Sneak Peek

January 2015 107Yesterday we went to Glasgow's Pollok Park to take in some much needed daylight. We also had a photo shoot of the first design in the Authors & Artist series. The pattern is off to its technical editor this week and I hope to release it this week (fingers crossed). I love how the photo shoot turned out and I cannot wait to share more photos with you. The new design is inspired by one of my favourite authors - someone whose work has kept me company for twenty years (or thereabouts). It is all about layers, depth, and richness of thoughts and emotions.

If you are heading to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, you'll be able to see the shawl on the Old Maiden Aunt stall as it is knitted in two skeins of OMA merino 4ply. Lilith and I are also putting some suggested colour combinations together as we know many of you can feel rather overwhelmed when faced with all of Lilith's colours.

But more on all this when my excellent tech editor gives me the thumbs up!

The Picycle Shawl - Designing for Baa Ram Ewe's Bespoke Collection

The cat is out of the bag. Meet the Picycle shawl which I designed in Rowan Kidsilk Haze for Baa Ram Ewe's The Bespoke Collection. Picycle_medium

I want to write a bit about the design process because even though my name is on the design, the whole process was all about teamwork and having a great group of people supporting you.

Verity of Baa Ram Ewe commissioned the shawl and gave me a very cool and tight moodboard to work with. I outlined my initial thoughts for a design that would combine lace and bicycles - Verity was super-responsive and playful. We decided upon doing a Pi shawl Elizabeth Zimmermann-style.


The Pi Shawl construction is genius - with just 6 or 7 strategically placed increase numbers, most of the circular shawl is actually a blank slate upon which you can place your lace motifs and patterns. For a designer, this sense of "blankness" is fairly irresistible and the temptation to go overboard is always there.

I spent a lot of time taking away elements and trying to nail the essential elements. Eventually I ended up with a central bicycle spokes/wheel motif and a recurrent bicycle wheel running out the outer border. I am a big fan of early 20th century art and the design brief made me think of Umberto Boccioni's studies for Dynamism of a Cyclist, so I really wanted to capture the idea of dynamism, of perpetual movement, within the shawl. With this in mind, I designed an asymmetrical mountain range which gave this essential sense of movement to the shawl. The outside border also denotes speed with its small oblong shapes - the shapes are not circular but are forever moving onwards.

Italian Futurism. You wouldn't know the influence was there unless you knew where and how to look for it.

And then teamwork ensued.

Nicky came on board and proved an enthusiastic, perceptive tester with a lot of great suggestions (the outside border would be very different without her input). Elly was a great sounding board for technical conundrums. Rachel remains one of the best technical editors I know. Ashley is a very smart lady who pulled things together like nobody's business. And Verity, of course. Each of those ladies made a huge contribution to my pattern and it is all the better for it (and it even comes as a half-circle! I nearly forgot to mention that) . It feels a bit wrong to have just my name on it when it was a team effort in every sense. A huge thank you to everyone involved.

The Bespoke Collection features a lot of great designs - I am honoured to be included along such names as Ann Kingstone, Sarah Hatton and Rachel Coopey. Ann's Woodrup cardigan with its fanciful little bicycles on the yoke is one of my favourites and Rachel's Frame mitts are incredibly clever.

Bespoke is currently on pre-order from Baa Ram Ewe (any orders will arrive towards the end of this month) and will be available to buy from Rowan stockists this spring.

Wow. That's one way to start 2014, isn't it?

Work In Progress: Doggerland

The weather in Glasgow is hawt - as in 'I need to stay indoors or I shall melt' hot. I have put aside my cardigan project for the time being - although I did find time to separate for back and sleeves - and I have been yearning for a shawl project. Small, light and portable is acceptable for Surprise Summer knitting, right? I had no shawl patterns on the go, so trustworthy Ravelry came up trumps with a delightful shoulder shawl and so I cast on for it the other day. I abandoned it just as quickly. The shawl was not to blame - it was beautiful and very well-written - but I kept going "but if I change that and, oh, you could insert a lace repeat that spanned that section.." Evidently I did not want to knit a shawl; I wanted to design a shawl. I have long wanted to work on a new collection and today was that day. I am currently working on a chart quite unlike anything I have ever worked on before. My other patterns have all been triangular, aimed at beginning lace knitters, easy to modify and rather intuitive. The new shawl pattern will be a semi-circle, aimed at confident lace knitters (although it still has rest rows rather than lace worked on both sides); and you won't be able to combine charts as you please. Working on this is exhilarating, scary and a learning curve. I cannot wait to show you the final shawl.

However, what I can show you is the moodboard I put together for this collection and also explain a bit about the inspiration behind the collection (which will contain other patterns than just shawls).

The collection has a working title of Doggerland, although that is likely to change. Doggerland is a submerged landmass between Great Britain and Denmark which was last inhabited during and after the last great Ice Age to hit Europe. Today Doggerland is covered by the North Sea but once it was a rich, fertile habitat for prehistory humans. Maritime archaeologists are incredibly interested in Doggerland as the seabed may yield fascinating insight into Mesolithic life.

The Doggerland collection is using yarn from the North Sea regions - Britain, Faroe Islands, and Denmark - to explore organic textures inspired by Mesolithic prehistory.

I took a lot of inspiration from visits to the prehistory sections of The National Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Denmark. I took a lot of photos on worked flintstones, carved antler bones, well-preserved fykes, and excavated shell middens. Lately I have also thought a lot about the landscape - although this is a construct at best - with peat bogs, rolling hills, estuaries, ferns, moss and lichen. Colours play an important role in me imaging Doggerland - expect a lot of earthly tones combined with mossy greens and pale greys.

And so back to work..

Thoughts on Designing

A couple of months ago, I was approached by the talented and charismatic Ben who wanted my thoughts on designing and writing knitting patterns. Seeing as I have just finished Karise (pattern up early next week), I reckon now would be a good time to post those thoughts.. 1) Define your design strategy in a word.


2) In your work, what is the difference between successful and unsuccessful design?

I always design with a need in mind. A yarn to showcase or a technique to explain.

I have a really good idea about what knitters need because I meet and teach so many. I design many mini-projects that'll teach my students the techniques they need to know whilst still in context of where they'll use those techniques. (I don't release those patterns to the general public because they are so specific to my teaching but I have designed a lot).

Successful designs marry well-written instructions with a distinctive look and relative ease of knitting. Unsuccessful designs have hard-to-follow instructions or no distinct aesthetic.

I also think designs have to be authentic - I always find it unappealing if I can't see any trace of personality or obvious thought-process behind a pattern.

3)What does your review process look like?

I subscribe to the same view both in knitting and writing: keep it simple, stupid (KISS). I simplify, simplify, simplify. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Can I do without this bit? Does this shawl really need three different stitch patterns? Can I make this chart smaller without losing any information? I always take away far more than what I add.

I can't remember who said it but there is this quote about a sculptor whose job is simply to remove bits of marble to reveal the sculpture that was always within the block of marble. Chip, chip, chip..

4) As a creator, what is your biggest personal challenge.

Confidence has been a big one for me.

I am not the most confident person in the world (to say the least) and I have never really 'understood' fashion, so I did not think I had any business getting involved in designing. However, I have come to realise that there is a difference between being fashionable and being stylish - and I think I can definitely claim I have a personal style or aesthetic.. so that has played a big part in me getting involved in designing knitwear.

I had been asked to submit designs for many years now, actually, but it was not until last year that I had the confidence to put a self-designed pattern in front of other people. The response was fantastic and was a real confidence boost.

I'm now moving from teaching-related designing and small, locally-released patterns into releasing patterns, full stop.  It feels slightly daunting. But also incredibly liberating.

5) What does development look like? How does an idea move from initial concept through to finished object?

My Karise shawl is a good example. Lilith gave me two hanks of her new 4ply yarn and asked me to design her shawl. She had requirements: a) the shawl should take less than 100g of sockweight yarn and b) it had to be downloadable from Ravelry by Knit Nation. That told me two things: the size of the shawl and the type of knitter. With Ravelry knitters in mind - who tend to be adventurous and curious - I sat down to doodle some sketches.

The yarn was a gorgeous mossy green-brown with real depth to it. Showcasing that colour was a no-brainer, so I included a large stocking-stitch element. I wanted to avoid using obvious leaf stitch patterns because I see so many shawl patterns with leaves but I still wanted the shawl to have an organic feel to it (the colour name - ghillie dhu - means 'guardian spirit of the trees'). I played around with grid paper until I had achieved a stitch pattern that flowed organically from one shape into another with minimal adjustments. Karise does have a certain forest-like feel to its lace but it's quite subtle.

After the initial lace chart, I swatched to make sure that it looked like I wanted it to look and to ensure my knitter's maths was correct. Then I did more knitter's maths before starting the shawl itself. I did rip out the shawl twice (to take away surplus elements) but that was pretty much it. I modified the hand-drawn lace charts as I was knitting the sample, then transferred all my notes to Excel and refined the charts.

6) What sources feed into your work? Are there any resources you'd recommend to other designer/makers?

I am an intensely visual person and I draw upon a lot of sources which people might think random for knitting designs.

I grew up with a keen interest in fashion and art history, so I have an 'inner library' of trends that I use a lot. I'm extremely passionate about late 19th C/early 20th C art and culture (including colour palettes), so that forms a huge chunk of my design vocabulary. There is definitely some Art Noveau-influences in Karise.

Finally, having grown up in Scandinavia, I am also influenced by Scandinavian design which tends towards sparseness, minimalism and functionalism. I shoot a lot of photos of brick walls, roof tiles, paving, and other patterns I notice in my surroundings.

My best advice is to keep your eyes open. There are token stitch dictionaries out there and they are obviously great resources, but keep your eyes open for anything that might come your way.You might find your greatest idea will come from a cereal box in your local supermarket.

7) You are writing the definitive knitwear-design Bible. What is the first commandment?

Thou must write clear and concise patterns. I cannot emphasise this enough.

Even the most extraordinary design is a failure if other people cannot follow your instructions. And complex design elements can become accessible through well-written patterns (Laminaria is my favourite example). Keep the end user in mind.


I have thoughts on indie designers, the new Knitty and even some finished object photos but I think all those things are better left for another day.. Hope your Monday is more sun-drenched than mine..