Karie Bookish Dot Net

Change Is Good; Change Is Slightly Scary

Casa Bookish has seen some pretty big changes over the last few weeks. It is a really exciting/scary time for me and I want to share a few glimpses of what is going on.

Team Bookish has expanded slightly. I’ve admitted that doing admin isn’t my idea of a great time (and that I spend too much time on it), so going forward some of you will start encountering Katherine rather than myself. She has vast experience organising creative brains and she’s already made my working life a lot easier behind the scenes. I hope you’ll welcome Katherine to the Bookish fold  – she enables me to focus more on designing and she loves a good spreadsheet!

You may have heard me mention this on social media: I’m working on a rather big project. I’m currently doing research and getting the details right, so I can start talking about it properly. It is a book-sized project and it’s a somewhat ambitious & left-field one (this is from a woman who did a collection inspired by Mesolithic archaeology, land art, and psychogeography!).

I’ve shared a few images on Instagram recently that I think you might find interesting.

I keep journals – commonplace books and creative journals, more specifically. I’ve kept them since I was 14 years old and they are some of my most prized possessions. They are probably not interesting to most people (I jotted down a lot of ‘profound’ lyrics when I was 14) but I love looking through them.

The images I think you might like are from the creative journal I kept when I was working on the Doggerland collection (the Mesolithic archaeology one).

I find it so fascinating to see how I was working towards a very specific design vocabulary – dots, lines .. more complex motifs – and working on the basic conceptualisation of the projects – .. tools out of what’s available .. not making heirlooms but making practical items for here and now. I remember looking at Late Mesolithic pottery and thinking about how the decoration was achieved by pressing reeds into fresh clay – how would I translate that into knitting?

Right now I’m working with a new creative journal filled with similar musings on a completely different topic and a very different concept. Yet again I’m thinking about design vocabulary, colour palettes, and doing the necessary groundwork.

I really, really hope you’ll like it.

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

See You at EYF 2016, Lovelies

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I’m currently knee-deep in prepping for this year’s EYF. It’ll get done but I’m thankful I have Mr D chipping in! We will be at EYF Friday and Saturday (I’m also teaching Sunday). Will you be there? Wave your hands here, so I know to look out for you!!

(Note: I’m *terrible* with names & faces but can spot good knitwear from ten miles away! Don’t be offended if I mess up your name even if we spoke yesterday – I sometimes call my best friend by the wrong name!)

FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE

  • Come & say hello at the Ripples Crafts stand between 11.30am and noon.
  • I am teaching Pattern Writing in the afternoon – it’s a new & exclusive EYF class and I’m really looking forward to talk really nerdy stuff :)
  • I won’t be at the dinner or ceilidh, sorry.

SATURDAY’S ALRIGHT FOR, er, KNITTING (sorry Elton)

  • I’m teaching Faroese Shawls in the morning. Another new class and another one where I get a bit nerdy.
  • I’m doing a signing session/trunk show at Ysolda’s stall at 2.15pm. Bring your Wool Tribe magazines! Come and show me your projects! Grab a shawlfie with me! I’m bringing samples and patterns! Wheee!

LAZING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON..

  • Except I’m teaching Beaded Knitting in the afternoon. This is always one of the most relaxing workshops I teach and it’ll be a lovely way to wind-down after a hectic weekend.

GENERAL STUFF

  • Ripples Crafts will be stocking Frances Herself kits & is happy to talk colour choices if you cannot decide! She also has a few Byatt patterns in stock if you are looking for a hard copy. I won’t be bringing any Byatt patterns myself, just fyi!
  • The Queen of Purls is selling several of my patterns (including Mahy and Scollay) and is also bringing some really luscious samples. Her Mahy is just beautiful – go check it out!
  • I have recently cut my hair, so if you see a long-haired chubby brunette with a blunt fringe & black specs .. that is no longer me! I am now a bobbed-haired chubby brunette with a blunt fringe & black specs! I know this is a strange thing to point out but I have had this happen to an acquaintance recently!

RIGHT – WHO’S GOING?! What are your plans?

PS. If you are waiting for an email from me, please be patient. It’s all EYF prep, festival and recovery in Casa Bookish. If it’s urgent, please text me.

Something to Think About: Articles on Textiles & Wool

Are you looking forward to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival? My plans were slightly scuppered this week when I was laid low by the lurgy. So, no handmade dresses for me but I shall dance around EYF nonetheless (hopefully without coughing).

I thought I’d share some links with you.

+ Mark My Words: The Subversive History of Women Using Thread as Ink. A chilling, important read about how women have used textiles to communicate.

“..a rich tradition of women stitching words onto clothes, turning to thread and fabric in place of ink and paper. The reason behind this practice is obvious: Embroidery, needlework and darning were traditionally a female domain. That’s why we have the word “needlewoman” and not “needleman.” Much has already been made of the power to play with that heritage. Throughout modern history, plenty of artists have reclaimed this craft, which was once overlooked and consigned to the realms of the domestic.”

+ Losing the Thread: Textiles As Technology:

“..As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts.

As understandable as it might be, forgetting about textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage. It cuts us off from essential aspects of the human past, including the lives and work of women.”

And I know that this one has been doing the rounds, but it is still wonderful (and I have Viking blood in my veins, so that makes me even more happy).

+ No Wool, No Vikings: The Fleece That Launched a 1,000 Ships:

“..All that wool! It took land and farming skills to raise the sheep that supplied the wool, and a support network of (mostly) women whose spindles and looms produced the cloth. Textile archaeologist Jørgensen says the introduction of sails must have greatly increased the demand for wool and grazing land. Norway-based historical textile researcher Amy Lightfoot has even speculated that the demand for pastureland might have driven the Viking expansion as much as the gleaming temptations of stolen treasure and legitimate trade. Clearly the classic image of wild-haired Viking warriors isn’t the whole story.”

Enjoy your reading. I am off to snuggle up in bed underneath blankets with some comforting garter stitch. I’ll see you at EYF or beyond.

Getting Ready for Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016

March 2015 052I cannot believe Edinburgh Yarn Festival is less than two weeks away. Where did the time go?!

Last year I was so busy that I never really made it into the marketplace and I missed out on so much. This year I may be teaching three classes, but I’ve made sure not to overcommit myself. No pop-up stall, no evening shenanigans, and no .. well, okay.. I do have a few things planned but I’ll get back to those closer to the Festival.

If you have never been to a fibre festival before, I wrote a small survival guide last year. EYF is one of the biggest events on the knitting calendar and my guide contains some great tips.

However, I’ve heard from people that they think EYF sounds too big and stressful – this could not be further from the truth. Despite the apparent scale of EYF, it is rooted in community. It is a real celebration of the knitting community, you’ll be among like-minded people, and there are big pockets of calm throughout. Last year the Podcast Lounge was an amazing place to hang out with comfy sofas, people knitting, and lovely podcasters like Louise, Jo & Louise spreading joy (and calmness). It looks set to be another great year for the Lounge, so that’s a great place to visit if you need a break from the marketplace.

Speaking of the marketplace, I have quite a few places I want to check out.

Blacker Yarns is one of my top priorities. They are sponsoring the Podcast Lounge and I’m keen on seeing the Tamar colour range as well as checking out a few other yarns I am curious about. Jamieson’s of Shetland is always another draw for me. And naturally I am going to swing past my friends at Midwinter Yarns to have a look at their Nordic goodies. I’ve primarily worked with their Pirkkalanka yarns  from Finland, but the Ullcentrum and Filcolana yarns are also well worth a look. The Gotland yarn is particularly lovely but you do owe it to yourself to have a look at Pirkkalanka. I’m also excited about New Lanark showing up to spread the word about their fantastic workhorse yarns spun just down the road from me.

Then the small indie yarnies. I missed Dublin Dye last year and I was kicking myself. The Little Grey Sheep is also on my list (mmm, gradient packs) and I’m so excited to see The Wool Kitchen with their modern, zingy approach to dyeing. If you’ve yet to see the stunning mohair/Wensleydale yarns from Whistlebare, you are also in for a treat. I’ll be there gazing adoringly.

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And perennial favourites too. I think it’ll be the first visit up north for Kettle Yarn Company – do not miss her. Linda has some really special yarns and a painterly approach to dyeing. Caerthan of Triskelion is your go-to man for rich, deep, astounding jewel colours. Eden Cottage Yarns is another must-visit with her soft, wistful colour palette and unique bases. Skein Queen is back this year with her luxury yarns – I especially love her eye for semi-solids. My good friend Old Maiden Aunt will also be back with her dark, rich colours dyed on the West Coast of Scotland. Finally, Wollmeise. If you need an introduction to Wollmeise, try a Ravelry search. Wollmeise is stuff of knitting legends: strong, vibrant colours on bases that appeal to both sock fans and lace geeks. I think she might be quite busy but I’m still planning to drop by.

ETA. Pretty darn excited to hear that the Knitting Goddess is not just bringing her exquisite hand-dyed yarns (don’t miss her Colour Wheels) but also FQs with screen-printed knitting designs. I swooned over them on Twitter and will be first in line to see these wih my own eyes.

Skein Queen Gotland loveliness

Three stalls you and I won’t want to miss:

Shilasdair hails from the Isle of Skye and I used their stunning Luxury 4ply for my Burnet hat you’ll find in Wool Tribe. Their yarns are naturally dyed (the plants are still picked by hand) and the colours are inspired by the Scottish Highlands.

The Queen of Purls is not just my local yarn shop, but also the name under which Queen Zoe dyes her own yarns. She leans towards a soft, nature-inspired palette (particularly good on yellows and oranges which can be hard to find). It’ll be her first time vending at EYF as Queen of Purls and I cannot wait to see her selection.

Ripples Crafts probably needs no introduction either. Helen lives up, up, up north in the Highlands and dyes yarns that reflect her surroundings. She has a big number of fans already, but if you are curious to see the yarn I used for Frances Herself, do pop by. I am certainly planning to do so!

Finally, finally, I am planning on simply catching up with friends. Because Edinburgh Yarn Festival is essentially about catching up with friends, forging new friendship bonds and being part of a big, lovely, squishy community. See you there.

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Review: Blacker Yarns Tamar

Knitting has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. When I first got back into knitting, we had all sorts of fibres available to us: silk, cotton, bamboo, pineapple, banana, milk and .. well, wool. Some yarns stated they were merino wool but most yarns just said wool. If you are a keen knitter, you may have noticed that has changed.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Clara Parkes and Deb Robson, us ordinary knitters now understand that wool is not just wool. There are many different sheep breeds – each offering their own particular type of fleece which has its own properties. Some breeds have a lot of lustre, other breeds have very strong fibres etc. We also talk about knitting local (Ms Knit British is exceptionally vocal about this!) and we are beginning to understand that what different wools have to offer. Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have companies like Blacker Yarns that are truly passionate about all the different sheep breeds around us and what they have to offer a hand-knitter.

This blog post has been a long time in the making: I am passionate about making people think about what yarns they are using and how different yarns act differently; I am also passionate about making sure my yarn has not travelled more times around the globe than I have; I also worry about animal welfare and the provenance of fibres. These things matter to me as a knitter.

So, I was sent a small sample of Blacker Yarns’ new yarn, Tamar – a mix of Teeswater, Leicester Longwool and Wensleydale. I wound it by hand because I wanted to feel its handle before I started working with it. It has a certain stickiness to it which I found interesting given its description of having drape and lustre. I am not a spinner and words like drape and lustre made me think of silk. Tamar was definitely not silky as I wound it.

Then I began knitting with it. I started out using the stitch pattern I also used for Frances Herself – a small motif with a stocking stitch centre encircled by decreases. Tamar responded beautifully with a touch of halo. Then I switched to stocking stitch and I saw why the yarn was described by having drape and lustre. It flowed off the needles with a cheery little kick. I liked the fabric. Finally I did some rows in garter stitch. This was probably my favourite knitting experience. The yarn produced a light fabric with a lot of bounce, but crucially the drape was still there.

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Let me explain.

If you are working with garter stitch, you usually end up with quite a dense, bouncy fabric which stays put. You have to compensate for the density by switching up needle sizes (e.g. if you are working a shawl in garter stitch and you want to introduce some drape – this is where designers’ yarn suggestions are crucial). I was so pleased when I realised that Tamar retained its drape despite the bouncy garter stitch. As a designer, that is really rather cool. I sat thinking how I’d respond to the yarn during the design process. I wouldn’t need to make as many compromises on my needle size which meant I could be slightly more particular about design features. It’s always joyful when a yarn provokes such responses in you.

The palette of the yarn is beautiful. The grey tone of the Leicester Longwool gives the dyed shades a really lovely muted look. I also like the range of colours. It feels wonderfully well worked out with dark, mid-, and light tones all represented. This is perfect for colourwork purposes and I really appreciate when a yarn company takes that into account.

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Verdict?

Tamar is a beautiful, beautiful yarn. It is fantastic to see Blacker Yarns continuing to develop yarns that are breed-specific and take the knit local ethos seriously. It is also fantastic to see a yarn that feels so very, very thoughtful. As a knitter I feel very fortunate; as a designer, I find it incredibly exciting.

And just because I sometimes get the urge to say it: I don’t do sponsored content. I carry a strict policy on what I review and write about. I need to fall in love with something before I decide to write about it. I was sent a small sample of Tamar by Blacker Yarns, but that is not why I wrote this blog post. I wrote it because I fell in love. It’s that straightforward.

PS. If you are neither in the States nor in the UK, I am very sure you also have local sheep breeds. I urge you to do your own research and see what your local yarn companies are doing. Some places have very ancient sheep breeds – like Iceland, the Faroes, and Norway – but I would love to know more about other parts of the world. Please leave a comment telling me about your local sheep and yarns!

Joeli’s Kitchen Retreat 2016

This past weekend I made my way south to Manchester. I was invited by Joeli to teach at her first ever knitting retreat. Usually my experience of knitting retreats is restricted to pyjamas, an open fire, 1980s films on DVD & a very small group of friends, so this was very different. The JKRetreat was basically a mini-knitting festival with a handful of teachers (*coughs*), Q&As with awesome folk, around 248919304 knitters making new friends or meeting old ones, and a totally fantastic vendor market.

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I lived briefly in Manchester in the 1990s, so I was excited about heading there again. I didn’t recognise a thing! It took me forever to find my way out of the train station and make my way to the hotel where we were all gathered. Granted, I could get lost in a phone booth (remember those?) but I used to live there! On the first night there, it was a joy to meet up with the other teachers and the speakers: Kate Heppell, Kate Atherley, Jules Billings, Louise Scollay, Isla Davison, Allison of Yarn in the City (launching the London Craft Guide in the north!), and Joeli herself. Usually we only meet in crowded halls at festivals, so it was nice to have an evening to chat and catch up.

The sociable evening turned out to be an omen for how the retreat itself went. I was so happy to recognise many familiar faces and I especially loved seeing all the splendid knitwear on display. I live vicariously through other knitters and the knitwear was just astounding. I started the first morning by recognising CountrySinger by her Byatt shawl (it is even more beautiful up close) and that set the standard for the rest of the weekend. So many creative, warm, funny people. I am not going to mention you all because I’d invariably forget someone – but everyone was so lovely.

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I taught two classes (colourwork & lace), the indomitable Scollay waxed lyrically about British sheep breeds, Joeli taught tech editing & drop spindling, Kate Atherley spoke about her knitting journey as well as taught classes on designing and garment fit; Kate H. talked about how a magazine is put together and Jules ran a finishing class and a class on knitting technique. I soaked up the atmosphere and I learned so much just from being around brilliant knitters.

Yarn. There was a lot.

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I was mysteriously restrained, but I think I was overwhelmed! Three rooms were opened to vendors and there were some really stunning yarns. The naturally dyed classy shades from Sylvan Tiger Yarn in Yorkshire (I love her gradient packs), BritYarn showcased some fantastic local yarns (I was especially smitten by her Dodgson Wood Castlemilk Moorit/BFL DK), the rich jewel colours of Travelknitter, and then I fell head over heels in love with Countess Ablaze. I have never met a saturated colour I didn’t love and thankfully the Countess shares my predicament. I’m not a sock knitter, otherwise the damage to my bank account would have been much worse. I left with just one skein.

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But that colour, right? This is a glorious 50% Masham/50% BFL blend in a DK weight and the moment I laid eyes on it, I knew it was going to be my preciousssss. I had such a fantastic time at the retreat recharging my creative juices and I left with my head spinning. See you next year (I hope?).

Back at work today and it is going to be a manic fortnight leading up to Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I’ve designed a hat called Burnet for WOOL TRIBE, the Edinburgh Yarn Festival exclusive magazine. Inspired by tenement tiles, the hat is knitted in two shades of Shilasdair Luxury 4ply – a stunning yarn dyed on the Isle of Skye here in Scotland. I’m just one of a handful of designers featured – the others are Ysolda Teague, Gudrun Johnston, Lucy Hague and EYF’s own Jo & Mica.

Pre-orders for WOOL TRIBE can be found here. The magazine will not be available as a digital download, but you can have it sent to your home or collect it at the festival.

I’ll be back soon with more, more news.

Authors & Artists: The Frances Herself Shawl

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Helen Lockhart of Ripples Crafts dyes exquisite yarns from her home in the Scottish Highlands. I first met Helen at a knitting conference when her stall was next to mine. We bonded immediately, so I cannot believe that it took us nearly five years to finally collaborate. We decided on our collaboration at In The Loop. I fell deeply in love with the blue-teal shade (Stormy Seas) and the rest followed. The rich magenta (Jewelled) and the warm grey (Assynt Peat) worked perfectly in unison. Working with her Quinag base was an absolute joy. The BFL gave Helen’s colours additional depth and the yarn flowed through my fingers.

The construction of Frances Herself will be familiar if you knitted my Byatt shawl (though it works in a slightly different way). You increase alongbthe top edge at an accelerated page which makes the shawl grow very rapidly in one direction and at a more considered pace in the other. It makes for wonderful asymmetry when worn – yet it is surprisingly straightforward to work. I do not believe in overcomplicating patterns when wonderful results can be achieved in a straightforward manner!

A lot of the Frances Herself joy is derived from working with such wonderful handdyed yarns. Frances Macdonald McNair was a child of the Arts & Crafts movement and its truth to material ideas. Truth to material simply means that you take the material that is best suited to your project and you showcase it honestly. The shawl is designed to reflect that. I am a big fan of basic stitches (like stocking stitch and garter stitch) precisely because they let handdyed yarns take centre stage.

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I have included a guide to modifying the colour sequence so you can make it work with your given yardage. I used three colours in this shawl – one neutral and two jewel-like colours. If you are considering other colours, think about getting enough contrast between the two contrast colours. You might also be tempted by mini-packs of yarn – Col B would be the obvious candidate for this – so keep the following yardage breakdown in mind:

Col A: Gray / Assynt Peat (approx. 380m/ 415 yds)
Col B: Magenta / Jewelled (approx 180m/196 yds)
Col C: Teal / Stormy Seas (approx 180 m/196 yds)

Another modification you might like is beading. Frances Macdonald McNair used beads extensively – both as material and as visual metaphor. I opted not to add any (mostly as I was travelling when knitting my shawl and there is no worse combination than beads & a bumpy road) but it’d look incredible done right. If you want to add beads, I suggest doing it in the middle of the garter stitch sections with the beads nicely spaced out. I would also suggest choosing beads that reflects cols B and C – you do not have to agree!

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The shawl was knitted on 4.5mm needles which the beautiful 4ply yarn was more than capable of handling. I strongly urge you to swatch if you substitute with any other 4ply yarn (and also to check your yardage!). The open fabric has a lot of drape and character, yet it still retains a sense of itself. I love how the lace pattern blocked out – it looks like tiny tenement tiles which is so very apt for a pattern inspired by Arts & Crafts in Scotland.

You can buy the pattern here. If you are going to Edinburgh Yarn Festival, make sure to check out Helen’s stall where she’ll be happy to advise on colour combinations (and we might have more up on our collective sleeve!).

(Note: I am away from keyboard February 26-28 2016, so I’ll get back to any queries as soon as I can afterwards).

Authors & Artists: Frances Macdonald McNair – or Frances Herself

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The first artist in my Authors & Artists series is Frances Macdonald McNair (1873-1921). She was born in England and attended the prestigious Glasgow School of Art with her sister, Margaret. Frances and Margaret became part of a creative collective known as The Glasgow Four together with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and James Herbert McNair. Their work was multi-disciplinary (though that concept didn’t exist then): painting, furniture design, architecture, textiles and metalwork. Margaret Macdonald married Charles Rennie; Frances married J. Herbert McNair. The future was bright.

Charles would go on to be an incredibly influential architect. He was lauded across Europe and influenced Gustav Klimt in Vienna. His wife collaborated with him extensively. Today the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society is dedicated to preserving his heritage (just a hop & a skip from where I am typing this!) and he was commemorated on a series of bank notes in 2008.

The McNairs led an unhappy life, however. They had exhibited across Europe in the early 1900s but just a decade later, everything was in tatters. McNair’s family had some financial misfortunes, he started drinking, and his career stalled. Frances suppressed her own career in order to help Herbert with his. She had his son, left the marriage briefly but returned before dying at the age of 48. It is notable that even as Herbert McNair stopped producing art (around 1911), Frances kept painting.

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This watercolour dates from when life started wobbling – 1907 – and is entitled Girl & Butterflies.

 

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This is called Woman Standing Behind the Sun. It was painted sometime between 1912 and 1915 – when Herbert’s career was in serious decline, their marriage mostly over, and Frances was looking after their child. The symbolism is fairly clear.

 

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This is the amazingly named Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them – again painted sometime between 1912 and 1915. I’m not a psychologist, but I think we can agree on the anger emanating from this painting.

I find Frances really, really interesting. She is an artist that seems almost unbearably twee with faerie princesses, butterflies, bows, gauzy dresses and long flowing locks of hair – but if you scratch the surface you find serious thoughts on women’s rights, motherhood, society, and (lack of) equality. Even her early art asks questions about identity: who am I as an artist, why am I being defined by men, how can I break free? Her later art is more outspoken and confrontational – it is as though Frances decided to cast off her mask. Her late watercolours show near-nightmares of darkness crashing against frail female bodies – as an artist she was very much rooted in the Symbolist art movement.

Herbert McNair destroyed most of Frances Macdonald McNair’s work after her death. I presume her work did not depict him in a particularly flattering light.

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Bow, Beads, Birds (1911)

I celebrate Frances. She was struggling to be an artist on her terms; her art shows a woman grappling with huge topics, and her having a very limited outlet for her struggles. We are still struggling to be heard and we are still struggling to be taken serious. We are still defined by men and we are still expected to conform to society’s expectations.

So, Frances Herself. I struggled to name the shawl but ultimately it is about Frances herself – and by extension our right to be ourselves no matter who we are. This is already a very long post – and I like leaving this celebration of Frances here. I’ll talk about the shawl in tomorrow’s post (it’ll include details on colours and modification – including how to add beads if you want to give the shawl even more Glasgow Style).

All images via Wikimedia Commons.

Why Naming A Pattern Can Be Hard

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This is an image by Frances Macdonald McNair, a Glasgow-based artist at the turn of the century. Her art looks whimsical with sleeping princesses, fairies and gauzy dresses. In fact, her work is a lot more complicated when you look closer and she’s the inspiration for my new shawl pattern.

As part of my job I help other people figure out their pattern names. I usually have a wealth of names at my own disposal, but this time I am having trouble naming the pattern. This post is all about why.

Frances was born in England and attended the prestigious Glasgow School of Art with her sister, Margaret. Frances and Margaret became part of a creative collective known as The Glasgow Four together with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and James Herbert McNair. Margaret married Charles; Frances married Herbert.

While Charles went on to become an incredibly influential architect and collaborated extensively with his wife, the McNairs led an unhappy life. McNair’s family had some financial misfortunes, he started drinking, and his career stalled. Frances suppressed her own career in order to help Herbert with his. She had his son, left the marriage briefly but returned before dying at the age of 48. Her husband destroyed most of her artwork after Frances’ death.

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I went to see an exhibition on the McNairs about ten years ago. I was struck by how Frances was the much better artist of the two – her line work, sense of colour, and understanding of storytelling in art were all superior to her husband. I will be writing about her art tomorrow, but suffice to say I find Frances Macdonald McNair intensely interesting. She was an artist whose talent could not fully blossom because of her gender and the age in which she lived. If she had been born just a few decades later, perhaps her life story would have looked very different. She is deeply inspiring for many reasons – I’ll share more tomorrow.

Naming my pattern is hard.

I want to honour Frances as the artist she was and could not be. I want to tell her story rather than a story in which she is relegated to being a wife or a sister-in-law of a celebrated man. Frances yields 77 pages of hits on Ravelry.

I cannot name the pattern after the man who destroyed most of her art work. McNair is not even an option.

I do not want to name the pattern Macdonald because not only does it mean the son of Donald but it also has a whiff of greasy chips.

Glasgow Girl is an option. It was the name of a 1990 exhibition about the female artists flourishing in Glasgow at the turn of the 20th century (and is a nice counter to another Glasgow creative collective, The Glasgow Boys) but Frances only lived in Glasgow briefly.

Frances used either very generic names for her art work (Spring; Autumn; Ophelia), deeply ironic names (Sleeping Princess), or amazingly angry names that are totally unsuitable (Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them).

Any ideas?

frances-horzsm

Photo of shawl by Dave Fraser. Imagery by Frances Macdonald McNair via WikiMedia Commons.