fourth edition

A Knitting Professional Goes to Knit Night & Looks at Her Needles

April 2014 879When I first got back into knitting, I began going to a knit night. Many of the core attendees have become good friends and I enjoy meeting new faces who are passionate about knitting and crochet. Nowadays I work as a knitting professional and my knit night is the one night of the week where I can relax with my knitting and kick back.

A lovely lady joined the knit night for the first time yesterday and my encounter with her left me in a bit of a flummox. As a rule, my knitting group does not offer teaching lessons (you can go elsewhere for that in Glasgow) but she was adamant. I ended up withdrawing into myself as my friend Sharon kindly showed her how to cast on and knit a stitch.

And it made me wonder.

a) Am I absolutely absurd to expect money for passing on skills? I don’t teach beginning knitting classes (I do teach beginning crochet) but I make part of my living out of teaching skills.

b) Is this part of knitting’s continual image problem? The knitting industry is struggling to shift its “hobbyist” tag for many reasons (dominated by women; many part-timers; craft vs art). Would people expect to have their books balanced for free by an accountant, have a will drawn up for free by a lawyer, or have their sink fixed for free by a plumber?

c) Can I actually expect to be part of a knitting group and keep my personal & professional life separate? I like my knitting group because I am not Karie Westermann, Designer & Teacher, when I’m there. I don’t have to be switched on and have opinions about yarn or stitch counts. I am Karie who likes Eurovision, dogs and coffee.

I ended up leaving early. My knitting group prides itself of being friendly, diverse and inclusive – but I felt my refusing to do my job for free stopped all that. And that made me feel bad.

Today I am sitting here wondering how to face that situation in the future – any ideas?

A Knitter’s Haven – Visiting the Monkley Ghyll Farm

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I have just returned from a visit to my friends Susan and Gavin Crawford‘s farm in rural Lancastershire. It was a visit long overdue and I am glad I took the time to see the farm in its full harvest splendour. I grew up in rural Denmark and the sights and smells of the farm felt instantly familiar to me, though the landscape and the architecture were different.

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Being a freelancer, I had to catch up with my mails but my temporary office has rarely been as extraordinary as the stone barn erected just after the Reformation.  The barn still showed evidence of the farmwarming party the Crawfords threw a few months back: a red velvet sofa, a piano, and paper lanterns. Outside the boughs of the fruit trees were heavy with ripe fruit (frequently lunch was simply me going out to forage some plums, blackberries and apples – how I delighted in that!), the leaves were slowly starting to turn, and the sheep were grazing unawares that soon it will be winter.

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I fell in love with these girls (photo is showing just  two of many). The Zwartbles were quick to make friend with me. Whenever I turned the corner to the middle field, they’d run up to the fence to talk. In the actual field, they’d follow me, nuzzle against my legs and ask for a head rub. One of the girls proved very fond of affectionately nibbling on my knuckles (ouch). By contrast, the Shetland flock was decidedly uninterested in human contact. I loved watching them as they all had such strong personalities. I also loved watch the ducks and the chickens .. and even the cattle belonging to a nearby farm.

thefarm_smlInside the farmhouse, there were all the accoutrements you would associate with a working farm – muddy boots and books on raising lifestock – but it was also a knitter’s haven. Susan’s work as a knitwear designer was evident everywhere: a fair-isle cardigan awaiting steeking, a shelf of books dedicated to Edwardian needlecraft, knitting needles with a silky swatch and packs of the Crawfords’ yarns carefully organised by colour. We spoke of colour palettes, knitting paraphernalia and design aesthetics.

At the moment I am particularly interested in ideas of creative communities and clusters – and we sat underneath paintings by local artists and discussed how these creative clusters are formed and dissolved. Susan and Gavin intend to make Monkley Ghyll Farm a haven for creatives and as a place where such creative clusters can form. I know the stone barns play an important part in their future plans – and I cannot imagine a better place to meet fellow-minded people. A poem by Victorian poet and artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, kept coming to mind as Susan and I walked across the fields and dipped momentarily into the Forest of Bowland.

.. Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
‘Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

It is a peaceful, quiet and very inspiring place. Susan said it overwhelms her senses on a daily basis. I know exactly what she means. I have already made plans to return – I will bring my water colours next time. Some things are better captured in art than in photography.

Thank you for hosting me, Gavin and Susan – what a pleasure.

All photos by Susan Crawford, 2014. All rights reserved.

Colourful & Interesting

September 2014 160 We had a photo shoot yesterday for a shawl I had in Knit Now magazine many moons ago. Chinese Kites is so gorgeous and colourful that I knew I wanted the photo shoot to have a real visual impact. It is knitted in Eden Cottage BFL 4ply in a rich fuchsia, so we went looking for an equally colourful background. Glasgow has a lot of street art and I love how the yellows and jungle greens look next to the fuchsia.

I’ve been using the Chinese Kites shawl as an example in many of the classes I teach, but the pattern has been hard to get hold of for some time. The rights have now reverted to me, so I’ll be releasing this little beauty later this month. I wanted to release it earlier seeing as I have a tech-edited pattern and the photos all ready to go – but I have a very, very, very busy schedule this week. I’m on the road a lot and I have new patterns to write and grade too. So, hang in there.

No, freelancing does not equal a relaxed working schedule! However, it does mean a rewarding, colourful and always interesting working life. And that brings me to the Twitter hang-out I’m co-hosting with A Playful Day tomorrow, September 9 at 8.30pm GMT.

The panel of knitting pros includes Meghan Fernandes(co-founder & editor of Pom Pom magazine),  Kate Heppell (editor of Knit Now magaine), Victoria Magnus (dyer at Eden Cottage Yarns),  Joji Locatelli (designer famed for her work with Brooklyn Tweed, The Uncommon Thread and Veera Valimaki), Hilary Pullen (creator of CraftBlog UK, digital marketing expert) and Kate Metherell (owner of YAK yarn shop). I know, I know!

Follow the hashtag #makeitwork as we explore how to make the jump from happy amateur to serious professional, how to keep your creativity going, and how to find yourself a network.

So, see you there? I’m about to head into a jungle of fun spreadsheets!

The Tale of A Scarf: When Knitting Chooses You

September 2014 024Everybody 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..

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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.

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

Books & Wool, But Of Course

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I gave away about 80% of my books when I left Denmark and I can still see ghosts on the shelves, though I merged my collection with Dave’s when we started living together. So many books.

Reading my 2006 blog posts I sounded so cavalier about culling my book collection:

Red is for never again, never, no, it is so replaceable and it was fun but now the thrill has gone

Yellow is for what a lovely edition, I’ll never find it again and my library wouldn’t be complete without it.

Green is for of course, without a question, it’s part of me and good memories of dear ones.

I may not have a driver’s license but I have many books. I’m putting tiny stickers on their backs: red, yellow, green. So far at least 100 books have been marked with red: Borges*, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, DH Lawrence*, Jane Austen, Thomas Mann* and, er, Marion Zimmer Bradley. The yellow category is the difficult one. Which of Margaret Atwood’s works are yellow and not green? Should I put a bright yellow sticker on John Ruskin or is that a red (because I’m sure there’s a nicer edition out there)?

As I go through my books I realise I’m a flirty reader. I pick up books, break their hearts & spines and drop them cruelly. So many books I never finished: Anita Brookner, Iris Murdoch, James Kelman, Samuel Butler and John Barth. I’m so sorry but it’s not you, it’s me.

And the green books. My friends, my family. Alasdair Gray, Jonathan Coe, AS Byatt, John Donne, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Pullman, Ezra Pound and EM Forster. I pet you gently and remember when I first encountered you. You are in my blood. You are going nowhere.

*victims of the bad edition rule”

And so we’re back to 2014. Still so many books and they are not alphabetised. Fret.

Speaking of books, I am currently reading David W. Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. It’s an interesting look at the Proto-Indo-European language (the ur-language that spawned English, Greek, Hindi, Russian etc) and how PIE is reconstructed following linguistic rules. Anthony also looks at words and concepts that are found throughout the descendants of PIE. Words relating to wagons and wheels, certain types of animals and – relevant to my working life – textiles.

Anthony traces the possible origin* of the word wool - *HwlHn- as PIE contains roots for sheep, ewe, ram and lamb. He argues convincingly that these linguistic fragments point to a domestication of sheep. He also looks at archaeological evidence from Uruk that indicates sheep began being bred for their wool around 3350 BCE. The book then follows the linguistic fragments as they start to spread across the PIE areas. *HwlHn shatters into *Hwel- or *Hwol- .. but the word fragment doesn’t always mean “wool”. Sometimes it means “to felt”, “something made of felt/wool”, “to press” or “to weave”. Anthony even looks briefly at whorls and spindles. Most of the book is devoted to horses and wheels (as the title indicates) but I did enjoy the dip into textiles. I’m now settling into a section on Neolithic farming in the Caucasus. As you do.

PS. Lots of people have posted pictures of their bookshelves (shelfies?). Do join in!

A Month Ago: Unwind Brighton

Can you believe it’s been a month since Unwind Brighton – that magical yarn event which felt more like a rock festival than anything else? No, me neither. So, in honour of Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d dig through my photos and conjure forth some memories.July 2014 239

Shawls at the p/hop stand.

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My friend Karen’s amazing, amazing bunny dress.

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The Eden Cottage stall (before the marketplace opened; afterwards it was pandemonium)

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Polo & Co from France

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We heart John Arbon’s Knit by Numbers DK

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And the stunning Triskelion Yarn from Wales

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And a pair of knitting geeks comparing mustard/brown shoes

July 2014 095Yeah, I loved Brighton and all the fabulous people I met there.