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

 

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!

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

Time for a Fall Thread Break

The fall season begins on September 23rd this year – technically, that is. I depend more on what Mother Nature has to say about it. She seems to know more than the meteorologists, though, granted, she does have more experience. So, when I see leaves and seeds twirling from the Ash trees and the leaves of two particular Maple trees in the neighborhood begin to change color, as far as I’m concerned, fall has arrived – no doubt about it.

Perhaps it’s not time for the The Autumnal Equinox as the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, “‘The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night.” The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the hours of day and night are equal as the Sun crosses the celestial equator.'”

I’d rather take my cue from the trees. They tell me it’s time to get everything possible done that needs to be done outdoors or put it off until next spring. I’ve missed quite a few fall activities in the past while my nose was stuck to the grindstone, so considering I had most of my week’s work caught up, I decided to close the office door behind me for the weekend and do like the trees. They don’t care what the calendar says – they just do whatever feels right to them.

I didn’t really feel like doing any particular thing, and it’s a little too early for taking pics of full fall colors, but I definitely felt the need to get away from anything embroidery-related. (Don’t get me wrong. I love my work, but some days I simply need a “thread break”.) My husband, Kevin, was working, so it would have to be a solo event no problem, there are many things to cross off the list before it snows I can do alone.  Considering I haven’t had my old – ahem, vintage – ’87 Grand Am out of the garage for some time, perhaps a visit to the car wash was in order. I really should remove the dusty cat paw tracks left on the windshield an embarrassing validation of being the neighborhood’s “eccentric cat lady who lives next to the woods”.

First, I checked email (something that must be done daily for design deliveries or custom quotes) and caught a local online news brief – “Jesse James Days in Northfield, MN”.  Ah yes, the annual event that pretty much closes down the historic part of Northfield for a few days of celebration, complete with a craft fair and carnival. On September 7, 1876 the James-Younger Gang were defeated when trying to rob the bank – an accomplishment that would put Northfield on the historical-outlaw-legend map.

Now, I’ve lived 14 miles from there for over 40 years and had yet to attend the fun. Oh, I’ve seen it from the highway when I’ve passed by on my way to the neighboring Walmart – with clenched teeth and a dash of bah-humbug, because I can’t easily get to my favorite shops in historic Northfield. No, I didn’t want to go there today and besides, it just didn’t seem like the thing to do without Kevin – it’s a family sort of thing, right?

I kept pondering that question while watering the now-lanky petunias draped over the sides of their pots – another sign of summer’s end. I heard the reply whispered in my head, “Chicken!” – a snarky accusation of being too afraid to drive through the traffic and push through a maddening crowd alone. “Am not!” I murmmered like a whiney, little girl. Understand, people scatter out of the way of Kevin’s truck, where they tend to just walk over the hood of my pee-wee car. And without 6′ 2″ Kevin to scout the way through the people, I might not find the best place to view the reenactment of the bank raid – my main objective. Why go, if I don’t see the show?  Just then the Chicadees began squawking, tired of waiting for me to leave the deck so they could get at the bird feeders, and I swear, their crabby “chic-chic-chic” started to sound like “chic-ken-chic-ken chic-ken”.  So, who can argue with a little bird?

I parked in a lot at the edge of the historic area, assuming I had plenty of time to walk to where the reenactment would take place. It was then I discovered that my car clock was beginning to lose time (or else Kevin had tried to change the radio station again). I grabbed my purse and camera, then looked up to see a scene straight out of the movies – the “James-Younger Gang” approaching along the river, obviously on their way to rob the bank. I knew I had to move fast. I took a hit off my inhaler to fend off an allergy-triggered asthma attack and made sure my shoe strings were tied and tucked into the bottom cross-lace; lest I cluts out.

The side of the street with the “best view” was packed with people, so I, along with other last-minute-arrivals, opted for the spot near the “wings” of the reeinactment. Not a bad place, really, considering we were actually standing in front of the original bank building, now the Bank Museum. I couldn’t see the action on the other end of the street (that I’ve seen in videos anyhow) but I indeed saw a lot of action, as well as details, including the packing tape that held together the barrel of one of the rifles. (Really, boys, get yourselves some new guns!”)

I began taking pictures, fighting the sun behind me that was casting a nasty shadow in the street. Only a few manual shots of the people in period dress survived, because the auto-focus kept choosing the building on the other side of the street. Silently cursing my lack of digital camera skills, and having an underlying hatrid of auto-anything (evolving from the control it robs when digitizing), I kept battling the stubborn auto-focus when I noticed the T-shirt hanging above the crowd in front of the shop across the street.

And then, there it was … the word I read a zillion times a day, painted on the window, “Embroidery”. Well, look at that!  Champion Sports does screenprint and stitches! I did not know that. I made a mental note to stop in the next day I cruised through town, deciding (after a quick look around for any sarcastic birds) I’m not about to struggle through the crowd of the elderly with canes, the parents with strollers and children with ice cream cones!

After the 20-minute reenactment of the actual 7-minute bank raid, I patted myself on the back for proving the Chickadees wrong. I am not “chicken!” But I am getting … well … let’s call it “vintage“.  My adrenaline had gotten me this far, and with the realization that the car lot was quite a hike away, I was overwhelmed with appreciation for the many times Kevin has fetched the car and saved me the steps. He deserved a gift. So I stopped at one of the vendors’ booths near the Bank Museum where a printed cup caught my eye – the quote of town merchant, J. S. Allen, who on that infamous day had demanded, “Get your guns boys. They’re robbing the bank!”  [I would credit the vendor, but in my haste, I failed to see the name and later found only a price sticker at the bottom. Note to decorators: your name is your most valuable marketing tool – get it out there on your stuff!]

I walked along the river where the vendor tents lined up from one end of the historic area to the other. I didn’t have the urge to buy anything, but couldn’t resist checking out the beautiful handmade crafts, paintings, jewelry, pottery and much more made by some very talented folks. After crossing the walk bridge, I was drawn to the silhouette of a man in an alley leaning against the wall of his shop, and next to him, what appeared to be a rack of T-shirts. I felt a bit sad for the fact there wasn’t a customer in sight and felt an odd sense of duty to patronize the poor fellow – until I got in front of the opened door and saw customers packed inside where it appeared Larson’s Printing was doing a mighty fine business!

Pleased to see Gildan on the label, I picked out my size and color of a T-shirt printed with a familiar Northfield Bank Raid design – one I’ve seen worn for years – so I just had to ask how long the shop had been in business. After a brief conversation we determined I had once digitized designs for his work contracted through my then-employer, Write On Embroidery back in the 80s and early 90s, until he added embroidery machines to his screenprinting business.  We exchanged business cards (making this spontaneous day a tax deduction) and promised to keep in touch.  Sometimes little thread breaks can lead to unexpected opportunities.

Pictures can be viewed in my Facebook public album: Jesse James Days ~ 9/10/11

Those Who Labored Without Question

“This day off was brought to you by millions of workers who dedicated their lives to the struggle for labor equality, workplace safety, and the few things still fair about our jobs that we take for granted every day.” – B. G. Henson

I read this quote on a friend’s social media status yesterday and was grateful for the reminder.  Many of us plan our schedules around holidays, dates, and seasons to use the time to play catch-up, whether at work or home.  For me it was the laundry.  It then became a busy two days with many backed up domestic chores getting crossed off the list and I’d nearly forgotten the reason for the holiday and those who worked to achieve its national observance.  Sure, I was not “making money” but there certainly isn’t anyone in today’s world who would dare claim housework is not labor.  Labor Day, after all, is a day to stop all labor, if you can – if your job isn’t absolutely necessary to keep the world running.

Jackson Farmstead, Mount Pleasant, MN

Residence of my ancestor John A. Jackson's Farmstead; lithograph published by A.T. Andreas, 1874.

A good enough reason for me, I put down the mop yesterday and turned my attention to my ongoing family history project of compiling my research for CDs promised to cousins. Sure, it’s work, but also done to honor my ancestors whose labor my own could never compare. So I started to sort and compile photos and information, but seems as soon as I begin reviewing the information, I get lost in the Big Woods. No, not the Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, though the location is definitely the same place. Five generations ago, my ancestors settled claims in Minnesota, directly across the Mississippi River (Lake Pepin) from where the Charles Ingalls family lived on the Wisconsin side. I have read Laura’s books, a recommendation by my late grandmother who said Laura’s descriptions are near to exact of the life her own mother had in the Big Woods in the mid-late 1800’s.  No matter how difficult life became, my ancestors pushed on, surviving brittle cold winters in claim shanties, defeating hunger by eating only frozen rutabagas for months and clearing away the timber and stones to prepare the land for pasture or fields in the heat, rain and snow.  Their tireless pioneer spirit to labor forward with determination through excruciating struggles is nothing less than amazing.  They never questioned why – they just did what they had to do.

And that brings to mind the next day we will always remember when many did what they9-11 Memorial had to do without hesitation.  This Sunday is the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and many of you are planning something special to remember the victims and the heroes of that fateful day. If you are seeking a design to embroider for a 9/11 project, Moonlight Design is offering, once again, the 9/11 Tribute design free to download. (The zipped file contains all embroidery machine formats.) This design originally was sewn by many embroiderers who contributed garments to the volunteers at Ground Zero and featured in the December 2001 issue of Stitches Magazine, among many designs created by digitizers who contributed to “the cause”.  Please accept this design to use on any item intended for commemoration of the Firefighters whose heroism will never be forgotten, as well as for those who continue to serve.

And now, because this is a short week when many of us will be playing catch-up at work for the time off we took to celebrate it, I’ll not occupy your time with more of my words. Till next week … wishing you many smiles!

When Perfection isn’t Perfect

I took a walk in the countryside last Thursday. It was a slow day for work, the sky was blue and the temps a breezy 75°F, so I couldn’t resist the chance to take a few pics of late Summer’s splendor. The greens of the foliage will soon transpose to a rainbow of oranges, reds, yellows and browns, and although this transformation is gloriously breathtaking, it might be another 12 months before I get this view again. Playing hooky seemed justified.

Taking advantage of photo opportunities is one of those perks of being an artist – it’s a fun necessity. I must continue to build my library that I reference for various projects, such as when creating embroidery designs in a realistic style. Oh sure, I could surf around the net for hours trying to find the right details in a Maple leaf or the wild shapes of Oak branches, but I wouldn’t get the inspiration and clarity of details (not to mention, exercise) that I get from memories recorded in my own images.  And I like to strive for perfection – well, sorta. The objective for a realistic style is to replicate details perfectly, but Nature isn’t always perfect. If I were to create a symmetrical daisy, with each petal exactly the same by punching one petal and duplicating it for the remaining petals, the results would be so very wrong, at least for the realistic style I’m trying to achieve.

It was quite nice to have a guilt-free excuse on a work day to hike through one of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas, and this particular place is dear to me – I called it “home” for 15 years. You would think I should have enough pictures after living there so long, but the area is forever changing, especially since the house and barn were removed and the natural foliage allowed to flourish.  Each time I visit, I find something new to capture and add to my reference image library.

The leafy Sumac bushes that once camouflaged the heating fuel-oil barrel now cover the spot where I washed countless dishes, and OxEye Sunflowers have sprung forth from where the old, weathered outhouse once stood proud.  Yes, we even had one of those, and although rarely used, it was kept clean for those particular visitors who were strangely attracted to the experience of using a tattered, wooden privy in the fresh outdoors.

We were also quite grateful for having this not-so-perfect commode, of sorts, as it was the perfect solution one extremely cold year of -50°F when the drains froze.  (I had experienced an icy hell in them thar snow mounds along the frozen path in the moonlight.  I went on a diet until Spring.)

The Violets, Irises and Lilies that had lined the house and other wildflowers have devoured what once was a perfect city-like lawn. Little ferns carpet the ground under tall Goldenrod, Milkweed, prairie grasses and more, scattered throughout, making it necessary to step carefully, so as not to destroy small wildflowers – or be surprised by a snake or other critter I’d rather see from afar. It might have grown to be unfamiliar territory for me, if not for the valley left from the gravel driveway, my surviving patch of Rhubarb and the stately Oaks, Elms and Birch trees that remain.  The bright patches of Goldenrod and Purple Loosestrife still dot the one-time horse pasture on the hill this time of year.

A part of me is sad I no longer live there, but I’m so very delighted I can still occasionally visit and experience this abundance of natural beauty.  Having something to draw on when I’m lacking inspiration is priceless.  I find it well-worth studying the details – those that are symmetrically and/or consistently the same, and those of many changing variations – because these memorized details eventually appear somewhere in my work.

Now, on the other hand, digitizing anything – whether it’s the variations found in Nature or the crisp symmetry of a corporate logo – distortion must be applied to achieve quality results. Compensation for the threads that pull in or push out must be observed, such as widening and shortening columns so the width and length are correct in the final sew-out. Depending on the substrate, this can be a tedious procedure for digitizing small elements, most especially tiny letters. Veteran digitizer, Erich Campbell of Black Duck Embroidery & Screen Printing, recently shared a project he completed of 4 MM letters that turned out quite nice for what he described as a quick job. Most impressive is the clarity of letters that are embroidered on a textured polo, which is a situation that often results in crooked columns with ragged edges.  It’s somewhat tricky to digitize the elements of each letter seemingly wrong for them to appear right. Erich credits one of his favorite lessons learned from the masters, “Embroidery is the art form of distortion.”

Erich also posted a recommendation for perhaps one of his secrets, a Gutenberg book titled OF THE JUST SHAPING OF LETTERS from the Applied Geometry of Albrecht Durer, Book III.  This free e-book download, is an excellent reference to have in reach during the creation of any size letters, be it print or embroidery, as it explains everything you need to know about the basic rules when replicating shape. An excerpt regarding the letter B: “… in this way you shall describe both curved limbs: and they must both be broader towards the top than towards the bottom, as follows naturally with the stroke of a pen, and, moreover, while approximately round, they are not to be circular ….”

From this point, we as digitizers, must apply the embroidery rules of distortion to achieve exact replication in the final sew-out. The book is available for Kindle, and if you didn’t know, you can now download the Kindle for PC application, making e-books available to even those without gadgets.

Until next week … I’ll leave you with the suggestion to begin your own reference image library for design, starting with captured shots of your surrounding, natural environment. There’s a design to be created from Nature found everywhere, from the driest desert to the wettest swampland.  It can even be seen pushing through the cracks of cement and asphalt or rooftops of the biggest cities. Perhaps, visit a local florist who is willing to let you take a few snapshots, and at the same time, you just might snag an embroidery order for garden aprons, donning a logo with tiny letters.

Embroidery designs pictured are available at Moonlight’s Design Shoppe.