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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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!

Sixareen Cape

While we were in the Highlands, we took the opportunity to photograph a design I’ve had ready for a while: the Sixareen Cape.

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I started knitting this Fair Isle wrap last October. You may remember that at that time I’d just designed a hat especially for Shetland wool week (The Sixareen Kep) using Jamieson and Smith’s wonderful Shetland Heritage Yarn.

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(Sixareen Kep at my Shetland Wool Week Workshop, modelled by Tania Ashton-Jones. Photo courtesy Charlotte Monckton)

Around that time, I was getting a lot of wear out of a circular wrap I’d purchased from Toast (which I am wearing in the photograph above). This wrap was a sort of deep tube with raglan shaping, and I was surprised at how versatile a thing it was. It was a scarf, a cowl, a snood, and very nearly a sweater. I wore it scrunched up inside a coat when I was outside walking Bruce, I wore it wrapped about me inside the house when I needed another layer, and I wore it thrown on over a suit jacket when a little extra warmth was required outside. I liked it so much that I decided to design my own version featuring a deep Fair Isle border of the same chart design I’d used for the Kep, which I’d been very pleased with. This was the result.

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The border of the circularly-knit ‘cape’ features three repeats of the ‘kep’ chart. Its a design I’ve come across in several Shetland sources, and, if you look at it, you’ll see that it is an interestingly stretched-out and squashed incarnation of a traditional OXO motif. There are several things I find really pleasing about this chart. The background is unusually spacious for a Fair Isle motif (there are stretches of 7 stitches in some places), and there’s something about this space that allows the different shades to sing. Because of this, when repeated, the motif develops a shimmering near-kaleidoscopic quality, which I really love.

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The heritage yarn is amazingly soft, and wonderful to work with. It is the perfect yarn for traditional Fair Isle, but it also has a marvelous drapey quality which makes it absolutely ideal for this kind of garment. The plain stockinette portion is knitted at a slightly looser gauge to enhance the drape, allowing the garment to be worn in several different ways.

It can be worn scrunched up, cowl-like around the neck . . .

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Pulled forward, collar-like, around the shoulders . . .

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Or pulled down, cape-like, around the torso . . .

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Decreases are worked through the plain stockinette part of the garment in exactly the same way as the shaping of a raglan sweater.

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. . . and the end result is a striking and versatile wrap that is also great at warding off chilly highland breezes.

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These photographs were taken above Rannoch Moor on a truly beautiful evening.

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The cape comes in seven sizes, with a circumference of 45″ to 59″. It is fitted by measuring the wearer’s total shoulder circumference, and it should be worn with at least 2 inches of positive ease, to allow the wearing of layers underneath. If you would prefer a deeper or shallower wrap, the length is easily adjusted following the instructions in the pattern.

The Sixareen Cape is now available to purchase digitally through Ravelry and you can also purchase the pattern in print, to be shipped directly to you, (wherever in the world you are) via my Mag Cloud store.

thinking time

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Well, I had a fantastic time in Shetland. As I was on my own, I stayed in Lerwick. I really enjoyed meeting up with Shetland friends old and new, and pottering about toon.

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shutters

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But I was there to work — I have a couple of writing commissions in the pipeline, one of which involves producing a short history of Fair Isle knitting for a new (and very exciting) book about Shetland textiles. So I examined a lot of Fair Isle pieces, and I thought a lot about them.

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I saw some truly incredible textiles . . .

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. . . so many of which defied any idea of the ‘traditional’ in Fair Isle knitting.

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(This striking allover features 4 shades of Shetland wool and 3 shades of artificial silk)

motifs
(Fair Isle motifs, but not Fair Isle knitting)

plaid
(Fair Isle or . . .Tartan?)

So much to think about.

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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.

B o r e a l

We had a lovely day out in the Highlands today. Bruce loves a good walk up there – though, as you can see, he is not a fan of sitting still and posing for a photo.

Would you like to see what I’ve got on underneath that jacket?

Boreal — my new design!

Two years ago, just before Christmas, we were out walking on the same West Highland hillside. I spent several happy hours tramping through the snow, photographing trees and undergrowth, and marveling at their transformation in the frozen landscape. You can see those photographs in this post. I was particularly transfixed by the effects of snow on the branches of fallen trees . . .

. . . and I decided then that I’d like to knit something inspired by those West-Highland conifers and their snow-covered branches. Two years later, this is the result.

Boreal is knit in Artesano Aran, a well-spun, hard-wearing 50/50 wool-alpaca blend. It is one of my favourite aran-weight yarns, and is superb for Winter colourwork, as it makes a lovely dense, warm fabric. I knit this dress from it a couple of years ago, which is still going strong, and still looks great. There’s a good range of Wintery colours, so it was an ideal choice for this sweater.

Boreal is knit from the bottom-up, and uses a modified seamless yoke construction.

The sizing covers a 32″ to a 50″ bust. I’m wearing my sweater with a couple of woolly layers underneath, and about 2.5″ positive ease. It is really warm, exceptionally cosy, and quite possibly ludicrously seasonal.

It makes me feel jolly, anyway.

I’ve spent over a month working away on this sweater and its pattern, and I confess to being very pleased with the finished result in both knitted and written form. The pattern has been tech edited by the brilliant Jen-Arnall Culliford, and test knitted by the equally brilliant Melanie Ireland. I hope to show you some photos of Mel’s rather different Boreal sweater very soon! Anyway, if you’d like to make your own, the pattern is now available here or here.

It was so nice to be out in the hills today – I do love a good Winter walk. We had a grand one, and our day concluded with some suitable refreshment from what has to be one of the best places to buy beer in Scotland.

Slainte!

an afternoon with Hazel Tindall

I think that the most enjoyable few hours knitting I’ve ever had was the afternoon I spent last Wednesday with Hazel Tindall at the Braewick Cafe. Since 2008, Hazel has held the title of the world’s fastest knitter, working an unbelievable 262 stitches in 3 minutes. She is also an incredibly talented designer – Jamieson & Smith carry many of her patterns, and you’ll find her Peat Hill Waistcoat in their new Knit Real Shetland book. And last but definitely not least, Hazel is a patient and generous teacher, sharing her skills, ideas, and expertise with groups who want to learn more about traditional Fairisle knitting. I had been looking forward to taking a workshop with Hazel, as I was sure it was going to be a treat. And it really was.

Hazel began by telling us about the qualities of Shetland wool, and spoke of her particular affection for the natural sheep shades with their unique warmth and durability. She showed us swatches she had knitted of the same lozenge pattern in different natural colours, revealing the wide variety of aesthetic effects that can be created with this subtle palette of greys, browns and fawns.

The knitterly potential of the natural palette was perfectly illustrated by this fabulous hoodie which Hazel had designed.

Here’s a close-up.

Then it was time for us to experiment with the natural sheep shades. A hush descended . . .

The tea kept flowing, and we kept working under Hazel’s guidance.

This is what we could see outside the windows.

. . . all too easy to get distracted.

Later, Hazel treated us to a demonstration of her working methods. I particularly liked her emphasis on keeping the knitting under control – excess fabric is tied down and tethered, loose strands are kept far away from each other, the project knows who is the boss — no tangles are going to occur here!

Like other Shetland knitters I’ve met, and perhaps contrary to popular conception, Hazel finishes garments with knotting.

Mary Jane mentioned some beautiful knots the other day; and I’ve seen many garments in museum collections that are finished in a like manner. Personally, I never say not to a knot . . .

Would you like a peek of Hazel knitting?

Early in the clip, Hazel is slowly demonstrating how she makes stitches and shifts the work around the wires, and you can see that by the end she is beginning to build up a mind-boggling speed . . .

After the demonstration, Hazel reached behind her into a basket and brought out several of her amazing finished creations. Hold your breath, folks!





There are so many impressive things here, but I particularly like the way that some of Hazel’s designs establish a strong sense of vertical continuity through combinations of pattern and colour. I also felt, when looking at Hazel’s work, that you could really feel the pleasure she’d taken in the knitting. These are garments that really speak of their maker’s distinctive creative curiosity.

Later, over a slice of home-baked cake (nom) and another cup of tea (joy), Hazel treated us to a reading of Stella Sutherland’s beautiful poem about Fairisle knitting — “The Allover”.

Please turn up your audio, and ignore the white noise and clinking tea-cups in the background — it is worth hearing.

The first stanza in the clip reads:

Your mind haes a joy o creation
laek writin a rhyme — hit’s nae lee —
whin your fingers an wires in relation
maks da colours an patterns agree.

All I can say is that these lines absolutely perfectly express what I feel about Fairisle knitting.

Outside, the clouds moved across Eshaness’s golden hills and grand open sky.

Nowhere in the world to match this.

Thankyou, Hazel.

frenzy

Happily, I always love to knit, but it has been a while since I have found myself in a total knitting frenzy. This particular frenzy struck on Friday, took over my brain and hands, and meant that I had to knit all weekend until I was done. To explain: on Friday morning, I popped into John Lewis for some snap fasteners for my cardigan. I picked those up, had a nice chat with Lindsay, and a good squoosh of the new Rowan yarns. I was particularly pleased when I saw the new ‘fine tweed’ range – one of my all-time favourite Rowan yarns is the now long-discontinued Yorkshire tweed and this new ‘fine tweed’ is very reminiscent of it. The colourways are named after Yorkshire and Lancashire villages, and the yarn is also spun in Yorkshire.


Fine tweed is a lovely nubbly, woolly single. It is very fine – the weight seems a little more sock yarn than 4ply – and the twist is punctuated with little tweedy flecks. There are 24 colours, and they are all amazing.

AMAZING

I went home, and spent the afternoon walking in the rain. I couldn’t stop thinking about those colours. Some were soft and faded, like old crewel wools, others were deep and rich and Autumnal. And tweedy. So tweedy. The frenzy slowly took hold – I just had to knit fine tweed! I needed to make colourwork! NOW! I had many other projects on the go, but to hell with them! To hell with everything! My fingers were itching for fine tweed. By Saturday morning, I was sorted. Oh, you tasty little yarn cakes. You are MINE, all mine.

I had lots of fun swatching

Did I mention how much I FOOKIN LOVE THOSE COLOURS?

Though the frenzy had by now seriously taken hold, with uncharacteristic restraint, I decided to draft up a whole pattern beforehand rather than, as per my usual practice, having a few design thoughts and knitting them up on the hoof. I spent the day immersed in Illustrator and came up with some hat charts from a couple of ideas I’ve been playing around with for a while.

These wee flowers have been knocking around my files for over a year now – I had intended them for something I’d just not got round to knitting. I find them very pleasing, but I was perhaps even more pleased with my crown chart. While the body of the hat would be covered with little flowers, the crown centre would resemble a larger flower. Big flowers! Little flowers! FLOWERS ALL ROUND!

Then I sat down and I knit like a loon.

By today – Monday morning – I had a fun new hat!

The frenzy has now evaporated, but it has been replaced by a sensation of self-satisfaction, which to others may manifest as the annoying smugness of a person who feels that she has got something RIGHT. I am really very pleased with this hat.

I think I am so happy with it because all of its design elements made total sense to me from start to finish. The yarn was utterly compelling and I felt I knew before I began how the colours I’d selected should work together. The design idea is simple, but this is really often best. It was fun to knit and to design (I enjoy playing around with charts in Illustrator). Though I think the crown chart placement still needs a stitch or two of tweaking, I love its kaleidoscopic effect and the way its decreases line up like a little braid.

This hat began in the FRENZY. It was made for the pure, knitterly pleasure of making it, and the fact that it turned out well is an unintended bonus. I didn’t intend to make a fine-tweed floral hat, much less to write a hat pattern, but this is what appears to have happened. I have lots of other things in the pipeline (including Betty Mouat, and the next issue of Textisles which will be out very shortly) but I am glad I gave into the frenzy and knit my arse off this weekend. Anyway, if anyone fancies covering their head with knitted flowers as the weather starts to turn, you should be able to do so in just a few days.

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