Shawl for an Art Lover


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.


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.


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.

  • 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.


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.

Bricking It

Wall behind the Hunterian Art Gallery and most likely part of the Glasgow University Campus

I have a real weakness for old bricks. They come in all sorts of colours depending upon where they were made; they can be handmade or marked with the manufacturer's insignia; and they tell stories. We have too many brick photos to mention.  Thankfully my partner understands why I always just need one more photo of an old wall, a bricked-up window or even just an unusual pattern.

Magic Tricks and Music Halls

Yesterday I found a new favourite place in Glasgow. Walking into Tam Shepard's Trick Shop is like walking into another world, another era. The shop could have been straight out of the 1930s - except for the Obama masks and the nu-rave-esque wigs. It is a place where the owner will start a Victor Borge routine when he learns you are from Denmark, where a shop assistant will disappear through a hole in the floor, you can choose between twenty different kinds of fake moustaches, and tiny kids stare with much fascination at plastic spiders. Tam Shepard's Trick Shop is a family-run business and it has been going since the 1880s. You can see faded music hall posters bearing the names of ancestors and old photos of dishy dames performing magic tricks. "That's my great-grandma," the woman behind the counter informed me. Glasgow has a very proud music hall tradition, actually, and tomorrow we are off to The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall for a steam punk craft show. The Panopticon is the oldest surviving music hall in Britain - the place where Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy made his stage debut, no less, and where a young Cary Grant performed while he was still Archie Leach - and it is a beautiful, almost derelict building. The Panopticon Trust has been trying to save the building for about a decade now but it is still fragile. For more information (and a bit of singing), this youtube clip from the AyeWrite literary festival features Judith Bowers, local historian and secretary of the Panopticon Trust, talking about the music hall. If you are local and you have never been, you can visit the building during the Glasgow Doors Open days in September.

Finally,  I recently subscribed to My Vintage Vogue which is a tumblr feed featuring glamorous photo shoots from the Vogue archives. And I refuse to believe there has ever been a woman quite as beautiful as Cyd Charisse..

Friday Linkage And Such

Ooooh, nice location and a suitable size! I also like that it hasn't been refurbished beyond recognition (I have a particular bone to pick with developers putting Poggenpohl-knock-off kitchens into Victorian properties).  Shame about the price, of course. A few months ago David and I went to see the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In. It was more art-house than Hammer house and unsurprisingly it is set for a US remake so people do not have to endure subtitles or pale Swedish boys with bowl haircuts. While most aspects of the US remake fills me with dread - the director made Cloverfield and ambiguous gender portrayals are becoming significantly less ambiguous - I found it really interesting to watch the casting tapes of the three girls up for the lead which io9 posted recently. I know which girl I prefer but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Also, do not miss the discussion on io9.

Psychotic Letters From Men was a recent MeFi find. Normally I would cast it a cursory glance, move on and not mention it here, but the site did remind me of the time I received letters from a blog reader who was convinced that a) I had an artificial limb and b) this was the biggest turn-on in the world for the guy. No wonder I let my old blog die a very quiet death..

Finally, Advanced Style cheered me up. It really proves that style ain't no age-thing.

Letter from Krakow

Dear everybody, I am typing this entry in the lobby of our Art Deco hotel in my bare feet. It has been raining all day and, just as I moved to Scotland without an umbrella and still do not own a pair of wellies, I cheerfully wore my comfy (not rainproof) sneakers to rainy Krakow. I also only packed three pairs of socks. I have already changed twice today, so I'm not quite sure how tomorrow is going to work out. I hope it will be drier.

Also? I had been singing New Lanark Aran wool's praises in recent weeks and refuted any claims of its dye bleeding. I currently have a red-striped forehead where my newly-knitted New Lanark beanie in red has been resting. What do you mean I should've washed and blocked it before leaving? You sound as though I'm a patient sort of person!

Krakow, then. To me, it feels like a Copenhagen which has been through hardship and war (which Krakow has, of course). The same architectural feel, but very run-down in most places. A beautiful, proud but tired place. We visited the old Jewish Quarter today which affected me on a personal level (a long-lost branch of my family tree is Jewish) - particularly as somebody has drawn white ghostly figures on abandoned houses. I felt decidedly twitchy and we left for more carefree ventures. Tomorrow we intend on tracking down some Art Noveau stained glass, eat more pierogi (yum!) and just maybe take in a church or two before heading home to Glasgow and dry socks.

And I've bought the first Christmas present of the year. Score!