Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year of Knitting

I remember when I was a kid and people asked me what my New Year's Resolutions were, I was always at a loss. Somehow I couldn't think far enough ahead to think of something I wouldn't jump in and do at a moment's notice, or of anything I needed to get accomplished. Life was simple then, and I was never bored because my mind would seize on a project and before I knew it, I was in the middle of figuring it out.

Not much as really changed since those simple days when I lived in the country and invented my own entertainment. I'm just a little older and, well, some bigger. Now that 'bigger' part does come to mind for needing resolutions, and actually, this year when I had my annual heart checkup, I asked my doctor if there was anything he could prescribe which would make me get up and start moving around. Before I knew it, a nurse had me on the phone asking if I liked to swim or do Pilates, and before the conversation was over, I had committed to three months of exercise, whether I liked it or not. He's pretty good, isn't he? He acted swiftly and with determination, and I could hardly say 'no, I don't like to swim in the winter time!' because too many people already knew that I need to get up and move, so I would just shame myself, really, if I acted churlish about swimming in the winter time. And, I knew it. I heard my own voice starting to protest, and then just shut up. Nope. I am going to do the program and come out of it in three months' time having done more exercise than knit and type!

So, an improvement in health was not on my resolution list at all. What I like to think up as a sort of resolution is a new skill or hobby. Like the year I decided I was going to learn to weave. I went into it full throttle, just as I have always done with a new game/toy/hobby, and signed up for a weeklong class and bought one of the studio's used looms at the end of the week. For at least a year I tried to be a weaver. I loved the actual weaving part where you toss the shuttle back and forth and stomp on the pedals and watch the fabric form in front of your eyes, thread by thread, literally. What I hated was warping the loom. To me it was tedious and boring. I just never got the art of warping down, and I gave it a good try. One day last year, I woke up and with great clarity declared, 'I am not a weaver.' For a week I tried to sell my loom, and then had it moved upstairs to the attic, half-dressed with a warp. The decision was made, but I decided to keep my membership in the weaving guild because I had met some very interesting people there. Admitting that I am not a weaver, did not dampen my enthusiasm for hand-woven fabric at all. All my life I have been a collector of hand-woven fabric. The only regret about leaving the loom behind is that I never achieved my goal of creating a stack of dishtowels to serve me for years into the future. I'll just have to buy them and appreciate the hand work of others.

Last year I declared openly on the Internet that 2008 would be the year of the cable for me. I didn't do many cables, I admit. OK, I did some but never an intricate Aran sweater, or a sidewise hat band, or even cabled wristwarmers. I did a couple of sweaters with a cable running the sleeves and down the front. Cables fall close to warping the loom in my mind. Moving stitches to that tiny needle and then balancing that little thing while you do something else ... well, that's just irritating to me. But, I did some cables here and there, and they were nice looking and even, too. So, in a sense, I did cables. I am just not emerging from 2008 with a pile of intricate sweaters.

For the coming year, I've got several projects going already. For one thing, I want to knit the samples for my new website, using the beautiful handdyed yarns which are beginning to come into stock. Maybe I won't knit all of them. Well, OK, I know I will not knit all of the samples for the site because I've already farmed out one lovely silk shawl and it's finished and lying just where I can see it as I type today. And, yesterday I doled out pattern, yarn, needles to a mother-and-daughter team of test knitters. There will be lots and lots more samples to be knit, and I want to be right in there knitting my share of them. So, I declare that sample knitting is on my 2009 resolution list.

Actually, that sounds like a lot of work, now that I think of it, so I am going to quit here and not add a thing to my list. Yes, this feels right. Besides, I know there will be more projects to come up, trips .. like the one to the new Stitches South in late April, and maybe to TNNA this year ... and there will also be those small events I put on for Virginia knitters on the Circular Sock Machines, and then I've got the baby hat project going for the new social services baby clinic. So, I think I'll limit my list to one item, Sample Knitting for new website, so that I can have time left over to play!

What's on your resolution list?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Squigglies and all!

On the largest of the three sample baby hats, I decided to add a little color in the form of squigglies. I don't know if there is an actual name for these little exclamation points rendered in yarn, but everyone seems to understand when you say 'squigglies.' I couldn't remember, though, how to make them and two folks gave me directions. I tried their directions, and then came up with my own version.

#1 Squigglie: Do you crochet? Chain 20 and work two single crochet stitches in each chain.

#2 Squigglie: Cast on 20 stitches. Knit front and back of each (40 st). Bind off tightly.

#3 Squigglie: Cast on 30 stitches (longtail method). Bind off. Run 'other' end of longtail through all stitches and pull to curl.

Numbers 1 and 2 made broader, flatter squigglies than I wanted, and when I got started on the crochet version I suddenly remembered what it is about crochet that I don't really like, and that is the first row. So, to make many squigglies at one time, all working on the first row, then the first row again, well ... I couldn't face it. The knit version was OK, but not inspiring, so I came up with my own (#3). I must give somebody credit somewhere, I admit, because this idea was rumbling around in the back of my mind ... one of those things you know you have seen somewhere but just cannot recall where, and cannot recall the details. Not really very complicated, after all.

Here is the first little hat going out today to someone who will be thrilled. She is a struggling young mother who works at the convenience store where my husband buys coffee during the day. She often comments on his different handknit hats, and recently wished out loud for one for her new baby. 'She had a sorta big head,' she told him. This is a great place to start my little hat campaign!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

First CSM Baby Hat samples

OK, am posting my first efforts of the baby hat project. My plan was to venture out of the studio -- no small feat, as I seem to live like a mole these days! -- and buy the yarn that Ron T recommended for his baby hats on Ravelry's Circular Sock Machine group. BUT there were only two places in town which carry it, and our local JoAnn's has slim pickings indeed on their yarn shelves. Wonder if they're purposely running low in that department. At any rate, the choices were old and tired looking, and I could not find the Bernat Baby Jacquard. The other choice was Walmart, and I had no intention of joining the December 26th mob.

So, back to my stash. Good thing, too, because I found a great yarn for this purpose ... Kraemer's Saucon Sock. I have been gathering several of the Kraemer yarns in lots of different colors, as I start to create stock for my new website. (That's, in case you missed my many hints and shameless self-promotion!) The Saucon Sock (pronounced 'SAW-con' after some Pennsylvania mountains, I think) is a blend of cotton/acrylic and nylon, so it will wash and wear well, and it has enough stretch to it to make a nice hat, and to be comfortable.

I attach a picture of the first efforts. Here are the basics: cranked on my circular sock machine, a LeGare 400, using the 72 needle cylinder, with all needles. The different sizes are the result of changing tension as I knit. Not bad for the first effort, but I wish I could make those cute little curly que squigglies for the top! Wouldn't that be cute in lots of different colors? If anyone knows how to make these squigglies, please let me know!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Giving Back in small ways

I've been thinking about how I could create a small charity project, something that I would work on in my spare time and which would benefit some folks who might need something warm and wooly. One of the knitters on the Ravelry group for Circular Sock Machines wrote about knitting baby hats on his CSM, and that idea stuck with me. So, for several days before Christmas, I made calls around town, trying to find out where the best place to donate some baby hats would be. I thought of the obvious place, the hospital, but our hospital is well funded and there are many charity groups which knit for newborns and cancer victims, and I've knitted for those groups before, myself. Thinking of where a new mother would go for help turned me towards a new health clinic which is somehow tied into social services, so I called them up. One person passed me on to another person, until finally I was able to leave a message for the director of the new pediatrics care department of the clinic.

This morning she called back, the day after Christmas -- pretty good timing as I think about making gifts -- and she was thrilled with the idea. I am their first donor! She told me that they have just opened up a pre-natal care clinic and my baby hats will be very welcome, but could I make them in bright colors, and also, bigger than many of the hospital caps that fit a child only for a short time? This set me to stuttering, as I have not actually made any of these caps yet! But, my sock machine does have three different sized cylinders, and I have oiled up that tension screw where it now makes a difference, so I gamely promised that sure! I'd be glad to make up some samples and drop them by.

So, today I am off to JoAnn's Fabric where I will get some acrylic blend suitable for baby hats. My Ravelry friend recommended Baby Jacquart by Bernat, so I'll begin my samples with that yarn. I will definitely take pictures of the samples before I deliver them.

There are so many people who could use a nice baby hat right now, or a wool cap or scarf or an old sweater or some shoes. Yesterday afternoon we gathered sweaters and shoes up and today my husband is taking them to GoodWill, here in our town. Unbelievably, they are laying off some workers because donations have become scarce. When I think about how lucky I am to be safe and comfortable, then I feel this need to give a little more. I am sure my knitting customers have done this many times over the years, and know that tranquility that comes when you are knitting for a purpose.

So, I will keep my readers posted on the progress of my new private charity project. Maybe you can come up with one of your own, and make a small difference for someone near you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peace of Mind and Website Calm

Sometimes it is the simple things in life that are the most pleasurable. You know what I mean. Say, you've been feeling caught in a situation and somehow got into a mental zone where you just waited to see how things were going to turn out. We'll call it the Wait-and-See Mode. Yeah. That's good. But, here's the problem when we Wait-and-See: we are not participating. We are willfully becoming passive and allowing others to shape the situation.

I've experienced Wait-and-See many times in my lifetime, though friends and family would be surprised to hear me admit it. My personality is fairly strong, and my mind is always going, going, going. I am never bored. I am a good friend and listener. I am able to weigh pros and cons well, and I can read a person's character like a book very soon after meeting them. This last talent does not always serve me well, as I then have to bite my tongue and refuse to allow the words 'Uh, huh, didn't I warn you?' pass my lips.

Luckily, over the years I have learned exactly that there is a good time to Wait-and-See, and it's when others need to learn a lesson. Like the guy who sounds too good to be true? Yes, it did sound too good, and it wasn't true.

I may be able to spot trouble for others with a clear mind, but when it comes to predicting my own pitfalls, I'm not so good there. Part of my problem, I do believe, is that I am from the South. Hold on, hold on. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but if you are not from the South, you may not realize that we are taught from birth not to present difficulties for others, which explains why we are well-known for our gracious Southern manners and generosity. Don't get me wrong. We do mean to be generous and to make life easier for others, but sometimes that translates into the private conviction that we really should not speak up when another part of our self-preservation impulse is telling us to not only speak up, but be counted.

So, here is the problem. When we speak up, are we going to make another person uncomfortable? After all, this is at the heart of being a gentleman or a gentlewoman, isn't it? Who said that? Aldous Huxley? Maybe, or maybe one of his colleagues, but the idea of a code of conduct to guide our behaviour is an ideal fostered by Southern mammas across a wide geographical area, and not necessarily stopping at the Mason-Dixon line. Techincally, then, Southern manners wouldn't be attributed to folks who live in the South, but we will be gracious here and extend the definition, though we might come up with a better name for it. How about just plain ole good manners? So, the definition of good manners, then, might become behavior which does not hurt others or make them uncomfortable. I declare it so.

Plain ole good manners, then, apply in all of our relationships. Family, of course, and that's a place to employ good manners as we grow up and recognize the differences in family members. Friendships, too, deserve the very best of our good intentions, especially as we cultivate friendships to span our lifetime based on similar personalities, talents or believes in common. I have one or two friends whom I have known since pre-school days, and while we are so very different, I cherish those differences and am flattered to hear from them. I guess that's why I like Christmas cards so much.

Romantic relationships can thrive or crash because of manners and how we monitor our behavior, giving the best to our closest relationships and allowing ourselves to trust our partner. And business relationships are absolutely the place for plain ole good manners, and in every single dealing between buyers and sellers, and are just as important as personal friendships. The act of doing business should spring from the honest exchange of offer and acceptance. Someone wants something and someone else has it to offer. No need to turn away and project rejection towards the person who has something to sell, or to leave a hint of an unclear message. No need to leave a lingering negative impression in a sales situation, or even the offer. No need to tell them that you don't like their product or service. Instead, tell them it is not what you need. That's it, really. Not what you are looking for.

So, that friend who is not really a friend? They're not what you need. And that lover who betrays you? Whew! That's not what you need. Thank-you, I-wish-you-well, but, it-is-not-what-I-need-right-now. Hmmm. A good mantra!

I made a decision, and it will simplify by business and immediately it calmed my mind. I am leaving my new web design folks and going back to my old web guy. I feel so calm with this decision. No, thank you. I wish you well, but I need something else just now. Southern, yes. Plain ole good manners, I believe so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waiting for the Postman ...

Well, not quite, but we are in a holding pattern right now and cannot launch the new website program for Wool2Dye4 because we cannot get to the shipping module on the USPS site. They must have some kind of big and bad server issues going on, and it looks like there could be quite a delay. Who would think that I would get a letter from the folks at USPS? They actually wrote all account holders a letter this morning, telling us that there are server problems (well, we knew that!), and suggesting we take advantage of one month free accounts at or

If you've read my blog before, you know that is definitely not one of my favorite service providers. I almost went to war with them over unnecessary charges and their refusal to issue a refund for something like $40. So, I won't be trying their service, I can assure you. Maybe we'll launch without a postal service component in the beginning, and just go with FedEx. I don't know, I don't know what to do.

Changing your program from one you are used to, which may not be anywhere near perfect, but is familiar, is tough. The whole process of even choosing a program for your website is huge. I have often told my husband -- in answer to 'what is taking so long with the new program?' -- that if I knew more about what to look for in a program, I could install the thing myself.

That's really the problem, isn't it? Website businesses are not experts in the technical side of what program fits the needs of their individual business. If we knew more, we could shop better for the right program. I have some customers who write to me and show sympathy for my plight, and then toss in phrases like cascading style sheets, Wordpress modules, iFrames, hard code, etc. My eyes begin to glaze over.

You see, I have learned over the years to delegate the stuff that I do not understand and do not have the time to learn. And computer programming, being an entirely separate career itself, is one of those things I have been delegating since computer screens were 6-inches square and there was no such thing as Windows. Back in another life, when I started a little text-book distribution business in Los Angeles, the personal computer came into existance, and I started on my journey of searching out programs when there was very little to be found. It was the upstart, entrepreneurial phase of the personal computer, and I met lots of really fascinating computer geeks! Think of it -- nothing like directories, so all files were lumped together in one big, huge, long, never ending file. I remember the first time I had a computer -- a rented one, actually -- and I didn't even have a printer, because I couldn't figure out why I would need one! Of course, I found out quickly that I certainly did need a printer, so off to the local computer store I went to rent a printer. But, I couldn't figure out how to make the darn thing print! I looked, read the heavy manual, and did everything I could think of, until I finally made a call to someone masquerading as my first computer service guy. (He was really just a computer techie I met in the aisles of EggHead Software, a company which has since gone out of existence, but which was the playground of all of us who had purchased the first personal computers.) Anyway, for the sum of $30 he came to my tiny apartment in L.A., and punched a button and the darn thing sprang to life. That button had the word 'PRINT' on it, too! How did I miss it? I still think about that day!

Anyway, ever since that expensive lesson -- and thirty dollars was a lot of money to me -- I have hired consultants to take me beyond my own level of achievement. I've written bibliographies which were distributed by the U.S. Department of Education on my first computers. I've bought the first color printer on the market and tried my best to install it. Shoot, for that matter, I've installed the very first Sony model of an answering machine and navigated my way through 75 pages of terribly twisted English written by speakers of Japanese! I've done some computer stuff in my time! And the biggest thing I've done, is to hire others when I know I've reached my level of incompetence.

Hmmm. Who was the really smart guy who had a whole theory about what happens when we reach our level of incompetence? I cannot remember right now. I need someone to tell me.

But, back to the Post Office. So, their server must have blown up. Or something huge. I mentioned it to a customer this morning, and she must have an account with them too, because she said she'd also gotten the same letter which I received.

So, here I sit with my new program (it's Comersus, by the way) all ready and shiny new and waiting for the launch into cyberspace, and what am I waiting for? Waiting for the mail. Wow. How many times have we waited for the mail in our lives? Too many to count, and this seems like a great subject for another blog entry.

Must say that I miss writing in the blog! Checking Ravelry every day has sort of taken up what was my blog time in former days. I need to moderate that, I do believe.

The picture below is of my new line of colored yarns, which will be the signature yarn on my new website venture: UpTown Stitches. Yes, I'm launching a second website, hopefully in January, but we'll see. This yarn is called Scrumptious by FyberSpates, and is receiving rave reviews all over Europe. I'll be the U.S. distributor and cannot wait to receive stock and start getting it out there! Any pattern calling for Malibrigo or even Lion and the Lamb will be good patterns to use Scrumptious. More on that soon!