Saturday, 28 November 2015

small business saturday to giving tuesday, and all of the in-between

this weekend is black friday, small business saturday, and thanksgiving sunday (in the states), followed by cyber monday and giving tuesday. i have conflicting feelings about all of it except for giving tuesday, including small business saturday. despite running a small business myself. despite offering sales over this weekend. despite despite despite...but this year, i've been unpacking it a lot more, and i've come to some conclusions. which are open-ended. like most of my conclusions. i'm learning more and more that absolutes aren't really a thing in this world. 

use code SHOPSMALL this weekend in my ravelry store.

black friday was an annual event that started in the states - huge doorbuster sales offered by massive corporations on the friday before (american) thanksgiving (i'm not going to touch my issues with thanksgiving, because that's a whole thing in and of itself that involves talking about colonialism, genocide, white privilege, and a whole host of other awful things - go do some research about indigenous peoples' day here in canada, which is a great alternative). of course, with our economies so intertwined, canada soon followed suit with black friday. small business saturday grew as an attempt from the small business community to redirect shoppers away from the big box stores, especially as so much of the advertising is centred around holiday gift shopping. cyber monday is the result of the online world (ahem, amazon) jumping on the consumerist weekend bandwagon, and now giving tuesday tries to redirect some of that spending into donations for charities. 

i am conflicted about all of this because it goes against so many of my morals (specifically black friday and cyber monday - i strongly believe in supporting small/local/independent businesses as much as possible, and donating to charity is important for a lot of reasons). it's consumerism and capitalism in their purest forms - buy these things for a holiday, and fight all the other people (sometimes literally) to get them because procuring them will make you a better parent/partner/friend/family member/person in general. plus this way you can beat all those fanatic december shoppers. shopping for random shit we don't need feeds into a throw-away culture, a culture of worker exploitation, a culture of angry shoppers who think it's appropriate to take out their frustrations on retail workers being paid minimum wage which isn't enough to pay their bills and definitely isn't enough to justify the abuse received at the hands of total strangers.

this is great and important, even in the smallest ways, if you're financially able to do it.

but my being able to say maybe i won't shop this weekend. i'll abstain from the whole thing and use my dollars in another way/at another time comes from a place of privilege. because by saying "not this weekend", what i'm really saying is "if i really need it, i can afford to buy that thing at full price some other time." and that's major. we are in a society where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing all the time, and the have-nots (those who end up in those shitty exploitative jobs, or maybe there's not even a job available for them for a million possible reasons) have to participate in the consumerism of black friday weekend. not even because they feel the need to get the latest toy for their kid (although the amount of cultural shaming for not "providing" for your child in this way would certainly be enough incentive for a lot of people). but because they need new winter coats because last year's are too small or are too worn out for even mending to help. or because they need to replace their sole computer, which is barely working (and nowadays, being able to function within our society without constant access to the internet and to a personal computer is getting harder and harder, and for those who choose to not use one, that's often another choice stemming from privilege - they don't need to access their work schedule that's sent out last-minute every time, or jump on the parent/teacher sign-up because they have a limited window of availability between their two jobs without benefits). and if they can get a good winter coat or computer that will last them ten years instead of six months because that item is on 70% off, who are we to judge them for doing that? 

and as a small business owner, it's hard to not jump on the bandwagon. especially when so many others are doing it. especially when it means the extra sales might mean i can afford that electric winder that speeds up my ability to wind my yarn post-dyeing, saving me literally hours of work and my shoulder joint. and especially when it means that maybe someone who couldn't afford the full price of my pattern but who felt too shy to ask about it now can download my pattern and buy the wool to knit their dear one something with love. 

so you see, i don't think there's a clear solution. not in our current climate. yes, shopping with our dollars is a strong political statement every time we choose small over mega, indie over global conglomerate, artisan over mass-produced. but, as gibby says, that sentiment often comes from folks (and i will include myself in this):
"sipping lattes in coffee shops
with people who talk radical art and politics
while making no mention of the amount of privilege it takes
to have the option
to not shop at walmart"

i think, ultimately, that choosing to partake in black friday and the like, or not, is a personal choice. made for many reasons. and for a lot of people, that choice might not even really exist due to a lack of privilege. so you do you, and i'll do me, and leave the shaming - all of it - out of it.

Friday, 27 November 2015

why so slow

i've been taking a mini-programmable electronics workshop over the past couple of weeks through video pool here in winnipeg. andrew milne has been leading it, with help from andy, and there are seven of us in the workshop. all of us are artists looking to work electronics and new media into our practices somehow. by coincidence, three of us are textile artists (kelly was the one who reminded me to sign up). we are learning about analog versus digital, coding, ttl and cmos, how to build arduinos, the whole bit. all crammed into about 16 hours spread over four evenings. it's basically been a crash course into "here's electronics, here are their fundamentals and math and basic theory, here are some ways to apply them, try to build some shit, get past that initial fear so when you leave here you can jump into this with a little bit of comfort." and it's working. somehow, it's sort of making sense. a little bit.

plaster hands for the when nature fought back exhibit next week. trial and error and settling happily on imperfection.

i started investigating (in the most rudimentary of ways) the incorporation of new media into my practice during my master's degree in london. i studied aurality (the study of sound, not music, within the context of live performance) and started doing my first explorations into installations. when i got back to winnipeg, kelly was actually the one to introduce me to the new media scene here through cluster festival. i am fascinated by the idea and possibilities and theories behind interactive installations; how people interact with situations where they are given few concrete instructions (but where many unwritten rules, like how to behave in an art gallery, are a given); how to build soundscapes to manipulate an audience's emotions and journey (in a consensual way, if that makes sense). i'm also fascinated by the incorporation of electronic media into traditional craft - what if you knit a sweater that is somehow fitted with sensors, in a way where they're not just plunked onto the finished fabric, that then feeds a soundtrack and light show within a gallery space? the workshop has been very useful for learning major limitations to my imagination within reality, which is helpful.

huge blown-up photos from the photoshoot by leif norman. they'll be aged and burned and find their way to exhibit walls.
electronics and i have a lifelong and complicated (it's not me, it's you) relationship. i just don't get it. i'm great with math, theory makes sense, and i know what i want the output to be. but when it comes to programming the fucking circuit board, forget it. there is some level of magic that just doesn't quite connect in my brain's synapses. i'm starting to get a little bit better with it, but i have nearly burst into frustrated tears literally every single night of this workshop. electronics make me irrational. so why, given all of that, would i find myself being drawn to the most complicated, slow, arduous means of programming? and by that, i mean working in analog and using serial sequencing.

i don't totally grasp the concepts yet, so i'm not going to attempt to explain them, because i'll probably get most of it very wrong. but the philosophy is so beautiful to me, and it fits into my practice so nicely, that it just makes sense. analog is slow and often painful. you do things by hand rather than allowing a pre-programmed digital component do the work for you. even if you are a novice at whatever you're doing. even if the digital program could make you seem like you're an expert. serial sequencing is similar in its theory - things happen step by step rather than all at once. one component speaks to another which speaks to another, and you get this whole dialogue and conversation rather than the singular monologue of parallel sequencing. and if you fuck up with serial sequencing, good luck. you need to go through the whole chain until you figure out where the error is. but you take the time, and make the time, and ultimately, if you ever figure out where it went wrong, you understand the whole series much deeper by the time you unravel it. 

my textile process is slow. i knit hundreds of thousands of tiny stitches to make a single garment over a series of days and weeks and months and sometimes years. if i make a mistake that i can't bear to live with, i sometimes rip back three hours worth of work and spend five more fixing it and getting back to where i was. i make things with my hands, which are progressively getting achier and more creaky every month. i will most likely have early onset-arthritis by the time i hit thirty from the combination of repetitive movements and my genetics. right now, as i type this, my left index finger's top knuckle is sending pangs through the rest of my hand, and that's because i spent about five hours today knitting while also doing other things. there is no logic to this, if we were to look at it from a purely productive standpoint. i could have bought that sweater. i could have done other things with my hands that were not so repetitive. i could not spend an average of 60 hours a week knitting and making my finger joints into angry little demons. 

but that's not the point. the process of knitting is also a process of self-awareness and discovery and reducing anxiety and constant learning and of pure, unbridled love. when i knit for someone else (seldom these days, but there are specific situations where i fit it in), i try to practice mindfulness and intention, setting each stitch into place with as much peace and love and caring that i can fit into it. it's not always successful. in fact, it's often not successful. but that's part of the process, and part of the self-discovery. i learn more about myself, and about others, and how i and we and all of us connect together through the slowing down of life and making things stitch by stitch with my hands. which is why analog and serial sequencing just make sense. yes, they are electronics and they will be frustrating as fuck and i will get angry and cry because i don't understand why the hell the stupid doohickey isn't working again. but that will be part of the process, and it will inform and suggest and lend itself to the theories of interconnectivity, and community, and taking time, and making space, and failing, and spending more time figuring out how and why you failed before slowly getting back to where you were before you failed. that's the way i prefer to work. art is an extension of life, and the simulation is just not the same as the precision and messiness and effort that is the real thing. so i may as well do it the slow way, and the end result will be so much more fulfilling, and isn't that the point? that we swell with emotion until we feel like we are going to burst out of our skin and our hearts will escape their rib cage? 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

winter is here

global warming seems to have delayed winter for a lot of us here in canada this year, but it's finally making an appearance here in winnipeg. luckily, it gave me enough of a break to walk the boxes for wolseley wool's retreat this weekend over on knit night (i don't live that far away, but let's face it - who really wants to carry two huge boxes anywhere when there's ice and snow?). the appearance of snow heralds several things for me: the annual random half-hour nosebleeds (none yet, knock on wood); xmas crafting, or at least the dreams of xmas crafting (i should probably just do that in july so i actually have time come december); watching the family stone on repeat and crying every single time at the end (yes, i am a huge crybaby). 

this year, it also means juggling the when nature fought back kal, which i am actually participating in insofar as i'm using it as an excuse to knit ashtyn's harvest moon; prepping for the ruby street studios holiday open studio sale (see the above note about xmas crafting...); pulling myself together for my first fridays exhibition with manitoba craft council; trying to get these final 6 patterns that have been in the queue published before the end of december; making xmas gifts (my list of people to gift to is significantly smaller than it used to be, but it's still a bit ridiculous, plus i rarely buy gifts for people, and if i do, they're carefully sought out from other makers); attending approximately one bajillion workshops and art shows; updating my website because it is in such a sorry state and i really should get a more polished and updated look going with all the projects that are popping up; and working on a really huge project that i am so excited about and also terrified for. things are chugging away with it, but the holiday season really does steal my days away from me. in the most beautiful and family/friend-focused ways, but still. 

so here are some updates, in photo form:

don't forget that the when nature fought back kal runs until december 1st and there are prizes!

prince charming is my latest design! it's a super squishy brioche cowl that is perfect for keeping your charming ones warm this season, and it's 50% off through december 24th!

yellow brick road is currently an exclusive design for wolseley wool's retreat, but it will be made available on december 1st to the rest of you through ravelry! 

tiny specimens that will be seen at the exhibit.

when nature fought back will be up at the manitoba craft council office at 553-70 arthur street from december 4 to january 4. i'll be there on the first evening for the opening with cookies and wine. come say hi!

the first annual ruby street studios holiday open studio sale (i will figure out a more clever/shorter name someday...) will be at my home studio on december 12 and 13 from 10-4 each day. rsvp here. melanie wesley and kami goertz will be joining me with their fabulous fibre offerings, and i'll have more five of hearts sets (available in-store and in-person only!) and stitch markers to fill your stockings with!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

scheming, or, how to fit it all in when you have no time

over the past two weeks, i have confirmed and settled a number of rather large aspects of a project i'm working on. it'll remain a mostly secret project until next spring, but if you've been following me on instagram, you already know the main gist of it - i'm working on another big collection! more details will be released over the coming months, but for now, just keep in the back of your mind that i'll be making some pretty exciting announcements next spring.

your welcomer into ruby street studios. 
so what does this have to do scheming? well, it's a rather massive undertaking. and one that i am doing while working a 9-to-5, taking an arts and cultural management program, and doing multiple shows and sales. i also have been picking up more occasional shifts at my other job and am doing several workshops in just the next month or so in a variety of areas that will ultimately help me be more skilled and more efficient at my work and practice. but basically, i don't sleep all that much these days. 

my concept of balance  isn't exactly that balanced, except in terms of one type of work versus another type of work. days off don't exist for me. to be completely honest, i don't do well with days off. my idea of relaxing is knitting something that doesn't involve too much of my brain while watching netflix, and maybe taking time to bake something. maybe if it was easier for me to escape to the woods, then i could add going for hikes into that. then i would prefer to hike, sit for a break on some rocks or along a shoreline and knit, and then hike some more. that would be a lovely day off. but i am a non-driver, and right now i live in the middle of a city that is surrounded by farm fields rather than woodlands or oceans. so my days off really just resemble slightly less intense work days. which i did do on wednesday, so i am proud of myself for that.

none of this should be taken as a grumbling. i'm doing all of these things because i either a) love it so much that i enjoy pushing myself to the limits that i am or b) don't love it that much but it's a necessity to be doing what i love. the main lesson i'm trying to learn with it all is to not guilt myself if i take a break and do nothing for thirty minutes, or an hour, or if i lay in bed past 8am on a sunday (probably i have worked until 1 or 2am on saturday anyway). the guilt is the thing that's the hardest to deal with. especially when you're a naturally anxious creature already. it's a learning process. part of that process is becoming more efficient so i'm being smarter with my time, and another part is learning from mistakes when i fuck up (which is relatively often), and then letting go of the guilt that lingers after dealing with those mistakes.

oh, speaking of being busy, when nature fought back will be at the manitoba craft council office at 553-70 arthur street from december 4 to january 4. please go check it out! i'll be there on the 4th as part of the first fridays exhibition, and i'd love to say hi to you. otherwise, you'll be able to pop in all month during their office hours. i will have a very wonderfully furry lookbook for you to pet, among other things. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

manitoba craft council

i really, really, really love our craft council here in manitoba. i've managed to wiggle my way into it in a variety of ways, but the funny thing is that i still don't totally feel like i belong in the inner circle. probably because i'm surrounded by artists who have been honing their craft (literally) for a couple of decades rather than the few years i've been seriously at it. but everyone is so welcoming, and nerdy in the most fantastic ways, that it's hard to not fall in love with everything they do.

craft is often at the bottom rung of the art world. i know that that's a huge over-generalization, but hear me out. we are often talking handed-down knowledge rather than academic study; often more female and/or queer makers than male; functional items rather than purely aesthetic; in other words, pieces of art that are in everyday use, which for whatever reason has qualified them as "lesser than." think about it (and we are talking about capitalist society here), what sells for more money: a rug, or a wall tapestry? if you took the exact same item and laid it on the floor rather than hanging it on the wall, the "value" immediately depreciates. it doesn't matter how much time, effort, expertise, and materials have gone into the item - the mere location of it in a room can shave its value, at least in the eyes of a capitalist, to tatters.

i cannot tell you how incredibly frustrating this is as a crafter. yes, we make things so our hearts and souls feel fulfilled. yes, we relish in the beauty of the everyday item. yes, there are very few things that i consider as satisfying as a finished project which i have poured my heart and brain and creaky joints into and which i then get to wear day in and day out. and those things are worth so much more than the monetary compensation and social recognition in so many ways. but also, i don't get to live in an idealistic bubble. i have to pay my bills. i have to eat. i have to buy the materials for my craft, in one way or another. and so, while my happy heart is worth more than almost anything else, my mental wellbeing that is dependent on not constantly worrying about being evicted is a pretty major competitor for the "worthiness" race. 

this is where mcc comes in. they advocate for craft artisans. they collaborate with other organizations to expand the reach of local crafters, and they help coordinate events to push craft more into the spotlight and into the realm that fine art already inhabits. they support us so that we can play with the boundaries and push works into more multidisciplinary and experimental grounds. they showcase us to the public, and advocate for us to funding bodies. in short, they are some of our greatest cheerleaders. they also tend to be crafters themselves.

i'm stoked to have my first real exhibition at their office in december as part of the first fridays program. you can find some of my work in their online gallery here. and this weekend, they're having their big crafted show and sale at the winnipeg art gallery. i went yesterday after work, and had an absolute blast! i saw oodles of wonderful people, and got hijacked by my favourite little monkey, who also hijacked my shawl for a while. that kid has great taste when it comes to wool. crafters in the making, folks.