Copenhagen Dreaming

DSC00801 I moved to Copenhagen in 1995 to start university. It was a hot July day, but my student hall kitchen had a fire escape from which you could watch the Tivoli Garden fireworks and the Vor Frelsers Kirke spire. I listened a lot to the Danish band Love Shop while I biked around town. I sat in cemeteries/parks reading the massive Victorian novels required for my coursework and met some of the best people I know in small cafes. Copenhagen remained my base as I travelled a lot from Norway, Sweden and Scotland to New Zealand. I always returned home to the fire escape and the best view in town. I graduated and bought a flat on the other side of town. I spent most of my time with friends in the Nørrebro and Vesterbro districts - and occasionally biked across my beloved Langebro (obligatory Love Shop link). I left Copenhagen for Glasgow in 2006, but Copenhagen is still home. DSC00820

On Saturday night one of my oldest and dearest friends ran for his life in Inner Copenhagen. Without going into details, I am so very grateful that he is still alive and well. I have very mixed feelings about how the media narrative surrounding the incidents was set up from the get-go, how things were interpreted on the ground, the extent of the media coverage and what the probable aftermath in Danish politics will be. But, I don't write about politics on this blog and I have no intention of starting. I just feel very far away from a city I love so much and my friends who are all so very dear to me.

So, I'm (yet again) restarting my project of sharing beautiful things and celebrating all the things in life that matter to me.

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This is my first "selfish" project in a very, very long time. I'm knitting the Hetty cardigan by Andi Satterlund in Cascade 220 (shade "Birch Heather"). I am hoping to complete it in time for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I chose Hetty because I love the silhouette but also because I wanted to learn more about a structured top-down construction. The pattern is fun to knit (though I freely admit rewriting it so it suits my brain) and the construction is interesting. I have four skeins of the yarn and I've opted for the L size (though it does look tiny and I should maybe have gone for the size up, but I trust Andi's sizing comments).

In other news, I released the second instalment of the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann 2015 Sock Club on Friday. The pattern is called Mad Larks and it is knitted in a gorgeous, rich and layered brown shade. The Byatt KAL is going great over in my group - please do join in! We are having great fun discussing colour options, how to customise Byatt and if anybody would freely admit to being a Hufflepuff!

Finally, I am exceptionally honoured to announce that The Island Wool Company has set up a Designer Collective and that I am one of the six designers involved. We are all very passionate about North Atlantic knitting traditions and we are huge fans of the yarns that the Island Wool Company works so hard to bring to a larger audience. I look forward to reinterpreting and communicating a very strong knitting heritage - one in which I am lucky to have a very small stake.

Beauty exists and I'll do my very best to keep bringing more beauty into this world.


The Annual Eurovision Post: 2014

This year the Eurovision Song Contest will be held on my erstwhile home turf of Copenhagen, Denmark. I had a chance to go, but I sadly had to turn it down due to other work commitments (which I've now had to cancel thanks to the knee injury. I am not bitter). Before we get started, let it be known that this year is not a vintage year. This is a year of dreary, dreary ballads. You will have plenty of time to go to the loo, make fresh microwave popcorn and refresh your Twitter feed. No country looks as though it really, really wants to win (except Armenia - we'll get back to that). Got your popcorn popping? Let's go.

The First Semi-Final:

  • Belgium has entered a song that would make even Louis Walsh blush from its blatant voter-pandering and sentimentality. Mother (sung by Axel Hirsoux who does his damnedest to sell the song, bless him) features lyrics such as "You are right there mother / You are my guiding light / My shoulder, my shelter, my satellite (..)  you mean the world to me /you’re more than a soulmate" What Oedipus Complex? By the way, we'll get back to Louis Walsh a bit later on.
  • Latvia also has issues with mothers. The frightening Cake to Bake is performed by a twee young studenty boy who apparently was never taught to bake a cake by his mother. It's almost Portlandia except they appear deadly serious. The song continues Latvia's tendency to send novelty songs performed by happy/crap amateurs. Never give up, Latvia, never surrender.
  • This year's Beautiful Balkan Ballad comes from Montenegro. They've never qualified for the final - but this could do it. I find it hugely dull but do not underestimate the enduring appeal of the BBB (just ask Serbia).
  •  The Netherlands are evidently heartened by the success they enjoyed last year and have sent another song that is probably too good for the contest (did you hear last year's entry? Goosebumps). Calm After the Storm is one of my personal favourites this year - it has a Fleetwood Mac/Shawn Colvin alt-country vibe to it that I very much appreciate. I am not sure it will do terribly well, but I wish it all the best.
  • Another personal favourite is Swede.. no, wait. Sweden inexplicably rejected Ace Wilder's superb and fun and current Busy Doin' Nothin' in favour of a cynical and safe mid-tempo ballad that could have been penned and performed ten years ago. For shame.
  • Iceland provides a bit of North Atlantic hipster anarchy with No Prejudice. Yes, it's possibly my favouritest entry in the entire contest. It stands no chance.
  • Could Hungary win? They've flown under the radar despite sending decent entries most years. This year they've sent something that is a proper contender. With a good seeding in the first semi-final, I think you should watch out for András Kállay-Saunders.
  • Then again, the bookies appear to think that Armenia is set to win. Not Alone has a lot of YouTube pageviews and a lot of OMG THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER comments on various ESC blogs - I just get the feeling it is manufactured social media hype rather than actual excitement. The song itself is fairly dull before it breaks into dubstep, goes meandering for a bit and then stops. Meh.

The Second Semi-Final:

  • I LOVED last year's Norwegian entry (all hail the Berger Queen - it was the moral winner in 2013) so this year's ballad feels a bit like a let-down .. except it is a really, really good ballad. It's not as cynical as Sweden and Norway could (yet again) be a dark horse if it's performed well on the night.
  • Heaven knows how Poland is going to stage Donatan & Cleo's paen to modest Polish housewives. It's all a bit N'Dubz but without a particularly strong song. However, who needs a strong song when you have a video like that? Hint: a good song will come in handy on the night, but staging might see this qualify from the semis. Might.
  • One of the best 'Eurovision Gold Standard' songs comes from Austria -Rise Like A Phoenix is a quite traditional James Bond-esque ballad sung with conviction by a charismatic performer. Sadly, the quality of the song might drown in transphobia and certain countries will blank it. I'm crossing my fingers that Conchita will indeed rise like a phoenix.
  • Finland! Oh, Finland has entered a Killers-meets-early-Coldplay song. Amid all those cookie-cutter ballads, "Something Better" is a breath of fresh air. I would be very surprised if it didn't qualify for the finale. I'm just a touch concerned about those live vocals but nevermind..
  • Now for the promised Louis Walsh segment. Ireland's song is immaterial (it's very last year's winner, if you must know) but the in-studio row was GOLDEN. "Your are an odious little man," screamed former winner Linda Martin nearly decking one mentor, Louis Walsh came under attack for rigging the contest and .. oh, here's the whole thing.
  • Belarus. Be.La.Rus. Whatever possessed you to send a straight-up copy of that odious Blurred Lines song? Cheesecake is my second least favourite song this year. I did not think anyone could out-douche Robin Thicke, but Belarus' Teo manages that. It is AWFUL.
  • And just to clarify: Georgia is worse than Belarus. And they are both in the same semi-final. Ugh.

The Already Qualified:

  • Denmark chose Basim - an X-Factor person - with a Bruno Mars-lite song. A bit of controversy surrounding whether it was right to send a non-white singer the year they're hosting .. yes, really. It's pleasant enough and will fare moderately well. At least they didn't send this lesson in how not to match your fake tan & your tights.
  • Prepare for an earworm from France who are yet again unbearably tres chic with Twin Twin's Gaga-esque monster pop tune "Moustache". It won't win but it'll be in my heart forever.
  • Another X-Factor graduate - this time from Spain. Ruth Lorenzo actually made it big on UK X-Factor and since her actual ESC song is (yet another) dreary ballad, let's watch some vintage Ruth. Doesn't that make you feel better?
  • The upset of the year comes the UK who .. who .. well, the UK has sent one of the outstanding songs of this year's contest. Now there is something I don't get to write all that often. See what happens as soon as the UK stops scraping the barrel? Buzz.

So. We have Hungary, Armenia, the UK and Norway as the not-very-clear front-runners with Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine (dreary Eurodance) and Romania limping after them. Personally I am just going to enjoy an evening of Danish cuisine. Remember to do a shot of akvavit every time they mention the Little Mermaid or poke fun at Sweden.

Crocheted with Love

April 2014 028 I often get asked how I ended up doing what I do for a living. Now that is a very long story - so I often just explain that I'm the fifth generation of very crafty, creative women. It's a simplification but it is also the truth. In 2011 I exhibited knitted art at Glasgow's Tramway gallery - my Homebound piece explored how the act of making tied my family together and how we make ourselves through the act of creation/crafting.

Today added another chapter to the story as I received a parcel from my lovely mum.

I own many handmade things handed down to me: a big blanket made by my great-grandmother; Hardanger-embroidered table clothes lovingly made by my gran; a christening gown which I believed was first sewn by my great-great-grandmother (then altered by my glamorous aunt Grethe); knitted cardigans and various embroidery pieces .. but I do not own many things made by my mum especially for me. That changed today, though.

My mum asked advice on colours, but otherwise this is her work. The squares are neatly joined with crochet and all ends are neatly woven in. My mum has always been very meticulous about her finishing - every time I weave in ends, I think of her! She used this Garnstudio pattern which surprised me as she usually just makes things up as she goes along. She was fairly faithful to it, though she reported she hated the edging and wishes she had just used one of her own ones. She's a Westermann, alright!

When I teach crochet, I tend to joke that my mum thinks I cheat by using relatively heavy yarns (i.e. double-knitting and worsted-weight) when I crochet. Mum usually uses fine hooks and fine yarns, but her new love for making blankets obviously translates into heavier yarns. And I think that is interesting: we develop and change as crafters throughout our entire lives.

The new blanket suits our living room - and I am very, very pleased to have received it. Do you think I could get away with asking for some matching pillows?

Seasonal Greetings

Copenhagen 2013 was an odd year for me. It started out in spectacular fashion with the Edinburgh Yarn Fest and the year never slowed down for me. In years to come I think I'll look back upon 2013 with much more clarity than I am able to muster right now.

I took some time off recently. I went to London for work purposes and ended up at the Pom Pom Magazine's Pop-Up Xmas Party. It was an appropriate book-end to my year - sipping festive G&Ts with knitting friends and us trying to make sense of it all. I am not sure that we managed to do so but the cheese board was excellent. Onwards to Denmark where I visited family before spending five days in lovely Copenhagen (where I took the photo of the florists on Kultorvet). I spent time with close friends and relaxed for the first time in almost a year.

And now I am back in Glasgow and it is Christmas. 2013 is almost at an end. What an odd year. So brilliant in so many ways and so spectacularly different from everything I had imagined.

Seasonal greetings to you - no matter who you are, where you are, and how/if you choose to celebrate the next few days.

Work In Progress: Doggerland

The weather in Glasgow is hawt - as in 'I need to stay indoors or I shall melt' hot. I have put aside my cardigan project for the time being - although I did find time to separate for back and sleeves - and I have been yearning for a shawl project. Small, light and portable is acceptable for Surprise Summer knitting, right? I had no shawl patterns on the go, so trustworthy Ravelry came up trumps with a delightful shoulder shawl and so I cast on for it the other day. I abandoned it just as quickly. The shawl was not to blame - it was beautiful and very well-written - but I kept going "but if I change that and, oh, you could insert a lace repeat that spanned that section.." Evidently I did not want to knit a shawl; I wanted to design a shawl. I have long wanted to work on a new collection and today was that day. I am currently working on a chart quite unlike anything I have ever worked on before. My other patterns have all been triangular, aimed at beginning lace knitters, easy to modify and rather intuitive. The new shawl pattern will be a semi-circle, aimed at confident lace knitters (although it still has rest rows rather than lace worked on both sides); and you won't be able to combine charts as you please. Working on this is exhilarating, scary and a learning curve. I cannot wait to show you the final shawl.

However, what I can show you is the moodboard I put together for this collection and also explain a bit about the inspiration behind the collection (which will contain other patterns than just shawls).

The collection has a working title of Doggerland, although that is likely to change. Doggerland is a submerged landmass between Great Britain and Denmark which was last inhabited during and after the last great Ice Age to hit Europe. Today Doggerland is covered by the North Sea but once it was a rich, fertile habitat for prehistory humans. Maritime archaeologists are incredibly interested in Doggerland as the seabed may yield fascinating insight into Mesolithic life.

The Doggerland collection is using yarn from the North Sea regions - Britain, Faroe Islands, and Denmark - to explore organic textures inspired by Mesolithic prehistory.

I took a lot of inspiration from visits to the prehistory sections of The National Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Denmark. I took a lot of photos on worked flintstones, carved antler bones, well-preserved fykes, and excavated shell middens. Lately I have also thought a lot about the landscape - although this is a construct at best - with peat bogs, rolling hills, estuaries, ferns, moss and lichen. Colours play an important role in me imaging Doggerland - expect a lot of earthly tones combined with mossy greens and pale greys.

And so back to work..