Machrihanish

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I was very excited to have the opportunity to design the Machrihanish vest for Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, and always enjoy knitting for Tom, who is its recipient and model. Tom often bemoans the general lack of shaping, and poor fit of men’s garments, so I like to knit him things that are well-fitting.

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Men’s knitted vest patterns rarely include shaping, but one of the things I knew I wanted to do with this design was to taper it to the waist. Shaping of any kind can be tricky when designing with Fairisle patterns, but the trick here is simply to work the ribbing and the first few inches of colourwork on a small needle, before going up a needle size for the upper torso. When blocked, this straightforward manoeuvre creates a difference between waist and chest of 3.5-4 ins, which means the vest fits neatly to the body, without excess fabric.

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Though this vest is, in many ways, a classic garment, I think the waist shaping also makes it feel sharper and more contemporary. But if your shape is more rectangular than triangular, you can easily leave out the waist shaping when working the pattern for a looser, more casual fit. Whatever your body shape, you should knit it with a little positive ease to allow the wearing of layers underneath.

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Though I’ve followed standard sizing for men’s garments with this design, I’ve also tried to make the pattern straightforward and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of masculine body shapes. Because there is no ‘set’ place to divide for armholes, the main body of the pattern can be knit to whatever length is required to accommodate a shorter or longer torso. Equally, if the armhole depth is greater or less than that specified in the pattern, it can be increased or decreased as required. (A detailed sizing table and schematic is included in the pattern to help you achieve the fit that’s right for you). You also have the option of working the ribbing doubled around the armholes and hem for a firm and durable edge.

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The yarn I used for this design was Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage.

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This wonderful yarn was developed in consultation with the Shetland Museum and Archives, and is very close in handle, hue and character, to the yarns that were traditionally used to knit Fairisle garments in Shetland before the Second World War. It is a light fingering-weight – lighter than a standard 4 ply – and because it is worsted spun, feels much smoother than other “Shetland” yarns you may be used to. To give the garment its shaping, I worked the yarn at two different gauges of 8 and 9 sts to the inch, and at both gauges it gives a nice, light even fabric. Because of its unique characteristics, I would really recommend you use this yarn, but if substituting, please swatch carefully to ensure you achieve a fabric with which you are happy. You can find detailed information about shades and yardage here.

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The pattern is written to be knitted entirely in the round, with steeks worked at the armholes and neck.

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I personally love the speed and ease of working completely in the round, but if you are a determined purler, you could easily work the upper torso separately, back and forth.

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Tom is very happy with his vest.

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. . .and I am very pleased with the design!

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Now, about the name. We live in the West of Scotland, and Machrihanish is a village further West, on the picturesque Mull of Kintryre. Tom is a great admirer of the Fairisle knitwear Paul McCartney proudly sported after he moved to Scotland, but we felt that Mull of Kintyre might prove to be too much of an earworm to work as a pattern name . . . and Machrihanish is also one of our favourite locales from the UK shipping forecast. . . . so Machrihanish it is.

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We shot these photographs opposite Dumgoyne, a short walk from our house. The light and skies have been very dramatic here of late, and did not let us down that day. There is just something about the bright colours and high-contrast of a Fairisle vest that work perfectly with a highland landscape. Living out here often prompts me to think about colour and pattern . . . and these photographs of Tom make me want to get another bloke’s Fairisle design on the needles immediately!

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My Cross-Country comrade, Jen, has also been writing about her design for the Volume – the fabulous Bruton hoody – so if you’d like to read more about it just pop over to her blog. We have also set up a new website for the collaboration, where you can keep track of our Cross-Country design journey.

Cross Country Knitting Volume 1 is now available!

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Ecclefechan Mitts!

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Over the past couple of days, quite a few of you have contacted me to ask about the black and white mitts that appeared in the header image at the top of this page. Well, this is my new design — the Ecclefechan Mitts! I was so happy with the photograph that I just couldn’t stop myself from popping it up there. I have to say that I’m extremely happy with the pattern, too.

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This design has been several months in the making. I decided back in September that I wanted to work on a black and white mitt design, and since then there has been quite a bit of charting and swatching and knitting. The inspiration behind these mitts is, of course, the graphic, striking, and to my mind rather elegant two-colour gloves that were traditionally knitted in Dentdale and the Scottish Borders.

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Like traditional Sanquhar gloves, my mitts are knitted at a relatively tight gauge to create a close, hard-wearing fabric. Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage – smooth, fine, worsted spun, and with a traditional feel – is the ideal yarn for this project, and knits up beautifully at a dense gauge. Like their forbears too, the Ecclefechan Mitts also feature a diced pattern that is knit up in high-contrast black and white.

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There’s also some neat shaping to allow the mitts to fit closely around the hand and thumb.

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Working a mitt rather than a five-fingered-glove not only makes this design a bit more contemporary and wearable, but means that the pattern is really simple to knit. In fact, the Ecclefechan Mitts could be knit by any colourwork beginner: frequent shade changes and no long stretches between stitches mean that it is easy to maintain a consistent tension.

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I must point out that the fitted elegance of these mitts is thanks to Mel, who with her usual thorough test-knitting and feedback, prompted me to make several changes to my charts . . .

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And why Ecclefechan? Well, Ecclefechan is the name of a small town in the Scottish Borders, well-known as the birthplace of one of my favourite nineteenth-century authors, Thomas Carlyle. It is also the birthplace of the Ecclefechan Tart, a delicious confection, which is one of my favourite things to bake (and eat).

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When I was putting together the pattern for the Ecclefechan Mitts, I decided to pop in my Ecclefechan tart recipe, so that you can enjoy them too. There really are few treats nicer than an Ecclefechan tart and a cup of tea.

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The Ecclefechan Mitts are now available both as a PDF download and a knitting kit. If you purchase the kit, you receive yarn, printed pattern, project bag, recipe, and, (because Eimear insisted), a sachet of tea to enjoy with your tarts.

Happy knitting!

Ursulas

I always find it exciting when different iterations of my patterns are posted on Ravelry. This is particularly the case when knitters’ colour choices and personal modifications really transform the look of a design. Some amazing Ursulas have begun to appear which, because they have a completely different feel to my original, and also because they just look bloody lovely, I wanted to share with you.

Ursula was inspired by the shades of Shetland’s summer wildflowers, and the original had a pale, botanical palette.

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But Sarah knitted her Ursula with natural and sky-blue shades set against a background of midnight blue — creating a garment with a totally different feel.

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Sarah says: “I am completely in love with my Ursula. This was an awesome project from the very beginning, using one of my favourite yarns from JC Rennie and my own handspun. . .

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“Apart from completely changing the colours, I didn’t make any changes to the pattern, but accidentally knit the body at the narrowest point of my waist a little tighter, which gave me perfect and unintentional subtle waist shaping. It was the first time I’d tried a crochet steek (using the directions in Colours of Shetland) and it was joyous! I haven’t done a steek any other way since. I knit Ursula mostly on holiday, so its a lovely reminder of my trip too. I’m sure I’ll make it again in similar colours to Kate’s original, as the fit is absolutely perfect and it was so fun to make.”

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I particularly love the fact that three different breeds of British sheep are represented in this garment (Sarah spun the fawn shade from Masham fibre, the brown from Manx Loaghtan and the vivid blue from Jamieson and Smith Shetland tops). Her Ursula is ravelled here.

Next up is Georgie, who chose to knit her Ursula with a single contrast shade, rather than three.

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Georgie says: “My modifications were mainly due to yarn constraints, as I’ve been having to be thrifty, unravelling cardigans I no longer wear. I had already knit a cardigan in the three shades I used for Ursula (Marie Wallin’s Mika) a lovely cardigan I never really wore, mainly due to the style, I prefer a more classic shape for cardigans. Anyway, Mika was first in line when I was scouting around the house for suitable yarn for Ursula. . .

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. . . It’s knit in a combination of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift (the green), then Blacker Yarns Alpaca/Shetland in cream for the body and grey for the sleeves. I could see while knitting that I wouldn’t have enough of the main colour to finish the cardigan as written, so I shortened the body so the ribbing started on my waist. The sleeves were also shortened due to my yarn levels, plus, I thought they would work best with the length of cardigan.”

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I was blown away when I saw Georgie’s Ursula how her use of a single contrast shade totally transformed the feel and look of the stitch pattern: in her cardigan, the zigzagging tri-coloured stripes of my original have become an allover with its own integral structure and continuity. I also really like how the cropped body and three quarter sleeves lend the garment an incredibly neat, vintage look. Georgie’s Ursula is ravelled here.

Finally, here is Rebecca’s Ursula, knit in four lovely shades of Jamieson and Smith jumper weight: 203, 118, fc14 and fc41.

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Of her modifications, Rebecca says: “I lengthened the body by simply adding an extra peerie repeat in green before beginning the armhole steeks. I also made the sleeves snugger by decreasing very quickly and then lengthened them a bit to come further over the hands.”

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Rebecca’s contrast shades really pop out against the grey background, and this garment feels to me like a refreshing change of key. I love the way that the colours she chose speak to one another, and find the juxtaposition of the complex plum tones of fc14 against the solid Spring green of 118 particularly pleasing. Rebecca’s Ursula is ravelled here.

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Ursula is one of my favourite designs in Colours of Shetland, and it makes me so happy to see knitters making it, transforming it, and enjoying wearing their own beautiful hand-knitted cardigans!

Tír Chonaill

Woolfest is just a fortnight away! I am pleased to say I am mostly prepared (hoping to hear about the whereabouts of the last of my stock today, fingers crossed). I’ve produced two new designs to launch as kits at the event (with yarn and project bags), and sent the patterns off to my printers yesterday. As it really isn’t long till they are published, I thought I’d show you a few photographs in advance. So here’s the first design: it is a Donegal wrap or throw, and I’ve called it Tír Chonaill.

The wrap is knitted in “Soft Donegal” – the same lovely Irish yarn I used for the Bláithín designs. As well as the fresh, Spring-like shades I used for the cardigans, there are a number of deep jewel-like shades in the Donegal Yarns palette that really speak to each other, and which I wanted to bring together. The throw mingles three of these rich shades against a creamy báinín background.

The palette and pattern were inspired by Medieval tapestries. And the name of the design also has historic associations: Tír Chonaill was the name of the last independent Gaelic sovereignty in Ireland: a kingdom which, until the Flight of the Earls in 1607, covered most of what later became County Donegal.

The finished design is about 3 feet square – just right for a wrap or lap blanket – though the tiled repeats mean that it is easily customised for those who would prefer a smaller pram blanket, or a larger throw. It is knit in the round, steeked and finished using similar techniques as those used on the Bláithín cardigans. And the pattern is surprisingly simple to knit — because the yarn is worsted-weight, and the background shades are never carried over long distances, the throw works up quickly, and would be fine for someone reasonably new to colourwork. You can see the steek-sandwich and i-cord edging here:

One of the things I really like about this sort of tiled design is the way that the repeat creates different lines of visual continuity. This only works over a reasonably large area – so this is an ideal design for this particular repeat.

The rich tweedy colours – which really speak to, and blend with, each other – add to this sense of continuity as well.

We took these photographs at St Anthony’s Chapel, just down the road in Holyrood Park. When I’m there, I always think of the ascent of Arthur’s Seat in James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for brockenspectres when we took these photographs. But even when there are teenagers and tourist buddies about (it is a popular spot) I always find the atmosphere around the chapel just a wee bit eerie.

. . . an atmosphere which was only added to by a little wind and rain.

There were also several canny rooks knocking about the ruins of the chapel, but none of them wanted to participate in our wuthering photoshoot, unfortunately.

So, if you like this design, I’ll have it available in kit form at Woolfest! The pattern now has its own ravelry page, and printed and digital copies of the pattern will also be available shortly after the launch. I may be able to offer some kits as well, depending on the level of interest.

Bláithín (junior)

So, here is Bláithín (junior)! This is the kind of cute child’s garment that makes me want to intone “almost too wee” in the manner of Whisky and Brandy Bolland examining Prince’s wardrobe (about a minute into the clip). (Ahem).

Bláithín (junior) comes in sizes from 12 months to 9 years, and has many of the same design elements as the adult cardigan – but obviously on a much smaller scale. For that reason, it would be an ideal project for a beginner to try out some of the techniques I discussed in my steek tutorials, before taking the plunge and steeking an adult-sized sweater.

Just like the adult cardigan, the junior version features i-cord buttonholes . . .

. . .steek sandwich facings . . .

. . . and neat little inset pockets. . .

The yoke features the same floral design as the adult version, but is simpler and shallower.

This sample was expertly test knitted by Eimear Earley, who you may remember as the designer of the shawl pin I mentioned in this post. Thanks, Eimear!

And, like the adult pattern, the junior version was tech-edited by brilliant Jen Arnall Culliford.

So, if you know a small person who would like their very own wee Bláithín, the pattern is now available here or here

I’ll also shortly have print versions of both Bláithín patterns ready for my yarn-store stockists.

I’ve been working on these designs for a couple of months now and am really pleased with them – it is great to get them out of my head and into the world! And, intrusive health-issues notwithstanding, I am enjoying designing tremendously at the moment. I think I can now mention that I am now working on a collection of new designs (yes, an actual book) that should be out by the end of the year. I’ll tell you more about this as time goes on. . .

steeks 3: the sandwich

In this post, I’m going to show you how to further reinforce (and cover) the cut edges of your steek using a techique that I’ve called “the steek sandwich.” There are many other methods of binding / covering steek edges – but this one works well, I think, for a steeked cardigan. The front edges of a cardigan generally see a lot of strain because of the opening / closing action of buttons and button holes – and this method provides a strong facing as well as a stable edge where the garment needs it most.

Above, you can see the wrong side of the swatch where we left it yesterday, with the steek cut, and the crocheted reinforcement holding the cut edge. In the steps that follow, I’m just going to describe exactly what I’m doing, and provide a little more explanation at the end.

First, with the right side of the swatch facing, pick up and knit 3 stitches for every 4 rows, plus an extra 1 stitch each for the top and bottom edges. (I’m using yarn in a contrasting colour so you can see what I’m doing).

For the edging to sit flush against the main pattern, you should pick up your stitches in the gap between the outermost steek stitch and the first stitch of the pattern. In the diagram below, there are two pattern stitches on either side, and five steek stitches in the middle. The pink lines show you where you should be picking up your stitches.

When picking up your stitches, make sure you push your needle all the way through to the back of the work, and draw the yarn through from the wrong side (this may sound obvious, but people do pick up stitches in quite different ways . . . ) So, when you have finished, you should be able to see the backs of your picked up stitches on the reverse of the fabric.

The backs of your stitches should resemble a line of sewn running stitch. And just as a running stitch would, these stitches are further securing and holding the cut edge of your steek. That steek is going nowhere!

Now, beginning with a purl row, work in stockinette for four rows.
Keep these stitches live on the needle: don’t break yarn.
Here are these four rows from the right side.

And here they are from the wrong side, with stitches 1 and 2 of the steek, and the chain of the crocheted reinforcement visible behind them.

Sitting underneath the steek, you’ll see the back loops of your previously picked up stitches.

Now without knitting, pick up each of these loops and place them on a second needle:

Bring the working yarn round from the right side, and work in stockinette for 3 rows, beginning with a knit row.

Keep these stitches live on your needle: don’t break yarn.

The sandwich is now forming: four rows of stockinette on the right side, three on the wrong side, and, in the middle, the steek stitches and their crocheted reinforcement.

This next step is a bit fiddly, so take your time.

Turn the work to the right side.
You have two sets of stitches running parallel to one another: one set on the front, and one on the back needle.
Bring the working yarn around from the back and, with a third needle, knit one stitch from the front needle together with one stitch from the back needle, covering and containing the steek stitches and the crochet chain. When you have knitted each front-needle stitch together with its corresponding back-needle stitch, you end up with this.

A neat stockinette facing!

And here’s what it looks like from the wrong side:

All that remains is to bind off the live stitches. Here, I’ve used an i-cord bind-off (knit 2; knit 2 together through-the-back-loops) (particularly useful if you are working a button / buttonhole band).

Here’s the finished sandwich from the right side . . .

. . . and the wrong side.

Voila! the steek sandwich.

I particularly like the fact that:
1) if you work an even number of rows from the right side, and an odd number from the wrong side, you never have to break yarn
2) Because you just pick up the reverse loops from the right-side stitches, you end up with two perfectly aligned stockinette flaps that can neatly be knitted together.
3) No need to worry about whether you’ve picked up the right number of stitches on either side: the number of stitches is always, inevitably the same!
4) You can weave in your ends by pulling them inside the sandwich.

Points of note:
:: You can of course, work more rows to create a deeper facing. I’ve worked the minimum here: just enough to fit the steek and and its reinforcement inside.
:: I worked the i-cord bind-off from the wrong side. Personally, I like the way this looks.
:: The ‘sandwich’ is formed from three layers of fabric and, as you’d imagine, has a solid, almost quilted appearance. I think this is great for the front openings of a cardigan, where a facing is often necessary anyway. It also works well as a blanket edging, but because it adds bulk, would probably not work so well elsewhere.

If this rain ever stops, I’ll soon be able to show you how the sandwich looks on a finished garment!

Also, I noticed that there were some good questions on my previous couple of posts. I thought I’d answer a few of these (those that I can!) in a final installment of this steek series tomorrow, so if there is anything you want to know that I’ve not covered, or that seems unclear, please say something below.

hazelhurst

So, I am imagining that some of you won’t have heard of Ronnie Hazelhurst – the meister of British light entertainment who has given his name to my new design? Tom and I are both children of the 1970s, and, for better or worse, the tunes of Ronnie Hazelhurst have featured largely in our lives. Hazelhurst composed the themes to Sorry, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Are you Being Served – neat little tunes tinged with characteristic melancholia – but he was also responsible for the atrocious ditties that introduced Blankety Blank, and Terry and June. Love them or loathe them, the problem with Hazelhurst’s theme tunes is that they have a tendency to get stuck in your head and stay there. In fact, I think that there is a whole special portion of Tom’s brain that is entirely devoted to Ronnie Hazelhurst – he often finds himself plagued with Hazelhurst earworms, which he then inflicts on me. (What? You don’t constantly whistle / hum / sing ’70s theme tunes while going about your household routines? Clearly it is just us, then?).

So what is the connection? Well, I found knitting and designing this scarf strangely reminscent of a Ronnie Hazelhurst theme tune – it is simple and memorable and I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

In a way, this infinity scarf marks the end (or the beginning, depending on how you look at it, ahem) of a train of thought I’ve been following through other recent designs, such as the Funchal Moebius or the Mucklemuff. I have found myself interested by the graphic potential of simple, colourwork tubes – and this is the simplest of all.

Knit as one long tube, on a small diameter circular needle, this scarf showcases a gridded check that is more often used as the background or filler to more complex colourwork designs, but which I think looks lovely on its own. The pattern is fixed in the head after less than one repeat, after which you can just work away while watching [Borgen] (insert name of your preferred well-written Danish drama) — you will never have to move your eyes from the screen or subtitles to the chart, and the scarf will quickly take shape in your hands. When your scarf reaches half the length you want it, simply pause in your knitting, reverse the order of shades on the chart, and continue onwards. At the end, you just graft the two ends together, and BINGO! You are now the proud owner of a graphically-pleasing infinity scarf that can be worn in several different ways.



Because I know you will ask me, I’ll tell you that the coat was a recent bargainous acquisition in the Toast sale – a good quality, herringbone tweed affair that I have simply jazzed up with some vintage buttons down the front . .

using a couple of different types at the cuffs and back tie . . .

. . . pleasing!

Like the Funchal Moebius, this finished scarf has a woven appearance – in this case reminiscent (to me at least) of old-fashioned gingham. This even-ness of appearance is of course due to the lovely Poll Dorset yarn from Renaissance Dyeing – shown here in shades Carmine and Ecru. The scarf uses just two skeins, with a yardage cushion to add a few repeats, if so desired.

Anyway, if you’d like to make your own infinity scarf, the Hazelhurst pattern is now up and available here or here. As with the Funchal Moebius, Andie at Renaissance Dyeing will be stocking kits for this pattern. She also has a special offer for those of you who are interested in purchasing yarn and pattern together in a kit – I’ll be back shortly to let you know the details.

In the meantime, thanks so much for your comments on the last post. A few things have been said to me in person recently that have rather hurt me. Your kind comments are the complete opposite of these inconsequential thoughtless remarks . . . and not for the first time, I feel lucky to have such wonderful readers. I take a lot strength and heart from your supportive words. Thankyou.
Anyway, I’m afraid I rather outdid it the other day with my walk / angry stomp, and have been feeling the consequences a little. I’ll be more chipper in a day or two. Till then . . .

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