Thursday, December 20, 2007

Step by step

I never get as much knitting as I would like done. Designing will do that to you. On my Siberian Collared Cardi, I was slowed down by the need to get more yarn and then the fact that new lot of Natural Dark Gray did not at all match. After some hemming and hawing, I have worked out a solution. I now have two complete sleeves! Yay! But I had to pull out the peplum so the sleeves could match. That wasn't such a bad idea, though, as I've decided to complete the plackets first and put the peplum on last. I think the peplum will lay across the front of the body better that way. This puppy's on it's way to completion.

Meanwhile, I've been working on something else: launching the Circles Pattern Collaborative. I originally started talking about this publicly in September 2006. You can see my Circles forum post here. The idea is that anyone in the greater Circles community can have a design published through our collaborative and earn a little money. The hope is that as a group we can garner more attention than each of us as individuals would.

I had hoped to launch it with a set of patterns for basic items such as a crew neck sweater, a baby blanket, etc. I have other sweater designs that I'm looking forward to publishing. I had hoped that I would have them done by now. Life doesn't always cooperate with my grand plans, so I decided to just get this thing going and start with a few small items and add as we can.

As my health improves, I find that I am antsier and antsier about all the things I have not gotten done. I have to keep reminding myself to walk through life step by step. (Oh, that reminds me to work on those sock patterns!)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just Genius

Void. I've been in a void. Technologically, knitologically, and physiologically.

I'm on someone else's computer right now as my 2 computers are both out of commission. Yes, 2. And, here, I'm going to rant at Apple. I became an Apple convert in the early '90s. I had been a programmer (the use of the word dates me, doesn't it?) It was sheer joy to discover a computer that allowed you to be simply a user. I have the capacity to learn the technology behind the user interface, but I wanted to be freed from that and Apple did that for me. It allowed me to focus my energies on other things. And, they weren't IBM or Microsoft. (Showing my bias from within the industry at the time.)

Now Apple could be losing me. Not that I have the funds to get a new computer and all new software right now. Nor the interest in re-training myself. However, I need my technology to work. I left the IT world for a reason and I don't want to be mired in techie work. When I take my computer for service, I expect a thorough examination of the problem and a meaningful repair. When I'm told that I must upgrade my operating system to work with my new printer, I expect the transition to be smooth enough to leave me operating. My laptop, which is my life's blood for my business, has been out of commission for 8 weeks. My desktop, which should be able to stand in, has now been un-operating for 2.

They never should have called their service desk the "Genius Bar". It's too ripe.

Here's an example of their Genius: after having my hard drive replaced, I brought my laptop home and tried to restore my data from my backup drive. It won't restore. Stops progressing about 85% of the way through with a perpetual clanging sound. Like a ball in a roulette wheel. So, I take it back in and tell them my problem. The Genius of the day, erases my hard drive and re-installs the operating system and tells me the problem is fixed. Only that is exactly where they left off the last time. He tells me to go home and try the restore again. (Because it would take too long for them to do it.) It was late in the evening and I walked out with a skeptical gaze. The computer went back two days later with the same complaint. This day's Genius wanted to erase the drive, re-install the system and have me take it home and try to restore. The brilliance! Why hadn't I thought of that?! After some insistence that this was not acceptable, he asked to keep my backup drive so that they could try the restore. This being my only copy of the data, I asked, "how often do you lose these things?" He answered, with a straight face, "never." He's either a liar or a Genius. (Apple is singlehandedly redefining this word as the long sought after P.C. euphemism for "retarded".) Desperate, I said they could have it overnight, but that I would pick up the drive the next day. I sent someone to pick it up. Here is what he reported: "The guy that was there today, didn't understand why your computer was in for a backup." Huh? The Genius that had taken in the computer and written the work order had written that the tech guys should backup my drive. Not restore. Nor did he mention that this was because the drive was failing and the restore was to test the drive. So, they hadn't done a thing. Did they call me for clarification? No. So, I now have the backup drive and they have my laptop. And I don't see how this problem will be resolved yet. Since, it is apparently insufficient for me to say that the restore fails, so they have no intention of actually testing the drive. I'm fairly certain that they installed a drive that has a corrupted section which they never accessed with the system install. I was told when I brought the computer in the second time that they do "what gets it back to the user the quickest" rather than thoroughly troubleshooting and repairing the underlying problem. If that's their protocol, it's Genius!

I think it's no accident that they refer to their service desk as a Genius Bar. People often go to a bar to drink themselves stupid. I've never been much of a drinker and rarely go to bars. I don't go to Apple to get intoxicated. I'm no Genius. I want my computer to work for me.

When I first brought the laptop in 2 months ago, I knew that the warranty would expire in a few weeks. Expressing concern about that, the Genius sold me a ProCare service package. He sent me off to have the drive looked at by a third-party data recovery service. I returned two weeks later and was told that my warranty had expired. The ProCare package has NOTHING to do with a warranty. Apparently, I paid $99 for the onerous privilege of pushing other people out of line and getting their parts if I need them. (Ok, maybe I am a Genius!) When I complained, they determined that since I had originally come in while the warranty was valid that this repair would be covered. The Genius plan of selling me a service I didn't want, got Apple a cool $99, but they've lost me as a customer for service and possibly for future computers. For 15 years, I hadn't considered the options. A Genius Bar can do that to you.

I haven't even begun to talk about what happened to my desktop upon trying to upgrade to Leopard so that it could drive my new printers. Sheesh. Lucky for anyone who might bother to read this, I've got to get off this borrowed babe and hope that someday soon, I'll be back in the land of the technologically living.

Until then....

Friday, October 19, 2007

Knit Fu

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI've had a lot of design ideas where the pieces are long and flowing and might be worn in layers. A very long sleeveless piece over a fitted "undershirt" with flared sleeves, for instance. Two pieces on the needles are hinting at a design phase or something, but I hadn't really had a concrete sense of that until I saw the film "Hero" again. It's a kung fu art piece made in Hong Kong and starring Jet Li. I like the film quite a bit (though I have my philosophical/political dispute with it), but that's neither here nor there. It's the costumes that have me captured right now. They are based in the traditional Han Fu style from China. Well, Emi Wada, the costume designer, has taken some artistic license, I suspect, but I love what she produced. Here's another example.

Now, I'm not going to be knitting anything so fantastic. That's enough fabric to clothe a family of nine. And you can't tell from the overflowing outer garments of the women what the foundations of the style are. Especially when they're all in one color. But that unstructured, layered, flowing feel. That's what I've been yearning for.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt's the costume for Sky (the yellow and brown) that gives me the closest sense to what I was feeling coming out of my knitting. The costume is simple enough for me to begin to get at the roots of the style. In the film there are moments when I can clearly see the layers. I can just begin to see the schema. Just begin. But I can't find any good images showing the details of these costumes on the 'net. So, I thought I'd turn to researching the history and designs of Han Fu.

Now, I'm no researcher, but try finding information on Han Fu. Apparently, it's a politicized topic in China. Now I'll refrain from my own critiques of Chinese cultural and political history and simply focus on the facts - which I can't find - about Han Fu. Apparently, even though the Han Chinese make up the majority of China's very ethnically mixed population, their traditional clothing fell out of favor in some Dynasty or another and was all but forgotten. We're talking about the predecessor to the Kimono and many other Asian styles of clothing. Anyway, Manchurian style became the dictated de rigeur - because emperors used to dictate what style and colors everybody could wear based on their social position. There is now a small movement to revive this lost style, but there are scant records on the details. Perhaps there are resources in China, but when I search, all the references are other people looking for the same info I seek with responses that say, "don't know where you'd find that." So, people are winging it. Which is what I will do, since I was only going to use it as a reference point, not a strict recipe, anyway.

But I had hoped to find a recipe. I like to know the rules and make informed decisions about breaking them. Also, I might learn something intriguing about garment construction or dimensions and proportions. Well, I'll have to do with what I can find.

What I know so far: There are layers. Usually 3, but it can be more. The bottom layer is a bit more fitted than the others. The sleeve openings are wide to allow for elbow bending without the arm placing any stress on the fabric. This led to trends of exaggerated sleeves that draped to the ground, at times. The only closures were belts at the waist. You always cross the left over the right. Each layer was usually one piece, but sometimes there could be a bodice and skirt that were sewn together. Pants were a separate layer. The inner layer was thin and layers got thicker as you added them on. (Usually because you were adding for warmth.)

That's all I have for now. Where to begin.......

Oh, with some lace weight alpaca from Briar Rose. Yes..... Knitting forever..... Yes......

Abandonment Issues

I was trying to be focused. Stay on one project. Work it through. Finish something. Really, I was committed. And look what we have:

It's a sleeve! A finished sleeve. This is design attempt #4, wherein I finally employed the oldest design rule ever: simplify. I actually like this sleeve. It's a good sleeve. I like it so much I thought I'd make another one. I was so excited that I was ready to push through to the finish on this puppy. Just 6 0r 7 more inches on the bottom, a placket and another sleeve to go. That first inspirational sleeve was finished Sunday.

Here's what the sweater looks like now:

Hmmm. Yep. It still needs 6 or 7 inches on the bottom, a placket and another sleeve. What happened to all that inspiration and commitment? I guess they ran off with the rest of the yarn. Actually, I'm still ready to wrap this one up. But the yarn does seem to have taken an unauthorized jaunt. I've torn apart everything. Every room in the house has been turned out - and it wasn't pretty. I even desperately searched the PODS Circles to see if somehow it went to visit all the yarn from the store. But no. It's gone. If it was trying to hurt me, it worked. I don't know what I could have done to lead to this. It knows I have abandonment issues!!! I'm bereft. I loved that darned yarn. I'm not sure how I'll ever get over this loss.

Ok, I'm over it. I ordered more yarn from Cestari today. This baby will just have to wait until next week.

Being creatively A.D.D. these days, it hasn't taken long for me to get obsessed with something else. I'll write about that soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


How do you define progress? It certainly doesn't always mean seeing more end results. When running a business it can mean gaining clarity in vision. Seeing what really serves you and what doesn't. When sick, it can simply mean eliminating possibilities. Learning that one treatment doesn't work and you have to move on the next. And when you're knitting from scratch? Well, maybe it's the same thing. Here's the latest photo of the Siberian Collared Cardi (no, it is not a sweater made of Siberian collards.)

What? It doesn't look very different from the last photo posted? If you really pay attention to detail, you can compare and see that much progress has been made on the peplum. Well, maybe you can't tell. But this peplum has been knit 2 more times since that ole photo from way back when. Starting number of stitches has been adjusted for a more relaxed fit. Gusset increases have been sussed out and placement of same for flow of form has been determined. This peplum is on it's way to design completion. You may not see more fabric, but much design progress has been achieved.

And what about that sleeve?! Isn't it awesome?! Oh, you mean, there needs to be a sleeve for you to assess that? Yeah, yeah, yeah... The progress here: trying to imitate exactly the stitch pattern on the body doesn't work. The sleeve doesn't like going from stockinette to ribbing near the elbow. It tells you so by bloating out as though it's permanently "that time of the month." Can you imagine that this isn't flattering? So, I have a new plan. Follow the lines - horizontal to vertical to diagonal - to give an illusion of symmetry, but play with how you get there. Instead of copying the 1x1 rib in the waist, I'm borrowing the slip-stitch rib of the peplum and straightening it out first. Each sleeve will have a touch of opposing diagonal rib in the cuffs. With a gusset, maybe, for even further symmetry and, hopefully, a pretty little line over the wrist.

We'll see how that progress goes...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Over and Over

I'm calling this piece - which is clearly still in progress - "Up and Over". She's started at the mid-back. Then you knit up the shoulders and down the front, connecting the two parts above the waist and continuing in the round. This top continues my exploration of: 1) different construction options for fit control, knitting ease and just plain fun; 2) front and back proportions.

Have you ever noticed how many patterns split the full bust measurement equally between the front and back? I don't know about other women, but my back doesn't have anything sticking out the way my front does. So, I'm looking at different ways to redistribute. Of course, there is the short row option. It works. But I like to play. So.....

There is no reason you can't put more stitches on the front, adjust the distribution for the waist, then again at the hips (putting more in the rear this time.) By thinking in terms of sections, a knitter can readily adjust the distribution for her body shape. If you're fuller in the front than most, measure your front half and put the appropriate number of stitches up there. If like me, all of your hips are pushing out to the rear, rather than the sides, then put more stitches back there instead of increasing the front and back at the side seams. I'll be be working on how to write up the patterns so that you can simply knit, or you can play with the stitch distribution.

But first, I have to finish the design. I realize that if one wanted to, one could pretty much stop right here and have fine little vesty thing to go over a long sleeve top. But, of course, I had a vision somewhere along the way and this rather Grecian looking girl is going to be more of a tunic. The bottom skirt/peplum/floaty-whatever part will be knit in Karabella Gossamer - with a band of the ribbon hanging down. I'm trying to work out the drape of it. I knit it once, but the waist didn't fit well enough and it was too narrow. You can see through the Gossamer and it looked a little strange to suddenly see your a band of belly. And the Gossamer part didn't lazily sway the way I want it to.

So, though this is the Up & Over, I've just been knitting it over and over.

Onwards and downwards!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

test feed

anybody out there know anything about site feeds? Mine doesn't seem to work properly.

I publish via ftp from blogger. (they don't offer great support to those of us who publish on our own web site and it is a risky file loss proposition to switch modes.)

When I created this blog, I burned it at feedburner. But when you use the feed button on the site, it feeds you a very old version of Circles Knit News, rather than this blog.


continuing to test: why doesn't bloglines show the new title on the previous post?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ain't Bad

I have three active projects on the needles right now. Active being the operative word, as I'd be afraid to count how many are hibernating.

First is a sock design for the Circles sock club. We are unforgivably behind on this. Once we've completed 6 designs, I will restructure this to fit with life realities. Anyway, I have two designs in the works simultaneously, as the first design was an absolute failure for its intended yarn (Blackberry Ridge Kaleidoscope sport weight.) I was working on a twisted stitch pattern, but the busy-ness of the colorways made it a lot of work for nothing. The prototype was done on a relatively low-contrast colorway and you could sort of see it, but the pattern test knitter's colorway was far more vibrant with a wider range of colors and the stitch work just disappeared. Back to the drawing board for that yarn. And off to seek a new yarn for the design. Oh, easy. Shelridge Heathers. Now to adjust for the gauge......

Elsewhere on the needles is this:

I started at the collar. Well, actually, the collar was an accident of fate. I was swatching - to see how to use up one skein of hand dyed wool - and ending up with a fabric that looked like a collar, so I decided it was one and kept on knitting. I don't know what the sleeves or button plackets will look like, yet. I'm currently working on the peplum which is made with a diagonal slip stitch ribbing that leans in the opposite direction on each side and meets up with straight ribbing at the center back.

You can see from the front that I need to back up and make an adjustment where in the peplum. At the waist, I went from two strands to one and used a smaller needles. The plackets will end at the bottom of the waist. And I knew that I would need to increase the number of stitches in the peplum, so I started putting in gussets. But I think it's too big of a gap at the top. So, I'll go and do some increases on the first row, then put the gussets in for the hip shaping.

I'm going to stop here. Two out of three.....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Halter

To get this knitting thing started, here's my latest creation. This was supposed to be a brainless knitting project from a kit. However, my daughter has some ideas of her own. So, it became a design project.

I've knit the entire thing 3 times - making design changes each time. Once I had the main body settled, I then knit the top 3 more times to get the finishing with the ties like I wanted them.

She's pleased as punch.

And, she's more than happy to pose for us.

And just for good measure, here's the back. (Um, yes, she's only 7. I'm in trouble when she hits her teens....)

2 Year, 2 Words

Lyme Disease.

I've written that I don't want to use this blog to discuss my health issues. But they do affect my business ownership and community leadership.

Two years ago, I went to a doctor and asked to be tested for Lyme, at the insistence of my acupuncturist. It came back negative. What nobody told me: there is at about a 35% false negative rate. Since then I've been told that I can't manage stress or that my symptoms are psycho-somatic due to childhood trauma. (How about the trauma of getting this sick?!) Two years later, at the continued insistence of the acupuncturist, I pushed for further Lyme testing. It was positive.

There's some explanation for how that happens here (especially #6 & #7.)

If you'd like to have a sense of what I've been living with, go here. I have the vast majority of the symptoms.

If you'd like to know how I've managed to keep any part of a business alive, I haven't found a link for that, yet!

I'll be starting treatments soon. If I respond well, I could be a lot better in a few months. In the meantime, I'm likely to keep the Circles activities to a minimum. Running the shop with a few classes and events on weekends only. I'll focus on the Pattern Collaborative until then - designing pattern templates; setting up an online shop; knitting samples; and writing patterns. Hopefully, when we're ready to relaunch, we'll have some solid movement on this front in place. So, in the next few months, I don't know how much I'll have to say about running a business and hosting a community. I'm sure I'll have some reflections as I get closer to rebuilding. Until then, I think I'll post some fun stuff. I mean, like, knitting, like, totally....

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do Over

When I was a child we would play "Putt-Putt"golf. (Known as miniature golf up here in the North East.) At each hole we would put our colored ball down and give our first stroke a try. You stood there and assessed the lay of the land while considering what angle you might try for the best shot at a hole in one. It was some serious fun. You comically pretended that you were in the finals of the U.S. Open. Gave serious contemplation of your shot. Stood over the ball, picked imaginary grass obstacles out of the way, deliberately placed your invisibly cleated feet, wiggled your hips, squared your shoulders, went back for the big swing, slowed it all down and tapped that ball with the putter. Sometimes you hit a good shot and would strut off, pleased with yourself, wearing a faux-arrogance that asserted your well-known superiority. You might even start talking up your skills and meting out tips to the other, clearly less professional players.

More often, though, you whacked it out of bounds, or simply watched it move in a direction that was not at all what you intended and bump into obstacles you were clearly trying to avoid. In the latter situation, you might stand at the tee and start writhing your body with exaggerated arm gestures, willing that ball to switch directions and get back on the path you set out for with the power of telekinesis - which you know won't work, but you can't stop yourself from giving it a try. Anyone watching from a distance might think you a clown and laugh at you, or simply think you daft and turn away pretending not to notice. Your friends, though, would laugh with you and obligingly give you a "do over". The game was just more fun for everyone that way.

Okay, I'm an adult now. Sadly, I can't remember the last time I play Putt-Putt. But I feel that I stepped up to the Circles tee with a vision of what it could be. I assessed the lay of the land with market studies. I stood over the ball and removed some obstacles. I went for the big swing with a business plan and I slowed it down by culling out bits that we didn't have the financing for and tapped that ball with the putter when I opened shop. I didn't completely whack it out of bounds, but as the ball kept rolling it was clear that it wasn't going where I intended and it was hitting obstacles I had really hoped to avoid. Ever since then, I've been standing at the tee contorting my body in attempts to get that ball back on the path via telekinesis.

I've been writhing so much that I started to feel twisted. And not in that happy way that creates a beautiful yarn. (ok, mixing metaphors....) Over twisted here, under twisted there. Leaving me with a 'novelty' yarn I have no vision for.

What do I mean? My vision for Circles is about connections. Yes, I've said it before. People connecting to each other, to themselves, to their creativity, to the sources of their materials. Concretely this meant supporting artisan yarn vendors, meeting farmers and dyers, nurturing creativity in people and generating a place pulsing with the dynamism of the human spirit. I wanted to carry products that were predominantly from cottage businesses. I wanted to continue my work in knitting therapy. I wanted to see a design studio emerge. I wanted this to become a community center; an entity that was so much more than me.

There were obstacles along the way. First it was finding a partner so that we had enough resources to start up. Then my daughter started having grand mal seizures every night, meaning I got no sleep for about a year. During that time, we discovered a serious bookkeeping error that hid from us bills due to vendors. Then I got sick. Then, then, then......

With every obstacle, I had to make choices. In retrospect they were compromises. Compromises to the vision. Compromises that would clear a path we couldn't get off of. Also, in retrospect, I faced trauma. I watched my own child have a Grand Mal seizure. I'm not sure I can fully describe the mortification, the full-bodied, all-encompassing fear. First there is the original witnessing, where it looked like my daughter has just died in my arms. Then there was the growing realization of the potentially permanent harm that can result - brain damage, "collateral injuries". It requires a vigilance. Meanwhile, I was living with the sense that I was supposed to be her caretaker and I didn't know what I could do of if I had done something wrong. My caretaking job might be transformed into that of watching over a debilitated child, rather than nurturing a healthy one. Both roles are full and rich, but one requires a very different life and a grieving of a life vision.

I'm not at my best when I'm traumatized. I'm not able to articulate my needs and I don't make good decisions. So, the obstacles forced Circles to carve a different path, then my decisions pushed us further away. Everything seems compromised. The vision, the entity, my self.

So, what do you do, when you realize that you've been standing there at the tee flailing your arms, making funny faces and contorting yourself? You have to look away from the people who are sneering at you or ignoring you and turn to your friends who are laughing - or sobbing, or sighing - with you and ask for a "do over." Then you put that ball back on the tee. Reflect on where you wanted the ball to go and how it ended up where it did, adjust your feet, change your grip, relax your shoulders and firmly, but smoothly, hit the ball again.

As of August 1st, Circles will be at a new location: 56 Murray Hill Road in Roslindale, MA.
We will rebuild our inventory to be pre-dominantly artisan yarns and we will re-design our programs to be centered around the concept of connections. Skill-building for our craft, certainly, but also, bridge building for our spirits. See you there!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Creatively Avoiding Creativity

Ok, so I said that one of my purposes for writing was to explore creativity. My creativity? Well, I can't really explore the creative process of someone else until they discover a way to plug me into someone else's brain. So, yes, I meant mine. And more specifically, since I am writing as the owner of a yarn store and the hostess of a fiber arts community, I mean my fiber arts creativity. Which is predominantly knitting. But I haven't really posted about that, now have I? And where to begin....

I am one of those "idea people". I have a million ideas. They just seem to bubble up as though I'm a bottle of effervescent water that is shaken before the lid is removed. This would be a grand thing if I had cast of thousands to hand these ideas off to for execution. Instead, I'm drowning in my own fountain. I struggle, and I mean really struggle, to find the balance between exploring the ideas before they are lost to me and sticking with a project long enough to see it to completion. I really, really, really want that cast of thousands! Ok, a hundred might be a good start.

While I wait for hordes of volunteers to recognize that I am the Trevi Fountain of creative ideas where rather than throw in coins you knit in order for your wishes to be granted - yes, I know, sarcasm is difficult to relay in this medium - I do try to work on what I can. I do actually finish a project now and again. But the more fertile ground is in UFO-land. Un-Finished Projects, that is. Gold on Hold. Designer's Tea. (Ok, now I'm dating myself!) I'm going to start posting now and again about what I am and am not actively working on. Hopefully, I'll figure out how to be a better photographer of knitted pieces, though. For now, I offer up this:

This is Louis' Baby Blanket. (It will be steeked and then backed. So, no, it's not a skirt.) I was using Jaeger Baby Merino with borders of Koigu. The plan is this: using the solid colors, create sets of 3 2-color bands in between larger symbolic motifs. I can not use the same colors together in the 2-color bands. I am randomly creating or choosing the patterns for those as I go. The larger motifs all contain symbols of long life, family bonding, etc. I stopped after the first large motif because I was very unhappy with the resulting fabric. My stranding is too tight and it is buckling the fabric. It needs to be pulled back. I made this realization right before I opened Circles. This will be a theme. I am committed to finishing this piece, though. The child that inspired it is now probably 5 years old. The family moved back to Germany and they had another child and we've been out of touch. But this will always be Louis' Baby Blanket even if it ends up as a wall hanging. Someday......

Flogging the Blogless

Ok, I'm not a frequent blogger, but I had hoped to be a bit more consistent than I've been. At this point, I'd be happy with a post once a month. It has taken me a while to realize that I don't blog for the same reasons that others do, necessarily. I'm sure there may be crossover in motivations, but I've recently come to terms with the fact that I'm not a "journaler". I've berated myself for this "lack of discipline" throughout my life.

Now, I'd like to say that I have a great appreciation for journaling. I'm very excited about something that the phenomena of blogs has to offer humanity: a large data bank of the details of women's lives and thinking. Archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and sociologists can likely all speak to the dearth of information available about how women have lived and experienced life throughout history. The advent of blogging offers future historians a more accurate, holistic snapshot of the human experience. I can imagine writings a century from now that begin with, "at the turn of the millenium, we have for the first time, records that help illuminate the female experience...." For this, I am extremely grateful. And yet, I am not of the nature to be one of the people who contributes to this profound effort. I need to work on forgiving myself and accepting that what I am doing is something different and needn't be as profound as all that.

So, what am I pursuing here? I realized after the post about pursuing the mundane, that the mundane is not what I am inclined to write about. For me, this exercise is for processing my meta-thoughts and experiences on leadership, business ownership, creativity, etc. Now, I could easily spend 100% of my time pondering these subjects and writing about them ad nauseum. But the reality is that I do have to pursue the mundane tasks that it takes to keep a life and a business moving along, so I must reign myself in and let these things come to the surface as they need to. Or when I am mysteriously compelled. So, I will try to be self-satisfied with the more organically random trips to Blogdom that I seem to be making. I will try not to flog myself for bloglessness. Perhaps then, I will actually have a more fluid relationship with the process. We'll see.

As far as the business progress is going, it's slow. Not without progress. I had hoped to have the application for selling co-op shares into The State in March, but the serial vacations of myself (imposed upon me by my daughter's school schedule) and the person with whom I'm working on this has delayed us. We WILL get this in by the end of April.

Meanwhile, we've been rearranging the space at Circles to reclaim a workable classroom. (We consolidated our space last fall and tried to use the playroom as a classroom, but it's not large enough and classes felt claustrophobic, especially for the instructor.) The re-design is happening in steps, as I have learned that I must do all big projects in bite-sized pieces. We're at a stage where we can try what we have, so I'm now working on establishing a new class schedule.

We also did a mini-launch of our Pattern Collaborative idea in February. (Though, I do deserve a flogging for not having figured out how to get useful reporting for this program, yet. I think we need to create another layer of complexity in our bookkeeping system. Ugh...) Our patterns and kits were well received at the event, but seem to be a non-item in our store. This doesn't surprise me, as our core customer base is not kit-oriented. Kits have never done well in our store. Our plan is to offer our Collaborative products on the internet as a way to broaden our income potential. Ok, this is another huge project. Setting up a good shopping cart that can grow with us and is manageable by us. Designing a snappy set of pattern templates, creating packaging for the kits and developing a PR program. While people tell me that it's easy to set up an online shopping cart, I feel that I'm stepping into a domain about which I know nothing and can, therefore, make unwise decisions that frustrate us down the road. So, I need assistance. Even getting good photos really requires some training or an experienced product photographer. Baby steps.......

These are some of the nuts and bolts of the business. What has been occupying my mind quite a bit lately is of a different nature. It has to do with the profound effects of gender bias in our culture. I've had some experiences lately in a venue outside of my business that I feel are calling to me. The subject of how women have been treated in the military and as writers on the internet have been in the greater cultural dialogue recently and have converged in my mind with these experiences I've had. I'm sorting through what it is I feel the need to articulate and act upon and how, if at all, it relates to my experiences as a hostess of a pre-dominantly female community. I've had some very destructive experiences in communities of women in my time and now with the community at Circles I have a completely different experience under my belt. So, I'm perusing whether there is something I have gleaned that could be useful to the wider cultural dialogue and whether this is also something that Circles is meant to be here for. I'm not ready to write more just yet, but it will be pouring out me soon, I'm sure.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Reporting in

Ok, I don't really have a "work plan" yet. Trying to allot time each week to types of tasks is turning out to be challenging. (And may be why I'm not able to manage. The skill for doing this is probably a cornerstone of success and it seem to be a gene I'm lacking.) For instance, when I had to design, knit and write a pattern for a sock in a week, it sort of interrupted any other work flow. (Ok, I loved doing it. Worked out how to customize the shape of a short row heel!)

I have been managing to get emails out regularly. Right now, I think this is important, as it's the only marketing we're doing.

I have also been working with Jeanette - thank you, Jeanette! - on finalizing the share application for our co-op conversion. We got a little more than 1/2 way through it the other night. I have a little work to do to put some of the info to paper, but it felt like real progress. We are meeting again next week. My initial goal was to have this finished by end of this month. I already know that goal will have to move to early or mid March. The next paragraph explains why:

JenH and I are putting together kits for SPA. These are mostly small projects - hats, fingerless gloves, scarves. They are, also, mostly patterns written by Circles community members. All of the patterns that use the Circles logo will become the first kits we sell online. My plan is to sell the patterns for $3 consigning 1/2 of this to the designer. More complex patterns will sell for more, but I think it will be great to launch with these.

We can sell the patterns online separately, as well. Or we could create a booklet entitled something like "Some Little Things". We will have to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this. (I like the idea of a booklet with some narrative, but it will take longer to produce.)

I'm not feeling particularly inspired about a pattern format. I'm taking in the suggestions I requested from the community and will try to incorporate what we can, but it may be that we evolve into a decidedly "Circles" format with a menu of qualities that define the format. I'm feeling that we just need to get going and that if I wait for inspiration, it could be too long.

I did try our first online registration for a Travel Circle and that worked well (except for a technical glitch with our email service provider. We got around that by linking to a post on our forum.) This is a small triumph, as I've been nervous about working with code and money transactions. So, I'm a bit emboldened to move forward with more of this and start working on a shopping cart. Again, we'll start simple. Something basic from PayPal until we're ready to grow.

On the design front, I'm working on a side-to-side glove for a child that uses short rows to shape it to fit the hand and wrist. My first proto-type had beautiful shaping as far as it got - haven't done the thumb gusset yet, but was far too long. (I must have made some strange calculation in the beginning.) I'm starting it over, but it doesn't take that long to work up. So, hopefully, we'll have yet another "small thing" for our online product launch.

Last night, I was looking for something for a customer and I leafed through a book of design ideas I have been collecting. It was both invigorating to be reminded of all the things I want to do and discouraging to realize how many had not come to fruition., wondering when they will. Again, it's the transformation of ideas into the earthly reality. Moving from thinking to doing. It can be tough to go back and forth in a fluid way that keeps things moving. I'm in doing mode right now and I have to fight to keep out of dreamy thinking mode - clearly my preferred m.o.

Now, I'm off to find Alice's twisted rib fingerless glove pattern to knit a sample for the SPA and to be a model for photos for a kit. Then, I have to produce all the patterns for next week. In my spare time, I'd like to rework Babette's Hooded Scarf, since the original yarn was discontinued, and kit that up as well. It's on size 15 needles, so it should be a quick one, but nothing is ever as quick as you'd like. I may not have it for SPA, but it will be another entry for our online launch.

While I am managing to get things done, I am also constantly plagued with technical problems. Nothing drives me battier. Yesterday, I was nearly done with the marketing email, thinking I had perhaps an 1/2 hour of work to do. The service's new software has some serious bugs and my layout went crazy. Things would disappear. Strange text would show up, replacing what I had put in. Color and fonts wouldn't be what I had assigned. It was a few hours on the phone with them to find work arounds to save my email. Instead of sending it at 11:30 am, it went out somewhere closer to 2pm. Ugh. That's half a day gone.

In other significant news, a beloved staff member has to leave us. She needs to take care of her health and working an extra job is not serving her well. Besides the emotional loss of her presence, I also have to find a replacement.

We are also planning a major reconfiguration of the shop space. We just needed something else to do! No, I'll explain that in another post.

So, though I'm somewhat incapacitated, I do feel that things are moving forward. I look forward to the new era of the co-op. It should be firmly in place by the end of the year. But I am tired. I simply don't have the stamina that I once had, and yet, it's hard not to push oneself if progress is to be made. I'm trying to be careful, but I'm not doing a great job. I am keeping the social stimulation to a minimum - which saddens me - but I'm not sitting back.

I did treat myself to an evening with the Thursday Circle at the Taza Chocolate Lounge in the Mariposa Bakery (Central Square, Cambridge.) It was good to relax and refreshing to have chocolate that wasn't sweet. This was definitely a focus on the flavor of chocolate and not on sugar and milkfat. I knew it was good, when I realized I was quietly sitting with a blissful grin across my face. I highly recommend the Mexican Chocolate dring and the Fondue platter.

Al in all, I have managed to keep myself from straying too much into the vision zone and keep my focus on the here and now. Sometimes, as I'm buried in the tasks, I feel a little lost. As though nothing is really changing and I'm just spinning my wheels. So, it's good to step back, report in and have a sense of progress.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pursuing the Mundane

Well, I didn't get back to the blogging Friday evening. Note to self: don't set expectation of writing at night.

My day on Friday was a bit hectic. Here is what I recall 4 days later:

Set hard deadline date for Sock Hop pattern #3.
Begin testing pattern idea for Sock Hop #3. Choose lace pattern for body of sock.
Announce deadline date with teasers on Sock Hop board at Circles' forum.
Arrange for test knitter to knit from my instructions blind.

Conversation with Nanney Kennedy at Sea Colors re: next showcase at Circles. (perhaps 2/10) and planning of other future collaborations.

Outreach to Margaret Wilson re: next Circles Travel Circle to Mostly Merino. (maybe lambing season this time?)

Finalize date and details of Travel Circle to Grafton Fibers.
Post finalized information on forum, which includes writing post, adding to calendar, making sure post "sticks" to top of board for ease of finding. (Now need to update web site.)
Choose date for 2nd Annual Circles Book Fair and post on forum with calendar attachment.
Post on forum about Circles vending at NETA SPA Knit and Spin.
Update "Current Event Schedule" "sticky" post on Event board of forum. (need to make same update to web site and set up posts to roll out on web site's news blog.)

Teach children's knitting class at daughter's school. (they signed up 12 girls between 6 & 9 year olds! absolute chaos.)
Pick up daughter's friend at school in Quincy - her mother is out of town - for weekly play date at Circles. (end up in rush hour traffic on 93S and get lost in Quincy.)
Arrive at Circles at 6, cover shop floor until 8 and get dinner for the girls.
Go home and crash.

I'm sure there were a few other things - phone calls, emails, oversight activities. They are escaping me now. My short term goal is to get some events on the Circles calendar a few months out, then prepare a e-newsletter and some reminder emails that can be scheduled for sending ahead of time. Hopefully, this will buy me some space to focus on the share application. We'll see how that goes.

Monday and Tuesdays should be my days off. But yesterday I spent some time working on the administration of the forum. I've been relentlessly assaulted by spammers trying to register. I have the system set up so that all new registrations have to be approved. Still, it was up to about 40 per day that I was having to check out and reject. A niggling, tedious thing. Also, there were some glitches in the appearance of the forum. A menu that was to stretch across the entire screen was wrapping, taking up precious vertical space and the logo with sheep photo was not showing at the top. I'm new to the world of forums and html, so I'm slow figuring these things out. I knew that I needed to upgrade the forum software, but the instructions were daunting. After downloading it and procrastinating the process, I accidently learned that my service provider has a tool for doing the upgrade for you! Yee haw! Saved. It then took me several hours to figure out how to fix the other problems. In the end, I triumphed. (I used to be a programmer, but that we 20 years ago in very different language and applications. I have to dig deep into my brain's muscle memory to get into gear. This kind of absorbed, quiet problem solving work, though, is actually relaxing and some of the least uncomfortable for me to do. I can get so focused on the riddle that I almost don't feel all the sensations in my body. It only works for so long. Then I crash. But, I did accomplish what I set out to do.)

Security on the forum seems to be improved. No spammers today. The logo/photo are at the top and the menu stretches across the screen. Check. That feels good. Now on to the sock pattern - (finalized the instructions for the toe last night), the events and the marketing email prep....

No matter the grandiosity of anyone's vision, the work ends up being about the mundane. Getting your hands to do the all little bits which you hope add up to the big picture in your head. The trick is to maintain both perspectives simultaneously and to progress on both fronts. They require such different parts of the brain. Even the physical pace of the two are different. It can be difficult to transition from one mode to the other on a regular basis. I find it inefficient to do it too often, but I need to work on that. One thing that helps is knitting. My hands are working and my mind can wander. If I push my self to complete tasks all day and don't leave enough energy to knit, I am much more challenged to keep the longer-range perspective active. So, as I write this week, I'll be trying to pinpoint the level of activity that I can maintain and where to stop and make time for knitting and reflection and re-grouping for the next day.

Until tomorrow...

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Un-charted Territory

I couldn't figure out how to post a PDF file as an image, so I'm simply pasting a list here of the areas of the business that I must attend to. The 'areas' are in bold and some of the tasks they encompass are listed below them. This list is by no means exhaustive. And they are not in any order. This is simply the brain dump:

Coop Shares Program
state application
in-house and web communications
word of mouth channels
budgets for different amounts raised
accounting - equity accounts, member rolls, dividends, benefit

Pattern Collaborative
pattern formats
basic patterns
existing designs
online sales
order fulfillment
commission tracking

Event Planning
idea list - travel & showcase
calendar online
setting up/breaking down
hosting guests - meals, lodging, directions

Shop Supervision
shop maintenance
tracking systems - special orders, class/event registration, sample program
accounting/bookkeeping - cash flow tracking/planning, inventory, bank recs, backups
product information management
merchandising - displays/stock presentation/signage

print ads - mags, local papers, local organizations
web site maintenance
news blog/forum updates
radio?? WBUR
guest teaching
external events - SPA, Wake up the Earth, etc.

Class/Workshop idea list
Class/Workshop development
guest instructors - hiring, hosting
marketing - emails, in-house signs, flyers
registration package - prep work, materials list
registration tracking

cash flow
sampling - making and tagging
price list

job requirements
operations manual

Program Development/Management
Sock Hop
Yarn Co-op
Knit Alongs
Stripe Lights
new program ideas
program creation-funding, communicating, executing, tracking

marketing emails
forum posts
Reluctant Retailer
product/service brochures
books/booklets- color, community design, pattern collections
business plan/admin

Customer Interface
social circles
sales floor
event hosting

There. It's exhausting just cutting and pasting this list. Execution???? (Well, my mind wanders to another meaning of that word.) Oh, I and forgot to include IT. That's right, I'm also the information technology department. I'm sure there's more. But on to seeing what I actually get done. I'll post about yesterday and today later tonight. Off to work now...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ready, Reset, Plod

My first order of the new year is to figure out how to move forward with diminished capacity. The biggest disappointment of 2006 - in the business realm, that is - is that I did not complete the process of establishing the business co-operative. I was wisely advised to stop thinking of that as a 'failure'. (Thanks, John!) Instead, I am to consider it a 'challenge'. Whatever the term, I need to get to work if this is not to become the big "Challenge" of 2007. I'm ready to forge ahead in whatever way I can.

The big question is how to go about getting any work done. Clearly I have to reset my expectations for myself. There is a lot of work I can do in 'quiet' mode, which extends my 4 hours per day limitation, unless I do the 4 hours of physical/people interaction first and get fried so that I'm not really functional. Anyway, to figure this out, I started by creating lists of all the areas of the business that I am supposed to tend to. What this did, was leave me in a state of overwhelm. It's temporary. I've seen this before. When you see the scope of the business undertaking, you can't imagine how you can possibly pull it off. (And it could be argued that a business that is breaking even while it doesn't pay me, is not "pulling if off". Though, it could also be argued that for a 3 year old business to self-sustain when the owner has to check out on such a long-term basis is miraculous. Particularly when the industry is experiencing a downturn.) Regardless of the whether I have or haven't pulled it off, it's difficult to imagine how anyone would. Then to imagine how an incapacitated person would is beyond difficult.

Still, the work has to get done. So, I need a plan. And I need to figure out how to stay focused when I'm not feeling well. I have an idea that I'm going to try here. I'm going to post about my work plan, how to get a grip on it, and how my daily tasks are progressing. I'll do this for a few weeks to see how it goes. My hope is that a commitment to publishing my work progress will embarrass me into getting work done. More seriously, it may be an interesting exercise for anyone who's interested in running a small business to observe. When you get your MBA, there are a lot of case studies about being a manager. But these managers are usually in larger organizations with casts of thousands. Or hundreds. Or even a hundred. Let's just say they have plenty of support staff. The CEO isn't cleaning the bathroom and making the runs to Staples. I have an MBA and not once in my studies did we discuss what the reality of running a micro-business is like. So, perhaps, this will be informatively helpful to someone.

Tonight I'll work on how to post the first chart (can I put a PDF in here?) I've made regarding the areas of the business and some of the major tasks in those areas. I feel ready to get some work done. I'll reset my expectations with the new plan. We'll see how my work plods along. "GO" might be a bit overstated.

Until tomorrow....