My friend Karina Westermann, perhaps better known as Karie Bookish, is planning to release a new collection of knitting patterns. Inspired by the age of Johan Gutenberg and the printing revolution in medieval Europe, ten knitting patterns and accompanying essays will be presented in a beautiful book. Her Kickstarter campaign runs until 22 June 2016, which has already smashed her goal of £9,700 in just 25 hours! Read more on Karie’s blog to find out how she’ll spend the extra money.
Karie ” Bookish” Westermann
Meanwhile, I had a chat with Karie about her new book:
Tom: Of course, manuscripts have moved from being written by hand to being printed. The books would be assembled by hand, and that has now also been mechanised. Nowaways, “machine-made” books are the norm. I can see some parallels with knitting, but also some differences. Unlike machine made books, machine knitting is seen by many as “cheating”. I’d love to know whether you’ve found any parallels or differences between creating manuscripts and knitting you’d like to share?
Karie: I was so excited this year when I learned that the Met in New York City had an exhibition called “Manus x Machina” – maybe it is one of those instances when you are obsessed by something and you begin to see it everywhere, but I am really intrigued by the movement from “one of a kind” handmade objects to mass production of objects. While The Met showcases haute couture, I am (obviously?) more preoccupied with the notion of everyday things. Things that were once treasured rarities but that have become disposable through ubiquity.
You’ll have to wait a while to find out what this mystery bit of knitting will become! This Thing of Paper is due for release Spring 2017
For me, the leap from clothes to books is a natural one. From High Street shops to easy online shopping, both clothes and books are objects that can be easily acquired, consumed and disposed (and then re-acquired through charity shops). The cycle of consumption is remarkably similar. Yet this level of consumption is something relatively recent.
I am really interested in how items like clothes or books became so ubiquitous and why we (general we) treat them with so little care. It did not happen overnight and there have been previous intersections (like William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement) that sought to address how mechanisation makes us think of objects in certain ways. I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about these intersections (and I believe we are currently in the midst of one) and how we relate to things through their mode of production.
As for This Thing of Paper, each pattern will be accompanied by an essay that looks at an aspect of this overarching hand/machine theme – you might say a quasi-literary way of writing your way around topic in order to examine it. So, yes, I have found stories I can tell about 14th/15th/16th century book productions that are as relevant to us as makers – and maybe, just maybe, also to us as consumers.
Tom: As you may know, I’ve created a series of gloves called The Reading Gloves, where I took inspiration from classic novels and created gloves to portray some of the main characters. Did you use any specific manuscripts as an inspiration source, and how did they inform the design?
Karie: First of all, I should make clear that This Thing of Paper is divided into three separate sections: 1) Manuscript which covers 14th century manuscripts, 2) Invention which covers 15th century incunabula (early printed books), and 3) Printed which cover 16th century printed books. It is a bit of an artificial divide for a myriad of reasons (as book historians would be happy to discuss about for hours!) but one I have decided is useful for my purpose.
My real love is incunabula – books printed between c1440 and 1501. They are not as visually sumptuous as many manuscripts, but I love them because they combine made-by-hand with made-by-machine to such a degree that you cannot fully argue that they are mass produced objects. I digress – but I have worked quite extensively with the wonderful Glasgow Incunabula Project and was thrilled when they had a special exhibition on this project in 2015. I have also spent time with digitalised collections from the British Library, The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and others. The internet is a wonderful resource, though nothing beats seeing the books in person.
Knitting and books, a wonderful combination
As a rule, I have looked more at the material qualities of the source material rather than the content of the books (though the title of my book is actually derived from a 15th century treatise on the evils of printing!). I find the material and visual aspects far more interesting than the specific books themselves – with one notable exception which is a 16th century embroidery manual which has informed a key design. I am definitely more interested in the abstract, conceptual stories than in the very specific, textual ones. When I was in academia, I started out looking at Books as Literature but I gradually shifted towards looking at Books as Objects – I often think about how that dichotomy relates to how I approach designing knitting patterns. I mean, I’m obviously really interested in designing things that are really wearable, but I am also intensely interested in embedding bigger concepts into my work. (I am still really proud of the Ronaes shawl from Doggerland which is a very pretty shawl, but also had the knitter working with the ideas of liminality and inner/our landscapes).
Tom: the inks used in old manuscripts will have been made from natural dyes or pigments. I’m thinking about a project of a friend I worked on, Knitting The Map http://www.knittingthemap.org/ where an old map of Brighton became the inspiration for a community project using local wools, dyed with plant-based dyes, as the inks used for the map used pigments from the same sources. How have you taken this into consideration for colour choices?
Karie: Yes and no. I have obviously spent time looking at source materials and figuring out the colour palette(s) I will be using. I have an overarching colour palette for the entire book, but each story (or chapter?) will have its own defined colour palette. Many of the pigments used in the original books would have been mineral-derived and made in small quantities (both related & unrelated: here’s a fantastic article talking about why so many of those brilliant colours are unavailable to us today.)
A tantalising glimpse at the colour palette for This Thing of Paper
I did consider whether I wanted to hunt down colours that would have been available in the 14th-16th centuries and I also spent time trying to find yarns that gave me that same sense (because This Thing of Paper is implicitly about we experience things) as paper or vellum did. Eventually I decided that I did not want to replicate or offer a representation of 14th, 15th or 16th century life. Much in the same way I wasn’t trying to reconstruct clothing from that time. What I am much more interested in doing is trying to understand 21st century life using 700 year-old items as a magnifying glass.
Having said that, I am collaborating with Blacker Yarns and a small selection of hand dyers – and all my collaborators are working with me on a colour palette that is derived from the colours I see in my source material – both the gloriously rich mineral-derived pigments of 14th century manuscripts and the more subdued hues you find in aged paper and faded ink in later books.
Thank you, Karie, for talking about your new project. I can’t wait to see it materialise, read the esssays, and see the knitting projects!
This Thing of Paper is due to be published in spring 2017, and I’m looking forward to seeing this book falling on my doorstep.. The next stop on the tour is Devon based designer Ella Austin. You can catch the full list of blog tour participants here.