Thursday, September 30, 2010

Angels and Saints

I love Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life, but he's not an angel - he's a saint. Humans and angels are two different types of beings; people don't become angels after they die. A friend of my mom's stopped me on the way out of her funeral and said, "Now your mom's an angel," and I replied, "No, she's a saint." But if saints aren't angels, why do we have angels who are saints? (I don't know the answer to that.) In the story of Tobit, Raphael did take on definite human form. Gabriel became "human" enough to be understood by Zacharia and Mary. But as far as I know, Michael (who most often gets the "St." in front of his name) didn't have to take on human form in order to fight Lucifer.

I'm writing this between the feast of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael on September 29 and the memorial of the Guardian Angels on October 2. Unless my caffeine-deficient brain is forgetting someone, those are the only two official commemorations of angels on the liturgical calendar. The Liturgy of the Hours provides so much specific material for October 2 that it looks like a feast instead of a memorial, but, then, there's no "Common of Angels" to refer people to, so everything has to be provided on that date. .

To celebrate this time between the two angel days, I've made a rosary using a center that has two full-color pictures: St. Michael on one side and a guardian angel on the other. The colors used throughout the rosary coordinate with the backgrounds of the sky in the two pictures. (Note: These photos link to the full listing for each rosary.)


Speaking of saints, I've just sold another St. Gerard chaplet. I've lost count of how many of those I've sold (not that I make much money on them - I pretty much sell them at cost). The stories about St. Gerard don't give a clear reason for his becoming the patron of safe pregnancy and delivery, as well as of becoming a mother in the first place, but the job evidently keeps him pretty busy. As someone who's never really been into that kind of prayer, it fascinates me that these are so popular. I think a large part of the explanation is that in most cases the chaplet is being bought for someone else. It's a way for a friend to show compassion toward someone who needs support.

I haven't been particularly good at keeping these chaplets in stock. After I sell one it often takes me awhile to list another - and then as soon as I list it, it's bought. I've tried to do better this time, so here's the one I've just listed. Because I use leftover beads for these, each one is different. The one I just sold had faceted peridot glass beads. This one has yellow hearts of pressed glass:

I'm leery of promoting/selling something that could be taken as superstitious or theologically questionable. Following is the "disclaimer" I put at the bottom of the page whenever I list a St. Gerard chaplet: 

A note on praying to the saints:
Praying to the saints isn't magic, and it doesn't mean we can't pray directly to God. We simply ask the saints to pray for us and with us, as we would ask any Christian friend. Prayer doesn't "change God's mind," but in some way we don't completely understand it makes us partners with God in bringing about God's will, whatever that may be.


The third piece I took photos of today is also saint related. Its center has a full-color picture of St. Patrick on one side and St. Brigid on the other. It's my first step in rebuilding my collection of Irish-themed rosaries after that's dwindled to one. Following the St. Gerard chaplets, these are my best sellers, so it doesn't make much sense to leave the selection so sparse. This one's actually a repeat rather than a one-of-a-kind; I've already sold a few of these over the past year:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scraping the Bottom

Okay, after reading this it will be obvious that I need some ideas on what I should write about here. Since it's not really a personal blog, I don't want to spend too much time ruminating on my own life but would like to post things helpful to people as far as rosary making or general Catholic geekery. And, of course, a mention of J.R.R. Tolkien whenever I can sneak one in (Tolkien being a traditional Catholic, that's not as farfetched as it might seem).

Jesse is putting up some novenas on the Prayers on a Wire team blog. He mentions that October is the month of the Rosary. I just thought I'd point out that the actual feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is October 7. It's probably best if we just forget the fact that the feast came about because of a military victory that the winners attributed to Mary's intervention. Anyway, for a novena to end on the feast day, it would have to be started on September 29.

Of course, "feast day" is a misnomer here, because Our Lady of the Rosary isn't a feast but a memorial. But it would be kind of confusing to talk about a "memorial day".- especially since there's a holiday with the same name. 

As I posted in the team thread, in case anyone doesn't know, the reason Catholics pray novenas (nine days of prayer) instead of septenas or decatenas is because of the nine days the disciples prayed in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Because of that, about the only novena I really like to pray is one to the Holy Spirit that I keep in my Volume II of the Liturgy of the Hours so I can pray it between the feast (although it's really a solemnity) of the Ascension and Pentecost. However, Volume II is one of the two volumes I haven't been able to find since I moved the last time. I bought a new Volume IV a few weeks ago, and I'll probably have to buy a new Volume II before we get to Lent, but if so I'll kind of miss that novena.

Since we've already established a bit of goofiness here, how about my favorite (and only) joke about novenas? It loses a little by putting it into text instead of telling it live, but ---

A priest was hearing confessions. A man came into the confessional and said, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I stole some lumber."

The priest said, "Well, for your penance, say three Our Fathers."

Two weeks later, the man came back and said, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I stole some lumber."

The priest said, "Since this seems to be a problem for you, for your penance this time pray the rosary."

Two weeks later (you'll notice this is a good Catholic, as he goes to confession every two weeks) the man came back again and said, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I stole some lumber."

The priest said, "Now, this is starting to get pretty serious. Do you know how to make a novena?

The man said, "No, Father, but if you've got the blueprints, I've got the lumber."

---Of course, in the real life situation any good priest would make sure the man was also doing restitution, but that doesn't fit into the joke.

My all-time favorite confession joke requires sound effects so really can't be put into text. If anyone ever meets me in person, ask me about it and I'll be glad to act it out.

On that note, since we're moving into October soon, let's listen to two saints who have feast days* in October:

Saint Francis said that it's not fitting for disciples of Jesus to go around with sour looks and long faces.

Saint Teresa (not Saint Therese) said "God save us from gloomy saints."

*St. Francis' celebration is a memorial for the universal Church and a solemnity for Franciscans. For Franciscans, St. Francis trumps the Sunday, so on the evening of Sunday, October 3, use Evening Prayer I for the solemnity instead of Evening Prayer II for the Sunday. Now, that's just for Franciscans - everyone else, behave yourselves.

St. Teresa's celebration is a memorial for the universal Church and a solemnity for Discalced Carmelites (not for other Carmelites, I'm guessing, since they didn't go along with Teresa's reforms, but I don't have any personal knowledge of that). If I was still with the Carmelites, I'd get **two** recreation days out of it.


And because I have to, to placate the Etsy gods, here are some new rosaries. Clicking on a photo will take you to more photos and a description:

September birthstone rosary

October birthstone rosary

Autumn harvest rosary

And a custom order (so not for sale) Franciscan Crown rosary

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two New Treasuries

I've never had this happen before - two of my rosaries have been in Etsy treasuries within 24 hours! My "autumn colors apple cider" rosary is in a treasury called "Love in fall or fall in love," and my "leaf green" rosary is in one called "Left my heart in Ireland." Since views and clicks will move them up higher in the treasury listings, please take a peek.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Photographing the Angles

There's no way I'm going to try to give tips about taking good, professional photos for listing on Etsy or anywhere else. I can't tell a white balance from a light meter. But lately I've been noticing some rosary listings where it looks like someone took one photo and then cropped it differently to fill the five photo slots, or where multiple slots have been left empty. I think this is really wasting valuable opportunities, and I do have some ideas on how to change that.

It's easy to see how this is true with leaving slots empty. The problem with using only one basic photo and then cropping is that you're not showing customers anything new in the following pictures. They can see the details in the initial photo simply by zooming in on it; and, often enough, zooming in on the cropped photos just makes them pixellated. Jewelry sellers are often told to think of how a customer would look at a piece in person - picking it up, turning it over and around - and take photos that will show those customers the same thing by taking pictures from many different angles. This might not seem like a consideration for rosaries, but I think the same idea holds true there. If a customer were picking up your rosary in a store, what would they look at? Online you have the added advantage of being able to direct their views to what you want them to notice. Not that you won't show them everything, but you can emphasize what makes that rosary special.

So, for a quick trip through the angles I photograph most often:

First is an overall, horizontally-oriented view of the rosary. This may not end up in the first photo slot, but I try to photograph it as if it will: that is, so it will look good in both "gallery" and "list" views on Etsy. The reason for taking a horizontally-oriented shot, of course, is because gallery view is oriented that way. Following advice from the forum, I try to leave blank space at either end so that when the photo's cropped to a square for list view it'll still show the entire rosary. Sometimes I'm better at this than I am other times. Here are a couple of examples that came out pretty well, although I should have left a little more horizontal space on the ends:

The next thing I do, unless the center and cross are completely blank on their reverse sides, is flip the rosary over and take another shot of the full rosary. This one probably won't end up as the first photo, so you don't have to worry too much about what the thumbnail will look like. If you want to show a vertical view of the entire rosary, this is the place to do it.(In the first example shown, the backs of both cross and center are blank.):

After that, I turn on my macro (the only piece of technical advice I'll give) and start taking close-ups:.two of the stem, showing both sides of the center and cross (often even if the backs are completely blank) and one of part of the body of the rosary showing examples of the "Hail Mary" and "Our Father" beads. In the actual listing, these can be zoomed in on to show more detail than you see here:

That adds up to five views. Depending on your photography skills, you may want to take multiple photos for each view. I generally do 6 or 7 of each, meaning I take around 35 photos of each rosary. Out of those, usually at least one of each view will be good enough to use, although there are times I use only four pictures or even go back and reshoot because some are too blurry. 

I don't always follow this exactly. For example, if I'm using stones for the "Our Father" beads that look very different from each other - such as some kinds of jasper - I might take two close-ups of the body and only one of the stem, so I can show close-ups of all of those stones. Or, as in the example shown below of a set of lampwork beads that are all distinctly different from each other, it might be possible to show all of them in one shot. If a rosary has a special feature, you may want to show it from more than one angle, and drop out one of the other views.

The first photo taken doesn't have to be the first one shown. Quite often a shot of the entire rosary looks too generic, and one of the close-ups is a better choice. You can try different options and see which one best represents the look and feel of that particular rosary. Pay special attention to what a photo looks like as a thumbnail, since that's what needs to draw a customer to take a closer look.

And, yes, you'll find lots of examples in my shop where I haven't followed my own advice, either intentionally or unintentionally. As I said, I'm certainly no expert in photography. But I hope this has given some ideas on how to add more views to your listings, to better "show off" your rosaries to Etsy shoppers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Doing Less of...

I generally take a peek at the weekly list of blog articles Etsy admin posts regarding small business topics. Some of them I'll read all the way through, and some not. There was one this week that has me thinking, and I haven't completely come to an answer yet.

The article was titled, "What Will You Do Less Of?" and pointed out the obvious fact that so many of us live already packed lives but keep adding things to it - or at least planning to add things to it. New goals, new activities, or maybe spending more time on current ones. If our lives aren't going to come apart at the seams, that means something has to be removed.

I added a lot to my life last fall when I got into making rosaries and started my Etsy shop. Now I've added a second shop. I've just gotten a new Volume IV of the Liturgy of the Hours to replace the one I've finally admitted is lost so, of course, I plan to pray the Office more. And I keep intending to get more involved with my Secular Franciscan community (some serious overinvolvement led to a meltdown that's made me completely uninvolved). And I'm always vowing to clean my apartment and get more exercise.

So what can I do less of?

Spending time on the Etsy forum comes to mind first. I've learned a lot there, but now it seems I'm learning the same stuff over and over. I'll still spend some time there so I don't miss important announcements and news, but I can definitely cut down. My rebellion against that cutting down is to say, "But I have to have something I can do while I'm drinking my coffee!" Well, it's getting close to the equinox which means pretty soon I'll be spending 40 minutes a day using my prescription anti-SAD lamp. I can't do that at the computer, but I can do it while drinking coffee. It's usually been a good time for reading. I'm not sure I can really pray the Office while drinking coffee, but I might give it a shot.

The Etsy shop really does complicate things. Besides the time it takes to make rosaries, photograph them, list them, and mail out any I happen to sell, there are supplies to worry about. Right now I have a shipment from India that I'll most likely have to pick up myself at the FedEx office; that seller was the only one I could find who had a particular kind of pearl that a possible customer wants for a custom rosary (no, I don't even know if she's going to buy it yet). But if I cut down on the shopping and buying except when it's necessary for a custom order, or when I'm running out of something I really need - like beading wire - that would help a lot. And I have an incentive now because I'm broke. I don't know that I could shut down the Etsy shop right now - I have too much money invested in it. But I can cut down on the shopping and use up the supplies I have. The rosary making has slowed down some from the days of building inventory, when I used to make a half dozen a week, but if I just go with current supplies it could slow down even more. I already spend very little time on marketing/promotion.

I obviously can't give up my day job. But I can concentrate on leaving the office at the end of the day when I'm supposed to. Being able to leave everything behind is one of the few perks of being on wages instead of salary, and I'm not taking advantage of it. I generally waste at least an hour a day by not going home when I should.

So... we'll see.

None of these specific things was mentioned  in the article I read, but it made me think. You might not have any of the same issues, but possibly you can think of your own. I'm certainly not finished with the process yet (but I have to leave for work).

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Than You Wanted to Know

During this last week, I went from a high of 132 items in my Etsy shop to 114. Although about half of the drop is attributable to purchases, the other half is simply due to the end of my "Christmas in July/August" sale, which was a true clearance sale - anything left isn't going back to a regular price but is disappearing from the shop to be remade. As you might guess, the rosaries in that sale were the ones that have been sitting in the shop for the longest time - most of them were made in 2009.

When you make things by hand, you're always gradually improving. While there's nothing wrong with those earlier rosaries, they're not quite as well made as the ones I'm making now. Around the beginning of 2010, something happened that made a not-so-gradual change: I discovered tornado crimps. Once I started using them, I never went back to traditional crimps, and the dividing line for what went into the sale was pre- and post-discovery. I wanted to be able to say that every rosary in the shop was made with tornado crimps, and now I can! I was going to post a picture here of a rosary with a good view of the tornado crimps, but even with the close-ups you have to enlarge the picture to really see the them, and I don't know of any way to do that on the blog. But you can see them now on any rosary in my shop if you enlarge a closeup of the center and crucifix. The telltale sign is the spiral around the crimp, which looks like diagonal lines in the photos. (There are four crimps on every rosary: three connecting the center and one holding on the crucifix.)

Some people don't like tornado crimps because they're not quite as pretty as traditional crimps used with a crimp cover (a metal bead placed around the crimp so you don't see it). A crimp cover doesn't fit around a tornado crimp. Most of the people who don't like them make jewelry, and if I were making jewelry I might agree. But I consider rosaries to be functional objects - it's a plus if they look nice, but that's not their main purpose. And one thing tornado crimps are is strong. Once they're on, they're there to stay. If for some reason I need to undo one, I have to take my memory wire cutters to it.

That's probably more than anyone wants to know about tornado crimps. I can't tell you why they work as well as they do, but I assume it has something to do with that spiral design. This is supported by the fact that the wires have to run through it in a specific arrangement in order for it to work well. That takes a little more care than traditional crimps, but it's nothing compared to what I used to go through with crimp bead covers. And, besides, they're just so strong.


In more important news, the Prayers on a Wire Etsy Team is having its first blog giveaway, which happens to be one of my rosaries. There are a lot of options for entering, so please check it out.


Just yesterday, the mail brought some opals I've been waiting for in order to make an October birthstone rosary. That will get done hopefully this weekend. In the meantime, here are rosaries for September and November. Also, in honor of the sapphire month, all the rosaries featured in the righthand column of the blog are blue. As usual, clicking on a picture will take you to more photos and a full description: