Thursday, December 30, 2010

Firing Up the Kiln for the First Time

Finally. I've had this new toy since August and have just had no time to create any silver pieces. But with the new year I've had fewer obligations and more time.

With my stash of clay ready to go and pages of sketched designs I began with a few simple things. I stamped a couple pair of earrings and a simple pendant. These are similar to designs that have sold well in the past and a good way to get my "fingers wet".

I moved on to a couple of layered pendants. I like the contrast of combining dark oxidized areas with sleek, shiny silver. And I'm trying to do more in the Art Deco style--simple geometric designs. After molding about 100 grams of silver and was ready to bake it.

I have to say firing up my first batch was a process. I won't go into all the details but my husband couldn't get far enough away from me that afternoon. I've never owned a kiln so I had no idea what all the codes in the digital program were for. The instructions sent were all about firing potter's clay complete with "cones" to test the temperature. They also sent me a pyrometer. Why? I have no idea since I purchased a digital kiln that already reads the inside temperature. I spent a couple of hours just trying to find out how to program it for a simple 30 minute firing. The kiln is in the garage and since the manual I got was no help at all, I ran up and down the stairs, to and from the computer, looking for information...anywhere.

Thank you YouTube!!
What did we do before people started posting instructional videos? While the first video I found was for the Paragon SC2 and none of the codes matched what was on my kiln, I later found one specifically for the Firefly. I took a few notes and ran down to give it a try.

Although my practical husband thought I should just put a couple pieces in to try it out, I laid out my whole first batch. Some instructions said to fire at 1200 degrees, others at 1300 degrees. So I split the difference and fired at 1250 degrees. Presto! Pure silver!! I'm so excited.

So here are some of the pieces after firing and polishing. Some have been oxidized and others I'm leaving shiny. There are a few pieces that still need to be partially oxidized. It's a tricky process that requires the liver of sulfur to be put on with a small sponge or paintbrush.

But I have learned how to get those nice rainbow colors on silver. I love how this ring turned out.

Now that I've gotten the basics out of the way, I'm working on an Art Deco style bracelet with hinged components. I've never done hinges and can't find a video to show me how so I'm learning as I go. But here's what I've done so far.

The next challenge I'm going to take on is soldering. I'd like to solder the rings I use to attach my components together. But I'm not worried. I'm sure there's a video somewhere.

Monday, December 27, 2010

So What Craft Shows are You Applying to for 2011?

It might depend on whether you are creating as a hobby or trying to earn a living with your craft. As a hobbyist you may not have a state resale number or a federal business ID number (EIN). If so, you may not be able to sell at the bigger shows that actually ask for that information on the applications. Although very few of the Mass. show applications ask for my state tax id, every show I've applied to in Conn. asks for it on the application. And while I've never had anyone come to my booth and ask to see my Mass. resale number, the possibility exists. And every show I've applied to in Conn. asks for your Conn. tax ID number on the application.

Registering as a business and getting a tax resale number also allows you to buy supplies without paying sales tax and often lets you to buy at wholesale prices. On the other hand, you will have to charge tax on your products and send sales tax payments to the state. You'll have to keep records of income and expenses and file income tax. In my town I also pay property tax on my inventory and equipment.

So whatever your situation, you have now compiled a small list of possible craft shows for 2011. Some you attended and feel they would be a good fit and some your friends have suggested to you as possibly a good fit. But you still need to find a few others to fill in the time in between?

Do you apply to the local church bazaar because the table fee is only $25?
Do you shoot for the the $300 arts and crafts show because it's big and should bring a large turnout increasing your chances for sales?
Do you do the high school show because it's indoors and you won't need your tent?

As this is a "learn as you go" business, any of the above could work. And any of the above could be a total waste of money. The additional pages of this blog (on the left) where I have reviewed several local 2010 shows may help you out.

Whatever you decide...

start early looking for shows and information about them even if applications aren't yet available.
--Don't do first time shows. They don't always have their act together yet, may not have advertised enough, and don't yet have a customer following to rely on for traffic.
--Don't do any shows completely blind. Think about your product and if the show is the type or in a location that will attract potential customers. Contact the show promoters and ask about traffic at previous shows. Find out how big a space you'll have to display. Ask for names of vendors who have done the show before and contact them. It's a shame to waste even $25.

Crafts Shows are divided into two categories, juried and non-juried. The non-juried shows are usually easier to get into. Organizers want to fill the spaces and aren't selective about who shows up. They're usually less expensive and loose about the application deadline. Some do try to limit each category so if you sell jewelry, apply early.

Juried craft shows are more selective and usually require photos and detailed descriptions of the crafts that you sell. Entry fees can range from $50 to thousands of dollars and often ask for an additional jury fee of $10-$30. Many have craft show websites where you can download their applications. Some require photos of your craft display in the form of slides or as a CD. They are strict about getting applications by a certain due date.

Finding "your " craft shows is a process and takes time. And even once you've found some great shows, there's always the possibility that you won't get accepted the next year. So always have a Plan B--other shows you can apply to.

Jansjems has a Website!

I feel so official! My youngest daughter's Christmas present to me was my very own website. It's just a front page for now but you can link to my Etsy shop, this blog, or contact me. And prominently listed are the shows I'll be attending in 2011. Check out



In an attempt to clear out the last of the 2010 gemstone jewelry designs and make room for new products, I'll be having a 20% off sale beginning tomorrow (Dec. 31) and running for the whole month of January. Stop in to my Etsy Shop and have a look around.

Are You Ready for the 2011 Craft Show Season?

With the holidays now over and 2011 only a few days away, I'm working on my craft show schedule for next year. You think it's too early? Not really. Last year I applied to a show in Virginia and the application deadline was Jan. 2.
I learned to start early a couple of years ago. I had heard good things about the Mattoon St. Festival in Springfield which takes place in September. I looked for an application online but didn't find one. So around the end of January I emailed the contact on their website. The jewelry category was already full! As it turns out, Mattoon St. only juries you the first year. Once you're accepted you only need to send in the next application with the booth fee. And they send you that application 2 weeks after the show. If you sell jewelry you need to return it immediately or they quickly find people to fill your spot. So I have already sent in my check for the 2011 Mattoon St. show. Live and learn.

After 3 years of research and experience I now have a pretty good idea which shows I want to apply to. But if you're new to all this, here are a few things to think about when making your selections.

How do I find shows?
--Talk to friends and fellow artisans to get suggestions
--Go online and google "New England Craft Shows" or "Massachusetts Craft Shows" and you will often run across websites that list shows. Some want fees to give you more information. Instead, write down the show names in the list and then search for their websites or information about them in other places. If they don't have a website, there might be a phone number listed for information.
--Join a local artisan group. They share information.

How do I know if it's a good show?
Well, often you don't. But if you're unable to attend the show to check it out and don't know anyone who has already sold there, you need to consider your product and your expected customers when you're making your best guess.
--If you're selling inexpensive, fun items that appeal to children or teenagers, you need to find a show that attracts them. Perhaps a fair or music festival. Will your product also appeal to mothers and grandmothers buying for children? Then maybe a church fair or high school craft show is a good choice .
--If you're selling higher end products like gold jewelry, quilts, or handmade clothing then you need to find shows that attract professional women who like to dress well and decorate their homes--and can afford to do so. Shows in or near major cities would be my pick. Or shows in wealthier neighborhoods.
--And with fine art, you might want to consider "art shows" rather than craft shows as they will attract customers who are looking specifically for paintings and sculpture.
--Are you creating for a niche market? Steampunk art and jewelry is one example. And while that would sell best at a steampunk show, I have found through experience that my steampunk jewelry also sells well anywhere there is a young crowd or tourists.
--Stay away from economically depressed areas where factories have closed or people are still struggling the make ends meet. And while I admit that this is true almost everywhere, some towns are doing much better than others.
--Some products just sell well almost anywhere. Canvas bags, silk screened t-shirts, fabric purses, and hand painted, holiday inspired, wooden home decor seem to do well at many of the shows I attend.
--And the fall (September & October) seems to be the best time to do craft shows, at least here in New England. People have started buying for Christmas, they have their Christmas Club checks, and they're not yet fully involved in the holiday party/family dinners chaos.

For lists of shows in Mass. & Conn., check out the websites below frequently as they update often.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting Ready for Santa and the Family

Yes, I've been busy since the library craft show. Christmas is coming fast and I spent a few days decorating, baking cookies (dozens of cookies), and cleaning in preparation for Christmas guests.

Mom & my youngest daughter are both coming in on Thursday. So here I am 3 days before Christmas getting ready to hit the grocery store for supplies for the weekend.

We still celebrate the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner called Wigilia. My sister-in-law and I switch off and each year provide pierogi, kapusta, zur and other meatless dishes as well as pastry. It's one of the days that the entire family comes together and we wish each other good things for the New Year.

As I'm really hoping to get started after Christmas on some new silver clay designs, I've also been shopping for a few little things I still need--long handled tweezers, fine silver wire for jump rings, a bezel pusher and burnisher. I can't wait. Yes, I'm even going to attempt to set stones. Now I just need a large block of time to set up and roll out the clay. So while everyone else is anxious for Christmas, I'm actually more anxious for the week after Christmas.

Wishing everyone who finds the time to read this blog a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So Nice to be Back (But Just for a Little While)

The craft show circuit brought me back to the Umass Library. Funny how I can't seem to stay away. The main floor was packed with students and all the computer stations were occupied. Except for the Circulation Desk and department now on the main floor, nothing has changed.

The Social Committee once again sponsored a gift fair and invited Jansjems to attend. This year they advertised campus wide. With the prospect of greater traffic than usual, there were 10 vendors this year (up from 6). The library's student workers also had a table and were doing a brisk business selling muffins and cup cakes. As someone who forgot to pack a lunch, I suggested they sell sandwiches next year.It was nice to see people I used to work with all of whom asked how I like retirement. Well, what's not to like? I chatted a little with Jay who always stops in to check these things out.

Karen, Eva, Rebecca, and Barbara did their rotations at the raffle table. The committee raised $100 for the Friends of the Library. And Barb was nice enough to take pictures and send them to me.

I was happy to see Scott finally selling the beads he often talked about when I was still working there. His lampwork beads are beautiful and, of course, I bought several. They're going to work really well with the silver designs I'm planning. I know I bought his best ones. Well, Scott, you'll just have to make more--in blue next time.

Thanks for inviting me back. That was fun.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Year End To Do List

The year is almost over. I get really busy 2 weeks before Christmas with decorating, baking, Christmas shopping, and house parties. Mom comes to visit for a few days. So I'm trying to get my year end chores done now before I no longer have time. It's not hard work, just not much fun.

I could wait until January, I suppose. Unfortunately, unlike Irma here, I seem to be very disciplined; a remnant leftover from 37 years of obsessive/compulsive supervision in the library.

The silver clay I bought is burning a hole in my stash box and there's a new kiln in the garage. My plan for January is to create silver clay pieces and set up my own website. Nothing more.

So in the next few days I'll--
**Go through ALL my inventory to be sure my lists of what I still have are accurate.

**Weed out some of the oldest pieces to either be dismantled or redesigned.

**Check for things that need any repairs.

I'd replace some of the most worn tags, but I'm all out. Which means...
**I need to make a list of what supplies (tags,bags,boxes, etc) to buy going into next year and place orders.

**Get my income/expense spreadsheets up to date for my own records as well as for the tax accountant. He likes things nicely itemized.

**Pay the sales tax I owe to the Mass. DOR and make the last yearly payment to Connecticut.

**Pay my business property tax to the town of Deerfield.

**Create new inventory spreadsheets for 2011 that include "in stock" items & that I can add to.

**File away all receipts and tax info from 2010.

**Start a new list of potential craft fairs to apply to.

If anyone has any ideas on how to make this part of having my own business seem more like fun, let me know.


It's been 5 months since I retired from the library. I'm still connected to the campus so I do read about changes there--departments moving, new digital initiatives, new elevators. Someone has finally moved into my old cubicle as the department rearranges itself again. It's nice to know what's going on but I don't miss it at all.

I do, however, miss many of the people who have become friends. So it's nice when I get a call asking if I want to join some of them for a trip to the outlets and I can get caught up with the office gossip. I've had a few "girls' nights out" with Linda or Eva. And I just got an invitation to Lucy's ornament party. So nice that she didn't forget me.

Yesterday several women who still work there and several who have retired met for lunch at Atkins. There were 8 of us in all but Barb was behind the camera. The retirees all look younger than I remember and seem so much happier. Julie is doing a lot of biking and hiking. Lucinda has bought a camper and has a new Windows phone that she actually knows how to use. I say that because I still have one that ONLY makes calls. Linda, who was the first to leave, now works full time again. She just can't stay home. And I, of course, have become and "artisan" (and I use the term loosely). So we're all changing too, but doing only what we want to do.

Life is good.