Sunday, April 26, 2009

Worlds Collide

The collision is between my fiberarts world and my business life. There have been several instances where I was doing test knitting professionally, and still do, but It's not my "real" job. You know, mentoring professionals, consulting in various areas of business. The line is blurring more and more these days. I felt it most recently when I ended up cross posting from this blog to my biz blog for my interview with Brenda Dayne.

More and more I'm working with fiber arts professionals and that's a great thing. I know the market, it's strengths and limitations. Talking with non-fiberarts folks has given me the most clarity on what we're all doing. People ask me how many people are knitting. Once I get past the most basic points on the history of fiberarts that have brought up to this exact time in history, then we come to a really common question:

What is this all about? Is it a JUST a "hobby"?

A Hobby? I find myself taking offense at the term. It seems like something cheap and insignificant and "old-timey". Within me, I feel a passion. A drive to discover the very best in knitwear design right now. What makes this different than just someone looking at a fashion magazine and saying, "I was to buy that" is that I am able to have the instructions right there in a magazine, book or web tutorial. I make that fabulous garment. I own a part of it in a way that's very different.

As I write this, I realize this was my experience in making music, in playing the piano. Not in all ways, but in this way: When I read music, it's like listening to the composer's thoughts. I have a video of myself explaining this to my niece when she was just a wee one. I was so sincere. It was so important for her to understand. Reading a pattern is like listening to the designer's thoughts. I can recreate the object based on their charts and words, like notes on a page.

Now I surround myself with people who appreciate many of the same things I do. When I do come across someone who wants to understand what this thing "I do " is...well...mixed results. It's a difficult thing to explain why I would spend an entire weekend knitting one pair of socks, hour after house, like this weekend. I can say it's grounding, that it's something beautiful I get to wear. It's more than that. It's how I'm hard-wired. It's what I did as a child. It's what I have always done. It's what I consider to be essential to my existance. I will always do this and it is the one thing I have no doubts about.
This is something I knit from yarn that I spun from cashmere/merino fiber.These are the socks that I knit just this weekend.
This is part of the top that I started crocheting last Summer and finished this week.
These are socks that I finished this week that were started long ago.
The embroidered motif at the top was part of a large white shirt that I embroidered all over and I did another one as well. That was last weekend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Greener Spring

I received this vibrant green yarn from Teresa Levite Studios just the other day. It's hand dyed on a base yarn of 63% Superwash Merino, 20% Silk, 15% Nylon and 2% Silver (real). Fingering weight, put up into 420yd skeins, just waiting for your next sock project.

The subtle gradations of color, even though it's bright, would make it great for a pattern with plenty of lace or cables. Sure, colorful varigated are fun to buy, but when it comes to knitting an interesting pattern, the texture you knit can be so easily lost in all that variegation. This yarn has just enough for me.

Find Teresa's offerings:
on Etsy
on Artfire
And Teresa's own website

Teresa Levite:
I love all things fiber! My current passion is dyeing. I'm fascinated by the changes that take place when a few chemicals are combined with a handful of wool or silk and something very different comes from the dye pot. Common to many fiber artists, my love of fiber goes across the board and includes crocheting and quilting in addition to dyeing, spinning, and knitting. There are still a multitude of crafts and arts I haven't even tried - yet. I'm hoping to soon as 'weaver' to my list of titles.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spinning Spring

This is a closeup of the simple shawl I knit from the kid mohair and silk yarn below. I was just teaching this technique last weekend at the Spinnerati meeting. It's always interesting to see what pattern in the knitting show themselves when you've pulled in colors randomly in spinning. The actual spinning can be quite fun because it's all about "giving up controlling the fiber." It was interesting to see what the other spinners who had never tried this came up with. I think I have some converts...

I have felt somewhat "plagued" by working with silk hankies in spinning. Unlike silk roving, it's really sticking and hard to draft. That said, now that I've found a good use for the fine single I spun, I'm finishing these up to ply with a "sherino" wool yarn.
These are the Sherino locks, picked into clouds, spun into a tweedy single and then plied with the silk. (Don't forget to click on this image to see it better)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Nation of Makers

Last weekend was the Portland debut of the film, HandMade Nation and the Museum of Contemporary Craft had quite a weekend full of events. I wasn't able to get tickets to the two big screenings, but when more were offered on Sunday, I went with a friend to that one. I did attend the panel discussion with the filmmaker on Saturday afternoon after a fine breakfast with some new local crafty friends. New to me, that is! By way of Twitter, I found this little cluster of folks going and meeting up and we all got our acts together to meet and hang.

While I was in the middle of writing last week's post here and try to make plans for the confligration, my internet went down. Well, it was stressful, but I spent some time downing Chai in a free wifi cafe and got it all together. Lesson the in pleasures and dangers of the Internet and it's power in my life. Yeah.

I kind of found myself in the role of interviewer in many ways. There were so many things I wanted to know about everyone's process, and business and lifestyles as crafters. So much of what I'm trying to do right now, business-wise is connected to assisting creative folks maneuver the business world better. Some I see are really quite savy and I was clearly the one learning from them. Delightful.
On the left we have Adrienne Shaffer of MmmFiber and Amanda Siska of Bread and Badger etched glass.
Here we have Heather of CroqZine with one of her two little one's that Saturday morning at Byways Cafe in the Pearl.
Here, left to right we have two folks (who's names I do not remember. UGHHH) who have started a new craft happening in Vancouver, BC called Got Craft, Kim Werker, and Amanda and Adrienne (stealthfully holding her business card ;-> )

I ended up finishing this shrug and wore it to the screening with a headscarf that I crocheted the previous day from a skein of Koigu.

On the way out of the panel discussion I ran into Kathy of Pendleton! Her office is just around the corner from the Museum and I was glad to see her and catch up. It then occured to me that I had never posted a picture of the wonderful blanket I got in exchange for my spinning demo at the Home and Garden Show.
So, here we go on that! It's the Mt. Hood Sesquicentenial blanket on a one-off colorway that was never mass produced. I just love it. It goes perfectly with my bedroom.

Friday, April 03, 2009

End of Days- Interview with Brenda Dayne

I was so pleased that Brenda was willing to take some time (a lot of time) to answer a few questions for my eager readers. Although Brenda is a writer, most folks know her from her wonderful, ground-breaking podcast, Cast On. Her honesty in this interview has touched me deeply and I hope it does you. With that, I give you Brenda Dayne:

MB: So, I can see the way your podcast has evolved into a world unto its own. I know from a while ago that you weren’t sure how it was all going to play out. Just between us, has this become a business for you?

BD: I wouldn't say it's a business yet, but it is in the process of becoming one. When I began podcasting it was still a very new medium, and there weren't any solid business models in place. They didn't exist. There were a few ideas, and a lot of grand hopes for connecting independent media producers to advertisers looking for new markets, but nothing much ever came of it. As with a lot of Internet based businesses, there were a few independent producers who caught the wave early, and managed to find sponsorship, but most didn't and still don't.

I think when it comes to online content, most Internet marketers agree that there are only three ways to profit from what you create. You can sell advertising. You can sell the content. Or you can use your content as a vehicle to market and sell product. So I looked at all of these, at one time or another and, for a variety of reasons, rejected them. I couldn't see how to integrate them with my own value system, which is basically rather anti-consumerist. I don't really want to influence people to buy more stuff. I think people have enough stuff. Stuff doesn't interest me. Ideas do.

It's taken me a few years of floundering around, relying on listener donations, and a few small niche specific sponsorships, to wake up and get serious about figuring out the business end of what I create. I realize that my perfect business model, the one I can live with, that's in complete alignment with my values, isn't going to magically float into my life on gossamer wings. I have to create it. So that's what I'm doing now.

What was your original inspiration for cast-on and how has that changed over time?

BD:I was probably most inspired, at the very beginning, by Adam Curry's Daily Source Code. His was one of the first podcasts I listened to, in the summer of 2005. I had no idea who he was when I discovered his show; he wasn't a famous person to me, he was just some guy, talking about podcasting, and telling stories about his life. I find him honest, and real; charming, and endearingly human. He’s muddling through life, sometimes with a grand plan, sometimes on a wing and a prayer, just like the rest of us, and that really comes though in his podcast. Listening to Adam Curry had a very profound effect on the way I approached the microphone, right from my very first podcast. He set a benchmark for a level of emotional honesty that I wanted to emulate.

I launched Cast On in October 2005, with a clear vision of what I wanted it to be, but not clear at all about how it would pan out. I thought that maybe if I discovered I was good at it, and it was fun, I might possibly, someday, down the line, look at ways to make money at it. But it was all rather amorphous at the beginning.

The first year the process of learning that inspired me most. I put out a new podcast almost every week, and I had little time to think about the business side of things. I was too busy learning the craft. I created about forty hour-long episodes in that first year; an amazing amount of work, it seems to me, looking back on it now. Especially given how little I knew about the technology or the medium.

In the second year I slowed down a bit, and I began paying more attention to the quality of the audio, as well as the quality of ideas that I presented. I attracted a few sponsors, more by accident than design, and still felt I was too busy gathering technical skills to pay attention to business. I listened more intently to the radio, and learned how the pros use audio to craft their stories. I realized it was not unlike print journalism, and as I got faster at editing, I began to see audio production as the creative process it is.

My third year of podcasting, quite frankly, I would very much like to draw a line through, as it was a very difficult year. I was dealing with a major health issue that began about six months earlier, and took over my life for a while. I slogged my way through the third year and summoned the energy to create a few podcasts through sheer force of will. It helped that I had finally mastered the technical end, and developed my own production techniques that simplified the way I created each podcast, but the process exhausted me. I’d produce a podcast and then need two weeks to recover.

I was also done learning, and that really changed the feel of the process for me. I was getting burnt out, and feeling out of ideas. As I struggled with my health the podcasts became fewer and further between. I became more and more concerned that I wasn’t meeting the expectations of my listeners, and for a while there it seemed like I couldn't please anybody, much less myself. I began getting negative comments and email complaints. Those really hurt.

Up until that point I had always believed that my listeners could hear the real human being inside the podcast, just as I had, when I discovered a sense of the real man behind the microphone in listening to Adam Curry. They thought they knew me, and I thought so too. I had been as emotionally honest as I knew how to be. It was horribly disappointing to realize that many of my listeners didn't really give a damn about what was going on in my life. They had their own lives, and their own problems, and I was just entertainment that they funneled into their earbuds, on schedule, once a week. If I wasn’t entertaining them weekly, they weren’t interested.

And you know, quite frankly, that kind of pissed me off. I was sick. I was tired. I still hadn't figured out the business end of the podcast. That was my choice, and I own it; I was the one who decided to focus on making podcasts, not making money, but it did add to the general resentment I felt. I wasn't earning nearly enough, and certainly not what I thought I should be. I was busting ass to produce content for a bunch of schmoes who didn't care, and who left nasty comments and complained all the time. The injustice! I was sorely aggrieved.

I haven't listened to the podcasts created during that time since I produced them. Given that a high level of emotional honesty is what I always aspired to, I am pretty sure that my anger and disappointment and resentment came through the podcast, right into people's living rooms, loud and clear. It had to. The wonder isn't that I received negative feedback during this time, but that I received so little. It was not a good year, and in retrospect, I really wish I'd given myself permission to take the extended break that I so clearly needed.

Eventually my health and energy returned but, as I began the fourth year of the podcast, I reached a point where I knew something had to change. I had to either fully commit, and take Cast On to the next level, whatever that meant, or walk away. I produced a few episodes through the autumn, still dancing around the question of whether to stay with it, or let it go. The work wasn’t as satisfying anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it better. In early December 2008 I began planning the final episode of Cast On, hoping to to have it ready to upload on New Year’s Eve.

That same month, in a stunningly honest blog post, Kim Werker announced that she was giving up her post as Editor of Interweave Crochet Magazine. The surprise announcement was followed by a host of personal revelations; things she had realized about herself that were essential to her happiness on the job, and in life. Her story was so compelling, I wrote immediately and asked her for an interview, seeing in her decision a mirror of my own. I thought she’d be the perfect interview for the last ever episode of Cast On.

All through my conversation with Kim, and right the way though the editing process, I was convinced I was working on my final episode of the podcast. During our conversation, as she spoke about her decision, I said aloud, a number of times, “I understand. I also think that I’m done. I believe I have said all I want to say with Cast On.”

I listened to the final edit of our interview, and sat down to write my show. As I wrote, I thought back to the early days of the podcast, and the people and the work that inspired me. I remembered the real joy I’d once felt in telling a story, and producing a body of work that I could be proud of. I reached the place in my writing where I had planned to say goodbye, and I somehow ended up writing instead all the things that needed to change if I were going to keep producing Cast On. My letter of farewell became a manifesto. It wasn’t goodbye I was saying, but it was the end. I was done working to meet other people’s expectations.

I must tell stories. My favorite thing. I must produce the work that is important to me, to my own standard of quality, and in my own time. I must stop caring about what other people think, or say, or write about my work.

In the early days of Cast On an unwritten contract was created between my listeners and me. Or maybe there were two contracts – one that I created for them, and one that they created for me, each spelling out clearly the ways in which we were all to behave; but never negotiated, never agreed to. Somewhere in the third year of the podcast I ceased to meet the expectations of a great many listeners, and they ceased to meet mine and the contract was broken. And that, as it turned out, was probably the very best thing that could have happened to me, and very best thing for Cast On.What inspires me now is the work. What inspires me are the stories. There are so many yet to tell. I can’t wait to get started.

Brenda Dayne is a rabble-rouser and applecart upsetter who, following routine gallbladder surgery, led the patient revolt on Ward 5, resulting in fresh toast for all, and an early hospital discharge for herself. She has been writing manifestos since the age of nine, when her fourth grade teacher disallowed dancing at recess. She makes podcasts to please herself, and is glad that you like them.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Finishing is Happening

As you can see, this is what my tomorrow will be like.
For the past week, it's been jackhammers and crazy-loud stuff going on outside my window. It started last fall when the water main broke inside my building. Now, finally, they are going to fix the source of our woes. I was just waiting until the day would come when they would replace what needs replacing. The city.
I intend to escape to a cafe with free wifi for as much of the day as possible. Oh, and I'll bring knitting too...

I know that I'm supposed to have pictures of finished stuff to go along with this post, but I feel so guilty about my lack of posts, well...So, here you go. The first picture on my last post, the green thing became the shrug that it was meant to be. Too damn cold to wear it. Seriously.
The baby blanket not shown? Done.

But, back to the weather. Normally when folks ask me how I feel about living in "Rainy Portland", I'm all cool about it. "Oh, I like having weather!" I say. Yeah. Until now. It's April 1st. It's darn cold and wet. It's the cold that's the total drag. I didn't even walk home from knitting tonight because even though the clocks have changed, (this early change is nuts) and it's light out, I just couldn't brave another possible sudden downpour.

I think right now in my nighttime too-much-computer-delirium, my mother's words: Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink...
That would be tomorrow, puddles on the streets, rain pouring from the sky and no water in my faucet. Just to spell it out for ya.