Unwind Recap

This past weekend a number of wonderful coincidences coalesced into the amazing experience of teaching at Unwind Retreat, 20160430_7695in Blowing Rock, NC.  Friday morning Mr. Turtle and I packed up the car and made our way (leisurely) to Blowing Rock.  We took back roads, ate at a hole-in-the-wall barbeque place (much to Michael’s delight), and pulled into the hotel around 4 in the afternoon.

The trip was not made without nervousness.  I had scheduled the retreat long before we knew that Little Turtle was coming.  One of my first questions to my Midwife was her feeling about us traveling 4-ish weeks before due date: was it feasible, smart, and physically okay?  About a month later I contacted the organizers of Unwind, asking if it’d be OK if I brought Michael with me, and informing them about the situation.  But really, there wasn’t much that we could do – as first-time parents, we had no clue how I’d handle the ending of pregnancy – if I’d have the energy or ability.  But I SO wanted to teach at Unwind – the retreat had an excellent reputation, the location was supposed to be amazing, and I love working with students.

So we made it work.  I prepped as much as I could beforehand.  Michael was coming to take many of the stressors off of me – I could focus on teaching, and not worrying about getting my materials from car to hotel room to classroom.  Having him drive would take much of the physical pressure off.

The weekend itself was amazing.  There’s that moment when you enter a large group of people you don’t know, where you get nervous.  But then I remembered why I love events like this – I may not know every person there, but we had something in common: a deep and abiding love of yarn.  Where the question “What are you working on?” always has an interesting answer.  Where everyone had a “knitting story.”

Nancy and Sue, the organizers of Unwind do an amazing job making the weekend feel intimate and open.  Events are booked with room to “breathe.”  There’s a two-hour break for lunch, another break after the last classes before dinner.  Everyone, even the instructors, have one period where they aren’t teaching/taking a class.  It allows people the time and space to truly Unwind – be that hanging out on the porch knitting, going shopping in town, or taking a nap.

While there are many highlights from the weekend, I thought I’d share just one:


On Saturday night, Michael and I got to set up a table after dinner to show off projects being done at the classes, sell kits, and give people a sneak peek at some upcoming patterns.  I got to show off a giant replica of my logo that my mother and sister sewed for Little Turtle.

Everything’s about Socks

It seems like socks keep popping up in my life lately: specifically my favorite type – wool ones.  So I have two sock stories for you today.

My 2008 boyfriend socks – the only picture I have of them.

Back in 2008, when Mr. Turtle and I were first dating (and probably a little bit before then), I made him a pair of socks.  These were meant to be a luxury pair of socks, something simply so wonderful it would charm and wow him for years to come.  At the time we were both working at summer camps on nearly opposite ends of the country.  He was at Philmont in New Mexico, I was at Chimney Corners Camp, in Western Mass.

In the mountains of New Mexico, nights (even in the summer) can get quite cold.  I made the socks out of thick and sturdy Bulky Alpaca (called Lavish) in a masculine forest green.  And then I sent them off to Michael, with strict instructions to ONLY hand-wash these socks, and never, ever, never put them in the washer or dryer.

Now you think you’d know where this story is going, and you’d be wrong.  Michael was most dutiful, wore them for several nights and discovered how warm they were.  Hand washed them in the sink and hung them on a line to dry.  Basically, he was being a trooper with my gift.

And then he decided that they’d be perfect for a long hike he was going to take on one of his extended time-off periods.  Unfortunately, neither of us was experienced enough to think about the conditions of a hiking boot in relation to wool.  You see, wool felts and shrinks in the presence of three essential things: heat, water, and agitation. (You can actually get felting with two of the elements, but the sweet spot is all three).  Neither of us stopped to think about how hot, how sweaty, and how much friction is inside of a hiking boot.

Forest Green socks, felted

Forest Green socks, felted

He was barely able to pry the socks off his feet when the hike was done.  And when they finished drying, he found there was no elasticity in them: they had permanently shrunk.  He wrote me with chagrin – Michael felt terrible.  And I, reading the letter, smacked myself on the head – of course alpaca, which is even more prone to felting than wool, would make a terrible option for hiking socks.

Fast forward 8 years, and as we’re packing up to move in a few weeks, out comes a pair of socks I’ve never had the opportunity to see in person, after the incident.  I wasn’t even aware that Micahel saved the socks.  So here, in their much smaller glory, is a pair of felted slippers that won’t even fit me.  They’re about as elastic as a block of concrete and less comfortable.  Still, they do bring back memories!

My second story also involves socks, although this part is more of an endorsement.  As I’ve mentioned before: I love wool socks.  They’re what I wear about 80% of the year, when I’m not sporting bare feet.

And every year, like Dumbledore, I ask for wool socks for Christmas.  I almost never get them, even though they end up being the things I probably use the most.  Except for three years ago, when my brother-in-law got me two pairs of Darn Tough Socks.

My replacement Darn Tough Socks

My replacement Darn Tough Socks

If you’ve never heard of these socks, it’s okay, you’re not alone.  I didn’t know about them until that Christmas.  Turns out Darn Tough is a Vermont-based company focused on keeping as much of their process local.  They make the best and sturdiest socks I’ve ever worn.  Including my hand-knit socks.

It’s pretty typical about 2 years into things I have my first thin spots on my handknit socks.  Which is OK: I repair them and then they can keep going. (My oldest pair is going on 8 years, made the same year as Michael’s infamous failed pair of socks.)

My darn tough socks wore out about a month ago, after three years.  There was a very small hole in one sock, and the other was going thin.

Now, I will admit, Darn Tough Socks are pricey – they cost about the same as a nice skein of sock yarn.  But this is the thing: Darn Tough has a lifetime guarantee.  You wear the socks out, and they will replace them for you.  All you have to do is ship them back.

So I did.  And yesterday, I got a new pair back.

Seriously, if you’re looking into really good socks – hiking or normal, Darn Tough has so many options.  There are different heights to the cuff, different amounts of cushion and thickness, and so many different sizes.

I’m wearing a pair right now.

Wearing Wasabi Darn Tough Socks

Wearing Wasabi Darn Tough Socks

Exciting News for Tinking Turtle

Balloon LogoI’ve started this blog post more times than I can count.  I’ve tried for profound, silly, and serious.  I’ve tried imitating other people who have come before, and nothing quite has hit the mark.  So I’m just going to share.

Coming in May 2016, Mr. Turtle and I will be expecting a little turtle.  Yesterday, Michael and I headed to have our first ultrasound, where we found out we’re having a baby girl.  I haven’t even quite wrapped my mind around the gender yet!  Needless to say, Michael, myself, and both sides of our family our terribly excited.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been calling the baby “the Kiwi.”  While we’re in the final rounds of picking out a name, we probably won’t be sharing it until the baby’s born.  We like to keep some things a surprise!  So until then, feel free to call the baby the Kiwi with me.  Who knows, stranger nicknames have happened.

Come May there’ll be a bunch of new changes as we adjust to having a new member of the family.  On Saturday I’ll explain what that’ll mean for Tinking Turtle as a business, and how that will affect you, the customer!

I’m also now accepting suggestions for baby clothes and accessories to knit or crochet.  Priority being things that are practical, and that the baby will be able to wear more than three times.  Is there a particular pattern you love?  Share it with me in the comments!


From the Business Desk: Small Business Privacy

From the Business Desk is a semi-regular series that looks at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature looks at some of the common privacy implications that Small Business owners should have an awareness of.  Join Mr. Turtle as he looks into the practicalities of privacy and small business.

Just the other week, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that in addition to the estimated 22.1 million identity records that had been compromised in an illicit hack of their databases, approximately 5.6 million sets of fingerprint records has been stolen as well.  Unlike a credit card or social security number, which can be changed or re-released, this personal biometric data is crucial to keep private, something that the OPM had failed to do.

While most small businesses do not operate at the scale of the Federal Government, they are still responsible for certain privacy requirements around how customer and employee data is collected and used.  In addition to the commonly thought of privacy items like securing data from theft, there are other more subtle aspects of privacy law that govern what a business can, and more importantly cannot, do with someone’s data.  While privacy has been growing in importance with the rise of the Digital Age, it has only been recently that the general public has become attuned to it’s importance in the world of commerce.  As a small business owner, having a baseline understanding of some of the key elements of privacy law can pay dividends in protecting your business and yourself from liability.

In the United States, unlike our European cousins, privacy regulations follow a sectoral approach: each sector of the economy has its’ own set of laws and regulations.  The general enforcement for privacy constraints in the business sphere, as opposed to more regulated sectors of industry like healthcare and finance, is the Federal Trade Comission (FTC).  In its’ creation with the Federal Trade Commission Act, the body is chartered with enforcing against “unfair and deceptive trade practices and acts,” of which case law has held includes taking appropriate privacy and security measures.  For the small business owner, this is important in how you portray your business’s privacy practices to your customers and the general public.

One of the first items a business owner should consider is that if you have a web presence, you should have a written Privacy Policy.  This serves to inform any visitors of their rights to their personal data, and more importantly, your intentions surrounding that data.  This in turn allows users to make informed decisions or know that for instance using a “contact me” form on your website may lead to their email address being added to your mailing list.  Additionally, the State of California in their 2003 Online Privacy Protection Act requires such a notice to be posted on the website if you may potentially be collecting identifiable information from California Citizens.  Given the interconnected web of e-commerce in today’s world, the chances are that this may be happening; ensuring that you have developed a current and accurate document unique for your business situation can cover a lot of your privacy bases in this respect.

Another key area a small business owner should be aware of is how they conduct any email communication and marketing.  As e-mail messaging has exploded in recent years, replacing more traditional postage service mailings, many small business owners have found themselves afoul of the regulations in this space.  Email messaging in the United States is primarily governed by the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM Act) of 2003.  In brief, the Act requires all email messages to possess a legitimate return email address and physical address of the sender, not have any false, misleading, or deceptive headers or subjects, and provide a clear and conspicuous way for the recipient to opt out of receiving future email messages at no cost to them.

Because of requirements such as these, I would recommend that any organization that intends to use email as a platform for outreach to consider selecting an Email Marketing service to assist in managing one’s distribution list.  Many of the commonly used services, such as Mad Mimi, MailChimp, or Constant Contact provide free or extremely cost effective basic plans for small business users.  These services allow the use of email formatting templates to assist in meeting all necessary privacy requirements, and additionally provide a platform by which recipients can individually manage their subscription status and opt in or out of receiving certain types of communications.  Additionally, such services assist in keeping email distribution lists secure, and ensure that when messages are sent out, recipients email addresses are not exposed to other individuals.  It is because of these benefits that any small fiber arts business should consider setting up an Email Marketing service as part of their initial business plan.

While the future of privacy law and requirements for U.S. based businesses may seem murky, a small fiber arts business can take heed of the above principals to best position themselves to be able to respond both to industry requirements as well as the overarching desires of their customer base.  By acting and thinking in the best interest of the customer, and treating customer information as you would have another company treat yours, the savvy business owner can create and maintain indispensable customer goodwill.  And that is an asset always worth having for your business.

Michael Raymond, CIPP/US

“Mr. Turtle”

From The Business Desk: Agile for Small Businesses

From the Business Desk is a semi-regular series that looks at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature looks at how to leverage some new time and project management techniques from the Agile framework for small businesses.

As a small business owner, time is one of the most important assets that you have.  It is also one of the most limiting.  While other business areas like staffing or inventory can be expanded or invested in, there are only so many hours in a day (if you know how to change this, please let me know!).  Making effective use of your time for projects and operations is crucial for a well managed business to both succeed and grow.

Agile workout Session: Is this what agile means to you?

Is this what agile means to you?

Scrum.  Kanban.  Sprint.  Agile.  You may have heard these phrases before in industry trade shows or in the media as the newest focus for tech companies to manage their time, projects, and resources.  While originally created for Software Development, the Agile Framework at it’s core can be applied to any business process or project; especially in the Fiber Arts industry where there are natural market segments and discreet work items like classes, designs, and projects.

While we here have written previously about project management, thinking about the Agile methodology more surrounds the what rather than the how.  The core elements of agile that a Small Business owner should most be aware of are Team Ownership of Work, Minimum Viable Product/Shippable Units, and Timeboxing.

Before diving into these a bit further, I wanted to provide a 30 second overview about Agile from a non-technical perspective.  Unlike traditional mindsets where work is done in an orderly, sequence of events, Agile revolves around breaking up the necessary work to be done into discreet work units, and then over a set period of time (commonly called a “Sprint”) delivering a piece of the work to the customer.  For example, if you are running an LYS the work could be a 4 week class on garment construction; each week/session could be a unique and discreet unit of work.  Now, with this background, let’s look a bit further at some of the tenants that could be applied to your business:

Team Ownership of Work:  Agile frameworks work best when a team of individuals with a variety of skills are empowered to come together to tackle a project or issue as a whole.  The team, rather than one individual, collectively has a say in how the work is preformed and ultimately delivered to the customer.  This is especially applicable to a Fiber Arts business, due to the muti-facted nature of the industry.

If you are looking to put on a specific fiber event like a Fiber Festival, your team could consist of folks with a deep knowledge of yarns and marketing, separate instructors with significant technique knowledge, and then a handful of us less crafty types with some of the more technical business knowledge.  By bringing the team into the decision-making process early on to determine what is and is not feasible (“scoping the work”), you and your business can be sure to have a better understanding up front of what you can (and more importantly what you cannot) accomplish in a given period of time.

Minimum Viable Product/Shippable Units: In the software development space, research has shown that the average user base only heavily utilizes 20% of all of the features of a software application, following the classic Pareto 80/20 rule.  Think about your business.  Are there certain key elements that always seem to attract the most customer base?  Do you have certain patterns that always seem to hit on what the customer wants?  Agile is built around focusing on identifying what those elements are, bundling them together to create the leanest possible unit for work to ship, and then working towards that.

Applying that principal to your business can dramatically help you drive your Return on Investment, as once you are able to focus on these areas, you are able to cut to the core of drawing in your customer base.  Then, once you have a solid project or process up and running supporting that desire to be taught a specific skill in one of your classes, you can enhance that with additional features that may apply to a smaller set of customers.  Doing this is following the tenant of breaking down your projects or work into smaller features called Shippable Units that can be developed in a shorter period of time.

Timeboxing: As mentioned at the beginning, managing your time effectively is crucial for any business owner.  As an example, I have allocated myself 60 minutes to write this article.  Following the Agile principal of timeboxing, a discreet amount of time is set aside for any one task, meeting, or work item.  When that time is up for the day, no matter at what state the project is in, you should stop and move to your next item.  Many different studies from business to medical have demonstrated that mulitasking is actually a misnomer, and the human brain loses efficiency when rapidly switching between tasks.

As such, being able to focus on one item at a time, like updating your website with your latest shipment of yarn or re-arranging your models for an upcoming trunk show, work it for a specific period of time, and then close out that piece of work before moving on can dramatically increase the efficiency in how an individual or team gets work done.  So when you have those daily team meetings, or find yourself bogged down answering your inbox, break up your task into specific chunks, and timebox them.  It may take you longer to accomplish that one task, but by knowingly addressing items one at a time you are able to accomplish a lot more work as a whole.

Overall, the Agile methodology is gaining traction in many large and medium sized corporations and is still being developed and tweaked as additional lessons are learned.  While this overview has just scratched the surface, it’s an interesting mindset to begin thinking about when approaching your business planning for the coming year.  For another approach on how to use some of these tenants, check out this great post from Agile Advice.  And with that, I’m timeboxing this post for today!

~ Mr. Turtle


Crocheting and Atlantic Beach, repeat

Cameraphone Pic

Mr. Turtle’s parents have a tradition of going to Atlantic Beach in the off season.  This weekend we’re with them again, and I keep having moments of déjà vu.  Not quite a year ago, I was at Atlantic Beach with Michael’s family.  And again, I’m working on a crochet project for Annie’s, though their quite different.

I finished the main part of the crochet project about an hour ago, and while I still have to weave in the ends, the beach is calling to me.  This morning we woke to have the sky looking dark and ominous, but the rain cleared by lunchtime and I’m ready for a walk.

I promise, some better photos when I return home and have the powerful computer so I can download the pictures.

From the Business Desk: Leveraging your Strengths

From the Business Desk is back.  From the Business Desk is a semi-regular series that looks at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature revolves around market evaluation, and some tips to find the right niche for your business.

As any small business owner knows, it’s a fierce world out there to break into any market.  Be it establishing a LYS, becoming your own design company, breaking into the teaching circuit, all of these arenas seem to have well established entities that have solid client bases that seem to have everything put together.  How will you ever be able to differentiate your new business and your ideas from the existing market, you may ask yourself.  One of the handiest tricks of the business trade to help you accomplish this is the SWOT analysis.  Standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, this analysis can help you start to make sense of your business’s place in the market, and areas which you can develop to better differentiate and market your ideas.

SWOT Matrix overview.  Image courtesy of

Fitting neatly into a 2 x 2 matrix (one of my favorite visualizations for many different business strategies), the SWOT analysis can help you identify some key attributes both about your business as well as the marketplace.

Strengths are the things that your business does quite well or has a key competitive factor; items could include physical location of a shop in a high-traffic downtown area, or having a well rounded resume of instruction at a variety of locations.

Weaknesses are known areas where you could use some improvement; an example of this could be that you don’t really possess a strong skill-set on computer tools like Excel or Microsoft Publisher as a designer.

Opportunities are areas that in your opinion the market or industry has not fully realized, such as there being a wealth of crocheters living in a particular town, but no dedicated crochet instructor.

Threats can be anything externally that stands the chance of impeding the growth and progress of your business.  Threats can be micro, such as the fact that there is already a teacher who has been teaching a particular class that you want to start teaching at a regional fair, or macro, such as the overall state of the retail yarn market in a particular state.
Remember, these should be fairly high-level; while it’s good to have an in-depth analysis of your business and the market, for the first time that you do this exercise, try to distill it down to the top three or four attributes in each category.

Once you have developed your ideas and thoughts, it’s time to tweak the matrix to help understand how this can lead to a strong business plan development.

SWOT action item Matrix

By combining each of these categories in a grid, you can identify specific action items that emerge from the attribute clusters.  The two most important areas to be aware of and consider are the Strength-Opportunities  and the Weakness-Threat quadrants.  These two reflect the immediate areas for business development and defense strategy respectively.

Breaking down your businesses’ market position utilizing the SWOT analysis, you can simply and easily lay the groundwork for a comprehensive business plan that can help you take advantage of market opportunities.  One final note about the SWOT analysis; it is not meant to be a static market.  Over time, both your business strengths and weaknesses as well as your perceived opportunities and threats in the market can significantly change.  It’s a good idea to review and update this grid on a regular schedule (here at Tinking Turtle we review our SWOT items quarterly and develop a new SWOT matrix annually).  By doing this, you can ensure that you are aware of where you need to focus your business development objectives for the near future.

~ Mr. Turtle

From the Business Desk: Finishing Projects

After a delay due to some career changes that Jen talked about earlier, From the Business Desk is back.  From the Business Desk is a semi-regular series that looks at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature revolves around ensuring that all of your business projects have fully completed.

As a small business owner, staying on top of everything necessary to run your business is no small task.  With a constant turmoil of new projects, new customers, and everyday business inquiries, it is important to understand what is required for you to close out your existing projects; by successfully and formally closing out a project, it can be put to rest with all parties comfortable that their requirements have been met.

Not all Project Management needs to be this complicated. A few
simple tips can keep you on track to successful completion.

One of the first items to be aware of in the closing stage of a project is that it’s important to identify up front what the final items on your project or to-do list are.  For example, if you are working on establishing and running a new class at your shop, you may think that the project is complete when the class runs.  Thinking this out ahead of time can help you identify  items that are always good to check off before putting a project to bed  Namely, ensuring that all compensation and contractual terms have been met and a project post-mortem to document lessons learned.  Following through with these steps ensures that you don’t forget some of the important elements of a project for any business: getting paid, and meeting legal obligations.  A post-mortem, either publicly or internally is a good time for one or more parties involved to learn from the project, documenting what went well and what could use improvement for next time.

This is an example of using Insightly to keep track of project tasks.
This is the project list for the pattern Sweet Strawberries.

Keeping track of all of this can be overwhelming; fortunately there are several options available that are easy to use in web form.  I’d recommend ZOHO Projects or Freedcamp as two of the better solutions available out there for someone just getting started.  Other options include systems that link Customer Relationship Management and Project Management.  Here at Tinking Turtle, our CRM system, Insightly includes an integrated Project Management module.  This provides additional functionality to link projects to various associated parties, and track when a project is waiting on a third party to take action.

No matter how extensive or basic your knowledge of projects is, ensuring that you take some time on all of your projects to double check that your steps are completed is well worth the peace of mind..  The more projects that can be completed without final steps left un-done, the easier managing the entire workload of your business can be.

~ Mr. Turtle

Sea Cap a Beanie No More

This evening Michael was throwing his clothes from SEA in the wash – as they stunk to high heaven.  One of the things was the SEA watchman’s cap that I knit for him after he went through the program the first time.  As he was getting ready to put stuff in the wash, we had a conversation that went like this:

Me: You know, I think that’s wool.
Him: No, I’m fairly sure it’s acrylic.  You wouldn’t make something for me that was wool after the socks I felted.
Me: *Dubious* Well, okay, if you’re sure.

You know what’s going to happen here, right?  Just in case it isn’t obvious, this was our conversation about an hour later.

Him: Sweetheart, guess what.
Me: *wary* What?
Him: The hat felted.

Turns out that when I said it was Wool, Michael thought I meant it was washable wool, like my socks (which go in the wash, but not the dryer.  We had to have a conversation between super-wash and normal wool.

I don’t think this hat really fits anymore…

Snowday, again.

We got about 5 or 6 inches of snow today.  Needless to say, everything was pretty much shut down.  Mr. Turtle and I stayed holed up in our apartment.  Mr. Turtle was recovering from a cold, and every time he coughed the cats got startled.  For once in my life (shockingly!) I was the preferred human to cuddle, which was a little awkward as I was working on an upcoming pattern.

At one point both cats were poured into my lap, a rather startling feat.

Michael snapped a picture.

Me, lovely in my “Knitter” Sweatpants and Penguin Sweatshirt;
the cats, keeping my lap warm.

The pattern was giving me fits today.  It’s a new sock pattern, and the heel took three tries to get right.  It’s a perfect fit now, but I had to try out everything that didn’t work before I settled on a shape that worked.

Stay tuned – next week I’ll be announcing some exciting news!