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Crafty Business Week – Social Media Sites for Crafters

Reported by Amy Anderson

With so many tools in the blogosphere, it’s hard to know what you should use and why. You could spend all day engaging in social media or bookmarking, but does that help you grow? Here are four social media tools that I use regularly. For each I explain what it is, how to use it, and how it can help your business. Keep in mind that these tools, while not necessarily complicated, require a little more investigation to make sure that they are right for your business. I hope the basics will help you decide if they are worth checking into.



What is it? I’m so pleased to talk about StumbleUpon first, because it is one of my favorite online communities EVER. StumbleUpon is a personalized recommendation engine that helps you find your favorites on the internet by ranking your preferences. It’s a filter and also uses social networking (just like Pandora).


How do I use it? Create an account and choose your favorite categories. Once you are set up, you will “Stumble” by pressing a button, and you will be taken to a website in one of your categories. You can choose to thumbs up or thumbs down the website. If you thumbs up the website, then StumbleUpon knows to give you more like the site. The more sites you rate, the more StumbleUpon can refine and give you what you like. You can also friend people and have their favorites come into your filter. I highly recommend downloading the toolbar so that you can easily thumbs up and thumbs down sites.


How can it help my business? StumbleUpon is one of the most useful tools I’ve EVER used to grow. It takes awhile to get going and to have your sites “discovered” (added to the StumbleUpon engine), but once you do, your site (or shop) will come up in relevant Stumble streams. Being a part of this discovery tool will allow potential customers to find you who might have never known you existed.

What is it? Have you ever had a corkboard where you have pinned your favorite magazine cutouts, ideas and inspiration? Same concept applies here, except virtually. On Pinterest you create collections of your favorite things and then follow collections by others to find more cool stuff.


How do I use it? Right now you have to request an invitation, but once you’re up and running, Pinterest is super easy. Simply find things that you like and “pin” them – I recommend using the “Pin It” toolbar for one-click pinning. Pinterest is easily searchable for items of interest, or finding friends to connect.


How can it help my business? I like it when sellers use Pinterest as a more indirect tool. My advice is to start collections of your favorite things and incorporate some of your own items into “style guides” like the fashion magazines do. For instance, if you are a jewelry seller, it would be nice to include a collection of your pieces with handbags, shirts and summer sandals to inspire people to buy. You can share these collections via your social media and blog. This method says “here’s how my items go with current fashion trends” rather than “buy my necklace and earring set.” It shows that you care about how your customers will use your items.

What is it? Flickr is an online image hosting website and a vibrant online photography community. Flickr is used by a lot of bloggers (including myself) to host images to later embed into blogs or other social media. The basic Flickr is free (but there are upload limitations), or you can upgrade to a pro account without upload limitations for $24.95 per year.

How do I use it? Simply open an account at www.Flickr.com and start uploading your photos. You can tag photos with keywords that will make then show up in searches, and you can also organize photos into sets so that viewers can easily browse. Another cool feature is “Notes,” which is basically putting a note on top of the photo that you can see when you hover your mouse. If you do use Flickr, I recommend using the Groups feature as much as possible. Sharing your photos with interested parties gives you a lot of exposure.


How can it help my business? There are a few reasons to use Flickr. First of all, it lets you host large images of your products without using up all the bandwidth on your blog. Secondly, tagging photos helps them to come up in Flickr AND Google/Yahoo! searches, so you have a good chance of being “discovered” by participating. This can, of course, lead to additional purchases! Finally, I host a Mod Podge Rocks Flickr group so that participants can easily share their photos and possibly be featured. You could do this as well – have customers share the photos wearing/featuring your product, and host a contest. It all builds buzz!

What is it? Instagr.am is a free iPhone application (yes, iPhone only at this time) that allows you to take pictures, apply a filter and then share the image via various social media.

How do I use it? Download the application from the App Store and install (it’s free!). Take a photo and select a filter from one of 16 filters used to transform the look and feel of the photo. Select the social media to broadcast your photo – choose between Twitter, Facebook, E-mail, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare and Posterous.

How can it help my business? You can use your Instagr.am stream to capture photos of your product, and also do special previews for customers. Instagr.am actually realized earlier this year that a lot of people were adding hashtags (e.g., #modpodgerocks) to their photos, and have made it easy for people to find photos based on your hashtag. I recommend thinking of a business hashtag and adding it to the title of each of your photos.

Once you integrate the hashtag, you can add the photo stream to your business fan page or Twitter stream using the following address:
http://instagr.am/tags/[hashtag name]/feed/recent.rss

To sum up? You can sit in your studio and take photos of your new projects, then broadcast them out to your followers using your cell phone.

I highly encourage you taking the time to check out each of these tools and see what will work for you.  It’s worth the time and trouble for increased sales.

Which of these social media tools are you using? What do you love/hate about them? We would love to know what YOU think in the Comments section below!

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight: Lifestyle Crafts Epic Six and L Letterpress (1 of 3)

Reported by Amy Anderson

I adore the look of letterpress.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s a printing process that embosses and inks at the same time, giving your paper an interesting texture and beautiful finished look.  You may have seen letterpress cards; I have seen them in stores on many an occasion and wondered how I could make them myself without a large, professional machine.  I was more-than-thrilled when Lifestyle Crafts released L Letterpress – a printing platform you can use with their Epic Six machine to recreate the look of letterpress at home.  Note that the L Letterpress and the Epic Six are sold separately; but what I love about Lifestyle Crafts is that they designed L Letterpress to work with their existing machine rather than creating a whole other machine you have to purchase.  I gave both the Epic Six and the L Letterpress a go, and I’d love to share my results.  I have to tell you upfront that I was pleasantly surprised.

I first laid out all the goods.  I’m not necessarily an instruction book reader, but there are a lot of components to the letterpress process.  That’s not a bad thing, I just want to strongly suggest that you read the instruction book completely before beginning.  You may be disappointed if you jump in, or you might screw something up.

I decided to go simple for my first card – so I picked two plates from the Posy Kit to try.  I really love lollipop flowers!  For about five minutes I didn’t understand that the adhesive didn’t come on the back of the plates.  What you need to do is use the adhesive sheets that come with the kit to adhere the plates to the printing system.  The kit comes with 4 adhesive sheets in clear, and in between two white sheets is the sticky stuff.  To use the adhesive, peel off the top layer of white and stick your printing plate to the clear.

After you do this, cut around the plates as closely as possible.  The posies had a lot of places to cut, but I’m not patient, so what you see above is about as good as it’s gonna get.  I was hoping my lack of patience would not cause problems, but I was willing to take the risk.

When I was ready, I used my jazz hand to peel off the second sheet of white paper to expose the tacky and adhere the plates to the clear side of the press.  As you can see, there are very clear guides to help you get the measurements just right – it’s truly letterpress for dummies (which is great for me).  I ended up removing the word “Love” so that I could just try the posies first.  I felt like for my first try, I was being too ambitious.  My assumption was that I was going to mess it up.

The kit comes with a clear plate for you to spread your ink out on.  NOTE: A little ink goes a LONG way!  I selected Navy, and it’s a vibrant, gorgeous shade.  A little dab is all you need.  I used the brayer that comes with the kit to smooth out the ink on the plate, then I rolled it onto the posies.  I kind of made a mess so you don’t see the picture – but that is what the Cleansing Cloths are for.  These are a must have.

I positioned my paper on the opposite (right) side of the press.  I used the A2 Flat Paper which is awesome stock.  I’ve actually worked with a lot of paper stock in my job, and this is thick and nice.  I would definitely use it for any sort of occasion, including weddings.  It’s that good.

The kit comes with little sponge-y stickers to keep your paper in place.  Using the guides makes matching up the paper to the printing plates a snap.  I rolled out the ink on the left side before I actually got my paper in order, but the ink takes awhile to dry, so I was safe.  I closed the hatch and rolled it through the Epic Six, not knowing what was going to come out . . .

Oh my goodness, I was super pumped!  It came out perfectly!  Feeling kind of bold, I decided to do another plate and a second color on my paper.  I took my brayer and clear plate to the sink, and this is when I learned a valuable lesson.

This ink does NOT come off with soap and water.  I got it all over my hands and counter trying to scrub it off.  The Cleansing Cloths, as I said before, are a MUST have.  I abandoned a sinking ship and used the cloths to clean everything up.  That is the way to go.

After getting cleaning up and repeating the printing process with Gold, I added “Thank You” to the card.  I’m tickled!

For my second project I decided to combine letterpress with Lifestyle dies.  Hey, the Epic Six does both, so why not take advantage?  Again I used the Posy Kit, and I added in the Spray dies for some texture and fun.  As you can see, I played with the placement before doing any printing or cutting.

I did the same adhesive process with the printing plates as before, and placed my card.  Before inking I placed my dies in the letterpress “sandwich” to make sure everything was where I wanted it.  Looking good.

I used even less ink that before.  Just a touch.

I rolled it out – going back and forth over the plates a few times.  I can’t emphasize enough how little ink this process takes.

Once I was done with the card, I set it aside to test the cutting capabilities of the Epic Six.  It works like most die cutters: just put your paper on top of the dies between two plates and then run it through.  I LOVE the Lifestyle dies.  They cut better than a lot of dies on the market.  There’s nothing worse than having to go in and trim paper when you thought it cut all the way through the first time.

I ran printed paper through the first time, then stepped down a size with my flowers and ran solid paper through.  I adhered my flowers with Glue Dots.  I’m loving my two new cards.

Conclusion?  Lifestyle has created a brilliant, easy way to print letterpress on your own.  I am a total slob when it comes to crafting, and even I couldn’t beat the system.  I love the ink colors and the crispness of the images after the

Pros:

  • Easy way to letterpress for the beginner
  • High quality product – I was impressed with how sturdy all of it was
  • Paper was thick and took the ink and embossing perfectly
  • Great instructions
  • Bold, graphic, trendy images for printing plates
  • Epic Six is easy to use
  • Dies cut very well – better than others I’ve used on the market

Cons:

  • A lot of parts to keep up with – you’ll need a good storage system
  • You must have the wipes to clean up, and they don’t come with the kit

You can buy the L Letterpress kit and dies separately if you already have an Epic Six, or you can purchase the Epic Combo Kit.

Special Deal for our readers:
Use the promo code: CRAFTCRITIQUE – for 20% off Lifestylecrafts.com through the end of April!

GIVEAWAY!
Our friends at Lifestyle Crafts have generously offered an Epic Combo Kit as a giveaway to one of our readers! Answer this question in the comments below to be entered:

Take a look at all of the L Letterpress Printing Plates that are available…. which one is your favorite? What would you make with it?

One comment per person, per Vendor Spotlight: Lifestyle Crafts article (there will be three). Winner will be chosen on Saturday, April 23, 2011.

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Book Review: Sew Retro

Reported by Amy Anderson

I absolutely love sewing – that is actually how my crafty career got started when I was just 10 years old.  What kid doesn’t love sewing camp?  Actually I hated it, but now I thank my mom for forcing me to go.  Sewing is so relaxing and fulfilling.  Unfortunately I’ve gotten so caught up in Mod Podge over the past few years that my sewing has gone the way of the dodo bird.  I was pleased to have the opportunity to review “Sew Retro” by Judi Kettler and get the fabric juices flowing again.  I even made something!  But let’s chat about the book first.

Sew Retro’s subtitle is “A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution,” and that is truly why I love this book.  A lot of sewing books you’ll read will give you projects that are all similar in style, but Sew Retro covers multiple decades – and therefore covers a wide variety of trends.  Chapters are divided into eras, covering the 1800s through today.  We’re talking 25 projects total with patterns provided.

I was pleased with the projects in Sew Retro not only because of how different they are, but
because they are all useful and I would actually make them.  While I love unusual sewing books, I find that my interests lie in utilitarian items.  I don’t want to sew something that I’m not going to use.  I can tell that Judi thought out the projects well when she wrote this book.  The instructions are written very clearly.  Seamstresses of any level can easily work through this book.

After reading this book for review, I challenged myself to make one of the unique patterns.  If I have to pick an era I’m a 70s kind of gal, so I went with the “Groovy Patchwork Throw.”  Let me tell you the best idea you could have when you haven’t sewn in years.  Pick a patchwork quilt with 72,000 triangles to piece together.  I’m kidding really – this project came together so quickly that I was surprised.  I LOVED sewing this quilt.  So after making copies of the pattern piece . . .

I placed them all out on my fabrics.

I cut everything out with a rotary cutter.  Thank you so much to the person who invented rotary cutters! 

I pinned all the pieces.

I sewed into the wee hours.

And then proceeded to dump pins everywhere.

And in the end, I love my quilt!!  When you have the chance, you need to snag Sew Retro and read it cover to cover.  You’re going to enjoy it.

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight: Imaginisce i-bond Cordless Glue Gun and Garden Party

We are so excited and happy to introduce you to our new reporter and Mod Podge Queen, Amy Anderson. Amy has lots of crafty experience and we just know that you are going to love her as much as we do.

I’m the blogger behind Mod Podge Rocks. I was born from creative genes, so I’m carrying on the tradition. I have been knitting for 18 years, sewing for longer and decoupaging for just a few. I do all of these things on a daily basis, or at least as much as I can. In addition to Mod Podge, I love the color blue, dogs, reading, cold weather, funny movies, road rallies, yogurt, garden gnomes, sock monkeys, running, tattoos, being outdoors, buttons, snuggling and apparently blogging. Who knew I would love it this much?


Reported by Amy Anderson

I am more than pleased to review Imaginisce’s i-bond cordless glue gun.  I’m old enough to remember when everything, including phones, had a cord.  Even when the first phone went cordless, it was like talking on a brick.  Life was so inconvenient back then!  It’s really handy that the i-bond is cordless, especially since most of us like to have a glue gun in our crafty arsenal.  I decided the best way to test this tool was on a project, and as you would expect, I did something with Mod Podge.  My scrapbook paper and embellishment line of choice was Imaginisce’s new Garden Party:

It’s such a pretty paper stack, don’t you think?  This line comes with coordinating die cuts, brads, stickers, ribbons and paper flowers in soft shades.  I’m going to walk you through the frame tutorial as I review the product.

Gather These Supplies

Wood frame
Mod Podge Gloss
Imaginisce Garden Party paper and embellishments
Imaginisce i-bond cordless glue gun
FolkArt paint – Graffiti Pink (or coordinating color)
Scissors or craft knife and mat
Paintbrush
Ruler
Pencil or pen

Start with a standard issue wood frame.

 Measure and cut your papers – I went for the patchwork look, so I cut four separate sheets of paper (coordinating).  Imaginisce’s paper comes in 12″ x 12″ sheets and is nice and thick.  If you have issues with Mod Podging wrinkles, you won’t with this paper.

Basecoat your frame with a few coats and allow to dry.

Spread a medium layer of Mod Podge onto the frame and then place your paper down.  The paper went on nicely.  Allow to dry for 15 – 20 minutes.

Smooth the paper out with your fingers or brayer.  I have to say, this paper is very vibrant and I like it.  It also didn’t tear when I rolled over it with the brayer.  Yay!  Apply a top coat of Mod Podge and allow to dry.

Time for the glue gun!  This is where I get really excited – this glue gun is SUPER cool.  The i-bond operates on batteries (included) and warms up quickly.  It also has a headlight.  I didn’t understand why at first.  I’d never used a glue gun with a nozzle light before.

I started hot gluing on flower embellishments to test my gun.  I totally understood the headlight after gluing the first flower down.  It truly makes it easier to see where the glue is going.  I LOVE this feature.

I glued ribbon down on the back for a hanger.  The glue came out of the gun smoothly and with little stringing.  I don’t know what causes glue gun stringing, but I didn’t have many problems with the i-bond.  I was able to bead a thin line of glue quite easily.

The gun is lightweight and has an ergonomic grip, so it was easy to maneuver.  It fit in my hand quite nicely and didn’t cramp my wrist.  I think I’m in love.

The finished frame – Mod Podged and hot glued to perfection.  You’ll notice the vibrant colors of the Garden Party line.  It’s truly a gorgeous paper collection.  This might be a great Mother’s Day gift!

I know as crafters that we all have a lot of choices in tools and papers – and sometimes it’s difficult to discern good from poor quality.  From my experience with Imaginisce’s i-bond cordless glue gun and papers, I’m definitely going to be a repeat buyer.

Pros:

  • i-bond glue gun is lightweight and ergonomical
  • Nozzle light makes placement of glue easy
  • Pink color is delightful
  • Papers are bright and colorful and tear-resistant
  • Cute embellishments in a variety of types

Cons:

  • None, except distribution.  I can’t find these in my local big box craft stores but you can buy the
  • I-Bond Cordless Hot Glue Gun from Amazon.com.





What do you love or hate about the glue gun you are currently using?  What would you make with this glue gun?

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!