There have been some interesting questions in the comments on my previous posts about the Great Scottish Tapestry. Elaine and Deborah asked what materials had been used in the creation of the tapestry – well, the stitchers used Peter Grieg linen and Appletons crewel wool throughout. Terry asked why it was called a tapestry at all, given that strictly speaking it isn’t, which is an interesting question. I couldn’t find a direct answer to this, but speaking personally, my sense of it is that for the majority of folk who are not involved in craft, design, or the fibre arts, the word tapestry immediately suggests the Bayeux Tapestry, which is not woven either, but is similarly embroidered, from similar materials, in a similarly collaborative fashion. Perhaps its the public, narrative connotations of the word “tapestry”, derived from its associations with Bayeux, that have lead the project to be so described? Those who have been directly involved might like to add their thoughts in the comments below. And yes, I am aware of the Prestonpans and Diaspora projects, and am very much looking forward to seeing them both.
As I continue through my photographs of the tapestry, I find myself vaguely frustrated that there are things that I missed, or failed to record with a photograph, particularly in the eighteenth-century sections. . . but I suppose the tapestry’s richness, its inexhaustive nature, is one of the most wonderful things about it. Plus, I fully intend to spend time with it again when it comes to New Lanark in October. Regarding panel 64, which you can see at the top of this post, one of my academic interests many moons ago was the development of what we now know as sign language out of the “natural” philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment. I was particularly pleased to see a panel recording the pioneering work of Thomas Braidwood, who established the first school for signing in Edinburgh in 1760.
So here are some more tapestry highlights . . from my favourite period in Scottish history.
Panel 75: Smoked fish I love how the figure of the fisher lass merges in with the landscape in this panel – that’s her striped skirt you can see in the photo. Finnan Haddies, Arbroath Smokies . . . nom.
Panel 78: New Lanark Loved the Falls of Clyde, the silent monitor (I have one on my desk) and the way the figures of the dancing children echo their depiction in contemporary prints of the period. (In the eighteenth-century panels, I often noticed Crummy’s designs directly referencing contemporary prints and paintings.)
Here is the third garment in my Edinburgh series – the Port o’ Leith gansey.
This garment has twisted stitches and cables, that are reminiscent of maritime nets and rigging. It also features a deep, cowl-like collar, which is great for warding off North sea winds.
. . . but which is also detachable, for when the weather is warmer, or you wish to hail a passing vessel.
When designing this ensemble I wanted to retain a simple shape, as best befits a cabled gansey. But I also think that traditional gansey-gussets can be somewhat unflattering on a women’s garment, creating far far too much fabric around the underarm and upper torso.
So I’ve shaped the upper torso for a neater fit, following and adapting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s directions for a seamless saddle-shouldered sweater.
Centred double decreases add focus to the yoke . . .
. . . and are echoed in the twisted stitches that feature on the collar and front panel.
Creating a Wintery ensemble that has some fitted structure, but is also really cosy and easy to wear.
I am modelling it here with 4 ins positive ease, wearing a vest and woolly baselayer underneath. . .
. . . but the gansey could also be worn with zero or negative ease, and you’ll find instructions in the pattern for selecting the best size, and modifying the garment for a more tailored look.
In the essay that accompanies the design, I write about Leith’s connections with the wool trade, and with Shetland knitting, and it is fitting that the garment is knitted in a great Shetland yarn – Jamieson and Smith Shetland chunky. Having done a lot of knitting with this yarn, I’d say that it is really more of an aran-weight than a chunky, creating a fabric that seems to have just the right amount of density at a gauge of 16 sts to 4 ins (on 5mm needles). I knit this sample in the natural ‘kirn mylk’ shade but the charcoal shade of this yarn is also particularly lovely, and I’ll hopefully show you another sample knitted up in this shade very shortly.
This yarn is worsted spun, which means that, while it retains a lovely Shetland wooliness it is also very smooth, lending it a stitch definition that’s ideal for twisted stitches and cables.
These photographs were taken down by Leith’s docks and shore at the Victoria Swing Bridge – which, when it was first constructed in 1874, was the largest swing bridge in Britain.
We used to live a short walk from here. Though you’ll now find delicatesans and confectioners and michelin-starred restaurants next to the Port’s traditional maritime haunts, Leith somehow retains its character as the least pretentious of Edinburgh places.
The pattern is now available digitally, via Ravelry, or in print from my MagCloud store
(I’m currently investigating ways of including a code with the print copy to enable you to store a PDF in your Rav library. This requires updating and altering all my print files – please bear with me – I’ll let you know when this is sorted and I can also issue those who’ve bought print copies of other patterns with download codes retrospectively, if necessary).
Ahoy from the Firth o’ Forth! This cardigan is the second in my series of my Edinburgh-inspired designs, and it is named after the important estuary that marks the city’s northern boundary.
The Firth was a major feature of the decade we spent in Edinburgh: we lived in sight of it – just up the road from the fishing village of Newhaven – and its mists and breezes very much defined our weather. I think that one of the great things (of the many great things) about Edinburgh is that it is a city with a shoreline: as well as hills, and closes, and castles it is a place of beaches and seabirds and Sunday strolling. We spent many happy weekends on foot around the Firth, and, from Cramond in the West through to North Berwick in the East, it is a stretch of coast I know very well indeed. I find the North-Easterly prospect of the Firth lends the light a very distinctive quality and, at all seasons of the year, it is a wonderful place to be.
This design was inspired by the creature for which the Firth was once world-renowned: the oyster. Firth o’ Forth oysters were, in fact, Edinburgh’s original street food – and in the booklet I’ve produced to accompany the design, you can find out more about their history.
This very oyster-y stitch pattern is one I’ve had a thing about for many years – it appears in Martha Waterman’s shawl book under the name of ‘Cocoon Stitch,’ and I knit myself this stole using it back in 2007. Like many of my favourite openwork patterns, it is a relatively simple stitch to memorise (‘action’ occurs only on two out of twelve rows) and yet its effect is quite dramatic. It creates a textured, structured fabric, yet, because of the yarnovers, it also feels wonderfully light and airy. I suppose some people may find it odd to create a cardigan inspired by a bivalve, but to me this is not odd at all.
The yarn I used is Yomper laceweight – this is spun by John Arbon for Great British Yarns ‘Union’ range, and is a blend of 70% Falkland Islands Merino and 30% UK alpaca. It has an incredibly light and luxurious hand. While the majority-wool content gives it a pleasing spring and creamy-coloured undertones, the grey alpaca lends the yarn strength and smoothness and a mercurial silvery sheen. All I can say is that from the first moment I felt it in the skein I just wanted to wrap myself up in it.
My thinking behind this design was to create a sort of cardigan-equivalent of a shawl or wrap . . .
. . . therefore the garment construction and shaping are relatively simple. The cardigan is worked back and forth, all in one piece to the underarms, then divided for fronts and back. A little shaping is worked around the neckline; the shoulders are joined and then sleeves are picked up and worked in the round down to the cuffs. There are no seams. Mel (who always has a knitterly trick to add to my designs) came up with the nifty idea of working the sleeves inside-out, which minimises purling.
If you like knitting lace, you’ll enjoy making this garment.
The fronts can be worn open . . .
Or drawn about the body.
And in all ways, this is a garment that is very easy-to-wear.
There’s a perhaps surprising amount of ease factored into this garment: I’m modelling it here with 7 ins positive ease, and I don’t recommend making it with less than 4 ins ease.
. . . because it is meant to be loose and drapey and cosy and shawl-like.
These photographs were taken down by the Firth at Cramond on a very windy day.
But I was surprisingly warm in my Fith o’ Forth cardigan.
The design booklet includes a short essay (exploring the history of the Edinburgh oyster and the Firth), pattern, charts & schematics, photographic lookbook, and the best eighteenth-century poem about oysters you will ever read.
The design booklet is now available digitally via Ravelry, and in print from my Magcloud store.
Happy knitting! x
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).
I thought I’d show you my three new sweaters! First up is this lovely Fairisle yoke (bought for £16 on eBay).
This is a garment of a kind that is still being made in Shetland, and that you can find in Lerwick today in shops like The Spider’s Web. I think its a lovely example. The body has been knitted by machine, and the yoke inserted afterward by hand.
The blending of the colours on the yoke is beautiful, and the hand-finishing is exemplary, particularly around the steeked opening for the back neck.
The garment is in great condition and shows no signs of wear at all. I fully intend to wear it!
Next up is a sweater that – shock horror – I just knitted for myself.
This garment is knitted in some wonderful yarn that I hand-dyed myself at a workshop at Lilith‘s studio four years ago – Bowmont Braf 4 ply. Words cannot express how much I love this yarn – it is springy and sheepy and robust . . . it has a deeply matt, slightly felted appearance, but retains a bouncy hand. Dyed up on it, colours appear soft and muted, as if already worn for a long time. Plus, the yardage is incredible. What’s not to like? Well, only the fact that its long-discontinued. (If anyone knows of a supplier of bowmont fibre please do let me know!). Lilith was very taken with the yarn as well, and our dyeing workshop was the beginning of our collaboration on the Fugue design, which she dyed up as a kit in her glorious Dreich and Lon Dubh colourways. Coincidentally, I know that Lilith is currently knitting an Ursula with her secret Bowmont Braf stash, and I can’t wait to see it.
Anyway, back to the knitting.
As a designer, I think its important to get one’s head around different garment-construction methods – I learned to design yoked sweaters by knitting yoked sweaters – and though I’m familiar with many different top-down sleeve constructions, I’d never tried Susie Myers’ contiguous method, which (essentially) allows you to produce a seamless, top-down, set-in sleeve without the need for picking up stitches around the armscye (which is my usual method). I read the contiguous ‘recipe’, browsed the contiguous threads on Ravelry, purchased a couple of Ankestrik‘s excellent patterns for informed reading, and decided to attempt the method by knitting a sleeve which was a combination of saddle and set-in. The idea was to familiarise myself with the contiguous method’s basic principles, while turning my precious stash of Bowmont Braf into a simple, loose fitting sweater that I could enjoy wearing everyday.
I’m happy with the sleeve shaping . . .
. . .and indeed with the sweater (though this photograph, snatched between rain showers probably doesn’t suggest it). As my stash of Bowmont Braf was limited, I weighed the remaining yarn and divided it in two before starting the sleeves. This is a pottering-about, dog-walking sweater that makes good use of my lovely Bowmont Braf, and has taught me a bit about a different way of constructing a sleeve top-down! I really like it.
Finally, this amazing find came into my possession for a mere £1.04 via eBay.
It’s a beautiful hand-knit vintage Fairisle gansey in natural Shetland-sheep shades. From the way the yarn is spun, I’d say it was probably knitted post-war. The eBay listing described the garment as having been purchased many years ago in an ‘exclusive Edinburgh boutique’. I would speculate that this ’boutique’ was a shop that once stood in Morningside, whose owner sourced garments directly from Shetland knitters, and who has donated several items to the Shetland Museum. This is a really well-made sweater.
Like many such garments I’ve seen, inside the ends have simply been knotted and left to felt
The gansey has clearly been worn a lot, but is still in great condition. The only area that needs repair is this one cuff.
And as Mel said to me when taking these photos yesterday, “it fits like it was made for you.”
I’ll take good care of it.
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. . .
. . .and Mel persuaded me that this detail was absolutely essential. She was right.
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.
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 . . .
. . . and for this to happen, you have to be quite careful where and how many rows you add, and how you space your buttonholes.
Thanks to Mel, there is a note in the pattern about this.
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.
So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .
(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)
. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.
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)
The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .
I am fond of these cuffs.
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.
This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…
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.