backward . . . and forward

2012 was really a pretty good year. Here are some highlights.

Work-related trips to some wonderful places . . .
haysdock
Shetland

falls
Donegal

cutsteeks
Dublin

kdworkshop1
(photo courtesy of Charlotte Monckton)
Shetland again!

My first time as a Woolfest trader.

lurking

My sister, Martin Curtis and me, meeting Sophie, Countess of Wessex (note: Helen is wearing a Manu and knitting a Betty Mouat Cowl, I am wearing a Deco and knitting a puffin sweater, and Sophie is looking at a copy of Knit Real Shetland).

wessexroom

Travelling with Tom and Bruce to our favourite Hebridean spots . . .

numberbefore
fingerhasarrived
laddich
swimming
. . . and swimming in the sea!

Working with my favourite folk . . .

melaithsetter
Mel

woolbuddies3
Sandra and Ella

jennnic
Jen and Nic

tomprerace
Tom

. . .to make a book!

covergreen

But if you asked me what was my biggest achievement in 2012, then I would say . . .

noveltyofspeed
blaithin1

. . . learning to ride a trike, and inspiring a few other people with brain injuries, balance issues and similar disabilities to give it a go as well. In 2013, I intend to try moving things up a gear, and am about to begin learning to drive again. My aim is to be pootling about in our van by June. If I say it here, then it has to happen!!

Most of all:
I am so grateful to all of you for stopping by here, for continuing to read this blog, for leaving so many lovely comments, and for supporting me in all sorts of ways in 2012.
THANKYOU, ALL OF YOU! x

I’ll be back shortly with a couple of related posts about my favourite books and yarns of 2012. . . .

In the meantime:

My pal Jen is having a New Year pattern sale. This includes a 3 for 2 deal on some of her super newly-available designs (I particularly like the Porlock socks with their gansey-inspired stitch patterns and personalised lettering) and 25% off the lovely Cloudy Apples accessories collection. Pop over to Jen’s blog to find out more.

And finally, if you are knocking about Pittenweem this Saturday and fancy meeting me and the samples from Colours of Shetland, then pop down to The Woolly Brew between 12-2pm. I’ll be signing books, too, if you’d like a copy.

surfacing

Whoa. I didn’t mean to just disappear on you there! Don’t worry — I’ve not, like the indomitable Betty Mouat, been cast adrift on the North Sea with half a bottle of milk and a biscuit — but I have just been really, really, really busy — working on my book, and a few other projects, as well as spending more time in Shetland photographing my new designs. I’m actually enjoying being so, um, occupied (it is genuinely lovely to feel able to work at a reasonable pace again) but it does mean that I have got stupidly behind with many other things — so if you have been waiting to hear from me, my apologies!!

Anyway, here are today’s announcements:

As the pic at the top of the post suggests, an edited version of my Betty Mouat feature article appears in this months edition of 60 North Magazine. Even if you’ve already read the article, or have no interest in the trials of Betty M, I would encourage you to pop right over to 60 North and download your (free) copy immediately.


There’s a great feature about the new Shetland Textile Museum, its unparalleled resources, and the expertise of the amazing women behind it, and I really enjoyed reading Jordan Ogg’s lively guide to spending the day in Lerwick (which includes some great tips about the best local charity shops for knitwear). There’s also a a piece about the restoration of Unst’s beautiful Belmont House (an idyllic knitting retreat if ever there was one) and a fascinating interview with Ann Cleeves (whose Shetland Quartet has recently been adapted for the BBC and whose adaptation will feature . . . some of my stuff!!)


(Peerie Flooers hat, coming soon to a TV screen near you)

Also, I just released a pattern.

These wee fingerless gloves have been in the pipeline since Spring, and I’ve written up the design for my friends at Studio Donegal. If you visit their lovely shop in Kilcar, you can actually buy a pair of these gloves hand-made by local knitters in beautiful Donegal tweed . . . but if you fancy making your own, you can now find the pattern here or here)

And while we are on the subject of patterns . . .

Did you see that Cloudy Apples has been released?

Cloudy Apples is a collection of accessories that my lovely friend, Jen Arnall-Culliford has created with the equally lovely Kyoko Nakayoshi. The patterns are being released in stages, and first up are these terrifically elegant socks, designed by Jen.


(Dunkerton Sweet socks, designed by Jen Arnall-Culliford. Photograph ©Jesse Wild)

Each design in the collection has been named after an apple — and just like apples, these accessories are sweet, seasonal, and very tasty.

ALSO — Tom’s news is that he’s just accepted a great new job at Glasgow University. He starts in-post next March, and will commute for the time being . . . but in the long term this may herald a Westward move for the Davies / Barr homestead. . . exciting!

AND FINALLY, for those who have missed Bruce, here he is, sitting nicely in the exact location of the discovery of the St Ninian’s Isle treasure 58 years ago. . .

. . . negotiating a stile in customarily elegant fashion . . .

. . . and being intrepid on the cliffs of St Ninian’s Isle.

What a grand walk we had that day.

There is much more to tell you. I’ll be back very soon xx

Tír Chonaill

Woolfest is just a fortnight away! I am pleased to say I am mostly prepared (hoping to hear about the whereabouts of the last of my stock today, fingers crossed). I’ve produced two new designs to launch as kits at the event (with yarn and project bags), and sent the patterns off to my printers yesterday. As it really isn’t long till they are published, I thought I’d show you a few photographs in advance. So here’s the first design: it is a Donegal wrap or throw, and I’ve called it Tír Chonaill.

The wrap is knitted in “Soft Donegal” – the same lovely Irish yarn I used for the Bláithín designs. As well as the fresh, Spring-like shades I used for the cardigans, there are a number of deep jewel-like shades in the Donegal Yarns palette that really speak to each other, and which I wanted to bring together. The throw mingles three of these rich shades against a creamy báinín background.

The palette and pattern were inspired by Medieval tapestries. And the name of the design also has historic associations: Tír Chonaill was the name of the last independent Gaelic sovereignty in Ireland: a kingdom which, until the Flight of the Earls in 1607, covered most of what later became County Donegal.

The finished design is about 3 feet square – just right for a wrap or lap blanket – though the tiled repeats mean that it is easily customised for those who would prefer a smaller pram blanket, or a larger throw. It is knit in the round, steeked and finished using similar techniques as those used on the Bláithín cardigans. And the pattern is surprisingly simple to knit — because the yarn is worsted-weight, and the background shades are never carried over long distances, the throw works up quickly, and would be fine for someone reasonably new to colourwork. You can see the steek-sandwich and i-cord edging here:

One of the things I really like about this sort of tiled design is the way that the repeat creates different lines of visual continuity. This only works over a reasonably large area – so this is an ideal design for this particular repeat.

The rich tweedy colours – which really speak to, and blend with, each other – add to this sense of continuity as well.

We took these photographs at St Anthony’s Chapel, just down the road in Holyrood Park. When I’m there, I always think of the ascent of Arthur’s Seat in James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for brockenspectres when we took these photographs. But even when there are teenagers and tourist buddies about (it is a popular spot) I always find the atmosphere around the chapel just a wee bit eerie.

. . . an atmosphere which was only added to by a little wind and rain.

There were also several canny rooks knocking about the ruins of the chapel, but none of them wanted to participate in our wuthering photoshoot, unfortunately.

So, if you like this design, I’ll have it available in kit form at Woolfest! The pattern now has its own ravelry page, and printed and digital copies of the pattern will also be available shortly after the launch. I may be able to offer some kits as well, depending on the level of interest.

Two days in Donegal

I am designing a few things at the moment with a yarn that is new to me. I really like this yarn – and surely the best way to find out some more about it was to visit the place where it is made? So, on Friday, Mel and I took a trip to Donegal.

The yarn is a 2 ply light aran (US worsted weight) called “Soft Donegal”. It is “soft” because its yarn base is an Australian Merino – and it is “Donegal” because it is processed with the colourful neps, burrs, or flecks that are a familiar characteristic of Donegal tweed. The processing and the end-product are what is traditionally “Donegal” about this yarn. It is manufactured by Donegal Yarns, and distributed by Studio Donegal.


(Tathams of Rochdale carding machine at Studio Donegal. I hail from Rochdale, and always like to spot their machines in a mill.)

I have visited quite a few mills, but this first time I’d seen a fully vertical operation – that is, a mill where all of the processing stages from raw wool to finished yarn are effected in-house.


(Francis introduces Mel to the raw wool.)

Donegal Yarns dye the wool. They mix the dyed colours into beautiful, complex shades; they add the neps (the tweedy flecks) and the wool then goes through several stages of carding and condensing before it begins to resemble what we’d call a ‘single’.

Different stages of spinning, tying, washing, drying and skeining follow before the yarn is finally ready to leave the mill as balls or cones.

Thanks to Francis, the production manager at Donegal Yarns, Mel and I learned all about the operation — as well as many things we didn’t know about yarn processing.

This machine closely resembles a giant pair of human legs and feet — it ensures the colour is evenly distributed through the dye-vats and is appropriately called a “stamper.”

Wool shades are mixed with tweedy “neps” by being repeatedly blown about together in an amazing fleecy snowstorm . . .


. . . the Scotch Feed (invented by Henry Brown of Selkirk in 1844) puts a nifty twist into “woollen” processed yarns, turning and realigning the carded wool in preparation for the next stage.

I am often stunned by the fit-for-purpose ingenuity of textile machinery and the tape condenser (invented in the 1870s) is particularly ingenious. The efficient transformation of carded wool into fine ribbons relies entirely on the slightly-sticky properties of the fibres.

Francis was so knowledgable and enthusiastic and very tolerant of our yarn-related ravings. (Thanks, Francis!)


(a badly out-of-focus shot captures Mel’s rapturous reaction to the end product at Donegal Yarns)

The following day we visited Tristan Donaghy at Studio Donegal, just around the corner from the mill. As well as distributing Donegal Yarns for hand-knitting, Tristan runs his own small and highly-skilled manufacturing operation, producing unique hand-woven cloths which are used to create beautiful home furnishing fabrics, together with a small range of clothing.

What Tristan doesn’t know about Donegal tweed probably isn’t worth knowing. He was extremely generous both with his time and knowledge, and Mel and I came away feeling we had learned an enormous amount.

We saw unspun sliver being woven directly into boucle fabric for a textured effect . . .

. . . we found out about leno and tuck selvedges . . .

. . . we learned all about the different processes involved in finishing a hand-woven scarf or blanket (adding a rolled fringe is much more complex than you might think!)

And then we went outside to explore our surroundings, and let all we’d seen sink in.


(Me, the BMC, and the Maghera waterfall)

We could immediately see the material connection between the yarns and textiles we’d been admiring, and the beautiful landscape of Donegal.






Such an inspiring weekend! Thankyou Chris, Francis, and Tristan! Now it is time for me to get busy with those needles. . .

* You can buy Donegal Yarns directly from Studio Donegal, or from stockists like This is Knit.
* Read more about Donegal Yarns and Studio Donegal in Carol Feller’s super book, Contemporary Irish Knits

Aerial Errigal

I last saw Errigal eight months ago , when you may remember I had a bit of a time getting up and down the chuffer. It is a truly spectacular mountain — just as spectacular from the aerial perspective I saw it from earlier today. As this photo might suggest, Mel and I have spent a fantastic weekend in Donegal. There were sheep! Mills! Yarn! Unseasonably warm weather! More of all of this once I’ve got my breath back . . . and done a bit of knitting.

Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend too!

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