Productivity hacks

I was out for a walk today when it occurred to me to write about how I’m getting some things done lately. I really have no idea what I was thinking about right before that idea.

Earlier this year I needed to add to my home office, a whole lot of stuff from the office of my part-time job. This is no doubt familiar to many of you. When I’m not making stuff out of yarn I’m a bookkeeper. So I moved equipment, paper files, hanging files cart, more paper and supplies into a corner of my fiber studio. I didn’t have the furniture to replicate my office and as I started getting into the rhythm of doing that work from home I realized that I relied an awful lot on visual prompts. The pile of invoices was a filing prompt. The pile of statements was a check printing prompt. And so on.

But I also didn’t want all that stuff out and in view, taking up space, when I wasn’t doing that job. I’ve figured out a system for stacking things in a small space that keeps them in order and still lets me see what work needs to be done.

Meanwhile, I’m managing production queues for hand knitting commissions, sock cranking, and weaving, along with a deep personal knitting queue.

When, you might wonder will she mention hacks? The key for me was realizing that I manage my work with visual cues. I’m a long time list-maker. If there’s a problem to solve or a situation to manage I will always say “we need a list”. I’ve tried the bullet journal. I want to love it, but it isn’t my best solution. What I do make liberal use of is:

  • Sticky notes
  • Reminders app
  • Colored pens, markers, & pencils (not productive, just because they’re fun)

Here’s some visuals

These are above my laptop, a quick reminder of things I need or want to do.

It’s pretty low-tech. But it works. That big sheet of paper is the back side of a wall calendar..

I used to worry that I wouldn’t remember to do the work if I couldn’t see it, but that was a lot of yarn that had to be out in the open. Now, new projects get a sticky note. I can easily rearrange them if I want to prioritize the queue

If there’s a hard deadline, especially if it’s a recurring task, I’ll set up a reminder. The. I don’t have to worry that if the thing isn’t right in my path on the day I’ll forget to do it.

If I have really big projects they might get sketched out in my journal, I do use it somewhat, but you can bet there will be a sticky note somewhere pointing me back at the journal page 🙂

Random acts of live video

How to get over stage fright around doing a live video:

Step 1. Find the link to create a video

Step 2. Spend 20 minutes walking around the studio arranging props and looking at myself on the camera screen trying to find a good background

Step 3. Decide my hair looks awful, fuss with hair

Step 4. Wander around the studio some more looking at the phone and the button that says “start live video” and rearrange props some more

Step 5. With only the barest of an outline in mind, press record and start talking

Step 6. As soon as reasonable turn the camera on the props and off the nervous person talking 🙂

Step 7. Remember to remind people to visit the Virtual Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival the first weekend in October

Step 8. Wrap it up, hopefully gracefully, and stop recording.

Step 9. Try to figure out what to press next to save and post the video

Step 10. Reload page over and over until video appears, all the while having a slight panic attack that you lost the video and will have to do it over again.

Step 11. Decide if you want to promote your impromptu, totally unadvertised video.

Step the last. Well, you recorded it so you might as well. Here’s the link (I hope).

Nift-y idea: Buy Local Vermont

Vermont is doing this really cool thing to help Vermont businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are a VT resident visit https://www.gonift.com/vermont to apply for a $30 gift card you can use to support a VT business. The offer begins Sept 8, 2020 and it is on a first-come, first-served basis.

It doesn’t have to be my business, of course. But if you did want to support me, your $30 gift card will get you a pair of my hand-cranked totally awesome cozy, colorful socks plus free first class shipping. Or you can apply the $30 towards any of my scarves, ready-made or a custom order.

My online store isn’t connected directly to Nift so message me and I’ll walk you through using your gift card to place an order.

Shows feet wearing socks, resting on a coffee table
House socks, go out socks — it’s up to you

My world: April 9, 2020

I was mostly a work-from-home even before the pandemic, but there’s a world of difference between “I don’t need to go out” and “don’t go out unless absolutely necessary.” It’s become a little harder to remember what day of the week it is and I need to make a point of getting outside now that my part-time job is on hold.

Happily, on a grey day like today it’s pretty easy to sit back in the comfy chair with coffee and knitting and be OK with not going anywhere. I moved some furniture around in the studio and now I’ve got a good view of the road, and the traffic which is minimal even for this rural location.

The rain has begun and I can almost see the lawn greening up. We might get some snow tonight, but it will probably melt away quickly.

That’s it I guess. Nothing profound. Just a quick hello from Vermont. 👋

On Finishing

I had in mind this morning to write something about finishing. It’s been a while (a long time) since I’ve been here, the blog. As I started to write I happened to notice that I have two posts sitting in the Drafts section. They’ve been there for a while. One for multiple years. This is neither of them, by the way. I am writing about finishing, but neither of those drafts seem to want to be finished.

My intention, why I am here now, was to talk about finishing projects, knitting projects specifically. There are two broad categories: those for others (client commissions) and those for me. The former are always finished in a timely manner. Project out, money in, no question.

Personal projects, on the other hand, are put aside whenever there are too few hours of the day, too many questions about how to proceed, and sometimes even lack of interest. With the busyness of fall/holidays/craft fair season behind me I was able to take stock, assess, and move from languishing work-in-progress to finished object.

On a suggestion from a friend, the post-it note queen, I hauled out the project queue and did an assessment. What was in progress? What is in the queue ready to start? What yarn needs a pattern chosen? Here’s my result:

On the left: accessories On the right: sweaters The big post-its are unstarted/in queue the small are works-in-progress

I have never been a knitter with just one project going at a time. I nearly always have a set of projects going that include: something complicated to be worked in the quiet with no distractions, something mindless for social knitting times, and something in the middle. As well there is usually something that is stuck for one reason or another. This year there were two sweaters stuck at the point of sleeves.

Grace Note designed by Cap Sease for Green Mountain Spinnery

This sweater, as published, has short sleeves. I loved the lace panels when I saw it on display and knew I’d make it for myself. I also knew I’d never wear a short-sleeved wool sweater. Long after I finished the body, the sweater traveled about in my studio. In and out of “I (am/will) work on this now” project baskets, and back and forth between “out of my way, I need room” and “I’ll feel guilty about all the in-progress projects if I can see them pile” areas.

I finally got the first sleeve knit, at least, to just above where I thought the cuff should land on my arm (it’s picked up from the armhole and knit down.) Then it sat for another few weeks waiting for me to put the stitches on a holder, wash & block the sweater, and try it on to make sure of the sleeve length. After that a quick cuff and before I completely lost momentum: the second sleeve.

Donner designed by Elizabeth Doherty, Blue Bee Studio

This one was stuck at sleeves for a different reason entirely. I loved the sweater design, but was determined to use some stash yarn instead of buying new. The pattern calls for a 100% linen yarn which will flow and drape. The yarn I was determined to use was a 50/50 blend of merino wool and tencel. I was convinced that the tencel would allow me to replicate the drape. The other challenge with my yarn substitution was that I had just the amount of yarn called for for my size. The yarn is hand-dyed by a local dyer but I knew that if I ran out there would be no way to exactly replicate the color I had on hand. So, yarn chicken — here goes! The body was finished and sat for months just like the pink sweater. In fact they spent some quality time together in a project basket, vying for my attention as I contemplated their respective sleeve conundrums. I blocked the body of Donner and tried it on and realized that although it fit, it was never going to be the lovely, drapey garment of the original design. There isn’t enough tencel to counteract the memory and springiness of the merino wool. I did decide to finish it though. I weighed the much-reduced ball of remaining yarn and set off to knit sleeve #1. Fortunately this drop-shoulder design also has 3/4 length sleeves. After finishing the first I had just a few grams over half the yarn left. Whew! Second sleeve here we come.

What you don’t see in that post-it project image is that while all of the projects represented by post-its were lurking in my studio I started and finished two other sweaters! I know! Isn’t that crazy?

So, what do we know here? I’m pretty sure I’ll never be a one-at-a-time project kind of girl. But I also know that having too many projects that aren’t progressing makes me antsy. And there is a huge satisfaction that comes from finishing. Not only do I have new sweaters to wear, but I feel slightly less awful about starting something new.

Stopping by the sock machine on a snowy morning

I took a break from sock production in mid-December and I’m just getting back to it now. Last month I took the machine apart, cleaned out all the gunk, oily yarn bits and lint bunnies, and put it back together.

I’ve done this many times, so I wasn’t really worried that I couldn’t get it working again. But, this morning did not go so smoothly. I got the machine threaded with waste yarn and started cranking. And got this.

Many dropped stitches

Everything had been running smoothly, before cleaning, and now the ribber needles were dropping stitches like mad. Once in a while one will go bad and need to be replaced, usually when the latch gets bent. But not five or six all at the same time. Not from the batch I’ve been using regularly for months, if not years.

Ribber needle

I remembered that I hadn’t re-oiled the machine since the cleaning. So I applied oil to the ribber plate so the needles would move smoothly and cranked some more. More holes, more dropped stitches.

I replaced needles, I oiled some more, things improved slightly. I decided to out in some leftover sock yarn and see how the machine liked it. Not so much.

More ladders 😦

So I swapped needles and cranked some more. There was a slight improvement so I put the waste yarn back in to get ready to knit a real sock. Cranked and more drops. By this time I’m swearing and really annoyed. This is a VERY well-behaved machine. I know it’s foibles and generally speaking we get along well. It had to be something I did when I took it apart and reassembled. I had to think back years ago to when I first got the machine and my friend Elsie helped me get it working.

The needles aren’t picking up the yarn consistently. What controls that? Well, the yarn guide. If the yarn isn’t positioned correctly with respect to the needle heads, which only move up/down or in/out, then they can’t catch the yarn to knit it. It was knitting, mostly, but missing often enough that maybe the yarn was in the wrong place. So, I took a look at the yarn guide which I have to remove in order to disassemble the machine. Sure enough, when I put the machine back together I had not gotten the yarn guide seated low enough. It should look like this

A stitch on every needle is the goal

Once I got the guide seated correctly I put in some more leftover sock yarn to see how it would knit.

No dropped stitches!!!!!

Yay! Success! No more swearing! Now it was time to knit a sock for real. I got going and knit the cuff and the sock leg with no issues. It was time to turn the heel. I’ve done this maneuver hundreds of times, and I almost don’t need to think about it. My hands just do the right thing. Well, apparently taking 6 weeks off from using the machine meant a loss of muscle memory. I did things in the wrong order and instead of knitting just on the front stitches to make the sock, I knit around onto the back stitches.

This is one of those unrecoverable errors, at least if you are making ribbed socks. The ribber needles got disengaged at the wrong time so when I knit around to start the heel, they dropped their stitches.

Drat!

With the ribber plate in place on top of the machine, there’s no way to reach in and ladder those stitches back up. I could do it at the end when the sock was off the machine, but frankly, a do-over seemed more prudent. So, I snipped the sock yarn, tied the waste yarn back on, got the stitches and needles back where they belonged.

On the off chance that the sock yarn itself was somehow cursed (it has a weird backstory) I decided to try a sock in a different yarn. Happily, it worked and after I’ve knit the second sock I’ll go back to the lovely speckled blue yarn.

One sock, no unintended holes

I really, strongly considered taking a time-out and doing something else. I’m glad I persevered because clearly this was a problem that wasn’t going to sort itself out, and delaying would only ruin another day in the studio.

Business as usual

Hello February!

Stella designed by Maureen Clark

Taking January to rest, reflect and rejuvenate was a REALLY good idea. I did a little bit of work (knit this Stella sweater for Green Mountain Spinnery) but didn’t subject myself to insane deadlines.

By the end of the month I was itching to get back to work. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself (but I figured it out 🙂.)

One of my biggest projects during the month was to get a handle on my personal knitting queue and stash. It had felt enormous and a bit overwhelming, but the organization process helped me see it wasn’t so bad. To start I pulled out all the projects in progress. Three scarves/wraps suitable for travel knitting or social settings. One wrap with really complicated charts. One sweater just barely started and one sweater lacking just a sleeve. I finished knitting the one-sleeve sweater (Meris) and blocked it.  It just needs the buttons sewn on to be ready to wear this spring. I finished the shawl that was 95% done (Hillhead). The two remaining easy projects are bagged up and ready for road trips or knitting group so I’m not worried about finishing them.

 

That complicated project I wrote about a year ago. I wasn’t loving the yarn I’d chosen and couldn’t decide whether to keep going or not. Apparently I spent a whole year not making a decision. So I hauled out the project, figured out where I was and started knitting. A few rows in I remembered why I was unhappy. The pattern calls for a tightly spun and plied yarn and I had one that was loose. This is what happens when you pull yarn from the stash in a hurry because you want a project for vacation and you are leaving right away. It wasn’t a great match and I knew I wasn’t going to be happy either knitting it or wearing the garment. So, finally, I have ripped it out and replacement yarn is on my shopping list.

Next up was the pending projects list. These are patterns for which I already have the yarn and I just need to decide when to start. Since I finished a sweater I was ready to add a new one to the works-in-progress list. The one other in progress has the occasional complicated bit but is mostly an easy knit. the new one has lace panels and will require some concentration. I’d swatched already so this was ready to cast on. So that’s two sweaters (one easy, one requiring more attention) and two wraps on the needles. Since I have new commissions, this is more than enough for my limited personal knitting time.

The project I didn’t tackle was the inventory of “yarn for which I have no project in mind.” Turns out this is the one producing the most angst. I can see most of it (I have open shelving), so it isn’t that it’s unknown. But I’d like to match more of it up with patterns and have a plan. 

New work

One of my regular clients sent a box with 4 knitting projects, and I’m expecting yarn for a sweater commission any day now. I’ve already started one of the 4, a cowl, and I’m using the 1:1 allover rib pattern to become faster in continental style knitting (left hand carries the yarn, right needle picks it), and using Norwegian purl to avoid flipping the yarn front to back.

I’ve got the sock machine cleaned and I’m ready to put the needles back in. And my empty loom is calling me. I have a scarf warp all wound and ready to be threaded. It’s been waiting since mid-December when I thought I’d get just one more scarf done before the holidays. Rested now, I can’t wait to get started.

Be yourself (or, “Should” is a bad word)

It is January (or it was, as you’ll see at the end.) Time of resolutions and reviews. My social media feeds are full of lists and picture grids. 9 things. Resolutions. Best of 2018. Hopes for 2019.

As a business owner with just one employee, me, I have consulted many resources over the last 8 years to help me shape and build my business. There are tons of podcasts, blogs and books. Lots of suggestions. Lots of things I could be doing to build my business. And lots of “should”. You should be on Instagram. You should have a newsletter. You should post every day. You should do this show or that.

The social media pressure is enormous. Where do I post? How often? What if I don’t post as often as that other business person? Am I doing it wrong? Do I do a top 9 post? What is a top 9 post? Huh. Turns out there’s an app for doing a top 9 for instagram post. Who knew?

And the business stress can be enormous too, if you let it. Grow your business! Double your sales! Reach more people. Get 10k followers. Never mind FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I’m feeling PtP (Pressure to Perform).

As I mentioned in my last post. I’m taking stock. Circling back to some of my earlier reading about how to define my business and set my goals. There was advice I understood in principle. Define your product. Understand your customers. Be where the customers are. I knew what they were saying and I made a good first attempt at trying to define those things for my new business.

I’ve come to realize that I can only begin to answer the question of what I want my business to be as I look back on the past 8 years and assess what I’ve been doing. “What isn’t working for me?” is as important as understanding my successes. While I appreciate all the business experience that may sit behind a list of things I should do to grow my business, that’s only good advice for me if I can be comfortable, confident and real while doing those things.

My social media presence needs to be about me and what I bring to my business. It won’t be successful, or even sustainable if I’m trying to copy what someone else is doing.

February note: I started writing this early in January and set it aside because I hadn’t figured out my conclusion. Still haven’t really, but all that I wrote is still valid so you’ll get it as-is.

Taking stock

Towards the end of last year, as a very busy fall show and sales season was winding down, I casually mentioned to a few friends that I was tired and wanted to “take January off”, the subtext being, to relax and recharge. When pressed by these friends as to my intentions and specifics I started listing some of the things I would/wouldn’t do.

I wasn’t going to “work.” I wasn’t going to accept commissions, unless they were really interesting. I was going to tidy up my studio, sorting files that had become disorganized, and dealing with the scattered “to be filed” piles. As the conversations progressed, my friends gently pointed out that I didn’t really seem to be resting. Resetting my studio was still work (it’s where I work after all), and I was listing a pretty extensive set of things to do when I said I didn’t want to do much.

While a part of me was willing to admit that they were absolutely correct, I was also kind of irritated that they weren’t more supportive of my plan once I’d defined for them what I meant by the very vague “not working”.

A chance conversation with my cousin about her plans to start a business gave me a good deal to think about. As another solo-preneur she and I have similar business practices problems to solve and I offered myself as a resource. In the days following our chat one question came to mind that I’d forgotten to ask her, which was how much time was she planning to put into her business? Full-time? Or something less than that?

And then I had to laugh at myself. Because over the last few years as I’ve been building my business each of my friends has patiently listened to me talk about how it is going. These conversations were often a bit angst-ridden on my part as I would relate that I was tired, or not getting to the things that I needed to, feeling guilty about personal stuff that took time and meant I wasn’t working “enough” or wondering if I was “doing it right”, should I be doing X, Y or Z that other business people were doing?

Gently, but pointedly (they’re really good friends), each have asked me the same questions: How much time do you want to spend on your business? How many hours a week do you want to work? Invariably I’d squirm a bit and give one of these answers: “I still need to figure that out”, “That’s a really good question”, or “All of them?”

So, here it is mid-January. My vague “take the month off” plan has been refined somewhat. I’ve done a bit of studio infrastructure work; taking end of year inventory, restructuring my filing system. I’ve accepted a knitting commission, because I wanted to rather than from a compulsion to keep earning. But most of all I’m trying to give myself space. To think, to rest, to stop feeling guilty about taking time to think and rest.

I haven’t answered the How much time? question yet, but I’m starting to get a sense of it and that’s good for right now.

More fiber goodness

As if knitting, weaving and the very occasional date with my spinning wheel were not enough, I’m reviving my long-dormant interest in sewing. Oh, I’ve sewed a couple of things over the last few years, but now I’ve got a more focused effort going.

I’m taking a class where I’m learning to create a pattern from a garment that fits me. I’ll make some design changes, like going from a long-sleeved dress to sleeveless. And I’m simplifying some of the pieces to have fewer seams. It’s a bit of one dress and a bit of another.

We started the class by making dress forms. We used the “plastic bag and layers of duct tape method” and now I’ve got something that is shaped like me (which is somewhat horrifying.) We’ll use our dress forms to adjust the pattern muslin for a good fit and then I’ll sew a dress.

I’m looking forward to honing my skills (I need tons of practice) and to getting advice from my instructor who sews for a living. I think it’s the first formal sewing class I’ve ever had. The last time I had any instruction was from my mom when I was a child. Probably for a Girl Scout badge. I’m hoping that I won’t repeat some of those early sewing disasters (Mom, do you remember the mauve jumpsuit I was trying to make? What WAS I thinking?)

If this goes well I’ve got a beloved blouse that may be the next to copy.

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