My Lifestyle Guru Disqualification

Online identity, knitting celebrities and internet jealousy. We have covered a lot here recently. I'm going to return to the discussion but first I want to share a slice of what it is all about (for me, anyway): knitting. Doggerland Sneak Peek

This morning I cast off another sample for my Doggerland collection. I think I first mentioned the collection about a year ago - well it has been a long journey to get here and I'll write more about this as I release the patterns. But I just love looking at this pile of samples (plus random bits of yarn). The pile looks so right even if the samples still need to be dressed and it is lacking a couple of core pieces still to be knitted.

I am getting there! Woo!

And I think that brings me neatly round to the topic that Fourth Edition has been circling around recently: success.

Some people want a big car. Other people want to be recognised in the supermarket. All of us want to be able to pay our bills. I have spent a lot of time thinking about success and how I define it. I like being able to pay bills, but I am definitely not concerned with driving a car or being stopped in the street. No, I really truly love when what I produce resembles what has been going on in my head. When my brain and fingers work together to produce something that stays true to the core idea and tells the story I want to be telling.

'Story-telling' was a recurrent word in the discussion. It is perhaps a post-modern conceit that we tell stories in order to construct ourselves but I think I do relate to my craft and my designs as forms of story-telling. I want to explore my Scandinavian heritage; the landscapes both inside and outwith myself and try to make sense of the world through knitting.

I somehow worry(!) that I hover between textile art and textile craft - that somehow my ideas are too absurd and abstract for the relatively simple pleasure of working a piece of string with two sticks. I have spent almost 12 months trying to nail Doggerland because it started out as a huge, unwieldy idea. When I showed my introduction to some friends, the feedback was enthusiastic but agreed that maybe I should try to be a touch more accessible.

And so I am here looking at a pile of unblocked knits and I feel so proud. To me, this is success.

And this is who I am: I design knits inspired by psychogeography, land art, and Mesolithic archaeology. I wear red and green together. I am quiet in public and most happy when I'm with just a handful of friends. I love early 20th century culture and T.S. Eliot is my favourite writer. And I think the Eurovision Song Contest is the best thing since sliced bread. All that combined pretty much disqualifies me for any position as a lifestyle guru. Also, I eat the cake as soon as it's out of the oven.

Besides, the idea of a knitting celebrity is still weird. If the founder of Wikipedia has trouble identifying himself as 'internet famous', I think it's fair to say that we need to re-assess the whole idea of internet fame. The internet is an awfully big pond.

What Would Happen If You Had To Be Yourself?

Something very cool happened in my comments section yesterday. A really interesting discussion started to unfold - people started to talk about the whole "yourself as a brand" and "performing yourself in public " aspect of the craft/knitting business.If you've been reading Fourth Edition for a long time, you'll know this is one of my major hang-ups as an indie designer and tutor. (I even wrote a long post about it as part of the work I did with Glasgow University last year). I want to share some of the points made in the comments because I think they are asking some very important questions about branding, marketing, social media and (for a want of a better term) 'cult of personality'. It may not be straight up yarn-related but I hope it'll provide an interesting glimpse into what it means to work in the craft industry.

I was disquietened by her comments about the need to be positive all the time. Admittedly she is using herself as a brand and may want to keep back some stuff and have a private life. But the more we have this “you must always be positive” message around, the harder it is for us to be honest with one another about how we feel

- Stephanie of The Foggy Knitter


I find it’s very hard for me to come to terms with “personality as brand” and “public persona” but I realise that it is how the business works. I have struggled with this for a long time (how I would prefer to just lurk in the shadows!) but the podcast made me confront myself regarding this.

- Karie of Fourth Edition (that'll be yours truly!)


I struggle all the time with the need to be a “public persona,” or a “personality.” Especially since part of what I do for a living is teach classes! There’s a certain online pressure to be this happy, successful person who can share all the secrets of success. But what I’d rather do is gather quietly in classroom spaces with my students, and give them my all. That doesn’t make for sexy marketing copy, though. :-)

- Sister Diane of Craftypod


That “have to be happy” is a pressure we feel from both the big, lovely craft bloggers (my gorgeous living room! My sleeping baby!), but we also feel it from the inside of our own heads! No one wants to feel like a loser…and telling the internet that you’re not perfect (in a space dominated by the perfect) is a quick way to loser-town. (At least, in my own head.)


At the heart of all this is *expectations*. My expectations of myself. My reader’s/student’s/client’s expectations, and then all those expectations that I’m making assumptions about. Who even knows if they exist? But they certainly guide the way we act/present ourselves in this space.

- Tara Swiger


The podcast gave me a lot to think about & the blog post has added more. I, too, struggle with the personal brand idea. I’m quite shy which may be why.

- Anniken Allis of YarnAddict


Not in the comments section, but on her own blog, Vanessa reflected:

I’ve found that acknowledging that I’m feeling envy and it’s probably unfounded helps me let go of that anger. Then I try to really analyze just what pushed that button. Once I get to the root cause, I look at it from all sides. Is this image that person is presenting the whole truth? What am I not seeing? A messy house, uncombed hair, other to-dos that fell to the way side. Those aren’t presented on the internet.

There is so much to unpack here but the central question has to be What would happen if you had to be yourself?


A Dash of Colour, Beauty & Cynicism.

I have been working a lot with undyed yarns recently - one mossy green has crept into the Doggerland collection but otherwise I am using all natural fleece colours. I really enjoy it - of course I do - but I do yearn for some colour in my knitting. Just a little pop of something decadent.Birthday yarn

A bit of birthday yarn arrived yesterday. My lovely gran sent me 1100 yrds of 2ply merino wool from Danish company, DesignClub. This red is marvellous - it has unusual depth to it and the yarn has some great bounce. It was spun at Henrichsens Uldspinneri, a Danish woollen mill dating back to the 19th century. I've used the yarn before and I am looking forward to using it again ..

I thought I'd also show you the necklace pendants which my friend Paula made for my birthday. They are so pretty.

Paula's necklaces

I was recently sent a link to Craftypod - specifically an episode which discussed the idea of "the knitting celebrity" and internet jealousy. It is a really interesting podcast and if you can spare 30 minutes, I recommend you give it a listen.

First, though, some words from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He was asked about being "internet famous"

Right now, I'm sitting in a public library minding my own business taking a break from what I was working on.  No one is likely to recognize or notice me here..


But I am, as the question asks, "Internet famous".  That phrase is vague and could mean a lot of things, but for me what it means is that Wikipedia is very very very famous and Wikia is very famous, and so I'm a little bit famous as a result..


Because of this, I'm able to meet with government officials all around the world to put forward my views on the importance of freedom of speech and openness and transparency.  I find this useful, and I believe in many cases I've had an impact.  (It is never easy to be sure.)


Back to the Craftypod podcast. I was struck by a couple of things.

1) Craft is HUGE. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of segmented markets and niches: knitting, crochet, scrap-booking, quilting, embroidery, dress-making.. These days knitting can be divided into a lot of niches too (I have written a bit more about that here).

Vickie Howell may talk about being a leader in the craft industry - but it is her corner of the craft industry in which she is a leader (gatekeeper is probably the better term). This probably makes me a bad person, but I had never heard of her before I listened to the podcast. I googled her subsequently and she's done craft TV in the States, works for a US yarn company and fronts her own yarn line. She looks like a cool person - but she is not part of my knitting landscape. And that is okay. I'd hate to have a totally uniform definition of "cool knitting" and what I "should be knitting".

2) There was also a lot of talk about "the 2005 generation" and marketing. The podcast served up a massive dollop of nostalgia for the good old days when you could upload a simple scarf pattern and people would go nuts for it.

I think there will always be people talking about the "good old days when things were simple". It is a generational thing and on the internet a generation is a very small, finite thing (maybe 2 years? 3 years?).

2008 was the year when I got back into knitting in a major, major way. I remember when the February Lady Sweater was published via Ravelry and it was a huge thing. Do we have that sort of knitting landscape these days? No.It is probably harder to get noticed across the board, but incredibly talented people do manage it. Designers have to up their game and I don't think that's a bad thing. Knitters everywhere are the winners in this scenario.

(Also, the segmented knitting landscape means that if you are really into designing crazy intarsia dog coats, for instance, you will find "your people" pretty quickly.)

3) I wasn't a fan of the whole cross-channel "hustling" mentioned in the podcast- but that's because I am one of those people who tune out people who endlessly promote themselves on as many channels as they can. Maybe I am just old in social media terms but there is a whole signal-to-noise thing which I think many marketeers often forget. Social media isn't always about quantity - quality plays a huge part too. But that's probably a whole 'nother topic. (Psst, this is a great blog post about using Twitter)

I'll be honest: that podcast made me feel very cynical and I don't like feeling cynical - especially not about knitting.

I am left here still thinking about Jimmy Wales' words. The Q&A I linked above also included these lines:

I don't have a lot of money.  I don't have a lot of power in the top-down command-and-control sense.  But I do have a lot of influence.  I like that part of it.

Jimmy Wales is a lot more famous than any knitting "celebrity" and wields a lot more power and influence than I can begin to imagine. Yet he speaks with humility and a wry sense of humour. I think we could all take a lesson from him.


Both Sides of the Internet

I have a long list of things I tell myself I Should Really Blog About and somehow I end up keeping them in my head. It has been puzzling me why this is so, but I think it is the combination of no longer being relatively anonymous and being able to talk to my Other Half about these things that I end up keeping things off the blog. It is a shame and so here we go.

Recently I was having a quick little internet chat about STFU, Parents. It is a website in the vein of Regretsy and Lamebook with a dash of Ravelry Rubberneckers and F_W (all these links should be considered NSFW) as it navigates social media sites and documents some truly unfortunate oversharing and jerky behaviour. I had an exchange with a friend who thought the site was rather mean. I agree that it is mean but also that it documents meanness towards other people. Let me expand upon that.

It never ceases to amaze me that my gender plus age plus relationship status = it is perfectly okay for people to ask very personal questions about the state of my uterus. What I take from STFUP is that I am not the only one who gets random "lol, so r u preggers? lol why not?" comments at me (or get emailed some insensitive 'lol' questions). I find some of those remarks and mails really, really mean too.

Of course, STFUP documents meanness towards other people too - particularly towards people's own children. That hilarious poop story will be infinitely less funny when your child finds it online 15 years from now - and it is really not funny now.

If a site like STFUP can make one person less likely to mommy-jack, ask me questions about my uterus and/or sexual orientation, post an embarrassing story about their kiddo, or name their child something horrid - then I am all for it. Even if that makes me a mean person. Incidentally there are also other variants upon the same theme and I think the common message is (as always): don't be a jerk.

Now that is out of my system, let me share an altogether lovely story about the kindness of strangers.

Remember the story about the lost shawl I found in Glasgow City Centre? It has been reunited with its rightful owner. In a completely unnecessary gesture, the owner has given me a gift - this made me tear up as I certainly did not expect anything.

Thank you Jules and Jules' Mum. You are amazing and much too kind.

Basic Tutorial: Dyeing Yarn with Cake Paste Dye

There are various methods you can use to dye your own yarn or project. You can handpaint hanks of yarn, microwave your dyeing project or use a big stove top pot. For actual hanks of yarn, I prefer the stove top method, but if I am dyeing actual projects, I use my oven. My Modus Operanti for (over)dyeing shawls:

I use the basic methods outlined in the links above, but opt for a cake icing dye paste which I bought in a local cake decorating shop. The paste is so concentrated that I need to use only a small amount to dye an entire shawl, thus making it a more economical choice than, say, Kool-Aid (at least if you are in the UK) or commercial food dyes available in your local supermarket. The icing paste also comes in a gazillion colours and you can mix/match to your heart's delight.

For my Echo Flowers Shawl I used half a teaspoon of paste which I dissolved with boiling water and I added citric acid as a mordant. Most dyers use vinegar as it is easier to obtain, but I happened to have some leftover citric acid from some lemonade making. The rest of the dyeing process was straight-forward and I am still very happy with the result.

Completely unrelated: how amused am I to try my hand at Quizlet and getting a B- (75%) score on my Danish language skills? I guess that is what I get for spelling words correctly instead of imitating the quiz master's spelling mistakes. Lumosity is a much better way of wasting time online in an educating and self-improving manner.

And headcold has turned into a real cold. I apologise in advance to anyone meeting me off-line in the next few days. I look and sound like I'm on the edge of death.