Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Browsing and purchasing kind of day


Half term for Ben last week and as he asked to go into King's Lynn to have fun at the fair with his mates, it was a opportunity not to be missed to have a mooch around The Fent Shop in the town centre.  Being perhaps the best haberdashery in the area, with row upon row of colourful fabrics, bundles and reels of ribbons, trims and pretty embellishments, you can forgive me for spending quite a long time browsing.  They were selling mini packs of off-cut squares in just the tiny prints that I need for my work so with the helping assistance from one of the staff member sourcing just what I needed I came away with quite a good selection (together with some ribbon ... of course).

After a stop off at a well known coffee shop, downing two large mugs of tea and a delicious lemon and poppy seed muffin while I did a spot of online work, I headed off to TK Maxx.  I don't usually wander into the home section, but had time to kill so took my time looking at what they had.  Among the many books I found this absolute gem - The Shopkeeper's Home by Caroline Rowland.  Full of wonderfully styled photos of shop floors and shopkeeper's homes, lots of inspiration and a perfect coffee table book.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

From design to product

A new year needs a new product (well, at least one), so trying to build on the ideas behind my brooches, keyrings and bag charms I wanted to move forward with brooch pins that have that kind of casual/boho layered look.  I love colour, and I love the boho chic style, but finding the confidence to design something like this is, for me, quite hard.

As with all new ideas, I started off with a sketch and then have a play with materials.  In the case of my first brooch pin, I had Valentine hearts in mind but I didn't want it to turn out completely pink and too girly.



It took me a while to find the base colour (the adorable light olive green felt) but the other two main layers came together quite easily.  The olive gave the brooch a vintage feel, so choosing lace as part of the trims seemed to be a natural choice.  Using grey lace with the green really highlighted the vintage element, with the gold edged gossamer green ribbon behind the cream lace adding a hint of bling.  I had decided on using the coat hanger charm right from the start, they are very prettily decorated and quite unusual.   Hanging the three felt hearts looked quite cute, although in hindsight I'm wondering if mini button hearts would have looked a little sharper.

Time to add embellishments - the best part! A clear teardrop bead, seed bead and mini heart button really made the brooch look special and that final decision - brooch back or brooch pin - brooch pin it was and I'm really happy with how it looks.











Ideal for pinning to a favourite outfit or jacket - now available at Ellie's Treasures.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Getting to grips with a light tent

Aiming to take good product shots is one (of many) challenges an online seller faces.  When I look back at my first product photo on Folksy I absolutely cringe and wonder how on earth I managed to sell anything!  I'm hoping my shop photography skills have come on a little since then and even, perhaps, since writing a blog post of this very subject nearly a year ago.

Three things have happened in this last year:

(1)  I continually look at product shots from other sellers to get an understanding of how I personally like to see an item presented.

(2)  I took part in a free online "introduction to your camera" course which I found extremely helpful with regard to using the camera in manual mode to achieve good results.  It is my 2017 resolution to actually read the manual for our camera to understand it even better.

(3)  I was given a light tent as a Christmas present.

So this post is about using the light tent.  I'd been thinking about buying a light tent (or even making one) for some time.  I'd read a lot about them, the ups and downs (mostly the downs) and initially came to the conclusion that actually I didn't need one as I take product shots in the conservatory which is flooded with light.  However, I was spending an awful amount of time tweaking my photos once they'd been uploaded to the camera, so something was going wrong.  Things improved considerably once I'd finished the photography course, but my constant whinging before this had obviously gone unnoticed by my son who, bless, presented me with a light box at Christmas ("it's something you said you needed")!  Actually, the light box had to be returned - it would have been brilliant had it not kept collapsing.  I exchanged it for a light tent.

The tent was from a seller on Ebay - there's loads to choose from with this set up and I read some good reviews.  The tent folds up neatly into a carry bag which holds everything, including the background cloths (of which there are four, in different colours), two lights and a small table top camera stand.

The stand is good and sturdy but my DSLR is too heavy for it (I may well be using it incorrectly).  I do already have an adjustable stand so this isn't an issue for me.

Some reviewers commented on how hot the lights became.  Yes, they do, but I try to remember to turn them off during prolonged setting up and fiddling around sessions so they don't overheat - so far, so good.  Another reviewer said they couldn't get the creases out of the backdrops.  This didn't seem to be an issue for me, but I was silly enough to hold the iron on the fabric a little too long and have now got a bit of a hole close to where it attaches 😔.  Luckily my items are so small it hasn't yet caused a problem - but be warned, iron over a tea-towel or something similar so as not to make the same mistake!

Playing with the tent was interesting.  I've learnt that the set up shown above isn't the best way to get a good photo!

The lights need to shine through the sides of the tent giving a diffused light rather than a direct one.

Endeavouring to position my little items correctly to get the desired shot has been quite frustrating at times and at one point I was wondering whether all the faffing around was really worth it.  However, with continuous playing I'm beginning to get to grips with how the tent will work for me.  I use a folded/rolled sheet under the backdrop to get an slanted angle and place a good sized piece of white thin card on top as I find this gives a smoother background for my close up shots.

The following photographs show slight differences in lighting - non have been tweaked at all.


This was taken with the light towards the front, as direct light and with the cloth background.  I was quite happy with this to start with, but after a white I realised I didn't like the soft waves of the cloth and also the shadows.














This shot has been taken without the lights.  It's the kind of shot I was getting before I used the light tent and although it's OK, it would need a fair bit of adjustment before I was happy to use it.












There is a very subtle change in this photo compared to the one above.  The background is very slightly brighter, thanks to the diffused light.  The photo will still need tweaking to bring out the true colours of the item (it is still a puzzle to me why they are muted) but I'm a lot happier with the overall look.











For me, the light box produces the best results for lifestyle shots mainly because of the continuous length of cloth that gives a clean look.  Moving the lights around (and even holding one or both above the light tent) really helps to achieve a nice light.

At times I'm still in two minds as to whether the light tent has been the Godsend I was hoping for, especially when I'm shooting on a sunny day in a room full of windows.  However, on those very dull days, it has made a big difference.

I'm now finding it's hard for me to choose which photo I like best from a batch rather than which one will eventually look OK after lots of additional work - and that's a good thing 😊📷.








Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trying our hand at a craft market

One of my aims for 2016 was to have a stall at a Christmas craft fair.  When Ellie's Treasures first opened in 2009, I shared a stall at a local event but didn't have the best of experiences, so this time I put a bit of work into finding something I felt would be well run and appropriate for my items.  I was accepted to exhibit at the Christmas Quality Market in Stamford, Lincolnshire at the beginning of December.

The weeks leading up to the fair were manic - I don't think I've ever put in so many hours of continuous sewing.  Being Christmas, custom orders were competing with my fair stock as well as online sales, but, as is often the case, it all turned out OK in the end and I even found time to make two special shop themed brooches for me and hubs to wear on the day.

I started planning how my stall should look back in the summer, trawling through Pinterest and blog posts for inspiration.  I was aiming for a rustic feel and managed to find lots of suitable things around the house and garden that could be used for the display. "Kitchen & Things" in Newmarket, selling a huge range of very reasonably priced East 2 Eden storage goodies (and blackboards), together with a new white table cloth and battery powered fairy lights from The Range completed the look. I drew how I'd imagined the stall may look and then did a trial run on my hubby's white desk a couple of days before the event.  This really helped because it meant I knew exactly how to set up my table on the day - a big time saver.

The market was inside Stamford Arts Centre and took over three rooms.  The main hall was large, light and airy and flowed really well.  The other two rooms were located off the main hall and we found our room to be not too well lit and very quiet (despite having Christmas music being played on a continuous loop - I think we heard Michael Buble's "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" at least 10 times!).  People came along in dribs and drabs and sadly a surprising number didn't stop to look at the stalls in our room, they just continued walking as though it was a through-way.  Those that did stop were very complimentary, with many saying how unique Ellie's Treasures was.  Getting our first sale of the day gave me a very warm feeling and although we didn't make a big profit, it was good to know we had sold some pieces and many business cards had been taken.  I was itching to use my new iZettle for credit card payments, but everyone had come well prepared with cash - I guess that was a good thing really!

I've learnt that we need additional lighting to show off our stall better - it was just too dark to really see the detail of my work. Also, the goods looked lovely displayed in wooden crates and rustic baskets, but buyers didn't seem to want to thumb through to see all that was available, they would look at those that had been pulled out and placed along the front of the stall.   It was also obvious that items at eye level were viewed first, so perhaps a layered card display would prove beneficial, rather than people having to bend over (and often get their glasses out) to take a look.

We took some super photos of our stall set up with our main camera only to find the SD card wasn't formatted properly and therefore wouldn't let us download them.  Luckily the fair organiser had taken a few to put on Facebook which she kindly said I could add to my blog.  Next time, I'll take backup pics with my phone as well.



Friday, 16 December 2016

Malaysian Curry

I have a very exciting new recipe to share - the original version was found in one of the free supermarket magazines but as always I've tweaked it a little to suit what was in my store cupboard at the time of cooking.

This Malaysian curry is very aromatic with a little zing rather than spicy heat.  It's utterly moorish, quick and easy to prepare and certainly a dish I've served up quite a few times since I first came across it.

The original recipe used cubed lamb but I have also tried it with chunks of chicken.  In my opinion, lamb suits it better but, in my family, lamb is not always the preferred meat!  Also, don't rush when cooking the aubergine, it really does need the 10 minutes (or slightly more) to get to a lovely soft consistency, otherwise the tougher texture will put a dampener on the whole dish.  The original recipe added a squeeze of lime at the end of the cooking - you may want to do this but I found the dish tasted superb without it.

Serves 4-6.

2 tbsp oil (olive or sunflower)
450g cubed lamb or chicken
1 chopped small onion
3 tbsp rendang curry paste
400ml tin of coconut milk
100ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 aubergine cut into chunks
1 tbsp soy sauce
Seasoning

Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and gently brown the lamb, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Stir in the rendang curry paste and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes.  Pour in the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for 30 minutes.  In another pan, heat the remaining oil and cook the aubergine for at a good 10 minutes, turning regularly, until it has softened.  Add the aubergine to the curry.  Before serving, add the soy sauce to the curry and any seasoning, if required.  Serve with rice.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

With Christmas in mind ...



I am forever hopeful that life will slow down a little so I can concentrate solely on Ellie's Treasures, especially now Ben is at college studying A-levels. So far this hasn't been the case and it's most probably down to my timekeeping skills - or lack of them!  Although this seems to be a big weakness of mine, I have been able to keep my "achievements and goals plan" in my mind throughout the year (see my post here) and have referred back to them several times.  It seems the only thing I've seriously failed at achieving is sewing and listing a new fabric wallet every two months!  I have one nearly completed and look, we're October already - I'm way behind!


To be more organised in my daily routine is always top of my New Year resolution list and I'd love to hear how you readers manage to fit your self-employed work alongside any other full time job you do, or other commitments you have.  Does anyone else seem to find that photography, listing and marketing take up a huge amount of time?  I often find my actual sewing starts in the early evening - how lovely it would be to be able to sew all day and have a fairy or two to do everything else required to run a business (including all the housework and cooking etc.)!

I guess I can ...

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Chinese chicken in lettuce leaf wrap with seaweed rice

Once again the inspiration has come from Matilda Ramsey on CBBC.  Although the recipe isn't listed on her blog (as far as I can see), it did feature in one of the programmes and it's a very easy and quick meal to make.  Using lettuce leaves as wraps meant it was something a little different for us as a family and made a healthy alternative to the usual bread wraps.  I made this dish for Katie as a welcome home from Uni meal - she's a big chinese/sushi/ noodles fan!


As there's no actual recipe, but I wrote down what I saw from the programme and then adapted it a little to suit what was in my cupboard.  This recipe for rice balls was Tilly's accompaniment to the chicken dish - my rice refused to turn into little balls so I served it in a bowl instead.  Loved using the seaside (and wanted to use shredded seaweed rather than seaweed snacks but had problems finding it - I ended up with seaweed sheets which wasn't quite what I was after).

Anway, this is the chicken dish:

Serves 4 as a lunch, probably double the quantities for an evening meal.

4 chicken breasts
clove or two of garlic, crushed
sprinkle of salt
2 tbsp sesame oil (I used sunflower)
good dash of hoisin sauce
good dash of soy sauce
splash of rice wine vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
grated fresh ginger (or teaspoon of powdered ginger)
handful of chopped coriander (optional or dessert spoon of dried coriander)
water chestnuts (for crunch) (or another veg - I used some tinned sweetcorn)
chopped spring onions
large lettuce leaves like Romaine Hearts
Cooked seaweed rice dish as an accompaniment

Place oil in a bowl and add the crushed garlic and chicken breasts.  Mix thoroughly and place on a baking tray and cook in the oven (at 180/190 deg. C) for around 20-30 minutes ensuring chicken is cooked through.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to then shred the chicken.  Place the shredded chicken into a frying pan with a good dash of hoisin sauce and soy sauce.  Stir as you fry, adding the vinegar, ginger, coriander, vegetable(s) and spring onions.

Use large washed lettuce leaves (Romaine Hearts are an excellent size and shape) to hold spoonfuls of the chicken mixture, together with some seaweed rice.



Monday, 1 August 2016

Adding to the range

A lady who frequently comments on a showcasing Facebook page for Folksy suggested that I try branching out and turning my items into pictures.

Always up for a challenge, I decided to look at producing a mixed media wall hanging incorporating a charm, as is usual, in my work.

I've been a fan of mixed media collage for a very long time. Playing with different textures and combination of colours to develop a design is quite therapeutic and the end result is tactile and unique.

My first wall hanging took on an Autumnal theme in dark green, rich browns and oranges and featured a mini silver coloured metal fox charm.  My second has the theme of underwater, using a little fish charm as inspiration.

With a combination of recycled fabrics (one of which was a tie-dye t-shirt my daughter made when she as about 11), trims, buttons and even part of an old bathroom wash scrunchy, the new hanging came together.

Hangings comprise of three sections, joined by trim and have a twig, taken from the hazel in our garden, to complete the hanging.

The lady on Facebook certainly liked the hangings, but it wasn't the "picture" she was suggesting.  Time to experiment further ....







I sourced mini rustic style 4' square box frames and created a 3D picture based on my brooch and keyring designs.

Here is my first one - am so pleased with how it looks (very difficult to photograph though - still experimenting with that).  I've have white painted frames and natural frames with a light grey wash ready to use and am loving making these for the shop.

The box frames can be wall hung or free standing.  Just imagine how sweet this would look in a special garden house retreat or seaside beach hut.