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
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love a cable or two. They add interest to both design and the process of knitting and you can use them to aid construction or shaping, so I was very excited a few months ago when the editor of Knitting magazine put out a call for design submissions for a cable special.
I was even more excited when I was commissioned to produce my modern take on a traditional aran-style cable jumper in a natural off-white yarn.
It was a design I'd enjoyed coming up with and it was also a sample I really enjoyed producing (I just need the time to make one for myself).
Given how much I loved this design, it was a true pleasure to see it as the cover garment for the March 2017 issue of Knitting.
The magazine has labelled the design as "advanced" but don't be alarmed, if you have mastered basic cables, all that is happening here is and arrangement of various types, the technique is the same. Take a look at my posts on understanding cable instructions to boost your confidence (part 1, part 2, part 3)
I used New Lanark Aran for the design - an affordable, hard working yarn that I am a big fan of and one that comes in a wide colour palette. Knitting has some suggestions about other colour choices.
I am really looking forward to seeing versions of this cosy jumper.
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?
Introducing Ardmore my new sweater dress design for Knittingmagazine.
For a long time before I started designing myself and indeed before I was a tech editor for other designers and magazines, I was keen to know how particular designs came about.
With this in mind, rather than just share a pic of the new design I thought I'd share a little of its story.
In May the editor of the magazine put out a call for designs influenced by high street fashion for an autumn issue. She provided designers with a mood board showing shapes, lengths, necklines, colour pallets etc. There were plenty of over-sized knits, so as someone who likes easily worn items as well as tunics and knitted dresses, I thought a chunky sweater dress with quite an over-sized neck would work.
I was also interested in the ombre and dip-dyed looks at the moment so decided to use Fair Isle type colour work to give that effect.
The result was this sketch which I submitted along with possible colour combinations and yarn suggestions.
One of the interesting parts of a submission is the eventual yarn and colour choices. The designer will have preferences but will also have made suggestions based on the magazine brief. The magazine will need to have a range of yarns and colours across the collection for that issue. Luckily in this case Rowan Cocoon worked as a yarn choice and we were able to come up with a colour combination that as a fit. But with Knitting magazine they helpfully show you how some of the patterns might work in other colours (as well as how to accessorise them).
Once it was agreed it was as always a matter of getting the sample and pattern in for the deadline (yes chunky knitting in a heatwave was involved) and waiting to see the issue. It is really interesting to see how the piece looks in the shoot and I love the background and styling in this issue.
Feeling quite emotional today because I realise that I have I have fulfilled a childhood ambition.
When I was a little girl I would draw clothes and make things on my tiny pink hand operated sewing machine.
And I was going to grow up to be a fashion designer. And magazines would have photographs of things I designed and made and would write about how fashionable/beautiful they were.
Right now there is a piece in a magazine on my desk about collared knits being a spring trend this year with a photograph of a sweater I designed and made.
Knitting, March 2015, p21: My sweater is the purple one
My nine-year-old self is turning cartwheels (something she couldn't actually do).
It is made even better because that nine year old was also going to be a writer - something I've already achieved. But to bring it all together while I didn't write the book reviewed next to the trends piece, I was the copy-editor.
So it doesn't matter how long it takes, if you really love doing something there is always the potential that you will get to that place you dreamed off on rainy school holiday afternoons.
PS My other ambition at nine was to be prime minister.
Because I've been a bit quiet on the blog of late (apart from this week) I haven't told you about Auntie B, demon knitter and proto-silver surfer.
She's the sort of lady who has a massive collection of vintage aran patterns, has used the same DPNs almost constantly for 30 years and until recently was more interested in whether internet cafes had good scones rather than good bandwidth. But now she's discovering the joys of Ravelry, downloading patterns and meeting other knitters online
Auntie B is the central character in my new column for Simply Knitting. And I made her up.
But she owes a lot to my real life Auntie Betty, doyenne of the WI and someone who made a impact on everyone she met. I can certainly imagine her doing all the things my character does.
So I hope the column will make people laugh and find out more about all the internet resources there are for knitters - and perhaps get to know Auntie B just a little bit.
Well that's certainly what I have to do if I'm to keep up with my "smug" stashmistress image in the latest Let's Get Craftingmagazine (out 9 March 2012) where I pop up extolling the virtues of Ravelry as a stash control tool.