Holding Still

I don't really remember the point at which I started to lose my voice. It came on gradually, a sort of sinking sensation that built in momentum till I felt like I was dragging round a concrete block all the time. The effort of carrying this metaphorical breeze block took over my ability to communicate and for months I struggled to step away from this desperate need for silence. I didn't want to share pictures, words or thoughts. I put off meeting people or going online for anything more than a 30 second update drop and out. 

holding still

In the face of too many deadlines, a double house move and evolving family dynamics, I'd crumpled and I simply didn't want to play anymore. Old feelings of inadequacy began to creep in and I felt numb about everything. I realise now that I had entirely burnt out and spent months wanting to be entirely swallowed whole by the deadening weight of it. 

Somewhere in this void though someone said something that cut right through it all and spoke directly to me. Sat in an auditorium, comforted by the dark invisibility of being part of an audience, I sat up sharp.

"I realised that most of my fear was based on my own shame, not actually how others see me".

The speaker was Lisa Congdon and she was describing her path back from burn out. In doing so, she unwittingly begun to map out mine too. Lisa talked about the vulnerability that comes with sharing your creative life, about not feeling like enough and about how losing your own curiosity at the world begins to make your creativity shrink. It was at this point I nearly stood up and asked "Can you see me?" Yes, I wanted to speak and what's more, I wanted out of No Man's land. 

Selfcare and I don't enjoy a particularly healthy a relationship. In fact I like to think of us as bickering siblings that enjoy gentle moments of harmony in between the mini battles and scuffles to be free of one another. Most of the time, I'm trying to be a half decent Mother (and Father) while juggling a freelance career. When I looked up from burn out I saw gaping holes in my personal and professional life. I saw my own health, both physical and mental, was in dire need of some tlc. I no longer wanted to bury every bad emotion I felt along with the good ones. I wanted to heal. 

cooking

I started slow. Really slow. I finished up deadlines and didn't rush to replace them. I hung out with a few friends. I started cooking again. I bought some new cookbooks. Then I bought some more cookbooks. (If I'm honest, I'm a little out of control on the cookbook front). I made a list of life admin that can no longer be ignored and I felt ok about addressing it all at last.  I let in things that scared me only once I'd stopped feeling scared. I even called my Mum. 

getting to know the garden

So my plans for this Summer are now simple: make friends with my garden, do a little DIY. I plan to watch my daughter throw herself on a Bodyboard for an entire afternoon and not be making a single list in my head while she does it. I'm going to read a book. Maybe two. If I'm feeling extra crazy, I'll draft some articles I've been longing to pitch.

It means the podcast will be quiet for the whole of Summer while I focus on time with my daughter and myself. I'm sharing the season finale this week and I'm really excited about signing off and dreaming up the final details of the next bunch of episodes. Giving myself the space to dig in to those thoughts and ideas while off a publishing cycle feels pretty good now I've made the decision.

It's time to hold still. 

Holding still doesn't have to mean lack of progress. I've come to realise that sometimes the greatest gift we can bestow on ourselves is time. I'm looking forward to giving us some. 

With thanks to the supremely talented Laura Williams whose post, My Home, reassured me that this slow is a good healing slow. Thank you for your beautiful words Laura. 

 

// End note:

If you've been feeling the kind of overwhelm or numbness that impact your ability to work or create, I would like to once again highlight Mind whose resources and support are vital to those of us battling every day demons xx

 

Fixing Creative Block

Sometimes you just hit a wall and *nothing* happens for you creatively. I'm not making. I'm not writing and every picture I take feels a bit.... meh. 

So I went hunting for inspiration this week and thought I would share some of the goodies I have found because sometimes, we need a creative adrenaline shot. 

1. Podcasts:

I fell out of love with podcast listening as my daily routines changed a few months ago and I didn't have the same space to listen anymore. I've carved out some time lately and went hunting for something new and vibrant. The Slow Home and Blogtacular didn't disappoint.

Blogtacular's podcast is still a baby but they've launched with an interview with Marte Marie Forsberg so expect something that will make your toes tingle and your soul yearn for big adventures with a camera. 

As for The Slow Home, I jumped in with Zero Waste with Bea Johnson and have been hyper aware of my habits at home ever since. It touched me deeply and profoundly and her call to arms that involves " a life of experiences not denial" was just awe inspiring. 

2. Steller

A (new to me) story telling platform that lets you upload images, video and text. The thing I like the most about this platform is you can harvest old content in new ways so all that hard work across a year finds new life again. I'm a teensy tiny bit in love already and have drafted about a million stories that I would love to share. In the meantime, this one helped me find a story when I thought I'd never be creative again. 

3. Mamas who roar 

My lovely friend Jen of Make Do and Mend was recently interviewed by national press and film crews, eager to make a story out of her choices around a more sustainable family life. In a recent Skype call she told me she sat her children down for a chat about what this all meant and I urged her to share that story. She did (read it here) and it's pretty humbling how a mother in the public eye has to answer to the many voices asking if she's making her children weird. She's not. She's really, really not and we need to stop making this a question when women do brilliant and brave things. 

 

"I just ever seemed to quite feel that glowing period that everybody talks about"

Another mother who made my heart swell with pride is Emily at MummyLimited. Emily was brave enough to be part of a campaign in which she was featured in a video telling all about her experiences of miscarriage, anxiety and depression and is now nominated for a Tommy's Voice Award. This award celebrates a mum who has spoken out about her own experience and given hope to others so I sent my vote in immediately. Some of you might remember that Emily held my hand online a few months ago when I told the world I was a regular single mum struggling to make sense of it all. Emily's ability to make us feel better as mothers is uncanny and having her hand to hold made 2015 a much better year for me. If you are moved by Emily's video like I was, please vote. You can find details here

4. Going on a knitting adventure

Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with Clara Parkes and she slipped an early copy of her forthcoming book 'Knitlandia' into my eager hands. I sunk happily into this ode to the fibre community this week and smiled throughout. Clara has a wonderful ability of describing people I have come to know and love in a way that is honest but also a magical version of them where our knitting is appreciated and our efforts celebrated worldwide. If the world saw people through the same eyes as Clara, we would all be better for it. Her starting point is that we are pioneers, explorers and leaders and it is, of course, as it should be. It's out in February and you can find out more here

5. Speakers who awaken my creativity

I was honoured to be a speaker at the annual winter workshop event held by Nuffnang last weekend. While my own contribution left me a little weak at the knees, hearing fellow speakers Sara (of Me an Orla) and Jess (of Love and London) made it all worthwhile. The take home lesson for me was know your platform, love it, nurture it and form a community around it. Watching these two women speak with such passion about what they have grown and love was truly incredible. They've created a world that allows them to earn a living and be creative and it made me hungry for 2016. It reminded me also that there is no greater adrenaline shot of inspiration than being in a room full of dynamic and fascinating people. 

 

What's been keeping your creative this week?

Art Inspired Knitwear {Guest Post}

On the last podcast episode I introduced Renee Callaghan's latest knitwear release, 'The Klee Collection' and promised a guest post sharing all her inspiration. Here it is and I love how much detail and form that Renee has captured from her time spent gazing at Klee's beautiful work. 

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I have always been attracted to the arts. Long before it ever occurred to me to make things myself, I studied and loved things that other people made; paintings, drawings, sculpture. When I began to study art history, it was the very uselessness of the fine arts that attracted me. These objects seemed like tangible proof that the need to create aesthetically pleasing things transcended the basic necessities of survival such as food and shelter. As long as people have existed, they have created objects and made marks above and beyond what was strictly useful. 

And yet… 

When I came to the decision that designing and making things was just too important to me to do anything else, I felt an overwhelming urge to make useful things that people would use—hopefully—every day. I felt, and continue to feel we live in a world full of stuff, much of it mass produced, and that the making of a thing with your own hands is valuable both as an act of creation and as a tiny defiance of the disposable nature of all that stuff in our world. 

This all sounds very worthy, but it is more than that. It is also about pleasure. The pleasure in making things by hand. The pleasure in seeing something beautiful. The pleasure in seeing something beautiful, and then following it into another act of creation…. 

Inspiration is a nebulous thing. A couple of years ago, the Tate Modern put on a wonderful exhibition of Paul Klee’s work and after going to see it, I was inspired to be more creatively ambitious and pursue my hand-knitting design with a collection. I choose a few of Klee’s paintings and started to extract little bits of beauty from them and try to make them my own. 

It was not a smooth or direct path. Sometimes it was a single colour, as the shocking red of Angel in the Making.

Angel in the Making

Sometimes it is a more subtle thing, such as the title of the painting. I took this concept into knit with the idea of an evolving lace stitch, a lace in the making beginning with a single eyelet, evolving as the eyelets multiply and resolve themselves into pretty lace patterns. The Angel in the Making shawl and Angel in the Making sweater were the results.

Angel in the Making Shawl & Sweater

Sometimes a metaphor morphs into another shape in the mind, as did the idea of graphic arm/wings in Angelus Novus.

Angelus Novus

Isn’t she a beauty? I imagined the arms wrapping around the body and turned into a wing-like pattern that envelops the body. There is joy in the simplicity of the shapes, something both childlike and elegant. My interpretation produced the Angelus Novus cardigan

Angelus Novus Cardigan
Angelus Novus Shawl

Twilight Flowers was painted just a few months before Klee’s death in 1940. I love the flat, patterned aspect of the simple geometric shapes and the pops of colour among the muted palette.

Twilight Flowers

Each design features unique geometric lace knitting inspired by the strange and wonderful shapes that run like a language through Klee’s work, and the Twilight Flowers Mitts…

Twilight Flower Mitts

…and Twilight Flowers pullover designs in particular focus on the beauty of simple repeats, and incorporating my inspiration and love of Klee into wearable garments that knitters will make and wear for years to come.

Twilight Flowers Sweater

The Klee Collection is available here.

Process and Journey

Having just spent an entire morning processing photographs, reworking copy and sending out work for final approval, I'm feeling very mindful of the many stages we go through as creatives. Whether it's styling props for a beautiful product shot or pondering the difference between the word 'nest' vs 'homely', I'm always in a drafting process. The part I find the hardest is walking away and admitting that something is truly done for the day. 

That's why I sat down hard when this beautiful image showed up in our #wipsandblooms hashtag on Instagram recently. 

(c) Catherine Frawley

(c) Catherine Frawley

The image was created by Catherine Frawley, a professional photographer and food stylist. You can see the cake recipe and many, many beautiful shots that were part of the Pistachio and Rose Cake process here.  Catherine makes things look beautiful for a living. When she documents a journey, I want to lose myself in it. 

It's always hard picking just a few inspirational shots to share here for #wipsandblooms as I'm torn between ones that truly document the feeling of a creative journey and those that make me want to pause, reflect and notice exquisite details. Catherine's image is in itself a finished product and one that has been carefully considered, styled and edited. This wasn't hastily snapped with a camera phone and icy sticky fingers but lovingly documented, carefully. The image itself is a project as much as the cake (this is, after all what Catherine does for a living). How we capture these moments is something that fascinates me about this hashtag whenever I drop in to see what people have been creating. 

Over the years, one of my favourite process pictures was the simplest and elegantly demonstrates the important details that speak to us as makers and crafters. A few months ago, Clara Parkes shared an image on Instagram with a caption that I still think of today when I'm pondering process. 

I love it when yarn is reluctant to let go.
"I love it when yarn is reluctant to let go."- Clara Parkes

As a knitter I smiled at the image, and looked closer in order to examine the yarn's energy. Clara's words evoked a strong response where I found myself rubbing the tips of my fingers together as I tried to imagine how that particular yarn must have felt both on the needles and once it has been ripped off again. Clara had spoken the language of knitting. 

There's so much beauty in capturing imperfection that I find incomplete projects as satisfying to view as those that are finished and being shown in all their unblemished glory. Still, even with those finished items I find that I long to handle and turn them, run my hands across their surface and learn the frustrations and joys that led to their completion. It is, after all, the process that we capture when we make with our hands.