Tag Archives: Process

Wrapping Up 2016

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Wrapping Up 2016

Twelfth night has passed, Epiphany arrived and the morning brings St. Distaff’s Day. And yet, 2016 still plays on my mind and I feel it won’t let me rest until I’ve put it to bed. So here is my debrief, liberally scattered with my favourite images of the last twelve months as a reminder that there was plenty of good amongst the difficulties.

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January: I finished The Doodler, my first Westknits MKAL.

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January: Study and stitching played a big part in the year.

I started 2016 in good form and with clear plans for the year. It was to be a quiet year for Story Skeins whilst I concentrated on finishing my training course.

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February: Buttons and yarn, gifted from fellow crafters, came together beautifully.

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February: Handspun Valentine’s yarn.

The year started well. Life, work, creativity and health were all good. Things were progressing as I planned. I enjoyed my 38th birthday in March.

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March: Birthday gifts from my family.

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March: A birthday note from a fellow spinner!

But that was the point when the year began to turn. Things started to get more difficult. Imperceptibly so at first, but soon becoming a relentless pattern.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I sent.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I received.

There were many reasons. I don’t really want to dwell on them, but briefly: several of us live with difficult health conditions and these gave us trouble, not least in that the mental and physical effort required each day leaves us with few reserves to draw on when life throws up a sudden plot twist. We had external pressures on us too: difficulties at work, strained finances,  threats to the roof over our heads, and more.

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May: The Orange Is The New Black yarn from The Captain and Lovely made me very happy.

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May: My very own custom blend of handspun, handdyed sock yarn.

I know many people have found this year difficult due to world events. In the face of what we were dealing with personally, it was hard to draw strength from those around us when they also seemed so distressed.

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June: Stone that flows like waves at the On Form stone sculpture festival.

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June: More inspiration in stone at On Form.

But I don’t want to go down the route of cursing 2016. There was plenty of good in it. Although it was personally difficult for us, it also forced us to find ways to make the future better. We set plans in motion, we acted upon them, we followed them through and we are optimistic that they will mean a more positive future.

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July: A little mother-daughters treat.

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July: A day I look forward to every year – Fibre East with good friends.

The year for Story Skeins was quiet, as planned, and successful in that it achieved its own modest goals. Despite cutting down on commissioned spinning work I wished to continue with my monthly rolag boxes, and I am so happy with how that club went. I also hosted my first read along and gained so much inspiration and more tools for my mental toolbox from our chosen text. It’s an exercise I will be repeating in the future.

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August: It was all about the chicks.

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August: Games with friends.

I had many firsts this year, including my first solo dyeing adventures, my first handspun sock yarn (not just sockweight, but designed in the fibre blend and the spinning to function well for socks), my first start-to-finish processing of a whole fleece into yarn, my first experience of finishing a mystery KAL on time, my first piece of brioche knitting, and my first Fibreshare (which prompted me to learn a new language, so I also made my first instagram post that was written entirely in Swedish!)

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September: I dusted off my weaving skills.

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September: A perfect leaf, found on my first study weekend of the new academic year.

I was less successful in my study goals. Mental fatigue amongst other issues really put a break on things. I was pleased with the progress I did manage to make, but I didn’t complete all the work I that wanted to. No matter, it just means a new timescale before I can pursue those plans.

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October: The last in my series of Forgotten Festivals rolag boxes saw the end of a successful fibre club.

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October: My second Westknits MKAL, and my first brioche knitting!

Finding ways to work around obstacles has brought into focus my ideas about how I want Story Skeins to work, so 2017 may look quite different as I transition to a new working  pattern (more details to come in a future post). Given the things I have to juggle – even in a good year – in the rest of my life, I never expected an easy ride in this adventure. But part of the point is to use this creative process in a way that is beneficial to life. Stretching myself to breaking point in order to keep up business, or the appearance of it, would not only defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to do here, but it would not be an authentic way for me to work. The heart of Story Skeins is nothing to do with the final products that I make and you may buy. It is entirely rooted in the process: in the how and the why. It is about bringing meaning into the things I create, and embracing the creative process as a balm and a blessing.

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November: Back in the spinning saddle with a bit of art yarn.

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November: Some fun with the rainbow trilobal blend.

The last two months of the year were acutely, painfully difficult. It was one of those times when a fact of life that we all know to be true, but manage to put out of our minds suddenly reveals itself as a clear, undeniable and awful reality. The knowledge that our future is fundamentally uncertain suddenly became paralysingly real. (I do not mean to concern you. Rest assured that I and my family are fundamentally OK.) I have been fortunate in life to have the luxury of ignoring this fact, unlike many people in the world today, and most throughout history. Our comfortable lives protect us from harsh truths. But I don’t think it’s unchallenging comfort that leads to wisdom. The struggle with hard times and hard truths can bear fruit, in that I have a new understanding of simple ideas. Two main ideas have come into focus at a deeper level and helped me over the finish line: Counting my blessings, and Living in the moment. It is as easy, and as hard, as that.

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December: Making rolags for Christmas.

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December: A welcome reminder in my Christmas stocking.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

He who can call today his own:

He who, secure within, can say,

Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

                                                     –  Horace

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Book Review: Hook to Heal!

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Book Review: Hook to Heal!

Hook to Heal! 100 crochet exercises for health, growth, connection, inspiration and honoring your inner artist.

By Kathryn Vercillo

Hook to Heal caught my attention from the first time I heard about it. It went straight onto my wish list and when my birthday came around this year, lo! the book arrived (thanks, mum!)

Hook to Heal held a lot of appeal to me, as it draws together a lot of seemingly disparate themes that for me, reflect very accurately the threads of my life. I say “seemingly disparate” because I’m not sure that many people make the connection between fibrecraft and topics such as health, wellbeing, challenge and personal growth, despite these being obvious to many of us deeply involved in this fascinating realm of creativity.

Hook to Heal uses the medium of crochet to provide the arena for thinking through and working on all sorts of areas of life. These include, but are not limited to: Self-care, Self-esteem, Facing fears, Relationships, Balance, Giving something back, and Artistic development. With such a comprehensive scope, you can see that this is no small task that Vercillo set herself when planning and writing the book.

I decided to work through her book this year, and as an act of sharing and community-building, I decided to open the process up as a read-along for anyone who wished to join. I studied the structure of the book and devised a 12-week program. I knew 12 weeks was a short time for such a book, but fortunately I’ve battled my perfectionist demons already, and won, so my aim was to cover roughly half of the exercises in each section. There were weeks of huge success with the process, weeks of what felt like terrible failure to engage with it at all, and everything in between. I documented this journey here.

Firstly, I have to say, this is a brilliant book. It challenged me from the outset because it wasn’t what I expected from a crochet book. There are no pictures! As I worked through the book I came to realise that this was a genius decision. Vercillo challenges us in every chapter with crochet exercises that get to the heart of a topic. What would pictures do? They would give us something to aim for, something born of someone else’s imagination and thought process. In this almost entirely text-only book, we are set free from attempting to mimic a result. We are able to use the exercises to question ourselves, to explore creation in all manner of ways, and to just see the outcome of whatever comes from that process without the burdon of expectation or comparison.

In my 12-week whistlestop tour I have acquired a host of new tools to help me with various issues. Some of the mindfulness and self-care exercises in particular have become well-used favourites already and I hope they will support my efforts at self-improvement long into the future.

Coming to the end of the read along, my overriding feeling is that this is only my first pass of Hook to Heal. There is so much more in there to explore, so much more depth I have not yet reached. Ideally I would use the same 12-part scedule, but instead of spending a week on each section, it would be a month. Then I could spend a whole year really exploring the questions Vercillo poses, truly making time for and looking after me. 

I haven’t yet read Vercillo’s previous book (Crochet Saved My Life), but have heard at least some of her story through Hook to Heal and through her writing online. I think her work is so important as a contribution to the understanding of mental health and the positive role of creativity in recovery and in everyday living. Vercillo seems like someone who has taken her experience of the most challenging of times, and turned it into a force for good. This book is her gift to all of us.

Hook to Heal: Wk 10 reading/Wk 9 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 10 reading/Wk 9 check-in

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Our week 10 reading is:

Week 10: 4th-10th July

  • Balance, pp. 191-210

For the kindle readers, that’s from the chapter heading “Balance” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musings on Balance.” This box contains 6 bullet points, and the last one starts “Make a list of your 10 favourite things to do,” and ends “How can you adjust that?”

This week we deal with that essential feature of a rounded life: balance. Balance is one of those things I seem to be always in search of, never achieving. We will have opportunities for crochet exercises that face the often contradictory needs we have. We will challenge our perceptions of the “right” way to do a task by doing it several different ways. We will look at symmetry, harmony, discord and tension. We will see how our crochet lessons translate into broader aspects of life.

This is our penultimate topic, so have fun with this one. x

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 9

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  • Morning pages: 4/7
  • Artist’s Date: Designing and working on squares for Woolly Hugs’ Jo Cox memorial blanket.
  • Exercises: 4/7

Week 9 was all about giving back, something that has always been important to me and is reflected not only in charitable donations, but also in the voluntary work that I do. It was a real treat to give back via the medium of crochet and fibre art.

The crochet that I worked on for this week’s artist’s date is destined for the woolly hugs charity (exercise 1), and I have made plans to teach a new student to crochet (exercise 2). I have been gradually reducing my yarn stash over time and had another ruthless sort out, the results of which will be donated to charity (exercise 3), but the real excitement for me this week was exercise 6: Slow Yarn.

I love the idea of slow making, and slow yarn is really what I’m all about. Slow as in taking time to appreciate the process, to make the most of the experience, and capture some of that care and attention in what is being created.

This exercise encouraged me to find out more about the slow yarn movement. I rather liked this post, and had a good mooch around slowyarn.com, but overall there was very little web presence for the idea of slow yarn. Which makes me more determined to carry on with this work and keep making, and writing about making, my slow, story-infused, unique yarn for crafters.

I feel the process that I have carved out for myself is one that gives back with abundance. It gives back to me, using mindful creativity to restore myself. It gives back to the craft community, with the offer of something unique and meaningful, and it gives back to the world: a little bit of a creative soul, shared freely. Make of it what you will.

x

Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Our week 6 reading assignment is:

Week 6: 6th-12th June

  • Facing Fears, pp. 116-138

For those on Kindle that’s from the chapter heading “Facing Fears” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musing on Fear.” This box has 6 bullet points and the last one begins “Make a list of all the things that make you unique,” and ends ” – celebrate that!”

Vercillo pulls no punches in the opening to this chapter: “The things that you are afraid of are holding you back.” I cannot overemphasise the truth of these words. It is a lesson I have learnt time and time again from working on these kinds of projects and on personal improvement. Every single time I have felt ‘stuck’ with creative work, or with wanting to go in a new direction or improve a situation in my life, I have traced the cause back to fear. Basically, I’m not making progress because I am scared to make progress. The specific fears may vary between individuals. Mine tend to be very consistent. I’m scared to fail. And at the same time I’m scared to succeed. But there are ways into dealing with and overcoming these fears, and chapter 6 of Hook to Heal is a great way to start. But let me ask you a question. Are you someone who’s been following this read along, hoping or trying to participate? Is something holding you back from really engaging with the process? Could that barrier be a fear?

Have a great week. Slay some dragons. 🐲

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 4

  • Morning pages: 5/7
  • Artist’s date: kinda. Great days out, but it’s hard to do that alone in half-term!
  • Exercises: Of 14, I completed 4, prepared the ground for another 3, am intending to do 3 more in the future, and decided the remaining 4 are not right for me just now.

I have to say, I’ve had a great Hook to Heal week, which is the first time I can really claim that. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this breakthrough came in week 4: Self-Care and Self-Esteem Building. After all, I started this whole process after I recognised a lack of self-care and decided to do something positive to address that.

This week there was a heavy focus on affirmations, another valuable technique I first came across in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I got so much out of this process. I will show you the fisrt and last steps of my working of exercises 1-3. Here we examined the negative things we say to ourselves about our craft. We dig down to the roots of these ideas – where do they come from? – and analyse their validity. Then we flip them into positive affirmations and use them to start an upward a spiral of self-esteem building.

First I identified the negative things I tell myself about my work. One of the suggestions was to ask a friend about the negative statements they’ve heard from you. This was the response I got to that experiment:

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It is true that I’m generally a positive person and very forgiving of mistakes in myself and others. However I did come up with six pieces of negative craft-related self-talk with which to work:

  1. I should be working/tidying/etc.
  2. I should work on my commissioned piece.
  3. I spend too much money on this.
  4. I have too many unfinished WIPS.
  5. I am not organised enough with my projects.
  6. I can’t charge more for my work.

After examining each of these self-criticisms, and identifying how much I really believe them, if at all, I followed Vercillo’s steps for turning them into positive affirmations.

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  1. I am working on my mental health, and that is important.
  2. The amount of time I spend on paid work is exactly right.
  3. The money I invest in myself, my health, and my happiness is money well-spent.
  4. My unfinished WIPs are not a problem and I can return to each project whenever I like.
  5. My organisation is good enough.
  6. I can ask extra-special prices for extra-special yarn.

These affirmations, and more, provide the basis of many of the exercises in this chapter. The exercises are too good to be confined to a mere week of my time and, like many of the exercises I have discovered from Hook to Heal, will become regular, maybe daily, features of my craft work.

Hook to Heal: Wk 5 Reading/Wk 3 Check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 5 Reading/Wk 3 Check-in

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Our week 5 reading assignment is:

Week 5: 30th May – 5th June

  • Embrace a Sense of Adventure, pp. 94-115

For those reading on Kindle, that’s from the chapter heading “Embrace a Sense of Adventure” to the text box entitled “Yarn for Thought: More Musings on Developing your Sense of Adventure.” The box contains 6 bullet points, and the last one begins “Make a bucket list,” and ends “… spark your creativity in new directions.”

This week the challenge is to build on these foundations of self-care and launch into new adventures, pushing against the walls of our comfort zones and learning new things, both about our craft and about ourselves.

Have fun!

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 3

  • Morning pages: 6/7
  • Artist’s Date: 1/1 – Knitting indulgence!
  • Exercises: 4/6

So, here I am, a full week behind! I have decided that this is OK. I am remembering what the author said in her introductiom about not using this book to beat ourselves up (after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to get away from?) I also want to demonstrate that it’s OK to not do something perfectly. It’s OK to carry on in my own way. It’s certainly better than just giving up.

It has been another exceptionally tough week (fortnight, actually). So letting go, releasing, relaxing are all very good things to be concentrating on and I also continued with the idea of mindfulness crochet. Real life comes along with a big dose of stress for our family at the moment, and I have been using repetitive craft exercises as a balm. This week the almost endless beaded cast-off on my current project, and carding much of my fleece supply have helped to keep my sanity in tact.

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The almost endless beaded cast-off. So long. So worth it. So meditative.

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Carding raw fleece: guaranteed to calm the mind and soothe the spirit.

Letting go, releasing and relaxing is very familiar teritory to me, mainly thanks to my study of the Alexander Technique. So many of the exercises were either things I have done before, or aimed at types of personal development that I’ve been studying for years.

Focussing on our successes, getting rid of the ‘shoulds’ that we all have, challenging the belief that we need to know or to control, working with processes rather than aimimg for a specific result, this is all well worn ground for me.

So I enjoyed being a beginner (exercise 2). I taught myself Bavarian crochet! It didn’t go that smoothly, the tutorials I picked skipped over some key information (which, as someone who occasionally writes tutorials, is a very useful lesson!) But I wasn’t too worried about the errors, I left them in (exercise 6), and because I was only interested in the process of learning, not the final product, I frogged the lot after reaching my goal (exercise 4). I have already joined a mystery crochet-a-long (exercise 3) and although I didn’t get a chance to sort my wips (exercise 5), I shall certainly be following this exercise as I pack to move house over the next few weeks.

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First steps in Bavarian Crochet

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That doesn’t look right!

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A few errors, but basically I understand this now.

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Continuing beyond the tutorial. I got this.

 

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Final product. Ripping out my work scandalised my daughter. But the process was the thing that mattered, and that learning can’t be frogged.

Week 3 was a week of consolidation for me, rather than new territory. It was great to take the general principles I’ve been learning for the last few years and apply them to my craft in order to further eradicate the menace of perfectionism. They are lessons I will need to remember as I move forward with this project.

Tutorial: Hand-winding a Centre-pull Ball

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Tutorial: Hand-winding a Centre-pull Ball

With all the fancy yarn winders available these days, why would you want to wind a centre-pull yarn ball by hand?

Well, the simple answer is that in my experience hand-wound balls work much better. I don’t mind working from a cake of yarn made with a winder if I’m working from the outside-in. But I find that working from the centre of a yarn cake is ok until enough of the centre has gone for the cake to lose its structural integrity, and collapse in a heap of unruly yarn.

When I make socks, I make them two-at-a-time from one ball of yarn. I work one sock from the centre of the yarn ball, and one from the outside. The yarn starts as a rugby ball shape, and as the centre yarn is removed it becomes a discus shape, retaining its integrity and function right to the last inch.

The tool used for this is called a nostepinne. There are many beautiful, hand-turned wooden nostepinnes available. But it really is the simplest of tools and any smooth cylinder with a diameter of 2-3 cm will work. My favourite ‘nostepinne’ is an old vanilla pod tube. I like it because I can secure the centre-pull end of the yarn underneath the screwtop whilst I’m winding:

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Secure the yarn around the centre of the cylinder with a few turns. Once secure, start wrapping the yarn such that it goes from one edge of the nosteppine, diagonally across the ball that is being wound, down to the opposite edge of the nosteppine, like this:

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Turn the nostepinne regularly so that the diagonal stripes created by wrapping in this way are distributed around the ball evenly.

You will end up with a beautiful, olive-shaped ball:

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Slide the yarn ball off the nostepinne. Release the centre-pull yarn-end first, if necessary. You will have a cylindrical hole through the cente of the ball:

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To increase the stability of the ball, and ensure it doesn’t collapse when it’s used, gently squash the ball evenly in all directions to close up that hole:

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Ta dah! A hand-wound, perfectly functioning centre-pull ball.

Edit: 28th April

Here’s what happened to my rugby-ball shaped yarn after I had used two thirds of it (half of the yarn taken from the outside and half from the inside). It has flattened to a discus and is still well wound and doing its job of keeping my yarn in order:

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What’s my job?

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What’s my job?

It’s only three years since I was a new spinner. I’ve reached the point where I find myself mentoring other new spinners as they start exploring this fascinating craft.

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One of the most common complaints I hear (often offered as an apology for the perceived deficiencies of the new spinner’s own yarn) is about irregular yarn. It’s something I remember about my first efforts at the spinning wheel too. I thought my first yarn was quite ugly. But at the same time I was so proud of it because I made it all by myself!

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There seems to be a common journey for spinners, with early efforts being thick and irregular, and subsequent yarn gradually becoming thinner and more consistent. Then you reach a stage where you want to spin thicker yarn again, and almost have to re-learn how to do it. And you may want to spin irregular, or thick and thin, or even more exotic yarn and so you go about learning those techniques, continually refining your knowledge, your practice and your control over the process.

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What I’ve come to realise is that, as spinners, it’s not our job to replicate machine-spun yarn. When we judge our early efforts, that’s the yardstick most of us use for comparison.

But the thing is, if I wanted machine-spun yarn, I could just buy it! It has its place and I use plenty of commercially-spun yarn, but it is a different beast from handspun. There is a sense of satisfaction for the spinner to know that, if you choose to, you can replicate the fine consistency of machine-spun yarn. But my plea to spinners (new or otherwise!) is to see consistency as a design choice, rather than a value judgement.

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I often think of handspun yarn as being full of life. And I think that relates to this question of what is my job as a handspinner. I see my job as creating something unique every time I go through the process, from inspiration to yarn design, to the final skein.

What commercially-spun yarn can never replicate is that sense of the unique creation of every millimetre of yarn: the possibility of a story in every stitch.

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