Change Is Good; Change Is Slightly Scary

Casa Bookish has seen some pretty big changes over the last few weeks. It is a really exciting/scary time for me and I want to share a few glimpses of what is going on. Team Bookish has expanded slightly. I've admitted that doing admin isn't my idea of a great time (and that I spend too much time on it), so going forward some of you will start encountering Katherine rather than myself. She has vast experience organising creative brains and she's already made my working life a lot easier behind the scenes. I hope you'll welcome Katherine to the Bookish fold  - she enables me to focus more on designing and she loves a good spreadsheet!

You may have heard me mention this on social media: I'm working on a rather big project. I'm currently doing research and getting the details right, so I can start talking about it properly. It is a book-sized project and it's a somewhat ambitious & left-field one (this is from a woman who did a collection inspired by Mesolithic archaeology, land art, and psychogeography!).

I've shared a few images on Instagram recently that I think you might find interesting.

I keep journals - commonplace books and creative journals, more specifically. I've kept them since I was 14 years old and they are some of my most prized possessions. They are probably not interesting to most people (I jotted down a lot of 'profound' lyrics when I was 14) but I love looking through them.

The images I think you might like are from the creative journal I kept when I was working on the Doggerland collection (the Mesolithic archaeology one).

I find it so fascinating to see how I was working towards a very specific design vocabulary - dots, lines .. more complex motifs - and working on the basic conceptualisation of the projects - .. tools out of what's available .. not making heirlooms but making practical items for here and now. I remember looking at Late Mesolithic pottery and thinking about how the decoration was achieved by pressing reeds into fresh clay - how would I translate that into knitting?

Right now I'm working with a new creative journal filled with similar musings on a completely different topic and a very different concept. Yet again I'm thinking about design vocabulary, colour palettes, and doing the necessary groundwork.

I really, really hope you'll like it.

Thinking About The Future

KW_photo00For the past eight years or so, we've enjoyed a surge in quality indie designers offering amazing patterns for us to download. A digital revolution has changed crafting completely: knitters (and crocheters) came out as the winners because we suddenly had all these fantastic designers at our disposal with just one click of a button. From Ysolda Teague & Stephen West to Kate Davies & Gudrun Johnston, many designers started with a single pattern and gradually started growing as designers and businesses. I don't know if you know, but the knitting & crochet community is going through a bit of a sea-change at the minute. Making that same journey is going to be awfully hard in years to come and the real losers are the knitters and crocheters.

It's a dull and technical thing, really. The EU is changing laws about digital sales (in an attempt to stop Big Business from dodging taxes) but the UK is implementing the laws in a way that's very damaging to small sole traders (if you want to learn more, Woolly Wormhead has written extensively about it).

Digital downloads have changed the knitting industry forever but incoming legislation will complicate things immensely. The knitting community I love and treasure so much will now become an bit of a gated community for many aspiring designers. It worries me and saddens me because I am a firm believer in diversity and innovation.

On a tangentially related note,  I found this essay by an American indie rock band interesting. They talk about the realities of going on tour and how they are "making it" rather than "having made it". Sometimes it really hits you hard when you realise how much daily grinding is involved in creatives trying to make a reality of their dreams and talents.

Me? I wrote an article for Wovember about the relationship between sheep, wool and designer. Because that is where I am at and that is what I do.

ETA: I write this from a UK perspective because that is where I live. However, these law changes affect anyone who sells digitally online to EU customers - even designers living in Australia, the US or Easter Island.

On the Threshold: Doggerland

October 2014 326Tomorrow I am releasing the last Doggerland pattern (more on the actual pattern when it's released!) and it is a bit emotional. 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 and the only dyed hue is the vibrant green you see in the last shawl (and in the Gillean hat & wristwarmer set). 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).

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).

I got there in the end.

It was not all plain sailing. I became increasingly critical of the work I was producing. I also found myself being dragged in various directions because Doggerland was all me - and I still had other work commitments. I was working on some very non-Doggerland commissions as the same time and it was very, very hard to keep the various design vocabularies apart. I think I succeeded, but only through gritted teeth and a lot of determination.

Throughout my life I have continued ploughed  my own paths and Doggerland was yet another one of those endeavours. I could have made things easier for myself by hiring people or doing it through a publisher, but I wanted total creative control. So, from 2011 to 2014 and we are on the threshold. I am nearly there. I feel very, very odd about this.

Stay tuned tomorrow x

A Little Bit About Designing

July 2014 845 Summer is always one of the busiest periods of my working life as magazines are commissioning items for their autumn/winter issues. I have just finished the last of my many commissions and am now looking forward to getting stuck into the self-publishing side of my life. I have been asked many times how I go about doing what I do, so here's a little run-down.

  • I start by compiling a moodboard (this is my moodboard for a mini-collection I did together with Old Maiden Aunt yarns). As I add pins, a theme will eventually emerge and I start editing the moodboard down to the bare minimum of pins I need to convey the idea.
  • I sketch ideas based upon the moodboard. This can be anything from stitch pattern ideas to the shape of a sleeve or even the actual piece I want to design.
  • The stitch pattern is charted and I start pondering things like what sort of ribbing I'd use or what type of drape I'd require from the yarn.
  • I decide upon yarn and swatch. I always knit a generous swatch (at least 6" x 6") and I wash & block my swatch.
  • Basing my numbers upon my swatch, I then write the pattern. Numbers are everything. Before I have cast on a single stitch, I will worked the entire piece in my head and on paper.
  • And then I cast on.

There are many ways of going about designing, and I always advocate doing what feels right and natural to you. However, by working out the entire pattern before I commit to knitting it, I reduce the risk of having to rip back because the numbers do not add up and, of course, the risk of forgetting to take notes.

I'll write more about my design process later this year when I'll show you my sketches and swatches for a garment that is due to be published around November.

I talk more about my working life, my sources of inspiration and my plans for the future in this interview I did with the lovely folks of Love Knitting. The interview took place just after I returned from Unwind Brighton so I am pleasantly surprised by how coherent I sound!

Speaking of Unwind Brighton, my head is buzzing with ideas and plans.. and I finally have time to sit down and do something about all the things in my head. Huzzah!