Some goodies came in the post and my brain is full of new shawl ideas - just need to finish 4 or 5 other things.
I bought these two skeins via the Virtual Wool Monty last weekend - despite not having a show to teach at I couldn't help some shopping.
I've been playing with some ideas about mixing more solid and variegated yarns together and these two skeins from RiverKnits really hit the spot.
When I went for my walk in the woods I started thinking about the red tile roofs and brick chimneys of various buildings that peep through the trees, so another woodland inspired shawl may be on the way.
If you fancy knitting a shawl today, check out my Ravelry shop - there is 10% off all shawl pattern until 25 June 2020 with code GOWIB.
Footnote: Chatting to Becci from River Knits online I have learned that the red brick along the canals was the inspiration for one of these colourways. Great minds and all that....
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
For 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.
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.
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.
One interesting aspect of knitting is that looking at something sideways can give you a new way to create something.
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.
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 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.
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.
Here are my 28 pics - starting from day one at the top left. To find out more have a look at my Instagram feed.
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.
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 have also worked on a process of building relationships by making sure that I have samples in yarns that will be available at the show and talking to those yarn producers and dyers about what I’m doing. Those connections include Travelknitter, Third Vault Yarns, Eden Cottage Yarns, Easy Knits, Whimzy, The Little Grey Sheep, Baa Ram Ewe and Debonnaire. So if you come along you can match the patterns to the lovely yarn.
And it is about me saying I am proud of my work and that’s a big step in itself.