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Happiness is a Warm Cardigan

Last week was warm enough that I could sit outside and work just wearing a t-shirt. This week we are back to sleet and snow. It’s Spring in Scotland. This is what we can expect (“if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”). This morning the postman brought me my Scollay sample from the Knit Now office. What perfect timing. I am wearing it on top of a striped tunic, black tights and black shoes. It is perfect. Happiness is a warm cardigan.

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(pardon the poor selfie!)

I’ve spent some time thinking about cardigans lately. I tend to wear cardigans more often than jumpers, and I tend to wear the same two cardigans. What makes a good cardigan in my book?

  • Easy to wear. I have so many cardigans that only go with one outfit.
  • Easy fit. Fit is such an individual thing (and I’m going to write more about fit in the future), but I like cardigans that skim my figure rather than hug it tightly or hide it.
  • Right colours. My wardrobe tend towards deep jewel colours, navy blues, and greys. I need to remember this when choosing colours for cardigans rather than “challenge” myself to step outside my comfortzone.
  • Buttons. I love buttons and I love buttoned cardigans. Unbuttoned cardigans may look chic in photos but do not work for me.
  • Details over features. I like cardigans with clever little details rather than statement pieces with huge, eye-catching features. Hey, that’s probably my taste in all things summed up by one small sentence!
  • Truth to materials. This is an Arts & Crafts tenet that I’ve stolen, but it rings true to me. A good cardigan is knitted in a yarn that showcases the design and will last longer than me wearing the cardigan three times. I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • Long sleeves. I am always cold and short sleeves don’t work for me. I can embrace 3/4-length sleeves if for a trans-seasonal cardigan, but let’s face it, long sleeves are always better. It’s just a shame I don’t like knitting sleeves..

What do you like in your cardigans?

News, Actually.

Some proper news! After numerous prompts I have finally set up a newsletter which will be a monthly summary of what I have been doing, plans afoot and some exclusive previews of future designs. I always find it a struggle to keep everybody up-to-date with all the things that is happening (designs, visits, events etc) so I figure a newsletter is a great way to summarise everything in one fell swoop. You can subscribe to my newsletter below – know this: I’m the only one who has access to the mailing list; I will only send out one newsletter per month; and I am not going to sell any details to any third-party people.




And hey, the Scollay cardigan is now out in general release! Drumroll, please!

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This was the first garment I ever designed and it was knitted in glorious New Lanark DK (spun just down the road from me at a UNESCO Heritage site!). The pattern comes in seven sizes (from extra-small to 3X) and is both charted and written-out. I know many of you loved Dave’s illustrations for my Doggerland collection and he’s drawn the schematics for this one too. It’s just such a nice, every-day cardigan and I love it to bits.

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I am wearing the 1X size in the photos and I’m wearing it with no ease. I have included notes on sizing and modifications because I know some of you like a comfortable fit and other prefer a more fitted version. I’m rather short-waisted and the cardigan hits me below the hips, so I’ve also addressed the length of the cardigan in the notes. Customising fit is so important and I’m going to talk more about that later this year. Also, look out for a proper Scollay knit-along led by Louise Scollay of Knit British – yes, the cardigan was named for her!

Speaking of Louise and news, she’s got a podcast interview with me up on her blog. I was interviewed by her on the second day of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Let me know if you can tell when my morning caffeine kicks in! We discuss future plans (oh, I am spilling a lot of beans), my work/life balance and I’m asked some rather great questions.

Now I’m off to knit in the sunshine. I wound a skein of Triskelion Taliesin 4ply this afternoon in a gorgeous emerald. I bought it last year at Unwind Brighton. So many memories contained in a skein of yarn..

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A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

JessieMcKitrick

Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

countrysinger

Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

whitehart

I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

EllaSkye

Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

ripplescraft

Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

noirem

A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

Let It Go, Let It Go – On Stash Accumulation & Destashing

Disclaimer: I’ve not seen Disney’s Frozen but my local coffee pusher wears a necklace saying “Let It Go”, so I am sure that counts as pop-cultural immersion.

I opened the door to my stash cupboard this morning and my stomach clenched. I was looking at boxes upon boxes of yarn – and then various plastic bags stacked on top of the boxes or squished between them. I watched a loose ball from goodness-know-where slip down and head towards my feet. I was looking for a particular yarn but I did not know where to start – and I also realised that if I pulled out a box, the whole system* would collapse on top of my head.

(* I use this word loosely)

Yarn is all about beauty and story-telling for me. One of the many pleasure of my life in knitting is that I get to work with yarn that feels alive in my hands and connects me to its place of origin. But when I look at all the boxes, I don’t see stories waiting to be written or items waiting to get worn – I see fragments of who I used to be as a knitter.

Most of my yarn stash stems from when I rediscovered knitting. I would hit the sales with friends, score bargains on the internet, and pick up random balls of yarn whenever I visited a new LYS. Then I began working for a yarn company and I accumulated so much yarn – far more than I could actually managed to knit. I was lucky to have access to yarn – but I also ended up with a lot of summer yarns that don’t lend themselves to my lifestyle. I live in Scotland and, crucially, I am always cold. Even though that cotton/silk yarn looks and feels amazing, I think it’s time I admitted to myself that I’m probably never going to make that casual summer cardigan.

Nowadays I work as an independent knitting designer. This change in environment means that I no longer think of yarn as something to be stashed: I have work yarn and work yarn makes me happy. I am lucky enough to work with yarns that I feel truly passionate about and I do not put those yarns into my yarn stash. Work yarn goes into the box next to my favourite arm chair and each yarn is assigned to a specific project. When I work on future projects, I derive great pleasure from researching yarns and finding the right one for the specific job. Occasionally I will have the right yarn in the stash – but I will know exactly where to find it because it was always destined for one specific design.

I’ve changed the way I think about yarn, in other words. It is time for a destash and luckily this urge coincides with my knitting group’s annual destash evening. I think I am about to shock my friends. Let it go, let it goooo…

An Edinburgh Yarn Festival Surprise!

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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.

books

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?

Knitting, Needles and Wednesday News (Of Sorts)

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I have had a hectic start to September, so I am pleased that I am spending most of today knitting a sample. I am trialling some new-to-me knitting needles – you can see the KnitPro Nova Cubics in the photo – but I’ll write more about the needles once I’ve had a chance to trial the other ones. My tool kit is so important to me; good needles make all the difference if I am knitting to a deadline and I cannot rely on one type of needle to work for every kind of knitting. I’m knitting my current sample in Malabrigo Rios that I got from Love Knitting – it’s a yarn that definitely needs a smooth needle with a blunt tip.

It’s been a while since I had a chance to do a real round-up, so here we go!

+ I went north-north-north to the quirkiest, most delightful yarn shop I have seen in ages, Fluph. I taught a class on lace shawls but we deviated a bit from the script as most of the students were textile students who wanted to understand how to design lace as much as they wanted to understand how to knit shawls. So, we talked charts, fabric bias and how to position lace within a given shape. Good times with bonus dog cuddles at the end.

+ Glasgow University is hosting another Knitting in the Round seminar – this time on Sanquhar gloves. It’s “an informal public event to explore Sanquhar knitting – its history, its current popularity, the skills required, the wool needed and the patterns recorded” – November 1, 11am-3pm, Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire.

+ A couple of workshop dates have been added: Glen Gallery Crafts in Cullybackey, Northern Ireland is hosting me for two workshops on Nordic colourwork knitting on November 14 and 15. Before then I will be at McAree Brothers in Stirling on November 8 running a lace workshop in support of The Knit Generation (I’ll tell you more about the book later).

+ Finally, there’s an interview with me over on the Playful Blog today. I talk about what it’s like being a freelancer and I give my top 3 tips on how to make an impact in the fibre industry. Ms Playful and I are hosting a Twitter hang-out on September 9 where a panel of industry experts will be on hand to give their tips on how to make the leap. You won’t believe who we got lined up for this hang-out. Chills.

+ I am heading down to spend time on Susan Crawford‘s farm next week, so I will make sure to take lots of photos from this inspirational place and hopefully I will also be able to share a sneak preview from Susan’s forthcoming book. We have plans brewing, plans.

But first I need to finish my sample. Tea’s brewing and I have sneaked a couple of Abernethy biscuits from the cupboard. Shh.

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

Some Thoughts on Blogging, Identity & Safety

Blogtacular led a discussion on twitter yesterday about online privacy and safety. I shared a few thoughts but want to expand upon them here.

Get coffee. It’s a long one.

july09 308I started blogging around 2001. I did not use my real name; I did not post pictures of myself and the only clues to my identity were these: I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark and I was female (I used the nom de plume “Ms Bookish”). My then blog was fairly straightforward: I mostly wrote about books and the contemporary literary scene. Around 2004-2005 my blog had become a professional tool and I was widely engaged in the literary blog scene working with publishers and authors. However, I was still completely anonymous.

And then I began noticing a pattern.

One particular blog commentator, Martin (not his real name), left comments on every single blog entry I made. After a few weeks he began sending me emails expanding upon the comments he had left me. So many emails. I didn’t read them after a while. Something felt totally off about the guy and, really, I was too busy.

Then I attended a blog networking event and Martin was there. He had presents for me and cornered me. How did he know I would be there? And how did he recognise me? I started to feel really uneasy. Martin started leaving seriously whacked-out comments on the blog and, creeped out, I decided to check my emails from him. Well, they weren’t good.

Martin knew when I had been out doing my grocery shopping and he had watched me bike around Copenhagen. It got worse: he wanted me to have a nervous breakdown so he could take care of me, he thought I had an artificial leg (and wrote in great detail about how my prosthetic turned him on), he thought I was leaving him clues on my web site professing my great love for him, and so forth. Gross, bad, awful stuff.

Then I came home to find Martin standing on the other side of the road. You can probably guess what happened next.

By now I had documented as much as I could. I had saved every email and screen-capped blog comments. I passed all this information to the police and stayed at friends’ houses while the police managed to sort things out. I know Martin got psychiatric help but apart from one letter (which his psychiatrist had told him to write) I never heard from him again. I was able to move on from the incident because I knew I had just been a random victim: Martin didn’t know me; he just knew I was female and I read a lot of books. Classic case of erotomania.

I learned some valuable lessons from this:

  • You cannot control how other people read what you write online. I had not peppered my literary blog with hidden clues for Martin to follow. That was his mental illness talking. I was not responsible for how he chose to interpret my posts.
  • It is very, very hard to stay anonymous online and there are many ways of finding out your identity. Martin got my name from somewhere (probably from looking up who registered my blog domain) and managed to track my address very quickly. He also had access to my financial records thanks to his job, so he could find out where I did my grocery shopping and where I liked to hang out. People also talk: my neighbours let private things slip to a guy who seemed nice and harmless. Things like the fact that I was single and that I was living on my own.
  • Document everything. I let some of our early interaction slip through my fingers which I regret as I may have been able to stop him sooner.
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Hello :) I’m Karie & this is what I look like.

And then I decided to take ownership of my identity. I began using my real name and posting photos of my face.

I had spent years trying to lock down information about myself online and had convinced myself I was keeping myself safe that way. In actual fact, the only real way to stay safe is to step out there and say “Hi, I’m Karie Westermann and this is what I look like.” There is freedom and power in that statement: it is my identity and (unlike anonymity) nobody can take that away from me.

Furthermore, when I hadn’t shown my face on my blog and Martin still recognised me, it was very scary and I felt utterly powerless. He knew what I looked like despite all my efforts. Nowadays I have my face splayed all over the internet  and it’s my choice. Occasionally I get recognised by someone who’s knitted one of my patterns or who follow me on Twitter – and I am totally cool with that.

Being a craft professional actually means that I write a lot more about my life online than I ever anticipated. And that brings me to another point.

For me, there are three spheres: private, personal & public. I keep the private sphere to myself – everything else may be blogged.

I don’t write about family or friends. That would be rude and intrusive. I write about some personal things – like the fact that David & I celebrated our 9th anniversary yesterday (and if you’ve kept an eye on the timeline –  yes, Dave played a big part in helping me deal with my stalker) – but I sift through them carefully as personal details can quickly get self-indulgent. And then there’s the public stuff like blogging about an event – where you should totally come say hello to me.

Interestingly the Martin story stayed off my blog for a very long time. I didn’t think it relevant material, though I did write a few pieces about cyberstalking for magazines. It was too private a story for many years and has only just recently become a personal story that I occasionally allude to. And now I am finally writing about it under my own name on my own blog.

Anyway, the best way to stay safe online is to act like you would offline. Oh, and keep in mind that the Martins of this world are few & far between.

  • Don’t announce where you will be on your own.
  • Don’t overshare.
  • Don’t post anything you don’t want the postman or your boss knowing.
  • Respect other people’s right to privacy
  • If in doubt, don’t do it/don’t post it.
  • What happens online can quickly spill into offline life.
  • Don’t forget you will always have an audience (even if you think you don’t). Act responsibly.