The other day Brenda, my lovely neighbour, appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, a gift for me. When I unfolded it, the piece of paper turned out to be a rather interesting and very beautiful hand-painted floral design, which I could immediately tell was some sort of pattern repeat.
But what sort of pattern repeat? I have a limited knowledge of weaving, but in many respects this pattern didn’t really resemble the weaving directions I’d seen. Upon further examination, I felt the motifs had a sort of open quality about them that suggested lace. There was an identifying number on the reverse of the paper.
This suggested the pattern was intended for use in an industrial, commercial context. But what kind of machines produced charted lace? I examined the patterning and instruction marks, all of which were carefully hand-painted. . . as was the lettering.
Then I noticed this word – Madras. I had a vague recollection of some kind of openwork fabric of that name being produced at the turn of the twentieth century. Poking around my books, I found a reference to “Scottish Madras” in Lesley Jackson’s Twentieth Century Pattern Design. Semi-sheer muslins with openwork patterns were traded from, and associated with the Indian port, and, in much the same culturally appropriative way that Paisley became a byword for textiles originating in Kashmir, so an Ayrshire iteration of Madras’s gauzy, lacey muslins began to be produced in the mills of the Irvine valley from the 1870s onwards.
Further poking around revealed more information: that Scottish Madras was introduced to Ayrshire by Alexander Morton, a Scottish textile innovator and entrepreneur who admired and emulated the technology of the Nottingham Leavers Lace machine. The semi-transparent nature of the fabric meant that it was ideal for curtains, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, design houses such as Voysey and Morris & Co were using Morton’s machinery to create lightweight curtain and furnishing fabrics for sale at outlets such as Libertys, in London. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, several mills in Irvine valley were hard at work creating fine lace fabrics like “Scottish Madras”.
Scottish Madras was, then, quite a specialised textile, involving precise design techniques and innovative technologies. The resulting fabric was pretty ubiquitous in the 1910s, and decorated countless early twentieth century domestic interiors. But what had happened to these technologies? Had they died out, as did so many other important innovations, when the Scottish textile industry declined later in the century? Well, imagine how delighted and excited I was to discover that that a company still exists in Ayrshire, using essentially the same specialised technologies to create contemporary interpretations of this important and distinctive local fabric! That company is MYB textiles and I suggest you pop over to their site immediately to read about their history producing Scottish Madras and laces. Even more excitingly, Kashka Lennon, one of the designers at MYB textiles, was able to tell me more about the pattern Brenda had given to me.
According to Kashka: “This is a Nottingham Lace draft, you can tell from the colour used to paint it, the red symbolises the most opaque areas, the green semi-sheer, the white represent the sheer of the lace and the blue symbolises the tags used to pull the yarns together to create very open areas of the design. I can also tell that the design you have would’ve have been for a small 16” café net style fabric by the orientation of the pattern on the graph paper.”
Kashka also mentioned that while she has been taught to recreate these patterns digitally (perhaps in much the same way as we knitwear designers do using Illustrator and other charting software) her design director was trained to make drafts using a similar hand painted technique to that of my chart.
There are beautiful and intriguing things about so many charts and patterns. I find this chart especially beautiful and particularly intriguing because it was a gift that has taught me something about a distinctive Scottish textile I never really knew existed. I now intend to visit MYB textiles to find out a little more about the techniques and traditions of machine-made lace in Scotland! I am very excited about this and promise to report back here after my trip!
Thankyou, Brenda, for sending me on this journey!
So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!
This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.
The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.
I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.
Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.
I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.
The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .
(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)
. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.
Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)
The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .
I am fond of these cuffs.
Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.
This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…
So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!
You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.
While we were in the Highlands, we took the opportunity to photograph a design I’ve had ready for a while: the Sixareen Cape.
I started knitting this Fair Isle wrap last October. You may remember that at that time I’d just designed a hat especially for Shetland wool week (The Sixareen Kep) using Jamieson and Smith’s wonderful Shetland Heritage Yarn.
(Sixareen Kep at my Shetland Wool Week Workshop, modelled by Tania Ashton-Jones. Photo courtesy Charlotte Monckton)
Around that time, I was getting a lot of wear out of a circular wrap I’d purchased from Toast (which I am wearing in the photograph above). This wrap was a sort of deep tube with raglan shaping, and I was surprised at how versatile a thing it was. It was a scarf, a cowl, a snood, and very nearly a sweater. I wore it scrunched up inside a coat when I was outside walking Bruce, I wore it wrapped about me inside the house when I needed another layer, and I wore it thrown on over a suit jacket when a little extra warmth was required outside. I liked it so much that I decided to design my own version featuring a deep Fair Isle border of the same chart design I’d used for the Kep, which I’d been very pleased with. This was the result.
The border of the circularly-knit ‘cape’ features three repeats of the ‘kep’ chart. Its a design I’ve come across in several Shetland sources, and, if you look at it, you’ll see that it is an interestingly stretched-out and squashed incarnation of a traditional OXO motif. There are several things I find really pleasing about this chart. The background is unusually spacious for a Fair Isle motif (there are stretches of 7 stitches in some places), and there’s something about this space that allows the different shades to sing. Because of this, when repeated, the motif develops a shimmering near-kaleidoscopic quality, which I really love.
The heritage yarn is amazingly soft, and wonderful to work with. It is the perfect yarn for traditional Fair Isle, but it also has a marvelous drapey quality which makes it absolutely ideal for this kind of garment. The plain stockinette portion is knitted at a slightly looser gauge to enhance the drape, allowing the garment to be worn in several different ways.
It can be worn scrunched up, cowl-like around the neck . . .
Pulled forward, collar-like, around the shoulders . . .
Or pulled down, cape-like, around the torso . . .
Decreases are worked through the plain stockinette part of the garment in exactly the same way as the shaping of a raglan sweater.
. . . and the end result is a striking and versatile wrap that is also great at warding off chilly highland breezes.
These photographs were taken above Rannoch Moor on a truly beautiful evening.
The cape comes in seven sizes, with a circumference of 45″ to 59″. It is fitted by measuring the wearer’s total shoulder circumference, and it should be worn with at least 2 inches of positive ease, to allow the wearing of layers underneath. If you would prefer a deeper or shallower wrap, the length is easily adjusted following the instructions in the pattern.
The Sixareen Cape is now available to purchase digitally through Ravelry and you can also purchase the pattern in print, to be shipped directly to you, (wherever in the world you are) via my Mag Cloud store.
Its time to show you another design, from the next of my Shetland ‘colour stories’. This is the Ursula Cardigan.
This design is named for writer and naturalist, Ursula Venables, who lived and worked in Shetland during the 1940s and ’50s. (You can read more about her in my book.)
Ursula’s writing about wildflowers, as well as my own experience of Shetland’s luminous summer landscape, provided the very feminine palette of this colour story.
While the distinctive zigzagging stitch pattern was inspired by a striking 1940s knitted garment I noticed very briefly on screen in a BBC drama.
This cardigan is probably the most ‘challenging’ design in Colours of Shetland, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tackled by a confident beginner. It is knit in the round, with steek bridges placed for the front openings and armscyes. After knitting the body, the armscye steeks are cut, and the sleeves are worked top-down in Barbara Walker fashion.
The front steek is cut, and lined with a pretty ribbon trim.
Vintage glass buttons provide the perfect finish. . .
. . .and snaps are used in place of holes to help the button bands retain their shape over time.
This is a classic garment, that, if made carefully, should see its wearer through many summers.
We shot these photographs near St Ninian’s Isle, in Shetland’s South mainland. Every time I look at them, I long to be back there again.
I think I’ll take the Ursula cardigan back to Shetland again next year, to enjoy some more glorious summer days.
Yarn requirements and sizing information for the Ursula Cardigan can now be found on Ravelry.
Good morning! It is I, Bruce. I am here to tell you about the release of Kate’s latest hat design. This hat, which is called “Snawheid” features a large fluffy ball that I’m unfortunately not allowed to savage.
Did you know that I play a crucial role in all of Kate’s photoshoots? Well I do. That’s right — I am the indispensable styling assistant.
The first part of my job as styling assistant is to find a Nice Big Stick and present Kate with it.
Then I fly by with Big Stick just as Tom has set up his photograph.
Finally, I relax and chew Stick while Tom shouts “get out of the shot, Bruce.”
And if you’re really lucky, I’ll even conjure up a rainbow.
Happy Knitting, love Bruce x
Kate adds: with massive pompom-sized thanks to Jen Arnall Culliford, the snawheid pattern is now available here.
Hello from Shetland, everybody! Wool Week is in full swing, and it has got off to a great start.
I thought you’d like to see the pattern we produced yesterday at the Shetland Museum — named and photographed by the workshop participants, and modeled here by the lovely Tania — the Sixareen Kep.
In the workshop I talked a bit about the way I tend to build up ideas and inspiration for a project, and I thought I’d share with you a little of the background to the design of this kep (cap). This was my starting point:
Some of you may remember this amazing portrait from the front cover of A Shetland Knitter’s Notebook, and I’ve also mentioned my fascination with it before here. What the sitter is wearing on her head is is a sort of fancy seafarer’s kep. I just love this hat – perhaps apart from the pompoms – and thought it would be an ideal use of Jamieson and Smith’s Shetland Heritage yarn, of which I conveniently had six balls – one in each shade.
The shape of Cursiter’s sitter’s kep also reminded me strongly of the Phrygian or Liberty cap — a symbol of freedom that’s perhaps most most familiarly associated with the French Revolution.
Then I started thinking about the different kinds of head-covering worn by fishermen around the coasts of Britain.
These noble chaps were photographed by Hill and Adamson in 1847, just down the road from where I live, in Newhaven. The one on the left is wearing what I think of as a kep — the kind of tall ‘wursit’ hat that would have been familiarly worn by Scottish and English fishermen throughout the Nineteenth Century. While the Newhaven fisherman’s head-covering is evidently fashioned in a single colour, in Shetland, such hats would have been knitted in several bright shades:
In the words of Samuel Hibert, in his Description of the Shetland Islands (1822):
“The boat dress of the fishermen is in many respects striking. A worsted covering for the head, similar in form to the common English or Scotch nightcap, is dyed with so many colours that its bold tints are recognized at a considerable distance, like the stripes of a signal flag.”
The collections of the Shetland Museum abound with beautiful examples of such hats. These keps are knitted at typically tight gauges, and feature internal linings which would have made them incredibly cosy and windproof. With a little further poking around the Shetland Museum online archives, I found this description of some wonderfully elaborate examples, that were knitted up to an old design in the 1950s:
“Haaf hats were the type of hats worn by the crew of a sixareen at the haaf (deep sea) fishing, and were typically patterned with small geometric designs . . .The skipper of the boat wore a bright red cap, while the rest of the crew wore darker ones. This differentiated him from the rest of the crew.”
So with these resonances in mind — the hat in the Cursiter portrait; the red Phyrigian cap; the brightly patterned keps described in nineteenth-century accounts of Shetland; and the sixareen skipper’s red “haaf” hat — I knitted this:
My kep begins with a knitted-in lining, and the colourwork brim is knitted on 2.75mm needles. After joining the lining to the top of the brim, I went up a couple of needle sizes, knitting the main body of the kep at a looser gauge to make it drapey (as well as having great stitch definition for colourwork, because of the way it is spun, the Heritage yarn also drapes well). After knitting and shaping the body of the kep, I finished it off with a braid, made from 3 different coloured i-cords, which I plaited and joined together. Here’s the end result:
The workshop participants had a great discussion about what to name the hat — associations were made with Burra’s famous Papil Cross, the distinctive red geology of Ronas Hill as well as different aspects of Shetland seafaring. A vote was taken, and the name that won out was the Sixareen Kep.
So, the pattern for the Sixareen Kep is now available from Ravelry!
Many thanks to all who participated in the workshop: Victoria Wickham, Shelly Kocan, Tania Ashton Jones, Susan Freeman, Evelyn Mackenzie, Emily Poleson, Mandy Moore, Mary Pirie, Aileen Ryder, Outi Kater, Joyce James, Tori Seirestad, Charlotte Monckton, Ann Leibert, Mary Henderson, Monique Boonstra, Joyce Ward, Lesley Smith, Melanie Ireland and Jen Arnall Culliford.
Woolfest is just a fortnight away! I am pleased to say I am mostly prepared (hoping to hear about the whereabouts of the last of my stock today, fingers crossed). I’ve produced two new designs to launch as kits at the event (with yarn and project bags), and sent the patterns off to my printers yesterday. As it really isn’t long till they are published, I thought I’d show you a few photographs in advance. So here’s the first design: it is a Donegal wrap or throw, and I’ve called it Tír Chonaill.
The wrap is knitted in “Soft Donegal” – the same lovely Irish yarn I used for the Bláithín designs. As well as the fresh, Spring-like shades I used for the cardigans, there are a number of deep jewel-like shades in the Donegal Yarns palette that really speak to each other, and which I wanted to bring together. The throw mingles three of these rich shades against a creamy báinín background.
The palette and pattern were inspired by Medieval tapestries. And the name of the design also has historic associations: Tír Chonaill was the name of the last independent Gaelic sovereignty in Ireland: a kingdom which, until the Flight of the Earls in 1607, covered most of what later became County Donegal.
The finished design is about 3 feet square – just right for a wrap or lap blanket – though the tiled repeats mean that it is easily customised for those who would prefer a smaller pram blanket, or a larger throw. It is knit in the round, steeked and finished using similar techniques as those used on the Bláithín cardigans. And the pattern is surprisingly simple to knit — because the yarn is worsted-weight, and the background shades are never carried over long distances, the throw works up quickly, and would be fine for someone reasonably new to colourwork. You can see the steek-sandwich and i-cord edging here:
One of the things I really like about this sort of tiled design is the way that the repeat creates different lines of visual continuity. This only works over a reasonably large area – so this is an ideal design for this particular repeat.
The rich tweedy colours – which really speak to, and blend with, each other – add to this sense of continuity as well.
Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for brockenspectres when we took these photographs. But even when there are teenagers and tourist buddies about (it is a popular spot) I always find the atmosphere around the chapel just a wee bit eerie.
. . . an atmosphere which was only added to by a little wind and rain.
There were also several canny rooks knocking about the ruins of the chapel, but none of them wanted to participate in our wuthering photoshoot, unfortunately.
So, if you like this design, I’ll have it available in kit form at Woolfest! The pattern now has its own ravelry page, and printed and digital copies of the pattern will also be available shortly after the launch. I may be able to offer some kits as well, depending on the level of interest.
I am becoming obsessed with the elaborately starched and stripey ‘costume’ of the Newhaven fishwives – and what it says about the ways in which the hard lives of working women might be reinvented as romance.
These mass-produced ornaments were extremely popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They come in several varieties, and turn up on ebay from time to time. I now find myself determined to get my hands on an ornamental fishwife (If I discovered one with a pair of knitting needles in her hands I just wouldn’t trust myself). Meanwhile, I have finished writing something polemical about the interdependent activities of fishing and knitting, and have today released the pattern for Tantallon. You can find it here or here. ( Massive thanks to Gretchen and Heather for lightning-fast test-knitting and astute pattern feedback). I am not putting any pressure on myself, but I am pretty sure that further designs with connections to my local landscape will be forthcoming.
The Tortoise and Hare sweater and gauntlets are now ready! You can find them here or here! (Grateful thanks to Momoko, Tanya, and most especially to Mel, for test-knitting and extremely useful pattern feedback).
For a limited time only, if you buy a copy of the sweater, you will receive a free copy of the gauntlets in the same download. BOGOF! Bargain! (If you have no interest in knitting the sweater, you can of course buy the gauntlets individually). A note to those who would describe themselves as novice knitters: though the Tortoise and Hare sweater is not difficult, and I hope my instructions are clear and straightforward, because of the steeking, braids, and long colour repeats, I would say it was a project that was suited to the fairly experienced knitter – so if you were thinking of trying this as your first attempt at colourwork, I’d have a go at the gauntlets first.
And if you have any queries about either pattern, please post them on the discussion thread (rav link) in the Kate Davies ravelry group – I will pop over and respond next Sunday (14th). Cheers, everyone – as I’m sure you can imagine, it means a lot to me to finally get these patterns out there!