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Hello Europe! When Crafting & Fandom Meet. A Guest Post by Ellie Chalkley

Note from Karie: I am currently busy working on my book (the bulk of which is now with the graphic designer!), so I hope you’ll enjoy this series of guest posts on creativity, making and identity penned by some very awesome people. You are in for a real treat as they explore our shared world of making.

Today we are joined by Ellie Chalkley, an all-round music, media and culture enthusiast and citizen of the internet. She blogs and podcasts at listenoutside.com, a genre-agnostic stream of musical recommendations from Europe and beyond. I asked Ellie if she would write a guest post about crafting and fandom — I hope you’ll enjoy!

I can’t remember a time before I loved Eurovision. The world’s biggest song contest has somehow always been a part of the rhythm of my year, even before I have any specific memories of the event itself. It comes after Easter, but before the school holidays, and it is a night for putting on your best and shiniest party frock, eating party rings and staying up late watching a slightly incomprehensible but undeniably entertaining feast of European pop music.

As an adult Eurovision fan, I still put the shiny party frocks on and eat the party rings, but one of the ways I express my enthusiasm is through crafting.

It started out innocuously enough making flag-iced cupcakes for the party I was hosting. I also made a small amigurumi effigy of Terry Wogan, the iconic UK commentator (Karie’s note: the Terry amigurumi ended up featured on BBC). I don’t really know why I was doing this – I think there was a general shortage of specific Eurovision party accoutrements, and so if I wanted to go through with my theme, I had to do it myself.

I kept the Eurocrafting to cakes for a few years. An EU flag cake made with that blue food colouring implicated in childhood hyperactivity comes to mind, as does a beautiful rainbow cake hidden under chocolate icing and sugar pearls. As the years passed and the contest travelled the length and breadth of the continent, my knitting skills improved and my love for Eurovision deepened.

Inevitably and happily, the two loves intermingled.

In the wake of Loreen’s inspiring victory in Baku in 2012 I decided to knit a small doll of our new heroine. Maybe it was not the best depiction of her in terms of a likeness, but I was proud of the miniature diaphanous performance coat that I’d knitted from Habu paper yarn and the knitted-on construction of her halter top.

In 2016, a series of improbable coincidences lead to me planning a trip to Stockholm to attend and report on the contest for specialist news and analysis website ESC Insight. The fact that I would actually be attending Eurovision for the first time definitely needed to be marked with some form of crafting, and so the little doll idea came out again. I had great fun making poseable dolls of Iceland’s Greta Salome, Spain’s Barei and Australia’s Dami Im, who were three of my pre-contest favourites. I also wanted to celebrate all the countries taking part, so I dug into my scrap yarn bag and began knitting small hearts patterned with the 42 flags of the Eurovision countries.

Naturally, I didn’t quite get to all 42. The Union Jack presented the usual design complexity issues and the stranded colourwork of the various Nordic crosses resulted in some slow and careful knits that eventually blocked out beautifully. But I knew I was onto something, as the completed knitted flag hearts drew huge curiosity in the slightly boy-heavy and technological press room. I found that people were wanting to take the little hearts away and wear them into the arena to support their favourite countries.

One gorgeous Eurovision morning in Stockholm, I bought some beautiful BC Garn in a cotton wool blend. I picked a sunny sky mid blue and a rich wheaty yellow –  the colours of the Swedish flag, and the colours of the 2016 winner, Ukraine. My summer knitting project was to design a shawl commemorating the trip to Stockholm that I could potentially wear in Kyiv the following year. I ended up doing a lot more than that.

My crafting for the 2017 Eurovision season largely took place during the National Final season running from late December to March — also known as the period when the intense and totally hardcore fans watch the hundreds of shortlisted songs around the continent being whittled down by various semi-democratic and random processes. I made tote bags and t-shirt transfers celebrating the winners of the contest; I made a sampler of my favourite Estonian song lyrics; I customised a silver jacket into an intricate homage to the excellent graphic design of the contest logo; and I sewed a full set of delicate felt lapel badges featuring the flags of 44 Eurovision (and future Eurovision) nations. I still wasn’t sure why I was doing any of this – it was all driven by enthusiasm and the desire not to let any creative idea pass me by.

The felt flag badges proved to be an incredibly popular accessory for jazzing up people’s accreditation lanyards, and a unique way of making friends and staying memorable. My flag badges found their way into the Green Room on the lanyards of the Italian delegation, including the singer Francesco Gabbani, and into the BBC radio commentary booth with legendary UK broadcaster Ken Bruce. Once I started running out of flags for popular countries I set myself up in the press room with precut pieces so I could sew them for people on request, while we talked about our favourite songs and our hopes for the Grand Final. The handmade, unofficial nature of my flag badges made them special to me and hopefully to the recipients – a memory of a special time.

And into the future? I can feel some more ambitious Eurovision projects brewing as we prepare for the 2018 contest in Portugal, including hundreds more felt flag badges. Maybe I’ll embroider a scoreboard. Maybe I’ll do a stumpwork cushion of the stage design. Maybe I’ll sew my own silk tuxedo jacket and hand-embroider it with the national flowers of all competing nations?

Now, there’s an idea.

I’d better get started.

Eurovision is coming.

Death, Dancing & Other Thieves – A Guest Post by Ben Wilson

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a series of guest posts on creativity, making and identity penned by some very awesome people. You are in for a real treat as they explore our shared world of making.

This week we are joined by Benjamin G. Wilson, a writer and performer living between Manchester and Cornwall.

His novel, Dispatch from the City of Orgies, is a ‘magic-realist memoir of sexual violence, drug use, and being in love’ set during the east London ‘Grindr Murders’ of 2014-15.  It is currently in development with Penguin Random House as part of their Write Now scheme. On his blog he writes and makes zines about being being queer, witchcraft, mental health and politics. 

Benjamin is one of the smartest people I have ever met and I always enjoy his writing (and his art — the woodcut is also by Benjamin). I hope you will enjoy this piece too.

My grandmother had beautiful, clever hands. My christening gown, knitted in cheap acrylic 4-ply, has a baroque ostentation. Tiny nups on a base of lace. I think about her hands a lot. I think about how arthritis bent the fingers backwards, how her medication made the skin paper thin. She was 67 when she died. She’d been ill for a long time. Her gravestone reads ‘pain courageously borne’.

I am 30. People keep telling me this is young. And it is. But if I live as long as my grandmother, I’ve lived half my life already. My hands already hurt in the mornings. If I knit until I’m 60, I’ve done more than half of my knitting already. My grandmother could not knit at 60.

I used to dance. Not just in clubs, but in studios. Half an hour of stretches and then two hours of feeling inadequate. A tutor told me I danced like a potato, so I stopped training. My mother, who is in her early 50s, struggles to dance at all.  Her joints hurt. If I go to a club now, I feel the dance in my body three days later. Knees and neck feeling misaligned. If my joints are like my mothers, then I’ve done significantly more than half of the dancing my life will contain.

Even if I live till 90, even if this is as old as my body ever feels, I’ve done more than a third. There will come a point where there is more behind me than there is in front. It is a cliché, one that will annoy genuinely middle aged people, but I have hit 30, and now I am thinking about death. If these things bother me, if I want to do more, then why don’t I? If these things are important, why not make time?

The things for which I make time, take time. Time is limited. I’ve become picky. How can there be time to knit when I am dying? How can there be time not to?

I used to knit for money. I write now. Knitting being the only career from which a job as a writer looks the more stable option. I can write a thousand words an hour, my photocopier can replicate far more.  I can manage only 80 stitches a minute.  And when I sit down to knit, or do my stretches between stints at the desk, I feel time moving past me like a river. I feel my body, with its soft band at the middle and its unexpected grey hairs and its gentle aching at every hour. My doctor has told me ‘this is just what 30 year old bodies feel like’.

And I think ‘there isn’t much time left, enjoy it.’

And I think ‘there isn’t much time left, don’t waste it.’
And I look at my wool, and I feel the music in my body, and it’s difficult to decide what wasted time means.

Researching Knitting & Religion: A Guest Post by Anna Fisk

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a series of guest posts on creativity, making and identity penned by some very awesome people. You are in for a real treat as they explore our shared world of making.

We are joined this week by Anna Fisk who is an academic based at the University of Glasgow. I know Anna from my knitting circles and always enjoy talking to her about the intersection of religion and culture. Anna’s craft practice is focused on the world around her and the changing seasons, from her Dear Green Shawl design available at p/hop to the natural dyeing, spinning and felting she blogs about at Knit Wild Studio. I asked Anna if she would write about her work researching knitting and making. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I enjoy my conversations with Anna.

Back when I was working on my PhD thesis in feminist theology and literature, I realised that being a knitter was a much bigger part of my identity than any religious affiliation ever had been. My account of learning to knit was probably the most significant story I told about myself. The therapeutic nature of the process of knitting, and sense of achievement in the end products, enabled me to cope with depression and anxiety more than any ‘spiritual’ practices. It was making things that gave me a sense of meaning, and oriented how I approached the world.

Being part of the knitting community, I knew my experience of craft as transformative and sustaining was far from unusual. So after finishing my doctorate I wanted to engage with research with other people about the significance of knitting in their lives, and see if I was right in my hunch this was related to religion in some way.

This meant thinking about the very definition of ‘religion’. I got interested in contemporary scholarship on ‘lived’ religion, which is about everyday practices, material things, and the stories that give us meaning and help us to cope, rather than a set of beliefs about higher powers or abstract doctrines. I also read up on the secularization debates, which ask whether religion is disappearing altogether or instead morphing into new forms. These range from holistic mind-body-spirit practices to environmental activism; or the civil religion of nationalism, family values, capitalism, and human rights discourse.

I started researching other people’s knitting practice, firstly through participant observation of two knitting groups in Glasgow. I noticed the groups (as well as yarn festivals, Ravelry, podcasts…) worked in a similar way to religious institutions. People who’d just moved to the city would join a knitting group to make friends; attending regularly provided routine and support, and helped people feel less isolated. We knitters also have a shared identity and language (‘stash’, ‘squishing’ yarn, etc.). So the first theme of my research is how knitting as a subculture, providing belonging and identity, can work as an implicit religion.

The second major theme came out more in a focus group session and individual interviews with knitters across central Scotland. These were recorded on my trusty dictaphone, leaving my hands free for knitting while I talked to the participants, who were also knitting.

Through these conversations it became clearer to me that the effects of knitting on wellbeing have parallels with holistic spiritual practices such as yoga or mindfulness meditation. Many of my participants described knitting as ‘therapeutic’ and a way of getting through difficult times and situations. Some had deliberately started knitting because of these benefits.

The theme I’m most interested is what I call sacred connections. As a knitter, I mark really important life events and relationships by knitting them. As do many other knitters, from graduation shawls, booties for grandchildren, to braving that sweater curse for your significant other. This includes the craftivism of yarnbombing and pussy hats; charity knitting after major disasters (when you know that just sending money would probably be more effective, but in knitting penguin sweaters or blankets for the homeless you’re really doing something). This is one aspect of how we use knitting as way of connecting with—ritualising and materialising—the things that are most important (or ‘sacred’) to us.

The other aspect relates to this urge I have, whenever I find something that I love or am fascinated by, to render it in wool, to knit it. I see this throughout our knitting world, including in the work of designers like Karie, whose patterns are inspired by Glasgow tenement tiles and best-loved artists and novelists; who creates whole pattern collections based on her historical specialisms, not just as an intellectual exercise but also about connecting with landscape, heritage, and materiality.

Beyond what this tells us about knitters (who are interesting enough!), I also think it tells us something about the kinds of things that are most important—sacred—for people in the (post)secular, late-modern world: love and family, cultural tradition, political commitments, the natural and built environment, our bodies.

I’m interested in how conversations around knitting—and craft more generally—are part of the cultural trend (beginning with Romanticism) of attempting to reconnect with what we feel we’ve lost in modern life, from a sense of place, to taking it slow, to being truly part of the material world around us. Making things with our own hands, paying attention to the whole process, out of materials we know the provenance of, gives a profound satisfaction and sense of connection that for many of us is indeed sacred.

(I knitted the Biophilia shawl (which is about ‘hypothetically innate human tendency to feel an emotional attachment to the natural world’)
while I was conducting the interviews.)

I have a couple of articles from this research coming out soon, but I want to write a whole book on the topic eventually. So the work is very much ongoing. If you’d like to share your stories with me, I would love to hear from potential participants, particularly on the sacred connections theme. Even if you’d just like to hear more about this research, do please get in touch!

Creating While Marginalised

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a series of guest posts on creativity, making and identity penned by some very awesome people. You are in for a real treat as they explore our shared world of making.

First up is yarn dyer and composer Angelina Panozzo who you might know better as GamerCrafting. This is a powerful and personal essay on what it means to lead a creative life when the world tries to get you down. I hear you, Angelina.

In today’s society of “Instagram culture,” it’s easy to get swept up in the belief that everyone else is living a charmed life, full of sunny successes and perfectly arranged yarn stashes. It’s perhaps too tempting to forget that there are actual people on the other side of the screen with worries, stresses, and problems, who are just as stressed out and frazzled as you are. I’m certainly guilty on both counts, feeling toxic and jealous that some people seem to be living the high life while I stress-cry into my bran flakes three times a week.

I wake up every morning as the same person I’ve been for five years now: a gay immigrant. Neither of those things encapsulates who I am: I’m also an indie yarn dyer, a big geek, a gamer, and a gardening novice. Sometimes I design knitting and crochet patterns, and I’m trying to get a book out this year. I like woodland walks and fancy scissors, I enjoy photography and I studied music in university. While my friends would call me “A Creative,” it seems society only sees me as those first two things: gay immigrant.

With every headline I read, I feel like the air is being pulled from my lungs. It’s a specific, acute kind of panic that only comes from being part of a marginalised community. It’s like drowning, except you’re sitting at your desk editing a new video tutorial while you schedule content. It’s like being in open space without a space suit, except no one knows that you have no oxygen and they all want to know why the book isn’t done yet.

I have the privilege of being white and speaking English as a first language: I will tell you that if both those things were not true, we probably wouldn’t have had success with our immigration appeal in 2014 – not without having to shell out even more money for an immigration lawyer. For over a year now, my future in this country has been uncertain. I won’t bore you with the long, complicated, frustrating details, but I’m only living here thanks to an EU visa. For over a year I’ve had to get up, read the news, drink my coffee, swallow my panic, and sit down at my desk to create things. Content, new yarns, patterns, create, create, create. There’s no paid time off when you’re a freelance creative. There are no breaks, no sick days to take when you want to sit on your kitchen floor and sob into a loaf of fresh soda bread.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. I love being a part of this vibrant, shimmering community, and I’ve met some truly amazing people thanks to the work I do. I love the ethos of the DIY community, and seeing fellow creative humans discover new methods and techniques is what gets me out of bed at obscenely early hours every morning (yes, even weekends). Creating new things is what sets my brain on fire with inspiration and ideas, whether I’m dyeing up new yarn shades, writing a flute choir folk tune, or lugging 50kg of photography equipment into the wilderness to get a macro shot of a spider web covered in morning dew.

Sometimes, though, the fervour of inspiration is dampened by the quiet march of panic and uncertainty. It’s hard to dream up exciting new things when you don’t even know where you’ll be living in a year, or if all the plans you’ve made will be dust in the wind of change. It’s hard to plan in this reality: not knowing whether to stay or go weighs heavily on the immigrant mind. It’s like the song by the Clash: “Should I stay or should I go now? If I say there will be trouble, but if I go there will be double.” Stay and risk it, or try for somewhere else and risk that? These are decisions that have to be made on a knife edge of doubt, and you’re never sure whether you’re just panicking because you’re predisposed to brain bats, or whether it’s a clear and present danger.

Creativity and DIY innovation are the lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel for many of us.

Whether you’re struggling with immigration, parenting, mental illness, chronic pain, or a myriad of other stresses and maladies, we’re all in this big creative boat together. Step into the craft canoe, fellow maker: we have cake, yarn, and shoulders to cry on.


A Knitterly Guide to Ireland – Nadia of A Cottage Notebook

I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so I asked the Irish podcaster and blogger Nadia to guestblog. I know many of you enjoy my knitterly guide to Scotland, so here is Nadia’s fibre-filled guide to Ireland. I hope you enjoy!


Image 1 © J. Seaver

I know what you’re thinking: most of you dream of Ireland filled with green fields, sheep and lots of fibre related crafts. While in a way, you are right, everything is probably a little more spread out here then you think. So, let me take you on a province by province yarny trip of Ireland and as this is my guide, the sun is shining, birds are singing and you all magically have sparkly wellies for spontaneous field trips!


To start with a little history, you can visit the Museum of Decorative Arts in Collins Barracks to have a glimpse into Ireland’s textile history before starting on a yarn crawl to the local yarn shops This is Knit in Powerscourt Townhouse, The Constant Knitter on Francis Street and WM Trimmings on Capel Street. Leaving the city center you have Spring Wools in Walkinstown and Winnies Wool Wagon in Blackrock. Starting early in the morning we are off to Co. Wicklow where you can visit the beautiful Powerscourt estate before having an afternoon tea and some baked goods at Avoca HandWeavers. Now further south it’s off to the National Craft Gallery in co. Killkenny before checking out the fabulous Cushendale Woollen Mill.


Waterford is my personal favourite with Waterford Crystal and the Museum of Treasures in the viking triangle worth a visit. While in Co. Kerry visiting the locations of famous movie sets, you can stop at Kerry Woollen Mills and visit the mill. If weaving is also of interest to you, a visit to Lisbeth Mulcahy  in Dingle is a must. Moving on to Co. Clare to McKernan woollen mills if you want to see some looms in action. A trip in Munster wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Hedgehog Fibers and Vibes & Scribes while in Co. Cork.

Image 2 © J. Seaver


The Museum of Country Life is one to visit while in Castlebar, Co. Mayo if you want to learn more about the different types of Irish traditional lifestyles. The Connacht Textile Crafters meet up here so check to see if you can catch them while you visit. While in Mayo you can pick up some craft supplies in Lunasa and you can watch the looms at work in the beautifully restored Foxford Woollen Mills and popping by Beth Moran of Ballytoughey Loom before heading off in a more northerly direction.  A personal favourite of mine is a trip to the Aran Islands to explore everything they have to offer, before settling in for the joy of Galway city with a yarn top up at the Crafty Stitchers.



This may be the last section of our journey but it is by far one of the most beautiful and breathtaking in Ireland. I have a deep love for Ulster from spending so much of my childhood there. We have to start out with the Yarn Spinners of Inishowen before continuing the theme of spinning with a trip to Johnny Shiels cottages in Inishowen to have a look at his wonderful wheels. Do drop him a message first through the web or Facebook because he might be off visiting local schools sharing his vast knowledge and inspiring the local youth. While we are on the subject of spinners, you should also have a quick check in with the Ulster Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers you might be in luck and your travel dates coincide with a meet.  For a yarn top up you have Love Wool in Portadown, The Wool box in Lurgan and Lighthouse yarns in Whitehead.

From here I would also recommend a trip to the Ulster American Folk Park. Yes I know it’s on every tourist site out there but during their exhibitions I learned how to basket weave, how to plait straw into dolls and braids and I had an in depth talk about clothes and textiles of the time. No visit to Ireland would be complete with a visit to Donegal Yarns. You can visit the working mill and the surrounding area is one of the most picturesque in Ireland. While here why not pop in to Edel Mc Bride to have a look at some knitwear.  On our way back to Dublin, we cross back in Lenister once more and stop off in Carlingford. Why? Because I spent a day on the mountain with a packed lunch hugging sheep and visiting the derelict buildings of a famine village and seriously who doesn’t want to do that?

Image 3 © L.Sisk

Returning to Dublin for rest and now filled with the knowledge of fiber in Ireland. You can head to both This is Knit in Powerscourt Townhouse and The Constant Knitter in Francis street to squish some final skeins and top up on yarn before heading back to the airport or ferry.

Before your visit why not check out The Dublin Knit Collective for the nights you are in Dublin if you would like to meet up with local knitters. The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers also have meetings and events and you never know you might even get a glimpse of a Great Wheel made by one of the members!

I hope you all enjoy your trip, prepare for rain… the wellies are not a joke!

Like Karie’s Guide to Scotland, all recommendations are from my own travels, including the hug a sheep part and yes I apologised profusely. I haven’t been bribed to include places in the post with either money, baked goods or promises of yarn. I would love to hear your favourite yarn shops in Ireland and other suggestions as I’m sure there are places I haven’t gotten to visit yet!

Love, Nadia

(Catch up with Nadia’s lovely podcast here.)

This Thing of Paper – March & April 2017

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

First, An Important Housekeeping Note:

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

Thank you so, so, so much!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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

Authors & Artists: Alma’s Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important notice

Dear all.

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

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

Thank you.



This Is About Lilly

(my great-grandmother with my mother)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Finding your Way Back to Making

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

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

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

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

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

What are you planning for 2017?