Kate Davies Designs

Seven Scottish Shades

Its time to tell you about my yarn colours! I’ve created seven new shades for Buachaille, and all have been inspired by different aspects of the landscape in which I live and love to walk: its flora, its fauna, and of course its weather.

Here’s what inspired Buchaille’s seven Scottish shades!

1. Highland Coo
These noble beasties are a true highland icon, and I have long been fascinated by the wonderful colours of their coats, which range from the palest caramel, through a deep russet, to a rich moorit brown. As I’m out walking, I frequently find myself picking up scraps and samples of coo hair which have been left behind on trees and fences, and wishing I had enough to spin up . . .I decided that dyeing some yarn was easier than shearing a coo. . . Highland Coo is a rich autumnal rusty-orange colour.

2. Haar
Living in Edinburgh for a decade, one became used to the haar – the cold mist that rolled in across the city from the North Sea. Haar – a particularly lovely Scots word – really captures the quality of Scottish mist: light and chill and softly hanging. Fog and mist lend the highlands their characteristic atmosphere, and make the rich colours of the landscape seem even more brilliant by contrast. Haar is a natural fleece shade, a light and airy silver-grey with lovely variegated tones.

3. Islay
The Western Isles abound with beautiful beaches, and to my mind there are few more beautiful than those on the isle of Islay. Here, enjoying a sunny day above Machir bay, the waves beat across the white sand, and the sea is a glorious shade of blue-green. Buachaille’s evocative and deeply saturated blue-green shade is named for Islay, the queen of the Hebrides.

4. Yaffle
The green woodpecker is perhaps more often heard than seen due to its call which lends the bird its popular name of “yaffle.” We’ve named one of our yarn shades yaffle after the plumage of this beautiful creature: a luminous and saturated mid-green with yellow tones.

5. Squall
A deep, dark, variegated grey is perhaps the most characteristic colour of the highlands. When I’m out walking close to home, and the sky turns this colour in the west, I can time the minutes to the moment I’m likely to get a soaking. Twenty minutes and counting. . . better get moving. Squall is a natural fleece shade, named for our stormy highland skies.

6. Ptarmigan
The ptarmigan is a kind of small grouse. It is a hardy highland bird, that has adapted to, and thrives in some truly challenging mountain conditions. In the summer, the ptarmigan’s brown and buff plumage camouflages it against the rocky landscape, and in the winter, it changes colour to a lovely creamy white, in order to blend in perfectly against the snow. With its beady eyes and fluffy feet, this bird is a real highland character, and Buachaille in its un-dyed, natural state is named for the ptarmigan in its winter plumage.

7. Between Weathers
Between weathers is an expression often heard in Scotland that refers to more than meteorology. Literally, it is that patch of blessed blue sky between one wet and windy front and another. But it also suggests the desire to seize the moment quickly, and to get on with things, when the day is fine. The weather must and will turn, so make haste, and make the most of that blue sky while it lasts. Between weathers is a rich mid-blue, the colour of the sky above Beinn Dorain at the top of the photograph above.

So there’s the palette: Highland Coo; Haar; Islay; Yaffle; Squall; Ptarmigan and Between Weathers. Developing these shades has been one of the most interesting (and heart-in-the-mouth) things I’ve ever done. I have found the process fascinating and am incredibly pleased with the results! In the next post I’ll tell you more about that process . . . and should also be able to show you some actual yarn

For those of you who have questions about the yarn, or who are having trouble pronouncing Buachaille, I’ve created a new FAQ page, which includes lots of sound files to help you!

at Haworth Scouring

As we have discovered over the past few months, there is an awful lot to think about when designing and manufacturing a new yarn for hand knitting! There are many stages to consider, and many decisions to be made. It occurred to me that one of the processes that’s least visible to hand knitters is how the wool they work with actually gets clean. As anyone who has handled a fleece will know, cleaning raw wool is not particularly glamorous but it is certainly essential. I thought you might like to see a little about these early stages of our yarn’s manufacture.


The raw wool for our yarn was cleaned, its fibres blended, and the blended fibres processed into lovely combed tops here at Haworth Scouring. This large plant is based in Bradford, a short drive from where both Tom and I were born and grew up. The textile industries in Yorkshire and Lancashire have seen an awful lot of changes in the past 50 years, but Bradford is still the beating heart of the British wool industry.


This is a large operation, capable of scouring a million kilos of wool per week. That’s right – a million kilos. Our first order seemed enormous to us, but it is merely a tiny proportion of what Haworth Scouring can process here in a single day.


Much of the raw wool processed here is British, but Haworth Scouring processes wool from other countries too – these are Norwegian bales in the photograph above.


Customers have different requirements, and some of the wool arrives in a very raw state, needing preparation and grading by specialised wool sorters.


Wool grading is a really important, and sadly declining skill. (If you would like to learn more about wool sorting and grading and its importance to the wool industry, I recommend you visit Jamieson and Smith and meet Shetland’s top wool man, Oliver Henry)

The scouring process is designed to remove dirt and other impurities from the raw wool, along with suint (sheep sweat) and lanolin. At Haworth, its really important that this process is as environmentally friendly as it is efficient (more of this later). Here is some wool, prepared and ready for scouring.


The wool is put through a series of washes and rinses at several different temperatures.


It is repeatedly and carefully cleaned with swinging rakes. After every wash you can see the wool becoming gradually cleaner and cleaner . . .


. . . with the wool’s heat and moisture content being monitored at every stage.


After this, the wool goes through a gigantic metal detector. This is one of those processing factors that’s completely obvious when you think of it – sheep often pick up bits of wire in their fleece – but which I’d never previously considered. You don’t want bits of metal in your yarn, and you certainly don’t want it in the machinery that’s making your yarn. The work of the metal detecting machine is reinforced by this lovely chap, who double-checks there’s nothing non-woolly in the wool.


After washing, the wool is dried. As part of the drying process, the fibres are loosened and mixed, and blended together.


Just check out what’s going on in that huge machine!

After drying, the wool is beautifully clean. What a transformation!


For some of the wool that comes through Haworth’s doors, this is almost the end of the story. It is compressed and packaged into huge bales and prepared for the next stage in its journey elsewhere.



These large bales are compressed by an amazing machine, and, as you can see contain over 350kg of wool. It was at this point that the sheer scale of what goes on here started to astound me. This really is a whole lot of wool!


A significant recent investment in new jobs and machinery means that wool that’s not sent away at this stage can be expertly processed at Haworth into tops. There’s now a state-of-the-art combing operation here, and this is where our wool first started to resemble something like yarn. Our unique blend of fine Scottish fibres was developed and created on this machine!


The wool fibres are relatively blobby and clumpy at this stage – the worsted processing practised here, and which we felt was important to get the best out of our wool, enables the fibres to be opened up, smoothed out, and carefully combed to lie parallel to one another. When I observed the several different stages of combing, gilling and drafting, I was very intensely struck by the technological complexity of these machines, their skilled operatives, and the sheer magic both perform.


From raw wool, to lovely combed top!


Here is what is known as a bump top, at the end of the combing process. . .


And here are lots of bump tops, ready to go.


I mentioned previously that environment is as important as efficiency here. The whole purpose of wool scouring is to remove grease and impurities from fleeces: this is a relatively high-impact process, that creates a lot of waste, and Haworth’s verifiable green credentials were certainly important to us when making early decisions about our yarn’s processing and manufacture. The plant’s water monitoring is extremely careful and completely transparent, and we were impressed that very little in this process actually goes to waste at all! Lanolin removed here is sold to the cosmetics and vitamin industries, while other by-products are used as feed for shrimp and prawn farming (who knew?!)


One reason Haworth’s environmental credentials are so laudable is because it has ENco on site – an environmental testing company that does important work with the textile and farming industries. As well as ensuring the wool products produced at Haworth comply with strict environmental standards, ENco also acts as a consultant, testing many different kinds of finished textiles to check for levels of mothproofing agents and other chemicals. Carpets, military uniforms, knitting yarn, and the fabrics used in high-end fashion houses all receive environmental testing and certification here. If you needed to check whether a certain yarn contained 20% or 30% nylon; or discover for how long a particular moth-proofing agent would protect a certain kind of fabric; or wanted to ensure that the animals providing a batch of fleeces had not been treated with particularly harmful pesticides in their sheep dip, then ENco could find out for you. It was absolutely fascinating chatting to Mike and his team, and learning about their work.


Thankyou to everyone at Haworth Scouring, Curtis Wool Direct, and ENco Global Testing for their time and generosity! We’ve learnt an awful lot, and feel very inspired by our visits!

(Tom surveys the wool mountain with anticipation)

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a trip to London


Hello! I’m just home again after a fantastic trip to London. I was there to attend the opening of the Sonia Delaunay retrospective (of which more shortly), but I also . . .


. . . had a wonderfully jolly time in Fortum and Mason with top wool comrade, Felix. We drank posh tea, talked feminism and politics, and filled our faces with finger sandwiches and cakes. The battenberg comes highly recommended.


. . . spent a lovely afternoon with Rachel (brilliant tech editor, talented designer, fellow northerner, and all-round good egg). It was ideal weather for some leisurely pottering around the streets of Clerkenwell, hanging out at Loop, sampling the unbelievably delicious wares of Paul A Young, and finding a length of beautiful fabric at the Margo Selby sample sale.


. . . spent a morning at the Foundling Museum – an institution of which my background in eighteenth-century history means I know a reasonable amount, but which I’d never visited. Nothing can really prepare you for the profoundly moving affect of the ordinary objects and textiles that parents left as identifying “tokens” for their children. (If you’d like to know more about these, do go and explore the excellent website associated with John Styles’ Threads of Feeling exhibition)


I also had the very great pleasure of meeting up in Covent Garden with one of my knitting heroes – the incredible June Hemmons Hiatt. I only spent couple of hours with June, but could honestly have sat and talked matters knitting and otherwise with her all day. Every project June undertakes speaks of a truly exemplary care and thoroughness and I find her tremendously inspiring. We all have The Principles of Knitting on our bookshelves. We know it is the book any designer or knitter can turn to with any kind of technical question, and be certain of finding a clearly-written, well-illustrated answer. For over three decades this book has set a standard, and we are all beneficiaries of June’s hard work. I have often been struck by the fact that this repository of knitterly wisdom has emerged from the tireless research of one individual over several decades, and if you’d like to read more about the process of creating (and recreating) The Principles of Knitting, there’s a really fascinating account on June’s website. As someone who knows a reasonable amount about the interconnected worlds of scholarly research and book production, I find what June’s achieved pretty staggering.


Thankyou, London, for the sunshine, and the inspiration!

I’ll be back tomorrow with Sonia Delaunay.

Scottish bluebells


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 . . .


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


. . .across the loch . . .


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


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


And in dappled sunlight, they seem lit from within.


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)


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


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.


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


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







Now I can get back to my knitted bluebells!

A Hap for Harriet


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


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:


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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

Gawthorpe, encore


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.


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 . . .


. . . 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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

(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.



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

Charles Sillem Lidderdale, The Fern Gatherer (1877)

Fern-decorated Mauchlinware

Wardian Case


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


Victorian Fern-fashion

Gucci, A/W 2013


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


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.

(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.”


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:


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.


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

(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:


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!


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.




“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.