Thursday, January 29, 2009

Goal Setting

My mission for SmokyMountainFibers has always been very simple:

Use high quality materials.
Make beautiful things.
Ship tomorrow.
If you make a mistake, admit it, apologize and fix it for free.
That should keep me from making too many.

But I have been lately thinking about my fiber business and how I can make the business end better while keeping the creative part fun. I want to be sure that I am happy and connected with the fiber community, while building my business in an increasingly uncertain time. I also want to do other things - garden, hike, dance - oh, and there is the day job! Here are my thoughts...

Selling my work - I set sales goals on Etsy by month and by year. For example, in 2009 I hope to sell 1000 items. That means I have to sell about 85 (actually 83.33) things per month. In my private world, I’ve rounded that up to 100 items per month to stay ahead of schedule. That is highly doable, as the warmer months are slower and things really kick up in the fall. And since I ended 2008 with just about 1000 items sold, it’s easy to keep track.

Selling at the B&M accounts is a bit trickier because they sell different things - mostly hats and handspun yarns. But because the 2 shops can sell all the hats I can make, I just have to decide what & how much I want to make. The yarns are easy - Make what I want, deliver as much as I want, knit up the rest!

Colorways – I’d like to round out the color selection in the Etsy shop to be sure that I always have a full complement around the spectrum. I tend to have reds , blues and greens, but can frequently run low on minor colors and there are colors that I can’t seem to photograph well, so they don’t get posted. I either spin them up or sell them locally.

Sock yarns – Although these are NOT my strength on Etsy, they have a steady turnover at both B&M shops. Work on semi-solids. Think up a catchy name for same. This is Rosewood as knitted by Mickie.

Etsy FAST –Get involved in the team again. Join in the challenges, stay active on FiberFriday

Ravelry - SMF group – Start it - Easy! Maintain it - a bit harder! What if nobody joins? Yikes!

Patterns – Shall I give one away? Free patterns posted to blog? Posted on Ravelry as a free download? Hmm…

Website: – This is the year!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Over a Hurdle

Sometimes I wish that I could play with fiber all the time; that I could be a full-time artist craftsperson. Other times I am very happy to have a day job that is creative and satisfying MOST of the time, a but frustrating at other times.

Without going into gory details, the non-profit agency who had funded my work (facilitating professional development for k-12 teachers) has ceased to exist. So as the old program died a slow death over the course of two years (during which time the college gave me PLENTY to do), we were picked up by a similar program an d we are now funded through a federal grant. So as of October I have new responsibilities ramping up the new program, while still expected to continue my part time teaching load.

The first quarter with its qualitative and quantitative program reports and somewhat complicated (oe at least different) financial reports is finally behind me. I have to revise the series of linked spreadsheets, change line items and budget codes, create quarterly rather than monthly reports, etc. Ever see Office Space? Where our protagonist has some difficulty with his TPS reports? That has been me!

But it is behind me - The spreadsheets are clean and happy and the formulas match from one set of budget codes to the next. The papers are filed. The reports have been mailed both physically anad electronically.My desk is tidier than it has been for a month, as there are no more unfinished reports in file folders. Still more than enough to do, but I can happily say the TPS reports are completed.

Now back to our usual fiber content. I love this picture. Later this term I will be assisting my colleague as she teaches her fiber unit in Art Education. I demo spinning, talk about color and we will teach the students to knit. Only one knitter in the class and it's a young man I had last semester in my Ed Tech class. Sounds like fun!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Without a huge number of commitments this weekend,I got to play with fiber all weekend long. Here's what happened at my house...

1. Dyeing - Roving and Mohair locks. Both the Etsy shop and my brick & mortar accounts seem to need fiber regularly. I also have a side job dyeing locks for a friend who likes to spin them up into yarn.

2. Knitting - my toe up socks have given me a wee bit of consternation. It seems that I do not like the short row heel. Luckily, I found a pattern for a backward dutch heel that is something of a puzzle to knit, but I finally figured it out. and I like it quite a bit. Then while attending a 2 hour meeting today, I knocked out most of the cuff.

3. Packing - Orders for shipping and grab bags. While I was at it, I weighed up 4 ounce and 8 ounce bags for easy shipping.

4. Taking Pictures - I spent a good bit of time taking pictures of rovings for my Etsy shop. Most of them came out nicely, though a few of the greens are bit 'dull.'

4. Paperwork! - I finally got my spreadsheets done for 2008 and worked out my 4th quarter sales taxes. No big thrill, but it is done.

The rest of the weekend was low key - laundry, house-tidying, reading, baking cookies, grading papers, visiting with friends. Life is good!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Going Toe-Up

Socks are comfort knitting to me. I learned to make them early in my knitting days and have never counted the number of pairs that I have made - surely 25 pair or more. After my mother died, I knit many, many socks - no creative energy, but I needed to knit. The following Christmas, everybody got socks! I use a couple of recipes to make the socks I like to knit, relying on Ravely, Ann Budd's Book of Knitting Patterns and the Blueberry Waffle Sock [note that these are written for size 5 needles!) that I return to whenever I need to knit socks and don't really have a plan.

Having purchased a couple of skeins of a sportweight sock yarn on sale, I realized that the skein is a bit smaller than usual. I decided to make my socks toe-up even though I am a very serious devotee of the cuff-down method. But I don't like socks that are too short and I wasn't sure when I would run out of sock yarn, so toe-up, here we go.

OK - the toes are a bit pointy. They will flatten out. But like many of the faux Fair Isle patterns, the sock is endlessly enjoyable as I watch the patterns happen before my very eyes. I have been reading patterns as I get ready to take the next big step - the heels. I think I am going to use the ShortRow heel as in Leyburn. Lime and Violet even pointed me to a video that demos the 'newer, better' technique.

Dance news: the OFB gig went well. I called lots of fun dances including the medley I did not get to call on NewYear's Eve. I predict great things for Great Big Taters: fiddler Jane Rothfield, Hilarie Burhans of Hot Point fame on the banjo and Bernie Nau on the keyboards. Not a huge crowd by OFB standards, but most contradance groups would be impressed by the ehthusiasm if not the size of the crowd. Here is the link to the YouTube video of the New Year's Eve Masquerade Ball. Odd to hear one's disembodied voice.

The weekend: Spending quality time in the fiber room - dyeing, photographing packing fiber for both the Etsy shop and my Brick and Mortar accounts. I hope to get a bit of spinning done too. Oh, and grading quizzes and papers!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter hikes; Finishing Socks

I spent the past weekend in North Georgia with a number of friends. We had a number of reasons to gather and celebrate - our friend Charles retired from a job that had ceased being fun and our president W had long ago ceased being fun for the rest of us. So as Charles begins the next part of his life and all of America begins the next part of ours, it was a time to celebrate transitions.

Delicious food was cooked and eaten, friendly massages were given and received. We talked music and dance, peace and politics, beading and knitting - a fine way to spend the weekend with old and new friends. Charles and Bill and I set off on Sunday afternoon to hike Mount Yonah. Since the US Army wasn't using it to train the Rangers how to climb on its flat rock faces we had the place to ourselves. The earlier cold weather and snowfall left snow and ice behind, but the afternoon was warm and sunny - perfect for the spectacular views complete with Black Vultures riding the thermals.

I also finished the Bronze Berry socks that I had been knitting and gave them to Donna. She is a warm, generous and outgoing person and loved the socks. I immediately began a pair of toe-up socks in Socka Colori. They have a delightful pattern in the yarn. Since I seldom make toe-up socks, I have to think about what I am doing and follow a pattern. I'll post the progress on Ravelry.

Although I hated leaving the business for the weekend, both SmokyMountain fibers and the students seemed to have gotten along without me. But the 'to do' list is mounting and next weekend will be spent working at home dyeing, photographing, packing grab bags, grading papers and doing all those things that are calling my name. Gotta Go!

Coming Up: Calling the Old Farmers Ball on Thursday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not my Next Career

Cake Decorating, that is. Although my colleague and I had great fun decorating a cake for our administrative person's 50th birthday, perhaps frosting is not my most creative medium. It was lots of fun and the other 2 talked about taking a cake decorating class, but I think I'll pass. For all its tack glory, the cake was delicious. The cake itself was a dense pound cake and the icing was genuine butter cream - heavy on the butter! My official contribution was the ice cream (Moose Tracks and Pralines & Cream) and both cake and ice cream will live in the office refrigerator for all and sundry to snack on.

Note the background of these pics: Paper cutters, hole punches, program brochures and all matter of office supplies are within easy reach of squirty bags and tips.

Although my evening class started in the Adult ACCESS program started last week, the semester began this week. I have 2 day sections as well as the evening session - both very full. I have revamped my class slightly to make it more education, less technology. So far so good. In the self-assessments I found that virtually all my traditional age students have Facebook or MySpace pages, but only one admits to having a blog. I don't tell them about mine.

Official fiber content: At tonight's SAFF board meeting, I'll be knitting on the BronzeBerry socks. The first sock is ready for the toe, the 2nd is ready for the heel flap! These are fast little sockies - Lunch hour knitting rocks!

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Which She Tidied the Basement...

I started this post with 'Cleaned', but even 'tidied' is too strong a word. However, blogging that you made a bit of progress on the basement may put your life in a pretty dreary category. But not in a basement as fine as my own.

I live in a house that is about 840 square feet - rather small by US standards of the 21st Century, but perfectly adequate if...
1. You live alone or with someone that you like a lot
2. You are not a major packrat
3. You have a basement that nearly doubles the square footage of the house.

I qualify for all of the above. Plus the fact that it has both an indoor stairway and I can walk out into the backyard and it has windows along one side make it a particularly nice basement. People live in worse places that this - even in my neighborhood! One side is utility: Clothes washing area, furnace, overflow pantry, root cellar -that sort of thing. When I remodel the kitchen, I'll move the stove down there to dye on, along with the old kitchen cabinets.

The other side is SmokyMountainFibers warehouse and processing area. That's where I keep fleece, roving and dyed fiber, dye in the crockpot, pick and card fiber and store tools and supplies of all kinds. It is furnished with shelving units, random tables and cast-off desks, a boombox and all matter of boxes that is my semi-organized workspace. But it gets a bit cluttered and I can't find the things that I need. Every now and then I bite the bullet and break down boxes, pack up the things that go to the charity shop, throw away useless things that I do not seem to need and have to reason to keep another day. I always find a few feet of space by doing these things and it makes me feel better as I de-clutter and destash.

The last few years I have de-stashed via Etsy and SpinSales and sent fiber to new homes, getting rid of tail ends of fleeces, roving I have not used, yarns I do not seem to want to knit. This year the tradition continues as I post a lovely Icelandic fleece that I just will not get to; some llama I do not love, cone yarns that have been around too darn long, superwash roving that I do not like to spin. Someone will appreciate these things much more than I.

I worked with Sally at the Locally Grown Gallery this weekend to 'winterize' the shop - creating more work surface and storage to keep her (and all of us) productive during the slow times. That little gallery has continued to surprise me - I hope the economic downturn isn't too tough on that business. Sally is an excellent sales person as well as a gifted artist and fine friend and deserves success in this endeavor.

Other weekend good stuff: Bristol dance was fun - great band, lots of enthusiasm.
I baked a ham! yum! Served it with sweet potatoes, collards and white beans.
BronzeBerry socks are about 1/2 done - yeah!

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Socks!

Bronze Berry! I love the official color name of these new socks and they got off to a great start.

After getting the ribbing done at lunch yesterday, last evening was the monthly meeting of my fiber group, so I knitted for about 2 1/2 hours, knitting the leg all the way down to the heel. We were a small group, but a good one. Dinner was roasted chicken, spicy peanut soup (yum!), tossed salad and black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. I am responsible for the ice cream - in fact the hostess commented on that fact - I frequently bring ice cream, them leave it at the host's house so I don't bring it home and eat it myself. I hove no control over ice cream. If it is there, I have a large bowl every night. If it is not there, I can't. So better to go the the expensive grocery store, buy exactly what I want and then give it away. I get all the pleasure that the first bowl gives you and the husband of the host gets the rest of the calories and any associated guilt!

This weekend: Calling a contradance in Bristol, VA/TN.
Dyeing lots of roving - the grab bag selections are WAY down
Knitting socks!

Good post-holiday news: 126 lbs!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Seaside Waffle Socks - Finished

Nearly a year in the making (although several months were spent on the marination chamber), the Seaside Waffle socks are finally done! I finished the toes last night after frogging Sock #2 after I had knit it on the wrong size needle. I love them and am planning on giving them to my friend Karin. We have worked together on a number of projects over the years and I trust her judgment implicitly. Sadly, the soft money nature of our work has rendered her 'redundant' as the Brits say. Since she will be working from home soon on doing contract work for a number of agencies that we have collaborated with in the past, cozy socks are in her future.

Another New Years Resolution: I HAVE to get caught up on my work reading. In order to do that, I intend to keep sock knitting at work to knit on while I read the 2 shelves of books required: both Appalachian History and Educational Technology as well as the journals that come every month. A few rows at lunch won't be a bad idea either. Might slow me down! Starting today, I am now knitting a pair of selfstriping sock in a shade of red-orange that seemed to leap out of the store's basket and into my hands the other day. What? I don't have enough sock yarn at home? I think it was the 1/2 price sale that did it! No pictures yet - 1/2 inch of ribbing is not much to look at!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Feel Honored!

I feel that I am lucky in so many ways, large and small. My online business is an Etsy shop , SmokyMountainFibers where I sell natural and hand-dyed fiber for spinners and feltmakers, hand-spun and hand-dyed yarns (though I am seriously behind) and patterns for my hat designs. I also sell knitted hats in a couple of brick & mortar stores along with my fibers and yarns. Etsy has a system whereby members can build 'Treasuries' - themed collections that are online for just a few days. Etsy selects Treasures to be rotated onto the front page of the site - always changing; always interesting.

This week I had my work featured in 2 different treasuries, curated by different members, my 'Guy Hat' pattern of which I have knit VERY many, and a hank of hand-dyed roving in a particularly vivid green I called 'Limey,' shown here. Although this doesn't always result in sales, it is very gratifying to be chosen by one's peers! No point in putting in links to the treasuries - they'll be gone soon.

Another wonderful thing happened today. At my day job, I had a meeting this morning with a national organization to co-develop curriculum materials for possible publication. I dare not give any more information, but this is very exciting!

Both these delights come after calling the Old Farmers Ball New Years Eve Dance - Huge fun! Without ever really making big important plans and setting well though out long-range goals, my life has found an amazing track that has led me to a new and fulfilling career and creative joy and personal happiness in a beautiful setting. I love my life!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back to Work!

After a wonderful 2 1/2 weeks off filled with knitting, travel, family, music and dance, I was actually ready to return to my day job -developing professional development in a grant-funded program that serves teachers in western North Carolina. In real life, I am the assistant director of the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS), an educational outreach program of the Library of Congress. I got the semester off to a fine start by starting to plan the summer workshop, the TPS integration activities that we use here at Mars Hill College throughout the teacher education program, as well as the administrative parts of the job - reporting numbers. Happily I keep up with that through the semester, so it is never too difficult a process.

Since the other hat that I wear is adjunct instructor of a technology integration course that all education majors and minors must take, and my first class is tomorrow, I am also putting the final touches on my class. At the end of last semester, my evaluations came in that the students loved the course - it was fun and easy! Not the best reviews - methinks I must pump up the rigor a wee bit. But because the students are mere sophomores and have almost no education theory, I have to get them started thinking like teachers. So I have been on the prowl for articles that are current, engaging and somewhat challenging. I was dissatisfied with my earlier choice, but today I found what I hope will be on the mark between the student experience level and intriguing new ways that teachers and schools are integrating technology.

On the fiber front, I FINALLY finished a pair of cotton socks I started last spring and made serious headway on another pair that I started at about the same time. I just didn't like the cotton yarn, but I do like the first socks I knit with it so I slogged through the 2nd skein and now I have two pair! Although this shows a VERY early version, trust me, they're done!

The other pair - soft and lovely in ColorJoy's Cushy ColorSport Creamy Seaside (with lavender heels) are now marching toward completion. I purposely knitted them in a different size needles for the cuff and the foot. When I started the 2nd sock, I picked up a size 1 instead of size 2 - ending up with a fat sock and narrow sock. After a bit of time in the marination chamber, sock #2 took a dip in the frog pond. But with the gusset newly completed, I will soon have nearly matching socks for my (or someone's) nearly matching feet. Hey - I am merely human!

Next fiber activity: plying dyed singles for a series of headbands.
Next dance to call: Bristol, VA - January 9th - Mostly contras, beginner crowd.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In with the New!

Happy New Year!

New Years weekend has gotten off to a fine start here in SmokyMountainFiber land in all the parts of my life. The dance scene was terrific. I called the New Years Eve Masquerade Ball contradance at the Old Farmers Ball at the Fairview (NC) Community Center. The homely basketball gym was transformed into a marvelous space, thanks to the creative vision of board member and artist Jonathan Gilbert. A crew of painters painted 4 murals, 3 of which featured lifesize dancers - totally changing the bare brick walls. A set of draperies hung from the center of the ceiling and hung with lights changed both the look and the acoutics of the room, making the sound infinitely better. We has a wonderful turnout too - nearly 400 people. The band, Fiddlewitch was in fine form as well. There are a number of photos on the web already, even a YouTube video. Check out the slide show behind the band! This is from the photo booth, set up in the back of the hall. Thanks, John!

It has also been a dyeing weekend. After taking a few weeks off to knit for family and friends (with still a few gifts left to go), the Etsy shop is in full force. I've got dyepots on the stove and in the crockpot and a couple of new patterns floating in the brain trying to get out. I hope to knit a test today. I won't give away my idea, yet though.

I do make New Years Resolutions, though they are usually the same: get more exercise; back to the South Beach diet for a month or so, build the business, blog more regularly! But this year I want to set some creative goals as well.

I want to be a better spinner. My spinning tends to be a bit lazy lately. I spin in public a god bit, usually fairly bulky yarn from prepared roving. It's easier to spin when I am distracted. But I would love to spin finer, more interesting yarns with a purpose.

I want to continue to dye roving and sock yarns, with an emphasis on the colorways that sell well. I'd like to dye more repeatable colors in larger quantities. This may require new equipment as well as a improved technique.

I would like to expand my pattern line - that means think more creatively about my knitting.

I would like to begin leading English Coutry dances. I went out on a limb to force this one, offering to lead a workshop at next years Contadancer's Delight. Yikes!

I have work goals too, but they have no place on this blog.

Today I am tending the Farmer's market gallery, Locally Grown. Rain is predicted, making this a quiet day, but good for spinning and knitting. Rain can be good though, trapping people in the market!