Saturday, 26 May 2012

ANNOUNCEMENT: Beadia is here!

Hello one and all,

Welcome to a Very Special Episode of my blog.  I thought I'd take a moment out of this beautiful weekend to let you all know that my brilliant, fantastic, amazing husband has created a brilliant fantastic, and amazing software app for jewelry artists, and I highly encourage you all to take a good look at it.  It's called Beadia, and you can use that link right there to test a demo of it for free.  The page does a pretty good job of explaining exactly what the software does, but as someone who has been watching it unfold slowly over the past year or so, I can attest to it having been given a great deal of thought, effort, and, dare I say, love.  It's incredibly user friendly (if I can figure out how to use the thing, anyone can) and yet, somehow, also ridiculously comprehensive.

If you're a jewelry artist who wants to be able to organize your supplies as well as your finished work, keep contact information for customers and suppliers, keep track of supply costs, profits, and so much more, I highly recommend you take a look at Beadia.  And if you buy before the end of June you get $10 off.

Keep track of news, updates, and potential coupon codes by becoming a fan of Beadia's Facebook page

On a personal note, watching my husband work on this, from concept to completion, has been illuminating.  It's always fascinating to watch someone so good at their craft as they create something amazing.  I can honestly say, without bias, that I'm proud of this software, and I'm proud of him.

I'll keep updating this blog with any news about Beadia that I think you might be interested in.  I believe he might be starting up a blog for it as well, and I'll certainly link to that.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about the software and would like to speak directly to its creator, email Jamie Knight at

edit: There is now a blog for Beadia, where Jamie is putting a lot of the information and how-tos, help sections, and keeping everyone apprised on the progress of updates.  You can also follow Beadia on Twitter for 140-character-or-less updates.

Talk soon,

Friday, 2 September 2011

Why Is My Etsy Shop Failing? One Year In

Hello to my fanbase, all eight of you! :)

It's been a while, and I have much to tell you.  First of all you may have noticed that the Etsy's Greatest Hits feature has taken a sabbatical, perhaps permanently.  As much fun as it was sharing my fellow artists' work, doing so was, quite frankly, cutting into the time and energy necessary to promote my own.  And that's the way it goes in this highly competitive market, I'm afraid.  From this point onward, this blog will be the means through which I share upcoming events, sales, and works-in-progress for anyone who is interested.  I may occasionally do a feature on an artist whose work is of particular interest to me, but for the most part I intend to dedicate this blog to doing everyone does best--talking about myself.  To be honest, I only have so much to give, and if there's one thing I've learned over the past year it's that if I don't talk about my work, no one will.

To that end, on this, the anniversary of the opening of my Etsy shop exactly one year ago, I decided I would take a moment to reflect on the experience.  An experience which I must say can only be described in two words: Epic Fail. 

It's been a discouraging year.  What began as an exciting venture--the prospect of people seeing my work and thinking, "hey, that's pretty cool!", perhaps leading to that most gratifying of declarations, "I want to buy that!"--has proven a disappointment, sending me into a downward spiral of discouragement and self doubt.  Of course, I had anticipated failure as a distinct possibility, and in no way did I enter this with blinders on.  But the resulting inferiority complex was unavoidable, I suppose; when you put yourself out there, only to be summarily ignored, that rejection can be exquisitely painful.  As a result, it's difficult to remember at times like these, when failure can seem so personal and intimate, that there might be others who have encountered similar disappointment.

With this in mind, albeit more out of desperation than curiosity, I performed a rather straightforward Google search: "Why are people not buying from my Etsy shop?" 

The search results for this pathetically phrased plea led me to a very well-written and compelling post on, where after doing some research on Etsy's self-published sales statistics, the author has come to some intriguing conclusions.  Despite his humble claims that "if you are expecting some well-researched and statistic driven journalism here–this ain’t it!", and that the post "is little more than the imaginative ramblings of a math-averse English major", it does an excellent job of bringing some important issues to light about the pros and cons of selling on Etsy, and about Etsy itself. 

The numbers themselves are quite staggering; quoting directly from this post, and illuminated by Etsy's own published statistics for membership and sales numbers for 2010, he concludes that while Etsy is currently averaging almost 250,000 new members a month, Etsy's overall sales have not risen in proportion with the membership.  Despite a dramatic increase in membership, this has not resulted in a similar growth in sales. 

I am one of those 250,000 new members who set up my Etsy shop in September 2010.  To date I have had 12 sales, only 2 to strangers (i.e., the other sales were to friends or acquaintances).  After hours upon hours of research on SEOs, marketing, keyword optimization, social networking, and dozens of other marketing issues that are over my head, I have concluded that making any money at doing what I love–forget making a living–is a dream that is beyond my reach.

Of course, it would be far more discouraging if I believed for a second that I were the only person paddle-less up this proverbial creek.  But those numbers--250,000 new members per month in 2010--can really only be interpreted in one way: The other 249,999 members, or at least a good majority of them, have also looked at their own sales numbers and found them disappointing as well.  And most of them, I would imagine, are asking the same questions as I am, perhaps typing their own desperate pleas into the Google search engine, trying to understand what they are doing wrong.

As I said, I know that I’m not the only Etsy seller with these problems. Averaging one sale a month is still a better fate than that of some other less fortunate Etsy sellers; in fact, I know of some artisans who, after a year of running their shop, have yet to make a single sale. (Note: I am purposely making a distinction between the two types of Etsy sellers--those who sell supplies, whom I refer to as "suppliers", and those who sell their own handmade items, whom I refer to as "artists" or "artisans.")  But I cannot describe how discouraging this can be. I spend a good deal of time working on my Etsy shop, time I would rather spend creating. As a result, doing the thing I love has become less of a joy and more of a chore as I have tried researching marketing strategies, social network, search engine, keyword art no longer revolves around inspiration and creativity, and a lot of the fun has been sucked out of it since I have tried focusing on sales. I used to create for its own sake; now, I judge myself according to my sales numbers--all two of them.

Embarrassingly, my artistic self worth has plummeted as a result. This may sound shallow and silly, but it’s difficult not to get caught up in this logic. For as many people as I’ve seen with low sales figures, I nonetheless continue to come across countless Etsy “success stories”, many of them found on Etsy’s front page, each extolling the virtues of hard work and savvy marketing, each containing the inherent implication that your lack of success is due not to the likelihood of your items getting lost in a sea of sellers and shops, but rather due to a flaw in character or lack of work ethic. This makes it difficult not to fall into the trap of believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me, or--perhaps worse--my work itself. It’s difficult not to take the lack of sales personally.

To that end, and in reply to the post on SkinnyArtist, and despite the fact that nobody asked me, I thought I would share some of my experiences.  None of this information is particularly helpful to me as an artist trying to sell her own work, but after a year on Etsy I have learned far more than I have sold.  Hopefully some of my experience can lend some insight into the question that seems to be plaguing a good many Etsy sellers, or at the very least can quell the looming doubt that low sales figures can create.

Etsy: A Place for All (People who Create) Things Handmade...
There is one essential problem with Etsy, at least for those who attempt to sell their artwork; Etsy is, and really always has been, a place for artisans. That is, most of Etsy’s members are artists/crafters. When I have asked the average person on the street whether they have heard of Etsy, the answer has invariably been “no.” (It should be noted that I am in the UK, and this may be not be the case in the US, where Etsy may be more widely known.) So it would be my guess that most of the sales on Etsy are comprised of items that are sold to other crafters.

Etsy has two different types of customers: shoppers looking for handmade goods, and the Etsy sellers/artisans themselves who also purchase from other shop on the site. Unfortunately, I believe that it is this last group that makes up the majority of Etsy’s sales, which means that most of the sales are going to be of supplies, not goods.  I would probably do better selling off my massive inventory of vintage supplies than to actually use them in my own pieces.

This is the problem for Etsy artisans–we simply aren’t going to get attention from other artists, at least not the kind that garners sales.  They call us starving artists for a reason, and as much as we may admire our fellow artists' work, we simply don't have the revenue to purchase it.  If we are going to spend money, it’s going to be on supplies. Other, similar sites such as ArtFire and DeviantArt are probably even less well known to the buying public and are comprised almost solely of artists. So one very possible reason for the low sales numbers for artists is that the majority of Etsy members are artisans who are already selling on Etsy, rather than your everyday shopper looking for handmade art. I myself purchase most of my supplies for my creations through Etsy, and I suspect that most of the other artisans/Etsy members do as well. So I would not be surprised if Etsy’s sales, were you to examine them closely, would be made up primarily of art/crafting supplies sold to other members of Etsy, most of whom are probably there to sell the items they make from these supplies.

…Or Not?

One of the most disappointing (and damning) of Etsy’s business strategies is its promotion of items that are in direct contrast to its self-professed goals. Etsy claims to be a source for all things handmade, but what do they market more vigorously than anything else? On their front page, on their multitude of Facebook presences, you will find, more often than anything else, the bane of the Etsy seller’s existence–the omnipresent wall decal. Judging by the number of times I have visited Etsy’s front page and found items featured there that are either obviously NOT handmade or items that I would deem sub-par (is there anyone who hasn't seen Regretsy?), Etsy’s interests clearly do not lie, as it claims, in promoting handmade items by talented artists. And make no mistake, Etsy is chock full of talent. Unfortunately, as it was built on the eBay platform, it has also gone the way eBay has gone to a certain extent; it has become, as my British husband would say, a place for “old tat”. I can’t tell you how depressing it is to see truly amazing artists constantly being eclipsed by sheets of mass-produced adhesive-backed vinyl that say “Just Breath” [sic], or seven listings by seven different shops of a brass octopus stamping hanging from a chain.

The prevalence of the wall decal and brass octopus illustrates yet another problem:  It’s near to impossible to get noticed unless you concentrate on making hundreds of items at the lowest possible cost, something which is simply not possible for most artists, at least those of us who concentrate on using quality supplies and doing quality work. Unfortunately, most people don't care whether or not the items I use in my pieces are real vintage or plastic fakery, or whether the glassware I sell is hand painted or stamped out with decals by workers in sweat shops earning thirty cents an hour. It seems that most people either don’t see the difference, or don’t know or care to look, and Etsy is taking advantage of that fact. Perhaps it’s elitist of me to say, but I think they should be above that lowest common denominator marketing. For a site to claim to be a source for handmade items, presumably by creative folks, it just seems ironic for Etsy to use the WalMart business model to sell itself.  I understand that Etsy’s main priority is to make money, but for a site that claims to be THE outlet for artisans and crafters, that kind of marketing, in my opinion, is doing its reputation a disservice. And it also discourages the rest of us who are actually making our own stuff and not mass producing items and selling at a deep discount. Unfortunately, Etsy will never remove these shops from the site, because these are the money makers. Just as it will not take down shops that are engaging in obvious copyright infringement and/or resale, as long as the shop is making them money, it will continue to exist--unless an outside source forces Etsy’s hand (again, have a good look at Regretsy for some of the most egregious examples of this).

Etsy Versus Etsy Sellers--Different Interests

As if this issue weren’t problematic enough, Etsy has implemented several changes to their site that have hurt its sellers--further proof, as if it were needed, that Etsy and its sellers have very different interests. Last year the very popular Alchemy feature was disabled, which allowed customers to request items upon which artisans could bid, giving shop owners a surefire way to gain custom orders. I was too late to Etsy to utilize Alchemy to gain sales, but I have read several accounts of artisans losing more than half their business as a result of its discontinuation. I would not be surprised it those sellers who were making the majority of their sales from this feature might have left Etsy in frustration after this, especially since Etsy had promised to replace it with something better, a promise which has yet to be fulfilled.

Additionally, Etsy has also recently changed their search engine to sort for “relevancy.” This has the potential to be a positive change, as it apparently mirrors Google’s search engine.  Previous to this change, sellers have had to use the relisting procedure to get items to the top of the list in searches; that is, in order for a listing to make it to the front page of a search result, it had to be the most recent item listed. The change to relevancy allows us to bypass that (often fruitless) chore of constant and timely relisting. Until now, the only way to get noticed was to 1) flood Etsy with listings, meaning you had to have many items in your shop to even make a dent in the search results, and 2) relist a) often and b) at the right time (Etsy’s users are primarily US natives, so those of us in the UK had to list or relist at the optimum time for traffic, which for me would be between 12-4 AM). Not to mention that in order to be seen this way, it was necessary to relist items every couple of days or so, and although 20 cents a listing seems like a small amount, imagine having to repeat this every two or three days for ten items. If I were to attempt to have my items seen by relisting in this way, I would have to sell at least four items a month just to make up costs, and my shop has 53 items (as of August 30) and is currently averaging one sale per month. All in all, the “relist often” tactic just isn’t very efficient for most of us. So the change to “relevancy” for the search engine could prove to be a good thing.

However, this change has thrown me off, and I suspect many other sellers who are not as market savvy as others. Trying to figure out how to best cater to this relevancy factor is more difficult than it sounds. Tonight I went through my listings and attempted to change keywords and the listing text to accommodate this change and had no luck whatsoever. It seems that the same shops end up at the top of the list no matter what the search engine’s design--the shops with hundreds of items do well, while those of us who simply cannot flood the market are left behind. This change is still too new for me to have figured out, so I cannot speak to its effectiveness; my inability to move my items up in the listings might have less to do with the change itself and more to do with my ignorance of how SEO works. But this change still gives an edge to folks with more money to spend on marketing strategies such as search engine submission and keyword optimization. Those of us who are just the figurative starving artist (or, in some cases, literal) do not have the option of hiring people to help us with marketing strategy.  There is certainly no lack of reading material on this subject; in fact, it seems that the likelihood of making money on a "how to make money on Etsy" book is far better than making money on Etsy by selling your artwork.  The flurry of information on all of this is overwhelming for those of us who are not technologically inclined, and the amount of reading I’ve done on this subject, limited only by my meagre comprehension, so far has left me more confused and discouraged than I was to begin with.  Thus, the same people who are currently at the bottom of the listings–like myself–will remain there simply due to an inability to get this kind of assistance.

Where Are All The Customers?

But perhaps the biggest problem for Etsy artists is Etsy itself.  As far as I can tell, the only thing that is going to help Etsy sellers sell--at least for those of us who peddle our own creations--is for Etsy to find a way to better market itself to the buying public.  Most artists are aware of the existence of Etsy, whether they maintain a shop or not.  But how many people outside of the art/crafting community have heard of it or  know what it is?  And even if they did, in an economic climate where anything non-essential is considered a luxury, how many of them can actually afford to pay the kind of money that artists are necessarily asking for their products?  When I price my items, I very rarely factor in labour.  If I did, the cost would be prohibitive.  I ask for supply costs and then tack on a small amount to recoup the little extras such as listing fees, packaging, supplies that are difficult to factor into the final products (paints and brushes for example).  If I were to add the cost of labour to many of the items I sell, I would be pricing myself right out of any potential business.  A set of wine glasses I am currently working on, with which I am approximately halfway finished, have to date already required  more than 200 hours of labor.  Even if I were to charge something ludicrous like $1 an hour for my labour, that would still mean I would have to charge at least $200 for a set of four wine glasses, not including supply cost.

Obviously this is not an option. The simple truth is, our prices must be higher than those you will find at your local five-and-dime or its modern equivalent.  Unfortunately, the continuing effect of what I like to call the Walmartization of the Western World does not lend itself to supporting handmade, and if I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve exhibited at a craft show only to hear a customer say “Eighteen dollars? I can get the same thing at WalMart for a buck!”, I might have a more lucrative product to sell.

Look away from the Etsy front page success stories and toward sites like Regretsy and to articles like the SkinnyArtist post, and you'll find droves of Etsians like myself who are disappointed and discouraged not only with their sales figures but with Etsy itself.  From the reading I've done, many artists have concluded that the best way to deal with this disappointment is to stop relying solely on Etsy to sell and promote your work.  Years ago I had my own web site, and I plan to resuscitate that as my main sales outlet.  Having a shop where I will not be forced to compete with hundreds upon thousands of items, a good number of which qualify as neither handmade nor goods, is certainly in my best interest.  I will continue to maintain a presence on Etsy, but I will no longer have my eggs planted  firmly and solely in that basket.  I will continue to promote myself there to the best of my ability, but will focus more on my website as well as on my Facebook page and here on my blog. 

But most importantly, I will continue to create, if for no other reason than that I must.  On the first anniversary of the opening of my Etsy shop, in the face of what appears to be a miserable failure, it is not the sales figures that keep me going.  It's the creativity that gets me up in the morning, and it's also what keeps me up at night, long past the wee hours, working on that set of wine glasses until, like the most comfortable bed on earth, they are just right. 

Dear Etsy: Will you do the same?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

New Items, Photos, Stained Glass Stars

An album of my stained glass stars, most for sale at my Etsy shop.  (Click on the image below to see the whole album.)  I'll hopefully be posting more of these albums, although this one took about three hours to put together!

Picasa Album: Stained Glass Stars

In other news...

You may have noticed (I hope you noticed) that I managed to list a new item in my shop. This was no small feat--I always forget how long it takes just to list one item. Between taking the photos and getting enough good ones during the course of one often-four-hour session outdoors, then cleaning up the photos to make them presentable (and perfectly square, since Etsy seems to balk at anything else), then describing it in detail and listing the components, coming up with appropriate and attention-getting tags, trying to determine prices whilst shutting out the voice of guilt at asking for was several hours from the time I started the listing until it was finished. But it's up, and I'm glad, because I'm quite happy with how the set turned out:

An amusing anecdote about these photos: I think I did a relatively good job of cleaning it up, but I was only able to use one of the photos of me wearing the necklace and none of the ones of me wearing the earrings.  If you look very closely at my neck in the fourth photo you might detect several hundred little bits of cut hair...I'd gotten a haircut a few hours earlier, and I guess it didn't occur to me that they might show up in the photo.  So when I took it off the hard drive and opened it, all I saw was hair all over my neck and chest.  (I think I find this funnier than anyone else I've tried to explain it to...maybe you had to be there.)  Perhaps it's fortunate that we were only able to get these photos before we had to pack it in; no sooner had we set up the tripod and the backdrops than it began spitting rain, complete with blue cloudless sky.  Ahh, England. :)

Should the weather and my health decide to cooperate simultaneously, I'm hoping to have some more new photographs soon. I have five new amazing pieces finished that I'm dying to get up in my shop:

  • tourminalated quartz briolette with garnet clusters and 14KGF/vermeil necklace and earrings set
  • long celestite drop and white seed pearl cluster sterling rose post earrings (necklace in progress)
  • carved rock crystal quartz flower briolette (so pretty!) and oxidized sterling silver necklace and earrings set
  • deep blue-green apatite ovals with brushed vermeil and 14KGF double-stranded necklace and earrings set
  • white keishi pearl cluster and 14KGF/vermeil long drop earrings

And there may be more, depending on how productive I am this week--I have a button that I've been dying to work around, a nice big detailed vintage cut steel, which I'm experimenting with using Swarovski CAL2x beads, Bali granulated beads, and textured oxidized sterling chain (waiting for supplies to arrive), as well as a larkivite and mystic black spinel cluster sterling bracelet that is close to finished (again, waiting on supplies). Also a mystic pink topaz and rainbow moonstone briolette festoon-type necklace on large round link chain (guess what? awaiting supplies)...but I'm getting ahead of myself for a change. Must be patient, one thing at a time and all that. I'm quite excited to get these up, though, or at least to get photos. Not to mention the wine glasses I'm painting…

Does anyone want to sign my petition for adding more hours to the day?

Soon, I hope ~

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week: Give to Me Your Lace

Hello all!

To my eye there are few things more lovely than lace.  I've always been inspired by it in my own work, which is why I love filigree so much.  There's just something about lace that I find exquisitely romantic without being over-the-top--if it's done right, of course.  For all my love of lace, I'd always wished it were somehow incorporable into jewelry in some way.

Lace Pendant Necklace - Rosalie Style in Black, $30

For those of you who follow my Facebook page, this necklace from Topiary Designs probably looks familiar--it was one of my Etsy Favourites last week.  Often my Facebook favourites posts inspire my blog weekly favourites post, and this necklace was the inspiration for this blog--I simply wanted to feature it.  But there is not a single thing in this shop that doesn't strike my fancy. 

Lace Necklace - Harp Style in Ivory, $26

It was the necklaces that caught my attention initially, but after a thorough browsing, I've decided that my favourites are the earrings. She chooses the most perfect bits of lace, giving you a wide variety of colours from which to choose.  Not only can you choose the lace colour but also the metal--the ear wires are brass by default, but she offers sterling and gold filled as well.  (I can't help thinking that these would make incredible bridal jewelry.  How perfectly they would match a wedding dress!)

Darling Buds Earrings (You Pick the Color), $10

She does quite a bit of lovely work with filigree and stones as well, but it's the lace pieces that make this shop truly unique, and one of my new favourites on Etsy. (Incidentally, you can find her Facebook page here.)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Frida Textile Bracelet, $236

Ivy Long, a.k.a. EderaJewelry, describes her work as "opulent," and I can't think of a more apt description.  Using old world lacemaking techniques and combining them with more modern touches like gemstones and precious metal, the effect is reminiscent of all the things I love about vintage jewelry and a testament to the value of handmade--truly, they just don't make them like this anymore.

Delos Textile Earrings, $174

Utilizing real precious metal threads (i.e, not metallic fibers or wire, but 14K gold and silver alloy threads) and silk, she crochets each shape individually, then adorns them with everything from vintage rhinestones and gemstone beads, which she stitches into them.  Oh yeah, and it's worth mentioning that in every piece, the back is just as intricately detailed as the front:

Isabeau Dramatic Lace Earrings, $226

It's worth reading the necessarily lengthy descriptions of her pieces just to get an idea of just how much work goes into them.  Her shop is lovely to look at, and her photos capture you immediately, the intensity of colour and ornate detail in her work immediately evident.  But you have to look much more closely to fully appreciate the beauty here--you'll be missing out on something truly amazing if you don't.  You can also find her on Facebook here.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Paisley Lace Pendant, $44

I came across this listing for this pendant from Inbar Shahak during one of my frequent browsing sessions for filigree, and it caught my attention immediately.  My first impression was that it must be a piece of actual cotton lace, due to the fine detail.  But the colour was so deeply golden that I realized it had to be metal.  Then I assumed it was made with precious metal clay, and that the lace had been stamped into the clay or pressed from a mold; again, the detail of the lace was just so distinct and perfect.  Finally, after visiting her shop and falling in love with several pieces, I got around to reading one of the listings' descriptions.

Lacy Square Bracelet, $78

That's how I discovered that these are not pieces of lace, nor are they made by mold or impression into clay.  They are hand drawn designs, inspired by Victorian lace, Indian batik, and crochet patterns, which are then etched into metal.  By hand
Marquise Metal Crochet Bracelet, $69

Did I mention that this is all by hand?

I can't even comprehend the amount of time and labour that goes into each of these pieces.  If you look closely enough you might be able to imagine it yourself.   As if that weren't enough, she actually has another shop, where she features bridal jewelry, and she has even more listed there.  Even if you aren't in the market for wedding pieces, there is a lot there that is very wearable for other occasions.

When I envision incorporating lace into jewelry, this is the image in my head.  You can find her on Facebook here--she's got new photographs coming next week, and I for one will be watching her page.

Until next time,

Friday, 13 May 2011

ToMAYto, ToMAHto: Stone Identification Help?

So I've had these beads for a few years now, and I liked them so much that I bought about 15 of them.  They're all top drilled marquise shaped with an interesting pattern in them.  Here's a couple of photos of three of them:

When I purchased them I asked the shop owner what they were, and I could have sworn that she said they she thought they were called "sage amethyst".  Having never seen anything like them, I looked up "sage amethyst" to see if I could find out for sure so I could put it in my listing when I made pieces with them.  Except that when I looked up "sage amethyst", I found this:

"Sage Amethyst" from

And also this:

"Sage Amethyst" from, beadsvision's shop


Obviously, neither of these photos look anything like my beads, nor did any of the other images for "sage amethyst" on Google.  Given this, I assumed that the bead shop lady was incorrect, and that there must be another name for my beads.  Only I had no way of figuring out what it was--Google, unfortunately, does not have a reverse image search (alas).  So I put them aside, hoping that one day I would find out what stone they were made from.

Today I was doing my usual Etsy browsing and I came across this listing for this cabochon:

Amethyst Sage Dendrite Agate Shield Cabochon, from

Of course, this looks very much like my beads.  So I did another search, this time for "amethyst sage" instead of "sage amethyst".  Just exchanging the two words made a huge difference in my search results, because from this combination I came up with this:

"Amethyst Sage" from Silverhawk's Gemstones

 and also this:

"Amethyst Sage" from

And now I couldn't be more confused. there a stone called "sage amethyst" and a different stone called "amethyst sage"?  or is "amethyst sage" a different name for "sage amethyst agate"?  Is one a type of amethyst (quartz) and another an agate?  What kind of stone are my beads? and why on earth would they give nearly identical names to two very different stones?

Anyone who knows the answer will receive a lifetime subscription to my blog! :)

Happy Friday 13th, y'all. 


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week: Vintage Button Jewelry

Vintage Mother-of-Pearl Filigree Button with Silver Scroll Chain, $35

As odd as it may sound, my love affair with jewelry making began with, of all things, buttons.  At an art show where I was exhibiting, I met a woman who was showing her collection of vintage buttons.  I was immediately taken with them--the amount of detail that went into these tiny little pieces of glass and metal still never fails to amaze me.  There was a time when buttons did a lot more than just keep our blouses closed.  They were often practical adornments (perfume buttons, for example, which were layered with fabrics to absorb perfume).  They acted as heirlooms, as storytellers, and of course as fashionable adornments, much the way we wear jewelry nowadays.

My first jewelry making adventures began with button necklaces; my initial thought upon seeing a vintage button was that it would make a great pendant (the jewelry aspect was almost an afterthought).  I learned some of the basics of jewelry making, beading, wire wrapping and other techniques for the sole purpose of incorporating those little beauties into pieces of jewelry.

I sold many of the button necklaces and bracelets on eBay at a time when only collectors were interested in them.  The types of buttons that were considered collectible were Victorian picture buttons, and glass buttons were routinely overlooked as common and non-collectible.  I remember my first purchase on eBay, a gorgeous lot of ten different black glass buttons with gold trim.  I placed my bid thinking that over the ensuing week I would have to duke it out with some other button lover.  I was stunned to win the auction with a winning bid of $0.99 with no other bidders.  Glass buttons were quite literally a dime a dozen back then.

That was over a decade ago.  Czech glass buttons are now sold for anywhere from $3 to $12, depending on size, complexity and age.  Button jewelry has become common enough that you can often find button jewelry mass marketed, in department stores and fashion boutiques.

Black & Gold Glass Button Bracelet, SOLD

As a result of the "Walmartization" of button jewelry, as with every fashion trend, much of it has become cliche.  Not all of it is handmade these days; many of the buttons are not true vintage buttons but reproductions or outright fakes, often made of plastic or plasticized metal as opposed to the brass, glass and cut steels that enchanted me all those years ago.  Luckily there are still those who seem to find the vintage button as fascinating as I do, and button jewelry is still being made by people who appreciate the sense of history and beauty contained within these little treasures.

Art Nouveau Flame, Antique Edwardian Floral Buttons on Sterling, $28

One of my favourite shops on Etsy is Allie's Adornments, whose style of button jewelry is similar to mine.  She keeps her pieces simple and stylish, and the buttons she chooses are some of the most beautiful of the Victorian era.

Victorian Enamel Flower Button Sterling Locket Necklace on Silver Chain, $44

Visiting her shop will give you a fantastic tour of the best in Victorian buttons.  Every one of them possesses the exquisite detail of the buttons from this era.  She mounts them on silver bases or lockets, and sometimes adds beads or other components.  More often than not she allows the buttons to stand on their own, allowing the detail in the buttons to shine through.

Victorian Antique Blue & Gold Floral Button Silver Bracelet, $42

These buttons are so fantastic, many of them tinted brass (which allows for the blue and golden colours in the bracelet above) with three-dimensional detail.  I've seen many button pieces which feature similar fabulous buttons but weighed down with what I like to refer to as Too Much Stuff.  It's always upsetting to me to see the most exquisite beads or buttons grouped together in clusters, such as charm bracelets, to the point that the detail and the beauty simply get lost in the too-muchness of the piece.  That is one of the things that attracts me to this jewelry, and all jewelry--the most spectacular elements of the piece, in this case the buttons, get the spotlight they so richly deserve.

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Sweet Nostalgia Necklace: Vintage Button on Oxidized Sterling Silver with Pink Amethyst, Spinel & Ruby, $51

One of the positive aspects of the popularisation of button jewelry is when people find new and inventive ways to feature them.  One of my Facebook favourites this week was this necklace (above) from twochickstoo.  In addition to the clever utilization of the holes in the button (something I always avoided in buttons, always preferring to use buttons with back shanks), this lovely necklace embodies one of my favourite aspects of vintage jewelry.  I always love to see the combination of some of the more contemporary trends like gemstones (in this case, pink amethyst, spinel and ruby, which are some of the favourites of jewelry artists right now) and sterling silver bezels with vintage buttons.  Once again, the combination here of two or three elements--the white button, the small cluster of stones, the sterling bezel--create a kind of complexity in simplicity; again, less is more.

Lillian Earrings - Sterling Silver & Vintage Button with Blue Topaz, SOLD

Most of the items for sale currently in this shop are pieces with contemporary gemstones set in sterling (the shop is  worth a visit for them alone).  If you get a moment, peruse the items in the "sold" section, where she has a few more button items.  I hope to see a lot more buttons from her because I really like what she does with them.

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Antique Cut Steel Button Earrings with Cobalt Beads, $29

Wired Vintage is another shop that does lovely things with vintage buttons.  She too often mounts them on silver filigrees and brass components to create pendants and earrings, again allowing the buttons to make their own statements, using the detail in the components to compliment them rather than overwhelm or detract from them.

Everything's Coming Up Roses Antique Cut Steel Button Bracelet, $29

I especially like the way she uses them in bracelets--different than the multi-button bracelet style, featuring a single button as a centrepiece, including one of the most beautiful etched black glass buttons I've ever seen:

Antique Silver Etched Black Glass Button Bracelet with Teal Swarovski, $34

One of the things I learned when selling my button jewelry on eBay was that collectors prefer the buttons intact (i.e., the shanks still on them rather than cut or shaved off).  I never had much luck being able to mount the buttons without removing the shanks, but she makes a point of leaving the shank on so as to preserve the collectible value of the buttons.  I'd actually be interested in finding out how she works around them when mounting them in settings and bezels, because that is a point that is quite important to button collectors, and I'd like to find out how to do it in my own pieces.

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Lily Drop Vintage Glass Button Locket, $24

Envisage probably illustrates the less-is-more aesthetic better than any other.  She uses very few components in her pieces, but she matches them so well that the pieces take on a complexity borne of perfection in detail.

Sunflower Day Locket, $30

Her photos don't do the pieces justice, unfortunately, a problem I've certainly grappled with and am still trying to perfect.  I just love the way she matches the one or two elements within the piece.  She manages to feature the buttons prominently without detracting from the detail, even as she embellishes them with beads and brass components.  Most of them are mounted on lockets, lending them an extra sense of history.

I've moved away from the vintage recently, opting instead to try my hand at some of the more contemporary designs with gemstones and modern precious metal components.  But my first love will always be vintage style, especially buttons.  I've made a few moulds of some of my favourite buttons in my collection (I prefer the glass and smaller metals to the picture buttons), and when I crack open that package of PMC, I suspect that those moulds will see some use rather quickly.

I still have the very first button I ever purchased, from that woman at the art show.  It sits among my collection, a black glass button with a floral detail in silver paint.  As much as I love it, and as beautiful as it would be in a necklace, I can't see ever selling it; it holds a special place in my heart, and in my collection.  Proving, I suppose, that some collectibles truly are priceless.

Until next time,

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Update: No update...

Hi folks,

Just wanted to post a quick "hello" and apologize for the lack of activity here and on Facebook.  The change of seasons has got me feeling a bit under the weather, so to speak.  Hopefully I'll be back again next week as bubbly and spry as ever, ahem.  I should probably check my Etsy shop, eh? D'oh!

Apologies for the lack of communication...