The Story of a Bench

As a rule, I have an uneasy relationship with yarn-bombing. Done right and with purpose, yarn-bombing can be an effective way of practising craftivism (using craft as protest and promoting social change). It can transform a community and serve as a visual marker that something is not right. Sadly, I see too many press releases using yarn-bombing as a thoughtless exercise to "get the knitters on board" and throw a few pom poms at a tree as an empty PR exercise.

But then there is this bench and I want to share its story with you. It is deeply affecting as well as a story of how yarn-bombing can be an incredible story-telling tool.

This bench sits in a remote corner of the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular bench is hidden away at the back, close to the rose garden and the 16th century garden. Most visitors never make it that far, but the location is a favourite spot for many local people. I live next door to the Botanics and you will often find me knitting somewhere in that little area when the weather's nice.

Local textile artist and production designer Rita McGurn passed away two years ago, and her daughter decided to yarn-bomb the bench. Most of the benches in the Botanics bear small memorial plaques, but this bench needed to be slightly different as a tribute to a woman who was described as "colourful, eccentric and a little irreverent". Some of the pieces were crocheted by Rita herself before she passed away, while other pieces were made by Rita's friends and family.

I came across the bench on a sunny day. As always, this corner of the Botanics was almost deserted - except people were lined up to look at this piece of art. A young couple was sitting on the bench for a long time, stroking the pieces of fabric and admiring the colour. A family stopped to have their children photographed ("no, don't touch the flowers - say cheese - no sit still - now look at me"). A small group of people stopped for a long time and I wondered to myself if they were friends of the family. As I saw more and more people stopped to engage with the bench - taking photographs, sitting down, touching it - I realised that they were drawn to it as an art piece. Some had read about the bench in local papers - others just came across it in passing. Everybody slowed down and took a moment to reflect.

There is something so very moving about this yarn-bombing effort. It is a deliberate gesture carried out with care and love. The bench lights up its little corner of the park and the ephemeral nature of the piece makes it incredibly poignant. It is one of my favourite pieces of yarn-bombing I have ever come across. If you are nearby, I can only urge you to catch it before it disappears forever.

You can read more about Rita and Rita's daughter, Mercedes here.

Two Events!

July 2015 217 I am currently putting last touches to my workshop schedule for late 2015/early 2016. I am sitting on my hands a little bit as some of the events are not mine to announce, but I can give you the heads up on two of the several one-offs I will be doing.

August 26-28, 2015: In the Loop 4 - From Craft to Couture. This is an academic conference held in Glasgow at which I am giving a paper on the semiotics of knitting with special reference to The Killing. Other speakers include luminaries such as Annemor Sundbø, Lynn Abrams, Jennie Atkinson, Tom Van Deijen, Roslyn Chapman, and Linda Newington. I am so honoured to be involved.

February 27-28, 2016: Joeli's Kitchen Retreat, Manchester. This promises to be so much fun. I'm running classes alongside Kate Atherley, Jules Billings and Joeli herself. Some very special guests are going to be there alongside exclusive vendors. ETA: Joeli's down to just eight four slots, folks!

Aside from one-off events I'll be teaching at various yarn shops as well (old and new friends alike!) and I'll be posting the schedule as soon as we have worked out all the details. Last year got a bit crazy (along the lines of "if this is Wednesday, this must be Belgium") so this year I have included some downtime into my schedule, so I can a) sleep, b) spend time with my loved ones, and c) design!

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News, Actually.

Some proper news! After numerous prompts I have finally set up a newsletter which will be a monthly summary of what I have been doing, plans afoot and some exclusive previews of future designs. I always find it a struggle to keep everybody up-to-date with all the things that is happening (designs, visits, events etc) so I figure a newsletter is a great way to summarise everything in one fell swoop. You can subscribe to my newsletter below - know this: I'm the only one who has access to the mailing list; I will only send out one newsletter per month; and I am not going to sell any details to any third-party people.

And hey, the Scollay cardigan is now out in general release! Drumroll, please!

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This was the first garment I ever designed and it was knitted in glorious New Lanark DK (spun just down the road from me at a UNESCO Heritage site!). The pattern comes in seven sizes (from extra-small to 3X) and is both charted and written-out. I know many of you loved Dave's illustrations for my Doggerland collection and he's drawn the schematics for this one too. It's just such a nice, every-day cardigan and I love it to bits.

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I am wearing the 1X size in the photos and I'm wearing it with no ease. I have included notes on sizing and modifications because I know some of you like a comfortable fit and other prefer a more fitted version. I'm rather short-waisted and the cardigan hits me below the hips, so I've also addressed the length of the cardigan in the notes. Customising fit is so important and I'm going to talk more about that later this year. Also, look out for a proper Scollay knit-along led by Louise Scollay of Knit British - yes, the cardigan was named for her!

Speaking of Louise and news, she's got a podcast interview with me up on her blog. I was interviewed by her on the second day of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Let me know if you can tell when my morning caffeine kicks in! We discuss future plans (oh, I am spilling a lot of beans), my work/life balance and I'm asked some rather great questions.

Now I'm off to knit in the sunshine. I wound a skein of Triskelion Taliesin 4ply this afternoon in a gorgeous emerald. I bought it last year at Unwind Brighton. So many memories contained in a skein of yarn..

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Doggerland: Ronaes

Ronaes ShawlSo here we are. I released the Ronaes shawl pattern on Monday. It is the first of the Doggerland patterns to be published and I do so with a sigh of relief.

I'm really proud of Ronaes - it was one of those designs that just fell into place really quickly and where the finished object looked even better than I had imagined.

(I have issues with the way I look in the pattern photos: oh, all the issues that arise when you stare at your own face and body as you edit photos and patterns - but I think that's a topic for another day.)

The original Ronaes was knitted in Garthenor 1ply - a beautiful and bouncy laceweight. It's called a cobweb on Ravelry which I think is a touch misleading. It's more like a heavy 2ply or a light 3ply. Maybe if I spun yarn I'd have a better idea? Looking at all the different yarn choices made for Ronaes in the Doggerland KAL is my favourite activity at the moment.

Also this week I could finally share some really exciting news. The Island Wool Company is the UK importer of the fantastic Snældan yarns. They love the Doggerland collection so much that they asked if they could team up with me. Imagine that. How could I say no? So, apart from Ravelry, the Doggerland patterns will pop up on the Island Wool Company website. I have already ordered some Snældan 2ply in Mist, so I can knit myself another Ronaes.

And in final Ronaes news, Louise Scollay of the excellent Knit British blog took an early look at Doggerland - and especially Ronaes:

What excites me about this collection is the connection to landscape and the past, and also a sense of otherness – something I often feel keenly in my own landscape.


So here we are.

The past fortnight has been crazily busy - but I'm happy to say that I'm meeting some absolutely fantastic people as part of the general insanity. If you're reading this, you are one of them.


My good friends at The Life Craft are moving premises, and so they invited me along to a special Friday night of painting pottery in order to say a proper goodbye to their Great Western Road home. I had never painted any pottery before, but I actually had a really good time. I learned the hard way that it is difficult to paint straight lines on a curved surface but this little tea cup ended up just .. fine.

I'm trying not to be too hard on myself, actually - the lines are wonky and the design feels very token but I'm trying not to be too critical, m'kay? It is amazing how self-critical crafters can be.

The colours are exactly how I hoped they would turn out, at any rate. And funnily enough they are almost the exact colours of the dress I'm hoping to make this weekend.

A few links for you to peruse:

Living in Interesting Times

Summer has arrived in Glasgow (briefly), so we Sunday in the park. We found raspberry bushes nearby and enjoyed my home-made baked goods. I sat reading 5000 Years of Textiles (edited by Jennifer Harris). The book is both a fabulous visual source-book as well as an engaging non-fiction read. I do try to have a balanced reading diet, though I do gravitate towards light reading in the summer.

The good weather even continued throughout Monday, so I was lucky enough to have an unexpected evening of outdoors knitting with a handful of friends. To our surprise, we had our photo taken by some semi-celebrities who did not even ask our permission. If knitting in public is suddenly declared the 'new cool' in a Scottish newspaper, I'm going to sue..

.. I still cannot watch the news. I was going to write a great deal about why I am so affected by the Norwegian terrorist attacks (yes, it was terrorism) - but I can't. Maybe one day I will be able to write about being Scandinavian and watch everything good about being Scandinavian getting attacked by an inadequate soul. Today I am not that eloquent.

So, some random links instead!

I hope August is going to be an improvement on July. I have had enough of this month.