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New Year’s Goal Setting for Fiber Artists

It’s that time of the year when some of us set goals for the upcoming year. For me I make a goal, forget until about May, then try again and forget again until October.  Or I can’t decide if I actually met my goal.

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Over the past couple years I learned how to set better goals at my work for myself and others. We use the SMART goal system, which I like.  I modify it a bit for my personal goals (which I’ll talk about later this month) but its a valid system I hope will help you. To be fair, I’m one of those people who really likes planning. We’re going to go through each of the steps one by one with two examples.  You might get done and want to go back and tweak what you’ve already done.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Realistic

T = Time Relevant

S     Let’s start with Specific.  Setting a specific goals requires you really think about what you want to achieve.  What do you want to focus on? How do you want to achieve that goal? Having a goal of “become a better knitter” doesn’t indicate what you really want to do.  Become more efficient? Learn new skills? Tackle a sweater?  To become a better spinner you might think about spinning a more consistent bulky yarn, try a new technique (art yarn) or spin on a regular basis.

Let’s use two goals for our example going forward: 1. Knit more efficiently and 2. Spin on a regular basis

M     Measurable.  This one pretty simple – make your goal something you can track and quantify.  I love this step for those very reasons.  How will you know when your goal has been achieved? Going forward with our two example – our knit more efficient needs to be measurable.  How can we measure efficiency? Yards knit over a period of time? Stitches per minute? The yards knit over a period time would be hard to count so I’ll go with stitches per minute.  I don’t know what my starting point is so I’ll set a percentage increase.  So now my knitting goal is “Improve knitting efficiency by increasing stitches per minute by 75%.”  For spinning on a regular basis we need to define “regular basis.”  I’ve seen on Instagram today a #15in15 and people have suggested spinning 15 minutes a day, spinning 15 pounds in 2015 or spinning 15 ounces a month.  Let’s go with spinning 15 minutes a day.

1. Improve knitting efficiency by increasing stitches per minute by 75%

2. Spin 15 minutes per day.

A     Attainable. Start thinking about a plan for how you will achieve your goal.  Do you need new skills, capabilities or money to achieve your goal? If you’re goal to spin art yarn do you need to buy some locks or strips of silk? Do you have the financial ability to buy those materials? It might help to think about what you need to obtain your goals.

1. Improve knitting efficiency by increasing stitches per minute by 75% after researching/learning about lever knitting.

2. Spin 15 minutes per day. [Trust me –  I do not need additional fiber for this]

R     Realistic.  So, um, don’t set a goal that is such a push that you won’t be able to complete it.  It should be enough to push you but not so much as to cause you stress.  Unless you function well under stress and like it.  Making a realistic goal means you are willing and able to do the work.  If you have a full-time job and family to care for spinning 50 hours a week is probably not realistic.  Your goal can be high, and sometimes those goals are the ones that push you, but they still need to be realistic.  In regards to our sample goals – the 75% is pretty aggressive. Let’s pull that down a bit.

1. Improve knitting efficiency by increasing stitches per minute by 60% after researching/learning about lever knitting.

2. Spin 15 minutes per day.

T     Time Relevant.  This is pretty easy – set a time-frame for your goal.  Do you want to give yourself the year? Or until summer? Maybe you have one goal you want to focus on January through June and another goal for July through December.  You could also consider having mini-goals.  If you want to improve 75% over the year you might set a mini-goal of 25% by April, 50% by August and 75% by December.

1. Improve knitting efficiency by increasing stitches per minute by 60% after researching/learning about lever knitting.

2. Spin 15 minutes per day.

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Traveling with Your Knitting Pt. 3/3 – By Car

By plane, by car – today we’re going to talk about traveling with your knitting projects by car (or train, or boat).

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Assuming you’re not driving, you’ve got plenty of quality knitting time available to you in the car.  I went to Disney World this spring and we drove from Illinois to Florida.  I shared the driving responsibility with my dad but even so that left a lot of time for knitting.  And watching Disney movies (per the above photo – you will note the current favorite was Frozen).

In many ways, traveling by car is easier.  You can take what you want and, space permitting, how much you want.

So you’re packed up and ready to go.  Fill up the tank and lets get on the road.

Traveling by Car/Train

  • There really aren’t too many special considerations for knitting in a car.  I’m assuming here you’re not the one doing the driving – that’s just not safe.
  • It is sometimes a challenge to find someplace to mount your pattern where you can see it.  Sometimes it will stay on my lap and sometimes I can wedge it in somewhere.  I have more trouble trying to keep up with notions, in particular, stitch markers.  Your little notion bag will help with that.
  • If your driver is a start and stop driver, lace is not a good choice.  I can speak from experience.  I gave up trying to explain that it is NOT necessary to run up behind another car and slam on the brakes.  Probably explains the colony of stitch markers under the passenger seat.
  • Keep your yarn inside your WIP bag.  You don’t want it rolling around the dirty floorboard.
  • If you want to knit at night, and assuming it won’t bother the driver, look into the small head mounted lights.  Much easier than trying to wrangle a flashlight.

car dash

Those are all my little tips and tricks.  Do you have any others? Do you get much knitting done in the car?

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Traveling with Your Knitting Pt. 2/3 – By Plane

By plane, by car, by boat, by train – let’s talk about traveling with your knitting. 

Today we’re going to talk about traveling with your knitting projects by plane.

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Bear with me the next couple weeks – I have a back injury slowing me down.  But I promise some very exciting news next weekend!

There’s a lot of downtime at airports – waiting in lines, waiting at the gate, waiting for the plane to take off, waiting for the plane to open. . .You get the idea.  When I travel for work, its usually by plane.  I knit in transit and in the hotel room in the evenings.  Its nice to be able to unwind even away from home.

So you’re packed up and ready to go.  Get your boarding pass and lets talk knitting needles and security.

Traveling by Air

  • Can I take my knitting needles on the plane as a carry-on? Based on Ravelry threads, this is a pretty hot topic. Per the TSA website, you CAN take your knitting needles through security BUT the TSA has the right to perform additional screening or disallow the item.  I have NEVER had this happen.  Literally, 99% of the time they don’t even look in my carry-on.  You can check out the TSA’s website here to see their discussion of knitting needles.
  • Now let’s be smart about taking knitting needles on the plane.  It’s probably not the greatest place to take your 14 inch straight metal needles. The seats on the plane are tiny.  I usually have with my metal circular needles and metal double points.  Some people have suggested bamboo might be less threatening than metal.
  • Scissors – per the TSA website, you can take scissors with blades less than 4 inches.  Mine look like this (and they fold up) and again, have never been questioned.

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  • NOTE: the above applies to flying out of US airports.  I have heard from friends that knitting needles may be disallowed in your carry on when you fly out of international airports, even if you are flying to the US. Check that airports website before you go to see what is allowed.
  • Hint #1 – I keep two projects under the seat in front of me or in the pocket to knit on during the flight.  Since you can’t have your tray table down part of the trip I wedge my pattern page in between the locked tray table and the back of the seat in front of me to hold it up.  Just don’t forget it!
  • Hint #2 – if you’re flying an airline without assigned seats (like Southwest), it’s really fun to spit splice while people are boarding.  Trust me, if there’s going to be an empty middle seat, it will be by you.  Unless there’s another knitter boarding.

BifB-npCYAAICXs

Those are all my little tips and tricks.  Do you have any others? Have you had any problems at security with your knitting?

Next week we’ll talk about traveling with your knitting by car.  Do you have any questions?

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Traveling with Your Knitting Pt. 1/3 – Packing Up

By plane, by car – let’s talk about traveling with your knitting.

What do YOU do to pack up your knitting projects before your trip?

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One of the draws to knitting for me was its portability.  Previously, I made jewelry – that was not something you wanted to try to do in the car.  I liked the idea I could knit on my way to my destination and once I got there.  Earlier this year I knit at Disney World waiting for the parade to start.  Here I am getting out my scarf bag (and you can say hi to my mother and brother).

Parade

Before you get in the air or on the road there’s some prep work ahead of time.  Or at least, there should be. Granted, my sometimes over-the-top organization system may be a bit much for some people.

Planning Your Projects

  • I’m convinced deciding what knitting projects to pack takes longer than packing my clothes. Allow yourself some time.
  • The number of projects you take will depend on if you can knit while in transit, how complicated or large your projects are and how much time you will have to knit.  Be honest with yourself here – unless you’re going somewhere with the sole intention of knitting, other things will consume your time.  That said, I always take one extra, especially if they’re new projects.  Invariably, the yarn or needle size won’t work out, you’ll get stuck on the pattern or you just will have one you don’t feel like knitting.

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  • Take a blend of projects (small/large, easy/complicated).  I like easy, small projects for when I’m standing in lines and I like more complicated projects for in the evenings after work.  I rarely take large projects if I’m traveling by plane due to space considerations but I will take them if I’m traveling by car.
  • Take the needles you need for your projects and a few extras if you can.  I admit, I usually just take an interchangeable set.  There are two reasons for this.  One, you might stop at an awesome yarn shop, buy some yarn and want to cast on immediately.  Two, your pattern calls for Size 6 needles but your gauge is off when you start in the car.  If you have extra sizes handy you can swatch until you get gauge.

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  • Decide what notions you need.  Doing gloves? Do you need to take a stitch holder? A cable needle for your socks?
  • Pack a pouch of the basics.  Mine is a Lantern Moon pouch that holds my little scissors, stitch markers, an emergency crochet hook (for dropped stitches) and a darning needle.  If you’re knitting lace, something to mark your pattern is great, as well as some thin thread for a lifeline.

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I have an even smaller one I keep in my purse.

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  • Bag up your project.  I like to have everything organized so I put the pattern, yarn, needles and any necessary notions in a work-in-progress (WIP) bag.  I have cotton WIP bags – some I’ve made, some I’ve purchased. All either cinch or zip close.  This method makes it easy to grab a singular project and GO.

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  • Try to start your projects before you leave, or at least some of them.  Get the casting on out of the way, make sure you get gauge and understand the pattern.  This way your chance of taking projects that will have to be abandoned is minimized.

Those are all my little tips and tricks.  Do you have any others?

Over the next two weeks we’ll talk about traveling with your knitting by plane and by car.  Do you have any questions?

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Get Ready for Spinzilla with 7 Tips!

Remember Tour de Fleece? Remember how it was nearly three weeks long and I fell off the proverbial wagon? I’m at it again.  This time it is Spinzilla and its only one week.  One week to spin as much as possible (yardage wise).

So what is Spinzilla? Spinzilla is a world-wide spinning competition where competing teams and individuals challenge each other to see who can spin the most yarn in a week.  Watch the video here (I love just watching it every now and then).  Here are the details:

  • Spinzilla runs October 6th through October 12th.  For handspun to be counted towards your yardage it has to be spun during those timespan.
  • You can spin on a team or as a rogue spinner.  I would invite you to join Team Kromski but we’re already filled up.  Thanks to Kromski NA for sponsoring a team!
  • The push goal for everyone this year is to spin at least a mile (1,760 yards).
  • This year there will be credit given for plying – yahoo!

If you’re interested in signing up visit here for teams and here for rogue spinners.

To maximize my spinning time that week I’ve come up with seven key items.

  1. Clear off bobbins – I have two spinning projects in process and I’m hoping to at least finish one this month.  That should give me plenty of bobbins for the week.
  2. Do some test spinning to determine the best mix of yardage and time efficiency based on spinning prep/method.  I’m planning to do a few “time trials” to see if the extra time it takes me to spin lace (vs. my sportweight default) is worth it and if any prep (batts vs. top) is faster than the other.
  3. Choose the fiber – I sort of have a tentative list but it may changed based on the test spinning above and if I find anything awesome and magical at Wool Gathering later this week.  At my default sport-weight 2-ply I need about 16 ounces of fiber.  So far I’ve set aside about 24 ounces but, again, that might change.
  4. Prep the fiber – For Spinzilla you’re allowed to do any prep work ahead of time – basically anything prior to feeding it through the orifice of the wheel.  Carding and combing are obviously included in that but I got to thinking that could also include any pre-drafting or other preparing.  I spin best out of uncompacted top or batts torn into strips.  So, I plan to go ahead and do those steps before the sixth.  That will save me that time during the week and let me concentrate on spinning.
  5. Setup a workspace – Ideally it would be a timesaver (and more convenient) to have one space devoted to your spinning – a place where you can spin each day, have your fiber handy, ply, wind off the bobbin, wash and dry your handspun.  At the very least, a dedicated spinning spot.  I’ve selected my loft since my skein winder and fiber lives up there anyway.  I can spin, ply AND watch TV all right there.  In addition, the guest bath is right there so I can wash and dry the skeins.
  6. Have a backup plan – What would you do if your drive band broke? Or the fiber you planned to spin wasn’t working out? Have a backup plan and supplies available.  I have an extra drive band but I did realize today I don’t have any hemp/cord for my tension.
  7. Limit non-spinning time – Obviously, the more time you have available for spinning, the more you will get spun.  So while I can’t do much about my job (although I may take one day off), I can minimize my housework.  My goal is to get as much work and house chores as possible out of the way.  That means the weekend before I plan to pickup/clean the house, groom the bunny, cook meals for the week, package up meals/snacks I need for work and do the grocery shopping.  So that will be a busy weekend!

Is anyone else interested in participating? Team signup runs until September 22 and rouge spinner sign up runs until October 3.  Please let me know if you’re participating – let’s cheer each other on!

 

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Selecting a Raw Alpaca Fleece

Seeing as how its fiber festival season this seems like an appropriate topic.  For simplicity sake I’m defining raw fleece as something cut off the animal and sold as is.  It’s not been washed, picked or cleaned.  Seriously, they shear it off and stick it in a trash bag.

Alpaca Fleece

You will find raw fleeces at most fiber festivals.  You may also know of or hear of vendors in your area that will sell fleeces.  In the Midwest we tend to have a lot of options for Alpaca fleeces.  I can always find some at spring fiber festivals (fleeces are more common in the spring as that’s when they shear) and there are several alpaca farms in the area.  Vendors typically sell a fleece in two parts – the blanket and seconds.  The blanket is off the main body of the animal and the seconds are shorter cut from other areas.  The seconds are usable but not as highly desired.  I typically buy just the blanket if I can.

There are two types of Alpaca – Huacaya and Suri. Suri is in long, silky, curly locks, much like mohair. When you buy commercial line it is most likely Huacaya unless the label says Suri.  Huacaya is shorter, frequently has a bit of crimp and is more “fur like.”  I love both but generally use Huacaya as its more versatile and easier to work with.  I suggest you try some of both. Below is a picture of a pound of Suri fiber.

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Once I find an alpaca vendor I start looking at the fleeces.  They’re typically stored in large clear plastics trash bags.  You should be allowed to feel around in the bag (if not, that’s a warning sign) and look to see the color.  I pull out a lock  of the fleece and hold it between my fingers to see the staple length and crimp.  Crimp will vary but there should be some, just like with wool.  The staple length will range from 3 to 6 inches, with most being about 4 inches.  Of course, a big part will be your judgment as to how soft the fiber is.

Next I root around in the bag a bit.  Are most of the fibers the same length? How much veg matter (tree pieces, straw, hay, burs) is in the fleece? Is the color what you want?  A note on color – there are 22 separate colors of alpaca.  Generally though you have white, fawn (brown) of some shade, gray and black. True black is less common to find but possible.

If you’re satisfied with the fleece, go ahead and purchase it.  Because alpaca fleeces are smaller (one to three pounds of blanket), they’re generally sold whole and not by the pound. The exception is Suri Alapca which is usually sold by the pound.  Price-wise there’s a lot of variation depending on when the animal was sheared, the quality of the fiber and the vendor.  I purchase three Huacaya fleeces recently: 2.6 pounds of black (2014 blanket) for $45, 1.8 pounds of gray (2013 blanket) for $20 and 1.2 pounds of fawn (2013 blanket) for $15.

new fleeces

I learned something at the last fiber festival – once you’ve bought your fleece do NOT tie the bag closed.  The alpaca vendor said this can trap moisture as you go from one environment to another (i.e. from the cool, dry fairground building to your hot, humid car) and cause moisture problems.  In other words, let it breath.

Soon I’ll post about what to do with that alpaca fleece once you’ve got it home.  We’ll need a nice spring day for that!

 

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Packing up for the Fiber Festival

I’m hoping everyone has found at least one option for a local fiber festival.  I’m going to The Fiber Event in Greencastle, Indiana on April 18-19.  I’m registered for a workshop on blending fiber, another workshop on color blending and going shopping both days with friends.  This will be my third year going to this fiber festival and actually the first festival I ever went to once I started spinning.

with bunny

So let’s get packed up and ready to go!  Here’s some more tips and suggestions:

1. Evaluating Your Stash – If you’re a new spinner (or just really disciplined in terms of acquiring stash) this probably isn’t an issue.  For the rest of us, memorizing what is in our stash is more challenging.  Keeping track of what I have, how much of it and in what color is done courtesy of Ravelry.  Ahead of leaving for a fiber festival I got through my stash, on Ravelry and in storage, to see what I have and what I might want.  For example, right now I have 4oz of a dark hand-dyed braid that really isn’t enough to do much with.  So I’m looking for some black alpaca to ply with it.

2. Fiber vs. Yarn – Although I keep saying “fiber festival” its worth noting that most fiber festivals have vendors selling finished yarn as well.  You are not likely to find as much in the way of name-brand commercial yarns (Cascade, Malabrigo) but instead a lot of handspun and/or handdyed fibers.  So, even if you’re not a spinner there are still a lot of options at a fiber festival.

3. Setting a Budget – Now this is entirely optional but is something I personally do.  There are a lot of options at a fiber festival – yarns, fleeces, dyed fiber, notions, spinning wheels and accessories, and so on.  These can add up quickly and you might be tempted to spend more than you planned. So setting a budget ahead of time serves two purposes – one, I don’t spend more than I intend and two, I know how much cash to take (while some vendors do take credit cards most prefer cash, especially for smaller purchases).

4. Have a Shopping Plan – this is also optional.  Some people prefer to just walk around and shop (as my friend Patty calls it – the demented butterfly approach).  I prefer though to go through with a plan, as taught by another friend.  We make one pass through all the vendor booths, noting items of interest and only buying if there’s something (or a colorway) that’s one-of-a-kind.  After our first pass through we go back through to make purchases.  Important tip: If you ever see something you absolutely love and can’t live without, don’t wait.  It might be gone later.

5. What to Pack – A couple basic essentials: a shopping bag, your list and some money.  I don’t take a full purse – just my glasses, cell phone and wallet.  I tuck these items into my shopping bag along with the list.  For a shopping bag I take one clear plastic zippered over-the-shoulder bag.  Inside it I tuck a large re-usable cloth shopping bag (folded up).  I have  found a back pack doesn’t work well because of the tight space in some vendor booths.  Also, remember to bring anything you need for your class.  Lastly – I have a Ravelry button with my username that I clip onto my bag.  Give me a shout if you see me!

I hope you have the opportunity at some point to attend a fiber festival and you enjoy it!

Everything I Bought

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Preparing for a Fiber Festival

It’s properly Spring which means one thing for fiber artists – fiber festivals!  I’ve provided a couple tips and suggestions for attending and getting the most out of a fiber festival.  In the two and a half years I’ve been spinning I’ve been to about six festivals (excluding Stitches one year since that’s not really a “fiber” event).

alpacas

1. Finding a Fiber Festival – If you belong to a spinning group or guild, this is probably the best way to learn about local-ish fiber events, including specifics about the events (best day to go, classes, etc.).  If you belong to a regional or state group on Ravelry (i.e. Indianapolis Handspinners) they will also frequently post about area festivals.  Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to search on Ravelry or even just Google.  Keep in mind “local” may be relative.  We are lucky here in central Indiana to have two area fiber festivals (each is about an hour from my house). However, I have driven anywhere from 2-3 hours from home to go to festivals.  If you can get a group together to go, all the better.

2. Do Some Homework – Before making too many decisions, find a website for the fiber festivals.  Most festivals have one with hours, directions, workshop schedules, competitions and lists of vendors.  This will give you some idea of the size of the festival and how much time you might want to spend there.

3. Sign Up for a Workshop – if the festival is of a decent size I can’t recommend enough that you take a class.  The past two years I’ve taken one class a year, this year I will likely take two.  This is a great opportunity to learn a new fiber prep, a new drafting technique or even a more advanced skill.  I find it is even beneficial just to hear someone else’s viewpoint on how to do something.

4. Take Care of Travel Plans and Reservations – Go ahead and register for any classes or workshops, book a hotel room if you need to and make any other needed arrangements.  Fiber festivals tend to be in remote areas and therefore lodging options are limited.  At well known events the classes fill up quickly.

I’ll talk more later about some suggestions of things to do shortly before you leave for the fiber festival, including evaluating your stash, setting a budget and what to pack.

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