looking back

dumgoyne

2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!

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It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.

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2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.

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(Peerie Flooers on Ann Cleeves’ Shetland)

. . .with the BBC

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(Nepal Wrap)

. . .with Rowan

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(Shepherd Hoody)

. . .with Juniper Moon Farm

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. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.

I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.

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Catkin

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Braid Hills

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Port o’ Leith

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Firth o’Forth

But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.

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Tea Jenny

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First Footing

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Toatie Hottie

And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.

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Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.

Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!

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First Footing (Ceilidh Oidche Challain)

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I’m really pleased to introduce my first sock pattern, which is now available as a kit in my online shop. I knit socks all the time, but for some reason have never yet designed a pair…until now! This very seasonal design celebrates the Scottish New-Year tradition of First Footing, which, in Gaelic is known as Ceilidh Oidhche Challain (translating as “a visit on Hogmanay night”). In Gaelic, Ceilidh does not really signify a party, in the terms we know it today, but should be thought of more generally as a sociable visit. Ceilidh Oidhche Challain would traditionally have been very jolly affair indeed, as communities celebrated the turning of the New Year together with the sharing of songs, tales, and verse. So if you fancy first footing this Hogmanay, why not do so in a fresh pair of socks?

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The cuff-down sock pattern covers two sizes – small and medium – to fit adult feet with 8in or 9in circumferences. The kit contains pattern, project bag, and lovely Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage yarn, in a choice of two colourways, indigo or madder (the same as the Toatie Hottie kits).

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So pop on your socks and prepare for Hogmanay!

First Footing kits are now available.

a spencer dress

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It is a grey and murky day, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you my amazing Spencer dress!

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You’ll have probably seen that my Shetland friend, Ella, first scored one of these a few weeks ago in the Lerwick saleroom. She was then put in touch with Margaret Stuart, who originally designed these beautiful pieces in the 1970s and 1980s, and was able to buy a few more. Probably because I wouldn’t stop going on about it, Ella kindly allowed me to purchase one of her haul.

Mine is the same colourway as a Margaret Stuart dress held in the collections of the Shetland Museum.

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(Ella’s photo)

Although it was knitted over thirty years ago, the Jamieson and Smith shades that have been used in the dress are still immediately recognisable to me: FC14, 122, 1281, 141 (used in my Northmavine hap and hoody) and 125 (used in my Puffin Sweater). FC14 is one of those beautifully complex J&S shades (a deep blue with a slightly shimmering quality because of the way the yarn is composed of so many different colours) while shade 125 is one of my all-time J&S favourites (it is the exact colour of tinned tomato soup).

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The fabric of the dress is not dense at all, but really light and airy — the yarn has been worked at a much looser gauge than normal for, say, a Fairisle piece. As a consequence of the gauge, the dress has considerable drape and swing, but the lovely Shetland wool means that it is also soft and warm. The colourway lends the skirt a fabulous visual effect, and I love that the dress combines two traditional Shetland garments – a hap and a spencer – to create a piece which must have looked tremendously contemporary when it was made. It is a brilliant design.

The construction of the dress is also very interesting to me. The body and skirt appear to have been knit flat, in one piece to the armholes. Here you can see the side seam.

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The bodice has then been worked back and forth to the shoulders, and, though the sleeves have been picked up around the armholes, they too have been worked flat and seamed. The whole piece is worked over garter stitch, so I imagine the construction has been specifically designed to minimise purling. A one-piece garter-stitch spencer designed by Margaret Stuart appears in Madeleine Weston’s Classic British Knits – on this garment, the seam is worked up the centre, but the minimal-purl, one-piece construction appears very similar to that which has been used in my dress. But imagine the seamless fun that might be had working one of these pieces in the round using the no-purl garter stitch technique!

I am absolutely thrilled with my lovely new dress. Thankyou, Ella and thankyou Margaret for allowing me to acquire it! It will take pride of place in my growing collection of vintage Shetland knitwear!

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A comment on Ella’s blog from Margaret herself leads me to hope that she may, at some point, republish the pattern for this wonderful dress. I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to knit one.

For those of you interested in kits
The shop will be updated at 12 noon GMT tomorrow (Sunday December 8th) with more stock of Toatie Hotties, and another new seasonal design!

Port o’ Leith

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Here is the third garment in my Edinburgh series – the Port o’ Leith gansey.

This garment has twisted stitches and cables, that are reminiscent of maritime nets and rigging. It also features a deep, cowl-like collar, which is great for warding off North sea winds.

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. . . but which is also detachable, for when the weather is warmer, or you wish to hail a passing vessel.

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When designing this ensemble I wanted to retain a simple shape, as best befits a cabled gansey. But I also think that traditional gansey-gussets can be somewhat unflattering on a women’s garment, creating far far too much fabric around the underarm and upper torso.

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(illustration by Felicity Ford)

So I’ve shaped the upper torso for a neater fit, following and adapting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s directions for a seamless saddle-shouldered sweater.

Centred double decreases add focus to the yoke . . .

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. . . and are echoed in the twisted stitches that feature on the collar and front panel.

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Creating a Wintery ensemble that has some fitted structure, but is also really cosy and easy to wear.

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I am modelling it here with 4 ins positive ease, wearing a vest and woolly baselayer underneath. . .

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. . . but the gansey could also be worn with zero or negative ease, and you’ll find instructions in the pattern for selecting the best size, and modifying the garment for a more tailored look.

In the essay that accompanies the design, I write about Leith’s connections with the wool trade, and with Shetland knitting, and it is fitting that the garment is knitted in a great Shetland yarn – Jamieson and Smith Shetland chunky. Having done a lot of knitting with this yarn, I’d say that it is really more of an aran-weight than a chunky, creating a fabric that seems to have just the right amount of density at a gauge of 16 sts to 4 ins (on 5mm needles). I knit this sample in the natural ‘kirn mylk’ shade but the charcoal shade of this yarn is also particularly lovely, and I’ll hopefully show you another sample knitted up in this shade very shortly.

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This yarn is worsted spun, which means that, while it retains a lovely Shetland wooliness it is also very smooth, lending it a stitch definition that’s ideal for twisted stitches and cables.

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These photographs were taken down by Leith’s docks and shore at the Victoria Swing Bridge – which, when it was first constructed in 1874, was the largest swing bridge in Britain.

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We used to live a short walk from here. Though you’ll now find delicatesans and confectioners and michelin-starred restaurants next to the Port’s traditional maritime haunts, Leith somehow retains its character as the least pretentious of Edinburgh places.

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The pattern is now available digitally, via Ravelry, or in print from my MagCloud store
(I’m currently investigating ways of including a code with the print copy to enable you to store a PDF in your Rav library. This requires updating and altering all my print files – please bear with me – I’ll let you know when this is sorted and I can also issue those who’ve bought print copies of other patterns with download codes retrospectively, if necessary).

a woolly wednesday. . .

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As the weather grows more chilly, things are becoming very busy round here — in a good way. I have been knitting and designing and writing for weeks now, in advance of a few new Winter releases. In a few days I will be publishing the next design in my Edinburgh Series of garments (which you’ll see hinted at above), inspired by the industrial and maritime heritage of Leith. This design is cosy and wintery and woolly and I’m very happy with it – I hope you like it too.

Additionally, I’ve been working really hard on some new seasonal accessory designs. . .

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. . . which will soon be available as kits in my online shop. Colours of Shetland (now in its second edition) is finally back in stock (hurrah!) , and I’m looking forward to it being joined by Snawheid, and several other jolly kits over the next couple of weeks. I’m developing these kits as something of an experiment, so you must tell me if there are particular designs of mine that you’d like to see available and I’ll see what I can do.

I’m also rather happy about a couple of vintage knitwear finds . . .

This jumper (an ebay find) is destined to become a pair of SWANTS!

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. . . and if you have seen Ella’s blog recently, you’ll know why I am unbelievably excited by this:

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Ye gods! It is indeed one of Margaret Stuart’s beautiful Spencer dresses and it is now in my possession! Seriously, this is a completely amazing garment (that fits me too) and I am incredibly grateful to Ella for enabling its acquisition. More of this anon.

In the meantime, here are a few woolly links for you this Wovember Wednesday:
Needle and Spindle‘s lovely post about Pelle’s New Suit – a beautiful children’s story from 1912 that tells the story of a jumper.
Caroline Walshe thoughtfully documents the process of growing, preparing, spinning and knitting a shawl from the fleece of Jake, her Jacob wether. This is one of the most inspiring pieces about process that I’ve read in a long time.
Equally inspiring, but for different reasons, is Cecilia Hewitt’s piece about her unique and very beautiful handspun yarn. Cecilia’s sense of place and colour has something truly magical and profound about it – but her work is also refreshingly grounded in the ordinary and everyday. “An intriguing patch of colour in the hedge turned out to be a crisp packet.”
Finally, via 60 North TV and the Shetland Times, a short video about this year’s Shetland Wool Week. Highlights include Oliver Henry talking about his work grading fleeces, and brief clips of Hazel, Tom, Sarah and, of course, Felix singing the Shetland wool song!

Up Dumgoyne

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A gorgeous day! And a good one to climb Dumgoyne – the hill that dominates the landscape behind our new home. There’s been snow on the tops of the Munros for about a week now, and it seems to be rapidly creeping down to lower altitudes – so I wanted to get up there before the weather really turns.

The last Autumn colours seemed especially bright and saturated this morning.

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Don’t worry, Bruce happily isn’t interested in sheep, and walks to heel when we are about them.

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A particularly incredible oak tree, in a landscape full of beautiful deciduous trees:

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Climbing upwards, you get a great sense of the shape of the land. We live down there:

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With Glasgow to the South and East . . .

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. . . and the snow-capped Highlands North and West.

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The water you can see in that photograph is Loch Lomond.

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A tough descent for my wonky leg – but the first of many fine walks, I’m sure, up and down our local hill.

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out walking

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One of the very great pleasures of living here is that the West Highland Way is on our doorstep. I walk out of our steading, and about a hundred yards up the way is a glorious landscape, at the far edges of which (on a really clear day) Ben Lomond and the Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps are all visible. I walk here every day, and enjoy these walks tremendously. Today I took my camera so you can see it too.

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three sweaters

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I thought I’d show you my three new sweaters! First up is this lovely Fairisle yoke (bought for £16 on eBay).

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This is a garment of a kind that is still being made in Shetland, and that you can find in Lerwick today in shops like The Spider’s Web. I think its a lovely example. The body has been knitted by machine, and the yoke inserted afterward by hand.

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The blending of the colours on the yoke is beautiful, and the hand-finishing is exemplary, particularly around the steeked opening for the back neck.

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The garment is in great condition and shows no signs of wear at all. I fully intend to wear it!

Next up is a sweater that – shock horror – I just knitted for myself.

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This garment is knitted in some wonderful yarn that I hand-dyed myself at a workshop at Lilith‘s studio four years ago – Bowmont Braf 4 ply. Words cannot express how much I love this yarn – it is springy and sheepy and robust . . . it has a deeply matt, slightly felted appearance, but retains a bouncy hand. Dyed up on it, colours appear soft and muted, as if already worn for a long time. Plus, the yardage is incredible. What’s not to like? Well, only the fact that its long-discontinued. (If anyone knows of a supplier of bowmont fibre please do let me know!). Lilith was very taken with the yarn as well, and our dyeing workshop was the beginning of our collaboration on the Fugue design, which she dyed up as a kit in her glorious Dreich and Lon Dubh colourways. Coincidentally, I know that Lilith is currently knitting an Ursula with her secret Bowmont Braf stash, and I can’t wait to see it.

Anyway, back to the knitting.

As a designer, I think its important to get one’s head around different garment-construction methods – I learned to design yoked sweaters by knitting yoked sweaters – and though I’m familiar with many different top-down sleeve constructions, I’d never tried Susie Myers’ contiguous method, which (essentially) allows you to produce a seamless, top-down, set-in sleeve without the need for picking up stitches around the armscye (which is my usual method). I read the contiguous ‘recipe’, browsed the contiguous threads on Ravelry, purchased a couple of Ankestrik‘s excellent patterns for informed reading, and decided to attempt the method by knitting a sleeve which was a combination of saddle and set-in. The idea was to familiarise myself with the contiguous method’s basic principles, while turning my precious stash of Bowmont Braf into a simple, loose fitting sweater that I could enjoy wearing everyday.

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I’m happy with the sleeve shaping . . .

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. . .and indeed with the sweater (though this photograph, snatched between rain showers probably doesn’t suggest it). As my stash of Bowmont Braf was limited, I weighed the remaining yarn and divided it in two before starting the sleeves. This is a pottering-about, dog-walking sweater that makes good use of my lovely Bowmont Braf, and has taught me a bit about a different way of constructing a sleeve top-down! I really like it.

Finally, this amazing find came into my possession for a mere £1.04 via eBay.

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It’s a beautiful hand-knit vintage Fairisle gansey in natural Shetland-sheep shades. From the way the yarn is spun, I’d say it was probably knitted post-war. The eBay listing described the garment as having been purchased many years ago in an ‘exclusive Edinburgh boutique’. I would speculate that this ’boutique’ was a shop that once stood in Morningside, whose owner sourced garments directly from Shetland knitters, and who has donated several items to the Shetland Museum. This is a really well-made sweater.

Like many such garments I’ve seen, inside the ends have simply been knotted and left to felt

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The gansey has clearly been worn a lot, but is still in great condition. The only area that needs repair is this one cuff.

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And as Mel said to me when taking these photos yesterday, “it fits like it was made for you.”

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I’ll take good care of it.

Foula Wool update

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(Foula sheep . . . growing more wool as we speak)

Just popping in to mention that Foula Wool have completely sold out of their current stock of yarn, including all Tea Jenny kits. Magnus and Justyna are waiting for the return of the spun-up new clip from the mill, and if you’d like to reserve a yarn pack to knit your hat (or cosy), they are now taking orders in advance of the new delivery. You can contact Magnus here.

Meanwhile, the Tea Jenny hat / cosy pattern is available digitally via Ravelry, and as a printed pattern through my MagCloud store.

While I’m on the subject of contact details, I have to mention that my customer service email account has unfortunately been hacked. I’ve lost a lot of messages, and have finally had to reset the account. If you have been trying to contact me by email with a pattern query over the past few weeks, could I please ask that you re-send your message to my new address which is: info AT katedaviesdesigns.com. My apologies!

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