Karie Bookish Dot Net

A New Favourite: Brushwork Sport

One of the perks of my works is that I get to swatch a vast range of yarns. My design process hinges on knowing which yarn would be right for a design, and I only get there by swatching several yarns. When I started knitting again after a long break, I thought all yarns were somewhat interchangeable as long as you matched gauge. Many years later I know that a) not all yarns are equal, b) a yarn’s properties goes way beyond its weight, c) fibre plays a huge part, and d) the construction of the yarn is important too. In fact, finding the right yarn for a project can sometimes feel somewhat scientific (as does yarn substitution).

One of the yarns I have swatched recently is Blacker Yarns’ birthday yarn, Brushwork. I have worked closely with Blacker Yarns over the last year or so — they are the main yarn provider for This Thing of Paper — and I understand their passion for producing yarn with provenance, stories, and lineage. We share a strong interest in yarns that belong to a certain landscape and place. After all, a space becomes a place once we pour stories into it.

Brushwork comes with plenty of stories, and, dear reader, one of those stories is that it broke my heart.

As soon as I unpacked the yarn, I knew I was in trouble. It is a lofty, soft, sproingy yarn with subtle flecks of colour. I held it in my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, and it bounced back in my hand. I am not a spinner, nor do I possess a brilliant yarn construction vocabulary, so my best description is that Brushwork reminded me of a cross between Rowan Felted Tweed and Jamieson’s Spindrift — but definitely its own beast. Reading closer, I learned it was a mix of Bowmont, Castlemilk Moorit, and British Alpaca.

Let the swatching commence.

As a personal sacrifice, I swatched twice: first on 3.5mm and then on 4mm. The first swatch gave me a nice, firm fabric. It bloomed slightly upon blocking but retained its shape nicely. It would make for a beautiful cardigan or jumper where the yarn would do most of the work. The second swatch was much drapier and supple. Knitted on 4mm needles, Brushwork would definitely make a beautiful scarf or hat. I began thinking about cables and pom pom-adorned hats.

The heartbreak came when I learned that this is not going to be a permanent addition to the Blacker range. Brushwork is as close to my Platonic ideal of a yarn that I have found — bouncy, complex, soft, woolly, takes all sorts of stitch patterns – but it is not sticking around for me. Instead it will make its debut at Yarndale where you will all snap it up (because you are clever and recognise brilliance when you see it).

Heartbreak in a yarn ball. Which is pretty much the highest praise I can bestow upon it.

The End of the Summer? Hello Knitting!

Outside the sun is shining, but the wall planner speaks the truth: we are close to the end of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. While some people mourn the loss of long summer nights, I am looking forward to the knitting season really starting. While I knit all year, I know many people prefer to wait until the leaves start to turn and the autumn rain sets in. This autumn I am teaching workshops across Europe (see my itinerary here) and I cannot wait to get inspired by all the amazing knitters I meet. Everyone has a story to tell and I love hearing them. Will I see you there? I hope so.

As I wrote in a recent Kickstarter update, my work on my book, This Thing of Paper, is pretty much done now. All the patterns are designed, written, edited, and photographed. All the essays are done as are the schematics. I live with a pile of cardboard boxes in my tiny kitchen — they are all full of Kickstarter backer perks. At the moment I am writing tutorials for this website as well as stories I could not fit into the book (though it will be more than 100 pages long!). I am itching to share all the hard work with you.

So where is the book?

I’m looking at my wall planner and today feels quite awful. I had PRINT! written in big letters on today’s day, but we ran into unforeseen production delays exactly two weeks ago. I have done what I could from my end, but ultimately these delays are beyond my control. I join you in feeling very frustrated, but I can tell you that I’m really proud of what my small team has produced. While I’m the designer, author, and creative director of This Thing of Paper, the book is very much a real team effort. I’ll be introducing you to the designs, the ideas, and the amazing team in future blog posts as we gear up for launch date.

As for knitting, I’m in the peculiar situation of having a tonne of things to show you, but also being a bit in limbo. I have a distinct sense of not being able to turn the last few pages of This Thing of Paper just yet. There are a few collaborations in the pipeline, though, and I’m easing my way back into design concept work. I also have a cardigan on my needles and some swatches of ideas I cannot resist.

For the first time in a year I am back to reading non-work related books(!) and my first proper read was Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. In hindsight, a post-apocalyptic novel set in near-future North America was probably not the right book for my current mindset. I used to enjoy dystopian fiction, but nowadays I feel I get enough of that from the evening news. Then I read Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Code of Misconduct which worked much better for me — despite its constant reminder of the despicable callousness of British politicians which is also way too real. Duran writes intelligent and densely plotted historical romances; I recommend her The Duke of Shadows, a damming indictment of British colonialism and imperialism in 19th century India (the cover is terrible, I know). Misconduct isn’t quite Shadows, but it was equally engaging and infuriating as its central characters clearly struggled with the options within a rigid Victorian society. I have also been dipping in and out of Nasty Women (which shares certain themes with both Duran and Mandel).

Recommendations for fiction and non-fiction alike are always welcome in the comments. I’m really keen to read beyond authors already amplified by traditional publishing and I will happily support small independent presses. So, let me know what you have been reading lately and what you have on your needles?

 

Behind the Scenes! News! Photos! Oh My!

Yesterday I took the day off to have fish and chips at a seaside town with a friend & her dog which was a nice stress buster.  Summer is in its late stages here in the UK — and so is the This Thing of Paper project. Behind the scenes we are very busy with ticking things off lists and making sure that we are on track. It is not quite the most glamorous part of the process, but it feels rather satisfying. Team Bookish has been expanded as a result of all this activity: please join me in welcoming the lovely Penny. Some of you will start hearing from Penny rather than me as she is dealing with day-to-day business while I’m busy elsewhere. I have been working flat-out over the last six months, so it was definitely time to start delegating rather than risk burn-out!

People have begun asking me if the book will be available to purchase for non-Kickstarter backers. Yes, of course! This is one of the things we are currently working on! If you are a yarn shop or retailer who’d like to pre-order copies, please get in touch.

I have been sharing sneaky glimpses of This Thing of Paper. I’ll be sharing  actual details soon, but I thought you might also like to see the photos.

 

Speaking of Instagram, a few people have started a very informal KAL which they call #karielaceshawlkal – I am told there are no rules except the pattern has to be by yours truly (Mahy is getting a lot of love, as is Karise), you tag your photos with the aforementioned hashtag, and you have a great time hanging out with everyone else. No deadline. No yarns you absolutely have to use. No nonsense. We do not like nonsense.

However, there is no rule forbidding me from offering informal prizes! I’ve started a thread in the Ravelry group with more details — feel free to check in there but mostly you should just hang out with like-minded folks on Instagram. I love browsing the hashtag after a busy day and seeing all the creativity on display.

Phew. Back to my list and thank you so much for all your support. This is such a strange, exiting time for me.

This Thing of Paper – An Update

The manuscript has been handed in.

I began working on This Thing of Paper around two years ago. The first concept work, the colour palette and the initial research fell into place around then. Then late spring 2016 I took a deep breath and announced to the world what I was planning. More than 700 people decided to back me via Kickstarter. The work really began a year ago.

In the past year I have learned a lot.

I already knew how to do my job: sketching, swatching, grading, pattern-writing, technical editing, copy editing, styling, organising a photo shoot (and modelling), researching, and sample-knitting (I out-sourced three samples, but the rest was in-house!). However, my job seemed a lot more complex when I had to do all of those things for twelve patterns  — eleven of which are in the book and one which is an exclusive Kickstarter extra. I also had to write essays, press releases, design book extras, and some other extra bits yet to be unveiled. I always enjoy pulling a collection together, but it has been hard work.

In the past year I have learned about the importance of saying no, how important your team is, the art of compromise (and when to do it), and just how stubborn I can be. I have also learned that unkind people will ask me “how’s the book coming along” when I post about being out for my birthday dinner or visiting a very sick relative in hospital (!!). I have learned that good preparation will save a bunch of time, but other things will come along and throw you off. I have learned that I can do more than I thought myself capable of doing.

The manuscript is now with my graphic designer. The book team will then review the proof one last time before This Thing of Paper is printed. I am currently working on all those extra bits that you’ll learn about soon.

I’ll be updating workshop dates this week. Book release date is yet to be confirmed but I should know more a fortnight from now.

Thanks for sticking around, folks! We are nearly there.

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.