Shawl for an Art Lover

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Yesterday I released Shawl for an Art Lover, a pattern for the shawl I designed for my wedding.

I was always going to wear something knitted at my wedding and it was always going to be a shawl. I knew I wanted something big, beautiful and imbued with meaning. After I finished my book, this was the first design I started sketching.

Shawl for an Art Lover uses one of my favourite shawl constructions — the humble triangular shape — and the pattern motifs are inspired by the city in which I live: Glasgow, Scotland. The delicate lace takes its cue from the sinuous Art Nouveau lines of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic architecture, while the solid strip with its Estonian nupp and lace stitches calls back to the tenement tiles seen in the 19th century apartment blocks throughout Glasgow. The pattern is named after House for an Art Lover, a Glasgow house designed by Mackintosh himself and we photographed it at the Mackintosh Queen’s Cross Church, the head quarters for the CRM Society.

I fell in love in Glasgow and I also fell in love with Glasgow itself. The shawl reflects that.

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The shawl I knitted uses 5 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, a silk/mohair yarn. I know it is a yarn that divides the waters but I chose it because I wanted a lightweight shawl that would keep me warm on a cold January day. KSH is magical that way - the fluff traps air and keeps you cosy even in the depth of winter. Many years ago I also used to work for Rowan and it was a nice way of embedding those memories into the shawl.

However, I’m going to give you some yarn substitution tips if you don’t feel like knitting a giant shawl in a yarn that is somewhat unforgiving if you make mistakes (or if it makes you sneeze).

  • Be mindful of yardage: you need around 1050m or 1150 yds to make Shawl for an Art Lover.

  • Even though Rowan Kidsilk Haze is marked as a laceweight, be careful substituting it with a true laceweight: the fluff adds a lot of ‘bulk’ which means it looks more solid than it actually is. If you substitute KSH with a true 2ply or even a cobweb, your shawl will look less ‘substantial’ and more delicate. You might like that effect, but if you are wanting something that looks more like the fabric I’ve created, you’ll be looking at a heavy laceweight to a 4ply. You know I’m going to tell you to swatch!

  • Think about the fibres: Silk and mohair make for a super-romantic combination, but if you are wanting something more practical or rustic, don’t be afraid to experiment. Alpaca is going to give you drape, Shetland will give you a crisp feel, Merino is going to be soft and wearable, pure silk will be fluid and drapey, and .. you know I am just going to swatch for you.

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The top swatch was done in a 1ply Shetland yarn which I have previously used for my Mahy shawl. It is a crunchy, oatmeal-type yarn and the stitch pattern comes out looking clean and well-defined. This sort of yarn has a lot of stitch definition and stitch memory, and it will remember its blocking for a long time whilst also softening a lot with use. It is not romantic nor top-end-restaurant elegant, but it is honest and wears well. For an everyday shawl, a Shetland-style yarn would be an excellent choice.

The bottom swatch was done in a new John Arbon sock yarn, the Exmoor Sock 4ply, a blend of Exmoor Horn, Bluefaced Leicester, Devon Zwartbles, and Falklands Corriedale. It’s a really interesting mix and one that I can see myself using for shawl designing. It has a handle of a standard merino/nylon sock yarn with with added lustre and drape. As you can see, you still get a nice stitch definition and the 4ply fills out the spaces between the stitches a bit more, giving the shawl a more solid, substantial feel. Using a 4ply sock yarn would make a practical and bold shawl.

The two swatches laid on top of the Kidsilk Haze sample should help you visualise the difference. See the crispness in the Shetland swatch? The solid feel of the sock yarn? Both look stunning and so different to the airy softness of the silk/mohair.

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  • Nupps: a few people have told me that they are afraid of nupps. Please don’t worry! Their difficulty has been vastly exaggerated! Nupps are small bubbles made by knitting several times into the same stitch and then working all those extra stitches together. There are plenty of great tutorials out there and if you really, really hate nupps, you can always substitute them with beads. It’s absolutely allowed.

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Finally a look at how the entire shawl looks like when not worn. It is .. rather large which makes it perfect for wrapping around you. The shawl is well-worn in this photo (sorry, I got married in it before we went for a photo shoot) and you can still see the drape and lovely halo here.

I wanted to make something that was beautiful, that felt beautiful as I was knitting it, and which made other people feel good too. I wanted to write a pattern that was enjoyable and allowed other people to imbue their own makes with their own meaning. I’ve already received comments from people who plan on knitting this for their own wedding. It is something you can knit for the special people in your life (including yourself! - never forget that) and wear for special occasions — but ultimately Shawl for an Art Lover is about letting beauty and love into your everyday life.

Because We Are Makers & Make Each Other Happy

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I’ve had a busy January. Apart from the usual tax return fun and getting things in order after the holiday season, I’ve also had other things to preoccupy me. Like, getting married.

I found the whole wedding process incredibly not-fun and often frustrating. As someone who’s never dreamed of having a wedding, I was thrust into a world where I was supposed to have opinions on flowers, colour schemes, table plans, menu options, and cake flavours. Even more disturbing, I found myself in a world where brides were consistently depicted as young, slender, and blonde. It was assumed I’d diet to fit into a heavy, corseted dress and that I’d overdye my hair to a natural colour. Encountering the wedding industry was a reminder that I’m lucky to work in knitting: a community that has its fair share of problems (to say the least) but does not feel as patriarchal as the giant wedding industry.

So, here’s what we did instead.

I designed and knitted my own shawl using Rowan Kidsilk Haze. I used to work for Rowan years ago, and KSH is perfect for a soft, light and warm shawl. Exactly what I needed for a cold January day. I’ll write more about the shawl at a later date. I finished designing it last year and always intended to release it as a pattern before deciding it would make a beautiful wedding shawl for myself.

The dress is another story. I originally intended on making a dress for myself (too many frustrating visits to bridal salons), but after playing around with the toile and coming up against work deadlines, I decided to let a proper dressmaker have fun with it. I designed the dress itself and was inspired by Hedy Lamarr’s star dress, 1970s maxi dresses, and Gucci’s current maximalism (as exemplified beautifully by Lana Del Rey at the Grammys). I did have another plan at first, but I’m glad that I decided to go with my gut instinct.

I kept jewellery to a minimum wearing my grandmother’s necklace (with my late father-in-law’s ring tucked behind the flower pendant), bracelets gifted by a dear friend, long pearl earrings and a simple headband. I don’t tend to wear jewellery at all, so I felt that was a lot! The wedding rings were designed and made by my brother-in-law.

And, well, I married a Scotsman who obviously wore a kilt! David looked very handsome.

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We had a low-key time with a small civil ceremony in front of our closest family and friends. It was important to me that the ceremony was as intimate and personal as possible — especially as I had found the whole planning process very intense and unpleasant. I remember the ceremony as being full of laughter and joy. We had written our own vows and had a close friend do a reading. David and I have been together for 13 years and it was just lovely to look back at our years together as well as look ahead at what is to come. As I said at one point: we do not complete each other, we complement each other.

One of the greatest joys of the day was welcoming friends to join us for the evening celebration. We were lucky enough to have friends join us from all over the world: Scotland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, and the US. It was a small gathering yet again, but having all the people we love in the same room all at once was worth all the stress and frustration. I am not a huge fan of crowds, so while we could have invited three times as many people, I knew it wasn’t an option. Special thank yous go out to Singl-End Garnethill for hosting us, Angela & Billy for DJing, and Helen for the star-strewn cake. Having pals do their thing as part of our day felt very cool and apt.

Photo by Elaine A.

Photo by Elaine A.

Speaking of pals doing their thing, amazing knitters and crocheters from across the world came together to make us stars! I received a massive crate full of stars - all the sizes you can imagine - and made them into garlands which we hung in the evening venue. It was a perfect reminder that David and I are surrounded by creative, talented people with big hearts. Some of the makers were present and took great joy in finding their own stars; other makers simply wanted to gift us something wonderful. I thank you all. We are planning on turning all the stars into a beautiful wall hanging.

A few people have asked me why David and I decided to get married after being together since 2005. In recent years David and I have experienced some sad losses in our immediate family and also seen the world become a harsher place. We thought it was time to add some love and joy to the world — particularly for our families and close friends. This celebration was more than just David and I finally signing on the dotted line: it was a celebration of the people we love and cherish; the people we miss so much and forever will hold in our hearts. And that is what love does: it makes you see that the world is so much bigger than just you and yours; it opens up hearts and minds.

(Always choose love over hate, my friends. When you wake up in the morning, you have a choice what you want to put into the world, and I urge you to always choose kindness and love. You never know what your small acts of kindness and love will mean to people. )

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Finally, some small tips for anybody who’s contemplating the whole marriage thing.

  • Avoid the massive wedding industry complex as much as possible. They will feed on your insecurities and make you feel inadequate no matter what. There are a myriad of ways of having a wedding, so stick to what feels right and true to you.

  • Getting married on a budget is more than possible. We didn’t have flowers (apart from two bouquets which I arranged myself), we didn’t hire an expensive photographer to document the day, we didn’t spend a huge amount on outfits (my fake fur coat was a wonderful vintage find, for instance), and I did my own makeup.

  • Don’t feel like you have to make everything yourself because you might be a maker. It is fine to delegate and get other people to do things they’re probably better at than you.

  • Don’t feel like you have to confine yourself to what a wedding should look like. You don’t need chair covers, favour bags, confetti, Mr & Mrs/Mrs & Mrs/Mr & Mr signage, or eight bridesmaids. My original dress plan was mustard yellow with fuchsia accents. Between the ceremony and the dinner, a bunch of us went to a downtown bar/art gallery where we had drinks and snacks while we dissected the state of the world.

David and I want to thank everybody who’s been in touch to offer their congratulations. It is so lovely to hear from you all and I hope that our mission to spread a bit of joy into the world has spread to you (even if just for a minute).

I shall return with knitting content very soon (because I have been knitting quite a bit).

Dear 2018, We Need To Talk.

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Dear 2018,

We need to talk about the year you have been. It’s been a memorable year full of highs and lows, full of challenges and successes. I will not forget you in a hurry.

I first met you in a small, local pub surrounded by friends singing. I remember the cold walk home and the sore throat the day after. You continued to be cold and frosty. I am not complaining — it makes for great knitwear occasions — but I would have preferred if you had kept the coldness and frostiness out of your attitude towards humankind. I hope for a better attitude from 2019: more acceptance, more love, and more understanding. Just saying.

Paradoxically what you did do well was throw a lot of good people my way. 2018 saw me making new friends and forging unexpected connections across the world. In a year as cold as you, conversations with new and old friends made a huge difference. I particularly remember one July morning when I was sitting on a balcony somewhere in the English Midlands. It was 5am and already too hot to sleep. And there I was, talking with a friend in California as the sun rose and I was getting ready to pack my suitcase yet again.

Because I was also travelling a lot this year and the personal connections made me able to cope with always being on the road.

Anna and Dan who let me into their home and we watched Gus van Sant films; Hattie who took me to a photo exhibition on 20th century avant-garde photography; Kirsten, Chris, Ziggie, and Oliver who sat me down for the most hipster pizza ever; Nathan who found my keys; Kate who always knew when I needed her company; Tina who found the beach; Allison who had so many brilliant ideas; and Gillian who drove me to a strange hotel — they were some of the many people who kept me sane.

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But you were an adventure, dear 2018. You were such an adventure. I saw so many wonderful, beautiful things and experienced places I never thought I’d see. The response to This Thing of Paper was something I could not have imagined — from the letters and postcards I received to reviews by people I have long admired to seeing the patterns spring to life in talented knitters’ hands. It was a labour of love, and a book that owes its existence to people everywhere as well as a truly amazing team of graphic designers, editors, and photographers. Seeing the book being nominated for awards felt huge.

Finding my design voice again after a long absence also felt huge.

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Béton Brut, Knowth, Vinterskov, and Hillhead were the only patterns I released this year. More are coming, I promise.

2018 was a year where designing did not come as easy to me as it has done in the past. Perfectionism was part of the conversation (like it is every year) but this year also saw me change the way I dress and present myself which fed into my designing. My design work is an extension of my own wardrobe, in a way, and I needed time to figure out how my change of style worked with my design practise.

(I rediscovered jeans this year. Revelation.)

Dear 2018. You did not make it easy for me, but I think I worked it out. Eventually.

But, don’t take this the wrong way, I’m looking forward to meeting 2019.

Love,

Karie

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On Designing Knitting Patterns

The other week I gave a talk to the Kirkmichael’s Women’s Group about my life in knitting (it is a good life and one that I am happy to have, even if the path there was one of slings and arrows). The talk went well and I received some excellent questions. I’d like to share one of them with you.

How do you design patterns?

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I design two types of patterns, essentially. I design for others, and I design for myself.

The first kind of pattern is a response to somebody else’s idea, product or moodboard — “seaside rendezvous: pastel colours, shells, beach, ice cream; summery garments and accessories perfect for wearing on holiday” — or maybe I have been asked to design a pattern for a new yarn. I like these sort of challenges because they push me outside my comfort zone. To use my seaside rendezvous example, I do not typically work with pastel hues and I will need to study the moodboard images hard before I know what atmosphere my design’s supposed to evoke. Spending time on Pinterest and Google Images is literally part of my job description!

The second kind of pattern is much more labour-intensive than you might expect. I tend to start with a story, and I need to figure out how to translate the story in my head into something on the needles, and eventually a wearable piece. A good example of this is my Rubrication shawl from This Thing of Paper. I knew I wanted a big, red shawl named after the practise of adding red lettering to books. I also knew I wanted to design something which would function as a metaphor for writing and creating. Eventually I created a pattern in which the stitches are reminiscent of quills and nibs and ink dripping down the leaf of a page (yes, I included leaves too). Working out how to interpret my story is a process full of swatching, of writing, and figuring out how to distill the core idea.

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But how do I design the patterns?

Ah, the technical aspect! I teach design classes and this is what I tell my students: you need to have an idea and you also need to know how that idea works mathematically.

I do a lot of swatching and I have a few boxes just devoted to yarn for swatching as I need to have a lot of bases covered: 4ply handdyed, worsted-weight woolly yarn, mohair lace yarn, Shetland-style yarn in various colours .. Once I have my idea sketched, I’ll find a suitable yarn and work a swatch (at least 6” by 6”). Sometimes I like the resulting swatch, other times I have to knit a lot of swatches.

Once I like the swatch and I’ve blocked it, I start by working out the gauge. Depending upon the type of pattern I’m writing I might need to plug numbers into a spreadsheet (hello, garment designing) or I know roughly what kind of base numbers I’m working with (hello, shawl construction and increase ratio).

I always, always calculate and write the pattern before I start knitting, because I don’t want to waste time knitting up something which won’t work late in the knitting process. An example of this would be a bottom-up sweater where the stitch numbers don’t work with the yoke design. As a knitter, you will be able to fudge away those extra 7 stitches. As a designer, I need to know the right numbers.

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Designing one-off patterns for myself is not something I do very often, but somehow I ended up doing just that last month. It felt like a combination of responding to a yarn pattern request and designing something because I had something stuck in my head.

The Hillhead hat pattern was a frivolous, unplanned pattern (I plan my pattern releases somewhat obsessively) that somehow wormed its way into the world. I had stuffed three balls of yarn into my suitcase while I was travelling and was doodling in my notebook. When I was a child, my gran knitted me a much-loved colourwork sweater and I was trying to recreate the stitch pattern.

The end result of all this unplanned activity was a hat. I put the work-in-progress on IG, worrying that I had knitted myself into a dead-end. Instead the kind comments encouraged me to continue and it was a design process much unlike anyone I’ve experienced before. I did not try to tell a story (apart from trying to remember a stitch pattern from my childhood) and most of the knitting was done whilst travelling with very little preparation beforehand.

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On a slightly funny note (or maybe it speaks to the year I’ve had), this morning I found a folder with a collection’s worth of already-written and -charted patterns that I had forgotten all about! I will need to sift through the designs and see which ones are viable, then figure out where the ‘gaps’ in the collection are before designing into those gaps. But that sets me up for 2019 and all the things ahead.

Anyway, I hope that answered a few questions about my design processes and how my design brain works. I’m not as prolific as some designers, but I do work hard at getting you some nice things to knit!

Knitting Garments When Busty - A Personal Primer

This is a requested post. I was asked: Could you give me some tips on how to choose knitting patterns when you are busty? And, dear reader, this is the result.

First, let’s go through some pointers:

  • This is not a post about knitting plus-size garments. People can wear all sorts of sizes and be busty. This post will deal with people who wear D-cups and above, regardless of size.

  • This is not a post about modifying patterns. There are tonnes of workshops, books and articles out there. Google is your friend.

  • This is not a post about how to make yourself look slimmer or whatever. I’m a big fan of making peace with our own bodies because our bodies are amazing & carry us through life.

  • I am not here for body-shaming, and any comments about ‘real bodies’ or ‘real women’ will be moderated. Seriously, don’t be a jerk.

This was an okay garment, but it had some serious issues regarding ease and fit.

This was an okay garment, but it had some serious issues regarding ease and fit.

Knitting garments when busty can be quite an adventure. With high-street shops you can try on garments before committing to them, but unless you happen to have access to a LYS with a sample in your size, deciding to knit a garment can feel like taking a risk. You are committing a lot of time and money to something you do not know will suit you. Pattern photos are often no help as garments tend to be modelled by people falling into the A to C-cup territory, so you are left going through Ravelry project pages hoping to find someone with your body shape. But that Ravelry quest requires someone to have taken that risk for you.

Hi, I’m Karie and I’m a knitwear designer. I used to be one of those knitters who’d spend days going through Ravelry project pages and social media before deciding to knit a garment. I’m also someone whose full bust measurement is two sizes larger than the rest of my body, so I have decades of experiences trying to navigate fit and sizing. I’ve developed some strategies for choosing knitted garments and I hope these tips will be useful.

This garment was a terrible decision. I have rarely worn it outside the house.

This garment was a terrible decision. I have rarely worn it outside the house.

1. Understand Your Wardrobe

A few years ago I wrote a series of blog posts on how to (slowly) build a handmade wardrobe. They were called Wear What You Make. I recommend you read them, because understanding what you wear and what you keep reaching for will make it easier to identify whether a garment will work for you. You may not be able to try on that gorgeous pullover you keep seeing on Instagram, but you will be able to assess whether it is a tried-and-true shape you already have in your wardrobe or maybe it has the same neckline as the pullover your Aunt Hester gave you and you never wear because oh god.

The second part deals with assessing your current wardrobe: throw your clothes on the bed; look at what you keep wearing; what do your wardrobe staples have in common; look at your accessories &c. It is a really good exercise and one that I urge you to do every few years. I wrote my blog post three years ago and my personal style has changed a lot.

The third part deals with figuring out what to make. You need to be honest with yourself about your lifestyle, whether your making matches what you wear, and what your preferred fit is. As busty individuals we know that the old adage of “One Size Fits All” is a big lie, so I cannot tell you what your preferred fit should be. Look at the clothes you love wearing: are they baggy? are they fitted? are they A-line? Do they have any shaping? Your previous choices should always guide you (though not rule you). Many people tell me "Oh, I don't think about fashion - I don't have the time nor the inclination" and I hear you on that. Everyday life can be so hectic that many of us just grab whatever we can afford and what more-or-less fits. However, I promise you that subconsciously you are drawn to similar things again and again, and that your wardrobe will reflect this.

Understanding what clothes you love to wear and identifying your personal style is a huge help.

2. Throw Out The Rule Books

I know I’m currently writing you a list of tips, so asking you to throw out the rule books may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

I’ve always heard that I shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes because I’m busty. Likewise, I’ve always been told I cannot wear cropped anything because the thing will just hang off my chest and look like a tent. Guess what? I have a cropped top with horizontal stripes that I love and wear as often as possible. I’m here to tell you that all this Should Not Wear is nonsense. Shaming women’s bodies is not only a big industry, but there are tonnes of people wanting to police what you should or should not wear (some of them very well-meaning and probably related to you), and you need to tune them out.

I have lost track of the comments I’ve had over the years but here are some comments I received in my twenties: you look slutty, you look too easy and you need to cover up, you only wear that to draw attention to yourself, no one will take you seriously if you wear that. All these comments were directed to me at a time when I wore undergarments designed to reduce my bosom (somewhere between a binder and a bra) and they made me very self-conscious. Thank heavens I’m no longer in my twenties and I’m able to identify these comments as utter nonsense.

No matter what you wear, people will have opinions. The worst opinions you will hear might come from yourself, truth be told. When you hear yourself saying “oh no, I cannot wear that” ask yourself if what you are saying is the result of years of living in a world where bodies are politicised, shamed and sexualised, or if it is truly a reflection of what you see in the mirror.

If in doubt, head to your nearest high street store and locate a garment similar in shape and fit to the one you are thinking of making. A cropped oversized jumper? A fitted knitted dress with a scoop-top? Try that sucker on and see how it looks (and not how you think it looks). If your local high street shops don’t stock anything like that, find an online shop with easy returns. Or look in your friends’ wardrobe.

Trying on things you don’t think will suit you might surprise you hugely. And always be kind to yourself.

I’m lucky that I get to design garments that suit me, but that’s obviously not an option for everyone!

I’m lucky that I get to design garments that suit me, but that’s obviously not an option for everyone!

3. Okay, Let’s Talk Fit

I did say above that prescribing shaping and fit is a bit like saying “One Size Fits All” but there are some basic things that most people can apply when looking for garments they would like to knit.

You are more than just your bust size. Speaking from experience (and as someone who rarely sees her feet), it may seem that the bust dominates everything but it is simply not true. You are also your shoulder width, your waist line, your hips, the length of your torso, and the ratio of your arm length to your torso length. And that’s just scratching the surface! When I design garments, I take all those things into consideration instead of just zeroing in on my bosom and figuring out how to accommodate it.

Decide on a size based upon your top/high bust size, rather than your full bust measurement. High street shops and independent pattern designers work with a large set of average measurements, and the measurements are typically graded to a B-cup. If you wear a larger cup size and you go for your full bust size when determining which size to knit, that’s when everything becomes too big.

(Look at the grey/purple cardigan I knitted. I decided to knit the size based upon my bust size. It turned out massively, hugely big and I had to chop 4 inches off the shoulder cap just to make it fit.)

Take your top/high bust measurements, add roughly 2” (5cm) to that measurement and look for the size corresponding to that. That should give you an idea of which size you should knit. I am always so surprised when I do that because I always forget that my full bust skews my sizing.

Focus on getting the fit right across your shoulders. This is a trick that I picked up from a good friend who works as a dressmaker. If she gets the shoulders to fit right, the rest of the garment fits better. Are you narrow-shouldered (like me) or do you have broad shoulders? Look at the fit of the shoulders on the pattern photos — this is far more forgiving than trying to find someone will a full bust, by the way! How does the piece fit? What sort of construction is used?

(Look at my yellow cardigan. See how I chose to design it with a set-in sleeve and a narrow shoulder width? It fits me like a glove and that was intentional.)

Then assess if you need to add extra fabric through short-row shaping or if the garment has enough ease to accommodate the non-B-cup bosom you are sporting. Remember also that knitted fabric tends to be flexible and has a moderate amount of give. You may not need that short-row shaping despite all. I see many people adding short-row shaping no matter the garment and sometimes that garment doesn’t need it. Even if you are a G-cup.

Do not be afraid of yoked jumpers. I’ll be releasing this one soon, promise.

Do not be afraid of yoked jumpers. I’ll be releasing this one soon, promise.

4. Those Colourwork Patterns, Though

I keep being asked about colourwork patterns, particularly yoked jumpers. I’m a fan of colourwork patterns (as I think this post proves) but there are some pitfalls.

  • Beware of where the colourwork is placed. Remember the top cardigan? The brown one? I love it so much, but it has some major problems for people with big busts. Stranded knitted is less flexible, or has less give, than single-strand knitted fabrics. Floats stabilise and fix the fabric in a way you don’t get with fabrics made using just one strand. Sadly the cardigan in question has a section where you knit with three colours in a row — something which makes the fabric even stiffer than two-strand knitted fabric —and that section is placed right on your full bust. That means you have fabric with zero give right where you need it most. On the sleeves, the same thing happens on the upper arms. I am not going to knit the pattern again, but if I were I would change the three-strand colourwork section to a two-strand pattern or use duplicate stitch. So, be aware of where colourwork is placed and what impact it will have on your movement or ability to breathe.

  • Beware of deep yokes. They look super-nice but the colourwork can also stop in really unfortunate places. Measure your yoke depth on yourself (see below) and work out the yoke depth of the garment you want to make. This may involve some maths: look at the row gauge and figure out how many rows the pattern runs over (either ask someone who’s made the pattern, count the rows from photos, or simply just buy the pattern if you are deeply suspicious). Make a mock-up of the yoke depth and hold it up against yourself, or simply know from your own yoke depth whether the pattern will hit you right or wrong. Remember, it’s quicker and cheaper to do all these things than spend weeks knitting something you hate on your body.

Yoke depth! It’s a thing and an important one.

Yoke depth! It’s a thing and an important one.

5. So, In Short…

  • Make stuff you’d actually wear rather than jump on a bandwagon just for the sake of it.

  • Tune out people who make you feel bad about yourself and your body.

  • Make stuff you’d absolutely love to reach for at 6am on a Monday morning.

  • Buy good bras that support your bust and don’t bite into your shoulders (I forgot to mention this earlier but a good, well-fitted bra will change your life).

  • Forget the whole What Not To Wear nonsense. Remember, making you feel bad about yourself is a whole industry and as a maker you have the power to say “bah! I’ll make it myself!”.

  • Know your body measurements . You are not just a bust size.

  • Short-row bust shaping isn’t always the right answer.

  • Think carefully about colourwork patterns and where the colourwork is placed.

  • Read and enjoy Busty Girl Comics because that whole strip is totally relatable.

Feel free to leave your own favourite tips in the comments.

The Importance of Joy

I have just spent twelve days in bed recovering from food poisoning with added complications. Twelve days. Forced downtime makes you think about things that you usually don’t examine, but I’ve had a lot of time to think.

What does it mean to feel joy, let alone share it, when every day seems to bring a new wave of terrible news? What does it mean to make things slowly when the world seems be buried under an avalanche of new, shiny things? What does it mean to sit quiet at home, connecting with other souls in remote corners of the world, when your local community is struggling?

I took up knitting again in early 2008 when I had a prolonged stay in bed. The activity gave me a sense of achievement, a sense of agency. I could not dress myself but I could make a scarf. A scarf became a hat became a sock became a cardigan (and by the time of the cardigan I could dress myself again). I made friends through knitting, I became part of a community, and before long I was working for a yarn company.

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Somewhere along the way I stumbled into designing and writing knitting patterns. I taught workshops for the yarn company. I blogged about knitting. I was on social media discussing knitting. I was part of many, many knitting groups. And then in 2014 I began doing all this as a full-time job for myself. I travelled to exciting places, met wonderful people, gave papers at academic conferences, and I even ended up writing a book.

Despite all those hours devoted to the practise of knitting, despite all the hours I’ve spent examining the act of knitting, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about the importance of joy. And I don’t know why.

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Sometimes I feel emotionally unequipped to deal with making. In recent years I have used making as a way to deal with family loss, but I end up not feeling able to look at the finished pieces afterwards (an aside: not great when you make for a living - there are several pieces I will never show you, let alone publish). Things I make to keep myself occupied become things I cannot stand to look at afterwards. I’m a utilitarian maker and the thought of having made things I’ll never use pains me. Making becomes a distraction, not the central act. I am not sure I like this.

In a world where we are constantly fed pictures of perfection — yes, even on the amateur making end of things — there is something liberating about a slightly misshapen cookie, a cable that is crossed the wrong way, a painting where the nose isn’t quite right, and a quilt where the pieces are not perfectly aligned. These pieces express the joy of making in a way that carefully staged social media posts don’t. They are less about impressing the outside world, and more about being moved by what our hands are capable of doing with simple tools.

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I will freely admit that sometimes I wonder what the point of making is when the world is full of bleak news. Making a woolly hat feels frivolous when basic human rights are revoked, people are killed, and the world is experiencing one natural disaster after another. And yet making a woolly hat reminds me that I do have agency and I do have power. I cannot stop bad things from happening, but I can make good things happen through small acts of my own. I can find joy and peace when the media insist I must be scared. I can reach out to near-strangers and share kindness through making.

Joy is and must be a central part of making. Because making creates something out of nothing. Making transforms the world. Making gives us agency. Making is a radical act, a declaration that you possess the power necessary to bring about change. Making should be full of joy on the most personal level possible.

The world might not have “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace” (to quote Matthew Arnold) but as makers we need to seek the joy, the love, the light, the certitude, and the peace we create through our chosen form of making.

I think we forget about the simple joy of a well-made hat that keeps us warm when the world is cold. I know I had. Sometimes it is good to stop, take stock, and realise what is important to us.