Mel’s knitting

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I’ve had cause to celebrate Mel’s knitting on more than one occasion here. . .

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Some of you may recognise Mel as a model from Yokes: Mel has many strings to her supremely talented bow, and I’m lucky enough that she works with me on projects such as Yokes as a sample knitter, design consultant, and all-round offerer of sage advice.

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My principal aim when pattern-writing is always clarity, and Mel’s suggestions often help me to achieve that. Keith Moon is a simple sweater with a few nifty details, and Mel’s advice after knitting her version really helped me to hone the instructions for finishing the collar.

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Mel and I have very different colour insticts – though we rarely gravitate towards the same shades, her choices always appeal to me, and often make me think about colour in a different way. Her teal-y green, coal black and silver grey Keith Moon is completely different to my nautical original, and it is totally gorgeous.

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Mel also recently knitted an Epistrophy in exactly the same yarn (tasty Toft DK), but the reverse colourway to the original. Again, it looks very different to my sample, and it is just so neat and lovely I had to show you.

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I don’t mind admitting this is one of my all-time favourites of all the sweaters I’ve designed and knit and -ye gods – I want a dark grey Epistrophy now! Indeed I might have tried to sneak off with it after we took these photographs this afternoon, but Mel is wise to my ways. . .

Here are Mel’s Keith Moon and Epistrophy on Ravelry.

jazz hands!

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We have had quite a bit of weather here recently – mittens are definitely required! So I whipped up a pair.

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You may recall, in the comments on this post, Trish suggested that a pair of mittens in the Epistrophy pattern would suit the name Jazz Hands. Well, Trish, your wish is my command. Here they are.

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The yarn I’ve used is wonderful stuff — Skein Queen Voluptuous “skinny”. This heavy 4 ply is a blend of 80% Exmoor blueface with 20% organic merino and it is just beautiful – plump and squishy, soft and woolly.

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I absolutely love Debbie’s dyeing technique and feel for colour. The semi-solid shades she produces work really well for colourwork, adding just a wee bit of depth and variation to the pattern. The shades I’ve used here are “powder” and “granite”, and the Skein Queen is currently dyeing up a batch of these shades to make available in kit form next week.

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Will I ever tire of these interlocking diamonds? They really are such fun to knit. Just like the hat (of which I’ve now made four), I found making these mittens really addictive, and knitted a few in different gauges while I fine-tuned the pattern. The mittens I’m wearing here were worked at 30 sts to 4 ins, but, after experimenting with needle sizes, I found that the yarn blooms up so nicely that its great to work at larger gauges also. Working the pattern at 26 sts to 4 ins produces a mitten which comfortably fits a man’s hand.

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As you see, the mittens feature an inset-thumb, around which the Epistrophy diamonds sit very neatly. I confess I’m really happy with the balance and symmetry of this design – sometimes a stitch pattern just works for the mitten’s small canvas. Because of the strong diagonals, I found I could design the shaping to follow the motifs in an exact and pleasing way. So satisfying!

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If you would like to whip up your own pair of Jazz Hands, Skein Queen and I will be simultaneously releasing the pattern, and hand-dyed Voluptuous yarn kits next Thursday, January 22nd . So watch out for the pattern appearing on Ravelry, and keep a close eye on Debbie’s shop for the yarn update!

Over and out . . . for a while

BACK

Well, I’ve showed you all the designs in the collection, and it is now time for me to enter logistics world. This is a world of franking machines, books, and cardboard boxes and though it is, in its own way, interesting and absorbing, it does not make for particularly fascinating reading. So things may go rather quiet here for a couple of weeks while I am packing and shipping your orders.

I confess that right now I am feeling rather humbled by your support of, and interest in, this book. A massive THANKS to all of you.

If you would like to learn more about Yokes, the book now has its own information page here. For those of you who are interested in the essays and conversations, you’ll find some detail here about the book’s contents. There’s also a link for easy download of your digital copy (just enter the code when your book arrives); links back to information about each design, and a checklist of the design elements and techniques that each pattern involves (which may be useful when considering what to knit).

Thankyou so much, and see you on the other side xxx

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

Jökull

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When I began thinking about putting together this collection, I felt it was important to include a design that might serve as an introduction to circular yoke knitting: something that was speedy and straightforward to knit, with some interesting details and a characteristic construction. That design is Jökull.

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Jökull is a yoked mantle. Though the design is extremely simple to knit – it is basically a decreasing circle decorated with some striking chevrons – Jökull also has some neat features, such as buttoned hand-openings, corrugated rib, and i-cord to stabilise and finish the garment edges.

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Worked up in Alafoss Lopi, at a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch, it is an extremely cosy outdoor garment. (Having worn the mantle on some wild days in Iceland, Mel and I can both vouch for it being wind and weatherproof!)

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Jökull is the Icelandic word for glacier – the name seemed appropriate in reference to the garment’s chill-defying properties, as well as the palette of shades we chose for this sample.

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This is Mýrdalsjökull, a glacier in southern Iceland that Mel and I were lucky enough to visit. You can see what I mean about those icy shades. . .

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Like many designs, changing the colourway of Jökull completely alters its appearance. Mel and I knit up a second sample, whose bold high-contrast shades produce a rather different effect from the subtly graded teals and icy blues of the original. We have not depicted this sample in the book (one of the shades we chose is now unavailable) but I will show you here just to illustrate how different the chevrons can look when other colours are selected.

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Jökull is a super-simple, quick and enjoyable knit – ideal for any knitter attempting their first yoke, or first colourwork.

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You can find more information about Jökull here
And the book is now available to pre-order here

I will be back tomorrow to tell you about the collection’s final design. We are very busy preparing packages and labels here – I can’t wait for you all to see the finished book!

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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Epistrophy

Well, it is time to introduce you to the first yoke from my new collection. Meet Epistrophy.

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Epistrophy is the title of a Be Bop “standard” composed and popularised by Thelonius Monk in 1942. The tune is characterised by its repetition and modification of a single, imitative phrase (or epistrophe). If you’d like to hear the tune, press play.

(Monk with Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren, and Frankie Dunlop)

Like Monk’s tune, as this yoke progresses, the diced pattern imitates, repeats and modifies a single motif.

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The result is a yoke with a graphic monochrome necklace. Shaping is integrated uninterrupted into the colourwork, and the yoke is designed to sit across the top of the shoulders.

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Epistrophy is worked in the round from the bottom up, and then steeked open. . .

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The steek edges are trimmed, and covered by a ribbon facing . . .

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. . . and the cardigan fastens with buttons and buttonholes that are worked into the rib.

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The yarn I’ve used is Toft Ulysses DK – a wonderful British wool – that comes in two muted shades of grey (silver and steel).

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The yarn is wonderfully soft and springy and knits up to create a beautifully even fabric. The finished yoke has quite a luxurious feel, but the yarn is such that it will also last and wear well.

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I loved the whole process of designing and knitting this yoke (much of which was accompanied by the tunes of Thelonius Monk), and its one of the garments that I have found myself unable not to wear. My samples are often used for trunk shows etc so I’m not really supposed to wear them, but I confess I did pop Epistrophy on to take my driving test a couple of weeks ago. Do you think it might have helped me to pass?epistrophy21

These pictures were taken just round the corner from where I live, by the bonnie banks and braes of Loch Lomond.
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Every pattern in the new book has been photographed in a different location – I wanted to give each garment a distinct style and feel, and knew that I needed a cloudy evening to photograph this design.

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If you’d like to know further details about the yarn quantities, gauge and sizing for this pattern, do nip over to the Epistrophy pattern page on Ravelry. I have set up the Yokes source on Ravelry too, and will be revealing and adding more patterns as the days go on.

More to come!

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