Hare's Moon Yarns is now open! Click here for handspun gorgeous yarns from England.

For knitting patterns on sale by instant digital download, see our range here: Hare's Moon knitting patterns.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Out with the old and in with the new - VATMOSS

Anyone in the EU who sells digital files should now be aware of the changes in VAT legislation that come into force on 1 January 2015. There are details on HMRC's website.

This has had a big impact on my plans for developing the knitting patterns that I have so far designed. I currently sell them on Etsy, as Folksy does not provide a platform for digital downloads. However, Etsy has been extremely tardy in its information to sellers and only a few days ago announced that it would not be handling the VAT on behalf of European sellers as it believes that is our responsibility. Unfortunately, HMRC and the rest of the EU disagree.

In short, I cannot comply with the EU directive by myself. It would mean collecting 2 non-conflicting items of evidence for the purchaser's address, and storing them for 10 years on an EU approved secure server, as well as submitting VAT returns every 3 months covering all of my sales (not just the digital patterns). Up to this point, the VAT threshold has been £81,000 for small businesses; when you make less than that each year you are not required to register for VAT. From 1 January 2015, there will be no threshold for digital sales, and the EU is hoping to extend this to physical items as early as 2016.

For micro businesses across the EU this is a disaster. There are several petitions which you can sign on Change.org. The EU-wide petition is here: Change.org EU petition for suspension of VAT changes and you can read up on the comments on Twitter using the #VATMOSS hashtag. Other seller platforms such as Ravelry and Folksy have been meeting with HMRC over the past couple of weeks to bring to HMRC's attention how the changes will impact small and micro businesses. It is sad, but not surprising, that the EU commissioners did not thoroughly investigate the impact since the changes were first announced in 2007.

However badly the directive has been constructed, it will still come into law in a few days time. This means I have had to re-think how I sell my knitting patterns now and in the future. I have been looking at other platforms - some that currently focus on ebook sales as the VAT directive affects them too. I'm now feeling more positive than I was a week ago; I have a platform I can use who will also handle the VAT on my behalf, and it has spurred me on to continue to design and develop more patterns and offer them in different formats.

Until I have my own website, I will list my patterns for sale here on my blog, under the Hare's Moon page over on the right. The link will take the buyer through to Payhip.com where you can purchase the pattern simply and easily using PayPal. I will also be working on collections of patterns, rather than single items. These will be for sale via Payhip and by CD mailed to you. Stay tuned for the release of these pattern collections later in 2015.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

It's in the blood

Back from our Danish adventure (with a little bit of Sweden thrown in as well), and have some images to share with you all!

Our 4 nights in Copenhagen were great, so much to see in such a relatively small place. I could definitely adopt the culture of not hurrying anywhere and always time for coffee and cake.

Since I've been back, I've started to move some of my Etsy shop stock over to Folksy. For those who are not familiar with Folksy, it's a British-based marketplace similar to Etsy, but I like the feel of it better for my yarns and hares. If you are interested, check it out Hare's Moon Yarns on Folksy

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Soon to go a-viking!

Getting really excited now as in just a few days my daughter and I are embarking on a lightning raid to Denmark! We have 4 nights in the centre of Copenhagen, from which we will venture to Roskilde for the viking museum and also into Sweden across The Bridge *squee*. Yes, that bridge, from that SkandNoir series. We have been learning some Danish, not so that we blend in (I'm reliably informed that the moment I open my mouth every local will immediately speak English anyway) but because it seems rude not to at least try. I can count to 10, ask where the toilet is, get a table for 2 and almost certainly mispronounce everything on the menu but I'll know roughly what I'm trying to order. It's been about 6 years since I travelled east rather than west, and I am so looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, my efforts in writing knitting patterns are being rewarded with a steady trickle of sales at Hare's Moon Yarns. I have published 3 so far: Medici the Hare, a newborn size baby cardigan with optional scratch mitts, and most recently a pattern for socks for feet that are wider than normal or for those with swollen ankles. The long-term plan is to move to my own website next year, and also publish a collection of patterns in a book/download rather than just individual ones. But small steps....

On the needles at the moment:
* 2 jumpers with shoulder buttons for 2 little boys
* a shocking pink shawl/scarf in extremely thin random yarn, possibly cotton, for me
* a pair of bunny slippers commissioned from a co-worker

On the wheel:
Gotland cream, will be chunky weight once plied

We recently also made some blackberry and vanilla jam, which was distributed at work.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Not giving it all away

After years of people telling me "you should sell those!" about the things I make, I have recently has some people say "why don't you give that away, why do you want money for it?".

There is a very simple answer. Time. I don't claim to be the best knitter, writer, maker or the best anything, but what I produce comes from more than 35 years of learning and investing in myself. Just as no one would expect a plumber to fix leaking pipes for nothing, why should people expect any other hand-made item to always be free - or practically given away at the lowest possible price which does not even cover the material costs let alone the labour time?

I do give a lot of what I make away as gifts. People in general don't see that, because they are not the recipients. I also spend time helping others learn to knit, sew, make etc without charging, because it is important that these skills are used and passed on through the generations so they are not lost. Equally, I pay for the raw materials, and wouldn't dream of quibbling over the prices I am charged.

It's not just in the area of physically making things that I refuse to give it all away for free. My time is precious to me, and while sometimes I might work a few extra minutes for no pay in my day job, that doesn't mean I am always going to be the first to voluteer for overtime - whether paid or as TOIL - because I have other things that I do in my life that are way more important than the day job I do. Sometimes if you give too much, people begin to expect it all the time and get pissy when you say no.

My beliefs centre on the concept of maintaining yourself so that you can then assist others. It might sound a bit selfish, but if you are not physically, mentally and financially in a good place, how can you help others without bringing the whole house of cards down? This applies to my time as well. I need time for myself, in order to function well for and with others. How I spend my own time is down to me.

So, I'm not forcing anyone to buy my items, or pay for my time, and generally people don't need to. But if I occasionally ask for some recompence, it's not because I am being greedy. I just need to balance things like everyone else does.    

Friday, 4 July 2014

Meet the family

Just thought I'd show off the range of Hare toys I've been working on recently. The pattern is now available at Hare's Moon Yarns as are Medici, Archie and Bella.


                                                                Bella, Medici and Archie                                                      


                                                                Florence and Medici   







Sunday, 29 June 2014

Very exciting!

I am super excited to announce that my pattern for a knitted hare toy is now published and available to download as a pdf file in my Etsy shop Hare's Moon Yarns!

The pattern costs just £2 (approx US $3) and includes several pictures to aid you in the construction of the hare.

I've also just finished my latest from the pattern: Bella.

She is also available for sale ~ or you can request a custom-knitted hare by contacting my through the shop on Etsy.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

It's been a while

It feels like weeks since I did any spinning, but it's actually only been 3 or 4, and for much of that time I have been busily knitting and writing. The Hares are coming along nicely, and I've also been working on a pair of socks for my mother-in-law. For those who haven't been here from the start, my MIL has diabetes and her feet swell up so that conventional mass-produced socks tend to constrict her ankles too much. So I hand knit her socks, with loose tops, which are more comfortable for her.

I decided to treat her to something other than the usual stocking stitch socks this time, and have been doing some simple lace instead:

They do feel a bit on the small side though, so they may end up as a donation to one of the other residents in my MIL's care home and I'll make her another pair. As she lives 4000 miles away, I can't ask her to try one on while I'm knitting it just to check the size!

I've just bought some more undyed fibre - some Cheviot, and some Lincoln - so more adventures in dying and spinning will follow soon :)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Introducing Medici Hare

I have been working on developing a knitting pattern over the past few weeks, with a couple of prototypes made for the two girls I know expecting babies this summer. Below is the third hare, and the one I think is just about right; Medici.

He is knitted with some of my recently handspun Gotland yarn.

I now have a couple of people test-knitting the pattern for me and hopefully I'll have it available for sale in my Etsy shop soon.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ethics of trying to help

This is a post about a dilema.

There are a lot of inmates, not only in the USA but around the world, who have no one on the outside. When I say they have no one, I mean that their family and friends have moved on with their lives and rarely communicate (if at all) with the inmate. For inmates serving relatively long sentences, this often happens around the 5-7 year mark, and often also coincides with a change in behaviour of the inmate. They either throw themselves into the life of an inmate, which can open up situations of violence and illegal behaviour, or they can come to the conclusion that they want to make it but they will have to do it on their own.

I could never criticise anyone related to an inmate who chose to move on with their lives. Ultimately, the inmate is the one who is supposed to pay for their crime, not the entire family and extended friends network. And for those who chose to stick around, it does often feel like you are serving a sentence with them - not to the same extent of deprivation or punishment, but a sentence nonetheless.

I've been writing to inmates for the best part of 25 years, and over time I have found a number of ways to contact inmates. Before the widespread use of the internet, I used magazines, and some magazines would allow inmates to place small ads free of charge. I have also known of websites that would list inmates for free, thus providing the means for them or their friends and family to reach out without having to find extra money on top of the household bills and phone calls and stationary and postage etc

And then there are websites that charge for a "service" of giving inmates the opportunity to appeal for correspondence. I have often wondered why some offer this for free and others charge a fee.

I have seen the fee justified by some websites as covering "administration costs". But I have to question just how much of the fee really does go on administration, and how much becomes profit. And there is the rub: should free-world individuals profit by exploiting inmates when there is no real need to do so? Even under the premis of helping to reduce recidivism?

Take a well known website, Write A Prisoner. It's been around a while, and offers an advert for $40 per year to any inmate (unless they happen to be located in a state that does not permit inmates to solicit for correspondence via the internet or printed publications). It's not a sleek-looking site, in fact it looks like it was built about 15 years ago and hasn't had much effort put into keeping it in the current century. Currently there are just over 900 inmate adverts on the site. That's 900 x $40 as a baseline. That's $36000 a year just for placing the ads. But look a little closer and you find that there are charges to update information on each advert, charges for adding a photo or changing a photo, charges for adding extra words above the 250-word standard profile, charges for adding artwork etc etc

These adverts are submitted in electronic format. No one at the website has to sit there typing in the details from a pdf or a sheet of coffee-stained paper. There is the option to email the inmate the first time you contact them through the site; the site prints off the email, pops it into an envelope and sends it via traditional mail. Some of these are received and some are not. Still doesn't justify the $40 fee though, and we haven't even looked at the revenue share from the commercial adverts.

Write A Prisoner claims to fund some community projects from its revenue. There is a Scholarship for the children of inmates and children impacted by crime. The Scholarship is $250. There is no information on how many have been awarded since 2010. They also advertise "Welcome Home Kits" for inmates who are being released but not to a family home. Apparently 43 such kits have been distributed, although they could not be sent to inmates in every state as many do not even permit those picking up a released inmate to take some free-world clothes for the inmate to wear when leaving the prison.

There is a Book Donation scheme. Write a Prisoner says they have donated $ 3,437.00 across 39 books-for-inmates schemes in the US. They do not say whether that is solely in cash, or if they count the value of the books as a like-for-like donation sum.

Why am I saying all of this? Do I have an axe to grind? Not really. I'm not against anyone making an honest buck from their own hard graft. I just have a thing about those who say they are doing something, but where there is no hard evidence for it happening. And then we come to the concept of writing to inmates in the first place.

Believe it or not, it is absolutely possible to write to an inmate without falling in love with them, or they with you. It is totally possible to correspond with an inmate less than once a day, by traditional mail, for many years, without them asking you to send them anything at all. But you only have to glance at the forums attached to these websites to wonder if they should be called "Date a Prisoner" instead. There is a conveyor belt of women (and some men, but few and far between) who "want to bring some sunshine into an inmate's life", who treat writing as some kind of game or therapy, get caught up in the "romance" of the situation, and then after approximately 2 years find that either he isn't what they had told themselves he was, or he has been released and had no intention of going home to them. Especially when they have never met the inmate face to face. Then the phrase "Hell hath no fury" really comes into play! 

I wonder how many penpal correspondences would become relationships if the websites did not post photographs of the inmates. If people wrote based only on what the advert says - because naturally no one enters into a correspondence with the intention of finding love.... do they?

For a website that wants to be taken seriously, it is basic Marketing 101 that brand is everything. Anyone dropping into these forums would be forgiven for running to the hills with the amount of hybristophiliacs gushing about their latest phone call or visit, or making plans on what they will do the second their penpal steps out of prison. Their understanding of the issues and difficulties faced by newly-released inmates is next to nothing, but still it will be wedding bells and babies and someone to pay the bills and live happily ever after with. People wonder where stereotypes come from: they come from real people, unfortuneately. They don't want the reality of the situation, because, you know, "haters gonna hate" and all that jazz.

So when looking for an inmate to correspond with - which by the way, I still do think is an extremely worthy cause and can be highly rewarding for both parties - I think it is worth asking yourself whether the ethics of the website parading these inmates like a beauty pageant is really what you want to subscribe to or be associated with. If you care about the concept of helping those who are unable to help themselves, perhaps one of the free services would be more appropriate. Like Lost Vault.

Monday, 5 May 2014

New forum for those involved with inmates in TDCJ

While TDCJ have improved their website recently, there is still a gap in the general information that many people seek when a loved one goes to prison in Texas, or for those who write to inmates in TDCJ units.

There is now a new forum that aims to provide as much information as possible on all aspects of TDCJ, uncluttered by too much chit-chat and references to what might be possible elsewhere but not relevant to TDCJ.

The new forum is here: Texas Prison Support

You will need to register to see the whole forum, and then you will need to activate your account in order to post.

So if you have any burning questions, don't be shy or think you will look stupid for asking - we were all new to this once!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

This blog (and blogger) is here to help

Why do I blog?

I was asked that a few days ago, by someone who knew I did it but hadn't seen this blog or knew what the content is. It made me consider my reasons not only for blogging here, but for a few other things that I spent time online doing. My overall motivation is to help people.

In my day job, my work is a mix of helping different sets of often contradictory user groups in achieving similar aims. Conflict resolution and compromise are big parts of my daily mind set. It is often the case that to help one user group actually disadvantages the others, so a balance has to be found and sometimes the balance helps no one particularly well.

For as long as there are prisons and inmates, there will be an ever moving conveyor belt of people who want to write to them. I say "write", but more frequently these days emails and phone calls are also included in that scenario, and for some, also visits. All of these freeworld people have to start somewhere.

There are several forums online related to inmates, and communications with those in prison. Some are big, some smaller, some focused on a specific group of inmates or type of correspondence. Each has their place and their uses, along with their egos and atmospheres. Think of them as pubs or bars along a small town high street. You can crawl from one to the next, slowly becoming intoxicated by the various flavours on offer. Some may have a doorman, or a dress code, and some may be the old style bear pits that regularly get raided every weekend. But these days you can also get your beer at the supermarket, and at small corner shops. And some people brew their own.

This blog is me brewing my own flavour of information for those who are in some way involved with an inmate. This blog is (hopefully) not a pretentious champagne or an overbearing red or a thick pint of stout. The concept is that by sharing some of the stuff that my husband and I go through on our journey, we might help others avoid future pitfalls or perhaps show that there is a different way of doing something.

With that in mind, I have discovered a small piece of helpful information that is now available on the TDCJ inmate locator pages. When you search for an inmate and get to their details, you will now also see whether they are eligible for visits. I think this is a really useful piece of information, though you should always call the unit before travelling to see an inmate because the TDCJ website is usually 24 hours behind real time.

But well done to TDCJ.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Reality TV? Move along please, nothing to see here

From time to time, on some forums that I belong to that are concerned with inmates and their families, there are request from media production companies and journalists. These requests are usually looking for people who have "fallen for a felon" or "are in love with their inmate penpal". We even had one recently that was offering $500 to cover the "first date".

So-called reality TV is all the rage, though I really don't understand why. Could it be because the people watching have less interesting lives themselves? Or possibly that the people watching can feel smug in the assumption that their lives are in some way better? I think it's probably a bit of both, depending on the subject content.

But why would anyone want to watch a programme about a woman in love with an inmate? Be under no illusions, there really is no way to accurately depict this lifestyle in a sensitive way, and really that's not what the media companies want anyway. I can only think that any such programme would turn out like the "My Big Fat Gypsy" series. On one hand, it shows Irish traveller life in modern Britain, but on the other it holds those people up for ridicule with their fake tans, their gaudy bling and their attitudes to women. How would a programme on inmates and their partners on the outside be any different?

I recon anyone watching my life through a lens would be thinking either "sad cow" or yawning into their popcorn. My husband did a bad thing that got him to prison, but he's not a typical bad boy now he is in there. He is not in fights, is not in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation in Texas, and often called the SHU or the Hole in other states, effectively a prison within a prison), and is not fighting to proclaim his innocence. He is also not a muscle man or covered in tattoos. I'm not on benefits, don't make my 27 kids go without just so I can visit him, and we don't spend hours on the phone every day using money I should be spending on utility bills. Regular readers of this blog will know that we don't get phone calls at all.

I also don't sit around wallowing in self-pity that my "one true love" is locked away on the other side of the ocean for at least another 10 years. It could not be said that I am "wasting my life" or putting it "on hold". When I'm not at work, I do a lot of crafts, socialise and travel. Sometimes I do these things by myself, and sometimes I do them with friends or family.

In fact, I dare say I am very much like thousands of other women in the UK and the rest of the world, who live by themselves and are getting on with life. I just happen to also be married to a man who is in prison in America.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


The dictionary defines xenophobia as follows:

"Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries:"

By chance this week I have learned of the changes that TDCJ have made to the procedures for visitation across all units effective from 1 March 2014. The full document can be found here TDCJ Visitation Changes (the jump from the TDCJ Hompage is currently not active).

While I appreciate that some of these things will make visitation easier for a lot of people, particularly the inclusion of nephews and nieces in the "close relative" catagory for contact visits, there are other things that make it much more difficult for those travelling a long way for visitation - not just from overseas, but anywhere more than 300 miles away.

The item that affects me the most is the new requirement for the visitor ID to have an address that matches the TDCJ records for that person. For the past 8 years, my passport has been adequate ID but that does not contain my address details. I do not drive, so I do not have a European driving licence. I would offer a utility bill, as that is usually accepted here in the UK as proof of address, but as TDCJ do not permit those overseas to register for the inmate phone service it would seem unlikely that a bill would be accepted for anything else. One would think that my flight details might also be proof that I do indeed still live all the way over here and will be returning after the visit, but I don't hold out much hope of that either - considering most TDCJ staff I have known over the years admit to having never been out of the state let alone out of the country and look at my passport as something wierd and unknown, expecting them to understand what a flight print out is is probably pushing things too far.

The only way over this particular hurdle appears to be for me to get a provisional driving licence, at the £50 fee (pushing the cost overall of this visit over the £1000 mark). The DirectGov website says the licence is issued within one week - I hope so because I fly out in 4 weeks time and TDCJ gave no warning that the rules would be changing like this. 

I know TDCJ are not there for my convenience. But there does appear to be a consistent level of general ignorance about anything that happens outside of Texas when it comes to making any rules at all. It is also starting to appear as xenophobia when you look at the following:

  • International postage stamps are not available through commisarry at many units, meaning inmates must use 3 inland stamps and pay more than is required for the service
  • Inmates are not permitted to call friends and family overseas, and those people living overseas (meaning, outside of the USA, excluding Alaska and Hawaii) are not permitted to registered their phone for the Inmate Telephone Service
  • Visitors must obtain photo ID with a current address included - something that is not required in many other countries including Britain.
Even the TDCJ Visitor Survey which aparently the recent changes have been based on, gives little acknowledgement to those visiting from anywhere other than Texas. It asks how ofter you visit and the options are:
  • Every weekend
  • More than twice per month
  • Once per month
  • When I am able to but not on a consistent basis
The assumption there is, if you don't go at least once a month, you are inconsistent. I consistently visit every 9-11 months, and have done for 8 years.

There is a question about what items would make visiting with children easier, but the way it is worded you can only respond to that if you actually have children. As anyone who visits TDCJ units knows, when children are in the visit room it affects everyone else there, so why should I not also be able to say that providing colouring pencils and paper would be a good idea?

Question 10 says: Do you communicate with the offender by letter, email (JPay) or phone before a visit?
 The answer options are:
  • Always
  • Sometimes
  • Never
Again, this assumes that it is possible to do those things, and "communicate" implies it is a two-way process. TDCJ inmates cannot respond to Jpay emails via a Jpay kiosk like inmates in other states can. So sure, I can email my husband and say I'm on my way, but he cannot then reply and tell me there is sickness at the unit and visitation might be affected for example. If you answer "Never", which I would have to do if it referred only to the phone calls, that would also have implications that are not correct - assuming that I always turn up unannounced and unexpected which is never the case as these things take a good 3 months planning at least and considerably longer to save up for. Ticking the "Always" option implies that all 3 means of contact are available to us, which they are not.

Finally, the last field on the survey asks for suggestions on how the unit can make visitation more enjoyable. I started typing my response, but the character limit is only around 200 - not nearly enough to mention the things I would like to, such as maybe sometimes using the outside seating at my husband's unit which has never been used in the 8 years he has been there. The staff at the unit are usually polite and efficient, even when their equipment doesn't work properly, and I have no issue with them at all. It's the TDCJ Administration that appear to be bunkered down in Austin and Huntsville like a bunch or Preppers, desperate to keep everyone out and everyone in, both at the same time.

And to top it all, when I hit the "submit" button, I get an error message. I have emailed the webservice team about all of this, but you know, I'm not Texan, so I'm not holding out for a response any time soon.

Monday, 10 February 2014

New horizons

While this blog is principally about my husband and myself, we do also have kids (not together) and their antics naturally impact on our lives too.

This month, my daughter and her boyfriend have made some big changes. After both being made redundant last December, both managed to find new jobs within a few weeks - something my husband and I are extremely proud of them for achieving as the economic climate is not helpful to youngsters at the moment and so many of their friends have struggled to find even part-time work.

My daughter got a job in specialist animal care, something she has always wanted to do and a big change from retail. But the job is in another city, and while it is only about 40 miles as the crow flies, our crows generally don't use public transport! As her job was the one with better prospects, the kids have moved to that city and are now no longer within about 5 miles of me here.

She and I haven't always lived together, or near to each other, but the past 4 years or so that she has been up here have been good. I'm going to miss seeing her as frequently, but it is an excellent opportunity for them both and the little house they are renting is lovely and suits them very well. Trying not to spend a lot of money on them helping them to move and settle in has been a bit difficult for me - I want to spend what I have on them, but I also have to cover my next trip to see my husband in a couple of months time.

I have plenty to keep myself occupied though. I have almost finished spinning some soy silk and silk noil yarn called Dragonfly that I hope to put up for sale this week. The colours are strong and the yarn is very soft but also very strong too. And I have taken delivery of about a kilo of Gotland fleece which I am very excited about. It too is very soft now that it has been scoured, and I can't wait for it to dry out completely so that I can start carding and spinning it.

Two young girls I know are pregnant and expecting their babies this summer, so I have lots of knitting to be getting on with, and there is still that handspun, hand dyed project for myself that I am knitting with a hope of wearing when I see hubby next. I'd better get on with it all!

Monday, 27 January 2014

New year, same strangeness

Just when you think you've heard it all before, TDCJ come up with a new one.

Recently there was a power cut at hubby's unit, which in itself is not unusual. They normally have secondary generators, as you would expect for a prison, that kick in if the main supply is interrupted. Apparently the power cut, or possibly the cause of the cut, damaged the water treatment equipment. Hubby says that there were notices put up around the unit warning the inmates not to drink unboiled water until further notice.

A sensible precaution you would think. Except TDCJ inmates are prohibited from having any equipment that actually boils liquid (also a sensible precaution, before anyone thinks I am against it).

Now, I'm all for encouraging self-responsibility. I understand that this is an unusual and unplanned incident and that inmates have the choice whether to drink water provided in their cells or not. And it is not the middle of summer, thank goodness. But surely it would have been even more sensible to draft in supplies of bottled water until the treatment equipment had been fixed, just to reduce the risk of contamination-related illness? If TDCJ can stump up $4000 for each new recruit who makes it through training and works on a short-staffed unit, surely there is a bit of cash there for a few gallons of water that is safe to drink.

And stranger yet, the letter in which hubby was informing me of all this appeared to spend 7 days in the mailroom before making it out of the gate to be franked.