Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for July, 2012

Copyright. Why it matters

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

The brew-ha-ha about Debenhams and Kate Davies’ iconic Owl Sweater has caused quite a stir.  I’m not raking it up.  Happily it’s now resolved to Kate’s satisfaction.  Debenhams still deny that they did anything wrong, but acknowledge that there was an issue to be addressed.  Kate is happy and I think this is a good outcome.  You can read about the details of the settlement here.

That it happened is of course A Bad Thing and also it can’t have been a pleasant experience for the designer.  However, some good has come out of it.  First, maybe Debenhams will think twice before being so *inspired* by a design that they basically reproduce it.  Maybe, other big retailers will have a think too.  The power of new media and networking, plus the knitting and crochet community (in this case) is rather cool.  We’re knitters.  And we’re also customers.  Ha, take that, Big Brand Bullies.

However, some thoughtful commentary was forthcoming within the debate that this caused.  For example, it is standard practice for the cat-walk fashions to be ‘copied’ and express-delivered to the mass-market retailers.  Versions of these are to be found in Primarni and the like within hours or at least within days.  I am not sure this is much comfort to the designers but the fashion houses they design for seem to take it on the chin.

Fair point.  But then again, they are not sole traders or very tiny companies. Most of us are.

This has led me to ponder the question of why intellectual copyright is important.  My designs are covered by copyright.  My brother is a lawyer and he basically said:  pop the words on there but good luck if you ever need to take someone on, it’s a massive pain in the backside. Well, Kate took someone on.  Someone big.  And she mobilised a huge network to help.  But I think my brother is probably right, for most small indi designers.

Intellectual property is a massive field, ranging from copyright warfare at global company level, through to lending someone a book.  Somewhere in between is what happened to Kate.

When I worked for Rowan in John Lewis, there was an interesting range of copyright issues to be negotiated.  For example, (and this only happened once while I was there), a design was ripped out of a Rowan magazine.  That’s pretty straight forward, it’s theft.  Actually, I was really shocked by that because all my customers were so lovely, therefore I know it was not them.  But there it was, a ragged tear of paper, a page missing, from a magazine that then cost £10 – but they only wanted that design I assume.  I won’t even write on my pattern books, I photocopy them (for my own use) and write on that.

Which brings me to photocopying or scanning.  I bet most knitters ‘share’ patterns.  I’ve been at shops where this has been openly discussed by customers, as in the ‘I’ll buy this book and you buy that book, and we’ll share’.  Sharing is A Good Thing.  We all lend each other books to read for example – don’t we?  So if a customer shares a pattern book, well, that’s not in the Debenhams/Kate league.  Photocopying designs is a bit more troublesome.  Many times a customer would ask me to copy a design from a Rowan book, but of course I had to say no and also try to explain, without sounding like the copyright police, why that wasn’t a good option for designers or the craft in the long run.

It’s awfully tricky, but really, since so much is given away, free of charge, by the generous community of crafters, makers and artists, there seems no need to copy.  Knitters and other makers are by nature generous with help, knowledge and design ideas.  But when a designer is trying to make a living from his or her work, then it is a matter to at least have at the front of our minds.

How would you deal with this?  I’m working in the store and a customer asks me if I will photocopy a pattern – a garment, not a stitch – from a book that is still in print, copyrighted to the designer and so on.  I gently explain why I couldn’t do that (and I always found this awkward, but it was something I believed in and also, it was part of my job).  The customer accepts this and carries on browsing.  I resume fondling the yarn display, with trips into the stock room now and then.  On my return from one such visit, I observe that the customer is now seated at the little knitting table, calmly and studiously copying out the pattern, by hand, into her own little note book…


Cave candy

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

This is my caving log book:

It was a Christmas present from a friend, a friend who, like me, is blessed with the Glitter Gene.  I expect she imagined I’d use it as a knitting design book, as did I when I unwrapped it.  I always have a knitting design book with me and this is where 90% of the designs start before being swatched and abandoned or typed up and knitted.  I choose pretty books, usually with silk covers and some beads.  This book is the sparkliest book yet. Not only does it have beads, it has sequins and little jewels.

When I started caving, I thought I’d probably go down 2 or maybe 3 times and never thought about keeping a log book.  But when I went on the Wessex Cave Club weekend, back in April, they suggested that it was a good idea to keep a record.  And so I decided that this note book would be promoted and be the Cave Candy Log Book.  As we have established over the years, I am a nerd.  I love stationary and collecting things, I like Lakeland, Tupperware, flannels, recycling timetables and record-keeping.  And I like pretty things.  So really, this little book brings together a lot of my favourite things:  collecting (caves I have visited); pretty things (caves I have visited – not you, Dog Hole, and the book itself); and record-keeping.

Now that I have shared my sparkles-diary I fully expect that other club members will either show us their glittery books or invest in one, maybe.  Monsoon is a good hunting ground.  Or Paperchase.

I now have 15 entries in this book.  I was really surprised that I have caved only 15 times.  One one hand, it seems like I ought to have more than this because it feels like I am more or less always underground, scrubbing kit, driving up Cheddar Gorge or planning another trip.  But it’s only 15.  On the other hand, you’d think that after 15 goes I’d be a fair way up the ‘improving tragetory’.  I’m not.

In fact, I think I may be regressing.  Here is a recent extract from my diary:

‘Dear Diary


Today I caved for the first time with the Wessex Cave Club as a member. Yes I am now a WCC member.  We had a lovely trip (lengthy passage here about the cave, time we spent, areas visited etc).  However, as usual I managed a frankly impressive if minor cock-up at a small and simple climb into Jim’s attic, happily witnessed by several fellow members.  Florence urgently hissed at me: ‘What are you doing with your feet? They are the wrong way round!’ I looked down.  They were indeed, crossed.  When I approached the exit to this little bit of cave and had to climb back down into the main chamber, the waiting members, almost involuntarily I think, formed a small arc round the space where I would land.  They didn’t grab me or rush in.  They just formed a guarded semi-circle – just in case, I suppose.  As it happened, I untangled my legs and made it down on my own! Ha!’

I didn’t really write all that in the book – but I could have for it is true.

Also on this trip were 4 other new club members.  We all met for the first time at the April weekend event.  It was so lovely to see them again and cave together.  After a long chat with one of these people, and also a long think on the way home, I have decided that I am primarily caving for the candy.  That is to say, the pretties, the white or crystal formations, pearls (which I have only seen in Bakers), straws, curly things, curtains and water.  I am also caving because it’s a major challenge, for me.  It’s hard work and I make it rather more so than perhaps it really is.  However, once I am out and I’ve done something that for me is a stretch, I feel great!

Anyway, I accept that my progress may be, um, steady.  It was the same with running.  I was a slow and short-distance runner for ages.  It’s taken me years to grow as a confident endurance runner – and still my comfortable distance limit is only about 10 – 12 miles.  But when I struggle, I just think back to when I ran at 0530 hours in summer to avoid anyone seeing me, and then it was stop-start, walk-run for weeks until I managed first 1, then 2 non-stop miles.  It’s easy to forget, once running is a normal part of your life and you can run more or less anywhere if you want to, that it was at one time a struggle or even impossible.  Perhaps the thing is, running (assuming you do it sensibly and train etc) isn’t dangerous but caving can be.  Cycling was the same, I’ve been cycling most of my life but the transition to road bikes and being clipped onto the pedals was only a few years ago.  That was fun! Honestly, I reckon Mark could have sold tickets to come and watch me attempt the unclip and put the unclipped foot down manoeuvre.  I bestowed a lot of innocent spectator pleasure on the good people of Pembrokeshire the year I first took my then new road bike and clippy shoes there on hols…

I’m still knitting by the way.  And designing.  The non-knitting work areas of my life have been rudely interrupting recently but it’s all systems go again now.  And my new designs are named after caves (or bits of cave).  Just as with my sparkly cave diary, I will unite these amazing hobbies one way or another!  Here is the sleeve of The Singing River Shrug:

It’s made a lot of progress since this picture was taken, in fact the second version (in blues) is currently also being knitted. The design is knitted from the cuff back up, in the round and because the cuff feature – lace, beads, Kidsilk Haze – can only be achieved at the cast-on, it’s knitted in two halves, in the round and then split for the back.  The main yarn is a new Rowan yarn, Baby Silk Merino DK.  But why should babies have all the luxury?

The Singing River Shrug is named after a mine I caved in (if one can cave in mines) – a mine with some natural cave at one end – in the Mendips, which has a river running through it.  As you approach the water but cannot see it, you can hear it.  The mine was abandoned many years ago, and it felt cave-like.  It was lovely, actually.  The scallops and lines in the lace at the bottom of this shrug design is how my designer’s brain ‘sees’ caves, or at least how it saw Singing River.  I have exaggerated the ‘flow’ of the work by using beads and mainly by changing the yarns, using them single and held together.  This helps to emphasise the wave effect and also highlight the way the simple lace stitch causes the work to open and close.  This *probably* varies from the way real cavers see caves and may account for the reason my feet are sometimes crossed over…


Debenhams and Kate Davies

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Read about it here.  It’s not a happy story:

I love Kate Davies Designs.  Guess what?  Kate Davies is just a person, an individual like you and me.  She is not a faceless multi-store retailer.

If we don’t stick together, then indi designers, be they of knitting, crochet, fabric, art, ceramics, jewelery – whatever – will be prey to organisations like Debenhams.

I’ve bought a copy of Kate’s owl sweater pattern and plan to knit it just as soon as I can.

The sporting event formerly known as…oh wait, can I say it?

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

OK, I’m going to say it anyway.  The Olympics.  There we are.

As you may know, recently the US Olympic Committee got it’s knickers in a bit of a twist about Ravelry’s own homage to the Olympics. No?  Google it and say goodbye to about an hour of your life, and while you’re at it say hello to the most humourless and bonkers bunch of faceless administrators you’re ever likely to (virtually) meet. I mean the US Olympic crew, not the Ravs.

I don’t post about ‘political’ stuff, if this is indeed even in that camp.  But since there has been an incredibly unlikely and to be honest, farcical convergence of knitting/crochet and politically bizarre posturing on the part of the US Olympic movement, I’m just going to take a moment to laugh.  There.  That’s better.

Seriously, who’d have ever thought it could even be possible?

Anyway, Rav has changed the name of their knit-along-games and the US Olympic people have apologised.  Twice, because the first time was kind of rude and sulky.  So that’s all done and dusted.

In the midst of this ‘summer’ of sport, no sun, rain and wind, I have an idea.  I am establishing a sports-free zone.  In my dining room.  All welcome for a brief spell of refuge.

My telly is currently infested with sports.  Cricket, tennis, Tour de France, football (now thankfully over for about five minutes) and any moment now, the Olympics will cause a further deluge of sporting fervour to be unleashed.  I like some sports and indeed enthusiastically take part in several.  However, I tend to find watching them rather dull.  I also get that some folks do love to watch sport on telly, that’s fine.  In moderation.  But actually, what we have here in the UK this summer, is a kind of sports dictatorship.  There is so much of it and because the biggest chunk of this will be the Olympics and we are proud to be hosting it (I am proud that we got the Games and we seem to have done an amazing job with all the preparation, that bit is true!), it’s almost unpatriotic to say:  please, a bit less with the sports now already.

The woman who knitted at Wimbledon made me smile though.  Good for her and isn’t it funny that it’s become a viral image?  There she is, calmly knitting as she probably does most days if she can.  She looks happy, like maybe she is thinking:  I never get to knit uninterrupted for this long usually, I hope this match goes on for hours and hours.  I fancy I recognise her, but I am probably just hoping that is true. To her (probably) knitting is just so normal, as it is to us, that it doesn’t even seem odd to do it at Wimbledon, and indeed, it isn’t.  I wonder what the thrust of the media attention is.  Is it:  oh my goodness, awesome multi-tasking?  Or is it:  how odd!  Look!  A woman is knitting, in public, at a sports event?  Proving my long-held belief that to non-knitters, we knitters are a sub-species who only like knitting.  And don’t do other stuff, like watch sport.  Or run, or cave.  And we do our knitting alone, indoors.  The only way I’d be able to get through a tennis match anywhere would be if I was also knitting – but she is probably a big fan of both activities.

When I was a child, my mother was a sports fan.  No, a fanatic.  In the true sense of the word.  She obsessively loved all televised sports and I think my dislike of watching it may stem from the years of Match of the Day, Horse of the Year Show, Snooker (um, I agree, not really a sport), Grand Prix (again, less of a sport, more of an activity?), and mainly, Wimbledon.  For the Wimbledon season, she locked herself into the sitting room, drew the curtains, took the phone off the hook, having first spent feverish mornings preparing delicious things for tea and supper that could be eaten cold, such as Spam sandwiches, egg salad and Angel Delight – which in fact melts if left all afternoon, by the way.  We had a very productive strawberry patch in the veg garden and dad and I lived on strawberries, basically.  Dad would eat his with cream, sugar and bread and butter, so that he was properly full-up.  I am not sure what my brother lived on, probably baked beans and milk, like the rest of the year.  At the weekend in between the two weeks of Wimbledon, mum would sling together a couple of her fruit cakes and we’d eat them, buttered by the Thursday/Friday to counteract the creeping dryness.  This may also be why I dislike fruit cake.

When I got in from school, I’d pad round to the back of the shrouded house and quietly let myself in, then slip into the sitting room.  A pall of cigarette smoke would be dragged towards the draught caused by me opening the door and gradually reveal my mother, lying on the sofa, with her cigarettes and some useful activity such as knitting or an Agatha Christie novel on the floor.  I’d perch and try watching for a bit.  Chrissie Evert or someone, maybe a man who swore and wore headbands would be thumping about on screen.  No talking was allowed.  After a few minutes, I’d go and get changed and either hang about in the front garden and wait for dad or go out on my bike and buy chocolate if I had any money.  Then we’d pick some more strawberries.  It was just an annual ritual.  In fact, it was many years before I could eat strawberries, too.

Anyway, I am weary of the sports overload and yet, for Mark it is literally heaven.  So for the rest of the ‘summer’ whilst Mark spends his waking hours watching sport, I will be happy to provide an oasis of sports-free dining room time, with the fire lit or if it suddenly gets warm, in the summer house.  There will be live streaming of old black and white musicals, tea and sandwiches, and knitting.