All posts by lettervalueme

Merch, no money up front: Big Cartel + Printful

Do you even occasionally have reason to sell things with your logo or design on them, but don’t want to have to figure out printing and inventory and all that shit?

Big Cartel makes it super easy to set up a store, and they have a free tier. Printful does print-on-demand and fulfillment, so you don’t create or ship the merchandise yourself.

All you need is:

  • a digital file of the image you want printed on things
  • a Stripe account or a Paypal business account
  • a credit card or Paypal account

Go create free accounts on Big Cartel and Printful.

In order for people to give you money, you need to setup payment options at Big Cartel. This is where that Stripe or Paypal business account comes in.

In order for Printful to send people things for you, you need to give Printful a payment method. They accept credit cards and Paypal.

Your Big Cartel shop is interacting directly with Stripe or Paypal, so you’re getting the money from orders however those platforms give it to you. Printful charges you item costs + shipping costs when they get the notice of the order from Big Cartel. (You can also load money ahead of time in your Printful “wallet.” A good option if you want to have tight control on how much gets charged to your card.) Within a couple of business days, they’ll have your merchandise created and sent to the customer. You do NOTHING after the initial setup.

The setup itself gets a little tricky in my mind, which is why I’m writing this up for you.

Create a product in your Big Cartel shop. If it’s a shirt or something with options/sizes (something where you will have Printful create different things to send out) go ahead and add the options when you create it. You don’t need to fill out much else right now.

Screenshot 2017-07-03 09.14.35.png

Over in Printful, it’s time to tell it about your Big Cartel shop, and have it pull over the items.

Click the Stores link in the header and then scroll down to this section:

Screenshot 2017-07-03 09.16.48.png

you want “Connect to an ecommerce platform”. Choose Big Cartel from the options, and then follow the prompts to get connected.

To get Printful to know about your product, you go back to that Stores dashboard and click the Sync button in the Product Sync column.

Here’s the other weird turn: this will take you to your Products page for that shop, and it seems like you should hit Edit here and create your product. Don’t do it! You want the Mockup Generator. It does a better job of walking you through creating print files that will work with the product. Then you can go back and hit Edit on the product page – and choose the print file you made in the Mockup Generator.

I hope this is enough to get you started. One way I have used this was to get a quick shop out to make Null Island shirts.


Making Mud

Apologies for the lack of in-process photos – it was just me and I declined to cover my phone in mud. (Though I DO have a waterproof pouch for it…)

half the insulated base down

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No more putting it off. It was time to make mud. Like I mentioned last time, it’s dirt plus water plus sand in unspecified proportions. As you may have noticed, unspecified things stress me out.

On my little back patio, I assembled:

  • Two buckets, one 5 gallon and one 2 gallon
  • box of dirt from when I planted roses over the last few weeks
  • bag of paver sand from the store
  • water can full of water
  • paint stirrer stick
  • trowel
  • disposable latex gloves (the same ones I use to dye my hair)

All I needed was the gloves, 5 gallon bucket, dirt, sand, and water. I ended up stirring it all with my hands. Despite my skepticism, I THINK I got the consistency feeling right away? Memories of playing with clay or playdoh and knowing exactly how much it should squish so I could work with it. Much more recent memories of making pie crust and biscuits – trying to get the liquid level just so, and get the flour all worked in. Somehow there was a very exactly consistency that felt RIGHT to me, and I definitely couldn’t explain it either. I could even grab a handful and decide if I wanted to add more dirt or more sand. Maybe I am totally wrong and it will all wash away or something, but it felt satisfyingly right, and that’s a worthwhile experience.

I ended up mixing 7 or 8 small batches in my five gallon bucket. Then I was tired and the sun was leaving me, so I called it a day. It was about an hour of solid work. 5 batches (and the first ones were smaller as I gained confidence) created a thin layer over the crushed rock. Then I placed several wine bottles, and some lava rock to act as insulation – it’s like the air pockets created by the feathers in a down jacket. A few more batches of mud got bottles settled into place, but I didn’t get them all before running out of steam.

I found and discarded several rocks, bits of grass, and at least one dead earthworm. I was VERY SURPRISED when suddenly there was a squiggling earthworm in the mud I was mixing! I threw it out into the lawn and was very glad I was wearing gloves. Remember, this dirt had been sitting in my garage in a box for at least a few weeks.

As I realized I was putting off this step, I finally figured out that I have a visceral distaste for making mud. I have learned too well that I don’t want to get dirty, I don’t want to make a mess. Gloves helped a LOT in getting past this, even though mud definitely got into them, and all over the rest of me.

Next: acquire some firebricks. Finish covering the bottles and make a mud surface nearly to the top of my cinder block base. I’m worried that I’m going to run out of dirt. Good thing I need to plant more roses and some tomatoes soon!

Next Step – more rocks

Since that last attempt to work on my oven went so poorly, I put things off awhile, and then I asked for help. A friend with an SUV kindly drove me to and from Home Depot, pushed the unwieldy cart that begged for human blood (maybe it only seems like that to me), and helped stop me from dithering endlessly when I couldn’t find exactly what I was hoping to.

Having a friend with me also forced me to focus on a shopping list – there’s a MILLION things I could buy at Home Depot, probably 50 of which I could argue I actually need. But  because this was a trip to get the next steps on my oven, I focused in on exactly what the next things I could use were – and just “could use” but needed to do the very next steps.

Part of what is making it hard for me to just relax and follow the book’s instructions are that they are such relaxed and imprecise instructions!!! (I know. In case you can’t tell – if no one else is imposing structure, it’s gonna be me.) I went over the few pages of actual instructions and ended up writing 3 pages in a notebook, including a flowchart and a diagram.

I had that one ring of cinder blocks – that was the initial base. I want the oven to not be ridiculously low to work at, and it feels safer having the fire a little more separated from the ground. I got enough cinder blocks to fill in the bottom level and make another ring on top. (Each block is 8 inches tall, bringing my base to 16 inches above the ground.)

But IN THAT BASE, as I read over the instructions, I realized I need to have an insulate layer, a mud floor layer, and then sand, and then the firebricks.

I filled the bottom layer with crushed rocks to keep everything kind of in place. The insulating layer is going to be: a layer of glass bottles packed in half oven mud, half insulating material. The book suggested sawdust, pelite, or pumice for the insulating material. I’m planning to ask a local hardware store for some sawdust, but my friend saved the day when I said pumice and found some red lava rock that I can include.

Oven mud is dirt from my yard (uhm, I have two boxes of dirt. This is “normal”.) plus water plus sand. What are the proportions? NO ONE KNOWS. It depends on the clay content of my soil. There’s a chance my soil is completely terrible and I’ll need to buy clay.

So next up is making some mud. Hopefully I’ll have a sunny day to play with it soon. I also don’t feel like it has to be perfect for the insulating layer, so that’s actually a nice chance for me to get used to working with it before shit gets more real. Whether I get the sawdust or not (I could still use it for the insulating layer between the two clay oven layers.) I feel like I’m ready to put in the insulating layer as soon as I get at least an hour of sun. It’s happening.

9.5 cinder blocks and 100 lbs of crushed rock later

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Tangzhong Buttermilk Sourdough Bread

2017-04-24 22.11.07

Hi, I am rescuing this recipe from the depths of a comment section: (beware, there may be audio ads)

Tanzhong roux
1/2 cup (120g) water (for Tanzhong roux)
3 Tbsp (25g) Bread Flour (for Tanzhong roux)
Bread Dough
All of the Tanzhong roux (from above)
1/2 cup (125g) Buttermilk
1 cup (250g) Active Sourdough Starter (100% hydration)
3 1/4 cups (450g) Bread Flour
1 Tablespoon (15g) White granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (10g) Table salt
2 Tablespoons (30g) Olive Oil

I also used this part:

I make the TangZhong roux in an 1100-watt microwave. Use a pyrex cup. 120-gm (about 1/2 cup) room temperature water, 25-gm (about 3 Tbsp) Bread Flour. Mix well with whisk.
-Microwave 22-seconds. Stir, take temperature. Will be about 125-F.
-Microwave 11-seconds. Stir, take? temperature. Will be about 145-F.
-Microwave 11-more seconds. Stir, take temperature. Will be about 155-F.
The roux will be thick and creamy and a translucent-white color.
Cool to below 130-F.

My microwave is a mere 900-watts so I did an extra 11 seconds and then a final 9 seconds. It had that weird cooked smell and a pleasing consistency.

I threw it all in the kitchenaid to knead for 10 minutes, putting the oil in after a few minutes. Didn’t need to adjust any of the proportions (I measured by weight, and I had a smidge more starter than I “should”.)

Overnight rise, morning shape into loaf, rise another 4-5 hours, til over the pan.

10 minutes at 425 degrees, then 350 until interior temperature of 200, which was about 40 minutes. Great browning and look, maybe a little dry, could have maybe done a little less time. Total of 50 min in the oven seems like a lot, even for a bread with a lot going on.

I had to feed the starter. The leftover buttermilk from last week’s pie is gonna go bad. Neven has been talking about Tangzhong. So it just all came together. (but seriously also the only buttermild + sourdough recipe I found.)

It’s fine. It has some tang. But it seems kind of boring? I mean I clearly ate 1/3 of the loaf myself this morning, so it’s not BAD.

I hope someone else finds this useful – I’m just glad I don’t have to go three pages deep in google and then down in some comments to find the recipe again!

Perfect is the Enemy of Started

We could blame the lack of progress on my outdoor oven on the seasons – sure I haven’t been out there in the mud while it rains constantly for 3 months and is also uncomfortably cold.

But it’s not just that. Some of it was indecision – exactly how big do I want this oven to be?

And when I went to buy my first round of supplies, I realized there was a lot more to my reluctance.

I don’t know how to do this. Like, at ALL. Home Depot turns out to be a special land of imposter syndrome – you walk up “I’m going to buy 18 cinder blocks and load them in my ancient car” and then you find the right area, figure out how to get one of the big carts and realize – 18 is a LOT of cinder blocks.

But the book says to try to make the base a reasonable height to work from! and also to make it almost 4 foot square to support a 22″ diameter oven interior! Just trying to do the right thing!

But the book also says to make a mess and do some trial runs. It suggests making a tiny clay oven just to get a feel for the clay and how to work with it. It says you can opt out of making rain protection and just patch it up as it falls apart.

I’m having a hard time not trying to do it all perfectly on the first try. I want a plan and reassurances, but it turns out that I’m not getting so much of that with this project. I knew this would be a stretch of my make-it skills, but I didn’t realize how much. Sewing never required this many pounds of supplies!

I bought 8 cinder blocks, and a couple of landscaping stones (in a perfect world, I would face the exterior with landscaping blocks so it’s not hideous. perfect is insidious.) That was as much as I could get on the flat cart, and nearly as much as my car would reasonably hold (there was more space, but I could feel the weight while driving.)

I felt so dumb in the store – moving cinder blocks with no gloves, having to figure out how to get a flat cart. I both don’t know what I’m doing and don’t really need the kind of help that a salesperson can give. And wow there are a lot of people at the hardware store on a sunny weekend day.

Anyway, I started

2017-03-05 09.36.31

Not pictured: the terra cotta plant saucers that I had put out to mark the approximate spot were completely filled with slugs when I turned them over. Nature is gross.

Visit to a Jewelry Workshop

I recently got to spend some quality time being underfoot at Mimosa Handcrafted. It was during the Christmas rush, so I tried not to interrogate them too much, but I was completely fascinated by the process of how designs became jewelry. So I’m writing it up here to make sure I have it straight and to share with the curious.

A little background first – my cousin Madeline created Mimosa Handcrafted several years ago, first as a side project. Over the years it has grown to be a full-time job for her and her husband Dawson, plus they have an employee, Courtney. Madeline and Dawson met studying landscape architecture at LSU. As you might imagine, they have great aesthetic senses and are very good at making them become reality.


Madeline makes the designs and most of the custom pieces. Dawson has taken over the process of making them into metal. They make their jewelry through lost wax casting.

Here’s my quick version of how it works:

Every piece of jewelry is created in wax first. A bunch of them are attached together so they can be cast efficiently. Surround the wax in plaster, let the plaster set, remove the wax. Boom, now you can pour hot metal into the plaster mold and get a clump of attached jewelry! It still needs to be detached and cleaned up, but you’ve gone from a piece of wax to a piece of metal.

And because I am a huge nerd for processes, here’s each step, with pictures and rambling:

1. Pieces are Created in Wax

There are two branches to this – new and custom pieces are created directly in wax, repeats get made in a silicon mold.

Madeline hand carves her designs, starting from a sketch.


Dawson creates a mold from the finished pieces, and then any of the team can squirt hot wax into it from this magic machine, the Injectomatic II.


2. Wax Pieces Get Attached to a “Tree”


This workbench is where it happens. The two open bowls are full of liquid wax. Red wax is extra sticky, the blue that you see everywhere is extra sturdy.

Off to the left, you see a black disc with a red stick of wax coming out of it – this is a bare tree. Each piece gets attached by a connection of wax called a “sprue.” For molded pieces the sprue is the bit where the wax gets injected into the mold. For custom pieces, someone has to glue a little wax sprue onto the shaped piece.

Then using dabs of the hot wax, each piece is glued to the tree.

2016-12-13 11.25.56.jpg

Cast tomorrow morning #lostwaxcasting #lostwax #riojeweler #mimosahandcrafted

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The trees go into containers so that plaster can go around them.

3. Mix Plaster, Remove Bubbles in a Bell Jar

4. Pour Plaster, Remove Bubbles


Bubbles in the plaster near the tree would leave extra bits of metal attached to the pieces. Or bubbles could make the plaster less strong, and the metal could break through bits – a blowout. Looks cool, but you have to totally start over.

I didn’t realize that generating a vacuum in your workshop was so common and so useful, but here’s a bell jar.

5. Allow Plaster to Set

I expected this to take days, but they told me it was more like a couple of hours.

6. Melt the Wax out in a Steam Bath


Late night de-waxing. #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler #lostwax #lostwaxcasting

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This is Louisiana – so that’s a crawfish boil setup.

7. Burn off Rest of Wax and Set Plaster in Kiln


8. Melt Metal for a Given Tree

Since you know how much wax made up a tree, you can convert to find out how much metal it takes to replace that space. Dawson has a system where he marks each tree plaster, and precalculates the grams of bronze or silver to fill it up that tree.

Meltdown #lostwaxcasting #lostwax #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler

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They have two melters (there’s probably a fancy word) for the metal, each has a graphite flask that will withstand about 3000 degrees – the metal is melted at about 2000 degrees.


9. Pour Metal into the Plaster Mold

Beautiful day for Casting #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler #lostwaxcasting #lostwax

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Be careful. It’s hot.

10. Pull the Air out with a Vacuum

This thing is a  vacuum table


It pulls the air out through the (porous) plaster. This sucks the metal into all the tiny spaces.

Back to amazed at standard workshop uses for generating a vacuum.

11. Let the Metal Set

This takes several minutes, which I found surprisingly short.

12. Quench the Mold, Retrieve the Metal Tree


It’s still real hot, the tongs are important.

Most of the plaster will fall right out. Hose off as much of the rest as you can.

The plaster gets discarded at this stage. Dawson tries to dry out a tub worth so that it’s not as annoying to move, but it’s still heavy.

Whoa – we have jewelry made of metal now!!!

13. Clip the Pieces off the Tree

Gotta separate allllll of these from each other.

14. Pop Them in a Tumbler to Remove the Rest of the Plaster


15. Grind off the Sprue and Any Other Metal Sticky-Out Bits

They were a little worried that the grind wheel would wear down too much before they got through the Christmas orders – but they managed!

16. Clean, Buff, and Assemble the Final Piece

Some of the pieces have extra bits, like the Pelican Cuff can have a turquoise eye, or the Diffuser line all include terra cotta disks to hold essential oils. But all of them get lovingly polished and packaged before going on to new homes.

I hope it seems straightforward here, even though there are a lot of steps and a lot of places it can go wrong. It took two days of following Dawson around to see all of these steps – because they are all going on all the time! Madeline will be working on custom pieces while Dawson mixes plaster and Courtney grinds down new pieces. Or Madeline will be buffing jewelry while Dawson melts wax and Courtney handles packaging and shipping. Even in between each of these stages, more stuff gets fit in: waiting for the metal to cool gives Dawson a few minutes to set turquoise eyes in pelican cuffs. I’m so grateful to all of them for finding time to answer my questions while they were so busy. As you can tell, I really learned a lot!

Starting My Art Grant: Proposal

I work at Big Cartel and we have one amazing perk that I’ve never seen anything quite like: the Art Grant. Combined with a more than generous vacation policy, it’s a real incentive to stretch yourself.

Step one of having an Art Grant is writing up a proposal for it. I got mine in this week, and to kick off documenting progress on the grant, I’m sharing it. I’ll keep sharing progress in this category of my blog.


I’ve been a bread-making nerd off and on for at least 10 years now. One of the first books I got and skimmed cover to cover, Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads, has a little appendix where he talks about how satisfying it is to build and use your own oven. (I remembered it has having a few more details, but instead it says to write care of the publisher to ask him more. It was published before I was born so I opted to Google instead.)

Side story: Growing up, one of the rules on sweets was “if you make it, you can eat (a reasonable amount) of it” and this is why I was really good at making both brownies and apple pie as a teenager. My apple pie recipe comes straight out of Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Pastry, and it’s one of the first cookbooks I bought myself a copy of as an adult. Leads directly to his book being the first book on bread I bought.

I really like this as an art grant project because it’s adjacent to something I know how to do – bread, but it gets me to stretch into things I don’t know at all – construction!

I love that it’s something big, fairly permanent, and usable. I love that I have no idea what I’m doing. (Well, I have more idea after researching this proposal!)

Winning Condition: Bake a loaf of sourdough bread in my own oven.

Milestones along the way:

– Build a base

– Attempt to make clay out of my own dirt

– Build the oven on the base

– Learn to use the oven

With the rainy months coming, there’s a good chance that this project will sit under a protective tarp a lot of the time. And there’s probably higher priority things I should be doing to this house. With that in mind, I’m aiming to finish by May.

I spent some time with the budget yesterday, and came up with about $560 for the whole thing

That was using Home Depot prices for many of the supplies, and I’d like to seek out some locally owned businesses to source things from when I can, which may add to the total.

My research settled on the design used in Build Your Own Earth Oven

and buying that book is step 1.

(Most of the well documented blog posts I found use his method, and it is reassuring to see several different but similar results.)

I’ll document this on my personal blog, including publishing the accepted version of the proposal.

References: seems like a good guide