Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learning, Adapting and Improving!

The month of "ME" is quickly coming to a close, and oddly, I'm grateful.  I have completed a couple of projects, but still have one on the needles that I might yet be able to finish during this dedicated period.  For the most part, I'm happy with the end results of these projects, but I learned a lot along the way.

I learned that patterns, even by published professionals, have flaws.  Big, nasty, unprofessional, frustrating flaws that I worked hard to convert into learning experiences. 

Warning: Rant like material follows. 

Now I'm not just talking about errors.  Typo's, calculation errors, and general editing errors happen and they happen to EVERYONE no matter how long you've been designing, how many times you've been published or how perfect your pattern/design is.  It's Murphy's Law.  I accept it.

I'm talking about flaws in follow through and customer service. 
  1. When I purchase a pattern, I expect errata, and I look for it.  I don't expect that errata from YEARS earlier won't be corrected on the freshly uploaded PDF, but rather located on an obscure out of date website, different from the site you actually purchased from.
  2. When I purchase a pattern, I expect that there may be techniques I am either not familiar with or termed differently than I'm used to.  I don't expect to find a two-line URL full of symbols and mixed case characters (that cannot be copied and pasted) directing me to a 30 second wordless video (presumably filmed at night in a closet) on the Internet.
  3. When I'm finally able to find a way to contact a designer to report errata, I don't expect to be told I'm in the wrong, only to receive an email shortly after saying that the errors have been found BY THE DESIGNER and corrected, thank you.
What did I gain from all this - rant subsiding?
  1. I learned to research patterns and designers before making a purchase to be sure I could find proper errata and means to contact the designer.  Does this mean I won't purchase a pattern unless I can do this?  No, of course not.  I've never found a pattern I couldn't gleen some good out of, and not all designers are still among the living, and therefore, not available to chat.  I can, however, extend my research circle to other buyers (Ravelry is WONDERFUL!) who have completed the pattern/project and posted notes which may or may not include corrections.
  2. I was reminded that EVERY contact is an opportunity to provide EXCELLENT customer service.  Never tell someone they are wrong, then take their hard won edits and publish as your own - they will NEVER buy from you again.
  3. I learned that nothing is more appreciated than a pattern with clear, concise language that has been tested for accuracy and checked for typos - twice or more, with clear explainations of uncommon techniques.
  4. I learned that there is great value in setting aside dedicated time to stop designing and get hands on experience with new techniques, new contacts and the works of other designers.

How will I apply what I've learned?  Oh, let me count the ways...
  1. I've updated my website to offer more information about my products, services and ways to contact me.
  2. I've streamlined my website's ordering process and am now using Ravelry's shopping cart, in addition to my Ravelry and Etsy stores.
  3. I will be starting a group on Ravelry so that anyone purchasing any of my patterns will have yet one more way to connect with me and other's who have knitted my designs.
  4. I'll be reviewing my published patterns for ways to improve or clarify instructions, and work to provide better instructions in the future.
  5. I will continue to place value in each and every customer and begin a follow-up system in which I will be checking in with my customers to see if they have questions and to offer support.
  6. I will be adding more pages and information to my website as a reference tool for all knitters, with emphasis on techniques I employ in my designs.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January is for Me! and New Year's Resolutions

I have decided the month of January is for Me!  By this I mean, I will be knitting projects that are meant for me.  I have numerous projects on needles which were started over the past year that were set aside so I could work on pattern designs, prototypes and gifts.  It's my turn now.  No disrespect is meant by this.  All knitters suffer from a lack of dedication to themselves when completing projects, and I encourage all knitters to follow my example and dedicate just one month a year to themselves.

I've made exactly ONE New Year's Resolution this year:  Knit ALL holiday gift projects by October.

I reason that if I begin knitting in February, and schedule myself reasonably, I can complete all of my holiday gift knitting by October.  This will further allow for last minute (panic) projects, which I will actually have reasonable time to complete (i.e. no midnight knitting sessions) AND give me time to ship gifts at affordable rates.

I don't often make resolutions, but when I do, I'm really good at sticking to them.  Let's see how I do this year.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kitchen Renovation

This year John and I had time off from work at the holidays (December 22nd - Jan 3rd). Usually we like to go on an epic roadtrip but, with the new addition to the family, we decided it would be in our best interest to stay home. The Saturday before our vacation began (December 18th), John and I took a walk down to the local burger joint, and over lunch I asked what he wanted to do with our vacation time. He informed me he was thinking about re-tiling the kitchen. I explained, slightly panicked, that if we were going to do that we needed to pick out tile immediately, as availablity could be an issue. And so after lunch, it began. We spent a couple hours on the floor of our local Lowes playing with different configurations. Before the weekend was out we priced sinks, refrigerators, and got a general tile design and layout figured through a combination of visits to Home Depot, JC Tile, Sears and Lowes at least once more. We read through our home tiling books, asked store employees and friends for advice, and borrowed a tile saw. All that was left to do was to do it!

It is amazing what you will learn about your home and its previous owners when you remodel. Tuesday night (12/21) we began the demolition process, anticipating the removal of the tile could be a lengthy process of hammering and prying. Nope. We quickly discovered the only thing holding the tile down was the microwave and gravity. The entire demolition process went very easily. Only two tiles gave us work, and even then, not much. A couple quick smacks with the hammer and they too were gone.

Wednesday (12/22) we went shopping. We purchased the sink, bought a new faucet fixture (that was too tall and ended up getting exchanged), ordered the refrigerator (scheduled to be delivered Friday 12/31) and ran to multiple locations for proper tile quantities, lumber, tools and supplies.  We layed out the tile to review the work ahead. 
Thursday (12/23) we went to the last tile store to pick up the backsplash, grout and caulk.  There was a brief panic when we discovered that there was an error in the store's inventory and the tile we had selected was in short supply and the store was closing for the holiday in 15 minutes.  John and I grabbed 6 new samples with ample stock, raced home, flashed through each tile, and returned in 10 minutes with our new selection.  I think in the end we both liked the substitute tile better than what we had originally picked out.  We spent the rest of the day removing the plywood base.  It was far more securely attached than the tile - actually screwed down.  It was work enough that I let John unwrap a Christmas gift early - a brandy new heavy duty power driver rugged enough for anything!

Friday (12/24) it occured to us, with the counters off, that we could add a cabinet in the empty space by our pantry.  A quick internet search followed by a trip down to the Home Depot and we were installing a new unit.  I convinced John to do a little electrical work to remove a junction box and two auxillary outlet boxes that were wedged in our bar among our plastic storage-ware for no particular reason.  There was an arching incident at one point, that we are both grateful will never happen again.  We worked on building the new counter base of plywood and backer board (which came out PERFECTLY level), and even dry fit the sink.

Christmas morning we took a little time off to open gifts.  We started cutting tile, then joined friends for Christmas dinner. 

We spent Sunday and Monday cutting and dry setting tile.  John quickly mastered the saw.  I managed to master measuring the necessary cut work.  By Tuesday we were ready to mastic the tile down.  A little time was spent reviewing our layout to make sure identical tiles didn't end up adjacent to each other, then we meticulously numbered tiles and stacked them neatly for final positioning.  I smeared goop on and we smooshed tile into place.  We even did a little custom improvised mosaic work around the stove and sink, that to this day is our favorite part of the design.

Wednesday (12/29), we got a call from Lowes asking to deliver the refrigerator that day.  We had originally planned to run down to the court house to get married, but decided to wait for the refrigerator.  The wedding could wait till Thursday.  We glued down the remaining tiles while we waited.

Thursday (12/30) we ran down to the court house and got our marriage license, ran home and grouted the left half of the counter, got married, celebrated over lunch with our witnesses, then grouted the right half of the counter.  We are, if anything, efficient people.

Friday (12/31) we cleaned the tile and grout.  We shopped all over for trim and finally settled on some.  The trim has been the most frustrating part.  We had to rent a saw to do the miter cuts.  It went well enough, but we simply aren't happy with the material we chose and will at some point be replacing it.

Saturday (1/1) life was beginning to return to normal.  John was set to connect the plumbing while I did a little computer work.  After a little bit of banging, things got too quiet in the kitchen and I left the computer to investigate.  I found John on the floor in front of the sink, surrounded by miscellaneous parts and pipes looking ... bewildered.  Not his fault at all - the plumbing under the sink was never right.  A couple of quick photos and a trip down to Lowes to review the issue with Josh, and I had a working sink.

Sunday (1/2), John and I slaved to finalize the project.  We cleaned every inch of the kitchen.  John mopped the floors twice.  I treated all the cabinet surfaces with oil.  We dusted and vacuumed the entire house.  We reorganized cabinents and washed EVERY dish, pot, pan, utensil... everything.  And it was worth every second.  Our kitchen is glorious!  We are both very proud of how this project came out.

What!!!  No picture of the new refrigerator....?  Of course there's a picture of the frig!