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A Little Bit About Designing

July 2014 845

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!

Taking Stock

April 2014 879

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.


April 2014 997

I caught my Alva shawl in a zip about a month ago. Being in a bit of a hurry, I accidentally tore a hole in the edging at the worst possible point: the tip of the edging. So, I put the shawl into time-out whilst I tried to decide what to do. Today, I decided to mend Alva and this is what I did:

  • I cut off the entire edging. The hole was so big it ran across four rows and the centre stitch had unravelled.
  • I then picked up along the cut edge. Rowan Kidsilk is thankfully a very sticky yarn which made picking up stitches easier than if I had to watch out for accidental laddering.
  • I then knitted back an entire row to make sure I had picked up evenly and that I was not left with any fraying yarn.
  • Looking at the colours in my Alva shawl (which was knitted out of one ball of Rowan Kidsilk Stripes), I picked up a matching solid-colour ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (I love the Jelly colourway, nom. My Picycle is knitted in that colour) and I knitted two rows.
  • I then used a crochet cast-off to make lovely little fluffy loops along the edge and decided to add some extra crochet loveliness by extending the edge with fan stitches.

And there you have it. How to mend a shawl Karie-style if you have been silly enough to get it caught in a zipper. It’s as good as new.

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.

A Visit from the Knitting Police, or, On the Origins of Things

December 2013 1122

Yesterday I was working on the second sleeve of my Orkney cardigan when the following exchange happened.

Passer-by: Hey, what are you doing?
Me: Oh, I’m working on this fair-isle cardigan..
Passer-by: Oh no! That’s not fair-isle. You are not from Shetland. You cannot be knitting fair-isle. I am from Shetland and I am telling you that you cannot work fair-isle.
Me: .. uhmm, okay?

This led to an interesting discussion on Twitter about geographical locations, if any non-Shetlanders are allowed to say their stranded colourwork is fair-isle (and if it is fair isle, Fair Isle or Fair-Isle) and if we are able to talk about “traditional knitting” at all. Here are some selected highlights:

(Great point! Can a technique or motif be geographically trademarked?) Some snarky comments from amused knitters:

And, finally, less snarkily and more to the point:

I am interested in the socio-political aspects of so-called traditional knitting: there is definitely a discussion to be had about what constitutes a tradition – who decides something is a tradition – and if we can talk about origins at all. Motifs and techniques have criss-crossed geographical boundaries and what we may think of as “traditional knitting” may only date back to the early 20th century. My personal view is that all these things only tend to be “fixed” in time and place long after actual innovation has occurred – and that many of these “fixes” have little to do with the actual innovations and more to do with money/prestige.

It’s a fascinating topic and I wish I had a fresh mind with which to tackle it (alas, I am writing this after working all day on another piece of writing). I’ll keep knitting my Orkney, mind. Only half a sleeve to go and I refuse to leave it alone despite my personal geographical failings.

The Cardigan is Finally Finished: Bute

March 2014 057According to my notebook, I started knitting Bute in August 2012. I finally finished yesterday. It is a strange project: I certainly did not spend 18 months working on this cardigan and the result bears very little resemblance to what I had in my head when I started out.

First the facts:

Pattern: Bute by Lisa Richardson from Rowan Magazine 52.

Yarn: Rowan Colourspun and Rowan Felted Tweed (both the suggested yarns) in Scunner, Winterburn (Colourspun) + Clay, Watery, Bilberry, Carbon and Peony (Felted Tweed).

Needles: 3.25mm and 4mm.

Size: M.

Modifications: I started out by changing the colours. I do not suit the autumnal colours of the original nor do I like the blue/yellow feel of the men’s version (it’s a bit too Swedish flag, really). I went down a size having tried on a shop sample. Then I chopped off a repeat of the body. I omitted the reverse sticking stitch on the shoulders.

Verdict: I loved knitting this (except when I had to reknit the front due to my own sizing mistake). I loved putting it together. I am just not sure it suits me.

Firstly, I should have gone down to size S(!) despite being on-gauge. The garment is very generously sized and it is much too big on me. Look at how the sleeve billows around my lower arm in the photo. Part of the problem is that I have lost weight since I began knitting the cardigan, but I have not lost that much weight.

March 2014 061

I have had to chop off two inches on the shoulders – the original pattern has a mild drop-shoulder effect but the shoulders were halfway down my upper arms. I am so very glad I chopped off a repeat on the body as it would have been more like a coat than a cardigan. I hope no one will ask to look at the shoulder seams after my vaguely botched surgery session with first an overlocker (which seemed like a good idea at the time) and then a crochet hook.

The sleeves are superlong too – not quite to schematic and I wish I had twigged this beforehand so I could have added a thumb hole!

Secondly, I have since learned valuable lessons about knitting garments with shape. I am a pesky hourglass shape which means I need garments to nip in at my waist or I’ll drown. The Bute pattern is not to blame for my lack of self-awareness – it is just a shame that I feel a bit frumpy and enormous in the garment.

Thirdly, I do love how warm this is. I have not been cold once since I started wearing this. I may need to knit myself a fair-isle onesie in Rowan Felted Tweed (okay, maybe not) or maybe a pair of fair-isle socks (more likely). Luckily my mate Jem Weston has a pattern for a pair of very fetching fair-isle socks in the same magazines and I might make my remnants stretch for that. Hmmmm..

Lessons learned: if you try on a shop sample size XS and it’s almost perfect, disregard the voices in your head and go for size S (even if you haven’t been size S since primary school).

I really enjoyed knitting the “peerie” patterns and I can see myself using the stitch patterns in another project – but this time with waist-shaping.

And can I knit everything in Felted Tweed from now on? It is my new favourite yarn (fact: this is my sixth FT project in a row).

Onwards & Upwards

January 2014 112

I am awash in a sea of teal. It being a “thing” for a “thing” I cannot spill too many details – except that I am currently 4380 sts away from finishing the thing (which equals about 3 hours of concentrated work – it’s not a quick knit, alas). The “thing” has kept me company for the past few weeks of enforced rest and I shall be sorry to send it away.

Actually, the “thing” was much admired today by three new-to-knitting nurses. I spent some time at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary getting my leg checked by an orthopaedic specialist and took my knitting with me in case I had to wait around. The verdict? My leg is still very bruised and if I am still struggling two weeks from now, I am to see the specialist immediately. Right now, though, there is no evidence of a torn ligament (hooray! silly A&E) but the tissue surrounding the ligament is definitely badly bruised. I am to rest my leg as much as possible but also begin to do exercises including prolonged periods of walking and gentle stretching.

I am hugely relieved by the news.

However, I do find walking very fatiguing and overwhelming. As a result I am having to postpone a few engagements over the next couple of weeks. I hate disappointing people but I’m really not at my best right now. I am very sorry.

Thank you to everybody who has been in contact over the last few weeks. Your messages, texts and emails have been enormously cheering.

Onwards and upwards.

Out of Joint

About two weeks ago I was working for a client in a yarn store when I suffered an accident. Some big shelves fell on the back of my knee and I was left with a very impressive bruise. As the bruise faded away, I expected to be back to normal but unfortunately my knee is still bad.


Image via WebMD

I went to the A&E last week and they concluded that while I didn’t have a fracture, the overarching conclusion is that I have torn or badly bruised my lateral collateral ligament. The LCL stabilises the outside of the knee and also grips the fibula (the outside bone of the lower half of the leg). I have an appointment with an orthopaedic clinic next week and hopefully that will lead to physiotherapy.

For me, enforced rest is always difficult. I like being active and I get easily bored if I’m restricted in my movements. I have kept myself going by writing patterns and doing some sample knitting, but as the days have passed I just feel increasingly worried about how long this is going to take and what that means for my working life. While it has been great to dig into some editing gigs, I have been forced to cancel quite a lot of jobs. March is going to be an exceptionally lean month, in other words. Being self-employed means a huge amount of freedom but it is also a precarious way of making a living.

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday and it was a curiously low-key day. I received some lovely presents (among others: my bestie gave me an ace book on Doggerland and my parents gave me a fantastic-sounding novel about 18th C Danish colonisation of Greenland) but most of the day was spent resting in bed. We caught a taxi down to the best burger joint in town but although I enjoyed being outside Casa Bookish, I ended up in considerable pain (and waking up in the middle of the night begging for painkillers is not the best way to end my birthday).

So it is a hermit’s life for me right now.

(If you need anything tech-edited, copy-edited or actually written, now is a fantastic time to get in touch (just fill in the form). If you were considering buying one of my patterns, now would be an equally great time to do so! If you want to recommend any knee exercises, leave a comment!)

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.
December 2013 1122

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.



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.


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?

With Love from Glasgow

When you read this, I am currently on a much-needed break. The past year has been a whirlwind of activity and I was startled when I realised I hadn’t had any time off since Christmas 2012 (when I had the flu so I am not sure it counts). I have spent some days on Aberdeen with family and now I am making my way towards London (where I’ll be at the Pompom Magazine Christmas Party – hope to see you there?) and then Denmark. Hopefully I’ll return with my batteries recharged and some major decisions made. I will be knitting whilst I am away – I am currently collaborating with Quail Books on an exciting project and I’m also working with Knit Now magazine on what promises to be their best issue yet – but I am not stressing about deadlines for once.

But first I am really happy to unveil a collaboration with my original partner-in-crime, Ms Old Maiden Aunt. We had so much fun running our Sherlock-inspired project in 2012 that we wanted to do something similar this year. Instead of doing a three-month long club, we decided to do a one-off kit that combined our love of Scotland, local history, and Art Nouveau. We began working on this some eight months ago  so when Lilith received the small booklets last week, I whooped.

November 2013 144The Tenement Tiles pattern is inspired by the late 19th century tiles found throughout the Victorian apartment blocks (“tenements”) in Glasgow. The pattern booklet includes a small essay about the tiles and Glasgow – the story of the tenement tiles is absolutely fascinating (it involves both cholera and false teeth!) and I have also included photographs of some of the tiles in my neighbourhood.

I see these late 19th century tiles every single time I leave my home – the entry way to my tenement is tiled with deep green titles depicting stylised lilies. Lilith and I began working on how to work the tiles into a design and the obvious solution was colourwork.

The Tenement Tiles gloves come in three sizes and the kit includes an exclusive Old Maiden Aunt colourway that won’t be available anywhere else. We were really passionate about trying to capture a slightly weathered green-grey and Lilith came up with a colour that just blew me away. It is the exact shade I had in my head when I first started sketching all those months.

(An addendum: Glasgow’s the first place I have really felt at home and it feels so very poignant to have worked on something so quintessentially Glaswegian at a time when Glasgow has been hit by tragedy.  It feels even stranger to be writing about my beloved home when I know this blog post will be posted when I am not here. Glasgow has a reputation of a hard, tough city but it is a city of beautiful architecture, amazing art and (most importantly) an incredible community spirit. )

Many thanks to the overwhelming response to my post about appreciating hand-knitting. I have much I want to say in response to your response but first I have some travelling to do. Also, in lieu of a big gift guide for the knitters in your life, I have compiled a small Pinterest board of some good gift ideas.