Karie Bookish Dot Net

Why Naming A Pattern Can Be Hard


This is an image by Frances Macdonald McNair, a Glasgow-based artist at the turn of the century. Her art looks whimsical with sleeping princesses, fairies and gauzy dresses. In fact, her work is a lot more complicated when you look closer and she’s the inspiration for my new shawl pattern.

As part of my job I help other people figure out their pattern names. I usually have a wealth of names at my own disposal, but this time I am having trouble naming the pattern. This post is all about why.

Frances was born in England and attended the prestigious Glasgow School of Art with her sister, Margaret. Frances and Margaret became part of a creative collective known as The Glasgow Four together with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and James Herbert McNair. Margaret married Charles; Frances married Herbert.

While Charles went on to become an incredibly influential architect and collaborated extensively with his wife, the McNairs led an unhappy life. McNair’s family had some financial misfortunes, he started drinking, and his career stalled. Frances suppressed her own career in order to help Herbert with his. She had his son, left the marriage briefly but returned before dying at the age of 48. Her husband destroyed most of her artwork after Frances’ death.


I went to see an exhibition on the McNairs about ten years ago. I was struck by how Frances was the much better artist of the two – her line work, sense of colour, and understanding of storytelling in art were all superior to her husband. I will be writing about her art tomorrow, but suffice to say I find Frances Macdonald McNair intensely interesting. She was an artist whose talent could not fully blossom because of her gender and the age in which she lived. If she had been born just a few decades later, perhaps her life story would have looked very different. She is deeply inspiring for many reasons – I’ll share more tomorrow.

Naming my pattern is hard.

I want to honour Frances as the artist she was and could not be. I want to tell her story rather than a story in which she is relegated to being a wife or a sister-in-law of a celebrated man. Frances yields 77 pages of hits on Ravelry.

I cannot name the pattern after the man who destroyed most of her art work. McNair is not even an option.

I do not want to name the pattern Macdonald because not only does it mean the son of Donald but it also has a whiff of greasy chips.

Glasgow Girl is an option. It was the name of a 1990 exhibition about the female artists flourishing in Glasgow at the turn of the 20th century (and is a nice counter to another Glasgow creative collective, The Glasgow Boys) but Frances only lived in Glasgow briefly.

Frances used either very generic names for her art work (Spring; Autumn; Ophelia), deeply ironic names (Sleeping Princess), or amazingly angry names that are totally unsuitable (Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them).

Any ideas?


Photo of shawl by Dave Fraser. Imagery by Frances Macdonald McNair via WikiMedia Commons.

23 Thoughts on “Why Naming A Pattern Can Be Hard

  1. These issues (lack of equality of recognition) are so depressingly commonplace. Thanks for writing about them, and for highlighting Frances’s work. I’m off to look her up and look forward to your post about her art.

    As to pattern names, how about “Frances Herself”?

  2. Glasgow Ophelia

  3. I’d call it “The Space In Between”. Frances was an artist in the space between being a wife, between being a mother, between her sister and brother-in-law. Despite all this, her work was beautiful and light like the lace panels between the garter stitch on yoru shawl.

  4. Jackie Manni on February 24, 2016 at 2:56 pm said:

    paradox (n.)
    1530s, “statement contrary to common belief or expectation,” from Middle French paradoxe (14c.) and directly from Latin paradoxum “paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true,” from Greek paradoxon, noun use of neuter of adjective paradoxos “contrary to expectation, incredible,” from para- “contrary to” (see para- (1)) + doxa “opinion,” from dokein “to appear, seem, think” (see decent). Meaning “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue” is from 1560s. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

    I think it was not only simply the time (there were other women who rejected marriage and motherhood before and at her current time) but it was that she herself was conflicted. So, Paradox, or even A Paradox like the painting or something with her name and paradox? This painting so strongly shows the appeal AND illusion of marriage/motherhood to me. It’s stunning.

  5. jean006 on February 24, 2016 at 2:58 pm said:

    “Forever Frances”
    I visited Glasgow in January and was totally overwhelmed by the MacDonald sisters art work. It is all so beautiful and so complicated. I found it all so moving and would have loved to have spent more time studying their time on this planet.
    I really look forward to receiving your next post.

  6. woollythinker on February 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm said:

    I quite like Frances Herself.

    For another idea, how about Threader? In reference to that painting title, and her own work in embroidery, and the “threads” (ok, ok, bands) of different colours in your gorgeous shawl.

  7. She made a piece called “Ill Omen, or Girl in the East Wind with Ravens Passing the Moon”. The colours of your shawl make me think of ravens with moon light over their feathers, which are never just black.

  8. Frances’s Fairytale?

    I absolutely love your new shawl and the art of Frances. :)

  9. Inês G. on February 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm said:

    The title about the beads is interesting — you could just call it Threading. It resonates both with the title and with the activity itself — threading yarn!

  10. Some great suggestions already, but I liked the phrase ‘Beads of Life’, and the idea that women ‘thread the beads of life’. Some obvious parallels there with thread, yarn & so on, plus some bead-like motifs on the shawl perhaps?

  11. How could her husband do that?! Awful. Such a wonderful post, Karie – just the very reason I mentioned you on my podcast episode yesterday – love how you find your inspiration as it hits home with me too. I like GLASGOW GIRL – seems perfect to me. Beautiful design – I look forward to knitting it.

  12. Wendy Leigh-Bell on February 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm said:

    I have not yet come up with any name ideas, however I am wishing you were in Hamilton, Ontario, to see the exhibition of the ‘Beaver Hall Group’ of artists many of whom were women working in Montreal in the 1920s. They started at the same time as the far more well known Group of Seven artists -all male. You can look up the images, however, try Art Gallery of Hamilton and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Thanks for introducing me to this work. The shawl is lovely, too. I made baby layette clothes with a similar lace for my two bairns, aged 20 and 22 now from a vintage Woman’s Weekly knitting pattern. Is that stitch sometimes called Bluebell? Would that get us going on the name? Cheerio,Wendy Leigh-Bell

  13. why is it that when your financial existence goes down the proverbial toilet,that men always begin drinking??? that is never a viable solution to anything,only a recipe for personal disaster…much of that is what poor frances must have suffered,when surely she had once had much bigger dreams…how about “frances’ dream” or “a fairy’s dream” for a name for your shawl?

  14. Jennifer T. on February 24, 2016 at 5:26 pm said:

    I came to suggest Finding Frances, which I really like, but some of the other suggestions are so lovely that now I think you might have an even harder time having to chose among them than you did having to come up with something.

    Whatever you end up with, the shawl itself is lovely.

  15. Shuna Marr on February 24, 2016 at 6:06 pm said:

    I looked and ‘inspired by Frances’ has no hits so it would be an original name for the pattern

  16. I love her work! How about “Frances’ Threads” as a nod to both her storytelling skills and her critique on gender inequality?

  17. notsogranny on February 24, 2016 at 8:31 pm said:

    “Women must thread them” is an ace name for a shawl!

  18. Joyofchicks on February 25, 2016 at 1:10 am said:

    ‘Serf can irk man’ is almost an anagram of her name (though not the greatest shawl name in the world!)

  19. Marie Biswell on February 25, 2016 at 2:20 am said:

    What about just …. In Honour. ?

  20. smallbear on February 25, 2016 at 10:28 am said:

    I love Frances’ work, her Ophelia is a most beautiful and poignant artwork. That she was able to produce this while under such strain and oppression is truly inspiring. How about “Frances Transcends” or “Lady of the Threads”.

  21. This is a lovely post and a lovely introduction to an artist that I wasn’t aware of before (although I do know the Beaver Hall Group of women artists that another poster mentioned and echo her recommendation to look them up. I’m also partial to another Canadian artist, Florence Carlyle who painted the most beautiful paintings of ordinary women’s lives – she really had a beautiful style and way of capturing light. So many good name suggestions here – my own is “Frances Foremost”. It’s a beautiful shawl pattern and you’ve really honoured the colours in her artwork.

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