When I get the chance, I love to rummage in charity shops. Having two small children in tow is not ideal for this, so whenever we take the littles to see one or other set of grandparents I take full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy unencumbered browsing time. Fortunately, both my parents and my parents in law live in or near to towns which are ripe for my sort of second-hand hunting, as the population is elderly and fairly well-off. This tends to lead to good quality retro heaven.
My best finds while at my folks recently have been a barely worn winter coat and a number of lovely old knitting patterns. The latter often serve as inspiration, one way or another, for my designs, whether it’s an interesting stitch pattern or an old-fashioned style that I think is due for a revival.
This weekend it was a pop-up Macmillan shop that proved fruitful for knit-related goodies. However, rather than patterns, I found this fabulous workbasket. It’s a simple, foldable wooden frame covered in a groovy graphic print. It’s definitely got a ‘worn in’ look, but it still seems pretty sturdy and has useful pockets inside too.
I will continue to harbour the sweet illusion that the acquisition of this piece will mean I have just one or two projects stored neatly next to the sofa, where I will sit serenely working away with my children at my feet. In reality of course, I have multiple projects, needles, odd balls, patterns, yarn shop receipts and so on stuffed into a collection of baskets, bags and plastic mailing envelopes which form an unruly pile in the corner of our living room. Every now and again the children’s obedience regarding ‘not touching Mummy’s knitting’ breaks down and they dive in, searching for sharp things to wave around at eye level or hard-to-untangle yarn to wrap around chair legs and each other. I waste valuable knitting time rummaging around for stitch markers, the other needle or a tape measure. Sorting out my craft stuff is on my ever-growing list of summer holiday projects…we will see whether that ever progresses from being a work in progress.
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 .
What’s more exciting than having a design published in a magazine? Having two designs published in a magazine! Knit Now Issue 7 is due to hit the shops on 5th April and I’m delighted to say that you’ll be able to find both my Starry, Starry Night stole and Elfine pixie hood patterns included.
This happy situation had the added bonus of giving me the opportunity to work with some of my favourite yarny people. In the case of Starry, Starry Night it was Vikki at Eden Cottage Yarns. I first came across her hand-dyed yarns when I was looking for something suitable to make my Treacle Toffee mittens (still available through Just Giving to raise money for Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, folks!). I’d seen her work mentioned in a magazine and liked the idea of using a fairly local business, as she’s based a little way North of where I am in Cumbria. The Maya yarn in ‘Autumn’ that she sent me lived up to all expectations, with its gorgeous colour and amazing softness and as a result I kept an eye on her website to see what else she came up with. When the ‘Purple Iris’ colourway appeared I knew I wanted to work with it- beautiful deep purples highlighted with soft pink and grey and in BFL yarn produced very close to us in the Forest of Bowland.
The rich hues of Purple Iris somehow made me want to design something with a bit more of a glamorous, romantic feel than some of my other pieces. It made me think of Elizabeth Taylor with her violet eyes and diamonds, of proper grown up party dresses and the night skies above the sort of evening soirees I rarely get to attend these days! What I came up with is a wide stole with an asymmetric hem trimmed in feather stitchlace. Scattered across the stole at the whim of the knitter- charts are provided so you can decide where you want to place them- is a constellation of stars. Formed in eyelets, these allow flashes of whatever fabric is worn underneath the stole to be glimpsed. I had in mind summer wedding guest outfits and the like, but if you aren’t likely to get many opportunities to wear it in this way, the DK yarn means that while it’s a warm cover-up, it’s light and drapey enough to wear round your neck as a scarf. I’ve loved working with Vikki’s yarns and hope to do so again in the future.
The second pattern I have in this issue is the Elfine pixie hood. It forms part of the ‘Designer Challenge’, where three designers
are given the same yarn to see what they can come up with. This time the yarn was provided by a good friend of mine who’s recently become the sole UK importer of Lion Brand yarns. You’ll see these yarns all over the place on Ravelry, as they are well known and widely distributed in the US. As a knitter, Loraine had enjoyed using the yarns when she got the chance and wanted to let more UK knitters get hold of them. Woolly Madly Deeply is the result, and it’s well worth checking out, not just for the mail order yarns but also for the free patterns, offers and blog.
The yarn used in the challenge was Superwash Merino Cashmere and that, along with the delicate pink colour, said ‘baby’ to me. The pixie hood combines my fondness for vintage styles with my knowledge as a mother of young children. Most babies quickly master the art of removing hats and flinging them out of their buggy so pixie hoods offer an advantage in that they can be gently and comfortably tied under the chin. This might not stop the removal and flinging, but it at least slows things down. The scarf part also provides additional cosiness, since the ends can be tucked into the front of a jacket or wrapped around the neck. A textured stitch in the border is interesting to knit up, but the project grows quickly in this aran yarn, so it would do for a last minute present- there are three sizes for baby up to young child- plus it looks so cute!
Images and information on all the patterns in the magazine are available on Ravelry.
You could say that my knitting life has undertaken something of a transformation recently. This time last year I was dipping the tiniest toe in the water of coming up with and sharing my own designs. Since enjoying a small amount of success, I’m a woman possessed and I seem to have projects under development everywhere, from sketches and proposals, to swatches and samples and things that still only exist in my head. Some of them promise much then just don’t work out, others change and evolve and end up completely different from the original idea, while others just seem to fly straight away. It’s a fascinating and exciting new process for me.
Inspiration has to come first, of course, and it would be hard not to be influenced by the wonders of the late autumn Lake District- the leaves pictured are caught in a beck running down the side of Yewdale, near Coniston. Further inspiration arrived in the post last week, in the form of this glorious ‘Autumn’ coloured yarn from Eden Cottage Yarns. Eden Cottage is the new name for Wild Fire Fibres, reflecting dyer Vikki’s recent move to Cumbria’s Eden Valley. The baby alpaca yarn is so very soft and colours speak for themselves really.
A recent charity shop find was the great vintage Paton’s design seen above, which I picked up mainly for the interesting stitch pattern. I’m not using it in a sweater as the leaflet shows (although you never know, one day we too may be a family clad in matching jumpers like the ones in the picture!) but have found that it adapts really well to the project I’m working on. I’ll reveal more at a later date, I hope.