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Category Archives: Denmark

Copenhagen Dreaming

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I moved to Copenhagen in 1995 to start university. It was a hot July day, but my student hall kitchen had a fire escape from which you could watch the Tivoli Garden fireworks and the Vor Frelsers Kirke spire. I listened a lot to the Danish band Love Shop while I biked around town. I sat in cemeteries/parks reading the massive Victorian novels required for my coursework and met some of the best people I know in small cafes. Copenhagen remained my base as I travelled a lot from Norway, Sweden and Scotland to New Zealand. I always returned home to the fire escape and the best view in town. I graduated and bought a flat on the other side of town. I spent most of my time with friends in the Nørrebro and Vesterbro districts – and occasionally biked across my beloved Langebro (obligatory Love Shop link). I left Copenhagen for Glasgow in 2006, but Copenhagen is still home. DSC00820

On Saturday night one of my oldest and dearest friends ran for his life in Inner Copenhagen. Without going into details, I am so very grateful that he is still alive and well. I have very mixed feelings about how the media narrative surrounding the incidents was set up from the get-go, how things were interpreted on the ground, the extent of the media coverage and what the probable aftermath in Danish politics will be. But, I don’t write about politics on this blog and I have no intention of starting. I just feel very far away from a city I love so much and my friends who are all so very dear to me.

So, I’m (yet again) restarting my project of sharing beautiful things and celebrating all the things in life that matter to me.

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This is my first “selfish” project in a very, very long time. I’m knitting the Hetty cardigan by Andi Satterlund in Cascade 220 (shade “Birch Heather”). I am hoping to complete it in time for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I chose Hetty because I love the silhouette but also because I wanted to learn more about a structured top-down construction. The pattern is fun to knit (though I freely admit rewriting it so it suits my brain) and the construction is interesting. I have four skeins of the yarn and I’ve opted for the L size (though it does look tiny and I should maybe have gone for the size up, but I trust Andi’s sizing comments).

In other news, I released the second instalment of the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann 2015 Sock Club on Friday. The pattern is called Mad Larks and it is knitted in a gorgeous, rich and layered brown shade. The Byatt KAL is going great over in my group – please do join in! We are having great fun discussing colour options, how to customise Byatt and if anybody would freely admit to being a Hufflepuff!

Finally, I am exceptionally honoured to announce that The Island Wool Company has set up a Designer Collective and that I am one of the six designers involved. We are all very passionate about North Atlantic knitting traditions and we are huge fans of the yarns that the Island Wool Company works so hard to bring to a larger audience. I look forward to reinterpreting and communicating a very strong knitting heritage – one in which I am lucky to have a very small stake.

Beauty exists and I’ll do my very best to keep bringing more beauty into this world.

Save the Date: Knit Works

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Keep an eye on  the National Museum of Scotland, The Danish Cultural Institute and the Edinburgh Fashion Festival websites for more information. Yes, I am involved and, yes, it has an incredible line-up, and, no, I am not allowed to tell you more right now.

The Annual Eurovision Post: 2014

This year the Eurovision Song Contest will be held on my erstwhile home turf of Copenhagen, Denmark. I had a chance to go, but I sadly had to turn it down due to other work commitments (which I’ve now had to cancel thanks to the knee injury. I am not bitter).

Before we get started, let it be known that this year is not a vintage year. This is a year of dreary, dreary ballads. You will have plenty of time to go to the loo, make fresh microwave popcorn and refresh your Twitter feed. No country looks as though it really, really wants to win (except Armenia – we’ll get back to that). Got your popcorn popping? Let’s go.

The First Semi-Final:

  • Belgium has entered a song that would make even Louis Walsh blush from its blatant voter-pandering and sentimentality. Mother (sung by Axel Hirsoux who does his damnedest to sell the song, bless him) features lyrics such as “You are right there mother / You are my guiding light / My shoulder, my shelter, my satellite (..)  you mean the world to me /you’re more than a soulmate” What Oedipus Complex? By the way, we’ll get back to Louis Walsh a bit later on.
  • Latvia also has issues with mothers. The frightening Cake to Bake is performed by a twee young studenty boy who apparently was never taught to bake a cake by his mother. It’s almost Portlandia except they appear deadly serious. The song continues Latvia’s tendency to send novelty songs performed by happy/crap amateurs. Never give up, Latvia, never surrender.
  • This year’s Beautiful Balkan Ballad comes from Montenegro. They’ve never qualified for the final – but this could do it. I find it hugely dull but do not underestimate the enduring appeal of the BBB (just ask Serbia).
  •  The Netherlands are evidently heartened by the success they enjoyed last year and have sent another song that is probably too good for the contest (did you hear last year’s entry? Goosebumps). Calm After the Storm is one of my personal favourites this year – it has a Fleetwood Mac/Shawn Colvin alt-country vibe to it that I very much appreciate. I am not sure it will do terribly well, but I wish it all the best.
  • Another personal favourite is Swede.. no, wait. Sweden inexplicably rejected Ace Wilder’s superb and fun and current Busy Doin’ Nothin’ in favour of a cynical and safe mid-tempo ballad that could have been penned and performed ten years ago. For shame.
  • Iceland provides a bit of North Atlantic hipster anarchy with No Prejudice. Yes, it’s possibly my favouritest entry in the entire contest. It stands no chance.
  • Could Hungary win? They’ve flown under the radar despite sending decent entries most years. This year they’ve sent something that is a proper contender. With a good seeding in the first semi-final, I think you should watch out for András Kállay-Saunders.
  • Then again, the bookies appear to think that Armenia is set to win. Not Alone has a lot of YouTube pageviews and a lot of OMG THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER comments on various ESC blogs – I just get the feeling it is manufactured social media hype rather than actual excitement. The song itself is fairly dull before it breaks into dubstep, goes meandering for a bit and then stops. Meh.

The Second Semi-Final:

  • I LOVED last year’s Norwegian entry (all hail the Berger Queen – it was the moral winner in 2013) so this year’s ballad feels a bit like a let-down .. except it is a really, really good ballad. It’s not as cynical as Sweden and Norway could (yet again) be a dark horse if it’s performed well on the night.
  • Heaven knows how Poland is going to stage Donatan & Cleo’s paen to modest Polish housewives. It’s all a bit N’Dubz but without a particularly strong song. However, who needs a strong song when you have a video like that? Hint: a good song will come in handy on the night, but staging might see this qualify from the semis. Might.
  • One of the best ‘Eurovision Gold Standard’ songs comes from Austria –Rise Like A Phoenix is a quite traditional James Bond-esque ballad sung with conviction by a charismatic performer. Sadly, the quality of the song might drown in transphobia and certain countries will blank it. I’m crossing my fingers that Conchita will indeed rise like a phoenix.
  • Finland! Oh, Finland has entered a Killers-meets-early-Coldplay song. Amid all those cookie-cutter ballads, “Something Better” is a breath of fresh air. I would be very surprised if it didn’t qualify for the finale. I’m just a touch concerned about those live vocals but nevermind..
  • Now for the promised Louis Walsh segment. Ireland’s song is immaterial (it’s very last year’s winner, if you must know) but the in-studio row was GOLDEN. “Your are an odious little man,” screamed former winner Linda Martin nearly decking one mentor, Louis Walsh came under attack for rigging the contest and .. oh, here’s the whole thing.
  • Belarus. Be.La.Rus. Whatever possessed you to send a straight-up copy of that odious Blurred Lines song? Cheesecake is my second least favourite song this year. I did not think anyone could out-douche Robin Thicke, but Belarus’ Teo manages that. It is AWFUL.
  • And just to clarify: Georgia is worse than Belarus. And they are both in the same semi-final. Ugh.

The Already Qualified:

  • Denmark chose Basim – an X-Factor person – with a Bruno Mars-lite song. A bit of controversy surrounding whether it was right to send a non-white singer the year they’re hosting .. yes, really. It’s pleasant enough and will fare moderately well. At least they didn’t send this lesson in how not to match your fake tan & your tights.
  • Prepare for an earworm from France who are yet again unbearably tres chic with Twin Twin’s Gaga-esque monster pop tune “Moustache“. It won’t win but it’ll be in my heart forever.
  • Another X-Factor graduate – this time from Spain. Ruth Lorenzo actually made it big on UK X-Factor and since her actual ESC song is (yet another) dreary ballad, let’s watch some vintage Ruth. Doesn’t that make you feel better?
  • The upset of the year comes the UK who .. who .. well, the UK has sent one of the outstanding songs of this year’s contest. Now there is something I don’t get to write all that often. See what happens as soon as the UK stops scraping the barrel? Buzz.

So. We have Hungary, Armenia, the UK and Norway as the not-very-clear front-runners with Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine (dreary Eurodance) and Romania limping after them. Personally I am just going to enjoy an evening of Danish cuisine. Remember to do a shot of akvavit every time they mention the Little Mermaid or poke fun at Sweden.

Crocheted with Love

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I often get asked how I ended up doing what I do for a living. Now that is a very long story – so I often just explain that I’m the fifth generation of very crafty, creative women. It’s a simplification but it is also the truth. In 2011 I exhibited knitted art at Glasgow’s Tramway gallery – my Homebound piece explored how the act of making tied my family together and how we make ourselves through the act of creation/crafting.

Today added another chapter to the story as I received a parcel from my lovely mum.

I own many handmade things handed down to me: a big blanket made by my great-grandmother; Hardanger-embroidered table clothes lovingly made by my gran; a christening gown which I believed was first sewn by my great-great-grandmother (then altered by my glamorous aunt Grethe); knitted cardigans and various embroidery pieces .. but I do not own many things made by my mum especially for me. That changed today, though.

My mum asked advice on colours, but otherwise this is her work. The squares are neatly joined with crochet and all ends are neatly woven in. My mum has always been very meticulous about her finishing – every time I weave in ends, I think of her! She used this Garnstudio pattern which surprised me as she usually just makes things up as she goes along. She was fairly faithful to it, though she reported she hated the edging and wishes she had just used one of her own ones. She’s a Westermann, alright!

When I teach crochet, I tend to joke that my mum thinks I cheat by using relatively heavy yarns (i.e. double-knitting and worsted-weight) when I crochet. Mum usually uses fine hooks and fine yarns, but her new love for making blankets obviously translates into heavier yarns. And I think that is interesting: we develop and change as crafters throughout our entire lives.

The new blanket suits our living room – and I am very, very pleased to have received it. Do you think I could get away with asking for some matching pillows?

Seasonal Greetings

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2013 was an odd year for me. It started out in spectacular fashion with the Edinburgh Yarn Fest and the year never slowed down for me. In years to come I think I’ll look back upon 2013 with much more clarity than I am able to muster right now.

I took some time off recently. I went to London for work purposes and ended up at the Pom Pom Magazine’s Pop-Up Xmas Party. It was an appropriate book-end to my year – sipping festive G&Ts with knitting friends and us trying to make sense of it all. I am not sure that we managed to do so but the cheese board was excellent. Onwards to Denmark where I visited family before spending five days in lovely Copenhagen (where I took the photo of the florists on Kultorvet). I spent time with close friends and relaxed for the first time in almost a year.

And now I am back in Glasgow and it is Christmas. 2013 is almost at an end. What an odd year. So brilliant in so many ways and so spectacularly different from everything I had imagined.

Seasonal greetings to you – no matter who you are, where you are, and how/if you choose to celebrate the next few days.

Work In Progress: Doggerland

The weather in Glasgow is hawt – as in ‘I need to stay indoors or I shall melt’ hot. I have put aside my cardigan project for the time being – although I did find time to separate for back and sleeves – and I have been yearning for a shawl project. Small, light and portable is acceptable for Surprise Summer knitting, right? I had no shawl patterns on the go, so trustworthy Ravelry came up trumps with a delightful shoulder shawl and so I cast on for it the other day. I abandoned it just as quickly. The shawl was not to blame – it was beautiful and very well-written – but I kept going “but if I change that and, oh, you could insert a lace repeat that spanned that section..” Evidently I did not want to knit a shawl; I wanted to design a shawl.

I have long wanted to work on a new collection and today was that day. I am currently working on a chart quite unlike anything I have ever worked on before. My other patterns have all been triangular, aimed at beginning lace knitters, easy to modify and rather intuitive. The new shawl pattern will be a semi-circle, aimed at confident lace knitters (although it still has rest rows rather than lace worked on both sides); and you won’t be able to combine charts as you please. Working on this is exhilarating, scary and a learning curve. I cannot wait to show you the final shawl.

However, what I can show you is the moodboard I put together for this collection and also explain a bit about the inspiration behind the collection (which will contain other patterns than just shawls).

The collection has a working title of Doggerland, although that is likely to change. Doggerland is a submerged landmass between Great Britain and Denmark which was last inhabited during and after the last great Ice Age to hit Europe. Today Doggerland is covered by the North Sea but once it was a rich, fertile habitat for prehistory humans. Maritime archaeologists are incredibly interested in Doggerland as the seabed may yield fascinating insight into Mesolithic life.

The Doggerland collection is using yarn from the North Sea regions – Britain, Faroe Islands, and Denmark – to explore organic textures inspired by Mesolithic prehistory.

I took a lot of inspiration from visits to the prehistory sections of The National Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Denmark. I took a lot of photos on worked flintstones, carved antler bones, well-preserved fykes, and excavated shell middens. Lately I have also thought a lot about the landscapealthough this is a construct at best – with peat bogs, rolling hills, estuaries, ferns, moss and lichen. Colours play an important role in me imaging Doggerland – expect a lot of earthly tones combined with mossy greens and pale greys.

And so back to work..

Denmark 2012: A Bit of History & A Lot of Knitting (part 3)

Photo Shoot Feb 2012Denmark was not just us larking about Viking settlements or eating six types of pork for lunch (true fact!). Denmark was also about knitting.

I had a photo shoot! I am about to release a new pattern – Elsinore – and we had the photo shoot in the middle of the Kastellet fortifications in northern Copenhagen.

It was an incredible cold day, so whenever there was a break in the shoot, I rushed forth to wrap a warm cardigan around the brave model. The photos turned out amazing. Stay tuned!

I also met up with Signest, aka Signe Simonsen who has been published in Knitty, Twist Collective and Petite Purls among other places. She is one of my favourite designers for innovative, colourful and bold childrenswear (check ouWrapped In Wordst the Nova dress and the Viola hat!) but Signe has several, several strings to her bow as you are sure to find out in months to come. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a design she is currently working on for Danish yarn company Filcolana.

And Signe’s also the genius behind my current favourite attire, the I YARN CPH tee. Sorry about the photo – it is not the most flattering one of me but it is the only one I have of me wearing the tee.

Yes, I rather liked Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book. Why do you ask?

Oh, and there was yarn. Nothing really, really fascinating because I only had a few hours to spare so I could not explore new yarns, but I did buy a vast amount of yarn: mainly laceweight – which shocks no one – and mainly of the North Atlantic variety – which should shock absolutely no one either.

My usual Snældan yarn pusher had shut down since my last visit to Copenhagen, so I ‘settled’ for some more Navia Uno from Jorun Garn in Frederiksberg. They have similar fiber content (though the Navia introduces some merino into the blend) but the construction is slightly different. The Snældan is a slightly overspun  single ply whereas Navia Uno is plied with a tightly spun ‘thread’ around a soft wool core. Navia Uno works up slightly softer than Snældan but has a smidgen less stitch definition. In other words, I should not be writing about ‘settling’ for anything as the two yarns are so similar and so beautiful. I am just concerned about minutiae.

Alt Om HåndarbejdeAnd then I visited a charity shop where I uncovered a pile of Alt om Håndarbejde (eng: All About Crafts) magazines from the 1970s.

Alt om was really instrumental in kickstarting my lifelong love of all things crafty and I remember trying out loads of their easy kids’ projects when I was a kid. I even think the first garment I ever made for myself (a pair of shorts!) was from an Alt om pattern.

Some of the projects are just outlandish seen with today’s eyes but others transcend their time period with aplomb. I only took some of the magazines with me (the rest are staying with my mum until further notice) but I picked a few with fantastic sewing patterns for dresses and skirts. I don’t think I shall ever outgrow my 1970s dress sense..Alt Om Håndarbejde

There are also quite a few big knitting projects that I can admire knowing I will never ever knit them. Just look at that coat. It is absolutely stunning. I have instructed my grandmother to snap up any old Alt Om that she might come across as the tutorials are worth their weight in gold.

I tried finding Alt Om‘s modern incarnation – the rather splendid Symagasinet which is all about sewing – but the local shops let me down. Earlier this year I also contacted the publisher about a possible subscription but the shipping costs were ridiculous, so I dropped that idea. Oh, Scandinavia, why do you taunt me so?

Anyway. To come: a brand-new pattern release, news about other patterns, some FOs and so forth. My life’s really busy right now!

Denmark 2012: A Bit of History & A Lot of Knitting (part 2)

Dragsholm CastleSkipping some 2500 years ahead, we visited Dragsholm which is a local castle. We had one specific reason for visiting the castle: Mary, Queen of Scots.

It is a very curious footnote in history.

Mary had a tempestuous life filled with lovers and husbands. Her second husband was found strangled – and she married the man who many believed was the murderer: James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell and the last royal consort of Scotland only.

Mary was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland and fled to England seeking protection from her cousin Elizabeth I. Elizabeth remembered how Mary had previously led a claim to her throne and had Mary arrested and eventually executed.

And the Earl was incarcerated (he was charged with bigamy in Norway after marrying a charming Norwegian wench!) and died at Dragsholm Castle.

The curious tale continues.

James Hepburn was not buried at Dragsholm Castle (lest we forget: he was a villain!). Instead he was taken to a nearby church in the village of Faarevejle.

Faarevejle Church is a tiny, traditional village church. Like so many other Danish village churches, it was built sometime in the 10th century on the highest piece of land in the neighbourhood (which is not saying much in flat Denmark).

Inside it looks like any other tiny village church. All but one pre-Reformation fresco have been painted over with chalky white paint (for pre-Reformation frescos in Denmark, this is a one fantastic website. Go feast your eyes). Nothing indicates that a colourful chunk of Scottish history is resting nearby.

So, we had some detective work ahead of us. Especially as the only sign of life we could detect was the local vicar(?) singing along to the top 40 pop chart somewhere in the vicinity.

Eventually we tracked down the local gravedigger in the nearby cemetery. A cheerful young woman, she was quite pleased to hear that her most famous resident had visitors. And she opened the door to the crypt.

Earl of Bothwell TombAnd this is where it gets very poignant.

The 4th Earl of Bothwell. The Duke of Orkney. One of the key figures in Mary, Queen of Scots’ life.

And he lies in a damp and dark little crypt in the middle of nowhere. A plaque on the wall (sponsored by the Danish-Scottish Society) was the only indication that anyone remotely important was resting here. The coffin – a modern one – was covered in dust (I think you can tell from the photo).

My partner, the Scotsman, grew very quiet. “How odd, ” he said after a while, “to think of him here almost forgotten.” I do not know what we had expected but we all left the crypt quietly and did not speak for some time.

Denmark and Scotland. Our two countries united in a very strange, poignant way. Maybe that is why I keep thinking about that afternoon.

Denmark 2012: A Bit of History & A Lot of Knitting (part 1)

Tissø Lake, DenmarkDenmark is a small country which is probably the reason I can get away with describing somewhere one hour away from its capital as “rural” and “remote”. I grew up in rural and remote north-west Zealand, not far from this lake.

Tissø means ‘the lake of Tyr’ – Tyr being one of the Norse warrior gods. The photo was taken just in front of an excavated Viking settlement on the banks of Tissø (where these pieces of jewellery were uncovered amongst other things) but the area has been populated since Mesolithic times. Important Neolithic and Bronze Age sites are in neighbouring fields and are just waiting to be excavated. Walking across the Viking site towards Tissø felt like walking across History itself – especially because it was a frosty, foggy day. It was easy to imagine my ancestors making the same walk and feeling the inherent magic of the place.

Dolmen near SkamstrupTissø is part of a marshy landscape known as Åmosen (literally: the Creek Marsh) which stretches across most of my childhood landscape.

Åmosen is dotted with megalithic tombs – they are so common that my parents have two passage graves in the back garden(!). The one shown is a dolmen surrounded by standing stones. It dates to approx. 3500-3200BC. Åmosen is also known for the plethora of Neolithic settlements – the majority of the finds exhibited in the National Museum have been found in this marshy land. No wonder I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was growing up – it is difficult not to be enchanted when you can find arrow heads everywhere and explore ancient tombs in your back garden!

Dagger made of flintstoneOne of my favourite artefacts was not found anywhere near my home, but I think this stone dagger is just so amazing.

It is the Hindsgavl Dagger and can actually be seen on Danish bank notes.

The skill exhibited in shaping the stone is just outstanding and although the National Museum holds many equally intricate daggers from the same period, the combination of craftsmanship and the natural beauty of the stone is breathtaking.

We didn’t get a proper photo of it for some reason, but I just want to mention The Sun Chariot that was found just a bit north of where I grew up. It shows the sun being drawn across the sky by a divine horse. Note the wheels: I want to knit a jumper that uses the wheel motif. It is one of my favourite motifs. Every time I see the Sun Chariot I get quite emotional. It epitomises my cultural heritage, I guess.

The pins in the photo belong to the same period as the Chariot and were found nearby. I love the swirling circles – all symbols indicative of the sun worship prevalent in the Bronze Age.

If you live in the UK, you will be familiar with the Danish butter brand, Lurpak. Did you know that a lur is actually a Bronze Age musical instrument used in religious ceremonies – and probably connected with human sacrifices? Did that put you off your sandwich!?

Friday Linkage

I came home from my holidays Monday. Apparently I cannot leave the UK for seven days before the place is going to hell in a handbag as I have been rushed off my feet ever since returning. I’d share details but nobody really needs to hear me whine about my mountain of work!

Denmark was lovely – absolutely lovely – and I want to share some of the highlights with you. There will be knitting involved (of course there will) but there will also be some tales of history and culture. Before I do so in a series of posts, let me just link some of the things I’ve read/seen/enjoyed on the internet over the past few days..