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Archived posts from December 2006 to December 2008 are missing their photos. Key posts will be updated as soon as I have time!

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Further thoughts on the issue of Transparency

It's 5.07am and I'm up with insomnia, as is often the case. There are words stuck in my head that I need to make sense of else sleep won't happen. Regular readers here know that I'm prone to writing strongly worded posts like my last one, whether they be a deliberate reality check or a desperate need for honesty. It's part of my healing process if you like, my need to keep myself sane in a world that often feels so alien and constructed. I just wish I had the energy to write them more often.

Thank you for your support and your wonderful comments and messages. Getting all those words out onto screen left me worn out, in a good way, and a little overwhelmed, and my usual reaction is to coil away from the spotlight. There are however many unanswered questions, which is par for the course when you're trying to untangle feelings. Your comments provided lots of food for thought and my brain hasn't stopped churning since. One thing that we all need to talk more about is privilege - the differences in our background, circumstance and support (financial or otherwise). It's a very tricky subject, but it doesn't go away by pretending it's not there.

For those of us in the industry the low wages are not news. I suspect there are a few key earners, but many of the people I know are putting in a daft amount of hours to earn a relative pittance. Many continue despite this because they aren't sole earners or have financial support, and are able to persue their creative dreams. Others continue to do it because they can work an irregular schedule around family, or because life and health means a regular job is no longer an option.

I'm still not sure though why it's assumed that we're earning a lot more than we are. It's not as simple as throwing out a PDF and flogging hundreds of them (I'll remind you of my post about the true cost of a pattern) yet you'll still hear remarks along those lines. Ideas and education never seem to be as valued as tangible objects and that's something quite deeply rooted, but I don't think that's the sole reason.

A couple of comments really got me thinking... comments along the lines of "I had no idea about the reality of designers - all I ever see are pictures of pretty handknits" and "so many designers seem more concerned with image". And yup, it bought me back to that wall of pretend again.

Strong images sell, that we all know. They don't have to be pretty, but it helps. And everyone loves nice yarn, right, and we all want to see it in our IG feed? Marketing would have us believe that unless we share the pretty all the time and have everyone cooing, we won't sell our work. Admittedly, the fact that pretty sells more is something I'll never get my head round, but there it is.

And I can't help feeling that if designers really want to change the industry from the ground up and make a point of how difficult it can be financially, then they need to acknowledge that lifestyle marketing isn't helping. In the efforts to make something look good and attract followers (and hopefully in turn customers), the impression that's being given out is that they too live that lifestyle, and I know that the reality for most is very different. I'm no doubt over simplifying here (you got the sleep deprived bit, yes?) but if we want to bust the myth, then we've got to start telling a truer story.

And the notion that stopped me going back to sleep in the wee hours was this: what would happen if designers, like review bloggers, were transparent about sponsorship? What if designers started to let their customers know that the expensive yarn they see in the photos (Instagram, blogs, as well as Ravelry and patterns) has been kindly provided by the yarn company? More and more bloggers are adding disclaimers to their review posts in the interests of transparency. And I like it. As designers we generally endorse yarn brands, and I think it would be mighty refreshing if more of us took the same approach.

I'll leave you with that idea; it seemed quite a revelation at 3am. Meanwhile, I'm going to make another cup of tea and knit for a while before sending out the final instalment of the MKAL.

eta/ I've heard this afternoon that some designers do state on their patterns that yarn is provided by Xx company, and others are upfront and openly talk about collaborations which can only be a good thing. Yarn sponsorship doesn't just apply to patterns, though - what about blog posts and reviews? Instagram and social media? The law changed regarding transparency for book/product reviewers but how well does that apply to our field?

eta2/ I've had folk ask what I'm trying to achieve with these posts, and honestly, what I'm trying to do is work out where I fit within the industry, and how I feel about so many practices (including my own). Blogging can be just as organic and spontaneous as it can be scripted and scheduled. There doesn't have to be a purpose. And if discussion comes from this then surely that is a pretty worthwhile achievement in itself?

Yes, I took this post down for a while. As I said, I don't deal well with the spotlight and two honest and questioning posts in one week was more than my vulnerability meter could handle. I've made minor edits and reposted by request.


On the issue of Money

For a few years now I've had a whole load of half written blog posts sat in my drafts, posts where I want to write about how I go about work and design and business, and why our circumstances affect those decisions. On why I self-publish and on why I use POD, amongst other things. Yet I still can't get the words right, and some of these things are difficult subjects to write about and I seem to spend a daft amount of time living in fear of the spotlight.

Then last week I did this, because I've had enough of the lack of transparency, and the lack of straight talking.



It's that last line that I added.

The response has been much more positive than I was expecting; there hasn't been a backlash but there has been that telling silence from some quarters. I get that, it's a difficult subject to embrace, but it is what it is and it needs to be said directly.

I've always hinted at this - I've been honest about being far from affluent. Whenever I've been interviewed and the subject of supporting my family comes up, I always also mention that we live a very frugal lifestyle on the outskirts of society, one that sees a great deal of prejudice. There were some kind suggestions of alternatives to the language I chose in this statement, yet I can say from experience that the message doesn't get understand if it's dressed differently.

The poverty line is a measurable, objective thing. Self sufficiency and affluence, affordability and success (or lack of) are all subjective terms. I (we) have lived below the poverty line as it's recorded in the UK for the best part of 10 years, since I was medically retired from teaching. The statement is factual, and it's reality is harsh.

We get by, we're not what most people would call 'comfortable' (an outside bathroom and a lack of running hot water puts paid to that sentiment. But at least we have our own bathroom now). And we get by because we live as we do. Clearly we live on very little, and maybe going forward I'll start to feel more confident to talk about how most of our clothes are donated or from charity shops, that shopping for well made clothes built to last and creating a slow wardrobe seems to happen in a parallel universe. 

You could argue that we made the choice to live as we do, and yes, yes we did. I ran away from a life on sickness benefits in a council flat in a tower block to join Tom in the metaphorical circus - we didn't exactly have a great deal of options and we took the one that serves us best, with no regrets whatsoever. We are far better off like this than we would ever be in a more settled life. 

You'll know that everything about this business I have has been built from the bottom up - I've never had a penny of investment or sponsorship (beyond the occasional free skein of yarn) or even a loan (I'm still paying off the debts that my education cost me - I'd never get a loan, even if I wanted one) - it's all mine. And of that I'm very proud. But it does hinder my ability to grow the business and in turn earn more, because putting food on the table trumps buying supplies each and every time. I don't have the luxury of an earning partner or the safety net of a relative whenever the business (or life) needs something. Fighting an eviction order over the last few years has forced some very hard decisions on the cash front because we needed to build a financial safety net, should the worst ever happen. We managed it; it's not much, and it has to stay where it is, as this lifestyle will never offer the security of a bricks and mortar one.

For much of the last 10 years I've felt out of my depth in this industry, like someone who doesn't belong... simply because I don't have any money. When the average print run for a book costs more than we paid for the bus we call home (the double decker cost £2,000), well meaning suggestions from industry folk telling me to stop using POD if I want my business to grow only adds to that ill feeling. 

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this - my feelings are still very tangled - but I do need to work through it and that means talking out loud. Letting the industry know that designers who are considered as successful as I am are still struggling only has to be a good thing, right? We need to have this dialogue, about privilege and income and circumstance. And we need to be more supportive of each other. I don't want a life in a big house with a big salary and all the materialistic trimmings, and neither do I want sympathy - I just want enough to live on, to be comfortable and to not be kept awake at night by the worry of not earning enough this month.


10 years of Hat design

14th November 2005 saw me publish my first Hat design right here on this blog. Well, on my Blogspot blog which was imported and merged with the website some 6 or so years ago, but here nonetheless.

That first Hat pattern was Tri-Peak, and I still remember that feeling of satisfaction as I closed the top and this structured Hat sat before me.



10 years on, Tucked is my latest design, and I find it very reassuring to see that sculptural Hats are still right here at the forefront of what I do. In my hunt for photos of the original Tri-peak I found *loads* of my old Hats, most of which I worked on before publishing this pattern, and it was wonderful to see them all again (a blog post in the making, perhaps?)



During these 10 years I've explored lots of techniques and structures, and followed many different paths of exploration. From twists and cables to bias knits and lace and extravagantly detailed crown shapings. Every design has been an experiment, and every published design a successful experiment.

Over the coming weeks some of the very good friends I've made along this journey will be sharing their own thoughts about Hats, our relationships and my work for a 10th anniversary blog tour. The tour was the brain child of Ms Knit British and I'm excited and nervous and humbled to read what everyone has to say. (I promise I'll try not to hide, K?)

As posts are published I'll update this post with links, as I think there's a few surprised to be found along the way, and some fabulous prizes to be had! Follow along?


Joining the Dots

Or to steal a recent headline from the Guardian:

'I'm not a hypochondriac. I have a disease. All these things that are wrong with me are real, they are Endometriosis'

If you don't know what Endometriosis is, you might want to follow some of the links at the end of this post. It's an incredibly debilitating disease that affects 10% of women.

If you think this post is going to be "too much information" or that "it's just women's issues" then I'm afraid you are part of the problem. Please read and educate yourself.

You may remember that I was diagnosed with Endometriosis a few years back.

The diagnosis followed a few years of tests and investigations into why I was suffering with chronic pain, especially in my abdomen, and suffered with much of the unpleasant stuff that comes with bowel disorders. I had a CTscan and an MRI and a variety of scopes and all sorts of blood tests and they still haven't been able to determine what's wrong with my digestive system. They've simply said I have IBS (which is not news; that diagnosis came over 20 years ago) and that by process of elimination I should work out what foods irritate me, and avoid them (again, habit of a lifetime).

The MRI did reveal something that might be gynaecological, and I was referred. The Gynae department started their tests, which in turn led to a surgery, numerous biopsies and a clear diagnosis of Endometriosis. It was quite bad - my uterus and bladder are fused, and the bowel had stuck to my tummy wall. The consultant cut the adhesions on my bowel but refused to do the other work, as the surgery was too risky.

And for a while, the pain was much more manageable and my food issues improved a little. That might be because I'd cut certain foods out, or it might well be because my bowel was no longer stuck. Neither of these are rocket science.

As it does, the Endo crept back, and last year I had an ovary removed as I'd developed an endometrioma. The chances of needing surgery again are pretty high - surgery leads to scar tissue which leads to adhesions which leads to yet more surgery.

And in the meantime, I've been researching and reading and trying to look at the bigger picture.

I started my periods when I was 10. I was in pain for a few days at the nurses room in my primary school, with no-one knowing what was wrong with me until the tell-tale sign showed itself. From that young age my periods were always heavy, and invariably pretty painful. I often got dizzy or passed out, or would spend time curled up on my bed in agony. Constipation and/or diarrhea were common and I'd dread that time of the month. In my 20's and 30's things improved a little with hormone contraceptives but by this time I'd just learnt to deal with it anyway - the line "some women have painful periods, you just have to live with it" sounds incredibly familiar.

Looking at it now, it's rather likely that I had Endometriosis from a young age.

I've also learnt that the Endo might be the reason why Aran had such a difficult birth that resulted in an emergency Caesarian and all the complications that followed. I certainly can't have any more children because of it.

And all this suggests that major abdominal surgery might be the reason why the Endo notched up a gear and became the major problem that it is now.

It might also be the reason why I've had so many allergies and sensitivities to foods - I've started to keep track of how bad my reactions are in relation to consultant visits and timing of surgeries. Things do improve afterwards, that's for sure. And if all this is connected, it's likely the Endo is misbehaving and surgery will be on the cards in the not too distant future.

And it might also be the reason why my immune system isn't all that strong and why I seem to get ill so easily. I was diagnosed with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) some 16 or 17 years ago and I've struggled since then to feel truly 'well'. I don't get as tired as I did then but I'm hardly bursting with energy (unless I've had wine).

And it might also be an agent in my depression, too. Not the cause - I'm fairly certain where the root of that lies, but hormone imbalances and digestive issues and immune problems are not going to help.

After the surgery last year I was given the Mirena and the pain went - it was amazing! I could walk without hip pain or constantly feeling skewered; I could sit or stand during my period without the agonizing shooting pains or the feeling of my innards being turned inside out or dread of the 'mess' I'd leave behind. No more nerve pain or cramps that would double me up. But I also went into a major depressive cycle, feeling suicidal every day, and it wasn't until the spring came that I started to add all this up. The Mirena has now gone - my head is in a better state but the pain is back. The pain isn't as bad with one ovary less, and day to day life is more manageable than it has been over the last few years, but it's still there, nonetheless.

All of this is to say that yes, I live with chronic illness. Chronic illnesses that relate to metal health and 'women's issues' and the sort of things you're not supposed to talk about. I'm learning about my health issues and I'd like the people in my life to understand, too.

And I'm very glad that the Guardian published a series of articles on Endometriosis, as now the dialogue has started. No more patting of the head and being told to live with it. Endometriosis IS a disease, a horrible, horrible disease, and just like mental health it needs a lot more understanding and funding, and a lot less necks in the sand. Many thanks to Joanne Scrace for bringing these articles to my attention.


What is Endometriosis?

"I'm not a hypochondriac. I have a disease. All these things that are wrong with me are real, they are endometriosis"

"No-one believed I could be in such pain from a period"

"20 things every woman and doctor should know about Endometriosis"


Additional links:


It's Mystery KAL time!

I know, I know... a spurt of posts and then silence for a month. I've been away to Switzerland to teach, which was fun, and mostly I've been keeping my head down working ridiculously long hours. It's the busy season and there's lots to organise and say and there are only so many hours in the day. We're mostly OK, just tired!

And just like that, we're in November. And I can't not talk about the MKAL.



As of today, the MKAL is on sale for the price of £3. Style wise we're looking at something different to previous years, something more fitted, yet still suits a wide range of faces and hair lengths.

Yarn wise, we're looking at worsted, and a semi-solid or solid, ideally, as there's lots of texture in this one! There's room to mix up yarns, as the first part of the Hat is quite plain, and there's an optional bobble, and they'd look fabulous knit in a contrast or highly variegated yarn, with the main section in your solid.

The Introduction file as always includes a range of gauges, and you could quite happily work with yarn somewhere between DK and Aran. Obviously you'll need to swatch and measure your head to get the best results, but there's some flexibility and style options and fun to be had!

The Ravelry discussion thread is already busy with yarn choices and gauge checks, which is great to see! We had such a lively KAL for Tucked and I really hope that carries on with the MKAL, too. It's always such a treat to see so many Hats and so much lively discourse :)

There's lots more information on the Mystery pattern page and on Ravelry - do pop over and join in? See you there!

eta/ and of course daft me forget to tell you about the PRIZES.



This is a prototype project bag for a design I've developed. There are lots of Japanese knot bags out there - that's nothing new. But I find most of them too big for Hats, or the straps too long (I knit as I walk around the supermarket - a long strap and/or big bag just gets in the way) or the base was too curved and the thing wouldn't sit straight. Well, this is one that sits snuggly and comfortably on the wrist, is nice and compact and Hat sized, and has a square base.

And because I like seamless things, it has an invisible seam construction (i.e. there's no visible turn-through seam. Which in turn means there's a small amount of hand sewing)

The fabrics are all from my stash (erm, lots of circles) and it also has fancy-pants labels!

I've made a whole bunch of these and I have them stored away for KAL prizes. The first 5 have gone out to winners of the Tucked KAL, and there will be 5 on offer for the MKAL, too. I'd like to be able to offer them for KALs in the future too (provided I don't fall out with sewing again)

Something hand-made as a prize is a bit special. It makes me very happy to be able to offer these. And in addition, I'm sourcing yarn so there'll be 100g of yarn to go with the bag, so you'll be fully set for Hat knitting. Where else would you get such prizes?!