Scottish bluebells

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I am currently working on a bluebell-inspired design for my forthcoming YOKES collection. I am certainly not short of inspiration, as you currently can’t move for bluebells round here. Discovering these lovely flowers blooming in the woods and hills around me this Spring has really been an unexpected delight. On every walk, I seem to discover a new patch. . .

. . . around the Carbeth huts . . .

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. . .through the hedgerow at the top of my garden . . .

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. . .across the loch . . .

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. . . and along the North-facing slopes of the Blane valley.

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All the woodland paths are illuminated with their hazey-blue glow

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And in dappled sunlight, they seem lit from within.

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Clearly I have not had my fill of bluebells, as yesterday we visited Glen Finglas in search of more. (I drove the van over Duke’s Pass, which was excellent steering experience)

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I can completely understand why this glen is listed as one of the best bluebell woods in Scotland.

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This is a deciduous wood, and the bluebells bloom at the same time that the oaks are coming into leaf. The contrast between the fresh, pale green of the oak leaves and the deep bluey-purple of the bluebells rising from the woodland floor is really quite spectacular.

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In clearings uninterrupted by trees, the bluebells intermingle with white stitchwort and take on a lovely meadow-like appearance.

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I had plenty of time to study the Glen Finglas bluebells with my camera.

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Now I can get back to my knitted bluebells!

A Hap for Harriet

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I have a new pattern out today! This is A Hap for Harriet.

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I recently heard that my friend, former colleague, and doctoral supervisor, Professor Harriet Guest, was about to retire, and I thought it might be nice to produce and name a design in her honour. Before I began, I had some discussion with Harriet’s husband, John, about colours. Through a cunning ruse, John discerned that “a muted, not too intense green, jadeish but a tiny bit duskier” would be one of Harriet’s preferences. I immediately thought of this:

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This is a lovely Shetland 2 ply, dyed up in inimitable fashion by my friend Lilith, in her Bitterbug shade. It’s a heavy laceweight, with 800 yards to the 100g skein. It is worsted-spun, both soft and lofty, and blocks out beautifully to create a fabric that is amazingly light and warm. It was the perfect yarn for the hap or wrap I had in mind.

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The hap features a garter stitch centre and a Shetland openwork edging which creates a series of sweeping points. The construction is very simple: it is knit from side to side, the edging and centre are worked simultaneously, and some shaping is added to create a long, shallow triangle.

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The result is a simple, dramatic and extremely versatile wrap that can be worn in many different ways.

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I designed this hap to make the most of a special skein of yarn: simply weigh your skein and follow the percentage instructions in the pattern (the pictured hap measures just over two metres in length). As well as information about how to adjust the hap’s dimensions, the pattern also includes two full sets of instructions: the first for knitters who like to knit from charts, and the second for those who prefer written instructions.

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Today, at the University of York (where I studied, and later worked for many years) there is a colloquium celebrating Harriet’s important work and influence. The hap will be presented to Harriet today, and is my contribution to that celebration. Many moons ago, Harriet supervised both my Masters and Doctoral theses. She had a profound influence on my thinking and writing, and I know I am better at both because of the happy evenings I spent with her discussing matters Eighteenth Century and otherwise over a pint (or two) at the Minster Inn. When I later returned to York to work as a lecturer, Harriet and I established a Master’s degree in Women’s Writing at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, and together we edited Charlotte Smith’s important 1790s novel Marchmont for Pickering and Chatto – a project of which I am still proud. A few days after my stroke in 2010, Harriet appeared in Edinburgh, arms full of vintage detective fiction, which we both enjoy. To me, Harriet has been inspirational teacher, supportive colleague and a true friend. It was often (somewhat dismissively) asked of eighteenth-century women intellectuals whether they could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus, or write the History of England. Well, I can tell you that as well as changing the way the world thinks about Eighteenth Century literature and culture, Harriet can make a pudding, knit a cardigan, cultivate a garden, sing any tune you like from the Cole Porter song book, and make you laugh out loud.

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Congratulations, Harriet. Hope to see you soon in Herefordshire.

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If you’d like to knit your own hap, the pattern is available digitally via Ravelry or in print via MagCloud.

Gawthorpe, encore

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In between developing kits and other designs, I’ve been working on my Gawthorpe project (which you may remember is a commission to produce a pattern inspired by the wonderful textile collections of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth). The piece on which I’ve decided to base my design is a large coverlet, featuring deep teal-coloured woollen embroidery on a plain linen background. I knew that this beautiful piece had been stitched by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth herself, but I had only seen it behind glass on my first visit, as it was part of the collection on display. So I decided, a couple of weeks ago, to pop back to Gawthorpe to take a closer look, and do a little research.

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I had assumed, when I first saw the coverlet, that the motifs were ferns, or fern-inspired, but this turned out not to be the case. In her notes about it, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth describes the motifs as “big feathers” and gives two sources of inspiration for the pattern she’d used. The first is another piece in her collection, which had been embroidered by Rachel’s contemporary, Hilda Ashworth . . .

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. . . which had in turn been inspired by an original Tudor piece, purportedly embroidered by Amy Robsart (the wife of Robert Dudley, whose death in mysterious circumstances made her something of a sentimental cause célèbre at the turn of the twentieth century). Robsart’s original crewel-work, featuring the “big feathers” was part of the collection of Rachel’s friend, and champion of the Arts and Crafts movement, Lewis F. Day, and Rachel had borrowed it when drawing up her own design.

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Rachel’s coverlet features a total of 100 feathers, each of which features a different embroidery stitch.

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Rachel described the coverlet as “a sampler of line stitches.”

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The embroidery is made with a lovely teal-coloured wool, which due to its provenance from different sources and dye-lots, has faded over time into several different deep blues and greens. I find this uneven fading both attractive and intriguing, because of the way it writes the time and process of Rachel’s stitching into her finished piece.

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The colour Rachel chose for her stitches is a similar shade as the ink she familiarly used to write with. The annotations to many pieces in her collection are written in her hand, in a shade of ink, which has also faded over time in an uneven way, to a series of greens and blues that echo the varied hues of her stitching on the coverlet.

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And just like her handwriting, Rachel’s signature is evident in the coverlet she embroidered, which is a showcase of the varied possibilities of crewel embroidery, and the skill of a truly talented needlewoman. It is a piece in which Rachel’s deep knowledge, and love of, stitch is immediately apparent. But it is a piece with a family story as well.

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Around the border of the coverlet, Rachel stitched a Latin inscription in Lancastrian red. Translated, the inscription reads:

“He who would have ordained that his children should acknowledge the supreme Lord has survived by family descent a great many generations. His granddaughter of the tenth generation fashioned this work of devotion with her needle.”

Rachel had designed the coverlet to commemorate her ancestor Richard Shuttleworth, also known as Richard the Roundhead, or “Old Smoot”. A prominent parliamentarian, Richard had led the Lancashire forces against the King during the civil war, served as a magistrate during the commonwealth period, and, having reconciled himself to monarchy under Charles II, was the parliamentary member for Preston for a total of eleven terms.

Using motifs inspired by Tudor embroidery, the coverlet speaks to Rachel’s heritage in a prominent Lancashire family (a heritage of which she was clearly very proud), and perhaps quietly celebrates the commonwealth politics of her famous ancestor.

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Rachel completed her work by stitching her own initials around a crest of her own devising depicting weaving shuttles, thereby connecting her heritage and family name to her own profound love of textiles.

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(Rachel Kay Shuttleworth, at work on the coverlet)

Rachel stitched away on her huge “Richard the Roundhead” bedspread for several decades. Though she embroidered the finished date of the piece as 1966, she was actually still working on it at the time of her death in 1967. Her niece, Rosemary Kay Shuttleworth, completed her aunt’s work, and it is now a key piece in the Gawthorpe collection.

The coverlet has such a wonderfully rich context, which I’m glad I took the time to find out about, and which I hope I’ll be able to speak to a little in my own design. There will be feather-y motifs, shades of wool inspired by Rachel’s stitches and handwriting, and a nod to Rachel’s (and my own) Lancastrian heritage.

More soon!

All images in this post are the copyrighted property of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are reproduced here with their permission.

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)

Sontag

I have a design published in the new Rowan Magazine! It is a simple triangular shawl or “Sontag” knit up in three tasty shades of Rowan Fine Tweed.

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(shades Wensley, Bedale, and Dent)

The garment is named after Henriette Sontag — a German singer, who brought this kind of shallow, front-crossing shawl to the attention of fashionable Victorians. The OED describes a “Sontag” as “a type of knitted or crocheted jacket or cape, with long ends which are crossed in front of the body and tied behind, worn by women in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.”

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Curiously, I have been unable to find an image of Sontag sporting her signature garment . . .here’s a better representation of a Victorian woman wearing the shawl-style in question:

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Receipts for Sontags (also called “cache coeurs”, or “bosom friends”) are to be found in many women’s magazines from the 1860s onwards. They are, in fact, one of the first styles of shawl to be written up in modern pattern form.

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But Sontags aren’t just Victorian. Here, for example, is a very similar garment being modelled in the Missoni A/W 2012 collection.

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(I have strong feelings about high Fashion’s use of exceptionally thin models, and, confess to a degree of discomfort about this image.)

Mashing up these Victorian and contemporary influences, I came up with my design. Rather than being worked from side-to-side, my shawl is knit top down. It begins with a garter-tab cast on, and, following a simple stripe sequence, uses paired increases at the centre and outer edges to create a shallow, elongated triangle with front-crossing points. Optional ties can then be added to secure the garment around the waist.

This is the result:

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My Sontag design appears in the magazine’s ‘Folk’ story, under the name ‘Nepal Wrap.’ If you’d like to knit it, Rowan 54 should be hitting shelves (and the doormats of subscribers) very soon!

Eno

I have been thinking about Brian Eno since a half-remembered lyric led Tom and I to listen again to our Roxy Music albums this weekend. Genius! This morning I rediscovered these photographs of Eno in some incredible knitwear and was reminded of his fabulously singular sartorial style.

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“We got the usual strange looks in airports,” said Eno in 1972 when questioned about public reactions to his appearance, “but once they discovered we were English we were just taken on curiosity value.”

B o r e a l

We had a lovely day out in the Highlands today. Bruce loves a good walk up there – though, as you can see, he is not a fan of sitting still and posing for a photo.

Would you like to see what I’ve got on underneath that jacket?

Boreal — my new design!

Two years ago, just before Christmas, we were out walking on the same West Highland hillside. I spent several happy hours tramping through the snow, photographing trees and undergrowth, and marveling at their transformation in the frozen landscape. You can see those photographs in this post. I was particularly transfixed by the effects of snow on the branches of fallen trees . . .

. . . and I decided then that I’d like to knit something inspired by those West-Highland conifers and their snow-covered branches. Two years later, this is the result.

Boreal is knit in Artesano Aran, a well-spun, hard-wearing 50/50 wool-alpaca blend. It is one of my favourite aran-weight yarns, and is superb for Winter colourwork, as it makes a lovely dense, warm fabric. I knit this dress from it a couple of years ago, which is still going strong, and still looks great. There’s a good range of Wintery colours, so it was an ideal choice for this sweater.

Boreal is knit from the bottom-up, and uses a modified seamless yoke construction.

The sizing covers a 32″ to a 50″ bust. I’m wearing my sweater with a couple of woolly layers underneath, and about 2.5″ positive ease. It is really warm, exceptionally cosy, and quite possibly ludicrously seasonal.

It makes me feel jolly, anyway.

I’ve spent over a month working away on this sweater and its pattern, and I confess to being very pleased with the finished result in both knitted and written form. The pattern has been tech edited by the brilliant Jen-Arnall Culliford, and test knitted by the equally brilliant Melanie Ireland. I hope to show you some photos of Mel’s rather different Boreal sweater very soon! Anyway, if you’d like to make your own, the pattern is now available here or here.

It was so nice to be out in the hills today – I do love a good Winter walk. We had a grand one, and our day concluded with some suitable refreshment from what has to be one of the best places to buy beer in Scotland.

Slainte!

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