Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chain Maille Tips & Tricks: The Death Grip

You're sitting, hunched over, pliers grasped, struggling to close your jump rings when you realize that your back hurts, you're getting bleary eyed, your wrists and hands are killing you and your lovely rings are completely marred up. What the Hell is going on?

Beware The Death Grip!!

When you're first getting started making chain maille, there is the tendency to hold onto your pliers for dear life for fear your rings will go flying across the room. It happens, trust me: been there, done that.

The first thing you have to do is relax.

Find a pair of pliers that are comfortable in your hands and that you feel comfortable with. I highly recommend using a pair with a box joint or spring - this will help you easily and effortlessly work with your tools.

Know that every metal you work with will be different and it might take you some time to get used to each of them. As a beginner, work in bright aluminum or copper. They aren't terribly expensive metals, so if you mark them up as you're getting used to mailling and your pliers, it's not much of a waste. They are also very malleable metals, so you won't have to work as hard to get them closed. Keep in mind that because they are malleable (soft) that means they will mar easily in comparison to, say, stainless steel. This, however, will help teach you just how strong (or light) a grip you really need.

Sit in a comfortable position where you can easily see your work with good lighting and relax your hands. You want your grip only to be firm enough to keep the ring in your pliers. Let your tools do the work - you will exert less energy, not get tired as fast, and be able to work longer.

It will take some practice to get used to how much pressure you really need, so be patient and feel it out. You'll get it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Getting to Know You: A Faire Survey

I was browsing around the Faire News blog and came across this Faire News Readers page and thought it would be fun to play along. Here's Escarlata's introduction to the section:

"There’s a survey circulating among my friends on MySpace especially designed for those of us who frequent Renaissance, Medieval, Fantasy, Pirate, and Faerie Festivals and Faires.

Thought I’d share it here as a way to get to know my readers. I’m going to post the questions, then I’ll start it off by posting my answers as the first comment. I’d love to hear from you. And my thanks to my friend Tremayne for the thoroughly novel concept of just deleting the questions that didn’t make sense. Instead of deleting, though, I modified the wording on a few."

1. Tankard, Goblet, or Plastic Cup and with or without a cover? So far, none of the above, but I suspect it will be a tankard (all the more room for the ale!).

2. Did you wear garb your first time at Faire? Nope.

3. What was the last thing you bought - other than food and drink? It was a pirate coin necklace on a leather cord at the Florida Pirate Festival (wearing it in the above pic).

4. What does your favorite pin say? I don't have any pins yet.

5. Do you go for historical accuracy in your garb? I only just started putting my garb together, so I've been thinking about this. I'm trying to stay relatively historically correct, but within reason: the styles will be period, but modern made.

6. Where was your last out-of-state Faire? Haven't been to one out of state yet.

7. How many different costumes do you own? lol. I'm still working on putting together my first one. Right now, I have a leather coat, leggings, a shirt, an epee, and will hopefully have my boots soon. I'm planning on borrowing Scott's accessories (belts, pouches, etc.) for now.

8. Do you carry a blade? Of course! I currently have an epee, but hope to acquire a dagger and perhaps a main-gauche.

9. Have you been flogged? Nope. I don't think I'd stand for that.

10. When was your virgin year? Fairly recently, in fact: I believe it was 2006.

11. Who originally introduced you to Faire? Scott brought me to my first one.

12. Had your hair braided? No, but it would be fun.

13. Had a henna tattoo? At faire, I had an arm band done. Outside of faire, my favorite henna tattoo was on my whole lower arm (all the way around) done in traditional henna designs. It almost looked like a fancy gauntlet.

14. Do you have pockets? Nope.

15. Do you carry a cell phone where it can be seen? That wouldn't be cool. It will be in a pouch.

16. Will you shed part of your costume if it’s hot? Only if I have to. My leather coat pretty much makes the outfit, so I really wouldn't want to lose it but I'm also not going to be stupid about it.

17. What part of someone else’s costume do you wish you had? I love what I've got so far, I just want to complete the ensemble.

18. Ever had a run-in with security? Not yet.

19. Do you bother with Faire-speak? I keep trying: I understand Shakespeare, I've studied speech techniques in school, I repeat actors in period movies. . . But it doesn't really sound that great. lol.

20. What do you carry on you, that most other people probably do not? I don't know. I'm kind of a Girl Scout though, and feel like I'm pretty prepared for most situations.

21. Is sunscreen a normal part of your costume? It will be. I'm pretty anal about not wanting to get burned.

22. What color is/are your blouse(s)/shirt(s)? So far, I just have the one in cream. If I ever figure out my sewing machine, I'll try and make some more.

23. What faires have you been too? Bay Area Renaissance Festival and Florida Pirate Festival. I think this year, I'm going to try and get to a few more that are in my area.

24. Would you date someone at faire? My partner's name is Scott. He brought me to my first faire and he's the only one I'll be taking home from a faire.

25. Describe your character? She's still in development, but she is a shield maiden.

26. What is your favorite show at faire? That's tough. I enjoy the Washing Wenches, Johnny Phoenix, Flights of Raptor, the jousting. . .

27. Worked at faire? Not yet.

28. Do you prefer tent or hard sites? I've never been to a hard site, but imagine that it's magical. On the other hand, it takes a bit of creativity and work to transform a tent and I can totally appreciate that.

29. Do you share the pictures you take? I haven't really taken many yet, but the few that I have taken I've shared here and at my flickr account.

30. Do you know all the words to at least one faire song? Not yet, but I suspect that will happen eventually.

31. Have you ever given or received a kilt check? No, but that sounds like fun.

32. Plan on doing any new characters? If yes, describe: I'd like to figure out my first one, first!

33. Most memorable character at faire? Don't have one yet.

34. Favorite moment at faire? Walking in for the first time and realizing how much fun it would be. I love history and have a theatrical background: it was a perfect fit!

35. Do you have a photo that best depicts your persona at faire? Haven't gone in garb yet, but here I am trying on a gorgeous leather corset:

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Blog Format! Squee!

I'm so excited to have upgraded my blog from the standard two column layout to this nifty new three column dealio thanks to the code on the Random Bytes Blog (she's got lots of great templates so be sure to check it out). It would have been quite simple to do if I actually read through all of the information first so I knew to expect that the majority of my widgets would disappear with the upgrade. What actually happened: I did the upgrade, saw that most of my widgets disappeared, tried to upload my back up of the original blog, and then all Hell broke loose. After much fooling around (and more patience than I usually have for something like this), I managed to get the three column layout up again and then have spent a good amount of time today adding in the widgets that I could remember. . . If I had a link to you on the previous incarnation of my blog, but don't now please let me know. I either haven't gotten to adding you back yet or just forgot to since I didn't realize I would have to do that. Sigh. It's very uncharacteristic of me to not read through all of the information first before acting. I still have some more work to do (Where the Hell did I get the flickr widget code from?! How do I get rid of the double lines between widgets on the right? etc. etc.), but in general I'm really happy with the new look.

Oh, and while you're here. . . I've got that Follow This Blog widget over there on the left and it's looking a little sad. Come on and give a girl some love. (puppy dog eyes. . .)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Customer Appreciation: The Green Cat

Once upon a time, I used to travel the country (and then some) as a stage manager for Broadway tours. On one of these tours, I worked with Cat: a fellow stage manager, quilter, environmentalist, and all around awesome woman. I was reading her blog and found out that she opened an Etsy shop (using her sewing talents and in keeping with her environmental ideals):

TheGreenCat ~ Handmade Items from Repurposed Fabrics ~

****Using up every scrap of fabric I can get my paws on!****

Jack had something from her even before I did! When she heard that I had a new family member, she sent him some catnip mice. Jack absolutely loves these little guys. You can pick up your own in her shop.

I had been in the market for some cloth napkins and fell in love with the fabric she used for those featured below. She sent them lovingly packaged and even included some napkin folding instructions (a great touch!) plus an extra little present for me.

She has coasters, wreaths, and the most adorable little birds.

She's having New Year Sale in her shop, so be sure to check it out!!
I'm clearing out some stock so for a limited time you can receive 25% OFF ANYTHING IN THE SHOP! Just put "newyear25" in the notes to seller and wait for your revised invoice before paying.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Woman Warrior: The Every Woman

It's been a long time since I've done one of my Woman Warrior features. I'd like to start the new new year by featuring The Every Woman: the woman carrying groceries with the aching back, the single mom earning a paycheck, the woman working a full time job and caring for her elderly mother. . . These women of the world are heroes everyday, but you never hear about them. They are truly phenomenal women.

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happy Yet Bittersweet Vehicle News

As you may know, my Jeep was giving me lots of problems over the course of the past year. A couple of these problems were fairly normal: dead battery and a bad sensor in the fuel injection system. A couple were known problems that Chrysler (who owns Jeep) is not acknowledging:
* A broken gear shift. There were over 200 on back order when mine broke and none were being made at the time. By the time Chrysler started making more and shipped it out, it had been over a month since the shop received my Jeep. I was unable to drive it that whole time. Luckily, it happened at a time when I was out of town for two weeks and the rest of the time Scott and my work schedules were close enough that we could drive in together.
* A violent shaking of 'something' in the front end which made the steering wheel and then the whole vehicle start to shake. After doing some research, I discovered that this has been a known problem in Jeep's for at least two decades. It even has a nickname: the death wobble. Basically, it can be anything to do with the front end. I read about quite a few people who would fix one thing, it would go away for a little while and then come back, they'd have to fix something else entirely; it just turned into a never ending problem.

After discovering the death wobble, I had a very tough decision to make: do I begin trying to fix it or do I sell it? I lovelovelove my Jeep, so this was a very difficult decision to make. Ultimately, I decided that the amount of time and money it would take to maintain it wouldn't be worth it when I could get something else with a much better reliability record that would hopefully last me longer with no problems at all. After I emotionally came to terms with having to get rid of my beloved Jeep (not only a very fun ride, but she was also my first car), the real kicker was that it was already paid off and getting something new would bring yet another monthly bill. Luckily, Jeeps don't depreciate much, so I had a nice down payment in that.

After some searching on Consumer Reports and the Kelley Blue Book, I decided to start my search with Toyota: their reliability ratings are off the charts. I definitely wanted to stick with an SUV which led me to the 4Runner (it's at the top of it's class and the perfect size to fit my tent and misc. other craft show and faire accoutrement). My second choice was a Nissan XTerra: it rated well, not as well as the 4Runner, but above average; and I really like the look of it.

I went to the Jeep dealership where I bought my Jeep to have it appraised. They took it out for a test drive that lasted less than five minutes and didn't even look under the hood. Then I dealt with a manipulative, sexist dealer who assumed that I didn't do my research or know what I was talking about. When you buy or sell a car, do your research or you will be taken for a ride!!! I knew they weren't offering me what it was worth and the guy was feeding me a load of crap. When I called him on it, he just tried double talking me. I had no problem walking out the door of that dealership without looking back. Next stop was Carmax where Scott got his truck (Toyota Tundra). They took it for their 121 (or some other number) point inspection and test drive. They looked it over for an hour while I shopped for a 4Runner or XTerra on their lot.

I test drove both. The 4Runner felt like a well built machine and had a very, very smooth ride. After being in my Jeep for so long, it actually felt like a luxury vehicle. The XTerra handles very similar to the Jeep, which I loved, but it didn't seem as well made. I ultimately went with the more reliable vehicle: the 4Runner. The problem wound up being finding one used that fit the bill: affordable (even used, the majority of them were a bit more than I could afford), a V6 (I don't need the V8 and it would just use up more gas), an '04 or newer (the '03 was a model redesign, so I wanted to go later in case there were any bugs to iron out). I discovered that they are such well made machines that when people buy them, they usually don't get rid of them until they die, thus making them very hard to find.

I signed up for daily search alerts from Carmax and just a couple days after my test drive, got one that pretty much fit the bill - I even liked the color. It didn't include any extras: everything on it was standard, but I really didn't need anything more. It was in the next city over, so I had to have it transferred. I got there, checked it out, and made the ultimate heartrending decision to go for it. I was so upset at losing my Jeep, that I didn't get to enjoy the thrill of getting a new car. I cried when they drove my Jeep away. Literally cried. I spent a good week or so after buying my 4Runner feeling like I was cheating on my Jeep.

But, here I am, nearly a month later (and now that I've finally gotten my seat comfortable and am getting used to just how different it handles), I'm really starting to enjoy it. I finally moved all of my stuff from my Jeep into it and although she doesn't have a name yet, it's starting to feel like home.

If you stayed with me this long, you get to see the pictures! =)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jumping on the Bandwagon

I've never been one for resolutions, but the start of the year does feel like an opportunity to start fresh, with a clean slate. It is, after all, a new beginning. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately of things that I wasn't necessarily happy with last year and improvements that can be made. I'm not thinking of them as resolutions. More like goals.

In no particular order, I'm working on some personal and business goals:

* Take better care of myself:
-snack less at work (I eat when I'm bored)
-work out regularly (am totally loving my Wii Fit) = more energy, feel better, look better, strength!
-meditate = calm & focus
-go to yoga classes = healthier me + meet new people

* Clean & organize my workroom - I love that I have a whole room of my own, but have never really been thrilled with the layout. I need to play with that and create a more inviting & inspiring space. And I MUST hang the ACEO's, prints, and artwork I've been collecting!!

* Get the sewing machine I received from a very generous Freecycler serviced and learn how to use it.

* Feel less guilty/bad about situations that I have no control over. Worry less. Stop over analyzing. Be more spontaneous.

* Find a way to use the tremendous amount of down time at work to my advantage for Athena's Armoury.

* Production line pieces for days that I'm feeling less than creatively inspired.

* PLAY! Create new designs and don't worry about following rules.

* Purge. Get rid of stuff that I don't need or want. Clutter is disrupting the flow of life!

* List and blog about at least one new item per week. Continue to renew daily.

* Get going on creating that website.

* Dedicate a couple days per month to picture taking. I thought that having my light box set up all the time would be a good idea because as soon as I'm done with a piece and still really excited about it, I could shoot it. Yeah, I wound up moving onto another piece and the light box just took up space until I decided to use it. Time to try something else.

* Track sales/expenses better. A necessary evil in being a one person operation is having to do the tasks you'd rather delegate.

* Work on better branding for my biz.

Well, some of these are goals, some just seems like a to-do list. I also realize that I need to get a bit more specific and figure out how I'm going to accomplish some of this. But, hey, it's a start.

Now that you have a clean slate with the beginning of a new year, what will you be working on?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy Blog Props + Google Alerts

Thanks to Google Alerts, I found out that Jean9 over at the Lapidary Queen Wannabees blog featured my blog and Etsy shop in her third installment of her Art of Chain Maille series. If you get a chance, give her blog some love.

Also, be sure to check out Google Alerts. You will receive e-mail updates with the latest relevant Google results based on your choice of query or topic. I've got it set up to search for my name as well as my shop name. This is usually how I find out that I've been mentioned on someone's blog. =)

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Series: Chain Maille Tips & Tricks - M.A.I.L.

I am by no means an expert mailler, but I have been doing it for a few years and have picked up a thing or two in that time. When I first started, I was lucky enough to to find a chain maille Yahoo group with great members who helped answer some questions and get me on my way. I also read. A lot. Books, magazines, websites. But, I would have loved to have someone there to pass on the tips and tricks that many of those books, magazines, and websites may assume that you already know. A mentor, if you will.

I'd like to share with you some of the stuff that I've learned. Some of the tips will be for beginners, some not. Some ideas may seem painfully obvious, but you have to learn somewhere. You may find that my way may not work best for you: there are as many ways of making chain maille as there are weaves out there. I simply want to give the novice mailler some ideas that might make their life a with pliers a little easier and, of course, more fun. These tips and tricks will be in no particular order, just whatever strikes my fancy to share with you.

Today, I'd like to share a website with you: M.A.I.L. This website is an AMAZING resource. It contains articles, community, a gallery, TONS of free weave tutorials, and so much more. Just go start looking around there, you'll get lost in a wealth of information and inspiration. I promise.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Starting the Year Off Right: Blog Giveaways!!

I hope everyone had a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season! In 2008, I was the lucky winner of a few blog contests. I never win anything, so imagine my surprise when I won three different blog giveaways!!

Cat is the amazing artist of Darkling Woods who creates fairy tale, fantasy, goddess, and mythology art. She's a fellow member of the Fantasy Artists of Etsy Street Team and I've loved her work since I was introduced to it so long ago. She had a Halloween Contest on her blog to help name a Pumpkin Girl that she was working on. Although I wasn't the grand prize winner, she certainly sent me all manner of Halloween treats and no tricks!

I discovered Ant's Pottery (aka antb) while browsing around Etsy a long time ago and have been drooling over her work ever since. I happened to see a post from her on twitter to check out her blog for her Saturday giveaway. First of all, she's got a great blog, but I also love the way she does her giveaways: this is the post I responded to. I won this adorable little Rock Box: it really does look like a rock on the outside, but you open it up to a sparkling, green glass treasure.

I was introduced to Julie of SewItsForYou, when I was accepted to vend at the Handmade Holiday Bazaar (she was one of the amazing women to organize the show). Her embroidered work is so beautifully detailed and add to that her wonderfully zany sense of humor and you get some really amazing work. To help celebrate her first 20 Etsy sales, she decided to have a contest on her blog. She asked that her readers respond to her post with a link to their most favorite creations and why. She presented me with a gift bag full of all kinds of goodies including some of her embroidered napkins, an eye pillow, and a little purse as well as some crafting supplies: jump rings (I am a mailler and make jewelry!) and an embroidery how to.

I'd like to return the good karma that was bestowed upon me with these wonderful gifts by doing a few giveaways of my own. Look for an announcement soon!!!!