As anyone round these parts will tell you, it has not (so far) been a vintage Scottish summer. One must make most of the fine weather when it appears, so we headed out for the hills, and enjoyed a lovely day’s walking.
A favourite tree
Dog on log
Falls of Falloch
I love the rich golden tones of this time of year. The heather and bracken are beginning to turn, and, despite (or perhaps because of) the poor weather of recent months, everything seems lush and thriving. A few days ago, on a patch of ground around half a square mile, I counted over fifty different wildflower species, including glorious blooms of Sea Aster and Grass of Parnassus.
But one thing I really notice in August is the lack of birdsong. Woods that were alive with wood and willow warblers are now silent; there are no larks or meadow pipits and even the wren that woke me at 5am throughout July is quiet. Around our steading, I only now hear buzzards and crows. A young hare passes our living room window nightly, sniffing the evening air and looking for a meal. I suspect it is to blame for the state of my kale and leeks, but a single hare cannot destroy nearly as much as last year’s evil rabbit hoard . . .
. . . and although my six tomato plants have yet to produce a single tomato, we have been enjoying lots of home-grown vegetables of late: broccoli, carrots, cucumbers that keep on coming, and, of course, lots of potatoes. There will be tatties for supper tonight, and probably for many nights to come.
Whether you are at home or away, I hope you are all enjoying a lovely weekend!
(Tom stares quizzically at An Ceann Mor, which is worth a look if you are passing.)
Good morning! Here is today’s yoke from my new book – Bluebells. In the 1950s and 60s, there was a particularly popular style of sweater featuring a rather narrow circular yoke. In such garments, the sleeve and body shaping tended to be a little more neatly tailored than other circular yokes, and the colourwork motifs were placed high up on the neck, necklace style. I wanted to include one of these necklace-yoked sweaters in the collection, and this is what I came up with.
There’s really no need of much explanation for where I drew inspiration for the design.
One of my favourite wild flowers, bluebells transform the woods and glens with their luminous glow throughout the month of May and are one of the undoubted highlights of a Scottish spring.
Bluebell flowers seem particularly lovely to me when they flip upwards just before they turn to seed, and this is how I represented them in my chart.
Bluebells encircle the neck of this garment like a garland, and the floral motifs are echoed in colourwork bands at the hem and cuffs.
Jamieson and Smith shade FC37 really is the perfect bluebell blue, and the chart also features two of my all-time favourite greens – FC11 and FC24. The finished sweater is neat, simple, and easy to wear – even on a very breezy day like the one on which we took these photographs.
These photographs were taken in late summer, above the Blane Valley, a place which in the spring is awash with bluebells. I knit this sweater during bluebell season, and loved to see how bluebells took over the woodland and darker north-facing slopes of the valley, bringing them to life with their luminous glow.
Here is another yoke — this one’s name is self-explanatory — Foxglove.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about my first year of rural living has been the wildflowers that grow around my home. Just a few yards from my front door are a wide variety of environments from heathland, bog and lochside to deciduous woodland and roadside hedgerows. Walking through this landscape every day, I have found it fascinating to observe the wildflowers emerging, coming into bloom, taking over the landscape, and falling away to seed. Back in the spring, I began keeping a record of the wildflowers I spotted on my daily walks (mostly within a 4 mile radius of my home) by recording a photograph on Instagram. (If you are interested, you can find that series of pictures under the hashtag #todayswildflower). I found that the simple act of taking a photograph of a plant, and later looking it up in my reference guides meant that, by the end of the summer, I had learned a reasonable amount about local wildflower habitats, the time of their flowering, their relationship to other plant varieties and so on. I discovered some wonderful plants I’d never seen or noticed before – grass of Parnassus, scarlet pimpernell, butterwort. I also learned to look anew at flowers I thought I knew reasonably well – such as foxgloves.
I love their pink spires, their sheeny blooms, their downy leaves, their beautiful variegated interiors, the surprising deep beetroot purple of their stems. I knew I wanted to knit the foxgloves up into a yoke, and really enjoyed developing my chart for this design.
Foxglove is the only design in the collection to use three colours in one row. (I have a neat trick for this, borrowed from Elizabeth Zimmermann, which the pattern describes in full).
This yoke is in the Shetland style. It is knit in the round and steeked; the garment has some shaping after the arms are joined, and the yoke pattern itself is relatively shallow, and placed high up on the neck. That said, in my experience the necklines of many Shetland yokes have a tendency to ride rather too high – this one shouldn’t, and is intended to sit quite neatly at the throat.
As you can see, by the time I’d actually managed to knit my sample, summer was turning into autumn, and it was no longer foxglove season.
But we managed to take these photographs among some Rose Bay Willowherb which were going to seed, and which seemed to provide an appropriate local wildflower backdrop
The yarn I’ve used is, of course, Jamieson and Smith jumperweight – the perfect yarn for a Shetland-style yoke.
I have another yoke in this collection which was also inspired by a Scottish wildflower. More about that one tomorrow.
1: Bruce loves the beach
8. Fine weather for walking
9, 10: The first time in four and half years that, while away, I have not been bothered in one way or another by my health or my physical limitations. Am I really so much better? Or have I merely finally adapted to my “new normal”? Either way, it felt pretty good to climb up behind that crag, to see that view.
One of my great pleasures at the moment is observing, photographing and finding out more about, the wildflowers where I live. I’m surrounded by lots of different kinds of environments – hedgerow, water, woodland, heath, mountain – and these are full of so many wonderful flora, some of which I had never noticed or knew the names of until recently. Just opposite our house is a path that forms part of the West Highland Way. This path is lined with an old wall, and growing around and through this wall, some foxgloves have recently been putting on a spectacular show. I decided I had to take some photographs of them yesterday.
I think I am starting to understand the allure of botanical drawing. Sadly, I cannot draw for toffee, but I am certainly enjoying capturing the detail of my local flora with my camera.
In other news:
I had great fun reading the animal names in the comments to the previous post! After excluding those who couldn’t enter, the randomly selected winners of the Toft party tickets are Pootle the cat and Iris the hawk . . . ahem . . . I mean Lucy and Janine. Congratulations! Could you please email me at email@example.com to arrange your prize?
I am currently working on a bluebell-inspired design for my forthcoming YOKES collection. I am certainly not short of inspiration, as you currently can’t move for bluebells round here. Discovering these lovely flowers blooming in the woods and hills around me this Spring has really been an unexpected delight. On every walk, I seem to discover a new patch. . .
. . . around the Carbeth huts . . .
. . .through the hedgerow at the top of my garden . . .
. . .across the loch . . .
. . . and along the North-facing slopes of the Blane valley.
All the woodland paths are illuminated with their hazey-blue glow
And in dappled sunlight, they seem lit from within.
Clearly I have not had my fill of bluebells, as yesterday we visited Glen Finglas in search of more. (I drove the van over Duke’s Pass, which was excellent steering experience)
I can completely understand why this glen is listed as one of the best bluebell woods in Scotland.
This is a deciduous wood, and the bluebells bloom at the same time that the oaks are coming into leaf. The contrast between the fresh, pale green of the oak leaves and the deep bluey-purple of the bluebells rising from the woodland floor is really quite spectacular.
In clearings uninterrupted by trees, the bluebells intermingle with white stitchwort and take on a lovely meadow-like appearance.
I had plenty of time to study the Glen Finglas bluebells with my camera.
Now I can get back to my knitted bluebells!
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.
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.
Golden flowers are appearing on the gorse, the ultimate sign of a Scottish spring for me.
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.
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!
It is a while since I’ve known a spell of weather like it.
The verges have bloomed into wildflower meadows.
Everything seems sharper, brighter, a dappled world of light and shade.
The evening air is soft and fragrant.
Folk stroll about, bare-armed, leisurely.
Inside, the new rooms are cool and clean and very pretty.
Bruce prefers the shade.
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.
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 . . .
. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .
. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.
. . . 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!
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.