A Creative Life Is Mine

I was asked for career advice recently - and quite apart by being floored by being asked, it also made me think very hard about what it is I do and why.  This coincided with a friend sharing this blog post about creativity, process and blogging with me. Forgive my rambling, meandering post, but I have thoughts in my head..

One of the most common reasons people give preventing them from doing something creative is that it has already been done. (..) It is as if there should only be a certain number of people in any creative field, as if it were a party in a small house and could get too crowded.

I believe strongly that everybody is creative - this imaginative spark is what makes us human. When I run craft workshops, I always try to push people into embracing their creative sides: 'what happens if you do X & Y? Which colours do you like? Try to combine those.' It always comes as a shock to people but I don't have a textile degree - yet I work within the knitting industry as a craft teacher and a knitting designer among other things. I don't have an art degree, yet I have exhibited my work in galleries. Does this invalidate me as a Creative? No. It just means I am autodidact and I take some interesting detours during my work process.

We are taught that creativity is the expression of a higher ideal in a finished object of great beauty and skilled execution (..) We look with lust and desire at finished products and believe they are created by specialists using talents beyond our mortal capacity to understand.

Our brains try to trick us into thinking that unless we are Picasso, Mozart or Shakespeare, we have no right to express ourselves creatively. I once read Plato. He had a few things to say about ideal beauty and our human inability to attain this. Also, the only way to become better at doing something is by doing it.  I am not a great artist, but the more I draw, the better I become. One of these days I might even become capable of describe the world I see!

We are (..) separated from our own creative power which is what makes us depend on shopping to satisfy all our psycho-spiritual needs. 

And this is key. All marketing depends upon us wanting to be someone else than ourselves. Do you want to be exotic and gorgeous? Try this dress? Do you want to be quirky and creative? Here is the perfect scarf! But what if you could make a dress that feels like you - wouldn't you feel better about yourself because you made the dress yourself, it is exactly how you want it to be, and you get to express who you are?

Even those who appear to be such ‘natural’ creators, those that have identified themselves as ‘creatives’ early in life have had some crucial intervention, some teacher or parent who told them they had talent (..) .

I guess I try to be that crucial intervention whenever I run workshops because I think it's never, ever too late to embrace to inner desire to make stuff.

Now for the crucial quotes:

The value is in the process and the finished product is a continuation of that process, affecting the lives of others, that scarf you made for your dad lives on in the process of his life. Value itself is a living process not to be confined to a number or a thing.

Yes, it is cheaper to buy the scarf and no, your scarf won't look like it was machine-knitted in China - but you created that scarf. Without you, that ball of yarn would just be a long string balled up. This is what still gets me about creation to this very day - that whole thing about making (on a related note, in Scots English a poet is a makar which plays wonderfully into the whole language-as-creation idea I once adored so much).


Success, slick production values, money, attention, these are all byproducts of a process of self discovery that will last a lifetime. And they may never come. If the process is right for you it won’t even matter anymore. Any stage of that process is as essential as any other.

This. This.

I don't work with knitting because I made a career decision ages ago. Working within the knitting industry is hard work, I scrape by, and it is far less romantic than you may think. But knitting defines me. I do this because I cannot not do this. It is who I am. And I am more like you than you know.

On Education, Where Life Takes You & Knitting Patterns

Recently I was contacted by a spammer who wanted to pay me for allowing him/her to post on this site. Needless to say, I ignored them but the suggested topic about higher education did stay with me. I am currently working on translating Danish knitting pattens into English. I am working from extremely well-written and lucid knitting patterns which makes working on them an absolute joy. However, they are also written in a typical no-nonsense Scandinavian style with very minimalist instructions. The designer knows her knitters will be familiar with that style of instruction and trusts that they know what she means. The actual knitting part of this translation is very straightforward - 2r is easy to translate into k2 - but bridging the gap between two pattern traditions is the actual challenge. I want to be utterly faithful to the original pattern while also making the English version easy to understand for knitters accustomed to patterns which guide you through every step of the process.

It's a lot of fun.

I have an academic background and I often encounter people who wonder why I "wasted" eight years of my life at university when I could just have walked straight into my current freelance life. I look at it very different. I think I use my educational background every single day in everything I do.

Pattern writing? My time teaching technical writing at university taught me a lot about building structure and parsing complex information in limited space. That ability is worth its weight in gold and extends into many, many aspects of my current working life.

Translating? Listen, if you are serious about translating from one language to another, you need to understand how languages work. You also need to understand cultural and social concerns of both the original language and the target language. Your biggest challenge is to render all your hard work invisible for the target audience. Six months picking grapes in Spain will not prepare you for translating Lorca, in other words. I spent years having to learn how to tell one kind of subordinate clause from another. I am not saying I still remember them all, but I can delve into the minutiae of language as a result.

Teaching? It goes without saying that I still use all the tricks I learned whilst teaching at university and at private companies. I learned to deal with different learning styles, different skill levels, and how to make students feel confident enough to go problem-solving on their own.

Finding design inspiration? As unlikely as it sounds, I also use my education here although it was in a non-creative field. I love early 20th century culture and my two main mood boards on Pinterest reflect this. I did a lot of work on early 20th century poetry (and typography - hat tip) and these things still influence me: I attempt to pare things down and reduce design elements. I think about why I want certain designs to look a particular way and I try to maintain a certain structure throughout key designs. Maybe if I had gone to art school I would approach designing differently? More organically?

I was lucky. I went to university in the mid-90s and early-00s. I did not have to pay tuition fees and I was at liberty to pursue niche interests at great length (as weird as it sounds, specialising in modernist print culture doesn't make you hugely appealing to the private sector. Who knew?). I did not have to get a part-time job as the Danish state funded me and I have no student debts now. Needless to say, those days have gone and young people are facing uncertain futures.

My message is, though: education is never wasted. You may not end up doing anything that has anything obvious to do with your degree but if you are serious about your studies, you will end up with a set of skills that'll last you your entire life. No matter where it takes you.

And .. relax.

april-209They have suspected it for a long time and now our neighbours are sure: Casa Bookish is a really weird household. Taking photos of brickwork? Yes, weird but it could be for an art project. Taking photos of rusty iron gates? Quite weird, but could just be interested in getting stuff fixed. Photographing a bit of knitting? Totally and utterly weird. The project? Ah, I'm glad you asked. I have finally begun knitting Geno from Rowan 43 after procrastinating for about a year. I started it some days ago and have been knitting up a storm .. on size 2.75mm needles which means I have about 8 inches done. It is not exactly an instant gratification project, but it is gratifying nonetheless. I'm using Rowan Fine Milk Cotton in "Water Bomb" (a duck's-egg-blue) and the yarn is surprisingly velvety. It's a good summer project.

True to fashion I'm obsessing over which buttons to use. I have bought some bog-standard mother-of-pearl buttons from John Lewis, but they are rather .. bog-standard. So I began sorting through my vintage button stash and came up with various possibilities.

april-213 In the top-left corner you get some fake-ivory buttons, on the right you can juuust make out some carved mother-of-pearl(?) flowers with some nice staining and on the bottom you get some utterly adorable red plastic flowers (1960s?). I rather fancy the red flowers but I only have four of those and the pattern calls for at least six. I'm also very, very, very taken by these buttons found on Etsy (of course).

Maybe I should just keep knitting?

Maybe I should just do that and relax a bit seeing as the majority of this weekend has involved me poking about the inside of our PC. Long story short: what I thought was a relatively simply problem with overheating turned out slightly more complicated. I'm now extremely tired of computer parts salesmen ignoring me and talking to D. exclusively - just because I'm a woman. Unfortunately (for them) I'm also the computer savvy one, so their über-complicated "you need a new motherboard" sales talk with D. was all in vain. Anyhow, new fan-cradle and CPU fan has been installed and I resisted the lure of shiny new RAM.

PS. This entry has been written on-and-off whilst renegade kids, the Fire Brigade and the Police have been passing by our door. I am in dire need of relaxation now. Knitting, here I come.