Catching Up with the World

It’s been a long two weeks since my last post, not to say I haven’t tried. I’ve had to focus on deadlines – a fortunate situation actually, but it’s funny how much life can pass by when one’s attention is glued to completing digitizing orders and writing assignments. So, this last weekend, when I found myself with a few hours of free time, I managed a bit of surfing.

My first fun discovery was that the Decorah Eagle parents are back sprucing up the Iowa nest for a new batch of kids. UStream coverage is in operation with happy viewers waiting for that first egg to drop. That probably will bring a few sighs of “not again” from those who don’t find raptor observation exciting, and judging from their expression in this screen shot, the Eagles share that feeling. But my eagle-holic cat has perked up. This is big stuff for the ol’ gal. Now geriatric, Stinky normally doesn’t stay awake more than 15 minutes at a time without stimulation between 30 minute naps, but when she saw one of the eagles on the screen she actually pushed her way through between my arm and leg to get a direct view of the laptop – sat there, eyes open, for a good hour. They are her eagles, you know, and when they’re on the screen, it’s her laptop. Well, I never could deny a good friend a little happiness.

Gives me that last push into buying a gadget (did I say that?!); one I could use while Stinky hogs the laptop. I do need something efficient for reading e-books and checking emails, and  – perhaps Amazon’s Kindle Fire.  But it’s still on pre-order status, so I’ll wait until users’ reviews confirm reliability.

Two beautiful tat-lovin' friends from very different worlds: (Top) Teri is a "taken" Midwest mom of 3, office manager, rides her own Harley and restores antique furniture. - (Bottom with her guy James) Mindy Collins (formerly gracing the Twin Cities airwaves) is a Florida body builder, spin instructor and rock DJ at 101.7 Pirate Radio Key West.

While doing some “Windows shopping” I ran across the controversial tattooed Barbie that is accompanied by “Basterdino”, a bulldog clad in a spiked, cactus sweater. Evidently, it’s a hot item on this year’s holiday gift list. Collectors will certainly be fighting over the dolls with many gift-seeking, tattoo-sporting moms – such as some of my friends who would feel naked without their beautiful works of skin art.  Being an artist, I can appreciate the skill required for these masterpieces, but have never had the urge to permanently dye my own skin. Besides, if it were nice enough to display on my arm, I’d want it on a canvas where its beauty wouldn’t fade and sag. That’s just me. Not sayin’ they don’t look great on others!  I’d be tempted, though, if someone could guarantee my tat would morph with the droops and wrinkles, like from a caterpillar to a butterfly. But I don’t really need ink.  I have enough brown age spots turning up all over the place that are beginning to merge into their own little masterpiece. Now, there’s a reality doll for the near future – a “Golden” Barbie freckled in liver spots and droopy tattoos.

Switching gears, I decided to look more into the issue behind the crowd of immovable folks at Wall Street, as well as other U.S.locations. I hadn’t had time to clearly understand it all in recent months when “occupied” became synonymous with “sit-in”. I’ve tried to piece details together and clarify the blur while sifting between phrases like “poor economy”, “creating jobs”, “tax the rich” and “it’s our money!” I’ve been curious, as bits of information conjured memories of the 60’s protests, like Peter, Paul and Mary singing “This land is Your Land”.  I was somewhat surprised to discover the origin of this current movement had started in Europe and the U.S. is actually the late-comer.  A newspaper worth reading called Occupied Wall Street Journal has emerged that explains the nitty-gritty basis of the movement with the paper’s first three issues making it to the Internet.

In other global news Gaddafi died, as the world looked on with joy, making Letterman’s Top Ten List – again.  And President Obama brought tears of joy announcing that troops will begin to withdraw and be home for the holidays.  Seems a bittersweet situation for many veterans who hope to return to civilian jobs, considering all the “occupying” going on by the existing unemployed.

The Most Depressing Places in America

Natural disasters continue:  The Federal Government refuses Virginia’s call for help with $18 million worth of damage (basically because nobody died) while survivors sleep in the streets.  As well, unnatural disasters of hunger and poverty at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, was brought to light on a recent 20/20 (see images at The Most Depressing Places in America) while the U.S. continues to boost the economy in distant countries. I’m still trying to work some logic into these scenarios.  I tend to lean towards the airline-drop-down-oxygen-mask rule of “take care of yourself first to be there for others later”.

On the lighter side of the news a Tennessee bear enjoyed an early Halloween trick and treat while raiding a sweet shop. Bad, but fitting, cliche questions immediately pop to mind: Is that anything like a bull in a china shop? Is chocolate bad for bears? And did the bear drop big taffy sticks in the woods?

Speaking of feces … possibly the dumbest of dumb in a list of worldwide weird crimes that set me into an uncontrollable laugh out loud: An Ireland experimental alchemist was jailed for trying to turn poop into gold. That’s right, I said, “poop”.  Oh, if it was only that easy, gold would be worth … well, poop.

I’ve left current events for now to return my focus on work where I find it less complex – where the landscape includes organized piles, boxes of files, embroidery samples, computer parts, cones of thread, clumps of snaky, twisted cords, books, magazines and catalogs, floppies, zip and flash drives, PCs in all shapes and enough monitors to call it NASA. … And … where Nature is observed through my office windows, natural disasters are muted by Bob Dylan’s wisdom via a sweet song; where the scent of sandalwood permeates the air and an old cat naps, contented on her own office chair; all the while beautiful tattoo art is digitized into eternal stitches.  Ah, the bliss of a peaceful chaos in a world that makes uncommon sense!

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Market Wisely – A Lesson from the Deer Mouse

As I commuted down the hallway to my home office, I caught sight of one of my cats in the bathroom perched on the edge of the tub.  Tator was in stalk position, mesmerized by a likely spider in the vine of satin grape leaves that I had wrapped around the shower curtain rod. (Don’t ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Living next to a woods in the Upper Midwest, the Fall begins a mini-battle with Nature’s critters seeking winter shelter, and evidently spiders like that homey leaf feeling.  With spiders come sticky webs that turn into flying dust bunnies, so it’s best to stop construction before it starts. Well, I didn’t want to kill anything. I was in a creative mood and didn’t want to lose it to a splatter. So, I grabbed a goldfish net, planning to catch and return it to the outdoors where its purpose is more worthy, like chowing on small insects before they get into the house, or perhaps, feed a chickadee. (Let Nature do her own killing!)

A closer look revealed what appeared to be thick web silk poking out from a shaking leaf. And then, as my eyes adjusted to the shadow under the leaf, the wiry strands morphed into long white whiskers, twitching from the end of a pink nose. One big round eye was visible, but closed tightly, either from fear or exhaustion, or both.  A mouse. Not a common grey house mouse, but a brown and white Deer Mouse – the cute cuddly-type that you see on holiday cards wearing Santa hats – the mouse that prefers to winter in burrows and logs, and rarely near people where they also might have to compete with the grey mouse for shelter (if our three cats didn’t do their jobs).  Most likely, it had been attracted to the abundance of crab apples falling near the garage – an easy profit of sweet sustenance – and then strayed through a tiny hole in the door frame where Tator keeps watch.

[Great Notions “Christmas Ball” stock design available at: EmbroideryDesigns.com ]

Earlier, my husband had mentioned that Tator might have brought something furry in from the garage, but after not seeing any evidence he assumed he was mistaken or that the victim had been devoured. Tator is assigned to garage mouse patrol in the evenings and I always know when one has tried to set up house. She doesn’t eat mice. She just torments them.  And after she tires of the flip-and-rip hockey game, she drops the puck of a bloody carcass at the kitchen door – a fair trade for a can of Fancy Feast®, she figures. 

So, after I set the wicked kitty in the hallway and closed the door, I prodded the net at the fur ball, now quivering and sobbing. (I swear, I saw a tear!) I attempted to gently catch it in the net, but it fell into the cleaning bucket I was holding in my other hand and then bounced out into the tub.  That’s when I noticed it was a he – an adventurous young lad out learning a tough lesson.  Obviously, Tator hadn’t done too much damage, I determined, as he sprang back up to the curtain rod with the grace of his namesake.  The 30 minute chase ensued.  Finally, he scurried between the folds of a towel that was drying on the edge of the tub.  “Gotcha!”  I proclaimed, gathering the edges of the towel together like a hobo bag.  Then I carried the bundle back to the woods and released him in the habitat where he can be of purpose – instead of being tortured and annoying me.

About this time of year in the embroidery industry, when business picks up with approaching holiday orders, I see many digitizers venturing to new territories lured by the temptation for fast, easy profits, most especially in the form of unsolicited emails.  Now, I’m not referring to spam from “custom digitizing factories” offering $.50 per K stitches (a subject for another day).  I’m talking about the spam obviously sent by new, independent digitizers who assume it’s the best way to get started.  Sure, I read it – or at least what I don’t assume is from the factories.  I want to know who my new colleagues are!  I have survived in this industry for 25 years by networking and exchanging information with other digitizers, both new and masters alike.  We’ve learned much from each other, including the art of successful marketing.  Spam is not on that list.

Digitizers need to make their services known, but sending volumes of unsolicited emails with unrealistic promises and unprofitable pricing is certainly not the answer.  Proving yourself is.  Word of mouth is the most valuable marketing tool.  Find your clients through trade organizations like NNEP, attend industry events, connect on social networks and run ads where embroiderers will see it, such as Stitches Magazine.  Correspond with an occasional email, yes, but make it a pleasant introduction with basic information.  If you include sample pricing, choose numbers fair to both parties; be aware that too low can mark your service questionable.  Perhaps offer a sample of your work, but never attach a file to the introductory email or you’ll risk immediate deletion.

If you produce quality at a reasonable price and in promised time, and you are willing to make necessary revisions immediately, embroiderers want to know who you are.  Concentrate on skill and ethical business practice and there will be no need to compete – and I won’t have to sift through my spam filter to find you.

So, to all the digitizers out there who are just starting a new business:  your skill and eagerness is most welcomed by the embroidery industry, but take a lesson from the Deer Mouse.  Don’t be tempted by the illusion of fast easy profits found in the mound of crab apples where there’s the probability of a short life. The industry needs you where you are most useful – where your skill can grow and contribute to the continued existence of quality embroidery. Choose to build your business by focusing on one client at a time, one design at a time; learn from each and excel.   Word will travel and the work will follow.

Top Photo Deer Mouse: courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

Calculating Percentage & One Smart Pig

I was called “pigheaded” more than once when I was a kid.  I was quite stubborn.  I didn’t care what workable methods were otherwise proven to me, I wouldn’t give up till I tried my way.  If the ideas failed I might concede to listening to other methods, but then tried to omit steps, which usually led to more steps than it would’ve taken had I not challenged the basic rules.  Then, of course, the project would require tweaking one thing or another to achieve the initial intention, while burning precious hours. Some 50 plus years later, I can see how being pigheaded wasted a lot of my time.

Most dictionaries define “pigheaded” as being “stupidly obstinate” or “stupidly stubborn”.  But, sorry, I just can’t put a pig in a “stupid” category.  Back when I was a country gal, we had a pig who would wait for the husband’s truck to drive away (never my car) and then proceed to open the corral gate by lifting the latch with his snout, letting the horses run free.   While I rounded up horses, luring them out of the neighbor’s cornfield with a bucket of grain, he’d mosey on over to my garden and rut up a few snacks.   I wouldn’t call that stupid – more like obnoxiously smart.   There I was, six months pregnant, barefoot and chasing a pig with a hoe around the carrot patch I’d just watered – mud was flying!  I was screaming with anger, crying from frustration, and laughing at the same time, knowing how hysterical the scene must have looked.  This very clever 800 lb. boar was quite obstinate, refusing to leave the veggie patch even after I broke a brand new $25 hoe over his back – twice in one week.  That would be my stupid stubbornness.

We, as humans, are supposed to have common sense, according to Thomas Paine who literally wrote the book on it.  Common Sense “equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have….”  But when something appears too difficult or time-consuming, there’s always that challenge of the assumption, “there’s just gotta be an easier, cheaper, and/or faster way!”  Sometimes it’s a good thing if it leads to discoveries; sometimes not, when it results in wasted time.

Recently, a colleague asked a digitizing question, “Have you ever found a fast way to duplicate and increase an irregular shaped element like an outline of a Fleur-de-lis so it can be used for the outline of the first outline?  Is that even possible?”   My immediate thought was “no it can’t be done” but I could not remember why I had come to that conclusion.  I did recall the many times I’d tried and failed, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if I’d overlooked a possibility.

My “stupid stubbornness” kicked in.  I gave it a shot on two different design systems, scaling the X-axis and the Y-axis separately, as well as both globally; the second outline would not match up properly to the first outline no matter the method.  I concluded the only way to accomplish this task is to digitize the first element in numerous objects, then increase the size of each object one at a time, modify the points to correct unavoidable distortion that occurred when resizing, and connect them accurately to the adjacent objects of the outline.  Obviously, it’s faster to simply digitize the second outline than to waste hours editing.

Sometimes things that seem so logical can be so impossible without spending precious time.  And unfortunately, some things that are impossible are commonly thought possible by the masses, revealing that “common sense” is not always the way to go.  Take for instance, changing the global scale of a design with unequal sides; it’s very common for the end-customer to ask that a design be decreased or increased by 1″ high and 1″ wide, something that would distort the shape of the design.  Only one axis of the artwork can be increased at 1″, with the other axis following to scale of the same percentage.

Ah yes, calculating by percentage – a bit of a nightmare for young math students born before the 70s (such as myself) who were not equipped with any sort of gadget other than an abacus.  I hated math.  Its lengthy complexity was boring!  So, just as I did with other things that made little sense to me at the time, I buried it deep in that “I’ll never use it” pile.   Life had other ideas.   Eventually, when it became necessary, calculating the percentage to resize to a particular measurement was a pigheaded, trial-and-error, horror show at the copy machine, using an architect’s scale and my best guess. Then another employee, a high school student, reminded me of the simple equation I’d learned in elementary school: multiply the existing size by the percentage.

Example: The existing (100%) size is 6.25″ wide and needs to be resized 20%;

  • To increase – 6.25 x 120% = 7.50
  • To decrease – 6.25 x 80% = 5.00

Or it can also be approached from another direction by multiplying the size 6.25″ by 20% and then subtract the sum (1.25) from the existing size to decrease or add the sum to increase.  If you’re a hair-puller in the face of numbers, the best option is to purchase a proportion wheel available at office supply and college stores, and you’ll also find many free tools online, such as found at Plaino.com

There’s absolutely no flexibility when it comes to accurate measurement – it is what it is or it’s not.  Being too stubborn to do the math usually comes at a price of wasted time. Now, on the other hand, a little pigheadedness while observing the rules led me to discover what I know about digitizing.  Calvin Coolidge is quoted as saying, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

I agree.  I think it’s okay to be a little stubborn if you’re not stupidly stubborn – and as long as you don’t grow a snout.
Photo © Tristan Savatier – Used by Permission