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How To

Design

Stefanie Wolf’s Mosaic Necklace 7 Ways

January 15, 2016

We knew that jewelry designer Stefanie Wolf’s Mosaic Necklaces are beautiful, versatile pieces, but we didn’t know that just how many ways you can wear them until yesterday, when Stefanie sent us this great video showing seven ways. (We’ll admit, it’s three more than we’d thought of, and we LOVE the new suggestions.)

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

Cribs, Pegs, & Pones: How to Play Cribbage

October 9, 2015

Since the Custom Lake Art Cribbage Board first stepped on the scene last year to overwhelmingly positive reviews, UG has gotten a pretty intense case of cribbage fever. Suffice to say, there was a cribbage-sized hole in the gaming world and we answered with the Peacock Feather board, the Fern board, and new varieties that keep rolling in with each season. A quick office poll found, however, that a pitiful number of our employees actually knew how to play cribbage, and this writer was not among them.

How to Play Cribbage | UncommonGoods

In the interest of writing what you know, I figured it was high time to educate myself on the world of cribbage and now I’m here to share that information with you. Already know how to crib? What are you even doing here?! Get yourself to the nearest cribbage tournament!

Now that the cribbage enthusiasts are gone, let’s get started! The main draw of cribbage, according to my plentiful research, is that in order to win, you can rely on both strategy and good old-fashioned luck of the draw. There’s something for everybody! There can be small variations found in different regions but the overall idea is the same.

According to the one coworker I found who plays this game, writing down all the rules was a very ambitious undertaking and there is, in fact, a whole lot of nuance/random scenarios that can come up. Be that as it may, consider this a fun frolic through the basics of cribbage—a fun-dation, if you will.

The History:
The English poet Sir John Suckling created cribbage in the early 17th century as a derivative of the game “noddy.” The game also served as an official pastime on World War II submarines.

The Players:
Cribbage is best played with two people—this can be done with one on one or two on two. For the sake of this tutorial, it’ll be one on one.

The Cards:
Use a standard 52-pack of cards, King is high, Ace is low. Take out the Jokers.

The Object:
Be the first player to make your peg around the full cribbage board.

The Score:
You track your score using your new fancy cribbage board, silly! You’ll notice that there are multiple pegs. Players each use two pegs to record their score: one shows your current score, one acts as the trailing peg so that the board always shows how many points you recorded on your last score.

The Game:
Players start by drawing cards. The player with the lowest card deals first, distributing six cards facedown to his opponent (called the pone) and himself. Each player looks at their six cards and “lays away” two of them face down to reduce their hand to four. The two cards laid down from each player (making it four in total. Math!) now constitute “the crib” and belong to the pone. However, these cards are not exposed or used until the hands have been played.

With me so far? Feel free to read it over a few times. I did.

After the crib is laid away, the pone cuts the deck. The dealer then turns up the top card at the split and places it face up on top of the deck. This card is now “the starter.”

Apparent side note to the rules that I couldn’t find an explanation for: If this starter card is a Jack, it called “His Heels” and the dealer uses the cribbage board to peg (score) two points at once. Okay, sure!

The biggest thing to know about cribbage is that for each hand there are two stages of play. The first stage is to, one by one, drop your cards in a succession that will lead to either: doubles, runs, or a sum of 15.

BACK UP.

Peacock Feather Cribbage Board | UncommonGoods

Okay. Here’s a script:
I put down a 5.
You put down a 10.
Hey, you just made 15, give yourself 2 points.

Another script:
I put down a 5.
You put down a 5.
Hey, you just made doubles, give yourself 2 points.
I put down a 5.
Hey, I just made triples, now I get 3 points.

One more script:
I put down a 5.
You put down a 6.
I put down a 7.
Hey, I made a run of 3 cards, I’ll give myself 3 points.
You put down an 8.
Hey, you just extended the run to 4 cards, give yourself 4 points.

And so on and so forth. Basically, the number of cards that make up the scorable group you make indicates the amount of points you get. Want another random number to shoot for? See if you can make your cards add up to 31 for 2 peg points. The back and forth between the two players stops once 31 is reached (and you can’t go over)—once 31 has been reached and you can’t go any further, the last person to throw down a card gets a point.

The first stage of play is over. Phew. Pick up the cards you played again and use that overturned card on top of the deck as a starter. Want another script?

The top card is a 6.
You put down a 9.
Hey, that’s 15. Give yourself a point.

The top card is a 6.
You put down a 6.
Hey, that’s a double, give yourself 2 points.

Custom Lake Cribbage Board | UncommonGoods

Sound familiar?

This stage of play isn’t a back and forth like the last one. This is you seeing what you can do with your own cards plus the overturned top card. Want to do some more? If you’re the pone, now’s the time to take out the crib and play around with that.

Once you’re done, put all the cards back, re-deal (this time with a different dealer) and the cycle starts again and again until one of your pegs reaches the end of the board.

Full disclosure, you will probably have to read through these directions about seven times and also scour the internet for various nuances that can occur during play. I played a few hands myself and, though it took me a while to get the hang of, I can see how it would be a great way to spend a rainy Sunday with the family. Now excuse me, I’m going to go comb all the cribbage blogs and develop some strategy.

Be sure to take a look at our unconventionally stylish cribbage boards to get your game started. Happy cribbing!

See Our Cribbage Boards | UncommonGoods

Design

How to Win a Design Challenge

May 1, 2013

After facilitating 11 design challenges over the past year, I consider myself our company expert. I sit with the buyers as they sift through the entries to decide on the semifinalist designs that will make it to our community voting app, moderate the final judging session, and communicate with the designers throughout the entire process. I am to the point now where I can anticipate what the buyers will say about each entry and finalist design so I thought it would be helpful for me to share some of my observations.

Of course the final decision always comes down to the design and how well the buyers think it will sell at UncommonGoods, but keeping this advice in mind will help you avoid some road blocks that I have seen make or break the final decision.

PRICING I thought I’d start with the technical stuff to get it out of the way and because this is a really important factor in most design challenges. UncommonGoods is a retailer so we buy artist’s goods at a wholesale price. After we buy your design from you, we still need to make a profit, so we need to have a retail price set with a fair profit margin. We measure gross margin % to gauge profitability. We calculate this with (retail price – wholesale price)/retail price x 100 = GM%.

But if you have only been selling on Etsy and at flea markets, you might not have a wholesale price figured out yet. Many independent sellers are currently selling their items retail at a wholesale price! Stores like UncommonGoods will need to charge almost two times that amount to make a profit, and we won’t want to sell your design at a much higher price than a customer can get it on your site. This might mean going back to the drawing board but a strong pricing structure could really benefit you in the future.

Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson advises, “Research what is out there in the market place and understand the range of retail prices for similar products. Be sure to note the materials and how something is produced (handmade vs. manufactured) in order to understand where the cost is coming from.”

To understand pricing a little more, check out this really informative forum discussion between Etsy sellers.

Tell your product story well and completely! Some artists do a great job telling the story of their design in the Product Description field on our online submission form. Some artists don’t and it can really hurt them. This is the space to let us know all about your inspiration, your artistic process and how the design makes you feel. This is the space to tell our buyers everything you want them to know about you and your art.

If your design is chosen to be a semi-finalist, this is the copy we will edit for grammar and punctuation to use in the community voting stage-so this story won’t just attract our buyers, but also the thousands of voters who will be viewing your design. Good product copy can make or break your chances with the voting community, the buyers, and the rest of the judging panel.

Our buyers love collections. When I sit with a buyer and go through design challenge submission, more often than not we are also visiting an artist’s website to see what else they have. Not because we’re nosy, and not because we don’t like what we see. Our buyers want a sense of an artist’s future as a vendor at UncommonGoods. They’re looking for an artist that will be able to create a collection of similar products. Check out Valerie Galloway and Etta Kostick – former design challenge participants with robust collections.

Be prepared for our inventory demands. Our inventory requests for each design are always different depending on price and category, and our buyers work to create a plan with each designer that is beneficial to both parties. One common question you should be able to answer is “how many of these can you make in a week’s time?” Don’t know the answer to that question because you’ve only ever made one? That’s ok too, but have a plan in place for scaling up. (Get some advice from our current vendors here!)

Send a product sample, NOT a prototype. Most challenges require the semifinalists to send in their design for the buyers to review. Even if a design doesn’t make it into the top five designs that are judged, the buyers will review all the samples that come in. So many other artists are eager to get their designs into our buyers’ hands-but so many times I see samples with unfinished edges and chipping paint. Who knows when you will get another chance.

Send them something that shows the true extent of your talent. Before you send out your sample think, is this something I would send to a paying customer? Remember, when our buyers have your design in their hands they are thinking the exact same thing.

Stay tuned to our Twitter to learn about new design challenges and enter our Art Contest all year round!

Gift Guides

How to Repair a Wool Sweater

February 22, 2013

Getting the opportunity to try uncommon products is one of the great things about working at UncommonGoods. While many of these product-testing experiments become gift labs, every now and then we find a new good with so many uses we can’t fit them all in one “report.” The Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is an example of just such a product, AND, since associate buyer Katie and community moderator Cassie both had their eyes on this winter must-have, we decided to diverge from the traditional gift lab format and see just how many uses we could come up with for this clever kit. Four are outlined below, but Cassie and Katie agree that the fun doesn’t have to stop there!

Katie: Having spotted the Woolfiller at a major New York trade show last year, I was anxious to get such a solution-oriented product into our assortment. A fun, hands-on kit to patch up an old favorite or add some flair to a basic sweater seemed like the perfect DIY project nearly anyone could adopt.To put this product to the test, I decided to tackle two specific projects, the first was to patch the embarrassingly large (and winter chill-inviting) elbow holes on one of my favorite sweaters. After completing the elbow hole patches, I wanted more – I had seen some fun images the company provided where people used the bright colored wool to add some creative patches as flair and I wanted to try this out, which lead to Project two: adding flair.

Cassie and I decided to each purchase one kit – a match made in heaven as this green-adoring girl, could partner with Cassie’s purple-loving self and combine to make a cornucopia of rich, jewel-tone wools mixed with solid staple colors (greys, blacks, beiges) which came in extra handy for my second project. But I would also say that one kit is entirely sufficient – each comes with bright color options as well as neutral, basic colors which should cover a range of sweater needs. And to that point, upon unloading our kits onto a communal table, we were both surprised by how much wool comes in each kit – we went about tearing each ball into half and divvying up our goods.

Project 1: Bold Elbow Patches

Katie: After some deliberation, I chose to patch the elbows of my dark, gray sweater with the natural beige wool – aiming for a contrast patch look – like your grandfather’s sweater.

After choosing the color of wool, I reviewed the simple instructions and went to work. I used a pair of scissors to make the first of my ragged elbow holes into a smooth, even oval to ensure my patches would be as clean-looking as possible. Next, I ripped a decent amount (maybe the width of a lime) of wool off the main piece, turned my sweater inside out, put the provided foam piece in the sleeve, laid the wool over the hole, and began poking!

After completing the first of two patches, I turned my sleeve right-side out to inspect my work. Herein I learned one of the bigger lessons of the project – while the instructions suggest turning your piece inside-out to use the product, I found that by doing that I was less aware of the exact line of the hole (because the piece of wool covered it) and as a result I ended up with what can only be described as a “halo” effect around the patch – one sold patch, with a light ring of excess wool surrounding it.

On elbow #2 I decided to try another approach – again I cut away the ragged edge to make a smooth hole, but this time I left the sweater sleeve right-side out, I inserted the felt piece, and lined the wool up perfectly with the hole and started poking away. I found when I did it this way, I was able to guide the wool into a perfect oval while poking and overall felt much more in control of the overall work. When complete, the patch appeared much more perfect and solid.

After completing the elbow patches, I moved onto my next experiment…

Project 2: Adding a Little Flair

Katie: I decided to do a simple trio of mini circles with bright colors. Having learned from my elbow patches, I left my sweater right-side out, tore of tiny circles of wool (about the size of a quarter), and started poking away! I found my technique was much-improved, I used my fingers to expertly guide the wool and before I knew it I had my little flair added in.

In the interest of science, here are my key Findings:

Finding #1:
This kit comes with a lot of wool. I was surprised by how little wool it took to patch up my rather large elbow holes. I have a lot of wool leftover and am just waiting for a quiet Sunday to get to patchin’ my slew of other well-worn sweaters.

Finding #2:
The more you poke – the more “felted” the wool becomes. Good thing poking is super fun.

Finding #3:
As mentioned above, the kit recommends turning the piece inside-out and then using the wool filler, however, I found this created a slight ‘halo effect’ around the actual patch, and when I tested using the kit the opposite way – with the sweater turned right-side out, I was very pleased with the results – I could control the pokes more and create a clean oval with no halo.

Finding #4:
The Woolfiller is a really easy, creative way to patch.

Having now completed two projects on one beloved, well-worn sweater, I can vouch for the usability and honestly–the fun– this product provided.I passed the DIY-sweater-patch torch along to Cassie.

Project 3: The No-Show Repair

Cassie: I also had a beloved sweater with a hole in it. Unlike Katie, I didn’t want my repair job to be super noticeable. My hole was just under the arm of a multi-colored sweater, so I hoped I could blend the new wool in and make the sweater look like new. Taking her findings into consideration, I began my exercise in craftology.

I started out the same way, by finding the hole, turning the sweater inside out, and inserting the foam block. Then I picked out a couple of colors that I thought would mix nicely with my sweater’s pattern.

I placed the wool over the holes and started poking. It was really fun, and, because the sweater is 100% wool the new wool took almost instantly. I pricked at the wool with the felting needle for less than a minute before the patch was completely attached, but I kept at it for a little longer, just to make sure it was blended well.

I turned the sweater back inside in and gave it a few more pokes, just to give the wool a smoother look. The finished product looked good, and the patch feels just like the rest of the sweater.

While I agree with most of Katie’s key findings, I found that starting with the sweater inside out worked great for a small, blended patch. She preferred the look of the patch when she placed the wool directly over the hole without turning her garment inside out first. I’d recommend doing a test on your own piece, by woolfilling just a small section of the patch, before completing your own project.

Project 4: Super Star Style

Cassie: Giving my sweater a quick fix was fun and easy, but after seeing Katie’s bold patches and the little bundle of flair she added to her project, I was a little jealous. I wanted to give my own colorful creation a try, so I decided to add a little shape to an old cardigan.

First I drew a star shape on a small piece of scratch paper. Then, I cut out the star, leaving an outline. Next, I placed the outline over the elbow of my sweater. (Remember to insert the foam block first.)

I didn’t turn the sweater inside out this time, since I wasn’t actually making a real “patch,” I was just covering up the existing material with new wool.

I put a little ball of bright pink wool in the center of the star shape, then started stretching it out to fill the cutout as I poked it with the felting needle. I didn’t secure the star before starting this process, which made it a little trickier than it had to be. Next time I’ll hold it in place with some fabric tape or a safety pin.

I gradually added more wool and pulled it into the shape of the star as I worked at it with the felting needle. Once I had the outline filled in I removed the paper and then poked carefully around the outside edges of the star to give it a sharper shape.

Since the cardigan isn’t entirely wool (it’s a blend also containing nylon and cotton), it took a lot longer for the woolfiller to adhere this time than it did with the 100% wool sweater I’d used it on before.

The star turned out well, but there was one problem. I was so focused on creating my shape that I forgot to move my foam block the whole time I was poking. The wool (and the sweater) got stuck to the block, so It was somewhat difficult to remove when I was done. Make sure to readjust the block several times during your project to make sure this doesn’t happen!

I’ll definitely try this again next time I want to give an old sweater a new look. Next time, I might try a heart, a triangle or square, or maybe even a letter.


Through our multiple sweater patching projects, we learned that the Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is a great way to repair a damaged sweater, give old wool a new look, or add a personal touch to your favorite pieces.

And, bonus, it’s not just for sweaters. It works on any pretty much anything made of wool!

The Uncommon Life

Environmental ABC’s: 26 Ways to Go Back to School Green

September 6, 2012

It’s back-to-school time, giving us an excuse to get all educational on you, with tips and ideas about how you and your family can live green this fall. Parenting–and teaching–innately imply thinking about the future, and eco-sensitive lifestyles help ensure that the years ahead will be bright for today’s children. In that spirit, we present to you our ABCs of going back to school in sustainable style.

A

Art. Let’s start with something wondrous: Fabulous art–made from garbage. Some of the best art in the world today is being made out of trash. Check these out:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/101674993/trash-bird-sculpture-three

Inspiring, right? Talk to your school’s art teacher to see if they’d be into working on a trash art project. (There’s a good chance they already are.)
For art-making at home, keep a scrap paper bin of paper that’s printed on only one side. Kids can doodle, or do multiple drafts of drawings or paintings on the scrap paper. When they want to make a keeper version, that’s the time for the “good” paper.

At UncommonGoods, we love unique and beautiful works of art made from recycled and reclaimed materials that would otherwise have ended up as plain old garbage.

B

children-riding-a-horse-to-school-glass-house-mountains-queensland-1928-small
Bike, walk, skateboard, scooter or ride the bus (or a horse!) to school instead of driving or even carpooling. Kid energy is a renewable resource. UncommonGoods employees are encouraged to use bikes as transportation, and we offer several convenient, effective and cool bike safety items.

C

Copy machines: Do you really, truly need to make a hard copy of that document? If you absolutely must, use both sides of the–ideally, recycled–paper. In fact, how about making double-sided printing and minimal ink use the default settings?

You could also buy refillable cartridges containing bio based, sustainable inks (like soy). If for whatever reason that’s impossible at school or work, at least try to recycle your used ink cartridges.

D

Disposable items are uncool. Whenever possible, buy re-useable items. Tossing disposables into a recycling bin is at best, a very pale green: It takes energy to recycle and re-manufacture things, and if you throw them away after only one use, a lot of that energy has been wasted.
Prime culprits of back-to-school disposability crimes include:

  • Pens. The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938. In 2005, Bic celebrating selling its 100 billionth pen. 14,000,000 BIC Cristals are sold a day. And that’s just one brand. Six billion pens are thrown away every year in the US! 

Buy a refillable pen. Metal ink refills can be recycled. Vintage advertising pens are nostalgic, super stylin’, and the sins of their manufacturing are in the past. UncommonGoods’ selection of refillable pens ranges from funky to girly to sporty to arty.

  • Coffee cups. Americans buy 14.4 billion cups a year of coffee in disposable cups, which take energy, trees and water to make and transport. It’s not only styrofoam cups that are an environmental disaster; because the paper kind are lined with plastic, they can’t be recycled either. Get a mug.

You could go crazy upscale and get a cup decorated with  24 karat gold, blue cobalt, and diamonds. 

Or get an equally covetable but rather more sensible one.

  • Razors. Cut out (yep, we went there) disposable razors. Each year, Americans buy, use, and toss two billion razors and the packaging they come in. Instead, how about trying a solar-charged electric shaver, or at least, an Energy Star model? Electric shavers do use energy, but not water. A recycled razor is another possibility; one brand is made of recycled yogurt containers. The blades in the (disposable) cartridges can be kept sharp much longer by using a razor-saver gizmo.

If you’re feeling a luxe goth vibe, we’re pretty sure that our skull razor is the coolest thing going.

 

Opt for Don Draper’s safety razor (they use recycleable metal blades) and you’ve got an excuse to buy a retro-hip shaving brush. (The gratuitous photo of shirtless Jon Hamm is here for strictly educational purposes only, honest!) But whatever you do, don’t shave in the shower–especially women, who have the most acreage to denude. As this Slate article informs us, “Shaving for 10 minutes with a typical 2.5 gallons-per-minute shower head, you’d waste more than 24 gallons of hot water, 4.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 5.3 pounds of carbon dioxide in your warm, misty tub. It would take less than three days of shaving to account for the energy you’d use by shaving in the sink for an entire year.”

E-waste. Americans junk 30 million computers every year (those are circuit boards in the photo above). Add phones, TVs, DVD players, etc. to that list and you’ve got about 3 million tons of dumped electronics a year in the US alone. Not only does this waste reuseable materials, but 70% of the dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from all that e-junk. But it’s becoming easier and easier to reycycle old electronics, as governments require manufacturers to take them back. Here are some links to help you find e-waste collection sites.

A protective sleeve or case will help keep your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or e-reader from getting broken or wet and then sent to an early grave.

F

Food. There are so many good, green food habits to teach your kids. Perhaps the primary lesson should be about wasted food.

Just kidding. Not that kind of wasted.

We Americans waste around 40 percent of our food. The average American throws away 33 pounds–about $40 worth–of edible food each month, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council put out in August. That’s about 50% more than in 1974. (And we know it’s not because we’ve gotten better at portion control.)

When people talk about becoming less dependent on petro-fuels, they don’t usually think of food as part of that. But growing, transporting, packaging, selling and buying what we eat uses a ginormous amount of oil. (And fertilizer, pesticides, and water.) The NRDC estimates that approximately 25 percent of the freshwater and 4 percent of the oil Americans consume goes to edible food that’s thrown away. On top of all that, a whole lot of greenhouse gases are produced during the food cycle.

There’s also all that food packaging to consider: Every year, the average American child generates 67 pounds of trash from their school lunches. That’s 18,670 pounds per year from the average elementary school. (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation).

As Dana Gunder, agricultural environmental specialist at the NRDC put it, “No matter how sustainable the farming is, if the food’s not getting eaten, it’s not sustainable and it’s not a good use of our resources.”

It’s very possible to quickly change this for the better. A public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom called “Love Food Hate Waste” has reduced household food waste by 18% in only five years.

A simple way to do your part to reduce waste while also ensuring that your child is eating healthy, is packing their lunches yourself in an appealing lunch bag made of recycled materials. You can also use cloth napkins and refillable beverage containers–lightweight, collapsible, BPA-free models might be best for kids’ lunches.

Whenever possible, eschew (see what we did there?) single-serve portions: ugh, all that disposable packaging! And don’t forget that in addition to their nutritional benefits, fruits like bananas, apples and oranges come with all the packaging they need.

G

Green(er) tools for school.

Avoid backpacks and school binders made of nylon or new plastics, especially PVC vinyl. Not only is it not recycleable, but some of the most dangerous environmental contaminants, including dioxins (known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and the most toxic synthetic chemicals) are released during its manufacture and disposal. It’s worth searching for non-toxic binders, and easy to find bags made from recycled or natural materials.

Personalized backpack patches,  painted backpack,  homemade drawstring backpack

Better yet, find a gently used vintage one. I’m a lifelong thrift store cruiser, and those places always have plenty of new-looking backpacks and messenger-type bags for sale, just begging to be creatively personalized. If you’re artsy, it’d be a snap to paint a great-looking, unique backpack; sewers of even modest skill could make one from the fabric of another vintage item, like a skirt.

If you use “office” machines at home, choose Energy-star rated ones, and be sure to schedule regular maintenance for maximum energy efficiency. And it’s now possible to buy folders and binders, pushpins, rulers, scissors, paper clips, crayons, correction fluid, glue, pen and pencil holders and cases, desk organizers, and laptop sleeves made of recycled/recycleable/biodegradable/nontoxic materials.

H

Habits, like recycling, or searching for green alternatives, are easy once they become automatic. Teach kids (and pets, if you can…) to turn out the lights when you’re the last one out of the room; turn off their computer when they’re done using it; turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.

I

Inventory. Know what you already have before you go shopping for school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc. It’s so tempting to buy scads of new, shiny pens and notebooks when they’re on sale, and parents tend to over-buy at back-to-school time. Pull out last year’s extras to save money and waste less.

J

Jobs. Green ones. Meaningful employment is one of the main reasons people go to school and get an education in the first place, right? Lots of interesting and fulfilling jobs are popping up in the fields of sustainability and environmentalism. Inspire your kids by talking with them about the possibilities. For teenagers and college students, there are internships galore.
Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now have an “Office of Sustainability” or a less formal task force, through which students can become involved in greening their campus. A geographically diverse sampling:

A few resources to help find green/environmental/sustainability internships:

K

Kvetch. And vote. It’s never too early to teach your kids that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (OK, we take that back. It is sometimes too early.) Help them understand what democracy is and the effectiveness of action within it. Teach them about the history of environmentalism (maybe brush up on it yourself, first) and how people got together to push for societal change.

L

Laundry. Living green sometimes takes a little extra effort, but occasionally it’s less work, rather than more. Here’s an example: don’t wash your clothes and bedding so often. You can tell when fabric needs cleaning: it’s either dirty or…fragrant. If neither is true, skip the wash.

Set a family laundry schedule and stick to it. Getting the whole family on board could avoid unnecessary runs of your machines for a basketball uniform or dance costume. When you do wash, use natural and non-toxic soaps, and line-dry whenever possible. In the summertime, use the great solar dryer in the sky. In the wintertime, damp articles of clothing hanging indoors are electricity-free humidifiers.

UncommonGoods offers a nicely designed indoor clothesline, as well as this aroma-tastic natural laundry soap. It’s packaged as a manly item, but who doesn’t like “rich smelling sunflower, coconut and rosemary oils”?

Stunningly beautiful clothesline photos to inspire you, collected by Pinterest-poster Mei-Mei:

M

Meat. Eat less of it.

Issues of morality and health aside, meat is simply far less energy-efficient and far more polluting than non-animal sources of protein. Audubon magazine: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases–more than all the cars, buses, planes, and trains in the world combined.” Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in environmental economics at the University of California-Irvine, estimates that to produce 1 pound of beef, 15 pounds of carbon dioxide are created.

According to Department of Agriculture estimates, it takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Even farmed fish eat up to 5 lbs of wild-caught fish per pound that we can eat.

That doesn’t even take into account the energy and other costs of raising, butchering, packaging, refrigerating and transporting. For instance, according to the Worldwatch Institute, producing one pound of beef can use up 50,000 liters of water.

Children will love the following info-tidbits about the inevitable noxious “output” of so many animals: Massive amounts of #s 1 and 2 from pig factory farms leak into nearby water supplies. Burping and farting livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, which is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). So. You can start small by participating in Meat Free Monday, the worldwide campaign of the cute Beatle. Or start big and do the opposite: eat meat only on Mondays.

N

New. Old is the new new. If vintage clothes are cool enough for super-rich and fashionable movie and pop stars, it’s possible that your kids (and you) could deem them adequately fabulous. They require zero energy and resources to make, because they’re, y’know, already made. We did a little searching and found these adorable clothes that we thought were perfect for back-to-school.

1960s snap-front western shirt,  vintage dress and sweater,  Garfield brand vintage polo shirt,  1960s plaid skort / culottes

Then there are clothes made from recycled or salvaged fabric and fibers. They’re green no matter what color they are.

UncommonGoods Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt and Recycled Cat and Owl Scarves

O

Organic foods don’t pollute our environment with toxic pesticides or petroleum-derived fertilizers. They usually (but not always) take a lot less energy to grow, too. You’ve probably had your fill of info about eating organic, but perhaps your kids are interested in growing it!

It’s tough to make a living as a small organic farmer, but the non-financial rewards are inspiring more and more young people to give it a whack. If your teens or college students would like to taste life on the chemical-free farm, here are some resources to help them find a volunteer or paid position–maybe next summer?

P

Paper. You already know that paper requires the death of innocent trees (and destruction of animal habitat). But you may not know about the rest of paper’s massive environmental impacts.

Paper milling is one of the most energy and pollution-intensive industries in the world, emitting lethal chemicals into the air, water, and when the 12 million tons a year of paper solid waste are disposed of, the earth. Some of them stick around for a very long time and gradually enter the food chain. Others deplete the ozone layer. As if that’s not bad enough, its manufacture uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

The good news is that making new paper out of old is energy-efficient, cost-effective, uses far fewer resources, and obviously, reduces the amount of waste. While it takes from 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make 1 ton of virgin paper, a ton of recycled paper can make nearly equivalent amount of new, while using only 10 to 40 percent of the energy, less water, and far fewer chemicals. Buying recycled paper is voting for more recycling.

The most toxic chemicals involved in paper making – the various types of seriously carcinogenic chlorine used for bleaching, which produce, among other things, deadly dioxin (as we mentioned in letter “G,” above, the most potent carcinogen known)–aren’t necessary. There are plenty of non-toxic chemicals that can whiten paper, including the same stuff that’s in Oxy-Clean.

Not all paper has to be white, anyway–paper towels, and toilet paper, for instance. Avoid using bleached paper products whenever possible. Buy non-bleached brands instead.Processed Chlorine-Free

When you do buy bleached paper, choose chlorine-free brands; specifically TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or, best of all, PCF (“Processed Chlorine-Free”). The latter is a lousy name for a good product; it refers to papers that contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled fiber, have not been re-bleached with chlorine-containing compounds, are made in mills without outstanding environmental violations, and use TCF virgin pulp (when virgin fiber is included in the paper) that did not come from old growth forests. (Don’t be confused by ECF, “Elementally Chlorine-Free, which uses other types of chlorine, just not its “elemental” form.)

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) certifies all of this. You can use the Paper Calculator to figure out the environmental impact of various kinds of paper, and look up every possible sort of paper on Conservatree, in order to find green paper brands. You can even buy recycled sticky notes!

Q

Questions are the starting point of changes. Moms and dads, encourage your children to ask questions about the family’s new habits and ask them if they can think of new ways to decrease the family’s ecological impact. You might be surprised by their answers.

R

Read. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine, Conservationist for Kids, covers a wide range of topics that are fascinating to kids, written just for them, and accompanied by great photos. All past and current issues are available online.

S

Statistics. We know we’ve flooded you with facts here. But they’re meant to inform, not overwhelm. Negative statistics can make one feel powerless and discouraged. But you yourself, reading and practicing a few (or a lot) of these green ABCs and sharing them with friends, who share them with their friends, and so on, could start generating statistics we all like a lot better. Yes, really.

T

Think (it only takes a moment) before you buy or use anything and everything. That’ll give your mind a chance to recall some of the tips and factoids you’re reading here (and elsewhere).

U

Unplug electronic gadgets and appliances when not in use, due to…

V

Vampire power. Also known as “standby power,” this is the electricity used by many electronic devices, chargers, appliances, and equipment when they’re switched off, but not unplugged. The name comes from those black power supply cubes; their metal plugs are like fangs, sucking power out of your walls.

Depending on how much electricity costs where you live and how many devices you have plugged in, trickles of vampire power can really add up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s joint Energy Star program estimates that “the average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

As you can imagine, the billions and billions of devices sucking electrical “blood” out of the world’s power grids collectively waste a tremendous amount of electricity. And because most energy plants emit a great deal of carbon dioxide (one of the major culprits of global warming) and sulpher dioxide (which causes acid rain), plus various other pollutants, eliminating vampire power with smart power strips, etc. is a no-brainer.

W

Water. Most Americans have never had to give water a second’s worth of thought. This summer’s drought, however, has caused many of us to begin waking up to the reality that water is a limited resource. How about trying to use less? It’s painless, once you start paying attention.

Some simple ways to conserve water: If you’re a gardener, grow plants that thrive in dry environments. Notice when you’re using running water’s physical force to push food off plates or dirt off of whatever, and begin using elbow grease instead, cleaning with a brush or rag–with the tap turned off. In fact, start paying attention every time you turn on a tap or shower. How long does the water really need to be running? During the hectic morning rush, setting a timer for morning showers will limit bathroom time per family member while saving many gallons of water.

X

Xx.  We hope you don’t think we’re fresh, but…here’s a smooch, for getting your green on.

YRecycling symbol tattoo,  glitter green platform disco shoes,  eco-mack daddy vegan fur hat and vest, recycling symbol nail art

You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be

–Earth, Wind, and Fire

(Set a good example!)

Z

Zzzzz. It’s easy to drift away from the great schedule that you started at the beginning of the school year, but keeping bedtimes early means fewer lightbulbs burning in the night. Besides, Benjamin Franklin says it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise–and he was not only one of our Founding Fathers, he’s also the Father of Electricity!

He also said the words we’d like to close with:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

The Uncommon Life

A Rockin’ Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice) Recipe

August 31, 2012

I had a bunch of leftover cooked jasmine rice in the fridge and a new UncommonGoods gadget I wanted to try, the Garlic Rocker. So I did the math and came up with Garlic + Rice = Garlic Rice. Clever, eh?
Googling “garlic rice” in search of a recipe led me to the discovery that in the Phillippines, it’s a breakfast staple called “sinangag” in Tagalog. Garlic for breakfast?! I was on it like white on rice.
Because fried rice doesn’t require exact measurements–you can judge just by looking how much of each ingredient you want to add to it–I looked at several recipes and more or less winged it from there. (The recipe links are at the bottom of this page.) I also consulted UncommonGoods’ two Filipino software developers, Albert Tingson and Orlando Geronimo.
Orlando (right, in photo) said, “How about if you bring the sinangag to work and we’ll have a good breakfast with some tapa and fried egg. We call it ‘Tapsilog.'” All three of us were enthused about this idea until we remembered that we have no way to cook fried eggs at work.
With any kind of fried rice, you want to get all the elements (except herbs, if you’re using them) cooked and chopped before the “frying” begins (actually, sautéeing in my case, as I used a flat pan instead of a wok).
I put some “fancy” generic store brand frozen peas in a bowl and defrosted/cooked them in the microwave. When they were done, I set them aside.I started scrambling a couple of eggs. The secret to good scrambled eggs is low heat, minimal scrambling, and removing the eggs when they’re still slightly underdone, because they’ll cook a little more from their internal heat. That way, the eggs turn out soft and delicious rather than rubbery and tasteless.
When the eggs were done, I sort of stab/chopped them into irregular, bite-size chunks with the plastic spatula I was using in the non-stick pan. Then I set them aside.I took my leftover rice out of the fridge and broke up the stuck-together hunks so that it’d be ready to be scattered into the pan when the time came. I set that aside, too.Then I cut each garlic clove in half lengthwise so that it would lay flat and stable.Now I was ready to ROCK. I pressed the rocker down onto a nice, fat garlic clove and rocked it back and forth to cut through the whole clove.Oh, how beautiful the results were. Perfect little bullets of garlic that resembled part of a honeycomb. Without bothering to scrape off the “bullets,” I put another couple of cloves underneath the tool and pressed/rocked them, too.Because I’m a garlic glutton, I rocked a few more cloves. Then it was time to sauté the garlic bullets.
I used peanut oil. Chinese cooks normally use it because it has a high “smoke point” – meaning it can get a lot hotter than, say, canola oil, corn oil, or butter, before it starts smoking and burning. Also, its flavor goes better with Asian food than olive oil’s does. (If you live near an Asian grocery, buy it there. It’s a lot more expensive at typical American groceries.)I put maybe three tablespoons more into the pan than I needed for sautéeing the garlic, so that there’d be plenty of gloriously garlicky oil left over to fry the rice with.
I’m an impatient cook and I hate to watch over things, which is why I very often overcook my hamburgers and burn my garlic. Burning garlic ruins it. It tastes really acrid and bad. So I made myself pay attention and kept the heat low-ish. I didn’t ruin it! OK, actually a few pieces were overcooked, but I deleted them.One of the recipes I’d found said to add the rice to the garlic in the pan, but I didn’t want to risk cooking the garlic any longer. Instead, I set it aside with the other prepped ingredients, leaving as much as possible of the now-flavored oil in the pan.
It was time to put together the sinangag. I raised the heat to high and added the rice, stirring it in order to make sure it all got some oil on it. I cooked it for maybe three minutes, not enough to brown it, but sufficient to get it hot and give it some of the character of the hot oil. You can smell when it’s right — it’ll remind you a little bit of popcorn cooking in oil.
I added the peas and eggs and stirred to more or less evenly distribute them in the rice and to get all three elements to flavor-kiss a bit. Then I turned off the heat, added the garlic, and stirred some more. A wave of garlic bliss came over me while putting so much into what was only a couple of servings of rice.And there you have it. In imitation of the photo accompanying one of the recipes I’d found, I pressed it into a little bowl-type thingy (I don’t know what to call it because it isn’t round like a bowl — mini-crock?) and made it look all nice and photogenic.
I served some of it into a bowl that I know is an actual bowl because it’s rounded, added a couple of dashes of soy sauce, and dug in. It was a beautiful, heavenly, garlic symphony, much more than the sum of its humble parts.

Recipe: Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice)

Ingredients
(I’m not giving amounts because it’s up to you and how much leftover rice you have.)

Leftover cooked rice (it should be at least one day old)
Frozen green peas
Eggs
Garlic cloves (lots)
Peanut oil
Salt or soy sauce

Preparation steps
1. Break up the rice if it’s sticking together; set aside.
2. Defrost and cook the peas. Set them aside.
3. Gently scramble the eggs; then break them up into small pieces. Set them aside.
4. Peel and cube (or “rock” – but do not use garlic press) the garlic into quarter-inch-size chunks and saute until golden–not dark–brown.
5. Set frying pan or wok on a burner and set heat to high.
6. As soon as oil has a subtle, shimmery sheen (but before it smokes), add rice and cook for about 3 minutes, until the rice is hot and perhaps very slightly browned in a few places, but no more. Turn heat down to medium.
7. Add the peas and eggs and stir to mix; cook for about a minute.
8. Turn off heat; add garlic and stir.
9. Add salt or soy sauce to taste.

Recipe links
Sinangag – Filipino Garlic Fried Rice
Garlic Fried Rice
Sinangag – Eggs and Peas Fried Rice
How to cook fried rice (Sinangag na Kanin)

Design

Tips for Creating a Winning Portfolio by Design Challenge Champ Tasha McKelvey

August 14, 2012

A great portfolio is a must-have in the visual world of design, but what’s the best way to build an eye-catching image collection? Ceramicist Tasha McKelvey captured our judges’ attention and won our first Ceramics Design Challenge with her uncommon piece. Here’s her advice on creating content to get the attention of art show judges, buyers like ours, and others in the art world.

Last fall I entered the UncommonGoods Ceramics Design Challenge on a whim. The holiday rush was already upon me, so I decided to take a few minutes and fill out the application right then. Otherwise, I knew I would end up forgetting and not enter at all.

Be Prepared

I already had an item to enter in mind. My Birdie Mini Dish would be a good fit for a catalog based on the size, price-point, cuteness factor, functionality and my studio’s ability to produce it both efficiently and in quantity.

Using relatively few images and words, I would need to effectively communicate all these details to the judges reviewing the applications for the Design Challenge.

With my entry decided on, I was able to pull my application together very quickly because I had already invested some time and thought into the process of portfolio presentation. The images I submitted for judging reflected the function, size and other options I offered for the mini-dish while still demonstrating the items’ consistent style.

This was the most specific mini-portfolio I have put together to date because it really only contains one piece of my work. I normally present a quite different group of images to craft show juries or gallery owners emphasizing the full scope of my work along with my particular style or voice.

Be Selective

Some time ago I created a Flickr portfolio of product images I had assembled for some indie craft show applications. I wanted to provide the show’s jury panel a link to a small selection of images I felt accurately represented my current ceramic work. Just sending a link to my website might have been overwhelming for a jury since it catalogs the entire diversity of my work. The smaller online portfolio I created on Flickr can also be a great resource to share with galleries, shop buyers, and the press.

Create a Cohesive Look

Additionally, the images are appropriate for uploading directly to an online craft show application that require image attachments for jurying. The individual images in my portfolio are actually composites; each jpeg consists of two images side by side. I combined the images using Photoshop, but there are lots of other programs available that can do the same thing. In order to better demonstrate the variety and relationships in my work, I chose to use two images in each “slide”. I put my bird bowls side by side with my ceramic bird necklaces, my ginkgo pottery with my ginkgo jewelry, my woodland gnome with my woodland mushroom mini-tray, etc.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey

Tell a Story

Take a look at the six “slides” that make up my portfolio. Notice the order I placed them in and the story such an arrangement tells. The first image is bold and eye-catching, while the last image references the subject matter as well as some of the colors in the first image (a little trick I also used with my UncommonGoods Design Challenge images too). Even though the backgrounds vary, each image shares the common themes of neutral colors and woodgrain — there is variety, but it is a consistent variety.

Know Your Audience

I use these images for indie craft shows and boutiques, but I do not always use these particular images for more traditional or upscale art and craft shows or galleries. For most non-indie shows I have a separate set of images with a gradient gray background. More traditional or high-end show juries have certain expectations for image presentation, and my casual woodgrain backgrounds might rub some of the more traditional art show jury members the wrong way. Also note that composite images are not recommended for non-indie shows in general.

Here are some examples of my images for non-indie art and craft shows.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey
The UncommonGoods buying team is always looking for great new designs. Check out our latest design challenge or show us your work through our new goods submission form.

The Uncommon Life

How To Repot Succulents

June 8, 2012

In the world of trends, Succulent plants seem to be taking home the crown in the fauna and flora category. And why shouldn’t they? Succulents are hardy, unique, and perfect for the dry summer heat. They don’t ask for much, but a good environment No green thumb needed — follow this quick DIY tutorial to repot your succulents and ready for your front porch or city window.

As Charlotte (you know, the one with the web) would say, Salutations! I’m Blair – the bloggin’ gal from the lifestyle and fashion blog, Wild and Precious and now that I’ve introduced myself lets chat about a way to spruce up that patio of yours!

Mix Your Potting Soil

Potting soil recipe:

  • Potting Soil
  • Coffee Grinds
  • Sand

Did you make mudpies growing up? If so, this might be your favorite part — make your own dirt mixture! When picking out potting soil just get the very most basic stuff. You don’t want anything too rich in additives — Succulents just don’t like that stuff. The goal of your dirt mixture is to get water/food/light/nutrients to and away from the roots in a time appropriate fashion. Mix coffee grinds and a little sand into your dirt before filling your pots. The sand will keep your soil from getting too over saturated with moisture (remember, these type of plants are desert dwellers – they aren’t use to a whole lot of the wet stuff) and the coffee grinds will help fertilize as well as keep away slugs and bugs that would otherwise love to nibble your Succulents down to nothingness.

 

Prepare Your Pot

As far as picking out pots the world is your oyster. You don’t need anything too big and can even choose to put more than one succulent together in a pot. With your pot(s) picked out fill 1/3 of each pot with sand. Do not try to cut costs (sand is cheap anyway) by bringing home sand from your beach vacation — that stuff is full of salt and your succulents will no longer be… well, succulent. Sand is important in helping move around and drain water. Once you’ve got the sand in, fill with your dirt mixture leaving a small lip of space up top.

Prepare Your Succulent

Before introducing your plants to their new home give the bottom of the existing dirts/roots a bit of a scrunch. Flare the root structure out a bit. This will help it transition better into its new/bigger/better environment. This is something good to remember when planting anything anywhere. If you don’t break up the bundle they are used to having in their temporary store shells, they might be a little too shy to branch out (pun intended) into their new world.

Pot Your Succulent

Now — where to put them? These guys are not fans of the midday sun. They prefer indirect/filtered sunlight and enjoy a nice airflow (I chose to put mine on my front porch which is roofed). As for watering — unlike planting in your garden, you do not want to water these right away after repotting. Give them some time to adjust and then give a good watering about once a week during the warmer months. Don’t ever leave standing water in your pots — it makes them angry.

Wham bam thank you ma’am we have ourselves some repotted Succulents! Call your self hip cause you’ve got the trendiest little plants on the block. Mischief managed!

Thanks for hanging out with me — pop over any time to say hi Wild & Precious. ta ta friends.

Ready to get started? Shop planters at UncommonGoods >>

The 10 Best Indoor Succulents | Indoor Plant Tips | UncommonGoods

Check out this INFOGRAPHIC to discover the perfect succulent for you. (No green thumb needed.)

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