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Yarnporium & A Trip to Yorkshire

Last week I went on a research trip to Yorkshire for my book, This Thing of Paper. It was the first of two research trips and I am glad that I scheduled it while we are still working on the patterns. The second trip will take place later this year and be less visually intensive but perfect for the essays. Thank you to everyone who has made this work possible.

I had a profound experience when I travelled south to York, and I’m going to write more about that in a second. First, though, a very exciting announcement.

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I’ll be teaching two workshops at the Yarnporium show in London this November. First, I’m running a half-day class on knitting hap shawls which covers the classic Shetland hap constructions, how to deal with lace charts, and how to work applied edges. I will also cover any questions on how to customise & design hap shawls. Then, I have developed a class especially for Yarnporium called Knitting the Landscape. This class is an exploration of psychogeography and knitting. We’ll talk flaneuring, urban exploration, inner/outer landscapes, and how to express your own paths in knitted pieces that’ll keep you warm on your journeys.

I’m so honoured to be asked to teach a class like Knitting the Landscape – it’s really a step outside what you’d expect from a knitting workshop and it gets us all thinking about what we can do with our everyday making. I like that.

Now, back to my research trip.

I spent part of my trip in York itself. The city was founded by the Romans, then became a major settlement for the Vikings, before growing into a significant religious site and wool trading centre in the 13th and 14th centuries. Much of York’s city centre is well-preserved within the city walls (of which some date back to 300AD, but most to the 12th and 13th centuries) and the famous Shambles is a well-preserved medieval street. Between my appointments, I enjoyed walking around discovering small details here and there.

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We spent two days at the York Minster itself – one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world with various secondary buildings like a library and stonemason’s court. The level of detail is astonishing: little mice carved into the stonework, gargoyles peeking out, statues with changed faces, elaborate cope chests,  and the awe-inspiring architecture of the Chapter House (and its tiled floor). It was easy to spend hours here and we did.

But what I did not expect was to have one profound moment that reduced me to tears.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved stained glass. The deep, rich colours and the layers of allegorical imagery with so much religious and historical significance .. so when I saw York’s Five Sisters window, I was taken aback.

However, there was something different about the Five Sisters window. It is mostly composed of grisaille (grey) glass with just a few coloured pieces inserted here and there. Grisaille was made by painting patterns on pieces of silvery grey glass. The pieces were then arranged into intricate geometric patterns using lead to hold the pieces together. I speculated that the geometric patterns may have been influenced by crusaders seeing Islamic tiles on their travels (the timeline would be right, I believe).

So I sat there beneath dark windows with strong geometric patterns and I had a strong emotional reaction. The window reminded me of the first time I read TS Eliot’s The Waste Land which was also formed of ‘fragments shored against these ruins’. Something about the small, insignificant pieces that swirled together in highly complex patterns to create something bigger than themselves. Small glimpses of colour and light to break the dark complexity .. the more I looked at the window, the more I cried.

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I later learned that Five Sister was last restored in the 1920s and dedicated as a memorial to the women who died during the First Word War. Mrs Little, a local woman, had a vision of long-lost sisters guiding her towards the window and as she approached, her sisters faded away to be replaced by five women sitting in a garden sewing needlework. I am moved by Mrs little’s words: “After the war was over, when memorials on all sides were being erected to our brothers, I often thought that our sisters who also made the same sacrifice appeared to have been forgotten.” Names of more than 1400 women are inscribed on oak panels nearby.

I sat there for nearly an hour underneath that window and I could have stayed much longer. Great art is what changes us and the way we look at the world. I never thought a 13th century grisaille window would affect me so but it did.

Life is so much greater than just our own tiny selves. We combine to make sense of it all.

Southwards Bound – pt 2

So. London to Cambridge and back to London. I had considered adding Brighton to the itinerary, but I am very glad I decided against it. The weather was hot and clammy – and it sucked all the energy right of me. Instead of doing the thousand things on my list, I opted to visit The National Gallery which I hadn’t visited for nearly twenty years. I knew it would be cool, relatively free of crowds and very restorative to my sanity

But first a gratuitous photo of The Thing which is currently blocking.

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A grey woolly blob pre-blocking transformation. I like the early evening light.

The National Gallery in London had played a big part in my days of living in London two decades ago. I spent much of my free time wandering through the galleries and several paintings had become old friends by the time I left. It was a great joy to see these paintings again – a certain Titian, Fra Filippo Lippi’s The Annuciation (it had not lost any of its power and mystery) and Paul Cezanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuses (Cezanne’s painting took on extra meaning for me this time as I’m now so familiar with J.D. Fergusson’s Les Eus). But I kept coming back to a simple portrait by Albrecht Dürer.

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Detail from The Painter’s Father by Dürer. This portrait is over 500 years old and it is still so achingly alive.

But my favourite discovery at NG was the mosaic floor in the Main Vestibule. I spent a lot of time looking at it (much to the bemusement of other visitors).

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Detail from The Awakening of the Muses (1928-1933) by Boris Anrep. That man bears an uncanny resemblance to TS Eliot.

After the National Gallery, I headed next door to the National Portrait Gallery. I tend to visit NPG whenever I am in London – it is the perfect size for an impromptu visit and yet I see something new every time. This time I was struck by a painting of Aleister Crowley – the yellow colour vibrated and clashed beautifully against the red robe. I’ll need to see it again.

And then I headed out to Hackney to teach at the very delightful Wild & Woolly yarn shop. I always say that yarn shops reflect their owners – Wild & Woolly is owned by Anna who I liked on sight. We sat down with a pot of tea and proceeded to have a fantastic in-depth talk about knitting as lifestyle, knitting as art form, and knitting as pleasure. And the shop reflects Anna’s warm personality, sense of humour and eye for detail.

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I was teaching a class on my Byatt shawl – and it was a blast. we talked colour choices, techniques and how to knit lace at the pub. The students were all lively and funny. A very brief hello from Larissa and I wish I could have stayed longer – always a good sign – but I had to dash into the dark of night as I was staying with my good friend Ben who lives quite a trek from Hackney.

And so I spent my very last hours of my time in London talking gender identity, privilege and Men Who Knit with Ben. We’ve known each other for years and I don’t see him often enough. I don’t see many friends often enough, actually, as they are all spread out across the world (that’s a complaint for another day).

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Exotic travel: Birmingham

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Somewhere north of Preston.

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Almost sure I travelled across that viaduct on my journey to Settle just two weeks ago.

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Oh Scotland. Home.

I have been travelling a lot the past month or so. As a confirmed introvert (and homebody) I can feel I need some time to recover from adventuring. I do try to soak up as many impressions and ideas as I can while I am travelling – but then I need time to sort through them all. The good news is I have finished quite a few things and I’ll be able to share a new design with you very shortly. Yes, it’s the grey blob shown above and no, it is no longer a blob but a Very Beautiful Thing.

A big thank you to everybody I met on my travels south – the people who came to my classes; Anna and Sarah who both jumped at the chance to host my workshops; Joanne and Ben who let me stay at their places; and all the lovely strangers who talked to me because I was knitting. I salute you.

Southwards Bound – Part 1

Mid-1990s I lived in London. The timing was impeccable; it was the year that Blur released Parklife, Pulp finally broke through with His’n’HersManic Street Preachers released the seminal The Holy Bible, and Suede completed Dog Man Star (one of my all-time favourite albums to this day). I was on the periphery of all these things, but a brief moment in time I lived where a major cultural shift was gathering strength before sweeping away everything in its wake. It is so odd to return to London now because the London of those halcyon days no longer exists. I have been back many times since the 1990s and, every time I visit London now, it feels like the city is slipping further and further away. London still exists but its heart is now on the outskirts of the city.

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Shades of grey in the Bloomsbury area

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Pomp & circumstance in Hyde Park. I was walking back from an appointment at the embassy.

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Assyrian stone relief; British Museum. These depictions of sheep are important to Indo-European linguists, by the way.

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Early highlight: Soviet revolutionary ceramics at British Museum.

After spending less than two days in London chasing my own tail, meeting with embassy staff, and doing research in the British Museum, I left for Cambridgeshire where my good friend Joanne Scrace lives. Staying with her proved to be the perfect antidote to all the razzmatazz of the capital (sorry, had to get another Pulp reference in there).

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It spooked me slightly how much this looks like where I grew up.

After staying with Joanne & her gorgeous family, my batteries were recharged and I went to teach Nordic Knitting at Cambridge’s beautiful The Sheep Shop.

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Beautiful display – The Sheep Shop was full of gorgeous samples.

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Sarah of The Sheep Shop – full of warmth and personality.

I had a fabulous time teaching the class – the students were smart and asked on-the-nose questions. I am only sorry that I could not stay longer and get to know everyone better. Hopefully this won’t be my last time teaching in Cambridge!

I’ll leave my return to London and my second class for another blog post. I have much to share – including some details about an exciting KAL and a brand new design.

Good & Bad News

Karie as a kid

A bit of Throwback Thursday for you – me as a kid wearing a bonafide islænder jumper knitted by my gran. I seem to remember it was red and white – so very patriotic for a Danish kid!

First Newsflash! you can hear me talk about islænder jumpers, Icelandic yokes, Faroese mittens, Norwegian reindeers and Danish nattrøjer at Cambridge’s The Sheep Shop on June 11 where I’ll be teaching a half-day class on Nordic traditions. I hear some very good things about the shop from Joanne Scrace and Louise Tilbrook and I have never been to Cambridge before – I am super-excited!

Second Newsflash! I am teaching an evening class on the Byatt Shawl at Hackney’s awesome Wild & Woolly on Friday June 12. We’ll talk colour choices, explore clever short-cuts for the techniques used in the shawl and find out how to turn a lace shawl into the perfect pub knitting project (yes, honestly!). I have heard so much buzz about Wild & Woolly from people like Corrie Plutoniummuffin,  Ms PlayfulDay and Allison – I cannot wait to visit.

I was hoping to pack more things into my jaunt south-wards (I’m dying to go back to my spiritual homeland of Brighton and check out YAK) but between various commitments in the London area and train times, I am just amazed I managed to squeeze in two classes! I hope to see many familiar faces at either – do let me know about anything you feel I need to check out whilst in London. Good food recommendations are always welcome!

Now for some sobering news. Sometimes things are put into perspective and I write the following with a heavy heart.

May 2013 486I knew that the Coats Craft division (which includes Rowan Yarns) was sold to a hedge fund earlier this year – other brands under the Coats Crafts division includes Patons, Regia, and the Milward haberdashery brand. Earlier this week I heard some sad news from several corners: the vast majority of UK Rowan Design Consultants are saying goodbye. It is both sad and also incredibly sobering to hear this. The DCs have been the bedrock of Rowan for many years and they have played an important part in both teaching essential skills to absolute beginners and lending technical advice to skilled knitters. Seeing them go is a reminder that the times are a-changing and we are likely to see more changes ahead.

I cut my teeth on being a DC. I was first added to the fold in late 2009, and the first year taught me so much. I learned technical, administrative things like how to work with buy plans and how to implement various stock management tools. I learned about visual merchandising, and how to put together promotional displays. I learned how yarn lines were launched and what knitters were likely to find difficult. Then, as in later years, I learned how collections were pulled together and how to pitch a design submission. I learned about design vocabulary, about colour profiles, and who did what in a yarn company (the differences between a Design Room Manager, a Brand Manager, and a Head Designer). Most importantly I met an awful lot of incredibly interesting and talented people – many of whom I am proud to call my friends.

And so today my thoughts turn towards the DCs who are now saying goodbye. I do not know what happened or why decisions were made – I just know that times are tough for some good friends. If you are in the UK and near a John Lewis, go and hug your DC. They are all brilliant and will go forth and do beautiful things – but they probably need a hug right now.

Ghost World

With great joy comes great heartache, so my great-grandmother always said. One of the hardest things about being an expat is that I am far away from people who matter very, very much. My dearest and best friend and her boyfriend visited us last week. I was overjoyed to see them arrive and I was unsurprisingly miserable when they left again.

But we did have a lovely week together.

Highlights included watching the ever-changing skies over Loch Lomond (pictured left), having an afternoon pint of local brew in The Falls of Dochart Inn (out of tourist season significantly less Brigadoon than I suspect it’ll be in high season), doing the obvious Monty Python jokes at Doune Castle, buying yarn at New Lanark, playing Munchkin in the evenings, having a tremendous dinner at Fanny Trollope’s and .. just hanging out with some of the best people I know.

Of course I was also working my usual hours and trying to deal with paperwork, so things were slightly less relaxing than it could have been. I also miss our guests in a raw, unsettled way. Still, I feel nourished and ready to tackle what is ahead.

What is ahead? I am heading to London for work next week, so I need to prepare myself for that. I also have a couple of patterns to write and a lot of things to finish. Somehow I have also talked myself into a rather big homemade Christmas present that needs to be finished by early December.

Ulp.

Finally, and wholly unrelated, I went down to Occupy Glasgow’s camp yesterday and I had to laugh out loud when I saw a sign saying “Daily Mail, We Don’t Respect You Either“. How marvellous.

Charged

West Yorkshire is beautiful: all rolling hills, verdant forests and picturesque old cottages. Unless, of course, you visit Huddersfield which feels like one big roundabout.

This is my second year of visiting West Yorkshire in late spring and despite an abundance of roundabouts, I am still intrigued and finding it all terribly exotic. How could it fail to thrill when you drive through a place marketing itself as “the home of Onward Christian Soldiers“?! Delightfully, the hymn’s author is Sabine Baring-Gould who I know better as the author of the lycanthropy classic  The Book of Werewolves! Sometimes fragments of my life collide in the most splendid ways..

However, West Yorkshire was about work and work was exciting. Thankfully. I also had the privilege of spending three days together with some of most creative, inspiring people I know. It has recharged me in ways I did not even know I needed (although my recent blog posts probably do tell you how run-down I have felt this month, this very long month from hell) and my head is buzzing with ideas. It feels good.

One of the very good things I realised came courtesy of my good colleague and friend, Miss K, who had knitted up a green version of my Red Cardigan of Doom. Miss K wears an abundance of feminine 1950s inspired tea-dresses over which the cardigan looks effortlessly classy. She has a petite frame so she could definitely wear the cardigan as intended, but instead she has chosen to let it hang unbuttoned and it looks so nice. So my plan is to rip back the sleeves beyond the unfortunate chicken cutlets and reknit them straight. Then I’ll sew on my pretty buttons, finish the buttonband, weave in the ends and wear my cardigan almost-proudly.

Whilst on the train I began (and finished! That’s what eleven hours of travelling can do) a crochet scarf. I’m writing up the pattern but it’ll be tied to the teaching stuff I do, so I won’t release it globally just yet. I learned a few lessons with a previous scarf pattern.. I am also seeing the end of my Fancy jumper-turned-shrug. It is so nice to be finishing things which I have been working on for so long. Maybe this is a good time to whip up a few sewing projects because autumn is going to be hectic workwise.

On Knitwear, London and Beginnings

I have begun stalking people’s knitwear on Ravelry. I see a piece of handknit, recognise the pattern and search the Ravelry database until I find the actual piece of knitwear and the knitter. Today I saw a pair of really, really cute handknitted gloves. I asked the girl about the pattern and the yarn, and I found the actual gloves on Ravelry some five minutes ago. I love Ravelry – even if I have become a demented stalker determined to track down handknitted items so I can mark them as a favourite.

Notable knitting blog post about knitting terminology and differences in language. I do so love when people get really passionate about words. English is my second language and my knitting terminology is a sad mixture of British English and American English. I say “yarn” most of the time and “yarn over” ALL of the time, but I do try to say “tension square” and “double knitting”. Funnily enough I have English words in my knitting vocabulary for which I have no Danish equivalent. “Skein”? “Lace knitting”? It took me a long time to figure out that “a ball winder” is a “krydsnøgleapparat” (and then took my mum some dedicated googling to find out where she could get me one for Christmas). I’m still not sure, though, how to translate “hønsestrik” into English – it was this funky 1970s political knitting phenomenon in Denmark which was sort of fair isle goes Peruvian folklore with added Marxism and second-wave feminism. You can see some modern day hønsestrik here although it seems pretty relaxed (and is knitted to a pattern unlike the original hønsestrik) compared to some of the stuff I remember from my childhood.

Tonight I booked a flight to London for a work-related event. It still feels very strange just to pop in and out of London in one day. Sometimes I forget that I live just a few hundred miles from all these mythical places – York, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and London – which possessed such magic to a little girl in rural Denmark who read way too many books. I lived in London some sixteen years ago and have been a frequent visitor, but I have not visited since 2004. It’ll feel peculiar to land at the airport, get the train and step out in the middle of the city. How my life has changed.

(Addendum: David bought me a cherry/geranium cupcake today to celebrate a new beginning to my life. He is the best.)

Recovery

Today marked the first day that I’ve been outside in about ten days. The weather was lovely: crisp and on the cusp of winter. I walked through the arboretum down to the newly opened Waitrose where I hoped to find fresh baker’s yeast and buttermilk .. and maybe even a loaf of rye bread. I had to queue to get to the milk section(!) and, nope, no buttermilk and no fresh baker’s yeast and no loaves of rye bread. The quest continues – although technically I am intolerant to buttermilk and technically I can buy buttermilk at an organic green grocer’s a brisk thirty minute walk away from where I live. But: bah!

Knitting-wise I have conquered the dreaded Chart B on my orange shawl and in my utter joy to get to the relatively easy Chart C, my brain went out the window. I have now tinkered back seven rows (not easy in splitty 2-ply baby alpaca) and am about to start Chart C again. Hopefully this time I will concentrate and not just go “Ha! Only half the rows are important now. Which row am I on again?”

I don’t know how many of you watched (and thus loved) the Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog webcast earlier this year, but those of you who fall prey to anything Joss Whedonesque, you might get a kick out of the prequel, Horrible Turn, which is a fanmade prequel. I have only watched the first episode, but liked what I saw much more than expected.

And now our dreams of travelling on the Orient Express have been crushed, I have been looking into other possibilities. I’m quite taken with the idea of the Transsiberian railway. Instead of spending £3,700 on a 36-hour train trip, we could spend £5,600 on a 26 day long train journey running Moscow – Ekatarina – Irkutsk – Ulaan Bataar – Beijing. I even speak rudimentary Russian (handy and useful!). I have long wanted to visit Russia – so why not go all-out? At the moment it is not feasible for us to do this – money and work reasons – but in my head the Transsiberian sounds like much better than the Orient Express.

Ah.

The Connection Is Made

Sitting here in dark, rainy Scotland does not feel so bad, when I look at the Danish Budget for 2010. Among all the talk about a new super-hospital and whatnot, the government is now going to offer non-Western immigrants up to £12,000 for giving up their legal residency and returning “home”. The Budget also includes £500,000 to mark overseas Danish cultural heritage – particularly the former slave colonies of Ghana and The West Indies. At the risk of sounding cryptic: Denmark is now what the Daily Mail wants Britain to become.

In more personal news, my aunt died this week and my family attended her funeral in rural Denmark today. Although she was a distant relative of mine – I think I met her four or five times – I am very sad on behalf of her siblings, her daughter and her grandson. Rest in peace.

And while I was pondering writing about my life and how it has changed these past ten years, I have decided against doing so. I am amused to note, though, that the Noughties are bookended by me sitting in a dreich Scottish city during November lamenting the lack of double-glazing and proper heating. In 2000 I sat in Stirling (also known as “Hellmouth” – after living there I swore I’d never return to Scotland) and here in 2009 I am sitting in Glasgow. I hope to finish the next decade sitting somewhere warm and sunny. Ha.

Finally, Other Half and I watched a snippet of a BBC programme last night about the Orient Express. We decided that a jolly little train trip would be good fun at some point in the not-too-distant future and today I checked just how much such a jolly little train trip would set us back. £3,700 for the both of us for a jolly little train trip lasting maybe 36 hours and not including any extra frills. I think we may need to rethink that holiday idea.

Bibliophilia

april-126Do you think reality TV beckons me? I’m thinking of entering one of those “Britain’s Got Talent!” shows with my uncanny ability to acquire a massive amount of books without spending much money.

This week’s haul is pictured to the left. Fourteen books adding up to a whopping total of £4.50. Okay, so the top one was a bookmooch and the bottom four were purchased with a five-pound note I found on the street, but it is still not bad going.

The selection is suitably eclectic (for me, anyways): some bestsellers, some fluffy Georgette Heyers, a historical novel which had been recommended to me by my old mentor, some Booker nominees/winners, a bonafide classic and some slightly obscure novels.

I’m a chapter into Heyer’s Cousin Kate and will also start Crumey’s Mr Mee as soon as possible.

Some links for your perusal: