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.

Flying Solo

Working alone, as I do, presents challenges to be overcome (or at least managed.) Generally speaking, I know what I need to do. I make stuff, I sell stuff, I keep track of what I make and sell. But anyone who has ever read anything about getting things done knows that it isn’t quite that easy.

You set goals — “make” 5 scarves this week. You set interim tasks to reach that goal — wind 5 warps, weave 5 scarves, twist fringe on 5 scarves, take pictures of said scarves, sew in labels, add tags, upload to online store and stash away into finished inventory.

Easy as pie. I could do it in my sleep. And that general process of detailing steps? I know that process. I used it when I was a computer programmer. You don’t just start at the beginning and write until it is done, there are subprocesses and segments that make up the whole. And I took enough project management classes to have that method fairly well ingrained.

But you know what? Sitting here in the studio, trying to figure out and do everything I should be doing, even after a few years, is still a challenge for me. Make stuff? No problem. Something like marketing? Whoa, now what do I do? It’s big, scary and not well-defined in my head.

Fortunately, I have some resources to help me through all this. I stumbled on this great podcast called Explore Your Enthusiasm which led me to Tara Swiger’s website. Her focus is on helping crafters like me build the business they want to have. Her weekly podcasts and other lessons and activities have given me lots to think about. Right now I’m participating in her #monthofbizlove challenge, 30 days of tiny actions to build the business you love. You may have seen some of my responses in my Instagram feed.

I have you, my readers and customers. Your comments and my blog stats prove that I’m not just talking to myself and believe me that helps me show up consistently.  You buy from me and that’s incentive to keep going and figure out the hard stuff.

And now I have a “we’re both running a small business” buddy. My friend Sarah lives a couple towns away from me. She’s the owner of Vermont Natural Sheepskins and like me she works solo. We’re facing some similar challenges in our respective businesses and it has been great to be able to brainstorm with her, share ideas, and help each other think through problems and solutions.

So now, if you need a fabulous scarf, check out what’s available from Heron Pond Designs. And if you’ve always wanted a sheepskin go visit Sarah’s shop. They’re lovely, so soft and cozy. I have two already!

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