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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
Here it is blocking
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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. . .
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.
Jökull is a super-simple, quick and enjoyable knit – ideal for any knitter attempting their first yoke, or first colourwork.
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!
AHOY THERE! Today’s yoke is called Keith Moon (bear with me . . . )
I wanted to include a sixties-inspired, mod yoke in this collection: a sweater that would be really easy for even a beginner-knitter to create but which also had the potential to look really sleek and stylish. I love the simple boat-neck shape of many sixties jumpers and thought it would be fun to combine this with the straightforward construction of a seamless yoke.
My inspiration came from the tri-colour roundels with which British mods adorned their clothing and scooters:
. . . perhaps most famously sported by Keith Moon, The Who’s explosively talented drummer.
As you can see, I’ve taken the idea of the mod roundel as three decreasing rings of different colours, and applied this to the circular structure of the seamless yoke, swapping out the positions of the red and blue.
This is one of those sweaters where the finishing really makes a difference. The hems, belled cuffs, and boat-neck collar are all creating with facings of contrasting shades, which are neatly finished off with i-cord.
The yarn is Lett Lopi (yes, its my new favourite). I found it very interesting that a few tailored details could give a really sleek finish to a yarn that is sometimes regarded in a more, um, rustic context. How I love a facing!
I’ve styled my Keith Moon in a rather nautical fashion . .
. . . but I think this is a very versatile jumper with which a variety of different looks could be achieved – Mel has knitted a really striking sample in jade, black, and silver, and I also think Keith would look completely amazing worked in a single shade of charcoal or a lighter grey. As soon as I made my sweater, though, I felt that its red, blue and white would work particularly well in a maritime setting. . .
. . . so we went to Portnahaven, on the island of Islay, where, on a beautiful, calm, sunny Sunday, the colours of the sea and boats and sky and jolly paintwork really seemed to speak directly to those of Keith Moon!
The seals were singing out at sea while we shot these photographs around the village – it was a lovely morning.
I find that, if I block it correctly, I have no problem wearing Lett Lopi next to my skin, and here is my top tip to finish your jumper for maximum smoothness and softness: block it out in luke warm water with a solution of a good quality hair-conditioner for at least 30 minutes — I use one of the straightening kind, that is designed for human hair (though I do know someone who swears on the transformative effects of Mane and Tail – the original horse-to-human crossover.)
A few of you have been asking about the relationship between the print and digital versions of Yokes. Well, there are two basic options:
Option 1: Print + digital. If you purchase a print copy of the book, you will receive a complementary download code to enable you to access the digital version.
Option 2: Digital only: You can also choose to purchase the digital book separately, without a printed copy.
The book costs exactly the same for both options, and the digital-only version will be made available on Ravelry after the book has started to ship, on or just after November 17th.
Good morning! I’m extremely happy to announce that Yokes is now available for pre-order
. . . and while I’m at it, I thought I’d show you another design. This yoke is called Buchanan.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buchanan can be worn as a neat Spring tee, or can be popped on over layers as the weather cools.
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.
Bruce had fun that day too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.
We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.
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.
You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.
If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.
The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.
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:
After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book
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.
(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.
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.
Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.
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.
Here is another yoke – Frost at Midnight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.