Kate Davies Designs

highland coo – dyed!


I had some knowledge of most of the manufacturing processes that making my yarn involved, but the process I probably knew least about was dyeing. Like most designers, I love colour, and I am very picky about the shades I use being just right. I had a very clear idea in my head about what I wanted my highland coo shade to look like, but very little idea about how that shade might be translated into a dyed yarn for hand-knitting. Tom and I suggested to Adam that we’d very much like to observe the dyeing process from start to finish and thanks to him, and our wonderful dyers, Harrison Gardner, we were able to do just that.

Harrison Gardner are another great Bradford textile company, based a short drive away from Haworth (we are really pleased that all of the processing of our fibre and yarn was done within a small West-Yorkshire radius). Harrison Gardner are a family company who have been expertly dyeing yarn since 1901. They dye yarn on the hank – a process that is ideal for our requirements, because of the nature of our yarn (high-quality 100% wool), and the consistency of the end result (hank dyeing is in some respects more time consuming and costly, but also allows colour to be absorbed more uniformly than other processes).


At Harrison Gardner we met Jonathan Harrison, co-director with his brother, Daniel, and part of the fourth generation of his family running the company. Jonathan is head of production, and has a refreshingly hands-on approach to all of the processes the company’s involved in, including colour matching, which was one of the things I was most interested in seeing.


I was able to show Jonathan what I wanted my highland-coo shade to look like, and the dye recipe was created by matching my requirements in an incredible machine. The machine generates dye recipes that can accommodate a fascinating number of customer demands and criteria, including cost, fibre type, and colour consistency across a range of different light conditions. These light conditions include daylight, tungsten light, and a wide variety of other artificial point-of-sale lighting methods commonly used by retailers (including the very particular kind of artificial light that is apparently used by Marks and Spencer). Once a colour recipe is created and agreed on, this is tested on a sample of the customer’s yarn in Harrison-Gardner’s dye lab (a neat operation that closely resembles the indie-dyeing workshops or studios many of you will have seen).


Its not just a matter of trusting the colour-testing and recipe-generating methods of the nifty machines – everything is double-checked by eye, and the expert dyers have to be happy with the result. Once they are happy, the recipe is scaled up, and then the fun begins in the large custom-built dye house next door.


This is the dye bath in which my highland coo shade was created! Jonathan explained that they use this particular machine for dyeing quality pure-wool yarns because the action of the wash is comparatively gentle, ensuring that none of the fibres are felted or damaged – even when the temperature in the dye bath is raised to boiling point. My yarn was arranged above the bath in 2 kilo hanks, and prepared for dyeing. Here it is!


The brown-y grey skeins that you can see at the end of the bath are there to offer further protection to my yarn against the swooshing and swirling action of the dye-bath. They are there to take up the flack, and ensure the fibre achieves maximum dye absorption with minimum impact. Keith (an expert dyer who has been working with Harrison Gardner for over 30 years) poured a bucket of highland-coo coloured dye solution into the bath, and then the hanks were lowered in . . .


At this point, as you can imagine, we were extremely excited! Jonathan then took us for lunch in the factory canteen, where we were treated to a superb home-cooked steak pie and peas which we ate outside in the sunshine. After a very pleasant lunch, we were able to return to the dye bath to see how things were doing. Here comes the highland coo!

As you can see, the yarn is very wet indeed, and colour can look very different when the yarn is dry. So to get a proper sense of the shade the yarn had now taken, we had to see a dry sample. Towards the end of the video clip, you can see Keith disappearing with a hank of the yarn that has just emerged from the dye bath. Keith took this hank to a small drying cabinet – very like a hair dryer – in which the yarn was dried. Together with Jonathan, we were then able to check the shade in the colour assessment cabinet (which also mimics a variety of light conditions)


I liked the result, but I did feel that it needed the tiniest amount of adjusting to look completely like the rich and rusty coo-like shade I’d pictured. Jonathan agreed, more dyes were added to the bath, and the yarn went through the process again.


This time the shade was absolutely perfect!

After dyeing is complete, the yarn hanks are dried – first in a sort of giant spin dryer . . .


. . . and afterwards in a specialised hank dryer.


I was particularly intrigued by the hank-dryer and its effect on the yarn we saw going through it . . .


. . .which was noticeably loftier and poofier when it came out than when it went in. Jonathan explained that this loftiness is a very important factor for yarns used in the carpet industry (of which they dye many), as well as yarns for hand knitting. When you see my yarn, the dyed shades have, I think, a slightly poofier handle than the undyed shades – this is a pleasing and natural effect of the hank drying process, and everything evens up in the blocking.

Finally, the dried yarn is wound onto cones . . .


. . . and sent a few miles down the road to the skeiners.

Now for the moment of truth: a finished skein of highland coo!


We had a fascinating day at Harrison Gardner, and we were really impressed with the commitment and interest of the lovely staff, and indeed with everything with saw. Best of all the dyed shades are exactly what I’d dreamt they’d be. It is a truly amazing feeling seeing the colours you’ve pictured in your head imagine become a woolly reality!


Between Weathers


Thankyou so much for taking the time to show us the whole process, Jonathan! Tom is still dreaming about that steak pie . . .
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meet the man who helped me make my yarn

Thankyou for your comments on the last post. When I settled on this new venture, I felt it was important to be able to show you some of the usually hidden processes behind yarn production, so I’m glad you are finding it interesting! I thought you might also like to know a little bit more about the decisions behind my yarn’s development, and who I chose to work with.


(Tom’s kilt hose show off some of Buachaille’s characteristics: the yarn is smooth, yet springy; durable yet soft, and with great stitch definition)

How exactly does one go about developing a yarn? I know what kinds of yarns I like, and what I love to knit with, as I’m sure every knitter does. As you will no doubt be aware, I like sheepy, characterful yarns best of all, and I have some knowledge of how different preparation and spinning techniques can get the best out of different fleece types and wool. I also like to work with a product whose origins I can trace. Knowing what one likes is one thing, but manufacturing it is quite another. This was a big step, and I knew I wanted to work on developing my yarn with someone I liked and trusted. I also knew that person was Adam Curtis. I met Adam and his family through our Shetland connections. They know more about wool than anyone I know, and Adam has a particular talent for developing beautiful and interesting wool products: things that really showcase the best that British wool can be. His family were kind enough to invite me to represent hand knitting and design at this event a few years ago, and, from our opposite ends of the industry, we’ve always regarded each other with mutual respect. In the UK, most raw wool is sold at auction through the British Wool Marketing Board, and the vast majority of it is purchased by merchants such as Curtis Wools. They are a well-regarded Yorkshire company whose commitment to wool is deep and long-standing, and whose resources and reach are pretty unparalleled. I knew they could find exactly the wool I wanted, and help me to develop it into an interesting new yarn.

Adam 03 So here’s what happened when I asked Adam to make some yarn for me.

KD: What were your initial thoughts when I approached you?
AC: I was delighted when you approached my father and I to develop a speciality yarn. Creating unique yarns for customers is one of the challenges we genuinely enjoy and pride ourselves on. With the enormous reserves of British and foreign wools held by Curtis Wool there are few requests that we can’t cater for.

KD: But even so, I came to you with quite a long list of things I wanted the yarn to be! What were your priorities?
AC: We knew you wanted a thoroughly British yarn with traceable links to Scotland, and the Scottish highlands. And we knew you wanted the yarn to be light and lofty. So we were looking for Scottish-origin fleeces with a natural crimp that would add loft, and which would spin up to create a classic hand that would just feel right to the knitter.

KD: How did you go about selecting the wool?
AC: We decided that a combination of wools from different breeds would be necessary to arrive at the perfect match for your requirements. We then sourced and chose a selection of the finest hand-sorted Scottish origin fleeces. These were then scoured at Haworth, combined together, and combed to create the perfect top. Combing your wool allowed us to remove any coarse fibres and noils [short fibres] in the fleece, and to create a blended top with maximum smoothness and softness. Combing and blending the wool really made it sing! As you know, the blend we’ve created for Buachaille is unique and exclusive to you. I was very pleased with the result.

(Buachaille – natural combed top)

KD: so what happened then?
AC: Then I sent you a sample of the combed top for approval. You were just as pleased with it as I was, which was great! With the blended constituency of the combed top in place, we were then able to begin developing the two other natural shades you wanted to complement your dyed palette.

KD: Yes! As you know, Adam, I’m very pernickety about colours. . .
AC: Well, like all designers you knew what you wanted, and we had to get those natural shades just right.

(Buachaille – natural silver-grey combed top)

KD: I just love the two other natural shades you’ve created – sheepy fleece colours really are my all-time favourites.
AC: Yes – and they sit really well with the dyed shades you created too. So after your tops were combed at Haworth, we had them worsted spun – a spinning technique which completely suits the wool type and its preparation – and we were then able to arrange for you to see your yarn being dyed. I think you are going to talk about that later?

KD: Yes, I certainly took lots of pictures that day! I am very happy with the yarn, and I know you are just as excited about Buachaille as I am!
AC: Yes indeed -its one of my favourite yarns and I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved. I think we’ve managed to create a yarn that combines all of your requirements, and perhaps added a little bit more as well. Best of all, its a yarn with a heritage that can be traced from the hills and mountains of Scotland to the textile powerhouse that still exists in Yorkshire. Its a thoroughly British product, made entirely in the UK and inspired by some of the worlds most beautiful mountains, Buachaille Etive Mor and Beag!

KD: Thanks, Adam!

(Tom and Adam talk wool at Haworth Scouring)

We’ve designed seven distinctly Scottish shades for Buachaille, including four dyed shades to complement the three naturals that Adam created. In the next post I will talk a little about the inspiration behind each shade.

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at Haworth Scouring

As we have discovered over the past few months, there is an awful lot to think about when designing and manufacturing a new yarn for hand knitting! There are many stages to consider, and many decisions to be made. It occurred to me that one of the processes that’s least visible to hand knitters is how the wool they work with actually gets clean. As anyone who has handled a fleece will know, cleaning raw wool is not particularly glamorous but it is certainly essential. I thought you might like to see a little about these early stages of our yarn’s manufacture.


The raw wool for our yarn was cleaned, its fibres blended, and the blended fibres processed into lovely combed tops here at Haworth Scouring. This large plant is based in Bradford, a short drive from where both Tom and I were born and grew up. The textile industries in Yorkshire and Lancashire have seen an awful lot of changes in the past 50 years, but Bradford is still the beating heart of the British wool industry.


This is a large operation, capable of scouring a million kilos of wool per week. That’s right – a million kilos. Our first order seemed enormous to us, but it is merely a tiny proportion of what Haworth Scouring can process here in a single day.


Much of the raw wool processed here is British, but Haworth Scouring processes wool from other countries too – these are Norwegian bales in the photograph above.


Customers have different requirements, and some of the wool arrives in a very raw state, needing preparation and grading by specialised wool sorters.


Wool grading is a really important, and sadly declining skill. (If you would like to learn more about wool sorting and grading and its importance to the wool industry, I recommend you visit Jamieson and Smith and meet Shetland’s top wool man, Oliver Henry)

The scouring process is designed to remove dirt and other impurities from the raw wool, along with suint (sheep sweat) and lanolin. At Haworth, its really important that this process is as environmentally friendly as it is efficient (more of this later). Here is some wool, prepared and ready for scouring.


The wool is put through a series of washes and rinses at several different temperatures.


It is repeatedly and carefully cleaned with swinging rakes. After every wash you can see the wool becoming gradually cleaner and cleaner . . .


. . . with the wool’s heat and moisture content being monitored at every stage.


After this, the wool goes through a gigantic metal detector. This is one of those processing factors that’s completely obvious when you think of it – sheep often pick up bits of wire in their fleece – but which I’d never previously considered. You don’t want bits of metal in your yarn, and you certainly don’t want it in the machinery that’s making your yarn. The work of the metal detecting machine is reinforced by this lovely chap, who double-checks there’s nothing non-woolly in the wool.


After washing, the wool is dried. As part of the drying process, the fibres are loosened and mixed, and blended together.


Just check out what’s going on in that huge machine!

After drying, the wool is beautifully clean. What a transformation!


For some of the wool that comes through Haworth’s doors, this is almost the end of the story. It is compressed and packaged into huge bales and prepared for the next stage in its journey elsewhere.



These large bales are compressed by an amazing machine, and, as you can see contain over 350kg of wool. It was at this point that the sheer scale of what goes on here started to astound me. This really is a whole lot of wool!


A significant recent investment in new jobs and machinery means that wool that’s not sent away at this stage can be expertly processed at Haworth into tops. There’s now a state-of-the-art combing operation here, and this is where our wool first started to resemble something like yarn. Our unique blend of fine Scottish fibres was developed and created on this machine!


The wool fibres are relatively blobby and clumpy at this stage – the worsted processing practised here, and which we felt was important to get the best out of our wool, enables the fibres to be opened up, smoothed out, and carefully combed to lie parallel to one another. When I observed the several different stages of combing, gilling and drafting, I was very intensely struck by the technological complexity of these machines, their skilled operatives, and the sheer magic both perform.


From raw wool, to lovely combed top!


Here is what is known as a bump top, at the end of the combing process. . .


And here are lots of bump tops, ready to go.


I mentioned previously that environment is as important as efficiency here. The whole purpose of wool scouring is to remove grease and impurities from fleeces: this is a relatively high-impact process, that creates a lot of waste, and Haworth’s verifiable green credentials were certainly important to us when making early decisions about our yarn’s processing and manufacture. The plant’s water monitoring is extremely careful and completely transparent, and we were impressed that very little in this process actually goes to waste at all! Lanolin removed here is sold to the cosmetics and vitamin industries, while other by-products are used as feed for shrimp and prawn farming (who knew?!)


One reason Haworth’s environmental credentials are so laudable is because it has ENco on site – an environmental testing company that does important work with the textile and farming industries. As well as ensuring the wool products produced at Haworth comply with strict environmental standards, ENco also acts as a consultant, testing many different kinds of finished textiles to check for levels of mothproofing agents and other chemicals. Carpets, military uniforms, knitting yarn, and the fabrics used in high-end fashion houses all receive environmental testing and certification here. If you needed to check whether a certain yarn contained 20% or 30% nylon; or discover for how long a particular moth-proofing agent would protect a certain kind of fabric; or wanted to ensure that the animals providing a batch of fleeces had not been treated with particularly harmful pesticides in their sheep dip, then ENco could find out for you. It was absolutely fascinating chatting to Mike and his team, and learning about their work.


Thankyou to everyone at Haworth Scouring, Curtis Wool Direct, and ENco Global Testing for their time and generosity! We’ve learnt an awful lot, and feel very inspired by our visits!

(Tom surveys the wool mountain with anticipation)

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A busy week


It has been an incredibly busy week here! As you might imagine, the imminent arrival of Buachaille means we have a lot to do, and I am hard at work creating a small collection of designs to accompany the yarn’s release (only a few weeks to go!) Then my friend and colleague, Jen, came to stay with us for a few days – together Jen and I are currently developing several rather exciting projects . . . one is a book which will appear next Spring, and another is a new volume of Cross-Country Knitting. Above is a sneak peak at the latter’s content, of which more very soon.


Jen and I got lots of work done, laughed a lot, and had time for a hearty post-photoshoot dinner at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. It was lovely to see her.

Meanwhile, In the Loop 4 was happening down the road in Glasgow (one year I will make it to this event, which always features a fantastic line-up of speakers and some important research). This year, the conference was hosted by my friends at the Knitting in the Round project (who you’ll remember I’ve mentioned before). I was really honoured when they asked me to provide some samples for the fashion show which closed the conference!


Jade Halbert selected three of my designs, and I styled them with the original garments I’d used when photographing Yokes. I genuinely love styling – visualising a look is often the starting point of the design process for me – and I really appreciated the thoughtful way that Jade styled the models to suit the work of each designer in the show.


The lovely model wearing Buchanan even had her hair in braids!


Jade chose Buchanan, Keith Moon, and Foxglove to appear in this showcase of contemporary Scottish knitwear design. It was somewhat humbling to see my work displayed in this context.


I loved the soft and subtle palette of the beautiful garments shown by Jade Starmore , and was blown away by their styling with these stunning leather skirts (also the work of Jade)


The show featured well-established names of Scottish knitwear design such as ERIBÉ


. . . and Di Gilpin


. . . alongside the work of emerging contemporary designers like Laura Muir

It was lovely to see the work of some of my friends and comrades in hand-knit design, like Gudrun Johnston . . .


. . . as well as Karie Westermann and Lucy Hague.


I also came away feeling inspired by the work of designers I’d never previously encountered. This cashmere dress by Stephanie Laird was truly gorgeous.


And I loved the fresh take on colourwork in Hilary Grant’s bold machine-knit accessories



Thankyou, Lynn, Marina, Jade, and the whole team at Knitting in the Round and In the Loop 4 for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event! Thanks too to Tom, who took the great catwalk photos in this post.

a handmade wedding


Thankyou, all of you, for your lovely comments and congratulations!
I thought you might appreciate hearing a little more about the handmade elements of our wedding.

A few years ago, Tom decided to have a kilt made. His surname is Barr, and the tartan of that name is also associated with a popular Scottish soft-drinks brand. Now, Tom likes Irn Bru as much as the next man, but he does not look so great in orange, and all tartans are invented traditions anyway…so Tom invented his own tradition, picking a tartan that he liked, and which was associated with a place that was very special to both of us – Finlaggan on the Isle of Islay. Finlaggan was once the power base of the MacDonalds, and the tartan Tom chose is MacDonald of the Isles. We never imagined then that one day we should be married at Finlaggan!


I knit Tom’s kilt hose, from our new wool (of which more soon). The yarn is sport weight, and I worked the hose at a relatively tight gauge, and bottom up, which not only suited the heart-shaped cable we chose, but also meant Tom could try them on as I knitted.


This meant that I could double-check the calf shaping and length as I went, which I found very reassuring! The hose fit really well.


Tom finished off his hose with the true highland flourish of a sgian dubh, which he borrowed from our lovely next door neighbours, Niall and Mairi.


Bruce had to look his best as well, so he wore a collar in the same tartan.


Bruce’s collar was made for us by Jan at Scottesque, who of course also designed and made my kilt (the purpose of this visit, back in May). I wanted my kilt long and dramatic, and Jan did a brilliant job, poofing out the bias-cut pieces with tulle and a taffeta underskirt.


I am wearing a cardigan of my own design . . .


. . . which features the same heart-shaped cable as Tom’s hose.


The brooch I am wearing is an incredibly beautiful cairngorm – a family heirloom again kindly lent to us by Mairi. Cables and brooch together really were a perfect match!


I also made my head piece – from a plastic headband and a beautiful piece of beaded trim I found on eBay. . .


. . . and had lots of fun fashioning myself a bouquet of buttons.


If you google “button bouquet” you can see how simple a process this is – you just need some floristry wire, a few bits of ribbon and trim, and a shed load of buttons.


My top-tip is to use felt or lace flowers to create a wee button “sandwich” – the felt bits mean you can create more blooms with less buttons, and that the individual blooms themselves prove a little less heavy.


One thing I loved about making my bouquet was that I could include buttons from my grandma, and my mum, or that were originally gifts to me from friends. Felix, Anne, Lara, and Nic – your buttons were all in my bouquet!


Tom made our wedding cake.


He used a Mary Berry recipe (which has now overtaken Jane Grigson as his favourite fruit cake), fed it liberally with sherry, and decorated it himself.


I can confirm that it is a cake as delicious as it is lovely!


The fair-isle bunting with which we decked out our van was not hand-made – I bought it in Shetland – but it certainly did the job of creating a jolly and very knitterly wedding-wagon! I drove us to and from our wedding (Tom having had a beer beforehand) and very much enjoyed pootling down the Islay roads, listening to Ella and Louis, and waving at everyone we met. Later on, in the Port Charlotte hotel, I was recognised as “that bride driving a camper van”, an appellation which made me oddly happy.

Finally, I have to mention the outfits of our well-dressed best couple. Gordon looks very fine in his Anderson kilt, and a pair of John Anderson kilt hose, knitted for him by Mel. Mel is wearing a Scottesque midi-kilt in the “Highland granite” tartan. She also made herself a lovely lace-weight top, by adapting Gudrun’s beautiful Laar cardigan pattern into a jumper.


Our wedding was small and intimate, and both of us very much enjoyed being able to make it a deeply personal occasion infused with our own meanings, and to focus on a few details which made it really feel like us. That said, I’m not sure I’d recommend the somewhat pressurised activity of designing and knitting a cardigan and a pair of kilt hose to a tight and somewhat important deadline . . .



Whernside, cheese, and wool


We spent a couple of days in North Yorkshire, and took a walk up Whernside – one of the county’s ‘three peaks’. With its limestone pavement, familiar moorland flora and Victorian infrastructure, this is a landscape of which I’m very fond, and in which I love to walk. The Ribblehead Viaduct is such a spectacular piece of engineering, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the little aquaducts around which, higher up the moor, water had been diverted to accommodate the direction of the Settle-Carlisle railway line. After 8 miles and a very blustery summit, we treated ourselves to a hearty ploughman’s lunch in the always-welcoming Station Inn . . . this lunch inspired some discussion between Tom and I about the constituency and origin of the ‘traditional’ ploughman’s. Google revealed the intriguing, but perhaps unsurprising information that this ‘traditional’ pub fayre was in fact a 1956 invention of the Cheese Bureau, the same folk behind the 1970s cheese recipe books that I have on my bookshelf, and the coiner of immortal advertising slogans such as “great minds think cheese.”

(Cheese curry?!)

Meanwhile, wedding preparations, such as they are, continue. Tom has made the cake, we have our rings, and I have knitted my thing (it is a cardigan, and I am very pleased with it)! I cast on a pair of kilt hose for Tom and am now steadily working away on those. The cardigan and the hose are particularly lovely and exciting to me as they are being knitted in our wool. That is to say that yes – we are making yarn. The yarn is 100% wool: it has been raised in Scotland, and has been expertly processed in Yorkshire (one of the reasons why we have been visiting that county so often of late). And the first things knitted from the yarn will be worn on our wedding day! I have been keeping the wool plans under wraps for many months and soon, at last, I will be able to say more about them. But for now I’d better get back to knitting those hose. . .

Cross Country Knitting: Volume 2


You may remember that last year, my friend and colleague, Jen and I, worked together to produce a pair of designs, which we published as Cross-Country Knitting Volume 1. Volume 1 focused on blokes’ knits, and for Volume 2 we challenged each other to re-design and re-size one of our favourite patterns for kids. I designed Wee Bluebells – a cardiganised version of one of my favourite adult sweaters from my Yokes book, featuring pretty colourwork motifs around the hem and neckline.


. . . and Jen designed Wee Bruton, an unbelievably cute miniaturisation of her Bruton Hoody.


Our aim was to create a pair of really classic patterns – the kind of children’s garments that we could imagine our grandmas knitting for us when we ourselves were small, and which we could imagine ourselves knitting for the wee ones in our lives for years to come.


Together, the designs have an undeniably nostalgic feel, but they are also eminently knittable and wearable.


Wee Bluebells is knit up in 5 shades of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. A quick and simple knit, it is worked completely in the round and then steeked up the middle to create the front opening.


If you have never worked a steek before, this (being small) would be a great project to try out the technique – which really is surprisingly straightforward. (You can read more about steeks by following the links from this page)


Wee Bruton uses Excelana 4 ply, is worked back and forth, features a pair of sturdy pockets, some nifty hood shaping, and fastens neatly with a zip.


Together, these are two easy-to wear cardis that are ideal for romping about in!


Fergus Ford (who is, incidentally, the brother of Felix) shot these lovely photographs of exceptionally cute wee pals, Toby and Sofia.


Sofia you have met before from the Wowligan photographs, and Toby is Fergus’s son.


We really wanted to show these garments being worn outdoors, by kids in a “natural” rather than a studio environment. It is notoriously difficult to photograph knitwear on little kids and Fergus has done a completely amazing job. Thankyou Fergus! And thankyou Toby and Sofia! We absolutely love these photographs!


In each Cross-Country Knitting booklet, we like to invite someone to write a short essay that speaks to that volume’s theme. For Volume 2, our friend Rachel Atkinson has written a lovely piece exploring the significance of childhood handknits. Jen and Rachel and I all appear in the essay, in knitwear made for us by the women of our family.


Both patterns come in 7 sizes, covering ages 1 to 12. Designing, and thinking about designing, these garments has been such a lovely project for Jen and I, particularly as we revisited our memories of our own childhood knits. We hope you enjoy knitting these patterns, and that they become the source of knitterly memories of your own!

Cross-Country Knitting, Volume 2, is available digitally via Ravelry, or in print via MagCloud.
You can also see more detail of the project, and each pattern, over on the Cross-Country Knitting website.


Happy Knitting!


Wowligan (wee owligan)


Hooray! Hooray! Wowligan is here today!


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.


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.


The pattern comes in 8 sizes, from 17 ins to 25 ins, 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.


This sweet and cheery wee soul is Sofia, who is wearing her Wowligan in the fourth size. 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.


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

Happy knitting! Hoot hoot!

designing & publishing: part 3

From Folly Cove by Julia Farwell Clay and Celtic Cable Shawls by Lucy Hague

Today I’m looking at another couple of recently-published books, from two very different independent designers, who both took completely different routes to publication. What these two books share, however, is an intelligent engagement with two specific aesthetic contexts, as both were directly inspired by artwork in other media. While Lucy Hague’s innovative closed-cable shawls are inspired by Pictish and Celtic knotwork, Julia Farwell-Clay took inspiration for her lovely collection from the prints, lives, and milieu of the Folly Cove designers.


Lucy Hague grew up in Orkney, and now lives in Edinburgh. Orkney has many important archeological sites, and abounds with examples of intriguing insular art. Inspired by Pictish and Celtic carvings, as well as by the work of George Bain (whose 1951 investigation into Celtic stonework, jewellery and manuscript illustration did much to revive interest in this iconic design style), Lucy has created a truly stunning collection.


Lucy’s book includes patterns for seven shawls, each arranged in order of complexity, from designs with a plain centre and cabled edging, like Carradal and Kyna, to gorgeous allover patterns, such as Morvach and Malgven.

Malgven, a beautiful centre-out shawl.

Lucy is one of those designers with a really distinctive aesthetic that she has pursued and perfected. I always enjoy reading about other designers creative processes, and you can get a great sense of the depth and thoughtfulness of Lucy’s work in this post about the Talesin shawl. Celtic Cable Shawls also includes an introduction in which she talks about her aesthetic inspiration, together with several clear tutorials for the key techniques involved in closed cable-knitting (elongated stitches, multiple increases and decreases, cabling without a cable needle). The photography is luscious and evocative and the patterns – though undoubtedly complex – are clearly explained and laid out with charted and written instructions.


There are so many things I love about this book. The designs are breathtaking, but they are also eminently knittable and – best of all – wearable. So many pieces of cabled knitwear have sources of inspiration that have been described as loosely “Celtic”, to the extent that some styles are so familiar that they feel hackneyed or ubiquitous. Lucy’s original shawls are the polar opposite of this. With their strong lines, their carefully worked twists and loops, these designs speak of their aesthetic past, but they strongly articulate the contemporary knitterly moment too. I think that it is the sheer depth of Lucy’s intelligent engagement with insular art that makes her work so appealling and so very distinctive. I love what she’s done in this book.

Kyna, and the jewellery that inspired it.

One of the most significant impediments to self-publishing is basic logistics: how are you going to store and distribute all those books? Lucy chose to work with Lightning Source – a large and well-established print on demand service. “It seemed like the least risky option,” Lucy told me, “you don’t have to put down a huge amount of money for an intial print-run (and you don’t need space to store thousands of books – useful for me, as I live in a tiny flat!)” And why, I asked, did Lucy choose self-publishing rather than to work with a larger publisher? “I knew that I would be making a book that would be quite long in relation to the actual number of patterns included (because of the complexity of my patterns, and the fact that I include full written instructions for all the charted sections), and I thought this might be off-putting and hard to pitch to to the types of companies who traditionally publish knitting books.” Print on demand has been ideal for Lucy: “I really love that I’ve been able to have complete control over the entire book-making process, from start to finish, and that I can so easily get my books to customers all across the world.” Celtic Cable Shawls is a beautiful, professionally produced book, that also comes with a complementary e-book, and a digital only option. You can buy the print book directly from Lucy and the digital book from her Ravelry store.


I’m a huge fan of the work of Julia Farwell Clay, who often produces hand-knit designs directly inspired by 20th Century literature, art, and music. Her patterns have a rich context, that speaks of their creator’s breadth of thinking, and her recent collection for Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series exemplifies her intelligent approach. From Folly Cove is a collection of eleven designs inspired by a group of artists and designers, who lived and worked around Gloucester, Massachusetts, from 1938 to 1969.

Folly Cove Designers Book 6 - clippings and photos
Piece about the Folly Cove Designers in Life Magazine, November 1945

Many of you will know the books of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. You may not know, however, that under her leadership, an important collective of artists and craftspeople flourished in and around her Massachusetts home. Demetrios developed a design course, followed by several of her friends and neighbours in Gloucester. As the Folly Cove course grew in popularity, the group was structured as a guild, with regular meetings to scrutinise and support each other’s work. Few of the group were otherwise professionally trained, but the collaborative structure of the Folly Cove Collective enabled them to grow into designers of the very highest standard, each developing their own signature style. The Folly Cove designers were mostly women, and I find something extremely inspiring in the way this group supported and enabled one another to combine their creative with their domestic lives, growing together into artists and craftspeople of international repute. Julia’s collection is infused with the spirit of Folly Cove, drawing inspiration from the lives and works of these women.

Folly Cove Designers Elizabeth Iarrabino "Butterflies" n.d.

Some of Julia’s designs are directly inspired by the graphic allover repeats created by Folly Cove designers, such as her Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl which echoes Elizabeth Iarrobino’s tesselating butterflies (above).

Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl

Other pieces are not only linked to specific Folly Cove designs and designers, but also seem to celebrate the ethos of the collective in a more general way. One of my favourite patterns in the collection is Hetty’s Garden Coat, a garment inspired by one of Julia’s favourite Folly Cove prints, Victory Garden , by Hetty Whitney Beatty.

(Hetty Whitney Beatty, Victory Garden ).

“This scene,” Julia explains in the accompanying text, “speaks clearly of the community and hard work of this period and place. Making and growing what you needed was essential to comfort and survival during the Second World War and a lesson for the years that followed.”


This is a beautifully structured garment, whose flourishing sprigs really capture the mood and feel of Beatty’s victory garden.

Elsewhere in Julia’s collection, you’ll find pieces that are more about suggesting Folly Cove’s moment and locale than they are about direct design inspiration.


I love Lanesville‘s neat vintage details.


. . . and the cosy wearability of Natti, named for Lee Kingman Natti, a key member of the Folly Cove collective.

Taken together, Julia’s collection is powerfully suggestive of Folly Cove both as a place and a group of inspiring women. Many pieces have an eastern-seaboard, maritime feel, while others carry a graphic exuberance which echoes both the energy and the aesthetics of the Folly Cove collective.

Kenyon Dress

Meteori Shawl

And there are other important echoes with Folly Cove too, as Julia’s collection is not simply the work of one designer, but the product of a supportive collaboration. From Folly Cove is part of Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series, “an open collaboration between the indie designer and the resources at Classic Elite” the aim of which is to “give a talented designer the freedom to tell a story with a themed collection of their designs.” Julia worked closely with Classic Elite’s creative director, Susan Mills, honing her design ideas, and developing them into patterns that would work with particular Classic Elite yarns. “Classic Elite were a complete joy to work with”, says Julia, “they gave me this great freedom to imagine what the book would be about, and what it would look like, and then let me run the show.” Thus, in this collection, Julia’s voice doesn’t just speak through her patterns, but she has the space to introduce and talk about the inspiration behind, and context of, each design, as well as discuss the work of the Folly Cove collective more generally. I think this publishing model – in which an independent designer is commissioned and supported by a yarn company to tell their own design story in their own way – is really refreshing and inspiring. As I write this post, Julia preparing to talk about the Folly Cove designers and her collection at Slater Mill. How I wish I could be there!

You can purchase From Folly Cove as a print + digital package direct from Classic Elite, as an ebook only via Ravelry, or as individual patterns.

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.

Processed with Moldiv

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.

Processed with Moldiv

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


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.

(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.

simple hat

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.


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.