Sunday, December 30, 2012

Musings on Productivity

I'm not a particularly speedy sewist. I know this because all of the skirts that seem to take others 4 hours take me 8 to 10. I mean, don't feel bad for me. I'm not unproductive and I make sure my finishing is nicely done to the best of my ability (which generally takes extra time). I'm just not lightning fast.

No doubt, the last 6 months of 2012 were not about the sewing output. I made half of a fitted shell (part of a fitting project I undertook with S), 2 peplum shirts and 2 dresses.

Those of you who sew know that it takes a certain amount of space and physical stamina. You have to trace and or cut out your pattern pieces (and they're often unwieldy). Then you have to organize your large swath of fabric which needs to be ironed and carefully positioned. Then you have to cut your fabric. If you're me, that means you skitter around the floor, hoping not to hit walls in you 15-foot wide century home. Then you have to mark all of the pieces (hopefully they fit on the ironing board for this purpose). And only then can you start sewing - which may be muscle-clenching depending on the qualities of your fabric and pattern.

I know I've said it a zillion times, at this point, but between the 6-month reno (somewhat disruptive of my workspace) and the hideous illness (3 months of bad, 1 month of beyond horrible), sewing just wasn't in the cards.

On the other hand, between mid-September and mid-December, I knitted a reasonably involved scarf, a shawl-like cowl and six sweaters. They were not small sweaters (well, 4 of them weren't). One of them was very complicated. Keep in mind, I alter everything I knit to suit my own dimensions - and that takes additional time. Now, I realize that I did spend a month at home in convalescence, but I assure you that I barely knit during the majority of that time. Seriously, it took me all day just to function.

Never mind the technical terms, with a full-time job, a kid, a blog and a house, (in my opinion) that's productive! :-)

So what's the deal?  Am I a sort-of slow-moving sewist and a super-fast knitter?

Um, not particularly, as far as I can tell.

I've seen "real" knitters go at the yarn and it's shockingly impressive. I mean, one wonders what else they can accomplish with that kind of dexterity. :-) On tiny needles with lace-weight yarn (something I'm working with now, fyi, and more to come on that), they zip along - conversing all the while. It's sick.

Don't misunderstand. When I'm not chatting - aka what I do when I knit with others and which really slows me down - and once I get into a groove (10 rows into a session), I go at a fair clip. Given that I've been knitting for less than 2 years (though my father did teach me the skill when I was 12), I'm probably somewhat naturally adept. (I've mentioned before, I'm dextrous.) And Lord knows, if one's knitting style mimics one's nature, I'll be very fast one day.

But I don't think this is how I've managed to knit lots of things. I think I've managed to knit lots of things because I'm focused.

In brief, this is how I tackle knitting projects (see this post for more details about pre-knit planning):
  • I decide on the project I want to make. This takes some time but it's fun! I have to carefully consider the likelihood that the garment will suit me and that, with my current skill-level, I'll be able to make required alterations so that it will fit me as well as possible.
  • I buy the yarn and all the materials I'll require. 
  • I do a gauge swatch, which I block, and I carefully consider whether I'm going to aim to get gauge or to subvert it for my own sizing needs. Either way, I have to be as certain as I can be that I'm targeting a size my gauge will allow me to achieve. (Note: It's important to use the swatch to determine the amount of negative ease your fabric will comfortably allow. Affix markers 1 inch apart on the same row of the gauge swatch and then pull the fabric along that inch. How far will it stretch before you start to see through the knit stitches? Other note: This is simply my method - I haven't seen it promoted anywhere else and it's not a perfect science. Of course, 1 inch will stretch differently than an entire garment just by virtue of its proportions. But it does provide a very good starting off point that your ever-increasing knowledge of textiles will support and build-on.)
  • I carefully read the pattern specifics to determine where I'll need to make sizing alterations for my body. Then I figure out how best to do that in the context of the instructions. (Knitters have 40 different ways to do everything.)
  • On my detailed pattern-read: If I hit conceptual snags - either about how the pattern works or about the techniques required - I email a knitting friend or the pattern's designer, visit my LYS or go to a book/website/blog. It's rare that I start something without having a pretty good idea of what's coming at every stage of the project. I may not have "done it" before, but I always mentally work it out to the best of my ability. Note: That's not always enough, alas. See cables on the Chuck sweater. :-)
  • I rewrite the pattern, with my notes and edits, in my craft book and I use this to mark off rows so that, if I make the garment again - or if I need to repeat on one side to make the other - it's as simple as marking off the same-rows in the same way with a different colour pen.
  • I wind as many balls as I suspect I'll require (or one fewer) so that I'm not delayed, while knitting, by this administrative matter.
To the best of my ability, when I start knitting that's all I do. I knit. I don't think about how to accomplish the next section. I don't stop (not often, anyway) to come up with a work-around or to learn a new technique. I don't need to wind balls. I don't wonder about which needle to use or what kind of increases or decreases or cast on to work.

I keep my eye firmly on the finished object. If the garment must be seamed, at the end, I do it immediately. I weave in the yarn-ends as soon as a section is finished (but no sooner cuz, if you have to rip back, that makes things very tricky) so as to see a finished piece of fabric. I block the minute I weave in the final end.

Proviso: Now, one thing I do regularly, while knitting - and which does slow me down, is continue to review the garment against my own body, with fit in mind. If, as I go, I discover that my gauge has changed and I need more or less circumference, I make adjustments on the fly. If I need additional length in one place, or less in another, I make sure to reflect that in my notes and I amend the pattern accordingly. How do I know how to do this? I stop and hold the thing up to myself or I try it on (if I'm able to do this, mid-knitting) or I take its measurements and compare them to my own (taking negative ease into account, see above). It is NOT rocket-science. Don't get fussed about it. You have more than enough knowledge with a tape measure and your own eyes to fit your sweater as you go. Far better to do this than to make no alterations and to end up with a final product that doesn't work on you at all.

So, there you have it. Are you a prolific knitter or someone who really takes his/her time? Do you use any of the strategies above to assist you in accomplishing your knitting "quickly"? Do you think the whole idea of crafting anything with speed diminishes the creative objective? Let's talk about your process!


  1. I think you accomplished a LOT, given everything else that's gone on in your life this year!

    All this reflection of late has made me realize that I approach my crafting in pretty much the same way I approach life in general: I just sort of float through, working on whatever entices me at the moment. Quite the opposite of a focused approach!

    1. Me too - on balance :-) Goes to show that I might not have done as much as I'd planned to, but it's alright. I've learned so much. You accomplish so much despite "floating through". If I could have those outcomes while floating, I'd be quite happy!

  2. Wow- how did you manage to do all that and have an illness that took you out for months? I'm amazed- you're very brave! Your planning makes me think you must work as a Project Manager! I never plan as well as you do (and I pay the price) although I have my own systematic approach to job or study projects that just doesn't extend to crafts! I must keep an eye on your blog to help me keep going through adversity, as I haven't evolved a good strategy on my own.

    1. Ha! I have worked as a project manager - but that's not what I'm doing now. There are so many strategies that work for so many people. This is just mine - but I love to read about how other people do things so I'm doing the same :-)

  3. I am a dead slow knitter and usually start without any planning and without checking what's coming ahead. This is not good and on a few occasions I've hit a snag and put the project aside (mind you, I do the same with sewing). I have tried reading ahead to see what's coming but it doesn't seem to work for me :) Maybe I should try harder.

    1. Suzy - you're a big part of the reason that I started knitting - what with that Susan Crawford book you turned me onto. I don't think you need to try harder. I think you've been working hard enough!

  4. Kristen, you manage to get to so much done, with so much on your plate, it's intimidating!

    1. You know, I read blogs everyday that leave me feeling that way! I always wonder how those people get so much done. So thank you for alerting me to the fact that maybe I'm doing more than I think I am. Or at least I'm doing a good job making it seem as much :-)

  5. I'm anything but a prolific knitter (or sewer). In fact my output has seemed to slow down to a trickle instead of speeding up. I wish I could manage to get a sweater done in less than a year. I mean I definitely plot projects out, am an avid swatcher (it is oh so useful for figuring out loads of stuff in addition to gauge), but I try to only have one ball of yarn wound beyond what I'm using at a given time - primarily because I dislike yarn sitting in cakes for too long... but somehow all of this doesn't keep me from hitting figurative snags and then projects go in "time out". Sometimes for days, but lately for weeks. Same goes for sewing.

    1. I agree that it's not a good idea to wind the yarn if you're not going to use it relatively quickly. And I'm actually getting more into swatching than I ever thought would be possible. At first, I thought swatches were a crappy (probable) time-waster. Now I see how much they tell and I'm more inclined to spend the time.

      Your idea of time-out is interesting. I have experienced that with the Bettie's Pullover but not with other projects. I really push through when I hit a snag, in general, because it makes me anxious not to be able to solve the matter.

  6. I loved reading your planning process. Thanks for the negative ease idea!

    I try to be organised...slow down, read through the pattern before starting, etc,...but alway rush into projects without thoroughly reading things through. As expected, this can get me into trouble! I think I just get too excited and want to get started.

    I am not a particularly fast knitter either, but think focus (or in my case, obsession) is just as effective in churning knits out. Speed in knitting is overrated.

    I constantly have to remind myself that the whole thing is about the process of making and the pride of doing it well - making things of beauty as opposed to just slapping crappy things out which I am not happy with.

    It is a hard thing to remember when it involves frogging half a sweater though!! ;-?

    1. Keep in mind that some of the vintage patterns take ease into account when you knit. For example, Susan Crawford often does this. A 34 is meant to fit a person with a 36 bust, for example.

      Frogging half a sweater totally sucks. I've had to do that once and it infuriated me!!

  7. I love how you organise a knitting project. I think I may take some pointers from you for future knits!