Karie Bookish Dot Net

The Annual Eurovision Post: 2017

According to my archives, I write an ‘annual’ Eurovision post every 3-5 years. Last year Ukraine gained a surprising, but well-deserved win with their haunting 1944 written and performed by Jamala. It is one of the most ‘difficult’ songs to ever win* but Jamala’s raw, emotional and technically superb performance stood out among a sea of cookie-cutter tracks. And so the contest will be held in Kiev this year.

(* 1963’s winner Dansevise spring to mind as another quirky one.)

Like most years, last year’s winner has influenced a lot of selections, so we are wading through a sea of Sad Female Balladeers. You have been warned. Most of them will have fallen by the wayside once we get to the Grand Final, but if you plan on watching the Semis, make sure to have some coffee ready. You’ll need caffeine (and snacks – always snacks).

Semi-Final 1 (It Is The Strong One):

  • One of the red-hot favourites appears as the very, very first entry. Sweden has sent the lean, slick pop machine of Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On. This Robbie Williams/Justin Timberlake hybrid is hard to fault, except it is perhaps too smug and impressed with its own brilliance.
  • Strong vocal performances from Georgia, Albania, Poland, and the Czech Republic cannot disguise the fact they are all Sad Female Balladeers. They all need big performances and outstanding staging to stand out from the rest of the pack. I am not sure they can manage that.
  • Finland also has a Sad Female Balladeer but it stands out – and not just because it also has a Sad Man At Piano. Norma John’s Blackbird reminds me of Annie Lennox at her most sparse and interesting. Hopefully they won’t change the staging too much: at its national finale, it was atmospheric and gorgeous.

  • Belgium has one of the pre-contest favourites. The country has quietly become one of the strongest competitors (2015’s Rhythm Inside, anyone?) and this year the hype is deafening. Blanche’s City Lights is just stunning. It is a song meant for the radio, the end credits of a great film, your headphones .. but is it meant for Eurovision? I hope its introspection will translate well to the stage. It deserves all the love in the world.
  • Slovenia has sent Omar Naber for the second time. The 2017 entry is a Sad Male Ballad, so I’m going to link you his 2005 effort instead which never made it out of the semi-final but which has been in my heart for 12 years. #justice4stop
  • Another underperforming country is Iceland which has sent us several great tracks over the years that never quite made a suitable impact. I freaking love this year’s song from Svala with its cool Chvrches vibe, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking it’ll do well. It’s all a bit too brittle and remote for Eurovision.
  • One of the great rivalries at 21st century ESC is the one between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This year Azerbaijan edges ahead with the cool Dihaj and Skeletons, but Armenia possesses a song that’s the closest to a Big Balkan Ballad we get this year (even though they are nowhere near the Balkan region, obviously). The BBB is a perennial favourite with Eurovision viewers, so it could surprise.
  • Speaking of surprises, I never thought I’d be head-over-heels in love with a song from Portugal. I never imagined I could get goosebumps from listening to a Eurovision entry sung in Portuguese by a scuffy-looking man. And then Salvador Sobral started singing. ESC fans have criticised the song for being old-fashioned, but this is the year Ryan Gosling nearly tap-danced his way to an Oscar in La La Land. Salvador Sobral’s song is both timeless and very, very now. I’ll be listening to this in 2037.

Semi-Final 2 (The Other One):

  • The run of Sad Female Balladeers continues, but at least The Netherlands is giving us a Wilson Phillips tribute act with Lights and Shadows. I never liked Hold On first time around and I’m not a fan of this one either.
  • I do really, really, really like Macedonia’s entry. Jana’s Dance Alone is pure synth-pop goodness with shades of Kylie, Robyn and Tegan & Sara. This is a potential Top 5 and I’ll be dancing like a loon to eminently quotable lines like “I let the pavement be my catwalk”. Please, please let the staging be amazing.

  • From the sublime to the ridiculous: Romania provides us with the novelty hit of the year with the horrific Yodel It. It’d be to everyone’s credit if this track died in the semi-final because the Saturday casual viewing crowd will award this gimmicky trainwreck far more points than it deserves. It is my least favourite track this year. Horrid on all levels.
  • This semi-final has its share of Sad Female Balladeers, but we are also blessed with a number of Generic Male Pop Singers. Austria sounds like it was written for an aspirational lifestyle ad, Ireland has sent its latest Louis Walsh protegee (your gran will love it), and Bulgaria brings the best of the bunch. Norway brings up the rear with the cookie-cutter Grab the Moment.
  • Israel is upbeat, thankfully, and although it isn’t particularly interesting, it could do well if staged with energy. I’m reminded of Israel’s 2015 entry which I didn’t rate until I saw it on the big stage – this year has the same potential to be the crowdpleaser of the night.
  • I’m of A Certain Age, so my first thought on hearing Estonia’s Verona was 1980s German pop duo Modern Talking. Granted, this sound has also been mined by Lady Gaga for the epic Bad Romance, so it’s not all bad. Verona has a real ear-worm quality to it with a strong 1980s pop sound, but I worry about the delivery on the night. If Koit & Laura manage to connect with each other & the camera, this could go far but it could also easily end up as dad-dancefloor cheese.
  • Ah, the batshit-crazy song from Croatia. It sounds like a Disney/pop-opera mash-up until you realise that Jacques is singing both voices. I have no idea how he’s going to do this live nor how it will avoid looking utterly insane on stage. It would have worked a bit better if it had been a duet, but .. it is bizarre and incoherent.
  • Finally, Belarus has managed to send its best contestants ever. NAVIBAND’s My History is charming, folksy and upbeat with a great “ha! ha!” moment in the chorus. The song sounds like it’d fit into a Crowded House album (Woodface-era) by way of Mumford & Sons, and there is a lovely early ’90s vibe to the whole performance. I cross my fingers that this finds its audience.

The Final:

  • The Big Five are pre-qualifiers: Spain is hopeless, France is once again excellent and will probably underperform (see 2013’s Amandine), Germany has sent a wanna-be Sia with a generic song, and UK is a Sad Female Balladeer (incredible voice; underwhelming song).  And before we get to the last of the Big Five pre-qualifiers, Ukraine are also pre-qualified as hosts. I’ll also get back to Ukraine in a second.
  • The last of the Big Five is Italy and they are entering the competition as absolute favourites. I’m personally not convinced we will see an Italian win – but Occidentali’s Karma will be a Top 5 song, no doubt. I have the same problems with Italy as I have with Sweden – I don’t feel a connection, it is entirely too self-aware of its own brilliance, and it has a calculated gimmick. Mind you, I felt the same about Denmark in 2013 and Sweden in 2015. They both won.
  • Finally, Ukraine. They have entered a rock band and I like seeing rock bands at Eurovision (hello 2008). O.Torvald’s Time is perfectly fine, but it also highlights the big problem this year’s contest has. Here is the original staging of the song – for obvious reasons, they changed it.

Politics have always been part of Eurovision. The contest was started as an attempt to bring Europe together after the horrors of World War 2, and you even had Italy win in 1990 with Insieme: 1992 – a song that explicitly celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall: “With you, under the same flags / You & I under the same sky / Together, unite unite, Europe / We’re more and more free / It’s no longer a dream and you’re no longer alone (..) / Europe is not far away”. In recent years, the tone is less celebratory and less peaceful. Georgia withdrew in 2009 with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (spot the unsubtle message) and its 2009 singer is actually back this year with a song which was staged in Georgia with explicit anti-war messages flashing.

Much of the pre-contest coverage this year has centered on Russia fielding a singer who is legally unable to perform in Ukraine. ESC Insight has an excellent article about the geopolitical forces behind all this. Russia has withdrawn from this year’s contest (as of yesterday), but expect politics to rumble on. Eurovision has always been used as a way to present your nation on a grand stage (literally) and many people have vested interests in telling a specific version of their country’s story to a mass audience.  Be prepared to see a lot of not-very-subtle political messaging even if the EBU are trying to smooth things over.

We live in troubled times, but the tagline of Eurovision 2017 is Celebrate Diversity and I’ll be doing just that in May.

The Story of a Bench

As a rule, I have an uneasy relationship with yarn-bombing. Done right and with purpose, yarn-bombing can be an effective way of practising craftivism (using craft as protest and promoting social change). It can transform a community and serve as a visual marker that something is not right. Sadly, I see too many press releases using yarn-bombing as a thoughtless exercise to “get the knitters on board” and throw a few pom poms at a tree as an empty PR exercise.

But then there is this bench and I want to share its story with you. It is deeply affecting as well as a story of how yarn-bombing can be an incredible story-telling tool.

This bench sits in a remote corner of the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular bench is hidden away at the back, close to the rose garden and the 16th century garden. Most visitors never make it that far, but the location is a favourite spot for many local people. I live next door to the Botanics and you will often find me knitting somewhere in that little area when the weather’s nice.

Local textile artist and production designer Rita McGurn passed away two years ago, and her daughter decided to yarn-bomb the bench. Most of the benches in the Botanics bear small memorial plaques, but this bench needed to be slightly different as a tribute to a woman who was described as “colourful, eccentric and a little irreverent”. Some of the pieces were crocheted by Rita herself before she passed away, while other pieces were made by Rita’s friends and family.

I came across the bench on a sunny day. As always, this corner of the Botanics was almost deserted – except people were lined up to look at this piece of art. A young couple was sitting on the bench for a long time, stroking the pieces of fabric and admiring the colour. A family stopped to have their children photographed (“no, don’t touch the flowers – say cheese – no sit still – now look at me”). A small group of people stopped for a long time and I wondered to myself if they were friends of the family. As I saw more and more people stopped to engage with the bench – taking photographs, sitting down, touching it – I realised that they were drawn to it as an art piece. Some had read about the bench in local papers – others just came across it in passing. Everybody slowed down and took a moment to reflect.

There is something so very moving about this yarn-bombing effort. It is a deliberate gesture carried out with care and love. The bench lights up its little corner of the park and the ephemeral nature of the piece makes it incredibly poignant. It is one of my favourite pieces of yarn-bombing I have ever come across. If you are nearby, I can only urge you to catch it before it disappears forever.

You can read more about Rita and Rita’s daughter, Mercedes here.

This Thing of Paper – March & April 2017

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of meeting many knitters at both Joeli’s Retreat in Manchester and at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Many of them backed my This Thing of Paper Kickstarter whilst others had just learned about the project. This update is for backers and non-backers alike.

First, An Important Housekeeping Note:

If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, please contact me via email (hello @kariebookish.net) or via the contact form on my website (this goes directly into my email). When you email me, please use a descriptive subject header. Please.

Thank you so, so, so much!

This ensures I see your message as quickly as possible and that your query will get resolved that much quicker.

The Book – or, what has Karie done with her life this month?

The book is coming on in leaps and bounds. All the patterns are finished. I have been working closely with my technical editor Amelia Hodsdon on getting them ready for publication (more on that later). My focus has now shifted to three other things:

  1. Essays. All my notes have been collated; the essays now exist in keyword form; and the narrative structure of the book is mapped out with post-it notes. I am not sure how other writers do this, but I like to have my book outlined like a ghost on the page before I start fleshing things out. I am working with a copy editor, the marvellous Kate Gregory, on this part of the project. I am very aware that I only have a finite amount of words inside of me, so you will see less of me online as I save my words for the book.
  2. Perks & Rewards. All the Kickstarter backers signed up for sweet, sweet rewards and, whilst I sourced all the goodies very early on in the process, all the lovely stuff is now going to start arriving in Casa Bookish and will be sent out with the book itself. I’ll be getting an assistant to help me with the admin load.
  3. Making It Happen. Shops and non-backers have asked how they can buy the book once it is released. I’ll be setting up a small shop section on this website. Just like the Perks & Rewards section, I’ll have some help doing this.

 

The Book  –  or, what goes into making a pattern ready.

I thought I’d write a bit about what work goes into making a pattern ready for publication. Amelia and I work from a house style sheet – a document I have written that covers all style standards and practices involved in writing a knitting pattern. Here are some examples of what a good style sheet covers:

  • a set way of writing phrases like the beginning of the round – the style sheet determines if you write BORbeg of rndbeg of round, or even Beg of Rnd (or something else!).
  • how abbreviations are styled – k2tog or K2TOG; if you capitalise KYOK, should you then also capitalise SKYK?
  • the narrative flow of a pattern: does the garment start with the back or the front? is it important that the sleeves are worked first? When do you write about the extra cast-on stitches – do they belong to the body section or the buttonband section?
  • standard sections: NAME; MATERIALS; NEEDLES; ACCESSORIES; GAUGE; PATTERN NOTES; INSTRUCTIONS.
  • standard sub-sections: how materials are listed and which order; line breaks or no line breaks?
  • how repeats within repeats are written. Round or square brackets? How do we deal with really complicated stuff like a repeat within a repeat within a repeat within a repeat? Ah, look at page 5 where there is a guide on how to write this.

(An aside: When I teach pattern writing, I’m often asked if I can share my style sheet. Unfortunately there are no real short cuts to a good style sheet. It is one that designers build up themselves based upon their own experience and their thoughts on what a good pattern reads like.)

So, Amelia and I have double- and triple-checked the maths in the patterns, but we have also worked very hard on ensuring consistent style across all patterns and making sure the patterns have good narrative flow. One of our longest discussions was over whether one line of instructions needed to be in one section or another.

This Thing of Paper contains 11 patterns (and one exclusive pattern for high-level backers), so it has been quite a lot of work getting to this stage. I started out designing the patterns last spring, knowing that I needed a cohesive collection with a broad selection of project types aimed at different types of knitters, then I began writing the patterns and, finally, they have been edited.

 

Hiccups – or, what has Karie learned along the way?

Oh dear.

I am currently unravelling a large sample I had commissioned for the book. Not only did the sample arrive very late, but it also arrived in a completely unusable condition. Why don’t I just crocodile clip it and fake my way through the photo shoot? Because a) that is not how I roll, b) the book samples will be shown at trunk shows, and c) I actually want to be able to wear my samples. So, I am having to reknit the piece which means delays are cascading down the entire production line: photo shoots, layout, writing time etc.

This has proven one of my biggest lessons of the last year: outsourcing work does mean I can focus on my core tasks, but it also means that I rely on other people to work to deadlines and an agreed standard. I have been incredibly lucky to have good people step up to the plate when I needed them (and you will learn about them in the book), but it has not been a smooth process.

I have also learned about perfectionism. This is always my curse. Back in the day I designed nearly 25 patterns for my 8-piece Doggerland collection. This time I have curbed my tendencies a bit better but the early days of This Thing of Paper definitely saw me design an excess of patterns. I think I need to accept that is how I work and allow myself time to do so.

Timeline – or, Karie accepts she cannot control the universe!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are still issues that need to be solved, but that’s part of my job description. We also have a metric tonne of work to do between now and the publication of This Thing of Paper – but we have a clear road map with a full tank of gas. All the deadlines are locked in place and This Thing of Paper will be with you by the end of the summer (or winter if you live in the Southern Hemisphere).

Countdown to Edinburgh Yarn Fest

It is the most wonderful time of the year: the Edinburgh Yarn Festival is just over a week away!

Attending a fibre festival is always a great day (or weekend) out. You are surrounded by people who love the same activities as you do, and you get to do some serious knitwear-spotting too. It can also be a really exhausting time because there are just so many things to see and do – and you might find yourself so overwhelmed that you end up leaving empty-handed and slightly burned out.

With Edinburgh Yarn Festival just around the corner, I thought I’d update my survival guide and share some of my tricks for having a fabulous time.

  • Plan aheadHave an honest look at your stash, go through your Ravelry queue, and then make a note of yarn requirements. Yes, smartphones are handy for looking up requirements on the fly, but you have more time to browse if you already have all the information available! Do the same for any needles, hooks, and other tools you want to pick up.
  • Plan ahead. Start looking through the vendor list and visit their websites, so you know roughly what to expect. Make a short-list of your must-visit vendors and grab the official EYF map to find out where their stalls are. This stops you from feeling completely overwhelmed by everything on offer! Remember to factor in time to browse other stalls – you never know what might grab you on the day.
  • Plan ahead. If you are meeting with far-flung friends at EYF, make sure you know where and when to meet. EYF has an excellent cafe area that is perfect for an informal get-together. Check your favourite Ravelry groups for any meet-ups and, if you don’t have any photos of yourself online, make sure to describe yourself (“I’m short with curly brown hair and will be wearing a blue Waiting for the Rain shawl”) if you are meeting up with friends who may not have met you before.
  • Food. If you have special dietary requirements, always make sure to bring a back-up lunch. Personally I always carry some bottled water to keep myself hydrated and a small bag of mixed nuts to snack on so my blood sugar stays level throughout the day. The cafe sells nice cakes and there are coffee vendors strategically placed. Just remember to stay hydrated and don’t get hangry!
  • Bags. The UK has implemented the carrier bag charge (very good news for the environment!) so remember to bring your own carrier bags. You can also buy gorgeous tote bags at the events, of course. Do not rely on vendors having bags (though most will).
  • Wear sensible shoes & clothes! You will be on your feet most of the day, so leave your high heels at home. I hear the “wear sensible shoes!” advice all the time and yet I keep seeing miserable-looking people in high-heeled boots at events. Obviously EYF and other events are perfect places to show off your favourite makes, but try not to overheat!
  • Budget. Unless you are a multi-millionaire, chances are that you will have to make some tough decisions at EYF. Decide before you leave home how much you are going to spend. Decide how much you’ll spend on yarn, how much on notions, and how much on cute accessories like tote bags, mugs etc. Then leave room in your budget for impulse buys. Even the smallest budget should have an impulse buy allowance. You will fall in love with something unexpected.
  • Classes. If you have signed up for a class, make sure you have everything you need several days in advance. Don’t rely on picking up supplies at the event itself. Check if you need to do any homework and sure to arrive on time.
  • Travel. The EYF website and Ravelry group contain everything you need to know about transport, so make sure you know your train times and keep your tickets in a safe spot. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to and from the venue. Make sure you have a perfect travel project on the go – travelling to a fibre festival is part of the festival fun! If you are going by bus, you will instantly know which bus to take – it’ll be filled with knitters!
  • Be Social. Say hello to people! Smile and talk knitting while you are waiting in a queue. Let strangers know how awesome their cardigans are. Enjoy the atmosphere. If a vendor or a tutor has been especially incredible, let them know! Take pictures of amazing things and share them on the internet. Use the hashtag #eyf17 so others can enjoy your fabulous memories!
  • Remember to Breathe. Fibre festivals can be very exhausting (especially as so many of us are introverts and the buzz can get overwhelming). If you get tired, take a break. If you need some fresh air, go for a short walk. Nothing is more important than you enjoying yourself, so be kind to yourself rather than push through. The perfect buttons will still be there ten minutes later. The Leith Water Walk Way is not far from the Corn Exchange if you need a touch of nature.
  • And just have fun! This is going to be one of the highlights of your year.

I’ll be teaching three classes (Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons) so do say hello if you see me! I love seeing what people have made from my patterns, so don’t be shy. Looking forward to seeing a lot of lovely faces.

Authors & Artists: Alma’s Song

A few years ago I read Florian Illies’ excellent book 1913: The Year Before the Storm. Following the entangled lives of artists and cultural mavericks in 1913, Illies weaves a fragmented fabric of a world tethering on the brink of something new – change is in the air and artists respond to it, though they are unsure what that change will be (we know it will be the First World War). The book stayed with me – and the result is Alma’s Song.

Alma Schindler-Mahler was a key figure in Vienna’s cultural life at the turn of the 20th century. She served as a muse for the painter Gustav Klimt, married the composer Gustav Mahler, then had a fling with the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, before she married architect Walter Gropius. She ended up fleeing the Nazi regime with her third husband, poet and playwright Franz Werfel – first heading to France, then to the US where she died in 1960s.

Alma’s torrid love life tends to be what most people focus on – after all, she was involved with some very famous artists – and you will often hear her described as a femme fatale. This focus has much in common with today’s celebrity gossip, of course. The headlines talk about Amal Clooney‘s personal life rather than her work. Alma was a composer, you see, but she had to give up her own music when she married Gustav Mahler and only returned to composing much later. On the other hand, Alma’s notoriety saved her from sinking into obscurity unlike most of her fellow women on the contemporary Viennese arts scene. Names like Broncia Koller and Teresa Ries have been consigned to oblivion for decades – a desperately sad combination of anti-Semitism and misogyny. It is a familiar tale throughout early 20th century Europe.

Reading Illies’ book and later hearing Alma’s music, I could not stop thinking about these artists living through an age of upheaval, uncertainty and eventual darkness. I wanted to design something that celebrated them.

So, the shawl. It is a crescent shawl with easy stitch patterns, both written and charted. 

The vivid colours are inspired by the Vienna Secession movement and, in particular, the look of the secession building’s gold dome against the blue sky. The body of the crescent shawl has a simple eyelet pattern designed to contrast greatly with the textured frieze section. Garter stitch ridges form horizontal lines in the vein of the Secession’s use of linear ornamentation. The cast-off is extended and decorative with dramatic loops that soften the angularity.

Alma’s Song has dramatic flair that befits its inspiration but it retains simplicity and a sinuous angularity which I rather adore.

The yarn is Camel/Silk Fingering by DyeNinja – an extraordinarily decadent yarn which soaks up colour. I used Byzantium as the main blue colour and Shantung as the contrast gold colour, and I used just over half a skein each for this shawl. I have included instructions for a larger shawl in the pattern and you’d be able to knit the large size with one skein of each colour. I’m lucky enough to have a full box of mini-balls of CSF, so I came up with some alternative colour combinations.

From the top, L to R: Tashkent and KarakorumScimitar and DjinnGrand Vizier and Scheradzad; and, finally, Karakorum and Taklamakan.

Alma’s Song is the first new pattern I’ve published in roughly a year. I’ve obviously been busy working on my forthcoming book, This Thing of Paper, so there will be a deluge of new material coming. It just feels so nice to have a pattern out & I hope you enjoy! Both DyeNinja & myself will be at Edinburgh Yarn Fest in just a few weeks, so I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Current State of Mind: All The Things (Preview)

I am currently hard at work editing the book projects. However, I did find time to design a shawl which marks the first collaboration with local dyer Sheila of DyeNinja. Sheila dyes exquisite rich jewel tones on beautiful bases and I know many of you have already fallen in love with her palette. I have more to say about the forthcoming pattern once it is closer to being released (cross fingers it won’t be long) but I shall leave you with a little preview and a tiny hint about the inspiration:

“To every age its art, to every art its freedom”

Important notice

Dear all.

I have to travel across to Denmark next week. This is an unexpected but unavoidable journey.

Today is January 27. Emails and messages received after today will not be read or answered until Tuesday February 7. Any outstanding business will be dealt with before I leave.

Thank you.

 

 

This Is About Lilly

(my great-grandmother with my mother)

These days I find myself thinking a lot about my great-grandmother, Lilly.

Lilly was born whilst the First World War was raging outside Danish borders. Born into a poor family, she would pick grains from fields at dusk hoping to get enough for her mother to bake bread. At fourteen she was already working as a servant girl. At twenty (or twenty-one) she married her employer – a man nearly thirty years her senior. By this time she had already acted as a mother figure to her soon-to-be husband’s seven motherless children. She would end up having eleven children of her own. Relying solely on her oldest children to help her, Lilly brought up eighteen (18) children in the 1930s and 1940s during the Great Depression and World War Two. The house had no running water and no central heating. The family lived off the land and whatever petty jobs could be had.

Lilly was in her sixties when I was born and she looked after me until I was old enough to start school. She brought me old dish rags on which I could embroider my name and I made dolls’ clothes using her hand-crank Singer sewing machine. Her button box gave me endless hours of pleasure and it was passed down to me.

And she taught me to knit next to the kerosene stove in her living room.

Family lore has it that she fell out with her mother in the early 1930s and, as revenge, Lilly changed from knitting throwing-style to knitting Continental-style. They made up, but every subsequent generation of women was taught to knit Continental-style by Lilly. She was a formidable, smart woman who played the long game. Lilly would have made an excellent army general.

These days I think a lot about Lilly and her generation. I heard her stories about World War Two (during which Denmark was occupied) and these stories run through my head when I see people talking about inspiring WW2 heroes and kicking Nazi butt.

I was brought up in a family very much altered by World War Two. Someone came home to dinner one night wearing a uniform as he had signed up to guard Allied prisoners. I never knew that family branch existed until Lilly’s funeral and his son showed up. Lilly’s oldest brother went into the Resistance and when he passed away (at age 100!), we found a medal. The files are still sealed by the government and my great-granduncle refused to utter as much as a word about the War. We have no idea what he did but his eyes spoke volumes. My grandmother recalls seeing planes flying over the fields, columns of emaciated German soldiers marching through the village and Lilly ushering everybody into the threshing barn.

My great-grandmother taught me World War Two was a time of hardship, strife, loss, bitterness, and heartbreaking despair. Resistance heroes were ordinary men and women. They weren’t “absolute legends”, nor clickbait, nor Brad Pitt with a comedic accent, nor a jingoistic poster. Their actions ranged from whatever my great-granduncle did (but which affected him for the rest of his very long life) to Lilly’s refusal to break bread with a family member. War is dirty and terrible – and I really dislike seeing people almost fetishising the idea of reliving World War Two in 2017. This is not a chance to live out your favourite films nor indulge in cosplay (link from 2010 but it still strikes me as tone-deaf). I genuinely wonder what part our collective sense of nostalgia has played in Recent Events – a sense of nostalgia that has been fed by the media we consume. How is it we react to things?

I don’t honestly know where I am going with this. I really, really do not know. These days I just find myself thinking of Lilly a lot. I think of what she taught her daughter, her grand-daughter and what she taught me. Lessons of resilience and the many complexities of life. She would have turned 101 years this year and I honestly don’t know what she would have made of this mess.

(Lilly with her parents, my great-great-grandparents)

On Finding your Way Back to Making

I lost my voice, then I found it again. It is a true story (I had a cold over the holidays) but I think this is also true of most people’s crafting. We go through peaks and troughs where we fall in and out of love with making stuff. Sometimes we make stuff that feels true to us, other times we may work away at something but it doesn’t feel right.

Thanks to my day job of teaching workshops to creative people like you, I hear a lot of stories about falling in and out of love with making. I view making as a sort of story-telling: knitting a garment allows me to express myself and stitching the hem of a dress makes me imagine every stitch as a word. But sometime we run out of stories to tell and we lose our voices. We stop knitting the socks and squirrel away a half-finished shirt.

This narrative exhaustion is fine. Making will come back to you once you have stories inside of you again. Once you are energised enough to have words that will out through your fingers.

I lost my voice, then I found it again. I slept a lot, drank a lot of tea, wrapped up warm, and made sure I took care of my run-down body.

Practise self-care if you need to nurture your making: read books, go for walks, look at art, jump in puddles, and make big mugs of tea. Making is patient and will be there when you decide it is time to get back to your unfinished projects.

What are you planning for 2017?

2016: Let’s Make This Very Brief & With Some Good News

I am not going to write a long post rehashing 2016. I usually write these retrospective posts every year, but this year is different. You know this too. You don’t need me to remind you.

Instead I am going to share some very good news with you. I learned this a few weeks ago and shared it with my Kickstarter pals yesterday. Recently I have been travelling a lot for work. I have been to London, Northern Ireland, and off the Scottish coast. This month took me to Mainland Europe where I spent a lot of time in medieval town centres and museums as well as talking to textile people in Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

The highlight of my Mainland Europe trip was a visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. Johannes Gutenberg was born and worked in Mainz and the museum is a real treat for anybody interested in book history and print culture. I was given special permission to work with their collections (which includes two Gutenberg bibles) and the staff were all incredibly generous with their knowledge of early printed books. The museum also contains extensive material on book-binding, paper-making, and print ephemera. I can heartily recommend it. Currently the museum is also hosting an exhibition on the Futura font which sent this early 20th C loving gal into rapture (I contain multitudes).

Now for my very, very good news:

I am exceptionally pleased to announce that the Gutenberg Museum has requested a copy of This Thing of Paper for their archives.

Obviously they have a great deal of material in their archives, but I believe this will be the first knitting book to be included! I am very excited about this – it shows that the scope of what a knitting book can be and do is endless. Felicity Ford has written eloquently about knitting’s potential, and I’m so proud to make a small contribution to this breaking down of barriers.

And I cannot thank my Kickstarter supporters enough to helping me do this. I love knowing that your names will be in the Gutenberg Museum Archives too. Thank you.

I am slowly winding up all work for this year. Today will be my last rugby match with the inbox but I will continue to knit until 2016 runs out of breath. You might be amused to know that my word for 2017 is nope and that my resolutions are to swear more, say hell no a lot more, and spread a lot of love in the darkness.

Peace x

P.S. If you are looking for a gift for a knitting friend, I have decided to do a 20% discount off the Frances Herself shawl with the rav code courage. Code is valid December 20-21, 2016.

Frances Herself was inspired by Frances Macdonald McNair – a wonderful artist whose work was derailed by her husband. I designed this shawl for women everywhere – we are makers, lovers, fighters, and human. I chose the word courage as the code because we are facing a world where we need all the courage we have buried inside us.