fore and aft


2014 has been very busy and productive year for me. In many ways, the past twelve months have been dominated by the creation of this book – designing and knitting the garments, researching and writing the essays, then working with my comrades on editing and production. Yokes has been a wonderful project to work on and I confess to feeling proud, in all respects, of the end result.

My work took me to some amazing places . . .


like Iceland


and Sweden

. . . and meant I got to meet some really inspiring people


such as Kirsten Olsson


and Hélène Magunusson

As well as the eleven garment designs included in Yokes, I also published several other patterns in 2014 . . .

Ecclefechan Mitts


Richard the Roundhead tam (part of the wonderful Gawthorpe project)

A hap for Harriet



. . .and made a tea towel with my creative comrade, Felicity Ford


There were some difficult things about 2014 — Tom spent several months working away from home, and lost his appendix in a Dublin hospital. My parents also had their own health issues to deal with, but my mum is now making a great recovery from her successful hip operation.

On a personal level, 2014 has been notable in a few other respects as well


I put down roots.


I learned to drive. (HUZZAH! WHOOOT! YAY!)


I also spent as much time as I possibly could, during the Spring and Summer, working and walking outdoors. For five months of the year I looked pretty much like this. As a result, I really have felt healthier of late than I have done for many years. This can only be a good thing.

Most of all, then, in 2014, I have felt the benefit of living where I do – in our wee house in this lovely landscape – and I honestly feel incredibly blessed in enjoying my work so much. Having had jobs, in the past, that were not very good for the soul, I can tell you that it makes me really happy to be able to create, and research, and design, and write, and to simply be able to support myself through my endeavours. Thankyou for supporting them too.


I’m looking forward to next year. Enjoy your Hogmanay, and see you all in 2015!

Love to you all
Kate x

First Footing (Ceilidh Oidche Challain)


I’m really pleased to introduce my first sock pattern, which is now available as a kit in my online shop. I knit socks all the time, but for some reason have never yet designed a pair…until now! This very seasonal design celebrates the Scottish New-Year tradition of First Footing, which, in Gaelic is known as Ceilidh Oidhche Challain (translating as “a visit on Hogmanay night”). In Gaelic, Ceilidh does not really signify a party, in the terms we know it today, but should be thought of more generally as a sociable visit. Ceilidh Oidhche Challain would traditionally have been very jolly affair indeed, as communities celebrated the turning of the New Year together with the sharing of songs, tales, and verse. So if you fancy first footing this Hogmanay, why not do so in a fresh pair of socks?


The cuff-down sock pattern covers two sizes – small and medium – to fit adult feet with 8in or 9in circumferences. The kit contains pattern, project bag, and lovely Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage yarn, in a choice of two colourways, indigo or madder (the same as the Toatie Hottie kits).


So pop on your socks and prepare for Hogmanay!

First Footing kits are now available.

A message from Bruce


Hello! is I, Bruce — greeting you from The House of the Unwell. Unfortunately, it has not been a particular festive festive season in these parts. First, someone called Tonsillitis came to visit Kate. Tonsillitis kept Kate cooped up for days, seemed to make her very miserable, and definitely outstayed its welcome. Tonsillitis was finally ousted by another guest called Penicillin, and things then started to improve. But shortly after this, Tom was rudely assailed by a very unpleasant individual called Appendicitis and had to go to hospital. Now, I have done my best, but it seems that no amount of wagging or barking will make these unwanted guests sling their hooks and go away. I have managed to generate a little festive cheer by repeatedly squeaking my new squeaky Santa Claus, but there is only so much of this one can do before poor St Nick is confiscated and banished to the Shelf of Doom to join Duck and Gingerbread Man and the other squeaky prisoners (fear not, friends! One day I shall free you!). Anyway, as the last days of 2012 were in most respects a bit shite, we are all really looking forward to what the new year brings.

Kate says she will be back very shortly to say something about the mittens she is sporting in the photograph below, and in the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful 2013, filled with all the walks and swims and sticks and wonky chomps you could ever wish for.

Happy New Year to you all!
lots of love from Bruce. x


last year

2011 was a pretty momentous year round here.

My dad was diagnosed with, had surgery for, and has now fully recovered from, prostate cancer. He dealt with all of this with a steady dignity and equanimity.

I continued the slow and difficult process of my own recovery from my stroke. There were many steps forward.

And some steps back.

Because of the continuing effects of my stroke, I had to give up my job as an academic. This was a drawn-out and emotionally harrowing process that was made even more difficult by my former employer’s department of inhuman resources. I didn’t write about any of this here, but, believe me, it was really pretty unpleasant. In September, I drew a line under the whole thing, and got rid of all of my books.

But being cut off from an institutional context did not mean that I stopped researching and writing. I published a few things I am very proud of.

And I began to support myself doing something I truly enjoy.

I brought out 8 designs in 2011.

I also fell in love with Shetland. . . .

. . . met some amazing knitters

. . . and continued to be astounded by the warmth, generosity, and genuine support of those of you that I know through the internet. (Thankyou, all of you.)

All things considered, 2011 really was a rollercoaster of a year, and I could not have got through it without the support of dear friends . . .

. . .a fun-loving dog . . .

. . .and, most importantly of all, a wonderful man.

Here’s to 2012!


One year turned into another very quietly here. I am still convalescing after my latest evil wintry lurgy, and have been told to stay off the foot as much as possible. The foot does seem to be getting better, but overall I really do feel rather grim – my neurologist warned me that dealing with and recovering from infections would feel much, much worse post-stroke, and this certainly seems to be the case. Yesterday, I looked over my blog posts from a year ago, and it made me rather sad. The turn of 2010 — a night of happy sub-zero camping in Cumbria – seemed very far away indeed. As for the coming year, I have few hopes, save the rather modest one of continuing to recover. The mobility I can work at, but it would be fantastic if my brain could sort out the damned fatigue, and the auditory processing disorder which currently make so many things associated with ‘normal’ life impossible.

These photos show the wrong side of my current knitting project, and another textile coincidence. At the top of the post you can see a Welsh woollen blanket, which my Ma gave to me while I was in hospital (it was bloody chilly on the Western’s neurological wards, I can tell you). Like many gifts people gave to me at that time, this blanket was a genuinely comforting thing to have with me in an impersonal institutional space: I loved its simple woven pattern, and most of all, I loved its soft, faded colours. Since I got out of hospital, the blanket has been folded away, and I don’t think about it much. At least I thought I didn’t. For a few weeks, I’ve been working on a new project in several soft, pale shades of J&S jumper weight. I took a pause while knitting it the other day, examined the wrong side, and immediately thought of the blanket.

The resemblance is perhaps less striking from the right side (which I’m not revealing yet) and I can honestly say that the blanket played no part at all in my conscious thinking about this design. Perhaps my subconscious is stuffed with textiles, or perhaps this faded, pastel palette is simply one that I rather like. In any case, I’ve had to take a pause in knitting it, as I’ve stupidly run out of one of the key shades. However, I hope I can soon pick up the required extra skein from the vendor in person. That’s right: Tom, and Bruce, and me, and my gammy foot, and a whole lot of knitting, are heading North for a few days. I am hoping to feel well enough to really enjoy it.


Here is the first thing I saw in 2010 . . .

. . . and here is the second . . .

Tom preparing the first cup of tea of the decade — a welcome sight on an incredibly chilly morning. We saw in 2010 in a tent by the edge of Crummock Water. There was a bright blue moon, a hooting owl, and a little malt whisky. We wrapped up warm.
Normal blog business will resume very shortly, but for now, happy new year, everyone!

out with the old

You may remember that a year ago I decided to stop buying clothes for the duration of 2008. My decision to do this was sparked by a couple of things. I had been reading a bit about darning and mending and wanted to think about what repairing and caring for one’s clothes meant. Also, since I heard this very-well researched series of documentaries on the BBC world service, I had been increasingly bothered by textile waste — the sheer amounts of it, as well as the complicated politics of its disposal. I then had a moment of utter revulsion after seeing Florence and Fred’s Affordable Elegance advertisements, in which the disposability of the 20 quid dresses they had designed for Tesco’s was “cleverly” celebrated.

(textile waste now makes up 30% of rubbish destined for UK landfill sites)

The year is up, and here’s my summary of the project: During 2008 I have fashioned or refashioned for myself 7 tops, 5 skirts, 4 dresses, 3 sweaters, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shrugs, 2 cardigans, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 coat, 1 maud, 1 tank top, 1 jacket, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 scarf. Additionally, I have repaired and re-repaired the sleeves of sweaters, the seats of pants, the hems of coats, the heels of socks, the tops of mittens, and the feet of stockings. I made lots of things from patterns and kits and in doing so, have participated, in a vicarious sort of a way, in the design process of some really talented people. I also designed several items of clothing for myself from scratch, and have encountered my own limits and shortcomings along the way. This year of stitching and knitting and learning has been both enjoyable and thought provoking. It has certainly changed the way I think about the making, consumption and meaning of worn textiles.

(clothing myself in 2008)

Despite the apparently prohibitive terms I set myself (“you will not buy clothes”) this project was never about denial. As you may have gathered, I am someone who loves clothes. I mean, I really love clothes. The things I wear are a source of tremendous pleasure for me, and I regard dressing up in them (however foolishly) as a sort of creative act. So I was not about to deny myself that pleasure or that creativity, but rather wanted to think about focusing it a little differently. One other thing that the project was not was generically anti-consumerist. For I am undeniably a consumer. I exchange money for stuff. I do not regard The Commodity as the root of all evil and in fact I think that commerce — of ideas and words as well as things — is generally a very necessary good. So I did not deny myself the pleasure of clothes, nor did I cease to be a consumer. I bought notions and fabric and quite a lot of yarn. I continued to cut pictures out of magazines, read about fashion history, and dream about the qualities of fabric, and the possibilities of different outfits, just as I had done before. Raw materials, ideas and images continued to be rich sources of inspiration and enjoyment to me. And I had many, many clothes already. To be frank, I had no need of any more. But if there was something that I wanted, as opposed to needed, I would have to think about how to make it, about where the stuff to make it was coming from, and then about how to sew or knit it up for myself. So, in fact, the only thing that I stopped doing this year was spending a lot of time in shops, and buying a lot of clothes in them. And I can honestly say that I’ve not missed this in the slightest.

(handsome Romney. Diamonds Farm. Horam, East Sussex)

What I started rather than stopped doing over the course of the year is much more interesting (well, it is to me at least). Of course, I made things, and I thought about what I was doing when I was making them. But additionally, I also visited farms, crofts, mills and other businesses where fibre is spun, dyed, and woven into cloth. I have learnt how fabric is produced from animal or plant to finished garment, how and where it is sold, to whom, and why. My love of finished textiles has developed into an interest in the process of their production, and the history of those processes. I’ve started thinking in a new way about the importance of textiles to different local economies; about the provenance of materials; about how Britain’s regional fabric is a very literal thing; and about the ways in which different national, local and global histories are all woven up in, and told through, textiles. I’ve also met and learnt from lots of wonderful people who live and work with fibre and fabric. Through this, I have also started to regard the value of textiles very differently indeed.


Clothes are not cheap. Time and care and labour are all expended in the rearing of a British sheep, but the three pence the farmer receives for the fleece makes it hardly worth the shearing. At the other end of the production-consumption chain, 2 million tonnes of largely man-made textile waste is discarded in Britain every year. The quality of this stuff is so low that charity shops cannot re-sell it, and laudable schemes like Oxfam’s wastesaver find it difficult to re-use or recycle. Our cheaply bought and easily discarded textiles swell mountains of domestic landfill, or are exported in containers for other countries to deal with. In the Czech Republic, for example, the outbuildings of former collective farms are now filled, floor to ceiling, with Western Europe’s abandoned clothing. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, adults and children suffer the indignity and poverty brought by brutal employment practices that we should more accurately term indenture or slavery. And all to make a mountain of transitory crap that is daily bought and thrown away.

(Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) exchanges his bed linen for his bike in the Bicycle Thieves)

Now, I am not making any great claims for myself here. I know that my 2008 make-your-own project was an exploratory luxury. While I could go on about how I have learnt new things about production, process, and materiality, I also know that fundamentally, this is the politics of luxury: of someone who has enough disposable income to spend on yarn and fabric, and enough leisure time to make things and (crucially) to enjoy making them. People do not have the time or money for such luxuries, and they certainly still need cheap textiles. But we also need textiles of durable, lasting quality. We aren’t pawning our good bedlinen (as in the Bicycle Thieves), we are chucking it out and buying another flimsy ten-pound duvet cover whose seams were sewn up by an impoverished ten-year-old on the Indian subcontinent. A recent consumer survey for Asda has apparently shown that supermarket shoppers now value durability as much as price where clothing is concerned. Asda is now changing its “George” ranges to reflect this shift in priorities. Wouldn’t it be nice if they added a guarantee of fair, non-exploitative labour into this mix?


I want to conclude with some inconclusive remarks about mending and representing mending. I’ve been doing a lot of darning this year, and have become very interested in the care and repair of clothes, as well as in the way that mended and re-made textiles are such rich repositories of personal and cultural memory. A lot of really good British artists are interested in this as well. I particularly admire, for example, Kirsty Hall, Celia Pym and Tabitha Moses, who all use the processes of mending or repair to explore the evocative and ritual nature of textiles. The work of these artists is rich with thought and meaning. But their practice is now one of the only ways, it seems to me, that contemporary audiences can look at made and mended things as public objects upon which to think and reflect. And sometimes, I am a little troubled by how the only way to approach the acts of women and men that were once quotidian and exceptionally ordinary is through extraordinary forms of representation, such as those that art affords. While the work of the three artists I mentioned is without exception, truly brilliant, there are certainly many other art practitioners whose work does little more than decontextualise familiar household textiles and the practices associated with them to very little end. I am naming no names, because this is something I am still thinking about . . . but I am wondering . . . could there be another way? Or if this is just a matter of there being Bad and Good textile art, as with any other form of art or practice. Anyway, there’s something to mull over further. (Any thoughts on this issue appreciated).

Scrap of linen check (1759) used to identify foundling number 13169. (London Metropolitan Archives)

Making and mending my own clothes will continue in 2009, as will the thinking about the making. But I might just have to buy myself the odd pair of pants, and also hope to have a bit more time for some other truly luxuriant crafty things that I enjoy and have not done much of in 2008 — in particular, embroidery. I also have a new and exciting year-long project for 2009. More on this — and on my lovely trip to Islay — anon.


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