Event Report: Geek Craft Expo

Last weekend I headed over to Madison, WI for the Geek Craft Expo‘s Midwest market.  I had heard of the show from crafters I met at the Made in Nerdwaukee event, and it hit all of my buttons, vending wise.  Geek Craft Expo is a series of craft fairs around North America which focus on handmade geekery.  It’s the sort of craft fair where you find crocheted Yoda ears, dice boxes, fandom inspired bath bombs, and jewelry made out of circuit boards.

This was one of the best planned and run events I’ve ever attended.  There was a score of volunteers who helped vendors unload.  The background music that ran the whole gamut of fandom musical tastes: from “Real Folk Blues” to the Quantum Leap theme music.  The room was decorated with standard Halloween fare, there was a scavenger hunt for the kids who came by, as well as trick-or-treating, a make and take, and costume parade.  More importantly, for me, was the well-stocked vendor lounge with snacks and bottled water.

The last bit was important because I managed to lose my voice for the entire weekend.  I had been sick for the week leading up to Geek Craft, yet still managed to drag myself out to vend.  I spent most of the weekend behind my table, communicating with customers through notes and pantomime.

As well-run as the event was, traffic and sales were disappointing.  I don’t blame the event runners at all; their March expo was a huge success.  This time around, however, they ran afoul of football season.  I estimate that the total crowd over the weekend was a little under 1,000. By contrast, the crowd at their March event was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.  On the one hand that meant I didn’t have to interact with as many people while sick and speechless, but that also meant lower sales than I had expected.  As my booth neighbor, Moira, pointed out: “The conversion from browser to buyer is right where I expected it, but there just aren’t enough bodies coming through.”

And to their credit, the people in charge acknowledged the low attendance.  When the show closed and people started packing up they made the announcement that future shows would be scheduled well outside of football season.  I appreciated their candor.

I barely made booth, which means I lost money once I took gas and expenses into account.  I am honestly not as upset as I otherwise would be about the low sales.  Everything else was so nice about the event, that it sort of washes out in the end.  If I end up being in the area when the next expo is planned, I will definitely be signing up to vend.

 

Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.

Sew Craft: Dream Pillows

In my backyard I have a bower on which morning glories entwine in the spring and summer. I have always loved the cheerful face the flowers give to the day, especially as I am not a morning person. I can see the blooms from my bedroom window and so, no matter how grouchy I might be when I drag myself from the warm embrace of my bed, I smile when I catch sight of the blue and purple flowers.

Morning glory seeds added to dream pillows keep nightmares at bay. Perhaps this is because they carry in them a promise of the morning to come, when the sunrise banishes the monsters of the night.

Make dream pillows to help with prophetic dreams, or to ease your mind to sleep. Make one for the child who wakes up from nightmares. She can reach for her sleep pillow, inhale the scent of lavender and lemon balm and fall back asleep, knowing her dreams will be sweetened by the scents.  To refine your spell craft, use linen—dreams and linen both share an association with water.  If you want inspiring dreams, use silk thread for the embroidery for its association with the air element.  If you need deep sleep, make use of cotton’s grounding earth vibrations.

Materials

Dream Pillow Materials
I used the lavender linen spray shown here when I pressed the fabric before starting. It’s not necessary, but it gives the fabric a nice fragrance.

Dream Pillow Design ( pdf | jpg )
Blue fabric about 12″ x 12″
Lightweight fusible interfacing
Embroidery thread in blue, purple and silver
Embroidery hoop and needle
9 morning glory seeds
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

Process

1) Print out the Dream Pillow Design by clicking on the links here: pdf | jpg. Use the pdf link to print the image as is. The jpg link is provided for you to manipulate (enlarge, reduce, rotate, etc.).

2) Transfer the embroidery design onto the fabric.  You can use transfer paper, or trace the pattern right on the fabric.  I pinned the design to the fabric and taped it to the window to trace it.  I use the Pilot Frixion Clicker pens because the ink disappears from fabric when ironed.

Dream Pillow Transfer
This part will take a little patience.

3) Stitch the design with three strands of embroidery thread (1 blue, 1 purple, 1 silver). Use a stem, chain or split stitch. Use an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut.

Dream Pillows: Almost Finished
Halfway to the land of Nod.

4) When finished, apply fusible interfacing to the back of the design.

5) With the design centered, cut the fabric out in a 6” square. Cut a back piece of fabric also in a 6” square.

6) With right sides together, stitch a ½” seam along all sides of the square, leaving a 3” gap for turning. Back stitch at the start and finish of the seam.

7) Trim the corners and seam allowances.

8) Turn the pillow right side out. Press.

9) Stuff the pillow with the morning glory seeds and lavender. Do not over stuff.

Dream Pillows: Stuffing Time
You can also add mugwort to your dream pillow to help promote prophetic dreams.

10) Edge stitch ¼” around all sides of the pillow. Work slowly, shifting the lavender and morning glory seeds to the center to avoid catching them in the needle.

11) When you are finished, hold the pillow in both hands and charge it with restful sleep intentions. Say:

“Lavender sweet and glory of day
Please keep any nightmares at bay,
Should haunted thoughts disturb this guarded rest
Please help usher in a sleep that’s blessed.”¹

You can call upon one of the gods of sleep or dreams to bless the pillow as well.

Place the dream pillow under your own. Should negative thoughts rouse you to wakefulness, grip your dream pillow, inhale the lavender scent and allow it to lull you back to sleep.

Finished Dream Pillow
And your dream pillow is done. Sweet dreams.

¹ Many thanks to my partner, Stephan, for putting together a chant to replace my clumsy attempts at ritual rhyming.

Down in the Hole

Almost three years ago I started to realize that I wasn’t okay.  Stephan was the first to notice it and suggest that I needed help.  That kicked off a period of introspection on my part where I started to recognize what I was going through and drawing parallels to a period in my life, almost twenty years earlier, where I had dealt with the same issues.  At that time I ended up trying to kill myself, dropped out of college and moved 2,000 miles from my home state of Wyoming to start over in Chicago.

Even though I recognized the signs and had a supportive husband, I still could have ended up in a very bad place.  We didn’t have health insurance at that point so I couldn’t get professional help.  In fact it would take about eight months after deciding I needed help before I could see someone.  And when everyday you alternate between feeling like you are being buried alive or that your head is going to explode from all the anxiety, it’s hard to function, let alone jump through all the hoops of finding the help you need.

Much like with my move to Chicago in 1996, I started cataloging my struggles with depression and anxiety out of desperation.  I made posts to my Facebook page about what I was dealing with, what it felt like, what I was going through to find help.  I needed to express what was going on in a place that was safe for me.  And even though I have a tightly locked down Facebook page, with a highly curated friends’ list, I still spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not to post.

What helped was another friend posting first about going to therapy and then later about taking medication.  It was just two little posts, snuggled in between stuff about politics and books and life.  But it made a huge difference.  Here was someone I looked up to, someone who, to my eyes, had their shit together.  And they were seeing a therapist for anxiety.  They were taking medication for their mental health.  Holy shit!  Maybe I wasn’t the only one!

I come from Wyoming, a state that has a high suicide rate for its population size, and where the most distinct cause of death in the state is the flu.  It is a place where you suck it up and work through the pain, no matter what.  It’s no wonder that we don’t talk about things as uncomfortable as mental health.  My own mother, when I had brought up depression and therapy in the past, cautioned that I had to be careful because therapists would “just want to blame all your problems on your parents.”  The concern with image trumps any pain or suffering you are feeling.  Add to that the belief that mental illness is more about personal failings and irresponsibility than an actual medical condition and you can see why it’s hard to talk openly about depression and anxiety, let alone other mental health issues.

Posting, first only about the arduous process of finding doctors that took my health insurance, but later on my medications and my reactions, had an effect that I had expected.  I started getting private messages from people who I had always seen as, again, having their shit together: people who were working, paying their bills, engaging in life.  These people told me about the medications they were on.  They told me what worked or didn’t work for them.  They wrote to me with support and encouragement.  It was so damned important for me, because I got to see that it wasn’t abnormal to take medication, that there was still life beyond depression.

As I kept writing, people started commenting openly.  Again, all these friends who I thought of as awesome, put together adults, were sharing their own struggles and stories.

And something else happened.  Friends started telling me about how my posts helped them with their own mental health issues.  They recognized their symptoms in my writings.  They went and sought help because they read about me taking medication.  They were feeling better, more hopeful about their own lives because they saw someone else going through the same things.

That realization suddenly made it so much easier to write the posts about what I was feeling.  To mention when I felt I was backsliding, or my worries that my medication isn’t helping.  I was doing the same thing I have been doing when I post about whether or not I am making money in this whole living a creative life endeavor: I am standing in the dark, holding up a light for those who might be otherwise lost.  And that’s a kind of healing as well.

 

 

Sew Craft: Fabric Magical Properties

One of the challenges in researching this book has been the lack of information on very basic topics.   While magical correspondences of everything from animals to minerals, colors to plants have been studied and recorded, textiles have slipped through the cracks.  When it comes to magical crafts, fabric has been given little if any consideration of its magical properties.  Yes, fiber content isn’t as exciting as, say, feathers or shells, but I feel that taking time to consider the type of fabric you’ll use in projects can give added meaning and energy to your work.

There are some people who have given some thought to the magical properties of textiles.  One such, Deborah Snavely, has two in depth articles on the subject.  I have come to use different correspondences than hers below.  Also, I don’t use the standard system of assigning male or female genders—I find the whole idea not particularly useful, and potentially harmful to my practice.  However, I include the link to her articles as I found them helpful in my own research and as a place for others to look to for their own investigations.

Without a venerable Cunningham to guide my studies, I have had to cast my net outside the metaphysical seas into those concerning the practical aspects of textiles.  The correspondences outlined below are based on my research into the origins of the fiber (where the raw material comes from) and the processes used to make the fabric.  My focus is on the most basic of correspondences: the elements.  I’ve also limited myself to the four most common natural fabrics.  Man-made and blends fall outside the scope of this entry.  Other natural fabrics: nettle, hemp, the new faux leathers made from pineapple leaves and mushrooms are best considered in another article as well.  Leather, fur and feathers have been left off as their associations are intrinsically tied to the animals they come from.

With that preamble out of the way, please check out the correspondences below.  Again, these are all based on my own research.  So, if anything doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it.  In the end, magic is a personal matter, and it is your own intuition, symbols and reasoning that fuels your spells.

Cotton

Cotton fabric is made from the boll of the cotton plant. The fibers are plucked, mixed, beaten in cylinders, carded, drawn, roved and then spun into thread. As such, it shares some of the qualities of plant from which it comes: it is associated with the Earth element; it can be used magically in spells of healing, luck and protection. According to Cunningham, “Cotton is the best kind of cloth (next to wool) to use for making sachets, or for any time cloth is needed in magic.”¹

One type of cotton fabric, muslin, was once a fabric highly prized in its native India and throughout the rest of the world. In her book, Muslin, Sonia Ashmore writes, “Muslin is an open-textured cloth, thin and sheer, woven to varying degrees of fineness depending on the quality of yarn used and the skills of both the spinner and the weaver. The surface, particularly of hand-woven muslin, has a softness to the touch that has been described as ‘mossiness’.”² This description of “mossiness” along with its origin of the cotton plant, places the fabric into the Earth elemental realm.

Use cotton fabric for any project, from robes to altar cloths to spell bags. It is well suited for spell bags as it is breathable, allowing the magic to flow in and out of the pouch.

Linen

Linen is created from flax; a laborious process that includes “retting” or fermentation in water. Because of this and its water absorption properties, it is associated with the Water element. It is a fabric that suggests purity and wealth. As it was historically used for bedding, linen is used in many healing spells. One such use involves tying a strip of linen from a sick person’s bed to a tree. As the exposure to the elements destroy the strip, the illness will be similarly destroyed in the patient.

Linen is associated to the goddess Hulda through its flaxen origin. It is used in spells of beauty, healing, money, protection and psychic powers. Linen is especially well suited to robes and other magical attire.

While pure linen is expensive, there are several “linen like” synthetics available at a lesser price point. These can be used in place of the authentic fiber. These faux fabrics require less ironing than pure linen meaning they can be preferable for use in items worn.

Silk

Silk is made from the cocoons of moth caterpillars. The cocoons are soaked in hot water from which loose fibers are collected and then twisted into thread for weaving. As a fabric it is seen as a luxurious and sought after material for garments. Magically, silk is considered to deflect magic, and to protect the magical energies and contents inside it, making it especially useful for creating bags used to hold and carry tarot cards, runes, and crystals.

Caterpillars, moths and butterflies, as well as their cocoons represent transformation, thus making silk suited for spells and magic pertaining to change, movement, and growth. Because of its association with wealth, luxury and prestige, silk is a good fabric to use in money and prosperity spells.

Silk is associated with the element of Air due to its airy quality and its origin. Because of its great rate of shrinkage and loss of strength when wet, it may not be suited for spells or rituals involving the Water element.

Wool

Wool sheared from sheep is bathed in a chemical bath, mixed, spun, washed and pressed to felt it. It is known for being impervious to cold and is often used for clothing meant to protect from cold weather. Coming from sheep, it is associated with the astrological sign Aries and the planet Mars. All of these properties align it with the Fire element.

Wool is associated with protection and comfort. It can be used in protective, prosperity and healing spells. Wool felt is useful for crafts from poppets to altar decorations. Wool suiting is useful for ritual cloaks, which will keep you warm during rituals performed outdoors during colder weather.

Cut edges of wool don’t unravel, making it useful for quick circle pouches or for when you don’t have time for finishing edges in a project. And though expensive, wool is a durable fiber that will last a long time, making it a worthwhile investment for spell and ritual tools.

 


¹ Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, p. 84

² Sonia Ashmore, Muslin, p. 8

Going with the Flow

Yesterday was Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, a time of contemplation and thanksgiving.  I was going to walk to the library and work on a project for a client.  I was going to do all the dishes that have piled up and tackle the to do list that had grown longer every day.  I was going to have a bonfire to celebrate the sabbat.  Instead I slept.

I didn’t intend to sleep.  Not at first.  The past week I’ve been spectacularly busy.  My done list has been filled will several entries each day.  I’ve managed to keep the house clean.  At night I would climb into bed and fall asleep excited about what I was going to be working on the next day.  I’d wake up, sleepy, but able to get Ben’s lunch packed and walk him to school.  It was proof, I was sure, that this whole four month plan was the right one.

Wednesday, though, saw an interruption to that productive flow.  I was worn down.  I decided to keep things low-key, to keep working but not push myself.  A reading and writing day would be just what I needed to keep moving forward, if at a slower pace than I was accustomed.

I polished a short story, ready now for feedback.  I finished up a blog post for next week and got started on another.  I even fit in reading, making some headway into a book that is proving a challenge to get through.  The entire day was a struggle.  I downed copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake.  By the end of the day, despite the work I had done, I was exhausted and cranky and not satisfied.  There were dishes in the sink.  There were items on my to do list that hadn’t been checked off.

My anxiety went into frantic hamster mode.  Doing things my own way is all good and fine, but I have to actually do things.  I have to work!  I have to justify this experiment!  I had to shake off this low energy and get back to productivity!  It went on and on, flagellating me with the determination to get! things! done!

Instead, I slept.  I thought about how I had traded the anxiety of churning out inventory for conventions for that of marking off a to do list.  I’m supposed to be living by my own life patterns, and yet, within the first week I’ve fallen into another trap of “going with the flow”.  This emphasis on making every moment count monetarily is so ingrained in my psyche that it is near impossible to root out.

So I slept.  I sat in the same chair I had occupied the day before, reading and writing and struggling against somnolence.  I pulled several throws over my body, and I slept.  I knew I’d lose the whole day.  I’m not a thirty minute napper.  I’m the kind of napper who sleeps for hours and wakes up questioning what just happened.  I slept from 10 am to 3 pm, waking up a half an hour before the kids got home from school.

nap meme
Me in meme form.

I can’t say that I had some magical epiphany and now everything is all better.  I can’t even say that I felt completely rested.  I ended up going to bed that night earlier than usual.  But what I can say is that the world didn’t end just because I decided to sleep instead of work.  I can say that I gave myself permission to explore a different flow: one without judgement that allows me to find my own rhythm.

Today I am still tired.  The exhaustion lurks behind my eyelids.  It is a companion that has been with me most of my life.  I acknowledge its presence.  I acknowledge that it is a tool I can use to shape a flow of loving kindness.  And I tell it, “Not today.”  Then I make myself another bottle of caffeine and get to work.

 

The Way We Think About Work Is Broken

“And there’s something special about idea technology, that makes it different from the technology of things.  With things, if the technology sucks, it just vanishes, right?  Bad technology disappears.  With ideas—false ideas about human beings will not go away if people believe that they’re true.  Because if people believe that they’re true, they create ways of living and institutions that are consistent with these very false ideas.”

—Barry Schwartz

2015: The Year of Slightly Less Poverty

So 2015 was supposed to be the year I returned to sewing and started living a more creative life.

How did that work out?

More or less okay.  I overestimated how well I was, thinking that my mental health was fine now that I was on medication. That wasn’t really the case, though.  I spent most of 2015 battling my anxiety, at times unable to leave the house.  Since I was working from home, that wasn’t a deal breaker.  But it made getting supplies, sending off packages and the like more difficult.  Not impossible, but requiring a greater amount of scheduling and having things go right.

The depression was a bigger problem to contend with.  It would sap me of motivation and energy.  Coupled with the insomnia, I had to fight for every productive moment for the first half of the year.  It has only been in the last two months that I have found myself more often stable than not.

On the financial front, things fared about the same.  My grand plans for a limited number of large conventions hit speed bumps.  Two of them costing me money.  Those pretty much knocked the wind out of me economically speaking.  It’s only been in the last month that I have caught up on my bills.

But you aren’t here for value updates on how the year went.  You want the nitty gritty.  Just how much money did I make on this quest to earn a living by my creative endeavors?

When it is all said and done I made a gross income of $3,858.86.  My expenses equaled $3,976.53.  So my year ended in the red by about $120.  Up until I paid for my Anime Midwest booth I was in the black for six months of the year, though.  Not great, but not catastrophic.

How did I make my money?

Commissions $1,185.00
Etsy Sales $759.21
Direct Sales* $1,475.50
Other** $407.46

With that $120 in the hole sitting there, the question some might ask is: Why are you going to keep this up in 2016?  I’m asking a different question: Having made almost $1,500 in convention and direct sales with two awful events as part of the mix, how much more could I earn vending at two larger, more established events this year.


* The include sales at conventions as well as sales to people who contacted me directly rather than through Etsy.

** Stuff sold on E-bay, E-book formatting work, etc.

Give it Away

“Give it away give it away give it away give it away now.”
Give it Away, Red Hot Chili Peppers

As singer Anthony Kiedis notes in his memoir Scar Tissue, a girlfriend once gave him a jacket of hers, because she thought giving things to the people she loved made her life better. “It was such an epiphany that someone would want to give me her favorite thing,” wrote Kiedis. “That stuck with me forever. Every time I’d be thinking ‘I have to keep,’ I’d remember ‘No, you gotta give away instead.’ … Every time you empty your vessel of that energy, fresh new energy comes flooding in.—11 Misinterpreted ’90s Songs With Lyrics With Lyrics That Totally Went Over Your Head As A Kid, Gabrielle Moss