Design

Why magazine covers mean so much to me

Those who follow me on social media may notice that I continue to be excited whenever one of my designs appears in a knitting magazine. I came to designing - well designing in a public and business way - later in life than many and as a designer I feel I am a mere infant. As a result every time someone understands and appreciates what I am trying to achieve, it is another milestone.

In part this is what makes a design of mine appearing on a cover special. But it is more than that. For a long time I was a magazine editor. Not in the knitting arena but when it comes to covers that doesn't matter. Any editor working on any magazine - whether that be news stand, subscription or arriving due to your profession on any subject, engineering, healthcare, photography, fashion or craft to name a few - will tell you how important the cover is.

Your cover is what makes people take your magazine off the shelf in the newsagent or open it when it lands on their desk. If your cover doesn't work, it may mean that all the other content you've worked so hard on goes unseen. 

Every cover involves thought and collaboration. The editor, designer and others may come up with several versions before the right one emerges. Illustrations and photo shoots are planned with suggestions of what might work on the cover. It also requires a knowledge of your audience and what attracts them.

So when this happens...

Triple cover blog

The new Knitting and The Knitter out this week plus the current Simply Knitting

... and three of my pieces are on covers simultaneously I feel particularly grateful. 

This means that my idea and execution, the styling, the photographer's and editor's vision and so much more have come together to create something the magazine team will really resonate with their readers.

And for completeness the pink and cream striped vintage jumper in Simply Knitting is in Yarn Stories Fine Merino 4-ply, Aza, the raspberry sleeveless top from Knitting, uses The Knitting Goddess's One Farm Yarn and the light green Cobwebs in the Rain wrap on The Knitter is in Jamieson and Smith's 2ply lace.Without the right yarn none of it would work.


A shawl fit for a literary heroine

Hardy heroine span

It is always exciting when I can finally share a design. For magazines I work so far ahead that I can have finished something for a few months before I can show it off. But then you get wonderful images like this in the magazines.
 
This is my Hardy Heroine shawl in the new issue (86)  of Knit Now that came out a couple of days ago.
The brief was Bitish yarns and British literature, and so I came up with a shawl using Victorian stitch patterns that could have graced any of Thomas Hardy's female protagonists from Tess to Bathsheba.
 
BRONAGH MISKELLY - HARDY HEROINE SHAWL-1
 
It uses a yarn from pretty much Hardy country, Devonia from John Arbon Textiles in the Bleeding Heart colourway (also perfect for the theme) - this is the 4-ply version of this recently launched yarn (there is a DK as well) and as with all the Arbon yarns I really enjoyed working with this soft blend of Exmoor Bluefaced, Bluefaced Leciester and Wensleydale wools.
 
The shawl is made of three triangular panels with a knit on edge and is one of those lace patterns that looks more complex than it really is to knit. The main body has a short lace repeat and once you get started with the edging it flows along.
 
The shape is easy to wear and drape.

Taking a new route to making a scarf (and a new pattern)

One interesting aspect of knitting is that looking at something sideways can give you  a new way to create something.

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This is the case with the Wayward Paths scarf – a flat fringed scarf that is actually knitted in the round and cut – yes cut.

This means the width of the stitch pattern repeats down the long side of the scarf – that is the rows go right along the scarf. This means you can use stitch patterns in a different way.

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I got the idea from my friend Juliet Bernard who used this method to create the stunning Jardin Majorelle colourwork wrap for The Knitter.

I was intrigued by the method but am more of a texture and lace person so started wondering how else it could be used. I happened to have received two sample balls of Debbie Bliss Iris, a chunky wool/cashmere roving yarn, that were crying out to be a soft, comforting scarf. So I decided to experiment.

I chose a garter stitch chevron pattern and worked a section of stocking stitch at the beginning and end of each round. Then I worked until I had used much of my yarn. When I cast off I had a basic cowl with a zigzag lace pattern round the majority of the loop with a shorter section of plain stocking stitch stripes.

The stocking stitch section or “steek” is where the fringes come from. All you do is cut straight up the centre of the steek and unravel the stocking stitch section to create the fringe.

Steek fringe 4

You can see from this picture that when you pin out a piece of stocking stitch there are “ladders” between the column of stitches and in the case of the Wayward Path scarf you cut up the centre ladder of the steek section (here I have used an unneeded swatch).

Once the stitches are cut, unravelling makes a lovely fringe – your knitting won’t unravel but I knot the strands in pairs to feel secure.

Steek fringe 3

I am involved with UK Hand Knitting which this year is encouraging people to share knitting and crochet skills. Because of this, at the moment the Wayward Path pattern is free because a steek fringe using chunky yarn is a fairly non-threatening way to take scissors to your knitting for the first time.

The pattern contains some suggestions for other yarns but any nice chunky will work – so why not step off your regular end to end scarf path and give it a go.

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Ditch your fear of shawls

Facet 5

When I posted a few pictures of my Facet shawl from Knitting issue 173 (from GMC publications), there were a few people who said "lovely but I could never make something like that".

This seems to be a common response to shawl patterns - there is a fear that it going to be incredibly complicated and take a very long time plus you will have to learn fiendishly evil new stitches. In fact there is nothing more complicated in Facet than a yarnover next to a decrease  and once you are a few rows in the pattern repeat becomes clear.

The rest of the beauty comes from the choice of yarn - this is West Yorkshire Spinners Exquisite Lace in Belgravia - and the blocking (subject of an upcoming post).

The same statement about a shawl pattern being about yarn overs and decreases can also be said about these shawls.

Shawls for blogClockwise from top left: Salmon Net; Garland; Shetland Stole (from Knitting
magazine); Starry Night; Coolmore Creek; Waves on Slate

One cause of shawl fear is using fine yarns and another is the lace or fancy stitches being all over making it a slow knit. But shawls can be a fun knit in thicker yarns and they don't have to be lace all over.

The idea behind the next two selections of shawls (all Stylecraft patterns) was shawl patterns that people might choose as a first foray into patterns like this but which include the same shaping and stitches as you might find in really fine ones.

These patterns would introduce you to the fun of shawl knitting across a variety of shapes and styles in what might be regarded as fairly standard yarns (mainly DK) and making use of the yarns' qualities.

Dk selectionStylecraft patterns clockwise in pairs: Batik Elements 9411; Candy Swirl
9416; Cabaret 9424

Alpaca tweed selectionStylecraft Alpaca Tweed DK garter stitch stripe shawls  9450 and Alpaca
Tweed Chunky shawls 9454

And just to show that you can have fun with shawl patterns in all sorts of yarns, below is Rioting in Unst - a pattern using Shetland lace stitches in King Cole Riot yarn.

Riot card

Shawl knitting is no different from any other category of knitting. Pick a pattern and a yarn you like, and just take it one stitch (or yarn over) at a time and enjoy yourself. Once you take the plunge, you will create something lovely.


The pleasure in the detail or the joy of a well fitted shoulder

I always look forward to seeing the final pictures of a pattern commission. It is often some time after I supply the sample garment when I see the eventual images from a shoot, perhaps when a magazine is published. 

It is of course interesting to see how a garment has been styled but I also look at how the garment sits and particularly around the armhole and shoulder because this is something I work a great deal on and have quite strong views about.

So I was particularly gratified to see these detail shots for the Lily Twinset in Knitting issue 173 (from GMC publications)

Lily details

They really show how the sleeves fit the two garments and a neat shoulder seam.

In my own designs I tend to write shoulders that are shaped using short-rows rather than cast off to create a slope and then join the shoulder seam using a three needle cast off. That's where the stitches from the front of the shoulder are on one needle and the ones from the back on another, as you cast off each stitch is worked through one stitch from each needle together (photo tutorial here). I like the neat flat shoulder join you get.

For the sleeve top I like quite a tall steep curve. Other designers prefer a flatter sleeve head but I personally like the way the taller sleeve top sits round the upper arm and shoulder. I also spend a lot of time using geometry to calculate the length of the curve so it  will sit in the armhole without difficult bulges. On some garments I also use decreases and increases in the upper back to have a curved rather than a straight armhole. 

This may sound very geeky and obsessive  but it pays off when the sleeve sits as well as in the centre pic above and I can know that my pattern will produce a good garment for each of you.

Lily 1

Notes: Lily Twinset in Wendy Merino 4ply and made with Knitpro symfonie needles.


Rearranging the shelves in WH Smith - new autumnal design

I came late to sharing my knitting designs let alone  receiving commissions from magazines and yarn companies.

I have had a long career as a journalist but I still remember the excitement of having a bylined piece in a major national newspaper for the first time. I had to suppress the urge to tap fellow tube passengers on the shoulder, point to the article they were reading and say "I wrote that".

The same sort of thing has happened each time I have had a design on the cover of a magazine. Right now I could happily spend time in various branches of WH Smith rearranging the hobbies shelf so that there are lots of copies of Knitting (issue 172) along the front to show off my Autumn Leaves tunic.

Autumn leaves cover

I love the editorial description that the mag team came up with. It sums the pattern up as the perfect mix of challenge and TV knitting because there is some instarsia and plenty of stocking stitch.

Autumn leaves main

It is designed to be a simple flattering piece for over leggings or a skirt that is a comfortable but striking seasonal garment.

Yarn used is Yarn Stories fine merino 4-ply - very smooth with strong colours which work well for this design.

The magazine has come up with some alternative colour combinations that make the leaves seam more like feathers.

PicMonkey Collage


Crafts get the cookery show treatment

 There has been a recent trend on daytime TV for shows such as Gok's Fill YOur House for Free  and Money for Nothing that encourage making and recycling, mainly featuring specialist craftspeople. 

Now crafting and making it yourself has hit primetime with Channel 4's glossy cookery show style Craft It Yourself on Tuesday evenings. 

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Having watched the first two episodes I am enjoying the show and noting good ideas but I suspect the audience will fall into two groups - the doers and the admirers (one of the factors that reminds me of cookery shows).

The doers are makers already, with big craft stashes and knowledge about at least some of the techniques on show. We're watching to see what crafts they include and to pick up ideas or tips. We're the equivalent of the cookery show fan with a bigger larder than Nigella's.

The admirers, I see more like the person who watches Masterchef while munching a microwave dinner. Equally here they are going to enjoy seeing the makes but are unlikely to hit Hobbycraft with a list on Saturday morning.

But perhaps some of the latter group will make that list and have a go and that is all to the good. 

Craftityourself

The three presenters, Robin Johnson, Clemency Green and Ant Anstead are all experienced makers but in the show they try crafts they are new to which means we see that things can be learned. Such as furniture maker Robin (above) taking up needlepoint and then creating a cushion cover.

Also every make is accompanied by three important pieces of information - cost, the time needed and the level of difficulty - to give viewers a realistic view of what's possible. The show mixes big projects with "mini-makes", quickfire projects that could be completed in an afternoon and offers a wide range of project types and materials. I'm certainly adding new items to my list of tings to try.

Craft it yourself 2

But as someone who loves courses and trying out new skills, I will keep watching for the "master craft " feature. Each week one of the team tries out a craft course you could take over a weekend. So far we've seen knife making which I now want to try and throwing pots (which I've just tried).

I think the show will draw in an audience in the same way as food shows do but after just two weeks on Channel 4 it is apparently shifting to More 4 - whether this is to do with sport, I'm not sure, but I hope Channel 4 will give the show a good go. If nothing else it may give more people an appreciation of what hand made actually involves in terms of skill and time.


A Foray into Shetland - new shawl design

A call for pattern designs using British yarns recently gave me the opportunity to work in a yarn I had been admiring for a while - Shetland Supreme Lace Weight 2ply from Jamieson & Smith.

JamiesonSmith_Real_Shetland_Wool_Shetland_Supreme_2PLG25gC

I was interested in working with the natural colours and fine sheepiness of this pure wool lace yarn that comes in 25g balls, as well as 500g cones if you are planning a couple of large shawls.

This is one of those magical laceweights that looks rather unexciting as you work (especially as I had chosen the natural grey) but once blocked turns into a delicate, wisp of a fabric with a beautiful sheen. In the case of the Summer Stole, I guarantee it also lives up the the legendary idea of your shawl passing through a wedding ring.

Shetland scan 2

I chose to create a stole for Knitting magazine (issue 170) because I find this one of the most versatile shapes to take a lace knit through the year. As a summer pattern, the Shetland Summer Stole is perfect for creating glamorous cover up in an evening chill or over a dress at a wedding or summer party. In autumn it can be draped over a smart outfit to add an extra layer. And a lace stole can even be wrapped round your neck a couple of times with a winter coat to keep out the cold in January.

  Shetland scan 1 small

The lace motifs come from tradition Shetland patterns, although I have adapted them a little and the stole is less traditional using a stocking stitch ground rather than garter stitch in this case.

It is made in two sections which are grafted together to give the pattern symmetry. If you drape the shawl round your shoulders, the pattern will fall the same way on each of the falling ends.

  Shetland scan 4
Shetland scan 4

This shawl is described as an advanced knit but don't be afraid of having a go. The pattern repeat in the main body is actually very straight forward and while the end sections are more complicated, they are only a small proportion of the knitting.

And if it helps I am planning a few how to posts over the summer around lace knitting.

 

 


Knitting in the Tardis - why I will be watching Dr Who even more closely this year.

I am a life long Dr Who fan. I can remember watching it with my dad when I was little, and being very excited to catch a glimpse of Tom Baker at an event.

As an adult I have rewatched pretty much all the classic episodes available and followed the recent series very happily. But I don't think I will have watched any as closely as the new series.

This is because I was commissioned to knit items for the upcoming season.

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I was introduced the the show's talented costume designer, Hayley Nebauer, when she asked mutual friend about knitters who could work from a sketch and measurements.

It seemed that she needed some sweaters making and it turned out they were for the Doctor himself.

The process started with Hayley sending me some top secret sketches and one of the sweaters Peter Capaldi had worn in a previous series so I could get the shaping spot on. Then we had to decide on the yarn. The sweaters (three the same) had to be black and not too heavy, so we chose Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply and I started work using 3mm needles (that's a lot of sweater on small needles. 

The challenge was that the sweaters had to have rips in. But the rips had to be stable and the same for all three jumpers, so I created a pattern with dropped st sections of different widths and lengths. Plus some short rows at the neck and cuff to create a worn look.

Since the trailers came out I've been peering at all them very closely whenever the Doctor is in black.

Like here...

To_the_TARDIS_Join_the_Doctor_Bill_and_Nardole_in__022

and here...

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So I was very pleased to see this preview interview where Capaldi is definitely wearing my work.

 

I will be looking out for how the sweater fares in next few weeks - the series starts on 15 April - as well as some other items that could show up.

Excited? Just a little 8-)

 


New pattern: Spring Leaf cardigan

The new issue of Knitting magazine is out and it includes my Spring Leaf cardigan. A simple draping cardigan for over a light top or dress.

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It has a bolero shape with a curved hem line and the leaf edging is knitted on so the leaves grow up the front symmetrically. The leaf pattern is based on a Victorian edging from the Knitting and Crochet Guild archive.

Spring leaf scan collage

It is one of those knits that is much easier than it might a appear at first glance at the pattern.

The yarn is Lotus Yarns Tibetan Cloud Worsted - my first time using 100% Yak - which is lovely and soft and very rich colourwise with the right drape for this project.