Port o’ Leith


Here is the third garment in my Edinburgh series – the Port o’ Leith gansey.

This garment has twisted stitches and cables, that are reminiscent of maritime nets and rigging. It also features a deep, cowl-like collar, which is great for warding off North sea winds.


. . . but which is also detachable, for when the weather is warmer, or you wish to hail a passing vessel.


When designing this ensemble I wanted to retain a simple shape, as best befits a cabled gansey. But I also think that traditional gansey-gussets can be somewhat unflattering on a women’s garment, creating far far too much fabric around the underarm and upper torso.

(illustration by Felicity Ford)

So I’ve shaped the upper torso for a neater fit, following and adapting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s directions for a seamless saddle-shouldered sweater.

Centred double decreases add focus to the yoke . . .


. . . and are echoed in the twisted stitches that feature on the collar and front panel.


Creating a Wintery ensemble that has some fitted structure, but is also really cosy and easy to wear.


I am modelling it here with 4 ins positive ease, wearing a vest and woolly baselayer underneath. . .


. . . but the gansey could also be worn with zero or negative ease, and you’ll find instructions in the pattern for selecting the best size, and modifying the garment for a more tailored look.

In the essay that accompanies the design, I write about Leith’s connections with the wool trade, and with Shetland knitting, and it is fitting that the garment is knitted in a great Shetland yarn – Jamieson and Smith Shetland chunky. Having done a lot of knitting with this yarn, I’d say that it is really more of an aran-weight than a chunky, creating a fabric that seems to have just the right amount of density at a gauge of 16 sts to 4 ins (on 5mm needles). I knit this sample in the natural ‘kirn mylk’ shade but the charcoal shade of this yarn is also particularly lovely, and I’ll hopefully show you another sample knitted up in this shade very shortly.


This yarn is worsted spun, which means that, while it retains a lovely Shetland wooliness it is also very smooth, lending it a stitch definition that’s ideal for twisted stitches and cables.


These photographs were taken down by Leith’s docks and shore at the Victoria Swing Bridge – which, when it was first constructed in 1874, was the largest swing bridge in Britain.


We used to live a short walk from here. Though you’ll now find delicatesans and confectioners and michelin-starred restaurants next to the Port’s traditional maritime haunts, Leith somehow retains its character as the least pretentious of Edinburgh places.


The pattern is now available digitally, via Ravelry, or in print from my MagCloud store
(I’m currently investigating ways of including a code with the print copy to enable you to store a PDF in your Rav library. This requires updating and altering all my print files – please bear with me – I’ll let you know when this is sorted and I can also issue those who’ve bought print copies of other patterns with download codes retrospectively, if necessary).

of pleats. . . and i-cord


At some point toward the end of last semester, I became distracted in a meeting. There is nothing novel in this situation, except that the source of my distraction was a cardigan. My colleague, Kate C is a very stylish person, and often wears clothes I find inspiring and curiosity-inducing. This cardigan was both. It was a well-made machine-knit piece in a sort of egg-yolk yellow. The fabric was plain stockinette, and a neat fit was created with minimal shaping, except for a feature neckline, formed by a sunburst of pleats. These pleats were very pleasing. They set off the rest of Kate C’s outfit nicely, and made a focal point of the neckline that was both simple and elegant. How I liked those pleats! After the meeting, I talked to Kate C about the cardigan. She had bought it in New York, and, being a knitter herself, completely understood my fascination with the neckline. On the train home that evening, I thought about cardigan construction, and sketched up my own pleaty design. The challenge would be to create a simple garment as elegant and well-fitting as Kate C’s through the use of pleats and gathers, rather than conventional shaping. I drew pleats a-plenty and added puffed-out pockets and gathered wrists (which did not feature on Kate C’s original). Then I went to Skye and I bought this yarn.


You may recall that there were things that troubled me about this purchase. But despite my misgivings about the yarn, I knew that after swatching with it that it was ideal for my pleaty project. It had fabulous drape, some firmness and body, and a pleasing fuzzy halo. Then I did something that will suggest to you the sorry depths of my obsession with clothing and design. I found a dress in Fenwicks that I felt would suit the imagined cardigan ideally: a garment whose sole purpose was to set off an outfit that existed only in my mind. I bought the dress, and hung it in the wardrobe, where it remained unworn while it waited for the cardigan.

Then I began to knit. I began with a provisional cast on, and worked bottom-up, with minimal shaping through the body — just enough to give a slight A-line. The sleeves began with an i-cord cast on, were gathered at the wrist and joined at the yoke. I then shaped the neckline into a deep scoop with what, to myself and my knitting comrades, are known as “Sunday short rows” (so-called because Mel first encountered this technique in a design by the very talented Carol Sunday). These short rows are quite similar to the conventional Japanese method, but I find them much easier to execute and to describe. They are also the neatest method of working short rows I’ve come across, which was important, as I didn’t want traces of the turning points displayed across the cardigan fronts. I then knit the yoke straight to the shoulder line, and reduced two thirds of the stitches by working pleats. Until that point, I had felt like I’d been knitting a sort of giant box — but, as I pleated the top of the cardigan, the box suddenly transformed itself into a shapely garment. Here’s the neckline. I’m hoping that the only trace of the short rows you can really see is that sort of curved line two inches below the pleats.


You will note that there is i-cord around the neckline, and will be unsurprised to discover that i-cord features everywhere in the finishing of this garment. It is worked along the pocket tops . . .


. . . across the the bottom edge of the cardigan, up the button bands, and forms the button holes. . .


Please take a moment to examine the i-cord buttonhole. Note, if you will, what a neat edge it produces along a garter stitch border. Compare its superior qualities to those of lesser buttonholes. Observe how un-wonky an opening it creates, how there are no stray strands of yarn lurking annoyingly and untidily at its edges. Marvel at its ease of execution; utter a grateful encomium to Elizabeth Zimmermann; and assure yourself that your search for the perfect knitted buttonhole is over! Yes, I heart the i-cord buttonhole!


I found these vintage buttons on e-bay. I like the fact that they are made of glass, that they were (luckily) a precise tonal match for the yarn, and that they have been previously worn and used (as you can see from the button on the left).

When I finished knitting, I asked Kate C to name the design, as she had originally inspired it. She chose Manu, the name of the friend she was visiting in New York, where she bought her cardigan. So here are some shots of Manu from the side:


And a full-length, so you can see the dress too, which with its pleats and pockets, is actually a sort of echo of the cardigan.


I found the necklace in Philadelphia, where I finished working up this design. And Philadelphia has inspired another aspect of the pattern, which is now forthcoming. During my afternoon at Rosie’s, I had a chat with smart-and-interesting Lisa about garment design and sizing. She pointed out that my pattern size ranges were rather conservative, and didn’t really accommodate anyone whose body shape tended toward the Rubenesque. The good thing about this style of garment, it seems to me, is that it will fit and flatter most body shapes, including those who actually have a womanly chest, unlike myself. Women of all shapes and sizes successfully wear cardigans with this sort of yoked construction and triangular front opening — as can be seen in the range of knitters who look fabulous in Gudrun’s lovely Moch cardi, or Pam’s incomparable FLS. So, I am designing this pattern to fit a size range from a 30 to a 50 inch bust. More soon!

Name: Manu
By: me. pattern coming soon.
Yarn: Shilasdair ‘luxury’ DK in tansy/indigo.
amount: 3 and-a-bit 100g skeins. Approx 1000 metres.
Needles: 3.75 and 4.5mm. All worked with Addi turbo circs.
Ravelled here.

black and white

One of my birthday gifts was this lovely skirt designed by Rob Ryan for. . .yes, Clothkits. (I am so predictable). I made it up a few weeks ago — cutting and sewing it neatly and without hitches in (ahem) just three hours. (Sewing hubris? Wot? Me?)The facings and linings worked slightly differently in the pattern instructions than with the big birdie skirt. Not having to match up, pin and sew curves on the facings makes for a much speedier skirt. And what a skirt it is. Absolutely delicious.

I would show you some more pics of the process of making the skirt — but I can’t (missing computer issues continue, O, when will it end?). But one of my favourite things about this garment is its lovely scalloped edging. I obviously needed a top with scallops to match. So I knitted one up.

The top is a sort-of copy of one I saw sported by a knitting comrade at K1 yarns a few thursdays ago. Hers is a version of “Elf” in this Marie Wallin book for Rowan. It has lovely, elaborate crocheted scallops. Mine is a lo-fi seamless raglan, knit from the bottom up, at 5 stitches to the inch, using one strand of kidsilk haze. I just made it up as I went along and crocheted on the scalloped edging using two strands of yarn and a simple repeat. But this is merely because I’m not a very good, or very experienced, crocheter. The edging in the original pattern is much more impressive.

Now, a word about knitting black kidsilk haze: DON’T!. It was like dealing with a fractious, elusive, woolly creature. I couldn’t see my stitches. I couldn’t tell the right from wrong side. I couldn’t see a berloody thing. And that’s to say nothing about the prospect of pulling back stitches or frogging the stuff. The yarn is pure evil! At least the body and sleeves were mindless tubes of stockinette — I just went round and round — but imagine the horror of the crochet. Sheesh. Never again.

So this was not an enjoyable process at all, but the end result is fine, and precisely what I wanted.

We’ve been down in Lancashire for the weekend, and I had a nice walk to Lytham yesterday. I was wearing the top and skirt. It was very windy. I mention this so that you don’t think that I’ve suddenly gone all tufty, or turned into some kind of cone head. And the skirt just wouldn’t hang flat either. But this is simply the effect of a brisk north westerly coming at me head on down the Fylde Coast at 80 miles an hour. Bracing, as they say.

Anyway, here is the whole black and white outfit:

The building I am standing in front of, wearing its own black and white outfit, is, of course, the Lytham Windmill. Along with the Blackpool Tower, it is one of the Fylde’s iconic landmarks. You can go inside, peruse exhibits about milling and regional history, and chat to the nice folk from the Lytham Heritage Group, as we did yesterday. Here’s one more pic.

Pattern: my own made-up seamless raglan tee with crocheted edging. See instructions for similar bottom-up seamless prototypes by EZ or Ann Budd.
Gauge: 5 sts to inch, 3.5 mm addis.
Yarn: Kidsilk haze, black, 2 x 25 g. Yes, this is a top you can make with just 50g of yarn.
Edging: two strands of yarn, 4.5 mm hook, working a repeat of 5 tr, skip 1, 1dc, skip 1 into a round of double crochet.
Ravelled here

reading & knitting

My favourite Elizabeth Zimmermann book is the Knitter’s Almanac. When I first encountered it a few years ago, I remember being very struck by the passages on reading while knitting (in the ‘April’ chapter). At the time I thought this was utterly remarkable — combining two activities simultaneously? Two activities requiring two very different kinds of concentration? Surely it was impossible! I have since discovered that this is not the case, and that reading and knitting actually complement each other rather well. Clearly one should always trust EZ. In fact, I now find that knitting serves to focus my reading in quite a weird but useful way. I tend to read quickly and impatiently, but knitting makes me slower, more careful, and much more methodical. At the moment I am catching up with a backlog of books for review. One has to take one’s time with those. This is just the right kind of reading to knit to.

This is what makes the whole thing possible.


I am very fond of this bookstand, which is made of a lovely old piece of oak. It gets a lot of use, and in fact I tend to treat it rather brutally — it usually sits on my desk overloaded with a few too too many books and scribbled notes. This is probably all too evident from its battered appearance, and the several places where it has been fixed and glued.

In terms of the knitting, I just needed a project that I could go either round and round, or back and forth with, in a relatively simple manner. No cables or lace. I found such a project . . .


. . . and both the reading and the knitting zoomed by at a ready pace. Yesterday I wrote up my reviews, and in the evening sewed up this:


A bolero jacket from this collection by Debbie Bliss.

It hasn’t been blocked yet, and I think it probably needs it, but the slightly uneven (would others say ‘rustic’?) appearance is at least partly a feature of the yarn its made from — handspun cashmere that I bought at Teo’s on Skye last summer. Knitting with this stuff was amazing. I can only compare the feeling to running ones hands through a bowl of sifted flour of a very fine grade. Ah me. The gauge was quite difficult to approximate because of the way the yarn behaves — it wasn’t sure from one row to the next whether it wanted to be aran or chunky. But I trusted my instincts and Debbie Bliss, and it worked out just fine. I knit it on 5.5mm needles, rather than the 6.5 the pattern calls for, and this has produced a shape that’s reasonably tailored on someone with narrow shoulders like me. Not a Spring jacket, by any means, but just right for now.


Can I say that several hours of careful, focussed, and stimulating reading while knitting cashmere at the same time probably constitutes my ideal working day? A shame that writing while knitting is a complete impossibility. . . . or is it?

Pattern: Bolero Jacket, Debbie Bliss “Simply Soft”
Needles: 5mm (for ribs) and 5.5 mm
Yarn: Teo’s handspun cashmere, 450g.

east linton

East Linton is finished.


I am very pleased with it indeed.

Apologies for this next shot, in which I appear to be thanking the god of felted tweed . . .


. . . but you do get to see more of the yoke and the neckline.

I really like knitted dresses, but, like a lot of people, was concerned about knitting a garment with a tendency to hang and sag. For example, I thought Rannoch in Rowan 42 looked amazing. I was considering making it, but then saw a baggy and badly fitting version worn by a disgruntled model at the Knitting and Stitching Show, and had second thoughts.


Still looks lovely pictured up there on Rannoch moor, though.

The problem with this dress when I saw it, it seemed to me, was that it was worked in an un-springy yarn (kid classic), at a loose-ish gauge, and it drooped simply because there was an awful lot of it. Or perhaps it was just too big for the miniature model who wore it. In any case, I decided that my dress would have less skirt, and hence less droop; would be worked at a tight gauge; and would be reasonably close fitting. I knitted the felted tweed at 6-and-a-bit stitches to the inch. This has produced a nice firm fabric. I was brave with the fit, and worked the sleeves and the body at a size smaller than usual, with hardly any intended ease. The result was a slim fitting, not-at-all droopy dress.


As well as the East Linton landscape, I must also acknowledge the influence of Lene’s nocturne in the dress’s design. This lovely sweater was knit in a yarn I’ve never encountered but which, in its combination of alpaca and viscose, seems quite similar to felted tweed. I loved the muted palate of nocturne, and its stripey sleeves.

The design is based on EZ’s seamless yoke, with help from Ann Budd with the sizing, and Barbara Walker with the shaping. It has a turned hem, for stability, and picot edging at the neck and sleeves. It uses 6 colours of felted tweed – whose yardage really is pretty amazing. It took under 4 balls of the main colour, and there is over a third of each ball of the contrasting stripe colours remaining. Perhaps I could make matching stockings. But then I really would look utterly ridiculous.

Anyway, I love this dress. It is warm, a great fit, and really easy to wear. It took a whole lot of relentless stockinette, but, oddly, I’ve found knitting it quite comforting over the past few weeks. I also find it incredibly evocative of the landscape of East Lothian, and, weirdly, its light as well. But this is probably just me. I now realise, however, that this is the fourth time in less than six months that I’ve made myself a seamless yoked garment. Does this count as an EZ addiction? Time to move onto something new.


Over the past month or so I have been embroidering this:


A crewel-work cover for my parents’ old piano stool. The flowers that to me say thrift and yarrow have their origins in two different Katherine Shaughnessy designs. I combined them, added extra grassy stems and a wee bee.


the fabric is a linen mix with something slightly stretchy in it — good for upholstery. All of the stitches are very simple: chain, stem, running, split, seed, french knots for the yarrow and a little bit of satin stitch for the bee. I was very pleased with the end result — and the recipients like their new stool cover just as much as I enjoyed making it.


Other things I’ve made and given include this bag for my sister:


The fabric is from Amy Butler’s recent upholstery range and the pattern comes, of course, from the lovely Amy Karol. I squared up the bottom of the bag with some very stiff lining fabric and added a magnetic snap fastener to the inside lining. Sweeeet!

Then there was this:

and another pic:


A cosy wrap for my mum in a simple lace repeat and Rowan cocoon knitted on 8mm needles. The pattern, “Haven,” is from Kim Hargreaves super new collection. A very pleasing winter knit.

Also in cocoon we have this:


This intriguing looking item has been named The Wal-piece. My dad dislikes fussing around with a scarf, but still requires something to keep his neck warm when he’s out in the chilly winter garden. This was the answer — part polar neck, part scarf . . . indeed, part balaclava. I had a look at similar items designed for a similar purpose by Elizabeth Zimmermann in Knitting Around and came up with my own version, which accommodates the back of the neck as well as the front (unlike those made by EZ). It was knit from the top on one 6.5mm circular needle with increases between the ribs every second round to the desired width and length. When worn, it recalls those chain-mail thingies worn by knights underneath their helmets, viz:


Thankfully, my Dad does not look *quite* like that, either in or out of his functional and cosy Wal-piece.

As well as his sweater, Mr B received a scarf inspired by this one, sported with style byThe Wire’s evil and charismatic Stringer Bell.


his version came in lovely, soft, undyed shetland aran from Shilasdair:


Made in garter stitch with a slip-stitch edging, this was probably the most mindless knitting I’ve done since I was 7.

Finally, my niece and nephew each received a pair of target wave mittens in shetland aran:


I love Norah Gaughan and this is a super little pattern — I did make some mods, though — shortening the thumbs by about four rounds and knitting tighter than the recommended gauge, having read that the pattern tended to come out rather large for small hands. These ones turned out great.

I’ll post about things received shortly. Meantime, Happy 2008!


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