Westering Home

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Here is another new yoke – this one is named Westering Home

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I developed the idea for this design across on the ferry to Islay, one of my favourite Hebridean locations. On my frequent trips there, I often find that Westering Home – Hugh Roberton’s famous 1920s song – pops into in my head, and it seemed an appropriate name for this cosy cabled garment.

If you would like to travel with me to Islay, and hear Norma Munro’s beautiful rendition of this song, press play. Warning: Watching this video may create an instant earworm and / or a desire to visit the Hebrides.

We had great fun shooting the photographs on a westering journey. We began west of our home, in mainland Argyll . . .

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. . . took more photographs on the Islay ferry . . .

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. . . and completed the shoot at Kildalton, on the island of Islay itself.

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. . .where Bruce was keen to join in the fun.

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Westering Home is a large, loose, coat-like garment worn with positive ease. To create the wrapped opening, each front is doubled to the same width as the back, and the yoke shaping is accomplished by working decreases between the cable panels.

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Carefully blocking and steaming the bottom of the garment more than the top, lends this design some swing, allowing the cable and rib panels to fall in a slightly pleated manner.

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The cabled fronts of this cardigan can be worn open or doubled across the body and depending on the amount of ease preferred, can be adjusted and buttoned to suit.

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The yarn is Artesano aran – a robust, warm wool / alpaca blend of which I am inordinately fond. It comes in some lovely complex shades and knits up into fantastically squishy cables.

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I have to say that this a yoke design I’m really pleased with – the pattern is really simple and logical to knit, it works up all in one piece, and the end result is a cosy, dramatic and versatile winter garment that should suit pretty much everyone.

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If you’d like to see more information about Westering Home, I’ve now created a pattern page on Ravelry.

For those of you who have been asking, everything is going to plan with the book, and I will activate the shop for pre-orders as soon as we have gone to print, which is looking like it will be next week.

HURRAH!

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!

out and about

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I can’t believe quite how much my horizons seem to have expanded in the fortnight since I passed my driving test. Every day I’ve been able to take Bruce somewhere different for a walk.

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As you can imagine, Bruce is enjoying this immensely. Each time I open the front door he goes and stands expectantly beside my van, waiting to be taken to an exciting new place.

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It has been exciting for me too. Going to a shop, the post office, or even to a routine hospital appointment has felt pretty amazing just because I could simply take myself there. I have experimented with motorways and the Clyde tunnel and, this coming Saturday, I intend to take a drive down to Sanquhar to attend this interesting event, part of Glasgow University’s Knitting in the Round project. With talks from Tom of Holland and Lynn Abrams, it looks like it will be a great day. If you see me, say hello.

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Meanwhile, we are on the home strait with my book, which is now at the proof reading stage. It really is looking fantastic, and I confess to feeling a wee bit proud when I contemplate its imminent publication. It’s a reasonably substantial collection (11 different garments) and the research that accompanies the patterns has genuinely been the most interesting and stimulating I’ve ever done. I loved writing the essays and conversations, and I am really pleased with the designs – both individually and as a collection. I shall shortly begin to show you more of what I’ve been doing. After months of virtual silence about the book it will be lovely to finally show you!

The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting

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You will have heard me mention distinguished Shetland designer, Hazel Tindall, many times on this blog. I first met Hazel three years ago, when I was lucky enough to take a workshop with her during Shetland Wool Week. Over the course of the class, Hazel shared her knitterly tips and techniques, talked us through some beautiful examples of her work, and showed us just how she went about designing Fair Isle allover garments. It was a memorable afternoon. I was bowled over by the extent of Hazel’s talent, and by her generosity. Both of these qualities are in evidence in Hazel’s much-anticipated new film in which she demonstrates the creation of a beautiful Fair Isle cardigan from start to finish.

Here’s the trailer:

Hazel’s film is a wonderful way to learn more about Shetland knitting, colourwork, and garment construction. The format is innovative and useable, with a cardigan pattern being designed specifically for this film as an accompanying download. The steps of the pattern and the chapters of the film are cross referenced, making the process very simple and straightforward for the knitter to follow. Hazel’s Shetland Star cardigan is designed using the rich, saturated shades of Uradale Farm’s Double Knitting, a Shetland yarn which has been organically raised and processed. It is a lumber of familiar Shetland construction, featuring vertically placed stars interspersed with dicing, which showcase Hazel’s characteristic use of colour. The pattern comes in 10 sizes (from 23 to 46 ins).

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The cardigan is knit in the round and steeked, and Hazel shows you from start to finish precisely how to construct and create it. You’ll learn how to swatch carefully, how to insert a pocket into colourwork, how to set up a sleeve and neckline, to cut a steek, to graft and finish the cardigan, and finally how to block a garment on a Shetland jumper board. If Shetland knitting methods are completely new to you, Hazel carefully introduces many objects and techniques that may be unfamiliar: long pins, knitting belt, wrapping string, and the use of cotton thread to create tension during knitting and to secure the fabric while blocking. All stages of the process are carefully illustrated – you really can learn at your own pace. And even if you are an experienced colourwork knitter, you will learn an awful lot from this film. I was both surprised and impressed by many of Hazel’s methods, and shall be immediately adopting her very nifty technique of picking up stitches around a steeked armhole or cardigan front opening. My one proviso is that, if you are a very beginner knitter, Hazel’s film may not be the best learning tool for you. But if you know the basics of stranded colourwork knitting, and want to discover more about this technique, then this film is a true gift. For who better to learn from than a Shetland designer with over 50 years experience, and the world’s fastest knitter to boot?

The DVD and download have been beautifully and professionally produced by Dave Donaldson and JJ Jamieson. Both sound and images are clear and sharp, but the film also has a wonderfully relaxed feel, enhanced throughout by the tones of Hazel’s lovely voice. I’ve already spent many happy hours knitting along with, and learning from, The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting, and imagine I’ll spend many more. In the final section, poet Stella Sutherland reads her wonderful piece The Allover, an insightful celebration of the “joy of creation” involved in knitting a Fair Isle garment, accompanied by beautiful images of the Shetland landscape. I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion to Hazel’s generous and inspiring film.

The Fine Art of Fair Isle Knitting is available on DVD or download directly from Hazel’s Website

knitwear and cultural relativism

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One of the issues I’ve found myself thinking about an awful lot while writing my book is how knitwear “traditions” are never completely national or regional in origin, but are always interwoven and interconnected. Knitting is a fluid and mobile medium in so many senses, traveling around the ocean on the backs of seafaring men, copied and innovated upon by enterprising women. In 1953, a Norwegian designer working in London saw a photograph of the Danish Royal Family wearing Greenland national dress. Inspired by this photograph she went on to create the “Eskimo” sweater, now regarded as an icon of Norwegian knitwear design – but how ‘national’ a design could this sweater, in fact, be said to be? Equally, the large star motifs routinely described as “Shetland” or even “Fair Isle” are actually the legacy of Shetland’s important Norwegian connections during the second world war (when thousands of Norwegians escaped occupation on the Shetland Bus). As my research has progressed, I’ve come to realise that all of the national or regional knitting styles I’m interested in have a relatively short history, and all are connected, in one way or another, to each other. I have started to think it is more useful to speak of of a fluid set of Nordic regional textile practices rather than national “traditions” (many of which really are “invented traditions” in the sense that Hobsbawm and Ranger famously described).

And yet, something in me instinctively reacts when I see this sweater on Toast’s website, described as “Icelandic Fair Isle.” This sweater is knitted up in Irish yarn, produced in a non-specified EU location, and is marketed here in reference to two distinct regional textile “traditions,” associated with different kinds of wool, sheep breed, and terroir neither of which are those of Kilcarra (Donegal) tweed. To my eyes, this raglan garment with its large colourwork motifs is neither “Icelandic”, nor is it “Fair Isle”. I’m not even sure how “Irish” it could said to be either, and I feel in my gut that the fuzzy descriptors that are being used to sell it imply a certain amount of disrespect to the specificity of particular regional practices of textile production, knitting and design. But can I have it both ways? If I want to ditch narrow nationalist associations in favour of a more diverse and fluid and culturally relative idea of knitting and design, why does this sweater still inspire in me a sensation of mild offence?

I need to get to grips with this conundrum in order to write a conclusion for my book. Any of your thoughts will be much appreciated.

Finishing touches

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So my final yoke is DONE! I couldn’t resist showing you a peek while it is blocking on the dress form. This one has been so interesting both to design and to produce and I am really very pleased with the end result.

Just the finishing touches to go now – some ribbon to cover the facings and some buttons that will pick up the orange in the yoke.

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I know some folk hate finishing but it is honestly one of my favourite parts of making a garment – I feel that taking time over the details is a way of really relishing the completion of one’s work.

knitter-producers and knitter-consumers

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(This is a body and sleeves, knitted up on her machine by Ella Gordon, onto which I’m about to hand-knit a colourwork yoke. Hundreds of thousands of such garments were – and indeed still are – made in like manner in Shetland and elsewhere.)

Thanks so much for your comments on the previous post. As so often, you have given me pause for thought. Some of you have written privately to me that you felt my post unfairly dismissed not just the Munrospun kits, but by implication, the women who made things from them. I can only apologise, and assure you that this was not my intention. These kits undoubtedly enabled many knitters – women with multiple demands on their time, who enjoyed straightforward knitting – to create and wear a lovely hand-made colourwork item. As I said in the previous post, acts of making are always to be applauded, and there are certainly many things to applaud about the way that these kits, so often bought as gifts, lent ordinary knitters all over the world access to Shetland and Scottish yarns and designs. I also have absolutely nothing against the pieced construction of the kit, against knitting back and forth, or against plain stockinette (which really is probably my favourite kind of evening knitting). However, I do readily concede that my first thoughts about the kit were with the knitter-producer behind it, rather than the knitter-consumer to whom it was addressed.

I’ve spent the past few weeks carefully trying to think about yokes from a Shetland perspective. I have examined lots of archive material, looked at knitting, photographs of knitting, personal pattern books and commercial, printed patterns. I’ve conversed with knitters who, over the past half century have differing personal experiences of producing hand-knitted yokes for market. I’ve spoken to Shetland friends about their memories of yoke-wearing and knitting, and I have seen contemporary Shetland women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes, who are wearing Fairisle yokes again. The familiar tree and star designs, hand-knitted onto machined bodies, first so popular in the 1960s are, once more, everywhere in Shetland, and, I think, are clearly gaining fashionable ground farther afield as well. (PLEASE BEAR IN MIND: if you ever find yourself in a shop on the street in Lerwick, looking at a lovely hand-knitted item, it is always worth asking how, and how much, the knitter has been paid for their work. If you don’t get a straight answer, please don’t buy the item). Anyway, I suppose my first thought, upon opening the Munrospun kit, was of the person who knitted that yoke, of how many similar yokes they would have knit, and of the colourwork yoke itself as, by this point in the 70s, a standardised item produced for a ready market – a market of makers, or those interested in making, but an emphatically commercial market nonetheless. Looking at the kit, I also felt that it seemed to mark a definitive moment in the story of the hand-knit yoke: the height of its popularity, but also the turning point of its decline. (It is certainly the case that by the late 70s, hand-knitted yokes were beginning to be seen as old-fashioned, negatively preppy, or just staid, and that hand-knitting itself went into severe decline over the course of the decade that followed). None of this is meant in any way to dismiss the women who made themselves lovely Munrospun cardigans and jumpers, and these kits were certainly enjoyed, both in the making and in the wearing, by many, many knitters. But I do feel the analogy that some of you drew with boxed cake mixes – products that similarly became popularly available in this era – is moot: such mixes certainly offered a speedy, accessible, and in some senses, empowering alternative to baking from scratch, but no one would argue the cakes tasted better.

So that’s how my thoughts have been unravelling this morning. I want to sincerely apologise to any of you who felt affronted by the previous post, and to thank all of you for your comments, whose lively debate and multiple perspectives really make this blog what it is, and always act as a prompt to me to try to see the bigger picture.

Thankyou

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