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Category Archives: Personal

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!

hey ladies

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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A Very Personal Note

This is just to say that life has happened.

I’m away from email & work queries for a few days. I don’t know when I’ll return to work. If you have any queries, please ask in my Ravelry group where I’m sure the fantastic knitters will be happy to help.

Love those around you & let them know every day.

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In Her Soft Wind I Will Whisper

Lady on the left? My great-grandmother. She would have been a hundred years old today.

The photo was taken in the early 1950s outside her cottage and she is with two of her sons, K and T.

I have several photos of her; my other favourite is from the 1930s when she was approached by a travelling salesman who wanted her to become a hair model. I presume she shot him one of her withering glances. The photo shows her with long, gorgeous hair. I was told it was chestnut-coloured. The photo is black/white.

I was lucky enough to grow up around her. She looked after me when I was pre-kindergarten and I spent most of my school holidays in her cottage. Her cottage did not have running water until I was maybe seven or eight and never got central heating.

I can still envision her sitting in her chair in front of the kerosene-fuelled stove. She’d knit long garter stitch strips from yarn scraps and sew them into blankets. She was the one who taught me to knit. She was certainly the one who taught me how to skip rope.

Happy birthday, momse. We may not always have seen eye to eye, but we loved and understood each other. And I still miss you.

Title comes from this beautiful farewell song (youtube link). Post reposted from previous years with Momse’s age amended. I continue to miss her.

The Joy Of Making Stuff

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Oh, but the joy of making.

Recently I have begun dressmaking again. I had previous forays into dressmaking around 2011, but I have not been seriously sewing clothes since I was a teenager. This time around I have discovered how relaxing I find the rituals and processes of dressmaking. Casa Bookish is fairly petite, so I do my sewing on the dining table which presents its own challenges. Despite a pressed schedule and lack of space, I am really enjoying myself.

Which brings me to this outburst:

LET’S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

Some times I worry we overthink the act of making.

We swathe it in mystique (all those “15 Things You Need To Know To Unlock Your Creativity” pieces).

We become consumers rather than creators (“You cannot do origami unless you buy authentic unicorn paper from this off-shore Japanese monastery”).

We are tourists rather than inhabitants of MakingLand (spending more time browsing Pinterest and blogs rather than make all the things we pin and queue).

LET’S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

I know that a full-time job and family life leaves us with precious little time. I know it’d be amazing to have a whole weekend just making stuff. I know time is a scarce resource.

But if you have 30 minutes free every Sunday, you too can make stuff! Don’t feel you need to have tonnes of free time. Make when you can! Make when you are on the train! Make in your lunch break! Make whilst the pasta is boiling! Make whilst watching TV!

LET’S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

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So, I’m dress-making.

A) I feel really happy when I wear something I have made.

B) I have become increasingly aware of my making needing to reflect my everyday wardrobe.

C) I want sewn clothes that fit me as well as my knitted items do.

My main reason for dress-making is wardrobe, so my main focus is to find a basic dress pattern that I can make over & over with a few tweaks. I wear dresses all the time – occasionally skirts – so I am not to bothered about keeping up with what’s the latest trendy pattern to make in the sewing world.

I spent a bit of time on a disastrous pattern which I nicknamed The Apron Dress. I had seen some pretty versions of the dress on various people I know, but the fit was so, so awful. The lack of any actual structure (i.e. darts, supportive seams and shaping within the pattern itself) means that I was wearing a cutesy apron dress in which my bust looked to be extending outwards! The overall effect was not good. Fortunately I was just making a toile using cheap charity shop fabric – lessons gained and no beautiful fabric lost.

Moving on, I have been playing around with the Emery dress pattern by Christine Haynes which comes with beautifully clear instructions and structure. I’ve really hacked’n’slashed the Emery bodice. I’ve added extra coverage for my bust, moved the darts, and I’m about to alter the waist a tiny bit too. The first toile was almost spot on – I just had to move the bust apex a bit, lower the waist darts and .. well, I am having fun. when I was dressmaking as a teenager, I had no notion of fit but this time around I’m geeking out.

And there is knitting too, but I am in the midst of ‘stuff’ that will be unveiled at a later date. There is nothing more frustrating than some very pleasing things I cannot discuss. Fortunately there is always, always making stuff.

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“Don’t Think You Knew You Were in this Song” – Goodbye Bowie.

You are going to read this many times for mine’s a common tale even though it feels otherwise.

Short version: I grew up in Nowheresville. I grew up, left Nowheresville, and found David Bowie’s artistic output to be a constant touchstone. Bowie passed away today and I am very, very sad.

Longer version: I grew up in rural Denmark in a family whose cultural references were mainly the Great American Songbook and 1950s American pop culture. The school playground was a hard, cold, bewildering place. I knew I had to fit in somehow and that I couldn’t manage. The other kids loved Disney, sport, and Madonna while I was really into prehistoric archaeology, art history, and Gene Kelly.

When I was 18, I moved to London. It was the first big move in a life that’s seen quite a few big moves. I spent my days looking after spoiled kids and my nights going to art galleries and listening to music. London was in the early throes of what would later be known as Britpop – the rank commercialism of the Blur vs Oasis feud was not even a glimmer in a record exec’s eyes. I discovered music that was to be mine – Suede, Pulp, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, and dEUS among others. Drifting towards David Bowie was inevitable. Strange, raw, androgynous, glamorous, queer, desolate, alien, and utterly beautiful Bowie.

One of my favourite songs is by an obscure 1990s band called Subcircus called 20th Century Bitch and there is such a beautiful line: “There is a hole in the sky / Where Bowie fell through” before it continues to blur the lines between gender, desire, and self.

I made more big moves. I ended up in Copenhagen. And I met people who were strange, raw, androgynous, glamorous, queer, desolate, alien, and utterly beautiful themselves. Bowie and his cultural brethren/descendants became shorthand for a lot of identity-making. We discovered we were free to define (and crucially choosing not to define) ourselves in every way that mattered.  Bowie paved the way.

One of my favourite films is Todd Haynes’ glam musical Velvet Goldmine. It is a thinly veiled Bowie biopic and isn’t particularly complimentary towards him (you cannot blame Bowie for turning down requests to feature his music). It is a wildly ambititous, crazily messy film. I love it. There is an unforgettable moment where Christian Bale’s character points to Brian Slade (i.e. Bowie) on TV and exclaims: That is me! Mum, that is me! That powerful moment of recognising something buried so deep inside yourself in someone else. That joyful surprise of realising that you are not alone even if it feels like that sitting in a shabby living room in the middle of nowhere. There is a whole world out there where you’ll feel some sense of belonging: That is me! Mum, that is me!

Along the way I managed to catch David Bowie live. He was about the size of my thumb nail and his charisma hit me squarely in the face. I could not take my eyes off him. He made you feel like you were a member of an exclusive club of misfits and outcasts – yet Bowie was touring 1. Outside and we were 80,000 people in front of him at the Roskilde Festival. This was part of the paradox and fascination with David Bowie: so much intimacy in such a remote way. Bowie was like a two-way mirror. We all looked at him and saw ourselves reflected back at us – but there was always something else lurking behind it all. Something we could never reach or see.

I am very sad today but most of all I think of the people who knew David Jones rather than David Bowie. They are the ones who really feel the loss. The rest of us mourn the man and the masks that brought us solace from loneliness and a sense of freedom.

Authors & Artists: Hello Astrid

When I grew up my best friend was called Astrid. I don’t know if she were named after Astrid Lindgren (I suspect as much) but I do know that I loved reading books by someone called the same as my best friend. Then Astrid moved schools and met cool girls who liked clothes and makeup way more than books. Heartbreak is really hard (especially when you are a kid) but books get you through.

Yesterday I released the Astrid hat.

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When I released the Lindgren mittens back in December, I had a slew of people asking about a hat. As it happens, I had left-over yarn from the mittens – and I also had cold ears. You can see where this is going. Yes, this is a companion pattern.

It became very clear during the design process that I didn’t just want to take the colourwork pattern from the mittens and slab that on top of a generic hat. I just don’t work that way and I wanted something that had its own identity whilst still calling back to the mittens. Instead I took the pattern from the thumb and opened it up across the top of the hat. The lower rim has the same pattern as the mittens but I love how the hat plays with “open” and “close” patterns.

The pompom is striped – Katya Frankel has a neat little tutorial on how to get a speckled pompom. To get a stripe you simply add more layers of your contrast colour before going back to the pompom’s main colour.

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We had the first photo shoot on Boxing Day on the beach in my favourite Scottish fishing village. The weather was horrendous. I had sleet flying in my face and the wind was blowing a gale. I was so happy to be wearing my cosy mittens and hat. The weather did not make for great photos, though.

The next day we went back as the weather had cleared. We had a lovely time climbing the rocks, watching the surf and strolling down the coastal path.

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And I felt much better about having a camera pointing at me.

As Dave was taking photos, I thought about my life and the things we go through that make us the people we are today. As a lonely child, I found solace and strength in books. As an adult I do the same – but I also find strength and joy in making things, sharing my makes with other makers, and in walking down steep coastal paths with my best friend who understands silence and everyday beauty and me.

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2016: New Words & An Almost Blank Slate

2016. I start the year with a spring in my step. I gave myself real, honest time off and I cannot believe the difference it has made to my general state of mind. I did a touch of dress-making, I watched a lot of films, I went for long walks with D. and I finished some work knitting. I also had a lovely Christmas in Aberdeenshire and I spent New Year’s Eve in Glasgow. Oh, and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice because I am a nerd.

So, 2016.

I sat down this morning and made a quick list.

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While I am not one for inspirational quotes, I found having a word lodged at the back of my mind incredibly useful last year. I also think we all have a word or two guiding us throughout our lives (“family” and “money” are two such words I have encountered a lot). It’s just nice to sit down and really have a think about what I have to have a guiding principle – and this year it is joy.

I struggle a lot with perfectionism (like many other creatives do), work/life balance, and my desire to say yes to everything. By asking Will this job bring me joy? Does designing this fill me with joy? If I go to this event, will I enjoy it? I hope to have a tool that will cut through a lot of the noise. Will it work?

Well, I ended 2015 looking like this. Yes, it’s a hat to match the Lindgren mitts. Yes, the pattern is forthcoming. Most importantly, I look happy and relaxed. Here’s to joy in 2016.

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