A Cute Raccoon and an Update on Etsy

Hello, friends!

It’s been longer than I would prefer between updates. Life was pretty hectic for a while and the blog took a longer snooze than I thought it would.

I finished a custom raccoon order back in March and things were so busy at work, I didn’t have time to process the photos I took or blog about it. So now I’m posting the update on that. I was a bit worried that because I hadn’t done a raccoon in a few years, I would find the pattern overly technically challenging, but I was pleased to find it wasn’t. The most challenging aspects of making it were:

  • The color changes on the snout — getting nice, even tension with the changes
  • Placement of the eyes and eye patches and getting everything just so with the symmetry
  • Making sure to stuff properly but not overstuff; the head and body needed a lot for proper shaping!
  • All the sewing

via GIPHY

In the end, though, the pattern and my skills prevailed, and I was just as in love with this raccoon doll as I was when I made the first one. If you’d like to try your hand at this pattern, you can find it in Little Muggles’s shop.

Speaking of Etsy shops…

Between January and July of this year, Etsy has made some pretty significant changes to their platform. There are definitely some pros to what they’re doing for mega sellers. For smaller shops like mine, I’m afraid the overhead costs of having an Etsy shop are proving to be too much. I haven’t officially decided to close my shop because having the potential buyers on such an enormous platform is definitely worth some of the expenses. (Operative words: potential and some.)

Due to the changes Etsy made, I saw a SIGNIFICANT decrease in sales. I was getting the visits, largely due to Pinterest (I’ll save a rant on Pinterest for another time), but almost zero sale conversions. It wasn’t just me. I took to the forums to see if others were experiencing the same frustrations and they are.

I work hard to price my items fairly for my time and quality materials. I am definitely not someone who has all the time in the world to make a bunch of amigurumi and sell them at a discounted price. Nor am I selling at craft fairs. (Maybe someday.) I was also still using promoted listings at $1 a day to get my items in front of buyers. However, even dropping $30-35 a month on promoted listings, I have barely been able to sell anything, and I’m spending that money with zero guarantees that more sales will be forthcoming. On top of out-of-pocket costs, Etsy changed how they bill sellers and are taking a little extra chunk out of the total sales, as well.

The most recent change in the last few weeks is that Etsy has updated their algorithm to favor listings with free shipping. Honestly, I get it. I do. Everybody loves free shipping. But all that means for small-potatoes shops like mine is that we have to include the shipping cost into the price of the item, which makes the items seem overpriced, and I’m not sure free shipping is going to be the clincher to get a sale. If I were to tell someone that the hippos I sell are $45, they might say, “Okay, a bit pricey but seems worth it for a quality handmade toy.” (By far my most popular one.) But when I say they’re $54, I picture eyebrows winging up and a much faster decision being reached that that’s far too much. At least when I was listing shipping fees separately, a buyer could see that I did my best to keep them at $10 or under, and it was because I ship Priority Mail and with insurance.

I’m pondering over all of these changes and wondering what the best route for me to take is. I have had my Etsy shop for five years now and for the most part, it’s been really great. I have enjoyed the process, I’ve really liked having a wee side business that earns some extra spending money, which mostly helped me repurchase supplies for new listings, and I’ve evolved as a crafter and honed some more business skills. But with these latest changes, I feel as if my shop is being swallowed up unless I am willing to invest much more money up front, which I don’t have. If I were churning out items left and right, that would be one thing.

At the end of the day, having this shop is primarily supposed to be for fun. Crocheting and knitting are FUN hobbies for me. I don’t want to equate those activities with the drag of Etsy’s new policies or being a strain on my personal finances.

So what I’ve done in the meantime is keep a handful–and I mean handful–of listings active. I also have the “Request Custom Orders” turned on because anybody can go through my prior sales and figure out what kind of work I do and request something to be made. The listings that are available have free shipping but their prices look higher.

I’ve turned off priority listings, which means I’m not shelling out $35 a month for the potential of a sale. Not having as many listings also gives me time to make items in my own time and list them for sale as they become available. One of the options I have been considering is letting all of my listings expire and doing a shop restock when I get 5-10 items made. I’ve also considered selling items only through this website, which I am able to do, but I don’t have the audience, and purchasing options are more limited (e.g. only being able to take PayPal).

If you are an Etsy shop owner or if you are someone who shops on Etsy, and in particular if you’ve ever purchased something from me, I would love to get your feedback. I have found posts from people I follow on Instagram and the like, voicing similar frustrations, with some people actively shutting down their shops altogether. I’m still open…just…but need to figure out a way to make my craft hobby work for me without being subject to these large monkey wrenches.

For now, I’m knitting and crocheting at a leisurely pace and trying my hand at things I haven’t had the time for and I’m enjoying it. I hope you are all enjoying a lovely summer!

 

Branching Out to Baskets with Bernat Maker Home Dec

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A few months ago, I purchased a couple of skeins of Bernat Maker Home Dec yarn because I thought I would make another pillow with it. I had fallen in love with this smock stitch (Tunisian) from TL Yarn Crafts and couldn’t wait to get started.

I sat down to practice with my yarn and hook and didn’t fall in love with making the stitch the way I thought I would. (I may try again, but I impatiently moved on.) I really wanted to make something else as a home decor project that wouldn’t take all day and was as attractive as it was useful.

Enter baskets from Yarn and Chai! I loved the look of the mini bean stitch and once I read through the pattern for her nesting baskets, knew I wanted to get started right away. I flew through making a large basket with the pretty aqua skein. For my basket, I used I and H hooks (5.5mm and 5.0mm) instead of H and G hooks, as I wanted it to be slightly larger than what the basket size would yield. Because the design gives a double lined basket, you don’t have to worry about the spaces between the stitches as much. It’s sturdy and will hold up well. I did not insert the plastic ring in my basket but I will experiment with that down the road. I think it’s a terrific technique that she offers up for making the baskets extra sturdy, in addition to keeping their shape.

I loved working with this yarn, by the way. It’s soft and doesn’t split, due to the cotton/nylon blend. I have another skein in the colorway clay with some aqua leftover. I haven’t decided if I’ll do another basket or if I’ll try my hand at a pillow but I will figure something out soon, considering how much I like it. The yarn also shows off terrific stitch definition, and the mini bean stitch is perfect for it.

Knowing me, I’ll probably put odds and ends in my basket, or I could even put it out in the family room to hold some items. It’s quite eye-catching. I also want to experiment with doubling or tripling the pattern to yield a much larger basket when I get my hands on more of this yarn.

What have you made with it? Do you love it, too?

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“Ocean and Sand” Blanket Using Caron Cakes

As we amble on through winter, I’ve found myself tackling cheerful projects like this precious baby blanket. I bought the yarn on a whim (Caron Cakes in colorway Faerie Cake) and decided to see how it would work up as a blanket. The colors are just so pretty, aren’t they?

This blanket wasn’t done using a pattern — I winged it — but I’ll list the basics of what I did below, in case you want to try something with this line of yarn.

Due to the small amount of wool in it, the blanket feels slightly denser than a typical baby blanket, but it’s not what I would consider heavy. It adds just the right amount of weight and warmth. The stitches hold up well and the blanket has a nice drape. I was able to make a blanket about 28″x 30″ which includes four rounds of a border, using only two cakes.

Hook: H (5mm) 

I started off with a chainless foundation row of half-double crochet stitches and then kept the height by using extended double crochet stitches throughout for the body of the blanket.

For the border, I did one round of single crochet, followed by two rounds of standard half-double crochet, and ended with one round of twisted single crochet, which mimics crab stitch without the headache.

It worked up quickly and prettily — the stripes do all the visually pleasing work, really, although I really do like that edging with the twisted single crochet in the aqua color.

I ended up listing this blanket in my Etsy shop giving it to some friends as a baby gift. I call it the “Ocean and Sand” blanket because of all the shades of “water” it has in this colorway. Of course, being named Faerie Cake, it could be used in any number of magical-themed projects where you need some beautiful shades of blue. Below are the photos with more closeups of the blanket itself.

If you’ve tried this colorway or Caron Cakes in general, let me know what you think of working with it!

Donation: Knitted Baby Blanket

img_2970 zvcAt long last, I finished my practice knitted baby blanket! By the time I completed it, including giving it a gentle wash, I realized it would make a terrific donation to a local charity or hospital.

I bought two skeins of this sweet yarn that knits up into stripes with little flowers when you do stockinette stitch. For my practice blanket, I did a border of seed stitch. The colorway is Buttercup but if you follow that link above, you’ll see there are tons of different colors! (So hard not to buy more…) I even have some leftover that I think I’ll try a hat with down the road.

The blanket took me a while to complete, since I started it when I was brand new to knitting, and I would pick it up and put it down. Although it could be tedious at times, it really did help me practice my tension with knitting and just becoming overall comfortable with the pastime. There are plenty of mistakes in this blanket but no holes, and it is just the cuddliest blanket, perfect for a baby’s skin to snuggle up with.

I’ve chosen Project Linus to start and if I don’t get anywhere there, I will try Knots of Love next. It feels good to give back and know someone will benefit from the hours of toil I put into this piece.

Have you ever knitted or crocheted for a charity? If so, what have you made and given away?

The Two-Year Knit Hat Project

By now, all seven of you who read this blog know that I started my journey into learning to knit in 2017. I practiced and practiced and practiced. And then I practiced a whole bunch more. I knitted and frogged, knitted and practiced binding off (horribly), and swatched until I couldn’t swatch anymore.

Since knitting hasn’t come as naturally to me like crochet did, I had to work even harder to get a comfortable muscle memory going to where I could knit without wanting to throw something.

I got into making washcloths, then a knit scarf for my husband, a small baby blanket (which I still need to post about!), and even a cowl, which turned out really well. I made so much more progress in the first 18 months of knitting than I thought I could or would.

However.

HOWEVER.

I have watched other people new to knitting start whipping out hats immediately and I’m wondering, what am I not getting? Why can’t that be me? What’s the secret? I basically took up knitting in order to make hats and two years in, nothing.

Part of the frustration for me has been that I don’t want to work with double-pointed needles. I wanted to learn the technique that would allow me to decrease without using a whole bunch of extra sticks. In addition to watching several YouTube videos on Magic Loop, I bought a comprehensive class on Craftsy (now Bluprint) with Lorilee Beltman, one of my favorite teachers I’ve found there, and I proceeded to watch the lessons on getting a hat completed a couple dozen times.

There are so many elements to knitting in the round that present tricky situations: which type of circular needle you use, joining, decreasing, which tools you’ll use to decrease, and finishing your hat so there aren’t any holes, to say nothing of keeping an even tension. A friend pointed out I could have tried knitting flat and then seaming, but I have tried my hand at that with other crafts (Tunisian crochet, for one) and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. Completing a knitted hat in the round was the goal.

At last, something clicked after I finished some of my other projects, and I felt I was ready to try the half-loop method, followed by decreasing with Magic Loop. I swatched and made sure my gauge would be similar, if not exact, prepared my needles, and got started.

I swear, I almost stopped before I’d even finished round 2, because I had messed up something with the join. It didn’t click until round 2 or 3 but once I was under way, I kept on going and didn’t look back. I was nervous to try decreasing and moving into Magic Loop but I plowed onward.

Somehow, some way, a hat came together. I watched a separate video on Craftsy (a free one for Chemo Caps) on properly binding off the last 8 stitches and sewing the hole shut. Once I did that, I was finished. And then I couldn’t actually believe I was finished.

One final thought is that I found it odd that even though I used a smaller needle for the brim (k2, p2 all the way around for 2.5″), it’s looser and looks bigger than the knitting in the round for the remainder of the hat with a larger needle. That stumps me.

Something else to figure out, I’m sure! (If you’re experienced and can speak to that, please leave a comment!)

For now, I’m reveling in the fact that I accomplished a MAJOR goal of mine with knitting in the first month of the year, so I hope to continue the streak of challenging myself for 2019. Ultimately, I want to do some color work and a fair isle hat someday, but…one thing at a time. I mean, I still haven’t made that wreath I blogged about in 2017, either! (Whoops.)

If you are a hat knitter and can share any favorite patterns, please do!

Luminosa Cowl and Happy New Year!

Earlier in the year (2018), I ventured to a nearby city and visited two independent yarn shops. At the second one, I found a cowl made with some gorgeously soft and also shiny yarn. The shop owner told me it was Luminosa by Cascade. She also pointed me in the direction of the free pattern, which is this one here, if you’d like to try it yourself!

Her cowl was done in pink and a brighter teal. They were out of the teal but I picked up the pink and a darker black and blue, which I thought would let the pink shine but still give a nice balance of color.

Still very new to knitting, as I only began to learn in 2017, I was nervous about the pattern and the fact that I dropped $40 on two hanks of yarn. It helped that the kind shop owner caked the hanks for me, so I could pick them up and start the project more easily.

Determined, I did pick up those cakes of yarn and got started not too long after this shopping trip, since I wanted to try something that would allow me to practice knitting in the round without worrying about decreasing (a hat I have YET to complete!). While it took me a while to completely finish the cowl, since I let it sit finished except for bind-off for about two months, I was extremely pleased when all was said and done. There were definitely some challenges along the way, as the purl-2-together was tricky for me, but I plowed through.

You guys…it is SO pretty and it is incredibly soft! Due to its size, it has some versatility with how it can be worn, but simply draped around one’s neck and shoulders looks lovely.

I’m still deciding whether to keep it for myself or list it in the shop. I put the Etsy shop on vacation over the holidays and now that I’m coming up on FIVE years of being an Etsy seller, which is nuts, I have started to think about where I want to take things with my craft and if I want to do occasional restocks versus having mostly made-to-order listings. More to come on that front.

If you are newer to knitting as I am, or if you are a yarn addict and need some inspiration for a project, grab some of this delicious yarn and maybe give this pattern a try. I would absolutely make another of these — but now I’m working on all the practicing of hats. 2019 is going to be The Year of the Knitted Hat!

❤ P.S. I also tried a technique I saw on Facebook from Petals to Picot about binding off with a crochet hook and once I tried that, it cleared the path for me to more easily and quickly finish knitted projects from here on out. It’s so comforting to know I don’t have to let things sit, lest they be ruined with terribly done bind-offs!

Llama Rama Ding Dong

Over the summer, I had a request to do a custom llama – white with some black included, based on a photo.

This animal is a challenge for several reasons, one of which is the abundance of llama patterns out there. I ultimately settled on one where the emphasis was not on sewing a bunch of limbs together, and the final shape was a very obvious llama.

My only challenge with this pattern is that you have to turn it inside out before seaming it up the back, and then you quickly have to stuff all the limbs before moving forward. It’s unconventional but I will credit the designer with a pattern that works well in the end. The llama stands up on its own and is really cute.

Due to the success of the first one, I received another order for a pink one to send to a family member who’d just had a baby girl. This one was a bit easier because it was all in one color and it turned out great!

I finished this amigurumi in October and I have taken a little break since then. I am gearing up again since the holiday season is on top of us (where did this year go?) and I would like to get a few things accomplished that are holiday-oriented. (Remember this post from last year?)

Cute photos below!

Chevron Convert

IMG_2202 zvcWhen chevron was blowing up a few years ago, I didn’t get into the trend right away. But after I tackled a couple of projects that used it, I really liked the look of it, colors depending.

Last year, Jeanne from The Crochet Crowd designed this chevron “hugs and kisses” blanket using Caron Baby Cakes. I liked it as soon as I saw it. My transfixed inner voice said, “I must make the thing.”

It took me longer to complete than I would have liked, but largely that was due to my getting sidetracked with orders, work, and other life goings-on. It is not a difficult pattern.

For my blanket, I decided to blend two different colorways, Dreamy Mint and Frosted Pansies. I wanted a pop of yellow in there to break up the teal, grays, lavender, and cream. I liked working with this yarn, for the most part, but it can split at times. It is very soft and warm, though, and I like how easy it is to wash and dry it.

I found this project relatively soothing to create, although I had to keep careful track of my rows, since it the pattern repeat consists of 8 rows. For the bobble stitches, I switched from my usual comfortable Clover hook to my Furls Odyssey hook, which has a nice long neck, ideal for working with a fluffier, thicker yarn such as this one for bobble stitches. Because you alternate with something different each time, it keeps you on your toes. It is not dull or mindless to complete.

I ended up not using all four cakes, since I did not chain as many initial stitches, opting to make something slightly smaller than the pattern calls for. (I believe it calls for 6 cakes.) Because I didn’t want the blanket to be overly taller than it is wide, I stopped with the cream color of the fourth cake. I had enough to do a single crochet border in cream around the entire blanket, which gives it a nice finished look. My blanket is roughly 31″ wide and 36″ tall.

I didn’t have an intended recipient for this blanket, so I’ve listed it in my Etsy shop. It’s largely neutral and I think the colors pop so nicely with the chevron pattern. Jeanne did such a nice job with the design.

Have you tried your hand at this one?

 

Finished Knitted Objects! Whee!

Friends, I am so happy to post that I have a few more finished projects and this time they’re from needles and not hooks!

I feel as if I’m the world’s slowest knitter, even having learned to knit continental style, but even so, I can actually pick up knitting needles and knock out something that resembles a real thing. I just need a few…months….longer than most people might.

Since around this time last year when I first completed a pretty raggedy rendition of a dishcloth, I’ve gone on to attempt numerous swatches and other projects that have either been frogged or relatively unsuccessful.

It took the better part of six months, but I finally completed a knitted wool scarf for my husband to replace the previous one I’d made for him. Pictures to follow. In addition, I whipped up a few more wash/dish cloths.

Here are the cloths, all made with Knit Picks Shine Sport. Because this a mixture of Pima cotton and bamboo, I prefer using this yarn for wash cloths (facial cloths). Dishie or another mercerized cotton yarn, is sturdier for dish cloths. The Hydrangea and Cream colors are knitted in the same pattern, a “fancy stitch combination” called sugar cubes stitch. I got the tutorial from Very Pink Knits. The bright teal colored cloth is actually done in Tunisian crochet but it has a lot of Tunisian knit stitch in it. It also makes for a gorgeous and sturdy facial cloth.

The photo of the cream cloth shows the difference between the finished cloth without blocking and the cloth after a light wash, some time in the dryer, and some steam blocking with an iron. Side note: still getting the hang of binding off, a loathsome process.

Now, onto the scarf! This thing is 8.5 feet long. Yes, that’s right. My husband really wanted a long scarf and while this seems excessively long, it’s actually an appropriate length. It took four balls of Capra DK from Knit Picks, which is a merino wool and cashmere blend. Particularly as I’m a beginner knitter, I had to be careful with this yarn, because it could be splitty and too much handling meant it would start to felt. By no means is this scarf executed perfectly, but the stitches and the wool helped hide any glaring flaws.

The pattern is easy peasy for beginners (knits and purls only) from B.Hooked Knitting. One side is only knit stitches and the other side switches between knit and purl stitches. It creates a gorgeous textured scarf on both sides. No matter how this scarf is wound around the neck, it will be pretty to look at.

Blocking really helped the wool relax and get it fully shaped. My husband is very much looking forward to wearing his scarf come winter. It’s soft and cuddly and very handsome in the navy.

Tada! I think I’ll go rest my hands for a while.

Folded with the front facing out

Squishy and thick!

Shows both the back (on the left) and the front) on the right, draped

Folded with the back of the work facing out

Folded with the back facing out from above

 

Challenges with Color Changes

Late last year, I had two back-to-back orders for baby penguins. Due to the holidays and typical year-end madness, I didn’t get around to doing a post about either of them.

In previous renditions when doing the color changes in the head (white eye areas on a dark gray/light black background), I have kept my two colors of yarn going simultaneously, but I have had mixed results with the color changes looking loose in the end product.

I made an executive decision as a woman who takes pride in her handcrafted goods. I changed things up by snipping one of the colors for each round (the white in the head) and tying secure knots with the loose ends. I found this to be much more successful in keeping the stitches tight (as color changes can produce looser or sloppier looking stitches), not to mention not wasting a lot of yarn carrying tails back and forth around the head. In the end, the dolls looked polished and professional, and I didn’t have to worry about a stray end coming loose if the doll ends up in the hands of a careless child or pet.

Finished penguin with tight color changes

Fast forward to the present moment. In one of the crochet groups I am in on Facebook, someone posted this blog article, where the author wrote about doing more seamless color changes in amigurumi.

I gave it a try the next time I worked on a doll (this time, a giraffe) — and I am pleased to say it is a successful technique!

Giraffe with new color changes technique used

As you can see from the photo, where the color change happens when you’re working in the round (without a join), the jog isn’t as noticeable. Check out the horns. It doesn’t glare out at you and you don’t get the “zig-zag” effect. Sometimes the zig-zag looks okay for a particular effect but for the most part, it looks nicer when it can be avoided.

Even my husband, who doesn’t notice much of what I’m doing with crochet most of the time since I’m always working on something, thought the this color-change technique was noticeable and one to keep using.

There are a couple of key points I discovered: slip stitching loosely is important, or the piece will look slightly shrunken on that round. If you’re going for the shrunken effect, slip stitch more tightly. The other point is to make sure there are enough rounds between the color changes that aren’t doing a lot of increasing or decreasing. In fact, it is ideal to change colors when there is another round of one single crochet stitch in each stitch around.

Lastly, the slip stitch round + doing the next round in the back loops with single crochet = one round. Knowing that helps with counting your rounds, since you’ll see the two horizontal lines next to one another. See photo below:

If I’m not mistaken, the blog post I linked to above has gone viral in the crochet world, because I have seen the “big time” crochet designers doing their own posts showcasing their successes with it.

Have you tried this out? What do you think?