Epistrophy

Well, it is time to introduce you to the first yoke from my new collection. Meet Epistrophy.

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Epistrophy is the title of a Be Bop “standard” composed and popularised by Thelonius Monk in 1942. The tune is characterised by its repetition and modification of a single, imitative phrase (or epistrophe). If you’d like to hear the tune, press play.

(Monk with Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren, and Frankie Dunlop)

Like Monk’s tune, as this yoke progresses, the diced pattern imitates, repeats and modifies a single motif.

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The result is a yoke with a graphic monochrome necklace. Shaping is integrated uninterrupted into the colourwork, and the yoke is designed to sit across the top of the shoulders.

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Epistrophy is worked in the round from the bottom up, and then steeked open. . .

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The steek edges are trimmed, and covered by a ribbon facing . . .

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. . . and the cardigan fastens with buttons and buttonholes that are worked into the rib.

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The yarn I’ve used is Toft Ulysses DK – a wonderful British wool – that comes in two muted shades of grey (silver and steel).

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The yarn is wonderfully soft and springy and knits up to create a beautifully even fabric. The finished yoke has quite a luxurious feel, but the yarn is such that it will also last and wear well.

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I loved the whole process of designing and knitting this yoke (much of which was accompanied by the tunes of Thelonius Monk), and its one of the garments that I have found myself unable not to wear. My samples are often used for trunk shows etc so I’m not really supposed to wear them, but I confess I did pop Epistrophy on to take my driving test a couple of weeks ago. Do you think it might have helped me to pass?epistrophy21

These pictures were taken just round the corner from where I live, by the bonnie banks and braes of Loch Lomond.
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Every pattern in the new book has been photographed in a different location – I wanted to give each garment a distinct style and feel, and knew that I needed a cloudy evening to photograph this design.

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If you’d like to know further details about the yarn quantities, gauge and sizing for this pattern, do nip over to the Epistrophy pattern page on Ravelry. I have set up the Yokes source on Ravelry too, and will be revealing and adding more patterns as the days go on.

More to come!

out and about

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I can’t believe quite how much my horizons seem to have expanded in the fortnight since I passed my driving test. Every day I’ve been able to take Bruce somewhere different for a walk.

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As you can imagine, Bruce is enjoying this immensely. Each time I open the front door he goes and stands expectantly beside my van, waiting to be taken to an exciting new place.

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It has been exciting for me too. Going to a shop, the post office, or even to a routine hospital appointment has felt pretty amazing just because I could simply take myself there. I have experimented with motorways and the Clyde tunnel and, this coming Saturday, I intend to take a drive down to Sanquhar to attend this interesting event, part of Glasgow University’s Knitting in the Round project. With talks from Tom of Holland and Lynn Abrams, it looks like it will be a great day. If you see me, say hello.

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Meanwhile, we are on the home strait with my book, which is now at the proof reading stage. It really is looking fantastic, and I confess to feeling a wee bit proud when I contemplate its imminent publication. It’s a reasonably substantial collection (11 different garments) and the research that accompanies the patterns has genuinely been the most interesting and stimulating I’ve ever done. I loved writing the essays and conversations, and I am really pleased with the designs – both individually and as a collection. I shall shortly begin to show you more of what I’ve been doing. After months of virtual silence about the book it will be lovely to finally show you!

The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting

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You will have heard me mention distinguished Shetland designer, Hazel Tindall, many times on this blog. I first met Hazel three years ago, when I was lucky enough to take a workshop with her during Shetland Wool Week. Over the course of the class, Hazel shared her knitterly tips and techniques, talked us through some beautiful examples of her work, and showed us just how she went about designing Fair Isle allover garments. It was a memorable afternoon. I was bowled over by the extent of Hazel’s talent, and by her generosity. Both of these qualities are in evidence in Hazel’s much-anticipated new film in which she demonstrates the creation of a beautiful Fair Isle cardigan from start to finish.

Here’s the trailer:

Hazel’s film is a wonderful way to learn more about Shetland knitting, colourwork, and garment construction. The format is innovative and useable, with a cardigan pattern being designed specifically for this film as an accompanying download. The steps of the pattern and the chapters of the film are cross referenced, making the process very simple and straightforward for the knitter to follow. Hazel’s Shetland Star cardigan is designed using the rich, saturated shades of Uradale Farm’s Double Knitting, a Shetland yarn which has been organically raised and processed. It is a lumber of familiar Shetland construction, featuring vertically placed stars interspersed with dicing, which showcase Hazel’s characteristic use of colour. The pattern comes in 10 sizes (from 23 to 46 ins).

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The cardigan is knit in the round and steeked, and Hazel shows you from start to finish precisely how to construct and create it. You’ll learn how to swatch carefully, how to insert a pocket into colourwork, how to set up a sleeve and neckline, to cut a steek, to graft and finish the cardigan, and finally how to block a garment on a Shetland jumper board. If Shetland knitting methods are completely new to you, Hazel carefully introduces many objects and techniques that may be unfamiliar: long pins, knitting belt, wrapping string, and the use of cotton thread to create tension during knitting and to secure the fabric while blocking. All stages of the process are carefully illustrated – you really can learn at your own pace. And even if you are an experienced colourwork knitter, you will learn an awful lot from this film. I was both surprised and impressed by many of Hazel’s methods, and shall be immediately adopting her very nifty technique of picking up stitches around a steeked armhole or cardigan front opening. My one proviso is that, if you are a very beginner knitter, Hazel’s film may not be the best learning tool for you. But if you know the basics of stranded colourwork knitting, and want to discover more about this technique, then this film is a true gift. For who better to learn from than a Shetland designer with over 50 years experience, and the world’s fastest knitter to boot?

The DVD and download have been beautifully and professionally produced by Dave Donaldson and JJ Jamieson. Both sound and images are clear and sharp, but the film also has a wonderfully relaxed feel, enhanced throughout by the tones of Hazel’s lovely voice. I’ve already spent many happy hours knitting along with, and learning from, The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting, and imagine I’ll spend many more. In the final section, poet Stella Sutherland reads her wonderful piece The Allover, an insightful celebration of the “joy of creation” involved in knitting a Fair Isle garment, accompanied by beautiful images of the Shetland landscape. I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion to Hazel’s generous and inspiring film.

The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting is available on DVD or download directly from Hazel’s Website

The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

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I suspect many of you will now know that my good friend Felicity Ford’s fabulous new tome, The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook has just been published!

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Felix is a close friend of mine, and, as I also played an editorial role in the production of her, ahem, masterwerk, I have, as you’d imagine, only positive things to say. But I have to briefly say them anyway, because I just know that you will love this book.

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I have never met anyone quite so full of joy as Felix, anyone quite so enthusiastic and energetic, or anyone who, in quite the manner that she does, is able to appreciate and celebrate the sheer wonder of quotidian things: snacks, plants, spaces, socks, beer, bricks, wool. In this book she enables you to turn the last thing on that list – wool – into all of the items that precede it. Using the fabulous shades available in the Jamieson & Smith jumper weight palette, and some really innovative methods of sketching and swatching, Felix shows you how to develop the aesthetic skills to translate everday objects into glorious knitting.

With Felix you can learn how to knit a fruitcake . . .

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. . . discover how to look anew at the ordinary spaces that surround you . . .

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. . . develop a luminous palette with which to celebrate an extraordinary building . . .

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. . . or translate the vintage aesthetics of a favourite tome into a pair of fabulous fingerless gloves.

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Felix is many things: talented artist, lyrical writer, innovative designer, and all-round good egg. You’ll find her with all of these hats on in this book, and one of the things I love so much about it is just how Felix it all is.

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This is certainly a personal book, then, but it is also a precise and professional tome too. The book is beautifully produced: the layout (by Nic Blackmore) has an elegant simplicity and the photographs (by Fergus Ford) not only clearly illustrate Felix’s work but enhance its rich context. The book has useful patterns too: after teaching you how to create beautiful colourwork swatches, Felix carefully shows you some simple methods of incorporating your original stitch patterns into wearable items, such as legwarmers and gauntlets.

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The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is both enabling and inspiring. It will change the way you look at your knitting and the world. There’s not another book anywhere like it. It is truly original – just like its author.

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Felicitations, Felix!

The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is now available!

Finishing touches

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So my final yoke is DONE! I couldn’t resist showing you a peek while it is blocking on the dress form. This one has been so interesting both to design and to produce and I am really very pleased with the end result.

Just the finishing touches to go now – some ribbon to cover the facings and some buttons that will pick up the orange in the yoke.

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I know some folk hate finishing but it is honestly one of my favourite parts of making a garment – I feel that taking time over the details is a way of really relishing the completion of one’s work.

yoke collection

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One of the many fun elements of researching my book has been seeking out yoked sweaters on eBay and in charity shops. I have learned a lot from these garments, which are often a hybrid of machine and hand-knitting, and thought I’d share a few of them with you today. I think I showed you the Shetland yoke jumper I’m wearing above on a previous occasion. It has a machine knitted body and a hand-knitted tree and star yoke with a characteristically back-buttoned placket; it fits me well, and I wear it frequently. I wanted to mention this jumper today because it is, in yoke terms, somewhat anomalous: the way the pattern repeats have been calculated means that the tree is centred both front and back. The back opening thus divides a tree in half:

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I imagine this will seem an insignificant matter to some of you – after all, the motifs are still balanced and centred – but when you’ve looked at many Shetland yokes, and many patterns for Shetland yokes, it immediately appears odd. My friend Ella* was quick to spot its curious tree placement, and in almost every other example I’ve seen over the past six months or so, the star is centred, not the tree. (If the garment is a jumper, the star is always at front centre, and if a cardigan, there’s an extra star to balance the pattern, so the front opening is always flanked by stars.) So this yoke is a curiosity of which I am particuarly fond – I think its anomalous nature only endears it more to me.

Here is a non-anomalous, fairly standard Shetland tree and star yoke, that I found on eBay:

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The body and sleeves have been machined, and the yoke, ribbing, and front bands have all been finished by hand. Its nicely finished – here you can see how, on the inside of the garment, the yoke has been steeked and cut; the yarn ends have been woven in; and have then felted down with wear.

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And here’s another Shetland tree and star – a jumper this time:

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Again, the star is centred, and the garment is a machine / hand-knitted hybrid. I am fond of this one, because it bears the lovely trademark of the Shetland Woollen Industries Association:

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Back in the 1920s, the SWIA was established to protect native Shetland wool, and to promote and protect the products that were made from it. The trade mark guaranteed that the goods were genuine Shetland wool products, grown and produced in the Shetland islands. Sadly, this trade mark is just one of a litany of many never-wholly successful attempts to protect the term “Shetland”, in reference to wool and textiles, from appropriation and misuse. (You can read more about this issue in this 1952 parliamentary motion and debate and in Sarah Dearlove’s chapter in Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present)

Here I am, spotting a couple of naughty rabbits about to chow down on what’s left of my leeks.

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This jumper illustrates the evolution of the “Shetland” yoke (strictly speaking, its not made from “Shetland” wool, and neither is it made in Shetland) and despite the fact that its far too big for me I find it interesting because it demonstrates an important stage in yoke history as the garment became enabled for industrial mass production. These jumpers were – and are still – produced by Harley of Scotland, on, as I understand it, some pretty innovative knitting machinery that enables the speedy creation of completely seamless and circular yoked garments. The yoke design is pretty simple, and there’s certainly none of the wonderful individuality you find in so many hand-knit Shetland yokes, but I find the jumper intriguing precisely because the yoke is circular, fashioned in a Shetland style, and because hand-knitting has finally been taken out of the production equation.

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Harley still produce similar garments to order, as you can see here

Finally, here is a recent yoke find by which I was particularly excited:

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I purchased this beautiful Norweigan yoke on eBay, from an Edinburgh seller who remarkably turned out to be a reader of this blog (hello, Amy!). It is one of many iterations of Unn Søiland Dale’s “Eskimo” design (please note that my use of that word simply reproduces the given name of the sweater: I am in no way endorsing the term’s unpleasant and inaccurate ethnographic connotations). As the tree and star yoke is to Shetland, so Dale’s yoke is to Norway:

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(Images of Unn Søiland Dale’s Eskimogenser from Digitalt.Museum)

In its many forms, but always with with similar motifs and this characteristic colourway, Dale’s yoked sweater seems to have been in constant production in Norway since 1952, when it was first designed. This yoke is a true Norweigan icon (and is referenced as such in a recent pattern collection by Sandnes Garn)

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And just like its Shetland counterparts, this commercially-produced Norweigan yoke is also a hybrid of machine and hand knitting, with careful finishing.

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. . . and beautiful hand-knitting on the yoke.

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Amy, your sweater has gone to a good home and I feel honoured to have it among my yoke collection!

All of these yokes involve some machine knitting, and all of them have been in some way instructive when thinking about the construction and creation of my own hybrid machine and hand-knit yoke, which is now nearing completion.

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Ella machined the body, I blocked and seamed the body and sleeve pieces; picked up stitches for the yoke and, over the weekend, knitted my yoke on. It has been a really interesting process, and is the very last bit of knitting there is for my book. All of the patterns, including this one, are now complete – we are almost there!

So, I suppose I’d better get on and finish those front bands. . . .

*Ella has also been documenting her knitwear collection! Pop over here to see more yokes.

knitter-producers and knitter-consumers

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(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.

Thankyou

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