Friday, January 31, 2020

Kimono Revolution

So I was a Japanese Embroidery student at 12, back in the early 1980s; so I care about the techniques, experts and history of Japanese textile culture.  You also know that endangered textile technologies and techniques are kinda 'my thing'.  So last night when I sat down to embroider and watch TV and was looking through the options - a program called "Kimono Revolution" coming on at 8pm really got me to stop and switch the channel to it.

It didn't take more than a few minutes for the program to get me crying and really want to recommend it to you all.  The program is right now making the rounds on PBS but it can also be watched on the internet.  It is in subtitles but soooo worth it.

Watch Kimono Revolution

It is a story of how the decline of the traditional kimono - which is the one product that keeps almost ALL textile artisans in Japan going - has reduced to less than 1/3 the market in just the last 10 years.  One major Kimono store owner is on a single minded mission to save the entirety of the textile artisan infrastructure.  Kinda sounds familiar, doesn't it.

So he conceived of an audacious project and hoped he could have it done in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.  (1) Raise about $40,000 per kimono (how much they cost) from donors, corporations and the government (2) recruit all the artisans to take their techniques and challenge themselves to modernize the look and (3) produce a work-of-art kimono for each of the 206 countries represented at the Olympics.

The money would keep the artisans going a few more years and the unique interpretations by these living treasures and new upcoming artisans would excite the market and drive interest in Kimono in the public.

Several of the kimono productions are gone through in detail and every time I cried.  The beauty, the expertise, the age of the artisans, the collaborations to make something new.  It was heartbreakingly beautiful.  The film really encapsulates what I have seen throughout my life of traveling around the world and being introduced to experts that we are loosing and often standing there knowing that the next time I try to come back - it will be gone.  I have so many pieces of something in my house that I pull out sometimes and "pet".  The 'last' of something and full of memories of some tremendous expertise that is gone and I got to see before it was gone.

So please put watching this on your to do list.  Pull out a cup of tea or glass of wine and afterwards you will decide to do something textile related.  Find your nice things and pet them, use them and honor the legions of elderly experts like those in the film.

And we NEED an exhibition of these kimono to come to America after the Olympics.  Who can we beg to do that???

The visionary's quote is: "My dream is to see the people leading the delegations wearing the kimonos at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo games".  Oh gosh I really hope so.  It is just an incredible feat and such an appropriate way to boost their long traditional culture.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

News Flash - Au Ver a Soie Theft

I don't like posting without complete information but the situation demands it.  There was a break in at the Au Ver a Soie factory between Christmas and today and a significant amount of silk thread was stolen - likely to be fenced on the internet.  I don't have any details beyond what they just posted on their facebook page an hour ago.  I will be getting details soon so we can know what to look for and will post as soon as I do.

I can't tell you the horror Access Commodities and myself are absorbing at the moment as we understand what it takes to remake schedule wise.  I also don't know yet what it means to current courses I am running.  But impacting future plans - yes.

Here is the post:
Dear customers, dear friends, dear partners,
The Life of a small business is not always quite as follow : our plant has been robbed between Xmas and New Year’s eve. The thieves have taken entire ranges of threads, orders ready to be shipped to French and abroad customers. Their aim was clearly to slow down our activity but we will not give up as we did after the fire in 2015. 
Thanks to warn us if you see suspect sales of our products on Internet. This concerns : flyfishing silklines, soie de Paris, sewing silk (soie 1003 and surfines), kits of Pascal Jaouen, special colours in soie perlĂ©e. 
We wish you a very happy new year 2020 which will be full of surprises for our 200th year anniversary.
Take special care when viewing offers of the silks - they likely stole spools as that would be easy to fence.  Au Ver a Soie spools several of these on wooden spools.  I think they are doing the white spools now as well.  The spools that Au Ver a Soie prints on have "Au Ver a Soie" on the top and then thread type on the bottom.  The ones that Access Commodities spools show the thread type on the top in writing and don't say Au Ver a Soie on them - to help you distinguish.   While I don't know this as a fact - it is a decent conjecture at this point.

If you see something that appears fraudulent (from eBay):

1. Get the item number and the seller's username.  Take a screen shot as well using your computer or phone
2. Inform your local police and ask them to get in touch with eBay. You can find local law enforcement officers on the USACops website.
3. Tell the officers to email us at
Please note that we can only investigate such a serious allegation if it comes from the police.
4. email Au Ver a Soie immediately -

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Needlework Logistics

"This is the most complicated kit I have ever seen in all my years of business"
That is how the conversation started today with Access Commodities.  It was "last day to ship" on our agreed calendar and we were going over the Harmony with Nature course pack yet again.  What is last day to ship?  That is the backed up date from when I shut down for Christmas (and am out of town) minus the typical shipping length from Texas plus a two day buffer.  That is the last day that I can have anything put in a shipping box before they reopen again after the holidays and final year end inventory is done and they start shipping again.  So my next shipment from them will arrive around January 13th.  Yes, that is a month.  That is why the review of the joint spreadsheet was so important this morning.  That happens also in July every year as France shuts down for the month so once they open and the shipments start again, the first box to arrive is mid-October.  So if it doesn't make the July 30th cargo shipment - nothing comes until mid-October.  Now repeat that thought down the supply chain - silk to passementerie company to Access to me.  Silk and wire to gold thread company to me.  The number of spreadsheets and keeping track of what is what and what is in the dyepot and enroute to who is a logistics minefield.  OMG.

We had done it every week now for TWO years.  As soon as a panel was done on the casket, I would update my materials list in google docs so they could see what I was using and start planning - spooling a color for the number needed to see if it ran out.  294 elements in the kit and a few of them like the brass pulls are multiple elements which brings it to over 300 items.  300 items x 250 = 75,000 items that have to be individually packed onto spools, cut and knotted with more strands, put into larger plastic bags, labeled, etc.  And that does not include designing the threads and making them.  To give some perspective, a Frosting Box run typically has me packaging 13,000 items.  That takes about 6 months to do after a year of manufacturing time frame.  I have been packaging Harmony all year so far.

And we almost made it.  There was a ton of knowing laughter as so many points along the way roadblocks had been thrown up.  Halfway through we both flew to France and England to move stuff along faster with decision making, visiting the color vault to rename colors that had run out and reorder dye lots (see some of the reports from that trip here).  Half of the 'road blocks' I can't talk about as they are the minor disasters that happen to every company and would freak you out.  25% of them are of the shortage of labor type with now at least four major surgeries slowing the progress down to a crawl at some point in the two years.  Then there are the 'acts of god' that aren't mistakes, sickness or some other understandable disaster.  More on that later.

On that 2018 trip as I was at one company, which had just switched from a hard to understand dot matrix system for their orders/invoices to a new one and was having a hairy time getting it all lined up, we discovered a disaster.  I casually asked about the status of the purls.  I had ordered some 10,000 pieces.  The blank look was scary.  We discovered right then that my order had been lost in the spam filters of the internet and with the system change over making it impossible for me to track orders, neither of us knew.  We had just lost nine months of logistics and manufacturing time.  Ugh.

Today's status?  Well, one company will be working hard through the holidays to get me an item.  They aren't the original vendor as the original finally wasn't up to it.  When you finally realize you have to switch, it is painful.  Very painful as it takes awhile to get the new one up to speed and for you to sign off on the product.  But I know by the time the boxes flow again, we will be set with that item.  Then one missing part that had been exhausted in packing is at Heathrow this evening, so it is on the way and made 'last day to ship' to me.

We both banged our head on the table as we talked.  Au Ver a Soie, Access and I had pulled off a miracle and the last of the silks that I honestly thought wouldn't make it through dyeing were ready.  Had been ready for a week but the general strike in France had made it impossible to get it here for 'last day to ship'.  Once it arrives it has to be spooled down and then sent to me.  Are you kidding me.  National transport strike for a week and counting now!?  It will leave soon, but couldn't have predicted that.  I will be in Paris over Christmas and if I have to go get it and carry it back to the USA - I will.

Of course I couldn't have predicted half of the disasters that have befallen us along with way - but they aren't out of the ordinary.  It is ordinary for such things to happen in manufacturing.  I was once working on a heated jacket and the manufacturing of the remote control was in China.  Just before it was to ship to us in the US for Christmas fullfilment, a UPS flight went down in the middle east due to a battery fire on board.  Immediately all shipments of batteries in large quantities were banned on flights.  So the remotes had to be removed from their packaging in China, coin cell batteries removed, repacked and shipped to us in the US.  We were four months late to put them on a cargo ship retroactively.  We had to arrange a big truck of batteries to drive to the company location and had a massive 'battery party' to put the coin cells in the remotes with the little piece of paper and then repack.  So all of us in engineering and marketing spent a few days doing this.  It's not a lack of planning, it's just what happens.  I have learned not to freak out but to 'work the problem' and that is why I write these blog - so you know what is happening behind the scenes.  But there are days that I wistfully dream of a little ornament kit with four components.  Ha ha!!  That and I dream of stitching.

That is the truck with the shipping boxes.  They refuse to
carry it for me, so we have to unwrap the pallet and
bring 25 boxes at a time down the drive.
But sit back and think about it a little.  Each item of the 300+ items has to be ordered, tracked, made, discussed, shipped and packaged.  Counted and inventoried and kept track of where it is stored.  Access Commodities has been spooling for this course for over ONE YEAR!  Every week when there is excess time the spooling machine isn't doing someone else's order, a new color is picked up and run and put aside.  I haven't had the will to ask how many spools the machine can run in a day.   I think I don't want to know the answer!  Packaging has to be figured out, tested, ordered and labels designed.  Then there is the 'how does it get packaged and to the customer' process.  Boxes ordered to test pack and shipping box sizes calculated.

Where do you put it as it comes in?  Good question!!  Some of it stays at Access in boxes marked Harmony Casket and when I order, I mark down to take from 'Harmony Stock' on the standard order sheet as then they can go to the already spooled and saved silks.  It is sitting everywhere in the warehouse and they would really appreciate it if the class would sell out so they have room to move!

And just when I sat down to write this blog (Lamora suggested it as the behind the scenes is such an effort) - I got the call from the logistics company truck parked out front.  My order of boxes to pack this had arrived.  Today - 'of course' - ULINE sent it on a truck with a forklift.  That isn't what I want.  The guys in those trucks are only allowed to put it on the ground with their forklift on the pallet and then I am supposed to drive my forklift to get it.   Yeah... I don't have a forklift.  What I have is a very long driveway and a grumpy 14-yr old boy.  The driver was none too happy that I refused the pallet and my son and I did the long walk over and over and over with the packages of heavy boxes.  Now they are littering my family room and you can imagine my husband's sigh an hour ago when he came home, knowing that they all have to go somewhere and that a big pile of them means we are loosing our dining room and living room for a month.  And the days on the other end when I will beg people to help me load my truck for a week to take them to the post office.  My guess based on volume is it will take five trips to the post for the first shipment of this course.

As Lamora said today -
Just the effort to get all the stuff made and in one place is a book itself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Chasing the Lids

Not quite right, the brass was too soft and the chasing was too aggressive.  The edges deformed and the marks were too deep and thus didn't resemble the originals very well.  Off to start again
The next step was to make many blanks that would become the masters for the casting and do the chasing on the lids.  This wasn't as easy as we wanted, the brass that shapeways casts is softer than the hardware brass so the tool marks are deeper.

We reviewed the existing photos for all the inkwells I have seen in caskets and discussed what was common to them and what versions were rare.  We decided to go with some of the common patterns and tool marks.  This includes a rocking chasing mark that looks like a V.

The first set weren't going to work as they were too deep and even deformed the blank some.  So several more blanks were ordered.  Each time that happens, it is about a month or more to get!  And they are pricy as well since their are so many steps with the 3D printing of the wax, lost wax castings, polishing, etc.

The second time the chasing looked much more the depth of the originals and we thought it was worth sending them on to England to have the first batch of 10 pairs cast.  We needed to run through the assembly process with the batch braising and see how that worked and get good numbers on labor to assemble.
Much better the second time around.  

No edge deformation.  The piece isn't assembled yet as we needed them to be the blanks for the castings.
I can't tell you how excited I was to get a set of them - in tin coating and non-coated brass last week and slip them into the casket for the first time!  I left my casket open for a week to admire them!

Final versions, here a brass set (in a tin./silver casket).
Tinned version of the inkwells.  Looks fabolous!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Casting using Additive Manufacturing

So now off to get them made in brass.  We sent the CAD models to Shapeways and paid some expedited shipping to get them faster.  School was soon to start again!

First brass parts made using the CAD drawings.  First Shapeways 3D printed them in wax and then sent them to be cast via the lost wax process.  Each part goes through additional handling to remove any spouts and and overall brushing.  Later parts would be polished but not at first.
They fit!!  
It was an exciting day when the first parts arrived.  There were many things we needed to 'test' with these early prototypes.  First, would the pegs go through the holes!  Could we tap/smash the pin for the lids to keep them together and keep them rotating.  A big one was if the stopper peg could be bent over without breaking. That was a 90 degree bend and brass can embrittle (I won't elaborate on the metallurgy speak - but there were lots of discussions on this at home and with the brass foundry).  And the big thing - could we braise them together.

So now we get into 'David, your mom is weird and I like her'....David and I had to find some local braising help.  So let's jump into the car and go to an industrial welding supply place and learn things.  They found us funny.  David wandered the isles with huge eyes and begged for acetylene torches for his upcoming birthday while I discussed the intricacies of braising flux with the guys.   No, you can't have a huge torch as the other kids will play with your toys in the basement!!  And you can't have that in your dorm.  So instead we took off for a place my kids graduated to after the LEGO store - a place called You Do It Electronics.  This is a fantastic spot - like what Radio Shack was in the 50's I bet and the same guys still work there.  ha ha.  Of course they would have small hand held butane torches and the flux and
solder we were looking for.  Good enough for our tests and the torch was something that I gave him strict instructions to hide from the younger robot team which is full of 'fiddlers'.  (What's this?? Phoof!).

Give a teen boy a flame and they are happy.  So we spent a day in the basement trying against luck to put these pieces together.  In the end, it was ugly but they were together and we bent over the stopper without it breaking after different experiments heating things up.

Make-shift stand while we are trying to solder this inkwell together
Heating the pin.  This discolors the brass and may have been unnecessary as the cast brass was softer than rolled brass/

Bending the stopper pin over.
Ok, the first result.  Kinda ugly but we learned a great deal.  Not ready for prime time but a step in the journey.

So we had to do some modifications to the pieces, the walls of the bottom were just too thick and unnecessary and would drive up the cost.  So there was thinning of the model and trying to make the pegs still work.  We got on the phone with the brass guys and we all agreed that the round peg bent over just didn't look good at all if you knew what the originals should look like.  It just wasn't right.   So David had to go back and see if he could make a rectangular peg work.

Another round of CAD drawings, 3D prints at home, sending them off to Shapeways and weeks later a set comes back with some of our improvements.  This time I also remembered to have David make a version of the lid for the pounce pot too. Because of how 3D printing works, we were worried that the half dome wouldn't print well as it was unsupported as it prints but it was just shallow enough and small enough to work (we held our breath for the sample coming out of the bag).

Round 2 of 3D prints turned into brasses.  Note the rectangular pin now and you can't see the the base walls are thinner and thus takes less brass to make.

The pounce lid - it worked!!  If you look close, you might see the faint ridges around the rim that are the signs of 3D printing

So now it is a few weeks into school and David's roommate comes to see our place and the basement of wonderful toys.  David had lucked into the best roommate ever!  Someone who likes to tinker as much as he does and they were coming to squirrel away lots of tools and goodies from our stuff.  We actually have to search them when they leave and often while working on the robot and can't find stuff - we blame them and text.  "Yes... I took the soldering iron" (how did I miss that in the backpack!?).

So I had these pieces and asked the roomie if he knew about braising brass?  It wasn't long and they were both downstairs happier than pigs in s*it doing my work testing out the next set of prototypes.  These went much better and I was ready to start ordering blanks that were polished for the next test... engraving.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Picking up the Inkwells Again

So fast forward a few years and the landscape had changed a bit, there are more technologies in the hands of engineers and home-based makers to make things.  So by this time I had spoken with the person who makes my hardware and he was willing to make the brass bits but we couldn't quite get off the ground as he needed to make a prototype to use as a master for molding.

One of the early CAD models and a discussion of the
folded over stopper
During this time frame, my house was converted from Lego robot central to a metal robot place.  That meant skills were being learned by all the kids and equipment was moving in to our makeshift labs in the basement.  In 2012 when I had tabled the inkwells to the side, I had just bought my 12 year old son the first 3-D printer kit available.  By 2018 he was an expert and headed to college in mechanical engineering, had built and designed four 3-D printers, and made them operate at perfections that were beyond their original specs.  To do this, one of the things he had to learn was computer aided design.  And to help kids learn, and thus be partial to their software later in their professional careers, the big CAD companies were providing student licenses to FIRST teams.  So we now had a CAD system in the house and a bunch of kids running around learning how to use it as well as multiple computer aided manufacturing tools.

Also developing during this time frame was the services available to people with CAD or 3-D printers.  If your printer wasn't good enough or you didn't have one, you could send your design to a company called Shapeways and they would print it.  This is the beginning of a revolution in 'additive manufacturing' or 'desktop manufacturing'.  If you look at the Shapeways site, you can see that they innovated 3-D printing in wax.  And once you have a high resolution wax, you can use lost wax casting and make metal parts!  So jewelry makers are now using CAD and 3-D printing to make rings and other complex jewelry that would have been hard to make before.

Later when you see the bottle story, you will realize the ah-ha moment.  A moment when I needed to make changes and instead of going back to the professional company I had originally worked with, I realized I could do them here.  And it was that point that I did the huge head slap and realized I could unstick the inkwells in my own basement!

Printing the first model
It was December 2018 and my son was returning from a first semester in London and he was stir crazy.  It had been a very stressful first semester (the academic program had fallen apart and took intervention from the US university, making it really chaotic for the kids) and he had no things to 'make' with him.  As embroiderers, we can understand that need to tinker and create to release stress.  So as soon as he arrived home, I proposed the inkwell project as a way to give him a goal to make something.

He dove in, and of course by this time it was child's play for him.  But never the less, he was excited to work on something - anything... So we got out all the pictures of historic pieces, he measured stuff, looked at proportions, and started making me CAD models of the inkwells.  Once models were made, he started 3-D printing them with his best printer (after he fixed it, tuned it, and generally walked around complaining about all of us neophytes who messed it up while he was in Europe!).  So from my conversations with the brass boundary, the assembly of these little inkwells in the way they were made in the 17th century posed problems.  We would need to make three tiny pins, two of which looked like nails.  One would go through the rotating lid and be smashed on the back to form the hand on the lid.  The second would go through both the sliding lid and the square lid and be smashed to allow them to connect and swing.  The third was rectangular and was soldered in place, bent over.   That was a lot of fiddly work.

The first finished model of the inkwell.  note the extra piece and that the lid with hole had a peg coming out of it.

So after playing with the 3-D printing objects, we had started down the road of integrating some of the pieces into each other, since I was considering casting the pieces and not cutting them out of brass sheet stock.  This was doable, make the handle of the lid part of the lid and maybe make the pin that had to be smashed to hold the lid for the pivot part of the square lid.  You see that thought process in the blue 3-D print.
A printed 3x version of the inkwell in the
new manufacturing idea

But the bent rectangle piece was still going to be a pain.  That is when David came up with a great
idea.  What if he made the pegs come out of the square bottom and we get rid of the irregular pewter piece.  We could put holes in the square lid and the pegs would serve as a way to orient all the pieces before the brass-to-brass soldering (actually called brazing) happened.  This was a brilliant idea!  Oven brazing of dozens of brass parts can be done at once, it is a known process and can be outsourced.  The pegs would keep the parts in place and then we would just need to tap smash the one pin and bend the other over.

Now that we had an interesting manufacturing process idea, would it work??  Needless to say, we spent days of the Christmas vacation working on it.  First was making a new set of CAD models and printing them at a larger scale to work on the peg system.  David was concerned the the resolution of the holes would be a problem on his machine.

So now that it was big scale, we needed a small scale brass version to test with.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Brass Bits

The cuts of the shears can be seen on the edges of the pieces
(Private Colleciton)
The rest of the inkwell was a bit more complicated.  Looking at them, it was pretty clear that rolled brass sheet was being cut by massive metal working shears.  Often the cuts were a bit rough and not always straight.  This showed up even more clearly in the little rotating cap.  Many were truly cut with the same lack of precision as any cheep items that would go into this box.  It does tell you quite a bit about the perspective these boxes held in the period.

Looking at the engraving, it was a common rocking engraving with a sharp tool that was pivoted (rocked) as the person hit the end and made the V grove with the extra divot at the bottom of the V where the rocking happened.  The engravers didn't take a lot of care as noted by the overlapping of the lines in many places.

I went out and talked to several engravers until I found someone willing to discuss the project.  I was thinking of using him to engrave a set of brass blanks that could be used for casting masters.  One problem I had was that the pieces just couldn't be cut out with shears like before.  They would have to be laser cut, stamped out or cast.  Which way to go???

Rough edges of the slip cast pewter being filled by the
solder that was used too connect the tin-plated brass top
And how would I put them together?  Looking at originals, it was pretty obvious that the slip cast pewter pieces often were rough at the top; requiring quite a bit of solder to fill the gaps and often they weren't filled.  I was also concerned that any process would use a low enough temperature solder to keep from heat treating the brass and thus discoloring it during the making as it was very thin.  A solder for brass to pewter isn't something known about so I tabled the project for awhile as I was also working on the cap to the bottles - which was also pewter.  And of course, the casket project courses were now in full swing and I was both busy and we didn't have a final number of caskets of the type that needed inkwells.  I already knew that the pewter bottoms would have to be cast in numbers of 500 at Danforth Pewter.  So knowing the final number was important.  Therefore, I had some years before I would need to pick this up again.