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The Uncommon Life

Ping Pong Pop Culture

December 14, 2012

Imagine England in the 1880s – unpaved streets, horse-drawn carriages and all. That, my friends, was the setting for the creation of the beloved and time-honored game (sport!) of Ping Pong. Since then, Ping Pong has traveled the globe, become an Olympic sport, and not surprisingly made a few cameos in popular culture. How many of these Ping Pong guest spots do you remember?

 

Pong
Pong, America’s #1 game of the 1970s, came complete with an advanced display of white lines for paddles and a blip for the ball. But don’t let that sophistication fool you. Pong is one tough video game to crack. Even pro tennis player, Andy Roddick, was given a run for this money against Pong.

 

Forrest Gump
While life may be like a box of chocolates, it’s with his Ping Pong serve that you never know what you’re going to get. Forrest Gump was a natural, “like a regular duck in water (whatever that means).”

 

NBA Draft
Americans have been testing their luck every weeknight one local lotteries pulled on numbers ping-pong balls. And since 1985, the NBA has used these tiny spheres of celluloid to determine the fate of team line-ups.

 

Balls of Fury
Instead of a cameo, the game got a starring role in Balls of Fury, a coming of age story about a boy, who seeks justice through overly dramatized Ping Pong matches. As Master Wong says, “Welcome to the underbelly of Ping Pong, where fortunes are won and lost. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get my point.”

 

Pong (the other kind)
Another time honored tradition, perhaps the most minimalist and interesting adaptation to the game, involves nothing more than the Ping Pong ball (and some cups, of course). This variation tests true dexterity and hand-eye coordination. But for some reason in this game, the longer you play doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement in skill.

 

Beatles
Celebrities have taken to the beloved game. (In fact, there is a website dedicated to this fact.) Even the Fab 4, tried their hand at Ping Pong. Yes, the facial expressions do make one’s returns more accurate.

 

Night Clubs
Yes, you read that right! Ping Pong social clubs are popping up in major cities across the country. You can reserve your own table and make new friends over a little friendly competition.

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live near, such an establishment as avant-garde as the Ping Pong social club, don’t fret! You can create your own friendly competition in the comfort of your own home with a Portable Ping Pong Set.

May the serve be with you! Let the serves ever be in your favor! (That concludes my attempt at movie puns.)

Maker Stories

‘Tis the Season To Get Ready for the Holiday Season

November 9, 2012


‘Tis the season for the leaves to change color and the days to get colder–signs that the holidays are fast approaching! Our team here at UncommonGoods is getting ready for spending time with family, the merriment of holiday parties with friends, and lots of delicious family favorite foods.

But with all this planning at home, there’s still work to be done at UncommonGoods HQ. We’re preparing our warehouse with unique gifts and necessities for the season, so you can find the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person (come on we all know one!). But of course, we’re not the only ones having fun preparing for the holidays. We asked our designers, Jim Martin of Green3 Apparel, Josh McGlothlin of Icebox Knitting, and Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting to share how they get ready for the holiday season.

The holidays are a crazy time of year at Green3 with orders pouring in for their one-of-a-kind reclaimed products. Jim says the demand really “keeps our team hopping!” Despite the demand, the Green3 team is solid, knowing exactly what to expect during the holiday rush. The team gets an addition during the holiday season, in the form of energetic college students home for the holidays. As if getting ready for the holidays didn’t give Jim enough on his plate, he is also a judge in our Upcycling Design Challenge!

This holiday season, Jim is excited for items that use reclaimed Christmas sweaters and reclaimed men’s ties, like the Necktie Skirt and especially the Recycled Holiday Sweater Skirt. These fun products make a statement not only in their unique beauty, but also in their eco-friendliness. Jim sources the materials for the reclaimed products from vintage wholesalers, who are collecting these ties and sweaters throughout the year. But the team doesn’t let the wholesalers have all the fun in the collection process, they scour markets and resale shops for their own vintage apparel finds.

After all the ties and sweaters are found, the reclaimed products are skillfully crafted, and the many orders are placed, we asked Jim if he finally takes a vacation. His response, “I’m not familiar with that vacation word?” All jokes aside, come January Jim is at work on the trade show circuit traveling all across the country from Atlanta to Chicago to New York and more. But, it’s not all work during the holiday season; Jim looks forward to spending time with his family, especially his daughter, who will be home from college.

At Icebox Knitting, the team is getting ready for the holiday season by getting in the holiday spirit. Josh recalls that thousands of sweaters arrive at the factory throughout the year to prepare for the holiday rush. Some of the sweaters have their own “interesting styles.” This year, the crew has chosen their favorite holiday sweaters to wear. Josh loves the Icebox Knitting “formal wear” or as you might know them glitzy black and gold holiday sweaters. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful new holiday tradition!

Aside from this new tradition, Josh is excited for the Reclaimed Sweater Link Scarf and the Upcycled Knit Handwarmers. Both products are artfully crafted and Josh particularly loves the recycled yarn component. The sweaters used to make these reclaimed and upcycled products come from a textile recycler in the United States, while the recycled wool yarn comes from a manufacturer in Europe. This manufacturer is unique, Josh says, since they have developed a “new patented process of recycling that is 98% more environmentally-friendly than making yarn from scratch.” Not only are the products artfully crafted and unique, but also eco-friendly!

After the fast pace of the holiday season, Josh and the Icebox Knitting team make “a concerted effort to stop the machines and turn off the lights for 10 days.” It’s a time for reflection and to recharge the system, before they are ready to hit the ground running for the trade shows in January. During that mini vacation and the rest of the holiday season, Josh looks forward to spending time with his family and enjoying the natural beauty of Colorado.

Over here in New York City, Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting is getting ready in different ways. With an inventory of lamps made of reclaimed musical instruments and room for custom orders, Jamie has taken to craft shows, street fairs and flea markets to start getting his designs in the hands of thoughtful gift-givers in the five boroughs. We caught up with Jamie a couple weeks ago at a street fair in Chelsea to benefit a local elementary school. We didn’t stick around too long as his table was very popular among shoppers.

Although Instrumental Lighting is sold to customers across the US at UncommonGoods, a lot of our designers rely heavily on local trade shows and markets to sell their products. In fact, our buyers discovered Jamie and his original lamps last year at Brooklyn Flea, a local market that Jamie plans on attending this holiday season. While planning on setting up shop at markets in the city and being a stay at home dad, Jamie will also judge our Upcycling Design Challenge with Jim of Green3.

With the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season, a season that started a couple months ago for the UncommonGoods team and our vendors, we are so glad to get to check in and celebrate our hard efforts. We can’t help but believe in Santa with all these hard-working elves!

Design

Meet the Design Panel – Jenny Krauss

August 22, 2012

Is it time for you to take your business to the next level? Get tips, advice, and your questions answered at UncommonGoods’ third design panel and happy hour – How To Make It: Scaling Up Your Creative Business – taking place in Brooklyn, NY on August 28th. The panelists have experience advising businesses and personal experience with scaling up, like panelist, Jenny Krauss.

Jenny’s business started in 2008 with a love of Peruvian traditional embroidery. Today, her business employs 1600 artisans, who make anything from pillows to belts, while earning a steady income and preserving their local culture.
Without further ado… meet Jenny!

What is an uncommon fact about yourself?

In college and grad school, I never took a business, accounting, or economics class and I knew nothing about starting a company. I did a lot of research, picked people’s brains and realized it’s mostly common sense. Now I enjoy advising start-ups as best I can.

What products are you responsible for?

Belts, bags, pillows, shoes, luggage tags and whatever else I decide to produce; all hand woven and hand embroidered in wool or cotton.

What advice would you give to designers who think they are ready to take their business to the next level?

Take it one step at a time and don’t get deep into debt. I’ve read in business books that a common mistake for new companies is to overestimate sales. Having to manufacture more is better than getting stuck with too much inventory. Depending on your product, research your market and consider possibilities in addition to manufacturing, such as selling or licensing your designs.

What tools do you use to manage your time and stay productive?

I keep a to-do list that is with me at all times. Everything, important or trivial, is written down so it won’t be forgotten. Don’t spend work time on non-work activities like tweeting with friends, surfing the web, etc.

What advice would you give yourself when you were first starting out?

I funded my business with my own savings so if I failed I wouldn’t owe anyone money. If this is an option, I suggest using it. Or, go to family, friends, and funding sites such as Kickstarter before going to a bank. And be prepared to work long hours.

What does a typical workday look like?

I start out thinking I know what’s ahead for the day and then, almost always, something comes up, either from a customer or a supplier, and I have to stop everything and deal with it. Today is a perfect example; e-mails to one of my producer’s in rural Peru keep bouncing back. I did some research online and it turns out her domain name has expired. I’m sure she has no idea about how to fix this so I’m trying to track her down and not having much luck. There is no typical day!

What does scaling up mean for you?

My business only scaled up when there was revenue to do so. Meaning, strong sales propelled it forward, and earned money provided the funds. I added more products to the line but didn’t have to add more employees here in the US. The group of artisans in Peru swelled from 300 to 1600 which puts pressure on me to keep sales up.

Maker Stories

Meet Kim Jakum, Jewelry Design Challenge Winner

August 17, 2012

Each and every design challenge gives us the exciting opportunity to meet up-and-coming artists, reconnect with our favorite designers, and open our eyes to new and unique works of art. Coming off the success of the 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge, we simply could not wait to hold another call for jewelry entries. This year’s Jewelry Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and showcased the unique designs of artists, jewelry designers, and metalworkers.

Our judges worked through designs with bold patterns, fascinating stories, and unique mediums. They decided on pieces they thought would capture America’s eye with their delicate beauty and others with their intricate detail. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t take their eyes off of; they loved its concept as a keepsake to keep those you treasure close.


We simply can’t stop talking about the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Personalized Child Signature Necklace and are excited to introduce you to the designer, our Jewelry Design Challenge winner, Kim Jakum of Wisconsin. Kim thrives on designing one-of-a-kind pieces with her recently found love of PMC (precious metal clay) and she will soon be able to see those one-of-a-kind pieces being cherished by people all across the country. Here she is, Kim, the newest member to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover jewelry design?

I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years. I first started making jewelry by just stringing beads. I was drawn to all the different shapes and colors. To this day, I’m still drawn to beautiful stones and the sparkle of crystal.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

My favorite piece of jewelry that I have made is my Tiger Maple and Fine Silver Cuff.

How did you realize that metalworking was your passion?

My work is primarily in PMC (precious metal clay). I love that it is made from recycled silver. About 16 years ago, while taking a traditional metal smith class, PMC was first introduced in the USA. The whole class got some and played with it. I didn’t really like it at the time, and didn’t give it any thought until about five years ago when I took a workshop just using PMC. I fell in love with it, and have not looked back since! The possibilities are endless…

What are your favorite pieces to design?

Besides the children’s signatures, I also take kids artwork, shrink it down and transfer it to fine silver pendants and key chains. I love that this makes an everlasting keepsake.

I have also recently been accepted into The Artisan Group. The Artisan Group is made up of small business artisans that gift celebrities with samples of their work. I’m having a great time designing jewelry for specific celebrities.

All in all, you could say that a lot of my work is very personalized, made specifically for the person receiving it.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I have been fortunate to take workshops from fellow jewelry artists who’s work I really admire. I find these workshops very inspiring, pushing me to continually learn a new skill and perfect what I already know.

How else do you express your creativity?

I like to pass what I know on, so I teach classes in jewelry making and PMC.

Also, if I see something I like in another medium, I usually think I can make something close to it myself, so there are a lot more projects other that jewelry making going on!

What attracted you to the UncommonGoods Jewelry Design Challenge?

I actually found out about this challenge from a fellow Artisan Group member and entered it on a whim.

What was the inspiration behind Personalized Child Signature Necklace?

The signatures on my Personalized Child Signature Necklace sample are actually my grand children’s. I have seen a lot of stamped name pendants and thought I could take that idea to a whole new level by using actual signatures! I also added a twist by texturing the back, so the necklace is reversible.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Just enter! Until this year I have NEVER entered a challenge or competition. I have entered four different challenges this year and have placed first, second or third in three of them!

The Uncommon Life

Oh Baby! A Week of Baby Gifts and DIYs!

July 30, 2012

It’s a Boy! It’s a Girl! It’s Baby Week here at UncommonGoods. We are celebrating everything related to the little bundle of joy — from baby shower DIYs to gifts for babies.

Visit the hand-picked collections of UncommonGoods baby gifts from our featured bloggers like:

Justina Blakeney

Design For Minikind

Cakies

Oh Dear Drea

Browse through our Oh Baby Pinterest board dedicated to the pitter-patter of little feet and all things baby.

Don’t miss the blog this week! We have DIYs for baby showers, baby gift ideas, Justina Blakeney’s favorite baby Pinterest boards, and more.

Sweeten Up A Baby Shower

Raising Your Kids Green

Top Baby Gifts From Our Buyer

Baby Carrier Gift Lab

A DIY Project to Welcome the Newest Addition to Your Family by Rubyellen of My Cakies

Justina’s Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

DIY Baby Shower Decor: Paper Tassel Garlands
 

 

The Uncommon Life

Happy Birthday to You, July Birthdays

July 2, 2012

There are so many ways to say Happy Birthday – cards, presents, and of course the classic, just saying Happy Birthday. But nothing says it quite like serenading someone with “Happy Birthday” whether in person, over the phone, or at a restaurant while their face turns bright red!

Serenade your friend with a July birthday with your own rendition of “Happy Birthday” and they will be entered to win a $100 UncommonGoods gift card! Rewrite the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” to describe the birthday boy or girl. Leave your new lyrics in a comment on Facebook and be sure to tag your friend. A winner will be chosen on July 31st.

Maker Stories

Meet Naomi Meller, iPhone Case Design Challenge Winner

June 29, 2012

Every new design challenge fills us with such excitement! It is inspiring to see the passion, emotion, and wit in the artists’ stories behind their unique designs. The iPhone Case Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and the opportunity for artists to share the paintings, sketches, and graphic designs they have created.

Our judges worked through designs with unique mediums, bold colors, and uplifting stories. They decided on pieces that they thought America would love for their whimsy, and others they thought would inspire iPhone case envy. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t get off their minds; they loved its wit and clever juxtaposition of technology on technology.

We simply love the clever geeky chic of Computer iPhone and cannot wait for you to learn more about its designer, our iPhone Case Design Challenge winner, Naomi Meller of Rhode Island. Naomi recently rediscovered her love of art and designing through photography and will soon be able to see her designs on the backs of iPhones all over the country. Meet Naomi, the newest addition to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?

I’ve been involved with art for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I drew elaborate pictures that often caught the attention of my teachers. This evolved into years of drawing and painting, usually for it’s therapeutic value. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

How did you realize that photography was your passion?

Photography was one of the only mediums I had never experimented with. When I had my daughter over 2 years ago, I got very sick and came close to losing my life. The months following were difficult, and I was physically weak. I tried to walk around a lot to build stamina.

During my walks, I started taking pictures with my iPhone. I fell in love with these photo walks I’d take, and decided to buy a dSLR to take my photography to the next level. I’m stubborn, and sometimes that can be a good quality. I set out to learn how to properly use my camera, and I did. Since I started taking pictures, my passion for taking them has only grown.

What are your favorite things to design/photograph?

My number one favorite thing to photograph is my daughter. Kids grow so quickly that I just want to capture all the good/bad/and in between moments of her growth.

I also love to create characters in my self-portraits. This allows me to step outside of myself, become someone different, and express myself in a raw and comfortable manner that I hadn’t been able to in years.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I never stick to one style of photography. And I never stick to one type of subject. Some weeks I’ll take portraits of our family. Some weeks I’ll focus entirely on surreal self-portraits. On occasion I’ll do some photojournalism work for my husband’s news site. By always changing my subjects, I’m always changing my perspective. And it keeps me going.

I also love challenging myself in Photoshop. I taught myself how to use the program by way of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take a picture, and work on it until I’ve succeeded in something I didn’t know how to do before sitting down. Currently I’m trying to master an old film camera that my dad gave me. I always keep things evolving, always keep learning – that way I avoid feeling stagnant.

How else do you express your art?

I’ve recently started a photography blog to help publicize my work, but also to inspire myself to start writing again. Writing is something that I did creatively for a long time, but haven’t much in the last several years.

I’ve also picked up a paint brush again. I have an earlier photograph in which I combined painting and a surreal self-portrait. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in a long time. I still have several canvases in my house just calling my name!

What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?

Aside from the fact that I’m a huge UncommonGoods fan, over the last few months I’d been feeling much more anxious about getting my work out there. I’ve been creating things for over 20 years, and the only person in my way has been me. I thought that this challenge would be a great opportunity with a great company.

What was the inspiration behind Computer iPhone?

Most of the work that I’m most proud of has come from a quick decision. When I over think and over analyze, it usually harms the outcome of a piece. Computer iPhone came about because my husband had recently dismantled a broken computer. Pieces were surrounding the office we share. I had submitted some other designs, but they were very portrait based. For Computer iPhone, I thought, “what would look cool, hold up well to wear, and still portray the irony that I always have in my work?”. And so I decided on a piece of the computer.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Don’t doubt yourself. If you enter a future challenge, and don’t make it through, the worst case scenario is that you can try again. I did.

All photos courtesy of Naomi Meller

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Father’s Day Puzzle Project

June 8, 2012

Every year for Father’s Day I get my dad the same thing – a store bought tie. This year I decided not to add to the mountain of ties in his closet, but instead give him a unique gift we could create together. The vinyl collection puzzle was that perfect unique gift – what’s better than some quality father-daughter time, while creating DIY wall art!?

Background Research:
Many a family game night during my childhood was spent working on puzzles. You would think that putting together puzzles would be a calm activity; however, in my family it is practically a competitive sport. Each piece was quickly put in place as we raced to see who could put in the most pieces in our 250, 500, even 1000 piece puzzles. It was a fun challenge that we could compete in together!

Hypothesis:
The Vinyl Collection Puzzle will be not only a great father-daughter activity, but also a great DIY Father’s Day gift.

The Experiment:
On a slightly overcast Saturday – perfect for a family afternoon indoors – my Dad and I set up an old folding table in the basement, opened the box, and got down to work*. Now, I am sure everyone has his or her own unique “puzzle-ing” style. My Dad insisted (like he always does) that we start with the edges, and then work our way in.

While working on the puzzle, I got to spend some quality time with my Dad! I heard about some of his records and we even took a break to look at some of them. (Disclaimer: The Bruce Springsteen Collection is actually my Mom’s…she had a New Jersey roommate in college.) The vinyl collection of the puzzle is quite unique and diverse, but my Dad found a tape version of one of the records in the puzzle (Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits)!

My Dad and I were not the only ones working on the puzzle – we had a little “helper.” She decided to walk through the center of the puzzle taking some of the pieces with her. Beware of these four-legged “helpers!” Despite this adorable distraction, after a few hours, my Dad and I finished the puzzle. (Disclaimer: My Dad is incredibly good at puzzles!)

The next step was to create the wall art that would become my Dad’s present. I set out to my local arts and crafts store to buy a picture frame. I chose to get a nice black frame that was 18” by 24” – the dimensions of the puzzle. The tight fit holds the puzzle between the glass and the backing, which means the puzzle can be mounted without being glued together. (You never know when you might want to take down the puzzle and put it back together again!)

When putting the puzzle into the frame, make sure to take extreme care. (You don’t want the puzzle to fall completely apart and you’d have to redo it, unless you are a master puzzler who enjoys the challenge.)

*Helpful Hint: When beginning the puzzle find a large poster board to do the puzzle on, the sturdier the better. When you frame the puzzle, the poster board makes it easier to slide the puzzle to the backing of the frame.

Finally, we attached the framed puzzle to the wall with standard picture frame hooks. Then stood back and admired our work!

Results:
The finished product is not only a beautifully completed puzzle, but also a piece of wall art. It now hangs in my family’s basement so that my Dad will see it every time he (and anyone else) hangs out down there, which is pretty often!

Conclusion:
The vinyl collection puzzle is a great family activity for anytime, but especially this Father’s Day. Even if you aren’t able to make it home to spend time with your Dad, a DIY activity like this puzzle is a great Father’s Day gift. To all the fathers in your life, I wish them and you all a Happy Father’s Day! I hope your day is full of memories and perhaps a few DIY craft presents!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

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