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Shawl for an Art Lover

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Yesterday I released Shawl for an Art Lover, a pattern for the shawl I designed for my wedding.

I was always going to wear something knitted at my wedding and it was always going to be a shawl. I knew I wanted something big, beautiful and imbued with meaning. After I finished my book, this was the first design I started sketching.

Shawl for an Art Lover uses one of my favourite shawl constructions — the humble triangular shape — and the pattern motifs are inspired by the city in which I live: Glasgow, Scotland. The delicate lace takes its cue from the sinuous Art Nouveau lines of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic architecture, while the solid strip with its Estonian nupp and lace stitches calls back to the tenement tiles seen in the 19th century apartment blocks throughout Glasgow. The pattern is named after House for an Art Lover, a Glasgow house designed by Mackintosh himself and we photographed it at the Mackintosh Queen’s Cross Church, the head quarters for the CRM Society.

I fell in love in Glasgow and I also fell in love with Glasgow itself. The shawl reflects that.

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The shawl I knitted uses 5 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, a silk/mohair yarn. I know it is a yarn that divides the waters but I chose it because I wanted a lightweight shawl that would keep me warm on a cold January day. KSH is magical that way - the fluff traps air and keeps you cosy even in the depth of winter. Many years ago I also used to work for Rowan and it was a nice way of embedding those memories into the shawl.

However, I’m going to give you some yarn substitution tips if you don’t feel like knitting a giant shawl in a yarn that is somewhat unforgiving if you make mistakes (or if it makes you sneeze).

  • Be mindful of yardage: you need around 1050m or 1150 yds to make Shawl for an Art Lover.

  • Even though Rowan Kidsilk Haze is marked as a laceweight, be careful substituting it with a true laceweight: the fluff adds a lot of ‘bulk’ which means it looks more solid than it actually is. If you substitute KSH with a true 2ply or even a cobweb, your shawl will look less ‘substantial’ and more delicate. You might like that effect, but if you are wanting something that looks more like the fabric I’ve created, you’ll be looking at a heavy laceweight to a 4ply. You know I’m going to tell you to swatch!

  • Think about the fibres: Silk and mohair make for a super-romantic combination, but if you are wanting something more practical or rustic, don’t be afraid to experiment. Alpaca is going to give you drape, Shetland will give you a crisp feel, Merino is going to be soft and wearable, pure silk will be fluid and drapey, and .. you know I am just going to swatch for you.

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The top swatch was done in a 1ply Shetland yarn which I have previously used for my Mahy shawl. It is a crunchy, oatmeal-type yarn and the stitch pattern comes out looking clean and well-defined. This sort of yarn has a lot of stitch definition and stitch memory, and it will remember its blocking for a long time whilst also softening a lot with use. It is not romantic nor top-end-restaurant elegant, but it is honest and wears well. For an everyday shawl, a Shetland-style yarn would be an excellent choice.

The bottom swatch was done in a new John Arbon sock yarn, the Exmoor Sock 4ply, a blend of Exmoor Horn, Bluefaced Leicester, Devon Zwartbles, and Falklands Corriedale. It’s a really interesting mix and one that I can see myself using for shawl designing. It has a handle of a standard merino/nylon sock yarn with with added lustre and drape. As you can see, you still get a nice stitch definition and the 4ply fills out the spaces between the stitches a bit more, giving the shawl a more solid, substantial feel. Using a 4ply sock yarn would make a practical and bold shawl.

The two swatches laid on top of the Kidsilk Haze sample should help you visualise the difference. See the crispness in the Shetland swatch? The solid feel of the sock yarn? Both look stunning and so different to the airy softness of the silk/mohair.

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  • Nupps: a few people have told me that they are afraid of nupps. Please don’t worry! Their difficulty has been vastly exaggerated! Nupps are small bubbles made by knitting several times into the same stitch and then working all those extra stitches together. There are plenty of great tutorials out there and if you really, really hate nupps, you can always substitute them with beads. It’s absolutely allowed.

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Finally a look at how the entire shawl looks like when not worn. It is .. rather large which makes it perfect for wrapping around you. The shawl is well-worn in this photo (sorry, I got married in it before we went for a photo shoot) and you can still see the drape and lovely halo here.

I wanted to make something that was beautiful, that felt beautiful as I was knitting it, and which made other people feel good too. I wanted to write a pattern that was enjoyable and allowed other people to imbue their own makes with their own meaning. I’ve already received comments from people who plan on knitting this for their own wedding. It is something you can knit for the special people in your life (including yourself! - never forget that) and wear for special occasions — but ultimately Shawl for an Art Lover is about letting beauty and love into your everyday life.

Because We Are Makers & Make Each Other Happy

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I’ve had a busy January. Apart from the usual tax return fun and getting things in order after the holiday season, I’ve also had other things to preoccupy me. Like, getting married.

I found the whole wedding process incredibly not-fun and often frustrating. As someone who’s never dreamed of having a wedding, I was thrust into a world where I was supposed to have opinions on flowers, colour schemes, table plans, menu options, and cake flavours. Even more disturbing, I found myself in a world where brides were consistently depicted as young, slender, and blonde. It was assumed I’d diet to fit into a heavy, corseted dress and that I’d overdye my hair to a natural colour. Encountering the wedding industry was a reminder that I’m lucky to work in knitting: a community that has its fair share of problems (to say the least) but does not feel as patriarchal as the giant wedding industry.

So, here’s what we did instead.

I designed and knitted my own shawl using Rowan Kidsilk Haze. I used to work for Rowan years ago, and KSH is perfect for a soft, light and warm shawl. Exactly what I needed for a cold January day. I’ll write more about the shawl at a later date. I finished designing it last year and always intended to release it as a pattern before deciding it would make a beautiful wedding shawl for myself.

The dress is another story. I originally intended on making a dress for myself (too many frustrating visits to bridal salons), but after playing around with the toile and coming up against work deadlines, I decided to let a proper dressmaker have fun with it. I designed the dress itself and was inspired by Hedy Lamarr’s star dress, 1970s maxi dresses, and Gucci’s current maximalism (as exemplified beautifully by Lana Del Rey at the Grammys). I did have another plan at first, but I’m glad that I decided to go with my gut instinct.

I kept jewellery to a minimum wearing my grandmother’s necklace (with my late father-in-law’s ring tucked behind the flower pendant), bracelets gifted by a dear friend, long pearl earrings and a simple headband. I don’t tend to wear jewellery at all, so I felt that was a lot! The wedding rings were designed and made by my brother-in-law.

And, well, I married a Scotsman who obviously wore a kilt! David looked very handsome.

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We had a low-key time with a small civil ceremony in front of our closest family and friends. It was important to me that the ceremony was as intimate and personal as possible — especially as I had found the whole planning process very intense and unpleasant. I remember the ceremony as being full of laughter and joy. We had written our own vows and had a close friend do a reading. David and I have been together for 13 years and it was just lovely to look back at our years together as well as look ahead at what is to come. As I said at one point: we do not complete each other, we complement each other.

One of the greatest joys of the day was welcoming friends to join us for the evening celebration. We were lucky enough to have friends join us from all over the world: Scotland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, and the US. It was a small gathering yet again, but having all the people we love in the same room all at once was worth all the stress and frustration. I am not a huge fan of crowds, so while we could have invited three times as many people, I knew it wasn’t an option. Special thank yous go out to Singl-End Garnethill for hosting us, Angela & Billy for DJing, and Helen for the star-strewn cake. Having pals do their thing as part of our day felt very cool and apt.

Photo by Elaine A.

Photo by Elaine A.

Speaking of pals doing their thing, amazing knitters and crocheters from across the world came together to make us stars! I received a massive crate full of stars - all the sizes you can imagine - and made them into garlands which we hung in the evening venue. It was a perfect reminder that David and I are surrounded by creative, talented people with big hearts. Some of the makers were present and took great joy in finding their own stars; other makers simply wanted to gift us something wonderful. I thank you all. We are planning on turning all the stars into a beautiful wall hanging.

A few people have asked me why David and I decided to get married after being together since 2005. In recent years David and I have experienced some sad losses in our immediate family and also seen the world become a harsher place. We thought it was time to add some love and joy to the world — particularly for our families and close friends. This celebration was more than just David and I finally signing on the dotted line: it was a celebration of the people we love and cherish; the people we miss so much and forever will hold in our hearts. And that is what love does: it makes you see that the world is so much bigger than just you and yours; it opens up hearts and minds.

(Always choose love over hate, my friends. When you wake up in the morning, you have a choice what you want to put into the world, and I urge you to always choose kindness and love. You never know what your small acts of kindness and love will mean to people. )

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Finally, some small tips for anybody who’s contemplating the whole marriage thing.

  • Avoid the massive wedding industry complex as much as possible. They will feed on your insecurities and make you feel inadequate no matter what. There are a myriad of ways of having a wedding, so stick to what feels right and true to you.

  • Getting married on a budget is more than possible. We didn’t have flowers (apart from two bouquets which I arranged myself), we didn’t hire an expensive photographer to document the day, we didn’t spend a huge amount on outfits (my fake fur coat was a wonderful vintage find, for instance), and I did my own makeup.

  • Don’t feel like you have to make everything yourself because you might be a maker. It is fine to delegate and get other people to do things they’re probably better at than you.

  • Don’t feel like you have to confine yourself to what a wedding should look like. You don’t need chair covers, favour bags, confetti, Mr & Mrs/Mrs & Mrs/Mr & Mr signage, or eight bridesmaids. My original dress plan was mustard yellow with fuchsia accents. Between the ceremony and the dinner, a bunch of us went to a downtown bar/art gallery where we had drinks and snacks while we dissected the state of the world.

David and I want to thank everybody who’s been in touch to offer their congratulations. It is so lovely to hear from you all and I hope that our mission to spread a bit of joy into the world has spread to you (even if just for a minute).

I shall return with knitting content very soon (because I have been knitting quite a bit).

Don't Call It A Guilty Pleasure

It is autumn again, and I have my first cold of the season. I’m doing the usual things: drinking plenty of fluids, making sure I’m wrapped up warm, and feeling very sorry for myself. Then last night I read a Variety article about how more than 80 million Netflix subscribers watched their original rom-coms over the last few months. Variety’s article reminded me that I’m a big fan of comfort reads, comfort films, comfort food, and comfort knits — and that I am not alone.

I may have watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before four times on Netflix, and according to Variety TATBILB is not only one of the strongest performing original films on the platform, but it also gets repeated views. I have books I fall back on — AS Byatt’s Possession, Georgette Heyer’s Venetia and A Lady of Quality, and Caroline Courtenay’s Love Triumphant (a truly terrible book that’s been my comfort read since I was 12) - because I know the journey I’ll go through as a reader and that everything will turn out okay. I have periods of listening to comfort music on repeat: The One Direction song Love You Goodbye (but only this live version) is a frequent source of delight as I try to figure out why this 1990s rock ballad-throwback works so well for me — particularly as half the band appears to sleep-walk through it. And when I feel extra under the weather, I put on Ella Fitzgerald while I sip camomile tea in my jammies.

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Making-wise, I also have comfort zones.

I have knitted my Karise shawl more times than I care to remember — it’s a pattern where the lace repeats are small but interesting, and I can upsize the shawl to fit the amount of yarn I have. Hap shawls are also great because there is so much garter stitch in them and the applied edge is usually just what my attention span can manage when I’m sniffly (ten rows of twelve stitches each? my brain is happy). This week has been all about colourwork for me, though. I’ve been designing some projects which work with small repeats and are quick to finish, so I’ve snuggled up with them on the sofa with a comfort film running in the background.

We shouldn’t forget yarns, either. I have a shortlist of yarns that I return to when I need to feel uplifted and happy. Most of them are rustic, sheepy, and full of memories of when I bought them. The best thing is really that once I’ve completed a comfort knit, I get to wear it. My most recent comfort knit was the Vinterskov pullover and I’ve worn it so much since I finished knitting it. The yellow colour is a comfort in itself, but it’s also warm and cuddly.

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A lot of people talk about guilty pleasures, but I don’t understand why you should feel guilty about anything you enjoy (except, maybe, Love Triumphant which really has few redeeming qualities). I’m a big fan of leaning into what makes you feel happy and safe, as long as you don’t hurt other people in the process. Yes, Annihilation is a much better film than To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before — the conversations about its meaning run deeper, the cinematography is far more stunning, and the acting is superior — but I’ve not watched it more than once. Yes, Shearwater’s Jet Plane & Oxbow is a stunning, multi-layered album that makes my synapses weep with joy, but sometimes I just need a metaphorical swaying-with-a-lighter moment at my desk. Yes, I know that a super-food smoothie packed with oxidants would probably fight off my cold better, but that milky tea is just what I need.

Some news before I sign off to spend time with my hot-water bottle and a blanket: I’m away teaching most of the next month which means a lot of travel and little time with my inbox. Team Bookish is reshuffling and the Mighty Penny is leaving us at the end of next week. I’m already dealing with a massive email backlog, so please take time to read my FAQs if you have any questions and also seek out help via Ravelry, if you can. In the meanwhile, here are four upcoming appearances/workshops:

  • October 20: The Freehold Yarn Co, Lancaster: Knitting Selbu Mittens

  • November 2: Yarnporium, London: Colour & Pattern: Designing Signature Colourwork

  • November 2: Yarnporium, London: Knitting the Landscape

  • November 3: Yarnporium, London: Your Pattern in Print - a panel talk with Kate Atherley and Kate Heppell

I’ll be updating the workshop pages as soon as possible (i.e. when I stop coughing my lungs out). Take care, drink plenty of fluids, and tell me about your comforts.

The Tale of A Scarf: When Knitting Chooses You

September 2014 - wearing the scarf

September 2014 - wearing the scarf

Everybody says that I chose knitting, but I think knitting chose me. Yesterday I was looking through a drawer and came across a scarf I knitted in early, early 2008. Around the neck it went and I wore it running various errands. I wore it as a secret badge of honour.

This is what I was, this is me now, and this is what knitting brought me.

I fell horribly, terribly ill shortly after I moved to the UK. I don't talk about it much because it is a really boring topic, but I was very ill for many months. The illness meant I had to stay in bed and I could only do a very limited number of activities. I read a lot of books but I needed something else to do.

After one of my hospital visits, I persuaded David to stop at a local yarn shop. I bought a crochet hook and two balls of Twilley's Freedom Spirit from a quirky girl in the shop. I liked the name of the yarn and I liked that it was green. Dave was surprised I knew how to crochet. I made a hat that evening.

I crocheted more hats and gave them to friends. I realised that yarn was expensive and that crochet used a lot of yarn. On our next visit to the yarn shop, I bought a pair of knitting needles and three balls of Noro Silk Garden. I sat in bed wondering if I could remember how to cast on. While I was trying to remember, I looked down and my fingers had done it. Muscle memory from years ago. My body which had almost given out on me was now helping me. Knit two, purl two..

the scarf

the scarf

And this is it. A humble k2, p2 scarf in a Noro yarn. Looking at it now, my stitches are incredibly even, the edges are (mostly) slipped and the fringe is a bit awful looking. Starting this scarf was the start of many things in my life. Recovery, finding friends, building up a new life, and settling into what would become a passion and a career.

I knit a lot. I have knitted many, many things much more beautiful and much more complex than this scarf. But this is where it all began. This is when knitting chose me.

Everything is Connected

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Twenty-one years ago I set up my very first website. It was hand-coded and had an "under construction" ruler at the top. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Today you get to see my new website. It does not have an "under construction" ruler at the top, but it does have a lot of cool stuff: tutorials for you to peruse, a workshop section that's easy to navigate, and a small shop for pre-ordering my new book. Speaking of which, I have also added a section where you can see sizing and yarn requirements for the book patterns. I still think pulling a website together is the coolest thing ever. I hope you find it useful and helpful.

I've been on the road quite a bit over the last few months.

(Initially the plan was to have the book published before my busy season kicked in, but production delays meant that I have been juggling book production and website development with workshop teaching. I am very grateful to be so busy, but it has also taken a toll. We live in a world where we admire "being busy" but often forget that "being busy" is a case of too much work and inadequate planning. Hopefully now that the book is nearly here and the website is live, I can begin to breathe again. Maybe just a little bit?) 

One of my adventures took me to Faversham, a picturesque market town in Kent, England. It is home to The Yarn Dispensary, a yarn shop which has quickly become one of my favourite stops. I ran two workshops in the quirky and colourful shop, and it was such a relief to be back teaching after a summer of staring at a screen. I may be an introvert, but there is something about teaching that I just love. Maybe it is knowing that people will leave with confidence in a new skill; maybe it is that feeling you get when talented and creative people are in a space together; maybe it is that I feel good when I make other people feel good; maybe it is all of the above.

After the workshops, a friend took me to Margate to visit the sea shelter where TS Eliot wrote part of The Waste Land. I stood in the sea shelter, waved my arms around whilst kids skateboarded around me, and then we went for pizza. In a peculiar twist of fate, I have been waiting twenty-one years to make that pilgrimage. Looking out over Margate Sands and the North Sea, I kept thinking about how things can feel circular at times. Here I was in a place where Eliot wrote a key part of a poem which has defined so much of my life. Here I was looking out over the North Sea — the body of water covering Doggerland, an ancient land mass with which I feel a strange sense of belonging. It was beautiful. 

Vesterlyng, Denmark.

Vesterlyng, Denmark.

As I am writing this, I have just returned from another journey filled with connections. I taught two classes at Knitwork, a Copenhagen knitting festival. I took the opportunity to spend a few days with my family (my mother has been fighting cancer this year — her prognosis is good, thankfully, but it has been a tense year). My family drove us out to Vesterlyng, a low-lying area that is part beach, part sea, part fen. The sunset flickered across the pools of water, while the resident cows were silhouetted against the sky. This is my childhood landscape. An odd, unsettled (and unsettling) place of utter beauty. No matter how many people visit, it feels remote.   

Copenhagen was good as well. I walked familiar streets, my feet remembering the routes rather than my head trying to map where I was going. I really enjoyed my time at the festival: the colour palette was very different to the ones I'm used to at UK shows (if you think there is no unifying colour palette because of all the different dyers & companies, there is still an underlying aesthetic consensus that is difficult to escape — we are all caught up in our particular times & places), the general skill level was exceptionally high, and I found it so interesting to see a particular Danish sense of style (I need to write more about this). I left feeling very inspired and also intrigued. It felt good to get out of my shell. 

Now I am home, but not for long. I am away to Inverness next week to teach at Loch Ness Knit Fest where I am looking forward to meeting old and new friends. Then I'm flying off to the Oslo Strikkefestival (where I shall be investigating how the Norwegian aesthetic plays out against what I saw in Copenhagen. I have some ideas already, but let's see how they fare. Denmark & Norway are connected in interesting ways.).

And then .. and then it is time to release my book. I'll be sharing details about the book launch parties soon. I cannot wait to show you all the things we've been working on for so long. 

Phew. Hello and welcome to the new site. 

Hello Europe! When Crafting & Fandom Meet. A Guest Post by Ellie Chalkley

Note from Karie: I am currently busy working on my book (the bulk of which is now with the graphic designer!), so I hope you'll enjoy this series of guest posts on creativity, making and identity penned by some very awesome people. You are in for a real treat as they explore our shared world of making. Today we are joined by Ellie Chalkley, an all-round music, media and culture enthusiast and citizen of the internet. She blogs and podcasts at listenoutside.com, a genre-agnostic stream of musical recommendations from Europe and beyond. I asked Ellie if she would write a guest post about crafting and fandom — I hope you'll enjoy!

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I can’t remember a time before I loved Eurovision. The world’s biggest song contest has somehow always been a part of the rhythm of my year, even before I have any specific memories of the event itself. It comes after Easter, but before the school holidays, and it is a night for putting on your best and shiniest party frock, eating party rings and staying up late watching a slightly incomprehensible but undeniably entertaining feast of European pop music.

As an adult Eurovision fan, I still put the shiny party frocks on and eat the party rings, but one of the ways I express my enthusiasm is through crafting.

It started out innocuously enough making flag-iced cupcakes for the party I was hosting. I also made a small amigurumi effigy of Terry Wogan, the iconic UK commentator (Karie's note: the Terry amigurumi ended up featured on BBC). I don’t really know why I was doing this - I think there was a general shortage of specific Eurovision party accoutrements, and so if I wanted to go through with my theme, I had to do it myself.

I kept the Eurocrafting to cakes for a few years. An EU flag cake made with that blue food colouring implicated in childhood hyperactivity comes to mind, as does a beautiful rainbow cake hidden under chocolate icing and sugar pearls. As the years passed and the contest travelled the length and breadth of the continent, my knitting skills improved and my love for Eurovision deepened.

Inevitably and happily, the two loves intermingled.

In the wake of Loreen’s inspiring victory in Baku in 2012 I decided to knit a small doll of our new heroine. Maybe it was not the best depiction of her in terms of a likeness, but I was proud of the miniature diaphanous performance coat that I’d knitted from Habu paper yarn and the knitted-on construction of her halter top.

In 2016, a series of improbable coincidences lead to me planning a trip to Stockholm to attend and report on the contest for specialist news and analysis website ESC Insight. The fact that I would actually be attending Eurovision for the first time definitely needed to be marked with some form of crafting, and so the little doll idea came out again. I had great fun making poseable dolls of Iceland’s Greta Salome, Spain’s Barei and Australia’s Dami Im, who were three of my pre-contest favourites. I also wanted to celebrate all the countries taking part, so I dug into my scrap yarn bag and began knitting small hearts patterned with the 42 flags of the Eurovision countries.

Naturally, I didn’t quite get to all 42. The Union Jack presented the usual design complexity issues and the stranded colourwork of the various Nordic crosses resulted in some slow and careful knits that eventually blocked out beautifully. But I knew I was onto something, as the completed knitted flag hearts drew huge curiosity in the slightly boy-heavy and technological press room. I found that people were wanting to take the little hearts away and wear them into the arena to support their favourite countries.

One gorgeous Eurovision morning in Stockholm, I bought some beautiful BC Garn in a cotton wool blend. I picked a sunny sky mid blue and a rich wheaty yellow -  the colours of the Swedish flag, and the colours of the 2016 winner, Ukraine. My summer knitting project was to design a shawl commemorating the trip to Stockholm that I could potentially wear in Kyiv the following year. I ended up doing a lot more than that.

My crafting for the 2017 Eurovision season largely took place during the National Final season running from late December to March — also known as the period when the intense and totally hardcore fans watch the hundreds of shortlisted songs around the continent being whittled down by various semi-democratic and random processes. I made tote bags and t-shirt transfers celebrating the winners of the contest; I made a sampler of my favourite Estonian song lyrics; I customised a silver jacket into an intricate homage to the excellent graphic design of the contest logo; and I sewed a full set of delicate felt lapel badges featuring the flags of 44 Eurovision (and future Eurovision) nations. I still wasn’t sure why I was doing any of this - it was all driven by enthusiasm and the desire not to let any creative idea pass me by.

The felt flag badges proved to be an incredibly popular accessory for jazzing up people’s accreditation lanyards, and a unique way of making friends and staying memorable. My flag badges found their way into the Green Room on the lanyards of the Italian delegation, including the singer Francesco Gabbani, and into the BBC radio commentary booth with legendary UK broadcaster Ken Bruce. Once I started running out of flags for popular countries I set myself up in the press room with precut pieces so I could sew them for people on request, while we talked about our favourite songs and our hopes for the Grand Final. The handmade, unofficial nature of my flag badges made them special to me and hopefully to the recipients - a memory of a special time.

And into the future? I can feel some more ambitious Eurovision projects brewing as we prepare for the 2018 contest in Portugal, including hundreds more felt flag badges. Maybe I’ll embroider a scoreboard. Maybe I’ll do a stumpwork cushion of the stage design. Maybe I’ll sew my own silk tuxedo jacket and hand-embroider it with the national flowers of all competing nations?

Now, there’s an idea.

I’d better get started.

Eurovision is coming.