Monday, August 3, 2015

July Goals / August Goals

August already?! It's time to check back in on the previous months' goals and set some new ones for the month ahead. This summer has been insanely busy in ways I could (or would) have never predicted. Even with my attempt at a "stress-free" list of goals for July, I was only marginally successful in my quests...but at least I didn't stress about it, which is totally fine by me!

Well, at least I had a successful Tour de Fleece!
JULY GOALS
1. Spin with Team Cloudlover for the Tour de Fleece. 100% achieved! 

2. Spend a few hours each weekend working on design ideas. 50% achieved; the last few weeks I've been working on a project which took precedence over everything else because it's a display piece for Stitches Midwest. 

3. Try to make some more of the small projects which have been in my queue for a while. Kinda sorta....I made several small projects in July, but they weren't from patterns that have been languishing in my queue. However, they do fulfill the next goal...


4. Destash! All of the small projects from Goal #3 (baby mocs and the Adventures in Mochimochiland critters) fulfilled this requirement!

5. Continue to add to the scrap yarn blanket. I only added two squares for July. TWO. Oops!

Am I crazy, or does this whole goal-setting thing seems to serve only one purpose these days: to remind me that the best laid plans often go astray?! 

I'm a little reticent to set even more goals for August, because work and life in general are really heating up: Stitches Midwest is this coming weekend, I started two new clients for this month, we have an employee who will be going on maternity leave so I'll be taking on some extra work while she's on babycation, I'll be taking on more tech editing projects, and my in-laws are doing the whole monthlong visit thing starting mid-month. Oh, and the next Wave of Babies has commenced, so the list of baby stuff to knit continues to grow (good thing those projects are usually pretty quick!). Honestly, I think I'll be winning at life if I can come through the other side of August with my sanity intact.  

The flipside of being crazy busy is that I find that I usually get more done because I am a lot more efficient across the board: I know I don't have a single second to spare, so I make a concerted effort to maximize each one. I'm not really a procrastinator by nature, but a sense of urgency can really do wonders for kicking one's butt in gear.

So, just in case my theory is true, here are my goals for next month:

AUGUST GOALS

1. Finish the flax spinning project-in-progress on my wheel. This one's left over from the Tour de Fleece, and it took a back seat once the Tour was over and I switched gears to working on my Stitches Midwest project full-force. 

2. Release a new pattern this month. It's pretty ridiculous that I haven't self-published any new patterns in the last several months - believe me, it's not for lack of ideas!

3. Finalize my holiday knitting plans. I've actually decided to purchase most of my gifts this year because I know I simply can't make enough things for gifting purposes. However, there are a few projects I do want to make if time allows, and planning ahead right now is probably my best bet at making that happen. 

4. Start some projects with handspun yarn. I've already picked out some patterns to put my recently-finished handspun skeins to work, so it shouldn't be too much of a leap to cast on a few new projects this month! 

5. Show the scrap yarn blanket some love! I'm sure it's feeling rather neglected these days. 

I think five goals is my limit for each month going forward....so that should be enough to guide my crafting in August (I hope). Well, until the next unexpected thing pops up to distract me, that is! 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fiber Friday: Spinzilla Fiber Pack from Louet

The Tour de Fleece may be over, but I am still spinning through the Louet Spinzilla July Fiber Pack I received earlier this month! Each month between now and Spinzilla, a new discounted fiber pack will be available at louet.com - and if you are coveting this particular assortment of fabulous fibers, you are in luck: there are still some July Fiber packs available here.

You may recall when I shared this photo a few weeks ago:
From top to bottom: 1/2 lb Optim 100% Merino Top, 1/2 lb Wool/Linen 60/40 Top, 2 oz 100% Cashmere, 1/2 lb Dyed Merino Top in Tawny Gold, 1/2 lb Super Fine Flax Top, 1 lb Grey Gotland Sliver & 1/2 lb Dark Coopworth.

Since then, I've spun through about half of the fiber at this point (1.5 lbs, to be exact), and I can honestly say that I've enjoyed each selection so far. I started with a really easy-spinning fiber, the Dark Coopworth (below, middle). It was very light, lofty and a total breeze to work with. My next pick was the wool/linen top (below, right), which I was very curious about and figured it was a good stepping stone to the fiber I was most intimidated by (the super fine flax top). As I'd hoped, it was a rather wool-like spinning experience, but the resulting skein definitely feels more like a linen yarn in terms of hand...the best of both worlds!
After working on two natural fibers, I felt drawn to the bright dyed merino (above, left). Plus, I knew it was a fiber I could definitely handle! Merino is always lovely to spin, and I hatched a plan to make a 2-ply sport weight which would pair up with some future spinning projects to my first-ever handspun sweater. Insanity!

Right before the TdF closed, I decided I should give that 100% flax top a try. I was more than a little intimidated, as everything I have read about spinning flax has always made it sound quite complicated. The bonus of using a prepared top is that the process is simplified quite a bit right off the bat. My spinning guru Lauren recommended that I keep a small bowl of water nearby to dip my fingers into while I draft, and also that I introduce a slight twisting motion into the draft as I work.

This was (not surprisingly) pretty good advice, and so far it's been working for me. It's much slower going for me since I am still getting my sea legs; I can't tell you how many times the working single has simply flown out of my hand before I could do anything to stop it, which is a real talent considering how long the fiber length is for flax! But once I get going again and find my rhythm, it's kind of exciting to see everything take shape. As you can see in the photo below, I still have quite a ways to go with this project, but that's ok with me. I never thought I would be able to spin flax, and truthfully, I probably wouldn't have stepped outside of my comfort zone to give it a try if some hadn't found its way into my house via this pack.
I have big plans for the fibers which are left over: the Grey Gotland is earmarked for my Insane Handspun Sweater project, and I can't stop thinking about blending the Optim Merino (which is SO silky) with the light brown cashmere. The only thing that is stopping me is that the blending board I want is currently on backorder - but once I get it in my hot little hands, I am fairly certain that I will be making some lovely rolags with these two fibers. 


If your fiber stash is looking depleted after a productive Tour de Fleece, or if you're just prone to enabling, you should probably snag yourself a July Spinzilla Fiber pack for just $75 while you still can!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WIPs....just WIPs!

Though I am still spinning even though the Tour de Fleece ended this past Sunday, I wanted to focus back on knitting for today's post. I started a new project last Friday using some exciting yarn from Bijou Basin Ranch - one of several limited-edition colorways of Tibetan Dream yarn hand-dyed by Miss Babs, in fact! They are available online right now - or you can snag a skein or two at Stitches Midwest next month.
I'm knitting the Leonarda Shawl by Laura Chau, which is my project for the #KPChauKAL happening here on Ravelry. There are some pretty awesome prizes up for grabs, and any of Laura's neckwear patterns are eligible for this KAL (plus - there is a coupon code for your pattern purchase!). I have definitely been favoring this project because I need to have it done in time for Stitches (more on that later). It's already at that awkward-to-photograph stage, so I'm taking that to be a good sign that I am on track to meet this goal! 
The bird's eye view.
Since last Wednesday, I have also started another project: this one is a simple worsted-weight baby sweater in Spud & Chloe yarn. The Pint-Size Pullover pattern is from their new collection for baby's first year, and I think it lends itself well to customization; I plan on adding a second color to create a colorblock effect.
Lastly, I had set the Fine top aside for a bit, but have since picked it back up and made some exciting progress...it's now starting to look like something you could wear (if you were a small person, that is): 
That's it for this week, thanks for stopping by!


Monday, July 27, 2015

3 Lessons Learned from the 2015 Tour de Fleece

This was my third year spinning in the Tour de Fleece, and it became unexpectedly challenging when one of my spinning wheels broke during the first week of the event. The wheel ended up being out of commission for much of the tour due to an unfortunate inventory mixup which resulted in having the incorrect part shipped to me twice, and the correct part finally showing up at the beginning of the final week of the event. It was a bummer, to say the least, but on the plus side, I did learn three very important lessons:
  1. Cleaning, oiling, tightening screws, and other regular maintenance is a good idea, but don't count on that being enough. If you have a wheel which is several years old, has seen a lot of action (tally up the number of TDFs and Spinzillas!), or was previously used, the likelihood is higher that something might give out is increased. Plus, even the best-maintained wheel is going to break down at some point from normal use. Things wear out - it happens!
  2. Keeping spare parts on hand for things you haven't recently replaced is a REALLY good idea. You know you'll use it eventually, and it's better to have it on hand instead of wishing you did (file under: learn from my pain)! Spare drive bands, connectors, and other parts for your wheel are all good to have waiting in the wings; really, anything you can't recall replacing in the last 1-2 years (or ever!) would fit this category. For most wheels, you can look at your manual or the manufacturer's website to get an idea of which parts are replaceable. 
  3. If you want to spin for speed and efficiency, two wheels really IS necessary. I love to spin singles on one of my wheels (the one which broke down); under ideal conditions, I use the other wheel to ply. This system is fabulous for Spinzilla, when it's important to keep spinning no matter what - so, while your singles are resting prior to plying, you can start a new project! 
Here are all of the skeins I completed during this year's event, which lasted July 4-26, 2015:
(for individual skein details, you can check out my handspun projects page on Ravelry.)

For all of my non-spinning readers, I want to say thank you for hanging with me throughout this event! I will be going back to my regular format (for the most part) now that this year's Tour de Fleece is over - though I have so much handspun yarn on my hands, you can definitely expect to see more projects using it in the near future!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiber Friday: Tour de Fleece - Finished Skein Parade

The Tour de Fleece ends this Sunday, and I'm hoping to get a few more spinning projects finished up this weekend. However, I have a LOT of new skeins to share since last Friday's post, starting with the Quick's Point fiber from Cloudlover. It's a generous 360 yards of a two-ply sport weight....and I'm thinking it wants to be SOCKS!
Last weekend, I plied the Coopworth into a really lovely two-ply worsted, and I am pretty sure it will want to be a cowl or some fingerless gloves:
Yesterday was the "challenge day" for the tour, and since I had a pretty big queue for plying, I decided to see how many singles I could work through in just one day. I started with the Museum Grudge Match singles, since that project had been in progress the longest.
Then I quickly plied the wool/flax singles:
After that, I ran out of steam. I could have started the dyed merino, but I decided to save it til today. When I'm done with work for the day, I plan on plying the merino, picking some fiber for my final TDF spinning project this weekend, and then casting on for the Knitter's Pride/Laura Chau Neckwear KAL that's happening right now.

Here's hoping you also have a fun and crafty weekend!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

WIPs & SIPs: Tour de Fleece Week 3

Are you sitting down? Ok, good. BECAUSE I FINALLY FIXED MY BROKEN SPINNING WHEEL. I apologize for the all caps, but it was truly a monumental day when the CORRECT part arrived on Monday of this week and I was finally able to get my second wheel back into action. As a bonus, they sent me an extra part so that I will have one on hand for the next time this happens (which I assume will be waaaay in the future)!At any rate, I was psyched to finish the second single of my Museum Grudge Match Fiber:
Of course, since my regular plying wheel has been taking up the single-spinning slack, there is now a queue for project to be plied. Over the weekend, I finished 8oz of a wool/linen blend from the July Louet Spinzilla Fiber Pack:
And THEN (also over the weekend, before the correct part to fix my second spinning wheel arrived, mind you) I started spinning some Louet Dyed Merino in Tawny Gold:
I've already started the second single for this project, and once it's finished, I can switch back to my bulky flyer and work through plying my single backlog. I'd been planning on trying to spin the flax top on Thursday (the challenge day), but I think it might be more of a challenge to see if I can ply 24oz of singles in one day. We'll see!

In the midst of all this spinning, I still found time to knit. I worked on finishing some baby booties (which I'll probably blog about in more detail later on, but you can view the finished project here on Ravelry), and I also made progress on my Spud & Chloe project - look, the peplum is nearly complete!
I'm trying to resist starting new projects, because I'll be starting a large shawl for the Laura Chau Neckwear KAL which kicks off this Friday. There will be lots of prizes and there is also a coupon code for pattern purchases - click here for more info. It should be lots of fun!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Winner + Take Five: Under-appreciated Knitting Projects with Megan-Anne Llama from Lattes & Llamas

Before we launch into today's Take 5 guest blog post, I want to announce the winner of this month's giveaway: congratulations are in order for SaraMCrafts, whose comment was randomly selected to win the Adventures in Mochimochi Land prize pack! I'll get in touch with you on Ravelry to arrange for the delivery of your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered this giveaway! 


Jac & Megan-Anne of the Lattes & Llamas blog.
Today's Take 5 Guest Post is something I'm pretty sure everyone can relate to: Megan-Anne Llama from the Lattes & Llamas blog shares the top 5 times her FO project was massively under-appreciated. And she's got some doozies for you - I had to pick my jaw up off the floor multiple times while reading these stories!

It's a bit like Festivus with the airing of the grievances (but perhaps minus the feats of strength?), and I encourage you to share your own tales of woe in the comments so that we can all sympathize. This is a safe place, we all know your pain, and I promise you'll feel better once you get it off your chest! 

I feel like I should have thicker skin, but the prospect of putting together this list really brought out my feels. I think every artist, and especially fiber artists, feel like their work is unappreciated at one time or another. Have you ever had someone ask why you made that sweater/blanket/etc when you could have bought one for $20 at Target? It’s soul crushing. So to all the knitters that have had their woolen blankets felted in warm water by their recipients, and all the spinners that have had someone wonder why their yarn is so pricey when you can get a pound of yarn at Joann’s for half that cost, and for all the folks that have made sweaters that were never worn, I dedicate this rant list to you. Also, sorry not sorry to my mom and husband for telling these stories. You both deserve it! ;)

Under-Appreciated FO #1:
Without question, the first project that comes to my mind is a lace shawl I made for my mom about a decade ago. It was my first large scale lace project, and I made it as a Christmas present for her. At the time I was about 20 years old, living in Burlington, Vermont, and I had NO money. It wasn’t luxury yarn the way I think of it now, but at the time, dropping >$60 on yarn was a huge investment. It took me months to finish it, and even though it was far from perfect, I was incredibly proud of it. I gave it to my mom on Christmas morning and she seemed really excited by it, so mission accomplished. My mom and I live on opposite coasts and we only see each other every other year or so. Anyhow, flash forward a few years, I went out to San Francisco to visit her. I get into her apartment and one of the first things I see is that shawl on an end table like some kind of ridiculous worsted weight table cloth. It had SEVERAL coffee rings and a lamp on it. I demanded to know what that shawl was doing as a tablecloth and she tells me, “I like it this way.” As far as I know, it’s still a tablecloth to this day. I figure one day I’ll pass it on to my grandkids as an antique heirloom end-table covering and insist they put plastic over it to protect the “artistic stain pattern.”

Under-Appreciated FO #2:
Do you guys remember the alchemy feature on Etsy? I freaking loved alchemy. When I was just starting out as a designer, it was an amazing way to connect with prospective clients. I made some super cool stuff from alchemy orders:
...this TMNT sweater…
...and these Link and Midna baby costumes…
...and this Ramona Flowers-inspired pullover.

The client that I made the purple sweater for originally ordered it at a super low price for a sweater, but I was a new designer, so I took the bid. And then once I had committed, she tells me that she needs it done and delivered in 3 weeks for a costume party. Current me would have either doubled the price or backed out right there, but of course I told her I could do it. And I did do it. Based on nothing but a wobbly MS paint sketch of a purple sweater with a blue and pink stripe on it that she gave me along with her measurements. I busted ass and turned that thing out in 2 weeks. I mailed it off and didn’t hear from her until another 2 weeks later. She writes me to say she hates it, it looks nothing like her sketch, and she wants her money back. So I told her to return it to me unworn and I’ll return her money. She responded that she did wear it to the party and she doesn’t want to return it, but does want a refund.

Under-Appreciated FO #3:
My number 3 isn’t actually so much a finished object, but all the Geek-A-Long squares I haven’t made. Every single week Jac and I get emails and Rav PMs wanting to know “Why [insert fandom/character here] isn’t on the blanket?!” 99.9% of GAL community are amazing, supportive, and just generally wonderful people. Every day I’m grateful that they are willing to show up and support Child’s Play with me. I can’t even tell you how much I love them and what it means to me to have been able to bring such an awesome group of people together. But man, that .1% can feel like a way bigger group than it is when they’re doing battle with my self-esteem. Having people care enough about your work to criticize it is the problem an artist wants to have, but all the same, it’s tough to swallow when folks post hurtful comments about my baby… I mean, blanket. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for the response to the GAL across the board, both good and bad. The positive feedback has been incredibly positive, and I generally feel unworthy of it. The negative feedback makes me feel like it’s middle school all over again. Ultimately, I think that’s why I got into dyeing this year. Jac and I released our very own line of sock yarn, Vacation Yarn, and not once has someone looked at it and said to me, “Well if I were doing it, I would have made the orange darker.” The GAL is going to be in my life for a really long time - we already have next year’s mostly designed! But, I choose to believe that over time, the compliments will feel less surreal and the criticisms won’t sting as much.

Under-Appreciated FO #4:
Number 4 is one of my absolute favorite craft show stories. When Lattes & Llamas first got started, it was Knerdy Knits, and we sold FOs, not patterns. So craft shows and Etsy were pretty much our bread and butter. Especially around the Winter Holidays, we would do a craft show every weekend, and we usually did the same circuit of shows each year. Anyhow, this was our 2nd or 3rd year at a show we really liked and our table was right next to this really intense jewelry maker’s table. We were setting up and intense jewelry lady is setting up, and she comes over to our table and starts trying on everything. Not a big deal, but then she puts on this really nice blue shawl that we had, which was made out of silk yarn. It was one of those pieces that was meant to be an eye catcher more than anything else. It wasn’t priced to sell, but I’d have been happy to part with it for the right price.
So she puts on the blue shawl AND WALKS AWAY. She goes back to her table like that’s a normal thing to do. I went over and told her I need the shawl back, and without a trace of irony in her voice says “It speaks to me.” Um. Well, ok I guess. I told her the price and after an awkward moment, she begrudgingly took it off. But over the next 8 hours, she must have come over to our table a dozen times trying to convince me to gift the shawl to her. She offered to trade me a necklace made out of fake Swarovski’s for it. When that didn’t work, she offered to read my zodiac or some such thing in exchange. At the end of the day, when we all packed up, I come back in the room after taking the tables out to my car and found her rooting through the product bins, trying to find the shawl! She looked like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar and tried to pass it off as if she just wanted to try one more time to do the necklace swap. Look, I’m not a mathematician. But offering me a necklace priced at $20 in trade for a $200 shawl seems like someone skipped arithmetic day a school. It kills me that other people, especially other artists, don’t appreciate how long it takes to make something like that.

Under-Appreciated FO #5:
My last rant about under-appreciated knits is a sweater vest that I made for my husband. At the time we weren’t even engaged yet, and looking back on it, I’m not sure why I married him after this. ;) We were both going through an intense love of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, and I made him a Captain Hammer sweater vest. I’m not sure where it is these days, but when I gave it to him he said it was really cool. And then he slipped it over the back of the chair at his computer desk where it remained until we moved. He NEVER EVEN TRIED IT ON. It was basically my mom’s shawl all over again. “But honey, I hate to wear sweaters. I love the way it looks though!” Whatever, Kevin. You know what, though? It’s fine. Last year he asked me for a sweater, and I got to have a great big belly laugh and remind him of the sweater vest.

Wow. That was actually really cathartic! I don’t think I realized how much pent up finished-object-feelings (FOF?) I had.