Category Archives: community

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!

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!

collaboration with daughter of a shepherd

Well, it’s been a little while since I posted! The last couple of months have been full and yet I have very little to show for it; we’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors, taking full advantage of the soft Scottish summer weather and that’s been lovely… but it’s actually been a bit of a frustrating period workwise! Since moving here and starting my shop, I’ve learnt a lot about the joys and challenges of working on my own and, while I really love the creative and physical freedom of running my own show, I do find working on my own in a newish city a bit tough- I just get a bit lonely! Although I’m quite introverted and need my own space, which means that production work quite suits me, I’m realising that I actually prefer to work as part of a team and that, when things get busy or when I have a series of different things on, I can become overwhelmed making all the decisions and doing all the things myself. It’s all good learning and I’m really grateful to be doing what I do- I just need to put a few things in place so that I can bounce ideas off others in my field and break up the long stretches of solo production with joint projects!

So I’m really excited to be collaborating with my ace friend Rachel Atkinson in just such a way… If you don’t already know of Rachel and her Daughter of a Shepherd yarn, her wonderful story of transforming her father’s Hebridean fleeces, deemed pretty much worthless by the British Wool Board, into stunning yarn gives hope to many of us knitters and fibre producers that wool has a real and tangible value beyond compost, landfill or carpeting. Many farmers face this challenge of what to do with their wool, at a time when it is worth less than the cost of shearing, and I think Rachel’s knowledge of what handknitters want in a yarn in the post-merino age (and her willingness to take us along on her yarn-making journey) shows what is possible if you are able to combine good wool, good business sense and good spinning skills.

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Rachel contacted me a few months ago with the idea of using the beautiful Hebridean tweeds produced by Ardalanish, weavers on the Hebridean isle of Mull, to make a limited run of pouches to sit alongside her yarn at Yarndale. I was thrilled to have the chance to both work with Rachel, whose work I really admire, and to use such beautiful fabric; I had read about Ardalanish before moving to Scotland and have dreamed about working with their yarns…

I was out on Mull and Iona with Scotto and my mother-in-law in June and so we stopped at Ardalanish to pick up the fabrics that Rachel and I had chosen. We were lucky enough to be able to have a quick tour and chat with Anne, who, along with her family, took over the weaving studio in 2011 (after “retiring”!). She does a much better job at telling the story of how the studio came to be, of the machinery and those who work it and the sourcing of fibre on their website but I can certainly say that, after talking to her and seeing their setup, I feel very pleased to be part of bringing their fabrics to a new audience! Ardalanish is a great example of how to combine small island life with a strong business sense, an appealing aesthetic and good people.

I managed to get a few shots on my phone while excitedly oohing over their beautiful tweeds, yarns and clever range of lovely but practical goods made from them:

Tweed on the looms at Ardalanish

Tweed on the looms at Ardalanish- natural wool shades and woad

Ardalanish tweeds

Ardalanish tweeds

All the colours of the Ardalanish rainbow

All the colours of the Ardalanish rainbow

Ardalanish Shepherd Plaids

Ardalanish Shepherd Plaids

We chose four fabrics from the range, all of which pair their own homegrown Hebridean fleeces with those of silvery-grey Shetland sheep local to the area, and we hope that they highlight the beauty of the Guinness-black Hebrideans as much as we intended… (I should mention that all non-sheep colours in the Ardalanish tweeds are dyed with woad, madder and other plants so you can imagine that I was a bit pressed not to choose any of them!)

Poches in Ardalanish Tweed

Poches in Ardalanish Tweed

Pouch in Silver Diamond Twill

Pouch in Silver Diamond Twill

Pouch in Hebridean Tatttersal

Pouch in Hebridean Tatttersal

Pouch in Silver Keystone

Pouch in Silver Keystone

Pouch in Hebridean Dark Herringbone

Pouch in Hebridean Dark Herringbone

Rachel and I are so thrilled with how they turned out! For all you folk going to Yarndale, you’ll find them on the Daughter of a Shepherd stand- but if, like me, you’re not going but would really like one, Rachel is keeping a few back and will have them in her shop in early October. And, assuming that they are as well-received as we hope, there will be more- just keep an eye out on our social media and, as always, I’ll announce the next release in my monthly newsletter.

If you are going to Yarndale, have a ball!  And please say hello to Rachel and her sheep for me- she is taking her lovely Hebridean spring lambs, Knit and Purl!

woollenflower yarn at ginger twist!

As some of you may know, I’m really interested in dyeing with plants, especially the ones I find growing around my neighbourhood… Of course, the species at hand changed hugely when we moved to Scotland last year and I’ve had a wonderful time trying plants I’d read about for years in my dye books! I’ve been experimenting for quite a few years but recently I thought that, seeing as I always had a dye pot on the go and mostly just dye small quantities to use in colourwork, blankets and that kind of thing, I could perhaps add a few extra skeins in and offer them up for sale at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival. As at all big events, there was a LOT of yarn on offer (heaven help us knitters!) but I was thrilled that there was some interest in my yarns.

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So I’ve been beavering away dyeing more since then but have stalled on the process of getting them up into my shop… I think it’s mostly that I’m a bit nervous about getting the colours right in my photos and I don’t want to disappoint people! So, when Jess of Ginger Twist Studios asked me to be her featured Yarn of the Month for July, I jumped at the chance- it’s a perfect way for local knitters and tourists to have a look and feel without the issue of colours. My yarns will have a dedicated wee corner in her shop for the whole month and I’ll also take over a couple of sample shawls to show the different qualities of the various base yarns…

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

I’ve been working with three bases; all are fine-gauge (a fingering alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, a light-fingering alpaca/ linen/ silk and a laceweight kid mohair/ silk) and the interesting combinations of fibre pick up the plant dyes in a lovely, soft way. Because of the work that goes into this type of dyeing, I also wanted the end yarn to be special, the kind of yarn you treasure for those one-or-two skein projects. I guess my choices also reflect the fact that I also love both working with lightweight yarns and combining two strands together to make an interesting texture!

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So, if you are in Edinburgh or nearby, I’ll be installing the display early afternoon this Friday (feel free to come by and say hello!) and they’ll remain there until the end of the month… and, if you’re not local but would like to get hold of some, do keep an eye out for shop updates either here or Instagram or, alternatively, you can sign up for the monthly newsletter. Thanks so much to Jess for giving me space in her lovely shop xx