Thursday, 19 November 2015

Dear Blogspot, this is where we part our ways.

It is done - I have successfully migrated the shop pages to their new server, and imported everything that was on this blog to the new blog - which you will find at (or, alternatively, Please adjust your bookmarks and tell your friends! If you're getting an RSS feed, the new feed address is, though I've put a redirect in here (which means you should get the new posts, and probably will not get this one. Which is just to tell people that things have changed, and where to find the blog now anyways.)

So this is where we part our ways, blogspot. It was a nice time with you - almost seven years, in fact, and I enjoyed hanging out here and posting stuff. But my requirements have changed, and my taste in design has hopefully improved, and I really wanted all my stuff together in one place for a change.

Well. Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish. I'll see you readers over at the new place (where you'll also find a proper blogpost).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

It is time. Things are moving.

I've been getting an early start today, and you are getting a very, very early blog, because of this:

I've started the server migration, and I'm already really, really happy that I did test-runs of almost everything before, and took copious notes. This way, my panic probability is much reduced, even if something does not go quite as planned.

Like my database fooling me into thinking it had not imported, thus trying to re-import... and getting an error message. Obviously.

If you're interested in following the shenanigans in detail, I'll be tweeting live about this - you find me on twitter as katrinkania, and I'm using the hashtag #newserverorbust.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Finally - it's all done!

The website redesign is finally all done and finished. There's a few more articles I'd like to add to the main page, but they are not time-critical - and the rest is all done. The menu structures are fine, all the links seem to be working, and a few of the remaining tweaks and checks can only be done once the site is connected.

I've tried hard not to waste too much time on small things, but then sometimes it's the small things that make all the difference. So now and again, I spent a few hours trying to get something to work because it would be oh so pretty, or oh so cool. A good bunch of hours was also used up because I had to learn something new - how to handle css stuff, or how I have to build the menu structure in Joomla! for my breadcrumbs to work properly, or how to size and position an svg grapic. (SVGs are cool. They are vector graphics that you can have your browser draw, so they are nice and nifty and resize very, very well. If you know how to resize them - so in case you need somebody to explain it to you, too, here's a wonderful blogpost about it.)

So tomorrow will be the day - I'll take the old shop offline, migrate the data to the lovely new shop, and then ask for the connection to be made. That will probably take between a few hours to a day or even two, depending on how fast the name-servers catch the update. This is all very, very exciting, and I hope it will all go well!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Behold the Stretchiness of Sprang.

I've already hinted that I did some sprang at the Textile Forum - and it was an utter joy to do. My previous dabblings in this wonderful technique had always fizzled and died before I got to the stage where I could understand what is going on. Add in a few misunderstandings (I had a knot in my brain and didn't really get what the instructions were trying to tell me) and the resulting mistakes, and there is no chance in really getting it at all.

For those of you who have little question marks hovering above your heads - sprang is a braiding technique where you braid on ends (or elements) that are stretched in a frame. You work in the middle, in a shed, crossing threads from the back with threads from the front, and your work grows from the top and bottom edge towards the middle. Once you are in the middle, you have to secure it in some way to prevent unravelling.

This time around, however, sprang finally clicked for me. Plus I finally got to use a ball of lovely cotton yarn that some friends had given me as a present years ago - a single ball of cotton, about 230 m length, so not really a thing to knit with, and not something suitable for historical stuff.

It made a wonderful bag, though:

This is the little bag hanging out next to a 1.5 l bottle of water, for size comparison.

And this picture will show you the amazing stretchability of sprang:

Yes, it will hold four of these water bottles without complaint. It might even hold five, but the cord drawn in at the top (the other place where you have to secure your elements) limits the maximum opening of the bag's top. I think it's still impressive.

Friday, 13 November 2015

All kinds of cool stuff.

Today, you are getting all kinds of cool stuff!

First of all, for all of you who read German, one of my friends has written a book called "Von der Badewanne ins Haifischbecken - ein Survival Guide für junge Designer".

The cat approves of Jan's book, too!
 If you are working in a creative job, or think about working in a creative job, or know somebody, this book is a wonderful read and really, really helpful. (I finally got to realise that some of my issues are completely normal, and not due to my being not good enough, or whatever.) You can buy it directly from the publisher, as print version or as ebook.

More German: when I was in Hallstatt for the last NESAT conference, we were treated to a tour though the famous salt mines and got to see the archaeological digs in there. We were also shown a tool replica, and Hans Reschreiter (who gave us the tour) explained that they hadn't yet found out how to use this tool efficiently. Apparently someone could show them how in the meantime - as this Austrian article tells. Hooray! (For those of you who don't do German: the picks have a weird geometry, and a visiting palaeobotany researcher was reminded of a kind of scythes from his home in South Russia. The things are used with a motion coming from the hip, not the arms or shoulders.)

That's it with the German stuff for now. Time for some screenshots - you're getting a sneak preview of my new website design!
Peek at the main page

A peek at the new shop page.

More of the shop!

Let me know what you think of it - I'd be delighted to have some feedback!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The day is drawing nearer.

I've spent the last two days partly fiddling with the new website and partly relaxing, and now it's time to have full work days again. I've been writing and translating some content for the new site, there's been re-ordering of menu items and checking links, and there has been much (and dirty) fighting with wayward CSS (not made easier by the fact that I don't know much about CSS).

However, things are finally getting more into a semblance of order than before. There are still a few issues to solve (such as no proper spot for the language switcher that will allow you to skip seamlessly from the German page to the English one), and there's some more checking and setting up to do, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Since I don't hear train sounds along with that, I'm pretty confident it will all end well.)

So... provided that I can manage to deal with all the remaining issues sometime next week, it will go live soon. I'm really looking forward to that shiny new webpage! With slideshow! And a fancy dropdown menu!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

How to make yourself very tired.

Here's a good recipe on losing some sleep, in a thoroughly enjoyable way:

Have an idea for a conference.
Find a place to run it, organise a caterer, and a place for the participants to stay.
Find about a dozen other people who are passionate about textile research, and historical textiles, and the crafts involved.
Get all of them, plus tools and books and materials, together in said place you organised - to share knowledge and try out things, for one whole week.
Throw a little experiment in with the mix...

... and there you go.

There was sprang, and tea, and coffee. There was much running (at least for me - to open doors, and gates, and nip back to fetch something). There was beautiful weather, and there was chocolate, and of course we had stroopwafels (which is a Dutch sweet and traditionally used for spinning at the Forum).

 There was silk reeling, and with it the admiration of both the intricate process and the dead bugs that made the coccoons.

In short, it was a wonderful week, full of textile crafts and research and learning, of friendly support of each other and discussions about which technique would be suitable, and how this or that could work. It was the European Textile Forum. It was also brutally exhausting - but I couldn't pick a better way to work on making yourself very, very tired!

Monday, 2 November 2015

It's time for the Textile Forum!

The Textile Forum has started, and I am in Mayen to spend all week doing textile things - looking into early modern knitting, investigating the differences between knitting and nalebinding, and other things like it.

As I will be utterly busy running this conference, there will be no blogging until Wednesday, November 11 - when I will have recovered from the incredible textile archaeology overload the Forum inevitably generates, and will be able to tell you stories of what we did and how things went.

I'm here! (Well. Behind this thing. More or less.)

Friday, 30 October 2015

VG Wort (or money for writing, sort of)

It's Friday (why is it Friday already?), the cat is napping after a long walk outside and a bowl of cat food, I have coffee, and things are coming along. Which is good, as I will spend all of next week with fellow textile people at the European Textile Forum - one week of textile nerdiness and intensive research. Bliss.

Somebody needs to pack my things for that, though. That same somebody also has to take care of a few other things, so she should not get sidetracked with other stuff (again) - even though life is throwing her things such as this lovely review of The Middle Ages Unlocked at Skiffy & Fanty.

Sidetrack lures aside, I have now finally managed to submit my most recent publications to the VG Wort, which means my writing (non-fiction writing, as I lack the whatever you need to write fiction) might earn me a few Euros. How this works? You make a contract with the VG Wort that basically gives them the right to handle your claims to a part of the fees that libraries and copy-machine producers and copyshops have to pay each year for secondary rights.

That wasn't very helpful, was it? Let me try again. Copying and lending books and similar publications means that the author will lose out on income, so there's a fee that has to be paid. This fee goes to the VG Wort, and they split it between their authors due to a specific key. It's all full of legalese and stuff, but the important thing is: it's for authors, and you only have to tell them "yes please I would like some money for my writing thankyou so much" and then hand in the information on what you wrote in time. (The deadline for online reports? Tomorrow.) Then, with a bit of luck, you will get a bit of money to your account a while later. (It's usually not much, but hey - even if it will only buy me a coffee, I do appreciate it!)

If you are writing and publishing things, you might want to look into getting registered with a similar association in your own country. Here's a list of the ones the VG Wort has reciprocal contracts with - chances are high that your place will be among them. It can't hurt to try!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Breaking things, repairing things, twisting templates. And linen dyeing.

I spent the morning going more into the up-and-coming relaunch, and I did manage to do a test migration into WordPress, so there will be some changes to this blog's looks before the year will end.

The new shop design is also coming along nicely. It will be much lighter, and much cleaner, and there will be larger pictures. Overall, I really like it a lot! There's still a few issues to be solved and snags to be taken care of, and changing the old site over into Joomla will mean a bit of re-writing of text and menu restructures (read: a good bit of work, including thinking and figuring out the best way for stuff), but I have hopes it will all work out eventually.

Apart from that, I managed to break my xampp programme (the thing required to test-drive a web page on your own computer, under the charming name of "localhost") and to actually fix it again (by deleting a single line of code that had crept in through an aborted installation of WordPress). Whew!

Now, however, I will have to put this project aside for a bit, as the Textile Forum is coming up (I can't believe it is already almost November) and there's still a few things to prepare for it. Packing linen cloth for our next test run regarding linen dyeing, for instance!

Sabine and I have been thinking about the chemistry involved with dyeing linen for a few years now, and we did a first trial run on exploring linen dyeing at last year's forum. One of the possible influences on how well the linen takes the mordant (which is usually not very well at all) is the pH of the mordanting and dyeing liquid, so we set out to test this.

Last year's test results. As you can clearly see, there was not much dye taken up by the linen fabric, regardless of the pH adjustment of the mordanting and dyeing baths.
We'll try different concentrations of alum this time. We've also planned to test a pre-treatment with sulphur fumes, though the required sulphur strips have not arrived yet - I'll keep my fingers crossed that they will come today.

The reason for sulphur pre-treatment? It seems that the metal components of the mordant bind to wool through a connection to the sulphur bonds the wool has. So if it's possible to sulphurise the linen, it might be possible to have a much better mordant uptake, and thus dye uptake. Next week we'll know more!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Gold Embroidery Kit is in the shop!

Today was a good bit more successful than yesterday. It looks like I finally found the issue with the Joomla! migration to 3.x (there's an extra folder in the libraries that messes up everything, and once that is deleted, all runs smoothly); a quick facebook query resulted in multiple comments that you don't mind having to activate JavaScript to see anything too much; and the template I found does look like it could be a nice solution for my site, both for the main site and the webshop.

And, hopefully, the blog. I'm looking into pulling all things together so blogposts will also be hosted on my own server, taking it out of Google's hands (as blogger is part of Google). My current plan is to leave everything here on the blog, but additionally migrate all the content to my own site, and then blog on there (with a link to the new place here, obviously). My hope is that the migration will solve the wonky search issues that Blogger has (if you have ever tried to find a post on this blog using the search box, you'll know what I mean - search is not really reliable). Plus it would have the benefit of my having to spend time on one site only, and to give my three places a similar design, finally.

I will only do it if I can do a clean migration, though, and I'm currently looking into options for that. The easiest and most straight-forward one that I found will not migrate comments or tags, though, so it's completely out (that was CMS2CMS, in case you want to know).

And now for something more textile-related - I have finally put the gold embroidery kit into the shop!
The core of the kit - motif drawn on cloth and mounted in frame, plant-dyed silk, gold thread and embroidery needles so you can get started right away!
 It is available here. The kit contains everything to get started right away, down to the embroidery needles (you'll need your own pair of scissors or shears, but that's it), and ample instructions - a sheet with specific instructions for the motif plus my book about gold embroidery.

I made a few photos of nice, colourful yarns as well, but I haven't yet figured out how to put the scarf kit into the shop. See, there was this co-production with Margit from Alte Künste, where we developed a lengthwise-striped scarf together, to be sold in a kit. Margit picked yarns, and I took care of the pattern - easy enough to remember it, interesting enough to keep you from dozing off while knitting.

The first batch of scarf kits is sitting here, ready to go get knitted, and we have twelve different colours for the skeins:


For each kit, you get to pick three skeins in colours of your choice (that's 150 g of wool alltogether). I'm trying to figure out how to make this selection process as smoothly working as possible, but the system is resisting a bit, so it might come down to you having to list your yarn choices in the comment when ordering. I'll give it another try tonight!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Today was sort of scheduled to get back on track with the website redesign and relaunch. (Short version: I'm running the webshop on Joomla, and I need to do a thorough update on the shop software - which needs some preparation, and also a new template, so I'm looking into that.) Unfortunately, all kinds of things did not go as planned... as in there were server errors, and a version that had been running smoothly before did not run anymore at all.

So. I'm still looking for a design solution that will work properly for a blog function, the webshop and my general site; the templates I've found until now don't really cut the mustard, but I am running out of patience with looking for the perfect solution. Instead, I want this thing over and dealt with.

And just like every time I'm working on something like that, it is amazing how much time gets eaten up by trying to get something running. Even if it ran before... or maybe I should say especially if it ran before.

Tomorrow: Another try. With nicer outcomes (hopefully). Today, though, for calming my nerves and for making you smile, have a picture of a sleepy cat:

Monday, 26 October 2015

Links! Screenshots! Celebration!

Somehow Friday's Patreon-related thoughts ate so much of my brain capacity that I totally forgot to give you the Beast blog tour links. So here you go - the rest of our blog tour:

Q&A at A Literary Vacation
A post about spinning at The Freelance History Writer
and the last in the series at Edward the Second.

It was a lovely tour, and we had lots of fun. So much fun, in Gillian's case, that she did another blog tour on the side, so you get bonus posts from her -

the first one in Felicity Pulman's blog, here, where she answers questions about the Beast, and her writing.
She also has a post over at SF Signal, where she talks about writing both fiction and non-fiction.
Not related to the Middle Ages, but also an interesting post is this one at SFFWorld, where Gillian writes about local stories going international. And finally a fourth one at the Skiffy and Fanty Show.

And that wraps up our US release blog tour! Thank you again to everyone who hosted us, and thanks to you for bearing along with us and reading our posts. We hope you had fun!

So now, after the tour, we actually get to celebrate, because -


and kindle store:

See? We're in the Top 100, several times, in both electronic version and print version. Woot!

(Note that we have no clue whatsoever on how this relates to actual sales numbers. Amazon has so many books in its listing that a single sale might mean a huge jump in the sales rank, so we're basically still in the dark on how many books are selling. Personally, I'll celebrate even more if the sales are going through smaller bookstores and not the Big River One, or through our publishing house directly, as I'm not really a fan of The A. However, just like it's a good place to read book reviews, it's also a good place to get a rough idea how a book is doing, sales-wise. And that means being in the top 100 of these categories is definitely something worth celebrating, which we are now doing at our respective ends of the world... with chocolate.)

Friday, 23 October 2015

Thinking about the future.

The last few months have been... let's call them hectic. At the moment, I'm trying to figure out how they could have gotten so hectic, and trying to make sure things will be more under control in the future. There's also been developments business-wise - the online shop is growing (and a big thank you to everybody who has ordered from there - I hope you have a lot of fun, and are happy, with the things you bought); I've been doing a few workshops, and I've been doing the blog tours, and I have started shifting my appearances from Living History fairs more to wool markets and other kinds of fairs.

So there's been quite a bit of change, and quite a bit of kinds of work that have taken away time from this blog, and from research. There are a few projects that have gotten shoved to the back for ages now, even though they are things I'd love to work on (such as the never-ending project of getting my thesis translated into English, or researching all kinds of smaller and not-so-small questions, or a totally crazy knitting pattern that has been in development for months now), but I just can't find the time, it seems.

I'd like that to change. I'd like to be able to sit down and make a video tutorial for how to make hair nets, or how to spin with a hand-spindle. I'd like to sit down and research female headcloths in the twelfth century, and possible reconstructions for them. But, as I have learned with the embroidery book, these things take a lot of time, and mean quite a bit of an investment of money in some cases, which has to come back in before I can tackle the next project. It's also not such a big deal to work on something for a while hoping that it will eventually bring in a little income, but if projects like that come along again and again, it can sap your energy away bit by bit. And that is, to be frank, happening to me as well. If I spend three weeks of work time on planning, making and cutting a video tutorial (and that is a relatively realistic estimate), then burn it on a DVD and offer it via the shop, but I'm only selling ten or twelve of the discs... it just eats away on me, regardless of how good I think the results are, and regardless of how much fun I had making it.

So... I was thinking of how to get you more content, and how to make it possible for me to create these things, and Patreon popped into my head. Again. (In case you have never heard of Patreon before, it's sort of like an ongoing kickstarter where you can pledge recurring small payments to an artist or a creator of some kind to support their work.) Getting support like that would make it possible for me to start spending more time on research, and sharing that research with my supporters. I'm not entirely sure yet whether that would work at all, or about what to offer, and still very much thinking about this whole thing, so if you have any input at all, please use the comments - would you consider joining in?  Or do you like the idea, but would prefer some other way instead of Patreon? What would you like to see - tutorials about textile crafts? My thesis translated, bit by bit? Things exclusively published for patrons, or would you prefer to support things that are then free for everyone to see?

Just to make things clear - I'm not planning to stop this blog, and I'm not planning to stick it behind a paywall. I would, though, absolutely consider adding extra content only available to supporters - such as the occasional video, copies of my academic articles, or even installments of the book translation. I'd also be happy to take suggestions from the supporters about topics to research.

So... do let me know what you think, per comments, or per email, or with whatever means you prefer!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Cool things in links.

First link of the day: the blogtour goes on, this time at nerdalicious!

More reading? There's an ethesis available about the "Usage and meaning of early medieval textiles". 

There's an academic article about the origins of cosplay (behind a paywall, sadly).

There seems to be an US series called "Homeland". I've just heard about it, because there seems to be a lot of islamophobia hanging out in that thing, and the makers of the show have sort of showed off their stupidity and provided a platform for criticism in their show at the same time. Essentially, they hired people to spray Arabic graffiti on the walls of their set - and those people sprayed things like "This show does not represent the views of the artists". Or (another of my favourites) "Homeland is a watermelon" (which indicates it's either a sham or at least not to be taken seriously). Which, if you ask me, is absolutely, utterly brilliant.
To round off nice and feel-good things in this list, here's an article about human beings being inherently good. (Which is nice, I think... being stoutly optimistic in the core of my soul.)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Birds of prey, blogtour links, and other stuff.

Somehow my email inbox keeps exploding over and over again. Just when I'm thinking that it's back under control again... well.

Other work also keeps exploding, and I'm starting to wonder how so many things could pile up. (Well, I do have a rough idea. It has something to do with saying "yes" to a few things, which are all well and nice and surely worth the time and work, but they have somehow ganged up on me and decided to descend all at once.) Organising the Textile Forum is one of the things (the programme needs updating again, and we have to finalise the plans for this years' small experiment); I have an article to write (which is due end of October), and there's stuff to put away and things to photograph for the shop.

There's also the task of re-designing the website and getting a new layout for the shop that urgently needs doing. Progress on that is... um... slow. (I have some help, however, so at least I'm not feeling all alone and overwhelmed with this.)

In news more interesting than my perpetually too-full list of things to do, the British Library has a very nice post about hawking on their blog.

There's a very nice comic thingie on Veritable Hokum about colours.

Our blogpost from the Beast blog tour on Monday is online at Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide.

Finally, has anyone heard of Mass Mosaic yet? It seems to be a new platform to exchange, sell or get stuff.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

More blog tour, and other stuff.

First things first - If you're as addicted to the British Library illuminated manuscripts database as I am, you might have noticed it is currently not working (as in there are no piccies to be seen). Don't despair, though - the tech staff at the BL is aware of the issue, and they are working to fix it.

In blog tour news, here is the link to yesterday's post: And Death will Have His Day.

In other other news, in case you are looking for a textile-related challenge, there is one up at Neulakko: The Herjolfsnaes Challenge.

Notorious PhD is having fun (or not-fun) with medieval family naming conventions.

Doug's Archaeology has a series of lightning presentations on how to engage the public.

And the cat is lying on my right forearm, making typing slightly difficult.

Monday, 19 October 2015

More blog tour links!

While I was having a nicely relaxed weekend, our blogtour has been rolling on - so here you go:

Friday's Post: Our first interview of the tour at Supremacy and Survival
Saturday's Post: Post about Folklife at Under the Tudor Rose
Sunday's Post: Author Interview at the Medieval Archive

Gillian has been doing some extra blog appearances, too - for instance in Donna Maree Hanson's blog, here, and in the Castle Bookshop blog, here.

That should you set up with some reading, right?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Our Blog Tour has started!

I'm happy to announce the first post of our blog tour, over at the Travelling History blog. Gillian and I went through our photo archives for this one, and we hope you'll enjoy the pictures.

Our book was also mentioned in an article in the Western Telegraph, along with several other books about the Middle Ages.

Let's stay book-related - there's an open access ebook about words and language called Medieval Hackers. If you're interested in language and history of words and wording, give it a look.

And still staying with books, though from a slightly different angle, I found this article about the Kubler-Ross Model of Grief Associated with Editing and Rewriting utterly hilarious. And oh so true! I remember that time my phd thesis draft got completely pulled apart, resulting in a huge re-write and some re-ordering. I was devastated, and annoyed, and then even more annoyed (but differently) when I realised that all the criticism was, indeed, valid points and the book could be so much better if I did those edits. Similar things happened in other areas - I've done layouting and thought that my choice of fonts was fine, until someone came along and told me "I'd rather recommend that". Well, what shall I say? He was utterly right.

The good thing about getting edits, and getting over it - after the first few times of running through the phases, it gets easier and easier to take that deep breath and think "well, I'll just try the recommended edit on for size, I can always change it back if it's not better than it is now". (Not surprisingly, it usually was better after the change my editors suggested. I'm a lucky one to have had these editors!)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Beast News, Books for Free, and Game Reviews.

In Beast News, our blogtour is supposed to start today, but with the time shifts, it might not be my today (so you'll be getting the link tomorrow, if all goes well). We do have our first two reviews at Amazon, though, to our great delight, and three more over at Goodreads!

(Reviews really help selling books, so if you like a book and would like to help the authors sell more of it, you can do so by writing and posting a review. Amazon is an obvious place for this, as lots of people check there for reviews even if they buy in brick-and-mortar or at different online shops; goodreads is another good place, but anywhere on the internet will help your favourite author to do better.)

More book-related stuff? Here you go. The book from Jutta Zander-Seidel, "Textiler Hausrat" has been digitised and is available for free at ART-Dok, together with several other titles by Zander-Seidel. (Hat tip to Nicole Kipar from, which is a blog you might want to follow as well.)

And now I have some non-work-related stuff for you. Games! Games we played at Essen! Not all of them, mind you - just a few.

Before you read my comments, you should probably know that I tend to be quite critical of games. We've been doing this go-to-Essen-thing for years now, playing oodles of games, and we (that is me and my friends who usually roam the halls together with me and the Most Patient Husband of Them All) have developed quite a good sense for what games we prefer. So we'll often take just a look at a game and go "meh", not necessarily because it is a bad game, but not a type we like. (Those preferences are different for each of our group, but they overlap for a good part, which makes roaming together so pleasant.)

There's so many games out there, and so many new ones coming out each year, that you can either set apart a huge amount of space for all those games you get, or you restrict the amount you're getting. We try to go for option 2, so if we buy a game, it has to really please us and offer a good amount of replayability. We tend to gravitate towards games that are (relatively) quick to explain but still want some brains when playing; with a luck factor involved (so no hardcore strategical/tactical games). We also have a thing for cooperative games and racing games. And now that you know how to put my comments into context, here we go!

We started out with a round of Marvel Dice Masters - which was fun. It's a light game, lots of dice, though some of the rules were not completely clear. We already have several copies of King of Tokyo in our circle of friends, so we really don't need this game. I'd play it again though, happily.

The Witcher. I don't know the video game, but I can tell you that the boardgame is repetitive and boring. Boring and repetitive. Oh, did I mention repetitive? So many tasks to fulfill. Joyless combat. Everyone playing for themselves. We broke off after (or in, I don't remember) the second round of this. Boooooring. (You see the timer attached to the stand? We'd have had 31 more minutes to waste on this game - everyone gets an hour to testplay. Which tells you we spent 29 minutes on this. Which was more than enough.)

This game was called Bastion (as the English rulebook on the table tells you), it was a cooperative game, and we didn't expect much from it. The coloured cubes are the resources you need to collect in order to battle monsters that approach your city gates - you spend one of any colour to get three of the colour marked on the board. Once there are cubes on the segment, you can remove all of them (up to three) by placing a cube on the inner wall, and you can clear all the cubes off the inner wall by hopping inside. A monster you smashed gives you a bonus for smashing another monster, or for movement. The monsters always jump to the next free spot, and when the monster deck is used up, they leapfrog forwards; the very last monster jumps directly to the city gate and you have to smash it there at once. There's not too much luck involved, it is easy to explain and it does require you to think and plan ahead with your mates - we really liked it! Bastion would make a very nice gateway game, and it looks like you can up the difficulty quite a bit with stronger monster cards (that are included).

Crazy Time. You have a stack of cards and flip them over; each of them shows a clock face with a time. You count the time upwards, starting with "one", next player flips a card and says "two", next one flips and says "three"... unless there's a time machine, when you have to count backwards. Or there's a new rule that gets introduced. Fun twist? One of the players does not know the new rule and has to guess it (or gets lots of cards for making mistakes!). Original rules let the winner of a round choose who does not get to see the rules cards; I'd recommend as house rule:  winner of the round does not get to see the rules cards (for a bit of a rubber-band effect). Lovely little game. Quick to explain, quick to get started with, but a really nasty brain teaser.

This was another co-op: Space Cadets - Away Mission. Lots of plastic minis, lots of tiles, different scenarios, different aliens, space in the flavour of 1960s sci-fi. Oh, and girly-glittery dice. We really enjoyed this. Actually, we enjoyed this so much that we bought it. (Our excuse? Well, apart from you don't need an excuse to buy a game you really love apart from "we really loved this", our excuse is that we did not have any space-themed co-op games yet. Also, the minis include brain-in-a-jar figures, and everyone knows you can always use more brains.)

And this is... Lanterns. You place one of your three tiles and each of the four players gets a lantern card in the colour facing them. If you place matching colours, you also get bonus cards. On your next turn, you can exchange colour combinations for tiles with victory points. It's a relatively light game, with an interesting concept - however, luck obviously plays a big part. (Frieder suffered from always just missing the higher value numbers on the victory point tiles, for instance.) We played the "short fair version" with about half the available tiles and already found it too long. Add some players in there that tend towards analysis-paralysis (huh, if I place that tile like this, he gets a green and player 3 gets a yellow and then they have a full set but if I place it like this I don't get a bonus... hm... let me look at my other two tiles... if I place this one like this, ah, or maybe here, or...) and you're in for a really, really tedious game. No thanks.

And that's it for today. If you enjoyed that, let me know - I have a few more games I could tell you about...

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


Today was work interspersed with liberal amounts of tea, cookies, and naps. Naps are a wonderful thing (and cats are very helpful with napping, always giving a perfect example of how it's done).

Who, me? As if I'd ever take an extra nap. Ever.
With the US release of The Middle Ages Unlocked coming up, Gillian and I will do another blog tour, so the past days have included writing for this. The first posts are already sent off to their hosts. We got a few more interviews this time around, which is lovely - we really did enjoy answering the questions! Watch this space for the tour announcements.

I also stumbled across a website called biblehub when writing one of my posts - you might be interested about what the Bible has to say about spinning, too. I wouldn't necessarily believe all the things the Standard Bible Encyclopaedia has to say, though!

Meanwhile, as a remainder of our last blog tour and to get you into the mood for the next one, here's a post about medieval textiles at the History Vault.

If you read German, here's a highly amusing post about the replacement for a lost knife. (If you don't read German, the piccies are still nice to look at, in case you enjoy looking at medieval knife reconstructions.)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Assorted Links for You.

In spite of all my efforts, I did catch some con crud, and today my head is woozy and I'm not good for too much. So it's a day for drinking lots of tea and resting, and for blogging links that have been waiting for ages to be blogged.

Here you go!

Magistra et Mater has a very interesting post up (has had it for a while) about how men dominate women.

You can find old city plans from Austrian cities here at the Österreichischer Städteatlas.

And for those of you in the States and looking for something to do in the next few days, there's an exhibition running until the 18th: Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection at the MET.

Finally for something completely different: an Imperial Speeder Bike going on a flight.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Back from a wonderful weekend.

These past few days were wonderful, and very relaxing, and much-needed. I got to spend time with friends, and eat lots of lovely food, and play many, many games, as the big game fair in Essen took place on the weekend.

As usual, we went there and ambled through the halls full of people and games. The fair at Essen is the world's biggest boardgame fair, and they had about 800 new games this year, released at the fair. There's tables with games set up that you can look at, there's usually someone there who explains the rules to you, and then you can give the game a try and play a round or two or even the entire game in some cases to see how you like it.

We spend a long weekend there, with three and a half days at the fair, plus more gaming in the evening, and we usually play (or test for a few rounds) about 30 games. As usual, some of them were nice but not mind-boggling, some were fun, some were really, really bad (mind-bogglingly bad in one case) and some were so much fun that a copy had to travel home with us.

Today was busy with doing things for the shop (all in the background for now, though) and preparing for the next blog tour together with Gillian - the US release of the Beast is coming up!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

I'm taking a breather.

The last few weeks were incredibly busy, and I'm proud and happy that they ended with several successful projects or several things sorted out (new book about gold embroidery! new scarf knitting kit! new special colours on thin lace-weight two-ply wool yarn! new gold embroidery starter kit! fair in Weikersheim!). That was exhausting, though, and I'm in need of a little break now.

I've planned several months ago to take the rest of this week off - it was already obvious it would be a very busy time just beforehand, and I'd need some time to relax and get my mind off work-related things. I had also planned to do some blog posts beforehand, though, and to post them on schedule... and I realised yesterday night that this plan will have to quietly slink away and pretend it never even existed.

For you, that will mean blog silence until next week, and I'll be gentle with myself and declare the blog silent until Tuesday. Meanwhile, there's a lovely story over at the Toast - maybe you'll enjoy that until I'm back...

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


You're getting the promised blog post, even though you're getting it very, very late... today was completely gobbled up by lugging stuff out of the car (with plenty of help from the most patient husband of them all) and getting the book-keeping up to date, including sending off the taxes for the past quarter.

That on top of the post-fair exhaustion, and the blog post almost got forgotten!

Sabine and me behind our sales table in the former carriage shed.
The fair, by the way, was in an extremely lovely place, with brilliant weather on both Friday and Saturday. The baroque gardens showed themselves at their very best, the castle staff had prepared special guided tours with more textile information than they give usually, and we had lots and lots of very interested visitors. Sunday was rainy, unfortunately, and thus more towards the drab and grey side of autumn, but it did clear up in the afternoon.

I had a lovely time at Weikersheim, and I've already heard that they are planning to do this again. Not next year (that is already booked with events), but probably in 2017, and if my schedule will permit it, I'll definitely be there again.

Thursday, 1 October 2015


I'm packing up today and leaving to set up everything for the Nadelkunst, and I'm all excited about it.

If you're going there, you can find me in the "Remise". If you're not going there and only read this blog, I'll be back and writing for you on Tuesday, when I will be able to tell you more about how the fair went and how beautiful the castle in Weikersheim really is...

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Thoughts about the Survey.

I promised yesterday to write something about the issues I have with the survey.

I'm running late on my prep for the Nadelkunst fair, though, and I have to leave tomorrow to set up the stall - which means I have to pack today. So, as much as it would have delighted me to write a special post about the survey questions just for you, with a lot of lovely, lovely snark and links and weird references, I'm out of time for that, and the thing is too important for me to put it on hold until somewhen next week.

So you're not getting a blog post written specifically about this. Instead, I'll share with you the letter I wrote about the survey questions, sent off to the contact address listed with the survey (at least they had that!). I really hope that it will get read, and that it might do a little bit to help improve the situation.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am one of the small business owners that has been hit by the changes in EU VAT law, and with the proposed extensions of these changes to all goods and services, I am very much afraid for the future of my business. I am running a tiny business with very specialised goods and services, and some of them used to be digital. I was also planning to do more digital content in the future, but these plans have been put on hold due to the VAT rules change.

The very specialised nature of my business, however, means that I am very reliant on getting customers from outside of Germany, which count for up to 60% of my turnover in the online shop. The size of my business means that I cannot invest in expensive shop software, legal counselling, an IT specialist or a tax assistant, and this effectively makes it impossible for me to sell digital content under the new rules. Similar problems would occur with an extension of the new rules to any goods and services, and would probably force me to shut it down entirely.

Hence I was very happy to hear about your survey for the open public consultation. After looking at the survey, however, I am even more concerned. Many of the questions you pose are hard to understand or unclear in their intent; the whole survey is written in a way and in a language that makes it necessary to already be very well informed about the VAT changes, both extant and planned. If the questionnaire were really intended to take in public opinion, the language alone would make that about impossible. The questionnaire gets even less inviting to be filled by the fact that there is no information on whether any of the fields are compulsory or not, and then asking for a name and contact data.

The questionnaire is also not stating anything about how the data will be used, by whom and for how long it will be stored, and whether it will be treated as confidential. If you were running a shop in Germany, this would be enough to serve you a notice for insufficient information about data security and privacy (incurring costs, of course, of at least a few hundred Euro).

There are even more issues in regard to the individual questions or wordings.

This already starts with the introductory texts.
"In parallel, a Mini One Stop Shop has been implemented to reduce the costs and administrative burdens for businesses concerned."

This sounds like the new legislation were entirely introduced to reduce burdens that were already extant for a long while. This, however, is not true. In many cases, the new system and the MOSS have not reduced the costs and burdens, but added to them considerably, even driving single entrepreneurs out of business entirely.

"The open public consultation will seek the views of business, the public and representative organisations [...]"
As stated above, it is a wonderful thing that everybody, including the public, is invited to have their say here. However, the explanations and the survey both are not accessible enough for the public - they are hard enough to understand even for educated people who are already familiar with the new rules for digital VAT.

Qu. 2 & 3 - Why are you asking for a name and email address? Is there any need for this? What will you do with this information? How will it be stored, where, and for how long? Every business has to inform their customers about how their personal data will be handled, and any such information is missing completely here.

Additionally, since you will be asking questions about how the changes have been handled by businesses, this is not conducive to getting straight, honest answers, since one might risk being lined up for an audit or being fined for non-compliance.

Qu. 4: If you are asking after the head office, shouldn't that be a BO question? Or should it be place of residence?

Qu. 5: There is no possibility to later change one's mind?

Qu. 11: Shouldn't that be a BO question? I also find unclear what you want to know here.

Qu. 12&13: You are asking about supplies not reported under MOSS. What about the extra burden added by registering and using MOSS? What about the burdens of extra work to try and comply with the new rules, only to spend many hours to file VAT to another EU country of under 1 €?

(By the way, the German wording implies that the question only asks after the calculation of the VAT of the other country, not the calculation and actual administration/payment to said country.)

Qu. 14 and other "please rate the difficulty" - the term "representing the most difficult" sounds like I am supposed to rate the individual answers from 1 to 5 in a hierarchy - which is technically not even possible in case all of them, including "other" applies, since there are 6 answers here. Or did you mean "scale of 1-5 with 1 representing not very difficult and 5 extremely difficult"?

Qu. 21: This is where having to state a name and email (or feeling that one has to, since there is no explanation on whether it's a can or must) will probably skew results. I also have a hard time understanding why "You also supply goods" would be a reason not to use the MOSS - as far as I understood, if I'd be selling digital goods and non-digital ones I would have to register for MOSS for the digital ones even while well underneath a threshold for registration in another country with my goods turnover. Or is that wrong?

Qu. 25: Does this question ask for my agreement with the objective to minimise burdens (including, or especially including, the burdens that have newly been added by the VAT rules in effect since January 2015)? Or for my agreement with the changes in VAT rules that are planned for the future, which might, according to the text in the intro, also be seen as "minimising burdens" even though it adds complications for small businesses?

Qu. 26: Are you asking for whether I would want all businesses to charge the same VAT rate throughout Europe? Or the same VAT rate when selling to one specific country? Or for my agreement that whatever the rule, there should be no exemption at all? What about an excemption not based on the price of one single small consignment, but based on the turnover of the company that is selling?

Qu. 27: If I answer with "I agree" to this question, it could be equally interpreted as my agreement to: a) the MOSS needs to be improved; b) the current Digital VAT rules need to be expanded to physical goods, c) a single registration and payment mechanism has to be set up so that registration when exceeding the turnover limits for VAT registration in another country can happen at the MOSS.

Qu. 28: It is difficult enough to find out, in some cases, what VAT to apply under domestic rules. How is it supposed to be technically possible to tax according to the customer's country? Most of the companies do not have their own law department that could spend a lot of time looking into this. There is not even an official reference list stating all the different tax percentages of VAT on the EU website (the list that is there is full of disclaimers that it may be wrong, or not up-to-date, and thus cannot be used as a legal basis for taxing). Am I supposed to learn Hungarian to find out what has to be taxed at which level in case some Hungarian customer orders a 5 € item from me? How is shop software going to handle the fact that an ebook in one country might not use the reduced tax level, but the higher one, and maybe super-reduced in a third country?

Qu. 29: This question is hard to answer without more context. It sounds as if the current rules would allow every single country in the EU that one has sold something to, no matter how small, would be entitled to do an audit. Now, apart from hoping I'd never have to deal with an audit in, say, French (which I can understand a little, and speak a little, but far removed from anything suitable to do Legalese with) - how is that supposed to function? How can a French auditor deal with my all-German book-keeping documents? Or do the rules mean that I will have to do multilingual book-keeping from now on? And will somebody from France come over to me in Germany to do the audit? Or am I supposed to ship copies of all my documents to France? Or go to France myself? Who will pay the expenses for this? What about the data security when my documents are sent somewhere out of the country? Whose rules about customer data confidentiality would then apply? German rules? French rules? An entirely different third set of rules?

Qu. 30: Again - how is this supposed to be enforced? If the EU hasn't managed to even tell their own citizens and businesses in time, and clearly enough, about the changes in VAT rules (see awareness level estimates in the full report available at, how are you going to communicate to the myriad of kitchen-table entrepreneurs and microbusinesses in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South America, ... that they are now supposed to follow different, much more complicated rules and pay taxes to a multitude of different countries within the EU? The results, should it be possible to actually tell them about it to raise levels of awareness to somewhere of, say, 50%, will either be that a) these microbusinesses will ignore the new rules or b) stop selling to customers within the EU. Already businesses in the US have stopped providing services such as software updates to EU customers - even to EU businesses because making a distinction there would be too much of a paperwork/shop software change burden.

Qu. 31/32: This is unclear on whether the threshold would apply to a certain amount per parcel/consignment/sale, per turnover of a business, or per sales made in a specific country. (Well, Qu. 32 makes it clear it probably does not mean amount per sale.) It's impossible to properly answer a question on the appropriate level of a threshold without knowing what the threshold will be based on!

Qu. 33: Does "easier management for tax administrations" mean easier management of tax issues for businesses, or are you actually asking businesses and members of the public whether they think a threshold would make internal administration in the tax departments of the individual member states easier?

Qu. 34: How is "uncertainty on whether a business will exceed the annual threshold" a risk of cross-border thresholds? Whenever there is a threshold, there's always a risk that if a business does well, it might be crossed. However, usually this is considered a good thing as it means business growth. This question sounds as if what lies beyond that threshold is so hard to handle and so difficult to navigate that a business would be happy to curtail its own growth just to keep beneath it. Which is, in fact, a very fitting description of the actual situation for digital micro-businesses right now, only that there is no threshold below which they could still prosper.

Qu. 35: Again, two questions rolled into one. Do I agree that any threshold needs to be harmonised? Do I agree that any threshold should apply to both goods and services? Also: any threshold in connection with VAT? Or also any internal threshold in connection with commerce and business within a member state? How about the thresholds for complete VAT exemption for supermicrobusinesses like it exists in Germany? What about differences in the size and annual turnover from member state to member state, are these going to be taken into account, or is every country now supposed to work the same way, instantly?

Qu. 36: Thank you for including an open text box in the survey so that survey takers can tell you what they actually think. This is, for me, the only thing redeeming the whole survey, and I do hope that you will get a lot of input through this text box.

I was very excited to hear about a survey that would allow micro-business owners like myself and my customers to chime in and help find a better way for the VAT issue in the EU. I do realise that VAT is an important income for every single state, and that the EU wishes to spread the earnings fairly. But this survey has questions that can be interpreted in many different ways, and you might thus get answers that were the actual opposite of what the person filling out the questionnaire actually wanted to say.

So now I am very deeply concerned about this survey. As so many of the questions are so unclear or so open to interpretation, it does not matter what the actual opinion and actual answers of those filling out the survey are – the survey can serve as a carte blanche for any end result desired.

I still hope that there will be instant action to relieve the incredible burden on microbusinesses that are caused by the new EU VAT rules, and that there will be no extension on physical goods and non-digital services until there are workable solutions and sensible thresholds for the EU VAT. I still hope that there is a future for my business – but the way this survey is built up and worded has dampened my hopes considerably.


Katrin Kania

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Please help me save my business.

I'm sorry if the title shocked you - but I am really afraid of the future for my business at the moment. Not because I don't love what I do anymore, or am running out of ideas, or projects, quite the opposite. It's because of the planned changes in the EU legislation regarding taxation for businesses.

If you've been reading along for a while, or have read yesterday's blog post, you will know about the changes in the EU VAT for digital goods, and the mess it brought along. (If you have no clue what I'm talking about now, go back to yesterday's post to have VAT and EU VAT explained, or go straight to the EU VAT Action Group's info page. Or TL;DR: We sellers have to cope with a mess of new rules to sell outside our home country since January 2015, and these rules are literally impossible to comply with.)

So. I can tell you, by now, that I have been losing sales on the Pirate Robert hat because I'm offering it as a printed pattern and not as a pdf file. A lot of knitters are annoyed that they're not able to just download it. I can understand this, even though (obviously) I'm not thrilled about it.

It gets worse, though - much worse. An extension to all goods and services is on the slate for 2016. All goods and services. So if you'd like to buy a spindle in the US? May well happen that the seller refuses to sell to you, because of the VAT paperwork that would entail. Things like this are already happening - sellers are blocking anyone from the EU and refuse to sell to them. (Even EU businesses though there are different rules for this, and they could sell to them no problem.)

This extension might mean the end of my business, too. I have built up what I am doing, and developed the products I am selling, for eleven years now. My business is not making a lot of money, but it's enough to let me keep flying, and that's all I ask for.

Serenity by BKSmith
A lot of the sales I make are in other EU countries, so this legislation would hit me really hard, right in the face. I could probably cope with that. I'm not sure I could cope with the additional anxiety, though. Running a business as a single entrepreneur always means a lot of bureaucracy, and always means you can slip up and mess something up, or not be aware of a change only to find out a year or two later you have not complied because you freaking did not know about it. You are only a single person, after all, and you want to spend most of your time and energy on developing and promoting your business, and not jumping red tape.

Now, I'm a person who worries about stuff, especially about getting stuff wrong. Every year around tax time, I have a few weeks of feeling ultra stressed, having to file about six individual report thingies, which all have to be correct. Every time I put something new up in the shop I triple-check to make sure it includes the correct VAT. Every time I find out about a change of rules and regs, I spend a few hours making sure I'm compliant, and several more days to weeks feeling stressed about the fact I might have missed something. And there are really stupid changes, too - such as having to label the button for "buy now" something different (equivalent to "yes, I do agree I will have to pay for the order if I press this"). There's newsletters you can get to try and keep up to date, and every single instance of these letters begins with some news on how you can be served notice for this typo or that wording or that attempt to explain how your shop works to your customers. (Very, very helpful. Thank you so much. Not.)

So. I am wishing very, very hard for this plan of extension to all goods to go away, and since that was never enough in this world, I'm also doing what I can. I have written to Members of the EU Parliament, and politicians here, and donated to the EU VAT Action Group, and tried to spread the word. But the more people that do things to make the EU realise we need help, and we need it now, the better.

And here's where I ask you to please help.  The EU Commission is running a survey with a long title about the EU VAT. The aim of this survey is said to see how the current system is working, more or less.

The survey is a very, very good thing, because it means there is awareness of our problem (our meaning small businesses like mine).

Unfortunately, it is also all written in Legalese, and I find it complicated to understand in both English and German. Some of the questions are highly confusing, in some cases even misleading, or open to interpretation. In short, the whole survey feels very weird to me. (I'll do a separate post about that, probably tomorrow.) In several of the questions you are asked whether you agree to blah and chatter, and it is impossible to discern whether your "I agree" would mean you agree to blah, or to chatter, or to both of them, or to the general idea behind both blah and chatter - so your answer would be open to interpretation. Also, Legalese. Never good in a survey that's supposed to be inclusive...

Still, the fact that we have this survey is a very, very good thing. It looks daunting, but it is actually rather easy to work with.

The survey does not have any field that is compulsory. You do not have to fill out or answer anything (which includes the fields for your name and email addy at the top) in that survey. So please don't be scared off by all the legalese, or the length of it.

If you would like to help my business, and countless others like it, you can do so easily with help of that survey.

Click the link to open up the survey (it opens in a new window).
Ignore all questions that you don't understand, or don't feel comfortable answering. Just leave them blank.
It would be nice if you could answer questions 1, 4, and 15 to help those evaluate the survey get an idea of where you are from, and for statistics about how many people are affected by the new rules, especially as customers.

Now for the important bit. Go down to the box. If you have taken the time to read the survey and you found any of the questions were hard to understand, or if you felt any of the questions was skewed, or open to interpretation, or uncomfortable - tell them so in the box.
If you only heard about the EU VAT rules today in my blog, tell them you only learned about it today even though it's been active for nine months.
If the new legislation has impacted you in any way whatsoever, tell them so in the box. In any way. This could mean a business not selling pdf patterns to you anymore (I have switched to print, for instance), geo-blocking you, or having to cope with lots and lots of clicks in checkout. If you feel concerned about all your customer data being kept for 10 years (one of the new rules), tell them so.
If you feel there has been way too little education about the new rules to businesses, customers, or both, tell them so.

If you agree that it will be desastrous for micro-businesses that are suffering already to wait for several more YEARS until the legislation is amended and a threshold is introduced, tell them so. Small businesses need a cross-border digital sales threshold, below which domestic VAT rules will apply, and a 'soft landing' threshold above that, for the next phase of business growth.

If you feel concerned about a huge impact on your abilities to buy things from smaller vendors from out of your country when this goes into effect for all goods and services (and I think you should be concerned about that), please tell them so! (Personally, to me, this would be the most important thing in the survey that you could do.)

Please help me save my business, and help save countless others (most of which are probably not even aware of the trouble coming up). Fill out the survey. Spread the word. Link posts about the EU VAT. Tweet about it. Tell your facebook friends. Tell your real friends. Tell any politician you might know. Feel free to comment here, too, if you have any questions or would just like to vent about these quixotic laws that completely ignore the reality of small traders. The more this is spoken about, the more voices that are raised, the better. We small traders need your help, and we need it now, before the brown stuff really, really hits the fan.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Here is where I explain VAT.

If you've been reading along for a while, you will have read about the EU VAT on my blog. If you have no clue what I'm talking about now, let me give you the TL;DR version of the whole thing.

When a business sells something to a customer, the amount paid includes a certain tax that we'll call the VAT (for Value Added Tax. The German word for it is Mehrwertsteuer*, and every EU country has their own term for it, but it functions just the same everywhere). The business then sends that tax money on to the state, who grins and takes it. You must pay VAT if your business is over a certain threshold of turnover (that is the money taken in and spent added up - so if you spend 20 € and get 20 €, your turnover is 40 €. Your winnings, however, is zero, so high turnover does not necessarily mean you're getting rich.); the threshold varies from country to country.

VAT is everywhere and it's on everything you buy, every day, everywhere. It thus shouldn't surprise you that the income from VAT makes for a huge chunk of the income that any EU country gets.** This tax is thus very important to any EU country. Accordingly, they feel rather strongly about their money, and they will afford you little slack for transgressions.

How much VAT is charged, however, and which rates apply to what kinds of goods, differs from country to country and is not always straightforward, or easy to understand. For instance, when I sell a book, I have to charge 7% VAT instead of 19%, because books have the reduced German VAT. When I get paid my royalty fees from my publishing house, however, they are charged at 19% VAT even though all that money is coming from selling books charged at 7% VAT!

Are you still with me? (I hope so!) Here's where it gets interesting. Each member state of the EU has this system, with their own issues and confusions about what gets charged what, and they all have different rates of VAT - as many as five rates in a single country, and 75 rates altogether in the 28 countries. There's a list online (German version here), so if you like numbers or would like to see how complicated the framework of all this is, go take a look. I'll wait here. Make sure you scroll down to at least page four to get an impression. Heck, just scroll through the whole thing once, you don't even need to read it to see how frazzled this all is.

Here's where it gets interesting. The rates. When you live in a country that charges high VAT, your customer effectively pays more money to you, so your prices have to be higher than they would need to be in a low-VAT country. That is the reason Amazon has its business centre in Luxembourg - lowest rate in the EU.

Essentially, the big players go where they don't pay as much VAT, helping them outprice the competition. This has two effects: firstly, the competition, especially local and small businesses, can't match that pricing and suffer, or have to fold. Secondly, the low-VAT state gets a lot of VAT money even though most of the goods are shipped out of the country.

Remember how I said that VAT is not where countries have a relaxed attitude?

So. There's money to be had, and the EU Commission realised that there might be some skew to the system. Enter a plan to make it all different. What if the business has to pay the VAT to the country they ship the goods to? Wouldn't that be fairer all around? The company pays VAT according to where they make their turnover, and the corresponding country gets the money. The customer does not notice any changes and always pays the same VAT rates at their home country rules (which few customers probably ever thought about, or care about).

Sounds good? Well. That's what the EU Commission thought, and they wrote a new law, and that would start with applying the new system (pay VAT based on the buyer's country) to digital goods and services - mp3s, ebooks, software, games, anything that is digital and downloaded via the 'Net. This rule came into force in January 2015.

Since then, countless small businesses have closed down, and many more startup plans have been laid into a shallow grave. Why? The rules are in effect for everyone, from the first penny or cent of turnover you have.

If I would sell a 1€ knitting pattern on pdf to one person in the UK in 2015, I'd be forced to register for VAT in the UK, do the VAT accounting (probably four times, once for every quarter of the year) and send the money over (which includes paying for any bank charges for currency conversion). For one single euro. Can you believe that? There's a threshold under which you have to pay no VAT in most countries for a reason, but there is no threshold at all for the new EU VAT. There's a thing called the Mini One-Stop Shop for small businesses where you can register once for all the EU countries, and which is supposed to make things easier, but it's not making it much easier, and it's not working really reliably yet. (This legislation is in effect since January, by the way. It's not working reliably yet, about 9 months in. That's enough time to make a human baby.)

So many businesses folded because they could not invest the time and money to make sure they can work with the new system, or they did not want to face this wall of bureaucracy that can bite you in the ass, hard, if you mess up. (That thing about no slack being cut.)

Now, for those who did not want to throw in the towel yet, the rules are so hard to follow that even the Big Players have huge trouble implementing it, and they have teams of software people and accounting people and law people. Small, single entrepreneurs? This regulation adds so much paperwork, consumes so much time, and costs so much money that trying to comply can make a business fold. (You can find out more about the impact, and the problems, here.)

Oh, and by the way, this is in effect world-wide. So if an US company (not in the EU) sells me a knitting pattern download, they have to charge me 19% VAT and send that VAT over to good ol' Germany, who will grin and take it.

That's not all, though. An extension to all goods and services is on the slate for 2016. All goods and services. So if you'd like to buy a spindle in the US? May well happen that the seller refuses to sell to you, because of the VAT paperwork that would entail. Things like this are already happening - sellers are blocking anyone from the EU and refuse to sell to them. (Even EU businesses though there are different rules for this, and they could sell to them no problem.)

This is, as you will hopefully agree, a Bad Thing - for many, many businesses as small as my own, or also quite a bit larger. It's impossible to comply with the legislation as it stands at the moment - but there's been a lot of complaints, and the EU commission is finally aware of the issues, and willing to do something against it, so there is still hope that this mess may be resolved.

And you can help - though in the interest of not boring you to tears with an insanely long blog post that nobody ever wants to read to the end, I'll tell you how tomorrow...

*Which lends itself wonderfully to being called "Märchensteuer", literally "fairy tale tax". The one little bit of humour this whole mess affords me is thinking "fairy tale tax" every time I say or write MwSt, or VAT. Also helps hoping for a fairy-tale-like happy ending.

** I had a phone call on Friday about this topic, and I think I remember being told "the biggest", but I don't want to misquote.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Gold Embroidery Book is here!

It just arrived this morning, and oh, it is pretty! I'm very happy with it, and I can finally stop worrying. (I never stop worrying about a print product until it is in my hands, and I can be sure the printing went okay. Glitches can happen, after all.)

Also, since I have been gently prodded, I have already put it up in the shop.

So now it's time for me to pack up the complimentary copies due to the museums and institutions, and for the German National Library (which keeps a copy of all the things published in Germany).

If you want to be sent a copy too, you can order it in my shop - or come and see me at the Nadelkunst on October 2-4 and buy it there.