(One of my favourite layouts from Yokes, pages 18-19)
I think that these are really interesting times in knitwear design and publishing. I’m someone whose interest in hand-knit design directly lead to my establishing myself as a (very) small publisher. Having previously written several academic books and articles, as well as various editorial features, bits of film and literary criticism, and other journalistic pieces, I had some idea of what might be involved in making a book. When I decided to produce Colours of Shetland, what really drew me to doing things myself was that I could hopefully make the kind of book that would be a very hard sell to a mainstream publisher, but which I knew I would love to create, and which I also felt that knitters would hopefully want to read. By creating my own books, I could write about archeology and knitting, puffins and jazz and lighthouses . . . and knitting. I could even write about Danish foreign policy and its representation in one of my favourite television series. . . and knitting. Creating your own books as a small publisher means that you retain control of all aspects of the process, from how things look on the page to the paper quality of the page itself.
(Colours of Shetland inside front cover)
In my former career, I had many frustrating experiences working with academic publishers where editorial control is largely out of one’s hands. I vividly recall, for example, spending around six months tracking down and, with some considerable effort, securing one-time, non-commercial reproduction rights to a particular eighteenth-century image which I needed to illustrate an article I was writing for a well-regarded academic publisher. At the proof stage, I was appalled to discover that the painting was so poorly reproduced and so small on the page that it was barely visible at all, let alone in the detail that would have been needed for the reader to make any sense of what I was saying in the accompanying text. My objections had no effect. But if you are doing things yourself, you can address such issues, and try to find a good balance between useful illustration, and cost (which is of course a major consideration).
For example, when I found this poster of Eskimo – George Schnéevoigt’s 1930 film – I knew I wanted to include the image in my Yokes book. As well as illustrating a key part of my discussion (the Greenlandic costumes worn in this film inspired Norweigan designer, Annichen Sibbern to create her famous Eskimo yoke), I felt the image held a general aesthetic consonance with my thinking, and I found it very inspiring to look at on my mood board while I was writing the chapter in which the film appeared. Yoke sweaters are a modern – and in some respects modernist – design phenomenon, both of which were suggested to me by the font and feel of this striking poster. Nic (my book production guru) loved the image too, but there were other matters to consider. The chapter had to work as an 8 page spread, with several other wonderful images of Greenlandic costume, (which the nice people at Greenland.com had permitted me to reproduce)
In the end, the layout Nic came up with completely thrilled my editorial eye. She had used the photograph of the Greenlandic girls in their nuilarmiut at full page to introduce the chapter, but had then flipped it, so that the figures were facing right, leading the reader into the text. Schnéevoigt’s movie poster, meanwhile, held an important prefatory role – slotting into the chapter’s opening paragraphs, reproduced at centre page at a size at which its details were easy to see, and with its colours picked up in the chapter’s title font and subheadings. This use of colour in the chapter’s subheadings makes the poster’s aesthetic effect echo throughout the chapter. Amazing job, Nic!
As you might imagine, the amount of work involved in creating and publishing one’s own books is pretty vast, and self-publishing by no means implies that you are doing everything yourself. I have been completely blessed in working with a superb team of people like Nic, Jen, and Rachel whose expertise in print and production, as well as technical and copy editing mean I can create books properly professionally, to the high standard and quality that I want. I’ve found it absolutely essential to have a really good team of folk on board, all of whom can take responsibility for various aspects of the process, and who also work well together. As the publisher, the writer, and the designer, you have to be prepared to listen and take advice, to take firm decisions, and to take some risks too. You (or rather, your business) has to invest time, energy, and a large amount of money into each book. Yokes involved an awful lot of research, travel, designing, knitting, writing, and photography before we even got anywhere near the editing and production stage. Personally I really enjoy this all-encompassing absorption in a project – you have to really live the book – but I suspect that this isn’t for everyone, and probably neither is the level of risk involved. The major benefit of working with a larger publisher is that they are shouldering the financial burden and any associated risk involved in a book’s production, but when one is one’s own publisher, that risk is yours and yours alone. When I wrote this post and received so many responses along the lines of “yokes just aren’t for me” I confess I was a wee bit concerned. Was I making a book that was of no interest to anyone but me? Did anyone even want a book about yoked sweaters, their provenance and their recent history?
(Yokes, pages 4 and 5, with wonderful illustrations by Felicity Ford)
Happily some people were interested in such a book.
In the end I would say that the best thing about small publishing is the very basic pleasure that’s derived from making a thing of which one is proud. This pleasure-in-making is integral to every aspect of the process for me, from the initial idea, through the writing and the designing and the knitting, through to the editorial, layout, and production stage, to finally holding the book in my hand. And in some ways, the actual made-thing is only the very start of that productive process. From that point on, one has the additional pleasure of seeing folk engage meaningfully with the thing that you have made. Knitters knit your jumpers. Folk write and say they enjoyed reading a particular chapter, that they liked or disagreed with something that you said; that they loved a certain pattern, or that there was a design element in it they felt might be improved. All of these interactions are important – they are all about people actually engaging meaningfully with your made thing — and this can be very affirming.
I said at the start of the post that these are interesting times in design and publishing. I suppose the thing that I find most interesting (and heartening) about them is that I’m not alone. So many designers and writers are now finding that small publishing is a viable route of pursuing their own creative direction, finding their own independent voice, and realising their own visions. We are often told that the world of print is struggling in the digital age, but it seems to me that in knitting, as perhaps in other areas of relatively “niche” interest, that a host of independently-minded folk are using small publishing to make really wonderful, successful books that also often combine print and digital production in innovative ways. My friend Felix crowdsourced funding for her amazing and completely distinctive tome in a way that was both incredibly professional and really, really inspiring. Designers like Gudrun, meanwhile, are publishing their own beautiful pattern collections, which, because they are the product of a single, undiluted creative vision – from the stitch patterns to the photographic locations – have something really striking and specific to say. I think that small, independent publishing has made the knitting world much richer, more varied and certainly much more interesting than it was a decade ago, when the majority of knitting books were put out by mainstream craft publishers or large yarn companies (whose priorities were sometimes rather narrowly trend-led).
I have been prompted to these musings by the sheer number of fascinating, beautiful, and important books produced by my fellow independent designers that have recently caught my eye. In tomorrow’s post I’ll review a few examples.
I am a great fan of haps (which form the focus of one of my long-term projects) and I’m very happ-y indeed to see increasing interest in these simple and timeless shawls: Gudrun has a wonderful Craftsy class on haps, and has been running a knit-along for her full and half hap patterns for a couple of months. And, yesterday, led by Louise from Knit British, the much-anticipated hap-along began!
These patterns are inspired by, and share elements of ‘traditional’ Shetland haps: they are worked over a garter stitch fabric; are knitted in a “heavy” rather than a “fine” Shetland wool yarn; and feature simple Shetland openwork patterns, rather than fine lace. Their construction, however, is rather different from the borders-in, or centre-out method used by Shetland knitters to create a hap: Northmavine is a top-down, centre-out design, and Hap for Harriet is worked from side to side with some simple shaping and openwork to create its sweeping points.
My understanding of the word “hap” is as a simple wrap or covering – a word that has been used in Scotland and Northern England for centuries to convey the idea of cosiness and warmth. I wrote about the etymology of “hap” in Colours of Shetland thus:
“As knitters, we may have come across the word “hap” in reference to Shetland (or Shetland-type) shawls featuring simple openwork, but what precisely does it mean? “Hap” is a word common to Scots and Northern English dialects, as well as Shetland, and means to wrap, to cover, or conceal. From the 14th century on, the word “hap” crops up frequently in a wide variety of Northern texts, its usage ranging from the quotidian (the protection of crops in cold ground, the repair of a thatched roof) to the sombre (the wrapping of a corpse or the burying of a secret). In Scots, to be “weel happit” means to be well wrapped-up against the cold, and, it is perhaps in reference to colder winter weather that the word has been most often used. In The Brigs of Ayr (1786) for example, Robert Burns summed up the time of year as “when the stacks get on their winter haps”, and James Hogg memorably captured the atmosphere of a chilly evening: “When gloamin o’er the Welkin steals / And haps the hills in sober grey” (Forest Minstrel, 1810). More recently, ‘hap’ appears as a singularly Wintery covering in Edinburgh author, James King Annand’s lovely poem, Purple Saxifrage (1991).
Aneath a hap o snaw it derns
Deep in a dwam for maist the year
To burst throu in a bleeze o starns
Syne skail its flourish on the stour.
Beneath a hap of snow it hides
Deep in a dream for most the year
To burst through in a blaze of stars
Then spill its flourish on the storm)
When the weather is chilly, what better way to be “weel happit” than in a warm and cosy wool shawl? While, in 19th-century mainland Scotland, the noun “hap” might suggest a plaid or other type of women’s wrap, in Shetland a “hap” came specifically to refer to the attractive openwork coverings made and worn by the knitters of those islands. In contrast to the luxurious fine lace shawls that were produced for merchants or special occasions, haps were intended for everyday use, to be worn around the house or on the hill. Spun and knitted thicker than fine lace, a hap was a garment with a function: to keep the body warm. Wrapped and tied around the torso, or tucked hood-like around the neck and chin, a good hap would efficiently insulate its Shetland wearer against the exigencies of cold and wind. Knitted over a background of garter stitch, and featuring shaded chevrons of familiar Shetland openwork patterns (first in natural sheep-shades, and later in dyed colours), haps could also be incredibly beautiful and striking in their simplicity. Like the best kind of functional clothing, haps possess a certain timelessness of design, and today this Shetland classic is frequently re-interpreted by knitters around the world.”
Colours of Shetland, 2012, p.52-3
I think it is their functional quality – coupled with a certain elegant simplicity – that make haps appeal to me so much as both a designer and a knitter. These are garments to be made and worn. They are relaxing to knit, add colour and warmth to our outfits, and have a certain timeless ease which to me suggests the importance and longevity of the simple shawl in women’s wardrobes. Because of this, the Northmavine Hap and the Hap for Harriet are among my favourite designs, and if you are making either in the hap-along I do hope you enjoy the patterns!
(Hap for Harriet in Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 2ply)
(Northmavine Hap in Jamieson and Smith 2 ply Jumper Weight)
Thanks so much for all your good wishes over the past couple of weeks. I really have been quite unwell, and because of this somewhat grumpy – hence the silence here. As you might imagine, it can take me a while to recover from what to most folk is a routine infection, and I find this really frustrating, but am happily regaining my energy now. If you are waiting for an email response to a customer service query I promise I’ll get back to you soon!
As the weather grows more chilly, things are becoming very busy round here — in a good way. I have been knitting and designing and writing for weeks now, in advance of a few new Winter releases. In a few days I will be publishing the next design in my Edinburgh Series of garments (which you’ll see hinted at above), inspired by the industrial and maritime heritage of Leith. This design is cosy and wintery and woolly and I’m very happy with it – I hope you like it too.
Additionally, I’ve been working really hard on some new seasonal accessory designs. . .
. . . which will soon be available as kits in my online shop. Colours of Shetland (now in its second edition) is finally back in stock (hurrah!) , and I’m looking forward to it being joined by Snawheid, and several other jolly kits over the next couple of weeks. I’m developing these kits as something of an experiment, so you must tell me if there are particular designs of mine that you’d like to see available and I’ll see what I can do.
I’m also rather happy about a couple of vintage knitwear finds . . .
This jumper (an ebay find) is destined to become a pair of SWANTS!
. . . and if you have seen Ella’s blog recently, you’ll know why I am unbelievably excited by this:
Ye gods! It is indeed one of Margaret Stuart’s beautiful Spencer dresses and it is now in my possession! Seriously, this is a completely amazing garment (that fits me too) and I am incredibly grateful to Ella for enabling its acquisition. More of this anon.
In the meantime, here are a few woolly links for you this Wovember Wednesday:
Needle and Spindle‘s lovely post about Pelle’s New Suit – a beautiful children’s story from 1912 that tells the story of a jumper.
Caroline Walshe thoughtfully documents the process of growing, preparing, spinning and knitting a shawl from the fleece of Jake, her Jacob wether. This is one of the most inspiring pieces about process that I’ve read in a long time.
Equally inspiring, but for different reasons, is Cecilia Hewitt’s piece about her unique and very beautiful handspun yarn. Cecilia’s sense of place and colour has something truly magical and profound about it – but her work is also refreshingly grounded in the ordinary and everyday. “An intriguing patch of colour in the hedge turned out to be a crisp packet.”
Finally, via 60 North TV and the Shetland Times, a short video about this year’s Shetland Wool Week. Highlights include Oliver Henry talking about his work grading fleeces, and brief clips of Hazel, Tom, Sarah and, of course, Felix singing the Shetland wool song!
Yesterday we had beautiful weather while we popped back to our old stomping grounds in North Edinburgh and Leith to take some photographs of two new sweater designs. I’ve been working on these patterns for a while now, and they form part of my Edinburgh series — garments inspired by my favourite places in the great city in which I lived for a decade.
Here’s the photographer:
And here’s a wee hint of what was being photographed:
I’m really excited to tell you all about these two designs and promise you’ll see more very soon!
As well as the two Edinburgh-series designs, I’m full of woolly plans for this WOVEMBER. The French translation booklet to accompany Colours of Shetland will soon be available, as will the second edition of the book itself, which is currently being reprinted (so if you’d like a print copy of the book, I’ll soon have my online shop up and running again). As well as the book, the shop will also be stocked with other items, including kits for three new accessories which I’m busy working on right now. Moving house has also meant moving work – it has taken a while to get everything set up, but now everything is ticking away in my studio and stock room and I’m enjoying seeing it all develop.
In the meantime, here are links to two WOVEMBER posts from two of my favourite woolly Shetland folk: Take a look at Ella’s incredible Spencer Dress, and Sarah’s fabulous collection of Shetland knitwear. (Sarah, of course, is the editor of Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, of which more another time). Meanwhile, over on the WOVEMBER website, you’ll find lots of lovely things about growing wool this week, including this interview with Pam Hall about her Herdwicks and her farm. (Some of you may remember that I knitted this sweater, many, many moons ago, using wool from Pam’s sheep).
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 . . .
. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .
. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.
. . . 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!
I always find it exciting when different iterations of my patterns are posted on Ravelry. This is particularly the case when knitters’ colour choices and personal modifications really transform the look of a design. Some amazing Ursulas have begun to appear which, because they have a completely different feel to my original, and also because they just look bloody lovely, I wanted to share with you.
Ursula was inspired by the shades of Shetland’s summer wildflowers, and the original had a pale, botanical palette.
But Sarah knitted her Ursula with natural and sky-blue shades set against a background of midnight blue — creating a garment with a totally different feel.
Sarah says: “I am completely in love with my Ursula. This was an awesome project from the very beginning, using one of my favourite yarns from JC Rennie and my own handspun. . .
“Apart from completely changing the colours, I didn’t make any changes to the pattern, but accidentally knit the body at the narrowest point of my waist a little tighter, which gave me perfect and unintentional subtle waist shaping. It was the first time I’d tried a crochet steek (using the directions in Colours of Shetland) and it was joyous! I haven’t done a steek any other way since. I knit Ursula mostly on holiday, so its a lovely reminder of my trip too. I’m sure I’ll make it again in similar colours to Kate’s original, as the fit is absolutely perfect and it was so fun to make.”
I particularly love the fact that three different breeds of British sheep are represented in this garment (Sarah spun the fawn shade from Masham fibre, the brown from Manx Loaghtan and the vivid blue from Jamieson and Smith Shetland tops). Her Ursula is ravelled here.
Next up is Georgie, who chose to knit her Ursula with a single contrast shade, rather than three.
Georgie says: “My modifications were mainly due to yarn constraints, as I’ve been having to be thrifty, unravelling cardigans I no longer wear. I had already knit a cardigan in the three shades I used for Ursula (Marie Wallin’s Mika) a lovely cardigan I never really wore, mainly due to the style, I prefer a more classic shape for cardigans. Anyway, Mika was first in line when I was scouting around the house for suitable yarn for Ursula. . .
. . . It’s knit in a combination of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift (the green), then Blacker Yarns Alpaca/Shetland in cream for the body and grey for the sleeves. I could see while knitting that I wouldn’t have enough of the main colour to finish the cardigan as written, so I shortened the body so the ribbing started on my waist. The sleeves were also shortened due to my yarn levels, plus, I thought they would work best with the length of cardigan.”
I was blown away when I saw Georgie’s Ursula how her use of a single contrast shade totally transformed the feel and look of the stitch pattern: in her cardigan, the zigzagging tri-coloured stripes of my original have become an allover with its own integral structure and continuity. I also really like how the cropped body and three quarter sleeves lend the garment an incredibly neat, vintage look. Georgie’s Ursula is ravelled here.
Finally, here is Rebecca’s Ursula, knit in four lovely shades of Jamieson and Smith jumper weight: 203, 118, fc14 and fc41.
Of her modifications, Rebecca says: “I lengthened the body by simply adding an extra peerie repeat in green before beginning the armhole steeks. I also made the sleeves snugger by decreasing very quickly and then lengthened them a bit to come further over the hands.”
Rebecca’s contrast shades really pop out against the grey background, and this garment feels to me like a refreshing change of key. I love the way that the colours she chose speak to one another, and find the juxtaposition of the complex plum tones of fc14 against the solid Spring green of 118 particularly pleasing. Rebecca’s Ursula is ravelled here.
Ursula is one of my favourite designs in Colours of Shetland, and it makes me so happy to see knitters making it, transforming it, and enjoying wearing their own beautiful hand-knitted cardigans!
Today I’m very excited to announce the release of the digital edition of Colours of Shetland!
This means that those of you who wished to purchase a digital-only copy can now do so here, and that all of you who have already purchased the print edition can now use the ‘unique download code‘ in your copy to access your complementary digital edition of the book.
Here’s how to redeem your code.
First, open up the book. On the inside cover, you’ll find a sticker with your unique download code printed on it.
Next, follow this link to the book’s Ravelry page. Click on the ‘buy it now’ button (highlighted below).
You are then directed to check out. Click on the ‘enter coupon code’ button (highlighted below).
Enter your code into the box, then click the “Apply” button.
You’ll then see the checkout screen, letting you know that you’ve not been charged for the download. Click on the “Checkout Now” button.
Finally, you’ll receive a receipt, and links to seven PDF files which contain the full content of Colours of Shetland. If you are a Ravelry member, these files are now stored in your library, and you’ll be automatically notified of any updates to future editions of the book. You can also download the files individually for reading on a device or computer.
A final few points:
1) Happily, we haven’t found many errata or typos (there’s a full list here), but those that there are have all been corrected in the digital edition.
2) Otherwise, the content of the print and digital editions is exactly the same (that is, all patterns, tutorials, essays and photographs are included identically in the digital edition)
3) The patterns will not be released as individual digital downloads.
4) The book has a single retail price of £14.99: that is, the digital-only version of the book costs exactly the same as the print+digital version — so, if you purchase the print edition, then, like the happy Shetland sheep on page four of the book, you’re laughing!
If you have any other questions about this process, please feel free to add a comment to this post, and I’ll do my best to answer!