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Category Archives: Personal

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.

joy

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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2015 – A Year In Knitting

2015 was a terrible year, generally speaking. It was a year that seemed to bring out the worst in people and the world appeared to be heading towards darkness, fear, and hatred. I finally stopped watching the news this year (and I’m a total news junkie). Instead I tried to find beauty wherever I could find it: art, literature, and kind gestures.

But I am also a knitter and knitting brings solace (even when I’m stressed out of my skull over deadlines, I love knitting).

So, I’m going to spend this post looking back at my year in knitting (and crochet).

2015 was my first year of being fully self-employed. I made the big leap in 2014, and 2015 was a year of me realising what that meant. I got used to a full inbox and I learned big lessons on Saying No to Things. I travelled a lot and I met so many brilliant, talented, wonderful people.

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I taught so many workshops all over the UK – from the buzz of Hackney in London to the quiet, quiet countryside of Northern Ireland. Bikes, busses, trains, and ferries. Astounding views ranging from the Lake District, Scottish glens, the flat streets of Cambridge, and the strange aircraft hangar feeling of a giant exhibition hall.

Design-wise, 2015 was another busy year.

I released three Authors & Artists patterns: Byatt, Mahy, and Lindgren. I had a few patterns published elsewhere: the Chard top in Knit Now and the Swale hap in the wonderful Drift book by Eden Cottage Yarns. I also had three sock patterns released with Old Maiden Aunt yarns, and the Crosstown Traffic released as a Malabrigo Quickie pattern. And I released the lovely HYGGE collection: Fika, Top Hygge, Skovtur, Brygga and Tryghed.

14 designs in one year – that should be grand, right? I feel quite bad about the low tally but I also know how much I ripped out and how hard I’ve been on myself (..may 2016 be the year of less perfectionism). I also worked on a few things that are yet to be released. I also knitted myself a comfy jumper with no pattern to show for it.

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I went on three knitting retreats.

The first one was in February in Dunoon and had amazing views. I hung out with my Glasgow posse, watched Labyrinth & Flash Gordon for the first time, and knitted myself a Hetty cardigan.

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The second was a combination knitting retreat/hen party for one of my dearest friends. We stayed in a fabulous farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales. We watched cheesy Doctor Who episode, ate cheese, and I played the worst round of pool ever seen. I also worked on the Mahy shawl constantly.

The third knitting retreat was in Lancaster at the Crawfords’ farm. A handful of designers camped on site and we spent a very fruitful summer weekend learning from each other, working on various future designs, and cooking amazing food. I was working on something that is yet to be released. Here’s a photo of some yoked jumpers/cardigans we were sporting.

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(photo by Katya Frankel)

And then there were events. Three in particular stand out for me:

The Edinburgh Yarn Festival was such momentous event for me personally. I tend to sit on my own and work – and suddenly people came up to me and chatted. You are real! There are people out there! I had some thought-provoking, smart conversations and I got to spend time with some very special people. EYF 2015 was the event that made me realise that it is all real. You guys exist and you are awesome. Also, there was much yarn.

Yarndale 2015 was a mad lark. I said hello to so many people, talked so much, and did so many things for one very short day that I had to take a short holiday afterwards. Most of all, Yarndale was the day of the Scollay-along meetup and I got very verklempt.

And In the Loop 4 was fantastic. An inspiring three-day conference on all things knitting & textile. I gave a paper on Faroese knitting and the idea of tradition. Three days in the company of some of the brightest thinkers on knitting culture and knitting history. It really made me think hard and restored some confidence in my ability to think. I am eagerly awaiting the next ITL in 2017.

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(photo by Jeni Reid)

Looking back, 2015 was probably the year of meeting people. I am a natural introverted hermit who lives in her own head, so it was a challenge for me at times, but I learned so much from each and every one I met.

2016 looks to be busy in terms of me being on the road talking to fabulous folks, but I have blocked out several weeks of me-time. I think I need that in order to be able to work. I am looking forward to seeing new faces and go places I have never been.

Thank you for 2015. It’s been a tough year out there in the world, but thankfully there has also been knitting and good people.

Authors & Artists: Lindgren Mitts

I was a bookish child, and when you are a bookish child in Scandinavia, you grow up reading Astrid Lindgren. Lindgren was a Swedish author who wrote books for children of all ages. I grew up alongside the unruly children of the Bullerby books and the exceptionally naughty Emil from Lönneberga. I cheered for the feisty Pippi Longstocking. And I was heartened by the strong, empowering presence of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter when the Brothers Lionheart broke my heart.  Astrid Lindgren’s characters were constant companions – I learned so much from her books about love, family, friendships, and the power of gentle, yet firm civil disobedience.

And so I designed a pair of utterly Nordic mittens with Astrid Lindgren in mind. The children of Bullerby could have worn these ice-skating. Maybe Emil’s sister Ida was looking to wear these, but Emil dumped them in the soup. Pippi misplaced them and only found them when her monkey put them on his ears. Who knows. I wore them to my favourite Scottish fishing village where I skipped stones.

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The Lindgren mittens are adorable. They are also a rather quick knit as they are worked in DK/light worsted on 4mm needles. No row uses more than two colours and the pattern repeat is pleasingly small. The only slightly fiddly bit is that the top uses a three-needle bind-off – I have included written instructions for this in the pattern (and there are some very good youtube videos too).

The mittens use three colours of double-knitting/light worsted yarn. My sample uses Drops Lima – a wool/alpaca blend. My sample used around 1.5 balls of shade 0701 (Petrol mix) and one ball each of shades 0619 (Beige) and 3609 (Red). Drops Lima is currently on sale until end of December 2015 which means the Lindgren mittens could be knitted or gifted for around £10!

Because I used a DK yarn, there are many alternatives. Blacker Yarns has a whole world of suitable British yarns (the Classic DK range is a favourite of mine). Eden Cottage Yarns Whitfell Alpaca DK would be super-cosy. Rowan Baby Merino Silk is top-range luxury (and I love how its heathered shades look in colourwork). Baa Ram Ewe’s Dovestone DK would be even more luxurious.

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Over the last few years I have taught so many classes on Nordic knitting – I am always very keen on emphasising that Nordic knitting isn’t a monolithic beastie that resembles reindeers adorned with snowflakes. Lindgren reflects my own reflection upon the multiple strands that make up my knitting heritage as well as giving thanks to a woman whose books opened my heart and my mind.

“Everything great that ever happened in this world happened first in somebody’s imagination.”
– Astrid Lindgren

Stitch by Stitch

Nearly ten years ago I fell very ill. I was stuck in bed and was unable to pursue any of my usual activities. The days were passing at a snail’s pace and I grew increasingly frustrated. Then one day I told my partner to head to the local yarn shop to pick up some supplies. I had not been knitting or crocheting for several years, but I thought it may help pass the time.

I did not know that those simple supplies would transform my life.

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This is the first hat I made. I still wear it.

When I was unable to feed myself or get dressed, I could knit three rows on a simple scarf.

When I was recovering from going to the hospital, I could sit up in the chair and sew on buttons.

When I needed to catch my breath from walking, I could finish the thumb on some mittens.

When I could hold a conversation, I found a knitting group and made friends.

When I looked in the mirror and recognised myself, I was wearing a handknitted jumper of my own design.

Stitch by stitch I remade my life. Stitch by stitch I became healthier. Stitch by stitch I regained confidence. Stitch by stitch, life changed and so did I.

I am forever thankful for the Making stuff impulse I had one day many years ago.

Crafternoons & Coffeespoons

Workshop season is drawing to a close with only a few classes remaining in 2015. The past few months have been fantastic but I am longing to spend time at home. Quite apart from a scary mountain of laundry and a suitcase still waiting to be unpacked, I also spending time with family and friends. However, I am already looking forward to 2016 which has some quite special things in store.

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I am incredibly happy to announce that I’m running two special workshops on Shetland Lace for Aberdeen Art Gallery as part of their Birth & Baptism season. I always enjoy talking knitting in a wider context and while my workshops are focused on teaching you knitting skills, there is a bit more to these workshops. You can book either a Beginner’s Class (where you’ll make a bookmark and also learn more about motifs, techniques and construction) or an Advanced Class (where you’ll try your hand at designing a hap shawl and also delve into construction methods, design decisions and history). It’s a series of classes I have developed especially for Aberdeen, so grab those tickets while you can!

On the subject of workshops, it was a real treat to be on the other side of the proverbial table last Sunday. I took part in a crafternoon at Glasgow’s adorable The Butterfly & Pig Tearooms in the city centre. The Crafty Hen hosted an event where we tried out various crafts using Laura Ashley craft kits. I really enjoyed myself – who knew that craft workshops were this relaxing when you are not running them?! I had a go at two crafts – decoupage and needle-felting. Shall we start with the abject failure?

Okay, there are no photos of me needle-felting and I have nothing to show for my efforts. I have tried needle-felting before and I am ridiculously awful at it. All around me, people were making beautiful things (Jenny made an incredible 3D bird in no time) and I was basically just stabbing an ever more sad looking 2D Christmas bauble (which looked more like an Easter Egg than a bauble). After around 25 minutes of crying into my fibre, I just gave up. Sorry.

But to my eternal surprise, I really enjoyed decoupage. Who knew it was super-therapeutic to tear up pieces of paper and use copious amounts of glue to stick them onto shapes? I could have decoupaged all day long, I swear. If only decoupage would keep my toes warm, it would be my new favourite craft. Pretty paper -> tearing it up without care -> glue glue glue -> result! What’s not to like about that? The kit contained some exceedingly beautiful paper – shades of duck egg, primrose, soft blues, and dusty pinks. As always I tried to match my outfit.


And I ended up with something that I think is pretty respectable for my first go at decoupage. I’ve posed the result on a crocheted hand towel made by my mum (who is really, really getting into her crochet). It’s all too adorable for words. I’ve actually gone so far as to check whether Laura Ashley does dress-making fabric as I’m mildly obsessed with the bird print you can see on the heart (answer: not yet which is good for my purse .. but it does come as curtain material which means a bag down the line?).

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So, craft workshops. Turns out they don’t always involve me travelling and dealing with piles of prep. Sometimes they just involve me trying not to glue myself to a table and how fun that was. The materials were gorgeous and pretty. I also delighted in meeting a lot of cool ladies (who were all so much better at needle-felting than I could ever be) and a gorgeous lemon/polenta GF cake served with copious amounts of tea. I need more Sundays like this.