Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Extended Weekend, with EEK!

The weekend sorta-kinda continued into yesterday.

As some of you know, I have a thing about going to the dentist, for a reason which I am repeatedly told is quite understandable. My current dentist is one of the people who has said so, and has gifted me with a Xanax prescription to help deal with it. Yay Xanax!

So, yesterday morning I had the drilling and grinding part of a crown done, with attendant gluing-on of a temporary crown. Ron (designated driver) dropped me off at home by 10:30 am. I was loopy enough that I didn't do anything until after lunch. In fact, I was about ready to give up and take a nap to see if I could sleep off the last of the Xanax, when I got the call that the I'd called for earlier was on the way.

I decided that although I wasn't as bad as I'd been earlier in the day, I probably shouldn't be working on custom pouches. So I dug out soft leather and started cutting out soft pouches (tracing patterns and cutting on the lines requires fewer active brain cells than doing custom work). Rather a lot of pouches:

2 sporrans, a belt satchel, and a little tabbed pouch from a tan moose hide.
Ditto, from a dark green deer hide.
1 belt satchel in dark teal.
2 belt satchels in a slightly pebbly darker tan.
5 sporrans and a belt satchel out of black. 

That left only some palm-sized scraps of the moose, deer, dark tan, and one piece of black. I got 4 of the sporrans and the belt satchel out of that piece, which was surprising - I had remembered it being bigger, but also got more out of it than expected once I did see the size. On the up-side, in fishing blindly in a bin of mud-colored car-interior remnants for interior pocket materials, I found a good-sized piece of black.  

In the "Eek!" department, I just realized that I mis-counted, and there are only two weekends before ACen. Fortunately, the 17 pouches I cut out yesterday, and the 10 belt satchels and little tabbed pouches I cut out last week are all ones that I machine-sew, so they go together much faster than laced pouches. Getting them finished in the next two weekends is not an unreasonable goal.

Plus, I have the final crown installation late-morning next Thursday. If I decide that it's insufficiently scary to require Xanax, I'll also have time that day.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Rare Weekend Post!

We've gotten a lot of things done this weekend, despite the fact that my only accomplishments Friday night were folding some laundry and picking Robin up from his D&D game. 

In happy news, the sold-via-Etsy pouch we needed to find was in Thing 2. So was the bin of odds and ends that I wanted to sort. Xap and I did inventory the belts in The Grinch, also. My inventory sheet was definitely incorrect, most likely cause is a batch of belts made and packed into The Grinch, but not recorded. There are worse ways to screw up inventory.

After playing with it, Xap concurred that the POS app, RingItUp, by PingySoft (.com) looked good, so I bought it. Ron has customized the receipt and done some experimentation with reports, etc. Although RingItUp does not synchronize things if you use it for one business on two iWhatsits, Ron has the power of Perl, and is plotting on how to crunch data to create unified reporting, etc.

Yesterday's accomplishments also include:
  • Cutting out parts for the two custom pouches ordered at CodCon.
  • Realizing I screwed a part for one up, and we also needed to mold the front for it, as I'd forgotten we'd dyed it black playing with the airbrush a couple/few weeks ago.
  • Ron airbrush-dyed hard pouch fronts and some other pouch parts.
  • I cut out backs for 6 hard pouches, main parts two lace mania pouches and two more belt pouches which I've made previously as purses. 
  • Taught Xap to do the lacing for pouch flaps
  • Saw a production of "Oliver" at Cutting Hall
Today was even busier:
  • Molding the front for the custom pouch (had hoped to do it last night, but it needed more moisture)
  • I cut strips for belt loops, which Ron thinned down and cut to size. Lots of belt loops.
  • Robin cut strips for holding the dees on the back of pouches (for use as sporrans)
  • Ron cut those strips and some others to length and punched holes. Almost 40 of them.
  • The six hard pouches are ready to lace, which involved marking, gluing, trimming, more marking, making holes, taking corners off of edges, still more marking, setting rivets to hold latches on, more marking, more holes, attaching belt loops to dee-holder parts and riveting to the pouches, and, finally, dyeing edges. 
  • Making pastichio for dinner
  • Packing up the pouch retrieved from Thing 2 yesterday to mail out tomorrow
I am . . . not entirely impressed with ACen's exhibitor registration system. It seems to require human button-pushing to advance steps, which seem that they should be able to automate. I've been trying unsuccessfully to pay since Thursday morning, so this morning I sent e-mail asking what was up with that and several other items. This afternoon I got e-mail with the instructions how to do so and a contract to sign and return. Not sure if my e-mail jogged things loose, or if they passed in the ethernet.

I think its about time for bed now.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chugging Along

More things accomplished, more-or-less looking ahead to ACen:

Invited Ron and Xap to be users on the Otter Necessities Square and Intuit accounts, so we aren't limited to using only one phone to run charges (also useful for smaller events, because customers like to descend in waves). 

Just heard from Xaplet Major on the last badge, so we have our setup/teardown staff.

Continued poking at the POS app, playing with exporting to DropBox. May play with putting inventory into its table layout and importing tonight. Still not sure if this is what we'll go with, going to get Xap's opinion tomorrow.

Ordered more tails last night. I have been keeping a dozen in inventory, and post-CodCon I'm down to 7, mostly smaller tails - raccoon, and grey and kit fox. The bigger tails have been selling better, so for ACen I ordered a dozen big tails - a coyote and various colors of fox, including some "super jumbo" sized ones. 

Although we only sold a few belts at CodCon, I'm down to nothing in the way of leather left to cut belts out of, so today, being payday, I ordered a side of black and a side of london tan (golden brown). I was waffling which shade of brown to order, so I looked at what we've sold since January of last year.  The results were even numbers of london tan and havana (chocolate brown), with chestnut (red brown) at about a third of each of the other browns. 

I'm glad I looked at the numbers, as I didn't realize chestnut had been lagging so badly. Now I'm waffling about even continuing to keep chestnut belts in stock going forward. Choosing between london tan and havana was based in which I like better. Nothing wrong with havana, but its . . . boring. If finances allow, I'll see if I can order a side of havana before ACen, but I'm not counting on it. 

I was thinking that we need to do an inventory of belts (I suspect I've had some errors creep in), may do that tomorrow since trailer-spelunking may be on the agenda anyway. Also, there's a couple bins that are a higgeldy-piggeldy mess of small stuff, some of which I plan to put out at ACen, and some I don't. So those may get sorted out, too.

In the not-ACen-related accomplishments, last night we found a pair of belts that we got an Etsy order for, holes punch, cut to length, and packed up to be shipped out this morning.

Then I woke up this morning to another Etsy order for a pouch. The only problem is that I'm not sure I remembered to pack it with the hanging pouches to go in Thing 2 and be more easily accessible. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be decent tomorrow, so we can do said trailer spelunking.

Another of tomorrow's tasks is working on the two custom pouches we got orders for at CodCon. 

Working working working...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ACen Update

We are approved to be dealers at ACen.
We have chosen a location in the dealer's room/hall.
I am not quite rational. I was worse before breakfast, when I got the confirmation e-mail and we chose our spot.

Still have to pay, and send in a signed contract, but at this point those are semi-formalities, the reality is that we'll be in the ACen dealer's room.

I don't think I'm having second thoughts this point (second-dozen? second-hundred?), but there was the chance that we would not be approved, or the room would fill up before we were approved. But we've been continuing on the assumption that we would get in.

I've updated the Intuit account, which upped the limit for how much would be immediately deposited to my bank account (funds over the limit can be held for up to 30 days). I've also signed up for a Square account.  

Investigating POS (Point of Sale) software for the iThingies. The first three were eliminated for combinations of not meeting my (possibly odd) requirements, or having a monthly subscription fee of Way Too Much. I think I've found one, with a one-time Reasonable Cost to buy, which will work. 

Determined that buying a battery-operated receipt printer is probably going to be Way Too Much. However, a friend of ours who is good at finding tech cheap is aware of what we're looking for, so I'm not discounting it yet.

The ACen rules require that the sides of displays along the booth limits have to be curtained. Had one idea how to do that, but came up with a better one, which Ron refined, and Xap is now following up on.  

Last year's ACen attendance was 24,000. Twenty-four thousand. That's 20 times the size of WindyCon or DucKon, at its peak a few years ago when Jim Butcher was GoH.  My mind boggles. Really really boggles.

We will not be doing Northshield Crown, given this news. Ragnarok Rampage may be questionable, if we sell lots and lots of stuff.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CodCon Report & ACen

Ron took Friday off, I worked. The plan was to be at CoD (College of DuPage) by 4:00, when the vendor's room opened for setup. I didn't get out of the office quite when I meant, so I was a few minutes late. Ron, Robin, and Marmaduke had arrived early, and had everything inside waiting for me. I think Xap arrived around 6-ish, but that's a SWAG.

We had two 6' tables/spaces, but the room was far from full, so we, um, kinda oozed over into another 4' or so of space. The CoD tables were 36" wide, which is 6" wider than our 6' tables. I'm not complaining. Robin did a good job packing hanging pouches onto the gridwall. Marmaduke's logic in arranging belts completely escaped any of us. :) Ron forgot the new sock yarn, but grovelled a lot about it.

Friday the room was officially open 6 pm - 10 pm. We got one or two smallish sales Friday.

Saturday we were officially open 10 am - 10 pm, but I knew the door would be open when the convention opened at 9 am, and due to waking up earlier than I wanted to and not paying attention to the clock, I got there shortly after 8. So it was a really really long day. 

Ron's been suffering from insomnia and bursitis in his shoulder, so instead of sending Robin and Marmaduke home late afternoon to let the dogs out, he bailed about 3:00. The dogs appreciated it. We didn't miss him - that was about the time sales died and we were bored bored bored. 

There were far fewer cosplayers around than last year, and no anime room. However, there was a LARP group across the room from us. The LARPers were our friends, sales-wise, but even so we only had slightly over half of last year's sales by the end of Saturday. (I just looked at last year's report here on the blog, where I said we got about half our sales Saturday, and the other half split mostly evenly between Friday and Sunday). I was not a happy camper, although we had cleared entry, etc. 

Sunday the LARPers came through again, and we ended up doing about a hundred dollars more than last year. Still going to have to think about CodCon next year - we'll be good if there's enough Cosplay or LARPers, but tabletop-ish gamers aren't our customer base. 

Packing up was a little slow, as Ron directed Robin and Marmaduke in how to pack the Things, to save his shoulder. 

But, to get to the even more interesting news:

Marmaduke made the comment Sunday morning that we should do ACen (Anime Central, a ginormicon held in Rosemont). I explained that while ACen is ginormous, it is also not-quite ginormously expensive (Chicon/Worldcon was ginormously expensive), plus all the hassles of having to get union workers to unload and set up, blah blah blah.

Except, one of our neighbors said, ACen has negotiated so dealers can do all their own unloading, setup, and bring in their own food (another Thing with some cons at the big convention centers). And you have a potential customer base of 20,000. Twenty thousand. My mind boggles.

My brain started working. ACen booths are 10x10, if you get one early enough its $650, currently $850, but the first one comes with five, yes 5 memberships. And the map shows empty spaces, still.

I e-mailed to ask if there really are still spaces left.

I waffled.

Ron and Xap agreed that I was barking mad in general, but not in regard to the possibility of doing ACen. 

I talked to the neighbor some more.

We played with the CAD program on my iPad and came up with a layout that we think will work, in one space. No stringy bits or instruments, leather only. 

We determined that we probably need to go into overdrive for the next month on making pouches.  And promptly got orders for two custom pouches. Of course we did.  

Xap read the policies. I re-read information and realized there's a registration-pre-approval process, that I think I initiated. (I forgot to screen capture the screen I'm pretty sure I saw saying I did it right, it didn't generate e-mail saying that (unlike account creation), and I it doesn't show up as a pending order). It doesn't help that by that point both Xap and I were more or less loopy. 

Re: loopy: Sunday afternoon a customer picked up a pouch to buy, and half the latch fell off, broken in a way I've never had happen before. I kinda stared stupidly at it, and said I couldn't fix it. After a couple minutes more staring I managed to tell the customer I could fix it at home and send it to him. He chose a different pouch.  

Robin is not interested in ACen, but Marmaduke doesn't have his membership yet, and will gladly trade Thursday and Sunday labor for a badge. Xaplet Minor is green with envy, as she has a conflict. Not sure where badge #5 would go, maybe Xaplet Major, if he's willing/able to work for it.

Late last night I got e-mail back saying that there are a few spaces left. I responded with a thank you, and asking if my attempt to do the pre-approval was eaten by the trolls under the ethernet bridge, or did it get through (in more formal phrasing). Waiting impatiently for answers. 

Yesterday I stayed home (mostly planned), and Ron came home after lunch. We went out to the Leather Factory store, and I found nice black soft leather in the scrap bin. I'd been planning to make belt satchels, sporrans, and smallish tabbed pouches, so it was an opportune find. I ended up cutting 5 belt satchels and most of 5 tabbed pouches out of it ("mostly" because I still have to cut inner pockets out for them, which I'll do out of my stash of bleah-colored steering wheel cover remnants). 

So, with luck we'll be doing ACen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Black Thread Experiment Conclusions, and Other Pictures

Sorry, didn't mean to leave the results of the black thread vs white thread with black wax experiment on hold so long. Warning, this is a picture-heavy post.  Click to embiggen.

Here are the prepared sample strips, and my right hand, showing a dye smudge or two:

The "W" and "D" on the test strips indicate which run of stitching is the thread that was (factory) dyed black with beeswax, and which is (off-) white linen with the black encaustic media/wax.

Here's the sample strips with the white and dyed black stitching done, then both sides once the stitching with the black-waxed thread was done:

I was somewhat surprised there were no black smears on the leather, given the state of my hands:

Ron took the strips to our usual Wednesday night gathering, and the consensus was that the only way to tell the difference between the two rows of stitching was thread weight - my white and black linen threads are different weights.

Decision: I'm going to just use the black thread. The end result is virtually indistinguishable, and while beeswax may sometimes leave my hands a little sticky, it doesn't leave them smeary. If you look at the beeswax as a by-product of honey production, it comes out cheaper than the encaustic media.

CodCon prep continues, I'm optimistic that I can finish tonight, so that I can finish Ron's hakama tomorrow night. Contrary to my expectation, Cabela's called this morning and my ammo cans are in.

Disapproving Dog disapproves of getting ready for events:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Inching Along

Last night I checked the belt inventory list, and cut belts. Apparently havana (dark brown) was a strong seller at Military History Fest, that's what I made the most of.  I decided putting the hardware on could wait until we got to CodCon, as I think there's only one that we were completely out of. 

I did realize this morning that there's one or two belt blanks that we do need to put hardware on tonight - mundane (1-1/2" wide) belts get snaps to hold the buckle on, which Ron will definitely want to do with the new setter.

A month or two back, after Military History Fest, I made a couple semi-circular Civil War-era semi-circular belt pouches. I finished assembly, but they needed more attention - the leather I made them out of is a bit thick, so the ears on the sides (like side ears on a box with a tuck-in flap, like, um, band-aids) didn't want to fold in nicely, and the flaps are a bit recalcitrant. 

Nothing like an approaching event to encourage me to finish things, so this morning I soaked the pouches for a few minutes, stuffed them with newspaper to encourage them into a better shape, folded the ears, then wrapped them each in a small towel to keep the flaps where I want them while they dry. In a day or so they'll be dry, hopefully holding their shape better, and I can punch the last couple holes necessary to call them completely finished.  

I've got a box of new merchandise and other odds and ends being packed. Hopefully I'll be able to get all the new merchandise in it, but I won't cry too hard if I can't. 

I'm pretty sure I've got a bag of new conchos floating around the house, need to find those. And I need to bring the letter stamps, as we've already got some more conchos to add to the new display strap that we made a few weeks ago.

Current to-do-for-CodCon list, in no particular order:
  • Find conchos
  • Make embossed belt with concho and matching buckle set, in bag of conchos to be found
  • Re-charge UPS
  • Check to see if gaffer's tape is packed
  • Pack velcro (found, just not in bin)
  • Pack tools
  • Buttonhole punch CW pouches once dry
  • Put snaps on mundane belt blank(s)
  • Update inventory and e-mail to external iBrain
  • Pack letter stamps
  • Pack things to work on
  • Get all the packed things in one place so Ron and Robin can find it to pack the trailer 
  • To-do list the external iBrain says I need to update the price list
  • Print sales tax cheat sheets and price lists, e-mail to iBrain as necessary
  • Strips of leather for historically accurate hardware display?
  • Pack hardware from big hardware order
  • Pack new pouches
I can get this all done by bedtime Thursday night. I can get this all done by bedtime Thursday night. Suuuure I can . . .

Monday, April 15, 2013

CodCon Prep & Schedule Natter

Saturday morning I finished the batch of hanging pouches I've been mucking about with, six in all. 2 large singles, and 4 small singles. I was down to setting the studs (which also hold the belt loop tabs in place for stitching), and sewing. I finished those up by noon, as well as putting the binding on the flap of a leather belt satchel that's been lurking about for months. 

After lunch, which we ate out to celebrate a relatively painless plumbing project, we went to Cabela's for more ammo cans for the sock yarn. Unfortunately, we came home can-less. They'd had some earlier in the day, but were apparently cleaned out. Insert regret for not stopping on the way home one day last week here. I did order some more, I expect they'll come in a week from today, ie: right after CodCon. 

Saturday afternoon I made the chain necessary to finish a soft pouch, which uses a dummy rifle round as a peg to hold it shut. I also got swivels sewn onto the last three tails. 

While I was doing that, Ron antiqued some brown embossed strips and made them into more wristbands. We have quite a number of wristbands for sale now. I really must figure out what I'm going to charge for them, and how much they cost us.

Sunday I alternated between making a hakama for Ron, so he can have a new Japanese-style outfit to wear at CodCon, too, and putting tags on the big batch of knitting needles I got recently-ish. I figured how much I paid for this batch (with shipping), which was more than the first batch. I priced the first batch based on what I paid for them, which I realized is not sensible, as I think I got the first batch on sale, and this batch I got some volume discounts on, but still weren't as cheap as the first.

Subsequent needle re-stock purchases may not be as large, or on sale, so I went back, found the base prices, and re-figured what to charge. Then I made labels (which I'd started), including ones with the new prices for the stuff I got in the first batch. Since all the labelling on the packages is in Chinese, I put the needle sizes on the stickers, so people don't have to read the markings stamped into the needles (which gets challenging on a 2.0 mm diameter needle). Ron helped me put the stickers on. 

I'd also ordered some cable needles, and realized I ordered Stupid Amounts of one type - instead of ordering by single sets, one type was packages of two sets (three sizes per set), and the other was packages of *five* sets. Which meant I got 6 sets of one style (not so bad), and fifteen of the other (definitely Stupid Amounts). Fortunately, it wasn't a terribly expensive mistake, and plastic cable needles don't go bad. 

E-mailed the faculty sponsor/contact for the college SF club that puts on CodCon to find out what time setup starts Friday. Which will be just Ron and I, as Robin has begged off, having joined a Friday night D&D game. Fink. :)

Still need to figure prices on the new pouches, get them into inventory, tag them, and pack them up. Tonight I need to check inventory to see if we need to make more belts. Hopefully we don't need to get more leather to do so. It wouldn't be impossible at this point, but it'll be a little nerve-wracking time-wise. Will need to pack tools, once a decision is made on belts and make any necessary. 

I meant to send some things out to the trailer yesterday, but never got a Round Tuit. But Robin will be home tomorrow, I can always leave him a stack. 

Future Events:

Once I post this I'll be pulling the May 4th Midrealm Coronation off the schedule. Its in the City of Chicago, at a church/school, and while I think there may be a parking lot adjacent, its across a not-minor roadway (Montrose Ave.), it just doesn't look like a trailer-amenable situation.

Northshield Crown Tournament, on May 11th, however, looks better. Its at a park/fairgrounds that I think we've been to in the past. Fairground-ish sites generally  trailer-amenable. Anyhow, need to make our reservations for that. 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Embossing and Dyeing and Antiquing

Friday night we went to Dick Blick (art supply mega-mart) and procured an inexpensive (but decent) airbrush to use with dye. We do have other airbrushes in the house, and this one is almost identical to an old one of Ron's, but that one is pretty well used.

We tested the airbrush with the new golden brown dye Saturday morning, and it worked quite well - Ron got nice coverage while using much less dye than applying with a rag. It also turns out that, although IIRC the dye is petroleum-based, rubbing alcohol works as a thinner. (Forced discovery, as the cans I thought contained various thinners contained wood stains). This is something nice to know, because alcohol is less nasty than mineral spirits or other high-test thinners, is fairly cheap, easy to find, and might work for removing dye spots from my hands if necessary (not that I usually care, although I do wear gloves to try to minimize dyeing myself).

Saturday morning we went to the LF store, for antiquing. I have a couple jars of paste antiquing, but LF doesn't carry that brand/type any more (Fiebing's). I was waffling if I wanted to switch to the LF house brand, "Eco-Flo", which is a more liquid gel. Our local store has a table where you can try the different finishes, so we took along some embossed samples (because the whole point is bringing out the embossing) to play.

The first employee said you absolutely must use a resist applied to the design areas you want to leave highlighted, to which I replied "yeah, no, forget it". Fortunately, the manager rescued the situation and explained that no, you can use a spray resist/finish applied to everything, and demonstrated. We were mostly convinced, and left with a big bottle, and a couple ideas.

On the way we made another stop at Dick Blick, and got a couple squeegees. We also got another paint bottle or two for the airbrush, to try it with black dye.

Squeegee tests were very encouraging. You can use a lot less of the antiquing gel with a squeegee than you can with paper towel or a sponge, and using a squeegee, you don't need resist at all. Here's some samples:

The top two are un-dyed, just embossed. The bottom three have all been antiqued. The bottom two were dyed, the bottom one heavily, and had a coat of spray resist before antiquing. The middle, floral, pattern strip was not pre-dyed or resisted, the antiquing darkened up the lighter/higher surfaces.

In general the floral embossing design looks nice. The celtic one doesn't produce a very deep impression, it really needs the antiquing to make it stand out. Both those rolls are from Leather Factory. The basketweave roll is pretty good. The "Yahoo" design (bottom one in the picture above) produces a really nice deep impression if you have thick enough leather, which shows off very well when antiqued. Both the basketweave and yahoo are from Tippmann, which makes the embossing machine.

Ron also embossed some black harness leather strips (IIRC the celtic design) , and made a stack of wrist bands. They look nice, but to get a good impression you have to set the machine so tight its hard to crank a strip through. From now on we'll use vegetable-tanned leather, which takes an impression better, and dye it black.

Worked a little bit on hanging pouches on Saturday. Sunday and the previous weekend we were working on sewing, see natter natter natter on my personal blog about that.

This coming weekend I want to finish the hanging pouches, the three tails that need swivels, and hopefully make some drawstring bags. And we've got some brown embossed strips that are dyed, but need to be antiqued and turned into wristbands. Because we really need more things to find room for. 

I also still need to get more ammo cans for packing the new yarn into. And I need to get price stickers made and onto all the knitting needles . . . 

. . . because next weekend is CodCon!