Notes from Windward: #70


Craft Update

Sarah describes lessons she's learned


     So, my first Christmas season as a professional crafter has come and gone. I sold a few things in Portland--to friends, one shop manager, and at a church craft bazaar--and learned some good lessons in the process. Lesson number one being that if I continue to pursue this livelihood of craft retail, my Decembers will prove more hectic every year. Here's some other valuable tidbits I'll take away from the process:

Streamline your product offerings.

      This is one I've noted over and over while researching on, but something I've been hesitant to take to heart this early on in my "career." How will I know what people like if I don't try a bunch of different ideas? But spreading my energies these past few months across the areas of chicken egg ornaments, dog biscuits, candy, and Christmas wreaths, left me feeling less-than-expert in each of those media. And customers will better remember you if you present a concise offering of things that go together and all share your unique aesthetic.

Don't expect much customer response at first.

      I considered my egg ornaments to be my best offerings--response had been great from fellow Windwardians, and I'd secured a small wholesale deal with a shopkeeper in Portland. But then at the church bazaar, not one egg sold, and the shopkeeper didn't take out a second order. In this case, the bazaar was a situation where crafters didn't get to sit with their items and directly interact with customers, so perhaps the eggs would sell better at a traditional craft fair where I could demonstrate my painting process and talk with passing folks. I'll probably also modify my designs before marketing the eggs again. But even with a great market in a perfect market, success doesn't happen over night.

Take good notes on the production techniques you develop

      I developed and began marketing a lovely pine wreath made from the excess pine Lindsay and I were trimming in the forest. The wreath-building process came so easily--down to the wreath frames made from barbed wire salvaged on property--that I didn't take any notes. But when the time came to fill my wreath orders, I'd nearly forgotten how to get the look I wanted with the pine. It was a different technique than in the traditional fir wreaths I'd also made, and I had to make three bad wreaths before I was able to figure it out. Quite a waste of time right before I was to take my products to market.

Be conservative in your product care directions.

      The dog biscuits I made were healthy, homemade, and, according to Cleo, extra tasty. I kept several test batches on a shelf in an airtight container for over a month without any signs of spoilage. Given that we don't have central heating up on this cold plateau, I gave the direction "Store in a cool, dry place," on the biscuit packaging, assuming that the cold was part of what helped the biscuits to keep so long without preservatives. But a few weeks after selling some biscuits I received a kind-hearted email from someone in Portland who had been gifted a box of moldy biscuits. She didn't know how they'd been stored, but wanted to let me know of the issue. And I'm glad she did. It seems that directions to refrigerate of freeze would have been prudent since my customers likely inhabit homes kept at a constant seventy-five degrees.

Make what you love.

      This is another adage constantly offered by featured sellers on Etsy, and one that has even more truth for me now. I was not in love with some of my offerings this holiday season, and it showed in my waning interest to market them. I was so eager to make something that would sell, and hadn’t been planning all year like established crafters, so I gravitated towards what seemed easy or most likely to sell. Perhaps that method wasn't so wrong for my first try, but now that I have a fresh year before me, I want to focus on what I love--probably wearable things made of fabric, paper, and wood. And when I go to market proud to wear and share my goods, customers will likely pick up on that excitement. That's not to say that I'll disregard other opportunities that come up here and there, only that by this time next year, I hope to have a consistent line of offerings true to my own interests, so that I always have some work to go home to.

     One of my main goals in returning to Windward was to make full benefit of the ways in which this lifestyle enables one to pursue an independent living. My specific interests lie in pursuing my livelihood as an artist/craftsperson. I've studied visual arts and crafts my whole life, and while I'm not an expert at age twenty-four, here I can combine my skills with the know-how of others who have supported themselves through unlikely ventures.

     And let's not forget Windward's wealth of tools, equipment, and natural resources available to assist a young artist in affordably getting started with jewelry-making, woodworking, wool crafts, cooking/baking, and just about any other trade you could imagine.

     Recently I let the community in on the sweet side of one of my artisan experiments: candy making. I tried a few fudge and candy recipes from books and family, and made a number of varieties of fudge with different fruits and nuts, as well as some peanut-butter cups I remembered fondly from childhood Christmases.

     When I had amassed sufficient goods, I called for an official candy tasting, and the other Windwardians gathered in the kitchen one night around plates I had arranged with the samples. At the tasting, I fully realized that one of the benefits of living in community is having a ready audience on whom to test my new ideas and products. Before we sat down together, I really had no idea which of the candies were the most successful--don't even eat much chocolate myself.

a sampling of candies

     As we worked our way around the sample plates, hearing what others had to say was invaluable. People have differing tastes in food, clothes, music and just about everything, and in the candy tasting, I was able to see some of those consumer patterns develop: several of the candies were well-liked by all, several impressed none of the tasters, a few flavors had fans here and there, and allergies were even at play for some people.

     Since the tasting, I've decided that candy-making is not where my heart (or my stomach) lies, but if we have goat's milk next summer, perhaps I'll revisit the fudge idea. 'Til then, I'm rediscovering my love of sewing and learning some new jewelry skills. But more on that later . . .

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70