The End of the Summer? Hello Knitting!

Outside the sun is shining, but the wall planner speaks the truth: we are close to the end of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. While some people mourn the loss of long summer nights, I am looking forward to the knitting season really starting. While I knit all year, I know many people prefer to wait until the leaves start to turn and the autumn rain sets in. This autumn I am teaching workshops across Europe (see my itinerary here) and I cannot wait to get inspired by all the amazing knitters I meet. Everyone has a story to tell and I love hearing them. Will I see you there? I hope so.

As I wrote in a recent Kickstarter update, my work on my book, This Thing of Paper, is pretty much done now. All the patterns are designed, written, edited, and photographed. All the essays are done as are the schematics. I live with a pile of cardboard boxes in my tiny kitchen — they are all full of Kickstarter backer perks. At the moment I am writing tutorials for this website as well as stories I could not fit into the book (though it will be more than 100 pages long!). I am itching to share all the hard work with you.

So where is the book?

I'm looking at my wall planner and today feels quite awful. I had PRINT! written in big letters on today's day, but we ran into unforeseen production delays exactly two weeks ago. I have done what I could from my end, but ultimately these delays are beyond my control. I join you in feeling very frustrated, but I can tell you that I'm really proud of what my small team has produced. While I'm the designer, author, and creative director of This Thing of Paper, the book is very much a real team effort. I'll be introducing you to the designs, the ideas, and the amazing team in future blog posts as we gear up for launch date.

As for knitting, I'm in the peculiar situation of having a tonne of things to show you, but also being a bit in limbo. I have a distinct sense of not being able to turn the last few pages of This Thing of Paper just yet. There are a few collaborations in the pipeline, though, and I'm easing my way back into design concept work. I also have a cardigan on my needles and some swatches of ideas I cannot resist.

For the first time in a year I am back to reading non-work related books(!) and my first proper read was Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven. In hindsight, a post-apocalyptic novel set in near-future North America was probably not the right book for my current mindset. I used to enjoy dystopian fiction, but nowadays I feel I get enough of that from the evening news. Then I read Meredith Duran's A Lady's Code of Misconduct which worked much better for me — despite its constant reminder of the despicable callousness of British politicians which is also way too real. Duran writes intelligent and densely plotted historical romances; I recommend her The Duke of Shadows, a damming indictment of British colonialism and imperialism in 19th century India (the cover is terrible, I know). Misconduct isn't quite Shadows, but it was equally engaging and infuriating as its central characters clearly struggled with the options within a rigid Victorian society. I have also been dipping in and out of Nasty Women (which shares certain themes with both Duran and Mandel).

Recommendations for fiction and non-fiction alike are always welcome in the comments. I'm really keen to read beyond authors already amplified by traditional publishing and I will happily support small independent presses. So, let me know what you have been reading lately and what you have on your needles?


Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a 'keen interest in knitting' (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP's Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies - just like the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I'm very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically - and wittily - to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather's design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights - I always like when this is given as an option. The 'Bianca' option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid's duties and this shrug is now on the list of 'cover up them shoulders' options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.

2015: The Unread Books Project

Just before Christmas I read a delightful book by Andy Miller called The Year of Reading Dangerously. On the surface of it, it is about reading all the books you've always promised yourself you'd read, but the book doubles as a witty semi-autobiographical look at how reading shapes who we are and how we ended up being whoever we are. I liked it a lot, in other words. After my career path changed and I ended up doing, well, knitterly things, I have found myself an increasingly out-of-shape reader. I used to tackle tomes with confidence and read 100+ books a year (granted, I was single, unemployed and just out of university). These days I am lucky if I manage 40 books. My Kindle is partly to blame: I do read more but I tend towards reading easily digestible trash where I don't need to flip back and forth between pages. Far too many of my books err towards the The Dastardly Duke's Devillish Duel side of things when I really yearn  to sink into a rich, gorgeous book with layers. And I don't know why I don't do that more often.

Inspired by a Twitter conversation I had with Andy Miller, I decided to look at my book shelves. I have so many that I already own and that I really want to read - but for some reason they just sit there. Here's a list of books I really want to read and hopefully by listing them, I will actually start to become a fit reader again (post-modern push-ups, fictional flexibility, muscular metafiction .. the bad puns write themselves).

In no particular order:

Eleven books. Six female writers. Three books I've begun but abandoned for various reasons (I forgot my Tristram Shandy Everyman edition in a Swedish forest one midsummer. Long story). A mix between current fiction and a few pre-1930 ones. Some I can read straight off the bat, others I'll need to approach after my reading fitness improves. Some authors I have read before with much pleasure (Atwood, Robertson and Mitchell in particular) and others new to me (James, Barnes, and Plascencia). It's a good mix.

I am not one for book groups or read-alongs, though a few of you have suggested such on Twitter. I'd love to see others look at their book shelves and rediscover their own unread books, though. Maybe a casual Twitter hangout ever so often to check in? (Many of you are much better at this than me.)

I'm about 120 pages short of finishing Andrew Drummond's A Hand-Book of Volapuk (it's a novel, I swear) and then I'm going to start my little reading project.

Books & Wool, But Of Course

books I gave away about 80% of my books when I left Denmark and I can still see ghosts on the shelves, though I merged my collection with Dave's when we started living together. So many books.

Reading my 2006 blog posts I sounded so cavalier about culling my book collection:

"Red is for never again, never, no, it is so replaceable and it was fun but now the thrill has gone

Yellow is for what a lovely edition, I’ll never find it again and my library wouldn’t be complete without it.

Green is for of course, without a question, it’s part of me and good memories of dear ones.

I may not have a driver’s license but I have many books. I’m putting tiny stickers on their backs: red, yellow, green. So far at least 100 books have been marked with red: Borges*, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, DH Lawrence*, Jane Austen, Thomas Mann* and, er, Marion Zimmer Bradley. The yellow category is the difficult one. Which of Margaret Atwood’s works are yellow and not green? Should I put a bright yellow sticker on John Ruskin or is that a red (because I’m sure there’s a nicer edition out there)?

As I go through my books I realise I’m a flirty reader. I pick up books, break their hearts & spines and drop them cruelly. So many books I never finished: Anita Brookner, Iris Murdoch, James Kelman, Samuel Butler and John Barth. I’m so sorry but it’s not you, it’s me.

And the green books. My friends, my family. Alasdair Gray, Jonathan Coe, AS Byatt, John Donne, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Pullman, Ezra Pound and EM Forster. I pet you gently and remember when I first encountered you. You are in my blood. You are going nowhere.

*victims of the bad edition rule"

And so we're back to 2014. Still so many books and they are not alphabetised. Fret.

Speaking of books, I am currently reading David W. Anthony's The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. It's an interesting look at the Proto-Indo-European language (the ur-language that spawned English, Greek, Hindi, Russian etc) and how PIE is reconstructed following linguistic rules. Anthony also looks at words and concepts that are found throughout the descendants of PIE. Words relating to wagons and wheels, certain types of animals and - relevant to my working life - textiles.

Anthony traces the possible origin* of the word wool - *HwlHn- as PIE contains roots for sheep, ewe, ram and lamb. He argues convincingly that these linguistic fragments point to a domestication of sheep. He also looks at archaeological evidence from Uruk that indicates sheep began being bred for their wool around 3350 BCE. The book then follows the linguistic fragments as they start to spread across the PIE areas. *HwlHn shatters into *Hwel- or *Hwol- .. but the word fragment doesn't always mean "wool". Sometimes it means "to felt", "something made of felt/wool", "to press" or "to weave". Anthony even looks briefly at whorls and spindles. Most of the book is devoted to horses and wheels (as the title indicates) but I did enjoy the dip into textiles. I'm now settling into a section on Neolithic farming in the Caucasus. As you do.

PS. Lots of people have posted pictures of their bookshelves (shelfies?). Do join in!

Wilting - Some Links While I Melt

As a heatwave has swept across the UK, activities in Casa Bookish have been kept to a bare minimum. Oh, there was that trip to Linlithgow Palace, a trip to Edinburgh, some art exhibitions,  designing/plotting, preparations for the launch of new Autumn/Winter yarn collections - but mainly I have languished in the shade with an ice cream for company. I've enjoyed some really fantastic and thought-provoking Twitter conversations about hand-knitting, fashion, and women's self-image. So, in short: I don't exactly lack blog post material. I just lack the energy and presence of mind to write the blog posts! What's a girl to do? Well, I have some choice links for you to peruse whilst I hope for cooler temps to hit my corner of the UK:

  • Ventures & Adventures in Topography - a podcast about rambling through London using old walking guides. Yes, I continue to be fascinated by psychogeography - how we interact with landscapes and how landscapes interact with us.
  • Speaking of which: Cafe Pantopia - trying to establish "a common meeting-place that traverses the vast distances of the North Atlantic Ocean." I am a North Atlantic Ocean girl and I love, love, love this idea.
  • Fringe Association is my new favourite knitting blog. There. I said it. She makes me look at things differently. FA  is a refreshing, smart look at knitting, style, and design.
  • I am currently teaching myself (very basic) French using DuoLingo. I'd quite like an outline of basic grammar alongside vocabulary lessons and commonly used phrases, but I genuinely feel like I'm learning Stuff.
  • Fancy living somewhere which has serious literary credentials? Why, William Blake's cottage is for sale!
  • And this serves a neat segueway into the Man Booker longlist. The jury is spear-headed by Robert MacFarlane whose The Old Ways is my current bedside table book. In Days of Yore I would have had Opinions but Opinions have been wilted by the heat and an insane amount of work knitting.
  • I have finished a book recently, though. Yes, That Book by That Author. I enjoyed it - and it was very low on gore which I appreciated. I am a squeamish reader in some ways.

And how are you doing?

Bookish Knits in Knit Now

There is a reason why I call myself Karie Bookish - I love books and I love reading. Family lore has it that whenever they couldn't find me I'd be hiding somewhere with a book. I also love knitting. When I was asked to design a number of bookish knits for Knit Now Magazine, I had to pinch myself. What a dream assignment.

The first pattern is the Eyre Shawl.

I reread Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre in 2011. The novel was extraordinary - far richer than I had grasped when my 14 year-old self had first read it. Jane was a study in self-respect, self-reliance, and intelligence:

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

But Jane wasn't the only reason why I wanted to design a shawl. The housekeeper at Thornfield Hall - the inimitable Mrs Fairfax - was constantly knitting throughout the novel and kept having small asides about how she really had to finish this row..

The recent film adaptation featured a number of knitted shawls - one spawned several garterstitch shawl patterns on Ravelry - but I wanted to take a different direction. I wanted to design a shawl that was both as delicate and strong as Jane herself - something which Mrs Fairfax would have enjoyed knitting.

My Eyre shawl has an all-over chevron pattern which gently fans into a leaf border. It is very easy to customise: like most of my shawl patterns, Eyre has a design feature which means you can repeat the central chevron stitch pattern as many times as you'd like before starting the border. I like shawls like that because it means you can customise the size of the shawl to suit your yardage.

The sample shown was knitted in Malabrigo Lace in "Applewood". It blocked out beautifully and is wonderfully soft.

I also designed a hat and fingerless gloves set for the magazine.

I set myself the challenge of designing an Art Deco-inspired accessories set which would be accessible for beginner knitters. That means everything is knitted flat. It is a bit of a controversial decision in these Everything Must Be Knitted On Circular Needles times, but I've spent so much time teaching beginning knitters that I understood how frustrating it can be to see a beautiful pattern and not be able to knit because you're not yet confident enough to use double-pointed needles or circs. So, everything is knitted flat.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was my starting point - after all, Baz Luhrmann has an adaptation out later this year and the High Street is already filled with Art Deco inspired clothes. The 1920s silouette was boyish and simple, but the details were everything but. I wanted to capture the lavish and carefree world of Gatsby and I did so by choosing a cashmere-blend yarn and use a glitzy metallic yarn as contrast. Likewise, I decided against designing something practical - this Gatsby set will not keep you warm, but it will make you feel glamorous and feminine.

The set is knitted in Rowan Cashsoft 4ply and Anchor Artiste Metallic in "Thunder" and "Blue" respectively. The hat is photographed as a beanie but is meant to be a very nonchalant beret à la Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde.

Knit Now Magazine issue 18 will be in stores from Thursday. You can order it online too.

PS. Knit Now has a history of supporting some truly talented indie designers like Jacqui Harding, Anna Elliott, Ella Austin, Elly Doyle, Anni Howard, Woolly Wormhead and Rachel Coopey. Just one reason among many why they are awesome.