Happy New Year!

Bet you thought I’d forgotten all about you.

In truth, I’ve been thinking of you all a great deal lately and there has actually been a huge amount going on. Some of you I see (semi) regularly so you know all about it, but this might be news for others.

The big and really exciting thing is in July, I quit my very secure job with regular pay, benefits and regular vacation to buy my local yarn store!

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Superficially, it was a mad and hair-brained idea but in truth I think it’s the best thing (also the scariest thing) I’ve ever done for myself. This path allows me to combine all skills gained in various jobs I’ve had since I was in my early 20s. I learned to track and manage a large inventory when I worked for HMV, I learned web development and e-commerce when I taught at a tech school and gained a lot of experience teaching adults at my most recent job. All these elements combine with knitting, spinning and to a lesser extent weaving to put me in a good place with regards to the skills needed to run a yarn store. I have no doubt that comments and observations about owning a yarn store will appear from time to time here. If you have specific questions, ask!

Other things have been going on as well. I am still knitting though right now, I’m in a bit of a slump. I was looking through my past year on Ravelry and the number of items I completed is quite low. This struck me as odd because I feel like I spent the entire year frantically knitting to meet deadlines. I made eight sweaters, though two were for a baby, three big scarfs/shawls, a cowl, four pairs of socks, a baby blanket, a beanie and a pair of colourwork mitts. And then it hit me – I DID spend the past year knitting frantically but many of the items I was working on were secret test knits with aggressive deadlines so I wasn’t able to make project pages on Rav, post photos of them to Instagram or even really talk about them.

A few of the items I can talk about now but were secret at the time. I took part in test knitting for Woods which was published by Making Stories and made a scarf.

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The pattern was a gift for people who pledged a certain amount in the crowdfunding campaign. I also worked on one of the sweaters. The thing with this sweater is it didn’t end up being part of the final publication so I knit most of a heavily cabled sweater in sport weight yarn, only to have the test stopped. A few months later we were sent a new pattern as a last minute substitute (I actually like the new pattern better). I did start working on this and knit most of it but then I bought a store and that really took over my life for a few months so I never finished it. Truthfully, I probably won’t finish it – I’ll rip it out and reskein the yarn – again – and keep it for something I pick myself. The yarn, however, is absolutely stunning!

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Which leads me to the next thing – I’m done with test knitting for the next while.  Apart from all the tests I did, I only made two things last year which were for me and only a single pair of socks for my husband. Much of what I made was really quite lovely but none of them were really ‘chosen’ by me. I didn’t sift through Ravelry looking for a sweater with a specific weight and specific design features to fill a gap in my wardrobe, I simply answered testing calls. So this year, I’m being much more conscious of my time and how I choose to spend it. There are things I want to make for me and for my family. The lopi from Iceland I’m supposed to be making for my husband is still looking at me. The body is finished and I’ve started a sleeve but really – it doesn’t take nine months to knit a sweater!

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I had wanted this to be done much sooner because at about the same time as I bought the store, he took a new work contract in Kiev, Ukraine. Fortunately, they are having a very mild winter (so far) but I’d be much happier if he had a big sweater.

So I think you’re all caught up now. There will be lots to add in the next while. I’ve done some spinning as well which I’ll save for another day.

Wishing you peace, joy, health and happiness in 2018.

The Ulysses Project – Part 2

Why bother?

I mentioned in the Part 1 post that I’ve never processed a fleece by hand so it’s a fair question to ask why would I start now after the industrial revolution successfully removed this kind of drudgery from women’s lives. There are piles and piles of beautiful yarns available for easy purchase in my little town, let alone the bounty of the internet. So why bother making it.

One reason is that I have an interest in history. Lanark was once a major center for textile production in Ontario, much of it wool. In fact, the last working mill here, the Glenayr Kitten Mill closed in 1997 – which really wasn’t that long ago. The wool mill in the big living history museum near here is (for me) a fascinating place and I wanted to try my hand at it. And finally, I have a lingering, probably highly romanticized fascination with ‘traditional women’s skills’. By this I mean household production tasks which traditionally fell to women such as yarn and cloth production, candle making, beer and cider making and food storage and preservation. I do all of this except the candle making – I have to draw the line somewhere.

This is where the interest began and is still the root of why I’ve put effort into this but over time it has morphed into something more. Last October, Instagram exploded with #slowfashionoctober where everyone who had anything to do with fibre was talking about how and why they were pushing back against fast fashion. This really struck a chord with me (and the rest of the world considering the 1.25 million hits returned by Google) and gave me an opportunity to really think about not just why I was knitting, but why I was making yarn.

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I realized that I wanted to create garments that had a sense of ‘terroir‘. Much like a wine or cheese has a taste of where it was produced, I wanted my clothing to have that same feeling. Subconsciously, I have been moving in this direction for a while. All the fleece I have – wool, alpaca, and llama was raised on farms very close to me. There is mohair and angora around here too, but I don’t have any (yet).

Ulysses lived 20 km from me. The mill which did the processing is 26 km away. Short of raising sheep in my backyard (which local bylaw says I’m not allowed to do), you can’t get much more local than that.

The Christmas Stocking Tradition

There is a fun Christmas tradition in my family. I’m not sure when this tradition started but I know it was my maternal grandmother who started it. We all have the same hand knit Christmas stocking – they have our names and the year of birth in Fair Isle at the top and a Santa Claus worked in Intarsia on the leg.

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I think it must have been a Herculean effort for her when she started. A stocking for her, and my grandfather, their four children, children’s spouses and all the grand kids. To be fair, I’m the eldest grandchild so there was time to make stockings for grandchildren. But there are eight of us. That’s a lot of hand knit stockings! And now the grandchildren are (almost) all married and having babies of their own. And those babies all have stockings.

My grandmother died about twenty years ago and that’s when my mother took over knitting the stockings. My partner and my son have stockings made by her as do the spouses and children of many of my cousins.

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Last year, the pattern was passed to me. I am now the keeper of the stocking pattern and it’s my role to produce a stocking for new babies and spouses. I have three to make this year.

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I still have the first page of the original hand written pattern and a ‘chart’ of sorts which was produced later for the Santa picture. But the chart I have doesn’t match the pattern on my stocking so I’ve made a new one (and then I changed it a bit. Don’t tell.).

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And maybe I’ll actually write the second page of the pattern which is about turning the heel and knitting the foot and toe.

I’m not sure who I’ll be passing it on to. I know my niece has learned to knit. Who knows, maybe in another 30 years, she’ll be the keeper of the pattern. And oddly, for something that is more than 40 years old, it doesn’t look all that dated. Then again, I’m looking through the lens of love and nostalgia.

Edit – by popular request, I am making the pattern available. You can download it from here

Reframing November – Update

Ya know – I think there might be something to this idea of consciously choosing to view challenges and obstacles as opportunities. Of responding rather than reacting. I’m starting the draft of this post on November 21 and even though there have been some difficulties, globally and personally this has been my best November in years – possibly ever.

I ended October with a list of all the great things I was going to do for myself. I was going to journal regularly. I was going to go to yoga. I was going to pay more attention to diet. As it turns out, I did none of those things (all these things appeal to me but I’ll save the question of why I never did any of them for another time.) I made a few notes in the journal, but not the brain dump I was planning. I never got to a yoga class and my diet was average at best – if Shiraz is a food group.

But here I am, after attending the funeral for a friend’s 41 year old husband who died in his sleep of no known cause and after hearing about a break up in my family which involves an unborn baby (she’s since been born and honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to meet this child I have a close blood relation to). After the outcome of the US election. I’m looking at all these events and I know that in previous years I would have struggled with them. Yet here I am. Smiling and knowing that I cannot effect change in any of these situations.

I’m heartbroken by events, but I’m not broken. I’m mystified by other people’s decisions but not discouraged. And I have great faith that I’ll be able to repeat what I’ve learned next November.

Reframing November

For most of my adult life, I’ve really struggled with November. It’s cold, dark, rainy and generally unpleasant. There are no major holidays or festivals and nothing to look forward to. It’s an endurance test on the way to December – which is still cold and dark, but the snow which is usually on the ground helps to brighten things up, there are Christmas lights everywhere and of course, there is Christmas to look forward to.

But to get there you have to get through November.

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I’m not alone in this sentiment – as I was flipping through Instagram this morning, I noticed there are a lot of people with the same opinion. So I’m going to try something different. This year, I’m reframing November.

Reframing is a term I’ve heard a few times recently – typically in business literature to mean looking at a problem from a different point of view; to see how you can turn that problem into an opportunity. If you want more detail on what I’m talking about, Tara Swiger has a great podcast that you can hear here.

Shortly after I heard this podcast, I listened to Truly Myrtle talking about November. Her opinion is totally different than mine for a variety of reasons. She is planning a month of spoiling herself and encouraging listeners to do the same. Frankly, it sounded like a lovely idea.

So I’m going to put these two ideas together. Rather than treat November as an endurance test, I’m going to reframe it and treat it as ‘me’ time. A whole month for me. This is made much easier because my partner is away for the first two weeks and my son is old enough that so long as there is food on the table each night, he doesn’t really care what I do. So the focus is on the little things I can do to help buoy my spirits and stay happy. Self-care of body, mind and spirit.

This isn’t about ‘drink 8 glasses of water a day’ or ‘limit alcohol’ though they are both undeniably good things to do for ourselves. I’m thinking more along the lines of re-establish a journaling practice, getting into a routine with yoga. Permitting time to sit and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it. Planning and doing some prep work for meals on days when I work from home so the days when I’m in the office much of the work for dinner is already done. That kind of stuff. I also have a goal to have all my Christmas shopping done by the end of November to alleviate that pressure in December. Since I do a lot of shopping online or in the little towns outside Ottawa, this is actually a do-able thing.

I’ll be posting shorter updates through November to let you know how this is going. If you have any ideas to share about this, I’d love to hear from you.