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 ūüôā.)

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.

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.

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.

So long 2017

As I write on the last day of the year, it is a bright and sunny, albeit cold, day here in Vermont. -2 right now with an expected high of maybe 3¬įF. There is a wind chill advisory for tonight and I’m happy to be tucked up in our warm house with nowhere else to be right now.

Christmas tree with birds
Enjoying bird-o-vision

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of 2017 happenings. Nor is it a 2018 resolution list. I don’t really do either of those sorts of reckonings in a formal way. But as we come to the end of the holiday “break” and start back into the regular routine of life I find myself writing out a big to-do list and thinking a bit about what I might like to be different next year.

Many of the blogs I read are talking less about “resolutions” and more about self-care. As I went into the studio to grab my laptop I walked past the laundry room and noted that the hanging pieces were dry, so I folded them into the basket. Recalled that I wanted to wash all my hand-knit socks and started the tub filling while I got yesterday’s pair from the hamper. Tumbled the rest into the tub and started them soaking. Folded a few more things as I walked past the drying rack and 10 minutes later finally accomplished the original mission of fetching the laptop. A small illustration of the meandering, distracted paths that sometimes make up my day. And somewhere in all of this is the thought of being slightly more, I don’t know, mindful maybe? Focused on the task at hand? Organized isn’t really the right word. But I have noticed days where the meandering path, setting off a series of reminders of what isn’t done is more stressful than useful. I’d like a bit less stress in my life, wouldn’t you?

For amusement I’ve decided to try the dot journal thingie. I do live by lists and schedules and feel so much more in control when I’ve got those to-dos written down somewhere and not cluttering my brain. I bought a book (because that’s what I do) Dot Journaling — A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, read it through and started building my journal. As much as I rely on my electronic calendar, I have never embraced electronic to-do lists. I prefer the piece of paper (or more than one) with a pen handy to jot down things as they occur to me. I don’t want to find the phone, launch the app and type on the tiny keyboard. Nor do I want to have it pinging at me every time it thinks I should be doing something. Really important infrequent stuff, sure. But not all 20-odd things I need to get done this week. [And no, thanks, not looking for suggestions for the app you know will work for me. Because I realized that it’s not just about how good the app is. It’s that I don’t want to spend that much time with my phone/iPad/electronic device.]

So, dot journal, bullet journal, paper & pen-based organizer. I’ve got a notebook and a pen and colored pencils (if I choose to get fancy) and the beginnings of a plan for the first week of 2018.

To sign off I leave you with this image. When I got up this morning this path had been made in our field. There’s a straight line and a half circle sketched above it. The sun rising over the horizon line? The image does face east. An unfinished “Kilroy was here”? Who were the mysterious visitors and what does it all mean?

snow path
half circle over horizon line

 

Summer camp with a detour

I sat down this morning to write about my new toy. I purchased a Schacht Zoom Loom to play with.

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I’ve got tons of yarn leftover from socks and thought it would be fun to use it with this loom.

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Getting the hang of it

I’ve got a little corner in my new studio with a view of the pond and the trees that surround it. I’ve been spending a bit of time there the last few mornings, weaving squares and listening to the birds call. I feel a bit like a kid at summer camp. Doing crafts and making something that may or may not be useful when I get it home.

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A finished square ready to pop off the loom

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Fun with color in a 4″ square¬†

I have no expectations of these squares. No project in mind that they’ll become. I’m just playing. Spending a little quiet time in the morning before I get started with my day.


I took all my photos before sitting down to write, launched my photo browser and nothing was there! 30 or more minutes later I’d checked settings on phone and laptop, consulted tech support forums and stomped around the kitchen muttering under my breath. [Note to self, the latter doesn’t really fix any problems.] Still, no photos.

So on the advice of my expert technical consultant I restarted the computer. A few minutes later the new photos (and a whole lot more I didn’t realize were missing) started trickling in. My blog post is saved. My sanity is saved. I can stop being mad at my devices. I love technology, except when I don’t. It’s pretty amazing what we can do with these powerful computers we carry around in our back pockets. And when it doesn’t work right I just feel helpless and dependent.

Now it is time to put the computer aside and do some work. I’m weaving scarves. On a loom made of wood and metal. Moving parts that I understand how to use and to fix when they get cranky. No computer assist, no wires. Just feet on the treadles, hands on the beater and my imagination to dream up something to make.

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Tencel scarf in luxurious shades of rust, yellow and maroon

When I’m not stomping around the house muttering at technology I make lovely scarves and socks. I play with color and let my imagination run wild. Looking for something low-tech to brighten your day? Check out my Etsy shop¬†and see what speaks to you.

 

Design challenge

Inspiration from the yarn stash

A few weeks ago a friend helped me sort through my personal yarn stash. She asked some tough questions about age of stash and intended use. We filled a donate bag and two big eBay bags and when we were done I still had LOTS of yarn. One of my most favorite yarns is Mountain Mohair from Green Mountain Spinnery. I love the colors and the feel. The slight sheen that comes from the mohair. It’s great to knit with and I’ve used it in sweaters and hats. I have a tendency though to pick up one skein of a color that tempts me. Over the years I’ve accumulated a few of these. I’ve added to my stash during their tent sale and, of course, with the leftovers from buying sweater quantities. While it is lovely to have this yarn to pet and admire, might it also be fun to knit with all of these great colors?

Part of the stash-sorting project was matching yarn to projects. Some pairings ended in divorce when I realized either that I no longer liked the pattern enough to knit it, or that I had been slightly misguided about my love for the yarn. But there is no breakup ahead between MM and I.

I decided that what I needed was a bit of a challenge. Sure, I could knit an established pattern. Trust me, I can get lost for hours looking at patterns on Ravelry. But what I wanted was to force myself to experiment a bit. Work outside of the strictures of a published pattern and the designer’s color scheme.

After a few minutes in the MM bin (one 12x12x12 cubby) I came out with 5 colors: Elderberry, Vincent’s Gold, Coral Bell, Partridgeberry and Blue Violet (clockwise from top left). I didn’t play with color wheels, or values or hues. I dove in and chose colors that I thought might work.

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My inspiration

I selected¬†an appropriately-sized needle using the ball band gauge as a guide and remembering that I usually drop two needle sizes to match pattern gauges. My project, my canvas, was a cowl and my design source was Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting which contains page after page of charted designs. My other goal for this project was to gain more experience with two-color knitting.

I didn’t do a gauge swatch. I guessed at how many stitches to cast on, again with the ball band information as a general guide. As this was an experiment I wasn’t too concerned about fit. The important part was to play around without too many strictures.¬†So,¬†armed with yarn, needle, and motif inspiration took off for an overnight with the knitter friend who helped with the stash assessment. ¬†I’d put all this aside for a week or more waiting for this visit and hadn’t looked at it at all.

As I pulled the yarn out to plan my cast on I had a big “what was I thinking?” moment. These yarns are terrible together! This is going to be awful. But I’d decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to switch anything. I was going to make this up as I went along, choosing the colors I wanted each time I changed motif.

I started with strongly contrasting colors for a corrugated rib. I knit that until it seemed long enough (5 rounds) and then opened Starmore to choose my first pattern.  I wanted to start with a 3 or 4-row pattern then move on to a taller motif.

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Deciding what to do next

As I was knitting along I was willing to consider also that the cowl would not be symmetrical from top to bottom. I was trying to counteract my strong sense of order and balance. But in the end there was only so much of my nature that I could change with this one project.  As I completed the tall center motif I realized that finishing as I had started would give me about the size cowl I wanted, so I repeated the first motif in both pattern and color and finished with the same corrugated rib.

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Far from the disaster that I expected, I have a lovely cowl. The colors work well together and I’m happy enough with this first attempt. My two-color knitting needs practice, the stitches are not as even as I’d like. And I should have worked that first round of corrugated all in knit to avoid the purl bumps (as you can see on the bottom of this picture.) ¬†See the difference as you move into the rib at the top of the picture? ¬†I think I’d also look for a cast-on that matched the cast-off a bit better.

I’m pleased with this. And since I’ve barely made a dent in the Mountain Mohair in that bin I’ll have to see what to knit next.

If you’d like to know¬†more about how color inspires my designs, you can read about the Birds Eye Twill scarves I weave in¬†my latest newsletter.

Inspiration of Craft

On Friday a friend and I made our annual visit to the Annual Craftsmens Fair put on by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. On the foothills of a ski resort enormous tents dot the landscape. Sculptures of stone and iron are nestled into the¬†¬†green space between the tents. Everywhere you look there is beauty, creativity, and sharing. Artists who have spent the past year perfecting their work, or exploring new ideas come to this show and put it all out there for the thousands of us who come to visit. From the small shows that I have done I know there’s that feeling you have waiting to see how your work will be received. Will they stop, browse and ask questions? Or simply walk by? I’m sure those thoughts go through the head of even the most experienced and lauded craftsmen.

For me this fair serves many purposes. I look at booth design for instance. How is the space set off from its neighbors. What color draping did they use to make the work stand out. What lighting did they choose? Furniture to display their work. How did they get that stand to be level on the slope of the grass? Of course I look closely at all of the booths of textile artists, but they aren’t the only place to get ideas which I can use to improve my own spaces.

The fair is a chance to feed my inner artist. There is the overall explosion of color and craftsmanship. Gorgeously colored pottery and lovely hand carved wooden spoons. Exquisite furniture, sewing needles carved from ebony (I have one of those and adore it), and the glass. Oh, the glass. I just love blown glass. The delicacy, the swirling colors. Over the years I’ve purchased a few special pieces: a clear cube filled with a colorful twist, pretty pink glass flowers on green stems, and wine glasses with color spreading through the stem to the base of the cup. Aside from the glasses these are just inspiration. Beautiful color to scatter through the house, or set on a windowsill to catch the cold winter sun.

There is a textile artist who sews beautiful jackets of silk cloth. Embellished, tucked, and ruffled or asymmetric and spare to show off the fabric. They let me imagine a lifestyle that is so not mine. And then, finally, a visit with hat maker Carrie Cahill Mulligan. Carrie knits and felts hats which she embroiders with beautiful colored ribbon or wool. Some are decorated with antler buttons, and there’s a dragonfly design that is just stunning. I purchased one of her hats a couple of years ago and had been thinking about getting another. Friday found me braving sweltering, humid 90+ degree weather to try on black felted hats and find my size. Then the decisions. Which embroidery pattern, and what color yarn? What color ribbon to line the inside. I thought about the snowflake pattern, but I fell in love with a variegated wool yarn so it will be either the leaves or the spirals. And sometime, when my order comes up in her queue, I’ll have a companion to this beauty.

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My hat!

It was a lovely, if sweltering, day away from the studio. Gathering inspiration, talking to artists, hanging with a friend.