anything vital missing, then I'd really like to hear from you. It definitely needs to be made a bit more mobile-friendly, so that's what I'll be working on next.

A new look for the Fickle Craftroom website

Ok, so number 1: the FICKLE CRAFTERS Facebook group... part of the original dream for Fickle Craftroom was to build a supportive, interactive crafting community. We've only just really got off the ground, but are making a good start - meaningful content is the order of the day, including tutorials, chat, inspiration, and fun challenges. I would love for you to join, and invite your friends too!

Fickle Crafters Facebook Group

Number 2: At the beginning of the month, we introduced Stitched by Sisters to the Craftroom (more about them soon, in another post!), but I'm also very much hoping to bring on board some more Fickle Crafters, to sell their own handmade designs on FC. If you are a UK-based designer/maker, with something original to offer then please get in touch, by emailing me at hello@ficklecraftroom.com!

Stitched by Sisters at Fickle Craftroom

Number 3: I've got looooads of amazing ideas for a series of events, including workshops, craft fairs and more, and I cannot wait to get these diarised for you! A successful fundraising Crafternoon for Comic Relief will kick things off next month (click the link to find out more about how you can support us or get involved)

Fickle Craftroom / Mollie Makes Crafternoon in St Albans, in aid of Comic Relief 2017

Thank you for reading, I honestly would love to hear from you, whether it be a blog comment, or a natter in the Facebook group, or if you have an idea that we could work on together!

xxx