coming home: an old maiden aunt collaboration

Last June an email from Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt dropped into my inbox about the making of a book to celebrate the tenth year of her business. I was super excited for her but, as I opened the email, wondered why she was contacting me about it… We are friends and have had some lovely chats about dyeing and running a small business but I didn’t know what I might have to offer such a project… and then she came to it- would I act as her pattern model for the book?

I have to say, my gut clenched slightly as I read this and the rest of the email! As any regular readers will know, I very rarely post photos of myself, either here on or on my Instagram feed, and get very nervous standing up in front of a group to talk or teach. I push myself on this because part of my job is teaching and I love sharing skills but it is an ongoing challenge for me! When it comes down to it, I’ve realised that it’s not that I’m particularly camera-shy but more that having everyones’s eyes on me provokes real anxiety for me… and I knew that taking this on would challenge all that. (And, let’s be honest, challenge my vanity too!)

But I really wanted to be part of such an amazing project! And to have the chance to work with not only Lilith and Jeni (who knows my deal and, over the course of photographing a few patterns for me, has worked out how to put me at ease!) but all the other amazing women who had gathered around Lilith for the project: designers Anna Maltz, Ysolda Teague, Kristen Kapur, Rachel Coopey, Lorna Reid, Felix Ford and Bristol Ivy, essayist Clara Parkes and book-makers Amelia Hodson and Nic Vowles… How often do so many talented women come together?! I feel so lucky to be able to have a small business, to be able to make my own work and shape my year as I like, but I really do miss working with other people and these kinds of collaborations are becoming more and more important to me… did I really want to let my own thoughts of whether I looked ridiculous get in the way of being part of this wonderful undertaking?!

Lilith reassured me that she was after a very relaxed look for the book and, as I thought about it, I began to trust that, if Jeni thought she could get what she needed from me, I’d take the leap and see it as a chance to explore and learn- and, after all, a weekend in a cottage in the forests of Dumfries with friends and a dog was a major enticement…

Lilith, Amelia and Jeni all did a beautiful job at putting me at ease, making me laugh in between shots and discretely looking the other way when I was trying to relax my face out of a grimace! It was a joy to work with them and I think we were all aware just how rare that kind of time is, to be working with friends and colleagues in such a beautiful setting and on such a heartfelt project.

Lilith realising I really didn’t have any idea how to put on my own makeup ; )

Amelia working her production editor magic in the Dumfries woods

Lilith giving me a lesson on how not to look ridiculous leaning against a tree

And I’m so glad I did take that leap. So often we hold back from doing things because of the anticipation of things going somehow horribly wrong and this is the perfect example of that… and yet such a huge amount of joy was had that weekend (and since) that all that anxiety has faded into the background! And look at the beautiful shots that Jeni made:

Felix’s Mountain Time mitts and flowering quinces

The perfect setting for Anna’s beautiful Bounnet

All the colours in the landscape picked up in Ysolda’s Inchgarvie shawl

Bristol Ivy’s beautiful Canadee-i-o cowl made me feel like I was on a shoot for a Rowan magazine!

Lilith is launching Coming Home at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival but you can see all the designs on Ravelry and preorder your copy via Lilith’s shop. It’s a real beauty of a book and I’m so pleased to have played a small role in its making… thank you so much, Lilith, for including me in this lovely group of women (and giving me a gentle nudge to do something I never thought I could) and huge congratulations on 10 years of your business!

winter solstice raffle

It’s well into winter here in Glasgow and the shortest day of the year is upon us…

Grasses

The sun rose this morning at 8.44 and will have set by 4 and, even when it’s up, the sky is often heavy with rain, such a contrast to the warmth and light we’ve just been soaking up on a brief trip home to Melbourne! It was SO lovely to be among family and friends and a powerful reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to so be loved and supported, of how much we have in our lives… We said hello to our lovely wee house and the family enjoying living in it, walked our regular routes and some new ones, ate at our favourite places (yet to find any good Middle Eastern or Japanese restaurants here!) and soaked up the birdsong, the golden bright light and the smell of eucalypts.

Back here in Scotland, we are settling into our second winter here and, this time, embracing the slower rhythm of winter with a bit more knowledge of the long, dark months and how to get through them…  I do love the dark and cold but struggled a bit with just how long and dark it was last year! Friends say that exercise, vitamin D, good company, blankets and other warm woollies, candles and lights and just embracing the need to achieve less and sleep more all help to make winter more fun. I’ll let you know how I go and whether I turn into a hibernating bear as much as I did last year ; )

Today is my birthday and, after the year that we’ve all had, my birthday wish was for a little bit of peace and good news in the world. Instead, I was deeply saddened to wake up to news of more violence, this time in Germany and Turkey, knowing that both events have the potential to further fuel racial hatred. More and more, like so many others, I am finding myself reaching out, scrabbling, wishing I could do something, anything, to make a difference. I know what is happening in the world is so much bigger than me, than any of us, but I want to use the resources I have, humble though they are, to do something. So I am holding a small raffle in the hope of raising money for those who are far less fortunate than Scotto and I and most people we know.

How will it work? I’m offering up 3 pouches made from a very understated Harris Tweed but lined with bright, cheerful cotton, an unexpected burst of colour and joy when the zip is opened, something we all need when times are dark!

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

I’ll draw three winners from a hat on December 28 and send them each a pouch as a post-festive/ end-of-year treat! To go into the draw to win one, I just ask that, in the spirit of humanity and kindness, you make a contribution to a humanitarian aid organisation- I’m suggesting Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres or Oxfam for the incredibly important work they are doing  with Syrian refugees but please let me know if there is another group that you know of who does good work! The raffle is open to all countries and there is no minimum donation but please give as much as you can afford. I’m not going to ask for proof of donation but instead will rely on honesty! All you need to do is leave a comment here or on my Instagram feed to let me know who you decided to donate to and you’ll be in the hat on Dec 28. Good luck and huge thanks for any support you can give!

last shop update for the year

Just a quick heads up that I’ll be updating the shop with some pouches, cowls and plant-dyed yarns tomorrow, Sunday November 20 at 8pm Glasgow time! Below is a sneak peek but you can also preview all items in the shop now if you’d like a bit of time to have a good look.

Pouch made from dressmaking scraps

Pouch made from dressmaking scraps

Shetland Pine Cowl in Flannel/Bokhara

Shetland Pine Cowl in Flannel/Bokhara

Plant-dyed baby alpaca/ linen/ silk

Plant-dyed baby alpaca/ linen/ silk

Plant-dyed kid mohair/ silk

Plant-dyed kid mohair/ silk

I’m heading back to Australia for a fortnight on Thursday so all orders received by 9pm Wednesday will be sent before I leave, in plenty of time for Christmas post!

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss yarn colours (always difficult to assess on a computer screen!), combining postage or other issues…

Huge thanks to all of you for your interest in and support of my work this year, whether dyeing and making, knitting, travelling or plant-hunting- I really appreciate it and would like to wish you a happy and peaceful end to the year xx

scalene

Lovely and patient readers, it’s been ages! I must apologise, I’ve been busy and have lots to share here but no time to sit and write an in-depth post… so instead, for now I’m just going to show you a shawl I finished a few months back, one that’s been in regular rotation both on me and as a sample at a couple of knitting events.

This is Scalene by Swiss designer Nadia Cretin-Lechenne:

Scalene

Scalene

Designed for Brooklyn Tweed in fingering-weight Loft, I wanted to knit it with two of the yarn bases I’ve been working with this year- a laceweight kid mohair and silk and light-fingering baby alpaca/ linen/ silk, dyed with madder and logwood. Held together, they form a blanket-like shawl with all the qualities of the alpaca, silk, linen and kid mohair- very warm, drapery and soft and incredibly light, given how huge it is!

Scalene

Scalene

I love holding different yarns together to create knitted fabrics and am particularly pleased with this texture- the alpaca/ linen/ silk forms a kind of base to display the garter stitch and lace, over which the mohair halo floats, and the coppery-pink and purple yarns combine to make one of those indefinable colours.

Scalene

Scalene

When I wear my Scalene, I feel wrapped in light and warmth! I’d really recommend making it- it’s a nice easy knit, mostly garter stitch with a bit of lace at the end of each right-side row and results in a lovely piece that is easy to wear. I made a couple of modifications- the two yarns held together made a heavier fabric than the Loft did so I used 4.50mm needles instead of 3.50. Asgain, because of the bigger gauge, I worked 16 repeats of the patten (instead of 18) before I started the lace edging as it was already plenty big enough! Just one thing to note- I ended up using much less meterage than the pattern called for (840m of each instead of 1200+) and I’m not sure than cutting out two repeats accounts for such a drastic difference? If you’re interested, you can find more details and pictures via my Ravelry project page

Thanks to Nadia for such a lovely design!

fisherman’s knits at wild and woolly

Hello! I’m back from an absolutely brilliant week at Shetland Wool Week (photos of that next week, I promise!) and about to head off for a weekend of working on a top secret knitting project with a couple of friends (more on that early next year!). Suffice to say, I feel very lucky to have the life I do. But I quickly want to let any southerners- that’s UK south, not Australian!-  know that I’ll be in London in a couple of weeks for two classes, the first of which is at Wild and Woolly in Clapton.

I met Anna at Edinburgh Yarn Festival earlier this year, after following her and her crew of local knitters for a while online, and was just as smitten with her IRL. Full of joy for knitting and enthusiasm for colour and community, her shop would be local if I lived in London! We talked about running a dye class together but it turned out her shop just isn’t set up for that kind of mess… so, instead, I’m teaching my day-long class on British fisherman’s knits, specifically ganseys and arans. It’s a class I’ve taught a few times and I’m always excited about it- the combination of theory and prac keeps everyone engaged for the day and there is so much inspiration to be found in these amazing garments…

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

We’ll begin by casting on for a shoulder bag. What, you say?! A bag? Ok, so knitted bags don’t have anything to do with fisherman’s knits but I want people to work on and take home the beginning of something useful, rather than a swatch or mini jumper… and the way I’ve designed it, this bag is a great canvas for a whole lot of patterning. Your patterning. Because the class is about absorbing the history, construction and patterning of ganseys and arans and incorporating them into a contemporary knit. That said, some people come out of this class totally inspired to make a traditional fisherman’s jumper and I love that. But I also want to show how easy it is to work the patterns into all manner of knits.

Anstruther bag

Anstruther bag

And, then, over the day, we’ll delve into the history, regional styles and construction methods of this knitter’s hallowed ground and explore the elements that make it immensely practical and very beautiful. We’ll take a look at both traditional and contemporary materials and how contemporary taste is altering the shape, fabric and aesthetic of the original jumper. After learning to work cables (both with a cable needle and without) and knit/ purl textures, we’ll explore some of the more unusual stitch patterns and tackle the issues and challenges involved in designing with a combination of stitch patterns, putting pencil to paper to come up with personals designs for a shoulder bag.

I was scheduled to teach this class twice at Shetland Wool week but only recently realised that I’d left many of my appropriate samples at home in Australia when we moved here! So I quickly knitted up a couple of jumpers to show how one contemporary designer, Michelle Wang from Brooklyn Tweed, is playing with both arans and ganseys… to reinvent them in new but equally wearable garments.

The first is Ondawa, a great favourite on Ravelry; this one is a take on the aran, with a new take on its drop-shoulder, shaping-free silhouette:

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

I knitted it in a John Arbon Polwarth/ alpaca/ Zwartbles blend which gives it a beautiful drape so that, despite the very boxy shape, it is quite a flattering shape!

And the second is Vanora, a beautiful light gansey that Michelle designed to be knitted flat in pieces. I subbed out Loft in favour of knitting it in Frangipani Gansey Yarn and reworked it to be knitted in the traditional seamless method and incorporated traditional elements like underarm gussets and faux seam. I’ll post photos of this one as soon as we have some sunshine- it’s a petrol blue and is impossible to photograph, even on a bright day! I’ve been wearing this quite a bit and love the warmth and drape of the gansey yarn (the gauge is 24st/ 10cm, which is spot on for the weight of the 5ply yarn but a looser gauge than most ganseys are knitted at) and the subtle patterning.

I know that there are still a few spaces available- you can find out more via Wild and Woolly. So, if you are keen to learn more, do come along- it’s a fun class!