Thursday, April 30, 2009

USPS... what happened to you?

There has been this ongoing issue with one of my packages that has finally been resolved. I hate to crab about it, but I have GOT to get this off my chest.

I had an overseas customer who ordered some of my fiber because of the "Stone Soup Challenge". Her package did not arrive after two months... overseas is slow, but that was a little ridiculous. So I sent a replacement package to a relative that lives here in the states that was about to come over for a visit. Priority Mail. Supposed to arrive in a few days, right?

Twenty days had passed and the electronic tracking showed no movement after the package reached Houston. I made six phone calls over the course of two days, trying to track down that package. I bitched, whined, pleaded, and eventually tried humor and humility... I was *desperate* to have that package be found. I was sure this customer was going to think me a flaky weirdo because I couldn't get a shipment to arrive.

In the midst of all this, the first package was returned... marked up like you wouldn't believe. I'm surprised they could still see the return address.

Eventually, I returned the customer's money. I was very bitter... not towards the customer, but towards the US Postal service. If I couldn't rely on them to send my packages, how could I continue with my business? When the USPS screws up... it costs ME money, gives me tremendous amounts of stress, and wastes bucketloads of my time. I was *this* close to just chucking it all and moving to Tahiti. Or you know, something less expensive.

Well today the family member arrived overseas and guess what? They had received the package. The customer sent my money back once again, but that's not the point. The point is I was completely stressed out because the USPS' electronic tracking system was completely unreliable.

Now I have another package out there, and I have no idea if it has arrived... same kind of deal, there's no movement on the tracking number. I can't do business this way. If they're going to only scan the packages into the system when they feel like it (never) then they need to take the electronic confirmation numbers OFF their list of services.

I'd switch to UPS or FedEx, but unfortunately the same two pound package costs over $11 to ship UPS, and I haven't even priced FedEx recently, but I remember them being even more expensive when I checked a few years ago.

Well, it's a good thing I didn't ask the USPS to refund my postage. Now I'm going to have to start convo'ing all my customers to make sure their packages arrive, and it's going to look like I'm nagging for feedback... which I hate.

Summer is usually my slow season... is it here yet?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Starting Over!

My husband is a finicky gamer-boy. He has certain expectations in his games... how a character progresses, how certain accomplishments are achieved, etc. The single-most heard cry from his office (besides "F*#$ this game!") is "I'm starting over!" If his game doesn't go just *so*, he basically reboots it.

I had a similar experience yesterday when I got my birthday gift, the 32" Kromski Harp loom. Once I put it together (withOUT the supposedly included assembly DVD... thanks PF!) it took me a few hours to warp it up. Once I did, I did a few throws and noticed I'd threaded the heddle incorrectly. At first I thought I could live with it (I'd skipped a slot) but as the piece grew, that one line of double threads in the same direction seemed to mock me.

So I cut my first few inches off the loom (perhaps this is what is really meant by the phrase "loom waste"?) and retied it after straightening out the threading. Here's the progress so far:

Despite the fact that I don't have the stand, and the standing over the loom on my low dyeing table has made my back start screaming for mercy, weaving is addictive. I know, I know... some of y'all could have told me that. But I haven't felt this kind of need to "do just one more before I stop!" since the last really good RPG I played.

I think, though, I'm now in a good enough position that I won't feel the need to shout "I'm starting over!" any time soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How to make your own backstrap loom for a few dollars

A little background. A backstrap loom is a weaving loom where the tension on the warp threads is maintained by a strap that goes around your waist, while the other end of the warp threads are fixed to a stationary point... a tree, doorknob, table leg, or other sturdy item. The shed (the space between the up and down threads that you weave between) is formed by a rigid heddle device made up of slots and holes... warp threads move freely through the slots, but are moved up and down when in the holes. You manipulate them by moving this heddle up or down, depending on which row you are on.

So I give you: The $2 backstrap loom

What you'll need: One piece of inkjet printable shrink film
(one brand name is ShrinkyDink, but there are others), sharp pointed scissors or exacto knife, scrap yarn or stout cord for the strap, an unsharpened pencil or dowel about the size of a pencil, a single-hole paper punch (standard size) and my schematic image (shown below)

Following the directions on your shrink film packaging, print the above picture on an 8.5x11 sheet, using the entire sheet of shrink film for the one image (check your printer settings carefully, use print preview, and if possible print on paper first to make sure it will come out correctly). Cut the two large rectangular pieces apart... this will create two heddles.

Believe me, it is easier to mess one up than you think! The main rectangle shape does bleed over, but this is normal.

Cut out the oval slots first while leaving the main rectangle whole... this is why pointed scissors were essential. Poke through carefully! This is when I put a tear in mine that eventually became the snapping point.

Once the oval slots are cut out, it will be easier to get to the holes with a paper punch... but be careful, as the film can still tear. MAKE SURE you leave solid parts on either side of the punched hole! If you get too close to the edge, when it shrinks that part will break, and the hole will not work properly. I know it's a tight fit, but center it as best you can.

Once you have all slots cut out and holes punched (don't worry too much about neatness, the next step will smooth out a lot of rough edges) it's time to shrink! Follow the directions on the package, but pay attention to any tips they give for even shrinkage. My brand recommended lower temps for a longer time. However, every brand I've seen still only takes a few minutes even at the lowest settings. (I placed mine on a sheet pan lined with a scrap of tinfoil for baking)

Remove item from the oven when done BUT DO NOT TOUCH IT until completely cool. My first one I skewed the slots into snake-like shapes by picking it up too soon. Let it cool completely.

Mine shrunk to about a third of its original size... you won't be using bulky yarn for your warp on this little guy... the holes get pretty tiny. But it's a good, cheap alternative if you want to make purse straps from fingering weight, or give the kids a vacation project.

Warping and weaving with this little gadget is a whole other post. However, with a few YouTube videos and my own cussing and fighting with it, I managed to muddle my way through a few inches without any weaving training.

This was done with some leftover Knitpicks cotton/something yarn. The shrinky heddle was definitely hard on the warp threads if you used it for beating down the woven weft threads... so I switched to using my finger instead. There would probably be less wear on a wool or synthetic blend. Also,

I had intended to show this item's construction on a video, but it took way longer than my time limit just to cut out the parts. Even with editing, it was a long, long vid. And then to top it off, about ten minutes after I snapped the progress picture above, I tried to use it to beat down the weft thread, and broke it at a weak point where I tore the plastic film before shrinking.

So the end result of this experiment? If you've got a pack of shrinky film, and want to try weaving to see if you like it, this is a good way to get started. As for me, I'm ordering my loom later today... but no stand. That $110 can be saved till next payday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not stirring that up...

While it would be very tempting to say things like "Just because I drink tea and live in Texas doesn't mean I attended a tea party." I'm not going to go political in this blog post... much. That's as close as I'll get. However it does remind me of Tim Curry's character in Clue: "My wife and I had friends who were... socialists! Well, we all make mistakes."

If you ask me, if the industry in this country is going to continue to urge the American public to spend beyond its means via commercials and its attitudes, then we're going to need socialized medicine and other programs to help them out when the crapola hits the fan.

See what I did there? Went political anyway. Done now.

I'm in the midst of an experiment. I know I said I was ordering a rigid-heddle weaving loom for my birthday gift tomorrow, but I keep looking at the shopping cart total and thinking that it's an awful lot of money. It's not like last year with my purchase of my spinning wheel... which I have not regretted for a single instant. No, I know I will LOVE weaving. My problem is with the fact that while the loom itself is a specialized piece of equipment that is not easily duplicated, I am balking at the expense of making it fully functional. An extra heddle is $45! The *stand* to make it freestanding (basically seven sticks held together by bolts) is $110 fricken dollars! For sticks! So if I want any extras, my $250 loom becomes a $700 purchase. That's an extra heddle in the other two available sizes, the stand, extra shuttle (another stick), and two cheap cones of yarn. And two cheap instruction books from Amazon. I can't spend that.

So the experiment is fashioning my own backstrap loom. Pictures and how-to may follow. It depends on how it turns out later today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Majesty of Space Bags

In our tiny apartment, I've been getting that crazed, overcrowded feeling that makes me cranky. In an effort to reorganize better, I started taking my roving inventory out of the clear plastic Rubbermaid tubs and packing them into Space Bags... those storage system bags you see on TV that you suck all the air out of? Such total life savers! They were made for items whose bulk is mostly made of air. My entire inventory is now the size of a travel garment bag. Very awesome. And testing shows that the roving bounces right back once open, even after prolonged storage.

I think my whole personal stash is going to go this route too.

I have finally finished Clue #1 of the Mystic Rose knit-along shawl. Kept going straight into Clue #2. It seems essentially the same as one, just wider. I've made a crap-ton of mistakes that I will NOT rip back to fix, however I may make another one at a later time in a different yarn. Not right away though. I've discovered that I NEED a mindless, no-chart-needed knitting project to go with my complex ones, otherwise my brain tries to shut itself down.

I have not gotten much further on the Silk Roses roving I am spinning. I did a little of it yesterday, but since I've been trying to catch up on the shawl, I have not been spinning much since I started it. I do want to get it spun up before I order my loom for my birthday. That's going to happen sometime later this week.

Two rovings were posted to my shop last week, along with some new stitch markers. I have a couple more sets of stitch markers coming too... the coordinated sets of Czech fire-polished glass beads make for some lovely sets.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

I was going to show off some batik-dyed easter eggs here, but most of them cracked on me so... not so attractive.

However there may be a limited-edition easter-egg dyed roving in the future. Hate to waste a good cup of dye. :D

Monday, April 6, 2009

This week on Hullion Artworks...

Until sales pick up a bit, I'm scaling back production. Don't worry! I'll still endeavor to create blogs on a regular basis, but I don't like having more than three pages of Etsy listings. Until old stock moves, I don't move... or something less stubborn-sounding. :D

We're still planning a vacation in July. Grandpa Ken is not getting better, unfortunately, and Gramma sounds lonely and a little scattered, so no matter what the money situation is, we're going to have to get up there. I keep worrying we're going to have to go up early to attend services, if you know what I mean. :( He hasn't been the same since he fell off the roof four years ago trying to replace his own shingles.

There is stuff in the drying room. A new batch of "Wicked Candy" roving which turned out with more white than I like, and a new colorway that was *supposed* to have teal, red, and purple in it. Unfortunately the yellow part of the teal decided not to stick, so it's royal blue. We'll see how that looks when it's dry. Right now I feel like I've got Superman's pajamas on the line.

Still plugging away at the Mystic Roses Shawl... on clue #1! It's almost 100 rows in the first clue, I don't know how people are keeping up with these things. It's gotten large enough that it's taking me an entire hour-long episode of a TV show to knit one row and purl back! I'm also making slow progress on spinning up my Silk Roses roving, although my ankles were protesting yesterday.

At this rate I am never going to get back to my Scorched socks. :/ Or get to hubby's red "Fish Hat" before summer hits.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Limited Edition? KMA!

I have officially decided that the economy has made everyone crazy. Stable, reliable companies have started flaking on customer service, making irrational statements, or making insane business decisions.

Ignoring some of the crazy things computer gaming companies have said and done in the past couple months (Sony? Wise up!) let's focus on the world of fiber, yarn, and other homey type items for a moment, because that's what this blog is (supposedly) focused on.

In the past month, I have seen a huge rise in companies offering "limited edition" yarns and patterns. This past week, Knit Picks announced that their Palette sock yarn samplers (which have been so hugely popular they are almost never in stock) are going to be discontinued. Wha?! Doing the math for a moment, if you wanted to buy all three sets with enough to make a pair of socks in every color, you'd have to spend $210. I don't know many people that have that money laying around. My goal was to do just this, though, but one color set at a time. That's $70, which is a huge chunk of change all on its own. Knit Picks is also the company who created one of those adorable Sock Monkey patterns, also wildly popular, as a limited edition. I think it was avalable for all of a week before it sold out. And don't GET me started on the whole Wollemeise situation... that's a blog unto itself.

Now yesterday I get an email from DVO, an electronic cookbook company. I only use their organizing software, but they offer 100's of titles with pre-formatted recipes. Famous names like Betty Crocker, Taste of Home, etc. They're discontinuing their "Buy all our titles now!" package, because supposedly they lose too much money every time they sell it. BUT WAIT! We'll sell it to you for the next two days, then it's GONE! Hurry! Drop $400 in our wallet! Please!

I find that their cries of "Oh, it hurts us" less credible when they urge you to buy it... and then send you reminders every day.

Look, people... and by people, I mean companies... if customers want to give you money for something, and you make a profit with it, LET THEM. This "Limited Edition" nonsense may give you a short monetary boost, but it will hurt you in the long run. My husband's pay schedule has changed to less frequent but larger payments. Since I rely on sales for my own income, I'm pretty much at the whim of the market. I may not HAVE the money by the time your super-duper item's deadline occurs. I will probably have bought all these items eventually (well, not the cookbook package... I have too many titles already) but I am NOT going to make myself crazy trying to SCRAPE UP $210 for yarn on YOUR schedule!

All it looks like is that companies are afraid the money is going to run out, and they want to grab as much of it as they can before it dries up. Stop acting desperate.

I realize these are last-ditch efforts companies are taking before they have to start firing people or cutting pay, but honestly this kind of economy is where the cream is going to rise to the top. And if you're left standing at the end of all this, but you've put a bad taste in my mouth with your behavior during a crisis, I'm going to stop shopping with you. I've already dropped one supplier for flaking on customer service, care to make it two?