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Bank Swallows by Charley Harper

I have a great fondness for birds, and bird-inspired design. Like many designers, I adore the work of Charley Harper, because of the way that he manages to capture the bird-ness of a bird with such admirable economy of line. Harper somehow really got how birds – with their simple shapes, their distinctive characters and behaviours – seem to lend themselves naturally to repeating patterns, as can also be seen in the work of my favourite printmaker, Dee Beale.
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Swallows in Chalky Blue by Dee Beale

Dees joyful kaleidoscope of swallows just sings out with the exuberance of a returning Spring!

Avian shapes are particularly effective when worked over small repeats of knitted stitches. SpillyJane is a master of this kind of thing, and her Flamingo Mittens blow me away every single time I see them.

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There’s that same economy of line . . . and those flamingos are so neat! So inscrutable! So chock full of retro vim!

I also love to create bird-y designs, and as well as some work of which you might be aware, I also have a notebook filled with numerous unmade avians. In that notebook there are sketches for lapwing and gannet inspired knitwear, and perhaps one day I will show you the crazy oystercatcher intarsia that almost made it into Yokes. . .

Anyway, about the only other person I know who is just as obsessed with birds, and avian-inspired design, as I am is my friend Jen. It was a natural decision that birds would be the subject of our next Cross-Country challenge. This is the result.

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My design is the murmuration scarf, and it was inspired by spectacular collective displays of starlings in the autumn months.

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As you can see, a flock of starlings rises up and disperses across each end of the scarf. The repeats are really simple – just a few stitches – but I hope I’ve managed to convey in these few stitches the feeling of a rising flock in flight.

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I like a big woolly scarf and I won’t lie – there is a lot of knitting in it. But I do think the end result is worth it.

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Jen designed a pleasingly graphic hat and mitts set inspired by her favourite bird – the Atlantic puffin.

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Jolly puffins parade around the hat, and the crown has a beak-related surprise.

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There’s also another surprise, as a single puffin at the front of the hat is picked out in full colour embroidery (worked in simple duplicate stitch and back stitch).

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The mitts mirror the stripes and stitches of the hat, with another embroidered puffin on one hand.

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Tom shot these photographs on a lovely evening out at Inveruglas.

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This was a particularly fun photoshoot, because it was with Jen.

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Cross-Country Knitting, volume 3 includes the patterns for the murmuration scarf, and the Fufnip hat and mitts. I’ve also written an essay for this volume about the love of birds that Jen and I share.

Both our designs use one of my favourite yarns – Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. Why not stock up in Lerwick if you are there for wool week?
You can now find Cross Country Knitting, volume 3, digitally on ravelry and in print on Mag Cloud.

26 thoughts on “Cross-Country Knitting: Volume 3

  1. Lovely! I work for the visiting nurse in SC and had a patient once whose home was filled with Charlie Harper, perhaps 50 of his prints…I liked the one with the luna moth…

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  2. Oh, Kate, this scarf is sublime, and manages to convey the idea of a murmuration beautifully. However, what I really want to know is, WHERE did you get the tartan pinafore?! Your pattern photoshoot styling is always fabulous. xx

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  3. fantastic designs. I want to do them all before the winter – you both look so warm and cosy. Love the puffins, I saw a real life puffin for the first time in Shetland this year, and they are by far my favourite bird. However also love the Charley Harper swallows, thank you again for sharing your inspiration.

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  4. Loving the bird designs. Have you ever knitted in Alpaca? I can’t wear wool as it gives me an unbearably itchy rash. I was looking at these, thinking how much I’d love to make them for myself, and then got to wondering if they would knit up in Alpaca, and what weight 2 ply jumper weight would equate to in Alpaca terms.

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    1. I’m an ardent Charley Harper fan ever since I visited his hometown of Cincinatti. His loss is evident all around the town but the little Cardinal print I brought home reminds me of him all the time. Kate’s scarf is a lovely nod to that esthetic.

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