Of Making Hay and Glamour Shots

As the daughter of a dairy farmer, one phrase has always had great meaning to me: “Make hay while the sun shines.”

We needed hay to feed the cows during winter. But wet hay, that which had been rained upon, would moulder in the haymow or, worse, could spontaneously combust, burst into flames–the last thing one wants in a barn.

So, we watched the weather and did as the proverb told us—grabbed the sunny days, put other chores aside, and brought in the hay.

Now I am equally aware of sunny days but I grab them for a different purpose.

Now my motto is, “Take pix when the sun shines.”

I’ve been selling vintage linens on Etsy for over 8 years and probably the single most important aspect of that is good photos. And good photos of vintage linens, or anything, really, depends on natural light.

When I initially get the linens I sell, they are often in pretty unappealing shape. I’ve written elsewhere about my whiz-bang techniques for getting out stains and brightening up the linens.

But the rest of the process is equally important. 

When I get a sunny day, I approach my linen photos as glamour shots. 

Do you remember glamour shots from the 1980s and 1990s? Was that only an American thing? Women would get a makeover, with big hair, lots of dramatic makeup, some glittering jewels or maybe a feather boa, and a professional photographer would employ soft lighting and maybe a bit of blur or air brushing to create the glamour. 

I never had my glamour shot taken, but my linens get them regularly!

First, I iron; that’s the makeover part. I’m always surprised, when I go looking at the other listings on Etsy for vintage linens (or even more so on eBay) how many sellers don’t bother to iron! The ironing might be my favorite part and certainly it transforms the linens from bedraggled to beautiful.

Then I find a sunny window, where there’s good light that doesn’t shine directly on the table I’m using.

The combination of a sunny day and the light shining just right in a window is a tough one here, in the winter.

I usually take 15-20 photos of each set of napkins or tablecloth or hankie. I can use up to 10 of those photos in an Etsy listing. 

After all these years of doing it, I have a sort of routine. First, the boring photo of the full item.

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This one will be the last of the 10 photos customers see. If the item has any flaws—a tiny hole or a noticeable spot, I take photos of those, too. 

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I take extreme close-ups if the item has amazing detail, like hand embroidery or fancy lace. 

I take photos of different angles, trying to catch the beauty of the fabric and colors.

Damask linen, which has a tone-on-tone design woven into the fabric, can be the most difficult to photograph well—it can just look like plain old white cloth.

Early on, I read on the internet that, to capture the beauty of damask linen, one needed “strong, raking light,” or light from a deep angle, which can reveal texture. 

So, I stalk around the table, bending low, moving the item slowly around, until the pattern emerges, until the lush sheen of the linen and the flamboyant damask design of mums or roses or fleurs de lis show to advantage. 

I love this process and can get WAY too caught up in it, spending 20 minutes trying to get the perfect photo of something I’ll be selling for eight bucks. 

Like my farming forbears, I watch the forecast and look for sunny days. I set aside other obligations and plans for those days and use them for taking Etsy photos. In mid-January, we had two sunny days in a row and I took over 425 photos.

I see now that Monday will be sunny and you know what I’ll be doing . . . making hay taking glamour shots of napkins!

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Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

What makes a person productive? Doing a little on a lot? Or doing a lot on a little?

It becomes clearer to me all the time that different people have different measures for productivity.

Some folks love to get a project done—finishing is how they know they are being productive. These people are focusers—they focus, spend hours on their project, and get it finished.

Other people flitter from project to project. I don’t just mean having multiple projects and moving between them, a day on this, a day on that. I mean flitting, hour by hour, from one endeavor to the next.

I am a flitterer of the first order.

To feel really good about a day, really productive, I seem to need to work on many, many projects, just doing a little on each.

A typical day will have me:

  • Working on Etsy—today I might add new listings and/or soak and iron some linens. I’d like to take photos for listings but it’s raining again.
  • Working on one or more quilting projects—today I might hand quilt for an hour and/or cut and trim some of the 200 HSTs I need for another current project. Or I might make some repairs on that <expletive written in CAPS and then deleted> yoyo coverlet.
  • Working on one or more weaving projects—today I might weave on the band loom and/or dress the big loom for a set of blue and white towels and/or throw the shuttle on more of the tab towels.
  • Working on the house and/or yard—today I will probably do laundry and clean the top of the stove (Don made spaghetti sauce yesterday!) I’d like to spend a little time on turning the compost pile or weeding but it’s very, very wet outside.
  • I always give myself extra pats on the back for working on a blog post and for exercising. So far today I’ve done both—yay, me!

I don’t do all of these things every day, of course, but I love a day where I can knock off several of them. I spend an hour here and an hour there, and move happily from one kind of a task to another. The more the better!

I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best.

The downside to all of this is that I rarely finish anything. My stints of an hour or so are a drop in the bucket of what it takes to make a full-size quilt or weave 10 towels from a long warp.

Because I never finish anything, my list never gets shorter and that can be stressful. I always feel like I have SO much to do; it’s overwhelming.

I kind of envy people who are focusers, and the satisfaction they get from regularly finishing or making noticeable progress on a project.

I think I’d like to be a focuser more than a flitterer . . . but I’d like to be tall and thin, too. I have little control over either.

In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam . . .”

How about you? Do you spend your creative time focused on one or two big projects per day? Or do you flit around and do a little on a lot of fronts?

Egg Money

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My grandmother kept hens.

I sell on Etsy.

Two women, separated by years and changing times, earning “egg money.”

The concept of “egg money”* (or butter-and-egg money) derives from farm life, where the woman of the farm typically took care of the chickens. Any money she made from selling the eggs was hers, to use as she wished.

Egg money could be set aside for emergencies or could be used for something a woman wanted but didn’t need. A little luxury, a special treat for a child, a gift for one’s husband that wasn’t purchased with “his” money.

In a lot of ways, egg money would seem to be an outdated concept. Like so many women, I no longer live on a farm, don’t raise chickens, had my own career and made a good salary of my own, so why would I still think in these terms?

I don’t know but I do! When I consider my motivation to keep going with my 5-year-old shop on Etsy, selling vintage linens and handmade chocolates, I always think in terms of egg money. Around here, we call it Etsy money.

When I began selling, it was not with the idea of making money. I had a huge collection of vintage linens, almost embarrassing in its scope, and I wanted to lighten that load while finding good homes for the pretty things.

Similarly, I had taken up candy making as a hobby and was enjoying trying all kinds of concoctions but I couldn’t justify doing it just for my husband and me.

Both endeavors also gave me focus and purpose in my new retirement, when I was trying to figure how to focus my energy and use my time with purpose.

So, I didn’t start out to make money but . . . along the way, I’ve made quite a lot of money, much more than I would ever have expected.

My husband and I have kept this money separate from the “real” money of the household, our savings and retirement incomes.

And I think we’ve treated it exactly as egg money has traditionally been used. For fun, for the frivolous, for pet projects.

As a couple, we’ve used Etsy money to fund our travel, to Boston, to Maine, to Ireland, to Scotland. It is sending us to an upcoming weaving workshop. When a friend’s cat needed thousands of dollars of emergency vet care, Etsy money was used to make the donation to her GoFundMe account.

We could’ve done all of these things with “real” money but we might have hesitated more and wondered if it was practical. We might’ve worried about unpredictable emergencies to come and decided to forego our desire to spend in favor of frugality.

Having the Etsy money is wonderfully liberating. It really feels like free money, even though I’ve done real work to earn it. It’s money I enjoy spending, instead of feeling a little guilty, a little profligate, a little reckless.

And I know I’m not alone. One friend teaches piano lessons and pulls out that cash when we go out to dinner. Another works as a substitute librarian and the money is designated for fabric purchases. Many of the women I know, it seems, although they had careers and have retirement incomes, also relish the guilt-free freedom provided by egg money.

Do you know this freedom? Was there a source of egg money in your foremother’s lives? Is there in yours?


* “Egg money” is different than “pin money.” Women earned egg money but pin money was an allowance given by the husband, intended for a women to use for personal needs.

 

The Linens Call Me, And I Must Go

I hear their little voices, calling from the spare room.

Some voices are clear and strong, the voices of the ones on the top of the pile. Some voices are muffled, barely audible—these are the voices of the ones buried deep down in the stack.

The vintage linens are calling me. And they have accusations to make.

They claim to have been forgotten. Neglected. Left to wrinkle.

Their beauty and craftsmanship is going unrecognized and unappreciated, they claim.

They say it’s all my fault.

I brought them here only to ignore them, to turn my focus to chocolates and weaving and blogs and things.

That’s what they’re saying, in their whiny voices. And, you know, they’re right!

I had cause to go into that spare room the other day, searching for napkins to meet a buyer’s request, and was . . . well, a little horrified, actually! I came face to face with gorgeous items I’d completely forgotten about! Many, many of them . . .

I have definitely been remiss. I have all kinds of excuses, of course—I’m busy with other things, it’s “candy season,” it’s too cold on the glassed-in porch to take the photos I need in order to make listings on Etsy.

But, as the linens told me, they deserve better. So, I’ve been making time for them lately and enjoying their company. When they’re not pouting, they are really quite delightful to be around!