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The Digital Age and Embroidery Magazines

Since the advent of the internet and the advances that it has made, particularly with regard to publishing, it’s a subject that comes up regularly. I am often asked if (and when) my books, designs and patterns will be available in digital format. My answer is always no they won’t be. Not for now, anyway. There are few reasons for that.

The first is my favourite gripe. Theft. If you spend time in the company of young men who are computer savvy you very quickly learn from them how easy it is to get anything you want off the internet. It’s all out there from movies, television series, books, magazines……. The only thing that would stop you from committing wholesale theft is your own ethics. Because nothing else is going to put the brakes on your actions.

The other thing that might stop you would require deeper reflection.

For all of my life books and magazines have been a source of inspiration. From embroidery to home decoration, cooking to gardening (well maybe not cooking and gardening, I do as little of those two as I can possibly get away with), I have bought magazines and books to inspire and instruct me. It is not how I learnt to embroider, but it is how I have expanded my knowledge of stitches and techniques. If it wasn’t for books and magazines I wouldn’t know the name of, say, a Roman Blind, let alone how to make one. I would still be calling a Festoon Blind ‘one of those puffy blind things’. I would not know the difference between a duvet, bed spread or comforter and, and, and…….. These are not things that you necessarily learn from your mother or grandmother because they came from a time when there was less interplay between the regions and cultures of the world. They didn’t think there was a difference!

It is magazines and books that keep all of us up to date, inspire us and tell us about things we’ve not heard of before. And for that to happen there have to be teams of people gathering that information and putting it together in tempting publications. These teams of people need to make a living. If readers are going to steal digital copies off the internet or pilfer in the old fashioned way by photocopying their friends’ magazines and books, it goes without saying that these teams of publishers can no longer sell enough copies of their publications to make a decent living and will cease to exist.

The next reason why I reject the idea of embroidery books and magazines in digital format is because for me, personally, I want the real thing in my hand.

When it comes to novels and other books that are ‘just words’, my Kindle is my favourite device. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it might be the best gadget that I have acquired in recent years. I read before I go to sleep every night and when I’m travelling, reading is the treat that I give to myself in order to endure long haul flights and interminable waiting at airports. I can take all the books that I might want to read on a trip in one handy little device that fits in my bag and I whip it out the moment I am seated on an aircraft, or in an airport lounge. The same goes for my iPad. Quite apart from sending and receiving emails, I read the ‘newspapers’ on this little gadget before I get out of bed every morning. I use it as my telephone directory, my dictionary and my encyclopaedia. It’s also meant that I can live a relatively paper-free life. Documents that I need to refer to often are not printed. They are stored on my tablet and referred to from there. It’s always on, always connected and constantly in use.

But not for embroidery books or magazines. I have bought precisely one digital embroidery book and subscribed only once to a digital embroidery magazine. In each instance, I didn’t go back for more choosing, instead, to purchase the real thing. It’s just not the same when its on a screen. It needs to be on paper, not shining out from a screen that decides to switch itself off all too regularly. I think that, even those who have chosen to go completely digital, would agree with me if they tried it, instead of just thinking about it. Yes, it’s slightly cheaper in digital format but it’s not the same and I am always prepared to pay the extra to have the hard copy shipped to me.

The proliferation of digital publishing coupled with the state of the world’s economies means that times are tough for publishers of magazines and books, particularly if their subject is as ‘niche’ as embroidery. Fabulous magazines have disappeared off the shelves, never to return. They are the victims of the fallout caused by the adjustment to the internet. I suppose there has to be an adjustment but I find it rather sad that these publications had to go for that to happen and I’m not sure that there is yet anything that has proven to be a suitable replacement.

One that remains, for now, is Inspirations Magazine. Probably because they have always been, for me, the best of the bunch. On Friday, however, they sent out a call for help. If they don’t manage to increase their subscriptions in the near future they, too, will go the way of the others. And we can’t let this happen.

I’m not a person who supports lost causes and I don’t believe that saving Inspirations Magazine falls into that category. It is worth saving not only for us but also for future embroiderers. If that magazine were no longer available to me, I would be very sad. It’s always a feast for the eyes, quite apart from the information it provides. The peripheral events too. Beating Around The Bush embroidery convention, needlework cruises, newsletters that keep us up to date on new products. If the magazine goes, those will too and it’s hard to imagine how much poorer we will be.

If you agree with what I’ve said in the previous paragraph and you are in a position to subscribe, or to give a gift subscription to someone special, get your credit card out of that dark place in your wallet and go to Click on all the right buttons and help to give Inspirations Magazine the power to continue publishing. It’s something worth fighting for.

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Bopha It With Wire

It suddenly seems that I have finished just about everything that I have to finish before I go off and pack my suitcases to fly over to Brisbane, Australia for Koala Conventions. I’m not sure how that’s possible and I fear that I’m suddenly going to remember that there is a whole body of work that I have to get through, but maybe not. Even if that is the case, I am nevertheless going to take some time to post on this blog.

Yesterday I received stock of my new book, Crewel Intentions, and we have been able to send out the first orders. It’s always an exciting time, to see it in print and to see Darren taking all of those parcels off to the post office – because people have actually ordered it, which means they want it. It’s a gratifying end to two years of hard work. But, at the same time, I am lucky to have the most fabulous publishers who take my ramblings on a memory stick and turn them into a work of art. It’s an ongoing friendly argument that I have with Metz Press who are always humble and will tell me every time that it’s the content that counts. I do know, though, that without their magic touch it would all be a bit mediocre and have very little outward appeal. No matter how good the content may or may not be.

But onto what I was thinking about this morning. The irritating things people say. Deliciously irritating pronouncements in every sphere of our lives, but oh so many of them, so I’m going to stick to embroidery pronouncements for the purposes of this post. Aside from mentioning my favourite irritating sentence about copyright (“But it’s so complicated.” It isn’t. Don’t copy. That’s not difficult, is it?), the most irritating of the lot is:

“It’s all very well to break the rules, but you must at least know them before you can break them”.

Imagine for a moment that you are woman born in the 16th, 17th, 18th century (it doesn’t matter which) and that you are adept with a needle and thread. Rather like you are in the 21st century, happy to sit for hours playing nicely, you’re passionate and you’re artistic. You’re not creating grand works of art, just embellishing your linen or your clothing. There is not a store of reference books out there as in the modern world so, having learnt techniques from your Grandmother or your Mother, you build on that.

You play with knots and loops, straight stitches and weaves. You go over and under, out and through, making different combinations and in doing so, keep yourself interested and inspired. Every now and then you might combine a few things that make up something that is truly inventive and inspiring to others. Your neighbour sees it and asks you to show her how. So you do, because you’re a woman and you share things. You don’t immedately run off to a patent office. That’s a man thing.

But back to your neighbour. Her best friend sees your little stitch combination, likes it and wants to do something similar, so your neighbour shows her. And so it goes on, until the whole community is doing it. Nobody knows who originally thought of it, and it doesn’t matter. It isn’t important. What is worth noting though, is that this is how regional styles would have developed. Combine this inventiveness with the fabric available in a time and place, the (much smaller) variety of yarns, the types of objects that were being embellished and you come out with your hardanger, your hedebo, your schwalm and so on.

Because travel was difficult, these stitch artists didn’t move around much. They spent their entire lives in one village and that is why, historically, many techniques can be pinpointed to a specific region or town. If they had travelled, all of these styles would have far more in common than they do. In fact, where an influence has crept in from somewhere else, the person who travelled and spread that influence is very often named and documented.

I don’t know when it happened, I suspect around the beginning of the 20th century, much of that evolution stalled. Researchers started documenting things and once a regional style was written about, it became set in stone. Those were the “rules” and they were enthusiastically adopted by people who like to form committees and become chairpersons. Thereafter, heaven help anyone who had a mind of her own and thought that she might like to inject a little of her own personality into her work. Or to combine her hardanger with a little bit of, oh who cares, pulled work. It didn’t matter if her finished product was beautiful, a masterpiece. It was wrong. It broke the rules and that was that.

If you want to recreate the embroideries from history, the rules will work for you but if you want to be inventive, innovative and a small cog in the evolution of hand embroidery, they are a pernicious thing and, sadly, they endure. They really do, despite what people claim. One of the reviews written – only two years ago – about my book Crewel Twists said something along the lines of “I have always admired crewel embroidery but was told I could only do it with wool, and I am allergic to wool, so have never done it. Now I can, because this book uses stranded cotton.” Now isn’t that sad? A whole genre of embroidery, one that to my mind is the most enjoyable of the lot, excluded from a person’s stitching pleasure because of the “rules”. That it took a short, plump, foul-mouthed South African author, one always covered in dog hair, to tell this reviewer that she could use something other than wool. I do hope that stitcher is now having a ball, using any kind of yarn that she chooses to create crewel or Jacobean shapes.

We live in rather a lawless society with a rather inept administration here on the tip of Africa and for that I am grateful. I suspect you have just gulped and asked yourself why I would be so stupid as to consider myself lucky to live in a place where the likelihood of being a victim of crime is so high, or a region where it is more difficult to get things done to one’s satisfaction. I’m going to tell you why.

It means that I have to think. I have to be guided by my own ethics, my own rules, not someone else’s idea of how I should behave. I have to find a way of coming by the things I need to do what I want to do. And if I can’t get those things, I have to find an alternative. Or invent one. I grew up on a farm in central Africa where it was usually impossible to purchase spare parts for farm implements on the one hand, and household appliances on the other. So, if something was broken and you couldn’t purchase a spare part, or didn’t have the time to wait for one to come from abroad, you would “bopha it with wire” (bopha is a Zulu word common to many African languages that means bind, tie together, etc.). It usually worked but, more importantly, it meant that we all had a mindset that said you can always find a way, albeit often an alternative one, to achieve an end. And that’s why I consider myself lucky.

It didn’t matter what the manufacturers instructions were, you couldn’t follow them because you didn’t have the wherewithal, so you made up your own rules. “Bopha it with wire” is a technique that I apply to my embroidery. I know what I want to create and I find a way to do it, whether it fits in with anachronistic rules or not. I bopha it with wire.

Which is why I find that aforementioned sentence so irritating. You don’t have to know the rules before you can break them. No. All you need to know is the techniques and once you know them, build on them, go mad, have fun, be creative and invent what you want to invent. In other words, bopha it with wire and continue the evolution of hand embroidery. Because it has stalled.

And now, off to pack my suitcase. Looking forward to meeting up with all you lovely Australians again next week.

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Crewel Intentions is almost here….

It’s almost here. The ship bringing the South African edition of my new book docked in Cape Town on Monday and as soon as it has landed in the warehouse, boxes of books will be sent up to me. I hope to receive them by the end of next week.

This is what it looks like, and if you go back to my January post, you can see what’s inside it.

It doesn’t matter how many books or articles one writes, it’s always exciting to see it in print and so, we decided that a brand new website was in order. Aside from any celebratory reasons, the present website has been too complicated and customers have often had problems registering and shopping.

My son, known to many of you as Dude, is one of our local experts in this field. He has written a new website from scratch, coding it to my specific instructions. Those instructions being that it should be user friendly. That our customers are not teenage boys who know how to hack into systems that I dare not mention here, in case I am tagged by, say, the military. It will go live tomorrow, or the next day, and existing customers may receive an email asking them to update their details. This so that you will be able to shop with ease. Not just for the new book, but also for all the packs that you will need to complete the projects.

It is entirely possible that problems can still occur, but we will be on alert asking you to bear with us while they are ironed out. We’re pretty smart down here on the tip of Africa and we get it right, but if we don’t sometimes, it’s not as if we are in the business of saving lives or taking care of someone’s life savings. It’s just embroidery and that does not constitute a medical or other emergency.

In the past we didn’t ask you to pay, instead sending you an invoice or Paypal notification. That will change as the website has been written to accommodate alerts to us if stock levels are low. It will calculate postage and ask you to pay either through Payfast, which will accommodate EFT for South African customers, or through Paypal for international customers. Please be assured that we have taken security very seriously, with both of these payment platforms being as secure as anything ever can be.

So, as soon as it is live, South African customers will be able to order the new book and the packs. Customers in the rest of the world will need to order the book through whatever channels you usually use – Amazon, Book Depository, Fishpond, etc. and of course, your local booksellers or needlework shop. I expect the books to be available to you from the end of this month. Packs can be ordered from our website. They’re all packed, ready and waiting for you.

On a very different note, I would like to apologise to anyone who has experienced glitches with their orders in the last few months. It is only one or two of you and it’s because for the better part of six months I have not had my eye on the ball as well as I should have. I’ve had a ten year shoulder niggle that finally got to the point where I was forced to do something about it after hurting it again in December. The comforting cortisone injection that usually did the trick had lost it’s zing and I had surgery in March. I have gained a new respect for anyone who goes through anything that involves cutting into the bone. In future I will be able to say, “I feel your pain” and really mean it.

Constant low-grade pain is exhausting and, if I’m to be completely honest, there were times when I just didn’t care what was going on in my studio. I sat around looking grim, feeling sorry for myself and I let Darren just get on with it. He really stepped up to the plate and has done a marvelous job, but there is too much for one person to cope with on their own and the odd thing slipped through.

I am now back up running, ready for everything that goes with the new book, the travel abroad and whatever else comes along. Even bought myself a new set of suitcases with four wheels, instead of two, so that I can push, not pull. I still can’t get my left arm around to the back to do up my most necessary piece of underwear, but have solved that by doing up the hooks first, stepping into it as if it were a pair of trousers, then pulling it all the way up. My family laugh at me, but it works! And I’m sure they were tired of being asked to do up the hooks even if, bless them, they never complained. Well, my husband didn’t. If I was forced to ask my son he did it uncomplainingly, but with very long arms.

The main thing is, the light has started shining at the end of the tunnel and I am back to full speed in the important areas.

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Little Flowers……..

It is so easy, as an embroiderer, to get caught up in only what one has around oneself. It may be the work being done by the ladies that are attending either your own class, or the same class as you. Maybe it is what you see at the Guild meetings that you attend or what is published in the books and magazines that you (and everyone else in your circle) are buying. What is going on in your life, embroidery-wise, is the same as everyone else in your town. Which is why I consider myself fortunate. I do embroidery-travel to many parts of the world, usually with my friend and fellow embroidery artist, Di van Niekerk

Don’t for one minute think that it is glamorous. It isn’t. There is nothing less seductive than two grubby middle-aged women pulling heavy suitcases around Dubai airport at six in the morning. Crumpled individuals, with yesterday’s teeth, who have walked off a cramped overnight flight, have to find their onward connection, have no idea where to go and mostly stand around looking confused. This is the picture I get in my mind when acquaintances and friends, who know that I travel a lot, suggest that I am a member of the jet-set. Oh please! But, after the long-haul we land at a destination where we meet talented artists. Innovative master embroiderers who are inspired by what is going on in their own environment – always so different to our own.

On a trip to Russia in 2012 we met Marina Zherdeva, a talented silk ribbon artist. Her innovative works needed to be looked at again and again, because each time you looked, you saw another clever little thing that she had done. And now, as a result of their meeting up, Marina and Di van Niekerk have co-written a scrumptious book called “Little Flowers”.

It is so appealing. Each of the eight projects is small – maximum 15 x 15 cm – but the innovation, the new techniques, the interesting stitches in each of the projects is immense.

Di’s books have always included step-by-step photographs and Little Flowers is no different.

Along with a comprehensive stitch gallery at the back of the book,

each step of each project is, not only described in detail, but is accompanied by a clear colour photo.

I was privileged to have been asked to proof read this book. Part of the proof reading process involves making sure that the instructions make sense. Having gone through every word and chapter more than once, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is easy to understand.

The first four designs in the book were designed and stitched by Marina, whilst those in the second half are Di’s work. It is truly an international colaboration with its roots at opposite ends of the world.

The book uses Di’s hand painted ribbons throughout. The charm of these ribbons is that they are, in a sense, self-shading. This adds depth and interest to each flower, fruit or leaf.

For South African stitchers, the Metz Press edition will be available from Di van Niekerk’s website within days. It will also, in the near future, be available on Kalahari and Loot. For stitchers in other parts of the world, the Search Press edition will be available on Amazon, the Book Depository and the websites in your country that carry craft books. It will also be available at selected needlework stores.

Whilst each design is accompanied by a line drawing that you can trace onto fabric, if you are unsure of how to do this or would prefer a pre-printed panel, these are available on Di’s website. Each panel is screen-printed on Dupion silk, backed by cotton voile and overlocked around the edges. Ready for you to put into your hoop and start without any of the preparation fuss.

The hand-painted ribbons used throughout the book are also available on Di’s website, along with the threads, additional fibres and beads.

From the moment I received the first proof of this book, I knew that its charm lay in the fact that the projects are small and do-able with techniques that are very, very clever. Along with normal ribbon stitches, it shows you how to manipulate your silk ribbon to create three-dimensional flowers that look realistic and natural. It is a book for everyone from the beginner to the more accomplished stitcher.

If you are lucky enough to be attending Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide, Australia later this year, Di will be teaching the “Wild Roses and Pink Blossoms” on the 29th and 30th of September.

On the 2nd and 3rd of October, she will be teaching the “Chamomile” design pictured above

Treat yourself. It’s a beautiful book.

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A Jolly Funny Read………

Many of us, along with our passion for stitching, adore our pets. If the truth be told, they’re not really pets. They are our children. Anyone who knows me, or has done a workshop with me, will know that I talk a lot about my dogs and that, instead of carrying pictures of my husband and children in my wallet, I have pictures of my dogs on my iPad and will show them off to anyone who is prepared to look.

I have a good friend who, along with his wife, have been mates of ours for years and years. He is one of the veterinary surgeons that treats my animals whenever they need attention. I’ve always appreciated his sense of humour and the fact that, like me, he’s always up to a jolly good party. You know, the kind where you talk far too much rubbish, drink far too many glasses of whatever takes your fancy, and wake up with a very nasty headache the next morning. What I didn’t used to know, though, is how amusingly he writes

For a while he has been writing a weekly column in our local newspaper. Stories about the things that go on in the normal, everyday life of a vet in Africa. So different to the life of a practitioner in a first world suburban practise, they are sometimes close to the bone (that’s Africa for you), but always funny. His style of writing is such that you can picture exactly what he is talking about and you find yourself giggling while you read. And again when you read it a second time because it was so funny.

A few weeks ago he set up a blog and he will be posting, probably, a weekly article. And this week’s article is about our African dog.

I’ve always had Boxer dogs and will travel as far as I have to and pay as much as I need to for a fine puppy, but a few years ago my son and some friends rescued a pregnant African dog on the Wild Coast. We gave a home to one of the puppies she produced and the article is largely about her.

Her life with us so far has been an interesting and perplexing journey. I am however pleased to report that in the last six months or so she has obviously overcome all her genetic demons. She is confident, healthy, playful, a happy member of our dog family and much loved. Which means that if she were a project (which she isn’t) I would have to say that her growth might just be the most satisfying project that I have ever been involved in. And I have never known a dog to be as intelligent as Gladness appears to be. She’s amazing.

So, if you love your animals and like to read amusing animal stories, go to and read about our dog, Gladness. Then read the other articles that have been posted. Have a jolly good giggle and then subscribe so that you can have a heartwarming giggle every week or so.

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The Royal School Of Needlework: Sampler Competition

Last year I had the privilege of an insider’s tour of the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace near London. I wrote about it on this blog.

At the time, my overriding impression of the School was that of creativity combined with innovation, taking embroidery into the twenty first century without any of the stuffiness that one finds in Guilds and the organisations that set themselves up to judge handwork at Agricultural Shows. The ladies and gentlemen at the Royal School of Needlework are better placed than most to be fully aware of what has come before us, but this doesn’t hold them back in their quest to keep hand embroidery alive by taking it forward.

Di, Wilsia and I had a wonderful afternoon at the Royal School. We were made to feel so welcome. Consequently, my thoughts have been with them rather a lot in the past week, as I watch the television footage of the horrible floods in England. Hampton Court Palace is not far from the banks of the Thames, a little too close for comfort to my mind at the moment. So, I sent off an email to Monica Wright to find out if they were dry. They are, which is good and they don’t seem to be too concerned, at this stage.

In our correspondence she told me about the 21st Century Sampler Competition that they are having and invited to me visit the website to read about it. I did that, and I think you should too.

Their challenge is for you to design a sampler with no limits as to what elements it may or may not contain. How inviting is that?

In my lifetime Samplers have, mostly, been worked in cross stitch. That is not, however, the full story of the sampler. It was originally a vehicle for trying out stitches and techniques, and this meant all stitches and techniques, not just cross stitch. As time went on they became a method of recording information, hence the wedding sampler and those that record the details of a birth. What this means to me is that you can use any stitch or technique in the construction of your sampler. Likewise, you can record just about anything in the motifs that you put into the design. Imagine a record of a wonderful holiday that you had. Scrapbooking in hand embroidery if you will.

Some years ago I designed what I call our Family Sampler. I took a photograph of our house, turned it into a line drawing by tracing the lines off the photograph, and used this as the starting point for my sampler design. Sticking with the sampler tradition, I included letters of the alphabet and numbers. I also put in a lot of floral elements, but those were to make it look like a sampler.

To make it relevant, other than the picture of our house, I included motifs that depicted the interests of each member of our family. Obviously there was picture of a Boxer dog as well as one of a Maltese Terrier, which is our other breed of choice. My son was studying film making at the time, so I put in a motif of an old cine camera. My husband is a lawyer and so is my daughter – she was studying law when I designed this – so I included some old leather bound books that look like those that sit on the bookshelf behind any lawyer that you will see interviewed on television. Our family enjoys music and plays musical instruments (in my dim and distant past I even produced musical shows), so I included an old wind-up gramophone. And in the floral border are all of our initials.

Historically, samplers were highly prized and were often mentioned in wills, being passed down from generation to generation. Now, I’m not sure if my children will think that my family sampler is worthy of the same, but whatever they feel about it, I enjoyed designing and stitching it. It does form at least a snapshot of our family life. Looking at it now, however, I am inclined to think that I was a bit boring.

If I were to enter the Royal School’s competition I would have such fun. I wouldn’t stick to the mostly satin or long and short stitch that I worked with then. I would go mad with needle lace techniques, weaving stitches, beads and maybe even some goldwork techniques. I have a picture developing in my head and I have to supress it because I’m writing another book and that deadline is getting closer.

So I will have to leave it up to you. On their website you can read up about it and download the entry form. If you live near enough, you can get inspiration from the Sampler Exhibition that is being held at the Royal School from January to July this year. If, like me you live too many thousands of miles away, you will have to be satisfied with surfing the internet, and there is a lot to be found on the subject if you type ‘embroidery sampler’ into Google. While you’re doing that don’t forget to visit the Royals School’s Facebook page, and click on like.

If you win it, your piece would be become part of the RSN’s collection. Wouldn’t that be a feather in your cap?

The Royal School is, for all of us who love embroidery, a precious organisation. They form the base of the network that we need to keep hand embroidery alive. I think this is a wonderful concept for a competition and by taking part you contribute something for all of us. Think about it, and don’t forget to pass the information on to your Guilds, customers and fellow stitchers.

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Crewel Intentions

I have a new book coming out in June this year. .

Called ‘Crewel Intentions’ it will be published in South Africa by Metz Press. At the same time, it will be published in the rest of the English-speaking world by Search Press. So, that includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

As its title suggests, it continues the theme of my last book, Crewel Twists. That traditional Jacobean or Crewel embroidery motifs are empty canvases waiting to be filled with anything that inspires you. It uses stranded cottons, satin threads, perle threads, cordonettes, metallics, beads, crystals and absolutely no wool.

Along with up to date materials, the techniques featured in the designs are diverse and different. In Crewel Twists I used, along with crewel stitches; bead embroidery and needle lace techniques. Many of these stitches are used in Crewel Intentions and I have added Brazilian embroidery stitches, stumpwork techniques, a nifty way to add flat back crystals to your hand embroidery, and most important of all, some really interesting needle weaving.

I spent many hours investigating the world of loom weaving and, having done that, converted those techniques for use in embroidery. Apart from adding a whole new category to my repertoire of stitches, it has been absorbing. It is so fascinating to watch your efforts develop into a tartan or a check, a gingham or a houndstooth, or even a texture that resembles twill.

Eight projects provide the vehicle for the techniques and, like my last book, have been made into useful objects.

The first is worked on Dupion silk and is mounted in a small sherry tray. It is fine work and the weaving stitches are a lot less complicated than they appear. I will be teaching this project at Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide during September/October 2014.

The second, worked on Hopsack, is a large project and is mounted on a round footstool. I will be teaching this project at Koala Conventions in Brisbane during June and July 2014.

Designed specifically to be mounted in a music box, the third project is worked on Dupion silk. It is a small, quick project that should appeal to those with limited time. I will be teaching this project at Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide during September/October 2014.

Inspired by the colours in English bone china, the fourth project is worked on a linen/cotton blend fabric and has been mounted with handles on the picture frame, so that it can be used as a tea tray.

Also worked on a linen/cotton blend, the fifth project has been designed to form the face of a mantel clock.

Another project designed with the busy person in mind, the sixth project is worked on Dupion silk and mounted in a small paperweight, although the lady who has proof-stitched the project for me is going to make it into a pouch for her mobile phone.

Project number seven has the needle woman in mind. It forms the front cover of a large needlebook, guaranteed to accommodate many needles and pins.

Inspired by the colours in an African autumn sunset, the final project has been mounted with handles on the picture frame, so that it can be used as a drinks tray.

For embroiderers who want to mount their projects in the same objects as I have, a buyer’s guide at the back of the book gives you the links to where they can be bought. From Australia, the United States and England, all of these accessories come from reputable companies.

Still at the layout and proof reading stage, the book has not yet gone to print. Although I don’t have an exact date, publication will be in June 2014. Like Crewel Twists, it will be available on Amazon, Kalahari, through Leisure Books, the Book Depository, your usual embroidery book suppliers and, of course, from me. Because of my contract with my publishers, I will stock the Metz Press edition, so will only be able to supply those of you that live on the African continent. If you live anywhere else, you will need to look for the Search Press edition. The Book Depository is a good place to start.

With the publication of Crewel Twists and the increased traffic on my website, we discovered that was not as user friendly as we would like it to be. My Geek is hard at work designing a brand new website which, without compromising its security, will be simple and very easy to use. We expect it to come online in the next month or two and we will be asking all of you who are registered to confirm your username and password. You will receive an email from us when that time comes. .

And finally, Crewel Twists which is available in English, Afrikaans and Russian, is in the process of being translated into French. The anticipated launch of that edition is August 2014.

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Intellectual Snobbery

Now that my children are all grown up, I can do things that I could only dream about when they were younger. One of those things is a ‘series binge’. That is when you sit for an entire day (or even a weekend) watching every episode in a DVD box set. You make sure that you have every thread, bead and needle that you are going to need. You set it up around you, switch on the telly, start the series and then sit down. With your embroidery. There is no one to interrupt you because the children are no longer children, but adults off doing what young adults do. Pure heaven.

A few days ago, we watched a multi-episode documentary series on Russian art. I had been saving it up for a time when my husband would be available to watch it with me. Because we went to Russia and, as was to be expected, were blown away by the art that we saw everywhere. Sadly, this series had the wrong billing and I was bitterly disappointed. They should have called it Russian Painting and Politics.

The iconostasis dominates every cathedral or monastery that you visit in Russia. It is exquisitely and intricately carved, usually gilded and incorporates the icons, an integral part of the Russian orthodox religion. By far the most exquisite thing that you will see, in every Russian church, it merited only a passing mention.

The interior of the Church Of The Spilled Blood in St Petersburg is like nothing I have ever seen before. It was only when I was halfway around that it dawned on me that the murals are, in fact, mosaics. So superbly crafted, it is hard to tell the difference at first glance. Every available surface, even all the way up into the central dome, is decorated with these intricate works of art. On closer inspection, it is possible to see that each mosaic component is tiny, which is why the shading and colour is so masterful. Once again, mosaics received but a short mention in this series. Only to slot Kiev’s St Sophia’s cathedral into historical chronological order.

Even a visit to Arbat Street in Moscow is an art tour. When you look at what passes for a curio in our part of the world there is, quite simply, no comparison. Almost any souvenir that you may want to buy in the Arbat district is a work of art. Wooden Matryoshka dolls and papier-mache trinkets hand-painted by talented artists, with, seemingly, a single horsehair. Wrought or filligreed precious metal objects and treasures carved from all manner of semi-precious stones, so exquisitely crafted that you wonder at the affordable prices being asked.

From lamp posts to bridges, churches to shops, decoration is everywhere with gold onion domes peeping out of the cityscape, wherever you look. And this documentary saw fit to mention nothing of that. Because in the world of the intellectual snob, it is not art. In their minds, the only media that pass for art, are painting and sculpture with maybe a few additions like etchings, ink drawings, etc. It’s only fine art if it can be analysed to within an inch of its life and, preferably, found to have deep political meaning. Art for the sake of mere decoration, is not at all important.

I can paint and I can sculpt. I studied art and I had to do things like this. The fact that my pieces were good enough to pass the practical examinations surely proves that I am reasonably competent in those media. But, I do not enjoy them. I would rather embroider. Having done the other stuff, I can say with complete conviction that a piece of well-shaded long and short stitch is finer art (in both the physical and metaphorical sense) than oil painting, or watercolours. But it’s woman’s work so, like the Russian craftsman, my creations will never be fine art.

It doesn’t matter that the splendour of the iconostasis in any number of Russian cathedrals surpasses an abstract painting or something that is categorized as Modern Art. You can ignore the genius, the years of work, the forethought, the added inspiration for just a little extra of this or that to complete the object, to balance it and to take it into the realms of sheer wonder.

Universities and colleges the world over, are populated by people who would like to be able to write a novel, carve a piece of wood or paint a picture. They can’t do these things well enough to derive an income, so instead they teach them, analyse them and criticize them. The problem with the exquisite art in Russia and with your embroidery is that it is functional. It’s not supposed to mean anything, or say anything. It is made to decorate our environment, to enrich our lives and it has no hidden agenda.

I know it’s art and you know it’s art but it serves no purpose for the person who categorises it. The intellectual who has devoted his or her life to a nothing job. I don’t mind. They have to earn a living somehow. I’m afraid, though, that you cannot spend ten minutes of a documentary telling us about Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Black Cube’ and fail to mention the iconostasis in the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour in Moscow, even if you think you’re an expert. (Google those two, you’ll see what I’m talking about.) It means that you have inhabited your ivory tower for so long that you have lost your grip on reality, if indeed you ever had one.

What I do know is that before I again commit my limited time to a documentary series on any kind of art, I will find out more about it so that I am not similarly disappointed.

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My Annual Copyright Rant

On an irksomely regular basis, the question of copyright infringement raises its ugly head and this week I received an email from someone on this very subject.

She said in her email that she had signed up for a Jacobean embroidery course in her hometown. As the classes progressed, she became more interested in this type of embroidery and began searching the internet. She was surprised to see that a portion of the design that her instructor was using for her class was the exact copy (colors, stitches and design elements) of one of the motifs in one of my designs, a design that has been widely published. During one of the classes, one of the students asked the instructor how she develops her designs. Despite having claimed in the notes that the design was her illustration, she said that she had a part of the design and then just added another part. “She gave you no credit at all”.

My correspondent went on to say that she felt very conflicted about this because she is sensitive about copyright issues and the rights of artists to protect their work, especially when this is their source of income. She continued by saying, “I am even more concerned after reading your comments on your blog about requests from clubs to use your designs for free. Perhaps you have licensed the instructor to use a portion of your design and I am over reacting. But, maybe not. Or, perhaps this design is a historical one, like quilt blocks and okay to copy.” She closed her email by asking me for my thoughts.

And give her my thoughts, I did. Copyright infringement is one of my hobby horses, partly because we live in a country which has a reputation second only to China for this crime and also because I realise that, because the subject does not come into the school curriculum many people, unless they have had reason to become informed, do not know that the concept even exists. So, what follows is much of my reply to her.

Some years ago I discovered that a teacher in Johannesburg was copying my designs, printing them on fabric and passing them off as her own to her students. This discovery happened quite by chance as I had popped in, on my way out of Johannesburg, to see her about something else and happened to spot some packs for sale, packs that were quite obviously my designs (in their entirety) but marked as her products. A person normally given to knee jerk reactions, on this occasion I hardly reacted and didn’t say a word. After I left, I got onto the highway and commenced the long drive home, steaming. If you had overtaken me you might even have seen smoke coming out of my ears. About two hours into the journey my husband, who is a lawyer, phoned to see how I was going and I blurted out the whole problem to him, as one does. He immediately went into lawyer mode, telling me my rights under the law, the solutions that I had, and told me I should have bought one from her as proof (not possible under the circumstances). But I said to him, wait. I’m a woman. I don’t have testosterone and I don’t immediately go into fight mode. Let me think about this, we’ll chat tonight when I’m home. To be fair, he doesn’t go into fight mode. He’s the calmest person in the world. He was just trying to help.

By the time I got home, having driven for six hours, I had decided that I needed to research the copyright thing fully and asked my husband to give me a few days to work out some questions, that he would then answer, from a legal point of view. I knew about copyright and I tried not to infringe it, but I needed to know more and, specifically, how it applied to what I do. I asked him about seven or eight questions, most of which are irrelevant to this situation, but one that was relevant. Incidentally, the question that, for me, was the most important of all of them.

Jacobean embroidery, by its very nature, relies on traditional shapes and motifs. When drawing a Jacobean design you have to use motifs that are either a copy or are very similar to motifs that have been used for hundreds of years. It wouldn’t have the Jacobean look if you didn’t. So, if a designer were to, say, take a motif from a piece of wallpaper, another from a book, yet another from an embroidery design and so on, then weave them into a design of her own, would that constitute an infringement of copyright?

The reason why I needed to know this was because all of us, no matter how clever or talented we are, have to fall back on what has gone before and I didn’t want to accuse someone of copyright infringement when I, myself, take inspiration from – well – everywhere.

He came back to me a few days later with a no-holds-barred legal opinion. Needless to say, it was in legal speak, a whole other form of so-called English, and I had to ask him to translate much of it for me. Not having Ritalin to hand for concentration, that took a while. Fortunately I am not completely stupid and, having worked through it with him, I not only understood it perfectly but was also, eventually, able to write articles and discuss it with authority, using his legal opinion as my guide. One of those articles appears on my website at and if you would like to know more about the subject, you are welcome to read it.

For the purposes of the current problem, though, we only need to interpret the following.

First of all, our country, is a signatory to the Berne Convention, which deals with copyright and applies to all countries that are signatories, which includes pretty much all the countries that we need to worry about. On that specific question he advised that if a design were to land up in front of a judge and he or she was required to make a decision, that judge would look at whether the design could have come into being without the infringement. In other words, that the infringing elements form the basis of, essence of, and majority of the design, that without them the design could not exist. If that proves to be the case then the second ‘designer’ would be guilty of infringing copyright.

So, if your instructor has used one element of my design and surrounded it with elements from elsewhere, she is not infringing my copyright.

That does, of course, brings us to a whole other place. Ethics. It’s not the same as law and sometimes what is legal is not necessarily ethical. Ethics are somewhat esoteric, hard to pin down and what might be ethical to one person may not be to another. They should be universal, but they aren’t. Not in all aspects. My personal feeling is that if you are going to ‘take inspiration’ from something, you should never copy it in its entirety, which seems to be the case here (colours and stitches) and that if you do you should, at the very least, acknowledge that you have done so. Probably your instructor should at least acknowledge her source and she’s silly if she doesn’t because that design appeared in Inspirations Magazine about two years ago. Many people (worldwide) have seen it, stitched it, used it, ordered it from me. I taught it at Koala Conventions in Brisbane earlier this year. So it is very much out there and for the sake of her own reputation, she would be wise to at least give it a nod.

I would be lying to you if I said that I had never copied anything. I have, particularly while I was developing my ‘talent’. I watched an interesting Charlie Rose talk show in the last year or so, the subject being ‘The Creative Brain’. Apart from a neuro-scientist or two, a number of artists were on the panel. All of those artists, without exception, said that their learning process included wholesale copying. It was how they developed their personal styles, and that after years of copying they found that the style was embedded in their psyche and that they were producing completely original works in the same style. I found that interesting because that has been my own experience. After all, after thousands of years of human endeavour on this earth, there can be very little that hasn’t been done before.

For the last seven or eight years I have not bought Jacobean, or indeed any embroidery, books. The only books I buy nowadays are stitch guides and books on techniques, particularly historical techniques. This is partly because I have reached a point where I don’t find inspiration in books anymore, but mostly because I don’t want to be influenced by other embroiderers. I want to be completely original. And I am, by and large, getting that right. When I draw a Jacobean design I no longer look at what is being done out there. I now have my own style and am able to draw my own shapes and motifs without reference to anyone else’s work, be it William Morris or a current designer. But it took me years to get there. The interesting thing is that, having decided to do that, I find that I have far more original thought than I had ever imagined I would and that I get so much satisfaction from being original. Actually, satisfaction is not really the right word. Pride would be more descriptive. A deep, personal, warm sense of achievement.

But even with all of that, I have to acknowledge that I am still not completely original. That’s impossible because I am inspired all the time. It might be an upholstery fabric, or a piece of wallpaper or, most recently, a trip to Russia and Ukraine where there is quite the most exquisite art and craft. Gosh, that trip inspired me. But there is a large gap between inspiration and copying. And certainly those that take something in its entirety (even a motif) are not inspired. They are copying, even though you might have a hard time proving it in a law court.

The solution to your dilemma? On the one hand, at least your tutor is promoting hand embroidery – which is in danger of disappearing – but on the other if she is saying that her work is completely her own (as she appears to be doing when she lays claim to being the illustrator) then she not being honest with herself or her students. I think that, paticularly as you are in a town where there is limited opportunity, you should continue learning from that teacher, despite your misgivings. For your own sake. As you said to me in your email, you are enjoying the embroidery and it would be sad to give it up because you’ve lost respect for that aspect of her character. Take what you can for your own selfish needs and in return, give back by using any opportunities that arise to discuss the ins and outs of copyright and ethics in class. She might learn something and so might your fellow students.

I feel I must add here that if she had emailed me to ask for my permission, I would have given it. I often do. Yes, I derive an income from what I do, but at the same time if a person is starting off in the business of designing embroidery, I am the first in line to help. As I’ve often said, I’m not a particularly generous person but we are, in a sense, all in this together and we need to help each other.

As to my original dilemma? The one that got me started on investigating the whole issue of copyright in the first place. Because I am a person who dislikes confrontation, I initially did nothing. I knew I should be doing something, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do the deed. Then, about six months later a shop-owner phoned me prior to a workshop that I was going to be doing at her shop in Johannesburg, to tell me that somebody had not wanted to book on that workshop. Her reason being that I was copying everything that this aforementioned Johannesburg teacher was designing. So, I had to set the record straight, for my own sake. I went round to see her. Very reluctantly, I might add. She claimed, with a sweet and innocent voice, that she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to do that. But I knew that she did, because she had been confronted on the issue before. So silly. They think that people don’t talk. It’s a small community that we inhabit and there has always been a grapevine, even before the days of Facebook and Twitter.

We parted on amicable terms but I was cross when I drove out of her property. Absolutely livid because she had tried to fob me off. Maybe even thought I was a bit stupid and that she had got away with it, yet again. So, without going into too much detail, I named and shamed her. Let it be widely known that she had been confronted on the issue, so that she could never again claim that she didn’t know that it was wrong. That really set the cat among the pigeons and, here’s the interesting thing. I was the one who received the hate mail. But I knew that I was the one in the right, that I was actually the victim here. So I quietly stuck to my guns, largely ignored it (although I did put the phone down on one particularly obnoxious person) and it passed with, I must say, my having made some really good friends along the way. Other original designers, with identical problems, who have become really firm friends.

I thought she wouldn’t dare to copy me again, so I’m going to tell you a really funny story.

About ten or twelve years ago I bought a book by mistake. I was in a hurry, thought it was a stumpwork book, and then got it home to find that it was nothing of the sort. It was a book on needle lace. My initial reaction was disappointment and the fact that I had wasted money on what was, as it happens, quite an expensive book. But the more I looked at the book, the more I loved the look of the needle lace and eventually set about working out a way to incorporate the techniques into my embroidery. Months and months of work, I might add. In essence, doing that is what put me on the map, embroidery-wise. It is because of that, largely, that I have ended up writing books and travelling the world teaching what I do. I am not going to say that it has never been done before. It probably has. But certainly in recent years, it is me that has introduced the idea of using needle lace techniques, to the extent that I do, in embroidery and, specifically, Jacobean embroidery.

So back to the funny story. I was a vendor at a convention in Johannesburg during September this last year. A group of ladies were at my stand admiring my embroidery and during the course of our conversation they told me that they were learning needle lace techniques from (insert name of aforementioned Johannesburg teacher). ‘She invented it for embroidery, you know’!!!!!!!!

What can you do? After you’ve picked you jaw up off the floor, you just have to laugh and reaffirm in your mind that actually, all you can do is to keep one step ahead of every one else. I know that, for now, I have that in me. That as I said, earlier, I have original thought and I must not be lazy. I must continue to be inventive. Because that’s the nub of it. But for the pernicious practice of claiming it as your own, copying others is just laziness.

So, that was my rather long reply to this poor lady who had emailed me out of concern, not expecting to get a novel to read in return. I am grateful that she did contact me, not because I can necessarily do anything about it but because it reminded me that, on at least an annual basis, one needs to raise the issue of copyright infringement. As a way of keeping the topic alive, as a way of keeping the discussion going, as a way of educating the public and as a service to my fellow designers, whose work is being copied just as much as mine is.

A couple of years ago, my annual article on the subject was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek epistle, although I was being perfectly serious. When I’ve posted this missive, I’ll post that one for you to read. Those of you that don’t live in my part of the world won’t recognise many of the names of the people mentioned. Suffice to say, they are all corrupt politicians in our country, or their drug-smuggling spouses and our erstwhile Commissioner of Police. Enjoy.

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A Previous Copyright Rant (and nothing’s changed)

This article, written in 2011, was published in South African Stitches Magazine.

It’s supposed to be autumn, but here we sit in hot and humid weather having been warned on the weather report last night to expect a high discomfort index. I’m tired of summer. We’ve had enough now and need some cooler weather. I usually find my trip to Hobby X in Johannesburg is a welcome relief from Natal’s hot and humid early March weather, but this year the Reef got hit by a heat wave during that week, so no respite. However, it was still good to be at Hobby X. It’s a place where we meet up with our friends from all over the country, catch up with news, share a few glasses of wine and supper, then return home feeling happy. And this year was no different, albeit that I received an interesting phone call from Dude the day after the show closed.

There I was at The Dome, supervising the loading of our boxes to be freighted home having had a successful show, knowing that my husband had flown off to Cape Town on business and that Dude was looking after things at home. Life was good. But you should never, ever get too comfortable. Things were not going well for Dude. He’d had a ‘small’ accident in the Patriarch’s car the night before. Could I please pass on the glad tidings to Father? It’s always the mother that has to break that sort of news, isn’t it? On asking questions – once I had established that he was not injured – it turns out that Bru needed to be taken home late on Sunday night and Dude decided that, instead of using the petrol in his own car, he would use the petrol in Father’s car. It was standing there, not being used, so why not? I could have told him why. On the way home he hit a hole in the road that should have been covered with a metal plate, it burst a front tyre, he lost control and crashed through the railings of the Duzi River bridge. Thankfully he landed on the bank and not in the river. I duly phoned Father, begging him to be gentle with the poor boy who was feeling as bad as he possibly could feel. Needless to say, the accident was not that ‘small’. The car has been written off, Dude has learnt one of his hardest lessons and Father’s brand new car will be delivered today. It’s been an expensive month!

But onto something that interested me up on the Reef. I was driving on the R21 from Pretoria to Joburg when I noticed a billboard advertising a website called ‘unashamedly ethical’. I was interested enough to have a look at it when I got home, but more than that it got me thinking about the whole question of ethics as it applies to what we do. The thing is that there is a national pre-occupation with corruption, theft of public funds, jobs for relatives – no whole mining companies for relatives – and Shabir Sheik playing golf while he should be rotting in jail. Are we entitled to complain and make snide remarks about all of this? I think not and I’m going to tell you why.

I once noticed half a ton of cigarette butts in the stones outside Dude’s window. They were the result of the happy get-togethers that happen in his bedroom. I’ve described them before. Everyone slouching over Applemacs, chatting, updating Facebook, drinking and smoking. They don’t use the ashtrays which we can provide. Oh no. The butt just gets hurled out of the window. At the time of my discovery, I didn’t say a word. Just bided my time and it was only a few days later that Dude went off pop over the filth and litter that we have in our city, with its bankrupt municipality. And that was my chance. I told him that he was a hypocrite. You can’t complain about people who don’t use rubbish bins if you and your Chinas can’t even be bothered to look for an ashtray

People who count needlecrafts as their hobby are not unsophisticated people. Most of them are white women, educated, living in leafy suburbs, with two cars in the garage and a swimming pool in the garden. In the kitchen is a maid and in the garden is a gardener. Many of them are to be found taking up space in church pews on a Sunday. But as comfortably middle-class and self-righteous as they are, they are no better than petty criminals when it comes to copyright infringement and getting a bargain. They just don’t get it. They really don’t. And I’m at a loss to explain why.

Let’s start with copyright infringement. For many years there were sanctions in place against South Africa and many people speculate that this is where the problem started. You know, they won’t sell it to us, so we’ll just copy it. I think that’s a weak excuse. There haven’t been sanctions for nearly twenty years now. But the copyright culprits are still at it, fingers elegantly poised over photocopier buttons, churning out page after plagiarized page. But, let’s be kind and say that is the reason why, if you try to explain the concept of copyright to some people, what you get in return is a blank stare. You know, the door of the mind is open but whatever goes in hangs around in the entrance hall looking confused. They cannot process the fact that if someone has designed, written, composed or otherwise created something, that person owns it and all the rights to it. It is the creator’s intellectual property. An abstract concept, I agree, but surely not a difficult one to understand? If that confused person visits her doctor, who uses his intellectual capabilities to diagnose her symptoms, she expects to pay for that? Paying royalties to an artist is no different. So that’s the first category in the copyright mafia. The ‘Dumb and Dumber’.

The next category is the Multiplugs. (So-called, because they are like electricity thieves in the townships. You’ve seen it on the news. A roadside transformer with an illegal cable and a multiplug, put there by a helpful member of the community to assist all stakeholders. It provides free electricity to all the houses in the street.) Multiplugs move in groups, know where all the best shops are, visit the craft shows and, of late, have learnt how to surf the internet. They buy one book then make photocopies for the other members in the group. The person who takes on the copying job also makes copies for her sister, her auntie, her next door neighbor and her daughter’s gay friend who is into needlework. Many of the Guilds are the worst culprits here. They know that what they’re doing is illegal but they don’t care because in a country where prosecutors’ time is taken up with headless bodies and the rape of 4-year olds, they know that even if a docket were to land on a desk in the Department of Justice, it would be marked ‘decline to prosecute’ because this country has bigger fish to fry.

The Multiplugs category has a sub-category called the Heavy-Duty Multiplugs. These are the ladies that have gone abroad and done a workshop. They buy all the books and goodies, come home and quickly set themselves up as teachers of whatever it is that they have learnt. Very often they will claim that only they have the rights to teach the techniques. Now, on one level that’s probably okay. One hopes, though, that they’ve had the manners to ask the person who taught them for permission to pass on the techniques. It is on the other level that it all goes terribly wrong. Those books they bring back get copied, page for page, chapter for chapter, and get sold to their students. This is wholesale theft of intellectual property. They think that because they sit on the bottom tip of Africa they won’t be found out. Well, the world is not as big as it used to be and they will eventually be caught. It’s not a good idea to be a Heavy-Duty Multiplug. It could cost you your life savings if say, an American author gets wind of what you’re doing and decides to sue. Remember Americans can pay local lawyers in US dollars. With our exchange rate? Do the sums.

The next bunch is the 13% gang. They’ve heard of copyright, but they think that they have worked out ways to get around it. They say that you can pass someone’s design off as your own, provided you have made 1/13/25 changes or that 10/20/25% has been altered. The numbers vary depending on who you’re speaking to. I don’t bother getting into a debate with them. The fact that I’ve been married to a lawyer for nearly 30 years and, with his assistance, have gone into copyright law in great detail, would mean nothing to them. They always know better. They’ve got some cousin’s brother-in-law’s sister’s boyfriend whose father’s cousin’s stepson is a magistrate and that person told them that 13 changes would mean they weren’t copying! Well, they are wrong and if they were ever to land up in front of a Judge – the real thing with red robes – they would get a very nasty shock.

I have a favourite stupid remark that always forms part of any discussion on copyright. It has been known to cause much mirth in our home and it goes like this. “But copyright is so complicated; it’s so hard to understand.” Oh please. Complicated? Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Keep your fingers away from the photocopier button. That’s not complicated, is it?

Let’s move on to the bargain hunters. I’m going to call them the ‘Rights Without Duties Brigade”. There are some businesses who sell DMC threads at very, very low prices. Prices so low that, at first, you doubt whether they can be genuine DMC threads? Well, I’ve looked at them and decided that they probably are. So how are they able to sell them at those prices? I buy them through the proper channels and I can’t do that. You can’t sell things for less than you’ve paid for them. So, let me enlighten you. They have relatives who travel. Some of those relatives are pilots or air hostesses. Others are regular travelers who form part of their extended families. These relatives come back into this country with suitcases full of threads and by luck – but more likely, design – they stroll through customs without declaring a thing and without paying a cent in import duty. Everyone loves a bargain and so do I. I won’t deny it. It stands to reason. If you can somehow manage to spend less on something, then you can treat yourself to something else. It’s simple economics. But buying things that have been smuggled into the country without import duty? That’s a bit like buying the alleged Cheryl Cwele’s alleged drugs brought in by alleged mules allegedly from South America.

It’s all so deliciously irritating and so very amusing to notice the hypocrisy. Of course everyone must do what they want to do, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting otherwise. But if you recognize yourself here, please remember that you may not complain about Duduzane Zuma’s shares in Arcelor Mittal, Shabir Sheik’s golfing habits, the thugs that had Jackie Selebi in their pockets and, indeed, you cannot be outraged when your house is broken into. There is no purpose to be served by putting criminal acts into categories. Crime is crime. Corruption is corruption. It’s that simple.

As an up to date addendum to this article and on the subject of bargain hunters, the “rights without duties brigade”, our South African DMC importer and distributor went into liquidation about a month ago. Whilst not completely as a result of the abovementioned customs duty dodgers, the Euro/ZA Rand exchange rate having played a part too, I happen to know that stranded cotton was the mainstay of their business and that having reduced so because of these criminals, they eventually had to close. What that means of course is that unless another ethical agent comes to the fore, we are going to be forced to order from guess where, unless we bring it in ourselves (which I am investigating). What the people who bought from the dodgy dealers didn’t consider while they were busy saving their pennies and were so pleased with themselves was that these dealers only brought in stranded cotton. Not perle threads, not metallic threads, not dentelles threads…….. I could go on and on but suffice to say, we are all going to suffer.