Machrihanish

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I was very excited to have the opportunity to design the Machrihanish vest for Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, and always enjoy knitting for Tom, who is its recipient and model. Tom often bemoans the general lack of shaping, and poor fit of men’s garments, so I like to knit him things that are well-fitting.

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Men’s knitted vest patterns rarely include shaping, but one of the things I knew I wanted to do with this design was to taper it to the waist. Shaping of any kind can be tricky when designing with Fairisle patterns, but the trick here is simply to work the ribbing and the first few inches of colourwork on a small needle, before going up a needle size for the upper torso. When blocked, this straightforward manoeuvre creates a difference between waist and chest of 3.5-4 ins, which means the vest fits neatly to the body, without excess fabric.

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Though this vest is, in many ways, a classic garment, I think the waist shaping also makes it feel sharper and more contemporary. But if your shape is more rectangular than triangular, you can easily leave out the waist shaping when working the pattern for a looser, more casual fit. Whatever your body shape, you should knit it with a little positive ease to allow the wearing of layers underneath.

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Though I’ve followed standard sizing for men’s garments with this design, I’ve also tried to make the pattern straightforward and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of masculine body shapes. Because there is no ‘set’ place to divide for armholes, the main body of the pattern can be knit to whatever length is required to accommodate a shorter or longer torso. Equally, if the armhole depth is greater or less than that specified in the pattern, it can be increased or decreased as required. (A detailed sizing table and schematic is included in the pattern to help you achieve the fit that’s right for you). You also have the option of working the ribbing doubled around the armholes and hem for a firm and durable edge.

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The yarn I used for this design was Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage.

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This wonderful yarn was developed in consultation with the Shetland Museum and Archives, and is very close in handle, hue and character, to the yarns that were traditionally used to knit Fairisle garments in Shetland before the Second World War. It is a light fingering-weight – lighter than a standard 4 ply – and because it is worsted spun, feels much smoother than other “Shetland” yarns you may be used to. To give the garment its shaping, I worked the yarn at two different gauges of 8 and 9 sts to the inch, and at both gauges it gives a nice, light even fabric. Because of its unique characteristics, I would really recommend you use this yarn, but if substituting, please swatch carefully to ensure you achieve a fabric with which you are happy. You can find detailed information about shades and yardage here.

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The pattern is written to be knitted entirely in the round, with steeks worked at the armholes and neck.

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I personally love the speed and ease of working completely in the round, but if you are a determined purler, you could easily work the upper torso separately, back and forth.

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Tom is very happy with his vest.

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. . .and I am very pleased with the design!

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Now, about the name. We live in the West of Scotland, and Machrihanish is a village further West, on the picturesque Mull of Kintryre. Tom is a great admirer of the Fairisle knitwear Paul McCartney proudly sported after he moved to Scotland, but we felt that Mull of Kintyre might prove to be too much of an earworm to work as a pattern name . . . and Machrihanish is also one of our favourite locales from the UK shipping forecast. . . . so Machrihanish it is.

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We shot these photographs opposite Dumgoyne, a short walk from our house. The light and skies have been very dramatic here of late, and did not let us down that day. There is just something about the bright colours and high-contrast of a Fairisle vest that work perfectly with a highland landscape. Living out here often prompts me to think about colour and pattern . . . and these photographs of Tom make me want to get another bloke’s Fairisle design on the needles immediately!

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My Cross-Country comrade, Jen, has also been writing about her design for the Volume – the fabulous Bruton hoody – so if you’d like to read more about it just pop over to her blog. We have also set up a new website for the collaboration, where you can keep track of our Cross-Country design journey.

Cross Country Knitting Volume 1 is now available!

machrihanishmoodysky

Gawthorpe – pattern release!

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You may remember that, last Autumn, I spent a happy day visiting Gawthorpe Textile Collection with Debbie Bliss, Jane Ellison , Claire Montgomerie, and Emma Varnam

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We designers had been commissioned to produce designs inspired by items in the collection . . . we worked on them over the Winter . . . and today, our patterns were released!

The piece I chose as the basis of my design was an incredible coverlet embroidered by the collection’s founder, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth. Miss Rachel designed the coverlet in honour of the memory of her seventeenth-century ancestor, Richard “the Roundhead” Shuttleworth, and embroidered it during the the last years of her life at Gawthorpe.

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(If you are interested to read more about the history of the coverlet, and my inspiration, I have written about it here)

So this is what I came up with: meet the Richard the Roundhead Tam!

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Rachel’s coverlet combined her own Arts and Crafts aesthetic with her ancestor’s Tudor heritage, and I have tried to speak to this in my design with structured motifs that echo those of her embroidery. The colour scheme is the same teal-on-white that Rachel chose, with a pop of Lancastrian rose-red for the brim lining and button. The brim combines a turned hem with picots and corrugated ribbing, and those of you who have made my Scatness Tunic will recognise the technique used to create the button:

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They are very easy to make, and I will post a tutorial here over the next few days so that everyone can have a go.

From start to finish, this has been such a lovely design to produce. It was wonderful to visit Gawthorpe, to have access to its world-class collection of historic textiles, and to meet and work with the fabulously dedicated women who curate and care for it. The research involved in a project like this is meat and drink to me: it was fantastic to spend some time researching the history and context of Rachel Shuttleworth’s coverlet, and I particularly enjoyed finding out about Richard Shuttleworth’s role in the Civil War. Finally, as a Lancastrian myself, the design really does mean something to me, and I confess to feeling a modicum of local pride when I finally finished the knitting, and popped the red rose of Lancashire on the top of that tam.

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The pattern for the Richard The Roundhead Tam is now available to download here!

I am sure you will hear more from the other designers about their patterns in the coming days, but I thought I would give them a quick mention too.

Debbie has designed a beautiful needle case inspired by one of Gawthorpe’s ticking samplers (a genre of sampler I find particularly appealing. Those stripes!).

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Jane has designed a lovely hat and mitt set, inspired by historic swatches in the stitch and sample books held in Gawthorpe’s textile archives.

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Gawthorpe’s collections are particularly rich in lace, and Claire Montgomerie drew on this for her exceptionally pretty capelet, whose crocheted motifs echo those of several lace fragments.

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And Emma produced this wonderful cushion cover, inspired by what is surely one of the most moving items in Gawthorpe’s collection: a military quilt, stitched from uniform scraps by a convalescing solider.

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All proceeds from the sales of these designs will go to Gawthorpe, to help care for this important historic collection for future generations to enjoy and be inspired by. You’ll find the whole collection available to peruse over here on Ravelry.

three sweaters

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I thought I’d show you my three new sweaters! First up is this lovely Fairisle yoke (bought for £16 on eBay).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’m happy with the sleeve shaping . . .

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. . .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.

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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

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The gansey has clearly been worn a lot, but is still in great condition. The only area that needs repair is this one cuff.

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And as Mel said to me when taking these photos yesterday, “it fits like it was made for you.”

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I’ll take good care of it.

hat at Hermaness

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I’ve had a lot of queries about Peerie Flooers over the past few days, so here are a couple more photos of the particular hat in question. After being approached by the wardrobe folk involved with Shetland, I knitted up this new sample especially for the production. I remember knitting it over the May bank holiday, while Tom was running the Jura Fell Race, and then posting it off the following week.

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Mel also knitted up an o w l sweater sample, which sadly wasn’t used in the production in the end. But you may have spotted other Shetland knitwear on screen: Hazel Tindall’s beautiful Eid Top was unmistakable, even at a distance, and I was very excited to spot a Sheep Heid in the Up Helly Aa crowd. During filming in Shetland, my friend Sarah worked in wardrobe, and they did a great job.

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These photographs were taken out at Hermaness last September, and because I know someone is bound to ask about my yellow raincoat, it is from Seasalt, I highly recommend it, and you can find it here.

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Thanks for all your well-wishes. I am still not at my best healthwise, unfortunately, but with careful pacing hope to be back up to speed very soon. xx

thinking time

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Well, I had a fantastic time in Shetland. As I was on my own, I stayed in Lerwick. I really enjoyed meeting up with Shetland friends old and new, and pottering about toon.

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But I was there to work — I have a couple of writing commissions in the pipeline, one of which involves producing a short history of Fair Isle knitting for a new (and very exciting) book about Shetland textiles. So I examined a lot of Fair Isle pieces, and I thought a lot about them.

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I saw some truly incredible textiles . . .

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. . . so many of which defied any idea of the ‘traditional’ in Fair Isle knitting.

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(This striking allover features 4 shades of Shetland wool and 3 shades of artificial silk)

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(Fair Isle motifs, but not Fair Isle knitting)

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(Fair Isle or . . .Tartan?)

So much to think about.

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A wolf in sheep’s clothing (Toby’s coat)

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I’m really pleased to be able to release another sheepy pattern! This design is a collaboration between myself and the wonderful Sandra Manson of Jamieson and Smith. As you can see, this cute canine coat features the same charts as my Sheepheid and Rams and Yowes designs, but the pattern is all Sandra’s. It was designed for her characterful Yorkshire Terrier, Toby, who is a true Woolbroker’s icon. Here they are together at Jamieson and Smith HQ.

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Toby is such a lovely old boy — he will be 17 next month — and is often to be seen around Lerwick and Bressay sporting a very impressive range of Fairisle knitwear, all of which is designed and made for him by Sandra. Without doubt, Toby is Shetland’s best-dressed canine, and it is about time that he had a pattern of his very own!

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Toby’s coat is made from the tail upwards and, in the same way as you’d create a mitten thumb, uses contrast yarn to create ‘afterthought’ front leg openings which are picked up later.

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The neck of the coat is shaped with decreases and a ribbed edging is added all around the sides, creating a button-and-buttonhole band for the coat to fasten securely around the chest. Stitches are then picked up for the front ‘sleeves’, and a pair of neat straps are knitted to fasten the back of the coat underneath the hind legs.

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Toby’s coat should fit any small-breed dog, such as a Westie or Jack Russell. The pattern includes detailed schematics, enabling you to adjust the dimensions if necessary to best fit those of your dog by adjusting gauge, or the length of the fastening straps.

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Charts by: me!
Pattern by: Sandra Manson
Tech-editing by: Jen Arnall-Culliford

You can now buy a kit for Toby’s coat directly from Jamieson and Smith, and the pattern is also available to download individually from Ravelry.

WOOF WOOF!

Ursula Cardigan

Its time to show you another design, from the next of my Shetland ‘colour stories’. This is the Ursula Cardigan.

This design is named for writer and naturalist, Ursula Venables, who lived and worked in Shetland during the 1940s and ’50s. (You can read more about her in my book.)

Ursula’s writing about wildflowers, as well as my own experience of Shetland’s luminous summer landscape, provided the very feminine palette of this colour story.

While the distinctive zigzagging stitch pattern was inspired by a striking 1940s knitted garment I noticed very briefly on screen in a BBC drama.

This cardigan is probably the most ‘challenging’ design in Colours of Shetland, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tackled by a confident beginner. It is knit in the round, with steek bridges placed for the front openings and armscyes. After knitting the body, the armscye steeks are cut, and the sleeves are worked top-down in Barbara Walker fashion.

The front steek is cut, and lined with a pretty ribbon trim.

Vintage glass buttons provide the perfect finish. . .

. . .and snaps are used in place of holes to help the button bands retain their shape over time.

This is a classic garment, that, if made carefully, should see its wearer through many summers.

We shot these photographs near St Ninian’s Isle, in Shetland’s South mainland. Every time I look at them, I long to be back there again.

I think I’ll take the Ursula cardigan back to Shetland again next year, to enjoy some more glorious summer days.

Yarn requirements and sizing information for the Ursula Cardigan can now be found on Ravelry.

ready for autumn

The leaves are turning.

In the hedgerow, just a few berries remain . . .

. . . and there is a decided nip in the air.

But I am ready for Autumn. I have a new hat . . .

. . .and mittens.

These lovely things were not knitted by me, but by my friend, Sandra Manson. I know Sandra from Jamieson & Smith, and she is a legendary knitter and designer. Sandra has an amazing feel for pattern, and a superlative eye for colour. Over the past year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and swatching with, the rich and varied palette of Jamieson & Smith Jumper weight, testing out interesting combinations, permutations, and encountering its many intriguing, mercurial or troublesome shades. Sandra has been knitting with Jamieson & Smith jumper weight for many years, and she knows its palette forwards and backwards. I feel we speak the same knitterly language. On my last visit to Shetland, I had the pleasure of seeing several of Sandra’s swatches and finished garments — some of which really blew my mind. I find something almost thrilling in seeing one shade working alongside another in unexpected combination, and Sandra clearly feels the same. I could rattle on about the potential of this shade and that with her for many hours — I suppose, put simply, we are both colour nerds.

I love the swirling raised crown decreases and the pleasing solidity of that mid-green (which is shade 118, for those who are interested). Sandra said that, when she’d finished knitting, the patterns and colours reminded her of Easter eggs and picket fences. I can see exactly what she means.

One of the (very minor) frustrations of designing is that I am often unable to wear my samples (if I want them to stay looking their best). But this Autumn, I shall wear Sandra’s hat and mittens with pride!

Thankyou, Sandra x

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.

Bláithín (junior)

So, here is Bláithín (junior)! This is the kind of cute child’s garment that makes me want to intone “almost too wee” in the manner of Whisky and Brandy Bolland examining Prince’s wardrobe (about a minute into the clip). (Ahem).

Bláithín (junior) comes in sizes from 12 months to 9 years, and has many of the same design elements as the adult cardigan – but obviously on a much smaller scale. For that reason, it would be an ideal project for a beginner to try out some of the techniques I discussed in my steek tutorials, before taking the plunge and steeking an adult-sized sweater.

Just like the adult cardigan, the junior version features i-cord buttonholes . . .

. . .steek sandwich facings . . .

. . . and neat little inset pockets. . .

The yoke features the same floral design as the adult version, but is simpler and shallower.

This sample was expertly test knitted by Eimear Earley, who you may remember as the designer of the shawl pin I mentioned in this post. Thanks, Eimear!

And, like the adult pattern, the junior version was tech-edited by brilliant Jen Arnall Culliford.

So, if you know a small person who would like their very own wee Bláithín, the pattern is now available here or here

I’ll also shortly have print versions of both Bláithín patterns ready for my yarn-store stockists.

I’ve been working on these designs for a couple of months now and am really pleased with them – it is great to get them out of my head and into the world! And, intrusive health-issues notwithstanding, I am enjoying designing tremendously at the moment. I think I can now mention that I am now working on a collection of new designs (yes, an actual book) that should be out by the end of the year. I’ll tell you more about this as time goes on. . .

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