Friday, January 15, 2016

Sticks + String = MAGIC!

I want you to take a trip with me in the 'way back' machine. Or maybe even the 'not so long ago' machine. Back to when you first learned how to knit or crochet. Remember how magical it seemed?How thoroughly impressed you were with yourself for using a hook or needles and string to create something?  How utterly excited you were to show off your first scarf, socks, or just your first square of stitches?  I think that, as we progress in our skills, we sometimes forget about the magic.  We're so busy focusing on the next project that we no longer take the time to marvel in the craft.

I follow several knitting and crochet groups on Facebook and I absolutely adore it when a new crafter posts photos of their first anything.  The excitement coming from their post is almost palpable and every single time it reminds me of my first real project...  a pair of socks!

I taught myself to knit from a book and am always envious of those who learned from their mother, grandmother, aunt, etc.  And because I knew no other knitters, at first it was all about the scarves (because all I knew was the knit stitch). And not just any scarves...  I knitted scarves out of worsted held together with eyelash yarn!  Oh, they were a sight to behold and everyone got a new scarf for Christmas for several years in a row!!!  This is the one I gave my husband.  Needless to say, he's never worn it.  I can't imagine why.

Then one day I took a sock class and it truly opened up the whole world of possibilities for me.  I remember knitting the cuff and exclaiming to my husband "Look!  It really looks like a sock!!!"  He was sweet and supportive but I could tell he didn't get it.  He had no idea that I was actually performing magic with not only 2 needles, but 5... with points on both ends!

I have the first knitting magazine I ever bought, the February 2010 issue of Knit 'n Style. It was actually a wish book as far as I was concerned because there was no way I was ever going to be good enough to knit anything in it. My favorite pattern was the Swing Car Coat on page 55 and I remember thinking that maybe someday I would be good enough to knit that.

I eventually moved on and progressed in my skills.  Learning fancy stitches like cables and yarn overs.  Discovering that being self taught meant that I didn't always interpret the instructions as they were meant and there was a lot to be said for hands-on learning. That's exactly why I'm so awestruck and so appreciative of the spectacular staff of instructors at Harps & Thistles.  They are all so knowledgeable about the craft and understand all the nuances of construction, drape and fiber.  They teach, encourage and applaud every accomplishment of each and every student... And they remember the magic.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Color Matters! Even when it isn't Orange

The importance of color selection has never been more apparent than after the announcement that we were hosting a Dreambird KAL.  Oh the decisions that had to be made!  Light background or dark? Striping feathers or solid?  Which colors compliment one another?  How in the world am I expected to commit to these kinds of decisions?  The stress was just too much!!!

Personally, I would prefer to just knit everything in orange.  Maybe throw some green & purple in once in awhile but orange is always my go-to color.  And I'm finding that I'm not alone.  Most people have that one certain color that we're drawn to and, try as we might, we just can't get away from it. Even when I make a concerted effort to choose a color other than orange, 9 times out of 10 the project has some sort of orange in it somewhere.  But I'm OK with that.  

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was color and one of my most prized possessions was the Crayola box of 64 crayons!  You know, the one with the sharpener in the back.  Nowadays crayons have been replaced by yarn and color selection has gone way beyond 64.  Every hue has varying shades and those shades are blended with others to create the incredible fibers we've come to know and covet. There's just no describing the feeling of finding the perfect yarn in the perfect shade for a particular project.  But you know, don't you?

And there are so many different ways for discovering the perfect match!  Some of us are drawn to the pattern because it's designed in the color that we love and can't imagine it any other way.  When this is the case I consult my good friend Ravelry to show me the same pattern in other colors & sizes just to I can be sure it's the pattern and not necessarily the color that I'm drawn to.  And then I knit it in orange.

Others are drawn to the yarn and just can't live without it even though they have several bins, tubs, drawers, boxes & shelves (not to mention the trunk of their car) at home.  It calls to them, pleads with them to take it home and convinces them that they're sure to find the perfect pattern someday.  But for now it's all about that particular yarn in that color.

And then there's the dilemma of knitting for someone else, someone who may not like orange, which makes the color selection even more difficult.  For instance, let's just say that someone says they like blue and you want to knit a birthday gift.  Do they realize how many shades of blue there are or are they just trying to be difficult?  Are they knit worthy? Will they even appreciate that you were forced to knit with a color you don't particularly care for?  If not, find someone who loves orange and knit something for them. 

All kidding aside, I've found a whole new appreciation for color over the past year and have come to admire color combinations that I would have never considered before my venture into this world I've come to know and love so much!

According to Color Matters, "Orange is vibrant. It’s hot, healthy, fruity and engaging – but it can be abrasive and crass. It’s a polarizing color. People either love it or detest it."  Click here to see the meaning of your favorite color!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Year One Top 5 - Knitizens, Crazies and Freedom of Expression!

We recently celebrated Harps & Thistles' first year in business and what a fabulous year it's been!  Every experience this past year was new...  working in retail, owning my own business, managing inventory, etc.  I guess it's only natural to want to reflect on how things went so here are my top 5 discoveries.

#1 - Your customers quickly become your friends!  They hang out with you to keep you from being lonely, they bring you lunch or dinner when you have a 10 hour day and can't get out to get something, and they celebrate every milestone with you.  At some point the word 'customer' seems too impersonal for these wonderful people so you try to come up with another name for them.  Your husband suggests knitizens (which admittedly is cute and catchy, if not a little corny) but you settle on guests because your shop feels like home to you and hopefully to them as well.

#2 - Yarn enthusiasts are CRAZY!   Always looking for something new, for their next 'fix' of fiber, the newest color the latest addition.  During our open house celebration I witnessed one guest stalking another guest around the shop for AN HOUR because she was carrying the one and only skein of the exact color that she absolutely had to have.  She didn't get it and, although heartbroken, was able to maintain her composure and was quickly distracted by the the other 10,000 skeins on the shelves. Needless to say, she didn't leave empty handed.

#3 - Choosing colors is HARD!!!  If I had my way everything would be orange...  with maybe some green & purple thrown in.  But there are all these other colors that other people like and "you can't just buy what you like" and blah, blah, blah.  So I've taken to asking random people to help pick colors... my daughter, guests, grandkids, the mail lady, the person behind me in the checkout line. I can only guess that naming the colors is just as difficult as choosing them.  Names like Urban Transit, Fig Pretty, Ballerina Mirage, Naked Shame and Kensington Farm lead me to believe that the yarn companies are probably using the same method for naming colors as I use for choosing them.

#4 -  Freedom of expression is your new way of life.  You can wear orange every day and flip flops on your feet and dye your hair purple and green.  You can geek out over meeting one of your favorite knitting personalities or the purchase of a new knitting accessory and nobody judges. You discover the peace and happiness that you always suspected were lurking just beyond your reach and you wake every morning excited to greet the day with the expectation that it will be exactly as it was meant to be.

#5 - Be yourself.  Treat people with kindness.  Celebrate their successes and help them find the silver lining when a project goes horribly wrong.  Provide them with a comfy seat, a hot cup of coffee or tea and a creative atmosphere and they quickly go from customer to friend.  Which brings us full circle back to #1.

Now this is the type of vicious circle I can happily call home.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Misery to Bliss in Four Month's Flat

Wow!  I just reread my previous blogs which were all written long before I even considered opening a shop.  Back when knitting was just a hobby that I loved (and still do) and before yarn completely changed my life.  So please allow me to fill in the gaps.  I'll spare you the boring details and try to stick to the highlights. It's funny how things happen, how life just happens sometimes. 

December 2013 - I had a Pinerest board called Harps & Thistles where I saved photos of Ireland & Scotland and thought it would be a great name for a business someday. Nothing specific, possibly yarn or knitting related.  Maybe a part time online something-or-other, something to do in my retirement.  As luck would have it, the url was available and I bought it, thinking that since retirement was several years down the road, I'd have plenty of time to figure things out.

April 2014  - My job as a corporate Project Manager was suddenly eliminated. What in the world would I do without endless meetings, conference calls, reports and deadlines?  How would I possibly get by without someone critiquing my every move?  Was this actually relief I felt?   I don't remember consciously making the decision to open a yarn shop but the next day I started the Harps & Thistles Facebook site.

May 2014 - OK, so I didn't take into consideration that I was still a fairly novice knitter and that I really didn't know a lot about yarn.  I didn't take into consideration that I'd never worked retail or 
owned a business (but I did sell Home Interiors back in the 80's so that had to count for something).   Fake it 'til you make it right?  I knew to the very core of my being that somehow this was going to happen and that it needed to happen in time to participate in Northeast Ohio's Yarn Discovery Tour, so off I went.  Head down and full speed ahead!

June - Oh ye of little faith...  you bankers and real estate owners who poo-poo'd the idea of a yarn shop as a viable business.  Apparently you don't understand the tenacity and dedication of knitters once they have their mind set on a specific project.  Especially one with an outcome of a stash beyond their wildest dreams.  Where there's a will there's a way and in the end the knitter persevered!

July - KEYS!  I have keys to a gigantic empty space and what a space it is!  A quaint 96-year-old building with great parking and just a block off the interstate.  I started collecting secondhand furniture and fixtures and came up with the brilliant idea that the classroom table and all 8 chairs needed to be shabby chic'd.  I finalized my logo, ordered signage and hired a painter.  By this time I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 people following me on FB and was starting to get excited about meeting all of them! 

August - Attended Stitches Midwest (what was I thinking!?) to assist Three Irish Girls with their booth, oh yeah, and also to attend the impromptu birth of my cousin Erin's sweet baby girl.  Mad dash upon returning... arranging furniture & fixtures, checking in boxes and Boxes and BOXES of yarn. Shelves were delivered just 5 days before opening so a huge THANK YOU to my son for putting them all together and the ladies in my knitting group for attending my shelf stocking party and supporting me from beginning to end.  And at the risk of turning this into an acceptance speech, I also need to thank my husband who never wavered in his support and my family who were there to help with anything and everything I needed.

By the time I opened for business on August 26th I had nearly 600 followers on FB and was a little nervous that they would all be waiting for me when I opened.  They weren't all there that day, but eventually they all stopped by to check us out.  Many have since become friends and I can't imagine life any other way.

My dear friend Martha was my very first customer!

It's hard to believe, but in just two short weeks we will celebrate our one year anniversary.  Man oh man have I ever learned a lot these past 12 months.  Not just about yarn and knitting and running a business, but also about the importance of keeping an open mind and heart, about trial and error and about always treating people as you would want to be treated.  I'm finally doing what I was always meant to do and I thank my lucky stars each and every day!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yarn Junky

Hi, my name is Cindy and I’m a Yarnaholic.  I wasn’t always an addict.  There was a time when I could walk into a local craft store and purchase just a skein or two of acrylic and be on my way.  Then a so-called ‘friend’ of mine told me about some wicked Merino that could be found at the local yarn shop around the corner and I was hooked.

At first I could control my purchases… just buy a skein here and there to add to my stash.  But then I visited a shop that was going out of business, everything was 50% off and my addiction kicked in full throttle.  I think I lost consciousness for a bit and when I came too and emerged from the shop I couldn’t even bear to look at the receipt and the damage I had done to my credit card.  Yes, it was shameful but did it stop me?  No.  Somehow I was able to justify the purchase... “It was just this once” and “It’ll never happen again.”  But it did happen again!  Within a few weeks I was scoping out other yarn shops and I was no longer satisfied with simple wool.  I moved on to wonderful blends of alpaca, silk and cashmere.  My baskets at home were overflowing and I had to purchase shelves and storage bins to accommodate my bounty.

Then one day another ‘friend’ pointed out to me that I needed to buy enough yarn at one time to complete a PATTERN.  What a great concept!  But now, not only did I need to purchase more yarn, I also needed to have a multitude of patterns that would accommodate any quantity of yarn that found its way into my life.  If yarn is like crack, then patterns are heroin.  I started out slowly by going to libraries and buying back issues of magazines.  This quickly lead to my setting up a knitting book search on Paperback Book Swap and purchasing actual magazine subscriptions.  Before I knew it I was becoming too impatient to wait for books on PBS and started ordering them directly from Amazon.  They quickly started piling up… more shelves and more storage were needed.  To date, counting the book I got in the mail yesterday, my library includes 94 books, 45 magazines and 77 single patterns for a total of 3,183 patterns (I am forever indebted to Ravelry for helping me keep track!!!).

It’s comforting to know that there are others out there like me, we go to meetings on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we talk about our addictions and where we got our last ‘fix.’  We pass around luscious skeins of yarn and covet each other’s stash.  If a rehab exists we will avoid it at all cost and will happily live out our days like the yarn junkies we are.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New to Tunisian Crochet!

Just finished my first project AND learned a new skill!   While it was as easy as I had expected, I did have to refer to one book and one YouTube video to get me through it.  The pattern I used was Tara’s Tunisian Scarf with Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo DK yarn in turquoise.  OK, it doesn’t look EXACTLY like the picture, but close enough.  After all, I'm not a perfectionist and 'Close Enough' is one of my mantras...  it makes life so much easier!  One side of the scarf is much stretchier than the other which gives a somewhat diagonal look (I actually kind of like that) and the reverse side is every bit as nice as the front - bonus!  All in all, I’m very happy with the results.

So here’s my take on Tunisian Crochet…

1    1)  It’s super easy, especially if you already know how to crochet, although it’s a bit more complicated (but not much). 

      2)   It’s a bit monotonous… you crochet stitches onto the hook, you crochet them off of the hook.  Kind of like wax on, wax off for Karate Kid fans.  But does the monotony come from the Tunisian Crochet technique itself or because it was a scarf and scarves are typically boring?  This may require more investigation. 
      3)  It’s super quick!  Once I got the hang of it I flew through the project.  And the best part is that if you screwed up, you just had to rip it out to the beginning of the 'wax on' row where you only had one stitch on the hook and take it from there.

      4)  I love the look and the weight, heavier than knitting and more dense than typical crochet.  I blocked it last night (well as much as you can block bamboo) and added some beaded fringe to jazz it up a bit and really love the results.

My conclusion?  I need to break out the Tunisian Crochet book I bought and try a pattern that’s more challenging. There's an afghan in there with several different stitches and a sweater that I absolutely adore.   Someone at our knitting group last week said that she had great results doing Tunisian Crochet Entrelac, but I’m not sure I’m ready to try that.  Mostly because I don’t want to spoil the fun of the knitting Entrelac class that I’m taking at the end of the month.  I know that makes absolutely no sense since they are two different techniques, but somehow it would feel like cheating.

So now what?  Well, I have a trip to Boston in a couple of days and trying to navigate a new subway system seems like enough of a challenge so I'll be 'chasing butterflies' for awhile...  Maybe just grab one of the hundreds of projects I have in my stash to take along.  (Of course if my husband is reading this the number would be much lower.) Needless to say, I've already mapped out a couple of local yarn shops to visit in Boston where I intend to make purchase of my typical yarn souvenir.  At first I thought I would just peruse the aisles, petting the yarn and purchasing whatever spoke to me in the softest, dreamiest 'voice.'  Then it came to me...  I need to get some red fingering yarn.  Yep, I'm going to knit a pair of Boston Red Sox!  :-)

 Photos are taken with and without flash.  The flash shows off the color better but I think the stitches are more distinct without it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Knitting Bucket List

Given my focusing disability I decided that I need to start a list of exactly what I plan to work on in the coming year because if I don’t I will continue to chase butterflies (which is a euphemism for mindlessly knitting one pattern after another).  So here goes…

1   1)      Tunisian Crochet – I have the yarn and pattern so I am hooked up and ready to go!!!  I also have a book to help me through the hard stuff but I don’t expect there will be much of that.  I know, famous last words.

2   2)      Entrelac – I’m signed up for a class at the end of October with Amy…  can’t wait!  I took a class before and was impressed with my ability to learn to knit backward since attempts at backwards stuff has always proven to be somewhat detrimental for me (roller skating springs to mind).  My daughter was able to march backward in formation while playing the saxophone in the marching band and I was absolutely fascinated by that.  I bet she’d make a great Entrelac knitter.  Except she doesn’t knit.

3   3)      Colorwork – Stranded/Fair Isle, Intarsia, Brioche…  LOTS to learn here!  From my brief (I’m talking no more than 10 minutes) attempt at Fair Isle I’m pretty sure this is going to require a class, maybe some one-on-one instruction and possibly therapy.  I’ll see what Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet festival has to offer, I’m sure someone there can get me through it…  well, maybe not the therapy but that’s not really yarn related anyway.

4   4)      Dying yarn with natural ingredients – I bought some undyed yarn and an Indigo plant at the Great Lakes Fiber Festival in the spring.  The plant is doing great but it’s still very green, isn’t some part of it supposed to turn blue at some point?  There was an article in a spring magazine that gave instructions on how to dye yarn in big jars of water set in the sun, kind of like sun tea.  That was my purpose for buying the plant and yarn, but it’s October now, not much sun so I guess this one will have to hold off until spring or summer as long as the plant doesn't die.  That’ll buy me some time to figure out the whole green to blue dilemma.

5   5)      Spinning – I bought a drop spindle last year and received a spinning book as a gift AND I have roving.  Originally my husband Jerry thought he’d like to learn how to spin yarn but that was very short lived.  One of our members was spinning at SnB last Saturday.  She made it look really easy.  I’m pretty sure it’s not.

6   6)      Knitting Math – From what I can tell, this is very similar to Algebra or Trigonometry or one of those math courses that I was able to avoid in college.  Then you add in increases and decreases and right slanting stitches and left slanting stitches and my head starts spinning again.  Are there formulas involved?  Do I need a special calculator?   

7   7)      Design a cable pattern – See ‘Knitting Math’ above…  with the added bonus of graph paper and cable needles!  Can my Scottish heritage be revoked if I screw this one up?

8   8)      Double Knitting  - Another technique for which I’ve already taken a class but you know us old dogs, if you don’t use it you lose it!  (I actually lost it a long time ago)  This technique brings to mind a guy I dated in the 70s that always wore stretchy polyester pants, whom I sometimes now refer to  as the ‘Double-knit Wit.’  I know, that’s not nice and it has nothing to do with knitting, but when you’re an old dog you tend to not care.
Wow, isn’t that a great list?!   I can feel myself getting better and smarter by the minute! :-)