Karie Bookish Dot Net

Tag Archives: Musings

Some Thoughts About Yarn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mountain of Garterstitch

Summer in Scotland is over after three glorious days of sunshine.

Thankfully damp weather makes for excellent knitting weather.

This is my Sea Glass shawl. A mountain of garterstitch. Beautiful, earthy, bouncy garterstitch. Perfect for knitting group and late-night knitting when I just need something brainless to work on. The rows are long although I’m just one-third through the shawl. It is so therapeutic just to knit, though.

July has not been a fun month. It has been a long, hard slog of a month and just when I thought July was improving, things just went downhill again. I shan’t be sorry to see the end of this month. Onwards and upwards. Autumn knitting is nigh and that is a cheering thought.

Speaking of which, Levenwick. It ticks my boxes. I even have a lot of Rowan Silky Tweed in a wonderful mustard yellow kicking about. However, I did buy that particular yarn with Acer in mind.. and I want to start knitting Finna as soon as I can get my hands on the book and the yarn. Decisions, decisions..

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments on knitting in public. I am still going to take a break from knitting in public, though. I feel the need to be vaguely invisible in public right now – I am one of those introverted types, you see, and I need solitude more than I need interacting with strangers. So, I’m going to stick to reading and I won’t even choose outlandish books. Quiet and unassuming, that’ll be me for the foreseeable future..

.. a bit like garterstitch, really. And hopefully I can get all bouncy at some point too (beautiful and earthy will be a stretch).


I always say that the best blog posts I have ever written are the ones I never post.

Recently I had conversations with other long-term bloggers (I’ve been at this for over a decade) about why we continue to blog. One remark stuck with me:

Because I love it. Many new bloggers think it is a quick and easy short-cut to fame and fortune. It is not. It is hard work. I do it, because I cannot NOT do it.

I have been thinking about blogging and my blog’s various incarnations. The posts I will never post but which I have written in my head so many times. Posts that would increase traffic, get linked and re-blogged, and maybe even get some attention from outside the blogosphere. Stories that will never be told because they are not mine to tell. Two go back six years. One goes back just a few weeks.

I am thinking of these blog posts as I watch big-scale news unfold here in the UK. People who told stories that were not only not theirs to tell, but also obtained illegally (allegedly, I hasten to add). I have a hard time believing that they told these stories because they loved writing or because they truthfully believed them important stories to tell.

Words are powerful – even in these increasingly visual times.

And I am sitting here on a Friday night and I think about my little, totally insignificant blog and I think about the written word and readership.


I have been very good at walking away from my blogs when they became too unwieldy and too .. too widely read. I was always very proud of Bookish, my literary blog, but I was also relieved when I pulled the plug.

Fourth Edition has grown into something to be proud of as well. It chronicles my journey from being a stuffy academic to an odd-ball creative type. And I meet so many lovely people thanks to this blog. Sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed too. I continue to walk the tightrope: I am continuously torn between my desire to maintain my privacy and my need to write these blog entries.

Don’t think I have not thought about walking away from Fourth Edition (because I have) but I also know I would just start over again. Lather, rinse, repeat..

I guess there was a point to this entry but I lost it along the way. I just remember what I was taught and what I went on to teach: always look for the gaps, the absences, what is not being said.

This is worth keeping in mind. Not just for blogging but also for news coverage.

Thoughts on Designing

A couple of months ago, I was approached by the talented and charismatic Ben who wanted my thoughts on designing and writing knitting patterns. Seeing as I have just finished Karise (pattern up early next week), I reckon now would be a good time to post those thoughts..

1) Define your design strategy in a word.


2) In your work, what is the difference between successful and unsuccessful design?

I always design with a need in mind. A yarn to showcase or a technique to explain.

I have a really good idea about what knitters need because I meet and teach so many. I design many mini-projects that’ll teach my students the techniques they need to know whilst still in context of where they’ll use those techniques. (I don’t release those patterns to the general public because they are so specific to my teaching but I have designed a lot).

Successful designs marry well-written instructions with a distinctive look and relative ease of knitting. Unsuccessful designs have hard-to-follow instructions or no distinct aesthetic.

I also think designs have to be authentic – I always find it unappealing if I can’t see any trace of personality or obvious thought-process behind a pattern.

3)What does your review process look like?

I subscribe to the same view both in knitting and writing: keep it simple, stupid (KISS). I simplify, simplify, simplify. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Can I do without this bit? Does this shawl really need three different stitch patterns? Can I make this chart smaller without losing any information? I always take away far more than what I add.

I can’t remember who said it but there is this quote about a sculptor whose job is simply to remove bits of marble to reveal the sculpture that was always within the block of marble. Chip, chip, chip..

4) As a creator, what is your biggest personal challenge.

Confidence has been a big one for me.

I am not the most confident person in the world (to say the least) and I have never really ‘understood’ fashion, so I did not think I had any business getting involved in designing. However, I have come to realise that there is a difference between being fashionable and being stylish – and I think I can definitely claim I have a personal style or aesthetic.. so that has played a big part in me getting involved in designing knitwear.

I had been asked to submit designs for many years now, actually, but it was not until last year that I had the confidence to put a self-designed pattern in front of other people. The response was fantastic and was a real confidence boost.

I’m now moving from teaching-related designing and small, locally-released patterns into releasing patterns, full stop.  It feels slightly daunting. But also incredibly liberating.

5) What does development look like? How does an idea move from initial concept through to finished object?

My Karise shawl is a good example. Lilith gave me two hanks of her new 4ply yarn and asked me to design her shawl. She had requirements: a) the shawl should take less than 100g of sockweight yarn and b) it had to be downloadable from Ravelry by Knit Nation. That told me two things: the size of the shawl and the type of knitter. With Ravelry knitters in mind – who tend to be adventurous and curious – I sat down to doodle some sketches.

The yarn was a gorgeous mossy green-brown with real depth to it. Showcasing that colour was a no-brainer, so I included a large stocking-stitch element. I wanted to avoid using obvious leaf stitch patterns because I see so many shawl patterns with leaves but I still wanted the shawl to have an organic feel to it (the colour name – ghillie dhu – means ‘guardian spirit of the trees’). I played around with grid paper until I had achieved a stitch pattern that flowed organically from one shape into another with minimal adjustments. Karise does have a certain forest-like feel to its lace but it’s quite subtle.

After the initial lace chart, I swatched to make sure that it looked like I wanted it to look and to ensure my knitter’s maths was correct. Then I did more knitter’s maths before starting the shawl itself. I did rip out the shawl twice (to take away surplus elements) but that was pretty much it. I modified the hand-drawn lace charts as I was knitting the sample, then transferred all my notes to Excel and refined the charts.

6) What sources feed into your work? Are there any resources you’d recommend to other designer/makers?

I am an intensely visual person and I draw upon a lot of sources which people might think random for knitting designs.

I grew up with a keen interest in fashion and art history, so I have an ‘inner library’ of trends that I use a lot. I’m extremely passionate about late 19th C/early 20th C art and culture (including colour palettes), so that forms a huge chunk of my design vocabulary. There is definitely some Art Noveau-influences in Karise.

Finally, having grown up in Scandinavia, I am also influenced by Scandinavian design which tends towards sparseness, minimalism and functionalism. I shoot a lot of photos of brick walls, roof tiles, paving, and other patterns I notice in my surroundings.

My best advice is to keep your eyes open. There are token stitch dictionaries out there and they are obviously great resources, but keep your eyes open for anything that might come your way.You might find your greatest idea will come from a cereal box in your local supermarket.

7) You are writing the definitive knitwear-design Bible. What is the first commandment?

Thou must write clear and concise patterns. I cannot emphasise this enough.

Even the most extraordinary design is a failure if other people cannot follow your instructions. And complex design elements can become accessible through well-written patterns (Laminaria is my favourite example). Keep the end user in mind.

I have thoughts on indie designers, the new Knitty and even some finished object photos but I think all those things are better left for another day.. Hope your Monday is more sun-drenched than mine..

Quoted For Truth

“The idea is to say that curvy is not a problem it’s very sexy. I think, when I see women like Nigella with shoulders, boobs and hips, they are beautiful. Stunning. They are sexy. To put that on the runway is very healthy.
This is our moment, it means we have to push people to understand that a body with shape is better than tiny, skinny girls. Who dreams of being like a teenager? The model is not the only prototype for women. To have freedom to be as you are, to use your body as it is, it’s very positive.” – Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue.

My emphasis.

..In Mysterious Ways

May 2011 057Yesterday I had a meeting with a well-known knitting designer and I was asked to tell her about myself. I reverted to my age-old answer: “Oh, I am a failed academic..” and then realised to my great astonishment that my age-old answer no longer applies.

(Maybe it never did apply because the only academic failure I ever had was that my PhD funding fell through. As many people have pointed out, that hardly counts as failure.)

Regardless, I need to figure out how to contextualise myself. Who am I nowadays and how do I communicate this Self to other people? In order to figure this out, I did what I always do when I need to think: I sat down to knit.

And I want to write at great length about this knitting project, so I hope you are sitting comfortably.

I am using a pure wool yarn which was purchased in my mother’s supermarket(!) in Denmark. It is a quite lofty yarn with a beautiful handle and I’m terribly pleased with it (the price was great too). My only problem is that I bought it on the basis of it knitting up 14sts/4″ but it actually knits up 17sts/4″ (which makes it aran-weight). Those three stitches really make a difference – particularly as I am using the yarn for The Most Popular Sweater In The (Ravelry) World – and this particular pattern does not work with an aran-weight yarn.

May 2011 063Before I go any further, here is a photo of my knitting/zen spot today. Pretty, non? The sound of the river running was also really calming. Handy when you are suddenly not knitting what you thought you were knitting.

And .. exhale.

On the other hand, I like knitting bottom-up sweaters and so I just went auto-pilot on the project whilst soaking up much-needed Vitamin D and thinking about self-presentation, self-image and all that. Then I went home and did a very clever thing. I started my DVD player.

My lovely colleague LH has lent me her Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Workshop DVDs. I have taken my time getting through them all: mosty of her techniques are familiar to me but there is still a lot to take in when you watch. Today I was watching her masterclass series whilst idly working on the sweater’s body.

For anyone not familiar with Elizabeth Zimmermann, she is the doyen of contemporary knitters around the world. She passed away some time ago but her legacy is maintained by her family through Schoolhouse Press. Her influence can be traced in many contemporary designers from indie designers like Jared Flood and Ysolda Teague to established designers like Sarah Hatton.

I recently had a twitter conversation with Mooncalfmakes about EZ. We agreed that  while neither of us find EZ’s aesthetics all that pleasing, we found her approach to knitting much more interesting. EZ made a virtue of liberating the knitter from patterns. You are the master of your own knitting and with a few basic rules tucked away inside your skull, you can knit anything you like.

So while my mind was being blown by EZ’s top-down garterstitch multi-dimensional pockets – you have to see it to believe it: it’s a very cool knitting trick – I was knitting away on my Failed Most Famous Sweater In The (Ravelry) World. I was adding short rows to the lower back like Kelley Petkun once recommended as my lower back is always, always cold .. and then I realised that I can take this FMFSIT(R)W project anywhere I want to take it. Of course I can.

So for the time being it is a a bottom-up seamless sweater and who knows what I’ll do when I get to the yoke. Maybe I will add that parliament after all. Maybe I’ll use up oddments of aran yarns I have kicking about. Maybe some colourwork. Maybe not. Who knows? What a pleasure this making-it-up-as-I-go-along type of knitting

I still haven’t sussed out how to introduce myself to people, but hopefully I can make it up as I go along too. Sometimes I actually think that’s how life works.

Home Is Where The Baked Beans Tins Are Stacked

“It’s a really nice day outside, you know,” said my partner when he called. I know and I’m heading outside with my working-from-home bits in just a second, but first I wanted to share a video I came across the other day.

Felice Cohen lives in a 90 sq-foot/8 sq-metre apartment in Manhattan, New York. This is her choice and I respect her for the decision. However, it brought me back to the eight years I spent living in a 16 square-metre/170 square-foot pad in Copenhagen.

I moved into my place when I was 19 and just started university. The first few years I loved my haven: I shared a huge kitchen with other students and we had a great time getting used to living away from home. Then the building was refurbished; my little pad suddenly had a kitchenette where I once had storage; and student life got mixed up with people who lived there because they had split up with their partner or because the authorities thought it a good place for “vulnerable adults” to mix with “normal people”. Things got very claustrophobic. These were the times when I bought an obscene amount of interior design magazines just to fly away on escapist dreams.

Copenhagen is a very expensive city – including real estate – so moving elsewhere was not an option for many years. One of my friends coined the phrase “3D Tetris” which was terribly apt. Finding room for your tin of baked beans became a competitive sport at times. I look at that video of Felice Cohen and I can see several ways she could use her space better. And I’m not a naturally organised person. The space has a high ceiling and I’d utilise that height a lot more.

Sm06 007

I still miss this view

Eventually I got my own flat with a separate kitchen (it felt like such a triumph), but it was a real Copenhagen apartment with no bathroom (the shower was in the bedroom I rented out), a tiny toilet (you’d bang your knees on the door when you sat down), and no laundry facilities.

At the time I thought I was happy there but it was a place where time fell into the cracks between the floor-boards and I was actually terribly unhappy there. I lived there for two or three years. I miss the view from the kitchen but that is all.

What home means is such a difficult thing to pinpoint but I know what it is like not having one (I lived in my suitcase for a year. I cannot recommend this). Home means privacy. I shut the front door and shut out the world. Home means space. I can stretch out my arms and not touch walls. Home means peace. I can relax and be quiet. And home means my partner. This is exceptionally sappy, of course, but it is very difficult to imagine a home without him curled up with a book.

Now I’m off to grab my iPod (loaded with Danish-languaged postcasts on culture, society and language), my work and I’m heading out into my Glasgow version of Ms Cohen’s Central Park. Enjoy your day.

Homebound: Who We Are

Homebound 6Homebound: Who We Are is my knitted artwork currently on show at Glasgow’s Tramway Arts Centre.

Using site-specific materials I have created a piece asking how we understand ourselves, how we become who we are, and how big a part gender & geography play.

I was inspired to make this piece by my own journey as a knitter, as a woman, and as an immigrant. I am myself but I am also previous generations of ordinary women crafters. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother are all represented by this piece.

Homebound 1

My "momse" - my great-grandmother Lilly.

It was important to me that I only used yarn I already owned and which was tied to specific geographical areas. I used yarn from a farm just a few miles from where my great-great-grandmother lived. I used yarn from the Faroe Islands because my paternal grandmother is Faroese. I used yarn spun locally to Glasgow because I live here now.

I used undyed Aberdeenshire yarn for the hand. I have family living in Aberdeenshire now and I wanted to include them in the piece.

The hand is very significant to me – and my partner helped me construct the hand, so he is included in this piece too – as it is the giver and holder of identity. Not only does it hold all the strands together but the strands also spring from the hand. As a crafter I make things with my hands; my hands turn ideas in my head into reality. People much cleverer than I would be able to tell you about the notion of creation. The hand holds that concept for me.

Homebound 5As you can see, photos are included. I have found photos of all five generations.

As I was looking through the photo albums I was struck by how gender-segregated my family seemed. The women were all pictured holding babies or wearing nice dresses or cooking. The men were all pictured sitting at tables drinking beers or playing football or standing next to cars. I rarely found pictures of women and men together – except wedding photos or pictures of couples dancing.

I found several photos of both women and men wearing knitwear. I could only find two photos of anyone knitting. One of them was of me.

Finally, the title. I chose Homebound because while it means two mutually exclusive things (travelling//constriction) my project suggests there is an additional meaning lurking within the word, a meaning linked to the notion of creating. Home-bound – to bind or to tie or to make within the home.

I am really excited about this piece and I want to thank the people behind Loop: Garterstitch100 for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their amazing event. It has been an incredible journey for everyone concerned – me included.


I’m currently reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. The book is marred by a faint (if constant) whiff of hysteria which I’m finding rather unappealing despite the novel’s veneer of congenial humour and sly take on family and academia. I am not sure I’ll finish the book but I cannot really pinpoint why.

Meanwhile, my thoughts go out to my friends in New Zealand. Most of my friends are North Islanders but I’m still rattled by the Christchurch earthquake. Friends of friends are still missing. I’m not a religious person, so I cannot pray, but I can at least sit here and hope for good tidings.

Finally, on a personal note, things are a bit rough at the moment for one reason or another. I’m trying to find joy in small things but even this exercise is becoming somewhat sluggish. Perhaps the long winter is getting to me. Perhaps I just need to make my peace with some relatively big chunks of my life. I don’t know. Solutions/answers to the usual address, please.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Today I wore my February Lady Sweater for the first time in months and I was reminded of a recent conversation with knitting friends.

Last I went to my regular knitting group, most of us were working on cardigans or sweaters/jumpers knitted flat. This gave us pause for thought because the past few years we have all been very busy knitting top-down cardigans and jumpers/sweaters these past few years. So why have many of us suddenly gone back to the dreaded seamed cardigans where you cannot try on the garment as you are knitting and there is so much post-knitting finishing to do?

My February Lady Sweater has not aged well. I knitted it out of New Lanark Aran which is a sturdy no-frills yarn with good memory, but even the yarn’s good memory has not preventing the cardigan from sagging under its own weight. The garterstitch yoke has stretched which means baggy underarms and a cardigan that is too long in the body. Yes, my FLS has been washed and dried (several times) but the yoke does not spring back into shape.

Out of curiosity I then tried on my other top-down garments. My red cardigan also suffers from the ‘saggy yoke leads to sad cardigan’ syndrome as does my beloved handspun garterstitch yoke cardigan although I have not worn it as often as either my grey or red cardigan and so it still maintains some shape. I’ve worn Liesl maybe five times so it still looks brand new, but Milbrook looks a bit tired even if the yarn itself is very light-weight. My only top-down garment which still looks fit for fight? Forecast. Maybe the cables keep it in shape?

Question: how has your seamless, top-down cardigan or jumper/sweater weathered being used over, say, one or two years? Has your project kept its general shape or has it turned into a sad, saggy unflattering lump like my once much-loved FLS? I’m particularly curious about the cardigans that were all the rage maybe one or two years ago – the ‘three buttons at the top’ cardigans. You know, FLS, Moch cardigan, Amelia, Tea Leaves, Tappan Zee etc.

Maybe I have been unlucky and maybe my knitting friends have been unlucky – or maybe top-down seamless knitting needs to be thought about more carefully?What’s your take on seams vs no-seams?

In other crafty news, I have finally made a decision on which sewing machine to purchase. I have gone for JL300C which is a re-branded Janome. Essentially it is the Janome DC3050 without the 20 decorative stitches I didn’t want or need – and it’s £30 less too. I’m getting it next week and I am ridiculously excited. I should probably send D. into town to pick it up or I may be tempted into buying some of the new Joel Dewberry cottons: some of his prints are quite Art Noveau, others rather Art Deco, and I’m weak in the presence of references to early 20th C visual design.

I’m currently knitting: nothing! It’s true! I need to cast on for an art piece I’m exhibiting next month. I just need to shake off this lethargy of mine.
I’m currently reading: Zadie Smith – On Beauty. Again with the lethargy, though, as I’m only twenty pages into a book I ought to be flying through..

Pssst.. title.