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Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a ‘keen interest in knitting’ (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP’s Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – just like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I’m very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically – and wittily – to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather’s design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights – I always like when this is given as an option. The ‘Bianca’ option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid’s duties and this shrug is now on the list of ‘cover up them shoulders’ options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.

Hello Byatt KAL (and Other Things)

Thank you so much for all the lovely words regarding the Byatt shawl. It is my first real stand-alone release after I completed the Doggerland collection and I was nervous about what people might think. Doggerland was all about a very pared-down design vocabulary and Byatt is positively decadent by contrast. I am relieved that people appear willing to tag along with me on my new design adventures and I cannot wait to see which colour combinations you choose. I have already seen quite a few people comment that Byatt is perfect for stash-diving (we all have those one-off skeins in our stash, don’t we?) while other people have been searching on their book shelves for colour inspiration.

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Here is the challenge for all of you going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival: can you knit a Byatt before then? I have a few incentives in store for you. Firstly, you’ll get a 10% discount on Old Maiden Aunt yarns if you show up in a Byatt knitted in OMA. Secondly, if you show up in a Byatt and you manage to grab a photo of yourself and me at EYF, you get a staggering 50% off my next pattern.

And the final challenge is open to everybody regardless of whether you can make it to EYF or not: finish a Byatt shawl before March 31, post a photo and you enter into a really exciting prize draw. I’ll be picking out a few goodies from EYF vendors and you get to help me design a shawl. I designed Byatt partly because a few people had told me they wanted a two-skein shawl. What would you like to see? Cables? Triangular shawl? Semi-circle? A shawl in a DK or worsted-weight shawl? You tell me.

Now , there is a very good reason why I let David take photographs of all my knitted things. I took the photo below and it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was surprisingly hard to take a photo of the Byatt shawl flat – I have worn it quite a bit (so it’s a bit crumpled) and it’s rather big (so it’s hard to capture in one fell swoop). Still, I hope this helps those of you who wanted to see the shawl shape (though a schematic is included).   January 2015 183

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have heard I got up this morning to a very cold flat (8°C / 46°F). It’s really pretty outside with all the snow, but our old-fashioned (and very pretty) Victorian tenement flat has no double-glazing, very high ceilings and two badly-sealed fireplaces. I’ve turned on the heating and it’s now a staggering 12°C/53°F. Hooray for wool! Yet again I am a complete convert to woolly socks, I’m wearing my old pair of Fetchings and my bedraggled Noro jumper which fits nobody (and especially not me). Nothing like winter to make me break out the old knitted things that are now so tatty I cannot wear them in public anymore.

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Look! Baby Karie! So young & so pleased with her fingerless mitts! Awwww.

I hope you’ll join me for the Byatt KAL and I am really looking forward to being gazoomped at EYF by you all. Stay tuned for colour combo suggestions and ideas. I’m off to speed-knit another pair of woolly socks.

Authors & Artists: the Byatt Shawl

January 2015 112After a few teasing posts, I am happy to say that the Byatt shawl is now available from Ravelry (and will soon be available from LoveKnitting too).

The shawl is named after one of my favourite novelists, A.S. Byatt.  I first encountered her books when I was a young woman on the cusp of starting university. I read her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession in translation by Claus Bech. I later learned Bech had been awarded the Prix Baudelaire for his work, but that was no help to me as I diligently worked my way through dense poetry sections.

A few years later I read Possession in its original English and Byatt’s book was transformed. While Bech’s work was lauded, I could not connect with it in the same way I could connect with Byatt’s own language. It was rich, layered, warm, gently witty, and wonderful. The book became a touchstone and I have read it eight or nine times now.

And so Byatt’s novels became part of my life.

The Frederica Potter novels – The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman – kept me company as I grew from a young woman to whoever it is I am now. I read The Biographer’s Tale whilst travelling around New Zealand (it remains my least favourite Byatt novel to date). And I curled up with her short stories – Angels and Insects and the Matisse Stories, among others, when I lived in a suitcase trying to figure out who I was going to be. Reading Byatt quietens that voice inside my head that urges me to be less bookish, less arty, and more .. normal. I owe her much for writing about quiet, creative people with complex inner lives who muddle through life trying to remain intact. We exist too.

The Byatt shawl takes its main design cues from the cover design of  The Children’s Book. The rich teal and the golden brown are obvious nods towards the teal and gold found on the cover. Insects recur often as motifs in Byatt’s books – the slip stitch pattern forms braids on top of the garter stitch, but the individual stitches can also resemble tiny wings or delicate leaves.

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The horseshoe edging was my toughest design decision. I wanted the shawl to have an Art Nouveau feel, so I first added leaves to the edging. Interestingly, I found that very open lace patterns clashed with the remainder of the shawl and I experimented with bold chevrons until my eye was caught by the classic horseshoe pattern. Its light chevron feel and close/open movement worked both within the context of the fabric and also with the design inspiration. The edge is finished off with a picot edging which just adds a touch of polish.

I’ve had a few questions about the shape of the shawl. Funnily enough, neither my photographer, my tech editor nor myself even considered that issue, so I have uploaded the schematic to my Rav project page to tide things over until I can get my photographer (also known as David, the boyfriend) to shoot some photos. Many apologies for the oversight. On the other hand, it is the sort of feedback that improves my patterns, so thank you for getting in touch!

The only other issue is that I am currently waiting for my lovely friends at LoveKnitting to publish the pattern, so it becomes available in all EU countries. I am keeping tabs on the situation and am exceedingly frustrated that not all you lovely people can buy the pattern straight away. Maybe an excuse to go stash-diving or plan colour combinations?

Stay tuned for colour combination suggestions from Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. If you are planning on going to the Edinburgh Festival, you will want to stay tuned to learn why knitting a Byatt shawl might be a good idea. I did say plans were afoot, non?

Introducing Byatt

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The first pattern in my Authors and Artists series is called Byatt. It is an asymmetrical shawl that starts with just one stitch. Most of the shawl is knitted in garter stitch and it uses two colours of hand-dyed 4ply sock yarn. You never work more than one colour at any time, as the braided effect is obtained using a slip-stitch pattern. Byatt is finished off with a lacy edge in the contrast colour and a picot cast-off.

Hand on heart, I knitted most of Byatt during pub quizzes and knit nights. I found it a very soothing, relaxing knit – yet it looks quite complex when it is done. I chose to work with Old Maiden Aunt merino 4ply as I was after depth of colour and excellent drape. Several people had asked me to design a shawl that used more than one skein of hand-dyed sock yarn, and I was happy to comply.

The combination of a deep blue-grey main colour and a coppery brown contrast is not an accident. This shawl takes its name from the British novelist A.S. Byatt whose books are not just full of beautiful, rich details but are also beautifully designed. I shall write more about Byatt (the novelist) when Byatt (the shawl pattern) is released tomorrow.

I have had a very rough week, but I am very happy to say that working with some most excellent collaborators on this project has really made a difference. It is so incredibly nice when people come together in an organic way and all get aboard my rather vague concept of “contemporary pomo Victoriana but in a minimalist way”. (Sometimes I wish I was more of a cupcake hat designer, but you cannot change who you are.)

More pictures and details and general Byatt enthusiasm tomorrow. Tomorrow!

Book Review: Kate Atherley’s Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

atherleyI get a lot of emails. Some deal with my own work, but a surprising amount of messages comes from people wanting to write patterns. Maybe my epic Twitter rants about poorly written patterns are to blame; maybe it is because when I teach I go on about things like gauge and chart symbols. Who knows?

What do you do if you didn’t fluke a background in technical writing? Up to now you had to rely upon your knowledge of others’ pattern writing skills and try to imitate their way of writing instructions. I understand why people do this, but it does not allow for reflection upon your own style and you may fall into adopting other people’s bad habits without realising there are other options. Or you asked people like me who does have a background in technical writing (and who is horrifically busy) or you ask in Ravelry fora with somewhat mixed results.

Anyway, it’s been really frustrating for me that I have had nowhere to send all these lovely people. There are some great pattern design books in the world (like Maggie Righetti’s Sweater Design in Plain English) but no pattern writing books out there. With Kate Atherley’s book, Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, that drought is now at an end. It is not a knitting book filled with patterns; it is a book telling designers how to write patterns that are clear, concise and easy to follow. Kate Atherley is one of the most highly regarded technical editors in the business and her wealth of experience shows.

The book is a master-class in how to think about pattern writing. She discusses everything from how to structure a pattern (and provides a pattern template), which abbreviations to use, how to think about communicating cables and deciding upon formatting to why a designer’s relationship with their technical editor is so important, working with and defining style sheets, how to self-publish, how to work with publications (and what they expect of you as a designer) and how to making easy-to-follow charts.  It is an incredibly comprehensive book.

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Kate’s voice is authoritative, but never condescending. She assumes the reader is clever, resourceful and able to think for themselves. Look at the excerpt above: the three examples of a repeat within a row have an identical outcome (in terms of how many stitches you have at the end) but Kate goes through the examples one by one, and lets the reader work out why some formats are more effective than others.

And she makes you think about how writing patterns means communicating to someone who is not you. I find this is a pitfall for many designers who assume knitters work in the same way as themselves and find it hard to write for others. Writing for an audience is a real skill – and writing technical instructions for others to follow is even harder. I really like the way Kate makes you consider your audience before you begin writing.

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In short, this book is a marvel. It is a technical and dry in places (which I obviously love), but after a dense paragraph about the taxonomy of cable stitches, Kate shows why you need to wrap your head about how to classify and name cable stitches – and she does so in a wonderfully down-to-earth manner. More importantly, she makes sure you will enjoy writing that cabled hat pattern of yours. Most importantly, Kate makes sure that your cabled hat pattern will make an enjoyable knit for knitters who will talk about your well-written pattern to others and keep coming back for more. Huzzah!

I should point out (in the name of full disclosure) that I am cited in the book and that I was asked to read an early draft of this book, but that does not alter my praise of this book. Whether you are an aspiring designer or an experienced designer/tech editor, this book will instruct and help you. I keep a copy next to me on my desk as it comes in handy on a daily basis. The book is full of great advice from other designers and technical editors – and has a great deal of links to useful resources. As Kate says, the book won’t help you come up with designs but it will teach you how to write great patterns people will want to make again and again.

And happy knitters make for a happy knitting world.

You can buy the book here and it costs CAD$25. A real bargain for what you’ll learn.

Noblesse Oblige – Pattern & Brief Thoughts on Language

I have been collaborating with my good friend, the marvellous Susan Crawford, and Noblesse Oblige is my contribution to her “Knits in a Cold Climate” collection.

 

When I was given the design brief by Susan, I knew I wanted to use the wonderful colour range in Susan Crawford Fenella. Inspired by my recent forays into knitting archives, I began sketching Fair Isle bands but it was not until I uncovered a photo of a 1930s knitting pattern that I decided upon the colour scheme. The jumper is charming, but I fell in love with the red/green/yellow motif. Could I use these colours in a more traditional setting?

After several attempts, I hit upon a 1930s inspired hat and scarf using that red/green/yellow combination, but also tempered by a soft porcelain blue and a delightful creamy white. The jaunty beret features two Fair Isle bands that counteract each other to create a sense of dynamism.

The scarf comes in three sizes – you can make it a neckerchief, a small scarf or a full-sized shawl. To optimise knitting pleasure, the scarf does not use Fair Isle bands but features narrow stripes in a colour sequence that calls back to the beret. After much discussion, Susan and I agreed that small, felted pompoms would add a delightful finishing touch.

Naming the pattern was harder. I wanted to use one of Nancy Mitford’s book titles, but neither Christmas Pudding nor Pigeon Pie seemed appropriate! Finally, Noblesse Oblige seemed to suggest itself – it is a collection of essays and I rather enjoyed Nancy Mitford’s essay on the English language. So, Noblesse Oblige. A lovely hat and scarf set. I hope you will enjoy knitting it.

But let’s talk about Nancy Mitford’s essay briefly.

Found in Noblesse Oblige, “The English Aristocracy” is her most famous essay. Nancy Mitford had recently read an academic article by a British linguist and was inspired to write her own examination of how the British upper class (“U”) and the middle class (“non-U”) spoke. The essay is very much of its time – apparently only non-U people would speak of telephones! – but that is also part of its appeal. It is a snapshot of a world in transition where old notions of class and importance are slowly eroding. It is particularly interesting to compare Mitford’s essay to Grayson Perry’s TV documentaries about Class in Britain. The economic barriers between the classes may have eroded, but cultural markers such as language and taste have not.

“The English Aristocracy” is an early example of what we know today as sociolinguistics. A “sociolect” is a type of language associated with one socioeconomic class, age group or gender. The British 1990s sit-com Keeping Up Appearances uses Mitford’s little U vs non-U markers and sociolects to great comic effect. The main protagonist, Hyacinth Bucket, insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet, and she keeps grasping at big, fancy words in her attempt to sound more refined (something Mitford notes is the true mark of a social climber – why use the word “lavatory” when “loo” is perfectly adequate?). The underlying class anxiety so evident in Mitford’s 1950s essay is very much visible even forty and fifty years on.

If you have half an hour to spare, I suggest you read Mitford’s little essay in Noblesse Oblige – I assure you that you will notice amusing little things about how you and the people around you speak.

Now for the important pattern details: you can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. It is £4 and the pattern uses five shades of Fenella. Susan is planning on offering a kit which you will be able to buy from her shop.

It has been marvellous working with Susan on this pattern – she understands my shorthand descriptions so very, very well and has an incredible eye for details, style, and colour. I also really enjoyed working with Fenella which has a such lovely bounce in its step.

 

 

That Was The October That Was

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Lately I have had my head buried in spreadsheets, charts, style sheets and gauge swatches. All work and no play makes for a dull Karie. Sure, there were some bright spots (like my surprise trip to Arran) but I’ve mainly focused on ticking off items on my to-do list.

I celebrated Socktober by getting stuck into sock design for the first time. I have always had a mild phobia of feet (don’t ask) but several people challenged me to conquer my phobia. I am glad I did because I really enjoyed playing around with a new canvas and checking out new techniques. I’m joining forces with Ms Old Maiden Aunt for her 2015 club – three exclusive colourways and three sock patterns by yours truly. I am truly excited to hear what people think of my sock patterns as it’s a new area for me. I am not ruling out designing more socks, incidentally, as my friend Paula gave me a pair of luxurious hand-knitted socks as a belated birthday present and I love them to bits.

Just don’t make me look at other people’s toes, aghr.

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Another highlight was teaching workshops. I really love teaching – that moment a tricky technique is mastered by someone or I can see someone getting it .. well, you cannot beat that feeling. One of my workshops took place at Dundee’s Fluph yarn shop. We had six native languages between us and experience ranging from “designing my own jumpers” to “I learned to knit three months ago and have never worked in the round”. Just such a great time and I love the six finished mini jumpers. All speak of the knitters’ personalities and how much they were up for a challenge. The red jumper on the left? The lady had never attempted colourwork before and was excited to put small borders on her jumper. Ace stuff.

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New designs? Yes. I finished nine new designs this months – including the three sock patterns that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone doing that many designs in a month, but I found being busy silenced that annoying voice going “it’s not good enough, Karie”. I have struggled with perfectionism and impossibly high standards before – and it was interesting to see how being busy felt liberating.

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I was excited to meet and chat with Susan McComb, the Knitter-In-Residence at Glasgow University for Wool Week. The residency was an extension of the ongoing Knitting in the Round project and since I have been part of the project in a number of ways, I was looking forward to seeing Susan’s work. She had translated architectural details found around campus into knitting patterns, had taught knitting workshops throughout the university and spoken with Material Culture students about textiles. Susan spoke with passion about keeping your eyes open and knit what you see in every day life (this reminded me of Felicity Ford’s recent work). We had a great conversation about inner/outer landscapes and the relationship between landscapes and textiles. Incidentally, if you can make it, the Knitting in the Round project has a workshop on Sanquhar knitting in Sanquhar tomorrow, November 1.

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And I finished the Doggerland collection, my word. Part of me thought I would never get to the finishing line as the aforementioned perfectionism reared its ugly head again and again. But I did finish and I cannot quite believe that something that was inside my head for so long is now out in the world. The finished collection is almost 50 pages long (only because I used a relatively small sized font, ha ha) and has 8 patterns with essays and hand-drawn schematics.

I love collaborations and working closely with others on a design brief – but I take great pleasure to looking at Doggerland knowing it would not exist if it weren’t for my stubbornness and my odd ideas.

It has also been quite overwhelming listening to people’s responses – and i mean that in a positive way! I have been corresponding with few knitters (and non-knitters) over the past year or so, and I have heard so many incredible stories about how Doggerland has affected them or made them think. I’ll be sharing some of those stories in a separate post, but it is truly one of the joys of my life that my work can affect people. It feels quite humbling.

So. November. What will November bring? Some time to breathe?

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Storegga Shawl – Leaving Doggerland

October 2014 325sm Storegga is the very last pattern in my Doggerland collection. It is always odd when a journey comes to an end. I wrote about this yesterday, but today it feels even stranger.

When I started working on Doggerland, there were two stories I wanted to include:  the story of the Vedbaek excavations and the story of the Storegga Slide – the story of how Doggerland ended. During my research I found other stories I loved (as well as some unlikely sources of inspiration) but I knew the final pattern of the collection would have to be inspired by the Storegga Slide.

The Storegga Slide was a massive landslide off the coast of Norway around 6200 BCE. The landslide prompted a tsunami which rippled southwards. At this point in time, Doggerland was already drowning due to rising sea levels and had been reduced to a marshy island in the middle of the North Sea – but the tsunami marked the end of it. You can still see soil deposits around the east coast of Scotland: the tsunami came with devastating force.

This proved a really difficult source of inspiration for me: how could I base a knitting pattern on a natural disaster? I began thinking about the need to capture beauty wherever we see it and how some things only exist in a brief pocket of time.

And so the shawl began to take shape. It is a crescent-shaped shawl with an easy stocking stitch body and a delicate lace border. The lace border is where I decided to incorporate my inspiration: the opening-up of the lace is countered by sharp decreases. It is a push/pull movement that works to create an abrupt, yet beautiful motif. Just as you can begin to glimpse the formation of the motif, it is gone.

Poets have written of carpe diem and gather ye rosebuds while ye may. In a strange way, I think that is also what I wanted to say with Storegga. The ground can shift beneath your feet at any given time, so treasure those fleeting moments of absolute beauty and joy. For that reason I would recommend working the Storegga shawl in the most beautiful yarn you own. I used the glorious Snaeldan 1ply in “Turf” for my Storegga. It is quite a heavy laceweight (almost 3ply, I reckon) and I used around 380 yds. As with most of my shawl patterns, I have included tips on different yarn weights and modifications in the pattern. You can do a lot with Storegga – just make sure you keep the lace motif open.

And so I leave Doggerland – both the collection and the lost landscape. It started with Ronaes and a beach. Hoxne had you knit your own flint scraper. The Gillean hat & gloves looked at traces left in the landscape. Ythan examined material remains dredged up from the sea bed as well as the ephemeral art of tidelines. Vedbaek was a meditative knit designed to comfort and cradle you. Ertebolle was a deliberate nod towards the shifts in technology and used Mesolithic motifs we still recognise today. Storegga is the final chapter with its drowning landscape and fleeting moments of joy.

People have asked if I plan on turning Doggerland into a physical book. You will be able to buy some of the patterns as single paper patterns in selected yarn stores soon, but there will not be a full book to put on your shelves. I have made this decision partly for practical reasons and partly because  I do not want to expand it: it is a complete work on its own.

People have also asked me what is next. Well, you will have to wait and see. Come travel with me through Doggerland for the time being. Come catch your own moments of joy.

Caritas: On the Thorny Issue of Charity Knitting

may-133I have been involved with various charity knitting projects in my time. Quite apart from knitting for various projects, I helped out with the Garterstitch100 project which made blankets for women’s shelters and I have also been a coordinator for a premature baby knitting project. I have seen both sides of charity knitting and it’s been interesting. Recently I came across some thoughtful – and thought-provoking – blog posts on charity knitting.

Ben wrote about wanting to know the facts behind the stories in the media. He found out that a popular crafting-for-charity story had a religious agenda. He concluded:

Crafters need to interrogate the traditional “charity” narratives their disciplines are attached to. They need to be honest about the motivations behind their charity-craft, and make sure that the charities they support really align with their values. They also need to accept that charity-craft, as a model, is usually more about the desires of the giver than it is about the needs of the receiver.

Rachel wondered why the knitters keep getting asked:

When was the last time you saw a charity campaign asking people with hobbies such as carpentry, embroidery, sculpting or painting, to create a throwaway object in order to ‘raise awareness’? I doubt that you have and I doubt that you will. So why do knitters get targeted? Do the marketing and PR departments of charities think that knitters have nothing better to do with their skills, time and resources than make small hats for drinks bottles? Why do these campaigns always fall to the knitters and why do we keep entertaining them?

I urge you to read both these blog posts. Not only are they interesting, but they also deal with a complex topic in ways that deserve your attention.

I support charity knitting because I recognise that a) people feel the need to give back and show care for their fellow human beings. b) knitting (and other types of crafting) is a way of showing this care and love, and c) it can genuinely transform some people’s lives and show compassion and hope where often there is nothing to be found. Yet – I have mixed emotions about charity knitting and I’ll be trying to unpack them below.

Sometimes charity knitting projects live up to their name – caritas means “the love for all” or “to care for your neighbour” – and I have personally heard moving stories of a woman escaping domestic abuse snuggling up with a handmade blanket in a shelter, a guy who taught himself to knit preemie hats because his little daughter was fighting for her life in hospital, and knitters getting together across continents to make a blanket for cancer survivors. Powerful stories where knitting becomes synonymous with care, love, hope and friendship. Powerful stories where a knitter’s simple act of caring transformed lives.

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Other times I look at a campaign like Innocent Drinks’ The Big Knit which has knitters make tiny hats for smoothie bottles. Did you know that each smoothie sold equates to just 25p donated to Age UK? Did you know that Innocent Drinks is 90% owned by Coca-Cola? If you work out the maths of cost of yarn + time spent on knitting = each hat actually generates less money than if you had donated the cost of yarn to the charity – and if you figure the ownership by Coca-Cola into the equation, it becomes clear that this is more a branding exercise than an act of charity. Your time, your money, and your wonderful kindness can be better spent elsewhere – a direct donation to Age UK would be better and you can source a charity local to you who will appreciate your knitting efforts.

When I was co-ordinating and collecting premature baby knitting projects, I was struck by the beautiful things that people made and donated, but we also saw people handing in downright filthy knitted items for the premature baby unit: things that reeked of cigarette smoke or were covered with unexplained stains. We had to throw these items away because we did not have the facilities (or money!) to wash all these clothes before we brought them to the unit. I actually spoke to one “repeat offender” who got very angry when I explained why I could not accept filthy items. “Well, you should be happy for just getting something,” she replied when I explained that dirty clothes would make very tiny, very ill human beings even more sick. I think back to what Ben was pointing out: sometimes charity knitting is more about the maker than the receiver. It saddened  and shocked me – but I have since come across that attitude in other charity contexts. “Poor or ill people should be grateful for whatever they get” (not much caritas in that!).

I wish people wanting to knit for charity would spend time researching before making decisions about what to support. Does a heart-warming campaign actually support a charity whose aims are less than heart-warming? Will your time & effort result in changing people’s lives or just boost the bottom-line of one of the world’s largest companies (and would you be better off  just donating money to the cause)? Is what you are making appropriate for the charity? Does the charity you support actually want hand-knitted items? Are you using appropriate materials or are you “just using up stash”? Do your research and do it carefully and with thought.

I’d love to read your thoughts and comments – I’m particularly interested in hearing about lesser-known charity projects that you are able to recommend to people wanting to make a difference.

“These Charming Knitteds Will Flatter..” – A Brief Look At Knitting & Language

knittedsWhen Caroline posted this photo to her Instagram account, I don’t think she expected the discussion to revolve around the language usage in the caption.

Lately we have had some great discussions about knitting language at the great round-table of Twitter. What is the right past tense of the verb “to knit”; is it more correct to say “I knitted a hat last night” or “I knit a hat last night”; why”knit/knitted” but not “knat”? Susan posted a lovely poem from 1915 as part of that discussion.

Caroline’s photo didn’t spawn as big a discussion, but several people noted the odd phrasing. “Larger sized knitteds are so often..”

Knitteds?

I was sure I could explain this odd word, but first let’s cast an eye at the word itself. A Google search throws up about 10,600 results, most of which refer to an outdated way of referring to knitted items (particularly baby items). Geographically I mostly get referrals to Antipodean knitting sites. My favourite dictionary tool gave me many results, but all of them gave “knitted” as an adjective or as a verb – not as a noun.

So, what is my explanation for this curious language usage? I am not saying it is necessarily the right explanation but it is a likely explanation. Please add your thoughts in the comments!

First, we need to look at figures of speech. Everyone has heard of metaphors:

Martha is a gem. Martha isn’t actually a precious stone, but the word “gem” is used so we can all see that Martha is precious and valued.

Knitted with this yarn is like knitting with butter. The yarn isn’t actually a greasy dairy product, but its qualities are likened to the softness or pliability of butter. This is a specific type of metaphor that is called a simile (note: although I have seen the butter simile used often in knitting contexts, I must admit it still baffles me).

Then we move to a figure of speech that fewer people have heard of – metonymy. While metaphor draws comparisons between two very different things (Martha & a gemstone; yarn & butter), metonymy refers to something already associated or related.

Jane downloaded Arcade Fire last night. Jane did not download an entire Canadian band last night, you know. Here the band name does not refer to the actual, physical incarnation of the band but their music.

And via metaphor, simile and metonymy, we get to the figure of speech known as synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole. Confused? I promise you use synecdoches all the time without realising it.

I’ll get my needles. Any knitter will know that actually means “hang on, I’ll get my knitting project which comprises yarn, knitting needles, and possibly a pattern”.

Harriet put on her woollies. This is a quaint British English phrase which essentially means that Harriet is putting on a woollen jumper. The jumper’s material becomes short-hand for the jumper itself

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song .. even the Beatles understood the value of a good synecdoche. They just want you to listen, not do a Van Gogh (and “to do a Van Gogh” is a metonymical figure of speech!).

But where does all that leave us? When Caroline posted her photo, I began wondering if “knitteds” is not a synecdochical noun phrase (!). Much like Harriet’s jumper, the material quality of the item becomes short-hand for the item itself. A hand-knitted cardigan or hat become “knitteds” – the adjective “hand-knitted” is shorted to “knitted” and is turned into a noun which can become pluralised whenever needed.

And suddenly something that looked like very strange grammar in an old knitting magazine can suddenly look like charming shorthand for discerning knitters.

I love language.