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

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.
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.

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.

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.


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.



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.


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. 

All about the swatch

Today I'm surrounded by swatches because I'm testing a range of yarns, shapes and stitches for a new commission involving a set of patterns.

It is interesting to see how things come out and sometimes that means deciding a stitch might work better in another of the yarn choices.

I'm now contemplating these and a couple more before the final sketches and submission.

Swatch collage

New Pattern: The ZigZag cardie


Introducing ZigZag, my new cardigan design in Knitting issue 164.

This longish, empire line cardigan is a flattering shape with a lovely drape thanks to the yarn which is Yarn Stories fine merino 4-ply. 

I'd wanted to make something in this yarn since I'd first come across it and especially in this colour combination of dove and french navy. So the Knitting "Winter Blues" issue was the perfect opportunity, especially as I think 4-ply cardigans are very useful layering garments in winter (in particular one as changeable as this).

The graduate stripes keep the interest when knitting and create shape, especially at the back.

Zigzag 5I enjoyed creating this pattern a lot and am thinking of making one for myself in another colourway - perhaps chocolate and burnt sienna or bottle and taupe.

In the meantime I am working on another design in this yarn that I can't reveal yet but again I'm enjoying the colour combinations


The three stages of knit – or my motivation for design

As part of the Indie Spotlight section of Yarnporium, I had the opportunity to talk to lots and lots of knitters which is always a lovely experience.

Because we were in a separate room from the main stands, I often asked them about the yarn they’d bought so I could do a bit of vicarious shopping. It also gave me a great overview of the wide range of beautiful yarns, colours and fibres on offer.

20161105_112954The lovely Elaine wearing her version of my Ardmore dress
Knitting magazine in front of an array of my samples
at Yarnporium

Chatting to people made me realise that something about my attitude to knitting and why I create patterns.

For me there are three stages to a great knit.

  1. Finding a yarn I want to work with. That could be a matter of feel or colour, it could be to do with a  combination of fibres or some other aspect of the yarn.

    _MG_6386The yarns I came home from Yarnporium with destined for new
    Top from Whimzy is intended for a shawlette, the other
    from Third
    Vault Yarns will be socks

  2. The pleasure of the knit. I want to enjoy making the object. For me that means there is always some colourwork, texture or interesting shaping in my patterns. I like challenges and I don’t like doing exactly the same thing on every row. I also enjoy seeing lace patterns and shaping develop or ticking of progress cable twist by cable twist.

    Wingspan1 Salmon Net shawl combines lace and cables -typical of my ideal knit

  3. Wearing a finished item. The aim is a finished object that is loved and worn/used lots showing off the yarn, the pattern and the work. Something that makes you happy on an ongoing basis.

That’s why my patterns are designed to be enjoyable to knit and lovely to wear, they are intended to share the joy of that lovely yarn and our individual skills.

Of course that will always be based on what I think it is enjoyable but I home at least some of you share those tastes.

Accessory collage


Vslb 1 blob

My stall at Yarnporium is about much more than selling patterns on the day

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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.

Accessory collageI'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 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.

Crescent shawls - useful and fun knits

If you are yet to try your hand a shawl knitting, a simple crescent shawlette is a good place to start. 

Purple rain K159 aut2016

Purple rain 2 K159 aut2016Purple rain shawlette in Knitting issue 159 

They can be draped over your shoulders as a light extra layer, left dangling as a stylish flash of colour or wrapped round your neck for warmth. 

In terms of knitting, Purple Rain (above) and my other designs which I will be releasing on Ravelry and Love Knitting very soon, feature a lace edge section and a plain stocking stitch or garter stitch centre. The curve is created using a simple, user-friendly form of short row shaping that will be familiar to sock knitters.

The other upsides are that this style of shawl can be made in a few days and all these designs use one 100g skein of lovely hand-dyed sock yarn or luxury 4-ply.

I really enjoy making these shawls which is probably why I keep coming up with ideas for new ones and I hope you enjoy making them too.

Wrapped neck 1Starry night shawlette, one of a series of shawls and scarves inspired
by my childhood house and surroundings in Donegal (coming soon)

IMG_0925Waves on slate, another of a series of shawls and scarves inspired
by my childhood house and surroundings in Donegal (coming soon)

Garland twtter 1

The lace leaf edging on Garland is knitted in a strip and the stitches
the centre section are picked up (coming soon)