Friday Reflection: The Original Crafter, My Mom

Happy Friday everyone!  I am very excited to wrap up this week with an interview with my mom, the original crafter!  She was crafting and selling her work well before anyone knew the name Martha Stewart.  My mother, Donna Sokolowsky, is the root of all my craftiness and my drive to have a successful business of my own.

I follow in my mom's shoes

I think this picture of me in my mom’s shoes at her sewing station just about says it all!  Growing up she had several successful businesses selling her work.  These ventures range from custom wedding gowns, interior decorating, custom murals, to historic restoration of antiques. Oh and did I mention she did this all while raising four, yes four, children!

Today, I give you my very own Super Mom! (Yes, she painted that planter box.)

Tell us a little about yourself and when you first began crafting?
I’m a fifty something Mom of 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys.  I live in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire with my wonderful, loving husband, our 3 Japanese Chins, and 5 guinea fowl.  I’ve been “crafting” since the age of 5 when my Mom taught me how to use her sewing machine, cut patterns, hand sew and embroider clothes for my Barbie dolls. My aunts taught my sisters and me to work with fabric painting and plaster of paris. We’d make  moldings of different hanging plaques and then we would all paint them. Lots of fun!
So I’d say, being artsy runs in the family and my children are no exception!

I know you have had many ventures in the world of crafting businesses and have sold your work to folks all over the world, could you tell us about some of your favorite ventures?

Yes, it is true I have started many businesses and sold to some very notable folks.  I’ve also worked for several of the worlds largest craft companies as a VP.  As a consultant, I’ve helped small, local companies move into the national market place and then to the international scene.

It’s hard to choose just a few ventures that were my favorites.  I think the number one choice would have to be my work as an interior designer for children’s rooms, especially nurseries.  Those really incorporated all my skills, and each job was unique and special. From the extravagant to the simplest each was so precious, and the fabrics and designs were so varied!  Then of course there were the babies to be held.  Oh, how I love babies!

My mom made all of these costumes for us. (Except the cowboy in the plaid, that's my brother's friend.)

Next, would have to be my mini-shop, in an old converted barn here in town. I was able to make one of a kind items, work with antiques and found objects with just enough rough edges to be able to use my decorative arts skills to make them into something special once again.  I always put some little quirky thing on each piece, intended to make them light and fun.  Many of these items were also sold on Ebay, that was exciting to know they would be traveling across the seas.  It makes me happy knowing my work would be gracing someone’s home and creating smiles far away.

One more of us in our Easter Outfits made by Mom.

You have been a seamstress, stenciler, pattern maker, interior designer, muralist, restoration artist, among many other things; What is your favorite art medium to practice?

What is my favorite art medium to practice?!  How could I possibly choose?!  I love them all, some I guess more than others.  I would be hard pressed to choose between Historical Restoration and Muralist.  Both involve a lot of history, whether it’s in the piece or a family’s (or Town’s) memories.  These usually include pattern making, freehand work, and the use of unusual colors or subjects.  I also enjoy the challenges of learning a new medium, such as gilding.  No matter what the medium, one thing remains the same, the reveal!   To see the client’s face light-up and to hear their amazement is definitely the best feeling in the world.


What are you working on these days?

Currently, I am not working on anything as we are in the process of moving from one house to another.  So what I tackle next will probably be a surprise to all of us.  Once I get my studio set up again that is.  One thing is for sure I love to paint, sew, and restore and I love selling what I produce!  So it won’t be too long before I can’t stand not working anymore.

Since this is a reflection post, could you tell us one of your favorite memories of working with me and/or all of your children?

One of my favorite memories is restoring a 1903 organ with my husband and all of my children.  What an honor for me!
We restored the front or “show” pipes to an organ at the First Methodist Church in Rochester, New Hampshire.  That was a huge project, 167 pipes total!  It called on most of my skills and resources.  I managed to show everyone how delicate each step needed to be and how to do it properly.  We worked from an old photo to find the original design, over the years the organ had been covered by layers of spray paint and other designs.  Discovering the correct colors was a careful and lengthy cleaning process.
The most special thing was the camaraderie we all felt in this year-long project. Margaret my most consistent worker, next to her step-dad of course.  We would work all hours of the day and night in this huge old church!  It was wonderful to have my family stand in the spotlight with me for the grand unveiling and subsequent concerts to honor the organ’s past. Truly wonderful!


Now looking forward, will we find you selling on Etsy anytime soon?

I would love to sell on Etsy!  I love that it is like a one-stop shop for all sorts of things without the overhead of having your own physical shop.  I will might start with a whimsical canvas art collection of ideas that I have in my head right now.  However, once I get going on that it will be anyone’s guess how it will expand from there.

Any advise you would like to give to those beginning a crafty business?

Advise I would offer to others would be very simple.  Don’t be shy about your skills and what you have to offer!  We all start somewhere and there is nothing more satisfying than to put your finished projects out into the marketplace for sell.  Be creative in how you market, look at what is current and fine tune it to your sense of style.  Also look ahead to see what drives the market.  You have to fill a niche that isn’t there or is lacking in order to sell.  Don’t price yourself out of the market either. It is easier to go up in price later than to go down. With that in mind GO FOR IT!  There is no right or wrong in art.

You can find my mom’s illustrated children’s books on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.  The author was one of the volunteers that worked on the pipes, and was a true friend to my mom.  You’ll be the first to know when my mom is up on Etsy.  I would like to thank her for all her work helping me pull this post together.  We hope you enjoyed all the family photos and have a wonderful weekend.

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Etsy Seller Spotlight: Crafterall

Part of my research for a new craft shop includes finding successful shops on Etsy that I admired.  Not to steal their ideas, but to assess what makes me and others attracted to this shop and then to aspire to get to that level.  I was looking for another paper-goods store that successfully found a unique niche, had a cohesive feel to the shop, and jumped off the search pages.  Boy did I find one that hit all the marks!  When Crafterall comes up on your search you can not help but click over to her products.  The vibrant colors, the intriguing shapes, and the incredible photography not only blows the surrounding competition away it pulls you further and further into her shop, into her profile, and ultimately into the checkout.  You want to own her work!

Admire is not a strong enough word for what I feel for this talented artist, Crafterall’s work is truly inspired!  So I took my research one step further, I contacted the artist, Marnie Karger, and asked if I could feature her shop on my blog.  I am very excited to announce not only did she agree, she let me ask her a few questions as well!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Crafterall!

Shop: Crafterall.Etsy.com

Blog: Crafterall.com

Everyone's got a lake

 Could you tell us a little about yourself and your inspiration to craft?

My name is Marnie Karger. I live in a western suburb of Minneapolis, with my husband, our two clever daughters, and a retired racing greyhound. I think I have always been creative and crafty, and I’m thankful for the many opportunities growing up and in school that have allowed me to try new things and learn new skills. While I feel a very real need to be creative every day, I know that I can do that through many different outlets from cutting paper to reading a book out loud to my girls.

My inspiration to craft comes mainly from nature and the way the plant, animals, and even the rocks change and adapt to one another. The more I learn about any part of our world, the more brilliant and downright crafty I see it. I am also inspired by artists, poets, writers, composers, scientists and philosophers past and present who show me my world in new light. This may all sounds pretty corny, but it’s truly the root of it. Sure, it might be a photo of a sunset across a rippling lake that sends sparks of inspiration to my brain, but it’s that inherent wonder of the natural world that makes the idea stick as something worth pursuing.

A niche market can be hard to stumble into, how did you find your niche? 

I think my niche found me! Creating layered papercuts evolved from a happy accident and a series of deliberate evolutions. If people hadn’t responded to it so enthusiastically, I likely would have moved on and tried something else. Thankfully, the subjects for my work are nearly limitless and I still geek out over the geography, topography and bathymetry of the places people ask me to recreate. For the past 6 months or so, my tag line has been “Everybody’s Got A Lake” because, while it may not be true everywhere, here in Midwest and especially Minnesota, everyone either lives near, vacations on, or has a special affinity for a body of water around here, and I’m happy to play along with that sentiment.

Is this your full-time job?

While I would certainly consider being a decent Mom and a good wife my first and full-time job, it doesn’t pay the mortgage. So, instead, I happily declare that making and selling my artworks is my full-time job. It became more than just a hobby and “fun money” only about two years ago when the demand for my work became stronger and sales became steady. When, in the middle of filling two sizable wholesale orders, prepping for a big two-day craft show, taking in several requests for custom pieces each day, and chipping away at the bulk of daily sales before the winter holidays, I broke down in tears from the stress and exhaustion. It was then that I realized that this was indeed my capital “J” job, and that, as stressful and tear-inducing as it might be at the time, it was still way better than anything else that I could see myself doing. The tears dried, the seasonal sales waned, the orders were delivered, and I was about as proud of myself as I’ve ever been. Can’t beat that!

Can your work be found outside Etsy? If so, where is your work featured?

There are a number of retail shops and boutiques that currently carry Crafterall, some of them also sell their inventory online as well. Working west to east, there’s Oaklandish in Oakland, CA, Tilde in Portland, OR, FrameUps and Gallery 360 here in Minneapolis, MN, Anthology in Madison, WI, Greer and Orange Beautiful in Chicago, IL, and the MoMA store in New York, NY. Working with many of these reps and shop owners have been some of the brightest parts of my job as they are wonderfully supportive, human, and enthusiastic people. I should also note that most, if not all of these shops first found my work via Etsy, so I’m grateful for the exposure Etsy’s granted that has lead to my off-Etsy retail connections.

What do you enjoy the most about being a small business owner?

I agree with what a lot of the Etsy Featured Sellers and Quit Your Day Job folks have said that the best parts of being a small business owner and being your own boss are also the worst parts. I love setting my own agenda, but if I stray from it I feel doubly guilty. I love profiting directly from my sales, but taxes are scary. I love feeling proud of my accomplishments and the positive feedback I receive, but sometimes that success came from many, many late nights and groggy mornings of effort. In a nutshell, I love being the sole person responsible for my own success, AND it can be quite daunting being the sole person responsible for my own success. Really, though, blasting tunes in my basement studio while filling orders from enthusiastic patrons, not a bad gig at all!

What do you find is the most difficult part of being a business owner?

See the response above!

Do you have any words of encouragement for other fledgling shop owners such as myself or anything else you would like to add about your experiences on Etsy?

There is so much to learn about selling your work on Etsy, or anywhere for that matter. Do your homework before and during your selling expedition! Etsy can seem like a horizon-less ocean of shops and items, and it can seem like you need a miracle or a front-page appearance (or both!) to make a sale, but remember, just like the US Internal Revenue Service, Etsy WANTS you to make money, and they are there to help. Read through the How To Sell Guide, the Featured Seller and Quit Your Day Job interviews. Attend the webinars for newbies and watch other videos on photography, tagging, writing descriptions, and social networking. If you do this, certain key points will pop up over and over again that boil down to a few essential to-dos:

1. Make something awesome. If it’s not something people would want, trying to sell it is going to be really hard.

2. Take amazing photos of it. Since internet sales are so visually based, you need to show off your awesome thing as well as you can so that people don’t just get what it is, but they want to show it to all their friends, blog about it, tweet it, and ultimately find that they can’t possibly live without it.

3.   Be a nice person. Sometimes making a sale is less about the item itself, and more about you bring a cool person from which to buy something. If people perceive you as being an inviting, engaging, fun, creative, quirky, [insert your most prominent and positive attribute here] person, there’s a pull to want a piece of that. You can shine through your product descriptions, your tweets, your blog, your photography style, and, of course, in the quality and care you put into your product itself. Along these same lines, pack your item well and ship it quickly so that you wow your customer with the kind of service that would impress yourself. Reinforce your coolness factor at every opportunity.

Marnie’s shop Crafterall can be found on Etsy here: Crafterall.Etsy.com

and here blog can be found here: Crafterall.com

I can’t thank Marnie enough for her time answering my questions so thoughtfully!

Get Organized

Most crafting businesses begin at the dining room table, mine included, but as your inventory grows so does your need for space.  This week I have begun the process of setting up some studio space for myself in our guest room.  It is a bit cramped but so nice to have my supplies out and on hand!  Currently, I am re-purposing the furniture I had on hand, but as my business grows so will my studio.

In addition to setting up space, I bought more supplies and even purchased a new tool, a scoring board.  Hopefully, I will be able to make my own envelopes soon.  That is the most expensive part of my sets of cards.  Any increase to the already very slim profit margins would be amazing.  Keep an eye out for an envelope making tutorial in the near future!

I didn’t realize how important it was to have your own dedicated work space, but the more organized I become the more productive I am getting.  The next step I know I need to take is to start tracking any incoming or outgoing funds, and my hours.  I have a folder with receipts, but that won’t help me know how much time and money I have invested, which in turn means any profit I do bring in someday is arbitrary.  For anyone looking for more information about setting up your finances, Design Sponge’s biz ladies section is so helpful on many levels.

Despite having some dedicated work space (shared with laundry, storage, and guest accommodations), I am not done with the dining room table.  It is still the largest work surface in the house.  Alas, these are the roots of almost all crafting or home businesses.

Odd Jobs

Today I wanted to talk about work outside Etsy, picking up odd jobs from your friends and family is a great way to begin your marketing and hone your skills.  You may not get paid, but you are helping your loved ones out and in turn you get to try out your business practices.  For example, my step-mother asked me to create business cards and fliers for her aerobic classes.  She offered to pay me once her marketing starts working, so in the meantime I am using this as an opportunity to dry run my printing and packaging ideas for Mrs. Pea’s Papers.

When you start putting your work out into the world these one-off jobs are going to find you.  I started volunteering for the Boston Preservation Alliance back in 2009 and they quickly moved me over from an intern role to a graphics role.  I had only dabbled in graphic design as a hobby but I went from typing papers and answering phones, to designing their awards posters and helping to plan their auction that year in a matter of weeks.  People need your skills, as an artist, a sales man, or whatever you might be, use these opportunities to explore beyond your day-to-day job.  I just delivered a raffle poster to them today and it felt great to hear how much they loved it!

I may not have sales coming in yet, but these odd jobs keep me busy.  They also allow me to grow my graphic design portfolio beyond my Etsy shop.  Even if you don’t have people calling yet, you can create these opportunities for yourself as well.  For instance, my friend had a bridal shower the other week and I made her a funny, personalized card.  Well that card got passed around the entire room, putting my logo (on the back of the card) out there.  When I ran into one of her friends on the street the next week, she remembered me as the woman who made that card!

Don’t say no to these odd jobs as they come your way.  In lieu of money you will gain much-needed exposure and experience.  AND you will definitely get a lot of really wonderful feedback to keep you going.

Dear Etsy, How do I make this happen?!

How do I make this happen?  How do I build a successful business on Etsy?  These are some of the questions I have asked myself lately.  I opened my shop just over a month ago and it has received a total of 65 views, 1 item was “hearted”, and 0 sales.  Clearly, it is time to reassess my products, my shop, and my methods.  So this week I am dedicating my blog to all that goes into creating a successful crafting business.

Step one, a little more research!  I scoured Etsy’s site this past weekend for answers to my questions and discovered a whole side of them I didn’t know was there.  I started with the “Quit Your Day Job” series and realized these articles reveal a lot about successful marketing, other online tools, and resources.  This lead me over to the forum section where I discovered “Teams”.  Teams are groups of members with common goals or interests, and most of the discussion threads are open for all to read, but you must join the team to take part in the discussions.  Not all teams are created equal, some are open to all and don’t have many requirements to join; while others have a slight application process and requires their members to actively promote each other by creating X number of treasuries a week featuring said members.

What the heck is a treasury?  Turns out these are like pin boards curated by members that buyers can use to shop from or get inspiration from.  Have you heard of Pinterest?  It is a whole social media website dedicated to pin boards.  It is also the next level of marketing for the Etsy seller beyond the treasuries.  These pin boards are a great asset to a buyer, since someone has done a lot of digging through Etsy for you.  They are also another way to get your own work found.  The trouble is, I have enough on my plate building inventory, figuring out production, finding supplies, blogging, researching, and maintaining a home to dig through Etsy to curate treasury or Pinterest boards.  I am not going to lie, building a business even on Etsy is a lot of work!

Enough about treasuries, back to these teams.  I did join a few: Etsy Success, The White Rabbit, and Etsy of Somerville.  I also applied to the Creative Paper Artists team.  What a great resource to find!  Here is a community of small business owners all there to help each other out and learn in the process.  This is the place to ask your questions and to find your answers.  It is also a place to gain exposure and find your peers.  I am very excited to find the Etsy of Somerville group.  Already I have learned my city is rich with crafters and artists per capita and holds a yearly art fair called, Somerville Open Studios.  I missed the deadline to participate this year but have a goal to join in next year.

In my mind Etsy is a stepping stone to my own eCommerce site.  For very little upfront cost and effort you can set up a shop and not only test your products but find your audience or your niche.  However, it is still a small business and should be treated as such if you are to be successful.  Not finding and taking advantage of the Etsy community sooner was a mistake.  There is a lot to learn!

Join me this week as I delve deeper into the crafting business!

Friday Reflection: My Grandmother, Lillian

My grandmother, Lillian, passed away shortly after Thanksgiving this past year.  When my parents came to visit me last week they brought me a beautiful set of crystal stemware, they thought Lillian would want me to have it.  I finally got around to unpacking and washing them today.  So I can’t help but remember her.

The glasses were wrapped in newspaper from 1988, the Saint Petersburg’s Times.  This made me smile thinking of their time in Florida.  I didn’t actually meet Lillian until a few years after that, I believe 1994.  I was about 13 years old.  Lillian is my stepfather’s mother, but the only grandmother I’ve really known.   She kept a photo out of her and her husband, Bill, walking on the beach.  It’s this photo I was thinking of when I saw the Florida newspaper.

I started thinking about the glasses and all the parties they might have seen in their day.  They’re Romanian crystal, could they have come from her mother?  Or was this a wedding present to her and Bill?  Or did she pick these up at an antique store sometime during her life?  I will never really know, but I know they are from her, and I look forward to giving them new life in my home.

Lillian was from Queens, NY and it was a very nice coincidence that both her and my mother-in-law (also from Queens) attended Hunter College.  Lillian had a degree in Russian.  Her parents were immigrants from Russia.  She worked hard supporting her family and raised several children in her home, many of whom were her sisters.  She was a tough and determined woman, but she was also very sweet and loving.  She was the type of grandmother that always had candy in a tin can for us.

I loved listening to her and Bill’s stories of growing up in New York.  They met when she was just 16 years old and were married for 54 years.  She recalled having long braids back then and meeting him at his uncle’s bar before going out for a picnic with a larger group.  She could even remember seeing a horse-drawn fire truck in New York as a very little girl.  I will miss her and her story telling.

It was very tough for us all to watch her go, more so for my mom and step-father who took care of her to the end.  Going home will not be the same without her there.  She was as thrilled to have us for grandchildren as we were to have her as a grandmother.  However, we all knew it was her time to go, and she went with peace in her heart.  We were all glad to have the time to say our good byes to her in person.

I love you Lillian, and I pray you rest in peace.