Wednesday, August 15, 2012


When I bought this beauty, I was just a wee baby dancer, and it has served me well--being paired with many a skirt for different looks and even being my website's image for the past 2 years. 

Alas, I just felt like it wasn't ME anymore, and I haven't wore it in over a year at the restaurant (the only place I do cabaret anymore), so it went out over the ebay train to some other dancer's closet!  Hopefully she will love it and wear it more than I have recently.

Bye bye white bedlah!  Hello to a new costume... (evil laugh)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My new addiction...

That's it.  I am addicted to BHUZ.COM's costume swap.  I have been obsessively watching the website for hours now... drooling over costumes and deciding to swap or not swap my own costumes... Oh man.  Dangerous! 

It also lead me into a lot of ebay bidding...  which could be fine, or it could end with me winning a lot of stuff I just don't need and can't afford... yikes! 

AND I have to work on skirt and belt for Suzanne C from the Netherlands tomorrow.  MUST finish her set of customized ruffle butt skirt and ruffle butt pants by Friday morning to ship them before I leave town to visit the fam.  I have already spent the money she paid... so I have to get that done!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Marathon crafting, day 2

 There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream.  

Honestly, I am feeling exhausted, but I'll not give up.  I *WILL* finish 4 ruffle butt skirts and belts by Friday.  I finished and shipped the two custom black vented arm warmers to NY and OR, and now I am going full steam ahead to finish everything for the fashion show and vending this weekend.


Here are the pictures of the Ruffle Butt skirt I finished today.  I love the midnight blue with cream and silver... it just feels like the stars in the sky twinkling above the ocean.  


It is a large skirt, so I hope that the right lady falls in love with it this weekend.  I am trying to diversify skirt sizes... it feels like such a gamble because people could have color preferences that don't match the skirt I made in their size specifically...

Here is the purple skirt I half-finished today.  It still needs lace on the back, ruching on front and back, and decorations, but the color is just enchanting.  I need to get it on a model in the sunlight because it will absolutely sell itself.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Changing my "brand"

"A brand is a living entity - and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures" 
~ Michael Eisner, CEO Disney

I really like what Eisner had to say in his quote above--that a brand is really the small gestures you make.  

I have been selling crafts online for 2 years now.   I've seen the marketplace change, and, as a result, my shop has changed.  A big part of that change has been the popularity of etsy, fascinators in general (you can buy them at Walmart, literally) and the surge of international crafters on etsy offering wares for less money.

Initially when I started selling, I sold OOAK fascinators made from hand curled peacock feathers, buttons, and pearls mounted on felt backing with hair clips.  

I named each piece after an admirable and beautiful attribute or thing: "Whimsy," "Cappuccino Moon", and "Pomegranate Wine"... eventually I branched out into a thesaurus to keep me going!

I explored different textures, feather types, and aesthetics.  I got a batch water marking program for my photography.  

I took pictures of myself in my bathroom with my little camera from college.  I would face the viewing screen on the camera towards the mirror of the bathroom sink so I could make sure I was in the picture.  I wanted to show the size and placement of the fascinator in a woman's hair.

I got to know every craft store's silk flower supply.  My favorite was ranunculus flowers from Hobby Lobby on Madison's south side.  I just loved the uber soft silk petals and the wide, flat base.  I bought bleached peacock feathers on ebay from a peacock farmer, and I made a ton of beautiful fascinators with the champagne, iridescent feathers.

I had really good business, and I charged a high mark up for the time, creativity, and "extras" that went into each piece.  I made hand made cards out of beautiful scrapbooking supplies with embossed covers thanking each buyer.  For my first sale ever, I even made an origami box to keep the fascinator in!

Although I was marketing myself towards bellydancers, I made many custom orders for brides and bridal parties.  I even designed steampunk fascinators in teal and antique gold for a wedding in Australia!  I also worked with local brides - meeting them at coffee shops and bringing a tuperware of flower bases and feathers to show them.

I created a logo for my shop with peacock feathers and dyed guinea feathers as the background because I loved working with the textures of feathers and silk flowers. 

I only sold bellydance costuming or clothing as an after thought - mainly to sell old costume pieces I was no longer using.

NOW though, fascinators are just not lucrative for me.  The fact that you can buy them at every local store - even Walgreens! - has just put me under.  As a merchant and artist, you have to make something hand crafted that people can't buy for cheaper from China (nothing against the Chinese).  So... I started to shift my focus. 

This spring, I declared that I would not put an ounce of money into my souk that wasn't for a prepaid custom order.  I sold off the rest of my back stock of fascinators (and some costuming too) at a deep discount.  My goal was that I would clean out my souk completely and only take in custom orders, but what I didn't anticipate was that without good photos and good examples of my work, it wasn't easy to market my souk.   Moreover, I started to understand that I needed to give a suggestion for what the custom item could be for a buyer.  At a yoga class in the final shavasana, my mind started race with new ideas for designs like fireworks!  I decided I'd market 2 or 3 different types of skirts as the basis for custom orders. 
Custom ordered skirt I made this summer

Then I was invited to vend at Shimmy in the Grain...  AND there was the proposed fashion show!  Being home alone all day this summer made me go crazy making stuff for the event and for my students who were excited to volunteer to model my stuff. 

And last night, I started to look at address stamps.  I'd really like one for my business to get back to creating beautiful packaging that feels one of a kind for shoppers.  I used to have a lovely peacock feather return address stamp, but I've moved since then. When shopping for a new stamp last night I realized I should really get a different design.  Very little of my business revolves around peacock feathers now.  I think my new stamp should be lacy, frivolous, and shabby chic

Skirt I made for fashion show at Shimmy in the Grain
So now I'm thinking about changing my logo too - Peacock feathers and bright colors don't really represent what I'm doing any more...  so now it seems I am shedding my skin, emerging into a new identity as a "souk", and I guess I find it to be pretty exciting.  If only the summer were longer so that I could really spread these new, dewy wings.
I even created teal and gold fascinators for a steampunk wedding in Australia.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Crafting before Housework!

The only place where housework comes before needlework is in the dictionary.  ~Mary Kurtz

Dishes piled in both sides of the sink, scraps of fabric and thread trailing behind me like bread crumbs, and a craft-loft that looks like a fabric bomb went off---This is the current state of my house.  Again today I pushed normal responsibilities aside to sew.  

Accompanied by rain (the first in literally months), Rosie's snores, and "ROME", I made some serious headway on my belt for my upcoming performance at Shimmy in the Grain in two weeks with my bellydance students.    

I am really excited about the belt -- it truly is unique and artful.  I was beginning to feel afraid that I wouldn't have anything for myself to wear, after working so hard on costuming to vend at the event.  (Of course the costuming I perform in should be just one step up from the costuming I vend).

Here is the outfit so far.  I actually wasn't going to wear these together, but I think they look cool with the mirrors as a tie in between the pieces.

 Unfortunately tomorrow I'll have to get down to business at the house before I host some of my bellydance students for a crafting party!  The loft needs to be... at least inhabitable - and probably vacuumed...!  Yikes!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ruffle Butt Extravaganza

 I have been crafting like mad lately-- partly to continue to get ready for Shimmy in the Grain in two weeks (*gasp*) and also as a part of my mom's annual week-in-Madison with me.  Mom does not sew at all, so she saves up all the missing-button, mending, and alteration projects  from the family to bring to me.  This time I shortened a pair of dress slacks for my brother, shortened 5 tank tops for my mom, and created a bunch of throw pillows. 
Mom had this idea shortly after Grandma's passing of making pillows out of Grandma's clothing, which I find  morbid and comforting all at the same time.  It is sort of like the necklace that they made of her thumb print... when I touch it, it is reassuring that that is the impression of her hand, but it is also rather macabre to think that they made the impression after death.  The pillows go into the same category for me; the fabrics that Abuelita chose for clothing is so beautiful!  It is genuinely nice to see the bright patterns and floral prints imbued with the memory of her.  On the other hand, when I first attempted this project for Mom, I ended up crumpled in a ball on the floor crying... Somehow, cutting up her clothes so fresh with her memory was like cutting her up too. 
This time around though, I approached it more like an art project, and the results were quite pleasing.  I deconstructed and creatively assembled 3 pillows for Mom.  I made her sit up in the loft with me and help with ironing and deconstruction so that she'd know how hard it was, because initially she was under the impression that making these pillows would be some small task.  To be fair, I suppose it would have been much simpler if I wasn't such a perfectionist about lining up seams and having patterns that actually looked like pillows--not like a nightgown made into a pillow.

After all that sewing with Mom, I ended up feeling driven to continue to create for myself after she left.  Jesse watched "ROME" with Rosie downstairs, and I ascended into the loft to craft my heart out.  I ended up making 2 new Ruffle Butt Belts that I am so proud of!  They are just gorgeous.  I really need to get a model into them on my etsy store, because the flat photos of the belts laid out just don't do them justice at all.  They are very perky on the derriere if you know what I mean! 
I made one in ivory and black with bright gold accents.  I was envisioning saying something about the finished belt like, "Fit for a steampunk queen, not an airship pirate!"  It is certainly girly and frou frou, rather than strong and tough.
The second belt is really striking with alternating black and white laces, a striped ribbon in the center and bright silver trim.  I love the big O rings on it. 
Today I just kept going!  I have two more Ruffle Butts in the works--one with a student, Kristina, specifically in mind, and one for myself to perform in personally. 
...And that is what I'm off to work on right now... Ta ta!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Durable laces: tatting and macrame tutorials

For some reason, the fall always makes me feel the pull towards macrame.  Last fall I bought tons of glass beads and pendants and made elaborate mini macrame necklaces for my family.

This fall, I have been intrigued by tatting...  It is like macrame lace!

Here are some videos I watched... the ladies make it seem so easy, but it must not be!  In the first video, I appreciated the clarity of her instructions and the images.  I could really see what her hands were doing. 

In this video, I really liked her soft voice and cute accent.  Of course, those won't help me tatt, but it made it very enjoyable to watch.

Unfortunately you can't see her hands clearly because of the light, but she does the stitches several times, which will be helpful when I'm trying it on my own.

Ultimately I think I'm going to look for a book to combine with these videos... and I'm also getting excited about regular micro macrame just watching these tatting videos.

Here is the site I learned (and relearned in part, because I used to make lots of chevron bracelets when I was in middle school) the basics of micro macrame.

I will definitely post pics when I'm done!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Inventors' sacrifices

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”  
~ Nicola Tesla

Wendy's skirt after adding the delux ruffle... about 10:30am.
Sometimes I find myself putting my art--bellydance and costume creation in front of other things.  Admittedly I struggle to maintain normal priorities, schedules, and budgets...  Today I have felt exceptionally driven.
Lacing it up... 
 Today I have been propelled by sheer will.  I woke up after only 5 hours of sleep, my head swirling with the day's projects:
...the half finished skirts for the festival in 2 day with Rosie during which I am usually unable to hunger for breakfast... but not the 4 eggs my trainer assigned for me to eat......the training tests at the gym...

Tossing and turning, I tried curling around Jesse's back like a little koala baby, which usually puts me right to sleep, but unfortunately I wasn't able to
Rosie falls asleep waiting for me to finish...
release the driving thoughts and desire for accomplishment, even after only just 5 hours of sleep.

Needless to say, these obsessive thoughts took me upstairs into the loft where I spent the majority of the day sewing, pinning, and ultimately finishing Wendy's skirt (way ahead of schedule).  I felt like a sorcerer's apprentice - upon committing to the task, I couldn't stop till it was completed.

Rosie, bless her little puggy heart, was so good today!  She spent time with me upstairs curled up at my feet under the sewing table, which she's never done before.  It really made me feel so happy--like she's finally starting to get comfortable with my routine (not just Jesse's).  It just made me feel really affectionate towards her and glad that she and I have had this summer to bond.  Her little pug face was so cute when she fell asleep in the sun, I took more pictures of her throughout the day than I did the skirt!

Finishing touches: gears, appliques, shisha mirror, buttons
I am so happy with the way this skirt turned out.  I'm definitely going to list the pictures on my etsy boutique.  I hope to get one of Wendy modeling it this weekend (and at the performance she bought it for) too.

I used some of the gears that I found at Micheals in the scrap booking section to give it a steampunk feel.  I also was really happy with the lighter poly fabric as the skirt's base.  It allowed the elastic thread to ruch tighter.  Finally, I also used a striped ribbon on top of the ruched seam, which I was really happy with.  All in all, I think the design has improved every time I've been commissioned to make a skirt.

I was so proud, in fact, that I texted Jesse several times asking him to send me photos--I was looking forward to posting these here and sending Wendy pics and putting pics up on etsy.  

Though I should be tired, or perhaps worried about the intricacies of tomorrow, all I feel is the happiness of success.
Wendy's finished skirt, completed at 12:30pm...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sasha helps out

Red steampunk skirt with black &white accents
 Today was the second day that Rosie went to doggie daycare so that I could get some sewing done upstairs in the loft.  Since I signed up to vend at Shimmy in the Grain, I know I'd better get some new stuff crafted up.

I spent the majority of my time working on some new jersey-knit skirt designs that I'd like to release as a practice or daytime skirt version of the steampunk skirts.  I came up with the idea while doing some deep relaxation at yoga classes last week--although my mind was wandering away from my shavasana, I didn't feel too bad because I was having such creative thoughts.

Sasha and supplies
I did manage to spend about an hour on my latest order from my souk, a lovely cherry-red steampunk ruffle butt skirt for one of my students, Wendy. 

Sasha was so happy to have me all to herself that she was determined to help out.  I certainly hope that Wendy isn't allergic to cats, because Sasha kept flopping down on the fabric, rubbing on the trims and jumping into my lap while I was sewing.  At one point she actually nipped me when I tried to move her to the ground because I had to do some ironing!  I think she felt a little neglected because this is her first summer sharing me with Rosie, our rescue pug who needs A LOT of attention.  So, Sash was purring loudly all morning and afternoon while I worked. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Out with the old and in with the unknown

 It is finally official.  The dance troupe I spent the last 5 years with is... well, we're calling it a "hiatus", but what we really mean is that we're not working together as a troupe anymore.  We've decided that if we do join forces for future projects, it will be as independent artists collaborating for a specific project--not as a dance company who meets regularly.

With Ashar's *ahem* "hiatus", I have decided to face performing primarily as a soloist again by selling a great deal of the costuming I designed and created while with Ashar Dance Company.  I was the primary costumer for the troupe, so many of our costumes reflect a great deal of hard work designing and sewing on my part.  As a troupe, we designed many things together collaboratively, but I always felt that I put a lot of myself into the designs and the aesthetic outcome.  Because each member worked on her own costume and purchased the individual components, each member owns her own costuming.  In my mind, although our costumes were certainly of the caliber of professional soloist costumes, they were still "troupe costumes" and I don't want to be linked visually as a soloist to a troupe that I'm not working with anymore.  

All in all, I am hoping to sell 3 complete costumes, a belt, and a couple of headbands/fascinators.  I have used my store to help with the process, but I acknowledge that it is just easier to sell costuming in-person at events where people can actually try it on.  AND I want to sell a few things that I purchased and altered, but didn't really hand craft or recycle enough to list on etsy.  I am very purist about that sort of thing. 
So, with that in mind, I just paid my fees to vend at Shimmy in the Grain here in Madison during the first week of August, and I've also been posting pictures graciously taken by Bill Tricomi, my #1 best top favoritest photographer and superfan.  

Although I'm selling this costuming, I don't want to create hard feelings or any awkwardness between myself and the other members of Ashar.  ...But I haven't discussed it with them.  In a way, it is my reclaimation of power over this costuming that was created to display visual, aesthetic harmony and togetherness. There is the loophole that we've left the window open for collaboration, which means that someday we might want to wear this costuming together again, but I don't feel like keeping or wearing costuming that represented our former unity as a troupe.  I feel like as independent artists collaborating, we would need to forge something new to represent that change in identity.

*sigh*  Such big changes all made official.  Of course I heard the ending of the troupe coming a long way in advance, but that doesn't mean I like the end result.  :(  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Painting a picture of myself

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.” ~ Frida Kahlo
After almost a year away from crafting, sewing, painting, I'm here again.  This time, hiding in the cool darkness of our apartment, away from the scorching heat outside--literally scorching the green grass into brittle brown spikes and toasting the earth like a hard, burnt marshmallow.  Upstairs in the new craft room/loft, it is hot under the skylight, but Sasha still lays in the sunlight - a reminder of winter's cold encrouching on the apartment, a time when sunlight was precious and noteable.  Now, we're praying for rain as the earth cracks into bloodless, waterless crevases under the endless heat.

So, it is Sasha and I upstairs, as I labor and she luxuriates.  I reopened my online "souk" last month, and with a closer focus on bellydance, rather than bridal fascinators, I've had three sales so far this summer.  I am carefully crafting a beautiful skirt right now - black stretch polyester with ruffles and white and cherry-red lace accents.  I want it to have this circus/steampunk feeling.

I am cleaning out the closets too...  trying to set whole outfits from days long gone dancing with Ashar Dance Company.  I say "long gone" because we've been slowly deconstructing, or should I say "self-destructing"?  As troupemembers need to leave the troupe for focus on other things - family, project, career - I find myself the last dancer standing in a lonely studio.  So, I am hoping it will feel cathartic to sell my costuming and do something new with the money.  Something inspired by me, the now, and perhaps, the heat!  I want to start another dance troupe.  I want to feel inspired by another dancer.  I want to be together on the stage and feel that sisterhood.  When I am alone on stage, it is just me and the audience, and I show them my lonely heart.  Like Frida.  When I am together on the stage, I feel the strength of a sisterhood with me.  It is this community that drew me to tribal bellydance in the first place.  I want to improvise with another dancer.  To know them like my own skin, and to have them know me, in all my quirks and undulations.  I thought we were getting there with Ashar... but then things fell apart...  not in some big dramatic way, it just was little by little people got busier and less committed and less able to make time to do projects together...  I miss it.  I miss them.  Already.  And I'm hoping with Frida's spirit that there is another group of mad dancers out there, looking for me.