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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.

Stuff & Nonsense: When Perfectionism Rears Its Ugly Head.

August 2014 060The past fortnight has seen my usual companion at Casa Bookish – perfectionism – almost grind my work to a halt.

I think a designer needs to have a dash of perfectionism in her. You need to pay close attention to detail – such as stitch counts, style sheets, how colours work at the photo shoot. Designing can also be a long, hard slog of making numbers work, getting the placement of a detail just right and finding the best way to phrase a tricky instruction. But if perfectionism stops you from every accomplishing anything – if your search for perfection means you never release a pattern – then you need to let go.

“That Isn’t Exciting & Original” – How Nothing Is Ever Good Enough

Recently I have really struggled to let my perfectionism go. I have one project that I have designed six times and ripped out five times. Each of those six designs has been completely different – different construction, different variation on the core concept, different stitches – and I haven’t liked any of them. I do not want to like my design; I want this project to be as amazing, special and perfect as it is in my head; I want to love it like I have loved no other design.

And that’s the problem.

Nothing will ever match the perfection that’s in my head. I am now working on the sixth version of my idea and it’s coming out really nice. Fact: I sold the second design to a third-party publisher who absolutely loved it. It worked for them in their context – it was totally good enough.

So where does all this stuff and nonsense come from?

Figuring Out Why I Am Being Hard On Myself

I spend a lot of time sitting on my own sketching patterns and charting things. I spend even more time in my own head. As a result I tend to lose track of what is exciting and new because I have already thought through my designs several times and spent hours swatching my ideas. It’s easy to start talking myself down because at this stage I will have lost sight of what excited me about the original ideas.

Here’s the thing that I keep reminding myself:  nobody else will ever be that jaded about my design. No one else have been through the entire process of initial idea and swatching through pattern-writing and wailing about numbers to blocking the sample and arranging photo shoot. No one will ever be able to say anything about my design that I haven’t already thought.

I also know that  once the design is finished and published, I will adore it to bits .. because by that stage I will been knee-deep in another pattern that’s sucking the will to live out of me! I am only halfway joking..

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So, Some Tips For Moving Beyond Perfectionism

  • Acknowledge to yourself that you have a bad bout of perfectionism. Admitting it is the very first step!
  • Realise that you will always be your own worst critic.
  • It’s better to publish something than nothing.
  • Take baby steps. Publish a hat if you are really afraid your latest cardigan pattern isn’t good enough.

Some Other Tips:

  • Never throw out a design. What you hate today will look amazing two months from now.
  • If a design really doesn’t feel right for what you are doing, consider other ways for it. Would it make a great pattern for a magazine? Self-publishing? Perfect as a freebie included in your news letter? Can you base a class around the pattern – maybe that hat is perfect for teaching Magic Loop.
  • Try playing around with different gauges. If your idea looks silly and stupid in fingering weight, try swatching it in worsted.
  • Reach out to trusted friends and peers. Show them a photo or a swatch. Ask for their honest opinion. Listen carefully to their feedback.

Do you have problems with perfectionism? Does it stop you releasing patterns? How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts x

Pattern: Vintage Moments Hat & Gloves

karie hat #1What a lovely surprise I got this morning. We are having family visiting due to Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games and as soon as they left for another day of sports, I sat down to check my inbox. And then I started giggling.

I just got my first cover, folks, and I had no idea it was happening.

Several months ago, I was approached by the lovely people at Let’s Knit magazine. They commissioned me to design a hat/gloves set celebrating my Scandinavian heritage. I also did an interview with them talking about my family background, how I got into designing, and why I am passionate about getting other people thinking about crafts.

And I started out sketching my design.

I was watching a film from the early 1930s when the initial idea came to me, so I knew I wanted a 1930s colour scheme. I had just finished working on a big colourwork project so I used the left-overs for the swatch but I already knew the green wasn’t quite right. I needed a cooler seafoam green. Next came the idea to do very, very straightforward colourwork. I picked some of my favourite motifs and played with them until I had some simple, fun motifs I could scatter across my canvas. I drew upon my knowledge of Faroese knitting which is more geometric than Shetland colourwork – and I ended up with something that was super-cute and super-fun .. even for people who are not that confident at colourwork.

I was very lucky that my Let’s Knit editor was onboard with my ideas very quickly and knew what I meant about getting the right colours. Sarah suggested looking at Jamieson’s Spindrift which is a wonderful British yarn that comes in a myriad of colours. I have used Spindrift before and it knits up beautifully. The pattern only uses three colours, so working out a colour scheme is relatively easy.

Let’s talk colour substitution. I would suggest looking at it the following way:

Neutral Background – make sure to match this colour in terms in warm/cool undertones. My sample used Pebble, a white with a cool, grey undertone

Main Contrast – make sure to choose something that makes a statement as it’ll dictate the overall look of the knit – the sample used Eucalyptus, a cool seafoam green with a grey undertone

Second contrast – make sure this matches the other two colours but make sure it doesn’t take over the entire look – the sample used Sorbet, a cool mid-range pink with a grey undertone.


Here is a warm version (using Granny Smith, Lipstick and Mooskit) – it feels less vintage and more playful:


Or maybe a slightly more modern colour scheme?  You will still get the contrast  but with a dark background (Yellow Ochre, Eesit and Shaela):230-yellow-ochre-horz

The colour combinations are endless. This is partly what I love about colourwork – you get to paint with yarn.

I cannot help but feel that autumn is on its way – I am utterly delighted to have secured the cover of Let’s Knit and I can see many other new patterns are heading out into the world right now. I love this time of the year.

Workshops & Events Updated

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Many thanks to Tanya for having such photogenic hands

Just a tiny heads-up that I have overhauled the Workshops & Events page, so you can actually see where I am teaching!

Right now my Autumn 2014 schedule looks like this:

August 23: I am teaching a half-day class on Crochet for Beginners at The Queen of Purls, Glasgow.  More information here.

August 30: I am teaching a full day of Knitting Lace Shawls at Fluph, Dundee. More information here.

September 13: It’s a return to Dundee as I’ll be running my two-handed colourwork workshop (Full Day) at Fluph. More information here.

September 27: Learn how to design your own lace projects with me at this half-day workshop at The Queen of Purls, Glasgow. More information here.

October 12: I’m teaching Two-Handed Colourwork (Full Day) at Be Inspired, Edinburgh. More information to come here.

October 25: I’m back at Be Inspired, Edinburgh, for a half-day class on how to tackle short-row shaping in lace. More information to come here.

November 1: An introduction to two-handed colourwork (Half Day) at The Queen of Purls, Glasgow. More information here.

November 9: I’m running a full day workshop on Crochet for Knitters at Be Inspired Fibres, Edinburgh. This class covers the basic crochet techniques before exploring how knitters can use crochet and knitting together. More information to come here.

Several 2015 dates are already in place, so start looking out for those towards the end of this year.

Thanks to an awful knee injury I was unable to teach workshops at the beginning of this year, so I am really looking forward to getting on the road to meet knitters again. It’s slightly unusual for me to teach this much, but it feels really nice too. Invigorating, that’s the right word. Nothing beats seeing people being all happy about a new skill or idea.

(Psst.. If you are a yarn shop, a knitting festival or a retreat, please use the form on this page to get in touch)

A Little Bit About Designing

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Summer is always one of the busiest periods of my working life as magazines are commissioning items for their autumn/winter issues. I have just finished the last of my many commissions and am now looking forward to getting stuck into the self-publishing side of my life. I have been asked many times how I go about doing what I do, so here’s a little run-down.

  • I start by compiling a moodboard (this is my moodboard for a mini-collection I did together with Old Maiden Aunt yarns). As I add pins, a theme will eventually emerge and I start editing the moodboard down to the bare minimum of pins I need to convey the idea.
  • I sketch ideas based upon the moodboard. This can be anything from stitch pattern ideas to the shape of a sleeve or even the actual piece I want to design.
  • The stitch pattern is charted and I start pondering things like what sort of ribbing I’d use or what type of drape I’d require from the yarn.
  • I decide upon yarn and swatch. I always knit a generous swatch (at least 6″ x 6″) and I wash & block my swatch.
  • Basing my numbers upon my swatch, I then write the pattern. Numbers are everything. Before I have cast on a single stitch, I will worked the entire piece in my head and on paper.
  • And then I cast on.

There are many ways of going about designing, and I always advocate doing what feels right and natural to you. However, by working out the entire pattern before I commit to knitting it, I reduce the risk of having to rip back because the numbers do not add up and, of course, the risk of forgetting to take notes.

I’ll write more about my design process later this year when I’ll show you my sketches and swatches for a garment that is due to be published around November.

I talk more about my working life, my sources of inspiration and my plans for the future in this interview I did with the lovely folks of Love Knitting. The interview took place just after I returned from Unwind Brighton so I am pleasantly surprised by how coherent I sound!

Speaking of Unwind Brighton, my head is buzzing with ideas and plans.. and I finally have time to sit down and do something about all the things in my head. Huzzah!

Knit Works – A Weekend of Creativity & Scandinavian Love

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Being of Nordic persuasion, it was perhaps inevitable that I ended up working at Knit Works in Edinburgh this past weekend.

Knit Works was a collaboration between the National Museum of Scotland, The Danish Cultural Institute, Edinburgh Fashion Festival and local yarn shop McAree Brothers with Rowan Yarns donating a sizeable amount of yarn to the event. I helped supervise and cheerlead a staggering amount of knitters as they worked on a collaborative project celebrating Scottish and Nordic knitting culture. Although it was a very busy weekend, Knit Works was also a nice change of pace for me. I had spent the previous weekend working at Unwind Brighton and I could not help but marvel at the differences between the two events.

I think we talk a lot about the knitting community – making it sound as though it is a monolithic, homogeneous entity with similar tastes, attitudes, and interests. I would suggest it is better to talk about the knitting communities as knitters are very diverse with very different approaches to knitting, tastes and lifestyles.

While Unwind was very much about physically consolidating a pre-existing online community, Knit Works felt like giving various communities the chance to meet however briefly. It attracted a lot of knitters who were seasoned knitters-in-public, who wielded charts with ease, and who were comfortable going off script. Being in the middle of the National Museum, it also caught the attention of tourists: people who were unused to following English-languaged instructions, people who knew how to knit a little and people who were just excited to get into crafts for ten minutes. We also got a lot of people who were seasoned knitters but had never knitted in public before, people who discovered the pleasure of meeting other knitters, and people who found it a challenge to talk and knit at the same time. I found it incredibly interesting to watch this merging of communities and seeing people finding common ground through knitting.

(I will never tire of watching knitters’ hands work, incidentally.)

July 2014 606Carol Meldrum, Heather Peterson and I worked out a design based upon the squares knitters had handed in on the day. Originally the plan had been to have a giant Norwegian-style snowflake on a neutral background. We received so many colourful, vibrant, and interesting squares that we revised the plan significantly.

Instead we devised a colourwash design (I was briefly accused of having colour OCD, thank you Carol) which allowed a lot of beautiful squares to shine. We also had a pile of swatches donated to us by the machine knitting girls from Brora, pom poms were donated by kids who had been yarn-bombing the museum, and we were given pretty crochet squares from an Arne & Carlos workshop (totally hyggelige guys in that very special Scandinavian way).

Within ten hours of starting we went from a pile of yarn to a big, colourful blanket that will be touring Scotland over the next few months. It helps when you have a lot of happy knitters on hand to help you. I found it really nice to spend time among Scandinavians (we had a good turn-out of those, tak!) and just chill out with knitting for once.

However, after the last two weeks, I am seriously shattered. I’m a textbook introvert and the next few days will be spent recharging my batteries. As much as I love meeting knitters & getting all excited about making other people excited, I’m going to enjoy my own company and some blessed solitude with a dash of knitting. Hopefully it will rain.


Taking Stock

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Detail from the Great Tapestry of Scotland

Just over a fortnight ago I waved goodbye to my part-time job with Rowan Yarns. It took me a few days to get used to my new routine and, crucially, having more time to do my own work. There was some initial panic (which briefly me led to consider an art school degree!), then my stomach settled down, and I got on with work.

Right now I am working on winter designs – both commissions and my own work. Publishers tend to work around 4-12 months ahead, so I have been knee-deep in Christmas things since April.

I find myself marvelling at how quickly I get through work when I now have long sustained periods of time on my hands. My working routine used to be stop-start-stop-start. Things that used to take weeks now take just days. I can get through my all my emails in one fell swoop rather than take days to reply to queries.

No matter where I go or do in the future, I think I have already learned important lessons about how my working week needs to be organised. In short: I had no idea just stressed I was until now – I need sustained periods (not pockets) of time to feel energised.

In other news, I met up with the most excellent Louise Scollay of Knit British. We went to The Queen of Purls before settling down for a good, long chat at Mono. We are both advocates of a more thoughtful approach to knitting: it is not a blinkered, parochial passion where we shout “you MUST  knit British!” but rather a desire to make people think about where their yarn is produced, how it is processed and what stories they are telling via their knitting needles. We also discussed future plans (thanks for the enthusiastic shrieking, Louise!) and exchanged thoughts on the British knitting community. All good stuff.

This weekend I am heading across to Edinburgh for the inaugural Indieburgh Yarn Crawl – it’s another exciting addition to Edinburgh’s line-up of knitting events. Actually, I am a bit of a spoilsport as I won’t really be doing the yarn crawl as much as I am meeting up with a future collaborator/editor. Okay, I may be doing some yarn crawling too. The three shops taking part are: Ginger Twist Studios, Kathy’s Knits and Be Inspired Fibres – GTS is colourful and vintage-inspired, Kathy’s centers on locally sourced yarns, and Be Inspired is high-end luxury yarn. It promises to be good.

Not long to go until Unwind Brighton either! My class on Continental Knitting is sold out, but there are a few spaces left on the Beading class and the Beginning Crochet class. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the line-up: Bristol Ivy, Kirsten Kapur, Carol Feller, Asa Tricosa, Olga Buraya-Kefelian .. and that is just the start of it. The vendor line-up is also unbelievable AND there is the PomPom Seaside Shindig featuring John Arbon DJing. I’m still wanting to sew myself a new dress for the event (Brighton Frock, anyone?) but time is running out. Ahhhhhh, so excited about being part of what promises to be an absolutely amazing event. Huge thank you to Dani Sunshine of Lionness Arts for organising everything.

So, it’s all good and I still cannot believe that this is my life now.

Here’s to the Future: Changes, Chances & Occasional Sheep

May 2013 486I have recently made some much-needed changes to my working life. For the past year I have been juggling an awful lot of balls and pulling some very long hours. I couldn’t carry on doing that and so I had to make some tough decisions – though I tried putting off my decision for as long as I could. My hand was finally forced earlier this month when I received a very kind permanent job offer for something I had been doing on a freelance basis for a very long time. The job offer came as a bit of a surprise, but it was also a wake-up call in terms of what I wanted to do.

And so the decision was made and this week I will be waving a fond farewell to my years of working for Rowan Yarns. I have been putting out proverbial fires for them for 4.5 years and I will be saying goodbye to a lot of creative, inspiring people. I have learned a lot through my work as a consultant – both creatively and on the business side of things. I will miss a lot of people (you know who you are), but I thought it was time to hand over the reins to someone else.

For the time being I will be focusing on my own work – the designing, the writing, the editing, and the teaching. I am excited about the future (plans are afoot well into 2015!) but the excitement is tempered by fear too. Did I make the right decision? What will the future bring? It’s scary and exhilarating.

I have sought equilibrium by trying out some not-so-new crafts. I tried my hand at cross-stitching and embroidery back when I was a teenager, but I was never very good at it. The Anchor Thread Mill Museum has been offering classes on a range of stitching topics in connection with Paisley hosting the Great Tapestry of Scotland – and I went along to two of these classes.

April 2014 467The first class was on cross-stitching and I found the rhythm quite soothing. I have tried finding some interesting cross-stitch kits online, but either they are too ambitious or insanely ambitious. The second class was on crewel work and we used the same linen and wool they had used on the Great Tapestry (Peter Greig Linen and Appleton’s Crewel Wool, in case you are wondering). I was defeated by French knots but I enjoyed the freedom of expression you get with crewel work.

I am not a natural stitcher, but I have bought myself a hoop and I am slowly working on the Paisley sampler we were given as part of the class. It is nice to be making stuff and not needing to consider it as part of work. Although, knowing me, I’ll probably incorporate free-hand embroidery at some point.

(Once I’ve made peace with French knots.)

Speaking of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, I am currently posting a small detail from panels on Twitter – one tiny detail per day. Most of these details are knitterly impressions but occasionally it will just be something that caught my eye. The first detail I posted was this amazing Shetland sheep just lurking in the corner of one of the early panels.April 2014 502
Here’s to the future.

Crocheted with Love

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I often get asked how I ended up doing what I do for a living. Now that is a very long story – so I often just explain that I’m the fifth generation of very crafty, creative women. It’s a simplification but it is also the truth. In 2011 I exhibited knitted art at Glasgow’s Tramway gallery – my Homebound piece explored how the act of making tied my family together and how we make ourselves through the act of creation/crafting.

Today added another chapter to the story as I received a parcel from my lovely mum.

I own many handmade things handed down to me: a big blanket made by my great-grandmother; Hardanger-embroidered table clothes lovingly made by my gran; a christening gown which I believed was first sewn by my great-great-grandmother (then altered by my glamorous aunt Grethe); knitted cardigans and various embroidery pieces .. but I do not own many things made by my mum especially for me. That changed today, though.

My mum asked advice on colours, but otherwise this is her work. The squares are neatly joined with crochet and all ends are neatly woven in. My mum has always been very meticulous about her finishing – every time I weave in ends, I think of her! She used this Garnstudio pattern which surprised me as she usually just makes things up as she goes along. She was fairly faithful to it, though she reported she hated the edging and wishes she had just used one of her own ones. She’s a Westermann, alright!

When I teach crochet, I tend to joke that my mum thinks I cheat by using relatively heavy yarns (i.e. double-knitting and worsted-weight) when I crochet. Mum usually uses fine hooks and fine yarns, but her new love for making blankets obviously translates into heavier yarns. And I think that is interesting: we develop and change as crafters throughout our entire lives.

The new blanket suits our living room – and I am very, very pleased to have received it. Do you think I could get away with asking for some matching pillows?

Botanical Gardens Shawl

Welcome to new visitors brought here by Knit Now and Yarnwise magazines! It has been a bit of a bumper week in terms of media coverage, it is fair to say.

I have a pattern in the latest issue of Knit Now. The Botanical Gardens Shawl was a lot of fun to design: it starts off as a standard stocking stitch triangular shawl and then moves into a striking flower pattern which gives way to softly falling petals. I really enjoyed designing something that just flows organically from one stitch pattern into another and which  looks clean & non-fussy.

Botanical Gardens Shawl

© Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing

The shawl also served as a master-class in how magazine work actually works. It is not a designer having a definite vision: it is always a collaboration.

I designed this shawl for Knit Now‘s Garden Party story in December or January. I first envisioned the shawl knitted in lace-weight yarn and in soft pastel colours – a very soft sage green or a pretty primrose. The Knit Now team suggested the gradient SparkLynne 4ply yarn from The Knitting Goddess instead – the chosen colourway ran from a cool white via pale lavender to  a dark violet. It was a completely different direction but the graduation works perfectly with the way the stitches travel and a 4ply makes far more sense too. The ombre yarn meant that the shawl was moved from the Garden Party issue to the Colour Graduation issue as well – and the shawl works so well within the context of the other designs in the issue.

(I know that Joy of The Knitting Goddess is planning on restocking her shop with more colour-gradient yarns, so if you don’t see a colourway straightaway – keep looking!)

Both Knit Now and Yarnwise focus on my Doggerland collection – Knit Now has a wonderful interview with Fiona of The Island Wool Company and Yarnwise has written an entire feature about the collection(!). I know a lot of people are still trying to catch up on knitting from the collection, so I am slowing things down a tiny bit. The next pattern is a unisex pattern and it should be out by mid-week next week.

So, it has been a bumper week – maybe it is more like a bumper year, really. Apart from the Doggerland collection, I have more ‘things’ in the pipeline. I am working with Old Maiden Aunt on a special project which will be unveiled in November, I’m collaborating with The Yarn Project, and I am also busy swatching for other 2014 work. I can show you a tiny, tiny glimpse of what I worked on yesterday – any guesses?Swatching