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Tag Archives: Blogging

Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post.

Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

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I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something – seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen – and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded ‘limited-edition’ purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it’s the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don’t see this happening? That’s okay. I don’t think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let’s talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition – everybody’s life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it’s okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it’s awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

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Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say – “Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?”

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they’ve knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they’ve deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about “lifestyle branding strategies” – well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I’m not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes – so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.

Panic On The Streets of Glasgow: Over.

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If you tried to visit this site recently you will have noticed that a) you couldn’t connect and b) now that you can connect, some of the content is missing. The company that currently hosts this site had big issues with a server and finally recovered most of the site after nearly 24 hours. Most. I lost a couple of photos and about a month’s worth of blog posts. It could have been much worse. I once lost four years of blogging thanks to my Danish web host going bust.

So, I’ll be backing up data this Saturday morning and then knitting will commence. Phew.

Some Thoughts on Blogging, Identity & Safety

Blogtacular led a discussion on twitter yesterday about online privacy and safety. I shared a few thoughts but want to expand upon them here.

Get coffee. It’s a long one.

july09 308I started blogging around 2001. I did not use my real name; I did not post pictures of myself and the only clues to my identity were these: I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark and I was female (I used the nom de plume “Ms Bookish”). My then blog was fairly straightforward: I mostly wrote about books and the contemporary literary scene. Around 2004-2005 my blog had become a professional tool and I was widely engaged in the literary blog scene working with publishers and authors. However, I was still completely anonymous.

And then I began noticing a pattern.

One particular blog commentator, Martin (not his real name), left comments on every single blog entry I made. After a few weeks he began sending me emails expanding upon the comments he had left me. So many emails. I didn’t read them after a while. Something felt totally off about the guy and, really, I was too busy.

Then I attended a blog networking event and Martin was there. He had presents for me and cornered me. How did he know I would be there? And how did he recognise me? I started to feel really uneasy. Martin started leaving seriously whacked-out comments on the blog and, creeped out, I decided to check my emails from him. Well, they weren’t good.

Martin knew when I had been out doing my grocery shopping and he had watched me bike around Copenhagen. It got worse: he wanted me to have a nervous breakdown so he could take care of me, he thought I had an artificial leg (and wrote in great detail about how my prosthetic turned him on), he thought I was leaving him clues on my web site professing my great love for him, and so forth. Gross, bad, awful stuff.

Then I came home to find Martin standing on the other side of the road. You can probably guess what happened next.

By now I had documented as much as I could. I had saved every email and screen-capped blog comments. I passed all this information to the police and stayed at friends’ houses while the police managed to sort things out. I know Martin got psychiatric help but apart from one letter (which his psychiatrist had told him to write) I never heard from him again. I was able to move on from the incident because I knew I had just been a random victim: Martin didn’t know me; he just knew I was female and I read a lot of books. Classic case of erotomania.

I learned some valuable lessons from this:

  • You cannot control how other people read what you write online. I had not peppered my literary blog with hidden clues for Martin to follow. That was his mental illness talking. I was not responsible for how he chose to interpret my posts.
  • It is very, very hard to stay anonymous online and there are many ways of finding out your identity. Martin got my name from somewhere (probably from looking up who registered my blog domain) and managed to track my address very quickly. He also had access to my financial records thanks to his job, so he could find out where I did my grocery shopping and where I liked to hang out. People also talk: my neighbours let private things slip to a guy who seemed nice and harmless. Things like the fact that I was single and that I was living on my own.
  • Document everything. I let some of our early interaction slip through my fingers which I regret as I may have been able to stop him sooner.
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Hello :) I’m Karie & this is what I look like.

And then I decided to take ownership of my identity. I began using my real name and posting photos of my face.

I had spent years trying to lock down information about myself online and had convinced myself I was keeping myself safe that way. In actual fact, the only real way to stay safe is to step out there and say “Hi, I’m Karie Westermann and this is what I look like.” There is freedom and power in that statement: it is my identity and (unlike anonymity) nobody can take that away from me.

Furthermore, when I hadn’t shown my face on my blog and Martin still recognised me, it was very scary and I felt utterly powerless. He knew what I looked like despite all my efforts. Nowadays I have my face splayed all over the internet  and it’s my choice. Occasionally I get recognised by someone who’s knitted one of my patterns or who follow me on Twitter – and I am totally cool with that.

Being a craft professional actually means that I write a lot more about my life online than I ever anticipated. And that brings me to another point.

For me, there are three spheres: private, personal & public. I keep the private sphere to myself – everything else may be blogged.

I don’t write about family or friends. That would be rude and intrusive. I write about some personal things – like the fact that David & I celebrated our 9th anniversary yesterday (and if you’ve kept an eye on the timeline –  yes, Dave played a big part in helping me deal with my stalker) – but I sift through them carefully as personal details can quickly get self-indulgent. And then there’s the public stuff like blogging about an event – where you should totally come say hello to me.

Interestingly the Martin story stayed off my blog for a very long time. I didn’t think it relevant material, though I did write a few pieces about cyberstalking for magazines. It was too private a story for many years and has only just recently become a personal story that I occasionally allude to. And now I am finally writing about it under my own name on my own blog.

Anyway, the best way to stay safe online is to act like you would offline. Oh, and keep in mind that the Martins of this world are few & far between.

  • Don’t announce where you will be on your own.
  • Don’t overshare.
  • Don’t post anything you don’t want the postman or your boss knowing.
  • Respect other people’s right to privacy
  • If in doubt, don’t do it/don’t post it.
  • What happens online can quickly spill into offline life.
  • Don’t forget you will always have an audience (even if you think you don’t). Act responsibly.

My Lifestyle Guru Disqualification

Online identity, knitting celebrities and internet jealousy. We have covered a lot here recently. I’m going to return to the discussion but first I want to share a slice of what it is all about (for me, anyway): knitting.

Doggerland Sneak Peek

This morning I cast off another sample for my Doggerland collection. I think I first mentioned the collection about a year ago – well it has been a long journey to get here and I’ll write more about this as I release the patterns. But I just love looking at this pile of samples (plus random bits of yarn). The pile looks so right even if the samples still need to be dressed and it is lacking a couple of core pieces still to be knitted.

I am getting there! Woo!

And I think that brings me neatly round to the topic that Fourth Edition has been circling around recently: success.

Some people want a big car. Other people want to be recognised in the supermarket. All of us want to be able to pay our bills. I have spent a lot of time thinking about success and how I define it. I like being able to pay bills, but I am definitely not concerned with driving a car or being stopped in the street. No, I really truly love when what I produce resembles what has been going on in my head. When my brain and fingers work together to produce something that stays true to the core idea and tells the story I want to be telling.

‘Story-telling’ was a recurrent word in the discussion. It is perhaps a post-modern conceit that we tell stories in order to construct ourselves but I think I do relate to my craft and my designs as forms of story-telling. I want to explore my Scandinavian heritage; the landscapes both inside and outwith myself and try to make sense of the world through knitting.

I somehow worry(!) that I hover between textile art and textile craft – that somehow my ideas are too absurd and abstract for the relatively simple pleasure of working a piece of string with two sticks. I have spent almost 12 months trying to nail Doggerland because it started out as a huge, unwieldy idea. When I showed my introduction to some friends, the feedback was enthusiastic but agreed that maybe I should try to be a touch more accessible.

And so I am here looking at a pile of unblocked knits and I feel so proud. To me, this is success.

And this is who I am: I design knits inspired by psychogeography, land art, and Mesolithic archaeology. I wear red and green together. I am quiet in public and most happy when I’m with just a handful of friends. I love early 20th century culture and T.S. Eliot is my favourite writer. And I think the Eurovision Song Contest is the best thing since sliced bread. All that combined pretty much disqualifies me for any position as a lifestyle guru. Also, I eat the cake as soon as it’s out of the oven.

Besides, the idea of a knitting celebrity is still weird. If the founder of Wikipedia has trouble identifying himself as ‘internet famous’, I think it’s fair to say that we need to re-assess the whole idea of internet fame. The internet is an awfully big pond.

Knitting & Social Media – Reflections 2

This post is one in a series of posts extending the talk I gave at Glasgow University as part of the Handknitted Textiles & the Economies of Craft in Scotland workshop series.

Ms Bookish

Brand or person?

Social media and knitting are closely connected.

Knitting blogs gave young knitters a space to talk about their craft and enabled them to interact with each other. Ravelry is now the mothership for all online knitters nowadays: we interact in groups, we search the pattern and yarn databases, we amend database entries, we add photos of our knitting, we marvel at others’ creations, and we connect.  I use Twitter much more than Ravelry these days, though. Twitter allows me to schedule things, ask/answer questions, meet interesting people, and laugh/cry – and do all these things with ruthless efficiency and a great signal-to-noise ratio.

The trouble with having a visible social media profile is that you need to perform yourself in public.

Despite my online presence, I am an introvert. I find social interaction draining and difficult. I am much more articulate when I type than when I speak. I find a roomful of strangers quite daunting. As you can imagine, working throughout Wool Week has been simultaneously incredibly inspiring and immensely draining.

Social media is a fabulous way of branding yourself. I am not a natural marketeer and I find the “B” word a mite upsetting in some respects – but I view social media in two ways: it is a great tool for connecting with people and it’s a way of telling the story of your work.

But I am tired of Karie Bookish. Let me qualify that: I am tired of performing Karie Bookish. She is me and I am her, but I am exhausted. I love knitters and I love talking about knitting (even if I have a complex relationship with the practice) but I get so very tired of myself. After fifty minutes of working my bit of Wool Week, I wanted nothing more than escape and find a sequestered place far away from all social interaction. But how could I do that when I am essentially my own brand? I can see I will need to find a strategy for coping in the future, as I am due to work more big events and I don’t want to end up as burned out as I was Sunday afternoon.

(Strategies on a postcard, please).

When you are are so visibly your own brand, social media come with added responsibilities too. I have seen dozens of businesses crash and burn through ill-considered use of social media: bitching about customers, admitting to fraud, blowing off responsibilities or just coming across as very unpleasant individuals. Sometimes ignorant use of social media is worse than no use of social media: if you only tweet adverts for yourself and refrain from interaction, people will unfollow you. There is a reason why it is called social media. I tend to recommend that you set up anonymous accounts on social media sites in order to learn the relevant etiquette if you are completely new to this way of communicating – that way you do not have to worry about potential faux pas affecting your business.

Despite the many pitfalls, social media are important components in making knitting flourish. It has allowed charismatic, enthusiastic people to ‘spread the gospel’ of knitting not being a time-capsule craft. The new channels provide a way of interacting with other people who share your interest across the globe. Knitting is a craft that is very much alive and kicking – and thanks to social media you can find and interact with people who share your passion.

Addendum: I met a lot of fantastic people this past week – many of whom I had only met online prior to Wool Week. I was lucky enough to have a stall next to Helen of Ripplescraft at The Lighthouse – I can only recommend having Helen as your stall neighbour: she kept me sane and caffeinated. Fellow designer Joyuna and I had coffee in the middle of Glasgow on a sleepy Sunday morning – she’s just made the front cover of Interweave’s Jane Austen Knits 2012! And I met with book artist Josie Moore following Friday’s Glasgow University workshop. I took great pleasure in discussing William Morris over cream tea – I needed that.

Florence & Molly

The start of August is always the busiest time of year for me and this year is no exception. The yarn companies are beginning to launch their Autumn-Winter collections with new patterns and yarns galore – and as a result I have a thousand thingsto keep my head and hands busy. I hope to have a more in-depth look at some of my favourites soon – but before I can play favourites, I need some time to breathe and gather my thoughts.

To tide things over, I thought I would share a free pattern with you.

I designed the Florence scarf last summer at the request of a well-know British department store. It takes one ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, it is a good introduction to knitting with fine mohair yarns, and it would make a good ‘first lace project’. The scarf was very popular with the store and I thought it might also prove popular with others. I think of it as a quiet design, if that makes sense.

There are more designs to come, but I’ll write about those as they get released.

In case you want something more worthwhile to read than my moans about work, my good friend* Molly Templeton has gone viral (as the kids say) with coverage ranging from Jezebel to The Atlantic Wire. Why? Molly took issue with the cover of The New York Times Book Review. It had a How-To issue in which men wrote about a wide range of topics and the ladies got to write about how to raise children and how to cook. In the words of Ms M.:

 There is nothing wrong with cooking and raising children; there are lots of things right and wonderful with these pursuits. They are also, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, traditionally female tasks, and when you take into consideration the VIDA stats, the history of gender imbalance in literature and journalism and the world at large, you might find yourself a little frustrated by the fact that it’s 2012 and we are still too often relegated to writing about deeply gendered topics. (Of the 18 bylined reviews and essays in the issue, five are by women.)

And so Molly decided to start The How To Tumblr which features women writing how-to articles about anything and everything under the sun.This is her call for contributions:

I’m sure there’s something you know how to do. I’m sure there are things your many brilliant friends know how to do, or something you could write about that has to do with doing a thing (most of the NYTBR pieces were, of course, book reviews). I would like to read the essays, reviews, comics, lists and more we, and they, could write in this vein –  irreverent, funny, heartbreaking, ironic, wry, snarky, sweet, clever, brilliant, silly, and everything else.

Inevitably, Molly’s tumblr has turned out a whole host of fun, insightful and interesting essays . You can contribute too – Molly’s project is open to women and those who identify as genderqueer/not of a binary gender.

(* how good? Handknitted-present-good!)

A Creative Life Is Mine

I was asked for career advice recently – and quite apart by being floored by being asked, it also made me think very hard about what it is I do and why.  This coincided with a friend sharing this blog post about creativity, process and blogging with me. Forgive my rambling, meandering post, but I have thoughts in my head..

One of the most common reasons people give preventing them from doing something creative is that it has already been done. (..) It is as if there should only be a certain number of people in any creative field, as if it were a party in a small house and could get too crowded.

I believe strongly that everybody is creative – this imaginative spark is what makes us human. When I run craft workshops, I always try to push people into embracing their creative sides: ‘what happens if you do X & Y? Which colours do you like? Try to combine those.’ It always comes as a shock to people but I don’t have a textile degree – yet I work within the knitting industry as a craft teacher and a knitting designer among other things. I don’t have an art degree, yet I have exhibited my work in galleries. Does this invalidate me as a Creative? No. It just means I am autodidact and I take some interesting detours during my work process.

Read more →

Both Sides of the Internet

I have a long list of things I tell myself I Should Really Blog About and somehow I end up keeping them in my head. It has been puzzling me why this is so, but I think it is the combination of no longer being relatively anonymous and being able to talk to my Other Half about these things that I end up keeping things off the blog.

It is a shame and so here we go.

Recently I was having a quick little internet chat about STFU, Parents. It is a website in the vein of Regretsy and Lamebook with a dash of Ravelry Rubberneckers and F_W (all these links should be considered NSFW) as it navigates social media sites and documents some truly unfortunate oversharing and jerky behaviour. I had an exchange with a friend who thought the site was rather mean. I agree that it is mean but also that it documents meanness towards other people. Let me expand upon that.

It never ceases to amaze me that my gender plus age plus relationship status = it is perfectly okay for people to ask very personal questions about the state of my uterus. What I take from STFUP is that I am not the only one who gets random “lol, so r u preggers? lol why not?” comments at me (or get emailed some insensitive ‘lol’ questions). I find some of those remarks and mails really, really mean too.

Of course, STFUP documents meanness towards other people too – particularly towards people’s own children. That hilarious poop story will be infinitely less funny when your child finds it online 15 years from now – and it is really not funny now.

If a site like STFUP can make one person less likely to mommy-jack, ask me questions about my uterus and/or sexual orientation, post an embarrassing story about their kiddo, or name their child something horrid – then I am all for it. Even if that makes me a mean person. Incidentally there are also other variants upon the same theme and I think the common message is (as always): don’t be a jerk.

Now that is out of my system, let me share an altogether lovely story about the kindness of strangers.

Remember the story about the lost shawl I found in Glasgow City Centre? It has been reunited with its rightful owner. In a completely unnecessary gesture, the owner has given me a gift – this made me tear up as I certainly did not expect anything.

Thank you Jules and Jules’ Mum. You are amazing and much too kind.

Denmark 2012: A Bit of History & A Lot of Knitting (part 3)

Photo Shoot Feb 2012Denmark was not just us larking about Viking settlements or eating six types of pork for lunch (true fact!). Denmark was also about knitting.

I had a photo shoot! I am about to release a new pattern – Elsinore – and we had the photo shoot in the middle of the Kastellet fortifications in northern Copenhagen.

It was an incredible cold day, so whenever there was a break in the shoot, I rushed forth to wrap a warm cardigan around the brave model. The photos turned out amazing. Stay tuned!

I also met up with Signest, aka Signe Simonsen who has been published in Knitty, Twist Collective and Petite Purls among other places. She is one of my favourite designers for innovative, colourful and bold childrenswear (check ouWrapped In Wordst the Nova dress and the Viola hat!) but Signe has several, several strings to her bow as you are sure to find out in months to come. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a design she is currently working on for Danish yarn company Filcolana.

And Signe’s also the genius behind my current favourite attire, the I YARN CPH tee. Sorry about the photo – it is not the most flattering one of me but it is the only one I have of me wearing the tee.

Yes, I rather liked Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book. Why do you ask?

Oh, and there was yarn. Nothing really, really fascinating because I only had a few hours to spare so I could not explore new yarns, but I did buy a vast amount of yarn: mainly laceweight – which shocks no one – and mainly of the North Atlantic variety – which should shock absolutely no one either.

My usual Snældan yarn pusher had shut down since my last visit to Copenhagen, so I ‘settled’ for some more Navia Uno from Jorun Garn in Frederiksberg. They have similar fiber content (though the Navia introduces some merino into the blend) but the construction is slightly different. The Snældan is a slightly overspun  single ply whereas Navia Uno is plied with a tightly spun ‘thread’ around a soft wool core. Navia Uno works up slightly softer than Snældan but has a smidgen less stitch definition. In other words, I should not be writing about ‘settling’ for anything as the two yarns are so similar and so beautiful. I am just concerned about minutiae.

Alt Om HåndarbejdeAnd then I visited a charity shop where I uncovered a pile of Alt om Håndarbejde (eng: All About Crafts) magazines from the 1970s.

Alt om was really instrumental in kickstarting my lifelong love of all things crafty and I remember trying out loads of their easy kids’ projects when I was a kid. I even think the first garment I ever made for myself (a pair of shorts!) was from an Alt om pattern.

Some of the projects are just outlandish seen with today’s eyes but others transcend their time period with aplomb. I only took some of the magazines with me (the rest are staying with my mum until further notice) but I picked a few with fantastic sewing patterns for dresses and skirts. I don’t think I shall ever outgrow my 1970s dress sense..Alt Om Håndarbejde

There are also quite a few big knitting projects that I can admire knowing I will never ever knit them. Just look at that coat. It is absolutely stunning. I have instructed my grandmother to snap up any old Alt Om that she might come across as the tutorials are worth their weight in gold.

I tried finding Alt Om‘s modern incarnation – the rather splendid Symagasinet which is all about sewing – but the local shops let me down. Earlier this year I also contacted the publisher about a possible subscription but the shipping costs were ridiculous, so I dropped that idea. Oh, Scandinavia, why do you taunt me so?

Anyway. To come: a brand-new pattern release, news about other patterns, some FOs and so forth. My life’s really busy right now!


Dear Father Christmas,

I have been a very good girl this year. Well, I have been a very good girl most of the year. Okay, I was a very good girl until last night. I hope we are still cool about me getting a floppy-eared puppy with big paws?

Love, Karie x

Last night I cast on for a project that has nothing to do with work nor is it one of my own designs. In fact, it is a completely frivolous project that I only cast on because – gasp – I wanted to knit it. I don’t think I have done that for a very, very long time (and typing that makes me feel a bit sad, actually). Kastanie is going to be a jumper. I bought the first issue of knit.wear a couple of months ago because I loved the simple, wearable Wendy Bernard pattern. Of course it transpires that the pattern is a re-branded Riverstone Boatneck jumper which makes me very angry as a consumer. Pay $5.50 to get the one pattern or pay £10 for a magazine? I know which one I would have preferred.

Anyway. In my stash I had two large skeins of New Lanark Aran in a one-off colourway that I bought on a visit to the Mill back in 2009. The colour is a gorgeous heathery chestnut (‘Kastanie’ is Danish for chestnut) and I am loving up it works up with the stitch pattern. I reckon I have maybe 600g of yarn which may or may not be enough for the jumper, but we shall see. The jumper is a bog-standard, easily-modified top-down raglan so I can play around with fit and yardage. All in all, this is not an earth-shatteringly new direction for my knitting but I just really want a cosy winter jumper that I can knit up fairly quickly and without too much stress.

Speaking of stress, I use WordPress to power this site and sadly their new update makes it incredibly cumbersome for me to blog. This entry has been entirely hand-coded, for instance, and while I do like coding, I am not particularly keen on handcoding every single blog post. It takes too much time. I’m off to find a solution. If you want to see another photo of Kastanie, please visit its project page on Ravelry. No link because that would require about three different windows open and additional handcoding. You get my drift.