Craft

Shake & Shift

P1320921 If you backed my This Thing of Paper Kickstarter campaign, you will find a new update for July on the site. If you didn't back it, the lowdown is this: I've been busy making things happen. At this stage I am basically wearing two hats: I'm a creative (designing and writing) and I'm a project manager (doing groundwork for future things). And beautiful yarns are arriving in Casa Bookish!

I have discovered some pretty nifty software to help me with work.

First of all, I have invested in Scrivener. I first heard about it via the science-fiction writer Charles Stross who raved about it on Twitter. Scrivener is a writing software that lets you work with outlines, create order from chaos (because writers don't tend to work from A->B), and view visual research right next to your writing. I downloaded the free thirty-day trial and discovered a tool that I wish I had had years ago. After spending a few days outlining the entire book, setting up templates, and compiling my bibliography, I knew that Scrivener would make my working life a lot easier. Whilst writing a book is still a big undertaking, the project becomes more manageable when you see it broken down into chunks.

Secondly, I've finally embraced Evernote & Mendeley. When I worked on Doggerland, I used an unwieldy combination of physical notebooks, bookmarks, and Pinterest to organise my source material. It never really worked for me and I spent a lot of time searching for things I knew I had already saved.

It feels very apt that I am using 21st technology to write about 15th century technologies that altered how we interacted with writing and reading.

Outside of work, the world has been rocked by shifts and shake. I read this short, smart piece about modernity, time & seismic cultural shifts. Then I read this very depressing opinion piece about the events of 2016 seen from a historian's point-of-view (I have issues with its narrow geopolitical scope). And I revisited Frank Cottrell Boyce/Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012 - Cottrell Boyce recently wrote an extraordinary article about culture in contemporary Britain.

And I respond to an unsettled world by making stuff. This weekend the delightful Sonya Phillip is 'hosting' the Summer Stitch Fest:

During the last weekend of July, makers are invited to participate, using any or all methods of making a stitch, be it sewing, knitting or crocheting and then sharing their handmade clothes on social media.

I have plans already, but I might try to make myself a quick (and awesome) skirt. Join us?

A Quick Word About Life & Knitting

recent Recently I have been a bit busy and fallen behind on, well, everything. I'll reveal everything later this week but we are still in the process of getting things right behind the scenes.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an interview I did with Scottish mental health advocates, Mind Waves. I am a strong believer in the restorative powers of knitting. I am also hugely grateful for all the love and support we share in our knitting community. If you are a regular reader, you will know that rediscovering knitting helped me through some rough patches in my life - and I know I am not the only one. Many of you have been kind and generous enough to share stories about your life with me. Thank you.

Knitting is kind and generous too. When life does not afford us the chance to start things over and correct mistakes, knitting is patient and does not mind when we have to rip back a few rows to untangle a cable. Knitting can be as simple as a cast-on + a knit stitch + a cast-off (a beautiful thing for the uneasy soul); knitting can be as challenging as Estonian lace (equally beautiful for a mind that seeks distraction). We may have uneven stitches, but blocking sorts that out.

Sometimes I wish life could be more like knitting, but then I look around me and I see a life filled with knitters, stitches, yarn, and books. I think it's as good as it gets.

The Joy Of Making Stuff

September 2014 012 Oh, but the joy of making.

Recently I have begun dressmaking again. I had previous forays into dressmaking around 2011, but I have not been seriously sewing clothes since I was a teenager. This time around I have discovered how relaxing I find the rituals and processes of dressmaking. Casa Bookish is fairly petite, so I do my sewing on the dining table which presents its own challenges. Despite a pressed schedule and lack of space, I am really enjoying myself.

Which brings me to this outburst:

LET'S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

Some times I worry we overthink the act of making.

We swathe it in mystique (all those "15 Things You Need To Know To Unlock Your Creativity" pieces).

We become consumers rather than creators ("You cannot do origami unless you buy authentic unicorn paper from this off-shore Japanese monastery").

We are tourists rather than inhabitants of MakingLand (spending more time browsing Pinterest and blogs rather than make all the things we pin and queue).

LET'S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

I know that a full-time job and family life leaves us with precious little time. I know it'd be amazing to have a whole weekend just making stuff. I know time is a scarce resource.

But if you have 30 minutes free every Sunday, you too can make stuff! Don't feel you need to have tonnes of free time. Make when you can! Make when you are on the train! Make in your lunch break! Make whilst the pasta is boiling! Make whilst watching TV!

LET'S MAKE STUFF and make the world a more creative, imaginative, happier, more colourful, and enjoyable place.

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So, I'm dress-making.

A) I feel really happy when I wear something I have made.

B) I have become increasingly aware of my making needing to reflect my everyday wardrobe.

C) I want sewn clothes that fit me as well as my knitted items do.

My main reason for dress-making is wardrobe, so my main focus is to find a basic dress pattern that I can make over & over with a few tweaks. I wear dresses all the time - occasionally skirts - so I am not to bothered about keeping up with what's the latest trendy pattern to make in the sewing world.

I spent a bit of time on a disastrous pattern which I nicknamed The Apron Dress. I had seen some pretty versions of the dress on various people I know, but the fit was so, so awful. The lack of any actual structure (i.e. darts, supportive seams and shaping within the pattern itself) means that I was wearing a cutesy apron dress in which my bust looked to be extending outwards! The overall effect was not good. Fortunately I was just making a toile using cheap charity shop fabric - lessons gained and no beautiful fabric lost.

Moving on, I have been playing around with the Emery dress pattern by Christine Haynes which comes with beautifully clear instructions and structure. I've really hacked'n'slashed the Emery bodice. I've added extra coverage for my bust, moved the darts, and I'm about to alter the waist a tiny bit too. The first toile was almost spot on - I just had to move the bust apex a bit, lower the waist darts and .. well, I am having fun. when I was dressmaking as a teenager, I had no notion of fit but this time around I'm geeking out.

And there is knitting too, but I am in the midst of 'stuff' that will be unveiled at a later date. There is nothing more frustrating than some very pleasing things I cannot discuss. Fortunately there is always, always making stuff.

April 2011 018aa

Stitch by Stitch

Nearly ten years ago I fell very ill. I was stuck in bed and was unable to pursue any of my usual activities. The days were passing at a snail's pace and I grew increasingly frustrated. Then one day I told my partner to head to the local yarn shop to pick up some supplies. I had not been knitting or crocheting for several years, but I thought it may help pass the time. I did not know that those simple supplies would transform my life.

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This is the first hat I made. I still wear it.

When I was unable to feed myself or get dressed, I could knit three rows on a simple scarf.

When I was recovering from going to the hospital, I could sit up in the chair and sew on buttons.

When I needed to catch my breath from walking, I could finish the thumb on some mittens.

When I could hold a conversation, I found a knitting group and made friends.

When I looked in the mirror and recognised myself, I was wearing a handknitted jumper of my own design.

Stitch by stitch I remade my life. Stitch by stitch I became healthier. Stitch by stitch I regained confidence. Stitch by stitch, life changed and so did I.

I am forever thankful for the Making stuff impulse I had one day many years ago.

Crafternoons & Coffeespoons

Workshop season is drawing to a close with only a few classes remaining in 2015. The past few months have been fantastic but I am longing to spend time at home. Quite apart from a scary mountain of laundry and a suitcase still waiting to be unpacked, I also spending time with family and friends. However, I am already looking forward to 2016 which has some quite special things in store. mahy

I am incredibly happy to announce that I'm running two special workshops on Shetland Lace for Aberdeen Art Gallery as part of their Birth & Baptism season. I always enjoy talking knitting in a wider context and while my workshops are focused on teaching you knitting skills, there is a bit more to these workshops. You can book either a Beginner's Class (where you'll make a bookmark and also learn more about motifs, techniques and construction) or an Advanced Class (where you'll try your hand at designing a hap shawl and also delve into construction methods, design decisions and history). It's a series of classes I have developed especially for Aberdeen, so grab those tickets while you can!

On the subject of workshops, it was a real treat to be on the other side of the proverbial table last Sunday. I took part in a crafternoon at Glasgow's adorable The Butterfly & Pig Tearooms in the city centre. The Crafty Hen hosted an event where we tried out various crafts using Laura Ashley craft kits. I really enjoyed myself - who knew that craft workshops were this relaxing when you are not running them?! I had a go at two crafts - decoupage and needle-felting. Shall we start with the abject failure?

Okay, there are no photos of me needle-felting and I have nothing to show for my efforts. I have tried needle-felting before and I am ridiculously awful at it. All around me, people were making beautiful things (Jenny made an incredible 3D bird in no time) and I was basically just stabbing an ever more sad looking 2D Christmas bauble (which looked more like an Easter Egg than a bauble). After around 25 minutes of crying into my fibre, I just gave up. Sorry.

But to my eternal surprise, I really enjoyed decoupage. Who knew it was super-therapeutic to tear up pieces of paper and use copious amounts of glue to stick them onto shapes? I could have decoupaged all day long, I swear. If only decoupage would keep my toes warm, it would be my new favourite craft. Pretty paper -> tearing it up without care -> glue glue glue -> result! What's not to like about that? The kit contained some exceedingly beautiful paper - shades of duck egg, primrose, soft blues, and dusty pinks. As always I tried to match my outfit.

And I ended up with something that I think is pretty respectable for my first go at decoupage. I've posed the result on a crocheted hand towel made by my mum (who is really, really getting into her crochet). It's all too adorable for words. I've actually gone so far as to check whether Laura Ashley does dress-making fabric as I'm mildly obsessed with the bird print you can see on the heart (answer: not yet which is good for my purse .. but it does come as curtain material which means a bag down the line?).

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So, craft workshops. Turns out they don't always involve me travelling and dealing with piles of prep. Sometimes they just involve me trying not to glue myself to a table and how fun that was. The materials were gorgeous and pretty. I also delighted in meeting a lot of cool ladies (who were all so much better at needle-felting than I could ever be) and a gorgeous lemon/polenta GF cake served with copious amounts of tea. I need more Sundays like this.

Flawed Shawls - Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post. Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

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I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something - seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen - and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded 'limited-edition' purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it's the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don't see this happening? That's okay. I don't think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let's talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition - everybody's life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it's okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it's awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

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Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say - "Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?"

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they've knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they've deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about "lifestyle branding strategies" - well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I'm not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes - so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.