Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Annual Copyright Rant

On an irksomely regular basis, the question of copyright infringement raises its ugly head and this week I received an email from someone on this very subject.

She said in her email that she had signed up for a Jacobean embroidery course in her hometown. As the classes progressed, she became more interested in this type of embroidery and began searching the internet. She was surprised to see that a portion of the design that her instructor was using for her class was the exact copy (colors, stitches and design elements) of one of the motifs in one of my designs, a design that has been widely published. During one of the classes, one of the students asked the instructor how she develops her designs. Despite having claimed in the notes that the design was her illustration, she said that she had a part of the design and then just added another part. "She gave you no credit at all".

My correspondent went on to say that she felt very conflicted about this because she is sensitive about copyright issues and the rights of artists to protect their work, especially when this is their source of income. She continued by saying, "I am even more concerned after reading your comments on your blog about requests from clubs to use your designs for free. Perhaps you have licensed the instructor to use a portion of your design and I am over reacting. But, maybe not. Or, perhaps this design is a historical one, like quilt blocks and okay to copy." She closed her email by asking me for my thoughts.

And give her my thoughts, I did. Copyright infringement is one of my hobby horses, partly because we live in a country which has a reputation second only to China for this crime and also because I realise that, because the subject does not come into the school curriculum many people, unless they have had reason to become informed, do not know that the concept even exists. So, what follows is much of my reply to her.

Some years ago I discovered that a teacher in Johannesburg was copying my designs, printing them on fabric and passing them off as her own to her students. This discovery happened quite by chance as I had popped in, on my way out of Johannesburg, to see her about something else and happened to spot some packs for sale, packs that were quite obviously my designs (in their entirety) but marked as her products. A person normally given to knee jerk reactions, on this occasion I hardly reacted and didn't say a word. After I left, I got onto the highway and commenced the long drive home, steaming. If you had overtaken me you might even have seen smoke coming out of my ears. About two hours into the journey my husband, who is a lawyer, phoned to see how I was going and I blurted out the whole problem to him, as one does. He immediately went into lawyer mode, telling me my rights under the law, the solutions that I had, and told me I should have bought one from her as proof (not possible under the circumstances). But I said to him, wait. I'm a woman. I don't have testosterone and I don't immediately go into fight mode. Let me think about this, we'll chat tonight when I'm home. To be fair, he doesn't go into fight mode. He's the calmest person in the world. He was just trying to help.

By the time I got home, having driven for six hours, I had decided that I needed to research the copyright thing fully and asked my husband to give me a few days to work out some questions, that he would then answer, from a legal point of view. I knew about copyright and I tried not to infringe it, but I needed to know more and, specifically, how it applied to what I do. I asked him about seven or eight questions, most of which are irrelevant to this situation, but one that was relevant. Incidentally, the question that, for me, was the most important of all of them.

Jacobean embroidery, by its very nature, relies on traditional shapes and motifs. When drawing a Jacobean design you have to use motifs that are either a copy or are very similar to motifs that have been used for hundreds of years. It wouldn't have the Jacobean look if you didn't. So, if a designer were to, say, take a motif from a piece of wallpaper, another from a book, yet another from an embroidery design and so on, then weave them into a design of her own, would that constitute an infringement of copyright?

The reason why I needed to know this was because all of us, no matter how clever or talented we are, have to fall back on what has gone before and I didn't want to accuse someone of copyright infringement when I, myself, take inspiration from - well - everywhere.

He came back to me a few days later with a no-holds-barred legal opinion. Needless to say, it was in legal speak, a whole other form of so-called English, and I had to ask him to translate much of it for me. Not having Ritalin to hand for concentration, that took a while. Fortunately I am not completely stupid and, having worked through it with him, I not only understood it perfectly but was also, eventually, able to write articles and discuss it with authority, using his legal opinion as my guide. One of those articles appears on my website at http://hazelblomkamp.co.za/useful-information/copyright-information and if you would like to know more about the subject, you are welcome to read it.

For the purposes of the current problem, though, we only need to interpret the following.

First of all, our country, is a signatory to the Berne Convention, which deals with copyright and applies to all countries that are signatories, which includes pretty much all the countries that we need to worry about. On that specific question he advised that if a design were to land up in front of a judge and he or she was required to make a decision, that judge would look at whether the design could have come into being without the infringement. In other words, that the infringing elements form the basis of, essence of, and majority of the design, that without them the design could not exist. If that proves to be the case then the second 'designer' would be guilty of infringing copyright.

So, if your instructor has used one element of my design and surrounded it with elements from elsewhere, she is not infringing my copyright.

That does, of course, brings us to a whole other place. Ethics. It's not the same as law and sometimes what is legal is not necessarily ethical. Ethics are somewhat esoteric, hard to pin down and what might be ethical to one person may not be to another. They should be universal, but they aren't. Not in all aspects. My personal feeling is that if you are going to 'take inspiration' from something, you should never copy it in its entirety, which seems to be the case here (colours and stitches) and that if you do you should, at the very least, acknowledge that you have done so. Probably your instructor should at least acknowledge her source and she's silly if she doesn't because that design appeared in Inspirations Magazine about two years ago. Many people (worldwide) have seen it, stitched it, used it, ordered it from me. I taught it at Koala Conventions in Brisbane earlier this year. So it is very much out there and for the sake of her own reputation, she would be wise to at least give it a nod.

I would be lying to you if I said that I had never copied anything. I have, particularly while I was developing my 'talent'. I watched an interesting Charlie Rose talk show in the last year or so, the subject being 'The Creative Brain'. Apart from a neuro-scientist or two, a number of artists were on the panel. All of those artists, without exception, said that their learning process included wholesale copying. It was how they developed their personal styles, and that after years of copying they found that the style was embedded in their psyche and that they were producing completely original works in the same style. I found that interesting because that has been my own experience. After all, after thousands of years of human endeavour on this earth, there can be very little that hasn't been done before.

For the last seven or eight years I have not bought Jacobean, or indeed any embroidery, books. The only books I buy nowadays are stitch guides and books on techniques, particularly historical techniques. This is partly because I have reached a point where I don't find inspiration in books anymore, but mostly because I don't want to be influenced by other embroiderers. I want to be completely original. And I am, by and large, getting that right. When I draw a Jacobean design I no longer look at what is being done out there. I now have my own style and am able to draw my own shapes and motifs without reference to anyone else's work, be it William Morris or a current designer. But it took me years to get there. The interesting thing is that, having decided to do that, I find that I have far more original thought than I had ever imagined I would and that I get so much satisfaction from being original. Actually, satisfaction is not really the right word. Pride would be more descriptive. A deep, personal, warm sense of achievement.

But even with all of that, I have to acknowledge that I am still not completely original. That's impossible because I am inspired all the time. It might be an upholstery fabric, or a piece of wallpaper or, most recently, a trip to Russia and Ukraine where there is quite the most exquisite art and craft. Gosh, that trip inspired me. But there is a large gap between inspiration and copying. And certainly those that take something in its entirety (even a motif) are not inspired. They are copying, even though you might have a hard time proving it in a law court.

The solution to your dilemma? On the one hand, at least your tutor is promoting hand embroidery - which is in danger of disappearing - but on the other if she is saying that her work is completely her own (as she appears to be doing when she lays claim to being the illustrator) then she not being honest with herself or her students. I think that, paticularly as you are in a town where there is limited opportunity, you should continue learning from that teacher, despite your misgivings. For your own sake. As you said to me in your email, you are enjoying the embroidery and it would be sad to give it up because you've lost respect for that aspect of her character. Take what you can for your own selfish needs and in return, give back by using any opportunities that arise to discuss the ins and outs of copyright and ethics in class. She might learn something and so might your fellow students.

I feel I must add here that if she had emailed me to ask for my permission, I would have given it. I often do. Yes, I derive an income from what I do, but at the same time if a person is starting off in the business of designing embroidery, I am the first in line to help. As I've often said, I'm not a particularly generous person but we are, in a sense, all in this together and we need to help each other.

As to my original dilemma? The one that got me started on investigating the whole issue of copyright in the first place. Because I am a person who dislikes confrontation, I initially did nothing. I knew I should be doing something, but couldn't quite bring myself to do the deed. Then, about six months later a shop-owner phoned me prior to a workshop that I was going to be doing at her shop in Johannesburg, to tell me that somebody had not wanted to book on that workshop. Her reason being that I was copying everything that this aforementioned Johannesburg teacher was designing. So, I had to set the record straight, for my own sake. I went round to see her. Very reluctantly, I might add. She claimed, with a sweet and innocent voice, that she didn't know she wasn't allowed to do that. But I knew that she did, because she had been confronted on the issue before. So silly. They think that people don't talk. It's a small community that we inhabit and there has always been a grapevine, even before the days of Facebook and Twitter.

We parted on amicable terms but I was cross when I drove out of her property. Absolutely livid because she had tried to fob me off. Maybe even thought I was a bit stupid and that she had got away with it, yet again. So, without going into too much detail, I named and shamed her. Let it be widely known that she had been confronted on the issue, so that she could never again claim that she didn't know that it was wrong. That really set the cat among the pigeons and, here's the interesting thing. I was the one who received the hate mail. But I knew that I was the one in the right, that I was actually the victim here. So I quietly stuck to my guns, largely ignored it (although I did put the phone down on one particularly obnoxious person) and it passed with, I must say, my having made some really good friends along the way. Other original designers, with identical problems, who have become really firm friends.

I thought she wouldn't dare to copy me again, so I'm going to tell you a really funny story.

About ten or twelve years ago I bought a book by mistake. I was in a hurry, thought it was a stumpwork book, and then got it home to find that it was nothing of the sort. It was a book on needle lace. My initial reaction was disappointment and the fact that I had wasted money on what was, as it happens, quite an expensive book. But the more I looked at the book, the more I loved the look of the needle lace and eventually set about working out a way to incorporate the techniques into my embroidery. Months and months of work, I might add. In essence, doing that is what put me on the map, embroidery-wise. It is because of that, largely, that I have ended up writing books and travelling the world teaching what I do. I am not going to say that it has never been done before. It probably has. But certainly in recent years, it is me that has introduced the idea of using needle lace techniques, to the extent that I do, in embroidery and, specifically, Jacobean embroidery.

So back to the funny story. I was a vendor at a convention in Johannesburg during September this last year. A group of ladies were at my stand admiring my embroidery and during the course of our conversation they told me that they were learning needle lace techniques from (insert name of aforementioned Johannesburg teacher). 'She invented it for embroidery, you know'!!!!!!!!

What can you do? After you've picked you jaw up off the floor, you just have to laugh and reaffirm in your mind that actually, all you can do is to keep one step ahead of every one else. I know that, for now, I have that in me. That as I said, earlier, I have original thought and I must not be lazy. I must continue to be inventive. Because that's the nub of it. But for the pernicious practice of claiming it as your own, copying others is just laziness.

So, that was my rather long reply to this poor lady who had emailed me out of concern, not expecting to get a novel to read in return. I am grateful that she did contact me, not because I can necessarily do anything about it but because it reminded me that, on at least an annual basis, one needs to raise the issue of copyright infringement. As a way of keeping the topic alive, as a way of keeping the discussion going, as a way of educating the public and as a service to my fellow designers, whose work is being copied just as much as mine is.

A couple of years ago, my annual article on the subject was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek epistle, although I was being perfectly serious. When I've posted this missive, I'll post that one for you to read. Those of you that don't live in my part of the world won't recognise many of the names of the people mentioned. Suffice to say, they are all corrupt politicians in our country, or their drug-smuggling spouses and our erstwhile Commissioner of Police. Enjoy.

A Previous Copyright Rant (and nothing's changed)

This article, written in 2011, was published in South African Stitches Magazine.

It’s supposed to be autumn, but here we sit in hot and humid weather having been warned on the weather report last night to expect a high discomfort index. I’m tired of summer. We’ve had enough now and need some cooler weather. I usually find my trip to Hobby X in Johannesburg is a welcome relief from Natal’s hot and humid early March weather, but this year the Reef got hit by a heat wave during that week, so no respite. However, it was still good to be at Hobby X. It’s a place where we meet up with our friends from all over the country, catch up with news, share a few glasses of wine and supper, then return home feeling happy. And this year was no different, albeit that I received an interesting phone call from Dude the day after the show closed.

There I was at The Dome, supervising the loading of our boxes to be freighted home having had a successful show, knowing that my husband had flown off to Cape Town on business and that Dude was looking after things at home. Life was good. But you should never, ever get too comfortable. Things were not going well for Dude. He’d had a ‘small’ accident in the Patriarch’s car the night before. Could I please pass on the glad tidings to Father? It’s always the mother that has to break that sort of news, isn’t it? On asking questions - once I had established that he was not injured - it turns out that Bru needed to be taken home late on Sunday night and Dude decided that, instead of using the petrol in his own car, he would use the petrol in Father’s car. It was standing there, not being used, so why not? I could have told him why. On the way home he hit a hole in the road that should have been covered with a metal plate, it burst a front tyre, he lost control and crashed through the railings of the Duzi River bridge. Thankfully he landed on the bank and not in the river. I duly phoned Father, begging him to be gentle with the poor boy who was feeling as bad as he possibly could feel. Needless to say, the accident was not that ‘small’. The car has been written off, Dude has learnt one of his hardest lessons and Father’s brand new car will be delivered today. It’s been an expensive month!

But onto something that interested me up on the Reef. I was driving on the R21 from Pretoria to Joburg when I noticed a billboard advertising a website called ‘unashamedly ethical’. I was interested enough to have a look at it when I got home, but more than that it got me thinking about the whole question of ethics as it applies to what we do. The thing is that there is a national pre-occupation with corruption, theft of public funds, jobs for relatives - no whole mining companies for relatives - and Shabir Sheik playing golf while he should be rotting in jail. Are we entitled to complain and make snide remarks about all of this? I think not and I’m going to tell you why.

I once noticed half a ton of cigarette butts in the stones outside Dude’s window. They were the result of the happy get-togethers that happen in his bedroom. I’ve described them before. Everyone slouching over Applemacs, chatting, updating Facebook, drinking and smoking. They don’t use the ashtrays which we can provide. Oh no. The butt just gets hurled out of the window. At the time of my discovery, I didn’t say a word. Just bided my time and it was only a few days later that Dude went off pop over the filth and litter that we have in our city, with its bankrupt municipality. And that was my chance. I told him that he was a hypocrite. You can’t complain about people who don’t use rubbish bins if you and your Chinas can’t even be bothered to look for an ashtray

People who count needlecrafts as their hobby are not unsophisticated people. Most of them are white women, educated, living in leafy suburbs, with two cars in the garage and a swimming pool in the garden. In the kitchen is a maid and in the garden is a gardener. Many of them are to be found taking up space in church pews on a Sunday. But as comfortably middle-class and self-righteous as they are, they are no better than petty criminals when it comes to copyright infringement and getting a bargain. They just don’t get it. They really don’t. And I’m at a loss to explain why.

Let’s start with copyright infringement. For many years there were sanctions in place against South Africa and many people speculate that this is where the problem started. You know, they won’t sell it to us, so we’ll just copy it. I think that’s a weak excuse. There haven’t been sanctions for nearly twenty years now. But the copyright culprits are still at it, fingers elegantly poised over photocopier buttons, churning out page after plagiarized page. But, let’s be kind and say that is the reason why, if you try to explain the concept of copyright to some people, what you get in return is a blank stare. You know, the door of the mind is open but whatever goes in hangs around in the entrance hall looking confused. They cannot process the fact that if someone has designed, written, composed or otherwise created something, that person owns it and all the rights to it. It is the creator’s intellectual property. An abstract concept, I agree, but surely not a difficult one to understand? If that confused person visits her doctor, who uses his intellectual capabilities to diagnose her symptoms, she expects to pay for that? Paying royalties to an artist is no different. So that’s the first category in the copyright mafia. The ‘Dumb and Dumber’.

The next category is the Multiplugs. (So-called, because they are like electricity thieves in the townships. You’ve seen it on the news. A roadside transformer with an illegal cable and a multiplug, put there by a helpful member of the community to assist all stakeholders. It provides free electricity to all the houses in the street.) Multiplugs move in groups, know where all the best shops are, visit the craft shows and, of late, have learnt how to surf the internet. They buy one book then make photocopies for the other members in the group. The person who takes on the copying job also makes copies for her sister, her auntie, her next door neighbor and her daughter’s gay friend who is into needlework. Many of the Guilds are the worst culprits here. They know that what they’re doing is illegal but they don’t care because in a country where prosecutors’ time is taken up with headless bodies and the rape of 4-year olds, they know that even if a docket were to land on a desk in the Department of Justice, it would be marked ‘decline to prosecute’ because this country has bigger fish to fry.

The Multiplugs category has a sub-category called the Heavy-Duty Multiplugs. These are the ladies that have gone abroad and done a workshop. They buy all the books and goodies, come home and quickly set themselves up as teachers of whatever it is that they have learnt. Very often they will claim that only they have the rights to teach the techniques. Now, on one level that’s probably okay. One hopes, though, that they’ve had the manners to ask the person who taught them for permission to pass on the techniques. It is on the other level that it all goes terribly wrong. Those books they bring back get copied, page for page, chapter for chapter, and get sold to their students. This is wholesale theft of intellectual property. They think that because they sit on the bottom tip of Africa they won’t be found out. Well, the world is not as big as it used to be and they will eventually be caught. It’s not a good idea to be a Heavy-Duty Multiplug. It could cost you your life savings if say, an American author gets wind of what you’re doing and decides to sue. Remember Americans can pay local lawyers in US dollars. With our exchange rate? Do the sums.

The next bunch is the 13% gang. They’ve heard of copyright, but they think that they have worked out ways to get around it. They say that you can pass someone’s design off as your own, provided you have made 1/13/25 changes or that 10/20/25% has been altered. The numbers vary depending on who you’re speaking to. I don’t bother getting into a debate with them. The fact that I’ve been married to a lawyer for nearly 30 years and, with his assistance, have gone into copyright law in great detail, would mean nothing to them. They always know better. They’ve got some cousin’s brother-in-law’s sister’s boyfriend whose father’s cousin’s stepson is a magistrate and that person told them that 13 changes would mean they weren’t copying! Well, they are wrong and if they were ever to land up in front of a Judge - the real thing with red robes - they would get a very nasty shock.

I have a favourite stupid remark that always forms part of any discussion on copyright. It has been known to cause much mirth in our home and it goes like this. “But copyright is so complicated; it’s so hard to understand.” Oh please. Complicated? Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Keep your fingers away from the photocopier button. That’s not complicated, is it?

Let’s move on to the bargain hunters. I’m going to call them the ‘Rights Without Duties Brigade”. There are some businesses who sell DMC threads at very, very low prices. Prices so low that, at first, you doubt whether they can be genuine DMC threads? Well, I’ve looked at them and decided that they probably are. So how are they able to sell them at those prices? I buy them through the proper channels and I can’t do that. You can’t sell things for less than you’ve paid for them. So, let me enlighten you. They have relatives who travel. Some of those relatives are pilots or air hostesses. Others are regular travelers who form part of their extended families. These relatives come back into this country with suitcases full of threads and by luck – but more likely, design – they stroll through customs without declaring a thing and without paying a cent in import duty. Everyone loves a bargain and so do I. I won’t deny it. It stands to reason. If you can somehow manage to spend less on something, then you can treat yourself to something else. It’s simple economics. But buying things that have been smuggled into the country without import duty? That’s a bit like buying the alleged Cheryl Cwele’s alleged drugs brought in by alleged mules allegedly from South America.

It’s all so deliciously irritating and so very amusing to notice the hypocrisy. Of course everyone must do what they want to do, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting otherwise. But if you recognize yourself here, please remember that you may not complain about Duduzane Zuma’s shares in Arcelor Mittal, Shabir Sheik’s golfing habits, the thugs that had Jackie Selebi in their pockets and, indeed, you cannot be outraged when your house is broken into. There is no purpose to be served by putting criminal acts into categories. Crime is crime. Corruption is corruption. It’s that simple.

As an up to date addendum to this article and on the subject of bargain hunters, the "rights without duties brigade", our South African DMC importer and distributor went into liquidation about a month ago. Whilst not completely as a result of the abovementioned customs duty dodgers, the Euro/ZA Rand exchange rate having played a part too, I happen to know that stranded cotton was the mainstay of their business and that having reduced so because of these criminals, they eventually had to close. What that means of course is that unless another ethical agent comes to the fore, we are going to be forced to order from guess where, unless we bring it in ourselves (which I am investigating). What the people who bought from the dodgy dealers didn't consider while they were busy saving their pennies and were so pleased with themselves was that these dealers only brought in stranded cotton. Not perle threads, not metallic threads, not dentelles threads…….. I could go on and on but suffice to say, we are all going to suffer.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Am I Unreasonable

If you look up the word 'altruistic' it describes a person who is 'unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others'. I am not that person. Like most members of the human race, I tend to be selfish and more concerned for me (and mine) than I am for you (and yours). That is not to say, however, that I am completely unconcerned and I spend quite a bit of time, money and energy helping where I can. The primary focus of my benevolence is animals in general and dogs in particular. Human beings do terrible things to animals and not enough people care about that.

Where humans are concerned, my approach tends to be one of tough love. I feel strongly that if every able-bodied human took proper responsibility for his or her choices and taught his or her children to do the same thing, poverty could be minimised, the birth rate would fall to manageable levels and everyone could have a job so that we could all live with dignity. Needless to say, I don't believe in handouts because that just creates bottomless pits that will never be filled. If, however, you are down on your luck (for whatever reason) and you ask me for a job, I will oblige if I have work for you to do. I will pay you a living wage, I will show you the respect you deserve and if you do that job well, I will encourage you to continue working for me. I will give you an increase, I will give you a bonus at Christmas time and I will become your friend.

My business is designing embroidery, writing about it and putting kits and packs together. I am not in the business of looking after anyone's life savings, neither do I save people's lives. I don't need to employ people with seventeen degrees and an MBA. I just need to employ people who are willing and interested. To this end, when I need help in my business I take my time finding that help and I tend to look for people who themselves need help. If you are a pensioner, not quite making it on your fixed income, I will give you a job. If you are widowed and lonely, I will employ you so that you have somewhere to go and people to see on a few mornings a week. We have one job in this business that requires almost no skills. The studio, and the area surrounding it, needs to be cleaned a few times a week. To do that job, I employ a middle-aged black man. I found him after making enquiries and he has worked for me for about two years now.

I live in the country that has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and the province that I live in has the highest rate in the country. Along with these statistics, there is stigma, superstition and desperation. My middle-aged black man (who I will not name) is one of the statistics. A thoroughly decent, but unsophisticated human being. A person who, despite his illness, wants to work. He comes to work a few times a week and we allocate his working days to fit in with his visits to the AIDS and Tuberculosis clinics that he has to attend to keep himself alive. In the same way that I pay my other staff members, his wages come from the proceeds of my business. My contribution to the fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa is not huge, but it is larger, on a daily basis, than that made by the average citizen in the developed world.

My country has a per capita income of US$6.85 and an unemployment rate of 24.7%. This morning I received the following email from a person in a country with a per capita income of US$40.88 and an unemployment rate 6.2%.

"Some time ago I purchased the full embroidery kit from you for your Floral Pomander, which I have recently completed (and am exceptionally pleased with the end result).

I am a member of the (name deleted) Embroiderers Guild, in (town and country deleted).

Our traditional embroiderers (a sub group of 12 members of the Guild who predominantly specialise in Traditional Embroidery) have asked if they could do this project as a Group Challenge (doing one panel per month for the next 12 months).

I am writing to ask if you are prepared to give your permission for us to photocopy my original pattern rather than having to purchase 12 more."

This was my reply:

"The sale of my embroidery designs in kit form is the nature of my business.

Apart from the normal business expenses, a major share of the income derived from these sales is how I pay the salaries of the people who work for me. One of these is an older lady who depends on her children for financial support and by working for me, their financial burden is eased a little. Another is a middle aged black man who has AIDS and is unable to find other employment or access a social grant. He comes in twice a week to clean the studio and the money I pay him is his only income.

Our country is not a welfare state and it falls to people like myself, people who run businesses and have a product to sell, to take care of the more vulnerable members of our society. Personally, I earn very little from my embroidery designs as I pay salaries without drawing one myself.

I realise that your members would like to save a few pennies but I am going to have to ask you not to photocopy and distribute that design amongst your members. I am prepared to send you 12 pattern and print packs, without threads and beads, to make the cost lower but I must ask you to take the ethical route and order from me."

If you embroider, or indeed have any hobby, it means that you have the kind of income that affords you this indulgence. You don't need to worry about how you are going to feed yourself from the little you can earn in between your visits to the AIDS clinic. Reasonable or not, I have sat here working away for a whole morning feeling outraged. Have I over reacted?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Range Of Beautiful Beads for Needlework

For quite a few years now, I have had the feeling that I ought to put a range of 'needlework beads' together. By 'needlework beads' I mean the following:

  • First and foremost, the beads must be good quality beads. There is just no point in taking hours, weeks and even months to work on a fine piece of embroidery or quilting only to embellish it with cheap beads that, quite frankly, can only be classed as rubbish.
  • The beads must be available in small packs because, on the whole, needleworkers want to use beads to embellish their work and create highlights, rather than create entire projects from beads.
  • The range of beads must include an array of shapes and sizes. Gone are the days of just using average size round beads when there are tubes, cubes, drops and faceted round beads, all of which create effects that vary. Effects that add value to a needle work project.
  • The range of colours must be varied and the price should be good. What's out there is, to be honest, limited and over-priced.

So, bearing all of the above in mind, I would like to introduce to you our range of beads.

  • Most importantly you can find them on my website. Go to http://www.hazelblomkamp.co.za/component/virtuemart/03-supplies/02-beads-and-crystals/08-japanese-beads and navigate from there to see all the colours, shapes, finishes and prices.
  • If you are a shop or a teacher, we have trade prices for you and you should email us asking for the trade price list. But, please bear in mind that if we don't know you, we may ask you to prove to us that you are a bona fide business.
  • If you are a Guild or a Club, we will give you a 25% discount for all group orders over R1 000.00. And that's not just an introductory offer. We will always give you that discount.
  • All are 2 gram packs - what we consider to be the ideal size for needleworkers.
  • You will see that on the ordinary beads, our prices are really competitive.
  • You will also see that some cost quite a bit more. That is because they have special finishes or are special shapes. Some examples are the copper- or 24 carat gold-lined beads, the nickel-plated beads, the Delicas and the Tila beads. Whichever way you look at it, these are special beads and we believe that they should be available for needleworkers in small packs. But they are more expensive.

Over the next few posts I am going to tell you about them.

Let's start today with shapes and sizes.


The ones that needleworkers are likely to use most often in both quilting and fine embroidery. Sometimes called 'petites', the size 15° beads are the smallest with the size 11° beads a little larger and the size 8° beads larger than those.

They can be used for stems, outlines and veins as in the image above, or stitched on individually as in the image below.

If it's a perfect circle that you want, a round bead is what you would look for:

Using just one size, or a combination of sizes:

If it's seed pods you would like, use a combination of beads. In the photograph below size 8° beads are being held down with 15° beads, giving the impression of the seeds that bulge out of a Jacobean style fruit.

In addition to the Round bead sizes mentioned above, we have a size 5° bead that is particularly useful when you want to cover a bead with thread, as in the image below:


Bugle beads are long skinny tubes that are under-used and under-rated. I find them very useful little things.

This is what I call bead seeding:

Combined with round beads in the images below, they form the border around either a leaf or a petal:

If you want to bead the edge of something, in this case a needlebook made from one of the designs in my new book, Crewel Intentions, out in June 2014, small bugles are just great.

That's as far as I am going to go today. It's 38 degrees centigrade outside, a really droopy sort of day and one on which it is hard to think in an inspired kind of way. When it gets like this, I start thinking of the frozen plains of the North. Of course, I realise that you northern ladies are now into autumn hurtling fast towards snowy winter, and that you think I'm a little crazy. I'm not. Ask yourself why productivity, generally, is much higher in the northern hemisphere? Because it's cooler and you have more energy when it's like that.

I'm off to sit myself under a fan and stitch. More about beads another day, so watch this space.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A Weapon of Mass Distraction

Forming groups is one of the positive aspects of the socialised human being.  It is because of groups that human history has developed in the way that it has.  It is usually better to pool resources and talents in order to create bigger and better things and to move forward.  It is because of the human social instinct to form groups that we have, for example, schools and governments, societies that work for the advancement of specialised skills, charities working towards special needs and clubs that get together because the members have a shared interest. 
There is enormous benefit to be gained from group effort, particularly if something needs to be changed in the society in which you live.  If a large project needs to be undertaken, spreading the load between members of a group will make the task easier and quicker.  For people who need support for a health problem or the health of a loved one, or for people who are lonely, joining a group can be a life saver.
Groups are a good thing and society is the better for them.
There is a downside too.  Take cults, for example.  A charismatic leader who brings a group of weaker minded individuals together, coercing these easily-led souls into an unsavoury lifestyle and, often, malicious acts towards society at large.  Political groupings that form on both the extreme right and the extreme left are an example of what we don't need in our society, as are groups of religious fanatics who do so much harm.  We won't even go there.
I don't do groups.  I don't do committees and I don't do politics.  I can't bear the thought of sitting around talking for hours over trivial matters that could be solved in an instant with action rather than discussion.  I'm not over-fond of the sound of my own voice and I don't need to feel important.  I don't do coffee mornings, tennis afternoons or ladies lunches and I'm not a pillar of society.   
I have never belonged to an embroiderers' guild.  Not because I don't think that they have a place in the advancement of the craft.  They do.  But I would rather stitch than take the time to attend a meeting where I have to listen to people waffling on.  And I can't be doing with all the rules that they have made up over the years.  Rules from which they think everyone should not deviate.
That's me, an individual.  And this little character trait is to blame for the fact that I have no spare time at the moment.
I have, as many of your know, a beautiful male Boxer called Neville.  He is mad and crazy, soppy and affectionate, obsessive about chasing anything that we will agree to throw for him, he adores his human family, wants to play with any dog that he comes across and he does not have an aggressive bone in his body.  Moreso than any Boxer that I have ever had, he has the kind of temperament that needs to be passed on.
But the Kennel Union says he can't do that.  Because he is white.
I am fully aware of the fact that, like Dalamations and white Bull Terriers, there is a small chance of a white puppy being born deaf but I also know that despite the fact that white puppies are never bred from and have been euthinased for many years (happily that travesty has now stopped), the incidence of white puppies born has remained fairly constant at about twenty percent.  Not breeding from white Boxers seems to have made no difference.  The white gene has not been bred out.
I once gave a lift to a breeder and dog-show enthusiast.  It was a long lift involving a 12-hour journey and during our many hours in the car she explained all the ins and outs of breeding a fine-looking dog, one that ticked all the right boxes, one that enhanced the characteristics of the breed.  She explained that this often involved mating dogs that were related to one another and whilst it was fine to pair father and daughter, it didn't work if you were to mate son to mother.  She called it "line-breeding" and confirmed that this was condoned by the Kennel Union.  Well, I'm sorry.  I call that in-breeding and I'm afraid it's to blame for many of the health problems found in pedigreed pure bred dogs.  Things like hip dysplasia and cancers.  Quite apart from physical defects, I am not sure that breeding for looks takes a dog's temperament into account and for my money, temperament is more important.
So, after long and careful thought, knowing that no breeder is ever going to want to borrow Neville to sire puppies, despite the fact that his own sire was himself a UK champion, I decided that I would get him a wife.  I can't let that unique personality stop with him.
And that is why I'm so short of time.
Last Thursday I fetched Brenda.  A well bred brindle Boxer bitch that is not in any way related to Neville, I asked her breeder to choose the calmest, least aggressive little girl in the litter of ten pupppies.  And here she is.

Is that not the sweetest face that you have ever seen?  Neville is enchanted and so are we.  He is gentle with her, allows her to eat from his bowl and shares his toys with her.  In turn, because she came from an exceptionally well-cared-for litter and only left her mother at eight weeks, she is confident, happy and healthy.  She is a little scamp and we might have to change her name to Rascal or even Rubbish.
I have a book to finish, it's still a way off and that is unfortunate because little Brenda is turning out to be something of a time waster.  Quite apart from regular trips onto the lawn for her to do the necessary, it's just too tempting to stop what I'm doing to give her a cuddle, and another one, and another one.  Particularly when she stares at me with that sweet face and those appealing brown eyes.
Completely irresistable and in the best possible way............,.a Weapon Of Mass Distraction.



Friday, 12 April 2013

Washing Your Embroidery

Last year someone, during one of my classes, asked me how it was that my embroidery had a luster that hers didn't.  Why there was a sheen on my long and short stitch shading that, try as she might, she couldn't get on hers.

You are often flumoxed when someone asks you a question like that.  You don't know how to answer it because you don't really know what it is that you do that would make that difference.  I went through all of the little tricks that I use, recapped on the technique, discussed it with the other ladies around the table and came up with nothing concrete.  But, it bugged me and throughout the morning it sat behind my left ear niggling.  Then, suddenly, the penny dropped.  I asked her if she washed her embroidery after she had completed her stitching.

She gave me quizzical look and said, "I thought you weren't allowed to".

A lot has happened over the last three or four centuries.  Our ancestors have invented electricity, the telephone, the steam train and the internal combustion engine.  As a result we can now communicate and travel with ease.  More recently, our parents' generation and indeed our own, have put satellites into space, invented the personal computer, the mobile telephone and Velcro.  A survey done in the 1990s found that the majority of people polled felt that Velcro was the most useful invention of the 20th century.  Interesting. 

A few years ago it was the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first satellite into space and BBC Knowledge aired a programme on this very subject.  It was captivating, not least because it reminded one of how far the human race has progressed in our own lifetime. 
I grew up in Central Africa and if we wanted to call someone in South Africa we had to phone up the telephone exchange to book a trunk call.  We would then be told that there was, say, a 6-hour delay.  So, 6 hours later we would hang around the general area of the telephone, waiting for it to ring.  Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t.  Very often the 6-hour delay became 2 or 3 days.   Now, thanks to communications’ satellites, I can phone the United States from my car on the motorway using my mobile phone and I will be connected immediately.  Or, if I want to save some pennies, I can wait till I get home and ‘Skype’ the person I want to speak to in the US, I get connected immediately, we talk computer to computer – and it costs me absolutely nothing. 

As a family, we’ve embraced all this new technology with vigour.  We (i.e my husband and I) get quite excited when we discover that we can do something that we couldn’t do before.  With just the click of a mouse.  Then we say to Dude, ‘isn’t technoIogy cool’, he rolls his eyes and sighs, at which point we tell him about party line telephones, life without a microwave, computer, mobile phone, etc. and writing a letter with no abbreviations, the correct spelling and proper punctuation, that had to be posted.  With a stamp.  At the post office. 

By the time we've finished reminiscing he's left the room, got into his car and is halfway to his girlfriend's house.

Europe in, let’s say, the 18th century did not have embroidery thread like we have today.  By and large, embroidery was done with wool, what we would today call crewel wool.  These wools were dyed with natural dyes which were not colour fast and therefore, it was not a good idea to wash your completed article because the colours were likely run.  In addition to that, the manufacture of textiles was such that our grandmothers could not be certain that the fabric wouldn't shrink or distort. 

So our forebears did not wash their embroidery on completion.  Perfectly sensible, although the thought of all those royal and ecclesiastical garments being worn regularly and never washed is rather unpleasant, but we won’t get into that. 

It is now 2013.  We have all sorts of wonderful threads, yarns and wools in an array of exquisite colours.  Any colour you want you can find, and the dyes are colour fast.  If you are using a decent quality product, your colours will not run.  They just won’t. You can soak them in detergent, wash them with Sunlight soap, and even launder them in benzine. 

So, can someone please explain to me how it is that the (not) washing myth is still out there?  Why, if you want to enter a piece of embroidery to be judged by judges from either an Embroiderers Guild or the WI, one of the rules is that it may not be washed?  Somebody I know once asked posed this question to one of these judges.  She was told that it was because stitchers didn't know how to iron their work after they had washed it.  How patronising.

I’m sure that my life is like the lives of most people in the world today.  It moves at quite a pace.  And the embroidery that I do every evening in front of the telly is my relaxation.  It gives me my daily hours of pleasure and reward.  More often than not my best friend, Neville the Boxer, is lying on the couch next to me and if not, he pops by for a pat.  Which I give him, and which is why I’m always picking dog hairs off my work. 

Although I do wash my hands often like every other person, I have natural body oils that come off on my thread, particularly if I’m using white.  If I’m working on a large project it can take me up to two months.  I put it in a plastic bag when I’m not working, but inevitably it picks up grime.  It’s unavoidable in this world of pollution and domestic workers who think it is an imposition if you suggest that for a house to be properly clean, it should be dusted.  If I didn’t wash my embroidery I might as well throw it away and, to have to work in such a way that it didn’t get, even a little grubby, would take all the pleasure out of the pastime. 

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that if something is bound up by too many rules it puts people off.  Where my generation is concerned, many prospective embroiderers had any future pleasure destroyed in childhood by zealous domestic science teachers, or nuns who had rulers with which to smack offending hands. 

I don't think that there should be rules that attach to any creative pursuit but if you think that you need to, at least, know what the they are then you must not get too bound up, treat them rather as general guidelines but feel free to break them.  Because, it’s when you break the so-called rules and give your creativity license to fly that you will produce your best work.  The majority of the ‘big names’ out there are precisely those artists that are breaking the rules.  They will not be told what to do, or not do, by anachronistic organizations that are clinging to the past.

That is fortunate because it is those artists that are going to keep embroidery alive and kicking. 

Our children have grown up in a world that embraces a whole lot more freedom than we grew up with.  Elitist is a dirty word. They question and debate things, learnt that whilst they may still respect their parents and those older than them (but only if they earn that respect), they are allowed to disagree with them.  If we want them to embroider, we need to make it less elitist and intimidating.  Throw out irrelevant nonsense so that everyone feels they can at least give it a try. 

And this business of not washing your embroidery must go.

If you think about it logically, with all the dust and grime picked up along the way - no matter how careful you are - no piece of embroidery will have a sheen unless it has been washed.  In fact, you MUST wash your embroidery.  It brings it to life.

And this is how I do it:

·         Rinse it well in cold water to get rid of any lines that I may have drawn with a washout pen. 

·         Soak it for a few hours in tepid water mixed with a teaspoon or two of good detergent.   

·         Swish it around a bit before rinsing it in cold water. 

·        If I find there are marks - perhaps chalk paper lines - that haven't washed out, I scrub them gently with pure soap on an electric toothbrush.

·        I then rinse again to make sure that no soap or detergent remains, squeeze out the excess water, place it flat on a towel and roll up that towel.

·        I squeeze the towel with the embroidery inside it to get rid of any remaining excess water.

·       Thereafter, I stretch the damp embroidery in a plastic (not wooden, it will stain the fabric) hoop or frame that is larger than the embroidered area and place it in front of an open window, out of direct sunlight, to dry in the breeze.

·        If I have stretched it well in the hoop, I do not need to iron it when it is dry. 

·        If I do need to iron it, I turn it wrong side up on a folded towel and press the back with an iron set on medium heat.

So simple.

I have extracted some of what I have written above from an article I wrote for a local stitching magazine a few years ago.  That article was more polite and less outspoken than what appears here.  Nevertheless, as a result of what I wrote, the editor received a flurry of complaints from various Unions and Guilds threatening to advise their members to cancel their subscriptions to that magazine. 

Oh, the stranglehold.  Which brings me back to almost where I started.  Technology.  In the past, if you didn't agree with the rules put about by those that like to make up rules, you had no option but to shut up or ship out.  Now, however, you can voice an alternative opinion, get it out there via the internet and in the process, one hopes, provide some useful advice to those who are looking for it. 

Isn't technology cool?





Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Wonderful Afternoon

South Africa has very little public transport and what does exist is unsafe or unreliable, so we only drive in our own cars at home and we provide our children with cars the moment they have a drivers' licence, for their own safety.   

Whilst we're fine with planes and airports we know absolutely nothing about catching trains and even less about reading a train timetable. We cannot read train timetables.  Pathetic really, because when we are in the first world we have to ask the locals for help.  On our recent trip to Europe we got rather good at it.  By the time we left Paris we had the Metro licked and we managed to get ourselves onto the Eurostar fairly easily.  By the time we got to London the Underground was a cinch.  Until we wanted to get out of town.  That required looking up the correct line to take, which station to get to and reading timetables.  And we don't know how to do that.  With some help we got it right, after a fashion, but even when we had managed to purchase our tickets and were making our way to our destination, we tended to wander around stations looking bewildered. Quite an effort and a lot of confusion.

Some things, however, are worth the effort.  

Our publishers had arranged for us what you might call an "insider's" tour of the Royal School Of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace.  For those of us that live at the bottom of the world the Royal School Of Needlework has always seemed like the centre of the English-speaking embroidery world.  The far away fountain of all stitching knowledge and a place to be revered.  Mission control, if you will.  For Di, Wilsia and myself to visit the School as something other than mere tourists was very special.

Over the years I have met many people who have done workshops and courses at the RSN and they love to tell you about it.  Their conversation does, however, tend to be a brag and, unfortunately what this does is give their listeners the impression that the RSN is very correct and that the people are terribly stuffy.

I began to realise that this is not the case when I met Elizabeth Elvin in Australia in 2009.  She is retired, but was the Principal of the school for some time.  She is a bundle of fun, completely un-stuffy and really good company.   

Then I met Jenny Adin-Christie at Beating Around the Bush in Adelaide, Australia, last year.  She was involved in the making of the Royal Wedding dress a couple of years ago and that was the subject of the illustrated lecture which she gave at the final function. She could have gone on speaking for hours.  We were enthralled and I, for one, was impressed by her innovation and talent. 

It was, therefore, hardly surprising that from the moment we were met at the Palace reception by Monica Wright, our guide and hostess, till the time we said our goodbyes and stepped back into the snow flurries outside, we found ourselves in stitching heaven.  From the historical treasures that are in their possession, to the work that is being done there today it was a sight for sore eyes.   

The school has just celebrated its 140th anniversary and, that being the case, they must be one of the oldest continuous lines of embroidery knowledge.  They specialise in teaching techniques that are traditional in England, covering mostly goldwork, crewel work, canvas work and whitework.  They aren't bound by parameters though and many, many styles of embroidery form part of the work being done within those walls.

Apart from mentoring and teaching their diploma and degree students, the ladies and gentleman that work there design and stitch commissions that cover anything from family crests to, interestingly, a monogram used on the cover of a Paul McCartney album. In addition, they do restoration and we were able to see the fine work being done on two wall hangings, hundreds of years old.  The restoration included, not just the stitching, but also the fabric that had deteriorated.  Fine, skillful work.

On leaving the school after our visit, my over-riding impression was of skill, talent, and friendliness, along with a deep respect and pride for what has gone before.   A pride and respect tempered with an awareness of the innovation needed to move forward, to keep the noble art of hand embroidery alive.  

To make our visit even more special, Elizabeth Elvin was in for the day and we were able to meet up with her again.  

Our trip to the Royal School of Needlework was one of the highlights of our European trip.  A friendly and innovative hive of activity in beautiful surroundings.  Just look at the view from one of the studio windows:

Wouldn't you love to be able to look at that every time you needed to stretch your legs .