Fiber Diaries #1 - ETSY and other stuff

I decided to do things a bit differently, at least when it comes to the DOTW thing, since I totally fell off track with that back in March and was not able to stick to it. Two months is pretty good for me though, especially at this time in my life.

So the “different” thing is I’m still going to write posts about other non-felt projects, but adding to it personal things, thoughts, interests, etc. It might help to get to know me a bit better, maybe provide some additional reading material, for funsies, whatever. Also might help to loosen this blog a bit and make it not be too business, lol. I know people tend to use social media for that stuff, but things have a habit of getting buried, or not noticed at all because other site algorithms. So since it’s a diary of sorts, I’m calling this my Fiber Diaries.

This one is going to be a bit long, and probably isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve been slowly chipping away at this for a number of weeks (trust me, this is the edited down version). By the way, if you read it all the way through, and you really enjoy this post, and/or maybe you’d like to see more posts about my life outside of fiber (of course, in addition to those, those will always be around), send me a message or leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

what’s going on in my life

This is what people in the planner world call “before the pen” - trust me, all these pages are filled. I just don’t want to share that on here, lol. I do love to make colorful backgrounds and add stickers before I start filling it out and doodling.

This is what people in the planner world call “before the pen” - trust me, all these pages are filled. I just don’t want to share that on here, lol. I do love to make colorful backgrounds and add stickers before I start filling it out and doodling.

WHEW. A lot.

In fact, so much that I’d had to basically put a pause on the projects because I had little energy left for any deeper creative work, not much outside of making colorful backgrounds in my planner or simple stitching projects, which I’ll get into in a moment. I’m still around, and have been paying attention to my inbox and such, just not really posting anything new to social media or the blog. Well, especially now, since for a short while I was having an issue with my inbox tied to this site for comments/requests, the one tied to orders is the other email I’ve used for ages and that one’s fine - but as of right now, all the messages I’ve received from you all have been replied to. I really appreciate when you all reach out to me! And I still have my list of to-do’s before I start on my next project, that being the Hog Island Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. I already purchased and washed the fleece, and it’s ready to be dyed.

First things first, this is not my only “job.” No, I don’t mean this in a snarky “hey I’m a mom and I’m busy” kind of way. Other than being a homeschool mom and homemaker, I am also a landlord. Very small time, just one duplex, a building my husband purchased with the remainder of his college savings after he realized that college was not for him. In fact, he lived at that property for a number of years, so it was his home too after converting the basement studio into a one bedroom apartment, and rented out the top two floors. I met him pretty much right after he’d moved out of there and into a fixer upper, and I moved in few months after meeting him (to the fixer upper, not the apartment). Anyway, nearly a decade later, after I left my full-time job/career as an in-house graphic designer (when my daughter was a month shy of a year old), managing the building became my responsibility. Most of the time, it’s not a time-sink - that being, when all the apartments are rented out, everything’s working as it should, and people are paying their rent. Starting a year ago, when one of my tenants moved out, it basically became a full-time thing. It was peaceful over the holidays, but then in March (hey, when I stopped DOTW) things went full caca. Then I had a vacancy (again) and spent the summer dragging my kids over for several hours a day to paint. That one is now rented out, but while I was dealing with that, I got notice from another tenant that they were moving out so… yeah, basically no break. Honestly, it was not so much the physical time spent there, but more the stress and worries about making ends meet financially because oh, did I mention things also were breaking that needed to be replaced?

My planners - homeschool planner from Plum Paper Planner on the bottom, and my Hobonichi Cousin on top with my first felt journal cover prototype. The tree was a later addition that my daughter felted when she was 5.

My planners - homeschool planner from Plum Paper Planner on the bottom, and my Hobonichi Cousin on top with my first felt journal cover prototype. The tree was a later addition that my daughter felted when she was 5.

Second thing is a bit more fun - and that’s homeschooling! That isn’t really anything new, we’ve technically been homeschooling since they were babies, and something I’ve balanced with this site. Our approach to learning doesn’t divide the day into school time and fun time. When you’re little, everything is a learning experience. That being said, now that this is the last “relaxing” year before we have to officially start reporting to the school district. I’m slowly introducing some structure over the course of the year and trying to find the right balance where it’s enough structure to make sure we meet all the requirements/stay on track, and still leaves enough time open for a more organic learning process. I don’t mean to sound biased, but they’ve done exceptionally well without needing to be led, and since child-led learning seems to work really well for us, I would really like to continue that path. It just involves a bit of mental gymnastics and planning to make sure we do it right. Our day is still pretty relaxed - they have a few things they do on a daily basis, such as journaling or handwriting practice, but for the most part we still leave it open. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything! For example, earlier today we got into a bit of hand stitching - my daughter started working on a unicorn project, then got frustrated with it and decided to sew a quick owl on the sewing machine. She likes sewing machines better. My son, on the other hand, was in love with the idea of embroidery and hand stitching, and after watching me work on the hexie quilt he’s been asking me to teach him to sew. So I showed him how to make a basic running stitch in embroidery. He picked it up very quickly, despite being only 4 years old. In order to get used to the idea of logging our progress (because I’m going to have to have something to show our evaluator), I invested in a Plum Paper Planner custom planner. They actually have a homeschool planner! And look at that coil - it is impressively sturdy. The paper is amazing. So I think I’m going to stick to this one for our homeschooling needs. PS. If you are interested in getting a custom planner through Plum Paper, but you don’t have an account with them yet, shoot me a message with your email and I’ll send you a link for 10% off. This only works on new accounts. Semi-affiliate note: I do get a bit of credit to my account if you use my link, at no additional cost to you, which helps to reduce the cost of ordering this planner for my kids in the future. Both of my kids will have their own, and with the ability to upload a photo it will double as their yearbook - something fun for them to look back on when they’re older to see all they’ve learned over the years. Oh, and it’s not just for homeschoolers - you can make all sorts of custom planners, and add sections, or even really thick heavy-duty notebooks with their fancy paper. It’s wonderful.

On the homemaking front, right now I’ve been really focused on freezer meal planning/cooking. At the moment I’ve just been building up my stash and logging prices in my little price book to see what the best deals are. I’m sure people thought it was a bit weird that I took 2 hours at ALDI making notes and then taking photos with my phone. And of course my husband was curious about why I had a bunch of photos of the grocery store on my phone, LOL. The goal is to be a bit more frugal with our grocery bill, seeing if I can knock down the budget a bit more, as well as being less wasteful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who occasionally buys ingredients with the best intentions that don’t actually come to fruition. Then when I go to clean out the fridge I’m like “OH YEAH, I forgot I got those… oops.” So freezer planning/cooking so I have meals all planned out for the month, and get into some sort of routine with this, so I have more time to focus on other things (like my art/blog again) instead of worrying about what’s for dinner. I really am trying to get out of flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-mode. Also, trying to get things in order again since keeping up with the home hadn’t been much of a priority either, selling things off on marketplace, maybe getting through the pile of grown-out clothes from my kids, things like that. It would be nice to get my life back on track, lol. Is that just a pipe dream? Am I a fool for thinking that could happen?

but I haven’t stopped working on Artsy/craftsy things…

Batik Hexie Quilt Progress 2019 - Star Magnolias

I recently picked back up the hexie quilt project I started years ago, before my son was born, but had been sitting in a tub for a while to be returned to later.

As I’ve been working on it, I realized that there is something special when it comes to working on a long, slow (very slow) project. Many people think of creating in terms of the finished project, not the journey. It’s all about meeting deadlines, getting it done. I certainly have projects like that, where I’m more focused on the end result than the process of getting there. My hexie quilt, on the other hand, has no deadline. There is no end in sight. Who knows how large I may make it, or when will I think the phase of this project is over?

Some of the hexies have scribbles from when my daughter, who just turned 7, scribbled on them in crayon. Others have more recent writing on it from my son, who was born after I started this project. I’m sure they will be horribly mangled and wrinkled by the time I’m done and have reused them countless times to baste, stitch and yank out.

The quilt will have memories of their childhoods stitched into them, and keep myself and my husband warm long after they’ve moved out. It will have my own unspoken memories as well, of dealing with day-to-day stresses that will seem insignificant years down the road. Of coming to terms with my parents’ mortality who, although luckily are both still living, one had too close a brush with death for comfort. Of friends who have come and gone in my life, of change, of time fleeting as I slowly stitch each piece together by hand.

Side note: I absolutely love poke-a-dots. It’s helped to speed up my process because my finger doesn’t get sore from stitching, but I hate wearing thimbles.

Side note: I absolutely love poke-a-dots. It’s helped to speed up my process because my finger doesn’t get sore from stitching, but I hate wearing thimbles.

These are things that aren’t captured in faster, smaller projects. They’re things that we don’t discuss when studying any form of long, creative process. For me, it’s a bit like someone I used to know, who held onto every single movie ticket stub, because he could look at it and remember everything he did at that time. I’m sure I’ll look at sections of the quilt and remember what was going on in my life at the time I was stitching it.

That’s basically most of what I’ve done, as well as spinning some yarn, working in my planners, coloring. Yes, planners are a creative hobby! I love to paint background colors in mine, doodle in them, put stickers in them, stencils, stamps, etc. It’s a wonderful way to reconnect with my inner child, and is a tiny source of joy when I open it to jot down a note and see all the color. I actually have two planners. One is my Hobonichi Techo Cousin (which you’ve gotten a glimpse of in my shop with my planner covers, well, they were up in my Etsy shop and now I need to move them over to this one), and I have a custom homeschool Plum Paper Planner for my daughter that’s dedicated to logging what she’s working on and planning anything homeschool-related. Though I didn’t do that this year, I love that you can upload a photo for the cover, so it will double as a yearbook of sorts. My daughter also started keeping her own bujo this year, also known as a bullet journal (which my covers also fit if you pick an A5 notebook), so I help her with drawing out the calendar frame so she can fill it out.

speaking of shops…

I’m not sure if you noticed that I’ve put my Etsy shop in vacation mode. Maybe you have?

This is my vacation note I have up in my ETSY shop right now.

This is my vacation note I have up in my ETSY shop right now.

That doesn’t mean that my shop here is in vacation mode! I just don’t want to sell through Etsy anymore. I didn’t want to be too obvious in my note, because I didn’t want to draw any more attention from ETSY (already happened once, as you’ll find out from my story time further down in the post) and possibly get deactivated and lose the reviews. By putting it in vacation mode, it allows visitors to still find my shop and read the reviews, but doesn’t cost me any more money. It’s literally just a placeholder.

I promised to write a more in-depth post about it, as the note states, so here it is. By the way, lots of former sellers seem to come out with this disclaimer “this isn’t meant to bash ETSY.” Look, I don’t like that word “bashing.” I’m calling it how I see it. There are no lies in here. If someone sees this as “negative” and “bashing” then so be it.

It costs me more money in fees than running my own shop (OK, having a blog/website is more, but I already had that, so the upgrade to commerce was less than the fees Etsy was charging). Here’s what ETSY charges:

  • Listing fee - 20 cents. This is for each item, and also whenever your products renew (which is every 4 months). If you have a lot of products, it adds up - 5 items is $1. If you have a lot of stock, that 20 cents is charged every time it auto-renews when someone buys one of it. If someone buys multiples, that fee is multiplied for each one (like if you were to buy 3 sets of my needles, I’d be charged 60 cents, not 20 for renewing the listing)

  • Shipping fee - separate from the shipping label fee. They take 5% of the cut of the shipping fee. If a seller uses their calculated shipping, the buyer is paying exactly how much the label would cost, unless a seller adds a shipping & handling fee. You are charged this regardless of whether or not you use ETSY shipping labels. Guess how much this sucks if a buyer picks expedited shipping?!

  • Transaction fee - 5% off the sale of your product. While the shipping fee is 5% of the shipping charge, this is off the price of the listing.

  • Payment processing fee - this depends on the country of the seller, but it’s a percentage of the full transaction plus 25 cents. This is charged if the seller accepts ETSY payments, and buyer uses that to pay for the item. If you opt out of Etsy payments, you don’t have to worry about this, but as a seller you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to buy your product.

Then they really messed up back at the beginning of 2019, when a large number of sellers had massive (we’re talking thousands, even tens of thousands) hit on their cards, putting some into overdraft. They did not reimburse it immediately. It was a “mistake.” Then the way they were paying people back didn’t make sense? I’m not sure how it was returned but it wasn’t by cancelling the charge… I wasn’t one of the ones affected, but I immediately took my card off autopay (not sure if it affected people who would pay their bill manually) and really questioned how much I trusted them. That very quickly and quietly got swept under the rug, nary a mention in the news, which is really surprising for a major publicly-traded corporation. Did anyone notice that their stock price skyrocketed the same day it happened? Did they? Newsweek did report it, and that following week, starting with the day that it happened, shares jumped from $53.03 per share (on Feb 21, 2019) to $71.74 per share (on Feb 27, 2019) - that’s pretty much the highest they’d been. Curiouser and curiouser…

THAT “mistake” was enough for me to decide to upgrade my website and start listing things in my shop here while deactivating or opting not to renew listings in my ETSY shop. I kept researching.

The more I researched people’s problems with Etsy, the more stuff started creeping up.

  • Screwing over international sellers regarding VAT fees, like here, and here, but here it states that buyers pay customs fees. Actually the whole thing is a confusing mess.

  • Cross selling your listings with other shops. Lots of sites do this, but it is worth noting that if you set up shop, other shops are getting shared on your listing, and it can hurt your sales.

  • Some sellers had issues with weird messages from the Etsy integrity team, claiming they were mass marketed and shut them down, meanwhile other seemingly-mass-marketed shops pass through. And then telling them not to talk about it. Seriously lacking tact in this - they could have approached it differently without accusing a seller and shutting their shop down. Shoot first ask questions later? Something very similar happened to me, same year actually! I said some because I know this guy and myself weren’t the only ones. But first let me finish.

  • Constant changes to the algorithm that weren’t in favor of small or new shops with minimal income for investment. I understand that it’s a business, but at one point that business understood that it was built on the backs (and hard work) of the sellers themselves. Everybody on there started small at some point, even the shops that somehow managed to grow exponentially. Etsy wouldn’t exist without its sellers - and while at least it’s technically free with no monthly subscription cost (I’m looking at you, Artfire), they’re making it harder to get noticed.

In June 2019, they announced they were changing the algorithm to favor shops that offer free shipping on orders over $35. That might make sense if you sell tiny things. I don’t sell tiny things. Not only that, but shipping varies greatly even within the states. There are about 7 postal zones. Mailing to someone next door is going to cost less than mailing to someone across the country. We’re not even talking about international shipping here. Do you think the seller eats the $3-4 it costs to mail a tiny item? No, it gets built into the price of the product. Which price are they building in, the lower end or the higher end? So, let’s say they build it into the cost… every item has to have some shipping built into it so the seller doesn’t lose profit. If someone sells a lot of tiny things (let’s say stickers) they could either sell them, let’s say $4 per set plus shipping, or they could sell them at $7 with shipping included. The buyer ends up buying fewer things and paying more for shipping than they needed to if it had all been calculated at the end. The other option is for the seller to keep the prices low and just eat the cost of shipping - which can get expensive depending on the weight/size of the item and where they’re shipping to. This does not make it easier for anyone. It simply makes it look better to the buyer to not have to see the shipping cost itemized, because we’re used to getting free shipping (like with Amazon). Except Amazon Prime comes with an annual membership, and sellers on Etsy aren’t charging an annual membership for a year of free shipping. So you’re still paying for shipping, and then it’s still also figured into the cost of some products - and this pricing changes all the time. Now, of course sellers aren’t forced to offer free shipping, but if they don’t, Etsy is showing products that offer free shipping in the search results first. Their products get pushed towards the back of the search results. Now, technically this also helps to favor the bigger shops on ETSY than small ones. Why? If you are a bigger shop, with thousands of sales, and you move a lot of product (something that’s amazing if you’re making stuff by hand, but oh right, everything on ETSY isn’t handmade anymore…), you might be open to completely eating the cost of shipping while continuing to offer a lower price on your product and just writing it off as a cost of business at the end. Small shops, with niche products, ones that really sell handmade items, do not make enough sales to eat shipping costs. They already have to price their items lower to be more competitive and appealing to buyers, especially with cross-selling. I guarantee most artisans are not figuring in cost of time into their product, especially if they’re desperately trying to build up their business and reviews. Those reviews really do mean a lot when you’re an online seller.

Also, I’m not sure if you know this, but the current CEO of ETSY is Josh Silverman, who is a former EBAY executive. EBAY also underwent some changes that some people feel caused it to go downhill a bit. I’ve never sold on EBAY so I don’t have any personal experience, but I have certainly heard from a few people disgruntled with the site. The thing with the free/expedited shipping is totally his thing by the way.

etsy story time! grab some tea…

Did you know I did/do photo restoration? This is relevant to the story…

Did you know I did/do photo restoration? This is relevant to the story…

A similar issue happened to me as with the guy in the video discussing the message from the ETSY integrity team - this was back in November of 2014, so a year before I switched my shop from digital goods to felting (I almost forgot about this to be honest!). I had just quit my job the year prior as a full time graphic designer, and I had done some freelance work, so I decided to list my services on ETSY. You know, like a lot of sellers do. You can find TONS of listings for graphic design services on there, from photo restoration, to logo design, to making social media banners, etc. So I did the same exact thing. Then, I get an email from the ETSY Integrity team (they didn’t shut down my shop though).

“Unfortunately, the photo editing services listed in your shop do not qualify to be sold on Etsy.

In general, services are not allowed to be listed on Etsy. There are a few exceptions noted below that are allowed as they produce a new, tangible, physical item.
- Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).
- Custom graphic design and digital pattern distribution are allowed; a digital file (for example: .pdf, .jpg, .doc) is considered the tangible, physical item.

Please remove any listings that do not meet the above guidelines from your shop.”

Um…. okay…. By the way, the buyer DID get a digital file at the end but mine was somehow against the rules? I just wasn’t in a fighting mood then, but maybe I should have responded differently. I mean, if you read her email it doesn’t even make sense - photo editing services do not qualify, but custom graphic design where they get a digital file in return does. Photo retouching WAS one of my jobs as a graphic designer. What do they think happens to the photo after I edit it? So I just responded with this:

“Hello,

Is this a new policy? If you do a search, there are over 500 listings for photo editing alone. I searched before putting my listing up in my shop.

I'll remove my listing in the meantime.”

And I did. The response I got was…

“Thank you for writing in with your concerns about other sellers' listings that may contain items prohibited in our marketplace.

I can assure you that your shop was not specifically targeted and that my team and I reach out to many sellers every day about issues that need to be resolved within their listings.

Removing listings that aren't within our policies is a huge task that takes time. Please know that we have several teams dedicated to removing non-qualifying listings from our marketplace. We appreciate your patience as we continue to work with sellers on this.

In the meantime, the next time you see a listing that may not qualify for sale in our marketplace, please use the "Report this item to Etsy" link at the bottom of listing page. Using this link to report these listings is the best way to bring your concerns to our attention so we can review your confidential report as quickly as possible.”

Hm… it’s been 5 years since this happened and there are currently 181,704 results if I search “graphic design,” and the number of “photo restoration” listings jumped from “over 500” to 917 since then. Also, I find it really odd reading back that she mentioned I wasn’t targeted - I didn’t even suggest that in my email. I just asked if it was a new policy.

TL;DR (or Too Long, Didn’t Read)

Etsy has been shady in the last few years, very different since I joined them in 2008, and I’m not sure I trust using that platform anymore. Of course, any changes to the algorithm is their choice, so that alone wasn’t the reason. It’s more like, every time I heard anything about Etsy, it wasn’t good news. I’m still going to buy from other sellers on there, so I’m not boycotting them in that sense - it’s a seller’s decision whether or not to continue using the platform. But personally, I think it’s time I’ve moved on. It’s only still “there” so shoppers here can read the reviews I’ve earned over the years, because TOS prevents me from copying and pasting the reviews here unless I specifically ask each buyer if I may do so. I did do that for some of the lengthier detailed ones, but not all.

So for me the issue isn’t that I wasn’t pulling in a profit. Far from enough to live off of, but I did make a decent bit of pocket cash. Far more than when I first started selling, and I had learned a few things while selling (which I can write in a separate post). Since closing, I haven’t sold much on my personal site, because I think buyers are still getting used to the idea that I’ve moved over here (hey, I’m here now!). Yes, it is a lot of work, running a business is always going to be a lot of work. I think that I made off well enough for the amount of work I put into it.

However, I feel that I can offer a LOT more on my personal shop now than I could in ETSY, because there are no listing fees, and unlimited listings with no renewals. Keeping my shop “full” on Etsy (which is recommended) was costing me money. So I can list whatever. Maybe I’ll get back into offering graphic design services in addition to my felt art, tutorials, etc. I’ll add other fun things too as I make them. I feel more free to play around with my product offerings without it costing me any extra.