My Summer of FO’s

For you non-crafters, FO stands for Finished Object. Today is the first day of school, and in recognition of the end of summer, I would like to share all the projects I finished over the course of summer vacation. This finishing of projects I’d lost interest in required way more self-discipline than I am usually capable of, so I think it deserves recognition. And celebration, because I can finally see my coffee table again. :)

Since every crocheter and knitter I know has this problem from time to time, let me encourage you to finish up some of those things laying around! I recommend picking a set amount of time (for me it was the summer), and for that amount of time, work on only one project at a time. Focus on the one closest to completion, then move on to the next. Cut yourself off from buying yarn. Don’t start anything new. This last piece of advice was really hard for me because summer is usually a time I like to start new projects. However, it was also a good length of time to finish things because it’s long enough to see progress, but short enough I knew I could tough it out for the three months! If you set yourself up to a similar challenge, try to strike that happy balance between allowing yourself enough time to see a stack of projects through, but not such a long time you just get sick of it and give up. And when you do meet your goals, reward yourself! I hope you enjoy browsing mine!

As simple as this pattern was to knit and design, the truth is it sat around for a few years because I was intimidated by the fringe.

As simple as this pattern was to knit and design, the truth is it sat around for a few years because I was intimidated by the fringe.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated by something simple. :)

My go-to outfit for work, the airport, chilly late summer nights...

My go-to outfit for work, the airport, chilly late summer nights…

This pattern is one I plan to make many times over! This one did not actually sit around for a long time, but I included it because it was something I finished early in the summer.

Bobble hats from a Noro magazine - shown with the bobbles and inside out because I liked the look of both sides!

Bobble hats from a Noro magazine – shown with the bobbles and inside out because I liked the look of both sides!

Gifts for my nieces. I don’t have a good explanation for why I started these and then took 2 years to finish them. But the fact that I went to see my family and had a deadline helped me get motivated to finish. :)

Inspired by an orchid, this shawl unfurls color as you knit it. This baby goat mohair is as close to the softness of flower petals as I could get!

Inspired by an orchid, this shawl unfurls color as you knit it. This baby goat mohair is as close to the softness of flower petals as I could get!

The only bit of design work I’ve done this summer. I started it back in March or April, and decided to push to get it done so I could give my brain a rest. :)

Stephen West's safety cowl, which was designed by the master himself for our shop as an exclusive offering in the Yarn Crawl a few years ago.

Stephen West’s safety cowl, designed by the master himself for our shop as an exclusive offering in the Yarn Crawl a few years ago.

The only reason I can think of that I let this one sit around was that other items took more priority until I decided to give this as a gift to my sister. Note to self: having a firm idea of what you want to do with an item when it’s done helps you get it done! :)

First time ever doing Tunisian crochet.

First time ever doing Tunisian crochet.

I knew from the start that I wanted to give these to my sister. She likes to decorate her kitchen seasonally, and I thought she’d enjoy these Easter egg colors during spring. I wanted to try Tunisian crochet, and decided this would be a good project because they were just flat rectangles. The problem is, to have a set, you must do FOUR.

A shawl from the Ysolda Follow Your Arrow mystery KAL.

A shawl from the Ysolda Follow Your Arrow mystery KAL.

IMAG2554

This was not really languishing that long, but um, I didn’t get it done by the end of the mystery KAL. I was in the middle of alot of design work at the time and so it went on the back burner. But it’s a whole lot of camel, silk, and merino to wrap myself up in when the weather gets cold. Which, to be honest, was THE best motivator to get it done before I started anything else!


New to Me

As I might have mentioned in prior posts, I have a hard time dealing with clutter. The main reason for this is because I really hate being wasteful. I don’t like getting rid of things that I still feel have life left in them, but I’m not one of those people who has constant inspiration for how to repurpose stuff. I walk into thrift stores and immediately feel overwhelmed. One of my best friends is an extremely talented artist who can take a toilet paper roll and make fine art out of it. I admire this trait very much, and so when I was at the library last week, I was intantly drawn to this book. And of course, I went to this artist’s blog and found way more goodies than can fit into a book. I don’t know if it will help me get rid of all my clutter, but I am inspired to keep trying to look at old items in a new way.


Things I Learned About Andy Warhol

As mentioned in my last post, I just returned from a trip back east to visit family and longtime friends. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and now that I”ve been away for so long, I’m always struck by the beauty of  the city when I go back to visit. This year, I made it my mission to visit the Andy Warhol museum. I don’t know how I’ve loved Pop Art, grown up in Pittsburgh, gone to art school in Pittsburgh, and yet never visited this museum! I decided it was time, so my sister and I spent a lovely day touring all seven floors. It did not disappoint. Each floor covers a time period of his work – his film work was on one floor, the famous silkscreen portraits on another…

I also realized that despite all the references to Warhol’s work in today’s culture, I really didn’t know very much about him at all. Since the museum didn’t allow us to take photography anywhere except on the ground floor, here are a few of the tidbits I learned.

 

I couldn't resist. And this photo cost me a whole lot less than a bachelor's from Carnegie Mellon!

I couldn’t resist. And this photo cost me a whole lot less than a bachelor’s from Carnegie Mellon!

 

  1. He is not only Pittsburgh born and bred, he attended Carnegie Mellon University. This was particularly of interest to me because Carnegie Mellon has a prestigious art program, and was my dream school. I applied and was accepted, but unfortunately, I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t realize until my museum visit that this was Andy’s alma mater, but since the program is a tough one, I have to admire him for making it through and going on to become so successful!

    Andy Warhol Museum. Any art lover visiting Pittsburgh should go!

    Andy Warhol Museum. Any art lover visiting Pittsburgh should go!

  2. I read in his diaries (in the notes by his secretary, Pat Hackett) that Andy really loved his “weekday rut”. There is a stereotype out there that artists live wild, erratic lifestyles, and this may be true for some. However, in my own experience, and also in my observation of other artists I know, we need to have a routine and practice self-discipline if we want to maintain our creativity. Inspiration is usually something we have to actively pursue and work for. It was interesting to read that Andy stuck to his routine, despite being known for his intense social life with celebrities.

    View of Andy Warhol bridge. And all the crazy signs - Pittsburgh is not a city with square blocks. One way signs, bridges everywhere...I get lost easily!

    View of Andy Warhol bridge. And all the crazy signs – Pittsburgh is not a city with square blocks. One way signs, bridges everywhere…I get lost easily!

  3. But lest we all get the wrong idea, his secretary also mentioned that his Factory (which he later called his office) was always full of clutter. I related to this also, because I struggle with clutter. I need alot of images and stuff around me to refer to, but at the same time, if I let it get out of hand, I find myself becoming less creative. According to his diaries, alot of the items he kept went into his Time Capsules.

    If you love Andy's silkscreen portraits, there's a whole floor of them waiting for you! But this is the only one you're allowed to take a photo with.

    If you love Andy’s silkscreen portraits, there’s a whole floor of them waiting for you! But this is the only one you’re allowed to take a photo with.

  4. Andy was associated with many celebrities, but I didn’t realize until my museum visit, and then reading some of his diaries, that he was so far ahead of his time. He published Interview magazine, and his vision for the magazine was to have it filled with celebrities, ideally, with celebrities interviewing other celebrities. His diaries are full of namedropping and his interactions with celebrities. Today, these things are a dime a dozen, but at the time, he was on the cutting edge of the pop culture influence. If he was alive today, I wonder if he would now be veering in the opposite direction, taking interest in the handcrafted, artisan movement. Our culture is now so oversaturated with celebrities, it is a relief to escape it.

And now, just a note about his diaries. I expected to be reading about his work. The truth is, the diaries are more a record of his social life and how much he spent on cab fares and such than they are about what he did in the studio. I found this very disappointing, and did not even make it through more than a few hundred out of the almost thousand pages. There are descriptions of parties with drugs and drinking, which celebrities were there and conversations they had, so if you enjoy reading about 1970’s New York partying, you may make it through this book. However, I wanted to read about his working methods, his thoughts and inspirations, and he only makes minimal references to his artwork.


In Defense of the Humble Dishcloth

I just returned from vacation with my family, and have lots to share. I love travelling, and of course, like most people, I don’t get to do nearly enough of it. The change of pace and new scenery, even in this case, when I spent time where I grew up, always inspire me and make me appreciate the value of learning. I always come home with a fresh perspective and in the mood to start new projects. Regardless of whether you are returning from a trip or simply in need of something new in your life, taking time to learn is always beneficial. Unfortunately, (and I see this in the shop ALOT with newbie crocheters and knitters), adults have a tough time accepting that learning is a process. So in honor of the gift we call learning, I’d like to share my top five parts of the process. My list is from the perspective of learning to knit and crochet, but you can apply the general ideas of the learning process to almost anything.

  1. Start with a dishcloth. I have no idea why people hate the idea of making a dishcloth, but when newbies come in the shop wanting to start their first project, they never seem to like the idea very much. If you want to crochet and knit, I’m sure it’s because you saw or heard about some of the amazing things that have already been made. But I am here to tell you: don’t start with your end goal! I learned first to crochet, then to knit, and both times, I started by making a dishcloth with the cheapest cotton I could find. In defense of the dishcloth, consider the benefits: no matter how uneven your stitches are or how ugly it turns out, you will still have a useful item. People often start with scarves, which are good because they’re flat, but really, who wants to wear a scarf that is full of mistakes? If you complete a dishcloth or two, you will have learned to tension your yarn properly, how to read your stitches, and of course, just the general technique of the craft. The other good thing about dishcloths is that they can be finished much quicker than almost anything else, which allows you to learn some of the bare basics and then move on to something more exciting.
  2. Keep your expectations reasonable and cut yourself some slack! Knitters and crocheters really need to give themselves credit for how much stuff they have to learn! We learn about fiber content, how things drape and wear with time, how to “read” our stitches, how to tension yarn, and so much more. It’s ludicrous to expect to know it all instantly. The fact of the matter is that learning is a process. It’s great to have a goal, but it’s also important to remember that it takes lots of time and practice to learn something new. This is the most major issue I see in the shop when I’m teaching people. You don’t learn to sew by starting with a couture ballgown, and beginning knitters and crocheters shouldn’t expect to go from making a scarf or dishcloth to a fitted sweater with a complicated pattern. You will get there eventually, but ease up and keep the learning curve gradual!
  3. Practice really does make perfect. People come in the shop all the time, see me working on a project they think is cool, and then seem floored when I tell them I’ve only been knitting and crocheting for about 5 years. Maybe my learning curve has been fast, maybe it hasn’t – I’m not really sure how I stack up in relation to other people’s rate of learning. But here’s my truth for everyone: I spend pretty much any chance I have knitting and crocheting. I don’t watch much TV, or if I do, it’s while I”m working on a project. I don’t have a crazy social life where I’m out on the town every weekend, and I don’t go a day without sitting down to work on a project for at least an hour. This is not to say everyone needs to make it the priority that I do, but the truth is there is no shortcut to learning something. Regardless of what it is you want to become good at, there is no substitute for practice.
  4. Understand from the start that you WILL make mistakes. No one likes doing it, but unfortunately, making mistakes is part of learning, and sometimes, ripping out is the only way to fix it so that you can be happy with the end result. I’ve gotten much more used to ripping out now that I’m a designer because alot of design is trial and error. But even if designing your own stuff is not your end game, there will still be times, especially when you’re starting out, that you need to rip back and fix things. It’s never a happy moment, so pick and choose when it’s absolutely necessary, but don’t expect to never have to do it. The bright side is that usually, when you redo the part you messed up, you figured alot out in the process, and it goes much quicker the second or third time around!
  5. Be willing to focus on the process, and push yourself to finish projects. When I started, I couldn’t wait to make gifts for loved ones, and I learned the hard way to be careful about what kinds of deadlines I put on myself. If you are in a rush to finish things and stressed out about self-inflicted deadlines, the process of making something becomes stressful instead of enjoyable. The other pitfall to watch out for is having too many unfinished projects laying around. All of us have projects that frustrated us so much that we had to put them aside for awhile. If you are that frustrated, then go ahead and put it aside. But beware of constantly starting things and not finishing them. Take it from me – too many unfinished projects laying around will cause you more stress and frustration. Even though it often feels boring by the end, it’s important to give yourself the satisfaction of finishing things, which is why, even now, I still make dishcloths when I need that feeling!

As you progress, you will realize that not knowing it all is also the beauty of it. The knowledge that there is always something more to learn is what keeps the more experienced of us coming back for more! May you always have something left to explore!


Two Artists

It is unfortunate that when I was in art school, we did not spend much time studying current artists. Of course I love the classics, but Jackson Pollock was probably about as recent as we came. My friend and I spent Friday touring Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky at LACMA and were talking about how sad it is that some of these talented and now-famous artists never lived to be valued in their own time. Van Gogh created a few thousand works, but only sold one in his lifetime. I certainly do believe in studying the classics, but I would like to show more support to current artists by visiting their gallery shows when possible, even if I can’t afford to buy their works. Here are two of my recently-found favorites, one of whom is local to California.

Mark Grotjahn – especially love his Butterfly series!

Damien Hirst – I love pop and op art, so I relate to his Spot series and also his Spin Paintings.


A Tasting…of Yarn

A few weekends ago, I spent a lovely afternoon at the shop participating in a yarn tasting. Of course it was fun to hang out with my fellow knitters and crocheters instead of working, but I wanted to share it with all of you because if you ever have a chance to go to one at your favorite shop, you should jump at the chance!

For anyone not familiar with what a yarn tasting is, allow me to give you the lovely details. We were tasting yarns from Kelbourne Woolens, who distribute the luscious Fibre Company line. For a minimal fee, which was applied to our purchase, we received a little drawstring bag with a generous sampling of each yarn and a pattern to knit incorporating all the tasting yarns. We even got to try Knightsbridge, which is not even listed yet on their main yarns page. Each sample was wrapped around a card that gave all the details about that particular yarn – yardage, fiber content, etc. The event was 3 hours long, which was just the right amount of time to enjoy knitting through the samples, and ponder projects in our heads…or with each other!

Yarn Tasting Kit for an afternoon of play

Yarn Tasting Kit for an afternoon of play

Aside from the pure relaxation and enjoyment of experimenting with yarn for a few hours, the top reason I would give for going to an event like this is that it’s a great way to get an overview of a line of yarns. Of course, the minute I opened up the kit, I wanted everything, but after knitting with each sample, I was able to think more clearly about what projects I might make with which yarns. I knitted with the tweedy Acadia, and decided I’d like to make a cardigan out of it. I am not usually drawn to tweedy yarns, so this is a classic example of trying something I wouldn’t have usually. I also realized that as lovely as the single ply yarns are, I could rule those out for right now because I already have so many in my stash. And when I started knitting up Tundra, I decided I absolutely MUST design myself a chunky knit dress!

Some of my fellow knitters started making projects out of the tasting samples, but I decided to spend the afternoon playing, and even though I don’t have a FO to show, I’m so glad I did! I highly encourage anyone to try a yarn tasting. If your shop doesn’t have any events like this in the works, set one up for yourself at home. Go through stash, wrap yourself off some yards of yarn, knit different stitch patterns, try new colors together, switch up needle sizes, and just play. I realized in this experience, that I almost never take the time to play with my yarn! I swatch when I’m making garments, but I rarely, if ever, just play. I left feeling relaxed and inspired, and from now on, when I finish a project, I plan to take a little time to play and experiment before starting the next.


Stories of Yarn Store Etiquette

Those of you who’ve read my blog for any length of time know I work parttime at my favorite yarn shop. I love it and feel privileged to be part of it. However, like any retail job, there is the downside of dealing with rude people. Yarn shops have their own special set of etiquette questions, so in most cases, I like to think people may do something rude without intending to. In the interest of helping to clear up questions about what’s appropriate, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and what those of us who work in shops would consider good etiquette.

But first, allow me to dispel what I call the Friday Night Knitting Club myth. A yarn store, while indeed a wonderful place, does not have magical potion hiding in the corners to guarantee that you will find the social life of your dreams, become best friends with everyone who walks in and receive solutions to all of life’s problems. There is indeed much evidence to support what all of us crafters already know, which is that knitting and/or crocheting do HELP us deal with life. But people need to keep their expectations reasonable, and understand that the general rules of how to build good friendships still apply.

One weekday afternoon when I was working, someone whom I’ve never seen came in and was not happy the shop was so quiet. She wanted to knit with a group and left a bit huffily when I couldn’t guarantee she’d have company for the afternoon. I’m sorry if she was having a lonely day, but did she really think it was my job to provide her a social gathering? I made polite conversation, but that wasn’t enough, which begs the question of what she was looking for. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was anything we as a yarn shop could have provided. I’m not criticizing anyone looking to build friendship around a common interest, but people do need to get over the fantasy that they can just walk into a yarn store and order up a best friend.

Along the same lines, it should also be noted that customers should not treat yarn store staff as their personal (free!) psychologists. I’m shocked at some of the things people expect me to listen to for hours at a time, and to be honest, I find it disrespectful. I’m not trained to help someone solve their family issues, medical issues or whatever the case might be. My job is to help people  find the right yarn for a project, to answer questions about the yarns WE CARRY (more on that in a moment), and to offer knitting and crocheting assistance. In fact, most of us live to help people, and because we love our craft so much, we enjoy teaching and sharing it. But just as in any industry, we are instantly turned off when people have unreasonable expectations or are just plain rude.

And now, the list of etiquette questions that I’ve noticed keep popping up and my thoughts on how to answer them. Unfortunately, it’s usually the worst examples of rudeness that stick in my mind, so I apologize in advance if any snark comes into play here. Please just take it as what NOT to do if you would like to build good relationships at your local yarn shop.

Can I sit and knit in the store, even if I don’t buy yarn?

Every shop owner has the right to make their own rules about this, so you may receive varying replies. At our shop, the short answer to the question is yes. The long answer is, even though my boss cultivates a friendly, open atmosphere and generally does not mind, there are a few caveats. The bottom line is that yarn stores are businesses. Because we have to compete with all the discount stores, plus huge online retailers who can afford to sell the same yarns for a few pennies less, it is a hard business. If you plan to hang out in a shop all the time, or to ask for lots of help, then you should also be buying yarn there. A shop cannot stay open if people don’t support it. Also, if you want to sit and knit for a few hours (or all day), please don’t torture the staff. Sitting there ALL DAY LONG talking nonstop makes it hard for me to do my job. As mentioned above, staff is not there to be someone’s best friend/significant other/psychologist/therapist. Which brings me to a question I just heard the other day and hear pretty much every day in some form…

Do you help people with their knitting? I didn’t buy my yarn here, but I ran into a problem and can’t figure it out. (There’s about a 100 ways to ask this question, and I’ve heard them all.)

I have all kinds of stories about this question. There was the lady who came in with a cheap ball of specialty yarn from Michaels who wanted me to help her figure out how to use it. On a VERY BUSY day. In this situation, let’s be honest. Either Michaels does not offer support, or she knew what top quality help is but was just too cheap to pay for it. I had to send her home to look at Youtube videos because: a) it was a busy day, and b) I don’t work for Michaels or buy my yarn there, so if they’re offering a specialty item, no, I don’t know how to use it.

Aside from situations like this, the answer is yes, we help people all the time, and usually, we LOVE doing it! Just be aware that even if you buy yarn at a shop, you still need to respect the difference between asking for help and taking advantage. Here is asking for help: A customer who buys yarn with us came in the other day for more assistance on a pattern she’s had lots of trouble with. She was very apologetic for coming in again, and I helped her. I told her not to feel bad about asking, and I meant it. We are very happy to help out with things like this, and especially if you bought yarn with us, we will not begrudge you the time if you’re really struggling. We all have been there before ourselves, and the knitting community exists to help each other grow and learn. I never feel taken advantage of when I know someone supports our store and is in genuine need of help and willing to learn.

But, so we understand what it means to take advantage, consider Exhibit A: The customer who asked me to untangle a big mess she’d made out of her ball. And Exhibit B: Another customer who expected me to sit there and do 3 hours of ripping out. Both of these illustrate what it means to take advantage, because both customers were asking me to do something they were perfectly capable of but just didn’t feel like doing. Sorry friends, but dealing with tangled yarn or ripping out because you made a mistake are YOUR responsibility, not the yarn store’s. There is no “expert” trick to untangling yarn, and even if it’s not a busy day, it’s still not my job to clean up someone’s mess. As for ripping out, I am happy to teach customers how to do it, since fixing mistakes is part of becoming a better knitter/crocheter. But customers need to be willing to learn to fix their mistakes because unless they’re paying the yarn store to do it, it is their responsibility. It’s not fun to fix mistakes or to deal with tangles, but neither takes any special skill, and neither is the responsibility of yarn store staff. Speaking of messes…

Can I bring in food, drinks, snacks…?

Short answer, at least in our case, is yes, but DON’T LEAVE A MESS. That is all.

Where is Employee A, when will she be in, why wasn’t she here when I came in, and all similar questions.

There was a lady who got mad because I didn’t know what one of the other staff members did over the weekend. She wanted to know why I wasn’t there certain times of the week, and why the other employee wasn’t there. She got very unpleasant when I told her I have kids and can’t just sit in the shop knitting all the time. (Trust me, I WISH that were possible sometimes!) And then I realized, I don’t need to explain to any customer why I’m there one day and not the next! I’m not sure why she felt entitled to information, but the etiquette here is the same as everywhere else. The yarn community is friendly and warm, which is one of the greatest things about it. But personal privacy and safety still apply, and friendliness should not be confused with expecting someone to be on call.

May I use the ballwinder and swift to wind my yarn if I didn’t buy it here?

This is another question each shop owner will answer differently. My boss is not overly strict about this, and as long as we’re not busy, I’m usually happy to do someone a favor. But a customer that receives this sort of favor should be respectful that it IS a favor. Ballwinders and swifts are expensive and they do wear out. The best etiquette tip I can give in this instance is to just always be mindful that the only time you’re ENTITLED to use a store’s equipment is when you spent money in the store.

Good etiquette really just equals being polite and considerate. I tried to answer questions here that are specific to yarn shops, and I hope this post clears up some of the confusion about what is appropriate.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers