Crafty Time Management Part II

In Part II of looking at Crafty Time Management, I’ll talk a bit about how to try and make the most of your crafting time and how to try and create a good environment to support your work. Perhaps after Part I you’ve realised you’re very time-rich but lack inspiration and motivation to put needle to fabric, perhaps you can only take small snatches of peace and quiet to work on projects that can be stuffed back into the corner at no notice. Whatever your situation, how can you try and make the most of what you have? We’ll have a look at some other practical tips in Part III next week.

Craft Project Management

We all have our favourite bits of projects. The excitement of choosing patterns, casting on, when any project, including a 10 m long lace shawl knitted in cobweb yarn seems like a fantastic idea. We live in a world of nearly infinite choice – do you want 2, 4, 10 % of yak in your yarn, what exact shades do you want to mix together? There are endless, exciting possibilities and really, our imaginations and skillsets are the limit.

Depending on what productivity is to you, the scenario of limitless choice may be heaven or hell. If your definition of being productive is producing finished objects, then perhaps it would make sense to minimise time agonising over various aspects of a design (sometimes called being a product knitter). Perhaps you love the process so much that it would make sense to choose a design that lasted as long as possible so you could learn loads of fancy new techniques and skills (being a process knitter) without spending time casting on and off – if you don’t care about having an object, then this should make no difference!

This is where things get a little more complicated because we all enjoy different aspects of a project and perhaps have to reconsider our definition of productivity. Someone who wants to make many hats should minimise time spent on any other part of the process to maximise this – but let’s face it, how many product crafters are utterly smitten with finding the right patterns, materials and tweaking it to their tastes just as much as seeing the final thing come off the needles? I’ve met very few process knitters knitting infinitely long garments as stitch samplers either, even though that would mean they could enjoy the process indefinitely!

It also gets even more complicated when you start to factor in the fact that craft projects are long, complex and multi-staged and even those who love the process of making things, we tend to all have our own favourite parts. Sometimes choices are very constrained (you need to use up a particular ball of wool that is a certain length) but maybe you want to start your own design from scratch. Some people love the beginning of a project, when the fabric is fresh with possibility, others enjoy the gentle rhythm you get into mid-project when you mostly know what you’re doing and just have to carry on.

I would generally break down a project into the following main steps: design, materials, preparation, doing, skills and finishing. The design may not apply in all cases, materials is just getting together what you need, preparation will be things like setting up frames/making a warp/casting on, the doing is when you’re getting into the ‘flow’ and start to feel you know what is going on. Skills is a funny one that not all projects will have – this is where you need to go off and read and work out how to do a particular section of the project that often breaks the ‘flow’. If it’s an ‘easy make’ chances are it won’t have any skill development as part of it. Finally, there’s finishing, washing, blocking, mounting, whatever you need to do.  

Which parts you don’t like will be highly individual to you and I think it’s good to have a look at how that ties up with your ‘productivity’ goals. For me, I hate counting, so casting on is always a pain, so I won’t even think about casting on a project unless I’ve got a serious block of time that I can do it in peace and quiet and concentrate on it. That way it works out first time and I don’t have to go through the process repeatedly. This means I can spend more time on the stuff that is more fun for me. I also find finishing a bit meh so I try and design projects where the finishing process isn’t too time-consuming.

The choice and design stage is one that is liable to run into infinite time if left uncontrolled and I think this is also what can make it very intimidating for beginners. Kits are a brilliant way of getting around this – I love doing my own designs but sometimes it’s just so easy and convenient to get everything I want in one purchase and not have to chase out of stock colours in some irritating shade of DMC. Less thinking and more crafting. I also try to deliberately set myself some constraints. Usually, I will design a project around a skill or technique I want to try, which at least minimises the infinite time that could be spent scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration and the internet for tutorials. Having favourite designers whose patterns and writing style you like can also be another good way of restricting your choice as you know you won’t get half way through and find that it hasn’t been properly tested and none of the numbers make any sense which is doubly frustrating when you’re a beginner who doesn’t understand why.

I said before that I just like learning and making stuff, and I should probably add to that I am very keen as part of ‘being productive’ to minimising frustration. I tend to bite off more than I can chew with pattern difficulties (enjoy the challenge) but I cannot stand working with tutorials that make no sense or are incomplete. Books are generally better than the internet for this but I will always take a few minutes before just to check something looks sane before I start so I don’t give up half way through. A stitch in time saves nine!

What annoys you in a project and makes you walk away? Running out of materials? Knitting on double pointed needles? Dealing with fiddly beads? If you’re not crafting for your livelihood, chances are you don’t ‘have’ to do anything and you’re much more likely to want to craft and be motivated to make progress on projects if you can minimise the frustration and maximise the fun. Some of these have easy fixes, buying a bit extra material when you start, avoiding projects with techniques you hate, but I think it’s important no matter whether you are interested in the process of the product, that you like what you’re doing. Some things are fiddly and take a bit of time to learn (which is a frustration) but liking the process or potential product helps smooth that path. Thinking about the whole process can sometimes help minimise any problem areas before you start – and making fewer mistakes is certainly one way to help you get more made.  

Project Timing

Finding time for crafting is not just about the number of minutes you can devote, but it’s the quality and the environment of those minutes too. I am very jealous of drop spindlers for their ability to spin on the go and not be chained to their wheel, which opens up more time that could be devoted to spinning, or knitting gurus who can whip their needles out in complete chaos and happily purl away.

As I tend to be very short on time for crafting, getting more done is a lot about minimising ‘wasted time’. If I’m spending time on a part of a process I hate, that counts as wasted time. My big pet hate is spending time finding things. This is bad when you are someone seriously disorganised living in places that are not conducive to organisational bliss. I can say that devoting some time (and money) to sorting some crafting space was well-spent and has meant that I lose less time searching and get more time sewing. Finding a solution that works for small spaces is not easy – but this is one area where a bit of organisation can be a blessing.

My other trick is my stash of project bags. I have a bunch to take with me whenever I am travelling with projects suitable for planes and trains. I try to keep everything I need in them and then I can just grab and go. In terms of making the most of the environment of the time I have, I also try to prioritise what I’m doing with where – I can only spin, weave, working on my large embroideries and dye at home and dyeing is always somewhat of a ‘summer’ thing for me. This means that some projects end up becoming ‘travel only’. Complicated parts of projects get done when I have a bit more time and space to do them in to avoid the frustration of avoidable mistakes.

Mostly though, I don’t constrain myself too much with what I do and when. If I want to start a project, I start it. This is a bad attitude if you care about finishing things because most projects have their frustration zones you just need to work through, but for me, life is too short to suffer through pieces unless I really want to at that time. Most things end up getting finished eventually (except the Poppy Fairy cross stitch but we don’t talk about that one) so unless it is a gift, it will be ready when it is ready.

Having a range of options works really well because I usually only have snatches of time and really I want to work on what I’m motivated to work on, whatever that is. I can pick a grade of project difficult to suit how energetic I’m feeling – sometimes I love projects that tax my brain and I can lose myself in – and can either be done at home or on the go.

I say down with WIP shaming and on with enjoying being an adult and being able to please yourself. As my very wise grandmother says, ‘if you please yourself, at least one person is happy, if you try to please others, then maybe no one is happy’.

If you’re on the chaotic end like me and have embraced having a pile of WIPs, there is still one organisational trick I’d recommend. Keep a log somewhere of all the projects and what the last thing done was (i.e. what row you’re on) and if it’s not obvious, what needs to be done next. This will minimise the time and irritation overheads associated with switching project.

If you’re the devoutly organised type, then it’s probably more efficient to do one thing at a time or keep the number of WIPs minimal and find regular time to work on them. I know a lot of people really enjoy stitch or knit-alongs for this (and a great way to be inspired and shared with others) or having yearly and monthly goals for things, maybe even marked up in a calendar.

The Right Environment and Tools

I mentioned dyeing being a seasonal thing for me but a lot of embroiderers say they don’t tend to do any silk shading during the winter when the days are short and the lighting is poor. As well as having the right amount of time available for a particular part of project, it’s also good to have the right kind of environment to help encourage you to get crafting.

Some challenges can be overcome to some extent with technology – a bright craft lamp in your workspace I would say is a must in the absence of poor natural lighting for dark fibres and fine work. Or perhaps you’re happy to take a different approach and work those natural seasonal variations into your crafting. Again, I think this is a very personal thing and why I am a big fan of embracing what is you as an individual want to do. This just means that planning a bunch of needlepainted Christmas cards to be started in September is probably at odds with your goals of letting the seasons carry your work.

Having the right environment can also make you more efficient in using your crafting time. I am longing for the day I have a proper cutting table. The current one is too low and too small, fine for small projects, rubbish for bigger ones. Ironing is also a logistical nightmare and takes ten times as long as it would. If you don’t have to pull equipment in and out of cupboards and just sit down and sew, that is also something of a blessing for getting more done.  

The right tools for the job are another massive frustration-saver and will help you get better quality results. I would say things like good scissors and decent quality thread are a must. Sewing machines are fussy beasts and like to be fed on the best quality diets so you may as well acquiesce to their demands or you’re going to be pulling thread gore out of stitch plates several times per project.

As I know minimising frustration is really important for me to get things done, I am a big fan of time-saving gadgets in general. A lot of these are utterly unnecessary and I cannot emphasise enough that there are few things that will compensate for what skill and experience can bring to a project but they can help smooth out the bumpy learning process. People do have varying opinions on these things – some would consider it an extravagant waste and it is better to not be ‘lazy’ and struggle a bit more, others perhaps like a slightly different aesthetic that comes with using different materials. Again, this is a choice and will probably be based somewhat on what you have access to and can afford. If something only saves you on an hour on a project, what is that worth to you financially? What are your priorities?

The final thing to think about is what project fits with what environment. Some projects are perfect to keep idle hands at bay while having a gossip, others demand monastic silence, good concentration and impeccable lighting. Probably best not to try doing the latter on the bus. To me, those types of projects also serve very different purposes. I love challenging pieces and when you can shut out the world and dive into them, but they ask a lot of energy and concentration I don’t always have. The others are a nice way to keep my hands trained and making something without stressing too much about it.

What does your craft paradise look like? Has having dedicated craft space helped you get more done or do you prefer to work in the hustle and bustle of others? Now we’ve identified all the possible considerations around finding time for projects, in Part III we’ll look at how to organise time optimally both for crafting and to make more time for spending in your craft paradise.

9 thoughts on “Crafty Time Management Part II

  1. I agree with the project bags! It is much less of an issue now that I never go anywhere (thanks pandemic), but in the before times, I had a project bag in my car with a quick and easy knit, and my larger projects stashed around the house for when I have more time and focus.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another yes for project bags here! I used to travel a bit for my work, and it was always good to have travel projects available and bags set up with all the tools and notions I would need. I don’t really need a specific crafting area to craft in, as mostly I knit in the living room to spend time with DH and my Mom. What I would love is a spacious closet or small room where I could organize my crafting stuff. Right now my yarn stash, which is not small, is in our bedroom clothes closet. My tools and supplies are squirreled away wherever I can make room, and my books are all over the place. Not ideal!

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