Saturday, October 27, 2012

Soap Tote = A Niche Market

I talked to someone today who was like, "No offence, but...." and then she proceeded to run down my product. "You can get it at the dollar store," she said. No, you can't. "People just use hotel soap." Really? All people use hotel soap and there aren't any people out there who have special needs and preferences who would like to take their own soap? Or even people who would like something to take that wonderful hotel soap home?

I've heard those arguments before, and while I acknowledge that while the soap tote is not for everyone, it may not be even for most people, but it is for some, and it is for those people I make the soap tote. 

In fact I have heard from those people; they happen to be my customers. Here's another comment from one.

The real question I am now asking is, why did I stay involved in a one-sided, unfruitful, conversation for so long?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Plant Hanger

Here's another project that would work with recycled billboards. Many leather projects will also work in recycled billboards.  If the particular billboard is not thick enough, perhaps two layers glued together would be stronger.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Red and White Comic and Toy Expo

Hi if you are visiting me from the link from the Red and White Comic and Toy expo, my comic and fine art is actually at this website,

This particular blog is about my adventures in recycling vinyl billboards. If you are interested in my recycled billboard products, check them out here and here.

Thanks for visiting me at the comic expo. I had a nice time and I got some good feedback on my ipad art.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boxed Corner bag for sheet music

Sheet music bag
My dog likes to chew cardboard and paper. I needed to get my sheet music protected from him. Before we had that tiny table ON TOP of the piano. Didn't quite look right up there! So I made this boxy-shaped bag out of an old billboard.

I needed it to fit in the space under the small table which meant the space was 9X9X13". 

There are only 4 seams on this bag, I will reveal the secrets of the box corner bag in my next post. Maybe I'll even make a little spreadsheet so you can enter the dimensions of the bag/box you need so you can make your own.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hanging Soap Boxes

I'm calling this new soap tote a Hanging Soap Box, due to its 3D shape and boxed corners. I also changed the closure so they have a notched flap and a tuck strip instead of velcro.  Less sewing!

Hanging soap box with 3" diameter soap
I created a new section on my website for them:
They are not currently available on Etsy, only on my own website at this time.

I'm only using the square cutout mesh for these at the moment. The squarish font for the silver-colored soap decal was selected to coordinate with the square mesh. Unity within the design!
Front view, closed

Back, closed, showing closure system
Side view

I like how the drying mesh is held out and open so as to be easier to receive the soap.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I have been busy in my studio making a bunch more soap totes. I have a new design that I'm excited to launch, as well as a new online venue to list with. When the meshes are cut out, a lot of confetti-like chads are left over. I once thought to bag it and sell it as reusable confetti, but I didn't really want to bother with doing that.   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shampoo Bar

Well I always wanted to learn how to make soap. For my first attempt, I made a lemongrass-scented shampoo bar with a recipe from Also pictured is my latest design for the soap tote, designed with thicker, larger soap bars in mind.

My goals for soapmaking are twofold. One is to have soap to sell along with my soap totes. I think that would make a neat, all-in-one gift. Just add a bow! Plus the "packaging" is reusable after the soap is used up. 

Another goal is to learn how to make soap and shampoo bars suitable for use on the guaifenesin protocol. I was bored with the soap options available to me and decided to learn how to make soap. Standard soapmaking oils like coconut and olive oil have to be changed to ones that don't have salicylates, as they are absorbed through the skin, blocking the effectiveness of the guaifenesin.   For those who are interested, the allowable oils are corn, rice, rye, oat, wheat, and soy. Not allowed are common soapmaking oils like olive, castor and coconut oils.  The protocol works for me  -- I've been on it and benefitting from it for 4 1/2 years now -- and I'd like to keep it working by using only the allowable oils.  But if you put forth that question on a soap making forum, you get more than a few dissenting opinions, I'm just sayin'. However, I will continue to heed this warning "Salicylates are readily absorbed through the skin and intestine when introduced from medications and supplements including plant oils, gels and extracts. Individual genetics determine ease of blocking but all patients should assume a high level of susceptibility and take no risks." So, I will be doing some experimenting to see if I can make a shampoo bar that has only the allowable oils.

I had some bloopers with my first batch of soap. My soap got stuck in the PVC pipe mold, but released a day later. Soup can + rubber mallet = splat! Overall it was a successful experiment.

SKU numbers

I'm preparing to get my products onto an additional online venue. They want SKU numbers. SKU stands for shop keeping numbers. This is going to require some thought as to what scheme I'm going to use.

So I logged all of my products and I'm thinking about that. Since all of my products look unique unless they are made of a solid color tarp, they will each need unique numbers.

On this spreadsheet I put pictures onto the description by formatting the comment code to a picture. When I mouse over the cell, I see a picture of the product.

Update: well, they stopped responding to my emails. If an ethical business does that, are they still an ethical business?

Tarp Cutting test

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it makes sense when you are testing a vinyl to do a cutting test to see how many passes it takes before the vinyl is cut all the way through. It is such a pain when the cut is incomplete because you have to put a lot more time into the piece to get the pieces (chads) out, and then that can leave a fibrous hole.

The photo shows results on a test tarp for one, two, and three passes. In this case, the 3-pass cutting test is the best. No hanging chads like in a Florida election. Some tarps you can get lucky and only have to cut once or twice to get a decent result. This is with the highest pressure, fastest speed and deepest blade depth.

If I was going to cut a bunch of items out of the same piece of tarp I might experiment with the other settings such as speed. But I usually get bored working with just one color and I go by my experience.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making a Shampoo Bar

I thought I would try my hand at making a shampoo bar. It seems to me that a soap tote plus a shampoo bar would be an ideal gift-giving combination. I was able to find the oils I needed for the recipe I'm using at Community Natural Foods in Calgary. 

I'm going to use a proven recipe for now and I'd like to develop different soap recipes later. I am on the guaifenesin protocol for fibromyalgia and I could not use this kind of shampoo bar long-term, because common soap-making oils contain salicylates and they block the action of the guaifenesin. So another goal down the road is to make soap and shampoo bars that are sal-free.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hanging Soap Box design

I have been thinking lately about how to make soap totes for thicker soap bars and shampoo bars.  This because I have been thinking that perhaps the soap tote needs to be sold along with a shampoo bar, making the combination a slam dunk for gift giving and travel.  And shampoo bars are made thicker in their shapes, I am observing. I'm even looking into shampoo bar recipes to make and sell along with the soap tote.

One of my early Soap Tote designs was a boxy shape. I have decided to revisit that design, and I'm nearing completion of that task.  I used the tips in this tutorial to get the box corners instead of sewing a bunch of pieces together like I did before.

It will feature a boxy shape for both the upper part of the bag and for the drying mesh. As you can see in the photo, the mesh bag is held in an open position, which makes it easier to drop the soap into after use.  I'm happy with the proportions and I'm ready to start producing these for sale.

Adhesives for Cricut Expression Cutting Board

After some time, the cutting mats for the Cricut Expression loses its stickiness. Here are my favourites for restoring adhesiveness so that the vinyl stays stuck to the cutting mat.

The UHU brand of glue stick works for vinyl. I apply it all over the cutting sheet and smooth it out with a putty knife. When it dries the adhesiveness can be reactivated with water.  (UHU doesn't work for cutting paper though, the paper will undesireably stick to the mat.) I tried another brand of glue stick from the dollar store and it didn't work as well for vinyl tarps, so I prefer the UHU brand.

The other adhesive I like is Aleen's Tack-it Over & Over. This adhesive keeps a tacky surface for a long time. I don't know if is good for cutting paper with the Cricut Expression, since I don't use my machine to cut paper. (In fact, scrapbooking is one of the last crafts on earth I would ever be interested in. I did it for my kids using digital photographs and microsoft Word for when my babies were small, but after that, no way!)

New Closure on Soap Tote

On my last custom job for a client, the design I used had a "tuck strip." That's what I'm going to call it because I don't know if that type of closure has a formal name.

It occurred to me that this type of closure would work on the Soap Tote. So I gave the traditional model of soap tote a makeover, tinkering with other elements as well. Now it has even less sewing but the same basic design. More efficient for me to make, and perhaps a better and neater way to close it up, since the more sewing, the more potential to sew crooked or have my sewing machine decide to be all sensitive and oversew or some such thing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Art and Copy Trailer, featuring billboard installation footage

Art&Copy is a documentary about advertising, but what was interesting to me was the footage and statistics regarding the installation of vinyl billboards. All that vinyl and where does it end up after the campaign? Interesting footage in the documentary itself about an advertising warehouse with all the billboards at about 1:19. You can watch the documentary on Netflix.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Notebook Sleeve Design

Made a prototype for a notebook sleeve according to a customer's specifications. I had always wanted to offer something like this but I thought that there might be too much competition. Maybe the genius is in putting up the listing as a made-to-order item. 

This one has an eye staring at you. Might make someone think twice about knicking it. I put a nice slippery nylon lining in it.  Perhaps a future version will have some of that fake fur I have on hand.

Anthropologie's version by Swarm

I'm interested in making these, especially since I saw an iPad sleeve made out of old oil paintings from Anthropologie. Check out the rugged sewing and the WHAT THE HELL $248 price! Link

Monday, June 4, 2012

Workin' Hard But is it Hardly Workin?

I had been kind of bummed out about the state of sales on my Etsy shop, so on a whim I listened to Pricing for Profit from the Etsy Success seminar series. That gave me a boost to work on things and check out the other videos in that series.  Plus lately I have had tons of energy.  I re-photographed many of my listings, finished some backlogged projects, boosted inventory, reworked key words, and did some storytelling with my product descriptions.  Lots more to do, as there always is, but that's it so far.

I guess it is starting to pay off, I can see the view counts rising.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Story Behind the Soap Tote

Early design with zipper closure, piping, short handle and sewn-down font
[I wrote this while listening to Get Storied: Behind Every Product is a Story with Michael Margolis at Etsy Success seminars.]

Before VinAlly, I worked 12 years in the Canadian Oilpatch, using my geology degree to do quality control analysis on geological databases for information service companies. I left that to raise my children. When my kids were still small, I started taking night classes towards a Certificate in Visual Design from the University of Calgary. I had always wanted to get a fine arts degree, and the certificate seemed a good way to get the basics in fine arts. The certificate program  covered all the bases and you really had to work at it to get marks.  The flyer for the certificate actually came for my sister in law, but I knew it was really aimed at me.  Thank you, Providence! It took me nearly a decade to complete as family schedules, and my own chronic illness of fibromyalgia made it difficult to attend evening classes.

Finally earned my certificate!
I first got involved recycling billboards when I wanted to find an inexpensive cover for our bicycles because I didn't have access to our garage. Also, I wanted to have something to show for the certificate  that I just earned.  So, I thought I'd start a small business. I found one of the larger billboard companies had a billboard from their "toss list" that I could have. The first thing I made was a shopping bag, and I am still using that bag today, as backlit tarps are extremely durable. 

[To read the full article, click on Read More below]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Product photography setup

OK, this particular photograph isn't that great, but it's my setup for photographing small items. I found a couple of very inexpensive Lagra work lamps from IKEA, they were only $4.99. The Sparsam bulbs were $7.99. I have a tungsten/halogen light source setting on my camera. So now the only thing I have to do to my photos is crop and re-size them. My products sit on some white subway tiles.  If I wanted a softer light I might tape some parchment paper over the lights, but I'm happy with the harsh light, even the reflections in the tiles.  I have three lights in total to light up my products. My shop. I have a few product photos to fix at this writing.

I had a prof in my photography course say you should always aim for the best primary image. Before I had been messing around attempting color corrections with limited success.

I noticed that most treasuries on Etsy get made with items having white backgrounds. The grayer the background, the less likely it is that an item will be selected for a treasury.  So I want to make my backgrounds as white as possible. There are exceptions such as when the background fits into the treasuries color scheme.

Update: I now have 4 lights in my setup, and I put parchment paper over them to soften the light. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Small, Card Organizer Wallet

 Lots of folks like to have a separate wallet for all those cards we need to carry around. They also like a smaller-sized wallet. So I designed one, here's my prototype. Each partition holds 10 or so cards. So you can have 40 or more cards in this wallet. I sort my cards into "frequently used," "medical," "gift cards," and "infrequently used" categories. And there's a top window slot, maybe for a driver's licence or bus pass.  Now to design the cut files so I can automate the cutting out part.

Hand Painted Clutch Wallet

Here's an all-over painted clutch-style, backlit tarp wallet. I designed these to fit my lifestyle because there's all those membership cards, gift cards etc., to manage today. There's even more cards when you have children. The third photo shows the card organizer section. You can fit 10 cards within each partition. The right side is for coins, and there's two long slots for paper money and chequebook. And two window slots for driver's licence and bus pass.

I used WR-LPU marine paint and sanded the tarp. I still had some adhesion problems, perhaps not sanded enough. The paint will peel off in a film if the surface is not rough enough.

It was satisfying getting back to making these wallets again. This one is spoken for, but if you'd like me to make you one,  why not drop me a line at and I can make you a custom wallet. Wouldn't you just love to have your very own one-of-a-kind wallet that reflects your personality that gets compliments when you pull it out? I sure enjoy mine!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Banner made it on TV

Here's the sign I made in the crowd shot with for husband and son! Sign is at the 42-second mark. Too bad the flames didn't make the playoffs. But what a great sign! I used adhesive vinyl for the lettering plus some foam flames from the dollar store. The used tarp was white on the non-printed side. the Oilers logo was printed on some canvas. The foam flames and canvas were glued on with VynaBond.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cherry Blossom painted billboard wallet

WR-LPU Marine paint on backlit vinyl billboard tarp. An experiment in all-over painting. For a clutch-style wallet.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Influenza Observations

At the end of March I caught a bad flu. I haven't had the flu for about six years. This one was pretty bad. I slept in the other room for a couple of nights so my husband could sleep while I coughed.

When the primary illness was done, a serious fatigue set in. I was worried about this because I look everything up on the internet and learned that sometimes post-viral fatigue can last a long time.  And I already have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Fortunately, after a few days I recovered from that.

Getting over the apathy took longer. Turns out, the flu-fighting cytokines can seriously deplete your levels of serotonin.  For a couple of weeks I had no interest in anything.  Not crafting in vinyl, not clothes sewing, and I didn't even care about my blog reading list.  I felt that I had experienced everything that this life had to offer, there was nothing left to become interested in, and the only thing to do is figure out how to slog through the rest of the dreary days I've been given on this earth.

Fortunately, that's over, too!  I'm enjoying life, walking the dog, painting WarHammer figures with my son, and thinking about getting after some of those projects that are outstanding.  It is amazing how a suboptimal level of a brain chemical can affect one's thinking and motivation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Travel Soap Bag Feedback

"Super cute and Obviously made with love and great care. Mucho thanks, I love it!"

"Such a cool idea and it works really well. I needed something for my husband who had to share a loo [bathroom] with people he didn't know well and this kept his soap from accidentally being used by someone else and nice and dry. Speedy shipping and fantastic service. Thanks So much!! PerFecT! AAAAA+++++"

"Fabulous recycling idea, and I love the Soap Bag! Thanks!"

"Just what i needed! I had gone on a trip earlier, and really wish I had it after some bar-soap-stuck-to-the-box problems. Love the concept and design. It's going with me to the beach in the next few days."

"Love it!! Thanks for the super fast delivery."

"I just bought my second soap tote, this one for my mom. She loves it"

"My soap tote is adorable -- and so cleverly designed! If you're planning to use it for travel, you should know that it's weightless. Yay, there's a billboard in my bathroom! it's ideal for travel -- we If you're planning to use it for travel, you should know that I'm going to use it at home, but if anyone reading this wants to use it primarily for travel, considering these for travel"

"Love it! Now hubby can travel with my soap & not have a gloppy mess in his suitcase! Perfect! Fast shipping!"

Thanks to all my customers for the great feedback!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Outdoor Bicycle Storage

I got into billboard tarp recycling initially because I wanted a way to cover my family's bicycles. We don't have access to the garage at our house, our landlord is a general contractor and uses the garage to assemble cabinets. If bicycles are easy to get to, there's an increased likelihood they will be used more. 

I used a tarp to cover the bikes, but I never managed to sew a tent-cover for them! I have been recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome during the past four years on the guaifenesin protocol. So although my mind has thought of projects, the flesh was weak.  I've not been able to keep up this blog as I'd like, either. 

I had been looking for a bike stand for my home for years. This wood pallet bike rack from is clever, and it has given me another idea. I can set up the wood pallets as shown, and either drape a billboard tarp over them, or attach the tarp on one side. Or even simpler, the tarp is held in place by the lean of the pallet.  A dowel on the tarp on the right edge of the tarp will hopefully be enough weight to keep the tarp in place with our Calgary winds.

Enough typing. I'm off to give this a try. Update: Well, my husband is not too keen on this idea as the area we have for bicycles is also the area where we play street hockey.