Category Archives: Everything Else

A weekend learning to design fabric with Spoonflower

These fantastic ladies spent the weekend with me learning to design fabric with Spoonflower using Adobe Illustrator. I made them work hard. Illustrator is not intuitive and it isn’t easy, so I admire them so much for their great attitudes the whole weekend long. These are the designs they created the very first day, inspired by Ed Emberley drawing books. How many of you have heard of Ed Emberley? He was my favorite artist when I was a kid and I don’t think anyone in my class had heard of him. So it was very fun to make that introduction.

If you want to learn more about the fabric design classes I teach, check out my online classes and master class pages.

You win some, you lose some. Why feedback matters.

You might not know this, but I designed three sets of iMessage Stickers that are available in the Apple App Store. My husband is a software developer and when Apple introduced “Stickers” we thought it would be a fun way to collaborate on something. So he wrote the code and I made the art. I did a set of sewing themed stickers, a set of knitting themed stickers and a set of black cat stickers.

What are iMessage Stickers? Well, that’s part of my story. They are like big emoji but they are only available in iMessage on Apple devices. (Believe me we tried to figure out how to make them work for Android or in Facebook, but they just don’t all play nice.) But if you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can use them in messages. My mom and sisters and I send them back and forth all the time.

The problem is that Apple implemented them in kind of a dumb way. They are hard to find in the iMessage app and if someone doesn’t show you, I don’t think you’d even know they were there. And although when you go to the App store to purchase one, it looks exactly like a regular app, it doesn’t work the same way at all. Instead of installing on your phone with an icon like you expect it to, Stickers get installed inside iMessage. So you download it and it looks like nothing happened. And then you have to go in to some place in your phone settings and activate it before you can use it. It’s all doable, but you are never going to figure that out on your own. Much of technology is like this, sadly.

The other day, I was surfing around in the App Store looking for a sticker set with dinosaurs (I forget why) and I saw this:

That’s my Sticker set of sewing stickers showing up as #19 on the Top Charts for Sticker Sets. WHAT? I was so excited. Getting featured like that is huge! I took a screenshot and texted it to my husband.

It struck me as funny that is was that set because I thought “why is the sewing one in the top charts and not the knitting one? I thought the knitting one would be 10x more popular because I know soooo many more knitters”. So I dug in to the stats a little bit. And there’s where I found the issue.

Horrible Feedback.

That is horrible feedback. Look at all of those angry faces. My sewing stickers had a rating of 4+, but the knitting stickers were rated a 2. I wouldn’t download anything that had 2 stars.

But the catch is that the feedback actually had nothing to do with the quality of my stickers or the way they worked, it was all negative feedback from people who couldn’t figure out how to install them in the first place.There weren’t any reviews that said “Your art sucked.” or “Your stickers are dumb.” I can take that kind of feedback and work with it. But these reviews were not anything I can fix. I can’t make the Stickers install in a different way. I can’t make it so you don’t have to do that extra “activate” step. That whole part of the experience and everything they are frustrated with is something Apple designed and not me. And I know it’s confusing and there is nothing I can do. Sadly, I have a link to a help page that says “Did it install but you can’t see it anywhere? Here’s how to fix it.”, but none of these people clicked through that link before they left these reviews. (Some people do click through and ask for help and I am always super grateful for them. 99% of the time we can fix it with just an email.)

Feedback matters.

There were only about half a dozen negative reviews (all about how it didn’t install properly), but those six people made a huge impact on my product. And that is worth thinking about. The new algorithms with Facebook and Instagram are doing kind of the same thing. Their algorithms favor posts that are getting positive feedback as soon as they are posted (rich interaction like lengthier comments & shares) and demotes those that don’t. It is intensifying the effect in both directions. Likes get promoted and get more likes which get them more promoted, which gets more likes and so on. At the other end, if you don’t have any likes, then they just won’t show it to anyone. So no one ever sees it in order to like it. You get the idea.

When feedback is doing its job, that’s awesome. When I buy a can opener on Amazon, I want the one that is getting positive feedback. I don’t want the one that everyone says is junk. We can all agree on that. Honest feedback is truly helpful.

But the Instagram and Facebook algorithms don’t quite do that. And there isn’t anything I can do about that either. My husband’s Instagram algorithm is insane. It can’t figure out what to show him, so he will have 25 posts in a row from the same person, and he only sees the things I post about half the time. And if you follow me on IG, you probably only see half of what I post too. And not because you don’t like it or wouldn’t like it. But because you only check Instagram on your lunch hour and didn’t instantly comment on the thing I posted. So IG decided that you weren’t interested without you even being in the room. Talk about pressure.

Facebook is scolding me right now about my response rate for messages.

I don’t know what “the badge” is, but I am not getting it. Because I think 100% at 37 minutes is pretty darn excellent considering I have a life that doesn’t involve me being on Facebook 24/7. Ask me about the last time I had to contact the power company to help me with something. They definitely don’t have “the badge”. But that probably means that I get demoted somewhere in the algorithm.

I’ve had students tell me on class evaluations: “I thought your class was amazing, but I don’t believe in giving 5s so you get all 4s. But it was really great.” Not that I expect to be 5 stars to every person, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with that information. I am not sure that feedback is helpful to anyone.

Moral of the story? What’s the takeaway?

I’m not sure exactly. Maybe it’s to think about the feedback that you are giving. My mom was a teacher and one of her colleagues had a rule for students making comments that was something like: Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it helpful? Is it true? Is it kind?  I think those are pretty wise words.

Apple has a new mechanism for letting creators ask for comments to be reviewed and we are doing that and hoping that they will see that the comments are to do with their interface and not our sticker set. Maybe it will help it look more balanced.

Where you can find me: Holiday 2017 Events

Minneapolis Craft’za

Sunday November 19 I will be at the 5th Annual Craft’za show at the Grainbelt Building in NE Minneapolis. This is my second time there, although I have done the sister show Craftstravaganza for a number of years. This year is the first time it will be 2 days and I will be there on SUNDAY. You can see a little sneak peek of my work on the local Fox9 station on Sunday morning. Four artists did a little demo & interview which will be airing on Sunday morning. (If you have found me here from Fox9, hello!) Find me at booth #58. November 19 • 10 – 4

Bakken Winter Market

On November 25 & 26, I will be at the Bakken Museum for their Winter Market. I have made some special Bakken inspired pieces from art I made with them back when they were a partner on my State Arts Board grant. Have Thanksgiving visitors? Come visit the museum and shop with local artists. Fun! November 25 & 26 • 10 – 3:30

Crafts at Canteen

A tiny little show with 10 awesome artists hosted in a coffee shop that specializes in toast. This quirky show is new for me and should be lots of fun. Just one evening. December 8 • 6 – 10 pm

Giving doesn’t always = $.

I originally posted this in June 2013 and then again in 2015 and then I thought of it again today after a frustrating week of too many fundraising discussions and I thought it was a great time to revisit it. I have worked basically my entire life for non-profit orgs. My very first job was at a summer theater funded entirely by donations and I made a donation pitch in the form of a stupid song and dance routine at three shows a day.

It is fundraising season (I just got my first fundraising email on Halloween day.) and that means that you will definitely be asked to donate to more organizations than you can afford to. And that’s totally ok. Me too. Here are some ideas.


I have worked for and volunteered for and advocated for a number of non-profits throughout my entire life and all of them have been pretty amazing creatures that do pretty amazing things.  So, I have had a couple of conversations lately with a number of different people about “I love this organization, but I can’t afford to donate anything and I feel bad about that and so I don’t know what else I can do.” and I wanted to say that there are TONS of things that you can do that don’t cost you anything, but can be enormously valuable to a non-profit.  So here’s my list of 8 simple things you can do that will cost you very little and can add up to a lot.

Participate.

A lot of grants that non-profits write to help support their free concerts, exhibitions, and make-and-take programs are all about the number of people served.  There are whole sections of grant applications that require the organization to talk very specifically about the audience and who will be participating.  So, everybody who shows up gets counted and the more people that attend a concert or sign their name in the guest book, the bigger the impact the organization can show.  So just by showing up and seeing the art in the gallery and then signing your name in the guestbook, you are saying to that funder or sponsor “I think this is valuable” and that makes a big impact.  Opening the email, clicking the link, or showing up at the event are all ways for you to be counted. And do you know what makes it even better? Make it a date and bring a friend with you.

Comment.

Good or bad, take the time to write a comment or complete an evaluation:  “I really loved seeing this work in person because it was so amazing to be able to see the detail up close.  I will come back again for your next exhibition.” or “My kids and I attended the concert in the park and they spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to play violins and conducting their own imaginary orchestra.  What a great afternoon!”  One of my very favorite REAL quotes from a teacher that brought a field trip to my art center:  “The second grade says weaving is better than recess!”  (We named our annual youth programs exhibit after this quote.)  Quotes are also a valuable way for non-profits to communicate with sponsors and funders as a way to say “We know this project is successful because we have this feedback from people who participated.”  Evaluations are required by many program funders and feedback good (or not so good) is all really important.

Like it or tweet it.  

Every non-profit would like to reach more people.  If you see something on your favorite organization’s website and you hit the “like” button, you become part of the magic algorithm that networks like Google and Facebook use to rank search results.  Very simply put, the more people “like” something, the more the search engine thinks that it must be “important” or “relevant” to whatever it is looking for.  So something as simple as clicking “Like” on a post about an upcoming class about shibori silk scarves can mean that more people will discover that art center you think is really cool when they are searching around on Google. Even better is to share it and hashtag it. That means it is even easier for the organization to track how the word is spreading.

Link it.

Have a Facebook page or a website or a blog?  Post a link to your favorite non-profit’s website.  Links to organizations work the same way as likes and tweets.  The more connections to the site, the more important the search engines think it is and the bigger the potential reach for your favorite organization.

Spread the word.

The next time you are at your art center or a concert in the park, take an extra postcard or flyer about an upcoming event and stick it up on the bulletin board at work.  Or at your favorite coffee shop.  Or at your church.  Let me tell you from experience that getting those beautiful postcards out into the world is one of the hardest jobs ever.  There is just never enough time in the day (or postage money in the budget) to get everywhere you would like to get them.  If you get an email about an event, pass it on to a friend or post it on your Facebook page.  (Or print it out and put it on the bulletin board).  Even just talking about it is great!  Word of mouth is a really powerful tool, especially if you tell your story and why you think that organization or event is cool.

Donate stuff, but ask first.  

Speaking for my several non-profits I have worked for in the past, they were delighted to get donations of stuff, but have about zero square feet of storage space to put it in.  So although I would LOVE to have your yarn, I might have to store it on my desk until I can make room to put it. Which isn’t really ideal.  But there are really goofy things that I need (that you might not even think of) that I could put to good use right now.  Like a gallon or two of vinegar or a salad spinner or ziploc bags. Many organizations have a “wish list” that might contain something you have collecting dust at your house. I just found a new home for a microphone sound system that someone gave me years ago. If in doubt, send an email and ask. Because I know we arts people are connected. If I can’t use your thing, I bet I know someone who can.

Give time.

Do you have an hour?  Would you be willing to hand out programs at a concert?  Or stuff envelopes for a mailing?  Or weed the garden around our building? Or help clean up after an event?  Volunteering seems like an obvious one, but sometimes the hardest jobs to fill are the ones that sound boring.  Everyone wants to attend the XYZ Event for free in exchange for some volunteer hours, but maybe you would be just as content to listen to the radio in your car and deliver these concert flyers to all the public library branches in Minneapolis.  Or maybe you would be happy to look up the address and contact info for all of the afterschool programs in the metro area and address some envelopes for me so I could send out some field trip applications?  Also if you have special skills, tell someone.  Are you a master gardener and want to help put our gardens to bed for the winter? Do you have beautiful handwriting and want to write some thank you notes? Let us know what you are good at.

Take photos.

Do you love to take photos? As staff at an event, I am lucky to have a minute to snap a few pictures because I am busy making the event happen and although I would love to hire a photographer for every event, that is just not in the budget.  But I would LOVE to have your photos if you are willing to share them.  Photos are another great tool for spreading the word and showing the impact of a program or event.  They are a handy way for us to document who was there and what happened so we can refer to it next year when we start to plan the next one. They don’t have to be fancy or professional photos, just ones that you give permission for us to use.


I hope this inspires you and maybe gives you a few ideas as this “annual fund” season rolls around.

This week I participated in a focus group, reviewed grant applications for the regional arts council, rounded up some resources for board of directors discussion, handed out some postcards for a friend’s gallery exhibition, and liked some things on Facebook. Last month, I bet I did everything on this list.

Donating dollars is hugely important to these organizations too, but I hope these are ways you can maybe make the $ you are able to donate add up to a whole lot more.

“Wait. How do you make your art?”

I have pieces up at two exhibitions right now and I was at two openings last week, talking with dozens people about what I do. I love that part. But I realized that nearly everyone would stop me at some point with a puzzled look and say “Wait. How did you do that?” And I thought to myself, I should make a video that shows how it all works. So I did. Here is my very latest fabric design from blank page to finished jacket.

“I ain’t no size 2.”

We’ve been watching the most recent season of Project Runway. I love the show and I think Tim Gunn is completely brilliant. One of the new things this season is that the designers have to work with “real” sized models. Not just size 0, but ladies with some curves, which is awesome. I usually yell at the screen when I see the designers doing things with dye while not wearing gloves (a huge pet peeve), but this season I find myself yelling at the screen because they are complaining about having to design for “large” or “curvy” or “plus sized” girls. Or when they say that they have never designed for bigger than a size 0.

Because you know what? They showed a couple of those cards with the models’ measurements and I grabbed a screen shot. One of those “bigger” girls that the designers were having a fit about: her measurements are basically the same as mine. (Except for the height. I am only 5’4″.) I sew clothing and I sew clothing a lot for myself, so I know my measurements and when I saw this card and heard them calling her a “big girl” I was a little bit… annoyed? disgusted? angry? offended? I am not sure. Either it’s “Woohoo, I am built like a model!” or “When did I suddenly become plus sized?” I am a short curvy size 6.

I spent the weekend doing a photoshoot of a bunch of my work. I have some exhibitions I want to enter and some work that I hadn’t had a chance to photograph yet and so I set up the dress forms and started shooting. That is my super glam set up in the basement. I do a lot of photos on dress forms because I like how they give the garment shape but basically the form melts into the background. They let the garments be the star of the shot and that’s really important to me. I rarely shoot on people because I think it’s distracting. Your brain is hardwired to look at faces and so that’s the first thing you look at, not my art.

But I had some more pieces, these wrap skirts specifically, that needed to be on a person. So that’s me getting to be the model. My husband shoots the photos when I am modeling. He’s a good guy. It’s exhausting (as you can see from our last dorky shot of the day), but I have several reasons that I didn’t want to hire a model to do it for me. There is the financial reality that if I hired a model, I would have to add significantly to the costs of these garments in order to cover that cost of finding, scheduling, and shooting with someone else. And I am not implying that my time is free, just that I can add those hours into the rest of the time I am paying myself for making/designing these and that makes a lot more sense.

So I have now spent several hours editing these photos to get them ready for various things. Adjusting the light, erasing the shoe scuffs on the paper, cropping, straightening  and so on. And scrutinizing my body. (Do I have any volunteers who want to do that for a couple of hours? I didn’t think so.)

These wrap skirts are headed to my Etsy shop. I made a whole line of them (and some dresses which I haven’t photographed yet) for a couple of shows last year and I am finally getting an online shop put together that is all of my clothing and accessory pieces. I love these skirts. I love to wear them, I love how they move, I love how the fit is flexible so that you can make it fit whatever size you are today and be comfortable. I wear mine all the time and they fit my style. The rest of the pieces (mostly scarves) I have in the Etsy shop are on dress forms and they aren’t getting a lot of attention, so I thought maybe I needed the skirts to be on a person instead, to show the way they fit on someone with curves and bumps and a real figure. Because my dress forms are anything but real.

This is supposedly a size 4 dress form, but she is wearing a padded bra, two layers of bubble wrap around the waist, two petticoats and I still have a pleat pinned in the back to make this dress (which fits me) look like it fits on this dress form. For the last exhibition I did, I brought a whole roll of quilt batting to pad out my dress forms for more realistic figures because I don’t sew “sample” size garments. I make things that fit me. These dress forms with the arms only come in a nominal size 4. Coats and other things with sleeves look so much better on something with arms, so padding it out is the compromise for me.

There’s all kinds of marketing wisdom that says that your clothing has to be on a person to sell it online. It’s about selling the lifestyle as much or more than the item. People want to visualize themselves and they need that visual clue to make that happen. So I wanted to photograph those skirts on a person and see if that makes a difference to the reaction and attention that these get online in my Etsy shop. And I thought it was important that it was a real person and not a “model” figure.

Because despite the fact that I LOVE these skirts, I am really on the fence about whether I am going to continue making these at all. In person, they draw people in. I design very rich, complex surface patterns and these fabrics beg you to touch them and look at them up close. You can hold them up to you and that visualizing-yourself-wearing-it step is so much easier. Even if you aren’t a skirt-wearing kind of person. But what I have learned is that when I sell them in person, I spend the entire day having the same conversation.

That conversation is about personal body image issues.

I love this so much, but I can’t wear skirts because they make me look thick.

This is so great, but it hits the fat part of my calves and so I never wear skirts.

I wish I could wear this but I have no waist and so it would just make me look cut in half.

At the end of the day, I have heard about the insecurity, the perceived flaw, the thing that everyone feels that is wrong with themselves from all of these lovely women that I am meeting for the very first time at this art show. I might not even know their names, but I know that they think they have fat calves. Because they want to say something nice and tell me why they love this piece of fabric they have in their hands, but they don’t want to buy it. So they blame that on the easiest thing to blame. Themselves.

And it’s kind of heartbreaking. I don’t want to know what makes you feel insecure or unattractive.

The thing is, I know that only a small number of people that walk through my display are even going to be interested in buying something from me. Every artist knows this. Style is very personal; you have colors and patterns that you are drawn to and that make you feel good. I totally get that. I can’t wear red or animal prints. They bother me. I love to wear skirts because I think they are comfortable. But that’s not true for everybody. I LOVE to talk about my work and how it’s made but I don’t take it personally if it’s not your thing, because that thing that “clicks” and makes it your style is something different for everyone. Clothing is even more personal because it is art that is displayed on your person, not just on your wall. I don’t think people are compelled to explain to a photographer or painter that “I love this painting so much, but I think it will make my couch look frumpy.” But I don’t know. (If you are a painter, please chime in, I am super curious.)

And I get it. I just spent a few hours zoomed in on these photos looking for lint and weird shadows and noticing the wrinkles at my waist and hearing that stupid inner critic voice say “that waistline isn’t as trim as it was when you were 20” and “that skirt would look more balanced if your torso wasn’t so short.” That inner critic voice is always there telling you to be more something or less something. I am pretty comfortable in my skin, but that doesn’t mean I’m not hearing it. All the time.

I am also limited by the materials a little with these skirts. This design is made from a single piece of fabric that is shaped like a large C. Based on the width of the fabric, I can only make these fit up to about a size 14 before the wrap is not wrapping enough to prevent you from showing off your knickers. So I am limited by the width of my materials and this design. And I could certainly print more fabric and piece it together to make it wider. But then there is a seam, which makes it hang and drape differently, and it takes longer to sew and I have to buy double the fabric. Which means that a size 14 has one cost and a size 16 is drastically more. Which is completely unfair. Ugh. (Or I raise the price so they are all the same and that makes them only affordable to people who have a lot more disposable income than I do. Also ugh.) Between explaining that I don’t have any larger sizes (which makes me sounds like a whiny Project Runway designer) and hearing about fat calves, it makes these a little less fun for me. And so they’ve been hanging in a closet, waiting for me to figure it out.

So the last thing I am doing with this post is fishing for someone to tell me that I am skinny and not plus sized. That’s not my point. I am writing this post because it is something that needs more thinking about.

How can I change the conversation? What can I do that encourages a more body positive conversation but that still lets me make wearable art and love doing it? Scarves are a practical solution. They don’t have a “fit”, they show off my patterns beautifully and lots of people love them. But lots of people make them too and everyone I know has a lot of scarves already.

I don’t know the answer, but I am very interested in the conversation. What do you think?

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