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!

Scaling up

I’ve been accepted to a show in November, Craft Vermont, and I need to significantly increase my scarf inventory before then. One way to do that is to wind warps for multiple scarves in one run instead of one at a time. I’ve done this many times before when I weave dishtowels but up until now have preferred to do my scarves one at a time.

This has made sense when I have a limited supply of the warp yarn, or I’m going to use a funky accent yarn. But when I am planning to use the same variegated yarn for the warp and vary the color of the weft yarn, it makes sense to add some efficiency to the process. On the up side, I only have to sley the reed and thread the heddles once. Likewise, tying on to the front and back rods. On the downside, I’m winding a longer warp (10 yards vs 3) for 3 scarves, and managing the length through the process of dressing the loom.

I also needed to know what length to weave. When I set up to weave a single scarf, I typically weave the full length of the warp (minus the waste) and whatever I’m allowing for fringe. I don’t have to measure as I go because I keep going until I can’t. But with a 3-scarf warp I had some figuring to do. I knew how long the scarves were once I got them off the loom, but I hadn’t been measuring the weaving under tension and there’s always a loss of length (the take-up) between on loom and off.

I spent a few hours last weekend with my weaving notebook (notes on all the past projects) and my warp requirements planning spreadsheet and tried to figure it all out. I’ll spare you all the gory details (email me if you really want to know more), but I finally had something I thought would work.

This week I wound a test warp, 10 yards, for three scarves.

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warp chain along with two of the three weft yarns

I can whip out a 1-scarf warp pretty quickly, so I hadn’t thought real hard about how much longer it was going to take to wind this one. Once it was finally ready for the loom the threading went as quickly as ever.

Then there was the winding on of the warp onto the warp beam. There were some issues. The first was a rookie mistake. I hadn’t used the loom since I unfolded it after the rug workshop so it wasn’t quite set up correctly. The rod that’s supposed to go up and over the back beam was instead snugged right up against the warp beam. As I was tying on I kept thinking that it didn’t look right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After tying on most of the warp bundles I realized the problem. I painstakingly untied about 9 double knots, moved the rod into place and started the knotting process over again. (If it had been the loom below, I could have removed the back beam, slid it under the threads and replaced it, but my Baby Wolf doesn’t have that capability.)

Here’s what it is supposed to look like (this is not a scarf!)

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Warp threads properly going over the back beam

Then it was time for the winding on. I warp from the front, so in this step I’m turning a crank and winding all of the warp threads through the reed and heddles from the front of the loom to the back and onto the beam that is covered with cardboard in the picture above. The cardboard (some use sticks or heavy paper) keeps the threads from sinking into the layers of threads that I’ve wound on and thus I maintain an even tension across the width of the warp.

As I wound on, I knew I needed to keep the tension even, but I was using a mishmash of cardboard rolls, some of which were more squished flat than others, and it turns out I didn’t get it as tight as I should have. This was revealed to me only as I was weaving. I’d weave a couple of inches and go to advance the warp and there would be a lot more slack to take up than usual.  I’ve since cut a new 10-yard length of fresh corrugated to use and armed with that and this experience I’m hoping the next run will go much better.

I’m not doing anything here that I haven’t done many times before, but just making the one change, warp length, added some complexities to work out. I do think that in the long run it took less time overall to make the three scarves than if I had made them singly, and as with any process I expect to become even more efficient with practice.

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One warp, Painted Desert, three wefts: Greyed Teal, Taupe and Mineral Green

These haven’t been finished yet, they lack washing and pressing. If they look OK after that, they’ll go into inventory.


And finally, a reminder that the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival is at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds on Saturday 10/1 and Sunday 10/2. Yarn, fiber, finished goods (I’m a vendor). Equipment, both for fiber processing and for animals. Sheep, alpacas, rabbits, and more. Loads of fun even if you aren’t a fiber person. Check out the website for a schedule of events including sheep herding demonstrations.

Tipping point

Things on my project list with no firm deadline have always been a challenge for me. These aren’t things that shouldn’t be on the list because they’re not relevant to my current goals. And they aren’t things that will never get done.  They are commitments I’ve made, to myself or others, that just need to get done sometime.

This happens when the client says “whenever you can get to it” and I look at the current list with firm deadlines and say “OK, sure” because I know I can get to it eventually. In some cases the “client” is me. I may assign a far future due date as I put it into my queue, but I’ll let myself slide that date if something more time-critical comes along.

And that’s when the trouble starts. Soon that thing has been hanging out on the list for an embarrassing number of months. It’s easily brushed aside. It doesn’t take offense. It knows I’ll dredge it off the back of the shelf sooner or later.

It doesn’t take much though for an “I’ll get to you soon” to morph into an “Oh my gosh are you still here!?!?!?!” I’ve reached my tipping point. At that moment “do sometime” turns into priority one. It happens with unstarted projects and it happens with things that are in progress.

My knitting is more portable than weaving or using the sock machine. I can pick it up when I have just a few spare minutes, or spend hours on it. Lengthy projects have tipping points too. It isn’t that I’m not enjoying the process, but I’ll get close enough to the end that 15 minute stints are just frustrating. I want to be done. I want the thing off my list, off my couch and out the door.

The current knitting project has enjoyed both of these scenarios. It took me forever to bubble it up to the top of the list and now that it is going I can’t finish it fast enough.

I’m trying to be better about this. I’ve considered that I might need to say no more often. Or maybe “yes, but not for n months”. Or perhaps I just need to set those deadlines and stick to them.


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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!

Binges or stints?

I’m coming to realize that I tend to have a binge work style when I should be a “stint” worker. When I settle in to weave scarves I tend to do a bunch in a row. Likewise with sock knitting. I have quite a few knitting projects in the queue and when I settle down with one my inclination is to keep at it, to the exclusion of all other work, until it is done.

What I need to be doing is pecking away at building my scarf and sock inventory while still making progress on the knitting. I’ve always struggled with prioritizing my production work. When I have a choice between knitting, for which I will get paid upon completion, or building inventory, which I hope will sell in the future it is too easy to focus on the knitting.

I know, of course, that I can’t sell inventory that I haven’t created. An empty booth at the craft fair isn’t going to bring much income. So I’m trying really hard to be realistic about what needs to be done, and dole out my time between all of the projects.

I’d like to blame my work habits on not having the right planning method. I’ve tried a few different ideas for how to track what I need to do and still haven’t settled on one that I love. But really? I do know that if I spend a week knitting then it probably means I didn’t do any weaving. So I can’t really say the tool, or lack thereof, is the problem.

Right now I’m back to the weekly planner with the to-do section at the bottom of the pages. I’ve written in show dates and other obligations, and set target numbers for scarf and sock inventory. I’ve also noted the current quantities. I’ll update these numbers as I move to each next week which should make it pretty obvious whether I’m working on the right projects. [It has just occurred to me to flag the pages that have shows as a quick way to remind myself how soon they’ll be happening.]

So, back to that question. I think that bingeing on a project makes sense if it small enough to be finished quickly. Think knitting a hat vs. knitting a sweater. Or if the deadline is very close. If neither of those cases are true then stints on each area of work are a better way to reach my goals.

Although it tempting to schedule weaving on Mondays, socks on Tuesdays, etc it turns out that bingeing on one type of task for the whole day isn’t so good for my body. So smaller stints on a variety of projects is the new mantra.

And maybe it is working. Over the last week or so I’ve woven 3 scarves, remembered to post to Instagram occasionally, put in time on three knitting projects for three different clients and kept up with my business bookkeeping. I didn’t get to socks, other than counting them up for that weekly tally, but I’m sure they’re going to come up soon in the rotation 😉

And a p.s. to my fellow blogger Kerry who not too long ago wrote a great post about working in stints. You had such a great idea about using a reminder app that I had to try it for myself. Turns out that when I couldn’t complete the task when it was scheduled I just agonized over whether I should give up and skip it or mark it done, even when it wasn’t, just to make the reminder go away. It was too silly to let the tool control me like that so I’ve put the idea aside for now until I can figure out how to make it work for me.