Braid Hills

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So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!

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This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.

gorse

The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.

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I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.

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Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.

VAME.5091-1905

(Victoria and Albert Museum)

C.I.39.13.211

(Met Museum)

I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.

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The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .

1751_louisa_balfour_by_phil

(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)

. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.

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Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)

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The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .

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I am fond of these cuffs.

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Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.

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This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…

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So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!

You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.

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Happy knitting!

neutrals

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I don’t know what has happened to my knitting. You’d think that with January’s dim light and grey palette I’d be longing for colour, but somehow, all I want to do is knit teeny tiny cables in neutral wheat and putty shades.

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These two swatches were knitted with two of my current favourite yarns. The swatch at the top of the post was knitted in Sue Blacker’s Swan DK – a rather lovely, smooth and very well-spun Falkland Island merino with a bouncy hand, good stitch definition, a pleasing matt quality, and a lot of life and spring.

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The second swatch was knitted in Baa Ram Ewe’s delicious Titus — a wensleydale, BFL and alpaca blend that is so popular that it keeps selling out!

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Titus is, in many ways, the complete opposite of Swan — drapey and fuzzy with a slight honey-coloured sheen. While cables pop right out of Swan, they flow through, and merge into Titus. Very different effects, but both are equally pleasing.

There is something so quiet and meditative about these netural shades, and I am really enjoying knitting with them. I think these swatches might want to be designs. We’ll see.

news &c

A miscellaneous post:

First, a reminder that there are only five days remaining for entries in the Wovember competition. You could win some amazing things! One grand woolly winner will be selected by our friends at Jamieson & Smith, and there are other great prizes too: Blacker Designs are offering three runners-up awards for the best photos of sheep, and the Wovember team will also be choosing three “3 bags full” winners for the entries that best capture the creative use of wool. Above you can see some of the contents of the “bags” – a selection of lovely British wool in appropriate colours!

Next, I don’t know if you have had a look at the Wovember blog recently, but if you pop over there you’ll find some great posts from our wonderful woolly guests. For example, in from Sheep to Skein, talented British designer Susan Crawford tells us about the development of Excelana, a superb new breed-specific wool. You can also hear Diane, the Spinning Shepherd, talk about her woolly year, see Deb Robson’s take on endangered sheep breeds, learn about the different meanings of wool from inspiring artists and makers, and read some truly beautiful woolly stories, such as Rachael Matthews account of Walter’s Crook. But I am particularly excited today, as our guest blogger is none other than Oliver Henry — world expert on Shetland wool! You can read Ooey Ollie’s account of what wool means to him here.


(Oliver Henry demonstrates sorting Shetland wool. Photo by Billy Fox.)

Finally, on a personal note, things have been quite busy round here. There’s apparently a discussion of my work in the latest issue of Vogue Knitting, and, (just as exciting) on the pages of the new Shetland sheep magazine. I’ve yet to see either, but several folk seem to have found me having encountered Sheep Heid in the latter publication, so a big welcome to all you Shetland sheepy folk. Also, I’m pleased to say that some of my patterns will soon be available on the shelves of several UK retailers. I’ll be “launching” my new range of printed patterns at Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds on December 3rd. Just pop along between 4 and 6 if you’d like to have a chat! I’m not exactly sure what a pattern launch usually involves, but I’m pleased to say that this one will also feature my Ma and my sister, and perhaps a mince pie or two.

If you are a UK retailer and are interested in stocking my patterns, then do get in touch with me at the email address you’ll find over here. Meanwhile, I am working on two new designs which, all going well, will appear next month. One takes my Shetland sheep obsession to new levels, featuring over a hundred of them, and the other is inspired by this:

more anon.

wearing Deco


(my Deco cardigan in October 2010)

Throughout WOVEMBER, we’ll be exploring WOOL from several different angles, and today Felix and I are both writing about how wool wears. We knitters are perhaps sometimes more interested in the new and the spectacular than we are in the old and the reliably-wearable, but durability and longevity are important factors to consider when choosing yarn for a project that will actually be worn. Kristen wrote two excellent posts about this very issue here and here, and because Felix and I have both knitted Decos out of two very different breed-specific British pure-wool yarns, we thought we’d jointly write posts about how these garments have worn.


(Deco in October 2010)

I have knitted many things that have not worn well – and the worst was probably the first sweater I made for myself after my return to knitting – a Kim Hargreaves cardigan out of Big Wool. This yarn is a bulky merino, and knits up very fast – I made my sweater in under a week. I was very pleased with myself and my cardigan, but within days it had begun to pill, in a few weeks time it had turned into a tatty mess, and after a month or two it was completely unwearable. I never knit with Big Wool again. I would show you this garment, but I was so displeased with it that, after removing its carefully-chosen buttons, I got rid of it. I don’t know if Big Wool has changed, but at that time it was so loosely spun it almost seemed like a single-ply. My cardigan was also knit at a fairly loose gauge on, as I recall, 10 and 12mm needles. No wonder that the damn thing pilled!

While my big-wool cardigan didn’t see a year, at the other end of the wearability spectrum, I own a hand-knitted garment that is more than 40 years old – a cabled cardigan that my grandma originally knitted for my mum, and was later appropriated by me. I still wear this cardigan, and it still looks fantastic. My grandma knitted it from the sort of old-fashioned, worsted-spun aran that is quite hard to find today. I love this garment for many, many reasons and promise to show it to you another time.


(Deco sleeve cap in 2010).

It was the yarn that first excited me when I was designing Deco. Several of my knitting comrades were fashioning glorious items out of Blacker Corriedale, and when I saw the ‘olive’ colourway I immediately knew it was a yarn I had to knit with. I swatched a simple slip stitch pattern, and it looked so fantastic that the yarn really did tell me what it wanted to be. Before I knew it I had a sketch and design, and was knitting up a cardigan.

Quite apart from the fact that I designed it, I just love this cardigan – over the year since it was knitted it is has seen a lot of wear. I like to be outdoors, and Deco has often been outdoors with me.


(hmm. . . looks like rain)

Deco has been with Bruce on many rambles, and it has been frequently jumped on and pawed at by my damp and mucky companion, and his equally mucky dog-pals.


(This Spring, somewhere above the Bridge of Orchy)

But, with a frock underneath it, Deco remains a smart garment too: I took it with me to Dublin in September and, as I had only took one outfit with me due to Ryan Air’s luggage restrictions, I wore it solidly the whole time I was there.


(Deco being foolish. September 2011).

So how has Deco held up a year after it was knitted? Really amazingly well. Here is the back

And here is under the left elbow, a place where you might expect to see significant wear.

I know that I have brushed dried mud from this cuff – and do I spot a dog hair?

I bound the bases of the wonderful Nichols buttons to reinforce them – they are still luminous, still beautiful, and most importantly, still stable.

The tape on the opposite button band is still doing its job very well, and despite being snapped and resnapped many times, my snap fasteners have not come loose.

The shoulders and sleeve caps remain neat and hold their shape . . .

and in fact, the only area of wear that I could find was a small place on the underside of the right arm

There are a few little pills there, but if you look closely, you’ll see that, (amidst the dog hair – and do I spy a crumb?) some are clearly rogue pills from a rust-coloured item that Deco has been sitting next to in my wardrobe.

Why has this cardigan worn so well? A little of it is attributable to the design (ahem) which, though being seamless, has several features that make for a very stable garment: short row sleeve caps; three-needle-bind-off at the shoulder-tops; close-gauge fabric; and front bands that are reinforced with tape, and use snap fasteners in place of buttonholes. But mostly, this garment has worn well because of the nature of the WOOL I used to make it.


Photo ©Blacker Yarns

Call me contrary, but I have yet to be totally blown away by a 100% merino yarn. Merino crosses, on the other hand, frequently amaze me. You may recall the rhapsodic nature of my posts about Bowmont Braf – a Shetland-merino cross – and I feel similarly rhapsodic about Corriedale – a dual-purpse breed originally developed in New Zealand as a Merino-Lincoln cross. What’s so special about this yarn? To quote Deb Robson:

“medium-soft, it has nice long staples, some luster, and a well-defined, even crimp, which means it has a lot of loft and elasticity. It’s a resilient fiber with enough character to be interesting.”*

Clara Parkes, meanwhile writes of Corriedale’s “inviting hand that falls somewhere between finewool and longwool, rather like the breed itself. Corriedale makes a smooth and extremely durable worsted yarn but it can also be spun into a loftier, more elastic woollen yarn.”**

I’m in total agreement with everything Deb and Clara say about Corriedale with, perhaps, the minor exception of the lustre since the defining characteristic of the Blacker Corriedale at least is an almost severe matt-ness. There is no sheen to the yarn at all and when dyed, this lends it a pleasing and extremely saturated quality, apparent in Lilith’s gorgeous new hand-dyed Corriedale. There is something velvety about the way the yarn and colour absorb the light. The Blacker Corriedale I used is woollen spun, and when knitting, it feels light and soft and fluffy in the hand. While working it, I expected it to bloom a bit like a woollen-spun Shetland, but it didn’t bloom so much as stabilise. The yarn that felt fluffy in the hand turned into a pleasingly firm medium-soft fabric that also retains the flexibility that befits a knitted garment. You can see that it has good stitch definition, but what you can’t see is that it is really warm, and a little water repellent – great for a cardigan, or other outer-garment. And having experienced this several times, I can also testify that dried mud simply brushes off its surface without affecting the quality of the knitted fabric at all.


(Deco in 2010).

In sum, I heart Blacker Corriedale and can affirm that you will not only really enjoy knitting with this yarn, but can make a garment which will wear extremely well. I’m certainly looking forward to many more years in my Deco.

*Deb Robson, The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook (2011)
**Clara Parkes, The Knitters Book of Wool (2009)

If these two books are not the cornerstones of your knitterly bookshelf, I suggest you rectify the situation immediately.

dreich

The word dreich was made for today – the weather is the greyest I’ve seen it since last Autumn. Having been out twice in the rain with Bruce already today, it is clear that I must rethink my winter wardrobe in terms of my current dog-walking duties. I find myself strangely drawn to a look that is probably best suited to a venerable member of the Countryside Alliance . . . that’s right, I feel the need for tweed. Anyone know where can I get me a well-fitting and stylish tweed waistcoat that isn’t too, um, House of Bruar if you know what I mean?

Meanwhile, things are much brighter indoors, where I have at last cast off the cardigan. Hurrah! Really, is there anything more satisfying than a short-row sleeve cap? The cardigan is knitted in what appears to be the the yarn du jour among my knitting comrades – Corriedale 4 ply from Blacker Designs. Felix has already fashioned her feller these amazing socks, and I spotted a wee sweater in the same colourway over on Liz’s blog. The yarn has a great hand and a dense, velvety quality – the kind of thing that made me rave about Bowmont Braf – but it is different from the Bowmont too. . . much more stretchy and springy. I also have a feeling that it is going to bloom like a Shetland in water, and prove similarly hard-wearing. We shall see – I’m looking forward to seeing how it blocks out as I am (happily) very pleased with the design. And I might have just found the perfect button. . .

If memory serves me correctly, there are a few more of these knocking around my button box – lets hope so. . .

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