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Category Archives: Knitting

Pattern: Lausavisa

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Kate Heppell & the Knit Now team on a very special issue of their magazine. I designed the Lausavisa jumper for the issue and also wrote an article.

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Lausavisa is a traditional Icelandic yoked jumper worked in the wonderful Álafoss Lopi. The brief was to design a lopapeysa inspired by the Northern Lights and I immediately began to think about the sailors traversing the sea underneath that beautiful lightshow. The jumper is knitted bottom up and features a yoke with an abstract interpretation of a sky with sun, moon, stars, and dancing lights. Lausavisa uses four colours (navy, pale blue, pale heathered grey/beige and mustard yellow) and is so incredibly cosy.

And the name? Lausavisa is a poetic convention in Icelandic/Skaldic poetry – an interjection or a bit of a detour from the main narrative. A bit like the jumper was in my normal working life!

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My article deals with my constant preoccupations: how does the landscape influence us as human beings, how does it change our knitting, and how do we make our marks on a landscape? The North Atlantic region spans many of our best loved knitting traditions – how have the ever-moving sea and the colourful skies changed those? The article is very much a companion piece to my recent Knitting the Landscape workshop (and if you took part/missed out, I recommend this wonderful art documentary on BBC).

I also helped Kate select the other patterns in the Northern Lights collection. Murray Stewart from Orkney has designed a beautiful colourwork set depicting a lighthouse spreading its rays across the sea – I literally saw Murray’s submission and yelled out loud I NEED THAT IN MY LIFE. Lana Jois uses the traditional Shetland Old Shale pattern in a lovely lace capelet and Rosee Woodland reinterprets the traditional gansey jumper. Canadian Jessie McKitrick happens to be one of my favourite colourwork designers. Her Magnetospheric Gloves are both clever and a cool colourwork project for beginners. Finally, Shetland Wool Week patron Ella Gordon is interviewed and has designed a headband pattern using a traditional Shetland motif. So, all patterns have a strong connection to the sea and to the North Atlantic region in general. I’m pretty proud of that!

Also out for old favourites like Midwinter Yarns and the Island Wool Company who make guest appearances. Thank you, Kate, for allowing me to roam around your domain briefly!

Knit Now issue 67 is out now. You can buy it from major UK retailers and supermarkets – or you can buy it online. If you are only interested in Lausavisa, I will be releasing it as an individual pattern at some stage next autumn but you will miss out on my article and all the lovely patterns from other designers. Consider yourself warned!

Photos by Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing.

Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a ‘keen interest in knitting’ (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP’s Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – just like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I’m very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically – and wittily – to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather’s design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights – I always like when this is given as an option. The ‘Bianca’ option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid’s duties and this shrug is now on the list of ‘cover up them shoulders’ options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.

Colour Ideas for Byatt

I’m already seeing a lot of Byatts in the KAL thread on Ravelry, but I also get quite a few questions about yarn and colour combinations. If you are planning on casting on Byatt, this post is for you.

First, let’s grab that ghastly photo I took of Byatt flat, crank up the contrast and look at the anatomy of the shawl.

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So, as you can see, there are a few key things to think about when choosing a colour combination:

  • The majority of the shawl focuses on the MC (only the edge really lets CC shine).
  • MC and CC needs to work together but have a good amount of contrast.
  • CC needs to work in semi-solid lace.

Add to that, the fact that the shawl is designed to use as much of that gorgeous hand-dyed yarn as possible, and you will want to weigh your skeins to make sure you have enough yardage. I’ve included suggestions on how to include a third colour (CC2) in the pattern notes too.

My original colour combination was OMA 100% merino in Crazy Ivan and Afraid of the Woods. The colours look very different in the picture above, but that is due to a) the shawl being photographed on snow and b) me cranking up the contrast, so you can see the details.

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Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt is currently knitting Byatt in a combination of Lon-Dubh and Grellow.

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And her studio assistant, the incredibly lovely Helen is using a heady combination of Army+Navy and Cherry Lips. I love this combination so much that I might just steal it off Helen once it’s done.

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If I were to knit a second Byatt, I’d be tempted to use Famous Blue Raincoat and Moody. I really like the idea of Moody as the lace edging.

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At the moment I am all about teal, it seems. Different versions of teal, but definitely teal. I am working on a colourwork project that uses a great deal of teal and I just cannot seem to get enough. Is teal my new moss green, I wonder? For a while I just bought and knitted moss-green yarn. We shall see.

If you are knitting Byatt, please post in the KAL thread. We have a great discussion going and I’m loving seeing all the colour combinations. I especially loved the knitter who said she was off to look at her book shelves to see which colour combination appealed!

PS. Thanks to the wonder of Photoshop, I just came up with another colour combination for Byatt. Going back to the moss-green yarn again..

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The Knit Generation

A little something on the dining table today.

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A book from Quail Publishing filled with the most glorious autumnal knits: The Knit Generation – curated by Sarah Hatton.

What’s this?

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Is that my name? I do believe so! I have two patterns in The Knit Generation and I am so awfully proud to be included. It is really the most beautiful book I have ever been involved in. Sarah has an eye for detail and her stylistic instincts are incredible. Everything from colour palette to layout has been carefully considered and I just love leafing through the end result.

The Juniper hat is one of those knits I finished and didn’t want to send away. It is worked holding one strand of Rowan Felted Tweed and one strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze together – the end fabric is lush: full of drape, full of warmth, and full of colour depth. The sample hat uses FT Clay and KSH Cream together, but I keep toying with the idea of knitting myself one for winter. Maybe holding FT Watery and KSH Trance? FT Seafarer and KSH Turkish Plum? FT Avocado and KSH Jelly? FT Rage & KSH Strawberry? Worryingly, I can do all those from stash (don’t judge!). The nature of the fabric meant I didn’t want a complex stitch pattern – instead I chose a simple knit and purl pattern which showcases the fabric without overshadowing it. And a pompom on top. Of course.

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The other pattern is the Pinecones Shawl. It is a simple triangular shawl with an autumnal border and it is knitted in Rowan Fine Art, their handpainted sock yarn. The fibre content of the yarn is slightly unusual (it includes silk and mohair) and again it was a case of designing a pattern that emphasised the nature of the fabric (and the lovely, lovely drape).

I am teaching a class at McAree Brothers in Stirling in support of The Knit Generation – we will be taking a look at contemporary lace knitting, shawl constructions and students will have a chance to give designing their own lace a go! Something like Pinecones can look overwhelming to the uninitiated – but my aim is to demystify shawl knitting and show people just how satisfying it can be to wrap yourself in something beautiful. And if you are an old hand at lace knitting, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that’ll (proverbially) blow your mind. Promise.

I designed and knitted both Juniper & Pinecones last year – it is so satisfying to finally see them in print. I am particularly pleased to see my name next to people like Andi Satterlund, Anni Howard and Rachels Coopey and Atkinson – all thoroughly good eggs.

I cannot help but laugh, though. Due to the vagaries of publishing, you will see an absolute deluge of patterns over the next few months. I apologise in advance.

Important Letter

I have the best mother-in-law. Technically she is not my mother-in-law because D. and I are not married, but she is awesome. To wit, I just got the following through the post today because “it had your name on it”.

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On an Adventure with Knitters

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This past weekend I packed my bags and went on an adventure. We went through Glen Croe..

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.. which is part of the Loch Lomond & Trossach National Park. We passed Rest and Be Thankful, the most famous peak in the Arrochar Alps before locating a small pottery studio (complete with Badger the Border Collie) on the banks of Loch Long.

alp3We eventually made it to our cottage on the shores of Loch Fyne. This is the actual view from the living room window. Not a bad view for a dreich February day.

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And this was the view from the kitchen. Scottish Blackface sheep keeping a watchful eye on us. They were slightly less fond of the chickens roaming the fields. I liked the chickens. They reminded me of my childhood when my gran kept chickens. Also: fresh eggs from the landlady!

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We didn’t get a chance to sample any Loch Fyne seafood – but I did accidentally kill a mollusc when I tried to throw it back into the sea at low tide. The colours were amazing: rich browns, deep greens, and the most beautiful indigo blues. So many ideas in my head.

1653731_10152242786299725_1910867078_nAnd I finished knitting my Bute – whilst being near Bute. Mattress stitching fair isle that incorporates purl stitch is not my favourite activity. It doesn’t look as neat as I’d like but I don’t think that’s possible with this pattern. I also did a temporary stitching-together of the body and .. it is not the most flattering knit in the world. I may need to look into some post-knitting waist-shaping. I do love the colours and the yarn. It’s been a great knit. I just think I need to think about the shape of my garments more than I have done in the past.

After a long, relaxing weekend in the most beautiful lochside cottage you can imagine, it was time to head home. A landslide had closed the Glen Croe road and so we were looking at either a 70-miles detour north via Oban or hop on a ferry from Dunoon. This Dane still marvels at how the Scottish landscape thwarts attempts to tame it: the road across the Arrochar Alps is really the only way to access the entire Argyll & Bute peninsula by car and the road is plagued by constant landslides. We opted for the ferry which gave us a few comedy moments..

.. but I had a lovely time with some of the best people I know. I can certainly recommend a knitting retreat as a good way of restoring cheerfulness and well-being (my leg is slowly getting better and the main issues are now fatigue & stamina.).

It will not be the last time we do this.

For the Love of Indie Dyers

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A big thank you to Victoria of Eden Cottage Yarns for sending me this sneak peek of her new yarn, Milburn 4ply. It arrived last week and it brightened up the day. I am yet to wind any of the skeins and swatch, but I have played with colourwork patterns in my head. That oatmeal/grey colour is particularly speaking to me – I am going through a bit of a neutral phase – and I love how the other colours sing to each other. Designing a palette is always hard (every colour needs to be distinct but still play well with the others) but Vicki has pulled it off.

The UK has some of the most amazing indie dyers and I feel so fortunate that I have ready access to names like Vicki, Skein Queen (new website!), Juno Fibre Arts, Lioness Yarns, Kettle Yarn Co., Triskelion Yarns, and The Knitting Goddess. Yarn is shipped quickly and I get to see them ‘live’ at the various shows. Scotland is particularly strong on indie dyers: I’m a huge fan of  Old Maiden Aunt; RipplesCrafts‘ amazing colours are pulled from her Highland surroundings, and The Yarn Yard is well-established as a go-to dyer for sock lovers.

One of the many things I really appreciate about many UK dyers is their commitment to offering a variety of bases – many of which are UK-specific breeds. Sourcing the right bases is one of the hardest thing for an indie dyer (followed closely by being able to source enough for a sustainable business) but so many of them are now selling yarns that are so much more than just a merino or a wool/nylon mix. They are showing a real commitment to showcasing the best of British fibre – and I think this is something we should celebrate. They are small, local businesses, they are supporting other small, local businesses and knitters get to discover what makes Polwarth wool different from Corridale wool, say. Win-win for all concerned.

Louise Scollay of KnitBritish recently wrote about the Dos and Donts of Knitting Locally. It is a wonderful post which pokes holes in a lot of myths surrounding knitting locally. It does not have to be more expensive, nor is it more difficult to care for. Being thoughtful about your yarn choices is maybe something to requires a bit more mindfulness (especially next time you are in a yarn shop and are overcome with omg, all the yarn!) but it is doable and rewarding.

I’d love to see a big collaboration between indie dyers and local designers. I try to work with as many indie dyers as I can, but I am just one person. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a plethora of the best UK indie designers collaborating with the best UK indie dyers? How do you as a knitter feel about this? What would you love to see happening within the UK indie community? And who are your favourite dyers? I know there are some dyers I am yet to discover!

Twin Practices

Knitting, if acquired in youth becomes so mechanical an employment that the occupations of reading and knitting can be carried on simultaneously; while the benefit of early training in this work is felt in extreme old age, and when the sight is dim or lost, a pleasant creation is still open for the experienced knitter

– from “Myra’s Knitting Lessons. No.1” circa 1800

I still haven’t really mastered it – I find it easier to knit along to TV, films and podcasts. And thank you to Louise Scollay of KnitBritish for pointing me towards Myra’s Knitting Lessons. How marvellous.

2013: My Year in Knitting

If 2012 was my year of ‘throwing out the oughts’, 2013 was my year of discovering what happens when I try to ‘do what I love doing’. And the answer? A lot of things happen.

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The Edinburgh Yarn Festival was an early highlight for me. I was teaching a class and also helped Ms Old Maiden Aunt on her stall. I met a lot of fantastic people; most importantly I met a lot of you lovely blog readers (hello!) but I was also happy to meet fellow industry people. Working in the knitting industry can feel almost isolated at times so events like EYF are fantastic for meeting “colleagues”. And a huge thank you to L. for bringing me breakfast at 2pm!

I also went to Woolfest in Cumbria at the beginning of June and the PomPom Magazine PopUp Xmas Party in December. Again, meeting a lot of great people and marvelling at people’s creativity and talents.

March 2013 4432013 was the year of working crazily hard.

+ I published Gatsby HatGatsby Mitts, Eyre Shawl, Botanical Gardens Shawl, the Kilsyth scarf and Chinese Kites in Knit Now magazine.

+ the Doggerland collection was launched: Ronaes, Hoxne, Gillean Hat, Gillean Wristwarmers and Ythan were all released this year. Three more to come in 2014, phew.

+ I also found time to do a limited edition kit, the Tenement Tiles gloves, with Ms Old Maiden Aunt.

+ I also worked on several other designs that are yet to be published.

+ I also did a nice amount of teaching, copy editing, tech editing, and knitterly translations throughout the year as well as keeping up with my part-time job as a design consultant for a well-known UK yarn company.

(Note to self: this is why you needed a holiday in December!)

Selfish knitting? There was a tiny bit.

+ I discovered how much I love fair-isle by knitting the Orkney & Bute cardigans (both from Rowan 52). Neither are finished at this stage but I loved every single stitch.

+ I finished the Stevie cardigan by Sarah Hatton. I absolutely love it and it became my go-to cardigan immediately. I’d love to knit another one. I also knitted Sarah’s Edith shawl in one of my favourite shades of Rowan Kidsilk Haze.

+ I am currently knitting the Castiel hat by Woolly Wormhead in some yarn I bought in Copenhagen. It’s a nice, easy pattern that’s great for when my head’s tired and I need some comfort knitting.

2013 saw a lot of patterns that I loved on sight but haven’t had time to knit.

+ Blanche Too by Susan Crawford made it to my queue the minute I saw it. It is a classic jumper with those tiny Susan-touches that just makes it stand out. It’s next on my needles.
+ Cinnamon Girl Cardigan by Amy Christoffers. It’s the shape of the garment that makes this cardigan such a stand-out for me. It is a contemporary take on the classic Aran cardigan – and how much do I love the reverse stocking stitch sleeves?
+ Rock Candy Pullover by Talitha Kuomi is the quitessential Karie jumper. It is a classic shape but has clever touches and details that make it special.
+ Happy Triangles by Kiyomi Burgin is one pattern I’ll probably never make but it is so perfect for right here & now that it is ridiculous.

September 2013 239So. 2014? It will look quite a bit like 2013, I imagine.

I have things on my desk right now that I need to sign off by end of next week. I am back doing things with Glasgow University in early 2014. Doggerland will be wrapped up (and how I will miss it) and a new big project launched. More patterns will be released. I will be teaching classes – and I’ll probably get all stressed out by mid-June!

However, Sarah has issued me with two challenges. Can I design a pair of socks? Can I design a garment? Of course I can.

2013 was insanely busy, so I do need to work on my work-life balance, but it has also been very rewarding on a personal level.

I think I have finally found my feet and I have a better understanding what I have to say as a designer. I have also met some really amazing people along the way and I certainly leave this year feeling stronger and happier as a result. It has been rough along the way but it has been worth it.

Thank you for 2013. Godt nytår – happy new year.

On Devaluating Hand-Knitting

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It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve taken some time off. I have more time off soon which means I’ll be away from my office for the first time since .. Christmas last year. Ahem.

I have collaborated with the very lovely Old Maiden Aunt on something which will be released whilst I am away from my office. We began plotting this almost eight months ago. It is crazy how quickly time flies. The photo shoot happened earlier this week – you can see the beautiful Glasgow tenement buildings to the left. Ah, don’t let the winter sunshine fool you. It was bitterly cold.

But let us talk a bit about knitting. It’s a bit of a ramble from here on in.

Earlier this week, I met a talented girl who had designed and knitted a 4-ply jumper for a client. The client had asked the girl to supply the yarn as well as design/knit it. I asked how much the girl had charged?

An entire 4-ply (fingering-weight) jumper from design conception to finished item and including the yarn. £35. Let me repeat that: thirty-five pounds.

When I asked her why she’d charged that little, she shrugged and replied: “Because the client didn’t want to pay anything more and even baulked at £35”. I got very, very angry at this stage. I didn’t get angry at the girl because she was obviously just trying to make a little money. No, I got angry at a marketplace which so devalues hand-knitting to the point where a customer baulks at paying more than £35 for a custom piece (including materials!) and manages to get away with it. Make that a marketplace in which the customer manages to get away with it again and again because I have heard the same story many times.

That is not okay.

Why is it that hand-knitting is so devalued? Skilled artisan-makers like the girl I met are paid pennies when they should be earning pounds. Is it because hand-knitting is predominantly female-centric? Is it because history has taught the marketplace that hand-knitting is something poor people do to make ends meet and poor people can be exploited? Is it because hand-knitting is perceived as being ‘a hobby’ that people do between their ‘real’ jobs? I looked at hand-knitters and I am amazed at their skills, patience and talent. Maybe I am wrong – certainly the marketplace tells me so.

I have never knitted for money –  but I do get asked an awful lot if I am willing to take on commissions. Usually the punter wants me to whip up an aran cardigan because a machine-knitted acrylic version is deemed too expensive. When did we move from “mass produced” = inferior to “mass produced” = superior? To my mind, a one-off piece created by a skilled artisan using excellent materials should always be considered more valuable. How do we change this perception?

I am not an artisan maker and while I hesitate to label what I do, I’m probably more of an artisan makar. “Makar” is an old Scottish word for “poet” or “bard” – and I think of my knitting designs as a way of telling stories with stitches. I care about how hand-knitting is perceived and treated. I know exactly how much time and skill go into designing and writing a pattern – what does that say about my time and skill that Ravelry currently holds 122,147 free patterns? How could I possibly add value to a pattern (and price it at £3) when 122,147 patterns are free?

It’s a weird job I have chosen and it is a strange industry too. All I can do is hope that you’ll like my collaboration with Lilith (note: it involves an essay about cholera, false teeth and William Morris). I’ll be back with a gift-buying guide for the knitters in your life. Treat them well: they are super-skilled and deserve a treat.