Tag Archives | Rachel Johnson

Featured Website: Swap-bot

Attention Craft Critique readers! This is written by the owner of, our very own Rachel Johnson; she doesn’t say nearly enough wonderful things about herself in the following article. So please allow me to fill in the blanks. Rachel is not JUST the creator of Swap-bot, but also an incredible designer and entrepreneur. She is the responsible for the many of the graphics you see on Craft Critique and without Rachel CraftyCon‘s website would be logoless. I adore her,

Swap-bot is an incredible community. Go check it out, then come back here and tell me how right I am. (Love, Sarah)

Reported by Rachel Johnson

Swapping art, crafts, postcards, and letters via the snail mail is a fun and popular hobby for many crafters online. Generally, a swap (as discussed here) is a group of people who organize over the internet to trade items through the postal mail. Each swap is organized by its coordinator, who picks the theme, swap requirements, and deadlines. Participants join the swap and provide their mailing info, then the crafting and mailing begins! Swaps are a fun way to physically “meet” other creative individuals who you may only know virtually online. Swaps also provide motivation for the participants to finish projects and try out new crafts.

There are many ways to join craft-related swaps on the internet; some swaps are hosted on personal blogs, and others are organized within social networking sites and message boards., a site I started with my husband in 2005, is devoted entirely to swapping. After participating in swaps on personal blogs (and having a lot of fun meeting new, crafty folks), I observed that large group swaps were often a major hassle for the coordinators to organize.

Before Swap-bot, coordinators had to manually collect all of the participants’ mailing info, assign partners, email out the partner info, and then follow up on whether all of the swap items were sent. If the coordinators had more than a handful of people in their swap, it could be extremely time-consuming and complicated to manage! We created Swap-bot to help coordinators more easily create and manage swaps, while giving swap enthusiasts a place to gather and interact.

Swap-bot is a community website and also a web tool that handles all of the organizational aspects of swapping. Each Swap-bot member provides a valid mailing address and adds some information about themselves to their profile page. Then, they can start browsing and joining the more than 1,300 swaps that are hosted each month on the site. Coordinators create swaps of all types – ranging from swaps for Artist Trading Cards and altered matchboxes (like those seen below) to quilt squares and knitted scarves – and Swap-bot handles all of the partner assignments and record-keeping. Swap-bot even sends out automatic email reminders to all of the participants and provides a feedback system for reporting whether all of the swap items were sent and received. Swaps on Swap-bot can be totally public and open to all Swap-bot members, restricted to a specific swapping group (which can be organized on the site), or private and password-protected.

If you love sending and receiving snail mail, and are looking for a new hobby, a new way to connect with other crafters, or motivation to try out new crafts and share your creativity, you should try swapping! On Swap-bot, we are always looking for new members to join our diverse, international community. Come give it a try!

To learn more about Swap-bot, and swapping in general, check out the Swap-bot blog or the FAQs. You can also receive news and updates, plus fun, crafty content by following the SwapbotNews Twitter account or the Facebook fan page.
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Book Review: Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross

Reported by Rachel Johnson
I received Weekend Sewing: More That 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Sewing from my mom as a Christmas gift. I always love receiving craft books as gifts, not only because they have great projects in them, but because I always enjoy the inspirational photography. For me, photography is one of the most important aspects of a craft tutorial book, and Weekend Sewing does not disappoint!
Heather Ross, the author of Weekend Sewing, is an artist and author. This is her first sewing book, but that does not mean it is a book for only beginner seamstresses. The patterns contained in the book range from simple napkins to formal dresses – and each project is accompanied by beautiful, full-color photography and detailed, hand-drawn diagrams. Ross explains in the introduction how each of the projects are meant to be completed in a weekend, or less, and how she meant for each of the items to have a relaxed, weekend feel.
The book is well organized with three distinct sections (home goods, adult clothing, and children’s clothing), as well as approximately twenty pages of basic sewing information, and a lovely “Resources” spread (seen below) with store information and suggested websites. Another very helpful and generous feature of Weekend Sewing is that is comes with all of the patterns printed in their full size on large sheets of paper that are tucked into the book cover–no need to photocopy tiny diagrams at 400% at Kinko’s like with other pattern books.
Now, I must confess: I have only basic sewing skills, due mostly to my own impatience. I own a sewing machine (a 30-year-old, heavy, metal Kenmore that has survived my amateur tinkerings ever since I was a child) and I use it regularly, but I don’t think I have correctly followed a sewing pattern since 8th grade HomeEc class. I sew lots of simple, fast things, like curtains and patches on torn jeans–things that don’t require a lot of ironing and measuring. Knowing this about myself, I choose one of the easier patterns in Weekend Sewing as my first project: the Sunday Dinner Hostess Apron.
I gathered my supplies: fabric from my stash (which I DID wash and iron first–go Rachel!), tracing paper, scissors, etc. Notice that I do not have tailor’s chalk or fabric shears–which would have been helpful, but not totally necessary. I traced the apron pattern (the apron skirt, the waistband and waistband facing, and two ties with facing) and cut the pieces from my fabric. Then, I started sewing, very proud of myself for following the instructions exactly!
I wish I had taken better photos of the finished product, because it really did turn out to be a very cute apron. I love it. It looks nearly professional and is quite feminine and sweet. The entire project took me about four hours and the whole process went smoothly thanks to the detailed instructions and diagrams in the book.
I look forward to attempting more Weekend Sewing projects, maybe even the wrap dress! I would definitely recommend the book to anyone (with at least some basic sewing skills and access to a sewing machine) who is looking for simple, but beautiful sewing project ideas.
  • Over forty sewing projects, from napkins and tote bags to blouses and smocked dresses.
  • Lovely color photos and very detailed, hand-drawn, step-by-step diagrams for every project.
  • Full-size patterns included with the book on large, separate sheets of paper.
  • It has a laid-back, easy-going weekend attitude that encourages the reader to really enjoy their sewing time.
  • Not exactly a con, but you must have access to a sewing machine to complete most, if not all, of the projects.
  • I would not call the projects in Weekend Sewing extremely advanced, but they are not for absolute beginners, either. Some sewing knowledge and skills are necessary.
  • Also not a con, but something to note: 2/3 of the book is devoted to clothing projects, and half of those projects are children’s clothing. If you are looking for more housewares or functional items, this may not be the sewing book for you.
Weekend Sewing: More Than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching
 has an MSRP of $27.50 and is sold at most major book retailers. Do you own this book and have you created any of the projects? If so, please share links to photos of your finished products. What other sewing books do you suggest for a beginner-to-intermediate seamstress?
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One of a Kind Show, New York

Reported by Rachel Johnson

The One of a Kind Show and Sale is a yearly event that happens in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, and for the first time this year, New York City. (You can read Sarah Moore’s review of the Chicago show here.) On Friday, I braved the super-cold temperatures and headed out to Pier 94 to check out the show, which was described as an “an extraordinary holiday shopping show featuring the best in fine art and fine craft from hundreds of unique artists, artisans, and designers from across North America.” I was very curious to find out what the event had to offer.

My first stop once I was inside the doors was the crafting area. A bunch of cool, crafty companies were hosting “make and take” projects and I wanted to get in on the fun. I stopped by the ReadyMade and Janome booth where you could work on gift tags or sew pillows on Janome sewing machines. I also got to sign up for a complimentary, one-year ReadyMade magazine subscription just for attending the One of a Kind Show! Sweet!
Next, I stopped by the Hello Craft area, where they had all sorts of craft supplies available, including a button maker! Hello Craft is a nonprofit trade organization dedicated to the advancement of independent crafters and the handmade movement. The Hello Craft representatives, Sara and Kim, were so kind and informative that I decided to purchase a Hello Craft membership on the spot!
Then, I headed to the Etsy DIY area. Etsy had adorable fabric ornament kits that you could work on there, or take home to make later. (They had the custom fabric for the ornaments printed at Spoonflower.) I grabbed a kit for later and chatted up the Etsy representatives. They explained how Etsy was excited to be sponsoring both the DIY area and an Etsy Pavilion at the One of a Kind Show because they wanted to help the new wave of crafters break into the more traditional and established arts and craft world. It was great to see such a large website supporting their users in a tangible way!
At the Etsy Pavilion you could find twenty-four juried Etsy vendors all in one area. They also had a welcome booth with lots of information about and some free swag. There were plenty of unique crafts within the pavilion, but my two favorite booths were Gock’s Frocks felted wool clothing and Jill K. Davis Jewelry.
Kristen Gocker Hallagan of Gock’s Frocks makes adorable children’s clothing, stuffed animals, scarves, and more out of fabric and recycled, felted wool sweaters. She works on her craft full time, but has just started branching into the craft show scene. I bought a cute, felted wool flower pin from her that I plan to put on my plain black coat.
Jill K. Davis makes unique and charming silver and gold jewelry that often features a picturesque little house. I was enamored with her detailed work, and promised myself that I would purchase one of her amazing necklaces in the future!
Outside of the Etsy Pavilion there were hundreds of other vendors ranging from jewelry and fashion to food and photography. I kept track of all of my favorite booths, including the one above: Smitten Kitten. The Smitten Kitten booth immediately drew me in. It was all pink and colorful, but the beautiful statement necklaces are what really caught my eye. My little photos above do not do them justice. The designer, Amy, creates the necklaces using chunky, colorful beads and silk kanzashi flowers she has folded using vintage scarves. Oh, how I wanted one! Sadly, the prices were a bit too high for me on the necklaces, so I settled for a very cute, bright pink kanzashi flower pin.
I had a lot of fun checking out the Apexspire Jewelry booth. Above is a photo of Karen Clark, the designer of Apexspire. The understated beaded necklaces and earrings were both simple and detailed at the same time. I had a hard time deciding on only one item, but finally bought a very sweet pair of aquamarine bead earrings.
One of my absolute favorite booths at the One of a Kind Show and previously at the Brooklyn Flea, is the photography of John Murphy. Murphy creates vivid, striking photographs using small sets he constructs in his studio. He then frames the surreal images in super-bright, hand finished frames. I would love to own one of Murphy’s pieces, but for now I am making due with his Flora & Fauna stationery set.

Last but not least on my list of favorite vendors is the Rogue Confections booth. This booth blew me away with the beautiful design of both the environment and the intricate patterns printed on the handmade Belgian chocolates. I was amazed to learn that founder, Sherri Adler, was doing the initial launch of Rogue Confections right there at the One of a Kind show – everything about the booth was extremely professional and lovely. The free samples of the chocolate were delicious, and I will definitely keep the box sets in mind for future gift giving.
Overall, the One of a Kind show was a lot of fun and I got to check out a bunch of new crafters and network with many creative folks. The only downside is that I overheard a lot of the vendors express disappointment with the level of shopper turnout. A few people told me that they had talked to more press representatives and shop owners than actual holiday shoppers.
Did you attend the One of a Kind Show in any of its locations? What did you think? Did the number of shoppers pick up on the weekend in NY? Did you buy any holiday gifts or something for yourself at the show?
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