Friday, January 25, 2008

More Than Snowman Poop

I’ve got another long blog post for you. What follows is a speech I gave in my Toastmasters club about buying handmade. Let me preface this with writing out a speech word for word is not the Toastmaster’s way, but I gave this speech 2 weeks before Christmas when the Elle Belle shop was going crazy (I’m certainly not complaining!) and I just didn’t have the brain power or time to devote to making an outline or memorization so instead of leaving my club hanging without a speaker I wrote it out and did my best to not read every word. Anyway, I also need to add that not all of this is my own original thought. I found some really great resources and quoted some other Etsy artists. Everything in purple is from people who say it better than I can.

I’ve always felt a compulsion of sorts to support small business and am forever on a quest to find and frequent establishments at which I can get to know and build rapport with the owners. I nearly always choose St. Pete Bagel over Einstein’s, Stellie Bellies over Gap Kids, and Jay’s Fabric on the Beach over Jo Ann’s. I’ve also been interested in crafts of all types stamping, collage, paper crafts, crochet, beading, and sewing pretty much for as long as I can remember. So, you can imagine my excitement when nearly a year ago I was introduced to a community of people who make and sell hand made items and embody the indie craft movement. I’m just going to admit right now that at the time I thought when a segment of people were referred to as “indi” it meant they were some sort of modern day Hippy. I soon found that Yes, it’s still short for Independent even when applied to a group of people and generally just means they’re unaffiliated, in this case with large corporations. I was so inspired that I started my own business where my very talented friends and I make and sell the things we’ve crafted. A huge segment of the aforementioned community sells their items on a website called Etsy.

Now, my Mom has always been “crafty” too, so we used to go to craft fairs together all the time when I was younger. These fairs were all very similar, we would see lots of cinnamon brooms, lots of crocheted pot holders, and in general things I like to refer to as “Snow Man Poop”. Perhaps you haven’t been lucky enough to familiarize yourself with snow man poop, so I’ve brought some for you to take a gander at. My point in bringing up snow man poop is that you can absolutely find snowman poop on Etsy, but you’ll also find so much more than craft fair items of yester year. Everything from lamps, to candles, toys, furniture, clothing, mugs, you would be surprised at just how much you can find on Etsy. Any time I think “I need to stop by Target and get….” I usually hit up Etsy first. Among other things, I’ve bought notebooks for work, a handcrafted leather belt, fabric, wrapping paper, soap and cards all on Etsy. Since I am a crafter myself, I relish the idea that perhaps the artist I’ve purchased from feels like I do when someone values something I’ve created enough to make it their own… proud, supported, and thankful.

So, those are my reasons for buying handmade, but I’m going to talk to you about more reasons to buy handmade and perhaps you’ll find one that speaks to you personally and will be the motivation you need to finish your Christmas shopping this year with handmade items. Everyone does still have Christmas shopping to do right?! There’s got to at least be one last little thing you need for that stocking, a gift for that crazy aunt that’s hard to buy for, something for that friend that will likely show up with a gift for you even though you don’t have one for her, or a coworker who deserves a little something as a thank you for sitting so close to you every day.

Is anyone else bothered by all the horrible news about toys lately? With the holidays upon us, all the news about lead, and other toxins in children’s toys seems particularly ominous to me. My solution is to buy handmade toys. Then you’ll know where it came from and what it’s made with. Hand crafters are motivated by creating a quality product, not finding the cheapest way to crank out a bajillion thingamajigs.

If you go into what I’ve come to refer to as a “Big Box Store” you’ll find that they receive a big box of 100 of the exact same T shirts and each of their thousands of locations across the nation also received their own big box of 100 of the exact same T shirt. I can go into the Big Box store in Pinellas county and see the exact same items as the Big Box store in my parent’s little town in IL. The ascendancy of chain store culture and global manufacturing has left us all dressing, furnishing, and consuming alike. People make really cool, weird, beautiful stuff that you’ll just never see in a soulless big box store, so if you don’t buy handmade, you’re missing out on all that, well… soul. The founder of Etsy puts it this way “Wouldn’t you rather wear something that’s an expression of someone’s creativity than something that a marketing firm has determined is commercially viable?”

Let’s talk about Quality. Some of the finest things in the world are handcrafted… cars, watches, instruments. When you make something over and over your craft improves. Handmade items are made with a skill and craftsmanship that’s absent in the world of mass manufacturing. Each piece has been touched, labored over, and loved by a single individual devoted to making it perfect and it shows. We live in such a disposable society where we buy things on impulse and get bored of them 2 weeks later. I feel the recipient of a handmade item appreciates and values it more than say a gift card you picked up for them while you were standing in line at CVS anyway.

Do you know the person who made the clothing you’re wearing right now? Machines have taken over more and more of our work and computers more and more of our brainwork. Our ties to the local and human sources of our goods have been lost. Buying handmade helps us reconnect with one another on a level that takes us back through history where supply and demand was met on a more personal level. When you buy something directly from the person who makes it, you’re not just giving them money, you’re also saying “Hey, I like what you do. Keep being you”. There is almost nothing more validating to an artist than someone spending their hard earned dollars on their handy work.

Buying handmade is better for the environment. The accumulating environmental effects of mass production are a major cause of the poisoning or our air water and soil. If everyone moved even just a little bit of their spending to small scale independent artists, there would be less to mass produce. And, many hand crafted items are made from used or recycled materials, resulting in less waste and a smaller overall cost.

But, if ensuring the products you buy are safe, maintaining some individuality, buying and giving a quality product, connecting with and supporting a person instead of a corporate bureaucracy, and helping the environment isn’t your cup of tea, how about avoiding the crowd at the mall? There are many places to buy handmade items. There are always craft fairs going on locally, just check the newspaper. In St. Pete, you can buy produce, crafts, and a delicious lunch to boot while you take a stroll downtown every Saturday at the Saturday morning market from 9-2. There are also a couple of shops in town that sell items made by local artists. If and Only If on 4th St. and Craftsman House in Kenwood. And of course, there’s always the internet. It’s not too late to buy items online in time for Christmas. My favorite place to shop online is Etsy, but you can find another community of crafters at along with links to where you buy their items online.

Some people buy handmade for political and environmental reasons, and some because handmade gifts are just more satisfying to the senses, but whatever your reasoning, I hope you’ve been inspired to add at least one handmade item to your shopping list this year. For so many reasons, it’s just better to have a handmade holiday.

Friday, January 18, 2008


We’ve been tagged by Simply Said by Sarah, so here you have it… 4 unusual things about me:

  1. I much prefer being barefoot to having shoes and/or socks on. I even take my shoes off at my desk at work.
  2. If I’m having an argument with someone and they make a valid point that makes me change my mind, it makes me smile. It’s a dead give away for the fact that you’ve very likely won the argument (yes, my husband is aware of this, see #3 below)
  3. I can’t keep a secret from my husband. Even when I’m worried or upset about something I’ve done I have to tell him right away, it’s like it eases my conscience or something. For example, I’ve called him from in my car when I backed it into a tree once I also called him one day when I opened the mail and realized I had let our car insurance lapse.
  4. I’ve bonded with my sewing machine and have even had an actual conversation with it (see How do I love thee… below)

Weird huh?! We’ll see if I can get the other Elle Belle girls to play along.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The 1st Annual It's a new year Baby! SALE

All of us at Elle Belle hope that your 2008 is off to a great start! To make room for new items, and thank you all for a terrific 2007, we’re offering our first annual It’s a new year Baby! sale. Check out all the details below or just click here to view everything that’s on sale for one week only.

50% off seasonal print pillowcase dresses
50% off seasonal print Mommy’s Favorite Tops
1/3 off ALL crinkle corner satin & fleece tag blankets
1/3 off select pillowcase dresses
1/3 off music box picture frames
30% off personalized tag blankets
20% off chalkboard placemats
20% off shopping cart/highchair covers

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How do I love thee... Let me count the stitches

Okay, so I’ve always been “crafty” but the only sewing I’d ever done was on an ancient machine that seemed to be intentionally working against me in my attempts to actually sew anything. It required the ability to solve a rubics cube in 6 seconds flat in order to change the bobbin, and creating a quality stitch consisted of infinitesimal adjustments of at least 3 wheels and knobs. Once the moons of bobbin and tension were in alignment, I would hold my breath for fear that a change in the air flow of the room would set me off course again. I came to the conclusion that sewing must be reserved for saintly engineers.

After my daughter was born, I figured that sewing machines must have evolved past the machine described above and the vast array of baby accoutrement just waiting to be made was worth giving it another try. I found a little sewing shop in town called Keep Me in Stitches (A link to their shop is always at the bottom of this blog) and stopped by to check out the machines. “Evolved” doesn’t even seem… well evolved… enough to describe the difference in the sewing machine I used and the machines I saw that day. Gone are the days of foot pedals that creak when they’re depressed and knobs that click when you turn them. The sleek machines the salesman showed me not only didn't even require the use of a foot pedal at all, they also mechanically sense the thickness of your fabric and set the tension accordingly, automatically thread the needle with a touch of a button, cut threads for you when you finish stitching, have 531 individual stitches to choose from, and video tutorials built into the machine that play on their LCD screens to help you along if you get stuck. Nearly 2 hours later I walked out of the store thinking “my life is about to change”.

I spent a good month pondering which machine was right for me, all the ways I would use it, what opportunities it would bring my way, and how much fun I would have working with it. My wonderfully supportive husband and witness to my past creative endeavors in action came into the store with me to learn about the machine. He helped me pack the huge boxes containing my new sewing and embroidery machine, the Baby Lock Ellegante, into my trunk. It was the nicest machine in the store. It had all the bells and whistles and the biggest price tag… I think I made it out of the parking lot before the buyers remorse kicked in. I hadn’t sewn a stitch on a machine that was less than 15 years old ever, I didn’t know the first thing about embroidery, I had no idea why this machine came with approximately 7 discs for my computer, I was totally in over my head!

In the interest of getting to the “good stuff” I’ll skip my experience with what I like to refer to as “extreme” embroidery in which a week after I got it, I took the machine to a craft show I was doing and tried to embroider baby bibs while the wind was blowing my supplies and everything else everywhere. I’ll also skip the 3 times in a two week span that I lugged the machine back into Keep Me in Stitches because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong (email me if you need more reason than that to buy your machine from a local shop instead of a big box store.) the last of which ended with me crying in the parking lot about how I made the wrong decision and my husband consoling me with “give it time Babe, you’ll learn to love it”.

I spent the first weeks just learning about all the things the machine could do, what stabilizer worked with what fabric, thread, and design, and how my skill/ability fit in… or didn’t… with all of that. After one particularly taxing afternoon of sewing I found myself in “conversation” with my machine. It went a little something like “Machine, I’ll make you a deal. I won’t stress over every single stitch, hovering over your embroidery arm watching each thread being placed, holding my breath as a decorative stitch sews at your automatically set speed if you’ll just not cause any major complications. Please don’t jam the thread up into a wadded mess under the metal plate, please don’t tell me the embroidery file is unrecognizable when I transfer it from my computer, and please don’t ever make that horrible grinding sound when the needle hits the bobbin case ever again”. IT WORKED! Okay, maybe not the “conversation” part but definitely the “me not stressing out anymore” part. I learned that it’s a learning process. I figured out how to prevent those major complications and best of all deciding not to stress about it made it fun.

I have bonded with my machine and no I’m not crazy! I even Googled it… there are lots of people talking about how they bond with their sewing machines. It makes perfect sense, you’ve taken the time to learn the nuances of the machine, you spend time with it doing something you enjoy, and together you’re able to create things that are valuable for lots of reasons in addition to monetary ones. My machine has been a catalyst for lots of new experiences in my life. It’s not only a tool that’s helped me expand my creative boundaries, the patience and determination I’ve learned along the way has helped me expand my mind. I was totally right, it did change my life.

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