Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's A New Class Every Semester

Those who have been fighting CPSIA for a while now are starting to get burned out by the sheer number of people who have never heard of CPSIA. We answer the same questions over and over and over again: "What does CPSIA mean?" "But the law is for toys, right?" "Why did they pass this law in the first place?" "How come you're not exempt?" "What the freak was Congress smoking, and where can I buy some?"

When I was teaching, I thought it would be easier to teach two sections of the same course. I'd prepare one syllabus, one homework schedule, one set of lecture notes, one test (with different versions). I soon found, however, that when I got to the second class, I was getting too frustrated with the students because gosh, I'd already lectured on this stuff, didn't they know it already? Of course it was a different set of students, so of course they hadn't heard my first lecture of the day. But I had, and it took a lot of reminding myself that this was a completely different class of students and I'd just have to bring out the same points and examples a second time and explain them as if they were new.

We have a website now that will help, What Is The CPSIA? It answers some of the basic questions and you can refer your friends to it or refresh your memory there. It is a work in progress so if you don't see your question, feel free to email it in or tweet it in to me @curiouswork.

It can get very frustrating to keep going over the basics with people who are just now hearing about CPSIA, but we have to do it. The more people we can educate, the greater will be the pushback when the law is fully enforced. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that it's a new class every semester, and they haven't heard our lectures yet.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Letter to Erik Lieberman, House Small Business Subcommittee Testimony on CPSIA

This is the letter I wrote as my testimony to the House Small Business Subcommittee, which is (supposedly) meeting tomorrow to hear testimony about CPSIA. I say "supposedly" because EVERY such hearing to date has been cancelled at the request of Congressmen who wrote CPSIA originally, so I assume this one will be too. If you'd like to submit yours, details are here.


I don't know why I'm even bothering writing this to you. Congress seems determined not to hear the voices of anyone who isn't a lawyer on this issue. Me, I'm just a citizen and a small business owner. I'm not a lawyer and I don't have friends in high places, so according to Congress I have nothing important to say, even to the House Subcommittee on Small Business. Every time they hold a hearing where my voice might be heard on CPSIA, the hearing gets cancelled. This one probably will be too. So here goes nothing.

I have a business called Curious Workmanship where I make hand-crocheted baby booties. My booties were recently shown on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, but don't let that fool you; this is a tiny, tiny business. I don't have employees (though I do hire a few independent contractors from time to time) and I do every aspect of the business myself-- production, packaging, website maintenance, accounting, marketing. I even do my own taxes, brave soul that I am, just to save a few bucks. This is a shoestring operation and I run it from a rickety desk in my living room.

CPSIA has meant a lot of work for me to figure out how to bring my products into compliance on this tight of a budget. Even the less-expensive XRF testing costs money. With sales down in the recession, I had to drop to fire sale pricing in order to raise the cash to get the testing done to generate my Certificates of Compliance before February 10 and still pay my bills. Mind you, these are hand-crocheted 100% cotton baby booties. All the lead levels came back under 20ppm, so as expected, there were no hidden dangers there. Nevertheless, even though I've never done anything wrong or had any recalls or run-ins with CPSC, I still had to pay for the privilege of staying in business past Feb. 10, thanks to CPSIA. My kids ate meatless meals to pay for Congress' self-satisfaction at having protected The Children. I hope the cost was worth it.

The decision to do the Ellen Show was a tough one. The booties are shipping all over the country and will be going out well past the August 14 deadline for the third party testing requirements. My testing was done by a third party environmental engineer, but she is not a CPSC certified lab and so those test results will not count after that date. In theory my booties are covered by CPSC's stay of enforcement, being made entirely of textile. However, (a) that stay EXPIRES next February and (b) even despite the stay, some rogue State Attorney General or plaintiff's lawyer could come after me after August. (State AG probably not, but plaintiff's lawyer? my fight against CPSIA must have pissed off more than a few of them.) Either way, I'll be out of business because of the costs CPSIA compliance puts on my business. It's just a matter of whether it's six months or nine months. This Ellen Show deal should be the pinnacle of my business life, but it may be my last hurrah.

Exactly ONE job depends on my business, but it's the most important one to me. In theory I could get a job if my business has to shut down, but in practice that won't work. I started this business and quit my job because two of my four kids have Asperger's Syndrome and need more constant attention than I could provide while working outside the home. I also suffer from fibromyalgia. Sure I could get a job! If only I knew in advance which days I was going to wake up in too much pain to concentrate, or which days my boys would have trouble coping with the universe, I could just take those days off!

But I suppose the quotidian concerns of peons like me are of no interest to high and mighty members of Congress. So I'm sure this letter may be read by the intern tasked with taking out the garbage, if the wind catches the stack on top of it just right. One can only hope...

[Wacky B. Hermit]
Curious Workmanship

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Check It Out, Booties On TV!

In case you missed watching the Ellen DeGeneres Show on Friday, you can see the clip where my booties were here. (They're starting at about 2 minutes in.)

Stuff I Want

I want a door alarm that will allow me to record a message and have it play every time the door opens. This is so I can have the door say "Shut the door. Shut the door. Shut the door." as long as the door is open.

I want this device because otherwise I have to spend all day sitting in the living room saying "Shut the door. Shut the door. Shut the door." every thirty seconds, whenever one of the boys comes into the house. For some reason it has never occurred to them, after weeks of this treatment, that when you walk through a door you must shut it behind you and not leave it open. Maybe if I had an automated system to remind them, I could get something done and still keep the flies and wasps out of the house.

If I can't get that, I'll settle for one of those hydraulic door closers, just so I don't have to kill a wasp every day or change out fly strips. But I'd rather train my boys to shut the damn door themselves, instead of training them that doors shut all by themselves. They already seem to believe that, since the door is always "magically" shut every time they reach it even when they don't shut it themselves.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

This Message Will Self-Destruct In 5, 4, 3...

I can't tell you what's going on because JUST LIKE LAST YEAR when my booties were on the Ellen De Generes Show for about 30 seconds under the name of my Canadian distributor, I'm under embargo. But I CAN tell you that IF you watch the Ellen Show on Friday, May 8, you MIGHT see something that will interest you, and it MIGHT be on for about 30 seconds or so.


Experiment: Printing CPSIA Labels On A Home Computer

I'm over at my dad's, and my dad has the coolest gear, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to work on a problem that's been plaguing the children's craft industry: the Printable Label Problem. Small producers of children's clothing (or producers of small quantities of children's clothing) are seeking high and low for a way to make "permanent labels" to attach to their clothing to bring it into compliance with CPSIA's labeling provisions, which come into effect this August. All children's goods are required to be permanently labeled with the manufacturer, location of manufacture, and a code that the manufacturer could use to identify other items in the lot. In short, all the info that would make for an easy recall. So far CPSC hasn't come out with any guidelines for the labels (e.g. what needs to be labeled, how large the labels have to be, etc.) so I obviously can't project whether these labels will be in compliance in August. But for those looking for a labeling solution now, I think I've had a breakthrough.

It's well known that you can print on fabric by attaching it to a paper backing and running it through an inkjet printer. Various techniques exist to fix the ink so it doesn't wash out. Sadly, all of them seem to involve a rather expensive product called Bubble Jet Set. Maybe I'm just weird, but Bubble Jet Set freaks me out. I don't know what's in it, and I can't make it myself, so if it's 10 pm on Thursday night and I have an order that has to go out Friday and the kids have spilled it all over the floor, I'm out of luck.

After consulting with my dad the genius, I came up with this method for using a laser printer (not an inkjet printer) to print off the labels. It seems to work with either color or black-and-white laser printers, although the black seems to look the sharpest.

I started with some print-on fabric I got at JoAnn Fabrics with my 40% off coupon. It comes on a 10 foot roll and is called Crafter's Images PhotoFabric by Blumenthal Craft. This is supposed to be for inkjet printer use, but my dad's only inkjet printer is for printing on CDs and DVDs (he has a business doing CD and DVD reproduction). I have no idea how as big a geek as my dad manages to not have an inkjet printer, but maybe he figured he didn't need one if he had a color laserjet.

I used Microsoft Publisher to create my labels. I figured out how big I wanted my labels to be (1 1/2" square) and how many would fit on an 8 1/2"x11" sheet, and created a table with that many rows and columns. Then I went into Table Properties (right click on the table) and changed the size of the table so that it was the right size, and all the cells automatically sized themselves appropriately. I set the table to center the text in each cell both left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and put in the text "Curious Workmanship, Tooele, UT, Lot 0905".

I cut a 11" length of the 8 1/2" wide fabric from the roll using my mom's paper cutter. I counter-rolled to straighten it, because the printer couldn't feed it until I did. Then I stuck it in the manual feeder of my dad's laser printer and printed out my labels. You must be careful when handling the raw printed labels. The laser toner will smear easily.

Once I had it printed, I ironed it with the iron on "cotton" setting for two consecutive 30-second intervals (1 minute total), using a press cloth.

That's it. The labels are now ready to be cut up, have the backing peeled off, and sewn into booties.

I'm still doing wash tests, but both the black and color laser printer samples passed the first wash test (hand washing/air drying, since that's what I recommend for my booties) which is the toughest.

Now for the bottom line: the cost.
At full regular price, including tax, and getting 35 labels to a sheet like I am, and not including the cost of toner or electricity, the labels are costing me about 7 1/2 cents each. Not too shabby, I think, although I'm sure someone more experienced in buying labels could tell me whether that's a good deal or not.

But the best part is that I can print as many or as few as I want AND easily change the lot numbers. A quick "Replace" command in Publisher will fix the lot numbers. And if I only need, say, 5 labels, I can cut a smaller piece of fabric, change the page size in Publisher, and print it. I can also print multiple lot numbers on a sheet if I decide to print a sheet.

Hopefully this solution will hold me over until CPSC comes out with their guidelines. And now I have to get back to crocheting my brains out, because now I have to work extra hard so that I can find the time to sew in labels.