victorious wool

New Years Day '19

Victoria BurgessComment
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I wanted to write about something about the planning that goes into making goals, getting organized, and staying organized. It takes time. The end of the whole year is a pretty big deal and looms ahead over the course of December and the holidays. It’s a national and almost whole world thing that happens. There are parties and fireworks. What I’m saying is it’s easy to remember and to plan for. But to reevaluate goals from month to month and keep moving forward is more difficult. I think I go from month to month just holding on. It’s not always easy to stop at the the end of the month or at the start of a week, depending on how often I reflect and planning is needed, and do some thinking. 

So one of my yearly goals is to actually goal plan more. To write things down more, to break down goals and tasks.. At the very moment that I feel overwhelmed and just want to escape is the moment to revisit my goals and make changes. This is just as true for my knitting life as it is for the rest of my life. I cast on more carelessly or make choices that will impact several months of work in a second if I'm not totally aware of what my goals are.

My action plan is no tv in January and to take on #bulletjournalling more fully. I got Ryder Carol’s book for Christmas and I’m ready to daily log my way to being more focused. 

I will listen to more audiobooks, podcasts, and knitting video podcasts. I have my finishing WIP marathon to continue and a couple of new designs to work on. 

Also, I do want to note that it is okay to loose sight of goals, to forget, and to change plans. There’s no perfect way to live or to be. I definitely needed more energy this winter and getting things accomplished provides that big time. One of the best things is waking up excited about my knitting project and jumping out of bed to knit. I hope that can happen more and more.

I spent about two hours today making a list of lists. I wrote about things I need to do like taking care of my car and doing my taxes as well as knitting goals and design goals. It’s a lot of things but I have a lot of time to do them. Looking at all I wrote down I was momentarily overwhelmed with it all. Then I remembered that I do have many months to work on things and nothing has to be done today. Big deep breath. I think maybe I avoid goal planning because I end of feeling overwhelmed.

I’ll try and check in about how things go in a few weeks.

Tschüss

How I Follow Knitting Patterns

Victoria Burgess
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So many of us begin a project in different ways and I realized it might be interesting to share my current process. Especially because it makes a great case for swatching. It’s always tempting to skip over the Notes section of a pattern, to just dive right in and cast on. But I’ve done enough projects where I missed important info that now I’m very happy to start in the following way:

1) Obviously I liked a pattern enough to buy it and purchase yarn for it or stash dive to find a suitable substitute. The first thing I do is look for the gauge, the needle size the designer got their gauge in, and the stitch they used. I get to start knitting right away because of the swatch, even if it doesn’t really feel like I’ve ‘begun.’ It actually feels like reconnaissance work to me. Most likely I’m still knitting something else but I’ll take a break to swatch for the next project. This way I’m allowing for the time needed to block my swatch, measure it at my convenience, and then decide if I should swatch again. More than one swatch is common for me because I’m a very loose knitter and often have to go down in needle size. Viewing this part of the project as ‘prep’ helps eliminate frustration and/or perfectionist/failing feelings and can also be pretty fun.

2) Next I read all the notes the designer has written to help people knit their patterns successfully. As a new designer I definitely love the notes section because it’s the place where tips and more explanation can be offered. The knitting pattern format traditions are part of our history and community. But they are limited in what they can explain. Patterns are not written to teach knitters how to knit or learn new techniques. But more recently designers are going beyond and giving more information. We want knitters to have enjoyable, successful experiences for the good of everyone in our fiber community. So I read the notes, all the way through, every time. I note what tutorials have been linked, what techniques are needed, and what notions and extra needles are required. I want as few surprises as possible when knitting the pattern.

3) Next up is the schematic, if the pattern has one, and how it will fit. If I hadn’t already really looked at the fit and shape of the garment, I now check the schematic and the measurements closely. I make notes anywhere I might consider changing something. That may be beyond the scope for some knitters. But if you pay close attention you can avoid falling into the common trap of thinking a garment has a fitted shape instead of a boxy shape, cropped or long, etc. Forgive me if it sounds like I think you’re unobservant, I’m pulling from my own experience of not asking myself if a garment is really a shape I want to wear or a shape that actually suits my body and personal style. Maybe the cute picture or beautiful women is what really drew me to the pattern.    

Personally, I always need to make sweaters a little bit longer than the length that goes with the bust size I need. The arms need to be 2-3 inches longer and I have slightly broader shoulders, etc. So I take the time to really think about the design as if it were my own and note what concerns me and what I like about it. This really helps take the pressure of ‘The Perfect Garment’ expectation off my shoulders. I face the reality that some projects might not work out and I’m accepting the risk, willing to see what happens, and knit it anyway. This is probably the single most important moment in the pattern process. It cannot be overstated and is the key to enjoying all the experiences knitting has to offer.

4) I pick a size and cast on. With my size notes I might make adjustments, when possible, for the best fit. I should also add here that I make mistakes ALL THE TIME and when I notice them I make the decision about the need to go back. A lot of the time I don’t. If I know no one will notice and I can make the stitch count work out than I move on and try not to look back. As a recovering perfectionist I try to resist the unnecessary need to fix everything when I know deep down that it doesn’t matter!

5) Usually I have a ‘not done yet’ feeling for a project when it still needs to be blocked or the underarms are still not grafted together after 2 years of wearing. This feeling definitely keeps me aware that there is more to be done before I’m truly finished.

The finishing stuff can be frustratingly unspecific, you know that very short sentence that says “weave in ends and block,” or “seam edges and block,” tra la la. You might have to do quite a lot of finishing. Like weaving in edges for hours, or blocking a lace shawl on the floor for two or more hours. It can be a lot of work and I definitely put it off. But I also know it's often important to my overall experience and the actually wearing of the item. I’m still working on enjoying this part but I know it's satisfying in the end. It may take me awhile (two years!) to finish something but that’s okay. There are a lot of videos and classes out there now teaching finishing techniques as well as books on the subject. Get the info you need to make finishing more interesting for you.

That’s my general process for following a knitting pattern. I’m fundamentally not a rule follower so even I rebel against my better judgement sometimes. But when I’m thorough I often feel more legitimate as a maker, a creative, and a knitter. And feeling legitimate has become so important in not lessening the things I really value and spend so much time doing. That transfers directly to how I value myself.

The whole process of a knitting project feels like a lopsided bell curve. It’s a slow start, it gets really exciting, and then drops off dramatically. But knitting like life, it has emotional stages. Hopefully you found this interesting. I’d love to hear about your own knitting process.  

 

Procrastination; My Life Long Friend

Victoria Burgess
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Procrastination and I are very old friends. Years of school and homework avoided as long as possible. Followed by massive regret, miserable hours spent trying to catch up, and the usual lower performance or quality of work. I have gotten better over the years and generally consider myself to be a decent worker, although I’m often anxious about whether I’m working hard enough. I often attempt to work at the most hated tasks first to get them out of the way. Sometimes I think I do this more to avoid feeling miserable than the desire to get something finished. Though the task gets done I’m still avoiding something. I’m handling the symptom but not rooting out the cause. This begs the questions: Am I going to live my life constantly trying to avoid things? When will I just live and not care about such petty stuff?

Now that I’ve pushed myself into starting a knitwear design business and publish patterns, I’m faced with new procrastinations in my life. Don’t know how to write a pattern? Read all the books. Knit the hat and reknit the hat, then take forever to write the instructions. I was lucky with my first pattern, I had a deadline to publish by. I had to finished, format, and figure out all the web publishing stuff in a week. It wasn’t pretty but it happened. With my upcoming sock pattern, writing was more intense but I didn’t procrastinate the process until it came to finding a tech editor and test knitters. I realized I’m probably avoiding a task if its something I’ve never experienced or done before. The new thing that I’m dragging my heels on will get pushed aside by tasks I previously avoided but suddenly have no problem doing. Its all about the thing I ‘should’ be doing, I’ll almost always avoid it and do anything else. 

This could be a pretty depressing realization and if I’m honest I do feel bummed and concerned about being motivated enough to realize my dreams. But something has been happening since I started my design business. When I’m working on something I haven’t figured out yet and feel stuck, I walk away and take a break. When I come back the path to the solution is usually there right in front of me. Its amazing and humbling every time. Its the kind of experience that I can use and recall when I’m avoiding work or new ‘scary’ things. The idea that I have to figure out everything in one go, without failure, always freaks me out and causes me to avoid the work. But if I can remember that its actually just about giving it a try, than I can handle the pressure. At least most of the time.

Note to self:  If I have faith that my problem will work out eventually than the pressure lessens. I just have to show up and do the work. Everything else unfolds from there.

I have been able to slowly coax myself into getting lists completed, projects finished. I’ve been giving myself courage to continue going rather than listen to the doubts and fears. Well, I still listen to them and sometimes they take me over. But I’m still here, still working. I’ll probably, no, I’ll definitely loose battles but I think I’m winning the war.

(pictured is my first sweater. It took 4 years to get it knit.) 

Swatching Prowess, Part 2

Victoria Burgess
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Have you ever picked a yarn, maybe from your stash, to use for a pattern and found you couldn’t get gauge with it no matter how many needle sizes you tried? I used to think that regardless of the type or quality of fiber I could make any yarn work for a project if it was the same weight as the suggested yarn. Somewhere deep in my mind I held onto that idea. I don’t know where I got this idea from, its not like its written in knitting how-to’s or anything. Perhaps it’s an extension of the idea that ‘as long as you swatch everything will work out.’ It seems like swatching is the loser on the battlefields of knitting and the generals will say whatever is needed to keep up moral. Knitters who swatch are always trying to get the non-swatchers to convert, to understand that their knitting lives will be better if you swatch. Its true, they will. But just making the square doesn’t mean a project will turn out as hoped. We must learn to read it correctly and discern what the fiber is telling us. Because so many knitters feel that swatching is a bother its a hard sell to get knitters to not just swatch but use the information learned from swatching to expand their fiber knowledge. Becoming a student of swatching is also becoming a student of fiber.

I recently tried to join the mystery knit-along by Hannah Fettig of Knitbot. I really didn’t have time or the money to knit the sweater but I wanted to join in the fun. I picked a yarn from my stash that I had enough yardage to make my size and I swatched. And I swatched. And I swatched. I went down from the original needle size, US 6 I believe, to a 3. I’ve had to go down many needle sizes in projects before so I wasn’t concerned. But when I told a knitting friend what I was doing she commented that she didn’t think I could squeeze another few stitches into the space of 4 inches, the yarn was just too think to allow it. I was struck for the first time that I actually couldn’t make the yarn work for the pattern. I’d never seen the suggested yarn in person and I didn’t know what it was like when knitted up. I realized it was probably more compressible (containing more air within the fiber) than the wool/mohair blend from my stash. What did I do? I gave up on the idea, feeling that it just wasn’t the right fiber or the right time to make the sweater. I actually didn’t feel any failure because I understood what hadn’t work and I chose not to take it personally. 

From that experience I learned, or rather was reminded, about an important truth about fiber and fiber blends. They have different qualities that actually make big differences in the material they create when knitted. If I don’t make conscientious choices when substituting one yarn for another I’m taking a risk with my project and my time. Clara Parkes’ books, The Knitter’s Book of Wool and The Knitter’s Book of Yarn are excellent places to start reading about fiber types and qualities. But when it comes to practical learning, you guessed it, swatching is your best friend. 

Recently I’ve starting knitting with woolen spun yarns and often have trouble finding the gauge needed for patterns. One friend commented, “you must be the loosest knitting in the world,” when I told her how many needle sizes I had to go down to in a sweater project. Not being a spinner I had no idea there were different ways yarn can be spun. Two standard ways of spinning are ‘worsted’ and ‘woolen’ spun and each are beautifully described in Brooklyn Tweed’s Foundation Series. Woolen spun yarns contain more air and have a lofty, weightless quality. When knitted up these yarns make very light garments, even in a bulky weight, while still being quite warm. When I blocked my first few swatches of BT yarn I was surprised to find that sometimes going down a size or two wouldn’t change the number of stitches per inch. The yarn ‘bloomed’ beautifully upon blocking, filling in the spaces in-between my stitches, and pushing me to continue to go down in needle size. The big question has been what do I do if going down in needle sizes changes the fabric beyond what was originally intended? Put another way, what if getting gauge changes the quality of the fabric produced so that its not the same as the fabric the pattern designer achieved with the same gauge? I don’t know the answer, at least not yet. 

My current goals are all about improving the quality of my knitting and trying to get more even, consistent stitches. I’ve been diving into the details of how each stitch is made and passed from needle to needle. I’ve changed the way I hold my yarn to great improvement. But the best thing I’ve done for my knitting is giving up my simplistic ideas of swatching and the search for the ‘silver bullet’ that will magically provide the answer to how to get it perfect the first time. As with so many things in life, swatching and gauge have proven to be far more complex. I always want the simplest answer but often it turns out that the longer it takes me to grasp something the deeper the understanding sinks in and the richer the experience of discovery becomes.

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Swatching Prowess, Part 1

Victoria Burgess
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Swatching. We’re told to do it. We’re told to knit, wash, block, let dry, unpin and allow final adjusting before measure swatches for every knit and crochet project. Yes, I did just write, “unpin and allow final adjusting.” I have seen that suggested. Then there’s the hang test where you clothes pin the swatch to see how gravity will pull the fabric. Its not that I don’t affirm all of those steps, I readily do. Its the way more and more steps creep in to delay the part we actually want to get to that can feel frustrating.

I often see the advice that you will be saving time by being more precise in your preparations and won’t hit major problems if you swatch first, then knit. That’s always been the case in my experience. I think a bigger issue is that somehow our knitting community has a collective feeling that knitting is suppose to be easy and fun. That its a pleasure based experience and shouldn’t be frustrating or difficult. But you’re taking string and making it into a fabric while often shaping it to a body, expecting it to fit just so. That’s not a simple thing, made more complicated by the unique shapes of all of our bodies. 

Further, the making of clothing was historically for necessity not pleasure (there are exceptions). But now we’re able to get cheep, fast fashion, clothing anytime of day, in innumerable styles, shapes, and colors. They often don’t fit us but ready-made clothing is massively available. 

Making your own items or making things for loved ones is dipping back into a history of techniques and skills that are no longer necessary to know. If we expect to DIY than those skills will have to be relearned. That’s the awesome part. The part that swatching helps us regain. 

Prowess: skill or expertise in a particular activity or field. Synonyms: skill, expertise, mastery, facility, ability, capability, capacity, savor faire, talent, genius, adeptness, aptitude, dexterity. 

I’m using prowess because it sounds like goddess and power together, summoning images of strength and wisdom. Often the modern day image of knitting is a granny in a rocking chair making potholders. I love the contrast that prowess brings to that granny image. 

The prowess of knitting knowledge became big for me years ago when I struggled to read knitting patterns. Knitting my first sweater made me very aware of how little I understood about stitch count and increase/decreasing. Writing patterns now I’m often reminded of that first sweater and how I couldn’t get why it had to be written so confusingly. Why so many abbreviations, why the weird ‘rep last two rnds, 10 (12,14,18, 20) more times’ stuff? How many rounds was that, how many stitches should I have? What I lacked was the prowess and what I needed was experience. After years of knitting and reading patterns I now know that I was learning the skills necessary to have a fuller, broader understanding. Designing my own patterns, my own garments, something I’ve wanted to have the prowess to do for a long time, is possible because I took the time to learn those skills. 

Where swatching comes in to this is the abundance of fibers, needle types and construction methods we have at our fingertips (ooh pun!). Not to mention knitting methods and techniques. If you begin to see yarn as coming from living things (sheep, plants, silk worms, etc) it makes sense that its not a static, plastic strip that won’t be altered for thousands of years. Natural fibers breathe, stretch, metaphorically move. We use this ‘living yarn’ to form fabric that lives, garments that live. Knitting a swatch gives a knitter the prowess to know more about how a fabric will behave, how it will move. Swatching can become more than a box to check on the way to knitting bliss. It can give us back the prowess of knowledge that has been kept alive even at a time when some don’t even think it matters. 

It matters to me very much. I believe it matters to to a whole lot of people. 

There is so much more to say about swatching, so much more to learn. I like to say I’ve become a student of swatching, of gauge, of blocking. I’m constantly thirsty for more knowledge, for more of people’s experiences. I'll share more of my own swatching experiences in Part 2.

Lets Start With Fear

Victoria Burgess4 Comments
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Back in December of 2017, I was gathering courage to start my pattern business. I was beginning to seek out inspiring voices and ideas. Books and profiles of people who said, “You just have to try,” and “you’ll definitely fail if you never start.” I was told I should read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and I chose to listen to the audio book. I'm so glad I did. In her book Gilbert introduces the idea of questioning your fears. While I listen to her rattled off a long list of fears I felt myself respond to each one, ‘yeah I’m afraid of that and that and THAT.’ She challenges her readers to question each fear, to turn them over in the mind to see if they’re logical. It seemed to me that if I could objectively look at each thing I'm afraid of maybe I could prove to myself, at least for that moment, that the fear doesn't actually make sense. Today I’ve picked one of those fears, fear of being unoriginal, and done just that. I came up with a personal argument against it with idea that articulating it for myself, out of my own head, could help me remember it the next time it creeps back in (I'm sure it will). The argument is as follows:

My fear that everything has been done before or that I can’t come up with anything original to create could prove false by acknowledging that there could still be people out there who haven’t seen IT or who do not know what I have to offer. With such a large population of uniquely minded people I can’t possible claim that everything has been done, that everyone has seen it all. I get inspired and see new approaches to things in my life all the time for the simple reason that they are new to me. So its possible that my creative ideas will be, seem, and feel new to someone just as they might not to another. 

Also, the same idea coming from multiple people around the same time can form a ‘collective idea.’ These ideas can speak louder, can amplify something or can remind us of the things that really spoke to us at some point in the past. In our distracting world, in our distracted minds, we might need to hear or see something many times to get and feel the full impact. Even the point of this argument has been stated before, shouted from rooftops maybe even. How many times does it need to be said to be truly heard? Probably as many times as fearful thoughts enter our minds. We don’t always know when we need to hear something again, that’s how insidious fear can be. 

So often an outside voice reminds me of what I thought I believed but haven’t been acting on. Until I am able to fight the negative stories, spirits, voices, or ideas of fear on my own day to day, I look to others for reminders, guidance, encouragement and inspiration.

It may all have been done before, but even if it has does that matter?

As I publish patterns and start my website and blog, the faster the fear-based and anxious stories rush at me. I know that reminding myself of more realistic, logical versions of the these stories can be a huge relief. The fear I addressed above has been at me a lot in the last month. So I still need to reread my own ‘wise’ words to keep the fears in their rightful place. Not in the foreground, keeping me from making progress, but nicely in the backseat. There they can quietly remind me that I don’t know what the future holds. Then I can turn my head, just slightly, and remind those fears, ‘that’s how it always is and I can't change that.’

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