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Tag Archives: Crafty

The Story of a Bench

As a rule, I have an uneasy relationship with yarn-bombing. Done right and with purpose, yarn-bombing can be an effective way of practising craftivism (using craft as protest and promoting social change). It can transform a community and serve as a visual marker that something is not right. Sadly, I see too many press releases using yarn-bombing as a thoughtless exercise to “get the knitters on board” and throw a few pom poms at a tree as an empty PR exercise.

But then there is this bench and I want to share its story with you. It is deeply affecting as well as a story of how yarn-bombing can be an incredible story-telling tool.

This bench sits in a remote corner of the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular bench is hidden away at the back, close to the rose garden and the 16th century garden. Most visitors never make it that far, but the location is a favourite spot for many local people. I live next door to the Botanics and you will often find me knitting somewhere in that little area when the weather’s nice.

Local textile artist and production designer Rita McGurn passed away two years ago, and her daughter decided to yarn-bomb the bench. Most of the benches in the Botanics bear small memorial plaques, but this bench needed to be slightly different as a tribute to a woman who was described as “colourful, eccentric and a little irreverent”. Some of the pieces were crocheted by Rita herself before she passed away, while other pieces were made by Rita’s friends and family.

I came across the bench on a sunny day. As always, this corner of the Botanics was almost deserted – except people were lined up to look at this piece of art. A young couple was sitting on the bench for a long time, stroking the pieces of fabric and admiring the colour. A family stopped to have their children photographed (“no, don’t touch the flowers – say cheese – no sit still – now look at me”). A small group of people stopped for a long time and I wondered to myself if they were friends of the family. As I saw more and more people stopped to engage with the bench – taking photographs, sitting down, touching it – I realised that they were drawn to it as an art piece. Some had read about the bench in local papers – others just came across it in passing. Everybody slowed down and took a moment to reflect.

There is something so very moving about this yarn-bombing effort. It is a deliberate gesture carried out with care and love. The bench lights up its little corner of the park and the ephemeral nature of the piece makes it incredibly poignant. It is one of my favourite pieces of yarn-bombing I have ever come across. If you are nearby, I can only urge you to catch it before it disappears forever.

You can read more about Rita and Rita’s daughter, Mercedes here.

About Handknitted Scarves

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Just a very brief note as I catch my breath. Workshop season is in full swing and this means I am not home much. On the road I get to meet so many wonderful people and I see so many wonderful projects. This keeps me going until I am home on my sofa, snuggled up under the crochet blanket my mother once made me.

Knitting is one of the most soothing and calming activities I know. There is something so meditative about the repetitive hand actions and the small pattern repeats we keep in our heads: k2, p1, k8, p1.. As we sit there working, we ward off the troubles of life and can focus on something that makes sense. And then we put that scarf around our neck and it keeps us warm both in body and soul. We are reminded of that little meditative space as we go out to meet others and challenge a world that feels cold and fractured. And then when the world gets really cold and we face a very long winter, we know how to stay warm.

People talk a lot about symbols these days. They talk about baseball caps and safety pins. For me, a handknitted scarf is a symbol as well. It is a symbol of patience and perseverance. Tiny stitches are joined up in wonderful, joyful patterns to create a colourful scarf that keep us warm and happier. There is beauty in complexity and we should not forget that.

I don’t have any answers. But I try to pass on skills that will let you knit a handknitted scarf that you will be wearing in the years ahead.

Stay warm.

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.

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.

This Thing of Paper: Thoughts on Crowdfunding & Rewards

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So, I have introduced you to This Thing of Papermy book-sized project about knitting, making and printing. I have also written about my design considerations. Now, the details about the Kickstarter campaign which launches on May 23 2016.

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It was a long, hard decision to start a Kickstarter campaign for This Thing of Paper. I learned a lot of lessons doing Doggerland: I learned about graphic design, editing to a style sheet, defining design vocabularies, and photography. Most importantly, I learned that I cannot do a project like that on my own (or it will take a very long time). I need a team to support me, so I have time to create the content that is so central to my project.

But hiring good people costs money. Blocking out my calendar with creative time also costs money.

And so when I costed This Thing of Paper, I thought it would remain a passion project. One of those projects I’d work on when I had small pockets of time and maybe, just maybe, it’d see the light sometime next decade. Then several knitters (independently of each other!) asked if I had considered crowdfunding. You know what? I hadn’t, but one year later here we are just a few days away from a campaign launching.

Making the decision to crowd fund has meant that a) This Thing of Paper can become what I want it to be rather than an ongoing series of compromises and b) working with the knowledge that I am not alone – I have people backing me and supporting me all throughout the journey.

Crowdfunding means more than just financing a book project; it is also about feeling part of a loving, supportive and cheerleading community. Both things are really awesome and I am so grateful to the people who suggested I travel down that route. Fingers crossed that we get to set off on this adventure.

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The Kickstarter for This Thing of Paper aims to raise £9,700 in 30 days. Because I am a big believer in transparency, this is how that sum breaks down:

The material costs include physical rewards, postage, packaging and printing. They come in at £3575.

Intangible costs include hiring a professional graphic designer, a proof-reader and a technical editor. I will also pay myself a small amount each month to offset time to work on the book. Combined these costs come in at £5250.

The remaining £875 go towards various fees.

The book is scheduled for publication in April 2017 – I know from experience working both on my own and on various collaborations how long knitting publications take to make. Instead of making rash promises, I am working to a realistic timeline – especially considering I will still be teaching throughout the period.

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Now for the sweet part – the Kickstarter rewards. My partner David has supported a number of Kickstarters over the years and it’s always so joyful to see all the little extras that arrive. It’s been a lot of fun thinking of rewards and goodies, I can tell you! So, here are the seven reward levels.

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Pledging £5 or more gives you a whole lot of gratitude & a big thank you in the book!

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Pledging £10 or more gets you a big thank you in the book as well as two single digital patterns
from either the Doggerland or Hygge collections sent to your email.

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Pledging £20 or more gets you a printed copy of This Thing of Paper (plus a digital download code for the ebook) and a big thank you in the book!

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Pledging £30 or more gets you a printed, signed copy of This Thing of Paper (plus a digital download code for the ebook), two This Thing of Paper bookmarks and a big thank you in the book! You also get an exclusive Early Backer digital pattern. This pattern will be sent to your email and won’t become available anywhere else.

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Pledging £50 or more gets you a printed, signed copy of This Thing of Paper (plus a digital download code for the ebook), two This Thing of Paper bookmarks & badges, a This Thing of Paper tote/book bag, access to exclusive Facebook group, and a big thank you in the book! You also get an exclusive Early Backer digital pattern. This pattern will be sent to your email and won’t become available anywhere else.

ttop100Pledging £100 or more gets you a printed, signed copy of This Thing of Paper (plus a digital download code for the ebook), two This Thing of Paper bookmarks & badges, a This Thing of Paper tote/book bag, access to exclusive Facebook group, and a big thank you in the book! You also get an exclusive Early Backer digital pattern. This pattern will be sent to your email and won’t become available anywhere else.

Oh, and an hour long Skype chat with me!

It’s up to you what you want to talk about: do you want to talk about a specific knitting technique? do you want me to give you feedback on your portfolio? or do you simply want to hang out, chat & knit over Skype? It’s all up to you! Let’s have fun!

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Pledging £500 or more gets you a printed, signed copy of This Thing of Paper (plus a digital download code for the ebook), two This Thing of Paper bookmarks & badges, a This Thing of Paper tote/book bag, access to exclusive Facebook group, and a big thank you in the book! You also get an exclusive Early Backer digital pattern. This pattern will be sent to your email and won’t become available anywhere else.

Oh, and a weekend with me in Glasgow, Scotland!

Let me show you around my adopted home city of Glasgow, Scotland. See it through my eyes: tenement tiles, art nouveau and contemporary street art, irresistible vintage bookshops, Victorian museums, fabric and yarn shop visits, artisan coffee shops, or (weather permitting) maybe even a dash to the picturesque West Coast? (Please note that travel, accommodation, and food are not included).

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I hope the rewards tickle your fancy. I wanted all the extra goodies to have a flavour of bibliophilia, so there are bookmarks and a book bag tucked in there along the exclusive Early Backer pattern and the very, very big thank yous.

Any questions? I’m currently collating any and all queries, so I can answer them in the next blog post (which takes us up to the launch and the amazing blog tour of people I just admire so darn much).

(Have you noticed the little bar or scroll I’ve used in these This Thing of Paper posts, by the way? It’s hand-drawn by me and should give you an idea of the sort of details I am adding into the book (alongside awesome patterns and essays, of course))

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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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.

Crafternoons & Coffeespoons

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thinking Slow Fashion on a Budget – Building a Handmade Wardrobe Pt. 4

This is the last entry in my series on how to make things you love to wear. We’ve looked at how to examine your wardrobe, how to identify what you need to make, and how to approach this.

But I will be the first to admit that building a handmade everyday wardrobe takes time and money – so I thought I’d devote a post to how to ‘do’ slow and sustainable fashion on an everyday budget and with an everyday lifestyle. For me slow fashion and handmade go hand-in-hand.

1. The Keyword is Slow

I am not going to wake up tomorrow with a 100% handmade everyday wardrobe nor are you? Things take time – especially if you are knitting a 4ply fair isle cardigan by hand.

But slow fashion is its own reward – you get to imbue your finished cardigan with a lot of meaning which you wouldn’t get from buying it in a shop. One of my favourite cardigans was nearly completed during a relaxing knitting retreat with a stunning view. Whenever I wear it (and I do so often), I think back upon the snow-capped mountains, the open fire crackling in the living room and the fine company I was in. Another favourite cardigan was partially worked whilst sitting on the beach. Whenever I wear it, I think back upon a fantastic weekend I spent with far-flung friends drinking exquisite coffee and looking at insane Regency architecture.

I am a big believer in things taking time. If you take a long time to make something, chances are you will also be wearing it a long time.

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2. Choose Carefully, My Friend

In the not-so-distant past I worked for a big yarn company and I got to knit four garments of my choice every year. I started out by knitting statement pieces – things that used a gazillion balls of yarn and an equal amount of techniques. I never really wore the finished items and now I no longer work for the yarn company, I have given them away. So much wasted making time!

If you only have time to finish one or two big projects ever year, make them count. Choose your projects with care: don’t work with a colour you’ll never wear and don’t make something in a style you’d never wear. It’s easy to get tempted to get sucked into making things you see other people making, but be mindful of your crafting time.

If you have limited making time and budget, you need to think about your colours, materials and wardrobe style. Look back at the previous instalments in this series (1, 2 and 3).

3. Recognise Privilege When You See It

It’s so easy to feel disheartened when you are still on the first sleeve of your wool-blend cardigan six months down the line, and you see someone looking swanky in their 134th unicorn yarn project of the year.

But a handmade wardrobe can so very easily slip into privilege: some people don’t have to work; they can pay other people to mind their children, clean the house and make dinner; or they may even pay others to make their things for them (true story). Or maybe they’ve saved for several years to afford to make that expensive Alice Starmore kit.

You are still on your first sleeve of your cardigan but I bet you have been busy with other things. Own your achievements rather than compare yourself to other people whose lives may be heavily edited. You just never know. ‘Handmade’ should never be a competition about who is most worthy. Handmade should always be about your own wardrobe needs.

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 4. Think Sustainable When You Shop

Very few of my non-knitted clothes are handmade – but most of them are things I have either upcycled, found in second-hand shops (my favourite winter coat is 1960s 100% wool which cost me £12 in a second-hand shop. It had been labelled with the wrong size and never worn); or thrifted from friends.  I cannot always afford to buy things from an ethical retailer, so while I cannot check the provenance of things nor guarantee that the original seamtress was paid a fair wage, I know my money goes towards a good cause if I buy second-hand from a reputable charity shop. I also know some of my money goes back into the local economy which is important to me.

And I think about how much I actually need. When I started doing my wardrobe assessments, I was surprised by how much I didn’t actually wear. Rather than throwing things out (hello landfill) I decided to donate a lot of things so other people could benefit from me no longer having to wear business casual.

I still buy underwear, socks and tights from regular stores (I am no saint!) but I try to think about what I actually need. This also frees up extra pennies to spend on nice fabric or yarn.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Think of your handmade wardrobe as a journey or an ongoing adventure. Remind yourself why you are doing this: you are being kind to yourself, you are making things that will get worn again and again, and you are doing it because you love making things. If you find yourself sewing an intricate organza gown on no sleep and a deadline three hours ago, then it is probably time to reassess your commitment to a handmade wardrobe (unless you wear organza gowns every day and, if you do, I admire that level of commitment).

Also consider your time investment to be a kindness to yourself. It is a powerful statement: “I choose to spend this amount of time on myself making things that will make me feel good, that will remind me of beautiful moments, and that works with my lifestyle.” You may not get a handmade wardrobe overnight, but the journey there is part of the pleasure.

Now go forth and make beautiful things that you will keep wearing. Have fun.

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Discover What You Wear – Building A Handmade Wardrobe, pt 2.

In the first post in this series, I wrote about discovering the joys of wearing handmade clothes. This post is about looking at your existing wardrobe and find out how you can slowly turn it into a handmade wardrobe. Key adverb is slowly! I know a lot of lovely people who have a (mostly) handmade wardrobe but it is a long process to get there. A handmade wardrobe is also always a work in progress and about mending things you have already made.

With all that in mind, let us look at how you can figure out what you need to start making. No use making something you won’t wear!

1. Throw Things on the Bed

Open the wardrobe and take out all the things you keep wearing. Do the same with your jackets and coats – everything goes on the bed! Try to grab the fifteen or thirty things you keep wearing – from belts and scarves to skirts and cardigans. If you want, you can arrange them into the outfits you usually wear.

See if any trends emerge at this stage. Do you have more clothes than you thought? Do you have only a very small selection? Do you wear the same five things over and over? Can you sort them into piles of near-identical items (i.e. grey t-shirts) or do you have a very eclectic selection?

2. Time to Look Closer: Colour

Now you need to look at the colours you see. I’d suggest you sort the colours into three categories:

  1. Neutrals: the colours that bind everything together.
  2. Core Colours: the non-neutrals you keep wearing.
  3. Accent Colours: the occasional splashes of colour.

Your neutrals could be colours like black, grey, ecru, beige, khaki, fawn, brown or navy blue.

Your core colours are very individual to you. These are the colours you see again and again in your wardrobe – this can be anything from more neutrals to rich jewel colours or maybe soft pastels.

Your accent colours are the colours you only occasionally wear but you still see them again and again. What colours are your scarves? Your hats? Your jewellery? Maybe you keep being drawn to prints that have tiny bits of green or pink in them?

Becoming aware of what colours you keep wearing will make it easier to decide upon the colours you need to use when sewing or knitting something for yourself. I used to knit a lot of moss green cardigans until I realised my favourite cardigans were deep navy blue and grey!

3. Time to Look Closer: Style & Lifestyle

Many people tell me “Oh, I don’t think about fashion – I don’t have the time nor the inclination” and I hear you on that. Everyday life can be so hectic that many of us just grab whatever we can afford and what more-or-less fits. However, I promise you that subconsciously you are drawn to similar things again and again, and that your wardrobe will reflect this.

Ask yourself:

  • What items of clothing form the skeleton of my wardrobe?
  • Do I have anything that’s really too ratty to wear any more, but I cannot bear to throw it out because I don’t have a replacement? What is this thing?
  • What words can I use to describe the things I reach for again & again? Classic? Country? Romantic? Urban? Punk? Unisex?

4: Think About Your Discoveries

This process is designed to make you think about your everyday wardrobe. I trust you will be honest with yourself here – no embellishing the truth and lying to yourself about being a slinky Bohemian kimono-wearer when you are actually a sweatshirt & jeans girl!

When I first did this exercise, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any jeans and that I leaned towards wearing dresses with bold complementary colours. I had no idea I was so “dressy” in my everyday life! I was especially surprised to see how very little black I had in my wardrobe – I used to live in black clothes! – and how much I used navy as a neutral. The first thing I knitted after all this was a fitted yellow cardigan which has now become a wardrobe staple despite my misgivings! It works!

In the third instalment I’ll talk more about how to decide what to make and how to plug wardrobe gaps.