Mee in Mokum

Tour of Amsterdam, anyone?

Quintessential copyLast week, I popped over to see some friends in The Netherlands and have a wee break in the city I’ve loved since I was a child. The first football shirt I ever owned was an Ajax one (which I still wear sometimes as it was that big to begin with!) and I’ve always loved returning to Amsterdam and seeing it again with my older eyes.

BoatName copySome things never change; other are constantly in transformation. It’s a thrillingly beautiful place, steeped in monumental history, and I discover new things each time as well as revisiting beloved memories.

WonkyHousesBridge copyThere’s a timelessness about the streets around the Oud-West that I can’t get enough of. It’s not ye-olde in a persistent, irritating way, but instead a feeling of having got it just right enough that things don’t have to change too much to keep up to date. Of course the bicycles are a big part of this.

BikeSign copyIt’s hard to know why I love bicycles so much. Is it in the Dutch genes? What about the Chinese ones? My parents’ stories of their childhoods spent on bicycles in their respective countries? Is it the freedom I experienced as a tween when I first learned to tune the brakes of my fuchsia Peugeot Monaco and fix my punctures so I could zip effortlessly out of the city, through the suburbs into the countryside beyond? Whatever it is, when I’m in a cycling city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, it’s a happy occasion.

Rustic copyCycling transforms cities into places people really want to live. Traffic is lower, slower, and less entitled to space, people walk more and talk more. Cycling through town allows the cyclist to stop and chat to people they recognise; driving only allows a passing beep. There’s a fluidity to cycling cities that exists nowhere else, as people appear to float along the roads to their destinations, eating as they cycle wearing everyday clothes and shoes with their luggage stowed behind them in panniers. It’s my single greatest source of envy. I want that life.

CafeCulture copyA life spent hanging out in cafés is also deeply desirable, but admittedly more income-dependent, so I’ll just dream about living in a cycling city and treat myself to a coffee every once in a while to taste just a hint of the dream come true…

Westerkirk copyAs well as bicycles, coffee, and canals, this trip found me completely rapt by the rooftops. Growing up in a migrant family meant a house full of trinkets that represented aspects of “home” to my parents, and one of many Dutch mementoes was a row of plaster grachtenpanden (canal-side townhouses) on a high shelf. You could buy each one individually in order to create your own gracht (canal street) in your home, and each year my grandparents would give my dad another one to add to our family’s street. We would choose where to add it into the row, maybe moving around some of the others so it would fit better. The grachten still look like grown-up’s toys to me…

LinedUpInARow copyI’ve been swatching and grading a new design for a couple of months now, and have planned every aspect of the sweater except its name, but wandering the grachten during this trip to Amsterdam named the pattern for me. I guess I should have visited sooner… And no, it’s not in the next photo, which I’ve simply included for its stylishness (such that I struggled to contain visible displays of glee when I spotted it).

StylishType copyI also went to lots of excellent museums, ate fantastic food, and found some good bargains at the markets. But I was too busy doing to photograph any of those things… Sorry.

Stash-isfaction

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I had a busy busy weekend, with an overnight trip to Glasgow’s TCA for The Women’s Climbing Symposium on Saturday, followed by a day trip across the Pennines to Skipton for Yarndale. Photos in this post will be crap (thank you, HTC) and front-loaded, as I spanked my phone’s batter in Glasgow and couldn’t take any rubbish photos of Yarndale on it!

Glasgow was stunning and fantastic as always, and the early morning walk to TCA saw me in one of my favourite spots in the city at one of my favourite times of day.

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The Symposium’s theme this year was Be Bold Be Brave, and the release of the programme only a week before the event meant I had no idea what that would become on the day. Turns out it was a mixed offering, with some excellent speakers and workshops who I felt completely nailed the theme for me, as well as some others that I found frustrating – mostly because their interpretation of the theme seemed to be “women are scared of climbing” and their content seemed fixated on normalising self-consciousness and self-doubt rather than actively rejecting it.

However, one of my favourite things in the world is people excelling and pushing themselves to be better, and for sure there was no shortage of that at WCS. Being around so many world-class women climbers who shared some insight into their training regimes was inspiring in a “I want to go home and do pushups until my face smashes to the floor in exhaustion” way. So I did.

I also met so many fierce women committed to pushing themselves harder, to challenge themselves, set ambitious goals and train to achieve them, and step outside of those comfort zones it is so easy to cosy down into. So, shout out to the amazing climbers who organised, travelled to, participated in, and made the event what it was. I came away with a lot to work on. Cheers!

I always leave Glasgow with a mixture of sadness and relief, and Saturday was much of the same. I’d have loved to stay longer, but I needed a good night’s sleep before a long day in a Yorkshire shed.

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Last year’s Yarndale was a surprise hit with a wide range of fibre fanatics, and it’s no secret that there were a few aspects of the show that didn’t run so smoothly. Credit where it’s due, the organisers took the feedback on board in a receptive and positive manner, and outdid themselves this year, addressing almost every complaint. The event was organised, well-signposted, capacious, and successful.

I hadn’t really gone with anything in mind that I really wanted to buy, and my yarn purchases for the day were testament to how much the ubiquitous hand-dyed merino appeals to me (i.e. not at all), but in keeping with the theme of people being really good at what they do, I did get sucked into some fibre purchases.

My experience of Teeswater looks something like this:

See the long, straigh-ish fibres all aligned neatly with each other to create a slightly shiny yarn? This is what I’ve always understood Teeswater to be, so I was a bit confused to handle a cloud of crimpy grey fluff at Wingham’s stall labeled “Teeswater Grey”. I had to ask if it was a cross, or a breed I’d not heard of, and got such an interesting insight into sheep genetics and fibre supply chains that I ended up buying it (#3 in the photo below), as well as some Romney-Merino cross from the Haunui flock (#1).

Yarndale2014Fibre#2 in the above photo is one of those story-telling things that I love so much. Katie from HilltopCloud lives in the middle of Wales, a country and landscape that she loves so much she has created a fibre lovesong for in the form of her Hiraeth series. Ynys Môn is the Welsh language name for Anglesey, the island that sits on the other side of the Menai Strait from Bangor, on the edge of Snowdonia in North Wales.

Purchases #4 and #5 were entirely facilitated by a pair of understated, friendly women named Audrey and Josie. While Josie was extolling the joys of her Gotland sheep, Audrey asked if I’d ever spun from fleece, and I shared my story of the neverending Zwartbles that I’d given up on a while back. She told me I’d bought the wrong fleece and might have put myself off for life, but kindly took it upon herself to educate me in the ways of buying the correct fleece and preparing it for spinning without the use of any specialist tools. Hence my half-kilo bag of Mule fleece (#4) that I intend to soak later today.

GotlandPileHaving had quite a lot of success with Gotland and Shetland and blends thereof, I took a chance on Josie’s Gotland-Shetland cross roving. I’ve got as far as unravelling it and then rolling it back into a big ball, but it doesn’t feel surprising nor obvious as a Gotland-Shetland cross. I’m really curious to see how it spins up.

What I realised walking around Yarndale yesterday is that I really love my stash. I wasn’t very interested in other yarns, but that wasn’t because I don’t love yarn, I just kept thinking, “I have something better at home… Now I think of it, I can’t wait to knit with that yarn!”. If anyone has seen my stash, they’ll know that I have enough yarn to knit jumpers for a small army, but the point really is not that I have “too much” yarn, but that I have all the types and colours of yarn that I really want to have available to me right now. I feel that I could dive into my stash and dig up the perfect yarn for any project I’d personally want to make. And I’m really looking forward to the next project, and the one after that, and the one after that…

It’s a funny place to get to as a knitter, especially given the Ravelry culture of constant shopping, stashing and yarn-coveting. It definitely wasn’t an sudden thing, as I’ve been losing interest in hand-dyed yarns for a while now, and my yarn purchasing has generally become a far smaller part of my non-essential expenditure, but I suppose it took being surrounded by so many yarny possibilities and not feeling turned on by any of them to realise how complete this feeling is.

I had to mull on it overnight before it really sank in, but I honestly think I’ve reached a point of Stash-isfaction. And it feels good.

Just landed!

Something has arrived on the planet from beyond the stars! What could it be? Why, it’s Futurenauts vs Retrobots!

Also known as Stitch Seekers Edition 2, it’s the latest pattern collection from this exciting New Zealand outfit whose playful themes and razor-sharp styling have all my knitterly friends in a tizz. And this time, I’m so happy to be part of it!

Meet Leela:

Leela copy

A retro-style shift dress with a stand-up collar made possible using Habu’s Stainless Steel Wool, Leela is knitted in Skeinz Vintage, a pure New Zealand wool DK from Napier. The dress is worked in the round from the bottom hem to the armholes, with shaping incorporated in the side panels, then the back and front are worked separately before joining back in the round for the collar, and the stitches around the armholes are picked back up to be finished in the round.

It’s a fun knit that will keep you involved all the way to the end while being within most knitters’ ability. In neutral colours it’s infinitely wearable, with the collar folding over itself into a structured roll-neck, while a high-contrast palette will make for a real statement piece.

The front incorporates a neat intarsia panel that was a total pain to write instructions for in all 19 sizes! Although hopefully it means that almost everyone gets a chance to wear this dress! Here’s a photo of my face when I finished knitting the sample and it has worked out as planned:

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The collection is available here on Ravelry. Blasters at the ready!

Khumbu pattern freebie and thoughts on permitted achievements

Catchy title, eh? I wanted to let yous all know that my Khumbu fingerless mitts pattern is free for the next week in celebration of the first all-woman team to summit K2. Enjoy it now, with the code womenk2: click here to download your copy.

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However, I also want to write about the shadow cast by parts of the mountaineering community over this achievement – because it relates specifically to ideas of what women are allowed to call achievements, and in particular, women of colour. If you’re not interested in gender or race politics, look away now. Still with me? Read on… (be warned, there aren’t many photos!)

Last week, an article in the National Geographic started circulating the Twittersphere. Its main thesis was the debate of whether the first Nepalese women’s team to reach the summit of K2 could legitimately be called an all-women’s team when it was part of an expedition of many teams which included men. There are a couple of reasons why I argue this is a non-troversy, namely that all teams are part of larger expeditions due to the epic danger levels of a summit like K2 and the individual teams are ultimately responsible for their own supplies and communications on such an exped. But I really want to discuss the motivations behind this issue being raised at all.

Obviously, I am not the writer of the NG article, nor do I know who commissioned it under what motivation. But I don’t think that precludes me from commenting on how I see this situation as a woman of colour involved in climbing and mountaineering.

Firstly, let’s clarify who the women in this team are. Dawa Yangzum Sherpa is an ultra-marathon runner, high-altitude long-distance runner, and mountain ranger. Pasang Lhamu Sherpa is a mountaineering instructor and mountain guide. Maya Sherpa is a national weightlifting champion, climbing guide, and two-times Everest summiter. These women are absolutely fucking nails. They are strong, tenacious, resilient, and tougher than my oldest pair of boots.

On July 26, this team of extraordinary women stood on top of the summit of K2, arguably the world’s hardest mountain, holding the Nepali flag and making history. Since then, various people have tried to argue them out of their place in history. Why would anyone do that?

The main argument hinges on the presence of men in their expedition, but this is easily rebuffed. Most K2 expeditions involve about 30 people in the logistics, portering, and climbing of a single team, and every one to date has involved Sherpa guides. If the presence of men in their expedition negates these women’s achievement being that of an all-woman team, then there has never been an all-American, or all-British team at the summit of any of the great mountains. Well, that wasn’t very hard, was it?

Let’s not forget that Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, and Maya Sherpa are part of a very small group of women Sherpa mountain guides. Given that Sherpa guides are an essential part of any serious summit attempt, due to their incomparable ability to survive and thrive in the mountain environment, their expertise at negotiating difficult terrain, and a work ethic that keeps them working in some of the most hostile conditions known to human beings, the all-women attempt would have needed Sherpa guides.

Sherpa women are encouraged to stay at home with families rather than joining the men in the mountain guiding business, due to a belief that children need their mothers more than fathers so the absence of a mother hits families harder. I’m not here to debate the validity of this opinion, just to provide its existence as context for the challenge that the all-women team faced both when becoming guides themselves as well as when attempting to recruit a team for this expedition. Should the social circumstances of an ethnic group preclude an entire gender from achieving a summit bag? The three women in this K2 team coordinated their own supplies and made their own key decisions to reach the summit, something no group of women has ever done before. The failure to recognise the extent of their achievement, as Sherpa women no less, seems less ignorant than willful.

What we have here is a case of women achieving something, and then the world shouting back, “No, you did not, because we hold the power of this narrative and we say you did not!”. Frustratingly, some of the loudest voices are from white women mountaineers, who no doubt know the practical obstacles to organising an entirely all-women expedition complete with support from Sherpa guides. But then, they arguably have the most to lose if this team is accepted as the first all-women ascent.

(Of course, a team of Europeans or North Americans would have had 3 more women Sherpa guides available for their expedition crew than our team of 3 women Sherpas had… and the role of Sherpa people in mountaineering expeditions has long been overlooked in favour of the great white adventurers. But would Edmund Hillary have summitted Everest without Tenzing Norgay? The tragic deaths of 16 Sherpas on Everest in April this year sparked a lively debate about the roles of Sherpa people in mountaineering expeditions for the valorisation of white mountaineers, and led to strike action and protests by Sherpa mountain guides for better protection, pay, and compensation.)

So I’d love to know: what would those women have said if it was a team of white women standing on that summit? And why did they not say this already about the all-American or all-German teams holding their national flags with pride? Why now, when a team of women of colour are standing at the top of K2, does everyone care about the intricacies of their expedition?

Because, from where I’m standing as a woman of colour, climber, and mountaineer, I see people with historical privilege watch aghast as my sisters stand tall on the summit of the world’s toughest peak, in defiance of a narrative that binds them into a footnote in history. Aghast at the audacity of women who defy their social determination, the people with historical privilege want to pretend it never happened. Well, they can’t and they won’t.

Structural inequality still ensures most of us will never scale such great heights, but we can keep the flag flying by refusing to accept the bullshit, by speaking truth to power, and by sharing the story of these three incredible women, Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, and Maya Sherpa. Bad-ass and on top of the world:

21 June 2014: The eagle-eyed among yous might have noticed that some of the wording has changed regarding my use of the word Sherpa, in order to try and make the meaning less ambiguous/confused with “guide”. It has been brought to my attention that people conflate the word for an ethnic group with the word for an occupation, and I wanted to do my best to avoid that.

Colour and Texture: Part II (brick love)

I wanted to discuss my pattern and project photographs with yous. Specifically, my love of the humble red brick.

BricksNow I clearly love this kiln-fired clay block enough to list it alongside wool in my brand, but the reasons for this might not be immediately obvious to everyone! I know it’s maligned by many in the UK due to its ubiquity in working class areas of built-up cities of Northern England, conjuring up images of outhouses, unwashed masses, and damp squalor, but I adore the rich tones of red brick.

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Not the sexiest of backgrounds for pattern photographs, I know, but I’m not trying to sell a lifestyle with my patterns, just the pattern and what you can knit with it. I don’t live an idyllic homesteader’s life on a small-holding somewhere quiet and rural, but a hectic city life in the oldest industrial city in the world.

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I live in a red box on a street of red boxes, in a neighbourhood of red boxes conveniently arranged on a grid. My home is small and dark, my climate damp and esoteric, my garden barren besides some pots and raised beds. There’s nothing aspirational to convey, so why pretend? Instead, I am surrounded by the unpredictable yet earthy shading of this beautiful brick:

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The tonal variation between one brick and another is a reason why it’s tricky to pin down a perfect brick red yarn, but it also allows the colour description to apply to a whole range of shades, giving the “the brick red palette” a richness that reflects the diversity of applications for brick:

IMAG0489(Buckinghamshire cottages)

P1030321(Canal towpaths)

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(Medieval York landmarks)

So, to crack on with the yarn element of this post I’m going to begin with a British yarn that I used successfully for Netherton, a cardigan pattern that features a stitch pattern evocative of terraced rooftops – Coldharbour Mill DK in Russet. Two years on, it’s wearing well and I still love the deep red shade with heathered yellow variation:

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A similar shade of red without the obvious gold tones is Isager’s Tvinni Tweed in shade 28s. I confess I haven’t yet used my skein of this, but I wanted to include it for the sake of the shade!:

TwinniTweed28sA yarn I have used, loved, and come back to time and time again is the best-selling Holst Garn Supersoft. The Bokhara shade reminds me of wet bricks and I can’t get enough of it:

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Red brick’s warm clay tones do often turn to a terracotta sort of shade, and here are some of my favourites.

ColourMart’s 2/9nm Shetland in Terracotta is one of the best. It’s currently sold out on their website, but comes into stock periodically. This hardwearing yarn is another one that some won’t like next to skin, and others will find just fine. I’m in the latter camp and have several garments made from this yarn in different colours:

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Titus by Leeds-based baa ram ewe is a thoroughly local affair, spun in Yorkshire from BFL, Wensleydale, and alpaca. It’s soft, hairy, and drapes to stunning effect. Parkin is a nutty dark orange shade that isn’t really brick-toned, but I wanted to include for its unusual provenance and qualities:

TitusParkinAnother Yorkshire-milled yarn in a similar dark orange is Cinnamon Woolyknit Aran by the Saddleworth company. I have worked a lot of projects in this yarn and return to it time and time again for its value-for-money and toughness, which make it brilliant for hats, slippers, and thick socks:

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I really had to restrain myself much more with this post than with the moss/green one, as my stash overfloweth with warm red/orange yarns, not to mention the odd blue toned red that fits neatly into the category as demonstrated in the top left of this photo:

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I just can’t get enough of these funky blocks! If you’re wondering about that blue-toned red, my favourite is Jamieson’s Spindrift in Cardinal. This is one of my all-time favourite yarns that wears like iron yet is soft enough for many to contemplate wearing next to skin. If I had to choose one yarn to knit with for the rest of forever, this would make the shortlist:

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Its prominence in the urban housing solutions of the Victorian era renders the red brick an heroic object, responsible for the transformation of many people’s lives from shanty towns with no drainage into neat rows of terraced houses complete with outdoor plumbing.

As a symbol of social housing in the industrial city, the red brick takes on an even greater significance than its colour alone. Maybe one day it will be seen as as interesting a background for a photo than cornfields and rolling hills…