sew what?

stitches

I have been getting to know my new sewing machine. I have to say that I really, really love it: my old machine was rather basic, but this one has several different feet, a fancy buttonhole thingy, and a multitude of decorative stitch patterns. Plus, it is so smooth! So intuitively simple to operate! The threads do not get caught and the bobbin winder actually winds the bobbin!

This is the speed adjuster, which I find incredibly pleasing.

tortoise&hare

Surely the first thing anyone does is to make a sampler of stitches?

stitches2

Some of these really kill me, and off course set me off thinking about the structure of various knitterly motifs.

stitches3

stitches5

But my lettering definitely needs some work . . .

bruce

Should I be cutting the threads between each letter? Experienced machinists: advice please!

I’ve really missed sewing of late: I sewed a lot of clothes prior to my stroke, but afterwards found it too difficult / tiring (even getting out the machine, and setting it up was tiring!) and it has now been almost four years since I whipped myself up a skirt or dress. Sheesh! But I am now going to set aside a few hours a week to spend with my lovely new machine and am already looking forward to redeveloping my stitching skills.

stitches4

Of Note

coopsox

I’ve been really inspired by some fantastic knitting books which have turned up here recently, so I thought I’d give them a shout-out. First up is Rachel Coopey‘s much anticipated first collection. Rachel is truly the Queen of Socks — she has a distinctive feel for pattern and structure which suits her foot-shaped canvas perfectly. Her designs are thoughtful, precise and definitively knitterly — she often reverses or mirrors stitch patterns across her socks in ways that are not only aesthetically pleasing but will really engage the maker’s interest through a pair. For example, Milfoil (the green pair that you can see above), has a horizontal mirror between cuff and foot that makes each sock the opposite of the other, while in Budleigh (my favourite design in the collection) neat cables and twisted stitches flow through the design with a vertical reflection that separates left from right.

budleigh

Inside the book are ten beautifully written and laid-out patterns; a technical section with instructions for essential sock-knitting techniques (including a useful illustrated afterthought heel-tutorial) and jolly English seaside photography. What’s not to love?

yoohoo

You can pre-order the book directly from Rachel here.

Next up, and top of the tree for pure knitterliness, is Lynne Barr’s new book, The Shape of Knitting. Lynne has an amazingly innovative approach to stitch, and I think she is one of the most creative and inventive designers around today.

lynn

My approach to design tends to be very referential. I see a thing, or read a thing, or hear a thing — I like the thing — and I want to somehow render, or celebrate, or get to the heart of the thing in stitches. Lynne’s approach is completely different, and I completely love it. She says:

Inspiration isn’t always derived from things we see around us — or even from words we read or hear. Sometimes it comes from something intangible within us. When playing with a technique, I sometimes feel like a dowser, but holding knitting needles instead of a dowsing rod to guide me toward an unknown goal.

I feel about two hundred years behind Lynne’s design-aesthetic — a plodding Wordsworth to her John Ashberry. Don’t get me wrong — I love the technical aspects of designing, and I like to make stitches do things for me, but I think that Lynne’s relationship to stitch is on another level entirely — like the listener of a symphony who has somehow become a sort of instrument themselves. If you have any interest in the creative possibilities of knitwear design, then you need to immediately get hold of a copy The Shape of Knitting to put on your shelf next to Lynne’s previous book.

Finally, here is a book I’ve been looking forward to seeing for some time.

rosa1

I admire Rosa Pomar for many reasons, but perhaps most for her thorough commitment to exploring and documenting the history of Portuguese textiles from the grass-roots up. Behind this wonderful book stands several years work, as Rosa has travelled around Portugal, researching animal husbandry, spinning, weaving, knitting, garment construction, and the traditional craft and design practices of men and women all over her beautiful country. Though my Portuguese is non-existent, I still find so much food for thought here.

rosa2

rosa3

rosa4

As well as exploring the history and distinctive techniques of Portuguese hand knitting, the book also includes patterns for twenty lovely accessories inspired by traditional design. I think that this one is my favourite . . .

bag

. . . not least for the way it showcases Rosa’s own Mirandesa yarn, which is hand spun and plied in Trás-os-Montes from the wool of Churra Galega Mirandesa sheep. This book marks an important landmark in the way the history of hand knitting is researched and written about, and you can buy it from Rosa here.

Snawpaws

snawpaws

An obligatory tree-hugging photograph whilst wearing an outrageously festive gnome-suit can only mean one thing . . .

snawpawcuff

Yes! The Snawpaws pattern is now OUT!

snawpawpattern

If you have a desire to sport hand-wear to match your heid . . .

gnome

. . . and fancy adorning your wrists with cute wee pompoms (these ones are a mere 1.5″ in diameter). . .

snawpawpom

. . .then this is clearly the design for you!

The pattern includes instructions for both mittens and mitts. . .

snawmitts

. . . and if you have already purchased the Snawheid pattern, then the Snawpaws pattern can be yours for half price (£1.37 as opposed to £2.75).

snawmittsfull

To take advantage of this promotion, simply enter the code PAWS when prompted to do so at the Ravelry checkout.

wazznbruce

We had a lot of fun when we were out taking these photographs — sometimes dressing up is all that is required to induce some festive cheer. I have to say, though, that we were certainly getting a lot of curious glances from onlookers — though I reckon that might have been due as much to the get-up of the photographer as my 100% wool tri-coloured gnome suit. . . .

kiltonblackford

What do you think?

Snawpaws can now be YOUR PAWS!

Happy knitting xx

snawpawfull

Bláithín

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!

Madeiran inspiration

One of the many things I admire about Portuguese culture is the way that pattern and design are part of everyday life.

There are beautiful tiles everywhere. Most interiors are tiled, and almost every public space is enriched by a particular experience of the decorative.



Even Brutalism approaches the ornamental.


Wandering around Funchal – Madeira’s ‘capital’ – is a peculiarly graphic experience. By simply walking one is taking a sort of masterclass in pattern.

The narrative of one’s footsteps, of one’s movement through the street, is told out in tiles.

These distinctive mosaic pavements are everywhere in Funchal, from the town’s alleys . . .

. . . to its squares.

The patterned pavements seem to invite the pedestrian to the act of leisurely promenading, strolling, window-shopping.

The aesthetic is all pervasive – here is the entrance to a supermarket . . .

. . .and here is the exterior of a parking garage.

These pavement mosaics are made up of alternating pieces of basalt and limestone. Over the years, Funchal’s designers have clearly enjoyed playing with the high-contrast potential of these materials.

For someone pattern-obsessed like me, the streets of Funchal are exciting and inspiring spaces. For example, I love the way that these right angles . .

become diagonals

The particular design repeat used on this mosaic also appears in one of my Latvian weaving books, and another book I have about Estonian mitten patterns. Such cross-cultural aesthetic connections really intrigue me, and are one of the reasons that I am so looking forward to Rosa Pomar’s forthcoming book. Just pottering about the streets of Funchal made me reflect on the fundamental nature of the repeat and on how the same basic principles tend to govern the surface decoration of very different media (textiles, pavements etc). The OXO, for example is a ubiquitous feature of Spanish and Portuguese tiling, Baltic weaving, as well as Fair-Isle knitting patterns. I particularly liked this playful example.

Anyway, as you might imagine, the streets of Funchal have inspired me to produce a design of my own. I began work on it while we were in Madeira and finished knitting it last night. Here is a wee taster.

No, it is not a hat, but something altogether different. More photographs and a pattern this weekend!

A conversation with SpillyJane


(SpillyJane’s Isidora Mittens.)

Playing with pattern and colour are probably what I like most about designing. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot, and considering the different ways that pattern is put to use in the colourwork of the designers I admire. At the top of my list has to be SpillyJane – as someone who adorns mittens with pints of beer and sausages it would be hard for me not to like her – but there is so much more to her work than the witty motifs she weaves into her socks and mittens. Her aesthetic influences range from Pewabic Pottery to Flannery O’ Connor, and looking at her designs you can immediately see a creative intelligence at work. In her colourwork there is a grace, an energy, and a precision that I find both impressive and inspiring. I was really pleased that she agreed to this virtual conversation.


(Mystery and Manners Mittens.)

KD:Where is your favourite place to sit and knit?
SJ:Any place where I can hole myself up with a nice cup of tea, really. If I have to select a room at home I’d have to go with my yarn-stuffed studio up under the century-old eaves. On warm Spring and Summer days I love to sit on my porch and work in the sun, surrounded by greenery.

KD:When and how did knitting turn into designing for you?
SJ:As soon as I realized that doing so would afford me the chance to play with colour and pattern. I’ve always been, erm, obsessed with both to the point of distraction. Also, there were things (mittens and socks) that I wanted to knit that didn’t exist yet — it was up to me to make them up, so I did.


(Sea Mineral Mittens.)

KD:What was your first stranded knitting project? Did you enjoy colourwork right from the start?
SJ:It was a Latvian mitten from Lizbeth Upitis’ fantastic book in wonderfully folky colours. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing — I didn’t know how to hold the yarn with both hands, the three-colour portions of the thing were a right mess and my stitches were way too tight. I never did knit the mate to that one — I treated it as a kind of learning experience and just tried to move on. The next mittens I knit were my Sea Mineral mittens, the first pair that I designed.


(Wurst)

KD: I think Wurst is my favourite of all your mitten patterns — elegant chic and cured meat in one design! Really, you can’t go wrong. Which of your designs is your favourite? Why?
SJ: I am so, so happy that Wurst is your favourite! I’ve always had a thing (as odd as it may seem,) for strings of sausages. That pattern is based on a stencil I had made years ago. I’ve always found hanging strings of sausage links wonderfully festive and earthy, especially at a busy market — I’ve always wanted to see them on fabrics or wallcoverings.


(Decadence (back))

. . . My favourite of my mitten patterns is Decadence. Firstly, I’m in love with rich, deep colours — gold and plum being two of my favourites. As for the design, it initially appears decorative but subtly deviant poppy pods and absinthe spoons become apparent upon closer inspection. The palm is restrained and architectural, which invokes antique brass furnace gratings that might appear in a dark-panelled room where one might indulge in the aforementioned activities. It’s warm, cozy and vaguely seedy all at the same time.


(Decadence (palm))

KD:On your blog, you describe design as a process of translation. Could you say a little more about this?
SJ:With a lot of my work I feel like I’m just continuing the conversation that’s been initiated by my inspiration, but in a “different language,” so to speak. I’ll feel drawn to a song or an object or a building or whatever to the point where I feel the need to respond — to celebrate it, to announce my love for the thing at hand. So I’m very literally translating (carrying that thing over) into the realm of knitting. I hope people see my work and feel the need to respond to my pieces in turn — to keep the conversation going, as it were.


(Polska mittens, and the Polish stoneware that inspired them.)

KD:What do you enjoy least about designing?
SJ: I get too many ideas all at once and I only have one pair of hands!

KD:I like it when happenstance plays a part in the way an idea for a pattern comes together. What was the most unexpected thing that has inspired one of your designs?
SJ:I have always loved the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit, visible across the river from where I live in Windsor. It is a beautiful red brick Art Deco masterpiece highlighted by bands of coloured tilework. When I started designing, it was delightful happenstance that my favourite building had bands of repeating tilework patterns that lend themselves perfectly to translation into colourwork stitches.



(Guardian Building and Mittens)

KD:Is improvisation involved in your design process? do your patterns evolve as you knit them?
SJ:I don’t improvise so much whilst knitting, but I do a little while drawing up the charts. I am constantly adding bits here and there, filling in empty spots or adding elements to make the design easier to knit, more aesthetically pleasing, or more balanced. I’ll look at the hard copy chart and move things around or flip things.

KD:What often impresses me about your designs is the way that you can make complex visual ideas fit within the parameters of a mitten or sock. Your Flamingos are a case in point — combining vim with a sort of disciplined restraint. But do you ever find that your design ideas outstrip the basic possibilities of knitting?
SJ: Sometimes I do. In such cases I modify the idea as much as I can, but if I can’t do so to my satisfaction I’ll throw it out before I compromise the design. The pattern can only work one stitch at a time, and adding too much detail can ruin the simple, folky beauty of the knitted pattern. At the same time, the design elements have to be recognizable. A flamingo has to look like a flamingo; if I can’t break it down to be used on a wee ten stitch grid and have it still be recognizable as a flamingo, I’ll move on to something else.


(Flamingo mittens)

KD:Is there anything you would never put on a mitten?
SJ:Anything is game, as far as I’m concerned, but some things work better than others in a mitteny context. Some things just naturally lend themselves to being reproduced in miniature or in bands or in rows. It has to work within the parameters set by the mitten. I like these restrictions, they hem in the creativity while allowing me to stretch it to its limits. Contradictory yes, but I swear that this allows me more opportunity, not less.


(Swedish Fish mittens)

KD: Which designer / artist would you most like to invite round to your place for a pint and/ or sausage?
SJ:Florine Stettheimer. I just became familiar with her this past summer. She was an American artist active in the teens, twenties and thirties. I am still learning about her. Her work is dreamy, airy and beautiful and I can’t understand why she isn’t more popular.

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills (1918), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

KD:Do you enjoy any other crafts? crochet? stitching? quilting?
SJ: I enjoy spinning; I love my handmade spindles and find the whirling hypnotic and relaxing. I have dabbled with embroidery over the years, and enjoyed a brief flirtation with Elizabethan stumpwork.

Many thanks to SpillyJane!


Gnomes

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