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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Fintry

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I wanted to include a smart, simple cardigan in my yoke collection. Something in a single colour; that might provide a showcase for a beautiful hand-dyed yarn; a garment that would be easy to wear and straightforward to knit. That cardigan is Fintry.

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Fintry is a pretty village a short drive away from my home. Though the village nestles against the north face of the rugged Campsie Fells, its direct environs have an unusually gentle feel, with verdant lanes, hedgerows and fields. There is good grazing and growing here, and Fintry’s distinctive pastoral feel provides a stark contrast to the generally rockier, boggier, woodier – much more Highland landscape – which immediately surrounds me. I find this contrast rather interesting. In summer, the landscape around Fintry is extraordinarily green and pleasingly textured – and its those features that I celebrate in this cardigan.

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Fintry is knitted all in one piece, with moss (or seed) stitch button bands, cuffs and hems framing a garment of simple stockinette. These bands of texture are then echoed on the yoke, which is shaped with short rows.

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Fintry makes simple and versatile use of the seamless yoke construction and the finishing is really quite minimal. Mel and I finished this sample with five buttons, snaps and ribbon facings, but you could add more buttons, or no buttons at all, just as you wish.

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The ribbon facing, incidentally, came from a box of cakes from Betty’s. I had been saving it for years and knew I’d find a use for it.

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The ribbon turned out to be a perfect match for the yarn, which is Old Maiden Aunt Corriedale Sport Weight. I love Lilith’s colour sense, her particular style of dyeing, and especially the interesting British yarn bases she uses to show off her skills. This Corriedale is a wonderful yarn, which takes the colour in a beautifully matt and saturated way. The tonal variations in the yarn are so subtle and pleasing, and really enhance the textural interest of the knitted fabric.

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The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.

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We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.

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At the cafe you can sample ice cream, yogurt, crowdie, and other dairy products made on the farm, as well as some delicious home baking.

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You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.

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If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.

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The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.

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!

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This is the view from the top of our lane yesterday evening. The large hulking hill to the right is Ben Lomond, with the Arrochar “Alps”, including the Cobbler, to the left. The weather continues to be amazing. Everything is coming to fruition. My tomatoes are ripening.

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I am impressed with my peppers, also grown from seed. . .

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. . .and I am cutting courgettes and sweet peas every day. The sweet peas grow more luminous and psychedelic. Each day I cut a bloom that seems more wildly neon than the day before.

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I planted several different cultivars, but am totally useless at keeping tabs on what’s what, so I’m afraid I have no idea of their names…

Meanwhile, inside, things are coming to fruition too as I now have seven completed YOKE designs. Numbers eight and nine are on the needles, which just leaves number ten for the collection to be complete. I’ve been steadily charting and grading and writing patterns, and Mel and I have been knitting away since April. It is extremely satisfying seeing the collection really coming together now, and to look at the group of distinctive garments hanging in my studio, all of which sort of feel like me. Another exciting phase of the project is about to begin, as I am soon to start working on, and writing about, some different regional styles and practices of YOKE knitting since the 1940s. I’ll say more about this aspect of the book shortly, but for now I’d better finish knitting this sleeve. . . Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Things of Human Interest

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Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about an important difference between Dogs and Humans.

This is where I live.

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It is a good place and there are many things I like about it. My human companions also like this place. But although dogs and humans both can both like a place, it is not often for the same reason. This is one of the many curious but important differences between us.

For example, one of my favourite walks goes past these trees.

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I like these trees because they mark the entrance into Good Field, a location where maximum fun is to be had. But Kate likes these trees because they are dead and alive at the same time.

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Past these trees is Good Field – one of my all-time favourite spots. Whatever the weather, the grass of Good Field is always wet and the ground of Good Field is always squishy and soggy. In Good Field can often be found deer and hare who are fun to chase, and if the cows pass by, they kindly leave an interesting mess behind. In Winter the mud of Good Field grows deep and dank and in the Summer Good Field’s plants grow thick and high. Good Field is a place for bounding, for leaping, for getting wet and dirty, and for gingering oneself up with all kinds of funky smells. In all seasons of the year, then, it is an excellent place to be.

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Now, Kate does not like Good Field for its mud or for its interesting aroma. Nor does she seem particularly happy when she trips into the cow mess, or wades clumsily through the waist high grasses. In fact, the qualities I most admire about Good Field are things Kate merely tolerates, or on occasion actually seems irritated by. I have heard her mutter words such as “ballache” as she stumbles, is bitten by a horsefly, or, as today, gets muddy trousers after falling on her arse. So why on earth does Kate take me to Good Field if she herself does not enjoy the many delights it has to offer? The answer is, of course, that it contains Things of Human Interest.

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Good Field’s Things of Human Interest are these Old Stones.

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Now, I am hardly ever diverted by Things of Human Interest, and I have to say that these Old Stones strike me as rather commonplace. Certainly they carry no significance for a dog like me.

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And yet I am tolerant enough of human foibles to dutifully sit and pose.

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Dear dog comrades, the moral of this tale is to joyfully accompany your companions when they wish to visit Things of Human Interest. That way you are likely to spend time in really excellent places, like Good Field.

Great Tapestry of Scotland 1-23

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On Sunday I finally got to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland. I was completely blown away by the vision of Alistair Moffat (who produced the tapestry’s historical content and context), Andrew Crummy (the superb artist who designed these 160 panels) and perhaps especially by the skill and beauty of the work of the thousand Scottish women and men who stitched it. It was displayed in the singularly fitting surroundings of the Anchor Mill in Paisley. The atmosphere in this wonderful space was electric. There were people of all ages there, and everyone was completely transfixed by the tapestry, and were clearly enjoying it tremendously. I heard several exclamations of delight at particular details, as well as folk sharing personal recollections in front of individual panels. Some of the panels moved me to tears, others made me laugh out loud and viewing this terrific work was a truly incredible experience.

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The Great Tapestry of Scotland has a monunmental name, and it is certainly a monumental thing – but importantly, it is not in the least pompous or in any way up itself. Rather than telling the story of a nation through a top-down celebratory narrative of kings and queens and battles, it tells that story from the bottom up, in pleasingly piecemeal fashion, allowing many different identities, and many regional and linguistic differences to be included and represented. Scotland here is the sum of many different parts, and historical change is an uneven, and often deeply conflicted process. And this is a history where the folk who worked to build a bridge might be celebrated in the same terms as the engineer who designed it; where a can of Irn Bru and the King James bible might both share status as national icons. The tapestry’s 160 panels are alive with the colours of the landscape, with cultural invention, with the power of the imagination, with the emotive movement of time, with joy, wit, terror and sadness. That the panels sing so is testament both to Andrew Crummy’s wonderful designs as well as the skill and creativity of the stitchers, and I was deeply moved by the beauty and energy of the embroidery. The story of the people who stitched it is stitched up in this incredible thing, and that is certainly part of what makes it so terrific. So I think it was the tapestry’s sheer sense of shared endeavour that killed me most: that this was the best kind of collective history, created collectively. Craft and design have, I think, a unique power to bring people together in the expression and sharing of their creativity and cultural identity. In all honesty, this tapestry is the best example I’ve ever seen of how this might be so.

This blog serves several functions, one of which is as my own diary. I have thought quite hard about how to represent the tapestry to you, and to myself as well, so that, in the future, I can remember what I felt when I first saw it. I decided that the best way was, over several posts, to show you some of the details that really struck me. If you are interested in finding out more about the Great Tapestry of Scotland, two super books have been published about it. The first, a paperback by Susan Mansfield and Alistair Moffat, tells the story of the tapestry’s creation, together with the stories of the thousand Scottish women and men who were involved in its creation. The second book is a handsome (yet very reasonably priced volume) which carefully illustrates each of the tapestry’s individual panels, alongside more detailed and thorough historical information. I heartily recommend both books. And if you’d just like to look at each of the tapestry’s panels, you’ll find a wee slideshow here.

So here are some of the details I enjoyed from panels 1 through 23

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Panels 3a and 3b The formation of Scotland / The collision. “Geology formed Scotland and the land and the sea formed the character of the people”

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Panel 4 Scotland emerges from the ice. Love the figures of the fisherfolk, the detail of the currach, the graded colours of the stitching.

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Panel 5: The wildwood Hare and Red Squirrel.

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Panel 7: The First Farmers Wonderful textures on this panel.

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Panel 8: Brochs, Crannogs and Cairns. Scotland’s early vernacular architecture.

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Panel 9: Pytheas the Greek visits Calanais. I was particularly struck by the way the Isle of Lewis stitchers had carefully rendered the colours and textures of the banded gneiss and lichen of the Calanais stones.

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Panel 10: The coming of the legions. I love how the curls of Julius Agricola tell the story.

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Panel 11: Ninian at Whithorn. Beautiful stitching, the work of a single Dumfries needlewoman, Shirley McKeand.

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Panel 15: Dunnichen. Love the bold way that Andrew Crummy and the stitchers have here rendered the details of the famous Pictish stone.

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Panel 17: Dumbarton Rock One of many examples of how the geology represented in the tapestry afforded the stitchers an opportunity to really show off their skills. Astounding.

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Panel 20: Macbeth. Each of the tapestry’s panels includes the ‘signature’ of the stitchers who created it at the bottom right. This one, a small sampler of every stitch and every colour used in the panel was particularly striking. The panel was stitched by Sandra and Glennie Leith, Ingrid McGown, Paddy McGruer and Rhea Scott.

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Panel 22: The Flowers of the Borders. Anyone familiar with the architecture of the great Border abbeys will find the subtle pinks and greys of these stitched columns immediately evocative.

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Panel 23: the medieval wool trade. One of many panels illustrating the importance of textiles and their production to Scotland’s culture and economy.

More to come . . .

Pottering

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Tom is away, working in Ireland at the moment. I really miss him, but I am distracting myself by working very hard on my YOKES, and am enjoying pottering in the garden in my spare moments.

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I cannot use a spade (I have tried, and I just fall over), and we knew there was going to be a limit to what I could feasibly do this Spring in the garden in Tom’s absence. But with a couple of raised beds, a plastic lean-to, and many containers, I’m not doing so bad.

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I brought salad leaves on in the lean-to, planted them out in a raised bed and have been amazed at how well they are doing. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as yet they have remained mercifully unmolested by pests – the raised beds have a protective cordon of bark and copper tape, which has proved an effective slug deterrant. More remarkably, perhaps, the deer and rabbits have not yet taken the opportunity to chow down on my tasty crops. There are certainly rabbits and hares in abundance in our environs (I enjoy seeing the hares if I’m out on an early morning walk) but so far, there have been surprisingly few in our garden. My neighbours (who inform me that we are usually overrun with bunnies by this point in the Spring) think that Jesus (our cat) has something to do with it. He has been seen out on the prowl in the early hours, and kindly leaves headless rodents on my doorstep, as well as those of my neighbours, from time to time. If the rabbits are concerned that they or their offspring might meet the same fate, it is all to the good. But I have no idea how he is seeing off the deer.

Meanwhile, in my containers, the beans are doing their bean-thing. . .

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.. . the cabbages are looking cabbage-y . . .

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. . . beetroot is sprouting . . .

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. . .and some tatties, which my dad and I planted rather late a couple of weeks ago, are starting to appear.

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There will be fruit too – raspberries and strawberries.

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. . . and there are tiny gooseberries on the tiny gooseberry bush!

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Yesterday I took the squash and courgettes from the lean-to and planted them out in 10 litre pots to see how they do.

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If I see a spare space in a container I pop in a petunia. . .

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. . .and the back of the garden has presented me with other, unexpected floral delights.

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But what I seem to have most of are tomatoes. I started growing them from seed in the bathroom several months ago and their flowers and trusses are now starting to appear.

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The lean-to is now taken up with eight very vigorous tomato plants, and I have probably twice that number rotating in and around the house. My mum ventured yesterday evening that I might have grown too many tomatoes.

What do you think?

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Please to note the housemartin, to the right of the photo, on its way to its nest under our eaves. Their nests are beautifully compact and sturdy and I love to hear them chit-chattering above my head when I’m sitting outside knitting at the back of the house. Last year, when the housemartins had finished with their nests, a few were occupied by late broods of swallows. Will that happen again this year?

Every day, in one way or another, I am grateful to be living here.

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