Then, this happened.

May 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Ok, so – this is clearly just a first try, but can I just tell you how thrilled I am that I figured out this much???

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Save Etsy! (part two)

May 19, 2012 at 11:18 am (Uncategorized)

I thought this was really interesting. This morning, this is what was on the treasury on Etsy’s front page:

Ok. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

I was thinking that all my moaning and groaning about Etsy losing touch with its roots really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if the stuff that’s featured on the front page is really what’s bringing in sales. Etsy is in business to make money; if people are buying expensive retro furniture from the site, it’s reasonable to expect that the site would in turn support those sellers and promote them. Obviously, Etsy wants to keep the people who are actually selling around, and keep them happy.

So I did a  little web sleuthing and came across a site that ranks the top sellers. Below is a screenshot of their list from this morning:

First off, right away, I noticed that based purely on amount of sales, the top handmade seller out sells the top vintage seller 3:1. If you dismiss the top handmade seller as an anomaly (because they sell lots of inexpensive things in volume), even the #2 handmade seller outsells the top vintage seller 2:1. That’s interesting to me, since so much of the front page treasuries have been so obsessed with vintage stuff. If the treasuries reflected what people are actually buying on Etsy, there’d be a lot less vintage up there.

But, whatever. It doesn’t make too much sense to dwell on these numbers. What’s more interesting is to look at the type of merchandise that does well.

Winds up, when it comes to handmade, the top selling items are… exactly what’s synonymous with Etsy. You know, funny pins, silkscreened dinosaur t-shirts, and collages starring cats. Here’s an example:

(click on the picture to go to the listing. all of these are awesome and i highly encourage you to buy from these people.)

Go over to the top daily sales, and you’ll see that only one is a vintage seller (#10):

…and there’s a lot of really interesting stuff selling that isn’t exactly being reflected by the front page:

Remember: All of these pictures are from the most popular, top-selling stores on Etsy. They are the bread-and-butter of the site, what keeps it in business, what people come to Etsy to buy. And yet, when was the last time you saw a treasury that included anything that looked like this?

It’s as if what actually sells on Etsy and what Etsy wants you to think sells (or at least, represents them the best) exist in totally different realities.

I understand it behooves the site to put the most beautiful pieces up front, so as to encourage clicks and traffic. But while they’re hyping a $2,700 Mid-Century Danish bed, they’re essentially snubbing the very sellers that are keeping them in business. And the truth is, if you want a dinosaur t-shirt, you go to Etsy – that’s a built in market that Etsy has already cornered and can look to gently expand upon… which is very different than pushing merchandise that is radically different from what the market already wants.

Also, am I so insane and out of touch that I think buying a nearly $3,000 bed sight unseen is the kind of purchase very few people would make, but buying a $20 t-shirt is the kind of thing that can be done in volume, thus generating lots of listing fees for Etsy?

Why is the site so scared of what makes them different, interesting, unique, and well, great? Why are they running from the very stuff (and the very sellers) that makes them popular? It makes me feel like the site is ashamed of exactly what they built their reputation on, and there’s no reason for that. All of the above merchandise is totally fine, but I feel like it’s being tucked away, like it’s Etsy dirty little secret. And there’s no need for that.

Ok, I’ll stop now.



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Save Etsy!

May 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm (Uncategorized)

I recently reopened my Etsy store and… I’m not happy. I’m not getting the traffic I want, I don’t like a lot of the stuff I see around me, and overall, I’m just not happy.

But this is what makes me most not-happy.

I’ve been thinking of it as The Regretsy Effect. There seems to be this thing going around on Etsy where the site is trying to show off its absolute best taste, almost as a way to ward off any criticism or jokes made at its expense. Here are two screenshots from the site taken from yesterday morning, just an hour or so apart from each other. They depict two “registries” – curated (by the staff of the website, one assumes) collections of objects for sale on Etsy, and they appeared right on the front page so that it’s the very first thing you get when you type in

Huh. Everything’s very… white. Tasteful. Safe. And super boring. It looks like a page from Martha Stewart Living or an Anthropologie catalog. Which you know, is fine and all… but what the hell happened to handmade? I shop on Etsy because I don’t want to buy something from Anthropologie. I want something unique and different, one-of-a-kind, funky, edgy, maybe even a little weird. And I know there’s thousands of sellers on Etsy and there’s something for everyone, but when was the last time you went to the front page and saw a treasury that reflected that handmade, funky, inventive aesthetic that made Etsy such a great place just a few years ago?

I shop at Etsy because I want to support some cool punk rock girl making t-shirts out of her mother’s basement in Pennsylvania. And that’s the kind of person I want to show my own wares alongside of. As soon as Etsy becomes like every other lifestyle website, I lose interest.

And yes, I know there are other issues too, but this one really irks me because it’s one that the site could easily fix. I hate to see a site run away from the exact thing that really makes them special. I love Etsy, but increasingly, I feel really unwelcome there.



ps… I made my own treasury. It’s not perfect, but I quickly put it together to show the kinds of things I love to see on etsy. Click on the pic to go to it:

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The feral cats on my block

May 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm (Uncategorized)

(I keep thinking there’s some sort of period piece/larger lesson/greater meaning to be gleaned from this story, but I can’t put it together, so I’m just going to write it out the best I can. Note: may be terribly boring. Sorry about that.)

(left: Batman. right: Nurse.)

Our neighborhood has had a serious feral cat issue since we moved in, over ten years ago. The population of the cats sort of peaked a few years ago, then dropped a bit, and now seems to be exploding. It’s easy to understand why there’s so many of them all of a sudden:

  1. There’s been a steady population of about 20 cats that are stubbornly afraid of people and, as a result, untrappable. We had a family on our block who was all about trap-neuter-release, which is a humane program meant to control the population of wild cats – basically, all you do is you trap a stray cat, bring them to a vet, the vet neuters the cat, and then the cat is returned to the streets that he/she calls home. You still have that cat roaming the streets, but it’s not like the population is being added to. TNR works really well… except for the fact that we’ve had this core of cats that have just been impossible to catch. So they remain unfixed and producing kittens.
  2. Said family, mentioned above, lost their home this winter. They had a medical emergency that lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, which lead to them selling their house and leaving town.
  3.  On top of that, several other people have also lost their homes, leading our block to have a few vacant homes. It’s hardly the ghost town that I read in the NY Times parts of Phoenix is, but there are still large, lumbering homes that are completely empty. And believe it or not, when you have a large enough feral cat colony in a neighborhood, they will move into one of those empty homes and take it over. (Yes, there is one place on our block commonly referred to as “the house that all those cats own.”)
  4. Lots of people feed the strays.

So, add all those up, and you have a perfect storm of many, many cats. It some ways, it’s kind of cool, because hey, I like cats. And in other ways, it’s just sad and pitiful to think of these poor creatures surviving out there on their own.

The king of all the cats, the mayor of Catville, if you will, is this one guy named Riceball (I don’t know where the name came from). She’s a neutered female who is so friendly and sweet that several people have tried to take him in and adopt him. She won’t have it; Riceball inevitably escapes through some window or door to the outside, and winds up right back on the street, where she seems perfectly happy. In fact, whether it’s heavy snow, 3am, blazing hot sun, or pouring rain, chances are you can scan the block and – yep, there’s Riceball, happily moseying down the street. Nothing ruffles that cat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Batman and Nurse, pictured above. Batman doesn’t seem feral at all – he’s an unneutered male and he was very skinny when he first showed up on the scene a couple of weeks ago, but he’s so affectionate and sweet that several families are vying to take him in. It’s actually been a few days since I last saw him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already adopted him, although he seems to have quite a good thing going in terms of working all the various houses on our block for food (he’s put on a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time).

Nurse, meanwhile, has been around for at least three years. I started calling her Nurse after the band Nurse With Wound, because she has a perpetual wound on her neck. It’s really sad and gross – it’s this open sore (scrape? maybe?) that is about 1″ at its smallest, but often flares up to 4″ or 5″, taking up much of her neck. The theory is that she hurt herself at one time or another and then keeps scratching at it, making it worse, over time.

Nurse is extremely filthy, horribly wounded, and terrified of everyone and everything. You can’t get near this cat. She runs away quickly, usually hissing over her shoulder. Our neighbors who were all about TNR made her a special priority to catch, and were never successful (she would be one of those core cats that just can’t be caught and keeps having kittens). (Also, note: the pic above was taken through a window. Nurse would never be lazing around relaxed when a human was walking closely by.)

The first time I saw her, I honestly thought she would die within a couple of weeks, the wound on her neck is that bad… but she’s been hanging in there for years, feisty as ever. There is truly no cat in the world that I would love to give a home to more than Nurse – even if it’s just for enough time to let her neck heal and give her a place to rest and recuperate, and then she could go back out there again, if she wanted. My heart really breaks for this cat every time I see her, even though most of the times I see her she’s shooting me hateful glances and hissing at me.

Anyway. To get to the point: a couple of weeks ago, it was late on night and pouring out. Batman was on our porch and Jeff and I felt so bad for him. Do we bring him in? What if he has fleas or ticks or something he can give our dog? We decided against it. But our porch is protected by a roof and I brought down a box with a towel in it that he could lay on, to add some extra protection. He would be fine for the night.

Next morning, we wake up, and Nurse is laying in the box. Oh wait – Nurse is pregnant. I forgot that part. Yes, pregnant Nurse has completely taken over the box that was meant for Batman and now totally owns it, and Jeff and I can’t help but notice that as she lays in there, she looks more comfortable and relaxed than we have ever, ever seen her.

But there’s a problem. It’s not really our porch, you see. We live in an apartment building, and that porch is shared by seven different apartments. Would the people in the other units take kindly to a cat living in a box on our porch for an indefinitely period of time? Probably no, and I could understand that.

So I had a great idea. I would make a Super Awesome Amazing Box and hide it in the garden, tucked behind the bushes and up against the building (seriously, unless you really spend time looking for it, you don’t know it’s there) and get Nurse to move in there. I took an old box and made it deeper, to accommodate a mother and kittens comfortably, and then covered it inside and out with plastic, to make it waterproof. On the bottom, I lined it with soft flannel.

The first box got taken away. So I anxiously checked the second box, just naturally assuming that Nurse would move on in. And of course, being a cat, she had zero interest in it. The box laid out there, empty and lonely, with no cat in it for about a week. I put food in it and everything, and no dice.

About a week later (this is about a week ago from today), I was headed out the door with my dog Oscar, and we walked by Nurse. It was very strange, because instead of getting up and running away as she always did, she actually just laid there. It was the closest I have ever gotten to her. I looked at her and I got this Oh shit, she’s going into labor flash, and then she looked at me – the first time ever that she looked at me with something other than hate in her eyes. I kept walking with Oscar.

When we came back maybe half an hour later, we heard mew mew mew coming from the bushes where the box I made her was. Holy shit, she actually used it!!!!!! I kind of questioned my sanity or thought maybe I heard a bird or something else, just sort of my mind playing tricks on me. But later that day, on the way out from the building, I heard it again. And then over the next few days, occasionally mew mew mew! and I totally knew it was for real.

Now it’s been a few days and I haven’t seen/heard anything from the box (it’s tucked away enough that in order for me to really see inside, I’d have to risk disturbing the cats to look so I don’t want to). I’ve been leaving offerings of water and food on the porch so that Nurse can get to the just a few feet from where her kittens, I assume, are. It’s all sort of weird and magical. And I guess I just have to wait to know what’s going on, which is hard.

Anyhoo. Here’s a song by Free Kitten, just to finish things off:

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Babies’ faces!

May 10, 2012 at 10:47 am (Uncategorized)

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Let’s study the fiber arts this summer.

May 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm (Uncategorized)

It was only a week ago that I was happily humming along with my Martha Stewart Loom, finding new and interesting things to do with scraps of hand-woven fabric 5 x 5 inches, and all was well.

But the semester ended, and I always try to treat myself to something – oh, you know – a little fun! and silly! at the end of a semester. Something not related to work, but that I can fall back on and play with over the summer. Last year it was a Vita-Mix. This year, money being a little tighter, it was $100 in craft supplies.

The first $50 went to yarn. That’s easy – I went to a few different places in NYC and bought a few different skeins of yarn, purely based on the promise of doing something, I-don’t-know-what, with them. No worries.

The next $50 would be spent on basket making supplies. Why? Well, you know – it’s fun to make baskets, and it would be cool to have a couple around the house, maybe sell one or two on etsy. I sort of vaguely know how to make baskets, but not really. But who cares – $50 wasn’t going to get me very far, so if I got some supplies with it and discovered I couldn’t finish the project, it’s not like there’d be that much waste.

There’s literally no place in NYC (at least that I can find) to buy basket making supplies. So I ordered the stuff online. There was whiskey and a late night involved, but I really don’t think that had so much to do with it – honestly, not knowing the medium at all, I don’t think it being in the cold light of day or had I been totally sober would have helped any. I just sort of clicked on things that were pretty or unusual and stayed in my budget, and off the order went.

This brings me to the Thing #1 I Learned on Summer Vacation: Countries with basket making traditions are also generally pretty poor; this means that the supplies used to make baskets are inexpensive, especially by NYC standards. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A week went by and finally one day the postman showed up and rang our bell. I went downstairs to meet him, and he had a big, goofy grin on his face, like he had a line he had been saving up all day, and I was just the person to use it on. “I don’t know what you ordered – but it’s somethin’!” he said, passing me a box large enough to contain an actual Peruvian basketmaker to hand-assemble my baskets, but also disturbingly light as air.

Now, let’s back up a moment. Fifty dollars doesn’t normally buy you much. For $50, I can get maybe four or five skeins of really good yarn, or maybe ten really cheap skeins. Fifty bucks gets me two or three tubes of really good oil paint. My point is, it was reasonable for me to assume that spending $50 would yield me a reasonable amount of supplies. Reasonable, but also wrong.

Back in my apartment, I opened the package. There, staring at me, was more basket making supplies than I had ever seen in my life. And to make matters worse, it was one of those packages that is (dehydrated? vacuum sealed? something) so that when you open the individual parts and they get unwound and exposed to air, they’re actually bigger than they were in the package.

Yes, a small section of the rainforest now resides in my studio, and I feel this sense of responsibility/guilt/shame/excitement/possibility every time I look at the piles of reeds which now obstruct my worktable.

Just some of the supplies I now own. There’s… a lot.

Remember now: I wanted enough basket supplies to make a few baskets. I now have enough to make 600. Which leads me to Thing #2 I Learned on Summer Break: Societies that produce large amounts of baskets generally house their people in situations that are not apartments already filled with crap. But I digress.

The point is, the stuff is all here, and I need to do something with it.

The trick with basket making is that you have to soak the reeds. This is easy to do when you have lots of outdoor space, and I have visions of myself sometime in the distant future with long hair and bare feet, somewhere up north from here, soaking reeds and assembling huge baskets in a big grassy, shady field, while the family sheep quietly munches on some grass and the laundry dries on a line in the sun (and quite possibly, an episode of Portlandia plays in the background). This is great, but it’s not my situation currently.

So last night, the reeds and I climbed into my completely filthy and gross bathtub (with a nice shot of whiskey) and tried to work something out. (Well, some of the reeds. In the end, about 1/16th of them. But it’s a start.)

Which leads me to Thing #3 I Learned On Summer Break: Societies that have basket making traditions are generally located in parts of the world that are very warm. Makes sense, right? Africa, South America – they make great baskets. Sure, ok. But here’s why:

It’s not currently warm here. It’s in the 50s and grey out, and I’m in this bathtub with the reeds and I’m trying to weave/braid/knot them as best I can, and… the water starts to get cold. The window in the bathroom was cracked, so a breeze was drifting in and let’s just say if you ever wanted to truly hate your life, get into a dreary bathtub full of semi-cold water, lots of sticks, and promise yourself you’re not getting out til you have used up all the sticks in some sort of craft project where you have no clue what you’re doing. And the water keeps getting more cold with every second.

I eventually worked out something with pouring in more hot water and draining the cold, which sort of resulted in this freezing/burning thing happening on my feet over and over, and then more guilt for wasting water. Great. Now I’ve destroyed the rainforest and I’m wasting water. I’m a great human being.

Several hours of self-loathing later, I emerge from the bathroom, my skin the driest it has ever been, and carrying a few small, weird baskets. I actually kind of like them. They don’t make up for the rainforest destruction/water wasting, but they’re a start. And I only have 15/16th left of the supplies left!

One of the baskets I made last night. I later wove some fabric into it, for some reason.

(It’s not so, so bad, right? I mean, I can get $20 for it on etsy or something, right? Maybe?)

Later tonight I’m going to make some baskets by coiling. That uses up a LOT of materials. So that might help too.

So now is probably a good time to mention that I’m relaunching my etsy store later this week. It was supposed to be today, but I need to take some good photos and it’s gross out. But it’s going to be lots of things I promise you love. Handmade dolls! Woven things! And um, baskets! Proper launch very soon!

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