Ásta Sóllilja

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Here is today’s yoke – Ásta Sóllilja. I began this design with the idea of using colour to create a transition from deep blue to silver grey around the edges of a jumper. I wanted the edges of the design to shimmer a wee bit, in such a way that they might seem to fuse or merge with a darker skirt or pair of jeans. I had fun playing with the Ístex lett lopi palette, and eventually came up with this:

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After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book

Sjónabók

This wonderful tome reproduces charts and patterns from the textile designs in the sjónabók manuscripts, which are held in the national museum of Iceland. It is a truly fabulous book, which blew me away, not only with the distinctive charts and patterns but with its fascinating analysis of the geometry and four-fold symmetry of Icelandic design. From many patterns in the book, I selected a single version of the hammer rose motif, and played with it, inverting and modifying it in such a manner that allowed me to feature it over the whole depth of a colourwork yoke.

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(If you would like to learn more about this motif and its history in Iceland, see Hélène Magnússon’s important book Icelandic Knitting: Using Rose Patterns)

While I was working on this design, I was also reading Halldór Laxness’s dry and incisive Icelandic novel Independent People (1954). Laxness’s account of an Icelandic valley and its human and animal inhabitants had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the book for several weeks afterwards, musing particularly on its relationship with another important twentieth-century account of rural life on the cusp of modernity – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song (1932). There are many thematic comparisons to draw between these two novels, particularly as regards their representation of gender, sexuality and ideas of women’s independence (I would really rather like to write about this one day). The story of Laxness’s female protagonist – Ásta Sóllilja – in the end pans out rather differently from that of Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, and the determination, imagination, and arrested potential of the Icelandic character was cause of much reflection. So I named this design after her.

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Designing this jumper really made me fall in love with Icelandic wool: wind and weatherproof, light and warm, in such a beautiful range of colours. The finished yoke is a cosy, easy to wear garment, and is one of those jumpers that I find myself wanting to just throw on and head outside.

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Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.

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You can find more details about Ásta Sóllilja here.

PS In very exciting news, it looks as if the book is actually going to print today, so I will shortly be able to activate the shop for pre-orders.

sew what?

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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.

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

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

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But my lettering definitely needs some work . . .

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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.

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Of Note

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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. . . 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

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

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Yes! The Snawpaws pattern is now OUT!

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

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

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

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

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. . . 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).

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

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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. . . .

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What do you think?

Snawpaws can now be YOUR PAWS!

Happy knitting xx

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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!

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