actual O W L S


Sometimes things just have to be done. Last year, the Scottish Owl Centre relocated to Polkemmet in West Lothian, a short drive away from Edinburgh. Boasting “one of the largest collections of owls in the world”, how could we not pay a visit?


We met Hudson, the great horned owl.


and this lovely wee feller, a Southern Boobook owl . . .


. . . whose name was . . .



Though I have some issues with creatures in cages, I also appreciate the work of conservation breeding and education that is conducted by organisations like the Scottish Owl Centre. Rod Angus, who lead the o w l demonstration, was really knowledgeable and I felt that amidst the ooohing and aahing we came away having learnt quite a bit about o w l s, their unique behaviours, and the ingenious ways in which they they adapt to their environment.

We saw lots of other beautiful o w l s but I think that this chap – a milky eagle owl – was our confirmed favourite.


You can find the Scottish Owl Centre at Polkemmet Country Park in West Lothian, between Whitburn and Harthill (leave M8 at Junction 4). @ScotOwl on twitter.

purple o w l s

new, purple o w l s . . .

This was my first design, and it was in need of a little freshening up. The pattern now looks more professional and includes a few changes, the main one being the addition of extra sizes (the range now runs from a 30″to a 50″bust). And there are also a couple of minor alterations to the shaping (specifically to the underarm proportions and neckline), which should make for a better fitting sweater at the top of the size range.

I was lucky enough to find exactly the same kind of buttons (in John Lewis) as those used on my original sweater, and the yarn is Jamieson’s Shetland marl in Amethyst, a colour which I have surprised myself by rather liking. The yarn creates a nice, tight fabric when knitted to gauge, and is soft enough to wear next to the skin.

If you have purchased o w l s already, you should receive an email with a link to download the update. If you haven’t bought the pattern, and would like to, you can do so here or here.

I have been quiet for a few days because I’ve been (yes, you guessed it) laid low with fatigue. This bout was very difficult indeed. Sitting still all day is hard enough, but when it gets to the stage where I can’t even knit, because my eyes won’t focus, I start to become very ratty. After a weekend full of rats, it was a complete joy to be able to get outside in the sunshine today in a new sweater.

It seemed appropriate to take my new o w l s out into the woods.

b s t


Well, you know Spring is here when the clocks go forward. And last night, my subconscious decided to mark the occasion with a series of strange dreams. In the most disturbing one, peculiar birds pecked holes in my knitting. Pecking beaks! Ruined knitting! Horrors! Then one particularly evil birdie flew off with this:


I’ve been working on two new o w l s — one that will fit kids aged 4-10, one for bairns aged 9 to 36 months (the latter in a lighter-weight yarn). In my conscious mind, issues of sizing were merely an interesting conundrum. Little arms. Square bodies. Big swedes. I’ve spent the past week staring strangely at the heads of infants in the supermarket. I have carefully measured the dimensions of the kids of friends and colleagues. I have knitted yokes and necks several times over to determine the best fit and shaping. Owls have appeared, disappeared, and reappeared on my needles. Personally, I thought I was just getting on with it — and, in fact, had finally cracked the sizing puzzle when I went to bed last night. But I suppose it must have been the source of some unacknowledged anxiety, or my subconscious wouldn’t have invented my avian knitting nemesis — a kind of evil cuckoo to my goodly owl. I awoke with a start at 6am (5am in ‘old time’) and had to go and check that my prototypes were OK. Both mini owls were happily blocking in the living room, free from the unwelcome attentions of either bird or beak. I had a few cups of tea. Then I went to meet my wee pal Eva.


Eva is a sensible, no-nonsense individual. She just stuck one of the sweaters on and assured me it was all going to be OK.

the grand owl prizegiving!


Yes, its time to announce the parliamentary victors, and give away some owlish prizes!

There are 57 owls in the parliament. I excluded myself and my knitting comrades (Hannah, Kate B and Melanie) from the fun; put the remaining 53 names in a ‘hat’, and selected one at random.

Congratulations, Elizabeth! You are officially the Parliament’s prime owl! You win 10 x 50g of New Lanark DK (more than a sweater’s worth . . perhaps two sweaters), a fabulous Owl tote bag from these Edinburgh designers (on whom I have a post coming shortly), and a large selection of the owl-themed goodies mentioned below (as befitting a prime owl).


I have really enjoyed the, um parliamentary process – - it was always thrilling for me when another photo turned up in my inbox and I’ve felt proud and humbled at the same time (if that’s possible) to see so many fabulous women wearing o w l s. What I’ve most enjoyed, though, is seeing how every knitter made the sweater somehow entirely hers — through yarn choice, customisation, personal style, or the sheer vim of her knitterly character. So here are some other prizes reflecting the parliament’s owlish variety and vim:

Most impressively owlish photo: There were a few candidates for this one, but the prize has to go to Stacey, who is perching on a branch in her photo.
Most original customised owls: This was a difficult decision to make, as there were so many amazing owlish transformations through the additions of steeks, button-bands and colour. In the end, though, I thought I’d give this prize to Suzanne, who customised her owls into a cardigan complete with stars and embroidered branches.
Early bird : This prize goes to Gabrielle, who knit the sweater in record time, and sent me her photograph on January 23rd.
Ma’s prize owl: For this category, I asked my mother (who is a great admirer of the parliament) to pick her favourite sweater. She selected Karen (USA) because “her sweater fits beautifully, and in the colours she chose, the owls really stand out.”

Congratulations, all of you! You all win 100g of New Lanark Donegal Tweed & Silk (tasty!), a selection of owl-themed goodies, and a wee project bag to store your owlish loot in — made by me.


The design of these project bags is based on one owned by my knitting comrade, Kate B, originally made by her mum. I’ve often noticed the bag and thought how satisfyingly neat and simple its design was — ideal for a couple of balls of yarn, some needles and notions. So using Kate’s prototype as a template (thanks, Kate!) I whipped up these babies! I am quite pleased with how they turned out and may post a tutorial about making them later . . .


. . . Anyway, on with the matter in hand. More prizes!


Is it just me, or are owls everywhere at the moment? I became quite excited when I discovered (thanks once again to Kate B) that owls had colonised the shelves of a prominent chain of UK stationers. I am such a sucker for this stuff! I just can’t help myself! Inevitably, I found myself with a small excess of owl-themed treats — stickers, badges, sticky-notes, tea towels, and pencils — to give away. I picked five of the remaining names from the hat and five happy owls have won a selection of these goodies. You are:
Rebecca (from Canada), Orianna, Jules, Fa-Linn, and Meghan (from Nottingham).
I will be in touch with the winning owls soon to confirm addresses, and suchlike. Meanwhile, things are busy and beelike here. More anon.

o w l s. the pattern.


Yes, the o w l s pattern is ready. You can now download it as a PDF under ‘designs’ (see tabs at top of page). Later today I hope to be able to contact all of you who requested the pattern by email. I’ve encountered several wrongly-typed or rejected addresses on the list, so if you do not receive a message from me, it is not because I’m ignoring you — just please download the pattern here. I hope to soon have it listed as a ravelry download also.

A few things I wanted to say:

THANKS. Big thanks to my knitting comrades Hannah, Kate B, Melanie, and Ysolda, who have shared their champion knitting skills and technical expertise most generously. As with most things knitwise, this pattern has really benefited from collective knowledge and effort.

Short rows. The original o w l s featured Japanese short rows. These can be tricky to work in the round and (I discovered) it is even trickier to describe precisely how to work them in the round. The horror! There are some great online tutorials for working Japanese short rows back and forth (here, for example). But when you are working in the round, you encounter the turning point / gap in (as it were) the wrong direction, and face the tricksy problem of forcing the turned yarn back on itself, up onto the needle, and closing the gap by twisting the previous stitch so that it sits the wrong way round as well as knitting through a loop that is stretched to near breaking point. Sheesh! I take my proverbial hat off to anyone who has figured out a straightforward way to describe this. Anyway, for ease, clarity, and my general sanity, the pattern has reverted to good old ‘wrap and turn’ to work the short rows. This is certainly an easier method for beginners (and many people who have asked for the pattern have described themselves as beginner knitters). But I do like Japanese short rows (even though I can’t for the life of me describe how to close up their gaps in the round) and if you like them too, I recommend you use them in place of the wraps and turns the pattern includes.

Expertise. Lots of you have emailed me asking if o w l s is suitable for a beginner knitter, or as My First Sweater. ™ I would rate the design as reasonably easy, but while my pattern shows you how to make an owl sweater, it cannot teach you to knit. The pattern begins with a list of necessary skills. If you are familiar with the techniques on this list, you should be able knit the sweater.

Yarn rationale and working at different gauges. Many knitters are not fond of chunky yarn, either because it can be a rather blunt instrument, design-wise, or because of its general bulk. This pattern reduces bulk through the fit of the sweater and uses chunky yarn because 1) I wanted to be warm and 2) I wanted BIG owls. A chunky yarn produces several large, tall, owl cables standing proudly on the yoke. If you re-work the pattern for finer yarns and gauges, your owls will be smaller and perhaps a little less owlish. On the other hand, a finer yarn would produce more owls. This is always a bonus.

Labour. Value. Credit. Designers should be paid for what they do. For us to keep knitting the shawls and sweaters and socks that we love, we should be supporting our designers, and paying them in a way that reflects our appreciation and their hard work. To not do so devalues both their talents and their labour. It is the same issue as with other forms of work that are performed independently, or (in a rather different way) within the domestic sphere — such labour should be properly remunerated, and properly valued. This is why what Twist Collective is doing is so great, and I have no truck with those who churlishly complain on Ravelry and elsewhere about paying for individual patterns. Seriously, folks! Should your pleasurable hobby be the focus of designers’ charitable endeavours? I think not.

The pattern is available to buy here or here.

Thankyou. And enjoy your owls.

owl release


It is curious what mist can do to one’s sense of place. A little cloud descends, and familiar hills one has climbed many times before are transformed into strange, alien moonscapes. The whole narrative of the landscape suddenly becomes lost in its details.


Having missed our Highland walking with Felix because of seasonal colds (bah! boo!) it was very nice to get out into the Pentlands this morning. A good walk really is the best way to break in the new year.

And if you are thinking that the sweater on my back looks a wee bit familiar – yes – it is indeed the Owls. The poor beasties were well-nigh frozen up there in the foggy, frosty hills — but they certainly kept me warm.


They were very nearly snowy owls as that haze of moisture began to turn to ice.

Since Hannah’s impressive and speedily knitted Owls appeared over at Ysolda’s, lots of you have been asking about the pattern. It is imminent! I promise! I’m away for the next few days in a wonderful place without computer access, but shall release the owls as soon as I return. The pattern will be free, and I’ll stick it up on Ravelry, as well as emailing those of you who left a comment on the original post. And I should also mention that myself and these lovely people are now developing a kid’s version of the pattern which will be available in kit form.

Happy 2009 everyone!



“Collars have played a very important part in the drama of fashion, and today command the attention of dress designers of repute, as well as makers of simple dresses. Each realises and appreciates the value of the right collar. Each knows the scope given by their use to the expression of individuality.”
Elizabeth McCaskill ‘New Collars for Old Dresses’, Odham’s Big Book of Needlework (1935)

Collars now seem rather underappreciated things. Reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women’s manuscripts, one becomes very aware of the importance of collars. They are one of the most frequently discussed items of clothing, and (sometimes) they also form a sort of manuscript themselves. What you see above is a pattern for a collar that I found, complete with several pricked holes and one rusty pin, between the pages of a nineteenth-century album held in the Library Company of Philadelphia. The album dates from the 1820s — the collar seemed to be of a later date — probably the property of a reader at a couple of generations remove from the album’s original writer.

One only has to think of the trials of Mrs Forrester’s lace in Gaskell’s Cranford to realise the importance women attached to their collars. And they remained crucial items in women’s wardrobes until relatively recently — my new Odham’s Big Book of Needlework*, which was reprinted several times throughout the 1930s and 40s, has a whole section on collars, including a long essay about the virtues of collars in updating and brightening up items of clothing that are otherwise old and worn.

(black textiles really are impossible to photograph . . .)

Here is an old and worn collar, attached to a coat that needed updating. I bought this nice velvet coat about a decade ago. It has a faux fur collar (100% acrylic — aigh!) — one of those things that resembles a worn out teddy bear after a couple of years wear in the rain and snow. Because of the woefully ratty appearance of this collar, I’ve not worn the perfectly good coat for five years or more. It was time to fix all that with a new collar.

I unpicked the old collar, measured it, then happily threw it away. Then I made a crocheted mesh to more or less the same dimensions as the old collar with some black 4 ply. Along the vertical lines of each square in the mesh I crocheted long triple trebles up and down, in waves. I used a bit of black kidsilk haze I had left over from making this sweater, and a couple of balls of black kidsilk aura I had hanging around from when the yarn first came out last year. Man, that stuff is hairy. The idea was to create a dense, plush bobbly effect. In practice, the yarn was much more hairy than I’d imagined, and less bobbly than I intended, but still, it worked out fine, and crochet really is very fast. The new collar was made up over a couple of evenings. And today I sewed the collar to the coat. This was enjoyable. I got up early, sat in the good light by the kitchen window, watched the sky shift and brighten and the curlews arrive. Things were very quiet and wintry, I stitched meditatively, and drank about a gallon of tea. A very nice morning was had. The collar was finished. Then Tom and I went out for a walk and I got him to take a couple of pics. Here is a shot of the back of the collar:


The frizzled effect of the crocheted waves reminds me of a rolled wig. In fact, the basic structure of the collar — with the ‘hair’ laid down over a mesh — is not dissimilar to that of an eighteenth-century peruke. Hence I have christened it the bagwig collar.


You’ll have to forgive my penchant for black and white, and my vacant peering into what appears to be The Void. In actual fact, I was staring very intently at a bright wee feller in a tree two feet in front of me, and hissing at Tom to get a good shot:


How wintry does he look on those bare branches?
He’s just out of shot in this next picture


I had to lighten the whole shot so you could see the fabric and the collar. Shall I say it again? Photographing black stuff is a mare

Pattern: Bagwig Collar by me
Yarn: Kidsilk Aura, Kidsilk Haze, and some miscellaneous yarn (it may have been 4 ply soft).
hook: 3mm
ravelled here

3 posts in 2 days? What’s going on? The truth is, I am starting to feel well again, after being terribly unwell for several weeks now. Though I’ve been doggedly getting on with the big project I’m working on at the moment, I’ve felt so damn rotten that I’ve not had much energy for anything much at all of late. Today, though, I suddenly feel physically restored and stupidly enthusiastic. Much more like my normal self again. Hurrah!

And an owls update: I have written up the pattern. Someone who is far more experienced in these matters than I has kindly agreed to cast her eagle (or owlish) eye over it. Then testknitting commences . . . and then it will be available!

*delivered at lightening speed by Marsden Booksellers in Doncaster. Thankyou, Nick.

owls of the day

My friend Carolyn found this owl in a car boot sale and sent me a pic:


“It looks quite real,” she says, “but it is made of straw.”

My Ma bought me this wee owl at a fantastic shop in York:


it is a very happy owl.

November is a gloomy month, and curlews are sometimes regarded as a gloomy bird, but I do enjoy seeing large numbers of them at this time of year, feeding in the field behind our flat (we live very near the estuary). I was hoping to add curlews to today’s owls, but this morning saw a heavy frost, and they were gone.


EDIT: two hours later — the frost is lifting and they’re back!


owls redux

Clearly there are many of you who like owls just as much as I do! Owl tattoo, Kirsty? Cor! As a brief glimpse into the murky depths of my long-standing owl obsession, I thought I’d show you a birthday card Tom made for me eight years ago. At this time, we were in our mod phase, and rode around Sheffield on 1960s Lambrettas we had acquired from the legendary Armando. The title of Tom’s genius artwork is “Wazz Rides with Owls and Bears”. It shows a heavily photoshopped still from the film Quadrophenia, with my head (note short haircut and youthful demeanour), and the heads of several owls and bears, superimposed over those of Phil Daniels and the other riders. Riding with owls. What could be better?


Anyway, just to let you know: I shall write up the pattern, it will be freely available here and on ravelry, and if you leave / have left a comment on yesterday’s post, I’ll make sure you are added to the email list to receive a copy.
hoot hoot!


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