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Something to Think About: Articles on Textiles & Wool

Are you looking forward to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival? My plans were slightly scuppered this week when I was laid low by the lurgy. So, no handmade dresses for me but I shall dance around EYF nonetheless (hopefully without coughing).

I thought I’d share some links with you.

+ Mark My Words: The Subversive History of Women Using Thread as Ink. A chilling, important read about how women have used textiles to communicate.

“..a rich tradition of women stitching words onto clothes, turning to thread and fabric in place of ink and paper. The reason behind this practice is obvious: Embroidery, needlework and darning were traditionally a female domain. That’s why we have the word “needlewoman” and not “needleman.” Much has already been made of the power to play with that heritage. Throughout modern history, plenty of artists have reclaimed this craft, which was once overlooked and consigned to the realms of the domestic.”

+ Losing the Thread: Textiles As Technology:

“..As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts.

As understandable as it might be, forgetting about textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage. It cuts us off from essential aspects of the human past, including the lives and work of women.”

And I know that this one has been doing the rounds, but it is still wonderful (and I have Viking blood in my veins, so that makes me even more happy).

+ No Wool, No Vikings: The Fleece That Launched a 1,000 Ships:

“..All that wool! It took land and farming skills to raise the sheep that supplied the wool, and a support network of (mostly) women whose spindles and looms produced the cloth. Textile archaeologist Jørgensen says the introduction of sails must have greatly increased the demand for wool and grazing land. Norway-based historical textile researcher Amy Lightfoot has even speculated that the demand for pastureland might have driven the Viking expansion as much as the gleaming temptations of stolen treasure and legitimate trade. Clearly the classic image of wild-haired Viking warriors isn’t the whole story.”

Enjoy your reading. I am off to snuggle up in bed underneath blankets with some comforting garter stitch. I’ll see you at EYF or beyond.

Getting Ready for Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016

March 2015 052I cannot believe Edinburgh Yarn Festival is less than two weeks away. Where did the time go?!

Last year I was so busy that I never really made it into the marketplace and I missed out on so much. This year I may be teaching three classes, but I’ve made sure not to overcommit myself. No pop-up stall, no evening shenanigans, and no .. well, okay.. I do have a few things planned but I’ll get back to those closer to the Festival.

If you have never been to a fibre festival before, I wrote a small survival guide last year. EYF is one of the biggest events on the knitting calendar and my guide contains some great tips.

However, I’ve heard from people that they think EYF sounds too big and stressful – this could not be further from the truth. Despite the apparent scale of EYF, it is rooted in community. It is a real celebration of the knitting community, you’ll be among like-minded people, and there are big pockets of calm throughout. Last year the Podcast Lounge was an amazing place to hang out with comfy sofas, people knitting, and lovely podcasters like Louise, Jo & Louise spreading joy (and calmness). It looks set to be another great year for the Lounge, so that’s a great place to visit if you need a break from the marketplace.

Speaking of the marketplace, I have quite a few places I want to check out.

Blacker Yarns is one of my top priorities. They are sponsoring the Podcast Lounge and I’m keen on seeing the Tamar colour range as well as checking out a few other yarns I am curious about. Jamieson’s of Shetland is always another draw for me. And naturally I am going to swing past my friends at Midwinter Yarns to have a look at their Nordic goodies. I’ve primarily worked with their Pirkkalanka yarns  from Finland, but the Ullcentrum and Filcolana yarns are also well worth a look. The Gotland yarn is particularly lovely but you do owe it to yourself to have a look at Pirkkalanka. I’m also excited about New Lanark showing up to spread the word about their fantastic workhorse yarns spun just down the road from me.

Then the small indie yarnies. I missed Dublin Dye last year and I was kicking myself. The Little Grey Sheep is also on my list (mmm, gradient packs) and I’m so excited to see The Wool Kitchen with their modern, zingy approach to dyeing. If you’ve yet to see the stunning mohair/Wensleydale yarns from Whistlebare, you are also in for a treat. I’ll be there gazing adoringly.

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And perennial favourites too. I think it’ll be the first visit up north for Kettle Yarn Company – do not miss her. Linda has some really special yarns and a painterly approach to dyeing. Caerthan of Triskelion is your go-to man for rich, deep, astounding jewel colours. Eden Cottage Yarns is another must-visit with her soft, wistful colour palette and unique bases. Skein Queen is back this year with her luxury yarns – I especially love her eye for semi-solids. My good friend Old Maiden Aunt will also be back with her dark, rich colours dyed on the West Coast of Scotland. Finally, Wollmeise. If you need an introduction to Wollmeise, try a Ravelry search. Wollmeise is stuff of knitting legends: strong, vibrant colours on bases that appeal to both sock fans and lace geeks. I think she might be quite busy but I’m still planning to drop by.

ETA. Pretty darn excited to hear that the Knitting Goddess is not just bringing her exquisite hand-dyed yarns (don’t miss her Colour Wheels) but also FQs with screen-printed knitting designs. I swooned over them on Twitter and will be first in line to see these wih my own eyes.

Skein Queen Gotland loveliness

Three stalls you and I won’t want to miss:

Shilasdair hails from the Isle of Skye and I used their stunning Luxury 4ply for my Burnet hat you’ll find in Wool Tribe. Their yarns are naturally dyed (the plants are still picked by hand) and the colours are inspired by the Scottish Highlands.

The Queen of Purls is not just my local yarn shop, but also the name under which Queen Zoe dyes her own yarns. She leans towards a soft, nature-inspired palette (particularly good on yellows and oranges which can be hard to find). It’ll be her first time vending at EYF as Queen of Purls and I cannot wait to see her selection.

Ripples Crafts probably needs no introduction either. Helen lives up, up, up north in the Highlands and dyes yarns that reflect her surroundings. She has a big number of fans already, but if you are curious to see the yarn I used for Frances Herself, do pop by. I am certainly planning to do so!

Finally, finally, I am planning on simply catching up with friends. Because Edinburgh Yarn Festival is essentially about catching up with friends, forging new friendship bonds and being part of a big, lovely, squishy community. See you there.

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Review: Blacker Yarns Tamar

Knitting has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. When I first got back into knitting, we had all sorts of fibres available to us: silk, cotton, bamboo, pineapple, banana, milk and .. well, wool. Some yarns stated they were merino wool but most yarns just said wool. If you are a keen knitter, you may have noticed that has changed.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Clara Parkes and Deb Robson, us ordinary knitters now understand that wool is not just wool. There are many different sheep breeds – each offering their own particular type of fleece which has its own properties. Some breeds have a lot of lustre, other breeds have very strong fibres etc. We also talk about knitting local (Ms Knit British is exceptionally vocal about this!) and we are beginning to understand that what different wools have to offer. Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have companies like Blacker Yarns that are truly passionate about all the different sheep breeds around us and what they have to offer a hand-knitter.

This blog post has been a long time in the making: I am passionate about making people think about what yarns they are using and how different yarns act differently; I am also passionate about making sure my yarn has not travelled more times around the globe than I have; I also worry about animal welfare and the provenance of fibres. These things matter to me as a knitter.

So, I was sent a small sample of Blacker Yarns’ new yarn, Tamar – a mix of Teeswater, Leicester Longwool and Wensleydale. I wound it by hand because I wanted to feel its handle before I started working with it. It has a certain stickiness to it which I found interesting given its description of having drape and lustre. I am not a spinner and words like drape and lustre made me think of silk. Tamar was definitely not silky as I wound it.

Then I began knitting with it. I started out using the stitch pattern I also used for Frances Herself – a small motif with a stocking stitch centre encircled by decreases. Tamar responded beautifully with a touch of halo. Then I switched to stocking stitch and I saw why the yarn was described by having drape and lustre. It flowed off the needles with a cheery little kick. I liked the fabric. Finally I did some rows in garter stitch. This was probably my favourite knitting experience. The yarn produced a light fabric with a lot of bounce, but crucially the drape was still there.

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Let me explain.

If you are working with garter stitch, you usually end up with quite a dense, bouncy fabric which stays put. You have to compensate for the density by switching up needle sizes (e.g. if you are working a shawl in garter stitch and you want to introduce some drape – this is where designers’ yarn suggestions are crucial). I was so pleased when I realised that Tamar retained its drape despite the bouncy garter stitch. As a designer, that is really rather cool. I sat thinking how I’d respond to the yarn during the design process. I wouldn’t need to make as many compromises on my needle size which meant I could be slightly more particular about design features. It’s always joyful when a yarn provokes such responses in you.

The palette of the yarn is beautiful. The grey tone of the Leicester Longwool gives the dyed shades a really lovely muted look. I also like the range of colours. It feels wonderfully well worked out with dark, mid-, and light tones all represented. This is perfect for colourwork purposes and I really appreciate when a yarn company takes that into account.

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Verdict?

Tamar is a beautiful, beautiful yarn. It is fantastic to see Blacker Yarns continuing to develop yarns that are breed-specific and take the knit local ethos seriously. It is also fantastic to see a yarn that feels so very, very thoughtful. As a knitter I feel very fortunate; as a designer, I find it incredibly exciting.

And just because I sometimes get the urge to say it: I don’t do sponsored content. I carry a strict policy on what I review and write about. I need to fall in love with something before I decide to write about it. I was sent a small sample of Tamar by Blacker Yarns, but that is not why I wrote this blog post. I wrote it because I fell in love. It’s that straightforward.

PS. If you are neither in the States nor in the UK, I am very sure you also have local sheep breeds. I urge you to do your own research and see what your local yarn companies are doing. Some places have very ancient sheep breeds – like Iceland, the Faroes, and Norway – but I would love to know more about other parts of the world. Please leave a comment telling me about your local sheep and yarns!

Joeli’s Kitchen Retreat 2016

This past weekend I made my way south to Manchester. I was invited by Joeli to teach at her first ever knitting retreat. Usually my experience of knitting retreats is restricted to pyjamas, an open fire, 1980s films on DVD & a very small group of friends, so this was very different. The JKRetreat was basically a mini-knitting festival with a handful of teachers (*coughs*), Q&As with awesome folk, around 248919304 knitters making new friends or meeting old ones, and a totally fantastic vendor market.

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I lived briefly in Manchester in the 1990s, so I was excited about heading there again. I didn’t recognise a thing! It took me forever to find my way out of the train station and make my way to the hotel where we were all gathered. Granted, I could get lost in a phone booth (remember those?) but I used to live there! On the first night there, it was a joy to meet up with the other teachers and the speakers: Kate Heppell, Kate Atherley, Jules Billings, Louise Scollay, Isla Davison, Allison of Yarn in the City (launching the London Craft Guide in the north!), and Joeli herself. Usually we only meet in crowded halls at festivals, so it was nice to have an evening to chat and catch up.

The sociable evening turned out to be an omen for how the retreat itself went. I was so happy to recognise many familiar faces and I especially loved seeing all the splendid knitwear on display. I live vicariously through other knitters and the knitwear was just astounding. I started the first morning by recognising CountrySinger by her Byatt shawl (it is even more beautiful up close) and that set the standard for the rest of the weekend. So many creative, warm, funny people. I am not going to mention you all because I’d invariably forget someone – but everyone was so lovely.

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I taught two classes (colourwork & lace), the indomitable Scollay waxed lyrically about British sheep breeds, Joeli taught tech editing & drop spindling, Kate Atherley spoke about her knitting journey as well as taught classes on designing and garment fit; Kate H. talked about how a magazine is put together and Jules ran a finishing class and a class on knitting technique. I soaked up the atmosphere and I learned so much just from being around brilliant knitters.

Yarn. There was a lot.

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I was mysteriously restrained, but I think I was overwhelmed! Three rooms were opened to vendors and there were some really stunning yarns. The naturally dyed classy shades from Sylvan Tiger Yarn in Yorkshire (I love her gradient packs), BritYarn showcased some fantastic local yarns (I was especially smitten by her Dodgson Wood Castlemilk Moorit/BFL DK), the rich jewel colours of Travelknitter, and then I fell head over heels in love with Countess Ablaze. I have never met a saturated colour I didn’t love and thankfully the Countess shares my predicament. I’m not a sock knitter, otherwise the damage to my bank account would have been much worse. I left with just one skein.

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But that colour, right? This is a glorious 50% Masham/50% BFL blend in a DK weight and the moment I laid eyes on it, I knew it was going to be my preciousssss. I had such a fantastic time at the retreat recharging my creative juices and I left with my head spinning. See you next year (I hope?).

Back at work today and it is going to be a manic fortnight leading up to Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I’ve designed a hat called Burnet for WOOL TRIBE, the Edinburgh Yarn Festival exclusive magazine. Inspired by tenement tiles, the hat is knitted in two shades of Shilasdair Luxury 4ply – a stunning yarn dyed on the Isle of Skye here in Scotland. I’m just one of a handful of designers featured – the others are Ysolda Teague, Gudrun Johnston, Lucy Hague and EYF’s own Jo & Mica.

Pre-orders for WOOL TRIBE can be found here. The magazine will not be available as a digital download, but you can have it sent to your home or collect it at the festival.

I’ll be back soon with more, more news.

Authors & Artists: The Frances Herself Shawl

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Helen Lockhart of Ripples Crafts dyes exquisite yarns from her home in the Scottish Highlands. I first met Helen at a knitting conference when her stall was next to mine. We bonded immediately, so I cannot believe that it took us nearly five years to finally collaborate. We decided on our collaboration at In The Loop. I fell deeply in love with the blue-teal shade (Stormy Seas) and the rest followed. The rich magenta (Jewelled) and the warm grey (Assynt Peat) worked perfectly in unison. Working with her Quinag base was an absolute joy. The BFL gave Helen’s colours additional depth and the yarn flowed through my fingers.

The construction of Frances Herself will be familiar if you knitted my Byatt shawl (though it works in a slightly different way). You increase alongbthe top edge at an accelerated page which makes the shawl grow very rapidly in one direction and at a more considered pace in the other. It makes for wonderful asymmetry when worn – yet it is surprisingly straightforward to work. I do not believe in overcomplicating patterns when wonderful results can be achieved in a straightforward manner!

A lot of the Frances Herself joy is derived from working with such wonderful handdyed yarns. Frances Macdonald McNair was a child of the Arts & Crafts movement and its truth to material ideas. Truth to material simply means that you take the material that is best suited to your project and you showcase it honestly. The shawl is designed to reflect that. I am a big fan of basic stitches (like stocking stitch and garter stitch) precisely because they let handdyed yarns take centre stage.

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I have included a guide to modifying the colour sequence so you can make it work with your given yardage. I used three colours in this shawl – one neutral and two jewel-like colours. If you are considering other colours, think about getting enough contrast between the two contrast colours. You might also be tempted by mini-packs of yarn – Col B would be the obvious candidate for this – so keep the following yardage breakdown in mind:

Col A: Gray / Assynt Peat (approx. 380m/ 415 yds)
Col B: Magenta / Jewelled (approx 180m/196 yds)
Col C: Teal / Stormy Seas (approx 180 m/196 yds)

Another modification you might like is beading. Frances Macdonald McNair used beads extensively – both as material and as visual metaphor. I opted not to add any (mostly as I was travelling when knitting my shawl and there is no worse combination than beads & a bumpy road) but it’d look incredible done right. If you want to add beads, I suggest doing it in the middle of the garter stitch sections with the beads nicely spaced out. I would also suggest choosing beads that reflects cols B and C – you do not have to agree!

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The shawl was knitted on 4.5mm needles which the beautiful 4ply yarn was more than capable of handling. I strongly urge you to swatch if you substitute with any other 4ply yarn (and also to check your yardage!). The open fabric has a lot of drape and character, yet it still retains a sense of itself. I love how the lace pattern blocked out – it looks like tiny tenement tiles which is so very apt for a pattern inspired by Arts & Crafts in Scotland.

You can buy the pattern here. If you are going to Edinburgh Yarn Festival, make sure to check out Helen’s stall where she’ll be happy to advise on colour combinations (and we might have more up on our collective sleeve!).

(Note: I am away from keyboard February 26-28 2016, so I’ll get back to any queries as soon as I can afterwards).

Authors & Artists: Frances Macdonald McNair – or Frances Herself

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The first artist in my Authors & Artists series is Frances Macdonald McNair (1873-1921). She 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. Their work was multi-disciplinary (though that concept didn’t exist then): painting, furniture design, architecture, textiles and metalwork. Margaret Macdonald married Charles Rennie; Frances married J. Herbert McNair. The future was bright.

Charles would go on to be an incredibly influential architect. He was lauded across Europe and influenced Gustav Klimt in Vienna. His wife collaborated with him extensively. Today the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society is dedicated to preserving his heritage (just a hop & a skip from where I am typing this!) and he was commemorated on a series of bank notes in 2008.

The McNairs led an unhappy life, however. They had exhibited across Europe in the early 1900s but just a decade later, everything was in tatters. 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. It is notable that even as Herbert McNair stopped producing art (around 1911), Frances kept painting.

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This watercolour dates from when life started wobbling – 1907 – and is entitled Girl & Butterflies.

 

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This is called Woman Standing Behind the Sun. It was painted sometime between 1912 and 1915 – when Herbert’s career was in serious decline, their marriage mostly over, and Frances was looking after their child. The symbolism is fairly clear.

 

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This is the amazingly named Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them – again painted sometime between 1912 and 1915. I’m not a psychologist, but I think we can agree on the anger emanating from this painting.

I find Frances really, really interesting. She is an artist that seems almost unbearably twee with faerie princesses, butterflies, bows, gauzy dresses and long flowing locks of hair – but if you scratch the surface you find serious thoughts on women’s rights, motherhood, society, and (lack of) equality. Even her early art asks questions about identity: who am I as an artist, why am I being defined by men, how can I break free? Her later art is more outspoken and confrontational – it is as though Frances decided to cast off her mask. Her late watercolours show near-nightmares of darkness crashing against frail female bodies – as an artist she was very much rooted in the Symbolist art movement.

Herbert McNair destroyed most of Frances Macdonald McNair’s work after her death. I presume her work did not depict him in a particularly flattering light.

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Bow, Beads, Birds (1911)

I celebrate Frances. She was struggling to be an artist on her terms; her art shows a woman grappling with huge topics, and her having a very limited outlet for her struggles. We are still struggling to be heard and we are still struggling to be taken serious. We are still defined by men and we are still expected to conform to society’s expectations.

So, Frances Herself. I struggled to name the shawl but ultimately it is about Frances herself – and by extension our right to be ourselves no matter who we are. This is already a very long post – and I like leaving this celebration of Frances here. I’ll talk about the shawl in tomorrow’s post (it’ll include details on colours and modification – including how to add beads if you want to give the shawl even more Glasgow Style).

All images via Wikimedia Commons.

Why Naming A Pattern Can Be Hard

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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.

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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?

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

Making & Doing: Shawl, Skirt & Teaching

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Happier times ahead. We had a photo shoot yesterday for this asymmetrical shawl knitted in three colours of Ripples Crafts BFL 4ply. I’ll be writing much more about this shawl later (including my source of inspiration, why it’s the next instalment of Authors & Artists, and how it is constructed) but for now let’s glance downwards..

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Hello skirt! This is one of the first things I’ve whipped up since I started dress-making again. I made this skirt in just a few hours and it worked perfectly for the photo shoot.

I use the super-simple Burda 6682 and made View B. The fabric is a slightly stretchy cotton poplin I found in a remnant bin in Glasgow’s Mandors. I had around 0.75m and still managed to eke out a knee-length skirt. The construction couldn’t be simpler: darts front & back, side & back seams, zipper, waistband, hem, done. I had never inserted a regular zipper before (it’s always been invisible zips until now) but even that went without a hitch. I’m not entirely happy with how the waistband was attached – it was easy but looks a bit sloppy on the inside – so I’m going to try a slightly more fiddly waistband next time. I think my perfectionist tendencies are rearing their heads again..

.. but the skirt is super-comfortable and fits well. Its no-nonsense style makes it a good, basic pattern that I can see myself making again and again. Well, I am trying to make an everyday wardrobe, after all! The next skirt will be made of a medium weight denim that I picked up at the same time as the pattern. I have a bit more fabric to play with this time, so I might add a bit more length.

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I’m off to Manchester this weekend for the Joeli’s Kitchen retreat. There are going to be all sorts of amazing people there and I cannot wait to see everybody.

Next Wednesday I am going to be at Kendal’s finest wool establishment, Williams Wools. I’m teaching a class on colourwork and how to design it yourself. I know people have lots of ideas in their heads, but it can be difficult translating those ideas into a project. I’ll also talk about how to find the right colour combinations because that is probably one of the questions I get asked the most!

Then Saturday the 6th I am back up in Dundee’s Fluph Shop doing c-c-cables in the morning (sorting out those C2R, CNB, and T3R abbreviations!) and Shetland lace shawls in the afternoon. It’s never dull teaching at Fluph and I expect a fair amount of difficult questions flung at me!

I’m late updating my workshop page due to Life Happening, but hopefully that’ll whet everybody’s appetite! I’ll return with more details about the new pattern and some Edinburgh Yarn Festival lowdown!

Saying Goodbye & Knitting On.

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Earlier this month we had some very sad news. David’s father fell ill and passed away unexpectedly. We went north to a small Aberdeenshire fishing village to join the rest of the immediate family in preparation for one of the hardest days a family can face. David’s father was a man who made a difference to other people’s lives. We heard from hundreds of people how he had encouraged them to be the very best they could be; how he had made people laugh; how he was a friend to everyone he met; and how his generous, keen mind transformed lives. As a family we loved him deeply – we learned that our love was shared by not just the local community but also by the generations of children he had taught. To me, he was both family and one of the finest friends anyone could hope to have. I had a long conversation with him just a week before he passed away. We spoke of our hopes and fears. As always, he urged me to believe in myself and told me put my trust in other people.

On the way north I was working on a knitting project with tears silently running down my face. I felt a touch on my shoulder: a stranger had seen my tears and felt compelled to reach out. The stranger wondered if I wanted a cup of tea from his flask? David’s father had been right: other people will reach out and help whenever they can. The stranger’s offer was one of the loveliest, most timely gifts I have ever received.

I worked on my knitting project in the fishing village. The mindless garter stitch was all I could manage (and sometimes not even that!) but the familiar rhythm of the needles was soothing. I focused on the feel of the yarn as it slipped through my fingers. Whenever the telephone calls and the emotional labour threatened to overwhelm me, I sat down to knit. I pulled out several rows over and over. Knitting helped.

We travelled up and down the country. David read. I knitted on. Amid it all, I celebrated my birthday. The stranger’s offer of tea had been a gift. Friends spending time with us was a gift too.

The past fortnight has been very hard. Both David and I have taken much comfort from all the condolences we have been offered. Thank you to everyone who has reached out.

We are slowly settling back into normal life again. I am back at desk, though with reduced hours and energy. I am really, really looking forward to all the wonderful things ahead of us (Edinburgh Yarn Festival, anyone?) and I am knitting on.

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A Very Personal Note

This is just to say that life has happened.

I’m away from email & work queries for a few days. I don’t know when I’ll return to work. If you have any queries, please ask in my Ravelry group where I’m sure the fantastic knitters will be happy to help.

Love those around you & let them know every day.

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