Karie Bookish Dot Net

Category Archives: Scotland

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.

An Autumnal Pattern Launch: the Burnet Hat

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Judging by my inbox, this pattern launch should please a lot of people out there! Say hello to the Burnet hat! This was an Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016 exclusive pattern, but the copyright has now reverted to me. Burnet is one of my own personal favourite patterns and I am so happy that so many of you agree with me!

You can buy Burnet via Ravelry and Loveknitting (where you can also peruse the Shilasdair yarn!).

I was asked by the EYF folks to design a hat inspired by the tenement tiles I document across Glasgow.

Glasgow’s weather is notoriously ‘dreich’ – a Scots word meaning ‘dreary’ and ‘bleak’ – but the city is so beautiful. Its Victorian heritage is apparent in everything from wrought iron fences to elaborate street lamps. The sandstone tenements (apartment blocks) light up the cityscape with their warm glow.

The tenements were originally an attempt to fight the widespread slum then found throughout Glasgow. The city had begun as a small, rural settlement but had grown into an industrial hotspot. The rapid industrialisation was fuelled by shipping and manufacturing – but housing had not kept up with the boom. Architects began erecting tenements and these buildings were vast improvements upon the squalor found throughout 19th century Glasgow. The entry ways – the so-called closes – were communal spaces where people would meet, children would play, and deals would have been struck. It was important that these entryways would be easy to maintain – and this is where the beautiful tiles come in. When I was approached to design ‘something Glaswegian’, I only had to step outside my front door for inspiration.

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David shot the photos in Partick, Glasgow. I loved the tiles in this entryway and they were in great condition – something which can not always be said for all tenement tiles! I love the stylised, geometric feel of the tenement tiles and I think Burnet really captures that. When I was designing the pattern, I also had the wonderful geometric nature of traditional Sanquhar knitting in mind. While Burnet is not anything like traditional Sanquhar knitting, I think it’s important to acknowledge this debt (this sensibility) to past generations of Scottish knitters.

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Burnet is knitted using two hanks of the exquisite Shilasdair Luxury 4ply which is plant-dyed on the Isle of Skye. The sample is knitted using the natural/undyed shade and the gorgeous Tansy Gold. Judith of Shilasdair is a big believer in dyeing yarns that reflect her natural environment on Skye – but she also knows Glasgow tenements with their tiles very well. In fact, she used to visit family living in my very own close! I greatly enjoyed collaborating with her on this project and I urge you to seek out her yarns. They are beautiful.

This past week I have been away on a research trip for my book. I will write more about my trip later but suffice to say that I was happy I had Burnet tucked into my bag. Autumn is very much here. I hope you’ll enjoy knitting the pattern.

PS. If you have a copy of Wool Tribe where this pattern was first published, I have a tiny piece of errata addressing Chart A.

See You at EYF 2016, Lovelies

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I’m currently knee-deep in prepping for this year’s EYF. It’ll get done but I’m thankful I have Mr D chipping in! We will be at EYF Friday and Saturday (I’m also teaching Sunday). Will you be there? Wave your hands here, so I know to look out for you!!

(Note: I’m *terrible* with names & faces but can spot good knitwear from ten miles away! Don’t be offended if I mess up your name even if we spoke yesterday – I sometimes call my best friend by the wrong name!)

FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE

  • Come & say hello at the Ripples Crafts stand between 11.30am and noon.
  • I am teaching Pattern Writing in the afternoon – it’s a new & exclusive EYF class and I’m really looking forward to talk really nerdy stuff :)
  • I won’t be at the dinner or ceilidh, sorry.

SATURDAY’S ALRIGHT FOR, er, KNITTING (sorry Elton)

  • I’m teaching Faroese Shawls in the morning. Another new class and another one where I get a bit nerdy.
  • I’m doing a signing session/trunk show at Ysolda’s stall at 2.15pm. Bring your Wool Tribe magazines! Come and show me your projects! Grab a shawlfie with me! I’m bringing samples and patterns! Wheee!

LAZING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON..

  • Except I’m teaching Beaded Knitting in the afternoon. This is always one of the most relaxing workshops I teach and it’ll be a lovely way to wind-down after a hectic weekend.

GENERAL STUFF

  • Ripples Crafts will be stocking Frances Herself kits & is happy to talk colour choices if you cannot decide! She also has a few Byatt patterns in stock if you are looking for a hard copy. I won’t be bringing any Byatt patterns myself, just fyi!
  • The Queen of Purls is selling several of my patterns (including Mahy and Scollay) and is also bringing some really luscious samples. Her Mahy is just beautiful – go check it out!
  • I have recently cut my hair, so if you see a long-haired chubby brunette with a blunt fringe & black specs .. that is no longer me! I am now a bobbed-haired chubby brunette with a blunt fringe & black specs! I know this is a strange thing to point out but I have had this happen to an acquaintance recently!

RIGHT – WHO’S GOING?! What are your plans?

PS. If you are waiting for an email from me, please be patient. It’s all EYF prep, festival and recovery in Casa Bookish. If it’s urgent, please text me.

Knitting in Wartime – A Study Day Retrospect

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another of Knitting in the Round’s Public Study Days: The Kitchener Stitch: Knitting in Wartime – Wartime Knitting. The whole day was a delight with many friendly faces in the audience and some cracking speakers.

Dr Jane Tynan gave an absolutely fascinating talk on military uniforms, modernity and knitting as craftivism during the First World War. Dr Tynan is an expert on military uniforms and her research on ‘khaki’ in WW1 led her to discover how knitting served as supplement to official wartime military issue and how this led to unexpected tensions at home between the War Office and women who volunteered their time and skills. I was particularly interested in how conservative gender roles were promoted (this in an age of Suffragettes, lest we forget) and female activist efforts were soon turned into an achievement of the War Office. However, I was mostly enthused by Dr Tynan’s work on the disembodiment found throughout knitting patterns and wartime propaganda. I have been interested in modernity, modernism and the Body for many years and it was exciting to see certain recurrent (and familiar) themes pop up in an unexpected context.

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The other speakers were absolutely excellent too – Wendy Turner on the importance of Glasgow Women’s Library; the irrepressible Joyce Meader with her extensive collection of war-related knitting patterns, knitting paraphernalia, and her knitted ‘comforts’ from vintage patterns; Professor Maggie Andrews on the WI, domesticity and knitting as war effort; and Barbara Smith on items found in the Knitting and Crochet Guild’s archives (including one of my favourite pieces: warships depicted in filet crochet for a table cloth). I was particularly excited about Barbara speaking as I really enjoy reading her knitting history blog.

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I was fortunate enough to spend my lunchtime  together with Barbara (and we discovered we have friends in common), the ever-lovely Susan Crawford and my partner David. We sat outside in the sunshine discussing many of the issues the morning had uncovered – particularly knitting as a gendered pursuit and the politicising of knitting during the World Wars. It was absolutely lovely to discuss these things with smart, engaged people who all brought different perspectives to the table. While Dave does not knit (and has no interest in starting!), he does have a life-long interest in textiles and how war affects the production & design of textiles. I really enjoyed having him join me at the event – he also took the majority of these photographs!

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After the Study Day concluded, I spent a very happy evening with Susan and Dave. First we went vintage shopping (word of warning: Susan WILL put you in various 1950s frocks), then had a very relaxing meal during which we talked about everything between heaven and earth. What an enjoyable day meeting so many fantastic people, thinking about knitting in new & unexpected ways, and then spending time with good folks.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting this event together.

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.

Looking Forward to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival – pt 1

March 2013 EYF

Outside is dreary: slushy snow, temperatures hovering around zero, the sky is dull, and we have precious little natural light. I am wearing enough layers to make me feel like the Michelin Man. Of course thoughts turn towards The Good Things Ahead. While I love February (it is my birthday month – more on that later!), I am really, really looking forward to March and the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

Last time EYF happened, it was really quite special. The warm reception from the knitting community took everybody by surprise: the venue was packed, the vendors were shell-shocked, the on-site cafe couldn’t cope, and the teachers (of which I was one) were taken aback by the interest. The organisers took time off to reassess and then came up with EYF 2015 which is bigger in every way imaginable. The venue has changed to the Corn Exchange, the vendors list has more than doubled, the teaching line-up is astounding (and I am there too), there is the innovative  Podcast Lounge  and there are other things happening which I cannot tell you about just yet. So, basically, it is bigger and bolder than before.

But the yarny events calendar is so full, I hear you cry.

Here’s what makes EYF different: it is rooted in a very specific community and despite all the changes/growth, it keeps that community spirit. Central Scotland is a hotspot if you like your 21st century knitting. So many innovative designers and dyers live here – people who inspire and energise the online community every single day. I am big believer in creative clusters and we definitely have one right here. At the same time we are also fortunate to live with a strong Scottish textile heritage and knitting tradition(s). The first EYF fed off the marvellous synergy and I know this has continued with the 2015 event. It is more than just a place where we can buy gorgeous yarn – it is going to be inspiring, empowering, thought-provoking and damn fun.

Quite apart from my own plans, I am really looking forward to catching up with exciting vendors. I met The Border Mill at the last EYF and they have such a great story to tell. I cannot wait to see how they’ve expanded and what products they are bringing to the festival. Midwinter Yarns is a company close to my heart. Estelle is a fellow Scandinavian whose focus is to bring fabulous Scandinavian yarns to Britain. The Gotland DK is especially beautiful. A long-time favourite of mine, Eden Cottage Yarns will be bringing their new Bletchley-inspired collection with them. I hope to catch up with its designer Joanne Scrace during the festival. Weftblown is an innovative weaving company from the Scottish West Coast whose work is rooted in weather systems and landscapes. I have seen a tiny bit of Ange’s work and am looking forward to learning more. And, as always, I am looking forward to catching up with dear friends (many of which are vendors, so I’ll be waving in passing).

And now for the big question: what shall I knit? You may be interested to know that I have some design plans up my sleeve. That’s for the next post..

See you there?

trunk show

That Was The October That Was

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Lately I have had my head buried in spreadsheets, charts, style sheets and gauge swatches. All work and no play makes for a dull Karie. Sure, there were some bright spots (like my surprise trip to Arran) but I’ve mainly focused on ticking off items on my to-do list.

I celebrated Socktober by getting stuck into sock design for the first time. I have always had a mild phobia of feet (don’t ask) but several people challenged me to conquer my phobia. I am glad I did because I really enjoyed playing around with a new canvas and checking out new techniques. I’m joining forces with Ms Old Maiden Aunt for her 2015 club – three exclusive colourways and three sock patterns by yours truly. I am truly excited to hear what people think of my sock patterns as it’s a new area for me. I am not ruling out designing more socks, incidentally, as my friend Paula gave me a pair of luxurious hand-knitted socks as a belated birthday present and I love them to bits.

Just don’t make me look at other people’s toes, aghr.

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Another highlight was teaching workshops. I really love teaching – that moment a tricky technique is mastered by someone or I can see someone getting it .. well, you cannot beat that feeling. One of my workshops took place at Dundee’s Fluph yarn shop. We had six native languages between us and experience ranging from “designing my own jumpers” to “I learned to knit three months ago and have never worked in the round”. Just such a great time and I love the six finished mini jumpers. All speak of the knitters’ personalities and how much they were up for a challenge. The red jumper on the left? The lady had never attempted colourwork before and was excited to put small borders on her jumper. Ace stuff.

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New designs? Yes. I finished nine new designs this months – including the three sock patterns that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone doing that many designs in a month, but I found being busy silenced that annoying voice going “it’s not good enough, Karie”. I have struggled with perfectionism and impossibly high standards before – and it was interesting to see how being busy felt liberating.

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I was excited to meet and chat with Susan McComb, the Knitter-In-Residence at Glasgow University for Wool Week. The residency was an extension of the ongoing Knitting in the Round project and since I have been part of the project in a number of ways, I was looking forward to seeing Susan’s work. She had translated architectural details found around campus into knitting patterns, had taught knitting workshops throughout the university and spoken with Material Culture students about textiles. Susan spoke with passion about keeping your eyes open and knit what you see in every day life (this reminded me of Felicity Ford’s recent work). We had a great conversation about inner/outer landscapes and the relationship between landscapes and textiles. Incidentally, if you can make it, the Knitting in the Round project has a workshop on Sanquhar knitting in Sanquhar tomorrow, November 1.

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And I finished the Doggerland collection, my word. Part of me thought I would never get to the finishing line as the aforementioned perfectionism reared its ugly head again and again. But I did finish and I cannot quite believe that something that was inside my head for so long is now out in the world. The finished collection is almost 50 pages long (only because I used a relatively small sized font, ha ha) and has 8 patterns with essays and hand-drawn schematics.

I love collaborations and working closely with others on a design brief – but I take great pleasure to looking at Doggerland knowing it would not exist if it weren’t for my stubbornness and my odd ideas.

It has also been quite overwhelming listening to people’s responses – and i mean that in a positive way! I have been corresponding with few knitters (and non-knitters) over the past year or so, and I have heard so many incredible stories about how Doggerland has affected them or made them think. I’ll be sharing some of those stories in a separate post, but it is truly one of the joys of my life that my work can affect people. It feels quite humbling.

So. November. What will November bring? Some time to breathe?

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Adventures on Arran

To my great delight and surprise, my partner whisked me away on a trip to the Isle of Arran this weekend. The Isle of Arran is about two hours away from Glasgow by train and ferry, but I had never been.

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I twigged I had arrived among kindred spirits when we noticed small sheep statues along the coast.

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The easiest way to get around Arran is by bus – we asked to get dropped off at Sannox about 8 miles north of the ferry terminal. Sannox stems from the Viking place name “Sand Vik” (Sandy Bay) – always a pleasure to see places my Viking ancestors have been!

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We headed towards Glen Sannox – the walkers’ guide labelled this “an easy ramble with stunning scenery”. The first part of the path was easy (and we stopped to eat brambles – Arran clearly has a micro-climate quite unlike the mainland).

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The path into Glen Sannox became less friendly (and more boggy) after we crossed the stream. October 2014 076We walked towards Coire na Ciche (The Devil’s Punchbowl) with the slopes of Goatfell on our left and the peaks of Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail in front of us. I was worried about how my injured left knee would hold up (especially as the path was not as gentle as we had imagined) – but although I was in pain, I did not have to resort to the heavy-duty pain killers and my knee only caused me to stumble occasionally.

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We couldn’t resist a selfie (though I look odd!). I wore my trusty Snorri jumper and i have a bit of a story to tell about the hat I’m wearing – but that’s for another day.

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No filter! When the sun came out, the colours were breathtaking. The clouds rolling over Cir Mhor (the peak in perpetual cloud) kept getting darker, though, and the already brisky wind got stronger. It was a beautiful, rich landscape. Wildlife was all around us too – we saw so many red deer that we got jaded (though I am sure they were not “wild” animals, just “managed”), various birds, the ever-present sheep and I even caught the eye of a little adder. But it was clear that we needed to head back before the clouds caught up with us.

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It was just after midday, but it felt later. We retraced our steps, had the last of our packed lunch and then caught the bus (the bus – there are no other busses on Arran) making an almost full-circle of the island before going home.

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What a lovely, special day. I don’t get to go on adventure with my partner as much as I’d like but our trip to Arran was just perfect: stunning scenery, the best company in the world, apples in the backpack and I even cast on something very special whilst there. Magic.

One City, Three Yarn Shops: Achievement Unlocked!

yarn crawl

photo by @socherryknits

Yesterday saw the inaugural Indie Burgh Yarn Crawl in Edinburgh. Hundreds of knitters* visited three of Edinburgh’s finest yarn shops – Kathy’s Knits, Be Inspired Fibres and Ginger Twist Studio – before meeting up for an after-party at Safari Lounge. Several Glasgow friends saw it as a great opportunity to try out new-to-them yarn shops; I needed to meet up with Susan Crawford (who was doing a meet & greet in Ginger Twist Studio); and there was a special birthday celebration too.

* literally, hundreds.

Away we went.

And it was good.

We started out at Kathy’s Knits where I was delighted to meet Lucy Hague, designer of exquisite cables. The book selection was great as per usual, and I nearly succumbed to Blacker Yarns’ St Kilda lace yet again. Instead we went across the road to have lunch – oh, those smoked salmon bagels- before heading out to Be Inspired Fibres.

The yarn crawl was starting to get busy now: the queue for the till was nearly 15 minutes long and I scrambled to find dye lots for knitters (with Mei’s permission). Friends fell in love with Mei’s selection of yarn and came away with quite significant hauls. I was particularly pleased to see the massive love of Nordic yarns and books. A special shout-out to Leona from Fluph (Dundee’s newest LYS) who had left her shop in the capable hands and paws of Mr & Doggy Fluph to go yarn crawling. That is what I call knitterly dedication!

After a much needed breath of fresh air, the end was in sight and we made our way to Ginger Twist Studio.  At which point this happened:

Photo by @oldmaidenaunt

Photo by @oldmaidenaunt

GTS is like the Kylie Minogue of yarn shops: small, but perfectly formed. Because of its petite nature, we had to wait our turn to go inside. Thankfully Thinking Chocolate was next door and I spent a happy fifteen minutes talking flavour concepts and chocolate-making with TC’s Nadia. You should try her amazing haggis-inspired truffles: chocolate truffles flavoured with black pepper, mace, nutmeg and salt.

Back to GTS and then it looked like this:

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Practically the only photo I took all day!

It felt like being back at the scrum of the Edinburgh yarn festival. Eventually I made it through the crowd, gave Susan some much needed (artisan) chocolate, and I ended up with a lot of Susan’s new yarn, Fenella. It’s a 3-ply mix of Exmoor Blueface and Bluefaced Leicester – and it is lovely.

I could not choose a colour so I chose all of them.

The after-party at the Safari Lounge looked amazing – there is no party like a knitter’s party – but unfortunately most of us had to leave before the party really kicked off. I did get a chance to admire yarn crawl hauls and talk a tiny bit of Swedish with a woman who had come over from Stockholm for yarn crawl reasons (amazing). I was also getting really tired after all the sunshine, all the yarn, and all the people.

Then, thankfully, it was time to kick back with a bit of Pimm’s, a very cute dog and a chillin’ BBQ with copious yarn talk (no photos because all logical thoughts fly out my head when I’m tickling a dog’s tummy).

It was nearly midnight before I finally arrived home. The sky was still light. I was tired but happy. What a lovely way to spend Midsummer.

(pssst. yes, work was involved but you will find out more this autumn and early next year)

(psssssst. thank you to Elaine for getting me use her twitter pun as my blog post title)