Kate Davies Designs

A busy week

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It has been an incredibly busy week here! As you might imagine, the imminent arrival of Buachaille means we have a lot to do, and I am hard at work creating a small collection of designs to accompany the yarn’s release (only a few weeks to go!) Then my friend and colleague, Jen, came to stay with us for a few days – together Jen and I are currently developing several rather exciting projects . . . one is a book which will appear next Spring, and another is a new volume of Cross-Country Knitting. Above is a sneak peak at the latter’s content, of which more very soon.

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Jen and I got lots of work done, laughed a lot, and had time for a hearty post-photoshoot dinner at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. It was lovely to see her.

Meanwhile, In the Loop 4 was happening down the road in Glasgow (one year I will make it to this event, which always features a fantastic line-up of speakers and some important research). This year, the conference was hosted by my friends at the Knitting in the Round project (who you’ll remember I’ve mentioned before). I was really honoured when they asked me to provide some samples for the fashion show which closed the conference!

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Jade Halbert selected three of my designs, and I styled them with the original garments I’d used when photographing Yokes. I genuinely love styling – visualising a look is often the starting point of the design process for me – and I really appreciated the thoughtful way that Jade styled the models to suit the work of each designer in the show.

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The lovely model wearing Buchanan even had her hair in braids!

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Jade chose Buchanan, Keith Moon, and Foxglove to appear in this showcase of contemporary Scottish knitwear design. It was somewhat humbling to see my work displayed in this context.

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I loved the soft and subtle palette of the beautiful garments shown by Jade Starmore , and was blown away by their styling with these stunning leather skirts (also the work of Jade)

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The show featured well-established names of Scottish knitwear design such as ERIBÉ

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. . . and Di Gilpin

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. . . alongside the work of emerging contemporary designers like Laura Muir
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It was lovely to see the work of some of my friends and comrades in hand-knit design, like Gudrun Johnston . . .

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. . . as well as Karie Westermann and Lucy Hague.

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I also came away feeling inspired by the work of designers I’d never previously encountered. This cashmere dress by Stephanie Laird was truly gorgeous.

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And I loved the fresh take on colourwork in Hilary Grant’s bold machine-knit accessories

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Thankyou, Lynn, Marina, Jade, and the whole team at Knitting in the Round and In the Loop 4 for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event! Thanks too to Tom, who took the great catwalk photos in this post.

Buachaille – coming soon!

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We are getting very excited here, as we are anticipating a large woolly delivery, and it will soon be time to announce the launch of our new yarn. I thought it was time to tell you a little more about it.

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(my favourite sheep, from Colours of Shetland)

I am a great advocate for using local materials, and nowhere more so than where wool is concerned. Sheep, and the human work around them, are an incredibly important part of the structure and character of the British landscape and I find it very sad that so many yarns made and sold in Britain in general, – and Scotland in particular – are not raised here, from our native sheep. With some notable exceptions, much of the wool described as “Scottish” has little or nothing at all to do with the many sheep raised in this landscape by hard-working farmers and crofters. So I wanted to create a yarn that was truly raised in Scotland – a yarn that was part of the work of this landscape – but I also wanted to make a yarn that defied long-standing assumptions about what Scottish wool was or could be. I am so tired of hearing that British and / or Scottish wool is coarse or scratchy. Scottish sheep produce wonderful, wearable fibres that, when properly sorted and graded, spin up into truly beautiful yarns. Over the years I have knit with many such yarns from small local wool producers. You might describe these yarns as lofty or springy or smooth or soft – you might describe them as interesting – but you would never describe them as coarse. I wanted my wool to reflect the characteristics of the interesting sheepy yarns I loved and admired. My yarn would be woolly and springy and durable – speaking of this land, and of the animals that grew it – but it would also be smooth and light and soft enough to wear next to the skin. These were my requirements, and, after many months of development and hard work, I am very happy to say, that this is what we’ve got in the finished product!

Selecting the finest fibres of some distinctive Scottish sheep breeds, we’ve created a completely unique yarn that you won’t find anywhere else. The yarn blends wool fibre that hails from as far north as you can travel in Scotland, and from as far south, too.

The yarn is called Buachaille. The first thing you are going to want to know is how to pronounce it.

(Thankyou, Anna)

Am Buchaille (the herdsman), is the Gaelic name associated with two mountains – Buachaille Etive Mòr, (great herdsman of Glen Etive), and Buachaille Etive Beag (little herdsman of Glen Etive). These mountains are well known to anyone who has followed the West Highland Way, or who likes Scottish mountain walking, and I’d go so far to say that Buachaille Etive Mor is among the most familiar and iconic of all Scottish munros.

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Me and both Buachailles in 2013

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Me knitting a sock on the summit of Buachaille Etive Mòr, in 2007!

These are mountains for which Tom and I hold an affection of long-standing. They are rugged and rocky and elemental . . . yet they are also breathtakingly elegant and sublime. They are somehow what one pictures when one conjures up the idea of a Scottish highland mountain. This – and their relative accessibility – explains why they are so frequently photographed. I think you’ll immediately be able to see the relationship between familiar images of Buachaille Etive Mòr, and Beag . . .

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and the logo we designed for the yarn!

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Suggested by this one word – Buachaille – are a series of connections between humans, animals, and landscapes – all of the things, in other words, that we wanted the yarn to capture and express.

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As you can see from the tag, Buachaille has been “raised in Scotland” and “made in Yorkshire.” As well as being grown by a host of Scottish sheep and farmers, and designed by us, Buachaille has involved lots of hard work from the best folk we know in the UK wool industry – these folk are in Yorkshire. Its important to me that the wool for Buachaille originated in Scotland, and its equally important that several skilled Yorkshire processors and manufacturers have been responsible for making it into yarn. As time goes on, I will tell you much more about the different processes involved in making Buachaille. . .

If you would like to be the first to know about our plans for the yarn, when it launches, and when you can get your hands on it, I have set up a newsletter. So if you’d like further information about Buachaille, please sign up here.

in the hills and at home

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As anyone round these parts will tell you, it has not (so far) been a vintage Scottish summer. One must make most of the fine weather when it appears, so we headed out for the hills, and enjoyed a lovely day’s walking.

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A favourite tree

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Dog on log

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Falls of Falloch

I love the rich golden tones of this time of year. The heather and bracken are beginning to turn, and, despite (or perhaps because of) the poor weather of recent months, everything seems lush and thriving. A few days ago, on a patch of ground around half a square mile, I counted over fifty different wildflower species, including glorious blooms of Sea Aster and Grass of Parnassus.

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But one thing I really notice in August is the lack of birdsong. Woods that were alive with wood and willow warblers are now silent; there are no larks or meadow pipits and even the wren that woke me at 5am throughout July is quiet. Around our steading, I only now hear buzzards and crows. A young hare passes our living room window nightly, sniffing the evening air and looking for a meal. I suspect it is to blame for the state of my kale and leeks, but a single hare cannot destroy nearly as much as last year’s evil rabbit hoard . . .

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. . . and although my six tomato plants have yet to produce a single tomato, we have been enjoying lots of home-grown vegetables of late: broccoli, carrots, cucumbers that keep on coming, and, of course, lots of potatoes. There will be tatties for supper tonight, and probably for many nights to come.

Whether you are at home or away, I hope you are all enjoying a lovely weekend!

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(Tom stares quizzically at An Ceann Mor, which is worth a look if you are passing.)

a handmade wedding

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Thankyou, all of you, for your lovely comments and congratulations!
I thought you might appreciate hearing a little more about the handmade elements of our wedding.

A few years ago, Tom decided to have a kilt made. His surname is Barr, and the tartan of that name is also associated with a popular Scottish soft-drinks brand. Now, Tom likes Irn Bru as much as the next man, but he does not look so great in orange, and all tartans are invented traditions anyway…so Tom invented his own tradition, picking a tartan that he liked, and which was associated with a place that was very special to both of us – Finlaggan on the Isle of Islay. Finlaggan was once the power base of the MacDonalds, and the tartan Tom chose is MacDonald of the Isles. We never imagined then that one day we should be married at Finlaggan!

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I knit Tom’s kilt hose, from our new wool (of which more soon). The yarn is sport weight, and I worked the hose at a relatively tight gauge, and bottom up, which not only suited the heart-shaped cable we chose, but also meant Tom could try them on as I knitted.

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This meant that I could double-check the calf shaping and length as I went, which I found very reassuring! The hose fit really well.

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Tom finished off his hose with the true highland flourish of a sgian dubh, which he borrowed from our lovely next door neighbours, Niall and Mairi.

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Bruce had to look his best as well, so he wore a collar in the same tartan.

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Bruce’s collar was made for us by Jan at Scottesque, who of course also designed and made my kilt (the purpose of this visit, back in May). I wanted my kilt long and dramatic, and Jan did a brilliant job, poofing out the bias-cut pieces with tulle and a taffeta underskirt.

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I am wearing a cardigan of my own design . . .

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. . . which features the same heart-shaped cable as Tom’s hose.

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The brooch I am wearing is an incredibly beautiful cairngorm – a family heirloom again kindly lent to us by Mairi. Cables and brooch together really were a perfect match!

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I also made my head piece – from a plastic headband and a beautiful piece of beaded trim I found on eBay. . .

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. . . and had lots of fun fashioning myself a bouquet of buttons.

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If you google “button bouquet” you can see how simple a process this is – you just need some floristry wire, a few bits of ribbon and trim, and a shed load of buttons.

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My top-tip is to use felt or lace flowers to create a wee button “sandwich” – the felt bits mean you can create more blooms with less buttons, and that the individual blooms themselves prove a little less heavy.

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One thing I loved about making my bouquet was that I could include buttons from my grandma, and my mum, or that were originally gifts to me from friends. Felix, Anne, Lara, and Nic – your buttons were all in my bouquet!

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Tom made our wedding cake.

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He used a Mary Berry recipe (which has now overtaken Jane Grigson as his favourite fruit cake), fed it liberally with sherry, and decorated it himself.

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I can confirm that it is a cake as delicious as it is lovely!

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The fair-isle bunting with which we decked out our van was not hand-made – I bought it in Shetland – but it certainly did the job of creating a jolly and very knitterly wedding-wagon! I drove us to and from our wedding (Tom having had a beer beforehand) and very much enjoyed pootling down the Islay roads, listening to Ella and Louis, and waving at everyone we met. Later on, in the Port Charlotte hotel, I was recognised as “that bride driving a camper van”, an appellation which made me oddly happy.

Finally, I have to mention the outfits of our well-dressed best couple. Gordon looks very fine in his Anderson kilt, and a pair of John Anderson kilt hose, knitted for him by Mel. Mel is wearing a Scottesque midi-kilt in the “Highland granite” tartan. She also made herself a lovely lace-weight top, by adapting Gudrun’s beautiful Laar cardigan pattern into a jumper.

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Our wedding was small and intimate, and both of us very much enjoyed being able to make it a deeply personal occasion infused with our own meanings, and to focus on a few details which made it really feel like us. That said, I’m not sure I’d recommend the somewhat pressurised activity of designing and knitting a cardigan and a pair of kilt hose to a tight and somewhat important deadline . . .

Slainte!

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Our wedding at Finlaggan

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We had a wonderful day.

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We walked across the fields and over the causeway to Eilean Mor

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Lucy played “Ho Ro, My Nut Brown Maiden”

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Mel read this short piece by Yeats:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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We made our vows, exchanged our rings, and were married here.
The ceremony was solemn and joyful and deeply moving.

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Bruce looked on.

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We toasted each other from a quaich given to us by my parents, with a Gaelic blessing.

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Mìle fàilte dhuit le d’bhréid,
Fad do ré gun robh thu slàn.
Móran làithean dhuit is sìth,
Le d’mhaitheas is le d’nì bhi fàs.

(A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief,
may you be healthy all your days.
May you be blessed with long life and peace,
may you grow old with goodness and with riches.)

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We are very happy

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Thankyou, Mel and Gordon, for sharing our day with us.
Thankyou, Lynn and everyone at the Finlaggan trust for allowing us to marry in this wonderful spot.
Thankyou, Lucy, for piping so beautifully.
Thankyou Sharon, for being such a warm and wonderful registrar. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to celebrate our marriage.
Thankyou, Isle of Islay. Our favourite place.
Thankyou, all of you, for being there with us in spirit.

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Love from Kate and Tom (and Bruce, of course) x

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Thankyou so much, everyone, for all your good wishes. I’m happy to say that Tom’s kilt hose have been knitted, our vows composed, and this evening the cake will receive its final decorations. At our wedding, a piper will play “ho ro, my nut brown maiden” (anyone who’s seen Powell & Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going will appreciate this), and we will raise a toast to all the friends who can’t join us on Islay. That includes all of you. See you soon xx

Whernside, cheese, and wool

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We spent a couple of days in North Yorkshire, and took a walk up Whernside – one of the county’s ‘three peaks’. With its limestone pavement, familiar moorland flora and Victorian infrastructure, this is a landscape of which I’m very fond, and in which I love to walk. The Ribblehead Viaduct is such a spectacular piece of engineering, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the little aquaducts around which, higher up the moor, water had been diverted to accommodate the direction of the Settle-Carlisle railway line. After 8 miles and a very blustery summit, we treated ourselves to a hearty ploughman’s lunch in the always-welcoming Station Inn . . . this lunch inspired some discussion between Tom and I about the constituency and origin of the ‘traditional’ ploughman’s. Google revealed the intriguing, but perhaps unsurprising information that this ‘traditional’ pub fayre was in fact a 1956 invention of the Cheese Bureau, the same folk behind the 1970s cheese recipe books that I have on my bookshelf, and the coiner of immortal advertising slogans such as “great minds think cheese.”

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(Cheese curry?!)

Meanwhile, wedding preparations, such as they are, continue. Tom has made the cake, we have our rings, and I have knitted my thing (it is a cardigan, and I am very pleased with it)! I cast on a pair of kilt hose for Tom and am now steadily working away on those. The cardigan and the hose are particularly lovely and exciting to me as they are being knitted in our wool. That is to say that yes – we are making yarn. The yarn is 100% wool: it has been raised in Scotland, and has been expertly processed in Yorkshire (one of the reasons why we have been visiting that county so often of late). And the first things knitted from the yarn will be worn on our wedding day! I have been keeping the wool plans under wraps for many months and soon, at last, I will be able to say more about them. But for now I’d better get back to knitting those hose. . .

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