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This Thing of Paper: What Just Happened?!

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A week ago I launched This Thing of Paper. 25 hours later my project had met its target of £9,700. I sat in a state of shock as the total climbed – this was not what I had planned! It was supposed to take much longer! My head was spinning and I was lost for words. The craft community had rallied around my project in a most kind and loving way. Thank you so, so much.

I’ll post an updated budget this Wednesday, so you can see how I’m balancing the budget. The blog tour also continues. Naomi and Meg blogged last week. Natalie posted today.  You can also hear an interview with me on the Yarn in the City podcast.

So what now?

Many people have asked if I am going to implement stretch goals (a target beyond the initial funding goal). Well, yes and no.

In light of the response to This Thing of Paper, I have had to adjust my budget: the print run will be larger and some things will be a bit more complex – most of the extra funds already raised will be put towards the making and distribution of my book less complicated. It is perhaps not the sexiest response you will have ever seen to a crowd-funding effort, but I believe it is a very practical and sensible one.

… but here is the Thing.

While I am not going to add any extra content to This Thing of Paper (it is a complete work as it stands), there are still things that would be really awesome.

  • Getting certain images licensed
  • Sample knitters to make the garments in two sizes for trunk shows & festivals
  • Improving the quality of the paper used in the book
  • Shooting photos on location (I’ve been researching options this past weekend)

So, with all that in mind, I have been pondering what would be an awesome extra treat for everybody. I want something I can give back to the community, so I have settled on something I think could be very special: a book launch party for This Thing of Paper with a periscope stream for those not able to join us. Let’s make this happen, folks.

Let’s decide to have a book launch party at £15,500.

If we reach £16,500 we can even do two book launches – one in Scotland* and one in London!

If we reach the magical £15,500 number, I’ll be adding book launch party invites to reward levels at £30 and beyond. If we reach £16,500, those invites will be valid for a London party too.

Imagine that – a party with cake where everybody expects you to knit and read! I do like the sound of that – and it means that we can join together and celebrate what we have accomplished as a community.

Because I would not be doing all this if it were not for your help and support. That’s the truth.

*ETA: In Scotland, this party would take place in the Central Belt – either Glasgow or Edinburgh. I have three potential venues, all within easy reach of public transport.

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On a Personal Note

The success of This Thing of Paper has felt incredible. I was shell-shocked for most of Monday and Tuesday last week.

At school, I was bullied quite badly for being a bookish, arty, and geeky kid. That was a long time ago, but these sort of scars never seem to fade. I have spent most of my life trying to hide away all those things the playground targeted. It is only within the last decade that I have learned to accept myself. It’s okay to be different and I can not be anybody but me.

So, having so many people support my bookish, arty, and geeky product feels very significant and even had me in tears.

Many people have also been in touch to urge me to be kinder to myself. I’m not going to lie: knowing that bills will be covered until April 2017 is a massive weight off my shoulders. That is a kindness in itself. Being able to pay others to do some of the work I usually do myself is also an utter pleasure.

As I am writing this, I am still not quite sure of what has happened but I know this: I am so thankful that life has led me to knitting and the wonderful community. Thank you. Thank you.

This Thing of Paper: Design Considerations

I introduced This Thing of Paper last week. This week I am writing about the work that went into the design process and how I defined the design vocabulary. If you like reading about how designers’ brains work, this post will definitely give you a glimpse into my way of working!

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Work on This Thing of Paper started some time in 2012. I began talking to friends and colleagues about this mad notion I had: I wanted to make a knitting collection by hand like a medieval scribe. The practicalities made me abandon this idea: I am a semi-competent calligrapher, but making a whole book by hand* would have taken me years. Also, pattern support would have been interesting (“Let me send you a handwritten letter about row 97”) and the idea of inserting errata was daunting.

*) manuscript literally translates as something ‘written by hand’!

As it happens, though, I have a background in book history and as the idea of making a book by hand left me, I began thinking about the shift from manuscript to printed book. I knew I’d have enough material to write about but I had to find out if I had design material.

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I set up a moodboard. I browsed digitalised archives of books from the period. I visited art galleries & museums (and one of my local museums was even kind enough to have a relevant exhibition!). I sketched and examined sources from 14th century Book of Hours manuscripts to 16th century embroidery manuals.

Keywords emerged as did a distinct colour palette and design vocabulary.

The colour palette was fairly easy to conceptualise: parchment and paper with ink and decoration. Soft natural shades with rich, deep mineral-derived pigments. Below you can see some fairly typical details from 14th century illuminated manuscripts and how they translate into colour palettes. Contrary to what many people believe, though, most manuscripts were not highly decorated. As time progressed, technology allowed for woodcuts to be inserted into printed pages – some were tinted by hand afterwards.

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Related: here is an  an excellent article about why it is impossible to replicate the colours of medieval stained glass.

The design vocabulary was harder to capture. I had worked with such a sparse design vocabulary for Doggerland that I was overwhelmed by the visual possibilities in This Thing of Paper. Dragons! Devils! Stars! Acanthus leaves! Overwhelmed.

Instead I began to fall in love with the concept of negative space. Paper being much cheaper than vellum meant that you did not need to cram as much information as possible into a page; margins became wider and spaces between words appeared! I’ll be writing much more about this in the actual book – but how things relate to one another in a confined visual space definitely became a thing for me. I also fell for small geometric motifs and how things are visually repeated in different ways.

So, the design vocabulary is much more exuberant than it ever was for Doggerland, but it does not mean I have not edited it ruthlessly. I am placing the visual cues in a 21st century context with wearability at the forefront. Less rustic garterstitch and pared-down lace; more play with colour and delicate, ornamental motifs.

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Further design considerations: I wanted items that would appeal to a range of knitters. The projects are aimed at advanced beginner knitters to advanced knitters. Some projects will be achievable in a weekend or over a week; others will demand more involvement. The items cover texture, colour and lace. Needing to include such a variety of things in a relatively small collection meant editing what I needed to design.

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For structure, I divided This Thing of Paper into three sections (or three main stories, if you like) and each section includes a garment as well as accessories. Each of the three garments will be graded across seven sizes (XS to 3X) and will have notes on how to modify fit. The accessories are a mixtures of shawls, hats and gloves. I’ll be including sizing options here as well. Most patterns will be both charted and written out, because I know many people prefer to work from both (the jury’s out on one shawl pattern, but I will keep you updated on that).

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Thank you so, so much for all the enthusiasm and excitement so far. This is already a long entry but I want to tell you how much your reaction has meant to me. At the risk of sounding corny, I genuinely feel like I’m not alone on this whole This Thing of Paper journey because you are all sharing this adventure with me. I know this may sound like one of Those Inspirational Quotes I usually wince at – but I genuinely mean it. It is so nice to have you along.

Next week I will be writing about all the practical stuff (but there will still be pretty colours & images).

Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

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Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC’s Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme – it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

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Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

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And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it’s a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.

Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a ‘keen interest in knitting’ (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP’s Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – just like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I’m very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically – and wittily – to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather’s design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights – I always like when this is given as an option. The ‘Bianca’ option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid’s duties and this shrug is now on the list of ‘cover up them shoulders’ options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.

2015: The Unread Books Project

Just before Christmas I read a delightful book by Andy Miller called The Year of Reading Dangerously. On the surface of it, it is about reading all the books you’ve always promised yourself you’d read, but the book doubles as a witty semi-autobiographical look at how reading shapes who we are and how we ended up being whoever we are. I liked it a lot, in other words.

After my career path changed and I ended up doing, well, knitterly things, I have found myself an increasingly out-of-shape reader. I used to tackle tomes with confidence and read 100+ books a year (granted, I was single, unemployed and just out of university). These days I am lucky if I manage 40 books. My Kindle is partly to blame: I do read more but I tend towards reading easily digestible trash where I don’t need to flip back and forth between pages. Far too many of my books err towards the The Dastardly Duke’s Devillish Duel side of things when I really yearn  to sink into a rich, gorgeous book with layers. And I don’t know why I don’t do that more often.

Inspired by a Twitter conversation I had with Andy Miller, I decided to look at my book shelves. I have so many that I already own and that I really want to read – but for some reason they just sit there. Here’s a list of books I really want to read and hopefully by listing them, I will actually start to become a fit reader again (post-modern push-ups, fictional flexibility, muscular metafiction .. the bad puns write themselves).

In no particular order:

Eleven books. Six female writers. Three books I’ve begun but abandoned for various reasons (I forgot my Tristram Shandy Everyman edition in a Swedish forest one midsummer. Long story). A mix between current fiction and a few pre-1930 ones. Some I can read straight off the bat, others I’ll need to approach after my reading fitness improves. Some authors I have read before with much pleasure (Atwood, Robertson and Mitchell in particular) and others new to me (James, Barnes, and Plascencia). It’s a good mix.

I am not one for book groups or read-alongs, though a few of you have suggested such on Twitter. I’d love to see others look at their book shelves and rediscover their own unread books, though. Maybe a casual Twitter hangout ever so often to check in? (Many of you are much better at this than me.)

I’m about 120 pages short of finishing Andrew Drummond’s A Hand-Book of Volapuk (it’s a novel, I swear) and then I’m going to start my little reading project.

Book Review: Kate Atherley’s Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

atherleyI get a lot of emails. Some deal with my own work, but a surprising amount of messages comes from people wanting to write patterns. Maybe my epic Twitter rants about poorly written patterns are to blame; maybe it is because when I teach I go on about things like gauge and chart symbols. Who knows?

What do you do if you didn’t fluke a background in technical writing? Up to now you had to rely upon your knowledge of others’ pattern writing skills and try to imitate their way of writing instructions. I understand why people do this, but it does not allow for reflection upon your own style and you may fall into adopting other people’s bad habits without realising there are other options. Or you asked people like me who does have a background in technical writing (and who is horrifically busy) or you ask in Ravelry fora with somewhat mixed results.

Anyway, it’s been really frustrating for me that I have had nowhere to send all these lovely people. There are some great pattern design books in the world (like Maggie Righetti’s Sweater Design in Plain English) but no pattern writing books out there. With Kate Atherley’s book, Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, that drought is now at an end. It is not a knitting book filled with patterns; it is a book telling designers how to write patterns that are clear, concise and easy to follow. Kate Atherley is one of the most highly regarded technical editors in the business and her wealth of experience shows.

The book is a master-class in how to think about pattern writing. She discusses everything from how to structure a pattern (and provides a pattern template), which abbreviations to use, how to think about communicating cables and deciding upon formatting to why a designer’s relationship with their technical editor is so important, working with and defining style sheets, how to self-publish, how to work with publications (and what they expect of you as a designer) and how to making easy-to-follow charts.  It is an incredibly comprehensive book.

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Kate’s voice is authoritative, but never condescending. She assumes the reader is clever, resourceful and able to think for themselves. Look at the excerpt above: the three examples of a repeat within a row have an identical outcome (in terms of how many stitches you have at the end) but Kate goes through the examples one by one, and lets the reader work out why some formats are more effective than others.

And she makes you think about how writing patterns means communicating to someone who is not you. I find this is a pitfall for many designers who assume knitters work in the same way as themselves and find it hard to write for others. Writing for an audience is a real skill – and writing technical instructions for others to follow is even harder. I really like the way Kate makes you consider your audience before you begin writing.

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In short, this book is a marvel. It is a technical and dry in places (which I obviously love), but after a dense paragraph about the taxonomy of cable stitches, Kate shows why you need to wrap your head about how to classify and name cable stitches – and she does so in a wonderfully down-to-earth manner. More importantly, she makes sure you will enjoy writing that cabled hat pattern of yours. Most importantly, Kate makes sure that your cabled hat pattern will make an enjoyable knit for knitters who will talk about your well-written pattern to others and keep coming back for more. Huzzah!

I should point out (in the name of full disclosure) that I am cited in the book and that I was asked to read an early draft of this book, but that does not alter my praise of this book. Whether you are an aspiring designer or an experienced designer/tech editor, this book will instruct and help you. I keep a copy next to me on my desk as it comes in handy on a daily basis. The book is full of great advice from other designers and technical editors – and has a great deal of links to useful resources. As Kate says, the book won’t help you come up with designs but it will teach you how to write great patterns people will want to make again and again.

And happy knitters make for a happy knitting world.

You can buy the book here and it costs CAD$25. A real bargain for what you’ll learn.

Knits For Little Scamps – A Review Of Sorts

I love visiting Copenhagen. I lived there during my twenties – my formative years in many ways – and so many of my good friends live there. Paradoxically I didn’t know Signe Strømgaard when I actually lived in Copenhagen, yet whenever I visit we make sure we get to hang out. Signe is an incredible woman: funny, warm, down-to-earth and smart. I am so proud to call her my friend.

And Signe is a fantastic knitting designer.

Her work has appeared in Knitty, Twist Collective and Petite Purls. Signe has also worked extensively with Danish yarn company Filcolana (you can find many of their patterns freely available on Ravelry). Signe’s background in graphic design shows in her knitting designs: there is a modern, graphic quality to most of her work. Combined with Signe’s ever-present sense of humour, it was perhaps inevitable that her first book would be one filled with modern, colourful children’s patterns for kids aged 2 to 10. If you like Scandinavian children’s clothes, I think you’ll love Knits For Little Scamps.

I’m not even going to pretend to do a review because a) it’d be one long post of THIS IS AMAZING and b) I am totally biased but this is a great collection of modern kids’ patterns. Cue picture spam of my favourites.

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(Love this shows the design on both boys & girls, in a huge range of colour, and on a variety of ages. BOOM – design statement! )

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(Love the simplicity and the bold stripes. And the jumper + trousers = YES. I’d wear this.)

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(You cannot tell from the smallish photo, but that’s an interesting cable detail)

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(This girl takes no prisoners. Also, that hat is so cool that teenagers will secretly sulk that it’s for their baby sister or brother)

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(I totally love this cardigan. I want it for myself. Again, I love the styling. She looks kick-ass)

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(Aksel gives good face. Incidentally this is knitted in one of my favourite Danish yarns – Håndværksgarn by Hjelholt)

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(Work that pose! Again, totally wearable with clean lines)

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(This is just Signe’s design sensibilities in a nutshell)

Knits For Little Scamps is published as a hardback book in Danish – but is available in English on Ravelry as two e-books (KfLS 1 and KfLS 2 – the toy pattern in included in both ebooks).

Congratulations, Signe. You are awesome and I am so proud of you x

(all photos © Signe Strømgaard, 2014)

Books & Wool, But Of Course

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I gave away about 80% of my books when I left Denmark and I can still see ghosts on the shelves, though I merged my collection with Dave’s when we started living together. So many books.

Reading my 2006 blog posts I sounded so cavalier about culling my book collection:

Red is for never again, never, no, it is so replaceable and it was fun but now the thrill has gone

Yellow is for what a lovely edition, I’ll never find it again and my library wouldn’t be complete without it.

Green is for of course, without a question, it’s part of me and good memories of dear ones.

I may not have a driver’s license but I have many books. I’m putting tiny stickers on their backs: red, yellow, green. So far at least 100 books have been marked with red: Borges*, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, DH Lawrence*, Jane Austen, Thomas Mann* and, er, Marion Zimmer Bradley. The yellow category is the difficult one. Which of Margaret Atwood’s works are yellow and not green? Should I put a bright yellow sticker on John Ruskin or is that a red (because I’m sure there’s a nicer edition out there)?

As I go through my books I realise I’m a flirty reader. I pick up books, break their hearts & spines and drop them cruelly. So many books I never finished: Anita Brookner, Iris Murdoch, James Kelman, Samuel Butler and John Barth. I’m so sorry but it’s not you, it’s me.

And the green books. My friends, my family. Alasdair Gray, Jonathan Coe, AS Byatt, John Donne, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Pullman, Ezra Pound and EM Forster. I pet you gently and remember when I first encountered you. You are in my blood. You are going nowhere.

*victims of the bad edition rule”

And so we’re back to 2014. Still so many books and they are not alphabetised. Fret.

Speaking of books, I am currently reading David W. Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. It’s an interesting look at the Proto-Indo-European language (the ur-language that spawned English, Greek, Hindi, Russian etc) and how PIE is reconstructed following linguistic rules. Anthony also looks at words and concepts that are found throughout the descendants of PIE. Words relating to wagons and wheels, certain types of animals and – relevant to my working life – textiles.

Anthony traces the possible origin* of the word wool – *HwlHn- as PIE contains roots for sheep, ewe, ram and lamb. He argues convincingly that these linguistic fragments point to a domestication of sheep. He also looks at archaeological evidence from Uruk that indicates sheep began being bred for their wool around 3350 BCE. The book then follows the linguistic fragments as they start to spread across the PIE areas. *HwlHn shatters into *Hwel- or *Hwol- .. but the word fragment doesn’t always mean “wool”. Sometimes it means “to felt”, “something made of felt/wool”, “to press” or “to weave”. Anthony even looks briefly at whorls and spindles. Most of the book is devoted to horses and wheels (as the title indicates) but I did enjoy the dip into textiles. I’m now settling into a section on Neolithic farming in the Caucasus. As you do.

PS. Lots of people have posted pictures of their bookshelves (shelfies?). Do join in!

Twin Practices

Knitting, if acquired in youth becomes so mechanical an employment that the occupations of reading and knitting can be carried on simultaneously; while the benefit of early training in this work is felt in extreme old age, and when the sight is dim or lost, a pleasant creation is still open for the experienced knitter

– from “Myra’s Knitting Lessons. No.1” circa 1800

I still haven’t really mastered it – I find it easier to knit along to TV, films and podcasts. And thank you to Louise Scollay of KnitBritish for pointing me towards Myra’s Knitting Lessons. How marvellous.

Wilting – Some Links While I Melt

As a heatwave has swept across the UK, activities in Casa Bookish have been kept to a bare minimum. Oh, there was that trip to Linlithgow Palace, a trip to Edinburgh, some art exhibitions,  designing/plotting, preparations for the launch of new Autumn/Winter yarn collections – but mainly I have languished in the shade with an ice cream for company. I’ve enjoyed some really fantastic and thought-provoking Twitter conversations about hand-knitting, fashion, and women’s self-image.

So, in short: I don’t exactly lack blog post material. I just lack the energy and presence of mind to write the blog posts! What’s a girl to do? Well, I have some choice links for you to peruse whilst I hope for cooler temps to hit my corner of the UK:

  • Ventures & Adventures in Topography – a podcast about rambling through London using old walking guides. Yes, I continue to be fascinated by psychogeography – how we interact with landscapes and how landscapes interact with us.
  • Speaking of which: Cafe Pantopia – trying to establish “a common meeting-place that traverses the vast distances of the North Atlantic Ocean.” I am a North Atlantic Ocean girl and I love, love, love this idea.
  • Fringe Association is my new favourite knitting blog. There. I said it. She makes me look at things differently. FA  is a refreshing, smart look at knitting, style, and design.
  • I am currently teaching myself (very basic) French using DuoLingo. I’d quite like an outline of basic grammar alongside vocabulary lessons and commonly used phrases, but I genuinely feel like I’m learning Stuff.
  • Fancy living somewhere which has serious literary credentials? Why, William Blake’s cottage is for sale!
  • And this serves a neat segueway into the Man Booker longlist. The jury is spear-headed by Robert MacFarlane whose The Old Ways is my current bedside table book. In Days of Yore I would have had Opinions but Opinions have been wilted by the heat and an insane amount of work knitting.
  • I have finished a book recently, though. Yes, That Book by That Author. I enjoyed it – and it was very low on gore which I appreciated. I am a squeamish reader in some ways.

And how are you doing?