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Category Archives: Personal

2016: Let’s Make This Very Brief & With Some Good News

I am not going to write a long post rehashing 2016. I usually write these retrospective posts every year, but this year is different. You know this too. You don’t need me to remind you.

Instead I am going to share some very good news with you. I learned this a few weeks ago and shared it with my Kickstarter pals yesterday. Recently I have been travelling a lot for work. I have been to London, Northern Ireland, and off the Scottish coast. This month took me to Mainland Europe where I spent a lot of time in medieval town centres and museums as well as talking to textile people in Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

The highlight of my Mainland Europe trip was a visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. Johannes Gutenberg was born and worked in Mainz and the museum is a real treat for anybody interested in book history and print culture. I was given special permission to work with their collections (which includes two Gutenberg bibles) and the staff were all incredibly generous with their knowledge of early printed books. The museum also contains extensive material on book-binding, paper-making, and print ephemera. I can heartily recommend it. Currently the museum is also hosting an exhibition on the Futura font which sent this early 20th C loving gal into rapture (I contain multitudes).

Now for my very, very good news:

I am exceptionally pleased to announce that the Gutenberg Museum has requested a copy of This Thing of Paper for their archives.

Obviously they have a great deal of material in their archives, but I believe this will be the first knitting book to be included! I am very excited about this – it shows that the scope of what a knitting book can be and do is endless. Felicity Ford has written eloquently about knitting’s potential, and I’m so proud to make a small contribution to this breaking down of barriers.

And I cannot thank my Kickstarter supporters enough to helping me do this. I love knowing that your names will be in the Gutenberg Museum Archives too. Thank you.

I am slowly winding up all work for this year. Today will be my last rugby match with the inbox but I will continue to knit until 2016 runs out of breath. You might be amused to know that my word for 2017 is nope and that my resolutions are to swear more, say hell no a lot more, and spread a lot of love in the darkness.

Peace x

P.S. If you are looking for a gift for a knitting friend, I have decided to do a 20% discount off the Frances Herself shawl with the rav code courage. Code is valid December 20-21, 2016.

Frances Herself was inspired by Frances Macdonald McNair – a wonderful artist whose work was derailed by her husband. I designed this shawl for women everywhere – we are makers, lovers, fighters, and human. I chose the word courage as the code because we are facing a world where we need all the courage we have buried inside us.

About Handknitted Scarves

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Just a very brief note as I catch my breath. Workshop season is in full swing and this means I am not home much. On the road I get to meet so many wonderful people and I see so many wonderful projects. This keeps me going until I am home on my sofa, snuggled up under the crochet blanket my mother once made me.

Knitting is one of the most soothing and calming activities I know. There is something so meditative about the repetitive hand actions and the small pattern repeats we keep in our heads: k2, p1, k8, p1.. As we sit there working, we ward off the troubles of life and can focus on something that makes sense. And then we put that scarf around our neck and it keeps us warm both in body and soul. We are reminded of that little meditative space as we go out to meet others and challenge a world that feels cold and fractured. And then when the world gets really cold and we face a very long winter, we know how to stay warm.

People talk a lot about symbols these days. They talk about baseball caps and safety pins. For me, a handknitted scarf is a symbol as well. It is a symbol of patience and perseverance. Tiny stitches are joined up in wonderful, joyful patterns to create a colourful scarf that keep us warm and happier. There is beauty in complexity and we should not forget that.

I don’t have any answers. But I try to pass on skills that will let you knit a handknitted scarf that you will be wearing in the years ahead.

Stay warm.

Twenty Years & Three Days: Living an Unexpected Life

I receive a lot of lovely messages from knitters who have found the craft in a time of personal upheaval. I understand this perfectly. While I would love to enter into personal correspondence with everyone reaching out, I cannot do this for various reasons. This post is my little attempt at telling my story and how I dealt with life veering into unexpected directions. I hope this suffices.

Twenty years and three days ago – October 14, 1996 – my life changed. It was a Monday. I woke up feeling heavy-limbed and trudged to the bathroom to brush my teeth. This is when I realised something was very wrong as I could not keep water and toothpaste from dripping down my face. The mirror told me the truth: the left side of my face was paralysed. I was twenty years old.

The story is not that interesting nor long.

I had been struggling with flu-like symptoms for two months and my Monday morning was simply the culmination of what happens when you are bitten by a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi and you don’t seek medical attention. I was a second-year university student who was too busy enjoying student life to pay attention to fatigue, mental confusion (one time I forgot where I lived) or weird ear-aches. Even with a partially-paralysed face, I was oddly reluctant to seek medical attention. “But I cannot feel a thing It doesn’t hurt!” I told my friend. She barked at me: “There is your m-f-ing problem right there.” She’s always had a filthy mouth.

And so I was hospitalised, diagnosed, treated with heavy-duty antibiotics and got on with my life.

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I had my life mapped out at that stage and it was a good life I had planned: university degree, good full-time teaching job, two-point-one kids, a loving husband, a charming turn-of-century house in suburban Copenhagen, three dogs, and a garden. But my plans were interrupted and changed forever.

I actually had to look up the date I woke up with a paralysed face. Twenty years and three days later, it is a fuzzy memory and this is a good thing. My life has turned out very differently as I have had to accommodate things that never really left me: my stamina is rather low, I find it hard to maintain conversation in noisy places, facial recognition is not great, and I have a patchy memory (which it is why I often end up re-watching films and re-reading novels as I rarely remember plots). I am used to these things.

Though my life turned out differently than I had planned, I have a very, very good life. I want to emphasise this: it is possible to lead a full and rich life even if life is taking you on a detour.

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First of all, I let go of any idea that my life going forward would be less worthy or less interesting just because I could no longer tick certain boxes. I let go of the notion that unless things go to plan, things are not going well. I also let go of things I thought I ought to achieve because other people were achieving them (marathons, mountain-climbing, managerial posts in mega-corps). Instead I decided to be kind, open-minded, and curious about the world. I decided to let the small things in life really matter and not sweat the big stuff.

I find my joy in the everyday: my morning coffee, the crunch of a red apple, the fine turn of a couplet, a silly dog gif, and the feel of a well-made yarn running through my hands. I find joy in meeting extraordinary people whenever I teach workshops. I find joy in learning something new from a podcast or a video. I find joy in writing blog posts and articles. I find joy in sharing my passions with the world and seeing what people make. The everyday is extraordinary and I don’t know if I would have noticed this if things had turned out as planned.

When I graduated high school, we wore hats. Our hats were passed around to the entire year and when mine came back to me, someone had written: life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. Years later I learned that this was a quote from a John Lennon song. At the time I loved the quote with the fierce intensity of a teenager. These days it strikes a chord for much different reasons.

Yarnporium & A Trip to Yorkshire

Last week I went on a research trip to Yorkshire for my book, This Thing of Paper. It was the first of two research trips and I am glad that I scheduled it while we are still working on the patterns. The second trip will take place later this year and be less visually intensive but perfect for the essays. Thank you to everyone who has made this work possible.

I had a profound experience when I travelled south to York, and I’m going to write more about that in a second. First, though, a very exciting announcement.

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I’ll be teaching two workshops at the Yarnporium show in London this November. First, I’m running a half-day class on knitting hap shawls which covers the classic Shetland hap constructions, how to deal with lace charts, and how to work applied edges. I will also cover any questions on how to customise & design hap shawls. Then, I have developed a class especially for Yarnporium called Knitting the Landscape. This class is an exploration of psychogeography and knitting. We’ll talk flaneuring, urban exploration, inner/outer landscapes, and how to express your own paths in knitted pieces that’ll keep you warm on your journeys.

I’m so honoured to be asked to teach a class like Knitting the Landscape – it’s really a step outside what you’d expect from a knitting workshop and it gets us all thinking about what we can do with our everyday making. I like that.

Now, back to my research trip.

I spent part of my trip in York itself. The city was founded by the Romans, then became a major settlement for the Vikings, before growing into a significant religious site and wool trading centre in the 13th and 14th centuries. Much of York’s city centre is well-preserved within the city walls (of which some date back to 300AD, but most to the 12th and 13th centuries) and the famous Shambles is a well-preserved medieval street. Between my appointments, I enjoyed walking around discovering small details here and there.

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We spent two days at the York Minster itself – one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world with various secondary buildings like a library and stonemason’s court. The level of detail is astonishing: little mice carved into the stonework, gargoyles peeking out, statues with changed faces, elaborate cope chests,  and the awe-inspiring architecture of the Chapter House (and its tiled floor). It was easy to spend hours here and we did.

But what I did not expect was to have one profound moment that reduced me to tears.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved stained glass. The deep, rich colours and the layers of allegorical imagery with so much religious and historical significance .. so when I saw York’s Five Sisters window, I was taken aback.

However, there was something different about the Five Sisters window. It is mostly composed of grisaille (grey) glass with just a few coloured pieces inserted here and there. Grisaille was made by painting patterns on pieces of silvery grey glass. The pieces were then arranged into intricate geometric patterns using lead to hold the pieces together. I speculated that the geometric patterns may have been influenced by crusaders seeing Islamic tiles on their travels (the timeline would be right, I believe).

So I sat there beneath dark windows with strong geometric patterns and I had a strong emotional reaction. The window reminded me of the first time I read TS Eliot’s The Waste Land which was also formed of ‘fragments shored against these ruins’. Something about the small, insignificant pieces that swirled together in highly complex patterns to create something bigger than themselves. Small glimpses of colour and light to break the dark complexity .. the more I looked at the window, the more I cried.

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I later learned that Five Sister was last restored in the 1920s and dedicated as a memorial to the women who died during the First Word War. Mrs Little, a local woman, had a vision of long-lost sisters guiding her towards the window and as she approached, her sisters faded away to be replaced by five women sitting in a garden sewing needlework. I am moved by Mrs little’s words: “After the war was over, when memorials on all sides were being erected to our brothers, I often thought that our sisters who also made the same sacrifice appeared to have been forgotten.” Names of more than 1400 women are inscribed on oak panels nearby.

I sat there for nearly an hour underneath that window and I could have stayed much longer. Great art is what changes us and the way we look at the world. I never thought a 13th century grisaille window would affect me so but it did.

Life is so much greater than just our own tiny selves. We combine to make sense of it all.

Coming Up For Air

I’ll be posting the third instalment in my Working with Creativity series next week, but I thought I’d  post a personal blog post first. It is very unusual for me to go several weeks without posting anything to my blog, but I’ve discovered that I have a finite word count inside me – and right now that word count is being used elsewhere. I’m enjoying working on my book!

I have just updated the workshop dates page. I still have a couple of announcements (including a big one) to make, but I won’t be teaching as much this autumn as I have done in previous years. It was a tough decision as I love meeting knitters and being on train journeys, but I think it was a right one. I am currently booking summer 2017 onwards, so do get in touch if you want to be part of next year’s (slightly more packed?) workshop schedule.

August has been an interesting month. It’s really been a month of personal heartbreaks and delights. I’ve tried to be as present to friends and family as possible, but also mindful of my own finite resources. I’ve squeezed in some dress-making and I’ve played around with lino-cutting, but mostly I have been focused on knitting. With autumn just around the corner, we’ve begun picking brambles with a mind to preserving them for the winter months ahead. I may live in a large city, but we have pockets of nature everywhere. I’m certainly enjoying my handfuls of brambles on my breakfast porridge!

Word count: 265. I think that’ll do for now. Look. Pretty flowers.

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This Thing of Paper: What Just Happened?!

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

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

So what now?

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

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

… but here is the Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On a Personal Note

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing This Thing of Paper

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It is time to announce a project that has been a long time coming.  It is a project dear to my heart and one that I hope you will love as much as I do.

May I introduce you to This Thing of Paper? As both a knitter and a bibliophile, I have been yearning to do a project that combines my two loves. So many of you have been asking for a physical book, and I’m afraid I really took that concept and ran with it. On May 23, 2016 I will launch a Kickstarter for the publication of the book. I have chosen to do this as I want to produce a book that is as beautiful to hold and read as the patterns themselves will be to knit and wear.

This Thing of Paper is a a book of ten knitting projects with accompanying essays. The project is inspired by the age of Johan Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. Gutenberg’s work meant that books changed from being rare objects reserved for the elite to something that ordinary folk could access. I have always been fascinated by how one invention could change the course of history.

But there is more to this story.

I have been working with primary sources ranging from 14th century illuminated manuscripts to 16th century embroidery manuals. I have cast my own type* and printed a facsimile page of Gutenberg’s 42-line bible on a replica 15th century printing press (once used by Stephen Fry, no less!). This Thing of Paper is steeped in one woman’s love of vellum, marginalia, woodcuts and rubrication.

*(which won’t be used in the book, though. I’m not inflicting pre-1500 typefaces on you!)

And I am doing all of this firmly focused on knitting.

Knitting and books share several characteristics and I particularly love the materiality of them both. Yarn flows through my fingers – and some yarns just feel right in my hands which means I keep returning to them. Books give me that feeling too. Some books are perennial favourites simply because they rest in my hands just so. One recurrent theme throughout This Thing of Paper will be the materiality of things and how we interact with those – just like inhabiting physical and imaginary landscapes was a core part of my Doggerland collection.

As for the knitting patterns, they will not be replica 15th century fashion. All the patterns inside This Thing of Paper are parts of a book, both figuratively and literally. In reality this means three garments (in seven sizes because that is how I roll) and seven accessories. I will later share a Pinterest board, so you can see exactly what inspired me. The patterns are contemporary and come in a range of difficulties.

Oh, and why This Thing of Paper? The title is taken from a 15th century treatise raging against the terrible, terrible modernity of the printing press called De laude scriptorum (In Praise of Scribes – I’ve read this treatise, so you don’t have to). The full quote reads:

Who is ignorant of the difference between writing [scriptura] and printing [impressura]? A manuscript, written on parchment, can last a thousand years. How long will print, this thing of paper [res papirea] last?

I just couldn’t resist.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about the designs, the Kickstarter details (there are some truly ace rewards) and I even have a blog tour lined up with some really amazing, talented people.

A Quick Word About Life & Knitting

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Recently I have been a bit busy and fallen behind on, well, everything. I’ll reveal everything later this week but we are still in the process of getting things right behind the scenes.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share an interview I did with Scottish mental health advocates, Mind Waves. I am a strong believer in the restorative powers of knitting. I am also hugely grateful for all the love and support we share in our knitting community. If you are a regular reader, you will know that rediscovering knitting helped me through some rough patches in my life – and I know I am not the only one. Many of you have been kind and generous enough to share stories about your life with me. Thank you.

Knitting is kind and generous too. When life does not afford us the chance to start things over and correct mistakes, knitting is patient and does not mind when we have to rip back a few rows to untangle a cable. Knitting can be as simple as a cast-on + a knit stitch + a cast-off (a beautiful thing for the uneasy soul); knitting can be as challenging as Estonian lace (equally beautiful for a mind that seeks distraction). We may have uneven stitches, but blocking sorts that out.

Sometimes I wish life could be more like knitting, but then I look around me and I see a life filled with knitters, stitches, yarn, and books. I think it’s as good as it gets.

With Love From Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016..

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I just waved goodbye to a good friend who had been teaching at EYF 2016 and was passing through Glasgow this morning. We never got a chance to connect during the festival itself – the weekend was hectic – so it was good to relax together for a few hours. This is what I both love and find so frustrating about fibre events: I get to see all these incredible people but I only meet them for a brief second.

Glimpses of connections. Fragments of conversations. Moments of meeting like-minded folks. I talked to Tori Seierstad on the bus about knitting local and Norwegian spinning mills. Donna Smith made a comment to me that made me think about knitting in a new light. Career advice was doled out (I both gave it and was on the receiving end – there will be a few changes going forward). I saw old friends and made new ones. And so many people I did not even know was there or that I missed seeing.

Never one for big crowds, I stayed away from the really big vendors – but the marketplace still felt really intense. So many lovely people! So much amazing knitwear! Such a buzz! It felt so exciting and so overwhelming. I was very thankful to have Mr D with me – not only does he love a good chat but he was also excellent at supplying me with coffee.

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I think it will take a few more days for me to process EYF 2016. It was more international than ever – I felt this both in the Corn Exchange itself and certainly in my classes. It also felt more colourful – if that makes sense. Knitters were more stylish than ever and I saw so much incredible colourwork and colour combinations. I saw some incredible yarns up close – from undyed single-breed yarns where the vendor could tell me the name of the sheep to the high-end luxury blends with saturated colours. Orange and yellow were everywhere, but plant-dyed yarns were also pretty hot. Shawls dominated (so many Byatts! I loved them!) and socks were definitely less of a thing than they had been in previous years.

But mostly, like all EYFs, it is all about the people. I got to spend time with some very awesome people and it made me so very happy. Thank you Jo & Mica for another terrific year!

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This is one of my favourite photos. We were very, very silly.
L-R: Larissa of Travelknitter, me high on yarn fumes, Helen of the Wool Kitchen, and Amelia of Woollen Words

Saying Goodbye & Knitting On.

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Earlier this month we had some very sad news. David’s father fell ill and passed away unexpectedly. We went north to a small Aberdeenshire fishing village to join the rest of the immediate family in preparation for one of the hardest days a family can face. David’s father was a man who made a difference to other people’s lives. We heard from hundreds of people how he had encouraged them to be the very best they could be; how he had made people laugh; how he was a friend to everyone he met; and how his generous, keen mind transformed lives. As a family we loved him deeply – we learned that our love was shared by not just the local community but also by the generations of children he had taught. To me, he was both family and one of the finest friends anyone could hope to have. I had a long conversation with him just a week before he passed away. We spoke of our hopes and fears. As always, he urged me to believe in myself and told me put my trust in other people.

On the way north I was working on a knitting project with tears silently running down my face. I felt a touch on my shoulder: a stranger had seen my tears and felt compelled to reach out. The stranger wondered if I wanted a cup of tea from his flask? David’s father had been right: other people will reach out and help whenever they can. The stranger’s offer was one of the loveliest, most timely gifts I have ever received.

I worked on my knitting project in the fishing village. The mindless garter stitch was all I could manage (and sometimes not even that!) but the familiar rhythm of the needles was soothing. I focused on the feel of the yarn as it slipped through my fingers. Whenever the telephone calls and the emotional labour threatened to overwhelm me, I sat down to knit. I pulled out several rows over and over. Knitting helped.

We travelled up and down the country. David read. I knitted on. Amid it all, I celebrated my birthday. The stranger’s offer of tea had been a gift. Friends spending time with us was a gift too.

The past fortnight has been very hard. Both David and I have taken much comfort from all the condolences we have been offered. Thank you to everyone who has reached out.

We are slowly settling back into normal life again. I am back at desk, though with reduced hours and energy. I am really, really looking forward to all the wonderful things ahead of us (Edinburgh Yarn Festival, anyone?) and I am knitting on.

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