Sunday, February 9, 2014

The #30DaysOfMaking Challenge, and a scarf (updated)

I need a push to start finishing some of my many works-in-progress, and to get myself into the habit of spending time in my studio every day, so I've decided I'm going to set a challenge for myself that starts today (my birthday!).

I'm going to make something - or part of something - every day, and I'm going to post photos to keep myself accountable.

A daily blog post feels like it would take too much time away from the creative process, so instead I'll tweet about it, and do an occasional summary post. People already tweet (and Instagram, and Tumblr, and all that jazz) using #whatImade #whatImadetoday and #workinprogress, but I thought it would be more fun if I created a hashtag for anyone to use who'd like to try such a challenge for themselves. Hence #30DaysOfMaking. Join me! The only rule is that you post a photo daily  for 30 days with the hashtag of something you are making by hand.

(April 4th Update: I quickly realized that 30 consecutive days is too ambitious for most people, myself included. This challenge is about sharing the joy of making, not about guilt! I also made a sidebar button for anyone who wants to join in - you can get that and see the updated rules here.)

Here's what I'm making today:
The Doctor Who fan club scarf pattern from the early 80s, republished here by PBS and also discussed in minute enough detail to warm any geek's heart at

Sunday, February 2, 2014

5 tips for using Pinterest for research

So, yesterday was Social Media Breakfast Edmonton's first all-day Camp, and I was invited to give an introductory talk on Pinterest. Fun, right?

Except that the day before, one of my kids and my husband both came home sick with some evil virus, and by the time I'd finished adding the screencaps to the slides at 9pm you could fry an egg on my forehead. No SMBYEG Camp for me! Sigh. Luckily, the organizers were able to recruit gorgeous, talented, and capable Genoa to fill in for me and read my slides with only 13 hours' prep time. I hear she was magnificent. She's my hero. 

Here are my Powerpoint slides imported into Prezi, if you'd like to take a look. (The format is a bit peculiar, and I'm still figuring out how to fix the transcript, which is currently only the text on the slides in random order. Completely useless if you want to know what was actually said.)
A lot of my talk went over the standard, ubiquitous getting-started tips (set a timer! don't just repin! leave comments! try the new map feature!) ...but there was a twist. My focus in my Pinterest use is on research and trend-spotting, not marketing, so over time, I've found that some of the standard tips for bloggers and small business owners just don't apply for users like me. 

(By the way, if you are a blogger or small business owner, I suggest that you check out these great posts about setting up your account and optimizing your blog for Pinterest, and look at the Viraltag and Octopin management tools in addition to Tailwind's analysis tool. Oh and the rules for running contests on Pinterest have just changed, so read the fine print before you follow any of the advice on contests.)

So, let's pull out of my talk the 5 best tips I have for using Pinterest as a research tool and visual resource, instead of a branding and marketing tool or shopping aid.

screencap of my boards on my profile page
1. Your filing system: If your goal is zillions of followers, enormous boards with hundreds of pins are supposedly a follower-magnet - but if you are using Pinterest for research, it becomes difficult to find the pin you're looking for. So, make your categories specific. I learned this the hard way: my crafty board quickly became utterly unmanageable, so I split it up. In its place, I currently have sewing, weaving, rug hooking, felting, natural dyeing, embroidery, knitting/crochet/tatting (which will likely get split), holiday crafts, and miscellaneous crafts boards. Plus a few that are for specific projects I'm working on, and some of which are secret boards (which are marvelous for those projects-under-development that you're not ready to unveil yet).

2. Following people whose pins inspire you seems like a no-brainer, especially if you're using Pinterest to inspire your art or learn more about relatively esoteric topics - but beyond your existing connections, how do you find more people who share your taste and interests without wasting inordinate amounts of time? I do it by searching for boards on my interests, and seeing who repinned the things I pinned. I also found I needed to be selective in who I follow back, because when I followed everyone, my feed quickly got both unmanageably huge and repetitive - and visiting it felt like a chore, instead of inspiring me. Following a single board instead of a person's entire feed helps with that.

Over 4000 likes. I'm a little behind on my filing.
3. The Like Button: I tend not to repin things immediately; instead I click that little heart button, especially when I’m in the middle of doing a search related to a project. Then I go back through my likes, check the source link, make sure things are properly attributed, and repin the keepers by category onto my boards. This strategy also works for me because it keeps me from repinning certain pinners' entire feeds, and helps me focus on pinning to the boards that reflect my interests and strengths. It does mean I tend to pin lots at a time, but sporadically, so I try to do it during low-use times (like after 10pm MST) so I'm not flooding the feed. However, it runs contrary to the “add pins regularly” and “space your pins out” advice that is commonly given. Users like me need a tool that lets us flag and schedule pins from our “likes” folder! (Developers, are you listening?)

4. Pinterest's search engine is not comprehensive; it gives you a snapshot of what has been pinned recently. It also does this annoying thing where slow cooker recipes will show up when you're searching for "slow design" or "slow fashion" - which is improving but still an issue. So, it helps to be persistent, and to do consecutive searches using related terms. For example, when I was researching Viking period artifacts for the Deep Freeze lamppost cover I made with Marissa and Jasmin, I searched on "Viking" "8th 9th 10th century" "tortoise brooch" "helm" "apron dress" and so on. Each of the useful search results had been pinned to a board by someone, so I also checked out what else they had pinned to the board – and I checked the “related pins” section (scroll way down on each pin to find it). Also, search for boards. Using the board search, I found dedicated reenactors with a collection of well-researched images and links that it might have taken me months to achieve on my own using Google. (I've also used the board search to find other people interested in various aspects of the slow movement to follow.)

5. Explore Interests is a recent addition to Pinterest's toolset that's still incomplete. Here is what my preview looked like:

It works fairly well at guessing what keywords you’d be interested in based on what you have pinned recently. Not perfectly: it still gets confused by uncommon searches ("inch mat" hooked rugs, fashion brand "Alabama Chanin", and Viking "tortoise brooches" yielded car mats, Alabama, and turtles), and it doesn’t realize if you’ve done a series of related searches that it can group them (all my Viking project searches came up separately). However, as you can see, it's pretty good - and clicking each of those pictures takes you to a screen full of pins on that topic, similar to the (very useful) suggested pins that Pinterest puts in your feed based on your previous pins. I can see this feature becoming very useful for ongoing research projects, passions, and pastimes - even if it was originally designed to sell us more stuff.

I hope this is helpful!