Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Personalized Pillows: Part 3

Today I'll show you the final steps to finishing the personalized pillows.  I have a pair of finished pillows all done and ready to ship out tomorrow.  They are a surprise for a brother/sister duo (and I think their mom is going to be surprised too.....their daddy ordered these.)  You can read about the previous construction steps HERE and HERE.

After the fabrics have been selected and the letters cut and ironed onto the backing fabric, I applique around each letter to adhere it to the backing fabric.  In the photo below you can see a pin near the right side.  I use a tear-away stabilizer on the back which keeps the base fabric from puckering during the applique process.  This makes a BIG difference in the finished product.

Next I make the pieced border.  I cut strips of the letter fabrics (3" wide) and then cut these strips into 4 or 5 inch pieces.  The pieces are then stitched together end to end as shown below.  After sewing a long strip of these, the threads must be clipped and the seams pressed open.

Then the border is ready to attach to the name piece as you can see in the photo below.

I don't have a photo of the next step, but after the border is attached, I cut a piece of backing fabric and stitch the front and back together, leaving a space for stuffing.  Then, the pillow is stuffed with polyfil and hand-stitched closed.  The next two photos show the finished pillows.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Personalized Pillows: Part 2

Just thought I'd pop in and show the next step to making the personalized name/word pillows.  You can see my Part 1 post HERE.

For this particular set of pillows, the requested color scheme is red and gray.  I've done another red/gray name pillow and I love this combination.  The first photo shows a pile of laundered fabrics on the ironing board.  I almost always pre-wash my fabric.  Then, of course, it has to be ironed.  So that's my next step.

After ironing the fabric itself, the letters (cut from HeatNBond) are ironed onto the WRONG side of the fabrics as shown in the photo below.  So, the letters are backwards and ironed onto the wrong side.

After ironing the letters onto the wrong side of the fabric, I cut each letter out on the lines.  (See the "H" below.)  At this point, the letter has a paper coating on the back that will need to be peeled off for the next step.


 Now I lay out my letters on the background fabric as shown below.  When I have them arranged the way I like, I'll iron over them.  This adheres them to the background fabric and makes them ready to be sewn in place, which will be the topic of the next pillow post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Crafty Book Review: Made by Me

I recently ordered a copy of the book, Made by Me by Jane Bull.  I ordered it hoping it would give me some good ideas to use with the sewing classes for children that I teach from my home.  I was NOT disappointed.  This is a true piece of eye candy.  The photos, graphics, and layout are so charming and adorable.  I loved poring over every page.   I was happy to see that it does contain some ideas that I would not have thought of otherwise.  I like how in addition to straight-up sewing projects, it also includes ideas for embroidery, needlepoint, and knitting.  It's giving me lots of ideas for a Needle Arts camp I'm hoping to offer this summer.  I highly recommend this book.

NOTE:  If you are looking for projects that will appeal to boys, I have to say that this book is much more geared to girls.  I'm excited that I have some boys signed up for Sewing Club this semester though.  I'll be posting about our projects soon at Walnut Hill Studio.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Retro-Vintage Sewing Project

Just before Christmas, one of my customers who had ordered a custom pillow for her daughters to give their grandma for Christmas, approached me with a challenging and exciting sewing project.

Apparently, her grandparents had had a stuffed cat with nursing kitties that she remembered and loved playing with as a child.  When her grandparents' possessions were divided up, she was able to get one kittie to keep.  Knowing her own young daughters would LOVE their own mama cat and babies, she asked me if I could make them a set.  Admittedly I was a bit intimidated about taking on this project without a pattern of any sort.  I asked her to bring me a photo of the original and told her I'd let her know if I thought I could do it.   She brought me the original kitten and a photo of the mama cat and babies.  I decided to take on the challenge.

Before just winging it without a pattern, I decided to do a Google search to see what turned up.  I was thrilled to find a similar pattern on Etsy in a shop called Sentimental Baby.  This is an awesome shop that sells vintage patterns that are out of print.  The patterns are copied on 11X17 copy paper and are very sturdy and easy to read.  I received my pattern and set it aside to start on after the holidays.

The first photo below shows the sewing pattern and the second shows the mama cat pieces all cut and ready to sew.  I'll be sure to post a photo of the finished cat family.  I think they'll be so cute!! 

This sewing project got me thinking that there just might be a niche for sewing cloth toys using vintage patterns.  In addition to prompting a stroll down memory lane for mamas and daddies, these types of toys are timeless and could for sure be enjoyed by little ones of today who are (in my opinion) way too inundated with plastic, flashy toys.  What do you think?  If you  have a memory of a favorite cloth toy from your childhood, I'd love it so much if you'd describe it in the comments section.  I have several cloth toy favorites, but one in particular is a Scottie dog that my grandma made me.  There's actually a pattern for it in the Sentimental Baby shop.  I may have to whip one up!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The beginnings of a custom pillow order: Part 1

I'm having a lot of fun here documenting what's going on in my studio.  Right now I'm working on a custom order of two pillows for a brother/sister pair.  Since custom pillows are one of my best-selling handcrafted items, I thought it would be nice to show you the steps I take from start to finish to get a completed pillow.

The very first step is tracing the letters for the name/word onto HeatNBond.  I have my letter templates in plastic page protectors in a 3-ring binder, capital letters on the front and lowercase on the back.  I simply lay my piece of HNB right onto the page and trace the letter with a black Sharpie marker.  In this step, the letters are reversed.   That will make more sense after you see what I do next.  

The recipients of these pillows are Haven and Olive.  The next photo shows their letters traced and cut apart.  I'm waiting to hear back from their dad what colors he'd like for their pillows.  After I have a color scheme, I'll "shop my stash" or shop for real to choose the fabrics I'll use.  I'll cover that in a future post.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Christmas Pajamas

Every year for the past 4 or 5 years, I've made my boys new pajamas for Christmas.  I use Christmas flannel for the pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt for the tops.  The first several years I stencilled a design on the shirt to match the pants using a freezer-paper stencil technique.  I've blogged about that HERE in case you want a step-by-step tutorial.  Last year and this year, I decided to use a reverse applique technique on the t-shirt.  The photo above shows the ones I made this year.  They were cute and cozy.  The boys always open their jammies right before bed on Christmas Eve and wear them to bed that night.  I take photos of them wearing the matching jammies in front of the tree before they go to bed.  It's a fun tradition and I hope they will still wear mommy-made jammies for years to come.

Here's a confession though:  I usually order my pants fabric online sometime in the summer, but I never actually sew the pants until a day or two before Christmas.  That's just how I roll, people!  Like they say, the plumber's faucet always leaks and I always leave my personal sewing until last minute.

Here are links to other posts I've done about the pajamas from years past. 
2008 PJS (first year)   
2009 PJS (scroll down to see them, they are kind of far down in another post) 
2010 PJS

Sadly, I can't seem to find a photo of the 2011 ones.  I have photos of the boys wearing them, but I don't put photos of them on the blog, so you'll have to imagine light green flannel pants with a Christmas tree motif and red t-shirts with a star and tree reverse applique. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Product Photography 101 (Advice from an amateur)

Did you notice the tagline on the title of this post?  I am NOT by any stretch of the imagination a photography expert. AT. ALL.  I have a Kodak Easy Share that is on its last legs and just got a tiny little Canon PowerShot for Christmas.  I WISH I had a fancy big girl camera, but it's not in the budget right now.  So I thought I would share a little of what I do with what I have to get better photos.  Notice I didn't say GREAT photos, but better than if I just plop a product somewhere random and snap a photo.

I've been reading a lot lately about how to market products online.  The photography piece cannot be ignored.  Potential customers will reject your lovely handmade item in less than a second if your photo looks like crap.  Sorry to be so blunt, but that's a fact.  You're probably guilty of product rejection based on photography yourself.  If you are an Etsy shopper, I guarantee your eyes have quickly flipped past a given product because the photo looks amateur, messy, sloppy, you fill in the adjective.

I'm going to walk you through how I've set up a simple way to get better shots of my dolls and doll clothing since I'm branching out into selling doll clothes on Etsy in the new year.

First, I'll show you a really bad photo, but one similar to what you might run across on Etsy.  If you find one like this on Etsy, click through to the listing and look at how many sales the shop has had.  I'll venture to guess not many.  Of course you also have to take into consideration when the shop opened. 

OK.....the first photo here was snapped late at night on the table in my craft room.  Flash photography, cluttered background, artificial lighting.  NOT what you'd want to use as your listing photo on Ebay or Etsy for sure.  It's a total "deer in the headlights" look and doesn't show off how beautiful this doll is.  Nor does it do anything to highlight the outfit I'm trying to sell.

The next two photos were taken the following morning using natural light and a few other little devices that made for much better photos.  Read on to see what I did.  In the first photo I used a "toy camera" setting on my Canon PowerShot which darkened the edges.  I think this is a cool effect and I liked this photo.  MUCH better than the one above.

In the photo below, I used a "vivid colors" setting on my Canon PowerShot.  Otherwise everything else is the same as the above photo.  I shut off the flash for both photos and used only natural lighting.  I REALLY like this photo.  I think the colors are just so bright and I think the coloring on Ellyn's face is prettier and more natural too.  This is probably what I'll use for a listing photo. Read on to find out how I got these shots.


For my photo shoot, I propped a piece of white foam core against a chair and placed a piece of white tagboard underneath.  I strategically placed this in front of a large window to receive the maximum amount of natural lighting.  I didn't even need to remove the race car in the foreground.  Just keepin' it real!!

 The next two close-ups were taken using the vivid color setting on the Canon PowerShot.  Again, no flash photography was used. 

This third photo was taken with the Portrait setting on the PowerShot, I think.   Still a decent photo, but the colors aren't as bright.  I also didn't really pay much attention to Ellyn's hair and it's partially covering her blouse, which I wouldn't want in a listing photo.  The customer should be able to easily see the details of the product.

I also wanted to take some photos of Ellyn wearing a hat I knitted.  I wrote about this hat HERE.  When I took the photos against the white backdrop I felt that the oatmeal colored hat was not enough contrast against the white background.  I do really like the first photo though, because the camera angle and off-centered focus makes it more interesting than the second photo.  I love the coloring on Ellyn's face and hair too!


To see if changing the background made a difference, I stood Ellyn against the aqua wall in my studio.  I was not as happy with these photos.  The wall is further from the natural light and therefore I got shadows behind Ellyn's head which I didn't like.  I also thought her coloring looked washed out even though the hat did stand out better.

I was determined to get a good shot with good contrast, so I looked around and my eyes landed on this set of canvases that are on the wall in my studio.  I took down the red one to use as a background.

Below you can see that I just propped the canvas in front of the white foam core and sat Ellyn in front of it.  It's amazing what a difference a camera setting makes, isn't it?  The above photo was shot with the "vivid color" setting and the one below with the "portrait" setting.  It looks like two different canvases!


 The photo below shows the shot I got against the canvas background.  I'm not completely enamored with this shot, but I do think the hat shows up nicely on the red background.

For fun, I decided to try a shot using the monochrome setting on my PowerShot.  I actually really like this photo.  I think it really makes the hat stand out.  I wouldn't use this as the only photo in an online listing, but I sure would consider using it as one of the photos.

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas about what you can do to improve your product photography.  If you take the time to make a few simple changes, your photos will get better and better!!