Beginners

When was the last time you were a beginner at something?

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a beginner lately because I’ve been a beginner myself, in a wheel pottery class that I’m taking at the Lillstreet Arts Center. (I highly recommend it to those of you in Chicago!)

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Being a beginner at something can be exhilarating—it can feel like you’re entering a new world of possibilities! It can also be one of the most frustrating experiences, because there’s no shortcut to mastery, and it’s not fun to feel like you’re bad at something.

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Without a doubt, I am quite bad at making pots, even after 14 weeks of classes, plus hours more of extra studio time. Honestly, I’m at the bottom of my class as far as pot-making abilities go. Sometimes it gets me down when, covered in clay, I have to collapse yet another wobbly disaster and start over again. (This part of the process isn’t pictured, because I’m always too busy being frustrated to think to take a photo.)

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If I keep at it, though, maybe someday it will feel like less of a trial and I’ll more often get the results that I want. Beautiful pots for everyone! But even if that doesn’t ever happen, I think this experience of being a beginner is valuable. I think for a lot of us, once we’re out of school and in jobs we forget to learn completely new things, and we forget what it feels like to be a beginner. I’m convinced that it’s good exercise for your brain and for your body—I love that I’m learning to use my hands to make something in an entirely different manner than I do when knitting.

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And as someone who occasionally teaches knitting classes (although not beginners), I think it’s good for me to remind myself what it’s like to be on that side of the learning experience. I’m reminded that what’s important in a teacher isn’t encyclopedic knowledge or some kind of undefinable presence, but patience, good communication, and enthusiasm for the material.

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I’m also reminded of just how many years of practice it took for me to get to the level of knitting and designing that I’m currently at. I’m so glad I didn’t give up when I was still a beginner!

Shop Talk: Product Photography

Ever wonder how I take those background-free photos of my toys for my patterns and shop page? It’s today’s Shop Talk topic!

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This is going to be an image-heavy post, so click to read on… More >

Hunt for Footballs at VK LIVE this Weekend

Going to Vogue Knitting LIVE in Seattle this weekend? Keep an eye out for mini footballs on Sunday!

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Ten of these footballs (five in classic “pigskin” brown, five in Seahawks colors) will be hidden all around the marketplace, and the ten people who hunt them down will each receive a free copy of my book Huge & Huggable Mochimochi!

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They can also keep the footballs.

If you’re not familiar with Vogue Knitting LIVE, it’s an incredible weekend of classes, talks, panels, tons of shopping, and knitted art like you’ve never seen before. I’m sorry to be missing it, even though my absence is for a good cause: I’m working on a new book! I’m happy that at least I’ll be there in spirit with the football hunt. And if you’re going to the Chicago show in October, I’ll see you there.

The tiny football pattern can be found in my Tiny Fall collection. (Winter may be just ending, but it’ll probably be football season again before we know it!)

Fresh Air

The warmer weather this week is one reason that the blog has been a little quiet. Yesterday this happened for the first time this year!

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Not only are Soupy and Nipsey excited to smell the fresh air, it’s like they’re getting to smell their new Chicago neighborhood for the first time, since it’s been mostly very cold since we moved here. Hooray for spring!

Bonus bathtub shot with Nipsey!

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Name That Game

UPDATE: The game has been named! Thanks, everyone!

I thought about keeping this guy under wraps until the pattern is ready, but it’s been such a long journey getting to the final design, I just have to share a preview!

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You guys, I am PSYCHED at how he came out. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite mochi yet. (I guess that’s not actually worth very much, since my latest design is always my favorite…but still!)

Quite a lot needs to get done before we will have reached a final pattern, but there’s no reason to drag out the process, so rest assured that I’m on it, and there will be a pattern before long. However, somehow this arcade game mochi is still nameless! Would you like to name him? Leave your suggestions in the comments—if I choose yours, you can expect to get the pattern for free when it’s ready! (No guarantee that I’ll for sure use a name suggested in the comments…but maybe!)

Websites as Toys

It seems like the internet is getting more powerful every day, which is cool, but also scary, right? I think that’s why I find extremely simple, possibly useless websites to be so attractive. The art/design website The Fox is Black recently introduced me to some of these sites (which they called “single-serving sites“), and I’m thinking this could be a very deep rabbit hole indeed.

If you have a few spare seconds, click on the below to see some of my favorites.

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I think we’re pretty used to silly “toy” apps by now (sound effect apps come to mind), but there’s something really bold about a whole website built upon one simple concept. Websites can do so much, yet these do so little.

I have one more for you—a simple idea, but mind-blowing nevertheless. Take a virtual stroll through any random place in the world…

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As many different things as the internet is becoming, I love that it’s also becoming a place for some of us to create new forms of art and play and for the rest of us to enjoy the results.

Joan’s Hot Tub Snowmen

It may be March now, but that didn’t stop us from getting more snow this morning in Chicago. (SIGH…) I think these snowmen, made by Mochimochi friend Joan, have the right idea!

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I love all the action in this scene! It makes the snow just that more bearable for one more week.

Joan used the patterns for Mochimochi Snowmen and Tubby. Check out more photos on her Flickr page.

Shop Talk: Being Your Own Boss

Last night I realized that I didn’t have a Shop Talk post planned for today, and I started to feel a bit panicky. But then I remembered that there’s no one making me write these posts every Friday; in fact, I might be the only one who even notices if I don’t write one. Freedom! And yet here I am, writing a Shop Talk post. Why? Because my boss said so.

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Don’t let any frustrated freelancers kid you—being your own boss is awesome. You get to set your own hours, you can drop everything for a new crazy project if you want to, you get to go to the grocery store during non-peak times… it’s like normal life, but better. All you have to do is be able to tell yourself what to do. That means more than just motivating yourself to get stuff done and managing time—it means setting goals and figuring out a career path on your own. These things can be really hard when you also feel like you’re kind of improvising all along the way.

Working for yourself requires a balance of structure and chaos, and solo work and collaboration. I think that’s reflected in this little list I’ve put together of things that help me be my own boss. Hey, speaking of lists…

Lists
When I was a kid, I hated any classroom exercise that involved lists or outlines. My creative powers couldn’t be boxed in! But at some point the awesomeness of list-making was revealed to me, and now I am all about lists: I make a list of goals at the beginning of each year, I make a list of stuff I want to do for each month, each week I start a list for stuff that I want to get done each day, and every morning I make a list for the day. Lists are the closest substitution for having someone tell you what to do, so the idea is to take them seriously. But it’s also important to know that lists can be constantly revised based on changing situations. I don’t usually get to everything on my day’s list, but that’s not a failure—the purpose of the list is so that I don’t have a moment in the day where I feel aimless or bored. There are probably hundreds of list-making apps for your phone, but I prefer to use simple text documents and sticky notes for mine, for instant access and easy revisions.

Deadlines
Deadlines serve a similar function as lists, but I use them in a different way. I make myself deadlines for significant stages in a project—for example, if I’m working on a new pattern, I set a date by which I’ll have something to send to my tech editor, a date for when I’ll send it to testers, and a date on which I’ll release the pattern on my website. I put all of these on my calendar along with my doctor appointments and galas and other important events. There’s something about putting things on my calendar (which is on my computer and sends alerts to me on my phone) that makes me take them seriously.

Time Off
Without a break, all the endless lists and looming deadlines can be a real slog, so taking time off is important, but tricky. I have no qualms about taking a Tuesday afternoon off to visit a museum, but then you’ll probably find me working most of the following weekend. And I’m never totally off of my email for any length of time—John and I have to be the 24-hour customer service staff if someone has a problem with a purchase. But aside from the annual burnout, I’ve found a way to balance my schedule so that it works for my own lifestyle—almost always working, but super flexible hours, and a few extra curricular projects. And at least a couple of actual sort-of days off each month. If that means moving deadlines back sometimes, that’s fine. Plus, big ideas need time and space to develop, so taking a walk on a beautiful morning instead of editing patterns can pay off.

Mentors
One of the tough things about my job is that, while there are tons of successful creative people out there whom I admire greatly, there’s no one person I can point to and say “I want to do what they’re doing,” and use them to model my career after. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have mentors, experienced professionals who are willing to give me advice and help open some doors. I’ve been so lucky to encounter people who are generous with their time and resources just because I asked nicely and they liked my work enough to help me out. Without really consciously doing it, I’ve managed to put together a team of mentors who support various interests of mine, including yarn shop owners, authors, designers, artists, and artist reps. It’s important to have someone to turn to when I need some advice or an introduction, and these relationships all came about naturally, just through an email or because I talked to someone at an event.

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Just hanging with Debbie and Nell Bliss, as you do.

Peers
Like mentors, peers are awesome for advice and sharing resources, plus they’re great for an empathetic response when I need one. My ideas about what’s possible in my own career have certainly be enhanced by seeking out other designers, authors, and artists who are going through a similar process as me. And like with my mentors, anybody who shares some aspect of my work can be a peer to me. Shout-outs to Stacey Trock and Kim Werker in particular!

Online Resources
Obviously, the internet is there to help. I don’t go overboard with reading advice for people running small businesses, but I do occasionally check out the Biz Ladies series on Design Sponge, which is written by guest bloggers who run amazing small, creative businesses. The Designers group on Ravelry, which I’ve been mentioning a lot lately, is also a great place for someone like me to be. I don’t post there myself very often, but just reading what other designers are talking about helps me feel like part of a community of professionals.

Being a good boss to myself is really different from being a boss to someone else, which I may have to do someday. But at least I’m pretty happy with my own boss, even if my boss thinks I could have written a better blog post today. Maybe it should have been two separate posts, about time management and figuring out a career path. Whatever, boss.

Previous posts in this series:

Tech Editing and Pattern Testing

Online Marketing and Social Media

Writing Books

On Being Burnt Out

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started