Pteridomania

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I’m working on my Gawthorpe design. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.

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Charles Sillem Lidderdale, The Fern Gatherer (1877)

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Fern-decorated Mauchlinware

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Wardian Case

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Jane Hoodless “Pteridomania Contained” (©Jane Hoodless, 2012)

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Victorian Fern-fashion

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Gucci, A/W 2013

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For more, see Sarah Whittingham, Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania (2012)

um, a tea cosy?

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For reasons completely unfathomable to me, knitters have been contacting me asking me to provide instructions to modify the Tea Jenny hat pattern into a Tea Cosy. I am frankly at a loss to understand exactly why one would prefer put teapots on a teapot rather than a human heid, but what can I say: your wish is my command. These modification instructions are based on the assumption that your teapot is large and round (like a head) and the proportions are based on the generously-sized 4-6 cup teapots in my own possession. The Tea Cosy is the same basic shape as the hat with the addition of an i-cord carry loop and steeked openings for the spout and handle, similar to those that are used on my Sheep Carousel pattern. These free instructions have been written as a good-will gesture for your knitterly assistance only: that is, they are, (as yet) completely untested. Anyone who has already bought the Tea Jenny pattern can now download the separate PDF for the Tea Jenny Tea Cosy as an additional extra via their Ravelry libraries, or can download the modification instructions for free by clicking this link
Note: you’ll have to have your copy of the Tea Jenny pattern to hand for the instructions to make any sort of sense.

Happy knitting!

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Tea Jenny

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So, no prizes for guessing exactly what I was reminded of when, some months ago, I first opened the package containing seven tasty balls of Magnus and Justyna’s Foula Wool . . .

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TEA!

Maybe I was feeling particularly parched or something, but it really did occur to me just how tea-like the familiar Shetland shades of Mioget, Fawn, and Moorit are — to my mind, Shetland sheep are really never coffee-hued — their particular brown has red and pink tones underlying it . . . just like a Nice Cup of TEA.

Tea is a big deal in Shetland, and indeed further south here in Scotland, and I have given this hat the fine Scots moniker of Tea Jenny, which, if you were wondering, is how you refer to someone who likes to drink an awful lot of tea . . .

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. . .someone like me . . .

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Jolly teapots dance around the body of the hat . . .

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While the crown is a swirling, kaleidoscopic homage to the theraputic wonders of my favourite beverage.

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I am put in mind of the immortal words of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle

“The playful splash of the tea
As it hits the bottom of the cup
The thrill of adding the milk
And watching it settle for a moment,
Before it filters slowly down
To the bottom of the cup
Changing the colour from dark brown to…
A lighter brown
Perching an optional jaffa cake on the saucer,
Like a proud soldier, standing to attention
Beside a giant… cup of tea”

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Foula Wool is a DK-weight yarn, so knit up, this makes for quite a substantial hat worked at 22 sts to 4 inches.

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The finished hat has a wee bit of slouch in it, and its important to swatch carefully and wash and block your swatch before knitting (I’ve found that Foula Wool blooms and grows quite a bit)

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The hat uses each of the seven shades of Foula Wool, and Magnus has told me that he is now creating yarn packs with the exact quantities of each shade that you’ll need to knit the hat. These will be available on the Foula Wool website from early next week (when Magnus has returned to Foula from the Shetland mainland). You’ll have to purchase the pattern from me, either digitally (via Ravelry) or in print (via MagCloud). If you want to knit the hat and are in Shetland for wool week now, you can put your name down for a yarn pack with Magnus at the maker’s mart in Lerwick tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Tea Jenny pattern is available to download from Ravelry!

Now, put the kettle on . . .

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a day at Gawthorpe

Some days I wake up and I feel massively, incredibly lucky to have somehow landed here, in this curious new life, as a designer of hand-knits. Last Thursday was one of those days. Because I had been invited — along with Debbie Bliss , Jane Ellison, Claire Montgomerie, and Emma Varnam — to visit Gawthorpe Textiles Collection.

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Gawthorpe Hall. Left to right Emma Varnam, Claire Montgomerie, Jennie Pitceathly and Debbie Bliss.

Originally built for Lancashire’s prominent Shuttleworth family in the early 1600s, with a Victorian redesign by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, Gawthorpe Hall itself is extremely impressive. But the building wasn’t what we had come to see.

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Gawthorpe is home to an important textile collection, ammassed by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth. Born in 1886, and heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth used her means and her position to gather textiles from all over the world, and to disseminate information about the traditions and skills that were involved in their production. By the age of 26, she had gathered over 1000 items, and began organising, cataloguing, and sharing her collection with interested visitors. Today the collection that Rachel Kay Shuttleworth began over a century ago now comprises more than 30,000 amazing textiles, showcasing a diverse array of needle crafts from elaborately embroidered Chinese Emperor’s robes, to Mechlin Laces; from Bolivian chullos to Indian shawls; from embroidered maps to soldier’s quilts.

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We designers had been invited to take part in an exciting project. We’d been commissioned by Gawthorpe (with funding from the Arts Council) to produce an accessory inspired by an item (or items) from Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s collection. We began the day with a tour of the part of the collection that’s on public display.

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I particularly liked the display of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s desk and work boxes, complete with blotting paper, original haberdashery and notions, and projects in various states of completion. You could imagine her having just left the room, to take a break from her lace work.

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One of the most appealing things about this collection is the way that the hand and mind of its creator is so apparent in it. Reading Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s annotations and catalogue cards give a great sense of the extent of her vast knowledge about textiles and textile history . . .

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. . . as well as a flavour of her personality through her idiosyncratic – and strongly held – views.

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Rachel Kay Shuttleworth was also an incredibly skilled needlewoman herself, and the collection includes many examples of her work. I was particularly taken with this beautiful crewel work bedspread that she embroidered for herself.

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Begun in 1905, work on this bedspread and its accompanying accessories took Rachel thirteen years. She completed the project with a palm-tree flourish on Armistice day 1918.

After tea and cake (cake!) we adjourned to the library where Rachel Terry, the collection’s curator, had gathered an incredible range of objects for us to examine and be inspired by.

There were beautiful and intriguing knitted items . . .

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. . . and work involving other media and skills.

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One of the real highlights of the day for me was getting to examine some eighteenth-century pockets – of which the collection has several examples. You know I dearly love a pocket.

Here, Debbie and I . . .

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. . are checking out these beauties . . .

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. . .which date from the early eighteenth century and whose neat chain-stitch is still beautifully fresh and bright.

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Here, Rachel is showing us a tiny pocket . . .

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. . . which had been fashioned for an infant.

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And I was gobsmacked by the detail of the beautiful corded quilting on this pocket . . .

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. . . which had clearly been cut from an earlier garment. The fabric was certainly too glorious to waste!

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Can you think of anything better than hanging out in a library with great company, getting to examine beautiful historic textiles, and being able to learn about those textiles from their curators? Well, I certainly can’t. It was an amazing day. Now Debbie, Jane, Claire, Emma and I have to go away and have a think about the design we intend to create. The idea is that we all produce patterns for our designs, which will be available as part of a kit from Gawthorpe this coming Spring. I will keep you updated as to my progress with the project as time goes on. I also imagine it may be hard to keep me away from Gawthorpe . . . I definitely intend to be back.

I was deeply impressed by the collections at Gawthorpe, which really are superb, and are a definite must-see if you have a chance to visit this lovely part of Pennine Lancashire. It was also fantastic to spend time with my comrade-designers, all of whom were tremendous fun and none of whom I’d met before. But more than this, I was blown away by the dedication, knowledge and generosity of Jennie Pitceathly, Rachel Terry and their small team at Gawthorpe. “I have a vision,” wrote Rachel Kay Shuttleworth in 1912, “of a place of meeting where neighbours will come for many reasons to seek stimulating thought by meeting other active minds, to find refreshment and inspiration and a joy in beauty”. This truly is what Jennie and Rachel are creating at Gawthorpe, and I feel honoured to be involved.

Gawthorpe Hall – including the Rachel Kay Shuttleworth Textile Collection – is open to the public 12 noon-5pm, Wednesday – Sunday until 3 November 2013. The hall will re-open in the Spring of 2014, when our patterns and kits inspired by the collection will go on sale!


For more information and updates see the Gawthorpe Textiles website. You can also follow them on twitter: @RBKS_textiles


All images in this post are reproduced courtesy of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are not to be reproduced without permission.

Shepherd hoody

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You may remember that, last year, I mentioned how thrilled I was to be invited, along with Kirsten Kapur, to design a sweater for Susan Gibbs and Emily Chamelin’s project The Shepherd and The Shearer. Well, the sheep have been shorn, the yarn has been spun, the patterns have been written, and a lovely booklet and a sweater’s worth of yarn is about to wing its way to 200 subscribers. I’ll explain the process, and my part in it.

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Susan’s original brief was one I found particularly exciting: to design a functional cabled sweater that would suit the robust properties of a good, natural woollen-spun yarn, that would wear well and look good over time. For my swatches and sample I used some local Scottish stuff that we imagined would be a really good match for how Emily and Susan envisioned their yarn turning out – New Lanark Aran (a yarn whose weight is equivalent to a US ‘worsted’) . I popped over to the mill to pick up yarn for my sample back in April, and decided that I wanted to make a simple, functional hoody – a garment which a shepherd might easily throw on before nipping outside to check her animals. I thought I’d use a simple modified drop-shoulder construction (a style that’s easy for shepherds of all body shapes and sizes to wear) and an allover cable pattern (both fun and straightforward to knit). I finally settled on a stitch that I have always found really pleasing.

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When knit, this alternating cable has a lovely rhythm to it. It is simple enough to make the knitting a pleasant distraction, but has enough action to remain interesting to work. This was the cable for the Shepherd hoody! I started to work on the design.

While I was knitting away in Edinburgh, over the pond in the US, Emily was shearing sheep.

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The fleeces used for the Shepherd and the Shearer were shorn by Emily from animals raised in fifty flocks on small farms across the Mid-Atlantic region. One thing I find particularly interesting about the yarn that’s resulted from the project is the variety of identifiable breeds and crosses that are blended in it, mixing the fleeces of ancient British breeds like Shetland, with relatively new US breeds, like the California Red Face.

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(I spy a goat-buddy)

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After shearing, the fleeces were prepped and skirted . . .

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. . .then sorted and baled

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fleecesorting

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From there, the bales were taken to MacAusland’s mill in Prince Edward Island.

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(Here is Emily, heroically joining the bales on their trip to the mill following an accident which severed tendons in her left hand. I’m very happy to say that after surgery and physio, she’s back to shearing again.)

MacAusland’s has been in business since 1870, and under a vertical operation where all processes are finished on-site, scours, cards, and spins raw wool into yarn on a 128 bobbin frame.

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With its firm springy hand, the yarn has indeed turned out to be very close to the New Lanark Aran I used for my sample.

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While the yarn was being processed and spun, the Shepherd hoody was being knitted. Here’s how it turned out.

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Now, I like all my samples, but I immediately developed a very special affection for this finished garment. Once I’d put it on, I seriously didn’t want to take it off. I think its equally suited to tramping about the fields in a brisk wind . . .

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. . . or cosying up by the fire on a chill winter’s evening.

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The hems, cuffs and hood are finished with moss stitch.

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. . . as is the pixie hood

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I’ve used buttons on the facings, but they are equally well suited to the insertion of a zipper, if preferred.

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The construction enables the hoody to be knit all in one piece, completely seamlessly, with minimal finishing. The pattern is sized from 30 to 57 inches, and I reckon it could easily be worn by a shepherd of either sex.

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In short, I absolutely love this garment, and it was really very difficult packing it up in a box and sending it off to the US.

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The pattern for the Shepherd hoody, together with that for the breathtakingly beautiful Shearer pullover, designed by Kirsten Kapur, is included in a booklet produced by Juniper Moon Farm telling the whole story of The Shepherd and the Shearer. This booklet, together with a plump package of yarn to make their choice of sweater, is about to be posted to the project’s 200 subscribers, without whom none of the processes I’ve described in this post would have happened.

From start to finish it has been a delight to be part of a collaborative project which truly celebrates sheep and wool, and which also makes transparent and legible the many different kinds of labour that go into raising and processing fibre. It is quite rare to receive a commission to design a garment to support that labour, and to showcase the unique properties of that fibre, rather than to speak to a trend, and I have to say that this is one reason I was so pleased to be invited to participate. The project has brought together the skills of many talented women and I am very proud to have been involved. I want to say a special thankyou to Lauria at Juniper Moon, who has been cheerfully brilliant at co-ordinating the project, and bringing everything smoothly together. I hope the subscribers enjoy their wonderful yarn, and the patterns that Kirsten and I have designed, and I understand that a limited further number of Shepherd and Shearer kits will also soon be available from the Juniper Moon Shop, so if you are interested in knitting yourself a Shepherd hoody or a Shearer pullover, do keep your eye on the site for updates.

Photos reproduced courtesy of Juniper Moon Farm

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about a kitchen

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I finished painting the kitchen yesterday! Although it is still waiting for various things to be put on the walls, I am very happy and wanted to give you a peek.

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I’ll try to summarise the main features:
The cooker is a (gulp) rangemaster with an induction hob. (The house has a fantastic stove in the sitting room that fires up the boiler and heating, so we didn’t need the range to do that). This is the first time I’ve used this kind of hob and I rather like its efficiency. The oven heats up amazingly quickly and a delicious roast lamb appeared out of it yesterday: in short, so far we really like it.

The worktops / counters are oak to match the floor, and the units are from the Appleby range at Magnet. I have to say that I have been mightily impressed by pretty much everything about Magnet. Over several hours and in great detail, we designed the kitchen with Bert at the Edinburgh branch. Then, with the kind permission of the former owners of our house, Scott the fitter came out to measure up carefully before we moved in so that we were able to make some necessary adjustments to the plans. Everything arrived on the date we’d arranged and Scott and his brother Tom removed the old kitchen; built, wired, plumbed, and fitted everything in just six days. Tom also fitted nine new ceiling lights, relaid areas of floor, and arranged for the walls and ceiling to be replastered. Tom and Scott arrived when they said they would; kept everything remarkably clean and tidy and were incredibly accommodating and helpful. Best of all, though, there was nothing to worry about, as I just knew we were in really good hands: the quality of their work is superb, and the whole finish of the kitchen is really lovely. In short, if you are in the UK, I would heartily recommend arranging a kitchen through Magnet’s Edinburgh branch. (Thankyou, Bert, Scott and especially Tom for all your help.)

Walls. Because the kitchen faces East, and because the natural illumination in this room comes from two windows set deep into the wall (our house is a converted old farm building), we wanted to keep the space as light and airy as possible. We decided on open shelves, clean white tiles and walls painted a pale, fresh shade (we are putting up spice racks and utensil rails on either side of the range so the walls will not be completely bare). We tried out several Farrow & Ball shades, and were going to go for ‘Pale Powder’, but in dim rooms F&B recommends selecting a shade lighter, and we have experience of the way blue paint can intensify over large areas, so plumped for ‘Pavilion Blue’ above the tiles. Though it was not our intention to match the Appleby units, the colour actually turned out to be virtually the same, in both tone and hue. I am really very pleased with it.

The tiles are of the standard white metro / subway kind, of which I am very fond, and would stick everywhere if I could. Because I wanted them to look very defined, I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few weeks thinking about grout. I honestly never knew there were so many different kinds of grout, or that it came in so many shades of grey, but it really does. The grout used here is neither ‘silver’ nor ‘charcoal’ but a mid-grey ‘cement’ colour. Our tiler Paul, came on the recommendation of another Paul (the former owner of our house), and I am incredibly grateful to both of them. Accommodating my very specific grouting requirements, Paul-the-tiler sourced all the materials I’d asked for at trade, and, with no fuss and considerable aplomb, laid eleven square metres of tiles over one long day. I hadn’t thought of laying tiles into the kitchen’s two deep window recesses: this was Paul’s suggestion and it looks fantastic.

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(pots, waiting for herbs)

Paul made more work for himself inside these windows as the recesses are on a slightly narrowing slope, so the tiles had to be cut at an angle. Observing Paul’s work, I have a new appreciation for the craft of tiling.

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. . . and am pleased with the very precise greyness of the grout.

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So, here is the whole room, which also features a Belfast sink (which I have always wanted), a dishwasher (which for me, the washer-upper, is extremely exciting) and a couple of tall larder units. This is the first time that Tom and I have designed a kitchen for ourselves and both of us are really pleased with how it has turned out. But I have to say that, so far, this pleasure has been tempered by a certain amount of class guilt as neither of us are used to spending lots of money on our immediate surroundings. However, yesterday, when I put the final coat of paint on the walls, I could see just how lovely it looked and finally sort of accepted it. Our main aims were to make the most of the light and the space and to create something that felt calm and homey and just like us. Now its finished, it really does feel like our kitchen and I know that this is a room that we are going to enjoy for many years to come.

Mel knits again

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In case you hadn’t already realised, Mel really is my right-hand woman where this designing lark is concerned. She is an incredible knitter and I am very fortunate that she has the time and inclination to test out my designs. Mel is in many ways a much more exacting craftswoman than I, and her experience of, and feedback on, my patterns helps me to produce what I know are more ‘knitterly’ instructions. She is also a valuable sounding board for my design ideas. In the case of Braid Hills, for example, I was uncertain whether or not to continue the cabling on the cuff. . .

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. . .and Mel persuaded me that this detail was absolutely essential. She was right.

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Working closely with Mel is also useful when I’m grading a pattern. I produce a sample for myself, and Mel produces one too. Although we are similarly petite, we have very different body shapes – as well as being far more curvy than I, Mel has a longer torso, and often has to adjust the length of knitted garments that would proportionately fit her otherwise.

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Braid Hills is knit all-in-one piece: the cable pattern has to end on a certain row in order for it to flow into the top-edge ribbing edging . . .

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. . . and for this to happen, you have to be quite careful where and how many rows you add, and how you space your buttonholes.

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Thanks to Mel, there is a note in the pattern about this.

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Mel used the same yarn as me for her sample — Blacker Swan DK — in a natural (ie, not overdyed) stone grey shade. I think the natural shades of this yarn have a hand that is (if possible) even more pleasing than the dyed colourways – Mel’s sample has retained a slight halo without losing any of the stitch definition.

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If you’d like to see Mel’s project notes, her Braid Hills cardigan is ravelled here.

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cheers, Mel!

Braid Hills

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So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!

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This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.

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The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.

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I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.

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Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.

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(Victoria and Albert Museum)

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(Met Museum)

I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.

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The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .

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(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)

. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.

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Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)

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The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .

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I am fond of these cuffs.

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Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.

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This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…

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So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!

You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.

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Happy knitting!

steeks and swants

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Anatolia by Marie Wallin

So, have you seen Rowan Magazine 54 yet? I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday and there are some wonderful designs in there. My two favourites are probably Anatolia by Marie Wallin – a beautifully luscious yoked sweater knit up in rich shades of Felted Tweed – and Sarah Hatton’s Melissa – a neat and eminently wearable wee gansey.

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Melissa by Sarah Hatton

As previously mentioned, I have a design in the Magazine for the first time (woohoo!) and Rowan have also kindly included a profile of me and my work in this issue.

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Me.

Additionally, I have written an editorial feature about knitting in the round and steeking, and produced a steeking how-to for this issue of the magazine. My tutorial includes instructions for crocheted and machine-sewn steeks, while my feature explores different technical aspects of chopping up your knitting, along with the history and etymology of the steek (did you know, for example that in Scots ‘to steek’ actually means to close or fasten, rather than to cut open?)

As part of my research for the feature, I had a chat with lovely Stephen West. I am a great admirer of Stephen’s approach to design, and really love his style, and I was blown away by the steeked sweater-pants that he began to make last year out of his Amsterdam thrift-shop finds.

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For the feature, Stephen sent me some fabulous images of a pair of SWANTS (Sweater-Pants) that he’d whipped up from a vintage Setesdal sweater, but as these didn’t make Rowan’s final selection for the magazine, I can (with his permission) show them to you here.

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For me, Stephen’s SWANTS really sum up the approach to steeking which I have tried to get across in the the feature – viz – to just go for it and have fun . . .

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I love the SWANTS!

If you’d like to have a go at steeking and refashioning your own pair of SWANTS, Stephen tells me that a tutorial or two will be forthcoming on his blog this Autumn. Thanks, Stephen!

hot shots

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We have just returned from a photoshoot. It is a very hot day and Tom couldn’t stop taking photographs of Bruce’s monumental panting tongue. (Don’t worry, he was supplied with plenty of water). In between the hot dog shots, he was photographing my new pattern – a cardigan, which is due for release toward the end of the month. I am very pleased with this design, and couldn’t resist showing you a couple of outtakes from the shoot.

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This will be the first of three designs, all inspired by my favourite Edinburgh places. More soon!

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