Whoa, Those Are Shrinky Dinks?

That’s what I said at the last Bazaar Bizarre when I saw these earrings by Heidi of Passionflower. She uses a mix of found printed materials and original artwork to make these.  One of the things that makes her work so unique (and not resemble shrink plastic in the slightest) is her sparing use of color and the way she mixes various materials into one piece.

Then I started noticing shrink plastic everywhere.  Apparently lots of crafters are making really useful, grown-up things out of one of our favorite childhood toys.  For example, I think these stitch markers from Karrie at Girl On the Rocks are ingenious.  I especially love the ones that remind you how to do the kitchener stitch as you go.

I also really like the way Erin of Broken Fingers uses shrink film to turn her graphic designs into wearable art.  She draws these by hand.  Yeesh.

Some crafters make really compelling jewelry just by creatively cutting and punching solid-colored sheets like these pieces by Crafic.

Other ingenious projects? You can make custom buttons with shrink film, perfect for when you can’t find the right button you need to finish a project.  Susan Beal at Craft Stylish has a nice tutorial on this. She also has another useful tutorial for making pet ID tags.

“Okay,” you say, “I’m convinced.”  How do I get started with shrink film myself?  Well, first you have to know that your options have greatly increased since we were kids.  Regular shrink film now comes in clear, white, brown and black, which you can draw on with colored pencils or Sharpie-type markers.  If you go the Sharpie route, I recommend protecting your pieces with a spray or brush-on sealant because it tends to scratch off.

BUT, there’s also inkjet-printable shrink film now, which means you can create complex pieces really fast and in multiples.  This is what I use to make the little meat charms and jewelry I sell at fairs and on Etsy, but you can scan, print and shrink virtually any image.  I use the sheets made by Grafix, which you can get online (Blick is the most consistently inexpensive) or at Pearl art stores, among others.  It comes in white and clear.  You can even call up Grafix for a free sample to try it out.  Occasionally I get a wonky pack that doesn’t shrink correctly but they always replace it right away.  Shrinky Dinks brand also sells all the varieties.

No matter which film you use, remember to use colors at about half strength, as they tend to saturate and darken when your piece shrinks.  Expect your finished piece to measure about 40-50% of the original in each dimension.  I set my oven to between 275-300°F so everything shrinks evenly.  For about ten seconds after they come out you can flatten (or bend) your pieces, but use gloves because they will be extemely hot.

I also read recently that you can use plastic from your recycling bin marked #6 as shrink film.  Apparently the clear plastic kind (think clamshell take-out containers) and the opaque styrofoam kind (think supemarket meat trays) both work.  I have also heard that the fumes are not the healthiest stuff to be breathing so I can’t really recommend this.  I assume given the recent CPSIA brouhaha that store-bought shrink sheets are non-toxic because they are designed for kids, but PLEASE correct me if you have info to the contrary.

Under the Wire

Though in my opinion they were cutting it a little close, I am nevertheless relieved to report that the CPSC has granted a one-year stay on testing requirements for the CPSIA.  According to the CSPC’s press release on the subject, “The decision by the Commission gives the staff more time to finalize four proposed rules which could relieve certain materials and products from lead testing and to issue more guidance on when testing is required and how it is to be conducted.”  In addition, “The stay of enforcement provides some temporary, limited relief to the crafters, children’s garment manufacturers and toy makers who had been subject to the testing and certification required under the CPSIA. These businesses will not need to issue certificates based on testing of their products until additional decisions are issued by the Commission. However, all businesses, including, but not limited to, handmade toy and apparel makers, crafters and home-based small businesses, must still be sure that their products conform to all safety standards and similar requirements, including the lead and phthalates provisions of the CPSIA.”

It appears that the voices of the artisans and crafters have been heard, and one hopes that the commission will continue to consider America’s cottage industries in their redrafting of the CPSIA.

Luckily for Small Business, the Economy is in the Tank: CPSIA Exemptions

Small businesses are pissed about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.  Really pissed.   On the surface it sounds good, and it certainly has good intentions behind it, but it carries a lot of new requirements that could put a lot of individuals and small companies out of business during a time when it’s already hard enough to get by.

The CPSIA sets new standards for the amount of lead and phtalates allowed in children’s products — from clothing to toys to furniture — which is good, in theory.  In practice, however, it requires every material in every component in every color of every product to undergo testing, which can cost thousands of dollars per product.  It also requires resellers of children’s products to carry safety certificates for any regulated product they buy after February 10th (when the law goes into effect).  While large, foreign toy manufacturers may be able to absorb these costs, small domestic manufacturers and individual crafters may not.

Unsurprisingly, small businesses have been in an uproar about the CPSIA — so much so, in fact, that the issue reached #6 yesterday on Change.org, putting it safely within the top ten issues which will be presented to President-Elect Obama’s transition team.  People like sellers on Etsy.com have been petitioning the Consumer Product Safety Commission regularly, as have many popular small business bloggers.  Luckily, with the economy in the tank and public opinon firmly on the side of Main Street, these petitions seem to be getting heard.  Just last week Bloomberg News reported that “wool, cotton, silk, gemstones and pearls” would all be exempt from testing.  The L.A. Times also reported exemptions for “clothing, toys and other goods made of natural materials such as cotton and wood.”  And the CPSC itself released a statement on January 8th, stating: “Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.”

That’s a big relief, and of course the hope is that the CPSIA will continue to be updated to protect both children’s safety and the livelihood of small businesses, but we’re not off the hook yet.  So what can you do as a small business owner?  First, submit your own comments to the CPSC by January 30th. All the contact information can be found on the second page of this document.  Second, prepare your business if any of your products are not exempt:

  • Contact the manufacturers of your materials to see if they have already tested their products.  If so, ask for a copy of their safety certificate.  If not, ask that they be tested (perhaps in conjunction with others who use their materials), or seek alternative manufacturers.
  • See if your products can be made with alternative materials.  Can your children’s jewelry be made with wooden beads rather than plastic ones?  Can that headband be made out of cotton, rather than polyester?
  • Contact your local representatives in Congress about this issue, or draft a petition and have all the small business owners you know sign it.

There is still a lot of room for change in the CPSIA, but it won’t happen by itself, so be a swimmer and take responsibility for the survivial of your own business.