30 October, 2020

This post is brought to you by me, or how affiliate links can make it harder for the rest of us

2020-11-15T14:06:37-06:00An Artist's Life, Classes & Teaching, Everything Else|1 Comment

I got an email a few days ago asking me a question about a Spoonflower fabric. I get questions like this on a semi-regular basis with someone wanting a recommendation for a project they are working on. I am happy to chime in with my experience; I’ve used most of the fabrics for one project or another. My site is covered with Spoonflower fabric in use. But as I was writing the email answer, I thought to myself, “didn’t I already write a blog post that answered this?” It felt like deja vu. I checked and it turns out I hadn’t, but my first instinct was to just look up that post and send the person a link to it. After all, if I wrote up a post it’s probably more in depth, more detailed, more thoughtful than what I would answer writing you an email in response.

But, I was talking with another colleague and apparently there is a kerfluffle in the craft/knitting/sewing online community because a teacher responded to a question just like I was going to do: “here’s a link to a video on my website where I answer that question.” Only the problem is that the person asking didn’t like that response and accused the teacher of just being self-promotional. Apparently a personal email in response to a question would have been fine, but a link to a video answering the same question wasn’t. Wow.

This made me think about an Instagram account that I unfollowed just a couple of days ago. The person was demonstrating some kind of a tool in a video post. It was something about quilting, which isn’t really my thing, so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the post. But there were lots of comments asking about a tool that they used. It was the follow up video to that which really caught my attention. In that follow up post, the IG Influencer basically went on a rant about how they weren’t going to answer the questions about the tool and they weren’t going to provide a link so everyone should just stop asking. The reason? They stated they get paid for doing promotional posts and this tool creator didn’t pay them to do a post and they don’t work for free. I found that so distasteful that I unfollowed right then.

So don’t get me wrong, I believe people should be paid for their work. This especially goes for artists and makers. But the Influencer culture has started to creep into what I do; that idea of being paid to make recommendations for things.

I teach about things which require some technology. It’s not like knitting where I can grab any set of needles made by anyone (or even some chopsticks) and show you how to do a cast on. I have to pick an app or a software and show you how to use it in order for you to learn how to make a repeating pattern or extract a HEX code. I can’t know every app on the planet, so I am going to pick one I know and I like working with it. I can teach you a class on how to sell your work online in big general ideas, but the class people really want is the one about how you understand advertising in Etsy; a very specific thing that they need help with. I can’t teach you anything about that without talking about Etsy. And in some ways that can start to feel a little bit like an infomercial.

So here’s where it starts to get sticky: when is a recommendation really a recommendation?
It’s hard to tell anymore. 

I taught two classes recently. One was a technology related class where I showed a bunch of different kinds of apps and software. I talked about how I know some of the app developers because I have been a beta tester for them for a lot of years. Why do I volunteer to be a tester? Because I like the tool and how it works and I’m married to a guy who writes software for a living. We know lots of people who write software and apps. I like to help make this app better because I use it all the time and I know how important those beta users are. But I got some feedback after the class that it felt like I was promoting my friend’s stuff. In the another class, it was more hands-on and everyone got a packet of materials for the project. I let everyone know the specifics about where I got those materials and what they were working with. I always buy materials for classes from small businesses if I can possibly do it. That means I’m not buying in bulk from a big box craft store, but I’m getting everything from Etsy shops (or locally). And I know some of those sellers a little bit because I order from them often. And I order from them often because I think their shops are awesome and carry quality stuff which gets to me fast, which I can’t always say about those big box stores. I love being able to use my business and art practice to help support other artists. That’s really important to me.

But then I started to second guess myself. Would people think I was only recommending these shops/apps because I get a discount or a kickback? (Spoiler: I don’t.) Another teaching colleague mentioned a Facebook group that she belongs to that only allows you to post a recommendation for something if you don’t know the person you are recommending. So you can’t recommend your own video that answers a question and you can’t recommend one by someone you know. What’s left? Recommending something you randomly found on Google? That doesn’t seem super helpful. (And why do I want to spend my time Googling answers for someone else? Sheesh!)

So I thought about it. And I talked to some colleagues. And I decided that the person who thought I was a little too infomercial-like had a point. Because how would anyone know that I’m not a paid Influencer if I don’t say so? So many things we see online are so artificial. You can Photoshop anyone into any scene; you can mock up 100 different virtual products with your design on them; you can add virtual eye makeup to your Instagram videos. We all should look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism, right?

It made me think about the language I use when I talk about the things that I love and how important it is to be transparent. I need to talk about why I choose to use the tools I use when I am teaching about them if I want people to understand that I am not just showing you this because I get a little kickback when you click it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an Influencer and having your business rely on affiliate links and ad income, but it’s not what I do. And I realized that it was important to me to say that.

So I decided to write this post and say that I don’t use affiliate links or ads or cookies and I added that to the blog footer. I don’t get any discounts, kickbacks, credits, promos, royalties, freebies, or commissions for any of the services or apps I teach about or recommend. I teach about Spoonflower and Etsy (and lots of other things) because I like what they do and I have a lot of experience with those platforms that I like to share with others. I am a teacher; that’s what I do. I absolutely recommend shops and apps and things made by people I know because that’s probably why I know them. I had a great experience and came back. I believe in community, whether it’s a tiny online community or a big real-life one. It’s why I’ve served on Boards of Directors and grant evaluation panels and why I participate in pilot programs and beta tests because it’s important that someone does that work to help make the community thrive.

20 April, 2020

Making masks. My version with some sewing tips.

2020-04-20T15:50:22-05:00Everything Else, Freebies & Patterns, Sewing & Design, Tutorials, Videos|3 Comments

I posted a tutorial for working with a bias tape maker today on my social media channels (I will post that again below) and got a bunch of questions about how I was making masks and what pattern to use. So here is what I have been making. This is a version that is based on one that was posted by Fairview Health (associated with the University of MN). I have simplified the sewing instructions they provided because I saw a simpler and cleaner way to construct them. I am not going to provide a step-by-step tutorial here, but I will give you the basics.

Cut two rectangles that are 9 inches by 7 inches. They recommended using 2 different fabrics so you can easily tell the inside and outside of the mask if you need to take it off and put it back on.

Place the rectangles right sides together and stitch just the short sides, using about a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Turn right side out and press flat.

Make three tuck pleats about 1/2 inch each along each short edge of the rectangle. You can pin these. (I have a lot of practice at this kind of thing, so I just eyeballed them.) I used a wide zig-zag stitch to then stitch over the pleats about 1/4 from the edge. This is thick, so don’t force your machine or you will break needles at this step. Do this on each short edge. It doesn’t matter which way you pleat, as long as the pleats go the same way on each end.

Cut two strips of fabric to make ties. I use the full width of a piece of 45″ super soft muslin, cut 2 inches high. (I fold the fabric in half, matching the selvedge edges and cut it all the way across.) A 45″ fabric is a great length to make ties.

Use a 1 inch bias tape maker to press the long edges of your strips (see video below). Fold the strips in half (the short way) to find the center and pin that to the center of one long edge of the mask. Starting at the end of the tie strip, fold in half the long way (matching the folded edges) and stitch close to the fold. When you get to the mask (pinned to the center of the strip), slide the mask raw edge inside the folded strip and keep stitching all the way to the end of the tie. Repeat for the other long edge of the mask. You don’t need to worry about finishing the short ends of the ties, because they are the fabric selvedge, they won’t fray. These are reversible (top to bottom and inside outside)

If you’d like a wire/pipecleaner to help fit it to the top of the nose, that would be very easy to insert at the center as you are stitching the tie strips.

6 January, 2020

2019: The year that faded away

2020-01-06T16:42:55-06:00Everything Else|3 Comments

Just before Christmas, we lost our beautiful Chester. We adopted him and his brother Leo when they were 6 months old and we got a message from a friend that there were these puppies in need of a rescue. We thought we might be nuts getting two puppies at once, but it turned out to be messy, chaotic and ridiculously affectionate fun. Chester had a cancer of the blood vessels that had spread from his abdomen to his lungs. We had no idea that anything was wrong until very early one morning when he woke us up whimpering. The emergency vet was the kindest and most gentle person who had to break the news that the tumor had ruptured, he was bleeding internally and there was nothing that we could do but say goodbye. The cancer had taken over. It was a shock and it took us a few days to be able to talk about it without sobbing. He was much loved and he will be missed. My sincere thanks to everyone who heard and reached out to us with love. The photo above is one of my favorite pictures of him ever, blissed out and panting after fetching the ball a million times.

The rest of 2019 has just faded away into a blur. I had a couple of blog posts planned out; I often write a recap post of my year and a goal for the year ahead. But instead, I just took a social media hiatus. I stepped away and de-scheduled the posts and put my Etsy shops on vacation and I just took a break. In all honesty, the idea of having to deal with a panicked last minute online customer, a shipping issue or a negative comment on something was more than I could deal with. So I took a lot of walks with my husband and my newly-solo-labrador instead. And we ordered calzones and snuggled under blankets and watched Star Wars movies. We didn’t do fancy cookie baking, or put up a tree, or go to the holiday party, or cook a big meal or any of that stuff that many of us feel obligated to do at this time of year. And do you know what? I don’t think we missed it.

It feels good to start the year fresh. January rolled around and I turned back on the shops, dealt with the backlog of emails and Leo and I are figuring out a new routine. I work from a studio at home, so the dogs have always been my “coworkers”. It’s been bittersweet. Leo has started walking to the post office with me every day to drop off Etsy packages. Juggling a bag of mail and two large and enthusiastic dogs crossing traffic was always a little too much for me before, but Leo and I have it figured out. (He loves to hunt mice and stuff his face into the snow all the way up to his ears.) My husband works at a dog-friendly co-working space, so Leo went to work with him one day and then I picked him up and we made a trip through the bank drive through where he got a milkbone. I don’t usually take the dogs along on errands but I’m trying to do some things to keep him from just snoring on the couch all day now that there’s not someone always around to play chew-on-your-brother or chase-the-squirrel.

This feels like it could turn into one of those inspirational posts about new years and new beginnings but that’s really just not me. We are figuring things out a day at a time. Some days we try something new and some days we just need to let something go. And so far it’s turning out pretty ok.

18 December, 2019

A year of Design Challenges

2019-12-18T11:55:05-06:00Everything Else|1 Comment

Every week, Spoonflower posts a design challenge theme and asks designers to create something that is their interpretation of that theme. Themes this year have included pollinators, fitness, color-blocking, pirates and dinosaurs. In 2018, I made a goal for myself of designing something every week of the challenge. I decided to continue that in 2019, so this week was my 97th consecutive design. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, I post them there every week and often talk about how the design is made and what inspired my interpretation.

I was really happy this year that I had 6 designs that placed in the top 50 in the challenge at Spoonflower! My Color Blocked Elephants was my top finisher. It came in at #17. I also had one design – Eucalyptus Blossoms – featured in the Spoonflower holiday magazine. Most of the designs are also available in my Spoonflower shop in my 2019 Design Challenges collection.

I put together this slide show so you can see all 48 designs from this year and I marked my personal top 10 for the year and the six that placed in the Spoonflower Top 50. Some of these designs I love a lot – Striped Stegosaurus, Elizabeth, Moon Landing – and there are some that I am not so happy with. But I am super proud that I finished something every week. Practice! I am hoping in 2020 that I will break into the top 10.

Which was your favorite design from 2019? I’d love to know!

28 August, 2019

Pattern Review: Sydney Bag by Swoon Sewing Patterns

2019-08-28T16:54:09-05:00Everything Else|2 Comments

This spring I flew to DC and taught a weekend of classes for two different fiber art guilds there. I had time before my talk to chat with some of the members and they showed me a project they had been working on. A group of about 8 of them had gotten together one weekend and made Sydney Bags by Swoon Patterns. It’s a pretty cool crossbody bag with lots of practical pockets, nice details and ways to use combinations of different fabrics. We talked about how it would be fun to sew in some Spoonflower fabrics since that was what I was there to talk about. When I came home, I bought and downloaded the pattern but I didn’t get a chance to sew one until now.

I decided to make mine on a whim, so I used scraps and things from my stash. The print is one of my designs called Sara. I had some scraps of eco canvas left over from another project. (That design is available in my Spoonflower shop.) The contrast is a remnant of orange velveteen I bought because I liked the color. I had some metal zippers in my stash and I lined it in a deep blue dotty cotton print. It’s bold. I will admit that. But I love it.

The pattern was superb. The ladies that I talked to from the quilt guild said it was the hardest thing that they had ever made. I don’t think it was hard in the “I don’t have the skills to do this” sense, I think it was hard in the “wow this is complex and I have to pay attention” sense. It was hard, but the fun kind of hard.

The bag has tons of details. The front pockets have an inverted pleat and side gussets, plus two magnetic snaps under the flap. The way they went together was clever and even though there were a lot of steps, the instructions were excellent. Every step was there and clearly explained with diagrams. Assembling the front panel with 3 pockets in it was intense, but any time I got confused, I just had to read the instructions and do exactly what it said and it just worked. Lots of things about the way it went together were clever and very thoughtfully designed. It has a zip top, a pocket inside, a pocket on the back, and the three on the front. My keys and my phone go in those front pockets and I keep a notebook in the back one so it doesn’t get crumpled in the rest of the jumble of things in my bag.

I ended up at the fabric store twice because I didn’t read carefully and forgot to get D rings. I didn’t have the right size in my stash already. The strap was really long so it’s nearly doubled up on my bag, but it was easily adjustable with the slider. If I made it again I would cut that shorter. I’m only 5’4″, so I don’t need a long strap. I only made one tweak to the pattern. Instead of stitching a stay on the top of the back pocket, I just added another magnetic snap to hold it closed.

The finished bag is a good size for all of my stuff (and then some), but just a tiny bit too small for my laptop. I am really tempted to make another and just increase the width by a couple of inches so my laptop would fit inside. Or maybe I will see if they have a laptop bag design because this one was really fun. Five stars from me.

16 July, 2019

Artist vs Big Giant Company (with a happy ending)

2019-07-16T17:03:48-05:00Everything Else|1 Comment

If you follow a bunch of other artists and crafters on social media like I do, you will have seen stories about big giant companies (like Target and Anthropologie) using artists’ work without their permission. I have a friend who this happened to and it’s rotten. (I think hers had an ok resolution, but she isn’t allowed to talk about it.) My story is a little different and it starts with a video game.

You may or may not be a fan of video games. For the most part, I am not, although I love board games. Recently, a company called Niantic came out with a phone based game inspired by the Harry Potter Universe. It’s called Wizards Unite. In the game, you are a wizard helping to capture some magical creatures set loose in the real world and you find them by walking around and looking for them with your phone. If this sounds familiar, this game is based on the same platform as PokemonGo, which was all the rage just a few years ago. Like I said, I am not in to video games, but I am on board with anything Harry Potter inspired so I had to check it out. My husband and I have a fun time walking the dogs after dinner and exploring our local park for signs of magical beasts. There are lots of fire breathing chickens and baby hippogryphs there, in case you were wondering.

In the game there are “Greenhouses”, which are tied to geographic elements in the real world like a piece of public art, a neighborhood sign “Welcome to Northeast Park” or a sculpture or statue. They are spots to get a little spell energy or harvest potion ingredients.

On site installation of utility box wrap art.

In 2016, I proposed and got a grant to design three public art pieces for a neighborhood in Minneapolis. I collected photos from the neighborhood, assembled collages of those photos and covered three large utility boxes. Each one was everyday scenes made up of photos of everyday objects. You can read more about the whole project and see more photos here.  Dandy the dog is made from photos of dandelions, coffee cup lids, pennies and has a rosebud for a tongue. I even made a kids book to accompany the public art pieces.

On my way walking to a meeting in that neighborhood, I pulled out my phone to see what was around and to my complete delight, one of my utility box art installations was a Greenhouse! That’s a picture of it in that little pentagon shape. My art was in the Harry Potter game!

This might seem like a silly thing to be excited about. But for an artist, getting people to notice your stuff is a monumental task. It’s hard. A game that encourages people to walk over and look at this piece is brilliant. And it’s been there for almost 3 years now; I was afraid it was going to just start becoming part of the background noise and no one would notice it anymore. So I am thrilled.

The name of the Greenhouse is the title of the piece, Look Both Ways. This set of boxes has a bike on one side and a cat and a traffic light on the other. Next to the title, you can see an “i” in the circle next to the title, and you can tap on that to see more about the piece.

There it is! A nice photo of my piece and my name….. um… sort of. Yes, that says “Becks ran 2016“. I was heartbroken.

How did this happen? Niantic has a whole process that lets anyone submit a location to be added to the game. I have to guess that some enthusiastic Pokemon player thought this would be a great spot and submitted it. It’s right near a light rail station. It’s a great spot. They just couldn’t remember how to spell my name.

My first reaction was to think: huge company will not care if my name is on it or not. I will have to just live with it and there goes the blog post I was going to write, because it’s just too sad.

But then I snapped out of the pity party and thought if I don’t ask, no one else is going to. So I started by sending them a tweet. Nobody answered. So after a few days I got on the website and looked for a way to submit a correction. I found a form but it was about deleting a location completely, which isn’t what I wanted to do. So I sent an email through a contact form.

They auto-responded with a link to that same “delete a location” link. I was a little worried that they would just delete it if I reported anything, but I filled out the form. I looked up the latitude and longitude (thanks Google Maps). I tried to explain that I didn’t want it deleted, just to fix a typo. I sent a photo so they could see the piece in the game and my name printed right on it. I submitted a business card as requested. I crossed my fingers.

They auto-responded again:

Thanks for taking the time to write in. In order to proceed with your request, you must be the Mayor, a senior level city official, or the Director of this site. If you haven’t already, please send one of the following items to ensure that we can process your request without any delays:

– Attach a scanned copy of your business card.
– Attach a letter written on official letterhead of the organization.
– Submit the request using an email address from the organization’s domain.

We take extra verification steps to ensure that this request is on behalf of the Parks Department and appreciate you taking the time to provide us with these materials. If you are not the Mayor, a senior level city official, or the Director of this site, please have them submit a request.

At this point, I figured I was doomed. This piece doesn’t have anything to do with the Parks Department and I am pretty much 100% certain that the Mayor of Minneapolis wasn’t going to write a letter on my behalf.

So I tried again. I wrote back and explained that I was just an artist trying to get appropriate credit for my work. I offered to have the neighborhood association who commissioned me to do the piece write a letter to them. I asked if there was anything else I could do.

And then I met Steve. An actual human emailed me back this time. He said he had reviewed my request and made the necessary adjustments. Wait, really?

Yes, really. It took a couple of weeks for the update to work its way through, but I was in the neighborhood again today, my wizard stopped in her favorite Greenhouse and look what she saw:

I’m delighted. Probably only 1% of people actually tap on that little “i” icon and see that name, but I know that it’s there. (and now you do too.)

Persistence and patience paid off. And once I got to speak to a human, he understood the situation and he helped make it right. Thanks Steve.

So I am going to throw some muggle money at the app later tonight and get myself some Ravenclaw swag. It’s a free app to play, but it didn’t get made for free. (I’m married to a software developer and I know they work hard.) I enjoyed the game before and I enjoy it even more now that I know they aren’t a big company ignoring an artist. They didn’t have to have that little info box in the game, but they do and that means something to me. So this one has a happy ending.

My wizard in the game is named Prestidigitatia; email/DM me and I will send you my friend code if you want to be game friends. Maybe we can fight off a Dementor together someday.

Go to Top