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Strange Material

Book Tour, Books, Strange Material

Greetings from Oakland!

It’s day three of our Make Your Voice heard tour, and Kim Werker and I are working away at a Peet’s Coffee Shop in Oakland, California.

Yesterday we had a fabulous day of touring San Francisco with artist Sonya Philip who gave a true tour with stops at Scrap San Francisco (@scrapsf), a non-profit urban recycling centre focused on reuse for artists, teachers and makers and food stops at famous Tartine Bakery and tacos in the Mission District (which are just famously delicious).

Following our first event at The Booksmith in Haight Ashbury, SF (see pic above) with Rena Tom, we were hosted by Lisa Congdon at Diesel Bookstore, a wonderful bookstore here in Oakland, California. It was a thrill to hash out topics of creativity, creative demons, ‘women’s work’, and creating in the age of social media with these amazing smart women to a full house in Oakland.

We also snuck in a mac & cheese dinner with the amazing knit lit author Rachael Herron, who is a total delight to talk to about life, writing, knitting and all things in-between. My head is spinning from such a wonderful couple of days. I’ve been instagramming my favourite moments as they happen.

Both bookstores are really perfect bookstores in the sense that they love books and the people who write them – we spent our time before the panel at Diesel writing on their lists of “10 Books that Influenced Your Life”. With handwritten shelf talkers (the recommendation cards that stick out from bookshelves) and attentive staff, both are prime examples of  why we need small bookstores to thrive and flourish – there’s a personal care that you receive as both an author or a reader that a big box store or online retailer just can’t replicate. I heart independent booksellers (and if you do too, check out Diesel’s Indiegogo for a refurb after 25 years).

Part of our adventure at Scrap SF was collecting materials for our workshop tonight at MakeShift Society San Francisco. Kim will be leading participants through creating their own Mighty Ugly Creature, I will follow this up with some creativity prompts, and Betsy will finish our Round Robin with her own thoughts on sewing and psychology. There’s still a few spots left, and you can register here.

Tomorrow, we’ll be catching a fight to be part of a panel at Powell’s City of Books in Portland for Design Week and a workshop with MakerNation. For details of Portland, Seattle, and our other tour stops, visit my event page.

Strange Material, Uncategorized

What We (should) Talk About When We Talk About Fashion

Earlier this week, my blood boiled at a news story. Mass clothing retailer Urban Outfitters  claimed that they had NO idea that a recent bloodied Kent State sweatshirt that they manufactured had a link to violence.

Zara tshirt and Auschwitz Children

This story came on the tail of another, weeks earlier clothing retailer Zara was under a storm of criticism for producing a t-shirt for children that resembled Nazi concentration camp uniforms. Apparently Zara feigned innocence – citing designer’s unawareness of the historical reference (and apparently the same unawareness among the manufacturers, the sales teams, the merchandisers, etc…etc…who all work for the company. To which I say, really? Hundreds of people are involved in the garment manufacturer process and not a single soul noticed?)

I’ve been mulling over how to write about these two events when I came across this brilliant video by  and  of The Guardian UK:

Urban Outfitters Kent State Sweatshirt video

Do you see the common element in each retailer’s statement? Essentially: the designer didn’t know. The designer didn’t have cultural awareness. The designer isn’t aware of history, or textile history.

Garments, by their very existence can drum up all sorts of feelings, historical significance, and cultural connotations. I want there to be a greater awareness that textiles have meaning – just as much as any other object that we choose to surround ourselves with. This is why I wrote Strange Material – I hope it contributes to a growing body of work around textile conversations and discourse. Collectively, the world needs to know more about the stories that surround cloth and symbols and those who make them – not just those of us who are heavily interested in textiles and craft but everyone. I assume that before Zara and Urban Outfitters got called out, some of those pieces of clothing were purchased and worn, in public.

This rant follows the news that the intelligent fashion journal WORN, is retiring, which is a little heart-breaking. The WORN fashion journal had a mandate unlike any other fashion magazine and it will be missed:

“WORN hasn’t missed the fact that there are scads of fashion magazines out there. But we feel something is missing: opinion and intelligent commentary that’s untainted by advertisers’ demands. 

WORN discusses the cultures, subcultures, histories, and personal stories of fashion. We strive to embody a place between pop culture magazine and academic journal that opens new avenues in art and fashion theory by hovering where these two ideas intersect, connecting with fashion scholars and artists. We pay attention to how what is worn is made, interpreted, transformed, disseminated, and copied. “

Worn’s last issue is available for pre-order* and I’d recommend it, we obviously need more commentary on textiles, and fashion, that create critical awareness.

*I am not affiliated with WORN in any way. I am endorsing this magazine because I think we need to support more intelligent commentary on the things that we wear and purchase, and it was one of the few publications that actively provided this sort of commentary.

Also, I’ll be speaking my mind on this and other subjects on panels with Kim Werker and Betsy Greer over the next month. If you haven’t had a chance to find out about our tour, all events are listed here. One week from today I’ll be Seattle at Schoolhouse Craft teaching a course on subversive textiles and activism. If you are in Seattle, please think of joining the conference! It will be a great time with a lot of interesting people, and I’ll be running a fun making session at the closing party on making Six Word Story Bracelets (DIY to come!).

Creativity, Publishing, Strange Material, Writing Life

On Making Time to Write

The manuscript for my new book Strange Material is due in exactly one month. While I’ve been stealing away to coffee shops on my lunch hour and turning down plans with friends over the past few months in order to write, nothing works better for me than having long stretches of time to mentally meander, run word-counts as a mark of my progress, and simply write without a time constraint. I learned long ago that if I promise to go somewhere at 8 pm, my mind takes a unwarranted vacation from the hours of noon until 8 pm just because I know that I am going somewhere later. Likewise, if I’ve promised myself that I’ll write, but instead find myself out for drinks with friends – I’ll end up being angsty (and a sheer joy to hang out with) because in the back of my mind I’m thinking about what I should be doing at my desk. So, ever so often, I need to go into hermit-mode. This week, I’ve taken four days off of my day job to do nothing but write.

With each of my books, I’ve been lucky to have weeks of time away from the world in order to think. I’ve house-sat for my parents. I’ve stayed in friends’ guest rooms. And I’ve made myself stay home. I’ve tried to ignore Facebook. I’ve spent less time on Twitter. I’ve even ignored email. I’ve forcibly stopped myself from playing with Pinterest, or dreaming up apartment decor ideas from DesignSponge, or fantasizing that I will one day live in a fabulous loft and collect abstract art for sale at I’d like to be planning something crazy for Halloween or sewing the latest Colette pattern, but for now I’m content with writing. I keep a list of these diversions to be my reward when the project is over.


I often find myself asked how I take on long writing projects – especially while working full time, and my first answer is ‘I don’t know’. But really, I rely on a couple of simple tools:

  1. The eloquent and classily named ‘butt in chair’ technique. Frankly, if you want to write, you have to sit in the same place for a certain amount of time. I set myself a goal of how long I plan to write most days. I also set myself a word-count, usually 500 – 700 words a day when I’m working on a long project.
  2. Lunch hours – I often eat at my desk while working so that I can go to a coffee shop and write for during my lunch hour. I find I can accomplish a lot in 45 minutes when I know I have to be back at the office.
  3. For days off and long stretches of time alone, I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique is life-changing. I’m not usually one to prescribe to others methods of working but this one works for me. You work for 25 minute increments, you take a five minute break, and then you start again. On my ‘writing retreat’ dates, I set myself goals of four 25 minute writing stretches with 5 minute stretch/tea making breaks, a one hour lunch break, and then four pomoderos to follow. You can use a kitchen timer for this technique, but I prefer a free app called Focus Booster on my mac which turns colour as my time is winding down. I wrote my entire last book using this method.
  4. Rest. Some days, no matter how hard you try – nothing comes. This is when I turn to things like a long walk, a bike ride, cooking something healthy, or napping. Some days I get to my goals in a matter of hours, some days I know that I’ll procrastinate for several hours until I start to feel the fire of getting down to things. This is part of my process, and no matter how much I try to resist, I’ve realized is just better to accept that this is the way that I work.

Interested in learning more about the process of craft book writing? Last year I wrote this post on how to pitch a non-fiction DIY title.

Strange Material, Writing Life

Creativity Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

I’m seeking ideas – wild, unkempt, unusual, cute, and bizarre for my new book. If you are a textile artist who does work grounded in story-telling, please consider submitting a pattern idea for my upcoming book Strange Material. I’m looking for works that focus on specific forms of narrative such as biography, fiction, memoir, or poetry. Learn more about Strange Material here.

Don’t want to submit an original design, but have produced textile work that I should know about? Drop me a line at info (at) leanneprain (dot) com.