Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fashion On The Ration

I was talking to some of the knitters from the Archers Listeners group on Ravelry recently, and someone mentioned our trip to the theatre four years ago and suggested that we should have another get-together. I had just seen an article about the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, and thought it sounded interesting, and so a plan was hatched and yesterday morning I was up bright and early to catch the coach to London.

In the end there were five of us who managed to make it along. We met at iKnit where we browsed yarn, chatted and knitted, while getting to know the owner Gerard’s two chihuahuas.

2015-05-02 11.40.04

We then headed off to the Imperial War Musuem, where we had time to look at the display about holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross before going in to the exhibition.

2015-05-02 14.12.52

There were photographs and paintings, like this one by Laura Knight, showing women during the Second World War, but we were most interested in the actual clothes. There were plenty of uniforms, some examples of making do and mending (including a fabulous dress made of patchwork hexagons and a dressing gown from silk maps) and a few knitted things.

2015-05-02 14.21.30

The main focus, though, seemed to be a big display of “Utility” clothes, which included some lovely dresses.

2015-05-02 14.28.58
2015-05-02 14.31.22

We were all very much in favour of the principles behind the Utility scheme. I hadn’t realised before that it wasn’t just about ensuring that rationing standards were adhered to, but also about combating the problem of poorly-made clothes which didn’t last, in an environment where replacing worn-out things was problematic. So very different from today’s disposable fashion!

There were also clothes designed to reinforce wartime propaganda, such as this dress which combines an Air Force wings motif with a quote from Churchill’s speech on the Battle of Britain:

2015-05-02 14.34.29

It was a really interesting exhibition, and about the right scale, too; it took us about 40 minutes to wander through and look at all the exhibits, which made it seem worth the £10 entry charge but not so big as to be overwhelming. And some of the clothes were lovely. If you’re interested in clothes and can get to London while the exhibition is on I definitely recommend it.

Just call me Pollyanna

The theme for this final week of the Love Your Blog challenge is “Gratitude”.

A Playful Day

I’m immensely grateful for everything crafting has done for me over the last ten years or so. Without knitting to calm me down and remind me that even when the world seems darkest there is still beauty there, I’m not sure I’d still be here.

I’m grateful to be a knitter in the age of Ravelry and internet shopping which make it so easy so access patterns and yarn.

I’m grateful to all the dyers and designers whose work enables me to create beautiful things. I’m grateful that I live in a country whose climate suits knitwear, and that I have a job that pays me enough to have plenty of money left over for yarn after I’ve covered essentials.

I’m grateful to be able to take public transport to work, so I have more knitting time.

I’m grateful to Bethan for showing me her copy of Stitch’n’Bitch back in 2005 and starting me on this journey, and to all the other friends I’ve met along the way, who’ve made me feel that I’ve finally found a place where I am welcomed and accepted and loved. And I’m grateful for the way that support and acceptance from others has helped me come to accept myself more, too, and to develop confidence in other areas of my life.

I’m grateful to Kate, for dreaming up this interesting, thought-provoking challenge which has really helped to revive my interest in blogging.

I’m grateful to the people who read this blog and interact with me, either here or on Twitter and Facebook, who make me feel that it’s worth while to keep making the effort to create with words as well as with yarn.

And I’m grateful to the sheep, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank ewe!


(To read more posts on today’s theme, go here.)

Women in Clothes


Roobeedoo has been talking about a book she has been reading, Women In Clothes, and it sounded interesting so I bought a copy of the Kindle edition, which is about half the price of the paper book, so may be a better option if you’re considering it but not sure you’ll love it, though I think it would have been hard to read on a standard Kindle screen (I read it on my iPad). It’s an odd book, unstructured, a collection of responses from hundreds of women across the world to a survey about their relationships with clothes, interspersed with longer interviews, reflections, pictures of collections of similar items from women’s wardrobes. Interviews with garment workers in Asia (including a survivor of the Rana Plaza collapse) mingle with thoughts on make-up, shopping, clothing as art. The book doesn’t set out to present a particular thesis; rather, the eclectic and seemingly random contents seem to aim at building up a more general picture of how women relate to clothing (and to questions of appearance in general – there are sections on body image, make-up and hair).

For me, it doesn’t quite work. The plural of anecdote is not data, not even where there are as many anecdotes as this book contains. There are no pictures of the respondents, which I think is actually a really clever choice – as readers, we share their thoughts uncoloured by our own judgements on their appearances – but I got the impression that a lot of them were young (in their 20s and 30s), lived in cities and worked in creative professions. There were a lot of references to designer brands, to shopping, to parties, to international travel; the sections about sweatshop workers and Rana Plaza seemed to me to sit oddly with these, to throw their shallowness into sharp relief.

To be fair, I don’t think it’s intended to be a serious sociological study so much as an impressionistic celebration of women’s relationship with their appearance. I don’t recall anything being mentioned about how potential respondents to the questionnaire were identified, which it would have been interesting to know, but I suspect that those who responded were more likely to be people with a strong interest in clothes and their appearance; there are a lot of questions and I suspect anyone who wasn’t particularly interested wouldn’t have got through it. Frankly, I consider myself to be pretty interested in clothes, and I couldn’t answer half of the questions. The first one is “What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?”, which I’m not even sure I understand, and a lot of the others are along the same lines. I think that, fundamentally, the book is simply about enjoying and being interested in clothes in a very different way from the way I enjoy and am interested in clothes. The book is about women who are interested in clothes because of how they make them look, or how they make them feel (there’s an interview with a farmer who wants to feel sexy even in the clothes she wears around the farm). Mostly, I am interested in clothes for their own sake, as beautiful objects. I’m interested in colours and patterns and textures, much less interested in shape and style and cut. I wear things more because they are pretty than because they make me look pretty (though wearing pretty things does make me feel pretty, except that sometimes I catch sight of myself in the mirror wearing clothes I think are lovely and see myself looking short, dumpy and rumpled, and my response to that is to spend less time looking in mirrors). If I find something I like I want to buy it in every single colour. At the moment, my dream wardrobe would be a whole series of really simple dresses cut to the same pattern, in fabulous colours and prints and different textured fabrics, with colourful beads and scarves and cardigans to go with them, and really comfortable flat shoes, also in lots of bright colours. (My real-life wardrobe isn’t too far off that, actually.) I really want to make more of my clothes. That’s something the book didn’t seem to cover at all – I’m not sure there were any women talking about making their own clothes, which seems like a big gap to me, and is maybe why it felt so shallow and consumerist.

So, while it was interesting in parts, I didn’t particularly enjoy Women in Clothes or find it thought-provoking (other than trying to work out how I could be as interested in clothes as I thought I was if the book was leaving me so cold). It’s not a book I would recommend, though I know many other people would.

Go, go, go, said the bird

This week’s prompt for the Love Your Blog challenge is “Ugly”. I have to admit that I struggled with this one. Ugly is not a word I use very often. I don’t like its harsh judgementalism. I wouldn’t ever call a person ugly, and as for things, one person’s ugly is another person’s beautiful. A prime example here is shoes; personally my taste runs to clumpy and utilitarian, and I don’t find glittery, strappy high-heeled things (think Jimmy Choos) aesthetically pleasing at all, yet received wisdom is that those are objects of beauty and Doc Martens are ugly. Most people agree that 1960s office blocks are ugly, and yet even they can have their moments of beauty.

2015-02-27 17.37.57

But really, there’s a lot of ugliness in the world. There are wars and repressive regimes, and people so desperate to escape them they crowd onto small boats to attempt dangerous voyages to countries which don’t welcome them even if they get there. There are people who live in safe, wealthy countries who show no sympathy or compassion for those less fortunate than they are. There’s homophobia, racism and sexism. There are people dying after their benefits are stopped, terminally ill people being declared fit to work. There’s the cancer that recently took a former colleague’s wife; she was only a few months older than me and their children are 8 and 6 years old. There are so many awful, ugly things in this world. (Please imagine this last paragraph as a film montage with “What a Wonderful World” playing ironically in the background.)

And there’s not a lot I can do about it. I do what I can; I vote, I donate to charities, I sign petitions (not that I’m entirely convinced that does much). But realistically, my life isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to anyone apart from the other generally comfortable citizens of a wealthy western country who I come into day to day contact with. And human kind cannot bear very much reality. Which is why I spend my time collecting and making beautiful things, as a distraction from my own powerlessness in the face of all the horrors of life. And why this blog, like so many others, may seem unrealistic in its narrow focus on crafting, its insistence on making the best of things (even when I was blogging my way through the depths of depression, I tried to keep my posts here focused on the positive; learning, growing, recovering or even just coping). It’s not that I don’t know there’s a big bad world out there; it’s just that this is my refuge from it.

A Playful Day

(To read more posts on today’s theme, see the links here.)

Everything Changes But Ewe

They say life begins at 40*. Certainly, since I turned 40 last year my life has changed so much it really feels like a new beginning. A year ago, I was chronically depressed, working in a job I hated, surrounded by people I didn’t get on with, in a field I more or less fell into in my early 20s and which I had never really been enthusiastic about. I was already heading full-tilt for the breakdown that came a couple of months later.

2015-04-02 08.06.32 HDR

Now, as I approach 41, I seem to have managed to bid the black dog goodbye, for now at least. I’ve just started a new job, in a different field which I hope I will continue to find as interesting and fulfilling as I have done so far. I have built strong working relationships with my new colleagues. It feels very much like the beginning of a new life. It’s exciting, and wonderful, and also scary and overwhelming at times.

So I’m glad, when it all gets too scary and overwhelming, that not everything is new. I can still reach for my needles and yarn and make one stitch after another, steadying me, grounding me, reminding me that every project is just a series of individual stitches, and every life is a series of steps, and even when it all seems new and strange it’s based on the same techniques I’ve known for years. It’s just a case of putting them in a slightly different order; deep down, the knowledge is all there already.

*In fact, the phrase appears to have been popularised by a self-help book published in the 1930s to help people deal with the rapid increase in life expectancy at the start of the twentieth century.

A Playful Day

(Posted in response to this week’s Love Your Blog theme of “Beginnings”; to read other posts on the theme, go here.)

Finding my people

A Playful Day

I grew up as a geek before the internet. Which was pretty miserable, as I moved from one deep obsession to the next (Narnia, Swallows and Amazons, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolkein, Katherine Kurtz, the Chalet School, Doctor Who, Asimov, Anne McCaffery, Ursula Le Guin) in a world where no-one else even knew what I was talking about. Sometimes I managed to convince my friends to read the books I was obsessed with, but even when they liked them they never seemed to fall in love with them as I did. I discovered Doctor Who Magazine when I was about 12, so I knew that there were other Doctor Who fans out there, but I was pretty sure they were all grown up, and I was only 12. There were half a dozen other geeks in my year at school, and by fourth year, when the whole school year started being taught together for GCSEs, we found each other in the top sets for every subject and became friends, but although they were also geeks they weren’t necessarily geeky about the same things as I was; they tended to be more into epic fantasy and role-playing games, whereas for me it was Doctor Who and hard SF and history and Jane Austen and E M Forster. So, while it was nice to have people to sit with at break and lunchtime, they were fellow-travellers rather than soulmates. And then I went to university and concentrated on being an English literature and feminism geek. This worked quite well and I did meet a lot of like-minded people, but then when I left university I lost touch with everyone as people went travelling, moved to different cities, got caught up in building careers and adult lives and couldn’t find the time to answer letters. And I was back to being a geek alone, working in places where absolutely no-one understood the things I was interested in.

I’d discovered the internet in my last year at university, or what passed for the internet in 1995. I’d found Usenet, so I knew that the internet was full of people who were interested in the things I was interested in and wanted to discuss them, but I didn’t own a computer, let alone an internet connection. It wasn’t until a few years later, after I’d met T, that we finally got an internet connection in his flat. I didn’t have a lot of time online; we had a dialup connection on a single PC, and I was only there on the weekends anyway. I signed up to and mostly lurked, but unsubscribed after a few months because I was overwhelmed by new messages. I did better with, and was disappointed that by the time I got there alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die was pretty much dead.

Where it really took off, though, was Buffy. I started watching the series mid-way through season 2, because I read an article about it in the Guardian that made it sound like exactly my kind of thing, and I was hooked. And by then, Usenet was being superseded by bulletin boards, which I found much easier to deal with, and I joined the Buffy UK board (which was subsequently replaced by Tangent 21). I met one of my best and oldest friends through those boards, and there are other people I still see around the internet fairly regularly. I even conquered my shyness and my fear of London and went to a couple of meetups. And then, in 2002, I decided to try out the new thing lots of people were talking about, called LiveJournal.

Livejournal is a blogging site, but it’s also a community site. It has the best commenting function of any blog site I’ve ever seen, making it really easy to have in depth discussions of posts, while the customisable security settings make it possible to talk about sensitive subjects without necessarily making them visible to the entire internet. And the “friending” functionality made it possible not only to find and read the blogs of interesting and like-minded people, but to show your interest by adding them to your friends list, hopefully prompting them to check out your journal and starting a dialogue that could lead to friendship. I met most of my friends through LJ. I started knitting because other people on LJ were knitting. I discovered SF fandom, which I would have adored if I’d found it when I was 15 but which, in my late 20s, didn’t quite suit the person I’d become. I felt like I really belonged, in a way I never had before.

I set up this blog in 2009, mostly to avoid boring the non-knitters on my LJ friends list with knitting posts. I’d set up other specialised blogs before, but somehow this one stuck. LJ has got very quiet now, though there are still people there and I value it as a space to discuss more private issues with my friends, but my social life has moved away from my space there on the fringes of SF fandom; thanks in a large part to Ravelry, the social space I now inhabit is made up of crafters: knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, sewers, jewellery makers, dyers. Fibre festivals, especially the independently organised ones like Glasgow School of Yarn or Unwind Brighton, are our equivalent of the fan-run conventions in SF circles; our chance to meet and talk nineteen to the dozen sharing our passions, to put faces to names, to admire each other’s handiwork.

Of course, just sharing a hobby isn’t enough. Our interest in making things was what brought us together, but what holds us is our shared interests in other things. My favourite Ravelry group is the Archers Listeners, where we discuss all manner of things only tangentially (if that!) related to The Archers; they were the people who inspired me to start running. Discussions at my knitting group often turn to SF books. There are knitting patterns inspired by Doctor Who, by Buffy, by Star Trek, by Terry Pratchett. We aren’t just crafters, we are people who craft.

I’m so glad I came back to my blog. I’m loving writing again (you might have worked this out from the sheer number of posts!). I enjoy talking about the things that interest me, wherever those conversations take place, but what I’ve missed since the LJ days is the chance to do what I’m doing here, now: to work out my thoughts at length, to put them up here and say to everyone out there, this is what I think. How about you?

(This post was written in reponse to Kate at A Playful Day‘s “Love Your Blog” challenge, on this week’s theme of community and interactions. To read other posts on this week’s theme, check out the links here.)

FO: Byatt

When Karie Westermann released her Byatt shawl pattern in January, I was instantly smitten. I loved the unusual shape of the shawl, and the way it transitions from plain garter stitch to stripes to lace. At the time I’d just cast on for Ysolda’s mystery KAL in some blue and orange Falkland merino from The Yarn Yard, and I couldn’t help thinking how nice those colours would look as a Byatt. When I decided that the mystery shawl really wasn’t working for me, the answer was obvious: frog it, and cast on for a Byatt instead. So that’s what I did.

DSCF7549 updated

I really enjoyed knitting this. I love garter stitch anyway, and by the time I started to feel a little bored of going backwards and forwards I was almost at the slip-stitch striped section, which was interesting to knit without being complicated, and then the lace section was similarly easy to memorise. I didn’t have enough of the blue yarn to do the three repeats of the slip-stitch section specified in the pattern, and had to make do with two; on the other hand, I could actually have done another repeat of the lace, but I think it’s fine as it is. It’s blocked out to a good size to wear wrapped round me, and the merino is lovely and squishy and very cosy.


The only A.S. Byatt I’ve read was Possession, which I read while I was in sixth form and loved. I’ve always meant to read more, so I thought I’d co-ordinate my knitting and my reading material by reading The Children’s Book. Unfortunately, this was less successful than I’d hoped; the book was beautifully written, but unlike Possession‘s compelling literary detective story it didn’t really seem to have much of a plot, and there were so many characters I couldn’t manage to care much about any of them. I’m disappointed, as I really wanted to like the book, but I spent six weeks on it and still wasn’t quite halfway through, and having put it aside to read some Terry Pratchett in tribute to the great man I really have no desire to pick it up again.