fourth edition

Knit Works – A Weekend of Creativity & Scandinavian Love

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Being of Nordic persuasion, it was perhaps inevitable that I ended up working at Knit Works in Edinburgh this past weekend.

Knit Works was a collaboration between the National Museum of Scotland, The Danish Cultural Institute, Edinburgh Fashion Festival and local yarn shop McAree Brothers with Rowan Yarns donating a sizeable amount of yarn to the event. I helped supervise and cheerlead a staggering amount of knitters as they worked on a collaborative project celebrating Scottish and Nordic knitting culture. Although it was a very busy weekend, Knit Works was also a nice change of pace for me. I had spent the previous weekend working at Unwind Brighton and I could not help but marvel at the differences between the two events.

I think we talk a lot about the knitting community – making it sound as though it is a monolithic, homogeneous entity with similar tastes, attitudes, and interests. I would suggest it is better to talk about the knitting communities as knitters are very diverse with very different approaches to knitting, tastes and lifestyles.

While Unwind was very much about physically consolidating a pre-existing online community, Knit Works felt like giving various communities the chance to meet however briefly. It attracted a lot of knitters who were seasoned knitters-in-public, who wielded charts with ease, and who were comfortable going off script. Being in the middle of the National Museum, it also caught the attention of tourists: people who were unused to following English-languaged instructions, people who knew how to knit a little and people who were just excited to get into crafts for ten minutes. We also got a lot of people who were seasoned knitters but had never knitted in public before, people who discovered the pleasure of meeting other knitters, and people who found it a challenge to talk and knit at the same time. I found it incredibly interesting to watch this merging of communities and seeing people finding common ground through knitting.

(I will never tire of watching knitters’ hands work, incidentally.)

July 2014 606Carol Meldrum, Heather Peterson and I worked out a design based upon the squares knitters had handed in on the day. Originally the plan had been to have a giant Norwegian-style snowflake on a neutral background. We received so many colourful, vibrant, and interesting squares that we revised the plan significantly.

Instead we devised a colourwash design (I was briefly accused of having colour OCD, thank you Carol) which allowed a lot of beautiful squares to shine. We also had a pile of swatches donated to us by the machine knitting girls from Brora, pom poms were donated by kids who had been yarn-bombing the museum, and we were given pretty crochet squares from an Arne & Carlos workshop (totally hyggelige guys in that very special Scandinavian way).

Within ten hours of starting we went from a pile of yarn to a big, colourful blanket that will be touring Scotland over the next few months. It helps when you have a lot of happy knitters on hand to help you. I found it really nice to spend time among Scandinavians (we had a good turn-out of those, tak!) and just chill out with knitting for once.

However, after the last two weeks, I am seriously shattered. I’m a textbook introvert and the next few days will be spent recharging my batteries. As much as I love meeting knitters & getting all excited about making other people excited, I’m going to enjoy my own company and some blessed solitude with a dash of knitting. Hopefully it will rain.

Ahhhh…

Unwind Brighton 2014

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Brighton was amazing. If I lived in Brighton, I’d be unbearable. As it were, I lived in the single estate coffee shop next to my hotel, I watched the World Cup finale in an awesome craft beer pub, I had some incredible locally-sourced organic vegan food, and there was some knitting thing going on too. Ah-mah-zing.

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The knitting thing was Unwind Brighton and it was the real reason why I was there. And you know what? It was really good. National newspaper The Independent wrote an article about Unwind and called it ‘a woolly business conference’ and I love that definition. It captures a lot of things for me: I went to Unwind and I bought yarn (more on this later), but I also met incredible, incredible knitters and fellow pros. Being a knitting industry professional can be a bit weird sometimes because .. well, you are on your own a lot and you work strange hours and you never know what to tell taxi drivers when they ask about your job. Unwind was a good reminder that I am not throwing words into thin air when I work long hours from home – amazing people knit my patterns, wear them, and respond to them, gosh – and that my lifestyle is shared by a lot of incredible, interesting people. Other people get it. Whoop.

The venues were stunning. As a huge Regency nerd, I had  small ‘moments’ throughout my entire stay about my surroundings. Okay, I was running around like a big geek. Not only did I teach in a Grade II-listed Georgian house, but the marketplace took place within Brighton Dome which was built in the early 19th century for the Prince Regent’s stables (and where ABBA won Eurovision in 1974). It was such a pleasure to see buildings I have been reading about my entire life and imagine ladies in diaphanous muslin dresses (or, in Agnetha’s case, satin trousers) float down the street where I was having lunch.

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I taught three classes: Beading for Knitters, Continental Knitting, and Crochet for Knitters. I was so impressed by the students who took my classes: they were creative, excited, focused, imaginative, and adventurous. This is a sentiment that was shared by a lot of teachers, incidentally. People were there to learn and they were not afraid of getting things wrong because it simply meant a learning opportunity. I was deeply impressed by that. I took as much away from my classes as the people in my classes.

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The Unwind marketplace was so well-curated. It felt coherent, the vendors were of a very high standard and it was clear that the organisers had gone in with a clear idea of what they wanted the marketplace to reflect. I have seen larger marketplaces, but I have rarely seen a marketplace where every single vendor was so appealing (Edinburgh Yarn Festival is the only other one that springs to mind). It just had that feel of quality, you know?

I got my hands on one of TrueBritKnits’ iconic knitting badges and picked up a skein of Eden Cottage Yarns Milburn 4ply because reasons. I have worked with Triskelion Yarn before and I was really looking forward to meeting Caerthan in person (he was lovely). My one indulgence was a skein of his Taliesin 4ply in dark green . Finally, I  acquired a hank of Lioness Arts Merino Single in “Quartet” at the Pom Pom Mag Seaside Shindig when my team triumphed in the pub quiz (we may have been slightly competitive). It’s lovely to take home one of Dani’s beautiful yarns because she did an amazing job as an organiser.

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Looking back, Unwind Brighton feels slightly unreal. I described it at the time as Glastonbury for Knitters – though with less mud and more artisan coffee – but it’s not quite accurate. I met a lot of old friends, forged a lot of new friendships, and I feel so inspired. During Unwind I occasionally had to escape from everything because so many things started clicking in my head and I needed time-out to sort through them. The beach was a welcome retreat (with bonus gelato) where I could hear myself think.  It’ll take me a couple of weeks to sort through all that happened.

Thank you Dani for organising Unwind Brighton. It was an honour to be a tiny, tiny part of something this special. Thank you to all of the organising team – you kept us all sane. And the biggest thank you to everybody who came to the seaside for a day or five. It was truly magical.

See you in 2015?

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One City, Three Yarn Shops: Achievement Unlocked!

yarn crawl

photo by @socherryknits

Yesterday saw the inaugural Indie Burgh Yarn Crawl in Edinburgh. Hundreds of knitters* visited three of Edinburgh’s finest yarn shops – Kathy’s Knits, Be Inspired Fibres and Ginger Twist Studio – before meeting up for an after-party at Safari Lounge. Several Glasgow friends saw it as a great opportunity to try out new-to-them yarn shops; I needed to meet up with Susan Crawford (who was doing a meet & greet in Ginger Twist Studio); and there was a special birthday celebration too.

* literally, hundreds.

Away we went.

And it was good.

We started out at Kathy’s Knits where I was delighted to meet Lucy Hague, designer of exquisite cables. The book selection was great as per usual, and I nearly succumbed to Blacker Yarns’ St Kilda lace yet again. Instead we went across the road to have lunch – oh, those smoked salmon bagels- before heading out to Be Inspired Fibres.

The yarn crawl was starting to get busy now: the queue for the till was nearly 15 minutes long and I scrambled to find dye lots for knitters (with Mei’s permission). Friends fell in love with Mei’s selection of yarn and came away with quite significant hauls. I was particularly pleased to see the massive love of Nordic yarns and books. A special shout-out to Leona from Fluph (Dundee’s newest LYS) who had left her shop in the capable hands and paws of Mr & Doggy Fluph to go yarn crawling. That is what I call knitterly dedication!

After a much needed breath of fresh air, the end was in sight and we made our way to Ginger Twist Studio.  At which point this happened:

Photo by @oldmaidenaunt

Photo by @oldmaidenaunt

GTS is like the Kylie Minogue of yarn shops: small, but perfectly formed. Because of its petite nature, we had to wait our turn to go inside. Thankfully Thinking Chocolate was next door and I spent a happy fifteen minutes talking flavour concepts and chocolate-making with TC’s Nadia. You should try her amazing haggis-inspired truffles: chocolate truffles flavoured with black pepper, mace, nutmeg and salt.

Back to GTS and then it looked like this:

GTS

Practically the only photo I took all day!

It felt like being back at the scrum of the Edinburgh yarn festival. Eventually I made it through the crowd, gave Susan some much needed (artisan) chocolate, and I ended up with a lot of Susan’s new yarn, Fenella. It’s a 3-ply mix of Exmoor Blueface and Bluefaced Leicester – and it is lovely.

I could not choose a colour so I chose all of them.

The after-party at the Safari Lounge looked amazing – there is no party like a knitter’s party – but unfortunately most of us had to leave before the party really kicked off. I did get a chance to admire yarn crawl hauls and talk a tiny bit of Swedish with a woman who had come over from Stockholm for yarn crawl reasons (amazing). I was also getting really tired after all the sunshine, all the yarn, and all the people.

Then, thankfully, it was time to kick back with a bit of Pimm’s, a very cute dog and a chillin’ BBQ with copious yarn talk (no photos because all logical thoughts fly out my head when I’m tickling a dog’s tummy).

It was nearly midnight before I finally arrived home. The sky was still light. I was tired but happy. What a lovely way to spend Midsummer.

(pssst. yes, work was involved but you will find out more this autumn and early next year)

(psssssst. thank you to Elaine for getting me use her twitter pun as my blog post title)

World Cup Knitting Injury

Many people don’t like the World Cup in football. I do. It makes for great sample knitting company (especially because I have no stakes in this tournament) and I can zip through my to-do pile a lot quicker than if I were stuck watching TV series or films. And, honestly, I find assorted Tumblrs and various memes hugely entertaining.

On that note, I would like to share my own World Cup injury. It seems as though there is apparently such a thing as too much knitting. Won’t stop me from applying bandages and heading back onto the pitch. After all, I have matches to watch and things to finish.

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PS. button brains, I am looking for seven dark wooden buttons roughly 18mm – any good UK suppliers I’ve missed? The usual suspects of Textile Garden, eBay and Etsy have failed me.

Taking Stock

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Detail from the Great Tapestry of Scotland

Just over a fortnight ago I waved goodbye to my part-time job with Rowan Yarns. It took me a few days to get used to my new routine and, crucially, having more time to do my own work. There was some initial panic (which briefly me led to consider an art school degree!), then my stomach settled down, and I got on with work.

Right now I am working on winter designs – both commissions and my own work. Publishers tend to work around 4-12 months ahead, so I have been knee-deep in Christmas things since April.

I find myself marvelling at how quickly I get through work when I now have long sustained periods of time on my hands. My working routine used to be stop-start-stop-start. Things that used to take weeks now take just days. I can get through my all my emails in one fell swoop rather than take days to reply to queries.

No matter where I go or do in the future, I think I have already learned important lessons about how my working week needs to be organised. In short: I had no idea just stressed I was until now – I need sustained periods (not pockets) of time to feel energised.

In other news, I met up with the most excellent Louise Scollay of Knit British. We went to The Queen of Purls before settling down for a good, long chat at Mono. We are both advocates of a more thoughtful approach to knitting: it is not a blinkered, parochial passion where we shout “you MUST  knit British!” but rather a desire to make people think about where their yarn is produced, how it is processed and what stories they are telling via their knitting needles. We also discussed future plans (thanks for the enthusiastic shrieking, Louise!) and exchanged thoughts on the British knitting community. All good stuff.

This weekend I am heading across to Edinburgh for the inaugural Indieburgh Yarn Crawl - it’s another exciting addition to Edinburgh’s line-up of knitting events. Actually, I am a bit of a spoilsport as I won’t really be doing the yarn crawl as much as I am meeting up with a future collaborator/editor. Okay, I may be doing some yarn crawling too. The three shops taking part are: Ginger Twist Studios, Kathy’s Knits and Be Inspired Fibres – GTS is colourful and vintage-inspired, Kathy’s centers on locally sourced yarns, and Be Inspired is high-end luxury yarn. It promises to be good.

Not long to go until Unwind Brighton either! My class on Continental Knitting is sold out, but there are a few spaces left on the Beading class and the Beginning Crochet class. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the line-up: Bristol Ivy, Kirsten Kapur, Carol Feller, Asa Tricosa, Olga Buraya-Kefelian .. and that is just the start of it. The vendor line-up is also unbelievable AND there is the PomPom Seaside Shindig featuring John Arbon DJing. I’m still wanting to sew myself a new dress for the event (Brighton Frock, anyone?) but time is running out. Ahhhhhh, so excited about being part of what promises to be an absolutely amazing event. Huge thank you to Dani Sunshine of Lionness Arts for organising everything.

So, it’s all good and I still cannot believe that this is my life now.

Save the Date: Knit Works

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Keep an eye on  the National Museum of Scotland, The Danish Cultural Institute and the Edinburgh Fashion Festival websites for more information. Yes, I am involved and, yes, it has an incredible line-up, and, no, I am not allowed to tell you more right now.

A Visit to Doggerland: the Ertebolle Hat

June 2014 624I have always been drawn to liminal spaces. Places that are thresholds (like beaches, doorways, or bridges). I think it stems from always feeling slightly out of time and place myself. Part of my continual fascination with the Doggerland landscape is that we only know glimpses and we can only see traces. Early pottery in northern Europe can be interpreted as having that liminal quality too – we only find tiny fragments and they speak of a transitional culture moving through an uncertain time and space.

Pottery can seem so straightforward to modern people and we can play with its perceived primitivism in our heads: man reaches down and scoops up a handful of humble soil; with his bare hands, he sculpts a crude looking retainer; the small pot is baked on a fire. The reality is somewhat different as pottery is a sophisticated technology. Still, there is something so very fundamental about the relationship between earth and fire – one that calls for story-telling and myth-making.

I read extensively about the pottery shards found at the Danish site of Ertebølle. It is a site mainly known for its big shell middens and it lends its name to a particular coastal culture  overlooking the present-day North Sea (and Doggerland).  Mesolithic pottery finds are relatively rare – maybe because they are liminal objects existing on the cusp of something else – but some fragments survive in peat bogs and in excavated settlements. The fragments tell stories about how landscapes are embedded into the very fabric of our existence; how humble materials can be transformed by the human hand (maybe the most fundamental story about our selves?); and how art and craft are continuously intertwined.

And so I designed a hat.

I wanted it to take its cue from Ertebølle pottery (the so-called beakers) but I could not resist looking at the exquisite collection of prehistoric pottery at the Denmark’s National Museum – the result is a relaxed, textured hat with little graphic nods to the geometric patterns found in Mesolithic pottery (and other artefacts) as well as the shapes found in early Neolithic pottery.

In other words, this may well be the nerdiest pattern I have ever designed.

The hat itself is fairly straightforward. It is knitted in a soft aran-weight yarn (my beloved Snaeldan), it is knitted in the round and it uses just knits and purls to create the textured bands. For me, this is a design that is as much about context as it is about the design itself. It tells stories of transitory life and of human hands pressing reeds into soft clay. I like these stories. They keep me warm in more than one way.

The Ertebølle hat is part of the Doggerland collection. I write a lot about liminality, thresholds and storytelling in it. But you may just like the knitting patterns and that’s just fine too.

Important Letter

I have the best mother-in-law. Technically she is not my mother-in-law because D. and I are not married, but she is awesome. To wit, I just got the following through the post today because “it had your name on it”.

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Trip to Glasgow’s Newest LYS: The Queen of Purls

Glasgow is a relatively big city, but we have a decided lack of yarn shops compared to many other places. I was delighted when I learned that a new yarn shop was about to pop its doors open in the city centre. I went along to meet Zoe and her shop, The Queen of Purls.

Zoe

Zoe has a background in art and textiles which is evident as soon as you enter her shop. The chair cushions are embroidered; the open/closed sign is needle-felted; and there is a real eye for textured detail in the nooks and crannies of the shop. As always, I was pleased by the attention to colour in the set-up and while Zoe has only just opened (and is still getting supplies in), there is a strong hint of personality to Queen of Purls. That is always a good sign!

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I had a nosy around the yarn – of course I did. A friend works for Garnstudio and had emailed me that very morning to tell me about Queen of Purls being a Drops stockist – and Zoe does stock a lot of the popular Drops qualities: Alpaca, Kidsilk, Lima, Nepal, Lace and the workhorse yarn of all workhorse yarns, Karisma among others. Personally I was really thrilled to see a big selected of Garthenor yarns (you may remember I have used one of their yarns for my Ronaes shawl) – I am such a big fan of their rustic, crisp yarns and it is great to see them represented in a local yarn shop. Zoe had also ensured a touch of luxury with Malabrigo and Manos (and another luxury yarn starting with M is due to arrive any day) as well as a beautiful selection of Jamieson & Smith yarns. I was pleased to see the perennial Ravelry favourite, Fishermen’s Wool, a cracking 100% wool from Lion Brand on the shelves too – it is incredibly versatile and beautiful.

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The Queen of Purls also stocks a variety of sock yarn, books, accessories, and knitting needles/crochet hooks. It’s one of the few places I’ve seen to stock a huge variety of needle-felting accessories including a really staggering amount of fibre (and, trust me, Zoe knows her fibre!). As it has only been open a fortnight, stock is still arriving and Zoe advises that you check in on a regular basis. She is also happy to handle stock enquiries and some special orders. There are plans afoot for knit nights and workshops, so keep an eye on her website, Facebook feed, and Twitter for more information. I really enjoyed the hours(!) I spent in there and, yes, I did buy some yarn.

The Queen of Purls is located in city centre (easy access for all you city centre workers and people in Glasgow for a day). The address is 91 Saltmarket which is just around the corner from Glasgow Green and a ten minute walk from the Central Station. My own knitting group meets regularly at Tron Theatre which is about three minutes away from QoP (and, yes, damage has already been done). It’s a great little neighbourhood with galleries around the Tron area, vegan food at the amazing Mono cafe/bar/record shop, and delicious cakes at Once Upon A Tart.

I’m looking forward to seeing QoP grow over the next few years and I’m very excited by the latest addition to the Glasgow knitting landscape. Yay!

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Wardrobe Decisions

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I need to make a decision about which colour to wear .. and that got me thinking: any rich colours I haven’t used for a shawl? Any recs?