You win some, you lose some. The cherubic (and dare I say photogenic) boy you see wearing my ‘Coniston’ sweater in the pic at the top of this page is my son. How fortunate, you might think, to be a knitting designer blessed with a ready-made model. Think again. This child has been known to choose shorts and (reluctantly) a t-shirt as his attire even in the depths of winter. He runs hot. In addition, if he thinks it’s a handknit, especially a mummy-made handknit, he won’t touch it with a barge pole. Coniston was designed especially for him, in non-itchy recycled yarn, with a hood because he likes them and a wide neck for his large noggin. Other than the day I bribed him with chocolate to take this photo, he’s worn it maybe half a dozen times if I’m lucky, and even then under extreme protest.
Even my boy with his penguin-like abilities to withstand cold sometimes gets cold hands, however, and it was making me feel bad as a mother, let alone a knitting mother, that he didn’t have a decent pair of mittens. Not so bad that I would spend my time making something he wouldn’t wear though, so a design conference was called. I can’t really recall who came up with what aspect of the design, but we decided that if I could make something that was easy to get on, like a mitten, but had a bit more finger-moving ability, like the ‘lobster claw’ gloves he’s seen his Daddy wear for bike riding, he might just wear them. Furthermore, if they made his hands look like monster claws, then the chances of him wearing them went up even more. This is how the ‘Dragon’ part of the ‘St George & The Dragon‘ set was born.
When I decided to see whether Knit Now might be interested in our idea, it was a natural step to come up with a hat to go with the gloves. Knowing that my boy’s tastes usually run to the simple, rather than the ‘full on dragon’s head’ complicated, I thought that a beanie replicating a knight’s helmet was the way to go. With a simple cross of reverse stocking stitch on stocking stitch, it’s easy enough for even a beginner.
The design appears in Knit Now’s Best of British issue, which I’m delighted about. I’ve become more and more drawn to using British-produced yarns in recent years, for reasons including environmental considerations, a desire to support this ancient industry that’s part of our heritage and, selfishly, the sense of integrity and linking to the past that I feel when I’m using them. For this project I got to try out Woolyknit Aran. Woolyknit yarns were a new one on me but I suspect this won’t the be the last time I use them. The quality of colour and soft, springy feel were lovely to work with and the finished items blocked to a quality-looking finish. Furthermore, they aren’t bank-breakingly expensive, a factor that can lead some people away from buying British or buying wool.
So, the question is, will my reluctant little model wear them? Hmmm…the jury is still out. The gloves have had a few outings, but since they knit up so quickly in the aran, I don’t mind too much if they end up being passed down without much wear to his little sister. Now, there’s a much more willing knitwear model (she is particularly attached to a textured beanie made by her great-grandmother)- if I could only get her to stay still for pictures….
One of the areas where I think I’ve done some learning since starting out as a designer last year is that of photography. Previously, taking snaps of my work was just about having something to stick on my blog and share on my Ravelry page. Now I think a lot more about how well the photographs show off my designs, whether they do their job as part of a pattern to help knitters making my designs and whether they reflect my aesthetic in a way that could tempt knitters to seek out and buy my patterns.
What I’ve learned so far has mainly been gleaned from reading threads on good old Rav about the subject, along with starting to take proper notice of the photography for patterns that draw my eye as a knitter. I’ve started using an SLR camera rather than my phone camera, only taking shots in natural light, thinking carefully about getting appropriate backgrounds (preferably complimentary but not distracting) and probably most importantly spending time- time setting up shots, trying out angles, thinking about which details I need to have close-ups of and doing some basic editing.
Sometimes it’s also been about waiting for the right opportunity. This weekend I’ve been taking shots of my Make Do and Mend Cushion, previously published in Knit Now magazine and due for individual pattern release at the end of May. I waited until I was visiting the farm my in-laws live on because, in addition to the fact that the house is hundreds of years old, it has several rooms full of what my father-in-law terms ‘kelter’ (junk to the rest of us), but what I see as treasure. The forgotten trinkets and ornaments of several generations lie gathering dust on any number of dressing tables and wash stands just waiting to provide the backdrop for a vintage-style photo. The results represent quite an improvement on the one I’d taken in haste with a phone camera before, for example:
Getting new shots for my Coniston Sweater was another case of finding the right location- I have to admit it ended up being Windermere, rather than Coniston, but I loved this jetty and on the day it was taken the colours of the lake and sky were perfectly picked up by the colours in the knit. The only problem with getting some decent shots was the fact I’ve managed to raise a hand-knit hater in my three year old son. Whatever yarn I use, however carefully I choose the design, if he knows it was hand-knitted he just won’t wear it. The only photos I’d been able get before were therefore not only hasty phone shots, but featured the grumpiest model imaginable- you can see an example at the top of this page!
So how did I get some wholly better shots, like this?
Reader, I bribed him. My children very rarely get chocolate. The main reason for this is to preserve their little teeth, but an extra advantage is that it makes it such a treat for them that when I offered my wee boy one a chocolate bar in exchange for his cooperation on the shoot he was as good as gold and twice as gorgeous. Needs must, and the new shots make the pattern- the first I’ve independently published for sale- look so much better.
More examples can be seen on my Ravelry pages.
I’ve been really lax at blogging recently, mainly because I’ve not yet learned to knit and type. Every spare minute seems to have been spent with the sticks and string, I’m a woman possessed! It began with a drive to begin making new stock for a slightly new direction for my Folksy shop, of which more soon. I interspersed this with work on my grown-up version of Queen Bess and was then interrupted by news of the birth of a son for one of my best friends. Of course that called for a knitted gift and my old favourite, Debbie Bliss’ Teddy Bear from Simply Baby came out beautifully in dark brown, even if the photo doesn’t do it justice.
Once I’ve woven in ends on Queen Bess and blocked it, work will begin on sizing and writing up the pattern, ready for test knitting. I find that brain-hurting work, but do love the idea of sharing my designs so needs must. On that subject, while all this knitting has been going on I’ve been fielding emails from the test knitters on my Coniston Sweater and I think I’m nearly there. My first ‘for sale’ pattern- exciting stuff!
>…and the world’s grumpiest knitwear model!
This sweater has had several incarnations before I finally got to this version, however the inspiration has remained the same- Coniston Water, for which it is named. It’s a place we like to go in all weathers, within easy reach of our house, but with less of the tourist crowds and Beatrix Potter/fleece jacket and walking boots/William Wordsworth overload of Windermere (where these pictures were actually shot- it’s not as appropriate I know, but sometimes you have to grab an opportunity).
Sometimes when we drive up the lake road the water is so still that the fells are perfectly reflected in it like a mirror. It’s so strikingly beautiful there have been times I’ve had to remind myself to drive the car instead of being mesmerised by the view. Those reflections, of steely grey clouds, of rocks that shoulder their way through the turf at the side of the road, of slate drystone walls, of moss and dark green forests are all there in the converging, alternately smooth and textured stripes of Rowan Renew- the shade colours are, appropriately enough for my boy, ‘Digger’ and ‘Truck’.
The still flatness of Coniston is also the reason it was where Donald Campbell set the world water speed records that eventually ended in tragedy. Speed on the water is a lot more restricted now, but I thought that it was fitting that the stripes on the sweater also reminded me of those found on diagrams of the Doppler Effect, where the lines showing sound waves get closer together as an object moves past at speed. By the way, I’m not that much of geek (at least not when it comes to Physics!) but fellow Big Bang Theory fans might recognise this episode.
Theories and inspirations aside, the sweater is mainly meant to be a warm, comfortable layer for days out exploring the beauty of the outside world. My model is a very discerning customer and it says quite a lot that the sweater even stayed on him long enough for these shots to be taken- if he really hated it, it would have been dragged off over his head without a thought for all those hours of loving mama-making. No, the grumpiness was down to the fact that it was far too hot for a sweater, as far as my little fashionista was concerned, and that the only bribe I had on me for this brief episode of cooperation was a rice-cake. A favourite snack, granted, but not really what counts as a ‘treat’…
I only grabbed these pictures so that I could get on with getting this pattern tested, as all being well this is going to be an early venture into selling my designs. On that front, I’ve had some very exciting news recently regarding another project, but I’ll have to wait to share it. In the meantime, I’m going to wait until the inevitable turning of the year and the cooler weather that might just make this reluctant wearer a little bit more appreciative.
It’s so wonderful to be able to enjoy the beauty of the Lake District just a short drive away and at this time of year only lightly dotted with sailors,horse-riders, walkers and noisy adventurers like us…
The walk we did, by the way, was along Yewdale Bridleway, details can be found here. I say this as if we did the whole walk- we’ve never managed this, for various reasons- but even going a short way along provides plenty to explore and amazing views, even if the initial climb to the pathway is a challenge with little ones in tow.
If it wasn’t for where we live I can’t imagine I would have countenanced the idea of going for a country walk less than a week after giving birth, but the sun was shining, our little boy still needs as much running around outside time as he can, C is on paternity leave…and while I ended up feeling a little bit sore afterwards it must be good for healing to get the blood flowing. Not to mention the soul to be out in that lovely fresh air. You can tell this year has been better weather-wise so far as they are making hay, unlike last year when we were living at the farm and hay didn’t happen until August thanks to the rain. The tractor doing the mowing was one source of excitement for P. The other was the roots of a lone oak tree in this meadow. They are just the right height for a two-year old to perch and climb on, so we had some mummy/son time while C was in charge of baby sister, buggy, bike and bike helment. Baby sister, by the way, slept through most of the experience, but I’m sure it won’t be long before she shows a bit more appreciation…
Spring really was in the air today- we could somehow smell it as soon as we stepped out of the door into sunshine and slightly warmer air than we’ve been used to for so long. We headed to Coniston, to try out the Yewdale Bridleway route, which was as lovely as the description promised, taking us through oak woodland below Yewdale and above Coniston Water. It was a bit tough for us mummies, given the steep start and a path that suffered in last November’s floods, leaving some rocky terrain.
The buggy passengers didn’t seem phased by bumping along but were soon keen to stretch their legs and explore- knee deep dry leaves, becks that disappeared under the path, drystone walls and more signs of Spring; catkins and these daffodils, not quite ready to burst into a Wordsworthian host but surely not far off if the sunshine stays.
It must be admitted that energy levels today didn’t quite carry us to the official ‘turning point’ of the route- you have to know when to stop sometimes, especially when you’re 23 weeks into a pregnancy! As we headed back to Coniston to treat ourselves to lunch in a cafe and check out ferry times for future adventures, this tree by the path provided yet another source of fascination. Small enough for little arms to wrap around and intriguingly covered in moss, it begged to be prodded, stroked and even hugged. Around the same time two horseback riders came thundering along- thankfully slowing down to a gentle trot to pass us. Well, it is a bridleway after all.
Oh how lovely to have sunshine again! Okay, only one precious day, but it was actually sun that warmed, sun in a stunning blue sky, sun that lifted the spirits and pulled us outside and back to what’s become a favourite haunt in all weathers- walking to Coniston’s Torver Jetty. On such a clear day, the views across the water and up the fells were amazing.
Please note how a certain young man ended up without a coat or hat- he just refuses extra layers whenever he can! However, he did run back and forth so much on the path- setting a challenge for his poor little pal who has only just found her walking legs- that he didn’t seem to get too chilly. All this at five in the afternoon and we still made it back to the car and home in daylight. That promise is getting more real…
The food is sorted (apart from the veg box which arrives on Wednesday) and squeezed into the fridge and freezer- although with the temperature in our kitchen we could just keep it on the floor! The presents are bought/made and (mostly) wrapped. The cards are posted. The house is decorated. All this meant that today, instead of braving the shops at Christmas we could escape up to Coniston for one of our favourite walks to Torver jetty. It’s the first time we’ve been walking properly since the floods and know that lots of lovely walks have been damaged or swept away altogether, but thankfully this one is unaffected. It was mighty cold so we ate lunch huddled in the car, but the weather meant we got to park in the free spaces and had the place almost to ourselves, save a few brave dog walkers and swans. Then to top it all off- snow! We’ve missed out on this particular brand of winter magic so far, being the wrong side of the country, but now we feel Christmas really is on its way!