Okay, okay, better late than never with this one. It’s been a wee while since the wonderland of sheepiness that is Woolfest packed up for another year and here’s me only just getting around to writing about it. Even so, I think it’s more than worth a mention and a sharing of stash photos- apologies for the quality of these, by the way. Lack of natural light and time has not been kind…
What made this Woolfest special this year was actually the very fact of me being there. Not because of the horrendous weather, although that did give us pause for thought, or because of the complicated childcare arrangements or even my chronic car-sickness. No, for me it was surprising to be there because a year ago, when it was my first opportunity to go for a couple of years, I found I’d lost my knitting mojo and couldn’t actually be bothered. This was probably symptomatic of a lot of other stuff that was going on or indeed not going on at the time, draining my confidence and my energy for getting out into the world. Then I started work on a cushion called ‘Make Do and Mend‘, saw a subs call for a then yet – to- launch magazine called ‘Knit Now‘ and all of a sudden a year had passed and I was going to Woolfest to meet up with people who’d given me yarn support, chat to other designers, say hello to the editor who’d given me commissions and even give out business cards.
Like many, I found the whole scale of the event (it must be three times the floor space it was the last time I went) pretty overwhelming at first and after a cup of tea I needed to get down to earth by meeting some familiar faces (familiar from email contact at least!). Victoria from Eden Cottage had a stall full of scrumptiousness and I was very proud to see my Treacle Toffee mitts on display there, joined by my ‘Starry, Starry Night‘ stole when Kate Heppell from Knit Now arrived with a suitcase full of samples to return. Despite the rain, the place was buzzing with fibre fanatics, but I also managed a quick ‘hello’ to Loraine from Woolly Madly Deeply in the midst of the madding crowd.
In addition to visiting a lot of Alpaca stalls (my friend and driver for the day was a convert as soon as she squidged her first bundle of baby alpaca fibre and would probably have squeezed a live one into her car if she thought she could get away with it) I had a couple of star-struck moments meeting designer heroes Susan Crawford and Kate Davies and also did a (fairly restrained) amount of shopping. I was also very proud to see a ‘Make Do and Mend’ at the Woolsack stand, ready to be gifted to an Olympic athlete
My haul included four balls of natural fleece coloured pure Shetland Wool from Ruth Strong, whose stall was part of the Wool Clip section. It’s beautifully soft but its colour, warmth and robustness make it perfect for the project I have in mind- a hat and scarf set for my Dad where the watch words need to be ‘understated’ and ‘masculine’. I hope to share some WIP pictures here soon.
As well as giving me an excuse to chat to the lady herself, I visited Susan Crawford’s stand to acquire a whole garment’s worth of yarn. I love using British yarn whenever possible and have been looking at what’s on offer from John Arbon Textiles for some time, in particular the vintage shades of Excelana. However, feeling that the colours probably weren’t shown to their best effect on the website, I was really excited to look at them in real life- it’s one of the best things about going to shows like Woolfest, seeing so much of so many ranges in one place, something even the best wool shops just can’t offer. Anyway, if you’re considering Excelana, go for it! The colours are beautiful, soft vintage shades that just cry out to be combined as they tone so well together. That said, I’ve only bought one colour- cornflower blue- which is pegged for a proper, big, ‘hard maths’ project this summer which will be mainly for me and possibly for a wider audience!
Last but not least let me introduce my new pet:
Okay, not really. But since all I do at the moment is stroke and cuddle it, it might as well be! This was my ‘off list’ purchase- the inspiration skein. With the other two lots of yarn, I came with specific ideas about weights, colours and what they were going to be- it’s how I tend to shop for yarn as I’m not much of a stash fiend. However, the last time I bought a skein of yarn just because I loved the colour and feel of it, it ended up as ‘Spirograph‘, which popped into my head more or less a fully formed idea. With that in mind, I allowed myself to buy this vivid pink, stupendously soft Fyberspates Scrumptious DK/Worsted just because I fell in love with it. My hope is at some point an idea for what to do with it will pop into my head.
While I wait for inspiration to strike, don’t be fooled into thinking my needles are still. There’s a lot of Shetland love going on, some serious texture and a fair bit of colourwork- not all on the same project I should add! One year on from losing my knitting mojo, I think I can safely say it’s back with a vengeance.
This design is quite special to me. I originally came up with the idea to showcase stitch patterns from a wartime book, the philosophy of which I find both moving and inspiring. I designed it to have in my home and while the colours I chose might not be obvious ones to put together, I love the way they work side by side. The yarn (Rowan’s Felted Tweed DK) is one I’ve always enjoyed working with.
What makes it really special, though, is that this is the pattern that really marks the beginning of what I’d hesitate to call a ‘career’ as a designer, but maybe could instead call the designer phase my knitting life has entered into. Entered on a whim into the first call for submissions for Knit Now magazine, I was amazed when I heard it had been accepted for publication in Issue 2.
The idea of being published was ridiculously exciting and I assumed it would be a one off. Little did I know that I’d go on to have more designs accepted and find myself spending so much of my knitting time designing and making samples that I’d barely have time left to make other people’s designs or indeed anything for myself!
‘Make Do and Mend’ turned out to have more legs than I expected too. When it was on the Knit Now stand at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show someone from the Woolsack project spotted it. Woolsack is part of the Cultural Olympiad and has persuaded knitters to make some 14,000 cushions to give as gifts to visiting athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics. Made in British wool and stuffed with British wool, they are intended to represent the proud tradition of the wool industry here, as well as giving a warm, comforting and homely welcome to the visitors.
The project needed patterns and they wondered if I minded letting them use mine. I didn’t mind, but the pattern needed some editing to make it suitable for their size and stuffing requirements. Here’s where I learned an important designing lesson. Rushing to get the edited version sorted out and posted, I didn’t take enough care over the details and ended up with some proper howlers in terms of numbers that didn’t add up. I blush even to think of it and cringed when I was (very politely) told that it wasn’t quite right. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to sort out and I don’t think too many people had to put up with the frustration of trying to knit from my dodgy version. Lesson learned, I check and check again when I’m giving a pattern to someone else now- all the designers and tech-editors I know assure me that all designers make mistakes, but I still felt terrible!
This month, finally, I’ve put Make Do and Mend (in its original, button back incarnation) up for sale on Ravelry. Just in time for the patriotic fever we’re all having at least a dabble in for the Jubilee and Olympics! To commemorate the Jubilee and celebrate the release of the pattern, I’ve added a bonus chart, for the coronet square shown left. It could be used as substitute for the Union Jack square (with a bit of shuffling of the other coloured squares) or as an additional colourwork square instead of a triangle stitch patch. The pattern includes a whole new set of photographs of the cushion, including detail shots for each of the stitch patterns.
The pattern is available to buy on Ravelry here .
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.
Way back in the summer I started using up some odds and ends of Rowan Felted Tweed DK to make a cushion cover. I wanted the chance to try out some stitch patterns from a lovely old World War II book I had and I posted some of the pics on this blog.
Who would have thought that an idle wander through the Ravelry forums would lead me to stumble across a call for submissions for a new knitting magazine. My cushion idea seemed like the sort of thing they were after- picking up on trends (vintage/mid century interiors) and portable (the front is a patchwork of squares that make good ‘take along’ projects).
With nothing to lose, I drew my sketch, wrote my proposal, scanned some samples (which don’t exactly look promising do they? Imagination was needed evidently!) and waited. Next thing I knew the email came to say ‘yes please’ and there I was with my first commission. So today I went into one of my local supermarkets (here, in the back of beyond!) and bought a copy of ‘Knit Now’ magazine with my very own pattern in it. More (very lovely) pics are on Ravelry here.
What was originally an in-betweeny project using up odds and ends has become something altogether more exciting and with a deadline attached. I won’t say much more now as, apart from anything else, every spare moment is being spent knitting and I have the stiff fingers and blurry eyes to prove it. Best get back to it…