What does creative identity mean to you? 

I think I’ve heard people ask “what is creativity?” But when I read A Playful Day and saw her question: What does Creative Identity mean to you? under a pretty still life of lace, yarn and buttons… a quick answer didn’t come up. I felt so detached from a world where such questions could even be posed.

The question rang in my head though and I felt a pang that I know I’ve lost my creative identity. I’ve swapped it out for some defeatist broken sob story of burnout and disappointment. I’ve become paranoid, fearful, and afraid to make mistakes, afraid to take action . How did this become ME? I used to work with joy and excitement and creativity. Why am I so broken?

Identities and mythologies

I think each person seems to have some personal mythology and a story they tell themselves. The story can change of course. Shit happens. And keeps on happening.

I know a man at the centre of a large community who identifies with a Myers Briggs “Marshal” identity. He sees this great honour and duty before him, and I think he loves the role, especially the idea that it’s rare and unique. And the community loves him for it. They see him as a benevolent dictator and trust him implicitly. It’s a perfect match of self identity and situation. If he didn’t resonate with his surroundings, he would be a tyrant or frustrated and unfulfilled.

This is what we want, to have our self-identity resonate with our situation. 

I know a woman who pits herself against all odds. To hear people talk about her is to think it’s a constant battle in all her interactions. Her versus the world. And her shouting and microagressive actions play this story out. It’s the story she creates from a self-perception and its the story others tell about her.

In this way we could say a personal mythology is self- fulfilling. 

I want to reestablish my creative identity. I want it to resonate with my situation. And I want it to be self-fulfilling in a positive way.

I don’t believe creativity is the sole domain of artists and musicians. Creativity comes in many forms to produce solutions to all kinds of problems. Creativity thrives in structure, boundary and challenge.

Doing something creatively does imply beauty, delight and joy.

When I saw these little flowers today growing in this stone wall I knew immediately that was my vision for creativity.

IMG_3649
I need to start telling myself a different story.

I’m listening to a book called “The Accidental Creative“. In it, the author tells of challenging circumstances I can relate to and he gives specific strategies for how to maintain the creative rhythm. The modern corporate structures aim to make creativity predictable and consistent. He addresses how you can work within that system to improve your personal productivity and creative energy and avoid burnout. It makes me reflect on my recent years in my current job and wonder just where in the hell have I gone wrong? The book is certainly positive in that it’s giving practical strategies you can follow to work on yourself. What he doesn’t talk about is, how can we do things differently? I feel like there’s a bigger picture.

Anyway, I’m sick of my own sob story. I’m boring, overly apologetic, hesitant, and halting.

At this point I need to reclaim my creative identity and change my story.

And be like these lovely flowers. And get back to working joyfully.

IMG_3648

Where is my Father?

For my Dad’s funeral my sister wrote a beautiful tribute to his life as a caregiver. I wrote the vision of the afterlife we all share. I wanted to post it here, one month after he passed away. We read at the graveside. 

Where is my father? 

No seriously. Have you seen him? 

I feel like we’re all suffering a bit from the missing limb syndrome. An amputee may consciously know they’ve lost a limb, but the mind is slow to realise. They reach to scratch a missing knee, they put their arm out to lean, and falter. 

We’ve all been doing that recently, faltering. We turn to ask my Dad a question, and he’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. 

And each of us is left wondering, where is my father? Where did he go?

My father knew loss. He was so young when he lost his dear brother Donny, who lies here today. In an accident that forever altered my father’s life journey, he and his family were devastated by losing Donny. No sense could be made of it. And there was no question, where was Donny? He was gone. His father Jesper died as well from a long illness, and it was sad to find my father still mourning and unresolved. There was no explanation. They were gone. 

More recently, Dad lost his brother Larry and his mother Marion is such a short space of time. We all had to wonder: Where did they go? This time, my father had an answer: They’ve sat down to dinner together. 

My father explained a vision, which we all began to share. Of Nana’s dining room. Her flower-patterned wallpaper, cloth covered dining room table, with plenty of room for everyone.  All laid out for the nicest dinner ever. Her blue and white china, the crystal stemware, the silver polished and ready. 

Even recently, as he was in hospice, we had the time to ask him what he thought would happen. He told us, “I picture I’ll be with my family in Nana’s dining room.” 

They are all waiting at the table for him. Everyone, healthy, in their prime, happy and joking – there were always lots of laughs at the James table. Nana played the straight man to her son’s shenanigans. 

Meals were served in beautiful serving dishes, never casual, never taken lightly but always enjoyed.  A meal together was a warming ritual, to bring the family together. Good food was always a central part of the James home. 

And of course there were candles lit. Always candles. After my father lost Larry and Nana, he lit a candle for his missing family when he would eat, and when we would eat together. At even the simplest of meals, no matter breakfast, lunch or dinner, my father lit a candle to invoke that vision of The Dinner. Perhaps it could connect these two worlds at that point- in lighting that candle we were together with them. Lighting the candles reminds us that they are gone, they are gone, they are gone. 

We all share this vision of The Dinner. 

When Uncle Arthur died suddenly recently, I was struck terribly. I was unable to return home for his memorial because I was also ill at the time. I was crushed by the loss of the person I called My Ankle (he called me his Knees). This was more than the missing limb syndrome.

I would wake from nightmares sobbing, and Ronan would hold me. I was having the same dream each night, leading Uncle Arthur carefully by the arm through Nana’s house. Coming into the dining room, I told Uncle Arthur, sit, here, this is a good place. There was a piano! I was surprised and he was delighted. But then I’d wake realizing Uncle Arthur was gone.

I think we’ve all internalised this vision of The Dinner. We all know where Dad is now. We know Dad is with Donny, Jesper, Larry, Marion and Arthur.

Our minds have been slow to realise in these last couple of weeks, we’re struck with his absence over and over. Groping a bit, the mind incredulous: but he was just here a minute ago! 

We like to think now that, when you turn to ask Dad a question, to talk with him, and realise he’s gone, you know where he is. He’s with his family, sitting at The Dinner, together, having the best meal ever. 

  

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Knitting

This started off as a comment on Karie Bookish’s blog post, Knitting as Lifestyle Brand? But it got so long I had to put it here! I wanted to touch on two points in her post: Why I knit, and also the “staged sweetness” idea. We’re not just performing ourselves online, we perform ourselves all the time. In the spirit of debate, I thought I’d post my thoughts. (I should say if she felt like this is career limiting to talk about this, then that sucks.)

Why I knit (and spin)

I don’t knit and spin because it’s a way to protest cheap labour, or even to customize garments for my bat wings. For me, nustling down into the warm, lanolin-soaked fleece of the fibre world has given me some context to learn about farming, food security, history, economics, mechanics, manufacturing and traditions. I love so much about it. And I’ve met some really amazing people and enjoyed some fantastic events.

But the truth is I’m not a product knitter or spinner. It’s all process. If I get a finished item, then that is a bonus.

When I don’t knit, I knee bounce wildly, I fidget, I peel labels off bottles, I pick my scabs, I literally pull my hair out, I worry napkins into twisted little sculptures, I distractedly get a low hum of anxiety goading me: you should be DOING something Heather instead of just sitting here. 

When I knit, I not only assuage that worker bee in me, but I also do something productive with my hands which isn’t anti-social, like reading on my phone. I try not to use my phone when I am with people. There is some urge in me to fidget and multitask. Sitting still is hard. Though I’m not someone who gets bored, I’ve never been bored, but I always make sure I have something to do.

When I was in school (about 9 yrs old) I doodled so much I was punished for it. While doodling and notetaking actually help me digest and comprehend what is going on, my down turned head was off putting for my teacher. She made me bring ALL my sketchbooks into the principle’s office where they were locked up until the end of the school year. It turned me into a REBEL. NO one was going to stop me doodling. HA! I could draw on ANYTHING, I didn’t need sketch books and fancy pens. I hated that cruel teacher and that school and counted each day until I defiantly reclaimed my sketchbooks at the end of the year.

I have a theory why knitting works better: When I wasn’t knitting in the years prior, I kept doodle notebooks to sketch and collage in. I noticed that people found that if you were read/writing/drawing, it’s a little off-putting or anti-social, I think because it looks like communication, and people may feel, ‘why aren’t you paying attention to me?’ in communication settings. Whereas knitting is not competing for “communication-attention.” It’s handwork and some puzzle-solving.

I mainly take photos to record what I’m doing and share insights as I go. It’s easier on Instagram, but I do try and take some time to journal on my blog. If I am sharing it is because I’m trying to connect to others, and also get inspired, get advice or sometimes, just as a retreat from the day-to-day.

Staged sweetness? But it’s all a stage!

Since I think Karie was keen to start a debate, I’m going to stick my neck out right here and boldly say I’m kind of annoyed about this idea that I’m not ‘being true to myself’ or ‘not being authentic’ because I don’t write about the horrible illness, failures, fears and sadness in my life on my blog. Hmm… if I “had to be myself” as Karie suggests, I don’t think I would participate online.

We facet ourselves in all situations, it’s a normal human thing. (Example: My family know I swear like a sailor, but I’m not going to swear in a client call or when I’m sitting with a friend I know who’d be offended.) In fact, when people don’t properly facet themselves online, we see it as really strange. Ever see someone post on someone’s Facebook wall something that should be in a direct message? Some people have no online social filters, or don’t know the mores or online etiquette.

Please read the awesome book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” by E. Goffman. Karie’s suggestion that this is “staged sweetness” fits within his notion of a Dramaturgical Framework. We have a Front stage, Back stage and Off stage of our self presentation, and we behave according to social scripts, stages and performances. This doesn’t make any one performance more or less authentic, because these are all facets of yourself.

Conflating an individual’s staged sweetness with the targeted marketing efforts of product companies is a little unhelpful and not useful. How can we compare someone’s knitting blog or Instagram feed to Goop? If someone is selling sweatshop products and trying to pass them off as hand-made it certainly should be called out. Though I also feel that if someone is promoting sweatshop craft supplies to help westerners to sate their need for self-expression, well that sucks too. I digress… Knit British writes about this better than I can.

At any rate, I think even the most active lifestyle blogs are presented by people with plenty of personal challenges. There is a person behind that presentation, we just don’t know them. Listen to Meighan’s  “What’s your Story” podcast interview with a Doyenne of Staged Sweetness SF Girl by Bay, where they discuss depression and the “candy-coated, curated world of social media.”

My old blog is gone, but I had posted something similar in “Craft Blog as Domestic Fantasy” (june 2006) because of discussion on some blogs saying pretty much what Karie is saying in her post. As I said in my response: “If anyone has read my blog and thought I was projecting some kind of domestic fantasy, I promise I didn’t mean to.” There were over 40 responses, because on top of all the challenges of life and the little spare time you spend to share, post and connect: you get told you’re doing it wrong? Life is hard enough.

Who’s watching?

I actually wonder if Social Media hasn’t made it actually harder to facet ourselves, and control which aspect of ourselves and identity which wish to share in an appropriate situation. Sharing on a blog is a big unknown. Is a future employer reading? Is my current employer reading? Is an ex-boyfriend reading? Is a stalker reading? (If you haven’t been stalked or censured yet, maybe you haven’t been online long enough.)

In other ways I also think: Who cares? The people who are close to me know about it and that is where I talk about it.

On my instagram feed I literally wrote in my profile: “wooly fluffy, knitting and good things.” I wrote that around the time I decided not to continue my #photo365 for the time being. Not because I wasn’t taking pictures, I was. But it wasn’t something I felt right sharing then. I was in the hospice with my dad, taking pictures of him, for him, with him and my family. And it was too painful to even look at, let alone share. So I stopped posting photos for that time and I didn’t pick it up again. I’d love to write about how technology helped us through this experience, but just not right now.

On a quick review, I see my instagram feed is mainly travel, wool and cats, it’s focused on things I’ve learned and a lot of screw ups and mistakes I’ve made in knitting for example. Even my blog is like that: A learning log. I’m not trying to stage any sweetness, but if you want to know about death, death, death, death and death, you can talk to me in person about it. I’m very open 1:1, not so much in a group, and not so much online, unless we’re friends on Facebook.

I’m not “hiding” my sadness or suffering, but I don’t want to put it in my learning notebook. I keep a lot of note books and this one is for my fibre adventure. I try to make the pictures clear, but many are poorly lit (I knit at night) and yeah, I’m in my PJs probably. I’d love to learn some better product photography actually.

If someone peruses it and thinks that my life is all happy fluffy kitties and pretty things, you’re part-right. There’s that, but then there’s also fear, sadness, doubt; messy stuff, sad stuff and crappy stuff. I try to assume the same about everyone I see and meet. Getting closer to illness and death has actually made this easier to comprehend and keep close on my mind:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren

A page from a doodle book of mine.

A page from a doodle book of mine.

Yarn review: Lyonesse by Blacker Yarns a linen-wool blend

I was very pleased when Sonja of Blacker Yarns offered to send me sample skeins of their new Lyonesse yarn to review, and I’m delighted to share a review with you. I was given two samples to play with: One icy blue Aquamarine in DK and a shimmery Ruby in 4 ply.

Blacker yarns - linen wool blend yarn

I have to say right off, I’m a massive fan of Blacker Yarns, so this review might be biased! I credit them with getting me into learning more about sheep breeds and eventually learning to spin. However, I’m going to stick to the facts so you can get an idea of what it’s like to work with.

In this review I take a close look at the yarn to give you an idea of what it’s like.

  • The theory
  • In the ball
  • Swatching and knitting with it
  • Washing
  • Wear testing
  • Overall Impressions
  • Pattern ideas

Theory: For a state of constant transition

Here’s the theory: The worsted spin of this squishy soft wool blended 50/50 with linen means this will yield a drapey fabric that would hold its block. It might even wrinkle or loosen with wear, but the wool will give it that bit of elastic spring back. Exactly what I’m looking for.

I love the idea of transitional clothing which is warm but cooling, light and easy to layer. Spring or autumn, seasonal transition might mean warm and balmy in an afternoon, and cold in the evening. Where I live, we’re pretty much transitional weather all year round, and you rarely get balmy weather at all. And with air conditioning and heated building, you need to dress in layers to adjust to the transitioning temps all year round.

Intuitively, I’ve wanted to use linen/wool blends. Though I’ve never spun or knit with pure linen before, but I’ve spun with a flax/wool blend from Hedgehog Fibres recently and I was truly amazed at the benefits of both fibres. You’d be surprised to find there aren’t actually that many wool/linen blend yarns on Ravelry (12 in DK weight.) I was delighted to know hear Blacker have a new wool/linen blend launching soon!

In the ball

If you judge a yarn like this in the ball, you’ll be completely misled. It doesn’t yield when you squeeze it, with the strong linen fibres pushing back. I suspected it was going to be fun to swatch and discover the transformation.

This is a very well-blended combination. You can see little errant flecks of linen here and there, so it’s not so blended that you can’t see the distinct fibres. The sheen of the linen does come through, as does the way the dye is take up differently by the fibres.

  • The 4 ply yarn has two plies, and it’s not tightly plied. I’d expect this to take lace very well and for the stockinette to be a bit nubbly.
  • The DK weight yarn has three plies (the same singles in the 4 ply weight), and it’s nice and round. I’d expect this to work well with lace and subtle textures.

Swatching

I decided to start my experimentation by making two flat swatches in each yarn, one in the suggested needle size, and one in the needle size up. Going up a size could emphasise the drape, and it’s often used for adding a little swing to a project such as a tee or tunic, which are precisely the types of garments I have in mind.

The yarn was really nice to work with. It’s a bit grabby, so I used metal chaigoo needles. I didn’t find it rough in the hand like I’ve heard reported about pure linen yarns. It was easy to work with.

You can see in my unblocked samples that my knitting suffers from “rowing out”. I do a lazy purl which means my purl rows are shorter and use less yarn than my continental knit stitches. I know that linen is meant to show every tension problem you have, but I was curious if the wool would be more forgiving.

  • 4 ply: As I said, I have a funny way of purling which sort of unplies the yarn, so I did notice some splitting with the 4 ply. I still loved knitting with it.
  • DK: I expected some splitting, but I didn’t have any trouble with that with this 3-ply DK.

Here you can see I swatched with garter stitch edges. Unwashed, the swatches curled at the ends. I was curious if I was going to need to pin them after washing.

Lyoness 4 ply yarn - curling before washing

Washing

This yarn didn’t melt in the water like some silks and merinos do. It held its own. I gave it a good 30 mins soak in warm water with a tiny bit of wool wash. Overnight, they dried perfectly flat with no pinning needed.

And sure enough, my wonky stitches and rows looked more even after washing. Yay for wool!

When I picked up the swatches I found them crispy to touch. They weren’t floppy or squishy, but had quite a lot of body, like new linen. I was sort of disappointed that they didn’t have the drape I expected: but my test wasn’t yet finished! After wear-testing, the yarn was transformed.

Wear testing

On first squeeze, the swatches get wrinkled and hold a shape!

Wear testing

But as soon as I flattened them out, the wrinkles smoothed out instantly. Literally, just after smoothing out, the wrinkles were disappearing as you can see in this pic. With more wear later, they even got smoother, the wrinkles are gone as if I had pressed them.

lyoness-post-wash

Wow! I roughed up the swatches vigorously, rubbing them together and generally abusing them. I saw some blurring with individual strands of flax giving way, but no pills whatsoever.

In fact, the more I roughed up the swatch, the softer and more supple it got.

lyoness-dk-drape

Now the drape of linen and the worsted spun wool was coming through! I love the old linens my mum has given me. They are soft and supple like nothing else. As linen ages, the fibres break down and get softer, while still staying very strong. Overtime I’d expect a garment knit in this yarn to get softer and softer.

I’m super excited about the way this yarn wears. I think you could wear this all day and still look pretty sharp.

What surprised me was the elasticity of the swatches. Cotton or Linen yarns are known for not springing back, but I don’t think that is a worry here at all. The wrinkles smoothed out instantly, and looked so sharp and nice. I found myself thinking “tailored” as I look at the swatches.

Overall Impressions

In this pic, left is DK, right is 4ply. Top is recommended needle size, bottom is one size up, both after washing and wear-testing.

For the 4 ply yarn:

  • 3mm – 27 sts x 39 rows. 4 mm – 22 sts x 32 rows.
  • I liked the yarn in a needle size up, 4 mm, as compared with the 3mm needle. It’s light and airy feeling.
  • The 3mm fabric was intriguing though, it wasn’t stiff, but it was firm, almost had a tailored feel to it.
  • This is the same singles in the DK yarn, but in two plies. This indicates that lace patterns will show up well. I even noticed that the simple yarn overs I created to mark my needle size stayed nice and open. And yes, the stockinette does have a slight nubbly look it it, but I really like that.

For the DK yarn:

  • 4mm – 21.5 sts x 30 rows. 5mm – 17.5 sts x 24 rows
  • I noticed I liked the recommended needle size for 4mm more than the results with 5 mm. At 5mm, the fabric was a bit slack, whereas the drape was great on the recommended 4mm needles and it has a nice plush squish to it.
  • This is the same singles as in the 4 ply yarn, but in three plies so texture is going to show up well, as would any twisted or mock cable patterns. Lace patterns would hold a strong block, and for that reason it would suit all sorts of shawl patterns which need drape rather than squish.
  • The stockinette is so smooth and sharp.

Here you can see the crepe-like surface of the two plies in the 4-ply weight yarn at the bottom. And the smoother surface of the round three plies in the DK weight yarn.

Pattern ideas: Transitional knits

I have trawled Ravelry recently gathering up 74 tee patterns and 50 tanks in my faves list. I really love tees and tanks, I layer over a cardigan or hoodie and feel comfortable, whereas I feel a bit locked-in with a pullover. Eventually I’d like to replace my collection of free tech tees with handknit ones.

One of my favourite garments to wear is a grey knit linen tunic, with large matte metal beads on it. It’s drapey, and it’s gotten softer overtime. I wear it all year round, layered under various weights of cardigans, and over a tighter tank top. I’d love to knit another beaded tunic like it, or a lace tunic.

Another of my favourite items of clothing is a boxy tee, but its bright white and coral scream “summer” so I usually let it rest over winter. Because of the drape you can choose boxy patterns and they’ll look pretty not bulky.

  • 4 ply: Because of the two plies this would be lovely for lacy garments.
  • DK: I think the DK weight would be a perfect open cardigan. Patterns which have waterfall sides would benefit from the drape and sheen of the linen.

Get your hands on it!

Lyonesse will be available May 1st. You can stalk Lyonesse yarn on Ravelry here.

You can order the colour cards here. My default is usually blues and greys, and I certainly love the Aquamarine, but what’s interesting is that the deeper Ruby tone shows off the linen contrast more. I really like that flecked look which would be more visible in the darker colours.

I think I’m zeroing in on stripes using Lyonesse 4ply in Ruby with a natural contrast stripe on on 4mm needles. This would be nice in a boxy tee like Vasa or tank like Saco stripes.  The Vasa tee would need 1 skein natural and 5 skeins in Ruby. At £5.75 a ball, that’s £34.50 for a large sized boxy tee, and hours of knitting fun.

Love your blog: Community and interactions

I love this idea from A Playful Day: Love your blog challenge! In the month of April A Playful Day will post a prompt for writing. This week it’s Interactions and Community. In my post I’m setting out some rules of engagement for myself to get more connected within the community in person and online.

A Playful Day

1. People first: Shrug off THE SHIES

P/hop stall

P/hop stall – This is Travel Knitter with version 2 of the stall layout. It changed all weekend!

I made a mistake at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I didn’t follow my own rules:

  • People first
  • Experiences over acquisition

I had been volunteering at the P/Hop stall on Saturday when I wasn’t in a workshop. Time flew, but by Sunday at 12:00pm the urge to shop was insane. I went all around the stalls and had a grand old time. But I didn’t talk to many people. I got a bad case of THE SHIES. I even saw A Playful Day in a stairwell and didn’t even stop to say “Thanks for all those podcasts”, or maybe I did a nervous squeak: “hi” as she passed. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? I went all that way and spoke mainly to people I know.

I did meet Louise from Knit British, but I could hardly form words because of the disconnect between a familiar voice and an unfamiliar face. I wanted to talk w her as one of my priorities for the weekend. Never happened.

I look at the photos I took at the event and wondered: Why didn’t I touch that? Why didn’t I ask about that? I sort of held myself back and poked around a bit. So sad and silly. A little close-up of my life. I made some great purchases, but at the end of the day, I felt like I’d spent the day shopping instead of meeting people. I totally missed the podcast lounge too.

I think there is some truth that no matter the apparently easy to access online interaction; it pales in comparison to in-person interaction. But in person interaction is hard. Hard stuff. I’m awkward and wonder if I’m saying the right thing. So I get THE SHIES and I keep to myself. That really has to stop. I know I’m not going to stop being shy, but I need to put myself in more situations where I will have the chance to interact.

2. Bridge the online generation gap

I think The Internet World has a sort of amnesia. If it’s not on the internet, then it’s forgotten. or – Did it even exist?

I nearly laughed recently when I listened to an interview with a young weaver, I don’t want to call it out, but it was a young weaver who said she couldn’t find anyone who weaves. There are buttloads of weavers. They aren’t online! They are in guilds, they have their own magazines, they meet at events, etc. Just because they aren’t online doesn’t mean they aren’t THERE or don’t exist.

Most of the people in my Weavers, Spinners and Dyers guild don’t seem to be online. Maybe a few use facebook, and one just joined facebook! But they don’t blog, they don’t use twitter, they don’t post pics of their work to Ravelry.

I think as a generation, if I’m in the first online generation, we need to connect to the previous generation of fibre folk.

Very few people are online and live their lives in social media. It would be nice if more people did. It would make it easier to communicate and promote events for sure. Maybe in bridging that gap we can help the previous generation get connected too.

3. Get out there

Having just gone through my stash, I mentally calculated how much I’ve spent on yarn in the last year. I can’t write the number down, but holy moley. If I had that money I could hop over to most of the yarn and fibre festivals this year without question. Travel Knitter keeps a list of the yarny/fibre events in the UK, it’s massive!

So – I think I need to apply my own rules: choose people and experiences first. Get out there, meet more people locally, go to events. Speak to people! Be brave and say more than a squeaky “hi”.

I’m looking forward to this summer. My guild does spinning demonstrations at sheep festival events. They sell a few wee things and show people the wonders of spinning fibre. I’m super looking forward to going to those events.

4. Get connected – virtually

Something totally crazy happened as I was writing this blog post. I began drafting the blog post, and I was originally whining “why is blogging dead, waaaa!” and started feeling like “what’s the point, who’s going to read this? why do anything ever!”

In the comments on A Playful Day’s challenge post, Estella said the same thing, ” is anyone out there listening? The efforts of bloggers and podcasters are sort of getting lost in the flow of detritus online. Had we all missed the boat??

I erased the whining first draft and thought: right what am I going to DO about it? This prompt was about “An Inspired 2015″ not a whiny moaning “I missed the boat 2015, so don’t bother doing anything 2015.”

So I wrote my rules of engagement here, and came up with AN IDEA. I imagined a hub where I could gather all sorts of interesting people and things together: and host virtual gatherings to talk with others online, particularly fibrey spinning folks.

I could curate content from people blogging and podcasting and help them get readers. Marketing is something I love to do in my day job. And I was sort of badgering Knit British about Google Hangouts on Twitter a few weeks ago. She didn’t seem interested… So – Maybe I can try and set it up myself?

And boom: I literally just set up The Drafting Zone: An online zine about handspun fun yesterday morning.

Honestly don’t know why I started this right now, but there ya go! Well maybe I do know… I don’t blog about sad things here, because I want this to be a happy place. I think with the amount of illness and death happening in my family right now, I need a change, I need inspiration, and a purpose. And I think connecting to other people would help immensely.

Good on ya, A Playful Day, and thanks for the podcasts :)

Tips for anyone embarking on YarnKonMari

I started writing what was going to be one blog post and I decided to write it all out. So this is part 3, wherein I warn the gentle reader if they are about to start on their YarnKonMari project. You can read Part 1 or Part 2 of this epic cull.

stash-odd-ball

You need time and space

I planned this originally thinking I had time off in April for Easter, but I have to go on a sad trip. So I had to wrap things up quickly last weekend. As I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to photograph the yarn and I thought I’d queue it (ha no!) And even on the day, I tacked BOTH books and yarn. Don’t do what I did. Start KonMari early in one category. I wish I’d had the whole weekend, but I was booked.

A sound track helps!

I think it’s really helpful to hear people TALK about organizing and decluttering while I organize.
And a special Google Talk by Marie Kondo.

You need a vision

I think in the end I have a KonMarieFail. I did eliminate a good bit of yarn, but I feel like I just pushed stuff between boxes. I certainly know better what I have now, but I didn’t even get photographs as I had planned.

I think KonMarie says you should start with a vision of the lifestyle you want so you can work towards it.

I do want a lively, big, fun stash. But do I want it all out in the open exposed to dust/air? I think if I maintained a small stash then it would be easier to keep out on the open and enjoy it.

I don’t think I looked into how people store and display yarn. And that is why everything pretty much just ended up in boxes again. I think if you have a vision, you also know when you’re successful.

Danger zone: Don’t wake sleeping yarn dragons

After clearly eliminating the joyless yarn, I looked at the rest, and decided to sort it further. I had a “Hall of Fame” of yarns; I had “spark joy” yarns and I had this whole pile of “moderate joy” yarns.

I sat down with this moderately joyful pile, and organized it by colour. I woke it all up. I found I was surprised by the sparkly joy that the scraps and leftover yarn bits had. Suddenly they seemed like some exciting materials to play with freely without fearing using up too-precious yarns.

I wanted to try combining them immediately, to hold them together multi stranded. I made a quick swatch. Clara Parkes talks about it in her Craftsy class on stashbusting. (Follow the link in her newsletter for a cool discount!)

I decided to combine 2 neutral with one pop of colour, and use up some bits with texture.

I know I'm supposed to be #sorting #stashbusting #accidentalswatching #Marled #knittersofinstagram #procrastinating

A video posted by Heather James (@nearlythere) on

But my husband caught me and we had a discussion about the whole project. It was clear I wasn’t making progress. Of course, first I finished and cast off the swatch. Then returned to business.stash-swatch-combine

This might be the yarn equivalent to reading a book while you’re doing konmarie on your books. I really should not have started knitting! I love the swatch though and I think this would be a really fun project. I can picture it in a jacket: which would like being thick and heavy. I love Stephen West’s Marled Madness coat.

stash-swatch

I think this is the “magic” part of the process. You open up your ideas to what you have around you, and then you are less likely to accumulate mindlessly. (hopefully!)

Reflecting: Was I successful?

Though I didn’t start out with a vision, I started to develop one. I would like to achieve a state of active, live, exciting stash.

Clara Parkes calls this “slow stashing“, which I mentioned in the previous post.

“At its core, slow stashing involves being mindful of every skein we own, and only bringing in new skeins that are truly deserving of our time, our attention, and our resources.

Slow stashing starts with an unblinking survey of our stashes. Pull everything out—including deep in the closets and attics where yarn tends to congregate. Remove it from cover of darkness, take it all out into the bright open air, and study what you have…. You are seeking yarns that inspire you, yarns made from noble fibers and by good people, yarns that are truly worthy of your time, your attention, and your dollars.”

I think in terms shaking up the stash and getting familiar with what’s in there, I know what I have now. But the problem is, will I remember?

I really like Hanna Fettig’s advice about organizing your stash.

TIP FOUR. Take a a few hours to organize your materials in a pleasing manner.  I’m not a big fan of storing things in ziplock bags inside plastic bins.  I like to have everything out, sorted by color or coordinates, so it can inspire me on a day to day basis.  I shuffle everything around from time to time to give me a fresh perspective.

I have put the yarn back in plastic bins because that is what makes sense for the amount of stuff I have in relation to the space. However I have pulled out current projects into a basket so I can see what I’m working on. A spinning project and a few WIPs.

stash-next-projects

What I should do is take out yarns from time to time so I can just enjoy them, play and wake them up.

And I still have fibre to sort through!

How to KonMari your yarn stash (part 2!)

I love the KonMari method. In the previous post, I mentioned how I started sorting through my stash. I mainly wanted to do this because I know I have too much for me right now and I’m worried that my past self wrote knitting cheques my future self can’t cash, or knit (?).
In her guide on How to Organize your Stash, Hannah Fettig has lots of good tips, but I love this one:
“TIP THREE.  Sometimes we save materials for too long because we love them so much. We want to be sure they match up with just the right project.  There have been cases where I held onto something for years.  And then what happened?  I’m not in love with it anymore.  If you really love a yarn or fabric in your stash, don’t stress, just USE IT. “
And I think that is where I am with my stash. I bought a sweater’s weight worth of a thick aran weight yarn last year, which is lovely, though now I know I prefer DK weight to knit with. I couldn’t finish because the project really doesn’t suit me (and I couldn’t figure out how to modify it so it does). I would prefer that I could start a sweater with yarn in a weight I like now. So there ya go.

Get Ready to KonMari that stash

Marie Kondo says to tidy up and do it all at once and only one time. It might take several weeks, but it should be done in one shot. She has a particular order too. I mentioned in my previous note, I’m trying to KonMari all the things, and just started tackling the yarn.

I’ve done the first step which was to sort out my clothes. She says to start there because clothes are easily replaced and people usually have too many. And this morning, I tackled my books. Even my husband joined in on the fun. But I’ve got to tackle yarn next.

KonMari doesn’t cover yarn in her book. In terms of order, I think yarn is such a large category, I think yarns don’t fit in komono (stuff). I think collectors and hobbyists will always have categories like this. Now that I’ve started, I can safely say I probably should have done komono first, but I’m impatient and hubs and I have had “words” about the stash.

The StashI think on a scale of difficulty it fits between books and sentimental items. Potentially useful like books and snackable purchases which accumulate easily. So much of the authors book advice fits for yarn. Though she has some book-specific advice which won’t translate to yarn. With yarn,  once you use it up it doesn’t become a collection. And it costs quite a bit more than books. For example, she says ‘just give it away if you’re not sure. If you do like it, then you can just buy it again.’ Um.. not with yarn!

I’ve interpreted the steps to how I think Marie Kondo’s method translates to yarn.

However, this is all theory as I’m literally right in the middle of this process now. I’ll report back on what I discover!

1. Gather the yarn

I took the first step: Load all of it on to a pile. Don’t skip this step and think you can just pull out things you don’t want to keep. That is the wrong way around. It all comes off the shelves and out.

But I did that step over two weeks ago. So, today I guess I’m at least making progress.

2. Sort: Does this yarn spark joy?

Touch each yarn. Do you sense joy? Only moderate joy? Only keep which resonates. I thought this sounded pretty trippy. The notion that you communicate with objects which respond to you seems childlike because of the sense of magic. I was a bit skeptical that I wouldn’t feel “joy”.

However, when I touched these shetland yarns, they literally sparkle with excitement. These are from Blacker Yarns and Jamieson & Smith.

3. Discard/donate

She says throw away, but I think donating is going to be a happier future for anything unwanted or unused. Some yarn is going to a friend in England, some in Belfast and to a women’s knitting group. This stuff was easy to spot.

#stashbusting #nobrainer #KonMarie #yarnkonmarie

A video posted by Heather James (@nearlythere) on

Whastash-boxes-donet was I left with?

I boxed up the yarn into categories.

  • Yarn for projects I have queued and will start next. The Shetland Hap *gulp* that is a doozy! And a knitted skirt project and a few WIPs.
  • Yarn for gifts: Hats and mitts. I won a massive amount of yarn from LoveKnitting, and this makes up the bulk of it!
  • By weight: Fancy pants fingering, DK/chunky, My handspun (tends to be Aran-Bulky)
  • Crazy odd ball yarn.
  • FUN SCRAPS. I love my scrap bag! It’s clearly all stuff I love and I’d like to use again. MinaLoves has a great post about yarn leftovers.

What patterns of habit did I discover?

stash-all-lovelyColour habits:

  • I have lots of blue/turquoise/green, and lots of natural neutrals.
  • And a few random yellows!
  • Recently I’ve bought pinks and purples and it’s all I want to knit with. I think that is the problem with “collecting stash”… your past self commits to knitting your future self might not want to do.

Shopping habits:

  • I tend to buy when stuff is on sale, I get a bit grabby. Much of my odd ball yarn is like that.
  • I buy yarn to swatch. I have a problem with Blacker Yarns, I love their yarns and want to try them all.
  • I buy sometimes because I fear all the yarn will disappear. That is the biggest overall thing. What if I can’t ever find this stuff again ever?

In the future, what I’d like to do is just buy what I’m ABOUT to use. Clara Parkes calls this “slow stashing“.

Hannah Fettig also talks about Stash Control in a recent podcast. She is a true stash minimalist, and only gets yarn for a project she’s about to work on.

What’s next?

1. Stash on Ravelry? Yes. What I wanted to do was photograph it and put it on Ravelry. I think if I do that, and I’m connected with an app, I can make sure I “know” what’s in my stash. I can then shop my stash before starting a project. And rainbows will spring from my fingers because I will be in perfect stash harmony. But that is going to have to be done box-by-box now.

2. To queue or not to queue: NO. I thought I’d like to connect the yarn to projects in my queue, however I get the sense (again) that this means my past self will be committing to things my future self might not want to knit. In fact, I went right to my queue this morning and just moved out any aspirationally queued items.

3. Frog! I think this is where Clara Parkes’s class on Stashbusting comes in helpful. I’ve started frogging projects I’m giving up on entirely.

stash-frog stash-frog2And getting ideas for what to do with all the crazy odd-ball yarns I have.  stash-swatch-combine

I’ll talk more about that in my next post!

The Life Changing Magic of Stashbusting

I recognize that writing a blog post belies my struggles with decluttering. Why am I at the computer and not elbow-deep in stash? Well I didn’t accumulate the stash in one day, so this isn’t going to be easy.

stash-all

I got the idea to sort my stash after being reminded of the Life Changing Magic of Tidying up on the Curious Handmade podcast.

I watched Clara Parkes’s Craftsy Class on Stashbusting. But I really craved more detail in the section on sorting your yarns. Because it wasn’t obvious to me. Where Clara’s class really excels is helping you figure out how to say goodbye to WIPs, frog, re-set your yarn’s twist, matching yarn to projects, combining in new ways. It’s chock full of great ideas, I fully fully recommend it. BUT, I needed much more detail on the sorting step.

I think that is where KonMari can help. I thought it would be interesting to compare the approaches. Clara Parkes says you should “prune” the yarns, so you are eliminating. KonMari says only: Keep what you love; there’s only one rule: does it spark joy?

When do you know you have a problem?

Both Clara Parkes and Marie Kondo refer to the invisible stash/stuff. Clara Parkes says, “If you no longer know what’s in your stash, your stash no longer works for you.” Marie Kondo says items, such as books, become invisible when they are stashed away. Even books, which sit on shelves baring their spines, in full view: they become invisible and dormant. You need to wake them up, and make them conscious again.
I think the act of going through the yarn brings awareness to you about what you have and the intention behind it, and knowing what you have. I think the overall aim is to *stop buying stuff you don’t need*.
stash-love
When are you done?
If you love everything in your stash and it makes your heart sing, then you don’t need to declutter even if you have a shed load of yarn. KonMari doesn’t prescribe the size or amounts of what to keep (33 items of clothing/100 things, etc). She said those methods are pointless, hard to follow and don’t serve the purpose.
The vision is to be surrounded by a joyful environment. If that’s a library full of books, or a spartan white room, it’s totally up to you.

The emotional feelings in fibre

Clara Parkes and Kon Marie agree that there are going to be easy wins, things you just KNOW you want to keep. For books, KonMari calls this the “Hall of Fame.”
Clara asks you to detect the feelings you’re getting when you sort the yarn. She suggests you’ll feel there’s a burden, for unfinished projects or untouched yarn. Let it go.

What about the “ambivalent” yarns?

This is where I think there’s a difference in the approaches.  Clara says to bag it up and check back in 6 months. Kon Mari would probably just say “bin it!” (or Donate of course!)

Next: Step by step

OK – This was getting a bit long and now it’s bedtime. I’ll break this into another post and break down the KonMari steps in relation to yarn!

An Irish yarn for St Patrick’s Day

With the Euro having reached parity with the USD and today being St Patrick’s Day, I’m hoping some knitters are considering a trip to Ireland.

One of the most active threads on the Ireland Ravelry group is regarding info for visiting knitters. People also want to know where they can get their hands on an authentic Irish yarn. Visiting knitters are seeking some wooly experience based on images of sheep grazing in the hills of some Craggy Island, with hearty sailors wearing wool jumpers bobbing on the sea nearby. Even if the origins of the Aran jumper are clouded in the mists of marketing mythology dating back to the 1930s. (This can be a touchy subject for Irish knitters, since visiting North Americans, obsessed with authenticity, are known to comment “why did you let this tradition die out?” when actually it was entirely manufactured and not that long ago.)

All of those visions aside, visiting knitters want a proper squish of the good stuff as a take-home souvenir of memories of hillsides dotted with lovely sheep. What they may find is that, yes, there are some great Ireland-based indie dyers, but they use bases from abroad which are, of course, popular and easy to dye. And yes, there is yarn spun here, but much of Ireland’s wool clip goes to Bradford, England for processing, or the mills use fibres from Australia. The Irish wool you see on the sheep in the field, gets clipped and thrown into the melée with any wool of a similar micron count and staple length, mostly over in England. And what mills get back is a mix.

Animal-Range-and-Farm-Illustration-Sheep-with-lambIf visitors do any digging at all for the history, they’ll discover a sad economic tale of systematic market manipulation and deprivation dating back to the 1600s which consistently stifled any economic growth around the wool industry in Ireland. It’s enough to “bring out the Fenian in ye,” as my niece might say.

Is this a rallying cry to “Knit Irish”? No.

As I write this point, I’m worried that this might be seen as some Republican rally cry to “not knit with that English yarn” because of something that happened centuries ago. Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t eschew knitting foreign yarn as Louise Scollay from KnitBritish has been doing for a couple of years. Making that statement might raise an eyebrow or two, but isn’t that what it amounts to? The KnitBritish efforts are honourable in that KnitBritish is raising awareness of British breeds and her local industry, which I do think is great!

However, it reminds me of some efforts to ‘buy local’ that misdirect well meaning passion away from supporting sustainable industries in other countries which could increase the quality of life all around with fair trade.  Instead, I think it’s important to emphasize we “#KnitLocal” as Louise mentioned on the KnitBritish podcast recently. This ideal in practice connects you materially to where you are and gives you an understanding of what the world around you is made of. Or “KnitLocal” could mean to buy items produced at a smaller scale and where the value chain is shorter and more value is transferred to the source.

So! I wanted to point out there are authentic Irish yarns available but on a much smaller scale. Argue with me if you like! I’m no economist. However, I know that even a single purchase can make a huge impact to these producers and makers, I hope you’ll support them.

Where are all the Irish spinning mills?

From fleece to yarn, there is minimal capability for wool scouring and processing in Ireland. There are a few remaining mills, and the focus from a farmer’s point of view is meat. So from end to end there are challenges if you’re looking for a single-source yarn. Carol Feller’s Contemporary Irish Knits has a great section on Irish yarns and the remaining mills. Carol also wrote an article for Twist Collective “The Last Mills Standing,” highlighting three mills:

Carol focuses on the modern fact that farmers are selecting breeds for meat, and not fleece. And now, people are more selective and prefer softer and softer wools, and Irish farmers aren’t offering a soft enough or clean enough product for use in artisan yarns that people want to knit with. From a manufacturing point of view, Donegal Yarns could argue they need to offer finished designs in Australian merino to fulfill market demands.

I used to assume the limitations were purely environmental in terms of what kind of fleece could be grown here, but there are great sheep breeds that can do well in these climates. I’m highly sympathetic to farmers, and I think opportunities are increasing for farmers to get more value out of their livestock and business, even when market pressures are driving food prices down and threatening food security and sustainability. I think Irish farmers would diversify their flocks if they thought they could get additional value out of them.

Ireland used to produce finer wools and had a burgeoning woolen trade. So much so that the English royalty successfully sought to destroy the competition from the Irish industry.

The_History_of_the_County_and_City_of_Cork_-_Google_Play

In the 1600s, England squashed competition from Ireland by putting in laws to limit both the woolen industry and industry in general in Ireland. By the 1660s, Acts were introduced to prohibit the export of Irish wool, cattle, etc. to England or her colonies, and prohibiting the direct importation of several colonial products into Ireland. So Ireland directed trade to France and Spain and prospered until yet again, the industry was systematically destroyed to improve business in England. Instead the linen industry was encouraged in Ireland, a more labour intensive, much dirtier and more dangerous industry overall.

If you want to know more, a detailed history is outlined on Ferguson’s Linen Mill website, and a threepart article on the the The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers site gives some more context to the somewhat infuriating History of Spinning in Ireland. The lack of woolen mills in Ireland or Irish yarn did not happen by chance and is not because we currently don’t have fine fleece here.

Authentic Irish Yarns

At the risk of excluding all the of the great indie dyers in Ireland (saving that for another post!),  I wanted to focus on yarn where the fibre actually comes from animals and farms here in Ireland.

S-Twist Wool The fleece is hand-selected, and hand-scoured using an ecologically friendly scouring method with minimal waste of energy and water. Diarmuid runs his own spinnery producing yarn on a small scale. Here’s a nice in-depth review of the yarn. This fella actually gave me my very first spinning lesson!

Cushendale / Zwartbles sell finished products and yarn from this lovely chocolate fleeced sheep. There are two mills in Ireland that handle raw wool and they won’t process less than an half a ton of wool. So collectively, participating farmers’ clip is combined with other Zwartbles fleece from around the country and sold through Cushendale Mills. See pics of the wool being collected and the wool getting processed at Cushedale Mills on the ZwartblesIreland.com website.

Dupre Knitwear produce made-to-measure handknits for clients. Literally, you give them your measurements, and knitters from their local area knit the finished goods. You can also buy the yarn in kits. Siobhan and her family keep a flock of Leicester Longwool sheep. The fleece from these elegant looking sheep is long, lustrous and in a range of true greys and warm greys. They send it to The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall who will process and spin the yarn in small batches. I’ve heard the more recent yarn is worsted spun, and even lovelier than a previous year’s yarn.

I’m hoping my list isn’t exhaustive and someone is going to see this point and say “Hey you forgot about this one!” If you know of more Irish Yarns, please comment below!

FYI, if you’ve made it THIS far, you might be interested in this upcoming book: These Islands: Knits from Ireland, Scotland, and Britain

Colours for KnitBritish’s Hap-pening!

I have NO business doing this, but I made an impulse to purchase wool for the Knit British Hapalong, (Hap-KAL?) A hap is usually a square shawl, more like a blanket you can cuddle someone up in. Here’s a bit about the history.

I found out about it through Ravelry in the Knit British group. Leira posted a thread asking if there was a “Hap Interest.” 300+ posts later, I think you can say there’s an interest. By coincidence, Gudrun Johnston is also doing a hap-knit-along (Ravelry). So I expect to see the place covered in rolling waves of flowing haps.

Pattern choice

I love the Quill pattern by Brooklyn Tweed. Knit British has an article of other Brooklyn Tweed designs. She also has a spotlight on Gudrun Johnston’s Haps, and I love the 5 colour combo of the Hansel pattern.

I also like that you can take a craftsy class to learn the techniques and more about the history.
shetland-hap-shawl-craftsy

Yarn choice

So! Hansel calls for Jamieson & Smith 2 Ply Jumper Weight. I had the Blacker Yarns Shetland Bargain Pack in my sights. I hemmed and hawed and finally picked two contrasting colours, a dark and a white. Boom, too easy, right?

2015-03-04 14.24.50

It doesn’t start until April, so, ha ha! Maybe I’ll clear my knitting decks!