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Yarnporium & A Trip to Yorkshire

Last week I went on a research trip to Yorkshire for my book, This Thing of Paper. It was the first of two research trips and I am glad that I scheduled it while we are still working on the patterns. The second trip will take place later this year and be less visually intensive but perfect for the essays. Thank you to everyone who has made this work possible.

I had a profound experience when I travelled south to York, and I’m going to write more about that in a second. First, though, a very exciting announcement.

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I’ll be teaching two workshops at the Yarnporium show in London this November. First, I’m running a half-day class on knitting hap shawls which covers the classic Shetland hap constructions, how to deal with lace charts, and how to work applied edges. I will also cover any questions on how to customise & design hap shawls. Then, I have developed a class especially for Yarnporium called Knitting the Landscape. This class is an exploration of psychogeography and knitting. We’ll talk flaneuring, urban exploration, inner/outer landscapes, and how to express your own paths in knitted pieces that’ll keep you warm on your journeys.

I’m so honoured to be asked to teach a class like Knitting the Landscape – it’s really a step outside what you’d expect from a knitting workshop and it gets us all thinking about what we can do with our everyday making. I like that.

Now, back to my research trip.

I spent part of my trip in York itself. The city was founded by the Romans, then became a major settlement for the Vikings, before growing into a significant religious site and wool trading centre in the 13th and 14th centuries. Much of York’s city centre is well-preserved within the city walls (of which some date back to 300AD, but most to the 12th and 13th centuries) and the famous Shambles is a well-preserved medieval street. Between my appointments, I enjoyed walking around discovering small details here and there.

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We spent two days at the York Minster itself – one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world with various secondary buildings like a library and stonemason’s court. The level of detail is astonishing: little mice carved into the stonework, gargoyles peeking out, statues with changed faces, elaborate cope chests,  and the awe-inspiring architecture of the Chapter House (and its tiled floor). It was easy to spend hours here and we did.

But what I did not expect was to have one profound moment that reduced me to tears.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved stained glass. The deep, rich colours and the layers of allegorical imagery with so much religious and historical significance .. so when I saw York’s Five Sisters window, I was taken aback.

However, there was something different about the Five Sisters window. It is mostly composed of grisaille (grey) glass with just a few coloured pieces inserted here and there. Grisaille was made by painting patterns on pieces of silvery grey glass. The pieces were then arranged into intricate geometric patterns using lead to hold the pieces together. I speculated that the geometric patterns may have been influenced by crusaders seeing Islamic tiles on their travels (the timeline would be right, I believe).

So I sat there beneath dark windows with strong geometric patterns and I had a strong emotional reaction. The window reminded me of the first time I read TS Eliot’s The Waste Land which was also formed of ‘fragments shored against these ruins’. Something about the small, insignificant pieces that swirled together in highly complex patterns to create something bigger than themselves. Small glimpses of colour and light to break the dark complexity .. the more I looked at the window, the more I cried.

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I later learned that Five Sister was last restored in the 1920s and dedicated as a memorial to the women who died during the First Word War. Mrs Little, a local woman, had a vision of long-lost sisters guiding her towards the window and as she approached, her sisters faded away to be replaced by five women sitting in a garden sewing needlework. I am moved by Mrs little’s words: “After the war was over, when memorials on all sides were being erected to our brothers, I often thought that our sisters who also made the same sacrifice appeared to have been forgotten.” Names of more than 1400 women are inscribed on oak panels nearby.

I sat there for nearly an hour underneath that window and I could have stayed much longer. Great art is what changes us and the way we look at the world. I never thought a 13th century grisaille window would affect me so but it did.

Life is so much greater than just our own tiny selves. We combine to make sense of it all.

A Yorkshire Retreat

I don’t think many hen nights turn into a knitting retreat, but it’s the logical solution when every participant is a knitter. One of my best friends is getting married later this year and we all met up in Yorkshire for a weekend of knitting and relaxation. I had been to Yorkshire before for work, but I had never had a chance to spend time in a stunning landscape filled with textile heritage.

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We took the train from Carlisle to Settle – to our great surprise (and delight) the train journey turned out to be spectacular. It runs past the Pennines and through the Yorkshire Dales.

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Every station was a Victorian delight with ornate architecture and beautiful details. I can only recommend taking the train journey – it is absolutely stunning and I feel fortunate to have experienced it.

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May 2015 227And there are sheep everywhere. I was particularly interested in seeing the varieties of sheep in the fields we passed. The Swaledale sheep is the official ‘face’ of the Yorkshire dales and I spotted a few on my train journey. I am not Deb Robson, so I could not identify all the little dots scampering around the fells but it was still great seeing so many varieties.

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We had rented a house a few miles outside Settle. It was pretty much my dream house: Georgian proportions, a country kitchen (though I found cooking on an AGA fairly intimidating), a small conservatory with built-in book shelves and open fires in each of the living rooms. Did I mention the views?

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This was the view from my bedroom (where I sat in the window seat as I took this picture). It looked like merino sheep in the cow-parsley/buttercup field. They fled as soon as I tried getting closer for a better view. Roses in the front garden and a beautiful back garden with views across the dale.

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It was a bit too cold for me to sit outside and knit, but I was tempted! Once inside, the house offered many temptations..

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.. but I stuck to my knitting mostly. I currently have three projects on the go – one that requires a lot of maths, one that requires a lot of concentration and, er, one that’s 1 ply lace. I mainly worked on the latter as it seemed more straightforward given the high level of hilarity.

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I did not move from my comfy chair most of the weekend, though I discovered just how bad I am at playing pool. The adjacent house had a ruby spaniel that loved cuddles, so time was spent doing that too. And copious amounts of tea, tea and tea. Cake was had from the interestingly-named local pub/bakery.

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It was a lovely weekend. We took the train back to Carlisle yesterday.

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And then a rail-replacement bus back to Glasgow (when I fell asleep – all that fresh country air!). I’m having the day off today as I’m oddly exhausted after my relaxing weekend away. While it was fun waltzing around a 19th country house for a few days, it’s rather lovely to be home in my humble abode again. I’m down to London next week – when I pass Carlisle on my way down, I’ll think fondly of this trip.

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.

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.

Adventures on Arran

To my great delight and surprise, my partner whisked me away on a trip to the Isle of Arran this weekend. The Isle of Arran is about two hours away from Glasgow by train and ferry, but I had never been.

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I twigged I had arrived among kindred spirits when we noticed small sheep statues along the coast.

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The easiest way to get around Arran is by bus – we asked to get dropped off at Sannox about 8 miles north of the ferry terminal. Sannox stems from the Viking place name “Sand Vik” (Sandy Bay) – always a pleasure to see places my Viking ancestors have been!

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We headed towards Glen Sannox – the walkers’ guide labelled this “an easy ramble with stunning scenery”. The first part of the path was easy (and we stopped to eat brambles – Arran clearly has a micro-climate quite unlike the mainland).

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The path into Glen Sannox became less friendly (and more boggy) after we crossed the stream. October 2014 076We walked towards Coire na Ciche (The Devil’s Punchbowl) with the slopes of Goatfell on our left and the peaks of Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail in front of us. I was worried about how my injured left knee would hold up (especially as the path was not as gentle as we had imagined) – but although I was in pain, I did not have to resort to the heavy-duty pain killers and my knee only caused me to stumble occasionally.

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We couldn’t resist a selfie (though I look odd!). I wore my trusty Snorri jumper and i have a bit of a story to tell about the hat I’m wearing – but that’s for another day.

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No filter! When the sun came out, the colours were breathtaking. The clouds rolling over Cir Mhor (the peak in perpetual cloud) kept getting darker, though, and the already brisky wind got stronger. It was a beautiful, rich landscape. Wildlife was all around us too – we saw so many red deer that we got jaded (though I am sure they were not “wild” animals, just “managed”), various birds, the ever-present sheep and I even caught the eye of a little adder. But it was clear that we needed to head back before the clouds caught up with us.

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It was just after midday, but it felt later. We retraced our steps, had the last of our packed lunch and then caught the bus (the bus – there are no other busses on Arran) making an almost full-circle of the island before going home.

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What a lovely, special day. I don’t get to go on adventure with my partner as much as I’d like but our trip to Arran was just perfect: stunning scenery, the best company in the world, apples in the backpack and I even cast on something very special whilst there. Magic.

Unwind Brighton 2014

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Brighton was amazing. If I lived in Brighton, I’d be unbearable. As it were, I lived in the single estate coffee shop next to my hotel, I watched the World Cup finale in an awesome craft beer pub, I had some incredible locally-sourced organic vegan food, and there was some knitting thing going on too. Ah-mah-zing.

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The knitting thing was Unwind Brighton and it was the real reason why I was there. And you know what? It was really good. National newspaper The Independent wrote an article about Unwind and called it ‘a woolly business conference’ and I love that definition. It captures a lot of things for me: I went to Unwind and I bought yarn (more on this later), but I also met incredible, incredible knitters and fellow pros. Being a knitting industry professional can be a bit weird sometimes because .. well, you are on your own a lot and you work strange hours and you never know what to tell taxi drivers when they ask about your job. Unwind was a good reminder that I am not throwing words into thin air when I work long hours from home – amazing people knit my patterns, wear them, and respond to them, gosh – and that my lifestyle is shared by a lot of incredible, interesting people. Other people get it. Whoop.

The venues were stunning. As a huge Regency nerd, I had  small ‘moments’ throughout my entire stay about my surroundings. Okay, I was running around like a big geek. Not only did I teach in a Grade II-listed Georgian house, but the marketplace took place within Brighton Dome which was built in the early 19th century for the Prince Regent’s stables (and where ABBA won Eurovision in 1974). It was such a pleasure to see buildings I have been reading about my entire life and imagine ladies in diaphanous muslin dresses (or, in Agnetha’s case, satin trousers) float down the street where I was having lunch.

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I taught three classes: Beading for Knitters, Continental Knitting, and Crochet for Knitters. I was so impressed by the students who took my classes: they were creative, excited, focused, imaginative, and adventurous. This is a sentiment that was shared by a lot of teachers, incidentally. People were there to learn and they were not afraid of getting things wrong because it simply meant a learning opportunity. I was deeply impressed by that. I took as much away from my classes as the people in my classes.

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The Unwind marketplace was so well-curated. It felt coherent, the vendors were of a very high standard and it was clear that the organisers had gone in with a clear idea of what they wanted the marketplace to reflect. I have seen larger marketplaces, but I have rarely seen a marketplace where every single vendor was so appealing (Edinburgh Yarn Festival is the only other one that springs to mind). It just had that feel of quality, you know?

I got my hands on one of TrueBritKnits’ iconic knitting badges and picked up a skein of Eden Cottage Yarns Milburn 4ply because reasons. I have worked with Triskelion Yarn before and I was really looking forward to meeting Caerthan in person (he was lovely). My one indulgence was a skein of his Taliesin 4ply in dark green . Finally, I  acquired a hank of Lioness Arts Merino Single in “Quartet” at the Pom Pom Mag Seaside Shindig when my team triumphed in the pub quiz (we may have been slightly competitive). It’s lovely to take home one of Dani’s beautiful yarns because she did an amazing job as an organiser.

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Looking back, Unwind Brighton feels slightly unreal. I described it at the time as Glastonbury for Knitters – though with less mud and more artisan coffee – but it’s not quite accurate. I met a lot of old friends, forged a lot of new friendships, and I feel so inspired. During Unwind I occasionally had to escape from everything because so many things started clicking in my head and I needed time-out to sort through them. The beach was a welcome retreat (with bonus gelato) where I could hear myself think.  It’ll take me a couple of weeks to sort through all that happened.

Thank you Dani for organising Unwind Brighton. It was an honour to be a tiny, tiny part of something this special. Thank you to all of the organising team – you kept us all sane. And the biggest thank you to everybody who came to the seaside for a day or five. It was truly magical.

See you in 2015?

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Wardrobe Decisions

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I need to make a decision about which colour to wear .. and that got me thinking: any rich colours I haven’t used for a shawl? Any recs?

The Project of In-Between Time: Orkney

For the past fortnight I have been travelling. I am used to travelling but usually I travel for work, not pleasure. I had a lovely time and I’ll be sharing stories from that journey soon. Suffice to say that my batteries have been recharged.

I spend so much time working on things that I cannot show you until they have been published. However, I do work on the occasional design by other people. My Bute cardigan is nearly done, but unfortunately I made a major mistake when I cast on for the fronts. The Small and Medium sizes are practically identical up to a certain point and, yes, my brain chose the wrong increase. As a result one front is size Small and the other is size Medium. I will have to reknit the wrong size front (which would be the smaller of the two, of course) but luckily I have enough yarn for that.

So I cast on for another project and it is one I work on when I do any public knitting or have any in-between time.
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This is the Orkney cardigan from Rowan 52. I have changed the pattern quite a bit – though not any essential parts!

Instead of knitting it flat, I worked the body in the round with steeks (including the neckline and the armholes) as I didn’t see the need to knit a traditional fair-isle cardigan flat and then seam it. So much extra work for no good reason! I added 9 stitches for the front steek and 7 stitches elsewhere. First I secured the steek with crochet stitches but I didn’t like the bulkiness (particularly around the armholes) so I redid the edges using the zigzag on a sewing machine – much better.

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I also changed the colour scheme significantly.

The original cardigan uses 13 colours in Rowan Felted Tweed DK and is rather bright when you see it in real life. The Rowan photos show it as being rather muted, but you have yellows next to purples with turquoise is another of the dominant colours. I just wanted to take the colour scheme somewhere else and turn it more autumnal. I did a coloured in version of the fair-isle chart before I changed colours around so I could see which colours were dominant where – I really recommend doing this if you are planning on recolouring any big fair-isle project. In the end I substituted the Camel (beige) with Phantom (brown). I used Ancient (a blueish khaki green) instead of Bilberry (purple) and Rage (red) instead of Watery (turquoise). I am generally using fewer colours as well as they tend towards the cool green-brown-red end of the scale.

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Interestingly the sleeves use the same patterns as the body but the colours are changed around. The change in colours make a huge difference and people have been astonished when I point out the patterning is identical. I’m trying to impose a certain order on my colour scheme by using Rage on the sleeves whenever I’ve used Ancient (and vice versa) and Camel where I’ve previously used Celadon, but I’m not sticking to any substitution rules, really. Whatever looks nice. The sleeve looks a bit brighter than the body and I’ve used less green than I had anticipated, but I like how it looks.

Ravelry users reported that the fit was on the snug side, so I have gone up a needle size and also a size up from my usual Rowan size (which is Medium) – the lower part of the sleeve is still snug and I think the body will be a tight fit, but we’ll see what happens when I block the cardigan. Felted Tweed DK likes to loosen up during blocking.

And I am already thinking about buttons. ButtonsAll of the buttons have been purchased from Textile Garden over the last year or so. I am somewhat partial to the lower left set but I do have some plain coconut shell buttons I could also use. First, though, I need to finish the two sleeves and the bands, block the lot, and ease in the sleeves. I am in no hurry with this cardigan so there will be plenty of time to decide upon buttons. Maybe even purchase some more?

I think I’ll have enough yarn left to do another colourwork cardigan – maybe one emphasising slightly richer colours?

The Ythan Hat

Ythan HatLet’s talk a little about what goes into a producing a design.

I will usually start by sketching and annotating the sketch with keywords. Then I start to look for yarns that will work with the idea and if I haven’t worked with the yarns before, I will swatch to check stitch definition and drape. Next on the agenda: a skeleton pattern. This pattern is pretty rough-looking, though you’d be able to follow it without any difficulty. It has a full set of instructions, a rudimentary chart and my first sketch. The sample is knitted using the skeleton pattern. After the sample is knitted, I will clean up the pattern:  eg. making sure the same abbreviations are used throughout, special instructions are spelled out, flesh out the materials section, and checking the charts are clear and correct.

Now comes the stage where the other half of Team Bookish gets involved – and that is him in the photo to the left. David will redraw my preliminary sketch and work on the actual photo shoot. A photo shoot includes finding the right location, making sure that the clothes work with the knitted item, and obviously taking the photos.

Working on the Ythan hat pattern was no different except that suddenly David had to step in front of the camera and I had to take the photos. It was interesting to swap places but try to look at the difference between the photo of David and the photo he shot of me some five minutes later. One of us is a talented photographer – the other one is a middling amateur!

Ythan HatI am not posing in the photo, I’m not dressed for a shoot, it is the same location, and we are using the same camera .. but Dave’s just a far better photographer than me. Something about the way he uses light and understands depth of field.. well, I just cannot do what he does with a camera.

However, I can knit and I can design and this is the Ythan hat.

Ythan is the fifth pattern to be released from the Doggerland collection. The first four patterns were all about the periphery of the Doggerland region but I wanted to travel into the heart of Doggerland with this pattern.

Ythan is inspired by the carved artefacts – particularly antlers – that have been uncovered from the seabed underneath the North Sea. Most of the artefacts just have a few lines incised across the antlers – nothing major in terms of decoration or ornamentation – but I wanted to explore the idea of carved lines and how simple lines across a surface can be both functional and decorative. Knitted ribbing is a great example: it is elastic (functional) but also provides vertical lines (decorative). And what would happens if you sudden added texture (twisted stitches) and a very simple motif of vertical lines to the ribbing?

I’m tempted to say that just like the North Sea, this design has a lot more going on under the surface of things.

(And next time David will be back on photography duty.)

A Trip to Holmfirth

June: Yorkshire TripI usually love train journeys. I love the sounds of travelling on a train, I love having time to looking at the landscape, and I love knitting on trains. My ideal holiday would be a train journey across a country or a continent. It is just so relaxing.

Except if you are travelling down the East Coast of Britain on a hot and sticky Sunday in June. Then a train journey is hell on earth. After a five-hour journey, it was a joy to arrive at my destination in Yorkshire.

I have been to the Rowan Yarns HQ several times now and after the initial excitement of my first visit, I am now able to appreciate the Mill for other things than OMG, I recognise that cardigan and gosh, that’s a lot of yarn. This time I closed my eyes and soaked up the quietness of the setting and recharged my batteries.

June: Yorkshire TripMost of the Mill is devoted to offices, but the workshop room never fails to make me smile. It is a riot of colour and textures – the walls are laid out like a giant yarn shop (though nothing is for sale), the tables and chairs are covered in Rowan fabric and every nook and cranny features Rowan projects. The photo above shows the Wool Week 2012 collection (patterns for which you can download for free from the Rowan website) tucked away in a corner with a Kaffe Fassett pattern library on the shelves underneath.

As workshop rooms go, this is hard to beat for location and creative spirit. As you can imagine.
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I was there to preview the Autumn/Winter 2013 Rowan collection. It is always odd to preview winter garments and yarns in the height of summer, but yarn companies work with long lead-times. I know that just this past week they were shooting the Summer/Spring 2014 magazine which means that the Design Room is now currently hard at work on preparing for Autumn/Winter 2014!

(Needless to say, the mannequins on the right have nothing to do with autumnal or winter knits- I just loved the simple styling and the fruity colours.)

I cannot say anything about the Autumn/Winter 2013 collection – simply because it is yet to be released (although it will be released in a month or so). There are several new yarns and it is always one of the highlights of a Mill trip to see these. I have my own personal favourite already – but I always try to remember that I am not there for myself – I am there to assess how knitters will respond to the new yarns. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it!

Unfortunately I suffered from insomnia whilst visiting Holmfirth, but it meant I could work on the Stevie cardigan by the lovely Sarah Hatton. Because I live in Scotland, I’m doing the long-sleeved version(!) and I’m knitting it in Rowan Wool Cotton in French Navy. It is a top-down cardigan and I’m into the body section now which means perfect knitting night project.

June: Yorkshire TripThe train journey back was much, much better. And I even managed to catch a glimpse of Antony Gormley’s The Angel of the North.