Travel Season is Here. What Are You Taking With You?

Long car rides and flights, days on the beach, evenings on campsites, summer vacation season is days away.  What are you taking with you to work on?

If you’ve never taken a project on the road, give it a shot on your next trip!

So what makes a good travel project?

I’ve traveled with everything from socks to sweaters, it really depends on the type of trip, but I’ve found that there are few guidelines to making travel crafting pleasurable.

  • Think small. I know summer seems like a the wrong time of year to be thinking about hats, socks and scarves, but these are great small projects to bring along.  They take up just a little space and in most cases don’t require more than yarn, needles/hook, and maybe a pair of scissors.
  • Think simple.  If your project requires multiple charts or a novel of directions, it can get fidgety when confined to a small work space like a plane or car.  There are plenty of one page projects or one page, easy to remember charts out there to pick from.
  • Think color.  One color is your friend!  Trying to manage multiple colors can be light fighting an octopus when you’re on the move.

Here are a few ideas for projects to throw into a project bag and carry along on your next adventure….

Lataa can be made with a single skein of sock yarn and has a small repeating chart.

The Vortex Shawl can get a little large but is still manageable on the road. Once you’ve completed a few repeats of the pattern, it’ll stick with you until it’s done.

These Poseidon Socks pack a lot of punch without a lot of fiddling around.

Coraline in Wine Country has an easy to memorize pattern and it’s a crochet piece so it’ll move along fast.

Vanilla Latte Socks are a quick work up, and would work with virtually any colorway.

With a linen based yarn the Clapotis Cowl would be a great summer piece for those chilly office spaces you’ll have to return to after your vacation.

There it is…just a handful ideas to pack up and take with you on the road this summer.  Give it a try! Want to share your favorite travel projects? Post them up in the comments.

Yarn Snobbery: Justified?

Yarn-Snob-Pin-IvoryIf I’ve learned anything hanging out with knitting types is that there are varying levels of yarn snobbery.

I’ve met them before: the true, honest-to-god-, in the wild, classic yarn snob.  These are the people who only knit 100% natural fibers, usually with the highest price tag, and shrivel at the notion of touching any man-made fiber.   I’ve actually had a classic yarn snob say to me with a straight face that they were allergic to acrylic yarns and meant it. I’m not saying that an acrylic allergy is impossible but the gut hunch in this situation was this person felt the need to justify their fiber extravagance with a statement that many wouldn’t go out of the way to question.

There’s another classification of yarn snob; the acrylic snob.  Yes, they actually exist, and usually stand aghast in a local yarn store when they see the price of high-end yarns.  These folks love their yarn work, but they can’t justify the cost of pricier yarns for a myriad of reasons.

Both sides of the snobbery fence can make beautiful knitted or crocheted projects out of their materials of choice; and often stand in judgement on one side of the fence or the other.  The classic snobs are seen as pretentous the acrylic snobs are accused of beign cheap. Is it really worth it to park firmly in one camp or the other?

That answer is NAH!

I’ll admit that I’ve railed against certain brands of mass-produced commercial yarns (cough cough Red Heart cough cough) but even it has its purpose in the crafting world.  Most beginning knitters and crocheters begin with these types of yarns.  I fall into that category, dozens of projects were hooked in my childhood and teenage years.  Honestly, chain craft store yarn was really the only thing available to me for a very long time, and I really didn’t know any better.  I learned to knit in my 20s on the same yarns, and then I eventually wandered into local yarn shop and my knitwork began to change dramatically, and went through a few solid years of classic yarn snobbery.  It was lacework that forced me down the classic snob path, and I still won’t use a anything but a natural fiber for the thinnest of yarns, personally, I think it’s a risk to do fine lace work and then not have it block out correctly because of a too high man-made fiber content.

Being a classic yarn snob is expensive as hell though, and I evolved into a yarn connoisseur by necessity and a great deal of crafters fall into the connoisseur category.

Connoisseurs have learned the pros and cons to different fiber types and blends of those types.  An 100% acrylic yarn can’t be traditionally blocked and may not be the best for a garment, but an acrylic yarn with a 20-30% natural fiber content will block beautifully most of the time instead of dropping $150+ for higher end natural yarns for a sweater.  We’ve learned that there are some projects that an inexpensive acrylic yarn can really be the best choice, especially for items that could really end up taking a beating like toys and some afghans.  We’ve learned that the super squishy soft cashmere and wool blend would be gorgeous for that baby sweater for a friend but know that it would realistically be a burden on a new parent to have to hand wash it so it’ll end up worn once and put in a drawer, so we find a soft, washer and dryer friendly yarn instead. We all know that one craft-worthy friend that simply can’t wear animal fiber due to allergy or lifestyle choices, blends of cottons, bamboo, viscose, or other materials are acquired. Knowing fiber types and how they function and are made go a long way, and is absolutely worth taking the time to learn, and help others learn that walking down the middle path of yarn acquisition isn’t a bad idea.

While introducing crafty types to different yarns and manufacturing processes – they learn how to make an educated decision for their individual project needs.  But, what one ultimately chooses is entirely personal choice. Yep, totally personal choice.  Curling your nose and someone’s choice of yarn isn’t polite.

I personally prefer animal fiber or mostly animal fiber blends for myself.  I will admit that this preference isn’t the most budget friendly at times, but it helps if you have a talent for catching a good sale here and there.  If you take a good look at my horde though, you’ll find a pretty fair split between high-end animal fibers, and animal fiber and man-made fiber blends.  There’s even a fair amount of acrylics for oddball needs here and there.  It’s a balanced horde, and one I’ve sworn to work from for quite a while (well, unless someone asks me to knit them something specific as a commissioned project).

 

All in all, to each their own, it all really boils down to we’re making stuff for ourselves, and for others, and are having a great time doing it.

A Yarn Addict Without a Dealer: What’s Next?

It’s been officially announced.  Yarn Rhapsody, the home away from home, the place where I’ve met people who have become family and close friends, and the host site for my classes and knitalongs is closing.

I walked into Yarn Rhapsody early in 2015, and bought two skeins of deep purple Malabrigo sock weight.  I was on the verge of a knitting binge of epic proportions and finding a yarn shop in my own backyard was a blessing in more ways than one. When I needed a sense of community the most it was there.  It sounds cheesy but this little store on Dawsonville Highway changed my life.

Over the years watching others create beautiful projects one stitch at a time encouraged me to challenge myself with harder and harder projects.  It was Claudia (the owner) who encouraged me to begin teaching.  Without her, this ongoing project of mine would not exist.

It’s been heartbreaking to see customers fall away as shop hours became unpredictable last summer/ fall while Claudia was going through cancer treatment.  Even though she’s regained her health, the customer base didn’t come back despite efforts to pull people back in. Small business can not afford to lose momentum.

I’m deeply concerned for my friend (and German big sister), she’s loosing her livelihood and her dream job.  She’s a survivor in more ways than one, isn’t the type to wallow in self pity, and she’ll land on her feet and continue to move forward to her next chapter, but this type of transition is never easy for anyone.  So please, wish her well, and help her with her biggest request as the store wraps up its last days, empty it.  She would like to close the doors on the last day with nothing left to pack up.

I’m horrible at eulogizing Yarn Rhapsody, but this is a bitter loss, a blow to the local crafting community, the small business community, and Claudia.

Despite the resurgence of knitting and crocheting, local yarn stores are struggling.  Like most brick and mortar stores they battle online retailers that offer the same products for a buck or two cheaper with free delivery.  There’s also competition heating up between yarn stores and commercial chain craft stores, with the resurgence of yarnwork these retailers are slowly getting better yarns on their shelves at better prices, Red Heart even has a 100% merino wool line now. Everyone knows Red Heart, especially their super saver line with it’s scratchy plastic feel, known for decades for their 100% acrylic yarns.  How many millions of  blankets have been made out of it though? Are these yarns the quality you would see at most local yarn shops? No.  They certainly are tempting for some project types though, like the quick gift for the questionably knit worthy friend or family member, or for those that are ready to start knitting/crocheting larger and more difficult projects but are worried about the financial commitment.   All of this sends yarn stores a little further down the specialty store rabbit hole when lines like Encore Worsted and Cascade 220 have competitors readily available at Michael’s and JoAnn’s.

So what happens with Coffee and Wool now? Simply put, things are evolving.

First, let me make clear, that Claudia and I have discussed a lot of what I’m about to type out, even now, I have no intention on stepping on her toes.  She’s been a knitting mentor and a very good friend for several years now, if she decides she wants to teach and offer other project based services after the shop closes, I have no intention of doing anything to aggressively compete with her.  We have similar abilities, know what our individual strengths are, and have somewhat different teaching styles.  I can still see us working together on quite a few levels to make sure the educational/project help/repair needs of the local knitting/crochet community are still met after the dust settles and Claudia lands on her feet again.

Of course little of the blog side will change.  I’ll write posts, and share what information I can about the crafts we commonly love.  I’m still in search of people, places, and products that make yarnwork more interesting.

Locations for classes and craftalongs will change.  There may not be one single location in the end, and I won’t offer as many options per month.  I’m hoping to have the location issues worked out by mid-month and begin offering classes and craftalongs again beginning in May.

There will not be the convenience of a yarn store at the fingertips, so there will be need to be  better pre-planning and communication with students and participants to make sure every one has what they need before sessions begin. Options for a reservation/booking system and pre-payment are being researched. The duration of individual sessions and the number of sessions for each class/knitalong will likely change.  The current plan is longer sessions of 2-3 hours each with 1-2 meetings per class instead of one hour sessions. Craftalongs will more than likely remain at one hour each for a designated number of sessions.

I am working on creating a dedicated space in my home to serve some of the needs that the shop used to fill.  This will be space for finishing and repair services, that I intend to keep as pet free as possible.  It has always been a concern of mine when bringing home a client’s project to keep my cats (and their fluff) as far away as possible, both for the protection of project and reducing allergens.  Living in an historic small home, this is an interesting challenge but one well under way with some planning and rearranging.

I will continue to work with my private students and will happily take on more.  Individual classes will be offered at my home from time to time, a local coffee-house (the most likely option), or if the student is comfortable with the idea, I can travel to their home.  Unfortunately, my home isn’t well suited for group sessions, but I can work with a single student easily.

I am currently not interested in being a shop teacher at a single location again like I was with Yarn Rhapsody, at least not right now.  I have greater interest in possibly traveling for a half or full day group class with focus on a single project type or technique.  I am beginning to develop these type of classes and hope to roll them out late summer or early fall, more likely winter.

I would like to seriously begin designing more.  In fact, there’s a design project looming for a close friend that will be hilarious and adorable at the same time.

There it is, change is inevitable and rolling with the punches is necessary.  At a minimum I would love to stay in contact with the amazing people I have met through the shop since walking in the doors for the first time in 2015, and those that have waltzed through the shop doors since then.  The yarn craft community in northeast Georgia is special.

For those that aren’t local to northeast Georgia, its too late to save this local yarn store in Gainesville, but please, shop at your own local yarn stores for your crafting needs whenever possible.  These  business are ran by a lot of love and fairly small profit margins, no one is going to get rich selling yarn, but they are invaluable resources to the crafting community.  Too many of them have shuttered their doors over the years and we’re loosing another great one.

Shop small, shop local.

Woolly Wonders!

img_0069I’ve wanted to get a new knitting group going for a little while.  A couple of the ones I had participated in over the past few years either fizzled, evolved into other things, or real life kicked all of our asses at once and have been on a very long hiatus.

Between work, knitting shenanigans, slowly enacting my plan for world domination, and strong introvert tendencies, social commitments can be difficult at times.  I think everyone is in the same boat paddling for time, so setting up a groups that meets the second Sunday of every month sounded like a good plan.  To toss in a bit more fun, why not move the knit up location every time? The group wouldn’t stress one location consistently.  That also allows us group folk to support more than one local business.  I’m also a huge fan of crafting in public, when it feels like most of the world is staring at a smart phone, stitching away in public seems like an act of social deviance.  We can all use a bit of that in our lives.

After creating one of those infamous event things on Facebook I crossed my fingers and hoped a few people would show up to Mocha Moe’s in Flowery Branch.  One person came somewhat by force because I kidnapped her.  That’s not entirely true but a funny visual.  Three more people came!  Is that a huge knitting group, no, but it’s a damn good start.  Deborah, Kelly, Lia, DeAna, and myself had a good afternoon filled with knitting, coffee, and a few laughs.

We’re doing this again on March 11th at 1:00pm – 3:00pm at Left Nut Brewery in Gainesville, GA.  Keep an eye out for one of those event things, with the set up at the brewery I’m going to need a head count so I can beg them to reserve us one of the bench tables a few days in advance.

If you’re in Northeast Georgia feel free to drop on by.  Woolly Wonders (that name may change eventually) is meant to be open to anyone who enjoys any fiber craft; knitting, crochet, needlepoint, or anything else requiring fiber to make, with a welcoming spirit.  I hope for a diverse group of women and men, of all ages, walks of life, and skill levels.

We have very few rules.  Please leave the political debate at home, it has destroyed too many crafting groups over the years, and treat others respectfully.

There is no obligation to come every month.  There’s no rigid structure here, simply come and spend some time working with some crafty people.

All of us will have one thing in common, our love of fiber craft, everything else can be built on from there.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Knitting on the Road

planeI’m escaping Georgia tonight for some shenanigans with friends this weekend.  Being the fanatical knitter that I am, there is always at least a pair of socks on needles in my purse and there is always a project bag tossed in my luggage for downtime on trips.

I’ve been asked at nearly every gate waiting for boarding about the legalities of traveling with knitting needles, so it’s time for a quick primer on air travel with projects.  My experience here is limited to domestic air travel, other rules may apply to international flights.

Are knitting needles and crochet hooks allowed in your carry-on bag?
The simple answer is yes.  But when is the simple answer ever the complete one?  All it takes is one misinformed TSA agent or a flight attendant to think your needles look intimidating and you’ve got a problem on your hands.  As much as some of us love our nice, pointy, metal ChiaoGoos or Addis you may want to leave those home.  Kick over to wood or plastic, and circular needles would probably be preferred over straight.  Besides using straights in a tightly packed airplane may be uncomfortable for you and the passengers seated next to you.

How about scissors?
This is another yes, but, answer.  Blades must be shorter than 4-inches, and the type that fold up onto themselves are recommended.  Those nifty thread cutting pendants, or anything that looks like it may have a razor style blade are a no-go.

Regular needles, you know the ones you finish projects with?
Ummmm this one is a bit gray.  I’ve flown with finishing needles with rounded points, but I’ve heard more than one person complain that theirs was taken.  So, you may want to leave those at home.

So what do I do if TSA tries to confiscate my needles or hooks?
The most important part of traveling with craft projects is to be prepared, just in case.  Carry a copy of the TSA policies related to your particular project, there are some agents that may not be clear on the guidelines, but screeners can confiscate any items they feel are unsafe despite of the guidelines.  You can find some help with this information on the What Can I Bring section of the TSA website.

If you think an item may be pushing a guideline, put it in your checked bag, or have a self-addressed, pre-paid mailer to ship your item to your destination or back home, and don’t risk flying with expensive or sentimental items.

Always be polite, and informed if questioned.  From personal experience here, I’ve only been questioned about my knitting once, and after showing the screener the policy from the TSA site all was well.

Now that the technicalities are out of the way, now what?

Bring something small with you, socks, scarves, and other items of similar size are perfect on adventures.  Just think about projects that don’t require grand gestures to manuver when flipping over to do the next row, since space is limited, and your row-mate may not want to be covered with a half finished afghan.  Simple projects are best for a couple of reasons.  Patterns that require you to reference printed patterns may become fiddly in a limited space, also it helps if your project is simple enough to be able to stop quickly (God-forbid mid-row but it happens) and is easily memorized.

Other things to consider…
Yarn:  try to have yarn caked or rolled into center pull balls so you can leave your yarn in a project bag while you work.  Having a ball fall to the floor and roll halfway down the plane isn’t as funny as it sounds. Trust me.

Needle Holders: Travel isn’t alwasy the safest things for needles, find a way to protect  your needles when they aren’t in use.

Project Bags:  I’ve always had great luck with project bags that have carry handles built in.  You can loop the bag around your arm and have the yarn feed from it while you work.  No worries about anything falling in the floor there.

Knitting in airports and on the plane is an excellent way to pass the time and maybe spark the interest of your fellow passengers, so enjoy it!

Knitting in the News: Political Craftivism

Let me begin with a disclaimer, that will apply to this post as well as any possibly politically charged issue that may be referenced on this blog in the future.

With the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, our population has begun to very openly express their political opinions, be it leftist, rightist, or down the middle.  For the purposes of this blog, I will strive to keep my own personal political beliefs out of the conversation and remain as neutral as possible.  I ask that any comments that  a politically themed post may generate remain respectful to anyone that may read them.  Comments are moderated, anything I deem offensive, crude, or an attack on another will be deleted. 

It’s 10 days after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and your local yarn shop is probably still a bit low on pink yarn.  By now, everyone knows about the “pussy hat” worn at the women’s marches around the county in response to the inauguration and comments of an offensive sexual nature that were brought to light during campaign season.

This week the brain beanie is on the rise (more pink yarn) to support those in the sciences that are being gagged.

Craftivism, is defined as the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social causes to bring about change via personalized activism.

I am in love with the concept of craftivism.  The idea of physically making something takes  time, energy, and dedication, more so than picking up something from the store pre-made.  The pussy hat (and I cringe using that word, my southern great-grandmother is rolling in her grave, and I would consider her a feminist) is certainly not the first act of craftivism but it certainly is the most well-known public example.

womens-march-on-washingtonPolitical viewpoints aside, I encourage you to check out the photos of the men and women wearing these hats, there are hundreds, if not a few thousand examples floating around.  You’ll find some obvious first-time knit and crochet projects out there.  How many new crafters were born out of this act political activism?  How many will get bitten by the yarn bug and will begin other projects?  In a culture where the average attention span has been reported to be 8 seconds; it’s amazing so many people were introduced to a skill that requires concentration and focus.  It’s healthy!

Love it or hate it, the pussy hat may have started another revolution.  Despite our own personal viewpoints on reason for this mass act of craftivism, crafters should be encouraging newcomers.  Not pushing them away because of their viewpoint.

I’m saddened by the reaction of several local yarn shops that have publicly stated that they are not interested in selling yarn that will be used in possible future acts of craftivism.  Shop owners have the right to do as they please, but it makes little to no sense to push aside customers for political views.

All I know is this crafter is more than happy to see more acts of craftivism, and am more than happy to teach that first-timer how to work that yarn around needles or hooks to make their statement.

Social Knitting?

When knitting comes up in conversation the image of a matronly woman sitting in a rocking chair often comes to mind.  There she sits, alone, needles clicking away at some beige colored yarn.  This is the reality of some, well, maybe without the rocking chair, or the age….or the beige yarn….

It’s the norm for some of us knitty types to just work in the comfort and privacy of  our own homes.   At the end of a stressful day I’m absolutely guilty of grabbing a project and heading for the couch, with a cup of tea, or something harder depending on just how stressful that day was.  I knit alone for the first four or five years after picking up needles for the first time, and then there was the discovery of whole knitting social networks out there.

It happened after I moved to the current homestead and stumbled into a local yarn shop.   In the center of this shop was a long table with chairs set all the way around it.  No one was there that afternoon but the owner brought up she had several times a week where other knitters would come in and work on projects together and invited me to come.  The concept was a bit foreign to me, it took a few weeks to take her up on the offer, but I finally packed up a project into a bag and headed back down to the shop on a Saturday afternoon.

No joke, my social life changed.  This introvert found her tribe! The shop was filled with a group of vibrant and varied individuals, both male and female, working away and laughing their asses off.  All ages, and walks of life were sitting around that table.  I was made to feel welcome within minutes after getting grilled with the typical who-are-you and what-do-you-do questions.  You know, the typical initiation into any group.  After meeting these people, my knitting began to travel with me wherever I went, and if there was more than a few minutes of waiting time, out the needles would come.

Sunday mornings would  usually begin with a caramel macchiato, people watching, and yarn manipulation at the local coffee-house.  That led to another invitation to a knitting group on Thursday evenings packed full of more amazing people after being discovered knitting in a corner.  For the better part of a year and a half, Thursdays and Saturdays had standing plans to meet up with these knitting nuts.  The Thursday group began to disolve after jobs and life began to impact schedules, but both groups have introduced me to friends that have become family.  I really don’t know how I’ve survived without some of these people in my life, and we all have one thing in common, we love making things out of yarn.

All that said, there have been studies pop up over the years (just google them) that have shown crafting with others can improve confidence and self-esteem, reduce stress, and help with feelings of isolation (well duh on that last one).

If you are in northeast Georgia, or north-metro Atlanta wander into Yarn Rhapsody  in Gainesville, on Saturday afternoon, we’re a welcoming kind of people, and don’t bite.  Claudia (owner) also carries an amazing selection of yarns.  Side note: there has been no payment for this endorsement, this shop has turned into my home away from home.

Grab your yarn and tools of choice and get out there.  Find a group!  Or just start knitting at your local coffee house, the group will find you.  Thank me later.