Gifts to Make

I like to do a little holiday crafting for my closest loved ones. I learned the hard way to be selective so I don’t overwhelm myself and turn something that should be fun and loving into added holiday stress. I’ve moved away from seeing how many gifts I can crank out toward picking one or two stunning projects to give to the most special people in my life. But however you like to plan out your gifting, a word to the wise: START NOW!

Aside from the giving, the most fun part (in my opinion) is figuring out what to make! So for all of you who support me and read my blog, here is my little holiday gift to you! A list of the coolest patterns I’ve been bookmarking all year! I hope you enjoy browsing the list, and if you make any of these, please share your photos of the finished pieces because I would love to see!

  1. Being the art lover that I am, and Op Art being one of my favorite movements, this blanket speaks to me even though I don’t currently have anyone to make a baby blanket for! But I’m thinking it could also be a pretty awesome throw. Check out the pattern on Ravelry to see what other people came up with in color combos!
  2. This sweater is something a teenager with a forward fashion sense would enjoy. Big prints and images on sweaters and sweatshirts are very popular, so if you are looking for something for the hard-to-please teen category, this is definitely NOT grandma’s knitting!
  3. A classic go-to gift, fingerless mitts with a twist!
  4. Socks are so much work, but such a lovely gift for someone truly dear to you who is worth all the knitting time! For an extra-special pair for your extra-special someone, I recommend anything from Ravelry’s Tour De Sock, but I especially love Fields of Flowers.
  5. Technically, Minion things would be listed as children’s gifts, but I know plenty of adults who would enjoy having these too. Crocheted items usually work up quickly, so if you need a gift in a hurry, or a fun gag gift for a white elephant party, Minions are a fun option.
  6. I’ve never done Tunisian entrelac, so I have no idea how complicated (or not) this project would be, but it is so fantastic, I had to include it! Plus, I would love to learn how to do this, so I consider it a gift to myself AND the person who gets the FO. However, just given the size, I would recommend starting this gift this year in preparation for gifting next year.
  7. A tote is always useful! I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have a use for this bag!
  8. Shawls are always a lovely gift, and this designer has a beautiful variety.
  9. And last, but not least, the classic holiday gift: a scarf. But not just any scarf – why do boring rib when you could explore the magic of illusion knitting?

I hope you enjoy the ideas I found. I tried to link to the original source of each pattern, but if you would like to see color ideas or projects other people have completed, these can all be looked up on Ravelry. Happy holiday gifting!

Why We Do

Much has been written about how to answer the common non-crafter question: why do you bother taking all that time to knit or crochet when you can buy a scarf (or whatever it is) for much cheaper at (insert chain store)? The Yarn Harlot always has hilarious answers for these sorts of questions, but I came up with my own list of reasons the other day when I was madly trying to finish a gift for someone and asking myself the same things! Of course, the answer to these sorts of questions is always personal and individual, but if you need a quick comeback for someone, here’s a potential list to pick from.

1. Learning to knit and crochet teaches you not only the skill, but also appreciation for an art form. It’s like taking ballet or music lessons – you never truly appreciate the talent and beauty of the masters until you’ve experienced first hand the effort it takes to get there.

2. There is a huge trend toward artisan and handcrafts, and in my opinion, this is because the general public is sick and tired of the Walmart mentality of “Buy 20 because it’s cheap!” In our hearts, all human beings are individuals, and we appreciate individuality. Knitters and crocheters just have already known for a long time what the rest of the world is starting to figure out! And when you make a gift for someone, you certainly don’t have to worry they’ll receive 10 more of the same.

3. The biggest reason (for me at least) to take the time to make things by hand is because it is the ONLY time to sit down and breathe. I learned right after my dad died very suddenly, and I don’t know how I would have recovered if I hadn’t been able to turn to crocheting and knitting. I couldn’t focus on reading a book, had no interest in anything on TV because I felt like the world didn’t understand my grief, and I couldn’t sleep. When I learned to crochet, I could sit down for an hour or two and have my mind completely focused on what I was doing. I was creatively involved, my hands were busy, and at the end of a project, I had something useful (even if not beautiful, since I was still learning!). Thankfully, I can now remember my dad without feeling all that grief and pain, but crocheting and knitting are still what help me manage stress and those times in life I feel overwhelmed with too much to do. Even half an hour of working on a project makes me feel calmer and more focused.

4. Working with yarn teaches you so much besides just working the hook or needles. When I used to go shopping and buy clothes, I never paid any attention to fiber content. I never knew anything about it, and didn’t realize I needed to know! Now that I’ve learned so much about different fibers, their properties in terms of how they react to heat, water, etc., I’m so much smarter about what clothing I buy! Knitters and crocheters learn all the nuances of their materials hands-on, which is usually the most thorough way to learn anything.

5. And finally, when asked why you bother to craft, there is the old standby question of WHY NOT? If you’re going to sit down and watch TV, why not have a project in hand? Anytime in life you have a chance to learn something new or do something creative, why not?

5 Habits

I appreciate when life offers us little periods of time to reboot. For many (and for myself too), this is New Year’s. Starting a new year fresh with goals in mind and a new energy is great, but for me, the fall is an even better time to try to develop good habits. I’m much more rested and refreshed after the summer than I am in January, and I always consider how I can make the school year a good one for the kids as well as more productive and creative for me while they’re in school. So, here are five habits I’m working to develop, and I’d love to hear yours!

  1. Work in sketchbook daily. I do work in my sketchbook quite often, but I wish it was a more developed habit. Every successful designer I know does this, and when I was in art school, it was the first thing all the teachers encouraged us to do. My drawing skills aren’t up to the standard I’d like, but a sketchbook is invaluable for remembering ideas. I write alot of notes, but honestly, no matter how fast and scribbled my drawing might be, the visuals are always easier to go back to later.
  2. Set specific goals and build in rewards for when I accomplish them. The last few years I struggled alot. I got very sick for about 6 months, and had to go back and forth to the doctor to get myself sorted out. I was so tired I could hardly make it through a day without a nap. I also worked nonstop, and as soon as one thing was done, I moved onto the next. I realized I was losing the joy in life, even in the things I most love to do. The key, I think, to avoiding such complete burnout is to set specific goals, and to celebrate accomplishments with a day off. I plan to allow myself the pleasure of a day out shopping (or a day at home with a good book, depending on my mood) before rushing into the next big challenge.
  3. Even when you have a job you love, there will always be tasks you just don’t love doing. And they mount up very quickly when you procrastinate! My new goal could be termed “Don’t procrastinate”, but more specifically, get the tasks you hate out of the way. Even though this takes discipline, it does help free your mind for the things you love!
  4. Learn to focus. Sometimes life requires us to shift gears more than we want to, but especially when it comes to crafting, we have alot of control over this. In my previous post I mentioned how I had way too many projects going, or just sitting around because I lost interest. What I learned over the summer is that it is so much more productive to focus, and it’s also much more likely to get things finished when I do!
  5. Give more, share more. I really love this video. I think it’s extremely important if you work by yourself to keep up interaction with other people in the same situation, to know when to ask for help, and to also be willing to give other people the same support. I want to get better at this, and plan to spend at least a little time each day keeping up with what my fellow designers and crafters are doing.

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.

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.