Kate Davies Designs

Fantoosh!

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FANTOOSH! – my new spring shawl – is now available.

Fantoosh is a top-down triangular shawl featuring a tesselating allover motif defined by centred double decreases and twisted stitches. Its a lovely rhythmic knit with a pleasing end result!

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In Scots, fantoosh means “fancy”, or a wee bit “over the top”. When I was at the beginning of the design process, this shawl felt quite fantoosh to me (although I suppose if you compare it to, say, any design of Shetland fine lace, it is not in the least fancy at all). But because it is worked in a beautiful, luxurious yarn (of which more in a moment), coupled with the fact that it features twisted stitches and openwork, the design idea initially seemed a wee bit more elaborate to me than my usual style. I really enjoyed creating this shawl, and spent quite a bit of time swatching and re-swatching as I honed the motif. I like tesselating shapes, and my favourite kind of lace patterns are those with a well-defined geometry. Playing around with the decreases and twisted stitches meant I could lend this large leafy motif a really graphic strength and structure. Then, once I’d finalised the stitch pattern, I was pleased to discover that the shawl itself was going to end up being incredibly straightforward: memorised after just one repeat, the motif is extremely easy and satisfying to knit. Its an intuitive design whose slightly fancy appearance in fact belies its real simplicity. When I’d finished, it was the exuberance of the shawl that pleased me most – I think it really suits its name – Fantoosh!

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The yarn is (gasp, sigh) Old Maiden Aunt Aunt Alpaca / silk / cashmere 4 ply. This blend of luxury fibres makes it a very fantoosh yarn indeed for me to work with. . .but I took one look at Lilith’s colours on this base and I was completely hooked. I knew I had to work with it. The shade is called “Pretty Floral Bonnet” and it really is exceptionally pretty: a subdued shade of pink-y purple, just slightly semi-solid, with these amazing luminous pops of eau de nil running through it. The overall effect is subtle but luminous.

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It knits up into a wonderfully soft, drapey fabric that also feels substantial and warm. Perfect to wrap oneself up in on a breezy day.

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The shawl is knit from the top-down, to create a triangle twice as wide as it is long. I personally love the flexibility (and wrapability) of a Really Big Shawl. With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, this sample is, ahem, quite large, and uses around 700 yards of yarn (2 skeins).

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But a mahooosive shawl is not for everyone. I knit up a second sample and found that a single skein (400 yards) still makes a good-sized shawl with a 114 cm / 45 in wingspan and yarn to spare – so I’ve written the pattern for two sizes, small and large. And because the repeats are short and simple, you’ll find its also really easy to adjust their number to suit other size preferences (and yarn quantities).

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Fantoosh is both relaxing and fun to knit – there’s enough variety in the stitch pattern to keep things interesting, and its satisfyingly addictive seeing each new motif appear.

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Designing and knitting Fantoosh has put me on a something of a roll, and I suddenly find myself with quite a few ideas fizzing around my brain.

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Lets see if these ideas come to fruition!

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Fantoosh is available digitally via Ravelry and in print via Magcloud

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Happy knitting!

a treasured gift

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What’s this? A handknitted hoose?

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With flowers in the garden . . .

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. . . and a wee gate . . .

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. . leading to a horse-shoe adorned front door . . .

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. . . there are flowers in the windows too . . .

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. . . shrubs round the side . . .

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. . . a tiled roof, and a jolly chimney!

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. . . the back of the hoose is just as inviting as the front

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. . . and it also has a useful function . . .

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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.

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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.

Thankyou xx

here’s a sneak peek . . .

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. . . of my new shawl. I’ve so enjoyed working on this design!

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It is elegant and simple and just a little bit luxurious.

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It is coming soon!

a trip to London

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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 . . .

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. . . 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.

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. . . 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.

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. . . 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)

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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.

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

I’ll be back tomorrow with Sonia Delaunay.

haps!

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(image courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives)

I am a great fan of haps (which form the focus of one of my long-term projects) and I’m very happ-y indeed to see increasing interest in these simple and timeless shawls: Gudrun has a wonderful Craftsy class on haps, and has been running a knit-along for her full and half hap patterns for a couple of months. And, yesterday, led by Louise from Knit British, the much-anticipated hap-along began!

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Several participants in the hap-along are knitting either my Northmavine Hap (above), or my Hap for Harriet (below) and I wanted to say a few words about these designs.

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These patterns are inspired by, and share elements of ‘traditional’ Shetland haps: they are worked over a garter stitch fabric; are knitted in a “heavy” rather than a “fine” Shetland wool yarn; and feature simple Shetland openwork patterns, rather than fine lace. Their construction, however, is rather different from the borders-in, or centre-out method used by Shetland knitters to create a hap: Northmavine is a top-down, centre-out design, and Hap for Harriet is worked from side to side with some simple shaping and openwork to create its sweeping points.

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My understanding of the word “hap” is as a simple wrap or covering – a word that has been used in Scotland and Northern England for centuries to convey the idea of cosiness and warmth. I wrote about the etymology of “hap” in Colours of Shetland thus:

“As knitters, we may have come across the word “hap” in reference to Shetland (or Shetland-type) shawls featuring simple openwork, but what precisely does it mean? “Hap” is a word common to Scots and Northern English dialects, as well as Shetland, and means to wrap, to cover, or conceal. From the 14th century on, the word “hap” crops up frequently in a wide variety of Northern texts, its usage ranging from the quotidian (the protection of crops in cold ground, the repair of a thatched roof) to the sombre (the wrapping of a corpse or the burying of a secret). In Scots, to be “weel happit” means to be well wrapped-up against the cold, and, it is perhaps in reference to colder winter weather that the word has been most often used. In The Brigs of Ayr (1786) for example, Robert Burns summed up the time of year as “when the stacks get on their winter haps”, and James Hogg memorably captured the atmosphere of a chilly evening: “When gloamin o’er the Welkin steals / And haps the hills in sober grey” (Forest Minstrel, 1810). More recently, ‘hap’ appears as a singularly Wintery covering in Edinburgh author, James King Annand’s lovely poem, Purple Saxifrage (1991).

Aneath a hap o snaw it derns
Deep in a dwam for maist the year
To burst throu in a bleeze o starns
Syne skail its flourish on the stour.

(Anglicised:
Beneath a hap of snow it hides
Deep in a dream for most the year
To burst through in a blaze of stars
Then spill its flourish on the storm)

When the weather is chilly, what better way to be “weel happit” than in a warm and cosy wool shawl? While, in 19th-century mainland Scotland, the noun “hap” might suggest a plaid or other type of women’s wrap, in Shetland a “hap” came specifically to refer to the attractive openwork coverings made and worn by the knitters of those islands. In contrast to the luxurious fine lace shawls that were produced for merchants or special occasions, haps were intended for everyday use, to be worn around the house or on the hill. Spun and knitted thicker than fine lace, a hap was a garment with a function: to keep the body warm. Wrapped and tied around the torso, or tucked hood-like around the neck and chin, a good hap would efficiently insulate its Shetland wearer against the exigencies of cold and wind. Knitted over a background of garter stitch, and featuring shaded chevrons of familiar Shetland openwork patterns (first in natural sheep-shades, and later in dyed colours), haps could also be incredibly beautiful and striking in their simplicity. Like the best kind of functional clothing, haps possess a certain timelessness of design, and today this Shetland classic is frequently re-interpreted by knitters around the world.”
Colours of Shetland, 2012, p.52-3

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I think it is their functional quality – coupled with a certain elegant simplicity – that make haps appeal to me so much as both a designer and a knitter. These are garments to be made and worn. They are relaxing to knit, add colour and warmth to our outfits, and have a certain timeless ease which to me suggests the importance and longevity of the simple shawl in women’s wardrobes. Because of this, the Northmavine Hap and the Hap for Harriet are among my favourite designs, and if you are making either in the hap-along I do hope you enjoy the patterns!

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(Hap for Harriet in Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 2ply)

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(Northmavine Hap in Jamieson and Smith 2 ply Jumper Weight)

Thanks so much for all your good wishes over the past couple of weeks. I really have been quite unwell, and because of this somewhat grumpy – hence the silence here. As you might imagine, it can take me a while to recover from what to most folk is a routine infection, and I find this really frustrating, but am happily regaining my energy now. If you are waiting for an email response to a customer service query I promise I’ll get back to you soon!

superb knitters

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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!

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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.”

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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!

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In the entire-family-in-matching-knitwear-cuteness stakes, I don’t think you can beat Eimear’s Epistropheids!

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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, from Oxford Yarn Store, recently knitted herself an absolutely glorious Westering Home.

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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.

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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.”

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I was very struck by the lovely wintery look of Clara’s Warriston

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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.

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Seeing Clara’s Warriston really makes me want to make one in white!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Finally, I had to show you Marieke’s fabulous dress. To knit this amazing garment, Marieke mashed-up my Ásta Sóllilja yoke with Védís Jónsdóttir’s Keđja pattern. Magnificent work, Marieke!

orange owligan

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Maybe it is the time of year or something – everything in the landscape seems so scoured out and colourless – but I find myself on a massive orange kick. And what better orange could there possibly be than this?

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The yarn is Bulky lopi in shade 1418 – “carrot tweed”. Such a rich, deep firey shade! So carroty, so very, very . . . orange! The Icelandic wool so thick, so warm! The tweedy neps so nubbly and so pleasing! I just had to knit myself another Owligan.

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I knit this Owligan a little shorter – around 14 inches to the underarm. Making the first size, I used just under seven skeins of yarn. Because of the tweedy nature of the lopi, the finished garment has a rather rustic feel – which is quite different to my other versions of this cardigan.

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My orange Owligan is the ultimate antitdote to a grey February day and I absolutely love it.

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It is Ravelled here.

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