Something to Think About: Articles on Textiles & Wool

Are you looking forward to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival? My plans were slightly scuppered this week when I was laid low by the lurgy. So, no handmade dresses for me but I shall dance around EYF nonetheless (hopefully without coughing). I thought I'd share some links with you.

+ Mark My Words: The Subversive History of Women Using Thread as Ink. A chilling, important read about how women have used textiles to communicate.

"..a rich tradition of women stitching words onto clothes, turning to thread and fabric in place of ink and paper. The reason behind this practice is obvious: Embroidery, needlework and darning were traditionally a female domain. That's why we have the word "needlewoman" and not "needleman." Much has already been made of the power to play with that heritage. Throughout modern history, plenty of artists have reclaimed this craft, which was once overlooked and consigned to the realms of the domestic."

+ Losing the Thread: Textiles As Technology:

"..As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts.

As understandable as it might be, forgetting about textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage. It cuts us off from essential aspects of the human past, including the lives and work of women."

And I know that this one has been doing the rounds, but it is still wonderful (and I have Viking blood in my veins, so that makes me even more happy).

+ No Wool, No Vikings: The Fleece That Launched a 1,000 Ships:

"..All that wool! It took land and farming skills to raise the sheep that supplied the wool, and a support network of (mostly) women whose spindles and looms produced the cloth. Textile archaeologist Jørgensen says the introduction of sails must have greatly increased the demand for wool and grazing land. Norway-based historical textile researcher Amy Lightfoot has even speculated that the demand for pastureland might have driven the Viking expansion as much as the gleaming temptations of stolen treasure and legitimate trade. Clearly the classic image of wild-haired Viking warriors isn’t the whole story."

Enjoy your reading. I am off to snuggle up in bed underneath blankets with some comforting garter stitch. I'll see you at EYF or beyond.

That Friday Feeling - Knitting Included

May 2015 321 I came across this shop sign whilst I was away in Yorkshire. It tickled my funny bone as I thought about all my gin-loving friends. Well, today is Friday.. !

A round-up of all things knitterly and not.

  • Less Is More. A blog post from Nordic Bakery in London had me sit up straight. The post argues that we don't need 37 different coffee blends, a wifi connection, and 'soothing' background music. We need a calm space that shelters us from the chaos of life. I used my Yorkshire retreat as a digital detox. I can really recommend that.
  • My good friend Ben Wilson is appearing at Etsy's Manmade event in London on June 13. The lovely Ben is talking about constructed masculinity, craftsMANship, and gender in the handmade world. Tickets are £5 - I'd love to go but I have to settle for re-reading Ben's article on the novelty of male knitters (first published in Mollie Makes).
  • Speaking of London, the Great London Yarn Crawl is back for its third year. This year it's taking place on September 5. This year it comes with an added Pop-Up Marketplace which sounds really exciting - I heard a few whispers about the sort of Very Nice Stuff to expect.
  • Oh, and I was interviewed for the Yarn in the City podcast about lifestyle and knitting (which is how I heard the aforementioned whispers about the Very Nice Stuff).
  •  More Very Nice Stuff: Brityarn has finally opened its doors. Isla Davison is incredibly passionate about provenance and local wool producers - I have had a couple of conversations with Isla and it's fantastic to see someone with a very clear direction and vision do what she really believes in.
  • Heather has written a great blog post about struggling with and reclaiming her creative identity. Going back to the very first blog post I linked today, I think we are under such bombardment of Clutter and Noise that finding our own creative voice can be hard. I really like Heather's blog post. it is beautiful.

April 2015 298


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?

Thinking With My Fingers

I have been thinking about what unites all the things I do and the things I care about. It struck me that I need my hands in order to translate (or transmit) all the things in my head. I am far more eloquent when I write than when I speak. I express my ideas better when I draw or knit them than if I try to describe them. And I sit down to tap away at a keyboard when I feel I have a nebulous notion brewing away in my head. The Greek philosopher Plato once addressed the mind-body problem and how the mind and body can be connected. Plato was a great fan of 'the soul' and thought our bodies inferior. Philosophers have discussed this ever since (it's known as Dualism) - when I was younger, I'd scoff at my body and be firmly in Plato's camp. The life of the mind! Pure soul! These days I definitely cannot imagine life without my fingers acting as transmitters or translators. We all mellow as we get older, don't we?

Anyway, I began thinking about this because I am just back from a work trip to Yorkshire. I had my camera with me and I snapped a lot of photos - but mostly unexpected photos.

June: Yorkshire Trip

Who knew I'd ever take an arty photo of a horse grazing in a field as a way of expressing my innermost thoughts? But there you go: life is bright and sunny with a tinge of blue. Beautiful things are in focus, bigger things are rather blurry (but I'm pushing those to the back for the time being). And everything is good.

I want to thank everybody for the lovely stream of messages concerning Doggerland. When I first started talking about my idea for the collection, a few people told me it was a bit too “out there” so I didn’t know what to expect .. but I have received so much great feedback and so much support over the last week. I have been particularly thrilled by emails from strangers who told me about their own connection to the Doggerland area - if I can make people think about their personal/emotional connections to landscapes and knitting, I have done my job well.

This would have been an excellent time to insert a photo of sheep grazing on Yorkshire hills. Unfortunately I had to take those photos from a moving train and this is the best one. Try to spot the sheep:

June Trip: Yorkshire I'll write more about my work trip to Yorkshire later - it was essentially a three-day knitting & yarn mini-conference at this place:

June: Yorkshire Trip

As I said, everything is good. I am meeting interesting people, I am being pushed out of my comfort zone, and I am thinking a lot with my fingers.

A few links &c:

  • You can still pre-order my Doggerland collection and get 20% off. Hurry, though, as the offer only runs for a few more days.
  • Stories In Stitches is a new venture from the amazing Donna Druchunas. Stories in Stitches combine so many of my favourite things: story-telling, knitting, writing and social history - not to mention that strange (but so exhilarating) sense of continuity and connection across places and ages you get when you combine all those things.
  • A very interesting interview with Harry Potter star, Emma Watson. Yes, really. I was struck by her take on feeling insecure and trying to balance her own self-perception with how others perceive her.
  • Finally, a great article about how the Eurovision Song Contest can be read as something other than just a way of life six-months-long week-long fun evening. It's a way of nation-building in the 21st century.

A Life in Check Lists

  • Yarn Club deadlines? Check.
  • Yarn club photo shoot? Check - despite me wearing a thin shirt/corset/skirt combo outside in Scottish autumnal weather (not recommended).
  • Doctor's Appointment? Check. I am as peachy as I shall ever get (and that nasty little worry turned out to be nothing, huzzah!)
  • Reading Ben Marcus' "The Flame Alphabet" before it is due back at the library? Pending.
  • Design Deadlines 1, 2 & 3 for well-known UK knitting publication? Check. Just the samples left to knit.
  • Project Winter Coat - 2012 Redux? Ongoing. This year I will need to find a replacement.
  • Project Getting Ready for Much-Needed Holiday? Well, the holiday has turned into a working holiday.. Oops.
  • Organising workshops for remainder of 2012 plus start of 2013? Check.

I think 2012 may be my favourite year so far, but I am awfully busy. As you already know.

However, I love being able to check off things as I deal with them and I have cleared space in my schedule to work on a few self-indulgent projects in November and December.

A few links to things and some name-checks of people that have kept me sane lately:

  • Despite my initial misgivings, the BBC2 programme series on Vikings is actually rather decent. Bits were filmed in Denmark and I was once again reminded that growing up with burial mounds in your backyard is not all that normal common.
  • New Domesticity. Blog tagged "thoughts about women and homemaking in the 21st century". Recent posts have dealt a lot with the tie-in book (a bit like me littering this blog with stuff about being super-busy, I guess), but have a look through the archives. Interesting stuff.
  • The look book for Brooklyn Tweed Fall 12 is such a master-class in understated, sumptuous knitting design and art direction that I nearly fell to pieces when I first saw it. I want to knit everything. The world is filled with beauty and light.
  • Papa Stour is a recent discovery. It showcases Scottish craft and design - and does so delightfully. Right now there is even a sale on .. cough.
  • Finally, I cannot stop listening to Patrick Wolf's reworking of his own "Overture" (youtube). We are seeing him in November. Again.

Careful With Words

Twitter sometimes gets a reputation for being Celebrity Central, but I frequently manage to have interesting conversations with people despite the 140-character cut-off.

Yesterday we discussed women's self-image and societal pressure to emphasise external over internal qualities. We covered a lot of ground: eating disorders, women's self-enforced ignorance as a feminist issue (Ellie's line and it's a great one), patriarchal/matriarchal gender politics and much more. Mooncalf pointed out that we should not conflate ignorance with body obsession. Miss M. wrote eloquently about how body image and a need to take control could collide. Later same night I logged back into Twitter to find a whole other discussion about women's bodies was taking place. It was a discussion I found downright scary by its very ignorance of how women's bodies actually work.

I think it is time to quietly take back that whole discussion about women's rights and women's bodies. I really enjoyed the thoughtful discussion I had on Twitter with other women (and one man) but I think we should be having that discussion off-line too. It is not a call to arms - I am not the militant sort - but it is a plea that we keep having these discussions, we keep having them in public and that we keep challenging everyday sexism. Odd how it can still be a revelation to some that women are people too.

Phew. It felt good to get that off my chest.

I will now return to my fluffy little world of trying to make stripe patterns align and figuring out why I suddenly cannot make PDF files with my word-processing programmes. Here are a few random links for your everyday perusal: