From Dorset With Love

Can we take a moment to celebrate the power of female friendship please?

Flowers and friendship.jpg

Excellent.

I spent last weekend running workshops with a group of women so creative and amazing, I felt like I moonwalked right out of the teaching space. I jumped in a cab and checked my phone. I saw the happiest of news: my good friend is totally having her moment and causing a big buzz around her new collection launch. It felt so good to see women just owning their ambitions and working with clarity and focus to achieve them. 

I had the pleasure of shooting this special collection a few months ago. It was my first full shoot with models and I was more than a little nervous about getting my friend, Clare Devine,  what she needed. When the samples arrived, I was instantly inspired and moved them around in my hands, examining seams, hems, details..... the feel and look of each piece. The colour choices reminded me so much of the nature tones that inspire me here everyday and I felt a new confidence. 

'Lulworth Cove', available on Ravelry. 

'Lulworth Cove', available on Ravelry. 

I contacted friends to help and put together a day full of pictures, laughter and happiness. I really think you can tell how much fun we had. 

'Corfe Castle', available on Ravelry

'Corfe Castle', available on Ravelry

The collection is called, 'From Dorset with Love' and includes Clare's first sweater design (and it's a goodie). Each piece is a wardrobe staple, thoughtfully designed to make it a pleasure to knit and sit *just* right when worn. Clare is releasing these over the coming week and I have a special code for you today if you wish to knit your new favourite project. 

To enjoy 20% off at checkout when shopping on Ravelry, you can use the code '"APD20"

'Swyres Head' available on Ravelry

'Swyres Head' available on Ravelry

I'd like to shout out a few lovelies who also helped make this shoot special:

Model extraordinaire- Sarah Knight

White Striped Dress- STALF 

Beautiful Bouquet- Beards and Daisies (my go to florist, every shoot)

And my dear friend Elaine who doesn't have an online presence for me to link to for you to go and high five her, sadly. She's quiet and gentle and finds the big wide world of the internet a bit intimidating. Let's not tell her we're all pouring over her photos and finding her cute as a button shall we?

Happy knitting! x

 

New Workshops (& a confession)

So it turns out I'm headed to Ireland in May to teach A WHOLE WEEKEND OF WORKSHOPS. 

*breathes into a paper bag*

First up, let me share those details before I clean pass out and then I'm going to reassure you all why it's going to be ok. There will be 3 workshops for anyone looking to improve their writing, photography and social media skills. The dates are 13th-14th May and tickets are selling, now. This is a weekend focusing on making the best of what you put out there in the world whether you're a blogger who really wants to take better photos or a business owner determined that you're going to nail online marketing. I'll be hosted by the good folks at This Is Knit, based in Dublin. I hear there will also be some sort of partying and such. This pleases me enormously. 

Feeling vulnerable online

So now you know the details, let's get back to that paper bag moment. Putting yourself out there, whether it's online or in real life, can be pretty scary. You tell yourself all kinds of lies that one day, it will be easier. You tell yourself a magic number of Instagram followers that will mean you've made it. You tell yourself that when that blogger snaps herself clutching your product, you'll find marketing a complete breeze. Landing a feature article in that magazine you love so much? Oh it will all be so, so much easier to be out there because by then, you will be A Thing. 

I hate to break it to you but that's not a thing really. Some of the most insecure people I've worked with are some of the most prolific, talented, well known and respected people. We are all still working at it and trying to make it through the day without digitally falling flat on our face. Heck, I'd settle for just not spilling coffee down my front most days. 

Coffee

So you know what? I'm saying I'm going to be in a room full of people who feel just like me and my paper bag and that's going to be great for all of us. I'm going to be listening to what really makes people tick and what makes them feel they can't ramp up. In return for that, I'm going to be sharing all my experiences as a blogger but also as a brand manager and freelance journalist. It is hard. We can make it easier to feel less vulnerable when we share online and I'd even say, feel good when we do.  

Just know I'm right there, still working at it too. 

(Then come book those tickets because that helps immensely in getting this feel good out there. Here's those workshops again: Discover Your Writing Style; Telling Your Story Online & Getting to Grips with Visual Storytelling). 

 

Prym Ergonomics

Anyone who knows the pain of RSI will share my obsession with trying to find more ergonomic options. Between a screen habit and a craft habit, my wrists take quite a bashing and wrist pain is something I have to actively work hard to avoid. Just as you need to test to find a well fitted trainer for your body's needs before you head off on a run, you need to road test and try out what needles work for your individual knitting style. 

Prym ergonomic knitting needles

A few weeks ago Prym launched a new type of knitting needle and contacted me to road test them. The word 'ergonomic' stood out enticingly from the email so last weekend I tucked up with the dpns and cast something on. Prym Ergonomics needles are made of a polished high-performance synthetic material that's especially light and flexible. Having always opted for metal as I prefer the smoother feel, I was intrigued by this option. The surface reminded me of the metal in that it's smooth and easy to move stitches along but unlike metal, the synthetic material warms slightly in your hand a little like you might expect if you usually knit with wooden needles. It was light yet satisfying to work with. 

Prym Ergonomic Needles

A big plus point for me was the light colour- no distractions from your knitting! I have a few needles that are so busy and bright I find my stitches get a little lost. To me, I want to enjoy every stitch and the neutral white helped. However, this is where my love affair with the new material ended as the minute I started knitting, I noticed a 'catch' in one of the needles that caused a slight drag which was infuriating. I suspect it's just something about the manufacture process and some needles are perfectly smooth.  

The other interesting feature is the shape of the needles themselves. Both the double pointed and straight needles feature a drop-shaped needle point:

Prym ergonomic needle tips

This means that you never split the yarn with an overly sharp needle or suffer puncture wounds in your wrists while working in the round. I would be interested to see how these would work for very fine stitches but I like the way the 4mm double points picked up the yarn and moved down the needle. It felt easy and I haven't seen anything similar before. 

Both the straight and the dpn needles are also a longer size than many. For those knitters using a more Portugese style, where they place the straight needle under their arm and pick at the work in progress, this would probably be a good option and I'd be interested to hear from someone who has tried this. Being longer, the weight of the knitting is spread out a lot further but I still suspect a circular needle is the most ergnomic option for most knitters who hold a needle in each hand as the weiht of the project then remains in your lap. 

Intrigued? Well there's a video with more information for you just here:

As a rough guideline, these needles retail in the UK for roughly between £7-£11, subject to needle size and different stockists. I think given the price point, these are a good ergonomic choice for knitters. You can find your nearest stockist by visiting Prym's stockist listings:

As for my project? Well that's another hat coming up right there. I seem to be in a hat run and nothing is going to get me out of it; not even the promise of Spring. If you want to keep up with my making right now, pop on over to Instagram to join me and my cohost @ceramicmagpie in our new #wipsandblooms_spring join in. I'll be sharing more of these needles and projects there. 

This blog post is sponsored by VIRAL LAB who also provided needles for the post. Opinions expressed here are my own.

The Self Help Corner of the Shop

Friday night. 

I've just dropped the Playful Little One to the other parent. I've got an hour before my train and I dislike the empty feeling in my hand where hers used to hold mine. I'm listless and Sunday feels a long way. I head to the bookstore in the hopes of distraction. 

I breeze straight past the fiction section. Where once I devoured fiction I've now ground to a standstill thanks to poor concentration skills and short term memory issues. Any plot with more than 3 characters and 2 locations loses me after just 20 pages. I'm sad for it but I've found a new fix and I know just where I'll find it. 

Self Help Books

The Self Help section is almost always in an obscure corner of any bookshop. I haven't quite fathomed the rule that causes this to happen but there's something to be said for standing awkwardly, trying to look like you have your s**t together in front of books titled "The Power of Now" or, "Solve your Anxiety- For Good!". 

On this particular Friday night I'm struck by how crowded this usually quiet section is. Sure people come along, but usually they're furtive and quick to dismiss all titles and move off as if they surely didn't need help in the first place. I'm fairly sure most return within minutes of my departure, checking to see what carrion I've left behind. Tonight though, tonight I have 3 fellow readers for company. 

All women. 

Now there's a lot that could be drawn from this simple observation. It's a Friday night, it's 7pm and there's 4 women stood in the Self Help section. I'll let you draw whatever conclusion you wish from that but the thing that struck me the most is that no one is furtive tonight. We are all adopting that contemplative stance of a book shelf browser: head titled to one side, slight frown, scanning the shelves. We are at ease, no one is denying they meant to be in this particular section tonight. 

A husband arrives and starts to prattle on about dinner. All 4 of us swivel our eyes to him, heads still at an angle and his sentence trails off into the ether as he feels the looks. His wife all but throws keys in his directions and he scuttles away. Silence resumes. Someone plucks a book of the shelf, ponders the blurb, changes their mind and returns it to the same spot. 

I learnt some time ago to ignore most Self Help titles that start with 'The'. They're almost certainly proclaiming The Solution to my problem. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure what my particular problem might be. I just know I need help in the form of someone else's words tonight. So I browse, head titled and wait for a title to leap out at me and say, 'Kate, I have words to lose yourself in this miserable Friday night!' 

In the past 6 months, I've picked up quite the self help habit. I know I'm not alone in it either judging by my comrades in the store. I have always been a little sniffy about this side of the publishing industry, using words like "preying on insecurities" and "flawed heroes". However, I've recently discovered the thrill of a woman's voice written with power and ease. I've found comfort in another articulating their face down in the dirt moment. I've particularly enjoyed making fellow commuters blush when they saw I was reading a book about finding yourself through your sexuality. I might get that particular title out again next time I'm bored on the 7.55. 

The thing is, the Self Help section is where you find the most questions and the least answers in my experience and that, is proving very potent indeed. 

 

Self Help Book List

If you're looking for words that might suit a Friday train journey, I can thoroughly recommend:

  • Becoming- Laura Jane Williams
  • We Should All Be Feminists- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Rising Strong- Brene Brown
  • Yes Please- Amy Poehler (Not technically a self help book but a bunch of YES moments nonethless)
  • Reasons to Stay Alive- Matt Haig

The Online Gap Year

So the start of 2017 hasn't been as healing as many of us had hoped. Usually, the New Year means a tidal wave of 'New You' messages, diet adverts and 30 day challenges. This one has felt more like something we can't get a foothold on yet. It's felt hard to find the positive some days. 

New year Overwhelm

I'd planned an entire podcast season around the prompt word 'healing' and it felt timely. Guests were lined up that were political, insightful or just downright mindbogglingly inspiring. I had dates in my diary for releases. I was ready to champion the action we could take and offer up podcasts designed to keep us feeling we had community and heart and soul. Somehow though, I'm sat here in February and my diary doesn't have one deadline to do with A Playful Day written down.  

While I was looking at the many New Year launches, I started to notice that the answer offered was always 'more'. Sat here on a Sunday night with Florence and the Machine for company I can't help but wonder, what if more is the problem? When did doing more become such a thing? What about less? Wouldn't less bring better life balance and happiness? 

So, I decided. 2017 will be my online gap year. 

With thanks to Trespass who recently sent me boots & a backpack to accompany my adventures. 

With thanks to Trespass who recently sent me boots & a backpack to accompany my adventures. 

Pretty snazzy huh? Florence is thrashing out lyrics asking "What are we going to do? We've opened the door and it's all coming though" and I'm smiling. Isn't that exactly how 2017 has felt so far with big news stories and scary politics and so many of us struggling to grow a business with rising cost of living?

So this online gap year feels like a pretty good fit about now. I'm going to be removing any planning or schedule for the foreseeable future. For a while now, I haven't been feeling like the online world is the fun playground I wanted it to be. There's things happening across the world that are weird and frightening and I want time to digest that and think about how I can subvert that message of hate and distrust. I don't want to be more noise in an already saturated space. I want to grow some roots and just live outside the bubble for a bit. 

But let's keep in touch ok?

I have a few jobs that are making me so happy right now. If you're a fibre artist, you might like what I'm creating as the newly appointed Brand Manager at The Fibre Co. The team there make me feel good every time I check in for today's assignments and the yarn doesn't hurt either. Then there's creating features at Project Calm Magazine. I have workshops booked in and collections I'm shooting images for so there will be things and news but it's not going to be just about me, A Playful Day. If you'd like all this in a handy newsletter, I'm going to send those out to show you the world I'm hiding in. Come along. Gap years are about where we travel together right?

The podcast might come back, I might get back to blogging regularly and get The Taste. Who knows? I'm just saying I'm open to possibility and if you are too then do, please, reach out. It's always good to create inspiring things together and I have plenty of that booked in for 2017. There was a daring whisper of retreats and I'm seeing how that will fit in with these new roles I'm settling into with inspiring brands I've admired for a while. 

You see the thing is, and you might have seen this is if you follow me on Instagram, I have something that I need to concentrate on right now....

We're doing ok. We're learning how to be a step family and I've got my sights on making this cottage a home at last not just a collection of necessary furniture. 

So I'll be around, like that friend you bump into one day after a while and has lots of news. I'll be sharing what I'm up to on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (@aplayfulday across the board) and I'll let you know about new projects you can be a part of via the newsletter. Or I'll just be quiet and that's ok too because the thing is, to be successful, the answer isn't always try harder or do more. It's to think about why you feel the need to do that in the first place. 

 

I'll be right back. You take care now xxx

To My Daughter: Now That You Have Made History

Do you know where you were on 21.1.2017?

21.1.2017

Let me tell you, little one. You were visible. You were a bright voice and an ally. You stood in a huge crowd in London, this tiny figure of great stature and you witnessed history being made with the calm reflection I've come to know marks your curiosity. Your wide eyes took in the placards and helicopters that whirred overhead as they captured the moment on film. Your little hand reached up to mine and you smiled. You, sweetheart, were a history maker. 

Now that you have made history

The day before the march, we practiced our facepaints and talked about how busy it would be so you would know what to expect. When I started to paint the Pride flag on our cheeks though, you insisted the colours needed to be in a different order. I explained about the need to have a symbol and how for some of us, it had come to mean safety. We talked about the fact that it was your body though and your choice about what happened to it. We talked about love and working together and how perhaps, this was the best thing we could do. It felt like you understood why I was packing a bag and booking us tickets into London. We painted the rainbow just the way you wished it. 

I am writing to you now, the Monday after the weekend that begun a momentum that was much needed. This was the weekend when you joined with millions of us across the world as we marched to capitals and city centres to say we rejected a seeping hatred that had increasingly become the norm. This was not your first protest and I sigh as I know that it will not be your last. Your little shoulders are already so weighed down by a responsibility but at least this march showed us something- there are many who wish to help you shift that burden. 

In the middle of that busy march, a little boy caught your eye. He was high on his father's shoulders and grumpy. He yelled "NO!" loudly and you felt sad for him. We asked what the matter was and his mother explained that he was hungry and they were out of snacks. We shared what we had brought and you whispered in my ear "It's better if everybody shares, isn't it mummy?" It was a perfect moment and sentiment but I have to tell you, not every potential conflict will be so easily resolved. Sometimes, you will have to wrestle with your discomfort about a topic like FGM or faith that is not your own and you will need to push through that because on the other side is understanding. You must resist the temptation to remain silent for fear of offending because when you do, your silence makes these issues invisible and you become complicit in the oppression. Be brave. The other side feels just as good as sharing those snacks, trust me. 

It's important now that I tell you that my feminism isn't perfect. I'm sure yours won't be either but we can educate ourselves. We can read wider, outside of our own experience and seek out brilliant voices that tell us truths we have yet to hear in our own life experience. I promise you, I will do my best to constantly share my learning with you and hold my hand up as someone who is still learning. I've been enjoying working my way through some excellent books this past year and you will see them on our shelves; they're yours to learn from too. May I also recommend attending talks that regularly make you uncomfortable. Listen to your discomfort because it is often shame. Becoming acquainted with your own shame response will help you see oppression clearer and challenge it in a meaningful way. 

Feminist reading material

This weekend, it was important that we acknowledged that no action or feminism is perfect that ignores the narrative of our friends. Yes, we both face prejudice as women and I can do my best to teach you strength but when we kick down that door we must make sure we are opening it wide enough for everyone to step into the room. If it isn't truly inclusive, it isn't feminism. 

There have been rumblings about our protest being vulgar. There were those who objected to the language of “pussy” or the fucks we gave that day. The thing is dear one, these are words that will litter your future and your ownership over them is how you will overcome their potential violence against you. There is no correct way to be a woman and we reject the term ladylike. Yes, have dignity. Yes have grace under fire but my girl, when you wish to express yourself, do it any damn well way you want. You are not the sum of others opinions of your words. That is their insecure definition of femininity and it is not yours to own.

You see, your generation have been forged in the fire that was 2016 and I have a sneaking suspicion it will propel so many of you into jobs and careers that are political and vocal and active. There are many of your peers that are going to break barriers as a direct result of what they saw this weekend. My only regret when I write this is that my generation was not enough. While we sat at our desks at school learning that fascism was a word from history it crept into our news feeds and timelines and we didn’t call it out soon enough.  

We are calling it out now. We are calling loud and so please know this: I have never been prouder to have you by my side. So my daughter, now that you have made history, what will you do next? 

Essence + Alchemy

For me, candles are a rare and special treat. In the whirlwind of my home life, I use them cautiously, worried an excitable moment from my daughter will lead to disaster. I like a lit candle to help me concentrate while I create, which often means candles are tucked into the hours of the day that are just mine. During these darker months, I'm finding that candles begin and end my work days even more than the rest of the year. I seem to work best if I wake a little ahead of my family, slipping downstairs for uninterrupted tea and a catch up on my emails. I will often light a candle to wake my senses and bring me out of my sleep time fog. Then, at the end of a day full of screens and chaos, I like to wind down for 15 minutes or so with knitting on my lap and a sleep inducing scented candle nearby. The gentle flicker and glow really helps me reframe my busy thoughts till I'm finally ready to let go and sleep. 

Essence+Alchemy

Recently, I've taken to using Essence + Alchemy to signpost my daily rituals. I had the pleasure of featuring this small batch producer a few months ago when I wrote about them for Project Calm magazine. Impressed by what I read, I reached out to Lesley, the founder, who sent two candles along for me to try. 

At the start of each day I've been enjoying the WINTER BERGAMOT Candle. This is a hand poured candle with a wooden wick that means it crackles a little as it burns, adding to the atmosphere as I sleepily sip my tea and see what I need to get done for the day. All Essence + Alchemy Candles are 100% natural, blending the finest rapeseed wax and pure organic essential oils with no added chemical fragrances or additives. The part I like almost as much as the comforting smell is the fact the vessel is hand blown by a British producer and can be reused after the candle has finished. Although, I'm trying not to dwell on the idea of it being gone. 

WINTER BERGAMOT by Essence+Alchemy

WINTER BERGAMOT by Essence+Alchemy

At night, I use the 'SLEEP' Utility Candles designed with travellers in mind. The candle is poured in a large amber glass jar (also with a woodwick), and comes in a fair-trade sustainable cotton drawstring bag, which can be used to carry your travelling bits in. My favourite moment is unscrewing the lid each day and getting a heady waft of lavender, sage, bergamot and howood. Delicious. 

I'm so thrilled to share a discount code for you here as I think these will make perfect Christmas gifts and totally work with my Shop Small Christmas goals this year. To qualify for 15% off your purchase, please enter code APD15 at checkout. You'll need to move fast thought as Lesley's last orders before Christmas are 12th December 2016. Direct link to the shop here:

 

Post created in collaboration with Essence+Alchemy who provided both candles. Opinions and words are all my own. All photography Kate O'Sullivan

 

The Happier Path

I spent a lot of the past few days travelling across Europe so that I could teach a photography workshop at Scheepjes HQ. As is often the case when I travel, I feel a huge urge to write and this weekend was no exception. Sat on a train, bound for the airport, I stared thoughtfully out the window at frost covered fields, blanketed by mist. My mind was sifting through memories that I'd formed with an impressive group of female designers. As always I was enormously struck by the power we hold when we invest in one another. 

Hand lettering quote about women who support one another via Simple Devine Creation

Hand lettering quote about women who support one another via Simple Devine Creation

I consider myself very lucky to have worked my way into a position that I can collaborate with multiple brands and business owners who believe firmly in the power of women and work with them to remove any barriers to their success. Over the past five years I've interviewed 100's of female creators and spoken in front of many rooms full of women determined to shape their own story. Each time, the women who truly impress me the most are those who lead the way.... and bring others with them. These are the women I seek out first when I'm looking for new opportunities or find myself in the position to offer opportunities to others too. If I've noticed you raising up others, I figure you're the kind of person I want to bring good things to. 

There is a lot of people offering business advice out there. They tell me what I'm doing wrong online. They tell me the social media I should be using. They tell me the methods I should be using to reach astronomical levels of followers. For the most part I ignore them and choose story and relationships over strategy every time. For me, when I remove the personal, I remove so much of myself that it's not my business anymore. What's more, I don't feel like I have any real people around me anymore. 

The incredible thing that has happened from this decision is that I have a healthy stream of work. Sure, there's been times I've feared whether or not I will make rent some months. I am, after all, a single parent and need to earn the equivalent of two parents whilst still making sure my daughter feels she has enough love and attention from me. However, I have now reached a point where I can work with some of the best women in the business because I value what they do. It's not always easy to carve out and establish your place in an online world but it is possible. What's more, we can make our businesses work without trampling over one another to grab an opportunity. 

Just a few of the Scheepjes crew this weekend. Image courtesy of Dedri

Just a few of the Scheepjes crew this weekend. Image courtesy of Dedri

When we host our businesses online we can often fall into a trap of comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. We can experience a fear of missing out or being left behind. Dare I say it, we may even feel resentful and jealous of others seemingly effortlessly won success. Stopping for a moment though and reflecting on the valuable alliances we have formed and the way we have shaped our lives through the hands we held and doors we opened on the way? That's a pretty powerful thing. I will often decline an invitation to work for free in return for exposure. Yes I believe my skills should be valued but mostly I fear for the next woman behind me trying to earn from her online life too. 

So after a weekend of observing the loving nurture women can bestow on one another and how it has boosted their potential earnings, I am minded once again to take stock, be thankful for my girl gang and say, if you're reading this and trying to workout how to make it all work running your own business? You've got this and we're right behind you. Hold hands. It's the happier path  xx