Heather Ross Shop

A penny for my tax man's thoughts (which, be warned, are frightening).

Heather Ross20 Comments

I have to assume, based on the size of the bill that my accountant has just sent me, that he intends the good advice he has given me to be shared with about a hundred thousand people. So here goes.

Somebody over at the IRS has finally been introduced to the world wide interweb and noticed that Etsy (and Ebay, of course) is making an awful lot of money off of lots and lots of small, under the radar sellers. Starting January 1st, 2011, Paypal will be calculating income and, by years end, reporting it to the IRS. If you haven't already started reporting your income from Etsy or Ebay on your taxes (I put it in the "other income" category, and print out the years transactions for my own records) Now's the time. It will also be more important than ever to keep track of your expenses and costs of goods sold, because you will need to be able to show what an item cost you to make and what costs went to operating your business so that your actual net (ie, taxable income) can be calculated. Lets say for example that you sell something on Etsy for ten dollars that took five dollars to make. The IRS will see the whole ten dollars, it will be up to you to show them what your actual profit was, and that's the number that gets taxed.

As it stands now, sellers bringing in less than $20,000 don't have much to worry about. But just because Paypal won't be sending your records in to the IRS doesn't mean that they won't be aware of your business presence. Clearly, they are paying attention!

Here's the thing about the IRS, and I'm sorry to get a little scary here. If you make the decision to start a business of any size - making or doing or reselling anything in exchange for money - the responsibility to have a full working knowledge of the laws in your town, your county, your state, and your country falls, in their eyes, completely and unsympathetically on YOU. If you owe them money, they will not forgive that debt in exchange for an explanation, unless they can be proved wrong. They do not care if you are a stay at home mom, a student, or a really nice person who didn't know that they were doing anything wrong. They have the power to take away your house, your car, your credit, and your business.

You can read more about this new law here and here. Paypal has it's own explanation on their blog, but honestly it feels like the article downplays the issue a tad bit. I know, it seems a little overwhelming. You'll be able to figure it, and a system for tracking what you owe, out for yourself without hiring an accountant, I promise. Also, Etsy has a great thread about taxes over here. As much as I wish they would do more to warn their sellers about the pitfalls of unintentional tax evasion (and labor laws that pertain to working at home, and the health risks of knitting fifty scarves a week without workers comp insurance, while they are at it), the truth is that it's not their responsibility as a marketplace to do so. Its up to you to protect yourself, which could be the motto of small business in general, no?




Craft, Elevated

Heather Ross38 Comments

I claimed not long ago during an interview that most of my color inspiration comes from one place: stolen shamelessly from the mind of Joelle Hoverson. Just last month I was chatting with Joelle, all the while trying not to be too obvious about the fact that I was mentally memorizing the inspired combination and exact shades of the electric pink tank top and rosy taupe blouse that she had on, planning my new throw cushions while we dicussed.... oh I don't remember what. But I remember that pink very well. Honestly, if I didn't think it would strain our friendship I would call her regularly from the nail salon and make her pick toenail polish for me via Skype.

Last summer my husband and I were staying with Joelle at her weekend house upstate (which, yes, is exactly as ridiculously beautiful as you imagine it would be) and she showed me some early photos from her newest book, More Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I sort of lost it. I kept trying to pull the laptop out of her hands and onto my lap, twisting my neck around to maximize the computer screen's angle. I should point out that I'm not much of a knitter, and as lovely as the projects in this book are, they are only part of what was struck me about this book. It sort of hit me, at that moment, what Joelle had accomplished, both with this book and in this massive marketplace of craft and design that she has had a heavy hand in helping to build. She has, effectively, upped the ante.

But wait, let me back up to one of my most favorite other relevatory moments. My friend and photographer John Gruen and I were driving around the Berkshires looking for a location for the elusive cover photo for Weekend Sewing a few years ago. He knew of a lovely house, so we tracked down the owner at his business and explained our project to him. He was a middle aged, long-haired gentleman, in Birkenstocks. "Sewing? he said, "A book about sewing?" and then the expected "My mother sewed all of my own clothes." I thought it was over there, but it wasn't even getting started. "That was," the man continued, "of course, before women decided that they should all put on shoulder pads and walk around on their toes and go back to work, because they wanted to feel important."  John has watched me put my foot in my mouth several times, which is probably why his head snapped around to face me and his mouth opened a little bit and his eyebrows went up in anticipation of what I was going to say, which was too bad for him because he missed the very beginning of what I was now seeing, which was this ass of a man in front of us standing on his toes and walking back and forth, swishing his hips and scrunching up his shoulders and declaring in a small, feminine voice, "Look at me! I'm very important! I have very important work to do!". The fact that he was in Birkenstocks made this especially horrifying, they dragged behind his raised feet in a way that made him look like he was sliding around in his mother shoes. he did this for much longer than you might imagine, back and forth and back and forth. I opted for a nervous laugh rather than a well deserved "F*** You." (I had just promised TC that I would stop using that word before dark). When we were back in the car waiting for the engine to warm up and, in my case, silently calculating what it would cost to replace every pair of shoes in this man's closet with a pair of six inch heels, John looked at me and very calmly (thats John's style) said: 'I don't think men should ever make fun of women by walking around on pretend high heels and making voices." Ditto John.

But Mr. Ass was wrong about something else, at least by my calculations. Women didn't stop knitting and sewing because they just decided, about one and one half generations ago, that they didn't want to do it anymore, or because they could not resist the allure of shoulder pads. Women decided to stop knitting and sewing (and, arguably, cooking) because it was suddenly (and for the first time in american history) no longer economically advantageous to make your family's clothing by hand. It was cheaper to buy it. That had never before been the case, but suddenly it was the indisputable truth.

The American housewife has always been a small business manager of sorts, you design a way of life around a budget and try to apply as much thrift and ingenuity as possible, you develop skills and proficiency where they are needed, you select your suppliers and materials carefully, and you try to finish the month with something left over, and if we get lucky the whole thing operates with at least some opportunity for creative expression. If its less expensive to buy something than it is to make it then the only proper decision, from a business manager's persepctive, is to buy it. That's just simple Home Economics. And buy it we did. Buy it we do. That's another topic altogether. But you can see how this very important shift has had such an impact on all of us, because in some sense it began a dependency on the companies that now make everything for us. I have taken part (or compulsively dominated is probably a better description) many discussions about why making things by hand feels so good. Is it such a mystery? If consumerism has become about our physical dependence on others to make things for us, then making things for ourselves is one of the most empowering - if not downright rebellious -  things that we can do.

Oh dear, this was going to be about Joelle and I haven't mentioned her in a very long time.

So, back to the beginning.... When I got back from visiting Joelle, I called Melanie Falick, who is both mine and Joelles editor and also a good friend. I told her that what I saw in Joelles book was exactly what I wanted to be able to do with my next book. I told her that Joelle's was the first craft book that I had seen that would guarantee the reader / maker, through the guided selection of materials, exceptional grasp of the laws and temperments of color, and versatile, timeless design, a finished project that would be more valuable (I'm talking street value here) than anything that could be purchased for the price of its materials. "Everything looks like something you would have seen for hundreds of dollars at Takashamaya, but simple to make!" I said, dropping the name of every handmade-obsessed New Yorker's favorite now-closed department store. "I feel completely inspired by what she's doing, and I want to do EXACTLY the same thing with More Weekend Sewing!" Melanie was quiet for a minute, and then told me basically to calm down and try to think of a premise for my next book that was actually my own.* Melanie is quite good at keeping me in line.

What Joelle (and Denyse Schmidt, and Natalie Chanin, and some other very talented people, some of whom I feel very luck to call friends) has done is to elevate craft to the place that it needs to be in order to take hold in our society as anything more than a hobby. Her books, her business, and her being are about quality and art and making things by hand that are functional and beautiful, things which will hold, indefinitely, an intrinsic and real value.

More Last Minute Knitted Gifts is actually sitting on my desk today, which is what prompted me to post this in the first place. I need to swing by Purl, maybe tomorrow, and pick up some crazy beautiful yarn. I only knit one Christmas gift a year (and admittedly half the people on my list will be getting a box of Trader Joes Chocolate Covered Peppermint JoJo's, which I have not yet learned to make by hand) and this year I've decided that Denyse would look excellent in the beret on page 70 with those cute short little bangs of hers poking out. I doubt that I will make it out the door before spending an hour choosing and buying yarn for this blanket, which is almost sensory over-load. I hope Joelle is there so that I can rope her into helping me pick colors.

*I am indeed working on a new book with Melanie Falick, but its not More Weekend Sewing. I'll keep you posted!

Macaroni Love Story: Available Now, Only at Spoonflower

Heather Ross24 Comments

I am so pleased to announce my newest line of printed fabrics, Macaroni Love Story. Macaroni Love Story will only be available at Spoonflower, and only for a limited time. And if you get over there soon you can sign up for a drawing to win the whole collection.

One of my favorite things about Spoonflower is that you can order designs (your own, mine, and lots of others) to be printed on a wide variety of fabrics, including the lovely linen swatched below. The lawn and the linen happen to be my favorites, but you can order a set of swatches and see them all. There is also a nice soft spongey jersey that happens to be organic, and a lovely sateen that would be perfect for a back to school dress. Most fabrics are 54-58" wide (the least expensive, option, a quilting weight cotton, is 44" wide), which goes quite a long way when you're making stuff for babies and kids.

This collection includes two colorways, aqua and sunset. Here is AQUA:

Its not a coincidence that these colorways are similar to those that I used in Far Far Away and Far Far Away II. They both, emply orange, of course. As my husband says, orange is the color that goes with everything but rhymes with nothing.

Here's SUNSET:


The Mouse Story

Heather Ross70 Comments

our schoolhouse, after an early snow stormEven I, teller of outlandish tales of an unconventional childhood, have the sense to know that some stories are better off not told. As much as I have been tempted to put it all down, The Placenta Story will never exist in print. Neither will The Story of The Night our House Burned Down (Also Known as The Most Unsuccessful Sleep-over Ever), or The Story About the Time the Policemen Came. Likewise for The Story About the Year That our Well Made us Sick, or What Really Happened to Triscuit The Kitten.

Until a few days ago I would have put The Mouse Story on that list too. But last Sunday something happened in Vermont that is a story in itself, and while it will likely begin a debate about wether or not children should be allowed to touch dead things (which I, for the record, am not condoning), its actually a story about understanding and acceptance and its worth telling even if it is a little frightening. 

The Mouse Story

When my sister and I were very small, perhaps 5 or 6, we loved an old tomcat. His name was Teddy, and he was such a wet black color that even when you were very close to him it was difficult to make out the shape of his chin or where his legs began. Usually it was just his eyes that you could see, and they were used to convey little else than a mixture of wisdom and intense annoyance. He had already been living in the one room schoolhouse when we moved into it, so no one knew for sure how old he was. Now, when I imagine him living with a young, beautiful, broke single mother and two tiny little girls on top of a cold mountain, its easy to believe that when he began to hunt for us it was because he knew far better than we did how close we three toed the line of survival.

Teddy’s strategy for getting through a Vermont winter was similar to our mother’s: sleep through as much of it as possible. In the coldest months he would curl up for hours and hours under the pot belly wood-stove that was our sole source of heat, sometimes for so long that his whiskers would begin to twist up at the tips and his thick black fur crackled when you touched it. My sister and I would dry off in front of the stove after our bed-time baths, while he watched us suspiciously from underneath, peering out between the chrome clawed feet. We would wait until he wasn’t looking and yank him out by his thick tail, and run as fast as we could clutching him in our arms, trying to get him into our bed while he was still hot. Then we would stuff him under the covers and scramble around, holding the blankets down in every direction. The point was not to convince him to stay, it was just to keep him under there long enough to warm things up. He would eventually tear his way free, throwing disgusted glances over his shoulder as he marched back to his stove. We would wake up hours later, with the stove gone out and the house filled with that dusty cold blue morning light, to find him stretched out with stiff legs against our backs, pushing us slowly off our mattress, stealing back his heat.

The first mouse that Teddy brought us was very fat. I found him early one morning next to my sister, who was still asleep, and pulled him by his tail onto the palm of my hand. He hadn’t been dead for very long, maybe just minutes. His belly was a perfect creamy white and his fur was soft and clean. I guessed that this was probably an inside mouse, not the burly field variety. His eyes were closed, but just barely, and when I spread apart his tiny claws I could see that he had hands that were like mine, pink and with lines in all the same places. It was far easier to believe that he was sleeping than to understand that he was dead, so I made a small bed for him with toilet paper and a mate-less wool sock and arranged him on his side with one arm over the covers, the way I imagined that people who lived in houses that were never cold would sleep.

When my sister woke up I showed her what I had done, but when I tried to pull the blankets back to point to the perfect white fur on our mouse’s belly I found that he had grown stiff, his one crooked arm now firmly holding his sock blanket tightly in place. This was not our first lesson in rigamortis, because we had seen plenty of not-so-freshly killed small animals in our lifetimes, but it was the overhead light-bulb moment that began a season or three of dressing and staging sometimes elaborate dioramas peopled by small mammals, all of them dressed and arranged just before their limbs began to stiffen. Action figures had just been invented, but were out of our reach geographically and economically. We knew about them, though, and were more than a little inspired by the commercials for them that had begun to appear during Saturday morning cartoons. I remember knitting a bright red scarf from a skein of embroidery thread on two toothpicks for a Blue Jay that Teddy had swiped off a snowy limb. Romeo and Juliet was a constant theme, as were many of the greek myths. There was a thin young chipmunk bride dressed in antique lace, her groom a fat old blind mole wearing nothing but a top hat. We liked that he looked as though he had gone to his own wedding having forgotten his pants, being blind and all.

We managed to keep this a secret from our mother, usually. She would not have been horrified, because she wasn’t afraid of anything. She and teddy had that in common. She would walk straight out the door and into the middle of the night to get the cigarettes she had forgotten in the car or a piece of firewood for the stove, glaring back at the sets of shining eyes that always surrounded our little house. When we walked by alone, those eyse would seem to be looming, stalking. When she or Teddy was with us, they seemed to cower. Still, we kept our new playthings out of her path. But then came the social event of the season, too big to be overlooked. It was a debutante ball based on a page from Eloise that included feather caps, though I can’t remember who wore them. Preparation had gone on for days. It was heavily attended and went on into the wee hours, but ended in disaster, as some parties that go on too long are apt to do. The guests had begun to smell and thus were discovered and crashed by our angry uninvited mother, who threw every last one of them out the back door and into the winter. Teddy, who ate only the freshest of foods, looked on with disinterest.

Are you thoroughly shocked yet? Image how Teddy felt. Here he had worked so hard to provide a warm, fat meal for two scrawny little girls and all they wanted to do was dress it up.

Eventually we started to sew and knit for dolls, who could be counted on not to rot. Teddy died of extreme old age in late summer in the flower garden when we were nine. My mother knew that he was dead and not asleep because he was in the shade. He picked his spots much more carefully than that. We understood by then that people, if they are lucky, live a long, long time, but that most other things do not. We knew that it was OK to love something long after it had died. I’m not saying its OK to dress it up. I’m saying its OK to love it. In the world that we created for ourselves in that remote house surrounded by shining eyes and small societies we were vastly outnumbered and we knew it. Being afraid would not do, and we were naturally curious (and, at times, bored) enough to gain an understanding of what happened around us. If fear is the beginning of hate, then understanding is the beginning of love.

I think maybe this was also the beginning of my design career, if you can stand the idea of that. I made the mistake of making this claim ten years ago to a young student  from SCAD who had called to interview me about how I started designing clothes. I had been put on a list of mentor designers used by textile students to fulfill a professional interview requirement. It was the first call I ever got, and also the last.

I hadn’t told that story many times since, and never in front of new friends or clients. Until, that is, last weekend during dinner at our August 15th/16th Weekend Sewing Workshop at Blueberry Hill. It was likely the combination of being in Vermont among what felt like like-minded new friends and perhaps a little too much wine during cocktail hour at the teepee, and once again wanting to find a new way to field that “how did you learn to sew” or “how did you get your start?” question. After I told it I looked around at a few shocked faces and had that sinking feeling that I would likely be remembered for that little mouse story more than anything else I would do or say over the weekend, because that’s how it works. I fell asleep that night wondering if I would ever learn to keep my mouth shut.

Sunday morning was our last and was full of rushing around, Denyse led a great little workshop and I was distracted by my own self imposed impossible deadline to sew a tie for Tony the Innkeeper. One guest, Jean, didn’t seem to be making a lot of progress on her project and would shoo me away whenever I got close to her workstation, but I didn’t think too much of it. We gathered for a group picture and then broke apart again, and then Jean came up to me and put something into my hands. It took me a minute to see what it was, but everyone else already knew. It was a mouse. A perfectly preserved, mummified by nature (it had been found along the road, and had been there for so long that its decomposition was complete and it no longer smelled), little gray mouse. She was dressed in - and this was really remarkable -  a tiny Ice Cream Dress made from Liberty of London fabrics, and laid out on a fabric barge surrounded by flowers, and covered with a perfect little Denyse Schmidt inspired quilt. “Ophelia”, said Jean, “drifting down the river”. “Of course”, I said, “Of course she is”.

I go back to Vermont because that’s where I come from, so I make more sense there, at least to myself. I bring people there because I am determined to show them - to make them understand - how remarkable a place it is. I hadn’t expected to ever be the thing that was made to feel understood.

Blueberry Hill Inn is a lot like the old houses I grew up in in Vermont, and nearly as remote. It has musty books and creaky floors and wildflowers and a frog pond. It sits against the top of a mountain and is surrounded by lots of shining eyes at night. And there is something about the way that they keep their front door open all day so that when you are standing in the kitchen you can see straight down the front hall, and then, because the front yard drops away beneath a high stone stoop, and because the bright sunlight obscures the line between them, the hall fades right into a deep meadow that reaches all the way to the tops of the mountains beyond. The whole of the hillside feels like its just another room. Liesl and I were up late one night between workshops, talking with our husbands in the Inn’s sitting room. It had been raining very hard all evening. Suddenly, a rubbery little frog bounced frantically across the hearth. I picked him up and brought him to the front door, intending to shoo him into the wet grass. But at the last minute I realized that he may very well be an inside frog, so I left the door open and put him on the stoop, and walked away leaving him to decide where he had come from.