Trip to England / Spring 2016

 

The kids had been asking us to take them to Europe for a long time, and we finally planned a trip to England where I lived for a total of five and a half years (three as a child, and the rest as a graduate student).

We left last Friday night and came back this Friday night. It was a short trip, but I'm really glad we did this. The kids are growing up fast. I didn't want to realize a few years from now that we'd missed the opportunity to travel as a family. 

Here are some photos from the trip. 

The bookstore, Foyles, on Tottenham Court Road. The first place we visited in London by bookworm T's request. 

The bookstore, Foyles, on Tottenham Court Road. The first place we visited in London by bookworm T's request. 

Marylebone High Street which is full of stylish boutiques and restaurants. 5 minute walk from where I used to live as a kid.

Marylebone High Street which is full of stylish boutiques and restaurants. 5 minute walk from where I used to live as a kid.

Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street is an absolutely gorgeous bookstore. Books organized by geography.

Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street is an absolutely gorgeous bookstore. Books organized by geography.

Interior of Daunt Books

Interior of Daunt Books

The Apple Market in Covent Garden had all sorts of crafts and antiques. T bought a hand-crafted miniature guitar. 

The Apple Market in Covent Garden had all sorts of crafts and antiques. T bought a hand-crafted miniature guitar. 

Inside Liberty of London on Regent St. I was looking forward to buying some fabric but ended up just browsing. Liberty lawn is delicate and beautiful but not sturdy enough for what I make.  

Inside Liberty of London on Regent St. I was looking forward to buying some fabric but ended up just browsing. Liberty lawn is delicate and beautiful but not sturdy enough for what I make.  

A narrow street in Cambridge. 

A narrow street in Cambridge. 

The first thing I saw in Cambridge was CallyCo, an adorable fabric shop in the town center. Bought a meter of canvas print.

The first thing I saw in Cambridge was CallyCo, an adorable fabric shop in the town center. Bought a meter of canvas print.

Senate House Passage in Cambridge

Senate House Passage in Cambridge

An old house in Godstone, Surrey. 

An old house in Godstone, Surrey. 

Mustard flowers at peak bloom in the Cotswolds.

Mustard flowers at peak bloom in the Cotswolds.

We spent a night in the tiny village of Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds. There were hardly any tourists and the village was so tranquil. Kids kept saying how this must be the "Shire". 

We spent a night in the tiny village of Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds. There were hardly any tourists and the village was so tranquil. Kids kept saying how this must be the "Shire". 

The Great Hall in Christ Church College, Oxford. 

The Great Hall in Christ Church College, Oxford. 

Inside the Christ Church Chapel.

Inside the Christ Church Chapel.

My dorm on Winchester Road! 

My dorm on Winchester Road! 

Bath at dusk.

Bath at dusk.

The facade of Bath Abbey was golden in the twilight. 

The facade of Bath Abbey was golden in the twilight. 

Bath, town center

Bath, town center

Bath Abbey in the morning

Bath Abbey in the morning

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths

 

 

Embroidered flowers & birds belt

 

My second entry to the Minne/So-en handmade competition - I thought I might not have enough time to finish it, but here it is, just 23 hours before registration closes!

This one is for the "embroidered belt" category. The winner for this category will be determined by stylist Rika Endo

I'm too chubby to model this myself, so I put it on my daughter's dress.

The embroidered band is 18.5inches long and 2.75 inches wide. There are about 30 inches of grosgrain ribbon on both sides, so it can be worn many ways. 

OK now my fingers are seriously achy. Time for lunch!

"Evolution" embroidered detachable collar

 

A Japanese online handmade market site called Minne is hosting a competition for handcrafted items in 4 categories, and I decided to enter one called "Evolution". The judge for this category is graphic designer Shin Sobue, and he was the only one who didn't specify the type of item to be submitted. So I went with a decorative collar, as it's an ideal accessory to show off intricate embroidery. 

I started from the left tip, embroidering the first living organisms - archaea bacteria, moving on to seaweed, mushrooms, jellyfish, coral .. following evolution chronologically, ending with monkeys on the right tip. (I know, no humans, but there wasn't enough space!) It took me 6 days to complete it and my right thumb and index finger are sore. 

I asked my science-nerd 11-year-old daughter to model it. It's a little big on her.

The base fabric is a linen-cotton blend, and the back side is cotton. Closes with hooks.

The winner of each category gets to be featured in the August issue of the edgy Japanese fashion magazine, "So-En". It's a long shot, but hey, you never know! 

My full entry page is here

 

Asian American Arts Alliance Holiday Pop-Up Market

I rarely do shows, but decided to participate in this event. The Asian American Arts Alliance kindly invited me to sell my handmade items alongside many talented Asian artists. 

Please stop by if you are in NYC on Dec. 17th! The event is free to attend, but the organizers would appreciate it if you could RSVP here so they have a rough headcount. 

I will be selling many of my items at a discount.

Here are some other artists who will be there:

Eatz by Ding Ding Studio

Eatz by Ding Ding Studio

Pink Himalayan Bath Salts by Mullein & Sparrow

Pink Himalayan Bath Salts by Mullein & Sparrow

Super Cluster Cuff by Crystal Chimera

Super Cluster Cuff by Crystal Chimera

 


Japan / Summer 2015

 
Eihei-ji (Temple), Fukui Prefecture

Eihei-ji (Temple), Fukui Prefecture

Eihei-ji

Eihei-ji

Beautiful artwork covering a ceiling @ Eihei-ji

Beautiful artwork covering a ceiling @ Eihei-ji

Eihei-ji

Eihei-ji

Lotus flower in Eihei-ji

Lotus flower in Eihei-ji

Sea of Japan at Tojinbo, Fukui Prefecture

Sea of Japan at Tojinbo, Fukui Prefecture

Tea houses dating back to the 19th century in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture

Tea houses dating back to the 19th century in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture

Sweet shop, Kanazawa

Sweet shop, Kanazawa

Pine tree at Kenrokuen, Kanazawa

Pine tree at Kenrokuen, Kanazawa

Kanazawa was full of sophisticated design - loved the textile at the entrance of this building.

Kanazawa was full of sophisticated design - loved the textile at the entrance of this building.

Kanazawa is famous for Kutani ware.

Kanazawa is famous for Kutani ware.

Old tea house, Kanazawa

Old tea house, Kanazawa

At my parents' home. Mom poured chrysanthemum tea for us.

At my parents' home. Mom poured chrysanthemum tea for us.

A shop in Sugamo, Tokyo

A shop in Sugamo, Tokyo

Sarutahiko Shrine, Sugamo, Tokyo

Sarutahiko Shrine, Sugamo, Tokyo

Rice cracker shop in Sugamo, Tokyo - my mom's hometown.

Rice cracker shop in Sugamo, Tokyo - my mom's hometown.

Thoughts on the Three Bird Nest controversy

 

Ever since the Daily Mail ran an article about a mom who sells $65,000 a month through her Etsy shop, Three Bird Nest, a bunch of articles about this shop and Etsy have sprung up on the internet. (Like this and this.) What's noteworthy are the comments - most are critical, pointing out that her items aren't handmade but mass-produced in Asia, how she deceives consumers by not disclosing this, and how Etsy has changed from the champion of handmade to just another market place for reselling cheap stuff bought on Alibaba. Everybody in the handmade world has an opinion, and I too would like to add my two cents.

Yes, it's a shame that Etsy changed its policy and opened its doors to mass-produced items disguised as handmade. Yes, it puts those of us painstakingly making everything in our shops with our own two hands at a disadvantage. And yes, it's hard not to feel resentful towards shops like Three Bird Nest which thrive on cheap imports marked up with fancy presentation.

But the bottom line is that people are buying these items, and no one forced them to.  And my guess is that it's NOT because they believe these things are handmade.

The cold hard truth is that many (if not most) consumers don't really care whether an item is handmade or not. They are looking for stylish products with affordable prices, and if they happen to be handmade, great, but if not, not a problem at all. They may like to buy limited edition or one-of-a-kind items made by artists in the first world, but the prices are often inhibitive.

Some people seem to think that if resellers disclosed the origins of their products, consumers would move away to authentic handmade shops, but I don't think that's the case. Disclouse is unlikely to affect sales much.

People who've bought from Three Bird Nest probably knew full well that the products weren't handmade, or didn't even give it a thought. They liked what they saw, they found the prices reasonable, they clicked 'purchase'. That consumers would abandon shops that revealed the true manufacturers is wishful thinking.

Even before Etsy changed its policy in 2013 to allow outsourcing production, the site was rampant with mass-produced items falsely labeled as handmade. We have had to compete with them since the early days. The only difference is that Etsy is not pretending to care any more.

So what do we do? I've said this for years, but the only solution is to make better things. Better than the stuff churned out by the thousands in factories. Better so that people won't mind paying more. Better so that we can make a living on fewer sales. 

If people can't differentiate between our stuff and mass-produced stuff, we can't blame them for choosing to pay less for the latter. And no amount of disclosure on the resellers' part will bring business to us.

If we feel our business is threatened by shops like Three Bird Nest, it's probably time to scrutinize our work. We shouldn't really be threatened at all, because their customers shouldn't be our target. We are operating in different markets. Or at least we should aim to be. Our goal should be to attract those who actually care about handmade, about uniqueness, about art. It's inevitably a much smaller market, but we are not Target or Macy's. We don't need to please everybody and anybody, we just need to focus on reaching the few that love our work.

In short, it's honestly quite annoying when resellers are so successful and get all the media attention which helps them even more, but anyone can legitimately sell mass-produced items on Etsy now, and nothing is stopping us. If profit is paramount, we can all pack up our tools and start buying on Alibaba, hire a professional photographer and seek to emulate Three Bird Nest's success. But I'm pretty sure that's not what most of us makers want to do. What we can do is hone our skills and senses, strive to make beautiful things, and have the business savvy to know how to reach the few whom we need to reach.  

Handmade & Vintage Ornaments 2014

 

A selection of handmade & vintage ornaments found browsing Etsy.

1 Mushroom ornament by willowyn, $33.37 2 Set of 3 blue Christmas trees by adatine, $23 3 Lamb with a red scarf ornament by Bossy's Feltworks, $15 4 Herb print holiday ornaments by Julia Paul Pottery, $8 each

1 Mushroom ornament by willowyn, $33.37

2 Set of 3 blue Christmas trees by adatine, $23

3 Lamb with a red scarf ornament by Bossy's Feltworks, $15

4 Herb print holiday ornaments by Julia Paul Pottery, $8 each

  1 Ceramic feather hanging ornaments by Crave Studio, $36 for set of 3 2 Ceramic house ornaments by Prince Design UK, $15 for set of 5 3 Deer hand-embroidered ornament by Poppy and Fern, $28 4 Japanese pattern geometric paper ball origami by AIOU Eden, $5.75 5 Orange ceramic house ornament by Treasure Crafts Box, $7.66

 

1 Ceramic feather hanging ornaments by Crave Studio, $36 for set of 3

2 Ceramic house ornaments by Prince Design UK, $15 for set of 5

3 Deer hand-embroidered ornament by Poppy and Fern, $28

4 Japanese pattern geometric paper ball origami by AIOU Eden, $5.75

5 Orange ceramic house ornament by Treasure Crafts Box, $7.66

  1 Vintage spun cotton mushroom collection from Smile Mercantile, $83.50 2 Vintage shiny brite glass ornaments from The White Pepper, $25.50 3 Tiny cat band from Mister True, $45 4 Set of 3 vintage ornaments from House of Seance, $18

 

1 Vintage spun cotton mushroom collection from Smile Mercantile, $83.50

2 Vintage shiny brite glass ornaments from The White Pepper, $25.50

3 Tiny cat band from Mister True, $45

4 Set of 3 vintage ornaments from House of Seance, $18

The little paper factory that could

 

My sister recently sent me this cool birthday card.

It's a paper circle - about 7.5" (19cm) in diameter - with slits, and it turns into a basket of almost any shape. It can be a low candy bowl, a medium-tall  fruit basket, or a tall vase cover, and anything in between.

It's as thin as regular copy paper, and yet strong enough to endure a lot of stretching and shrinking.

This is what the card looks like when flattened.

This is what the card looks like when flattened.

I was impressed by the beauty of the design and the manufacturing technology, but I loved the story behind this product even more.

My sister writes for a local edition of a major Japanese newspaper, and she did a story on a small paper factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. The factory - Fukunaga Print - has been operating for about 50 years, but as printers became widely accessible and printing orders decreased, the president realized that they had to evolve with the changing times. As the company could not longer depend on subcontracting, he decided to create original artistic products, and embarked on a collaboration with local artists. The company named this endeavor "Kami no Kousakujo" (meaning "Paper Workshop"). 

Now, they manufacture hundreds of products ranging from stationery such as postcards, folders and notebooks, to home decor items such as paper chairs and planters. Their products are sold online as well as in museums all over the world.

Paper chairs designed by Taiji Fujimori 

Paper chairs designed by Taiji Fujimori 


According to my sister who actually visited the factory, it's a very small facility with old-fashioned printing machines, and the workers even adjust the colors of the ink by hand.

How cool is this? A model of Japanese festival stalls, designed by Naoki Terada.

How cool is this? A model of Japanese festival stalls, designed by Naoki Terada.

Kudos to the president, Mr. Yamada, the skilled workers at Fukunaga Print, and the collaborating artists their ingenuity , business sense and perseverance!  






Things for T

 

My 10-year-old daughter, T, was a fetus when I studied handbag design & construction at the FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). The instructor and classmates worried about my using strong glue while pregnant - I did my best to avoid glue fumes, and completed the course when I was 7 months pregnant.

Ever since she was a toddler, she's been my inspiration, critic, co-designer, assistant, part-time model, guinea pig (for bibs & children's goods) and biggest supporter. 

I have to confess, however, that while I've made tens of thousands of products, and she gets some of my prototypes and less-than-perfect items, I've only made a dozen things especially for her. 

She's been asking for a new bag, and I finally made one today in the "purple foxes" flannel. 

I made her a matching scarf too. (Both sides are 100% cotton flannel and very soft.) 

I've wrapped them up nicely complete with a handmade tag, and put it on her bed. It's waiting for her to come home from school. 

It makes me smile to imagine her excitement. 

Thank you T, for being such an awesome daughter.

T modeling an apron in 2010 (age 6)

T modeling an apron in 2010 (age 6)

T modeling a toddler bag in 2008 (age 4)

T modeling a toddler bag in 2008 (age 4)


Handmade Artists & Their Cats - Frighten

 
Frankenstein and Wolfman Print, Frank & Wolfie by Mari Lowery

Frankenstein and Wolfman Print, Frank & Wolfie by Mari Lowery

Today's featured artist is Mari Lowery, photographer and mixed media artist, based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work - inspired by her love of old photos, animals, oddities and vintage Halloween - is eerie yet lovable, haunting yet humorous.

There's still time to order her prints before Halloween!

(1) Please introduce yourself and your cats. 

My name is Mari Lowery and I'm an artist from New York. I have three female cats, Sparkle, Luka and Gray. I've had Sparkle since she was 8 weeks old, and she's 13 now. My other two cats are year old sisters that I found living in an abandoned house around the corner from me when they were 5 months old. They had never had human contact, so with the help of a neighbor, we set traps for them. They were really freaked out for a while, and it even took me a month to be able to touch one of them, but it was a bad situation and I knew they needed to get out of there.

It's been about 7 months since I've had them, and they are completely settled in and affectionate now, although Gray still has a bit of feral in her and probably won't ever let me pick her up. Because Luka and Gray are sisters, they have a very special bond that is still evident. They constantly clean each other and wrestle like crazy. It's hilarious to watch them play. My older cat wasn't receptive to them at first, having been an only cat for a long time, but eventually they grew on her, and now she plays with them too. It's funny to see my older gal try to keep up with these young kitties. It's almost like she's having a second kittenhood.

Gray

Gray

Luka

Luka

(2) Do your cats affect your art? If so, in what way? 

I've always been an animal lover, at times having three dogs and three cats, as well as other critters, but for my current lifestyle, cats are just easier to care for. I don't think they necessarily influence my art, as I would probably still be making cat themed pieces if I didn't have them, but I can't imagine not having at least one furry friend in the house. 

Cat art print, It's Raining Cats

Cat art print, It's Raining Cats

(3) Are there cat-related items by other handmade artists that you love? Please share.

I love this piece by Anna Magruder  and I adore doubleparlour's cat eared sculptures.

They love each other

They love each other

Thank you, Mari!

Mari's website, Facebook and Etsy shop

Renegade Craft Fair Brooklyn - Sept. 14th

 

It was a beautiful Sunday in NYC. I decided to visit Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn with my daughter. 

I got to meet Amanada of Long Winter Soap Co. ! Her "Unicorn Farts" lip balms are a huge seller. T bought "Yeti Breath" for herself, and "Peach" for her friend. 

I got to meet Amanada of Long Winter Soap Co. ! Her "Unicorn Farts" lip balms are a huge seller. T bought "Yeti Breath" for herself, and "Peach" for her friend. 

There was a nice booth with lovely flowers - they let people make their own little bouquets and boutonnieres for $5+.

There was a nice booth with lovely flowers - they let people make their own little bouquets and boutonnieres for $5+.

The lovely Sara K Benning - we are on a team together on Etsy, and it was a pleasure to meet her. Her work was even more beautiful in person! 

The lovely Sara K Benning - we are on a team together on Etsy, and it was a pleasure to meet her. Her work was even more beautiful in person! 

Cheeky Monkey Home

Cheeky Monkey Home

I've sold at Renegade in June 2007 and also in November 2012. It's such a fun event with stellar vendors, but when it's held outside, you're always at the mercy of the weather. Today was gorgeous, but it rained yesterday afternoon. Hopefully, that didn't affect sales too much.

Just a few thoughts I had looking around today.

It's best to book a whole booth instead of half a booth if you can afford it. The downside of sharing a booth are: 

(1) It's sometimes hard to see that there are 2 shops in a booth. Unless people know exactly where your booth is and are looking specifically for it, half of the time, they will only see your boothmate and assume that the whole booth is her shop. I ended up not being able to find shops that I wanted to visit, probably because they were sharing a booth. 

(2) There just isn't enough room. When your boothmate has a lot of visitors, people who want to see your table simply can't get in. 

(3) Table placement can be tricky. Most people decide to place their tables vertically on both sides of the booth, but vertically placed tables are much harder to see and less inviting than horizontally placed ones. 

Having said that, Renegade is expensive. I shared a booth with a jeweler in Nov. 2012. But I made the same observations above then, and thought that the price of a full booth is probably worth it.

Some vendors could have done better if they:

(1) had large banners with their brand names. Most shops did have signs, but some were small and illegible. Surprisingly, some shops had no signs at all. How will people remember their shops?  

(2) indicated prices clearly. Not everyone is going to wait around to ask you how much each item costs, when you're busy serving other customers.

(3) had a nice backdrop in their booths. The ones with cloth backdrops to create their own space stood out, and looked more professional.

(4) were friendly and said hi. (It definitely made a difference!)

The next RCF in NYC is on November 15th & 16th. I've sworn off craft fairs after the disastrous experience at RCF in 2012, but since the next one is going to be an indoor event, I'm tempted again ... 

 

 

My Picks: Handmade Ceramics

There are some things that I find irresistible. Fabric, paper, flowers, stationery .. 

Handmade pottery is one of my obsessions.

Today I've compiled a list of some of my favorite handmade ceramics shops. By no means is this list comprehensive - I will have to compile another list some time in the future. Enjoy!

Stoneware bowl by Leili Design based in Boston, MA.

Stoneware bowl by Leili Design based in Boston, MA.

BC Tall Bowl Check by Ovo Ceramics based in Brooklyn, NY

BC Tall Bowl Check by Ovo Ceramics based in Brooklyn, NY

Seafoam mint bowl by DiTerra, based in Minneapolis

Seafoam mint bowl by DiTerra, based in Minneapolis

Ceramic ring holder by Ross Lab, based in San Jose, CA

Ceramic ring holder by Ross Lab, based in San Jose, CA

Cafe au lait bowl with spot pattern by Wakako Senda, based in Japan

Cafe au lait bowl with spot pattern by Wakako Senda, based in Japan

Cat Cafe and Daytona Trimmings in NYC

I learned that a Cat Cafe opened in downtown NYC, and thought I'd take my daughter with me to take a peek this morning. This pop-up cafe, sponsored by Purina and North Shore Animal League is only open for 4 days (4/24-27), and the cats roaming inside are all adoptable. I knew from advance research that there was a long line, so we left early (so I thought - boy was I wrong!) and got there just before it opened at 10am. 

 
Long line in front of the Cat Cafe @ 168 Bowery St.

Long line in front of the Cat Cafe @ 168 Bowery St.

According to the staff there, it was a whopping 5-hour wait at the end of the line, and the first people had started lining up at 7am. 

I knew cat people were crazy, but really?

As much a T and I love cats, we were NOT going to waste 5 hours on a beautiful Saturday. We decided to go to the Garment District to shop for sewing supplies instead (always a good idea).

One of my favorite shops, Daytona Trimmings, has a pair of ginger tabby cats, who are called Ric and Rac. I've known them since they were kittens, and they are definitely one of the reasons why I keep going back there. 

Ric or Rac .. I can never tell.

Ric or Rac .. I can never tell.

 

Daytona offers a 10% discount for people who've liked their Facebok page or  tweeted about them. 

Happy weekend, everyone!

Handmade Artists & Their Cats - Stitch Culture

 

Today's featured artist is Devin of Stitch Culture

Her hand-embroidered pop-culture quotes are hilarious and will brighten up any room and anyone's mood. 

(1) Please introduce yourself and cat(s).

I’m Devin, the girl behind StitchCulture, and my cat is Meg (short for Megalodon). She was named by her previous owner who was a good friend of mine - two years down the line, he got married to a girl who was allergic to cats, so I adopted Meg, and now she’s queen of the house. Meg’s likes: eating, sleeping under the covers, whipped cream, pizza sauce, sleeping in the window. Meg’s dislikes: being woken up, the dog, people that are not me & my boyfriend, not having food in her dish, thunderstorms.

Meg

Meg

(2) Does your cat affect your art? If so, in what way? 


I’ve made a few “crazy cat lady” hoops because I definitely understand what it means to be a crazy cat lady. Meg's other influences are the number of lint rollers I go through to make sure I don’t send out any of her hair with my hoops and learning that I have to completely put away my floss bobbins, because otherwise I’ll wake up to find them completely unraveled, leading back to a nonchalant Meg chewing on a piece of floss.
 

2014_1_27 stitch culture 4.jpg

(3) Are there cat-related items by other handmade artists that you love? Please share.


I love Leah Goren’s cat items - they’re all so sweet and whimsical but simple at the same time.
I’ve also been coveting this cat tote from Xenotees. I really like how basic Noëlle’s drawing is - it translates onto fabric very well.

Thank you, Devin!

Here are her facebook page, twitter and jewelry shop.