some Spring weather

homestead

It is a lovely time of year, and, as the weather starts to change I am really appreciating our new situation. Our house is in the middle of the photo above – one of five properties on a small steading, situated at about 250m above sea level. In front of the steading, to the South, the land dips away to a small lochan. To the North, East and West, we are surrounded by hills and woods. After living in a city, when one steps outside, the space here sometimes feels immense to me, but because of our location, there is also the interesting sensation of being cradled in the landscape, a dip in the earth sheltered by a canopy of sky. Yesterday I took a walk around the loch with Bruce, and felt this very distinctly. The arc of this rainbow shifted round the landscape with me, curving over the steading and seeming to somehow illuminate it.

daffs
On my daily walks I see the landscape slowly coming back to life. Birds sing in the early hours, daffodils have taken the place of the snowdrops, and last week I saw the first caterpillars and frogs of the year.

caterpillar

Golden flowers are appearing on the gorse, the ultimate sign of a Scottish spring for me.

coneandgorse

The Spring weather has almost made up for the fact that I spent last week at home, with a poorly Bruce, rather than in Shetland, where I was, in fact, supposed to be.

cone

Worry not, friends of Bruce: he is doing fine. The cone is a wee bit tiresome for everyone, but his snout is healing, and we will be back at the vets this afternoon.

The Spring light has also given me a chance to photograph the steeked design I mentioned in my last post. It is a garment for a man, and will be released as part of a new collaboration with my good friend and colleague Jen Arnall-Culliford. I’m very much looking forward to telling you all about it next week! It is a time for new releases all round, in fact, as various things are due to arrive next Monday which I’ve been keeping under my hat for some months, but am very keen to show you. (Apologies for all of the mystery, but soon all will be revealed.)

Right, the sun has come out and it is time for another walk with Bruce. Enjoy your Monday, everyone!

Summer days

brollies

It is a while since I’ve known a spell of weather like it.

The verges have bloomed into wildflower meadows.

wildflowermeadow
bee
thistles

Everything seems sharper, brighter, a dappled world of light and shade.

contrast
light

The evening air is soft and fragrant.

honeysuckle

Folk stroll about, bare-armed, leisurely.

path

Inside, the new rooms are cool and clean and very pretty.

pie

Bruce prefers the shade.

hotdog

We are looking forward to a quiet weekend, with no workmen, and no dust. It will feel like a tremendous luxury to simply cook and enjoy a meal together in the kitchen. While the relocation stress continues, things are out of our hands for a wee while – our only worry at the moment is Jesus – who has not put in an appearance for 11 days. Jesus is an elusive creature, and he has been more than ordinarily elusive of late while the workmen have been here. Still, 11 days is a long time, even for a self-sufficent and resourceful feline like him. Come back, Jesus.

jesusphiz

transititions

cowslip

Winter really felt interminable this year. It seemed that, for weeks I passed the same corner every day looking in vain for the snowdrops that always appear there, heralding Spring. “I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for those” said one of my neighbour-buddies, indicating a single patch of struggling crocuses that provided the only cheer on a particularly grey and grim sub-zero March morning. When we visited New Lanark on April 2nd, there were no wild flowers blooming at all. The only things of colour we saw were the yellow eyelids of the nesting peregrines and the bright red toadstools that Tom struggled through some spiky undergrowth to photograph. After all of this weird nothing, May’s rapid explosion has felt particularly welcome. I began to see primroses and cowslips poking through the brown and grey . . . then the grass pinged green . . . and then there was speedwell, and bluebells, honesty, and dove’s foot geraniums . . .

speedwell

bluebell

honesty

dovesfoot

. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .

blossom

. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.

glade

. . . or rather, large black dog-filled glades.

In many respects, these past few months have felt a little odd. Tom has been living during the week in Glasgow, working really hard at his new job. Meanwhile, I have been managing various health issues with greater or lesser degrees of success, and trying very hard to work around and within my limits. These few months have made Tom and I both realise how reliant we are on each other, and how completely rubbish we are at being apart. The upshot is that we have decided to move from Edinburgh to an as-yet-unknown location close to the Highlands but within commuting distance of Glasgow. The prospect of a garden in which to grow veggies, a few chickens and another dog (or two) is very exciting to me, and I am hopeful of finding a small house or steading out West where this dream can become a reality. Less exciting is the work we have to do to our current abode prior to selling it. Apparently, property purchasers require chilly Edinburgh flats to have more sources of warmth than that which is provided by our solitary living-room wood burner . . . thus, with the help of David and Stevie and Trevor we will be installing shiny new-fangled central heating and making various other “improvements.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because life is inevitably going to be disrupted over the next few months. A kind neighbour is allowing me and Bruce to hang out in her flat while Stevie is up here ripping up the floorboards, but I have now lost access to my computer and work-pod during the day, so am less accessible by email. I also have to consider the implications of moving my business as well as my home. We have just a handful of boxes of Colours of Shetland left in my warehouse in Leith. Once these are sold, I will have to allow the book to go out of print until I can make new warehousing arrangements at our new as-yet-unknown locale. So, if you were considering purchasing a print copy of Colours of Shetland, my advice is to do it now, as there are not many left (the digital edition will, of course, continue to be available). I’m still taking wholesale orders (with the number of copies-per-shop limited), but for both retail and trade orders, once the books are gone, they are gone.

So, if anyone is looking to buy a flat in North Edinburgh’s leafiest and friendliest neighbourhood, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled later this Summer. And equally if anyone has suggestions for places to which Tom and I should consider moving please do feel free to make them — we are now conducting recces!

Ursula Cardigan

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.

graft


I am working hard. The designs for my new collection are in all in process, and I have spent the past few weeks writing patterns and knitting . . . lots of pattern writing, and lots and lots of knitting.

This sort of work requires the kind of concentrated focus I haven’t felt for quite a while, and I find myself in a place that is familiar from the experience of producing different kinds of book: holding the pieces of a gigantic puzzle and waiting for them all to slot neatly into place. So far the right things are slotting into the right places, which is pleasing. It is really rather nice to be working hard again. That said, at this stage of a project I am probably at my most antisocial and my hermit-ty tendencies are only exacerbated by the fact that I can’t, as yet, talk about the work I’m doing here. There is something of the season about this hermit-ty feeling, too. Everything has that blown-out, approaching-end-of-Summer look to it, and at this time of year I always find myself want to grasp things before they disappear, to just hurry up and do something before it is all over. I am doing my best.

Meanwhile, August is slipping away. I walk outside every day, and watch the wildflowers in the undergrowth change . . .




. . . and go to seed.






I’d better get a move on.

Wester

We spent the weekend up in Wester Ross. This is a truly beautiful part of the world.

And despite it being a holiday weekend, it was also incredibly quiet. For two days, we had this glorious landscape pretty much to ourselves.

One of the many lovely things about this area of Scotland is its native woodland. The trees here are many hundreds of years old, and were once part of the ancient Caledonian forest. Visitors to Scotland often think that dense plantations of sitka spruce and lodgepole pine are what makes up the “Scottish” forest but this is not the case. In fact, such plantations are of relatively recent appearance, many being the result of a Thatcherite loophole, which, a few decades ago, allowed the wealthy to shelter capital from taxation by investing it in forestry. Large swathes of the West Highlands, Sutherland and Caithness were covered with densely-planted non-native species so that Terry Wogan could continue to line his pockets.

To get a true flavour of the old Caledonian forest – less than 1% of which survives – then you need to go somewhere like Beinn Eighe, where the native woodland has been protected since 1951.

Scots pines are the ecological backbone of a woodland environment that supports many important species: capercaillies, pine martens, red squirrels, Scottish crossbills.

Some ancient pines remain short, hugging the hillside, while others grow tall and majestic. Together they lend the landscape great variety and drama.

. . .perhaps particularly on a murky, misty day. . .



. . . and these trees are just as impressive at close quarters.

I remember, on childhood holidays, how much I enjoyed collecting pebbles. The best pebbles were always wet – found in rock pools or at the waterline. When I brought my treasures home, I was often disappointed in how their bright colours faded to grey as they became dry, so I took to storing them in a bucket of water, in order to admire them as I’d found them. Many people, I imagine, don’t like being out and about in the rain, the mist, and the wet. But to my mind, they are missing something – water lends a clarity to objects that is really pretty amazing.





And a wet walk is just fine, if you have a cosy van to dry out in , some tasty fare, and a delicious glass of cherry perry to enjoy afterwards.

Thanks for the perry, Jen! Slainte!

yellowcraigs

Hiya, remember me? My name is Bruce and I am 18 months old. Today I am telling you about what I think may be the best place in the world. The place called Yellowcraigs.

This weekend the Tom-human is away visiting the other human that they call The Mule, although he does not walk on four legs. After Tom-human and Kate-human, my next favourite humans are called Mel and Gordon. It is they that know of this place Yellowcraigs.

It is curious what humans find interesting about a place. Kate, for example, just kept staring at these twisty sticks.

But these sticks are of the growing kind, and hence no fun at all.

Gordon knows many things. He knows about how Yellowcraigs was once a rainforest, covered in lava-spewing volcanos! He knows about this island, whose name is Fidra.

He also knows much about the growing things.

This spiky thing is “Sea Buckthorn”

And this blue-ish purple-ish thing is “Viper’s Bugloss”


But the best thing about Gordon is that he likes BALL.

Gordon, please throw BALL.



While we were engaged in the pressing business of BALL, Mel and Kate marvelled at this swimming human.

There was much talk of “brr” and “chilly” and “a stronger woman than I” but I did not see what was so remarkable about it. For I will swim in the water whatever the weather! Who braved that frozen bog-pool at Eshaness last January? Bruce, that’s who. And can that swimming human find an important pebble in a pile of seaweed?

Or leap and seek out elusive BALL through the long grass?

I think not.

housekeeping


taken on yesterday’s walk – a glorious Scottish Summer evening.

1. Thanks to everyone who has recently emailed me about Textisles! I’ve received several queries about whether subscriptions are available, or whether you can access the content without the ‘Warriston‘ pattern. It’s lovely that so many of you are interested in the possibility of subscription, but I’m afraid that I’m not considering this at the moment. Because my condition is so variable, I simply can’t predict what I am able to do from one day to the next: this is perhaps the most annoying aspect of my post-stroke life, but I do have to deal with it. It would be wrong of me, and bad for me, to accept subscriptions for something which may well not appear.

Regarding the content-without-Warriston issue: my central thought was to situate patterns within the context of their making, integrating designs with the ideas behind them. I liked the notion of someone being able to knit up a smock while reading about the history of smocks. Of course, there are many people interested in reading about smocks without necessarily wanting to make one. . . I will see how things shape up — combining the content of a series of issues, and making these available separately from their accompanying designs is something I might well consider in the future.

2. Thanks, too, to Charlotte, Jules, Becky, Althea, Kate, Jess, Caitlin, Susie, and Christina, for help in the identification of the yarrow. Though creamy bokeh is all very well, I should remind myself to take a clear photo of the thing in question if I actually want to know what it is.

3. Finally, thanks for your kind comments on the pod and its redecoration! I particularly enjoyed reading about your own pods, in linen closets, pram sheds, and the like. Everyone needs a pod, I reckon. I’m afraid I can’t take photographs from several angles for you – it is a space in which it is barely possible to stand up and rotate – the shot you saw was taken through the open door from across the hall. And Gretchen was right when she said that I might weary of comparisons to HBC. That crazy bouffe, which I sported for many years, made things much worse, I think. A turning point was reached in 2001, when I was at attending a conference dinner at the Huntington Library. Two waiters seemed inordinately interested in me, and approached me in a state of extreme excitement. They had just catered a party for HBC, they said, and the resemblance was uncanny. A month or so later, I looked like this.

Right, back to Betty Mouat.

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