Monday, May 14, 2012

Mothers Day at Lowes Buying Plants and a Pattern Review

We rewarded our Saturday weeding with Sunday planting. Here we are choosing flowers. The top I am wearing is one I made for the 'Best Patterns' contest at Pattern Review. This is my review:
Pattern Description: Very Easy Vogue, number 8634. Voted one of the best patterns of 2010 (It must have been a tough year.) My description is different from the pattern envelope. I would say it is a loose fitting, pullover top with raglan sleeves and a lame cowl neck. But then you might not buy it or even be interested in reading this review...ooops! There is hope, read on.

Why I chose this pattern for the Best of Patterns contest:

I have a bin full of fun knit fabrics and I am committed to sewing with what I already have as much as possible. Normally, cowl necks are good for me. In general, I like interesting necklines and I thought I could play with this one a bit to make it better. I am a sucker for raglan sleeves, espiecially with the 2 piece front idea. Color blocking! Fabric mixing! My daughter would say "I know, right?"

Pattern Sizing: Make a size smaller than you would based on your measurements. I measure 38,30,40 so size 16 patterns are usually perfect for me. I made a medium, size 12-14 and it is roomy. Also your fabric stretch is going to greatly affect the size you choose. My patterned cotton fabric is just a one way stretch. No Lycra nor Spandex woven into this, just cotton. Not as stretchy as the pattern envelope recommends. So imagine how big it would be, if I had followed their suggestion and used only two way stretch knit. The stretch lace is a two way stretch and you do need that on the sleeves. I would say this top is roomy enough to make it in a woven with stretch sleeves if you wanted. Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? I think it is still recognizable.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Very easy, but I added a couple of steps of my own.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I was skeptical about the cowl. It looked so limp and lifeless on the other 38 people who reviewed the pattern before me. I knew that I could improve upon it with some playing around on the dress form, so when it came to adding the cowl, I stitched only one edge of it right sides together with the top. I wasn't sure whether I was going to cut it smaller or make it bigger. I put the top on my dressform and played with the cowl fabric. I found that my fabric had enough body on its own to make a fairly good cowl with no adjustments. Still, I wanted to give it a little more body and a drawstring for interest. I have posted several photos on Flickr with comments to show how I did it.

Fabric Used: The patterned cotton fabric came from Girl Charlie Fabrics The stretch knit came from ebay.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I eliminated the front seam.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? For Fall, I think I will do a dress version of this with long stretch lace sleeves. I have another patterned knit that looks good with the teal stretch lace. I recommend it with caution.

Conclusion: Ha, Ha. As I was writing this review and looking at the photos of me in the top on Mothers Day, remembering what a warm day it was, and how my arms were perfect, but my neck was a little warm...I realize that a cowl neck on a short sleeved shirt is STUPID. So I cut it. I cut about 8" off of the cowl and I am refashioning the neckline. I will post an edit with the new neckline. I did receive compliments on Sunday, even with the cowl.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Great White Background with Gimp for Etsy Sellers

I have had several people ask for my help lately with their Etsy listings. It has been a while since I posted any Etsy marketing tips here, so here are a few quickies that have to do with photos. Your product photography is the most important aspect of selling online. It is really 99% of the information the buyer needs to make a decision. There is a ton of information on the Etsy blog, under Seller Handbook, but I wanted to get straight to the point with the last several questions that have been asked of me.

The first thing you may want to do is photograph your items on a white background. For items that are small enough to sit on a chair, I use tag board from the dollar store to set up a cyc. See the photo below. The way the tagboard is set up with a curve makes it a cyc. I like tagboard better than fabric for small items because it is smoother. I set myself up where the lighting is best - usually outside or sometimes near a window. (I also have photo lighting I use in Winter. I sold successfully on Etsy for a couple of years before I splurged on lighting.) There was some haze over the sun this morning, but just barely - the light was pretty direct. Your ideal lighting would be an overcast day. Since my lighting was almost harsh, I added the light reflector - before I bought this, I used anything white (like a second piece of tag board held in place by a second person.) The reflector bounces the light back to the object from the shadow side which softens the shadow.
Make sure the sun is coming from the side, so you can take photos without casting a shadow on your subject. Photograph your item from all of the angles that a buyer would want to see. If I wanted to photograph something held in hands on this white background, I would either set the camera on a tripod and use the timer for my own hands, or get a second person to stand behind the chair and hold the item down in the white zone. Sometimes it is nice to have hands in a photo. Make sure they are clean unless maybe your item is for gardening.

Now here is the step by step I do with GIMP. GIMP is a free downloaded photo editing program that works a lot like photoshop. I have developed these steps to edit my photos for Etsy listings.

1. Do a rough crop to crop off any unnecessary edges. Crop to the height of the item you want to show, and allow extra on the width to crop later.
Cropping with GIMP - choose the crop tool from the tool box (circled in blue.) Click and drag to draw a rectangle around your item. Refine the rectangle by hovering near the edge until you see an arrow, then you can move the edge out or in. Move the entire rectangle by hovering in the center until you see the move symbol which is 4 arrows, then you can drag the rectangle around the image. When you are ready to make the crop, either single click in the center of the rectangle or hit the enter button on your keyboard.

2. Resize the image for best appearance on Etsy. Etsy likes images that are 1000 pixels wide and 800 pixels tall.  From the top menu on GIMP, choose Tools, Transform tools, and Scale.
When the scale pop up box opens (see the one below,) make sure the link between width and height is connected (just click on it it connect the links.) In the height box (the lower box,) type 800. When you click on the width box (the upper box,) you will see the corresponding width, probably something larger than 1000, depending on your crop. Click scale.

3. After you click scale, it will look like the screenshot below. The canvas is still the original size, so we want to crop this time to exactly 1000 wide by 800 tall. Choose the crop tool again from the tool box. Draw your rectangle around the photo.  After drawing roughly the rectangle I need, I find it easier to get the exact size by using the size dialogue inside the toolbox (see blue arrow.) I type 1000 and 800 into the spaces. Then I hover in the middle of the cropping rectangle and click and drag to position it. When I have the crop placed where I want it, I single click in the center of it, or I hit the enter key.

4. Make the white pop! This picture is already pretty bright, but the background appears a little grey. I want to make it pop as much as possible. From the top menu, choose Colors, and Levels.

There is a picture of the levels dialogue box below. I use the dropper that you see is highlighted in blue. That is the white sampler. The one to the left of it is a grey sampler and the one on the far left is the black sampler. Choose the white sampler dropper by clicking on it, then touch it to the best white on your photo and click. You will see the whole photo adjust. If you don't like how it came out, you can click reset instead of OK and try again. When you get it right, click OK. Even though this was already a bright photo, I think you can see how the background changed from a little grey to really white.

5. One more step before saving. In the top menu, click Image and Flatten Image.

6. Click File, Save As, and then you can file the photo where you want it and give it a name you like. I save as whatever.jpg

I hope this helps a few of you who want to improve your shop appearance for more sales!