In a fit of May Day fervour, I have decided to release CATKIN! Catkin is really two designs: a tunic-length sweater, and an accompanying slouchy hat.


I called these designs CATKIN because the soft hand and haze of baa ram ewe’s Titus yarn reminded me of . . .


. . . and also because the twisted stitch cable panel that runs up the centre of both sweater and hat is caktin-reminiscent.

These designs are simple and classic, so I thought it would be fun to style them in two completely different ways to give you a sense of how they might be worn. First of all, I donned some tweeds and took to the woods. . .


Styled this way, the garments have an almost Edwardian feel. . .


The sweater is tunic-length with sleek tailored lines that sit really nicely with a long skirt.


. . . and neutral yarns work very well with tweeds.


. . . but worn with jeans the sweater suddenly seems much more contemporary


Now, here’s a thing: for about the past decade I have not possessed a pair of jeans, and for the past five there have not been long trousers of any kind in my wardrobe. The only breeks I wore were short ones, in what passes here for Summer. But I got hold of this particular pair especially to style Catkin — and I have honestly found that I cannot take them off. They are just so bloody comfortable for pottering about in, and absolutely ideal with a pair of boots for Bruce-walking. These breeks are a revelation! I am a breek convert! I heart my breeks!


Ahem. Returning to the sweater, you’ll see that it has gentle waist shaping and neat set-in sleeves.


The Titus yarn is lovely to wear next to the skin.


The sweater is knit completely seamlessly, and mostly in the round (the exception being a little back-and-forth to construct the upper body). The sleeves are knit top-down, with short rows making the length easy to adjust for the perfect fit. The end result is very versatile, and is, I think, a style that will suit most women’s body shapes (the size range in the pattern is from 32″ to 50″). Adding, or removing length from the body is very easily done, and there is a note in the pattern about this.


The idea behind the hat was that it could be whipped up over the course of an evening or two, both as a gauge swatch for the sweater, and as a means of familiarising yourself with the structure of the cable panel.


I love the lines of those twisted stitches!

My intention with these designs was to provide a simple, wearable showcase for a lovely British yarn, and I’m really pleased with how they have turned out.

Oh, and if you’d like to see an actual CATKIN for yourself, baa ram ewe currently have the sweater sample that I’m wearing in these photos in their Leeds shop. Why not pop in and have a gander?

I’ve produced both patterns together as an 8 page booklet, which is now available digitally through ravelry, or in print via my Mag Cloud Store. If you are just interested in the hat, a separate pattern for that is also available.

Happy knitting!



Ok, before I begin, allow me a moment: I think that this is probably the best photograph I have seen of myself in ages. I like it because I look comfortable and physically capable — concepts which, a couple of years ago seemed totally unimaginable. Few people seem to talk about just how bloody uncomfortable it is living in a body that has had a stroke. I am happy to say that this discomfort abates somewhat as time goes on . . . Anyway, for a multitude of reasons, I would heartily recommend a trike to anyone with neurological weakness or balance problems. I love it as you can see . . .

Now I have got that shot of me, wildly gurning, out of the way, I can tell you about the cardigan.

It uses the same motifs as the Peerie Flooers designs, and its name is Bláithín, which means, in Irish “little flower.”

It is knit Donegal yarns, “Soft Donegal” – a squooshy, nubbly, and richly saturated tweed.

It is knit in one piece, and then steeked up the centre. Design features include inset pockets, steek sandwich facings, and i-cord buttonholes.

If you look carefully at the centre right of the photograph above, you’ll see a buttonhole. You’ll also note that there is i-cord around the cuffs and pocket tops. Yes, I do like my i-cord . . .

The i-cord edging is added after all the knitting is complete; it is worked all in one piece, all the way around the cardigan. Here is a shot of the edging worked along the “steek sandwich” buttonband. . .

Here is the edging on the inside of the cardigan, so that you can see the sandwich from the reverse, together with a buttonhole . . .

. . .and here is a buttonhole in action.

One of my aims with this design was for it to be as accessible as possible not only to those knitters who were cautious about steeking, but those who were afraid of colourwork. The yoke design is very simple.

It is also easily-customisable for the more adventurous knitter who would prefer to insert their own yoke design. The pattern repeats are short, and the decreases are worked over a number of plain rows.

Bláithín comes in nine sizes, covering a 30 to a 50 inch bust. The cardigan has a gentle A-line shape and is designed to be worn with 1-2 inches of positive ease. It is soft, warm, and very easy to wear.

Ideal for the novice tricyclist!

The Bláithín pattern is now available, and you’ll find it here or here!

I’ve also designed a wee Bláithín, in babies and girl’s sizes. This pattern will be available very shortly.

That’s all for now – I’m off up North today to look at some wool. See you later!

merry mucklemuff

I am currently completely obsessed with the knitterly potential of colourwork tubes. Here is my latest tube – which I have called the Mucklemuff. In Scots, ‘muckle’ is a sort of catch-all emphatic expression which means big, large, or much. This skater’s muff is all of these things, and its name is also a shout-out to the lovely and talented Mary-Jane Mucklestone.

Here’s Mary-Jane, myself, and Gudrun, looking like a line-up of shifty woolly criminals at the Woolbrokers during Shetland Wool Week. I think I am removing the sticky-label for jumper-weight shade 125 – which is, incidentally, one of my favourite J&S colours – from my head.

You may recall that, during Wool Week, I was completely blown away by the sight of the swatches that Mary-Jane had knitted for her book – 200 Fair Isle Motifs. The Mucklemuff uses one of Mary-Jane’s motifs, and illustrates just how useful her book is for knitters.

Each motif in the book is swatched and charted – in colour and black and white. Alternate colourways are given, and many pages include suggested allover patterns as well as single repeats. This is incredibly useful for imagining the potential of an individual motif. Sometimes repeats do surprising things when you chart them en-masse – they often don’t work up quite as you’d imagine. But, as I turned the pages of Mary-Jane’s book, I was immediately able to picture the zigzags and crosses of motif no.172 as a balanced allover pattern — saving me hours of chart-fiddling and squinting. I whipped out my needles and started swatching, and soon the Mucklemuff was born!

The Mucklemuff is knit in 2 shades of Artesano aran (I used shades c853 (pine) and 3528 (deep purple). It begins as a provisionally cast-on lining tube in plain stockinette, which is knitted to half the length of the finished object. The ‘outer’ is then knit in colourwork, folowed by the second half of the stockinette lining. The two sets of live stitches are folded in on themselves and grafted together – leaving a small gap to fill with fibre stuffing (I used combed Shetland tops from Jamieson and Smith). After stuffing, the final stitches are grafted – and the end result is an entirely seamless, lined, stuffed, super-cosy, and pleasingly double-layered tube. Stitches are then picked up around the top and bottom edges to create a neat i-cord finish and attached wrist-loop (for carrying your Mucklemuff).

And the pattern also includes instructions for creating an optional icord strap, which is simply passed through the Mucklemuff, thus . . .

. . . before being tied around the neck.

The Mucklemuff pattern is my present to all of you, and it is now available as a free Ravelry download until January 6th. You have 12 days of Christmas to get your skates on and download a copy!

I’m going to take a proper break now – though I may pop back here from time to time, I’ll be on my holidays and not answering my email until January 9th. Thanks so much for sharing 2011 with me, have a lovely Christmas and Hogmanay and I’ll see you again in 2012!

paperdolls redux

Probably the most rewarding aspect of designing is seeing what knitters actually do with one’s patterns. Ravelry is brilliant for this (as for so many things) and it is sad but true that I regularly peruse the project galleries, and am often to be found in a state of ludicrous excitement over the latest cute owlet or beautiful Manu. In the hands of great knitters, a pattern really takes on a life of its own, and undergoes many radical alterations. Different colourways, yarn choices, the addition of shaping, or other modifcations can completely change the feel of a pattern, enabling everyone to see it in a new way. I am often totally blown away by these creative transformations – perhaps most especially of my paperdolls design – and I wanted to share some examples with you that I particularly admire.

I just love the colours that Sandra chose for her sweater – there’s a wonderfully fresh end-of-Summer / beginning-of-Autumn feel about that beautiful combination of shades (echoed in the orchard in which she’s standing). Sandra used an additional fourth colour for the peerie pattern, and that tealy-blue really takes the yoke to another place for me.

You’ll note that Sandra’s dolls are sporting hair bunches — a common modification for those who aren’t keen on the slightly sinister bald-clone look of the dolls on my original. The bunches look especially cute when the pattern is made in the wee girl sizes, as in Circé’s sweet version. . .

. . more photos of which can be seen here

My (very basic) idea for the paperdolls pattern was that I could fit a deep and vertically continuous pattern onto a seamless yoke without the need for the fixed percentages of decreases that are commonly assumed to be necessary in this kind of sweater. (While one must not doubt the boundless knitterly genius of EZ, I personally find that her yoke percentage system produces a curiously tapering neckline reminiscent of a cluedo character). In fact, if the sweater is designed to fit closely to the upper chest and shoulders (the bit above the boobs), I reckon you can leave out most of the decreases until you are a few inches in (this is the basic principle of the yoke shaping of the owls sweater also). One can, indeed, fit just about anything onto a seamless yoke if one can be bothered to work out a customised rate of decrease around the particular requirements of a deep vertical pattern (ie, rather than, say, a fairisle pattern that is simply built around horizontal bands separated by decrease rounds.) Following this basic principle, and retaining the original details of the paperdolls sweater (icord, corrugated rib, peeries), some fabulous reworkings of paperdolls began to appear on ravelry. I have been wowed by the many creative ways in which knitters have made the design completely their own. Tanya has knitted several superb, and perfectly-fitting versions of the pattern, all with different yoke designs. I think this sweater featuring an elaborate Selbu star is my favourite . . .

. . . sometimes you just can’t beat the bold simplicity of two contrasting colours. Tanya’s choice of muted blue and yellow works wonderfully here, and I also love the elegant simplicity of Andrea’s two-colour re-interpretation of the pattern.

Andrea has used the chart and motifs from Kate Gilbert’s beautiful bird in hand mittens to stunning effect: rather than the snowy, wintry feel of the original mittens, this lovely sweater makes me think of white blossoms against a summer sky.

Now, I’ve been admiring all these reworked paperdolls for some months now, and have been meaning to write about them for a while, but the sweater that follows is the one that finally prompted me to produce this post. Pause for breath while I present to you . . .Marianne’s Totoro paperdolls!

There is only one reaction to such a sweater and that is to shriek loudly, excitedly, and incomprehensibly at the computer screen for several minutes I mean, TOTOROS? The woman is a genius.

And finally, another knitting genius, whose work I really admire is Momo. Everything she knits is impeccably made, in gorgeous yarn, often using interesting and unexpected colour combinations, and always in perfect taste. Momo knits wonderful garments, and I feel truly honoured that she has made herself six paperdolls. Above you see the yoke of her original sweater and below are some spectacular yokes featuring birds . . .

. . .owls

. . .snails (yes, snails!)

hedgehogs. . .

and, most recently elephants!

Momo is clearly knitting up a menagerie of yokes and I am already looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Inspired by all of these fabulous projects, I decided to update the pattern. I wrote it last March – before I began using Adobe Illustrator – so I’ve added a more professional-looking chart and schematic. I’ve also made a few other changes.
These include:

-better layout (pattern fits on 2 pages, and chart on 1 page)
-new rate of decreases on yoke
-new short row table and Sunday short row instructions.
-removal of smallest child’s size (0)
And finally…

A note for those knitting the paperdolls sweater, or considering their own yoke customisations:
The downside of a dramatic rate of decreases worked toward the top of a yoke is that the fabric has a tendency to pucker. And the likelihood of puckering is increased by the shifts in tension that are inevitable in colourwork worked over long stretches. Your tension has to be really, really even in order to make a design like Marianne’s totoros or Momo’s hedgehogs work well, and for the front of the work to look smooth and professional. What you definitely do not want are patches of the contrasting colour showing through to the front of the work, spoiling the look and continuity of your design. The front of the work should look smooth and even.

My top tips to achieve this are:
1) knit the sweater with slight negative ease – choose the size closest to or just below your actual body dimensions. You want the sweater to stretch lightly across your shoulders, rather than droop over your chest.
2) Use a pure wool yarn (such as a shetland or the bowmont braf I used for the original paperdolls)
3) Do not weave in the floats along the back of the work. You will end up with long floats, but (particularly if you are using a pure wool yarn), these will even up and sort themselves out after a few wears.
4) When you are working a stretch of more than 8 stitches, fan the stitches out a little on the right hand needle before working the next stitch in the contrasting colour. This slows down the pace and flow of the knitting, but is particularly useful if your tension tends to be tight.(Don’t overdo it though! You don’t want the knitting to turn baggy!)
5) Block like a loon. Soak the sweater in cool water and wool wash for at least 20 minutes to allow it to relax and bloom, rinse carefully, then remove excess water by rolling and squashing between a couple of dry towels. Now turn the sweater inside out and stretch to shape, smoothing out the long floats. Spend five or ten minutes stretching and smoothing the back of the work (the floats should lie nice and flat) then turn the sweater the right way round. Stretch the fabric out to shape again, but do not rub or smooth the front of the work (to avoid any risk of felting). Again, spend a while over this, paying particular attention to any areas of fabric that look like they might want to pucker up. Pin the sweater out to the correct dimensions and allow to dry flat. About half way through the drying process, turn the sweater over and pin it out again (don’t stretch it again or change its shape when you are doing this: simply turn it over and pin it out). This enables both sides of the sweater to get the benefit of lying flat against the blocking surface. Now leave to dry completely.
6) Enjoy wearing your beautiful sweater!

With a big thanks to everyone who has knitted the sweater, sent me an email about it, written up their project notes and suggestions, and posted pictures on their blogs and ravelry. Cheers!

Edited to add: if you already bought the pattern, you should automatically receive the updated version, but if for some reason you haven’t received this, please email me.

more neeps . . . more beer


In a mysterious repeat of last week’s missives, today we have more neeps . . and more beer. If I am now inhabiting a turnip-and-beer filled time warp, there are probably worse places to be.

Here you see my entirely non-literal rendition of the turnip tops


and here, how the turnip roots feed down into the soil . . I mean, ribbing.


I am absolutely loving the Jamieson & Smith 2 ply. The colours are so rich and saturated – but subtle too. I spent a very long time admiring their shade card and selecting colours — my favourite here being the lovely mutating golden green (shade fc12) which works really well with the more solid green of shade 118. And look at its feathery soft halo! Hurrah for Shetland!

As with the dollheid, I found myself interested in the effects of a decreasing repeat – that is, in the way the several segments of the crown resolve themselves into circles. With the stems, section divisions, and decreases forming solid lines, the crown of the tam has a simple, formal element to it, which to me is reminiscent of the early styles of 2-colour Scotch bonnet that one often sees in museum collections (I’ll find a photograph at some point to show you). I also enjoyed playing the four colours against each other to create different neepy effects, and particularly like the way the purple shade (fc56) is quietened by the grey (27).

Here in another rather dimly lit shot (taken late yesterday evening after greenhouse watering), is the neep in situ on its allotment, surrounded by other neeps.


The pattern (which I am now working on), will of course be called neepheid. (I have ravelled the project here, and hope to have things ready to go in a couple of weeks time).

Now, in our house, swede is a favoured synonym for head (“look at your big swede” “your giant swede won’t fit through that door” &c &c), and I did wonder about the wisdom of a near-tautological name…but I like neepheid, so neepheid it is.


We are all familiar with the associations of heads with vegetables–we’ve all seen Arcimboldo’s fabulous creations. But turnips seem to be particularly linked to daftness or eccentricity, and this interests me. Do the roots (ahem) of this association this lie in the enthusiasm that surrounded the the four crop rotation system in the eighteenth century? I was thinking about some of the ways that William Cobbett was satirised, and of Pope’s account of Lord “Turnip” Townsend . . . and then I recalled a passage in Mark Twain’s Roughing It about the unfortunate affliction of Mrs Beazley’s son, William:

“Turnips were the dream of her child’s young ambition. While other youths were frittering away in frivolous amusements the precious years of budding vigor which God had given them for useful preparation, this boy was patiently enriching his mind with information concerning turnips. The sentiment which he felt toward the turnip was akin to adoration. He could not think of the turnip without emotion; he could not speak of it calmly; he could not contemplate it without exaltation. He could not eat it without shedding tears. All the poetry in his sensitive nature was in sympathy with the gracious vegetable. With the earliest pipe of dawn he sought his patch, and when the curtaining night drove him from it he shut himself up with his books and garnered statistics till sleep overcame him. On rainy days he sat and talked hours together with his mother about turnips. When company came, he made it his loving duty to put aside everything else and converse with them all the day long of his great joy in the turnip. . .”

The comedic nature of the turnip interests me here. And a similar kind of comedy operates to slightly different effect in the character of Uncle Monty in Withnail and I . I am mulling over various thoughts about this, but in all the examples I can think of, vegetable obsessions seem to be a symptomatic of a particularly masculine eccentricity*. But I am a woman, and am proud to declare myself a turnip obsessive. I have much sympathy with William Beazley’s view of the “gracious vegetable”. What’s not to like? You can eat both the roots and tops, they are easy to grow, and they are a tasty crop pretty much all year round! I love turnips in all their neepiness, and shall sport my neepheid with pride!

Ah yes, beer: I was going to talk about beer. Tom has been doing more brewing, and has also written up a recipe for you. We’ll save that for the next post.

*I would be very interested to hear of women turnip obsessives, in fact or fiction, if any spring to your mind.



It’s Dollheid prize time! Congratulations to ten randomly-selected commenters: Celia, Luisa, Arndis, Lillicroche, Yulian, Maaike, Lizzi, Pat (J) and two Marias (one German, one Canadian) to whom I’ve just emailed a copy of the pattern. And thanks for all your comments, everyone, which I enjoyed reading: I was thrilled to discover that dollheid translates into Dutch as ‘frolicky madness’, and particularly liked Kristi’s tale of her psychedelic dream knitting — a phenomenon strangely familiar to those of us who Dream in Wool.


For those of you who are interested, here’s a little more about the design. The shaping is that of a traditional tam, but with a greater number of crown-points than is usual (eighteen dolls = eighteen points of decrease). I began with stitches to fit an average head circumference of 21 inches (those with very wee heads might knit the edging on a 2.5mm rather than a 3mm needle). The brim edging is worked in corrugated rib, and then stitches are increased rapidly to the finished diameter. Despite the relatively long areas of colourwork, I didn’t weave my strands at all — and found that the yarn stabilised quickly at the back of the work (warning: this will only work with a very even tension and a pure-wool yarn!). My finished dollheid is ten inches wide and eight inches deep – a roomy fit that would enable you to wear this tam in a slouchy fashion on the back of your head, as well as pulled down over your ear-tops (as I like it). Knitting towards the top of the crown, paired decreases are worked in the spaces between the dolls, and then in corresponding sets up through the crown pattern, until three stitches remain, which are finished as an i-cord stalk. Finally, I blocked the tam by pinning it out — rather than stretching it over a plate. This is simply because I find that putting a tam onto a plate over-stretches the ribbing, and I like my ribbing to stay as ribby as possible.

Well, dollheid is now “live” and if you are interested in the pattern, you can find it here or here. But I want to conclude this post with another congratulations — to Tom, who ran the Islay half marathon on Saturday in a speedy personal best.


Look at him go! More about our weekend on Islay shortly.

dollheid – prize draw!


Its amazing what a wee break from the daily commute can do to one’s all-round productivity. I’m happily working on several research projects at the moment, as I always do at this time of year, but I am also finding the spare time and energy to devote to designing. Can I just say how much I am enjoying it? Well, I really am. Here is the first of several forthcoming colourwork designs: Dollheid. Heid (pronounced heed) is a colloquial term for head in these parts, and the dolls are self-explanatory. Here is my heid in its dollheid:


Despite the expression, let me assure you that I love this tam deeply. I knit two other prototypes in different yarn, trying out different shaping methods, before this one was finished. With this incarnation – size, shaping, yarn, colour – I am totally and completely happy. I love the dusky tones of the yarn, and also love the way the yarn behaves. There’s no need for me to tell you how I feel about Shetland, but it really is the best stuff for stranded colourwork, and the Jamiesons relaxes and blooms really beautifully after blocking.


You will see that I have taken many of the design features of the paper dolls sweater — peeries, i-cord cast on, corrugated rib — and have incorporated them into the tam. All these things worked really well. Another thing I am pleased about is the way that the dolls have achieved a sort of geometric integrity quite apart from any representational qualities they may have. (Um, did I really just write that sentence? Lets try again:) What I mean is that one of the reasons they look so pleasing is that, when arranged in a circle around the crown of the tam, they suggest one abstract shape as well as eighteen dolls.


(Norah Gaughan writes about this geometric arrangement gubbins far better than I can). Anyhow, after some enjoyable wrestling with illustrator (one can produce such deluxe charts if one works at it! I’m amazed!) I am happy to report the pattern is just about finished (hurrah!), and I will release it on Monday. But before I do, I wanted to say a small thanks to all of you — for your encouragement and support of my designs — and I thought I’d give away ten copies of the pattern to ten commenters on this post. So, if you are interested in a free copy of the dollheid pattern, just leave a comment here, and I’ll pick the winners at random on Monday morning, August 3rd (my time) before I put the pattern up for sale.

ETA: The pattern is available here or here


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