Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Monday Thoughts

A few years back I read Judith Levine's book, Not Buying It, which tackled the question of why we buy things and what we get out of it. I read the book right before Christmas that year and decided as soon as the holidays were over I'd give the experience of not buying anything but food or other essentials (toilet paper, toner, printer paper, staples, glue, etc.) a try. I made it through a year, too -- just, sort of, almost. I stopped mid-December since I knew I would want to buy my family presents, so in reality I made it just over 11 months (Christmas to Christmas). I tried to make quite a few presents, but even so I needed to buy some. I rationalized both years that I couldn't not buy Christmas presents, they were essentials after all. To some extent, I still feel that way. In our family we always try to give very personal, and hopefully, thoughtful presents.  We open one present at a time and watch each other intently as whoever's turn it is opens their present. We pass the presents around, we ooh and aah over them, and admire the thoughtfulness of the person who chose that particular present to give. It feels pretty far removed from the mad rush of Black Friday shopping, over the top spending, unneeded and unnecessary presents, hastily torn open presents on Christmas morning, and just about everything else that's wrong with the holiday these days. Yet it's still pretty far removed from the actual reason for the holiday. But it's also an incredibly bonding and special time for our little family and we love the time spent together.

All of which makes me feel very much at odds as I try and think how to attract people to my etsy shop. How much of a discount should I give? How do I appeal to people? This is my first year on etsy through the holiday season. I want people to buy things from my shop. I need people to buy things so I can pay bills. And then, when I don't sell anything for days, I feel a bit down and worried. What did I do wrong? Where are all the online shoppers? Am I selling useless and unnecessary things? I'm thoroughly enjoying the creative process, and making the shawl pins and gourd birdhouses and ornaments, etc. in my shop, but I'm having a hard time trying to reconcile those feelings of wanting zillions of etsy sales and adhering to the testimony of simplicity that we live by as Quakers and all those reasons for not buying stuff that Judith laid out in her book.

I thought about it some and decided to go ahead and give 10% off for Cyber Monday. (The code is listed on my shop's front page.) I hope I give as much thought to each thing I make as I do to each present I buy my own family. I know I dwell over everything, making sure it's the best I can do. I'm still not so sure I should be actively participating in all the hoopla of trying to lure customers to my online store. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday all don't sit well with me. And yet. I just hope everything I make will make someone else as happy in the receiving as I am in the making. Maybe it will make someone ooh and aah in delight.

As a P.S. I have started two new knitting projects -- one of which will be for my daughter as a Christmas present!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My First Shawl!

I sent my update on learning to knit over to daughter Erica's blog, but wanted to put something up here, too. I actually finished my very first shawl, which also happened to be my very first knitting project. I promised myself I would have it done by the end of October and I am happy to report I met my own deadline. After all the initial excitement of learning how to actually knit, I kind of fell behind in reporting how I was faring because of Hurricane Sandy. We didn't have any major damage at our house -- we were very lucky -- but we did have a few large trees come down and lots of branches and twigs, all of which needed to be chopped and bundled and dragged down to the street for pick up. To read more about that, please visit my other blog.

No sooner had we cleared it all up then Winter Storm Athena (since when do they name Nor' Easters??) decided to come roaring into town. The rain and wind were almost as bad as the hurricane, and at times actually seemed worse. Since so many trees were compromised in the hurricane, Rick and I were wondering if we should sleep in the bedroom, which is surrounded by some very tall trees. Opportunities for photographing the shawl were slim with everything else that needed getting done, so my shawl sat on the rocking chair where I could exclaim "Aren't you proud of me?" quite loudly several times a day to anyone within earshot. I tried the shawl on everyone (except the cat, but including my husband) and admired my handiwork. I was pretty darn proud of myself. I always thought knitting was sort of impossible to learn. Kind of like trying to learn a foreign language (at least for me). It was some mysterious thing that made my eyes glaze over whenever Erica tried to explain it before. Knitters were strange fanatics with weird yarn addictions. I wasn't tempted to join the club, although I must admit a soft spot for squishy yarn. I'm not sure why it sunk in this time, but I know my knit and purl stitches now and don't mix up the front and back anymore. How amazing is that? Anyway, the shawl was actually finished in mid-October, after which Erica kindly took it home and blocked it for me making it nice and even. While she was blocking it, I looked through a bunch of my crochet books for an edging. I crocheted the edging on and was completely done with the shawl a few days before the hurricane. Then things got a little crazy for a bit.

My first knitting project -- a simple shawl.
But yesterday was absolutely gorgeous and I was determined to get Rick to take my picture. Had Erica been around she would have had me changing my clothes and brushing my hair, making a big to-do of this very important moment. Rick was more into getting a good shot of the shawl and didn't notice my outift or disheveled hair. After 33 years of marriage I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Does it mean he loves me no matter how I look, or that he doesn't "see" me anymore? Hmmm . . . anyway, I suppose I should be happy I've lost twenty pounds -- another amazing feat I can't believe I accomplished! -- but I looked pretty damn ridiculous. I looked, gasp, like Dopey. So here I am, shown from the back so you can't see my very baggy unbecoming shirt, wearing my very own mystery shawl. I've already gotten another skein of yarn from Erica (I think it was Zombies Ate Barbie, love the name) and am happily in the beginning stages of knitting a cowl. I also didn't return her Knit Picks circular needles. I may hold them permanently hostage!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Mythos Collection by Fiddle Knits

For those of you who have been following any of my posts, or that of my daughter's (Erica over at Fiddle Knits Designs), you'll know that I'm learning to knit. My very first project is a shawl. Erica "designed" a very very simple pattern for me to follow, and I'm not sure it can get much simpler, but I'm still making my share of mistakes. I'm calling it a mystery shawl, since it's a mystery as to how it's going to come out in the end. The learning process has been so much fun, though, and I'm so excited about actually learning to knit that I'm wishing I could go faster, learn faster, understand faster, so that I can actually follow and make one of the seven beautiful shawls from Erica's Mythos collection.

I'm lucky because I often get to hear about her pattern ideas before she starts the knitting process. She runs these ideas past me, explaining how the pattern will look and the connected meaning (in this case Greek & Roman mythology). Sometimes asking for input or feedback, sometimes just wanting to work it out in her own mind before she starts. I've always been amazed at how her mind works. She seems to effortlessly pull ideas out of the air. She was always like that. Brilliant, really. And it's that inquisitive nature of hers that finds another voice with all the anecdotes she attaches to her patterns. Mythology was always one of her favorite subjects, so this collection proved interesting to see how she matched the various gods and goddesses to each pattern, and then chose the colors for the patterns.

The whole family gets to watch Erica's creations come to life as she sits in the car, being dragged all over for band performances. Or while sitting in hotel rooms between shows. Or while sitting at the farmers market on Sundays. Once she's done knitting, we then see all her creations in their finished form when she comes over to have Annalee model.

Sometimes something she's created just speaks to me. Everything she does is beautiful, but sometimes I just really want, need, have to have, one of her creations. You know, it's like seeing something in a store and you keep going back, and then back again, to look at it until you finally just have to buy it. There's a connection at some level that tugs at you. On those occasions I subtly (or maybe not so subtly) try and wheedle her into giving it to me. 

Annalee modeling the Harvest Shawlette
In the case of the shawls in her Mythos collection, I really really want the Harvest Shawlette. I would take any of them in a heartbeat. They're all gorgeous and I would jump up and down in total excitement and sheer joy if she offered me one, but there's something about the Harvest Shawlette that keeps drawing my eyes to it. A close second in the yearning department is Underworld. I can envision myself wearing them and feeling young and happy and carefree. An illusion since I fall into the middle-aged frumpy category, but anything that can make me feel chic and in style is a must have.

So, with Christmas looming on the horizon I could leave hints. I could maybe whine and plead, hoping to receive one as a present. But I'm learning to knit. Sigh. If I continue at the speed I'm going I will probably finish my "learning" shawl by the end of the October. At least that's my goal. As an added incentive, Erica has offered me some of her beautiful hand dyed yarn when I finish. She assured me that I can follow her Harvest pattern. She will help me. The skill level is marked as easy, although she warned that making it past the first three rows can be a challenge. Assuming all her helpful advice and teaching tips take root, my days of wheedling finished projects from her may be over. But the satisfaction of making it myself might be a good substitute. Do I dare jump from my very first learning project—a shawl that's knit on one side and purled on the other, and whose only design feature is holes going up the center created by two increases—straight into the Harvest shawlette? The temptation to try is mighty strong.

One of Erica's strong points is her ability to convey her meaning, to teach, to make you understand. She was a fantastic dance teacher, an even better violin teacher. Her patterns follow suit. Her charts and written instructions are clear. Her layouts are always neat, the designs appealing, and her color choices always beautiful. The ultimate test might be my ability to follow them, but from what I can tell at my newbie knitting stage that doesn't look like a problem since Erica is always concise and includes everything you need to know.

My 1st project—a simple shawl with center
holes. Dare I attempt Underworld instead?
If I do try, another problem will be which yarn to choose. The color she used for Harvest is stunning. All her colorways are fabulous really. For this shawl I would love something deep and rich and vibrant. So here's to finishing my first shawl (and let's hope it turns out wearable!) and attempting a second. I'm sure Erica will continue to post updates, as will I, on how I progress with learning to knit. I'm wondering if my second attempt ought to be another simple project, though, but a pattern from the Mythos collection—most likely Harvest—is definitely in my future.

Underworld Shawlette
You can find the entire Mythos collection for sale on Erica's Web site. At $20 for seven projects it's well worth it. And all her fabulous hand dyed yarns can be found for sale on her etsy shop.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Learning to Knit

Well, I managed to mess up several times so far in my first attempt at knitting and I have so much further to go! I had [daughter] Erica fix my mistakes twice, ripping back a few rows each time. But one time I messed up and wasn't planning on seeing her for several days, so I just ignored my mistake and merrily kept going. You can see it pretty easily—I forgot to do the increases in the middle—so my nice little row of holes going up the center has a slight break in it. Rick said I should make the same mistake every so often, just to be consistent, but Erica told me not to pay attention to him, to do it correctly from now on or else the shawl wouldn't shape up properly. I figured I ought to listen to her. She's been trying to get me to learn to knit for quite some time now, but I never listenined. Since I'm making shawl pins now, I thought it might actually be a good time to start, that maybe learning about different yarns and how they knit up might help when designing my shawl pins.

Leaving a mistake in your art is often done on purpose. Around the world, countless cultures have left these deliberate mistakes in their art. Turkish carpet weavers fear the evil eye (God's wrath) if they don't leave in an imperfection. Quilters have the humility block, since a perfect quilt is prideful (although there's some dispute over whether quilters of the past, specifically the Amish, actually made the mistake on purpose). And I think most of us are familiar with Navajo weavers who are said to intentionally leave a mistake in their weaving to prove they are not perfect. The Navajo say that's where God's spirit moves in and out of their weaving. Another explanation is that the mistake allows the weaver's Spirit a path of escape, since they put their soul into it as they go.
My recently sold EarthSea bowl.

If perfection is achieved what is there to strive for? Mistakes help you learn and lead to greater creativity. I read somewhere that what makes artwork beautiful is not its perfection, but the way the artist works his way out of a problem. The perfection of imperfection. I went to school for art and was always taught to rethink my way around a mistake since it's not really a mistake, but a path to another outcome, a different perspective on what was originally envisioned. An example is a recent gourd I did. I burned a line around it, then stood back and realized it was not straight by any stretch of the imagination. Rick looked over and said, well, I guess it'll be a practice gourd. But I was determined to create something even better than I had originally intended. I was pretty pleased with how it ultimately came out. I let the "mistake" lead me and enjoyed the process.

A simple shawl. My first attempt at knitting.
I'd like to say my knitting mistake was intentional, too, that I was showing my humility and that I would be creating something of far more beauty and creativity because of that mistake. But knitting is way too new for me and mistakes just keep happening whether I want them to or not. I'm still lucky if I remember to check if I'm on the knit or purl side. I have no clue if I'm keeping my stitches even. I thought I was, but Erica told me I went from loose to tight to loose and back to tight. Who knew? I'm basing success at this point on the fact that my shoulders, arms, and hands feel relaxed and that I'm not clenching my jaw. The shawl is getting larger, slowly but steadily. I'm certainly not fast, but at least I'm making progress. Erica has promised me more yarn when I finish. I hesitate to pick my next project, thinking it will deter me from finishing this one. It's too early to tell if knitting will actually help design shawl pins, though, but I'm sure it eventually will. Meanwhile, I hope this is wearable when I'm done. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


My husband Rick and I are the "grown" part of the Homegrown String Band, which also includes our daughters Erica and Annalee. When we were first starting out in 1997 we wanted a catchy name. Rick wanted to name the band Rooster Rick and the Cacklin' Hens. As you can guess, he was voted down and we became the Homegrown String Band. Unfortunately, my laugh does sound like a cackle, so the name was probably appropriate. Therefore, I named my food blog The Cacklin' Hen and then kept the name for my (fairly) newly launched enterprise -- Cacklin' Hen Designs -- making shawl pins and decorative (pyrographed and inked) gourds. I worked for years as a graphic designer, and then the last eighteen years as a layout editor. Along with so many other folks these days, my job was combined with another person's into one part time position and I found myself out of work. Since my daughter Erica is a designer (catch her over at Fiddle Knits Designs) and dyes her own line of yarn, she convinced me to start making shawl pins for her shawl designs. At about the same time, Rick's brother flew in from California to show Rick how to work with copper. Mike is a fantastic woodturner, and has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Rick interested in woodturning also. Mike has a friend who recently turned him on to working with copper and he thought it might finally be something Rick would also enjoy. For a while there the poor mailman and UPS man were carrying boxes up our stairs (there are 30 steps from the road up to the house) that weighed anywhere from 20 pounds to 60 pounds each, containing hammers, anvils, spikes, copper, more hammers, sanders, etc., that Mike was shipping to our house. We'd look out the door and wonder what in the world Mike could possibly be sending this time. Anyway, Rick was determined to learn it his own way, so pretty much ignored Mike's attempts to teach him, leaving Mike to scold, laugh and encourage him from the sidelines. He learned fast, though, and his copper bowls and earrings can be found at Cackle & Crow Metal Works! It looked like so much fun that I jumped on Erica's suggestion and grabbed some copper from Rick and started hammering out shawl pins one day. I was kind of getting in his way, though, so the next thing you know, for Mother's Day, he bought me all my own tools and supplies. Then, on my birthday in June, he bought me an Optima Dual pyrography machine and some gourds. I had been woodburning designs on his Navajo spindles using an old soldering iron type of woodburner. I didn't even know they made machines like this! Wow!!! It is awesome. So now I have even more fully entered the world of the starving artist, but it has been really interesting to get off the computer more (I was on it constantly doing the desktop publishing). As an art major in college, I'm returning to my roots. I used to love doing pen & ink drawings and the pyrography machine is allowing me to explore a similar path. And hammering the copper is great for relieving stress! Not to mention the beauty of working with the copper, brass, and aluminum wires. And, because I haven't mentioned our other daughter yet, if it all gets to be too much I can get a Reiki treatment from Annalee! I thank Rick for all his thoughtfulness; and Rick, Erica, and Annalee for all their moral support and creative suggestions.