Handmade Christmas Wreaths, Handmade Picture Frames, Painting Reproductions, and other Business Startups

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One of many painting reproductions made by South African readers Joan and Frank Tyler.

The following are business startups that readers came up with after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.  

Handmade Christmas Wreaths

In the fall of 1979, our family came across a terrific article that inspired the beginning of three separate enterprises. “Make Wreaths for Winter Dollars” gave detailed instructions for crafting beautiful double-sided garlands, and our daughter set right out to learn how to master the skill.

Before long, friends of the family dropped by, noticed the lovely creations, and became intrigued. They, too, decided to learn the craft and were soon convinced that it was the perfect holiday moneymaker for their local church school. By making and selling 100 wreaths, our friends cleared $500 to donate to the school, and our daughter was prompted to join the business world as well.

After the sale of her first 25 handmade wreaths had earned that young’un an impressive Christmas bank account, Mom and Dad were ready to jump on the bandwagon, too! We contacted a Christmas tree salesman, who — after inspecting some samples — was quick to place an advance order for 125 wreaths. We found we could obtain coat hangers (to fashion the basic ring form) from local department stores, and we had all the balsam branches and pine cones we needed right on our own land. Our only investment was the purchase of ribbon to use as trimming (we now buy it in bulk: $50 for 450 yards) … a minimal expense, since each adorned wreath uses only about one yard. And our first order — which included 50 decorated and 75 undecorated garlands — earned us a fast $400!

What luck to have happened upon MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Informative write-up. It may very well have started a permanent family business!

William & Nancy Barbour
Worcester, VT

Painting Reproductions

Contributor Jim Harless described an ingenious craft idea in his article “Sun-Burned Art,” which gave my wife Joan and me the inspiration we needed to put a brainstorm of our own into action. We had very little artistic training — other than some courses at the local technical college — but we felt we were skilled enough to produce good, inexpensive copies of paintings by the old masters.

We began by purchasing pastels, which we found to be low in cost (about $40 for a set of over 50 colors), much easier to sketch with than oil paints (since they allow us to correct errors), and quite long-lasting when spray-finished with a fixative. Our further investment in pastel paper and pipe cleaners (the latter for applying and spreading colors) kept our initial expense under $100. It wasn’t long before we learned to do a good deal of improvising, as well (for example, fingers, small bits of rags on twigs, and matchsticks soon replaced the pipe cleaners).

Then we managed to sidestep the cost of framing our works of art with what we considered to be quite a stroke of genius: After visiting some of the larger art dealers in our area, we discovered that such establishments often had stacks of old frames — left by customers who brought pictures in for reframing — that they didn’t know what to do with. Some of the castaways still had glass in them, some did not . . . and most needed repainting, regilding, and other minor repairs. But the refurbishing was well within our ability, so we purchased several hundred of the rejects (over a period of time) for the equivalent of 20¢ each and began the practice of cutting our pastel paper to fit a selected frame before even starting on a sketch.

The local library provided Joan and me with abundant reproductions to copy , a task that is not nearly so demanding as producing an original piece (after all, the models stay still and correctly posed, and you don’t have to pay them by the hour!). We sell each standard 18″ X 22″ picture (22″ X 26″ framed) for about $40 (25% of which goes to the dealer who handles the sale).

Joan and I have managed to turn a very nice profit from our artistic venture — even way out here in the boondocks — while keeping up with caretaking chores on 200 hilly acres. So if you live in a densely populated region, just imagine the business that might be waiting for you!

Frank Tyler
Izotsha, Republic of South Africa

Homemade Picture Frames

It all started about four years ago in Wisconsin with a borrowed copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. In the Bootstrap Businesses column I read about numerous folks who’d learned to “do it themselves” and then turned that knowledge into a moneymaker by using it to “do for others,” and I realized that I had a skill I could offer, too. One of my hobbies, you see, was making picture frames out of weather-beaten barn wood. I’d built quite a few for myself and for friends over the years, so why not — I thought — turn my handiwork into an extra source of income?

I did my cutting and mitering on a homemade table saw that I’d put together from an old motor, some scrap lumber, and miscellaneous parts. (I was also fortunate to have a good miter and some clamps on hand.) After a while, I acquired a supply of frame moldings — in addition to my scrounged barn wood — and before long I was doing a good bit of custom framing, and offering my customers a choice of materials! I’m also currently learning to cut mats to place between the pictures and the frames.

My little enterprise had gotten a pretty good start when I was forced to close up shop so that I could move my family to Oregon … but our change in location was hardly a setback at all. I had 500 business cards made up by the local college’s student-operated print shop at a cost of only $2.50, and before long I was back in business. I started by doing a couple of jobs without charge, or at reduced rates, just to get exposure, and soon I had all the advertising I needed free — via word of mouth — from my satisfied customers.

With the help of my part-time moneymaker, I’ve succeeded in padding my full-time earnings — on a regular basis — by more than $100 a month … and better still, the framing business has opened the door to a whole passel of super successful swaps!

Paul C. Schmidt
Klamath Falls, OR

Copper Restoration

My wife and I recently purchased a log home that we wanted to “spruce up” with a rustic looking decor. Copper was our first choice for adornment, but we soon became aware that the metal is quite expensive.

I remembered reading a MOTHER EARTH NEWS article on “Wood-Burner Restoration,” however, and it occurred to me the idea could apply to our home decoration problem: Just as there were antique cook stoves waiting in flea markets and auctions to be restored, I reasoned, there might also be copper artifacts to be found at such sales places. And so there were. So many of them in fact that my wife and I had soon purchased and cleaned more than we could possibly find room for in our modest cabin.

As a result, we put our surplus copperware up for sale, and we’ve been in business ever since. The initial investments for our new venture came to just $625: $600 for a variety of old copper kettles and boilers and $25 for a supply of cleaners and scrubbing pads. We buy unpolished kettles for no more than $50 each and sell them for an average of $300 apiece, while boilers cost us approximately $15 each, and bring in between $60 and $120 apiece. Our best customers are antique dealers, who purchase the pieces outright or place them in their shops on a consignment basis. (And as a sideline enterprise, my wife and I custom-clean and polish copper items, at a cost of $40 per boiler or $60 for each large kettle!)

Copperware has become so popular in our locale that we now keep a waiting list of customers who are looking for specific items. In fact, sales have been so high that our first three months’ profits totaled a whopping $2,375!

Mike Corrigan
Fort Wayne, IN 

Business Startups Class

I’m an avid reader, and I’ve been a particular fan of the bootstrap business reports for many years. As such, I’ve always made a habit of searching the magazine’s pages for moneymaking opportunities that might be right for me, and one day — while rereading some carefully preserved issues — it occurred to me that other folks might share my interest in bootstrap enterprises, as well. And I figured that (with MOTHER EARTH NEWS as my backup) I should be able to put together an in-depth course on the subject.

As a result, I worked up an outline of my intended curriculum and off I went to the local community college to submit a proposal. Lo and behold, my offer was accepted and I began teaching at Clackamas Community College, every Saturday morning, at a salary of $8.50 per hour! (My only investment was $20 for typing paper, which I used for classroom handouts.)

My back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS have been, of course, my main source of reference, but I also made it a point to send off for a number of the free government publications listed in the article “On Your Own.” In addition — rather than set myself up as the expert — I’ve learned to act as a coordinator for my classes, bringing in speakers who represent small business organizations, successful entrepreneurial enterprises, local lending institutions, and the like.

The teaching trade has proved to be an excellent source of supplementary income for me. But best of all, it’s put me in touch with people — MOTHER EARTH NEWS people — who have the same interests and as wide a variety of bootstrap business ideas as I do!

Michael K. Palmblad
Boring, OR

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