It is Wool Week in Shetland, and I began it in this cottage out at Vementry. What a spot!
It was lovely to take some time out to visit my friend Hazel Tindall. I just love the part of Shetland where Hazel lives, and it was a real privilege to potter about her garden, and sample her home-grown produce. She’s certainly fared better than I with beans and soft fruit this year! I also explored some Westside nooks that were completely new to me, like Michaelswood – planted and maintained by the Ferrie family in memory of their son and brother, Michael Ferrie, and enjoyed by the whole community. I found this expanse of newly-planted saplings at the top of the hill very moving.
On Monday evening, I gave a talk at the Shetland Museum with my pal, Ella. Ella and I enjoy collecting vintage knitwear . . .
. . . and so we both talked about our collections, what we loved about them, and what we learned from them. Felix chaired the whole occasion with aplomb. As well as speaking to a packed audience, the event was live-streamed from the Shetland Museum to viewers in 9 countries all over the world! Somewhat daunting!
I understand from my friends at Promote Shetland that there are now plans to make the event publicly available to view from their website, so I’ll keep you posted.
It is really wonderful to see how much Shetland Wool Week has grown, and how it has been enthusiastically embraced by knitters and other crafty folk from all over the world. The opening ceremony was a really grand occasion! We were royally entertained by the evening’s knitting pundits, Felix and Louise, as well as by the Hjaltibonhoga Shetland Fiddlers, fresh from the Edinburgh Tattoo, who wore marvellous knitwear created by inventive Shetland designer, NiellaNell
Claire White was a wonderfully professional compere, and sang a beautiful song she’d written about Shetland knitting legend, Betty Mouat.
I could listen to Oliver talk about Shetland wool all day.
And I can’t think of a better Shetland Wool Week patron than wonderful Donna Smith – she’s someone whose warm presence just emanates her passion for knitting and for Shetland.
I am quite a private person, and I get to meet knitters very rarely. I really think this was the highlight of the week for me – and I found it quite humbling chatting to so many engaged knitterly folk! I’d like to give a particular shout-out to Gail, who, like me, was a youthful reader of Giovannino Guareschi, and to Ruth from Rhode Island, who is a very sweet person.
Carmen seems one of those effortlessly stylish sort of people, and I very much admired her Hap for Harriet!
Thankyou, knitters for being so very enthusiastic and inspiring, and thank you Shetland, for your bright full moons, beaches, birdsong, sunsets, the smell of peat fires, the sound of water, rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and your wonderful sheep and wool.
A little under a decade ago, shortly after rediscovering knitting, I bought a kit to knit Hanne Falkenberg’s Promenade.
Promenade is a beautiful garter-stitch wrap, which comes in several glorious shades of Shetland wool. The wrap’s colour combinations are intriguing (and inspiring). It is a simple but nifty design, and I greatly admired it (as I did – and indeed still do admire – many of Hanne Falkenberg’s other patterns). I knit a little of the back portion, and then set the wrap aside to work on other projects.
Around this time, I was suddenly gripped by knitting’s vast potential. I wanted to learn about different techniques, about colourwork and lace. I read Elizabeth Zimmermann and Mary Thomas. I knit up different technical swatches. I wanted to create things for myself. I began to experiment making up my own scarves and hats, and later, my own jumpers. Though I read other people’s patterns carefully as I learned about technique, I knit from them increasingly rarely. Promenade languished unfinished in a bag in my yarn stash.
I often looked at Promenade regretfully. I really wanted to make and wear it, but, as I began to design things for myself, it was never a priority.
A short while ago, my friend Mel spotted Promenade in its bag and took it away. It came back, finished, as my birthday present. It is completely beautiful and I love it!
Thanks so much, Mel! x
You can find more information about Promenade here.
Well, I sat down a couple of days ago and thought I’d write a quick post about the great new books I’d come across, all of which had been either produced completely independently, or had been commissioned from an independent designer. As I reflected on recent directions in hand-knit design, and digressed into my own thoughts on self-publishing, I realised that one post had turned into two . . . and today I predictably find that two has turned into three. . .
Yesterday I mentioned Felicity Ford’s Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and Gudrun Johnston’s Shetland Trader Book 2 as inspiring examples of independent design and self publishing. Here are two more brilliant designers, and two more brilliant – and very different – independently produced books that have recently appeared. I’ll mention a few more in my final post tomorrow.
Rachel Coopey, Coop Knits Socks Volume 2.
I love how Rachel uses the sock’s small canvas as a place to explore stitch and creativity. This book includes twelve different patterns, from Dave (a plain vanilla sock with a choice of simple heels) to Otis (a striking colourwork sock, designed for a set of chromatic mini-skeins) to Wilbert (a cabled sock for blokes or women). Rachel has all needs of the contemporary sock knitter covered here! The book also includes a few well-illustrated tutorials, and (as someone who mostly knits socks for men), I appreciate the fact that relevant designs are photographed on a male model. As well as her characteristically careful attention to structure (all of these designs are supremely well balanced), there are several other things about this book that strike me as being “very Rachel”: 1) the palette (the whole tome has a pleasing ice-cream feel), 2) the design names (who can argue with Dave, Delbert and Ernestine?) and 3) the styling and photography.
Believe me, it is really difficult to photograph things like socks and gloves. Just when you want them to look elegant, feet and hands have an annoying tendency to look weird instead. Photographing 12 pairs of socks well is an unenviable task, but every pair here is placed on the foot so that the patterns sit just right. There are things that knitters need to see, and Rachel has made sure that you can see them: features like heels and shaping are well-illustrated, differently textured fabrics lay flat on leg and foot, every detail is clear and crisp, and the yarn colours are lively and luminous. Look at how the lighting and angles are the same, and the horizon lines up neatly on all four shots above. I know from experience that such consistency is very difficult to achieve. Jesse Wild was responsible for the photography and has done a fantastic job.
Hannah Fettig, Home and Away: Knits for Everyday Adventures
I’m a big fan of Hannah Fettig’s work and this is a really beautiful book of really beautiful designs. Hannah is in possession of that indefinable knack of creating wearable, contemporary garments with an elegant simplicity that absolutely sings. That’s in evidence here in nine designs, six of which are cardigans (which I think are her real forte). Hannah correctly describes the designs in Home and Away as “knits that will become wardrobe essentials – pieces with simple lines knit in wonderful, hard-wearing wool.” Surely that’s what every knitter would like to make and wear? There are many distinctive things about this book, top of the list of which is its enabling inclusivity. The patterns are written for the knitter to make them in their preferred way, using a seamless or a pieced construction. Having recently decided to provide seamed and seamless options for one of my own recent patterns, I know that this can be quite a bit of work for both designer and editor. But I also know that the choice of construction methods is something that’s really appreciated by knitters. So whether you prefer your garments with seams or without, you could make yourself Hannah’s lovely Rosemont cardigan, or any of the other sweaters in the book.
(Rosemont can be knit in seamed pieces, or seamlessly, from the top down).
To my mind, such “bonus” features (such as alternative constructions methods, choices of charted or written instructions etc) are one of the many additional elements you are most likely to find in patterns that have been created by independent designers, rather than large companies (to whom it would perhaps be difficult to make the economic case for the added value of such “extras”). And Home and Away is packed with many other knitterly “extras” too. There are several super essays about swatching, blocking, reading a knitting pattern, and substituting yarns. I particularly enjoyed the conversation with Quince & Co’s Pam Allen, whose lovely yarns are really shown off at their very best in these pages. I think that this is a book that would make a wonderful gift for an enthusiastic beginner, as well as being a source of enjoyment and inspiration for any knitter who wants to make herself a classic, wearable garment.
And I have to say that I find the photography and styling of this book completely gorgeous and deeply appealing. Simply browsing through these pages makes me want to immediately head out to Maine, take a brisk walk in a snowy rural landscape, hunker down for the winter, and knit myself a cardigan. There’s a very well-thought-through balance between interior and exterior shots, between detailed garment photography and lovely locations – between the “home” and the “away” of the book’s title.
Rachel’s and Hannah’s books are, as I said, very different but what surely connects them is the strong stamp they bear of their creator’s personality and individual style. From the curly-wurly fonts and candy colours of Rachel’s book to the hand-drawn maps and warm neutrals of Hannah’s, these are tomes that are definitely and distinctively theirs. Both books are available in print, as digital copies (via Ravelry), or in a print + digital package.
More to come tomorrow.
What’s this? A handknitted hoose?
With flowers in the garden . . .
. . . and a wee gate . . .
. . leading to a horse-shoe adorned front door . . .
. . . there are flowers in the windows too . . .
. . . shrubs round the side . . .
. . . a tiled roof, and a jolly chimney!
. . . the back of the hoose is just as inviting as the front
. . . and it also has a useful function . . .
To keep my teapot warm!
This hoose is a gift I was really, really touched to receive. Long-term readers of this blog may remember this post , which I wrote in 2009, following a visit to the Royal Edinburgh Repository and Self Aid Society – also known as the Treasure Trove – on Castle Street, in Edinburgh. At the Treasure Trove you can find a multitude of wonderful items, all hand-made by the society’s talented members, and all sold with the sole aim of supporting the knitters, sewers, quilters and bakers who created them. The quality of the knitted items the society’s makers produce is really superb: in the bustling Treasure Trove shop you’ll find fine Shetland lace shawls, Fairisle tams and gloves, and beautifully-made childrens jumpers and garments. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with the Treasure Trove, and whenever I receive an email asking me for good knitterly places to see in Scotland, its the first place to which I direct any visitor. Having an abiding interest in, and admiration for, the society, I was really pleased and honoured when Liz, the chair of its committee, invited me along to say a few words at their AGM. This meeting was today, and it was absolutely lovely to meet everyone, to hear more about the society’s important work, and to tell the committee a little about what it is I do. At the end of the meeting I was presented with their wonderful gift with which, as you can all imagine, I was really delighted. The hoose had been made especially for me by a society member. Everything about it – the knitting, the embroidery, the stitching, the finishing – is absolutely impeccable.
In 2009, when I wrote my first post about the society, my interest was, in a way, purely academic: if you read it, you’ll see me musing in a rather wordy way, on how making things lends people who’ve suffered long-term illness or disability an important means of self-support. But weirdly, less than a year later, I became one of those people myself: following my stroke, I was rather unexpectedly transformed into someone who supported herself through making. As you all know, knitting played an enormously significant role in my recovery – a role that was certainly not just financial – and, six years after writing that initial blog post about the Edinburgh society, I find I have a rather different – and certainly much stronger – appreciation for what it is they do. The society provides a really important network of support for many talented makers all over the UK who find themselves, in one way or another in difficult circumstances. If that is you — if you are in the UK and would like to become a member-maker — you’ll find information on the society’s website here. And if, like me, you’d like to support these makers and their work, I suggest you pop along to the Treasure Trove shop on Castle street as soon as possible! You can also place special commissions for members of the society to make items to order.
So I want to say a huge thankyou to the talented society member who made my lovely hoose, and another thankyou to Liz and the society committee for inviting me along today. I hope to be back to see you soon.
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.
Few things make me happier than seeing what amazing knitters do with my patterns. I wanted to give a shout out to a few of these knitters, and some fabulous finished objects that have appeared in recent months. Above is Tanya, wearing her wonderful Cockatoo Brae. You’ll notice that Tanya has retained the colours of the original sample, but has changed the ‘star’ and border motif. The curves and curls of the star that Tanya selected make a significant difference to the overall look of the yoke, and I really like the effect (if you are thinking of modifying the yoke in a similar way, simply select a star of the same stitch and row count in a book of Fairisle motifs, such as those by Mary Jane Mucklestone or Sheila McGregor). At 6’1 Tanya is also enviably tall – somewhat taller than the ‘average’ proportions on which I base my pattern sizing – so found she had to make some alterations the increase / decrease rate on both sleeves and body, adding a few inches of length to make her sweater fit her well (remember to factor in extra yarn, as Tanya did, if you are doing the same). I think her cardigan looks fantastic!
It has been particularly nice to see a few Machrihanish vests being knitted up recently – Bill looks marvellous in his Machrihanish, which was knitted for him by Stacy. Stacy omitted the pattern’s waist shaping, and also added several stitches to the steeks at both underarm and neck, which she found helpful in giving her “a greater margin of error”. Bill recently wore his Machrihanish when watching Imitation Game and Stacy “loved seeing all the men in the movie wear vests of similar design.”
Kim was very industrious and whipped up not one but two Machrihanish vests before Christmas – for Hamish (left) and Lachlan (right). To make the pattern in Lachlan’s size, Kim examined the cast on stitch count and dimensions of the 7-8 year old size of Susan Crawford’s Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover , and adjusted the pattern accordingly. Like Stacy, Kim also added a few stitches to the steeks, and reinforced them with her sewing machine: “crochet and I don’t always get along”. I absolutely love this festive picture of Hamish and Lachlan in their jolly vests!
In the entire-family-in-matching-knitwear-cuteness stakes, I don’t think you can beat Eimear’s Epistropheids!
After knitting hats for herself and her man, Eimear scaled down the pattern for her wee girl “I think I cast on 95 stitches and increased to 105″ she says.
Karen enjoyed working the cabling “the pattern was easy to memorise and, in the ochre shade I chose, gave the appearance to me of abundant hair plaits of which I have always been envious.” She also liked the pattern’s finishing details, “an i-cord bind off which I had never done before.” Karen particularly appreciated knitting Westering Home through the chilly winter months: “it kept me warm during January as I sat beneath it as I knitted”, and she loves the finished garment “I have even had admiring strangers discussing it with me on buses and in a pub!” I think the ochre shade of Artesano Aran Karen chose is so rich and warm – a perfect match for the cable pattern.
I love pretty much everything Georgie knits, and had to show you this lovely photograph of her recently-completed Owligan. “I’ve hardly taken it off since I knitted it,” says Georgie, “It really is warm enough to use instead of a coat when nipping here and there. I didn’t make any mods, just knit the body a little longer (hence why I ran out of yarn for the buttonbands), also didn’t add button eyes – I love it how it is.”
I was very struck by the lovely wintery look of Clara’s Warriston
Clara made her sweater a little more tunic than jumper-like, going up a size at the hips and adding a few inches of length.
Seeing Clara’s Warriston really makes me want to make one in white!
I always find it interesting how far changing shades can completely alter the feel of a design – I was really struck by how Beatriz’s use of Kauni as the contrast yarn totally altered the effect of the colourwork of her Epistrophy. I think the way the graded colours work their way through the diamond motifs up the yoke is very subtle, and incredibly beautiful.
Here is Kristie, in her beautiful Bluebells (which I confess is one of my personal favourites from my Yokes collection) Kristie added some length to both sleeves and body, and omitted some of the waist shaping to make a slightly less fitted garment.
Kristie says “my only caution would be if you are knitting this sweater in low light be careful not to confuse the MC blue with the CC blue. I learned the hard way!” Kristie has written about her experience of knitting this sweater here.
It was this time of year when I first visited Shetland. How well I recall that crazy drive across Unst in a blizzard! The weird half-light at midday! My first feeling of the profound difference of the place, but my immediate sensation that it was somewhere I could easily feel at home. . . Anyway whatever it is, for the past few days, I’ve been strangely feeling the pull of Shetland on me. Perhaps it is because I’m wearing a lot of Shetland wool: I’ve scored quite a few vintage sweaters recently, and these are now in regular circulation in my winter wardrobe.
Perhaps it is because I’ve been listening to Shetland voices. A recent episode of Radio Scotland’s “Our Story” featured many of my Shetland friends and acquaintances talking about knitting. Please go and listen to the programme if you haven’t already. This really is a great programme (in a great series) which, because it is largely shaped by the words of ‘real people’, rather than the agenda of ill-informed researchers, is SO much better than the ‘novelty’ accounts of knitting of which the mainstream UK media is often sadly so full. You’ll hear Oliver Henry enthusing about the unique qualities of Shetland’s “kindly wool”, Carol Christiansen unpacking the origins of island knitting in the Shetland Museum, Hazel Tindall on the cost of knitting, and knitting as ‘wearable art’, Jan Robertson’s truly lyrical account of the colours of Shetland sheep, and Ella Gordon talking in a most inspiring fashion about design and her sense of place. (The programme is just under half an hour long, and is available on the BBC iplayer for the next 29 days)
There’s a lovely piece by Donna Smith, this year’s patron of Shetland wool week, about the importance of knitting to her own sense of heritage and identity. Donna is one of those people who just seems to have an easy and effortless sense of style, and this image of her knitting a beautiful fair isle glove while wearing a sleek bright blue leather makkin belt and an Orla Kiely print really sums her up for me.
Glasgow University’s Ros Chapman shares her research in a brilliant and very telling piece about knitting and Shetland’s truck system – which made me think differently about the various ‘repository’ shops that sprang up around Scotland and England in the late nineteenth century, some of which still exist today.
. . . There’s a feature by Alistair Hamilton about Edmund Hillary’s world famous Everest sweater (a Shetland icon) as well a fabulous account of last year’s Wool Week by Diana Lukas-Nulle and a profile of Selina May-Miller, Shetland Wool Week’s new co-ordinator.
Finally, I wonder if my current yen for Shetland has anything to do with what arrived in the post this morning? These are seed potatoes – Shetland black tatties, to be exact. Last time I saw Misa we spent a good hour enthusing about gardening, and particularly about the joys and challenges of growing vegetables in our respective parts of the world. I am intrigued to see how Misa’s Shetland black tatties fare down here with me in the west of Scotland, and how lovely it was, on a cold January day to open this parcel, see its sprouting contents, and to feel excited about growing things again. Thanks so much, Misa!
So, in short, I find myself with a curious yearning to be in Shetland . . .which sadly cannot be fulfilled right now. I’ll just have to make do with the live broadcast from Up Helly Aa next week . . .
Skein Queen has also been very busy preparing yarn bundles for these mittens. The yarn – Voluptuous Skinny – is a lovely plump, woolly 4 ply. It is spun up by John Arbon, and composed of 80% Exmoor Blue and 20% organic merino. The yarn is just ideal for a pair of colourwork mittens – the stranding creates a fabric that’s dense and warm, soft and springy. The pattern includes instructions for two sizes of mitten, small and large, and each Skein Queen yarn bundle will include more than enough yarn to knit the largest size.
I’ve also put together a time-limited promotion for those who want to make Jazz Hands to match their Epistropheids. If you purchase both patterns on Ravelry, using the code HEIDANDHANDS you will receive 40% off your total – that’s both patterns for £3.95. Please be sure to add both patterns to your Ravelry cart (using the ‘add to cart’ option) before entering the code or the system won’t apply the discount. Previous Epistropheid purchases should also count toward the promotion – if you encounter any problems please do let me know.
I’ve been enjoying the snowy weather and have been wearing my Jazz Hands pretty constantly since the cold snap started – my hands have been toasty warm!
I’ve had cause to celebrate Mel’s knitting on more than one occasion here. . .
Some of you may recognise Mel as a model from Yokes: Mel has many strings to her supremely talented bow, and I’m lucky enough that she works with me on projects such as Yokes as a sample knitter, design consultant, and all-round offerer of sage advice.
My principal aim when pattern-writing is always clarity, and Mel’s suggestions often help me to achieve that. Keith Moon is a simple sweater with a few nifty details, and Mel’s advice after knitting her version really helped me to hone the instructions for finishing the collar.
Mel and I have very different colour insticts – though we rarely gravitate towards the same shades, her choices always appeal to me, and often make me think about colour in a different way. Her teal-y green, coal black and silver grey Keith Moon is completely different to my nautical original, and it is totally gorgeous.
Mel also recently knitted an Epistrophy in exactly the same yarn (tasty Toft DK), but the reverse colourway to the original. Again, it looks very different to my sample, and it is just so neat and lovely I had to show you.
I don’t mind admitting this is one of my all-time favourites of all the sweaters I’ve designed and knit and -ye gods – I want a dark grey Epistrophy now! Indeed I might have tried to sneak off with it after we took these photographs this afternoon, but Mel is wise to my ways. . .
The day before Christmas eve a wonderful package arrived from Sweden. This was inside. Kerstin Olsson – who you may remember I had the pleasure of meeting a few months ago, and about whose important work for Bohus Stickning I devoted a chapter to in my Yokes book – had done me the honour of knitting me a scarf!
Oh my! And this was not just any scarf! For Kerstin had knitted this lovely gift from original Bohus Stickning yarns — the same yarns with which she knit and designed during the company’s heyday in the 1960s.
An awful lot of work went into developing and maintaining the production of Bohus Stickning yarns such as EJA (Emma Jacobsson Angora). The dye palette was rich and varied, and, to meet Emma’s exacting standards, the spinning, blending, and handle of the fibres had to always be of the very highest quality.
When I visited Göteborg, Kerstin showed me some Bohus Stickning shade cards. Handling them, I was astounded both by the quality of the yarns and the sheer richness of the palette: the vast number of shades the company produced was really pretty astounding. These yarns and palette were Kerstin’s raw materials. It was their quality and variety that allowed her to experiment so successfully with colour, shade, and texture, and to create her wonderful yoke designs, alive with hazy, shimmering hues.
Kerstin’s aesthetic is clearly evident in this fabulous scarf! When I took it out of the bag Tom immediately exclaimed how wonderful the colours were – and they really are.
It is just so lovely. I am pretty overwhelmed.
Kerstin also kindly included some wee twists of yarn in her package – for repairs.
As a knitter, I’m often prompted to reflect on the meanings invested in acts of making, giving and receiving, and as a researcher, I often find that objects that interest me carry a sort of numinous significance . . . .Well, as both knitter and researcher, I can tell you that this beautiful gift, from an incredible designer and artist, created with these wonderful fifty year-old yarns really means an awful lot to me. I was deeply moved when I opened the package and am so very, very happy with my scarf!
Thankyou so much for this precious gift, Kerstin. I feel very honoured indeed to receive it, and shall always treasure it.
So, as December draws to a close, farewell, 2014, and thankyou all for reading! Its been lovely to share this year with you!