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Category Archives: Popular Culture

F-f-fashion: Some Thoughts on Clothes & Knitting

Fashion. I was one of those people who always said I didn’t care about fashion because fashion didn’t care about me, but in the last decade or so, I changed my mind. Maybe it was my move from Copenhagen to Glasgow that prompted my change of heart? The two cities have radically different approaches to fashion. Maybe it was because I began making clothes? I started thinking about necklines and silhouettes in another way. Whatever the reason I began thinking about fashion as both visual communication and social history.

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I spent last week doing jury duty. I was never picked to sit on a jury but I spent several hours every day sitting in a crowd of around 100 strangers. It was so interesting to observe what people were wearing. It was a sea of black trousers, various blouses, and suits but people still looked so different depending upon the cut of their trousers or how their jacket sat. One guy stood out for a slim-cut navy suit with brown brogues – I imagined him working in media or the trendy part of IT. Another man wore a loose, baggy suit that screamed 1990s to me – I guessed that maybe he didn’t wear suits to work and only owned this one suit? What people wear say a lot about them – just as much as body and verbal language do.

What has this to do with me working as a designer?fashion

I don’t live and work in a context-less world. I am influenced by what I see around me as much as anybody else. I have my own specific aesthetic which is tied to my body, my colouring and my love of vintage shopping. I design things that I want to wear myself (unless it is a very, very, very specific brief which rarely happens). I have pinterest boards that I edit frequently to help me hone my aesthetic (How to Wear Clothes is my imaginary wardrobe, for instance; Knitting Inspiration does what it says on the tin). I keep an eye on people like Shirley Kurata whose stylistic instincts I admire. I also spend a working day each season going through catwalk shows on style.com thinking about things like necklines, colour combinations, sleeve caps, tailoring etc. You may not be able to see all this work in my design, but it is there. When someone commented on the Lindgren mittens saying “they look like the most amazing vintage find!” I had a quiet, internal fistbump of yay, yay, yay, that is what I wanted to say!

 

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I think talking about hand-knitting in a fashion context is always likely to be fraught with danger. I know many Ravelry people have the same ‘I don’t care about fashion because fashion don’t care about me’ stance that I used to have (which in its own way is a reaction to fashion – or at least the fast fashion of the retail world). But what we choose to make speaks its own language and forms part of social history (increased leisure time; rejection of consumerism; ethical consumerism; concerns about sustainability; the rise of nostalgia industry etc). Clothes are never ‘just’ clothes. I’d argue we even see micro-trends within hand-knitting that are as much about fashion as we’d like to pretend they are not.

What are your thoughts on the act of making and fashion? Do you try to imitate current high street trends? Do you have a specific style you try to make? Do you follow making trends and like making ‘the in-thing’? Do you follow fashion? How do you think about the clothes you wear & make?

Clutching My Gladioli – On Making It Work as an Indie

Currently BBC4 is showing a series about the independent music business in the UK. The series traces how record labels like Factory, Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, and Beggars Banquet made it possible for less mainstream bands to release records. Many of the bands turned out to be hugely influential and enduring (Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Depeche ModeThe Stone Roses, Suede, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few!) and today UK indie labels continue to champion new music that would never be signed by major labels.

As someone working as an independent knitting designer, I recognised a lot of what was being covered in the documentaries – from small record labels operating out of a bedsit in Sheffield via creatives forming loose partnerships to dealing with complex distribution problems/solutions and worries over intellectual properties. I love many of the bands covered by the documentaries, but it was eye-opening to see how much of the amazing music was being created in an environment that was in many, many ways similar to how the indie knitting industry works.

Everything I do is created at my kitchen table. I have a small nook with a desktop computer (which needs replacing) and some bookshelves where I keep all my designing resources. I create my own layouts, my partner does my photography & art, I model my own designs, and everything passes through my hands. I deal with emails, accounts, wholesale, distribution, workshop dates, social media, marketing (which is always my sore spot), and obviously pattern designing & writing. I hire in technical editors to work on my patterns, but what you see is what you get and you get me.

And most indie designers work like that. Some have pooled resources, others have grown to the stage where they have one or two people on staff. But we are all just very, very small independent ventures.

Why be independent? Is it that much fun to do accounts at 11am on a Friday night? I think most people understand the allure of having full creative control – and yes, being able to decide what to design in which yarn is amazing – but the allure of intellectual property is even stronger. Quite simply, indies choose to own the right to their work.

I learned a hard lesson when I first started out: I handed over the rights to a pattern for a pittance and saw somebody else make a lot of money from it when I could barely cover rent. And that got me thinking. I still work with mainstream publications on occasion (and some of them are incredibly indie-friendly and lovely!) but time & experience has taught me to be wary of Big Besuited Companies offering me deals too good to be true.

Indies pay the price by having to do all the things – including all the tough things mainstream publishing would normally have done for us – but I maintain it is worth it.

So, clutching my gladioli, I began thinking about where indie knitting businesses are heading.

The BBC4 documentaries on UK indie record labels traced the trajectory from bedsit record labels with rough DIY graphics to bands like The Smiths appearing on prime time TV and finally a world where indie labels are regularly outselling the big record companies.

Knitting is not the music business (there’s a big difference in gender make-up for one thing! It made me sad to see many female musicians simply disappear as indie music became bigger in the 1980s and 1990s) but maybe there are lessons to be learned there.

Here are some of the lessons I have gleaned from the documentaries:

  • Surround yourself with people who understand and support your ethos.
  • Don’t try to follow the crowd but embrace what sets you apart.
  • Take control of as much of your own operations as you possibly can.
  • Choose your collaborators with care and imagination.
  • “Indie”can become a very diluted term when Big Besuited Companies realise it is an untapped market – this will result in products that look, talk, and walk like indies but have big money and committees behind them.
  • Digital marketplaces mean that everybody can sell their products (music, books, knitting patterns) so quality control is difficult. Indies still need gatekeepers (or “curators” as I believe the Pinterest generation calls it!)
  • Don’t believe the hype lest you want to turn into Morrissey!!

There isn’t a right or wrong way of making it work  as a creative. Some people work best as part of a larger team with stylists, graphic artists, distribution centres, remote printing, and so forth. Then you have stubborn donkeys like me who enjoy having my fingers in every pie.

What about you as a knitter?

Some knitters love following a particular design house and yarn brand with big budgets and aspirational marketing; others find themselves more at ease at an indie show where they get to know the dyers and the designers. Some people prefer buying a magazine with glossy ads and a plethora of patterns; others like buying single patterns they have especially chosen for one particular yarn. And some prefer to just spin their own yarns and knit without a pattern.

The world is your oyster – you can to pick and choose as you like. And as an indie girl that really makes me happy.

World Cup Knitting Injury

Many people don’t like the World Cup in football. I do. It makes for great sample knitting company (especially because I have no stakes in this tournament) and I can zip through my to-do pile a lot quicker than if I were stuck watching TV series or films. And, honestly, I find assorted Tumblrs and various memes hugely entertaining.

On that note, I would like to share my own World Cup injury. It seems as though there is apparently such a thing as too much knitting. Won’t stop me from applying bandages and heading back onto the pitch. After all, I have matches to watch and things to finish.

BqhVsHXCMAAzLbV.png large

PS. button brains, I am looking for seven dark wooden buttons roughly 18mm – any good UK suppliers I’ve missed? The usual suspects of Textile Garden, eBay and Etsy have failed me.

My Lifestyle Guru Disqualification

Online identity, knitting celebrities and internet jealousy. We have covered a lot here recently. I’m going to return to the discussion but first I want to share a slice of what it is all about (for me, anyway): knitting.

Doggerland Sneak Peek

This morning I cast off another sample for my Doggerland collection. I think I first mentioned the collection about a year ago – well it has been a long journey to get here and I’ll write more about this as I release the patterns. But I just love looking at this pile of samples (plus random bits of yarn). The pile looks so right even if the samples still need to be dressed and it is lacking a couple of core pieces still to be knitted.

I am getting there! Woo!

And I think that brings me neatly round to the topic that Fourth Edition has been circling around recently: success.

Some people want a big car. Other people want to be recognised in the supermarket. All of us want to be able to pay our bills. I have spent a lot of time thinking about success and how I define it. I like being able to pay bills, but I am definitely not concerned with driving a car or being stopped in the street. No, I really truly love when what I produce resembles what has been going on in my head. When my brain and fingers work together to produce something that stays true to the core idea and tells the story I want to be telling.

‘Story-telling’ was a recurrent word in the discussion. It is perhaps a post-modern conceit that we tell stories in order to construct ourselves but I think I do relate to my craft and my designs as forms of story-telling. I want to explore my Scandinavian heritage; the landscapes both inside and outwith myself and try to make sense of the world through knitting.

I somehow worry(!) that I hover between textile art and textile craft – that somehow my ideas are too absurd and abstract for the relatively simple pleasure of working a piece of string with two sticks. I have spent almost 12 months trying to nail Doggerland because it started out as a huge, unwieldy idea. When I showed my introduction to some friends, the feedback was enthusiastic but agreed that maybe I should try to be a touch more accessible.

And so I am here looking at a pile of unblocked knits and I feel so proud. To me, this is success.

And this is who I am: I design knits inspired by psychogeography, land art, and Mesolithic archaeology. I wear red and green together. I am quiet in public and most happy when I’m with just a handful of friends. I love early 20th century culture and T.S. Eliot is my favourite writer. And I think the Eurovision Song Contest is the best thing since sliced bread. All that combined pretty much disqualifies me for any position as a lifestyle guru. Also, I eat the cake as soon as it’s out of the oven.

Besides, the idea of a knitting celebrity is still weird. If the founder of Wikipedia has trouble identifying himself as ‘internet famous’, I think it’s fair to say that we need to re-assess the whole idea of internet fame. The internet is an awfully big pond.

A Dash of Colour, Beauty & Cynicism.

I have been working a lot with undyed yarns recently – one mossy green has crept into the Doggerland collection but otherwise I am using all natural fleece colours. I really enjoy it – of course I do – but I do yearn for some colour in my knitting. Just a little pop of something decadent.
Birthday yarn

A bit of birthday yarn arrived yesterday. My lovely gran sent me 1100 yrds of 2ply merino wool from Danish company, DesignClub. This red is marvellous – it has unusual depth to it and the yarn has some great bounce. It was spun at Henrichsens Uldspinneri, a Danish woollen mill dating back to the 19th century. I’ve used the yarn before and I am looking forward to using it again ..

I thought I’d also show you the necklace pendants which my friend Paula made for my birthday. They are so pretty.

Paula's necklaces

I was recently sent a link to Craftypod – specifically an episode which discussed the idea of “the knitting celebrity” and internet jealousy. It is a really interesting podcast and if you can spare 30 minutes, I recommend you give it a listen.

First, though, some words from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He was asked about being “internet famous”

Right now, I’m sitting in a public library minding my own business taking a break from what I was working on.  No one is likely to recognize or notice me here..

 

But I am, as the question asks, “Internet famous”.  That phrase is vague and could mean a lot of things, but for me what it means is that Wikipedia is very very very famous and Wikia is very famous, and so I’m a little bit famous as a result..

 

Because of this, I’m able to meet with government officials all around the world to put forward my views on the importance of freedom of speech and openness and transparency.  I find this useful, and I believe in many cases I’ve had an impact.  (It is never easy to be sure.)

 

Back to the Craftypod podcast. I was struck by a couple of things.

1) Craft is HUGE. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of segmented markets and niches: knitting, crochet, scrap-booking, quilting, embroidery, dress-making.. These days knitting can be divided into a lot of niches too (I have written a bit more about that here).

Vickie Howell may talk about being a leader in the craft industry – but it is her corner of the craft industry in which she is a leader (gatekeeper is probably the better term). This probably makes me a bad person, but I had never heard of her before I listened to the podcast. I googled her subsequently and she’s done craft TV in the States, works for a US yarn company and fronts her own yarn line. She looks like a cool person – but she is not part of my knitting landscape. And that is okay. I’d hate to have a totally uniform definition of “cool knitting” and what I “should be knitting”.

2) There was also a lot of talk about “the 2005 generation” and marketing. The podcast served up a massive dollop of nostalgia for the good old days when you could upload a simple scarf pattern and people would go nuts for it.

I think there will always be people talking about the “good old days when things were simple”. It is a generational thing and on the internet a generation is a very small, finite thing (maybe 2 years? 3 years?).

2008 was the year when I got back into knitting in a major, major way. I remember when the February Lady Sweater was published via Ravelry and it was a huge thing. Do we have that sort of knitting landscape these days? No.It is probably harder to get noticed across the board, but incredibly talented people do manage it. Designers have to up their game and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Knitters everywhere are the winners in this scenario.

(Also, the segmented knitting landscape means that if you are really into designing crazy intarsia dog coats, for instance, you will find “your people” pretty quickly.)

3) I wasn’t a fan of the whole cross-channel “hustling” mentioned in the podcast- but that’s because I am one of those people who tune out people who endlessly promote themselves on as many channels as they can. Maybe I am just old in social media terms but there is a whole signal-to-noise thing which I think many marketeers often forget. Social media isn’t always about quantity – quality plays a huge part too. But that’s probably a whole ‘nother topic. (Psst, this is a great blog post about using Twitter)

I’ll be honest: that podcast made me feel very cynical and I don’t like feeling cynical – especially not about knitting.

I am left here still thinking about Jimmy Wales’ words. The Q&A I linked above also included these lines:

I don’t have a lot of money.  I don’t have a lot of power in the top-down command-and-control sense.  But I do have a lot of influence.  I like that part of it.

Jimmy Wales is a lot more famous than any knitting “celebrity” and wields a lot more power and influence than I can begin to imagine. Yet he speaks with humility and a wry sense of humour. I think we could all take a lesson from him.

 

Children of the Echo

We are children of the echo. Born just after some kind of explosion, and doomed to spend our lives working backwards to try and get as close as we can to the moment of that Big Bang.

(..)

But the whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working-class boys from Liverpool who showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by “the establishment” – they could create art that pissed all over it. From the ranks of the supposedly uncouth, unwashed barbarians came the greatest creative force of the 20th century. It wasn’t meant to be that way. It wasn’t officially sanctioned. But it happened – and that gave countless others from similar backgrounds the nerve to try it themselves.

(..)

People of my generation felt this obscure pang – this feeling that we’d somehow missed out on something amazing. So we tried to make it happen again – but exactly the same. You cannot do a karaoke version of a social revolution (good fun trying though). What changed in the interim? Why was Br**pop doomed to failure? Too many factors to go into here, but one was: too much information. Too much reverence. Wearing the same clothes and taking the same drugs will not make us into Beatles. It will make us fat and ill.

(..)

We, the children of the echo, should get a life. We, the children of the echo, should know better. Time to move on. Imagine that.

Jarvis Cocker on The Beatles is a very, very good read.

Handmade Living

Handmade Living feature

Handmade Living landed on my doorstep this weekend. It is a lovely, accessible and crafty lifestyle magazine which encourages people to make a go at things themselves.

And (probably because I am the sort of person who likes to have a go at things herself) I am in this issue.

Handmade Living feature

There I am. Hello you.

Blogging (and micro-blogging on Twitter) may give you the impression that I am a bubbly extrovert person, but I am not. I am quiet, introvert and only truly relaxed when in a small group of friends. I am never very comfortable talking about myself – and giving the interview to Handmade Living was really difficult for that very reason. Like pulling teeth, I tell you. Luckily, the journalist was very patient and kept loping me some very good questions that made me relax and open up.

So, if you have arrived here thanks to Handmade Living: hello!

It is a funny old world. One day a girl may be in the depths of despair as her world tilts on its axis, then she decides to “make a go of things” out of sheer bloody-minded determination and a few years down the line, magazines ask her questions about herself as though she was somehow special or interesting. Yes, it is a funny old world.

Drive-By Blogging

This week has been fun, stressful, and interesting. Prepare for bullet-points as I don’t think my brain has the capacity for entire paragraphs.

First some knitting bits:

  • Rowan has published my Windsor hat pattern. It is free and you can download it from the Rowan website.
  • I took part in another crafts/textiles conference at the University of Glasgow. Highlights: Edith Rattay from the Moray Firth Gansey Project speaking about East Coast ganseys with such authority and passion; Di Gilpin and Rosie Eribé asking questions about the heritage and future of Scottish textiles. It was a good day.
  • I had a few more commissions for patterns come through my in-box. I am really, really excited!
  • And because 2012 has been a fantastic year for me so far (which I needed after some very soul-destroying years not so long ago), I am throwing a mini-celebration. I’m knocking 12% off all my patterns until June 5th – just use “Love2012” when you purchase any of my Ravelry designs.

And some non-knitting bits:

  • I finally read some books(!). I re-visited The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald after some 18 years. My first thought? “That’d be a breeze to teach.” My second thought? “Damn, but it is slight.”
  • London Under by Peter Ackroyd was my next read. My Other Half has an affinity for psychogeography and recommended me the book. It was okay – but for a book about the London subterrain it did skim the surface an awful (if you’ll pardon me the pun).
  • I am quietly addicted to W.E.L.D.E.R. – a word game for iPods and iPads. I am yet to get beyond level 10, sadly.
  • Eurovision came around and it was awesome. While I do have opinions on the proceedings, so far I am just listening to Loreen’s “Euphoria” for the 464th time.
  • And you may enjoy the Overthinking Person’s Drinking Game. Hic.

Making My Mind Up – 2012

It is that most wonderful time of the year again. The time of the year when my thoughts turn towards geo-political alliances, sequins, unfortunate dance moves, and mangled English. Yes, it is Eurovision time! I have already aired a few opinions on the ESCInsight Juke Box Jury podcasts but nothing beats a proper blog run-down. So, fasten your seat belts, turn up the volume and grab some popcorn (maybe not in that order).

The Eurovision Contest 2012 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Six countries have pre-qualified for the finale (Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and Azerbaijan) and thirty-six countries will be battling it out in two semi-finales. Juries will vote. TV viewers will vote. That is all you need to know, really, although it is entirely possible to speculate on the basis on where in the draw in which semi-finale countries are placed.. but let’s not go there. Instead there are some pretty major trends:

Recession Has Hit Eurovision:

  • Ukraine has evidently decided to save on songs (and song-writing). So, Gaitana’s Be My Guest will not just infest Eurovision but probably also the European Football Championships later this year. I think it’ll fare better as a footie theme than as a ESC song but it’s a catchy (if dated) dance number.
  • Greece has been an enthusiastic ESC participant this past decade (winning in 2005). This year they are sending a girl performing in a shopping centre. I bet they hope they won’t win.
  • Montenegro has gone one better and is fielding the splendidly absurd Rambo Amadeus with his snarky Euro Neuro funk-rap about the Euro crisis. “Euro neuro don’t be sceptic hermetic, pathetic..” It is a dreadful song, sadly.

 

Haven’t I Seen You Before? Plenty of repeat performers this year. Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Iceland, and Ireland are all sending acts who have been there before either as headliners or as backing vocalists. Some might argue that some of the songs have also been submitted before, but that is an annual concern.

The Year of the Ballad: Maybe the recession is not just to blame for Rambo Amadeus but also for the general air of gloom hanging over this year’s Contest. It is a year of gloomy, dreary, never-ending ballads. Listen, I sat through all forty-two songs so you don’t have to, and I actually fell asleep several times. Dullness alert: Finland (whose song is actually called “When I Sleep”!), Estonia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, and Serbia. You will need caffeine to keep you awake during these heartfelt songs.

What songs are noteworthy this year?

  • Oh, Spain is a ballad too but it’s pretty good as ballads go.  If Pastora can hit the notes on the night and emote well on TV, this could do very well for a Spanish entry. Their strongest entry for years.
  • Albania has sent a ballad too. They have surprising good Eurovision form and this is another quality entry. “Suus” is possibly too good and weird to do as well as it should. The juries will vote for this.
  • France looks great (hello Jean-Paul Gautier), it is upbeat and if Anggun can sell it on the night, they could be looking at a very good result. One for my iPod mix.
  • Earlier this year I dismissed Iceland‘s chances but the song has grown on me. If the staging is epic and they hit the notes, this is a dark horse. Where on earth would they host the contest, though?
  • Another track destined for my iPod comes courtesy of Israel‘s charming ditty. It reminds me of Latvia’s 2000 entry (geek alert!) mixed with early Blur. Total earworm and it stands out.
  • And finally, Russia. This will get all the press in Baku and get the novelty song vote. Will “Party for Everyone” win? I don’t think so (partly thanks to the voting system) but it will do very, very well.

 

So, Who Do You Think Will Win? I have three songs that I think will do massively well.

  • Azerbaijan is the host country and traditionally the host country does really well the next year (with a few exceptions). Azerbaijan has sent a powerful ballad (*cough, cough* not dissimiliar to an old 1980s hit) and if Sabina can hit the notes, they will get votes. They will get a lot of votes.
  • Italy came close last year and they could easily do better this year. Nina Zilli’s “Out of Love” is catchy and effortlessly classy in an Amy Winehouse-meets-Duffy mode. It is really, really good. Any other year and this would be the obvious outright winner.
  • But then you have Sweden. From the moment you hear that “Inception”-style boom at the start, you know you are in for something pretty special. As my partner-in-Eurovision-crime once said to me, “Imagine Rihanna singing that? It would be number one forever and ever.” Loreen’s “Euphoria” is the song to beat and everybody knows it. I have not been this emotionally invested in a single song for a very long time.

I’ll be live-tweeting throughout the two semis and the finale – hopefully you won’t catch me crying into my keyboard over Sweden’s result.

Wheee!

April 2012Who knew that bouncing about on a lifesize inflatable Stonehenge would be that much fun?

The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts is well under way. We have been to see various exhibitions and installations through Glasgow – and most have been okay but not that thrilling. The highlight has definitely been Jeremy Deller’s ‘Sacrilege’ – the inflatable Stonehenge you see above. As an interactive piece of public art, it scores highly on the interactive scale, though I am not sure about the art aspect of it.

‘Sacrilege’ is moving down to London for the Olympics (I think it was actually commissioned for the Games?), so if you fancy a bounce in Glasgow, you only have a few days left.