I have a great fondness for birds, and bird-inspired design. Like many designers, I adore the work of Charley Harper, because of the way that he manages to capture the bird-ness of a bird with such admirable economy of line. Harper somehow really got how birds – with their simple shapes, their distinctive characters and behaviours – seem to lend themselves naturally to repeating patterns, as can also be seen in the work of my favourite printmaker, Dee Beale.
Swallows in Chalky Blue by Dee Beale
Dees joyful kaleidoscope of swallows just sings out with the exuberance of a returning Spring!
Avian shapes are particularly effective when worked over small repeats of knitted stitches. SpillyJane is a master of this kind of thing, and her Flamingo Mittens blow me away every single time I see them.
There’s that same economy of line . . . and those flamingos are so neat! So inscrutable! So chock full of retro vim!
I also love to create bird-y designs, and as well as some work of which you might be aware, I also have a notebook filled with numerous unmade avians. In that notebook there are sketches for lapwing and gannet inspired knitwear, and perhaps one day I will show you the crazy oystercatcher intarsia that almost made it into Yokes. . .
Anyway, about the only other person I know who is just as obsessed with birds, and avian-inspired design, as I am is my friend Jen. It was a natural decision that birds would be the subject of our next Cross-Country challenge. This is the result.
My design is the murmuration scarf, and it was inspired by spectacular collective displays of starlings in the autumn months.
As you can see, a flock of starlings rises up and disperses across each end of the scarf. The repeats are really simple – just a few stitches – but I hope I’ve managed to convey in these few stitches the feeling of a rising flock in flight.
I like a big woolly scarf and I won’t lie – there is a lot of knitting in it. But I do think the end result is worth it.
Jolly puffins parade around the hat, and the crown has a beak-related surprise.
There’s also another surprise, as a single puffin at the front of the hat is picked out in full colour embroidery (worked in simple duplicate stitch and back stitch).
The mitts mirror the stripes and stitches of the hat, with another embroidered puffin on one hand.
Tom shot these photographs on a lovely evening out at Inveruglas.
This was a particularly fun photoshoot, because it was with Jen.
Cross-Country Knitting, volume 3 includes the patterns for the murmuration scarf, and the Fufnip hat and mitts. I’ve also written an essay for this volume about the love of birds that Jen and I share.
Both our designs use one of my favourite yarns – Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. Why not stock up in Lerwick if you are there for wool week?
You can now find Cross Country Knitting, volume 3, digitally on ravelry and in print on Mag Cloud.
A couple of days ago, we announced the Seven Skeins Club – a venture we’ve been planning for many months, and which we hope will allow everyone who wants to to sample our lovely new Scottish wool. (If you are interested, you can read more about what the club involves here.)
People have been writing to me with their concerns about availability. Will they miss out on membership if they aren’t sitting by their computers on Friday? Well, we really are hopeful we have enough yarn for everyone. . .
I am hard at work writing and knitting the club patterns, and Mel is knitting too. Some designs will have both plain and colourwork options, so we are making two of everything.
We are also producing a new book especially for club members – Buachaille: at Home in the Highlands. The exciting thing about this tome is that it includes much more than my designs! As well as essays about the landscapes that inspired (and raised) our yarn, Tom has been developing and perfecting some delicious highland recipes. . .
. . . and he and our friend, Gordon Anderson (a qualified mountain leader), have been out and about in the highlands, preparing a beautifully photographed guided walk up Buachaille Etive Mor, the iconic mountain which lends our yarn its name.
We are all enjoying working on this project tremendously! If the Seven Skeins Club is of interest to you, you will be able to join from this Friday, September 18th by purchasing a membership in the shop.
Thankyou for your comments on the last post. When I settled on this new venture, I felt it was important to be able to show you some of the usually hidden processes behind yarn production, so I’m glad you are finding it interesting! I thought you might also like to know a little bit more about the decisions behind my yarn’s development, and who I chose to work with.
(Tom’s kilt hose show off some of Buachaille’s characteristics: the yarn is smooth, yet springy; durable yet soft, and with great stitch definition)
How exactly does one go about developing a yarn? I know what kinds of yarns I like, and what I love to knit with, as I’m sure every knitter does. As you will no doubt be aware, I like sheepy, characterful yarns best of all, and I have some knowledge of how different preparation and spinning techniques can get the best out of different fleece types and wool. I also like to work with a product whose origins I can trace. Knowing what one likes is one thing, but manufacturing it is quite another. This was a big step, and I knew I wanted to work on developing my yarn with someone I liked and trusted. I also knew that person was Adam Curtis. I met Adam and his family through our Shetland connections. They know more about wool than anyone I know, and Adam has a particular talent for developing beautiful and interesting wool products: things that really showcase the best that British wool can be. His family were kind enough to invite me to represent hand knitting and design at this event a few years ago, and, from our opposite ends of the industry, we’ve always regarded each other with mutual respect. In the UK, most raw wool is sold at auction through the British Wool Marketing Board, and the vast majority of it is purchased by merchants such as Curtis Wools. They are a well-regarded Yorkshire company whose commitment to wool is deep and long-standing, and whose resources and reach are pretty unparalleled. I knew they could find exactly the wool I wanted, and help me to develop it into an interesting new yarn.
KD: What were your initial thoughts when I approached you?
AC: I was delighted when you approached my father and I to develop a speciality yarn. Creating unique yarns for customers is one of the challenges we genuinely enjoy and pride ourselves on. With the enormous reserves of British and foreign wools held by Curtis Wool there are few requests that we can’t cater for.
KD: But even so, I came to you with quite a long list of things I wanted the yarn to be! What were your priorities?
AC: We knew you wanted a thoroughly British yarn with traceable links to Scotland, and the Scottish highlands. And we knew you wanted the yarn to be light and lofty. So we were looking for Scottish-origin fleeces with a natural crimp that would add loft, and which would spin up to create a classic hand that would just feel right to the knitter.
KD: How did you go about selecting the wool?
AC: We decided that a combination of wools from different breeds would be necessary to arrive at the perfect match for your requirements. We then sourced and chose a selection of the finest hand-sorted Scottish origin fleeces. These were then scoured at Haworth, combined together, and combed to create the perfect top. Combing your wool allowed us to remove any coarse fibres and noils [short fibres] in the fleece, and to create a blended top with maximum smoothness and softness. Combing and blending the wool really made it sing! As you know, the blend we’ve created for Buachaille is unique and exclusive to you. I was very pleased with the result.
KD: so what happened then?
AC: Then I sent you a sample of the combed top for approval. You were just as pleased with it as I was, which was great! With the blended constituency of the combed top in place, we were then able to begin developing the two other natural shades you wanted to complement your dyed palette.
KD: Yes! As you know, Adam, I’m very pernickety about colours. . .
AC: Well, like all designers you knew what you wanted, and we had to get those natural shades just right.
KD: I just love the two other natural shades you’ve created – sheepy fleece colours really are my all-time favourites.
AC: Yes – and they sit really well with the dyed shades you created too. So after your tops were combed at Haworth, we had them worsted spun – a spinning technique which completely suits the wool type and its preparation – and we were then able to arrange for you to see your yarn being dyed. I think you are going to talk about that later?
KD: Yes, I certainly took lots of pictures that day! I am very happy with the yarn, and I know you are just as excited about Buachaille as I am!
AC: Yes indeed -its one of my favourite yarns and I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved. I think we’ve managed to create a yarn that combines all of your requirements, and perhaps added a little bit more as well. Best of all, its a yarn with a heritage that can be traced from the hills and mountains of Scotland to the textile powerhouse that still exists in Yorkshire. Its a thoroughly British product, made entirely in the UK and inspired by some of the worlds most beautiful mountains, Buachaille Etive Mor and Beag!
KD: Thanks, Adam!
We’ve designed seven distinctly Scottish shades for Buachaille, including four dyed shades to complement the three naturals that Adam created. In the next post I will talk a little about the inspiration behind each shade.
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It has been an incredibly busy week here! As you might imagine, the imminent arrival of Buachaille means we have a lot to do, and I am hard at work creating a small collection of designs to accompany the yarn’s release (only a few weeks to go!) Then my friend and colleague, Jen, came to stay with us for a few days – together Jen and I are currently developing several rather exciting projects . . . one is a book which will appear next Spring, and another is a new volume of Cross-Country Knitting. Above is a sneak peak at the latter’s content, of which more very soon.
Jen and I got lots of work done, laughed a lot, and had time for a hearty post-photoshoot dinner at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. It was lovely to see her.
Meanwhile, In the Loop 4 was happening down the road in Glasgow (one year I will make it to this event, which always features a fantastic line-up of speakers and some important research). This year, the conference was hosted by my friends at the Knitting in the Round project (who you’ll remember I’ve mentioned before). I was really honoured when they asked me to provide some samples for the fashion show which closed the conference!
Jade Halbert selected three of my designs, and I styled them with the original garments I’d used when photographing Yokes. I genuinely love styling – visualising a look is often the starting point of the design process for me – and I really appreciated the thoughtful way that Jade styled the models to suit the work of each designer in the show.
The lovely model wearing Buchanan even had her hair in braids!
I loved the soft and subtle palette of the beautiful garments shown by Jade Starmore , and was blown away by their styling with these stunning leather skirts (also the work of Jade)
The show featured well-established names of Scottish knitwear design such as ERIBÉ
. . . and Di Gilpin
. . . alongside the work of emerging contemporary designers like Laura Muir
It was lovely to see the work of some of my friends and comrades in hand-knit design, like Gudrun Johnston . . .
I also came away feeling inspired by the work of designers I’d never previously encountered. This cashmere dress by Stephanie Laird was truly gorgeous.
And I loved the fresh take on colourwork in Hilary Grant’s bold machine-knit accessories
Thankyou, Lynn, Marina, Jade, and the whole team at Knitting in the Round and In the Loop 4 for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event! Thanks too to Tom, who took the great catwalk photos in this post.
You may remember that last year, my friend and colleague, Jen and I, worked together to produce a pair of designs, which we published as Cross-Country Knitting Volume 1. Volume 1 focused on blokes’ knits, and for Volume 2 we challenged each other to re-design and re-size one of our favourite patterns for kids. I designed Wee Bluebells – a cardiganised version of one of my favourite adult sweaters from my Yokes book, featuring pretty colourwork motifs around the hem and neckline.
. . . and Jen designed Wee Bruton, an unbelievably cute miniaturisation of her Bruton Hoody.
Our aim was to create a pair of really classic patterns – the kind of children’s garments that we could imagine our grandmas knitting for us when we ourselves were small, and which we could imagine ourselves knitting for the wee ones in our lives for years to come.
Together, the designs have an undeniably nostalgic feel, but they are also eminently knittable and wearable.
Wee Bluebells is knit up in 5 shades of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. A quick and simple knit, it is worked completely in the round and then steeked up the middle to create the front opening.
If you have never worked a steek before, this (being small) would be a great project to try out the technique – which really is surprisingly straightforward. (You can read more about steeks by following the links from this page)
Wee Bruton uses Excelana 4 ply, is worked back and forth, features a pair of sturdy pockets, some nifty hood shaping, and fastens neatly with a zip.
Together, these are two easy-to wear cardis that are ideal for romping about in!
Sofia you have met before from the Wowligan photographs, and Toby is Fergus’s son.
We really wanted to show these garments being worn outdoors, by kids in a “natural” rather than a studio environment. It is notoriously difficult to photograph knitwear on little kids and Fergus has done a completely amazing job. Thankyou Fergus! And thankyou Toby and Sofia! We absolutely love these photographs!
In each Cross-Country Knitting booklet, we like to invite someone to write a short essay that speaks to that volume’s theme. For Volume 2, our friend Rachel Atkinson has written a lovely piece exploring the significance of childhood handknits. Jen and Rachel and I all appear in the essay, in knitwear made for us by the women of our family.
Both patterns come in 7 sizes, covering ages 1 to 12. Designing, and thinking about designing, these garments has been such a lovely project for Jen and I, particularly as we revisited our memories of our own childhood knits. We hope you enjoy knitting these patterns, and that they become the source of knitterly memories of your own!
Cross-Country Knitting, Volume 2, is available digitally via Ravelry, or in print via MagCloud.
You can also see more detail of the project, and each pattern, over on the Cross-Country Knitting website.
Hooray! Hooray! Wowligan is here today!
Apparently owl cardigans are much easier to dress a wee one in than owl jumpers and I’ve been asked about the possibility of such a pattern many times. . . one can never have too many owls, so I decided to make it. The Wowligan is basically a mini Owligan, knit up in a sport-weight yarn and carefully resized to baby and kid proportions.
Like the Owligan, Wowligan uses an all-in-one piece circular yoke construction and is knit from the bottom-up. The pattern includes a choice of charted or written instructions for working the cables, and comes with the option of knitting the sleeves flat, or in the round. It is a great pattern for any beginner knitter.
The pattern comes in 8 sizes, from 17 ins to 25 ins, and uses Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, which is a great yarn for kids garments. In the pattern you’ll also find a schematic and a very detailed sizing table, together with instructions for selecting and knitting the right size.
This sweet and cheery wee soul is Sofia, who is wearing her Wowligan in the fourth size. She was photographed by the very talented Fergus Ford. I’ve recently been working with Ferg on another exciting and, ahem, exceptionally cute project – which I should be able to tell you about next week.
Today I’m looking at another couple of recently-published books, from two very different independent designers, who both took completely different routes to publication. What these two books share, however, is an intelligent engagement with two specific aesthetic contexts, as both were directly inspired by artwork in other media. While Lucy Hague’s innovative closed-cable shawls are inspired by Pictish and Celtic knotwork, Julia Farwell-Clay took inspiration for her lovely collection from the prints, lives, and milieu of the Folly Cove designers.
Lucy Hague grew up in Orkney, and now lives in Edinburgh. Orkney has many important archeological sites, and abounds with examples of intriguing insular art. Inspired by Pictish and Celtic carvings, as well as by the work of George Bain (whose 1951 investigation into Celtic stonework, jewellery and manuscript illustration did much to revive interest in this iconic design style), Lucy has created a truly stunning collection.
Lucy’s book includes patterns for seven shawls, each arranged in order of complexity, from designs with a plain centre and cabled edging, like Carradal and Kyna, to gorgeous allover patterns, such as Morvach and Malgven.
Malgven, a beautiful centre-out shawl.
Lucy is one of those designers with a really distinctive aesthetic that she has pursued and perfected. I always enjoy reading about other designers creative processes, and you can get a great sense of the depth and thoughtfulness of Lucy’s work in this post about the Talesin shawl. Celtic Cable Shawls also includes an introduction in which she talks about her aesthetic inspiration, together with several clear tutorials for the key techniques involved in closed cable-knitting (elongated stitches, multiple increases and decreases, cabling without a cable needle). The photography is luscious and evocative and the patterns – though undoubtedly complex – are clearly explained and laid out with charted and written instructions.
There are so many things I love about this book. The designs are breathtaking, but they are also eminently knittable and – best of all – wearable. So many pieces of cabled knitwear have sources of inspiration that have been described as loosely “Celtic”, to the extent that some styles are so familiar that they feel hackneyed or ubiquitous. Lucy’s original shawls are the polar opposite of this. With their strong lines, their carefully worked twists and loops, these designs speak of their aesthetic past, but they strongly articulate the contemporary knitterly moment too. I think that it is the sheer depth of Lucy’s intelligent engagement with insular art that makes her work so appealling and so very distinctive. I love what she’s done in this book.
Kyna, and the jewellery that inspired it.
One of the most significant impediments to self-publishing is basic logistics: how are you going to store and distribute all those books? Lucy chose to work with Lightning Source – a large and well-established print on demand service. “It seemed like the least risky option,” Lucy told me, “you don’t have to put down a huge amount of money for an intial print-run (and you don’t need space to store thousands of books – useful for me, as I live in a tiny flat!)” And why, I asked, did Lucy choose self-publishing rather than to work with a larger publisher? “I knew that I would be making a book that would be quite long in relation to the actual number of patterns included (because of the complexity of my patterns, and the fact that I include full written instructions for all the charted sections), and I thought this might be off-putting and hard to pitch to to the types of companies who traditionally publish knitting books.” Print on demand has been ideal for Lucy: “I really love that I’ve been able to have complete control over the entire book-making process, from start to finish, and that I can so easily get my books to customers all across the world.” Celtic Cable Shawls is a beautiful, professionally produced book, that also comes with a complementary e-book, and a digital only option. You can buy the print book directly from Lucy and the digital book from her Ravelry store.
I’m a huge fan of the work of Julia Farwell Clay, who often produces hand-knit designs directly inspired by 20th Century literature, art, and music. Her patterns have a rich context, that speaks of their creator’s breadth of thinking, and her recent collection for Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series exemplifies her intelligent approach. From Folly Cove is a collection of eleven designs inspired by a group of artists and designers, who lived and worked around Gloucester, Massachusetts, from 1938 to 1969.
Many of you will know the books of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. You may not know, however, that under her leadership, an important collective of artists and craftspeople flourished in and around her Massachusetts home. Demetrios developed a design course, followed by several of her friends and neighbours in Gloucester. As the Folly Cove course grew in popularity, the group was structured as a guild, with regular meetings to scrutinise and support each other’s work. Few of the group were otherwise professionally trained, but the collaborative structure of the Folly Cove Collective enabled them to grow into designers of the very highest standard, each developing their own signature style. The Folly Cove designers were mostly women, and I find something extremely inspiring in the way this group supported and enabled one another to combine their creative with their domestic lives, growing together into artists and craftspeople of international repute. Julia’s collection is infused with the spirit of Folly Cove, drawing inspiration from the lives and works of these women.
Some of Julia’s designs are directly inspired by the graphic allover repeats created by Folly Cove designers, such as her Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl which echoes Elizabeth Iarrobino’s tesselating butterflies (above).
Other pieces are not only linked to specific Folly Cove designs and designers, but also seem to celebrate the ethos of the collective in a more general way. One of my favourite patterns in the collection is Hetty’s Garden Coat, a garment inspired by one of Julia’s favourite Folly Cove prints, Victory Garden , by Hetty Whitney Beatty.
“This scene,” Julia explains in the accompanying text, “speaks clearly of the community and hard work of this period and place. Making and growing what you needed was essential to comfort and survival during the Second World War and a lesson for the years that followed.”
This is a beautifully structured garment, whose flourishing sprigs really capture the mood and feel of Beatty’s victory garden.
Elsewhere in Julia’s collection, you’ll find pieces that are more about suggesting Folly Cove’s moment and locale than they are about direct design inspiration.
I love Lanesville‘s neat vintage details.
. . . and the cosy wearability of Natti, named for Lee Kingman Natti, a key member of the Folly Cove collective.
Taken together, Julia’s collection is powerfully suggestive of Folly Cove both as a place and a group of inspiring women. Many pieces have an eastern-seaboard, maritime feel, while others carry a graphic exuberance which echoes both the energy and the aesthetics of the Folly Cove collective.
And there are other important echoes with Folly Cove too, as Julia’s collection is not simply the work of one designer, but the product of a supportive collaboration. From Folly Cove is part of Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series, “an open collaboration between the indie designer and the resources at Classic Elite” the aim of which is to “give a talented designer the freedom to tell a story with a themed collection of their designs.” Julia worked closely with Classic Elite’s creative director, Susan Mills, honing her design ideas, and developing them into patterns that would work with particular Classic Elite yarns. “Classic Elite were a complete joy to work with”, says Julia, “they gave me this great freedom to imagine what the book would be about, and what it would look like, and then let me run the show.” Thus, in this collection, Julia’s voice doesn’t just speak through her patterns, but she has the space to introduce and talk about the inspiration behind, and context of, each design, as well as discuss the work of the Folly Cove collective more generally. I think this publishing model – in which an independent designer is commissioned and supported by a yarn company to tell their own design story in their own way – is really refreshing and inspiring. As I write this post, Julia preparing to talk about the Folly Cove designers and her collection at Slater Mill. How I wish I could be there!
Well, I sat down a couple of days ago and thought I’d write a quick post about the great new books I’d come across, all of which had been either produced completely independently, or had been commissioned from an independent designer. As I reflected on recent directions in hand-knit design, and digressed into my own thoughts on self-publishing, I realised that one post had turned into two . . . and today I predictably find that two has turned into three. . .
Yesterday I mentioned Felicity Ford’s Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and Gudrun Johnston’s Shetland Trader Book 2 as inspiring examples of independent design and self publishing. Here are two more brilliant designers, and two more brilliant – and very different – independently produced books that have recently appeared. I’ll mention a few more in my final post tomorrow.
Rachel Coopey, Coop Knits Socks Volume 2.
I love how Rachel uses the sock’s small canvas as a place to explore stitch and creativity. This book includes twelve different patterns, from Dave (a plain vanilla sock with a choice of simple heels) to Otis (a striking colourwork sock, designed for a set of chromatic mini-skeins) to Wilbert (a cabled sock for blokes or women). Rachel has all needs of the contemporary sock knitter covered here! The book also includes a few well-illustrated tutorials, and (as someone who mostly knits socks for men), I appreciate the fact that relevant designs are photographed on a male model. As well as her characteristically careful attention to structure (all of these designs are supremely well balanced), there are several other things about this book that strike me as being “very Rachel”: 1) the palette (the whole tome has a pleasing ice-cream feel), 2) the design names (who can argue with Dave, Delbert and Ernestine?) and 3) the styling and photography.
Believe me, it is really difficult to photograph things like socks and gloves. Just when you want them to look elegant, feet and hands have an annoying tendency to look weird instead. Photographing 12 pairs of socks well is an unenviable task, but every pair here is placed on the foot so that the patterns sit just right. There are things that knitters need to see, and Rachel has made sure that you can see them: features like heels and shaping are well-illustrated, differently textured fabrics lay flat on leg and foot, every detail is clear and crisp, and the yarn colours are lively and luminous. Look at how the lighting and angles are the same, and the horizon lines up neatly on all four shots above. I know from experience that such consistency is very difficult to achieve. Jesse Wild was responsible for the photography and has done a fantastic job.
Hannah Fettig, Home and Away: Knits for Everyday Adventures
I’m a big fan of Hannah Fettig’s work and this is a really beautiful book of really beautiful designs. Hannah is in possession of that indefinable knack of creating wearable, contemporary garments with an elegant simplicity that absolutely sings. That’s in evidence here in nine designs, six of which are cardigans (which I think are her real forte). Hannah correctly describes the designs in Home and Away as “knits that will become wardrobe essentials – pieces with simple lines knit in wonderful, hard-wearing wool.” Surely that’s what every knitter would like to make and wear? There are many distinctive things about this book, top of the list of which is its enabling inclusivity. The patterns are written for the knitter to make them in their preferred way, using a seamless or a pieced construction. Having recently decided to provide seamed and seamless options for one of my own recent patterns, I know that this can be quite a bit of work for both designer and editor. But I also know that the choice of construction methods is something that’s really appreciated by knitters. So whether you prefer your garments with seams or without, you could make yourself Hannah’s lovely Rosemont cardigan, or any of the other sweaters in the book.
(Rosemont can be knit in seamed pieces, or seamlessly, from the top down).
To my mind, such “bonus” features (such as alternative constructions methods, choices of charted or written instructions etc) are one of the many additional elements you are most likely to find in patterns that have been created by independent designers, rather than large companies (to whom it would perhaps be difficult to make the economic case for the added value of such “extras”). And Home and Away is packed with many other knitterly “extras” too. There are several super essays about swatching, blocking, reading a knitting pattern, and substituting yarns. I particularly enjoyed the conversation with Quince & Co’s Pam Allen, whose lovely yarns are really shown off at their very best in these pages. I think that this is a book that would make a wonderful gift for an enthusiastic beginner, as well as being a source of enjoyment and inspiration for any knitter who wants to make herself a classic, wearable garment.
And I have to say that I find the photography and styling of this book completely gorgeous and deeply appealing. Simply browsing through these pages makes me want to immediately head out to Maine, take a brisk walk in a snowy rural landscape, hunker down for the winter, and knit myself a cardigan. There’s a very well-thought-through balance between interior and exterior shots, between detailed garment photography and lovely locations – between the “home” and the “away” of the book’s title.
Rachel’s and Hannah’s books are, as I said, very different but what surely connects them is the strong stamp they bear of their creator’s personality and individual style. From the curly-wurly fonts and candy colours of Rachel’s book to the hand-drawn maps and warm neutrals of Hannah’s, these are tomes that are definitely and distinctively theirs. Both books are available in print, as digital copies (via Ravelry), or in a print + digital package.
More to come tomorrow.
(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.