Monday, May 28, 2012

Stretching Your Boundaries and Building Your Skill Set

I belong to a fantastic knit group on Ravelry that emulates the Hogwart's House Cup from the beloved Harry Potter series in which we have "classes" and "homework" that earns our "houses" points in an imaginary world.  Often our homework assignments prompt us to push our boundaries and try techniques we've never attempted or have been reluctant to try.  This, and my willing participation, have been an incredible learning opportunity for me.  I've been energized to stretch my boundaries and build my skill set.  Not only does this give me more techniques to draw from when I design, but broadens my fundamental understanding of the craft, making me a better teacher.  I HIGHLY recommend participation in this or like groups.  Learning new skills in this manner isn't a chore... it's creative fun.  I never expected to gain so much from a game.

So, what skills have I learned because of my participation?

Yarn dyeing.  LOVE IT! Probably one of my all time favorite activities.  Am I opening my own shop of hand dyed fibers?  Not yet, but I dream of offering a line someday.  I still have a lot to learn and lots of experimenting to do yet and I'm excited.  Please, go out, buy a inexpensive skein of wool and a couple packets of koolaid or food coloring and some vinegar.  Do a craft project with your kids or take some private time for yourself and revel in the magic!

Steeking - the SCARIEST knitting technique ever wasn't really anything to be scared of at all.  Granted, I don't do a lot of it, but I'm not afraid of it anymore and encourage everyone to give it a try.  It can be the most amazing time saver and opens up millions of possibilities.

Illusion knitting.  Cute and fun, I like this technique for fun little home projects.  I've only made a couple of simple washcloths, but I've seen gorgeous scarfs and shawls done with this technique and I think an afghan done with a monogram would be an amazing gift.

I've learned to felt, both by machine and hand.  Am I proficient?  No, not in my book, but each project makes me more confident.  Learning to felt by hand was a huge eye-opener.  I used to be really afraid of accidentally felting yarn whilst dyeing or washing a project.  Not anymore.  Accidental felting takes an amazing mistake like unknowingly throwing a garment in the washing machine or not paying attention to your actions.  It actually takes a LOT to felt yarn.  Seriously.  Knit a swatch and hand felt it in your sink and tell me if I lie.

And, most recently, I've learned Shibori - a Japanese dimensional felting technique.  Oh the possibilities.  Suddenly I have thousands of ideas for fun children's and high-fashion accessories, and the technique is so easy and fun, I'm even considering teaching this!

And how have I grown?

Oh so many ways!  My yarn tension has improved.  My gauge is more accurate and consistent throughout my projects.  I'm less fearful and more willing to try new patterns and techniques.  I'm more capable of bringing my design ideas to fruition.  I have more hands on experience with mistakes to relate to my students - which sounds stupid, but you can only teach what you know and being able to say "Oh yeah, I've done that.  I fixed it by..." goes a LONG way.

Have you stretched your boundaries or built your knitting skills through an unexpected outlet?  Tell me about  it.  Share your experience here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Energy Knitting

Sometimes we knit just for the love of the yarn, pattern, or color.  Sometimes we knit for the love of others and create wonderful gifts.  Sometimes we knit to get us through hard times.  I recently completed one of those projects.

I went through a really hard time not too long ago, and without going into details, I can tell you it filled me with tons of toxic emotions and thoughts.

When I'm toxic, I don't work on gifts for others or creative projects.  I believe strongly that doing so imparts that negative energy into the item I'm working on.  I work when I'm feeling positive and emotionally connected to the gift recipient or the project.  In fact,  I'd never done a "knit through difficult times" project before.

But this time, I just couldn't clear my mind.  I was really truly poisoned and I needed a way to cleanse my soul and work through my problems.  Knitting can be amazingly healing.  I pushed all my other projects aside and started a pair of socks.  I specifically chose a yarn from the bottom of my stash that I wasn't particularly fond of... okay, I straight up didn't like it.  The colors did nothing for me.  The texture was abrasive.  About the only thing going for it was I had enough for a pair of socks and it was superwash.  The plan: Knit ugly socks from yuck yarn while searching for serenity and trapping all my negativity and gift them away.

I worked on those socks every time my anger, hate, paranoia and bad emotions boiled to the surface.  I concentrated on my hate and frustration with each stitch.  I gave myself permission to hate the socks themselves and let others around me know that their existence served to detoxify me.  I stabbed needles through them and called them bad names.

And it worked.  I found myself cleansed and free of negativity just after the second heel.

And so they began their hibernation.  I suddenly had no need to work on them.  I had happier projects to focus on.

And then I found another problem.  I had to finish them.  They have to be finished in order to gift them away.  I briefly considered simply throwing the whole thing away, but what a waste.  I'd knit most of a perfectly good socks (I believe washing them could dispel my toxins), I had to finish them.  What I found was interesting... in hibernation the negativity had softened.  Even the yarn had softened.  In fact, my perspective had changed almost completely.  I still have some hurt kicking around, and I remember the stress, but I've found new ways to cope.

Who knows... maybe I'll keep the socks just to remind myself that good things can come from bad.

New Roof, Knitting, Dental Work, Gardens, Celestial Bodies and a Holiday Weekend - PHEW!

After two days of crazy noise and stress, we officially have a new roof that (hopefully!) doesn't leak.  (There is actually a guarantee.) Like any good home improvement project, this was a can of worms. Internet/Phone/Cable had to be disconnected for the majority of the work, which left me unable to work, and few options but to knit whist pushing panicking animals off my lap. The roofer had to purchase a new flange for our swamp cooler system, and basically told us NOT to ever use the existing one again... aka buy a new one, which really isn't in the budget right now... so... tolerance is in order.  I'm hoping for a mild summer.  Further, our skylights no longer fit the way they should and the roofer told me I'd need new ones when we start the rest of the construction.  When I inquired as to what "rest of construction" he smiled and said, "You need new stucco and new windows and new doors... and new skylights like I told you... and new air conditioning, you understand, rest of construction.  But now you are ready - roof is done." Can't wait for John to get home so I can lay that one on him.

He offered to show me the roof after his final inspection.  I explained he would need to call the fire department.  A serious language misinterpretation happened there briefly - he thought I was telling him I would be angry at his work when really I was telling him I could get onto the roof, but I'd need rescue to get back down.  Once he understood he laughed.  Almost as hard as our bank laughed when it overheard him say "rest of construction".

Chica and Haley are very grateful the construction is over.  Chica panted non-stop and barked every time the doorbell rang.  Haley hid behind furniture and when you did see her, returned your gaze with a tea-cup saucer stare.  Stinky didn't mind so much.  The initial scrapping was the loudest and he didn't like that, but he snored through everything else that wasn't an opportunity to be pet by strangers.

Arizona is experiencing wild fires again already, and sadly, we are experiencing their smoke.  Everything for a reason... when it's smoky you don't want to run a swamp cooler because is sucks the smoke into your house and chokes you out.  The smoke makes me sad.  We are literally hundreds of miles from the fires and yet the smoke is so thick, we can't see the mountain less than 5 miles away.  I feel bad for the people living much closer or worse, in it.  The mere smell of it here makes us nervous... I'm sure for some the smell means terror.

I'm still busy knitting.  I'm working on a gift, a pattern test, a shawl for myself for work, and a new technique sample right now.  I'm taking most of the summer off from teaching - it's just too busy with roof repairs, motorcycling, Sam's visit, and a new schedule at work.  My next class is "My First Shawl" in August.  It's a new offering and I'm excited to teach it.  It is one of my own designs and I'll be covering a lot of material over 4 weeks with students.  Cross your fingers it sells well.  I have lots of ideas for new pattern designs and seemingly never enough time to knit it all.

John and I are each taking our turns at the dentist... yuck.  We've each had our cleanings.  He has two wisdom teeth that still need to be extracted and I've got a couple fillings coming up.  My root canal from last October is still giving issue and we suspect the tooth is actually cracked.  I'm supposed to go see a surgeon, who I'm told will most likely want to redo the root canal (NO!) or cut off the apex of the root (NO!) or suggest the unknown.  Credit to my dentist (who I'm still convinced is under 25 years old), he felt really bad. In my last conversation with him I emphasized my dislike of these options and we discussed simply pulling it and installing a permanent bridge which, oddly I prefer over pulling and installing an implant.  Everyday at the doctors office I witness how much your dental health and procedures impact your overall health.  I'm aiming for the healthiest options possible.

Garden is doing great!  We actually ate cherries off our cherry tree this year - we got about 9, the birds got the rest.  Lesson learned - net lots, net early.  Our pear tree has three or four fruits growing.  In the regular beds we've planted red & white onions, garlic, carrots of multiple varieties, bell peppers, snap peas, 2 varieties of cucumbers, turnips, rabe broccoli, zucchini, 4 varieties of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and sunflowers.  I'm sure I'm forgetting something.... there is soooo much!  Just about everything is peaking up.

So far we have only had one break-in.  We suspect the driving force was a bird stuck under netting, and we don't think the usual suspect worked alone.  I'm very careful not to say too much about the incident for two reasons.  1) John gets pissed every time he thinks about it - the usual suspect is lucky to be alive, and  2) the Universe has a sense of humor and likes to remind me that "never again" really only relates to very short periods of time.

John and I did get to go out and observe the eclipse.  We rode out on his dual sport into the middle of the desert and observed through welder's glass.  It was a really amazing/cool/weird thing to see.  I find it sort of funny that my memory of it is green - but that's how I saw it through the glass.  Because Albuquerque was right on the center viewing line we were able to see it full and perfectly.  We are hoping to go out and observe the passing of Venus in front of the sun as well.  Talk about putting your troubles into perspective - seeing these celestial bodies just make the dust bunnies under the coffee table seem so insignificant.

Memorial Day is upon us.  John is hoping to go riding with his friend Martin as some point over the weekend.  We've been invited to a pool party (not really John's thing!) Sunday.  We haven't made any hard fast plans yet.  I'm sure time will be spent with friends and food will be consumed.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Fantastic LYS: Village Wools

I want to take a second to share some photos of my local yarn store (LYS) Village Wools in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This place is my second home, teaching facility and "candy store".

I get unbelievable creative support, encouragement, and inspiration from the staff every time I visit.  There is always someone willing to discuss pattern designs or problems, color theory, spinning, weaving, techniques or dogs with you.  Even the shop dogs offer a friendly smile when you arrive.

Village Wools is the largest yarn shop I've every had the pleasure of visiting.  I've become completely spoiled by the range of fiber types (wool, alpaca, camel, cotton, bamboo, hemp, silk, mohair.... etc. etc.) and colors (they seem to have every color imaginable!) and my personal stash continues to grow with each incoming shipment they receive.  I've also made a rather significant dent in their book shelf, buying up stitchionarys and technique books.  They have buttons and washes and needles and bags and dyes and and and well everything!

I'm very proud to be among the instructors that offer classes at Village Wools.  They offer a wonderful teaching environment with one giant dividable lecture room and two dedicated classrooms for weaving and dyeing.  All the rooms are equipped with giant whiteboards, tables, chairs and excellent lighting.

When my husband and I travel, I always stop at yarn shops and try to purchase local products.  As a result, I've been in many yarn stores, especially on the east coast and in the southwest.  I'm always eager to find another yarn store. Consider adding Village Wools to your itinerary the next time you are in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Village Wools has a large collection of local yarns as well as spinning fibers.  Where is your favorite LYS?

No, they didn't pay me to advertise them, I simply show you things I love.