My training as an artist encourages me to see knitting as a canvas for all kinds of surface design, so I'm teaching myself to grade patterns and hope to release my first collection soon. I'm currently raising a Little One, and working knitting in wherever it fits!
I have to make a confession. I almost never swatch when I’m making clothing for myself. I hate to let anything stand in the way of casting on. When I was learning, I did a lot of stupid things (knitting on needles without knowing their size; buying yarn and starting to knit without checking the pattern to see whether the pattern called for worsted or fingering weight). Not gauge-swatching is the last truly terrible knitting habit I have.
BUT! As I work on my designing skills, I’m trying to be smart and time-savvy. Swatches can be great to test out new yarns, new fiber types, and new stitch patterns in bit-sized bits.
The hardest part of a design swatch (I think) is walking away from a failed swatch – despite how nice the yarn is, or the fact that stitch and yarn may mesh really well, sometimes you just know your baby swatch won’t grow up into anything.
That’s the case with my Ampato swatch above. The brioche is squishy and delicious with the lofty and soft baby alpaca yarn. They marry beautifully. But what I had in mind – a tiny cute vest for a baby – just isn’t in the cards. Baby things really should (in my increasingly-informed opinion) be superwash. And brioche decreases require too many stitches for a vest v-neck to look correctly proportioned in chunky yarn on a small scale.
What do you do with failed swatches, my friends? Lend me your wisdom.
Part 4 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1, part 2, and part 3.
4. Pick projects that you can complete mostly on autopilot. S is just now starting to sleep through the night, at 13 months. I’m sleep-deprived, I’m knitting in tiny chunks, and frankly, I have milk brain. So, for a short season, I gave myself permission to be un-ambitious.
Or rather, I re-defined what ambition looks like for me. I’m holding down a job. I’m learning to parent. I’m making time for my spouse and I to spend together. And I’m defaulting to creative projects that don’t need a lot of thinking. Sweaters with lots of stockinette. Baby hats.
In my last post, I talked about leaving my sewing project literally in the machine. That project is a blanket that requires sewing in straight lines, and almost nothing else. It’s a tiny adventure for me, because it’s increasing my knowledge of my sewing machine and its even-feed foot, but it is something I can easily drop in the middle of a stitch and not worry about losing my place. It’s perfect for these days, and at the end I have something super adorable that will actually be used by my family.
Part 3 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1 and Part 2.
3. Keep projects and/or tools set up around the house. For instance, is there a shelf next to the couch where you can stash a knitting project out of reach? When the kids are playing nicely together in the living room, whip that project out and knit a row. (Does not work for beaded lace shawls. Ask me how I know.)
Right now, I’m also playing around with my new sewing machine. I’ve got it set up in the studio and ready to go, literally with the project clamped in place under the needle. When I have 5 minutes, I can sit down and stitch a little. On my machine, when you turn it on and off, certain things automatically reset – like the stitch length. So if I have to adjust those settings, I make sure there’s a neon bright post-it note on the machine as a way to remind myself to adjust before starting the next time.
I also leave my camera set up on its tripod, next to the photo corner in my studio. Whenever I have a few daylight moments, I can photograph a finished project or the new yarn I just bought. Finding time and brain to edit the photos is more difficult, but I can often do that once a month during my 2 hours of dedicated time.
This works really well for me because I’ve become incredibly selective about the kids of projects I choose to tackle – and that is part 4, coming your way soon!
Part 2 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1 is here.
2. Pick a creative pursuit that scales to your life.
For me, that’s knitting. It’s portable, it’s relaxing, I can talk and do it at the same time. I knit while I pump at work, I knit in the evenings after S has gone to bed and while I talk to Husband, I knit in the car. I knit while playing Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends (that’s right, geeks cross all segments of society). For a while, I even knit while S was napping in my lap.
Some of my other creative outlets, like printmaking and encaustic, exposed me to too many chemicals for me to be happy doing them while pregnant or nursing. That might also be a concern for you!
Maybe you give yourself permission to experiment with a lot of different things during the baby season of your life – anything that you can pack into a little bag or sprinkle around the house to pick up in 10-minute increments is a good candidate. Creative journaling, embroidery, watercolor paintings, working on your photography skills…. you’ll know the perfect thing when you find it (kind of like choosing the perfect yarn).
Let me clarify right away, these are not posts about helping your Littles be more creative. These are posts about keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little. Posts, multiple, because I am long-winded, and if you have a Little, your attention span is limited.
(Can I give you a brief aside here? I feel like I am skirting the mommy-wars territory by divulging my work status at all. But I am a huge believer in the unity of parenthood. Caregivers do difficult and demanding work in a huge variety of circumstances, and we are all trying to do the best we can. For the love of those Littles, let’s pass some love around, one caregiver to another.)
I work full-time (and babysit another Little about 8 hours a week). Here’s the first thing we did as a family when we realized that Un-Creative Mom equals Cranky-to-the-Max Mom.
Husband and I agreed that I would have 2 hours of completely dedicated, sacred, baby-free time each weekend. We’re lucky enough to have a room in the house dedicated as a studio, so I just close the door and pretend that I’m not there. This is the time in the week I try to complete brainy tasks – like learning to grade knitting patterns, or things that need daylight, like trying to photograph projects and yarn.
Two hours isn’t a lot, but it’s enough for me to zero in on a task and move a project perceptibly forward. When S was a Super Little, it was also about the amount of time in between nursings, so it fit our rhythm well.
In my RealJob(TM), I’m heavily involved in arts education. The way I spend my days, what I’m spending my life energy creating, is in stark contrast to what our culture values. In our local school district, for example, elementary school students spend 30 minutes every week for half of the school year studying visual art. The other half of the year, students get to study music for those 30 minutes each week.
So why care? We’re kind of fighting a losing battle in schools, and adults are so busy, right? Why should they bother to be involved in the arts?
I could give you research on how a consistent creative practice improves your quality of life as an 80-year-old. I could give you a polemic on how creativity is an increasingly valuable job commodity, and studying the arts could give your kids a practical leg up in the world by teaching them to make connections between disparate bodies of information. Music is a full brain workout, too. I could even tell you the economic impact that the arts industry has in my state (it creates a surprising number of full-time jobs).
And those may be convincing. But that’s not the honest reason that, deep down, I think that the arts are necessary in our digitally-mediated, increasingly anonymous world. Involvement in the arts provides the opportunity to connect. In our art classes, each person is seen, valued, and respected for their own voice, and encouraged to develop it. We want them to use art to tell their stories, to process what’s going on their lives, to practice empathy for one another, to help shape and communicate their emotions.
Isn’t the basis of a meaningful life feeling valued and understood, then knowing that you improve your community with your voice?
So when you – yes! you delightful knitters! – go out and teach someone to knit, or bring them to your knit night to sit and chat and connect with one another while your stitches build a single string into something amazing – you are doing far more than just passing on a bit of erudite knowledge involving sticks and string. The knitting community might just be the one where they find a meaningful life.
There has been a recent bumper crop of babies in my social circle. And of course my own cuddly little guy needs a few new things – legwarmers, hats, things that I can work on here and there without a huge amount of time or brainpower.
It’s been enormous fun, though, to see things trickle off the needles at twice their usual speed.
Baa-ram-ewe! Baa-ram-ewe! To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true!
Some content from the 1990s will never leave my head. Thanks, Babe.
In any case, February 19 marks the Chinese New Year, and will begin the Year of the Sheep. I can’t help but feel that it’s a sign, a good time to embrace my love of knitting wholeheartedly- to start designing, podcasting, and collaborating.
It might also be the year of American-made yarn for me. I’ve stumbled digitally across so many beautiful yarns grown, processed, and spun on home ground, but have not had the opportunity to get them on my needles yet. I did order some color cards from Quince & Co (love their new website!) and Brooklyn Tweed, though. They should be arriving any day!
Have you worked with any American-made yarns? What’s been your favorite?