Tuesday, March 14, 2017

creative chat: Siobhan Watts of Bless the Weather

This morning I'm very excited to kick off the third (!) year of my creative chat interview series! Today I'm chatting with Siobhan Watts of Bless the Weather. Siobhan is a UK based writer, photographer and knitting instructor whose words and images evoke such a strong sense of wildness and creativity. When I first discovered her blog, I quickly fell down a rabbit hole and read through all the archives. Today we're chatting a little more about her creative journey and the story and inspiration behind what she does. Grab a cuppa and join us! 

You can connect with Siobhan over on Instagram or via her lovely blog.  

1. If we were having this conversation in person in a cafe what would you be drinking? are you a coffee or tea person? (or both..?)

If it didn’t mess with my sleep, I’d drink coffee all day and night. I’ve actually gone cold turkey on the caffeine right now because I was drinking too much. Like mamas everywhere, when my baby has sleepless nights I turn to coffee to get me through the day. I just went a bit too far and I was having real trouble with headaches, anxiety and insomnia, which is not like me at all. So now, I’d be drinking a cup of Rooibos with soya or almond milk, maybe a peppermint tea.

2. Tell us a little bit about what you make/do. How did you get started on this particular creative journey?

Im primarily a photographer, shooting documentary style with families, creatives, small businesses and brands. I’m also a knitting teacher and I dabble in the occasional bit of freelance writing. This particular journey of mine started with my blog, Bless the Weather, back in 2009. I’d been interested in photography since I was a kid, I studied it at A-level and loved shooting and developing my own film. The darkroom was my hide out at school and university. I got lost in the transition from film to digital, I’m not really sure what happened but I pretty much stopped taking photos for a good few years. Then my parents got me a digital camera for my 24th birthday, a Canon 450D, and I just started clicking the shutter again. I started my blog to share the (very bad) photos I was taking, and I hoped that by sharing my words and pictures I’d get better and keep doing it. I guess it worked, because eight years later I’m still going! About four years ago, I started to take photography a bit more seriously and tried out shooting portraits, weddings and anything anyone wanted me to do. I’ve honed my skills and style over the years, and am now very happily working as a freelance photographer. It’s been a long old journey, but I’m finally on a road that feels good for me. 

3. I was so inspired when I stumbled across your blog- your words and images blend together so nicely and seem to really compliment each other. Is this balance between photography and writing something you intentionally set out to create? 

Well, this makes me SO happy that youve said this, thank you. It is most definitely something I work hard at. I have been writing my blog for almost eight years, and in the beginning there was a real disconnect between my words and images. It's something I’ve got better with over time, it comes easier now but I’m still conscious of everything looking cohesive. I’m at the point now where my images and writing influence each other. Sometimes I’m inspired to write something because of the pictures I’ve taken, and other times the words come first (or at least the idea for a post) and I try and shoot something that fits. Have you seen ‘The Gap’ by Ira Glass? It really wonderfully illustrates this, how for the first few years when you make stuff there’s a gap between what you’re doing and what you really want to be doing. But you have to push past that until the gap starts to close. I cry every time I watch it because it’s so true. For me, the gap is starting to close and that’s a great feeling.

4. Obviously, being a knitter myself I'd love to know how knitting and fiber arts fit into all this. How did you get involved in teaching knitting workshops/classes? What's been your experience around this? 

My mum taught me to knit about twelve or so years ago, and Ive been fascinated with the whole process ever since. I used to manage the events for a charity in East London, and I started a community knitting group and would teach people who showed up and wanted to learn. I realised I had the patience and a knack for teaching, and I so loved being able to share my skills with others. About four years ago I decided to offer beginner’s classes from my home, to make a bit of extra cash alongside my day job. I taught them every few months for a couple of years, but then when I got pregnant in 2015 they fell by the wayside. Then when my daughter was six months old, I connected with a venue in North London and began teaching all their classes - beginner’s, cables, pattern reading, socks, hats and fair isle. I also teach at a venue in South London too, and am really hoping to get my own back up and running again this year. I love, love, love teaching. It’s so wonderful and just fills my heart with joy to host classes.

5. I'd love to chat a little more about how place affects your creative process. Can you tell us a little bit about where you live and how this influences your work?

I live in South East London, between Brixton and Camberwell. Im lucky enough to have a flat tucked away on some quiet streets next to Ruskin Park, so even in a really busy part of the city where I live is very peaceful. I find living in London quite stifling these days, and I do yearn for space and nature and a slower way of life. My favourite places to go in the city are the parks, gardens and wild spaces, and I’d always prefer to shoot in those surroundings too. I probably don’t take enough advantage of what the city has to offer. I’m always trying to convince my partner that we should run away to the mountains in the South of France, but he’s not so keen! I need nature to feel creative, so I go for a lot of walks in the parks around me. South London is very green, and there are some really special places to be found in the city if you know where to look.

6. How did The Wildness Tonic (#thewildnesstonic) come about? 

The tag itself is inspired by the Henry David Thoreau quote that begins “we all need the tonic of wildness”. I’ve used it a few times over the years on Instagram alongside pictures of woodlands or the seaside, when I’ve retreated to nature to get respite from the overwhelm that finds me every now and again. It only just occurred to me on a recent trip to Northumberland to start #thewildnesstonic and encourage others to share their images and words around the same theme. It’s something that resonates with so many people, retreating to nature to calm their souls and put things into perspective. I love browsing the pictures everyone has been sharing. It really inspires me to get outdoors, even if that’s just to my local park. Trees, flowers, grass, fresh air…it’s all a wildness tonic. 

7. What are you currently up to? Any exciting plans (that you wish to share about) for 2017? 

In all honesty, starting a freelance business while caring for a toddler full time is so hard. There’s so many plans I’d like to be working on, but my main aim for 2017 is just to get through the year in one piece! That said, I am hoping to start up my own knitting workshops again, and I have some vaguely sketched out ideas for photography workshops. Aside from that, I just want to spend time with my daughter and go outside as much as possible. A year for my soul, I think.

Thank you so very much Siobhan for taking the time to chat and for sharing more about your work with us. If you'd like to see more of Siobhan's work or connect with her make sure you do so via the links above. 

Note: all photos courtesy of Siobhan Watts.

This interview is part of my Creative Chat series, where I sit down for a virtual coffee or tea date with makers and creatives to talk about their creative processes, journeys and the inspiration behind their work. You can read other posts in the series here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

monthly quote recap (& a few thoughts on blogging...)

As I always do this time of year, I'm taking a look over the past year in quotes. This year (at the beginning of April) my blog turns four. In that time my life has drastically changed, I've learned so much, and shifted my focus here multiple times. 

I know that blogging is kinda over- everyone's quitting and using their time to focus on things like Instagram or podcasting or whatever else is out there that I don't even know about yet... But I love this space. I still take the time to read my favorite blogs and I don't want to only read things that I can quickly scroll past (much as I do love Instagram...). My posts here have become sporadic and a little disorganized- I have no semblance of a posting schedule and just post when I want to and when I have something to say. This means some months I post once and others I post three times in one week. 

And I'm okay with this. For now, I'm going to keep showing up in this space because it's still a valuable creative outlet for me, regardless of whether the trend is shifting away from blogging. I've got a few plans this year to reshape several things (including this space) but for now, it's not going anywhere.

And now that that's been said- on to my year of quotes! (you can see past recaps and quotes here)

April: "do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
-Theodore Roosevelt

May: "always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder."
-EB White

June: "things are what they are and whatever will be will be"
- from the book The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

July: "mothers carry their babies not for 9 months but for eternity"
- Elder Holland

August: "joy comes to us in ordinary moments. we risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary."
-Brene Brown

September: "now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." 
- John Steinbeck (East of Eden)

October: "all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." 
JRR Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)

November: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming..."
- Theodore Roosevelt

December: "there is no need to be perfect to inspire others...Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections."
-Robert Tew

January: "Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

- Mary Oliver

February: "what's coming will come and we'll meet it when it does" 
-Hagrid (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

March: "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit... it is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions..."
-Ira Glass

As always you guys are more than welcome to share monthly quotes on your own blogs (and even do a little recap post if you'd like once you've collected some!) Please make sure to leave a comment here if you do share so that I can find your post!

Friday, March 3, 2017

a journey into knitting sweaters

I would love to call myself a serious sweater knitter. But the truth is I'm just not there yet.

Throughout my knitting "lifetime" I've knit four sweaters. (For myself- I've also knit a baby sized sweater and cardigan for C, but I won't touch on those today.) It's not a lot, believe me, I know. And it's nowhere near the number I'd planned to be at by now. 

But in looking back at these sweaters, there's a real journey- a story of my growth and improvement as a knitter. I thought I'd share a little bit more about each of those sweaters today: the good and the bad, the mistakes made and lessons learned, the serious successes. 

So without further ado, here are the four sweaters I've knit:

Pattern: Oatmeal sweater by Jane Richmond. 
(see my Ravelry Project Page here)

Yarn: Lion Brand thick & quick in the Oatmeal colorway

date made: December 2013

mistakes made & lessons learned: oh the mistakes I made with this sweater... I did not understand about gauge and the finished sweater (although you can't tell from the above photo) was so SO tight. I also didn't understand about substituting yarn and the yarn that I chose was not the weight that the pattern called for at all. So I learned a lot about the importance of these two elements in a pattern. However, this pattern is clear and concise and really helped me understand the technique to knitting a top down sweater and for that I'm grateful! 

final verdict: I didn't wear this sweater so I frogged it last summer. 

pattern: Lila by Carrie Bostick Hoge 
see my Ravelry project page here

yarn: Drops Lima 

date made: January-February 2015

mistakes made & lessons learned: I really really enjoyed knitting this sweater. I don't think I've ever taken as many WIP photos as I did with this project because I was having such a blast that I wanted to document every stage of the process. This was my first bottom up sweater and again I learned so much about sweater construction while knitting this. This was also my first try with short rows- they turned out quite sloppy actually. As did the neckline and the spots where I joined the sleeves at the armpits. I also didn't do a great job of finishing this and it's quite obvious where I wove in my ends. So I'd say I definitely learned about the importance of finishing. 

final verdict: I actually wear this sweater quite often, despite my sloppy knitting. I did the best I could at the time and am actually quite proud of the result. I wear it mostly with dresses or skirts but occasionally with jeans and a long top. I'd like to reknit this in a different yarn, maybe from the top down and add a bit of length to the body.

pattern: Lesley by Hannah Fetig (from the book Home and Away)
my Ravelry project page here

yarn: aran weight yarn from my Grandmother's stash

date made: July-August 2015

mistakes made & lessons learned: I LOVE this sweater. Not only was it so fun to knit while home over the summer in Canada but the end result is by far my most successful sweater. This was a retry of the top down raglan sweater style and I really hit my stride with this project.

final verdict: Though it's a little bulky I do wear this in both the Fall and early Spring where it's warm enough to go without a jacket but some extra warmth is still nice. I'd like to make a sweater like this again with maybe a dk weight yarn...

pattern: Tamborine by Julia Farwell Clay (from Pompom Issue 12)
see my Ravelry project page here

yarn: Cascade 220 Heathers (colorway Purple Brown)

date made: Winter 2015-2016

mistakes made & lessons learned: This was for sure my most challenging sweater project. A cardigan with embellishments and set-in sleeves, which were totally new to me. I'm very proud of this sweater, though I did make a few mistakes- the seaming on the sleeves isn't great and is quite visible when I don't wear my hair down to cover it, haha. Also I need to re-block this as the button band still rolls and a few of the button holes are missing (I blame pregnancy...) 

final verdict: I knit this in the first few months of pregnancy and by the time I finished there was no way I could button it up so I never sewed on any buttons. Though I do like wearing it open, I think it would be nice to have the option to at least partially button it (from the top or bottom...both sound fine) so I'd really like to get to that. 

Alright. There you have it. It's been over a year since my last sweater and I honestly don't really know why. I will say that I struggle with yarn affordability and access here in Marburg. But I'd really like to make plans to knit a few sweaters coming up. Top of my list is the Rosemont Cardigan (also from Home and Away) and a Fort sweater for Waldi. I'd also like to try Strokkur as my first serious colorwork project and (although it's not exactly a sweater) I'm also loving the Kinton top for Spring. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March's Quote

At the start of each month I pick a quote that applies to what I'm experiencing or focusing on at the time. You're more than welcome to join me on your own blog. If you do, please leave a link to your post so I can see the quote you choose!

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit... it is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions..."

-Ira Glass

okay this is a bit of a long quote for today but it's something that's been on my mind a lot lately. If this resonates with you I recommend listening to the whole quote! 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

a little book called WOODS

(photo courtesy of WOODS)

Today I want to share with you all something very special that I've had the privilege to be involved with. 

You may have seen something about WOODS already floating around on Instagram, your favorite knitting podcast, or elsewhere on the internet. WOODS is an incredibly exciting new knitting book put together by the Making Stories team- Hannah Lisa and Verena. These ladies have a passion for European wool and are putting together the book to showcase just that- natural, breed specific wool, local to us here in Europe. 

It's been interesting to watch the trend over the last few years as more and more knitters start thinking about where their yarn is coming from and how they can be a little more intentional in their purchasing. There are a ton of really wonderful yarn companies based in North America (like Quince & Co and Brooklyn Tweed) that are doing such amazing work. But I think it's important for those of us living here in Europe to be aware of some of the wonderful yarn companies doing just as valuable work over here. 

And that is one of the things WOODS is going to highlight. 

The book includes 11 designs, all using natural, breed specific yarn from around Europe as well as long form tutorials, articles and interviews with creative giants in this fiber art community. Just reading through the crowdfunding page and seeing everything it's going to include has me itching to get my hands on it and look through the pages. If you ask me, this is going to be one of those books that sticks around- it's so much more than a collection of patterns.

I am so so excited and incredibly honored, that I get to be a small part of this project.

My design- the Puzzlewood Mitts (shown in progress above) was selected as one of the patterns for the book. My mittens have been paired with the incredible Black Isle Yarns Gotland and Zwarbles/Mohair blends in two shades of grey. I love love LOVE this yarn. 

And now- for the most exciting part of all. You too can be a part of this project. Hanna Lisa and Verena are currently running a crowdfunding campaign (which you can view here). They've got a ton of reward options that you can choose from, including of course copies of the book, but also goodies such as bonus patterns, tote bags and swag, knitting webinars and even a wooly day with the two of them in Berlin! Make sure you check it out! 

To stay up to date on all things WOODS (and to find out about who else is involved in this project) make sure you follow the Making Stories Instagram account as well! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fall & Winter Book Report

Somehow I thought I was really killing it with my reading list, but in looking back over the past 6 or so months, I've really not read all that many books. But still 8 is better than none and so here they are today, all lined up for you in a nice neat list! 

I've been really enjoying doing these little book reports seasonally (well, twice a year) and this year I've set a reading goal for one fiction and one non-fiction book per month. Hopefully those books will start showing up in these lists but if you'd like to see more you can follow along on Instagram (where I set up a handy hastag for the project of course!). 

let's start with the books from that list:

Talking as Fast As I Can // Lauren Grahame
Okay, so this was a fun read. I really enjoyed the behind the scenes Gilmore Girls stuff (both on the original series and the new Netflix episodes), and hearing more about Lauren's story and early days. One thing I did not like however was how she knocked knitting not once but TWICE. I mean... come on Lauren! More Americans knit that golf... get with it! 

Death on the Nile // Agatha Christie
Waldi and I listened to this audio book while in Scotland and it was a lot of fun. The story was engaging and I didn't figure out whodunit until the very end, which is always fun. Such a good memory from our trip. We're hoping to get a few more of her stories in audiobook form to listen to as well.

Longbourn // Jo Baker
I borrowed this from my mom over Christmas, who received it from my dad, who purchased it from Chatsworth house in England this summer (where the BBC Pride and Prejudice was filmed...) which is kind of fun. I'd heard mixed things about this one but I actually quite enjoyed most of it and thought it was a really interesting perspective on a beloved classic.

I Capture the Castle // Dodie Smith
Heard about this on the WSIRN podcast and ADORED it. Seriously. It was lovable and quirky and well written and perfectly British. Also, it's by the same woman who wrote 101 Dalmatians so that's pretty fun. (and it's listed as JK Rowling's favorite book so, you know, there's that...) Very glad I picked this up.

and here are a few other titles I managed to work my way through:

Knitlandia // Clara Parks
Loved this. I thought Clara's stories were a perfect tribute to this community and the fact that it did so well is also further proof that we knitters are presence out there not to be overlooked- this is where I first heard that stat about the golfers that I mentioned above. If you're going to read this, I would recommend listening to this interview after. It compliments the reading experience nicely.

I Am Malala // Malala Yousafzai
This was a book club pick and I thought it was moving and well told and inspiring. Malala is a force to be reckoned with and it was a very valuable experience to me to read a bit more of her story. I also learned a lot more about the recent history of this specific region in the world from hearing it told from her perspective. 

All the Bright Places // Jenifer Niven
I picked this up on a total whim and though I don't normally read much YA I must say I really enjoyed this. I thought it was a sensitive and nuanced handling of a difficult subject and it was honestly the type of story that made me want to write. It just felt like a book with weight and meaning to me- but I should definitely give a tear-jerker warning with this one!

Lady Crawford // Julie Cameron Grey
I'm almost finished with this lovely little book (pictured above) and I'm really enjoying jumping back into poetry again. I'm finding the poems to be unique and layered with meaning and often find that I have to pause after reading one and let it marinade for a few days before coming back to it again. If you're a fan of poetry I'd definitely recommend giving it a try! 

I'll be back at the end of the month to share a list of books I'm planning to get to over the next few months, but for now I wanna know- what have you been reading lately? 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

knitting in the background

Recently I've been a bit bogged down by my knitting. 

I've been working on some amazingly fun projects. I'm growing as a knitter and a designer and a maker. And while I am so thankful for every opportunity and for the time to let my creativity run wild, at the end of the day I was avoiding my knitting.

And so I cast on a shawl. I've never been much of a shawl knitter. Early in my knitting "career" I made a shawl that was all wrong for me. I chose the wrong yarn for the pattern and the wrong pattern for the knitting season I was in and the finished object was something I never wore. I therefore assumed that I wasn't a shawl knitter and moved on. 

But actually- something about these familiar stitches soothes me, the repetitive motion, the feel of wool & wood. The long stretches of stocking and garter stitch, the calm motion of knitting in the background of whatever else is going on; an early morning conversation with my hubby, a podcast and cuppa during nap time, or sitting on the floor next to C as he plays. 

I've come to realize that I need this- knitting in the background. To ground my day and keep me anchored amidst anxiety, exhaustion, homesickness... There is something healing about this simple craft, something comforting about the very act of creating a beautiful object from nothing but two sticks and some string. 

Just wanted to share these musings with you today.