For me 2016 was all about risk and reward (and inspiration from a pop hero)

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.
Des CollageI 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.

Sock cardSocks 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.

Purple rain K159 aut2016

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.

Knitting mag 2016ZigZag, Ardmore and Braniel

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.

Sss collage for blogThe Sea Shore Sky shawls - Salmon Net shawl, Starry Night Shawlette, Waves on
Slate shawlette
, Coolmore Creek, and Low Tide scarf - were among the patterns
completed for Yarnporium

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?








The story of a new design - Ardmore sweater dress

Introducing Ardmore my new sweater dress design for Knitting magazine.


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.

Graduated sweater dressThe 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).

Style file spread

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.

I hope some of you enjoy knitting this dress as much as I enjoyed creating it and check out some of my other patterns.





Never give up on your childhood ambitions

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.

Collar trendsKnitting, 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.

Auntie B - an internet knitting whizz

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.

Column 1



Making Monday 2: In need of a finishing Friday

Right now I don't have any problem with the making but finishing anything seems quite far off right now which has lead to a bad case of startitis.

The problem is in part due to making two lace projects on very small needles which inevitably take ages. 

There's the cotton tunic...

...  and the cobweb weight Shetland Lace stole (beautiful but a couple of centimeters takes a long time).

Proj 041
Then there is the pink T-shirt, I cast on so had knitting to take to  Belfast to see Mum. Although knitting needles should be allowed through UK airports, I find it best to have my project on interchangeable circulars so I can separate the ends before going through security. Neither of the tiny projects qualified and so something else had to be cast on.

I did cast off on item recently - a summer cardigan. Unfortunately I then lost the buttons (now found) just as I was ready to sew them on. 

Proj 038
Then there's a skirt to sew up, and some fused glass to mount into jewellery.

Enough to keep me occupied you'd think. But I had an idea of how a lovely skein of Nimu lace would make the perfect but it had to beaded - and then I saw the perfect beads to replace nupps in an Estonian pattern and now I really want to experiment.
image from
And then I have the perfect yarn to make the cover pattern from the latest edition of The Knitter - a real tempter because of it's unusual centre out construction.
I will be strong.
I will make this Friday a finishing day.
And right now I'll make myself some dinner.

The Knitter 31: I wouldn't have done it like that

Don't you just hate people who look at something you've done and say very nice but I'd have done it like this. So my apologies to the team at The Knitter because that is the conclusion I've reached about this issue.

image from At first glance I dismissed the magazine as a bit disappointing this month but in some cases I now wonder if it is the styling and colour choices rather than some of the patterns that may be causing that effect.

The most unfortunate victim is Susan Crawford's Anyone for tennis? This cross over front 4ply slipover has a herring bone texture but you can hardly see it. Plus it looks lumpy worn over a striped puff-sleeved frilly blouse. Like many of the patterns this month I look forward to seeing this on Ravelry as other people use different colours and photograph it in other ways.

I have a similar issue with Amanda Crawford's Neopolitan. Picture captions refer to the waist shaping on this sleeveless v-neck top but it is hard to see when worn over a square necked, layered dress. Of course pistachio with lemon and red drop stitch embellishment was never a colour combination that I was going to fall love with. But I think that somewhere here there is a pretty summer top if you can get past the first impression.

The cover pattern Bonbon, like some other Jean Moss magazine pattern, will definitely divide opinion due to the colour choices. Whether or not you like pink and kiwi , the combination of eyelets with a little fair isle detail on the shoulders and feminine shaping does work in this cardigan - although I'm not sure if it will sit well over a large bust due to the old button straining issue.

I've already come across comments on the green and pink double-sided spotty kid's jacket, Toasted Teacake, mainly on the colour. I'm certain my little niece will love this fun piece from Rosee Woodland. It's also a technical challenge using the double knitting technique - which isn't as scary as it sounds.

Headland, a cotton aran cable-patterned t-shirt with shawl collar from Martin Storey, photographs well and has attractive but not to difficult honeycomb cables. So if you wear cotton aran cable-patterned t-shirts this could be a winner. By contrast I can't say how well Sarah Hatton's Dunstan, a DK alpaca slipover, works because it hasn't photgraphed well at all.

And finally a mention for Lightening, another lovely lace shawl from Anniken Allis.I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to take on their first large lace piecebecause the pattern repeat is straight forward to follow and "read" in your knitting.

Knitting 89: Don't judge it by the cover

image from As a magazine editor, I know only too well that choosing your cover and "selling" your content is one of the toughest jobs for each issue. Sometimes they just don't work, May's issue of Knitting being a case in point. 

If I wasn't a subscriber or a regular reader I wouldn't be attracted by the main image which doesn't flatter what turns out to be a glamorous long line wrap cardigan. The "cocktail colours, bright summer knits" with it's multicoloured text makes me think scary colour work in acrylic brights shades,  completely at odds with the subtle and sensuous patterns within.

So I'm very glad I'm a subscriber because I did open the issue and discovered much to love in shapely dresses and flowing tunics - much more cocktail hour than cocktail colour.

I'd add that my favourite garment in the whole magazine isn't on the cover but there was a picture on the blog so I am able to point you in the right direction.

image from  Amanda Jones' cocktail dress is chic and smart, and exactly the pattern I've been looking for. I have a large amount of silk merino mix DK yarn (similar to the Louisa Harding Grace the pattern calls for) that I purchased with to make a dress but for which I've failed to find the right pattern.

This though could be the one - lots of shaping with the A-line skirt should be flattering.The textures add to the sophistication of the dress and will add to the interest in the making. Worth the cover price alone this month.

Until I shift some extra padding developed during an injury enforced exercise ban, I also think the Jones dress will suit me better than the second one this month. The ruched sleeved dress (see gallery below) from Pat Menchini is a plain stocking-stitch column in DK with short textured sleeves. It will be very sexy on anyone without excessive lumps and bumps but that amount of stocking stitch could put some people off. But I would say go for it. Handknit dresses can be very eye-catching in the right way. 

If you are after some looser stylishness then there is a lace sleeve tunic and kimono both from Sian Brown.

 As I've noted before, mohair divides knitters and the silk/mohair mix for the lace sleeve tunic (bottom left) will be no exception. It will give this a-line tunic a lot softness and lightness but the hairiness won't be to everyone's taste. I'm wondering the lace bell sleeves and flowing stocking stitch body would work in a smoother laceweight. (If you do love mohair, the stashbuster project is mohair leg warmers this month).

Kimono is the victim of the unflattering cover. In reality it is lace-edged long line wrapover jacket/cardigan. Made here in a red bamboo DK it will either be dramatic and elegant or look like you are out in your dressing gown depending on your shape and the panache with which you carry off belted knitwear.

I'm more likely to go for Peggy, a Sublime pattern for a sleeveless waist length draping top.Made in bamboo and pearl (yes, pearl sourced viscose) yarn it is plain but shapely apart from a little reverse stocking stitch texture above the bust and a clever twisted neckline. A useful summer top for over a pair of capris with pretty sandals. And as a quick knit with a touch of style it would be a good option for someone wanting the knit their first summer top.

 I've no pattern of doom this month but two I'm in two minds about.

image from I know ruffles are on trend but I'm not convinced by the hip ruff effect of Martin Storey's Bell Frill Cardigan - the rear view picture in the magazine is not what I'd think of as a good look - unless you are a 1970s tennis player. One frill perhaps on this otherwise shapely cotton cardigan?

Another candidate for adaption is the gold edged top (below), from Alison Robson, is a draping loose sleeveless top. It's pretty and simple with a lace edge. I'm just not sure why that edging is in the contrasting gold but then I'm one for stark glitzy contrasts.

Over all Knitting remains on form so don't be put off by the cover.  


image from

The Knitter 30: Lace Therapy

Do you buy knitting patterns for the articles or the patterns? 

image from Normally I'd say the patterns every time but with this month's The Knitter, it is all about the articles.  There are some patterns I'll highlight below (I'm not a fan of sleeveless pullovers and cardies) but there are two feature articles that push all the buttons for me and make up for this not being my favourite pattern-wise.

Stitchlinks is a project I already follow but was pleased to read more about it. Founded by Betsan Proj 022 Corkhill, Stitchlinks is all about the therapeutic aspects of knitting and how it can help people with long term health issues.

As someone whose professional life brings into contact with social workers and the social care system and having an ancestor who was an occupational therapy pioneer this is of particular interest to me but I think most knitters will be interested in what Betsan has to say. Knitting and other crafts can have an impact on how we experience pain, our sense of worth and our mood including how we deal with stress. I for one will say that if I'm having a difficult day at work, spending lunchtime in a coffee shop with my knitting can clear my head and help me find positive solutions. Betsan writes about these many effects and how colour and texture can have an impact on people - the silk wool cable project above makes me feel better - something that all knitters could relate to. 

image from One thing that makes me feel good - perhaps because of the sense of achievement - is lace. So I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the Shetland Fine Lace Project which is about maintaining the craftwoman's skills and heritiage associated with the finest of hand knits.

It is also about educating people about the amount of work and craft knowledge that goes into each lace item. The scarves and shawls (like the one left) are sold through the Shetland Museum if you want to find out more.

Meanwhile I haven't many highlight patterns this month which I suppose balances out those issues where I want to cast on absolutely everything, but there are still highlights.

I have a young niece and I think I can guarantee that at some point she will own a Child's Sweater with a Cat Pattern by Kari Haugen. It's a Norwegian colourwork item in DK that features whole cats on the body and cat faces on the sleeves. Think Sara Lund with cats for a 4-year-old.

I'm also hoping my other half will like the subtly striped Ease man's jumper image from in cotton/silk DK by Brandon Mably - the stripes will make all that stocking stitch for a man-size  garment interesting and I think it would suit him.

For me a simple textured and fitted 4-ply sweater may well prove the answer for some of the summer yarn in my stash. Lilium by Vladmira Cmorejova fits the bill - reverse stocking stitch with lines of twisted rib and beads of leaf design it will make a simple spring/summer top.

Hayworth is classic Sarah Hatton - a simple but effective cropped cardigan with a romantic Jane Austen look, this time in aran. A quick knit simmer cover up and good choice as a first cardigan for a beginner.

And finally a stashbusting gem from Ann Kingstone - long fingerless 4py lacy gauntlets with bobbles that give them their name, Pearl

Knitting 88: A little bit of vintage heaven

Round The Orient Express gives the theme for this vintage-rich collection of classic patterns and articles. Regular readers may have realised I have a bit of a vintage obsession (note my recent distractions during the BBC's South Riding), so Knitting 88's 1930s inspirations were guaranteed to get a thumbs up from one regular reader at least.

Especially with an interview with vintage knitter to the stars Lise-Lotte Lystrup and a technique feature on adapting lace stitch patterns.

But to be honest I would have been happy with just the pattern pictured here. I want to cast-on the DK Round Yoke Sweater (left) from Bergere de France right now and am mentally reviewing my stash as I write. The small of set collar, ribbed circular yoke and lace body and sleeves are right out of a Poirot or Marple TV adaptation (and yes I an distracted by knitwear in those too) and it would look great with a tweed skirt or wide legged trousers. Those same construction attributes make it an interesting knit - expect it on a penguin very soon.

Sian Brown's Sailor Top is another classic - hip length, striped cotton DK stocking stitch with a v-neck and draping collar tie. It is a simple, familiar design that would work in a range of colour combinations.

Different colourways are also worth thinking about for Tina Barrett's Beaded Bolero. Produced here in a deep purple alpaca DK with gold beads  this pretty puff sleeved tie neck fastening garment has an evening look, but a lighter shade with pearlised beads would transform it to a summer day time cover up. It may even be worth considering whether there is a suitable cotton yarn.

Wavy Lacy Cardigan from Fiona Morris is another handy DK option for our summers. Long line, with a slight tunic shape and simple lace panels, it will look good loose or belted over a simple cotton summer dress.

Images from the magazine's online preview

 A quick mention for Alison Pierce's lacy Simplon Cape - Miss Marple would love it but I'm not sure if I'm a cape person. But it is made with possum yarn which is something I've just discovered.

And for a bit of fun how about a Chinese inspired colour work felted carpet bag. Not something I'd usually think of but I'm rather taken with Jeanette Sloan's Orient Doctor's Bag.

 Of course I don't love everything. Suzie Lee's Dogtooth Skirt is pretty much what it says on the tin and depends on how you feel about knitted skirts.

The Fairy Leaves Shrug from Nicky Epstein gave me more pause for thought. In the pictures this is simple shrug with gathered sleeves but then I realised it was made up of rectangular lace panels joined together. This to me always has an element of risk because if you don't get the tension of your joins even and are v careful with your blocking there is a strong chance that you will have gathering and bagging in the final garment.

But these are minor quibbles compared to Martin Storey's Pimpernel - when I tried to describe it all I came up with was a baby blanket with a hole in the middle in Kidsilk Haze so thankfully I found a picture.


Why oh why?