Just when we thought we were no longer lost

… they kicked us out into the dirty streets of Atlanta

Nights of the Living Dead by Tilly and the Wall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. If Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Manchester (and now Detroit) are my founts of design inspiration, let’s just say Hotlanta is a long way from knitter’s paradise… It is however brilliant for other reasons, and hosts an array of creativity that should not be overlooked for its incompatibility with toasty, cosy wool.

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Atlanta is not the architectural sweetie shop of Detroit, but it has its own selection of impressive and exciting buildings. Nestled among them in Downtown Atlanta is the amazing Centennial Olympic Park, one of the best-designed multi-use public spaces I’ve come across anywhere in the world. I don’t know if that’s an opinion shared by anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about but my sole criteria for public spaces are that 1) they appear to be many things to many people, 2) have 24-hour usage, and 3) always feel safe. In terms of the way folk seem to interact with it the Centennial Olympic Park delivers strongly on all counts.

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And it’s not the only exciting public facility in Atlanta. The MARTA mass transit system is a clean, efficient underground train network that serves the city’s central neighbourhoods, while the tram loop provides frequent, convenient transportation from Downtown through Sweet Auburn to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, including among other places thoroughly imbued with history and gravity, The King Library and Archives in the King Center, both old and new Ebenezer Baptist Churches, and the birthplace of Dr King.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYous should know at this point that the rest of this blogpost might take on the feel of documenting every aspect of the Dr King memorial site in great detail… It’s a genuine place of pilgrimage for many, I can’t do it sufficient justice in less detail. Sorry! For proper travel tips on Atlanta, try this post by Where Maps.

Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

Coretta Scott-King

Like millions of other children, I adored Dr Martin Luther King Jr. growing up. Dr King and the Civil Rights Movement were the acceptable image of the struggle against racism, injustice, and prejudice – but they were only part of the story. I began to learn about the other anti-racist movements that existed alongside and following on from Dr King: The Black Power Movement, Nation of Islam, and the Black Panthers. Both advocated for a more militant approach to confronting white supremacy and social inequalities stemming from a legacy of racist social structures, although their methods and objectives differed. When I started to read about what Malcolm X had said about Dr King, notably about the March on Washington in 1963, I started to feel as though I had to pick a side. It wasn’t until I attended a talk on Malcolm X’s final years that I learned his position had shifted towards a more reconciliatory tone prior to his death in 1965, and I realised there was more to these figureheads of justice than we were all letting on. I read more about Gandhi and Dr King and discovered that they were both far more radical than I’d been lead to believe.

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I’m grateful that the exhibit in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site doesn’t completely obscure the bigger picture of Dr King’s life and death, showing him as a man who understood the structural causes and social reproduction of racism – who connected the narrative of the Civil Rights movement with his anti-war position regarding Vietnam. It makes clear that Dr King’s advocacy of non-violence was never intended in the giving-flowers-to-coppers way it was later interpreted by the Vietnam protestors and their heirs in the 21st century, but as an antagonistic confrontation of the power wielded by authority claimed through injustice and oppression. It surprised me that a US government bureau (The National Park Service) would share this side of one of America’s great heroes, but I was delighted to have my scepticism challenged.

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As well as an exhibition on Dr King’s life in the National Park visitor centre, the King Center contains additional Dr King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi archives. The full memorial site also includes the house Dr King was born in and restored houses that stood during Dr King’s lifetime. It’s really uplifting to see such a controversial life being treated with reverence and passion.

History has been kinder to the Civil Rights Movement than many other struggles for social justice that occurred alongside and subsequently. So much so that Atlanta now prides itself as being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, leading to many references all over the city. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights has an interactive display that is at times inspiring and others completely harrowing. It goes into more detail than I ever could here (I know that barely seems possible!) and sheds light on some of the more brutal outcomes of the movement.

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Ok, so I’m clearly fairly excited about the legacy of Dr King (and really, shouldn’t we all be?). But at the same time, Atlanta is so much more than its history. The present is vibrant and buzzing with creativity, and as a likely home of my near-future, I hope to discover more of that very soon!

Thanks for sticking with me while I blethered on. I promise more interesting posts than mere city-obsessions are in the works!

D-lights

I went to Detroit again this weekend and, far from losing its novelty value, I’ve fallen even harder for it than before. As my previous post probably suggested, I’ve been obsessing over it fairly constantly for the past few days.

On Saturday, I joined a few of Pure Detroit’s free walking tours and discovered even more to love about the city, from stories of its history to plans for its future. Our guide, Michael Boettcher is a confirmed Detroit enthusiast with a comprehensive knowledge of urban planning and architecture. As he shared his expertise with us, it became even more obvious that Detroit is a force to be reckoned with!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After trying to choose a small(ish!) number of photos for this post, I’ve decided to stick to the more general ones, and reserve my building-obsessive post for a future point in time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a lot of talk these days about its decline following the 2007/8 financial crisis and global recession that followed, but not nearly enough is said about the boom-and-bust history of the city, nor the splendid reincarnation it is currently undergoing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have read too much written about derelict Detroit, seen too many photographs of urban decay and burnt-out buildings, and want to spread the word far and wide that Detroit is not all like that!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a place of grandeur, magnificence, and fortitude, as well as frailty, vulnerability, and lowly humanity, but not enough is seen of its completeness and complexity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When it comes to expressing the sheer affection I have for a city that has reinvented itself time and time again, one crisis after another, words fail me. People say a lot of things about Detroit, but from visiting it and meeting Detroiters, a creative and resilient atmosphere brews there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s enchanting and inspiring. I can’t wait to go back.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear about it, as I trawl through the hundreds of photos I took this weekend – and no doubt take yet more on future visits. Next: skyscrapers!

Detroit playlist I

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Here are some of my current favourite songs about Detroit:

And for something a little longer, here’s Laurent Garnier’s Mix in Detroit.

I’ve been knitting, too!

So, I’ve not really written much about life in the US partly because I’m still not getting settled. As soon as we arrived in Michigan we were told that there was another move planned before the start of the next academic year, and this has now moved forward a couple of months to a mere 6 weeks or so away… Needless to say, this isn’t conducive to really digging down some roots and building any sort of life, so those aspirations are on hold once again.

Factor in a strange transitional season (Spring here is very different to the season of the same name in the UK) and I’m a bit all over the place. I have a couple of designs still in the works but I’ve been very distracted, so apologies for anyone waiting on the release of Schiehallion or Yunling, they are on their ways. While trying to quell my sporadic frustration and anxiety about this ridiculous year of constant uncertainty, I’ve had a bout of startitis and cast on for all sorts of out-of-character projects. One thing that I’ve actually finished is this somewhat unlike-me jumper:

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It was an attempt to use 2 cones of ColourMart’s Corriedale/Alpaca in different colours to make a relaxed-fit jumper with a few interesting features. The yarn is ridiculously soft and fluffy, so although the yardage indicated a sport weight, I found it made a substantial fabric on 4mm needles. The back neck is shaped with short rows as usual, and the construction is a top-down raglan. As well as a looser fit throughout the body and a total lack of ribbing or garter stitch, it uses i-cord edging and a cool overlap at the sides of the shirt-tail hem:

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I worked the sleeves 2-at-a-time and worked the body and sleeves out of sequence to get the maximum length out of the yardage, switching to the silver yarn on the body as soon as I’d separated them at the yoke, knitting until I was worried I wouldn’t have enough silver for the sleeves, and switching to the sleeves until they were the length I wanted in silver before using the remainder for a few more rounds of the body. The body ended up long enough in silver that I could go straight into the hem once I’d switched to the grey yarn, before finishing off the yarn on the sleeves. I could have made everything longer if it was closer-fitting but the point of this garment was to keep it easy and relaxed, and I think that allows the lengths to be shorter without looking undersized.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a great jumper to wear with my favourite jeans, although as the weather warms up it may find itself relegated to the back of a cupboard – and with a move southwards to Georgia on the cards very soon, it may yet stay there…

Given my wardrobe is more suited to the cooler Northern European climate, I’m making some hurried adjustments in preparation for summer in the Deep South. I’ve started exploring linen, silk, and cotton yarns properly for the first time since I learnt to knit in 2009 (so long ago now!), trying to work out how I can make my love for knitted jumpers translate to Athens’ humid subtropical climate. Wish me luck!

International Workers’ Day 2015

So I had written a really long blog post last week, but changed my mind about posting it, so you’re left with the dregs of my writing today. Either way, it’s IWD2015 and my first May Day in the US. It’s not a public holiday here, but that’s besides the point (it’s not one in the UK either, the first Monday in May is.) Still, today is one day of the year that we are supposed to think about the role of workers in our society, one that ritually invisiblises those who make everything possible. It’s not the people in charge who run our countries, but the millions who are forced through economic necessity to wake up before daylight in order to do the jobs no-one else wants to do, or can do, and the thousands of shift-workers who keep us safe and alive on hospital wards and switchboards.

Whether minimum wage and zero-hour contracted, or better paid and more secure (yet probably still facing precarity down the barrel, teetering on the edge of our volatile and unpredictable economic climate, especially in anticipation of a General Election), it’s those of us who don’t own the means of production who make the world go round. Bottoms up.

Today is the day of the year when I generally feel the most complete, utterly ruinous despair at the social condition. A few years back when I started publishing knitting patterns, I chose to use May Day as a ritual day in my working year, when I release a free pattern that is designed to be accessible to most knitters, as a celebration of the people who make my world go round. If I think of functional contributions I can make to improving the economic reality faced by most of us, I end up feeling completely helpless, fateful, and overwhelmed, so instead I’ve chosen to trivialise and make light of something that runs far deeper than any one of us can effect. In any case, while it’s a day I want to make a point of commemorating it would feel utterly contradictory to sell my labour as part of that, so the only logical action is to give a gift. And here is yours: Torx.

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I designed this beanie last summer as part of some experiments with Brooklyn Tweed’s LOFT yarn, which was touted as sharing the appearance of those rustic Shetlands I consistently rave about, while being softer and more accessible to the average knitter. Although, hark at the price! While it’s definitely not a cheap yarn, it does have a decent yardage for its weight thanks to a woollen-spun construction. This also lends itself to a lightweight fabric when knitted at an equivalent gauge to my precious Shetlands.

Also, the colours are amazing.

If you don’t want to shell out for LOFT, then this pattern works well in my perennial favourites of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift (Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumperweight is also a good option) and Colourmart’s 2/9nm Shetland (also Gardiner’s 2/9nm Shetland). I’ve been trying out Polo&Co’s Masgot Fine recently and this is another delectable rustic yarn that I will showcase in the future. Needless to say it slots right into this roster as a prime candidate for Torx.

TorxCrownThe name Torx is a reference to those six-sided star-shaped screwdriver heads that I keep finding in interchangeable sets. I’ve only encountered their usage a couple of times in my life but they do find a way of populating even the cheapest, most basic screwdriver set, as if there’s a commonplace function for them I’ve overlooked. If anyone can suggest what this might be I’m all ears.

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It’s a really simple beanie that is genuinely both a quick knit and easy to wear. I have a couple of these in different sizes that I use to deal with bad hair days and those in-between spring and autumn days when you’re not quite sure if a t-shirt and shorts will be enough. I also love to wear them to dance in, as their lightness allows me to pretend I’m a cool street dancer who doesn’t drip with sweat the minute I so much as twitch a muscle. The delusion doesn’t last long, but it’s fun all the same.

As a basic hat pattern it provides a solid base for experimenting with colour and pattern, and I can think of a dozen colourwork patterns I want to apply to its smooth stockinette body, as well as some ideas on how to exploit the hexagonal decreases for some tricky patterning at the crown. Neither does it have to be knitted in a rustic yarn. If you’re a softness fanatic but want to retain the tweedy texture then Colourmart’s 2/12nm Cashmere/Silk/Viscose/Merino is a great option. But who says it has to be tweed? Go wild.