Friday, 29 May 2015

It's Friday again, finally.

This week was taxes week for me - tax day in Germany is the last day of May, and it looks like I'll actually finish a day early this year! So tomorrow will be a very relaxed Saturday...

Apart from going over all the books and wrangling all the data necessary, not too much happened this week. I'm still waiting for more rain to refill the rainwater cistern (it drizzled a few hours ago, but that was all).

Friday? Really? Does that mean I'll get special treats today?
Planning for the gold embroidery kit is progressing, and now I'm waiting for some things to arrive so I can go into the next stage. The prototype is all finished - more on that on Monday!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Handling of Mistakes.

We all make mistakes, small ones, big ones, some that are easily fixed and some that haunt us for ages. (Sometimes small, easily fixed ones can still be of the haunting sort, though.) Mistakes are not nice to make, but they are a part of life, and every one of them is an opportunity to learn, and do better next time.

Mistakes are also an opportunity to think things over, and maybe alter them to the better. There's no such thing as a perfect script, as any writer knows... finding mistakes and editing them is a process that makes the final manuscript a much better piece, since there will inevitably be stuff that is not a real proper mistake, but can do with some change for the better anyways.

You don't want to know how many typos we found in the Beast in the final big edit.
Trust me. You don't.

But does that mean every mistake should remain visible? That is the suggestion of Guy Claxton, who says erasers are an instrument of the devil and should be banned from classrooms (all quotes in the following are from this article). Because, and now comes the point that makes me groan,
...schools should encourage students to acknowledge their mistakes because that’s the way the “big wide world” works...
Erm, excuse me? Mister Claxton, what planet are you living on, and how can I get there? The last time I looked around in the "big wide world" that I am currently living in, mistakes are not acknowledged, oh no. They are brushed over, or hushed up, or even rewarded with a hefty chunk of severance pay. When was the last time you heard a politician declare openly and publicly that he or she had fucked up, made a serious mistake, is very sorry and then actually did something to remedy the error? Or when did they obviously learn from a mistake?

There's massive protest against TTIP and CETA (go sign the protest if you have not yet done so, please); but do the politicians admit that it might have been a mistake? Nope - they are still trying to push it through. There's bees dying everywhere because of new pesticides, but does that lead to a ban on these chemicals? Ah no.

Don't even get me started on the EU VAT stuff. 2015 is half gone, the Digital VAT has proven to be a huge problem for small traders, many of which have closed their doors, but what is happening? Very very little, and very very slowly - and the plans to extend the new rules to all goods in 2016 still persist. (Please sign the petition if you have not yet done so, and spread the word so that others sign it, too. It's not looking good for small businesses at the moment, and that does include my own business.)

Do I need to go on? I don't think so. If we have a culture of standing up and admitting your own mistakes, and then openly correcting them and trying not to make a similar mistake in the future, I think it is hiding very, very well in this "big wide world" of ours. At least it's not the culture that our captains of industry, politicians and magnates are steeped in.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, professor Claxton said: “The eraser is an instrument of the devil because it perpetuates a culture of shame about error. It’s a way of lying to the world, which says ‘I didn’t make a mistake. I got it right first time.’ That’s what happens when you can rub it out and replace it.
Being able to fix your mistakes and make things better is not something, in my experience, that perpetuates shame about the error. On the contrary - I'd be much more ashamed about something that has to stand visibly for everybody to see. I do know that many of my colleagues feel the same about visible errors in their craftwork. If it can be fixed without trace, it should be okay to fix without trace; often enough, that is not the case anyway, because there will remain a reminder of the error that is at least visible to the person who made the thing. Life is hard enough without having to live with all your little mistakes visible to the world, too.

If you are not tired of reading about this topic yet, hop over to Another Damned Medievalist's blog, whose post in reply to the piece about erasers was the reason for this whole post. (I really just wanted to write a few words before linking to her, but then I got off on a tangent.) ADM's looking at the eraser-is-the-devil thing from a different angle and takes it apart with a little historical knowledge. (To whoever groused her at Leeds to blog more again: thank you!)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Looking for manuscripts?

If you are researching sources, be it written or image sources, on the internet or in real physical publications, you will have run into the how-to-find-stuff problem: There is a bunch of things very easy to find, as they are quite prominent. So everybody finds them, and everybody knows them.

Then, of course, these things get cited, and linked to, and re-published, which makes them even easier to find. The books less looked at, the sites less often linked to? Not so visible. Or, as puts it:

Finding digitized medieval manuscripts is not an easy task: the most prominent libraries are easily found and pinpointed on the maps. Problems arise for all the other digitized libraries that are not discoverable through search engines for many reasons (the website is not optimized or not accessible by crawlers and doesn't appear on web searches, the library is in a language different from English only, or, more in general, the website is difficult to access due to poor web design).
That, of course, is not only true for manuscripts, but DMMapp collects digitised medieval manuscript libraries. There's a long list of libraries that have manuscripts digitised and online, for free - so if you are looking for some things less often looked at... look no further. (Or do, and make sure to tell them about the library if it's not yet in the list.)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


A while ago, I was presented with a little coffee cup filled with coffee beans. Except that the beans were not roasted, and someone had dropped them into some soil inside a little flowerpot inside that coffee cup, and poured some water over all that, and watered them again and again and... the result were a couple of small coffee plant sprouts.

The largest one, meanwhile, has grown to look like this:

Some day, the Internet tells me, this thing might actually bloom and have coffee cherries later on. It also tells me that this will probably take another three or so years... well. I think I'll just go on buying coffee in the meantime, and I won't hold my breath for home-grown! It makes a nice plant, though. Not as decorative (yet) as the Ecuador Purple Chili:

but then purple chili fruit is really hard to beat, decorativeness-wise.

Final fun fact about coffee: The plant belongs to the same plant family as madder... does that explain why plant dyers love their coffee?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Thank goodness it's Friday.

How nice that it's Friday again! And even better, it's the Friday before a long weekend, since it's a public holiday on Monday here in good ol' Germany. (That also means there will be no blog post for you on Monday.)

Even though the last long weekend wasn't so long ago, I am very much looking forward to this one. There are tomatoes that need to be set out into the garden, I have beans that should be planted, and we're planning to go on a paddle with friends this weekend as well - so there will be plenty of nice activity for us. And maybe I'll even finish the gold embroidery prototype that I am still working on, as there's not much left to do.

First, though, there's less pleasant work lined up for the afternoon: filing invoices and taking care of tax paperwork...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Garden photos.

It's sunny outside, warming the water in which a sheep fleece is soaking. It's wool-washing season again!

And it is a joy to be outside in that beautiful weather (although wool washing season also means that I am waiting for a good, heavy rain to re-fill my water supply). Plus the view is nice - it's one of my favourite times of the year for looking at our living willow fence: the time when it's all lush and green, but it is still possible to see a bit of its structure through the leaves.

The peach tree that we planted on an espalier last year has actually bloomed this spring, and now it has three or four tiny fruits. I hope they will hang on there until they are nice and big and ripe!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Eating is a social thing.

It has been a long while since I posted about my food issues, but I was made painfully aware of them again during the last (long) weekend. As is traditional for me, I spent a few days hanging out with friends that I see once a year to share these days for our common hobby: doing bookbinding work.
What I did last weekend - repaired books and brand-new boxes and folders. And some gold embroidery :)

This was the first time I stayed at a youth hostel since developing (or, more correctly, since becoming aware of) my food intolerance issues. So, as a good guest does, I handed in the shortlist of things I cannot eat well beforehand... and hoped for the best. (There's a shortlist and a complete list of things. The shortlist is the really important stuff, the complete list also contains things I can eat occasionally, but try to avoid.)

It was not a very nice experience. First of all, some of the information seems to have gotten lost between admin and the kitchen, leading to an awkward situation admirably solved by the cook.  Secondly, the foods that were available to me often were the kind that I consider borderline acceptable: industrially made and thus laced with conserving agents, modified starches, glucose syrup and other things I try to avoid. Under normal circumstances, I will eat these occasionally, for example if there is no other choice or if I really want to, but not on a daily basis or several times a day. Thirdly, there was a lack of salads or vegetables in general, which was cutting down my options of avoiding the borderline foods.

I could feel all this in sinking energy levels, a dip in my general happiness, a craving for fresh foods and some other symptoms that clearly showed me I was not eathing things that are good for me. All that is not nice - but the worst thing, and what caused me most stress in retrospective, was having to ask for my food.

Now, in a youth hostel setting, there is usually a buffet style setup. You get your plate and cutlery and help yourself to whatever you would like, in whatever amounts. For vegetarians, or for those with intolerances or allergies, there's clearly labeled food on the buffet, and you are supposed to eat what you were booked for and not plunder the food of the special needs folks. Sometimes, when there is only a single person having a special serving and lots of other people, your serving might not be out on the buffet but brought out when you come, or when you ask for it, eliminating the danger of someone else consuming the special stuff.

That is all very understandable. However, when that means that
a) you do not know whether there is anything special for you or not, and you have to ask the serving people if the normal food is okay for you, and they look at you in a confused sort of way and have to go ask the head cook, and
b) you tell them you need to avoid wheat, but they consistently refer to you as needing gluten-free, or ask you if you have booked gluten-free diet (which I had not), and  get confused if you tell them that gluten-free will work for you but you have stated wheat-free and not gluten-free when booking, and
c) serving people are not always available and you may need to wait, or shout for them, to get an explanation of whether you can eat the stuff available or not, and then wait for your special-snowflake-food or get in line with all the others -
well. It made me feel difficult, and cranky, even though the kitchen people did try their best to help (but were stunningly under-informed). It also let me end up with meals that were not very satisfying, regarding taste, composition, and amount. I could probably have asked for more this or more that, but I did not want to go and wait (or holler) and ask again.

Worst of it all, though, having to state my special needs almost every single meal made me painfully aware of the intolerances instead of letting me handle them matter-of-factly, as I usually do. That will make anyone feel like the odd one out, and rather sick instead of healthy. It was not a nice experience. At all.

So in case you ever need to cater to someone with food intolerances? Try to make things easy for us.
Sharing food is a very social thing, so getting special servings sets you apart from the group. This may be necessary due to the dietary restrictions, and we do very much appreciate getting food that we know will be safe to eat, but getting different things all the time will, over time, do things to your soul. If the special serving is handled efficiently and matter-of-factly, it is not so bad, but every little issue on top of getting something different from the others - having to ask, having to explain, having to wait, even having different plates - will add up to emphasise that we are not part of the group in this respect. Eating is a social thing, and sharing food is a powerful symbol of belonging together. So being set apart continuously is also a powerful sign - of not really belonging.

We're feeling the odd one out or left out often enough - there are so many foods and snacks and things you cannot eat if you cannot eat wheat, for example. In a setting where a group is catered for, anything that makes us feel like our requirements are easy to meet will help. We approach foods prepared by others with a good dash of insecurity about what is in them and whether we will be able to have them or not, so labeling foods to indicate they are clear for us to eat will be a huge relief. Kitchen staff who know about our needs and do not have to run and enquire first help, too (though it's preferable that they run and enquire to serving food they don't know about). The more normal you make us feel, the easier things are for us, and the more pleasure we will have from eating in the group. The optimum would be, of course, to have foods for everybody that we can eat, and to communicate clearly that this is the case (without us having to ask). Reassure us that we can have more (if we can have more). Tell us how you have booked our needs if you decide to let wheat-free run as gluten-free (perfectly okay with me if that is easier for the kitchen, but I need to know what to ask for). Don't make us ask every time for every single thing... because that makes us aware, again, of how much we are the odd person out.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Planning for the Autumn.

One of the things I have learned in the last year-and-a-half is that I am having a lot of fun going to fairs. Not just medieval fairs, but actual trade fairs. LonCon was the first one that was not a medieval or historically themed event, and our time in the dealer's hall was pure, pure fun. (Chatting with Robert Silverberg about old scissors. Packing a bag for Ben Bova. Getting a ninja gig from Talis Kimberley. Those were grand times, and make grand memories for me.)

Then came the Kreativ in Stuttgart, and Backnang. And now I'm looking forward, very much, to the next fair: the Nadelkunst at Schloß Weikersheim.

I will be there with Sabine from the Wollschmiede - and I'm already excited about the event, even though it is still several months until October. But I've been told that the premises are beautiful, we will get to stay with friends (that I see far too rarely) who live very close to the castle, and the organisation team is very nice and extremely helpful.
The best thing, though? The first item in the requirements sheet for participants is "no sale of items from industrial mass production". There you go. That alone, I am sure, makes this event very much worth going to.

I'll be there - come and see me!

Monday, 18 May 2015

EU VAT madness ramblings, part II.

(To go to part one, click here.)

There's still more things in that EU memo that make me scared, or sound weird, or plain unfeasible, so I'm not done rambling. Here's the next bit:

Why does the Strategy include measures on parcel delivery?

Today only 15% of consumers shop online from another EU country – which is not surprising, if the delivery charge ends up being higher than the actual price of the product. The measures to be taken will address frequent complaints by e-retailers and consumers concerning a lack of transparency (what are the available delivery options and conditions?); the excessive costs of shipments (especially of small parcels sent by SMEs); the lack of interoperability between the different operators typically involved in a cross-border shipment (resulting in the absence of affordable track-and-trace solutions); the lack of convenience for the final consumer (not being offered last-mile delivery or convenient return options). These issues have already been identified in a Green Paper in 2012, followed up by a Roadmap in December 2013. The postal operators have committed themselves to introduce a number of improvements in the area of quality of services (e.g. track-and-trace services for small parcels sent across borders, easy return procedures, etc). The focus of the future EU measures on parcels is, however, on problems not addressed by the postal industry's own commitments initiative. This includes excessive prices and insufficient regulatory oversight. The Commission is today launching a public consultation to collect views from all the interested parties on the main issues and possible areas for improvement.

I have two bits to say about this. First of all, how are "customers" defined? Anybody who is already buying things? That would include the five-year-old who is going to the bakery to get a piece of cake. Small wonder, then, that the figure seems so low. But is it? And is it that bad, being so low?
There will always be people who do not shop across borders, due to language barriers, not enough internet access, or, yes, because they think shipping costs are too high. I have often not bought something small somewhere online because of high shipping costs - but that applies to German shops as much as to non-German ones.
However, let us not forget that many of these 85% of customers might not shop internationally due to the plain fact that they do not have the need to shop in another country. Because they can get everything they want or need inside their own. And that is perfectly, perfectly fine! Or what happened to "think global, buy local"?

Now for the second bit. Shipping, for a small supplier, is a pain on several accounts. Especially if you have a range of goods with very different shapes, and sizes, and do not ship a load of stuff every week, but do ship to a number of countries plus domestically.

You have to check weights and sizes for pricing, and have to get suitable boxes to ship with. Being in Germany, you also have to register and pay for any new packaging you are going to send out, because it might end up in the Dual System (a recycling system) and you have to pay processing costs for your things. That's all nice and fine theoretically - but for a very small supplier it means registering for a minimum amount of packages, and paying for them, that you will never ever reach. If I ship out paper and carton, inside of Germany (because that only counts for domestic shipping), of about 7 kg per year, but I have to register and pay for shipping up to 200 kg of paper - well, go do the maths yourselves. It's weird.

Then figuring out shipping costs. Yes, it is true that generally, shipping outside your own country will cost significantly more than shipping domestically. Yes, large companies have such a high shipping volume that they can cut special deals with the shipping companies and thus can offer lower prices for shipping, or free shipping. So for your shipping pricing, you have to calculate the cost of the packaging including cost of labels, cost of the shipping itself, plus the time required to do the related logistics (such as filling out customs forms), and the logistics of getting it to the post office. (If that sounds nitpicky and mean, let me tell you that it does add up, and all of these things get easier, faster and cheaper again if you do it often and in bulk.) There are instances where your set shipping price will be a bit above your actual costs, but there are also instances where you pay more for shipping than expected, and the fee you charged does just cover the shipping cost itself, or not even that, and unless you wish to calculate a gazillion shipping cost options and present your customers with a huge list of possible prices... you're stuck with that.

Why is action needed specifically on pricing? Will you regulate prices?

Recent studies confirm that the cost of delivery is still an obstacle to shopping cross-border. Shipping costs is the most common reason (57%) in Europe for not completing an online purchase. 62% of companies that are willing to sell online say that too high delivery costs are a problem (see the newly released Eurobarometer on e-commerce).Tariffs for cross-border small parcel delivery charged by postal operators are often two to five times higher than domestic prices. An example? It costs €32.40 to send a 2kg parcel from Belgium to Austria – over five times the price of €6.40 within Belgium. From Austria to Belgium it costs €14.40 – over three times the price of €4.50 within Austria. Competition appears to be the most appropriate and effective way of addressing today's concerns in terms of affordability. However, for such competition to unfold in a fair and efficient manner, all market participants – retailers, delivery operators as well as consumers – need to enjoy a certain degree of price transparency. Price regulation is only a means of last resort, where competition does not bring satisfactory results, and is not considered at this stage. Close monitoring is essential in order to identify and address any market failures. The situation will be reviewed after two years.

Yes, it can cost an arm and a leg to ship stuff outside Germany. Weirdly, however, I have also had circumstances where shipping the exact same order to Australia, or to England, or to Sweden did cost me less money for the postage than shipping it domestically. What about that? Will you force the German Post to stop offering these cheap international shipping possibilities, to level the playing field? Please don't. As with so many other things, yes, it's not a good thing that we have so many different fees and different structures and different rules - but by imposing even more rules in the hope of making things better, I'm afraid that we will end up being worse off.

Shipping cost calculation, for small companies, will remain a pain. It's just due to the nature of the thing, because there will always be different prices and sizes and weights for the shipment ranges - and they are necessary. How are you going to get "price transparency" across borders when shipping prices inside a country are already so diverse that there are calculating tools to help you get the best possible deal for your shipping? That sounds like a pipe dream to me.

Friday, 15 May 2015

EU VAT - the madness goes on. (part I)

 It's been quite a while since I posted about the EU VAT madness... and things are developing.

There is, thank goodness, talk about a threshold or maybe even an exemption for small businesses regarding the VATMOSS registration, as hinted at in a recent PR paper from the European Union.

It says there are plans for
Introducing a common EU-wide simplification measure - VAT threshold - to help small start-up e-commerce businesses.

However, right above that it also says
Extending the current single electronic registration and payment mechanism to cross-border online sales of physical goods.
 People. Please. There's been issue after issue after issue with the Digital VAT rules, and lots and lots of small businesses are suffering. I have stopped selling my pdf knitting pattern and have scrapped plans to offer more pdf instructions or patterns in the future - even though there are lots of customers who would prefer a pdf pattern and will not buy the physical version, and offering printed patterns (if you want to do that in an appropriately high quality) means a significant expense, and a need for storage space, and more logistics in getting it to the customer.

There are a few points in that memo that make me scared silly for my future as a small business entrepreneur. This one, for example:

How will the Commission make e-commerce easier?

The Commission will put forward clear contractual rules for online sales of both physical goods like shoes or furniture and digital content, like e-books or apps. It will fill in the existing legislative gap at EU level regarding digital content and will harmonise a key set of rules for physical goods. This will create a level-playing field for businesses, allow them to take full advantage of the Digital Single Market and sell with confidence across borders. At the same time, it will boost consumer trust in online purchases. Consumers will have even more solid and effective rights. For example, if the e-book you just bought is defective, it will be easier for you to obtain a remedy against the trader. Europeans will be able to shop in other EU countries as easily as in their home countries and get the best products at the best price.
I get a twitch when I read "level playing field". Oh you people making up these plans, please be aware that the level you will most easily achieve is that where all the small businesses give up.

I can tell you, from my own experience of having a small business based in Germany that there are already so many rules and regulations to follow, I'm glad if I manage to keep up with all the changes. And I'm one of the people trying hard to do so! I know a good number of colleagues in similar small businesses who do not know about many of the rules, and just ignore them, or have heard about them and still ignore them, hoping for the best. Because trying to conform to them would break their backs with bureaucracy, or would mean hiring help that would cost so much that all their profit goes into conforming with rules. Many of these rules are just stupid, too. Case in point? A while ago, it became obligatory to exchange the text on your "buy now" button in the online shop from "kaufen" (buy) or something similar to things like "zahlungspflichtig bestellen" (order with an obligation to pay). If you don't do that, technically your customer can renege the contract because it is not considered valid. Or some law sharks can serve notice and fine you because you do not conform to law.
When I learned about contracts for buying and selling in school, I got taught that the agreement between two parties is sufficient. How is "buy now" less of an agreement than "order with the obligation to pay"? (I'm waiting for the day when something similar will be required for buying a bread roll from your baker, or a sausage from your butcher. How about a little ritualistic dance after ordering, before paying, such as twirling around your own axis three times, then stomping your right foot thrice while declaring in a sing-song voice "Yes, I spend my money now, yes I buy I buy I buy, here you go, I do declare!" I think that would match the ridiculousness nicely.)

For textile stuff, there are things like a special law on how to mark your skeins of yarn that you sell. Which means, as my dyeing friend tells me, that sometimes you are not allowed to give your customer all the information they might want to have because you may only declare things in this or that way, and if you want to tell them the additional info that might be crucial to them, you have to hide it in the name of the yarn, or tell them (knowing that anything just told, not written on the band, will be forgotten soon).

Then there's so many grey areas, and things where someone tells you one thing and the next guy (professional, mind you!) tells you another one. A few years ago I actually shelled out money for counseling by a lawyer, who instructed me in how I could file the allowance money for any days spent travelling due to job reasons. (There are quite a few days per year for me.) I did that - and received my tax statement back with the allowances cancelled and the explanation that this was not an available option for me. So who was right? The lawyer, specialising in that field? Or the state official who was filing my taxes? And would it have been worth it to contact the lawyer again, and the tax official, to find out who was really right, spending more time (and possibly money) on the issue? (I didn't. I just accepted that and stopped filing allowances.)

And that's just three tiny bits of the current situation, from personal experience or immediate contacts. Don't even get me started on the vaguenesses that you will encounter in book-keeping. (Is it "Werbekosten" or "sonstige Ausgaben"? Is it "computer hardware" or "office supplies"?)

So. Will these "clear contractual rules" REPLACE all the rules that we have now? Is that even possible, for so many countries, so many different structures? Or will I have to keep up with an additional set of rules, themselves as complicated as the domestic rules? There is a point where keeping up with all that stuff is nigh impossible for a single person. This point has already been reached for Germany - if anything more is added, there will be even less compliance. Not because we don't care, or we don't try, but because we just cannot keep up.

There's more, though. Continued in part II.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Lovely Linkfest.

There is a stack of links to things you might find interesting again - time to clear out those browser tabs and send you careening through the internet!

First of all, Cathy writes about Greek sprang hairnets.

Erik Kwakkel writes about rare medieval name tags - from foundlings.

Neil Gaiman was interviewed about reading by Reading Rainbow, and talks about comfort reading (among other things).

An Anglo-Saxon recipe for an antibiotic has tested succesfully against a modern resistant bacterial strain - the Independent has an article about this (though I wouldn't call the recipe revolting, as they do).

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Sounds from the Middle Ages.

We are so far removed from the Middle Ages that there are very, very few sensory things left that we can still experience in the knowledge that people in the twelfth century would have had the same experience. We can try to recreate recipes, for instance, but we will never know if a medieval cook would have seasoned something to the same taste... and even deeper than that, many of the foods available today have changed a lot through breeding, so in some cases it has become impossible to use a similar basis for the cooking itself already.

There are some things that have remained much the same, and we can still experience them. Wood fires are an example of this - wood will burn just like it did in 1140, and if it's dry it burns better than if it's wet, and different kinds of wood burn with a different heat, and burning wood gives off light and warmth. And smoke.

However, for most of us today, a fire is something special, not an everyday tool - which is very different from medieval times. Fire was an omnipresent tool, the heat and light supplier, and wood smoke consequently permeating everything. All the time. Which means... when we experience a fire today, we tend to notice the smell of burning wood as something special, while it would have been just like a city smell in our times: so much part of everyday life that it is hardly ever noticed.

We might get a little closer with something that has not changed as much from everyday to special, though - something that would have been noted in the Middle Ages, due to its significance, as it would be noted still today. Such as a church bell.

This bell is called the Theophilus-Glocke (Theophilus Bell) and was cast around 1140 by "Meister Wolfger". It is one of the oldest surviving church bells we have. The fact that we can still hear it ring? Absolutely utterly awesome.

(h/t to Matthis from the Schauhuette blog.)

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Spinning instructions!

As posted a while ago, I wrote up some spinning instructions to go with a hand-spindle kit.

It did get ready in time for the wool festival at Backnang, and now I have finished translating the instructions into English.

The German version is already available in the online shop - it should be downloadable for free, if there should be any trouble, please let me know. Before I post the English version to the shop, though, I'd like to have a native speaker give it the once-over to catch any stupid bits of Denglish (which tends to happen when translating, unfortunately).

Any volunteers?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Springtime Lily. Gilded.

The lily of the valley outside in the garden bloom like there's not tomorrow, smelling sweetly, and the iris (who in German are called Schwertlilie, literally sword-lily) are getting ready for their bloomtime too.

So what better time of the year to finally do the prototype for a new gold embroidery kit? I've been offering the starter kit for a good while now, but several people have told me they would prefer something that comes with a motif, thus making the start easier.

Gold embroidery, a nice motif that will appeal also to non-living history folks, preferably not hard to embroider for a beginner? There's a clear winner for this: the French Lily, or fleur-de-lis.

So with the Beast off the table and a lovely fair coming up in the autumn (more about that soon), I finally found time to do some maths, some planning, and now I'm working on the prototype:

If all goes according to plan, the final assembly will be an all-you-need kit, including detailed step-by-step instructions, suitable needles, indigo-dyed linen fabric with the motif pre-drawn, gold and silk thread and an oval embroidery frame that, after finishing the embroidery, can be used as a frame to hang the piece on a wall.

This will make the kit a mix of medieval and modern - historically correct fabric and yarns, but modern tools (especially the frame). This will, however, be very clearly explained in the pattern instructions - and I think that giving more people the opportunity to enjoy this fascinating technique is the main object here!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Friday Links.

Friday, linktime...

Amica and Maria, two textile nerds (according to their own description) have started a new blog called Historical Textiles.

Gillian Polack is collecting recipes from SF fandom, and she wants yours too. The recipes will end up in a book - fandom deliciousness!

apc has a monograph about an excavation from York online, and it includes textile-related finds (among them a needle): Blue Bridge Lane & Fishergate House.

More research literature? Uni of Groningen has a publications database that might make you happy.

If you prefer something with more pictures, here's a collection of bizarre images from medieval manuscripts.

Sad things are happening too, unfortunately: The Tsock Tsarina has returned to her blog, but for the worst of all reasons - to announce that she has terminal cancer. I learned how to knit while following her instructions on how to make socks in "Tsocks 101", and her sock designs are something that always make me smile. Fuck cancer.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Joy of Non-Cooperative Software.

I've been working on new stuff for the online shop - distaffs, for instance, and little glass containers for the oil-light wicks. And now I'm all blocked in my enthusiasm, as somehow my shop system refuses to let me upload the pretty pictures.

It stumps me - I've already checked the usual culprits, and everything seems to be in order. I've updated the shop system and checked the database... nothing. So I will have to add the things without pictures for now, and hope I can solve the problem soon.

Meanwhile, have some more pictures taken at Freienfels, where I did an outdoor test of the oil light wicks in a medieval-style glass lamp:

 The lamp and the chains were a present to me from several years ago, together with a different kind of wick-holder - a metal bridge that was supposed to hang across the oil surface and hold the wick. It did work, but not very well, as the holder and wick needed very frequent adjusting for a good flame.

Not so with the floaters - as long as there is oil to burn, it burns quietly and like a charm. Towards the very end, there are some quiet sputtering noises, warning you that the lamp will soon run out of fuel, so you have time to refill with some oil, or you can just wait until it has burned itself out.

We had the lamp hanging outside, and with the water level low enough, it was even relatively wind-resistant. I really enjoyed having it hang there, and it was giving a lot of light all around: the beauty of the glass lamp is that it's also illuminating the things right below the lamp, as opposed to a lantern or candle-holder. I will definitely use this lamp a lot more often in the future!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Pictures from Freienfels.

Freienfels was uncommonly picture-heavy - as usual, we stood together with a few friends, one of them a woodworker. Who was in need of a few nice pictures of his equipment and himself while working... so I took the opportunity, brought my camera, and had a lot of fun documenting different woodworking techniques.

Working with a drawknife...

there's a very special kind of beauty to really sharp tools doing their thing with wood.

There also were axes, protected by sheaths made after a find from Haithabu...

... and irons of different sizes and shapes for finishing troughs.

Of course there were also a few photos that I did not shoot myself, such as this one - spinning on my bench with distaff-holder, in front of my trusty little market stall.

And a closer look at the table with goods:

I did a lot of spinning this weekend, trying out a theory regarding spindle whorls. Added bonus for this? A very special photo - the light and shadows of spinning!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Where the book money goes.

The topic of getting paid for books, and how much you get as an author, and how much you make if you sell books came up again in one of my conversations this weekend - need I mention that I talked about the Beast a lot?

The conversation, however, reminded me that this is something not everybody knows, and probably a good thing to blog about.

Anyone who has ever heard something about authors and royalties knows that you will not get rich by writing.* From the cover price of the book, about 2-15% end up in the author's bank account.** So where does the rest go?

A good chunk of the money is consumed by the actual printing of the physical book and related costs - storage, transport, shipping, logistics involved with that. Then there's the people working in the publishing house who have to pay for their lives as well. About half the cover price is deducted for booksellers (which can include authors, if they choose to sell their own book as well). And that's it.

Since book prices are more or less fixed***, that means you can decide where your book-buying money goes to, with no difference (or very little of it) to your own bank account.  The publishing house and the author get a fixed amount for every book sold, but then there's the seller's profit, which is about 30-50% of the cover price.

Your choice of where you get the book decides who gets this money. Want to support a certain publishing house because you just love everything they turn out? Order your books directly from them - it means they get their profit plus the bookseller's profit. You have a favourite bookstore, online or brick-and-mortar? Buy your books there. (Since price differences are rather small, buying books not in the Big River Store, but from other companies, is a rather pain-free way to curb the monopoly of Amazon, too.) Your most beloved authors are selling books themselves? If you buy directly from them, they will get their royalties plus the bookseller's profit (which is usually a multiple of the royalties). I can't say how things will work out for the Beast yet, but for Kleidung im Mittelalter, I get about six times as much money if I sell it myself than if the publishing house or a bookshop sells it (and I'm getting a good royalty rate for this, so it will probably be an even bigger difference for the Beast).

So if you are ever wondering where to buy a book in the future, now you know that your decision will actually make a difference to the bookshop, publisher, or author. The most important thing, though, is that the book gets out there at all - to be read, enjoyed, talked about, and used in all the many possible ways that a book can be used. (Including as a doorstop or plant press, if necessary.)

*The very few exceptions to this are what proves this rule.
** If you google stuff, there are quite a few web sites that will tell you a standard royalty rate is 10-15%. This, however, is not true for all genres or types of books and all circumstances; if you are not writing a novel, things may be very different.
*** Book prices are completely fixed in Germany and Austria - books printed by publishing houses here have a price that you must ask when selling said book, or else. Prices are more fluid where this system does not apply, but a newly released book will sell for more or less a similar price wherever you buy it.