Sudden Epiphanies: On Creativity, Writing and Making.

I recently finished reading Alice Mattison’s The Kite & The String. It is ostensibly about creative writing, but even more about how to navigate murky creative waters as a woman. Many things resonated with me, though I mainly write non-fiction and technical instructions these days (leaving aside the behemoth of a novel I took up writing earlier this year as a non-work creative project). If you are one of those people who would like to design or are already working towards designing, you might want to grab a copy (even if it is not about knitting — more about that later).

One of the things I really liked about the book was Alice Mattison’s practical approach.

I hear a lot of people saying that they don’t have enough time to design and “if only XYZ would happen, then I would ..” She neatly dismantles that inner voice by pointing out that only a very small number of people will ever have that kind of privilege of having time to devote days or weeks to pursue a creative notion without interruption, child-rearing, house-keeping, bill-paying and so forth. She then says something that is so important that I am going to put it in bold: because you don’t have that privilege, it is vital that you share your ideas. We cannot have art and culture produced only by that tiny handful of people who have the luxury of time.

In other words, we need to make time in order to make.

I’m not going to give away everything, but Mattison is both sensible and radical when she suggest reassessing what creativity means to you and how you need to carve out your creative time. You may think I am one of the privileged few because I design knitting patterns for a living, but my creative time is maybe 10% of my job. Mattison’s book is a reminder that I need quiet time away from emails and packing slips — or I simply won’t create.

Earlier this year I feared that I would never design again, that the well had dried out. I tried writing and had no words. It felt absolutely terrifying. I was staring at sheets of blank paper and I had nothing. That is when I began writing my novel (the one that no one will ever read). You may ask how I ended up with 80K of fiction when I could not write 100 words of non-fiction. I do not know. Mattison suggests letting playfulness into your work, making stuff without defensiveness. I do not know if that is what I did, but I am happy to be back designing (on a related note, thank you for loving Vinterskov as much as me).


One part of Mattison’s book that really floored me was its chapter on silence. I began reading the chapter thinking it was going to deal with narrative silence and how to use that in prose. No. Alice Mattison addresses the silence of women. The chapter is a tough and painful read (and far, far too topical) — not only because she discusses how the voices of women writers have been silenced for a very long time but also because Mattison writes about how women self-censor ourselves. We silence ourselves, because we have been conditioned to believe our voices are not important.

I self-censor when I design. I talk myself out of a lot of ideas because I don’t think they are good enough or important enough. I nearly did not write this blog post. I meet a lot of women who talk their own creative pursuits down, who do not think their creative impulses merit two hours of quiet time every second Saturday morning.

And we all know that while knitting is amazing, fun, worthwhile, and full of wonders — we have to have that discussion every time someone discovers we are knitters. And I think it is rooted in the perception of it being women’s work (just like we have women’s fiction that isn’t real literature, and teen girls don’t like real music).

Sorry, where was I?

Ah, yes. That chapter on silence in Mattison’s book is worth its weight in gold, if you identify as a woman and you’ve ever talked yourself out of something.


So, I went to Denmark and I read Mattison’s book and I released a pattern. That brings me to my last point.

I started out by saying “If you are one of those people who would like to design or are already working towards designing, you might want to grab a copy (even if it is not about knitting)". I am a big believer in seeking inspiration outside the obvious places. I’m someone who designed collections based on land art, Mesolithic archaeology, psychogeograhy and 15th C printing, so I would say that.

But it is important.

I always say “you do you” because we cannot be anybody but ourselves — including in knitting design. I found Alice Mattison’s book incredibly useful (and there is an invaluable chapter on publishing too) because it dealt with a general sense of creativity within a specialised field. I related to so, so much but it also gave me an outside perspective because it did not deal with knitting.

Read broadly and wisely. Find your own path. Mine your own ores. Discover what matters to you and articulate that through your knitting, your making and your creativity. Make pockets of time (and make them count). Believe your own voice should be heard. And go forth and be brilliant.


First, a link: this Cat & Girl comic strip made me chuckle quietly. Grrl travels fifteen years forward to meet her future self. 1990s Grrl is underwhelmed by 2010 Grrl. And I chuckled quietly because I saw myself. Having said that, I am mostly the same person I was fifteen years ago. I am older with a few new scars and bruises. I am also a bit wiser, less sociable, and more forgiving. I like the same things I did fifteen years ago (books, computer games, cake, my bed, old Hollywood musicals, vintage clothes, typography, Eurovision, and dogs) but I have added new things (my gawjuss Scottish boyfriend, yarn, coffee, philosophy, and matching colours). I think my 1995-self and my 2010-incarnation would get along just fine, although I bet my 1995-self would be appalled at my hairstyle (I just had my hair cut this past week and I am appalled).

In fact, almost fifteen years ago I made a deal with a good friend (who I miss dearly over here in Scotland). She would cook me a fancy three-course dinner if I wrote a book. Now it could not be just any old book - it had to be a special kind of book. My friend did not expect me to write an academic treatise nor did she want me to write a big literary sensation. She wanted me to write a frothy piece of Regency Romance.

I have read a lot of RRs - they are my comfort foods, my security blankets. I grew up in a household devoted to the weeklies' feuilletons, our local library's stash of Jalna-like books and, of course, Barbara Cartland (who I blame for my youthful infatuation with Lord Byron). Later I discovered Georgette Heyer who may be frothy but never nauseating (unlike Cartland). Today I go through phases: I may read a lot of RRs over a few weeks but then several years pass before my next RR frenzy. These phases usually coincide with stress, feeling homesick or going through a rough patch. Comfort foods and security blankets, indeed.

Could I write a passable RR? I think I could come up with a suitable plot involving, say, a Scottish laird's daughter who is sent to London for the season - on the way she meets a dashing highwayman who happens to be a notorious rake settling a wager. Add a couple of dogs, a duel, a dollop of gambling debt and a waltz at Almack's and I think we have a winner. Now all I have to do is write the darn thing and that fancy three-course dinner will be mine, MINE!

.. My younger self would be tempted, my 2010 self will probably just make the three-course dinner and skip all the writing.

In other time-travel-related news, Doctor Who made me cry this week with an episode about Vincent van Gogh, of all people. Your mileage may vary - the episode has divided fans in various online fora - but I took a great deal from it about beauty, art and life.

Completely unrelated: Congratulations are due to SoCherry who is on her way to becoming an honest woman and to Paula who ran a charity race today. Two of my best friends here in Scotland and they keep on amazing me.

The Staffordshire Hoard

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England… as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries. Absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells." - Leslie Webster, Former Keeper, Department of Prehistory and Europe, British Museum

The UK's largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure has been discovered buried beneath a field in Staffordshire by an amateur metal detector enthusiast. The Staffordshire Hoard comprises of more than 1,500 individual items and most objects appear to date around the 7th century. You can read the entire press statement here.

I am incredibly excited by this hoard. One of the items which really intrigues is a strip of gold bearing a Biblical inscription. I'm excited because we don't often see examples of handwriting from this age as most writing would have been done on (easily perishable) wax tablets. The Lindisfarne Gospels date from around the same period, of course, but seeing writing employed outside a manuscript page is just really, really fantastic - particularly as you are seeing a religious inscription on an arguably secular item.

You can see beautifully detailed photos of the hoard on Flickr and while the Staffordshire Hoard website is currently struggling to cope with the number of visitors, I encourage you to seek it out.

Public Writing

One of my current preoccupation is the idea of public writing - that is, writing/lettering/typography found in public places and spaces. I take photos whenever I see somebody doing something interesting - whether they be commissioned or non-commissioned pieces. I have even tentatively put together a small Flickr-set of some of my photos. One of my favourite examples stem from my erstwhile hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark. I was walking along a wall when I noticed the street name elaborately carved into the bricks. Above the carved brick you had the traditional blue-white street sign with the same name. Two centuries of labelling streets in one go. I was excited by the juxtapositions: permanence vs. easily replaced and serif vs sans-serif. I was also excited by how the contemporary street sign had been placed higher than the carved brick as if to exercise its dominance, its importance.

One of my Scottish friends, Fi, works as a curator and we recently spoke about the concept of public lettering and writing. Fi mentioned that the first thing was sprung to her mind was the Scottish Parliament's Canongate Wall. It is absolutely fascinating: various stones with quotes on Scottish identity and history are inserted into an outer wall, so anybody walking along the street will be asked to reflect upon Scotland, art and identity. Even the pavement has slates engraved with sentences. And, as I agreed with Fi, that is really a great example of public space and writing being combined to great effect.

And then you have non-commissioned stuff like graffiti and posters and random notes put up in windows..