Concept Statement #1…

I’m working on my book proposal for A Knitter’s Guide to Beer using Elizabeth Lyon’s book, Non-Fiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write as a guide. After the Title Page (which was reasonably easy to get done), the next item is the Concept Statement. This statement should tell the publisher, the bookseller, and ultimately the book reader why they should buy my book. It should generate excitement about the subject, clearly describe the book and its market, the benefits and cool features of the book and tell a bit about the author.  And I have to do this in less than 250 words; preferably closer to 50-100 words.

That’s a lot to accomplish in not many words! It’s a helpful process, though, and has caused me to work on fine-tuning the focus and goal of my book.  I’ll most likely go through several drafts of my concept statement over the course of writing my book proposal. Here’s the first one I came up with:

It’s time to toss all current-day stereotypes to the wind and make room for a new generation of knitters, brewers and beer drinkers. The typical image of Granny drinking a cup of tea while knitting should be packed away. Sometimes Granny wants a beer while she’s knitting. Or perhaps Granny is teaching her grandson to knit while she’s brewing a batch of beer. 

A Knitter’s Guide to Beer will compare the similarities between knitting and brewing, the history both genders have in each craft, and the benefits of bringing these two crafts back into our homes and our communities. Written by Jenne Hiigel; a former knit shop owner, a new homebrewer and a follower of the revival of the craft brew industry since 1980 – through her husband’s work as a Beer Specialist.

That’s 132 words. It comes real close to conveying what I hope to accomplish with my book, but it’s not perfect yet. I think I need to come up with several versions of a concept statement before I settle on one. I’ll call this one Concept Statement #1.

-Jenne Hiigel

Will Knit for Beer…

We don’t happen have piles of excess money lying around our house to use for random projects, so when my idea to start homebrewing kicked in I realized I would have to find a way to earn the $300-ish for the equipment needed to get started. I could get away with spending less if I wanted to do malt-extract brewing, but that doesn’t interest me. I want to brew from the actual grain, which requires an additional boiling kettle and a lauter tun.

Yesterday I started earning my homebrew equipment money by teaching knitting. I taught a class on making this beaded scarf.

Waterfall Beaded Scarf

It’s the Waterfall Beaded Scarf by Jane Davis that originally appeared in the Dec 2001 edition of Beadwork Magazine. It’s a great project to try your hand at beaded knitting. The scarf in the picture was knitted by Kandra Norsigian. The body of the scarf is a simple rib pattern with the bead design on each end. The scarf is knit in two halves, starting at the beaded end, and grafted together in the middle. You can buy a kit directly from Kandra that includes yarn, beads and instructions

By teaching this class I was able to acquire almost half of the money I’ll need for my homebrew equipment. Rather than “Will Knit for Beer”, I guess I should be saying “Will Teach Knitting for Homebrewing Equipment.”

-Jenne Hiigel

Changing Expectations…

Yesterday was definitely a “beer-day” at work. A beer-day is often caused by computer problems, but that was not the trigger this time. There were just a couple of weird, frustrating work issues that caused the desire for a beer to kick in well before quitting time.

I should probably explain what I mean by “beer-day”. I’m not talking about a day where I drink beer all day. I don’t drink when I’m working. But when a beer-day is triggered, I start thinking about the beer I’m going to have when I get off work.

It’s important to realize that sometimes my beer-day starts as early as 10am (it can easily start this early when computers are the source of the frustration). Yesterday my beer-day started around 1pm. Once it starts, it usually doesn’t go away. I begin thinking about the beer I’m going to have after work and I think about it the rest of the day.

I often start by thinking about a porter and then progress to IPAs, wheat beers, or stronger beers if the porter direction doesn’t take hold. Yesterday I started thinking about porter and decided that wasn’t quite what I needed. After mentally moving through several other styles of beer, I finally settled on Spaten Oktoberfest (after about three hours of contemplation). That was the beer that would set things right.

While walking to the bar after work to meet my hubby, I was knitting my scarf. [Knitting while walking is normal for me. I’ll probably discuss this in a post at some point.] While walking and knitting I had a strange thought come into my mind. This thought told me I should put my knitting away before walking into the bar, because the bar patrons would think it strange for someone to knit in the bar.

As soon as this thought passed through my feeble brain I had to mentally slap myself silly. (I couldn’t do it for real, because my hands were busy knitting.) What was I thinking?! I’m working on a book called “A Knitter’s Guide to Beer” and I’m thinking people would consider it strange for me to be knitting in a bar! I definitely was not going to put my knitting away now.

In my brain’s defense, the bar we were heading towards was not knitter-friendly; meaning that the light level is very low (making it hard to see my knitting), they only have bar stools or booths (which make it less comfortable to knit than with tables and chairs), and they don’t serve food (it’s just a beer bar).

When I arrived at the bar, I kept on knitting as I walked through looking for Chuck. I knew perfectly well what I was doing there and where I was going, but everyone looked at me as if I must be lost. In fact, one person asked if he could help me with anything.

Chuck wasn’t there yet, so I called him and we decided to meet at the restaurant next door where the beer was better and we could get food. I wasn’t able to complete my silent rebellion by knitting where it wasn’t expected, but I’ll just have to save that for another day. The food at the restaurant was great and I got my Spaten Oktoberfest… and yes, my mental beer-day conclusion was correct. Spaten Oktoberfest was the perfect beer to set things right again!

It’s apparent that if I want to change expectations about knitting and beer drinking, I have to start by addressing my own preconceptions. I can knit and drink beer quite happily at home. Now it’s time to start doing more of it in public.

Want to meet downtown for a beer? I’ll be sure to bring my knitting!

-Jenne Hiigel

Prepping To Brew…

I was in Doc’s Cellar (our local homebrew shop) a week ago to get some information about brewing and to get a feel for the supplies and ingredients. As I was browsing around the store, I came across a shelf of plastic bags of pre-measured grains for various beer recipes.

There were bags of malted barley of varying roasts, as well as bags of mixed roasts and other grains. One bag had amber malt, dark roasted malt, and oatmeal. This bag was for an oatmeal stout recipe. I found myself putting my hand on the bag, picking up the bag with both hands to feel the texture of the grain, and putting the bag to my face to smell the grains (the plastic was not too thick, so some aroma did come through).

What was really strange about this action is that I often do the same thing when faced with yarn or spinning fiber! The grain was attracting me the same way that yarn would. I knew right then that brewing from the grain, rather than from malt extracts, was the direction I needed to head; in spite of the fact that brewing from grain takes more time and more equipment.

I left the store with a book on brewing and am getting myself familiar with the process and the equipment I’ll need before taking the next step. I’m looking forward to working with that grain, though!

-Jenne Hiigel

The Value of Ripping & Dumping…

When I teach beginning knitters, I’ll have them practice casting on stitches until their knitting needle is full. When they’re ready to move on to the next step, I’ll tell them to pull all those stitches off their needles and start over. The response I get is typically surprise that I would have them undo “all that work.”

I have my students do this partially for practical reasons, but primarily so they can learn a lesson right away about the importance of “process.” The practical reasons are that there are way too many stitches on the needle, the first several stitches are typically too tight and need to be redone, and a review of casting-on is helpful, since we only cast on at the beginning of each project.

But the real reason I have them do this, I explain, is so they can learn to appreciate the value of the process of knitting. If they just want the finished garment – a hat, scarf, or sweater – they can pick up some very nice ones for far less trouble and often for less cost at a variety of stores. Why learn to knit if you don’t enjoy the process? The lessons learned through trying new ideas can often be the most valuable end product, even if the garment didn’t turn out as planned.

This concept applies to brewing as well. There are fantastic craft-brewed beers available that you can just pick up off the shelf and take home. Why brew your own when so many good beers are readily available? The answer is in the value and enjoyment of the process of brewing.

When someone is faced with the realization that they need to rip out their knitting, either partially or fully, I’ll tell them that’s “more knitting pleasure for no additional cost!” That’s why you should work with yarn you really like. If you have finished a batch of beer that you’re not enjoying or that just plain went bad, it’s okay to dump that batch and start over, because “life’s too short to drink bad beer.”

We usually learn far more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes. Learn to appreciate the projects that don’t work out, as much as the ones that do.

-Jenne Hiigel

Variety or Consistency?

A choice that seems to come up early in both knitting and brewing is the question of whether it’s better to repeat the same pattern or recipe over and over until you fine-tune and then perfect it, or if variety is truly the spice of life. I have found that while most people can see the value of repetition, more often than not people typically choose the path of variety.

Which one you end up choosing really depends on what you hope to gain from each craft. For some people becoming familiar with a single pattern or recipe – to the point where you know longer have to refer to the instructions – is very calming and stress-free. They don’t want to have to worry about whether or not the project will come out as planned. They’ve made it before and can feel quite confident that there will be no problems.

Others will find that they get bored with the crafts when attempting the same project more than a couple of times and are looking for the challenge and skill-expanding qualities that tend to come with variety.

The desire for repetition vs variety may change with your mood, your goals, or the current stress-level of your life. So, whether you decide to make socks or pale ale over and over again or decide to learn something new every time you start a new project, there are benefits in both approaches.

-Jenne Hiigel

Fiber & Grain…the blending of two crafts

As an avid fan of both knitting and fresh craft-brewed beer, I began to see similarities in the two crafts. My first inclination to connect the two was an unexpected question that popped into my mind… “What beer should I drink while knitting a black wool, simple rib sweater?” The answer, at the time, was a bock beer from Anchor Steam Brewing Company.

Since that seed was planted in my poor brain, I haven’t been able to let go of it and my book project was born. After reading Chris O’Brien’s book, Fermenting Revolution: How to drink beer and save the world, I realized my book project needed to include homebrewing. In “A Knitter’s Guide to Beer” I will compare the craft of knitting to the craft of brewing, with the goal of showing how well the two go together and how both genders should feel equally comfortable in both crafts.

This project is currently in the early stages, but will hopefully progress at a steady pace… so long as I can take time away from my knitting, homebrewing, and brewpub research to get in some writing time. Housecleaning and meal preparation will most likely have to take a back seat.

-Jenne Hiigel