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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Starting over?

I’m in a lull between knitting projects. One was just mailed, another is drying and two await feedback from clients before I can proceed. So I’ve been tidying in the studio. Putting away the needles from the last projects, filing project notes and clearing the decks. A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something in the studio closet and I came across a box labeled “Teaching Materials”. A quick look reminded me that it was notes and swatches for classes I’d either taught or proposed at a local yarn store. I was in the middle of something, so I just left the box on the floor to be dealt with “later.”

Today turned out to be that day. I hadn’t just shoved it back into the closet because I noticed that many of the swatches were sitting on stitch holders. No wonder I can never find enough of them when I’m in the middle of a project! The store has closed and I’m not teaching these days, so a reclamation project was in order. I put the live stitches onto yarn holders, zipped the samples into storage bags and filed the notes.

IMG_1685
Reclaimed stitch holders and markers

The extra balls of yarn were headed to a storage bin that’s a bit over-full already. So I gathered some of the like yarns into more storage bags. I identified some partial balls to donate for kid crafts, and shoved the rest back onto the shelf for another day.

As I moved through the studio, I kept walking past a tote bag with an in-progress project. It’s a Hap shawl that I started about a year ago. I’ve been thinking about this project in the last few days and wondering what to do about it. I love the pattern, Uncia, and definitely want to make it. But the yarn was a poor choice. You see, I was in a hurry. We were heading out for a long weekend at the ocean and I knew I’d have quiet knitting time so I chose a pattern that was complicated. I’ve been trying very hard to use up yarn I already have before buying new for a project so I selected some sock yarn that was the right weight, or close enough, for what the pattern specified. I knit on the project during that weekend, and pull it back out once in a while when I have time for it. And every time I think that this isn’t the right yarn.

The pattern calls for a 100% merino super wash yarn. The yarn I chose is a super wash merino/nylon blend. It is not tightly spun and is a bit splitty. Not impossible to work, but not as pleasurable as the right yarn probably would be. Even though the pattern yarn is superwash, I’m worried that my yarn is not going to block out well, won’t open up and show the intricate stitch work. So, why haven’t I just ripped it out to start over? Because I’ve already done this much.

IMG_1686
The tip of the Uncia

And it has gorgeous complicated twisted stitches like these.

IMG_1687
Detail of stitch work

And I think about all that work I’ve already done. On the other hand, the saner hand, I may never be happy with it if I finish it with this sock yarn. And if I don’t like it then what was the point? It’s not like I’m anywhere close to done yet, there’s miles to go on this.

So, there are some options.

  1. I could block the work in progress and see how the yarn behaves. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  2. I could rip the whole thing out to reclaim the yarn and wait until I find something more suitable.
  3. I could put this aside and find new yarn and make the “rip it out” decision later.

When I started writing this, I was sure it was option 2 and had not even thought of option 1 yet.

Or maybe, I’m just trying to justify a yarn purchase 🙂

What do you think I should do?

 

Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.