Cockatoo Brae

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Yes, you did read that correctly – Cockatoo Brae. This remarkable phrase is, in fact, the name of a lane in Lerwick, Shetland, and it is also the name of the final yoke in my collection.

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This design emerged from an exciting collaboration with my friend Ella. In Shetland, machine and hand knitting go very much, as it were, hand in hand. In fact, at certain crucial points in its twentieth-century story, machine knitting might be said to have saved the Shetland hand-knitting industry from extinction. The two crafts (and they are both crafts) are importantly imbricated, and perhaps especially so where the yoke sweater is concerned.

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Hybrid yokes – where the body and sleeves are knitted by machine, and the yoke subsequently knitted on by hand – were one of the mainstays of the Shetland wool industry from the 1950s through the 1970s. I devote a chapter to this topic in my book, and you can read more about it there, but suffice it to say that, after my research I felt it was very important to include one such hybrid yoke design in my book. Cockatoo Brae is that yoke.

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On one of my recent visits to Shetland, I was very keen to learn more about machine knitting from Ella, who runs her own business centred around the wonderful machine-knitted items that she designs and makes.

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Ella’s Crofthoouse Cushions

At her studio in Cockatoo Brae, Ella introduced me to the process of creating machine-knitted fabric. Like many committed hand-knitters, I suppose I had certain lingering assumptions about what machine knitting involved (knitting by machine? surely this is the devil’s work?!) but these were quickly exploded. I discovered that the process was not only extremely skilled, but also – in the simple act of making stitches – much, much more like hand-knitting than I’d imagined. It is also quite physically demanding!

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(A swatch we knitted on Ella’s machine)

When I returned home after my visit I began designing a chart using an interesting variant of the ubiquitous tree and star motifs that appear on countless Shetland yokes. It is no coincidence that the shades I chose echoed those of the swatch we had created in Cockatoo Brae. Much of the inspiration for Ella’s design work comes from the 1970s: a decade during which Shetland knitters were producing thousands of yokes for a buoyant commercial market, but when the advent of North Sea Oil also changed the face of the Shetland knitting industry. The 1970s are an interesting moment of transition in Shetland, and Ella’s work interrogates and reflects this. I wanted the palette of our yoke to reflect it too.

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The bright green is Jamieson and Smith shade FC11 and the orange shade is 125. (This rich tomato-soup shade is one of my all-time favourite Jamieson and Smith colours – I absolutely love it!). For the main body of the sweater I chose FC58 – a wonderfully complex heathered brown that in fact has more individual colours blended in it than any other shade in the Jamieson and Smith palette. After Ella and I had settled on the chart and palette, I provided her with a pattern and she got to work creating the sweater’s machined components. (Ella will write in more detail about the process of knitting the body and sleeves on her machine, and you’ll be able to read about the process on her blog)

Some time later, I received this bundle in the post

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As machine-knit yarn is oiled, I decided to block the separate pieces quite vigorously first so I could see that the hand-knit and the machine-knit fabric were behaving the same way, and that I could be sure that my gauge would match up. After blocking the pieces, I seamed them up with matress stitch. Ella had left small sections of ‘waste’ knitting at the tops of the sleeve and body pieces that could be unravelled to create a set of live stitches. So I unravelled the waste, set sleeves and body on a circular needle, and cast on a nine stitch steek over the cardigan’s front opening to enable me to knit the yoke on in the round.
Here’s the yoke in progress.

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Here it is blocking

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and finally . . .
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Creating this yoke with Ella was a fascinating and really enjoyable process for me, and I felt I understood much more about the textile practices and history I’d been researching through the simple act of knitting this garment. Sometimes making really is learning.

If you’d like to create your own Cockatoo Brae in exactly the same way we did, I’ve included instructions for flat machine-knitting body and sleeves in the book. But don’t worry –if you’d prefer to hand-knit the design in its entirety – working the whole garment in the round and then steeking it open afterwards – those instructions are also included.

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We shot these photographs on a lovely autumn day around the lower slopes of Ben Lawers and Meal nan Tarmachan, where Tom was running a hill race. Tom ran very well, and I think the photographs he took after the race show the garment perfectly suited to its setting.

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I’d like to give a big shout-out to Tom today, who has really shared my Yoke vision, and whose considerable skills as a photographer are in evidence throughout. His images – which beautifully illustrate each garment in a separate, distinctive location suited to its style – are an essential element of the larger creative process behind this book. Thanks, Tom x.

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You’ll find more information about Cockatoo Brae here
And the book is available to pre-order here

Bluebells

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Good morning! Here is today’s yoke from my new book – Bluebells. In the 1950s and 60s, there was a particularly popular style of sweater featuring a rather narrow circular yoke. In such garments, the sleeve and body shaping tended to be a little more neatly tailored than other circular yokes, and the colourwork motifs were placed high up on the neck, necklace style. I wanted to include one of these necklace-yoked sweaters in the collection, and this is what I came up with.

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There’s really no need of much explanation for where I drew inspiration for the design.

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One of my favourite wild flowers, bluebells transform the woods and glens with their luminous glow throughout the month of May and are one of the undoubted highlights of a Scottish spring.

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Bluebell flowers seem particularly lovely to me when they flip upwards just before they turn to seed, and this is how I represented them in my chart.

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Bluebells encircle the neck of this garment like a garland, and the floral motifs are echoed in colourwork bands at the hem and cuffs.

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Jamieson and Smith shade FC37 really is the perfect bluebell blue, and the chart also features two of my all-time favourite greens – FC11 and FC24. The finished sweater is neat, simple, and easy to wear – even on a very breezy day like the one on which we took these photographs.

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These photographs were taken in late summer, above the Blane Valley, a place which in the spring is awash with bluebells. I knit this sweater during bluebell season, and loved to see how bluebells took over the woodland and darker north-facing slopes of the valley, bringing them to life with their luminous glow.

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You can find more information about Bluebells here
And Yokes is now available to pre-order here

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Foxglove

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Here is another yoke — this one’s name is self-explanatory — Foxglove.

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One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about my first year of rural living has been the wildflowers that grow around my home. Just a few yards from my front door are a wide variety of environments from heathland, bog and lochside to deciduous woodland and roadside hedgerows. Walking through this landscape every day, I have found it fascinating to observe the wildflowers emerging, coming into bloom, taking over the landscape, and falling away to seed. Back in the spring, I began keeping a record of the wildflowers I spotted on my daily walks (mostly within a 4 mile radius of my home) by recording a photograph on Instagram. (If you are interested, you can find that series of pictures under the hashtag #todayswildflower). I found that the simple act of taking a photograph of a plant, and later looking it up in my reference guides meant that, by the end of the summer, I had learned a reasonable amount about local wildflower habitats, the time of their flowering, their relationship to other plant varieties and so on. I discovered some wonderful plants I’d never seen or noticed before – grass of Parnassus, scarlet pimpernell, butterwort. I also learned to look anew at flowers I thought I knew reasonably well – such as foxgloves.

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I love their pink spires, their sheeny blooms, their downy leaves, their beautiful variegated interiors, the surprising deep beetroot purple of their stems. I knew I wanted to knit the foxgloves up into a yoke, and really enjoyed developing my chart for this design.

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Foxglove is the only design in the collection to use three colours in one row. (I have a neat trick for this, borrowed from Elizabeth Zimmermann, which the pattern describes in full).

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This yoke is in the Shetland style. It is knit in the round and steeked; the garment has some shaping after the arms are joined, and the yoke pattern itself is relatively shallow, and placed high up on the neck. That said, in my experience the necklines of many Shetland yokes have a tendency to ride rather too high – this one shouldn’t, and is intended to sit quite neatly at the throat.

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As you can see, by the time I’d actually managed to knit my sample, summer was turning into autumn, and it was no longer foxglove season.

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But we managed to take these photographs among some Rose Bay Willowherb which were going to seed, and which seemed to provide an appropriate local wildflower backdrop

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The yarn I’ve used is, of course, Jamieson and Smith jumperweight – the perfect yarn for a Shetland-style yoke.

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I have another yoke in this collection which was also inspired by a Scottish wildflower. More about that one tomorrow.

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In the meantime, you’ll find more information about Foxglove here
. . .and the book is now available to pre-order here

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Frost at Midnight

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Here is another yoke – Frost at Midnight.

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One of the things I’ve become interested in recently is the idea of the yoke as jewellery. Knitted yokes not only behave in much the same way as a necklace – decorating the shoulders, framing the face – but they have a close relationship with beaded necklaces as well.

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Photograph courtesy of Greenland.com

This is a Greenlandic beaded collar, or nuilarmiut. Knitted yokes and nuilarmiut have an intriguingly reciprocal relationship which I have spent some time researching. You can read more about this in one of the introductory chapters of my book.

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Frost at Midnight in no way aspires to the beautiful graphic complexity of the nuilarmiut, but it does use beads to transform the knitted yoke into an elegant necklace.

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Frost at Midnight is knitted in Scrumptious laceweight – a silk / merino blend from my friends at Fyberspates. The yarn has a beautiful sheen and drape, but is also really strong and durable. Its the ideal yarn for beading, as well as for creating a luxurious little cardi. Knit at 7 sts to the inch, most sizes can create this garment with just two skeins of Scrumptious, making it a surprisingly economical garment.

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The beading, of course, is quite involved, but the rest of the knitting in this cardigan is very straightforward, with some neat finishing details, like these turned picot facings.

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Mel is modelling Frost at Midnight with slight negative ease, but because the yarn drapes so beautifully it can also be made with a few inches of positive ease as well. (Detailed information about sizing, fit, and ease accompanies all of the patterns in the book)

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Finally, the name. The shimmering beaded trees that surround this yoke seem to be captured in frost on a cold winter’s night, and Frost at Midnight is the title of one of my favourite poems by S.T. Coleridge. Coleridge’s poem is addressed to his son, who sleeps quietly in his cradle next to the reflective poet. It ends with these marvellous lines:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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You can find more details about Frost at Midnight here

illustrating knitting

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While I am ironing and packing up Tea Towels this morning, I thought you might be interested to read more about how they were created. I interviewed the amazing Felicity Ford about the process she goes through when producing illustrations of my designs.

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1. I know you have many artistic skillz in all kinds of fields, but had you ever drawn knitting before?

I often make rough sketches in my notebooks for potential garment ideas, but the first time I properly “drew” knitting was when working on the schematics for my own pattern, Layter. I drew a line drawing, scanned it, then started messing about with it on the computer. It wasn’t long before I realised the effect I was after would be much better achieved with an old fashioned set of pencils and paper. So Layter was the first proper drawing I did of knitting… though I can show you some earlier drawings if you’d like to see!

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(Above: sketching garment construction; below: pleasing hand-drawn diagrams illustrate the construction of Felicity Ford’s Layter and Blayter designs)


2. Does drawing knitted fabric present particular challenges for the artist?

Knitted fabric is 3D and highly structured; it’s not really flat at all when you start to examine it… there is what you see at the front, but also the whole architecture of that fabric, and the way it is comprised of different combinations of loops. Montse Stanley’s classic knitting book has some of the most beautiful drawings of knitted fabric that I can think of, but these are mostly very specific close-ups of different techniques. The challenge when drawing a knitted garment rather than a specific set of stitches, is knowing how much detail to go into. Representing every individual stitch is impractical and unnecessary, but I think specifics like the overall impression of a sleeve cuff or the way a cable travels should really be clear. A schematic has to be instructive, and so I am always thinking about the knitter who will refer to the drawing, and trying to make sure that everything I would want to see in that is there for them. Another challenge is to convey something of the presence and materiality of the end garment. In your designs, the materials are so important – you always explain the yarn you have used and the way it behaves when you release a new Kate Davies Design – and I think that this aspect is as essential to show as the shaping and patterning. I try to convey a little bit of that texture when I make the drawings, too, and this is achieved through varying degrees of pencil shading, which stands in for the halo that a nice woollen spun yarn produces, or the shadows created by a nice big chunky cable…

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(sketching a cable)


3. Can you describe your process when producing these illustrations?

I start by studying the set of photos you send across, and working out which parts of the garment I do not understand. How exactly is the neck shaped? What precisely is the slant in to the waist, how short or tall is the garment, how are the cables working? I usually make a big stack of sketches to work out these details before I am happy that I understand the shape properly, and that I have a strategy for dealing with all the details. I practice the difficult parts – colourwork; lace patterning; cables; – to make sure I have a way of representing them which I, as a knitter, would find useful to see. Then I confidently draw the schematic, trying as much as possible to only use a single, assertive line of black ink, with pencil to emphasise details.

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Progress on Firth o’ Forth illustration


4. Did the process of producing the illustration teach you anything about the design and construction of the garments? Did you look at my designs with fresh eyes?

YES! For me the most exciting thing is that any decent drawing should contain a good search… a search gives a drawing its energy, and there is always a lot of discovery in the process. Where exactly is the edge of the thing? What exactly is happening with that lace texture? What I most enjoyed about drawing your designs was uncovering the level of precision and care which you take with the details of each one. I loved uncovering the care and precision with which you attached the hood to the body in “Get off my cloud”, for instance, and the mischievous pixie-esque hood with its naughty little peak. I also enjoyed the signature i-cord which you use in so many designs, and whenever I was carefully trying to render this, I remembered reading that you liked to make very solid outlines in your drawings when you were a child, and – indeed – some of my drawings return to that idea because the best way to show off the bold, tidy edges is with thick outlines… I’m thinking of “Blaithin” in particular with its tidy, precise i-cord outlines.

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Get off my Cloud

I had noticed your attention to detail before, but it became particularly apparent when I lined up all the designs together and started really examining each one. I love your photos very much – you often present your designs in a very rich context with links to landscape and place and materiality – but isolating the garments away from this rich context, stripping them back to construction, shape and texture, and rendering them in a reduced, monochrome palette definitely made me look at them all with fresh eyes. I was especially struck by the range of different neck shapings you have used throughout your oeuvre, and the different approaches to doing the ribbing at the edges of garments. It really became apparent that the shape of a neck or the way the edges are done can change the whole feeling of a garment.

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Deco

5. The primary purpose of schematic illustrations is to be . . . illustrative! That is, their function is to help knitters gain an accurate sense of a garment’s sizing, dimensions and construction.

Yes – it’s essential that the illustrations are functional and serve a useful purpose! I am fascinated by instruction diagrams and actually collect the wiring diagrams that come on the back of plugs, because I am so fascinated to see how different illustrators convey the same instructive information! Plug wiring diagrams assure you that you’re not going to blow up the fuse box as well as showing which wires should go where… With knitting I think there is a similar need to reassure the knitter that things are going right, or what to look out for in case things are going wrong!

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6. Are certain kinds of garments trickier to reproduce in this regard?

I think about what might confuse me in making a garment and try to reassure the knitter about the facts of that garment. My common errors in reading a pattern are that I don’t do enough rows of this or that; or that I accidentally skip a bit; or that I start decreasing too early or too late. I therefore try to show clearly in the schematic the proportions of each stage, and also things like whether you do the neck band or the button band first on a cardigan, so that the knitter has a kind of compass to help them navigate potential pitfalls. I also want my drawings to look like the knitting the knitter will be knitting, so they are a little bit more organic and softer in line than plug diagrams! The hardest things by far to deal with when working on these schematics are the cables. The easiest mistake I think to make when knitting cables is to end up with the stitches travelling over when they should be travelling under or vice versa, and I spend a long time studying the photos and making diagrams for myself to refer to so that the cables are nicely mapped for the knitter. I find this tricky and time-consuming, as it is very detailed and finicky and involves staring at photos of your sweaters for long periods of time! That said, it is always very pleasing to finally understand how the cable works and when I was working on “Port O’ Leith”, I found that thinking about the winding, sculptural cables there really made me want to knit them!

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Port o’ Leith cables


7. Which was your favourite garment to illustrate and why?

I can’t just say one! Manu and Deco were really pleasurable to draw. I have knitted Deco and love the rhythm of the slip-stitched ziggurat that defines that design. It was a pure pleasure to think about how to reproduce that in the drawing, and I loved the challenge of getting those horizontal lines properly proportioned, and revisiting the clever, neat shape of it with my pencils and pens. Manu I have not yet knitted, but the soft yarn it is made from, the lovely puffy quality of the pleated neckline, and the rounded pockets were all details which I really enjoyed studying and emphasising in my drawing. I had always appreciated the simple elegance and wearability of Manu, but drawing it made me really appreciate the sophisticated choices you made with the yarn, the shape of the pockets, the perfectly proportioned and flattering puffy neckline, and the length (which took me a while to properly understand!)
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8. And which proved the most vexing or tricky?

Firth o’ Forth with that lovely all-over lace texture was quite tricksome, as I really couldn’t work out how the sleeves worked, and was uncertain about how much detail to go into with the oyster pattern in my schematic. I made a lot of drawings for that one, to try and exactly show the construction, and to figure out how best to render the texture, but in the end it was also one of my mot favourite schematics, because it had been difficult to do, and because I enjoyed discovering the nature of the lace and the drape and handle of that lovely yarn you used. I felt triumphant when it was finished!

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Firth o’Forth illustration.

After Felix has completed an illustration, I often find myself seeing my designs totally anew, or thinking about them differently. I love her drawings, and am so happy to have been able to join with her the collaborative enterprise of our jolly tea towel! Felix currently finds herself at something of a crossroads, as her job at Reading University is coming to an end. Happily, she has a number of new exciting woolly, artistic, and sonic projects in the pipeline, and you can read / hear more about these here.


Kate Davies Designs Tea Towels are now available!

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looking back

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2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!

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It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.

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2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.

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(Peerie Flooers on Ann Cleeves’ Shetland)

. . .with the BBC

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(Nepal Wrap)

. . .with Rowan

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(Shepherd Hoody)

. . .with Juniper Moon Farm

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. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.

I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.

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Catkin

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Braid Hills

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Port o’ Leith

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Firth o’Forth

But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.

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Tea Jenny

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First Footing

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Toatie Hottie

And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.

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Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.

Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!

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Firth o’ Forth

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Ahoy from the Firth o’ Forth! This cardigan is the second in my series of my Edinburgh-inspired designs, and it is named after the important estuary that marks the city’s northern boundary.

The Firth was a major feature of the decade we spent in Edinburgh: we lived in sight of it – just up the road from the fishing village of Newhaven – and its mists and breezes very much defined our weather. I think that one of the great things (of the many great things) about Edinburgh is that it is a city with a shoreline: as well as hills, and closes, and castles it is a place of beaches and seabirds and Sunday strolling. We spent many happy weekends on foot around the Firth, and, from Cramond in the West through to North Berwick in the East, it is a stretch of coast I know very well indeed. I find the North-Easterly prospect of the Firth lends the light a very distinctive quality and, at all seasons of the year, it is a wonderful place to be.

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This design was inspired by the creature for which the Firth was once world-renowned: the oyster. Firth o’ Forth oysters were, in fact, Edinburgh’s original street food – and in the booklet I’ve produced to accompany the design, you can find out more about their history.

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This very oyster-y stitch pattern is one I’ve had a thing about for many years – it appears in Martha Waterman’s shawl book under the name of ‘Cocoon Stitch,’ and I knit myself this stole using it back in 2007. Like many of my favourite openwork patterns, it is a relatively simple stitch to memorise (‘action’ occurs only on two out of twelve rows) and yet its effect is quite dramatic. It creates a textured, structured fabric, yet, because of the yarnovers, it also feels wonderfully light and airy. I suppose some people may find it odd to create a cardigan inspired by a bivalve, but to me this is not odd at all.

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The yarn I used is Yomper laceweight – this is spun by John Arbon for Great British Yarns ‘Union’ range, and is a blend of 70% Falkland Islands Merino and 30% UK alpaca. It has an incredibly light and luxurious hand. While the majority-wool content gives it a pleasing spring and creamy-coloured undertones, the grey alpaca lends the yarn strength and smoothness and a mercurial silvery sheen. All I can say is that from the first moment I felt it in the skein I just wanted to wrap myself up in it.

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My thinking behind this design was to create a sort of cardigan-equivalent of a shawl or wrap . . .

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(schematic illustration by Felicity Ford)

. . . therefore the garment construction and shaping are relatively simple. The cardigan is worked back and forth, all in one piece to the underarms, then divided for fronts and back. A little shaping is worked around the neckline; the shoulders are joined and then sleeves are picked up and worked in the round down to the cuffs. There are no seams. Mel (who always has a knitterly trick to add to my designs) came up with the nifty idea of working the sleeves inside-out, which minimises purling.

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(Sleeve join. Very nifty.)

If you like knitting lace, you’ll enjoy making this garment.

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The fronts can be worn open . . .

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Or drawn about the body.

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And in all ways, this is a garment that is very easy-to-wear.

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There’s a perhaps surprising amount of ease factored into this garment: I’m modelling it here with 7 ins positive ease, and I don’t recommend making it with less than 4 ins ease.

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. . . because it is meant to be loose and drapey and cosy and shawl-like.

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These photographs were taken down by the Firth at Cramond on a very windy day.

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But I was surprisingly warm in my Fith o’ Forth cardigan.

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The design booklet includes a short essay (exploring the history of the Edinburgh oyster and the Firth), pattern, charts & schematics, photographic lookbook, and the best eighteenth-century poem about oysters you will ever read.

The design booklet is now available digitally via Ravelry, and in print from my Magcloud store.

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Happy knitting! x

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