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Tag Archives: Glasgow

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.

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.

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.

Quickie, Quickie

October 2015 132twSo, I collaborated with Malabrigo Yarns on this little thing.

Crosstown Traffic is its own very definite thing.

I love really variegated yarns but I find it hard to find good patterns for them. What looks amazing in the skein can be hard to handle when knitting – and so I came up with this cowl pattern. The variegated yarn is paired with a semi-solid which lets the wild colours shine in small, controlled bursts.

The end result is a cowl with a very relaxed, very urban feel. It uses two skeins of Malabrigo Twist – an aran-weight yarn which I took up to 6mm (US 10) needles. I added icord edgings for extra sophistication – such an easy technique with stunning results – but the yarn really just speaks for itself.

The name comes from an old Jimi Hendrix song – Crosstown Traffic (link isn’t very good, sorry). I was busy sketching when my partner David came home humming the song. It seemed an obvious name for the pattern: easy to remember, relaxed feel and just a bit streetwise.

I chose the colour combination of Twist in Zinc (a matte, pinkish/blue grey) and Plena (azure blue, deep purple, bright yellow and green!) for the sample, but any leftfield combination of semi-solid + variegated colours will work. Because it’s a Malabrigo Quickie, the cowl takes just two skeins – one of each.

Stashbusting. I like that.

Finally, let me just leave you with the initial sketch I did for this design. It was a lot of fun trying to capture the feel of the sketch in the pattern photos – I think we did well.

I live in a lovely, leafy part of Glasgow (which you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram) but Glasgow City Centre is frequently used as a film location ‘lookalike’ for major US cities in films like World War Z, Cloud Atlas, and The Dark Knight Rises. It was very cool to hike down some of the back alleys and find some awesome photo shoot locationssketch

Initial sketch for Crosstown Traffic.

I have a busy few months ahead of me – it’s workshop season – but I always love to see what you make using my patterns. Make sure to share your photos with me. I’m also just a tweet away – and I’ll be sharing plenty of details from my forthcoming travels up & down the country.

Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

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Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC’s Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme – it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

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Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

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And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it’s a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.

Trip to Glasgow’s Newest LYS: The Queen of Purls

Glasgow is a relatively big city, but we have a decided lack of yarn shops compared to many other places. I was delighted when I learned that a new yarn shop was about to pop its doors open in the city centre. I went along to meet Zoe and her shop, The Queen of Purls.

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Zoe has a background in art and textiles which is evident as soon as you enter her shop. The chair cushions are embroidered; the open/closed sign is needle-felted; and there is a real eye for textured detail in the nooks and crannies of the shop. As always, I was pleased by the attention to colour in the set-up and while Zoe has only just opened (and is still getting supplies in), there is a strong hint of personality to Queen of Purls. That is always a good sign!

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I had a nosy around the yarn – of course I did. A friend works for Garnstudio and had emailed me that very morning to tell me about Queen of Purls being a Drops stockist – and Zoe does stock a lot of the popular Drops qualities: Alpaca, Kidsilk, Lima, Nepal, Lace and the workhorse yarn of all workhorse yarns, Karisma among others. Personally I was really thrilled to see a big selected of Garthenor yarns (you may remember I have used one of their yarns for my Ronaes shawl) – I am such a big fan of their rustic, crisp yarns and it is great to see them represented in a local yarn shop. Zoe had also ensured a touch of luxury with Malabrigo and Manos (and another luxury yarn starting with M is due to arrive any day) as well as a beautiful selection of Jamieson & Smith yarns. I was pleased to see the perennial Ravelry favourite, Fishermen’s Wool, a cracking 100% wool from Lion Brand on the shelves too – it is incredibly versatile and beautiful.

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The Queen of Purls also stocks a variety of sock yarn, books, accessories, and knitting needles/crochet hooks. It’s one of the few places I’ve seen to stock a huge variety of needle-felting accessories including a really staggering amount of fibre (and, trust me, Zoe knows her fibre!). As it has only been open a fortnight, stock is still arriving and Zoe advises that you check in on a regular basis. She is also happy to handle stock enquiries and some special orders. There are plans afoot for knit nights and workshops, so keep an eye on her website, Facebook feed, and Twitter for more information. I really enjoyed the hours(!) I spent in there and, yes, I did buy some yarn.

The Queen of Purls is located in city centre (easy access for all you city centre workers and people in Glasgow for a day). The address is 91 Saltmarket which is just around the corner from Glasgow Green and a ten minute walk from the Central Station. My own knitting group meets regularly at Tron Theatre which is about three minutes away from QoP (and, yes, damage has already been done). It’s a great little neighbourhood with galleries around the Tron area, vegan food at the amazing Mono cafe/bar/record shop, and delicious cakes at Once Upon A Tart.

I’m looking forward to seeing QoP grow over the next few years and I’m very excited by the latest addition to the Glasgow knitting landscape. Yay!

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With Love from Glasgow

When you read this, I am currently on a much-needed break. The past year has been a whirlwind of activity and I was startled when I realised I hadn’t had any time off since Christmas 2012 (when I had the flu so I am not sure it counts). I have spent some days on Aberdeen with family and now I am making my way towards London (where I’ll be at the Pompom Magazine Christmas Party – hope to see you there?) and then Denmark. Hopefully I’ll return with my batteries recharged and some major decisions made. I will be knitting whilst I am away – I am currently collaborating with Quail Books on an exciting project and I’m also working with Knit Now magazine on what promises to be their best issue yet – but I am not stressing about deadlines for once.

But first I am really happy to unveil a collaboration with my original partner-in-crime, Ms Old Maiden Aunt. We had so much fun running our Sherlock-inspired project in 2012 that we wanted to do something similar this year. Instead of doing a three-month long club, we decided to do a one-off kit that combined our love of Scotland, local history, and Art Nouveau. We began working on this some eight months ago  so when Lilith received the small booklets last week, I whooped.

November 2013 144The Tenement Tiles pattern is inspired by the late 19th century tiles found throughout the Victorian apartment blocks (“tenements”) in Glasgow. The pattern booklet includes a small essay about the tiles and Glasgow – the story of the tenement tiles is absolutely fascinating (it involves both cholera and false teeth!) and I have also included photographs of some of the tiles in my neighbourhood.

I see these late 19th century tiles every single time I leave my home – the entry way to my tenement is tiled with deep green titles depicting stylised lilies. Lilith and I began working on how to work the tiles into a design and the obvious solution was colourwork.

The Tenement Tiles gloves come in three sizes and the kit includes an exclusive Old Maiden Aunt colourway that won’t be available anywhere else. We were really passionate about trying to capture a slightly weathered green-grey and Lilith came up with a colour that just blew me away. It is the exact shade I had in my head when I first started sketching all those months.

(An addendum: Glasgow’s the first place I have really felt at home and it feels so very poignant to have worked on something so quintessentially Glaswegian at a time when Glasgow has been hit by tragedy.  It feels even stranger to be writing about my beloved home when I know this blog post will be posted when I am not here. Glasgow has a reputation of a hard, tough city but it is a city of beautiful architecture, amazing art and (most importantly) an incredible community spirit. )

Many thanks to the overwhelming response to my post about appreciating hand-knitting. I have much I want to say in response to your response but first I have some travelling to do. Also, in lieu of a big gift guide for the knitters in your life, I have compiled a small Pinterest board of some good gift ideas.

That awkward moment..

.. when the media decides to call you an expert .

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(thank you Alison for the commemorative photo)

What the Kids Do Today

My local Unnamed Major Supermarket is the gift that keeps giving. It used to be really dodgy, then it was given an Unnamed Major Supermarket Extra! overhaul and is now twice the size and twice as dodgy but does its thing twenty-four-seven.

Going to Unnamed Major Supermarket is always an adventure. What will it be today? Junkies in wheelchairs fighting over a cat on a leash that doesn’t belong to either of them? A happy birthday card saying “Daddy, I love you more than chips”? Shady Lady having very suggestive mobile phone conversations in the middle of the Tinned Food section? Junkie challenging Mormon preacher on Hitler’s Christianity? Or will it be as mundane as being elbowed by Angry Old Lady Who Doesn’t Want That Luxury Hummus (And What the Hell IS hummus) But Doesn’t Want Me To Have It Either.

All these stories are true.

But today my Unnamed Major Supermarket adventure was different. I was sending a birthday parcel to my BFF and the Post Office lady looked at me: “Is it one of those yarn swap parcels the kids do today?”

.. let us just pause and rewind..

“Is it one of those yarn swap parcels the kids do today?”

My Unnamed Major Supermarket just gets weirder and weirder.

(Also, it just dawned on me that I was identified as A Knitter by the Post Office lady. Note to self: must wear fewer layers of wool if I am to blend in with native population)

 

Addendum: If you are struggling to find me a gift, I’d be perfectly happy to accept Lord Byron’s copy of Frankenstein, inscribed by Mary Shelley.. This Hark! A Vagrant! comic is wonderfully on-topic.

Biking in Glasgow

BikeI have been biking in Glasgow since mid-March (so, two months). Here are a few observations.

First, though, you should know this about me.

a) I am Danish and have been biking since I was two or three.

b) I grew up biking in a small rural community in Denmark with no cycle paths.

c) I spent the majority of my adult life biking in Copenhagen which is an enormously bike-friendly city.

d) To me, biking is not a sport or leisure activity. Biking is a mode of transport – a way from getting from A to B.

Some background:

I moved to Glasgow in 2006. The six years between moving here and me getting a bike are the longest I have ever gone without a bike. Initially I decided against getting a bike due to traffic running in the left lane rather than the Continental right and then I was unable to bike for a number of health reasons. However, I had been toying with the idea for some time and I eventually bought my bike in March 2012.

What made you decide to get a bike?

We don’t have a car in our household which means I had become reliant upon public transport. Public transport in Glasgow is not great: bus routes are frequently illogical, you cannot transfer from bus to subway without getting a new ticket, and prices have shot up in recent years. Add to that some rather unfortunate incidents on my most-used bus route and I had had enough. Time to get a bike.

So what is it like biking in Glasgow?

It is both better and worse than I expected.

Good bits:

  • Cycle paths are readily available. I really enjoy being able to spot deer, foxes and swans on my daily commute rather than grim bus drivers.
  • Navigating left-side traffic is not terribly difficult and it is far less terrifying than I had expected.
  • Due to the nature of Glasgow, it is easy to find short-cuts and unexpected routes. You don’t need to use heavy traffic roads unless you have a strange desire to do so.
  • People are easily impressed. ‘I bike to work’ is mostly met with dropped jaws and compliments – even if biking to work only takes me 20 minutes. I am now an exotic creature!
  • I feel an enormous sense of freedom. I don’t have to wait for buses or trains. I don’t have to plan my day around timetables. I can run my errands without any hassle.
  • And I am losing weight! A nice side-effect.

Bad bits:

  • Biking provokes people. I have had snack wrappers thrown at me from a passing car with matching verbal abuse. I have also had verbal abuse from random pedestrians. Also, teenagers have jumped in front of me trying to make me swerve into oncoming traffic which was an new and exciting experience.
  • Cycle paths are not always ideal – for my money, cobbled streets are the work of the devil – and occasionally interesting to bike down (there is one part where I’m likely to fall into the canal if someone tries to pass me).
  • Cars will often park right across your cycle path leaving you few options where to bike safely.
  • Cars will also stop and block your way without any indication – and drivers will also open their doors without notice. I have had this in Denmark too although not to same degree.
  • People associate biking with sports, so most of the gear available is decked out in florescent colours and is very over-priced (presumably because it is marketed as ‘high-tech’). I sometimes wear a skirt when biking – this confuses many of the other cyclists who are mostly wearing Lycra.

Any tips?

  • I try to make myself as big as possible when I bike on normal roads. I don’t crawl along the kerb as I believe this’ll make drivers less careful around me. Instead I bike maybe 3 feet away from the kerb and I make sure to exaggerate any arm indications I am making.
  • I do not wear big florescent jackets  for the same reason as above. I believe wearing these jackets will actually make drivers less careful around me as the ‘safety gear’ indicates a certain level of invulnerability. I wear my normal clothes but add florescent strips at night (as well as lights, of course).
  • I wear a bike helmet. I see people without helmet and while I used to be one of them, I wouldn’t do that here in Glasgow.
  • Get in touch with Sustrans who can provide you with info on local cycle routes.
  • Assess your local landscape before buying your bike. I wish I had bought a bike with five or more gears, but I opted for a three-gear bike before I realised just how hilly Glasgow can get on a bike. I love my bike to bits, but it is not as practical as I would have liked.
  • Be prepared to justify your existence on the road. Biking is not as much of an integral part of your average lifestyle (unlike Denmark) so you have to be prepared for some offensive comments and behaviour.

Finally, would you recommend getting a bike?

Yes. It is the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time.