Kate Davies Designs

Wowligan (wee owligan)

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Hooray! Hooray! Wowligan is here today!

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Apparently owl cardigans are much easier to dress a wee one in than owl jumpers and I’ve been asked about the possibility of such a pattern many times. . . one can never have too many owls, so I decided to make it. The Wowligan is basically a mini Owligan, knit up in a sport-weight yarn and carefully resized to baby and kid proportions.

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Like the Owligan, Wowligan uses an all-in-one piece circular yoke construction and is knit from the bottom-up. The pattern includes a choice of charted or written instructions for working the cables, and comes with the option of knitting the sleeves flat, or in the round. It is a great pattern for any beginner knitter.

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The pattern comes in 8 sizes, from 6 months to 10 years, and uses Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, which is a great yarn for kids garments. In the pattern you’ll also find a schematic and a very detailed sizing table, together with instructions for selecting and knitting the right size.

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This sweet and cheery wee soul is Sofia, who is wearing her Wowligan in the fourth size (2 years). She was photographed by the very talented Fergus Ford. I’ve recently been working with Ferg on another exciting and, ahem, exceptionally cute project – which I should be able to tell you about next week.

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Wowligan is now available digitally via Ravelry or in print via MagCloud.

Happy knitting! Hoot hoot!

designing & publishing: part 2

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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I visited Maine in the summer of 2005. I loved it. This book makes me want to go back. And definitely in the winter.

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.

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!

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