Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Etsy Envy

Etsy is bad for my self-esteem. I can spend hours marveling at the sheer genius of those crafty people who can turn duct tape and bottle caps into jewelry that does not look as if it is made of duct tape and bottle caps.
"Why didn't I think of that?" I ask myself when I see people cleverly covering mason jars with inverted cupcake wrappers. They claim it keeps bugs out of the sweet tea, and it looks adorable! I have only ever used those little cupcake papers for cupcakes. For Heaven's sakes, who comes up with these fantastic ideas? How do they do it?
For as long as I can remember, I have longed to create something unique that others will want to purchase from me. Growing up on Pear Street, I spent my summers manning lemonade stands; but those long afternoons of squeezing lemons and sloshing the sweet and tangy beverage into Dixie cups did not satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit.
After trying a soft pretzel, drizzled with spicy mustard, at an amusement park, I went straight home and grabbed a bag of crispy Rold Gold pretzel twists out of the cupboard and a plastic squirt bottle of French's mustard out of the fridge. I dragged out the card table and the rusted lawn chair and set up my pretzel and mustard stand. I tried to sell each tiny twist, covered neatly in mustard, for a nickel a pretzel; but no one seemed interested. I ended up sharing the mustard-covered pretzels with my best friend who had agreed to keep me company at the pretzel stand instead of riding bikes. She was a good friend.
Burned by the food business, I ventured into art. My teachers always complimented my drawing, and I took special care to make sure all my projects were neat and creative. Perhaps I could make my fortune drawing those funny caricatures that I had seen artists creating on the spot at little booths in Gatlinburg.
I set up my card table and lawn chair and brought out a tablet of white drawing paper, a nice ink pen, and a Christmas cookie tin filled with crayons and colored pencils.
My first customer was a girl who lived down the street. She agreed to pay a quarter for a caricature of her older brother. I knew her brother well; but I suggested that she go and get him to sit for the portrait anyway. I was nervous and suddenly couldn't remember exactly what he looked like. She said he didn't want to sit still that long; so she brought me his most recent school picture instead. I worked hard on the drawing, biting my lower lip in concentration. The neighbor girl looked over my shoulder the whole time. When I handed the completed caricature to her, she shook her head and held onto her quarter.
"My brother's head is not that big," she complained. I guess she'd never been to Gatlinburg.
"It's supposed to look like that," I told her.
"You made him look like he's got a giant's head and a little body. He's not going to like it."
"Sorry," I said.
I felt defeated; but I did not let my failed caricature stand keep me down for long.
Over the years, I kept trying. In high school, I sketched out hand-lettered birthday banners. I ended up making them for free, though. I felt bad charging anyone who was nice enough to surprise a friend for his or her birthday.
In graduate school, I spent a summer sewing adult rompers from an old pattern I'd found. Even though the adult romper was not really in style, I modeled my creations that summer and actually sold one for $15 to my mother's friend.
One autumn, when my husband and I had been married for only a couple years, I actually convinced him to join me in my craftiness. The two of us repurposed logs as Stumpkins! My husband used the power saw to slice one end of the logs at an angle. We stood the logs on their flat ends, and I painted friendly scarecrow faces on their angled tops. We wrapped flannel scarves under their painted faces and topped the Stumpkins with straw hats. We set the Stumpkins next to our porch stoop and added hand-lettered welcome signs that we painted on wooden slats and wrapped around the Stumpkins with a length of wire. We sold several, stashing away our proceeds to use as extra Christmas money. It was a lot of work, and we eventually ran out of logs.The Stumpkin business was short-lived; but I still remember it as the most successful of my mostly unsuccessful crafting projects.
Oh, Etsy! Where were you when I was a kid trying to make my mark as a caricature artist? Where were you when I tried to single-handedly popularize the hand-sewn, adult jumpsuit? Where were you when I was cranking out those crazy Stumpkins? I was a fan of crafting before crafting had a fan base. When I retire, perhaps I will go back to the drawing board. Maybe then one of my crafty ideas will find its way to Etsy; but until then, I will continue to be amazed by all those crafty geniuses.


  1. I love this piece, and I know that feeling of envy, though mine usually takes the form of "I should have thought of that." I think the miscue with the caricatures was that you were looking at the wrong customer base: kids don't know what caricatures are, that they're meant to look weird. And you certainly successful with the Stumpkins. You can do it.

  2. Love the Stumpkin idea! I love Etsy, too - especially all the vintage stuff.

  3. Love the Stumpkin idea! I love Etsy, too - especially all the vintage stuff.

  4. Oh Etsy is like craft porn, isn't it? I love your descriptions of all of the products you tried to sell. What do you just LOVE to make? I seem to go through crafts love affairs (domino necklaces, funky animal collages), but I haven't put them out into the world (yet). I bet you'll fall in love and then sell, sell, sell.

  5. If Etsy had been around would you have still tried to create or would the perfection of Etsy pushed your ideas away? What an entrepreneurial spirit you have! Keep trying, I'm sure there's a craft out there waiting for you. :-)

  6. I tried selling stuff on Etsy once upon a time. I closed my shop after awhile since I didn't think my stuff was that great. There sure are some talented people out there!