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.

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?

 

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.

 

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

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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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.

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.