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.

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.

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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.

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The tip of the Uncia

And it has gorgeous complicated twisted stitches like these.

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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 ūüôā

What do you think I should do?

 

Rainy day bargain

It’s pouring down rain here in my bit of Vermont and rainy days make me want to sit on the couch with knitting and movies I’ve seen dozens of times.

But I’m behind on my weaving quota for the week so I’m at the loom for now.

Birds eye twill scarf. Variegated warp, solid weft, both Tencel.

The quota is, of course, self imposed as I am my own boss. So I bargained with myself. If I wove this morning I could knit this afternoon.  I don’t dislike the weaving process at all, I was just more inclined to something else today. I already feel great about the weaving progress and will likely finish this scarf and start the next before I call it quits at the loom today.

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.

The eternal struggle

What I want to do today vs. what I should do today…

The luxury of being your own boss comes with a need for responsibility. Sure, I can take a day off whenever I want to. Or always prioritize¬†the fun projects. But since I don’t have any employees, it only gets done if I do it. And my overarching business goal is not just to have fun.

I’ve just gone through a business assessment¬†process with a fellow business owner. We reviewed our 2016 goals and set plans in place for 2017. We each have a good idea of what the first quarter looks like and we are creating the action item lists that will get us to our goals. For instance, it’s all very well to say I want to increase sales by 10% over last year. But I’m not going to get very far with that if I don’t work on my marketing consistently. Much as I like to pretend otherwise, serendipity is not my marketing tool.

Which brings me to today, and a little bit of self-back-patting, for putting aside the sweater I’m knitting for a client (the fun project) and setting up for a photo shoot (the responsible task.) The sun was out this morning and it was a perfect opportunity to take pictures without setting up all the supplementary lighting.

At the end of it, I’ve come away with fodder for this blog post, additional photos for an Etsy shop listing, some future instagram photos and most of my February newsletter¬†(subscribe here.)¬†And I’ve banked some time against my marketing goals, which in turn lessens my guilt when I next sit down to knit.

 

Getting back to normal

Does January feel like a let-down to you after the holiday flurry? For me¬†it is a chance to breathe again. The busy show season is over and now I just have a few well-spaced winter farmers markets to attend. I’ve got a reasonable inventory of scarves, so I really only need to produce socks right now.

There are very few deadlines this time of year, so work here in the studio feels less like a mad juggling routine. It’s a time to clean out the corners and find the projects I deferred during the last quarter of 2016.

I’ll do my end of year inventory, counting cones and balls of yarn.

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Barely started, I’m on page 1 of 10

As I’m working through these counting and tidying processes it is an opportunity to let my mind wander a bit through the landscape of my business. What is working? What is frustrating me? What do I want to be different this year? And, inevitably, am I ever going to use some of the¬†yarn that’s been sitting idle on the shelf?

During the rest of this week I’ll be doing 2017 planning. Running the sales and expense reports for 2016, pulling together social media stats, and digging up the Q4 goals are the start of the process. I’ve already started making notes about directions for this year. Having the numbers in the mix will help me figure out what is practical in my goal-setting. A meeting with my business buddy (we each are self-employed, running our own companies) will add a good reality check. Not only will she tell me if I seem to be taking on too much, but she’ll give me a nudge if she thinks I’m ignoring or shying away from a key area.

I usually have to force myself to work on this kind of planning. It doesn’t feel so much like “doing”, as weaving and knitting do. But I’m waiting for these swatches to dry.

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They’re for my next sweater commission, and as impatient as I am to start, I’ll be really, REALLY upset if I have to rip it out because it is the wrong size.

So, as the swatches dry, I’ll fire up QuickBooks and see what I can learn.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to my Etsy Shop

What do you do on a Thanksgiving morning while waiting for the turkey to roast? In my case, open an Etsy shop.

This was a move I’d been contemplating and researching, but had thought to defer it until early next year when life was a bit slower. The Square store had worked adequately as a storefront to which I could point customers, but didn’t have any marketing reach outside of what I could do myself. I have no illusions that being on Etsy will suddenly result in tons of orders. I think those magical discovery days are over given the vast number of sellers there. But getting my work in front of browsing shoppers and into the Etsy search results surely wouldn’t hurt.

But I had some time to kill so, armed with my trust iPad, I set out to see how much I could accomplish. The configuration went swimmingly. Nobody owned my store name yet so I snapped it up and set up the bits and pieces: description, location, bank account (for the sales revenue deposits) and most important: scarves!. By the time the turkey was ready I had a store with two listings.

I spent the next few days taking pictures, adding stock, and getting the store ready for a soft launch. The final step was to point heronponddesigns.com/shop to Etsy and start marketing. I’ve had a good response to my instagram feed and my shop already has some likes and favorite items.

So, pour a cup of your favorite hot beverage, get cozy on the couch and come browse the store for socks and scarves at heronponddesigns.etsy.com. I still do custom orders, so if you don’t see what you want, don’t hesitate to ask.

A day in my studio

I often get ideas for my blog posts while weaving. In this case I was hemstitching the leading edge of a scarf.


Before I sat down at the loom this morning I was doing a bit of mental whining. As I write this, it is a gloomy day, heavy with humidity with a large blob of rain heading our way. It’s the kind of day that whispers “curl up on the couch and knit” but I’m not giving in to that tempting voice just yet.

My day starts with yoga or stretching, coffee and the morning email check. Then I consult my schedule. I’m writing this on Tuesday and the plan is weaving in the morning and socks in the afternoon. ¬†I don’t always adhere strictly to the schedule, but I’ve found it to be a useful defense against the knitting whisperer. I have three products: handwoven scarves, knit socks and custom knitting. Allocating time in the week to each of them helps me stay on track with my production goals.

It’s all posted on a whiteboard in my studio. I’ve also got my goals for that week, the chart where I tally how much time is spent in each area of the business and a list of long term projects to consider. The board can be something of a nag. Since I see it constantly I’ll feel guilty if I’m straying too much from the plan.

Throughout the day I snap pictures for Instagram and Facebook. I try to resist the urge to check email often, trying to limit myself to 3-4 times per day. Every interruption in the flow is an opportunity for me to be distracted from my current task.

After a quick lunch and email break it was time for socks. But as I passed the loom I realized that I was nearly done with the scarf and decided to finish it.


A quick session with the fringe twister and I can wash the scarf to “finish” it. This one is tencel so it will shrink just a smidge. At¬†this point in the day¬†I’m not feeling the sock machine love, so I settle down to cast on a new knitting project, the first of two Christmas stockings. A couple of hours later it is time for dinner and time to stop working.

It was a good day. Some finishing, some starting and not too many self-generated distractions. Oh, and it finally rained sometime in the late afternoon.

 

Coincidence

As I work away here in my studio I try to remember to snap pictures of my work as it progresses. I don’t just want to show you finished scarves and socks, I’d like to give you a glimpse behind the scenes to see how it all comes together.

A few days ago I was making socks and snapped this picture of winding the sock yarn onto a cone. [The yarn feeds best into the sock machine if I knit off a cone.]

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Hand-dyed merino wool, cashmere & nylon sock yarn

The next day I was working on my August newsletter (click to subscribe) and used this picture:

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Detail of a huck scarf: hand-dyed alpaca silk & tencel

Later on I finished the socks.

And that’s when I realized I was playing with the same color yarn. But what a difference the medium makes. First you have the slight difference in the color. This is due to a couple of factors. The yarns, alpaca/silk vs merino/cashmere/nylon ,will take the dye differently. And they were probably not dyed in the same batch. Even commercially dyed yarns can have some variations and these were done in small batches by hand.

Then we have weaving vs knitting. The arrangement of the threads is completely different and thus the colors will clump or disperse as they are affected by the length of the scarf or the number of stitches around the sock.

So here you have it: coordinating, compatible and yet quite different scarf and socks.

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Cozied up with my knitting

Here in the northern hemisphere where June means summer weather you wouldn’t think it would be the time to get cozy in a comfy chair and hunker down with knitting. And that 90 degree day last week, not so much. But then we had a spate of chilly. 40s at night, cooler in the daytime. A storm came through and dropped much-needed rain. We’re clawing our way back to warm and I can’t wait.

But the cooler weather makes an excellent backdrop for achieving progress on my knitting queue. I’ve been working on little slipper socks for a client.

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Knit up and ready to be washed & blocked

I have one more pair to finish and then I’ll move on to a scarf project. I did the gauge swatch earlier in the week so it could be blocked and have time to dry for accurate measuring.

I recently finished a project for myself. I’ve been working through my stash of yarns turning “this is pretty yarn” into “this is a pretty thing that could be worn.”

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The “And So Are You” wrap

The yarn is a blend of Suri Alpaca and Merino and really soft. That chilly day when the rain came through I had it wrapped around my shoulders and it was just the thing to keep me from turning the heat back on.

It is so satisfying to turn a “ball of string” into something beautiful and useful. Whether knitting or weaving the transformation is just magical.