Sunday, February 4, 2018

A VERY Beginner's Guide to Knitting PodCasts

I was teaching a Ravelry 101 class last week and we got on the subject of PodCasts and how listening to them is a great way to hear interesting people from all over discuss various topics on yarn, knitting, fiber, crochet, designers, etc. and it’s a great way to multitask while driving, cleaning, or even knitting!

Since I still consider myself to be a PodCast novice, I'm finding I have a LOT to learn about them.  For instance, what is an RSS feed and what do I do with it?  How do I find more PodCasts and how do I determine which ones are worth a listen and how to access them?  There's that little radio volume looking thingy next to some of them and others require an app, but they don't all require the same app.  Ugh!  Where’s a teenager when you need one?

To start, I've just been listening on my computer because it's easy to find them there.  So far my favorite is The Knitmore Girls. They are a mother (Gigi) and daughter (Jasmin) team who provide a wonderful variety of information with topics like ‘On the Needles,’ ‘In Stitches,’ ‘Mother Knows Best’ and ‘When Knitting Attacks!’ (my favorite). They also sometimes sponsor contests and always review a product or two as well as promote their sponsors.  They're very interesting to listen to and I love the way they truly respect one another's views and opinions. The podcast is also complimented with an exceptional website (or is it the other way around?) that supports the audio with links to that day's podcast patterns, yarn, events, products, etc. with lots of photos!

But the flow of the podcast is what I love the most.  You feel as if you are sitting at the kitchen table with them sipping tea and just chatting about what's new and exciting in the world of fiber.  They are truly a delightful listen and I enjoy them immensely!



I find that most all podcasters have a website from which you can obtain links to the patterns or products they discuss.  Some of them are also videos, which I'm told are sometimes called vlogs, like Yarngasm by Voolenvine who lives in New York City or Skeindeer Knits by Ellie (who is absolutely adorable and introduces herself as a Norwegian living in London).  Many times they include interviews and perspectives based on areas of expertise. For instance, The Sweet Georgia Show is hosted by Felicia Lo, owner of Sweet Georgia Yarn and designer Alana Dakos brings us Never Not KnittingAnd some are international like Savvy Girls (out of Montreal) or Knit British (location is self-explanatory).
 

The Yarniacs, Gale & Sharlene, are friends who have lively discussions that revolve around their favorite patterns and just celebrated 6 years together and Very Pink not only has a podcast but also a blog and a website with an amazing library of videos!


I could go on and on and on, but the bottom line is, while Ravelry is an amazing resource for those of us who live in Yarntopia, there are so many other ways to gain knowledge of our craft and it’s so much fun to explore all of the everything else that’s out there!  Am I missing out on one of your favorites?  Please let me know!  And if you have any idea what the RSS/radio thingy is, I could sure use some help with it.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ~ The Decline of Local Yarn Shops

THE GOOD

If you're reading this, chances are you are a lover of yarn.  If not, stop by sometime, let me introduce you and that will change quickly.

I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world.  I have found my passion in life and have turned that passion into an occupation.  Along the way I have met extrodinary people, learned a WHOLE LOT about what it takes to run a business and have fallen more deeply in love with my industry.  The people who handcraft with fiber are some of the most generous, kind and incredible people you will ever meet and I can't imagine my life without having met this amazing community in my little corner of the world.



In the 3+ years that we have been in business we have yarn bombed a light post, a chair and an entire parking deck.  We've shared our successes at monthly PJ Parties, cheered on local ball teams at summertime Stitch n Pitches and created amazing trees for the Holiday Tree Festival.  Countless baby hats, chemo caps & warm clothing for those in need have passed through our shop.  





We've supported women in their march to make life a little better for one another and are currently working with an amazing fiber artist on an incredible crocheting project that celebrates strong, empowering women in US history.


And what is the common thread that runs through each and every one of these life events?  Yarn!  We are all drawn together by our mutual love of fiber.  The ability to take a string and a couple of sticks or a hook and perform magic.  Something to wear, snuggle under, cuddle or pet.  It's a huge part of our lives and we can't imagine life without it.  I know I can't!




THE BAD & THE UGLY

I recently came across the '2017 Year End Report' by America's Knitting which is a directory of sorts for yarns shops in the US and they also do what they can to promote the uniqueness of shops with stories, information, photos, etc.

The results of the report were disheartening and unfortunately, not surprising. On January 1, 2017 there were 1,034 yarn shops throughout the US.  Fastforward to January 1, 2018 and the number has shrunk to just 970.  That's a loss of 64 shops in 12 months.  When they started keeping records back in 2007 there were 1,445 shops and the numbers have declined each year ever since.  I know that just in Northeast Ohio, since I opened for business in August of 2014, there have been 8 closings!

These numbers are staggering and terrifying.  Are yarn shops on their way out?  Will we soon all be making our yarn purchases from that big box store in the sky?  What about personalized service?  What about being able to feel the softness of the yarn prior to purchasing or having a place to hang out with your like-minded yarn enthusiasts?  Is there no longer value in these things?

When I opened I really felt that by offering classes and a place to go to for support would set me apart.  That offering a community meeting space within my shop and excellent customer service would ensure that I would be around forever!

But now I'm not so sure.


WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP!

Yarn shops, and all small locally owned businesses for that matter, depend solely on the patronage of the community for their livelihood.  To pay the rent, to restock their shelves, to pay their employees, to keep the lights on...  we can't do it without our customers.  

Unlike big box stores, we miss you when you haven't been around for awhile.  We worry about you when you're going through tough times and celebrate with you when you come in with exciting news to share.  We really & truly care about you and are happy when you stop by, whether it's for inspiration for your next project or to pick up that extra skein to finish the one you're already working on. We want you to learn and grow in your chosen fiber craft and we provide instructors who encourage and applaud your success!



So what can you do?  Put down that mouse and get in your car and drive to your local yarn shop!  You may find that the blue yarn you were looking at on the computer screen is actually teal.  Make a purchase! Whatever it is that you were looking at online, you will most likely find it or something very similar at your LYS.  And if not, chances are they will be happy to order it in for you.  

The money you spend there goes back into the local economy, not to some corporate headquarters in another state... or another country.  You're appreciated and valued.  We know your name and chances are, we also know the names of your kids, dogs and husband.

So keep this in mind the next time you need yarn for a project.  Take the time to go out and shop locally.  You and your LYS owner will be so glad you did.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Gift-A-Long With Me

Gift-A-Long 2017 - An 'A' for Effort


Raise your hand if, at the beginning of each year you have great intentions of creating amazing hand-knit gifts for everyone you know.  Now keep your hand up if, by around October, you find yourself frantically searching Ravelry for quick, chunky hat patterns.  Yeah, me too.


So, at the end of 2016 I decided to see if I could devise a plan to map out my knitting for the next year.  I emailed all of my family to see if there were any hand-knit gifts they would like and I created a system for determining the number of hours available to knit per month.  Then I computed the number of hours it would take to knit each project to determine my ability to complete them all.  If you're guessing that my plan fell apart sometime around July, you would be correct.  But my husband, God love him, was quite amused by the bag of sweater yarn and the half-knit pair of socks he got for Christmas.  



I guess I should tell you that I didn't do this all on my own.  Oh no, I decided that I needed to share my brilliant plan with the Knitizens of my shop to see how many of them I could coerce into joining in on the fun!  So I called the program Harps & Thistles Yarn Emporium Gift-A-Long, created a Facebook page for sharing information and distributed the materials that were sure to keep everyone on track.  And I have to admit that there were a few successes...  OK, one.  But that was enough to give me encouragement that, with just a little tweaking, I might actually come up with something useful.

New & Improved Gift-A-Long 2018 - Thank You Ravelry!

Why did I fail last year?  Unexpected projects?  Yes!  2 baby gifts + 2 prayer shawls + lots of shop samples.  A little bit of attention deficite?  Well, who can resist casting on that new 'Hot Right Now' project that everyone is raving about?

So this year's plan is to STAY FOCUSED!  And also make allowances for some of the above derailings and distractions.  Plus, have you seen Ravelry's 2018 Project Challenge?  We were made for each other!

Here's how it works...

When you log into your Ravelry account you'll find it under 'my notebook' in 'projects.'  Just click on the tab in the top right corner of the screen...


To start you simply type in the number of projects that you want to complete this year.  No pressure!  You can go back and change it if you need to.

This page is fed by your queue so now is where you start adding items that you want to knit and prioritizing them.  Again, you can change them around or delete them, nothing is written in stone!  Just be sure you enter a deadline for completion of the project because that's what adds it to the Project Challenge page.

HINT:  If you add a deadline to something that you're already working on, it will be added to your challenge as well.  This sounds a little bit like cheating, but I'm OK with that.



Once you have them entered you simply click back into 'challenge' to find your queue all organized by the deadline date.  Then, when you mark that you've cast a project on, it will move from your queue to your 'projects' page and move up to WIP's on the 'challenge' page.  


The remainder of your queue will be at the bottom of the page in the 'Plans' section.



Easy Peasy!




I am still using my spreadsheet to plot out my gifts, shop, personal and charity knitting projects to help me plan things out.  And if you would like to give it a try you can download it HERE



Let me know how you're doing with it and if you're so inclined, join our Facebook Group so we can see how you're doing!  And feel free to email me if you have any question.  If you live locally, you can always sign up for one of our Ravelry Classes online!



In the meantime, I need to get going.  Those 20 projects aren't going to knit themselves!

















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!