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Authors & Artists: The Mahy Shawl

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The Mahy shawl is the second instalment in the Authors & Artists series. It is a traditional hap shawl knitted in Shetland Organics 1-ply and some of the motifs are traditionally Shetland – yet the shawl also takes it cue from a place on the other side of the world.

I was 13 when I first came across Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover. It was a YA book about Laura Chant who lived with her divorced mother and her baby brother in Gardendale – a modern suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand. I recognised myself in Laura: she was stubborn, a head too old on her shoulders, and she felt uneasy in her surroundings. Many’s book was cleverer than I realised when I first devoured the book. It is a subtle post-colonial book about finding your own identity in a young country; it references Alice in Wonderland constantly; and Mahy plays riffs on rites of passage. I had my first literary crush on the male protagonist, Sorry Carlisle – the complicated boy with labyrinths in his eyes.

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Waitangi River

But it was the mundane exoticism of New Zealand that caught my eye. I recognised the remoteness, the myths woven into every branch and stone, and the complexities of the past mixed with the present.

The Changeover sparked a lifelong romance with New Zealand. I would later drive through Paraparaumu – a town dismissed by Laura in the book – and I felt like I was walking inside the book. I re-read the book at least once a year and I still find myself reflected in it.

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Lion Rock on Piha Beach

The Mahy shawl owes its name and soul to a New Zealand author – but much of its philosophy belongs to another Margaret from New Zealand: Margaret Stove. Stove is a lace knitter and designer who I admire very much. Her book Wrapped in Lace is not just a fine collection of patterns, but Stove also writes passionately about the need to develop a local lace vocabulary. While Stove understands and respects lace knitting traditions, I am utterly fascinated by Stove’s insistence that her work needs to reflect her landscape and flora. In the book she charts local New Zealand flowers and plants – kowhai features heavily together with ferns – and I find that overwhelmingly inspirational. Why should we not respond to the world in which we live? Why should we not design inspired by what we see around us rather than base our work upon age-old stitch patterns that do not reflect our own lives?

The Mahy shawl uses old Shetland patterns as inserts, but the main motif is inspired by the stylised ferns I saw carved everywhere in New Zealand. The carved section is reflected by the applied border which is a smaller version of the carved section.

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I wanted to knit a hap shawl out of the beautiful yarn, but the design itself surprised me. I find knitting is a form of autobiography, but I had not expected to dwell on my love for The Land of the Long White Cloud. And yet it seems so obvious to explore a landscape which has had a huge impact on me: Laura Chant’s infinitely complex inner life in Mahy’s book, the music from Karekare beach, the lighthouse dwellers, the man on the Lone Kauri Road, and even comedy. For a myriad of reasons, this seems the most personal of designs.

You run from the river, when it long ran over you..

Mahy is now available from Ravelry.

Knitting Mahy – Yarn Choices

Mahy1 The weather gods were in our favour. We finally have proper photos of the Mahy shawl. I’ll write about the inspiration behind the shawl in the next blog post, but first I wanted to talk yarn.

Mahy was knitted using roughly 770 yards of Shetland Organics 1ply.

Gulp, doesn’t 1ply mean that this is cobweb, sewing-thread thin and ethereal? Oh, Karie!

No.

In this context it simply means that the yarn consists of a single strand rather than several thinner plies twisted together. The yarn is registered on Ravelry as a cobweb and I find that grossly misleading.

Shetland Organics 1ply is a heavy laceweight. I used the light grey shade which runs 700 yrds per 100 g. The shawl is knitted on 5mm needles which results in a lightweight, yet substantial fabric.

This is not an ethereal, dainty shawl. Mahy is delightfully light on my shoulders, but it is also warm and practical.

The yarn was given to me by Louise Scollay who understands my taste in yarns.  In many ways, this yarn is reminiscent of Garthenor 1ply  (which I used for my Ronaes) and also of my beloved Snældan 1ply (which I used for Hoxne and Storegga): it is a heavy laceweight which has a lot of body despite appearances, blooms beautifully after blocking, and has a great deal of character whilst you work with it. I recommend both the Garthenor and the Snældan as good substitutes. Any excuse to use Snældan, really..

But what if you don’t share my passion for crunchy, rustic and woolly laceweights? Well, here’s another photo of Mahy and then we’ll talk yarn subs.

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Susan Crawford’s Fenella 2ply would make a really lovely shawl. The yarn is a smidgen heavier, but it looks beautiful worked up in garter stitch. The colours are all subtle and beautiful – and the yarn is very well-sourced (if you care about such things – I find I increasingly do).

Mahy is a true hap shawl using traditional Shetland techniques – and if you want a traditional feel and also want colour, Jamieson’s Ultra is a natural choice. Note that the balls are 25g balls, so you’ll need to order accordingly. I find the Ultra slightly more frail during blocking than other similar yarns, so take care.

As for handdyed yarns, why not think outside the box and go for slightly heavier yarns? Dublin Dye Co. Plush Lace runs 600 yrds/100g (you’d need two hanks). MoonlightYarns does an amazing gradient set which would look stunning with Mahy. You can use finer yarns, but make sure to swatch (i.e. simply work up enough of the central triangle!) to check you like the fabric you are getting. You may also want to consider using handdyed sock/4ply/fingering yarn – it would make for a bigger shawl and you’d definitely need to watch your yardage – but I love that idea. Due to the stitch patterns used, Mahy can take a fair amount of colour shifts, actually.

Recap:

  • I used roughly 770 yards of a heavy laceweight (700yrds/100g)
  • 1ply does not automatically mean cobweb etherealness!
  • Think about yardage/weight if substituting yarn.
  • Choose a yarn that looks lovely in garter stitch on 5mm needles.

(One day I shall convert you all to squishy, crunchy, oatmealy, rustic, woolly goodness.)

Mahy will become available as soon as my technical editor gives me the thumbs up. As for now, it’s wrapped around my shoulders.

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No Pressure, Karie, No Pressure.

June 2015 157Another photo shoot beckons. I am a perfectionist and I haven’t been happy with the photos we’ve managed to get so far. The first shoot was basically us trying out a couple of locations. Obviously the first location we tried turned out to be my favourite – isn’t it always so? – but we had only shot a couple of photos. I wanted more.

So, yesterday we headed out for another shoot. I was tired and I think it showed in the images.

I used to joke about modelling being a real job, but now I know it’s actually hard work. Usually our shoots lasts between fifteen to forty-five minutes: you have to account for the light, get a variety of shots, get pattern details, and find that magic connection between yourself and the camera. So, going into a shoot with a tired body and a tired brain wasn’t the best thing.

But this is your first real glimpse of Mahy, isn’t it?

I absolutely love this shawl and I think this is one of the reasons why I’ve been so hard on the photos. I want to capture just how special this feels to me. I want the photos to convey just how amazing it felt to knit the shawl and how fantastic it feels to wear it.

No pressure, Karie.

Introducing Mahy – Design & Writing Considerations

I have a new design coming out shortly. It is possibly the prettiest thing I have ever designed and knitted; it is also the first design that has challenged my ideas about what a pattern should do. I have been designing and writing knitting patterns for a handful of years now. I like patterns that look deceptively complicated, yet can be explained on an A4 page. I prefer to combine written instructions with charts. While I am a chart knitter myself (and the majority of my designs start out as a chart doodle), I don’t write patterns for myself. Knitting patterns should be clear, concise and inclusive. These are my pattern writing principles.

My new design is lovely. I knitted most of it whilst travelling around the United Kingdom: on trains, in buses and on underground trains. I found it intuitive to knit and the lace straightforward to read. After a short while I found I could actually work the lace without looking at the charts – the lace flows in a way that subsequent rows suggest themselves once the lace is established. So, I was surprised when I began writing the pattern and I realised that the written instructions made the pattern seem exceptionally complicated.

writtenThe intuitive lace becomes daunting and obscure as soon as you write it down. The flow turns into a Chinese Box structure of repeats within repeats within repeats. I looked at the written instructions – even as I rewrote them to fit my own style sheet – and I knew I had to axe the written instructions. I am the designer of the pattern, I knitted the sample with great pleasure in just over two weeks, and the written instructions read like a horror story completely at odds with a lovely, relaxing knit.

For the first time since I began doing this professionally, I am not going to offer written instructions but just a fully charted pattern. It has been a tough call to make (I know many people like written instructions) but I think it’s the right one.

So, having scared everybody with my tale of terrifying written instructions, I’ll share a little preview of the thing itself. It has been a remarkably lovely knit – when I look at it I still get a “gosh, that’s my work” glow in my stomach. Everything little thing about this design feels right to me – the way it was constructed, the structure of it, the design idea, the motifs, the yarn and how it feels when it’s draped around my neck. June 2015 014

Let me introduce you to Mahy. It’s the next installment in the Authors & Artists series and I blooming well love it. We’ll be doing a proper photo shoot soon – I cannot wait to share the story behind the shawl and show you just how absolutely gorgeous it is. Proper details soon.

 

Authors & Artists: the Byatt Shawl

January 2015 112After a few teasing posts, I am happy to say that the Byatt shawl is now available from Ravelry (and will soon be available from LoveKnitting too).

The shawl is named after one of my favourite novelists, A.S. Byatt.  I first encountered her books when I was a young woman on the cusp of starting university. I read her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession in translation by Claus Bech. I later learned Bech had been awarded the Prix Baudelaire for his work, but that was no help to me as I diligently worked my way through dense poetry sections.

A few years later I read Possession in its original English and Byatt’s book was transformed. While Bech’s work was lauded, I could not connect with it in the same way I could connect with Byatt’s own language. It was rich, layered, warm, gently witty, and wonderful. The book became a touchstone and I have read it eight or nine times now.

And so Byatt’s novels became part of my life.

The Frederica Potter novels – The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman – kept me company as I grew from a young woman to whoever it is I am now. I read The Biographer’s Tale whilst travelling around New Zealand (it remains my least favourite Byatt novel to date). And I curled up with her short stories – Angels and Insects and the Matisse Stories, among others, when I lived in a suitcase trying to figure out who I was going to be. Reading Byatt quietens that voice inside my head that urges me to be less bookish, less arty, and more .. normal. I owe her much for writing about quiet, creative people with complex inner lives who muddle through life trying to remain intact. We exist too.

The Byatt shawl takes its main design cues from the cover design of  The Children’s Book. The rich teal and the golden brown are obvious nods towards the teal and gold found on the cover. Insects recur often as motifs in Byatt’s books – the slip stitch pattern forms braids on top of the garter stitch, but the individual stitches can also resemble tiny wings or delicate leaves.

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The horseshoe edging was my toughest design decision. I wanted the shawl to have an Art Nouveau feel, so I first added leaves to the edging. Interestingly, I found that very open lace patterns clashed with the remainder of the shawl and I experimented with bold chevrons until my eye was caught by the classic horseshoe pattern. Its light chevron feel and close/open movement worked both within the context of the fabric and also with the design inspiration. The edge is finished off with a picot edging which just adds a touch of polish.

I’ve had a few questions about the shape of the shawl. Funnily enough, neither my photographer, my tech editor nor myself even considered that issue, so I have uploaded the schematic to my Rav project page to tide things over until I can get my photographer (also known as David, the boyfriend) to shoot some photos. Many apologies for the oversight. On the other hand, it is the sort of feedback that improves my patterns, so thank you for getting in touch!

The only other issue is that I am currently waiting for my lovely friends at LoveKnitting to publish the pattern, so it becomes available in all EU countries. I am keeping tabs on the situation and am exceedingly frustrated that not all you lovely people can buy the pattern straight away. Maybe an excuse to go stash-diving or plan colour combinations?

Stay tuned for colour combination suggestions from Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. If you are planning on going to the Edinburgh Festival, you will want to stay tuned to learn why knitting a Byatt shawl might be a good idea. I did say plans were afoot, non?

The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger has died. I wonder what unpublished works he has left behind?

Something about Authors Unexpressed

Brief thought after having watch an hour-long interview with AS Byatt on BBC4:

Have the authors whose books I really enjoy shaped who I am as a person, or am I drawn to these writers because of the way I am as an individual?

I need to ponder this and might return to this topic sooner rather than later. I’d be interested in hearing your reactions and thoughts.

In the meantime, enjoy this little Youtube clip of Brian Cox giving an acting master class on “Hamlet” to a two-year-old toddler. It’s really, really adorable.

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace has died aged just 46. Infinite Jest is one of those books that I have always meant to read but thus far haven’t managed for a number of reasons.

+ The Guardian mourns his death
+ Slate looks back at Wallace’s political involvement and asks questions about USA in 2008.
+ Chicago Tribune also looks back at Wallace’s life and literary career.

Old Boys’ Club

Aspiring authors of the Anglophone persuasion, take note:

Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin, (..) gets four or so [manuscripts] a week – despite a note on the website that declares “Sadly, we’re unable to consider unsolicited manuscripts. The best way to find a publisher is through an agent.” These four are given to people in the office for a week or two on work experience; if they think there’s any merit in the submission, it goes to publishing director Simon Prosser or one of his permanent colleagues. Yet nothing in the past 10 years has actually ended up in print that way. The only books that have been published and not arrived via an agent were recommended by friends in the publishing industry, or by Hamish Hamilton’s writers, “which is slightly different, because there is some connection,” says Prosser.

Aida Edemariam, an editor, has something to say about authors, agents and the publishing industry. The rules are slightly different in Denmark but not as different as you might expect.