24 November 2009


Two weekends ago, Jason's parents came for a short weekend visit. It was lovely to get to spend some good, quality time with them, relaxing and reconnecting before we go to visit for Christmas. Coming down from the crafting craziness leading up to the Bazaar and a bit tired from the thorough scrub down of my apartment, I resigned myself to taking a week off from crafting and catching up the following week. But the weather was on my side, raining all day on Saturday and keeping the four of us bound indoors. Jason and his dad camped out in the living room to watch some sports, and Jason's mom and I set up at the kitchen table for some crafting.

A wee bit of history is required here. Bear with me as we travel back to Fall 2005, when I was at rock'n'roll camp, and I had a friend named Aria. The two of us discovered that we had complimentary talents in many areas: I play guitar, and she plays piano; she has excellent melodic sensibilities, and I can string together a mean harmony line; I'm a brunette, and she's a blond; and, most relevant here, I knit, and she crochets. We decided to take advantage of the abundant coffee and beautiful stone fireplaces available to us and to share our talents with one another. I had my mom send us some yarn, and I taught Aria how to knit while she taught me how to crochet. While my semester at rock'n'roll camp on Martha's Vineyard holds numerous happy [and a few very difficult] memories, those knitting/crocheting sessions by the fire were some of my most relaxing and favorite times. I was happy and warm, spending time with good friends and being creative in a way that was not quite so deeply soul-stretching or challenging as music was. It was wonderful to be able to make something new without having to question my talents or struggle through existential despair for the perfect way to communicate the depths of my emotions. We simply sat by the fire and worked our yarn and needles into new creations.

Over the past few years, time and distance have made keeping up those relationships difficult to say the very least. And in all the constant changes from finishing college to moving several times across the country to getting married and becoming an adult, I lost touch also with crochet. Of course, the loss of that skill-set was not as deeply felt as the loss of the time to pursue music, the support of the creative community, my dear friends, or my rock star dreams. But it was a small token of something I knew once, and I had to once again come to grips with the fact that "I don't know much of anything anymore" (quote from "Christmas in September," a song I wrote that semester, which you can hear on my myspace page).

Over the past few years, I have now and then come back to my crochet hook with the hope of some magical reawakening of my skills. But even with the help of The Happy Hooker, a wonderful and helpful book on crochet, I could not figure out how to even get started. Some sort of mental block kept me from understanding the clear instructions and simple diagrams in the book. I would spend about half an hour fiddling with my yarn and my hook until I would get frustrated, throw my hook across the room, shove my yarn back into its cubby, and give up in a huff.

So you can imagine...when Jason's mom came to visit with yarn and crochet hook in tow, I had a mixture of emotions. She had asked Jason if I knew how to crochet, and he said that he didn't think so. But she was determined to learn and said the two of us would figure it out together. So I prepared myself to drink an emotional smoothie of frustration and stubbornness, and between the chopping and stirring of preparing some delicious cheesy chicken chowder, we soldiered through the chain stitch, the single crochet stitch, the half-double, the double, the triple, and even crocheting in a circle! Thankfully, Ann (that's Jason's mom) had persevered through the chain, single, and half-double before she arrived, so she was able to teach me where to begin, and we learned the rest together.

Now that I understand it, it seems ridiculous that I couldn't grasp it before, but there's something about having a real, live, 3-dimensional teacher to patiently guide you, check your work, and encourage you to keep going when you get all tangled up, and your yarn starts unraveling, and your chain stitch is too tight, so as to prevent you from inserting your hook, etc. Throughout our several hour expedition into the world of crochet, she continually reminded me that we were just practicing to master the technique, and there was no reason to be frustrated or concerned with perfection at this point. And with that mindset in place, it was such a lovely time crafting alongside my mother-in-law and learning from her and with her a skill that I had lost along the way.
To return the favor, I taught her how to needle felt a pumpkin. She caught on very quickly and enjoyed it so much that she bought one of the felting kits I had left over from the bazaar. I wasn't sure if her needles would get confiscated at the airport, so I told her I would send it to her. (Does anyone know if felting needles are allowed on airplanes?)

It was a full weekend of eating and crafting and eating some more, and it went by very quickly, leaving Jason and I in a state of physical exhaustion but relational and emotional refreshment. In a place where we still feel very much like new-comers, and where we can't really sink our roots in because we don't know where we will be in 18 months, family is such a welcome reminder of constancy and unconditional love and support.

They flew back to Chicago that Sunday night, departing for the airport just a few minutes before Jason had to go to youth group, leaving the previously full apartment quite empty except for me and my hook and yarn. So I turned on pbs for some Antiques Roadshow and made a lovely granny square, which I am determined to master so I can make these slippers, which are just about the most awesome footwear I've ever seen.

Unfortunately, these just might have to wait until after Christmas because I have another show on December 5th and some really grand and impossible intentions to make loads of Christmas gifts this year, which my mom so helpfully informed me that I should have started in August. Oops. Well, impossible has never stopped me before, and I am an expert in the deadly combination of procrastination and perfectionism, so I fully intend to make great plans for crafting and to scramble down to the final seconds before unwrapping commences. Happy holidays, everybody! :o)

11 November 2009

Show #3

Finally...the North Shore Bazaar.

I spent just about every free moment from Halloween to November 8th making inventory for this, my first ever craft show where I would be the main event of my own table. This past weekend, I kicked it into high gear. Jason and I were up until about 3:00 am on Friday night/Saturday morning felting pumpkins and acorns. Then I woke up at 8:00 on Saturday morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I started working.

I set up my display in the middle of my craft room and added to it bit by bit as the day progressed. Inventory, price tags, display pieces, business cards, signage, a tree branch, skeins of wool, and so on until I was finally satisfied enough to say I was ready. I put in 16 hours of work (which doesn't include breaks for food, talking to my mom about pricing, and watching a little Antiques Roadshow on PBS) before I finally fell into bed at 3:30 in the morning.

I knew I was going to have a round table at the bazaar, so I used a clothesline display for my aprons to visually break the table into two sections. This is my display as staged in my craft room:

You may notice the little pedestal mirror from blogs past, which has now become my logo and sign. I finally settled on the business name "A Happy Little Sparrow" with the tagline: Creations for Nest and Flight, because I felt like "Every Cool Thing" was just too broad and not picturesque enough. So I started an etsy seller's account at www.ahappylittlesparrow.etsy.com, a business email address at ahappylittlesparrow@gmail.com, printed up some business cards, and appliqued/embroidered myself a little business sign, which I am in love with and quite impressed by, if I do say so myself, especially considering that I stitched it well after midnight the night before my show. Way to go, Robin. Here's a close-up of the sign:

So Sunday morning finally came. I unintentionally slept right through church and woke up at 11:26 (34 minutes before I was supposed to be at the bazaar, which was 25 minutes away), because I foolishly forgot to set an alarm for myself. So I jumped out of bed, jumped in the shower, and feverishly started getting ready for the day. Thankfully, my late o'clock preparations included packing everything up, so I was able to get everything ready and loaded up and out the door by 12:17, and Jason and I got to the show with just enough time to set-up and finish creating a few pricing signs before it started at 1:00. Phew. It was quite the whirlwind morning.

Here is my display all set up at the bazaar (and me in my cute little rooster utility apron):

My total inventory included 4 wet-felted pincushions ($12/each), 73 acorns ($2/each or 3 for $5), 21 pumpkins ($8/each), 5 owls (ranging from $15-$25), 11 aprons ($25/each), 4 felting kits ($30-$45), and about 45 jars of apple butter, strawberry jam, and strawberry lemon marmalade ($3 for a small jar, $6 for a large jar).

There were about 20 vendors at the show selling all sorts of local and fair trade goodies ranging from pottery to produce and blankets to bags. It was pretty well-attended, and everyone seemed to have a really good time. And after only 3 hours of standing by my table, I brought in a total of 128 dollars!! I was so excited. On the way to the show, Jason asked me how much I wanted to sell. I told him that the show had really already fulfilled its purpose. I was ready. I had created a load of inventory. I knew now that I could do it. And that was worth all of the work I had put into it. I said it would be pretty demoralizing to not sell a single thing, but if all I sold was one acorn, I would feel adequately affirmed. So to sell that much at my very first show, I was over the moon. And on top of all that, I handed out a ton of business cards, received so many affirming comments, and even had a person sign up on my email list! So all in all, the North Shore Bazaar was a major success for A Happy Little Sparrow and made me quite a happy little Robin.

I did learn few things that I will take with me into future shows:
1) I only sold one jar of marmalade and one jar of apple butter, which was strange because my mom's jam is always such a guaranteed good seller. So next time, I'm going to try to elevate the jars to eye-level so people can see what it is and realize how much they would love some homemade preserves for themselves and to give away as gifts to everyone they know.

2) I need to wear sneakers to my next show. As adorable and comfortable as my boots are, they do not hold up to multiple hours on my feet, and my back did not thank me for my vanity.

3) My utility aprons are awesome. My rooster apron worked out SO well. It kept my money separated and organized by currency. My business cards were nice and handy in my cute little pocket. And it held a pen and notepad, with which I kept track of everything I sold. Check plus!

4) As much as I loved my display, I think I need to go with a simpler, solid table cloth next time so it allows my products to stand out more. I also need to type out my signs and use black ink so they don't blend into the colors of my products and display.

5) After Halloween, I need to gear my products more towards Christmas and less towards fall.

6) It is very helpful to have a second person along so I can check out other vendors, get something to eat, and have someone to talk to when things are slow. Jason was vital and instrumental to the whole process of preparing and helping me with every aspect of the show. He helped me with felting. He offered loads of helpful opinions. He helped me load and unload and set up and tear town, following my scattered instructions perfectly. He manned the table while I scoped out the other tables. He made sure I ate and drank something and sat down occasionally. He was so encouraging throughout the whole process. And he even felted a pumpkin during the show to demonstrate the technique:
7) And finally, one of the most important things I learned from the show was: I can do this! I can make enough stuff that people like and want to buy. I can create a visually appealing display. And I can talk to people about my products and sell them things that they like. And the crazy thing is: I enjoyed every single part of it, from design to production to display to interaction to taking their money to have a nice day. I really thoroughly enjoyed it all!

So there you have it. My 3rd 1st show. I have one more show lined up for this year: the Christmas Bazaar at the seminary on Saturday, December 5th from 9:00-2:00. If you live on the North Shore, you should definitely come. It's a show for students, spouses, faculty, and staff of the seminary to sell their wares, and I will be there with my aprons, preserves, acorns, owls, and lots of other little goodies that are yet to be made. So here we go again. Back to the ol' grind stone! :o)

10 November 2009


Wow. Today is November 10th, and I have barely just begun telling you about all of the makings of October! Prepare for an onslaught of creativity here because I have been making like crazy to get ready for the North Shore Bazaar (which was kinda my first show, even though it was my 3rd. Does that make sense?). So here is the past month in pictures, documenting all of my preparations:

Jason and I made another 2 batches of apple butter. We actually picked the apples ourselves this time around and had an excellent time doing it. We even made some new chicken friends.We used Macintosh apples, which didn't change the taste or texture too much from our Gravenstein batch, but their pulp was a beautiful pinkish color that I forgot to take a picture of, but here are the finished 24 jars!
I spun some of the softest (and consequently most difficult to spin) wool I've ever encountered. This wasn't ready for my show cause I still need to ply it. Unfortunately, the tension on my spinning wheel has been off, and I haven't been able to fix it. So that little project is on hold until I can get my wheel to my mom to bale me out of trouble. (Sorry no picture. It looks like yarn.)

The rest of October and the first week of November were spent felting like a crazy person!! I was originally invited to do the North Shore Bazaar because one of the professors who was organizing it saw Charlie and Amadeus in my office. So I felt like I should have some felted products to sell at the show.
So I made three more owls:Henry, Horacio, and Bernie (respectively)

I felted 9 nine pumpkins, and Jason made another 12!!

And I felted 73 acorns. Yup. 73.

My mom and I collected acorn tops on a little excursion to Old Sturbridge Village back on October 23rd. I met her down there and we spent a few hours gathering inspiration and acorn tops before driving up to Maine together for my church's women's retreat. We looked around the grounds of the retreat center and didn't find a single acorn until we took a little walk along the beach and found 2 acorns that had washed up on the shore just for us. How cool is that? We also gathered a fair amount of rose-hips that my mom made into rose-hip jelly. Again, how cool is that?

After all of the rummaging and scouring we did to find the acorn tops buried under the leaves at Sturbridge and providentially sent to us across the ocean, I found a huge crop of gigantic acorn tops right next to my church. Go figure. So I set out needle felting acorn bottoms in all sorts of fall colors to fit into the tops.
I made single acorns that can be displayed in little groupings,
pair acorns that can be ornaments, napkin rings, or a lovely addition to gift wrap,
and acorns on stem wire that can be added to wreathes and floral arrangements.All so lovely and fall-ish.

And after all that, I was satisfied that I had enough inventory for my own table at the North Shore Bazaar, which you will finally get to hear about in my next post. Get excited. :o)

09 November 2009

Show #2

First of all, a little note... remember that Kalos journal that I submitted my tree wall-hanging to? Here's a link to the online version in case you want to see it. And now, I return you to our regularly scheduled programming:

A few weekends ago, Jason and I headed down to Jersey to hang with the fam for a bit and to take part in the Cranberry Festival in Chatsworth with my mom and Amy, who came up from South Carolina (with my darling little nephew Jesse) for the show. I packed up my aprons and headed south, excited about the day of crafty exhibition to come.

By an advantageous connection with its owner, we were supposed to set up on the porch of Buzby's General Store, which is THE prime spot in all of Chatsworth. Seriously, crafters would literally kill to get that spot at the Cranberry Festival, which turns little Chatsworth from a quaint town of cranberry bogs nestled in the Jersey Pine Barrens into a crazy, bustling cornucopia of activity like unto Times Square. Seriously...it's craziness. Every square foot of Chatsworth property is covered with vendors. People rent out their driveways and front yards and backyards and porches and rooftops--okay, maybe not rooftops--for vendors to come and sell their wares. (Here are pictures from the 2007 cranberry festival. If you scroll towards the bottom, you'll see my mom set up on the porch of Buzby's.)

So we were all set to go. I had my aprons. Amy brought dozens of adorable felted owls and birds and flowers and leaves. My mom had her jeep full to the brim with baskets and jams and tables and displays. And then the sky opened up. And Jersey was hit with a nasty nor-easter, which lasted the entirety of the weekend. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is basically a big scary storm that hits the east coast and dumps precipitation everywhere and is so called because it includes strong winds from the north east. Consider yourself educated.)

My mom and I still drove to Chatsworth on Saturday morning to survey the damage. Buzby's porch is very narrow, and with the curse of the wind added to the annoyance of the rain, it was thoroughly wet with no place where we could set up our inventory without it getting all soaked and ruined. So after all that, we didn't do the show. Which was very sad. I was really excited to be able to do a show apprenticed under my mom before I was the lead dog on November 8th for show #3, learning from the master how to handle transactions, how to deal with difficult people, and how to sell without being too pushy. But the North Shore Bazaar is only a 3 hour show, and I think it will provide me with some experience without being too overwhelmingly scary. And not selling anything in Chatsworth means I'll have more inventory for that show. Plus, the rain meant that almost the whole family--we were missing Jared--got to spend a relaxing weekend together, talking over displays and pricing plans and general creative ventures and also holding Megan and Justin's babies and playing cowboy with Jesse. So all in all, it was still a very satisfying weekend despite the storm.

Looking ahead from behind, the North Shore Bazaar was on Sunday, November 8th. It's an annual show that is all fair trade and local made with live music, local foods, and the work of quality artisans, including yours truly. More about that when I am all caught up, which will hopefully be by the end of this week. Hang in there. I've got so much excitement to tell you about!!

08 November 2009


1) The state or quality of being useful; usefulness.
2) Something useful; a useful thing.

I have been such a busy little bee.

In previous posts, I lamented having just about nothing to sell at the craft show in Chatsworth back in October. (Yes, this is yet another catch-up post in an upcoming string of catch-up posts. Bear with me.) The panic did eventually turn to productivity, and I cracked down and figured out what to do with bunches of fat quarters I bought for $1 a piece from a woman I found on craigslist. I finally figured out a design for a utility apron that I can make out of fat quarters, which significantly reduces the cutting and measuring that is so irksome and time-consuming. Hooray!!

So I made a prototype. Then I made a 2nd to make sure I could duplicate it. Then I ironed and cut out fabric for 11 more. Finally, after many hours of sewing and ironing and only several moments with a seam ripper, I had 13 completed aprons! One is an overdue birthday present for my mom, and then I had an even dozen aprons to sell. :o)

Here's one of my favorites that just might be mine forever:I've been into roosters lately, and I just can't seem to kick them. I just love how roostery this one came out.

I spent a long time agonizing over how to arrange and photograph 13 aprons and put them together in a way that was not visually overwhelming. I finally gave up and instead took pictures of nine of them folded up so you could see (and I could document) the color/fabric combinations, trusting you can imagine the structure, which is the same as my happy little rooster apron.
(Disclaimer: I promise none of them are sewn crooked. They're just folded crooked. I took this picture very late at night. :o/)
They all have three main front pockets, an interior pen pocket, and a little pocket on the outside just cause little pockets are cute and fun. It might be able to hold a tiny cell phone, but it was mainly designed as a business card pocket for those who will use the apron as a vendor apron. (Nice, huh?) The seams are all reinforced and there are no exposed fabric edges, so they will wash and wear well without any unsightly unraveling. The straps are also reinforced and stitched all the way around so they won't be a wrinkled mess when they come out of the dryer. They are extra long so they can be tied in the front with a short square knot or in the back with a long streaming bow.

I have to admit, I am quite proud of myself. No matter how many of the aprons I sell, and no matter how much I charge for them, the important thing is that I'm making things. I've moved past the point of staring at my fabric, arranging it in groupings for complicated projects I'll never make, and bemoaning my lack of time, skill, or resources. I'm actually doing it!! And I can actually say that making these was just as fun as designing them!! I really enjoyed every single step of the process. And they came out really well. Seriously, these are some high quality aprons. So there will definitely be more of these coming out in the future. Three cheers for utility!!