A Solstice Day

Exiting your home with a three year old is rarely graceful. After a morning tucked contentedly inside, sipping tea (me), learning new puzzles (her) and making food to share with friends, we prepared to greet the first Winter's Day. Within the usual flurry of coats, bags and 15 reminders for her to use the bathroom, I glanced out the window for a weather check. The trees bent sideways and confirmed that today was all about hand knit sweaters. 

Antler Cardigan by Tin Can Knits, yarn from Lioness Arts. (Project notes  here )

Antler Cardigan by Tin Can Knits, yarn from Lioness Arts. (Project notes here)

Tucked into waterproofs and puddle stomping boots, Little One ran gleefully across the grass to meet her friend and together they danced and laughed at the ferocious wind. Two protective mothers tied hats around little ears and I was glad for her woolen cardigan as she raced off to explore. 

Antler Cardigan. Pattern via TIn Can Knits (more details  here )

Antler Cardigan. Pattern via TIn Can Knits (more details here)

I finished this cardigan a while ago but haven't slowed down enough to take pictures lately. In fact, I'd not brought my much loved Nikon out of its camera bag since we moved over a month ago. I would be willing to lay money that this has been a contributing factor in my feeling antsy and unable to create lately. 

Today though, today was a good day for collecting stones and hurling them at the little stream nearby. This cardigan not only kept her warm but survived rolling in damp grass and a sudden downpour that came at us sideways thanks to the wind and sent us scurrying inside for pasta and cake. I will always be in complete awe at the powerful resource wool provides. 

I've included all the project notes of my version of Tin Can Knit's Antler Cardigan here on Ravelry. Yarn is via Lioness Arts

Art Inspired Knitwear {Guest Post}

On the last podcast episode I introduced Renee Callaghan's latest knitwear release, 'The Klee Collection' and promised a guest post sharing all her inspiration. Here it is and I love how much detail and form that Renee has captured from her time spent gazing at Klee's beautiful work. 


I have always been attracted to the arts. Long before it ever occurred to me to make things myself, I studied and loved things that other people made; paintings, drawings, sculpture. When I began to study art history, it was the very uselessness of the fine arts that attracted me. These objects seemed like tangible proof that the need to create aesthetically pleasing things transcended the basic necessities of survival such as food and shelter. As long as people have existed, they have created objects and made marks above and beyond what was strictly useful. 

And yet… 

When I came to the decision that designing and making things was just too important to me to do anything else, I felt an overwhelming urge to make useful things that people would use—hopefully—every day. I felt, and continue to feel we live in a world full of stuff, much of it mass produced, and that the making of a thing with your own hands is valuable both as an act of creation and as a tiny defiance of the disposable nature of all that stuff in our world. 

This all sounds very worthy, but it is more than that. It is also about pleasure. The pleasure in making things by hand. The pleasure in seeing something beautiful. The pleasure in seeing something beautiful, and then following it into another act of creation…. 

Inspiration is a nebulous thing. A couple of years ago, the Tate Modern put on a wonderful exhibition of Paul Klee’s work and after going to see it, I was inspired to be more creatively ambitious and pursue my hand-knitting design with a collection. I choose a few of Klee’s paintings and started to extract little bits of beauty from them and try to make them my own. 

It was not a smooth or direct path. Sometimes it was a single colour, as the shocking red of Angel in the Making.

Angel in the Making

Sometimes it is a more subtle thing, such as the title of the painting. I took this concept into knit with the idea of an evolving lace stitch, a lace in the making beginning with a single eyelet, evolving as the eyelets multiply and resolve themselves into pretty lace patterns. The Angel in the Making shawl and Angel in the Making sweater were the results.

Angel in the Making Shawl & Sweater

Sometimes a metaphor morphs into another shape in the mind, as did the idea of graphic arm/wings in Angelus Novus.

Angelus Novus

Isn’t she a beauty? I imagined the arms wrapping around the body and turned into a wing-like pattern that envelops the body. There is joy in the simplicity of the shapes, something both childlike and elegant. My interpretation produced the Angelus Novus cardigan

Angelus Novus Cardigan
Angelus Novus Shawl

Twilight Flowers was painted just a few months before Klee’s death in 1940. I love the flat, patterned aspect of the simple geometric shapes and the pops of colour among the muted palette.

Twilight Flowers

Each design features unique geometric lace knitting inspired by the strange and wonderful shapes that run like a language through Klee’s work, and the Twilight Flowers Mitts…

Twilight Flower Mitts

…and Twilight Flowers pullover designs in particular focus on the beauty of simple repeats, and incorporating my inspiration and love of Klee into wearable garments that knitters will make and wear for years to come.

Twilight Flowers Sweater

The Klee Collection is available here.

Slow Fashion October: Known

My journey for traceable yarns to knit with took me on an adventure this year that has changed my whole outlook on the way I knit. No longer satisfied to just shop local, I began wanting to explore the stories behind yarn production and in doing so befriended the inspiring team behind Blacker Yarns

Blacker yarns

As a reaction to Karen Templer's final prompt for Slow Fashion October, I'm honoured to host this powerful guest post from managing director of Blacker Yarns (and The Natural Fibre Company), Sue Blacker:

"I spend a great deal of time in the supermarket – much too much according to my family – even though I actually go there very rarely (I prefer to delegate!).

Why do I go there rarely?  Because we buy eggs from the farm on the way to my field, fish, fruit and vegetables from the local greengrocer who sources quite a lot locally, milk from the newsagent who gets it from a local dairy, meat from a butcher to whom we have been going for over 25 year and whose meat is all locally grown and slaughtered, bread from the local post office who get it from the local bakery, and so on.  Also I am in the fortunate position of breeding all my own lamb and when I have time I make jam, bread, etc., though growing fruit and veg I leave to my sister, who grows all her veg and lives in a city!  That I can do this is partly a result of living in a rural area and partly because that’s what I believe in.  We gave up doorstep mill in the end because deliveries were completely unreliable and the milk was less local than that from the newsagent – not because of price!

Why do I take so long when I do go?  Well, by the time I have checked where things come from and what they contain, it just does take a long time.  I have to reject things from regimes I don’t like, reject things which are out of season and/or have travelled too many miles and lost all flavour, reject things containing added sugar (except chocolate of course) and then of course there are few things which we simply don’t like much!!  Of course, I also select things which can show they are British, local, organic or have relatively few ingredients and taste good.

Fibre prep at the Mill- pin for later

Fibre prep at the Mill- pin for later

Being a farmer, as well as a wool mill owner has made me even more conscious of not just where things come from.  In the first place, unless animals are healthy, with good husbandry practice, they will not produce good things: whether it be eggs, milk, meat or wool.  So, of course, I want to know that a yarn is from a high quality version of the animal and not mixed up with some other stuff to improve it (like sugar or sweeteners in fizzy drinks!).  And I want to know where the animals have been, how they have been cared for and who they are! 

And then I want to know how the animals were treated in harvesting their product, how the products have been made, with low environmental impact and also that the workforce at every stage is also able to feel free.  Workers in the EU have the right to consultation about their conditions and to decent working conditions, even though this is not always adhered to in practice.  Worldwide, there are now also informal regulatory systems, such as Fair Trade or via standards set by individual businesses, such as Eco Age with its Green Carpet Challenge.  There is also the organic movement, through the Soil Association and other sister organisations across the world, where the standards and inspections also involve ensuring fair treatment of workers.  And in the UK there is also the Living Wage Foundation …

Why does this matter to me?  Because it does and I cannot cope with the idea of any other way of doing things.  I also like it to be fit for purpose, well designed and durable!

Fibre being carded at the Mill- pin for later

Fibre being carded at the Mill- pin for later

So how can we tell what it means to buy British or local wool and, better still, to buy farm assured wool?

-          The Five Freedoms laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee are at the beginning of all farming regulation in the UK: freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury and disease, to express normal behaviour and from fear and distress.  These are worked in tandem with EU regulation, so farming across the European Community is also based on these principles.

-          We know that there are scandals surrounding the treatment of animals, sadly even sometimes in the UK and Europe, and there are reporting systems, inspectors at markets and abbatoirs, such that sick animals cannot get into the food chain and the reasons for any signs of ill treatment or neglect will be investigated.  The recent news has been of tearing the hair off angora rabbits or kicking sheep, and I know from talking with them that it upsets our British farmers and shearers terribly to hear of it – because they are close to the animals, respect them and would not wish to harm them.

-          We have strong safeguards in place with a bio security regime, reporting movements, to reduce the risk of spread of infectious diseases.  The plans have been updated and improved since the horrific Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2002 and are now shared by farmers, vets and regulators alike for better, faster responses.

-          All of this puts into place assurance (using brands such as the Red Tractor) to show that the standards are being met for food – while we can assume that this is the case in the UK, because we can all go and see it if we wish, it is a little harder to be sure right across the EU and certainly across the world – also we know that differing interpretations of the same regulations can happen in different places, and that not all inspection regimes are as rigorous – this means that, when in the UK, we should seek British first.  The same applies to each country – we all know and understand our own culture and standards best and so are best qualified to make good choices locally.

-          The same applies to wool: the British Wool Marketing Board buys wool from all farmers with 4 sheep or more unless under various exemption schemes.  The Board then quality assures the wool, grades it and markets it worldwide on behalf of the farmers.  In addition, the Board operates a national training scheme for sheep shearing, with qualified trainers and inspectors to maintain welfare at shearing.  Their approach to quality control is summarised at http://www.britishwool.org.uk/page/wool-sales/quality-control.php

-          The Wool Board also has two trademarks. There are two levels: standard British Wool (when the wool is British but may be blended with other fibres) and Platinum Certificated (when the wool is 100% British, complies with the Board’s Life Cycle Analysis, ISO 14040 accreditation and has been collected and marketed through the Board).

Flock of Sheep

I also know that there are those who comply with the standards on paper but not in their hearts, and I have found that this shows if you visit, listen, talk and see, so we always encourage everyone working with us to come and see and expect to reciprocate.  Inevitably, we have to make some compromises to get things to happen sometimes, so we try always to think carefully about that before we do it and be willing to explain it.  Unless we can be trustworthy, we cannot expect trust from our customers.  We also have to own up to making mistakes and find acceptable ways of dealing with them.

We have a pride in our provenance:

-          at my farm

-          at The Natural Fibre Company where we guarantee that each customer gets their own fibre back when processed, into the product they have ordered

-          at Blacker Yarns where we buy fibre from people we know and trust, in long-term partnerships, and selecting quality by hand to make yarns totally under our control under one roof or sometimes with trusted sub-contractors

Within the mill, we have a system which starts at the entrance door, recording what comes in, from whom and from where.  We then keep track of it through every stage of the journey to final product – each batch going through the mill has its own individual “passport” – in this case a clipboard with the production sheet for the order, recording each process as it happens.  WE have been working on updating the system so that we can be even more exact, with the exact component sources of supply for each batch of Blacker Yarns identified as well as just the breed and a list of the suppliers from whom we buy.  So we know!  We know because it matters to our customers and it matters to us.

The final bit, about fit for purpose, good design and durability is partly down to the wonderful attributes of wool and other protein fibres, which can do much of this anyway.  Then we add expertise in selecting the fibre most suited for the yarn and end product required, and of we try to add as much timeless classic essence as we can in terms of colours and pattern designs. 

I expect to be able to wear my clothes for decades, not just weeks!  And to love and care for them and, given this, I am also willing to spend quite a lot on getting that quality. 

Most known and closest of all, I also have some very special clothes and a few pieces of jewellery, along with my fountain pen (which I generally use to sign copies of my book) and some pictures and furniture, which link me to my mother, father and brother, and other family members because they once owned them or gave me them, and so I can and do sometimes choose to take them with me when I need their support.  Many of these are old … and I care for them to make sure they will last.  The emotional importance of provenance is very powerful and links us back to the known, familiar, local, comfortable and valued essence of our lives."

Blacker Yarn giveaway on Instagram

If this story has captured and moved you as deeply as it did me, please check my Instagram later today for your chance to win a skein of Cornish Tin, Blacker Yarn's special 10th Anniversary celebration yarn. Cornish Tin is a steely grey woollen spun yarn is blended from a collection of the highest quality British fibres including Alpaca, Gotland, Jacob, Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain, Mohair, and English Merino. It's rich with local provenance and I can't wait to give a skein away. 

Slow Fashion October: Small & Loved

Karen Templer's Slow Fashion October has given me plenty of food for thought. Her prompt last week (SMALL) and this week (LOVED) has helped me make connections that I hadn't fully appreciated up till now. 

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

I don't craft particularly fast. I am not a speed knitter and I rarely find time for other making such as crochet or embroidery despite a keen interest in both. When I complete a project I'm thrilled but more often than not, I move on to the next thing as it's the creation that I crave more than anything. 

In my mind, my daughter and I wear hand knits all year round without any need to 'top up' with store bought items. Our sweaters are plentiful and there's the right accessory for every weather condition. I'd make simple skirts and a play apron for little one that would be a quick afternoon spent on the sewing machine rather than a guilt ridden click on a website for a ready made. 

In my mind, I'm living the life I crave: not consuming but creating. I rework clothes with hand stitching, sewing, patching or modifications which means that I don't need to constantly buy new. I am able to Make Do and Mend because I have the skills and time with which to execute these tasks. 

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

However, the reality is that I don't even make half as much as I wish and what's more, those things I do create have been slowly given away over the last few years. 

In searching my wardrobe for my most loved and cherished handknit while I prepared to respond to Karen's words 'Small' and 'Loved' made me realise that there is a limited supply of handknits in my wardrobe despite many years of knitting diligently. My ruthlessness when it comes to clutter means that handknits that are not being used quickly find themselves repurposed or donated. I recently gave 8-9 pieces like this to the collection for Syria, grief stricken that families would have come to us so cold from the water just to head into Winter without a handknit to bring them comfort. 

So this tells me a huge amount about my crafting and I've started to question how functional it really is. Am I whimsically creating or am I trying to clothe my family? There's joy in both and making something because it makes your heart sing to do so is certainly not a wasted endeavor in my humble opinion. 

well loved handknit socks

well loved handknit socks

However, as I look at my tired looking hand knit socks that I rarely photograph, I realise that the most functional items of my handmade wardrobe are the smallest and least celebrated. In my life it would seem that warm feet and cosy toes triumph over all. 

What about you? Do you have a few go to items that you've made?

Blog Tour: Short Row Knits

I had a feeling Carol Feller knew how much I needed her latest book, Short Row Knits, when she sent me the blog tour invitation a few months ago. When I opened the book and saw the first line, that pretty much confirmed it....

"Have you ever avoided a pattern when you saw that it included short rows?"
Short Row Knits by Carol Feller

Short Row Knits by Carol Feller

Carol Feller has been demystifying short rows for knitters for some time. Her Craftsy class 'Essential Short Row Techniques' (affiliate link) is incredibly useful so I was delighted when I heard the news that she would be releasing a book exploring the technique. Released by Potter Craft this month, Short Row Knits joins the 'essential knit books' collection on my shelves. 

Riyito  by Carol Feller

Riyito by Carol Feller

Inside the book, you will find 20 patterns, each featuring different short row techniques. For me though, the most impressive part of the book is the in depth focus Carol gives to different ways in which to work a short row.  First, Carol starts by working a flat example and explaining what is happening when you create a direction change or wedge with a short row. There are four different types used and Carol works this in the simplest way with good image and illustration support so you can fully understand each technique. 

Short Row Knits techniques in focus

Short Row Knits techniques in focus

Equipped with this understanding, you can then move on to variations such as working in the round or in a specific stitch pattern. These particular portions are between patterns so you could work from cover to cover should you wish to take a learning journey or pick and choose to suit your knitting needs. 

Short Row Knits Garment Section

Short Row Knits Garment Section

The really great part is the sections Carol gives on using short rows in garments to support construction and fit as well as an section teaching you how to apply all this knowledge. The information here is so useful that you could go on to design and create your own pieces or heavily modify the patterns Carol provides. 

This is a superb example of a knit designer who has developed a very sound understanding of a technique and using it to create a collection of beautiful knitwear. I've always loved Carol's pattern writing- thoughtful, intelligent and educational. 

Pin me for later- Short Row Knits Blog Tour via A Playful Day

Pin me for later- Short Row Knits Blog Tour via A Playful Day

To pick up your copy, ask at your local yarn store or check Carol's website for more information. With thanks to Potter Craft for sending this book for review. Views expressed here are entirely my own. 

Blog Tour: Knit, Play, Colour

'Knit, Play, Colour' is a knitwear collection that encourages knitters to work beyond a pattern, offering tips and ideas for how to truly personalise your knitting projects. As someone who has always been partial to an adventure, I really like the spirit of Louise (of Inspiration Knits) new book.

(c) Jesse Wild

(c) Jesse Wild

This is a collection that works well for those wishing to develop their skills beyond the basics with a good mix of techniques such as beading, slipped stitches and cabling. You will find plenty of support for learning each technique as Louise teases them out when she shares how to 'play' with each pattern. 

With shawls, cowls, scarves and a blanket, there's a wide range of yardages and skills to make experimenting as big a challenge as you wish. Between that and Louise's fondness for mixing colours, this would be a good excuse to dig through stash. Louise has thoughtfully worked out the yardages you would need to vary the weight used too so there's plenty of options on the materials you could choose from. 

Colour Trail, Inspiration Knits (c) Jesse Wild

Colour Trail, Inspiration Knits (c) Jesse Wild

Rather predictably, two crescent shape shawls have caught my eye: Trailblazer (below) and Colour Trail (above). I like the texture of both and think they'd work well with special hand dyed skeins lurking in stash waiting for just the right pattern to liberate them. I'm particularly taken with the way Trailblazer works with a more variegated yarn, something I'm not usually comfortable with at all. 

Trailblazer, Inspiration Knits (c) Jesse Wild

Trailblazer, Inspiration Knits (c) Jesse Wild

Image support and plenty of clarity around which options you could try make this a book a little like sitting with Louise herself. She's chatty but informative as she explains some of the choices she might make. First she introduces you to the basic pattern, sample and schematic and then each is followed up with ways to make your own modifications and plenty of photographs to demonstrate her point. 

Louise might almost tempt me away from my neutrals and safer colour options. Almost.

The book is now available via Louise's site or via digital downloads on Ravelry. If you want to find out a little more about Knit Play Colour, you can join us for the rest of the blog tour (you can see all the fab stops here). Next up is Miss Babs, one of the beautiful yarn dyers featured in this collection. 

If you would like to win a signed copy of the collection, please leave a comment below telling me which pattern you would choose. I will select a winner at random on Friday 9th October 2015. Good luck!


Blog Tour: The Boardwalk Collection (and a giveaway!)

In a month celebrating Women as Makers, I was delighted to see a new pattern collection released that showcases an all female team. The Boardwalk Collection has been produced by Linda of Kettle Yarn Co to showcase her new base, Islington DK, and includes 5 female knitwear designers in a collection that includes 6 designs that will work well from Summer right though to Autumn. The fact the collection was shot by Juju Vail (who you might know as the talented photographer at Loop and Pom Pom Quarterly) and has been strongly supported by Allison Thistlewood (professional multiple hat wearer) shows what magical things can happen when women support one another to put out a great product. 

Linda kindly took some time to answer some questions I had about the collection as part of her blog tour celebrating the collection. Tomorrow, you can see one of the designer's, Isabell Kraemer, discuss her pattern contribution, Arcade (see below). 

Can you explain how you chose these female designers to collaborate with?

"The choice was an easy one as the designers are people whose designs I admire and with a similar aesthetic to my own! I admit that several of the designers are friends, so I knew the high quality of the work I'd be getting from them and that I'd love whatever they created!"

The Boardwalk Collection  (c) Juju Vail

What does the word collaborate mean to you?

"Collaborating is something I've always enjoyed when creating and feel it brings a richness to projects you'd never expect. There is something so joyful and rewarding in working with others - bringing something beautiful into the world together that is made better by working together!
In a way I feel that way about seeing what people make with my yarns as well...that it is a collaboration. I always get chills of delight when people bring their Kettle Yarn Co. projects to the booth at festivals to show me what wonders they've made in my blends! Fantastic!"

Arcade  in ISLINGTON DK  Verdigris , by  Isabell Kraemer   © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Arcade in ISLINGTON DK Verdigris, by Isabell Kraemer © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

How did you go about commissioning the pieces, communicating aesthetic to each designer and tying separate design ideas together?

"It all started with Isabell Kraemer's beautiful Arcade design, which was designed as a stand alone project. When I received it I was so blown away by the gorgeousness of it that I decided to go ahead with the idea for a full collection that I've been kicking around for some time!
I decided to showcase the new bright colours I'd just created in my new weight of Islington, which is a lovely rounded DK."

ISLINGTON  - 55% British Bluefaced Leicester/ 45% Silk     © Kettle Yarn Co.

ISLINGTON - 55% British Bluefaced Leicester/ 45% Silk  © Kettle Yarn Co.

"The brief for the designs centred around the historic Hastings pier, which I've been fascinated with since we moved here. The light and views under the pier are amazing, so I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate the feeling I get when I am down there into the collection."

Pavilion  in ISLINGTON DK  Marigold , by  Renée Callahan   -  © Juju Vail and Kettle Yarn Co.

Pavilion in ISLINGTON DK Marigold, by Renée Callahan -  © Juju Vail and Kettle Yarn Co.

"I sent the designers a rather specific design brief about linear lines, lace and a link to the The Drifters 'Under the Boardwalk' so they could get a sense of the fun, breezy, seablown feel I was after!"

What did you learn from each other during this process?

"During this process I was reminded how important it is to be explicit in what I was after to make things easier for the designers. I knew this from teaching but it was so clear in this group how everyone approaches creating differently and how vital it is to let that bloom in its own way! "

Jetty  in ISLINGTON DK  Purple Reign , by  Linda Lencovic   © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Jetty in ISLINGTON DK Purple Reign, by Linda Lencovic © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

"Pattern designing can be such a pressure-cooker as time constraints made it difficult for discoveries to grow organically and I am always astounded at how designers create beauty under such pressure. The designers in this collection really outdid themselves with talent!"

Bagatelle Cowl  by Rachel Brown in ISLINGTON DK,  Peony   © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Bagatelle Cowl by Rachel Brown in ISLINGTON DK, Peony © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

The mood is free, seasonal and feminine. How did that help you style and present your collection?

"I had a style and mood in mind from the conception of the collection and new exactly what I wanted from the designs and final photos, so it was really quite simple in the end! Especially as all the designers did such a brilliant job interpreting the brief!"

I spy real life friends as models! This struck me as a piece made stronger by friendship with fellow female makers. Would you say that's true? 

"Absolutely! I am SO lucky to have such talented friends and it is always a pleasure working together. None of us are that comfortable in front of the camera but we had the amazing Juju Vail take the photos for the collection and the women knows how to make you laugh...what a talented photographer!"

Seaward  in ISLINGTON DK  Padparadscha  by  Rachel Coopey      © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Seaward in ISLINGTON DK Padparadscha by Rachel Coopey  © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

"Another huge thank you to Renee Callahan and Michelle Zimmer for agreeing to model for the collection."

Promenade  by Maria Magnusson in ISLINGTON DK  N  eckinger ,  © Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Promenade by Maria Magnusson in ISLINGTON DK Neckinger© Juju Vail for Kettle Yarn Co.

Like what you see? You can find out more on the Broadwalk Collection Blog Tour on this next few stops:

Isabell Kraemer

Curious Handmade

Renee Callahan

Maria Magnusson

Shinybees blog/podcast

Rachel Brown

Knitted Bliss blog


Win a skein of Islington DK!

Islington DK

If you want to get your hands on a skein of Islington DK Padparadscha, (as shown above in Rachel Coopey's Seaward design) all you need to do is leave a comment below telling me which pattern you would most like to knit from this collection. Be sure to leave your answer by 20th July 2015 as I will be announcing the winner on the blog on the 21st July. Good luck!