Welcome: Knitting and fencing but rarely together

ProfileLapurplepenguin is the off-duty identity of a Northern
Irish born, London-based knitting designer, tech editor and journalist 
Knit 078

In her down time La Penguin likes to to take a break from the serious thinking about future media and society and such stuff to indulge two particular hobbies.

Although superficially different knitting and sabre fencing share some surprising common traits (apart from getting you odd looks on the train) - storage requirements, specialist kit, strange languages and of course the pointy objects.

The blog is mainly about adventures in yarn and jewellery but will occasionally feature a spot of swashbuckling.

One thing I should explain is the name. You can find me on twitter and ravelry at lapurplepenguin and so this blog belongs to a penguin with pointy sticks (knitting needles and swords). Purple Penguin has been an all purpose name I've used for years. It first started I think when I needed a name for a quiz team or the like. Someone said think of a couple of things you like: obviously purple and penguins.

But it then has come in handy as a code in relation to knitting and dressmaking. If you are wearing a garment you made and someone compliments it, and you admit you made it, there are sometimes odd reactions. But if I say "it's a purple penguin" they nod or say really. And so my knitting superhero identity was born.

You can find more about my work and designs at lapurplepenguin.com

031_KNIT_160A recent design in Knitting magazine


Privileged to be one of Knitting magazine's featured designers

It is very lovely to be one of the designers interviewed for the 200th edition of Knitting magazine

011_KNIT_200

Especially as winning a garment design competition in the magazine a few years ago was one of the big spurs to my design career.  The magazine mentions a collection of shawls I was planning to get online. I had hoped to have these up my the end of October but as often the case for freelance creatives, life has intervened and I have been prioritising the work that guarantees payment rather than the ones where I hope I will get sales on Ravelry etc.

However, the Beautifully Blocked collection which makes a selection of my favourite shawls designs for magazines available as individual downloadable patterns for the first time will be ready very soon. I will reveal the 8 choosen patterns over the weekend.

I also plan to write about what how the designer aspects of my life work on a day to day basis as soon as I free up some time.

OFC_KNIT_200

 

Inspiration from Gainsborough to McQueen

 

030_KNIT_192-1

The theme for the new issue of Knitting magazine (no 192) is British Yarn and British Landscape. Because of the way my mind works this cardigan developed from seemingly disparate sources. The construction of the two part fronts to create a waistcoat effect is an idea I have been playing with since looking at the clever ways AlexanderMcQueen played with traditional tailoring.

The landscape theme made me think of the famous Gainsborough picture of a couple surveying their land. So the "Mrs Andrews" cardigan has a textured "waistcoat section joined the the over jacket with the join embellished by small buttons to recall C18th style.

 

image from upload.wikimedia.org

Mr and Mrs Andrews


I hope that you agree that it is both unusual and wearable - there are back darts to help shaping.


The yarns are 100% wool DK and Wool/Silk DK from New Lanark so there are plenty of possible colour combinations plus it is very affordable.


Happy knitting

OFC_KNIT_192


Learning from designing a knit-a-long shawl

Betwixtmas kal

I have recently had my first experience of one of my designs being used in a knit-a-long.

Having been involved, I would recommend the experience to other designers.

It came about through chats about shawls and shawl patterns with Sara Geraghty of Black Sheep Wools. She had an idea for a Betwixtmas knit-a-long that would start after Christmas days and give people a project for the period between then and the New Year.

She asked me to come up with a shawl that wouldn’t be too complicated for that hazy, lazy part of the year and be something that a first time shawl knitter could tackle, but which would still offer a little bit of a challenge.

With a shawl design, finding the right yarn can be crucial. In this case, it needed to both be right for the shawl and something that would suit Black Sheep’s retail offering.

We settled on Fyberspates Vivacious 4-ply a 100% merino yarn that comes in a range of delicious semi-solid shades. It is perfect for shawl knitting because it blocks well and has a lovely drape.

I swatched and sketched and we finalised on this design for the shawl.

Betwixt hanger PA241071My original Betwixtmas sample

A classic centre out triangle that is about three quarters stocking stitch with a diamond lace edging. This means knitters can get used to the shaping (and in the case of the KAL, recover from Christmas) before tackling the lace pattern.

With the pattern and samples done, my role was to sit back, enjoy the launch and wait for the knitting to start.

The launch was a big hit with 1000s of copies of the pattern being downloaded for free from Black Sheep  and many people falling in love with our yarn choice.

And then people started to cast on and share their experiences to the Black Sheep make-a-long Facebook group.

As a designer and pattern writer it was interesting to see the parts that knitters found harder and as a teacher it was enjoyable to offer advice and help to get the through those problems. It will make me think about the notes and support I can provide for future patterns.

But the most pleasure came from seeing pictures of people’s progress and then the finished shawls. And there have been so many, I have lost track a little. Especially when some people cast on their third versions.

Here are just a small selection.

Betwixtmas Collage

Thanks to Sandy Brown, Alison Locke, Anita Pearson, Chris Clark, Roberta Couchman, Carole Rigby, Sarah Aston, Rita Lee, Hilary Shepherd, Alison Neave, Loraine Walker, Jane Holt, and Marion Beet.

And yes I am now mulling over future knit-a-longs.


Looking back at my 2018 design journey

2018 was a very busy year for me in many ways but one of them was as a knitwear designer.

How busy didn’t really strike me until I started looking back at the patterns published last year with a view to consider which magazine patterns I might relaunch on my own sites in due course. I doubled by design output last year and worked with four big magazines, Knitting, The Knitter, Simply Knitting and Knit Now.

It was also the year when I was able to walk into WH Smith and see three of my designs in a row on the covers of three of these magazines.

34045726_1602816029828493_2528419329867776000_n

I am always very chuffed when my work makes the cover of anything so this was rather overwhelming. I wrote something about this at the time.

So when I started looking back though the 2018 designs I thought I would pull them together in a series of collages.

Sweaters, cardigans and a dress

Sweater Collage

These were all created to a design brief for a particular magazine issue with a theme. Sometimes a theme just shouts at me and garment sketches flow from my pencil at speed. other times it is more difficult. But looking at these I think my interest in construction, shaping and stitch patterns come through. The one thing I tend not to do is plain stocking stitch in one colour. That doesn't mean difficult knits - but it does mean there will be something to keep your interest and add a little variety.

Shawls, wraps and scarves

Shawl Collage

These allow me to let loose with lace, cables and texture as well as providing the opportunity to play with construction as with the two signature "radial" semi-circular shawls and the green wraps in rows and three which are worked on the bias from corner to corner. 

I also love the drama you can create with colour and large pieces of lace, so even when people tell me shawls are less popular, I won't be walking away from them.

Socks

Sock CollageFor most of my knitting life (well, my life, there isn't much of a time difference) I didn't knit socks and had no interest in them. Then I set myself a new year challenge of doing something new and made a pair. Definitely a life changing moment, as five years on I regularly design and make them. I have taught sock knitting and as I type am thinking of getting a pair out of the drawer because by toes are cold in a high street pair.

My preference I will go for a cuff down sock with a heel flap. But I will do a short row heel or and after-thought one (as in the colourwork socks) if the design would work better.

So what will 2019 bring? This January I have already finished four samples and have the yarn for several more to hand. I am planning a number of pattern relaunches and have a special big project in the works. I am also going to try to post more and revive this blog.

 


Why we need to think again about "yarn bombing"

I found myself in an interesting chat about so-called yarn bombing on Twitter this week prompted by Louise Scollay of the Knit British podcast. It started with whether we were comfortable with the use of "bombing" to describe activities where people decorate a space with knitted and crocheted items often as a unsanctioned "flash" event, but the discussion has prompted me to think harder about the whole phenomenon.

I have a specific reason from finding the term yarn bombing uncomfortable. Bombing is an unredeemably negative term for someone who grew up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s and who has experienced being in a bomb explosion. (If you are having trouble getting past the last sentence, I have written a little note about reacting to that statement at the bottom of this post but for now I want to focus on the topic**).

Bomb is a negative word. On the other hand, yarn is a very positive aspect of my life. Not only is it central to my working and creative life, but I have used knitting, crochet and braidmaking to help me with pain and anxiety.

My personal distaste for putting the two words together may not be enough to argue for the term yarn bombing to be done away with but thinking about it brought me to some wider issues with the term and to some extent the activity.

If you think about the word bombing, it suggests an out of control and destructive event. Event the common alternative yarn storming has a destructive element. Surely this is not the message we want to get across with a collaborative creative happening.

What it does do is sum up the problematic side of yarn bombing activities. Major reasons that some people feel negative towards it is that yarn bombing can seem random and have a poor environmental impact. Explosions of knitting and crochet without a discernible purpose or theme, that are just left resulting in limp rags of indestructible acrylic yarn hanging from trees. 

P6135112
We should think carefully before we take on the urban environment with yarn and needles

When done well, a community yarn art event can be life enhancing - bringing connections to those who participate and enjoyment to those who experience results. But part of that process should be a planning and responsibility from those undertaking the knitting and installation. To me that means a clear reason for the event and a plan for removing the pieces when they no longer serve the purpose or begin to look less attractive, enjoyable or useful.

With this in mind. I am proposing using new term "yarnstallation". The idea is to move away from negative language to a word that links with craft with art and which I hope conveys a more planned and responsible approach. Perhaps ten as a community we could talk about how we approach yarnstallations to ensure they are seen as positive happenings that benefit communities and how to avoid accusations of polluting the environment.

 

 

**I find that people struggle with how to react if I mention that I have been in a bomb. The thing is, it is part of what makes me me. It happened. I am fortunate that I avoided much more serious injury, but I do have long term physical and mental health issues as a result (not always obvious). If I am telling you in a calm way (as here) to explain or give context, please take it calmly in the way it has been offered but don't prod for specific details. If I think it relevant or I am comfortable to do so I will share more but I may not want to, please respect that. At times, as here it is relevant to share that it happened but the details have nothing to do with the point I am making above.

The other time someone might find out about this, is if something triggers an anxiety attack or flashback - in which case take the information as background to helping me through the episode.

 


Of shawls and serendipity

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.

Twk cosmic girl

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?

Electric storm 2

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.

Electric storm 1

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.

  Electric storm 3Photographs by Laurel Guilfoyle for Knitting, GMC Publications


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.

Is this my ultimate knitting book?

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.

P2014530

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.

81sIf2EL+cL

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.

71Qg1tt6qaL

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.

Cover


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.

P1074431

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.

P1074439 v2

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.

P1074427