Karie Bookish Dot Net

All the Things; All the Feels

Today I’m really tired. I spent the weekend in London for the lovely, lovely Yarnporium and while I took yesterday off, I am feeling a bit rough around the edges today.

I spent Friday at the Victoria & Albert museum in London which is dedicated to arts & crafts and design. I took in the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery with a friend and also lingered with the sections on medieval European art. Saturday I taught two classes at Yarnporium (and managed to get lost on my way to teaching the Knitting the Landscape class which I thought was very on-message and method of me). I caught up with vendors and friends before heading to an evening do thrown by LoveCrafts in Bloomsbury. Sunday I spent the morning at Yarnporium again meeting awesome folks before spending my last hours in London at the near-by National Gallery.

I had been quite nervous about teaching Knitting the Landscape as the class had been commissioned by Yarnporium and thus was brand-new. The class went really well, actually, and I was blown away by people’s willingness to reassess their approach to knitting. I found it so inspirational to hear people’s stories and I loved how individual all the finished pieces looked. Though there are some limitations to the workshop (such as it can only really work with a large number of participants), I will be adding it to my repertoire going forward and I cannot wait to see how people interpret their world through knitting.

I have only just unpacked my bags from Yarnporium and now I’m off to Northern Ireland. I’m teaching Shetland Lace at Glen Gallery – this will be my third year of teaching their November workshops and I always look forward to my visit. So, laundry to do, samples to air and then it is off again..

.. but before that happens, I just want to tell you something that happened yesterday. I learned that I have been nominated as Designer of the Year in the British Craft Awards. This nomination really floored me – particularly because I am nominated along some serious heavyweights like Martin Storey and Marie Wallin. Having begun designing on a whim whilst working for a yarn company to making designing my full-time career just two years ago and now being mentioned alongside people I really admire .. well,  I cannot begin to tell you how much this means to me. I am not quite sure what to make of it all, but I am so pleased to see woolly chums like Tom of Holland, Knit British, and BritYarn nominated in various categories. It feels like we are slowly changing the conversations we are having about knitting. Hooray.

I’m off to continue work on the book and answer questions from my inbox. Please be patient: I won’t have access to internet or mobile data whilst in Northern Ireland!

Looking Forward To… Yarnporium 2016

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I’m currently packing my bags for London. This weekend, November 5 & 6, I’ll be teaching at Yarnporium which is taking place at King’s College on the Strand.

(Let’s just stay with that mental image for a while. If you had told me 20 years ago that one day I’d be teaching at King’s College, London, I would have swooned. It is so exciting for this bookish girl from Nowheresville, Denmark)

I’m teaching two workshops: my popular Introduction to Shetland Haps class and a new workshop called Knitting the Landscape which I have developed by request. Obviously I’m really excited (and a little bit nervous) about these classes and I cannot wait to meet the people taking my classes.

Teaching is really rewarding: I feel I always leave a workshop feeling I’ve learned something – this can be anything from a cast-on someone’s grandma taught them to a better understanding of why one specific thing can feel daunting for a knitter. I take these things and I pour them into the other parts of my working life – I’m particularly focused on demystifying knitting and helping people the best I can.

You cannot talk about an event like Yarnporium without talking vendors. I have several earmarked already: my friends at Blacker Yarns (we are currently collaborating on my book!), Ginger Twist Studio, Midwinter Yarns, Kettle Yarn Co, Travelknitter (also a book collaborator!), The Wool Kitchen, Woollenflower, Triskelion yarns and the awesome ladies of The Crochet Project .. and that is just to start! Also excited to finally catch up with Knit With Attitude and A Yarn Story! There’s also an Indie Focus section which I’m really pleased to see.

And to cap it all off: I have a thing at the V&A on Friday which relates to my book research. It’s going to be a glorious weekend and I really hope to see a lot of friendly & lovely faces there.

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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.

An Autumnal Pattern Launch: the Burnet Hat

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Judging by my inbox, this pattern launch should please a lot of people out there! Say hello to the Burnet hat! This was an Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016 exclusive pattern, but the copyright has now reverted to me. Burnet is one of my own personal favourite patterns and I am so happy that so many of you agree with me!

You can buy Burnet via Ravelry and Loveknitting (where you can also peruse the Shilasdair yarn!).

I was asked by the EYF folks to design a hat inspired by the tenement tiles I document across Glasgow.

Glasgow’s weather is notoriously ‘dreich’ – a Scots word meaning ‘dreary’ and ‘bleak’ – but the city is so beautiful. Its Victorian heritage is apparent in everything from wrought iron fences to elaborate street lamps. The sandstone tenements (apartment blocks) light up the cityscape with their warm glow.

The tenements were originally an attempt to fight the widespread slum then found throughout Glasgow. The city had begun as a small, rural settlement but had grown into an industrial hotspot. The rapid industrialisation was fuelled by shipping and manufacturing – but housing had not kept up with the boom. Architects began erecting tenements and these buildings were vast improvements upon the squalor found throughout 19th century Glasgow. The entry ways – the so-called closes – were communal spaces where people would meet, children would play, and deals would have been struck. It was important that these entryways would be easy to maintain – and this is where the beautiful tiles come in. When I was approached to design ‘something Glaswegian’, I only had to step outside my front door for inspiration.

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David shot the photos in Partick, Glasgow. I loved the tiles in this entryway and they were in great condition – something which can not always be said for all tenement tiles! I love the stylised, geometric feel of the tenement tiles and I think Burnet really captures that. When I was designing the pattern, I also had the wonderful geometric nature of traditional Sanquhar knitting in mind. While Burnet is not anything like traditional Sanquhar knitting, I think it’s important to acknowledge this debt (this sensibility) to past generations of Scottish knitters.

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Burnet is knitted using two hanks of the exquisite Shilasdair Luxury 4ply which is plant-dyed on the Isle of Skye. The sample is knitted using the natural/undyed shade and the gorgeous Tansy Gold. Judith of Shilasdair is a big believer in dyeing yarns that reflect her natural environment on Skye – but she also knows Glasgow tenements with their tiles very well. In fact, she used to visit family living in my very own close! I greatly enjoyed collaborating with her on this project and I urge you to seek out her yarns. They are beautiful.

This past week I have been away on a research trip for my book. I will write more about my trip later but suffice to say that I was happy I had Burnet tucked into my bag. Autumn is very much here. I hope you’ll enjoy knitting the pattern.

PS. If you have a copy of Wool Tribe where this pattern was first published, I have a tiny piece of errata addressing Chart A.

Review: Painted Woolly Toppers For Kids

If you asked me which designers I really admire and why, Woolly Wormhead would be one of the first names out of my mouth. There are many things to admire: the well-defined aesthetic, the technical know-how, the way she photographs her work, and the fact that Woolly runs a sustainable and ethical business.

For me, personally, I also admire the playfulness and sheer fun she brings to her knitting designs. Knitting can feel so very serious at times with stone-faced models in crumpled linen dresses glaring across a misty forest lake whilst wielding an Estonian lace shawl made from unicorn yarn. Now look at this photo and don’t tell me it doesn’t bring a smile to your face.

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If this photo doesn’t appeal to your sense of mischief, Woolly’s work probably isn’t for you. But you’re missing out on a lot of fun knits!

Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids follows on from Woolly’s 2015 book, Painted Woolly Toppers. Like its parent (huh-huh), the new book explores how to use handpainted yarns in ways that show them at their best. Woolly has designed 10 Hats for kids – and all Hats carry stonking appeal both for the knitters and the kids.

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Chesser (photo above) is one of my favourites. It is knitted in Skein Queen Crush DK (other dyers in the book include Countess Ablaze, OMA, Ripples Crafts, Five Moons, and Yarns From The Plain).

Look at the construction: sideways, up the way, small bits adding decoration. It is a Hat pattern that showcases the colours of the yarn without being overwhelmed by them. And the construction keeps the knitting interesting (yet never difficult).

Now look at this from a kid’s vantage point. Does this look like yet another dull Hat your mum tells you to wear because it’s cold? NOPE. It’s an exploding rocket ship! It’s a crown! It’s an alien fruit! It’s a chicken’s bum! It’s an astronaut’s helmet! It’s AWESOME!

I may be projecting a bit here (I would totally have wanted this Hat as a kid), but I love the combination of knitterly interest and hat mischief.

And Chesser isn’t the only Hat that has that combination – all of them do  – and that is what I admire so much about Woolly’s work.

I learn so much from Woolly’s patterns – whether it is a new way of approaching short rows or a different take on how to construct a Hat – and I often find myself wishing I could knit every one of her hats just to find out how did she do that? But I am also reminded that knitting should be fun and fill me with joy. I look at the kids having fun in front of the camera wearing awesome Hats and I want to knit every one of them for the kids in my extended family.

And that, dear readers, is a sign of a jolly good knitting book.

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Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids. I have done karaoke with Woolly, we share a birthday, and I know that she would want me to share my honest opinion. So, here you go: the book is great fun and it rocks.

The book is launching later this month and will retail at £10 (PDF) or £16.99 (printed). Just in time for you to make some awesome Hats for Christmas (and use up some of those single skeins I know you have in your stash). Sign up to Woolly’s newsletter or follow her on Twitter/IG for more news regarding the launch.

(All photos used here are  © Woolly Wormhead 2016)

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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Working With Creativity: 6 Tips From My Inbox

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The second post in an accidental series on working with your creativity. Thank you for your feedback! The first post was about finding inspiration and taking hold of your own ideas. This post is derived from numerous email conversations I have had over the years. Grab a cuppa and let’s go!

1) I am not creative but would love to know how I become one.

I believe that we are all born creative beings but somewhere along the way, some of us lose confidence in our own creativity. One of the defining things about us humans is that we make stuff. Look at us! We made fire and flint tools; now we land tiny machines on comets!

Do you cook? Do you bake? Do you garden? You are creative.

So, your job is actually to allow yourself to play and make stuff just for the sake of making. Get in touch with your younger self who told herself stories whilst playing. Make time to faff about.

2) I am really creative but things never look like they are supposed to. What am I doing wrong?

This is a really big question.

First of all, I hear you: I have all these ideas in my head and they rarely come out looking like what I expect. That is a perfectly normal phenomenon – so normal that it was discussed many thousand years ago by the famous Greek philosopher Plato in his Allegory of the Cave. So, be kind to yourself and look at your creative project with an objective eye. So, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to but does it look like something else that is just as great?

Secondly, there is something to be said about practising your skills and knowing the tools of your craft. It is pretty straightforward: if you are an excellent cellist, you will find it easier to write a great piece for cellos; If you are a skilled lace knitter, you will find it easier to design a lace pattern; If you are a writer, having a good vocabulary helps you write characters who sound like actual individuals.

In summary: be kind to yourself but also acknowledge when you need to brush up on skills.

3) I’m a writer & designer, but I’m yet to write & design anything. Can you help me get started?

Some tough love: if you don’t write or design, you are not a writer or a designer. Simple as that. I used to date someone who called himself a writer but he had never written anything. It was all in his head. Unless you get the words out of your head and on to paper (or screen), it doesn’t count.

Some less tough love: I am a creative and I know all about fear and how easy it is not to do anything – your brain will give you a tonne of reasons why it’s easier not to create. My personal demon is how nothing I create will ever measure up to the ideal version in my head (see above!). When I get a visit from that particular thought, I sit down and play. I doodle and I play around with scraps of art material. And then I get on with things. Months later I will look back at things I made and wonder why I ever found them troublesome and imperfect.

The best way to get started is to sit down and make some stuff. It doesn’t need to be Pride & PrejudiceMona Lisa, or the most elaborate cabled cardigan ever – you just need to get started. It gets easier.

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Pinterest: sorting out what’s in your head

4) Where do you find inspiration? What books can you recommend?

You need to hunt your own narwhals. Find out what is specific to you and your interests. In the words of a (not very good) 1990s British song: I got to be myself/ I can be no one else..

Try narrowing down who you are as a creative being and what you will mine for inspiration. Essentially, it is not about finding a lot of influences that look great on paper. You need to nail down who you are because it makes creative decisions a lot easier.

I’ll use myself as an example: I like art, music, books, history, culture and films. Pretty generic, huh? I like early 20th century avant-garde art, Antipodean weird pop music, TS Eliot, prehistoric archaeology, print culture (particularly early printing), and the film director Todd Haynes. Looking closer, all these things/people seem to inhabit a place of instability and societal shifts. That’s a pretty rich seam to mine from a creative point of view. It also means that I can easily identify what aligns with my values and my skill set. I’d be so bad at designing a collection of baseball-inspired sock patterns!

The only piece of advice I can give is that you should try to look outside your particularly creative field. If you are into knitting, get really good at knitting but also keep tabs on other creative fields, read about other interests, and listen to podcasts about deep sea exploration (or whatever). The author Vladimir Nabokov was obsessed with butterflies, the poet Emily Dickinson was allegedly a passionate baker, and the actor Vin Diesel loves table-top gaming.

Who are you as a creative? What makes you you as a maker?

5. What tools do I need to get started? What do you use?

Many people love having beautiful, expensive tools and they have elaborate rituals that help them in their creative work. But I am going to give it to you straight: a £50 journal, six types of washi tapes, three expensive pens, and the perfect mug will not make you a writer, designer, or artist. These things may make you feel you are settling into a creative space – which can be very helpful – but the starting point is always your own imagination.

(Having said that, I do love stationery as much as everyone. I even have washi tape in the house, but I mainly use it for taping up sprained fingers.)

I like uni-ball rollerball pens – they are easily available, feel good in my hand, and not so expensive that I’ll cry if I forget one on a train. I use small journals: unlined for sketches and general mindmapping; squared for quick charting and schematics. I use Scrivener for writing, Open Office for spreadsheets and databases, Stitchmastery for knitting charting (Crochet? Google is your friend) and Scribus for general layout. You need to figure out your own configuration and (this is crucial) you need to learn how to use the software programmes, so they become helpful tools rather than something that stops you making.

Remember: Your imagination is the important thing. You cannot buy that.Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog

6. Best advice ever for a wanna-be creative?

Butt, meet chair.

Sit down and do it, in other words. Don’t wait for inspiration. Make inspiration come to you. The more you are sitting in that chair working away, the more likely it is that you will have a brilliant idea. The idea of floating about your life waiting for inspiration to hit is a terrible notion brought to you by Romanticists who were mainly aristocratic wastrels floating around high on opium. So, don’t do that.

Do this: Butt, meet chair.

I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding other blog posts on working with creativity and various aspects.

Everything Is About Narwhals: Finding Inspiration & Working with Creativity

This is a long overdue post. I get asked a lot what I am reading, how I work and where to find inspiration. I hope this post will be a road-map for you to discover your own inspiration and finding your own creative path.

First, let us travel back to my childhood in Denmark. I grew up in a small town of roughly 3,000 people and I loved our local library. My favourite section was what the local library classification system (DK5) called the “00-07 section: General Works” – a grab bag of encyclopedia, books about books, interdisciplinary books etc. As a child, I’d walk in, pull down a few books and sit in a chair reading until my mum returned from the shops. It was a scattershot approach but it led me to different sections I never would have discovered otherwise. I learned about Roman slaves, costume history, parapsychology (hey, section 14 was just the next book case along) and so forth.

I’ve spent some time thinking about this in the context of ebooks & digital downloads (which I adore). I love being able to walk over to my book shelves and discover a paragraph about historical knitting, domestic work, or even a technical run-down of various cast-ons. I crave context and knowledge. I relish discovering new ideas simply by picking up a random book.  I am a big fan of owning physical (knitting) books – that chance of discovery is priceless.

All if this is written from the perspective of someone who works with knitting professionally on a full-time basis. I realise I am writing this from a privileged perspective (and as someone who does not mind a cluttered home).

What do you do if this is not your reality? Let’s take a look at the general principles of everything is about narwhals.

  1. Chance: Start by opening a random book,  or typing in a random word into Google Image Search, or walking down a street you don’t know.
  2. Open Your Eyes, Ears & Mind: what is interesting? what captures your imagination? what is different? what is new? what is awesome?
  3. Document. Keep a commonplace book; use Evernote (making sure to tag), take photos, draw and doodle.
  4. Everything is About Narwhals. Suddenly you will notice the same thing everywhere: you’ll see the same motif recurring or the same ideas propping up in all sorts of places. If you get interested in narwhals along the way, suddenly you’ll realise everything is about narwhals.
  5. Begin Your Creative Project. You’ll have your scattershot notes, your own sources, your own documentation and your own story. How does it all fit together?
  6. Make stuff! And hopefully share it with the world because the world needs creative people.

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Narwhal by chibiwolf1005

Obviously not everything is about narwhals, but it is a neat way of explaining how creativity works for me. To couch in more high-brow terms, my creative work is synthetic (derived from Greek “synthesis”:  ‘with’ + ‘placement’ – σύνθεσις). I work my way to a coherent idea by placing many ideas together and then I find out what happens. 

So, while I can tell you what I am reading and I share photos on Instagram of amazing things I see, the really important thing is that you go out and find your narwhals.

Let’s look closer at steps 5 and 6 above.

5. Begin Your Creative Project: you have your narwhal idea, you also have scraps of paper, doodles, and maybe even a Pinterest mood board (here’s a random one of mine). This is the point where you sit down and try to make sense of it all.

  • Do you have a colour scheme?
  • Do you have recurrent motifs?
  • Do you have stories you want to tell?
  • How do you want to communicate your ideas?

This is when you start sketching or writing. Remember you are currently working to put things together and you are working your way towards a project. Do not be afraid of commit ideas to paper because you are not making final decisions. Just play and combine.

6. Make Stuff: you have your big idea ready to go and you know the colour/motifs/story. This is the time to create your beautiful piece.So, sit down and make it. Take ownership of it as well because it could not have come into being without you. You rock.

Addendum: I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested.

Shake & Shift

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If you backed my This Thing of Paper Kickstarter campaign, you will find a new update for July on the site. If you didn’t back it, the lowdown is this: I’ve been busy making things happen. At this stage I am basically wearing two hats: I’m a creative (designing and writing) and I’m a project manager (doing groundwork for future things). And beautiful yarns are arriving in Casa Bookish!

I have discovered some pretty nifty software to help me with work.

First of all, I have invested in Scrivener. I first heard about it via the science-fiction writer Charles Stross who raved about it on Twitter. Scrivener is a writing software that lets you work with outlines, create order from chaos (because writers don’t tend to work from A->B), and view visual research right next to your writing. I downloaded the free thirty-day trial and discovered a tool that I wish I had had years ago. After spending a few days outlining the entire book, setting up templates, and compiling my bibliography, I knew that Scrivener would make my working life a lot easier. Whilst writing a book is still a big undertaking, the project becomes more manageable when you see it broken down into chunks.

Secondly, I’ve finally embraced Evernote & Mendeley. When I worked on Doggerland, I used an unwieldy combination of physical notebooks, bookmarks, and Pinterest to organise my source material. It never really worked for me and I spent a lot of time searching for things I knew I had already saved.

It feels very apt that I am using 21st technology to write about 15th century technologies that altered how we interacted with writing and reading.

Outside of work, the world has been rocked by shifts and shake. I read this short, smart piece about modernity, time & seismic cultural shifts. Then I read this very depressing opinion piece about the events of 2016 seen from a historian’s point-of-view (I have issues with its narrow geopolitical scope). And I revisited Frank Cottrell Boyce/Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012 – Cottrell Boyce recently wrote an extraordinary article about culture in contemporary Britain.

And I respond to an unsettled world by making stuff. This weekend the delightful Sonya Phillip is ‘hosting’ the Summer Stitch Fest:

During the last weekend of July, makers are invited to participate, using any or all methods of making a stitch, be it sewing, knitting or crocheting and then sharing their handmade clothes on social media.

I have plans already, but I might try to make myself a quick (and awesome) skirt. Join us?