Family Business

Bill and I both come from family businesses: My folks farmed. His owned a tavern. He and I have worked together since 1986. And now, Bill’s sister, Jean Romack, is adding her talents (she’s a professional longarm quilter and quilt designer) to our family venture.

Hand-dyed fabric by Donna Kallner plus Quilting By Jeannie.

She’s making baby quilts using my hand-dyed fabrics to sell in my Etsy shop. I listed the first one this week at http://etsy.me/1n7aM31 and can’t wait to add more!

We started with a plan to do whole-cloth baby quilts and expect to include those when I get more fabric dyed. In the meantime, Jeannie is doing some pieced baby quilts. She gives these quilts a fresh, modern feel but without the white background that so many modern quilts have. That white looks great when it’s brand new. But a quilt that is used and loved by kids tends to acquire “character” marks. Those marks won’t be quite so noticeable on this colorful hand-dyed fabric.

Jean and the next generation of fiber artists in our family.

That’s my sister-in-law Jean with her granddaughter Kylee, who at 13 is already an accomplished quilter, too. Who knows, she may come into the family business before long!

You can also see some of Jean’s larger quilts in her Etsy shop. Or contact her via email for information about custom quilts, quilting your tops, or her quilt patterns.

How To Buy Handmade Online

After Black Friday’s electronics binge, consumer attention shifts to shopping for mothers-in-law, bosses, bffs, favorite nieces — in other words, people who get that a gift is much more than a product. The quest for special handmade gifts for those people leads many buyers to shop online marketplaces like Etsy.com. There, you expect each purchase to come wrapped in the story of the independent artist who created the item.

But Etsy’s growth (a billion dollars in total annual transactions this year), comes with a downside. You’ll still find artisan makers from around the world offering unique, well-crafted, handmade items. You’ll also find sellers working the gray around the site’s definition of “handmade.”

So how do you find a truly unique, handmade gift on Etsy? Here are some tips.

Know your Etsy keywords.Know the keywords. Scroll to the bottom of a listing and look at the keywords under “Related To This Item.” The first one on the left side tells you something about how the seller classified the item — as Handmade, Vintage or a Craft Supply. Those are the three categories allowable under Etsy’s Terms of Service for sellers. Vintage is supposed to be 20 years or older, so it’s perfectly legal to resell a Cliff Huxtable sweater from the thrift shop as long as it’s tagged Vintage and you don’t pretend you knit it yourself. Craft Supplies don’t have to be handmade to be sold on Etsy. When they are handmade, sellers try to tag tag them with that keyword when they list the item. So if you’re looking for handmade yarn, hand-dyed fabric or artisan buttons for a gift, you want to see “Handmade” in the first three keywords. Theoretically, if you don’t see Vintage or Supplies there at all, the item should be handmade. Theoretically.

Look for clues in the Shop Announcement.

Read the Shop Announcement. That’s the information directly below the shop banner on in an Etsy shop. Look for first-person language like “I make” or “I create”. Some shop announcements are short and sweet, others include a blue link where you can “Read More.” Click that link to read the full shop announcement. Often, that will end with this line: “Want to find out more? Check out this shop’s About page.”

Click the blue link to go to th shop's About page.

Read the shop’s About Page. You’ll also find a link to a shop’s About Page in the left-hand column.

Learn more on an Etsy seller's About page.

However you get there, this is where the artist gets room to show and tell a little about their process.

Look for language and photos that illustrate the artist's work process.

Again, look for first-person language and photos that illustrate how the artist makes what they’re selling. If multiple makers are associated with the shop, you should see them all pictured on the right side of the About page. That’s also where you’ll find links to the maker’s web site and Facebook page.

Look for links to the artist's other sites.

Read the shop owner’s profile. Not all shops bother to complete an About Page, even though it’s free. You may find enough information to satisfy you in the owner’s profile. To find that, look in the left column on the shop page for “Shop Owner” and click the blue link below the profile picture.

Click the blue link to go to the shop owner's Profile page.

About that profile picture… Some shop owners use pictures of their products instead of pictures of themselves, and have good reasons for that. They may also have good reasons for masking their true identity. You can’t fault makers for employer policies that impact how they present themselves in a side gig like Etsy, or for wanting to stay hidden from crazy exes. But in this marketplace, coyness about your identity can read as “having something to hide.” Engage the critical thinking skills you were supposed to develop in high school English classes and ask yourself, “How much of this rings true?”

Check out the Shop Info.

Read the Shop Info. Below the Shop Owner info in the left-hand column, you’ll see “Shop Info.” Look at when the shop opened, and the number of sales it has had. Then ask yourself if the person represented as the Shop Owner could, realistically, have made all of the items sold in that length of time. Balance your reaction to that with the type of products sold in the shop. After all, a knitting pattern that buyers download upon purchase can push those numbers way up without indicating anything other than hard work by the maker who produced a popular pattern.

Use Etsy's search tools effectively.

Search strategically. Don’t let the 20 million listings on Etsy scare you off: The site has awesome search capabilities, once you learn how to use them. This page is a good place to start. It shows how to filter your search results.

Use search effectively on Etsy.

On the left side of the search results page, click on “Handmade.” It’s not quite as effective as a string of garlic against a vampire, but it will keep you from wasting time on Vintage listings. The same search feature lets you limit your query to shops in your personal list of Favorites.

Use Etsy search tools wisely.

What are Favorites? Think of Favorites as your own personal list of trusted sellers.

Use Favorites to keep track of trusted sites.

Once you’ve read their Shop Announcement, About Page and Seller Profile, you want to keep track of them. There are several ways to add a shop to your list of Favorites:

  • On an item listing, click the box with a gray heart at the top of the page under the shop’s name.

Use Favorites to keep track of trusted sellers.

  • On a shop’s page, click the box with the gray heart to the left below the shop banner.

Use favorites to keep track of trusted sellers.

  • Or look under Actions in the left column.

Use Favorites to keep track of trusted sellers. Avoid attractive rabbit holes. When you land on the front page at Etsy.com, you’ll see an enticing collection of “Handpicked Items.”

Handpicked is not necessarily handmade.

Be careful, Alice. Etsy’s front page is curated by people who gather listings into treasuries. There is no requirement that items in treasuries be handmade. While they may be pretty to look at, they may not help you find the handmade items you seek. Your time may be better spent picking a category from the column on the left side of the page. Let’s say you click “Gift Ideas”. That opens a new page with subcategories at the top. Click one of those, for example “For Her.” Now we’re getting somewhere. But you don’t want to shop “All Items.” Instead, click “Handmade.” Keep filtering until you can’t resist the temptation to look at all the product listings that show up.

Use Etsy search effectively to find handmade gifts.

What if you keep seeing the same products in different shops? I won’t open that huge can of worms here. It’s a drama involving resellers, copyright infringers, more than a few sweatshops copying whatever they think they can make cheap and sell a bunch of before getting caught, some folks who just don’t know better, and some honest mistakes. There are plenty of other fish in the sea, and maybe you let a good one swim away now and then. But if you suspect a seller isn’t living up to the spirit of Etsy, move on. Go find a bona fide maker who will love you for your purchase. And keep this in mind: Some things are copied because they’re easy to copy. Some things that are hard to copy are harder to find because nobody is copying them. But you can find them. Remember to click “Handmade” in your searches.

Etsy gift card let the recipient choose.

Too much to think about? Not really, and there are huge benefits to shopping thoughtfully on Etsy and elsewhere. First, you’ll find really great stuff. You’ll also develop critical thinking skills that come in handy in many other situations. In fact, you may want to get your kids involved in the process: Have them review the shops you’re thinking of purchasing from, search for their own, and then compare your results. Learning how to recognize honesty and filter out manipulative BS are useful skills at any age. But if you just don’t have the time, you can always purchase an Etsy Gift Card and leave the critical thinking up to the recipient.

5 Tips For Holiday Shopping On Etsy

Etsy is a great place to shop and support independent artists, but it can be a little overwhelming to some people (cough/guys). Bill, for example, looked like a deer caught in headlights when I first showed him the site. (He finds malls even more frightening.)

If you know someone who freezes at the thought of shopping for gifts (probably not just online), I’d love it if you shared these tips:

5 Tips For Holiday Shopping On Etsy

  1. Start somewhere specific. Ask for a specific Etsy shop URL (like donnakallnerfiberart.etsy.com) and start shopping there. When you don’t know exactly what to look for, it’s hard to come up with Search parameters that don’t bring up thousands of results. Your friends and family would be happy to suggest some shops. Just tell them who you’re shopping for, and they’ll point you to a good place to start.
  2.  Look at the shop announcement. At this time of year, many sellers include a shipping deadline announcement just below the banner. And when you click on an item, look for phrases like “ready to ship.” Things that are “made especially for you” are better saved for some other gift occasion (for which you will shop earlier).
  3. Look at the listings. The shop may have several pages of thumbnail images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full listing. On the full listing page, you’ll probably see several smaller thumbnail photos to the right of the main image. Click those to see different views of the item. There’s also a zoom lens below the lower right corner of the photo, when you need a closer look. Read the full description, including where the item ships from. You’ll find the price and the “Add To Cart” button in the right-hand column. You can buy with a credit card: You don’t have to have a PayPal account.
  4. Get advice from the seller. If you don’t find just the right gift in that first shop, click on the shop owner’s profile link. I’m about to tell you how to get free advice that can lead you painlessly from your starting point to other Etsy shops with the coolest stuff.
  5. Look for the seller’s Treasuries. Below the “About” box on the seller’s profile page, look for a box that says “Treasury lists.” Some Etsy sellers curate collections called Treasuries. Generally, a seller won’t include their own items in their own Treasuries. Instead, they showcase other work they admire. Click “See More” to open a listing of all the seller’s Treasuries. Click on a thumbnail within a Treasury, and it will take you to the listing in another seller’s shop.

I’ve curated several Treasury collections, including this one of hostess gifts.

I hope that helps, Bill. And Charlie. And Bob, Jim, Austin, Tony, Clay, Shawn, Larry, Al, Craig, Dan, Alex, Dave, Don, Wayne, Herm, Mo, Jay, Jef, Mike, Steve, Tom…

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Cyber Swoop But No Shopping Bag Story

There’s a dusting of snow on the ground, the Salvation Army bellringers are back in town, and I’m in a holiday mood. To share the joy, I’ve added a special bonus to orders of my book New Age Looping. Through December 17, each book order in my Etsy shop ships with 30 yards of hand-painted Irish waxed linen and coordinating beads. That $10 value is really priceless, because the painted thread adds such depth and richness to even a simple looping project.

If you’re hunting for other gifts online, here are a couple more places you might look: (Blogger is feeling fussy and I’m having trouble posting images, but you have a great imagination and links to click.)

  •  I added a Swoop Page to the blog recently to let you know when I have things for sale — like the two small art quilts I just placed in my Etsy shop.
  • I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble coming up with gift ideas for women but get stumped on some of the guys. Our neighbors Shawn and Stephanie can solve that problem for you. They use absolutely stunning, high-quality fabrics to create hammocks and messenger bags. Right now in-stock items are 33 percent off, and they’re offering free shipping. Here’s a peek at one of their messenger bags.
  •  Spoonflower is offering two-for-one pricing on fat quarter tea towels through Friday. There are a few I might have to add to my collection of vintage linen calendar towels bought at thrift stores!

I spent the weekend working on holiday gifts I’m making from fabric I dyed in the indigo vat last week. If you’re interested in indigo, I tagged a post from Japanese Textile Workshops in the Loose Ends box on this blog’s far right sidebar. I’ll post the tote bag story and picture I promised last time next time when Blogger is behaving better.

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