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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Craftsy: A Little Less Cozy & Friendly?

Chickens running around with their heads cut off
Don't be like these headless chickens...
I've been patient in holding back my true feelings regarding the recent site overhaul at Craftsy.

Having worked in IT and knowing how hard it is to roll out a significant update, whether it be a website or a system application, I tried to be understanding. However, it's been over three months — an official "quarter" in business terms — and initial irritations may have taken root to become persistent problems.

No, it wasn't a good idea for them to attempt a full launch while seemingly much of the core functionality was still in flux. How they handled things in the immediate aftermath — giving the impression of chickens running around with their heads cut off — was even worse.

[By the way, now that I've given myself permission to vent, let me forewarn that this is going to be a long post.]

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Craftsy's core product — online classes — apparently suffered greatly with the revamp, in terms of people being able to find, access and view their classes. Ironically enough, the greater number of classes you have in in your personal library, the harder it is to navigate and find the one that you want. That is to say, the site revamp actually managed to punish the best customers.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
No shortage of issues from a user perspective...

Even if you only use Craftsy to buy product, the site revamp has adversely affected that user experience too. I've read many comments from users about paging through products, clicking on something of interest and then being stymied by peculiar behaviour from the site that requires them to "start over" again at page one.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
Making an e-commerce site hard to navigate is not an improvement...

In that respect, I am astounded, as I totally "get" that this site redo was a business (read: money) motivated decision. It was obviously undertaken to increase the e-commerce potential of the company. As a former business owner, I am all for free enterprise. But good heavens, if you are trying to increase profits online, it would be wise to make the browsing experience less of a horror story.

Surely, you don't want to piss off your existing customers to the extent that they'll want to tell everyone.

But it's not just that. These issues are likely to be fixed at some point, if not already. (I wrote most of this post over the Christmas holidays.) Others, I'm not so confident about.

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It's always been at the back of my mind that sites providing a free service to the masses are invariably ephemeral in nature. Craftsy built itself a massive foundation of users by catering to indie designers and offering an outstanding affiliate program early on. (I can only imagine the type of money that some blog owners were making back when Craftsy offered $2 per lead to their affiliates!) With craft bloggers firmly onside, word got out quickly about the community that Craftsy was offering to small time folks who wanted to dabble in pattern design.

What better enticement than to say, hey, we'll offer you a free platform on which to sell your PDFs... and look at all the users who are already pre-qualified to buy from you? Even before I started this blog, I knew I wanted to sell my patterns via Craftsy. Because quite literally, no other place offers such a sweet deal.

All things considered, you have to admire their business model.

But change may be on the horizon... as it always inevitably is.

Before the revamp, I could look at the profiles of users who had chosen to follow me (and I was extremely grateful for that surprisingly numerous and growing group) and see what classes they were taking and what their various talents had created. Crafters who had enrolled in the same classes could easily share their projects with everyone else. (I may be wrong, but there doesn't seem to be any way right now to upload a project picture of any kind unless you are reviewing a pattern.) I'll admit that most days, I had neither the time nor the desire to scroll through everyone's work, but if I wanted to, it was there.

But just like so much internet dust, all of that was blown away with the site overhaul. I no longer have access to those individuals and those individuals no longer have access to me — at least not directly. (Although here's a bit of an interesting FYI: even if you've only ever "purchased" free patterns, your email address is now readily accessible to the pattern designer, a change you may not agree with or feel comfortable about.)

On the matter of reinstating the "followers" list, I started the following exchange with Craftsy's support team...

Inquiry to Craftsy
My inquiry to Craftsy support...

... but somehow I don't expect this feature to be resurrected, given that it was so obviously left out of the rebuild, and this standard reply...

Craftsy support reply
Reply from Craftsy...

Like being trapped indoors in a dark dreary winter, the Craftsy experience — which used to be inviting, inclusive and connected — is now cold and unexpectedly lonely.

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Oh, and as for the second question that I asked (which should have been easily answered by a "yes, it will be back" or "no, it won't be back"), I was given a generic reply about new features continuing to be released and please to check this link — which, until just days ago, had not been updated in over a month — to keep up to date.

Several weeks later, I tried again. It had come to my attention that every time I accessed the Craftsy sewing pattern page, the same suite of patterns showed up on what is known as the "landing" page. (Under the guise of "best match", even though this is prior to selecting any search criteria, so what are they "best matching"?)

I tried it in two different browsers, then tried it under an anonymous browsing window and they all delivered me the same result.

image courtesy of Craftsy
Deja vu every time I access the sewing patterns page...

I thought, wow, lucky designers who have their patterns put out in front of everyone's eyes so easily! What about the rest of us? Shouldn't this page be random or newest first? If indeed these patterns are the most popular (which I doubt), shouldn't that — in the name of fairness — be a category that can be manually selected via the drop down rather than automatically chosen for us?

June responded again, reporting that the order is random (?!) and that she would let the almighty Engineering Team know about my issue. Then it became obvious that she may only have skimmed my message because she plunked in a standard response that did not even have anything to do with my query. (She effectively told me that I should be careful to categorize my own patterns under the right headings to ensure that they would be seen via searches.) I replied with an honest but polite assessment of her response and ended my email with "If you guys truly appreciate us sharing our thoughts and feedback, and you truly are 'here to help', you might show it with more helpful responses to our questions other than — essentially — we'll tell someone you said this."

I ultimately did get an explanation about this screen: "...the placement of patterns when we launched the new site was completely random, though sorting order will not change with a new visit. That said, I do understand your concerns and feedback and I've shared it with our Engineers to ensure your voice is heard. While this is a completely free pedestal to sell patterns, we want the best experience possible for our designers." Is it just me or does that last sentence sound a bit like a polite version of "hey, this is a free service, like it or lump it"?


Getting back to one of my previous points, though, the overriding opinion from those who have expressed their lack of enthusiasm over Crafty's reboot involves a sense of mourning over a community that was virtually trashed, with personal connections lost.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
Apparently Craftsy was censoring the word "stupid"...

Literally, nothing was added to improve that area, while pretty much everything that could be done to decimate it, was done. I have little confidence that any of it will be restored after the fact. Meanwhile, new features meant to boost the commercial aspects of the site — coupons! — were touted as having been requested by the user base.

In my reading, I have only come across one user who claimed to have been surveyed for the site rebuild. Her comments reminded me of what I used to hear from jaded business clients when I acted as the liaison between users and developers: you ask us, but they've already decided what to do.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
"We'll ask for input but we've already decided how we're going to do it..."

The thing is, even if we had all been in an uproar over needing coupons, I doubt we would have opted to sacrifice the supportive community and "home" that Craftsy has been to us in exchange for that.

In the meantime, it seems the folks behind the scenes are of the opinion that we'll all come around in time. They continue to thank us for our already depleted patience. Depending on individual circumstance, maybe we will and maybe we won't. One thing seems certain... Craftsy won't ever be what it used to be.

What are your thoughts on the new Craftsy?

Saturday, 14 January 2017

New Pattern Release: Diva Envelope Clutch

Diva Envelope Clutch by eSheep Designs
My Diva Envelope Clutch pattern is ready!
Back in late November, I posted about the origin of my Diva on a Dime inspired project: the aptly named Diva Envelope Clutch.

After sending out a call for testers, I took it upon myself to make another test project and used what remained of my beige Robert Kaufman Satsuki Japanese Flower fabric (used as the lining for my Summit Pack).

For this one, I tested out an alternative closure (a magnetic snap) and threaded some found ribbon through the grommets to add some interest.

Is it just me or does the use of the tuck lock closure really make the bag??

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The Diva Envelope Clutch was designed to be a portfolio rather than a purse, although it is infinitely usable as a clutch (and therefore is so named). It's handy as a carry-all for going out to meetings, for keeping your annual income tax documents together, to safeguard your paper sewing patterns, to stay on your desk as a way to organize your incoming paperwork... I'm sure you can come up with all kinds of practical applications for this. I have taken to storing my waxcloth folder that carries my zen doodles in mine.

Diva Envelope Clutch by eSheep Designs
Back view of the Diva Envelope Clutch...

Changing up the type of fabric used makes this a versatile item for all ages and genders. Make it in a heavier darker material and it would definitely be "guy appropriate"... as you will see with one of my tester's versions. (In fact, as proof of how common this design is used by males, do a search on "envelope portfolio for men" and check out the results.)

Diva Envelope Clutch by eSheep Designs
Interior of the Diva Envelope Clutch...

Without the bold accent of hardware showing on the front of this version, I thought it looked a tad bland until I found just the perfect scrap of ribbon to thread through the grommet holes. Now I'm thinking that there are other things that could be threaded through to bling it up, like beading or small chains... unwanted necklaces, anyone?

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Anyway, let's take a look at the fab results of my testers. (For more info on their projects, click on their individual links.)

Daryl at Patchouli Moon Studio told me up front that she didn't have a tuck/push lock set, but I was happy to have her test out a magnetic snap since I anticipate that some people may opt for this more easily accessible closure.

Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Patchouli Moon Studio
Love the colour coordinated accents on Daryl's first Diva... and of course, her signature
use of batiks on her second version produces striking  results as usual!

Daryl added her usual unique touches to the project... such as the requisite zipper pull, the popping flower applique and then the second version in a patchwork batik fabric pieced together from scraps. (Apparently some lucky friend got that first one as a birthday present last month. The second one she kept for herself!)

I've long been familiar with Maria of Mia's Creations from her pattern testing for Christine Welsh. (Her most excellent work is very recognizable.) She took one of the suggestions that I had in the pattern to change up the side panels of this clutch and came up with this variation.

Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Mia Creates
Mia's home dec fabric shines in this rendition of the Diva Envelope Clutch...

Mia sews with an an "industrial strength" machine, so was able to add fleece and regular fusible interfacing to her upholstery fabric.

She also subsequently altered this pattern, turning this one into a (larger) laptop bag.

Hacked Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Mia Creates
Mia's hacked Diva...

Pam from Threading My Way came to my rescue to test for me again and produced this fine looking Diva...

Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Pam @ Threading My Way
Pam's cheery rendition of the Diva...

Pam's version closes with a traditional buttonhole and button. I'm happy to report that this little Diva will soon be going away with her owner on a quilting retreat. Love it when projects are useful!

These next two results are meant to inspire you to greater heights with this pattern. Verna (who blogs here), worked in tandem with her daughter Gigi on her first testing experience. Here is her take on the Diva... for a guy!

Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Verna Groger
Verna's Diva Envelope Clutch for her son-in-law...

As the pattern designer, I breathed a major sigh of relief that this highly customized version turned out so well! The exterior material is cork, trimmed with dark brown faux leather accents (no interfacing). And as you can see, the various rivets add a touch of "masculine bling".

But Verna & Gigi didn't stop there. Here is another heavily hacked version that is unmistakably feminine...

Diva Envelope Clutch crafted by Verna Groger

Verna and Gigi continue their creativity with the Diva...

As you can see, the options are many and varied with regards to the closures on the Diva Envelope Clutch. Be adventurous and come up with your own unique take on it.

A big "thank you" to all of my testers for helping me launch this pattern!

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The PDF for this pattern is 30 pages long, with full-size templates, detailed instructions and over 50 photos to help you create your own Diva Envelope Clutch. Measurements are provided in both metric and imperial.

The Diva Envelope Clutch PDF Pattern by eSheep Designs
Sample pages from the Diva Envelope Clutch PDF pattern...

How Big is this Thing?

The finished size of the Diva Envelope Clutch is approximately 13” wide x 9.5” high (33cm x 24cm). The interior is large enough to hold file folders and manila envelopes. Even if you're only a little bit adventurous, it should be fairly easy to upsize or downscale this pattern to make it just right for some other purpose.

Who is this Project For?

I would say that you should be an experienced beginner for best results. This project is not inherently difficult, but it would help if you’ve successfully completed a simple lined bag and have installed zippered pockets before. If you can be patient and follow instructions, this project actually comes together quickly and easily.

How Long will this Project Take?

There is a bit of cutting and interfacing to do first, of course, but the construction part could take you as little as a couple of hours. Even if you’re comparatively slow, if you start in the morning, you will be done by the end of the day.

What do I Need to Make this Project?

A complete list of what you'll need to complete this project is provided at my Craftsy Shop.

If you haven't done so already, join Craftsy and then
stop by my shop where you can grab the pattern for $5.25!


If you are "sew" inclined, feel free to make and sell as many Diva Envelope Clutches as you care to; I only ask that you credit me and this blog by attaching the following card to the item.

eSheep Designs swing tag

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Cause and Effect...

Microsoft Windows XP Logo
Losing XP in 2014 causes internet loss in 2016-17...
... or, how Microsoft's abandonment of Windows XP led to my starting the new year without internet access.

Several years ago, we purchased a small netbook computer to take on our travels. When these little things came out, it was quite exciting because suddenly, computer nerds didn't have to travel with large laptops. The netbooks had only a ten inch screen but they were fully functioning computers with responsive keyboards and abundant hard drive space. Our little Acer was equipped with Windows XP, which is still my favourite version of Windows.

In 2012, Microsoft announced that it would no longer support Win XP beyond April 2014, which meant that we had to find ourselves a new little computer by that time. In the intervening years, netbooks had fallen out of favour, but I was still able to source an Asus unit with an eleven inch screen. It came with the horrifying Windows 8, which — as soon as it was available — I upgraded to the not quite as horrifying but still aggravating Windows 10.

Bottom line was, however, this computer ran as slow as MOLASSES from your refrigerator.

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My other half put up with this as his main computer for a couple of years... until last month when he started playing some games on Facebook (oy!) and announced that he wanted a new computer because the drag on the one that he had was just, well, draggy.

Acer Switch One
New computer...
We got him a new Acer Switch One and it was zippy in comparison. Hubby happy with purchase. End of story, right?

Then I noticed that something else was getting "draggy" as he played these games... our internet connection. It slowed to not allowing me do anything on my computer as he played and the connection started to break on a regular basis. I took to resetting the router several times a day.

The week between Christmas and New Year, I decided to take advantage of the holiday sales and bought a new router. (Our existing router was coming up ten years old and was two "standards" behind the current.) I started what should have been a fifteen minute installation on the morning of December 30 and then ran into problems.

If you are still reading, let me give you an important takeaway from my experience:

never start a hardware installation right in front of a long weekend

I called up my ISP and described what was going on. We soon suspected that the modem might actually be wonky, but the help desk guys wanted me to test out the direct connection on a second computer just to be sure. (Who actually has a second computer these days with an ethernet port??) I had errands to run, however, so I said I'd try later on by borrowing Mom's laptop.

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Meanwhile, the minutes are ticking away on the last business day prior to New Year's weekend. I guess they eventually came to their senses, because someone called back while I was out and said that he'd send out a new modem... given that we'd had ours for almost ten years. It was sent right away, but with the upcoming holiday, it wouldn't arrive until Jan 3 at the earliest.

Later that afternoon, I reconnected the old router and the internet connection was back up. Yay, right?

Dead modem...
Not so lucky the next day: the modem's lights were dark. Over the next few days, a couple of indicators lit up, but it was never operational again.

So it was the modem.

And now, it was a matter of no internet.

I don't have data on my cell phone plan. Hubby does, but it's not much of an allowance before extra fees kick in. It was quite an adjustment over that period to check my email just three times a day and do whatever I needed to do online (like answer those emails) and then turn it off. All those spontaneous thoughts of "I wonder what..." — and there were a surprising number of those — went unanswered.

The internet and its instant availability have changed the way we live. As I've said before and will likely say again, some of those changes aren't necessarily good. Nevertheless, we've come to rely on having internet as a utility, sort of like heat and electricity.

Now, I'm not saying that I need the internet in the same way that I need heat and electricity — especially not when it's freezing cold as it has been this past week — but not having it wasn't convenient or pleasant. (For example, I wrote this blog post in a text editor since I didn't have access to Blogger.)

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Funny enough, it reminded me of the old dial-up days. I'd dial in, do what I had to do as quickly as possible and then terminate the connection, not wanting to tie up the telephone line. Of course, this was back in the day when people actually had — and depended on — land lines rather than cell phones.

Shiny new router...
Looking back on 2016, it was probably a given that I would close out the year with technology issues.

In June, my hard drive died a slow death that I was fortunate enough to catch in time. It was on its literal last hours while being serviced, when the technician was able to copy everything onto a new drive (solid state — no moving parts!) over the course of a day and a half.

I was prepared for the worst. I keep decent data backups, but having to reinstall everything would have been a horrendous hassle that I wasn't looking forward to. Therefore, if you're still reading, here is the second takeaway from today:

happiness is knowing that your hard drive can be cloned

That said, I didn't exactly break out the champagne on this one. Ten days after I got the computer back, it started freezing and having unexpected shutdowns on an almost daily basis. With a little bit of luck and a lot of research, I got it back to some semblance of stability, but I'd never before seen so many BSODs (blue screens of death) in my life as I have over the past half year.

Apart from world peace, my hope for 2017 is merely to go back to taking my technology for granted, like most people do!

What about you?

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Spoonflower Project: The Maple Leaf Forever Neck Warmer

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
My Maple Leaf Multi 3D on White fabric...
When the calendar flips over to 2017 tonight, Canadians will begin marking the 150th anniversary of confederation. It's going to be a year of big celebrations!

Those of us up here in the great white north who were around in 1967 will surely remember our centennial with this iconic song. Can - na - da... oh such memories!

Canadians are not known to be patriotic flag-wavers in the same way as our neighbours to the south, but we do have our moments. Consider the stereotypical backpack with the Canadian flag patch sewn onto it. (My rendition of that is luggage tags with flag stickers on them.)

Canadian flag
Canadian flag...
Whenever I look at our flag, I'm taken by how unique it is. It has just two colours... and one of them is white; not technically a colour. (There are actually several countries with red and white flags.) And it features a leaf: not a star, a moon, or a variation of a cross. Yes, we've been criticized for featuring a "dead" leaf on our flag, but I love the red. (A real maple leaf that has turned red in the fall is absolutely gorgeous.) Whether it's because of our flag or whatever, the combination of red and white has always been one of my favourites.

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Ever since I started sewing again, I've been wanting to make myself something in red and white that I could use or wear on Canada Day. I considered making a hat but never got around to doing so. It was one of those passing thoughts that seemed to be easily put on the back burner once Canada Day came and went.

Oddly enough, it took a Spoonflower sale in November for me to get the inspiration to create a fabric collection to celebrate the great maple leaf.

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
Maple Leaf (Tiled Red on White)...

I started by drawing my interpretation of a maple leaf using Paint Shop Pro. Since I was using a mouse, I kept it simple and decided to leave out the two lower "points" on either side of the stem (sort of like how they draw cartoon characters with only three fingers).

Then I copied the same leaf in different sizes and orientations and put them together in three different layouts. The ones here were created as a seamless tile, then coloured in with alternating white and red backgrounds with opposite coloured leaves.

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
Maple Leaf (Tiled White on Red)...

After completing these two, I decided to make a simpler version by foregoing the seamless tile process and making use of Spoonflower's half brick repeat option.

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With this one, I decided to add a black background. (Can you guess that I like the red/white/black combo too?)

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
Maple Leaf on Black...

And here is the corresponding one with a white background.

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
Maple Leaf on White...

I will mention that I wasn't impressed by the red that was ultimately reproduced on my samples of the above two fabrics. It shifted way too much into the rusty orange range and was not at all like what I see on my computer. I've since made some adjustments.

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
My actual Maple Leaf Multi 3D in White fabric on top of snow... can't get much more Canadian than that!

My last design is the variation shown at the top of this post and immediately above. With that one, I decided to add some 3D effects to the largest leaves. (I might make myself a buff out of this piece.)

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But then a curious thing happened. I showed my other half these new creations and told him I was thinking of making a scarf out of them. He surprised me by asking what sort of fabric I was thinking of using and — to make a long story short — our discussion led me to try out Spoonflower's fleece to make him a reversible neck warmer cowl scarf with this rendition...

Canadiana Fabric Collection by eSheep Designs
This fat quarter in fleece is all you need to make a reversible neck warmer!

This is a project that you can make with just one fat quarter of Spoonflower's fleece, which is a piece measuring 28" x 18".

How to?

Start by trimming the extra white material off the top edge of the red part of the fabric. (Leave the extra along the bottom of the white part for now.)

Then it's your decision (depending on whether you want to maximize size) as to whether you want to: 1) trim off all the extra white material along the left and right edges or 2) leave a 1/2" of white showing.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Trim the white edges away from the red part of the fabric....

Regardless of what you choose, the next step is to sew together the two vertical ends to create a large tube, using a 1/2" seam allowance. (With right sides together, of course.) By the way, you will want to use a stretch stitch for this project.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Sew the two ends together to create a long tube...

Turn and fold the tube in half, so that the red pattern is showing on the inside and the white pattern is on the outside. Clip together and then run a row of 1/4" topstitching around the folded edge. (Tip: use both red and white thread.)

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Clip and then topstitch along the folded edge, dividing the white pattern from the red...

Open up the seam and pin in place as shown.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Flatten down the seam allowance before trimming and sewing up the bottom...

Trim the exposed white edge even with the red.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Trim off extraneous white edge...

Since the fleece does not fray, you can now simply pin and sew these edges together, at about 1/4" again.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Pin and then sew right around again...

That's as simple as it gets! A reversible cowl scarf to keep you warm throughout the great Canadian winter! Click here to get the fabric, here to browse the entire collection.

Canadiana Neck Warmer by eSheep Designs
Ta da! A fleecy patriotic neck warmer to celebrate Canada 150!

I took my other fat quarters and also turned them into cowls for Mom and me, but I had to cut them in half and do a bit more sewing to make them similarly reversible.

And now, as I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year, let me ask this... how did your resolutions for 2016 work out??