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Authors & Artists: The Mahy Shawl

mahy

The Mahy shawl is the second instalment in the Authors & Artists series. It is a traditional hap shawl knitted in Shetland Organics 1-ply and some of the motifs are traditionally Shetland – yet the shawl also takes it cue from a place on the other side of the world.

I was 13 when I first came across Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover. It was a YA book about Laura Chant who lived with her divorced mother and her baby brother in Gardendale – a modern suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand. I recognised myself in Laura: she was stubborn, a head too old on her shoulders, and she felt uneasy in her surroundings. Many’s book was cleverer than I realised when I first devoured the book. It is a subtle post-colonial book about finding your own identity in a young country; it references Alice in Wonderland constantly; and Mahy plays riffs on rites of passage. I had my first literary crush on the male protagonist, Sorry Carlisle – the complicated boy with labyrinths in his eyes.

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Waitangi River

But it was the mundane exoticism of New Zealand that caught my eye. I recognised the remoteness, the myths woven into every branch and stone, and the complexities of the past mixed with the present.

The Changeover sparked a lifelong romance with New Zealand. I would later drive through Paraparaumu – a town dismissed by Laura in the book – and I felt like I was walking inside the book. I re-read the book at least once a year and I still find myself reflected in it.

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Lion Rock on Piha Beach

The Mahy shawl owes its name and soul to a New Zealand author – but much of its philosophy belongs to another Margaret from New Zealand: Margaret Stove. Stove is a lace knitter and designer who I admire very much. Her book Wrapped in Lace is not just a fine collection of patterns, but Stove also writes passionately about the need to develop a local lace vocabulary. While Stove understands and respects lace knitting traditions, I am utterly fascinated by Stove’s insistence that her work needs to reflect her landscape and flora. In the book she charts local New Zealand flowers and plants – kowhai features heavily together with ferns – and I find that overwhelmingly inspirational. Why should we not respond to the world in which we live? Why should we not design inspired by what we see around us rather than base our work upon age-old stitch patterns that do not reflect our own lives?

The Mahy shawl uses old Shetland patterns as inserts, but the main motif is inspired by the stylised ferns I saw carved everywhere in New Zealand. The carved section is reflected by the applied border which is a smaller version of the carved section.

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I wanted to knit a hap shawl out of the beautiful yarn, but the design itself surprised me. I find knitting is a form of autobiography, but I had not expected to dwell on my love for The Land of the Long White Cloud. And yet it seems so obvious to explore a landscape which has had a huge impact on me: Laura Chant’s infinitely complex inner life in Mahy’s book, the music from Karekare beach, the lighthouse dwellers, the man on the Lone Kauri Road, and even comedy. For a myriad of reasons, this seems the most personal of designs.

You run from the river, when it long ran over you..

Mahy is now available from Ravelry.

Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

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

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

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I have been mulling over my own response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textile Conservation & Further Thoughts

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Yesterday I was invited to an event at Glasgow University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History. Not only did this mean I got to meet students and see the objects they were working on, but I also learned about the science behind what we see in museums and private collections. Some things were familiar to me (like dye pots!) and then I ran into a Ph.D. student who showed me a fantastically complicated machine that extracted chemical profiles from 17th century China textiles. The Centre had only invited people working with textiles one way or another, and I found it hugely invigorating to see the multiple ways we can approach textiles (it’s been a very good week for that!). If I had not been absolutely shattered, I would have stayed much, much longer.

But I have been very shattered this weekend thanks to a very hectic weekend. EYF has rippled into this week with plenty of emails and a lot of follow-ups – I am still trying to get to grips with those, apologies. I have also been curled up in my favourite arm chair thinking about stuff. I spent the past weekend in the company of some rather incredible people. The Edinburgh Yarn Festival was home to a lot of strong, bold and interesting people with Thoughts and Ideas. I came away encouraged by the positivity, the warm support, and the ingenuity of the people I met. I spoke with some very smart people who gave me plenty food for thought. I was surrounded by people who did not fit into society’s preconceived ideas of what we should think, believe or do – and I feel so encouraged to see people questioning all the big narratives surrounding gender, fashion, consumerism, and technology.

These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the Thing-ness of Things, too. What materiality means and how the physical nature of Things impact our perception of them. A weighty tome. That yarn has a nice handle. I have a favourite knitting needle that ‘sits right’ in my hand as I work with it. I will need to think more about these Things and start figuring out what the Thing-ness of Things mean when it comes to my work. Maybe when my brain is back to full speed.

Plans for the rest of the week: tomorrow I’m releasing the very last instalment in the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann sock club (this last sock pattern happens to be my favourite..) and Saturday I am teaching Continental Knitting at Glasgow’s The Queen of Purls, so do pop along to that one!

Stuff & Nonsense: When Perfectionism Rears Its Ugly Head.

August 2014 060The past fortnight has seen my usual companion at Casa Bookish – perfectionism – almost grind my work to a halt.

I think a designer needs to have a dash of perfectionism in her. You need to pay close attention to detail – such as stitch counts, style sheets, how colours work at the photo shoot. Designing can also be a long, hard slog of making numbers work, getting the placement of a detail just right and finding the best way to phrase a tricky instruction. But if perfectionism stops you from every accomplishing anything – if your search for perfection means you never release a pattern – then you need to let go.

“That Isn’t Exciting & Original” – How Nothing Is Ever Good Enough

Recently I have really struggled to let my perfectionism go. I have one project that I have designed six times and ripped out five times. Each of those six designs has been completely different – different construction, different variation on the core concept, different stitches – and I haven’t liked any of them. I do not want to like my design; I want this project to be as amazing, special and perfect as it is in my head; I want to love it like I have loved no other design.

And that’s the problem.

Nothing will ever match the perfection that’s in my head. I am now working on the sixth version of my idea and it’s coming out really nice. Fact: I sold the second design to a third-party publisher who absolutely loved it. It worked for them in their context – it was totally good enough.

So where does all this stuff and nonsense come from?

Figuring Out Why I Am Being Hard On Myself

I spend a lot of time sitting on my own sketching patterns and charting things. I spend even more time in my own head. As a result I tend to lose track of what is exciting and new because I have already thought through my designs several times and spent hours swatching my ideas. It’s easy to start talking myself down because at this stage I will have lost sight of what excited me about the original ideas.

Here’s the thing that I keep reminding myself:  nobody else will ever be that jaded about my design. No one else have been through the entire process of initial idea and swatching through pattern-writing and wailing about numbers to blocking the sample and arranging photo shoot. No one will ever be able to say anything about my design that I haven’t already thought.

I also know that  once the design is finished and published, I will adore it to bits .. because by that stage I will been knee-deep in another pattern that’s sucking the will to live out of me! I am only halfway joking..

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So, Some Tips For Moving Beyond Perfectionism

  • Acknowledge to yourself that you have a bad bout of perfectionism. Admitting it is the very first step!
  • Realise that you will always be your own worst critic.
  • It’s better to publish something than nothing.
  • Take baby steps. Publish a hat if you are really afraid your latest cardigan pattern isn’t good enough.

Some Other Tips:

  • Never throw out a design. What you hate today will look amazing two months from now.
  • If a design really doesn’t feel right for what you are doing, consider other ways for it. Would it make a great pattern for a magazine? Self-publishing? Perfect as a freebie included in your news letter? Can you base a class around the pattern – maybe that hat is perfect for teaching Magic Loop.
  • Try playing around with different gauges. If your idea looks silly and stupid in fingering weight, try swatching it in worsted.
  • Reach out to trusted friends and peers. Show them a photo or a swatch. Ask for their honest opinion. Listen carefully to their feedback.

Do you have problems with perfectionism? Does it stop you releasing patterns? How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts x

Thoughts of Alex and Lucy

I have been debating for days whether or not to write anything about Lucy Meadows.  I have been so filled with sadness and outrage and helplessness – and I wondered why so few of my friends seem to talk about this. A woman taking her own life. A woman whose transition from a male body to a female body was made public property (and publicly mocked) by British press. I worried that I did not have the right to feel sad, outraged or helpless about this because I rest within my biological gender. But I am a human being and it is my right to speak out against hate and ridicule – even if I sometimes have to be reminded about my right to do so.

And I think of my former flatmate Alex and I also owe it to her to write about my sadness, outrage and helplessness.

Alex and I shared a flat back in the late 1990s. She had left her native country for Scandinavia partly because of a love affair and partly because she felt misunderstood. We shared a big flat with several others and we rarely spoke. That is, until one night.

I had come home late and Alex was out in the kitchen crying. Yet another boyfriend had broken her heart. Alex always fell quick and hard for macho men who promised to protect her – she was a tiny slip of a thing – and who vowed they loved her for her. Quickly, though, they always started to want to change her. They would buy her clothes and makeup and high heeled shoes and Alex would sit in the kitchen crying.

She told me that night that she was a biological woman who identified as a gay man within a female body and that she preferred to dress as a boy because female clothing made her uncomfortable. She didn’t want to transition – she just wanted to be loved for who she was. Her real name wasn’t Alex* but she wanted a gender-neutral name unlike her actual name. (And I refer to Alex as she because that was what she wanted me to call her.)

Oh Alex. Wonderful Alex. Shy, funny and skittish.

I was maybe 21 years old and naive for my age, but I grew up a bit that night. Alex was so full of pain and contradictions. We sat there until dawn and she just talked and talked. Our late nights became a habit. I left that flat a year later and I often wonder what became of her. She was vulnerable with very few friends outside the constant cavalcade of awful boyfriends.

Today I wonder if she ever decided to transition because her identity seemed very fragmented and contradictory – with a strong emphasis upon ‘boy’ – but I also recognise that there are never any easy answers. Identity is fragmented and contradictory and what may seem like an obvious thing to me may not have been an obvious solution to someone as complex as Alex.

So, I read about Lucy Meadows and I remember my late nights in the kitchen with Alex. And I want to shout and cry.

LOVE. Never hate.

* Alex wasn’t even what she called herself but Alex will be her name here.

My Lifestyle Guru Disqualification

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

Doggerland Sneak Peek

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

I am getting there! Woo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Would Happen If You Had To Be Yourself?

Something very cool happened in my comments section yesterday. A really interesting discussion started to unfold – people started to talk about the whole “yourself as a brand” and “performing yourself in public ” aspect of the craft/knitting business.If you’ve been reading Fourth Edition for a long time, you’ll know this is one of my major hang-ups as an indie designer and tutor. (I even wrote a long post about it as part of the work I did with Glasgow University last year).

I want to share some of the points made in the comments because I think they are asking some very important questions about branding, marketing, social media and (for a want of a better term) ‘cult of personality’. It may not be straight up yarn-related but I hope it’ll provide an interesting glimpse into what it means to work in the craft industry.

I was disquietened by her comments about the need to be positive all the time. Admittedly she is using herself as a brand and may want to keep back some stuff and have a private life. But the more we have this “you must always be positive” message around, the harder it is for us to be honest with one another about how we feel

– Stephanie of The Foggy Knitter

 

I find it’s very hard for me to come to terms with “personality as brand” and “public persona” but I realise that it is how the business works. I have struggled with this for a long time (how I would prefer to just lurk in the shadows!) but the podcast made me confront myself regarding this.

– Karie of Fourth Edition (that’ll be yours truly!)

 

I struggle all the time with the need to be a “public persona,” or a “personality.” Especially since part of what I do for a living is teach classes! There’s a certain online pressure to be this happy, successful person who can share all the secrets of success. But what I’d rather do is gather quietly in classroom spaces with my students, and give them my all. That doesn’t make for sexy marketing copy, though. :-)

– Sister Diane of Craftypod

 

That “have to be happy” is a pressure we feel from both the big, lovely craft bloggers (my gorgeous living room! My sleeping baby!), but we also feel it from the inside of our own heads! No one wants to feel like a loser…and telling the internet that you’re not perfect (in a space dominated by the perfect) is a quick way to loser-town. (At least, in my own head.)

(..)

At the heart of all this is *expectations*.
My expectations of myself. My reader’s/student’s/client’s expectations, and then all those expectations that I’m making assumptions about. Who even knows if they exist? But they certainly guide the way we act/present ourselves in this space.

Tara Swiger

 

The podcast gave me a lot to think about & the blog post has added more. I, too, struggle with the personal brand idea. I’m quite shy which may be why.

– Anniken Allis of YarnAddict

 

Not in the comments section, but on her own blog, Vanessa reflected:

I’ve found that acknowledging that I’m feeling envy and it’s probably unfounded helps me let go of that anger. Then I try to really analyze just what pushed that button. Once I get to the root cause, I look at it from all sides. Is this image that person is presenting the whole truth? What am I not seeing? A messy house, uncombed hair, other to-dos that fell to the way side. Those aren’t presented on the internet.

There is so much to unpack here but the central question has to be What would happen if you had to be yourself?

 

A Dash of Colour, Beauty & Cynicism.

I have been working a lot with undyed yarns recently – one mossy green has crept into the Doggerland collection but otherwise I am using all natural fleece colours. I really enjoy it – of course I do – but I do yearn for some colour in my knitting. Just a little pop of something decadent.
Birthday yarn

A bit of birthday yarn arrived yesterday. My lovely gran sent me 1100 yrds of 2ply merino wool from Danish company, DesignClub. This red is marvellous – it has unusual depth to it and the yarn has some great bounce. It was spun at Henrichsens Uldspinneri, a Danish woollen mill dating back to the 19th century. I’ve used the yarn before and I am looking forward to using it again ..

I thought I’d also show you the necklace pendants which my friend Paula made for my birthday. They are so pretty.

Paula's necklaces

I was recently sent a link to Craftypod – specifically an episode which discussed the idea of “the knitting celebrity” and internet jealousy. It is a really interesting podcast and if you can spare 30 minutes, I recommend you give it a listen.

First, though, some words from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He was asked about being “internet famous”

Right now, I’m sitting in a public library minding my own business taking a break from what I was working on.  No one is likely to recognize or notice me here..

 

But I am, as the question asks, “Internet famous”.  That phrase is vague and could mean a lot of things, but for me what it means is that Wikipedia is very very very famous and Wikia is very famous, and so I’m a little bit famous as a result..

 

Because of this, I’m able to meet with government officials all around the world to put forward my views on the importance of freedom of speech and openness and transparency.  I find this useful, and I believe in many cases I’ve had an impact.  (It is never easy to be sure.)

 

Back to the Craftypod podcast. I was struck by a couple of things.

1) Craft is HUGE. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of segmented markets and niches: knitting, crochet, scrap-booking, quilting, embroidery, dress-making.. These days knitting can be divided into a lot of niches too (I have written a bit more about that here).

Vickie Howell may talk about being a leader in the craft industry – but it is her corner of the craft industry in which she is a leader (gatekeeper is probably the better term). This probably makes me a bad person, but I had never heard of her before I listened to the podcast. I googled her subsequently and she’s done craft TV in the States, works for a US yarn company and fronts her own yarn line. She looks like a cool person – but she is not part of my knitting landscape. And that is okay. I’d hate to have a totally uniform definition of “cool knitting” and what I “should be knitting”.

2) There was also a lot of talk about “the 2005 generation” and marketing. The podcast served up a massive dollop of nostalgia for the good old days when you could upload a simple scarf pattern and people would go nuts for it.

I think there will always be people talking about the “good old days when things were simple”. It is a generational thing and on the internet a generation is a very small, finite thing (maybe 2 years? 3 years?).

2008 was the year when I got back into knitting in a major, major way. I remember when the February Lady Sweater was published via Ravelry and it was a huge thing. Do we have that sort of knitting landscape these days? No.It is probably harder to get noticed across the board, but incredibly talented people do manage it. Designers have to up their game and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Knitters everywhere are the winners in this scenario.

(Also, the segmented knitting landscape means that if you are really into designing crazy intarsia dog coats, for instance, you will find “your people” pretty quickly.)

3) I wasn’t a fan of the whole cross-channel “hustling” mentioned in the podcast- but that’s because I am one of those people who tune out people who endlessly promote themselves on as many channels as they can. Maybe I am just old in social media terms but there is a whole signal-to-noise thing which I think many marketeers often forget. Social media isn’t always about quantity – quality plays a huge part too. But that’s probably a whole ‘nother topic. (Psst, this is a great blog post about using Twitter)

I’ll be honest: that podcast made me feel very cynical and I don’t like feeling cynical – especially not about knitting.

I am left here still thinking about Jimmy Wales’ words. The Q&A I linked above also included these lines:

I don’t have a lot of money.  I don’t have a lot of power in the top-down command-and-control sense.  But I do have a lot of influence.  I like that part of it.

Jimmy Wales is a lot more famous than any knitting “celebrity” and wields a lot more power and influence than I can begin to imagine. Yet he speaks with humility and a wry sense of humour. I think we could all take a lesson from him.

 

Knitting as Cultural Activity – Reflections 4

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

I am fascinated by knitters’ hands. No matter who we are – whether unsure beginners, lifestyle knitters, industry professionals, textile conservationists or artists – we all engage with the craft using our hands. We may hold the yarn in a myriad of ways and work the stitches at our own pace, but knitting is a tactile craft. The fabric is created by our hands. You can tell the difference between handknitted and machine-knitted fabric. Hand-knitted fabric holds the story of whoever made it. It has presence.

I think it is this echo of presence – the shadow of the knitter’s hands – that is so alluring to textile artists.

Roxane Permar is one of the people behind the Mirrie Dancers project – a Shetland-based arts project combining traditional lace knitting with state-of-the-art technology. Shetland knitting heritage is a complex story but Permar decided to take what is often a dark story and literally shed light on it by projecting knitted lace sample onto the Mareel arts venue.The Lighthouse

The Mirrie project involved a large team of highly skilled and dedicated Shetland lace knitters spread out across the islands who were all asked to knit a sample of lace in a heat-resistant material. The choice of material proved to be a surprising point of contention: some of the knitters refused to work in other material than fine Shetland wool. Other knitters embraced the task with surprising results – one of them started to play around in order to see how far you can take Shetland lace. Anne Euston is now pursuing a textiles degree specialising in a modern interpretation of lace knitting (you can see an example of her work on Kate Davies’ blog).

I was intrigued by how far you can take lace knitting and what you can do with it. What does it look like when you project something that fine and minute up on a wall? I looked at the samples Roxane had brought with her – they were so delicate and obviously crafted with great skill and care – and yet when they were blown up, they became disembodied, abstract and strange. I no longer noticed the elegant stitches – I wondered about the holes, the gaps, and the absences caught and distorted by the light.

I thought Mirrie Dancers was incredibly successful – it made me think about the gaps and absences in how we approach about Shetland (lace) knitting today.

The Lighthouse

By for me, it always comes back to the twin ideas ofpresence and absence*.

The Material Culture students at Glasgow University learned how to knit as part of their Masters. They will go on to work in museums and as field archaeologists – and will be handling handcrafted artefacts as part of their everyday working life. Knitting, Dr Nyree Finlay argued, was a way of making them more keenly aware of both the workmanship behind the artefacts but also what it means that something is handmade.

Did they? Some of them never taught themselves to knit. One girl could cast on, but could not knit. Another could knit (but not cast on). I wondered if they had thought about the materials they used – but they had been so focused on learning the craft that they hadn’t thought beyond a basic budget and colours. I don’t know why but that slightly disappointed me – I get that mastering the craft was foremost in their minds, but I had hoped they would take the opportunity to also engage with the actual material circumstances of the craft.

And this is where I am left to write about how I engage with knitting as a cultural activity.

My “problem” as a designer is that I tend to start with very abstract concepts (such as Palaeolithic marine archaeology) and I have to spend a lot of time trying to parse that into a commercially viable pattern collection. The collection following Doggerland is rooted in something even more High Concept – and while my ideas are probably more suited to being explored by textile art (hat tip Deirdre Nelson!) I keep returning to my obsession with accessibility. I want to enable other people to knit my ideas and be able to wear them. I want to make meaning through knitting but simultaneously enable others to construct their own meanings and knit their own stories.

(A huge thank you to Professor Lynn Abrams and Dr Marina Moskowitz for inviting me to this series of workshops.)

* I blame myself for reading literary theory at an age when others were out partying. That sort of thing wreaks havoc.

Reader, I Knitted The Cardigan

There is a lovely bit in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre where the housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax, says something in the vein of, “Oh, hang on a sec. Must. Finish. This. Row.” I smiled in recognition when I came across it during my recent re-read of the book.

I first read Jane Eyre when I was fourteen. I had this mad, mad notion of ‘reading all the classics’ before I turned fifteen. My school library had the Danish equivalent of Everyman’s Library, and so I just started with the first book in the series. I did not get far, of course, because I read indiscriminately and without any real understanding of what I read. Jane Eyre was one of the books I did read (alongside Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights) and I remember thinking it was ‘okay but a bit dull’.

Then I decided to revisit Eyre a few weeks ago and I am so very glad that I did. It took my breath away. What an intelligent, passionate, fierce book it is. Then I took it upon myself to watch a few adaptations of Eyre: the recent Wasikowska/Fassbender film was difficult to pin down (this is a compliment of sorts) whilst the 2006 BBC mini-series was atrocious and hammy. Eyre is an oddball of a novel – it is easy to describe it as an exterior novel because so much happens on the surface with storms raging and mad women running around, but I actually read it as an extremely interior novel with so much thinking going on. No wonder it is difficult to adapt satisfyingly. I won’t leave it another twenty years between reads.

I finished my Red Cardigan of Doom during my Eyre marathon. Want to see?

Pattern: Patsy by Kim Hargreaves
Yarn: Rowan Baby Alpaca DK
Verdict: Mneh.

I started this cardigan last summer and finished knitting it around Christmas 2010. I did some provisional seaming just to see how it looked, and it was Not Good. The sleeves were particularly problematic because I have quite long arms and there was some weird chicken-fillet-dangling-in-the-wind action going on somewhere south of my elbows. Don’t ask. It wasn’t good, mkay? So this cardigan languished and languished until I finally decided to perform some sweater surgery (complete with scissors and assorted weirdness). I finished the cardigan on Wednesday and wore it to my meeting on Thursday. I still haven’t found the buttons I bought for it last year, so I’m just wearing it with a shawl pin.

And I’m really unsure about it. The yarn is heavenly soft, drapes so beautifully and is wonderfully warm – I’d use it again in a heartbeat – but I’m really not sure if the cardigan suits me. I do like Kim Hargreaves’ patterns but this one was perhaps not the right choice for me.. or maybe my body shape just doesn’t work with Kim Hargreaves patterns which is also a point worth remembering.

I have another Finished Object to blog but that is for another day..