Layter – a celebration of sheep and wool

Layter_closeup

In case you haden’t noticed, today is the first of WOVEMBER! I thought I’d begin the month by showing you a garment that, like no other I can think of, truly celebrates the glorious variety of British sheep and wool. It was designed by my good friend and fellow WOVEMBERIST, Felicity Ford, AKA, Felix. This year, Felix was the patron of Shetland Wool Week, (and if you’ve not yet heard / seen her singing the “Shetland Wool Song” I suggest you pop over to YouTube right now!) Back in June 2009, Felix and I and several other woolly friends met up at Woolfest. It was a wonderful weekend for all of us, and I well recall how Felix, over a jolly pint or two at the Bitter End in Cockermouth, toasted the glory of British wool, and explained to us how she was going to create a garment celebrating the diversity of sheep, inspired by what she’d seen at the show. Layter was the result, and, over the past few years, this marvelous original garment has evolved several times. Its now available as two fabulously sheepy designs, for both adults and babies. I asked Felix to tell us more about the story of Layter.

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1. What does “Layter” mean?

“Layter” is a word from an old Cumbrian counting rhyme which shepherds used in the past for counting their sheep and it’s the number “seven”. The prototype of the design used wool from seven different breeds and since I found this wool in Cumbria at WOOLFEST, a title from that part of the world made sense. I love that when people ask me about “Layter” we end up talking about old shepherding traditions!

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2. I have a very clear recollection of your infectious excitement at Woolfest in June 2009, upon perusing the marvelous breed-specific yarns that were available at the Blacker Yarns stand. Am I right in thinking that this was the moment the design was born? Can you tell us about this moment and the garment’s inspiration?

The Blacker Yarns stand blew my mind! There were two deep containers full of balls of yarn from different sheep breeds. As I read the names on the ball bands and squished the yarns, I felt there was loads to discover about each one. I pulled out ball after ball and kept finding more names… Jacob, Border-Leicester, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Shetland, Teeswater… it was like a poem! Additionally, I watched a shearing demonstration and was really impressed by how the shearer got the fleece off the sheep all in one piece. I realised I really wanted to knit something which looked like that, so yes – the design was born in the wonderful sheepy celebration that is WOOLFEST!

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(shearing at Woolfest)


3. You then began knitting, and I remember first seeing (and admiring) the first incarnation of Layter just a few weeks after Woolfest. I know how you loved this garment and wore it loads. In many ways this design seems to epitomise your concept of ‘the slow wardrobe’! Can you tell us about how the original Layter has stood up to wearing since you made it?

The first incarnation of Layter was knit at quite a loose gauge, which makes it drapey, and quite long and robe like! The fabric has relaxed with time, and the whole garment feels very feminine to me. I love wearing it with a dress, and that I can really hug it around myself in the cold! I am genuinely impressed with how well the yarn has worn; it hasn’t pilled or shed, and the stitches remain well-defined. The fibres have softened after four years of wear, and the whole garment has developed a very slight and pleasing bloom. The sideways construction means it can stretch a little bit if I wear it every day for a couple of weeks, producing a mildly limp appearance, but when this happens, I simply bung it in my washing machine on a Wool cycle and give it a good block! Layter does indeed epitomise my concept of ‘The Slow Wardrobe’; it is a 100% WOOL garment that I cherish and will wear for years to come; the yarn it is made of is durable and well spun; and the whole process of making it has made me more aware of different breeds of sheep and the unique properties of their wool! However perhaps most importantly, it sparks conversations about wool and sheep everywhere it goes. Because it is quite big and has those crazy sleeves, it does attract attention, and every time I wear it, people ask questions, and seem enchanted by the notion that the stripes are all from different sheep breeds. Folk immediately connect it with what they have seen on Countryfile, or start telling me about their own connections with sheep, and men always seem to ask me if there is any Herdwick in it! The Slow Wardrobe is about making my own clothes, but it’s also about how we talk and think about fashion, and I love the conversations I get to have with strangers when I wear original Layter.

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4 After many of us badgering you for a pattern, you later (heh) re-designed and re-developed Layter for publication. How did the second incarnation of the design differ from the first? And what did you learn from the process of redesigning and re-knitting?

I was thinking about a garment that other people might really like to wear which could be paired with tailored trousers or a fitted shirt. To achieve a more flattering, figure-hugging garment, I re-knit Layter using exactly the same maths as in the original version, but at a much tighter gauge. The waist and hips are defined more dramatically and the rows of tight-knit garter stitch are very neat. The effect of this tidier, firmer fabric is a more formal garment, and something which is more like a jacket. In redesigning Layter I also abandoned the big puffy sleeves because I always felt they gave original Layter a slightly religious appearance which I find amusing, but which I wasn’t sure other knitters would enjoy!

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(Layters together)


5 How many British sheep breeds and fleece shades are represented in the new Layter? What was your process of selection? And did you have thoughts of including more?

The new Layter contains wool from several different sheep breeds – some of which are represented in multiple shades! The full list contains Southdown, Corriedale, Ryeland, Shetland, Jacob, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Hebridean and Pure Black Welsh Mountain DK knitting yarn… nine discrete breeds in total. Carrying on the theme of the old Cumbrian counting words, I called that version “Covera” which means nine. I would like to do a further version which incorporates Herdwick, Rough Fell, Swaledale, Romney, Wensleydale and Cotswold, because this would create more textural contrast and if I made a version with fifteen sheep breeds in it, the corresponding word from the counting rhyme is “Bumfit” which I think is brilliant. Who doesn’t want a garment that fits nicely around the bum? !

My process of selection involved lining up a lot of balls of Blacker Yarn, arranging them from dark through to light, and swatching to see which textures would work best together. The yarns used in the latest version are all fairly matt and hardwearing, and I got mildly obsessed with different shades of white while knitting it. The Corriedale almost looks bleached, while the Southdown is more ivory, and the Bluefaced Leicester is the softest of the bunch, and somehow mildly translucent! I played a bit with how to use these different whites through the sleeves and at the sides of the body.

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6. Tell us about how the garment is constructed. Was it fun to design?

Layter is knit vertically in 2 pieces from front to back over the shoulders. To finish, it is grafted together at the sides and centre back. Finally, a neckband is added, providing some shaping. I felt that constructing a garment sideways would allow me to make a vertically-striped garment for showing off my sheepy rainbow of Blacker Yarns, and decided on an open garment rather than a sweater because this would most closely resemble a fleece just taken off a sheep. I knit it in two halves so that I could maximise the yardage from all of my balls of Blacker Yarns by simply dividing them all in half and knitting one half of the garmemt at a time. Working this out was all fun, but the best part was actually getting on with making it. Those stripes go fast, and there is a feeling of being involved the knitterly equivalent of cheese tasting as you register the qualities of one sort of wool and anticipate the next! I fell in love with Manx ; it is matt, gingery, warm and soft, and reminds me of biscuits. I also love the feathery texture of Black Welsh Mountain and the sturdy, dense hand of Southdown…

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7. Layter has been an evolving project for four years now, and the latest stage in its evolution is Blayter (Baby-Layter) – an incredibly cute scaled-down version for infants and toddlers. Can you tell us about how this design developed out of your previous work on Layter?

I am conscious that there are more modifications that could be made – more short rows; a side to side approach, eliminating the back seam – all modifications best understood through knitting practice rather than in the abstract! I felt a smaller version of the pattern would make it easier to test out these different ideas for this garment…a baby version was an obvious idea once I realised I wanted to continue tinkering with the construction, and playing around with colours organised into vertical stripes!

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8 Does Blayter use the same construction method as the adult garment?

The basic method of construction is exactly the same as for the adult Layter, but there are proportionately far fewer short rows because I didn’t want to create a lot of extra fabric to swathe a baby in. The neckband is also more gently shaped, and the sleeves are long enough to either come right down over the hands or to be rolled up out of the way. The gauge is quite tight, and again it is conceived of as a little jacket rather than a next-to-skin garment. The name – as you have probably gathered – is a conflation of “Baby” and “Blayter”, although I did think about calling it Yann, because I only used the wool of one sheep while designing it!

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9. What wool did you choose and why?

I chose to work with Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight from Jamieson & Smith because I enjoyed the soft hand of wool from the Shetland sheep breed when I was knitting Layter, and thought it would be gentle enough for a baby to wear. I also love the range of colours represented within the Shetland breed, and the Shetland Supreme palette offers the possibility to be quite subtle moving between greys, fawns, whites, creams… I started a high contrast version of Blayter which looked a bit like a mint humbug, but in the end was seduced by the subtle transitions possible between Shaela, Katmollet, Mooskit and Gaulmogot! Shetland Supreme has a lovely light hand, and even knit at quite a tight gauge, retains a soft halo and bounciness… it’s lovely for a baby jacket. I also wanted to find a way of fitting the sheepy ethos behind the original Layter to the aims of Shetland Wool Week, which – like WOOLFEST – is such a fantastic celebration of sheep and wool! What better way than by designing Blayter in a way that celebrates some of the lovely shades of wool found amongst Shetland sheep?

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10. What challenges did you find adapting the pattern for differently proportioned bodies?

There’s lots of conflicting information about sizing from different sources, and this made certain aspects of the design process a bit tricksome. To assist with these challenges, I enlisted the help of our amazing friend Liz, who as well as being a brilliant tech-knitter, is an experienced knitter of baby things, and has produced many tiny and gorgeous items for her two lucky nieces. Liz was a total star and test-knitted a beautiful version of the pattern in berry shades of Jamieson & Smith 2 ply. She also discussed baby sizes and proportions with me, and made great suggestions for the details we included on the sizing chart, because in her experience, babies range wildly in terms of size/age. I learnt loads from her during the process of adapting Layter to fit a baby.


11. Finally, what is your favourite sheep breed and why?

Ooh it’s a tricky one, that! Hard to pick just one as they are all so amazing, and all for such different reasons, but I have an enduring fondness for small, wild sheep like Shetlands, Manx Loaghtans, North Ronaldsays, Borerays… I am afraid I am terribly romantic about all these breeds. When I was in Shetland, Ollie showed everyone a hairy grey fleece which he described as “scadder” meaning that it’s very rough. I love that fleece, though, because it is what the Shetland sheep would grow if left to its own devices in order to survive in the wild. It has a thick mane down the middle which I imagine would give a ram a very proud aspect out on the hills! To me, scadder looks like land… like rocks, stones, earth, peat… On the other hand, who can argue with the lovely ginger-biscuit fleece of the Manx Loaghtan which is wild too, but surprisingly soft? Perhaps in the end though I have to say the Boreray is my favourite sheep, purely because it’s the most endangered breed, and the one we all need to love the most if we want to keep it going!

Thanks so much, Felix!

If you’d like to celebrate WOVEMBER by knitting your own Layter, you’ll find the adult pattern here and the baby pattern here.

And be sure to follow the WOVEMBER blog this month, for sheepy stories, inspiring interviews, woolly giveaways and more!

Layter-sideways

A tale of Titus

As you know, the story of the yarns I use in my designs is very important to me. I am always interested to know as much as possible about a yarn’s provenance and background; like to use fibres that are locally grown and processed where possible; and am especially keen on yarns that showcase the unique qualities of different breeds of British sheep. One of my recent ‘wow’ discoveries is Titus, a wonderful new yarn that has been developed by my Yorkshire friends at baa ram ewe. I am sure many of you will have heard of Titus already, even if you haven’t knit with it, as each new batch seems to disappear from baa ram ewe’s shelves in Headingley and Harrogate almost as fast as it is spun up. Why is Titus so special? Well, this yarn blends the lustrous fibres of two beautiful British sheep breeds — Grey Wensleydale and Blue Faced Leicester — together with 30% UK Alpaca. These three different fibres are worsted-spun together to create a yarn that has a gorgeous sheeny-soft hand, but also tremendous strength. What I especially like about this yarn is that it feels incredibly luxurious but, because of the particular qualities of the fibres of which it is composed, is also clearly really tough and hard wearing. It has a really unique hand — smooth, yet because of the Wensleydale, slightly hairy — and you can tell as you knit it that the yarn simply does not want to bobble or pill. So far, Titus has been available in three natural shades, but five new colours are about to be produced, meaning that the yarn now also has a beautifully balanced palette. In short, I love Titus, and have just completed a couple of designs using it, which I’ll show you very shortly (huzzah!) First, though, I caught up with Verity Britton of baa ram ewe to hear more about Titus and the thinking behind it.

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How did the idea for Titus first come about?

Owning a wool shop and choosing among the hundreds of different yarns that are offered to us does make you think about what your dream yarn would be. We love the fuzziness of our local Wensleydale and the softness of the Bluefaced Leicester and Alpaca, and when the opportunity came to have a small batch spun, we jumped at the chance. It was amazing seeing our dreams become reality!


Can you tell us about the process of the yarn’s development? What was involved?

We knew what mix of fibres we wanted in our yarn, but we’d never made one before, so we took some advice from the the wonderful John Arbon of Fibre Harvest, who spun our first ever batch of Titus. We’re passionate about supporting British Wool and UK fibres and showcasing our local breeds here in Yorkshire, so it some ways it was an easy choice to make. We could say we had a firm idea of exactly how the yarn should be spun and what it would look like but in fact we put our trust in John who had far more experience at spinning wonderful yarns than we did. We were very nervous when we ordered our initial 12 kilos- would we like it? Would anyone else like it? But when the box arrived we breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was absolutely gorgeous and surpassed all of our expectations.


Who was Titus Salt and why is he associated with your yarn?

Sir Titus Salt was a Leeds born wool manufacturer who became tired of the smoke and pollution emanating from Yorkshire’s mills and factory chimneys and built a new mill on the outskirts of Shipley, followed by houses, bathhouses, an institute, hospital, almshouses and churches which became the village of Saltaire, now a World Heritage Site. But this wasn’t Sir Titus’ only achievement. In 1836, Titus came upon some bales of Alpaca in a warehouse in Liverpool and, after taking some samples away to experiment, came back and bought the consignment. Sir Titus became the creator of the lustrous and subsequently hugely fashionable alpaca cloth, which contributed massively to his success as a manufacturer. And that’s why we’ve added 30 per cent of the finest UK Alpaca to our yarn, which adds a little bit of magic to our wonderful wool, and strengthens that connection to our Yorkshire heritage even further.

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It is fair to say that Titus has been a roaring success, recently voted no.1 British yarn by the readers of Knit Now Magazine! Do you have any plans for new colourways and ranges?

We have been completely bowled over by the popularity of Titus and can’t thank knitters and customers enough for their support, especially for their patience when we sell out! It’s been so popular that we have now been able to introduce a brand new Titus colour range spun by the amazing Peter Longbottom of West Yorkshire Spinners. There are eight shades, all inspired by our Yorkshire surroundings, which blend beautifully together making them ideal for colourwork. It’s being dyed up as we speak and should be available in the next week or so- we’re so excited!

baa ram ewe is located in the historic hub of the UK textile industry. Is that heritage important to you? How?

One of the biggest reasons for opening baa ram ewe in Leeds and now Harrogate was to reaffirm Yorkshire’s historic link to wool and to celebrate that heritage. Industrial towns like Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield would not have flourished without the wool trade, and towns like Harrogate with the Yorkshire Dales on its doorstep mean sheep breeds like the Wensleydale and Swaledale are practically on your doorstep. We want to celebrate that woolly heritage and we love that so many of our customers want to see and buy yarn that is local to Yorkshire- it means we must be doing something right!

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I lived and worked in Yorkshire for many years, and love it for many reasons. What is special to you about Yorkshire and its landscape?

It’s hard to put your finger on it, but for me there is an understated natural warmth and beauty to both the Yorkshire landscape and the people that live here. Yorkshire has a really captivating mix of both industrial and rural heritage that is really unique, creating a quiet confidence that envelopes you and makes you proud, even if- like me- you weren’t born here. It’s a rich, varied and special place and if you haven’t been- come and visit soon!


What is your favourite Yorkshire expression or dialect word? (For the record, mine is probably GINNEL).

Oooh I like Ginnel too! Joint favourite though is one I got from my husband and is RADGED, as in ‘he were proper radged’, meaning very, very angry. To me, it’s almost an onomatopoeia. My mother in law says it all the time and it always makes me chuckle.

Finally, what’s next for baa ram ewe?

Oh Lord, who knows? We’ve just opened a second store in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, so we’re still recovering from that. We can’t wait for our new Titus colour range to hit the shelves any day now, and then we’ll be taking that to Woolfest in Cumbria and TNNA in the U.S in June, as well the new Yarndale show in Skipton this September. Oh, and then we’re organising the second Yorkshire Wool Week in October. So just another quiet year for us again then….

Thanks, Verity!

And finally, here’s a wee hint of what’s to come in my Titus designs :

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Cabbages & Roses


(Peerie Flooers hat and mittens, Caller HerrinSheepheid, and Funchal Moebius, all styled with Cabbages and Roses garments from 2007 to 2011.

I receive a lot of queries about the clothes I am wearing in the photographs you see here, and I generally receive the most queries whenever I am wearing clothes from Cabbages and Roses. Anyone who reads this blog will know how much I love and appreciate good clothes. Apart from my precious vintage garments, and some things I have made myself, it is fair to say that I love Cabbages and Roses clothes most of all. The very name Cabbages and Roses – in its suggestive combination of beauty and utility – conveys what is so different about these clothes. They are classic British garments: sometimes luxurious, sometimes practical, but always aesthetically pleasing and designed and made to last. Here is an anecdote which will immediately suggest to you the depths of my fondness – nay, obsession – with these clothes: when I had my stroke, I was wearing a Cabbages and Roses coat which was (and still remains) one of my favourite things in my wardrobe. I collapsed while out walking, was manhandled into an ambulance, and taken to hospital, where all my clothes were swiftly and forcibly removed. I was terrified, half paralysed, and undergoing gruelling neurological examination, but there was still room in my brain to worry about the condition and whereabouts of my coat. The first thing I asked poor Tom when I emerged from the CT scan was to check that The Coat was ok. There was a small tear to the lining which I have now repaired, but it was otherwise happily unscathed.


Me and Bruce in October 2010. I am wearing Tantallon hat, Tortoise and Hare gauntlets, and The Coat.

This coat has all the hallmarks of what I love about Cabbages and Roses’ garments. It is beautiful, distinctive, carefully constructed and tailored. It looks and feels special (folk are always asking me where I got it) but is also comfortable and easy to wear. The design includes several thoughtful signature details, such as the pleated empire line, and the ribbon-tie at the reverse. And importantly, it is made from a lightweight wool (hurrah!) that is really of fabulous quality. The label inside the coat not only told me this, but gave me information about where that fabric had been sourced and woven. Like all of the clothes in Cabbages and Roses’ collections, this coat was made on a relatively small scale in their London factory. So not only is the design truly lovely, but the quality of the British craftmanship in this garment is absolutely top notch. I have already worn it over several winters, and it still looks glorious.


The Coat in 2009. Also wearing Fugue mittens.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, first because I would like to come clean to those of you who are always asking me about my styling: really, quite a lot of it is due to Cabbages and Roses. Second, at a moment when so much of British fashion design seems sadly plastic and ephemeral (I would really rather not wear a disposable blouse inspired by a 1980s pencil case), and when the UK high street is full of badly made synthetic garments that will end up as tomorrow’s landfill, it is really rather nice to be able to celebrate and warmly recommend a company whose design aesthetics, quality textiles, and admirable values are the happy antithesis of those you will find in the Wovember Hall of Shame. And finally, because today I have the very great pleasure to share with you an interview with Christina Strutt.

Christina’s background is in interior decor and styling. When, just over a decade ago, she found herself unable to source the quality vintage-feeling fabrics which she needed for her work, she established Cabbages and Roses and began to design her own. Following the popularity of their textile line, Cabbages and Roses brought out their first garment collection in 2006, and since then have gone from strength to strength. Christina is clearly an individual with tremendous creative flair, yet there is also a good-humour and lack of pretense about both her and her work that I find really refreshing and inspiring. So, here’s our virtual chat, interspersed with some of my favourite looks from the current Cabbages and Roses collection.

KD: Could you say a little about how what lead you to develop your clothing line after the establishment of the C&R fabric and interior design brand? What were the core ideas behind the line?

CS: When our first fabric rolled off the production line, we were so excited by its beauty, in the style of The Sound of Music we made dresses, skirts, shirts, cushions, curtains from our first creation ‘bees.’ It was so refreshing to have in our hands a beautiful faded rose print, something we had been searching for for so long that it was hard not to make anything and everything from it. Then when we joined forces with our current partner, Jigsaw, they wanted a Cabbages and Roses collection in their stores. At this point our clothing collection more than doubled in size.

KD: What would you like women to say about your clothes?

CS: That their daughters steal their Cabbages & Roses clothes from their wardrobe. That we have a cult following. That still, five years later, they are still wearing the same piece with as much pride as when it was new. That they have been chased up the street by a complete stranger asking where they bought that coat / dress / skirt from. That our clothes make them very happy. That at last there is something interesting for women of a certain age to buy that their children also covet.

KD: Would you describe the Cabbages and Roses style as British ? I certainly would, but I wondered what that meant to you?

CS: Yes, I think I would describe our style as British as it has a certain ecclectic-ness that says “I am my own person.” The influences that go to make a collection are, on the whole, inspired by a generosity of spirit, an extravagance of fabric, and the ‘Made in England’ labels that we are so proud to sew into our seams! Although born of Italian and South American parentage, I have lived in England for all of my life. I am privileged to travel extensively, but truly I am happiest at home in England and quite resent having to be abroad so much! I am very proud of this fine country, and to be involved in a very English label that sells all over the world is a source of great pleasure.

KD: Is there a particular era of fashion history that you find most inspirational?

CS: Yes indeed, everything from 1066 to 2011! Since childhood I have loved the history of fashion, from the gentle empire lines, to the exuberant Victorians, from the grand elite to the working-class garments. I also love Edwardian lines and sixties shifts — the only period that distresses me is the 1970s and 80s — a time of my life when I was able to take charge of my wardrobe, but when clothes took on a strange giant-shouldered boxy shape and hair spiraled outwards in a curly, shaggy mullet-shaped embarrassment!

KD: Whose style — either now, or in the past — do you most admire?

CS: When I was a young 20-something girl, working on Vogue Magazine, Kenzo Takada was de rigeur – his beautiful, colourful prints and lovely shapes were all I desired. I also love Helena Bonham Carter’s eccentric and interesting ensembles: she has an independent spirit, wears what she loves, and always looks splendid – especially when she wears Cabbages and Roses.

KD: Do you feel that your design aesthetic has evolved over the decade since you established C&R? If so, how would you describe this process of evolution?

CS: Yes, I do think we have evolved: it has been a hard road that we have travelled, but I think that with our sales growing so steadily year on year, confidence in my designs has grown too. In the early days our designs were simplified to correspond with our limited manufacturing facilities. Now with access to marvelous pattern cutters and a splendid London factory, the designs tend to be more complicated and fewer compromises are made.

KD: Fabric quality is clearly very important to C&R. Could you say a bit about the kinds of textiles you like best and why?

CS: For me, choosing fabric is a matter of aesthetics above all else. When buying fabrics I tend to go for look, texture, and colour, it is an instinctive process and without any sort of financial or manufacturing control! It is only when sampling is being ordered that I am reigned in by our production department — this is where compromises come, but only in the quantities that are to be made. Although I prefer to to use natural fabrics — cotton, wool, linen — I do not mind having to use a man-made fabric if its look is in line with the design.

KD: Are you able to successfully source these textiles within the UK? Is it important to you to that C&R supports the UK textile industry in this way?

CS: In Winter nearly all of our textiles are made in the UK, as the British tweeds and tartans are perfect for our requirements. However, Summer fabrics are necessarily sourced from abroad. I would like to be able to say that we only use organic cottons but sadly this is not true. In a perfect world all of our fabrics would be organic but at the moment we are just too small to be able to afford to make our clothes from organic cotton. However, all our furnishing linens are printed with Okatex approved water-based inks; all our own fabrics are printed in London; and all our woven collection is also made in London. Wherever possible, we support British industry, and wherever possible, we print, manufacture and source British goods and textiles. It is extremely important to us.

KD: One of the most impressive things about C&Rs clothes is that they are so evidently designed to last. How important to you is it that your clothes have longevity in women’s wardrobes? And do you ever feel that this this longevity is at odds with current trends toward the disposable in women’s fashion?

CS: It is absolutely the most important aspect of our clothing collection. Longevity is the antithesis of fashion, and we are so un-fashion-conscious that we consider that it if something is not in fashion, it is not possible to be out of fashion. I do have a horror of seeing someone walking down the street wearing an article of Cabbages and Roses clothing and looking ridiculous: if, say, we had produced a ‘one-sey’ in an extremely fashionable leopard print (I think that this is the name for the all-in-one boiler suit that was fashionable earlier this year) I would feel compelled to throw a blanket around her shoulders and lead her home to change. Happily, though, I don’t think we have ever produced an article of clothing that I wish we had not! I love seeing perfect strangers wearing a Cabbages and Roses piece from five years ago and still being proud of what we have produced, often I see clothing that I had quite forgotten about and think – ‘how clever’!

KD: I love old hand-knit sweaters, and think that good clothes, like those designed by C&R, can really last a lifetime if they are cared for properly. I wondered if you had a favourite item of clothing in your wardrobe that has lasted many years and whether you could tell us a bit about it?

CS: I am wearing, as I write, a Cabbages and Roses A-line sweater first introduced in 2006. We have reproduced this sweater every year since and it remains a best seller to this day. It is designed in our favourite A-line shape, as flattering a style as possible: fitted at the shoulders and bust and gently flaring out so as not to hug body parts that should remain hidden. I am also wearing a navy wool side-button skirt, again produced about four years ago and still featuring in our current clothing collection.

KD: I love your books about textiles, interior decor, and sewing (particularly Home Made Vintage), and wondered whether you had any plans in the future to produce a book about fashion and styling?

CS: Yes, my publisher has asked that we do another book — we are trying to think of a suitable subject. I would very much like to make a fashion book, but it would be difficult to make it not seem like a catalogue of Cabbages and Roses clothing. A retrospective, perhaps — but I am not sure that we are at that stage yet. Perhaps your readers would like to suggest a perfect topic for Cabbages and Roses next tome?

KD: And finally, just for fun: do you have a favourite variety of English rose, or, indeed, of cabbage? I don’t think you can beat a January King.

CS: I think cabbages are as beautiful as roses and often use lovely savoy cabbages as decoration. My favourite rose is Eglantyne – named after Eglantyne Jebb who founded the ‘Save the Children’ charity. It is multi-petaled in delicious pale pink, and has a lovely delicate rose scent.

Thankyou so much, Christina!

A conversation with SpillyJane


(SpillyJane’s Isidora Mittens.)

Playing with pattern and colour are probably what I like most about designing. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot, and considering the different ways that pattern is put to use in the colourwork of the designers I admire. At the top of my list has to be SpillyJane – as someone who adorns mittens with pints of beer and sausages it would be hard for me not to like her – but there is so much more to her work than the witty motifs she weaves into her socks and mittens. Her aesthetic influences range from Pewabic Pottery to Flannery O’ Connor, and looking at her designs you can immediately see a creative intelligence at work. In her colourwork there is a grace, an energy, and a precision that I find both impressive and inspiring. I was really pleased that she agreed to this virtual conversation.


(Mystery and Manners Mittens.)

KD:Where is your favourite place to sit and knit?
SJ:Any place where I can hole myself up with a nice cup of tea, really. If I have to select a room at home I’d have to go with my yarn-stuffed studio up under the century-old eaves. On warm Spring and Summer days I love to sit on my porch and work in the sun, surrounded by greenery.

KD:When and how did knitting turn into designing for you?
SJ:As soon as I realized that doing so would afford me the chance to play with colour and pattern. I’ve always been, erm, obsessed with both to the point of distraction. Also, there were things (mittens and socks) that I wanted to knit that didn’t exist yet — it was up to me to make them up, so I did.


(Sea Mineral Mittens.)

KD:What was your first stranded knitting project? Did you enjoy colourwork right from the start?
SJ:It was a Latvian mitten from Lizbeth Upitis’ fantastic book in wonderfully folky colours. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing — I didn’t know how to hold the yarn with both hands, the three-colour portions of the thing were a right mess and my stitches were way too tight. I never did knit the mate to that one — I treated it as a kind of learning experience and just tried to move on. The next mittens I knit were my Sea Mineral mittens, the first pair that I designed.


(Wurst)

KD: I think Wurst is my favourite of all your mitten patterns — elegant chic and cured meat in one design! Really, you can’t go wrong. Which of your designs is your favourite? Why?
SJ: I am so, so happy that Wurst is your favourite! I’ve always had a thing (as odd as it may seem,) for strings of sausages. That pattern is based on a stencil I had made years ago. I’ve always found hanging strings of sausage links wonderfully festive and earthy, especially at a busy market — I’ve always wanted to see them on fabrics or wallcoverings.


(Decadence (back))

. . . My favourite of my mitten patterns is Decadence. Firstly, I’m in love with rich, deep colours — gold and plum being two of my favourites. As for the design, it initially appears decorative but subtly deviant poppy pods and absinthe spoons become apparent upon closer inspection. The palm is restrained and architectural, which invokes antique brass furnace gratings that might appear in a dark-panelled room where one might indulge in the aforementioned activities. It’s warm, cozy and vaguely seedy all at the same time.


(Decadence (palm))

KD:On your blog, you describe design as a process of translation. Could you say a little more about this?
SJ:With a lot of my work I feel like I’m just continuing the conversation that’s been initiated by my inspiration, but in a “different language,” so to speak. I’ll feel drawn to a song or an object or a building or whatever to the point where I feel the need to respond — to celebrate it, to announce my love for the thing at hand. So I’m very literally translating (carrying that thing over) into the realm of knitting. I hope people see my work and feel the need to respond to my pieces in turn — to keep the conversation going, as it were.


(Polska mittens, and the Polish stoneware that inspired them.)

KD:What do you enjoy least about designing?
SJ: I get too many ideas all at once and I only have one pair of hands!

KD:I like it when happenstance plays a part in the way an idea for a pattern comes together. What was the most unexpected thing that has inspired one of your designs?
SJ:I have always loved the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit, visible across the river from where I live in Windsor. It is a beautiful red brick Art Deco masterpiece highlighted by bands of coloured tilework. When I started designing, it was delightful happenstance that my favourite building had bands of repeating tilework patterns that lend themselves perfectly to translation into colourwork stitches.



(Guardian Building and Mittens)

KD:Is improvisation involved in your design process? do your patterns evolve as you knit them?
SJ:I don’t improvise so much whilst knitting, but I do a little while drawing up the charts. I am constantly adding bits here and there, filling in empty spots or adding elements to make the design easier to knit, more aesthetically pleasing, or more balanced. I’ll look at the hard copy chart and move things around or flip things.

KD:What often impresses me about your designs is the way that you can make complex visual ideas fit within the parameters of a mitten or sock. Your Flamingos are a case in point — combining vim with a sort of disciplined restraint. But do you ever find that your design ideas outstrip the basic possibilities of knitting?
SJ: Sometimes I do. In such cases I modify the idea as much as I can, but if I can’t do so to my satisfaction I’ll throw it out before I compromise the design. The pattern can only work one stitch at a time, and adding too much detail can ruin the simple, folky beauty of the knitted pattern. At the same time, the design elements have to be recognizable. A flamingo has to look like a flamingo; if I can’t break it down to be used on a wee ten stitch grid and have it still be recognizable as a flamingo, I’ll move on to something else.


(Flamingo mittens)

KD:Is there anything you would never put on a mitten?
SJ:Anything is game, as far as I’m concerned, but some things work better than others in a mitteny context. Some things just naturally lend themselves to being reproduced in miniature or in bands or in rows. It has to work within the parameters set by the mitten. I like these restrictions, they hem in the creativity while allowing me to stretch it to its limits. Contradictory yes, but I swear that this allows me more opportunity, not less.


(Swedish Fish mittens)

KD: Which designer / artist would you most like to invite round to your place for a pint and/ or sausage?
SJ:Florine Stettheimer. I just became familiar with her this past summer. She was an American artist active in the teens, twenties and thirties. I am still learning about her. Her work is dreamy, airy and beautiful and I can’t understand why she isn’t more popular.

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills (1918), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

KD:Do you enjoy any other crafts? crochet? stitching? quilting?
SJ: I enjoy spinning; I love my handmade spindles and find the whirling hypnotic and relaxing. I have dabbled with embroidery over the years, and enjoyed a brief flirtation with Elizabethan stumpwork.

Many thanks to SpillyJane!


Gnomes

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