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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The Tale of A Scarf: When Knitting Chooses You

 September 2014 - wearing the scarf

September 2014 - wearing the scarf

Everybody says that I chose knitting, but I think knitting chose me. Yesterday I was looking through a drawer and came across a scarf I knitted in early, early 2008. Around the neck it went and I wore it running various errands. I wore it as a secret badge of honour.

This is what I was, this is me now, and this is what knitting brought me.

I fell horribly, terribly ill shortly after I moved to the UK. I don't talk about it much because it is a really boring topic, but I was very ill for many months. The illness meant I had to stay in bed and I could only do a very limited number of activities. I read a lot of books but I needed something else to do.

After one of my hospital visits, I persuaded David to stop at a local yarn shop. I bought a crochet hook and two balls of Twilley's Freedom Spirit from a quirky girl in the shop. I liked the name of the yarn and I liked that it was green. Dave was surprised I knew how to crochet. I made a hat that evening.

I crocheted more hats and gave them to friends. I realised that yarn was expensive and that crochet used a lot of yarn. On our next visit to the yarn shop, I bought a pair of knitting needles and three balls of Noro Silk Garden. I sat in bed wondering if I could remember how to cast on. While I was trying to remember, I looked down and my fingers had done it. Muscle memory from years ago. My body which had almost given out on me was now helping me. Knit two, purl two..

 the scarf

the scarf

And this is it. A humble k2, p2 scarf in a Noro yarn. Looking at it now, my stitches are incredibly even, the edges are (mostly) slipped and the fringe is a bit awful looking. Starting this scarf was the start of many things in my life. Recovery, finding friends, building up a new life, and settling into what would become a passion and a career.

I knit a lot. I have knitted many, many things much more beautiful and much more complex than this scarf. But this is where it all began. This is when knitting chose me.

Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018

I'm going to tell you a secret. It is not a very cool secret, and chances are that you will already have guessed it if you have been following me for a while. Still, here it is: I don't deal very well with crowds. I am a quiet woman who prefer her own company to large parties, and I rarely enjoy large gatherings. Some people find it difficult to believe because I can get quite chatty online. There is obviously a difference between the person you see on social media and the person I am behind closed doors. I am not shy, but I'm quiet and find large crowds challenging.

However, I freaking love Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I know of no other knitting events like it and it is really difficult to explain what makes it different. Part of the appeal is obviously its marketplace which is filled to the rafters with exquisite fibres and yarns (one esteemed knitting guru said to me "it is truly one of the finest marketplaces in the world" and she would know). Another part of its appeal is its sheer size. This year it was bigger than ever and I never made it round the entire space despite being there for four days(!).

But its biggest appeal is its sense of community.

One of my very first teaching gigs was at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2013. I taught colourwork to a small group of knitters. When I entered the workroom, it was early morning and the venue was very quiet. Later, when my session had ended, I stepped outside and faced near-pandemonium. Knitters from across the UK had showed up in droves to meet old friends and make new ones. 

The size of the festival has changed (as has the venue) over the last five years, but the heart remains.

EYF is a place you meet friends, including the ones you did not know you had. People readily chat to complete strangers about their yarn, what they are wearing, what they are making, and much more. Hugs are handed out liberally. Smiles are just that bit broader and warmer. This year the organisers had added a big marquee at the back to accommodate all the knitters who wanted to sit down and knit with friends new and old. I only visited briefly as I was busy elsewhere, but it was a thoughtful addition. 

  L-R: The  This Thing of Paper  KAL participants compare Woodcut shawls; the  Martin's Lab  stall was filled gorgeous hand-dyed skeins; the ladies of  Yarn in the City  take in the marketplace (and Rachel is wearing her  Incunabula  cardigan)

L-R: The This Thing of Paper KAL participants compare Woodcut shawls; the Martin's Lab stall was filled gorgeous hand-dyed skeins; the ladies of Yarn in the City take in the marketplace (and Rachel is wearing her Incunabula cardigan)

This year was quite different for me in a number of ways. Usually I am too busy to spend more than 30 minutes in the marketplace, but my class schedule was arranged such that I could spend most of Thursday walking around the festival. I really enjoyed visiting old favourite stalls and finding new yarnies. #

The breadth of the marketplace means that there was something for everybody: gorgeous multi-coloured speckles from Qing Fibres and Mothy & the Squid via beautiful soft semi-solids from Eden Cottage and Moel View Yarn to heritage yarns like Shetland Woolbrokers and Garthenor. Other stalls specialised in notions, project bags, and books. 

I made the majority of my modest purchases during my Thursday visit: a garment's worth of delicious undyed Norwegian Dala/Dorset Down DK yarn from Knockado Wool Mill (spun on their 19th C equipment in the north of Scotland), a skein of Rusty Ferret to go with an earlier Ferret purchase, buttons from Textile Garden, and yarn from Jill Draper Makes in various shades of blue & teal.  I made my final purchase on the Sunday when I finally picked up some Yeavering Bell 4ply from Whistlebare.  Sunday saw the main marketplace shut and the main concourse taken over by smallholders and small batch yarn from their flocks. I was too exhausted to make informed purchases (the Whistlebare purchase was a Thursday decision) but I lingered over yarns from Hawkshaw Sheep, Black Isle Yarns,  and Uradale Yarns. I do love a good #knitlocal yarn which is minimally processed and still feels alive in my hands. Anyway, I posted photos of my new purchases on Instagram, in case you are interested!

But stash enhancement was only one part of EYF for me. 

I ran three classes: a techniques-based class on colourwork, a masterclass on shawl design, and a conceptual class on storytelling and psychogeography. I enjoyed the breadth of topics as well as getting back into a classroom. Teaching is hands-down one of my favourite things to do and I derive so much joy from seeing my student push themselves into new directions.

My class on storytelling & psychogeography is always challenging to teach as it is student-led and I have to constantly stop myself from imposing structure (it's a thing with me). The EYF students were all exceptionally willing to be led astray and go exploring armed with yarn and needles. Watching knitters trusting each other with deeply personal stories nearly undid me. I continue to be amazed by the knitters I meet and the depth of emotion with which they approach their craft. It is an honour - and it really seemed to fit the EYF ethos. 

  L-R: One of my former design students show me how she's used her background in mathematics to play with construction, a sheep watches over knitters relaxing, the  Travelknitter  stall showcased Larissa's gorgeous jewel tones.

L-R: One of my former design students show me how she's used her background in mathematics to play with construction, a sheep watches over knitters relaxing, the Travelknitter stall showcased Larissa's gorgeous jewel tones.

I wrote in my previous post that "EYF 2018 felt like the first time I showed up as myself rather than as an idealised version of myself." Remember my confession that I am really a quiet woman who prefers small gatherings to large crowds? This is a super-interesting post on clothes as armour and it mirrors some of the many conversations I have had with friends over the last few years on clothes, semiotics, the performance of the Self, gender, social media, and image culture. Some of you might also recognise these themes from essays in This Thing of Paper (especially the Vellum, Psalter, Rubrication, and Bibliotheca essays). It is testament to the friendly and generous spirit of EYF that I do not worry about showing up as myself. It is somewhere I do not have worry because people are lovely. Thank you to everyone I met and apologies to everyone who slipped through the crowds. No names mentioned because you are all incredible.  

It looks as though I have words and thoughts again. This is rather nice. Thank you, denizens of EYF 2018. 

And thank you to Jo and Mica for creating EYF. 

Clothes Make The Woman - Thoughts on Self-Expression, Making & Wardrobe Choices

While I was at Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I met a number of people who exclaimed "I love your new look!" and "it's a new you!" or a variation upon it. So, maybe this is a good time to write about some changes I have made in my life and why I have made them. 

(Before we get started: I am a big believer in you do you. The following post contains my own reflections upon the clothes I make and the clothes I wear. I am not addressing other people's wardrobe choices. You do you.) 

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The above photo combines an image of me taken in 2016 with a photo of me taken in 2018. 

I used to wear a lot of tea dresses. I'd pair them with a cute cropped cardigan and a lace shawl. My hair was dark brown with a blunt fringe - often worn in a high pony tail. I'd wear red lip stick, eyeliner and a pair of catseye glasses. This look was one of cute, quirky and soft femininity. I found it easy to wear and my everyday wardrobe revolved around a dress with a cute print + a matching cardigan + sneakers. 

2016 was the year when world politics came into sharp focus, and I truly began to reflect upon what my clothes were saying. I am (and have always been) what is known as intentionally femme. The 2010s have not been kind to marginalised folks and, although I recognise my privilege in being a white cis-gender woman, I am also a differently-abled migrant woman falling somewhere on the rainbow spectrum. Until late 2016, I had never considered that my style choices fell into that sense of nostalgia for "simpler times" which fuelled so much of the turmoil in the world and which has already hurt so many people. 

I simply asked myself: do I want to present myself as traditionally feminine? And I realised that there had to be other ways of expressing an intentionally femme identity that didn't subtly contribute to all the problems around me. 

Since 2016, I have been trying to figure out what feels authentic to me.  The journey began at the same time as I began working on This Thing of PaperIt influenced the styling choices I made in the book - my hair was shorter, for instance - and it allowed me time to reflect upon what clothes I wanted to make and wear.

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Right now I am playing in a sandbox that I describe as mix of 1920s Bauhaus women designers, 1970s Bowiesque glam, and 1990s British indie with a dash of art school chic. It is a complex sandbox still rooted in nostalgia, but the nostalgia is empowering rather than confining. Instead of cute prints and a nipped waist, I am looking at fluid fabrics, exuberant geometric prints, and deliberate pattern clashing. The silhouette is simultaneously boxier and more slim-fitting. I am still trying to figure out where this is taking me, but it feels liberating and far more authentic to me.

I recently read an interview with Harris Reed, a second-year student at CSM, in which they said: "I am someone who needs meaning to be behind everything I do and that my designs are not just clothes, but an extension of who I am and what I stand for" and I can fully relate to that. I often say that "knitting is never 'just' knitting" and I truly believe that clothes are something more than just something we wear to keep warm. Clothes are communication and identity-formation. What we wear communicates something to the world.

EYF 2018 felt like the first time I showed up as myself rather than as an idealised version of myself. Some people told me they felt a bit confused about my new direction, and I understand that. I hope this post goes some way to explain things, and it is very important to note that I have not changed as a designer. I still believe in classic knitwear design; pieces that look amazing but are surprisingly straightforward to knit; femininity as strength and agency; making as a tool for change. I still prefer dresses to trousers (although I have a pair of brown brocade trousers with gold polka dots which I love wearing) and I still wear eyeliner & red lipstick. I'm growing out my grey hair somewhat disgracefully and I'm having more fun. It's all good.

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Apropos of nothing, I've stopped being interrupted by men who want me to knit something for them whenever I'm out knitting in public. So there is that.