Kate Davies Designs

Owligan

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One of the most frequent requests I receive by email is to help knitters ‘translate’ my owls pullover design into a cardigan.

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This is not as straightforward as it sounds. The owls pullover was designed to be a tightly-fitting garment, with negative ease and back shaping (which would sit rather oddly as a cardigan). The pullover is worked in the round (while a cardigan is generally worked back and forth) and this has implications for the way the owl cables are charted and rendered. Additionally, the owl cables are not centred around a front opening (as they would need to be to accommodate the button bands).

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So I have designed the Owligan.

This is a very straightforward pattern, knit up in super-bulky yarn at 2.5 sts to the inch. The pattern is ideal for a beginner knitter, and comes with a number of different options to accommodate different skills and requirements. The sleeves can be knit flat, or in the round; the owl cables can be worked from a chart or from written instructions; and the body can be worked to two different lengths. The short length is shown above (worked in New Lanark Chunky with the yarn held double) and the longer length is shown below (worked in TOFT Ulysses chunky, which really is a super super bulky yarn!).

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Unlike the owls pullover, the Owligan is designed to be worn with quite a bit of positive ease. I’m wearing both the long and short versions of the garment with 6 ins positive ease in these photographs. The pattern is graded in seven sizes, to fit bust measurements of 30 to 55 ins.

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The two yarns I’ve used for these samples are very different. TOFT Ulysses chunky is a smooth, worsted spun yarn which is soft both to knit and wear. It is a beautiful, special and very luxurious yarn – and its price reflects this. New Lanark chunky is a woollen spun yarn with a much more rustic feel. While it is certainly not as soft to knit as the TOFT, the yarn relaxes, expands and blooms considerably after washing (so be sure to always wash your swatch!). Its a great everyday yarn that’s very reasonably priced, and knits up into a wonderfully woolly and robust garment.

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(New Lanark chunky – in shade ‘limestone’)

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(TOFT Ulysses chunky – in shade ‘silver’)

If you have previously purchased the owls or owlet patterns, the Owligan pattern can be yours for half price. Simply put the Owligan in your Ravelry basket, then enter the code OWL50% (for owls pattern) or OWLET50% (for owlet pattern) and the discount will be applied when you checkout. (Note: if you received either pattern as a gift or freebie, I’m afraid there is no discount as there’s no previous purchase). But if you have previously purchased one of the aforementioned patterns, however long ago that was, the discount will be applied, and the Owligan will be half price.

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The Owligan is not only a super-speedy knit, but is also wonderfully wearable – particularly in the current weather! Mel and I have become a little obsessed with knitting Owligan samples – so you might see another couple, worked up in different yarns, popping up here over the next few weeks. . .
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Thanks so much for your comments on the previous post, which mean an awful lot to me. I’ve a wee bit more to say about my recovery, and will do so in the next post.

Five years on – part 1.

It is coming up to the anniversary of my stroke, and I find myself reflecting, in various ways, on where I am now, a whole five years later. I’ll write about different aspects of my recovery in other posts, but today I want to talk about the change in my employment. I’m a knitwear designer now, but as many of you will know, in my pre-stroke life I was an academic, teaching eighteenth-century literature and writing books about eighteenth-century women. One of the things I’m asked most frequently – particularly by academics – is whether I miss working in academia. . . here’s my response.

From a very early age I wanted to study literature. I loved reading and was horribly precocious. I worked my way through the shelves in my school and local libraries and then rapidly devoured everything on my parent’s bookshelves: Joseph Heller, Spike Milligan, Iris Murdoch, Giovannio Guareschi, Patricia Highsmith, Josephine Tey. I recall being reprimanded for reading my mum’s Georgette Heyer novels when far too young to understand them. I also vividly remember, after receiving a radio for my ninth birthday, hearing an interview with someone who mentioned that they had read the Prisoner of Zenda by the age of nine. I was horrified! I had not read the Prisoner of Zenda! Time was passing me by! I had better get a move on reading all those books. By my early teenage years my aim was more determined. I was going to University and I was going to be an academic. I went to York, took my B.A, and stayed there to pursue a Masters and a PhD. I was appointed to my first academic position at the University of Sheffield at the age of 24 – before I’d even submitted my doctoral dissertation. Between then and my stroke (at the age of 36) I taught eighteeth-century literature in three different Universities. I never lost an interview, and was successful in every job I went for. I worked extremely hard. My research was well regarded. I wrote books. I received grants and awards. I was promoted.

But I wasn’t happy. I loved reading, I loved research, I loved writing. I loved the world of the archive and ideas. That world made me feel alive! I was passionate about eighteenth century literature and culture, and about women’s writing in particular. But there’s a lot more to being an academic than being a good scholar. In the UK, permanent academic posts in the humanities are hard to come by, and hard fought for. I was surrounded by junior colleagues who were constantly jostling for those positions, and suffering while they jostled. I saw committed, talented intellectuals failing to be appointed to academic positions, and cobbling together meagre incomes from part-time teaching posts. I had a position. I had a succession of positions. I was one of the lucky ones. I should have been grateful. I tried to be grateful. But I just didn’t enjoy my job. I didn’t enjoy teaching – I was never really able to relax – and though I hope most of my students would say I was a reasonable teacher, in all honesty, teaching wasn’t good for me. I tried to get on with it, and to do it well, but in some sort of deep fundamental way I was simply never, ever comfortable in the classroom. In the academic positions I held, there was of course an awful lot of teaching and there was an awful lot of administration too. Though it certainly wasn’t the life of the mind or anything, to be honest, I was fine about the admin – I took on roles with lots of responsibility (chair of examiners, chair of graduate studies) and rather enjoyed building efficient systems and implementing them. What I did not enjoy implementing, however, were nationally determined policies with which I profoundly disagreed (such as aspects of UK anti-terrorist legislation concerning foreign students) and there were also many institutional policies and practices I had a very hard time accepting (such as actively recruiting poorly-qualified graduate students from notoriously oppressive (but wealthy) regimes simply in order to swell dwindling institutional coffers).

I felt I should be grateful – but I wasn’t. The workload was immense and ever-expanding, the job was demanding and tiring. Teaching, marking, preparation, admin, and an insane mountain of email bled into what little time remained for writing and research. There was less and less space for the actual scholarly, intellectual aspects of my role, the things I really loved and by which I was inspired. I kept myself going with the impetus of the next sabbatical, the next grant that would pay for some longed-for time in the archive. By 2009, I was profoundly unhappy – in fact, I actively hated my job. I began to nurture wee pipe dreams about what life would be like if I went part-time. There would be more space for knitting and pattern writing (with which I’d recently become obsessed) and perhaps I could actually find the time to research and write my next book! On top of the day-to-day grind of my job, the deleterious mental effect of its demands, compounded by increasing feelings of entrapment and desperation, I was being dogged by a micro-managerial colleague whose treatment of some members of staff – myself included – amounted to a form of bullying. I have worked with lots of difficult people in different University environments, but this person was on another level entirely. In November 2009 I hit a low point. Since I’ve been a teenager, I have always found the Autumn and Winter months incredibly difficult mentally, and this was particularly so in 2009. My seasonal mood disorder was familiar and inevitable, and I had ways of coping with it – but in this instance its effects were compounded by job-related stress, general unhappiness, lack of sleep, and a horrible colleague. That November, I found myself suffering from severe depression, paranoia and disturbing psychotic episodes, during which I experienced altered states of perception, and suicidal ideation. Things became critical: after a particularly disturbing and dangerous episode, my GP firmly insisted I took some time off work. After having felt I’d turned a corner, I returned to my job in January 2010. On February 1st, 2010 I had a stroke.

Was my stroke related in any way to my poor mental health? On a purely physiological basis I believe it was. As a result of the depression and psychosis, I had lost quite a bit of weight and by that point was around 6.5 stone / 90 pounds (I am depicted thus in the photographs for Manu). My blood pressure had always been on the low side of normal, and due to my weight loss and general malaise it had become even lower. When my stroke occurred, my blood pressure, from its usual ultra low point, spiked to a high point, as it was suddenly elevated by by the stressful thoughts that were running through my head. This sudden spike in blood pressure caused two quite normal blood clots to pass through a hole in my heart and find their way to my brain. In the milliseconds before the stroke occurred, I was worrying about how, in a forthcoming meeting, I was going to defend my sanity to my micro-managerial colleague. She didn’t cause my stroke, but I’m sorry to say that for me, she will forever be associated with that moment.

It is perhaps something of a ludicrous cliche that stress and stroke are related (“she was so stressed out, she had a stroke!”), but the very real physiological effects of poor mental health certainly give one pause for thought. While many strokes in young people are cryptogenic, the cause of mine was pretty clear: I had a hole in my heart creating a leaky passageway between my arterial and venous systems – put a couple of clots into the equation and I was a ticking time bomb! Perhaps what happened was inevitable, and I would have had a stroke at some time in the future anyway. But it still seems significant that it occurred at the very point when my mental health was at its poorest, and when my physical health had suffered severely as a consequence. I’m not sure what a neurologist would say about this, but my stroke has certainly impressed upon me the relatedness of mental and physical health, and the real importance of looking after both.

Sometimes I am annoyed at myself for not realising earlier just how ill I was. How could I let myself get into that state? Why could I not acknowledge I was so severely depressed? Why did I rush back to work when I still wasn’t well? Part of the problem was something pretty common in sufferers of my particular kind of nuttiness: a complete lack of insight into the severity of my condition, coupled with a total inability to be objective. When you are in that state, depression makes perfect sense. Suicide makes perfect sense. There’s something unanswerable about it. And when it gets to the stage where you are seeing things, and believe that your mind is responsible for changes in the light and weather conditions, and you should probably be sectioned, and are only saved from ending your own twisted, unreal reality by a brilliantly understanding GP and a wonderful and equally understanding partner, things have really got to change. If I’d realised how ill I was, perhaps I would have made that change. But I simply didn’t grasp the critical nature of my situation, and I could never bring myself to give up that scholarly dream: the dream I’d had since I was nine.

My stroke meant I had to walk away from academia. It was initially tough to do so – I did grieve about it for a while, feeling I was giving up so much intellectually – but I look back now and I have no regrets at all. The things I enjoyed about it – the research, and the writing – are things I still enjoy, and can now pursue with much more creative freedom. How I wish I’d known I could run a business, and that it could be fun! People are, in general, much much nicer in the world of knitting, design, and small publishing than they are in universities. . . . I am now able to pursue and develop ideas from the things that inspire me, to work with people I genuinely like in a wonderfully creative industry, and to make things I really believe in. I find my work massively enjoyable and completely fulfilling – and it comes with the additional benefit of supporting me financially.

I was recently asked what I missed about my academic job, and I could honestly only think of one thing: a thing so shallow and inconsequential that it is barely worth mentioning (but I shall tell you anyway). I miss getting dressed to go to work: I used to really enjoy styling clothes, putting outfits together, and donning something smart on a daily basis. Nowadays I mostly sport what Tom refers to as my bumpkin suit – a suit that befits a country-dwelling person who runs her business from home and spends a lot of time outdoors in all weathers. But then I still get to dress up whenever I feel like it, and I still enjoy exercising my styling acumen putting together outfits, particularly when photographing my designs. So, what do I miss about academia?

Absolutely nothing.

Address to a Haggis

We enjoyed a tasty January 25th supper last night, and thought you might like to hear our friend Ivor addressing the haggis in wonted fashion. The text of Burn’s poem is below, for those who are interested. Apologies for my shaky camerawork.


Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody bog or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

ribbon and binding and tape and trim

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One of the things I’m most frequently asked is where I source the ribbons, binding and tape that I use as facings for the inside front bands and / or steek edges of designs such as Epistrophy or Ursula.

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(on the Epistrophy cardigan, the raw steek edges are covered by a decorative facing. I found the bee tape somewhat randomly in the furnishing section of Plumo)

I don’t have much of a yarn stash at all – in fact, apart from a few precious precious skeins of this and that, and a bag of self striping sock yarn (with which I churn out vanilla socks in my non-thinking knitting time) I only retain the yarn I’m about to use in a specific design or group of designs. But as well as a sizeable hoard of buttons, I also have a reasonable stash of ribbons and tapes and bindings. These things don’t take up much space, and I really like having several options for finishing touches to choose from at the end of my design process. Stitching on the perfect ribbon or buttons really is like wrapping up the design! Anyway, after having a good poke through my ribbon collection this morning, I thought I’d share some of my top trim tips.

1. Salvage

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Many things come wrapped in ribbons, and it may surprise you to learn that quite a few of my favourite ribbons were salvaged from things like cakes and gift boxes. The three examples above are all from cakes, while this webbing was once the handle of a bag that has long since worn out . . .

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. . . and this ribbon was once tied around a Clothkits purchase.

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So if something comes tied with a ribbon, I never throw it away, and I now have a shoebox full of ribbons which remind me, in a rather pleasant way, of the treats and gifts they once adorned. It is also rather satisfying to eventually be able to put them to good use – as we did with the ribbon we used on the inside facing of Fintry, which once adorned a delicious package of baked goods from Betty’s.

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I was thrilled to find the ribbon was such a perfect match for the yarn and worked so well with the finished garment!

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2. Seek them out in person

Self explanatory, really. Wherever I go, I seek out haberdashery. As ribbon and trim doesn’t take up much space, its no problem to transport or store, plus, its a nice souvenir.

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From Millie Moon, in Frome.

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From A Rubenesque, in Dublin. (Eventually used on Ursula cardigan, and Scatness tunic)

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From the Peerie Shop in Lerwick.

3. Seek them out online

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If you need tape or binding in a specific style or colour, often a simple keyword search on eBay or Etsy will turn up what you are looking for. And the interweb is chock full of terrifically tempting emporia, such as Clothkits or Rosa Pomar’s shop. . .

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(I just love these chickens)


4. Gifts

If you are a haberdashery obsessive like me, there is no better gift than some ribbons or trim!

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Mel gave me these lovely ribbons

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and this superb owl trim was a gift from Suzanne.

5. Prepare to retain your haberdashery stash for a while
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This morning’s brief investigation of my stash revealed items that have been there for seven years or more, including this delicious linen trim from the Japanese shop, Linnet (warning! that link leads to Japanese haberdashery heaven!). Frankly, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that this tape has been in my stash for 7 years, or indeed if stays there for another 7. Its purpose is bound to be revealed at some point, and at such time, I will be prepared. . .

I actually purchased the (drool, sigh) Linnet tape in a couple of shades, and used the other (which has a greenish hue) when finishing Deco.

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So: 1. Salvage; 2. Seek out in person; 3. Seek out online; 4. Receive trim and ribbon as gifts; 5. Be prepared to keep hold of your ribbon stash for a while and, if all of these tips fail you can always:

6. Make it yourself
If you find you still lack trim or binding for the inside of your cardigan, you can always make some lovely bias binding yourself (in the same way as you’d produce the binding for a quilt), either by hand (with care, with your iron) or by using one of the many different bias tape-making devices that are now available.

Now I’m off to put my ribbon box away. Have fun!

Thinking of Shetland

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It was this time of year when I first visited Shetland. How well I recall that crazy drive across Unst in a blizzard! The weird half-light at midday! My first feeling of the profound difference of the place, but my immediate sensation that it was somewhere I could easily feel at home. . . Anyway whatever it is, for the past few days, I’ve been strangely feeling the pull of Shetland on me. Perhaps it is because I’m wearing a lot of Shetland wool: I’ve scored quite a few vintage sweaters recently, and these are now in regular circulation in my winter wardrobe.

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(My new favourite gansey – an eBay find)

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(Bright red Shetland yoke found in a Milngavie charity shop)

Perhaps it is because I’ve been listening to Shetland voices. A recent episode of Radio Scotland’s “Our Story” featured many of my Shetland friends and acquaintances talking about knitting. Please go and listen to the programme if you haven’t already. This really is a great programme (in a great series) which, because it is largely shaped by the words of ‘real people’, rather than the agenda of ill-informed researchers, is SO much better than the ‘novelty’ accounts of knitting of which the mainstream UK media is often sadly so full. You’ll hear Oliver Henry enthusing about the unique qualities of Shetland’s “kindly wool”, Carol Christiansen unpacking the origins of island knitting in the Shetland Museum, Hazel Tindall on the cost of knitting, and knitting as ‘wearable art’, Jan Robertson’s truly lyrical account of the colours of Shetland sheep, and Ella Gordon talking in a most inspiring fashion about design and her sense of place. (The programme is just under half an hour long, and is available on the BBC iplayer for the next 29 days)

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(image from Misa Hay on instagram)

Perhaps its because I’ve been reading 60 North . This issue of the magazine (which is newly available in print) could really be described as a bumper Shetland knitting edition.

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There’s a lovely piece by Donna Smith, this year’s patron of Shetland wool week, about the importance of knitting to her own sense of heritage and identity. Donna is one of those people who just seems to have an easy and effortless sense of style, and this image of her knitting a beautiful fair isle glove while wearing a sleek bright blue leather makkin belt and an Orla Kiely print really sums her up for me.

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“Shetland hosiery taken in exchange for shop commodities”

Glasgow University’s Ros Chapman shares her research in a brilliant and very telling piece about knitting and Shetland’s truck system – which made me think differently about the various ‘repository’ shops that sprang up around Scotland and England in the late nineteenth century, some of which still exist today.

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. . . There’s a feature by Alistair Hamilton about Edmund Hillary’s world famous Everest sweater (a Shetland icon) as well a fabulous account of last year’s Wool Week by Diana Lukas-Nulle and a profile of Selina May-Miller, Shetland Wool Week’s new co-ordinator.

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Finally, I wonder if my current yen for Shetland has anything to do with what arrived in the post this morning? These are seed potatoes – Shetland black tatties, to be exact. Last time I saw Misa we spent a good hour enthusing about gardening, and particularly about the joys and challenges of growing vegetables in our respective parts of the world. I am intrigued to see how Misa’s Shetland black tatties fare down here with me in the west of Scotland, and how lovely it was, on a cold January day to open this parcel, see its sprouting contents, and to feel excited about growing things again. Thanks so much, Misa!

So, in short, I find myself with a curious yearning to be in Shetland . . .which sadly cannot be fulfilled right now. I’ll just have to make do with the live broadcast from Up Helly Aa next week . . .

Jazz Hands are here!

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Good Morning!

We have released the Jazz Hands pattern!

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Skein Queen has also been very busy preparing yarn bundles for these mittens. The yarn – Voluptuous Skinny – is a lovely plump, woolly 4 ply. It is spun up by John Arbon, and composed of 80% Exmoor Blue and 20% organic merino. The yarn is just ideal for a pair of colourwork mittens – the stranding creates a fabric that’s dense and warm, soft and springy. The pattern includes instructions for two sizes of mitten, small and large, and each Skein Queen yarn bundle will include more than enough yarn to knit the largest size.

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I’ve also put together a time-limited promotion for those who want to make Jazz Hands to match their Epistropheids. If you purchase both patterns on Ravelry, using the code HEIDANDHANDS you will receive 40% off your total – that’s both patterns for £3.95. Please be sure to add both patterns to your Ravelry cart (using the ‘add to cart’ option) before entering the code or the system won’t apply the discount. Previous Epistropheid purchases should also count toward the promotion – if you encounter any problems please do let me know.

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I’ve been enjoying the snowy weather and have been wearing my Jazz Hands pretty constantly since the cold snap started – my hands have been toasty warm!

Jazz Hands pattern is here
Jazz Hands yarn bundles are here

Mel’s knitting

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I’ve had cause to celebrate Mel’s knitting on more than one occasion here. . .

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Some of you may recognise Mel as a model from Yokes: Mel has many strings to her supremely talented bow, and I’m lucky enough that she works with me on projects such as Yokes as a sample knitter, design consultant, and all-round offerer of sage advice.

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My principal aim when pattern-writing is always clarity, and Mel’s suggestions often help me to achieve that. Keith Moon is a simple sweater with a few nifty details, and Mel’s advice after knitting her version really helped me to hone the instructions for finishing the collar.

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Mel and I have very different colour insticts – though we rarely gravitate towards the same shades, her choices always appeal to me, and often make me think about colour in a different way. Her teal-y green, coal black and silver grey Keith Moon is completely different to my nautical original, and it is totally gorgeous.

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Mel also recently knitted an Epistrophy in exactly the same yarn (tasty Toft DK), but the reverse colourway to the original. Again, it looks very different to my sample, and it is just so neat and lovely I had to show you.

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I don’t mind admitting this is one of my all-time favourites of all the sweaters I’ve designed and knit and -ye gods – I want a dark grey Epistrophy now! Indeed I might have tried to sneak off with it after we took these photographs this afternoon, but Mel is wise to my ways. . .

Here are Mel’s Keith Moon and Epistrophy on Ravelry.

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