Friday, 12 January 2018

This Thing of Paper, This Thing of Beauty. . .

"As a knitter, I find the connections and parallels between knitting and books compelling. The move from something handmade to machine-made is one which is perhaps most poignant to us knitters as the world keeps reminding us it would be quicker (and probably cheaper) if we bought a machine-knitted garment rather than insisted on making it ourselves. And yet we persist."

These wise words are from the introduction to Karie Westermann's new book This Thing of Paper, which explores these connections between knitting and the early production of books. It rings a bell on so many levels for me.  I started my career over twenty years ago as a bookseller in an independent bookstore.  A bookworm since seven, I absolutely loved my job.  Then came the rise of the chain stores with their unfair discounts and competitive advantages. And then Amazon came along. And then pallets of cheap mass market books stacked high in Costco and Walmart.  It was all about the price, not the experience and not the knowledge and passion of the staff. I got tired of people wandering in, asking for recommendations, browsing carefully curated displays, then writing down titles and ordering online. In short, it was no longer any fun.  I then moved to publishing and found a whole tribe of dedicated people in the indie presses who were as enthusiastic about good writing, creativity and undiscovered talent as I was.  But they were just a small part of the huge publishing conglomerate that I worked for and frequently never given the respect and resources they deserved. When my bosses started regularly referring to books as units, then publishing was no longer fun, particularly when social media was in its early stages and it was more important to get "likes" of books than to actually read or talk about them.

What has all this got to do with knitting?

Well, since I moved to the UK and started going to wool shows around the country, meeting knitters in person and through ravelry,  I have definitely found my tribe again (and it's no coincidence that knitters are often huge readers too). An appreciation of the physical object, of the time and talent that it takes to produce something of beauty, either in text or texture, unites us all.  I will admit that when self-publishing first started to make inroads into the industry, I was skeptical.  But for knitting and other craft books, it's been a revelation; authors and makers have really been able to take a theme close to their heart and produce gorgeous and authentic books that reflect their vision and passion. Would a mainstream publisher have taken a chance on Kate Davies' earliest books ( I think they would now, but I'm glad she has retained all the creative control and is continuing to self-publish).  Would they have looked twice at something like Anna Maltz's quirky and fabulous  Penguin:  A Knit Collection?  Probably not.  And these are only two examples of the many wonderful and original self-published craft books I have added to my collection over the years, and that keep on appearing. Long may it last!

And This Thing of Paper is another incredible example.  The book itself is a joy to hold; as much thought has gone into the production values as the patterns. The paper, font, photography are all beautiful and Karie has written short essays on the various aspects and components involved in creating medieval manuscripts and early printed books.  A bit of book history and part of it too - a copy is going to be held in the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, such an incredible honour.

I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this project and thus lucky enough to test knit one of the patterns - the Rubrication Shawl - back in June.  It is a stunning pattern, which as Karie writes, was designed to resemble "nibs spilling ink across a surface and droplets becoming leaves (we often refer to a leaf of paper, of course). It is a pattern which is both text and texture."

I used Countess Ablaze's English Gentleman Fingering in one of my favourite wool blends, BFL and Masham, and I love the vibrant colour and soft and cozy feel of this shawl. It shows off the intricate stitch patterns perfectly.

There are eleven patterns in total - two cardigans, one jumper, four shawls (a Karie specialty), one cowl, a pair of mittens and a hat and fingerless mitts set. Reading through the essays and seeing the inspiration behind the designs has also inspired me to pay tribute to the innovation and creativity that has personally touched me, as a reader, as a bookseller, as a publishing sales rep and marketer, and as an appreciator and collector of the printed word.  The history of the book is ongoing. The indies are holding on and in some cases making a comeback.  There is every reason to be positive and celebratory. Print is definitely not dead.  We can read. We can knit. Sometimes I wish I could do both simultaneously. We can persist.

I've already knit one other project in the book, inspired by one of my favourite small presses, but I will leave that for another post. There is a KAL starting up in Karie's Ravelry group on Monday, January 15th and running through to March. Pop in and join us!

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