Monkey-Mind Stress & A No-Monkey Business

fuscia1Hey there! It’s been quite a long while since I’ve had the pleasure of posting anything worth a smile. Not that I’ve been unhappy, but wow, what a year of crazy bumps from one direction to the next with a jungle of surprises around every corner!  I’ll spare you the details and just say that the cup of life had been running over. Much like the fuchsia that hangs in my kitchen, with dripping blossoms that too soon fall to the floor and wait for me to sweep up – so pretty, yet I rebel, “how much is enough “pretty”?

So, I’ve been working on resolving a bad case of “monkey-mind“.  Too much on the brain makes one insane.  I don’t know if that’s a cliche’, but it should be. Sometimes the wheel begins to spin a little too fast in my world, and even though there’s nothing to really complain about, being overwhelmed – good or bad – can be stressful. So, I’ve returned to a daily 20 minutes of yoga and meditation.  I think it’s working. Look! I’m blogging. 🙂

In my last post, I was still recuperating with a broken leg. I’m thankful it all healed well, but by the time I was able to put my leg to use, the city began construction, replacing sewer lines in my neighborhood, and hope was lost for even a brief jaunt to the grocery store in daylight. Fortunately, I work from a home office, so getting to work wasn’t the issue, but getting the work done to the tune of jack hammers, chain saws and heavy equipment was more distracting than trying to relax in a tree full of chattering monkeys. No way could I comfortably write a friendly blog post without relating a few unkind words about my sudden unfortunate situation. It was the summer of hell, to say the least.

roadAs seen in these images, each morning (left) the machines rolled in and dug out the street so the work could continue, and then each evening (right) they’d fill it in again. The non-stop thunderous rumbles, beeps and bangs, while the house vibrated with every bucket drop and roller tamper, drove my patience to the brink. I dashed around the house anchoring every piece of porcelain in its place with poster putty, trying to stay calm, even as I heard bathroom tiles fall into the tub and storm windows fly out of the frames. I endured the misery, hanging on to hope that the noisy chaos would put an end to the mopleakage of mucky water I’d been mopping up in the basement every Spring – then the noise and confinement would be well worth it.  Indeed, this Spring’s thaw brought not a drop rolling down the brick foundation! I did a happy dance with the dry mop and sang a heartfelt “halleluiah!”

During the winter months, I had become overly occupied by a slew of little obligations, as well as new writing responsibilities. Most of my work day is now spent at EmbroideryDesigns.com where I’m happy to be a part of a great support team.  The daily exchange of information with both industry folks and hobbyists never fails to solve puzzles and teach me something new. It then becomes fodder for articles at EmbroideryDesigns.com’s Learning Center.  And the projects I create and post about on my work blog, Stitch and Craft are also an enjoyable task, causing the hours to pass much too quickly.

So, you see, I have been writing, but I’ve missed blogging in my “break room” where I can toss my personal two stitches into the world. Writing keeps my stress factor down – almost as well as lavender, yoga and meditation.  So does food.  Well, the right foods anyhow, and in small frequent meals. Unfortunately, during the past year’s distractions, I ignored the rules I’m to live by. I stuffed myself with momentary good-feeling morsels and neglected the necessities that set my digestive system off on an uncontrollable tangent.

Yeah, that’s what happens in the golden years – your body starts making demands and takes control of that “I’ll-eat-whatever-I-please-and-to-hell-with-nutrition” attitude. On the bright side, I no longer stress over dieting, because if I stick to the health rules, I’m not pillsallowed to count calories or skip meals. Now it’s all a matter of counting vitamins, minerals and glasses of water while timing small numerous portions by the hour. I’ve always known the science to healthy eating, but I must give it keen attention in my old-er age, because if I choose to ignore it, there are physical repercussions. So, I do the list of “14 Foods That Fight Inflammation”  and when I fall short, I reach for the appropriate bottle kept handy on my desk – a display that often provokes the question, “Got pills?”  But snarkiness aside, I’d have to eat twice as much food to get what I get in a few pills everyday, and considering I’m not on the skinny side, it’s a good thing.

Farming Scene by Concord Collections – EmbroideryDesigns.com

I also have been busy this last year, reducing one of the biggest stress inducers I’ve ever experienced – business. First, to clarify any misunderstanding caused by previous statements made here and on other social media, I did not retire from work or stop digitizing, but I did retire my custom digitizing services. I’ve found that “un-marketing” is a feat to be extremely difficult after an online presence of over two decades. Okay, so I have only been one tiny pea in the embroidery pea field, but as the only pea in my pod, I’ve been one helluva busy pea.

No matter how small the business, and no matter how many newfangled things they come up with to help operate one, I’ve come to this conclusion: running a business totally solo without delegating anything is certainly possible, but it’s borderline insane. During buzy-ness you have many responsibilities. During slow-downs, you have the same responsibilites, as well as those you didn’t get done during the buzy-ness. It’s tough to fit in personal time if you don’t choose to hire help. You at least need a monkey – you know, someone who will listen while you plan your week’s agenda or bring you a banana when you need one.

So, to aid in un-marketing, I’ve temporarily closed my web site while I review and revamp, and currently my business domain names are parked at my personal “name domain”.  I will continue to digitize the occasional stock design and deliver private orders while decisions are being made about a new site for Moonlight Design, but until then, in reference to my no-monkey business, I can only say, “to be continued”.

stitches-coverstoryQuoting industry veteran and master digitizer, Steve Freeman of Qdigitizing, who noted in “Back from the Brink”, June’s cover story, pg. 40, in Stitches Magazine, “Sometimes you have to recognize when enough is enough in order to reinvent yourself.”

I suppose that’s what has come about as I’ve tried to un-market, shrink back and just be.  I’m reinventing myself while being content that I remain a part of the embroidery industry.  I will also continue to pop in now and then at Stitches with a bit of “Punching Sense” or whatever else I can offer. Right now, I’m gearing up to participate again as a digitizing judge for this year’s competition and the excitement is building! Do not hesitate to participate in this one, kids – first price is a Melco single-head!

On a closing stitch, to those who are curious, I hope to not let another year go by without posting. I’ve come to the conclusion that venting my two stitches reduces stress – and I’m going with the assumption that working at stress reduction is a lot less chaotic than living with a monkey. Alas, God bless Jane Goodall.

monkey

Baby Chimp by Ace Points – EmbroideryDesigns.com

 

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Turning the Page

January buzzed by without one word from me. Considering that it was my blog “anniversary” month, now at three years of babbling, I feel a bit disappointed I’d let it slide, but I won’t be too hard on myself. It was only a temporary blog pause that was necessary to make way for the “new”.

My recent leg injury forced a few changes that have helped me take a good, hard look at where I’m headed. Although I’ve always felt it best to live in the moment, I think I had been a bit too ignorant of particular consequences.   Artists are like that.   If not for keen focus, many contracted works of the masters would not be completed. (The Sistine Chapel might be bare, if not for Michelangelo‘s passionate discipline.) But there comes a time for all of us creative types when the reality hits – when you realize your own creative needs are being neglected while everything that you are accomplishing is for someone else. Yes, getting paid to be “someone else’s pencil” is pretty cool and a great way to make a living, but there has to be balance. Without equalizing the playing field of creating for self as much as for others, one might be led to cut off an ear.

Self Portrait - Vincent Van Gogh(Okay, so I’ve heard that Van Gogh actually may have lost his ear at the hand of his rival Gauguin, but it definitely reveals the time bomb reactions that can churn inside the frustrated mind of a working artist.)

During the last few months, I found it impossible to take on any new custom digitizing orders and I couldn’t even allow myself to give an “I’ll be back” notice. Instead I placed an announcement on my web site stating, “Custom services are no longer available.” And after all the changes that occurred in January, I’ve decided that notice will remain permanently. No, I am not leaving the embroidery industry. I am simply putting custom services at Moonlight Design to rest.

Actually, I’ve been planning my retirement days since I purchased my first digitizing system at the shocking cost of $25,000 (in 1995 that was considered a bargain – one half the cost of the previous decade). At that time I was employed as the in-house puncher for a 50-head embroidery shop, Write-On Embroidery, a great place to work, run by wonderful employers. But I was looking to find a way to work from a home office, believing I’d be more productive in my solitary peace, away from daily business interruptions and roaring machines. I was also hoping to establish my future “retirement job”. (Who in today’s world can completely retire? Besides, I’d shrivel without a job to wake up to, and flipping Mc-Burgers or greeting Wal-Mart customers are not of my forte. I am more capable of creating their logo and need those particular folks to make my lunch and point me in the right direction. Alas, we each have an important purpose in this world.)

The only way to afford such a luxury of having my own digitizing equipment was to take on custom orders, which indeed helped pay for the machine, computers and necessary software programs. When the payments were complete, I found myself obligated to an established client base whose work generated profits on a roller coaster margin as it followed the erratic economy. During the up years, it was necessary to resign my position at the embroidery shop, and then during the down years I had a choice: walk away from digitizing completely and find another line of work; or market, market, market and work a zillion hours to meet a zillion deadlines in order to stay afloat. I chose the latter. I didn’t get much sleep.

So a few years ago, I decided to take a part-time position working from my home office as a customer service rep for EmbroideryDesigns.com, which offered a steady income to count on when custom orders were slow. Every day since I’ve enjoyed conversations with EmbroideryDesign.com’s customers who need help shopping the web site, using their designs, and while sharing my knowledge about everything embroidery. In return, I discover what embroiderers like or don’t like or what they want to see on the design market – inspiration for my own stock design sales. They reveal their hair-pulling woes, offering ideas for my articles in Stitches Magazine or issues I can address in this blog. And at the same time, I am representing the work of some of the highest quality digitizers; many of whom I’m fortunate enough to call a colleague and whose work I respect with the highest regard. I love that job!

Last November when I injured my leg, I was suddenly forced to reduce the hours I sat in front of a computer each day, and even though it was during the time of year that custom orders bring in the highest profit, choosing to work only for EmbroideryDesigns.com was the most logical decision to make. What a wonderful freedom I had found – no burning the midnight oil to meet those “yesterday” deadlines or contacting clients with the disappointing statement of “sorry for the delay”. It even allowed for more time “playing” with the ever-evolving I-Cliqq software, taking my time and having fun with my own creative expressions.

So recently, when I was offered a full-time position at EmbroideryDesigns.com, I accepted without hesitation. I’m not sure how my physical time clock is going to handle 8:30-5:30, Monday thru Friday. My body and brain may very well panic, but it’s time for me to take charge of such things. I have to look at the bright side. For the first time in years I will be working a routine schedule of weekends off and will actually have opportunity for those 4-day weekends that I hear most folks cheer over; not to mention I’ll finally understand the true meaning of TGIF. But I doubt if I’ll be a Monday hater – without a day to begin a new work-week, surely, the alternative would be to sit idle, feeling useless. No, thank you.

Digitized by Machine Embroidery Designs

I admit I have had a bit of an argument with myself with this decision, fearing I might be deserting a few favored clients, but I am wise enough to know I am not the only master digitizer out there who can handle their work. I’ve never been a competitor, but a team player, and I’m most confident my colleagues, as well as the promising new punchers, won’t mind if I leave custom services to them.  After all, I’m not closing the book, but simply sailing on to the next chapter.  

Today, I saw a status on my Facebook stream that said something similar to: “I’ve reached that age where my brain went from You probably shouldn’t do that to what the hell, let’s see what happens.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at. The future may hold a bit of mystery, but I’m now quite certain that I won’t be cutting off my ear any time soon – or anyone else’s, for that matter. 🙂

Stitches Magazine is 25!

Back in 1986 I was a contented, part-time print artist without one thought about machine embroidery. It was a nice, peaceful few hours each week at a custom print and embroidery shop where I could get lost in the black ink on white paper that would be magically turned to colors by sublimation or screen-print ink. Ah yes, it’s amazing what can happen with a technical pen while the mind flies away into the rainbow gardens.

Then one day my boss approached me with the proposition of full time hours if I could learn how to use the Melco Digitrac®. (See History at Wikipedia Machine Embroidery.) I looked over at the tall easel-like monstrosity with a sliding T-square shaped crossbar and input pad with a transparent plastic bulls eye that moved on an X-Y axis, devouring the space next to the Melco Super Star embroidery machine, daisy chained to a floppy drive, as well as a tape punch machine. “Ummm, I don’t think so.”

Understand, I already had a career as the local hospital’s head cook and I would soon become the kitchen supervisor after finishing one more month of school for certification. I was set. It was too late in the game for me to start a new thing. He gave me a key to the shop and the manual and told me to “play” any time I could fit it in, and then decide.  “I have school,” I protested.

This is your school,” he replied, with a gesture towards the monstrosity.  Well, what artist addicted to hand embroidery wouldn’t be curious enough to accept the opportunity for at least the experience?!  So I did. And it didn’t take long – a few days, maybe a week – when I knew I would no longer be creating menus and cracking eggs every morning.

But it wasn’t easy!  Back in those days (omg, I’m starting to sound like Grandma!) we didn’t have personal computers, much less the Internet. There were no schools or books for “punching” which was the common term then for “digitizing”, evolving from the tape punch process it required. We thought it a grand transition when we moved up to the floppy drive – the big one that really flopped. Without editing software or even a personal computer, trial and error was the only real teacher. I taped a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the Digitrac and insisted on working evenings to avoid interruptions. Other employees who had a message or question for me knew enough to stand quietly in my peripheral vision until I turned to speak with them, and if they didn’t … well … it wasn’t pretty.

So that first year was quite intense with late nights, punching and watching every stitch sew simultaneously on the machine, which I also had to learn how to operate and maintain to be sure in my testing of work on different fabrics, stabilizers and thread weights that any error was not caused by the punching that created the design. Back then there was absolutely no way to cancel a punched function without eliminating all of the work, so I learned to create very small files to avoid those duh-moments like forgetting to punch the needle down and watching the machine dance in the air for 15 minutes after an hour of digitizing. Then the small files were combined by writing a program using the machine’s keyboard – a process done very carefully, because the only way to test the program was by running the machine – a time and material waster if the program had errors. And I pushed my tenacious self through the turmoil of fabric puckers, columns too wide or too thin, the use of underlay where and why, thread breaks, gaps between objects, disappearing stitches, loose stitches and unraveling stitches, stitches too short or too long, and coverage too sparse or too dense. And I’ll spare you what was involved in creating “special stitches” of motifs and patterns in fills that were created only by manually sectioning each element into multiple objects. Needless to say, I desperately struggled while sinking deep into the land of stitched woes!

And then … that glorious moment arrived when my boss placed into my hands the very first issue of Stitches Magazine. I swear, I heard the angels sing! I wore out the pages of that issue, finding the answers to a year’s worth of built up questions. Since then, each issue has brought a continuous stream of ideas and solutions for all of us in this industry, and personally, I can honestly say I couldn’t have gotten as far without it!

So, with the deepest of my own gratitude and on behalf of those who struggled their way up and through this industry, allow me to wish Stitches Magazine a well-deserved and sincere congratulations on 25 years!

This also seems to be an appropriate time to announce that entries are now being accepted for this year’s Stitches Golden Needle Awards! There are a couple of new exciting rules that will leave no excuse for not giving it a go. From the editor, Nicole Rollender:

Enter the Stitches Golden Needle Awards Today

Our challenge to you: Enter ONE design in this year’s Stitches Golden Needle Awards for embroidery and digitizing excellence. Choose the best work that you currently have and show it off to us. We want to make this year’s contest the best we’ve ever had: http://bit.ly/gAzZ4W

Remember, you don’t have to fit this project into your schedule – just submit the best stuff you’ve already done!!!

And on another stitch … in regard to the announcement in my last blog about Moonlight’s Design Shoppe soon to close, I’ve found it’s necessary to change the word “soon” to “in the near future”. Disassembling a sister domain of e-commerce without affecting the other sister domain for a custom digitizing service, I’ve discovered, will take a bit longer than expected. (I’ll whine about that process another day.) So, in the mean time, I will continue to deliver sales and will see about dusting off some of the cyber-cobwebs with a few page upgrades, but for now, my new stock designs will be introduced each month exclusively at Masterpiece Embroidery. (A big welcome to the newest member of the group, award winning digitizer, Erich Campbell who submitted three wonderful designs to this month’s collection!)  Masterpiece Embroidery is the place to shop for embroiderers looking to increase their stock library with high quality designs created by 15 skilled digitizers at an unbelievable price of $9.99 – and that’s the total cost for over 30 designs! No memberships necessary, no sneaky fees – just one short month before the price changes, so don’t delay!

Till next time kids, keep on stitchin’! 🙂

February Moonlight & a Month to Observe

Snow MoonThe full moon this week has brightened the night sky as if to proclaim the glory of February!  Seems appropriate considering all the events and celebrations – a list too long for this post – but allow me to touch on a few …

The rising moon caused a lot of ooo’s and ahh’s in Washington D.C. as it ascended above the capital; a photographer’s dream shot, as seen at “Daily Eye Wonder”. The Full Snow Moon is so named by Native American tribes because it’s a time when the heaviest snowfall is expected, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2012.

© Copyright by Concord Collections - EmbrideryDesigns.com

This winter there hasn’t been much snow landing in my Midwest backyard and no heavy storm is predicted (yet). Nevertheless, Groundhog Phil in PA saw his shadow on February 2, indicating there would be six more weeks of winter. Well, considering that in Southeastern MN, we woke up to thick fog that morning, I’m putting my money on Unadilla Bill in NE, a stuffed groundhog residing at Unadilla’s local pub of the same name, who has decided it’s time for Spring.

Floral Heart Applique by Adorable Ideas - EmbroideryDesigns.com

Floral Heart Applique - © Copyright by Adorable Ideas

Ironically, February “observances” are packed into the shortest month of the year, but 2012 is a Leap Year, so at least we’ll have an extra day for celebrations and create smiles for those born on February 29th. (Happy Birthday x 4!Leap Day is said to be a popular time for women to propose marriage, which I suspect might be a Sadie Hawkins moment for the impatient who didn’t get a ring on February 14th. And then those lucky ladies whose proposals are accepted, can plan a romantic wedding for the next Valentine’s Day, a somewhat popular date for getting hitched. The Dade City courthouse in Pasco County, FL even offers a mass wedding to avoid possible overflow.

There’s a slew of other things to observe this month – both respectable and bizarre – from Florida strawberries to spunky old ladies, according to a list at BrownieLocks.com.  Some of the national observances – both logical and odd – include:

Couch Flamingo by EMbroidery Patterns - EmbrideryDesigns.com

Couch Flamingo © Copyright by Embroidery Patterns

And here’s one that I need: National Time Management Month. To help folks manage precious time in both business and personal life, eResources has a few quick tips.

Let’s not omit global observances like International Friendship Month. I’ll mention Erich Campbellthe obvious – Facebook. I still have not yet updated to the new profile. Normally, I dive in and get the inevitable changes out of the way, but life has caused social networking housekeeping to fall to the rears. I suppose I should tidy up soon or it will likely be done for me. I’ve been hesitating wanting to find that one cool pic I can use for the header like some of the pretty darn good ones I’ve seen out there amongst my friends.  My current favorite is that of FB friend Eric Campbell, which displays a portion of his work that adorned last month’s cover of Stitches Magazine. Yeah, that’s pretty nice.

That brings to mind that February is also National Embroidery Month. Celebrated internationally up till this year, folks in all countries love embroidery. Like music and other arts, embroidery is an internationally understood language, whether or not it’s being observed in lands across the ponds. It’s one of the first skills achieved by humans, and an embroidery needle has been declared one of the earliest artifacts found in the line of tools. Embroidery has been used as a method of keeping records and defining honorary titles, as well as making a statement via art and decoration. The first hand embroidery machine, according to Wikipedia’s article “St. Gallen Embroidery” was invented by Franz Mange in 1828. It made gradual advancements up to the 1980s when Melco introduced the first computerized embroidery machine and Wilcom created the software to go with it.  The rest, as they say, is my history as well as other “old dogs” in the industry (and there isn’t a day that goes by we don’t learn a new trick.)

And so, it seems appropriate to decorate this post with designs by different digitizers, many who offer their designs via EmbroideryDesigns.com where I work a few hours each day as one of their customer service reps. It’s a part-time position, but I don’t really consider it a “job” – more of an educational pleasure as I exchange knowledge with countless embroiderers, chatting about the new machines on the market or thread breaks and such, when I’m not rescuing an occasional lost password or suggesting the right stabilizer or design for their project.

Butterfly by Moonlight Design - February Masterpiece Embroidery

It’s somewhat of a fun break in my day from operating Moonlight Design Embroidery Digitizing or working on stock designs as a participating designer at Masterpiece Embroidery, or writing “Punching Sense“, my column in Stitches Magazine, as well as various other duties like creating and updating tutorials for I-Cliqq Software (FYI to users: a new tutorial is penciled in for the near-future so to catch up with recent awesome updates.)

Yes, I have to admit I have a sometimes chaotic, but fulfilling, career that often swallows my time. On the other hand, it also offers me something many folks continue to search for – making a living at what I love to do. After all, if I wasn’t making money at it, I know I’d still be spending time at it anyhow.

Brillian Rose Hearts by Sweet Heirloom - EmbroideryDesigns.com

Brilliant Rose Hearts - © Copyright by Sweet Heirloom

And “doing what I love” brings to mind a video that seems appropriate to mention by movie director Tom Shadyac that I saw on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday last week called, “I Am I could write an entire blog post about my opinion on this thought-provoking and inspirational documentary, but I’ll let you make up your own mind if you catch the chance, and for now I’ll just close with my brief two stitches: worth watching! 

Happy February! 🙂

Winners! – Stitches Golden Needle Awards™

I am so excited that I can’t even think of the best way to begin this post, so, I’m just going to dive right in … CONGRATULATIONS! to this year’s winners of the Stitches Golden Needle Awards™ : Steve Freeman, Qdigitizing; Tanda Bundy, Bass Pro Shops; Affinity Express Team; Jane Swanzy, Swan Threads; Lee Caroselli, Balboa Threadworks; Marjorie Corrow, Life’s A Stitch Embroidery; U.S. Digitizing Team; Peggy Severt, Pegboard Crafts; Cathy Cattle, Sew B It Custom Embroidery (cover); and Barbara Stuemer, TexDesign!  Kudos to each one of you for some of the finest digitizing in the industry!

As one of the judges, I have to admit it was a difficult event this year to find something to write down as a “con” with so many beautiful, interesting and highly technical entries.  I found it near impossible to keep opinions silent about my share of the entries since I opened The Box last July.  (I said many “WOW!”s as I opened each entry!)  So, let me say now, the 2011 contest entries – including many that didn’t make the list of winners – proved to be some of the most astounding and simply awesome pieces that I’ve had the pleasure to critique.  Thanks to all who participated and made this contest so tough to judge!  See for yourself and check out the November issue of Stitches Magazine!

As well, congratulations to Stitches Magazine, honored as “Magazine of the Year” by the American Society of Business Publication Editors in the 33rd annual Azbee Awards of Excellence competition!  And congratulations to ASI publications, honored by ASBPE with eight national and 11 regional awards of excellence for writing, editing, research, design and photography.  Whew!  I must say that all this gives me great pride as both a writer and a digitizer to be a contributor to such a fine publication by a fantastic organization!  Read more …

Now on to other things … which there isn’t enough time for.  I am swamped!  As we near the holidays, custom digitizing orders fill every extra moment and I fade to the background of blogs and e-clouds, as well as anywhere outside my home office.  “Just My Two Stitches” is currently a difficult task to keep on the schedule so, I’ve decided it necessary to cut back to posting every other week, at least until the rush has passed. I’m hoping that you won’t notice because you’re staying just as busy!  See you back here in a couple of weeks! 🙂

Digitizing – Easy as Apple Pie

Homespun Country Apple - Moonlight's Design Shoppe

My hubby set fresh picked apples on the counter and asked for pie. I sighed. Business has picked up with holiday custom orders, so domestic things take a back seat. I try to keep a little holiday cheer going this time of year, but things like baking from scratch have to be scheduled, because if it’s not on the white board, it won’t happen. I just can’t think about that sort of fun until custom orders are delivered by holiday deadlines, usually the first part of December.

Can’t we just stick with Sara Lee® this time of year, please?

As if he heard my thoughts, he announced, “I’ll do it, just tell me how.”   Visions of a floured floor and sugar-speckled kitchen flashed through my mind.  I think not.   But, if I didn’t bake them into something, these tart apples would only be good for squirrel food.  Anyhow, I hadn’t baked an apple pie for awhile, so perhaps it was a good time to refresh my memory.

I had a double-crust, ready-to-bake crust in the freezer, so I didn’t need to worry about rolling out dough – half the battle. But, first I had to hunt down my grandmother’s apple filling recipe, which is actually a list of basic ingredients with a few instructions: “some of this and some of that – and it depends on how many apples you have and their size, and what kind of apples they are to know how much of ‘this and that’ the pie needs”.    Grandma was a “dumper” – eye-balling measurements and judging the unbaked taste and texture before putting it in the oven. Not everyone would chance baking without a measuring cup; baking requires a specific science.  Grandma was a pro at baking. I am not.

Long ago I had jotted additional notes on those instructions after experimentation with various combinations of apples and amounts to determine default measurements.  So, I began digging through the jungle of books, papers and cards I keep stashed in an antique pie cabinet (that ironically never gets used for its original purpose of keeping fresh baked pies), but when the recipe didn’t immediately surface, I headed online for the basic ingredients of any apple pie, hoping it would jump start my memory.  I found one that sounded similar, and the fact it was named “Apple Pie by Grandma Ople” sold me – until I got distracted by another recipe of Food Network‘s Paula Deen whose recipe included applesauce. I had an opened jar of applesauce aging in the fridge, so I figured it would be worth combining it with the first recipe I found, which would work if I compensated for the extra liquid and sweetness by adding a little more flour and reduced the amount of sugar.

Paula’s recipe suggested a crunch topping, that sounded worth a try, and considering I had enough apples for one high double-crusted pie, if I spent a little time making the crunch topping, I could make two pies – and perhaps even get more than one piece (Kevin loves pie).

After the pies were baked, I was only disappointed with the topping that I thought would be crunchy like yet another recipe I’d found.  Mine lacked enough crunch – perhaps, a bit too much butter. (I should have known. Paula Deen is the Butter Queen.) I considered drizzling a vanilla icing over the top, but hubby stopped me with a smile, claiming, “It’s perfect” – the main objective.

Digitizing is very much like baking apple pie. First you need to plan and calculate the ingredients: consider what kind of fabric and/or garment it will be sewn on and what weight/type of threads will be used. Then a preliminary plan is done by mapping the path on the artwork, decide stitch types, calculate whatever automatics can be used for efficiency, punch with compensation for push and pull, and choose the best values for parameters like density, stitch length and column width.  After digitizing, the design file is then test-sewn to be sure the results are what’s intended; and if not, time is taken to polish it for results of a smooth running design that meets with the customer’s satisfaction.

Each design comes with different requirements.  If designs were consistently the same, digitizing would be easy – easy to quote, calculate and do.  Specific steps and parameter values for each type of art, fabric and stitch types would be memorized via repetitive action. But just like the ingredients that have to be considered for pie, the ingredients for a design have to be carefully measured.  The next design will be completely different, and the next; it could be years before the specific needs discovered in one design will come around again. When you find a digitizing recipe that works for a particular art/fabric/thread/stitch type combination, write the parameter values down in a notebook and keep it close to your design system (as I refer to in “Software is a Tool – You Control the Digitizing!“)  Having a collection of these technical recipes to reach for exactly when needed will save hours of digitizing time – time that you can use to bake pie.

Baked Apple Pie Design by Concord Collections at EmbroideryDesigns.com

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