Karie Bookish Dot Net

How To Pitch It Perfectly – Going From Big Asks To Favours

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Sometimes I let my love of colour get the better of me. I have dug out my green coat (the one I only wear occasionally lest I wear it out) and I’m cheerfully pairing it with an orange knitting project. Colours feed my soul.

But I cannot live on colour and sunshine alone.

The First Lesson: The Difference Between Favours & Big Asks – And Why You Need To Know It

Recently I’ve received emails from very different people with an identical message: hey, I’m just going to ask you for a favour.. Favours are good and I like being able to help where I possibly can. I like introducing like-minded people to each other. I like being able to vouch for someone being fabulous. I like skimming a friend’s magazine proposal before it’s submitted. If I can help, I am happy to do so. But, do me a favour has taken a very strange turn. This past week I was asked if I could turn over the copyright of my most popular pattern to a publishing company I had to google (in return I’d  get .. a link to this blog!?). Could I share my email list of clients with someone wanting to work as a technical editor? Today I was asked to donate a substantial monetary-value amount of goods to an event to which I had not been invited (I actually queried this favour and I’ll share the astounding reply in a second). I don’t consider these requests favours – I consider these Big Asks.

Favours are reciprocal – Big Asks are not.

If you are sending an email, ask yourself if you are requesting a favour or a Big Ask. Do you have a prior relationship with the person you are contacting? Do you have mutual friends who can vouch for you? Is what you are requesting something of huge benefit to you but not to the other person?

Favours come with an expectation that at some point the asker will be in the position of helping you out with something. It is a mutual beneficiary situation: if I help a friend by proof-reading his article, he might lend me a place to sleep next time I pass through his town. If I introduce a friend to another friend – maybe one day one of them will introduce me to someone interesting. Sure I end up feeling great about helping out people, but I also know that I’ll have an IOU in future reserve if I ever need it.

Big Asks come with nothing. I don’t know the person asking. The request has come out of nowhere and typically the Big Ask would result in me handing over significant sources of income to complete strangers. In return? Frequently I am promised exposure in the vaguest terms possible – but we all know that is not a valid currency. Once I’ve helped out with the Big Ask, chances are that I’ll either never heard from the asker again or I’ll keep getting Big Asks until I have nothing left to give.

So, you have something you want to obtain – this can be anything from advice on how to pitch a submission to getting more clients or staging a successful event. How can you turn your Big Ask into a favour? The answer is surprisingly simple: ask in a way that will benefit you both. Examples:

  • I’d like all rights to your most popular pattern/photo/song!” = “Do you have a pattern/photo/song tucked away that you’d like to publish through us?”
  • I need a list of your clients/I need an introduction to XYZ” = “Hey, I am really interested in South American farming communities. Can you point me in the right direction? Awesome article on crop rotation, by the way. Do you know Crop Rotation Expert Phil? I’d love to introduce you guys”
  • I am hosting AN AWESOME EVENT OUT OF THE BLUE and I need 150 goodie bags!” = “Hi, I am currently planning an event focused on crop rotation practice. I was wondering how your schedule looks for next March and if you would be interested in hosting a panel on Peruvian popcorn plantations?”

See how rephrasing works? It’s pretty cool, no? You are still asking for something, but you are starting a conversation that might lead somewhere really good.

The Second Lesson: Don’t Sabotage Yourself and Your Project Before You Start

Remember I queried why I was being asked to donate to an event and not asked to work the event? I received this answer which floored me: Because you are too famous and therefore too expensive for us.

My pub landlord used to be in a Glasgow indie pop band – if I were arranging a local music festival, why shouldn’t I ask him if he’d like to DJ or play a couple of tracks? At worst he’d be busy or outwith my budget – but if I didn’t ask I would never know. Is he famous? I honestly hadn’t heard of his band until I moved to Glasgow, but now I realise the band meant a lot to other local bands in the late 1990s. Fame is an exceptionally relative term – someone’s famous musician is another person’s pub landlord. And he still needs to pay bills.

Do not assume that something or someone is out of reach. That is not your decision to make.

Take all your knowledge about favours and Big Asks, and make a list. Who would be awesome to have on your team? Who could help turn your kick-ass idea into a kick-ass reality? Who would be a big draw for your event? Think big and reach out in the way we talked about earlier. You may get a couple of cold shoulders (“Okay, maybe asking Taylor Swift to headline Aberdour Festival was a bit ambitious..”) but you will get responses from many awesome corners too. Remember, it is not up to you to decide if somebody wants to be on Team Awesome – but you’ll never know if you don’t approach them in a friendly way.

My Personal Lesson: It Is Not About Me. It Is About You.

It’s been a really crap week so far with a lot of soul-destroying Something For Nothing emails in my inbox. Hey, am I too approachable? I have been turning down many Big Asks this week. Hey, am I not approachable enough? For every fifteen Big Asks, I get just one favour through and those fabulous emails are usually prefaced with a “hey, I know you are busy but I thought I’d drop you a line..”

And then it dawned on me, that all this has nothing to do with me. It’s about people either not realising I exist (fame is an exceptionally relative term!), people thinking I’m too busy for them (they’ve made their decision without consulting me), or people thinking I cannot bring anything to the game (okay, okay, this one is about me and my poor knowledge of Peruvian popcorn farms). I can fret about looking unapproachable in my green coat and kitschy sunglasses – but that is who I am and my outfit has nothing to do with approachability. I have a contact form, people can get in touch on social media, and plenty of people come up to say hi when I am working at festivals or shops.

So, I’m going to continue be kick-ass at my job. I’ll keep wearing my yellow shoes & my capes. I have some fantastic things in store over the next .. gulp .. eight months. And I hope to find far fewer Big Asks in my inbox and far more favours. Deal? Deal.

March 2015 346

Good & Bad News

Karie as a kid

A bit of Throwback Thursday for you – me as a kid wearing a bonafide islænder jumper knitted by my gran. I seem to remember it was red and white – so very patriotic for a Danish kid!

First Newsflash! you can hear me talk about islænder jumpers, Icelandic yokes, Faroese mittens, Norwegian reindeers and Danish nattrøjer at Cambridge’s The Sheep Shop on June 11 where I’ll be teaching a half-day class on Nordic traditions. I hear some very good things about the shop from Joanne Scrace and Louise Tilbrook and I have never been to Cambridge before – I am super-excited!

Second Newsflash! I am teaching an evening class on the Byatt Shawl at Hackney’s awesome Wild & Woolly on Friday June 12. We’ll talk colour choices, explore clever short-cuts for the techniques used in the shawl and find out how to turn a lace shawl into the perfect pub knitting project (yes, honestly!). I have heard so much buzz about Wild & Woolly from people like Corrie Plutoniummuffin,  Ms PlayfulDay and Allison – I cannot wait to visit.

I was hoping to pack more things into my jaunt south-wards (I’m dying to go back to my spiritual homeland of Brighton and check out YAK) but between various commitments in the London area and train times, I am just amazed I managed to squeeze in two classes! I hope to see many familiar faces at either – do let me know about anything you feel I need to check out whilst in London. Good food recommendations are always welcome!

Now for some sobering news. Sometimes things are put into perspective and I write the following with a heavy heart.

May 2013 486I knew that the Coats Craft division (which includes Rowan Yarns) was sold to a hedge fund earlier this year – other brands under the Coats Crafts division includes Patons, Regia, and the Milward haberdashery brand. Earlier this week I heard some sad news from several corners: the vast majority of UK Rowan Design Consultants are saying goodbye. It is both sad and also incredibly sobering to hear this. The DCs have been the bedrock of Rowan for many years and they have played an important part in both teaching essential skills to absolute beginners and lending technical advice to skilled knitters. Seeing them go is a reminder that the times are a-changing and we are likely to see more changes ahead.

I cut my teeth on being a DC. I was first added to the fold in late 2009, and the first year taught me so much. I learned technical, administrative things like how to work with buy plans and how to implement various stock management tools. I learned about visual merchandising, and how to put together promotional displays. I learned how yarn lines were launched and what knitters were likely to find difficult. Then, as in later years, I learned how collections were pulled together and how to pitch a design submission. I learned about design vocabulary, about colour profiles, and who did what in a yarn company (the differences between a Design Room Manager, a Brand Manager, and a Head Designer). Most importantly I met an awful lot of incredibly interesting and talented people – many of whom I am proud to call my friends.

And so today my thoughts turn towards the DCs who are now saying goodbye. I do not know what happened or why decisions were made – I just know that times are tough for some good friends. If you are in the UK and near a John Lewis, go and hug your DC. They are all brilliant and will go forth and do beautiful things – but they probably need a hug right now.

Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post.

Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

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I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something – seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen – and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded ‘limited-edition’ purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it’s the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don’t see this happening? That’s okay. I don’t think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let’s talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition – everybody’s life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it’s okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it’s awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

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Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say – “Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?”

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they’ve knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they’ve deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about “lifestyle branding strategies” – well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I’m not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes – so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.

Where Are We Heading? Knitting as Lifestyle Brand?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about celebrity, privilege, aspiration and the craft world. Could I have picked thornier topics? Probably not. Apologies for the long rant ahead. I had a lot to squeeze in and I could not always go as in-depth as the subject required.

Thanks to my job I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and looking at personal craft websites. After a while much of it blurs into one giant peach/mint blob of perfectly-coiffured people showing me how to make organic acai berry mojitos in expensively procured ‘authentic’ jam jars. It feels like much of the ‘making’ out there is now designed to get commercial brands interested in working with you rather than about the crafting/making itself. In its own way this reflects the lifestyle websites GOOP and Preserve launched by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively. These are aspirational websites. Websites that  are full of words like ‘artisan’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘mindfulness’ – whilst making you feel you are a bit of a failure for not being tall, skinny, blonde and rich.

This depresses me. The craft revival is precariously close to becoming Gooped and I fear we could be looking at the peach/mint-coloured beginning of the end if we are not careful.

goop

Looking from a knitting industry & community perspective, we are not quite a peach/mint-coloured blob but we are looking awfully white, able-bodied, heterosexual and middle-class. I’ve thought a lot about the idea of privilege in knitting and I’ve had very long discussions with myself – from “Ravelry is showing us such a vast cross-section of body types” and “Knitting makes good clothes super-affordable” to the way I present my own identity online. It took me a long time to realise that the majority of popular patterns on Ravelry show a conventionally attractive white woman as their main photo; it took me far less time to notice how much we talk about high-end yarns. For years we have been having conversations about diversity in knitting, and yet I was strangely reluctant to start designing garments because I am plus-sized (I loathe this term, incidentally). Why did I feel so unsure of my body type in an environment that seemed to celebrate diversity? This was my personal light-bulb moment. The knitting world is not Goop or Preserve, but it is a great deal safer, more conventional and much more aspirational than we may like to admit.  I mean, when one of the most controversial topics in recent knitting times was simply that a guy was wearing make-up in photos, it is maybe time to hit pause and reflect a bit. 

So I hit upon a snag when it came to body image, but there is no denying that I am privileged. I am white, I scrub up nicely in photographs, and I can write fully-formed sentences in my second language from my charming kitchen office in adorable Scotland. It’s a nice mental image, isn’t it? You can almost taste the homemade acai berry mojito, right? I’ve written about this previously – but the knitting community does not tend to share the complexities of our every day existence (a few people do; most don’t). And I am one of the ones who shy away from writing about the darker sides of life. Writing about artisan yarns, authenticity in design, and mindful knitting is a lot nicer – even if it veers awfully close to Goop territory. I wonder if we are seeing a slow slide into lifestyle marketing of knitting? Will the knitting world eventually become a peach/mint-coloured blob as lifestyle becomes more important than what we make? 

trends

In my 2013 post I asked what would happened if we had to be ourselves online rather than a ‘carefully pruned, shaped thing that is presented to you [as] truth’ (to quote the author Jean Rhys)? The overwhelming response was that people were worried about presenting themselves as failures and that they felt compelled to be positive. I wrote that two years ago and I find it really interesting to compare the discussion to the idea of ‘a personal brand’ which is really pervasive in the knitting industry now. We have specialised marketeers now that work on defining brand identities, deliver customised social media content, and create marketing strategies for individual designers. I know some of them (all incredibly talented and hard-working people) and I am happy to see them work with some incredible designers that benefit from having a social media presence etc. On the other hand, there has been a real growth in out-of-nowhere ‘life coaches’ that talk about ‘being your Passion’, ‘finding your personal Joy’, spirituality, self-awareness, and so forth. This development confused me at first as I had assumed professional business advice would be flowing into the industry (accountants, graphic designers, admin tools) but I am wondering if it is the first sign that lifestyle branding is taking over? Working in the industry is now a lifestyle that necessitates a life coach, but not an accountant? Really? Will knitters be the next ones to need gentle guidance?

But going back to the idea of ‘a personal brand’, I have always struggled with this. Like so many other people in this knitting world, I am an introvert. I have a rich inner life; I like spending time on my own; I am quiet; and I like all those stereotypical introvert pursuits like reading a book, writing, and going to the library. Having to talk about myself and my work is really, really hard for me and while I love meeting other knitters, I find crowds quite stressful. Ultimately I rebel against the ‘personal brand’ tag because my job isn’t about me – it is about knitters. I was once asked ‘what do you want to be known for?’ and my honest answer was this: I don’t want to known for anything.’ For me, my job is to be a catalyst: Doggerland was about knitting inner landscapes and enjoying soothing, meditative knits as much as it was about making a shawl. It was about the person making the shawl, not about the person who wrote the pattern. It’s really, really not about me (even as I’m having this semi-rant).

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Finally, a call to arms. Let us focus on the simple things in knitting. Let us make things because they bring us happiness. Let us focus on the knits and the purls. Let us embrace the joy of making something that keeps us warm in the depths of winter or on a cool summer’s night. Let us recognise and celebrate that we are all just ourselves. Reject the commodification of ‘the knitting lifestyle’. Reject narratives that tell you that you are too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too anything to wear/make something. Reject narratives that only tall, skinny, blonde and rich actresses are worth our time. Reject notions that you have to knit with super-expensive yarns or circular needles to be a ‘real knitter’. Be yourself and enjoy your knitting.

Pass me the authentic superfood jam jar mojito.

Yarn Shop Day, Knitting Retreats & Thank Yous

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I’m supposed to be enjoying a long bank holiday weekend, so this blog post will be short and sweet. All photos by Mr D. who has lately begun taking more abstract photos and I’m enjoying looking at the world through his eyes.

First, thank you to everybody who made the trek to the Fluph yarn shop in Dundee this past Saturday for Yarn Shop Day. I lost track of quite how many people dropped by but I loved saying hello to all (including the dogs that people so thoughtfully brought along). I also loved seeing all the knitwear on display – from a stunning Aidez cardigan to the most exquisite cobweb Shetland “wedding ring” shawl.

(Fluph-owner and all-round lovely person Leona also managed to squeeze an unorthodox interview out of me. It includes a question on Eurovision!)

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Later this month I am heading to Yorkshire for another knitting retreat (I’m combining it with seeing far-flung friends). However, I’ve had yet another jury citation – this is the third since November – so my retreat plans may be cut short. I love spending time in Yorkshire, I very rarely get to see these friends and the retreat location includes a short stroll to a delightful yarn shop, so fingers crossed everything works out. I know many of you wonder about knitting retreats – while you obviously have the option of arranging one for yourself, there are a few lovely ‘open’ retreats. Helen Lockhart of Ripples Crafts has been running a regular knitting retreat on Tanera Mor, an beautiful island off the Scottish North-West coast, and I know she is planning more retreats in the Scottish Highlands. You could also opt to spend time in the beautiful Welsh countryside together with Brenda Dayne (of Cast On podcast fame) and Felicity Ford at the Gwlana retreat. I am sure there are other retreats scattered around the British isles – do share your info in the comments section if you know of any!

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Finally, thank you for all your kind words about the passing of my art teacher. It was a hard post to write.

Haere ra

Earlier this month the great-grandson of Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin passed away. It did not make headline news anywhere and I only found out via social media. The news upset me greatly.

I grew up in a very rural part of Denmark. Prime farm country, most of life revolved around agricultural shows, travelling circuses coming to town, and the occasional dance at the local community hall. I was a bookish child and was a regular visitor to the local library. Books became my solace as I felt out of place – I read a lot of historical fiction and I made fanciful, historical outfits for my dolls. I was a lonely child.

When I started 5th grade, Mr Clovis Gauguin was assigned as our art teacher. He had a large, unruly beard and wore colourful scarves. I had never seen anyone like him and his name was hard to pronounce. He began by declaring art classes should have soundtracks and for the next few years he played us everything from 1950s jazz to 1970s prog rock while we painted. Occasionally he’d urge us to bring our own tapes to class.

And he’d show us art.

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Mont Sainte Victoire by Paul Cezanne

His family connections made Post-impressionism the obvious place to start. We sat copying paintings by Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, and (my favourite) Paul Cezanne as well as Gramps Gauguin. Then Mr Gauguin asked us to paint in the styles of the painters we had studied and the paintings were displayed at school. My mum later told me that Mr Gauguin had pulled her aside to talk to her about me. I was going to stretch my wings one day, he told her.

I did stretch my wings. I left my childhood community when I was 18 and moved to big cities doing things I could not have imagined as a lonely child stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to social media, I reconnected with Mr Clovis Gauguin a few years ago and we had some fantastic conversations about art and music. I told him how much his encouragement had meant to me and he was delighted to hear that he had made a difference.

The difference was this: Mr Gauguin showed me there was a world out there filled with art, beauty and truth. He taught me to express myself, to trust in myself and that life could be very different. While many of my passions can be traced back to the Friday afternoons we spent with Mr Gauguin (late 19th century art and early 20th century culture in particular – but also poetry, abstract art and cool jazz), it is very possible I would have discovered these things in my library books. But I would not have known that I had colours and words inside me. Another way of life was suddenly possible thanks to my art teacher.

Nave Nave Moe

Nave Nave Moe by Paul Gauguin

On the day of his funeral, Mr Gauguin’s Facebook feed was filled with stories shared by people all over the world. Unsurprisingly I was not the only one who had benefited from his joie de vivre, his passion, and his encouragement. Concert videos from a restaurateur in the Southern United States who had once hosted Mr Gauguin’s jazz band; Tahitian relatives sharing memories of drinking beer with Mr Gauguin outside a memorial service for his great-grandfather (“Paul hated the church, so in his honour..”); but mostly stories similar to mine. So many people writing about discovering a big, big world – both within and outwith themselves.

I cried when I heard Mr Gauguin had passed away, but he left his mark on the world by inspiring and nurturing people whenever and wherever. Sometimes you do not need to generate headlines to be a big, important person. And he really was such a person to me.

Happiness is a Warm Cardigan

Last week was warm enough that I could sit outside and work just wearing a t-shirt. This week we are back to sleet and snow. It’s Spring in Scotland. This is what we can expect (“if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”). This morning the postman brought me my Scollay sample from the Knit Now office. What perfect timing. I am wearing it on top of a striped tunic, black tights and black shoes. It is perfect. Happiness is a warm cardigan.

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(pardon the poor selfie!)

I’ve spent some time thinking about cardigans lately. I tend to wear cardigans more often than jumpers, and I tend to wear the same two cardigans. What makes a good cardigan in my book?

  • Easy to wear. I have so many cardigans that only go with one outfit.
  • Easy fit. Fit is such an individual thing (and I’m going to write more about fit in the future), but I like cardigans that skim my figure rather than hug it tightly or hide it.
  • Right colours. My wardrobe tend towards deep jewel colours, navy blues, and greys. I need to remember this when choosing colours for cardigans rather than “challenge” myself to step outside my comfortzone.
  • Buttons. I love buttons and I love buttoned cardigans. Unbuttoned cardigans may look chic in photos but do not work for me.
  • Details over features. I like cardigans with clever little details rather than statement pieces with huge, eye-catching features. Hey, that’s probably my taste in all things summed up by one small sentence!
  • Truth to materials. This is an Arts & Crafts tenet that I’ve stolen, but it rings true to me. A good cardigan is knitted in a yarn that showcases the design and will last longer than me wearing the cardigan three times. I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • Long sleeves. I am always cold and short sleeves don’t work for me. I can embrace 3/4-length sleeves if for a trans-seasonal cardigan, but let’s face it, long sleeves are always better. It’s just a shame I don’t like knitting sleeves..

What do you like in your cardigans?

News, Actually.

Some proper news! After numerous prompts I have finally set up a newsletter which will be a monthly summary of what I have been doing, plans afoot and some exclusive previews of future designs. I always find it a struggle to keep everybody up-to-date with all the things that is happening (designs, visits, events etc) so I figure a newsletter is a great way to summarise everything in one fell swoop. You can subscribe to my newsletter below – know this: I’m the only one who has access to the mailing list; I will only send out one newsletter per month; and I am not going to sell any details to any third-party people.




And hey, the Scollay cardigan is now out in general release! Drumroll, please!

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This was the first garment I ever designed and it was knitted in glorious New Lanark DK (spun just down the road from me at a UNESCO Heritage site!). The pattern comes in seven sizes (from extra-small to 3X) and is both charted and written-out. I know many of you loved Dave’s illustrations for my Doggerland collection and he’s drawn the schematics for this one too. It’s just such a nice, every-day cardigan and I love it to bits.

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I am wearing the 1X size in the photos and I’m wearing it with no ease. I have included notes on sizing and modifications because I know some of you like a comfortable fit and other prefer a more fitted version. I’m rather short-waisted and the cardigan hits me below the hips, so I’ve also addressed the length of the cardigan in the notes. Customising fit is so important and I’m going to talk more about that later this year. Also, look out for a proper Scollay knit-along led by Louise Scollay of Knit British – yes, the cardigan was named for her!

Speaking of Louise and news, she’s got a podcast interview with me up on her blog. I was interviewed by her on the second day of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Let me know if you can tell when my morning caffeine kicks in! We discuss future plans (oh, I am spilling a lot of beans), my work/life balance and I’m asked some rather great questions.

Now I’m off to knit in the sunshine. I wound a skein of Triskelion Taliesin 4ply this afternoon in a gorgeous emerald. I bought it last year at Unwind Brighton. So many memories contained in a skein of yarn..

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A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

JessieMcKitrick

Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

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Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

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I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

EllaSkye

Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

ripplescraft

Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

noirem

A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

So, a Few Words About Ball Bands

I have had a couple of conversations lately about gauge and yarn subs, so I thought I’d write briefly about how to read ball band labels.

First, though, two things.

1) The Seaforth hat is now free to download from Ravelry. Go on! One skein of kettle-dyed loveliness will net you a fabulous hat for Spring (or Autumn if you’re on the other side of the world to me). This one’s on me.

2) I’ve updated the workshop page with the last few workshops of Spring 2015. I’m currently developing new classes, so this will be your last chance for some of these. I think that’s a fair warning!

Now about those ball bands.

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A snapshot of what’s on my table this afternoon! I also liked the array of languages. from L to R: Danish sock yarn (or at least a Danish ball-band), British Black Yarns Classic DK, Faroese Sirri Art Yarn, and Malabrigo Rios from Uruguay. Knitting is a global language.

Firstly, you need to understand that the ball band gauge is more a guideline than anything.

Suggested gauge on the ball band works to categorise yarns: this is double-knitting, this is a worsted-weight yarn and so forth. It is helpful for yarn companies as it’s easier to sell a line of yarn if it falls into a category than if it’s an outlier (many LYSs have sections based on yarn weights: “this is the lace section and here are the 4ply/fingering-weight yarns”). This way of categorising yarns makes sense for LYSs – quite simply, categories helps if you stock more than 10 different yarns. Not only can LYS employees confidently recommend yarn substitutions (“Oh, this hat is knitted in Unicorn Yarn DK? We don’t stock that yarn, but you could try this DK from Glitter Kitten Yarns”) but it makes life easier for everybody to agree on what a DK is and how it’s different from a lace-weight yarn.

So there is a definite interest in having standard weights with standard gauges.

However, one thing is what we can all agree upon and another thing is reality. I am not saying this happens but yarn companies may sometimes “force” a yarn into a category even it is actually just a smidgen too fine or heavy to fall into a category. When I worked with LYSs here in the UK, I recommended they always swatched their yarns to learn the handle of the yarn and also (coughs) if a yarn actually worked up nicely at a certain gauge. I am not naming actual examples but there is one UK DK yarn with a recommended gauge of 23-22 sts that I always felt belonged to the sport category with a gauge of 25-24sts.

So, you have a ball band gauge that is a ballpark figure and occasionally a marketing tool. Keep that in mind. The stated ballband gauge does not always spell the truth and should be considered a guideline more than anything else.

Secondly, in a pattern you should always pay attention to a designer’s gauge

Every designer has different gauge and the knitter should try to get gauge (esp. something like clothing, oh my). I often liken knitting to handwriting: we can all agree on what a handwritten R looks like, but it’ll always look slightly different from person to person. Designers are individuals too and as such their knitting gauge is also slightly different from designer to designer.

My favourite example is a Rowan magazine. I knitted two fair isle cardigans out of Rowan Felted Tweed. One cardigan used 3.25mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4” – the other cardigan used 4mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4”. Same company, same magazine, same yarn, two different designers. The ball band says a third thing, by the way.

Sometimes a designer may also deliberately play around with a yarn to get a completely different fabric than a ‘standard’ stocking stitch (whatever the agreed standard is, of course!). These days I think the most common deviation from recommended gauge is 4ply/fingering weight which many people are now happy to knit on 4mm needles at a gauge miles away from 28-30 sts over 4″. On the flipside of the coin I had a pattern where I used a yarn I’d normally knit at 16-15 sts over 4” where I took it down to something ridiculous like 28 sts – it was dense. I explained in the notes that I wanted a very firm fabric and people were generally really happy. For me, it was about communicating why I had chosen such a dense fabric and not followed the ball band gauge.

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So, how to decode a ball band – in brief

Another yarn from the pile on the table is the Rowan Creative Focus Worsted. I thought it made a good little intro to ball bands (especially if you are not a confident knitter).

  • product code: this one always baffles people. When you work with masses of yarn (say, as a buyer or as a LYS owner), you need product codes so you can keep track of stock, do orders, and track best-sellers. Most shade cards also have corresponding product codes.
  • recommended gauge: CFW comes in at 20 sts and 24 rows over 4″/10 cm. That’s pretty much standard for a worsted-weight yarn which is slightly heavier than a DK (which is 22 sts) and an Aran (which is typically 18 sts). Interestingly I get 21sts across 4″ when I knit with CFW. One stitch out over 4″ doesn’t sound like much but it does actually matter when you are working with hundreds of stitches – then that one stitch can mean the difference between a well-fitting cardigan and a sad-looking thing at the back of the wardrobe.
  • recommended needles: guideline, folks, guideline. If you are a loose knitter, you go down a needle size and if you are a tight knitter, you go up a needle size .. after you have looked at the designer’s chosen needle size and swatched.
  • product name: sometimes the actual name of the yarn gives you a clue as to the weight of the beastie. Creative Focus Worsted. Classic DK. Snowflake Chunky. Sometimes you have to look closer, though: Baby Cashmerino? Cocoon? Cascade 220?

If you are unsure about the various weights, the Craft Council of America has a great page about the North American system. The UK system is different (as is the Australian method, the Scandinavian system etc). The best person to ask about the yarn you are contemplating buying will always be your LYS employee (because they should know their stock better than anyone!) and I also recommend asking at your knitting group and, obviously, the designer!

Ah, my few words about ball bands turned out to be 1000+ words. So it goes.

Have a great weekend, folks!