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.”
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. . .
FANTOOSH! – my new spring shawl – is now available.
Fantoosh is a top-down triangular shawl featuring a tesselating allover motif defined by centred double decreases and twisted stitches. Its a lovely rhythmic knit with a pleasing end result!
In Scots, fantoosh means “fancy”, or a wee bit “over the top”. When I was at the beginning of the design process, this shawl felt quite fantoosh to me (although I suppose if you compare it to, say, any design of Shetland fine lace, it is not in the least fancy at all). But because it is worked in a beautiful, luxurious yarn (of which more in a moment), coupled with the fact that it features twisted stitches and openwork, the design idea initially seemed a wee bit more elaborate to me than my usual style. I really enjoyed creating this shawl, and spent quite a bit of time swatching and re-swatching as I honed the motif. I like tesselating shapes, and my favourite kind of lace patterns are those with a well-defined geometry. Playing around with the decreases and twisted stitches meant I could lend this large leafy motif a really graphic strength and structure. Then, once I’d finalised the stitch pattern, I was pleased to discover that the shawl itself was going to end up being incredibly straightforward: memorised after just one repeat, the motif is extremely easy and satisfying to knit. Its an intuitive design whose slightly fancy appearance in fact belies its real simplicity. When I’d finished, it was the exuberance of the shawl that pleased me most – I think it really suits its name – Fantoosh!
The yarn is (gasp, sigh) Old Maiden Aunt Aunt Alpaca / silk / cashmere 4 ply. This blend of luxury fibres makes it a very fantoosh yarn indeed for me to work with. . .but I took one look at Lilith’s colours on this base and I was completely hooked. I knew I had to work with it. The shade is called “Pretty Floral Bonnet” and it really is exceptionally pretty: a subdued shade of pink-y purple, just slightly semi-solid, with these amazing luminous pops of eau de nil running through it. The overall effect is subtle but luminous.
It knits up into a wonderfully soft, drapey fabric that also feels substantial and warm. Perfect to wrap oneself up in on a breezy day.
The shawl is knit from the top-down, to create a triangle twice as wide as it is long. I personally love the flexibility (and wrapability) of a Really Big Shawl. With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, this sample is, ahem, quite large, and uses around 700 yards of yarn (2 skeins).
But a mahooosive shawl is not for everyone. I knit up a second sample and found that a single skein (400 yards) still makes a good-sized shawl with a 114 cm / 45 in wingspan and yarn to spare – so I’ve written the pattern for two sizes, small and large. And because the repeats are short and simple, you’ll find its also really easy to adjust their number to suit other size preferences (and yarn quantities).
Fantoosh is both relaxing and fun to knit – there’s enough variety in the stitch pattern to keep things interesting, and its satisfyingly addictive seeing each new motif appear.
Designing and knitting Fantoosh has put me on a something of a roll, and I suddenly find myself with quite a few ideas fizzing around my brain.
Lets see if these ideas come to fruition!
We have had quite a bit of weather here recently – mittens are definitely required! So I whipped up a pair.
You may recall, in the comments on this post, Trish suggested that a pair of mittens in the Epistrophy pattern would suit the name Jazz Hands. Well, Trish, your wish is my command. Here they are.
The yarn I’ve used is wonderful stuff — Skein Queen Voluptuous “skinny”. This heavy 4 ply is a blend of 80% Exmoor blueface with 20% organic merino and it is just beautiful – plump and squishy, soft and woolly.
I absolutely love Debbie’s dyeing technique and feel for colour. The semi-solid shades she produces work really well for colourwork, adding just a wee bit of depth and variation to the pattern. The shades I’ve used here are “powder” and “granite”, and the Skein Queen is currently dyeing up a batch of these shades to make available in kit form next week.
Will I ever tire of these interlocking diamonds? They really are such fun to knit. Just like the hat (of which I’ve now made four), I found making these mittens really addictive, and knitted a few in different gauges while I fine-tuned the pattern. The mittens I’m wearing here were worked at 30 sts to 4 ins, but, after experimenting with needle sizes, I found that the yarn blooms up so nicely that its great to work at larger gauges also. Working the pattern at 26 sts to 4 ins produces a mitten which comfortably fits a man’s hand.
As you see, the mittens feature an inset-thumb, around which the Epistrophy diamonds sit very neatly. I confess I’m really happy with the balance and symmetry of this design – sometimes a stitch pattern just works for the mitten’s small canvas. Because of the strong diagonals, I found I could design the shaping to follow the motifs in an exact and pleasing way. So satisfying!
If you would like to whip up your own pair of Jazz Hands, Skein Queen and I will be simultaneously releasing the pattern, and hand-dyed Voluptuous yarn kits next Thursday, January 22nd . So watch out for the pattern appearing on Ravelry, and keep a close eye on Debbie’s shop for the yarn update!
I’ve found this hat to be quite an addictive knit — I’ve already worked up two samples, and I’m now knitting up a third, as Tom has requested one for himself (don’t worry, I’m making his in a different yarn so we won’t be insanely matchy-matchy)
The pattern is written for three sizes of hat — I’m wearing the slouchy large size in these photographs — so whatever the size of your heid you should be able to make a hat to fit it.
And one last bit of housekeeping: I am going to do a final run with my mail crates to the sorting office tomorrow morning (Saturday 20th), so if you would like a copy of Yokes posting off before Christmas, now’s the moment to order!
I wanted to include a smart, simple cardigan in my yoke collection. Something in a single colour; that might provide a showcase for a beautiful hand-dyed yarn; a garment that would be easy to wear and straightforward to knit. That cardigan is Fintry.
Fintry is a pretty village a short drive away from my home. Though the village nestles against the north face of the rugged Campsie Fells, its direct environs have an unusually gentle feel, with verdant lanes, hedgerows and fields. There is good grazing and growing here, and Fintry’s distinctive pastoral feel provides a stark contrast to the generally rockier, boggier, woodier – much more Highland landscape – which immediately surrounds me. I find this contrast rather interesting. In summer, the landscape around Fintry is extraordinarily green and pleasingly textured – and its those features that I celebrate in this cardigan.
Fintry is knitted all in one piece, with moss (or seed) stitch button bands, cuffs and hems framing a garment of simple stockinette. These bands of texture are then echoed on the yoke, which is shaped with short rows.
Fintry makes simple and versatile use of the seamless yoke construction and the finishing is really quite minimal. Mel and I finished this sample with five buttons, snaps and ribbon facings, but you could add more buttons, or no buttons at all, just as you wish.
The ribbon facing, incidentally, came from a box of cakes from Betty’s. I had been saving it for years and knew I’d find a use for it.
The ribbon turned out to be a perfect match for the yarn, which is Old Maiden Aunt Corriedale Sport Weight. I love Lilith’s colour sense, her particular style of dyeing, and especially the interesting British yarn bases she uses to show off her skills. This Corriedale is a wonderful yarn, which takes the colour in a beautifully matt and saturated way. The tonal variations in the yarn are so subtle and pleasing, and really enhance the textural interest of the knitted fabric.
The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.
We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.
At the cafe you can sample ice cream, yogurt, crowdie, and other dairy products made on the farm, as well as some delicious home baking.
You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.
If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.
The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.
Here is today’s yoke – Ásta Sóllilja. I began this design with the idea of using colour to create a transition from deep blue to silver grey around the edges of a jumper. I wanted the edges of the design to shimmer a wee bit, in such a way that they might seem to fuse or merge with a darker skirt or pair of jeans. I had fun playing with the Ístex lett lopi palette, and eventually came up with this:
After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book
This wonderful tome reproduces charts and patterns from the textile designs in the sjónabók manuscripts, which are held in the national museum of Iceland. It is a truly fabulous book, which blew me away, not only with the distinctive charts and patterns but with its fascinating analysis of the geometry and four-fold symmetry of Icelandic design. From many patterns in the book, I selected a single version of the hammer rose motif, and played with it, inverting and modifying it in such a manner that allowed me to feature it over the whole depth of a colourwork yoke.
(If you would like to learn more about this motif and its history in Iceland, see Hélène Magnússon’s important book Icelandic Knitting: Using Rose Patterns)
While I was working on this design, I was also reading Halldór Laxness’s dry and incisive Icelandic novel Independent People (1954). Laxness’s account of an Icelandic valley and its human and animal inhabitants had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the book for several weeks afterwards, musing particularly on its relationship with another important twentieth-century account of rural life on the cusp of modernity – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song (1932). There are many thematic comparisons to draw between these two novels, particularly as regards their representation of gender, sexuality and ideas of women’s independence (I would really rather like to write about this one day). The story of Laxness’s female protagonist – Ásta Sóllilja – in the end pans out rather differently from that of Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, and the determination, imagination, and arrested potential of the Icelandic character was cause of much reflection. So I named this design after her.
Designing this jumper really made me fall in love with Icelandic wool: wind and weatherproof, light and warm, in such a beautiful range of colours. The finished yoke is a cosy, easy to wear garment, and is one of those jumpers that I find myself wanting to just throw on and head outside.
Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.
PS In very exciting news, it looks as if the book is actually going to print today, so I will shortly be able to activate the shop for pre-orders.
Here is another yoke – Frost at Midnight.
One of the things I’ve become interested in recently is the idea of the yoke as jewellery. Knitted yokes not only behave in much the same way as a necklace – decorating the shoulders, framing the face – but they have a close relationship with beaded necklaces as well.
Photograph courtesy of Greenland.com
This is a Greenlandic beaded collar, or nuilarmiut. Knitted yokes and nuilarmiut have an intriguingly reciprocal relationship which I have spent some time researching. You can read more about this in one of the introductory chapters of my book.
Frost at Midnight in no way aspires to the beautiful graphic complexity of the nuilarmiut, but it does use beads to transform the knitted yoke into an elegant necklace.
Frost at Midnight is knitted in Scrumptious laceweight – a silk / merino blend from my friends at Fyberspates. The yarn has a beautiful sheen and drape, but is also really strong and durable. Its the ideal yarn for beading, as well as for creating a luxurious little cardi. Knit at 7 sts to the inch, most sizes can create this garment with just two skeins of Scrumptious, making it a surprisingly economical garment.
The beading, of course, is quite involved, but the rest of the knitting in this cardigan is very straightforward, with some neat finishing details, like these turned picot facings.
Mel is modelling Frost at Midnight with slight negative ease, but because the yarn drapes so beautifully it can also be made with a few inches of positive ease as well. (Detailed information about sizing, fit, and ease accompanies all of the patterns in the book)
Finally, the name. The shimmering beaded trees that surround this yoke seem to be captured in frost on a cold winter’s night, and Frost at Midnight is the title of one of my favourite poems by S.T. Coleridge. Coleridge’s poem is addressed to his son, who sleeps quietly in his cradle next to the reflective poet. It ends with these marvellous lines:
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.