Print Culture

This Thing of Paper: What Just Happened?!


A week ago I launched This Thing of Paper. 25 hours later my project had met its target of £9,700. I sat in a state of shock as the total climbed - this was not what I had planned! It was supposed to take much longer! My head was spinning and I was lost for words. The craft community had rallied around my project in a most kind and loving way. Thank you so, so much.

I'll post an updated budget this Wednesday, so you can see how I'm balancing the budget. The blog tour also continues. Naomi and Meg blogged last week. Natalie posted today.  You can also hear an interview with me on the Yarn in the City podcast.

So what now?

Many people have asked if I am going to implement stretch goals (a target beyond the initial funding goal). Well, yes and no.

In light of the response to This Thing of Paper, I have had to adjust my budget: the print run will be larger and some things will be a bit more complex - most of the extra funds already raised will be put towards the making and distribution of my book less complicated. It is perhaps not the sexiest response you will have ever seen to a crowd-funding effort, but I believe it is a very practical and sensible one.

... but here is the Thing.

While I am not going to add any extra content to This Thing of Paper (it is a complete work as it stands), there are still things that would be really awesome.

  • Getting certain images licensed
  • Sample knitters to make the garments in two sizes for trunk shows & festivals
  • Improving the quality of the paper used in the book
  • Shooting photos on location (I've been researching options this past weekend)

So, with all that in mind, I have been pondering what would be an awesome extra treat for everybody. I want something I can give back to the community, so I have settled on something I think could be very special: a book launch party for This Thing of Paper with a periscope stream for those not able to join us. Let's make this happen, folks.

Let's decide to have a book launch party at £15,500.

If we reach £16,500 we can even do two book launches - one in Scotland* and one in London!

If we reach the magical £15,500 number, I'll be adding book launch party invites to reward levels at £30 and beyond. If we reach £16,500, those invites will be valid for a London party too.

Imagine that - a party with cake where everybody expects you to knit and read! I do like the sound of that - and it means that we can join together and celebrate what we have accomplished as a community.

Because I would not be doing all this if it were not for your help and support. That's the truth.

*ETA: In Scotland, this party would take place in the Central Belt - either Glasgow or Edinburgh. I have three potential venues, all within easy reach of public transport.


On a Personal Note

The success of This Thing of Paper has felt incredible. I was shell-shocked for most of Monday and Tuesday last week.

At school, I was bullied quite badly for being a bookish, arty, and geeky kid. That was a long time ago, but these sort of scars never seem to fade. I have spent most of my life trying to hide away all those things the playground targeted. It is only within the last decade that I have learned to accept myself. It's okay to be different and I can not be anybody but me.

So, having so many people support my bookish, arty, and geeky product feels very significant and even had me in tears.

Many people have also been in touch to urge me to be kinder to myself. I'm not going to lie: knowing that bills will be covered until April 2017 is a massive weight off my shoulders. That is a kindness in itself. Being able to pay others to do some of the work I usually do myself is also an utter pleasure.

As I am writing this, I am still not quite sure of what has happened but I know this: I am so thankful that life has led me to knitting and the wonderful community. Thank you. Thank you.

This Thing of Paper: Design Considerations

I introduced This Thing of Paper last week. This week I am writing about the work that went into the design process and how I defined the design vocabulary. If you like reading about how designers' brains work, this post will definitely give you a glimpse into my way of working! borderhorz

Work on This Thing of Paper started some time in 2012. I began talking to friends and colleagues about this mad notion I had: I wanted to make a knitting collection by hand like a medieval scribe. The practicalities made me abandon this idea: I am a semi-competent calligrapher, but making a whole book by hand* would have taken me years. Also, pattern support would have been interesting ("Let me send you a handwritten letter about row 97") and the idea of inserting errata was daunting.

*) manuscript literally translates as something 'written by hand'!

As it happens, though, I have a background in book history and as the idea of making a book by hand left me, I began thinking about the shift from manuscript to printed book. I knew I'd have enough material to write about but I had to find out if I had design material.

Screenshot 2016-04-07 14.31-horz

I set up a moodboard. I browsed digitalised archives of books from the period. I visited art galleries & museums (and one of my local museums was even kind enough to have a relevant exhibition!). I sketched and examined sources from 14th century Book of Hours manuscripts to 16th century embroidery manuals.

Keywords emerged as did a distinct colour palette and design vocabulary.

The colour palette was fairly easy to conceptualise: parchment and paper with ink and decoration. Soft natural shades with rich, deep mineral-derived pigments. Below you can see some fairly typical details from 14th century illuminated manuscripts and how they translate into colour palettes. Contrary to what many people believe, though, most manuscripts were not highly decorated. As time progressed, technology allowed for woodcuts to be inserted into printed pages - some were tinted by hand afterwards.


Related: here is an  an excellent article about why it is impossible to replicate the colours of medieval stained glass.

The design vocabulary was harder to capture. I had worked with such a sparse design vocabulary for Doggerland that I was overwhelmed by the visual possibilities in This Thing of Paper. Dragons! Devils! Stars! Acanthus leaves! Overwhelmed.

Instead I began to fall in love with the concept of negative space. Paper being much cheaper than vellum meant that you did not need to cram as much information as possible into a page; margins became wider and spaces between words appeared! I'll be writing much more about this in the actual book - but how things relate to one another in a confined visual space definitely became a thing for me. I also fell for small geometric motifs and how things are visually repeated in different ways.

So, the design vocabulary is much more exuberant than it ever was for Doggerland, but it does not mean I have not edited it ruthlessly. I am placing the visual cues in a 21st century context with wearability at the forefront. Less rustic garterstitch and pared-down lace; more play with colour and delicate, ornamental motifs.


Further design considerations: I wanted items that would appeal to a range of knitters. The projects are aimed at advanced beginner knitters to advanced knitters. Some projects will be achievable in a weekend or over a week; others will demand more involvement. The items cover texture, colour and lace. Needing to include such a variety of things in a relatively small collection meant editing what I needed to design.


For structure, I divided This Thing of Paper into three sections (or three main stories, if you like) and each section includes a garment as well as accessories. Each of the three garments will be graded across seven sizes (XS to 3X) and will have notes on how to modify fit. The accessories are a mixtures of shawls, hats and gloves. I'll be including sizing options here as well. Most patterns will be both charted and written out, because I know many people prefer to work from both (the jury's out on one shawl pattern, but I will keep you updated on that).


Thank you so, so much for all the enthusiasm and excitement so far. This is already a long entry but I want to tell you how much your reaction has meant to me. At the risk of sounding corny, I genuinely feel like I'm not alone on this whole This Thing of Paper journey because you are all sharing this adventure with me. I know this may sound like one of Those Inspirational Quotes I usually wince at - but I genuinely mean it. It is so nice to have you along.

Next week I will be writing about all the practical stuff (but there will still be pretty colours & images).

Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

February 2015 273 Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC's Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme - it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

February 2015 257

Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

February 2015 292

And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it's a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.

Word Tree

Choppy seas recently. I'm not going into the details, but choppy seas. And so I'm making a Word Tree. A Word Tree is a very basic idea. You cut out small leaves from brightly coloured paper, you write down positive words about yourself (or get others to name your positive traits if you cannot think of any), and you tie those leaves to a branch you put in a vase on your coffee table/window sill.

I know the younger version of me would have called that idea all sorts of names, but these days I am a bit gentler, less derisive and less prone to name-calling. Although don't ask me to Feel the Fear or say icky positive affirmations into the mirror. I have standards.

A few assorted links:

On Frocks & Books

A few things to tide things over..

  • With a few modifications, this is how I'd like to live. I would not sort my books by colour (in fact, it is a pet-peeve of mine), I would tone down the pattern-upon-pattern thing, and I would go for a different IKEA sofa*, but overall this is my sort of home. It has that Scandinavian-midcentury/vintage-thriftiness/art-junkie aesthetic I like.
  • As I keep saying, I am not getting back into dress-making. Nope. Not a chance. Having said that, I am drooling over this sewing project. There is no way that I'd look anything like the girl in the photos, but that is one fetching dress. I never know what to wear during summer but I like the idea of wearing pretty cotton frocks. But I'm not going to make one for myself.
  • Not getting back into dress-making does not mean I cannot look at gorgeous fabric, though. Spoonflower supplies a design/print-on-demand fabric service. Look! Steampunk-inspired fabric! Fabric inspired by early American feminist writer! UK-based company, Clothkits, sells beautiful Liberty fabric designed by Grayson Perry. Sigh.
  • Meanwhile Danish ladies' magazines keep publishing lovely free knitting patterns (mostly donated by yarn companies). My recent finds include this awesome cardigan, and a very cool top. I might even have yarn for the top.. Hmmm.

* yes, I have opinions on IKEA sofas. I'm a bit scared by this.

And on a completely different topic, take a look at this MeFi post about the quality of paper used in contemporary publishing.

"Eight years ago we started to notice the shift in buying patterns from free-sheet Permanent Paper to groundwood paper for hardcover books. Groundwood is the type of paper used in newspapers and mass market paperbacks, and its production is such that it is much lower-quality and degrades more quickly than traditional book publishing paper." What makes a book permanent?

The discussion quickly descends into a "well, why print books at all now the digital revolution is here" argument. I have nothing against digital publishing nor against digital archiving (in fact, I support digital archiving as it allows for storage on an unprecedented scale whilst not taking up much room), but I do take issue with people saying books are going to vanish within the next thirty years because they are too low-tech to be anything but obsolete. Despite globalisation, that is a very First-World argument.

The Book's low-tech nature is exactly why it is going to survive - and why books needs to be of better quality. Needing the Book is not about cherishing the object itself, but understanding its role in the dissemination of knowledge. Oh, but the internet! Oh, but Kindle! Oh, but what about people who have no access to the internet, or have limited/censored access? What about people living in areas where electricity is a scarce commodity reserved for the elite? Picking up a book "only" requires you to be able to read. Using a Kindle or the internet requires compatible technology, electricity, the ability to navigate and process information online, stable access, knowledge of how to download content/patch your software .. and then how to use your reading device.

(I miss working with print culture - can you tell?)

Warm and Fuzzy In Several Ways

For some odd reason I keep going back to the idea of a knitted dress. I found a machine-knitted dress in Monsoon (British clothes shop) which I absolutely loved (apart from the fibre make-up) and then I saw some jaw-dropping Briars and lengthened Dusty tunics. I just sit here in my cold flat and imagine how wonderfully soft, comfortable and warm they would be to wear. Then I remember how traumatised I get when knitting more than one sleeve or a slightly lengthy body. Maybe I would not go nuts knitting a dress or tunic, but the jury is definitely out on that one. Plus, you know, I had the following exchange today: "Can I talk to the lady in charge of this?" - "That's me. " - "No, I want to talk to the slim one." Ouch. Maybe a soft, clingy knitted dress is a very bad idea, full stop.

Anyway. Finished object: my Kaiti shawl knitted in Rowan Kidsilk Haze (shade: Liqueur). I used just a smidgen over two balls (and you could totally get away with just two balls) on 4.5mm and although I really wanted to knit Sharon Miller's Birch, I used the top-down version, Kiri, to maximise the shawl-to-yarn ratio. This is a supersoft and very, very warm shawl.

(I'm not-so-slowly getting addicted to Kidsilk Haze - I'd love to knit a cosy jumper in KSH and have fallen in love with yet another Kim Hargreaves design: Veer from Rowan 32. The simple lines plus the quirky little details just stole my heart. )

Photo taken at the Kelvingrove Museum which is my favourite Glasgow museum, hands down. No matter how often I visit, I see something new and interesting. They even have a small, but exquisite collection of Early Modern Period art (one of my favourite ages). Afterwards we headed towards the Hunterian Art Gallery where, be still my heart, we saw a special exhibition on Albrecht Dürer in Italy and printmaking (including an incunabulum, phroawr). Seriously, seriously good stuff. I love my neighbourhood.