Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

What makes a person productive? Doing a little on a lot? Or doing a lot on a little?

It becomes clearer to me all the time that different people have different measures for productivity.

Some folks love to get a project done—finishing is how they know they are being productive. These people are focusers—they focus, spend hours on their project, and get it finished.

Other people flitter from project to project. I don’t just mean having multiple projects and moving between them, a day on this, a day on that. I mean flitting, hour by hour, from one endeavor to the next.

I am a flitterer of the first order.

To feel really good about a day, really productive, I seem to need to work on many, many projects, just doing a little on each.

A typical day will have me:

  • Working on Etsy—today I might add new listings and/or soak and iron some linens. I’d like to take photos for listings but it’s raining again.
  • Working on one or more quilting projects—today I might hand quilt for an hour and/or cut and trim some of the 200 HSTs I need for another current project. Or I might make some repairs on that <expletive written in CAPS and then deleted> yoyo coverlet.
  • Working on one or more weaving projects—today I might weave on the band loom and/or dress the big loom for a set of blue and white towels and/or throw the shuttle on more of the tab towels.
  • Working on the house and/or yard—today I will probably do laundry and clean the top of the stove (Don made spaghetti sauce yesterday!) I’d like to spend a little time on turning the compost pile or weeding but it’s very, very wet outside.
  • I always give myself extra pats on the back for working on a blog post and for exercising. So far today I’ve done both—yay, me!

I don’t do all of these things every day, of course, but I love a day where I can knock off several of them. I spend an hour here and an hour there, and move happily from one kind of a task to another. The more the better!

I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best.

The downside to all of this is that I rarely finish anything. My stints of an hour or so are a drop in the bucket of what it takes to make a full-size quilt or weave 10 towels from a long warp.

Because I never finish anything, my list never gets shorter and that can be stressful. I always feel like I have SO much to do; it’s overwhelming.

I kind of envy people who are focusers, and the satisfaction they get from regularly finishing or making noticeable progress on a project.

I think I’d like to be a focuser more than a flitterer . . . but I’d like to be tall and thin, too. I have little control over either.

In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam . . .”

How about you? Do you spend your creative time focused on one or two big projects per day? Or do you flit around and do a little on a lot of fronts?

Such A Tease (and the giveaway!)

Let’s see . . . what should I tell you about today?

I could tell you about:

A trip to Harvard. I felt smart there.

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A historic mansion in Boston. Very posh.

Matisse in His Studio. The artist and some of the artifacts that inspired him.

I could tell you tons about the Boston Marathon.

Inspiring runners of all different abilities.

Inspiring because they were so fast.

Inspiring because they kept a sense of humor.

Inspiring because they were ordinary folk doing something extraordinary–these young women, who we went to watch, were two of 30,000!

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And folks who supported every single one.

I could go on and on, and tell you about spring coming to the North Country of upstate New York, or the opening of our local ice cream shop, or I could give you updates on weaving, quilting, all kinds of crafting.

But I won’t. I’ll stop being a tease and I’ll tell you what you’ve been waiting to hear, eager to hear . . .

Who wins the hand-woven key fob?!

We had lots of entries, from all over the world, and I do wish I had dozens of key fobs to give away. But I had to use my random number generator to choose one of you.

I love pushing the button on my random number generator—the suspense, the anticipation, the thrill!

My random number generator said I should give the key fob to Judy, at New England Garden and Thread!

But I enjoyed hitting the button and the suspense, the anticipation, the thrill, so much, I hit the button again—what the heck!

And the generator said I should give another key fob to Jean, at One Small Stitch. (This one is sort of daunting—Jean is a weaver of many, MANY years experience! She has been supportive of my learning to weave since even before I took my first workshop.)

So, Judy and Jean, if you will email me at kerrycan2@gmail.com, with your addresses, I’ll send your gift!

And you can choose–either the key fob I originally pictured or this brown and turquoise one I’ve made since. I have two of each.

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Everyone else, take heart. I like giving stuff away and, before long, I bet my fingers will be itching to hit that button and choose another random number!

A Girl Having Fun, and a Giveaway

While the boy who lives here makes serious, complicated, heirloom pieces, the girl who shares the house (that would be me!) takes a different tack.

This girl just wants to have fun.

And I have been having such fun lately!

Quilting? Nah.

Embroidery? Uh uh.

Candy making? No way.

Exercise and healthy living? Fuggedaboutit!

I have been weaving, obsessively, on three different looms.

I made scarves for a special blog pal, a real patron of the crafts, but I will wait to tell about those. I will say that it was particular fun, and a little nervous-making, to know for whom I was doing that weaving.

My other projects, though, haven’t been as weighty. I’ve been playing and experimenting and learning as I go. How fun is that?!

I told you a while ago that I got a big new loom with 12 shafts, to allow more complicated weaving. I had used the loom but not to do anything fancy. I finally dove in and wove a set of towels using 8 shafts of my loom and a weave structure that was new to me, block twill.

These were endless fun because they could all look so different! And I didn’t make them all navy blue and white! I hope you’re proud of me for that . . .

I’ve also made another set of towels on my smaller loom that have tickled me no end!

I saw towels like this at weaving school, in the bathroom we all shared. Each student chose a different color towel and it was ours for the week. They all hung jauntily on hooks.

I’ve wanted to make these towels ever since!

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The hanging tab is integrated into the weaving, not sewed on after—how did that work?

IMG_6805I found something similar in a book and took notes but it still took me some time to figure out an approach.

I am inordinately pleased with how the towels turned out! I smile all the time.

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And I’ve been weaving on my small band loom. I got this little loom, used it a couple times, and then it languished, looking cute but gathering dust.

But for the last month or so, I have been using it regularly, making bands and ribbons.

And thinking about what to do with all the bands and ribbons!

I made myself a hippie belt.

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And a lanyard for my scissors and one for Don’s scissors.

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And a key fob.

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And I made another key fob that matches mine, to send to one of you!

If you would your name in a drawing for a handwoven key fob, just say so in a comment on this post. I’ll send it wherever the winner resides. I don’t think I’ll get around to choosing a winner until about April 19 so I’ll leave the contest open until then.

And may I just add—I hope you’re spending your days having at least half as much fun as I am!

Manly Hands at Home: He’s Still At It!

In the hive of activity hereabouts, my hands are not the only ones that ply a needle and throw a shuttle.

I’ve written before about the manly maker in the house, the guy who has the patience for counted cross stitch and who weaves in the next room over from mine.

Don’s been busy!

His most recent weaving project was his most ambitious yet.

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He loves these complicated overshot patterns. It takes longer to dress the loom, with its diabolical threading pattern, than it does to actually do the weaving, and a moment’s inattention can throw the whole thing off.

This pattern is called Lee’s Surrender and I suspect many weavers have waved the white flag and given up on this overshot. But not Don! The weaving takes two shuttles and a combination of the off-white cotton thread, quite fine, and the tweedy blue-green wool that makes the pattern.

He also wove this runner as a custom request from a buyer. She had seen a similar runner in our Etsy shop but in burgundy, navy, and white, and asked Don to make her one in just navy and off-white. This is overshot, too, and the pattern is called Anabel.

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Weaving has taken time from his cross-stitch projects but he has worked on small projects to give him something productive to do as he watches March Madness. He’s made a bunch of these bookmarks—we will both need to do more reading!

And he continues work on his own Christmas stocking, to complement the one he made for me.

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He finished one gorgeous cross-stitched piece 4 years ago, a long, narrow bell pull design, and it has been rolled up in a drawer since then. When he recently pulled it out and asked me to finish it, I panicked! Me? Cut it? Sew it? Try to make it into the wall hanging it was meant to be? With him hanging over my shoulder the whole time?!

I don’t think so. Time to stick it back in the drawer.

But then we found the perfect solution. I’ve been following a blog for quite awhile, where the blogger, Karen, shows the end results of a wonderful service she offers.

In her business, Averyclaire Needle Arts, Karen takes other people’s work, their embroidery and cross stitch, and finishes them, in expert and creative ways, into pillows, ornaments, wall hangings, and small free-standing displays. The attention to detail is amazing! I knew Karen could handle what I could not!

I contacted Karen and within a few weeks she had transformed Don’s work.

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She communicated with me regularly, worked quickly, charged only a very reasonable fee, and amazed us with the product of her labor. Don’s handiwork is now permanently out of the drawer and being admired, as it so deserves. If you ever need finish work for your stitching, I can’t recommend Karen’s work highly enough!

Don and I do very different kinds of work. Even when we both weave, our weaving goes in completely different directions and reflects our personalities and aesthetics.

But it is wonderful to have someone under this same roof who shares my love of making and of creating, who can relate to the frustrations and the joys of the tasks at hand, who likes to be busy and productive, who loves to finish a project and can’t wait to start another one.

So I wonder—what will he make next . . . ?

The Not-So-Boring Begats

When I was a child, I went to church.

In that church, we read the Bible. The whole Bible.

Or at least that was the idea, the goal. We were encouraged to read the whole thing, as well as memorize the names of the books of the Bible (which I can still reel off with weird precision 50-ish years later, for the first 20 or so).

Parts of the Bible were interesting. But then one would get to the boring begats, the long lists of genealogy, like this one in Genesis:

[7] And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:
[8] And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
[9] And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:
[10] And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:
[11] And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died.
[12] And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel:
[13] And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[14] And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.
[15] And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:
[16] And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[17] And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.

And on and on. Who were these people and how did they live so long? These were the sections I skipped.

I find, now, that my life is full of a different sort of begats. I think of this as the crafting begats, the way one project begets others.

These begats are anything but boring!

Each weaving project begets new ones. I start with one color and think what a different one would look like. Or one treadling pattern and imagine others. I work on a scarf and want to see how the structure would translate to towels or a baby blanket.

Each quilt begets new ones. As I work on the redwork squares to reproduce the antique quilt I have, I think of ideas for a modern version, with blocks that reflect my current life.

This weaving project begets ideas for a quilt—wouldn’t this look pretty in pieced fabric?

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I work on the quilt I am making, with quotes about women’s rights, and think of embroidering a short phrase, a few words, to represent every day of my year, a stitched journal.

I iron vintage linens and inevitably find pieces with damage that makes them unsellable. I put them aside because, in my mind, they beget a quilt made of the pretty bits pieced together. Or they beget rag rugs, woven from strips of the usable fabric. Or they beget special buttons . . .

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I imagine this organic moving from one project to the next, each unique but related to something that came before, happens to us all—gardeners, bakers, painters, potters . . . makers.

With my making begats, I’ll never be bored.

My projects are fruitful and they multiply. How about yours?

What’s Your Style?

I wrote recently about stitching being like handwriting, so distinctive and impossible to copy. As I thought about this more, I thought about the most distinctive aspect of our handwriting—our signatures.

The idea is that our signatures are unique and, according to some people, reflections of our characters, who we are. But does that just apply to our handwriting?

I thought about some of the world’s best-known artists and how recognizable their styles are. I think I could recognize a Vermeer or a Van Gogh anywhere.

And I thought about the bloggers I read regularly—you folks. Honestly, I believe I could pick out who wrote what even if your names weren’t on your posts! Your styles are so distinctive!

What about the rest of the things you make? Your gardening? Your sewing? Your quilting? Even your cooking?

I bought a mixed lot of linens on eBay recently and got three items, among many others, I would swear are by the same hand—they have what, to me, is clearly a signature style.

The three pieces are a table runner, a storage pouch for a dressing table, and a “splasher,” a cloth designed to be hung over the bar on a washstand to keep water from splashing on the wall.

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A splasher would hang over a bar on a washstand, to protect the plaster walls.

Here’s what I think they tell me about the maker:

  • She loved color—bright, saturated colors. She didn’t adhere to a bunch of set rules about what colors “go together” but, rather, used what pleased her. Maybe she wasn’t one to follow fashion but had a strong sense of personal style.
  • She saw every blank piece of fabric as a canvas. She was looking for places to apply her skill and prettify her home. She actively liked embroidery, rather than doing it as a chore.
  • She was practical and wanted to make useful items. These three items all have a job of work to do, beyond being pretty. Even the table runner may have been designed for a specific table—the one in the sewing room. Look at those snazzy scissors added to each corner!

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  • She was patient and skilled and confident, and maybe a little vain about her ability. All three items have hems finished with buttonhole stitch, a time-consuming and fussy stitch. But she did it to perfection!

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  • She might’ve been rural or a little old-fashioned. The use of splasher cloths was really a late-nineteenth or early-20th century thing, when people had washstands and pitchers and bowls in bedrooms, rather than indoor plumbing. My guess is that these pieces were made later than that, probably 1930s or ‘40s.

I feel like I could recognize this woman’s work now if I came across a piece in a different setting. I feel like I know her a little and like her style!

I admit what I’m doing here is little more than a parlor game, speculating without ever being able to know whether I’m right or wrong.

But it also leads me to look at my own work over the years and wonder whether someone could say, “These things, these, were made by the same person.”

It’s harder to do with one’s own work, partly because I’m not just using the handwork itself but bringing in things I know to be true about myself.

I think my weaving so far shows that I am practical and value making things that have a function, the job of work to do. Of all I’ve made, probably 75% of it is dishtowels.

I like color, or think I should, but I am not confident. My weaving has a lot of neutral expanses with bands of color thrown in. Or I use a neutral and one color. It’s safe.

I like traditional style and am not adventurous. I choose straightforward, fairly easy patterns to weave and do variations of them rather than trying new things. I also use traditional natural fibers—no sparkly novelty yarn for me!

My quilting tells a similar story in some ways. Because I want what I make to be useful, I have, with one exception, only ever made bed-sized quilts.

I like traditional and tend to use the old-fashioned patchwork patterns that my grandmothers might’ve chosen.

I have issues with color. I am not confident choosing patterned fabrics and don’t really like them. I tend to make quilts with a few, limited, solid colors. It’s safe.

One thing that would connect a few of my recent quilts and would mark them as mine is the use of embroidered words. I don’t know if this makes my recent work more didactic and pointed or if it just means I like to take the time to ponder certain words. Or both . . .

In all my work, I see evidence of wanting it to be good quality but not necessarily perfect. I can see evidence that I subscribe to the notion that it’s good enough “if a man galloping by on a horse wouldn’t notice a mistake at 50 yards.”

I think I could take this further, to apply it to the writing I do and other things I make. Maybe even what I bake? Or the gardening I do? Actually, I suspect I could apply it to the clothes I wear and the way I decorate my house!

But I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. Can you think of someone’s work that is instantly recognizable to you? What are the elements that give it away?

What about applying the idea to your own work? Are there elements that cut across the work you do? What would your work tell us about you?

Do you have a signature style?

Our Weaving Ways (Winter 2017)

It does feel like the winter of our discontent.

While we normally enjoy our cozy days at home, in a happy fog of hominess and solitude, buoyed by cats purring, a warm fire, and comfort food, this winter is different.

Politics, chaotic change, and uncertainty intrude at every level. I spend too much time reading the New York Times and checking Twitter, and rolling my eyes, feeling my gut clench. I know I should walk away from the computer but that seems irresponsible.

I need to know.

But I also need to soothe myself and seek some solace.

And so I keep doing the things I always do, as insignificant as they sometimes seem.

The quilting, the embroidery, the ironing, the sewing group, spending time with you.

And the weaving.

The quiet repetition of winding warp, of slowly dressing the loom, of throwing the shuttle, and watching something grow from nothing, demand my focus and let me forget the so-called real world for awhile.

So, here’s what we’ve been weaving, since, after all, this is a place to celebrate loving hands and that which is handmade, not a place of lament and worry.

A bunch of towels:

The large photo shows the towel I made for Caroline, who won the giveaway late last year. Others were gifts for friends.

These ended up in the Etsy shop:

I’ve also made some scarves. This one is the first thing I made on my new loom:

And two others:

And a baby blanket:

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Don’s been busy, too. He made this beautiful runner in colors that make me think of the tropics, along with coordinating placemats:

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And he just finished this runner for a customer:

Even though we’ve been cranky and distracted by news of the world, we carry on and do the things we love.

I know I won’t stop worrying but I also now I won’t stop hoping and, in that hope, I’ll continue to create because creating feels like building, and building feels positive . . . and I need all the positive I can get right now.