Friday, 27 May 2011

Maeve and the Knitting Sailors

Actually, this title sounds like the name of an Irish folk band. Or the name of a good old raunchy sea shanty!

However, I was rather just musing about things when I was cycling into town this morning, and here are the results of my musings.

While my wheels went round and round, I was thinking of a short story I read a few days ago by Maeve Binchy – and an Irish writer is always a very suitable topic for an Irish online site. Yes, I confess I do like Maeve – she’s a great storyteller, and even I  do read some good chick lit sometimes! I hadn’t read any of her books for years though, and only recently picked them up again. Hardly remembering her stories from Victoria Line, Central Line (1978) when re-reading them, I was surprised how good they were! I think these stories have some ‘bite’, something which – while you expect nice and easy chick lit – makes you startle and think ‘oops, not quite what it seems here!’

One of the stories, ‘King’s Cross’, was about a secretary whose aim in life was to help talented women up the career ladder – those who were always pushed aside by less talented male managers who were just better in ‘playing the game’. No, I am not starting a gender war here, but what was so fascinating was that – at least in the story – it only needed a few changes for the woman in question to suddenly make her bosses take notice of her. It started off with improving the outer appearance: look more business-like, re-organise your office, use the benefits you are entitled to (like a clothing allowance or an office allowance) but then went on to self-respect. Once the woman in question realised that people respected her more when she actually claimed what was rightfully hers anyway – this also included her ideas which had been claimed by other people – she didn’t feel the need to make herself smaller no more.

Basically, it was all a question of how to market yourself, but of course it was so much more!

And I was musing about crafts and how it is often belittled, because for a long time it was seen as something that women just did – mostly for no rewards. Of course, that wasn’t always true, because traditionally, weavers were male, crocheting derived from fishermen mending their nets, and many sailors knitted during the long days at sea, but somehow, crafts were seen as either a female pasttime (think of Jane Austin’s women always embroidering or working on some hat) or a female necessity (making clothes, knitting, mending).

We haven’t quite marketed our crafts right yet. So do we need an ‘Eve’ (that was the secretary’s name) to give us the push to claim what is rightfully ours and gain respect?

How often do I hear the words ‘my granny knits’! It evokes an image of a benign elderly lady (complete with lace cap) who sits by the turf fire, balls of wool on her lap (or a cat or both), knitting an Aran jumper.

Now think of the knitting sailors. ‘My grandda used to knit while working on a ship’ just sounds different. I get a sense of adventure – sailors crossing the seven seas, sitting on deck and knitting, maybe singing raunchy sea shanties – one can nearly feel the wind on one’s face and smell the sea s, spray. Pure adventure!

So, thinking of Maeve and the knitting sailors, it is time we market the craft sector better and revamp its image. How much I may love sitting by the turf fire and have a purring cat on my lap, I rather have my knitting evoke a sense of adventure, crossing the seven seas, or even just crossing the channel tunnel in the Eurostar – as I’ve done many a times with my knitting.

Crafting is an adventure, not something we just do!

(The hat in the picture was actually knitted on a boat…ok, it was the Stranraer-Belfast ferry, but never mind…)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Big head...erm...hat

After my disastrous selling weekend, I lost my knitting mojo! I just did not want to pick up them needles anymore. Sewing and spinning went down the drain, too. I just wanted to do cleaning (never happened though), paperwork (happened sporadically) and mooching about (happened a lot). I managed to write though, which was the only creative thing I did.

I felt a bit lost, if truth be told. Those hands that were normally busy now rested uneasily on the chair when watching the news. I wasn’t quite sure what else to do, other than pick up fluff from the floor. I could of course, have whipped out the Dyson, but that would have been far too much effort…

However, this afternoon, my knitting mojo returned! I suddenly wanted to knit a cloche hat, something I had wanted to do for some time. I looked at hat pictures on the Internet to get an idea as to how this peculiar shape is created, and then started drawing and jotting down patterns. This might sound very arty and methodical, but it is actually not. My patterns never quite seem to add up at first, but still work somehow after some trial and error, with a tweak here and a tweak there…but there is never a neat mathematical equation, where everything adds up. There are far to many, ‘decrease two stitches here’ and ‘add one’ there to even something out – I don’t think my patterns could ever appear in a knitting magazine!

Cloche hats are strange beasts. A lot of hats featured under ‘cloche’ aren’t cloches at all, but sneaky slouchy hats, ordinary hats and big floppy sun hats that somehow managed to masquerade themselves as cloches. Cloches are very restrained hats. They don’t have a ‘tea cosy’ shape, but are longer and rounder at the top – and their brim has a very restraint but distinct flare. I wanna funk up da cloche and have some mad ideas of big flowers and massive bows to go with the modest cloche.

So I burst out in knitting, and I think my cloche might indeed look like a cloche. However, it is big again! Even when I am using less than the recommended number of stiches for the needle size, it is still a lot bigger than the average size. It seems, because I have a big head (figuratively and physically speaking), I can’t knit small or normal sized hats, they all mushroom into something big and bold.

So, the cloche I am working on will be big. Hope it will be a cloche, and not turn out to be a glorified sun hat after all.

I shall find out soon…

PS: The hat in question is now available at my store...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Where are the Pirates?

Stop this planet - I wanna get off!

Warning! This is a rant! A very ranty rant. Hardly any swearing though…

I am mad. Hopping mad. Madder than mad – the world is seriously annoying me, so please stop this planet so that I can get off it (hello Major Tom!). I spent two days trying to sell first my knitwear and then my second hand clothing and fabrics at Belfast’s Fashion Souk, and I just had it. Now I love the Souk and it is one of Belfast’s most creative and buzzing institutions, but I seriously begin to despair of many Belfast consumers. Why go to a creative, crafty, designery market when you do want to look like everybody else??? Why do you look at pieces of individual craftman – and womanship, pick and pull at it and want it for cheap mass produced prices??? Why do you not even look at stands properly, but walk around with your nose in the air? Why do you not look for quality and skill in a garment? And what on earth is wrong with knitting and patchwork??? Just because ‘yer granny knits and crafts’ doesn’t mean it is not worth anything? I know some of the coolest old people on this planet, and they can give you a run for your Primarks’ clothing!

Having a very bad day…

When I was at the hairdressers on Friday, I picked up a book on Vivienne Westwood’s designs. There was a picture of a fashion show in 1981, and the models were dressed as pirates. I remember that look very well (and Adam Ant, now who wouldn’t remember Adam Ant in his pirate outfit, woooah). What struck me were three things:
  1. the models looked healthy (and yes, had 80s perms, too)
  2. the models seemed to have fun, and there was so much energy in the picture
  3. the clothes looked crafty, nearly home made, with gorgeous fabrics artily flung around waistlines and heads. People looked like individuals and not like clothes horses!
Where are the Pirates now???

One girl I met today though was definitely a young Pirate. Really inspiring. May you never walk the plank and become an investment banker, even if that idea sounds so appealing – actually, it does sound appealing to me at this minute – help!

I am fed up. I love creating, but there is no market for me where people just want everything to look the same. I will not produce for a mass market – if I wanted to do that, I’ll set up a texile sweatshop and get hundreds of hats and neckwarmers machine knitted with cheap yarn and all looking alike. Actually, right now I don’t want to produce for any market! Friggin’ stupid markets telling people what to buy to feel good about themselves! It is never about the makers, ever!

This reminds me that the goblins in the Harry Potter series consider the maker the rightful and true master of any object, and anything bought is only considered rented for the lifespan of the purchaser.  I am strangely drawn to this idea…

I am a maker – the true master of the object – and do my own thing rather than following the crowd. What is so great of being a lemming? I remember trying it once and it was miserable.

I rather want to be a Pirate. Or Major Tom.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Yes, I feel like bursting into song:

“Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair”

After months in the hair wilderness, I finally saw the inside of a hairdressing salon again. From being a babe who was never out of the hairdresser’s, this running a crafting business has turned me into a walking recession mane, since my money now goes only on food, heating and yarn. And although I knit with a lot of fibres, I have not as yet started to knit my own hair, but if you ever see a neckwarmer named Rapunzel, you can grow suspicious…

There comes a point when you need to see again. Also, I am selling this weekend at the Home and Fashion Souks, and the stallholders, especially those vintage sellers at Belfast’s Fashion Souk, are perfectly groomed, from their 40s hairstyles to their pointed bras and dainty shoes. They look a wonderful advertisement for their goods, while I might look like an advertisement for 80s rock!
The hair had to be dealt with!

So, a shaggy straggly woman went into the hairdressing salon, and a modern gal walked out, looking sleek, feeling great. Go me!

“Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it”

Now I can flaunt my hair, erm, knitwear tomorrow, looking just as hip as my pieces, and not like some scary woman who crawled out of a knitting bag.

A new haircut feels good. Nearly as good as buying yarn…

Monday, 9 May 2011

Your health is your wealth

Jacob wants it to be known that he exercises, too!
“Those who don’t make time for exercise will eventually have to make time for illness.”  
(Robin Sharma)

Headed early to the gym this morning. Early means after 10am for me, because as a night owl, I am not one for jumping out of bed at 6am to greet the earth with a sun salute.

So I hopped on my bike on my gym gear and cycled merrily down the road, feeling very diciplined and fit.

It’s been four months since I’ve started going to the gym twice a week. Luckily, the gym I go to is small, has a cheap rate for people on no income, and while it has all the equipment, you don’t feel surrounded by gym bunnies and muscle men in tattoos. It’s more your friendly neighbourhood place, where you hop onto the exercise machines and do your own thing.

I’m certainly not a fitness fanatic or diet lover, but I’ve come to realise that if I don’t exercise more and pay slightly more attention to what I devour, I will have to pay the price pretty soon. As an IT freelancer, crafter and writer, my habitual position is slouching over something, be it the keyboard, the knitting or my desk. Not only do I get regular backpains and muscle cramps, I also have a kind of hunched standing posture, that freaks me out every time I look in a mirror.

There are times when I get up from an intensive computing or knitting session, and I can hardly stand up straight. Sewing is even worse – I try not to sew more than 30 minutes in a row without getting up and shaking that body, because otherwise I am stiffer than Myrtle, my wire mannequin.

So I now cycle and go to the gym…and I am starting to notice the difference. From being just about able to lift the measliest weights, I now can haul a few more, my back doesn’t complain as much, and I am far more flexible. I also realised that my stomach muscles weren’t dead after all…

A gym session also puts me in a good mood, and I no longer crash onto the bed for a two-hour nap! And on one occasion, a good hard gym session was needed to get me over a bout of extreme grumpiness and frustration after some futile phonecalls to a certain office…

The hardest part is still to get myself to the gym, but what helped is the fact that I set the gym times nearly in stone. They are close to sacred, and will only be changed in exceptional circumstances. This is ‘me time’. I am doing this for myself, to feel healthier and fitter, to have more energy, and to be able to dance the night away without having to sit down every five minutes, moaning and groaning about aches and pains and feeling a hundred years old.

The gym is actually one place where I get many creative ideas. The body does its work, while I let my mind wander off to knitting patterns and blog ideas…like this one.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Tomorrow I get organised!!!

One of my knitting baskets and Simon, the travelling gecko

It is nearly midnight, and my head is so full that I can’t think straight. Too many ideas, and far too many things to do. Papers everywhere, I can’t remember what I am supposed to do next, knitting projects are strewn across the room in baskets and bags, and my Dyson is dying of boredom.
Tomorrow I get organised!
  • I will no longer believe I can remember everything all the time, and will use my diary.
  • I will stop using old envelopes for notes & knitting patterns and leaving them everywhere, but will put them in that diary and my pattern books.
  • I will start a ‘to do’ list again.
  • I will work more systematically.
  • I will not get distracted and start something else because I suddenly remember what I was supposed to do, but will know what to do next.
  • I will have a plan!
  • And I will put that Dyson to use!
A clean flat and tidy studio mean a clear mind!
I will get organised.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Mother Hen

When I started my shop of one of a kind wearable art knitwear, I thought selling would be easy. I imagined my unique colourful pieces handknitted with natural fibre would fly off the shelf and I just could design and knit happily ever after…


I soon learnt that selling is a hard slog and that there is so much more to it than just putting my pieces up on Etsy, or standing behind a stall for a few hours. It’s all about presentation, good photos, having a certain kind of image, networking, networking, promoting, branding, good props, looking the part, promoting, marketing, constantly blogging, tweeting, facebooking…things I never thought about before.
I suppose I always knew that I wasn’t a natural-born salesperson, but what I realised only today was, that I am also really precious about my pieces. Do I really want to give them out of my quivering hands, those hands that worked at them lovingly and for hours and hours on end?
Well, they are no good to anybody cooped up in my various hat boxes and suitcases, are they? They should be worn, flaunted, shown off, felt, matched with lots and lots of different outfits…

So I’ve taken the plunge and gave some of my pieces to a friend of mine who may be able to sell them at her stall. I am also sending a few more to the Etsy Ireland team pop-up shop in Limerick. However, when I selected the pieces both for my friend and for Etsy Ireland, I was like a mother hen, flapping my arms and looking at them protectively, hoping they will go to good homes – and not get lost in the post.
Yes, I know I am supposed to run a business and sell these pieces. Alas…these are my creations…my precious…erm…yes, my own…!
So let’s hope other people will do a better job selling my pieces – it might help if I am not clucking around the knitwear…