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….
Ever get that feeling that you can’t think about stuff for needing to get on and do it? It must be a more common malaise these days, as with the wonders of modern life we are very rarely unplugged from the world and in addition are likely to be juggling myriad roles, all requiring a different mindset. That’s certainly true for me, addicted as I am at times to my smartphone, tablet and laptop, and juggling an increasingly revived career in primary school teaching with motherhood and designing. I tell myself I need to take time to stop and think, but in reality I take knitting projects with me for the car journey if we go on a country walk, take photos for Facebook at the summit of the hill we walk up, read educational theory books in the bath, put a pile of marking on the passenger seat to do while I wait for my son to come out of school….It might keep my productivity levels where I want them, but it was in danger of leaving me running on empty when it came to creativity.
It might just be me trying to put a good spin on the horrible coldy/fluey lurgy that’s hit our household in the past week or so, but along with the aches, sneezes and coughs has come some really productive time to think- when I was trapped under sleeping, poorly children, when I took over the job of taking the boy to his swimming lesson when my DH got sick and finally, when the bug got to me and I was so rotten with it I could barely knit (the horror!)
At the start of all this thinking time I realised that with the pace I was hurtling along at, I’d lost a bit of focus on what I wanted to be designing- and for whom. I ended up making a whole load of lists- of designs that had done well, of designs I enjoyed producing, of elements I enjoyed working with, of the sort of items I most like designing. I ended up with a sort of master list of what I should probably try to make my designs about- examples from the list include stranded colourwork, textured stitches, British wool, vintage influence, headwear and nothing finer than 4ply, amongst other things!
The most recent issue of Knit Now is a good example of where, even without the list, sticking to what I like best served me well. I had three designs included:
Bloomsbury e-reader and glasses cosies. It felt like such luxury to be working with seven different colours in a design, but using mini-skeins from Knitting Goddess kept it really affordable- I was so pleased with the rhythm and energy I think is created by the 30s inspired geometric design and different juxtapositions of colour. Stranded colourwork, indpendent dyers- both on my list!
Pemberley beret and handwarmer- this one was all about finding stitch textures that showed of the amazing lustre and deep colour of the Fyberspates Scrumptious DK. Relatively simple lace motifs mixed with stocking and garter stitch allows light to catch on the silkiness of the yarn from different angles, which reminds me of traditionally luxurious fabrics like brocade and velvet- perfect for a design inspired by country houses. Textured stitches- tick!
Mitford Scarflette. Here the stitch was really the star again. It allowed a fairly small amount of yarn- Lanas Stop Alpaca- to be turned into a pretty, textured and cosy scarf. The design also uses a keyhole to fasten – not shown in the picture- which means it can be styled with a definite vintage vibe.
As to future designs, enforced sofa time meant I also got down to some swatching (my poorly head could just about take a square’s worth of knitting). I had a lovely time trying some cabling with the lovely Artesano British Wool I’ve had waiting around in my stash for ages. A few false starts led to a satisfying result in colourwork using two shades of Rowan Felted Tweed. Enough with the thinking now- bring on the doing!
I feel like I’m stepping into a room where you can write your name in the dust on every surface. Okay, it’s not been that long, but it feels like ‘Write blog’ has been staring accusingly from my to-do list for more than just a couple of months. Of course, the more time I’ve left this space in a state of neglect, the harder it becomes to work out what to write. I’ve decided that the only way forward is to attempt a sort of ‘okay, this is what’s gone on, wipe the slate clean, onwards!’ approach.
So. Pattern releases. There have been a few that should have had a bit more of an airing than they did. Firstly, the other two Eden Cottage designs that premiered at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching show: Bramble and Flora. As a yarn, I love and recommend Eden Cottage BFL. I also think the world of Victoria and her business and am really pleased with the designs I (eventually) came up with, along with the photoshoot we did at my in-law’s farm. However, if ever a project was beset with obstacles- time, illness, discovering your original idea looks just like a design in a clothing catalogue, technical problems with printing- then this project was. To put the tin lid on it, sales have been…modest, let’s say. Still, all part of the learning curve I’m on as a designer. There really are so many things to learn.
Where the collection for Eden Cottage had some sort of coherence, my recent clutch of designs for Knit Now have been a little more diverse. I’ve come back to stranded colourwork again for the Tweedy gloves and Folk Dance dress, the latter being the first time I tried the technique of mixing ombre yarn (Crazy Zauberball) with a solid colour. The ‘Dodger’ spats were a very quick, fun knit with Rowan’s very fluffy, bulky-weight yarn, Tumble. It’s not the sort of yarn I’d normally use but I have to say the colour was beautiful and the yarn very soft. Obviously, being the weight it is, you also get very quick results.
Knit Now also launched a spin-off just before Christmas in the form of Quick Baby Knits. The idea was that you could buy the magazine and that any one of the patterns featured could be made with the yarn that came free with it. I thought this was a really great idea for people who do a lot of knitting for little ones, or who are perhaps taking up the craft again because a baby is due. My contribution to all this was ‘Baby’s First Book’- yet more colourwork, this time to make simple, two colour images on each page and a personalised front cover.
That rounds up the pattern releases but it doesn’t really tell the full story of what my needles have been up to. My Christmas season also included a couple of Kate Davies stranded colourwork designs (is this a phase, or an actual addiction!?)- Snawheid, made for a fabulous and much appreciated colleague, and Boreal, made for me. Yes, that’s right, I actually found time to sit down and make something just for myself! It was my Christmas treat/project and I have absolutely no photos of it yet, not least because the weather has been so unrelentingly grey. We haven’t even had the snow everyone else seems to have had this week and my Boreal would look AMAZING in the snow. I think when I finally get some pictures sorted I will have to write about it separately here, because I love it so. I have also been working on a project I owe my sister as a birthday present from last year, but we won’t talk about that because her birthday is NEXT MONTH and it shows that I shouldn’t promise anyone knitted presents ever.
So that’s surely a slate cleaned, all ready for a 2013 jam packed full of thoughtful and creative blogs from yours truly? Hmm, I think the knitted present issue above should teach me something about rash promises. I think the best I can do is do my best.
This is the start of an exciting week for me, as I’m hoping to release not one, not two, but three new designs!
All three designs have been developed using Eden Cottage Yarns’ Bowland DK, which you can discover more about here. It’s the result of my ongoing collaboration with Victoria at Eden Cottage, hence the samples of the new designs are due to be displayed on her stand at Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show.
‘Acorn’, shown here, takes a motif I’m fond of (you can see it in a different incarnation here) and puts it around a slouchy beanie hat and on the back of some neat little mitts. The charted design simple but satisfying to achieve and felt, as I went through the development process, perfectly suited to the colourway used: Autumn. There are so many rich warm shades in this yarn and of course, being a hand-dye, every batch is different, therefore every version of this hat and mitts will be unique.
Acorn is available from today in my Ravelry shop, with the printed version also going on sale on the Eden Cottage stand at Harrogate.
It’s not often that a design springs into your head, fully formed and ready to go. For me, its usually more a case of dreaming up the general gist, then refining with swatches, sketches and general tinkering to get things how I want them. In the case of Spirograph it was much simpler.I got an email from Kate at Knit Now about coming up with a design for the summer festival idea using Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece and immediately sketched something on the back of an old receipt or something similar that I had to hand. If I could find that original sketch, with notes like “slanting eyelets spiral round” and “narrows to hug crown of head”, you’d see that what I sketched was exactly what I made.
Publishing lead times being what they are, when I was thinking about this, summer was a bit of a distant dream. As a result, when I decided I wanted to try out making a version for myself, I used Manos del Uraguay Silk Blend and used more pattern repeats for a deeper, ‘lidless hat’, destined more for chilly tramps in the Lake District than chilled out festival nights. It must say something that I’ve worn it regularly since early Spring, through the summer and even more in these autumn days.
The magazine version, in the Cotton Fleece, was a little narrower for more of a summery, hairband feel. I think this is one of the strengths of this design, as it’s pretty easy to adapt to your own tastes or yarn choices- as demonstrated in a certain well-known designer’s version here. (Yes, that is one of my knitting designer-heroes making and blogging about my design and yes, I did nearly wet myself with excitement when I knew about it.)
The pattern is now available as an individual download through my Ravelry shop, with instructions included for both the shorter and longer versions.
…or how sometimes what seems like the worst thing can turn out for the best.
My working relationship with Victoria at Eden Cottage Yarns began not long after I started designing. When Knit Now asked its designers to come up with patterns for their ‘Marvelous Mittens’ campaign I submitted Treacle Toffee and, having seen Eden Cottage Yarns featured in a magazine, I asked if I could use some for my design. I loved it so much that I kept checking back to see what other colourways Victoria was dreaming up. When ‘Purple Iris’ came along, I immediately knew I wanted to design with it, and Starry, Starry Night was the result.
One of the many things I like about this yarn company is that a lot of the wool is not only dyed locally (in the same county I live in) but also sourced locally, from sheep reared in the Bowland Forest, just a little way further east. When Victoria said she was looking for pattern support for her lovely Bowland DK yarn, then, it was no surprise that I jumped at the chance.
So…I swatched on my holiday. I sketched my ideas for a pair of cardigans and spent a lovely hour or so with Victoria when she did a trunk show in Manchester’s Purl City Yarns, choosing the perfect colour combinations. I signed up to Rock & Purl’s Grading Course to make sure I’d get the sizes and pattern writing spot on. I was all on track to get going when…I got a Christmas catalogue from one of my favourite clothing companies, People Tree. Flicking through it I was dismayed to find something that looked remarkably like my cardigan design in their range.
I was gutted, frankly, but it was just one of those things. Supportive designer friends told me that there were enough differences between the two to save me from any accusations of breaching copyright. They suggested that I could make some small changes to differentiate it even more, but the fact was, I couldn’t face the thought that I could release a design and someone could say ‘She’s just copied that from People Tree’. In addition, I didn’t feel I had either the time or the heart to make big design changes.
There was nothing for it but to have a rethink. I went back to the start, swatched again and rediscovered what I loved about the yarn. Instead of cardigans (I’m off cardigans for a while!) I’m looking at a collection of retro inspired accessories- back to what I know well, eh? I’m aiming for lots of texture and a little colourwork to work in harmony with Victoria’s lovely colours.
What’s strange but wonderful is that actually, it’s working much better than I expected. It’s maybe even working better than the blessed cardigans would have done. Apart from being on a bit of a downbeat, timewise (we’re hoping for a release date of late November) it feels so natural to be making these designs, as if they’re what the yarns want to be. Serendipity, I’d say.
On the subject of accessories, Coco Chanel is said to have advised that before leaving the house, one should take off whatever was the last item you put on. Now, it’s not everyone who’s a follower of her pared-down aesthetic, but I think we can all learn something from the doyenne of style’s less-is-more mantra.
Take knitting techniques. I never cease to be amazed by the sheer number of fancy stitches and techniques out there. Seriously, a glance through Ravelry project pages can show you tricks with yarn and sticks that seem to defy nature and the laws of physics. I am full of admiration for knitters and designers who can do that stuff, but I do have a little worry that sometimes when a whole garment screams “LOOK AT MY CLEVER KNITTING” it can come across as a little bit try-hard. A wee bit self-conscious in proclaiming the highly skilled, handmade credentials that say this is absolutely not a shop-bought article. The Chanel-influenced part of me wants to whisper “tone it down a little”.
This is the joy of knitted accessories as far as I’m concerned. A small but perfectly formed canvas, you can make them in a luxury yarn without breaking the bank and pepper them with stitchy wizardry without it getting over the top. A fancy-pants handmade accessory worn with a simple outfit quietly asserts your originality and skill but will never end up wearing you.
The point of this little sermon was to highlight the gorgeous techniques that make the items in the Holla Knits Accessories collection so worth you getting your needles warmed up.
Take the beading on Teresa Gregorio’s Knight Service. On an all-over garment not only might you go mad with all the bead threading, but you’d also risk getting a bit too pretty-pretty. On this shrug with its major shoulder shaping it looks fierce and urban on top of the pretty, and totally luxe to boot.
Then there’s the super-smooth colourwork on Katie Canavan’s Scallop of the Sea bag- so elegantly modern retro!
There’s more amazing colourwork (and colour choices) on Emma Welford’s Wallpaper Cowl, but what makes this one for me is the Latvian braid. A traditional technique (though a new one on me until I saw the project-in-development pictures) in beautifully harmonised shades it takes the finishing on this design to another level.
My contribution to the collection, the Snowball Bonnet, challenges you to dust off that old favourite of knits for grandchildren in the 60s and 70s: loop stitch. I’m going to write a little more about that one when the Holla Knits Accessories Blog Tour hits these pages on October 16th- details below.
Meanwhile, I strongly urge you to check out the full collection at Holla Knits.com. You’ll surely find at least one design to beguile you with its wit and originality.
As I mentioned, the lovely Allyson at Holla Knits has organised a blog tour to launch this collection. It’s going to be packed full of giveaways, so be sure to give it a follow. You’ll notice that the Audrey’s Teashop stop has a yarn and pattern giveaway- I’m delighted to say that this is going to involve yarny prizes for not one but two lucky winners! Here are those all-important dates and places.
October 8: The Sweatshop of Love – collection and pattern giveaway
October 9: Under the Red Umbrella – Subscriber exclusive KP yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway
October 10: Rohn Strong – pattern giveaway
October 11: Emma Welford Designs – pattern giveaway
October 12: Knits in Class – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway / pattern giveaway
October 15: Bumblebirch Designs – pattern giveaway
October 16: Audrey’s Teashop – pattern and yarn giveaway
October 17: Gynx – pattern giveaway
October 18: Adaly Myles Place – pattern giveaway
October 19: Canary Knits – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway
October 22: Webs Yarn Store Blog - yarn giveaway
October 23: The Sweatshop of Love Hosts Homestead Heirlooms! – subscriber exclusive purse kit giveaway
October 24: Knitted Bliss – pattern giveaway
October 25: Stash, the Knit Picks Staff Blog
October 26: Holla Knits hosts Tara Shade! – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway
It seems like a long time since summer and the projects I was working on back then. Getting design work usually means that I can’t really share much of what’s in my workbasket at the time, but have to wait until patterns launch. The waiting is over with these though- so I’m proud to present my designs for the new Manos Silk Blend Fino: the Eloise head wrap and Genevieve mitts.
As I mentioned in my ‘Work in Progress’ post, this lovely silk/wool blend yarn is, as a 4ply, quite a bit finer than I’d usually work with. However, if anything was going to convert me, it would be Fino. Like most silk blends it has a gorgeous sheen that works really well with textured designs- hence my choice of lace patterns for these designs (gosh, I paid for that choice at tech-editing stage with the shaping on the mitts, though!). As far as working with it, I had no complaints as it feels so smooth and soft both during and after knitting and I had no problems with splitting, which can be an issue with single ply yarns.Then of course there are the colours- ooooooh, the colours! The range, which is newly launched this autumn, includes solid and variegated shades and the five that I’ve seen in real life have all been rich and lustrous.
Both my designs- which form part of the Manos Silk Blend Fino Book 1 by Artesano- can be made from a single skein of the yarn. They use pretty but fairly easy to master lace designs and both being knitted flat, they’re fairly accessible even for relatively inexperienced knitters.
Eloise continues my interest in the head-wrap/ head band concept. I first experimented with this idea when I made my Spirograph head band, which was originally conceived as a hat without a lid, enabling me to wear my hair in a top-knot without the ‘baked bean head’ effect when I wore a hat over it. Eloise differs in that it’s knitted flat, with a ‘keyhole’ at one end so that the wearer can loop the end back through and button it. This both ensures a good fit and forms a decorative effect as the wrap fans out through the keyhole.
For me, the Genevieve mitts are all about the buttons. The mitts are shaped around the thumb and the buttons hold them together along the inside of the wrists and above the thumb. Rather than buttonholes I opted for an applied i-cord edging incorporating button-loops, a little homage to my fave designer, Kate Davies, and her Manu cardigan. Delicate but warm in this yarn, I think that the choice of colour and buttons would lend itself to a lot of variation, depending on the way they were to be worn. I made a version in a variegated pink/red with silver swirly patterned buttons and another in a plain olive green with plainer copper buttons and the effect was really different from one pair to the other.
More of my summer projects are in the pipeline as I write- with a certain Holla Knits imminent- so watch this space!
I escaped domestic duties yesterday for a grand day out in Manchester. This included a solo train journey, always a pleasure with yarn and needles to hand and even more so when the sunset end of the trip involves the spectacular skirting around Morecambe Bay- it’s almost reason enough alone to come to the South Lakes peninsulas. My excuse for a day of yummy food , great company, knitting and yarn ogling was that it was business. Well, sort of. It’s a tough job…
The main point of my trip was a visit to Purl City Yarns where Victoria from Eden Cottage Yarns was holding a trunk show. I loved the explanation of a trunk show given beforehand by a friend of mine: ‘She brings out a load of gorgeous yarn and then we all fight over it’. I can assure you it was a little more civilised than that, even given the presence of PCY’s infamous cocktails, but it’s still a pretty good description.
I first came into contact with Eden Cottage’s hand-dyed yarns when I was designing my Treacle Toffee Mitts and decided to use Maya DK to make them. I was so impressed with the amazing quality and colour that I kept going back to ogle the site. When I saw their ‘Purple Iris’ colourway in Bowland DK it inspired the Starry, Starry Night Stole that appeared in Knit Now Issue 7. In all my contact with Victoria she is always friendly, supportive and enthusiastic so I was really excited to discuss a new, bigger project with her recently.
Yesterday was therefore a chance to discuss both the project and the yarn involved face to face, which is a rare luxury in my limited experience of designing. Normally, the details of design projects are communicated and hammered out with emails, scanned sketches and swatches and yarn sent by post. It was wonderful to see and handle the real deal, to spend time trying out and discussing different colour combinations and details. Definitely nice work if you can get it.
I came home clutching a large bag of beautiful colour in my arms and feeling quite a responsibility on my shoulders. However, one measure of my enthusiasm to get going is that, as you can see from the images above, I just had to get the swift and ball winder out as soon as I got in. It’s going to be a learning curve but I’m really keen to expand my skills and hopefully come up with something special.
Wool and silk. Garter stitch and lace. 4ply and 2.75mm needles (gasp! I’m usually a solid ‘nothing finer than DK’ girl!) Yes, there has been work in progress recently, but I can’t fully reveal the results to you just at the moment. Suffice to say it’s another new outlet for my designs, so quite exciting, to say nothing of daunting.
Thankfully, the further I’ve got into this project the less daunted I’ve felt. Seeing the gorgeous colours singing as they were knitted up helped. As did adding the finishing touches such as applied i-cord (so time-consuming, but so worth it) and the buttons. The ones shown immediately above were from Textile Garden. This site would deserve a mention just because it had a whole range of possibilities for the buttons that I needed, but also earned my affection for great customer service when I stupidly ordered exactly half the number of buttons required….
I’m never good at making things twice over -you could call it second-sock-syndrome if I ever actually made socks- so this project is a challenge to me because it requires two versions of each design- and one of those designs is a pair. That’s a lot of repeating -and also buttons, hence my mistake when ordering. I’m therefore trying out the technique of knitting both parts of a pair simultaneously on one long circular (they are knitted flat). I’m having to watch I don’t get the two working yarns tangled but so far I think they’re growing more quickly than if I’d made them back to back. Or maybe it’s just psychological.
In any case work is progressing, deadlines are nearly up, then it’s back to the mile-long ‘to do’ list for whatever’s next. DK or heavier gets my vote…