Saturday, 27 September 2014

Elephants :: Greetings cards

Several of my friends have recently had babies. Looking for cards to send to them, I was struck by how many 'new baby' cards have elephants on them. But it seems that elephants aren't just limited to 'new baby' cards. This month's round up of elephants in craft are are elephant greetings cards.

1. The simple colours and design make this design really stand out (this designer also has a great wooden elephant brooch)
2. This is a cut out design which the elephant shape is perfect for
3. The contrasting fabric and stitching on this card make this design stand out
4. I love the combination of pinks and blues in this design
5. Of the different cut out designs I found I liked the elephant shape and the patterned background in this card
6. This is a great combination of valentines day and elephants
7. Back in my childhood, quilling was one of the crafts I dabbled in. This quilled design made me smile when I saw it and has a different sentiment to a lot of the other cards
8. I picked this one as it used a totally different colour palette to most of the elephant greetings cards I saw
9. This design represents probably the most common design I saw for elephant themed baby cards on Pinterest - a line of simply shaped elephants

This is just a selection of the great designs I found. For more images of elephant greetings cards visit my Elephants board on Pinterest.

All links above are to Pinterest as a number of the items pictured are no longer available at their original link.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review :: Cherry brooch free kit

I'm a bit behind with my reviews of magazine free gifts. So lets start with the kit that came with Mollie Makes issue 43 - a crochet cherry brooch.

I love to crochet so this wasn't anything particularly new to me. It was a fairly simple make if you do have crochet experience, although if you don't there weren't any basic instructions or even anything pointing you to a useful tutorial online. 

The yarn provided in the kit was nice to work with, but did have a tendancy to split - again OK for an experienced crocheter but would be difficult if you are a beginner. 

A crochet hook was provided but it was very flimsy, I thought a couple of times it might snap, but as I couldn't locate an alternative 3mm hook in my stash I stuck with it.

The only thing I changed was a couple of stitches joining the two cherries together as I was weaving in the ends, This was because I was finding the two cherries had a mind of their own and were twisting around each other in an unsightly way.

So here's my finished make ...

And from the back ...

Looks pretty much like what was pictured in the magazine.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Out and about :: The Handmade Fair - worth a visit?

Earlier this week I discovered that I'd booked yesterday off work. How exciting! What to do? Sit around the house watching Homes Under the Hammer like most weekday days off recently?

No this time I decided at the last minute to go along to The Handmade Fair - all the advertising and emails finally got me.

I opted for a 'full experience' ticket which included a session the the theatre, a workshop and a 'grand' make'. Because I booked so late a couple of the sessions I might have chosen were sold out so I went with, Pinterest Super Pinners in the theatre (although I probably would have picked this anyway), making a cocktail ring for my workshop, and making an origami tulip for my 'grand make'. These were timed between 11 am and 3pm.

This meant that on a non-work day I still had to get up at practically the same time to get to Waterloo to catch a train to the lovely Hampton Court Palace.

It was a bit of a walk through the gardens to the back of the house where The Handmade Fair marquees were located - it was at that point I wondered whether my footwear would hold up if it rained (they were sensible shoes but with a tendency for leaks). Luckily the weather was glorious - if anything it was too hot.

So, once into the fair I had a wonder round. I was a bit worried that there wouldn't be enough to keep me occupied until my last workshop at 3pm.

To kill some time before my first session at 11am I though I'd get a cup of tea and a pastry as I'd missed breakfast in order to (just) catch my train. But the queue for the only real stand selling tea and pastries was just too long, so I went shopping instead. I'd bought about £120 with me - I wasn't aiming to spend all of it - lets see how I did with that aim ...

Event programme - £4

Worth it for the pattern for a purse made out of scrap ribbons - inspired me to buy some vintage trimmings to make something similar (see below). I'll also be exploring the websites of some of the sellers I saw.

Next stop was some ribbon from The Homemakery.

I have some woven labels which say 'Stitched by Sarah' but I liked the simplicity of this and the fact that I could use it for things I've made but not stitched. £2.40

A couple of stalls further along were Art Cuts.

I selected these small woodcuts as my Christmas tree is only small. Or I may not use them for my tree I may use them for Christmas cards. I may decorate them or leave them plain - the options are endless which I why I thought I'd buy them. £3

A bit further along I came across Little Tins of Loveliness.

What I liked about this stall was that the kits came in tins. I picked this one because of the Liberty fabrics (a current mini obsession - see later) and because it seemed like it could be big enough to also hold my crochet hooks. £20

By this time and after a trip to the smallest but poshest portable toilets I've been in, it was time for the Pinterest Super Pinners session in the 'Grand Theatre'. (The picture is of the queue for the Cath Kidson session - the super pinners session wasn't as popular).

This was a panel session with Torie Jayne, Rosalilium and Craft Candy.

Here are a few notes I took (somewhat paraphrasing both the questions and the answers):

Q. What were their most successful pins?
A. Great visual images and DIY tutorials, especially those images with text on saying what the tutorial is about. Labelling the pin with things like 'best chocolate cake ever'.

Q. How do you know who to follow?
A. Fellow bloggers (tend to be pickier than on twitter so that they only follow those whose style they like). Look at who the people you follow also follow - this can lead you to new discoveries.

Q. How do you organise your boards?
A. Have a board for every pending project. If the content isn't relevant eg Christmas board in July, just drag it to the bottom of the list of boards.

Q. How do you use Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog?
Pinterest is great for driving traffic to your blog as they have a longer lifespan than on twitter or facebook. On those platforms they quickly drop down the timeline and only pop to the top again if you re-tweet or repost them. With Pinterest as soon as someone else pins your pin they get back to the top of people's streams again for re-pinning. Pin every image from the blog as that drives traffic back to the blog - about 20% of traffic to their blogs comes from Pinterest.

Q. Do you have many secret boards?
A. Only if it is something they don't want others to know about eg sister's wedding or when they have just created a board and want to populate it before releasing it, but in general not many secret boards as they aren't driving traffic.

Q. Why when you search for something on Google does it not give Pinterest as a search result?
A. Google searches at pinner and board level but not individual pins so for some searches you will get Pinterest results. Often better to search within Pinterest for images than in Google

Q. How have you increased your followers?
A. Regular pinning as this keeps you in feeds - regular but not loads at once. Being picky about your visual style. Share pins on twitter & facebook. Saying what is in the image that you have pinned so it is searchable within Pinterest (be descriptive though rather than using hastags).

I did find it interesting but the how to get more followers question was only really addressed at the very end - I would have been interested in more information about this to increase my modest 106 followers!

Anyway next stop was lunch - I had eyed up The Peckish Peacock on my way in and returned here for much lunch (partly because they had the smallest queue!). Some curry in a chapati with a peckora on top and a can of fizzy pop totalled £9, The hardest thing was finding a spot to perch to eat. The spinach and chick pea curry was nice and not too hot. Loved the painted details on their wagon.

Then it was time for my cocktail ring workshop run by The London Jewellery School. There wasn't much of a description when booking and it was what I suspected - making an embellished ring using wire and beads. I've worked with wire and beads a lot before but never made a ring so I learned something. The beads weren't colours that I would have selected so I just used a lot of the nice clear glass beads.

Work in progress ...

The finished article ...

The workshop didn't take the full hour which was a bit disappointing and apart from making the base ring I didn't feel I needed the instructors, just the take home instructions, but it has given me some ideas.

Time for some more shopping. First I found this lovely stall TOFT with amazing crocheted animals.

I was hooked (pardon the pun) and bought the book which came with an additional 10 PDF patterns that arrived via email later that evening. Can't wait to get hooking one of these projects. £15.99

I then headed to Alice Caroline to give in to the lure of Liberty fabric scraps for £1 a time. These were fairly sizeable scraps - enough to make a small purse from. I chose 10 and stopped. £10

More fabric was purchased over at Millie Moon. There was a lot of fabric squares for patchworking available at many stalls at the fair. I opted for these as they seemed the most reasonable - £4 each. I'll be dabbling in a bit of patchwork soon. £8

Next stop was the Mollie Makes tent. I had headed there much earlier in the day but they weren't really set up.
By handing over your name & email address you got a free gift. So during my second trip (several hours after my first) I handed over my name and a different email address to get a second free gift - a bit cheeky but hey! I'll make and review these sometime soon.

Whilst in the tent, the second time, I decided to buy the new Mollie Makes embroidery book, partly because it came with a second free book. Looking forward to browsing these more. £14

My final spend of the day was on some vintage trimmings from Simply Vintage Designs that I'd spotted right at the start but it was only once I'd read the pattern in the programme that I decided that it would be a great use of those vintage trimmings. Four packs for £10.

After killing time shopping I headed for my final session of the day - origami tulips run by Sesames - I would have preferred to make pompoms but didn't want to hang around until 4pm. It was nowhere near as busy as the other 'grand makes' but I really enjoyed it.

So I make it that my shopping total spend was (including a cup of tea for £2 mid-afternoon) ...£85.39 which was technically under budget!

Overall I had a good time. It was a bit too hot and I wish I hadn't left quite as much time between my second and third sessions but I did get lots of inspiration, which I guess is what it is all about. Would I go again? Probably because unlike other shows I've seen it isn't just about one craft, which is great for a someone like me who likes to have fingers in a lot of craft pies.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Back office :: Customer service

I haven't posted much recently, having been on holiday for 2 weeks at the end of August, I had plans for writing a heap of blog posts, tweets and posting pictures to Flickr and Instagram on my return...

The stumbling point has been my broadband has been broken since I got back from holiday. That was TWO WEEKS AGO. Yes it's taken 2 weeks for my broadband company to diagnose the simple fact that my router had broken.

All in all I've had a pretty poor experience as a customer getting my broadband up and running again. It took me 6 phone calls and an escalation to a supervisor and even now it's back reeeeeaaaaaalllllllyyyyy ssssssslllllllloooooowwwww so I'm resigned to yet more calls and frustration. 

During my journey to this point I've experienced misinformation, inadequate explanations, 72 hour SLAs, missed SLAs, being told I have to request a refund, promised phone calls not returned - including a call from a supervisor that was promised and didn't happen.

I can't remember the last time I had such a poor experiences as a customer nod this is from a broadband provider who prides themselves on their customer feedback.

So why am I telling this story?

Well I have 2 weeks of frustration that I want to get off my chest. But mostly it's really hit home to me how important great customer service is.

In my day job, the team I work is receives queries from customers (although where're not a customer service team) and so I understand SLAs (service level agreements) responding to customers and the importance of being proactive.

So all this got me thinking about customer service for a craft business ...

What are SLAs for responding to queries?
What are SLAs for despatching items?
How to make sure SLAs aren't missed?
What to do to ensure great customer service?
How to be proactive or 'delight customers'?
What is the complaints process?
What is the refund policy?

That's just a few to get started, I'm sure there are many more.