Stitches and Panels

Of course I was going to find a way to combine my love of comics and yarn. Of course it was going to become a blog post! Put down your needles and join me in the panels?

First off, when knitting enters the panels. I’ve followed Katie Green for a number of years, and I was thrilled when she began writing knitting comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, a knitting magazine I have been a long-time subscriber of. Fast forward to 2019, and Katie published those comics (with a few additions!) as a zine, More Than Yarn, and I picked up a copy at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Katie’s comics are all personal, touching on how knitting has changed her life; the impact it has had upon her mental health, her body image, and her relationships. There’s even a cute comic about a mitten, as well as one on the potential of yarn. One page was turned into a print a few years ago and now hangs in my flat. Katie’s comics are beautifully written and illustrated; there’s something comforting and familiar to each one. I particularly enjoy how she employs different colouring techniques for each one, which really cements the different tones and atmospheres as she shares her personal experiences. I know these comics pretty well, but I still enjoy returning to them. It’s a gorgeous collection, and I defy any knitter not to fall in love with Katie’s comics, or relate to them!
I really appreciated Pom Pom publishing these comics in their magazines too. Like most comics readers, I’m somewhat bored of mainstream media and bookstores occasionally peddling the “oh my goodness, comics are for everyone!” or “comics are for children, graphic novels are for adults darling!” nonsense. It was great to see these included without question in the magazine. Plus, y’know, more stunning images and words to enjoy alongside the patterns I’d eventually go on to knit. In short; more comics about knitting! And if you haven’t already, check out Katie’s work and her amazing autobiographical comic now!

You didn’t think I wouldn’t include some knitting inspired by comics, did you? Of course I am that level of geek!

Oooft, check that very different hairstyle!

Let’s go with stuff I’ve made. Please note that links here are to Ravelry pattern pages and unless you have switched to Old Ravelry, they will open in the new Ravelry format. There’s the Wonder Woman shawl by Carissa Browning – a free pattern no less, and I think there may be a crochet version too! Garter stitch, short-rows, and free. What’s not to love? I made mine a few years ago using long-stashed yarn from Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk yarn, and then wore it to a conference where I presented some of my Batgirl research. So many knitters have made this shawl, and I love seeing the different colour palettes they’ve used to interpret it; from sticking to Wonder Woman’s traditional costume colours, to using greys and neons.

Here’s two projects I’ve not thought of in a very long time. I was seeing a guy who was a big fan of The Punisher… At the time I couldn’t find a pattern, so I charted up the logo and made him a hat and some mittens. I don’t have a picture of the completed hat, but I did remember to take a picture of the mittens as I felt rather proud of them back then. I have no idea if he still has them – he tried to give me back a pair of socks I made him…uh no thanks dude, you wore them, also why those but not the other stuff? Men… – but I was pleased with how these turned out as at the time, I wasn’t a big or remotely experienced colourwork knitter. Not bad considering!

This is an unofficial one, but I was gifted some Harley Quinn-inspired yarn from two of my best pals. The colourway was “Harley Deserved Better” and was dyed by the fantastically talented dyer, Gamercrafting. As an aside, I got her Birds of Prey mystery club yarn for my birthday, and like this colourway, it was Harley to a T! Anyhow, once I had my viva date set, I knit these socks to wear to said viva. When half of your thesis is on Harley Quinn, you can’t not, right? Well reader, I wore them to my viva and it was a very relaxed and enjoyable viva. Were these Harley-inspired socks lucky? Maybe. Either way, they’re my favourite socks and I wore them whilst typing up my corrections over the winter.

This is, of course, the tip of the ice berg. There are a plethora of comics-inspired patterns available, some for free. Captain Marvel fans are in for a treat as there are some beautiful colourwork mittens and shawls featuring the Captain Marvel logo out there. It makes me wish I was a bigger Carol Corps fan, to be honest. There are plenty for Wonder Woman fans too. Beyond the shawls, there’s amigurumi to enjoy, and a stunning sweater which is on my list to tackle one day. Harley also makes an appearance, and seems to be popular with crocheters. Need a hat inspired by Harley’s old jester costume or a Harley plushy? Designers have you covered. Batgirl, much to my disappointment, has yet to become a firm source of inspiration for designers, but there’s still time. If you are a designer though, I could totally use a Batgirl shawl or sweater. Just sayin’. You can never have too many nerdy knits. And I want to see more knitting in comics.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

The Knitted Pandemic Wardrobe

So lockdown has been great for my knitting – is anyone surprised? As Ravelry is currently imploding, I thought, what the hell? Let’s lean into the knitting blogger thing. So here are the pandemic knits (so far). At the moment, I’m linking to pattern pages on Ravelry while designers are deciding where to host their work. Please bear this in mind below.

Modeled in front of the Partick Thistle football crowd mural to make up for social distancing & missing pals!

Cosmic Wonder is a shawl pattern by Jen Emerson, combining my love of brioche and garter stitch in a crescent shape. As Hannah of The Corner of Craft podcast and dyer behind Chromatic Yarns was running a knitalong, this got cast on using skeins from her Knitical Role monthly mystery yarn club. It’s all a BFL 4ply base and knits up a treat; I’ve used it before for garments and it wears beautifully. The main, grey yarn is the Craven Edge colourway, named after one of my favourite Critical Role Campaign 1 weapons. I saved this skein for something special and this shawl was it! This was started just before lockdown, and cast off just as things really kicked off here in the UK. It’s been my “daily exercise outside” shawl of choice, and was great for the spring weather. It turned out a little smaller than I’d hoped, but I still love it.

Thinking about my next project

Next up, my second entry to the KAL, a Magpie Tendency by designer Skeinanigans using leftover yarn from the shawl. This was a quick knit, as it’s 4ply yarn on huuuuuuge needles. It’s made for a great piece to layer under jumpsuits or over sports bras whilst kicking about the house. This one is nice and summery, and I used the now repeatable colurway of Gilmore’s Glorious Goods as my main colour – that rich purple yarn. I used up every last scrap of yarn and I rate this as a stashbuster. I do want one with longer sleeves though, so I may be making a second one right now…

Posing moodily or just stroking the mohair?

After Magpie Tendency, I decided to move on with mohair. I’d been dying to knit this Garland sweater since 2013 but had been lacking the confidence to tackle a garment involving lace stitches and lace yarn. Enter pandemic fearlessness! This was a real delight to knit, and the mohair from Snuggly Stars Yarns is beautiful – the colour is that perfect 1980s baby pink I tend to gravitate towards.
I am pleased with this sweater and again, it’s another wonderful layering piece. However, I am disappointed because I don’t think the larger sizes were designed to scale with bust size – it just gets wider, not wider and longer…so uh, this is shorter than I’d hoped and only used 2/3 skeins I’d bought. It’s a good thing I’m a fan of super cropped sweaters. I still love it, but next time I’m trusting my gut if I think a designer’s pattern hasn’t been graded to fit bigger busts.

The yoke of a colourwork sweater. It is black with geometric patterns knit in pink and green.
Girly and slightly gothy

I’ve already blogged about the crop top that came next, so let’s carry on with the sweaters! I decided having tackled some lace, it was time for colourwork again. Enter the delightfully witchy Half Moon Tee by Dragon Hoard Designs. This had been on my radar for a while, and once again, lockdown boredome and fearlessness came into play as I thought, “f*** it!” and cast on. Again, I cracked out some Knitical Role yarns, supplemented by some Giddy Aunt Yarns Merino Smooth Sock (a merino nylon blend) for the body in the equally geeky colourway named Hex (it’s a spell in D&D!) This was another learning curve as I was tackling 3 colours in some rows, and the contrast of my contrast yarns wasn’t necessarily as stark as I’d hoped…but I still think it’s effective. This sweater is equal parts goth and pop princess, and with the extended sleeves, will be perfect in spring and autumn. So saying, another one is totally on the cards. It’s just such a fun yoke to work on!

Cauldrons or coffee? Either way I love this one!

Still in the mood for colourwork and taking on patterns I’d been eyeing up for a while, I cast on the Morning Cup sweater by Tiffany Kerr of Twill and Print. I had some yarns that my MIL bought me from Espace Tricot for Christmas, including 2 skeins of Julie Asselin’s Fino (merino silk and cashmere) and Espace Tricot’s own single plied merino silk and cashmere Grace base. Throw in the leftover Giddy Aunt Yarns Hex from my last project and I had a very girly and slightly gothic sweater with the cutest yoke of coffee cups ever. The yoke took a while, and also slightly resembles cauldrons, I think, but I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. What’s more, tea lovers aren’t left out – there’s an alternative chart for them with a wee tea bag! This top is so soft and slouchy, it’s already become a firm favourite. I can’t wait for colder weather so I can wear it with PJs and curl up on the couch with a good book and a huge mug of coffee!

Check those slubs!

And now we get to my current project. After the pastel colours of the Morning Cup sweater, I opted for something punchy – another Magpie Tendency using some slub yarn from Hey Jay Yarns. I’d seen a few knitters make this top using slub yarn and they just so happened to have a punk aesthetic…I couldn’t help myself. I ordered two skeins and I’m aiming for an oversized, long-sleeved top to wear with skinny jeans and biker boots. So far, it’s working up quickly and I love the effect of the slub yarn. It creates this almost handspun texture and my goodness, it’s so soft. I can already tell that this is going to be amazing.

I don’t have plans after this second Magpie Tendency. Though that could change. Either way, I’ve managed to curate myself a rather decent knitted wardrobe throughout lockdown and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. This has been pretty good for my body image, and worst case scenario, I’ll be cosy should we get (what seems like an inevitable) second wave of the virus come winter.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

How I survived the final months of my PhD

There’s oodles of resources available for PGRs setting out on their research journey, from resources provided by universities, to blogs and training courses and podcasts to be discovered via a quick Google search. I could talk about those things. They were useful. However, as far as I’m concerned its the things that weren’t remotely connected to researching and university life that really got me through my PhD. With that in mind, let’s procrastinate.

Are you reading faerie porn?”

Of course I later bought yarn inspired by the books. Why not combine two of my favourite things?!

I found that academia destroyed my love of reading and writing. The final year of my PhD and the road to submission restored that. Prior to my postgraduate research, I loved fantasy novels, especially those focused on fae (no, I don’t really know why). I’d heard knitters talking about Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series and curiosity got the better of me last February as heavy snowfall began to disrupt life again. I was HOOKED. I quickly read the ACOTAR books and moved onto her Throne of Glass series. What followed was a heavy dive into Young Adult fantasy and amassing lots of points on my Waterstones card.
As I was basically polishing up my thesis at this point, I didn’t have to worry about reading primary or secondary material, so obviously I did have a little more reading time to play with than someone still writing. But, reading something new (with kickass heroines, badass fae, high stakes and a romance plot that would make fanfic writers sing) that was totally divorced from my research was brilliant. It was weirdly invigorating, sparking my imagination (which felt long dead at this point) and relieving a lot of PhD stress in the process. I’m not saying slightly smutty YA fae saved me…but they vastly improved the final months of my PhD.

From Career Goals to Tech Support

Being self-funded meant that I spent a fair amount of time applying for jobs when I wasn’t removing split infinitives from my thesis (we all do it, quit judging me). As I was doing this, I came across a few tweets and blog posts sharing ” top podcasts for digital content creators!” (or words to that effect) I tried a few, but the ones that really caught my attention were Hashtag Authentic and Reply All.

Hashtag Authentic is a podcast for online creatives by Instagram genius, Sara Tasker. In each episode, Sara interviews entrepreneurs, writers, influencers to share their experiences, tips and strategies for success. It’s a really relaxed and friendly podcast, and the guests’ stories are genuinely fascinating. Definitely worth a listen even if you’re not necessarily in the same industry as the guests – there’s a lot of advice that maps to a PhD, as well as universally. Sara also hosts a podcast with Jen Carrington, Letters From A Hopeful Creative, where they tackle letters from listeners about creativity and entrepreneurship. This is also well worth a listen and again, contains plenty of valuable advice and tips as Sara and Jen share their unfiltered perspectives and personal experiences.

Reply All is perhaps my all-time favourite podcast. It covers the internet, modern life and tells some of the most touching and hilarious stories known to… well, the internet. Regular segments include Yes Yes No in which hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt explain internet trivia to their boss, Alex Blumberg, and Super Tech Support where Alex (and/or other members of the team) tackle weird and wonderful tech support queries of listeners. And this stuff is juicy – we’re not talking “my router keeps flashing, we’re talking “I get these weird phonecalls” and “my social media got hacked” – and more. I felt somewhat…out of the loop with everyday life and pop culture towards the end of my PhD, and listening to this helped me feel connected to the world beyond comics and editing. Be warned though – one episode is never enough and you will sink hours diving into this podcast!

Watching a bunch of nerdyass voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons!

Warning: Critical Role may lead to you buying more dice than you actually need… But they are pretty!

Being a roleplayer, it was only a matter of time before I got into the (in)famous Critical Role, an online show where Matt Mercer and fellow voice actors stream their Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I’d tried to watch it a few times before the year previously, but couldn’t really get into it. Apparently all I needed was to be editing my thesis and just have it on in the background. Obviously I don’t recommend this if you need to concentrate on your work – trust me when I say there comes a point where you’re suddenly hyper-invested in someone else’s game and NPCs rather than your own work. When that time comes, add it to your break time – and don’t tell me you don’t have one, if you’re working on a PhD, you need chill time. Anyone who tells you not to is, pardon my language, a fucking moron. But back to the dice! A pal refers to Critical Role as D&D porn…and it is. You can see why these voice actors are good at their jobs. But I learned more about how 5th edition D&D works and how certain mechanics worked passively absorbing it than I had playing in years. Equally, if you don’t have a game at the moment, or you’re curious about roleplaying, it’s a decent place to start. In any case, there’s 2 campaigns plus extra content on YouTube to keep you busy if you’re still in lockdown, there’s also a podcast version if you prefer audio content and honestly? It’s something different and a really good laugh.

I should probably round off by saying that you should totally take advantage of the support available to you at your university. And you should. Just…remember that resting and recharging is important, and your wellbeing is worth more than a rushed draft, or your approaching APR/viva. Sometimes, distractions are necessary and you should lean into them.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Gamers I’ve met (and wish were always at the table)

Having had a good rant about the gamers I’ve had the displeasure of sitting with, I figured it’s only fair to talk about the ones who’ve made my experience better. So here are the players who I love to game with and make me want to be a better player myself.

  1. The one who rolled a one
    This is the player I like gaming with most, and one whose philosophy I try to subscribe to. It’s the person who looks at their dice rolls and rolls with them. They messed up a perception check and trigger a trap? Cool! How can they play their way out of the chaos about to kick off? They screwed up a performance or persuasion test? Awesome! Things are about to get hilarious and awkward. The moments where their dice rolls are perfect? Those are cool. But this player lives for the moments where things are turned 90 degrees to the left and chaos is about to ensue. I live for these players because they bring an upbeat energy to the table and honestly, getting pulled into shenanigans with them because of a botched roll is great fun.
  2. The one who gets into character
    This one runs a fine line. I’ve already expressed my distaste at players who claim to be in character as an excuse to be mean. This person is the one who should win an academy award. One minute, the player is talking to you. The next, they’ve entirely shifted their body language and the way they speak, and you’re talking to their character. It’s honestly a thing of beauty to watch, especially if their character is making decisions you know that the player would never make themselves. They just completely embody the character on their sheet and go for it. Obviously not all players and GMs can be like the cast of Critical Role, and we don’t all need to be able to drop accents at the drop of a hat like professional voice actors. But you’re in for a good time when everyone lets go and adds personality and gestures to the numbers in front of them.
  3. The Good Leader
    Hands up who has had that “how to be a good leader” talk at high school or university when doing group work? We’ve all had that talk, and this is where dull school lessons and real life interact quite well with roleplay. Remember that point teachers hammer home about making sure that everyone’s voices are heard? And how good leaders will deliberately ask quieter group members what they think? Well good players do this too – not just the GM. This is important whether you’re playing with someone new to roleplaying or with your regular group. I mean…why wouldn’t you want to make sure that all voices around the table are heard?

  1. The creative problem solver
    Obviously knowing your stats and skills is a good idea; it helps you work out solutions to the problems the GM merrily shoves in front of you to play with. Sometimes, logic doesn’t quite cut it. Enter the player who thinks so far outside the box that they’re in a completely different game. Or reality. They have a creative approach to problem solving, and more often than not, will come up with some delightfully bonkers scheme that surprises even the GM. They’re fun to play with and like the player who is unafraid to roll a one, this player brings a good energy to the table with them. Okay, sometimes licking the walls isn’t the right solution. But it’s an idea.
  2. The Super Calm One
    As far as I’m concerned, the best groups I game with have a positive and cheerful mentality to gaming. We’re not serious and we tend to lean more towards chaos than order. However, an entire table of chaos merchants can have its drawbacks, so having someone calm playing with you – who isn’t the GM – tempers everything. Their character may be a fellow visionary of mischief, but the player as a person just brings a relaxed and unflappable nature to the game anyway. They smooth down the rough edges of the group, and when things such as combat start to get a little tense, they’re there with the mantra of, “It’ll be fine!” – and they mean it. They quietly absorb what’s going on, offering reassurance. No situation phases them, and chances are, they somehow have a vague idea of how their fellow players’ skills and stats work, meaning they can gently help add dice rolls when another player is having a minor panic attack as their hit points drop or the GM adds more villains to the initiative track.

As before, I’m not saying all gamers are, or need to be perfect. Or like those nerdyass voice actors on Critical Role. But when everyone remembers there are other people seated with them and play up to everyone else’s enjoyment, well it just makes everything that bit better; especially when you consider that one of those smiling people may just be having a tough time and rolling dice with you is the one shining point in their day or week.

Wedding Planning, Comic Book-Style

A few years ago – on Galentines Day actually – I treated myself to Lucy Knisley’s Something New Tales from a Makeshift Bride. I wasn’t engaged, I wasn’t even in a relationship, but it sounded pretty cool. As a brief TL;DR, Something New is one of Knisley’s amazing autobiographial comics, and this one focuses on her relationship with her partner and their journey down the aisle. It’s interspersed with photos from the build up to and their wedding day, the stories behind longstanding wedding traditions, and the occasional input from friends and family. It’s a lovely comic even if you’re not remotely interested in, or close to getting married and I really rate it.

Fast forward to now, being engaged and attempting to plan a wedding during a pandemic (ha!) As someone who loves to just scroll through pretty pictures on Instagram or flip through magazines admiring styling and such, obviously a comic is going to appeal to me. That, and y’know, PhD in comics, but whatever. However, magazines – wedding magazines in particular – do make me somewhat uncomfortable because, let’s face it, they peddle patriarchal garbage for the most part. I have in recent months occasionally enjoyed the odd issue of Rock N Roll Bride as it doesn’t focus on the same skinny, white heterosexual couples in churches and country houses that pretty much every other magazine does, but even then, there’s only so many images tagged “price on asking” a girl can look at before crying into her morning coffee and overdraft.

Something New is delightfully honest and feminist. Knisley is open, sharing her discomfort and confusion towards the various traditions that the wedding industry insists upon throwing at us, and her artwork is sweet, playful and just a joy to behold. It’s really reassuring to hear that someone else is just as baffled by friends and family members’ fixating on tiny and inconsequential aspects of weddings like chair covers or favours as you are. Or that the expense of showers and hen do’s and everything in between set their teeth on edge too. That wedding magazines and vendors also rendered them wide-eyed and equal parts stressed and mildly terrified. So saying, it’s also cool to find out where and how traditions such as sixpences in shoes, or white dresses came from, as well as learn about traditions from other cultures.

Obviously friends and family saying “your day, your rules” is important, and I don’t doubt other engaged people are hearing this. And it does cut through (up until they then lecture you on how you totally need to have a ceilidh band). But… the magazines and vendors and venues also say this whilst trying to upsell and refusing to actually tell you their prices. Seeing a woman share her unfiltered and honest experiences in comic book form is an absolute delight, not in the least because it cuts through the images of expensive perfection and/or mad collections of mason jars and bits of driftwood decorations that can feel inescapable even during lockdown. It’s nice to feel that I’m not alone, or living in some alternate universe occupied by scary Pinterest wedding crafts and “must have” branded bridal tat.

And if you’re not getting married? It’s a bloody cracking read and one of my all-time favourite comics.

Image copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Gamers I’ve Met (and would rather not see again)

I’ve had the pleasure – and misfortune – of roleplaying with a number of different people thanks to my friends and the members of various gaming societies I’ve encountered over the past decade. With that comes encountering new and inspiring play styles, as well as some which are downright infuriating. Any player can make poor decisions or make mistakes – we all do, and we all learn from them. The players I’m talking about here are the ones that don’t seem to learn, and crop up at gaming tables time and time again. I guarantee that you either will have played with these people, or you possibly are that player at the table.

  1. The backseat GM
    This player is near the top of my hit-list. I’m all for knowing the rules of the game you’re playing. What I don’t like is someone interrupting the GM or answering a question about a game mechanic before the GM has time to take a breath. In fact, they only seem to respond when the GM is actually named in the question – so they’re answering something not even directed at them. The best thing about the backseat GM? They invariably don’t know the rules as well as they think they do, and their motives are usually to show off rather than help out.
    My pro-tip as a fellow player? Unless you are the one being asked, unless you are the GM? Keep your gob shut and focus on your own character sheet.
  2. The metagamer
    This is the player that doesn’t really get into character but instead tries to game the entire damned system. They know the setting of the game so well that that they conveniently “forget” that their character has a low intelligence or isn’t from that specific location they’re currently exploring, and cheerfully attempt to share knowledge or make decisions based on this instead. Or – and this is my fave – they’ve caught a glimpse of the GM’s notes and are aware that a villain is about to show up, or an NPC is carrying an object or has information the party needs, so tailor their actions accordingly. Whilst successful moments in gaming are great, the satisfaction is somewhat removed when you’ve not worked for it and cut corners Plus it spoils it for the rest of the group, and the GM who has put a lot of work into the session.
  3. The “but it was in character!” protester
    Less of a player and more a spiteful person who materialised at the table one day and is basically consistently mean, but has an excuse for every single time they’re called on it. For some reason nobody ever kicks them from the group either…
    Anyway. This player justifies every decision they make – usually the ones that somehow screw over at least one other player at the table – with “but it was an in character thing! It was in character for my character to steal your thing/ murder that NPC you spent ages gaining the trust of/ kick that puppy.” On occasion, I’ve heard it used as an excuse for the player to repeat homophobic, racist and/or misogynist views, with the justification of “I don’t think it, my character does! They just don’t understand!” Thing is though, your character is a part of you. Ultimately, the player chose to do those things, and most people do have a sense of when they’re being a good pal or a bit of a dick. If you’re someone who utters this phrase regularly, note that you made the choice to say those things, to make others at the table feel uncomfortable or frustrated that you’ve destroyed hours or work, damaged something personal to them, and basically used roleplaying as an opportunity to be a bit of an arsehole for no real logical reason- and I am putting this mildly.
  1. The inflexible one
    This is one which applies to both players and some GMs. They have a very set story in their minds and cannot cope when players deviate from it. At all. They forget that the people in front of them are just that – people. Unpredictable beings with their own ideas and whims and stuff outside the game that will have an impact on how they play. Throw in the fact that roleplaying is basically improv, and the chances of the extremely well-rehearsed GM or player getting the exact responses to conversations or combat are basically nil. Whether you’re a GM or a player, if you want something? Work for it, and maybe consider telling the people seated next from you that you would like to explore X, Y, or Z, and ask if they would be willing to do that with you. The people around the table with you are exactly that – people. Unpredictable. So pardon the pun and roll with it.
  2. The Hero
    Ah, another one of my favourites. The players who I can only assume probably didn’t get enough attention as a child, or some other equally flippant observation.
    When you roleplay, you can do anything, right? Be anything? Well this player takes it to a whole new level and has to be and do everything. Specifically better than all the other characters in the group. It doesn’t matter that you have the highest intelligence or are best at stealth. This person’s character will shove you out of the way and do the thing before you can. It doesn’t matter if they cock it up, because at the end of the day, they’re centre of attention DOING ALL THE THINGS. Alternatively – and I’ve seen this one done too – they’ll quietly keep putting skill points into skills someone else is responsible for in the group until they have a higher skill modifier . Doing this basically then renders that other player’s character a little pointless as the thing they contributed to the group has been all but removed from them. All players deserve their time in the spotlight. And okay, sometimes it’s frustrating that your character can’t do something perfectly. Thing is – and this might blow your minds – this is why roleplayers play in a group and everyone brings different skills and abilities to the table! I know. Shocking.

Obviously this is not to say that all players are like this, or that I’ve not done or said things in games that align to being a good player. We all make mistakes, and dice rolls can help make that happen more often than we might like. But, I do think that if everyone made the conscious decision to use their dice rolls to make the table a more pleasant place for the others sitting around the table – not just for themselves – we’d all have more fun. And I probably wouldn’t have written this post.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Thoughts from under a pile of jumpers

I’ve been on a bit of a garment kick since lockdown started. So far, I’ve added a crop top, a T-shirt, and two cropped jumpers to my wardrobe, and I’ve already cast on another jumper.

I never used to be a big garment knitter; it’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve really wanted to work on clothes for myself (or my mum, who now gets a Christmas jumper every year). Blame old body hang ups. Family members constantly on diets combined with attending an all girls high school does marvellous stuff to your self worth. When I started knitting, my mindset used to be that shawls or hats or mittens would never become too small or too big for me. I’m more confident and happier in my appearance now; I deserve nice knitwear in wardrobe as much as any other knitter. As an aside, it’s amazing what not working on a PhD in particular can do for your wellbeing and image of yourself (that and lockdown, if I’m brutally honest). I have the time and energy to take care of myself, I’m not worrying about funding, deadlines, if my research is original enough, or about the quality of teaching I’m giving my students on a piss-poor GTA contract.

Garland Sweater

But back to the garments. I don’t have an extensive collection yet, but there’s something wonderful about pulling on a jumper you’ve made. I’d maybe liken it to giving yourself a hug. It’s comforting feeling the yarn against your skin, and knowing that each stitch you made and every hour of work put into checking your pattern – occasionally undoing and reknitting bits or untangling balls of yarn that have twisted together, or just pausing every few rounds wondering why the body just doesn’t seem to be getting any longer – is just for you, nobody else. You chose the fibre content and colours of the yarn, you followed the pattern to your measurements – maybe even modified it a bit to suit your tastes – you chose how aggressively to block the finished object, and you continue to choose how you style it each time you wear it. Sure, hundreds maybe even thousands of other knitters may have knit the same pattern, but theirs won’t be the same as yours.

I said at the start of this post that I feel better about my appearance, and therefore I’m more comfortable about knitting garments for myself. Well, I kinda lied. This is a bit more like the chicken and egg argument, because knitting garments for myself has also contributed to my improved body image. If you want something to fit, you need to know your measurements. You need to keep trying things on, you may need to undo a few rows, add some increases or decreases. I don’t use the term “flattering” – it’s a bullshit term about looking smaller and appealing to the male gaze, don’t @ me – but I like my garments to fit me and look a specific way on my body. I don’t wear them to look thinner and for men’s approval, I wear them to feel good. And y’know, warm. Feeling toasty is a big thing.

I’m THIS warm in my Soiree sweater when worn outside in -20 degrees in Montreal!

I have, in the past, felt uncomfortable with the sizes in my clothes bought on the high street. Knitting garments and needing to know my bust size in inches or the circumference of my upper arms has somewhat combated that. When I’m knitting, my measurements are numbers – nothing more. And knowing them is important – some designers don’t necessarily grasp that making a garment wider doesn’t mean it’ll still cover someone’s boobs if they don’t adjust the length too (I speak from experience and mild disappointment) Equally, there’s things like shoulder width and upper arm circumference. Big boobs doesn’t mean you have huge shoulders. Bodies aren’t all in the same proportions the way a mannequin might be, or a Barbie doll. Trust me when I say that being able to make things that fit me better than items I’ve bought on the high street is a great feeling. And I acknowledge that I am saying this as someone who is able to find items on the high street in my size. But, my point is, making jumpers and crop tops and bralettes for myself has contributed to me having a better, more positive body image, and being kinder to myself too.

My favourite knitted crop top

Knitting garments isn’t just an exercise in filling your wardrobe and using up your yarn stash – though it helps. I’ve found that I’ve begun to learn more about my personal style, and what it actually is. Apparently mine is cropped items in bright colours and layering pieces. I wouldn’t have said that when I cast on my first jumper. I’m very into colourwork yokes. As someone who wears statement jewellery, colourwork yokes – or even yokes with any element of interesting detail – are very appealing. For one thing, it’s a nice substitute for the massive necklaces I’m fond of. Ditto shawls. Sometimes it’s too warm for a scarf or shawl, but throw on a jumper with a colourwork yoke and even the most casual outfit feels put together somehow.

And mohair! I’m a huge fan of mohair. Yes, it sheds like an utter beast and drives my fiance up the wall when I work with it, but it looks so damn good, and if you hold it double with another yarn, you can create a delightfully soft and cosy fabric.

So. I’m on jumper number 3 of lockdown. It’s a top-down sweater with a colourwork yoke that looks like steaming mugs of coffee. I’m using a gorgeous merino-silk-cashmere blend in a soft pink for the body, and whilst it might pill after a few months of wear, I know how good it will feel when I wear it. I’ve also got my next project after that planned – a light-weight sweater in slub yarn to wear on cooler summer days and into autumn as a layering piece. Beyond that I’m not sure. I may tire of garments, I may not. I sometimes wonder if I’m expanding my wardrobe because I’m not able to browse the high street and return home with clothes that I likely won’t wear much, will feel guilty about and end up charity shopping later. I mean I also have the time, I guess, and at last this habit isn’t as destructive to the environment as several dresses from Primark, that will probably fall to pieces after three washes. Whatever it is, at least I’ll eventually leave lockdown warm and looking good in something uniquely mine.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

3 things I hate about wedding planning

I’ve never been the sort of woman who obsesses over her wedding from birth. Whilst I definitely am thrilled to be with my partner, wedding planning and pretty much everything linked to it is driving me round the twist. Lockdown has given me more time to think about it than I had before, and as I’m pro having a good vent, here are the main things I really dislike about wedding planning at the moment.

  1. Future Mrs
    I’ve spent 5 years working on my PhD. Believe me when I say that this is a bigger achievement than getting engaged or married. I accept friends and family being excited for me, but I don’t appreciate having my hard work and identity being reduced to “(Future) Mrs Blah” on post that doesn’t even have anything to do with being engaged. I really hate it when they keep doing it despite being told repeatedly that Mrs X is my partner’s mum, not me.

  2. Dealing with venues (and most other industry professionals)
    This is probably straight-up northern no-time-for-your-bullshit attitude talking, but my god, how hard is it to get quotes from venues?! I’d rather be given sample quotes and the like, then make my decision. I don’t want to go to a venue to meet a wedding planner and “talk about my desires”, to quote one particularly vomit-inducing and slightly creepy email from one venue’s planner. My time is valuable, and whilst I do get wanting to up-sell and manipulate brides’ emotions, I do not have all effing day to traipse around a place and later find out even Harry and Meghan probably couldn’t afford it. Just send me a bloody spreadsheet and then go away and don’t ever contact me again.

  3. Unnecessary Tat
    Again, probably my upbringing in t’north talking here, but there’s so much “clutter”, as my mum would call it, associated with weddings. Who really has the space before or after a wedding for 200 mason jars? What are you actually going to do with a sign saying “wedding this way” that you bought off Etsy and none of your pals want because they have their own style or are already married? Does anyone even actually have a budget for the eleven hundred added extras the venue’s wedding planner insists you need because it’ll make your day special or the guests will talk about it otherwise? Case in point:
    “They didn’t have chair covers at their wedding” said literally no wedding guest ever in the history of weddings. Trust me.

Of course I don’t totally hate wedding planning. I mean, I love the support from our friends and family, and you’ve not lived ’til you’ve whapped on a face mask and sat down with a wedding magazine for inspiration/a good laugh (delete as appropriate and see also: wedding Pinterest). It’s just that stuff doesn’t make for nearly as cathartic a blog post to write đŸ˜‰

All images (c) Cia Jackson 2020

Crop Top Appreciation

I’ve completed a few projects since lockdown began, and this crop top is hands-down one of my favourites. Possibly one of my favourite projects ever.

A self-indulgent selfie because I was very much enjoying this look.

The pattern is My Secret Little Crop by Jessie Maed Designs. Like Jessie’s other designs, this one beautiful in its simplicity and versatility, extremely well-written, and size inclusive with different price options.

I flew through this project, and could barely put it down. I think it took me less than a week – about the same time as a hat or cowl, for a speed comparison. There was nothing intimidating or complex to worry about with the pattern, making it the perfect project with the backdrop of a global pandemic unfolding and the emotions that go alongside that. Concern and hurt for loved ones, stresses about jobs and opportunties, grief, anger… It was wonderful to be able to pick this up and knit a few rows; the pattern repeat is easy to memorise and wonderfully meditative. It was ideal.

The stunning, exclusive Pandemic colourway from DyeCandy, with a percetage of proceeds raising money for charity

The main yarn I used was from DyeCandy, and the colourway was an exclusive, called Pandemic, with a percentage of proceeds going to the Corona Virus Relief charity (no longer on sale). As it was a 4ply yarn, I held it double, and honestly, I love how it worked up. The ribbing of the pattern combined with the vibrant colours and speckling of the yarn were the perfect match, each showing off the other to great effect. The contrast straps were knit in Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock (a BFL/Nylon base) in the Prayer of Healing colourway. I love pink and I feel like this brings out the pinks and purples of the DyeCandy yarn nicely. It felt fitting to be knitting a pattern released at the start of lockdown in a yarn called “Pandemic” that had, in part, raised money to help with the pandemic, and a contrast that was named after a D&D healing spell.

As for wearing the finished object… I adore it. I mostly wear it as a layering piece, wearing it under jumpsuits, dresses and tank tops, but it has been tried on with high-waisted skirts and leggings too. It’s converted to me embracing mainstream fashion’s ongoing ’90s vibes, accessorising it with those black elastic chokers and big hoop earrings. I’ve also worn it a few times when sunbathing on our living room floor in lieu of being able to sunbathe with pals in the Botanics. I never thought a knitted project made from merino and nylon (and not a more summery fabric such as cotton or linen) would be suitable for wearing in direct sunlight and warm weather, but consider me proven wrong.

Perfect for self-isolation sunbathing in your living room.

It could be lockdown having led to many of us embracing elasticated waistbands and no longer giving an expletive about society’s rules for fashion and body image, but this has entered my regular clothing rotation.
I’m not someone who loves getting her stomach out, but this crop top and Jessie Maed Designs’ Ripple Bralette have been converting me. I feel confident, comfortable and genuinely quite happy in myself when I wear this crop, or the Bralette. I’m utterly convinced that knitting myself this was one of the best acts of self-kindness I’ve given myself in a while. Just something uniquely and specially mine made with so much love, care and genuine excitement; no deadlines, no concern about how anyone would perceive my body when I wear it. There’s something equally joyous in seeing others modelling their finished tops and bralettes on Ravelry and Instagram too. There’s perhaps a post on body image to be written, based on this. I do find myself contemplating more crop tops in different colours and yarns. Imagine one in a soft, bouncy bamboo yarn. Bamboo gives such a delightful luminous shine to yarn, and would be perfect for the summer…

Excuse me, I need to go stash-diving. I have a crop top capsule wardrobe to create.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

7 things I wish I’d known at the start of my PhD

I’m finally on the other side of my viva and, were it not for the lockdown, I’d probably be living up that post-viva life. Lucky for me, lockdown life removed the stress of job hunting by simply removing that option and giving me hours at home with my thesis. Flippancy and pragmatism aside, I thought I’d share the few things I learned now five years of hard work is (hopefully) paying off. I always respected the PGRs and staff who were brutally honest with me, so I plan to be the same here. Buckle in, it’s a bit of a long one.

A white woman holding a softboud thesis standing behind giant letters spelling UOFG on University of Glasgow quarangle.
The day I handed in my thesis back in 2019. Real kind of the uni to just have these fancy letters lying around.
  1. Routine, routine, routine
    Supervisors and the like would probably like me to say that having a routine enabled me to get the best work done and cut down on procrastinating. Truth is…it doesn’t. Humans procrastinate, and sometimes there will be chapters or events or other such times where you struggle to sit down and engage. However, what my routine did was to give me valuable stability and designated time with and – more crucially – away from my research. We all need time to recharge, find new perspectives, and honestly with the world being as bonkers as it is on a good day, knowing that you’re sitting down 9am – 12 noon every Tuesday and Thursday with your thesis or that dinner is at 6.30pm can be more calming than desk yoga or an hour being lectured on sleep habits.

  2. Do things that scare you
    Yes, I am following up routine with something that essentially jars your system. I’m not saying take up extreme sports (unless that’s your jam), but personally, I found the occasions where I did something my younger self would have balked at were the occasions where I learned the most and found most rewarding. I was once told that imposter syndrome isn’t a sign that you don’t belong, but that you’re pushing yourself, and this is something I live by. You don’t need to take huge leaps into the unknown. But smaller steps, such as signing up to that workshop on publishing, submitting an abstract to a conference, or entering 3MT competition can lead to bigger things, even if you’re not accepted or don’t win. I do say this with the caveat that you shouldn’t be destroying yourself and your wellbeing to achieve these things!

  3. Embrace mistakes
    For all I love social media, when combined with academia it forms this horrendous space where there is a pressure to perform perfection and being busy. It’s kinda like the way those influencers inevitably make you feel pressured to diet and exercise and spend a small fortune on a diet teas and a swimsuit for which “one size fits all” absolutely does not fit all, or make you any happier. I’m all for shouting my successes, but it’s all too easy to forget the people behind tweets about papers and awards are likely as stressed and tired and worried about their academic CV – or indeed regular CV – as you are. I’m not even touching those Tweets going round about whether or not academics work 40+ hour weeks (please don’t do or encourage this!) I’ve always appreciated the PGRs and staff who have been brutally honest and shared their experiences of failure or making mistakes. It’s more encouraging to know it took 12 revisions to get a paper published, or that they have oodles of embarrassing stories from interviews they’ve had over the years too. It’s good to remember that we’re all human, but also those mistakes or less successful research avenues are valuable experiences where we can learn something, or find different – and even better – opportunities.

  4. Have a space to vent
    There will be times that are frustrating. Sometimes supervisors love your work, other times they may be less enthused. APRs can be a stressful nightmare (I loathed mine, and in darker moments wished tiny curses of inconvenience such as printers breaking and accidentally hitting ‘reply all’ on their emails to everyone involved in the whole damn process). You may not get on with people in your office. Your landlord may be a colossal waste of space. Having a temporary space for immediate release of all that pent up frustration is great. Bottling it up never ends well. I’m a strong advocate for the blank Word document where you rant about your APR comments, your latest supervisor email, your flat inspection – whatever! Tweet rants at your best pals then delete them later. Whap it on Facebook if that’s your preferred rage release space. You may not feel as angry or upset later – you probably won’t still mean it if you call someone an “utter bellend” or similar. Getting it all out on a page and then deleting it a few hours later after a cuppa or strong beverage can be extremely cathartic. And it’s probably safer than doing it in a blank email, as I’ve known some colleagues to do. That way an embarrassing conversation potentially lies. Ditto actually saying it to your letting agent / fellow GTA/ course secretary/ supervisor/ boss / your flatmate’s partner / your gran [delete as appropriate]

  5. PhD Squad – assemble!
    Whilst Taylor Swift’s squad may be somewhat questionable in its content and goals, I have to admit that the girl’s onto something. We don’t need a bunch of privileged white women backing us, but having a group of friends – in or outside of academia – is worth its weight in gold. I owe a lot to my best friends, partner and family for their support over the last five years. They’ve cheered me on, they’ve picked me up and dusted me off, they’ve let me bounce ideas off them, they’ve helped me consume way too many Rich Teas and bottles of Echo Falls Summer Berries from the corner shop (PhD life is expensive, stop looking at me over your fancy white wine like that!)
    Get yourself a squad, but don’t copy Taylor too closely, okay. No PhD needs a feud with Kim K on top of research deadlines.

Kind words from the Ingenious Women 2018 squad
  1. Know your worth
    Your time and effort is valuable; you are valuable. If someone asks you to give up your time to work on something in exchange for “exposure” or “experience for your academic CV”, tell them to get to *expletives*. Obviously this may go against the previous point of “don’t actually call someone a bellend to their face” from above, but trust me on this one in particular. Sure, these “opportunities” sound exciting and enticing – who doesn’t want to get ahead on their academic career before their first APR? But, you should always ask what the other person gets from your contribution too. More often than not, the deal works out infinitely better for them, whilst leaving you overworked and unrewarded with a load of emails from your supervisors asking where that chapter you promised has gone to. I’ve been there, I’ve done it (the taking on “opportunities”, not exploiting students bit). I’ve had one of those GTA contracts, I’ve done work and not been paid fully or acknowledged for it. Sometimes opportunities are genuine opportunities, but equally, the last I checked, Glasgow City Council aren’t accepting exposure or a line on my CV as payment for council tax bills. Know and remember your worth.

  2. Your wellbeing is more important than a bit of paper
    There’s definitely been a huge shift in attitudes towards researchers and mental health over the past few years, and that’s great, but awareness campaigns and shoving the phone number for the uni’s oversubscribed and underfunded counselling services in PGR handbooks won’t mean anything until everyone in academia starts actually doing more than the bare minimum here. Again probably another post in its entirety. I can see now that my mental health was the absolute pits in the first few years of my PhD, and I wish I’d been able to a) notice that and b) ask for help at the time. I’m not going to presume to tell anyone how to look after their wellbeing, but I do think there’s more value in this than academia lets us believe. One thing I would say, having been on the receiving end of such comments early on in my thesis from fellow PGRs further on in their research, ill mental health and “a breakdown in year two” is not and should not be normal. Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and call them on it if they make similar remarks. Some of us already pay huge tuition fees, our wellbeing shouldn’t be seen as a”top up” or similar price to succeed in our research. Again, remember academic social media can play tricks on you and your perception of how other PGRs in your field are doing. Ultimately, as the saying goes, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. I wish I’d felt more able to do so when I needed it.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020.