Friday, 23 September 2011

Creating a Culture of Caring

"Caring" usually connotes looking after others less fortunate or being considerate and both those senses of the word pertain to Northern Loops. They are at the very heart of what we do.

At the Business Gateway road show, I spoke with the Intellectual Assets representative. I am going to paraphrase wildly so I won't give his name in case he does not recognise his words in my paraphrase. Now, if like me, you expect words like intellectual assets to be like the shoes I was wearing--smart, slightly elevated, and just pinching a bit, you will also be relieved at the straightforward advice he gave me. Although there are pinchy parts to managing our know how--which ultimately is infinitely more valuable than what we actually do with it, basically it is just creating a culture of caring about our own work--not possessive or territorial or copyright and security hoops. At the time I got his advice I was relieved. As I thought about it a bit more I began to appreciate how insightful it was.

Even as crafters ourselves, we can fall victim to the tendency to trivialize craft. We do this without thinking, dismissing the value of our work and of craft in general. We do this in part because to us it seems obvious how to invent a stitch or rework a pattern or make something we think up on a whim. But it is not. It is a gift and a skill honed through years of practice and both that knowledge and the ability to transmit that knowledge are intellectual assets.

I had thought that the struggle to get folks to understand Northern Loops somewhat patronizingly as Nanas who knit was an external one, but it really starts with each of us. Fortunately this revolution is as simple as writing down what you do.

Now when authorities as different as the intellectual assets consultant and hard core knitter and author Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (Knitting Rules) say the same thing, I think we ought to listen. McPhee says a knitting notebook--a wee spiral bound thingie with graph paper and random comments is an essential part of what each of us should have in our knit bag so that we don't do silly things. But the notebook is more than that, of course, in time it will be a record of what you have done --and learned. You can leaf through it and laugh at your early work and be chuffed that all those stitches really have amounted to something to be proud of.

McPhee encourages us to take it a step beyond the spiral notebook to the dizzying heights of a project journal: ball band, snip of yarn, photo of finished project, pattern used, recipient's name, finished dimensions, any changes made to the pattern, etc.

As someone who likes having information but is not keen on writing things down unless it is backs of envelopes, I will share with you an easy way of keeping a project journal--ravelry. Ravelry ( is a popular online knit web site with lots of information that offers members a place to do just what McPhee suggests--other than the snip of yarn. So whether you use a notebook or ravelry project space, start the revolution to value craft by writing down your intellectual assets.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

With My Knitting in My Pocket and My Heart in my Throat

Northern Loops is much more than knitting and to ensure that it keeps going (Cue that popular word here--sustainability.) We need to generate funds and make connections with other organisations. While I would much rather invent a new stitch or talk to a group of pensioners or kids with knitting needles in my hands, sometimes I need to put my knitting in my pocket and go out and play with the people in suits.
So yesterday Northern Loops and I went to the Business Gateway Roadshow in the ballroom of the Pentland Hotel. I found my suit in the back of the closet and in preparation I looked over my venture development plan and previous marketing materials and dove into the language of markets and customers and benefits and outcomes. Fortunately I could see Northern Loops still amongst that language. Even more fortunately the people in suits could see it, too.
I met some great people committed to helping little organisations like us get not necessarily bigger but definitely better. It was worth putting my knitting in my pocket for a day.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Apres Triangles

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I have been so focussed on triangles and shawls for the calendar that I was surprised when Margaret handed me this non-triangular shawl. I felt the warmth of it--in her smile and the warm wool as it touched my hand and that inner warmth of a nice surprise. Once again, I was reminded that the magic works even when you know how it works. Before this shawl even gets to its intended recipient, it is warming us. Giving and receiving are parts of the same coin.

The giving started even before Margaret picked up her needles and invented a new stitch. Someone donated the wool--on cones. Someone wound the cones into balls and joined two closely related blues to give this shawl its depth of colour. Thanks all around.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hairy Bikers, Caring Bridge, Community and Northern Loops web site

The latest program by the Hairy Bikers (for American readers these are a pair of motorcycle fans who also cook and make a living doing cooking programs with their motorcycles--Hmm. Not on their motorcycles exactly though I can imagine they would cook on them if they could, but with some good excuse for traveling and cooking.) I watched the Hairy Bikers first because it sounded so improbable and then again because it was actually good fun and I learned about cooking and places and times iun the UK that were foreign to me. The Hairy Bikers and I had drifted apart until I stumbled across their latest adventure--Meals on Wheels. OK, once again it was the inherent incongruity of it that attracted me to watch. And again I was rewarded with more than I had expected.

The Hairy Bikers--without abandoning their leather exteriors-- talked about how they first came to cooking. It was touching. Not too sappy but just helped me understand in an instant why they would care about Meals on Wheels. And so now I care, too.

That is an important facet of community--awareness and caring. One of the things you often hear when any of us start the tongue clucking associated with the Decline of Everything is something like "we used to know our neighbours". Northern Loops (you knew it was coming, didn't you, despite the title and the opening paragraph?) connects neighbours--one woman now has a good reason to call on her neighbour to show her the latest knit project. Another woman learned about a weekly lunch event where she can see her neighbours--or near neighbours. Up here we live in the country and our nearest neighbour may be a mile or so away, so these face to face get togethers take on a particular importance.

Distance--the bugbear for knowing neighbours and hence building community. Caring Bridge is a free web site hosted by Indiana University Health Centres. It makes it possible to stay in touch with folks you already know and care about but are no longer neighbours. My friends around the knit table have heard me say how and why that is important to me personally just now, so I'll just say that overcoming distance is one of the reasons why I have wanted from the outset to have an online presence for Northern Loops. Now thanks to Web Integrations and funding from NESTA, we are going to make that a reality.

You can view the Hairy Bikers program here: Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can see what makes me like these guys and take to heart their campaign for Meals on Wheels.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Very Busy Behind the Scenes

No, I have not gone doo-lally and posted rockets on our knit site by accident. As Pee Wee Herman said, I meant to do that.

The rocket photos--besides being cool--(thanks to Neil Buchan for actually catching my rocket coming off the launch pad! and me grinning wider than the Cheshire cat) are a metaphor for how much work goes on behind the scenes.

We spent two hours working on our kit model rockets--all the pieces there and the hard work done for us--and then the motors went in and it was just a matter of seconds as it swooshed into the air.

So that's kind of where Northern Loops is just now. We have all the pieces and we're heading for the launch pad.

We are scurrying around in the rarefied atmosphere of web site development and putting together photos and text of our original designs for a calendar and then perhaps note cards of our designs. So definitely keep an eye on this space as knitting nanas go airborne.

Oh, I should mention that the photos were taken in Castlehill Heritage Centre garden. If you can take your eyes off that beautiful rocket, you can see in the background the plants for the dyeing garden. Later this month, I hope to launch my rocket again and to take part in the natural dyeing workshop--I have some wool--well, OK, I have lots of wool and some silk as well. Part of what made the rocket workshop so much fun was the presence of young people. Intergenerational. I wonder if any of my rocket pals might be interested in knitting?

Meanwhile, what's on your needles? I'm working on a shawl for Northern Loops Dunnet, wee hearts for Northern Loops Thurso, and a small child's hat out of Gorgeous bamboo wool for Blythswood shoebox appeal (coming soon).
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