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Tag Archives: Crafty

Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post.

Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

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I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something – seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen – and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded ‘limited-edition’ purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it’s the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don’t see this happening? That’s okay. I don’t think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let’s talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition – everybody’s life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it’s okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it’s awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

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Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say – “Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?”

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they’ve knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they’ve deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about “lifestyle branding strategies” – well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I’m not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes – so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.

Yarn Shop Day, Knitting Retreats & Thank Yous

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I’m supposed to be enjoying a long bank holiday weekend, so this blog post will be short and sweet. All photos by Mr D. who has lately begun taking more abstract photos and I’m enjoying looking at the world through his eyes.

First, thank you to everybody who made the trek to the Fluph yarn shop in Dundee this past Saturday for Yarn Shop Day. I lost track of quite how many people dropped by but I loved saying hello to all (including the dogs that people so thoughtfully brought along). I also loved seeing all the knitwear on display – from a stunning Aidez cardigan to the most exquisite cobweb Shetland “wedding ring” shawl.

(Fluph-owner and all-round lovely person Leona also managed to squeeze an unorthodox interview out of me. It includes a question on Eurovision!)

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Later this month I am heading to Yorkshire for another knitting retreat (I’m combining it with seeing far-flung friends). However, I’ve had yet another jury citation – this is the third since November – so my retreat plans may be cut short. I love spending time in Yorkshire, I very rarely get to see these friends and the retreat location includes a short stroll to a delightful yarn shop, so fingers crossed everything works out. I know many of you wonder about knitting retreats – while you obviously have the option of arranging one for yourself, there are a few lovely ‘open’ retreats. Helen Lockhart of Ripples Crafts has been running a regular knitting retreat on Tanera Mor, an beautiful island off the Scottish North-West coast, and I know she is planning more retreats in the Scottish Highlands. You could also opt to spend time in the beautiful Welsh countryside together with Brenda Dayne (of Cast On podcast fame) and Felicity Ford at the Gwlana retreat. I am sure there are other retreats scattered around the British isles – do share your info in the comments section if you know of any!

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Finally, thank you for all your kind words about the passing of my art teacher. It was a hard post to write.

Happiness is a Warm Cardigan

Last week was warm enough that I could sit outside and work just wearing a t-shirt. This week we are back to sleet and snow. It’s Spring in Scotland. This is what we can expect (“if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”). This morning the postman brought me my Scollay sample from the Knit Now office. What perfect timing. I am wearing it on top of a striped tunic, black tights and black shoes. It is perfect. Happiness is a warm cardigan.

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(pardon the poor selfie!)

I’ve spent some time thinking about cardigans lately. I tend to wear cardigans more often than jumpers, and I tend to wear the same two cardigans. What makes a good cardigan in my book?

  • Easy to wear. I have so many cardigans that only go with one outfit.
  • Easy fit. Fit is such an individual thing (and I’m going to write more about fit in the future), but I like cardigans that skim my figure rather than hug it tightly or hide it.
  • Right colours. My wardrobe tend towards deep jewel colours, navy blues, and greys. I need to remember this when choosing colours for cardigans rather than “challenge” myself to step outside my comfortzone.
  • Buttons. I love buttons and I love buttoned cardigans. Unbuttoned cardigans may look chic in photos but do not work for me.
  • Details over features. I like cardigans with clever little details rather than statement pieces with huge, eye-catching features. Hey, that’s probably my taste in all things summed up by one small sentence!
  • Truth to materials. This is an Arts & Crafts tenet that I’ve stolen, but it rings true to me. A good cardigan is knitted in a yarn that showcases the design and will last longer than me wearing the cardigan three times. I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • Long sleeves. I am always cold and short sleeves don’t work for me. I can embrace 3/4-length sleeves if for a trans-seasonal cardigan, but let’s face it, long sleeves are always better. It’s just a shame I don’t like knitting sleeves..

What do you like in your cardigans?

News, Actually.

Some proper news! After numerous prompts I have finally set up a newsletter which will be a monthly summary of what I have been doing, plans afoot and some exclusive previews of future designs. I always find it a struggle to keep everybody up-to-date with all the things that is happening (designs, visits, events etc) so I figure a newsletter is a great way to summarise everything in one fell swoop. You can subscribe to my newsletter below – know this: I’m the only one who has access to the mailing list; I will only send out one newsletter per month; and I am not going to sell any details to any third-party people.




And hey, the Scollay cardigan is now out in general release! Drumroll, please!

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This was the first garment I ever designed and it was knitted in glorious New Lanark DK (spun just down the road from me at a UNESCO Heritage site!). The pattern comes in seven sizes (from extra-small to 3X) and is both charted and written-out. I know many of you loved Dave’s illustrations for my Doggerland collection and he’s drawn the schematics for this one too. It’s just such a nice, every-day cardigan and I love it to bits.

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I am wearing the 1X size in the photos and I’m wearing it with no ease. I have included notes on sizing and modifications because I know some of you like a comfortable fit and other prefer a more fitted version. I’m rather short-waisted and the cardigan hits me below the hips, so I’ve also addressed the length of the cardigan in the notes. Customising fit is so important and I’m going to talk more about that later this year. Also, look out for a proper Scollay knit-along led by Louise Scollay of Knit British – yes, the cardigan was named for her!

Speaking of Louise and news, she’s got a podcast interview with me up on her blog. I was interviewed by her on the second day of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Let me know if you can tell when my morning caffeine kicks in! We discuss future plans (oh, I am spilling a lot of beans), my work/life balance and I’m asked some rather great questions.

Now I’m off to knit in the sunshine. I wound a skein of Triskelion Taliesin 4ply this afternoon in a gorgeous emerald. I bought it last year at Unwind Brighton. So many memories contained in a skein of yarn..

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A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

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Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

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Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

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I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

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Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

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Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

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A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

Oh My Darling EYF2015

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The past weekend saw the second Edinburgh Yarn Festival happen. Just like the first EYF, it was absolutely brilliant. I don’t have many photos to show you. I was too busy to take photos and, while appreciative, David does not feel like taking 9500 photos of yarn stalls. I don’t quite know why.

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Old Maiden Aunt

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Baa Ram Ewe

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Podcaster Plutonium Muffin was drop-spindling this beauty

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The Evening Ca-BAA-Ret with the dream team, KNITSONIK and Ms Y.

March 2015 142Helene Magnusson had an exquisite stall

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Lovely to see rustic Scandinavian yarns in the UK

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This photo cracks me up because it makes me look like a photo-bomber.

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Weaving is the new spinning is the new knitting is the new yoga

Because I was so incredibly busy, I did not have time to make any purchases and I also missed out on seeing many, many friends (you know who you are). However, I did meet an incredible amount of amazing people and I had some really thought-provoking conversations. I honestly never knew so many of you read this blog and I am blown away by some of the insightful comments you made to me. It really made me think about big, hard things and on my way home on Sunday night, I wrote the first draft of the preface to my next big, big collection.

EYF 2015 was incredible. I have already thanked the organisers profusely, but I also want to thank Louise Scollay who really came through for me when I hit my Wall of Stress. The Podcast Lounge was a sanctuary for many people and I loved hearing all the small conversations between total strangers. EYF also had a very strong community feel with an emphasis on smart, bold people who march to a different beat. It was inclusive and positive – and it felt very personal and warm despite its size. I took a lot from it (not least hugs and chocolate).

Over the weekend I worked 35 hours, slept for seven hours, and travelled for six hours – and I would happily do it all over again. Just give me a week to recover from this one.

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Loved this bridge right by the EYF venue. Look at it!

An Edinburgh Yarn Festival Surprise!

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Pattern: Proserpine (An Autobiographical Note)

Growing up I was a bit of an odd child. I preferred reading to playing with the neighbours’ kids, and I had strong imaginative/romantic streak which manifested itself in archaeological digs in the backyard and an unhealthy obsession with medieval architecture. As a teenager, I became even more of a bookworm and, thanks to my school’s eclectic library, I fell in love with Rupert Brooke (hot; dead; wrote poetry) and Lord Byron (hot; dead; wrote poetry).

On a trip to Copenhagen, I bought a slim volume of love poetry which turned out to be one of the key book purchases of my life. The slim volume introduced me to a wealth of poetry beyond the “hot & dead” category. One of my new discoveries was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a 19th century English poet and artist. I never imagined that years later I’d be designing knitting patterns inspired by his work.

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Proserpine is a half-circle shawl inspired by Rossetti’s painting by the same name (and also a tiny bit by the Daydream painting). Both feature contemplative women dressed in blue-green drapes surrounded by nature. I wanted to capture the drape and flow in my shawl design, and also introduce a leaf motif in a way that was subtle. As I was originally commissioned to design this pattern for Knit Now‘s Arts & Crafts issue, I also wanted my design to reflect the Arts & Crafts Movement’s ‘truth to materials’ tenet – I needed the shawl to show off the quality and beauty inherent in hand-dyed yarn.

The pattern is now available in general release. It uses roughly 850 yrds of 4-ply/fingering-weight yarn (this equates to 2 skeins of hand-dyed gorgeousness) and is knitted on 4.5mm needles to ensure drape. The pattern is both charted and contains full written instructions (because that is how I roll). Most of the pattern uses soothing stocking stitch, and the increases are worked EZ-style, though the lace cleverly disguises this. I know I go on about my patterns being relaxed knits, but this is another one of those (sorry folks).

Some of you have asked if this is the next instalment in Authors & Artists? I suppose I could easily have added Proserpine to the series, but I have decided that Authors & Artists will be featuring women writers and authors. I may have grown up being enamoured by hot, dead poet guys but now I find strong, smart women far more cool. If you are going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I will be talking to Louise Scollay in the Podcast Lounge about Authors & Artists, you’ll be able to see the Proserpine shawl sample at the Old Maiden Aunt stall, and I’ll be wearing the original magazine sample too.

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Say Hello to the Scollay Cardigan

July 2014 1058 2014 turns out to be the year where I break free from all the ..but surely I can’t .. whispers at the back of my head. I am fully self-employed, I have been part of all sorts of incredible craft events with properly big knitting names, and now I’ve released my first garment pattern. Designing garments always felt daunting because they have to fit across sizes, there are all sorts of things to keep track off, and (crucially) they have to fit people other than me.

So, say hello to Scollay.

Scollay is published in the latest Knit Now magazine (issue 41, in shops this week). I have a long-standing working relationship with the editor, so I knew I could trust the editorial team to be on-board with my first garment and lend me moral support. And I really think we got it right.

The inspiration behind the cardigan is two-fold.

Firstly, I knew I wanted an everyday cardigan which would work as a layering piece. I am mildly obsessed with “the everyday wardrobe” where you have some some amazing essential pieces you go back to again and again. I wanted to design a cardigan I knew I could just put on – I think we all have those garments that only work with a certain shirt and I wanted to avoid that.

Secondly, I was hugely inspired by the work of Louise Scollay who runs the Knit British website and podcast. Louise champions the idea of using local yarns and is very vocal about how supporting local yarns is both affordable and sustainable.  I knew I wanted to use  a local yarn for my cardigan – and then the name of the pattern became obvious: Scollay. I have an interview with her coming up on this blog where I’ll be asking her just how it feels to have a pattern named after you!

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The Scollay cardigan is knitted in New Lanark DK which is spun just down the road from me. New Lanark is a UNESCO Heritage site which spins its own yarn using the Falls of Clyde to power its mill. It is not a coincidence that I chose to work with this yarn – I have visited New Lanark many times and the site holds special significance to me. Scollay’s seamless construction cuts down on the amount of yarn you need and New Lanark is astonishing affordable at just £3.50 per ball. £3.50 for a piece of British industrial heritage, Scottish progressive social  history and a yarn imbued with landscape, history, meaning, locality, and soul?

Oh come on.

A few suggestions for modifications. The cardigan is knitted bottom-up with the sleeves and body joined before you work the yoke. This sort of construction allows for relatively easy mods:

  • the cardigan hits me well below the hips (as you can tell) but I am really short-waisted. If you want a slightly shorter cardigan, take out an inch before and after the waist shaping.
  • you can adjust the length of the sleeves by taking out a couple of inches before you join the sleeves to the body.
  • it is designed to have a smidgen of positive ease because I wanted a cardigan that would work for layering. The model in the magazine looks super-cool in her relaxed fit cardi. However, I am wearing the cardigan with an inch of negative ease.
  • I do love the New Lanark yarn with a fiery passion, but it has a lot of character which I understand is not for all people (though it works perfectly for me). If you are looking for a substitute, you need to look for a double-knitting yarn with good stitch definition and memory. The construction means the yoke bears the weight of the garment, so make sure you find a substitute with sturdiness – cottons and silk-blends won’t work in the long run.

It is such a thrill to finally be able to blog about the cardigan. I designed it in the spring and knitted it during the hottest Scottish summer in memory (I am modelling it on a hot July day in these photos ) – so it’s been a hard secret to keep. But it is released this week and I finally feel like I am a proper grown-up designer. Heh.

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.