We've been presented with an unusual request.
Kira Dulaney of Kira K Designs is an accomplished designer in both knitting and crochet who has already listed almost 30 patterns for sale with us. She has also (naturally) been published elsewhere, notably on our friend Amy Singer's outstanding site Knitty.com.
All patterns available on Knitty are available for free.
Kira asked us recently if we would agree to list a couple of her patterns that are already available on Knitty, free of charge, on Patternfish, for money.
"I just went through a long process of deciding to self-publish the Bell Curve Skirt and Couvercle Cap, my two patterns that were in Knitty. At the same time there was a lively discussion on Ravelry that helped me make my decision. Basically, Knitty buys rights for the time that the issue will be on the homepage of its website and encourages designers to publish their patterns afterwards, since the Knitty honorarium is admittedly low. Part of my decision to self-publish them is the hope to make a bit more profit from my hard work, and also I would like to see these patterns included as part of my collection. Also, both were published before Knitty's redesign, which means that printing them takes up lots of pages since they need to be printed in landscape format to avoid losing the ends of sentences. I know many knitters who are happy to pay a few dollars for a well laid-out pattern, especially if it's available in a place they like to shop (local yarn stores, Ravelry, Patternfish, etc.), and especially if it's professionally printed (local shops only, of course). I did make a point of mentioning on each pattern that they were originally published on Knitty, so if anyone prefers to go there to print it out they can, and it's clear that I'm not deceiving anyone."
This made sense to us. Lord knows, it's hard for freelance designers to make a decent living.
We made a couple of points. First, that we absolutely disclose that these patterns are available for free through another online source which we would name; Kira had of course already agreed before we confirmed this with her. Second, that since uploading patterns is a bit time-consuming and we might sell fewer of these patterns because of their original provenance, and since we should spend our time on perhaps more lucrative work, that she do the actual uploading and listing herself. She has happily done this.
In addition, she already has a substantial body of work for sale with us, and the proportion of these special patterns versus the ones she offers for sale only is very small.
So we are going to list these two patterns of hers and charge the full retail price she has set for them. People will be able to obtain them free from Knitty, or buy them from us. Kira herself will get the usual 60% of her retail price every time one sells (and since Patternfish pays the selling costs, she gets 100% of her 60%). More potential money for designers, and more options for the (perhaps very kind-hearted and generous?) consumer: works for us.
This sets a precedent, of course, that others are free to benefit from at our discretion, in the same way and in the same proportion. We don't want to be flooded with patterns that are available free elsewhere, but the Knitty stamp means a lot to us, and we esteem Kira, her abilities and opinion, and her early faith in Patternfish. We'll see how it goes. Any reaction?
People ask all the time, so here's what happened.
In the late 90's I was a rep for Kertzer, a Canadian yarn distributor, and sold the lines they carried (Austermann, Lopi, Naturally, and others) to yarn stores. As a knitter, I became more and more enchanted with the independent likes of Fleece Artist (and later Handmaiden), hempforknitting, Brown Sheep, Sweaterkits, and so on. I asked permission of Kertzer to rep those as well and they said yes. Eventually I converted over entirely to independent lines. But this meant I was now a one-person company and needed a name.
One day I overheard someone talking about 'mystery fibre'. Except that I misheard it. I heard 'Ministry of Fibre', and it struck me that that was a darned good name for my company. Canada has a Ministry of the Environment, a Heritage Minister, a Ministry of Health-- why not a Ministry of Fibre? It was both religious and secular. I was very pleased with this name, but needed a title to go with it. 'President' seemed inappropriate, somehow.
Soon after, I told Glasgow-born John Wiltshire (husband of my dear friend Shannon) of my great company name and bemoaned the lack of cool title. He did not lose a second.
"You're the Prime Minister, of course," he said.
I was struck. Why on earth not? It was certainly different, but not something no one had ever heard of. People would be startled, but also amused and able to spell it. So I had cards printed up and set off.
Reaction was almost universally positive (although I heard fourth-hand that there was an occasional snark: "Who says SHE gets to be the Prime Minister?" I do. Try it yourself!) People who had met me once would remember the title the next time we met, months later, if not my name: "Look! It's the Prime Minister!" It stuck like a burr.
This was highly satisfactory and of course when Patternfish started, I kept the title. Explaining why I was no longer the Prime Minister would have been needlessly embarrassing, since I was dealing with the same people. Phil inevitably became the Minister of Technology; he says this is a great hit at Ruby conferences.
Shannon and I then went to the bank to make her a signing officer on the Patternfish accounts. The bank needed a title, not her name, for her office. I suggested Minister of Finance. After some consideration, she said she would rather be Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Fine, as long as Chancellor doesn't mean Boss of the Prime Minister," I said like an eight-year-old. Patient bank officer Fernanda looked up Chancellor in the official Bank Dictionary and it said something like this: "Advisor to a nobleman, prince, or king, especially on financial matters." Nothing could have been better. Shannon eventually decided to keep it short on her business cards; they read Chancellor only, without the Exchequer part.
That's how it happened. It just goes to show that there are definitely happy accidents (mystery fibre/ Ministry of Fibre), and that you should listen to your friends.
About three or four weeks ago Chancellor Shannon suggested a blog for Father's Day about Our Support System: how the men in our lives help us do what we do, or have enabled us to do what we do. She was very anxious to see it done. This post is really her original idea.
My own Dad died almost exactly six months ago. Shannon's de facto Dad (her mother's husband of more than 30 years) just died on the morning of 19 June 2009, as a result of a heart attack on 13 June and immediate, subsequent brain-injuring fall. Mine died of melanoma on New Year's Eve 2008, less than three weeks after diagnosis. So this is our first Father's Day without our biological or effective fathers. We would never have dreamt of this a short while ago.
Both of our Dads were fantastic support systems. Shannon's, because he was so madly in love with her mother, whose children were therefore to be celebrated in every way. My own Dad was a lifelong, serial entrepreneur and Aquarian risk-taker who adored Patternfish because it was a fresh take, with great tech, on an odd kind of idea.
Phil (our software guy) lost his father, in a tragic traffic accident, as a teenager. But strangely enough, his Dad and Julia's had met independently decades ago when Phil's Dad was at the NRC (Canada's National Research Council), and Julia's Dad had gone to him, cap in hand, to get some government funding for what later became a multi-million dollar company. How amazing is that?
So we love and long for and desperately miss our own fathers. But we know they love and are proud of us, too. Still. Happy Father's Day, Ted (Julia's Dad), Danny (Shannon's), and Russ (Phil's).
We also deeply cherish and celebrate the men in our lives now who have made, and continue to make, all our work possible. First and foremost, Special Guest Star Greg (Julia's partner), who has another job but for whom Patternfish is a wish-come-true hobby: here he can exercise all his Python language genius and write unprecedented specialized watermarking and you-just-wait-to-see-what's-next code. Oh, and he's a loving and instructive father to our two children (when our daughter was 9: "Daddy, let's play Linux!").
Shannon's husband John Wiltshire functions as Dad to her 24-year-old son, and was the chief would-be code-breaker before Patternfish went live ("I tried to hack it, but there's nothing to hack that's actually on your site!"), and who continues to give excellent, trenchant advice. And it was John who suggested that Julia be Prime Minister instead of President.
Without the patience, encouragement, intense support, and unreserved enthusiasm of these men (and many others), Patternfish could not have existed. Thank you all, gentlemen. We love you.
And in response to Akabini's question about who would play THEM in the movie:
Greg Smith: "Whoever you say. Oh-- who's that guy in that thing? You know. Jane Austen. Colin Firth." (And there is a certain resemblance. But he acts more like Tom Hanks in Big.)
Phil Lysons: "Simon Pegg-- I'm down with that. He's a cool guy. And kind of a hunk?"
John Wiltshire: "I'm going to have big brass ones and say Sean Connery." (Wiltshire was born in Glasgow.) But Julia thinks Commander Whitehead in the old Schweppes ads is a good visual match, except John's beard and 'stache are much wooflier.
We asked a number of people at TNNA over the weekend: when they make the movie of all this, which movie star do you want to play you? In no particular order (see end of post for those I accidentally left out in the first edition):
Norah Gaughan, Berroco: "Rachel Weisz. When I'm older, Judi Dench."
Cirilia Rose, Berroco: "Audrey Hepburn-- in Funny Face. I'm picky about my Audrey."
Betsy Perry, Classic Elite Yarns: "Julia Roberts-- she'd do me well."
Sandi Prosser, designer: "Jamie Lee Curtis."
Mary Beth Temple, designer: "Stockard Channing. But it must be a musical."
Veronik Avery, St-Denis Yarns: "Jennifer Jason Leigh. She can be both tough and vulnerable." (Avery's husband, Marcel Jeannin, would play himself-- he actually is an actor. Update: he reports that the director would probably think he was not Marcel Jeannin-y enough and cast somebody else!)
Lisa Shroyer, Knitscene: "Kate Winslet for me."
Eunny Jang, Interweave Knits: "Julia Stiles."
Clara Parkes, Knitter's Review: "Drew Barrymore."
JoLene Treace, designer: "Sandra Bullock. She's smart, funny, pretty, and never plays roles where she's too full of herself."
Jared Flood, designer: "How about Edward Norton? He seems both cool and nerdy."
Candi Jensen, designer and executive producer of PBS's Knit and Crochet Today: "I would love for Drew Barrymore to play me as a young woman."
Phil Codman, The Ramsden Group: "Clint could do the job. Schwarzenegger." (Item: Codman is about 5'5" and could be described as impish.)
Kim Dolce, Dolce Handknits: "Whoever looks good opposite George Clooney. Because it would be a love story."
Robin Melanson, designer: "Rose McGowan. But only with the machine gun for a leg." (See Grindhouse for the reference.)
Alan Getz, JCA Crafts: "I hate to say it, but Wallace Shawn." (Getz insists he was misquoted: "I could swear I said Brad Pitt!")
Linda Pratt, Westminster Fibers: "Jessica Lange."
Cal Cockburn, Kertzer: "Joe Pesci."
Eileen Koop, Bijou Basin Ranch: "I'm a Rosalind Russell type."
Nicky Epstein, designer: "Well, Liz Taylor's gone..." (Not really gone, of course. Just not acting any more.)
Shannon Shields, Patternfish: "Frances McDormand. She's a great actress, and can be both practical and wacky."
Kristen Rengren, designer: "Emma Thompson."
Val Love, Dovetail Designs, and
Bev Galeskas, Fiber Trends
-- as themselves! (They wanted no one else to play them.)
People still stumped:
Kristin Nicholas, designer
Austin Wilde, Alchemy Yarns
I asked Melanson on the drive home: what would they call this movie?
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," said Robin.
An explanation: I asked many more people and took copious notes, but Chancellor Shannon (my right arm) had a family emergency and had to fly back to Toronto unexpectedly early Sunday morning. In the confusion pages of notes were lost. It's terrible-- there were many more great suggestions. If I left you out, or you're not included in this list, or want to be, please do email me at infoATpatternfish.com and we'll publish an update.
Special Guest Stars (these are those I accidentally left out, and myself):
Margery Winter, Filatura di Crosa: "I want Anjelica Huston to play me."
Annie Modesitt, designer: "I want Renee Zellweger to play me - she can gain the correct amount of weight..."
A. Karen Alfke, designer: "Tell Clara she should take Parker Posey... 'Cause I got dibs on Drew."
Julia Grunau, Patternfish: "I decided to abandon the write-in campaign for the underknown Virna Lisi and pump for Cate Blanchett instead. Which is somewhat problematic because both Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton and I are kind of keen on Blanchett in the abstract. I think the young Vanessa Redgrave would also be a splendid Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton (I would definitely be overserved here), so now what? Cornelia?"
Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton, designer: "No Drew Barrymore here! Vanessa Redgrave would be fine. Wouldn't mind the 'old' version either! She is keeping rather well!"
Robyn Gallimore, Red Bird Knits: "I would like to have Sigourney Weaver play me, because she's tough, and resilient and loyal and smart and far more gorgeous than I am. And she has good hair. And she beat the pants off those aliens over and over again."
Adina Klein, Creative Director, Tahki Stacy Charles: "Janeane Garofalo."
Gayle Bunn, Spinrite: "Isabella Rossellini. Or Audrey Taotou. Or Juliette Binoche."
Without Phil, we were able to fill the air with estrogen on the 7-hour car trip down to Columbus, and listen to Fiona Apple and Kate Bush and classic pop songs. We were free of Great White and AC/DC and any of David Lee Roth’s incarnations. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were as raucous as we got. Robin brought her “Maximum Cowbell” CD, which is an absolute must-have; it’s amazing how many great songs have cowbells. (For DIY cowbell fun, check out www.morecowbell.dj.)
Had dinner with Marlaina (Marly) Bird, and Eileen and Carl Koop of Bijou Basin Ranch, and Susan Madison of Denver LYS I Love Knitting, all of whom were joyful and intelligent and informative and funny. And Eileen turns out to have been the chief chemist/R&D guru for Oxy Clean, which is a product of which we are all extremely fond: very shiny bonus points.
Friday we helped set up booths on the exhibition floor and attended the AKD (Association of Knitwear Designers) Meet & Greet, saw the excellent fashion show, and went to dinner with JoLene Treace, Carol Sulcoski, and Laura Grutzeck (co-author with Carol and Lisa Myers of Knit So Fine). You can’t imagine better company. JoLene suggested the Schmidt House in German Town. It looked dodgy at first because of the extreme volume of the live accordion/tuba combo, which we were sitting next to. But these musicians had a gift. After many flavours of polkas, Carol (the happy opposite of “a flower born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air”) demanded “Freebird”. It was not two seconds later that the duo swung perfectly into it. They then eventually segued into Stairway to Heaven... as a polka... which they did superbly. We were in tears and patient Veronik Avery, waiting for us to deliver her room key, had to spend an extra few minutes on the hotel patio because we couldn’t tear ourselves away.
Properly met Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer (90 patterns later?) for the first time and am so happy.
Chancellor Shannon, Robin Melanson, and I are going on a road trip on Thursday the 11th, driving the eight hours or so to Columbus, Ohio. The biggest TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association) show of the year is this coming weekend. To recap: it's a show where retailers are the attendees; where distributors and designers exhibit their Fall 2009 collections to their customers. Literally scores of our publishers will be there, and we want to re-meet or properly meet them all. Of course, scores of potential new publishers will be there too. My intention is to convert the second category into the first. I imagine Chancellor Shannon's intention is to keep me grounded and sane, organized and eating regularly. My part in looking after her will be to limit her coffee intake to about 8 cups a day. That's really hard, so we'll be even.
Minister of Technology Phil's not going this time. He has gone the last two years. The first time, he went to talk intelligent tech to potential publishers when we were still in the planning stages. Last June he went when we were just a few days old, to reassure everyone that everything worked. But now everyone knows that: we're a proven service with an excellent track record, a delighted customer base, and unique marketing and performance advantages. And there's a Ruby on Rails thing that he wants to go to in Toronto this weekend. And much as he loves and supports knitters and knitting and wearing handknit goods, you can see his eyes start to film over when devotees start to bang on about full fashioning and Japanese short rows vs. regular ol' vanilla wrap-and-turn ones. So those of you who were hoping to meet him this time, sadly you won't.
Digression: when they make the movie of The Patternfish Story, Simon Pegg will play Phil. Now you have an idea what he looks like. Shannon would have wanted to be played by Janis Joplin, I think; I don't really know who she'd pick now. I hope vainly for a write-in campaign suggesting 60's beauty Virna Lisi to play me. It will not happen because I really look like a female version of Albrecht Durer. (Don't believe me? I asked Greg how I didn't resemble him. After a pause, he said: "Well, you don't wear low-cut tops like that, much.") Robin Melanson could be played by Zooey Deschanel. End of digression.
Anyway... that's the plan. Drive down on Thursday, return Monday afternoon. We'll see. I'm trying to load a lot of patterns before we go in case my abilities to do so when there are limited. Bear with us. The blog entries should be fun, anyway.
Patternfish.com went live one year ago today.
We share a birthday with poet Allen Ginsberg, artist Raoul Dufy, performer Josephine Baker, actor Paulette Goddard, actor Tony Curtis, actor Colleen Dewhurst, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and writer Larry McMurtry. It seems fitting that we're a Gemini, representing so many different projects from so many diverse minds.
It's been an unbelievable first year. At over 11,000 individual patterns sold to just over 4500 members, we believe we have an unbeatable record for the highest-quality delivery of outstanding patterns at fair-trade prices to a very happy customer base. (About a third of the emails that come into our Support or Info addresses are compliments. We really must set up an official way to say "I Like It!".)
Thank you to all our 127 publishers, customers, and well-wishers all over the world. We've had visits from 141 countries (it's getting easier to name those who haven't come, like Paraguay and North Korea) and literally millions of page views.
In my mind Patternfish is tied up with my mother. We were incorporated in October 2006, a year and a week after her death, and this June 6 she would have been 76 years old. It's because of her that I knit. It's because of her that I taught finishing for years; she set the teaching example. It's because of her that I was able to do this. Thank you, Mom.
Last Tuesday morning I was all ready to sign up for the Sock Summit. Since I have been knitting very little over the last 18 months, I thought taking classes for a weekend's vacation would be excellent, and their instructor list was eyepopping. I wanted to take class with Barbara Walker while the chance existed. I am not obsessed with socks, being pretty much an equal-opportunity project chooser; but I have made more than 70 pairs and was looking to unrut my fixed habits.
So I had my target class list, and credit card, and everything all together, and warned the visiting Chancellor Shannon that I would be incommunicado from about 12:50 p.m. EST on. And I would have been, had my graphics card not crashed for the first time ever at 12:40 p.m., making my trusty Patternfish computer with its high speed internet completely worthless.
The Chancellor showed her mettle immediately (there is nothing so challengingly chewy for our Shannon as solving an emergency before a tight deadline), and she rapidly set up her own Vista laptop for me to use before she flew at my hardware problem. I meanwhile rushed at Greg's Ubuntu machine* (1 terabyte hard drive) and logged in there. At 1:00 p.m. exactly we experienced on our two working computers what the other 30,000+ people did: silence, error screens, personal dismay, and eventually very long pauses in data transmission.
After about 20 - 40 minutes I successfully wrangled a registration slot (Ubuntu machine, if it matters). Because of server traffic, it took so long to register for 5 events that just as I was hitting the PayPal button, my 15-minute session timed out and I lost everything I had signed up for in one moment. That was bad. A few minutes later I got back in and everything I had originally picked was sold out, and most other things besides.
I sat for some time wondering at how sad I felt, and whether crying would help me feel better (I didn't so I don't know), and deciding after some time that I felt pithed. You know how they used to gouge part of the brain or spine out of experimental frogs, so that you could operate on them live but they wouldn't feel it or care about anything? That's being pithed.
After about 20 minutes of pithdom I remembered what Churchill said: "Never give up, never give up, never give up, never give up." It also occurred to me that if my session had timed out, so must have a lot of other people's. While Shannon completed successful restoration of my own computer, I got back on the Ubuntu machine and tried again. Magic. Everything was back, there were spaces, and I got what I wanted and even received a confirmation later. I was hugely relieved, but also felt very thoughtful.
When Patternfish went live last year we tested as much as we could, of course, for weeks and months. Phil (not a cowboy, but a very methodical site-builder) was adamant that we have accurate email addresses for everyone, since our clientele would depend on them for constant access to patterns. He had implemented a reciprocal email validation system where we would send an email confirming membership to those who had signed up. These, of course, got caught in everyone's spam filters, and there was confusion and frustration for some days until we got rid of that, and just crossed our fingers that people signed up correctly the first time. And of course our performance and ease-of-use was reviewed instantly in knitting-related forums, and in some cases criticized, and in some cases harshly criticized. Not just because of the email procedures, but because of other things too, most of which were quick fixes once practicalities were brought to our attention. It was certainly fair that people described their experience. But it's a terrible pity that you can't have out-of-town tryouts and polish your act for a few days or weeks before you actually open on Broadway.
It's very, very hard to attempt something new, much less dramatically big and new, flawlessly, first time, on the Internet. There will always be problems of some kind. And I spent a long time thinking about just how much time and energy and effort and hope and love that Stephanie (whom I've met) and Tina (whom I don't know) had put into this thing, and how frustrated and disappointed they must have been knowing that many good people would be frustrated and disappointed by the server and the signup process.
Stephanie's roundup of the whole thing in her blog is really wonderful. Yes, I'm speaking now from the perspective of someone who's going to be lucky enough to go to Portland in August (thank you, Winston Churchill). But mostly I'm happy that smart people take big bold chances, and try to create something that's never existed before. And I think I'd still feel that way if I hadn't gotten in at all. I hope that the success and sold-outness of the project means that it will become a regular event. Maybe other people will think up other events (or websites!) as a result. I don't know. I'm just glad I live in a world where this is happening. And if I didn't get to see it up close this time, then I would sometime in the future, without a doubt.
* Patternfish is run out of a large room at the back of our house. Since Greg's day job is designing ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits, or custom computer chips), and daughter has handwriting issues, we have a selection of computers-- but no Macs, unfortunately. Phil has one and tests on it, though. Dotes on it, in fact. Some families have a lot of musical instruments, or lots of pets. We have computers (and two cats).