Kate Davies Designs

in which I discover Scottish Madras


The other day Brenda, my lovely neighbour, appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, a gift for me. When I unfolded it, the piece of paper turned out to be a rather interesting and very beautiful hand-painted floral design, which I could immediately tell was some sort of pattern repeat.


But what sort of pattern repeat? I have a limited knowledge of weaving, but in many respects this pattern didn’t really resemble the weaving directions I’d seen. Upon further examination, I felt the motifs had a sort of open quality about them that suggested lace. There was an identifying number on the reverse of the paper.


This suggested the pattern was intended for use in an industrial, commercial context. But what kind of machines produced charted lace? I examined the patterning and instruction marks, all of which were carefully hand-painted. . . as was the lettering.


Then I noticed this word – Madras. I had a vague recollection of some kind of openwork fabric of that name being produced at the turn of the twentieth century. Poking around my books, I found a reference to “Scottish Madras” in Lesley Jackson’s Twentieth Century Pattern Design. Semi-sheer muslins with openwork patterns were traded from, and associated with the Indian port, and, in much the same culturally appropriative way that Paisley became a byword for textiles originating in Kashmir, so an Ayrshire iteration of Madras’s gauzy, lacey muslins began to be produced in the mills of the Irvine valley from the 1870s onwards.

Further poking around revealed more information: that Scottish Madras was introduced to Ayrshire by Alexander Morton, a Scottish textile innovator and entrepreneur who admired and emulated the technology of the Nottingham Leavers Lace machine. The semi-transparent nature of the fabric meant that it was ideal for curtains, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, design houses such as Voysey and Morris & Co were using Morton’s machinery to create lightweight curtain and furnishing fabrics for sale at outlets such as Libertys, in London. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, several mills in Irvine valley were hard at work creating fine lace fabrics like “Scottish Madras”.

MYB textiles
(image courtesy of MYB textiles)

Scottish Madras was, then, quite a specialised textile, involving precise design techniques and innovative technologies. The resulting fabric was pretty ubiquitous in the 1910s, and decorated countless early twentieth century domestic interiors. But what had happened to these technologies? Had they died out, as did so many other important innovations, when the Scottish textile industry declined later in the century? Well, imagine how delighted and excited I was to discover that that a company still exists in Ayrshire, using essentially the same specialised technologies to create contemporary interpretations of this important and distinctive local fabric! That company is MYB textiles and I suggest you pop over to their site immediately to read about their history producing Scottish Madras and laces. Even more excitingly, Kashka Lennon, one of the designers at MYB textiles, was able to tell me more about the pattern Brenda had given to me.


According to Kashka: “This is a Nottingham Lace draft, you can tell from the colour used to paint it, the red symbolises the most opaque areas, the green semi-sheer, the white represent the sheer of the lace and the blue symbolises the tags used to pull the yarns together to create very open areas of the design. I can also tell that the design you have would’ve have been for a small 16” café net style fabric by the orientation of the pattern on the graph paper.”

Kashka also mentioned that while she has been taught to recreate these patterns digitally (perhaps in much the same way as we knitwear designers do using Illustrator and other charting software) her design director was trained to make drafts using a similar hand painted technique to that of my chart.

There are beautiful and intriguing things about so many charts and patterns. I find this chart especially beautiful and particularly intriguing because it was a gift that has taught me something about a distinctive Scottish textile I never really knew existed. I now intend to visit MYB textiles to find out a little more about the techniques and traditions of machine-made lace in Scotland! I am very excited about this and promise to report back here after my trip!

Thankyou, Brenda, for sending me on this journey!

between weathers


Finally! A break in the weather. It is beginning to feel vaguely Spring-like at last.


Primroses! Things in bloom on my doorstep again!


Bruce and I have been making the most of the weather on our daily walks.


You can see the water levels of Loch Lomond are rather high – a result of the near-biblical rain we’ve been having of late.


One of my greatest pleasures on my walks is observing the way the weather (of which there is a lot out here) transforms familiar objects. The light, for example, is different every single day. This tree (a favourite) looks different each time I see it. Yesterday it was all but submerged.


Tom has been making the most of the weather too – running the Deeside Way – a 33 mile race in preparation for the Highland Fling. I rather like the lo-fi jam-jar lid ‘medal’. 4 hours 19 minutes! Well done, Tom!

I had hoped to show you some knitting today – but there is honestly not much to see. For the past few weeks I have been working on a garment with an, um, “atypical” construction. Today I had to concede that despite my best efforts it really hasn’t worked out. Now, if you were ever in need of a tightly-fitting woolly superhero outfit that sits on the bias, then what I have created would suit you rather well. Sadly, though, this wasn’t quite the look I was after. Time to rip it out and start again!




Since writing this post, my ribbon obsession has, um, deepened somewhat.

I couldn’t stop thinking how nice it would be to create my own ribbon designs with which to bind steeks and facings. Ribbon decorated with Nordic or Fairisle stitch patterns . . . .


. . . ribbon printed with fun knitterly motifs like scissors and balls of yarn. . . .


Ribbon in pleasing colours and patterns and shades . . .


For a while I looked around at various options for custom ribbon design and printing. And then I found a wonderful UK company called Berisfords, who design and manufacture beautiful quality ribbons from their factory in Congleton. Not only have Berisfords been manufacturing ribbon for more than a century and a half, they created ribbons that already matched many of the design ideas I’d been having.


As you would imagine from such a well-established manufacturer, Berisfords create top-quality ribbons that are well made and designed.


These ribbons are ideal for covering your steeks, creating a pretty facing to stabilise a cardigan front opening or button band, or just to use decoratively in many different ways in your sewing or quilting projects. As you know, I am a complete haberdashery obsessive, and I fell head over heels for Berisfords designs. I certainly know what I’ll be using for a facing on my next cardigan project!


I was also somewhat amused to discover that many of the ribbons in my stash (that I’d been keeping from cakes and other items for years), were of course manufactured by Berisfords . . .

So, as I couldn’t stop myself acquiring some, and as I thought you might also be interested, I’ve now curated a small selection of Berisfords lovely ribbon designs which are on sale in my shop)

The ribbon is cut and sold in 2 metre lengths . . .


. . . which are securely packaged inside a Kate Davies Designs card, which can in turn be sent in a small envelope at letter rate (so shipping is quite reasonable wherever in the world you are).


If you are interested in buying some of my small selection of Berisfords ribbon, can I please ask that, for the time being, you purchase no more than three 2 metre lengths at once? Stocks are quite limited, and purchasing no more than 6 metres at one time will make matters much easier for me when packing and shipping. Thankyou!


March 3rd


A snow day


Time for a walk . . .


on the West Highland Way!


my stroke’s misdiagnosis

An online friend sent me a link to this Guardian article, which raises the issue of Stroke misdiagnosis in children and young people. The article tells the story of 13 year-old Isaac, whose stroke was caused by a hole in his heart, and whose condition was incorrectly diagnosed following a CT scan. This is exactly what happened to me five years ago. Stroke misdiagnosis among “non-typical” patients (those who are young, apparently healthy, and without ‘usual’ risk factors) is a surprisingly common and serious issue that urgently needs addressing. Here’s what happened in my own case.

As I was whisked away to hospital on that cold February morning in 2010, I recall trying my hardest to ask the ambulance paramedic “have I had a stroke?” To me this seemed the only logical explanation for the sudden horrific event which had left me half paralysed and barely able to speak. At the hospital, I was seen by an eminent Edinburgh neurologist, who breezed in with his satchel. He looked at my notes, conducted a brief examination, and sent me away for a CT scan. A CT scan is a notoriously blunt instrument in stroke diagnosis, and mine showed no abnormalities. “Good news” said the neurologist, “you haven’t had a stroke.”
“Then what on earth has happened to me?”
“Do you have a stressful job?”
“Yes I do.”
“Would you say you were suffering from stress at work?”
“It seems your body has decided to convert that psychological stress into a physical reaction.”

I was absolutely mystified. It was certainly true that I was at rock bottom mentally, and that my condition had been exacerbated by work-related stress, but was I really so damned mad that my brain had made my body just give up? What on earth could this mean? The neurologist wrote up some notes. I received no medication or treatment of any kind. I was taken to a neurology ward, rather than the stroke unit, and manouevred into a bed.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I asked the ward sister.
“We’ll have you out of here very soon” she said.

This was early in the morning, and that first whole day and night on the ward were truly the worst hours I’ve ever spent. I recall feeling extremely peculiar – my whole body fizzed with a painful and horrible paresthesia (pins and needles). I had an appalling headache, was experiencing visual disturbances, and could hardly hear or speak. The world kept going in and out of focus, and I had no movement at all down the left side of my body. My face drooped, the left side of my mouth flopped uselessly, and I just slumped over when I tried to sit. I was brought some food, which I managed to eat with my right hand. I called the nurse when I needed a pee. Getting me to the toilet was a strange and difficult palaver – one of the many things me and my newly disabled body were going to have to get used to. Poor, ashen-looking Tom was told to go away and find me some clothes suitable for a hospital stay. Left alone, I was completely and utterly terrified. I cried with fear. Was I completely mad? What was happening to my body? What on earth was going on with me?

The following morning, I was greeted by a pleasant medical student. She very carefully conducted a full neurological examination. She took her time and was extremely thorough. My dead left leg became the focus of her particular attention. She lightly and repeatedly hit it with one of those small hammers which, until that moment, I had never really seen in use outside of a child’s play medical set. Though the leg was completely dead to me – I was unable to move it at all – it seemed that its reflexes had become extremely intense. When she hit it, it juddered and shook wildly. The student compared my left leg to my right. While the right leg displayed a brief and ‘normal’ reflex reaction, the left reacted with uncontrollable spasticity. The student disappeared, and returned some moments later with one of the ward’s junior neurologists. She demonstrated the different reactions of my two legs to the hammer. There was a hushed and animated discussion.

Then things started happening very quickly. A wheelchair was found, and the medical student personally whizzed me off to the MRI scanner. I bypassed a waiting room full of people and was lifted into the weird tumble-dryer, where they looked at my brain. When I emerged, I could tell from the faces of the scanner operative and the medical student that something was really very wrong. The student pushed me down another corridor, to the cardio-vascular unit, where I had a bubble test. The MRI had shown that two rogue blood clots had found their way into my brain and destroyed a significant portion of its right hemisphere, while the bubble test revealed the hole in my heart through which those clots had passed. As I had assumed in the ambulance, as I had felt the whole of the previous day, I had indeed had a stroke. The medical student had suspected this from my leg’s intense, uncontrolled reactions to her hammer. This is known as clonus, and it is a positive sign of serious neurological conditions, such as stroke and MS.

Back on the neurology ward, things were very different. I was swiftly injected with heparin, and carefully examined by several other neurologists, including the eminent one who had initially misdiagnosed me. I became very aware that the attitudes of a small number of staff – most notably the ward sister – had markedly changed toward me. She was super-attentive, friendly, sympathetic. It slowly dawned on me that on the previous day she had regarded me as some sort of odd, malingering hysteric, but that now I was a different sort of a patient – a patient with a serious brain injury, a patient who had been disabled by a stroke.

The neurologist who first examined me had looked at my medical records, seen the barrage of psychiatrists and psychologists and GPs reports, read about my psychotic episodes and recently-diagnosed mood disorder, and decided that I was one of those highly-strung, over-achieving types – the types who, when heading off to their stressful jobs on a monday morning, find that their brains and bodies have just about had enough, and fall over, paralysed. Indeed, I was perhaps the type of woman who studies suggest are most prone to suffer from Conversion Disorder – what used to be called hysteria – but that was not why I had ended up in hospital. I was there because I’d had a stroke. I had been misdiagnosed by an eminent neurologist (who based his decision on years of experience and his own assumptions) and correctly diagnosed by a junior medical student (who had little experience, but who was intrigued by medical fact).

I hold no grudge at all against the eminent neurologist. After his initial mistake, I felt he consistently treated me as a human equal, and, in subsequent decisions about my care, I always felt he had my back. He was also quick to admit his error – indeed, he held it up as an example. A few days after my stroke he took me to a meeting of around 50 Scottish neurologists, where I was questioned about my background and my symptoms, and where his own misdiagnosis was revealed. I was taken out of the room before they discussed how they had actually got to the bottom of the matter, but I saw the medical student was there in the room at this meeting. Her name, I recall, was Laura. I hope they gave her a hearty round of applause.

I spent one day as a person who had been incorrectly diagnosed with Conversion Disorder. It was the worst day of my life. I really can’t stress the importance of my stroke’s correct diagnosis strongly enough. It allowed me to receive the right treatment, as well as to understand what was really happening to me, but this did not happen until around 36 hours had passed since my first arrival at hospital. Did my brain suffer further damage in that interim? Would my recovery have been swifter, or more complete, had I been given immediate thrombolysis or other clot-busting medication? No one can say. I think I’ve really done pretty well with recovery so far, but as the Guardian article makes clear, new diagnostic guidelines for stroke in children and young people are most definitely, and most urgently, needed.

Thanks to Joan Keating for sending me the link to the Guardian article.

superb knitters


Few things make me happier than seeing what amazing knitters do with my patterns. I wanted to give a shout out to a few of these knitters, and some fabulous finished objects that have appeared in recent months. Above is Tanya, wearing her wonderful Cockatoo Brae. You’ll notice that Tanya has retained the colours of the original sample, but has changed the ‘star’ and border motif. The curves and curls of the star that Tanya selected make a significant difference to the overall look of the yoke, and I really like the effect (if you are thinking of modifying the yoke in a similar way, simply select a star of the same stitch and row count in a book of Fairisle motifs, such as those by Mary Jane Mucklestone or Sheila McGregor). At 6’1 Tanya is also enviably tall – somewhat taller than the ‘average’ proportions on which I base my pattern sizing – so found she had to make some alterations the increase / decrease rate on both sleeves and body, adding a few inches of length to make her sweater fit her well (remember to factor in extra yarn, as Tanya did, if you are doing the same). I think her cardigan looks fantastic!


It has been particularly nice to see a few Machrihanish vests being knitted up recently – Bill looks marvellous in his Machrihanish, which was knitted for him by Stacy. Stacy omitted the pattern’s waist shaping, and also added several stitches to the steeks at both underarm and neck, which she found helpful in giving her “a greater margin of error”. Bill recently wore his Machrihanish when watching Imitation Game and Stacy “loved seeing all the men in the movie wear vests of similar design.”


Kim was very industrious and whipped up not one but two Machrihanish vests before Christmas – for Hamish (left) and Lachlan (right). To make the pattern in Lachlan’s size, Kim examined the cast on stitch count and dimensions of the 7-8 year old size of Susan Crawford’s Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover , and adjusted the pattern accordingly. Like Stacy, Kim also added a few stitches to the steeks, and reinforced them with her sewing machine: “crochet and I don’t always get along”. I absolutely love this festive picture of Hamish and Lachlan in their jolly vests!


In the entire-family-in-matching-knitwear-cuteness stakes, I don’t think you can beat Eimear’s Epistropheids!


After knitting hats for herself and her man, Eimear scaled down the pattern for her wee girl “I think I cast on 95 stitches and increased to 105″ she says.

Karen, from Oxford Yarn Store, recently knitted herself an absolutely glorious Westering Home.


Karen enjoyed working the cabling “the pattern was easy to memorise and, in the ochre shade I chose, gave the appearance to me of abundant hair plaits of which I have always been envious.” She also liked the pattern’s finishing details, “an i-cord bind off which I had never done before.” Karen particularly appreciated knitting Westering Home through the chilly winter months: “it kept me warm during January as I sat beneath it as I knitted”, and she loves the finished garment “I have even had admiring strangers discussing it with me on buses and in a pub!” I think the ochre shade of Artesano Aran Karen chose is so rich and warm – a perfect match for the cable pattern.


I love pretty much everything Georgie knits, and had to show you this lovely photograph of her recently-completed Owligan. “I’ve hardly taken it off since I knitted it,” says Georgie, “It really is warm enough to use instead of a coat when nipping here and there. I didn’t make any mods, just knit the body a little longer (hence why I ran out of yarn for the buttonbands), also didn’t add button eyes – I love it how it is.”


I was very struck by the lovely wintery look of Clara’s Warriston


Clara made her sweater a little more tunic than jumper-like, going up a size at the hips and adding a few inches of length.


Seeing Clara’s Warriston really makes me want to make one in white!


I always find it interesting how far changing shades can completely alter the feel of a design – I was really struck by how Beatriz’s use of Kauni as the contrast yarn totally altered the effect of the colourwork of her Epistrophy. I think the way the graded colours work their way through the diamond motifs up the yoke is very subtle, and incredibly beautiful.


Here is Kristie, in her beautiful Bluebells (which I confess is one of my personal favourites from my Yokes collection) Kristie added some length to both sleeves and body, and omitted some of the waist shaping to make a slightly less fitted garment.


Kristie says “my only caution would be if you are knitting this sweater in low light be careful not to confuse the MC blue with the CC blue. I learned the hard way!” Kristie has written about her experience of knitting this sweater here.

Finally, I had to show you Marieke’s fabulous dress. To knit this amazing garment, Marieke mashed-up my Ásta Sóllilja yoke with Védís Jónsdóttir’s Keđja pattern. Magnificent work, Marieke!

orange owligan


Maybe it is the time of year or something – everything in the landscape seems so scoured out and colourless – but I find myself on a massive orange kick. And what better orange could there possibly be than this?


The yarn is Bulky lopi in shade 1418 – “carrot tweed”. Such a rich, deep firey shade! So carroty, so very, very . . . orange! The Icelandic wool so thick, so warm! The tweedy neps so nubbly and so pleasing! I just had to knit myself another Owligan.


I knit this Owligan a little shorter – around 14 inches to the underarm. Making the first size, I used just under seven skeins of yarn. Because of the tweedy nature of the lopi, the finished garment has a rather rustic feel – which is quite different to my other versions of this cardigan.


My orange Owligan is the ultimate antitdote to a grey February day and I absolutely love it.


It is Ravelled here.


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