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°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

 

Intermission 

Our move date is nearly here and the house is filling up with boxes. Stacks of empty ones to be filled and stacks of packed ones ready to be transported across the yard to the new house. 

Studio packing in progress

There is much to do still. I’ve not been very organized about this so far so there is much disarray as you can see.

But for some reason the most pressing obligation this morning was some quiet time with my poor neglected spinning wheel. 

Spinning amidst the boxes

Today I was practicing plying. I’ve spun some fun blue and white merino and filled bobbins. I’m plying my singles into a two ply yarn. I finished the first skein a couple of weeks ago and just filled the second bobbin which is ready to wind into a skein.

I made yarn!

But now the packing calls. Quiet time is over and there is work to be done. My new studio awaits.

Studio art

Although I claim to dislike clutter I noticed that I have quite a few adornments hanging about in the studio. If I worked in an office they would be cubicle art or desk tchotchkes (and thank goodness for typing hints on that one!)

It’s Labor Day and I’m busy setting up the loom for a workshop this week so I thought I’d just share some pictures.

Knit animal finger puppets

Beaded mermaid

Sheep head “trophy” (no animal was harmed)

Knit bag brought from South America by my mother’s aunt

Chullo hat also from the aunt

Giraffe and lion guard the knitting stash

Knit zebra

A short break

I took a couple of days off and visited my mother. We took a couple of jaunts, skipping the highway and exploring the by-ways. We saw a lavender bed

There was a castle


Animals of the common variety

And exotic


Mermaids lounging


And enormous pots

I ate my fill of whole bellied clams and lobster roll, hung out with my brothers, nieces, nephews and had a nice break. Now August looms and there is much work to be done.

Did you ever stop to think?

Or would that just be too scary?

About this time of year, back in 2010, I walked away from what I had always thought was going to be my “rest of my life” career. I’m not a flitter. I didn’t change jobs, or locations for that matter, very often.  I’d worked for the same company since 1981 and had been in the same department there since 1984. There wasn’t anything wrong with the job. My work colleagues were lovely people and the department I managed was doing well.

I don’t think I’d say I was burned out, but somehow I knew that it was time for me to do something else with my life. It was a HUGE decision. Leaving the comfort and safety of a regular job and paycheck. Leaving the structured days behind and walking into the great unknown.

I didn’t have a plan.  If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I am now a small business owner. A weaver and a knitter. I make and sell hand woven scarves and hand cranked socks. I do custom knitting and have a small set of steady clients for that work.  But six years ago the only part of this that existed was the custom knitting. I owned the sock machine but had used it only for myself and family. The last weaving I had done was on one of those square potholder looms that use the stretchy loops.

The current wisdom, the advice to potential small business owners, especially crafters, is to start your business while you still have your full-time job and steady income.  Work nights and weekends on your fledgling enterprise and figure out if you want to do it all the time. Get a good income stream from that side gig before you quit the day job.

At the time I didn’t plan to start a business. I had the casual, occasional knitting commission but I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to turn my hobby into a business. That first month or so after I left was quite a change. It was July in Vermont. The weather was beautiful. I think I spent nearly every waking hour sitting on the porch. Reading, looking at nature, knitting and just being. Free to do what I wanted and as little or much as I desired.

That summer I bought a small table loom, some cotton yarn and a copy of Learning to Weave and figured out to use the loom from the small pamphlet that came with it. I’d always been intrigued by woven cloth. How was it made? How did those patterns happen? The experience with the loom was enough to figure out that I liked it and wanted to do more. So lessons, workshops and floor looms soon followed.

I’m not going to bore you with the full 6 year history. Suffice to say that I soon decided to start my business (6 months or so after leaving) and that’s still what I’m doing today. I didn’t wreck my knitting hobby by using those skills in my business. I have customers. I have products to sell. I love what I’m doing.

I really had no idea six years ago, relaxing on the porch and watching birds and deer in my yard, what the shape of my days would be like in the future. I haven’t regretted taking that big step. Would I have done anything differently if I could have looked ahead? Maybe, maybe not.  It’s hard to say for sure. But I’m pretty sure that I would not have imagined the life that I have now.