steeks and swants

anatolia
Anatolia by Marie Wallin

So, have you seen Rowan Magazine 54 yet? I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday and there are some wonderful designs in there. My two favourites are probably Anatolia by Marie Wallin – a beautifully luscious yoked sweater knit up in rich shades of Felted Tweed – and Sarah Hatton’s Melissa – a neat and eminently wearable wee gansey.

melissa
Melissa by Sarah Hatton

As previously mentioned, I have a design in the Magazine for the first time (woohoo!) and Rowan have also kindly included a profile of me and my work in this issue.

portrait

Me.

Additionally, I have written an editorial feature about knitting in the round and steeking, and produced a steeking how-to for this issue of the magazine. My tutorial includes instructions for crocheted and machine-sewn steeks, while my feature explores different technical aspects of chopping up your knitting, along with the history and etymology of the steek (did you know, for example that in Scots ‘to steek’ actually means to close or fasten, rather than to cut open?)

As part of my research for the feature, I had a chat with lovely Stephen West. I am a great admirer of Stephen’s approach to design, and really love his style, and I was blown away by the steeked sweater-pants that he began to make last year out of his Amsterdam thrift-shop finds.

swants2

For the feature, Stephen sent me some fabulous images of a pair of SWANTS (Sweater-Pants) that he’d whipped up from a vintage Setesdal sweater, but as these didn’t make Rowan’s final selection for the magazine, I can (with his permission) show them to you here.

swants4

For me, Stephen’s SWANTS really sum up the approach to steeking which I have tried to get across in the the feature – viz – to just go for it and have fun . . .

swants3

I love the SWANTS!

If you’d like to have a go at steeking and refashioning your own pair of SWANTS, Stephen tells me that a tutorial or two will be forthcoming on his blog this Autumn. Thanks, Stephen!

Sontag

I have a design published in the new Rowan Magazine! It is a simple triangular shawl or “Sontag” knit up in three tasty shades of Rowan Fine Tweed.

sontagfabric
(shades Wensley, Bedale, and Dent)

The garment is named after Henriette Sontag — a German singer, who brought this kind of shallow, front-crossing shawl to the attention of fashionable Victorians. The OED describes a “Sontag” as “a type of knitted or crocheted jacket or cape, with long ends which are crossed in front of the body and tied behind, worn by women in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.”

henriette

Curiously, I have been unable to find an image of Sontag sporting her signature garment . . .here’s a better representation of a Victorian woman wearing the shawl-style in question:

sontagphoto

Receipts for Sontags (also called “cache coeurs”, or “bosom friends”) are to be found in many women’s magazines from the 1860s onwards. They are, in fact, one of the first styles of shawl to be written up in modern pattern form.

1860+Sontag

But Sontags aren’t just Victorian. Here, for example, is a very similar garment being modelled in the Missoni A/W 2012 collection.

missoni
(I have strong feelings about high Fashion’s use of exceptionally thin models, and, confess to a degree of discomfort about this image.)

Mashing up these Victorian and contemporary influences, I came up with my design. Rather than being worked from side-to-side, my shawl is knit top down. It begins with a garter-tab cast on, and, following a simple stripe sequence, uses paired increases at the centre and outer edges to create a shallow, elongated triangle with front-crossing points. Optional ties can then be added to secure the garment around the waist.

This is the result:

wrap

My Sontag design appears in the magazine’s ‘Folk’ story, under the name ‘Nepal Wrap.’ If you’d like to knit it, Rowan 54 should be hitting shelves (and the doormats of subscribers) very soon!

Rowan and me

feltedtweed

Some time in 2005, I was walking through the Edinburgh branch of John Lewis when my eye was caught by the display of Rowan yarns and samples. The gorgeous colours of the yarns and the beautiful styling and photography of the pattern books and magazines really grabbed my attention. On the spot, I decided to start knitting again, and picked up several balls of Big Wool in, if I remember rightly, the ‘tomato’ shade. The first thing I turned out was a gigantic tomato-coloured moss-stitch wrap on 10mm needles, and since then I have not looked back. What I’m saying is that it was Rowan’s yarns, designs, and photography — their distinctive and immediately recognisable aesthetic — that inspired me to take up my needles. I am sure that many knitters (and designers) have a similar tale to tell.

mineral

I have been writing features for the Rowan Magazine since 2009, and each one has been a pleasure to produce. Marie Wallin always provides suggestive and inspiring editorial briefs; the generous word length allows one to properly get one’s teeth into a topic; and it is genuinely thrilling to see one’s words and photographs laid out in such a well-produced and seriously beautiful magazine. Research for the fine lace feature I wrote for Magazine 50 (A/W, 2011) took me to Shetland — the first of many trips, and, for me, the beginning of another journey.

cinnamon

Although I have worked with Rowan for almost four years, I have never met Marie or the rest of the team. Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to do so, and popped down to Yorkshire to visit Rowan’s Holmfirth HQ.

damask

I had a lovely day. It was both fascinating and inspiring to see behind the scenes, to gain an insight into the complexities of the design and production process from start to finish, and to catch a glimpse (and squoosh) of what knitters will be treated to in future seasons. It was also lovely to put faces to design-room names, and to have the opportunity to chat about future projects in person.

watery

As these photographs will suggest, it was one of those incredibly busy sorts of days when there wasn’t an opportunity to make use of my camera — but these tasty balls of Felted Tweed may give you some indication of various things-in-process. All I’ll say right now is watch this space!

pine

Thankyou, Marie, David, Kate and the rest of the Rowan team for a wonderful introduction to the mill!

Mod

delaunay
(Delaunay in an outfit of her own design)

Do you remember a little while ago I was having a Sonia Delaunay moment?

simultaneous
(‘Simultaneous’ dress & car upholstery)

Around this time, I was knitting the the Puffin Sweater, and shortly afterward, I wrote a piece about Delaunay which has just been published in Rowan 53.

mag53

The brief for my feature was to write something to accompany this Rowan design story . . .

ikon

ikonknits

. . . and I felt that the influence of Delaunay was startlingly evident in mod-inspired knitwear collections.

delaunayvceline
(Delaunay, 1923 / Céline, Autumn / Winter 2010-11)

Delaunay’s proud, modernist vision of garments as wearable art was the starting point of my thinking . . .

vogue
(Delaunay celebrated by Vogue in 1925)

. . . but I ended up somewhere rather different.

jeanshrimptonmondrian
(Jean Shrimpton in Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian Dress, 1964)

perry&lim
(Lisa Perry & Phillip Lim’s appropriations of Lichtenstein)

You can read more in the magazine!

Sunday at Mel’s

It has been a quiet few days round here. Perhaps inevitably, my burst of hat-related energy was followed by an evil bout of post-stroke fatigue that has been all the more galling because I had been so looking forward to this week. Felix is in Edinburgh, and we had some fun things planned, none of which I have been able to do because I’ve been so damn tired. But happily today I did manage to haul myself out of the house and round to Mel’s for an afternoon of convivial knitting. The magnificent beast at the top of this post is Mel’s cat Moose — perhaps the superlative feline knitting companion. Please to note, in the photograph above, the insistent — yet respectful — way he has claimed Mel’s knitting as his own.

Unlike my own animals, who seem to enjoy disrupting yarn-related activity, Moose is a very calming and relaxing presence. Here, for example, he takes a wee snooze on my knee while the knitterly business of the room goes on around him.

And here he reveals himself as a cat of taste, displaying his approval of a couple of tasty balls of Rowan fine tweed, and Mel’s recently completed Betty Mouat sweaters – yes, that’s plural – of which more later.

Felix is sporting marvelous socks (spoils of a recent trip to Estonia), and knitting up a Deco in John Arbon’s new yarn, inspired by the pastel Art Deco buildings she saw in Miami.

Mel is knitting the Latvian Garden Blanket in some very pleasing shades of Jamieson and Smith.

and I am working on a pair of fingerless gloves to match last week’s hat.

After a tedious few days, it was lovely to spend the afternoon in the company of two of my very favourite people.

. . .and one of my favourite cats.

In other news:

:: I don’t know if the Rowan members out there have already seen the digital edition of Magazine no. 50? There’s all sorts of interesting additional behind-the-scenes content, including photoshoots and video interviews with Rowan’s designers . . . and, if you turn to pages 40-41, you can click through to see another wee video accompanying my feature on Shetland lace. This footage comes from the epic day when Mel, Emma and I drove the length of Shetland, took 8 boats, and braved the queasy horrors of some very choppy water between the mainland and Whalsay, to go and visit Ina Irvine and Hazel Laurenson. Ina and Hazel are two of the talented women involved in the Shetland Fine Lace Project , and, despite my shaky camera, you can get a taste of their marvelous knitting, which is on sale in the Shetland Museum Shop.

:: If you are out and about in Dublin next week, I’ll be at This is Knit’s annual yarn-tasting and am also looking forward to meeting the wonderful knitters who made my blanket. I think the yarn tasting may well be sold out now, but if you’ve booked, I’ll see you there!

As you might imagine, I’m hoping for a bit of an energy boost to carry me across the sea to Ireland. More on my return!

shetland lace


Excitement! Unable to wait for my copy to turn up in the post, I just popped up to John Lewis to pick up the new Rowan Magazine. Rowan (who will soon be bringing out a new laceweight yarn) wanted a substantial piece on the history of lace knitting and this is what I came up with. I have to say that, out of all the features I’ve researched and written for magazines over the past few years, I am most pleased with this one. Why so? Well, for a start, in contrast to many accounts of Shetland lace as ‘traditional’ knitting, I have what I think is an important argument to make about lace always being an innovatory textile produced in response to the demands of a commercial market and changing fashionable trends. Plus, researching this piece not only gave me an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable creative artistry of Shetlanders and Shetland, but meant that I actually got to go there. Through working on this piece, I met Sarah, Oliver and Sandra at Jamieson and Smith; Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum and Archives; the wonderful folk at the Unst Heritage Centre and superlative knitters like Ina Irvine and Mary Kay, who published the Shetland lace patterns that my grandma used to knit from Woman’s Weekly. I heart Shetland! I genuinely loved working on this feature, and in many ways, feel that it marks the beginning of an association that I know will be long-lasting. Perhaps I will see you up there during Shetland Wool Week.

In other exciting news, a pepper has appeared on the plant on the kitchen windowsill.


My First Pepper! Huzzah!

another feature

The new Rowan Magazine has just come out, and I have a feature in it, exploring the history of mending, darning, and ‘plain work’. I really enjoyed researching and writing this piece, and working on it became quite important to me during some difficult times over the Summer. In many respects, it is a very “me” sort of piece, and I feel rather happy to see it published. Reading my words, and remembering the ideas behind the writing, reminds me that I stayed me even when I did not feel like me at all (if you see what I mean). I can perhaps give you a quick taste of the feature with a few of the images that Rowan did not use:


Margaret Boxall’s darning sampler (1799). © Ackworth School Estates. You can read more about these beautiful samplers in Carol Humphrey’s super book).


“Two women set up a make do and mend exhibition” (1943) (D14646) ©Imperial War Museum (grateful thanks to Eleanor Farrell at the IWM)


Liz kindly agreed to be my darning model. Here are her hands mending a lovely Hopscotch sock (of her own design) using Felix’s darning egg.

I am also very happy that the wonderful and talented Mandy, and her mother-in-law, Noreen, feature in the feature. And, quite apart from anything else, I reckon that this is a sterling issue of the magazine. I was particularly struck by the ‘Illusion’ story, which showcases some beautiful, airy pieces, set off with Rowan’s characteristically gorgeous photography and Marie Wallin’s great styling. Just the thing to brighten up a dreich January day.

bonus

More wardrobe refashioning: a few years ago, I knitted Tom a tank top (or vest, or whatever you like to call ‘em) which turned out to be too big for him: a (gulp) Kaffe Fassett pattern called “dotty” from the Rowan Magazine. It’s a nice, autumnal pattern, in felted tweed with the dots worked in tapestry (a yarn I hated to work with, but which turned out just right for the look of this tank top). Anyway, Tom loved the vest, but since it didn’t really fit, he rarely wore it. So I thought I’d have a go at shrinking and felting it a little down to my size. So I wet it, stuck it in the tumble dryer on the cool-ish setting for about 15 minutes, then took it out and stretched and blocked it to my dimensions. Bingo!

I love the new me-sized dotty, but Tom is now rather jealous. I have been told I have to knit him a proper fairisle-y replacement.

I like the way the slight felting has changed the colour of the dots, which now merge seamlessly from a sort of rust to a deep forest green. And the wool is not completely felted up: the ribbing still looks like ribbing.

Pattern: Kaffe Fassett, Dotty.
Originally made to fit 40″ chest on 3.75mm addis, now felted down to fit me.
Yarn: felted tweed and Tapestry.
Ravelled here

Mule took the pictures. Thanks, Mule.

black and white

One of my birthday gifts was this lovely skirt designed by Rob Ryan for. . .yes, Clothkits. (I am so predictable). I made it up a few weeks ago — cutting and sewing it neatly and without hitches in (ahem) just three hours. (Sewing hubris? Wot? Me?)The facings and linings worked slightly differently in the pattern instructions than with the big birdie skirt. Not having to match up, pin and sew curves on the facings makes for a much speedier skirt. And what a skirt it is. Absolutely delicious.

I would show you some more pics of the process of making the skirt — but I can’t (missing computer issues continue, O, when will it end?). But one of my favourite things about this garment is its lovely scalloped edging. I obviously needed a top with scallops to match. So I knitted one up.

The top is a sort-of copy of one I saw sported by a knitting comrade at K1 yarns a few thursdays ago. Hers is a version of “Elf” in this Marie Wallin book for Rowan. It has lovely, elaborate crocheted scallops. Mine is a lo-fi seamless raglan, knit from the bottom up, at 5 stitches to the inch, using one strand of kidsilk haze. I just made it up as I went along and crocheted on the scalloped edging using two strands of yarn and a simple repeat. But this is merely because I’m not a very good, or very experienced, crocheter. The edging in the original pattern is much more impressive.

Now, a word about knitting black kidsilk haze: DON’T!. It was like dealing with a fractious, elusive, woolly creature. I couldn’t see my stitches. I couldn’t tell the right from wrong side. I couldn’t see a berloody thing. And that’s to say nothing about the prospect of pulling back stitches or frogging the stuff. The yarn is pure evil! At least the body and sleeves were mindless tubes of stockinette — I just went round and round — but imagine the horror of the crochet. Sheesh. Never again.

So this was not an enjoyable process at all, but the end result is fine, and precisely what I wanted.

We’ve been down in Lancashire for the weekend, and I had a nice walk to Lytham yesterday. I was wearing the top and skirt. It was very windy. I mention this so that you don’t think that I’ve suddenly gone all tufty, or turned into some kind of cone head. And the skirt just wouldn’t hang flat either. But this is simply the effect of a brisk north westerly coming at me head on down the Fylde Coast at 80 miles an hour. Bracing, as they say.

Anyway, here is the whole black and white outfit:


The building I am standing in front of, wearing its own black and white outfit, is, of course, the Lytham Windmill. Along with the Blackpool Tower, it is one of the Fylde’s iconic landmarks. You can go inside, peruse exhibits about milling and regional history, and chat to the nice folk from the Lytham Heritage Group, as we did yesterday. Here’s one more pic.

So:
Pattern: my own made-up seamless raglan tee with crocheted edging. See instructions for similar bottom-up seamless prototypes by EZ or Ann Budd.
Gauge: 5 sts to inch, 3.5 mm addis.
Yarn: Kidsilk haze, black, 2 x 25 g. Yes, this is a top you can make with just 50g of yarn.
Edging: two strands of yarn, 4.5 mm hook, working a repeat of 5 tr, skip 1, 1dc, skip 1 into a round of double crochet.
Ravelled here

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