Friday, January 28, 2011

Trying to Figure Out One of Those Niggling Problems: Copyright Follow Up

In a follow up to this post from two days ago, I heard back from the copyright office!

Here's what I wrote:
My question relates to what I believe to be a derivative work. I've just read through Circular 92 and Circular 14. I'm a crocheter, and I design and make dolls to sell. I've been asked, as part of my business, if I would be willing to do commissions in the form of creating dolls or the patterns to make dolls from existing intellectual properties. For example, I've been asked to make a crochet pattern for the creation of a Swedish Chef doll - a character from the Muppet Show. In order to make this doll, I look at photographs of the character in question, and then I use my knowledge of crochet to write a completely original pattern, which can in turn be used to crochet a doll that resembles the Swedish Chef. Based on what I've read today, I believe that this pattern (and any doll that I made from it) would be a derivative work, and therefore I would need permission from the copyright holder of the Muppet Show in order to have a claim to the copyright on what I created and thus also to sell this derivative work. Is this a correct interpretation? If not, how would something like this work?

The answer is simple and straightforward:
"Yes, you are correct. A new work that is based on or incorporates a preexisting work can be considered a derivative work. Generally, the copyright owner of the original work has the right to authorize the creation of a derivative work."

Ya know, everyone, I'm a little shocked that this is a continual debate in craft forums I see. It seems pretty straightforward, and I solved in two hours of research and a single e-mail. To sum up:

If you live in the United States, and you wish to make for the purposes of sale a pattern or doll that is a representation of a current character, for legal purposes this is called a derivative work. To create this sort of derivative work for purposes of selling it, you would need permission from the original copyright holder.

Yes, copyright holders usually look the other way. Yes, some give blanket permission. Yes, by creating a pattern you have created something new and different and interesting and cool and you do get to have the rights to the pattern that you created - but that doesn't appear to change that if you want to sell it, you would need permission, end of story.

I know that this won't end any debates for other people, but for me, it does. I am going to finish the first project I've ever taken on that violates these rules, and then I am never going to do so again. (the Alot doesn't count, because she gives blanket permission...though I won't be selling the pattern anyway). Sure, creating derivative works (in the legal sense, not in an insulting one!) is fun sometimes, and certainly creating dolls of well known characters would drive up sales and create business, but I know I have the creativity to create and market my own designs - I don't need a crutch. So from now on, I will only do original designs, or interpretations so loose that they would not fit the legal definition of "derivative."

Hope someone finds some of this helpful! Edited to add: Note that this does NOT constitute legal advice, nor does the letter that I received from the copyright office! This is only basic interpretation of copyright law, much of it by me - and I'm not even vaguely an expert. If you really plan to get involved with something like this, talk to a lawyer!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trying to Figure Out One of Those Niggling Problems: Copyright

Okay. On Ravelry forums, I constantly see conversations batting about the same questions that apply to me (and I'm specifically discussing US copyright law):

1. Does it violate copyright to sell a doll that I've created based on an existing intellectual property? The prime example I've got of that is the Alot, though it also applies to a current project.

2. Does it violate the copyright to sell the pattern that I've created that would enable someone else to make this same doll?

I hear a lot of guesses and a lot of contradiction, but no one seems to really know. One thing I do know, is that - copyright-wise - a crafter is perfectly within their rights to sell a finished object created from a pattern, with or without the designer's permission. So that's a non-issue.

However, these other two apply to me. I don't want to violate the law if I can help it, so I decided that the time has come to really figure this out. First, I read through a lot of threads in the Copyright Matters group on Ravelry, and found it mostly unhelpful. It did reveal a second layer of this problem to me: there's copyright, and then there is trademark, and both are relevant to this discussion.

Anyway, now I'm at, and I'm reading through the copyright law, and if I don't take notes, I'll forget things, and I thought this might be helpful to others, so hi! Welcome to my post on notes about this issue, as taken from the US Copyright Office "Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 18 of the US Code, Circular 92". (and I'll note - this post is pretty long, but if you skip to close to the bottom, I do find a probable answer, and you can skip all the in between :) )

Definitions: the circular starts with definitions. A few of them are definitely applicable to what I'm dealing with:
"A work is 'created' when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time; where a work is prepared over a period of time, the portion of it that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the work as of that time, and where the work has been prepared in different versions, each version constitutes a separate work."

"A 'derivative work' is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a 'derivative work'."

I think this one is particularly important, because a crochet pattern to create a doll that is inspired by another source is clearly a derivative work.

"To 'display' a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images nonsequentially."

My guess is that this previous applies more to, for example, showing a movie in a public space (which is contrary to those FBI warnings at the beginning of films) - or to whole-sale using images from other people's works as an icon, webpage image, etc. Which everyone does all the time, but is technically not allowed except when it can pass as fair use (if I'm understanding stuff right).

"The term 'financial gain' includes receipt, or expectation of receipt, of anything of value, including the receipt of other copyrighted works."

Financial gain, aka, the actual goal of all this.

"'Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works' include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans. Such works shall include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned; the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article."

Hehe, I'm a sculptor...

"'Publication' is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication."

They also define work for hire, but I'm going to dodge that bullet entirely - though I think that in the future I should make it clear to folks who commission patterns from me that I do NOT consider them to be works for hire - that I'm selling them one copy of a pattern that I've written (on their behalf) but retain my rights to sell it to other folks. (I know a little about work for hire because most of the work I do as part of my day job qualifies as this).

Okay! So those are the definitions I think are most relevant to what I'm doing. Here goes...

"Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories: ...(5) pictorial, graphic and sculptural works"

So, first incredibly simple and non-contested answer: I own the copyright to my own patterns.

The follow up, and one that is VERY important to crafters, is the proof of what I said above (about finished objects):

"In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

Can't get any more straight forward than that!

The next section moves on to compilations and derivative works.
1. "The subject matter of copyright as specified by [the stuff I just copied above] includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully."

My Attempt at Translation: copyright extends to a derivative work, but if it uses actual preexisting material, that cannot be copyrighted by another user. For example, if I make a pattern in which I write 2/3 myself and then copy in a long bit of pattern that I found on the internet, my 2/3 is copyrighted to me but if I've gone beyond fair use with my copying of the rest, I have no copyright on it. Also, this means that I can't take a bunch of patterns copyrighted by others, toss them in to a compilation, and claim copyright on the non-original parts.

2. "The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material."

This would seem to suggest that a pattern that I created all of might not violate a pre-existing copyright UNLESS I were to, for example, include original photographs/drawings by the original artists, or directly copy some of their text as a description.

The next few sections aren't relevant, and then it goes on to discuss what the rights of a copyright holder are. To give a synopsis of how this applies in my own particular case, it's pretty simple: I own the copyright to a pattern I've written, I can reproduce it as I wish, I can develop derivatives of my own work, I can sell it, I can make it. I have the right to claim ownership, and (interestingly specified) I have the right to disclaim ownership of anything I didn't create, were it to be attributed to me. Hmm...there's some hints in this section that it might be kosher to make dolls of existing work and to sell the patterns, but it's not that clear.

Next there's a little section about fair use. It matches pretty closely what I learned in my MLS classes. But it doesn't really apply to what I'm doing, it really relates directly to reproducing existing copyrighted material.

The next few sections talk about limitations on exclusive rights. It's pretty thick, but in and among the exemptions, it's clear that many of these rules are intended to protect teachers, cable providers, those who bleep out curse words, non-profit uses, and other such things. So far none of it has been applicable.

Then there are a few sections that talk about what rights ARE exclusive. And a few other sections on specific types of stuff, none of which is terribly helpful. Hmm...

On to chapter 2! (but first, I'm taking a break. And eating some pie)

Not sure this is relevant: "Ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from ownership of any material object in which the work is embodied. Transfer of ownership of any material object, including the copy or phonorecord in which the work is first fixed, does not of itself convey any rights in the copyrighted work embodied in the object; nor, in the absence of an agreement, does transfer of ownership of a copyright or of any exclusive rights under a copyright convey property rights in any material object."

I think this would relate more to the finished object question (which is already settled) than to a derivative work.

Wow, not much to Chapter 2. Chapter 3! Chapter 3 is also fast - it's all about the duration of copyrights - interesting but not related to my current search. Chapter 4! Chapter 4 is all about giving notice of copyright. It suggests that if I keep doing this it would be worth registering my copyrights, but otherwise doesn't have much to contribute. Chapter 5 pertained to infringement, but it mostly gives blanket statements about what to do if the already delineated rights are violated - which didn't really answer my question. It also talks about the possible punishments. So I decided to pause and go back to the main page and see if I could find something more specific about derivative works... this! Copyright Registration for Derivative Works (Circular 14). "Any work in which the editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations or other modifications represent, as a whole, an original work of authorship is a derivative work or a new version. A typical derivative work registered in the Copyright Office is a primarily new work but incorporates some previously published material. The previously published material makes the work a derivative work under copyright law. To be copyrightable, a derivative work must differ sufficiently from the original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new material...the new material must be original and copyrightable in itself."

It then gives some examples that make things very, very clear. Here's the one that demonstrates that the dolls I'm trying to figure out about are, in fact, legally derivative works: example: "sculpture (based on a drawing); drawing (based on a photograph); motion picture (based on a play)." So this is an important first step: because my works are derivative works, I am the copyright holder - and this is allowed. "The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time." So if I make a completely original doll and pattern based on an existing copyrighted material, I'm in the clear. HOWEVER! It also reiterates what I found before: "in any case where a protected work is used unlawfully, that is, without the permission of the copyright owner, copyright will not be extended to the illegally used part." And here is the answer: "only the owner of a copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work."

Well then. That reads a whole lot like that. If I want to make a derivative work of any work that is not in the public domain, I would need the permission of the copyright holder. So, to make the alot or to sell a pattern of it, I would have to have the permission of the author of Hyperbole and a Half.

I think this is pretty conclusive - even without touching on the trademark part, which is - I'm sure - a whole other can of worms. (which I just read about here - and I found this useful site where you can search to see if something is trademarked in the US! Playing around with some terms from Harry Potter, it's pretty interesting...). However, I'm going to write to the Copyright Office and describe my situation, just to be sure.

So! I know that this is a long post, and a bit rambling, and that I could cut it down and just go right to the chase, but I don't know, I think sometimes it's useful to see the process that other people go through. Anyway, I'm off to write to the government, then I'm going to eat another piece of pie. And go to sleep. Cause I woke up at 4:45 this morning and have to wake up at 5:30 tomorrow and I'm just a bit loopy. :)

(and by the way, based on marker 105, I've violated no copyright by copying and pasting all this stuff in to my blog - works generated by the US Government aren't subject to copyright in the same way, which I already knew. ;) )

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photography Print Survey Results!

I was waiting for a 24 hours period to pass with no answers. That still hasn't happened! It's only be 14 hours...but I didn't want to wait any longer. Anyway, I think the main consensus is pretty clear and not likely to change all that much.

So! Here are the results. 26 people took my survey!! Thanks, everyone! I was hoping for a minimum of 10 replies, so I was really excited to get so many.

To the question of how many prints I should do, there was no majority, but 10 prints received the most votes (7) followed by 5 prints (6 votes) - so I'll launch this experiment with somewhere around 10 prints.

In reverse order, the top vote receivers were...

11. "Snow Fountain" (10 votes)

10. "Squiggly Trees" (11 votes)

9. "Columbine" (11 votes)

8. "Angel in the Snow" (11 votes)

7. "Bee on a Sunflower" (12 votes) - tied with Water on a Lotus Leaf for top nature pic.

6. "Water on a Lotus Leaf" (12 votes) - tied with Bee on a Sunflower for top nature pic.

5. "Big Ben and Parliament" (12 votes) - the only foreign image with more than 10 votes!

4. "Harlem Meer" (13 votes)

3. "A Snowy Day in New York City" - the most popular of the snow images, with 14 votes.

2. "St. Thomas Church" (14 votes)

And the winner, the only pic to get 15 votes - that's 62.5% of my total survey takers, IS....

(drum role)


1. "Lady Bug on My Book" - most popular of the New York City life images!

There were a few surprises, too. For example, the sunset on the intrepid image, a personal favorite of mine, only got two votes. Only one image in the whole survey ("By Whatever Means You Can) got no votes.

Four people skipped the last question, but of the 22 who answered it, 21 said that I should do this (and the last said that I should do prints but not with these pics - guess they have high standards but thought I had potential!)

So I'm thinking I'll do a release with 12 prints - the 11 top vote receivers, plus one lucky winner, my "Snow in the Heights" image:

Though it only got 8 votes (and lowering the cap to 8 would cause four other images to make it) I've gotten more positive feedback and favorites on this image than any other I've ever put up (even though I don't think it's the best, go fig!) and people have actually bought it before, so I think I'd be remiss in omitting it.

I've also gotten two sources for prints with multiple recommendations: WHCC and MPIX, so I'll be looking in to both.

Once again, thanks so much for your help! If you haven't taken the survey and would like to, I'm still accept votes, you can take it at: survey monkey!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fine Art Prints

Today, I got an e-mail from the Female Photographers of Etsy Team (of which I am a member). They're trying to get us more active and involved, which I think is awesome (my Etsy teams are one of my social media sources that has fallen through the cracks of late) and to communicate some news. One of the pieces of news was a change to the team policy: they want us to include Fine Art Prints of our photography in our shops as part of membership, as they say that this is the "bread and butter" of the sale of photography.

Oof. I don't sell prints at all. The entire time I've been selling photography (a year, now) I've only sold 3 8 x 10s. However, it IS something that has really been on my mind. So since I like the team and would like to stay, and have been thinking about fine art prints, I thought I'd go ahead and get moving on this. And for this, I need your help!

First, I know some of you are artists. If you do prints, where do you get them done? I mean, I could get photography prints at Snapfish, but I can't escape the feeling that I might be able to get much nicer looking ones. I thought at least I'd see if anyone can tip me off to a good source - fast, reasonably priced, offer a variety of sizes - or at least warn me against any bad sources.

Second, if you have, oh, 10 minutes, I've put together a survey. See, the big question for me, looking at the Prints part of this, is which photographs should I offer as prints. When I first opened the photography part of the shop, my thought was to sell cards, and then if someone requested a print, I would get it custom printed for them (this has happened all of once, by the way). However, I know that the extra step surely drives people off. On the other hand, I have NO idea if prints will sell, and I don't want to keep a lot of prints (and therefore have a high initial outlaying of money) and then have none of them sell. So I was thinking - maybe I should do a pilot program. Get some input from ya'll, with your awesome artistic sensibility, and select, say, 10 images that people like best. In order to pick these 10 images, I've put up a survey on Surveymonkey.

Click here to take the survey!

For example, here's one my favorites that I sold the card long ago so most of you have probably not seen:

(so that I don't have a post without a single image)

Thanks in advance for your help, everyone.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Bear for a Good Cause

In December, I did a repost of this original post over on Stacey Trock's Fresh Stitching blog. The idea was simple: The Casey Cares Foundation was (and still is) collecting amigurumi dolls to give to children who are going to be in hospice care. This is near and dear to my heart as a cause. I've always loved stuffed toys, and as a little girl, my mom (or, less often, my dad or brother) would often buy me a new dolly for me to cuddle while I was sick, and so I know first hand how much better one feels when there's a friend there to keep you company! And these children are much, much more sick than I ever was.

So! I've designed and made my contribution to these brave kids! I'll probably make some more in the future, but this is a start.

This is my charity Bear. I haven't given him a name and personality yet, though he'll end up with one (I am planning to ultimately sell the pattern, though I'd like to refund the cost to people who demonstrate that they have donated the doll to charity).

He's a BIG bear. He's, like, 2 feet from top of the ears to bottom of the feet. It's bigger than they needed to be, but, well, I tried to think about what I would want out of a doll if I was in these childrens position - I would one that would be my friend and could stand up to being dragged around, dressed up for tea parties, used as home base in a baseball game...I would want one that was big and cuddle and I just tried to put it together like that!

There were some trials and tribulations while making him. I had originally planned to do him all out of the homespun that I made the head out of, but, well, I misjudged my sizing a bit, and the result was that I used all of the homespun, plus an entire thing of Vanna's Choice that I had around, and then a fragment of another Vanna's choice. I feel a little bad that it's in three different yarns (all of which were just what I had around) but they all match, and I think I managed to make it look intentional - once I realized I was going to have to use multiples I tried to do so in a way that made some amount of sense. So shhh, don't tell. :)

So now I just need to get my hands on a marker, write a cute note from the bear to his new mommy or daddy, toss in an actual note to the Foundation about the doll and a warning about children with allergies (cause it's impossible for me not to get dog hair all over things that I make), box it all up and ship it!

I hope to have the pattern ready to go sometime next month. If you'd like to make the doll for the charity before the 2/1 deadline, get in touch - I can send it as is, though it's definitely not a final draft and may have a mistake or two in it.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Pattern, Old Pattern!

Just a quick post to let everyone know, I've officially released the Santana Squid pattern, and I've also re-released Julie Jellyfish!

Santana Squid is a squid who loves to pitch; you can read more about him in this post and this post. He comes in two versions, the one shown above, and one in which he's wearing a baseball uniform! Both patterns are included in the same PDF.

He's available for sale for $2 from Ravelry and Etsy.

Julie Jellyfish just wants to have fun and swim the oceans of the world! She also can be made two ways - one with short tentacles, and the one shown above, with long tentacles. Both patterns are included in the same PDF.

Julie is available for sale for $2 from Ravelry and Etsy

It's worth mentioning, too, that I currently have finished versions of all of these dolls available for people who don't want to make them - none are listed, but if you're interested, get in touch! :)

Have a great weekend, every one!

Friday, January 7, 2011


I've been having a lot of trouble getting used to balancing my new year obligations - specifically, my decision to start my novel has negatively impacted my crafting time. I'm going to have to find a balance - and I think it'll get easier when each days worth of writing doesn't require that I do hours of research (I'm averaging about 2 hours of research to write 3 pages of text - some days as little as an hour but most more like 3 or even more). Needless to say, if I'm working all day then researching and writing for hours, it's hard to find a block of time in which to crochet! Still, I have been working on my free pattern (the first version looks very cute but doesn't work cause the darn thing won't stand up! Which stinks, cause I made two before I realized it!), and I'll be taking another project on the train today instead of bringing a book. So things are moving along!

However, I didn't want to put off posting longer, and I've got some shots for a post I've been planning, so might as well get it up here!

We all have busy times and complex lives, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who considers home something of a sanctuary (even though I work at home). But with limited space, I think what we choose to display in our homes says a lot about who we are and what we care about. I live in a very small apartment, but I still wouldn't feel at home if I didn't have some precious personal objects out and on display. I generally think of these sorts of things as "knickknacks" (which isn't how I think to spell it but I'm bowing to the all-mighty spell check), and I took some shots of some of mine to share. Note that the lighting in my apartment sucks, so high art these pics are not. :)

First off, this is my entire apartment:

I stood in one corner to take this picture, and you can see the front door. Only out of sight are the kitchen, which is just left of the door, and the bathroom, which is right. Note the art of the wall - that's a passion of mine, but not for this post! :)

Most of the knickknacks are on my room divider:

It separates my living room area (TV, couch, computer, filing cabinet, DVD stands, drum kit) from my bedroom area (sitting chair, bed, book cases). It's where most of my random items live. On the top shelf you can see some items from my shot glass collection. Yes, it's a strange thing for a girl who doesn't drink a drop to collect, but they're pretty and help me remember where I've been (and my friends buy them for me, too!) :) Some of these knickknacks are just things I liked (the monster on the lower right was on sale at Target!) but most have some amount of meaning to me, often a lot.

Take these two, for example:

This is froggy and Spaceman Spiff. Froggy was an over-priced stuffed toy that I fell in love with when I was a Sophomore in high school. I didn't want to ask for him cause I thought he was too expensive, but then I got really sick, and my mom brought him home for me as a gift. I've loved him ever since. I brought him to school a few days later (yes, in HS) and got made fun of by my friends because he has no eyes. He's been with me on every trip I've been on that he can fit in to the luggage. The beads on his arm are a charm I bought, I think. Asia somewhere. Spaceman Spiff I bought around the same time, at NASA in Houston, and he gets to go on even more trips cause he's smaller. They're both very precious to me.

A lot of other things on here are from places I've traveled too, like this little set of guys from Germany:

The thing I REALLY wanted from this store were the awesome antique-style clocks, but I couldn't afford this. But I just fell in love with the moon faced man and his star faced singers. :)

Gifts also make it on to the divider:

My dad got me this on one of his trips (I think it was too Hawaii) and I think it's lovely - he gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago. The Moon and Stars behind him was also a gift, when I was much younger, from my "Aunt" Cynthia, who bought it for me at a street fair when we were out together, and behind that still, and from even longer ago, is a bird perched on a piece of drift wood that my grandfather bought me when I was about 7 when the two of us visited Canada together.

When I was a little girl, I loved animals and breakable things:

The result is a very eclectic mix. The little glass animals with features are all from when I was very young, and were bought at the Museum Of Natural History on various visits. Many of them are broken because of all of the times they've fallen over the years, such as the tusk-less Elephant. However, the one just to the right of the Koala is a Kappa figure that I found in Japan three years ago after hunting all over for one that was just right; the horse in the background was a gift from my mom about five years ago when she went to Phoenix - it's made by the native tribes there; the little blue elephant came from somewhere or other and I bought it cause it was only a buck, and the crystal bunny with no ears left is one of my more dear items, because my dad got it for me. When I was very young, my parents got divorced, and for some reason many of the things my dad got me as gifts (especially during visitations) became among my most precious possessions. I used to really miss him.

That's also the story behind this:

Probably the dearest to me of all of the items I've got on display. This was also from my dad, I was probably 5 or 6 years old.

And yet another, he brought this home on a trip he work trip he took to Greece:

When I was a kid, I thought it was an antique! :)

Whatever the items are, though, I wouldn't have them out if they weren't important to me:

A gift from my mom's trip to Germany; a piggy bank with dinosaurs I bought while visiting my brother and sister-and-law, the Mets apple I got for free at a game last year...these are things that remind me of good times and happy things, and it's important to me to have them out where I can see them. With such limited space, the things that don't matter as much don't get to be on display, and I really had to pick and choose.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the choices I've made, though. Some are old, some are new, some are in between, and very few of them match at all, but they're all important to me, and I could tell a story about almost every one!

So, what knickknacks do you all have out? What do they mean to you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas Ornaments

I LOVE Christmas. As a result, I've celebrated it almost every year since I left home in 2001 (the first Christmas I lived in a place where it was reasonable to celebrate - my sophomore year of college). Over the years since, I've gathered a fair few ornaments, too. However, I've suffered some sad reverses. In 2006, I got a tree and even decorated it, but at the time I was involved in an interpersonal situation that was making me very sad (I broke up with a fiancee and boyfriend of 5 years in April, 2006, and it gets more complicated from there...) and I remember decorating the tree by myself and crying (even my friend and my roommate were in the other room...I was so afraid they'd see me!). That night was saved by a phone call from a friend and going to see "Casino Royale," but the memories are still there. In 2007, life was much, much better, but I had just returned from a four month trip to Japan on December 10th, didn't have an apartment (though I did end up signing the lease before Christmas and moving in on the 27th or some such) and all my belongings (including my ornaments!) were in a storage unit in Indiana (while I was in New York). In 2008, I had just moved AGAIN, and we spent most of the time before Christmas in Texas with family. Last year, I had once again moved (it was a theme for a while) and furthermore, my ornaments were in storage while I prayed that they and my other belongings didn't have bed bugs any more.

All of which is to say, I hadn't had a really satisfying Christmas in my own home since 2005. I hadn't pulled out my ornaments since 2006 (which was when I separated out a few of the ex's favorites and game them back).

This had to change!!

Now, my apartment is tiny. I had decided I'd get the standard Charlie Brown Christmas tree, when my mom suggested I get one in a pot. At first I said no - I'd already decided not to - where would I put it after Christmas? It's not like I can plant it outside! But as I realized I didn't have a place even for a Charlie Brown tree, I finally decided to go out and get myself a little spruce in a pot.

It was a hard tree to decorate. It's quite small, and the branches are very thin, but I managed to get a string of lights around it, and I picked out some of my favorite ornaments that I wouldn't wouldn't strain the branches, and hung them around.

When I opened the crate of ornaments for the first time in years, a few surprises awaited me. The only unpleasant one was that there were three casualties - three broken glass orbs - but really, when I think about how I stored them and all the moving that crate has been through, I'm actually prepared to call that a miracle of good fortunate. None of the ones that mattered were broken. Another surprise was how many new ornaments there were. Just cause I didn't have a tree didn't mean I hadn't been buying ornaments, and many I'd just shoved in the crate. I'd forgotten what I'd picked up - I even found a couple doubles!! The best surprise, though, were a group of ornaments that I had forgotten were in my possession.

Most of my ornaments are new. My really well loved childhood ornaments are all still with my mother's collection. Or so I thought! I had managed to completely forget that at some point in the last few years, my father had given me a few from his collection (divorced parents, two Christmases, two Christmas trees, two sets of ornies...) Specifically, he had given me the ornaments I made, like the one above. We only saw him on weekends, but once in a rare while he would drive us to a store somewhere in Jersey (I think it was hella inconvenient) and let me pick out an ornament kit to make. All in all, I finished three or four (and then stalled on one and never made another til I was an adult). My memory is that this one is the oldest, and seeing it there amongst my crate of random ornaments just brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't right for the tree, but fortunately I had one ornament stand!

The ornaments I collect tend to fall in to pretty much six basic categories: pretty, cute, geeky, snowmen, moose, gifts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gifts are generally the dearest to me, and several of them ended up on the tree.

The flamingo was a gift from my dad one of my first years on my own. My ex hated it, but I thought it was hilarious, and it's been on every tree since.

My mom got me this one while she was in Germany a few years ago. I've never gotten to hang it before, though the last two years I put it out on top a book case. I've kept it very carefully in it's own place since she gave it to me so I wouldn't lose it; I was SO happy to finally get to hang it, cause I really love it.

Another ornament my ex thought absurd (he felt that Christmas tree ornaments should in some way be related to Christmas...), this is a peacock ornament with a long feather tail (take a peak at this other picture) that clips on. I made it the "star" of my tree this year. For a few years my dad was doing grab bag gift exchanges with the all of us who come to Christmas. I never found out who contributed this and another ornament (in a different pic that'll be below) but I traded to get them because I really liked them.

The next ornament transitions to another category, as it is a moose that was also a gift. (though I've no memory who it's from)

I'm sure you all have noticed that there are some really ridiculously ugly ornaments in the world. For some reason, I find these absurdities to be oddly compelling, and finally in 2004 I gave in to my desire to start to collect them, but only under a certain condition: I could buy any ornament, no matter how tacky, hideous, or ugly, as long as it was of a moose. Now, this has actually proved to be a challenge. There aren't that many moose ornaments out there, and differentiating them from the reindeer ornaments often involves careful deliberation! But I've managed to put together a fair collection nonetheless. I love hanging them all. :) Some of them are actually lovely, but others really are awful. This one was a gift - I think from my mom - and I'm rather fond of it (and don't think it's awful at all!) And yes, there are reasons I chose moose, but this post is already getting wordy. ;) I didn't hang any other moose on the tree - most of them are large, heavy ornaments that just wouldn't do.

I also love snowman ornaments, though I didn't set out to collect them intentionally.

This was an ornament I fell in love with, and I remember the story behind it with a feeling of emotional immediacy yet find I'm completely unable to put any of it in to words, probably because I don't remember where or when, but I remember who and how I felt. So he went on the tree, and the rest goes unshared. :)

I have no memory at all of where this one came from, but isn't he cute? :)

A few pretty ornaments made it on to the tree, too.

Finding this ornament was a shock. I know exactly when and where I got it, and I remember the two other things I bought there, but I had no memory of buying this ornament for myself. The other two were gifts - a vase for my mom, earrings for my sis-in-law - and I really loved this persons were (they were a craftswoman at a fair in Bloomington, IN) so I was really happy and surprised to see I'd gotten this gift for myself, too - a gift in truth, given how completely I'd forgotten. :)

The moon is one of my favorites. I identify strongly with the night sky. Down below you can see a dinosaur ornament - it's actually Sue, the T-Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago (I probably got it when I was there last holiday season, though I don't remember doing so) - I have a small collection of almost every dinosaur ornament I've been able to track down. :)

Last are the geeky ornaments, almost none of which I hung. My ex and I are both huge geeks, so we would go to Hallmark after Christmas each year and get as many of the geek-themed ornaments as we could find (Star Trek, Harry Potter, Star Wars, comic book characters, that kind of thing). I had to put up Spidey.

Our first Christmas together, in 2001, we were damn broke, but I wanted to do something for Christmas, so we bought a few ornaments. One of them was a Spiderman carrying gifts. Turns out, Walmart sells one like this pretty much every year, and we ended up with one each year (all so similar that I couldn't say which was from when). When we broke up, I gave him some of them, and kept some for myself. I don't know, it's not that I miss him - I don't (I did the breaking up, it was a great decision, and he's now happily married to someone else; hard feelings at this point are only in jest) - but somehow it no longer feels like a Christmas tree if it doesn't have Spidey on it. :) Guess that's just how life is sometimes.

Anyway, I also had a few ornaments that were too heavy for the tree that I wanted out, so I made a little display on my bookcase.

There's the other bird I got as a gift (her crown just fell off :( ), an ornament of a snowman dressed as a moose (clearly designed just for me!), a baseball playing penguin, and an ornie of a snowman and a moose on a sled (though the moose part isn't visible in this shot) - on the lower left you can see a little of an ornament of a moose with a halo and angel wings. :)

So that's my Christmas! My mom and I talked it over, and before next year I'm going to take into my care a couple of the ornaments in her collection that mean the most to me - one in particular, which was given to me by a family friend when I was a girl, she has no particular attachment to is probably my single most precious ornament, I'll definitely get back, it's an antique and depicts a sweet rocking horse. There are plenty of others, though I'm sure she'll want to keep most of them. :) And I'm not going to take any of them until I have a safer way to store them all - something I can't afford just yet but will definitely get this year.

I'm very late on this post - I meant to post right at Christmas, and got the pictures ready and everything - but then just didn't get it together while I was away. But better late than never. Merry very belated Christmas, everyone. :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Looking Back on 2010, Looking Ahead to 2011

I realized only a couple days ago that I wanted to do a review post, and have had enough on my mind that I find I still don't have a clue what I want to really say in this post. Yet, I'm a person who definitely finds taking these moments to collect my thoughts and look at where I've been and where I'm going to be very helpful. I have already done this for my life in general over on my personal blog (in my Birthday egotism post, which reviews the years positive accomplishments while ignoring the bad, and in my review of 2010 goals and setting of 2011 goals post - I don't make resolutions, I set achievable goals and objectives which, if I had to, I could delineate the steps and benchmarks involved in meeting them. This is a natural side effect of being a professional program evaluator ;) ). However, I wanted to spend some time reflected on where I've been and where I'm going as regards the craft business, because I'm starting to feel that I might actually being going SOMEWHERE, and I'm not used to it yet.

Oy vey. I have no idea what to say next. Thank god I need to pull the baking out of the oven, it'll buy me a few minutes to think. (oatmeal cookies, and oh man, they turned out yummy... :) )

Right. So, after years of trying to figure out some way to make money through crafts, this past January I opened an Etsy store featuring my photography. I called inane related to cards, I think. My friends bought some stuff, and I got one sale to a stranger almost right away, which was very gratifying. It is still one of the only photography sales I've made to a stranger! Funny how that worked out. Anyway, not long after, I made my first couple amigurumi, and within a month I was designing my own, starting with the ant, and adding the goose and brontosaurus pretty soon there after. My mother and I edited the patterns, and I listed them on Etsy, and had a little success selling them. In March, I got my first custom commission, to design a peacock for a friend of mine. This proved to be so much work - and I was so stressed from other stuff going on - that I procrastinated this until the last minute; it took 16 hours, and after paying for materials, I made 50 cents an hour. Needless to say, this caused me to reflect on the nature of the business. I took a break from crafting, then in July I bought a cross stitch, the making of which consumed most of the rest of the summer. Sales were also close to non-existent, which was hardly encouraging. In the meantime, though, I'd let my second commission - a squirrel - languish, and so as soon as I finished the cross stitch (but not the backstitching, still haven't done that, lol) - I made the squirrel. By then it was mid-August, and while I can't remember what prompted it, I decided to join Ravelry, and on a board there I heard about the Hive. I'd say that this was an important turning point for me (coupled with the encouragement of my friends). Having strangers, with no particular investment in my success or failure, praise my work and indicate that they thought I might have something here was very gratifying, and has continually helped to renew me when I've wondered why the heck I'm doing this. I designed another pattern before I left on vacation, and when I got back, I got back to work. In October, I met a very nice couple who had started their foray into this world not long before, and I had a long and extremely helpful conversation with them that really got me thinking in all kinds of new ways, especially as regards craft shows. I also finally came up with a name that I liked, and made it "official" so I wouldn't have to change it again - Curiously Crafted Creations - and made an aligned FB page. Oh, and I started this blog, in September. :) I got my first doll commission from a stranger in late November - not by them finding me, but by my outreaching to them when I thought I could do what they wanted - and they loved the result, and I've gotten positive feedback from numerous others, too (on Ravelry and on Flickr, as well as here and the Hive). I started doing official pattern testing, to improve my work, and got even more gratifying and helpful feedback. I started to meet other amigurumi designers, some very successful, and learn from them. I also began to put a LOT of time in to all of this, and to start to feel that I was getting something back from it. A friend bought her entire set of Christmas cards from me, and I decided to send out my own work as Christmas cards as well - and got some feedback that once again encourages me to not yet give up on the photography part of this business, even though it makes me feel like I'm running a business with multiple personality disorder. :)

That something I'm getting back isn't fiscal. Now, there might be reasons not to share some fiscal data about my business, but in general I find that people everywhere are far too cagey about such things. Talking numbers can help others establish ideas about what is normal and what isn't, and I think that it's important. I've kept pretty good records since the very beginning, using an improvised spreadsheet that's gotten more ridiculous the more things I've done. :) It took a bit of an initial investment, because I needed to get the materials to make the cards. Indeed, the majority of the money I've spent on this business has been for the photography part, whereas most of the crochet has been done with left over yarn in my stash or that my mom didn't want any more.

So, down and dirty. I've sold 59 cards, almost all to friends and family; and 27 patterns, all to strangers. I've also sold 6 larger prints of photos, 5 dolls, and a scarf. These low numbers are despite trying several strategies to drum up sales, and setting my prices low. I've spent just a shade under $250 (56% on card making supplies and photograph prints; 22% on sellers and listing fees from Etsy and Paypal; 22% on yarn for commissions) I haven't "charged" the business for yarn I already had, and sometimes not even for yarn that I bought, just cause I figure I'd have been making something anyway. :)

I've earned just under $275. I've managed a profit of $25 (my exact profit for Year 1 is actually $24.57) Hands down, it's the commissions that have made the difference. They are the only thing I've sold that has had a decent profit margin on it. I've done a total of four commissions (three for friends), plus I've sold one of the dolls I made just because (also to a friend).

I have a lot of stock at the moment. I've got about 60 cards ready to go, and the photographs to make hundreds more (though I'd have to buy more envelops, I'm running low, and they're 19 cents per card, which seems like a lot to me, though it was the best I could manage when I did the initial shopping around for materials...) I've also got about 10 dolls I would be happy to sell - and I'll have more soon, cause I'm gonna get to serious work on building up a stock of finished items, and also I need to test all my old patterns, which means first remaking them all.

I know these numbers are all pretty small, but all in all I'm actually pretty happy with all of this. When I started the business, I thought, well, what's the worst that happens? I could be out the $100 I initially invested. Heaven forbid! I don't really need the money at the moment, and I'd be making things anyway. That said, I would like to feel like I'm getting paid for my work. I chronically under charge people (with the peacock being the worst example), and even my "well payed" jobs generally work out to only a few dollars per hour. This isn't a sustainable model in the long run.

And I'd say that leads perfectly in to the capstone point for me, in Year 1. When I started, this was a temporary experiment. I don't feel that way any more. Now, I think there is a long run, and I want to work for it and try to get there. I'm not the most talented crafts person around (heck, I think almost everyone I've met in the crafting communities I've joined is more talented than I am, ya'll are amazing) but I'm stubborn and willing to work hard, and it's been a dream of mine since I was a teenager that it would rock if could figure out some way to make money crafting. I was always told "do what you love, and it'll work out" but I couldn't get there from where I was - because no matter how much I loved cross stitching, it really just isn't possible to get payed enough to make the labor make sense unless I was prepared to churn out loads of small, simple things - which I'm not. But I love doing photography and crochet, too, and people respond well to what I have shared, which makes me think that even if I'm not in the upper echelons of talent, I may yet have enough to get by if I just keep working. And that's very heartening to me. :) I've known for about a year and a half that I wouldn't be able to do my current job for more than a few more years (for a lot of reasons) and I've spent tons of mental energy trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I thought I'd settled on geology (cause man, I do love rocks...) but now I'm not so sure that I can't make a go of it on some combination of crafts and writing. But first, I have to make way more than $25 a year. (I have to earn a minimum of about $35,000 a year in order to make ends meet in my current living situation, but that little would really make things tight - I make more than double that in my current employment.)

2011 Goals/Tasks:
Some of these are really tasks, as in, things I just need to get around to doing. :)

1. Raise my prices. I'm thinking $2 or $2.50 each for the cards. It'd still be a little below market, and would improve my profit margin noticeably. I mean, I have no reason to think that the price is why they're not selling.

2. One free pattern a month. I released my first free pattern, for the dreidel, at the beginning of December, and I have been shocked by the response this has gotten. I'd say, hands down, this has been the most helpful business move I've ever made. Not that it's generated sales, but it's generated ATTENTION, and I think that's more important at this stage of things. I already know what January's is gonna be, I should have it done by the end of the weekend.

3. At least one pay pattern a month. I'm a little behind right now, but I'd like to be able to release at least one a month. I mean, the first month I made amigurumi's I released three in a week! So I know I can do it, though the testing obviously lengthens the process. I did release one in December, though (Blub Blub), and Santana Squid is just waiting for the finishing touches, so I can roll him out for January - that buys me some time. ;)

4. Keep pushing myself to take long walks expressly for photography. Almost all of my best work seems to come when I go out and walk and explore with an eye towards taking pictures. I need to keep making sure that when unusual events happen (like a blizzard, or lovely fall weather) I'm out there striking while the iron is hot, and not missing my chance to enhance my portfolio.

5. Experiment with the cards. One of my friends suggested that I try decorating the borders of the cards with stamping and embossing. I meant to try it but haven't had the time yet, but I bought a few stamps, ink and embossing powder. A different friend sent me a stamped and embossed Christmas card that she made herself, and I thought it looked very nice, and makes me think that if I'm tasteful about this, it could enable me to fancy-up some of my cards, and raise the prices, too.

6. Go to at least one craft show. I need to start giving out massive numbers of these business cards I've got, to people who might actually buy something. I think successful craft showing is going to be a very important part of this process, particularly for the photography. The cards don't scan terribly well, but everyone who has commented on an actual finished product that they've physically since has told me they look lovely - and since they weren't all my friends, I think I believe them for the most part. :) I already know which one I'd like to do first, it's called Odd Mall, it's in Ohio, and it's a juried show run by an acquaintance of mine (an artist whose work I have bought a couple times) - and based on the description of the show, I think I can pass muster on the jury part, as the main requirement is that your work be, well, odd (or at least quirky ;) ). Maybe not an ideal market for the photography, but definitely an appropriate one for the dolls - and I will know people there, because a handful of the artists whose work I collect are likely to be there. The problem is that it's the second weekend of May. I have been invited to weddings on the first weekend of May, the third weekend of May and the fourth weekend of May, and these weddings are in Kentucky, Bali (yes, Indonesia), and Michigan, respectively. I'm already committed to going to the first two. And I have a whole bunch of day job stuff that is going to have to happen and can't be done while traveling. So I'm not sure this is at all a good idea...but that's never really stopped me before. But I may have a breakdown in June. :)

7. Maintain the friendships I've been making with other crafters. This has been absolute essential for my motivation and inspiration since I joined these communities, and it's not just about the other amigurumi makers. It's time consuming maintaining all of the contacts, but I enjoy it, I like ya'll, and I want to make it work.

8. Maintain this blog. I've pulled it off for 4 months so far, I think I can keep it going. I think it's pretty important, it's a great way to share yourself, your work, and get yourself out there. I've found that people seem more likely to find me here than on Etsy (heck, for some reason people seem to be more able to find me on Flickr than on Etsy, sigh).

9. Hone my skills and learn some patience. Of late I've been experimenting and learning new crochet techniques. It's improving my work, and I want to keep it up. As for patience, I specifically mean patience while crocheting. I have a very bad habit of looking at something I've spent four hours on, thinking there are some problems, and then finishing it anyway. I need to learn to take a deep breath and undo all that work, if it means the finished product will be better. It's hard, but I think it's important. (which is not to say I've never frogged part of a project, cause I've have on most of the things I've made; I frogged a big chunk of the peacock three times, that's why it took so damn long to make - just that I don't do it as often I know I really should).

10. Turn a profit. Even if it's only a single damn penny, I'd really like to end Year 2 in the green. :)

11. Submit paperwork for a sole proprietorship. This will cost $25, but will open some options, especially local craft shows, which require that I have at least sole proprietorship and that I have it set up to pay state sales tax.

I wrote in FB today, and I think it's true, that I have the feeling that 2011 is going to be a year of a lot of hard work and relatively little reward, and that 2012 is the year where things are going to fall in to place. I can live with that. I just have to make sure I put the hard work in.

Happy New Year! I hope you all have a great year!! :)