fourth edition

Adventures on Arran

To my great delight and surprise, my partner whisked me away on a trip to the Isle of Arran this weekend. The Isle of Arran is about two hours away from Glasgow by train and ferry, but I had never been.

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I twigged I had arrived among kindred spirits when we noticed small sheep statues along the coast.

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The easiest way to get around Arran is by bus – we asked to get dropped off at Sannox about 8 miles north of the ferry terminal. Sannox stems from the Viking place name “Sand Vik” (Sandy Bay) – always a pleasure to see places my Viking ancestors have been!

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We headed towards Glen Sannox – the walkers’ guide labelled this “an easy ramble with stunning scenery”. The first part of the path was easy (and we stopped to eat brambles – Arran clearly has a micro-climate quite unlike the mainland).

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The path into Glen Sannox became less friendly (and more boggy) after we crossed the stream. October 2014 076We walked towards Coire na Ciche (The Devil’s Punchbowl) with the slopes of Goatfell on our left and the peaks of Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail in front of us. I was worried about how my injured left knee would hold up (especially as the path was not as gentle as we had imagined) – but although I was in pain, I did not have to resort to the heavy-duty pain killers and my knee only caused me to stumble occasionally.

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We couldn’t resist a selfie (though I look odd!). I wore my trusty Snorri jumper and i have a bit of a story to tell about the hat I’m wearing – but that’s for another day.

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No filter! When the sun came out, the colours were breathtaking. The clouds rolling over Cir Mhor (the peak in perpetual cloud) kept getting darker, though, and the already brisky wind got stronger. It was a beautiful, rich landscape. Wildlife was all around us too – we saw so many red deer that we got jaded (though I am sure they were not “wild” animals, just “managed”), various birds, the ever-present sheep and I even caught the eye of a little adder. But it was clear that we needed to head back before the clouds caught up with us.

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It was just after midday, but it felt later. We retraced our steps, had the last of our packed lunch and then caught the bus (the bus – there are no other busses on Arran) making an almost full-circle of the island before going home.

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What a lovely, special day. I don’t get to go on adventure with my partner as much as I’d like but our trip to Arran was just perfect: stunning scenery, the best company in the world, apples in the backpack and I even cast on something very special whilst there. Magic.

The Knit Generation

A little something on the dining table today.

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A book from Quail Publishing filled with the most glorious autumnal knits: The Knit Generation – curated by Sarah Hatton.

What’s this?

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Is that my name? I do believe so! I have two patterns in The Knit Generation and I am so awfully proud to be included. It is really the most beautiful book I have ever been involved in. Sarah has an eye for detail and her stylistic instincts are incredible. Everything from colour palette to layout has been carefully considered and I just love leafing through the end result.

The Juniper hat is one of those knits I finished and didn’t want to send away. It is worked holding one strand of Rowan Felted Tweed and one strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze together – the end fabric is lush: full of drape, full of warmth, and full of colour depth. The sample hat uses FT Clay and KSH Cream together, but I keep toying with the idea of knitting myself one for winter. Maybe holding FT Watery and KSH Trance? FT Seafarer and KSH Turkish Plum? FT Avocado and KSH Jelly? FT Rage & KSH Strawberry? Worryingly, I can do all those from stash (don’t judge!). The nature of the fabric meant I didn’t want a complex stitch pattern – instead I chose a simple knit and purl pattern which showcases the fabric without overshadowing it. And a pompom on top. Of course.

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The other pattern is the Pinecones Shawl. It is a simple triangular shawl with an autumnal border and it is knitted in Rowan Fine Art, their handpainted sock yarn. The fibre content of the yarn is slightly unusual (it includes silk and mohair) and again it was a case of designing a pattern that emphasised the nature of the fabric (and the lovely, lovely drape).

I am teaching a class at McAree Brothers in Stirling in support of The Knit Generation – we will be taking a look at contemporary lace knitting, shawl constructions and students will have a chance to give designing their own lace a go! Something like Pinecones can look overwhelming to the uninitiated – but my aim is to demystify shawl knitting and show people just how satisfying it can be to wrap yourself in something beautiful. And if you are an old hand at lace knitting, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that’ll (proverbially) blow your mind. Promise.

I designed and knitted both Juniper & Pinecones last year – it is so satisfying to finally see them in print. I am particularly pleased to see my name next to people like Andi Satterlund, Anni Howard and Rachels Coopey and Atkinson – all thoroughly good eggs.

I cannot help but laugh, though. Due to the vagaries of publishing, you will see an absolute deluge of patterns over the next few months. I apologise in advance.

“These Charming Knitteds Will Flatter..” – A Brief Look At Knitting & Language

knittedsWhen Caroline posted this photo to her Instagram account, I don’t think she expected the discussion to revolve around the language usage in the caption.

Lately we have had some great discussions about knitting language at the great round-table of Twitter. What is the right past tense of the verb “to knit”; is it more correct to say “I knitted a hat last night” or “I knit a hat last night”; why”knit/knitted” but not “knat”? Susan posted a lovely poem from 1915 as part of that discussion.

Caroline’s photo didn’t spawn as big a discussion, but several people noted the odd phrasing. “Larger sized knitteds are so often..”

Knitteds?

I was sure I could explain this odd word, but first let’s cast an eye at the word itself. A Google search throws up about 10,600 results, most of which refer to an outdated way of referring to knitted items (particularly baby items). Geographically I mostly get referrals to Antipodean knitting sites. My favourite dictionary tool gave me many results, but all of them gave “knitted” as an adjective or as a verb – not as a noun.

So, what is my explanation for this curious language usage? I am not saying it is necessarily the right explanation but it is a likely explanation. Please add your thoughts in the comments!

First, we need to look at figures of speech. Everyone has heard of metaphors:

Martha is a gem. Martha isn’t actually a precious stone, but the word “gem” is used so we can all see that Martha is precious and valued.

Knitted with this yarn is like knitting with butter. The yarn isn’t actually a greasy dairy product, but its qualities are likened to the softness or pliability of butter. This is a specific type of metaphor that is called a simile (note: although I have seen the butter simile used often in knitting contexts, I must admit it still baffles me).

Then we move to a figure of speech that fewer people have heard of – metonymy. While metaphor draws comparisons between two very different things (Martha & a gemstone; yarn & butter), metonymy refers to something already associated or related.

Jane downloaded Arcade Fire last night. Jane did not download an entire Canadian band last night, you know. Here the band name does not refer to the actual, physical incarnation of the band but their music.

And via metaphor, simile and metonymy, we get to the figure of speech known as synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole. Confused? I promise you use synecdoches all the time without realising it.

I’ll get my needles. Any knitter will know that actually means “hang on, I’ll get my knitting project which comprises yarn, knitting needles, and possibly a pattern”.

Harriet put on her woollies. This is a quaint British English phrase which essentially means that Harriet is putting on a woollen jumper. The jumper’s material becomes short-hand for the jumper itself

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song .. even the Beatles understood the value of a good synecdoche. They just want you to listen, not do a Van Gogh (and “to do a Van Gogh” is a metonymical figure of speech!).

But where does all that leave us? When Caroline posted her photo, I began wondering if “knitteds” is not a synecdochical noun phrase (!). Much like Harriet’s jumper, the material quality of the item becomes short-hand for the item itself. A hand-knitted cardigan or hat become “knitteds” – the adjective “hand-knitted” is shorted to “knitted” and is turned into a noun which can become pluralised whenever needed.

And suddenly something that looked like very strange grammar in an old knitting magazine can suddenly look like charming shorthand for discerning knitters.

I love language.

Wool Week 2014 Is Here & So Much More

September 2014 491Wool Week is here.

Friends are in Shetland or down in London having all sorts of woolly fun.

For the first time I am not actually involved in Wool Week. The past four years I was on the front-line at various events: talking to people about the wonderful qualities of wool, explaining how hand-knitting and fashion have more in common than people think, and emphasising that wool is far more than just lambswool or merino. But I am technically still as involved as ever.

This Sunday I am teaching a class on two-hand colourwork, Nordic knitting traditions, and Continental knitting at Edinburgh’s Be Inspired Fibres, I am also busy working on an article about North Atlantic knitting traditions for a knitting magazine and I am working on no less than five future designs. So, in a way I am still talking about all those things but at my own pace and in my own way. It feels good.

I cannot resist still dressing the part, though, so yesterday I wore my Orkney cardigan together with my True Brit Knits badge. Every week is Wool Week, of course, but it’s still nice to make an effort!

Design-wise I am both back doing something I really love and I am stretching my wings a wee bit.

I was recently commissioned by Susan Crawford to design a piece for her Knits for a Cold Climate collection. Susan’s famous for her vintage-inspired knitwear design and she has given myself and fellow collaborator, Tess Young, a very interesting and very tight design brief. As you may have guessed by the name, it is a collection of designs inspired by the late 1920s/early 1930s and the English novelist Nancy Mitford. I am using Susan’s Fenella yarn and the colour palette is just perfect for the period. I have long been interested in early 20th century arts and culture – specifically circa 1909 to 1939 – and I find it a really intriguing challenge to translate my knowledge of this period into knitwear design. Intriguing and fun. A bit like the design I am working on.

Finally, the Edinburgh Yarn Festival has announced their line-up of classes. I am really, really, really proud to see my name in a line-up international names as Helene Magnusson, Nancy Merchant, Veera Valimaki, Martina Behm, and Carol Feller as well as local luminaries Rachel Coopey, Hazel Tindall, the very, very lovely Kat Goldin/Joanne Scrace crochet duo, and Ysolda. Stallholders will be announced later this year – judging by the size of the new venue and some of the whispers I have overheard, it looks as though Jo & Micha has upped their game significantly. I am really, really proud to be a small, tiny part of this – and with In The Loop 4 lurking, 2015 could be a really great year for hand-knitting in Scotland.

(I really do guess that even though I’m not officially part of Wool Week this year, I’m still preaching the gospel. Ha.)

Pattern: the Chinese Kites Shawl

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Chinese Kites was originally printed in a UK magazine last year. Rights reverted to me around the start of this year and I just added “release CK” to my massive to-do list. You know what those lists are like; they are a big black hole and no matter how many boxes you tick, that list just keeps getting longer.

Then I realised the shawl is perfect for teaching a lot of things.

I use it when I teach beading techniques because it has optional levels of beading, uses one specific technique (the crochet hook method) and there are reasons why you cannot use other methods. I use it when I teach crochet because it has an optional crochet cast (the pattern includes a knitted cast-on too) and people often don’t realise how effective an easy crochet cast-off looks when knitting lace. Finally, I use it when I teach lace knitting and lace shawls. I explain the construction and the design decisions involved in the shawl.

Basically, Chinese Kites is a fun shawl to knit – and it is very pretty too. So many students has come up to me and asked where they could buy the pattern, and that’s when I decided I needed to move “release CK” to the very top of that big, scary to-do list.

The shawl is inspired by a a photo of competitive kite flying in the Chinese region of Weifang. I saw it at a photo exhibition and the explosion of colours and forms stayed with me. I began thinking about how I could translate this image into knitting and this is the result.
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There are a lot of triangles in this pattern – that was a big design decision for me. There are five different types of triangles.

1) The shawl is one big triangle

2) and that big triangle consists of two smaller triangles

3) then you have the big triangular ‘kites’ flying around the border

4) on top of a field of small triangles

5) and, finally, the crochet border blocks into a neat row of small triangles

(that’s how my design brain works, folks)

The shawl is knitted in a luscious, luscious BFL 4ply/fingering from Eden Cottage Yarns. I wanted a rich, deep and dramatic jewel colour and Vikki of ECY came up trumps with her Fuchsia colourway. It is an incredible semi-solid – it doesn’t look it in the skein, but it shimmers subtly from one shade to another when you knit. I was deeply impressed.

(Psst, you can actually see the shawl ‘live’ at the ECY stall at the Ally Pally show this week)

The low-down:
The Chinese Kites Shawl is now available to download for £3.00
It uses between 400 and 430 yrds of 4ply/fingering yarn (watch your gauge)
4mm needles / 0.75mm crochet hook (for beads) / 4mm crochet hook (for crochet cast-off)
You’d need between 0-500 beads depending upon your beading preferences
Difficulty level depends upon whether you decide to use beads and/or the crochet cast-off.

I still have a backlog of previously released patterns but I swear I’m working through them as fast as I can (whilst also working on new patterns). Hope you’ll enjoy knitting Chinese Kites and that you’ll have fun choosing colours.

Panic On The Streets of Glasgow: Over.

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If you tried to visit this site recently you will have noticed that a) you couldn’t connect and b) now that you can connect, some of the content is missing. The company that currently hosts this site had big issues with a server and finally recovered most of the site after nearly 24 hours. Most. I lost a couple of photos and about a month’s worth of blog posts. It could have been much worse. I once lost four years of blogging thanks to my Danish web host going bust.

So, I’ll be backing up data this Saturday morning and then knitting will commence. Phew.

Knitting, Needles and Wednesday News (Of Sorts)

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I have had a hectic start to September, so I am pleased that I am spending most of today knitting a sample. I am trialling some new-to-me knitting needles – you can see the KnitPro Nova Cubics in the photo – but I’ll write more about the needles once I’ve had a chance to trial the other ones. My tool kit is so important to me; good needles make all the difference if I am knitting to a deadline and I cannot rely on one type of needle to work for every kind of knitting. I’m knitting my current sample in Malabrigo Rios that I got from Love Knitting – it’s a yarn that definitely needs a smooth needle with a blunt tip.

It’s been a while since I had a chance to do a real round-up, so here we go!

+ I went north-north-north to the quirkiest, most delightful yarn shop I have seen in ages, Fluph. I taught a class on lace shawls but we deviated a bit from the script as most of the students were textile students who wanted to understand how to design lace as much as they wanted to understand how to knit shawls. So, we talked charts, fabric bias and how to position lace within a given shape. Good times with bonus dog cuddles at the end.

+ Glasgow University is hosting another Knitting in the Round seminar – this time on Sanquhar gloves. It’s “an informal public event to explore Sanquhar knitting – its history, its current popularity, the skills required, the wool needed and the patterns recorded” – November 1, 11am-3pm, Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire.

+ A couple of workshop dates have been added: Glen Gallery Crafts in Cullybackey, Northern Ireland is hosting me for two workshops on Nordic colourwork knitting on November 14 and 15. Before then I will be at McAree Brothers in Stirling on November 8 running a lace workshop in support of The Knit Generation (I’ll tell you more about the book later).

+ Finally, there’s an interview with me over on the Playful Blog today. I talk about what it’s like being a freelancer and I give my top 3 tips on how to make an impact in the fibre industry. Ms Playful and I are hosting a Twitter hang-out on September 9 where a panel of industry experts will be on hand to give their tips on how to make the leap. You won’t believe who we got lined up for this hang-out. Chills.

+ I am heading down to spend time on Susan Crawford‘s farm next week, so I will make sure to take lots of photos from this inspirational place and hopefully I will also be able to share a sneak preview from Susan’s forthcoming book. We have plans brewing, plans.

But first I need to finish my sample. Tea’s brewing and I have sneaked a couple of Abernethy biscuits from the cupboard. Shh.

Make It Work: A Chat with A Playful Day & Twitter Hangout Plans

I recently found myself chatting with fellow freelancer, occasional collaborator and good friend A Playful Day. As we were chatting away, we noticed that both of us were being asked a lot of the same questions. What’s it like to make your hobby your job? How do you make that happen? Can you help me make that same jump? We are both passionate about making the knitting industry the best it can be and somehow our little chat ended up with us making plans.

Plans? Plans. I’ll tell you in a minute.  First, let’s kick off all this by hearing from someone with .. a not so obvious job – Ms Playful Day.

IMG_4491You are A Playful Day – a podcaster, a blogger, an editor and a professional craft cheerleader among other things. How would you describe what you do?
The one question I find the hardest to answer is exactly this! In a nutshell, I freelance within the fibre industry as someone who supports and develops independent businesses. I see my work as very collaborative and strategic, working alongside designers, dyers and other creative types helping them fine tune what they do and communicate to as big an audience in a way that clearly tells their story.

Branding’ is a bit of a naughty word in this business – why do you think that is?
Possibly because it can be seen as restrictive, false or impersonal. I have found over the last few years that people who have a clear distinction between their product and who they are, tend to find the work life balance easier to maintain and can be much more critical about their success. They seem to get better at interacting with their audience and I think having a strong story that is easy to read is actually really empowering for Creatives as it means they can have clear boundaries and fine tune their inspiration across different projects. It is certainly why I strive hard to work collaboratively because most of all, a person needs to be empowered to determine their own story; I really can’t see that working any other way.

What’s a typical working week like?
I juggle the needs of my family with what I need to do in order to support designers and dyers. What this usually means is I’m on Skype or my laptop the minute my daughter is sleeping. This industry is full of people trying to grow their business around family needs, their ‘other’ job, health needs and so I’m in good company I’ve found! It means that there isn’t really an average week as I can be locked into a laptop creating press releases one week, then commissioning a new pattern collection or attending an event another week.

As a female entrepreneur in the fibre industry, what has been the most surprising aspects of starting your own business?
It’s been surprising how quickly I went from a background figure to someone that springs to mind for an exciting project. Initially I found it hard to introduce my role within the fibre industry. For some people, the idea of employing someone remotely to help shape their business seemed too alien and I was unsure how best to develop what I felt was an important role for independent businesses. However, the last year or so has seen something of a turning point with more willingness to promote good products and greater international collaborations. With it has come a rapid interest in the sort of work I do and projects that I’ve been working on which I’ve found a bit overwhelming. I’m suddenly a bit more visible than I used to be when really I’m happiest in my comfy jeans, plotting a great blog post or feature for someone!

journal 2You are so passionate about fostering relationships and collaborations. Part of that energy was channelled into Unwind Brighton where I finally met you (after all these years!). You were really, really busy behind the scenes but what struck me was that you were still trying to foster relationships and ‘make playful things happen’. Where does that passion come from?
Unwind was such a moment in time for me because it represented everything about the way I like to work; the standard was so high and everyone really pulled together and collaborated to bring something amazing together.

I just like to see talented people achieve. I really get a kick out of introducing a talented designer and dyer and seeing the end result and knitters going wild over it. I see how happy it makes others to get that feedback from a creative process and I want to do it all over again the next day.  This is an industry that deserves to thrive and be taken seriously as it’s all too often trivialised by the ‘hobby’ label. There’s a lot of people doing truly exciting and interesting things and I love meeting them, hearing their story and then helping it reach an audience. While it’s a hobby we love, business development is a very important thing and getting paid what you are truly worth is crucial.

Finally, you suggested taking that conversation and make it into a broader discussion.

I’d like people to come and visit A Playful Day to see you answering some questions and then we are taking that conversation further, out on to Twitter. Using the hashtag #makeitwork we will host a live chat to talk about how we make our jobs work and how we keep things creative too.

Yes!

A Playful Day and I have invited some key figures in the knitting industry to join us (and you, most importantly) for a Twitter hangout where we’ll ask – and hopefully answer – some of those recurrent questions. You will get to hear from editors, curators, designers, dyers, podcasters .. and many more. More information to come in the next few days over on the playful blog (where you’ll also get to hear details about my working life).

Knits For Little Scamps – A Review Of Sorts

I love visiting Copenhagen. I lived there during my twenties – my formative years in many ways – and so many of my good friends live there. Paradoxically I didn’t know Signe Strømgaard when I actually lived in Copenhagen, yet whenever I visit we make sure we get to hang out. Signe is an incredible woman: funny, warm, down-to-earth and smart. I am so proud to call her my friend.

And Signe is a fantastic knitting designer.

Her work has appeared in Knitty, Twist Collective and Petite Purls. Signe has also worked extensively with Danish yarn company Filcolana (you can find many of their patterns freely available on Ravelry). Signe’s background in graphic design shows in her knitting designs: there is a modern, graphic quality to most of her work. Combined with Signe’s ever-present sense of humour, it was perhaps inevitable that her first book would be one filled with modern, colourful children’s patterns for kids aged 2 to 10. If you like Scandinavian children’s clothes, I think you’ll love Knits For Little Scamps.

I’m not even going to pretend to do a review because a) it’d be one long post of THIS IS AMAZING and b) I am totally biased but this is a great collection of modern kids’ patterns. Cue picture spam of my favourites.

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(Love this shows the design on both boys & girls, in a huge range of colour, and on a variety of ages. BOOM – design statement! )

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(Love the simplicity and the bold stripes. And the jumper + trousers = YES. I’d wear this.)

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(You cannot tell from the smallish photo, but that’s an interesting cable detail)

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(This girl takes no prisoners. Also, that hat is so cool that teenagers will secretly sulk that it’s for their baby sister or brother)

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(I totally love this cardigan. I want it for myself. Again, I love the styling. She looks kick-ass)

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(Aksel gives good face. Incidentally this is knitted in one of my favourite Danish yarns – Håndværksgarn by Hjelholt)

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(Work that pose! Again, totally wearable with clean lines)

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(This is just Signe’s design sensibilities in a nutshell)

Knits For Little Scamps is published as a hardback book in Danish – but is available in English on Ravelry as two e-books (KfLS 1 and KfLS 2 – the toy pattern in included in both ebooks).

Congratulations, Signe. You are awesome and I am so proud of you x

(all photos © Signe Strømgaard, 2014)

Stuff & Nonsense: When Perfectionism Rears Its Ugly Head.

August 2014 060The past fortnight has seen my usual companion at Casa Bookish – perfectionism - almost grind my work to a halt.

I think a designer needs to have a dash of perfectionism in her. You need to pay close attention to detail – such as stitch counts, style sheets, how colours work at the photo shoot. Designing can also be a long, hard slog of making numbers work, getting the placement of a detail just right and finding the best way to phrase a tricky instruction. But if perfectionism stops you from every accomplishing anything – if your search for perfection means you never release a pattern – then you need to let go.

“That Isn’t Exciting & Original” – How Nothing Is Ever Good Enough

Recently I have really struggled to let my perfectionism go. I have one project that I have designed six times and ripped out five times. Each of those six designs has been completely different – different construction, different variation on the core concept, different stitches – and I haven’t liked any of them. I do not want to like my design; I want this project to be as amazing, special and perfect as it is in my head; I want to love it like I have loved no other design.

And that’s the problem.

Nothing will ever match the perfection that’s in my head. I am now working on the sixth version of my idea and it’s coming out really nice. Fact: I sold the second design to a third-party publisher who absolutely loved it. It worked for them in their context – it was totally good enough.

So where does all this stuff and nonsense come from?

Figuring Out Why I Am Being Hard On Myself

I spend a lot of time sitting on my own sketching patterns and charting things. I spend even more time in my own head. As a result I tend to lose track of what is exciting and new because I have already thought through my designs several times and spent hours swatching my ideas. It’s easy to start talking myself down because at this stage I will have lost sight of what excited me about the original ideas.

Here’s the thing that I keep reminding myself:  nobody else will ever be that jaded about my design. No one else have been through the entire process of initial idea and swatching through pattern-writing and wailing about numbers to blocking the sample and arranging photo shoot. No one will ever be able to say anything about my design that I haven’t already thought.

I also know that  once the design is finished and published, I will adore it to bits .. because by that stage I will been knee-deep in another pattern that’s sucking the will to live out of me! I am only halfway joking..

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So, Some Tips For Moving Beyond Perfectionism

  • Acknowledge to yourself that you have a bad bout of perfectionism. Admitting it is the very first step!
  • Realise that you will always be your own worst critic.
  • It’s better to publish something than nothing.
  • Take baby steps. Publish a hat if you are really afraid your latest cardigan pattern isn’t good enough.

Some Other Tips:

  • Never throw out a design. What you hate today will look amazing two months from now.
  • If a design really doesn’t feel right for what you are doing, consider other ways for it. Would it make a great pattern for a magazine? Self-publishing? Perfect as a freebie included in your news letter? Can you base a class around the pattern – maybe that hat is perfect for teaching Magic Loop.
  • Try playing around with different gauges. If your idea looks silly and stupid in fingering weight, try swatching it in worsted.
  • Reach out to trusted friends and peers. Show them a photo or a swatch. Ask for their honest opinion. Listen carefully to their feedback.

Do you have problems with perfectionism? Does it stop you releasing patterns? How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts x