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.

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.

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 🙂

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.

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°F. 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

 

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!

Sharing the love

I’ve always found that my fellow fiber artists are a very generous lot. We share knowledge, lend materials, and help each other out.

I’m a member of the Vermont Weavers Guild where among other things I maintain our website and answer the general query email box. Recently we were contacted by a woman who was looking for information on where to learn more about weaving. As I corresponded with her to find out what she’d been doing so far I discovered that she lives pretty near to me.

This week she came to visit. I am lending to her my rigid heddle loom and I spent a couple of hours giving her a crash course in how to use it.  It was my first loom. The one I purchased about 6 years ago when I thought I wanted to learn to weave and didn’t want to spend too much money finding out.

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First weaving project on my rigid heddle loom

It’s a great first loom. Portable. Not too expensive. The loom is designed for weaving plainweave, but with some pick up sticks you can easily broaden your horizons.

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My first project! White cotton warp, navy cotton weft and random stripes woven with self-striping sock yarn.

I was in love, and then the floor looms started arriving. My poor rigid heddle had been relegated to a shelf. I pulled it out rarely to weave samples for a larger piece and it was looking a little lonely.

Now it has gone on loan to a beginning weaver. I sent her off with the loom, shuttles and accessories, operating instructions, pattern books for the rigid heddle so she can experiment, and a bit of cotton yarn to weave with. And a promise to answer her questions.

Today when I go to my spinning group I’ll be hanging out with spinners who have far more experience than I do. They’ll give me tips on wheel behavior and managing the unspun roving so I can spin the thread that I want.

When I go I’ll be returning a knitting book that I borrowed, and receiving back a book that I lent to my friend. We even, sometimes, share yarn. You might think that yarn would be the most jealously guarded treasure but sometimes what you thought was going to work perfectly doesn’t. Or that great bargain at the estate sale — a dollar a cone! Really? Let me fill my bag! — turns into cones gathering dust on the shelf and a weaver muttering “What was I thinking?” to herself. So we offer, we trade, we donate to guild sales.

This is my community. We have a love of craft. A love of fiber. Weavers who spin. Spinners who knit. Knitters who, gasp, also crochet sometimes. And we gather to share our knowledge and our wealth. We welcome newcomers and hope they’ll find the joy in handwork that has brought us together.