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!
(This is a body and sleeves, knitted up on her machine by Ella Gordon, onto which I’m about to hand-knit a colourwork yoke. Hundreds of thousands of such garments were – and indeed still are – made in like manner in Shetland and elsewhere.)
Thanks so much for your comments on the previous post. As so often, you have given me pause for thought. Some of you have written privately to me that you felt my post unfairly dismissed not just the Munrospun kits, but by implication, the women who made things from them. I can only apologise, and assure you that this was not my intention. These kits undoubtedly enabled many knitters – women with multiple demands on their time, who enjoyed straightforward knitting – to create and wear a lovely hand-made colourwork item. As I said in the previous post, acts of making are always to be applauded, and there are certainly many things to applaud about the way that these kits, so often bought as gifts, lent ordinary knitters all over the world access to Shetland and Scottish yarns and designs. I also have absolutely nothing against the pieced construction of the kit, against knitting back and forth, or against plain stockinette (which really is probably my favourite kind of evening knitting). However, I do readily concede that my first thoughts about the kit were with the knitter-producer behind it, rather than the knitter-consumer to whom it was addressed.
I’ve spent the past few weeks carefully trying to think about yokes from a Shetland perspective. I have examined lots of archive material, looked at knitting, photographs of knitting, personal pattern books and commercial, printed patterns. I’ve conversed with knitters who, over the past half century have differing personal experiences of producing hand-knitted yokes for market. I’ve spoken to Shetland friends about their memories of yoke-wearing and knitting, and I have seen contemporary Shetland women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes, who are wearing Fairisle yokes again. The familiar tree and star designs, hand-knitted onto machined bodies, first so popular in the 1960s are, once more, everywhere in Shetland, and, I think, are clearly gaining fashionable ground farther afield as well. (PLEASE BEAR IN MIND: if you ever find yourself in a shop on the street in Lerwick, looking at a lovely hand-knitted item, it is always worth asking how, and how much, the knitter has been paid for their work. If you don’t get a straight answer, please don’t buy the item). Anyway, I suppose my first thought, upon opening the Munrospun kit, was of the person who knitted that yoke, of how many similar yokes they would have knit, and of the colourwork yoke itself as, by this point in the 70s, a standardised item produced for a ready market – a market of makers, or those interested in making, but an emphatically commercial market nonetheless. Looking at the kit, I also felt that it seemed to mark a definitive moment in the story of the hand-knit yoke: the height of its popularity, but also the turning point of its decline. (It is certainly the case that by the late 70s, hand-knitted yokes were beginning to be seen as old-fashioned, negatively preppy, or just staid, and that hand-knitting itself went into severe decline over the course of the decade that followed). None of this is meant in any way to dismiss the women who made themselves lovely Munrospun cardigans and jumpers, and these kits were certainly enjoyed, both in the making and in the wearing, by many, many knitters. But I do feel the analogy that some of you drew with boxed cake mixes – products that similarly became popularly available in this era – is moot: such mixes certainly offered a speedy, accessible, and in some senses, empowering alternative to baking from scratch, but no one would argue the cakes tasted better.
So that’s how my thoughts have been unravelling this morning. I want to sincerely apologise to any of you who felt affronted by the previous post, and to thank all of you for your comments, whose lively debate and multiple perspectives really make this blog what it is, and always act as a prompt to me to try to see the bigger picture.