It's no secret that I have a bit of a hand-dyed yarn habit. I am drawn to rich and deep colours and unusual combinations but to control myself I try to focus on choosing yarns where I can see an outcome for the skein.
For a while now I have been admiring, and occasionally buying. the work of Helen Reed of The Wool Kitchen. I like the yarn bases she uses and her strong colourful dyeing style.
I particularly like skeins such as these in the Cosmic Girl colourway with a saturated main colour with flashes of contrast. And for a while I had been contemplating a "radial shawl" using this or a similar colourway. A radial shawl is a style I have adapted for myself with wedges of short row shaping and a wide lace edge section creating a semicircle. They work with yarns with long colour changes and I thought that the short runs of contrast colours in these skeins would also create an interesting effect.
Then Christine Boggis, the editor of The Knitter, told me she was planning an issue based on hand-dyed yarns. I immediately started a list of my favourite dyers and pulling out notes about ideas I'd had for different yarns. Top of the list was a shawl in Helen's yarn.
While I was pulling my ideas together, Christine was in touch again to ask if I knew of The Wool Kitchen and would I be interested in working with Helen.
Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?
It was delightful to work with Helen to get her advice on what colourways work in what bases and then to come up with the Electric Storm shawl complete with lightening flashes of neon on a deep blue ground. This is a shawl that brought me a lot of pleasure to create and I think it really shows off Helen's colour sense and her dyeing style. And I'm really looking forward to seeing other people's versions.
This is unlikely to be the last time I work with Helen's yarns. I have some more sitting here and why writing this post I had to pop over to her Etsy shop which means I have been tempted by some new colourways.
Photographs by Laurel Guilfoyle for Knitting, GMC Publications
As a knitting designer, tech editor, writer, pattern writer, teacher and all round knitting nerd, I have an ever growing collection of reference books from the iconic The Principles Of Knitting by June Hemmon Hyatt and a 1960s Odhams Knitting Encylopaedia (a lucky charity shop find), to a well over a dozen stitch dictionaries. There are books on pattern writing and garment construction, books on fibres and yarn production, books on different styles of socks, on hat shaping, etc, etc.
I love learning about my craft and I use these books regularly: to find the best techniques; looking to see if an idea you have, already has an established technique; refreshing my memory about something; or just getting a new perspective or some inspiration,
So I was delighted to be asked if I wanted to review Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book – a perfect book for me to write about both here and on the UK Hand Knitting blog which I regularly write.
This is an impressive and comprehensive tome with more than 350 pages of information and 1,600 photographs and illustrations. I have pictured it here with me to give an idea of scale – warning, it weights a lot.
This is an update of Vogue Knitting’s original encyclopaedia published in 1989. Given the changes in knitting fashions, the developments in yarn, needles and techniques that we have seen in recent years, the company decided it was time for a full revision and have added 70 pages to the original.
I did occasionally find the US terminology can be a bit distracting – I always do – but it didn’t stop this being an incredibly useful resource for any knitter who wants to check a technique, understand more about yarn or see how a sock, sweater of shawl is constructed.
There are chapters explaining about types of yarns and needles and caring for your knits, through basic techniques to more complex knitting types and details of how many knitted items are constructed and even a guide to basic designing.
All the techniques sections have clear, easy to understand pictures and illustrations. I did find one or two technical sections (especially in colourwork) that might have benefited from a bit more explanation but these are in the minority.
And I will never be stuck for a cast on or cast off ever again. There are instructions for dozens of each included. I do know a cast off that isn’t included but have only done about half the cast ons.
I will certainly find this book useful but I can’t describe it as my ultimate knitting resource because I am sure to find yet more reference books in the future. That said I plan to master all the cast ons that were new to be in the coming months.
However I think this is a book that has a wider audience than obsessive, professional knitting geeks like me. If you just want to have one knitting reference book to help you with new techniques, to inspire, challenge and support you with your yarn craft, this is an excellent choice. And you could join me in my cast on challenge.
Plus if you have had an idea for your own knitting design for a sweater, hat or socks there is a section to guide you through the basics of making this a reality step by step.
This is definitely a reference book for all types of keen knitter – as well as offering a mini bicep work out.
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.
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.
I love vintage patterns and have piles of old knitting magazines from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, so I was very excited when Christine Boggis, the editor of Knitting magazine, put out a call for knits inspired by the 40s.
Even more so because for a while I had had a picture of a vintage teapot that I wanted to use as a template for a colourwork jumper and I realised this was great fit for the brief. Colourwork and stripes were popular choices for sweaters in the 1940s because rationing meant people often reused wool and only had limited supplies.
I named my design sketch Tea Time and included the story of the teapot in my submission. Soon Christine cam back to me saying she like the design and could I do a tea cosy to go with it. An unusual request bit fun and one that now makes a lot of sense having seen how the magazine styled its shoot this month.
During February I have been taking part in the #yarnlovechallenge on Instagram.
The idea was to post each day according to a theme - some, sa you can see below, more challenging than others.
It was a fascinating challenge because it made me think creatively everyday even when I wasn't in the mood. And I'm happy to say I posted every day and managed to keep up. I look forward to doing something like this again in the future but not during March which is a crazy month.
2016 has been seen as a universally bad year and, yes, some of my friends had a dreadful time last year and yes some of my celebrity heroes died but for me it was about positive change and emergence.
On the other hand I had a tough 2015 full of bereavement and health issues for me and others. I ended that year tired, drained and in need of some change in my life.
For someone who is a freelancer, one of the problems of making changes is that the need to earn can take up all the time that you would require to find new ways of living and working. At the beginning of 2016 my working was divided between writing and creating social media content, and tech editing/pattern writing with the odd bit of teaching. Designing was something that happened in my down time (when there was some) and although my head was full of ideas, it was mainly for me because I didn't have the confidence to share my final patterns or put many submission in. Putting myself out there felt risky - especially after 2015. I had published a few patterns by the end of 2015
At the beginning of the year I had one permanent contract for work which on paper accounted for about a bit more than of my time but not necessarily 50+% of my potential income in a month. In reality it tended to take up more time than that which meant I was working well into evenings and weekends and wondering whether I could take on the growing amount of other work I was generating. It also meant I had no time to draw or transcribe pattern motes from the things I was creating - let alone time to experiment or learn.
Socks where among the notes needing turned into patterns
And to be honest, it was the least satisfying of everything I was doing. But walking away was a massive risk. That job meant regular income and stability but on the other hand my other work was growing. Yet still I held on. Then I found myself trying to meet one freelance deadline in the lunchbreak from the regular part-time job and that lunchbreak was interrupted because yet more was being added to the role. I stressed, I flailed, I panicked and then I decided to resign from the job.
Big risk number 1!
So then I was able to say yes to the new work I was offered and suddenly had time to work on my design ideas, write up some shawl patterns etc. It also meant I was working entirely from home so I could arrange my working time to suit me, fit in some rehab time from an operation I had had late in 2015 and be creative when inspiration struck.
Of course this didn't mean i was suddenly publishing patterns and submitting design ideas - I hadn't had that much of a confidence injection - but there was plenty of tech editing and writing to be done. And new work to pitch for.
Then risk number 2 happened! This one I owe to Prince.
One the day that the death of the pop legend was announced I was listening to some his music and doodling a shawl with a purple pencil.
The next morning by chance I heard that the editor of Knitting might be interested in "weekend knits" accessory patterns with a Prince theme. So the doodle became a sketch, and a submission with yarn choices and I sent it off. By the end of the day I had a commission for my Purple Rain shawlette.
Once I'd made one submission, it was at least a little bit easier to put in more submissions. I also realised I should have been doing this much earlier - the few patterns I had previous released had received good feedback and I'd actually one two knitting design competitions in 2015. And if you don't submit and share your ideas, how are you ever going to get your designs noticed.
So now I've had a series of items in Knitting with more coming up there and in other places, and the good feedback continues. Though I still feel slightly surprised when I see other people knitting my designs.
Despite this I still had lots of finished samples and patterns in various stages of completion so I decided to give myself a little jeopardy and a very definite deadline.
So for risk number 3, I applied for a stall in the Indie Spotlight section of the new Yarnporium yarn show to sell patterns and introduce myself more widely as a designer. This was as much about publishing patterns and standing up to say I really am a designer as selling on the day and even for someone like me with plenty of experience of craft shows, that was a real challenge. But I did it and you can read more about it here.
So I will always think of 2016 as a positive year for me. It may have taken a long time but I have achieved something my 10-year-old self really hoped for - I am paid to design clothes.
So going into 2017, my working life now has a three way split: writing and social media. tech editing and pattern writing, and designing. I'm happier, I'm more fulfilled and my belief in following my dreams has been revived. What happens next, who knows?
I have a stall in the Indie Spotlight section of the new Yarnporium yarn show this weekend.
As I prepare pdfs and head to my local printers, steam samples and weave in the ends of new additions, I have been thinking about why I am doing this.
The answer is about so much more than standing at a table encouraging people to try the knitted samples and hopefully selling some patterns.
It is about me pushing myself forward, forcing me to share the fruits of my teeming brain and exposing my ideas to public view.
“Exposing” is the right word.
I recently read a blog by someone who said they would find it hard to be a knitting designer because it took her time to come up with ideas. I am the opposite – if see inspiration everywhere from picking up a skein of yarn, visiting museums, to just colours or shapes I see as I am walking down the street. I have no problem (at least most of the time) of turning the inspiration into an item, I am always itching to be making. Of course, I generally want to be making a dozen items at once and would like another three days a week.
As an experienced tech editor and pattern writer putting the patterns down on paper and sorting some test knitting aren’t issues either.
My problem is getting the patterns out into the world in finished state where other people might see them and judge my creative outpouring. I will be exposing part of me.
Some patterns are inspired by memories so they can feel v personal
However, when I am working on a magazine commission the pattern gets written up and sample completed on time and oddly I don’t seem to have any anxiety about my work being seen – perhaps because the magazine staff have already liked my idea.
One thing I have realised is that I work best to deadlines, probably because of my background in journalism.
So why not set myself a massive, exposing deadline and book a stall at a yarn show to share my patterns? Hence I will be at Yarnporium.
Booking for the show meant I needed a plan both for the day and in terms of getting myself ready.
The first decision was what to focus on. Having worked at Yarn Shows of various sizes as well as visited many, I know one of the regular conversation goes along the lines of:
“Look at this wonderful skein of yarn I’ve bought”
“What are you going to make”
“I don’t know but it is beautiful.”
So I decided to concentrate on finishing (and revamping) accessory patterns that would work with those lovely skeins – so shawls, cowls, hats, gloves and mitts etc – and on the day doing something I enjoy ie chatting to people about lovely yarn and how it might be used. I believe that the ture joy of that wonderful skein is finding a pattern that is a pleasure to knit and results in an item that brings you some joy when you wear or use it.
The next stage was to look at the samples and yarn for new samples where necessary and check what would be feasible in the timescale. From that I had a list of patterns to work on, samples to complete and pictures to take – a set of deadlines that were real. And it’s worked, there many more patterns in my Ravelry shop and a bulging bag of samples at my side as I type. I did have to narrow down the plans slightly which mean I have plans for two gorgeous shawls to start soon.
I'm determined to keep everyone cosy this winter
The success of the weekend will not just be measured in whether I sell X number of patterns. I have already scored a success in terms of letting go of these designs and ideas.
I took a trip to the Unravel yarn show on Friday. I like this show because, as a friend visiting for the first time put it: "There are good things all over"
It is a show featuring smaller companies with interesting designs, fibres and colours. So you can always find something new and come away feeling inspired which is exactly what I needed.
Unusually for me, I didn't go to the show with a plan or a shopping list - I really was looking for inspiration and just to enjoy the yarn and the patterns plus catching up with friends and contacts from the yarnie world. Even more so when I eventually arrived after a saga of cancelled and delayed trains.
And it didn't disappoint. I had some lovely chats and catch ups with friends old and new. An indie dyer previously only known to me as the "Buzz Lighyear lady" - she understood why - now has a name and I'm looking forward to meeting her at future shows.
And yes I did shop, treating myself to some skeins I fell in love with and nabbing a couple of bargains - all 4-ply.
I was barely through the door of the show when I spotted the subtle green and russet skein of Silkie Merino (50/50 silk/merino) by Ling of Whimzy (the Buzz Lightyear lady) who has a creative eye for colour combinations. The yarn is destined to be a crescent shawlette - quite possible with a Victorian lace edging like this one
There are no firm plans for the other yarns yet, but when I took the yarns out to photograph I put the Titus (I couldn't leave with out a skein in that intense colour) next to the purple Knitglobal sock and was taken aback by how much I like them together.
And the Dusted Dreams - well I've been fascinated to see how the colours knit up - just need to decide if it is for socks or a beanie and mitts combo...
I want to make another set of the Brigid mitts and beanie hat. Partly because at this time of year I always want more cosy knitwear and partly because I want to check a tweak I've made to the beanies shaping before I publish the pattern.
Brigid beanie version 1 modelled by Esmerelda
I've narrowed it down to three colourways - a subtle blue, cheery red or my typical purple. But I'm struggling to decide.
This is a cable I've been playing about with in different ways recently and it popped into my head again one morning when I was making breakfast. The puns around toasty warm feet and hot cross socks were a bit to much and then I spotted these two yarns - one made me think of jam and the other the top of a spicy bun... so the socks came into being.
The final pattern is being tested right now and will be published very soon.