Friday, April 15, 2016

So You Think You'd Like to Learn to Do Hand Stamping....

So I've been stamping now for awhile, and learned a few things along the way...Even though you can pay anywhere from 15-100+ dollars for a font stamp set, and 9-25.00+ for individual design stamps, depending on how durable you want your set to last and how hard a metal you are stamping on, some of the stamps, especially the design stamps, don't always stamp well. After stamping for a few months now, I really do think some design stamps are not made well because of how hard I have had to hit them to get a good impression even when working on soft metals. There is a wide variety of quality of design stamps out there and it's hard to tell from descriptions online whether you are getting a quality, deep impression stamp or not. 

To get started, you can buy cheap metal letter stamp letter sets from Harbor Freight for less than 20.00, but I don't know how long they will last. I decided to go with a couple of "design" font midrange sets from a company well known for metal stamping--Impress Arts-- and think although I paid more initially, they are going to last longer in the long run. I purchased one premium font set designed to stamp on stainless steel and harder metals in a typewriter font for practical lettering projects. Then I watched lots of YouTube videos and read blogs on stamping. In particular, a very good blog for stamping tutorials and making jewelry is Happy Hour Projects with Adrianne.

I like Impress Art Stamps...they make several of their font sets available in "economy" or you can pay more for their pricer, more heavy duty stamp line. I have also bought font sets from PJ Tool Supply online, and I like them, too. The cheapest stamps are for soft metals--copper, sterling, (not silver-plated) pewter, and aluminum. If you use a cheap metal stamp set on hard metals, you will quickly wear down the stamp impression and ruin your font set. However, I recommend starting out with a cheap set to see if you enjoy stamping. Practice on soft metal before upgrading to a heavier duty stamp.  Shop around for price... The Impress Arts website has GREAT tutorials and project ideas and helpful information, like charts on the hardness of metals.

Here's the thing about stamping...Your impression detail depends on how hard you stamp, and whether the stamp itself is clear and well formed. This varies every single time you stamp something. That's the hard part, getting an even, clear hit each time. I have ruined quite a few pieces of metal--from stamping too hard and denting the metal too much, to not holding the stamp quite straight (which is really hard to do on a curved spoon and getting too much variation within a single word--all on the same piece! The key is to practice, practice, practice on a scrap piece of metal, the same kind you are going to use in your project, if you can. And you have to have patience with yourself. Stamping is NOT a perfect art. You are not going to be consistent every single time you stamp a piece, even with lots of practice! Sometimes my hand shifts just the ever tiniest bit as I go to hit the stamp, and the letter will not be evenly formed. But that's ok! Hand stamped items have a charm all their own and signify that someone personally made each and every letter. I like that a lot better than thinking some automated stamping machine stamped a message in some factory in China somewhere.

Autism Awareness Pendant
I love Impress Arts' "Alkeme" line...this is their metal alloy and a less expensive alternative to sterling silver or pewter. It's a great metal, looks classy and not cheap like aluminum does. Hobby Lobby carries it, and Joann Fabrics carries a few of the Impress Arts stamping blanks and tools. Wish they would carry more! The alkeme washers are what I used for my autism jewelry pendants that I have been making for my Etsy shop---JeanBeanGifts.  These are the alkeme washers that I stamped, then distressed by banging on them with a ball peen hammer head. I darken  my letters with a sharpie, than wipe the surface off with a Q tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, then I polish the washer with a polishing pad. Sometimes I use Impress Arts stamp enamel, a paint that fills in the little recesses. You apply it, wait a minute or two, then wipe it off. It wipes off very easily. I don't know the longevity of the sharpie or the enamel, but over time, the sharpie will fade a bit. It can just be reapplied if necessary.

I've stamped on spoon and forks,  and it is VERY difficult and frustrating, in my opinion. If you are perfectionist, this medium might not be a good match for you. I tape my spoons down to my bench block (a four inch steel plain block for putting underneath your stamping blank) with lots of masking tape and as you stamp, despite all the taping, the spoon is going to rock and roll, allowing for lots of possible errors and mis-strikes. Grrrrrrrrr.....That's a whole nuther topic for another day...stamping on silver-plated flatware! But here are a few of my projects I have put in my shop......Spoon bookmarks, spoon garden markers, and key rings.....

One of the first things I hand stamped was this copper bangle, "With brave wings, she flies...."  Stamping on the copper was easy! Start slow and simple with your tools, and try it, you might like it!

Happy crafting!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

And What a Holiday Season It Was!

After a successful little bout of sales at a local craft fair in November, I thought I was pretty well ready for the holiday season this year for my little shop. I had extra mini sweater ornaments made up,  a little bit of jewelry, some more wine bottle hat toppers, some new hand stamped metal stuff and just a little bit of everything ready to go in my shop. (Sprinkled throughout the blog today are some things that are in my Etsy shop, JeanBeanGifts.)

Selling on Etsy is not easy if you are a very small shop like me. When you list something on Etsy, you pay .20 for each listing. Not bad at all, but your listing won't get found and won't get many views unless you tag it properly with a bunch of terms that people might use in searching for your item. For example, I make leather wrapped bracelets. So do thousands of other people. At the moment I list my bracelet for sale on Etsy, the listing will be at the top of the search for just a few minutes or even seconds, because countless other people are listing "2X Wrap Leather Bracelet" at practically the same time. Day by day, your listing gets relegated lower and lower in the search engine list on Etsy because newer items of the same description--to use the same example--more double wrap bracelets-- are being added. You can bump your listing back up higher in the search if you "renew" it, which costs .20 each time you renew. Someone once told me the secret to getting views for your items on Etsy is to renew, renew, renew....So I have been trying to do that, and trying to carefully time the renewal to when more people are online...certain days of the week, weekends, evenings...those are the times I do it. But those costs add up after awhile and if you are not careful, you can end up getting very little for your item because you renewed it so many times! (Ask me how I know that!)

There is a LOT of information out there about how to label or "tag" your items more successfully, and how to get views and build your business on Etsy, but I continue to struggle a bit because I want to have a wide variety of gift items that might appeal to a lot of different people, and because my attention span is so short, I get bored with just one thing! So my problem I THIINK, is that I'm too varied in what I sell. AND--I haven't figured out my "niche" market yet. What do I want to make a LOT of and focus just on that? I don't really enjoy making a ton of the same thing so I will keep trying different things for now and see what sells...

I was surprised that no one particular item was off and running, but that a smattering of things sold in the shop this season. I got more views this year and that really helped draw some more traffic to the shop. Some of my items got over 100 views, and other things I have only got 3 or 4 views. Not sure if it's because they are not tagged right, or people just aren't interested in those particular things. I used Twitter, and did a little advertising on Facebook, so I think that helped, too....If I was truly doing this for more than just a hobby to fund my future craft purchases, I would be trying to learn more about the business aspects and marketing, but I don't have that background at all so I would need help or a LOT more training and classes to learn about all that side of trying to be successful on Etsy.

At any rate, I was really happy to have sold some things on Etsy during the holiday season. Now that they are allowing people to sell things that aren't necessarily home made but can be made in factories, that is a really disappointing turn of events. Despite that, people were thrilled to receive some of my hand crafted items. And I love crafting things so much, different kinds of things, I will continue to make little gift items that people might like to give, knowing that it was made by someone painstakingly sitting and stitching and sewing, stamping and knitting with my own two hands. 

I really do enjoy making things......and hope to be able to do that for years to come....Bye for now!