Category Archives: teaching

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!

dye workshop: nettle, coreopsis, elder and logwood

Another group of newbies got a taste of natural dyeing a couple of weeks ago… as always, I was too busy setting up and then teaching to get any photos of the workshop itself but here are the results from our dye baths…

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

We worked with both protein and cellulose fibres and four plants that display some important  aspects of the dye process: nettle as a readily-available, weedy species with a strong affinity with different mordants; dyers coreopsis, a flower that is easy to grow and requires very little processing to extract its dye compounds; logwood extract for easy, quick colour and elderberry for its crazy colour response to pH change. (I’d also hoped to use iron to modify some of our logwood samples but had a scale malfunction and the samples were WAY too dark to show any further colour modification!)

Nettle on silk velvet, silk, habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

Nettle on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

logwood1

Logwood on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

logwood1

Logwood on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

logwood1

Logwood on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

elder1

Elderberry on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen; we dyed extra samples of silk velvet and habutai and then treated them with acid (upper) and alkali (lower) in order to demonstrate the influence of pH on the colour achieved from anthocyanin-rich plants (middle)

elder1

Elderberry on organic merino, mordanted with alum + acid, alum, alum + alkali, copper and iron

As always, it was interesting to see how different fibres took up the dyes; I was particularly interested to try a yarn base with two strands of merino and 1 of superwash merino (third from the left in the bundle), as it is commonly thought that superwash yarns take up dye more readily and are less able to hold onto the colour over time. So it was fascinating to see that, while that proved true in this case, the degree of difference in colour uptake seems to depend on the dye! It definitely needs more work but it certainly looks like there is more difference in colour in the coreopsis sample than in the others…

And I was thrilled to get such strong blues on wool using the logwood extract, because dyeing with indigo, while a magical and essentially simple process, requires a lot more work to set up (and a bit tricky in an indoor rental space!). The downside is that logwood is not as colourfast as indigo but using an iron modifier will greatly improve fastness…Something to play around with more.

Logwood on organic merino over dyers chamomile

Logwood on organic merino (over dyers chamomile)

If you are interested in learning more about plant dyes, there are places available in my next class on June 19 at the Glasgow Botanics Kibble Palace; you can find more information through my shop.  And, bonus, here will be so many plants to try by then!

classes, shop update and newsletter

Just a wee heads-up that I have a few classes coming up, as well as a shop update!

I’m back teaching at two of my favourite knitting shops again this month:
 
Sunday April 3: Finishing and Introduction to Lace at Ginger Twist Studio, Edinburgh
Saturday April 23: Portuguese knitting at Queen of Purls, Glasgow

I’m also really excited to start preparing for this year’s natural dye workshops at the Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanics! The first couple of classes on Sunday May 1 and June 19 will be full-day introductions to natural dyeing and will cover the essential practical and theoretical aspects of extracting colour from plants and applying it to fibres. Later in the summer, I hope to hold more advanced classes for those keen to delve deeper into the dyepots… You can find details and book through the shop.

Tweed pouch

Tweed pouch

Shetland Pine Cowl

Shetland Pine Cowl

Tweed pouch

Tweed pouch

A good handful of pouches and cowls will be up for grabs from 10am Glasgow time on Sunday April 3.

Alongside these regulars will be a small number of craft journals that were a collaborative project between Emily K. Williams of Flutterby Knits; after taking a class in bookbinding at last year’s Shetland Wool Week, my Shetland room-mate Emily approached me with the idea of combining skills and making a knit-covered journal for craft project notes and planning. An exclusive for Edinburgh Yarn Festival, these few are the last left of a lovely joint project!

Also launched at Edinburgh was a small collection of plant-dyed yarns: fine-gauge blends of beautiful, soft-handed fibres including alpaca, silk, linen and cashmere. I was thrilled with the response to them and will be adding yarns to the shop on an ongoing basis. I have a small number of skeins left and will be adding them to the next shop update in a few weeks.

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve added the option of signing up for a monthly newsletter to my sidebar, as I’ve been finding my diverse activities a bit hard to juggle here and on other social media platforms! If you’re interested, you can keep up with what I’m up to through my monthly newsletter outlining not only what I’m up to but also any related things that I think you might be interested in.

I hope you are have a lovely spring (or autumn) weekend!

full circle

A belated happy new year to you! I hope it holds good things for you and those around you…

Gosh, I’d hoped to get back to this space a bit earlier in the year but we’ve had a bit of a slow start! I had a lovely, lovely trip back to Australia for Christmas- there really is nothing like being with family and close friends at that time of year and it was so great to be able spend some time with my dad who’s been unwell- that was the main reason I headed home again so soon after my trip in September but, thankfully, he’s on the mend so thank you to all who have asked about him.

After our first Hogmanay, Scotto and I headed up to Glen Lyon, a weirwood-ish glen in the southern Highlands, for a few days… A tiny one-room cabin with a wood stove and not much else meant we spent most of the time sleeping, reading, knitting, walking the beautiful glen, watching films (including the incredible The salt of the earth) and just reconnecting and recharging. Heavenly!

Sheep and fold, Glen Lyon

Sheep and circular sheep fold, Glen Lyon

And then, for the past few weeks, I’ve been pushing myself to get started making for the shop but, while I really do enjoy cold weather, I have found the short days a bit of a struggle- my body just wants to sleep! But I’m back into it and next winter will no doubt be easier ; ) We’ve been blessed with some sunny, rain-free days recently, which makes going out hiking so much more appealing, and even had some snow last week, our first real snow since we arrived!

Tobogganing at the Botanics

Tobogganing at the Botanics

Snowy rosehips

Snowy rosehips

Robin in the maples

Robin in the maples

So what does the year hold? If the last year was all new beginnings- a new country and culture to explore, a new business to build and new friendships and community to foster- this year is all about consolidating! It’s time to focus on what, of all the new, is most important, energising, viable and interesting. I’m so grateful for the incredible opportunities that have been presented to me- and there have been many- and I’m excited by so many things that I’ve felt my attention and energy go in many different directions which, again, has been so lovely but I just haven’t been able to keep up and so ended the year feeling a bit overwhelmed! My thoughts have also been at home with family, my dad in particular, and so I need to learn how to keep both my and their needs in perspective. So consolidation is the word of the year!

So what does that mean on a practical level?

  • I’ll be continuing the Harris Tweed and stranded colourwork joy in the shop but will be adding some lovely new things that I’m currently working on- so stay tuned there! As part of that, I plan to make a trip out to the Hebrides and to spend some time on Skye in summer. And I’ve also been adding some skeins of yarn to my personal dye experiments and am very excited to introduce some botanically-dyed yarn to the shop very soon.
  • I’m just finalizing dates for spring knitting classes at fluph, Ginger Twist and Queen of Purls but I have some classes at Ginger Twist over the next two Sundays, including one on Portuguese knitting! At this stage, there are some places still available- you can find out more here.
  • There will be more botanical dyeing classes at Glasgow Botanics this year too! I’m just locking in some dates but hoping for early April and mid-June… And I’m really excited to be getting my hands dirty looking after the dye garden at the Botanics! I can’t wait to get my hands in the earth…
  • I’m also super keen to meet more producers of wool and yarn and am planning to attend some lovely woolly events this year. I’ll also be teaching or selling my wares at some, including Unravel Farnham and Joeli’s Kitchen Retreat in February, and Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March and have my fingers crossed for Woolfest and Shetland Wool Week too… There are also field trips to visit sheep planned with lovely yarn friends Jeni, Leona, Louise and Mel : )
  • Scotto and I are really keen to make more of the incredible landscape here and so planning some good longer walks for the coming months- perhaps even some munros! And, having put on a bit of a winter coat during the last month of hibernating, I’m in dire need of a spring health boost so am excited to collect cleansing herbs in spring and am also on the lookout for a good yoga class- any suggestions?
  • I’m really keen to find some more space for personal knitting… especially some layers that are so essential in Glasgow! Patterns currently at the top of my queue include Lohman (minus the shawl collar in Rowan Scottish Tweed), Outi’s beautiful mittens (in Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme) for Louise’s Nature’s Shades KAL and another Pomme de Pin fro my favourite Amy Christoffers (in Shetland Organics 4ply).

So that is the plan for the year! As always, I know things will change in their way but I really hope to finish the year feeling that bit more grounded and solid in what I’m doing and that bit more connected to the place where we are living. I’ll keep you posted. What about your plans for the year?!

(Incidentally, it’s exactly a year today since we left Australia and so there’ll be a few posts over the next few days, encapsulating our first year in Scotland… special moments and things I haven’t shared to date, mostly because of time but perhaps also because it sometimes takes tie to recognise the significance of a thing. I’m looking forward to revisiting the year and hope you enjoy seeing some more of it too!)

dye workshop results

Yesterday I held a day-long workshop in dyeing with plants at the Glasgow Botanics. We worked with a single dyebath of madder, in my eyes one of the loveliest dye plants around, and explored the variety of colours you can achieve from this one bath through the use of different mordants, modifiers and fibres. Each time I teach this class, I see different results! Participants made organic merino yarn and silk fabric shade cards, whereas I dyed a few small skeins and fabrics to expand on the variety of textures and shades…

A few of my favourite results…

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on cellulose and silk fibres results in beautiful terracottas and pinks, while on protein fibres, oranges, rusts and reds. I was particularly excited to see a true red on a skein of alum-mordanted Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme- normally I’d expect to have to play around with pH to achieve a true red but this was a neutral bath so it must be the type of fibre that resulted in that fantastic shade…

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre resulted in rust shade

Madder on organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments, tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet and yarns of various different sheep breeds

Organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments (front), tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet fabrics (middle) and yarns of various different sheep breeds (top)

I also added a stunning piece of embroidery to the bath, one that I’d found at my lucky charity shop where I find so many treasures. It was such an incredible piece of work that I was a bit unsure whether to do so, especially after one of the participants, an very talented embroiderer, confirmed that it was highly unusual and skilled work! But the combination of sheer silk base fabric and denser cotton shadow-work was begging for colour to highlight the embroidery so I popped it in!

Stunning thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadowwork

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

It is a little patchy so needs another dip but I’m so thrilled with how it picked up that dusty terracotta colour. Such amazing work.

As part of the day, we took a walk around the gardens in the rain, looking at some of the plants growing there that yield dyes and some of the markers that tell you that a plant might hold dye potential, and it was such a treat to have not only the bed dedicated to dye plants but the entire gardens themselves as a teaching resource. I’m planning to hold more similar workshops there in the spring, by which time I should have more burners, pots and a bounty of foraged dyestuff that participants can really get their hands wet with! A huge thanks to everyone who came yesterday and, if you’re interested in coming to another, keep an eye out here and on Instagram for announcements of dates  : )