Monday, September 28, 2015

What is the Frostings Club?

For those who have more recently found this spot, you might have missed the discussion about 18+ months ago about a thread club, which I am now calling the Frostings Club.

This is the natural extension of years and years of thread development that started with The Plimoth Jacket.  Back when I got involved in the project, I was well aware that the threads I had been studying under high magnification on 17th century pieces were not in my local needlework store.  But it is these unique threads that either enabled the look or mechanics of the stitches that we love so much.  So I used the project to get two specific threads made: Gilt Sylke Twist and #4 Passing on Silk.  It took the coordination of two companies, a distributer and myself with the addition of the market (you all - through classes) to get the threads off the ground.  It was a resounding success and all the begging and wrangling were worth it.

Any time a thread is made, a certain minimum amount needs to be made.  That minimum is dependent on the construction of the thread, if machines are available, if dying needs to be originated or if the raw dyed materials are available as well as the yield on the process itself.  That batch has to be paid for outright by the teacher and/or distributor who ordered it.  So to get a new thread, there has to be a way to consume more than half of it to recoup the money invested, otherwise it will never happen.

So after the success of the jacket, I started trying for silk purls.  There had been activities with gold thread makers for years on and off and the samples always ended up being rayon.  So I had some heart-to-heart talks and realized what the biggest problems were to getting silk.  They were (1) the makers didn't think anyone would buy silk as it would be expensive so they weren't going to add that to their product line and (2) they didn't have a way to buy silk of the right weight and twist.  So I had to provide a market AND solve the technical problems of the silk supply.  Providing a market is usually going out on a limb and ordering enough of something that the manufacturer will make it the way you want instead of asking them to come up with a new product and you will take only a few tubes.  Then coming up with classes and hoping others will like to take them.  But again... it was a success and now silk purls are on the market (with a seeming never ending thirst for them!).

So with these under my belt, I decided to tackle the casket and had wrestled for years on the best way to do it.  After much work with smaller classes to get other threads prototyped in a small number of colors (thick silk gimp), the way was smoothed and I was ready to jump.  The only way would be to design a set of classes that would have big kits full of materials that everyone would get.  If everything went well, there would be enough students to receive the 1/2 of the batches and it would allow us to bring back a ton of threads/materials and to design them in the colors that matched the back of original embroideries.

You know the answer to that question - it worked and we have a plethora of new threads and materials and in a large color range!  Four kits in two classes.  But then I could see on the horizon that the classes were ending and I didn't know what kind of vehicle I would use to get more threads made, as we hadn't exhausted the things we saw that we wanted.  We would be returning to the time when we might see a new thing in only 1-2 colors every other year when I was able to find a venue to design and teach a new class; and that was tremendously disappointing.

So the Frostings Club was devised.  A way to have enough people together to purchase the first run of the threads so the flow of new threads doesn't stop - because many of us have this big casket project and we don't need a new class - we need more materials!  I did a big survey of my students and factored in their responses to what they would like to see as well as correlated my yearnings and the comments by dozens of students over the years.

In my travels to the actual plants, I often saw things that 'exist' meaning a sample has been made special for a museum but it isn't made and distributed to needlework stores.  Some of those items would be amazing in the box.  Sometimes we dug through boxes of prototypes or tools and found things that could be adapted to match 17th century items.  Sometimes the items selected were colors that when I stepped back are missing from our historic collection and to origin the dying, we need to include it.   Sometimes we were opening up a new European manufacturer and bringing in existing threads to a new audience.  In all cases, the amounts that go in the box are useful and can be directly applied to the genre of 17th century embroidery and stumpwork.  I define useful as what you would need to execute the most likely project you would do -- so not samples -- but tubes and lengths that would normally be sold in retail.  There will be some small projects and examples that are timed with the boxes as well as a contest on creative uses with some of the materials.

So this has been a big gamble... something not tied to a class.  I am hoping that it works so we can launch upon the next sets!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Frostings Club is Open!

After a wait of forever, the first two installments of the Frostings Club is available to be ordered.  I have decided to group the first 60 threads into two packages to be the most efficient on shipping costs, especially for those overseas.  The shipments will be made in early December 2015 and March 2016.

The club can be paid for in full or monthly over a period of 6 months.  There will be 475 spots in the club.  While I can't ruin the surprise of the curated threads, what I can say is that they are all appropriate for 17th century embroidery types and especially for stumpwork.  There are new colors of your favorite threads, new constructions, gold and silver threads you may never have seen before, silk trims that will delight, and new lines of silk never available in these colors.  For some of the threads, they will be in extremely limited number and for some, this club was the kick in the pants to get them made and they may stay in our lexicon for longer.

It was an enormous challenge to get to this point.  We certainly did not anticipate the Au Ver a Soie fire in the middle of manufacturing - which contributed highly to the time to be ready to announce.  We have expanded the number of companies in the 'ancient textile business' that are making threads for this work, but that brought up some interesting and unexpected challenges.  An interesting and yet scary trend was companies who were initially excited to work with us to create these reproductions and then had to say no after we did our trial runs.

Silk Coil - Silk Gimp around a silk core
- think super soft silk purl
I want to explore that topic for a minute... Industries can shrink to the point where they no longer can handle large business that comes in the door.  That is the case here!  If you bring an order that greatly effects their business and haven't been a long term customer, management must decide if they will go out on a limb and hire and train a new workforce (if they even can!) or if they just can't take the business because it jeopardizes their existing, longstanding one.  To get some of the fantastic threads I want and we have viewed under the microscope, other industries which make trims were approached.  They already make some of the constructions and incorporate them into their trims.  Initially many were very excited that we only wanted components, but quickly they realized that the numbers we were describing were huge and beyond what they ever make on a daily basis.  They normally focus on short runs so they can maximize their color variations.  They trade-off efficiency of production technology with variation so they can have a large product line.  Or in other words, they can easily make a few yards of anything - but can they make miles of one?

Thick Silk Rococo
After long discussions and careful color dying to match our existing lines, we embarked on trials to see what technical limitations and yields they had for some of these exotic threads.  What was a huge surprise to many was how hard it was to scale up to the volumes we needed for the club.  Some threads made it through the wickets and we all agreed that they could go forward and you will find them there.  Some were so labor intensive to do in volume that the companies decided not to go forward lest they commit their labor force to this project entirely.

Flat Wrapped Silk Band - Easy
way to make garlands
That is a stunning realization.  We are still working forward to see if there are other companies still left with the capacities and equipment and
interest.  Maybe in our next sessions of the Frostings Club we will have solved this conundrum for some of the dreamy things I want you to have!  In the meanwhile, we had to capitalize the trials to see if we could scale up and those threads are being offered now as Limited Edition threads - and are very limited in package numbers (around 100 or so).

So if they are interesting to you - grab what you would like to use.  I certainly hope that we can solve our technical/scale/business issues with some of these complex threads and later bring them to market in a wider variety.

And I hope you will join the Frostings Club and validate the idea and help to recapitalize the funds to make more new threads!  There are at least enough in manufacturing, in process, or on the drawing board to fill up another Session!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Blogging + Kids = Null

My gosh it is quiet around here this morning.  School has started late this year and with an amazing number of days off and 1/2 days.  So as of today - I have had only three days in September without a kid home.  And Tuesday is a half day for one and Wednesday is another day off school for the other!  Can't a working parent get a break!?

Given that summer camps all stop about August 15th - that has been a pretty long run without a break to actually work.  I got so desperate to catch up some that I had a little army working putting stickers on bags and things like that - but they are highly distractible and if a better offer comes up - they are off that task.  The bar for a better offer is pretty low of course!  And usually it is something that causes chaos around my working conditions.   And while my office is way upstairs and has a door... you never do that with stinky boys in the house.  During this time, the robot challenge came out and they have been prototyping and more stinky boys arrive (better offer than labeling kits).  I just can't leave them in the basement doing this alone and out of hearing distance... so I trudge to the first floor and listen as they make a heavy cube and ball shooter to launch these projectiles into a 4 foot high box (I could just kill the game designers every year).  I have to monitor what they are saying as they are quite creative to try to solve the problems.  "No, you can't make a slingshot in my basement!" "Hey - I heard that ball hit the ceiling!"  "That better not have made a dent in the wall!"

So you can imagine how excited I was when the first day came last week that I would be alone to work, but the painters called and said they would arrive in an hour unexpectedly.  I had been waiting for three months and they were finally able to start.  Couldn't say no.  So no less than seven rooms and the two staircases were draped in plastic and tarps, including my workroom and packing room.  Fixing the snow dam leaking damage from last winter. (crazy thing - they said I was the first to get painted from snow damage - they had been backed up with work from the explosion of people who wanted work done after the recession started to lessen, the snow damage hasn't been paid out yet by insurance - so no one will get contractors for the next year as they are already all quoted out for a year).

I don't know what to do first! Put my workroom back together again after all the contracting? Pack boxes? Fill orders? Finish instructions? Get things up on the shop website?  I am running around like a chicken with her head cut off with the shear possibilities of GETTING SOMETHING DONE!   Exciting stuff is piling up here that people have been wanting - I have casket feet, new type of caskets, new threads (and some big surprise threads), the frosting club registration pages to go up...  Yikes!  The boxes around here have been piled high for weeks - yet I just couldn't get some things out of them for the shear stinky boy bodies that were everywhere.  (In my house if you have one stinky boy - you have three - it multiplies by attracting more stinky boys).  Then my sister-in-law's dog gets excited by the stench (she is living with us until her contractors are done with her water damage!  Nine months and counting now) and jumps around them - which sets off the parrot (yes - another freeloader pet living here due to water damage).  At that point it is pretty hard to get anything done with the dog barking, kids running around with snacks and balls and robot parts, and the parrot adding its opinion.

So today the quiet is almost deafening - it is the most amazing sound I have heard in a long time!

It kinda reminds me of that classic commercial!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Stupidity of People

I am mad this morning.  I am soooo mad.  I spend an unbelievable amount of my time and resources with children who have no outlet at schools that don't understand kids interested in engineering and read this article about a child who loves robotics and tinkering and was in the robotics club in middle school and becomes a freshman in high school where there is less opportunity to do this kind of stuff.  So he is looking for his 'tribe' of people and builds a clock out of electronic parts (by the way, a project that is on the front pages of maker magazines constantly, educational websites, and tons of kits in stores) and takes it to high school and shows his engineering teacher who tells him to put it away and then the police come and arrest the kid -- BECAUSE HE IS MUSLIM (just read what the police say).  I am sorry - he looks like a 'nerd' to me - not a terrorist.  Common sense people.  Common sense.   When you read it - the kid did NOTHING out of the ordinary where you could even read the reasons for doubt in the teacher's minds.  No threats, jokes, nothing.  This is a common occurrence and bigotry at work.

He has been suspended from school and is in juvenile detention and has never said anything other than - 'it is a clock I built'.  He was paraded out of school in handcuffs in front of the student body.  That could have been my child who takes his 3-D printed widgets to school daily to show friends and discuss what he made the night before (my child is also brown eyed, dark haired and light brown skinned).  This is exactly how I counseled my child to meet like-minded kids to make friends last year when he started attending a school where he knew no-one.  'Go to the robot meeting and see who is there from your classes, bring some widgets and show them around, you'll find some kids who are interested and make friends!'.

The last line of the article is heartbreaking - "he has vowed never to take an invention to school again".  But worse is that this legal nightmare is not over for him and his family - he still hasn't been allowed back to school.

Uneducated Bigots.  This is why this EVIL diatribe around immigration and non-white skinned people is WRONG and people need to stop promoting it and watching it and staying silent.  When a bright kid can't invent in his hometown and put together educational materials because his skin isn't white - our country will NEVER BE GREAT AGAIN.

This child - properly encouraged - could have been the one to develop low cost electric cars, a way to
 Why has our country become this??  Where the image
 of the nerd wearing a NASA shirt is a terrorist and
 those (yes, same state) on the right are not and ok.  
protect against concussions, a new cure for a disease - now he knows that being smart and innovative is a straight shot to the jail cell as well as the hundreds of other kids in that high school that witnessed this happening.   Better to put your head down and play video games instead of tinker with your hands and understand how things work.   Is this the society we want?

This brings me back to our high priced private school where teachers would get glassy eyed when David would tell them about his robots and his meetings with patent attorneys and the conference he was going to in Austria.  They would pat him on the head verbally and mumble things about how it was great he liked to play with LEGOs  They were sooooo technically illiterate at the most basic level that they couldn't even begin to comprehend what he was doing and so swept it aside as toys.  But I guess better than call the cops on him!  He felt so ignored and small there.  Imagine how this child feels!?

Just a few of the electronic clock kits on MakerShed this week.
From Amhed's description of his device - it looked like one
of these with a digital display.  Not the large board in his picture.
When I go to the local electronics store - there must be a dozen
such kits for kids there! 
As I write this, my robot team member that just moved to Germany for the year has been texting me from there (after school I presume now).  He is chomping on the bit to get our telepresence robot up and running so he can Skype in and work in my basement remotely and is asking me questions (it is 8 am here - on a Wednesday).  That is the power of ENCOURAGEMENT instead of punitive actions.  He could be playing video games and sulking over being overseas away from his friends but instead he is taking creative positive steps to keep engaged in activities this child was trying to do.

Read Twitter today.  #IStandWithAhmed.  Amazing the
luminaries who are coming out in support of this kid.  And
what a totally dumb spokesperson.  "A clock tells time, I wanted
build one.  End of story".  And by the way dimwits, a clock has to be
connected to a fuse and explosives.  DUH.

The best way to make a radical -- exclude them from mainstream society and sideline them for no reason.  Way to go.

My next step is to help some of my engineering friends track this kid down and let him know that the
greater community thinks he is special.  We should all send a note to his school and police department telling them how wrong they are.