Sunday, April 26, 2009

Setting up my work area

We have made the move - from a beautiful old Victorian (well, it will be beautiful when everything gets fixed) to a soaring contemporary that was based on a Frank Lloyd Wright design. We thought we were going to downsize, but, it didn't work out that way. This is a small town and choices were limited. I finally have a kitchen with MORE cupboards than I need and closets in every room - and , of course, room to spread out my beading. Yeah, right - by the time I had everything where I wanted it, the beading area became but a small corner of the office - just about as much space as before.

It was wonderful to get acquainted with all my pretties again. I am bursting with new ideas and just have to make the time to bring the creations in my head to life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Our BIG move and leave of absence from Etsy, etc.


As I've written before wife Barb took a pastor position at 2 churches in central Wisconsin. A near brush on the Interstate in a white-out caused by a semi and the realization that we live too far away from the communities to easily be a part of the school functions, etc. the members and their families are involved in (over 100 miles round trip) we've went into "crash" mode and decided to move ASAP up to the community with the church where her office is located, Westfield Wisconsin.

This move will, when done, reduce greatly the stress of winter driving, the long distance and time to get to members in the hospital, just to call, etc. and, long run, become our retirement area (we're both 62 and mindful of retirement moreso than even 10 years ago.

As much as Barb loves some time making jewelry, managing her Etsy listings, etc. this activity just is not happening and, likely, will not happen until after the move and getting her workshop set up. The house we bought has a room that just begs for her workshop and our home office instead of the way we have things now in several rooms.

We expect to close by the end of February, then hopefully get the entire move process done by the end of March. Each trip we make up to the churches once we close will have both of our cars full to the roofs (need to leave space to see out the back windows) with the delicates including her jewelry and supplies, then we'll have to rent the largest U-Haul and perhaps even a trailer and, hopefully, have some big, strong guys from the churches as well as our children and oldest grandson and whoever else we can corral with pizza, beer, etc. to help with the heavier stuff.

So we need to take a break from Etsy (I'd announced a 25% off sale on the eSmarts blog as well as continued free shipping) but with the economy as it is, etc. we have not had too many takers to will be moving the items listed and the shipping supplies first so we can hopefully ship out any orders without delay.

We hope all of you are having a great year so far; in between lots of sorting, packing, etc. I "relax" by watching CNN for the dismal news on our economy, the hopes for that "silver bullet" that will reverse the horrid trends in layoffs and unemployment, etc. It does not help my stress level but it does help in realizing that we are buying a house for less than what it is assessed for (just went into foreclosure so we had to buy at a Sheriff's sale) and, fortunately, we had enough equity in our current home to come up with the down payment for the new place. We hope to rent our current home although my goal, once the local real estate market improves, is to sell it and focus on just one house.

Our best, Ken and Barb Merwin of Magpiedreams

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays to all

First off Barb and I have not done a good job maintaining our blog. She had to pull away from Etsy somewhat due to her having been hired as a pastor (Presbyterian) serving 2 smaller churches. Although she is on a 3/4 time contract she has been putting in full time plus just to catch up with lots of things the previous pastor let slide. When we were able to get into her small office there were piles upon piles of mail, promotional items, etc. that did not seem to be handled plus he had not called on members or given communion for some time.

She has been relisting some items and made a sale or two. We put on free shipping but may need to also run a good sale after Christmas to move some inventory. Time will tell.

I had not read all the postings on the forum but I get the sense that we are not the only ones coming up short on what we thought and hoped would be our sales; perhaps a good part of this is the economy as we all know how badly retail sales all over are faring in what should be the best months of the year.

Barb continues to sneak away into her workshop once in a while to make something new but we have not listed anything on Etsy for some time. This is not where we wanted to be but such is life and the realization that only so much can be done at a time.

Our winter so far has been almost a repeat of last December - way too much snow. Another large storm is due in tonight into tomorrow (Friday, 12/19). Barb already had a brush with a semi on the Interstate and, luckily, came out of it with only some repairs to her driver's side door. We are darned lucky that she was not pulled under the semi or thrown from the roadway. Although very stiff from the stress and some bumping around she is ok and did manage to keep the car on the roadway and make it home safely.

We want to wish everyone the very best for the holidays, regardless of what celebrations or what faiths. Barb is working on her Christmas Eve materials and is very much into the season in that manner.

Our best to all, Barb and Ken Merwin, Magpiedreams

Thursday, October 2, 2008


As you might surmise from our name, we love sparklies. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a gorgeous piece of crystal jewelry sending multi color flashes - well I suppose a diamond on the left ring finger just might be more satisfying to some..

This Christmas season we will be making Christmas trees from Swarovski crystal - margueritas, bicones, rounds and cubes are used. We will have trees of Peridot green with mocca (I know, the word looks misspelled, but that is how Swarovski spells it) trunks and a tiny 3mm red Sian round on top, heliotrope - for the sophisticated purple lover, Light Colorado Topaz, Crystal AB and Vitrail Medium trees.

Last year we sold the Peridot and the Crystal AB trees and people really liked them. It will be interesting to see how the less traditional colors do. Usually our jewelry is OOAK but it is so easy to sit in front of the TV together while Barb puts the earrings together and people aren't really looking for a unique piece at holiday time - they want something that makes them feel festive.

Oh yes, we do like our sparklies!

Barb and Ken Merwin

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy 62nd birthday Barbara!

I don't think she'll be too upset over my sharing her birthday today, 9/21, as I'm also sharing a bit about Barbara that she probably would not share on her own.

1. In a few weeks she starts as pastor for 2 smaller churches, one a Presbyterian church and the other a smaller United Church of Christ. With the smaller churches it is often common to "yoke" them so they can hire a qualified minister.

If you are familiar with Wisconsin 1 church is in Westfield; the other in Grand Marsh. These are central Wisconsin communities located north of Madison.

2. Barb is a Presbyterian lay pastor. Her training is not as rigorous as that of a full-fledged pastor but she has taken courses through a seminary (on-line classes) and participates in other educational programs with peers. She serves as the local representative to the Presbyterian church's retirement program (the Presbytery, which is a regional group) and this past summer she was a delegate to the Presbyterian church's General Assembly, a big honor. So she is well-known and well respected by her peers.

3. She continues to hand-craft jewelry, work with me to photograph it, and get it uploaded to Etsy. On September 20th we hit our goal to have 100 pieces in our store and, while we wish we had some sales, we feel those sales will start soon as we are getting good views on some of them. She will be focusing on some holiday pieces and they will be listed soon along with some Welsh (Celtic) pieces. This all now because she acquired all the inventory needed to make these specialty items.

So I want to wish her a happy 62nd and congratulate her on her new position as pastor (3/4 time) and increasing success in her Etsy shop.

Ken Merwin

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Celtic Princess Necklace

Celtic influences in my jewelry

When I was looking through my listings on Etsy I realized how strongly my Welsh (Celtic) origins affect my jewelry design. I am intrigued by the Celtic Eternity Knot and it's infinite variations. As a Presbyterian pastor I am particularly drawn to the Trinity knots and their meaning down through the ages. Dragons, of course, are a huge part of the Celtic heritage of the Welsh people. "Y ddraig goch", the red dragon, is the symbol of Wales. Rumor has it that Merlin actually witnessed the fight between the red dragon of Wales and the white dragon of the Anglo Saxons.

I even find that the colors I am drawn to in the semi-precious gems that I use are the misty, mysterious colors of the Celtic lands- Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany as well as the Isle of Mann. I love the Highland plaids but haven't found a way to include them - yet. I also love the greens of Ireland, from the soft muted green of a misty morning to the bright, in your face, green of the shamrock. Then, there are the heathers and all the beautiful variations of purple that that encompasses. And, finally, all the wonderful, elusive shades of the mists that coat the hillsides and sacred places.

I could go on and on about Celtic influences, especially the various forms of the Celtic knot, but I will save that for another post.

By: Barbara Williams Merwin, Magpiedreams

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Finally an Etsy sale!

Over the past few weeks Barb and I have worked our fingers to the bone getting items photographed and uploaded to Etsy and hoping that our inventory, now about 75 pieces, would give us at least 1 sale to get the ball rolling.

Well, the other day Barb went on our account and, yes, finally a sale!

The item is above and is described as follows:

An icy light blue and black curved glass bead is surrounded by kyanite rounds, two 10mm black vintage glass faceted beads, 6mm jet Swarovski rounds and 4mm sterling beads. The clasp is sterling silver - a wonderful cutout dragonfly. This bracelet is one of a kind and so is the person who wears it.

The bracelet measures 7" and can be resized - just convo me. Not quite what you had in mind? Just convo me and we can design what YOU want. We love to make other people's dreams come true.
Sold on Aug 29, 2008"

Hopefully this will be the start of some successes for us on Etsy.

As I've written before Barb is buying far more materials for making necklaces, earrings and bracelets in hopes that our several shows, Etsy, etc. will give us a reasonable buy more pretties!

Happy Labor Day to those of you who celebrate the 3 day weekend holiday.

Barb and Ken - Magpiedreams

Friday, August 22, 2008

Christmas in August

On August 21st the long awaited box finally arrived! It was a large order from a wholesale source for beading materials. Wife Barb was ecstatic as she dropped what she was doing – listing more items on Etsy – and began opening the box, examining the packing slip, expressing disappointment at the several backordered items, but then deciding that she must open and examine each and every packet of “goodies” that did come.

According to Barbara this was a large order. It included a number of sea glass items, sodalite, turquoise, jasper, quartz, kyanite, etc. Unfortunately the print is so small on the packing slip that I likely missed a major category!

Since I’ve taken a more active role in our business, Magpiedreams, I sat fascinated with Barbara opening most of the bags and described the contents to me, letting me feel the items, etc. I especially loved the sea glass.

I imagine the love she has for her craft is the same many of you have for your crafts. You enjoy seeing new raw materials, you see the raw materials as far more than, say, a manager in a factory who oversees the raw materials brought into a manufacturing process. These beads, etc. mean far more to you and you likely get a sense of excitement when you order, go on group buys, visit your local bead store that may sell wholesale, etc.

For me it was exciting sharing in Barbara’s excitement at opening and examining “the box” and I think I know what to get her for Christmas now.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Picasa - What is the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button for?

As of right now I am really sold on using Picasa, the free image manipulating software from Google. We've seen a vast improvement in our Etsy pictures and, hopefully, some sales will confirm that.

What we (Barb and I) do is periodically shoot a number of pictures of earrings and necklaces. We use the light tent as well as some simple props such as the bust, a nice crystal glass bowl to hang the earrings on and, for certain earrings, a copper display that Barb purchased from a seller at a beading show. Other than this we generally refrain from too many other props although she has used some seashells. I'm elevating some of the work so that the camera is more in line with the work being photographed. This coming from a helpful comment from one of the eSmartsteam members.

I then download the camera to the computer and use Picasa to "massage" the images, then save them to a memory stick or, if many, a portable hard drive so that Barb can write her descriptions and upload the 3 - 5 images for Etsy.

One selection that I only used a few times but now use it all the time is called "I'm Feeling Lucky". Picasa describes this option as follows:

"The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button enhances dark and bright colors in a photo and adjusts both color and contrast to optimal levels in one click."

For some items I also increase the light fill to compensate for the lesser light that seems to come from the light tent. I may change the bulbs for the tent but, for now, this light fill seems to do a decent job and it is easy to use.

I like the results I am getting and the relative ease of use. Barb visits many Etsy stores and feels our pictures are coming out quite well in relationship to other stores. Plus Picasa is freely available and provides a very nice display of both your raw (from camera or scanner) images as well as the results after you save the final product and the preview screen showing the changes is large enough to be easy to follow.

It is not a paint program so it has no use for banner design, something several have been writing about on the eSmartsteams list recently.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


One thing many of us struggle with is taking good pictures of our work for Etsy or other similar sales venues. There are challenges of lighting, cropping, etc.

Some use Adobe Photoshop and similar and some use lesser cost or even free packages. Each has it's strengths and weaknesses and the learning curve to effectively use them probably ranges all over the map.

I found a free package, Picasa, and, so far, it seems to do a pretty decent job on processing our raw pictures from the camera.

Picasa is one of the Google resources as is the Blogger package. One can transfer images directly from Picasa over to their blog although I pick the images up from my hard drive or portable drive.

I like Picasa for its organizing of the images and the ease of tabbing through the thumnails to preview and make editing adjustments as necessary. By clicking on a thumbnail from the Library you are taken to a screen of Basic Fixes, Tuning and Effects. So far I have been able to do everything using Basic Fixes. You can crop, Auto Contrast, Auto Color and Fill Light. A "I'm Feeling Lucky" button automatically does some of this for you. I've found the Fill Light to be very useful in adding more light to my images and for many of the beads it really helps to show the colors.

Another thing I like about Picasa is it seems so easy to process the raw image, preview it on the screen (the preview window is almost 2/3 of the screen so one can easily see the changes to the image as you apply the effects), then save the image into another folder for use in uploading to Etsy.

Wife Barbara and I are taking our pictures together. I then use Picasa to make these editing enhancements. I then put them on our portable hard drive so she can access the files from her laptop, located in a different room. This seems to work out the best for us. We list each item with a descriptive name so I can save the images and assign a sequential number. She then previews each image and decides which best work on the Etsy listings.

If you are looking for an easy to use and free package I'd recommend Picasa. You can download it from a Google website. It also allows you to upload your images to a web album and has several other bells and whistles. I have not used Photoshop or some of the other packages and, at this time, I spent my budget on the light tent and a nice digital camera so a free package that offered the tools to crop, adjust colors, contrast, etc. seemed the best way to go for us.

Ken - Magpiedreams

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sea glass collection

We both love seaglass. Here is a picture of our current "stock". All pieces are drilled and ready to be used.

Barb and Ken, Magpiedreams

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sea glass - new Etsy listing

A new element for me in the design of earrings, necklaces and bracelets is sea glass. This pair of earrings, "Butterscotch Morning", I describe as "Soft butterscotch teardrops of translucent sea glass are accented with crisp caramel synthetic amber. These earrings are on surgical steel earwires, even the most sensitive ears should be comfortable, with copper ball and coil accents. These delicious earrings are the perfect transition piece to take your wardrobe from late summer into autumn."

"The earrings measure 2" from the top of the earwire to the bottom of the amber coin."

I'm drawn to seaglass for the romance, which ocean carried it, where it originated, the textures, smoothness and beautiful colors. I will be adding more necklaces, earrings and bracelets using seaglass in the near future to my Etsy store.

Barbara Merwin - magpiedreams

Etsy store

Thursday, July 24, 2008

eSmarts group

About 2 months ago wife Barb (magpiedreams) saw a post in one of her Yahoo groups about a new group being formed around their usage of Etsy, the online marketplace for hand-crafted goods.

So she joined and, shortly thereafter, so did I. From this growing group I've learned more about the role of promotion, use of a blog, etc. to help promote our jewelry sales on Etsy and other venues.

This group now has it's own blog and various members are taking turns adding posts. We have not done this yet but hope to take our turn in the near future. Meanwhile I continue to practice designing our own blog, adding pictures of jewelry Barb has made, linking to our Etsy storefront, etc.

Here is the link to the eSmarts blog:

On the right hand side is a listing of all the blogs of the members of Esmarts. We encourage you to visit these to learn more about the artists, view some of their works and, in many cases, find their links to their own Etsy storefronts.

Barb and Ken (magpiedreams)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Magpiedreams 1st craft sale!

Barb Merwin manning her table at Magpiedreams very first craft sale - in October, 2005, at First Presbyterian Church in Cambria, WI. The event was the annual Welsh Gymanfu Ganu (songfest) and Barb had created a number of pieces using the Welsh dragon as the focal piece.