Topic #57: Random act of kindness (craft-wise)

Last time was actually craft-related. I saved some random girls in a large shop from buying crappy wood boxes (ones that will get their lids stuck on if you paint them, because the paint glues it together) and convinced to get ones with hinged lids.

Which led me to some thinking on the quality of materials available in the shops. Even ones that specialise in crafts. Actually, I buy most of my supplies in one chain of shops in Poland, which is Empik (deals with books, newspapers, school supplies, office supplies, CDs, DVDs, games and what not, also “arts&paper”). In Warsaw most of their outlets (pretty large shops, each one of them) have a craft section, offering large choice of paints, papers, glues, polymer clay, wires, beads, tools, jewelry findings, brushes and, what I checked recently, wood objects for decoupage.

Now, these wood objects may be trays, boxes, bowls, frames – whatever you wish. The problem is, unfortunately, the quality of the offer. In case of all wooden objects for further decoration, the cut and seasoning of the wood is most important for its’ future processing. As all items I saw are “made in China” (I’m wondering if ones made locally would be so much more expensive), I can’t even begin to guess how and of what wood they are made.

I have tried several models and there are some of them which are absolutely terrible (and one that is quite ok):
* boxes (mostly rounded) made of wood ribbon, with lids that fit over them “like a hat”, so that part of the side of the box has direct contact with the internal surface of the lid; awfully tight fit and very poorly made, very bad for decoration; actually only useful if the upper surface of the lid is the only part decorated
* square boxes with hinged lids and a lock – at first glance very nice, but after first one or two coats of paint the lid warps UP so the lock doesn’t fit anymore; quite awful in effect
* square boxes with bow lids – trunk shaped – non-stackable (unlike the above two models), but the only ones which don’t get damaged when painted

Also, shops keep bad and already damaged (warped, locks broken) boxes on display, even when staff is notified about the damage. Of course, these get bought by people who are in a hurry or don’t notice such details and then discover the problem at home (usually after discarding the receipt).

Now, the question is, what is really the situation:
* customers buy bad boxes but don’t complain because they don’t really care that much to complain about a box that cost $2
* customers buy, but don’t care about the quality
* customers complain, but too quietly to be really noticed
* customers complain, but nobody cares anyway, because even if these customers go away, new ones will come
* nobody cares at all, all boxes are categorised in one place so noone is able to draw conclusions ie. which boxes should not be ordered anymore

This, in a way, reflects the state of affairs in various craft shops. One will sell us warped boxes, another will send broken bugle beads, and yet another – items which their carrier agency can’t properly process in Europe, as they don’t have the permission (and, after three years, shop still doesn’t have a warning that you shouldn’t import pearls or nickel-plated items to EU, yes, Fire Mountain Gems, I’m writing about YOU).

Do we, as crafters, not create a market big enough? Is our demand for fine-quality (or at least tolerably good and usable) items not high enough? I would gladly pay a buck more for my wooden boxes if I had a guarantee they are well-sanded and well-seasoned and not going to warp after first painting. But I can’t – there are NO OTHER boxes to be obtained around here.

Why don’t the suppliers get something more appropriate? Offer more than one (crappy) level of quality? Maybe it’s specific to Poland, but I’m afraid that crafts and handmade items are still treated in very unserious matter, so I have this feeling that if I went and complained about the boxes quality, the staff would laugh their heads off…

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Advice to young magicians

I mean, to young crafters. Of any kind.

1. Don’t buy too much.

In what we call in Poland “straw zeal” (słomiany zapał) – which is when you like something keenly and suddenly lose the interest – you can spend way too much at the beginning and be left with way too large quantity of odds and ends. Sometimes you will have more leftovers than materials you had actually used for any project.
Buy no more than you can predict to use in the first project or practice sessions.
This will save you:
* money
* storage space
* grief, if the craft you’re trying isn’t as much fun as you expected and you don’t have any other use for the materials or tools

2. Don’t invest in high-level tools at first.

Of course, trying to use dad’s huge nail pliers for your delicate 0,3mm wire or large-scale drill for detailed woodwork isn’t the way. But you don’t have to buy your first set of pliers for 160 bucks. Go to your friendly local Lidl on “hobby day” (or any kind of home improvement store anytime at all) and ask for basic set of cutting, round and chain-nose pliers for hobby/jewlery purposes. Craft stores may also have something to offer to beginner crafters, but remember – the salesperson may try to convince you to spend much more than it’s worth for beginners set. My first set, a few years back, was 4 pliers (the three above + bent ones) and I spent equivalent of $6 on it. It worked pretty well and I even could give them to another – much more talented – jewelry maker, when I got a new set.
So, if you are keen on beginning something new, a new craft or hobby, think VERY carefully about supplies you want to buy. In case of polymer clay – don’t freeze your cash in special-for-fimo blades, or brandname surface covers. Buy snap-off blades (replacements for this type of knife) or use razor blades and get a large, smooth, ceramic tile (left after kitchen or bathroom do-over).

3. Start small.

You don’t have to have all kinds of tools at once. No, polymer clay working doesn’t really REQUIRE a bead roller, wavy blade and pasta machine. Beads may be rolled manually, wavy blade is needed for specific techniques and pasta machine can really wait until you make sure you want to put your money in this area. You don’t need the largest available standing loom. Get one which is 30x50cm and I assure you, it will be big enough for you just to try your hand at making rugs or other weaving.

4. Choose your first project wisely.

If you pick a project that uses lots of resources and time, you may easily become disappointed with the whole idea. Also, if you choose a project way above your level of experience,
Polymer clay? Simple figures, no mixing media, maybe a small millefiori cane (flower ones are the easiest comparing to effect).
Beading? Leave that tiara pattern, make a bracelet. Come on, this is just for start.
Weaving? No, not a whole *carpet*, start with a rag rug or coarse wool mat.
Crocheting or knitting? Scarf. A long one, a short one, but a scarf can be used and be useful even if it’s not as long as planned. A hat or a jumper has to be properly finished, and that takes time. Scarf you can give up on finishing any time you want.
The same goes for every craft – quilting, cross-stitching or mosaic. Pick wisely the first project to make sure you feel comfortable with your tools and materials and with the whole technique as itself.

Now, why am I writing this? Because I have vast experience in how “storage problems” may look. They look like 8 or 10 cubic metres of STUFF gathered in my living-room. Includes paints, crayons, pastels, beads (and really lots of them), wires, 3 boxfulls of knitting wool/cotton/acrylic, thread, needles, pins, jewelry findings, DREMEL drill and its bits, polymer clay (around 2 litres of various types), pasta machine, boxes of boxes of organizers and 2 boxfulls (see above) of craft books.

Now, if you don’t want to became swamped by your own collection of interesting and disturbing craft leftovers, you should either buy reasonably (which is usually a problem, as most of crafters are related to magpies and hamsters – “Ooooh! Shiny! And I’m going to take it and stuff it in my nest!”)) OR, having hardened against the pain of parting with your storage contents, try to sell some doubles on eBay.

Give me your own ideas and experiences on effects of craft shopping sprees – what was the most useless and outrageous thing you brought home just because it looked pretty and SOMEWHAT useful? Huge, shiny, pink bead? A tool you can’t use? Useless organizer box nothing fits in? A ball of wool you’re allergic to? :)