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.
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…
As the end of term comes thundering towards us it’s creating the usual whirl of last minute work as a teacher and, for the first time this year, as a parent. Witness the fact that 10.30pm on Wednesday night saw me putting together a tray-bake for my son’s school Summer Fair and marking maths tests while it was in the oven, instead of falling into bed as I was desperate to do. Between all the work that needs finishing and finding time to actually get some sleep it’s amazing that I’ve been getting any knitting done at all. However, as every knitter knows, it’s the sticks and string that often keep us sane when the the world gets a bit crazy and, following the welcome arrival of a parcel of Alpaca DK from Artesano mid-week I’ve got a really exciting work in progress underway during those rare moments to myself.
Casting on anything where I get to use my Art Viva needles (I got mine from Laughing Hens) puts a smile on my face, plus I do love working with Artesano yarns, but there’s an extra reason to be cheerful starting this design. You see, I’m taking my first brave step beyond self-publishing and the friendly pages of Knit Now magazine. In fact, once finished, this project is due to make its way over to the US to be part of the Holla Knits Fall/Winter Accessories collection, so I suppose you could say I was going international! I’m so excited to get my pattern accepted, as even putting the proposal together (including styling mood boards) was fun. Also, when you look at the great designs in the first, Spring/Summer 2012 collection, you can see why I’m pretty flattered to be part of it- I love the way the designs are tuned into catwalk trends, but still totally original and flattering to real bodies as well as perfect models.
As for my design, well, I’ve included the shot above because it’s one of those times when I think the back of the work can be as pretty, in it’s own way, as the front- and doesn’t the evening light (sunlight, at last!) show the warmth of natural fibre well? The front, meanwhile, is a proper nostalgia burst for me, because I’m definitely revisiting my childhood rather than going really vintage with this one (anyone who suggests that at my age, my childhood counts as vintage can leave immediately!)
Yes, my friends, I’ve decided that the cornerstone of children’s knits in the 70s and 80s, the ‘fur’ or ‘loop’ stitch, is due for a revival. Trust me on this one, okay? When you take away that other cornerstone of my childhood knitwear, acrylic yarn, and replace it with something fuzzy, snuggly and all natural, it has a whole lot of warmth, volume and textured appeal. No, really. Especially, I hope, when combined with a good dose of fun and at the same time something of the kind of winter chic embodied by the ultimate lady of style, Audrey Hepburn, in Charade:
Am I convincing you? Well, I’m saying nothing more at the moment, but watch this space…
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.
Designing may require some fairly accurate maths, but it’s not by any means an exact science. Or more specifically, designing things that other people like is not easy to predict. For me, having fallen at least a bit in love with what I’m making seems to help, but there have definitely been times when I’ve thought ‘Wow! This is great, it’s got to fly!’ only to find the response when it’s out there is lukewarm.
The Mimi Clochette demonstrates how the reverse can also be true. It started off as something of an improvisation. I had a generous amount of Artesano Aran left over after making the sample for Colour Pop Snood and wanted to make a hat for my little girl, then aged 18 months. However, the yarn being at the thick end of the aran scale, I thought that a beanie style would end up looking too bulky, so I dreamed up this cloche and named it ‘Mimi’, since “me! me!” was one of the things she said a lot at that time.
This first version was made by knitting a double width strip for the brim, then picking up stitches along most of the top edge and working in the round up the crown while doing some fairly rapid decreases. With the thread pulled tight through the top I then folded the brim under and stitched it in place, doing the same with the ends of the brim and putting a faux-button closure on the overlap.
I was pleased with the result and considered releasing it on Ravelry. Then my knitting group saw it and the common response was ‘It looks so warm on your ears! Perfect for dog walking! Make a grown-up version!’ Shortly after that my MIL saw it and her response was ‘It would be perfect for lambing season! Make me a grown-up version!’ So, before long various members of the knitting group were pattern-testing a version that included baby, child and adult sizes and my MIL had a hat complete with the ‘I Love Granny’ buttons she happened to have lying around…
By the time I found myself writing up the design for Knit Now Issue 8 (in the shops now), I’d realised that I could simplify and improve the design by knitting the brim in the round, meaning even less sewing- which as far as I’m concerned is always a bonus- as well as a neater finish.
Its evolution might have been a bit of a happy accident, but when it comes down to it, this is a warm and cosy hat with a bit of a difference. It knits up in next to no time and would be easily tackled by a confident beginner. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that this was a formula that worked…
The thing about knitting is that there are so many avenues to explore. I have only had the briefest of brushes with spinning, for example, dabbled a little with machine and wet felting but never tried dyeing. I’ve experimented with a number of different techniques and things to knit, but still have an extensive list of ‘must try’ possibilities.
The danger, with only so many hours in the day and the reality of having life and family beyond the sticks and string, is that new avenues of investigation distract you from actually knitting. This has certainly been the case for me since I caught the designing bug. I’m knitting or doing knitterly things for at least a few hours every day, but since most of the time this involves sketching, swatching, writing up submission proposals and patterns or making samples I end up with little that I can show here. In addition, I have cold feet and am perfectly capable of making the felted slippers I’ve been wanting for ages, but never seem to find the time for making them.
I’m not really complaining though, as having yarn support (free yarn! Even if you do have to knit it up then send it away again) dropping through the door will surely always be a joy and I love puzzling away at new ideas to fit mood boards put out by potential publishers. It’s even paying off in slightly less conventional ways, as the colourwork idea here is one I’m developing for a friend in exchange for help with what will hopefully be improvements to my online presence- watch this space.
All this said, I hope to have more projects to show here soon and in the meantime I’m going to put on an extra pair of socks and enjoy the buzz of creativity.