Of Note


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.




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 . . .


. . . 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.

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!

all change

Today I put away my summer clothes, and removed the winter ones from storage. I always find it a bit depressing having to encounter the berloody tights again . . . but it is nice to see warm winter dresses, sweaters, and coats. Anyway, before I pack the summer stuff away, I thought I’d show you various garments I sewed and knit myself over the past few months which, for one reason or another, I didn’t get a chance to blog about. You will note that there is something of a red theme going on — this wasn’t intentional! And apologies for what’s going to be a rather picture-heavy post.

1. Dotty Dress.

I was finishing the lining of this dress when I wrote this post back in June. I was reasonably pleased with how it turned out, so don’t know why I didn’t blog about the process more. It is a “very easy” Vogue pattern (V8319) and was reasonably straightforward — as I recall, it only took a few evenings to make. The only downside about the dress is that it came out slightly large. I was nervy about the rep Vogue patterns have of running small, so made myself the next size up. And then the dress was difficult to take in after I’d finished because of the precise way the body and cap sleeves taper together. But I am being pernickety – it is not too baggy, and I like the pattern very much. I may use it to make myself a winter dress –in the right size this time. I bought the pleasing dotty fabric from here — a site that I try not to look at too often as their stuff is just too damn tempting. Heres another picture. You can blame Tom for the hysterical gurning and throwing of shapes.

next up we have:
2. Boat skirt

I made this back in early June, using some Cath Kidston furnishing fabric I’d been given and some lovely red grossgrain ribbon I received in the badge swap (thankyou, Philippa!). I followed the basic instructions in this book, adding lining and facings to the formula. Its a good fit, quite sporty. I like this skirt very much and have worn it lots over the past couple of months.

And another skirt:
3. Summer swallows skirt.

I bought this Japanese fabric as a birthday treat to myself from the wonderful Rosa Pomar, whose stock is always so lovely — top quality and exceptionally well chosen. I like skirts like this with a lot of fabric — the width of the bottom is about three times that of the top. To make it, I just followed the instructions for a basic pleated skirt in this book, adding facings to the formula to make the skirt hang a bit better. I spent a long time matching up the waves and swallows on the pleats — this was well-worth the effort I think. Finally, I found some wide, black, broderie anglais edging on ebay, and added this to the bottom. Bingo! A skirt for wearing with a sticky-out petticoat underneath. And though its perhaps more of a summer garment, these swallows are going to hang around for winter too.

And finally:
4. Mary Traynor

I knitted this little top while hanging around in hospitals, waiting for surgeons and physiotherapists to finish doing what they were doing to Tom’s hand. The yarn is so lovely to work with — it was quite a comforting thing to have in one’s hands. Mary Traynor was my maternal grandmother — a champion knitter who spent every summer in lacy tops of her own making. She is to blame for my knitting, and lacy summer tops remind me very much of her.

The top is my own design: bottom-up, in-the-round raglan; spiral shell lace pattern; crocheted edging. It took just one skein of ornkney angora 4 ply. That’s right folks! Just 50g!

I love this yarn so much — so light and sugary, and it knits up a dream. The finished top turned out well, but it is wee — almost too wee. My thursday night knitting comrades laughed heartily at the size of it when they saw me making it — the combination of the lace pattern and a 40cm circular needle meant it looked contracted and near-dollsize, but it blocked out nicely, and does fit me — just. Here it is being blown around on the promenade near Funchal.

ye gods, was that really just last week? The weather is so crisp and autumnal here that Madeira seems a world away. So, anyway:

Design: Mary Traynor (my own pattern)
Yarn: Orkney Angora 4 ply. Red. One skein. Ysolda, and her lovely beret, are to blame for my yarn choice.
needles: 4mm addi turbos
ravelled here

Swapping round the warm- and cold-weather wardrobes has reminded me just how many berloody clothes I own, and that, aside from the occasional pair of tights (groan) that I really do not need to buy any more. I’ve found real pleasure in making and wearing all the things I’ve sewn and knitted so far this year, and am looking forward to revamping my wardrobe with handmade items this winter — tweed suits and knitted dresses, here we come.

And for those of you who were kindly asking after Tom: things are starting to improve. Madeira really did wonders for the healing process: he was told the other day by the woman we call “badphysio” that he was doing remarkably well “for his age”. (Note: we only call her badphysio because she’s rather dour and hardchrist, not because she’s at all bad at her job). The poor hand is still incredibly painful–now the tendons have healed, they have to be stretched and punished to prevent him having a claw. He has no feeling in the fingers, and the injuries are still rather fragile. But the evil splint can now be taken off during the day, and he is allowed to go running and hill walking again. This is very good news indeed.


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