Not For Sale

For almost three years I let a gorgeous cashmere sweater intimidate me. It stayed folded up neatly among thrift store sweaters I had collected early in my repurpose/upcycle life with textiles.

cable scarfSome cabled cashmere sweaters don’t “snug up” where they are cut, which means that they require more fabric, more time, and more effort to repurpose. But the sweater that intimidated me was worse than that. It didn’t feel felted at all. Had it not looked a little bit smaller, I would have sworn it hadn’t been washed in hot water and dried on the cotton setting.

Every so often I would unfold it, gently squeezing the soft cables between my fingers, asking, “What can I do with you?”

During the fall I tried something using just the sleeves, but it wasn’t right. I folded the failed project up, tucked it inside the body of the sweater, and said I’d be back.

cabled cashmere scarfIn the quiet on the Sunday afternoon between Christmas and New Year”s Day (we are empty nesters, so yes, there was quiet at our house), I unfolded the caramel colored cables and decided I had waited long enough. The very worst I could do was have to cut up the end product and figure a way to use it piecemeal, disappointing for sure.

Because my mother taught me how to match plaids and patterns when I learned how to sew, I couldn’t just cut the sweater up and start sewing. I had to make the cable pattern match as best as possible. FYI- cashmere can be slippery. I must have used 200 pins to keep the pieces in place. Plus I basted things together before making it permanent (which means I sewed the whole thing twice).

It turned out just as I had hoped- super thick and soft, really far more extravagant than the rather simple things I make. There aren’t many things I decide to make for myself that I just won’t sell. I’ve learned that the hard way by posting a photo on Facebook and saying, “Look what I made in Guilford colors for Homecoming.” or “I’ve never repurposed silk before but now I know that I can!”

black cashmere shawlTwo weeks ago I came home from work pondering how I might make a bright colored shawl or wrap, but I couldn’t work out the design. Facebook friends had suggestions but I didn’t have enough cashmere to repurpose for a final product.

This past Sunday night I screwed up my courage and decided the worst that could happen, if I used what I have in a fairly large quantities, would be repurposing a shawl into several smaller items. I sorted and moved things around until almost 12:30 Monday morning, but I had it figured out when I called it a night.


gray cashmere wrapFirst thing Monday morning I got my shears out and started cutting. I had no pattern, so it was a slow-go to make sure the pieces would all fit together. Just before 1:00 I took a few pictures and then put the shawl, consisting of parts of five sweaters, into the wash to felt some of the newly cut edges.

It takes an hour for my washing machine to go through a full cycle. That’s a lifetime when sweaters it took forever to collect, and hours to put together, are being waited on to emerge.

This project was more than some thrift store sweaters though. One of the sweaters I repurposed, the lightest shade among the pieces I used, was sent to me by a friend who shares my love of clean water and air and healthy families. There’s a story and sentiment in this shawl. I’m firm on sharing this as a Not For Sale item.


All to pieces

The Friday Photo
April 11, 2014

photo by Kathleen O'Neal
photo by Kathleen O’Neal 

My friend bought a yard for her dogs last fall that came with a house. She decided that the brick patio could use some color and texture.

Thrift store finds, dollar store bargains, and cast offs from friends are being added to her mosaic almost daily.

Two pieces of pottery made by my daughter Mary Michael, a Rockbrook Camp alum, are part of the design. They have many years ahead of them as part of this project, created by another Rockbrook Girl.

A year’s worth of happiness

The Friday Photo
January 24, 2014

I don’t keep a diary or journal. As 2012 was winding down a friend suggested collecting the high points throughout the course of the year, writing them down, and keeping them in a container. At the end of the year it could serve as a reminder of happy moments that were worth writing down. This is what my 2013 container looked like.

On January 3rd I recorded my first contribution for 2014: New Year’s Day with Brenda, Diana, Maia, and Karrie (close in my heart).

When handmade isn’t handmade (and a sale on gen-u-ine handmade)

I wrote this a few weeks ago and left it to marinate. Yesterday as cold weather arrived in Georgia I decided to have a sale on my handmade items. This post is a little about self-promotion. It is also about a company that bends words to boost its bottom line.

Last year on Etsy, the largest online site for buying and selling handmade and vintage items, I had two shops, one selling moderately priced felted wool accessories and another featuring cashmere and fine wools. It was a crowded place with plenty of competition, but being in the crowd is often the best way to be noticed by customers.

cashmere scarf made with a repurposed thrift store sweater

I sold scarves, fingerless gloves, iPad sleeves, and cozies for cold drinks (o.k., most of them were made to fit a beer bottle, because beer is good). If a buyer searched cell phone covers, they could end up with results that placed a handmade phone cover like the felted ones I make one at a time, next to a plastic case made in China. Often the plastic stuff kept showing up in greater numbers on a site “devoted” to handmade goods.

Last summer I worked on combining my two stores, got a local artist to create a fabulous logo, and began to build a new Etsy shop for The Sassy Gal.

The day I opened The Sassy Gal, Etsy announced a radical change in their policies for shop owners, one that includes a definition of “handmade” that exists in a special dictionary only available to the Etsy owners and CEO.

Now, for Etsy, “handmade” includes outsourcing the manufacturing of items. In short, if the shop owner/artisan designs it, the item can be made anywhere, in any manner, and still be “handmade.” There’s some gobbledygoop about transparency on how things are made with the onus being on the seller to disclose and the buyer to find that disclosure. Etsy says they will require ethical manufacturing (manufacturing just doesn’t fit with handmade). Does Etsy think it or its shop owners can police working conditions for overseas sweatshops and factories?

Etsy charges shop owners for listings. The more we list, the louder the cash register rings for Etsy. If shops can outsource the manufacturing of their inventory they can list more. More listings = more revenue for Etsy. Handmade? Buyers should check their dictionary.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been late to the party, but I arrived just as the discussion section provided to sellers and buyers exploded. And amazingly, I made a sale just days after opening my shop with very little inventory listed.

But the changes are dramatic.

When I search Etsy for cashmere infinity scarves (a scarf that is a circle of fabric one loops around the neck) hundreds come up. Last year at this time there were thousands. Now my listings show up readily among similar items. That may help me, but fewer choices may also mean fewer shoppers.

After asking some folks and doing some research, I opened a second Sassy Gal shop on another site. Zibbet is a distant second to Etsy, but I think the gap may be closing.

Visit The Sassy Gal at Zibbet

And the exodus of artisans to Zibbet, just on October 1, when Etsy redefined handmade, caused the Zibbet servers to crash. Zibbet is rebuilding its search capacity to handle the influx of new listings as shop owners leave Etsy altogether or duplicate their listings with Zibbet.

Zibbet’s owners say they will only allow artists and craftspeople making items one at a time by hand to sell with them. They went so far as to post a “pledge” for sellers and customers to sign (It’s a little overboard, pledging not to buy “mass produced,” because the computer I’m using now was mass produced. And remember, the uproar at Etsy started with how “handmade” is now defined by Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson and the private shareholders of the company).

I don’t know where most of my online sales will happen. There’s a lot of time left between now and the beginning of the year, my busiest time of year. I’m curious to see which site has more traffic and which one has more actual sales.

There are lots of ways to define sales success. In a few months I’ll know if it is spelled
E T S Y or Z I B B E T.

Making pink lemonade

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by art, community and spontaneity
May 24, 2013


I have fallen in love with batik fabrics this spring. I love the
bright pink in this photo but the pattern I chose was an absolute disappointment.
I got a skirt out of my efforts but decided I would never be really happy with it.
Last night I cut the bottom part off, sewed a casing, and made it work for my granddaughter. Her favorite doll will also have a skirt to match soon. And remnants may appear on some of my upcycled goods.

And for me? I ordered the same fabric online and it arrived yesterday. I will
use a tried and true pattern for the second iteration of  a summer skirt.


Visual aids

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by art, community and spontaneity
April 12, 2013
photo (84)

I needed a good visual aid for an idea I wanted
to share with my county commissioners about
expanding glass recycling. I think it worked.

Measure twice, cut once

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by art, community, and spontaneity
October 19, 2012

Design decisions

This felted cashmere sweater is waiting patiently for me in my sewing room. Working with cables and other designs can be a challenge sometimes, in addition to any signs of wear that send things to a thrift store. I think I’ve just about worked through how to use this cast-off treasure.

Rural and Progressive

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