Sunday, February 17, 2013

Necktie Recycling and the Spirit of Crafting

I’m probably not supposed to talk about this. 

But…several months ago, I got an email from the Etsy Legal Team with the subject “Etsy Infringement Notice.”  Scary.  Scarier yet was how all of my handmade necktie wristlets had been deactivated from my shop.  Poof!  They were gone.  The email said that I had violated the Copyright and Intellectual Property Law.  What?! Was I some sort of criminal?  At the very least, I must be a bad person.  It turned out that someone was mad at me.  This stranger had said that I had stolen her idea--her patented idea.  I was being instructed to not, I repeat NOT, sell anymore necktie wristlets.  If I did, my shop would be burned to the ground and my family killed.  Or something like that. 

I felt a lot of emotions.  On one hand, the necktie wristlet hadn’t been my original idea.  I had seen one somewhere, sometime, and these wristlets had sprung from there.  What creativity isn’t inspired by others’?  I had, in fact, seen lots of things made from neckties in my life.  This isn’t a new idea.  People have been recycling neckties since the dawn of crafting.  I also felt mad.  Selling things made out of neckties is a leisurely hobby of mine.  I’m a professional educator.  Crafting is not my livelihood, but merely something I dabble in and enjoy.  Was this stranger really so threatened by the nine wristlets I had sold over the past 5 months that she needed to shut me down?  I didn’t understand.

In the Legal Team’s email, I was given this stranger’s name and email address.  I decided to contact this woman and reason with her. I believe in the power of communication. If you have a problem, you talk about it.  I swallowed all those feelings of anger and sent her the following:


I was really confused when I received a notification from the Etsy legal team regarding copyright infringement. After looking in your shop I see that you make a similar necktie wristlet and have been doing so for some time. I'm truly sorry that you feel I've copied your design and original idea. That was certainly not my intent at all! 

I'm a teacher in a public school in Milwaukee. Crafting and having an Etsy shop is just a hobby of mine. I've been in love with vintage neckties for a long time and I first started making purses from them several years ago. I guess my point is that I'm not out to take away business from you or steal your ideas, but just that I enjoy making purses and wristlets out of old neckties. My hope is that we can resolve this matter in a way that makes everyone feel good and that is in the spirit of crafting.

All the best,

There.  That should do it.  Except that this woman never responded.  Not so much as a peep.  Why, that’s not in the spirit of crafting!  The spirit of crafting is about sharing ideas and inspiring creativity!  It’s about appreciating that someone else out there in the world likes making things out of old ties the same way you do!  Weren’t we sorta like kindred spirits? I guess not.  My spirit was quickly turning into spite.  A part of me now wanted to take business away from this woman.

I contacted my lawyer-friend for advice.  We decided that if I changed my design and made it different enough, that it would no longer be copying.  I began to feel energized.  Nothing inspires quite like spite.  I had been thinking about improving my design anyway, and now it was time to get to work.  I would turn this stranger’s negative energy into positive, spite-filled energy.

Instead of two pockets, I added a third pocket.  I changed the design of the strap to incorporate the skinny end of the necktie, and I used the tie label to hold the D-ring in place.  Voila!  Now, that’s a necktie wristlet!

Old design.  Yuck!
New and improved!

I don’t really like lemonade (it makes me thirsty), but the old adage rings true:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or, in my case, when life gives you copyright infringement, make a better product and sell it for a few bucks more.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Best Ties in Life are Free

The “free” page on Craigslist is a fascinating and confounding place.  This section could also be aptly named “large and heavy.” Free concrete utility sink anyone?  Just come and get it out of my basement! Don’t get me wrong, the majority of what is listed as “free” on Craigslist makes perfect sense. There are couches and mattresses and sand.  There are pianos and wood chips and clean fill.  I once listed a rose bush that I wanted removed from my front yard, but couldn’t justify just ripping it out and tossing it.  Within a few hours I had someone excitedly coming to dig it up. Please, be my guest!  Things like that make sense—not right for the thrift store, but perfectly good items someone could use.  Then, there are those items listed that perplex:

3 c vacuum bags:  size c vacuum bags they are the wrong size for our vacuum if you could use them they're yours”

“Repti Calcium: Container of Reptile Calcium. Expires 03/15. Used one teaspoon.”

“Free Envelope Of Coupons (NW Milwaukee): I have a thick envelope of coupons.”

I don’t understand this.  The few times I’ve sold things on Craigslist, it’s work: responding to people, trying to decide if they’re murderers, finding a time to meet/get murdered.  The wad of cash at the end of the sale was almost not worth the effort.  Surely if I had 3 unneeded size C vacuum bags I would just throw them in the Goodwill box in the basement.  I would NOT list them for free on Craigslist.  How could that possibly be worth the effort?  There’s not even a wad of cash at the end.  And it’s not like I’m giving away baby formula or diapers or something people really need.  I’m no baby expert, but I’m pretty sure no infants will be saved with vacuum bags.  This is perplexing stuff.

Then again, maybe someone wants those vacuum bags.  Maybe it’s not so perplexing after all…

A fellow thrifter and colleague of mine occasionally peruses the “free” listings on Craigslist, and one day he appeared at my classroom door with a note that said “neckties” with a phone number scrawled beneath.  My heart skipped a beat and my knees got a little weak with excitement.

I called the necktie-stranger to inquire:  Can I have your necktie collection?  This man had lots of questions for me and seemed suspicious of my motives. He gave me the impression that others had been hounding him all day for these free ties—was it possible that they had? I told him that I, in fact, recycle old neckties into purses and wallets and after a lot of explaining and reassuring he declared that I was the chosen one who would receive his beloved neckties.  Great, I said. I asked if I could pick them up the following day.  No, it had to be tonight or else he could just give them to another interested party.  I waited for him to specify which dark alley I should go to. What if this necktie-stranger turned out to be a necktie-strangler?? 

That night I drove to a suburb with my pregnant friend for protection.  The house looked normal enough.  I rang the bell and an older woman appeared with a large box filled with neatly folded neckties—a lot of neckties.  Her husband was not at home, she told me. Her kind but distracted small talk gave the impression that she did not want to chat nor did she want to kill me.  Whew!  I offered money and she declined.  Minutes later I was skip-walking away with this huge box of over 70 cool, old ties:

I hope this necktie-stranger, whoever he is, knows that I love his ties too.  Perhaps this was his goal, to find someone with a mutual-appreciation for them.  And who among us wouldn’t want the things we truly love to go to a good home?  Maybe knowing someone else loves your things as much as you do is all the payment a person needs.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mayonnaise Makes the Salad Creamy

The geniuses at Jell-O thought of everything.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure the last thing you think to suspend in Jell-O is lima beans and they came up with that one.  In the “Crown Jewel Dessert” recipe you actually suspend cubes of Jell-O in more Jell-O. Man, that's so meta…

In The Joys of Jell-O, one of my favorite 
vintage cookbooks, there are lots of recipes 
with mainstay ingredients like pineapple tidbits 
and miniature marshmallows.  But if you’re 
going to devote an entire cookbook to 
Jell-O, you need to get creative. Here’s a 
list of tasty ingredients spotted in various 

¾ cup Post Grape Nuts cereal
¾ cup finely cut cooked prunes
1 bottle (7 oz.) cola beverage
1 avocado
Marshmallow-Mayonnaise Topping
Shredded Cabbage
Tabasco Sauce
¼ cup chopped dill pickle
1 ½ cups chopped spinach
Barbecue Cubes
¾ cup drained sliced pickled beets
pickled herring
1 can (1lb.) whole kernel corn
2 bouillon cubes

I wish I wrote this cookbook.  Then, not only could I have developed and eaten a bunch of Jell-O concoctions, I could’ve written descriptions like this:

The fruits for this dazzler are available any season of the year. (Orange and Grape Duo)

This tasty salad is a lovely luncheon entrée with cold cuts and hot muffins. (Waldorf Mold)

A tart mold of grapefruit perks up the most humdrum lunch or dinner.
(Grapefruit Salad)

The sunshine of the West is reflected in this delightful salad creation. (California Fruit Salad)

This tasty salad is economical in cost, but there’s no shortage of flavor. (Penny-Wise Salad)

An easy way to glamorize inexpensive canned pear halves. (Cardinal Pear Mold)

A colorful jewel of a salad that will crown your meal regally. (Cauliflower Radish Salad)

A charming finale to a meal. (Apricot Bavarian Cream) 

I think my lifelong wish to come up with paint color names is eclipsed by my desire to title Jell-O mold recipes.  Here are some of my favorites from The Joys of Jell-O:

Creamy Freeze

Ice Cream Party Dessert

Cherry Cheese Charmer



Fruited Perfection

Three-Fruit Fantasy

Under the Sea Salad

Hawaiian Eyeful

Supper Salad

Also, if anyone needs to name a cat, there is:

Orange Frost

Ribbon Loaf

Cooky Stacks

Frosty Melon

Everyone, I present to you my cat, Cooky Stacks:

 The Joys of Jell-O, indeed!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Necktie Mother-lode: a necktie upcycling tutorial

Not only did the Salvation Army in Menomonee Falls have a jam-packed, 4-sided, multi-tiered rack of neckties, there was an overflowing laundry basket full of ties on the floor next to it!
Sifting through the mass, I pulled out some real beauties…

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve been this excited since this Flying Club trophy entered my life:

Where have these neckties been? 1976 wedding? 1979 parent-teacher conferences? I’m guessing they haven’t been loved in a while so now it’s time for them to feel some love! (After I rip them apart, cut them up, and stab them repeatedly with my sewing machine needle, that is.)
Hello, little necktie wristlet carrying case thingy…here’s how you were born:

1. Cold wash, hang dry, and let ‘er rip!

2. Cut accordingly. To fit my iPhone, I cut the pouch piece 13.5”x8”. The strap is 13”x3” and the piece to attach the D-ring is 3”x3”. It takes a wide tie to accommodate these measurements.

3. Iron on some medium weight interfacing, pin and sew!

3 ½. Bonus tip! Sew a piece of ribbon or cord inside your strap to easily turn it inside-out. (this will save you 20 minutes and several swear words)

4. Press, pin and sew your little pouch together. When topstitching the edges of your strap, leave about an inch open at the triangular end so when you complete the strap loop you can fit the end neatly inside.

5. Attach your D-ring and strap and you’re almost there!

6. Add a snap in a snap!

7. Now you’re ready for a night out on the town spent effortlessly dangling this little beauty on your arm. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My First Thrift Store

In high school, I discovered my hometown thrift store: The Thrift Shoppe. It’s the crown jewel of Whitewater, WI as far as I’m concerned. This thrift store has a special place in my heart, not only because it is where my love of thifting began, but also because it hasn’t changed since. It’s a time capsule of bargains.

From the outside, The Thrift Shoppe looks like your grandma’s house. On the inside, however, you’ll find no doilies or plastic-covered furniture. Instead, the 9 rooms of this 100-year-old house are chock full of neatly organized treasures. Owned by the nearby Lutheran Church, this thrift store has been energetically staffed by beautiful grey-haired volunteers for 45 years. In my opinion, it is top-notch in pricing, variety and service. Plus, it’s the definition of “quaint.”

I still remember the first shirt I bought there, in large part because I wore it so often. I loved that shirt. I’m pretty sure I thought it made me super cool, although looking back I needed more than a shirt to help me in that department. I don’t know what happened to it, and sadly the only evidence I have now of its existence is this picture of me wearing it and playing the contra-bass clarinet. Was I super cool, or what?

I do find it strange that I don’t know the whereabouts of that shirt. I tend to hold on to well-loved clothes long after I’ve stopped wearing them. I still have the jean jacket I adored in 5th grade, a sweater I coveted and saved up for in 9th grade, and several items from my formative thrifting years in college (some of which still make the rotation to this day).

Why do I hang on to these clothes? Why am I so attached? Am I saving these things for my future children, in the hopes that they’ll be as super cool as I am? Or am I just too sentimental? If I let go of the much-loved things in my life, am I somehow letting go of a part of myself?

These clothes are woven with memories, and for me, part of the memory is the moment we first met: Me, tirelessly searching the t-shirt racks. I spot something promising and my heart skips a beat. A quick scan for stains, size, softness--all signs point to…YES! Well, it is very nice to meet you! You’ll be living with me from now on. Special bonus for being funny or weird. Here’s one of my all time favorites:

It’s not always easy to visit the Whitewater Thrift Shoppe. While they have scheduled hours, they aren’t plentiful. And if you’re only in town because it’s a holiday, forget it. They will probably be closed a week before and after. But this is all part of the charm and what makes it great. Goodwills may be open on Sundays and have a rack of t-shirts a mile long, but they sure don’t have charm.

What The Thrift Shoppe lacks in convenience it more than makes up for in character: the handwritten price tags; the carefully organized craft section; the lovely woman who will write out your receipt in loopy script and gently wrap up your purchases. She will ask you if you go to the university or if you are an artist. She will rip apart the receipt, stab the store copy onto the metal holder and wish you to have a great day. By the sparkle in her eyes, you will know that she means it.

This is the thrift store I want to shoppe at. The next time I head up the creaky stairs to sift through the shirt rack in the attic, I’ll catch a glimpse of the dusty corners of my youth. And it will feel a bit like going home.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Intermittent Forks

When I was in teacher school, I learned about the power of intermittent reinforcement. That's why casinos are such a lucrative business. People feed slot machines because they want to win big and the sporadic small payouts fuel that hope while emptying wallets. Similarly, the intermittent reinforcements of thrifting keep me coming back for more. Going to one estate sale full of Precious Moments figurines and XXL women’s clothing is validated when I score a pile of vintage wrapping paper at another. I find myself not only scouring thrift stores and garage sales for these treasures, but also the places of daily life. My treasure-hunting-antenna is always up!

As a middle school reading teacher (and reinforcement distributor) in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to teach a program requiring a class-size of no more than 15 students. Having a small class not only saved my sanity, but saved me money while stocking my prize bin. My students never knew when or for what they might receive a raffle ticket, but the chance kept most of them in check. If intermittent reinforcement can wrangle middle schoolers, it is a powerful force indeed.

As a side product of my small classes, however, I was sequestered away in the old home economics room, which hadn’t been used in several years. Opening the door for the first time felt like cracking the seal on a hyperbolic chamber. The stale-aired room was cramped, dusty, and resembled the inside of a house in desperate need of remodeling. Rows of wooden cabinets lined the walls beneath a mysteriously stained drop ceiling and wooden boxes covered exposed gas jets that remained from the previously removed ovens. Ah, to be a teacher.

Middle school is an inherently strange place, and this environment made the experience that much more bizarre. Weirder still was the fact that many of the cabinets and drawers still contained 40-year old dishes, pans and cooking utensils. I don’t know what middle school home economics class made fondue, but look what I found:

Unless there is suddenly money in the budget to teach the finer points of cheese-dunkery, I’m pretty sure no one will miss it.

Several of the drawers and cabinets had been screwed shut, and on the last day of school, I brought my screwdriver and went to work, hoping to unearth a hidden treasure. What I found was better than a pouch of magic beans: a whole drawer full of silverware, several pieces of which were stamped “BD. of ED. N.Y.C.” Jackpot! I couldn’t dream up a better reward for my harrowed time spent in the throes of NYC public education.

Now, every time I sit down to enjoy a meal I can savor that job as a distant memory, one bite at a time. After all, I earned it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wrapping Paper Nut

A friend of mine recently went to an estate sale she lovingly refers to as “The Pencil Sharpener Nut Sale.” This is because the house contained approximately 3000 pencil sharpeners, all proudly displayed upon rows and rows of shelving built specifically to hold them. In addition to the pencil sharpeners, the house had hundreds of thimbles and knick-knacks, all meticulously logged on a gigantic Rolodex. I kid you not:

I’m left to wonder, at what point does collection become obsession?

Once a year, there is an explosion of vintage Christmas wrapping paper, ribbons and bows so densely covering my living room floor that even my cat has a hard time getting through. Some people enjoy hobbies such as sports and watching movies. Me? I like to play with my wrapping paper collection.

This was one of those guilt-free, easy-to-start collections. Wrapping paper is small and flat. It’s functional. I can buy it knowing it will be a temporary resident in my home. For a while, I had it limited to one large Rubbermaid tub. Eventually, I had to separate the Christmas wrapping from all other paper requiring me to expand to 2 large containers. And still, trying to fit the lids on is akin to sitting on a suitcase to close the zipper. And let’s not forget about the ribbon bins. And the overflow area. It’s a good thing I love giving gifts.

If you’re getting a gift from me, however, don’t expect anything extraordinary. My best wrapping is reserved for those who appreciate it; those who carefully remove it without tearing and fold it up to be reused. If that’s not you, don’t worry. We can both be happy knowing that the paper you tore off, balled up and threw aside was nothing too special. It’s a win-win.

At this point, I like to believe my interest in wrapping paper lies safely in the collection category rather than obsession territory. Now, once I start logging my wrapping paper in a giant Rolodex, I’ll know I’ve gone over the edge.