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Tag Archives: Personal Stuff

Introducing: The Hygge Collection & Fika

August 2015 752aYesterday was a bit of a hectic day. We walked all over Glasgow trying to get good photos of the first pattern in the Hygge collection. After having posed in three different locations, David said to me: “I never asked. What’s the shawl’s name?” – I replied: “Fika. Fee-ka. It’s a Swedish word for a coffee-break where you spend quality time sorting out the world with your loved ones.”

Silence.

And then he marched me to a coffee shop and we snapped a handful of photos there between sips of coffee.

In many ways, the Hygge collection feels different to the other things I’ve designed. I think that is why I struggled to understand what Dave knew instinctively: I should not be posing somewhere – I should just relax with a cup of coffee. This thing is more personal and very down-to-earth. Maybe this seems odd coming from a designer, but I am slightly shocked that I’ve allowed myself the freedom to be relaxed about designing. The stitch palette was fun: textures that let the yarns shine and some easy lace motifs. The colour palette was even better (I’ll show you more later but how good is that orange Pirkkalanka?).

I have worked on some very conceptual things in the past (and will again in the future) but Hygge is just about the little joyful things I find in my everyday life. While the collection is very much about my Scandinavian heritage, I think you can find your own pockets of hygge no matter who you are or where you live. 

Fika will be released as a stand-alone pattern on August 31, but you can pre-order the Hygge: Knit the Things You Love to Wear collection now. It’ll cost slightly different things depending upon where you live, but it is 25% off from now until August 31. The collection contains five small projects (Fika is by far the more time-consuming!) – all accessories and all items you’ll keep reaching for again and again.

I am now going to sit in the back yard with a cup of coffee, my pile of books, and I’ll get back to my research. August is a crazily busy month for me, but I do need to make time for myself. Sitting in the sunshine seems like a good start.

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.

There & Back Again – Or, It Is Good To Be Home

If you are a knitter, you have friends no matter where you go. Last week I went to London & Cambridgeshire and I was so pleased to meet many new friends. I’m going to do a proper blog post about the workshops I taught, the yarn shops I visited, and the things that happened inbetween – but I am yet to unpack my suitcase and do my laundry.

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I will be dealing with my inbox tomorrow – today is all about catching up with other things (and enjoying that coffee is ‘on tap’ once more – oh caffeine, how I have missed you).

It’s good to be home.

If You Are Going to the Woods Today..

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A short and sweet post from me. I have a proper knitting post lined up for tomorrow, but this one is an important one.

It is tick season in the Northern hemisphere. My eye was caught by this BBC article about the European Space Agency backing work on mapping Scottish tick hotspots. The article is pretty good but also carries a really unfortunate image of a bullseye rash.

Here’s the low down.

Ticks are tiny arthropods who like to suck blood from humans and animals. They range in sizes – the young ones are tiny and the size of a pin head. Grown-up ticks have a characteristic light brown body. Most ticks are harmless and won’t harm you or your animals. Unfortunately a small number carry a bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi – this bacteria transmits Lyme Disease or Lyme borreliosis. And you really don’t want to contract that.

How to Protect Yourself & Loved Ones from Tick Bites

  • Don’t walk through long grass or brush against foliage.
  • Wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts if you are outside. Tuck your trousers into your socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothes so any ticks crawling on you can easily be detected (remember some of them are tiny)
  • Wear gloves when brushing yourself and your loved ones down before going inside
  • Check for small black dots and full-grown brown bodies in dark, damp and moist places- i.e. behind your ears, in your hairline, armpits and bikini line.
  • If you find a tick, you can try to remove it.

Remember that a tick bite does not mean you will automatically become ill! Don’t panic but act responsibly.

So You May or May Not Have Been Bitten By a Tick

  • If you develop flu-like symptoms over the next six months, go see a doctor.
  • Symptoms of a Lyme borreliosis infection include rashes, headaches, facial paralysis, ear pain, fever, disorientation, joint pains etc.
  • People go on about bullseye rashes being a key symptom – not everybody develops this rash!
  • Lyme borreliosis is treatable with antibiotics and early intervention is key.
  • Read more here. Google responsibly (there is a lot of awful information and hand-waving out there).

I was bitten in the summer of 1996 and know first-hand what a tick bite can do to you. I only sought medical help after several months of unexplained ailments – don’t be as stupid and naive as me. Go out, enjoy nature and be smart about protecting yourself & loved ones.

Much love.

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.

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Earlier this month the great-grandson of Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin passed away. It did not make headline news anywhere and I only found out via social media. The news upset me greatly.

I grew up in a very rural part of Denmark. Prime farm country, most of life revolved around agricultural shows, travelling circuses coming to town, and the occasional dance at the local community hall. I was a bookish child and was a regular visitor to the local library. Books became my solace as I felt out of place – I read a lot of historical fiction and I made fanciful, historical outfits for my dolls. I was a lonely child.

When I started 5th grade, Mr Clovis Gauguin was assigned as our art teacher. He had a large, unruly beard and wore colourful scarves. I had never seen anyone like him and his name was hard to pronounce. He began by declaring art classes should have soundtracks and for the next few years he played us everything from 1950s jazz to 1970s prog rock while we painted. Occasionally he’d urge us to bring our own tapes to class.

And he’d show us art.

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Mont Sainte Victoire by Paul Cezanne

His family connections made Post-impressionism the obvious place to start. We sat copying paintings by Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, and (my favourite) Paul Cezanne as well as Gramps Gauguin. Then Mr Gauguin asked us to paint in the styles of the painters we had studied and the paintings were displayed at school. My mum later told me that Mr Gauguin had pulled her aside to talk to her about me. I was going to stretch my wings one day, he told her.

I did stretch my wings. I left my childhood community when I was 18 and moved to big cities doing things I could not have imagined as a lonely child stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to social media, I reconnected with Mr Clovis Gauguin a few years ago and we had some fantastic conversations about art and music. I told him how much his encouragement had meant to me and he was delighted to hear that he had made a difference.

The difference was this: Mr Gauguin showed me there was a world out there filled with art, beauty and truth. He taught me to express myself, to trust in myself and that life could be very different. While many of my passions can be traced back to the Friday afternoons we spent with Mr Gauguin (late 19th century art and early 20th century culture in particular – but also poetry, abstract art and cool jazz), it is very possible I would have discovered these things in my library books. But I would not have known that I had colours and words inside me. Another way of life was suddenly possible thanks to my art teacher.

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Nave Nave Moe by Paul Gauguin

On the day of his funeral, Mr Gauguin’s Facebook feed was filled with stories shared by people all over the world. Unsurprisingly I was not the only one who had benefited from his joie de vivre, his passion, and his encouragement. Concert videos from a restaurateur in the Southern United States who had once hosted Mr Gauguin’s jazz band; Tahitian relatives sharing memories of drinking beer with Mr Gauguin outside a memorial service for his great-grandfather (“Paul hated the church, so in his honour..”); but mostly stories similar to mine. So many people writing about discovering a big, big world – both within and outwith themselves.

I cried when I heard Mr Gauguin had passed away, but he left his mark on the world by inspiring and nurturing people whenever and wherever. Sometimes you do not need to generate headlines to be a big, important person. And he really was such a person to me.

Released Soon: Proserpine

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Heads-up that the Proserpine shawl is heading for general release tomorrow (Wednesday, March 11). I will be bringing hard copies of it with me to Edinburgh Yarn Festival and you’ll be able to see the shawl on the Old Maiden Aunt stall.

The original sample was knitted out of two skeins of the truly gorgeous Triskelion Amaethon 4ply for the Arts & Crafts issue of Knit Now (and you’ll see me wear that at EYF). That sample was sadly unavailable for me to wear at the photo shoot, so I was incredibly lucky to have my friend Gwen step up to the challenge with a sample knitted in OMA merino 4ply in the “Crazy Ivan” colourway (observant readers will note that this is actually the same colourway/yarn I used for my Byatt shawl!).  Unfortunately Gwen is rather unwell, so I really appreciate her help and support on this. Thank you so, so much!

This week will be really unusual for me and I have a huge to-do list to get through before EYF. This means I won’t be around as much and I might take longer to reply to pattern support queries. I don’t know what possessed me to release a pattern during this week too, to be honest. I have these moments of “Yes, of course I’ll do that!” and then later I actually realise what I’ve decided to do may be .. slightly silly.

I’ll leave you with a gorgeous little piece of street art that David spotted the other day during our walk in the beautiful sunshine. Spring is here.

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Weekend Bliss: A West Coast Knitting Retreat

This is beginning to be an annual thing. My good friends and I grabbed our current knitting projects, packed some food, and made our merry way to the West Coast of Scotland.

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We had booked a little house with some magnificent views.

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This is the view from my sea-front bedroom window. I could have stared at this all weekend long. Wait. I think that’s actually what I ended up doing.

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Watching the weather report like hawks, we decided to go for a walk on Saturday morning. I quickly decided to just ramble about on the nearby shore.

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I really wasn’t wearing the right shoes for rambling.

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Later same day we realised we had made the right decision when .. what we know in Scotland as “weather” .. rolled in.

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Huzzah for staying indoors with good friends. Some travelled quite far just to be part of our little group and it felt so special just to have to time to talk, work on crafty projects, and forget all about the outside world. I enjoyed the open fire and the assorted 1980s films we watched. I had never seen Labyrinth or Flash Gordon before. My life is definitely enriched.

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The little house had some really fantastic needlework and upholstery. Whoever had lived there previously had loved needlework and had collected a nice variety of display items – including this sampler from 1844.

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Sadly, by the time we were heading home, the weather had turned even worse and we caught the very last ferry back to the mainland.

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We are already talking about next year’s retreat but we think we might try to find somewhere on the mainland as some of my friends did not enjoy the choppy seas. But it is becoming an annual tradition and I am grateful. The beginning of the year is always a bit bleak as we wait for spring to arrive. The knitting retreat gives us all a boost when we need it the most.

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Proof of the Pudding – Or What Do You Do All Day?!

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I knit a lot but probably not as much as people assume. Like most knitters, I knit when I’ve finished work for the day and I need some downtime. The difference is that my day job involves writing, editing, and designing knitting patterns. The fact that I don’t knit during my work day surprises people. Most of my day is spent on the computer answering emails, chasing invoices, entering data into a spreadsheet, and working with various software programmes (chart editors, layout programmes and word processors). Occasionally I head outside for photo shoots or teaching appointments, but mostly my work is desk-based in front of a computer.

Being my own employer, I have had to learn to do a lot of things because if I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. This include things like payroll, marketing, customer service, distribution, procurement etc. Just because I am a one-woman business, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about how I do taxes, how I tell people about the things I do, how I can help people with any problems they may encounter, how I get my hard-copy patterns printed, where and when to buy office supplies etc. I have also had to learn how to put together a professional-looking layout and what changes I have to make from getting it ready as a PDF and a hard copy pattern.

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A typical day runs from 9.30am to 5.30pm with breakfast & lunch at the desk. I try to deal with emails/messages at the start and end of every day. I could probably spend every single day just on emails and messages! I look at specific customer support requests – these range from “what do you think of these colours?” to “could you explain what a garter stitch tab cast-on is? I’ve looked at videos and still do not get it”.

I then spend time on the latest pattern I’m designing (I’ll talk about design process in a later post). I open up the chart editor and the spreadsheet. Depending upon the complexity of the design, I can spend a fortnight crunching numbers before it is time to start writing a pattern. I spend lunchtime catching up with social media – some people regard it as marketing but I think of social media as a great way to have social interactions with great people without leaving the house. Twitter is a lifeline of joy when you work on your own.

After lunch, I get back to my spreadsheets and my number crunching. I make sure to transfer key numbers from my spreadsheet to a pattern template so I can tell if a pattern makes narrative sense (no need to start talking about neckline numbers when people are still working the bottom rib – even if I need to know the basic neckline numbers at this stage). I double-check the chart in my chart editor and may correct the stitch pattern, so it will work with armhole shaping further up. Spreadsheets are magic, I tell you. I may also be working on other people’s patterns as a technical editor.

I dip into social media and check my email to make sure I am not missing any urgent business. A yarn company may have emailed me to let me know they are out of a shade I wanted for a future design, and I have to open up my design proposal to see what I could use instead. A customer may have emailed me about problems buying the pattern and I have to liaise with Ravelry and LoveKnitting to solve the customer’s problems. I try to get on top of emails by 4pm.

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After 4pm, I focus more on the “soft side” of my work. I browse Ravelry to check out colour and texture trends. I spend time on Pinterest looking through recent pins (I subscribe to a number of trend forecasters’ feeds). I look at dyers’ websites to check out new stock and if I can see any colour trends. I also spend the 90 minutes between 4pm and 5.30pm on doodling and playing around with ideas in the chart editor or on paper. I browse RSS feeds via Feedly where I subscribe to a large number of blogs and websites ranging from knitting and fashion to art, design and technology. I don’t always get my daily 90 minutes of inspiration because I may be in the middle of a complex project, but I love when I am able to set aside time.

By the time 5.30pm rolls around, my partner is home and we spend some time decompressing over a cup of tea. We get dinner sorted and by 7.30pm I am usually sat in the sofa with my work knitting. And that is another day over and done with. I work like this Monday to Friday but I may teach at a festival or at a LYS Saturday or Sunday, so my day off may fall on a Monday or a Wednesday instead.

This post was written in response to a ‘what do you actually do all day long?’ request from a couple of readers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section!

Hello Byatt KAL (and Other Things)

Thank you so much for all the lovely words regarding the Byatt shawl. It is my first real stand-alone release after I completed the Doggerland collection and I was nervous about what people might think. Doggerland was all about a very pared-down design vocabulary and Byatt is positively decadent by contrast. I am relieved that people appear willing to tag along with me on my new design adventures and I cannot wait to see which colour combinations you choose. I have already seen quite a few people comment that Byatt is perfect for stash-diving (we all have those one-off skeins in our stash, don’t we?) while other people have been searching on their book shelves for colour inspiration.

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Here is the challenge for all of you going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival: can you knit a Byatt before then? I have a few incentives in store for you. Firstly, you’ll get a 10% discount on Old Maiden Aunt yarns if you show up in a Byatt knitted in OMA. Secondly, if you show up in a Byatt and you manage to grab a photo of yourself and me at EYF, you get a staggering 50% off my next pattern.

And the final challenge is open to everybody regardless of whether you can make it to EYF or not: finish a Byatt shawl before March 31, post a photo and you enter into a really exciting prize draw. I’ll be picking out a few goodies from EYF vendors and you get to help me design a shawl. I designed Byatt partly because a few people had told me they wanted a two-skein shawl. What would you like to see? Cables? Triangular shawl? Semi-circle? A shawl in a DK or worsted-weight shawl? You tell me.

Now , there is a very good reason why I let David take photographs of all my knitted things. I took the photo below and it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was surprisingly hard to take a photo of the Byatt shawl flat – I have worn it quite a bit (so it’s a bit crumpled) and it’s rather big (so it’s hard to capture in one fell swoop). Still, I hope this helps those of you who wanted to see the shawl shape (though a schematic is included).   January 2015 183

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have heard I got up this morning to a very cold flat (8°C / 46°F). It’s really pretty outside with all the snow, but our old-fashioned (and very pretty) Victorian tenement flat has no double-glazing, very high ceilings and two badly-sealed fireplaces. I’ve turned on the heating and it’s now a staggering 12°C/53°F. Hooray for wool! Yet again I am a complete convert to woolly socks, I’m wearing my old pair of Fetchings and my bedraggled Noro jumper which fits nobody (and especially not me). Nothing like winter to make me break out the old knitted things that are now so tatty I cannot wear them in public anymore.

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Look! Baby Karie! So young & so pleased with her fingerless mitts! Awwww.

I hope you’ll join me for the Byatt KAL and I am really looking forward to being gazoomped at EYF by you all. Stay tuned for colour combo suggestions and ideas. I’m off to speed-knit another pair of woolly socks.