Over and out . . . for a while

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Well, I’ve showed you all the designs in the collection, and it is now time for me to enter logistics world. This is a world of franking machines, books, and cardboard boxes and though it is, in its own way, interesting and absorbing, it does not make for particularly fascinating reading. So things may go rather quiet here for a couple of weeks while I am packing and shipping your orders.

I confess that right now I am feeling rather humbled by your support of, and interest in, this book. A massive THANKS to all of you.

If you would like to learn more about Yokes, the book now has its own information page here. For those of you who are interested in the essays and conversations, you’ll find some detail here about the book’s contents. There’s also a link for easy download of your digital copy (just enter the code when your book arrives); links back to information about each design, and a checklist of the design elements and techniques that each pattern involves (which may be useful when considering what to knit).

Thankyou so much, and see you on the other side xxx

Cockatoo Brae

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Yes, you did read that correctly – Cockatoo Brae. This remarkable phrase is, in fact, the name of a lane in Lerwick, Shetland, and it is also the name of the final yoke in my collection.

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This design emerged from an exciting collaboration with my friend Ella. In Shetland, machine and hand knitting go very much, as it were, hand in hand. In fact, at certain crucial points in its twentieth-century story, machine knitting might be said to have saved the Shetland hand-knitting industry from extinction. The two crafts (and they are both crafts) are importantly imbricated, and perhaps especially so where the yoke sweater is concerned.

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Hybrid yokes – where the body and sleeves are knitted by machine, and the yoke subsequently knitted on by hand – were one of the mainstays of the Shetland wool industry from the 1950s through the 1970s. I devote a chapter to this topic in my book, and you can read more about it there, but suffice it to say that, after my research I felt it was very important to include one such hybrid yoke design in my book. Cockatoo Brae is that yoke.

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On one of my recent visits to Shetland, I was very keen to learn more about machine knitting from Ella, who runs her own business centred around the wonderful machine-knitted items that she designs and makes.

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Ella’s Crofthoouse Cushions

At her studio in Cockatoo Brae, Ella introduced me to the process of creating machine-knitted fabric. Like many committed hand-knitters, I suppose I had certain lingering assumptions about what machine knitting involved (knitting by machine? surely this is the devil’s work?!) but these were quickly exploded. I discovered that the process was not only extremely skilled, but also – in the simple act of making stitches – much, much more like hand-knitting than I’d imagined. It is also quite physically demanding!

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(A swatch we knitted on Ella’s machine)

When I returned home after my visit I began designing a chart using an interesting variant of the ubiquitous tree and star motifs that appear on countless Shetland yokes. It is no coincidence that the shades I chose echoed those of the swatch we had created in Cockatoo Brae. Much of the inspiration for Ella’s design work comes from the 1970s: a decade during which Shetland knitters were producing thousands of yokes for a buoyant commercial market, but when the advent of North Sea Oil also changed the face of the Shetland knitting industry. The 1970s are an interesting moment of transition in Shetland, and Ella’s work interrogates and reflects this. I wanted the palette of our yoke to reflect it too.

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The bright green is Jamieson and Smith shade FC11 and the orange shade is 125. (This rich tomato-soup shade is one of my all-time favourite Jamieson and Smith colours – I absolutely love it!). For the main body of the sweater I chose FC58 – a wonderfully complex heathered brown that in fact has more individual colours blended in it than any other shade in the Jamieson and Smith palette. After Ella and I had settled on the chart and palette, I provided her with a pattern and she got to work creating the sweater’s machined components. (Ella will write in more detail about the process of knitting the body and sleeves on her machine, and you’ll be able to read about the process on her blog)

Some time later, I received this bundle in the post

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As machine-knit yarn is oiled, I decided to block the separate pieces quite vigorously first so I could see that the hand-knit and the machine-knit fabric were behaving the same way, and that I could be sure that my gauge would match up. After blocking the pieces, I seamed them up with matress stitch. Ella had left small sections of ‘waste’ knitting at the tops of the sleeve and body pieces that could be unravelled to create a set of live stitches. So I unravelled the waste, set sleeves and body on a circular needle, and cast on a nine stitch steek over the cardigan’s front opening to enable me to knit the yoke on in the round.
Here’s the yoke in progress.

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Here it is blocking

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and finally . . .
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Creating this yoke with Ella was a fascinating and really enjoyable process for me, and I felt I understood much more about the textile practices and history I’d been researching through the simple act of knitting this garment. Sometimes making really is learning.

If you’d like to create your own Cockatoo Brae in exactly the same way we did, I’ve included instructions for flat machine-knitting body and sleeves in the book. But don’t worry –if you’d prefer to hand-knit the design in its entirety – working the whole garment in the round and then steeking it open afterwards – those instructions are also included.

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We shot these photographs on a lovely autumn day around the lower slopes of Ben Lawers and Meal nan Tarmachan, where Tom was running a hill race. Tom ran very well, and I think the photographs he took after the race show the garment perfectly suited to its setting.

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I’d like to give a big shout-out to Tom today, who has really shared my Yoke vision, and whose considerable skills as a photographer are in evidence throughout. His images – which beautifully illustrate each garment in a separate, distinctive location suited to its style – are an essential element of the larger creative process behind this book. Thanks, Tom x.

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You’ll find more information about Cockatoo Brae here
And the book is available to pre-order here

Jökull

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When I began thinking about putting together this collection, I felt it was important to include a design that might serve as an introduction to circular yoke knitting: something that was speedy and straightforward to knit, with some interesting details and a characteristic construction. That design is Jökull.

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Jökull is a yoked mantle. Though the design is extremely simple to knit – it is basically a decreasing circle decorated with some striking chevrons – Jökull also has some neat features, such as buttoned hand-openings, corrugated rib, and i-cord to stabilise and finish the garment edges.

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Worked up in Alafoss Lopi, at a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch, it is an extremely cosy outdoor garment. (Having worn the mantle on some wild days in Iceland, Mel and I can both vouch for it being wind and weatherproof!)

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Jökull is the Icelandic word for glacier – the name seemed appropriate in reference to the garment’s chill-defying properties, as well as the palette of shades we chose for this sample.

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This is Mýrdalsjökull, a glacier in southern Iceland that Mel and I were lucky enough to visit. You can see what I mean about those icy shades. . .

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Like many designs, changing the colourway of Jökull completely alters its appearance. Mel and I knit up a second sample, whose bold high-contrast shades produce a rather different effect from the subtly graded teals and icy blues of the original. We have not depicted this sample in the book (one of the shades we chose is now unavailable) but I will show you here just to illustrate how different the chevrons can look when other colours are selected.

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Jökull is a super-simple, quick and enjoyable knit – ideal for any knitter attempting their first yoke, or first colourwork.

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You can find more information about Jökull here
And the book is now available to pre-order here

I will be back tomorrow to tell you about the collection’s final design. We are very busy preparing packages and labels here – I can’t wait for you all to see the finished book!

Bluebells

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Good morning! Here is today’s yoke from my new book – Bluebells. In the 1950s and 60s, there was a particularly popular style of sweater featuring a rather narrow circular yoke. In such garments, the sleeve and body shaping tended to be a little more neatly tailored than other circular yokes, and the colourwork motifs were placed high up on the neck, necklace style. I wanted to include one of these necklace-yoked sweaters in the collection, and this is what I came up with.

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There’s really no need of much explanation for where I drew inspiration for the design.

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One of my favourite wild flowers, bluebells transform the woods and glens with their luminous glow throughout the month of May and are one of the undoubted highlights of a Scottish spring.

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Bluebell flowers seem particularly lovely to me when they flip upwards just before they turn to seed, and this is how I represented them in my chart.

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Bluebells encircle the neck of this garment like a garland, and the floral motifs are echoed in colourwork bands at the hem and cuffs.

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Jamieson and Smith shade FC37 really is the perfect bluebell blue, and the chart also features two of my all-time favourite greens – FC11 and FC24. The finished sweater is neat, simple, and easy to wear – even on a very breezy day like the one on which we took these photographs.

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These photographs were taken in late summer, above the Blane Valley, a place which in the spring is awash with bluebells. I knit this sweater during bluebell season, and loved to see how bluebells took over the woodland and darker north-facing slopes of the valley, bringing them to life with their luminous glow.

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You can find more information about Bluebells here
And Yokes is now available to pre-order here

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Foxglove

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Here is another yoke — this one’s name is self-explanatory — Foxglove.

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One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about my first year of rural living has been the wildflowers that grow around my home. Just a few yards from my front door are a wide variety of environments from heathland, bog and lochside to deciduous woodland and roadside hedgerows. Walking through this landscape every day, I have found it fascinating to observe the wildflowers emerging, coming into bloom, taking over the landscape, and falling away to seed. Back in the spring, I began keeping a record of the wildflowers I spotted on my daily walks (mostly within a 4 mile radius of my home) by recording a photograph on Instagram. (If you are interested, you can find that series of pictures under the hashtag #todayswildflower). I found that the simple act of taking a photograph of a plant, and later looking it up in my reference guides meant that, by the end of the summer, I had learned a reasonable amount about local wildflower habitats, the time of their flowering, their relationship to other plant varieties and so on. I discovered some wonderful plants I’d never seen or noticed before – grass of Parnassus, scarlet pimpernell, butterwort. I also learned to look anew at flowers I thought I knew reasonably well – such as foxgloves.

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I love their pink spires, their sheeny blooms, their downy leaves, their beautiful variegated interiors, the surprising deep beetroot purple of their stems. I knew I wanted to knit the foxgloves up into a yoke, and really enjoyed developing my chart for this design.

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Foxglove is the only design in the collection to use three colours in one row. (I have a neat trick for this, borrowed from Elizabeth Zimmermann, which the pattern describes in full).

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This yoke is in the Shetland style. It is knit in the round and steeked; the garment has some shaping after the arms are joined, and the yoke pattern itself is relatively shallow, and placed high up on the neck. That said, in my experience the necklines of many Shetland yokes have a tendency to ride rather too high – this one shouldn’t, and is intended to sit quite neatly at the throat.

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As you can see, by the time I’d actually managed to knit my sample, summer was turning into autumn, and it was no longer foxglove season.

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But we managed to take these photographs among some Rose Bay Willowherb which were going to seed, and which seemed to provide an appropriate local wildflower backdrop

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The yarn I’ve used is, of course, Jamieson and Smith jumperweight – the perfect yarn for a Shetland-style yoke.

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I have another yoke in this collection which was also inspired by a Scottish wildflower. More about that one tomorrow.

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In the meantime, you’ll find more information about Foxglove here
. . .and the book is now available to pre-order here

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Keith Moon

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AHOY THERE! Today’s yoke is called Keith Moon (bear with me . . . )

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I wanted to include a sixties-inspired, mod yoke in this collection: a sweater that would be really easy for even a beginner-knitter to create but which also had the potential to look really sleek and stylish. I love the simple boat-neck shape of many sixties jumpers and thought it would be fun to combine this with the straightforward construction of a seamless yoke.

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My inspiration came from the tri-colour roundels with which British mods adorned their clothing and scooters:

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. . . perhaps most famously sported by Keith Moon, The Who’s explosively talented drummer.

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As you can see, I’ve taken the idea of the mod roundel as three decreasing rings of different colours, and applied this to the circular structure of the seamless yoke, swapping out the positions of the red and blue.

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This is one of those sweaters where the finishing really makes a difference. The hems, belled cuffs, and boat-neck collar are all creating with facings of contrasting shades, which are neatly finished off with i-cord.

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The yarn is Lett Lopi (yes, its my new favourite). I found it very interesting that a few tailored details could give a really sleek finish to a yarn that is sometimes regarded in a more, um, rustic context. How I love a facing!

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I’ve styled my Keith Moon in a rather nautical fashion . .

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. . . but I think this is a very versatile jumper with which a variety of different looks could be achieved – Mel has knitted a really striking sample in jade, black, and silver, and I also think Keith would look completely amazing worked in a single shade of charcoal or a lighter grey. As soon as I made my sweater, though, I felt that its red, blue and white would work particularly well in a maritime setting. . .

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. . . so we went to Portnahaven, on the island of Islay, where, on a beautiful, calm, sunny Sunday, the colours of the sea and boats and sky and jolly paintwork really seemed to speak directly to those of Keith Moon!

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The seals were singing out at sea while we shot these photographs around the village – it was a lovely morning.

I find that, if I block it correctly, I have no problem wearing Lett Lopi next to my skin, and here is my top tip to finish your jumper for maximum smoothness and softness: block it out in luke warm water with a solution of a good quality hair-conditioner for at least 30 minutes — I use one of the straightening kind, that is designed for human hair (though I do know someone who swears on the transformative effects of Mane and Tail – the original horse-to-human crossover.)

You can find more information about Keith Moon here.
And Yokes is now available for pre-order here

A few of you have been asking about the relationship between the print and digital versions of Yokes. Well, there are two basic options:
Option 1: Print + digital. If you purchase a print copy of the book, you will receive a complementary download code to enable you to access the digital version.
Option 2: Digital only: You can also choose to purchase the digital book separately, without a printed copy.
The book costs exactly the same for both options, and the digital-only version will be made available on Ravelry after the book has started to ship, on or just after November 17th.

Yokes is available for pre-order! . . . and here is Buchanan

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Good morning! I’m extremely happy to announce that Yokes is now available for pre-order

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. . . and while I’m at it, I thought I’d show you another design. This yoke is called Buchanan.

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One of the many aspects of wearing yokes that I thought about while researching this book was the widespread practice, in the 1960s and ’70s particularly, of selecting a yoke to match your skirt or kilt. This was particularly common in Scotland of course, but it seems also to have been the case in Canada, and elsewhere. To this day, there is a particular shade in the Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight palette that is known as “kilt green”, and you can still purchase yoke jumpers that match Blackwatch and other common tartans from some Shetland retailers. I confess I was prompted to reflect on this practice when I spotted the Morningside Maisie buses zipping around Edinburgh some years ago

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Children’s author and illustrator, Aileen Paterson chose to draw her mischievious cat Maisie in this familiar and rather nostalgic outfit of yoked gansey and kilt, and its intriguing that, around the same time, Mairi Hedderwick chose a very similar outfit in which to dress her equally popular Scottish character, Katie Morag.

So I knew I wanted to use the colours of a kilt to design a matching yoke, but the question was, which tartan?

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Just a couple of miles from my house are the South and Eastern shores of Loch Lomond, and these bonnie banks and braes are my favourite local places for a stroll. This beautiful stretch of land was granted to Absalom Buchanan in 1225, and so I chose the rich palette of the “ancient” Buchanan tartan as the starting point for this design.

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I then got in touch with the lovely ladies at Scottesque, and asked them to make me a “midi-kilt”. (You can select your own tartan, and your kilt will be made to measure for an extremely reasonable sum). Rather than the familiar heavy pleated garment, the Scottesque midi kilt is composed of several fabric pieces, cut on the bias. I think it makes for a very feminine, flattering and striking skirt.

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I then discovered that several shades of Rowan kid classic provided a near-perfect match for the Buchanan tartan. This pleased me greatly as its a yarn of which I’m very fond – light and warm, and really hard wearing, with a lovely halo and handle. From that palette, I produced a chart.

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This is not the way I generally work when designing, as I usually have some kind of precise visual image in mind. But limiting my imagination in one way (colour) seemed to really give it free rein in another . . . I happily played around with shades and motifs until I’d created a yoke design with which I was very happy. The end result has a curiously 1920s/30s modernist feel to me, and, when I look at it, I am put in mind of the bows of cruise liners and their art deco interiors.

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Buchanan can be worn as a neat Spring tee, or can be popped on over layers as the weather cools.

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We shot these photographs at the top of one of my favourite local landmarks – the Dumpling, and I have to say I love the way this whole outfit looks against the spectacular highland landscape.

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Bruce had fun that day too.

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More details about Buchanan here

I’ll continue telling you about the remaining designs in the collection over the coming days, and the pre-order link for the book is here.

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