On Designing Knitting Patterns

The other week I gave a talk to the Kirkmichael’s Women’s Group about my life in knitting (it is a good life and one that I am happy to have, even if the path there was one of slings and arrows). The talk went well and I received some excellent questions. I’d like to share one of them with you.

How do you design patterns?

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I design two types of patterns, essentially. I design for others, and I design for myself.

The first kind of pattern is a response to somebody else’s idea, product or moodboard — “seaside rendezvous: pastel colours, shells, beach, ice cream; summery garments and accessories perfect for wearing on holiday” — or maybe I have been asked to design a pattern for a new yarn. I like these sort of challenges because they push me outside my comfort zone. To use my seaside rendezvous example, I do not typically work with pastel hues and I will need to study the moodboard images hard before I know what atmosphere my design’s supposed to evoke. Spending time on Pinterest and Google Images is literally part of my job description!

The second kind of pattern is much more labour-intensive than you might expect. I tend to start with a story, and I need to figure out how to translate the story in my head into something on the needles, and eventually a wearable piece. A good example of this is my Rubrication shawl from This Thing of Paper. I knew I wanted a big, red shawl named after the practise of adding red lettering to books. I also knew I wanted to design something which would function as a metaphor for writing and creating. Eventually I created a pattern in which the stitches are reminiscent of quills and nibs and ink dripping down the leaf of a page (yes, I included leaves too). Working out how to interpret my story is a process full of swatching, of writing, and figuring out how to distill the core idea.

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But how do I design the patterns?

Ah, the technical aspect! I teach design classes and this is what I tell my students: you need to have an idea and you also need to know how that idea works mathematically.

I do a lot of swatching and I have a few boxes just devoted to yarn for swatching as I need to have a lot of bases covered: 4ply handdyed, worsted-weight woolly yarn, mohair lace yarn, Shetland-style yarn in various colours .. Once I have my idea sketched, I’ll find a suitable yarn and work a swatch (at least 6” by 6”). Sometimes I like the resulting swatch, other times I have to knit a lot of swatches.

Once I like the swatch and I’ve blocked it, I start by working out the gauge. Depending upon the type of pattern I’m writing I might need to plug numbers into a spreadsheet (hello, garment designing) or I know roughly what kind of base numbers I’m working with (hello, shawl construction and increase ratio).

I always, always calculate and write the pattern before I start knitting, because I don’t want to waste time knitting up something which won’t work late in the knitting process. An example of this would be a bottom-up sweater where the stitch numbers don’t work with the yoke design. As a knitter, you will be able to fudge away those extra 7 stitches. As a designer, I need to know the right numbers.

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Designing one-off patterns for myself is not something I do very often, but somehow I ended up doing just that last month. It felt like a combination of responding to a yarn pattern request and designing something because I had something stuck in my head.

The Hillhead hat pattern was a frivolous, unplanned pattern (I plan my pattern releases somewhat obsessively) that somehow wormed its way into the world. I had stuffed three balls of yarn into my suitcase while I was travelling and was doodling in my notebook. When I was a child, my gran knitted me a much-loved colourwork sweater and I was trying to recreate the stitch pattern.

The end result of all this unplanned activity was a hat. I put the work-in-progress on IG, worrying that I had knitted myself into a dead-end. Instead the kind comments encouraged me to continue and it was a design process much unlike anyone I’ve experienced before. I did not try to tell a story (apart from trying to remember a stitch pattern from my childhood) and most of the knitting was done whilst travelling with very little preparation beforehand.

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On a slightly funny note (or maybe it speaks to the year I’ve had), this morning I found a folder with a collection’s worth of already-written and -charted patterns that I had forgotten all about! I will need to sift through the designs and see which ones are viable, then figure out where the ‘gaps’ in the collection are before designing into those gaps. But that sets me up for 2019 and all the things ahead.

Anyway, I hope that answered a few questions about my design processes and how my design brain works. I’m not as prolific as some designers, but I do work hard at getting you some nice things to knit!

Knitting Garments When Busty - A Personal Primer

This is a requested post. I was asked: Could you give me some tips on how to choose knitting patterns when you are busty? And, dear reader, this is the result.

First, let’s go through some pointers:

  • This is not a post about knitting plus-size garments. People can wear all sorts of sizes and be busty. This post will deal with people who wear D-cups and above, regardless of size.

  • This is not a post about modifying patterns. There are tonnes of workshops, books and articles out there. Google is your friend.

  • This is not a post about how to make yourself look slimmer or whatever. I’m a big fan of making peace with our own bodies because our bodies are amazing & carry us through life.

  • I am not here for body-shaming, and any comments about ‘real bodies’ or ‘real women’ will be moderated. Seriously, don’t be a jerk.

 This was an okay garment, but it had some serious issues regarding ease and fit.

This was an okay garment, but it had some serious issues regarding ease and fit.

Knitting garments when busty can be quite an adventure. With high-street shops you can try on garments before committing to them, but unless you happen to have access to a LYS with a sample in your size, deciding to knit a garment can feel like taking a risk. You are committing a lot of time and money to something you do not know will suit you. Pattern photos are often no help as garments tend to be modelled by people falling into the A to C-cup territory, so you are left going through Ravelry project pages hoping to find someone with your body shape. But that Ravelry quest requires someone to have taken that risk for you.

Hi, I’m Karie and I’m a knitwear designer. I used to be one of those knitters who’d spend days going through Ravelry project pages and social media before deciding to knit a garment. I’m also someone whose full bust measurement is two sizes larger than the rest of my body, so I have decades of experiences trying to navigate fit and sizing. I’ve developed some strategies for choosing knitted garments and I hope these tips will be useful.

 This garment was a terrible decision. I have rarely worn it outside the house.

This garment was a terrible decision. I have rarely worn it outside the house.

1. Understand Your Wardrobe

A few years ago I wrote a series of blog posts on how to (slowly) build a handmade wardrobe. They were called Wear What You Make. I recommend you read them, because understanding what you wear and what you keep reaching for will make it easier to identify whether a garment will work for you. You may not be able to try on that gorgeous pullover you keep seeing on Instagram, but you will be able to assess whether it is a tried-and-true shape you already have in your wardrobe or maybe it has the same neckline as the pullover your Aunt Hester gave you and you never wear because oh god.

The second part deals with assessing your current wardrobe: throw your clothes on the bed; look at what you keep wearing; what do your wardrobe staples have in common; look at your accessories &c. It is a really good exercise and one that I urge you to do every few years. I wrote my blog post three years ago and my personal style has changed a lot.

The third part deals with figuring out what to make. You need to be honest with yourself about your lifestyle, whether your making matches what you wear, and what your preferred fit is. As busty individuals we know that the old adage of “One Size Fits All” is a big lie, so I cannot tell you what your preferred fit should be. Look at the clothes you love wearing: are they baggy? are they fitted? are they A-line? Do they have any shaping? Your previous choices should always guide you (though not rule you). Many people tell me "Oh, I don't think about fashion - I don't have the time nor the inclination" and I hear you on that. Everyday life can be so hectic that many of us just grab whatever we can afford and what more-or-less fits. However, I promise you that subconsciously you are drawn to similar things again and again, and that your wardrobe will reflect this.

Understanding what clothes you love to wear and identifying your personal style is a huge help.

2. Throw Out The Rule Books

I know I’m currently writing you a list of tips, so asking you to throw out the rule books may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

I’ve always heard that I shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes because I’m busty. Likewise, I’ve always been told I cannot wear cropped anything because the thing will just hang off my chest and look like a tent. Guess what? I have a cropped top with horizontal stripes that I love and wear as often as possible. I’m here to tell you that all this Should Not Wear is nonsense. Shaming women’s bodies is not only a big industry, but there are tonnes of people wanting to police what you should or should not wear (some of them very well-meaning and probably related to you), and you need to tune them out.

I have lost track of the comments I’ve had over the years but here are some comments I received in my twenties: you look slutty, you look too easy and you need to cover up, you only wear that to draw attention to yourself, no one will take you seriously if you wear that. All these comments were directed to me at a time when I wore undergarments designed to reduce my bosom (somewhere between a binder and a bra) and they made me very self-conscious. Thank heavens I’m no longer in my twenties and I’m able to identify these comments as utter nonsense.

No matter what you wear, people will have opinions. The worst opinions you will hear might come from yourself, truth be told. When you hear yourself saying “oh no, I cannot wear that” ask yourself if what you are saying is the result of years of living in a world where bodies are politicised, shamed and sexualised, or if it is truly a reflection of what you see in the mirror.

If in doubt, head to your nearest high street store and locate a garment similar in shape and fit to the one you are thinking of making. A cropped oversized jumper? A fitted knitted dress with a scoop-top? Try that sucker on and see how it looks (and not how you think it looks). If your local high street shops don’t stock anything like that, find an online shop with easy returns. Or look in your friends’ wardrobe.

Trying on things you don’t think will suit you might surprise you hugely. And always be kind to yourself.

 I’m lucky that I get to design garments that suit me, but that’s obviously not an option for everyone!

I’m lucky that I get to design garments that suit me, but that’s obviously not an option for everyone!

3. Okay, Let’s Talk Fit

I did say above that prescribing shaping and fit is a bit like saying “One Size Fits All” but there are some basic things that most people can apply when looking for garments they would like to knit.

You are more than just your bust size. Speaking from experience (and as someone who rarely sees her feet), it may seem that the bust dominates everything but it is simply not true. You are also your shoulder width, your waist line, your hips, the length of your torso, and the ratio of your arm length to your torso length. And that’s just scratching the surface! When I design garments, I take all those things into consideration instead of just zeroing in on my bosom and figuring out how to accommodate it.

Decide on a size based upon your top/high bust size, rather than your full bust measurement. High street shops and independent pattern designers work with a large set of average measurements, and the measurements are typically graded to a B-cup. If you wear a larger cup size and you go for your full bust size when determining which size to knit, that’s when everything becomes too big.

(Look at the grey/purple cardigan I knitted. I decided to knit the size based upon my bust size. It turned out massively, hugely big and I had to chop 4 inches off the shoulder cap just to make it fit.)

Take your top/high bust measurements, add roughly 2” (5cm) to that measurement and look for the size corresponding to that. That should give you an idea of which size you should knit. I am always so surprised when I do that because I always forget that my full bust skews my sizing.

Focus on getting the fit right across your shoulders. This is a trick that I picked up from a good friend who works as a dressmaker. If she gets the shoulders to fit right, the rest of the garment fits better. Are you narrow-shouldered (like me) or do you have broad shoulders? Look at the fit of the shoulders on the pattern photos — this is far more forgiving than trying to find someone will a full bust, by the way! How does the piece fit? What sort of construction is used?

(Look at my yellow cardigan. See how I chose to design it with a set-in sleeve and a narrow shoulder width? It fits me like a glove and that was intentional.)

Then assess if you need to add extra fabric through short-row shaping or if the garment has enough ease to accommodate the non-B-cup bosom you are sporting. Remember also that knitted fabric tends to be flexible and has a moderate amount of give. You may not need that short-row shaping despite all. I see many people adding short-row shaping no matter the garment and sometimes that garment doesn’t need it. Even if you are a G-cup.

 Do not be afraid of yoked jumpers. I’ll be releasing this one soon, promise.

Do not be afraid of yoked jumpers. I’ll be releasing this one soon, promise.

4. Those Colourwork Patterns, Though

I keep being asked about colourwork patterns, particularly yoked jumpers. I’m a fan of colourwork patterns (as I think this post proves) but there are some pitfalls.

  • Beware of where the colourwork is placed. Remember the top cardigan? The brown one? I love it so much, but it has some major problems for people with big busts. Stranded knitted is less flexible, or has less give, than single-strand knitted fabrics. Floats stabilise and fix the fabric in a way you don’t get with fabrics made using just one strand. Sadly the cardigan in question has a section where you knit with three colours in a row — something which makes the fabric even stiffer than two-strand knitted fabric —and that section is placed right on your full bust. That means you have fabric with zero give right where you need it most. On the sleeves, the same thing happens on the upper arms. I am not going to knit the pattern again, but if I were I would change the three-strand colourwork section to a two-strand pattern or use duplicate stitch. So, be aware of where colourwork is placed and what impact it will have on your movement or ability to breathe.

  • Beware of deep yokes. They look super-nice but the colourwork can also stop in really unfortunate places. Measure your yoke depth on yourself (see below) and work out the yoke depth of the garment you want to make. This may involve some maths: look at the row gauge and figure out how many rows the pattern runs over (either ask someone who’s made the pattern, count the rows from photos, or simply just buy the pattern if you are deeply suspicious). Make a mock-up of the yoke depth and hold it up against yourself, or simply know from your own yoke depth whether the pattern will hit you right or wrong. Remember, it’s quicker and cheaper to do all these things than spend weeks knitting something you hate on your body.

 Yoke depth! It’s a thing and an important one.

Yoke depth! It’s a thing and an important one.

5. So, In Short…

  • Make stuff you’d actually wear rather than jump on a bandwagon just for the sake of it.

  • Tune out people who make you feel bad about yourself and your body.

  • Make stuff you’d absolutely love to reach for at 6am on a Monday morning.

  • Buy good bras that support your bust and don’t bite into your shoulders (I forgot to mention this earlier but a good, well-fitted bra will change your life).

  • Forget the whole What Not To Wear nonsense. Remember, making you feel bad about yourself is a whole industry and as a maker you have the power to say “bah! I’ll make it myself!”.

  • Know your body measurements . You are not just a bust size.

  • Short-row bust shaping isn’t always the right answer.

  • Think carefully about colourwork patterns and where the colourwork is placed.

  • Read and enjoy Busty Girl Comics because that whole strip is totally relatable.

Feel free to leave your own favourite tips in the comments.

The Importance of Joy

I have just spent twelve days in bed recovering from food poisoning with added complications. Twelve days. Forced downtime makes you think about things that you usually don’t examine, but I’ve had a lot of time to think.

What does it mean to feel joy, let alone share it, when every day seems to bring a new wave of terrible news? What does it mean to make things slowly when the world seems be buried under an avalanche of new, shiny things? What does it mean to sit quiet at home, connecting with other souls in remote corners of the world, when your local community is struggling?

I took up knitting again in early 2008 when I had a prolonged stay in bed. The activity gave me a sense of achievement, a sense of agency. I could not dress myself but I could make a scarf. A scarf became a hat became a sock became a cardigan (and by the time of the cardigan I could dress myself again). I made friends through knitting, I became part of a community, and before long I was working for a yarn company.

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Somewhere along the way I stumbled into designing and writing knitting patterns. I taught workshops for the yarn company. I blogged about knitting. I was on social media discussing knitting. I was part of many, many knitting groups. And then in 2014 I began doing all this as a full-time job for myself. I travelled to exciting places, met wonderful people, gave papers at academic conferences, and I even ended up writing a book.

Despite all those hours devoted to the practise of knitting, despite all the hours I’ve spent examining the act of knitting, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about the importance of joy. And I don’t know why.

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Sometimes I feel emotionally unequipped to deal with making. In recent years I have used making as a way to deal with family loss, but I end up not feeling able to look at the finished pieces afterwards (an aside: not great when you make for a living - there are several pieces I will never show you, let alone publish). Things I make to keep myself occupied become things I cannot stand to look at afterwards. I’m a utilitarian maker and the thought of having made things I’ll never use pains me. Making becomes a distraction, not the central act. I am not sure I like this.

In a world where we are constantly fed pictures of perfection — yes, even on the amateur making end of things — there is something liberating about a slightly misshapen cookie, a cable that is crossed the wrong way, a painting where the nose isn’t quite right, and a quilt where the pieces are not perfectly aligned. These pieces express the joy of making in a way that carefully staged social media posts don’t. They are less about impressing the outside world, and more about being moved by what our hands are capable of doing with simple tools.

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I will freely admit that sometimes I wonder what the point of making is when the world is full of bleak news. Making a woolly hat feels frivolous when basic human rights are revoked, people are killed, and the world is experiencing one natural disaster after another. And yet making a woolly hat reminds me that I do have agency and I do have power. I cannot stop bad things from happening, but I can make good things happen through small acts of my own. I can find joy and peace when the media insist I must be scared. I can reach out to near-strangers and share kindness through making.

Joy is and must be a central part of making. Because making creates something out of nothing. Making transforms the world. Making gives us agency. Making is a radical act, a declaration that you possess the power necessary to bring about change. Making should be full of joy on the most personal level possible.

The world might not have “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace” (to quote Matthew Arnold) but as makers we need to seek the joy, the love, the light, the certitude, and the peace we create through our chosen form of making.

I think we forget about the simple joy of a well-made hat that keeps us warm when the world is cold. I know I had. Sometimes it is good to stop, take stock, and realise what is important to us.

A Doggerland Anniversary

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Four years ago I finished writing and designing Doggerland: Knits From A Lost Landscape. It remains one of the projects that I am most proud of having done. It is a collection of essays and knitting patterns inspired by a landscape that disappeared into the sea some 6000 years ago, and which made me wonder about where we live, who we are, and how we connect with our daily landscapes (whether inner or outer).

The idea for the Doggerland collection first came to me when I was looking at artefacts in the National Museum of Denmark's Prehistory section.

I was looking at a bone antler fragment carved with beautiful, simple designs when my partner started reading aloud a piece about a Mesolithic landscape now lost to the North Sea between the UK and Scandinavia (Mesolithic means "Middle Stone Age"). I loved the simplicity of the carved antler and I loved the story of a lost landscape that once formed a land bridge between Denmark (where I grew up) and Britain (where I now live).

The prehistory sections of The National Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Denmark yielded much inspiration: worked flintstones, carved antler bones, well-preserved fykes, and excavated shell middens. Motifs and textures are either directly taken from Mesolithic artefacts found in the Doggerland region (or surrounding areas) or use them as visual cues. The Mesolithic period was characterised by very geometric designs: lines, dots, circles and simple shapes. Shapes and motifs you will find throughout the collection, both in the knitting patterns and the illustrations.

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I first started working on Doggerland in 2011. The first few sketches were rough outlines of motifs, but soon I began sketching all sorts of things: shells, driftwood, coastal outlines.. then I started reading about Mesolithic archaeology, I met with archaeologists, I delved into Land Art & psychogeography, and then set myself some parameters:

+ The Doggerland moodboard

+ A limited palette of colours:  I ended up using mainly undyed yarns (mostly Snaeldan) and the only dyed hue is the vibrant green you see in the Storegga shawl above. I chose the green because it reminded me of seaweed - it'd be a colour that Mesolithic people would have seen. I did wonder about using wool rather than flax, as domesticated sheep for wool-production would still be a few millennia out.

+ A limited palette of stitches: I wanted to strip back what I understood about lace knitting, colourwork, and textures. I looked to Mesolithic artefacts like worked flint, carved bone, and late-Mesolithic pottery shards for inspiration. I was really interested in how Mesolithic people used geometric shapes and lines in their work. Garter stitch ended up forming the backbone in the collection and i also strove to use a pared-down lace vocabulary (which was one of the hardest challenges I set myself).

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I ended up designing and writing nearly 25 patterns for the collection - most of which I also knitted. Obviously most of these designs never made it into the collection for one reason or another - and it meant an enormous amount of work on my part. Still, I wanted a coherent collection with a very distinct formsprog (mode of expression - though I like the Danish phrase better: "shape language" which contain the making and moulding aspect of creating your own creative idiom).

Four years on, I sit here looking through the Doggerland collection and I am so proud of it. Our photography have improved vastly as have our layout and pattern writing skills (I didn’t have an internal style sheet, the horror) — but Doggerland still resonates with me. I am now sufficiently removed from the project to appreciate the strong pull of ideas and the defined design vocabulary. I was working part-time for a yarn company while doing the collection, and I’m quietly amazed that it became such a good piece of work. (Is it weird praising yourself? I feel like it’s weird praising yourself.)

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In the four years that have passed, I have become a full-time designer, writer, and teacher. I have written a proper book — again, combining essays, knitting, and a niche topic — and I’m now teaching Knitting the Landscape, a class that owes its existence to Doggerland. The knitting world has seen a surge of interest in the connections between landscape and knitting: from the interest in rare sheep breeds to conversations about sustainability. We sadly also live in a world where climate change affects us on a daily basis.

I never do this, but today you can buy the entire Doggerland collection at 20% off on Ravelry. No code needed. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’d love for you to discover your own landscapes.

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.