Tomorrow, 28 December 2009, I'm going to be working at Toronto's Romni Wools for their 1-day Boxing Day Sale from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I've probably forgotten how to helm the cash register, so likely I'll be on the floor reaching things down for customers and answering questions, or doing whatever else I'm assigned with the least damage possible. When I worked there regularly, I used to be the de facto librarian (yes, their book and pattern section is big enough to make it worthwhile).
Back in 1996 Romni's owner Marilyn Leonard generously agreed to talk to me about getting into the yarn business. First she hired me to work at her store ("anyone in the business would hire you with that on your resume," she observed truthfully). Then she introduced me to Darrell Hudspeth at Kertzer and made my hiring there possible, and kept me on as a part-time clerk on Sundays even after I had the full-time Kertzer job. I loved all of it, but never having worked retail before, Romni was a revelation. Perhaps as a steady diet it would be grinding. But I was lucky enough to have it as a kind of work condiment and never tired of it. The variety was astounding-- in product, customer base, co-workers, and the distinct tone and character of each day.
I'm looking forward to it as much as any vacation. And if you come in with a pattern purchased from Patternfish and buy yarn to go with it, and can find me on the floor (curly blonde hair, dark turtleneck, and probably a Guinness belt like a barmaid), I'll be thrilled to give you a very cool Patternfish button. Ask for Julia.
Yesterday Lynda Gemmell of Cabin Fever emailed us about Louet North America's latest newsletter. We hadn't seen it, but it was a revelation, literally. Like any company, we have things in development, often in tandem with other individuals or companies. We don't talk about them, though. Wise proverb: "there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip." But here was Louet announcing to their readers that "we have been introduced to a brilliant online pattern store called Patternfish.com... we have begun to migrate patterns to Patternfish..." and announcing that their own pattern subscription service will be taken offline once their online pattern catalogue has been transferred completely over to us (estimated time, 2 - 3 months).
We figure this now gives us permission to talk about it, too. We're extremely pleased and honoured by this decision. Louet is a very forward-thinking company of great quality whose own online endeavours have been excellent; its Pattern Distribution Service was groundbreaking. We're very impressed by Louet's COO, Dave Van Stralen, and his concern for servicing his customer base, and excited about this opportunity. A special bonus for us is that Trudy Van Stralen is an outstanding designer, too.
The astute among you would already have noticed that we've been loading a fair number of LNA patterns-- about one in every five or six is a new Louet. This is so that we can get the subscription patterns up quickly to support Louet's existing subscriber base. The idea is that current Louet pattern customers will be set up with their own Patternfish accounts, with the Louet patterns they've paid for already in their stash. By the time we're finished, in a few weeks, the LNA pattern count should be about 250. So far Louet is supplying us with PDF's more or less alphabetically. If there's a new pattern of theirs you'd like to buy online, just email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to forward it to us; we'll put up all special requests as soon as we can.
Therefore, we're looking forward to the holidays and New Year with extra fervour. We hope all of you enjoy your family and friends and good health all through 2010.
In the last 12 or so hours, three of our cherished publishers-- Hooked for Life, Fiber Dreams and Katherine Vaughan Designs-- have each Tweeted about how neat it is to see which countries they're selling to with Patternfish. Thanks, Mary Beth and Laura and Katherine!
When we (Phil and I) started to set all this up, one of the most fun things was putting ourselves in everyone's places and conjuring up what everyone might possibly want. Phil is responsible for the whole Pattern Stash idea (as opposed to a one-time-download-and-if-your-hard-drive-crashes-tough-sh*t idea), since that data management style mimics that of one of his favorite, most-respected software support suppliers. Wearing Publisher clothes, I thought, "Well, I'd want to know exactly what I've sold every minute, everywhere in the world. And I should also know what countries I'm selling into, moment by moment. If I have a sudden following in Singapore, I'd want to know. If Brazilian sales are up suddenly, maybe I should check Brazilian blogs." So that's how Phil built it. Since then we've had a bunch of inquiries from puzzled publishers along the lines of: "Where's CH?" (Switzerland, for the English version of Confederation Helvetica, meaning Swiss Confederation); "What's AT?" (Austria), and so on.
We've heard of some other download sites paying publishers once a year with no real-time reporting on how much you're selling of what, wherever it is in the world. This idea fills us with horror. Intellectual property is precious. Our publishers are not infants, they're entrepreneurs. Patterns are terribly important: the foundation of a successful project to which you may devote 150 hours, or the foundation of a business. We're proud that our publishers are able to take the sales information they've earned and work with it immediately however they see fit.
The American Thanksgiving Day results were thin (I guess people have to stay away from online pattern shopping just to see and feast with loved ones a couple of days a year), but the rest of the weekend perked up nicely. In the end November was our best revenue month ever, trumping the previous best of October, which trumped September... and so on. We don't want to bore you with the same information all the time, but we're very happy about it.
Now, a request of all our good blog readers. It's for a good cause. (You and us and them, too. Who is 'them'? Read on.)
The semi-annual TNNA trade show is happening next month, and as usual we will get to see all kinds of pattern producers. We are scheduling appointments, but everyone's time is limited.
Whose patterns would you like to see listed on Patternfish that aren't already there? Which companies should be represented but aren't? Which of your favorite designers are missing? You can see our current publisher list by going to our Shop page and clicking on 'Publishers'; as I write there are 179 of them.
Write in suggestions as comments, and based on that, we'll try and chase those folks with extra vim. Also, if you wanted to write nice things about why you like Patternfish as a download source, then we could use those compliments as references, and it may help our mutual causes. (It makes us squirm to write that, but hey! This is business! Shameless time.)
For ourselves, difficulty using our own system usually originates when Julia scans a letter-size (i.e., North American, 8.5" x 11") pattern as an A4 size (ROW, or Rest of World; A4 is 8.3" x 11.7"), or vice versa. This used to happen a lot more frequently than it does now, but always results in colourful Elizabethan or Italian curses ("God's nightgown! Dio cane!" and so on). Inevitably it has to be re-done. Be assured that problems occur everywhere, with everybody, even us internally.
By far the single most common problem our users have is not being up-to-date with the latest Adobe releases, which interferes with their reading of the latest version of various PDF's. There's a link in your Pattern Stash (reached through Your Account, at the top of our page) to get the FREE updates. Use this regularly, especially if you have a Mac; some of the most recent Mac operating system releases have been clumsy with PDF treatment.
After that, one of the most common problems is that employers have blocked access to 'fun' sites, like ours, and users write to complain and see if we can fix it. We are greatly amused and touched by this, while being certain that employees are only trying to access Patternfish during legitimate breaks and lunches. Sometimes we can help, sometimes not.
While the last couple of weeks have not been Best Ever, they have been in the top 10 weeks ever, and we are interested to see if the American Thanksgiving weekend results in good or bad sales. Some days (like Christmas) are naturally slow. American Thanksgiving has always proved so. Somehow, inexplicably, people occasionally set time aside to make merry and eat heartily with loved ones rather than buy downloadable patterns in great numbers. What's up with that? But the whole Black Friday phenomenon-- Friday, 27 November this year-- where large numbers of Americans go out and start their holiday shopping, doesn't exist in Canada. We'll report the results; do you darling generous Yanks shop at malls, LYS's, or online?
Phil wrote the Patternfish site basically from the ground up. We've known each other more than 25 years.
1. When Phil and I first met, in 1984, I was working for a company that was renting space in his then-company's offices. I landed up playing Munchman (or something, a Pac-Man clone) on a PC with another friend from his then-company and could never beat that friend at it. Seeing my despair, Phil sacrificed all his principles and hacked into the Munchman programming and give me a higher score. The other friend was dumbfounded until I (inevitably) confessed that I had cheated. Naturally this still haunts me, but Phil was there to shore up my self-confidence when it was important.
2. Once (20 years ago?) Phil came over to my bachelor apartment and noticed that I hadn't made my bed that day. My mother was a neatnik, so I rebelled by never making my bed. I told him so. He reflected on this (Phil was orphaned by age 18). At last he remarked, "Yeah, I never used to make my bed either. Then it occurred to me one day that a person who makes their bed every day is a person to be reckoned with." Since he said that I make my bed every day whenever I can.
3. For many years Phil has been responsible for me seeing whatever glorious plays I can manage at Stratford, Ontario, home of the renowned Shakespeare Festival. He plans in advance the fall before the festival's summer, and organizes seats for a group of four or five of us months in advance. He also organizes the post-Saturday-or-Sunday matinee suppers at The Church, a very good Stratford restaurant. We went to The Old Prune once too-- also very good.
4. I had my first child in August 1998. It was a bit fraught with unproductive labour for a few hours, and then an epidural and an episiotomy and a vacuum extractor and whatnot. For the next few days I sat gingerly on a doughnut cushion trying to nurse an uncooperative infant. Phil had phoned immediately afterwards with congratulations, of course, and then there was a pause in communication. When my daughter was a few days old, and I was exhausted (as you inevitably are) and in various kinds of postpartum and breastfeeding pain, Phil phoned again.
"I had the most awful all-nighter," he complained, and went on to describe how rotten he felt not having gotten any sleep the night before, having had to figure out some important software thing that was absolutely essential for some unappreciative morons, and he hadn't been able to have his normal massages or workouts or sushi catering or whatever the heck he was used to having, for a whole few hours. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Phil," I said, "shut up. You wanker. I can't believe I'm listening to this. I can't believe you're saying this to me. You're whining about an all-nighter? You know what I did last week? I HAD A BABY!"
There was a long pause.
Then in a soothing tone: "Julia."
"Julia." No psychiatric patient was ever handled more wisely, delicately, calmly. "Julia. I know... (long pause) that YOU think (longer pause, very gentle) that that's really hard. But this all-nighter-- I gotta tell you--"
Then I wanted to throw something at him over the phone, not because he was being a patronizing jerk, but because I was laughing so hard that everything hurt like crazy.
All of which goes to show that Phil is a fantastically intelligent rock-solid guy who plans in advance, values both instructive recreation and serious application, is there for you in the trenches AND has the kind of sense of humour, from time to time, that literally splits stitches. But that's not what you remember in the long run. What you remember in the long run is the character of the man. We're lucky to have him. And yes, he documents his code, too.
The family and I (and our ex-Washington, now Ottawa-based rellies; no more diplomatic license plates) went to Niagara Falls this past weekend and stayed at an indoor waterpark hotel complex thingy. The kids had a blast, it was a great deal of soggy fun, but the incredible thing was that I was deliberately without access to a computer for days. Well, two days, but still. No new patterns over a weekend, nor email, nor anything. Phil held the fort admirably, and so well had he built the fort in the first place that it needed scant holding. It may even have been boring.
So nothing fell apart, sales continued apace, we had scads of new users sign up, and we may be able to do this kind of thing again someday. It's a weird thought.
After a little bit this afternoon, full-bore uploading should resume tomorrow. Just wanted to bring you readers up to speed. Which means that it's the next post that will have the why-I-like-Phil-so-much stories, not this one.
Also over the weekend we had the first sale I can remember to tiny, wealthy, presumably conservative Liechtenstein. Said sale shattered 'spectations by being for this hot number: the Bootyful Skirt. You never know. You just never know.
Oh-- we are blessed with large numbers of hats again (isn't it great just having to make one of a something?), and they will feature prominently until we've culled their backlog a bit.
- last week was our best week ever again, beating the previous best week by almost 20%, again. But based on Monday November the 9th, this week will be slower. It's like watching the stock market in good times-- UPUPUPdown. Fair enough! It's not all autographs and sunglasses (Stephen Frears).
- our number of followers on @Patternfish (Twitter) has now exceeded our number of Tweets. Possibility of catching up: dubious. A kind of very 00's (oughties?) milestone.
- we've now had visits from 158 countries. Latest: the Falkland Islands (or, if you prefer, Islas Malvinas). Imagine! They have penguins there! Someone who lives where there are penguins knows about Patternfish!
- we saw someone lurking around from Irkutsk for the first time. Irkutsk is pretty much the easternmost point of Russia, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. For people who play Risk, this is unnecessary information. Anyway, smart Irkutsk resident was gazing at this design. We want to know: does Kollage Yarns ship there? Maybe Sarah Palin could deliver.
- Dave Van Stralen of Louet North America has promised lots and lots and lots more patterns. (Calm down with the applause, already.)
- Top ten countries for visits, as long as we've been measuring (14 months? 15 months?):
The 100th country (of 158) is Gibraltar. How many people can there BE there?
Next time: why I like Phil (our Web guy).
September 2009 used to be our previous best revenue month (taking over from August 2009), and then October beat it by 20%. 3 of our 4 best weeks ever were in October 2009. Also in October we exceeded 4,000 patterns on offer and got some lovely new publishers, with more entering into serious discussion stages. I know, it's seasonal, and interest is high, and blah blah. But still. Our growth curve over the last year and a half is somewhat impressive, and we're speaking as conservative Canadians, not exhuberant Americans (forgive me-- I just love 'exhuberant' with the archaic 'h').
Patternfish does not have a business plan, as such. Not like you would write in business school or university commerce classes. This probably explains why we have no bank financing (but then, we've never sought any, either). So other than bank service charges and shareholder advances, there's no debt servicing. Or any parent companies to support. For some daft reason, years ago I just wrote a many-page manifesto, and based on that, thought "well, ideally it should work this way," and that's how we set the company up: with a minimum commission of 60% of retail for the publishers. We knew it could only work on a large scale. So we crossed our fingers and prepared for a few lean years, hoping to get biggish.
One initial concern was that PayPal took 2.9% of the gross value of every sale going through them, plus $0.30 a transaction (which we pay). And if our minimum pattern price was $2.00, and 60% of that went to publishers, and innumerable customers bought only one pattern at $2.00 each (which would be their right), then after paying PayPal (which was absolutely the cheapest way to do this) we frankly didn't have much left with which to pay for our dedicated server and software and computer maintenance, let alone salaries or other expenses. You get the idea. We were, and are, careful.
One thing PayPal does do, though, is reduce their percentage take after a certain volume of transactions. We were counting on this (it's large-scale stuff that wouldn't normally be available to indie designers), and we've just hit the first reduction point. I think it's 2.5% now instead of 2.9% (Chancellor Shannon to confirm). And as it turns out, our data indicate that people buy a minimum of 2 patterns per transaction, which helps, and the average pattern price is considerably more than $2, which helps a lot.
So here we are. We still have lots of back salaries to repay, and ongoing advertising and travel expenses and whatnot, but we were prepared for that.
We remain intent on demonstrating goodwill and concrete support for designers and pattern publishers of all kinds. Especially those who trust and support us with all their download business, and there's quite a number of these. And we've had some pretty encouraging numbers over the last few months. So how do we say thanks, and keep it up, and tell everyone you know? Money's good, right?
Effective 1 November, 2009 (midnight at what used to be Greenwich Mean Time, GMT, but is now called UTC, Universal Time Coordinated) all our Web or World Exclusives are getting a raise from 60% or 62.5% of retail to a full 65% of retail, across the board. Indie or corporate. Together with everything else we offer, we think this is hard to beat.
Thanks again, everybody. Greg opined during a quick reading of this post that it was pretty detailed (and therefore undoubtedly boring). I'm not sure. We act as the download sales arm for a lot of individuals and organizations, which amounts to handling their money. Especially nowadays, we want to be open and honest. And all our providers of exclusive downloads deserve a raise. Well done. Here it is.
Off topic, but likewise great news: we had a brain-damaged cat who wandered off two months ago. Obviously we came to think she had landed up as coyote chow (there's a ravine with coyotes nearby; yes, we live in Toronto). We grieved a great deal. But then a shelter phoned and said that some saintly person had dropped off a head-tilty cat with a microchip leading them to us, and were we missing a calico female? So our dear half-starved Mysterio has been back for 28 hours and is eating and resting and reeling from all the love and cuddles being offered her. (The coyotes only ate her collar.) We're not allowed to find out who took her to the shelter, nor what area of town they're from. But we adore this unknown person. And we will pay this forward.
Last Friday (this is Monday) my daughter stayed home from school because of a sore throat. I watched her mope about, limp and rather ill. It occurred to me that usually I knit hats and mittens and socks for the kids every year, and that a new warm hat would be a good idea. I have tons of yarn; where to get a pattern she would like?
I actually wondered about this for a few minutes. Really. Since the time I used to devote to knitting is now devoted to Patternfish, I think I had come to think of it as something exclusively for other people. Astonishing. There was that much of a disconnect. The Martian Death Flu (which had already made me cancel two meetings and a dentist's appointment earlier in the week, and no, I don't think it's H1N1) must have made my brain extra-muzzy as well. Eventually, however, light dawned, and I got her over to the computer and chose "Children" and "Hats" from our Control Panel, and landed up with 149 possibilities. Since I have my page views set to 20 per screen, that was only 8 screens' worth of suggestions to go through. She chose this one easily, and we settled on a gorgeous Tanis Fiber Arts aran yarn that I had bought at the K-W Knitter's Fair in September (picture to follow) to make it with.
And then I took Saturday off and knit her the hat. I posted no new patterns that day (gritting teeth and worrying about it all the while). But the doing of it was fun and interesting, and knitting itself had become novel, since it was now so rare. Then I discovered that I had finished the hat wrong-side out, and that I had cast off the top and darned in all the ends on the public side. (The designer goes out of her way to make sure you don't do this, but I was impervious to good advice.) It just goes to show that you really do have to use it or lose it, and that immeasurable experience teaching and acquaintance with all manner of complicated techniques do not save you from carelessness and the MDF-related brain-muzz. I posted two patterns yesterday (Sunday) out of guilt and to postpone having to rework the hat.
Missing a day of posting (and an overall scantily-posted weekend) did not seem to affect the site at all. Three weeks ago we had our best sales week ever; the one I just blogged about a few days ago, immediately following that week, beat it by 10%; last week, the one ending midnight last night, trumped even that new best week by 20%. Every one of us is gobsmacked. By golly, it's working. Our system works. And it gets more and more popular, and people really like it, and they come back again and again, and we just have to figure out how to keep on doing more, and better.
Thanks, everybody. It was a good day off. And now back to work.
It's been an exhilarating few weeks.
We've added almost 20 new publishers since the end of August, gems every one. And along with smashing sales records, we've experienced our biggest viral pile-ons. One day we were astonished by a sudden increase in traffic: up about 500% from the norm. What the... ? Turned out that a Latvian website had seized on this Norah Gaughan marvel for Reynolds and masses of Latvians stampeded over to have a look, bless them. Too bad we couldn't read what they said.
Shortly afterwards some discerning souls Stumbled Upon these Beth Brown-Reinsel socks and these Lopi sweaters, and traffic ballooned. This is a fascinating thing to watch happen. Our favorite viral thing ever is the Chris Bliss juggling video. At 50 million views and counting (we are responsible for at least 50 of them), some of you must have seen it. The fascinating thing about it, though, is that apparently it sat on the Net for four years (four years!) before someone picked up on it and told two friends, who told two friends, and so on. You just never know. It inspires awe and wonder. It feels like something Richard Dawkins should write about-- a weird kind of social/web Darwinian process. Anything can get triggered at any time. Some things blow up like Vesuvius and then calm right down again; others, like the lava flows in Hawaii, just bubble along actively all the time.
Sally Melville continues to amaze. Some people would have put up a design and forgotten about it. At Patternfish's very beginning, she said, "I think I might have something for you," and sent us her Cross-Over-Rib Top, which hadn't made it into her The Knitting Experience: Color book for space reasons. Chancellor Shannon took photographs of the lovely Allie (a server at a local hangout, but we paid her a modelling fee) wearing it at Julia's house, Sally picked the ones she liked best, and that was that-- up it went. It sold, and continues to sell, very well. But Sally has insisted on revising it twice: the first time a year ago, to add two larger sizes, and the second time just this week to add some clarifications that knitters had suggested. The newest version is up and available, everyone who's ever bought it has access to the latest version in their pattern stash (as always), and Sally's responsiveness to her constituency is laudable.
We're mulling over some more features to add that might be fun and/or informative for our customers (as opposed to the oat bran web-maintenance stuff that Phil does all the time). Any suggestions?
Also, we need advice on something else. We have Google ads out there that we didn't write (thanks, Keith!) that say we offer 'new patterns every day'. I am very literal, and since our ads say this, I do my d*mndest to put up at least two patterns every day of the week. In practice this means I never have a day off. The scientists and programmers around here (i.e., Phil and Greg) say that it's the average that matters; I, the English major, am sticking to the letter of the law. Though a day off would be nice from time to time-- yea, even once a week. What say you? Maybe we should just change the wording? This is especially relevant right now as I have the Martian Death Flu.
And once again, we are enjoying a superabundance of hat submissions. So every second or third pattern until further notice will be a hat. Good holiday gifts; using up oddments; and you only have to make one (unless you know somebody who... never mind)-- what's not to like?
... and I KNOW I haven't blogged in ages, but that's a sign of success; September was our new best month ever and October is fair set to beat it already; last week (ending midnight Sunday) was our best week ever. It's staggering. There's rather a lot to do, all the time.
Because I am now an orphan (it stinks) (don't feel too sorry though, I'm 49 and not 19), I am the holiday anchor for our family, and have a stuffed turkey in the oven and am doing mashed potatoes (maybe with truffle paste) and have made dill bread and pumpkin pie and apple pie and chocolate oatmeal cookies and spicy molasses cookies. (Stepmother Anita is bringing another veggie dish and salad for more nutritional balance.) Everything's from scratch, including the pie crust. This is all by way of saying that you get a blog entry today, but no new patterns until tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!
Guest Post by Phil ...
It's fall and that means a new set of ads for the fall edition of knitty.com. :)
Chancellor Shannon did a snazzy job on a large selection of patterns for this issue. The full set can be viewed at ...
You can click on each ad to go directly to the detail page for the pattern shown.
I wouldn't feel so badly about posts slowing down this last week before school starts again-- I mean, kids have to swim, boat, skip stones, and flee fire ants a couple of times a summer, and we've got to figure out what the family (large family, he was one of eight siblings surviving to adulthood) is going to do with my Dad's ashes on Saturday three days from now, and my brother's going to visit the cottage from LA for the first time in 15 years, and there'll be nine wonderful people staying in this place, and there's the internet being delivered by goat and all. And we've got advertising and marketing for fall to plan and arrange and execute, with me (the Dominatrix) outside of Lakefield, Phil (the Implementor) in Brampton, and Shannon (the Graphics Person as well as the Chancellor managing all things financial) in Toronto.
But damn, we've had such an exciting bunch of indie and corporate publishers sign on recently that it's KILLING me not to spend 10 hours a day putting them up. As our commentators have said-- come, Tuesday the 8th! Big Rock Candy Mountain for working moms who enjoy what they do.
August 2009. Sock Summit in Portland, Oregon. Then kids in trampoline camp and soccer camp and ceramic camp. Family stuff-- two birthdays out of our immediate family's four-- me and the Daughter, who is officially eleven years old on August's last day. A magnificent collection of brand-new publishers for us (see www.twitter.com/patternfish for the announcements, or www.plurk.com/patternfish, or our Facebook group). Now most of us (Greg has to do his official job in Toronto for a few days) are at our family cottage north of Peterborough, Ontario, where the internet is delivered twice daily by goat. That is to say, online service is slow and awkward. Even though everything's been madly, joyously busy for weeks. And Dad's ashes will have some placement here on Saturday.
Warren Beatty once said that heaven was where there was work and there was play and you couldn't tell which was which. This is exactly what he meant: you could be in an assortment of different places, mostly working, but at non-standard hours, and spoiled for choosing amongst things you love to do, with people you love. Reality will re-intrude next Tuesday when the doodlers are back in school. Am I supported by many parents in saying that, in spite of special trips and vacations and events and bustle, this cannot happen fast enough?
Class with Nancy Bush (Traditional Estonian Socks) was excellent. Thorough, grounded, lots of historical background, and rich technique and excellent coaching throughout.
Portland is a remarkable city-- I've been 'out' once-- with three different kinds of elegantly modern public transit all free in the downtown core. There are lots of trees and bridges everywhere, and terrific brewpubs, and special toilets that you can flush differently depending on how much water you might need to deal with your friendly deposit (how to properly phrase this?)-- even in the Convention Center, as well as the hotels. Portlanders (Portlandians?) admire their overcastness and rejoice in it, are friendly and helpful. As are all the staff and students and teachers here. Had dinner with Lynda Gemmell of Cabin Fever, and Don and Buffy Taylor of Shelridge Farm, and Judy and Ron Fawcett of Lloyds Travel & Cruises Ltd., teacher and designer JC Briar, and Lucy Neatby. All thrilled with how they were being treated by the organizers here, and marvelling at the focus and commitment of the studentry. "The energy!" Lucy kept exclaiming. "There's such an energy here!"
Tomorrow morning is "Toe-Up Socks for the Stubborn" (I'm not stubborn because I'm not prejudiced enough, just fairly ignorant. Except about Judy's Magic Cast-On, which is indeed magic). THEN the Luminary Panel, which should be illuminating. Then on some kind of 11:30 p.m. flight probably run by Fisher-Price Airlines to Chicago, then Toronto at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning or thereabouts.
Hard to keep everything straight. But by God, I'm on my home planet, amongst my own people. And will take up knitting again regularly when I get home. Have to.
Very quickly: Creative Mosaic Knitting was solid, and even aside from BGW (Barbara G. Walker, a being from another planet-- more later)-- there was some cooler stuff than usual today.
While winding yarn at one of the very wonderful places to wind yarn that Paradise Fibres had set up-- they have some impressive flat swifts that don't have to be clamped to a tabletop-- I overheard some actual colourway names.
Colourway one, a childish mix of popsicle orange, blue, pink, green, and purple: "This is Clown Barf."
Colourway two, I can only presume was a muddy brownish greenish mixture: "Bongwater."
(To which someone added, "No! Muddy brownish greenish with some Cheetos in it!")
As "People are Strange" (The Doors' original version) wafted over the loudspeakers, I heard a vendor say about a particularly coloured skein: "From our Tragic Ladies series; this one is Lady Macbeth." Our own Kate Atherley was compelled to buy a violently black, pink, and white skein of yarn called "Cake or Death".
A rose by any other name just wouldn't get bought.
Long class with N. Bush tomorrow. Vibrating with more excitement.
"What do you want for your birthday?" asked Greg a couple of weeks ago.
"I'm going there," I said.
The birthday's today (I'm now 49, if anyone wants to know. Don't know how old Neil Armstrong is or Andy Warhol would have been). Tomorrow I leave for Portland, Oregon, for the first ever Sock Summit, and classes with renowned teachers and one legend (Barbara Walker). Will blog, and report. I don't think I'll know many people there-- Cherry Tree Hill and Cabin Fever, of course, and Clara Parkes of Knitter's Review-- but otherwise I'll kind of be drifting about, especially Friday afternoon at the marketplace. I gather everyone will be wearing name tags. Do come up and say hi. Especially if you've heard of Patternfish. Especially if you have comments about it, good or constructive. Especially if you want to be a publisher.
New postings may be sparser than usual between now and Monday, but we have 3,479 of the finest patterns in the world for sale as I write. You may have to content yourselves with those (and a few more) for a few days while I do something I really haven't done much of in almost two years-- knit.
Special Guest Star Greg is a great fan of Patternfish.
You know how sometimes, when you're watching a movie or TV show, you see the stripes in someone's outfit vibrating? Or the edges of some distinctive thing look all choppy? In the real world Greg works for a company that makes ASIC's (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) to take that stuff out. He thinks up how to do it, and they put those solutions in a computer chip (which is soldered onto the boards inside your TV or monitor), and then if you buy a really high-end monitor or TV, you have those issues largely or completely eliminated. Of course, he says he does it with a very talented team, and he does. But the fact is that he knows a great deal about very sophisticated ways to deal with strange video issues. And by extension, he's very good at dealing with silly little things like video download times, for instance. It's he who's responsible for the individual custom watermarking, and subsequent encryption, and many other features of ours (and many of those still to come).
So often he decides to help Patternfish, as a pro bono kind of thing, and because he loves the idea of knitting (and knitted products) in general. On one of our first dates he happily went with me to a very large yarn store in Toronto and stood patiently by while I selected various colours of mohair for a sweater I wanted to knit for myself (this took quite some time, but he was not disturbed in the least). He then paid for it. He then installed shelving for that yarn store as a display (still in use). Inevitably we ended up living together, and having two beautiful children. He greatly enjoys the knitting world, and comes up with terms like "self-Kaffeing" to describe variegated yarns.
He has been busy recently-- intermittently-- helping to make the JPG uploads faster. For people who work with computers all the time (us), it's easy to assume that everyone has high-speed internet access. But he knows that's not true, and he's been streamlining JPG downloading recently. And it will continue to improve.
Just so you know all his credentials are sound, he once read the pattern and saw a schematic for Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise jacket, and said, "That's crazy." So he made one, all striped in purples, just to prove it would work. Here's where real life comes in: once he'd almost finished it and had what engineers call 'proof of concept', it was abandoned. He's never put buttons on it. He just wanted to make sure the design would work. So there it is. Our kids have had plenty of other handknitted things to wear, and eventually I will button the EZ project, and our grandchildren will wear it.
Oh-- the mohair he bought is still in my stash. He's fine with that. I'm all sentimental about it now.
Done. Phil pushed his change just after midnight. Look for the new slider on the control panel, check it out, and let us know what you think!
It's imminent. In response to a customer request months ago, we're introducing Searching by Chest Size. Likely Phil will 'push the change' (as he says) tonight when most people in Eastern Canada and the US are asleep. So we'll wake up to it tomorrow.
It's a slider, like the way you search by gauge right now. You'll choose a minimum and maximum chest size by moving the slider things around; then you'll enter any other criteria you care to; then click 'Search' at the bottom of the control panel, and you're away. The smallest is 9", the largest 70"+. That should cover everything, we think, from preemies to Very Impressive Physiques (VIPs).
This feature does not apply to things like shawls that don't actually have to fit the upper body, or hats or mitts. It applies to sweaters, jackets, and the like, when there actually is a chest to enclose with a garment.
We have not quite finished coding every single garment for this-- that'll be done in another few days-- but by far the majority of them are. So, since one of our mottoes is "Perfection is the Enemy of Good", we're going ahead anyway.
We've had requests from adults who are smaller as well as larger for this feature, and are looking forward to your response.
Laura Patterson of Fiber Dreams and her lovely new print distributor have reached an agreement which will enable her patterns to continue to be listed on Patternfish. Yay! We have invited her to blog about it herself, and will post her guest blog when and if she sends it. The format will change slightly from the print copies, in that she won't have to worry about keeping page numbers even (important for print but irrelevant to downloads); and slightly fewer photos may be included, so as to improve printing time. But we've seen an example of the new version style and it's lovely.
Searching by chest size is imminent. 48 hours to three days, we hope. We just have a few left to code by hand, but may make the ability available before we've quite finished, just because.
Laura Patterson of Fiber Dreams has good news and bad news.
A distributor has picked up her patterns for print distribution to LYS's in the United States. This can be worth a great deal to a designer, since stores buy in multiples of 6 or more at a time. This is the good news.
The bad news is that, as a condition of this deal, she may not distribute her patterns online in the US or Canada. Which means delisting all 24 Fiber Dreams patterns from Patternfish by 22 July, since-- at the moment-- we don't distinguish from whence our customers come. So if you have these on your wish list, or were longing for them, buy them before then.
Both Laura and we are extremely sorry about this. Her patterns have been popular. But of course Patternfish recognizes that a big print opportunity is a lot of moolah ($$$) and it would be foolish to refuse. However, in our experience there's not as much cannibalization between online and LYS sales as everyone seems to think; most buyers we know swing both ways, as suits their mood and needs at any given time; one type of buy doesn't mean abandoning the LYS forever. Especially since by buying from us, they still need everything else for the project and have to go back to the LYS for high-ticket items.
Anyway, we're interested in comments. Please don't contact Laura or her intended about this; it's a done deal, for a while anyway. Is this a curious condition to impose? Why or why not? Just write any pertinent observations or questions below.
Last night I had the pleasure of a supper with Adina Klein and Margery Winter, both ex-editors of Vogue Knitting. (Adina specified that she wanted to be played by Janeane Garofalo in the movie. So it shall be written, so it shall be done. And when I told her Cate Blanchett would be playing me, she didn't immediately burst out with: "but she's too skinny!" or worse, "You're too fat!", but instead seemed to think it very natural and reasonable. What a bighearted woman.)
Conversation was largely about how bloody difficult it can be for even masters of their game (Deborah Newton, Mari Lynn Patrick, Kristin Nicholas come to mind) to be properly compensated for the amazing work they do. In most other disciplines their skills and self-discipline would have made them millionaires, and justifiably so. The general question: how can this be made to happen in our industry? Our knitting and crochet press is undergoing the same kind of crunch common to the rest of the publishing world; things are clearly in a state of flux.
We realized that the future would be quite different from the present and the past. We also decided that it would be better. We will all make it so.
On a different note, Patternfish has recently taunted our publishers and customers with various and sundry improvements. The first of these has just arrived.
As you are all aware, we watermark every page of every PDF personally for every purchase and every user. We are now also encrypting, post-watermark, the customer's PDF so that digital copying is compromised or impossible. For honest customers (all of you!) there will be no change in performance or service. But our publishers will benefit from the increased security.
And in response to several requests: "Show me more by this designer" and "Show me more from this publisher" are imminent. If you don't see them first on your own, we'll keep you up to date here. BREAKING NEWS: half an hour after I wrote that-- about 4:30 a.m. Toronto time-- Phil pushed the change. So you can do that now. Look at the headings under the secondary photograph on the lower right. Telepathy, man! Have fun, and don't forget to provide feedback!
Have posted two more patterns. Being able to do this is just beyond remarkable.
Sometimes I try and explain to the kids that when I was a kid and you wanted money, you had to physically go to your exact bank branch between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to get it out. They laugh and laugh. And now I can upload in Toronto, and a few hours later in Amsterdam, a few hours later in Florence; do blog posts; and do the email thang all the time whenever I want. And everything is next, just everything.
-- to Florence. Two things of note so far. One is that I've gotten an Addi Lace (i.e., extra-pointy) 32" circular needle through two sets of security, international and E.U. (Past results are no guarantee of future performance.)
Second, I've just uploaded our first pattern remotely-- thanks Sue of Vermont Fiber Designs! On to Italy in less than three hours.
As new designers came along and offer their work for us to publish (THANK YOU!), they're increasingly interested in uploading their own patterns. And once they become a member, and we assign Publisher status to them, we can assign any number of templates for them to work with. We love doing this. Love it.
It's a teeny bit awkward taking a large number of listings (especially scanned ones) in pieces to publish while I'm away. BUT! Those designers who choose to upload their own work will be very easy to enable for sale, since that's essentially all done over the net. This is a hint.
People who want to get started, or those who already have, are invited to ask for (more) blank templates, in order to upload their own stuff. Send requests to patternsATpatternfishDOTcom (replacing the AT and DOT with their proper symbols) and Julia will fill them as soon as she can. It will make posting new patterns while in Florence much, much easier.
You can't make a visible mistake doing this. Julia has to approve everything before it goes live, and she's not going to let anyone make an ass of themselves (or Patternfish, come to think of it). You can press the "Show" button at any time while filling out the template to see how the listing will look to the customer, but no outsider will be able to see it any any point until Julia enables it. Don't worry. It's easy!
And Phil is in the middle of testing a couple of things that he won't let me talk about yet. Greg had some input into one of them, which makes it extra interesting, because Greg doesn't think like most humans. There might be dancing in our streets. Sophistication far beyond what we already know in Pattern Downloadworld. In fact, one of these features might be unique on the internet, period. You'll let me know, right? The testing period will take a few more days. I'll keep you posted.
Happy Canada Day, everybody! The True North, Strong and Free, since 1 July 1867. "Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy; Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman." (Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt.)
July is going to be a fantastically eventful month for Patternfish. May was our best month ever, then June eclipsed it; July should be a knockout. (All this, off-season, in an Economic Situation.) We've got some new features to add this month, some of which were suggested by customers, that might stun you (in a good way).
Julia's going to Pitti Filati in Florence on the 4th, for a week (pattern uploading may possibly slow but shouldn't halt altogether). Chancellor Shannon and Minister of Technology Phil will hold the fort here. Some improvements might be visible before then. We'll let you know. You know, we can't wait either.
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).
Those of you who are members of our Facebook group or follow us on Twitter or Ravelry (search for Patternfish-- I am tragically not a member and Chancellor Shannon is likely asleep and cannot help) will already know that we have listed our 3,000th pattern and are bursting with pride.
We have lots of other wonderful things to blog about, but to do it all at once would be pages and pages. I hope to do it in steps over the next day or two. Patience. I understand that professional LYS bloggers are taught to keep their blogs at five paragraphs or fewer. This will be hard.
Bad news first. On Tuesday night, 19 May, I was interviewed by the ebullient and encouraging Marlaina (Marly) Bird on her podcast Yarn Thing. During the course of the hour we happily encouraged designers of every stripe to send their patterns to email@example.com, so we could set about listing them. This morning I discovered that emails have been bouncing back to people since that mailbox was (or very soon became) FULL. So embarrassing. It has since been cleaned out and polished and made all shiny. Would all those who were disappointed or discouraged please try again?
Good news now. Last night I went to the Toronto Downtown Knit Collective meeting to hear Sandi Wiseheart of Knitting Daily speak. She was wonderful and unexpectedly moving. Her topic was (ostensibly) losing (and, one hopes) re-finding your knitting mojo-- burning out and rekindling. I was sitting next to designer Robin Melanson who sympathized with the burning out side; I was glumly hoping to get back to a point where I might someday have the opportunity of burning out. It would be a glorious process, I think. Anyway I got a bit of a sock cuff knitted-- first knitting in weeks.
Danny Ouellette pulled a new hat design out of his secret bag-- a wonder. I cannot wait to list it; but he will offer no patterns before the items are perfectly executed, the patterns perfectly written, and the photos perfectly taken. Patience is required.
To my delight, Cat Bordhi was in the audience. Faithful readers will remember how kind she was at January's TNNA, inviting me to address a class of hers about selling their work on Patternfish. After Sandi's talk I scampered up to Cat (who remembered my name!) and admired what she was wearing-- this beautiful Sivia Harding piece.
"You have it on Patternfish, of course?" smiled Cat.
"Oh, yes. In fact, it's our best-selling pattern in Germany."
"That's because they can spell Moebius," she replied instantly.
We are faint. We want to shout and dance and lob love bombs!
And the most extraordinary thing is that we did this with only 4,188 members-- some of the smartest people in the world. Patternfish is still a too-well-kept-secret. Let people know! Spread the word!
A terrific milestone. How should we celebrate?
We'll email this to publishers personally in a while, but can't keep our mouth shut.
First, 'Publishers' are defined as the copyright holders-- the people who have the right to realize revenue on the own work published under their names. If you buy from the publisher Robin Melanson, then Robin Melanson gets the money.
All publishers can now use vanity links in their own blogs or websites or whatever without further assistance from us. If you type in the URL:
-- you get only the patterns published by Classic Elite. (The '/pub/' means publisher, get it? Of course you do.) Similarly:
-- takes you to only Denise Powell's imaginative Interpretations patterns. Likewise:
-- will take you to only Val Love's great work (we know, not enough, but we're working on it!). As a publisher, you just plug in your own name, and if it's multiple words, just put an underscore between them. All new additions are automatically included. Any questions or problems? Forward to 'info' or 'support' at patternfish.com. Phil or I-- or both, most likely-- will get it. I tell you, empowering the people is mighty satisfying. Thanks, Phil. Go forth and linkify.
More than two thousand seven hundred and fifty times I have uploaded patterns. Individually. One by one. It began last February (2008) and there has rarely been a day off. My back hurts. I would like to get out and publicize Patternfish more, but I have to Feed the Beast too. And sometimes people want things changed that have already been posted (fair enough-- no problem there), and then there's more editing.
But the two exceptionally intelligent designers I blogged about after the Frolic (Laura Chau of cosmicpluto knits [the one I chased a bit] and Kate Atherley of Wise Hilda Knits [the one I knelt before]) have decided that This Won't Do, and They Want To Upload Their Own, Thank You Very Much, Get Out Of Our Way Please. They plunged in not even knowing that they are our first beta testers. B-Girls.
They can't yet create their own fresh records (this will come). But I can create templates assigning a publisher and a design name-- even if it's just ***, and make them available in their Publisher/Patterns area. I've done this, and they are busily uploading their own work in great numbers. Then all I have to do is decide what order they'll go up in (so as not to have four green things in a row, or three pairs of cabled socks in a row, and like that).
It's fantastic. I am in HEAVEN. It is a new world. Thank God for innovators, especially these Beta Girls. Anyone who wants to try this should a) become a member if you aren't already, and b) shoot me an email at the patternsATpatternfish.com address replacing the AT with @.
I was already a fan of TED.com, but a friend just forwarded this:
Briefly, because I'm pooped:
- Chancellor Shannon saved the day. I am disorganized and peripatetic. SHE is focused, tech-savvy, extremely competent, and able to get the Internet going with unfamiliar supplies when there are hundreds of competing signals and interference of all kinds in a strange venue. We lost only 45 minutes at the beginning (likely because I was late), and after that, it was fine.
- Minister of Technology Phil made the day-saving special because he got the control panel changes implemented before the Frolic, so we didn't have to teach people how to use a system that was going to be changed 48 hours later. In fact, his new system didn't really require teaching at all, just exposure.
- Things were good and interesting before the day was saved. Afterwards, they were great. Interest was high, delight was unbounded, new Patternfishers were spawned by the score, unexpected compliments were paid (my favorite: "For five years my husband couldn't find a sweater pattern he liked that I could knit for him until we found one on your site").
- We discovered all kinds of new stores and fibre farms with cool patterns of their own, and invited them to list.
- One designer we have tried to woo without response in the past (OK, we sent her one email when she was off-continent, but this is as much as we can usually do because we are chronically short of time) came up and said she was in face very interested in publishing with us; that was thrilling and touching and greatly welcome. Another designer came up and offered her work unsought (I would have avidly sought but didn't for some stupid reason). She is so highly-regarded in our world that I actually went down on one knee when I found out her name because I felt I should be proposing to HER; it was late in the day and I hadn't had much besides coffee and was very wired. Not that she doesn't deserve it. Fortunately she didn't blog about it or anything (though she blogged about other Frolic-related things-- I checked). I will tell who they are when they list. If they list. Unless they don't want me to.
Will try and get some more patterns up tomorrow. You've been waiting a while. A day or two.
In the next 12 to 72 hours you will see a major change to Patternfish's control panel.
Sometimes people would write and say, "I love your site, it's great, but if only you could search by designer" (or pattern publisher, or yarn manufacturer, or garment style, or something)-- when, of course, you could already. We just hadn't made it clear enough.
Phil is implementing a big change. Rather than have a lot of our critical search criteria under an "Advanced Search" button, he's putting it all out there up front in writing. He's tested and tested it in all kinds of different browsers and operating systems. It will be operational soon, and we hope that's the version we'll be showing people how to use at the Knitter's Frolic on Saturday. That version will continue to be refined and honed as we go on over the next few weeks.
If you notice anything odd, or off, or weird, or misbehaving, or anything strange at all, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you specify which browser (like Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari or Opera) you're using, and which operating system your computer uses (most basically, are you on a PC or a Mac? Or, suggests Greg hopefully, Linux? Phil has each in lots of flavours).
Similarly, if the improvements (which should be self-explanatory at last!) inspire you to new ideas, write us at the same address with suggestions. Don't be afraid to dream.
And wish us luck.
A month and a day ago I blogged about something neat. Just posted the first pattern related to that (click right here). Go look! We hope to offer quite a few more soon.
And one of our finest designers and publishers-- Robin Melanson-- spoke tonight at the Downtown Knit Collective in Toronto, and she was outstanding. It was such fun to hear her and see her talk about things she's normally shy about-- her design process and mood boards-- and I can't begin to do everything she said justice. Such a treat.
Wow. Mary Beth Temple, who publishes here under Hooked for Life (but the podcast was on gettingloopy.com) must be one of the most patient, good-natured, and generous people in the United States. I probably talked too fast (MBT clearly has English as her first language, and I had a hard time remembering Cornelia's excellent advice), but the whole thing went by so quickly, and she was so accommodating and kind, that I really enjoyed it. I wish I could have talked more knowledgeably about crochet. And I wish I had said less (and that more slowly!) so she could have finished on time-- it went over. I don't even remember half of what I said. Is this normal?
I also made the mistake of looking up her area code (646) before I went on, and it turns out to be Manhattan (along with 212, I know). Was extra nervous because of this, and that's stupid, because who knows where the majority of her listeners are? It's a big wonderful techworld. Still, note to others in the same boat: don't do this.
Nevertheless the call-- the challenge!-- has gone out to crochet designers: send us your work. The reason we only have 100 or so crochet patterns is that that's what has been supplied to us. Bring them on! It doesn't hurt; and we'll treat your work tenderly. Though it might be best if you wrote your own descriptions. As I've said before, I'm unable to do crochet justice. If you're too modest to blow your own horn loudly, get a crocheting friend to write it for you. We will believe every word. We might ALSO point out that your work will REALLY STAND OUT!
Thanks again, Mary Beth, and good luck with your brand-new book!
And our first podcast is happening too, on Monday April 13th at 9: p.m. EST (GMT less four hours right now), with the witty and crochet-centric Mary Beth Temple of Getting Loopy. I've never done a podcast before, though Lord knows I've had a lot of experience talking. I worry about talking too fast-- a very bad longstanding habit-- and Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton gave some excellent advice. She said to pretend I was talking to someone for whom English was a second language. I have been practicing this in the car while driving around and it seems to work, while unnerving other drivers.
We've had visits from 138 countries now, and are starting to collect amusing statistics. For example, this pattern is our best seller in Germany. Which just goes to show that Germans appreciate good architecture, sound instructions, and beauty in function.
We are about to post our very first pattern in French. Mary Beth Temple has been paying elaborate compliments by supplying same to the Montreal-born (that is to say, me), though I would certainly have appeared on her podcast Getting Loopy without it. This will encourage us to figure out how to handle and make available other languages. Any suggestions?
Did I mention MBT's podcast, at http://www.gettingloopy.com? 9:00 p.m. EST Monday, 13 April?
Oh, and Patternfish has a Facebook page too, where we have a forum and over 100 members. I'm the administrator for a change; Chancellor Shannon has her duties at Ravelry's group.
Great excitement! Patternfish is entering its first show, doing its first live demos all day. We are starting out with a one-day effort... Chancellor Shannon is unused to trade shows and we want to break her in gently (Julia's been giving good booth all over North America since she was 20)... it's the Knitter's Frolic, put on by Toronto's Downtown Knit Collective on Saturday the 25th of April. Click here for detailed information about it. The Chancellor (who is everyone's best friend since she pays people) and I will be on hand from 9 to 4 showing people how to perform searches, answering questions, handing out bits of swag, and meeting Toronto's avid knitting constituency. Booth #4, Kobayashi Hall. Come introduce yourselves!
Way back at the beginning we promised some 'digital treats' to our dear customers, and while we are readying some ideas of our own, we're also looking for suggestions. Is there anything in particular that you'd like to see? Our small (but very very smart) team of techsperts (texperts?) is at the ready. What might we be able to offer digitally that would improve your knitting and crocheting lives? Don't say 'an online needle gauge'; we won't be liable for people poking holes in their screens.
We've also been working on various site improvements, some of which will be visible in the next few days. About half of our patterns are ready to be searched by chest size; as soon as we've gone back and coded the other archival half for it, we'll offer that ability as well. This was based on several customer suggestions, and it just goes to show that squeaky wheels get greased.
Veronik Avery once mentioned that it might be nice to search by year or decade too. That feature will be added as soon as we can; again, a sizeable percentage of our patterns are already coded for it, but it's not fair unless everything is.
The moral of this post: don't be afraid to ask for something. Almost all of our programming is custom (thanks again, Phil!), and if we can do something special for one person, likely everyone else will benefit too.
Sharon Dreifuss of She-Knits wants to help everyone feeling financial pinches these days, and has reduced the prices on her wonderful felted bags from $7 to $6. It figures that someone with seven children would have more heart than usual!
Went to Madame Tussaud's in D.C. Wednesday morning. Streets were blocked off everywhere in downtown Washington, so just drove past the White House and missed the Lincoln Memorial altogether. Kids swam for hours in the late afternoon and fell like trees early evening.
Arrived home safely around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, started laundry, and checked email for the first time in a week. All I can say (short-term) is that Patternfish.com fans are in for big treats over the next few days as I get everything over the last week sorted and posted.
One of the delights of driving over long distances is the unexpected finds. As we were motoring through Pennsylvania, we drove past the federal Allenwood penitentiary, which I believe is where John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas did his time for selling drugs. The grounds look extremely nice, even in a light drizzle in March. And I recall that (in his outstanding autobiography co-authored with Jim Jerome), Phillips said that his lawyer described it to him more or less as "a lot like Aspen, except milder at this time of year".
In New York State, we also drove past a baby-related outlet called The New York Stork Exchange. I LOVE this kind of thing. There's a store in Toronto called The Merchant of Tennis, and I always laugh when I go past it.
Kids were angelic but there's still a few days to go before they're back at school. Life will be back to more-or-less-normal soon.
Yesterday was the fantastic National Zoo in Washington, with its Giant Pandas and Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center (anacondas and cobras and pythons and copperheads et al.) and cheetahs and lions and tigers and Tamarins (look those up-- why haven't they caught on as chic little monkey pets? SO beautiful) and I don't remember what else-- glorious. Also an exhausting day's long walk up and down hill. Today we didn't even make it to the renowned Baltimore Aquarium, just spent all day at Port Discovery, where the kids were able to be delirious in their kidly way and climb and slide and clamber and splash and puzzle and decipher, but mostly climb. The only rotten part was not being able to drink coffee while watching them; but the splendid staff agreed to host my coffee in their Lost and Found until we left, and taped foolscap all over it to keep it as warm as possible and anyone else from drinking it.
That means tomorrow (Wednesday) will be in Washington at Madame Tussaud's and the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. If all goes as planned (as if), we will come back for a swim at a local recreational centre and pack to ready ourselves for the 9+ hour drive back to Toronto all day Thursday. Late Thursday or Friday night I personally plan to reinvigorate Toronto's red wine sales sans family. Friday will be all Patternfish and laundry and email, as will the rest of the weekend at home.
What an outstanding selection of different kinds of days in a row.
Arrived safely late Friday night and spent Saturday afternoon in Baltimore (who knew the rellies-- relatives-- were 20 minutes from Baltimore and 40 from Washington? Bonus!) seeing the USS Constellation (the last sail-festooned warship built in the US, in 1845 or thereabouts) and pedalling around the bay with two happy children in a boat shaped like a dragon. We just barely managed to avoid T-boning a submarine with a shark face painted on its front. At about one tenth of one kilometre an hour.
Today we went to the Washington Mall and saw Congress at one end, and the Washington and Lincoln Memorials in the far distance at the other; extraordinarily moving, even for the 10-year-old (the younger ones were too busy running and climbing to take special notice of their exact location in the world). In between we walked through two sculpture gardens and visited two Smithsonian branches: the National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History. I am not a particular aeronautics fan, but seeing the actual Glamorous Glennis (the tiny orange plane in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time in human history) brought me to unexpected tears. Yeager's autobiography is very good if you can find a copy, even if you're not terribly aerocentric. The latter museum was terrific too, but due to tired minors, we whisked through only three bits of it-- dinosaurs (zoom!), mammals (whoosh!), and the Hope Diamond room. The Hope Diamond is somewhat bigger than an American or Canadian quarter (25 cent piece) and quite fearfully wonderful to look at if you know anything about its dramatic history.
Tomorrow Washington again, either the Zoo or further Mall explorations. Tuesday, the renowned Baltimore Aquarium and a kind of kids' resort (Port Discovery?). Wednesday is up for grabs (whatever we didn't do on Monday) and Thursday we drive back to Toronto. Whoosh. Zoom.
Internet access turns out to be dodgier than I had thought, and it's making me anxious, but will try and get a bit more done tomorrow afternoon if I can send everyone else out for a swim. But what a fantastic trip! Highly recommended. Rellies with diplomatic license plates are likewise highly recommended if you can arrange it.
Patterns have appeared on Patternfish in greater or lesser profusion almost every day since we went live on 4 June 2008. Naturally someone has to do this, and so far it's been me. It's even been done at the expense of knitting itself, if you can imagine. I love doing it but it's been pretty relentless.
Starting tomorrow, the family and I will be driving to and around Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington D.C. visiting darling relatives and seeing sights. It's our first real road trip (and our eldest child is 10; waiting this long constitutes a sin in Canada). While you Patternfish fans won't be able to count on many new patterns a day, there might be some, and certainly more frequent (and likely more interesting) blogging-- almost daily, I should think. I have to say I'm looking forward to knitting time as a passenger; our resident tech expert Greg has yet to figure out how to actually upload patterns securely and flawlessly via wi-fi while hurtling along the Interstate. Next year, no doubt.
I will be able to get email, so if you're tempted to submit new patterns or designs for the first time, this is an ideal moment in which to do it. It makes my life much easier than lots of scanning. C'mon!
For some years America's JCA Crafts (parent company of Reynolds, Artful Yarns, Unger, and others) represented a designer line of yarns which is no longer available (I believe it ended in 2006 or shortly after). The name under which it was produced is a marketable commodity, and licensed in many ways to many companies even now.
The yarns were terrific, very high quality, and more costly than many. We mourn their loss.
But... the designs were likewise terrific, very high quality, and looked fantastically expensive-- partly because of the yarns they were made in, but also partly because they were so very well thought out and timelessly striking.
We think it would be an awful shame if access to these designs were lost to knitters forever, just because the yarns were discontinued. So we have asked JCA Crafts repeatedly (they would likely say we badgered them to death) if they saw any fair and legal way to publish these designs online for knitters who would cherish them.
After years of deliberation and thought, they have finally agreed to make them available to fans so long as the name of the designer is not used or mentioned in any of the marketing materials. That is, we can't promote these designs in any way using the designer's name (for which people usually pay large licensing fees). If you know the name involved, keep it quiet! If not, no matter; you may shortly be exposed to designs of such classical loveliness that you won't care where they came from.
We are preparing the first releases of these designs, and are looking for feedback from you as to how to prioritize them-- if it matters (there are spring and fall seasons for many years). We're looking for comments. If we see any comment mentioning the name of the designer involved, we will be forced to delete that comment, so as to strictly comply with any applicable American laws. Be warned. But otherwise, does anyone have anything to say on this matter, pro or con, before we test any waters?
Once I said I blogged with the frequency of Halley's Comet, and this last month I really made that come true. But unique circumstances dictated it-- my Dad's memorial and the people who came to it from all over, and since they've come from all over you really want to see them offline, too.
"You don't blog enough," people say, and I suppose technically that's true. But in a way (and I write most of them) every pattern's description is a little blog. A bloglet. Italians might say (I like this) a bloghettino. We post new patterns almost every day. By the time I should write an Official Blog Entry (perhaps a blogone, pr. blow-GOH-nay), I'm often feeling quite wrung out, like all the words and wit have been through the juicer already. Then I don't want to disappoint people, so I don't Blog.
Someone once asked Margot Fonteyn what she had meant when she had performed a certain gesture or step. "I explained it while I was doing it," she replied. I think a lot of designers talk to us like this. In the descriptions, I sort of hold up signs pointing to certain elements of what they explain by doing-- or what you're prevented from seeing, since you can't read the whole pattern before you buy it. Patternfish's whole existence is rather like that too; we explain it by its being, its very presence. I love my job.
As I write we are two patterns away from having 2500 listings. It's quite unbelievable.
We received this email yesterday from a potential publisher:
"Good Morning Madam Prime Minister (unless there has been an election or No Confidence vote since the TNNA blogs); our best to the Chancellor, as well (We were impressed that Americans would know about non-confidence votes, but at the first hint of one, Patternfish will have a Prime-Minister-For-Life: hello, benevolent dictatorship!-- Ed.)
"Ron and I - the grunt and janitor at Buffalo Gold respectively - would love to participate in Patternfish ...but we have, so far, bought patterns or licenses for patterns and then allowed our dealers to give the patterns away with bison yarn purchases. We would like our designers to be able to get additional money selling these same patterns, if possible. So how might we add our meager (but rapidly growing) pattern book and designers to Patternfish? If it's worth a talk, call Ron - 817-xxx-xxxx as he is the idea guy (and skein winder).
"Keep up the great work."
Of course we called them right away, and they are going to encourage their design flock to list with us, then everybody will be happy. How great a management team is that? They have good ideas AND wind skeins! And they look after their designers! Awwww.
Item: Cecil (the author of the Buffalo Gold communication) has just emailed that, on any new business card, Prime Minister for Life would likely be abbreviated thus: PMs for Life-- "probably not how you want to be remembered," he says airily. What I want to know is, how did he know we all have such well-developed senses of humour? Because in some counties, them's fightin' woids. We are secure enough to find it hilarious, although Greg's probably off somewhere rolling his eyes and nodding.
News flash: price increases are on their way for Stylecraft and all Wendy, Twilleys, Robin, and Peter Pan patterns. We do not like negative surprises for our customers, so we will give you a week to buy at the old price. Sometime on 18 February 2009, Stylecraft will go from $3.50 to $4.49 (they should have been at $3.99 before but weren't-- oops); the rest will go from $3.50 to $3.99. We will Twitter and Plurk this, too. This is an across-the-board increase from the distributor. It applies to all retailers. We did not make it up. Go crazy.
And we are reverting back to normal sock postings-- as a condiment, not as a vegetable.
We are happily doing the Patternfish Watusi over here, because of all the great publishers who've come on in the last while since TNNA. EIGHT of them. Not all because of TNNA, of course; a couple of intrepid independents (Hooked for Life, Flirtations Knitwear) strolled over and introduced themselves without the prompting of a trade show. But Gardiner Yarn Works, Cherry Tree Hill, Trendsetter Yarns, Bergere de France, Fiesta Yarns, and (imminently) Ironstone Yarns have all joined us in the last two weeks largely because of TNNA.
We are perhaps especially surprised and impressed with Bergere de France for the following reason. They are by far the largest and oldest of the companies mentioned, with offices in at least three countries (Canada, England, France), and its own substantial mill(s) in France (of course). With all this comes a certain inevitable amount of bureaucracy.* And yet, they made a decision to list with us very quickly, considering their size; they acted like a small, bright, zippy startup, and seized the day, coordinating PDF posting amongst their three countries (really), and doing it fast. Wow.
The mix of all these companies is terrific.
Gardiner Yarn Works is an independent pattern company. When we classify someone as 'independent', it means they have no corporate yarny axe to grind. GYW is not associated with any one line of yarn. The good people there pick the yarns they want to use from all the world's available sources, and design wonderful things with whatever especially pleases them. Very cool.
Similarly, indies Hooked for Life and Flirtations Knitwear, while dipping their fingers in the knitting pool occasionally, are expanding our crochet horizons in the best possible ways; we are anxious to see more of their work.
The rest? Cherry (we keep wanting to type "Cheery", which would work too) Tree Hill does a vast array of high-fibre-quality handdyes; Trendsetter has been a North American leader in novelties and unusual yarns for decades, with Barry Klein working within mills to actually help invent their yarns; Bergere de France makes their own fashion yarns and offers stunning European patterns to set them off; Fiesta and Ironstone have very high end, unusual fibre mixes, which they handdye as well.
All this means an unusual breadth of choice for our Patternfishers. We could not have planned it better if we'd tried.
So now... this is perhaps (as Churchill said) the end of the beginning of our San Diego TNNA publishers. We will keep you posted about the next act.
Aside: Chancellor Shannon is insisting that I read David Foster Wallace. No doubt our readership is in for a lot more footnotes.
* Anyone who has ever worked for a large company has experienced at least that kind of bureaucracy. Anyone who has ever lived in Europe has experienced yet another kind. We imagine that working for a large company while living in Europe would be... quite a character-building experience. It would probably not make you nimbler or quicker. We are not criticizing: we've done these things. It's just... different.
In university, largely penniless and full of save-the-world, I decided to start giving blood as my first charitable endeavour. Mom had been a nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and I knew it was important. I had no money to give, and not a vast deal of time. But I had blood, and I had an hour. So I started to donate.
Since then access to clinics has not always been consistent. But yesterday morning I traipsed off (if you can traipse in a car through a snowstorm) to give my 33rd pint.
After the donation, one of the kind volunteers asked if I'd like any of their goodies with my peach juice.
"Would you mind if I took a couple of those little Oreo packs for my kids' lunches?" I said.
"You just saved three lives," she said. "You can have whatever you want."
I can't tell you how this made me feel. If you have blood, and an hour, you can feel this way too. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and remember the Mad Hattery late last year? We are now in the same delightful position with socks. Every third pattern until further notice will be a sock pattern. For non-sock fans, we thank you for your patience in advance; if, on the other hand, you like socks (and a few knitters do), this is your moment.
Post-TNNA life settles down and publishers we met with there are starting to make good on their promises to list their work with us (welcome, Gardiner Yarn Works and Cherry Tree Hill!). Other publishers are also popping up with splendid work (hello, imminent Hooked for Life and Flirtations Knitwear!). But these new arrivals continue to throw one of my fatal flaws into sharp relief.
I can't crochet. I mean, I can make a chain, but beyond that I fall down with a thump. Not even Crab Stitch (or Backwards Single Crochet). I'm an accomplished knitter and I've taught finishing and I'm generally pretty competent with a needle or two, but crochet is just like one of those Indo- or Base 10 languages I know I'll never speak. I've always wanted to crochet edgings and inserts for pillowcases. So to start, my mother taught me to make granny squares on at least five different occasions, and I could do it in front of her, but landed up with soggy sorry messes on my lap out of her presence. She died three years ago, so since I'll never be in her physical presence again, I guess that's it. (I know this will bring out the generosity in all of you, and I appreciate it in advance; but I won't have time to learn any crochet for at least three years. Really. It will just have to be in abeyance for a while. I won't have time to learn much knitting-wise, either. I will have to learn to find my rut comfortable.)
Years ago, my main impression of crochet was this kind of thing. We strive not to display any editorial bias, but I confess that this would not be at the top of my to-crochet list. Chancellor Shannon does not feel terribly constricted by diplomacy in this case, and, inspired by that piece, has taken to describing random things in general as "swan-ugly". Nonetheless, I am Voltairian in our mandate to publish it ("I disagree with every word you've said, but I will defend to my death your right to say it"). Some people will find it compelling and beautiful and will want to make it, and we live to serve that, and respect their opinions.
But in the last few months, I've seen some breathtaking crochet from companies and individuals. I love this Wendy jacket, and this amazing Epicurus shawl, and this wonderful beaded Swallow Hill Creations piece, and this lovely Gayle Bunn cardi for Artful Yarns, and this chic little cloche/toque, and I could go on and on. We have more great ones coming up, too.
Fresh young minds, man. There's nothing like them. Just be sure that if you submit a crochet piece for sale, that you write the description. Because I would automatically rate it as intermediate (not being able to tell easy from hard), and would not be able to say much else beyond: "hey, this thing is really good, and you should make a bunch of 'em."
Digression: I like statistics. The US is our most frequent visitor (though we just sold our first pattern to Singapore the other day, and our excitement was unbounded). The state visiting the most is California. For fun, here are its top ten cities in terms of visits from 1 August 2008 until now:
1. San Francisco
2. West Hollywood
4. Los Angeles
6. San Diego
7. Huntington Park
8. Santa Clara
10. Thousand Oaks
I'm sure all these cities are renowned for their groundbreaking good taste (I know San Francisco is), so woot, California!
We were well-nigh bursting at the end, Chancellor Shannon and I.
Karen and Julia Dinner of Village Yarns in Toronto were going round to all their favoured distributors suggesting they list their patterns with us-- much good will come of their endorsements. But it did make for interesting conversations if distributors asked, "... and what do the retailers think about this?" Village Yarns is aiming to go paperless as soon as it's practical, and they see us as an enormous help in this regard. We of course are very happy to be as green as we can be.
The Kertzer booth had a huge poster for this design, proving once again how current and clever Stylecraft is in making their freshest styles available to everyone on the internet.
We also had the great pleasure of meeting Elise Duvekot, who has just published a beautiful book with XRX called Knit One Below, and has patterns on Patternfish published through Knitting Traditions (Beth Brown-Reinsel's imprint).
Talked with Chrissy Gardiner and Donna Arney at Gardiner Yarn Works and it turns out that Chrissy is friends with our beloved designer Karen Alfke (publisher of Unpatterns and 2nd Nature Design), so that was great. Talked with Tahki/Stacy Charles, Dale of Norway, PolarKnit (they're Canadian too!), Fairmount Fibers (Manos!), Mission Falls, the US distributor for Fiesta and Ironstone yarns (7 Dimes Distributing), Berroco, and other iconic folk. Ah, people! This is just talking. And nothing will happen instantly. But the stars appear to be aligning in a most promising way.
Yesterday was perfectly topped off by a good long visit with Clara Parkes of Knitter's Review. She probably doesn't remember, but last June at the Columbus TNNA (Patternfish had been live for about 72 hours), she had been so encouraging and kind that Phil and Shannon and I have talked about it ever since. Clara has a singular kind of wit that is both very dry and very sharp. I wish she would let it off its leash more, and be a regular on some chat show, so everyone could laugh as much as Shannon and I did.
Regular uploading (with some new publishers, too!) will resume very soon.
Finally, I'm happy to report that sleeping with Veronik Avery is fantastic. She's very clean, doesn't kick or snore, and in all ways has excellent bed manners.
So far we've had talks of various lengths with, among others: The Sassy Skein, Style Hounds, Cherry Tree Hill, Knitter's Magazine, Yarn Market News/SOHO Publishing, Bergere de France, Brown Sheep Company, Koigu, Jane Ellison/KFI, Knitwhits, Trendsetter, Prism, and Patons/Spinrite. More meetings scheduled tomorrow with others. We are very very pleased, and excited, at the possibilities. Many people went out of their way to compliment Phil (back home) on designing such a site as this, and acknowledged its hidden complications and challenges; despite appearances, it's not easy, and Phil has done a tremendous job.
Went for supper at The Linkery (thanks for the recommendation, Tony!). Wonderful. If you're ever in San Diego, take a cab and go.
Shannon found a baby onesie in a shop that bore this legend:
In short, it's been one delightful thing after another, and we're not done yet. But it's time to pack before checkout tomorrow. If there's no other blog before our red-eye tomorrow night back to Toronto, there'll be one on Tuesday after our return. Lengthier. It's late (4:20 a.m. Toronto time), and we all (Shannon and Veronik and I) have to admire one another's sleepwear for the last time. Sob.
Slunk into the back of Cat Bordhi's class this morning around 8:30, armed with lots of bookmarks and too few buttons for the attendees. I had been expecting 20 students-- there were more like 55. That was wonderful, to see so many talents serious about writing patterns professionally.
I tried to take as little time away from the official curriculum as possible: a little overview of what we do, and some question-answering. I mentioned that you had to be a member of Patternfish before we could make you a publisher (this is not clear enough in our blurbage; we will change it). Whereupon some earnest soul asked, "Does it cost money to join?" This was such a foreign thought that I just blurted out, "Golly, no! That would be evil," and everyone laughed, and the Patternfish portion of the program wrapped up to applause. Thank you, good Cat and bright students.
So then it was on to stalking the show with the indefatigable Chancellor Shannon, who took it upon herself to be my Sherpa ("your purse," she would correct me). Tenzing Norgay is not given enough credit. Shannon had the laptop in the wheely bag and insisted on toting my briefcase, too, and buying the coffee (she drinks more than I do, which is saying a lot), and taking notes, and writing down all the appointments I blithely make, ensuring that they don't conflict, reminding me of other commitments, suggesting food when I forget to eat, and generally making herself more invaluable by the minute.
People here seem more aware of Patternfish than I thought they would be, and very positively so. It's a welcome shock, but a shock. Probably all bloggers and web-business folk feel like this. You spend such tremendous amounts of time in isolation (in front of your computer) working on something you feel is important that you get too caught up in your own view of it. Then, out in the world, if people like what you do, it's like they're complimenting you on a picture you thought you drew in private.
There were productive meetings galore, and more new ones and follow-ups to come. It was especially nice to talk with designer Sharon Dreifuss (She-Knits), who was exhibiting her beautiful felted bags in the Brown Sheep Company booth, and explaining Patternfish to her. Her eyes grew wider and wider until finally she exclaimed, "There's no downside!" That was a marvellous thing to hear.
"Oh, are you Patternfish?" people ask. Yes I am, I say proudly, and so is Shannon here. But I should have named the site Unbearably Lovely or something: "Yes, of course we're Unbearably Lovely! Can't you tell?"
Yesterday (Thursday) was a travel day, in which Shannon and I made our way from Toronto to San Diego via Newark. The Newark - San Diego flight was delayed by several hours, which was not a problem as we had access to red wine during the delay. Which also led to sleeping during the flight: perfect.
We arrived to find messages from loved ones at home anxious to make sure we had not landed in the Hudson River, as had one of our colleagues from a publisher. She is apparently fine, thank God.
Today (setup day for the trade show) almost half of Toronto was without power during -20C temperatures. We worried about this as we sat outside in balmy weather eating seafood for lunch, and being inconvenienced occasionally by the spray from a nearby fountain.
We saw lots of wonderful people during setup (we are not exhibiting, but help some publishers out). Most startling was Cat Bordhi, who very kindly invited me to speak to her class of budding designers tomorrow morning about marketing your work. Greatly excited about this.
Roommate Veronik Avery was a tremendous good sport when I announced I was going to report on her pyjamas (or similar). "I like to dress well to sleep," says she, with the effortless chic of a true Quebecoise. "I am wearing my cyclamen lace-trimmed V-neck top and yoga pants." She also says she left her sock monkey pyjama bottoms at home. In the spirit of full disclosure, Shannon remarked about her own sleepwear, "large T-shirts are your friend." Hers is tobacco-coloured. My own night costume on this trip, worn leggings and a long thin grey jersey top, might best be described as Amish in spirit. More, as I said before, later.
Chancellor Shannon and I are off to TNNA in San Diego, California later today. TNNA stands for 'The National Needle Arts Association'. It's a trade show where North American needle arts distributors exhibit what's new (in the January case, for spring and summer 2009) to North American retailers. A trip to California is especially welcome right now, since it's about -20 degrees Celsius in Toronto at the moment. The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales meet at around -30 or -33. Special Guest Star Greg calls this kind of temperature 'AFC', for 'Arse-Freezing Cold'. Minister of Technology Phil has been known to say that Canada (at least where we are) has two seasons, "winter and July". This is not strictly true, but it's easy to believe when the weather's like this.
Anyway, lots of our existing publishers (like JCA Crafts, with Reynolds and Artful Yarns; hempforknitting, with Lanaknits Designs; Classic Elite Yarns; Naturally; SWTC, and many others) will be there, along with many other companies who have sworn up and down that they will list their patterns with Patternfish as soon as possible. A lot of independent designers go too, to sign their books or meet the folks for whom they freelance.
In short, just about everyone involved in knitting or crocheting who attends is either a potential publisher or a potential customer, or (in the case of the courageous retailers), a conduit to a LOT of end users. So we are armed with Patternfish.com bookmarks and new Patternfish.com buttons, and intend to strew them liberally about.
Paradoxically, we always run into a lot of wonderful Canadians at these American shows that we don't normally see, like Lucy Neatby and Sally Melville and Mags Kandis and Veronik Avery-- even darling Amy Singer (who LIVES in Toronto and publishes Knitty.com from here) and I don't get together much except for occasions like this.
So the pace of uploading new patterns may slow while we're busy catching up with North American knitterati. But I will try to blog more often to make up for it. Veronik is actually sharing a room with us from Friday on (how did we get so lucky?), so if it's OK with her, I might blog about what kind of pyjamas she wears. Or if she wears pyjamas at all. "Of this," as my friend Alex says, "more later."
Patternfish's formal year end is the calendar year, Dec. 31st. And while we went live June 4, 2008 (also Anderson Cooper of CNN's birthday), for some reason it only occurred to us to start keep official stats as of 1 August. Fatigue and overwork, probably.
So from 1 August through 31 December 2008, here are our stats. Keep in mind we are just a baby-- seven months old, out of nowhere, and these stats represent just five of those months.
We had well over 1,050,000 page views from 126 countries. The top 20 countries for visits are:
1. United States
15. New Zealand
We pause here to admire tiny Luxembourg, who scraped together 18 visits but averaged a whopping 44+ pages for each (this takes almost half an hour at a time, we discovered). Iraq, surely with other things to think about, somehow managed 2 visits; we are touched and moved.
Overall-- this is from 4 June now-- we have sold thousands and thousands of patterns in thousands of successfully-filled orders.
There was the odd glitch. We have a slight tendency to assume that people know more about tech than they do (Phil, Greg, Shannon, and I have all been involved in it as a business for more than two decades each), so sometimes people have to drag us back to reality-- good for everyone who's done it. Once, PayPal had a migraine that affected every one of their merchants; and another time, our patterns got stuck in their delivery system and couldn't get out (but we could take orders!). Those things got fixed quickly.
Other than that, we've had a remarkably good uptime record-- thanks to Minister of Technology Phil, who built a wonderfully sturdy site mostly from scratch, and only occasionally told Julia how things were going to be instead of the other way around. In those case his ideas were always an improvement over whatever she had wanted.
We received wonderful attention from Vogue Knitting (in print) and Knitter's Review (online), and various cutting-edge blogs, podcasts, local newsletters, and LYS's. Toronto's Romni Wools even let us have a whole storefront window on extended loan. Profound thanks to everyone who helped us in every way.
Our first year end. It's been fabulous. We'll check back with more stats by our first birthday. Infinite thanks to our members and publishers in equal measure; they make one another's presence possible, and our business a joy.
We hope everyone had a healthy, happy, safe holiday season, and is welcoming 2009 with an open heart.
Blogging has been nonexistent over the last few weeks. I apologize. My father died after a brief acute illness (at age 75) on New Year's Eve. He led a rich full life and left precious little undone that he wanted to do; and he lived in his own home on his own until 18 days before he died. Few are so lucky. We will all miss him dreadfully. He was an avid cheerleader for Patternfish (having been a lifelong entrepreneur himself) and would have been delighted that December 2008 was in all ways, and despite current economic conditions, our best month ever.
Soon-- more cheerful topics, and there's a lot to be cheerful about... so get ready.