Thursday, August 27, 2009

Princess Is Smart

Princess: "Did one of the Presidents die?"
Me: "Senator Ted Kennedy died. His brother was president."
Princess: "That's why the name sounded familiar!"
Me: "Yes, they're a well-known political family."
Princess: "So they're all crazy then?"

Tracking Label Pictures

Inquiring minds want to know what my CPSIA tracking labels look like.

This is a sheet (well, most of a sheet) of labels that have been printed, ironed, and pinked about the edges. A single label that was cut from the sheet is at right.

This is the label after it's been glued into a pair of sneaker soles. It is easier to do the gluing at this stage of production than after the upper's been put on.

It didn't occur to me to take a picture of what the wash test sample looked like; I should do that with my next round of pictures.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Refining the labeling process

Back in May I had done some work developing a procedure to create my tracking labels. I've spent the time since August 14 doing two things: making dish scrubbers instead of baby booties, and thinking about how exactly I want to implement the whole tracking label thing.

The Big Decision I had to make was production date vs. batch number. I get all my materials from the same suppliers all the time, but the yarn is all different dye lots. I thought about what my life would be like if I had to jot down the dye lot of every bootie I made, and then it occurred to me that except for the larger wholesale orders where I sit down and consecutively make a large number of booties in the same colors, this was not going to work for me. So I opted for production date instead. And I decided that if any low-life shyster wants to bring a case against me, let him prove the yarn came from different dye lots. If I can't tell them apart, with my heightened color-matching abilities, I'd like to see him try.

The problem I've encountered with using production dates is that I often make soles far in advance, and for best results the labels need to be applied to the soles before the uppers are put on. (I suppose it doesn't matter for CPSIA purposes where I apply the labels, as long as they're visible. But it matters to me where they are, because the booties have a bit of stretch to them. I decided the inside of the sole was the least-stretched, most-accessible least-visible place on the booties.) But of the alternatives, the production date system was the easiest to work with. I can also add cohort numbers when booties are contractor-made if I so choose, but I haven't needed to choose yet. I decided to use month-long date ranges. So all booties made in August are labeled 8/2009. While I'm going to do my best to label the soles right before I put the uppers on, it's possible that a pair of soles might be labeled 2/2010 and finished and sold in, say, 5/2010. Too frickin' bad. If that's not good enough for them, I politely invite them to launch themselves projectile-wise into the nearest body of fresh water. And if they take me to court, I also invite them to prove in court when I put the uppers on. It's not like I have a factory where I keep records of this kind of thing or an employee who could testify against my claim, and there's no 24 hour surveillance footage of my "factory floor" (a.k.a. the corner of my living room).

The next problem I had to overcome was how to attach the booties without hand sewing, because hand sewing takes way too long. I considered machine sewing but it would be visible on the outside of the bootie, and I felt it would ruin the aesthetics. Not only that, but it would be impossible to sew labels to the soles of contractor-made booties, which are essential to my business model. My Twitter buds suggested glue, so I did a series of wash tests and discovered that the glue that works best for me is Aleene's Flexible Stretchable. Thankfully it's sold at our local Wal-Mart, and it's cheap. I've been cutting out the labels with pinking shears and applying the glue to the label with a paintbrush. It seems to be working pretty darn well that way. So if you create crocheted stuff, take note: you can stick your labels on.

I decreased the label size to 1 1/4". Previously it was 1 1/2", but that was too big to fit inside the soles of the smaller booties. So now I'm getting 48 to a sheet instead of 35. Pinking the edges also lets me get more out of the printable fabric. I pushed them right up to the margins to get the maximum number of labels out of the sheet. In the future I may shrink them further, to 1" or maybe even go to a rectangle shape instead of square, especially if I have to get them up inside Preemie size booties (one of my wholesale customers is a preemie shop).

A few kinks I'm still having that I'd like to work out:
  1. Printing with the laserjet means you have to go immediately from printing to ironing, because the slightest smudge across the newly-printed fabric ruins the labels. Even dragging the press cloth across it or moving the press cloth during pressing smears them, and the process ruins the press cloth because it transfers toner to it (which will then re-transfer to anything else you iron). At my house, I'm almost never able to go immediately from one thing to another, unless the "other" is breaking up kids fighting or cleaning up some acute spill or bodily fluid mess.
  2. I would like to be able to use inkjet. Inkjets use CMYK ink, which is exempt from CPSIA lead testing. (I had the laserjet toner tested by XRF and it passed.) But I have yet to do wash tests on inkjet to see how permanent the ink is.
  3. Painting glue onto pinked edges makes my hands sticky. I hate sticky hands.
  4. The gluing process adds several hours to the turnaround time for a pair of booties, since I have to wait for the glue to at least dry to the touch before putting on the uppers.
  5. I will have to decide whether or not to ask my contractors to glue labels on. I'm thinking not. I don't want to add glue and labels to the materials I have to send them already. Most of the time I forget to send them shoelaces. Sending them glue and labels too would double my headaches.
  6. Every time I glue on a label, I think about punching a bureaucrat in the face. I suppose that will fade in time, though, to a complaisant background noise.
All in all, I think I've come up with a decent solution, though I wouldn't mind abandoning it altogether for a better solution.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Princess' Jumper

When Princess started first grade at Thomas Edison Charter School, she had a lot of homemade uniforms. Her absolute favorite was this jumper.

I know you can't see much of it under the handmade sweater she's wearing, but it was a pretty plain jumper. Basic self-lined bodice, square neckline, patch pocket centered on chest, half circle flared skirt. It's not a triumph of haute couture, but nevertheless this was Princess' absolute favorite jumper. She wore it long past the point where it was tight through the chest and short through the skirt.

Since next Monday Princess starts back to school at a new charter school, I thought we might make her an updated version of the Favorite Jumper. Black isn't a permissible color under her new dress code, so we made it in khaki poly-cotton twill. We traded the juvenile chest pocket for less conspicuous and more adult side seam pockets, and dropped the waist to just about an inch above the natural waist. We made the bodice fit a bit closer than the original, too, since a loose jumper bodice just isn't as suitable for a 7th grader as it is for a 1st grader. And thanks to me screwing up the layout, we had to cut the skirt in four gores. But it worked out well enough. We used an invisible zipper in the back. They're my favorite ones to apply, so much easier than regular zippers that I actually spent money to get a foot adapter for my Bernina, just so that I could use my standard invisible zipper foot with it.

We gave it a bit of extra ease through the chest, but let's face it, this isn't going to fit her once the hormones really start kicking in. But we couldn't give it too much ease, because the only thing worse than a jumper that will eventually be too tight through the chest is a jumper that right now looks like the Kleenex fell out of her training bra. So the plan is to cut off the bodice and add a waistband when that time comes. Since the waist seam is above the natural waist, that will also buy us a bit of skirt length.

Sending A Message

What CPSC writes in its documents is important, because once it's published in the Federal Register it becomes official policy, which is a step down from law but is still very law-like. But equally important is reading what CPSC doesn't write, because from that we can get clues as to what the future regulatory landscape may look like.

The trend in lawmaking is to write laws that are at once full of broad sweeping generalizations and specific nitpicky points, and then authorizing some regulatory agency to work out all the details. CPSIA is no exception. I still think it's important that we take issue with the points of the law and continue to press Congress to fix their mess. But until they do, we're stuck living with the mess they made, and we have to figure out how our businesses can survive long enough to celebrate victory. So Rick, I love ya man, you're a total CPSIA rock star and you can rant with the best of 'em, but in this regard you're not helping. At this point they're not gonna give us the guidance we seek-- at least not in so many words. Our continued existence with no lead-poisoning casualties is the single best argument against CPSIA.

I watched the hours of webcasted hearings CPSC held, and I do think it is important for any serious CPSIA-watcher to actually put eyeballs to them. Watch the CPSC representatives and their body language, and listen to their inflections. More importantly, watch how they change from November on. In November, their attitude towards CPSIA is "Well, we didn't ask for this, but we've got it now, so let's try to do our best!" Later hearings progress toward an attitude of "How can we find a way to meet the letter of this stupid law without being ridiculous?" They're not going to call it a stupid law, at least not where anyone in Congress can hear them. But you can tell that's how they feel about the law, based on how they talk about it. (Yeah, I've been there. They asked me once to teach a math class in two days a month. 5 straight hours of instruction on two back-to-back days, once a month. At first I told the director, "This is going to be a real challenge, but I think we can do it!" By the end, when the class got cancelled for under-enrollment, my attitude was closer to "Who the heck thought this was a good idea? There's no way it could ever work.")

So, you might wonder, what is the message CPSC is sending out now, in between the lines? It's pretty close to "La la la la la, we're not listening!"-- only it's not addressed at small business, it's addressed at the law.

CPSC had a choice of interpretations of the law when it came to exempting things like textiles and wood. They could have taken a strict view of the law. This view is represented by the positions of Commissioner Nancy Nord (although I know she takes these positions reluctantly, knowing and caring how much it hurts businesses, in hopes that Congress will see how ridiculous their law is and change its mind). You see, there have been cases where textiles have been shown to have violative amounts of lead, so CPSC could have easily adhered to the letter of the law and not exempted textiles from third party lead testing. Instead, they went with "All textiles/wood/rocks/etc. are lead-free! ...except when they're not." This, I think, reflects the new leadership of Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. And while that's a confusing and maddeningly tautological statement, the selection of it as the official position speaks volumes.

Here's what it says: First, that CPSC does not intend to hew to a strict interpretation of the law. Yes, I know that doesn't bind the state AGs from doing so. However, when CPSC makes a determination like the one about textiles and backs it up with pages of addenda full of scientific data, any AG that decides to go against that and sue knows he's going to have to justify why he's decided to fly in the face of the CPSC's decision, now with extra Science!* And Science! is accorded sufficient reverence in our society that I really think flying in the face of it is not something an AG wants to do... at least not publicly. (Maybe in the privacy of his own bedroom; people do all kinds of things in there that they'd never do in public.)

Second, the CPSC's statement tells us that there are places they're absolutely determined not to go. By issuing this statement, they have basically given notice that they're closing the books on pursuing the testing of a whole laundry list of materials, as well as signaled that they're going to take a component-testing approach (something that is allowed under the letter of the law). The formulation "It's lead-free, except when it's not" may be tautological, but given the sheer number of tautologies available to them, the choice of this one is telling. Legally, they can't close the book on testing these materials. But they can insert a small object between the pages so it doesn't close all the way, and place the book on the back of a shelf inside a locked, disused janitorial closet in the basement of an abandoned building. Technically, then, it's not closed; but in reality, nobody will be able to tell the difference. This formulation, then, is pure genius; it lets the CPSC get away with completely ignoring everything made of textiles, wood, leather, and other materials, while at the same time not ruling out that if they happened to encounter some of that orange felt with the 26,000 ppm of lead, they could still enforce the law as written.

Third, the CPSC's approach isn't so much an exemption as a delegation of responsibility to the manufacturers. It signals trust, at least where it comes to the materials for which they could find enough Science! to justify this delegation. It says to the manufacturers "You're gonna make sure these aren't lead-free, right?" More than that, though, it is a loophole through which they are pushing XRF testing. In order for CPSC to officially sanction XRF as a testing or screening method for these materials, they have to do a heck of a lot of lab- and paper-work. But doing it this way, they are tacitly allowing XRF to be used as a screening tool, at least for the materials that have Science! on their side (and aren't specifically mentioned in the law, like paint is). Yes, this leaves business legally unprotected. But of the alternatives available to us without Congress changing the law, this is the best protection we can get.

Finally, CPSC is signaling that they welcome producers of other materials (e.g. composite wood products) to take this approach. If they can find enough Science! to wave around, they can add even more materials and products to expand this loophole even further.

In issuing the very formulations that madden us, CPSC is actually doing us a favor. That it's not the favor we really want, and isn't big enough to make a large amount of difference, doesn't change the fact that CPSC just did us businesses the biggest favor they possibly could. I think we should show some appreciation for it.

* There's science and there's Science! Science! is very official sounding (think Thomas Dolby's song "She Blinded Me With Science") and is usually science-based, where science deals more with facts and is open to different hypotheses. Using a pure science approach to CPSIA results in the inability to make categorical statements like "all fabrics are lead-free," while Science! makes this possible.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CPSIA Labeling For Small Crafters

Today is the first day of the requirement under CPSIA for affixing tracking labels to your products, and there are a lot of small crafters* out there asking the same question: "How the @#$% am I supposed to do this?????" If you make apparel you may already have figured out what to do, since there's a well-known standard for labeling apparel and CPSIA's requirements just mean a little tweaking to it. But if you make crafts?

I'm not going to cover how physically to mark your products in this post; that wouldn't be possible. There are as many kinds of products as there are crafters who make them. What I'd like to address in this post are general strategies for the hardest part (for crafters) of the CPSIA tracking label: the batch number. If you'd like to know what doesn't have to be labeled, go here.

There are three things that have to, have to, have to be on your label:

  • Your name (or your DBA/business name if you have one)
  • Your location (city, state, country-- I think we'd be safe skipping country if in the U.S.)
  • Your choice of EITHER a production date OR a batch number that you can use to look up the production date

Production Date vs. Batch Number

The first thing you will have to decide is whether you will be using production dates or batch numbers.

If you sit down and make your product one at a time, a production date might be a better choice for you. You can use a date range if you want, or the date of final assembly. So if you start making a crayon bag on Monday 8/10 and finish it on Friday 8/14, you can put the date 8/14 or the date range 8/10-8/14 on the label. If you don't know when you'll be making stuff in time for the labels to be ordered, but you're pretty sure you'll be making it in August, you can use the date 8/2009.

If you make products in batches, for example you sit down one night and make a dozen red hairbows, you can still use a production date, which in this case would be the date that you sat down and made red hairbows.

Batch numbers are a good choice if you make goods from the same materials, especially if you make them over a spread-out period of time. To continue the hairbow example, let's say you get a new roll of red ribbon and you sit down and make it all into hairbows over the course of three days, 8/14 through 8/16. Even though you made them over 3 days, you can still consider them part of the same batch. If you make some red hairbows today and some next month, if they are made of the same materials you can still consider them part of the same batch.

Record Keeping

If you use batch numbers instead of production dates, you will need to be able to look up two things from the batch number. One is the date of production, and the other is the materials you used and their sources. The object of the record keeping game is that if CPSC brings you one of your dollies or hairbows or airplanes and says "tell me when you made this and where you got your materials," you can whip out your spreadsheet and/or notebook and look it all up.

If you can, you'll want to consider sourcing all your materials from the same places all the time. I know that's not possible for people who do upcycling and repurposing. But if you are using, let's say, new fabric, you might want to see about getting a single source where you can get all your fabric, or at least narrowing it down to a couple of sources. You may have to buy in volume to do that, but buying in volume is not as hard or expensive as it sounds. I'll have to explain how to do that later, since it's enough for a whole other post.

Whether you use production dates or batch numbers, start keeping a notebook with swatches or samples of your materials. If you use materials that can't be swatched, like wood, or materials that you will use all up, then use a photo instead of a swatch. Next to each swatch write down what it is, where you bought it, how much you bought (and maybe even what you paid if you'd like to keep track of that), what its fiber content is if it's a textile, etc. etc. As much information as you know about it, so that when CPSC comes knocking and says "And where did the stuffing come from?" you can flip through your notebook and say "I bought it at Michael's on 10/5/09." Also, give each material a sequence number (i.e. number them 1, 2, 3, etc.). This will be useful later. Every time you get a new bundle of a material, cut a new swatch (or snap a new pic) and make an entry in your notebook. When a material needs testing, put a copy of the test results in your notebook.

Now you get to choose whether to go high-tech or low-tech. If high-tech, whip out your handy dandy spreadsheet. If you don't already know how to use a spreadsheet, you will have to learn how to use it. Borrow a friend to teach you or take a class at the local community college. If you don't have Microsoft Excel, never fear. You can download a free office suite here and use the OpenOffice spreadsheet, Calc. The basic functions work like Excel, and that's all we really need for this purpose. If you'd prefer low-tech, get a ledger or a loose-leaf notebook (it can be a section in the swatch notebook). The disadvantage of low-tech is it isn't searchable, or rather its search function is your 11 year old daughter.

Whenever you make a batch, then, you'll open up your spreadsheet or ledger. In one column you'll write the batch number. Then you'll write a list of the material numbers that were used in that batch, and the date (or date range) of production, and keep a snapshot of the finished product for visual reference if it would help.


You make hats using red fabric, taupe ribbon, buttons, and red thread. You bought the fabric from Quilt Warehouse on 8/1/09, the ribbon from Naomi's House Of Ribbon on 8/12/09, the buttons from Button City on 6/7/09, and the thread at Cheap Mart on 8/10/09. So your first entries in your swatch book will be:
  1. Red 100% cotton calico, Quilt Warehouse, 20 yards x 45" wide, 8/1/09. (snippet of fabric)
  2. Taupe 3/8" grosgrain ribbon, Naomi's House Of Ribbon, 100 yard spool, 8/12/09. (snippet of ribbon)
  3. 1" white plastic buttons, Button City, 1000 qty, 6/7/09. (snapshot of button)
  4. Red 100% polyester thread, Cheap Mart, 200 yard spool, 8/10/09. (sample of thread)
Also in the notebook will be a copy of the test results for the buttons. At the top of the test results you will write "#3" so that you can connect this test result with material #3. And on the packaging of these materials, write their sequence numbers. You might attach a tag with "#1" written on it to the corner of the fabric.

Now you sit down and make 12 red hats out of these materials. You assign them batch number A063 (you make up your own scheme for creating the numbers for each batch). In your ledger or spreadsheet, you write: "Batch A063, made 8/14/09. Materials: #1, 2, 3, 4."

Next month, you want to make blue hats so you go back to Quilt Warehouse and buy some blue material. So you enter into your swatch notebook:

5. Blue 100% cotton calico, Quilt Warehouse, 20 yards x 45" wide, 8/1/09. (snippet of fabric)
6. Blue 100% polyester thread, Cheap Mart, 200 yard spool, 8/10/09. (sample of thread)

and then you make 10 blue hats using the same taupe ribbon and white buttons, which you call batch number B063. (Again, you make up a numbering scheme that works for you.) In your ledger or spreadsheet, you write: "Batch B063, made 9/07/09. Materials #2, 3, 5, 6."


I think that would be a decent, cheap record keeping system. Those who aren't all up on the computer jive that the young hepcats are using these days can do it on paper. Let me know what you think, because I just threw this together in an evening with people pestering me the whole time.

* I am NOT going to open up the whole crafter vs. artisan can of worms. Let's just have a convention that if I say "crafter" I mean YOU, even if you call yourself an artisan. It makes for easier reading.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kelly The Fish, R.I.P.

We came home from church on Sunday to discover that our beloved betta fish, Kelly, had passed away.

Kelly, like most store-bought bettas, was male. However, when we brought Kelly home, one of the Aspies (I forget which one) insisted the fish was female and would not be persuaded otherwise. Well, when an Aspie digs in his heels, you pretty much have to decide if it's the hill you want to die on, and the gender of a fish was not the battle I wanted to fight. So we surrendered the hill and gave the fish the gender-neutral name of "Kelly."

Bagel was really upset. He cried for a solid hour, then off and on for the rest of the day. I told him Kelly was in Fishy Heaven now. We had Kelly's funeral Sunday evening in the downstairs bathroom. And then we had to quickly figure out the precise mechanism by which the toilet was connected to Fishy Heaven. (In case anyone's interested: the toilet drains into the sewer, the sewer drains into the sea, and the water evaporates from the sea and goes into the sky. Thankfully that explanation worked, and we didn't have to explain how Kelly's body would survive the evaporation process.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

CPSIA's New Guidance, Part 2: Books

One of the lengthier segments of CPSC's new guidance document deals with books. CPSC exempts new books from third party lead testing, but not "older books" (generally regarded as those published before 1985). The exemption is new, and comes just in time for the August 14 deadline that would otherwise have required these books to have third party testing for lead. Of course, most large publishers have probably already had that testing done in anticipation of the deadline. I doubt many of them waited till a week before the deadline to do anything about it.

As had been anticipated by anyone who'd watched the hearings on lead, CPSC found on the basis of scientific evidence that modern printing processes do not use lead. The CMYK inks have to be transparent in order to get the color blending effect that enables them to produce the entire rainbow of colors, and lead based inks are not transparent. Paper is made from wood, which is naturally lead-free. Even the dyes that color paper are lead-free. And CPSC played the "inaccessibility" card on the bindings, declaring all that glue and stuff to be inaccessible and therefore exempt. Once again, I'm not sure how they pulled that off, seeing as how as a kid I used to love to stick my finger down inside the bindings of books, but they seem to be advertising that they have a gigantic blind spot where the word "inaccessible" appears.

However, CPSC flat-out refused to exempt metal and plastic binding components, and with good reason: these have been recalled in the past. They really couldn't categorically exempt them, so anybody who was hoping they might was bound to be disappointed (pun intended). The problem with this is that many short books for small children are bound with highly accessible staples. I don't think even the CPSC could get away with saying those staples are "inaccessible".

The most interesting parts of the document, though, take the American Library Association's objections point by point. The ALA, like just about everyone in the entire universe who isn't in Congress, doesn't want children's books to fall prey to CPSIA's oppressive requirements. However, you'd think a group of people who truly love books would have read enough of them to learn how to put together a cohesive argument.

The ALA originally supported CPSIA, evidently not realizing that books were "children's products." Indeed, from what I can infer from CPSC's response to their letter, ALA claimed that books simply weren't products, since they are magically made from smog-free air and unicorn farts and 100% pure virtue. Or something like that, anyway; I'm not sure how they honestly thought they could get away with claiming that a book is not a product, or at least not one of those products, horribly mundane things that they are.

ALA also claimed that books are not distributed in interstate commerce, another risible claim. They asserted that since libraries aren't selling anything, they should be exempt. Sure, except for a couple of things: first, that you don't have to sell something for it to be "distributed" (which was CPSC's point and sufficient to torpedo the argument) and second, that libraries do indeed sell books. Besides their regular book sales, there's always the situation where a person loses a book, pays for its replacement, finds the book and keeps it. I've bought my share of books off the library that way. If that's substantially different from a sale, I don't know how.

CPSC unhelpfully points out, though, that libraries are not required to test the books. This is the central Catch-22 behind the problems thrift stores have with CPSIA: they too are not required to test for lead, just to make sure the lead isn't there. How they're to do that without testing is beyond me; we joke on Twitter that we should put on our "XRF Goggles" so that we can just look at items and see where the lead is. Technically it is the manufacturer of the goods which is responsible for the testing, which in this case would be the publisher. But damned if any publishers are going to be conducting testing on books published more than 20 years ago. If not them, then who? Libraries (and used booksellers) are the only parties left standing with any interest in getting those books tested. And none of them can afford it.

So since the ALA appears to be out of ludicrous theories why books should evade CPSIA's grasp, we are back where we started: they don't. Books published after 1985 are now officially exempt, but books published before 1985 are still, technically, banned. They're not covered by the CPSC's February stay of enforcement, and they can't legally be distributed, in or out of interstate commerce, unless they're known not to contain violative amounts of lead, something that can't be determined without testing.

And thus we all eagerly await the further light and knowledge CPSC has pledged to bestow upon us regarding older children's books. I truly want to see how they propose to deal with the thorny situation Congress has created for these endangered treasures.

CPSIA's New Guidance, Part 1: Overview

Today CPSC released new guidance regarding exemptions to third party testing under CPSIA. It's a 94-page document, so I thought I'd go through it bit by bit and summarize it, but not necessarily in the order in which the items appear.

First, an overview: in this document, CPSC expands their list of materials that are pre-emptively declared free from the need for third party testing. CPSIA does grant them this authority, and they had used it before to declare a much more limited range of materials to be lead-free: precious metals and gemstones, and unaltered natural materials and textiles. The new document expands that list by quite a lot. All textiles are now included, for example. I've already written a post for What Is The CPSIA? detailing precisely which new materials have gotten a Get Out Of Lab Free card; I'll link it as soon as it's up. [UPDATE: Here it is.]

The document takes a definite turn in the direction of component testing. Because it focuses exclusively on exemptions for materials rather than categories of goods, I'd say there's about an 80% probability that CPSC will be issuing a future rule allowing component testing. The document also shows trust in manufacturers: it mentions several times that the exemptions are conditioned on the manufacturing process not introducing any lead, but never does it imply that this determination is to be made by anyone at the agency or indeed anyone other than the manufacturers themselves. This is a good thing; it means that CPSC under Tenenbaum's leadership is not going to view manufacturers as its adversaries. This was something I worried about when Tenenbaum was appointed; if she'd gone in the direction of the slimy little toady Commissioner Moore, we'd all have been ultra-screwed.

CPSC also takes a step that has been very much needed: letting us know that guidance on certain topics is forthcoming. The document mentions that we can anticipate statements on children's books published before 1985 and on component testing. Now if only we could get them to give us at least a ballpark idea when the guidance will be released.

They also declined to make a decision at this time on several materials, pending the submission of scientific analysis by those seeking an exemption. These are the materials:
  • Composite wood products (e.g. particle board)
  • Art supplies
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Ceramic ware and glazes
The moral of this story is, come to the CPSC armed with data. Textiles and printing inks got off scot-free because the apparel industry and the printing industry came to the meetings armed with hard data, not sob stories. While there's no way in hell that I'd ever be able to afford to generate the kind of data they need to grant exemptions, I appreciate very much that CPSC is at least persuadable by scientific data, unlike some OTHER people I know who shall go unnamed even though they are in Congress.

Finally, CPSC tipped their hand to a new strategy: to declare stuff "inaccessible." Because inaccessible things are exempt from all of CPSIA's draconian testing regimes, it becomes a "see no evil" situation. I was truly surprised at their determination that adhesives are "inaccessible," because I don't know anyone whose skill at hand-gluing is such that they never, ever get so much as an edge of glue sticking out from under stuff. But they seem determined not to consider that as an option, so don't you mention it to them either. It just seems odd, especially in juxtaposition to their finding that bicycle tire valve stems are accessible. Surely the exposed edge of a glue bead is as accessible as a tire valve stem.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


UPDATE: I wish I'd put this off 24 more hours, because now I look like an idiot. On Thursday evening the CPSC issued some guidance which pre-emptively exempted all textiles, including those that compose my booties, from third party testing. So I will not be shutting down bootie production. However, I still have some thinking to do about how exactly I'm going to continue, and I'm not going to have time to do that until at least the weekend. So my Etsy shop is in vacation mode at the moment while I work all this out.]

I've had to make a very difficult decision to close Curious Workmanship, my baby bootie business. The blame lies squarely at the feet of CPSIA, for it is because of the third party testing requirements that I am closing down.

I spent all day yesterday listing the last of my booties on Etsy, and I spent this morning marking them all down to below my cost. After I did that, I became physically sick to my stomach. This hurts. It really, really hurts. I honestly had no idea that it would hurt this much. On Sunday I broke down crying at church. If you know me, you know I never cry. I'm so cussedly stubborn that every bit of pain just makes me more determined. But this broke through.

I've gotten a lot of support from my #CPSIA buds on Twitter, and even radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt has helped me get my story out. It's been really good to have all this support and to have the chance to educate the public about CPSIA and what it is doing and what it will do.

The second hardest thing I've had to deal with, though, is all the messages and tweets I've been getting from well-meaning people helpfully letting me know that they saw something in the Etsy forum or heard a rumor that anybody who makes things out of yarn is exempt from CPSIA. Here is some information that evidently got left out of the Etsy forum: yarn is only covered under the CPSC's stay of enforcement for third party testing, which expires Feb. 10, 2010. And I know for a fact my yarn is lead-free-- I had it tested by XRF by an environmental engineer. However, this testing doesn't meet the third party testing requirement, because it wasn't done by a certified lab-- those tests I can't afford. On August 14, I (and everybody else who's trusted in the CPSC's stay to protect them) become fair game for any of the 50 state Attorneys General plus any plaintiff's lawyers, who DO NOT have to follow CPSC's stay of enforcement.

That is why I'm going out of business now. The CPSC's stay of enforcement only protects me from CPSC action. It does not protect me from everybody else's lawyers. They can sue me for violating the third party testing requirement, even though my booties are lead-free. It only takes one to ruin my life. I don't think it's likely they'd come after me, but I just can't take the chance. I have a family to think of; losing all our assets (which is what a lawsuit would mean) could be strain enough to break it up. Not only that, but if I sell things wholesale that don't meet the letter of CPSIA law, stay or no stay, I'm putting all my retailers and distributors at risk too. THEY can be sued by any of these same lawyers for selling a noncompliant product, and if they get sued, so probably will I. My business model, which I've always thought was a good idea that enabled my booties to be on the Ellen DeGeneres show twice and to put together international wholesale orders, also puts me at exponentially more risk from CPSIA than the average retail crafter as well.

I do not, I repeat do not, blame anybody for making a different decision than mine. I'm not going to try to manipulate anybody into sharing my fears. Everyone will have to make the decision that is right for their own business, and evaluate risks and facts for themselves. I will do whatever I can to educate with facts where such are available, so that everyone can make the most informed decision. When they succeed, I will celebrate their success; if they fail, I will give them my shoulder to cry on.

I will continue to track the latest developments in CPSIA, and post to the What Is The CPSIA? site for the benefit of my fellow crafters, artisans, and small businesspeople. And I will do my best to stay in business at least through the end of the year by making the old standby products that got me started: dishcloths and dish scrubbers. I will pay off my business' debts, liquidate my assets and run out my contracts. But after that, I'm afraid I will have to close down for good. Those items were never profitable enough for Curious Workmanship to replace the income I got by working, and so it will be a better deal for me to go back to tutoring than to keep Curious Workmanship on life support. It made sense to do it that way when I was plowing all the profits back into the business while I worked at a job, but it doesn't make sense now that I know my business won't have a bright future towards which to work.

I built this business from scratch, pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. Five years ago when I started, I had two small plastic bins full of dishcloths. And when the business finally ends, it'll be back where it started: two small plastic bins full of dishcloths. I had a really great time, and I learned a lot, and I earned money-- I even bought myself a vehicle with the money I earned. But all good stories have to come to an end. And this is the point where I have to say goodnight.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

No Hating, Kids

I don't hate Rep. Henry Waxman for what he did to me and my fellow crafters. If there was a huge national disaster and he came to my door in need, I'd share my oatmeal with him. I wouldn't even spit in it.

But I might scrape a bit of the burnt stuff off the bottom, just because it's him.

And if it weren't an emergency and he came to my door, and he wasn't there to apologize, I would seriously consider locking him in a room with my kids and a roll of duct tape. But I probably wouldn't.