Karie Bookish Dot Net

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Good & Bad News

Karie as a kid

A bit of Throwback Thursday for you – me as a kid wearing a bonafide islænder jumper knitted by my gran. I seem to remember it was red and white – so very patriotic for a Danish kid!

First Newsflash! you can hear me talk about islænder jumpers, Icelandic yokes, Faroese mittens, Norwegian reindeers and Danish nattrøjer at Cambridge’s The Sheep Shop on June 11 where I’ll be teaching a half-day class on Nordic traditions. I hear some very good things about the shop from Joanne Scrace and Louise Tilbrook and I have never been to Cambridge before – I am super-excited!

Second Newsflash! I am teaching an evening class on the Byatt Shawl at Hackney’s awesome Wild & Woolly on Friday June 12. We’ll talk colour choices, explore clever short-cuts for the techniques used in the shawl and find out how to turn a lace shawl into the perfect pub knitting project (yes, honestly!). I have heard so much buzz about Wild & Woolly from people like Corrie Plutoniummuffin,  Ms PlayfulDay and Allison – I cannot wait to visit.

I was hoping to pack more things into my jaunt south-wards (I’m dying to go back to my spiritual homeland of Brighton and check out YAK) but between various commitments in the London area and train times, I am just amazed I managed to squeeze in two classes! I hope to see many familiar faces at either – do let me know about anything you feel I need to check out whilst in London. Good food recommendations are always welcome!

Now for some sobering news. Sometimes things are put into perspective and I write the following with a heavy heart.

May 2013 486I knew that the Coats Craft division (which includes Rowan Yarns) was sold to a hedge fund earlier this year – other brands under the Coats Crafts division includes Patons, Regia, and the Milward haberdashery brand. Earlier this week I heard some sad news from several corners: the vast majority of UK Rowan Design Consultants are saying goodbye. It is both sad and also incredibly sobering to hear this. The DCs have been the bedrock of Rowan for many years and they have played an important part in both teaching essential skills to absolute beginners and lending technical advice to skilled knitters. Seeing them go is a reminder that the times are a-changing and we are likely to see more changes ahead.

I cut my teeth on being a DC. I was first added to the fold in late 2009, and the first year taught me so much. I learned technical, administrative things like how to work with buy plans and how to implement various stock management tools. I learned about visual merchandising, and how to put together promotional displays. I learned how yarn lines were launched and what knitters were likely to find difficult. Then, as in later years, I learned how collections were pulled together and how to pitch a design submission. I learned about design vocabulary, about colour profiles, and who did what in a yarn company (the differences between a Design Room Manager, a Brand Manager, and a Head Designer). Most importantly I met an awful lot of incredibly interesting and talented people – many of whom I am proud to call my friends.

And so today my thoughts turn towards the DCs who are now saying goodbye. I do not know what happened or why decisions were made – I just know that times are tough for some good friends. If you are in the UK and near a John Lewis, go and hug your DC. They are all brilliant and will go forth and do beautiful things – but they probably need a hug right now.

Onwards & Upwards

January 2014 112

I am awash in a sea of teal. It being a “thing” for a “thing” I cannot spill too many details – except that I am currently 4380 sts away from finishing the thing (which equals about 3 hours of concentrated work – it’s not a quick knit, alas). The “thing” has kept me company for the past few weeks of enforced rest and I shall be sorry to send it away.

Actually, the “thing” was much admired today by three new-to-knitting nurses. I spent some time at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary getting my leg checked by an orthopaedic specialist and took my knitting with me in case I had to wait around. The verdict? My leg is still very bruised and if I am still struggling two weeks from now, I am to see the specialist immediately. Right now, though, there is no evidence of a torn ligament (hooray! silly A&E) but the tissue surrounding the ligament is definitely badly bruised. I am to rest my leg as much as possible but also begin to do exercises including prolonged periods of walking and gentle stretching.

I am hugely relieved by the news.

However, I do find walking very fatiguing and overwhelming. As a result I am having to postpone a few engagements over the next couple of weeks. I hate disappointing people but I’m really not at my best right now. I am very sorry.

Thank you to everybody who has been in contact over the last few weeks. Your messages, texts and emails have been enormously cheering.

Onwards and upwards.


Earlier this year my home suffered a moth infestation – Scotland’s cold & wet summer apparently suited the beasties as several non-knitting friends and acquaintances reported moths too. We managed to survive relatively unscathed. I did have to get rid of a lovely woolly skirt and some leftover yarn I had recklessly left under the bed in an unsealed box. So far, so good.

Monday I discovered the moths had found a box of woollen things we keep in the kitchen (our kitchen is very big and doubles as office and second living room). Sadly I had to throw out several hand-knitted things. So goodbye to my cheerful yellow hat, my second-favourite hat and a soft purple shawl. I did not wear the yellow hat much, so good riddance to that once – but I mourn the loss of my second-favourite hat and the purple shawl. The shawl was knitted out of one of my first ebay hauls – a sportweight version of unbranded Malabrigo Worsted that I will never find again – and I loved the subtle colours.

Thankfully the moths never found the stash. I am now knitting hats as I am two hats down (I have plenty of shawls to spare). I have been stash-diving big style – delving right  down to the precambrian layers of stash – and have uncovered all sorts of exciting one-offs. Stay tuned for FOs.

Also – if you are a member of the Karie Bookish/Old Maiden Aunt club – stay tuned for the next pattern installment which will hit your inbox this Friday. It’s my favourite colourway & pattern combination of the lot, so I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


I was grumpy yesterday. I was so grumpy (and whiny) that my partner started laughing hysterically every time I said something. It did not help.Yesterday I hated humanity. I hated the world. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and not interact with anything or anyone at all. Snarl.

But I mellowed. I treated myself to some of my favourite things and I got into my comfort zone. This is how I eventually returned to normality:

  • Tea. A strategically timed cup of hot, milky, strong tea with plenty of sugar. I am normally a coffee fiend, but tea makes me happy.
  • Some old favourites on my iPod: Finn Brothers’ dark and atmospheric Suffer Never hit the spot as did Crowded House’s wistful, mysterious Kare Kare.
  • Knitting in bed. I am currently working on a shawl pattern with a release date ultimo September. I loved working soothing lace repeats with  Juno Fibre Arts‘ “Belle”. The feel and handle of the yarn is extraordinary.

My other half is off for a second blissful day of Glasgow Comic Con (yesterday he met Grant Morrison, if that means anything to you. Dave told me it was A Very Big Deal). I think I shall flex my toes, have a long bath and then continue my therapeutic dose of 90s moody Antipodean pop, tea-drinking and knitting. And breathe.

Blocking Shawls – Experiment no. 1

A cautionary tale ahead.

Sometime ago I had a run-in with some Danish knitters. They were asking questions on how to block a shawl and I replied with my usual answer (I include a longer version with all my lace shawl patterns, by the way):

Weave in the ends of your shawl, but do not trim off the ends. Then soak your shawl in lukewarm water for 15 minutes rinsing it gently afterwards. Wrap your shawl in a spare towel to blot out as much water as possible. Do not wring your shawl. Pin it out and leave it to dry for a few days. Unpin, weave in ends, then wear with love and pride.

I was told in no uncertain terms by a series of people that I was wrong. Instead of soaking shawls in lukewarm water and then patting them dry, I should put them into the washing machine to spin them before pinning them out. I don’t mind being told that I am wrong, but this advice ran so counter to logic that I decided to experiment a bit.

In the name of knitting science I grabbed my Mosswell, my version of Elizabeth Freeman’s fabulous Aeolian Shawl from Knitty, and I put it in my washing machine. I chose the absolutely lowest setting possible on my machine and the absolutely gentlest spinning cycle – and then I hoped for the best.

This was Mosswell before my experiment:

This is Mosswell now:

No, the photo is not blurry. My shawl felted quite dramatically and is now roughly the size of a bib.

So, what went wrong? I shall stick to my guns and say: “the washing machine is what went wrong”. Unless you have a really state-of-the art washing machine (perhaps?), I would stick to soaking your shawl in the sink/tub and patting it dry with a towel. You have much greater control over the process than if you were to just stick it in a washing machine and hope for the best.

Also, if you have spent 2 weeks to 6 months on knitting a shawl, why not spend another 20 minutes (of which 15 minutes is the shawl soaking and you drinking coffee) on preparing it for blocking?

Have you any experiences with blocking that you would like to share? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

A Year in Books: 2011

2011 was the year when my boyfriend read more than 110 books. I am not sure if that number includes re-reads, but it might tell you a bit about our household. I read 45 books, up from 21 in 2010 and 38 in 2009. That tells me two things: 1) I read more crap this year which means 2) I was more stressed this year. I am nowhere near the 110+ books read by my Other Half – then again, he does not knit!

2011 was also the year I finally signed up for GoodReads which influenced my reading a great deal. As my profile shows, I found adding books somewhat addictive. I began reading more and – crucially – I began reading better books. I began using my local library a lot more and I kept track of my to-read list via GR too. Huzzah for getting organised!

The worst reads: Alan Hollinghurst disappointed me big time with the Man Booker long-listed The Stranger’s Child. Hollinghurst is one of the finest writers of his generation, but TSC just did not deliver. It read like a reiteration of everything he has ever written filled with token, tired literary allusions. Emma  Donoghue’s 2010 short-listed Room made me angry. The Testament of Jessie Lamb was long-listed for the Man Booker prize this year. The first chapter was spectacular: a dystopian novel with a feminist bent. Oh yes! Unfortunately life is cruel and the rest of the book was a poorly-constructed and badly-written teen novel. I felt like giving up reading after Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. And don’t get me started on Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I really read far too many bad books this year.

The honourable mentions: Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imaginationwas uneven but well worth my time. While Atwood writing about other authors is not her at her most interesting, I really enjoyed the section dealing with her childhood and the general overview of genre.  Jasper Fforde redeemed himself with both the delightfully metafictional and whimsical One of Our Thursdays is Missing and the far more sinister Shades of Grey. Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon was good – Stroud is quietly turning himself into a very reliable source of entertaining YA fantasy novels – and actually the book rekindled my desire to read. Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin and Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time were both unsurprisingly solid. Finally, Susanna Jones’ The Earthquake Birdwas a quirky, psychologically interesting read which reminded me of Murakami mixed with early Iain Banks.

The very good reads: After a year of mostly disappointing books, I re-read a few of my favourite novels.

AS Byatt’s Possession: A Romance was one of those re-reads. I love it with quiet intensity as only a lonely girl who grew up surrounded by books could love a book about lonely people surrounded by books who in turn love reading about lonely people surrounded by books. Another re-read was Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It floored me.

My best new read of the year was China Miéville’s Embassytown. How interesting that in a year when mainstream literary fiction faltered so spectacularly a so-called genre novel took on all the hard questions and pulled it off flawlessly. Embassytown is not only incredibly well-written and tightly-plotted – it is also a challenging, sophisticated read that delves into the philosophy of language and notions of identity. It is absolutely splendid and deserves as much praise as possible. How very silly that some people will not give it a try because it is speculative fiction, gasp.

Moving Forward: I am not such a fool that I will announce how many books I will read next year. I will crash and burn out if I make any such pledges. However, I do hope that I will read far better books next year. This year was a real downer in terms of quality – even the books I thought would be decent reads turned out to be on the dubious side of things (HOLLINGHURST!)

Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds mentioned the concept of ‘slipstream’ books which can be ‘defined‘ as “the fiction of strangeness”. I looked into what kind of book that may be and the loosely-defined canon include so many of my  favourite books and authors that I will probably use the ‘canon’ as a source of inspiration (sans John Barth). I have never been able to pinpoint what type of books I enjoy but I might have a new vocabulary. We shall see.

(2009 entry; 2010 entry)


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.

Thoughts on the Man Booker

I have a love-hate relationship with the Man Booker literary prize. Admittedly the emphasis is mainly on the hate but I always care. In my former life as a literary blogger, I spent many paragraphs explaining why I am both fascinated and repelled by this literary prize. I shall try to keep it succinct this time.

The Man Booker prize has come to symbolise an awfully conservative view of what constitutes ‘good literary fiction’: realist novels, novels set in the past, middle-class novels.. It was not always so, actually. In the mid-90s Scottish novelist James Kelman won with his “How Late It Was, How Late” which was written in a Scottish working-class dialect using a stream-of-consciousness mode. It promptly became The Worst Selling Booker Winner Ever and bookshops complained loudly. The Man Booker has been reliably “safe” since the Kelman win: Graham Swift, Ian McEwan, Peter Carey, Alan Hollinghurst and John Banville. They are all reliable, steady writers who will not cause a revolution in your head and will all make great dinner party fodder.  Sure, there is always a talking point to all the books which is handy for the book group discussions, but the books are never scarily different. I am clearly not the only one who worries about what the Man Booker has become.

I actually really enjoy some of the winners and sometimes the short list throws up some interesting books: Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, AS Byatt’s Possession and The Children’s Book, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Colm Toibin’s The Master, and Tom McCarthy’s C
among others. But for every one of those books you also get Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam
(which blooming won) and Atonement, Julian Barnes’ England, England, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Ali Smith’s The Accidental, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Emma Donoghue’s Room. Bland literary chamber music in a world that could do with a symphony with blatant nerve.

Andrew Crumey, James Robertson, Alasdair Gray, China Mieville and Jonathan Coe have never been short-listed: too Scottish? too genre? too weird? too .. I don’t know why Coe wasn’t short-listed for his mainstream (and very wonderful) What a Carve Up!
or The House of Sleep except maybe the novels were too angry? Too impolite?

But as you may have gathered, I read quite a few of the nominated books and this year I have read two of the long-listed books, Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child and Jane Roberts’ The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Hollinghurst was curiously bland, stifled and aimless underneath the well-crafted prose. Roberts’ book started out wonderfully defiant but quickly shrivelled into inconsistent, shrill nonsense. I think the failure of Roberts’ book upset me more because I became genuinely interested  by its first two chapters.

Something is adrift in contemporary British literature. I think there are genuinely talented authors writing wonderful, complex, daring works of fiction. Most of them work under the radar whilst the holy 1980s trinity of Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis continue to gather newspaper inches. A lot of dross have come out of Creative writing programmes too (University of East Anglia, I am looking at you) and I often wonder whether British literature is slowly turning into English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh literature? Regardless, we live in interesting literary times. Too bad the most high-profile literary prize doesn’t really seem to be interested.

Ah, I always miss my literary blog this time of year..

Some Thoughts About Yarn

A long time ago I wrote about books. I remember one specific thing I wrote: how I built my library on the ideas of possibility and potential. My books were purchased because I wanted the possibility of spending a heady afternoon with lord Byron or a quiet, thoughtful evening with AS Byatt. Often I wanted the potential read more than I wanted the actual read. I think the same thing goes for yarn.

The other evening I saw a moth fly out of the yarn cupboard. A tiny, beige creature of winged doom. I opened a bag and saw another moth perched on a ball of yarn. Gasp, splutter, this-only-happens-to-others, and I flung the offending bag into the freezer. I subsequently started rummaging through my other bags and only spotted one other bag with potential destruction (i.e. one very dead little beige monster). A bit of a wake-up call. This does not just happen to other knitters.

Luckily our local supermarket has a deal on plastic containers with lids. I bought three huge ones and started to re-pack all my yarn. It was time for another wake-up call. Three containers only scratched the surface of my yarn stash. I need eight more containers if I need to keep all of my yarn safe from moths (or the scourge of Glasgow tenements, carpet beetles). Eight. Eight.

I had to sit down on the (yarn-covered) floor for a moment. Deep breath.

The thing is, I have some lovely yarn in my stash that I cannot wait to knit. I have earmarked some of it for projects: Flyte, Shirley, Acer, Snapdragon, Miette, Still, Topstykke, and – oh – those thirty odd shawls I need to design. You know.

But the majority of the yarn is there because of the possible, potential projects. What to make with my three hanks of Noro Cashmere Island? Or the two hanks of Sirritogv Colour? Or the yak laceweight? The mountain of Kidsilk Haze? Often I think I want the potential knit more than I want the actual finished object.

When I moved across the North Sea, I had to get rid of most of my books. I marked them with tiny stickers. Red: We’re through. Yellow: we need to talk. Green: we’ll be together forever. Eventually I got rid of the reds and yellows (freecycle was useful). It felt like such a relief. A millstone removed. But six years later, I can still see the gaps, the ghosts. I still reach for books I no longer own.

I wonder how I will deal with my yarn stash in years to come.

Reading 2011: Emma Donoghue – Room

For years I used to live inside my head. I think it is an occupational hazard if you are within academia: you get used to silently arguing with yourself; to constantly question and explore your own thoughts. My head was (and is) the biggest place I have ever lived. I do not think of myself as an author, but I do think of myself as a writer. My words and thoughts are the most tangible things I possess. Words matter.

And I think that is why Emma Donoghue’s Room makes me so damn angry.

A brief synopsis: Room is the story of a young girl who is kidnapped by a loner and kept in a tiny room in his back-garden. She gives birth to a boy and raises him within the small room where they are at the mercy of the loner. The story echoes recent real-life crime cases – Josef Fritzl and his daughter, Natascha Kampusch, and Jaycee Lee Dugard – but is a work of fiction detailing life within confinement and subsequent events. Room has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and has won many major literary awards.

The subject matter is not the problem. Although it would be easy to step into “misery literature” territory, Room sidesteps this neatly by leaving out most of the actual abuse. Indeed, Donoghue is not preoccupied by the grisly details (which may disappoint some readers, I am sure) but instead she wants to explore how human beings respond to extraordinary situations and to each other. She employs the five-year-old boy, Jack, as the narrator of the story – undoubtedly to defamiliarise to an already unreal scenario.

And Jack as the narrator is the problem with Room.

I can understand the lure of using Jack as the narrator as it avoids a lot of sticky situations for Donoghue as a writer (as discussed above) but Jack the five-year-old narrator is wildly inconsistent. He uses abstract concepts like “sarcasm” in context and says “hippopotami” with correct declension – but Donoghue also has him saying “I finded him” and “I knowed.” So, the five year old kid can wield correct Greek grammar, but not use standard English strong verbs?

Russian literary critics used to differ between fabula and syuzhet: fabula is what happens; syuzhet is how it is told. Emma Donoghue has a firm grasp on the fabula part of her story, but Jack-as-narrator is a structural (syuzhet) problem that messes up Room in a very big way. It is not just that his language usage is woefully all-over-the-place but the pacing is off, any characterisation is by necessity very flat, and the internal logic has extremely big flaws.

And, so yes, reading Room made me angry.

I thought it was awful.

I have been reading a lot lately, but I don’t write much about the books I read for some reason. As always, feel free to catch up with my reads on GoodReads – the widget is to the right.