Introducing: The Hygge Collection & Fika

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pattern: Proserpine (An Autobiographical Note)

Growing up I was a bit of an odd child. I preferred reading to playing with the neighbours' kids, and I had strong imaginative/romantic streak which manifested itself in archaeological digs in the backyard and an unhealthy obsession with medieval architecture. As a teenager, I became even more of a bookworm and, thanks to my school's eclectic library, I fell in love with Rupert Brooke (hot; dead; wrote poetry) and Lord Byron (hot; dead; wrote poetry). On a trip to Copenhagen, I bought a slim volume of love poetry which turned out to be one of the key book purchases of my life. The slim volume introduced me to a wealth of poetry beyond the "hot & dead" category. One of my new discoveries was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a 19th century English poet and artist. I never imagined that years later I'd be designing knitting patterns inspired by his work.

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Proserpine is a half-circle shawl inspired by Rossetti's painting by the same name (and also a tiny bit by the Daydream painting). Both feature contemplative women dressed in blue-green drapes surrounded by nature. I wanted to capture the drape and flow in my shawl design, and also introduce a leaf motif in a way that was subtle. As I was originally commissioned to design this pattern for Knit Now's Arts & Crafts issue, I also wanted my design to reflect the Arts & Crafts Movement's 'truth to materials' tenet - I needed the shawl to show off the quality and beauty inherent in hand-dyed yarn.

The pattern is now available in general release. It uses roughly 850 yrds of 4-ply/fingering-weight yarn (this equates to 2 skeins of hand-dyed gorgeousness) and is knitted on 4.5mm needles to ensure drape. The pattern is both charted and contains full written instructions (because that is how I roll). Most of the pattern uses soothing stocking stitch, and the increases are worked EZ-style, though the lace cleverly disguises this. I know I go on about my patterns being relaxed knits, but this is another one of those (sorry folks).

Some of you have asked if this is the next instalment in Authors & Artists? I suppose I could easily have added Proserpine to the series, but I have decided that Authors & Artists will be featuring women writers and authors. I may have grown up being enamoured by hot, dead poet guys but now I find strong, smart women far more cool. If you are going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I will be talking to Louise Scollay in the Podcast Lounge about Authors & Artists, you'll be able to see the Proserpine shawl sample at the Old Maiden Aunt stall, and I'll be wearing the original magazine sample too.

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Authors & Artists: the Byatt Shawl

January 2015 112After a few teasing posts, I am happy to say that the Byatt shawl is now available from Ravelry (and will soon be available from LoveKnitting too). The shawl is named after one of my favourite novelists, A.S. Byatt.  I first encountered her books when I was a young woman on the cusp of starting university. I read her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession in translation by Claus Bech. I later learned Bech had been awarded the Prix Baudelaire for his work, but that was no help to me as I diligently worked my way through dense poetry sections.

A few years later I read Possession in its original English and Byatt's book was transformed. While Bech's work was lauded, I could not connect with it in the same way I could connect with Byatt's own language. It was rich, layered, warm, gently witty, and wonderful. The book became a touchstone and I have read it eight or nine times now.

And so Byatt's novels became part of my life.

The Frederica Potter novels - The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman - kept me company as I grew from a young woman to whoever it is I am now. I read The Biographer's Tale whilst travelling around New Zealand (it remains my least favourite Byatt novel to date). And I curled up with her short stories - Angels and Insects and the Matisse Stories, among others, when I lived in a suitcase trying to figure out who I was going to be. Reading Byatt quietens that voice inside my head that urges me to be less bookish, less arty, and more .. normal. I owe her much for writing about quiet, creative people with complex inner lives who muddle through life trying to remain intact. We exist too.

The Byatt shawl takes its main design cues from the cover design of  The Children's Book. The rich teal and the golden brown are obvious nods towards the teal and gold found on the cover. Insects recur often as motifs in Byatt's books - the slip stitch pattern forms braids on top of the garter stitch, but the individual stitches can also resemble tiny wings or delicate leaves.

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The horseshoe edging was my toughest design decision. I wanted the shawl to have an Art Nouveau feel, so I first added leaves to the edging. Interestingly, I found that very open lace patterns clashed with the remainder of the shawl and I experimented with bold chevrons until my eye was caught by the classic horseshoe pattern. Its light chevron feel and close/open movement worked both within the context of the fabric and also with the design inspiration. The edge is finished off with a picot edging which just adds a touch of polish.

I've had a few questions about the shape of the shawl. Funnily enough, neither my photographer, my tech editor nor myself even considered that issue, so I have uploaded the schematic to my Rav project page to tide things over until I can get my photographer (also known as David, the boyfriend) to shoot some photos. Many apologies for the oversight. On the other hand, it is the sort of feedback that improves my patterns, so thank you for getting in touch!

The only other issue is that I am currently waiting for my lovely friends at LoveKnitting to publish the pattern, so it becomes available in all EU countries. I am keeping tabs on the situation and am exceedingly frustrated that not all you lovely people can buy the pattern straight away. Maybe an excuse to go stash-diving or plan colour combinations?

Stay tuned for colour combination suggestions from Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. If you are planning on going to the Edinburgh Festival, you will want to stay tuned to learn why knitting a Byatt shawl might be a good idea. I did say plans were afoot, non?

Spoilers, Darling: the OMA/Karie Sock Club 2015, pt 1

And so the madness begins with the first pattern launch of 2015. demimonde

Hello Demimonde socks.

I am so very glad that Lilith and I decided to do a sock club, because it has really opened my eyes to sock design. Socks come with their own design challenges and I really relished working with a differently shaped canvas. It's hard to describe it, but with socks, the canvas is obviously 3D-shaped with things happening around the heel/gusset area and the toes. As a designer I had to think about stitch patterns in several new ways - which direction I wanted them to go, how I wanted to deal with the transition into the heel area or the transition between leg and foot. I found it hugely satisfying to work with all this - and I do hope it resulted in a great knit for sock club members. I designed three socks in total and they are all just a wee bit different from one another.

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The colour and pattern inspiration came from a TV show that Lilith raved about. I do not watch much TV, but I fell in love with the dark, decadent feel of Penny Dreadful. I know a fair bit about mid-to-late 19th century pop culture, but I enjoyed looking through archives of Eva Green looking resplendent in corsets and bustles. It was hard work, but someone had to do it!

Demimonde is directly inspired by late Victorian lace. I want the socks to provide a glimpse of ankles but also have an air of ever-so-slightly seedy respectability. Lilith's colourway - "rarest orchid" - was perfect. The purple hints of opium dens and smoky parlours.

(However, I was slightly thwarted when it came to photography! Here in Scotland we have very little natural light at the moment and my planned photoshoot on a dark velvet sofa with brocade scatter cushions turned out to be .. rather unworkable. We eventually shot these photos on a crisp, frosty morning - maybe not quite Eva Green frolicking on a plush velvet sofa, but you can actually see the socks.)

I should also mention my amazing sample knitter, Sue. Sue managed to knit the sample for me on a very tight deadline and did a fantastic job. I prefer to knit my samples myself, but deadlines collided for me last year and Sue really came through for me. Thank you!

So. the first pattern of 2015! At the moment Demimonde is an exclusive club pattern but will be released for general purchase in August. Stay tuned for another new pattern this month - it is an accessory and it's an stunning one (so say other people too).

Noblesse Oblige - Pattern & Brief Thoughts on Language

I have been collaborating with my good friend, the marvellous Susan Crawford, and Noblesse Oblige is my contribution to her "Knits in a Cold Climate" collection.


When I was given the design brief by Susan, I knew I wanted to use the wonderful colour range in Susan Crawford Fenella. Inspired by my recent forays into knitting archives, I began sketching Fair Isle bands but it was not until I uncovered a photo of a 1930s knitting pattern that I decided upon the colour scheme. The jumper is charming, but I fell in love with the red/green/yellow motif. Could I use these colours in a more traditional setting?

After several attempts, I hit upon a 1930s inspired hat and scarf using that red/green/yellow combination, but also tempered by a soft porcelain blue and a delightful creamy white. The jaunty beret features two Fair Isle bands that counteract each other to create a sense of dynamism.

The scarf comes in three sizes - you can make it a neckerchief, a small scarf or a full-sized shawl. To optimise knitting pleasure, the scarf does not use Fair Isle bands but features narrow stripes in a colour sequence that calls back to the beret. After much discussion, Susan and I agreed that small, felted pompoms would add a delightful finishing touch.

Naming the pattern was harder. I wanted to use one of Nancy Mitford's book titles, but neither Christmas Pudding nor Pigeon Pie seemed appropriate! Finally, Noblesse Oblige seemed to suggest itself - it is a collection of essays and I rather enjoyed Nancy Mitford's essay on the English language. So, Noblesse Oblige. A lovely hat and scarf set. I hope you will enjoy knitting it.

But let's talk about Nancy Mitford's essay briefly.

Found in Noblesse Oblige, "The English Aristocracy" is her most famous essay. Nancy Mitford had recently read an academic article by a British linguist and was inspired to write her own examination of how the British upper class ("U") and the middle class ("non-U") spoke. The essay is very much of its time - apparently only non-U people would speak of telephones! - but that is also part of its appeal. It is a snapshot of a world in transition where old notions of class and importance are slowly eroding. It is particularly interesting to compare Mitford's essay to Grayson Perry's TV documentaries about Class in Britain. The economic barriers between the classes may have eroded, but cultural markers such as language and taste have not.

"The English Aristocracy" is an early example of what we know today as sociolinguistics. A "sociolect" is a type of language associated with one socioeconomic class, age group or gender. The British 1990s sit-com Keeping Up Appearances uses Mitford's little U vs non-U markers and sociolects to great comic effect. The main protagonist, Hyacinth Bucket, insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet, and she keeps grasping at big, fancy words in her attempt to sound more refined (something Mitford notes is the true mark of a social climber - why use the word "lavatory" when "loo" is perfectly adequate?). The underlying class anxiety so evident in Mitford's 1950s essay is very much visible even forty and fifty years on.

If you have half an hour to spare, I suggest you read Mitford's little essay in Noblesse Oblige - I assure you that you will notice amusing little things about how you and the people around you speak.

Now for the important pattern details: you can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. It is £4 and the pattern uses five shades of Fenella. Susan is planning on offering a kit which you will be able to buy from her shop.

It has been marvellous working with Susan on this pattern - she understands my shorthand descriptions so very, very well and has an incredible eye for details, style, and colour. I also really enjoyed working with Fenella which has a such lovely bounce in its step.



Say Hello to the Scollay Cardigan

July 2014 1058 2014 turns out to be the year where I break free from all the ..but surely I can't .. whispers at the back of my head. I am fully self-employed, I have been part of all sorts of incredible craft events with properly big knitting names, and now I've released my first garment pattern. Designing garments always felt daunting because they have to fit across sizes, there are all sorts of things to keep track off, and (crucially) they have to fit people other than me. So, say hello to Scollay.

Scollay is published in the latest Knit Now magazine (issue 41, in shops this week). I have a long-standing working relationship with the editor, so I knew I could trust the editorial team to be on-board with my first garment and lend me moral support. And I really think we got it right.

The inspiration behind the cardigan is two-fold.

Firstly, I knew I wanted an everyday cardigan which would work as a layering piece. I am mildly obsessed with "the everyday wardrobe" where you have some some amazing essential pieces you go back to again and again. I wanted to design a cardigan I knew I could just put on - I think we all have those garments that only work with a certain shirt and I wanted to avoid that.

Secondly, I was hugely inspired by the work of Louise Scollay who runs the Knit British website and podcast. Louise champions the idea of using local yarns and is very vocal about how supporting local yarns is both affordable and sustainable.  I knew I wanted to use  a local yarn for my cardigan - and then the name of the pattern became obvious: Scollay. I have an interview with her coming up on this blog where I'll be asking her just how it feels to have a pattern named after you!

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The Scollay cardigan is knitted in New Lanark DK which is spun just down the road from me. New Lanark is a UNESCO Heritage site which spins its own yarn using the Falls of Clyde to power its mill. It is not a coincidence that I chose to work with this yarn - I have visited New Lanark many times and the site holds special significance to me. Scollay's seamless construction cuts down on the amount of yarn you need and New Lanark is astonishing affordable at just £3.50 per ball. £3.50 for a piece of British industrial heritage, Scottish progressive social  history and a yarn imbued with landscape, history, meaning, locality, and soul?

Oh come on.

A few suggestions for modifications. The cardigan is knitted bottom-up with the sleeves and body joined before you work the yoke. This sort of construction allows for relatively easy mods:

  • the cardigan hits me well below the hips (as you can tell) but I am really short-waisted. If you want a slightly shorter cardigan, take out an inch before and after the waist shaping.
  • you can adjust the length of the sleeves by taking out a couple of inches before you join the sleeves to the body.
  • it is designed to have a smidgen of positive ease because I wanted a cardigan that would work for layering. The model in the magazine looks super-cool in her relaxed fit cardi. However, I am wearing the cardigan with an inch of negative ease.
  • I do love the New Lanark yarn with a fiery passion, but it has a lot of character which I understand is not for all people (though it works perfectly for me). If you are looking for a substitute, you need to look for a double-knitting yarn with good stitch definition and memory. The construction means the yoke bears the weight of the garment, so make sure you find a substitute with sturdiness - cottons and silk-blends won't work in the long run.

It is such a thrill to finally be able to blog about the cardigan. I designed it in the spring and knitted it during the hottest Scottish summer in memory (I am modelling it on a hot July day in these photos ) - so it's been a hard secret to keep. But it is released this week and I finally feel like I am a proper grown-up designer. Heh.