Monday, December 27, 2010

Where's the other stick?

 It all started with this....
beautiful, handpainted, 100% merino wool yarn in vibrant, rainbow colors...
 and a hook...

...along with the desire to learn more about crocheting.

I learned a few basic stitches years ago from my mother-in-law, Karen, who is an accomplished crocheter.  It was tricky business, however, because unlike knitting with two needles, you only have one hook, and you have to PICK a hand to hold it in.  I am a lefty, you see, and Karen is right-handed.  Being a lefty in a right-handed world my whole life, I have learned to adapt and overcome.  And I did, to some degree, get it figured out, using my left hand, but soon became frustrated and went back to my knitting.

It wasn't just about holding the hook and yarn.  There was also the challenge of learning to read crochet patterns, which was a whole new language to me.  My mind would go hazy trying to comprehend instructions like:  Ch 1, hdc across, do not turn, cont around edge of base as foll:  work 23 hdc evenly spaced across row ends, hdc in 44 unused lps of foundation ch, work 23 hdc across next 32 sts, sl st in beg ch-1 to join, turn.  It was SO different than knitting.  I might as well have been reading Arabic, or Greek, or well, you get the picture.

And just like learning a new language, you first have to understand the words, and then you have to be able to speak them or use them in real life, or in this case, actually do what it says, CORRECTLY.

I know what hdc stands for..half double crochet...I even know how to do one...but somebody please tell me, where are the 44 unused lps of foundation ch?  Where are the next 32 sts?  And then you want me sl st in beg ch-1 to join?!?  There seems to be no beginning and no end.  Counting chains and 'seeing' where to put the hook for the next stitch was such a challenge. I never ended up with the correct number of sts and even a flat piece that was supposed to be square at the edges turned round, right before my eyes. 

Knitting, whether flat or in the round, you can see exactly how many stitches are on the needles and you know where your next stitch is (most of the time anyway).  But this crochet business was more than my brain wanted to take in at the time any way. 

So like I said, I put it away for many years, only bringing out my hook(s) as it pertained to my knitting:  to pick up dropped stitches, slip stitch two pieces of knitting together, bind off many, many stitches on blankets (that's a neat trick, let me tell you, and so fast), and putting the occasional crocheted edging on a piece of my knitting.  I tell new knitters all the time that the most valuable knitting tool I own is a crochet hook, and I mean it.  I would be lost without it. 

So when someone asks me if I crochet, my stock answer is, yes, I can crochet, but I am NOT a crocheter.  There is a big distinction to be made here.

If a customer comes to the Brown Sheep store with a question or problem regarding crochet, I honestly cannot help them.  The best I can do is send them across the hall into the office.  The ladies in there both crochet and are able to understand a pattern quite well.  I do feel bad when I have to do that though, because they are very busy answering phones, taking orders and such.  They are always willing to help and do so with a smile on their face, I might add, but three years of this and I think I finally decided I needed to step up, get over my resistance and learn to crochet...really learn this time. 

A few questions, a few lessons, and patient encouragement from my co-workers, I got started, again.

This time I put the hook in my right hand from the start.  I held and tensioned the yarn with my left hand.  (So glad I can continental knit as well as throw!  That helped a lot.  When I learned from my mother-in-law years ago I didn't know how to continental knit.  Seems it has made all the difference for me this go around.)

I chose a simple shell stitch scarf pattern that we have in the store (along with several beautiful samples I have been coveting for months now) Our previous crochet instructor, Brandy Earl, used this same pattern in her beginning classes.

So anyway, I was off and crocheting.

Seeing those colors taking shape was enough to keep me going! 

But it was also the rhythm and flow I found almost immediately.  What a different feel than knitting.  How delightfully surprising that I was enjoying it this much, even if I did look down at my knitting work in the basket next to my feet and feel a pang of guilt, like a cheating spouse in a way.  I really related to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's self-imposed label of Yarn Harlot.  (She can't stay loyal to any one knitting project lol)  In my case it was like having an affair with crocheting and my knitting was very jealous. 

Evidently my husband was paying close attention and was even 'bothered' somewhat by my new found love.  
He asked at one point, "Are you giving up knitting?" 

The way he asked I almost felt like he was asking if I was giving him up. lol:)  He doesn't like change much and I guess after seeing me with knitting needles in my hands for 26 years, he just didn't quite understand what in the world I was doing.  lol:) 

The look in his eyes seemed to ask:  Was I changing careers...again?!?  Was I going to be a crocheter instead of a knitter?  Why in the world was I doing this?...I think it threw him off in no small way.   I just smiled and kept on crocheting, all the time reassuring him that no, I wasn't 'giving up' knitting.  It was time for me to expand my skills, that's all.

I have to be totally honest here though.  There was a little voice in my head that kept asking what if I liked crocheting better than knitting?!?  Oh my...;)   

In any case, I was eager to share the fun I was having with our Knit Night group because surely they could appreciate my enthusiasm.  I brought my crocheting along to our last get together.  My friend Virginia, who crochets, but doesn't knit, watched me for a short while and when I noticed she was keeping an eye on my work I asked her what she was thinking and she said:  "You crochet like a knitter."

I laughed and pondered that for a sec then asked, "What do you mean by that?"

She said "You hold the hook like a knitting needle!"

I really didn't get it and honestly I was too engrossed in what I was doing at the moment to give it too much thought.  I kept happily crocheting away, feeling only slightly self-conscious somewhere inside of me that maybe I was doing it all wrong and she just didn't want to hurt my feelings. :)

Later on I was showing off my new crochet skills to my mother-in-law and asked her what Virginia meant.  She smiled and said this is how most crocheters hold their hook and she put it in her hand like she was going to write with it.

Oh!  I see now!  In knitting, holding the needles that way is called the Victorian hold or the pencil hold.  The light bulb went on.  I guess because I hold my knitting needles like a fork or spoon, that's how I was holding my crochet hook as well. 

No matter, the point being it was cute and I realized I loved being told that I crochet like a knitter.  Well of course I do.

Anyway....less than a week later...
(unheard of, by the way, when KNITTING a really is fast even for a beginner!)


A pretty little scalloped-edged scarf.

That can be worn like this...

or maybe... this.

It's 92" long!

That's the way I like my that I can wrap and wrap around my neck and still have plenty of length down the front of my legs.

My excitement at my accomplishment wasn't squashed even when I brought it to work to show the girls in the office and Tracy said, "It's lovely, but you did it wrong."

"Wrong?", I said.  Well, it sure looked like a scarf to me! ;) 

Yep, it seems that the pretty little scalloped edge wasn't really supposed to be there.
Evidently I forgot to double crochet at the end of every row before chaining and turning, which made my turning chains at each end bend...hence the accidental scalloped edge.

Very pretty though (don't you think?) .

I made the same mistake for 92" and didn't have a clue! 

I'm a beginner.  It's a good excuse.

 Well, I thought, I better try again.  I chose a beautiful brown monochromatic yarn (Lamb's Pride Worsted M-260 Cafe Au Lait) and made it for myself...and this time I did it 'right'.  The edges were straighter this time. 

The brightly colored scarf, by the way, I gave to my daughter for Christmas.  She said she loved it.  Those colors are so 'her'.  She said it looked tie-dyed.  Cool.

Here's mine...

I have always thought of myself as a knitter, period. And then somewhere along the way I adopted the title fiber artist, simply because it represents the other fiber arts I incorporate into my knitting.   Also, because I teach classes, I am always looking to improve my knitting skills and that's what I spend the majority of my time working on.

Every year, January brings renewed optimism for change, for a better life, for a better you. And that’s a wonderful thing.  It’s wonderful, because this fresh start gives us a chance to reinvent our lives and ourselves. It allows us to reinvigorate ourselves, to shed the baggage of the previous year and do anything.

I want to make the most of this gift. And sometimes that means reinventing the way I live. 

While I am definitely not ready to teach crochet just yet, I am excited for the coming year.  (I have hired a new instructor, Esther Warren to take over Brandy's classes...see the Class Schedule Page for details.)

I love new beginnings and this feels like a true beginning of something for me. It isn't so much about the crocheting as what it represents.  You can fill in that blank with anything new and interesting that you'd like to learn. 

It's about the fact that I haven't stretched outside of 'my zone' for some time now.  I have been so busy concentrating on  the BUSINESS aspect of this business I have chosen, that I simply have not taken the time, nor the opportunity, to CREATE and learn and explore.  So I am off to do just that. 

Now if I only my husband would stop asking me: "Where's the other stick?"

Happy New Year to All!

Knit (or Crochet) On,


Friday, December 3, 2010

The 3 M's

Let me start off by stating this blog post is six weeks in the making.  I apologize for my absence.  And I don't want to make excuses here, but...

#1.  I lost my camera.  Granted, it was a camera that I absolutely despised because it took horrible pictures, but it was my only camera and I used it for all of my blog pictures.  (It also, of course, contained a memory card with weeks worth of pics that were to eventually end up in my future blog posts).

#2.  I moved on, didn't dwell, and borrowed by daughter's 'old' camera, only to discover it had 'died'...the battery didn't hold a charge, it wouldn't format a memory pictures were in my near future, obviously.

#3.  I spent just a few hours designing a felted bag project for a 4-H class I taught, then realized I should have spent a few more hours on it because the bag came out looking like it would only hold a pair of chopsticks.  Yes, that long and that wide.  How long have I been knitting?  Had to go back to the drawing board on that one.

#4.  I knit 2 left fingerless gloves instead of a left and right.  No need for further explanation here I don't think.

#5.  I knit and then felted two different size clogs, one small, one medium, that were meant to be a gift.  Again, I'm sure you see the problem here, unless of course the recipient of the slippers has two different sized feet.  In this case the answer is no, she does not.

#6.  I caught a cold.  A miserable, achy, coughing, stuffy head, fever so you can't rest (or even knit and definitely do not feel inspired to blog) cold.

#7.  I thought I was saving time by knitting two sleeves of a miniature sweater at the same time, on the same needles, for aran afghan block #7.  It would have been fine, except the sleeves were supposed to be mirror images of each other and although I was sure I was reversing the pattern, they came out exactly the same.  I didn't discover it until I went to sew them to the body of the sweater.  (Okay, how in the world did I miss that one completely?!?) 

#8.  I have been trying to design a very simple, quick easy project for a mystery knit along.  I have spent the last 8 weeks, in all of my spare time :), ripping it out, erasing, rewriting, reworking, and generally being completely baffled that something so BASIC could haunt me for that long.  My stitch count didn't come out, period.  The design looked more like abstract art than knitting.  And, to make matters worse, I had already announced, on more than one occasion, that the mystery knit along would be posted soon. Yeah, right. 

#9.  I lost my 'little yellow bag'.  Do you know the one I speak of?  It's the pencil bag that holds all things necessary to my knitting life...scissors, tapestry needles, tape measures, crochet hooks, 20 different sizes of stitch markers, pencils, eraser, sticky notes, highlighters, a nail file (yes, not a typo)...and so many other things.  Mind you I only 'lost' it for a short while, but I did spend a large amount of time looking for it.  This seriously tweaked my already frazzled knitting nerves.  (Just a side note to put things in perspective here, I have often said that I'd rather lose my purse than my little yellow bag.  No joke.  It has taken me years to accumulate and pay for all the tools, gidgets and gadgets that are in that bag.  My knitting world stops until that bag is by my side. 

#10.  ...a nice round number on which to end this whine session, don't you think?  But I want to  add that while all of these things were happening, I must have ripped out and started over countless times on a half dozen other projects not mentioned in the above nine, further contributing to the feeling that I may not be up to the task of knitting for a living. 

So consequently, no blog post for six weeks.  

I honestly didn't have anything I felt was worthy of writing down.  How could I write about knitting and how wonderful it was and post all of the beautiful things I was supposed to be working on, when all I had to share were negative things...nothing but mishaps, misfortunes, and mistakes?

And if I dug a little deeper,  I was strongly suspicious that I had been hit with a good old fashioned case of writer's block and all of these things were of my own making so that I wouldn't have to sit down and write.  Yes, in fact, I believe I had a serious case of low knitting self-esteem.  Anyone else been there?

Where did this all come from?

This is what I concluded:

Sometimes I have to be taken down a peg or life...and in knitting.  I don't believe it is because I walk around with a feeling of arrogance about myself, my life, or my knitting skills.  No.  But, evidently I do take these things for granted on occasion and life has a way of reminding me that I shouldn't do that.

I take 100% responsibility though.  No victim stance here.  I have intentionally invited the 3 M's upon myself.  How did I do that?  Well, by living with the philosophy that I am a lifelong student (I just said those very words to someone this morning).  And I have said that over and over to the universe.  The universe generously obliges, doesn't it?  Sometimes the things I have to learn come with heartache and pain, but most often with humor and humility.  That's what I strive for anyway. 

Life lessons and knitting lessons are a part of the deal.

I accept this fact without hesitation. I am not scared.  No.  I welcome the lessons.  At least that is what I keep saying anyway.

The hard part is that I never know when it's going to happen or what the lessons are going to be. Or let's get long they are going to last!  These knitting negatives just kept going on and on until I felt like maybe this was it...I had lost my knitting mojo for good.  Spent, burnt out, done for....

So, what did I learn about myself and my knitting in the last six weeks?

Lesson #1:  The camera thing is a no brainer...lack of  gratitude and lack of perspective.  You see, I didn't appreciate having a camera that took terrible pictures was better than not having a camera at all.  No pics, pictureless blog posts...much worse. 

Lesson # 2:  You can't borrow your way out of a problem.  That would be too easy.  Also, just when you think you're frustrated enough, think again.  That was only the beginning. 

Lesson #3:   Give yourself more than a couple of days to design anything, even if it is just a 'simple, felted bag'.  And more importantly, do not use the word simple as freely as I do.  Simple is as simple does.  Yeah, whatever that means, but it came to mind and so I threw it in there.

Lesson #4:  Do not put a project away for months and then expect to finish it without some negative consequences.  In this case, make a big note for yourself that in fact people do have a left hand and a right hand and the thumb placement is actually pretty important.  Also, no matter how you twist and turn a left mitten, it will NOT work on a right hand.  Okay, hopefully I won't have to revisit that one any time soon.

Lesson #5:  See Lesson #4 with this addendum--if you are going to knit someone a gift, such as felted slippers, and it needs to be a certain size, do not highlight ALL of the sizes in the pattern (in different colors) so that you can't tell what size you knit the first one, forcing you to guess on the second one.  To set this lesson in your brain, repeat over and over to yourself, I am not a good guesser...I am not a good guesser.  Yeah, I guessed medium.  Turns out the first one I knit was a small.  Oh, and one other little something worth mentioning, try to finish your gift knitting in the same year that you started.  These clogs were for last Christmas.

Lesson # 6:  The lesson is:  there is not lesson because this just falls in the misfortune category of the 3 M's more than anything.  Everyone around me seems to have been sick for the last month or so.  It was bound to happen.  However, if there is a lesson to be learned, I am thinking it might be to not get smug and make statements about the fact that you haven't caught anything so far.  And knocking on wood, I now have proof, does not work at all.

Lesson # 7:    Cable chart reading isn't for wimps (or for those that are on the edge of a knitting breakdown).  I even had a nice little 'cheat sheet' that one of the students in the GAAA class, Dee Dixon, printed up so that we wouldn't get confused about the fact that the sleeves are knit in a reverse stitch pattern.  Again, chart reading, even with a cheat sheet, isn't for wimps, and certainly should not be attempted late at night, in a group, while talking on the phone, watching Sons of Anarchy, or anything that may distract you from the fact that you are doing it all wrong.

Lesson #8:  Another no brainer...DO NOT announce that you are going to do a mystery knit along when you don't have the design for the mystery knit along figured out.  That was my first mistake.  My second was assuming that this particular project was so simple (there's that word again) that I could whip it out in no time.  Hmmm...seems to be a theme going on here.  (see Lesson #3)  Making assumptions about anything has never really worked out for me.  Why do I keep doing it?

Lesson #9:  When you have a cold and are frazzled from so many of the 3 M's and the knitting gods are just beating you down, don't put your little yellow bag in a different place than you normally would.  You think you'll remember right where it is.  You won't.  You will panic.  You absolutely won't find the d@*# thing until you sit down, take a breath, and admit that you are beaten.  Then, and only then does the light bulb go on.

And finally...

Lesson #10:  I could mention the obvious here like not taking on too many projects all at once (of course everyone knows that, but who actually follows that?)...There is also a very real sickness (not fatal mind you, but very detrimental to a healthy knitting life:  UFO Disease (Unfinished Objects Disease).  It is REAL and I have it (bet you didn't know that) and it can create confusion and a mountain of knitting problems you didn't think were possible!

...or how about this:  planning and teaching, designing, blogging, running a store, organizing a fiber arts fair, and custom knitting may be a bit more than I bargained for when I said I wanted to live my passion.

I am not complaining, I promise.  It's just a point of awareness that I think, after this very bad period of time with the 3 M's, I am coming to accept.

This blog was started so that I could share my journey towards being completely self-supported by my knitting in one way or another.  Well, looks like this is all part of that journey.  I am figuring out (sometimes the hard way) exactly what I want that life to look like.  There have been many struggles so far, but also so many joys.

I hope you have found some humor in all of this...thankfully I have.  :)  I dedicate the 3 M's blog post to my fellow knitters out there and  to my students who come in, call, and text me on a daily basis ready to give up and throw their knitting in the trash (or at least in the bottom of the closet for the next 20 years or so).

May I offer a bit of advice?  Just put it down, step away, breathe, call me if necessary, and keep things in perspective.  I know I am always espousing the merits of knitting such as it being relaxing, meditative, therapeutic, and fun.  (It is, no really!)  However, just as in life, we wouldn't learn very much about ourselves if we didn't have to go back, rip out, learn from our mistakes, and start again.

Knit on,