Karie Bookish Dot Net

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!

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.

Death, Dancing & Other Thieves – A Guest Post by Ben Wilson

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a 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.

This week we are joined by Benjamin G. Wilson, a writer and performer living between Manchester and Cornwall.

His novel, Dispatch from the City of Orgies, is a ‘magic-realist memoir of sexual violence, drug use, and being in love’ set during the east London ‘Grindr Murders’ of 2014-15.  It is currently in development with Penguin Random House as part of their Write Now scheme. On his blog he writes and makes zines about being being queer, witchcraft, mental health and politics. 

Benjamin is one of the smartest people I have ever met and I always enjoy his writing (and his art — the woodcut is also by Benjamin). I hope you will enjoy this piece too.

My grandmother had beautiful, clever hands. My christening gown, knitted in cheap acrylic 4-ply, has a baroque ostentation. Tiny nups on a base of lace. I think about her hands a lot. I think about how arthritis bent the fingers backwards, how her medication made the skin paper thin. She was 67 when she died. She’d been ill for a long time. Her gravestone reads ‘pain courageously borne’.

I am 30. People keep telling me this is young. And it is. But if I live as long as my grandmother, I’ve lived half my life already. My hands already hurt in the mornings. If I knit until I’m 60, I’ve done more than half of my knitting already. My grandmother could not knit at 60.

I used to dance. Not just in clubs, but in studios. Half an hour of stretches and then two hours of feeling inadequate. A tutor told me I danced like a potato, so I stopped training. My mother, who is in her early 50s, struggles to dance at all.  Her joints hurt. If I go to a club now, I feel the dance in my body three days later. Knees and neck feeling misaligned. If my joints are like my mothers, then I’ve done significantly more than half of the dancing my life will contain.

Even if I live till 90, even if this is as old as my body ever feels, I’ve done more than a third. There will come a point where there is more behind me than there is in front. It is a cliché, one that will annoy genuinely middle aged people, but I have hit 30, and now I am thinking about death. If these things bother me, if I want to do more, then why don’t I? If these things are important, why not make time?

The things for which I make time, take time. Time is limited. I’ve become picky. How can there be time to knit when I am dying? How can there be time not to?

I used to knit for money. I write now. Knitting being the only career from which a job as a writer looks the more stable option. I can write a thousand words an hour, my photocopier can replicate far more.  I can manage only 80 stitches a minute.  And when I sit down to knit, or do my stretches between stints at the desk, I feel time moving past me like a river. I feel my body, with its soft band at the middle and its unexpected grey hairs and its gentle aching at every hour. My doctor has told me ‘this is just what 30 year old bodies feel like’.

And I think ‘there isn’t much time left, enjoy it.’

And I think ‘there isn’t much time left, don’t waste it.’
And I look at my wool, and I feel the music in my body, and it’s difficult to decide what wasted time means.

Researching Knitting & Religion: A Guest Post by Anna Fisk

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a 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.

We are joined this week by Anna Fisk who is an academic based at the University of Glasgow. I know Anna from my knitting circles and always enjoy talking to her about the intersection of religion and culture. Anna’s craft practice is focused on the world around her and the changing seasons, from her Dear Green Shawl design available at p/hop to the natural dyeing, spinning and felting she blogs about at Knit Wild Studio. I asked Anna if she would write about her work researching knitting and making. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I enjoy my conversations with Anna.

Back when I was working on my PhD thesis in feminist theology and literature, I realised that being a knitter was a much bigger part of my identity than any religious affiliation ever had been. My account of learning to knit was probably the most significant story I told about myself. The therapeutic nature of the process of knitting, and sense of achievement in the end products, enabled me to cope with depression and anxiety more than any ‘spiritual’ practices. It was making things that gave me a sense of meaning, and oriented how I approached the world.

Being part of the knitting community, I knew my experience of craft as transformative and sustaining was far from unusual. So after finishing my doctorate I wanted to engage with research with other people about the significance of knitting in their lives, and see if I was right in my hunch this was related to religion in some way.

This meant thinking about the very definition of ‘religion’. I got interested in contemporary scholarship on ‘lived’ religion, which is about everyday practices, material things, and the stories that give us meaning and help us to cope, rather than a set of beliefs about higher powers or abstract doctrines. I also read up on the secularization debates, which ask whether religion is disappearing altogether or instead morphing into new forms. These range from holistic mind-body-spirit practices to environmental activism; or the civil religion of nationalism, family values, capitalism, and human rights discourse.

I started researching other people’s knitting practice, firstly through participant observation of two knitting groups in Glasgow. I noticed the groups (as well as yarn festivals, Ravelry, podcasts…) worked in a similar way to religious institutions. People who’d just moved to the city would join a knitting group to make friends; attending regularly provided routine and support, and helped people feel less isolated. We knitters also have a shared identity and language (‘stash’, ‘squishing’ yarn, etc.). So the first theme of my research is how knitting as a subculture, providing belonging and identity, can work as an implicit religion.

The second major theme came out more in a focus group session and individual interviews with knitters across central Scotland. These were recorded on my trusty dictaphone, leaving my hands free for knitting while I talked to the participants, who were also knitting.

Through these conversations it became clearer to me that the effects of knitting on wellbeing have parallels with holistic spiritual practices such as yoga or mindfulness meditation. Many of my participants described knitting as ‘therapeutic’ and a way of getting through difficult times and situations. Some had deliberately started knitting because of these benefits.

The theme I’m most interested is what I call sacred connections. As a knitter, I mark really important life events and relationships by knitting them. As do many other knitters, from graduation shawls, booties for grandchildren, to braving that sweater curse for your significant other. This includes the craftivism of yarnbombing and pussy hats; charity knitting after major disasters (when you know that just sending money would probably be more effective, but in knitting penguin sweaters or blankets for the homeless you’re really doing something). This is one aspect of how we use knitting as way of connecting with—ritualising and materialising—the things that are most important (or ‘sacred’) to us.

The other aspect relates to this urge I have, whenever I find something that I love or am fascinated by, to render it in wool, to knit it. I see this throughout our knitting world, including in the work of designers like Karie, whose patterns are inspired by Glasgow tenement tiles and best-loved artists and novelists; who creates whole pattern collections based on her historical specialisms, not just as an intellectual exercise but also about connecting with landscape, heritage, and materiality.

Beyond what this tells us about knitters (who are interesting enough!), I also think it tells us something about the kinds of things that are most important—sacred—for people in the (post)secular, late-modern world: love and family, cultural tradition, political commitments, the natural and built environment, our bodies.

I’m interested in how conversations around knitting—and craft more generally—are part of the cultural trend (beginning with Romanticism) of attempting to reconnect with what we feel we’ve lost in modern life, from a sense of place, to taking it slow, to being truly part of the material world around us. Making things with our own hands, paying attention to the whole process, out of materials we know the provenance of, gives a profound satisfaction and sense of connection that for many of us is indeed sacred.

(I knitted the Biophilia shawl (which is about ‘hypothetically innate human tendency to feel an emotional attachment to the natural world’)
while I was conducting the interviews.)

I have a couple of articles from this research coming out soon, but I want to write a whole book on the topic eventually. So the work is very much ongoing. If you’d like to share your stories with me, I would love to hear from potential participants, particularly on the sacred connections theme. Even if you’d just like to hear more about this research, do please get in touch!

Creating While Marginalised

Note from Karie: I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so over the next few weeks you will read a 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.

First up is yarn dyer and composer Angelina Panozzo who you might know better as GamerCrafting. This is a powerful and personal essay on what it means to lead a creative life when the world tries to get you down. I hear you, Angelina.

In today’s society of “Instagram culture,” it’s easy to get swept up in the belief that everyone else is living a charmed life, full of sunny successes and perfectly arranged yarn stashes. It’s perhaps too tempting to forget that there are actual people on the other side of the screen with worries, stresses, and problems, who are just as stressed out and frazzled as you are. I’m certainly guilty on both counts, feeling toxic and jealous that some people seem to be living the high life while I stress-cry into my bran flakes three times a week.

I wake up every morning as the same person I’ve been for five years now: a gay immigrant. Neither of those things encapsulates who I am: I’m also an indie yarn dyer, a big geek, a gamer, and a gardening novice. Sometimes I design knitting and crochet patterns, and I’m trying to get a book out this year. I like woodland walks and fancy scissors, I enjoy photography and I studied music in university. While my friends would call me “A Creative,” it seems society only sees me as those first two things: gay immigrant.

With every headline I read, I feel like the air is being pulled from my lungs. It’s a specific, acute kind of panic that only comes from being part of a marginalised community. It’s like drowning, except you’re sitting at your desk editing a new video tutorial while you schedule content. It’s like being in open space without a space suit, except no one knows that you have no oxygen and they all want to know why the book isn’t done yet.

I have the privilege of being white and speaking English as a first language: I will tell you that if both those things were not true, we probably wouldn’t have had success with our immigration appeal in 2014 – not without having to shell out even more money for an immigration lawyer. For over a year now, my future in this country has been uncertain. I won’t bore you with the long, complicated, frustrating details, but I’m only living here thanks to an EU visa. For over a year I’ve had to get up, read the news, drink my coffee, swallow my panic, and sit down at my desk to create things. Content, new yarns, patterns, create, create, create. There’s no paid time off when you’re a freelance creative. There are no breaks, no sick days to take when you want to sit on your kitchen floor and sob into a loaf of fresh soda bread.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. I love being a part of this vibrant, shimmering community, and I’ve met some truly amazing people thanks to the work I do. I love the ethos of the DIY community, and seeing fellow creative humans discover new methods and techniques is what gets me out of bed at obscenely early hours every morning (yes, even weekends). Creating new things is what sets my brain on fire with inspiration and ideas, whether I’m dyeing up new yarn shades, writing a flute choir folk tune, or lugging 50kg of photography equipment into the wilderness to get a macro shot of a spider web covered in morning dew.

Sometimes, though, the fervour of inspiration is dampened by the quiet march of panic and uncertainty. It’s hard to dream up exciting new things when you don’t even know where you’ll be living in a year, or if all the plans you’ve made will be dust in the wind of change. It’s hard to plan in this reality: not knowing whether to stay or go weighs heavily on the immigrant mind. It’s like the song by the Clash: “Should I stay or should I go now? If I say there will be trouble, but if I go there will be double.” Stay and risk it, or try for somewhere else and risk that? These are decisions that have to be made on a knife edge of doubt, and you’re never sure whether you’re just panicking because you’re predisposed to brain bats, or whether it’s a clear and present danger.

Creativity and DIY innovation are the lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel for many of us.

Whether you’re struggling with immigration, parenting, mental illness, chronic pain, or a myriad of other stresses and maladies, we’re all in this big creative boat together. Step into the craft canoe, fellow maker: we have cake, yarn, and shoulders to cry on.

 

A Knitterly Guide to Ireland – Nadia of A Cottage Notebook

I’m currently very busy working on my forthcoming book, so I asked the Irish podcaster and blogger Nadia to guestblog. I know many of you enjoy my knitterly guide to Scotland, so here is Nadia’s fibre-filled guide to Ireland. I hope you enjoy!

Kx

Image 1 © J. Seaver

I know what you’re thinking: most of you dream of Ireland filled with green fields, sheep and lots of fibre related crafts. While in a way, you are right, everything is probably a little more spread out here then you think. So, let me take you on a province by province yarny trip of Ireland and as this is my guide, the sun is shining, birds are singing and you all magically have sparkly wellies for spontaneous field trips!

Leinster

To start with a little history, you can visit the Museum of Decorative Arts in Collins Barracks to have a glimpse into Ireland’s textile history before starting on a yarn crawl to the local yarn shops This is Knit in Powerscourt Townhouse, The Constant Knitter on Francis Street and WM Trimmings on Capel Street. Leaving the city center you have Spring Wools in Walkinstown and Winnies Wool Wagon in Blackrock. Starting early in the morning we are off to Co. Wicklow where you can visit the beautiful Powerscourt estate before having an afternoon tea and some baked goods at Avoca HandWeavers. Now further south it’s off to the National Craft Gallery in co. Killkenny before checking out the fabulous Cushendale Woollen Mill.

Munster

Waterford is my personal favourite with Waterford Crystal and the Museum of Treasures in the viking triangle worth a visit. While in Co. Kerry visiting the locations of famous movie sets, you can stop at Kerry Woollen Mills and visit the mill. If weaving is also of interest to you, a visit to Lisbeth Mulcahy  in Dingle is a must. Moving on to Co. Clare to McKernan woollen mills if you want to see some looms in action. A trip in Munster wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Hedgehog Fibers and Vibes & Scribes while in Co. Cork.

Image 2 © J. Seaver

Connacht

The Museum of Country Life is one to visit while in Castlebar, Co. Mayo if you want to learn more about the different types of Irish traditional lifestyles. The Connacht Textile Crafters meet up here so check to see if you can catch them while you visit. While in Mayo you can pick up some craft supplies in Lunasa and you can watch the looms at work in the beautifully restored Foxford Woollen Mills and popping by Beth Moran of Ballytoughey Loom before heading off in a more northerly direction.  A personal favourite of mine is a trip to the Aran Islands to explore everything they have to offer, before settling in for the joy of Galway city with a yarn top up at the Crafty Stitchers.

 

Ulster

This may be the last section of our journey but it is by far one of the most beautiful and breathtaking in Ireland. I have a deep love for Ulster from spending so much of my childhood there. We have to start out with the Yarn Spinners of Inishowen before continuing the theme of spinning with a trip to Johnny Shiels cottages in Inishowen to have a look at his wonderful wheels. Do drop him a message first through the web or Facebook because he might be off visiting local schools sharing his vast knowledge and inspiring the local youth. While we are on the subject of spinners, you should also have a quick check in with the Ulster Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers you might be in luck and your travel dates coincide with a meet.  For a yarn top up you have Love Wool in Portadown, The Wool box in Lurgan and Lighthouse yarns in Whitehead.

From here I would also recommend a trip to the Ulster American Folk Park. Yes I know it’s on every tourist site out there but during their exhibitions I learned how to basket weave, how to plait straw into dolls and braids and I had an in depth talk about clothes and textiles of the time. No visit to Ireland would be complete with a visit to Donegal Yarns. You can visit the working mill and the surrounding area is one of the most picturesque in Ireland. While here why not pop in to Edel Mc Bride to have a look at some knitwear.  On our way back to Dublin, we cross back in Lenister once more and stop off in Carlingford. Why? Because I spent a day on the mountain with a packed lunch hugging sheep and visiting the derelict buildings of a famine village and seriously who doesn’t want to do that?

Image 3 © L.Sisk

Returning to Dublin for rest and now filled with the knowledge of fiber in Ireland. You can head to both This is Knit in Powerscourt Townhouse and The Constant Knitter in Francis street to squish some final skeins and top up on yarn before heading back to the airport or ferry.

Before your visit why not check out The Dublin Knit Collective for the nights you are in Dublin if you would like to meet up with local knitters. The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers also have meetings and events and you never know you might even get a glimpse of a Great Wheel made by one of the members!

I hope you all enjoy your trip, prepare for rain… the wellies are not a joke!

Like Karie’s Guide to Scotland, all recommendations are from my own travels, including the hug a sheep part and yes I apologised profusely. I haven’t been bribed to include places in the post with either money, baked goods or promises of yarn. I would love to hear your favourite yarn shops in Ireland and other suggestions as I’m sure there are places I haven’t gotten to visit yet!

Love, Nadia

(Catch up with Nadia’s lovely podcast here.)

The Annual Eurovision Post: 2017

According to my archives, I write an ‘annual’ Eurovision post every 3-5 years. Last year Ukraine gained a surprising, but well-deserved win with their haunting 1944 written and performed by Jamala. It is one of the most ‘difficult’ songs to ever win* but Jamala’s raw, emotional and technically superb performance stood out among a sea of cookie-cutter tracks. And so the contest will be held in Kiev this year.

(* 1963’s winner Dansevise spring to mind as another quirky one.)

Like most years, last year’s winner has influenced a lot of selections, so we are wading through a sea of Sad Female Balladeers. You have been warned. Most of them will have fallen by the wayside once we get to the Grand Final, but if you plan on watching the Semis, make sure to have some coffee ready. You’ll need caffeine (and snacks – always snacks).

Semi-Final 1 (It Is The Strong One):

  • One of the red-hot favourites appears as the very, very first entry. Sweden has sent the lean, slick pop machine of Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On. This Robbie Williams/Justin Timberlake hybrid is hard to fault, except it is perhaps too smug and impressed with its own brilliance.
  • Strong vocal performances from Georgia, Albania, Poland, and the Czech Republic cannot disguise the fact they are all Sad Female Balladeers. They all need big performances and outstanding staging to stand out from the rest of the pack. I am not sure they can manage that.
  • Finland also has a Sad Female Balladeer but it stands out – and not just because it also has a Sad Man At Piano. Norma John’s Blackbird reminds me of Annie Lennox at her most sparse and interesting. Hopefully they won’t change the staging too much: at its national finale, it was atmospheric and gorgeous.

  • Belgium has one of the pre-contest favourites. The country has quietly become one of the strongest competitors (2015’s Rhythm Inside, anyone?) and this year the hype is deafening. Blanche’s City Lights is just stunning. It is a song meant for the radio, the end credits of a great film, your headphones .. but is it meant for Eurovision? I hope its introspection will translate well to the stage. It deserves all the love in the world.
  • Slovenia has sent Omar Naber for the second time. The 2017 entry is a Sad Male Ballad, so I’m going to link you his 2005 effort instead which never made it out of the semi-final but which has been in my heart for 12 years. #justice4stop
  • Another underperforming country is Iceland which has sent us several great tracks over the years that never quite made a suitable impact. I freaking love this year’s song from Svala with its cool Chvrches vibe, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking it’ll do well. It’s all a bit too brittle and remote for Eurovision.
  • One of the great rivalries at 21st century ESC is the one between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This year Azerbaijan edges ahead with the cool Dihaj and Skeletons, but Armenia possesses a song that’s the closest to a Big Balkan Ballad we get this year (even though they are nowhere near the Balkan region, obviously). The BBB is a perennial favourite with Eurovision viewers, so it could surprise.
  • Speaking of surprises, I never thought I’d be head-over-heels in love with a song from Portugal. I never imagined I could get goosebumps from listening to a Eurovision entry sung in Portuguese by a scuffy-looking man. And then Salvador Sobral started singing. ESC fans have criticised the song for being old-fashioned, but this is the year Ryan Gosling nearly tap-danced his way to an Oscar in La La Land. Salvador Sobral’s song is both timeless and very, very now. I’ll be listening to this in 2037.

Semi-Final 2 (The Other One):

  • The run of Sad Female Balladeers continues, but at least The Netherlands is giving us a Wilson Phillips tribute act with Lights and Shadows. I never liked Hold On first time around and I’m not a fan of this one either.
  • I do really, really, really like Macedonia’s entry. Jana’s Dance Alone is pure synth-pop goodness with shades of Kylie, Robyn and Tegan & Sara. This is a potential Top 5 and I’ll be dancing like a loon to eminently quotable lines like “I let the pavement be my catwalk”. Please, please let the staging be amazing.

  • From the sublime to the ridiculous: Romania provides us with the novelty hit of the year with the horrific Yodel It. It’d be to everyone’s credit if this track died in the semi-final because the Saturday casual viewing crowd will award this gimmicky trainwreck far more points than it deserves. It is my least favourite track this year. Horrid on all levels.
  • This semi-final has its share of Sad Female Balladeers, but we are also blessed with a number of Generic Male Pop Singers. Austria sounds like it was written for an aspirational lifestyle ad, Ireland has sent its latest Louis Walsh protegee (your gran will love it), and Bulgaria brings the best of the bunch. Norway brings up the rear with the cookie-cutter Grab the Moment.
  • Israel is upbeat, thankfully, and although it isn’t particularly interesting, it could do well if staged with energy. I’m reminded of Israel’s 2015 entry which I didn’t rate until I saw it on the big stage – this year has the same potential to be the crowdpleaser of the night.
  • I’m of A Certain Age, so my first thought on hearing Estonia’s Verona was 1980s German pop duo Modern Talking. Granted, this sound has also been mined by Lady Gaga for the epic Bad Romance, so it’s not all bad. Verona has a real ear-worm quality to it with a strong 1980s pop sound, but I worry about the delivery on the night. If Koit & Laura manage to connect with each other & the camera, this could go far but it could also easily end up as dad-dancefloor cheese.
  • Ah, the batshit-crazy song from Croatia. It sounds like a Disney/pop-opera mash-up until you realise that Jacques is singing both voices. I have no idea how he’s going to do this live nor how it will avoid looking utterly insane on stage. It would have worked a bit better if it had been a duet, but .. it is bizarre and incoherent.
  • Finally, Belarus has managed to send its best contestants ever. NAVIBAND’s My History is charming, folksy and upbeat with a great “ha! ha!” moment in the chorus. The song sounds like it’d fit into a Crowded House album (Woodface-era) by way of Mumford & Sons, and there is a lovely early ’90s vibe to the whole performance. I cross my fingers that this finds its audience.

The Final:

  • The Big Five are pre-qualifiers: Spain is hopeless, France is once again excellent and will probably underperform (see 2013’s Amandine), Germany has sent a wanna-be Sia with a generic song, and UK is a Sad Female Balladeer (incredible voice; underwhelming song).  And before we get to the last of the Big Five pre-qualifiers, Ukraine are also pre-qualified as hosts. I’ll also get back to Ukraine in a second.
  • The last of the Big Five is Italy and they are entering the competition as absolute favourites. I’m personally not convinced we will see an Italian win – but Occidentali’s Karma will be a Top 5 song, no doubt. I have the same problems with Italy as I have with Sweden – I don’t feel a connection, it is entirely too self-aware of its own brilliance, and it has a calculated gimmick. Mind you, I felt the same about Denmark in 2013 and Sweden in 2015. They both won.
  • Finally, Ukraine. They have entered a rock band and I like seeing rock bands at Eurovision (hello 2008). O.Torvald’s Time is perfectly fine, but it also highlights the big problem this year’s contest has. Here is the original staging of the song – for obvious reasons, they changed it.

Politics have always been part of Eurovision. The contest was started as an attempt to bring Europe together after the horrors of World War 2, and you even had Italy win in 1990 with Insieme: 1992 – a song that explicitly celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall: “With you, under the same flags / You & I under the same sky / Together, unite unite, Europe / We’re more and more free / It’s no longer a dream and you’re no longer alone (..) / Europe is not far away”. In recent years, the tone is less celebratory and less peaceful. Georgia withdrew in 2009 with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (spot the unsubtle message) and its 2009 singer is actually back this year with a song which was staged in Georgia with explicit anti-war messages flashing.

Much of the pre-contest coverage this year has centered on Russia fielding a singer who is legally unable to perform in Ukraine. ESC Insight has an excellent article about the geopolitical forces behind all this. Russia has withdrawn from this year’s contest (as of yesterday), but expect politics to rumble on. Eurovision has always been used as a way to present your nation on a grand stage (literally) and many people have vested interests in telling a specific version of their country’s story to a mass audience.  Be prepared to see a lot of not-very-subtle political messaging even if the EBU are trying to smooth things over.

We live in troubled times, but the tagline of Eurovision 2017 is Celebrate Diversity and I’ll be doing just that in May.

The Story of a Bench

As a rule, I have an uneasy relationship with yarn-bombing. Done right and with purpose, yarn-bombing can be an effective way of practising craftivism (using craft as protest and promoting social change). It can transform a community and serve as a visual marker that something is not right. Sadly, I see too many press releases using yarn-bombing as a thoughtless exercise to “get the knitters on board” and throw a few pom poms at a tree as an empty PR exercise.

But then there is this bench and I want to share its story with you. It is deeply affecting as well as a story of how yarn-bombing can be an incredible story-telling tool.

This bench sits in a remote corner of the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular bench is hidden away at the back, close to the rose garden and the 16th century garden. Most visitors never make it that far, but the location is a favourite spot for many local people. I live next door to the Botanics and you will often find me knitting somewhere in that little area when the weather’s nice.

Local textile artist and production designer Rita McGurn passed away two years ago, and her daughter decided to yarn-bomb the bench. Most of the benches in the Botanics bear small memorial plaques, but this bench needed to be slightly different as a tribute to a woman who was described as “colourful, eccentric and a little irreverent”. Some of the pieces were crocheted by Rita herself before she passed away, while other pieces were made by Rita’s friends and family.

I came across the bench on a sunny day. As always, this corner of the Botanics was almost deserted – except people were lined up to look at this piece of art. A young couple was sitting on the bench for a long time, stroking the pieces of fabric and admiring the colour. A family stopped to have their children photographed (“no, don’t touch the flowers – say cheese – no sit still – now look at me”). A small group of people stopped for a long time and I wondered to myself if they were friends of the family. As I saw more and more people stopped to engage with the bench – taking photographs, sitting down, touching it – I realised that they were drawn to it as an art piece. Some had read about the bench in local papers – others just came across it in passing. Everybody slowed down and took a moment to reflect.

There is something so very moving about this yarn-bombing effort. It is a deliberate gesture carried out with care and love. The bench lights up its little corner of the park and the ephemeral nature of the piece makes it incredibly poignant. It is one of my favourite pieces of yarn-bombing I have ever come across. If you are nearby, I can only urge you to catch it before it disappears forever.

You can read more about Rita and Rita’s daughter, Mercedes here.

This Thing of Paper – March & April 2017

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of meeting many knitters at both Joeli’s Retreat in Manchester and at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Many of them backed my This Thing of Paper Kickstarter whilst others had just learned about the project. This update is for backers and non-backers alike.

First, An Important Housekeeping Note:

If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, please contact me via email (hello @kariebookish.net) or via the contact form on my website (this goes directly into my email). When you email me, please use a descriptive subject header. Please.

Thank you so, so, so much!

This ensures I see your message as quickly as possible and that your query will get resolved that much quicker.

The Book – or, what has Karie done with her life this month?

The book is coming on in leaps and bounds. All the patterns are finished. I have been working closely with my technical editor Amelia Hodsdon on getting them ready for publication (more on that later). My focus has now shifted to three other things:

  1. Essays. All my notes have been collated; the essays now exist in keyword form; and the narrative structure of the book is mapped out with post-it notes. I am not sure how other writers do this, but I like to have my book outlined like a ghost on the page before I start fleshing things out. I am working with a copy editor, the marvellous Kate Gregory, on this part of the project. I am very aware that I only have a finite amount of words inside of me, so you will see less of me online as I save my words for the book.
  2. Perks & Rewards. All the Kickstarter backers signed up for sweet, sweet rewards and, whilst I sourced all the goodies very early on in the process, all the lovely stuff is now going to start arriving in Casa Bookish and will be sent out with the book itself. I’ll be getting an assistant to help me with the admin load.
  3. Making It Happen. Shops and non-backers have asked how they can buy the book once it is released. I’ll be setting up a small shop section on this website. Just like the Perks & Rewards section, I’ll have some help doing this.

 

The Book  –  or, what goes into making a pattern ready.

I thought I’d write a bit about what work goes into making a pattern ready for publication. Amelia and I work from a house style sheet – a document I have written that covers all style standards and practices involved in writing a knitting pattern. Here are some examples of what a good style sheet covers:

  • a set way of writing phrases like the beginning of the round – the style sheet determines if you write BORbeg of rndbeg of round, or even Beg of Rnd (or something else!).
  • how abbreviations are styled – k2tog or K2TOG; if you capitalise KYOK, should you then also capitalise SKYK?
  • the narrative flow of a pattern: does the garment start with the back or the front? is it important that the sleeves are worked first? When do you write about the extra cast-on stitches – do they belong to the body section or the buttonband section?
  • standard sections: NAME; MATERIALS; NEEDLES; ACCESSORIES; GAUGE; PATTERN NOTES; INSTRUCTIONS.
  • standard sub-sections: how materials are listed and which order; line breaks or no line breaks?
  • how repeats within repeats are written. Round or square brackets? How do we deal with really complicated stuff like a repeat within a repeat within a repeat within a repeat? Ah, look at page 5 where there is a guide on how to write this.

(An aside: When I teach pattern writing, I’m often asked if I can share my style sheet. Unfortunately there are no real short cuts to a good style sheet. It is one that designers build up themselves based upon their own experience and their thoughts on what a good pattern reads like.)

So, Amelia and I have double- and triple-checked the maths in the patterns, but we have also worked very hard on ensuring consistent style across all patterns and making sure the patterns have good narrative flow. One of our longest discussions was over whether one line of instructions needed to be in one section or another.

This Thing of Paper contains 11 patterns (and one exclusive pattern for high-level backers), so it has been quite a lot of work getting to this stage. I started out designing the patterns last spring, knowing that I needed a cohesive collection with a broad selection of project types aimed at different types of knitters, then I began writing the patterns and, finally, they have been edited.

 

Hiccups – or, what has Karie learned along the way?

Oh dear.

I am currently unravelling a large sample I had commissioned for the book. Not only did the sample arrive very late, but it also arrived in a completely unusable condition. Why don’t I just crocodile clip it and fake my way through the photo shoot? Because a) that is not how I roll, b) the book samples will be shown at trunk shows, and c) I actually want to be able to wear my samples. So, I am having to reknit the piece which means delays are cascading down the entire production line: photo shoots, layout, writing time etc.

This has proven one of my biggest lessons of the last year: outsourcing work does mean I can focus on my core tasks, but it also means that I rely on other people to work to deadlines and an agreed standard. I have been incredibly lucky to have good people step up to the plate when I needed them (and you will learn about them in the book), but it has not been a smooth process.

I have also learned about perfectionism. This is always my curse. Back in the day I designed nearly 25 patterns for my 8-piece Doggerland collection. This time I have curbed my tendencies a bit better but the early days of This Thing of Paper definitely saw me design an excess of patterns. I think I need to accept that is how I work and allow myself time to do so.

Timeline – or, Karie accepts she cannot control the universe!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are still issues that need to be solved, but that’s part of my job description. We also have a metric tonne of work to do between now and the publication of This Thing of Paper – but we have a clear road map with a full tank of gas. All the deadlines are locked in place and This Thing of Paper will be with you by the end of the summer (or winter if you live in the Southern Hemisphere).

Countdown to Edinburgh Yarn Fest

It is the most wonderful time of the year: the Edinburgh Yarn Festival is just over a week away!

Attending a fibre festival is always a great day (or weekend) out. You are surrounded by people who love the same activities as you do, and you get to do some serious knitwear-spotting too. It can also be a really exhausting time because there are just so many things to see and do – and you might find yourself so overwhelmed that you end up leaving empty-handed and slightly burned out.

With Edinburgh Yarn Festival just around the corner, I thought I’d update my survival guide and share some of my tricks for having a fabulous time.

  • Plan aheadHave an honest look at your stash, go through your Ravelry queue, and then make a note of yarn requirements. Yes, smartphones are handy for looking up requirements on the fly, but you have more time to browse if you already have all the information available! Do the same for any needles, hooks, and other tools you want to pick up.
  • Plan ahead. Start looking through the vendor list and visit their websites, so you know roughly what to expect. Make a short-list of your must-visit vendors and grab the official EYF map to find out where their stalls are. This stops you from feeling completely overwhelmed by everything on offer! Remember to factor in time to browse other stalls – you never know what might grab you on the day.
  • Plan ahead. If you are meeting with far-flung friends at EYF, make sure you know where and when to meet. EYF has an excellent cafe area that is perfect for an informal get-together. Check your favourite Ravelry groups for any meet-ups and, if you don’t have any photos of yourself online, make sure to describe yourself (“I’m short with curly brown hair and will be wearing a blue Waiting for the Rain shawl”) if you are meeting up with friends who may not have met you before.
  • Food. If you have special dietary requirements, always make sure to bring a back-up lunch. Personally I always carry some bottled water to keep myself hydrated and a small bag of mixed nuts to snack on so my blood sugar stays level throughout the day. The cafe sells nice cakes and there are coffee vendors strategically placed. Just remember to stay hydrated and don’t get hangry!
  • Bags. The UK has implemented the carrier bag charge (very good news for the environment!) so remember to bring your own carrier bags. You can also buy gorgeous tote bags at the events, of course. Do not rely on vendors having bags (though most will).
  • Wear sensible shoes & clothes! You will be on your feet most of the day, so leave your high heels at home. I hear the “wear sensible shoes!” advice all the time and yet I keep seeing miserable-looking people in high-heeled boots at events. Obviously EYF and other events are perfect places to show off your favourite makes, but try not to overheat!
  • Budget. Unless you are a multi-millionaire, chances are that you will have to make some tough decisions at EYF. Decide before you leave home how much you are going to spend. Decide how much you’ll spend on yarn, how much on notions, and how much on cute accessories like tote bags, mugs etc. Then leave room in your budget for impulse buys. Even the smallest budget should have an impulse buy allowance. You will fall in love with something unexpected.
  • Classes. If you have signed up for a class, make sure you have everything you need several days in advance. Don’t rely on picking up supplies at the event itself. Check if you need to do any homework and sure to arrive on time.
  • Travel. The EYF website and Ravelry group contain everything you need to know about transport, so make sure you know your train times and keep your tickets in a safe spot. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to and from the venue. Make sure you have a perfect travel project on the go – travelling to a fibre festival is part of the festival fun! If you are going by bus, you will instantly know which bus to take – it’ll be filled with knitters!
  • Be Social. Say hello to people! Smile and talk knitting while you are waiting in a queue. Let strangers know how awesome their cardigans are. Enjoy the atmosphere. If a vendor or a tutor has been especially incredible, let them know! Take pictures of amazing things and share them on the internet. Use the hashtag #eyf17 so others can enjoy your fabulous memories!
  • Remember to Breathe. Fibre festivals can be very exhausting (especially as so many of us are introverts and the buzz can get overwhelming). If you get tired, take a break. If you need some fresh air, go for a short walk. Nothing is more important than you enjoying yourself, so be kind to yourself rather than push through. The perfect buttons will still be there ten minutes later. The Leith Water Walk Way is not far from the Corn Exchange if you need a touch of nature.
  • And just have fun! This is going to be one of the highlights of your year.

I’ll be teaching three classes (Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons) so do say hello if you see me! I love seeing what people have made from my patterns, so don’t be shy. Looking forward to seeing a lot of lovely faces.

Authors & Artists: Alma’s Song

A few years ago I read Florian Illies’ excellent book 1913: The Year Before the Storm. Following the entangled lives of artists and cultural mavericks in 1913, Illies weaves a fragmented fabric of a world tethering on the brink of something new – change is in the air and artists respond to it, though they are unsure what that change will be (we know it will be the First World War). The book stayed with me – and the result is Alma’s Song.

Alma Schindler-Mahler was a key figure in Vienna’s cultural life at the turn of the 20th century. She served as a muse for the painter Gustav Klimt, married the composer Gustav Mahler, then had a fling with the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, before she married architect Walter Gropius. She ended up fleeing the Nazi regime with her third husband, poet and playwright Franz Werfel – first heading to France, then to the US where she died in 1960s.

Alma’s torrid love life tends to be what most people focus on – after all, she was involved with some very famous artists – and you will often hear her described as a femme fatale. This focus has much in common with today’s celebrity gossip, of course. The headlines talk about Amal Clooney‘s personal life rather than her work. Alma was a composer, you see, but she had to give up her own music when she married Gustav Mahler and only returned to composing much later. On the other hand, Alma’s notoriety saved her from sinking into obscurity unlike most of her fellow women on the contemporary Viennese arts scene. Names like Broncia Koller and Teresa Ries have been consigned to oblivion for decades – a desperately sad combination of anti-Semitism and misogyny. It is a familiar tale throughout early 20th century Europe.

Reading Illies’ book and later hearing Alma’s music, I could not stop thinking about these artists living through an age of upheaval, uncertainty and eventual darkness. I wanted to design something that celebrated them.

So, the shawl. It is a crescent shawl with easy stitch patterns, both written and charted. 

The vivid colours are inspired by the Vienna Secession movement and, in particular, the look of the secession building’s gold dome against the blue sky. The body of the crescent shawl has a simple eyelet pattern designed to contrast greatly with the textured frieze section. Garter stitch ridges form horizontal lines in the vein of the Secession’s use of linear ornamentation. The cast-off is extended and decorative with dramatic loops that soften the angularity.

Alma’s Song has dramatic flair that befits its inspiration but it retains simplicity and a sinuous angularity which I rather adore.

The yarn is Camel/Silk Fingering by DyeNinja – an extraordinarily decadent yarn which soaks up colour. I used Byzantium as the main blue colour and Shantung as the contrast gold colour, and I used just over half a skein each for this shawl. I have included instructions for a larger shawl in the pattern and you’d be able to knit the large size with one skein of each colour. I’m lucky enough to have a full box of mini-balls of CSF, so I came up with some alternative colour combinations.

From the top, L to R: Tashkent and KarakorumScimitar and DjinnGrand Vizier and Scheradzad; and, finally, Karakorum and Taklamakan.

Alma’s Song is the first new pattern I’ve published in roughly a year. I’ve obviously been busy working on my forthcoming book, This Thing of Paper, so there will be a deluge of new material coming. It just feels so nice to have a pattern out & I hope you enjoy! Both DyeNinja & myself will be at Edinburgh Yarn Fest in just a few weeks, so I’m looking forward to seeing you there!