Don't Call It A Guilty Pleasure

It is autumn again, and I have my first cold of the season. I’m doing the usual things: drinking plenty of fluids, making sure I’m wrapped up warm, and feeling very sorry for myself. Then last night I read a Variety article about how more than 80 million Netflix subscribers watched their original rom-coms over the last few months. Variety’s article reminded me that I’m a big fan of comfort reads, comfort films, comfort food, and comfort knits — and that I am not alone.

I may have watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before four times on Netflix, and according to Variety TATBILB is not only one of the strongest performing original films on the platform, but it also gets repeated views. I have books I fall back on — AS Byatt’s Possession, Georgette Heyer’s Venetia and A Lady of Quality, and Caroline Courtenay’s Love Triumphant (a truly terrible book that’s been my comfort read since I was 12) - because I know the journey I’ll go through as a reader and that everything will turn out okay. I have periods of listening to comfort music on repeat: The One Direction song Love You Goodbye (but only this live version) is a frequent source of delight as I try to figure out why this 1990s rock ballad-throwback works so well for me — particularly as half the band appears to sleep-walk through it. And when I feel extra under the weather, I put on Ella Fitzgerald while I sip camomile tea in my jammies.

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Making-wise, I also have comfort zones.

I have knitted my Karise shawl more times than I care to remember — it’s a pattern where the lace repeats are small but interesting, and I can upsize the shawl to fit the amount of yarn I have. Hap shawls are also great because there is so much garter stitch in them and the applied edge is usually just what my attention span can manage when I’m sniffly (ten rows of twelve stitches each? my brain is happy). This week has been all about colourwork for me, though. I’ve been designing some projects which work with small repeats and are quick to finish, so I’ve snuggled up with them on the sofa with a comfort film running in the background.

We shouldn’t forget yarns, either. I have a shortlist of yarns that I return to when I need to feel uplifted and happy. Most of them are rustic, sheepy, and full of memories of when I bought them. The best thing is really that once I’ve completed a comfort knit, I get to wear it. My most recent comfort knit was the Vinterskov pullover and I’ve worn it so much since I finished knitting it. The yellow colour is a comfort in itself, but it’s also warm and cuddly.

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A lot of people talk about guilty pleasures, but I don’t understand why you should feel guilty about anything you enjoy (except, maybe, Love Triumphant which really has few redeeming qualities). I’m a big fan of leaning into what makes you feel happy and safe, as long as you don’t hurt other people in the process. Yes, Annihilation is a much better film than To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before — the conversations about its meaning run deeper, the cinematography is far more stunning, and the acting is superior — but I’ve not watched it more than once. Yes, Shearwater’s Jet Plane & Oxbow is a stunning, multi-layered album that makes my synapses weep with joy, but sometimes I just need a metaphorical swaying-with-a-lighter moment at my desk. Yes, I know that a super-food smoothie packed with oxidants would probably fight off my cold better, but that milky tea is just what I need.

Some news before I sign off to spend time with my hot-water bottle and a blanket: I’m away teaching most of the next month which means a lot of travel and little time with my inbox. Team Bookish is reshuffling and the Mighty Penny is leaving us at the end of next week. I’m already dealing with a massive email backlog, so please take time to read my FAQs if you have any questions and also seek out help via Ravelry, if you can. In the meanwhile, here are four upcoming appearances/workshops:

  • October 20: The Freehold Yarn Co, Lancaster: Knitting Selbu Mittens

  • November 2: Yarnporium, London: Colour & Pattern: Designing Signature Colourwork

  • November 2: Yarnporium, London: Knitting the Landscape

  • November 3: Yarnporium, London: Your Pattern in Print - a panel talk with Kate Atherley and Kate Heppell

I’ll be updating the workshop pages as soon as possible (i.e. when I stop coughing my lungs out). Take care, drink plenty of fluids, and tell me about your comforts.

Sudden Epiphanies: On Creativity, Writing and Making.

I recently finished reading Alice Mattison’s The Kite & The String. It is ostensibly about creative writing, but even more about how to navigate murky creative waters as a woman. Many things resonated with me, though I mainly write non-fiction and technical instructions these days (leaving aside the behemoth of a novel I took up writing earlier this year as a non-work creative project). If you are one of those people who would like to design or are already working towards designing, you might want to grab a copy (even if it is not about knitting — more about that later).

One of the things I really liked about the book was Alice Mattison’s practical approach.

I hear a lot of people saying that they don’t have enough time to design and “if only XYZ would happen, then I would ..” She neatly dismantles that inner voice by pointing out that only a very small number of people will ever have that kind of privilege of having time to devote days or weeks to pursue a creative notion without interruption, child-rearing, house-keeping, bill-paying and so forth. She then says something that is so important that I am going to put it in bold: because you don’t have that privilege, it is vital that you share your ideas. We cannot have art and culture produced only by that tiny handful of people who have the luxury of time.

In other words, we need to make time in order to make.

I’m not going to give away everything, but Mattison is both sensible and radical when she suggest reassessing what creativity means to you and how you need to carve out your creative time. You may think I am one of the privileged few because I design knitting patterns for a living, but my creative time is maybe 10% of my job. Mattison’s book is a reminder that I need quiet time away from emails and packing slips — or I simply won’t create.

Earlier this year I feared that I would never design again, that the well had dried out. I tried writing and had no words. It felt absolutely terrifying. I was staring at sheets of blank paper and I had nothing. That is when I began writing my novel (the one that no one will ever read). You may ask how I ended up with 80K of fiction when I could not write 100 words of non-fiction. I do not know. Mattison suggests letting playfulness into your work, making stuff without defensiveness. I do not know if that is what I did, but I am happy to be back designing (on a related note, thank you for loving Vinterskov as much as me).

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One part of Mattison’s book that really floored me was its chapter on silence. I began reading the chapter thinking it was going to deal with narrative silence and how to use that in prose. No. Alice Mattison addresses the silence of women. The chapter is a tough and painful read (and far, far too topical) — not only because she discusses how the voices of women writers have been silenced for a very long time but also because Mattison writes about how women self-censor ourselves. We silence ourselves, because we have been conditioned to believe our voices are not important.

I self-censor when I design. I talk myself out of a lot of ideas because I don’t think they are good enough or important enough. I nearly did not write this blog post. I meet a lot of women who talk their own creative pursuits down, who do not think their creative impulses merit two hours of quiet time every second Saturday morning.

And we all know that while knitting is amazing, fun, worthwhile, and full of wonders — we have to have that discussion every time someone discovers we are knitters. And I think it is rooted in the perception of it being women’s work (just like we have women’s fiction that isn’t real literature, and teen girls don’t like real music).

Sorry, where was I?

Ah, yes. That chapter on silence in Mattison’s book is worth its weight in gold, if you identify as a woman and you’ve ever talked yourself out of something.

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So, I went to Denmark and I read Mattison’s book and I released a pattern. That brings me to my last point.

I started out by saying “If you are one of those people who would like to design or are already working towards designing, you might want to grab a copy (even if it is not about knitting)". I am a big believer in seeking inspiration outside the obvious places. I’m someone who designed collections based on land art, Mesolithic archaeology, psychogeograhy and 15th C printing, so I would say that.

But it is important.

I always say “you do you” because we cannot be anybody but ourselves — including in knitting design. I found Alice Mattison’s book incredibly useful (and there is an invaluable chapter on publishing too) because it dealt with a general sense of creativity within a specialised field. I related to so, so much but it also gave me an outside perspective because it did not deal with knitting.

Read broadly and wisely. Find your own path. Mine your own ores. Discover what matters to you and articulate that through your knitting, your making and your creativity. Make pockets of time (and make them count). Believe your own voice should be heard. And go forth and be brilliant.

Vinterskov - A Wintery Pullover Pattern

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I am often asked about my design process, and I always give the same answer: I have a story to tell, and my job is to figure out how to tell this story through the stitches on my needles. Designing Vinterskov (rav link) was a very different experience. For the first time in years, I designed something because it was gosh oh so pretty and I wanted to wear this pullover.

Like all the best knitting adventures, it all started with the yarn. The pullover is knitted in the glorious Hjelholts Håndværksgarn, a Gotland/Merino blend spun from a small-batch Danish yarn company and spinning mill dating back to 1878. The yarn can be a bit difficult to buy (unless you are in Denmark and know some great yarn shops), so I’ve made a list of some suitable substitutions which you will find at the end of this post.

The days are drawing close in the Northern Hemisphere and the weather calls for a very snuggly pullover. I knew I wanted my precious yarn to be this pullover. Vinterskov has extra-long sleeves for that irresistible sweater-paw look, seamless construction, a casual fit, and an easy colourwork yoke. Adding to the yarn’s Nordic roots, I opted to include Nordic knitting traditions: the yoke construction is a standard Icelandic yoke, the colourwork design mixes the Norwegian lusekofte tradition with a motif borrowed by another Norwegian knitting tradition, the Selbu mitten.

And Vinterskov means “winter forest” in Danish.

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I’ve spent the last week in Denmark, (primarily working at Knitwork.dk) and I’ve been wearing Vinterskov everywhere. It is slouchy, relaxed, and the perfect go-to pullover as I’m travelling around.

A few notes on fit:

  • Vinterskov has a much more relaxed fit than my other garments. It is designed to have approximately 7 cm/2.75” of ease. I’m full-busted for my dress size, so have opted to wear my Vinterskov with 4 cm/1.5” of ease, so the yoke fits my shoulders.

  • Choose the size based upon your bust size, but if you are a D-cup (or above) look at the size below your full bust size. You don’t want to drown the rest of your frame with a lot of fabric. Your fit across the bust will be neater, but because the pullover has a relatively generous amount of ease, your Vinterskov might still be relaxed and comfortable.

  • If you prefer a neat fit, select your size based on the finished measurement numbers on page 3 of the pattern. Go for the measurement closest to your actual bust measurement.

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Several people have remarked that Vinterskov would make a great festive pullover. I can totally see it as a modern, understated holiday knit — imagine it knitted up in a rich red with white snow — but it can easily be re-worked into telling stories about rainy weather or maybe you wanted scattered rainbow rays over a forest?

Finally, some words about yarn substitution.

Hjelholts Håndværksgarn is a GLORIOUS woollen-spun yarn which is perfect for colourwork. I knitted the yarn at 19 sts/26 rows over 10 x 10 cm of stocking stitch. That makes it a slightly heavy worsted-weight or light aran-weight yarn. If you want to find a suitable substitute, look for a lofty yarn with a “sticky” handle (which makes it ideal for colourwork).

Alafoss Lett-Lopi would make a very good substitute, but as it has a slightly lighter handle than the Danish yarn, Vinterskov would feel airier. I have my eye on Harrisville Designs Highland as great US-friendly substitute and the UK’s Jamieson & Smith’s Shetland Aran Worsted would look equally lovely. Classic worsted-weight yarns like Cascade 220 and Brooklyn Tweed Shelter should also be considered, but make sure to swatch to make sure you like the fabric. You should always swatch, anyway!

I hope you like Vinterskov as much as me. Really, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of wearing this pullover.

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A Quick Letter From Denmark

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Have you ever visited Denmark? I grew up there and I am currently spending a few days there. This weekend I am teaching at KnitWork 2018 in my old hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark. I took the opportunity to spend a few days with my Danish family beforehand. And as per usual we ended up by the sea.

Denmark is a nation shaped by the sea. It is predominately an island nation (more than 400 of them! Oh, and one peninsula) and you are always just a short drive away from the nearest coast. I grew up in a rural area on the western side of Denmark’s largest island, Zealand. While most of my childhood memories revolve around running across tilled fields and climbing trees in the forests, there is something about the sea and the coastline that makes my heart beat stronger.

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And there is yarn, of course. My mum took me to Gørlev, a small town of some 2,400 people and two yarn shops. One yarn shop had eight shelving units in a row with yarn from Hjertegarn, Filatura di Crosa, and Mayflower. Eight large shelving units! Eight! The other yarn shop mostly specialised in cotton and acrylic yarns aimed at crocheters. I am quietly amazed that such a small town (and its surrounding area) can sustain two relatively large yarn shops. I fell a bit in love with Hjertegarn Incawool which reminded me strongly of the old Rowan Creative Focus Worsted. Still, no room in the suitcase nor in the stash cupboard.

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Speaking of knitwear and Denmark.. I finished this glorious pullover this week. Knitted in Hjeltholts Håndværksgarn — a small-batch Gotland/Merino yarn from a Danish yarn spinner, this pullover is probably my favouritest thing I’ve ever designed and knitted. It is certainly the quickest idea to project to pattern process I’ve ever had. It is strongly rooted in my Nordic identity and I love the colours. There is a particular Danish yellow colour you see everywhere, and I love that this yarn is the same colour.

The pullover is currently away being tech-edited, so watch this space.

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A Letter to the Future

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on the kitchen floor, highlighter pens at my side, and was colouring in a giant 2019 wall planner. I used to be able to plan my life month by month, but nowadays I have to plan year by year. When I was younger, I was terrified of confirming future plans (beyond roughly three weeks) but these days I routinely agree to things 12 months in advance. It is a thing and highlighter pens are handy.

We are still waiting for the last confirmations to roll into my inbox, but I am now pretty much fully booked for 2019 workshops. I am obviously not able to say exactly what I’m doing and when, but 2019 will be a mix of some of my favourite places/people and new adventures. Judging by the wall planner I’m away teaching a third of the year, leaving another third for designing and writing. And the last third? Well, it’s allocated to those tricksy things known as “life balance” and “sleep.”

I have been very bad for maintaining life balance and remembering to sleep, and I’ve spent much of 2018 trying to regain that balance (and its siblings “general sanity” and “creative impulse”). While I was writing This Thing of Paper, I was often asked “what did you do today?” and I felt bad saying “I stared out the window and then I went for a walk,” but the truth is that creativity is fuelled by those headspace days. I’m a big fan of the old saying butt, meet chair when it comes to producing creative work, but the productive chair days can only exist when my brain has had time to meander and ponder. And so for 2019 I’m claiming back some of my headspace days. I don’t feel too bad about it either (lie — I totally feel bad about it but that’s my own problem).

 I was teaching at the brilliant Perth Festival of Yarn this past weekend - ace place!

I was teaching at the brilliant Perth Festival of Yarn this past weekend - ace place!

I can tell you about three things that will happen in 2019.

The first thing is a personal life event. After thirteen years together, David and I have decided to get married. I do not anticipate writing about this much because, well, it is a private life thing and I’ve never really given weddings much thought beyond “this is nice”. I am making my own dress, though, and once the wedding is over, I am going to be writing a bit about the dress-making process. It’s a non-traditional dress and I’m enjoying the making process already. Friends are running a small KAL of Hunter Hammersen’s Scintillation pattern, so even if they cannot make it, they can still be part of our day. It is beyond lovely. Thank you.

The second thing is that I have teamed up with Stitchtopia Holidays and will be leading a knitting tour to Iceland and the Faeroe Islands next year. As you may know, I’m pretty obsessed with the North Atlantic knitting traditions, and I’m so blooming excited to be taking a group of knitters to the North-East part of the region. We’ll look at local wool products, visit sheep farms, explore fjords, folk museums, attempt whale and puffin-spotting, and pay homage at the Handknitting Association of Iceland among other things. I cannot wait to share my love of the Nordic knitting heritage with everyone.

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And the third thing? I’ll be sharing much more as the time approaches, but there is a big, new project looming in the horizon. I never thought I’d do another big thing after This Thing of Paper, but I have words and ideas inside of me once more. It’s quite different to This Thing of Paper but hopefully you’ll like it just as much (or more). It’s a project near and dear to my heart, and one that has been ticking along at the back of my head for years.

Before anything can happen, though, it is still 2018 and I’ll be back in my beloved Copenhagen to teach at Copenhagen KnitWork this month. I’ll be running bilingual knitting classes, so if you only speak English or du kan kun tale dansk, I’ll be there to help you out. It’ll probs kill my brain but what a way to go. See you soon, Denmark.

Raw Concrete: the Béton Brut Shawl

When it rains, it pours. I haven't released a new pattern in ages and then two come along at once. Hello Béton Brut

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This is a design which is very much led by its material. Walcot Opus is a fingering-weight alpaca/merino yarn which has a lot of drape, but crucially also a lot of stitch definition. I have been mildly obsessed with the yarn for a while and knew I wanted to design something that utilised both qualities. I also wanted to design something minimal and architectural — something that would showcase the yarn in all its understated glory. 

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Béton Brut (French for "raw concrete") is a shawl inspired by mid-20th-century architecture, concrete, and, specifically, the National Theatre building found in London's South Bank Centre. 

The National Theatre building is an example of the architectural school known as Brutalism. It sits as a complex concrete building on the south bank of London's River Thames where it forms part of a cultural complex of buildings and spaces much loved by Londoners and visitors alike. The shawl echoes the architectural style in its rigid lines, simple block-like forms, emphasis upon its raw material, and unusual shape. It is knitted in garter stitch with slipped stitches, an applied i-cord edge, and a surface braid imitating a much more complex technique. Visually it mimics what the National Theatre's architect, Denys Lasdun called 'strata' - the slipped stitches across the surface are angular and sharp, but also forms distinct sections thanks to horizontal bands. 

I am so pleased that my design is as minimal as most Brutalist architecture, yet also incorporates specific architectural references. I love how easy it is to make and wear, but also that contains a strong sense of identity. It feels good to be back designing! You can join the Béton Brut KAL for London's Yarnporium 2018 over at the YITC Ravelry group. I''m teaching at Yarnporium this year (and it includes a brand-new colourwork class) and I'll also be taking part in Yarnporium's Makers Walking the Talk. Hope to see you there with your own Béton Brut!  

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