2018 - Year End (Personal) Review
Back when I first started this blog, I used to write little reviews for myself - mostly monthly ones, and I think I recall there being one for the end of the first year. (You can see all of my posts if you scroll all the way to the bottom of my website). At the time, I thought it was a valuable practice - though maybe the monthly ones were a bit overkill - to document my progress. There were also many other posts on the blog that had more to do with art in general, or creative inspiration, and less to do with fiber specifically. This post is a little bit like those old posts. Grab yourself a drink and sit down, because it’s a bit long (I’ve been working on this post for some time).
Re-evaluating my why
As my blog continued to grow, and I continued to refine the things I wanted to write about, some things faded into the distant past. As much as I’d love to share about all my interests, I would just end up with a confusing mess (and likely a bunch of confused readers). At the same time, I know some readers love to know a little more about the inner workings of things - bloggers are people after all! I know I do, and one of the things I often go to on a blog is the about page, or look through the blog for any other little sneak peeks into a blogger’s life that would give me a little more insight into what inspires them and how they got to where they are now. I wouldn’t say that I’m anywhere near on the same level as any major blogs (at least I don’t think I am), though I also don’t think there are many blogs out there that write about felting, so the competition is a bit slim LOL. Slowly but surely, I know the readership has grown, and I receive more and more comments and messages from people I’d never interacted with in the past. This brings me a lot of joy to know that the words I write on my own humble little website and publish out into the void are actually reaching people and helping them. I would still write either way, knowing that it helps even one person, or that there would be something here for myself and later my children to look back on, makes it all worth the effort. It’s just one of those things where I thought that if I know how to do something, and the information available is slim and/or scattered, I might as well put it in a central location that can be easily referenced - as I wish had existed when I first started out. That was my intention when I started writing, and it still is. My first felting kit came with instructions on a single page. There was no information regarding what needles to use, what base to use, what wool to use or the concept of core wool (thus resulting in a far-more-expensive-than-necessary project which had dyed wool all the way through).
I also write because it gives me something to focus on, keeps me pushing forward, keeps me challenging myself. I’m sure many of my readers are mothers and/or grandmothers (not to exclude the fathers/grandfathers, but as a female I can only write from the female perspective), and some of those mothers stay at home with their kids, so they’ll be able to relate to this. When you live in a society which people largely define themselves by their personal achievements, which in many cases relate to a career, and you quit that career to stay home, the changes we go through aren’t only external ones (like a shift from having to sit in rush hour traffic and communicating with colleagues to a seemingly endless Sisyphean task of caring and housekeeping where how much adult communication you receive largely falls on you). We, or at least I, also went through a massive mental change - I had to reexamine how I define myself. I also found that it’s a long, ongoing process. When you’re busy working and surviving, you’re not necessarily thriving. Some jobs keep you so busy that you really don’t have time to think, then add rearing children to the mix - no wonder many people go through some sort of crisis, i.e. mid-life crisis, empty-nesting, post-retirement transition. I found that I needed some things/activities that were a bit like hobbies but a lot more focused. Something that allowed me to be with myself, that would pull me through difficult times in my day-to-day life, that gave myself some sort of purpose with goals that didn’t involve taking care of other people or adult responsibilities. I have a few of those things now, and my fiber art, in combination with this blog and etsy shop, is one of them.
Speaking of hobbies, I really do think everyone needs at least one or two good hobbies that help slow down time and put us in a quiet place. We homeschool using a Waldorf curriculum, and one of the essential parts of the curriculum is handiwork. In the home teacher’s process manual for the Oak Meadow curriculum, it states “Handicrafts, such as knitting and crocheting, are exceptional activities for integrating thoughts, feelings and actions. They can be tremendously harmonizing and healing if we do them consciously and consistently.”
changes that happened in 2018
This is going to be a bit vague, as it has to do more with long-term ongoing changes that have been going on since the beginning - not just 2018. When you are what is essentially a work-at-home-mom who also has to take on the tasks of housekeeping, raising children, homeschooling, running errands, managing bills, etc., everything seems to be in a constant state of searching for balance. And that happens after you reach the realization that there is no such thing as the perfect balance. As children grow, their needs change. Even though my website and shop aren’t going anywhere, how my family’s needs change also affect how I much time I am able to focus on things as I attempt to re-balance. That’s nothing new - it always has been this way since I first created my page in 2015 with a baby and toddler in tow. While I want to continue to grow my art and business into something that eventually would be able to sustain my family (or at least be a good supplemental income), knowing how drastically things can still change at my children’s ages has forced me to pace myself, deciding on which things are doable now and which need to be held off for a time when both my children are more independent. The plan was never to have to depend on outside care - I left my career in order to focus on home and parenting. When discussing with my husband regarding what my plans were for this, we agreed that our children come first. And for this reason, I am grateful for the slow and steady growth.
All of that being said, it’s not as if that growth has been insignificant! I started my Facebook page first, when my youngest was half a year old, and my daughter was 3. I launched my website in May, when he was just over a year old. I’ve kept it up ever since, and he’ll be celebrating his fourth birthday early 2019. A few months into blogging (June-August), I was getting 100-300 page views. A quick glance at just this past month’s analytics, I’m at 1,488 unique visitors and over 2k pageviews!
So what happened this year?
In 2017 my son had dropped his naps, and then later started waking up earlier, times when I would try to do most of my video work. He also really enjoys being very involved in whatever I’m doing - which is awesome! But it did mean that videos needed to be placed on the back burner for a while. As much as I’d love to be able to work like Jay Lee with her baby strapped in, it’s a bit difficult to do with sharp objects. Towards the end of 2018 I was able to start filming videos again and got one of them completely edited and listed in my shop with one more to edit and one ready to film, after which I ran into a few technical difficulties. LOL, it’s always something. With my daughter, we are two short years from having to be “official” with homeschooling (as per state laws), so we’ve been slowly transitioning from a more unschooling approach (which has worked really well for us) to one that is more structured with a curriculum, and thus easier to document. This is all background stuff that you guys don’t see, and it hasn’t really affected too much on the business front besides the quantity of content I’d been putting out. Since I strive for quality over quantity, rather than filling up my blog and social media channels with needless fluff (though I do try to share neat things that I find on my Facebook page), it just meant that it took more time for me to put out what I’d hoped to be valuable information for you.
On a more positive note, as my kids get older, I have been thinking of ways that they can be more involved in this project with me to some degree, if they are so inclined. For example, we use a Waldorf approach to homeschooling which includes handiwork. My daughter created her first project on a tiny knitting loom, and I think that maybe the occasional mother-daughter video might be fun to try, which would be both fiber-art related and a tiny glimpse into our homeschooling life. She at one point mentioned wanting to make tutorials for kids, and she has her own Facebook page just for the purpose of being able to post her own videos. It’s nearly impossible to separate work and life when work is at home, as nothing happens in a vacuum. At the same time I don’t want this to turn into a mommy blog - at most such videos would be very sporadic, and the purpose would be to provide ideas for my readers on how to get their kids or grandkids involved. I’m personally not a fan of mommy blogs, not to mention I’m not sure how much choice the children have with some of them regarding what is made public, or if they understand the full grasp of what risks are involved in putting yourself out there. (To be honest, I feel kinda weird about how public kids are made these days as it is… the internet is far bigger than your local newspaper, and we’ve had one example after another of just how shitty some people can be.) Even if you change the children’s names, if anyone knows the family personally, all they have to search them. There are a lot of things I have to take into consideration, mainly my children’s personal safety, but also their privacy, so anything I post with them is done with as much care as possible (also why I don’t arbitrarily friend people on my personal Facebook profile).
2018 saw my first commissions from people who don’t personally know me. I know that it takes a lot of trust to request a commission from someone with zero prior non-biased reviews to provide at least some level of confidence that the money you spend is worth it. I am very grateful to those who were willing to give my work a shot!
In 2018 I also heavily re-designed my website. The layout I had initially chosen and used for the last 2 years was okay, it definitely served its purpose. Knowing myself, had I waited for the perfect look, it would’ve never gotten off the ground. I felt inspired and knew that I had to jump in then and there and just go for it. However, part of me was always thinking about how I could improve the design and make things more accessible. I finally came across a new template that I felt was exactly what I’d needed, bringing the blog more to the forefront and in a far more organized fashion with various sections. Instead of having to scroll through the entire blog to look for a particular post, readers can now go look at the different sections based on what they’re needing.
2018 was also my year for really delving into fiber processing - I’d done some the previous year, but this year I really focused largely on procuring, processing and dyeing various breeds of wool. This prompted me to also start adding sections for fiber processing and dyeing, as well as one for breed profiles that will include examples of use in needle felting. As felters, depending on the project, we can go through a lot of wool, or really need to be able to find the right shade for our project, so I think it is important for anyone who is seriously interested in this medium to know how to process their own at some point. It can get very expensive buying processed wool, and/or you’re limited in what colors are available. I know that $3-4 per oz doesn’t seem as much, but it doesn’t take long to go through an ounce of wool, and if you were wanting to have a nice variety of colors in various shades, it does add up. Meanwhile you can go buy a bargain fleece for $3-4 a pound, wash it yourself, and with just three primary colors you can really build up your stash. Even if you end up spending more on a fancier breed, it still ends up less in the long run. There are so many different types of locks out there, you really don’t have to be limited to a small selection that’s available in fiber shops, and trying new fleeces can really set your work apart. Granted, you can buy already processed plain white wool in huge quantities (and still get a better deal on it), so there’s always that in-between if you’re ready to dye but not ready too clean a whole fleece from start to finish.
a few goals for 2019
These are not definitive, but I do want to give you all some sense of a few of the things I’ve been thinking about doing here in the coming year.
While my own personal art involves expanding a bit outside of the realm of felting into other areas of fiber & textile art (and more sewing), I still plan to keep this blog, my videos and tutorials focused on needle felting. At most, I’ll add another section just for documenting my attempts into learning these other things. I think it’s important to remember we all have to start somewhere, and although I wasn’t blogging when I started needle felting, I can absolutely share my struggles and achievements when learning other things!
I definitely plan to add more tutorials to my site and shop. I’m not sure how many I would be able to do, but now that I’ve finally figured out a way to start doing them again, expect to see more of them!
I also want to add more ready-made items to my shop for people who want to own something I made. A few things I’ve started making this past year are felt planner covers (which I plan to make more of), and I want to continue making creatures from folklore. Though I still haven’t found it in me to part with my little Domovoi yet. Little side note: That’s how I judge the quality of my own work - if it’s something I’d rather keep and have difficulty parting with, I know it’s in line with the type of work I want to have in my shop. The first time I opened my Etsy shop, back in 2008, I made and sold jewelry. I noticed that there was a massive shift in the quality of my work when it started to become more about creating product to sell and less about making art that I loved and wanted to share, prompting me to take a very very very long break. Lesson learned, I’m not repeating that mistake again, but it does mean that the number of things I list in my shop are limited. It’s also why I personally have no desire in doing craft shows - I’m definitely not saying other crafters are like this, but taking my limited time into consideration, I just can’t put out the quantity of items I would need to have a booth while maintaining the quality of items I expect of myself.
I started up a twitch profile and did one somewhat unsuccessful video (due to the sound somehow getting screwed up) of needle felting a “creature” from a video game I enjoy playing. My twitch stream will be entirely based on needle felting video game flora and fauna, so if that’s something that interests you, give it a follow. It’s also linked to my Youtube channel and will be saved there permanently even if they eventually disappear off of twitch. Hopefully I can figure out why the sound didn’t work there when I have had no issue with sound in other videos. It’s not a main focus, just something I want to do for fun in attempt to combine my interests (I’ve been playing video games far longer than I’ve been felting), and just throwing it out there in case you can’t get enough of me otherwise.
More of a personal goal, or rather something I want to attempt, since I feel like my work is going in a bunch of different directions: I’ve thought about assigning different days to different fiber-art things, kind-of how I titled my blog posts “Felting Fridays.” I’d add Weaving Wednesdays, Spinning Saturdays, Sewing Sundays, and so on. I’ll have to figure out what to do on the days without creative alliteration. I would like to (ok, I need to) figure out how to be more organized and be more efficient with my time. Of course, if I’m working on a major project or on a commission, that would still get spread out over all of the days of the week until it is complete - this is more of a way for me to make sure that I spend at least an hour working on learning other things as well throughout the week.
Blogs will be written as I come up with ideas and posted whenever - while I can understand having a specific day when you expect a new post from me, this goes back to the quality over quantity thing. At first I was struggling to think of content to write about, and then I noticed that having a specific day backfired on me personally. I do better when I work as inspiration strikes, and I found that “oh, I can’t post this til Friday” just ended up encouraging me to procrastinate on it a bit, and then it would end up not being ready to post on Friday, and I’d be waiting for the next Friday to roll around, thus never actually getting posted. So now, I write when I’m inspired to write and post when it’s done, regardless of when that might be. Who knows, I might actually end up writing a bit more than I had been this way. Which brings me to the next thing…
my “word/phrase” for 2019 - wabi sabi
Wabi Sabi isn’t really a phrase but more of a world view taken from Japanese traditional aesthetics (that has its roots in ancient Chinese culture) which sees beauty in imperfection, though I think it can apply to how we approach life in general. Perfectionism, I find, has a way of holding me back.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that in our Western culture (maybe it exists in other places as well), things are very much black or white. If we aren’t striving for perfection, then we’re being sloppy. If it’s not the best, it’s the worst. You either love or you hate. You’re either for or against. We live in a world of 1 or 5 star reviews (it’s rare you see much in the middle, and even then, if something is an “okay” 3 stars, then it’s not good enough, right?). We aren’t giving ourselves grace. I’ve seen more and more posts asking about “rules” in needle felting groups, and people with purist attitudes, and that’s the absolute last place we need any of that. There are no rules. There is no central coalition of felting leadership that determines the dogma of the craft. If you stab fluff and it starts to change shape, you’re doing it right. If you can make that happen with the stuffing you pulled out of your pillow, do it! Were there rules when the first person to pick up an industrial felting needle decided to poke some wool with it rather than use it for its intended purpose? All these rules end up doing is stifling creativity. One person doing something differently has zero effect on another person’s work. *note: yes, there are some rules in art, for example color theory and composition and such, and it’s generally a good idea to know them so you can know how to break them, or how placing limitations on us can sometimes inspire creativity whereas having too many choices can stifle it - this isn’t what I’m talking about and is an entire different post on its own that gets into the theory/philosophy of creativity. I’m talking about people arguing about whether or not you can needle felt with other materials, or if it can even be called felt if you don’t use wool, etc. Basically just eye-rolling stuff.
I see wabi sabi as a way to give ourselves grace. To allow ourselves the freedom to explore and really delve into our work free from external pressures. To forgive ourselves ahead of time for any “mistakes” that we will make, and seeing the beauty in those imperfections, so that we can focus more on getting to know ourselves, our process, our own personal unique styles. We can absolutely continue to give our projects 100%. It’s not sloppy work if we mess something up. Even when we strive for perfection we make mistakes. So now we just strive for doing our best rather than being the best, and instead of getting angry with ourselves when we mess something up, we embrace it, learn from it, maybe even leave it alone because it makes it even better. Creating things isn’t just a physical process, it’s very much a cerebral, even spiritual one. As Bob Ross would say, “We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
The things other people make that I find I admire oh so much happen to be things that are a bit more funky. Unique. Unusual. Whimsical. Primitive art. Perfectly imperfect. It’s something I encourage in others, in my children, in those who ask for advice, but I’ve found that I really need to listen to my own words and explore this for myself. Some of the ways I plan to embrace wabi sabi:
I really want to try making my own clothes, either from new materials or by upcycling old. It’s been something I’d been wanting to try for years, but avoided for fear of not doing it right.
Weaving, in particular in the Saori style, aka freestyle weaving, a concept conceived by Misao Jo. It’s about weaving without rules. It’s “Weaving as a means to discover our true selves and to express our individual creativity.” I love the fact that the less you know about weaving, the easier it is to learn Saori. For this, I’ll need more yarn, which brings me to the next thing.
Teaching myself to spin yarn, specifically what are known as “art yarns,” but see all the yarns I make from the start as beautiful and useful in their own way, not just stepping stones in a learning process to “doing it right.” I guess you could say it’s like Saori spinning. If I wanted a perfect machined yarn, I’d just go out and buy one.
Really get into exploring more with needle felting, playing with different colors, textures, finding the things that shouldn’t work together but they do. Not worrying about the end result, just getting lost in the process.
Jump back into my big needle felting projects that I’ve been planning on doing for quite some time now, but have held off - I know that the fear of screwing them up is what ultimately held me back.
My life in general. How many of us get caught up in this need to show ourselves as impossibly perfect beings? Not to mention, hasn’t sharing everything on social media just made this worse? Are we too caught up in getting the right lighting, right look, right garden, right living/workspace, right partner, right parenting, right everything? I think it’s time I step back and embrace the wabi sabi of my life.
The reason I’m telling you all this is twofold. One: it helps me hold myself accountable. Two: I will be sharing my work.
While everyone else is getting their New Years resolutions together thinking how they can be more perfect, like an embodiment of Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier,” I’m going to work on letting go of that unattainable idea and start unapologetically embracing my whole, human self - and with that, really exploring my creativity. Will you join me?