Wovember is here!

Happy Wovember, everyone! If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to head on over to the Wovember site to read the first of many wonderfully woolly installments. This year, I’ve not really been involved with the Wovember preparations because of the, um, somewhat pressing demands of my collection and book, but you can be assured that I am sitting here wearing my 100% wool outfit and Wovember badge and supporting everything that Felix and Tom are doing. This years Wovember theme is ‘closing the gap’ – that is – the gap between fibre and finished commodity that often leaves consumers woefully misinformed about a yarn or garment’s provenance and the different processes involved in its production. Tom and Felix have done a marvelous job of curating a series of really inspiring and interesting essays, beginning with a group of posts exploring what’s involved in “Growing Wool”: celebrating sheep, and the work of the people who raise and care for the animals who produce the fibre that we all love to knit with. I’m looking forward to reading more!

I shall be doing my bit to celebrate Wovember by knitting like mad, wearing wool every day, and writing more about woolly matters. I’ll try to post here every day for the next month. Till tomorrow, then — HAPPY WOVEMBER!

Shetland Wool Week in Pictures: part 3

where we stayed (I would heartily recommend it).

And the view from our window.

Shetland Times Bookshop, ready for Wool Week.

Delicious Fair Isle Cake, at the Heritage Yarn launch


Wonderful new yarn from Shetland Organics

Projection of Jo Jack’s work at the Bonhoga Gallery



Luminous Yarns

Jane Outram’s prize-winning tablet weaving at the Shetland Textile Museum.

Pressed-felt brooch by Donna Smith


Shetland Wool cushions by Ella Gordon

Phat Sheep Textiles

Handwoven pincushion from Aamos Designs

Nuff said.

Shetland Wool Week in pictures, part 2


Mel at Aithsetter


Mel and Hazel McKenzie, our Wool-Week landlady.




Sandra and Ella at J&S (if you are wondering about their cardigans, there’s a free pattern here)


Eric Stewart, showing us around the impressive textile facilitation unit at Shetland College


Knitters from six nations enjoying a trip to Unst (yoohoo ladies! It was lovely to meet you!)


Hazel Tindall, teaching Fair Isle


Gudrun, teaching lace


Susan, looking fabulous


Chris Harrison, Operations Director of Vi-Spring, receiving an award from Eric Wilson, past-master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, and one of the directors of the Campaign for Wool


Oliver Henry, telling us about the development of the new Shetland Heritage Yarn

(if you look at the window-reflections in the previous 2 photographs, you’ll see Misa and Deborah — the organisational geniuses behind Shetland Wool Week, to whom we are all incredibly grateful for this fantastic event! I think I can also spot Jane’s back in a rather pleasing cardigan . . .)


Me and Bess Jamieson – both wearing Fairisle – at the Shetland Textile Museum.

(Big thanks to Cathy Scott for permission to reproduce her photos of the Unst trip and Hazel’s workshop)

36 hours in wool world

I appear to have spent the past thirty-six hours in the place Tom refers to as Wool World. This is not actually a world full of wool (just imagine!) but is rather a particularly intense state of being, characterised by a vacant stare, furious knitting, and the inability to talk about anything but knitting. Conversations between ordinary humans and those who have entered wool world tend to go like this:

Tom: What would you like to eat for dinner?
Me: ye gods, the stitch definition on this yarn is incredible.
Tom: How about fish?
Me: Have you seen these colours? Just look at these colours. These colours are a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

While rendering one incapable of ordinary human interaction, or other necessary activities (such as washing oneself, or eating), being in Wool World does have its benefits. Individuals who have entered Wool World may have a weird and somewhat frazzled appearance; they may seem strangely distracted, and vague to the point of vacuity, but they can also be productive.

In my case, thirty-six hours in Wool World has resulted in the completed something mentioned in my previous post. The something is now blocking, and I like it immensely. The Shetland Heritage yarn is seriously wonderful to work with, and I love the results so much that I want to start knitting with it again right away. I am frankly itching to show the finished object to you, but as I have designed and made it specifically for the folk who are attending my workshop, they should really be the first to see it. But there’s not long to wait: the completed pattern will be uploaded to Ravelry on the afternoon of Monday October 8th – one week today!

Now, wasn’t there something else I was supposed to be doing? . . .

preparations

Shetland Wool Week is almost upon us! I have much to do in preparation — one pleasing task involves knitting with this lovely stuff.

This is Shetland Heritage yarn. It is the result of an exciting collaboration between the Shetland Museum and Archives, the Shetland Amenity Trust, Curtis Wool Direct, and Jamieson & Smith — the idea being to produce a modern yarn as close as possible to that which was originally used to hand-knit traditional Fair Isle garments.

Some of you may remember a post I wrote last year about this Fair Isle cardigan, that I picked up second hand.

Like most traditional Fair Isle garments produced before the 1940s, the yarn used to knit this cardigan was worsted spun. This process — in which the raw wool is combed rather than carded, then drawn short, and spun so that the fibres sit parallel to one another — produces a yarn with a smooth hand, and a very even finish. Many old Fair Isle garments have a slight ‘sheen’ that is the result of the smooth worsted yarns that have been used to knit them.

Like the vintage yarn used to knit my cardigan, the new Heritage Yarn is worsted spun.

Because of the way the fibre has been prepared and processed, this yarn has a much smoother, softer, and overall less “woolly” feel than contemporary knitter would be used to finding in other “Shetland” or Shetland-type yarns.

The palette — which is based on that of early Fair Isle garments in the Shetland Museum — works really well for traditional colourwork patterns. Just take a look at the beautiful swatch towards the end of Jen’s post here — suggesting the promise of great Jen AC things to come!

I mention this yarn, because it is one of the linchpins of this year’s Shetland Wool Week, and because I am about to knit up a something in it myself, which will hopefully form the basis of my workshop at the Shetland Museum. In the coming days, I intend to knit the something and produce a design. Then the idea is that we – the class and I – will collectively model the something, photograph the something, name the something, then upload the something in pattern form to Ravelry, live from the Shetland Museum. This plan is, of course, contingent upon my producing a successful Wool-Week something with this wonderful yarn. Wish me luck! I’m off to get knitting . . .

A grand day


(combed tops and yarn in the sample room. Wool heaven.)

Yesterday I had a grand day out. Martin and Janet Curtis kindly invited me to the opening of the new showroom at Haworth Scouring, the world’s largest commission scouring company, and an important hub of the British wool industry. The opening showcased many different elements of the industry — from processing right through to retail and distribution — and I was there to demonstrate hand-knitting and design. My sister, Helen, lives nearby, and it was great to bring her along as a spare pair of knitterly hands. Here she is working on a BMC, with some of the beautiful throws from the Real Shetland Company and my Rams and Yowes blanket behind her.

She couldn’t resist trying out one of the Real Shetland throws.

And here she is having a gander at Knit Real Shetland. (Note the obligatory Manu cardigan!)


The showroom had been fitted with a luxurious Shetland carpet, and there were other superb examples of British wool carpeting on display.


. . . as well as woven textiles . . .


(These samples are from Abraham Moon, another great Yorkshire company)

. . .knitting yarns . . .


(Jamieson & Smith’s amazing Shetland Heritage yarn, of which more another time).

. . . finished garments . . .

. . . and other innovative British wool products, such as these Shetland duvets, and a fabulous Vi-Spring Shetland mattress, of which I completely failed to take a photograph.

But my favourite thing, out of the many wonderful woolly things on display in the new showroom, was a piece by artist Angela Wright.

Angela’s wool installations take coned yarn (supplied by Martin Curtis), which is reworked and rewound into gigantic woolly hanks. These huge hanks, when arranged, suspended, and carefully laid down by Angela, have a profoundly transformative effect on the spaces in which they appear. I only had my macro lens with me yesterday, so was unable to take a picture capturing the full effect of Angela’s piece on the showroom space, but you get a good sense of her work from this earlier piece in Bradford Cathedral.


(“189 Miles” Wool Installation ver. 2, Bradford Cathedral, 2010. Photograph ©David Carr-Smith / Angela Wright)

I think it is quite rare to find textile art that manages to combine the spectacular with the contemplative, but Angela’s work is both. These installations are grand and public in scale, but there’s a quiet intimacy about them too, which arises from the woolly materials Angela is using, and (very clearly, I think) her own distinctive personal ‘feel’ for space and substance. Sited in Bradford, the historic home of the British wool industry, the installation seems celebratory and commemorative, both veil and shroud, a portal connecting past to future. There is a tremendous weight to Angela’s pieces — the wool threads hang, drape, and flow with a heaviness that is deeply emotional. Angela told me how some folk were moved to tears upon encountering the piece in Bradford Cathedral — I can well believe it.


(Wool Modern exhibition, Sydney, Australia, Apr/ May 2012, ©Angela Wright)

I recommend you go and have a look at these photographs which document the process of Angela’s wool installations from Yorkshire sheep to finished piece. Pretty amazing.

Here is Angela, discussing her installation with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who came to open the showroom yesterday and who, like her brother in law, is firmly committed to the Campaign for Wool.

. . .Martin Curtis presented her with a very special woolly gift. . .

. . . a beautiful hand-knitted lace stole, created as part of the Shetland fine lace project.

It was a day in which, from start to finish, the best of British wool was celebrated. Helen and I felt honoured to have been a part of it and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thankyou, Janet, and Martin, for a truly grand day!

b r b

Just popping in to say hello. I have been under the weather for the past week, and am now really rather unwell, and a bit grumpy to boot. I think I was getting used to my “normal” being a wee bit better than this . . . now, suddenly, I am back to feeling too tired to dress myself and it is really frustrating! There are things to be done!

At least there are some things which don’t require too much physical effort. Like playing around with this soft, Springtime palette, for example. . .

I often find myself feeling grateful for the solace-giving, restorative powers of sheepy wool and needles. When one is feeling ropey, knitting really comes into its own, I think.

Aerial Errigal

I last saw Errigal eight months ago , when you may remember I had a bit of a time getting up and down the chuffer. It is a truly spectacular mountain — just as spectacular from the aerial perspective I saw it from earlier today. As this photo might suggest, Mel and I have spent a fantastic weekend in Donegal. There were sheep! Mills! Yarn! Unseasonably warm weather! More of all of this once I’ve got my breath back . . . and done a bit of knitting.

Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend too!

colour

These end-of-February days are rather grey and dreich. Here is some colour to brighten them . . .

Green



Red



Blue



The yarn is my new favourite stuff to knit with. (So soft! So richly saturated! You’ll hear more about it soon!)
The swatch is one of several I’ve been making for the “Steek Sandwich” workshop I shall be leading at This is Knit in April. (That’s steek, not steak)
The daffodil bulbs are on my window sill
The bowl is from Emma Bridgewater’s new Walk in the Park range. (My favourite Bridgewater design since ‘Blue Hen.’)
The hand-coloured prints are the work of the quite brilliant Suzanne Norris. I love Suzanne’s designs – precise, evocative – and I also love the thoughtful way she writes about process. These are from her Amateur Naturalist’s Specimen Collection and you can read about the process of creating them in three parts, beginning here.

botched

I am out of sewing practice.

At least that’s my excuse: yesterday I managed to make a botched job of things . .

I bought this tweed when visiting Harris a couple of years ago – I love the bright blue, green, and orange flecks sitting in among the herringbone.

My idea was to turn this cheap and cheerful Ikea footstool . . .

. . . into this glorious work of woolly art . . .

I have lusted after these Anta tweed cubes for years (this one is my favourite) . . . but neither my budget, or my sense of crafty pride would allow me to acquire one . . . surely I could make my own? How difficult could it be to upholster a cube?

But my cube confidence was misplaced!

Having measured up the stool, I cut out five squares from the tweed with a generous seam allowance, got out the iron and sewing machine, and began to stitch everything together, as per the layout above. The sun was shining in the kitchen, the machine was purring away merrily, Debussy was on the radio: all was well. Then, half way through the seam between squares 2 and 3, the power suddenly cut out. Had I blown a fuse? I looked outside. A hole had appeared at the corner of the road. The hole was accompanied by machinery, and a small fire. Some men were in the hole, who blithely confirmed that they were responsible for the outage.

There was nothing I could do, so I took Bruce for a walk. When I returned, a couple of hours later, so had the electricity. I got back to my seams, but things were not the same: the light was poor, I was tired from my walk, and, quite simply I was not in the zone (I am not a natural with the sewing machine, and have to be in precisely the right frame of mind to deal with pins, bobbins, threading and all its other general gubbins). I should have put my cube aside and gone and done something else, but instead, growing increasingly grouchy and frustrated, I ploughed onward, stitching up my wonky seams, and trimming my crappy corners. I got the footstool out for a fitting. All was not well.

Now, this is the footstool after extensive repairs conducted this morning: it still looks rotten, but you should have seen it yesterday. So many things were wrong: I gave myself a far too generous seam allowance, (which meant that the corners of the cover didn’t sit properly in those of the footstool and the sides flapped about like a badly fitting skirt). None of the seams were straight, and the corners were really messy and bulky (because several layers of fabric met there) . . .

. . .actually pretty much everything about the cover was wonky, including the Harris Tweed label, which I sewed on last of all.

Annoyed with myself, I set the stool cover aside, and returned to my knitting (how soothing! No electricity! No fiddlinesses! Just me and the wool and the needles!). Later last night it occurred to me that the first problem lay in my pattern layout. I should have cut and seamed the pieces like this:

or this:

or this:

. . .the final layout, which could be cut on the fold, uses up more fabric, but it also makes for less bulky corners, fewer seams and layers, and a design that is much easier to fit and adjust . . .Of course, when I examined the Anta cubes again, it was immediately obvious that the fabric had been cut and seamed in like fashion . . .

Kate, you choob, why didn’t you have a proper look in the first place?

I had settled on my first layout after examining the cover of the Ikea cube, and deciding that the seams between the squares were necessary to give structure. But I hadn’t considered how much more bulky Harris tweed is than Ikea furnishing fabric. A well-fitting cover, cut from a single piece of fabric, would have been far better than one with sticky-out corners and multiple, wonky seams.

looks botched, doesn’t it Bruce?

I find it curious that, while I can immediately visualise all sorts of 3 dimensional seamless knitted constructions – I find it much more difficult to think naturally about fabric layouts. It is probably just that knitting is my metier, or that I have made it such by doing an awful lot of it (I have done very little sewing over the past couple of years).

Ultimately, there is no excuse, quite simply: I made a shite job of it.

This morning’s repairs have made the cover look a little better, yet I still think I will have to cut it up again, use that tweed for cushions, and sew up another cover.

But not today.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,611 other followers