Kate Davies Designs

eight years!

needled

I just had a notification from WordPress that it is apparently eight years ago today since my first blog post here. This is a pretty significant anniversary, and I’ve spent the past couple of hours thinking about how important this online space has been for me. Many of you will recogise the old needled header and layout above (for which I confess I harbour a nostalgic affection). So much has happened since I put up that picture of the crewel-work pouch I’d completed as a present for my sister, and wrote a post about knitting a feather and fan scarf! This blog began, like so many other blogs around that time, as a place to document my knitting projects, but it evolved to become so much more than that. As well as documenting my projects, and writing about the many knitterly and textile-related things that I loved and that inspired me, I found that I could use this space to write about pretty much anything that interested me – this was rather exciting, as was the significant discovery that there were folk out there who actually read my posts! Since then, I’ve written about so much here: the places for which I hold a long-standing affection: (The Fylde coast, Edinburgh, Philadelphia) and places new to me by which I’ve been inspired (Madeira, Iceland). I’ve produced posts about many different aspects of design and textile history: the allure of the miniature, the significance of pockets, the history of broad cloth and British socks. I’ve also explored my love of walking: in my favourite American city, around Scotland and the lake district, and in many different contexts following my stroke. I’ve found that pretty much anything can find a place here:, an evil potato peeler, a cup of tea, camping an attempt to vote in the wrong election, and whisky (which I sadly can no longer enjoy). This blog has allowed me to be serious or silly, to be critical or celebratory. And through methods I cannot begin to fathom, now my dog has somehow also found a voice here.

In personal terms, I’ve also found this space to be incredibly stimulating and supportive. Sometimes my posts are a mere starting point for what turns into a really interesting conversation, and honestly, just thinking about the wonderful cards, letters and gifts you all sent when I was in the Astley Ainsley brain injury unit brings an immediate tear to my eye. This blog has brought me into contact with some of the best friends I’ve ever made, and allowed me to seriously consider doing something very different with my life when my stroke forced upon me a change of direction. So I want to thank you all sincerely for being with me over these eight years. So much has changed for me: my career, my body, the place in which I live – but this blog and its readers have always been there.

So here’s a small something to say thankyou: until noon tomorrow, you can purchase anything in my Ravelry store for half price. If you enter the code EIGHTYEARS at the checkout, you’ll receive 50% off everything.

Cheers everyone! Here’s to the next eight years!

Garden beginnings

newgarden

One of the things that drew us to this house was the fact that it had a garden. Or rather, it came with a nice big blank expanse of lawn that might one day become a garden. I’m not too keen on lawn, but I’ve always liked growing vegetables, and was excited by the prospect of finally being able to do so in a garden of my own. The space we have here has some advantages – its on a south-facing slope that gets a lot of sun. But it has some disadvantages too: the soil is the worst kind of claggy clay, not at all fertile, incredibly wet and boggy, and very poorly drained. Our house is part of what was once a farm, and from old maps I have discovered that the top of our garden was once home to a water wheel, a stone building, and associated machinery, which were used for timber cutting and processing. A small amount of investigation quickly reveals the traces of the land’s former use – it is full of rocks and water. And even if I could dig (my balance is so poor that I just fall over), it would take an enormous amount of work to improve this soil. I have a compost heap, and a good source of manure, but rocks and clay just aren’t that good for growing vegetables.

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Last year, I got round this problem by growing things, with some success, in pots and planters. This year we decided to get a little landscaping done, and put up a potting shed, which would allow me to bring on plants efficiently rather than (ahem) taking over every room in the house with seed trays and seedlings.

mowing

I am showing you this slightly loopy photograph of me on a ride-on mower so that you can gain some sense of what things looked like at the top of the garden previously. To the left there’s a nice summer house, and to the right a bandstand-like area of decking, both of which were put up by the previous owners. We had the decking removed, took out a couple of trees at the back, and laid concrete foundations alongside the summer house for the new shed. In front, we took up the turf, put down gravel, and set up raised beds. (I say “we” but what I really mean is that we hired some blokes with a mini-digger). Here are the new raised beds.

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This set-up is absolutely brilliant for me – there is room for me to get around the space easily, and with my kneeler I can work in and across each bed with minimal difficulty. Once the mini-digger had departed, Tom and I got to work painting the new potting shed and the old summer house. Ta da!

twosheds

I can’t tell you how happy the new shed makes me. I now have a space which can house my tools and seeds, in which I can bring on my seedlings, and in which I can attempt to grow the greenhouse vegetables to which I’m stubbornly drawn, like cucumbers and tomatoes.

cucumber

The shed has potting benches, lots of shelving and staging, and my solar-powered radio. I can check on my plants, sit in there and knit, and enjoy a cup of tea.

TEA

(this apposite hanging was made for me as a gift when we moved house. Thankyou, Anne!)

I’ve planted out my potatoes, courgettes, strawberries, salad leaves, and the peas and beans.

beansandpeas

Yesterday Tom and I built and painted up a pleasing planter . . .

planter

. . . which is now home to some jolly geraniums.

geranium

There’s also a border, in which I’ve planted some flowers and shrubs I’ve always wanted to grow, like aliums, and this ceanothus.

ceanothus

We’ve installed a giant water butt, set up another big composting bin, started up the wormery again, and today I think I’ll move the brassicas (which I’ve been bringing on in window boxes, while I was waiting for the raised beds to be built).

brocoli

Not for the first time, I feel incredibly appreciative of my present situation, and the potential we now have in this lovely productive space. I’m looking forward to many happy hours in my new shed and garden!

insideshed

at Scottesque

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Hello! Hope you have had a nice weekend! On Saturday Mel and I took a wee trip to Aberdeen, to visit Scottesque. You may remember that I’ve mentioned Scottesque before (in connection with the midi kilt with which I styled my Buchanan yoke).

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I absolutely love my midi-kilt – I think its handkerchief paneling and bias-cut lines makes it an incredibly flattering and feminine way to sport tartan, and I find it really easy to wear. I commissioned my midi-kilt from Scottesque by email: having found an iteration of the “ancient” Buchanan tartan that I liked, and which was a good match for my yarn palette, I sent them my measurements and they designed and made my kilt for me. Anyway, I recently had an idea for a special and slightly more complicated garment (of which more later), and I thought it would be great if I could talk to Scottesque about creating it for me. So Mel and I hit the road, and found Scottesque in the lovely Rosemount area of Aberdeen (just down the road from the Beechgrove Garden, which I confess I found rather exciting).

sign

Scottesque is run by Jan, who has worked with textiles in Aberdeen for many years. Her business began with vintage and upcycling, and grew to focus on giving tartans and tweeds a contemporary feminine look. When she applied techniques of draping and folding to the design that became her signature midi-kilt, Scottesque never looked back. The bias lines of the fabric, and the design’s subtle volume and drape means this is a skirt shape that looks good on just about everyone.

midi

It was fantastic to see Jan’s shop and workshop, and get a sense of what’s going on at Scottesque.

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Mel fell in love with the greens and magentas of the Lindsay tartan.

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And I was blown away by the array of beautiful fabrics . . .

fabric

. . . and colours . . .

colour

. . . but most especially by Jan’s design acumen, bringing tartan to life with characteristic pleating, volume, and drape.

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Mel and I had a fantastic time, and, ahem, placed some orders . . .

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. . . so if you find yourself in Rosemount, I highly recommend a trip to Scottesque (especially as there’s a spring sale on at the moment!) But if you are unlikely to able to get to Aberdeen, you can always order a kilt to fit you, in your choice of Tartan, by contacting Scottesque directly.

jan

Thanks, Jan!

potential

potential

These are my wonderful new raised beds. Soon they will be filled with a muthaload of topsoil and compost, and shortly afterwards will be home to my vegetables. The layout and space means that I and my wonky leg will have no problem getting around and managing the beds, and I took this photograph from inside my lovely new potting shed / mini greenhouse which I’ll show you once its all finished and painted up. I’m really excited to get my plants in. That is all! Enjoy your tuesday!

Fantoosh!

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FANTOOSH! – my new spring shawl – is now available.

Fantoosh is a top-down triangular shawl featuring a tesselating allover motif defined by centred double decreases and twisted stitches. Its a lovely rhythmic knit with a pleasing end result!

fantoosh13

In Scots, fantoosh means “fancy”, or a wee bit “over the top”. When I was at the beginning of the design process, this shawl felt quite fantoosh to me (although I suppose if you compare it to, say, any design of Shetland fine lace, it is not in the least fancy at all). But because it is worked in a beautiful, luxurious yarn (of which more in a moment), coupled with the fact that it features twisted stitches and openwork, the design idea initially seemed a wee bit more elaborate to me than my usual style. I really enjoyed creating this shawl, and spent quite a bit of time swatching and re-swatching as I honed the motif. I like tesselating shapes, and my favourite kind of lace patterns are those with a well-defined geometry. Playing around with the decreases and twisted stitches meant I could lend this large leafy motif a really graphic strength and structure. Then, once I’d finalised the stitch pattern, I was pleased to discover that the shawl itself was going to end up being incredibly straightforward: memorised after just one repeat, the motif is extremely easy and satisfying to knit. Its an intuitive design whose slightly fancy appearance in fact belies its real simplicity. When I’d finished, it was the exuberance of the shawl that pleased me most – I think it really suits its name – Fantoosh!

fantoosh4

The yarn is (gasp, sigh) Old Maiden Aunt Aunt Alpaca / silk / cashmere 4 ply. This blend of luxury fibres makes it a very fantoosh yarn indeed for me to work with. . .but I took one look at Lilith’s colours on this base and I was completely hooked. I knew I had to work with it. The shade is called “Pretty Floral Bonnet” and it really is exceptionally pretty: a subdued shade of pink-y purple, just slightly semi-solid, with these amazing luminous pops of eau de nil running through it. The overall effect is subtle but luminous.

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It knits up into a wonderfully soft, drapey fabric that also feels substantial and warm. Perfect to wrap oneself up in on a breezy day.

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The shawl is knit from the top-down, to create a triangle twice as wide as it is long. I personally love the flexibility (and wrapability) of a Really Big Shawl. With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, this sample is, ahem, quite large, and uses around 700 yards of yarn (2 skeins).

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But a mahooosive shawl is not for everyone. I knit up a second sample and found that a single skein (400 yards) still makes a good-sized shawl with a 114 cm / 45 in wingspan and yarn to spare – so I’ve written the pattern for two sizes, small and large. And because the repeats are short and simple, you’ll find its also really easy to adjust their number to suit other size preferences (and yarn quantities).

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Fantoosh is both relaxing and fun to knit – there’s enough variety in the stitch pattern to keep things interesting, and its satisfyingly addictive seeing each new motif appear.

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Designing and knitting Fantoosh has put me on a something of a roll, and I suddenly find myself with quite a few ideas fizzing around my brain.

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Lets see if these ideas come to fruition!

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Fantoosh is available digitally via Ravelry and in print via Magcloud

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Happy knitting!

a treasured gift

hoose1

What’s this? A handknitted hoose?

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With flowers in the garden . . .

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. . . and a wee gate . . .

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. . leading to a horse-shoe adorned front door . . .

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. . . there are flowers in the windows too . . .

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. . . shrubs round the side . . .

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. . . a tiled roof, and a jolly chimney!

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. . . the back of the hoose is just as inviting as the front

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. . . and it also has a useful function . . .

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To keep my teapot warm!

This hoose is a gift I was really, really touched to receive. Long-term readers of this blog may remember this post , which I wrote in 2009, following a visit to the Royal Edinburgh Repository and Self Aid Society – also known as the Treasure Trove – on Castle Street, in Edinburgh. At the Treasure Trove you can find a multitude of wonderful items, all hand-made by the society’s talented members, and all sold with the sole aim of supporting the knitters, sewers, quilters and bakers who created them. The quality of the knitted items the society’s makers produce is really superb: in the bustling Treasure Trove shop you’ll find fine Shetland lace shawls, Fairisle tams and gloves, and beautifully-made childrens jumpers and garments. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with the Treasure Trove, and whenever I receive an email asking me for good knitterly places to see in Scotland, its the first place to which I direct any visitor. Having an abiding interest in, and admiration for, the society, I was really pleased and honoured when Liz, the chair of its committee, invited me along to say a few words at their AGM. This meeting was today, and it was absolutely lovely to meet everyone, to hear more about the society’s important work, and to tell the committee a little about what it is I do. At the end of the meeting I was presented with their wonderful gift with which, as you can all imagine, I was really delighted. The hoose had been made especially for me by a society member. Everything about it – the knitting, the embroidery, the stitching, the finishing – is absolutely impeccable.

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In 2009, when I wrote my first post about the society, my interest was, in a way, purely academic: if you read it, you’ll see me musing in a rather wordy way, on how making things lends people who’ve suffered long-term illness or disability an important means of self-support. But weirdly, less than a year later, I became one of those people myself: following my stroke, I was rather unexpectedly transformed into someone who supported herself through making. As you all know, knitting played an enormously significant role in my recovery – a role that was certainly not just financial – and, six years after writing that initial blog post about the Edinburgh society, I find I have a rather different – and certainly much stronger – appreciation for what it is they do. The society provides a really important network of support for many talented makers all over the UK who find themselves, in one way or another in difficult circumstances. If that is you — if you are in the UK and would like to become a member-maker — you’ll find information on the society’s website here. And if, like me, you’d like to support these makers and their work, I suggest you pop along to the Treasure Trove shop on Castle street as soon as possible! You can also place special commissions for members of the society to make items to order.

So I want to say a huge thankyou to the talented society member who made my lovely hoose, and another thankyou to Liz and the society committee for inviting me along today. I hope to be back to see you soon.

Thankyou xx

here’s a sneak peek . . .

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. . . of my new shawl. I’ve so enjoyed working on this design!

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It is elegant and simple and just a little bit luxurious.

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It is coming soon!

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