Sunday, May 3, 2009

the recent embroidery drama

last week drama erupted in the blogging and crafting community regarding Sublime Stitching and Urban Threads.

i've been wanting to write about this since i first saw it, but at the same time, i felt it was important that we as a community tried to get the full picture before throwing accusations around.

the story started out with e-mails being posted publicly that were supposedly written by Jenny of Sublime Stitching. there were several different e-mails, and they were sent out to various crafters. though the e-mails claimed to be sent to "good customers", they only seemed to be sent to people who were well known in the crafting communities.

people posted them publicly, on flickr, by tiny haus of diem chau (amazing amazing embroidery), on the feeling stitchy blog, by floresita, who's very well known for her vintage embroidery transfer blog, on the early bird special blog, on etsy, on knitgrrl, on stella design gallery, the handmade nation blog, freedom of stitch, the kerr family blog,, hot buttered toast, on, on glitter, on ravelry (you need to be signed in to see it)and on the dinosaurs and robots blog, which was picked up and posted on boingboing, bringing it to even more people's attention. apparently did have a post up, since they're showing up in a google search, but the post has been deleted.

everyone seemed to jump to the conclusion that jenny had been ripped off, and that this was another case of small indie company being screwed over by a big company. the biggest reason people seemed offended was because it was Jenny, not because of the situation.

this gang mentality was really difficult to see and read, and was really upsetting. it felt like jenny's celebrity status was the main reason why people were upset, if a lesser known crafter had made the accusation, it wouldn't have gotten the same response. i've said before that i'm really uncomfortable with the celebrity status of some people in the craft community, and that i feel it can sometimes prevent other crafters from success, when the same people are chosen for interviews, articles, etc time after time. the whole concept is very foreign to me, as someone who doesn't keep up with celebrity gossip or that sort of thing. i had a brief twitter conversation recently about the lack of celebrity crafters in canada. while i hadn't really thought about it in that sense, it does seem to be a cultural difference. we don't really have gossip mags or tabloids here, the ones we get are all from the US. while there are definitely some people who are interested in celebrity gossip, it doesn't seem to be to the same obsessive extent that US society shows. so that's slightly off topic, but at the same time, also kinda explains why the whole thing was so disturbing. frankly, i now have less respect for the blogs and crafters who posted the information straight from jenny's mouth without making up their minds themselves.

i think it's super sleezy and crummy that Urban Threads was pretending to be an indie business when they're not. when i first found out, i felt gross that i recommended them to other machine embroiderers. and gross that i'd been buying from lately too.

but at the same time, i don't know how i feel about jenny's accusation. the things shown ARE similar, but that's because the designs are certain images. there are only a few ways to draw a 50s rocket, or vintage christmas ornaments that will work out in an embroidery design.

i think it's gross that people defending jenny online aren't giving a fully clear picture, like this image
floresita admits later, AFTER someone points it out, that she set up the urban threads image to look like the sublime stitching image. (you'll note that feeling stitchy has now edited their post to remove the biased image)

the idea of an atomic pin up isn't new, jenny's design wasn't a new idea. they're both copying it from pin up artists from the 50s. this blog shows an anatomical heart design and the xmas ornaments - um, it's anatomical heart. they only look one way! and the xmas ornaments are really similar to the ones i made all of my friends for christmas. if i decided to sell my file, would i be accused of stealing designs too? there's a distinct look to that style of ornament, so there's only a few ways to really draw them!

jenny designs patterns that are trendy, doesn't it make sense that others will jump on the same trends that she's noticed? SO MANY of the designs jenny sells at sublime stitching, and that Niamh sells at Urban Threads, are available on scrapbooking paper, yet i'm sure the scrapbooking companies weren't stealing designs from either of them.

i follow both blogs, urban threads and sublime stitching, and honestly, i haven't noticed the similarities. yes, they write in a similar tone, but EVERYONE in the DIY community does! we all write about wanting a new look, seeing a need for change in the craft industry, etc. everyone who's done well as a DIY artist talks at some point about how others can do well, for jenny to use that as an example of copying seems like she's reaching. (i realize urban threads ISN'T actually an DIY thing, but they're pretending that they are, so they're writing in that style. THAT is what bothers me, the pretending.)

and it bothers me that there's nothing on the sublime stitching blog about this. why hasn't jenny publicly said anything? she's just sent out e-mails, so that everyone else will make the accusations for her.

i don't know. it seems like everyone is jumping on the accusations of stealing, without a whole lot of back up.

i do think that urban threads takes inspiration from current crafting sites like craftster and etsy, but what's the difference between marketing research and stealing? if you're trying to think of a design to use, and you realize that owls are super duper trendy, is it stealing from all of the other artists that are using owls in their designs? i really don't know. and frankly, i don't think that the examples they're using are very good, and if that's the best she could come up with to compare (i'm not clear on who made the comparison images - jenny, someone else? they're being posted on multiple blogs), then maybe she shouldn't have been so quick to make the accusation.

(jenny asked about machine embroidery in her last poll, but really, i don't think jenny would do well with machine embroidery with her current policies. the vast majority of machine embroidery sites out there let you sell things you've made using their patterns (urban threads included), and jenny has a convoluted way of doing that, where you have to e-mail her and wait for her response to see if she'll approve you, and people have said that it takes forever. i think she's overestimating the amount of competition that the two companies are to each other.)

for me, the big thing is the pretending to be DIY when they're not. that's like the greenwashing that's happening now that it's "cool" to be organic, it's totally scummy.

i sent an e-mail to Urban Threads telling them how upset i was, and i was kinda abrasive in it. they sent back a perfectly nice reply linking me to both Niamh's response to the whole thing, and the statement of the president of Embroidery Library.

it's also been pointed out that Niamh O'Connor (from Urban Threads) has a profile on LinkedIn, and on it she states that she's involved with both Urban Threads and Embroidery Library.

so now i don't know. i want to believe the best of people, and i want to believe that it was simply a poor decision on Urban Threads/Embroidery Library's part to not disclose the link more publicly, that it wasn't an attempts to trick people. i've been impressed with their responses, both publicly, and in e-mails they sent to me. the fact that there has still not been a public response from sublime stitching is really bothering me.


Meaghan said...

I think this is all really important stuff to think about, and I'm inspired to write a post for my blog about the entire art v. craft debate because of it. A discussion also needs to happen about copyright and how a lot of uneducated crafters throw around the word without actually doing any of the legwork to have their stuff copyrighted. You can't just say it out loud and have it be true, y'know?

But I agree with you, in this instance, about the group-think mentality. It's as though Regina George sent out all of her Mean Girls to defend her without making a public statement herself. It seems inauthentic and immature to have other people express your outrage for you, if that's indeed what Jenny Hart has done here. I'm completely in support of defending one's creative energy via copyright or badmouthing, but only really when it comes from the source. We're all guilty of borrowing heavily or liberally on something and either copying it for personal gain or mimicking it (plus some) for financial gain. It is, in my opinion, what craft is. But a lot of other folks seem to think that creativity begins and ends with them and that the worst offense is for someone to mock them. The question is: will Urban Threads put Jenny Hart out of business? I think not.

The end, as far as I'm concerned. :-)

floresita said...

Hi Amy, I just wanted to respond to your post about the images - because I've seen in more than one place a claim that the compared images were radically altered in an effort to deceive - they were not.

All that was left off of the original side-by-side comparisons was the lettering and 2 stars. This was to place emphasis on the images in question, not in an effort to deceive.

As you mentioned, you can see the two images side by side now on Feeling Stitchy. You'll also notice that I closed comments on that post because I wanted us to get back to our mission of encouraging and inspiring crafters.

Ultimately, I think this is about a well-known and well-respected crafty business being targeted by another business that isn't what it claims to be.

I think the reason so many people stepped forward to defend Jenny is not her "celebrity status" but because so many people in the crafting community have met, interacted, and worked with her. They've seen her to be honest and fair and are trying their best to help her. That's exactly why I spoke up.

Again, I know everyone is going to have their own opinion in this, but I think the most important part is to find positive ways to support each other and work together. Our blog and group is a really positive, supportive place, so I really hope the complex issues floating around right now don't change your opinion.

Shannon said...

I would imagine that if legal action were underway it would prevent Sublime Stitching from saying anything, otherwise I'm sure they would. (I used to work for a lawyer, so I'm guessing here).

I posted about it not only because I have known Jenny for a very long time, but also because the Urban Threads people directly misrepresented themselves to me in the course of doing my day job as a crafty magazine editor, as I noted in my post.

The "indiewashing" (as I've dubbed it) is the really hurtful part, especially given Jenny's frequent and ongoing contributions to the craft community as a whole, and never trying to portray herself as something she's not.

The comparison images originated, I think, on the Dinosaurs and Robots post.

jafabrit said...

I don't really know either of these companies or individuals, nor am I much involved with the crafting world, but was piqued by the issue all over the blogosphere. I came across it by accident when exploring embroidery. Without taking sides I felt that while the images were similar they didn't fit copyright violation. Seems like some nasty competition going on with a borrowing of ideas or like you say a confluence of ideas that are currently popular. I think you gave a very fair and broad view of the issue and I enjoyed your analysis.

I think I want to stay out of it and happily plod on doing my own thing.
all best

ps. I agree about celeb status

amy dame said...

meaghan, you write such insightful podts, i'd love to see you do one on the art-vs-craft debate! i definitely agree about the copyright stuff, people are still SO confused, still throwing around that imaginary 20%. my understanding was that you CAN just say it out loud and have it be true, basically by creating something, you've copywritten it, but it depends on WHAT you made, because the rules are different for all sorts of things.

regardless, yeah. i'm glad i'm not the only one who was disturbed by the group think mentality! the mean girls reference was perfect.

i would have been so much more likely to support sublime stitching if they had actually spoken out themselves. the fact that they didn't makes this feel like a smear campaign, not a real situation of defending creative work.

Urban Threads and Sublime Stitching offer different things, and since the number of machine embroiderers in the "indie" crafting world is fairly low, i don't think people are really understanding the situation fully. totally different markets! i think Jenny overestimated the effect that UT could have on SS.

amy dame said...

floresita, the problem with the images was yes, that portions were left off the comparison, but also that designs were merged to make them look more like the Sublime Stitching design. as well, UT's main target audience is machine stitchers, so comparing their lesser product with jenny's main product seemed odd. if the image had been jenny's hand embroidery design vs UT's machine embroidery designs, the picture would have been different.

it makes me very uncomfortable that you closed comments on that post. it doesn't feel as though the purpose was to get back to your mission, it feels as though comments were closed just as people were hearing the full story. the post was open and active for two days prior to the urban threads response, and the same day that they responded, the comments were closed. it doesn't feel like the same amount of respect has been given for the other side of the story. it's totally true that urban threads didn't identify itself in a way that we would have liked. BUT, they're not the huge company that they were originally portrayed to be either, and that changes it slightly.

i do believe that people were quick to post about the situation because they had met, interacted, and worked with jenny, but i feel like jenny took advantage of that in this situation. this should have come from jenny, not from selected high profile crafters. and while yes, the first few blogs that went up (ie, yours, dinosaurs and robots, tiny haus on flickr) may have been based on actual personal experiences with jenny, the comments on those and the blogs that posted afterwards WERE basing it on jenny's celebrity status. how many of the comments are "i love sublime stitching! jenny's great!" by people who'd never met her?

i agree that people are going to have differing opinions, and i hope that MY differing opinion won't upset others. i just felt that it was important that we look at this situation a little bit more critically. i really love feeling stitchy, with a few minor exceptions, and do have a lot of respect for it. please understand that when i say that i've lost respect for bloggers that posted about it, you and feeling stitchy were not included in that. i was referring to the bloggers that just picked up the story and ran with. for you and feeling stitchy, i actually feel sympathy, because i feel that you were taken advantage of.

amy dame said...

shannon, i think that if this were truly a legal situation, jenny wouldn't have been able to send out the e-mails in the first place. as i said in my response to floresita, it feels as though jenny took advantage of the people who knew her, and were willing to post it on her behalf, with not a whole lot of actual evidence.

i have to say that i really didn't understand that part of your post. even if they're part of a larger company (which really isn't all that large, it turns out), they're still going to be on a budget as they get started. for instance, is now owned by a larger company, but we still have our own budget, and we still need to raise money to run the site. if craftster, or urban threads, was unable to generate enough income to run itself, they wouldn't be supported indefinitely by the larger company.

the indiewashing was DEFINITELY the hurtful part. that's the part that upset me the most, though it seemed the least emphasized aspect of it all (which was upsetting as well!). however, it now turns out that this was hardly the david and goliath situation that it was portrayed to be, urban threads and embroidery library are actually part of a small, employee owned company themselves.

amy dame said...

JafaBrit's Art, thanks for your comment! it's really nice to see an unbiased view of it, from someone disconnected to the two companies.

i really tried to be fair in my post, but i was worried that it would come off as very urban threads oriented, simply because no one else has defended them publicly! i'm glad it came out the way i was hoping it would.


Meaghan said...

The only thing I would add to the list of reasons why Sublime Stitching didn't make a formal statement is that she was in DC for the weekend at the Summit of Awesome. But nevertheless, we are a wired city (DC) and internet access was easy enough to get in the event the good name of her business was being tarnished.

Lotta Dahl said...

I just want to say that I stand by my original statements (none of which had anything to do with adoring Jenny Hart). I feel like this whole thing stinks to high heaven of something foul; intellectual property rights, indiewashing, misleading buyers, whatever... take your pick.

I would like to state for the record that I find it crazy to see my blog name listed up there with the heavy hitters of the crafting world. I think my 6 subscribers (three best friends & my dad among them) passed that post by without a second look! I'm so amazed that anyone even saw it!

amy dame said...

oh, that's an interesting point meaghan... makes you wonder why she would send those e-mails out right before leaving for DC!

Jenny Karr, i obviously just listed all the blogs i could find up there! i started out with just the first few that posted it, but then i started finding more and more who had linked and reposted the info, so i included them as well.

i agree that this whole thing stinks of something foul, but i'm becoming less and less sure if it's a matter of property rights and indiewashing or a smear campaign. i love sublime stitching too (i own every single book, kit and pattern, with the exception of last month's releases!), but this is a really messy situation that has not been helped at all by the way the craft community handled it.

jafabrit said...

I found a really interesting link about copyright and crafts, embroidery patterns etc.

I am not sure Sublime has a case!

Shannon said...

Well, for the record, I didn't receive an email from Jenny about this before I posted, I read about it / found links to it in Annie Modesitt's Twitter feed (she's a well known knit designer who has been fighting quite mightily for better rights in our particular niche of the crafts world).

I think, though, for those of us who do know Jenny personally, it is particularly frustrating, and therefore instantly-hackle-raising, since we've seen her have to take lots of people to court over the years, some for more blatant sins than others. (A big clothing company flat out putting her designs on cheapy made-in-Indian-sweatshops stuff comes to mind).

So there's a "here we go again" aspect to it all that rankles, in addition to the 'indiewashing' aspect.

The difference between Craftster and Urban Threads (and on the record, I know Leah, too) is that Leah was up front about the new partnership with a larger company, 100% open and honest. Urban Threads was not.

I don't consider pointing out the hypocrisy of taking money from a larger company, yet positioning yourself as (more or less) a one-person indie company to be a smear campaign. Sure, they might be running on a tight budget, we all are these days, but most of us do not have the luxury of ANY start up capital in our pockets, let alone a company with in-place resources in our field to give us a headstart.

It also makes all the business type advice they've posted on their blog immediately suspect (leaving out the accusations I've heard that some of it was lifted from other sources). How can you trust someone coming from such an entirely different perspective if they don't put their cards on the table?

I would have had no problem at all if Niamh (or whoever's posting as Niamh) said hey, look, I'm in the enviable position of running a small startup backed by a larger company, but here are things I have learned along the way... instead of "one woman show, look at me go!"

Sickofitcindy said...


I first heard about this yesterday and have been reading about it ever since. Yours is the best commentary I've read so far. I hadn't really noticed anything more than a passing similarity. Like you, I chalked it up to similar influences. I look it as an apples and oranges situation. Yes Urban Threads has hand embroidery patterns but that seems like a tiny portion of the business. I didn't purchase designs from them because of indie credibility, I just liked the machine embroidery designs. The DIY-ness of it all was like the cherry on top.

Penny Nickels said...

I found your blog because you and my husband are partners in the Phat Quarter swap. Good times!
Anyway- I think Jenny's "Celebrity Status" is totally deserved. I'm a Texan, so I suspect those of us from Texas probably knew of her before the rest of the crafting community did, and I know that she really paid her dues and spent years building up her following and company. And it's still tiny! One of my high school friends works for her, a despite all the props she gets, she only has six people working with her, which is pretty recent. I think the other reason she's a "Celebrity" is because she gives the rest of us hope that if we work hard, we can do it too and be successful. Besides, you Canadians have Amy R. Singer! Talk about celebrities. I think everyone responded in favor of Jenny not only because she's earned the respect of the community, but I think we'd all want people to show us the same support if we were in that situation. Also, I spoke with Florisita about why she closed the thread, and she said she just wanted to move away from the negativity. That comment section was on the verge of turning into a flame war. Too her credit, she did post all the dissenting opinions, she didn't try to hide them. Also, those photos that she referenced are barely altered. If you go to the Hand Stitching section of urban thread, they are presented as the black and white outline. (Although the rockets were added next to them in the photos that are going around). I think it's interesting that in the U.T. blog post, those images are only shown as the completed Machine Embroidery, not how they appear as a hand embroidery pattern that is for sale. I think what really creepy is how U.T. had Diem Chau's photo removed from Flickr. Also, if you read both letters from U.T. and Embroidery Library, there are some pretty glaring contradictions.
Gross. But bravo for you for being thoughtful and thorough with the facts before posting. Anyway, here's a great link explaining needlework and copyrights.
I think we could all benefit from giving it a read.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks, Amy, for facilitating one of the more reasoned, less partisan dialogues on this matter. It’s discouraging how few people have been willing to entertain competing interpretations.

Like most, I respect and admire Jenny Hart enormously, both as a vanguard needlework artist, an innovative businesswoman and a stellar representative of the crafting community. She has, heretofore, struck a judicious balance between fiercely protecting the products of her hard won success with a generous dispersal of resource and encouragement. It is, no doubt, that very quality that has so impassioned her devoted following.

That said, I, too, have found myself perplexed and saddened by the manner in which Ms. Hart has directed her allegations against Urban Threads and and its parent company.

Sublime Stitching, LLC., filed suit against Embroidery Library, Inc., in a United States District Court on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009, the same day numerous websites published Ms. Hart’s grievances. Given that she has successfully litigated such concerns in the past, I fail to grasp why she was not content to allow the legal process to run its course. Instead, she enlisted third parties to instigate a virtual Kangaroo court, thereby castigating Ms. O’Connor and Embroidery Library in the realm of public opinion without benefit of due process.

Assuming the most nefarious charges against Ms. O’Connor are indeed founded and Ms. Hart is vindicated, little will be won. Litigation is costly, materially and emotionally, and, to that end, she the merits our profound sympathy. That such an assumption is hardly a given, however, allow me to proffer an alternate hypothesis.

The complaint language does not distinguish between machine and hand embroidery. I gather that Judge Sam Sparks, talented jurist though he may be, is less likely to grasp to distinction between the two than a novice crafter. As with any matter of legal interpretation, opinions will vary, but, in this instance, I believe the distinction is crucial.

Based upon published statements at this point, it’s reasonable to presume that Embroidery Library will emphasizes the very “separateness” of their customer base (hand vs. machine). If Ms. Hart and her attorney cannot prove that Urban Threads has infringed upon her market share, compensatory damages can’t awarded. For all intents and purposes, Sublime Stitching might be right, but cannot actually win.

Unfortunately for Ms. Hart, she statements she finds objectionable [“I noticed that the design industry I set about creating, and Urban Threads was born”] are true−for machine embroidery. Because the language Ms. O’Connor borrowed/stole/embellished referenced a different medium, it’s reaching to demonstrate she or her brand have been materially injured by Ms. O’Connor’s acts.

I suspect the very weakness of Ms. Hart’s case contributed to her decision to “out” Urban Threads.

Finally, did Ms. O’Connor misrepresent herself and her company? Most likely. But so, too, did Ms. Hart mischaracterize Embroidery Library as some faceless monolith, soullessly churning out clip art. In fact, Embroidery Library−small, woman-led and cooperatively-owned−is exactly the sort of entity Sublime Stitching customers would patronize.

For those so inclined, the suit is a matter of public record. If nothing else, perhaps this ugly episode with generate a robust debate on copy write and creative license.

xoxo, dimestore attorney

Rubber Duckie said...

There seems to be one large and glaring problem that has been bothering me about all this.

I have respected Jenny and even supported her through most of it, but there is one issue that really worries me. Since all the "letters" Jenny sent out were BEFORE any lawsuit was filed, absolutely none of the accusations are verified in any way. That means by posting them, as all the unknowing bloggers did, it counts as a very very serious defamation of character suit. I think Jenny knew this, and decided to send out a "private" letter conveniently sent to people she knew would post, and then kept her face out of it, in case any legal heat came down for making claims that as of right now have no legal proof.

Penny, your comment about how it's "really creepy is how U.T. had Diem Chau's photo removed from Flickr" is odd. The image she posted is a lawsuit in itself. She's damn lucky they didn't sue her. What makes me really sad is that I'm sure Diem didn't know this at the time, but Jenny was happy to let her take the heat for it. If Jenny had an issue with them, and wanted to make it public and online, it should have been her that posted. Letting others do it seems to me like she's using them as legal shields because she knows she might not have a case, and could only use an online smear campaign. Not a very nice way to use your "loyal customers" :(

Urban Threads said...

@Amy: Much respect for hosting what turned out to be the most calm and thoughtful discussion during this storm more than a year ago.

Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching has retracted these accusations. In her statement, she withdraws her claims of copyright infringement, reveals that she edited and manipulated patterns in side-by-side comparisons, and apologizes. More information, as well as Jenny's retraction, can be found here:

All of us at Urban Threads and Embroidery Library would like to thank Jenny for making this public statement. We're happy to have this matter settled, so that we can look forward and fully focus on making awesome and unexpected designs for hand and machine embroidery.

If you have any comments or questions, please drop a note to UT exists because of the hip stitchers of all ages and backgrounds who dig it. We value tremendously what you have to say, and we love to hear from you.

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