May 27, 2019

"Getting More Satisfaction From Your Fiber" podcast episode

     You can hear TJ King interview me on her podcast The Peahen's Pondererings in episode six, "Getting More Satisfaction from Your Fiber" available on iTunes and Google or on her site here,
     We talk about stuff including the way I keep track of my works-in-progress and to-do list with the Kanban method.
     After the podcast was recorded, I asked David J. Anderson exactly what commitment to a work-in-progress (WIP) means in Kanban.  He defined commitment to a WIP as a commitment to deliver goods or a service to a customer.  Similarly, regarding the book The Goal, I said in the podcast that the goal in the book was for the factory to finish its work, but actually the goal for the factory was to get paid for the products they produced.  I hope that you get my point in the podcast that we do things for a payoff, and that with yarn, usually we are our own customers.  For a fiber artist the payoff can come from having a finished product or from enjoying the experience of the production process.
     When preparing for the podcast, I came up with 31 different common problems I have seen keep people from being satisfied with their projects and finishing them.  TJ and I were only able to cover a handful on the podcast.  But there's nothing stopping me from giving you the list here, along with the solutions I propose.

  1. Beginner problems, where you lack equipment, supplies, and know-how.  TJ points out the problem of buying too much and buying the wrong things because you don't understand what you need.  Solution: get the stuff, get the skills, and above all get support and feedback as you go along.  
  2. Intermediate problems, where you make larger items or take on more stages (like fiber prep or dyeing), and as a consequence you run into more problems that block progress or you get discouraged because it takes longer to finish.  Solution: expect these problems, maybe limit your focus, and get any technical help you need.  I was talking to someone about this and she said that doing larger projects and doing more crafts is not actually a problem.  And it's true, it can be one of the joys of a fiber artist's life.  Assuming you don't get lost in the weeds.  
  3. You modify a pattern and thereby cause problems you don't get from a tested published pattern, or you don't start a project because you are daunted by the difficulty of making the modifications you want.  Solution: get help, get more skill at making mods, be brave, or search harder for an existing pattern that is close to what you want.  
  4. You are bored to tears at spinning two pounds of white wool or knitting miles of stockinette.  Solution: don't do it, or break up the work so you don't do it all at once, or get an e-spinner or a knitting machine so the work goes faster.  
  5. Your project is a poor match for the context you work in.  For example, you are trying to knit something that demands all your concentration but you are out in public with friends who want to talk to you.  Solution: keep the complicated project for a time when you are alone, and keep a simple portable project in a pretty bag to take to parties.  My evening knitting bag is black hemp/silk and contains a Granny's Favourite dish cloth.  Also, schedule a block of time for the complicated knitting.  
  6. You use modern patterns not traditional production patterns (or modern methods not production methods of spinning, knitting, and weaving).  Again, not necessarily a problem.  I've just observed that modern charts for lace and colourwork start with an image and go from there, and take a lot of concentration.  In contrast, charts from a hundred and twenty years ago have a rhythm to them.  So if you want to forge ahead, consider production patterns and methods.  I haven't knitted any stranded colourwork myself but I have done metal stamping in a Fair Isle pattern. I found stamping down the columns awkward.  Then I started stamping from right to left, bottom row to top row the way a knitter approaches the pattern, and it went extremely smoothly.  Similarly, traditional construction, such as knitting stockinette in the round and steeking, can be faster than knitting stockinette flat and seaming pieces because there's no purling.  As for methods, there are teachers like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Abby Franquemont, and Sara Lamb who teach production methods of knitting and spinning.  There is a possible downside to this solution: the look and fit you get with traditional patterns has been around for a very long time and some people may consider them unpleasantly dated-looking.  Not to mention that a stranded sweater can be too hot to wear in a place with central heating.  
  7. You keep poor records and so you cannot easily knit a pattern again or you cannot spin an identical skein.  Solution: either accept this about yourself, or keep records with the details you need about modifications, yarn type, tools used, and so on.  
  8. Your project does not fit your taste in processes.  For example, you are knitting lace because you want to have a lace scarf but you dislike knitting yarnovers and decreases.  You buy a fleece because it is beautiful but you dislike fiber prep.  Solution: practice self-awareness and acceptance.  Only do the process you like, or do the process you dislike in a way that you can take, like in small doses or in the company of a friend.  Or, get minions, or commission someone to do the work.  I know most fiber artists don't consider this an option because they buy yarn intending to use it themselves.  We tend to think of clothes as either homemade or bought ready-to-wear.  But if you really don't like a process and you really want the product, you can commission the work.  There are people who knit for money and take custom orders.  
  9. Your taste in processes gives you nothing near your taste in products.  You like to knit garter stitch flat but hate the look of it, that sort of thing.  Solution: stick with your taste in processes and give the result away.  Or, see if you can tweak the process to get a product you like more.  For instance, instead of plying your laceweight singles into laceweight 2 ply yarn and then knitting lace, try cabling those singles into a thicker yarn or making a 5 ply yarn (again, thicker) or holding a couple of 2 ply strands together when knitting something substantial.   
  10. You produce products that do not fit your lifestyle.  For example, you love to buy chunky mustard yellow yarn and knit boxy mustard yellow sweaters but you need a lace shawl to wear to a wedding and all those cocktail parties you attend.  Solution: knit what you love, keep it in a drawer, take it out to admire it, but buy ready-to-wear clothes.  Or, go against your instincts, grit your teeth, and knit products that fit your lifestyle.  Whichever makes you happy.  You may need to get extra technical help to be able to finish making wearable items, if something is holding you up and keeping you from wanting to produce wearable things.  
  11. You make technical mistakes.  Solution: learn the technical solutions, like how to drop stitches and redo them, how to swatch and block to get gauge so your items fit, how to use a life line in lace knitting so you can undo your knitting easily, how to fix a slub when spinning, and how to choose a flattering pattern.  For that last one, the most flattering results I've seen are from people using Amy Herzog's Custom Fit patterns.  
  12. You have trouble meeting deadlines.  Solution: set a reminder in your calendar and start way ahead.  Or, do what you love, whenever you fancy.  
  13. You have little time to spend on the fiber arts because you have a demanding job or demanding family responsibilities.  Solution One: choose a project you can pick up and put down so you can integrate yarn into your daily life.  Solution Two: make yarn part of your vacation and leisure time by taking a class, going to a meetup, and so on.  Keep duplicate sets of tools and project bags you can take with you.  Solution Three: make sure you get out of your yarn time what you are looking for, and what you need to counterbalance your job or family.  Examples are a sense of completion, time among women (or whatever demographic your meetup group is), time spent on math and science, and the experience of touching beautiful fiber.  Solution Four: do not take on a volunteer task for a guild or festival until after you retire or your family no longer needs you, because if you have seriously demanding day job you have no spare time to spare.  You need your yarn time.  Defend it.  It does you good.  Solution Five: Practice selfish knitting, and keep what you make rather than giving it away so that you have a tangible record of your yarn accomplishments.  
  14. You can't make what you want because you can't get the right materials.  For example, you need one more ball of yarn, and it's discontinued.  Solution One: find the yarn; do a Ravelry search for yarn in people's stash that's for sale, post an ISO (in search of) message on a Ravelry discussion board, or look up the company's distributors and call them about old stock.  To use a ball of yarn from a different dye lot and make a less noticeable transition, in between the old and new dye lots you can knit a section that alternates rows of either dye lot.  Solution Two: work around the problem; use different yarn for the cuffs or shorten the sleeves. 
  15. You take on a commission, paid or not, and it goes badly.  Solution: have an out clause and agree in advance on how you will handle change requests.  Or, refuse commissions.  
  16. You wind up working with materials or tools you never planned for, because they were given to you, or you picked them up in a destash sale, or your friend left them to you in her will.  Not necessarily a problem, as you may luck out and get something you like.  Solution: do not look needy.  Casually say things around friends and family like, "I get so much fun out of selecting just the right fiber," and "I have so much wool, my stash is awesome."  When you're around non-fiber friends, be their friend, not the person in their life who is all about yarn.  Be careful around destash sales: the seller cast off that stuff for a reason.  And, check for moths.  
  17. You spend $1000+ on fancy equipment but forget to budget money for lessons, time to learn to use the stuff, and space to set it up.  Solution: either budget for this, or don't saddle yourself with an obligation to live up to the equipment.  
  18. You wander into interesting but odd things to do with yarn, such as nalbinding and språng, for which there are few teachers and few patterns.  Solution: keep to the mainstream and focus on that.  Or, dive in.  Contact the teachers for advice, watch online videos, travel for classes to places like the John C. Campbell Folk School or Scandinavian cultural centers, or get together a bunch of students and invite a teacher to come to you.  
  19. You suffer from second sock syndrome or get stuck on sleeve island, or you change gauge mid-project and can't get identical pieces.  In other words, you have trouble finishing a whole project.  Solution: get two identical sets of sock needles and knit two socks, switching back and forth between them, or do the magic loop technique, or knit one sock inside the other (if you dare).  Try to knit always under the same conditions, with no fast music or tense TV shows.  
  20. You hate sewing up, or you create an overwhelming number of ends to sew up by using up scraps or doing involved colourwork.  Solution: sew in your ends anyway.  Or minimize the amount of sewing up by buying large balls of yarn, doing little colourwork, knitting raglan or yoke sweaters, and knitting toe-up socks.  Also, me, I like to take the sting out of sewing up by using a really nice needle that TJ's husband Mike made for me as a custom order, out of bone.  (Sorry, vegans.)  It is shaped like his Spanish Peacock single-point nalbinding needles but a little slimmer.  The regular nalbinding needle will work for worsted yarn. 
  21. You like to spin but not to ply.  Solution One: don't.  Spin singles and set them, or spin energized singles to knit or weave with like Katherine Alexander.  Solution Two: get better equipment, such as a lazy Kate that holds bobbins at a 45 degree angle.  Solution Three: improve your form, by taking a class or watching a DVD by teachers like Judith MacKenzie, Sara Lamb, or Rita Buchanan.  
  22. You need to spin and ply 3 ply yarn for your knitting to drape well but you hate to make 3 ply.  Solution: do 2 ply and knit lace or weave, because 2 ply is great for this.  Or, cable your yarn.  Or pass the singles through a spice jar top to ply 3 ply.  Or, n-ply, also called Navajo plying.  
  23. You use self-striping yarn but get fraternal socks not identical socks.  Solution: start at the same place in the colour progression when you cast on, which may mean discarding some yardage and settling for shorter socks.  Or, use solids, semisolids, speckled yarn, or chromatic yarn to avoid the problem.  
  24. You buy space-dyed braids because you love the way they look but you dislike the resulting barber pole yarn you spin, and the rest of the braids sit unused in your stash so they will be beautiful forever.  Solution: split the braid in half lengthwise, spin two bobbins, and ply a 2 ply yarn.  Or, spin the whole braid and n-ply it.  Or, divide up the braid following directions for fractal spinning and 2 ply the yarn.  Or, combo blend and combo spin.  Or, spin and ply each colour separately by tearing out sections of colour.  Or, commission the dyer to make you a coordinating solid braid.  
  25. You are too intimidated to use yarn or fiber that is frankly too good for you.  Solution: if you have the skills to use it, use it anyway.  If you don't, get the skills.  
  26. Your stash contains a little of this and a little of that, but not enough to make something.  Solution One: going forward, focus more when you buy, and buy enough.  Solution Two: use what you have by searching for low-yardage patterns on Ravelry, reading one-skein wonder pattern books, doing colourwork if the yarn is all the same weight, holding yarns together for bulky projects, and doing combo spinning and combo blending.  
  27. You find you made a mistake warping the loom, after you've sleyed 200 more threads through 200 more heddles.  Solution: dig deep and consider why you're doing this and whether you really want to be doing this.  Then either fix the threads or live with the mistake.  
  28. You want to wind a warp onto a loom but don't have a buddy to put tension on the warp while you crank.  Solution: make new friends.  Or, weave at a studio with an instructor and other students.  Or, get a gadget from Harrisville Designs to tension the warp.  Or, warp front to back.  Or use a rigid heddle loom with a weight.  
  29. You try to weave with knitting yarn and it goes badly.  Solution: use a narrow rigid heddle loom and a short warp.  Or, wet your skeins of yarn and dry them under tension, maybe.  Or, switch and use proper weaving yarn.  Spend the money, and treat it as a new stash.  
  30. You lose yarn to marauding moths or destructive kittens, or you lose your project.  Solution: use a Gamma seal lid on a 5 gallon bucket, use a Gripstic closure on a bag, and be cautious about bringing secondhand wool into your stash.  And just generally be careful.  In the podcast, TJ asked me about my general level of satisfaction with my fiber arts productivity.  I forgot to say that my one regret was leaving a couple of skeins of handspun Wensleydale out where the moths ate them.  Also I forgot to say that if someone announced to me, "That's it, you're done, no more yarn for you," I would be upset because there are things I still want to make.  
  31. You like to knit but hate to purl.  Solution: knit continental.  Or knit with the Irish Cottage Knitting method.  Or, knit sweaters in the round.  Or, knit the patterns in Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knit One, Knit All, which have no purling.
     To sum up, don't let problems stop you from getting satisfaction from your fiber arts.
     When I receive a gift from someone that could influence me, I disclose it on the blog so you know.  Here goes: TJ gave me a Spanish Peacock spindle storage stand.  If you haven't see one, it is an affordable stand that's sold as a flat pack.

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