Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Everything Just Clicks

I'm feeling quite proud of myself today. I totally knew who the bad guy was in Criminal Minds tonight. I just knew it by looking at him. I should work for the FBI...

I'm also quite proud of myself because I started the intarsia section of my Charlie Brown sweater, and after pouring over a few websites, books and forums, I've managed to do it without any holes! That is something else, people. I mean, I've worked intarsia before, and hooooooley! It wasn't pretty. I felt a bit silly about agreeing to make this sweater, knowing full well I'd have to battle the beast, but I lopped its head off tonight. Woohoo!

In The Zen and Art of Knitting, Bernadette Murphy writes:

Not a single knitter of those I interviewed said of her knitting time that she wished she were doing something else. Repeatedly, no matter how many people I asked, the same response was elicited: "When I'm knitting, there's nowhere else I'd rather be and nothing else I'd rather be doing."

That is the response I would give. I feel at peace when I'm working with my hands. It settles my mind, and helps me to sort out what's going on in there. I often find myself giggling over things that happened throughout the day, or fuming over something that I disagreed with. Regardless of what happens in my head during knitting, it helps me to resolve my problems, or at least begin the process of resolving them. When I'm working on something difficult, knitting or crocheting helps me to empty my mind, to focus, and to look for the patterns hidden there in that strange dimension we call handmade fabric. It's a state that I wish I could sustain all day long... or at least, for a good chunk of the day.

I have regularly sat back in my chair and daydreamed about a life in which I could spend my days knitting, crocheting and writing, getting into discussions with creative people, or exploring outdoors, understanding the hidden formula that makes up the world around me. A life of a fairy child, curious, open-minded, quiet, happy, unjudged, free.

My reality, though, is that I must earn money in order to support myself and to contribute to my family life. I've become accustomed to the comfort of a regular income, and the the surety that I will be alright every day. It's not easy for me to accept, but I do. I snatch every single moment I can to walk into the comfort of my daydreams and my creations.

But, maybe it doesn't have to be that way.

Last week, on Twitter, @steveouch tweeted:

"I got my kickstarter invite! Yah hoo!"

First thought from me: "Oh look. It's a new Google thing."

Second thought from me: "Hmm. Or maybe it's something else..." So, I looked it up.

I found www.kickstarter.com and the subtitle read:

Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, inventors, explorers...

Now, I'll be honest and say that I initially thought, "I wonder what kind of yahoos post stuff up on here." But the thing about kickstarter is that you just can't turn up and put up your plans to conquer the world by building a fortress out of office envelopes. You have to be invited. And, you have to have a plan. It's a way to pitch your ideas to the public, to convince ordinary people that you have a project worth backing, and to get those people to give you a bit of cash to get that project going.

In my first few minutes of trawling through projects, I was impressed. These were ideas that people had spent time working on, thinking about how it would work and how it should be pitched. And, within five minutes, I'd donated some money to a project I wanted to support: To Boldly Fold (Where No Bookbinder Has Gone Before) - A New Business Venture. Its tagline:

Leaving the 9 to 5 world to embark on a quest: To spread creativity through handmade sketchbooks and journals of the highest caliber!

Ok, now I know most people out there would say, "What? No one's going to make a living on that! What a waste of time." But here's the point: Here's a person who has already got an existing small business running, and who wants to make a go of it full-time. In her pitch, Melissa Chao writes:

In this increasingly digital and virtual world, I find myself wondering what we’re leaving behind. To do my part in keeping the art of paper alive, I want to start a handmade bookbinding business. I find enjoyment in creating sketchbooks and journals for other creative types. Surrounded by mass produced merchandise, I celebrate the creativity, care, and individuality that can only be found in high-quality handmade goods. I take into consideration the look, feel, and experience of each piece that I create. Craftsmanship is of the utmost importance to me, informing every step of the process.

And that spoke to me. I feel the same way - creativity, care, individuality in the hand-made. I celebrate and stand in awe of the steady hand, as well as the endurance and unending patience required in turning out something perfect... or with the imperfections that a machine would obliterate. And she wants to live the life I want to live. I can't let that pass me by.

So, I chucked in a few dollars. These people don't get the money they asked for unless they can convince enough people to raise the amount they asked. If they don't convince people, they don't get anything at all. And the good news? She made her total. She will go ahead and try to make this happen.

Now, to make sure I am clear: this is not an investment website. It's a site where you go to support dreams and unorthodox projects, things that those who are only looking to get rich are not going to fund. These are the projects of truly unique people, trying to achieve what they cannot live without: the chance of seeing their dreams come to fruition. Currently, the people who can pitch projects have to live in the United States, but you never know...

I could very easily become addicted to helping people out here. And it clicked for me today: maybe I shouldn't turn my back on people with ideas that speak to me. If I did, then how would world-changing projects ever happen? And how will I ever get the chance to live my dreams if I don't believe in the dreams of others?

My next project I'd like to back is BK Farmyards, who would like to develop a one-acre organic farm from under-utilized property. In their pitch:

Not only can the community follow the food from seed to table, they are helping us build a much-needed alternative to the abundance of cheap processed foods and fast-food restaurants.

I'm telling you, if kickstarter was a country, I'm emigrate there. But, for now, I'm going to hope that my existence as a supporter will help to make the world I wish I could live in.

Because I'd really like to get there someday.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Project Ponderings

Such a long time between posts! It's been a weird week, trying to get myself all caught up on sleep, housework and projects. I've been so tired in the evenings to get anything coherent written down, and didn't want to subject anyone to my weary ramblings. So, since I am currently awake and relatively energetic, here's what I've been up to:

I've finished off my Alpakka Entrelac Scarf. This is one of those projects where I hmmmed and haahed about whether or not I should block it. Laziness, I suppose, but also the irrational fear of wrecking it somehow. I argued with myself, "Now listen. I'm sure that alpacas encounter rain sometime. It's not like they run around and freak out, looking for umbrellas and raincoats when the sky clouds over. I'm sure they just find whatever shelter they can, get a bit wet, and chew cud until the sun comes out." So, I blocked it. The yarn has been a little annoying - lots of little hairs floating about in the air and getting stuck in my throat, and a few too many guardhairs poking out. However, now that it is dry, I love how it looks, and how the yarn bloomed and lengthened after washing. I'm just going to have to spend some time picking out guardhairs!

In the meantime, I've been trying to finish Branching Out, a lace scarf knitted in Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy in a beautiful shade of aubergine. I started it waaaaaaaaay back in September, and it has been tumbling around in my yarn basket, getting tangled up and lost amongst all the other balls o' yarn in there, that I figured that I should finish it before it gets destroyed!

It's been a frustrating knit, probably because I don't knit much lace, and because I have neglected altogether to use lifelines. There are certain things you should remember when knitting lace:

1) Lace has a way of reminding you in a heartbeat that you are not perfect after all.
2) Lifelines are a way of life in lace.
3) It is generally not a good idea to watch Criminal Minds while trying to follow a lace pattern.

I figured out that I was forgetting some yarnovers because every so often, I had the wrong stitch count at the end of the row. A couple of nights ago, after a frustrating hour of knitting one full repeat that resulted in a mutated leaf pattern, I sat down and ripped out two inches. Miraculously, I got back into the right stitch count and finished the scarf. Ask me if I added any lifelines...

One really neat project I'm starting soon is a sweater for a friend's husband's birthday. I know - it's sort of the advanced version of the boyfriend sweater curse (i.e. thou shalt not knit a sweater for your boyfriend if you want to stay together), but this is a project I think I can do without too many struggles. It's a Charlie Brown sweater - polo-neck pullover with a sewn hem on the bottom and the sleeves. I've swatched, figured out my gauge, got all the yarn... now, I'm just pondering how to do a polo-neck. I'm going to enlist the help of the pattern in Not Another Teen Knitting Book, by Vickie Howell, using the polo shirt in the book to help me figure out the collar. I just got it home from the library, and so I am going to cast on today. At first, I was going to follow the advice from webgoddess and knit the front and back separately up to the armpits, then join the sleeves with the other pieces on one big circular needle, then do the raglan sleeves up to the top. I've changed my mind, though, since I'm knitting it in an acrylic (at my friend's request, for any wool snobs out there), and I'm a little worried that it would be too heavy to be knit in one piece. I think I might just bite the bullet and knit it in pieces and seam them the ol' fashioned way, just to be sure there are no gaping joins. At a gauge of 6 stitches per inch, I think it'll look sharp!

Another one I'd like to start pretty soon is the Featherweight Cardigan, by Hannah Fettig, but I'm pondering what I'm going to do with the border. I plan to use the laceweight I got from Winnipeg by Tanis Fiber Arts... I'm so excited! I saw such neat adaptations by lots of people on Ravelry. I think I might change the stockinette stitch collar into some kind of lace, but I'm not really sure what kind yet. I want it to still have some structure, but, truth be known, I think I'm being pursued by the not-enough-yarn curse, because I'm not sure I'm going to have enough yarn to do the border in stockinette, as I want to make the overall length greater. A swatch would tell me all...

Do you ever feel like not swatching because you don't want to waste any yarn on one square of knitting that you'll never use for anything else? I know of people who save their swatches and then stitch them together into a blanket or something after the fact, but I just never seem to know where the heck my swatches go to. I cleaned out my yarn basket this morning, and only found one partial swatch hiding in there. I have a feeling that, one of these days, those swatches are going to materialize behind the fridge or under the couch or some other weird place. Is there a swatch fairy out there? She's probably hanging out with the Tooth Fairy and the Boogeyman, playing poker and drinking beers while sitting on cushions made out of my missing swatches.

Hmm... that actually would explain a lot...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I don't buy yarn online

Ok, I've made it. Settled down with the reactions, and then immediately caught a headcold. Ugly headcold - sneezing, dribbling, runny nose, watery eyes, can't-breathe-except-through-my-mouth headcold. Ugh. Luckily, because I elected to stay home for the worst of it, it's passed relatively quickly. Hooray 2010.

During my quarantine on Monday, I decided to track down my yarn order with Lion Brand Yarn which I placed in early December, in order to take advantage of their free shipping to buy a big lot of yarn in one colour for a sweater I'm making for a friend. It was a struggle to figure out what was going on - phone calls, emails, more phone calls, no replies, getting hung up on... I was ticked off. So you know what I did? I logged on to my Twitter account and sent a direct message to @LionBrandYarn. And you know what? I got a reply immediately, and within an hour or so, I got a phonecall from customer service. How 'bout dat?

Anyway, I received my yarn yesterday, and am waiting to find out how much duty I have to pay on the order.

Nice, huh? That Amazing yarn is, well... amazing. :)

Here's the reality for Canadian shoppers: shipping costs suck. Doesn't matter where it's coming from, yer gonna pay big bucks for the shipping. If Lion Brand hadn't offered free shipping, I would have paid $21.75 for my box of yarn. In fact, if I order one ball of yarn from them, the shipping is $11.75. For ONE ball. Where's the incentive there? Is that really what it costs to ship a ball of yarn? If it is, no wonder so many other businesses don't ship to Canada.

Don't forget: that doesn't include the duty. If it's coming from outside the country, you are likely going to pay some duty. How much? I dunno. I've never been able to figure out what the magical formula is. Somewhere between 4 percent and whatever-percent. Unfortunately, Canadian customs is not particularly forthright at helping you figure that out, probably to discourage people from buying outside of Canada. Well, that angle seems to work, at least for me.

This is what really stops me from ordering yarn online from anywhere. Shipping costs are such a substantial amount of money that it negates any savings I might be getting from a sale, and if I'm paying duty, well... what's the point? There are plenty of sites that have some pretty decent shipping deals, and have brokered the duty fees so that you have a predictable price to pay. But really, in the end, I could easily drive into the city for the cost of all those fees, and get the opportunity to personally see the colours and feel the textures, do some other shopping, and visit friends all on the same day. Sure, my yarn selection might be less, but I know I'll find something I like. I buy a bunch, and work through it. When I'm on vacation somewhere, I also buy yarn, usually something local or unique, as well as a few skeins of some basic supplies.

Now, I know there are plenty of other Canadian shoppers out there that have no problem with shipping, and who have found some great deals out there. If you have, please, pray tell! I'm quite happy to continue in my current course, but any suggestions are welcome. If I were to order online, these are the guidelines I would follow:

  • Buy Canadian. If you're going to have to pay for the shipping, you may as well support a fellow Canuck! And you won't have to pay the duty.
  • Buy unique. Make the costs worth it! Handspun, local, silk, organic... why put all that effort and money in if it's not special?
  • Support a small business. I like Etsy. The artists there are talented and have excellent quality.

Anyway, I've got a sufficient supply to hunker down in this winter cold and knit myself some warmth. Oh, and by the way, I'm feeling a little sensitive tonight, with all the knocks from Americans about our Canadian cold. I feel the need to share that, yes, the cold comes from the Arctic, but the SNOWSTORMS I experienced growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, come on a regular basis from Colorado, which, last I checked, is in the United States. It's winter, people. It's supposed to be cold. There is absolutely no point in blaming another country for your discomfort. It's just the way it is. Move on, ok?

Tantrum over.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trying to Recover

It's been an exhausting few days, New Year's or not, full of anxiety and insecurity.

Ever since my episode at the ER, every little twinge or twitch on my skin or in my throat sets my heart racing, and my mind tumbling through all sorts of possibilities. The doctor told me to keep taking the antihistamines, so I have, but they seem to make me incredibly tired, even though they're supposed to be non-drowsy.

I have been knitting, though. I've been working on an entrelac scarf from the Alpakka that I bought in Winnipeg. I'm using Eunny Jang's tutorial that I downloaded from Knitting Daily, and it's much easier than I thought it would be. For a day or so, I thought perhaps I might be allergic to this as well, but I think it might just be the little sticky-out hairs that might be getting caught in my throat. Regardless, it's been an interesting project, although difficult to enjoy without worrying. I'm sure it'll take me a while to finish it, since I keep putting it down to give myself a rest from it, just in case.

What if I am allergic to wool? What'll I do then? It's very depressing to ponder the idea that I might have to give all this up. I mean, I know I can knit in acrylic and bamboo and cotton, but the idea of not being able to make what I want, or not even to be able to even enter a yarn store really is a depressing idea. I'm hoping that's not the case, but you never know...

I've been hand-winding one of the Tanis Fiber Arts Lace Weight skeins I got in Winnipeg. At least I haven't had any weird twinges with it. And, it's lovely, even if it is taking forever to do it by hand.

I've been keeping my mind off all this by napping, reading and doing various projects around the house. I cleaned and oiled my sewing machine. I cleaned the bathrooms. And I baked some pandesal (a Filipino bread).

So, what of this new year? Could everything be changing? I don't know. It's terrible to be afraid all the time. It really is.