A few Changes

I'm really happy with the blog design from New Shop Designs! It isn't a monumental change, since everyone that knows me knows that I really hate change, but it is definitely a nice update. Someone asked if it is expensive to work with a graphic designer. There are actually a lot of very reasonable designers out there that do this kind of thing on the side or who are just getting started so their prices are pretty reasonable. When I first had Crystal make my logo, banner, and business card design almost a year ago her prices were so low I felt like I was taking advantage of her. I actually sent her a scarf to appease my guilt and because I enjoyed working with her so much.

The above pic is from her portfolio and shows my designs in the cream and white. I obviously preferred the cream and have stuck with that. Since then she's tweaked a few things for me here and there and now made the blog template. She set it all up for me in 3 columns and took care of getting all my gadgets and widgets in place. I moved a few things around but that was about it. I love the new signature with my name and headings with the yarn ball as well. She and my husband both think the yarn ball heading is a bit busy but I like it and since it is my blog my vote is the one that counts. She also set up my domain name directed to the blog for $15 a year. I will probably have her help me design a website in the future. I don't know when but it is something to work towards.

I also added a Read More About Me post to the side by following Timothy Adam Designs directions for making the most of your profile here. If his blog isn't on your favorite list yet it really should be. He is one Etsy blogger that has a high page rank and readership. I also updated my favorite posts from the past list down below. The one thing that got lost in the transition is my blog roll list. If you would like to be on my list and trade links please just let me know. I'll be restarting the list later today.


Under Construction

To anyone wandering into the blog this weekend there is going to be lots of construction going on. I have signed over my blog design to the willing and able hands of my graphic designer New Shop Designs. I love saying "my graphic designer". It makes me feel so professional. She is completely remodeling the digs, but it will stay consistent with my shop look and everything. She started one of our conversations with "I know you don't like change, so how about...". It's nice to work with someone that already gets you.

I've left you some eye candy above from OriginalsbyLauren's shop. They are a set of two hunky potholders. Yes, I just used the word hunky. I can tell you with 100% certainty that none of the construction guys working on my office suite right now look like this.

I am going to save my blog post on backlinks and blog directories for next week. I'm still doing some research and I'd rather wait until things settle around here to add serious content. Hope everyone has a great weekend!


SEO For Dummies

When I started my blog over 6 months ago I had no idea everything I would need to learn to be even remotely successful at this new hobby of mine. I saw the term SEO batted around and had no idea what it even stood for or how it related to me. Eventually I picked up that it meant Search Engine Optimization, which really didn't explain much to me. I started to gather that it had something to do with how we come up in the Google search and involves backlinks and code, which are terms that made my head hurt so I just went back to looking at pretty pictures of yarn. The past few weeks for some reason I've suddenly gotten inspired to understand more about how my blog gets seen. I am in no way even close to an expert about this stuff so if you are looking for answers I'm not the one to come to but I figured that there are probably some others who are as clueless as I am that might appreciate a few places to start.

To let you know how clueless I really was I didn't even know that Google WebMaster Tools even existed. I had installed Google Analytics early on but was only using it for the bare necessities like seeing what searches people used to find me and how many unique visitors I had. A few weeks ago I stumbled across a very user friendly blog with some great tips that even I was able to put to use right away. Gary Conn puts things in easy terms and goes step by step showing screen shots so that I was able to start using the Webmaster Tools to find out how many links I had and any errors that Google had discovered in my site. It also helped show me what searches I was most visible in. Surprisingly I found that a post that I did as a throw away a few months ago about the Facebook MeME, defining your life by song titles, was the top of the searches for some reason. I still don't know how to recreate this phenomena but it helps to know how people are finding you anyways.

So from Gary I learned how to add a sitemap to my blog for Google here. I also learned how to add meta tags and site descriptions to my template code on blogger here. I promise it sounds scarier than it is. For some of you this is probably like baby stuff that you conquered the first week of blogging but I am so not a techie.

I'll share my observations of blog directories and trying to get links later in the week. I really had no idea how important those links really were until recently. I now understand why my Google ranking is so bad, since I had made no effort to get or trade links in the past. If you have any beginner tips on SEO please share!

I am sharing a few bad pics of my niece Jess with her obsession. She has now made close to 60 finger knitting creations. It was so inspiring to see her find pure joy in the act of making something with her hands. She has now started a club in her class where she teaches kids how to finger knit and they work together after school. They are planning on setting up a booth at their church fish fry the next few Fridays to sell them and donate the money to charity. How sweet is that?


Why Shop Local

I've noticed a few people from my actual hometown, St. Charles, MO, following me recently on several of my on-line homes and it got me thinking about how important it is to "think local". I love buying unique and handmade things but it is also important to think about how we spend our dollars in our local economies. It is even more important with the economy the way it is now. Our local businesses will be hurting just as much if not more than the big names. I did a search on Etsy's Shop Local for St. Charles, MO and I found some great local sellers thatI'll be showcasing throughout this post. I love this card from CreationsBySeaStar. She has some other really unique creations that I will be buying soon. I love giving handmade cards but I always felt guilty just buying one card and wasting the packaging and shipping to buy just one on-line. I will feel better about buying it locally and having much less fuel and carbon miles on my cards. The great Deconstructed/Reconstructed piece above was made with recycled magazines to create a unique piece of art by Njwernimont.

I found a great website which lays out the main reasons we should buy local called IndieBound. Their main focus is on Indie Bookstores but you can enter your zip code and it will give you a list of indie owned stores of all kinds in your area. These are the reasons they give for shopping at your local indie shops:

The Economy
  • Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong.
The Environment
  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
The Community
  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

The necklace above is from Phoenixllewelyn. She used a great mix of antiqued and vintage beads and findings to give a great old worldly necklace that I love. I also try to buy local supplies as much as possible. How gorgeous is this handmade glass bead lined with 925 sterling silver. Maryvsmith makes amazing beads that would be perfect in any one of a kind creation.

I have to be honest that I buy much of my yarn from on-line sources but I like to go with places that I know are actually independently owned like Webs and Little Knits. This is because as we all know if you are selling your creations on-line you have to get the best deals possible on supplies in order to make any type of profit. As I am trying to think more green in my day to day life shopping locally and even eating locally are going to be even more important elements of my life.


Fun on the Farm

I'm having a pretty crappy Monday: start of summer registration, construction STILL going on in our office and a sinus headache from hell. So I thought I would just share some pictures from this weekend that make me smile. We brought Mike's sister's kids down to my family farm for the first time. They are total city kids and had never been on a farm and they had so much fun running around, playing with my sister's girls, riding horses, and exploring Nana's yard with all of her creepy old barns, cellars, and other things to get into it. I was along for some of their adventures and photographed them well. It was so good to see Kai laugh and really enjoy himself. He is in that disaffected, mopey phase so to see him playing like a kid and having fun was truly special for me. He and Jessica really hit it off and Ani of course was in heaven to be able to hang out with Jess and Kate for a whole weekend.

You can see the whole photo album of the weekend if you want on Flickr here. I was really playing with my camera and trying some new things and I'm really happy with how some of them came out.

The kids are planning on making a "horror" movie the next time we come down in June. The old barns and cellars will be the perfect set. I think I'm looking forward to it as much as they are!

The daffodils were out in full bloom, which is always my favorite sign of Spring too.


Cool Diversions VS. Improving Your Shop Statistics

Wordle: Lenox Knits

Wordle: Blog Words from Lenox Knits

Say you have an hour to kill and you are looking for something to do. I have two options for you. I've discovered a few cool diversions this week and I've also come across a few ways to improve your Etsy shop stats. I'll leave it up to you to decide how to spend your time but I think they are all worthwhile. Above are a few Word Clouds from the site Wordle.net. For the first one I entered the words by hand and hit randomize until I got a configuration I liked. The second one I entered the URL of my blog and it created one from my tags and commonly used words. Pretty cool, huh.

I also came across a very cool new on-line magazine this week called VivaLaModa. Here is a description from their website:

VivaLaModa magazine

"VivaLaModa is a bi-monthly magazine created to show the greatest and coolest fashionable and hand made things that we can find. But we don’t want to talk only about fashion or beautiful stuff we find. This magazine will also host articles about green products, toys, decoration, product reviews and many more things.
We want to support indie designers and crafters who make things with their own hands (not to forget we also love vintage!), and give readers information about the handmade world."

They are on their second issue and I am seriously impressed with the look and layout. The pictures are gorgeous with lush layouts. I will definitely be watching this site for future issues. How cool would it be to get a scarf featured in it in the future?

Now for the business. I found a few little tips this week that I thought were worth passing on. Simply Shiny Adornments always has useful and easy to understand posts with tips on improving your shop. Earlier this week she explained the importance of your item names in google search. The post was titled Etsy item titles: Are yours configured the best way for Google?

I learned that you should use consistent keywords in your title and first line of your description. For example this scarf was originally just titled Lush Fields Scarf. After I applied her tips it became Lush Fields - Handmade Teal Green Fashion Scarf. I don't know if it will help my items to come up higher in Google Search but it certainly can't hurt.

I also finally figured out how to add my items to Google Base. This is the database of items that Google includes in their Shopping Search, which is different from the regular Google Search. I had tried to do it once before but failed. I followed the tips on Go To Great Panes Website and it was much easier than I thought it was going to be. She has step by step directions that even I could follow here. I checked it this morning and the entire shop was now searchable on Google Shopping so that was exciting. It looks like I will have to update it in a month to stay active but with her directions I think I can handle it.


Who Am I?

So I've been signing up for Blog Directories like it is going out of style the past week. This process is deserving of a post of its own so I won't go into that. But each of them asks you to put your blog into a category or niche. I have to think about it every single time. I actually think I'm having a bit of a blog identity crisis. Very few of them have a handmade category which is what I consider the best fit. I recently switched my category in Entrecard from Hobby to Fashion, since that is where I saw the most other blogs similar to mine. In most of the directories I go with crafting-Knitting, but I really don't consider the blog a knitting blog. True knitting blogs are geared towards a knitting readership and talk about their projects and knitting tips. I think of most of my readers as crafters but not necessarily knitters.

I sometimes put a sub-category of small business, which I think is fairly accurate. I like talking about marketing and selling ideas but those posts take a lot out of me so they are rarer. Some directories have a shopping category which I think is pretty accurate too but I don't know if it is the best place to be to get the most views.

So all of this has got me thinking about what type of content I should be focusing on. I know when we get into the summer I won't be able to post as much at work since that is when I am busiest so I want to be able to get the most out of what I do post. I am going to start a new poll today to get your opinion about what you would like to see more of. If you have any feelings on what type of blog you think I am I would love to hear it too. I just threw a few gratuitous shots of new listings in for visual stimuli.


Kiss Me, I'm Almost Irish

I'm actually Scottish, which is close enough right? I grew up in a town, Rolla MO, where St. Pats Day was the most important holiday of the year, for the college kids anyway. It was a week long celebration with quit epic drunken debauchery. It has been toned down a bit in the last decade after a few tragic deaths and a bit too much attention. There was a year when Rolla was in the Guinness Book of World Records for most beer drunk in a weekend per capita. I haven't been home for the festivities in a number of years but I still remember a few truly carefree and amazing St. Pats celebrations from my youth.

Here are a few favorites in the Kelly green color that is so important today. The Irish Valley Scarf at the top is in a really soft mohair yarn. I used a traditional lace pattern that I love. The panties above are Handdyed Batik from Potomacrivergoods and make quite a statement.

I absolutely adore this Asymmetrical one sleeve cape from Sandmaiden. It comes in sizes all the way up to XXL and is made in a Hand dyed and felted wool jersey.

This gorgeous handdyed 100% extra fine merino wool is from Dyeabolical Yarns. I actually sat right next to her at the Strange Folks festival last year and was tempted by her yarns all weekend long. She is a very friendly seller and fellow St. Louisian.

I love this shot from earthandsunfolk. It is a handdyed bamboo woven twill tote. I have a hemp bag from her that I absolutely loved carrying last summer.


Subjective Beauty Giveaway!

I've been thinking a lot lately about where the blog is going. I'll be talking about this more this week but one of the first things I had decided was that I had earned the right to my own custom blog design. When I started I wasn't sure that I would stick with it so I just went with one of the free templates available on blogger. I have definitely outgrown it and want something that reflects me and the shop better. I came across a great contest today when entrecard dropping for a free deluxe blog design by Subjective Beauty Designs. She has made a number of the blog designs I see on a regular basis and I would be thrilled as punch to have her work with me. You can find all about the contest on Punky Monkey's blog, who recently got a full facelift from Subjective Beauty and is hosting the contest. Here is what you get:
Here is what my Custom Blog Designs come with:
Custom Template (2 or 3 columns)
Custom Header (the sky is the limit)
Custom background
Navigation image (unlimited links)
Unlimited sidebar images
Social buttons (Twitter, Facebook, BlogHer, Feed, etc.)
Hosting space via my serverButton for linking (150x150)
Post signature
Email image
Post divider
Favicon (bookmark icon)
Flash animated greeting messageInstallation
*Rollover effects per request.

Clothes Horse

One area of my life that I'm not able to support handmade as much as I would like is clothing. When it comes to accessories and jewelry I'm all about handmade sellers but handmade clothing, particularly in my plus size category, is hard to find and usually out of my price range. I have bought some screen printed shirts for myself and my husband but that's about it. But I recently purchased something not only handmade but lovingly pieced together to my exact specifications by my latest girl crush Katwise. You can see me above rockin my sweater coat made from pieces of sweaters she sewed together. There is a great swishishness to it in the back that you can't see and I love how the sleeves and hood came together. I know that we are pretty much out of sweater season but trust me, I will get my money's worth out of it. The pleasure I have already gotten out of it is well worth it. It isn't the full coat in the listing in her Etsy shop but a cross between the coat and the hoodie. I don't think she is doing custom orders for a few weeks since she is hitchhiking through Mongolia. No, I didn't make that up. That's just the kind of girl she is.

I get over 75% of mine and my husband's clothes from thrift stores and resale shops. Occasionally I'll treat myself to something new if Coldwater Creek or Lane Bryant is having a big sale and my husband will sometimes get himself a new pair of jeans new but that's about it. My absolute favorite thrift store in St. Louis is Scholarshop. It is an upscale thrift store in West County, so it is where all the rich people donate last year's clothes that they wore once or twice. It isn't as cheap as Goodwill but it is totally worth it. Instead of paying $3 for a shirt you pay $7 to $10, but it is normally a name brand and relatively new. I get all of my husband's teaching clothes there and most of my own work clothes. Their Fall opening is a yearly date with 2 of my girlfriends. We get there early and line up outside to run in as soon as they open the doors and grab all the good stuff. It is a total rush.

I also shop at the Goodwill near my house. I actually have 3 decent thrift stores within a half mile radius from my house which is something that makes me happy. I can spend a Saturday afternoon and hit all 3 in a few hours. This Saturday I just hit the Goodwill but they had a great selection of Spring tops in my size. I bought 8 shirts, 3 pairs of pants and one skirt for $36. To the right is a picture I took of one of the new spring shirts I got with a pair of black capris and a scarf I just finished. I'm really tempted to keep that scarf for myself. The Goodwill's in this area have gotten much better quality merchandise in the time I've lived here. You can't go into it looking for a specific thing but if you have a little time to explore you can usually find some real treasures. While I was there they were actually putting out a donated bag pipe marked $25 which I was very tempted to get. There is also a Salvation Army where I find a better selection of men's items than womens so I go there when shopping for Mike.

I wish that I could support the vintage sellers on Etsy more but again, it is harder to find things in my size from them. If you're wondering what the difference between vintage and just used is, in order to be considered vintage it must be at least 20 years old. It's kind of sad but I think there might be some clothes in my basement that would be considered vintage now. That makes me feel really old. Not that I could fit in them but there are a few things from high school I've kept for sentimental reasons. Yes, I am a pack rat. I love clothes in general and shopping can be a great release for me. Luckily I have outlets that are in my budget so close to home.


Kreativ Award

I always feel a bit braggadocios when I talk about a new award. They really are a sweet way to feel connected to the community and I try to acknowledge them all but it makes me feel a bit self conscious sometimes to be perfectly honest. The latest award is a very special one as it recogizes bloggers who are creative. The Kreativ Blogger award was passed onto me by both Signature Sterling who has a very creative blog herself and makes gorgeous jewelry like the Spring Green necklace to the right. Nature With Me also passed the award my way. She has a very earthy and green blog and makes adorable handmade items like the bunny that I always love seeing next to a comment.

So the rules to this award are pretty simple. I'm supposed to list 6 0r 7 (it seems that it is different in different blogs) things I'm thankful for and then pass it on to that number of people. Since I like odd numbers I will choose to say 7.

I'm thankful for the time I get to spend with my nieces,
for the laughs I share with my husband,
the sense of joy that my knitting gives me,
for my parents who truly love me despite their flaws and my own,
for being blessed with such a sweet mother in law,
for my husband and my own job security in this tumultuous economy,
for having enough money to buy the things we need and many things that we just want.

And now I would like to pass the Kreativ award on to 7 very creative bloggers who use their creativity to create gorgeous creations with their hands as well as create unique blogs that I love to read: (Yes, I did just use 5 variations of the word create in one sentence, how creative was that)

1. A Kindred Spirit's Thoughts
2. A Nut in a Nutshell
3. Mariposa Farm Alpacas
4. The Soap Seduction
5. the weblog of artist athena workman
6. Yarn Obsession
7. PamperingBeki


Why Buy Handmade Bath and Body Products

So last month I wrote a post about why I choose to live the Handmade lifestyle. I promised to share how well I have been able to incorporate handmade items into my daily life. I thought I would start with an easy one with Bath and Body Products. Let me start by telling a painful anecdote. I was a feature editor on my high school newspaper and once wrote an article on skin care for teens. I vividly remember when the papers were handed out in home room one of our school's designated mean girls saying, "Like I would take beauty advise from her." I won't say her name because for all I know she's a perfectly delightful adult, but I doubt it... So I included a picture I took the other day of myself before I headed out the door in all my low maintenance glory so you can choose to ignore my advice if you so choose.

I don't spend a lot of time on my looks to be perfectly honest. I have a brother who actually spends more time getting ready than myself and my 2 sisters combined. I have always wanted to put a secret video camera to find out what the heck he actually does for 2 hours every damn day. I am a wash and go kind of gal. I like to feel clean and that's about the extent of it. Which is one reason I love handmade soaps and cleaners. You actually feel clean when you use the natural handmade products. You don't have all the chemicals and other ingredients that stick around after you wash them off. If you read the ingredients on store bought soaps there is always a whole list of chemical words you've never heard of. With handmade natural soaps they are all yummy sounding things you know like Olive Oil, Shea butter, Glycerin, and Goat Milk for example. The soaps to the left are from one of my favorite sellers Pegassusoaps and they are just as pretty as they look here.

When buying handmade you can also get exactly what you want. I love Patchouli, and it is nearly impossible to find in the stores. You can specially request just about whatever combination you can think of when working with small sellers. If you want a Patchouli lotion with a touch of lime or mocha and orange, it's yours. And the scents are so much richer in the handmade soaps and lotions. They last and last while store bought soaps seem to loose whatever special smells they start with.

Using handmade bath and body products is better for the environment too. They don't have the excess chemicals to pollute and they tend to use much less packaging as well. If you buy local at a farmer's market or craft show then you cut down on the carbon miles of your beauty routine also. I love picking up a fresh bar of local soap and cracking it open right away. I buy a bar of soap at just about every show and market I'm at as a simple treat to myself. Yes, I am worth it.

I don't really like getting my hair cut either. When I do they always ask how long it's been and I say I generally get it cut seasonally. They are usually amazed at how healthy my hair is for not being cut in over 3 months. It is because I use such natural and chemical free products. I tend to keep my hair care routine simple just like the rest of my life.

So here is my step by step beauty routine including links to where I bought the products. The fun part is finding your own favorites. There are so many amazing small sellers out there, but this group is a great place to start.

The first thing I do in the morning is shower and wash and condition my hair. My absolute favorite shampoo is Gudonya's Salty DAWG Creme Shampoo (tm) in Mayan Gold. It is completely vegan and gives you the cleaniest feeling you will ever have in your life. The Mayan Gold is a light fruity scent that I adore and it doesn't overwhelm the other products I use. I also use her Gudonya INTENSE Hair Conditioner in TAHITIAN VANILLA. It is a very light but truly intense conditioner and scent.

The next thing that normally goes on my hair is Wiggleperfume's amazing Hair Polish. It is an rich concoction of oils that leaves your hair shiny and smooth. I have had remarkably fewer frizzy hair days since using her product.

I finally found a natural hair spray that I like recently from JoyfulGirlNatural called Natural Hair finishing Spritz. You really have to check out her shop for her huge selection of beauty and natural remedies. I also use her Natural Lip and cheek tint as my lipstick. It is a light and shiny tint that is also really good for your lips and won't dry them out like many lipsticks. I currently don't use mascara since my eyes are so sensitive but I just discovered that she also makes an eyelash conditioner that I will have to try soon.

Since I am now over that certain age when they tell you it is important to really take care of your skin and use those antioxidants and whatnot I have discovered a seller that makes a facial lotion with all the good stuff. 4thAveSoapCo has a Renewal Facial Serum with the active ingredients of DMAE, vitamin A, B, C and E, ibodene and alpha lipoic acid, along with multifruits (orange, lemon, and cranberry extracts) and the wonder oils carrot and meadowfoam. It really does make my face feel moisturized and toned. It is also remarkably reasonably priced compared to what you would spend for a similar product at the mall. I also use her antioxidant facial toner which makes my skin feel truly clean without irritating it like so many toners do.

I am kind of fickle in the way of lotions. I pick them here and there and use what I like when I like it. But one of the richest body butters I've ever encountered is from Nettiescrub seen here. I usually reserve it for my super dry feet. They can get seriously dried out and nasty but one or two nights with this stuff slathered on makes a huge difference. The scent is neutral enough that most guys would approve of it too.

And finally if you haven't discovered the world of mineral makeup yet than you must give it a try. These foundations, powders, and eye shadows are amazingly light and smooth. I like how I get the coverage I need without feeling like I'm wearing makeup. They give you a light glow and make you feel fresh and look healthy. And the great thing is most sellers have a huge selection of colors and often will send you samples to find the perfect match. The seller that my current makeup is from is no longer selling but I just bought some from Lighthouseminerals at a very reasonable price. A 10 oz. jar lasts me forever and I tend to just use a light blush on top of that.

Feel free to share any of your handmade beauty discoveries. I'm always looking for a new favorite product!


A Few Cool Diversions

Get your twitter mosaic here.

The above is a cool diversion. It takes all of your followers from Twitter and creates a Mosiac. I tried to save it with the logos and faces seperately but it wouldn't let me cut and paste them here for some reason. You can also buy a tee-shirt or tote with it, which is pretty cool.

If you haven't tried Pandora's radio yet you must check it out. Quite possibly the coolest music site ever. You type in a song or artist and it sets up a playlist of related songs. You can skip ahead, get more information, or even go right to itunes and buy the song with a click. It's totally free to use and doesn't take a downlode so you can use it at work.

I also wanted to share a website/blog I have been devouring this week. I shared the Etsy shop of Katwise when I was talking about color last week. Well, this week I've been reading about her colorful life on her website. So far I've made it through Hitchhiking to Timbuktu and her South American adventures. It is a fascinating read about a fascinating girl. I was talking to my husband about her interesting life and asked if he thought we were missing out on something with our few world experiences. His response was that he was living the exact life he would choose, which made me feel better. I agree that you can be a free spirit wherever you are and we create our own paradise.

I recommend kicking back with some cool world music from Pandora's radio and reading about her adventures though if you want to waste an afternoon.


(c) Lenox Knits, 2009|Created by NSD