Over and out . . . for a while

BACK

Well, I’ve showed you all the designs in the collection, and it is now time for me to enter logistics world. This is a world of franking machines, books, and cardboard boxes and though it is, in its own way, interesting and absorbing, it does not make for particularly fascinating reading. So things may go rather quiet here for a couple of weeks while I am packing and shipping your orders.

I confess that right now I am feeling rather humbled by your support of, and interest in, this book. A massive THANKS to all of you.

If you would like to learn more about Yokes, the book now has its own information page here. For those of you who are interested in the essays and conversations, you’ll find some detail here about the book’s contents. There’s also a link for easy download of your digital copy (just enter the code when your book arrives); links back to information about each design, and a checklist of the design elements and techniques that each pattern involves (which may be useful when considering what to knit).

Thankyou so much, and see you on the other side xxx

Cockatoo Brae

cockatoocovershot

Yes, you did read that correctly – Cockatoo Brae. This remarkable phrase is, in fact, the name of a lane in Lerwick, Shetland, and it is also the name of the final yoke in my collection.

cockatoo2

This design emerged from an exciting collaboration with my friend Ella. In Shetland, machine and hand knitting go very much, as it were, hand in hand. In fact, at certain crucial points in its twentieth-century story, machine knitting might be said to have saved the Shetland hand-knitting industry from extinction. The two crafts (and they are both crafts) are importantly imbricated, and perhaps especially so where the yoke sweater is concerned.

cockatoo9

Hybrid yokes – where the body and sleeves are knitted by machine, and the yoke subsequently knitted on by hand – were one of the mainstays of the Shetland wool industry from the 1950s through the 1970s. I devote a chapter to this topic in my book, and you can read more about it there, but suffice it to say that, after my research I felt it was very important to include one such hybrid yoke design in my book. Cockatoo Brae is that yoke.

cockatoo8

On one of my recent visits to Shetland, I was very keen to learn more about machine knitting from Ella, who runs her own business centred around the wonderful machine-knitted items that she designs and makes.

crofthoosecushions

Ella’s Crofthoouse Cushions

At her studio in Cockatoo Brae, Ella introduced me to the process of creating machine-knitted fabric. Like many committed hand-knitters, I suppose I had certain lingering assumptions about what machine knitting involved (knitting by machine? surely this is the devil’s work?!) but these were quickly exploded. I discovered that the process was not only extremely skilled, but also – in the simple act of making stitches – much, much more like hand-knitting than I’d imagined. It is also quite physically demanding!

swatch
(A swatch we knitted on Ella’s machine)

When I returned home after my visit I began designing a chart using an interesting variant of the ubiquitous tree and star motifs that appear on countless Shetland yokes. It is no coincidence that the shades I chose echoed those of the swatch we had created in Cockatoo Brae. Much of the inspiration for Ella’s design work comes from the 1970s: a decade during which Shetland knitters were producing thousands of yokes for a buoyant commercial market, but when the advent of North Sea Oil also changed the face of the Shetland knitting industry. The 1970s are an interesting moment of transition in Shetland, and Ella’s work interrogates and reflects this. I wanted the palette of our yoke to reflect it too.

cockatoodetail1

The bright green is Jamieson and Smith shade FC11 and the orange shade is 125. (This rich tomato-soup shade is one of my all-time favourite Jamieson and Smith colours – I absolutely love it!). For the main body of the sweater I chose FC58 – a wonderfully complex heathered brown that in fact has more individual colours blended in it than any other shade in the Jamieson and Smith palette. After Ella and I had settled on the chart and palette, I provided her with a pattern and she got to work creating the sweater’s machined components. (Ella will write in more detail about the process of knitting the body and sleeves on her machine, and you’ll be able to read about the process on her blog)

Some time later, I received this bundle in the post

body

As machine-knit yarn is oiled, I decided to block the separate pieces quite vigorously first so I could see that the hand-knit and the machine-knit fabric were behaving the same way, and that I could be sure that my gauge would match up. After blocking the pieces, I seamed them up with matress stitch. Ella had left small sections of ‘waste’ knitting at the tops of the sleeve and body pieces that could be unravelled to create a set of live stitches. So I unravelled the waste, set sleeves and body on a circular needle, and cast on a nine stitch steek over the cardigan’s front opening to enable me to knit the yoke on in the round.
Here’s the yoke in progress.

yokeinprogress

Here it is blocking

blocking

and finally . . .
cockatoo7

Creating this yoke with Ella was a fascinating and really enjoyable process for me, and I felt I understood much more about the textile practices and history I’d been researching through the simple act of knitting this garment. Sometimes making really is learning.

If you’d like to create your own Cockatoo Brae in exactly the same way we did, I’ve included instructions for flat machine-knitting body and sleeves in the book. But don’t worry –if you’d prefer to hand-knit the design in its entirety – working the whole garment in the round and then steeking it open afterwards – those instructions are also included.

cockatoo5

We shot these photographs on a lovely autumn day around the lower slopes of Ben Lawers and Meal nan Tarmachan, where Tom was running a hill race. Tom ran very well, and I think the photographs he took after the race show the garment perfectly suited to its setting.

cockatoo12

I’d like to give a big shout-out to Tom today, who has really shared my Yoke vision, and whose considerable skills as a photographer are in evidence throughout. His images – which beautifully illustrate each garment in a separate, distinctive location suited to its style – are an essential element of the larger creative process behind this book. Thanks, Tom x.

cockatoocoverouttake

You’ll find more information about Cockatoo Brae here
And the book is available to pre-order here

Jökull

jokkul1

When I began thinking about putting together this collection, I felt it was important to include a design that might serve as an introduction to circular yoke knitting: something that was speedy and straightforward to knit, with some interesting details and a characteristic construction. That design is Jökull.

jokkuldetail

Jökull is a yoked mantle. Though the design is extremely simple to knit – it is basically a decreasing circle decorated with some striking chevrons – Jökull also has some neat features, such as buttoned hand-openings, corrugated rib, and i-cord to stabilise and finish the garment edges.

jokkul4

Worked up in Alafoss Lopi, at a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch, it is an extremely cosy outdoor garment. (Having worn the mantle on some wild days in Iceland, Mel and I can both vouch for it being wind and weatherproof!)

jokkul3

Jökull is the Icelandic word for glacier – the name seemed appropriate in reference to the garment’s chill-defying properties, as well as the palette of shades we chose for this sample.

glacier1

This is Mýrdalsjökull, a glacier in southern Iceland that Mel and I were lucky enough to visit. You can see what I mean about those icy shades. . .

jokkul2

Like many designs, changing the colourway of Jökull completely alters its appearance. Mel and I knit up a second sample, whose bold high-contrast shades produce a rather different effect from the subtly graded teals and icy blues of the original. We have not depicted this sample in the book (one of the shades we chose is now unavailable) but I will show you here just to illustrate how different the chevrons can look when other colours are selected.

eggback

Jökull is a super-simple, quick and enjoyable knit – ideal for any knitter attempting their first yoke, or first colourwork.

egghummockz

You can find more information about Jökull here
And the book is now available to pre-order here

I will be back tomorrow to tell you about the collection’s final design. We are very busy preparing packages and labels here – I can’t wait for you all to see the finished book!

Yokes is available for pre-order! . . . and here is Buchanan

buchanan24

Good morning! I’m extremely happy to announce that Yokes is now available for pre-order

buchanan7

. . . and while I’m at it, I thought I’d show you another design. This yoke is called Buchanan.

buchanan13

One of the many aspects of wearing yokes that I thought about while researching this book was the widespread practice, in the 1960s and ’70s particularly, of selecting a yoke to match your skirt or kilt. This was particularly common in Scotland of course, but it seems also to have been the case in Canada, and elsewhere. To this day, there is a particular shade in the Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight palette that is known as “kilt green”, and you can still purchase yoke jumpers that match Blackwatch and other common tartans from some Shetland retailers. I confess I was prompted to reflect on this practice when I spotted the Morningside Maisie buses zipping around Edinburgh some years ago

maisie
Children’s author and illustrator, Aileen Paterson chose to draw her mischievious cat Maisie in this familiar and rather nostalgic outfit of yoked gansey and kilt, and its intriguing that, around the same time, Mairi Hedderwick chose a very similar outfit in which to dress her equally popular Scottish character, Katie Morag.

So I knew I wanted to use the colours of a kilt to design a matching yoke, but the question was, which tartan?

buchanan2

Just a couple of miles from my house are the South and Eastern shores of Loch Lomond, and these bonnie banks and braes are my favourite local places for a stroll. This beautiful stretch of land was granted to Absalom Buchanan in 1225, and so I chose the rich palette of the “ancient” Buchanan tartan as the starting point for this design.

BCN-A-CTBRBuchananAncientBraeriachTartanOrg__70015.1410570852.440.440

I then got in touch with the lovely ladies at Scottesque, and asked them to make me a “midi-kilt”. (You can select your own tartan, and your kilt will be made to measure for an extremely reasonable sum). Rather than the familiar heavy pleated garment, the Scottesque midi kilt is composed of several fabric pieces, cut on the bias. I think it makes for a very feminine, flattering and striking skirt.

buchanan15

I then discovered that several shades of Rowan kid classic provided a near-perfect match for the Buchanan tartan. This pleased me greatly as its a yarn of which I’m very fond – light and warm, and really hard wearing, with a lovely halo and handle. From that palette, I produced a chart.

buchanan9

This is not the way I generally work when designing, as I usually have some kind of precise visual image in mind. But limiting my imagination in one way (colour) seemed to really give it free rein in another . . . I happily played around with shades and motifs until I’d created a yoke design with which I was very happy. The end result has a curiously 1920s/30s modernist feel to me, and, when I look at it, I am put in mind of the bows of cruise liners and their art deco interiors.

buchanan4

Buchanan can be worn as a neat Spring tee, or can be popped on over layers as the weather cools.

buchanan21

We shot these photographs at the top of one of my favourite local landmarks – the Dumpling, and I have to say I love the way this whole outfit looks against the spectacular highland landscape.

buchanan22

Bruce had fun that day too.

buchanan23

More details about Buchanan here

I’ll continue telling you about the remaining designs in the collection over the coming days, and the pre-order link for the book is here.

Fintry

fintry3

I wanted to include a smart, simple cardigan in my yoke collection. Something in a single colour; that might provide a showcase for a beautiful hand-dyed yarn; a garment that would be easy to wear and straightforward to knit. That cardigan is Fintry.

fintry4

Fintry is a pretty village a short drive away from my home. Though the village nestles against the north face of the rugged Campsie Fells, its direct environs have an unusually gentle feel, with verdant lanes, hedgerows and fields. There is good grazing and growing here, and Fintry’s distinctive pastoral feel provides a stark contrast to the generally rockier, boggier, woodier – much more Highland landscape – which immediately surrounds me. I find this contrast rather interesting. In summer, the landscape around Fintry is extraordinarily green and pleasingly textured – and its those features that I celebrate in this cardigan.

fintry6

Fintry is knitted all in one piece, with moss (or seed) stitch button bands, cuffs and hems framing a garment of simple stockinette. These bands of texture are then echoed on the yoke, which is shaped with short rows.

fintry11

Fintry makes simple and versatile use of the seamless yoke construction and the finishing is really quite minimal. Mel and I finished this sample with five buttons, snaps and ribbon facings, but you could add more buttons, or no buttons at all, just as you wish.

fintry10

The ribbon facing, incidentally, came from a box of cakes from Betty’s. I had been saving it for years and knew I’d find a use for it.

fintry13

The ribbon turned out to be a perfect match for the yarn, which is Old Maiden Aunt Corriedale Sport Weight. I love Lilith’s colour sense, her particular style of dyeing, and especially the interesting British yarn bases she uses to show off her skills. This Corriedale is a wonderful yarn, which takes the colour in a beautifully matt and saturated way. The tonal variations in the yarn are so subtle and pleasing, and really enhance the textural interest of the knitted fabric.

fintry12

The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.

fintry4

We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.

fintry5

At the cafe you can sample ice cream, yogurt, crowdie, and other dairy products made on the farm, as well as some delicious home baking.

fintry8

You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.

fintrycat

If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.

fintry1

fintry15

The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.

Ásta Sóllilja

asta1

Here is today’s yoke – Ásta Sóllilja. I began this design with the idea of using colour to create a transition from deep blue to silver grey around the edges of a jumper. I wanted the edges of the design to shimmer a wee bit, in such a way that they might seem to fuse or merge with a darker skirt or pair of jeans. I had fun playing with the Ístex lett lopi palette, and eventually came up with this:

asta18

After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book

Sjónabók

This wonderful tome reproduces charts and patterns from the textile designs in the sjónabók manuscripts, which are held in the national museum of Iceland. It is a truly fabulous book, which blew me away, not only with the distinctive charts and patterns but with its fascinating analysis of the geometry and four-fold symmetry of Icelandic design. From many patterns in the book, I selected a single version of the hammer rose motif, and played with it, inverting and modifying it in such a manner that allowed me to feature it over the whole depth of a colourwork yoke.

asta2

(If you would like to learn more about this motif and its history in Iceland, see Hélène Magnússon’s important book Icelandic Knitting: Using Rose Patterns)

While I was working on this design, I was also reading Halldór Laxness’s dry and incisive Icelandic novel Independent People (1954). Laxness’s account of an Icelandic valley and its human and animal inhabitants had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the book for several weeks afterwards, musing particularly on its relationship with another important twentieth-century account of rural life on the cusp of modernity – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song (1932). There are many thematic comparisons to draw between these two novels, particularly as regards their representation of gender, sexuality and ideas of women’s independence (I would really rather like to write about this one day). The story of Laxness’s female protagonist – Ásta Sóllilja – in the end pans out rather differently from that of Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, and the determination, imagination, and arrested potential of the Icelandic character was cause of much reflection. So I named this design after her.

asta12

asta4

asta10
asta3

Designing this jumper really made me fall in love with Icelandic wool: wind and weatherproof, light and warm, in such a beautiful range of colours. The finished yoke is a cosy, easy to wear garment, and is one of those jumpers that I find myself wanting to just throw on and head outside.

asta14
asta8

Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.

asta13

You can find more details about Ásta Sóllilja here.

PS In very exciting news, it looks as if the book is actually going to print today, so I will shortly be able to activate the shop for pre-orders.

Frost at Midnight

frosty8

Here is another yoke – Frost at Midnight.

frosty15

One of the things I’ve become interested in recently is the idea of the yoke as jewellery. Knitted yokes not only behave in much the same way as a necklace – decorating the shoulders, framing the face – but they have a close relationship with beaded necklaces as well.

karstenbidstrup
Photograph courtesy of Greenland.com

This is a Greenlandic beaded collar, or nuilarmiut. Knitted yokes and nuilarmiut have an intriguingly reciprocal relationship which I have spent some time researching. You can read more about this in one of the introductory chapters of my book.

frosty1

Frost at Midnight in no way aspires to the beautiful graphic complexity of the nuilarmiut, but it does use beads to transform the knitted yoke into an elegant necklace.

frosty14

Frost at Midnight is knitted in Scrumptious laceweight – a silk / merino blend from my friends at Fyberspates. The yarn has a beautiful sheen and drape, but is also really strong and durable. Its the ideal yarn for beading, as well as for creating a luxurious little cardi. Knit at 7 sts to the inch, most sizes can create this garment with just two skeins of Scrumptious, making it a surprisingly economical garment.

frosty3

The beading, of course, is quite involved, but the rest of the knitting in this cardigan is very straightforward, with some neat finishing details, like these turned picot facings.

frosty10

Mel is modelling Frost at Midnight with slight negative ease, but because the yarn drapes so beautifully it can also be made with a few inches of positive ease as well. (Detailed information about sizing, fit, and ease accompanies all of the patterns in the book)

frosty13

Finally, the name. The shimmering beaded trees that surround this yoke seem to be captured in frost on a cold winter’s night, and Frost at Midnight is the title of one of my favourite poems by S.T. Coleridge. Coleridge’s poem is addressed to his son, who sleeps quietly in his cradle next to the reflective poet. It ends with these marvellous lines:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

frosty20

You can find more details about Frost at Midnight here

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,462 other followers