Ásta Sóllilja

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Here is today’s yoke – Ásta Sóllilja. I began this design with the idea of using colour to create a transition from deep blue to silver grey around the edges of a jumper. I wanted the edges of the design to shimmer a wee bit, in such a way that they might seem to fuse or merge with a darker skirt or pair of jeans. I had fun playing with the Ístex lett lopi palette, and eventually came up with this:

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After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book

Sjónabók

This wonderful tome reproduces charts and patterns from the textile designs in the sjónabók manuscripts, which are held in the national museum of Iceland. It is a truly fabulous book, which blew me away, not only with the distinctive charts and patterns but with its fascinating analysis of the geometry and four-fold symmetry of Icelandic design. From many patterns in the book, I selected a single version of the hammer rose motif, and played with it, inverting and modifying it in such a manner that allowed me to feature it over the whole depth of a colourwork yoke.

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(If you would like to learn more about this motif and its history in Iceland, see Hélène Magnússon’s important book Icelandic Knitting: Using Rose Patterns)

While I was working on this design, I was also reading Halldór Laxness’s dry and incisive Icelandic novel Independent People (1954). Laxness’s account of an Icelandic valley and its human and animal inhabitants had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the book for several weeks afterwards, musing particularly on its relationship with another important twentieth-century account of rural life on the cusp of modernity – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song (1932). There are many thematic comparisons to draw between these two novels, particularly as regards their representation of gender, sexuality and ideas of women’s independence (I would really rather like to write about this one day). The story of Laxness’s female protagonist – Ásta Sóllilja – in the end pans out rather differently from that of Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, and the determination, imagination, and arrested potential of the Icelandic character was cause of much reflection. So I named this design after her.

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Designing this jumper really made me fall in love with Icelandic wool: wind and weatherproof, light and warm, in such a beautiful range of colours. The finished yoke is a cosy, easy to wear garment, and is one of those jumpers that I find myself wanting to just throw on and head outside.

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Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.

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You can find more details about Ásta Sóllilja here.

PS In very exciting news, it looks as if the book is actually going to print today, so I will shortly be able to activate the shop for pre-orders.

Epistrophy

Well, it is time to introduce you to the first yoke from my new collection. Meet Epistrophy.

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Epistrophy is the title of a Be Bop “standard” composed and popularised by Thelonius Monk in 1942. The tune is characterised by its repetition and modification of a single, imitative phrase (or epistrophe). If you’d like to hear the tune, press play.

(Monk with Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren, and Frankie Dunlop)

Like Monk’s tune, as this yoke progresses, the diced pattern imitates, repeats and modifies a single motif.

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The result is a yoke with a graphic monochrome necklace. Shaping is integrated uninterrupted into the colourwork, and the yoke is designed to sit across the top of the shoulders.

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Epistrophy is worked in the round from the bottom up, and then steeked open. . .

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The steek edges are trimmed, and covered by a ribbon facing . . .

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. . . and the cardigan fastens with buttons and buttonholes that are worked into the rib.

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The yarn I’ve used is Toft Ulysses DK – a wonderful British wool – that comes in two muted shades of grey (silver and steel).

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The yarn is wonderfully soft and springy and knits up to create a beautifully even fabric. The finished yoke has quite a luxurious feel, but the yarn is such that it will also last and wear well.

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I loved the whole process of designing and knitting this yoke (much of which was accompanied by the tunes of Thelonius Monk), and its one of the garments that I have found myself unable not to wear. My samples are often used for trunk shows etc so I’m not really supposed to wear them, but I confess I did pop Epistrophy on to take my driving test a couple of weeks ago. Do you think it might have helped me to pass?epistrophy21

These pictures were taken just round the corner from where I live, by the bonnie banks and braes of Loch Lomond.
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Every pattern in the new book has been photographed in a different location – I wanted to give each garment a distinct style and feel, and knew that I needed a cloudy evening to photograph this design.

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If you’d like to know further details about the yarn quantities, gauge and sizing for this pattern, do nip over to the Epistrophy pattern page on Ravelry. I have set up the Yokes source on Ravelry too, and will be revealing and adding more patterns as the days go on.

More to come!

Great Tapestry of Scotland 1-23

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On Sunday I finally got to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland. I was completely blown away by the vision of Alistair Moffat (who produced the tapestry’s historical content and context), Andrew Crummy (the superb artist who designed these 160 panels) and perhaps especially by the skill and beauty of the work of the thousand Scottish women and men who stitched it. It was displayed in the singularly fitting surroundings of the Anchor Mill in Paisley. The atmosphere in this wonderful space was electric. There were people of all ages there, and everyone was completely transfixed by the tapestry, and were clearly enjoying it tremendously. I heard several exclamations of delight at particular details, as well as folk sharing personal recollections in front of individual panels. Some of the panels moved me to tears, others made me laugh out loud and viewing this terrific work was a truly incredible experience.

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The Great Tapestry of Scotland has a monunmental name, and it is certainly a monumental thing – but importantly, it is not in the least pompous or in any way up itself. Rather than telling the story of a nation through a top-down celebratory narrative of kings and queens and battles, it tells that story from the bottom up, in pleasingly piecemeal fashion, allowing many different identities, and many regional and linguistic differences to be included and represented. Scotland here is the sum of many different parts, and historical change is an uneven, and often deeply conflicted process. And this is a history where the folk who worked to build a bridge might be celebrated in the same terms as the engineer who designed it; where a can of Irn Bru and the King James bible might both share status as national icons. The tapestry’s 160 panels are alive with the colours of the landscape, with cultural invention, with the power of the imagination, with the emotive movement of time, with joy, wit, terror and sadness. That the panels sing so is testament both to Andrew Crummy’s wonderful designs as well as the skill and creativity of the stitchers, and I was deeply moved by the beauty and energy of the embroidery. The story of the people who stitched it is stitched up in this incredible thing, and that is certainly part of what makes it so terrific. So I think it was the tapestry’s sheer sense of shared endeavour that killed me most: that this was the best kind of collective history, created collectively. Craft and design have, I think, a unique power to bring people together in the expression and sharing of their creativity and cultural identity. In all honesty, this tapestry is the best example I’ve ever seen of how this might be so.

This blog serves several functions, one of which is as my own diary. I have thought quite hard about how to represent the tapestry to you, and to myself as well, so that, in the future, I can remember what I felt when I first saw it. I decided that the best way was, over several posts, to show you some of the details that really struck me. If you are interested in finding out more about the Great Tapestry of Scotland, two super books have been published about it. The first, a paperback by Susan Mansfield and Alistair Moffat, tells the story of the tapestry’s creation, together with the stories of the thousand Scottish women and men who were involved in its creation. The second book is a handsome (yet very reasonably priced volume) which carefully illustrates each of the tapestry’s individual panels, alongside more detailed and thorough historical information. I heartily recommend both books. And if you’d just like to look at each of the tapestry’s panels, you’ll find a wee slideshow here.

So here are some of the details I enjoyed from panels 1 through 23

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Panels 3a and 3b The formation of Scotland / The collision. “Geology formed Scotland and the land and the sea formed the character of the people”

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Panel 4 Scotland emerges from the ice. Love the figures of the fisherfolk, the detail of the currach, the graded colours of the stitching.

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Panel 5: The wildwood Hare and Red Squirrel.

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Panel 7: The First Farmers Wonderful textures on this panel.

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Panel 8: Brochs, Crannogs and Cairns. Scotland’s early vernacular architecture.

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Panel 9: Pytheas the Greek visits Calanais. I was particularly struck by the way the Isle of Lewis stitchers had carefully rendered the colours and textures of the banded gneiss and lichen of the Calanais stones.

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Panel 10: The coming of the legions. I love how the curls of Julius Agricola tell the story.

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Panel 11: Ninian at Whithorn. Beautiful stitching, the work of a single Dumfries needlewoman, Shirley McKeand.

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Panel 15: Dunnichen. Love the bold way that Andrew Crummy and the stitchers have here rendered the details of the famous Pictish stone.

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Panel 17: Dumbarton Rock One of many examples of how the geology represented in the tapestry afforded the stitchers an opportunity to really show off their skills. Astounding.

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Panel 20: Macbeth. Each of the tapestry’s panels includes the ‘signature’ of the stitchers who created it at the bottom right. This one, a small sampler of every stitch and every colour used in the panel was particularly striking. The panel was stitched by Sandra and Glennie Leith, Ingrid McGown, Paddy McGruer and Rhea Scott.

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Panel 22: The Flowers of the Borders. Anyone familiar with the architecture of the great Border abbeys will find the subtle pinks and greys of these stitched columns immediately evocative.

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Panel 23: the medieval wool trade. One of many panels illustrating the importance of textiles and their production to Scotland’s culture and economy.

More to come . . .

Machrihanish

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I was very excited to have the opportunity to design the Machrihanish vest for Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, and always enjoy knitting for Tom, who is its recipient and model. Tom often bemoans the general lack of shaping, and poor fit of men’s garments, so I like to knit him things that are well-fitting.

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Men’s knitted vest patterns rarely include shaping, but one of the things I knew I wanted to do with this design was to taper it to the waist. Shaping of any kind can be tricky when designing with Fairisle patterns, but the trick here is simply to work the ribbing and the first few inches of colourwork on a small needle, before going up a needle size for the upper torso. When blocked, this straightforward manoeuvre creates a difference between waist and chest of 3.5-4 ins, which means the vest fits neatly to the body, without excess fabric.

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Though this vest is, in many ways, a classic garment, I think the waist shaping also makes it feel sharper and more contemporary. But if your shape is more rectangular than triangular, you can easily leave out the waist shaping when working the pattern for a looser, more casual fit. Whatever your body shape, you should knit it with a little positive ease to allow the wearing of layers underneath.

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Though I’ve followed standard sizing for men’s garments with this design, I’ve also tried to make the pattern straightforward and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of masculine body shapes. Because there is no ‘set’ place to divide for armholes, the main body of the pattern can be knit to whatever length is required to accommodate a shorter or longer torso. Equally, if the armhole depth is greater or less than that specified in the pattern, it can be increased or decreased as required. (A detailed sizing table and schematic is included in the pattern to help you achieve the fit that’s right for you). You also have the option of working the ribbing doubled around the armholes and hem for a firm and durable edge.

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The yarn I used for this design was Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage.

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This wonderful yarn was developed in consultation with the Shetland Museum and Archives, and is very close in handle, hue and character, to the yarns that were traditionally used to knit Fairisle garments in Shetland before the Second World War. It is a light fingering-weight – lighter than a standard 4 ply – and because it is worsted spun, feels much smoother than other “Shetland” yarns you may be used to. To give the garment its shaping, I worked the yarn at two different gauges of 8 and 9 sts to the inch, and at both gauges it gives a nice, light even fabric. Because of its unique characteristics, I would really recommend you use this yarn, but if substituting, please swatch carefully to ensure you achieve a fabric with which you are happy. You can find detailed information about shades and yardage here.

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The pattern is written to be knitted entirely in the round, with steeks worked at the armholes and neck.

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I personally love the speed and ease of working completely in the round, but if you are a determined purler, you could easily work the upper torso separately, back and forth.

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Tom is very happy with his vest.

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. . .and I am very pleased with the design!

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Now, about the name. We live in the West of Scotland, and Machrihanish is a village further West, on the picturesque Mull of Kintryre. Tom is a great admirer of the Fairisle knitwear Paul McCartney proudly sported after he moved to Scotland, but we felt that Mull of Kintyre might prove to be too much of an earworm to work as a pattern name . . . and Machrihanish is also one of our favourite locales from the UK shipping forecast. . . . so Machrihanish it is.

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We shot these photographs opposite Dumgoyne, a short walk from our house. The light and skies have been very dramatic here of late, and did not let us down that day. There is just something about the bright colours and high-contrast of a Fairisle vest that work perfectly with a highland landscape. Living out here often prompts me to think about colour and pattern . . . and these photographs of Tom make me want to get another bloke’s Fairisle design on the needles immediately!

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My Cross-Country comrade, Jen, has also been writing about her design for the Volume – the fabulous Bruton hoody – so if you’d like to read more about it just pop over to her blog. We have also set up a new website for the collaboration, where you can keep track of our Cross-Country design journey.

Cross Country Knitting Volume 1 is now available!

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three sweaters

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I thought I’d show you my three new sweaters! First up is this lovely Fairisle yoke (bought for £16 on eBay).

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This is a garment of a kind that is still being made in Shetland, and that you can find in Lerwick today in shops like The Spider’s Web. I think its a lovely example. The body has been knitted by machine, and the yoke inserted afterward by hand.

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The blending of the colours on the yoke is beautiful, and the hand-finishing is exemplary, particularly around the steeked opening for the back neck.

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The garment is in great condition and shows no signs of wear at all. I fully intend to wear it!

Next up is a sweater that – shock horror – I just knitted for myself.

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This garment is knitted in some wonderful yarn that I hand-dyed myself at a workshop at Lilith‘s studio four years ago – Bowmont Braf 4 ply. Words cannot express how much I love this yarn – it is springy and sheepy and robust . . . it has a deeply matt, slightly felted appearance, but retains a bouncy hand. Dyed up on it, colours appear soft and muted, as if already worn for a long time. Plus, the yardage is incredible. What’s not to like? Well, only the fact that its long-discontinued. (If anyone knows of a supplier of bowmont fibre please do let me know!). Lilith was very taken with the yarn as well, and our dyeing workshop was the beginning of our collaboration on the Fugue design, which she dyed up as a kit in her glorious Dreich and Lon Dubh colourways. Coincidentally, I know that Lilith is currently knitting an Ursula with her secret Bowmont Braf stash, and I can’t wait to see it.

Anyway, back to the knitting.

As a designer, I think its important to get one’s head around different garment-construction methods – I learned to design yoked sweaters by knitting yoked sweaters – and though I’m familiar with many different top-down sleeve constructions, I’d never tried Susie Myers’ contiguous method, which (essentially) allows you to produce a seamless, top-down, set-in sleeve without the need for picking up stitches around the armscye (which is my usual method). I read the contiguous ‘recipe’, browsed the contiguous threads on Ravelry, purchased a couple of Ankestrik‘s excellent patterns for informed reading, and decided to attempt the method by knitting a sleeve which was a combination of saddle and set-in. The idea was to familiarise myself with the contiguous method’s basic principles, while turning my precious stash of Bowmont Braf into a simple, loose fitting sweater that I could enjoy wearing everyday.

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I’m happy with the sleeve shaping . . .

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. . .and indeed with the sweater (though this photograph, snatched between rain showers probably doesn’t suggest it). As my stash of Bowmont Braf was limited, I weighed the remaining yarn and divided it in two before starting the sleeves. This is a pottering-about, dog-walking sweater that makes good use of my lovely Bowmont Braf, and has taught me a bit about a different way of constructing a sleeve top-down! I really like it.

Finally, this amazing find came into my possession for a mere £1.04 via eBay.

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It’s a beautiful hand-knit vintage Fairisle gansey in natural Shetland-sheep shades. From the way the yarn is spun, I’d say it was probably knitted post-war. The eBay listing described the garment as having been purchased many years ago in an ‘exclusive Edinburgh boutique’. I would speculate that this ’boutique’ was a shop that once stood in Morningside, whose owner sourced garments directly from Shetland knitters, and who has donated several items to the Shetland Museum. This is a really well-made sweater.

Like many such garments I’ve seen, inside the ends have simply been knotted and left to felt

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The gansey has clearly been worn a lot, but is still in great condition. The only area that needs repair is this one cuff.

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And as Mel said to me when taking these photos yesterday, “it fits like it was made for you.”

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I’ll take good care of it.

transititions

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Winter really felt interminable this year. It seemed that, for weeks I passed the same corner every day looking in vain for the snowdrops that always appear there, heralding Spring. “I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for those” said one of my neighbour-buddies, indicating a single patch of struggling crocuses that provided the only cheer on a particularly grey and grim sub-zero March morning. When we visited New Lanark on April 2nd, there were no wild flowers blooming at all. The only things of colour we saw were the yellow eyelids of the nesting peregrines and the bright red toadstools that Tom struggled through some spiky undergrowth to photograph. After all of this weird nothing, May’s rapid explosion has felt particularly welcome. I began to see primroses and cowslips poking through the brown and grey . . . then the grass pinged green . . . and then there was speedwell, and bluebells, honesty, and dove’s foot geraniums . . .

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. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .

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. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.

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. . . or rather, large black dog-filled glades.

In many respects, these past few months have felt a little odd. Tom has been living during the week in Glasgow, working really hard at his new job. Meanwhile, I have been managing various health issues with greater or lesser degrees of success, and trying very hard to work around and within my limits. These few months have made Tom and I both realise how reliant we are on each other, and how completely rubbish we are at being apart. The upshot is that we have decided to move from Edinburgh to an as-yet-unknown location close to the Highlands but within commuting distance of Glasgow. The prospect of a garden in which to grow veggies, a few chickens and another dog (or two) is very exciting to me, and I am hopeful of finding a small house or steading out West where this dream can become a reality. Less exciting is the work we have to do to our current abode prior to selling it. Apparently, property purchasers require chilly Edinburgh flats to have more sources of warmth than that which is provided by our solitary living-room wood burner . . . thus, with the help of David and Stevie and Trevor we will be installing shiny new-fangled central heating and making various other “improvements.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because life is inevitably going to be disrupted over the next few months. A kind neighbour is allowing me and Bruce to hang out in her flat while Stevie is up here ripping up the floorboards, but I have now lost access to my computer and work-pod during the day, so am less accessible by email. I also have to consider the implications of moving my business as well as my home. We have just a handful of boxes of Colours of Shetland left in my warehouse in Leith. Once these are sold, I will have to allow the book to go out of print until I can make new warehousing arrangements at our new as-yet-unknown locale. So, if you were considering purchasing a print copy of Colours of Shetland, my advice is to do it now, as there are not many left (the digital edition will, of course, continue to be available). I’m still taking wholesale orders (with the number of copies-per-shop limited), but for both retail and trade orders, once the books are gone, they are gone.

So, if anyone is looking to buy a flat in North Edinburgh’s leafiest and friendliest neighbourhood, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled later this Summer. And equally if anyone has suggestions for places to which Tom and I should consider moving please do feel free to make them — we are now conducting recces!

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