Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Something a little more cheerful today...

The past week has been a printing frenzy. Moments ago I finished printing the last one for my first shipment to Hoffman. WHEW! Next week I'm going to start printing a few copies of everything to keep on hand and ready to ship so that it's not a rush like this every time I get an order!

Since I love to review things, I thought I would give a little bit of a review on the new printer. 

Overall, I give it a rating of awesome. There are a few minor little things that are kind of irksome, but nothing that makes me regret my choice in any way. It's louder than my little inkjet, but it's not bothersome since I'm generally at the computer working while I'm printing anyway rather than trying to watch television or something. It gets paper jams a bit. I'm hoping to remedy that with a change in paper, next time I order I'm going to try the Xerox 28lb paper instead of the Staples brand. Staples brand just went up in price so the price of the two is comparable anyway.

After a few hundred pages of printing, it does slow down dramatically as it cools off. Again, not a major deal. What I do is print a batch then check them all over and then start the next batch while I bag. So I've already found a workable solution. 

As far as ink usage, the printer is phenomenal. The ink costs $99 for each cyan, magenta and yellow, and $290 for black (of course because you use more black, right?), and each pack comes with six cubes. So each cube of colour costs $16.50, and each cube of black costs about $50. So far, for 6000 pages, I've used 1 cube of each colour and 2 cubes of black, printing the colour covers on high quality and the charts/instructions on normal quality. About half of them have colour in the chart for the specialty stitches. The manufacturer suggests you'll get about 2500-3000 pages per cube, and that is exactly what I AM getting, unlike other printers where you get less than half of the suggested yield. Very impressive. It also requires a maintenance kit, either every 10000 pages for $70 or every 30000 pages for $110. All in all it's costing an average of 3 cents per page (not including paper). So while the printer is fairly expensive, it will pay itself off rather quickly in savings on ink. A note to designers or anyone who does a lot of printing - the Xerox ColorQube 8870 is a great investment.

On to the subject of model stitchers, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who offered and that for the time being, the positions have been filled. :) I must admit, being the control freak that I am, it is difficult to relinquish control but I'm very happy to have found some wonderful stitchers and hope to keep you guys busy. :)

On to designs and stitching... well I've got a new series in the works. It's a four part series called A Sampling of Seasons, with each season being it's own design, which can be stitched individually or together as one big sampler. I'll be starting the stitching myself soon and again, because I'm so darn indecisive, I've decided to include two colourways for it, one classic and elegant and one fun and bright. It's a more complex series of pieces, with lots of specialty stitches. The floss for these came yesterday and my goodness the colours are pretty! Valdani does some really wonderful colours, truly.

And on a non stitchy note, I can't help but be cheerful this week, I'm back into jeans that I haven't been able to wear in ten years. :) I'm getting there!!! About 30-40 pounds to go.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Sad Commentary

I was very saddened last week when Kirsten Edwards announced that she will cease publication of The Gift of Stitching e-zine. I was also very saddened by the fact that Martina Dey will cease sales of pdf charts and SALs because of the same problem - copyright infringement. I'm sure you've read many designer blogs of late commiserating these losses to the needlework world, and I know you're probably sighing and shaking your head and saying "here we go again, another lecture on copyright." That is not my intention today. In reading a lot of the comments on various different message boards, yahoo groups and facebook groups, I keep coming across a disturbing misconception that seems to be shared by many - that we're over-exaggerting the problem, and that most of the people who downloaded it would never have purchased it anyway. My intention is to give you a bit of data to show you how big this problem really is and a peek into the kinds of things we see every day.

Let me just get this out of the way first. It does not matter if you download a chart that you would never have purchased. The law doesn't care how many people MIGHT have bought it, theft is theft. It's like saying just because you wouldn't buy a television set in a store, it's okay to steal it - the shop wouldn't have made the sale to you anyway. See my point? Downloading a chart online illegally is no different than walking into a store and shoplifting it. In both instances you got something you didn't pay for by illegal means, whether or not you use it is immaterial. When lawyers, judges and law enforcement agencies calculate damages and criminal penalties, it is based on how many times it was downloaded, not by how many of those downloaders might have actually purchased it. 

Also on that note, there are many people downloading who WOULD have purchased things. How do I know? I follow the illegal sites and have infiltrated different private groups (some thankfully now shut down) and have watched the following conversations happen time and time again. This comment in particular comes up frequently in these private groups:

"Does anyone have this chart before I buy it?"

There's also this inevitable conversation every time Heaven and Earth Designs has a sale:

"I'm going to buy these charts in the sale and will send them to you as soon as I've got them. What's everyone else getting?" 

It's a co-ordinated effort to make sure that no two people buy the same design... and in many of these cases, the files quickly make their way from these smaller private groups to the larger download sites within a few minutes of purchase. You can always tell when there is a sale because the number of HAED designs being illegally uploaded multiplies during that time.

Another point that people are constantly throwing out there that while partly true, may not be as true as people think. The point being that stitching has declined in popularity due to the economy and lack of interest. While that IS true, the numbers aren't as substantial as people believe. YES it has contributed to a downturn in sales, but when you see membership numbers on illegal websites that are in the tens of thousands (one such site had at it's peak over a million) it makes you wonder just how many have quit stitching and how many have just stopped paying for designs. Membership numbers are climbing and new sites and sharing methods are cropping up every single day. It's not just a couple of Chinese and Russian sites, it's happening on every platform everywhere where files can be uploaded, from Facebook to blogs, photo hosting sites to web servers, p2p networks to Yahoo groups and everywhere in between.

Now on to the point of us making a big deal out of nothing. Here is some data I've collected that might make this a bit more understandable to you, and help you realize just what a big deal it is.

I'm not going to name the sites this data comes from for obvious reasons, but they are not Chinese or Russian, and the person in question is not Chinese or Russian, but American. What she's done is amass a large collection of illegal files from various membership only sites and made them available publicly via several well known file-sharing networks, some legal, some not so legal. On one network alone, she's made available to date over 10,000 different designs over a 3 year period (and I'm not even done cataloging yet), which have resulted in over (are you ready for this??) 5 million designs downloaded illegally, or approximately 500 downloads per design. Some are much higher, some are much lower, but you get the idea. The estimated losses are staggering, and I can't even give you an accurate number because many of the designs are out of print, or designers gone out of business, so I can't find out accurate dollar values on those. I actually gave up on dollar amounts after I passed ten million dollars and I wasn't even halfway through the list. However, to give you some further idea on losses, there were about 650 designs from Heaven and Earth designs alone - at approximately $15 each, each one downloaded over 500 times, well you can do the math. And those weren't included in my calculations mentioned above. This is on ONE website. She's made the same available through several other sites as well, though most of those we've been able to have removed through the co-operation of the site hosts. However, consider that the numbers on those sites, while not as high, still add to the overall figures and we're talking about a lot of money.

Still think we're over-exaggerating? This is one individual. Consider the fact that there are thousands upon thousands partaking in this same type of activity on a massive number of different kinds of sites. Heck, doing a Google search for a design sometimes brings up illegal links ahead of legal ones, which I discovered recently. What does that mean? Well Google ranks the results not only by the search criteria, but also based on the popularity of each link. When that happens it means more people are clicking on that illegal link than on the legitimate sources. So yeah, not every person who downloaded it would have bought it, but even if one in a hundred did it still adds up to a massive amount of lost revenue.

Most popular designers can expect a short lived grace period between the release of a new design and finding it on one of the popular download sites. Magazines and books can be expected on the sites as soon as they start appearing on store shelves, digital files can show up within a few short minutes of release. With books and magazines, some of these aren't even purchased before being scanned and uploaded - we've seen cases where the library stamp is visible in the scan. The more popular a design is initially, the more quickly it will appear and once it does appear and begin to propagate from site to site, sales begin to slow almost immediately. It's not just the designers who are hurt by this, but artists who would normally receive a royalty from each sale, distributors whose sales are steadily declining, and shops who are closing at an alarming pace and it is proportionate - while this is happening the membership numbers on these sites are steadily climbing as the sales are steadily dropping. The point is, once it has been uploaded even once, it WILL make it's way around the net in a matter of days.

What I can tell you is that I'm sick of seeing the excuses and justification these people use. One being that they can't afford the designs. There are lots of things I can't afford, I simply don't buy them or wait until I CAN afford them. What they can't afford is the thousands of illegal charts on their hard drive. If they actually purchased what they planned to stitch, the question of affordability becomes a little more reasonable. What makes this excuse laughable is that in one breath, a user is complaining about the cost of charts, and in another post on the same site contemplating the purchase of a $400 floor stand. Really? You can afford the $400 floor stand, but you're complaining about a $20 chart? Being able to afford it has little to do with it. On one of the sites, the administrator inadvertently made public a logfile of the people who had donated money to the site - and there were a couple listed who were donating upwards $50 a month. So they can afford $50 a month to participate in illegal downloading, but not $20 to actually buy a chart. Interesting. 

Another I often see is that they participate in sites like this because they can't get the designs where they live. Of course we all know that isn't true. There are countless businesses online who ship worldwide, so not being able to find it in a local shop on the other side of the globe isn't exactly what you'd call a problem. What they really mean is that they don't want to pay for the design and the shipping to their country. That doesn't make it alright to steal it, and it never will. If they're technically savvy enough to find that chart illegally, surely they are technically savvy enough to find and purchase it legally?

Yet another is that it's okay if charts are out of print. First, out of print does not mean out of copyright. The reason behind a chart going out of print is generally because of the cost of printing when a designer uses professional printing services. The more charts they print per batch, the less expensive it is per copy. When a chart is selling well, they will continue to get additional batches printed. When sales slow, printing an additional batch of say, 1000 charts, becomes cost prohibitive because it's unlikely they'll ever sell that many more. Printing an additional batch of say 100 charts makes the printing costs jump much higher per chart, so is also cost prohibitive in that it actually costs the designer money instead of making them a profit. Another reason is because a designer retires or quits the business. One of the reasons for a slowing of sales and designers going out of business is copyright infringement, so by participating in this activity people are actually making charts go out of print and designers go out of business more quickly than they would have otherwise. And when a designer does go out of business, the people on these sites lament that there will be no more new designs from them. Case in point, last weeks announcement from Kirsten sparked a conversation on a Chinese site about how everyone will miss the magazine, yet this same Chinese site was almost always the first place it was uploaded minutes of release. I frequently see the suggestion that designers should continue selling in pdf format to avoid the out of print issue, however this rapid "deployment" of pdf charts is the reason why most don't do that.

And finally, and probably the best one of all, that we as designers should appreciate all the free advertising we get from sites like these because they wouldn't have even known about us otherwise. Really? We should appreciate that ONE person bought our design and then gave it away to 500 other people. What is so difficult about buying it, then posting a link to where they bought it instead of "sharing" the actual chart, so that those other people could have bought it too instead of enabling them to steal it? That's what the rest of us all do and we manage to learn about new designs and designers just as easily. There are LOTS of legal sites where people can post pictures of things they're working on and tell people about them without participating in theft rings.

In all honesty, tracking and cataloging and forwarding information to the authorities is in itself a full time job - we as designers haven't got the time to keep up with it all. We watch each other's backs and do the best we can to report and report and report. We keep each other informed of developments that we come across, but it is a time consuming, overwhelming and depressing process. Sometimes the efforts pay off, sometimes they don't. But it all adds up and it takes a toll emotionally, which can really kill the creative process.

Here are some figures to help you better understand why this is crippling the industry. Let's use as an example one of my charts that retails for $20, Antique Lace. After the shop and distributor take their profit for sales, my cut is $7. The cost for me to print with my new printer is about 5 cents per page and it is around 25 pages. So now I'm at $5.75 per copy sold. Then figure in the cost to ship it to the distributor which will run me say 50 cents per copy. Now I'm at $5.25. Since it's release I have sold 45 copies of this design if I don't include those sold on consignment that I have not yet been paid for. So I've made $236.25 from this design. The floss cost me about $35, the fabric $35, and the beads $18, plus the shipping on all three, so let's round that to $100. So after materials I've made $136.25. I'm not factoring in the cost of hydro to run the computer or printer here, or the cost of getting the design framed (which I haven't because I can't afford to). Between sketches, studying lace patterns, and actually putting it into the design software, I'd estimate about 100 hours to come up with the final printed charts. I'd estimate it took me a further 300 hours to stitch the model. So 400 hours of actual work which equates to 34 cents an hour to date on this design. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy I did it, and I enjoyed it immensely, but how many people could live on that kind of money? To make minimum wage here in Ontario I'd have to sell approximately 780 charts - a far cry from the number I've actually sold. To make a liveable wage and be able to pay all my bills, that number would have to be even higher. So you can understand why I have a full time day job on top of designing. Obviously there are fluctuations here between different designers based on sales, printing methods, shipping costs, distribution methods, materials costs, model stitching, etc, but that puts things into perspective a little and maybe makes it a little easier to understand why we're freaking out so much about piracy. We have bills to pay just like everyone else, and when this behaviour begins to affect our ability to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, we get a little ticked off.

I know I will probably take some abuse for voicing all of this but I really am tired of hearing how we're making a big deal out of nothing. We're not talking about a small percentage of people who partake in these activities, the number is HUGE and growing at an alarming pace. 

In closing, I wish to express my sympathies to Kirsten and Martina. I know these decisions can't have been easy. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Throwing it out there...

As Jo mentioned in her comments to my last post, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

I'm looking for a model stitcher, however I can't pay in cash at this time. You would of course get a copy of all of my charts to stitch for yourself, and likely stash and samples of stuff you want to play with. Payment method would change to cash or gift certificates as and when sales start to pick up later.

So what do I require in a model stitcher?

You would need to be able to stitch on high count fabrics. Not terribly high, I'm not talking about 55ct or anything (that's my own insanity and I don't force that on anyone!!). The bulk of my models are done on 34, 36 or 40ct linen, over two. The occasional one will have bits and pieces done over one.

At this time, I plan to do the heavy duty specialty stitch pieces myself. So it would mainly be cross stitch, with maybe the odd other stitches thrown in, but nothing terribly difficult.

A good background of stitching with overdyes and/or silks would be a big plus. Beading and metallics knowledge would be beneficial as well since I'm starting to use those more too.

Speed - well fast is good, but neatness is more important overall. No long carries behind the fabric and things like that but as long as it's not visible from the front or lumpy or anything it's fine. I'm not imposing deadlines for anything - basically anything I don't have to stitch myself is a big bonus for me right now. A few months to finish one is just fine.

I would of course be supplying you with all the materials to stitch any model, so no worries about having to spend any money or anything. You would be given credit in the chart or any other publication the design shows up in. It might be a nice opportunity for someone who wants to play with lots of different kinds of fabric/silks/metallics/beads! 

I know it's a lot to ask without offering payment, but if you think it might be fun and have the time to do it, please contact me at

Friday, March 9, 2012

Whirlwind of a week!!

I've been pretty quiet lately, I apologize for that, but I expect that trend to continue for at least a little while. Why?

I'm taking the first step in what I hope amounts to becoming a full-time needlework designer, with a part time job on the side for extra spending money and to get me out of the house a couple days a week.

As it stands, as many of you know, I work full time and design "when I have time" and model stitch "when I'm not too tired". What that means is that I release a couple of designs a year and have a backlog of designs just waiting to be stitched. Model stitcher you say? Well yes, that IS the obvious solution, but I can't often afford one as things currently are.

So after a lot of weighing pros and cons, I've signed up with Hoffman Distributing, and my designs will be available from them soon in addition to being available through European Crosstich. The pros? Well the obvious one of course, they're huge and they deal with thousands of shops worldwide. The cons? A lot more time on my part, and some initial investment costs to get up and running.

See, I never had to print my own charts before, so I never considered the cost of paper, ink, which printers are best, which bags to use... I just paid ECS to do it for me and all I had to do was design and stitch and do chart layouts.

After a whole lot of research this week, doing cost analyses, etc. I bit the bullet and ordered the latest and greatest in printing technology, the solid ink printer, namely the Xerox ColorQube 8870DN. No, it wasn't cheap. But I expect with the amount of printing I'll be doing and the seriously low cost of ink to run it in comparison to every other printer on the market, it will be well worth the cost. I read every review I could get my hands on and the only major drawbacks reported? It's a bit slow to print the first page. Don't particularly care about that. It's lightning fast until it hits a few hundred pages and then it slows down to 10 or so ppm. That's still a lot faster than my current printer AND I'm unlikely I'm going to be printing 1000 pages at one sitting anyway so it's not a deal breaker. And apparently it's a little loud. Well my current printer drowns out the television so I'm not too worried about that either. The selling point on this baby? The ink. It doesn't use cartridges, it uses solid cubes of colour. The cubes are sold in packs of 6 each. To buy a pack of each is a total of $600, but here's the catch - each pack does about 17000 pages of printing. Every other printer I priced with cartridges in that same price range did MAYBE 3000-4000. Okay so I don't expect to get the quantities they suggest, but even at half of that, my printing costs end up at around 7 cents per page - colour OR B&W. The next best I could find without spending several thousand more on the printer was 20 cents per page, and that was only achieved by using aftermarket cartridges. Some of the printers I priced out were going to cost me upwards of $10 to print one chart!!

BTW, if you've ever wondered why charts are getting expensive, THIS is why!!

The funny thing was while doing this research, a lot of people questioned why I would spend so much on a printer. They got theirs for $100 six months ago and they've NEVER had to replace the cartridges. Of course my question to them - how many reams of paper have you used? Most said they haven't used a whole ream in that time. Me? I'm looking at several reams a month, possibly more if things go well. Try that on your little $100 printer and tell me how much ink you go through. Actually having printed charts on my current Canon printer, I can answer that - on this printer I can do about 10-15 charts (roughly 200-300 pages) before I have to replace the cartridges. A set of cartridges for this printer is $65. That means each chart would cost me $6.50 using my current set up. Plus distributor fees, plus shipping to the distributor, plus bag, plus paper. Figure around $10. My wholesale price isn't $10 on most of them. So you can see why these little "suggestions" had me laughing and fuming at the same time. ;)

About bags... thanks to Deb of Tempting Tangles, I was able to locate the clear plastic zip loc bags everyone uses, at less than half the price they sell for here in Canada. THANK DEB! However, the shipping is a nightmare. It's almost as much as the bags and MORE than the shipping on my printer (which is coming Purolator even). However, it's STILL less than buying from anyone here. I priced them out all over the place, and without shipping the bags are more anwhere than they are from this place WITH shipping. But honestly, who would have thought zip loc bags could cause nightmares?

I'm going to be spending the next few days "revamping" my charts a little, correcting typos and silly little things (not on the charts but in the instructions) and adding the alphabet to the flower designs - how the heck did I miss that??? I'll also be adding that here to my site for anyone who purchased it before.

Of course just in time for my printing mania, I've thrown my back out again. Not sure how, yesterday was relatively quiet and I think the heaviest box I lifted was 60lbs. Possibly standing in one spot slicing bacon all day? Or falling asleep on the sofa last night, that's a more likely culprit.  So now because sitting at the computer is killing me, I'm going to go load up on Robaxacet and lay down and watch some Big Bang Theory and clear my little head for the rest of the day. Not a whole lot I can do until everything gets here anyway!