Some Links for Tuesday

It’s been kind of a rough week for us, so I’m sharing some of the things I’ve been enjoying lately and taking a rest. Have fun, and feel free to share some of the stuff making you happy this week.

1. I received a wholesale catalog from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild at the day job today. I can’t sell anything out of it in my stores, but there was something on every page I could see selling spectacularly in some other type of shop. See especially, planet plates, disappearing liberties mug, and Freudian slippers. What’s not to love? (There was also a Miyamoto Musashi plush doll that doesn’t appear to be available on their website yet, but how cool is it that there’s a Musashi plush? It doesn’t look like Toshiro Mifune–who played Musashi–which is a little disappointing, but I might have to buy it anyway someday.)

2.I don’t think I can eat cheese anymore. It’s sad, because I love cheese, but lately, it makes me feel sick and twisty on the inside. Enjoy your cheese while you’ve got it, people. (Yeah, there’s no link here. Please visit your local dairy instead.)

3. Right now I’m knitting Buckhorn Cowl with the current PFA KAL. It’s a fun, quick knit. I should cast it off tonight or tomorrow.

4. When I finish with the cowl, I’m going to swatch for the Mesmeric Cardigan. It might be the most complicated sweater I will ever knit.

5. Did you know my husband also has a blog? He’s building a video game called Dig, Robot, Dig!

6. Since my husband gets me, he sometimes sends me stills from Toshiro Mifune movies while I’m at work. Here are two of his latest, from Scandal

scandal1

scandal2

(Have I ever mentioned that I studied Japanese in high school and college?)

7. This led him to starting another tumblr of Mifune gifs. They are magnificent.

Scary Stories

Thank you so much everyone for the great show of support over my last post. It took me two months to figure out how to write those words, and now that they are out there, I feel liberated.

I also feel this horrible pressure to produce a stellar follow up. I look at my word processor with a little bit of fear now, thinking about how I am going to top the last post? Or, screw top it, just match it? How am I going to do that consistently, two or three times a week, every week, forever?

The obvious answer is, of course, to put my butt in a chair, my fingers on a keyboard, and start typing. For a long time though, even that was too hard for me to do. I would sit down and the ants-in-the-pants feeling that prompted me to learn how to knit just so I would have something to do with my hands–that can’t keep still, have to fiddle with something anxiety that settles in my jaw and hardens my shoulders–would paralyze me with tension. If I let it go too long, it turned my stomach and knots up my neck until I can’t see for the pain radiating through my head.

I used to open up a word processor and fear my potential. I would sit numb in front of my computer, the ability to think having fled in the face of this big, scary thing I said I wanted to do. Not wanting to take the time to search out the right words was easy to blame on being busy with work, being tired from the kids, being burned out by school. Closing the lid on my laptop was so simple and authoritative an action. No writing today.

November 1st, I sat down at my computer and told myself to write 2000 words. No pressure. “They don’t have to be good words,” I said to me. In fact, let them be shitty words. Let them be boring words, just write them. You can always change them later.

That’s how I got through the whole first draft of my novel.

Nanowrimo taught me how to write everyday. But I was still afraid to do simple things in my story–honest things–like have two characters who are fighting get really pissed off at one another. My climax was the most amiable, life-changing altercation you’ve ever seen. The problem was, in my head, this pivotal confrontation was monumental, but the conflict on the page read as trivial at best.

The final third of the novel hangs in the balance, and I’m afraid to let the main characters say too many mean things to each other in case the reader stops liking them?

How stupid is that?

Not only does that not give you, as the reader, enough credit, but it completely undermines the whole point of the story. No conflict = no story. If my characters were sensible people, he and she wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in in the first place, and you probably wouldn’t ever read it, because it would be boring as hell.

(You’re enjoying all this vague talk about my novel, aren’t you? What’s not to like?)

Fear of readers not liking my characters kept me from committing to a crucial scene, and fear of boring you now made this a really difficult post to write. Scariest of all is what I’m planning to do next–which is to pursue writing as my (eventual) main source of income.

Isn’t that the freakiest shit you ever heard of?

Scares the pants off me.

Not only does seriously pursuing a freelance writing career involve sitting down at my computer every day and facing the fear that my words are fucking lame, but it also means that I have to drum up the courage to make for myself the profession, but have always feared I’d fail at.

What’s even more horrifying though, is not trying at all.

It’s Time for Something Different

Some of you may or may not have noticed that I closed down my etsy shop a couple of weeks ago. I tweeted about it last week, but otherwise, I closed it down fairly quietly. It was not a bittersweet moment for me.

dinning room before

The glamour of selling hand dyed yarn and fiber lost it’s appeal about two years ago. If you’ve been reading my blog since May 2013, when we had to leave our cozy little apartment and I didn’t have a place to dye for awhile, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I’ve bounced around with what I’ve shared with you since then, a little sewing, a little printing, a little gardening, even a free knitting pattern or two. Each and every one of those things was so much fun in the moment that I wanted to share them with you, hoping you’d be diverted as well.

But as I go back and read over some of my posts, I have to admit, that I am less than impressed.

calbedpulloverstorage

I can tell I was just dashing off posts as quick as can be–and lets face it, they were pretty shallow.

minerva

One of the reasons I closed down my etsy shop was that I just didn’t feel like I fit in there anymore. I love the DIY lifestyle. I love making my own chicken stock and yogurt, I love processing my own yarn from a big greasy fleece. I love composting and gardening and making my own soap–but you know what’s left after you do all of those things?

A mess.

messydesk

A big fat one.

But etsy is selling a curated, tastefully simple, DIY lifestyle these day, and kind of leaving the DIY out of it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a million, brilliant artists still selling on etsy, but most of the time those artists are buried in a sea of not-so-handmade listings. (On a side note, I searched for hagiyaki–a type of Japanese pottery–the other day and found this gorgeous shop.)

airbenderstripes

When it comes to the fiber arts though, my competition remained largely other indie dyers and small farmers, and I was completely cool with that. What I was not cool with was the ever increasing price it cost just to get product views.

When I was really having fun with dyeing yarn and doing my yarn club, I could make a couple hundred dollars or more a month off my web sales, after etsy and paypal fees. Not enough to live off, but a couple extra trips to the grocery store if need be or a part for the car, that sort of thing. A couple of years ago, etsy introduced search ads, which allowed you to put your product at the top of the page when someone searched for the keywords you used on your listings. You could cap how much money you wanted to spend on search ads each week, and I thought it was effective. I put my reasonable cap on and saw an increase in sales and in page views when I used them.

tiny_dino_knit_before_it_was_cool_notecard

A few months ago, they switched the search adds to a bidding system which was not cost effective for a small shop like mine. The minimum cap was about $1/day. I gave it a try one month–while admittedly not doing a whole lot of other promotion–and paid about twice in fees as what I made in sales. I turned it off the next month and received hardly any page views and no sales. I don’t think I’d ever had a month with no sales since I opened my shop, but in December and January it was zilch, zippo, nothing.

I’m not blaming etsy’s new systems entirely. I have already said my heart wasn’t in it anymore, but the recent changes were the nail in the coffin of my little etsy shop. It feels like, as etsy has switched from a website where you go to find handmade originals, to where you go to find what’s on trend, that etsy is more preoccupied with selling the idea of a lifestyle rather than the goods that make that lifestyle possible. I thought etsy was supposed to be a stepping stone for launching a handmade business, but it feels to me now like it’s more concerned with nickel and diming the indie artist out of their studio space.

It certainly wasn’t the right place for me anymore.

clementines and cherry blossoms

And I feel like, while I was trying to fit into that etsy aesthetic, so was my blog. My identity as a blogger was confused. My writing was mediocre at best.

I wrote in November about sticking with Nanowrimo for the first time ever, even though I have goddamn degree in creative writing. I haven’t stopped writing since I started back in November. I’m putting the finishing touches on a draft of a novel, and hope to start searching for an agent sometime later this year. It’s taught me a lot about myself–one of them being that I tend toward caution when I really want to kick and to curse and to generally stir up a fuss.

uterus

Writing my novel has shown me that while I don’t believe in censorship, I certainly was practicing it on myself a lot, telling myself this was too controversial to write about, or that was too political. That I would write “fuck” too many times and offend someone.

carrotjuicemarla

And now I kind of don’t give a damn.

What’s this mean moving forward? I’ll still write about my knitting and my gardening, but I might also write about books or my writing. I might piss you off. I might insult you. Mostly, I hope to make you laugh, or to motivate you to live your dream. Because I have always wanted to be writer, but I never had the courage to let myself be one before.

imadeit

Free Pattern: Chunky Baby Mittens with No Thumb

My gift to you on this, the day after Thanksgiving, the first Day of the Christmas season, a new free pattern!
chunkythumblessinfantmittens

It’s that time of year when I start frantically making sure my family has warm things to cover their heads, hands, and feet, because the weather has decided it’s pretty much winter. Since I have a wee little one this year, I got to make the simplest, quickest pair of mittens there is. Chunky mittens with no thumbs! Just a cuff, and a hand! And on size 10 needles, these little suckers are done in no time. If you have a baby in your circle, these are a super quick, fun little gifts to help keep teeny tiny fingers warm this winter.

mittensforscale With lego rocker chic for scale. Is the axe part of her show? Who knows?

In the pattern, I say to use DPNs, but please use whichever method you are fond of. Obviously, you can see I knit my mittens using magic loop, which has been my default lately, mostly because finding one circular needles is usually easier than four DPNs in the same size.

Materials
50g Chunky Weight Yarn (Shown in some old Brachiosaurus Bulky, but Wool of the Andes Bulky would substitute perfectly.)
Gauge
4 stitches per inch in Stockinette
Needles
1 set US Size 8/5mm double pointed needles
1 set US size 10/6mm double pointed needles
Tools
Darning needle

Pattern Key
BO– bind off
CO– cast on
K– knit
P-Purl
K2tog– knit 2 stitches together (a decrease)
st(s)—stitch(es)
St st— Stockinette stitch

Pattern
CO 18 stitches onto smaller needels
Spread evenly over three DPNs. Join to work in the round
Cuff:
K1 P1 for two inches or until cuff reaches desired length
Hand:
Switch to larger needles.
At the beginning of the next round, switch to ST stitch, adding two sts in the first round for a total of 20 sts.

Knit every round for 3 inches.

Decreases:
Row 1:K3, K2tog repeat around
Row 2: K around
Row 3: K2, k2tog repeat around
Row 4: K1, K2tog repeat around
Row 5: K2tog, repeat around
Pull yarn through sts, and weave in securely.
Weave in all ends.
Knit Two.
Block

chunkybabymittenswithnothumb

It’s 5am on a Saturday, and I Have Been Awake for Ages

Good morning all. How are you this lovely, cold Saturday morning. I am sitting in bed, in the dark, because I have very successfully woken myself. The last time the baby woke up to eat, about an hour and a half ago, he woke me up out of the middle of a sleep cycle. To avoid falling asleep while I was feeding him, I started thinking about work–well, apparently nothing gets my blood boiling in the pre-dawn hours than thinking about things I can’t do anything about until Monday.(He, of course, ate and went back to sleep immediately.) Next time, I am going to try to think about something more fun, like flowers or yarn.

It’s November 15th, and for the first time ever, I am keeping up with Nanowrimo. Usually by now I have completely given up on the whole endeavor. My first weekend in November is notoriously busy, and so I always start out the month a few days behind on my word count, and then I never catch up, and by the beginning of the second week I am too daunted by the sheer volume of words I am missing, and instead of writing for writing’s sake for the rest of the month, I just give up on the whole enterprise completely and for the rest of the year the only thing I write are blog posts and grocery lists.

Considering I have a degree in creative writing, this is pretty embarrassing.

This year, I decided I was really going to finish. I didn’t have a story idea until the last minute, and I have done absolutely zero planning. I’ve always been a fly by the seat of my pants sort of writer anyway, so this whole making stuff up as I go along and having no plan is fun. Not sure how much substance my story has, but that’s not the point right now. The point is to write everyday, and that’s what I’m doing.

Only took 2 1/2 years after graduating to get my writing mojo back.

Now that I am writing everyday though, my other work is slowing down a little bit. After finally finishing Brock and Felix’s Flax sweaters last week, I had a small bout of startitis and cast on Wheaton which I think is too gorgeous for words. I am knitting the worsted weight scarf version, because while I think this pattern is stunning, I am also aware that I have a very short attention span for knitting anything that turns out to be a rectangle. But I think a blanket, or even a stole in this pattern would be the epitome of luxury.

I am also working on a pair of mittens for Brock. I am using Skinny Fit Mitts as a template because I like the cable pattern on them a lot, but the pattern was written for someone with tiny hands, so not only am I changing it up by making them flip-tops, I am also having to lengthen and widen the thumb gusset, lengthen the hand and figure my own decreases for top.

And since it is supposed to snow today, I really need to make Felix a pair of mittens. I am just going to use my chunk wool and knit him a pair of thumbless mittens. That should be quick, and I hope to do it this afternoon after I finish my word count.

What are you working on?

Some Woolly Things

It’s November 1st. We had our first freeze last night. The air is crisp, and we’ve started breaking out the woollens.

Socks Hanging to Dry in the Bathroom

Socks Hanging to Dry in the Bathroom

Just in time, I finished Brock’s sweater last night (don’t I know how to party on Halloween), and it’s upstairs taking a bath right now. I only have one sleeve left to knit on Felix’s sweater, and then I am taking a break from sweaters. Especially this sweater. I have been knitting Flax, almost exclusively, since August. I am going to knit socks and scarves and mittens and hats until the weather warms up again, I think.

…or maybe not.

Things around our house have changed quit a bit in the last couple of months. Felix has aged out of my work’s program that allows babies to tag along with mama’s (can you believe he is 6 months old already?), so my husband and I are working alternate schedules so we don’t have to send (or pay for) Felix to daycare. While I think this is the best move for our family, it is taking some getting used to. It doesn’t help that I have been throwing myself into my day job hardcore and coming home exhausted physically and mentally exhausted, and then with nighttime baby wake ups, I tend to stare at netflix or pinterest a lot these days rather than produce anything. There have been weeks lately when 3 or 4 nights out when I have been too tired to knit–and that is tired indeed.

I am not folding, by any means, but I stepping back from fiber production a little bit for awhile. It’s just all too much right now–as evidenced by the complete lack of posts around here.

The good news is, I’m not actually going anywhere, just giving myself permission to slow down. Right down my ideas, get to them when I have time, and just enjoy my knitting and spinning for pleasure instead of for production right now.

I’ll still blog about what I’m doing. For instance, at the show I was at in October, I demonstrated how to solar dye in mason jars.

wool rainbow
I have two sets of these little half ounce pieces that I’ve dyed. I’m planning to spin them up in rainbow order and chain ply them. The only thing left to decide if I want to do one skein or two skeins.

It’s also November, which means Nanowrimo! I started my novel this morning and met my word count. So far so good.

How’s your November looking?

Oh, Heeeey There

There’s nothing like a missing cat to make you take a month-long break from blogging, but that’s what happened. No worries, she’s home safe, but what was supposed to be a long, relaxing Labor Day weekend turned into a stressful fret-fest when the cat disappeared on the first day and didn’t return for six days. When she was in the yard one morning when we were leaving for work, she mewed and scowled at us very loudly. How dare we take so long to find her. Where had we been?

Anyway, that lovely time, on top of preparing for knitting classes, fiber festivals and general life are my excuses, and I dare you to challenge them.

First things first: the fiber festivals! This year I am only planning two shows: the Holton Fall Festival on October 11th. I will be part of the Sheep to Shawl demonstration, talking about solar dyeing in mason jars, and of course selling my wares.

In November I will be at Twisted!, which is so much fun to do. Twisted is Nov. 7th and 8th, and we will be on the first Friday art walk.

Now, here’s what I’ve been up to this last month in instagrams.

All-in-all, it was a pretty good month. What have you all been up to without me?

Handmade Round Cotton Washcloths

round natural cotton washcloth

I don’t crochet often–hardly at all in fact, but I do like a good handmade cotton washcloth. I find nothing more boring than knitting washcloths. I think they’re gorgeous and lovely to use, but I have a hard time bringing myself to knit them. Crochet on the other hand, is something that I am inexpert enough at that crocheting a few rounds of double crochet is a fun challenge when I need to change up my evening routine, and in about the time it takes to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls, I have a washcloth

round cotton washcloths

I realize washcloths are traditionally square, or at least rectangular, but I spent a lot of time learning how to crochet in the round, and I like to do it. Also, a find a round washcloth works just as well as a square one – perhaps better.

crochet cotton washcloth with ribbon

I like that it folds up into little crochet pizza slices that look good in ribbon.

lavender soap and natural crochet washcloth

And they look good with the soap too.

New Class! Knitting a Top-Down Raglan Sweater

Knitting a Top-Down Raglan Sweater
$60
September 15, 22, 29 Oct 6, 13, 20 (Monday nights)
6:30-8:30 pm
Memorial Hall at Potwin Presbyterian Church
Maximum of 5 students

We will be knitting Flax by TinCanKnits, which is a simple top-down raglan sweater – great for men, women, or children. We will talk about gauge, how fabric behaves, seamless sweater construction, and fit. I will provide printed materials with information on how to knit a top-down raglan that fits. Techniques covered include: knitting a flat gauge swatch “in the round”, raglan shaping, increasing, decreasing, knitting in the round on circular needles, magic loop, and double pointed needles (optional.)

Materials:
Flax is a free downloadable pattern, but student must download from the following link:
ravelry.com/patterns/library/flax
Enough worsted weight yarn to knit a sweater in your chosen size
1 Set size 8 32″ circular needles (or size to match gauge)
1 set size 7 32″ ciruclar needles (or size to match gauge)
tape measure
scissors
waste yarn
darning needle
4-8 stitch markers
Optional:
double pointed needles for knitting sleeves
pen
highlighter

email me at tinydinostudios at gmail dot com to sign up!

See you there!

Why I Love Handmade Soap

lavender cocoa butter soap on wheat plate

About mid-spring, I got stuck on the idea that I wanted to make my own soap. Now, soap and I have not had a particularly happy history. It’s not that I have trouble with lye or fragrance (though I do try to avoid frangrance with phthatlates), it is simply that I have dry skin, and sometimes, using commercial soap was akin to dousing myself with itching powder–and then combine that with our hard water, look out.

I always had better luck with handmade soap. I tried Soap for Goodness Sake and absolutely fell in love with Nuture Botaincals and Bazil Essentials, which is a local-to-me company that I cannot recommend enough if you are in the market for vegan body products. I could lather up with these soaps and get out of the shower and not feel like my skin was going to snap Cassandra from Dr. Who style.

lavender cocoa butter soap bars

So what’s the big difference? Most commercial soap are made with Sodium Laueth Sulfate which is a detergent and skin irritant. Mixing it with oils make it resemble soap, but it more strips grease than cleans, hence the getting out of the shower and diving straight into a bucket of lotion. With traditional soap, yes, made with lye, the soap gently loosens dirt and debris off your skin as it lathers, but the oils in the bar also moisturize your skin. Since I switched to completely handmade bath products, I haven’t needed lotion at all. (Obligatory disclaimer: This is all totally my experience from n=1 experimentation with soaps. These statements are not to be taken as medical advice.)

lavender cocoa butter soap

I spent most of the month of June reading up on oils and their different properties–which ones make a super sudsy moisturizing bar, and which ones make a nice hard bar that one dissolve immediately in the shower. I discovered that my favorite oil is probably cocoa butter. It’s rich, creamy, supremely moisturizing, and makes the kitchen smell like fresh chocolate while you’re working with it.

lavender cocoa butter shave and shampoo bar

The chocolate smell, unfortunately, does not last through the soapmaking process, but the properties of the butter do. The lavender soap I’ve been sharing photos of has cocoa butter, castor oil, and just a little bit kaolin clay, which gives it such a creamy, rich lather that is perfect for shampooing or shaving. Plus, it’s really pretty.