A Good Yarn

Allow me to spin you a good yarn. I promise, these knitting tips will help make sense of a writer's psyche.

I've recently taken up knitting, a hobby which provides visual progress during a season in which I await a slow and uncertain harvest (*read: manuscript querying). 

Last Friday, I attended Fibres West at the Cloverdale Agriplex, an annual fair promoting "local, Canadian fibre producers, fibre shops, independent artists, equipment producers, non-profit groups and weaving and spinning guilds." 

It was breathtaking, overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, and BOOK 2 RESEARCH!

Okay, I'll be honest, Book 2 is a long ways off, and realistically I can only accomplish one knitting project a month...but that didn't stop me from buying a lot of yarn.

And wondering if I should also consider taking up spinning. And weaving. And felting. 

Aren't these felted animals ADORABLE? The ombre on the rabbits are simply a work of art. Those are by Nan-C Studio

Learning New Things

Vendors and attendees alike were happy to share tips and advice, and I'm passing them along to you. Not because I'm assuming you're all into fibre arts, but because, oddly enough, this advice applies to writing.

  1. Start with a colour that you absolutely love. The spinner who told me this never stopped pedalling her feet; her hands grabbing loose wool fibres at random and massaging them into thread on a growing spindle. This is true for writing: if you pressure yourself into writing what you think other people will want to read, or what's popular, you're not going to feel motivated to write. Obviously, there is such a thing as a market for when you want to find an audience, but really, you need to start writing for your own enjoyment. So if you're thinking of starting, if you've always wanted to write something, start with a yarn (pun intended) that you absolutely love. What's more, if you start hating the story you're currently writing, don't stop writing. Just start writing something else.
  2. Agitating wool creates an irreversible lump of felt. I always wondered why wool had a bad reputation for washing. I didn't grow up with woollen items, and I now have a Woolmark-approved washer & dryer. But apparently, this is why felting works. You take natural fibres, rub them against each other, and they clump. You're probably wondering how I'm going to apply this to writing...well, here goes. Conflict can produce good things, provided it's in the right context. Conflict is an opportunity to produce something different, for your character, for your story, for yourself. But too much, in the wrong context, and you're going to ruin what you started with. Treat other writers with care. Handle your story gently. Remember what happened to Jo in Little Women, when she tried to please everyone with her first book.
  3. Set yourself up for success. A weaver was kind enough to tell me that the hand wash-only 100% alpaca tweed yarn that I was wistfully stroking was probably not my best choice for a baby blanket. I wouldn't recommend starting out like I did, with only 1 short story under my belt and plunging full-steam into a fantasy trilogy. It was ambitious. It still is. It forced me to learn and apply a great many writing techniques, and I probably could have been more productive if I had worked up to a project of this size. I've also recently realized that it's probably not ideal to buy a pile of yarn without a pattern in mind. So, set some realistic goals before you start, even if the goal is just, "I want to see how far I can take this." That's great! Just don't be hard on yourself if you get stuck, or if it doesn't feel up to snuff. Make sure you have the ability to feel accomplished.
  4. You will never be as good as some people, so it's time to stop comparing. The fair had an gallery section, where some had displayed their best works. Take a look at the dress below. It is so simple, and yet I'm in awe of how the artist managed to anticipate the gauge (how tight the stitches are and how many per inch), the drape (how fabric falls; interacts with gravity), how they decreased/increased stitches to create the perfect waist... wow. What's the opposite of lumpy? Lithe? What's the opposite of clunky? Fluid? There are some writers whose writing is so seamless, your eyes never pause, and your mind never doubts. Sometimes, I compare myself to these people. "If I'm going to do something, I need to be GREAT." We too often do this. It's time to be content with where we're at. With work, and time, we each improve at our craft. Does that make our stories now any less valuable? Even if we cringe at them later, we wouldn't get to that later without dropping stitches and tangling threads through this project. 
  5. Sometimes, finished is better than perfect. Keryn from Farm Fairy Fiber embraced this philosophy full-heartedly. She was selling #BadColoursGoneGood— skeins of yarn from failed dye attempts. A too-teal version of "Sickly Mustard" was cheekily rebranded as "West Coast Blues". Brilliant! Work with what you have. You can kill yourself trying to makeover and redo a story... or you can turn it into a novella. Trim a chapter and send it off to a short story contest. Or, set it on the shelf, chalk it up as experience, and start something new. 

The Spectacled Bear Conservation Society works with Peruvian women to sell their fair-trade crafts . These beautiful 100% woven wool placemats were only $8 each!

Casting Off

I can't help but use all these knitting puns! Casting off means I'm looping to the end of my project/yarn (okay, I'll stop now). 

Learning new things is hard. It's hard to be humbled, and humbled so often. My first baby blanket was riddled with imperfections (see that knotty blue ocean below). Only after I finished a section did I notice my mistakes...I spent a lot of time picking out wrong stitches, and rethinking my approach. Not unlike my writing, truthfully. 

But there are always pleasant surprises. Like my gem of a critique group. Like this absolutely breathtaking hand-dyed, hand-spun and hand-knit cowl from Humming Bee Farms (see below). The colour combo is my all-time favourite right now. 

Bottom line: start writing, and you might end up with new friends and a beautiful scarf.