Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Unfinished projects and their part in my downfall.

Ok, so the title is a tad dramatic, but it's really more of a prediction than a title.

I've just had a quick inventory and realised that other than the turquoise shawl, I've yet to actually finish and list a product for sale this year, which confused me somewhat as I distinctly remembered starting many new projects.

And then it all became clear. Yes, I've started a fair few. Then, I start more, and I don't seem to have got around to finishing the ones I had already started. In summary, this is my outstanding work load:

1) The second sock for the Victorian Dad; currently stuck in the boring bit between turning the heel and toe decreases.

2) Red lacy scarf. This one was for me only due to the inferiority of the yarn (see previous post). But then I thought that the colour might make a lovely red-riding hood inspired, erm, red-riding hood for the Tinky Tonk to dress up in, so I might unravel it. I might not.

3) Purple granny square blanket. I do a bit now and again. Meh.

4) My liberty wool scarf. I should have finished this, but then thought I migt prefer to unravel it and make leg warmers. I haven't done either.

5) Chenile scarf. I forgot about this actually, but now that I've found it again I might crack on.

6) Crocheted shell socks. As I was only half-way through the first and have been for, oh, a few months, I might as well unpick it.

7) Silky moss-stitch knitted scarf. I love doing this whenever I do pick it up, but rarely do at the moment.

I could go on, but I'm guessing you've got the overiding theme here, so I won't.

So what's going on, you may, but probably didn't ask. Well, I'll tell you anyway. Firstly, all three of us have been very poorly with a nasty pants virus this week and have had very little sleep. There have been moments when knitting or crocheting, much like holding a magazine or book, have been far too exerting to contemplate, and I've been capable of doing nothing more than lying on the sofa watching television, and having a very whingy and futile debate with Himself about who's more ill (the loser has to wash/feed/interact with the Tinky Tonk, who's also all ill and stroppy, poor thing).

This horrid illness is making me lose my enthusiasm for my ongoing projects, much as it made Viv lose his easy-going approach to communal living* However this is only a recent development, and can't be wholly responsible for my ongoing crapness.

There's the day job, of course, but that doesn't really cut into my outside time. The commute, however, does. I was full of good intentions this year to use that time a little more wisely; especially for small projects like the socks. What actually happened there though, was that I discovered how to upload my DVD's to my laptop and then download them onto my Ipod. So I've been watching films on the train. Not knitting.

The Victorian Dad, who is very fond of offering unsolicited opinions, has helpfully and selflessly offered me advice in the past about limiting my on-going projects to two or three and not starting new ones until I finish one. Largely, I ignore him. But in this case he might, just might have a point. I think from now on I shall have to refrain from immediately dropping everything everytime a new idea or fancy takes me, and just knuckle on down with what I've got. I also seem to have a problem with having a 'better' idea for the yarn as I'm halfway through a project; perhaps I ought to also ignore the voices that urge me to unravel and make something else (although the voices that urge me to ignore the housework are always diverting).

The new regime starts from next week though, because today I started a She-Ra jumper for the Tinky Tonk. Hey, I never said it would be easy!

*I really hope that somebody gets The Young Ones reference, lest I look like an utter twat.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Frugal folly? Testing the cheap yarns (so you don't have to!)

This financial climate is truly something else. There is barely a family, person, sector or industry that hasn't been caught in its wake. I see it in the dwindling number of shop sales,and I feel it trying to do a supermarket shop that costs more than it did over three years of pay-freezes ago.

I think perhaps small craft businesses are particularly vulnerable, specialising in a market which can perhaps often be described as 'luxury'. After all, knitted and crocheted clothes and items (to focus on my own interest) can be sought easily and cheaply from any low-end town stall or cheap clothing outlet in the country. They're usually mass produced, lack quality and acquire an odd shape if merely walked past a room with a washing machine in it. But they're there; cheap, warm and functional.

So what can be done? Well, knitting and crocheting is becoming ever more popular (a positive consequence, I think, of austerity) and supplies are not cheap. Potentially, a good opportunity exists for suppliers who manage to find those elusive quality products with a wholesaler that are discounted enough to get a reasonable mark up.

And the rest of us? Therein lies the rub. I suspect that buyers of handcraft turn to this market specifically for quality, for uniqueness and perhaps to some extent, for status. So it wouldn't really be in anybody's interest to scrimp on the quality of supplies.

Or would it? Perhaps there is room to manouvere after all. Perhaps once people who love handmade items have already, along with everyone else, settled for cheaper rather than popular brands, they may find a willingness to keep exquisite workmanship and uniqueness in a product but, maybe, accept a lower fabric quality? Perhaps it's time to nudge the zeitgeist.

Time to investigate...

In my little corner of Essex (I'm originally from Newcastle) I often see older ladies carrying bagfuls of dodgy looking yarns, no doubt to be knitted up into scratchy blankets and clothes for infants. The 'Keep Calm and Carry On' phenomena epitomises the hark-back to other austere times, and maybe with yarn, we have something to learn from the previous generation after all. One way to find out...I'm going to buy my yarn where they buy theirs, so you don't have to!

1) Wilkinsons
This seemed as good as place as any to start, with 'Yarnfair' at £1.35 for a 100g skein to make a granny blanket (what else!). I made a smallish blanket of six large squares; it felt slighly coarse on the fingers to work but it looked fine, decoratively speaking. The verdict has to be no, though. It doesn't feel particularly cosy to snuggle into, and worse, only a couple of weeks after completion the thing started to fall apart with wear and tear. Admittedly, the Tinky Tonk (aged 2.5 years) had a lot to do with it, but I would not expect a blanket of any worth to fail the toddler test.

2) QD

You're mostly going to find 'Robin' in QD, but also some soft feather type scarf yarns that I've seen crocheted into some beautiful open-weave evening shawls. There's also a fair selection of Wendy's. I plumped for a plain Robin 4ply in the most beautiful dark crimson I could find and decided to crochet a lacy scarf.

This is still only half finished, and trying it on doesn't bring that same self-satisfied 'oohh!' that you get when putting on something soft and fabulous, but it will keep the wind off your neck without itching and it looks great. However, the lesser quality of the feel means that I won't be listing this in my shop. Will I wear it myself? You betcha!

3) Independant High Street Haberdashery
You know the sort of establishment; full of folk perusing files full of knitting patterns, all of which look like the same baby matinee jacket from the seventies. Indispensable for your bits of elastic, buttons and sewing supplies, but yarn? Hmmm.

I had cause to use a few skeins of the standard chunky Robins it sells last year when I had to quickly knock up a Victorian style shawl for a friend who does very rare and occasional 'Jack the Ripper' walks in Whitechapel. He planned to humourously depict a victorian lady falling foul of Jack (played by my own parter, 'Victorian Dad') in the pub venue hired for the post-walk talk.

Verdict? Fab! The shawl has been adopted by the Tinky Tonk, who uses it as a blanket. It's also handy as something to tie around my shoulders when it's a bit nippy; it's been much loved. It looks a bit worse for wear now though, but not unreasonably so given it's usage. Would I list it in my shop? No. Shawls, yes, in fact to this day a shawl was my fastest selling item, but not in this material.

4) Ebay
I have actually sourced yarn for shop use before, the trick is to do your research and check often. Unfortunately, you will mostly find either cheap deals on vast quantities of inferior quality yarn, or you'll find excellent quality stuff at the same or, more often, a higher price than your average online wholesaler.

Where Ebay comes into its own though, is where you get long-time knitters having a destash for space rather than profit, where there are occasionally some no-longer-produced gems to be found

I got a small stash of some gorgeous turquoise brushed 4ply. You know, I might actually list the result in my shop. It's acrylic, but it's soft and delicate and it worked up beautifully into a gorgeous shell wrap (pictured). I also got a few bits of lovely looking dark green skeins of Patons that I worked into a ruffle scarf. This looks fab but feels scratchy; I'll be keeping it myself.

Verdict? Well worth a look now and again; but this by no means provides a reliable or steady stock supply.

5) Charity Shops
I would imagine that as a supply, this would suffer from the same lack of consistency as Ebay. I'm not knocking it completely though as my sister, always lucky at bargin hunting, once bought me a completely gorgeous batch of brushed 4ply (okay, so I have a thing for brushed 4ply!) from a charity shop in Newcastle that I adored.

Deciding to have a bit of a root through myself, I ventured into the only charity shop on my High Street with a knitting section. And what did I find? Every skanky, greasy, grubby knotted leftover-end-of-skein piece I picked up was infiltrated by (and I'm so sorry!) pubes. Pubes. Abort, abort, abort!!!

The places I didn't try, being a little disheartened by now, were Aldi, Poundstrechers and Poundland. Mostly because they all seemed to carry that line of furry yarn mostly found in 'make your own scarf starter kits', which is really all it's good for. And being neither a starter nor lacking in scarves, I gave them a miss.

In summary: yes, times are hard, however if gorgeously fabulous little craft businesses don't go with unique and quality products, then they're not really fit for purpose. The best workmanship can't stop an inferior quality blanket from wearing quickly away, and the most beautiful stitches will still give a baby a rash if made by coarse wool.

Is there room for acrylics? Yes, absolutely! I genuinely don't mean to come across as sniffy about anything other than spun silk; I'm a fan of decent, soft and quality acrylic myself. I never make my toddler anything made of any other fabric, in fact. However business crafters that cater for children and babies have always sourced decent acrylics; that hasn't changed. But lowering quality in light of the recession - I have to say; bad idea. Our peers from the previous generation could teach us a thing, certainly, about clothing our own families; but perhaps not for those of us who sell on our creations.

Yes, there may be instances where it's possible to lower quality for a craft business, but as a wider strategy it's dubious. Cheaply made knitted items are continually churned off factory lines in numbers that a hand crafter couldn't, and shouldn't, compete with. That's not what we do.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Second sock fatigue...it's real!

Or maybe it isn't. You see, I'd read about it long before I set about a sock with a hook or needle, and thought, that won't happen to me. Of course it did, but would it have had I not read an article about it in a magazine? I don't know...it's no longer a testable theory and you probably don't care.

The fact remains that I now have three odd and completely different socks sitting in a basket I've had to allocate for that very purpose, without partners. Yes, you read that right. Sock fatigue apparently has no effect on my ability to start a new pair of socks, just making the second one of an existing project.

So, I have a brand new notebook that I'm going to start listing unfinished projects in. Yes, my unfinished projects are now so numerous that they require a list, and potenially their own spreadsheet. Uppermost on my new list in my new notebook will be those socks; two crocheted and one knitted, each crying out for partners.

The plan is to do the knitted one first as this is for my partner, the Victorian Dad, who kindly bought me my lovely little double pointed needle set for Christmas, which makes him the most deserving case. (Reader, I domestically co-habited-ed him!)

The other two projects will be for the Folksy shop, although there are a couple of finished handmade pairs there already for anybody who's interested. I think I'm going to try and keep the sock in my work bag and do it on my commute (approximately 30 minutes twice a day), or my lunch break if I can tear myself away from my Metro. Actually, there is a lady who gets on the same carriage as me on the journey home out of London who is always knitting, and I'm wracked with guilt every time I see her clicking away, so I'll make a concerted effort.

Once the socks are done, I've a few ongoing blankets and scarves that aren't going to see the light of day until summer if I'm not quick.

Wish me luck!