fourth edition

Peer Reviews & Mentorships: Tips & Hints for Knitting Designers

 

Recently I came across a claim that peer reviews and mentorships were unknown to most knitting designers. It was said that unless you were one of the lucky ones, you had no access to peer support and you were on your own. I am here to tell you that this is wrong. I am also here to tell you how you can get your own support network started along with some tips on how to navigate the waters.

 

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  • Be open about wanting to meet other designers. If you don’t say you are interested, no-one will know!
  • Be kind and open-minded in all your interactions. If you come across as hot-headed or impatient, other designers may feel they cannot approach you.
  • Think about what you can bring to the table (and be honest with yourself).
  • Reach out to others via social media, Ravelry or emails. You are not confined to your geographical location.
  • Establish the practical aspects: will you set up a message board? arrange a Google hangout? Skype? How often will you check in?
  • Remember: be pro-active, generous and kind.

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  • DO agree upon the outcome of any peer review before you get started. “I want to know what gaps you see in my portfolio”
  • DO be honest with yourself about why you want to be mentored/interact with peers.
  • DO turn any negative feedback into productive action points. “I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!
  • DO be generous with your feedback and skill-sharing: “In my day job, I work in a non-profit and write a lot of applications. I think your magazine submissions can be sharpened up and I’ll show you how.” – “Great! I do a lot of photography, and I’d be happy to teach you how adjusting shutter speed can help you.”
  • DO be professional. If you receive some unexpected feedback (“I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!) listen carefully and with an open mind.
  • DO be supportive. If someone in your peer group experiences success, be the first to cheer alongside her.
  • DO ask tough questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years? What steps do you need to take to get there?”
  • DO introduce others to interesting opportunities: “I saw this call for cat-themed accessories. Alison, that is totally up your street
  • DO be honest about industry experiences: “Sarah, I think it’s great that Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica have approached you. LOVE their yarns! Just make sure you are happy with all the T&Cs. I had a tough time with them last year and want to make sure you know what you are doing!” or “Sarah, have fun working with Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica. LOVE their yarns, and Jessica in the Head Office is great.”
  • DO your research.
  • DO peer reviews regularly and check in with each other.

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  • DON’T participate in peer reviews, support groups or mentorships thinking everybody is out to scam you or steal your ideas.
  • DON’T waste people’s time. Nothing is more off-putting than spending a lot of time on helping someone out and getting a “LOL, this isn’t even my day job, kthxbai!” in return.
  • DON’T cold-approach people at trade shows. Shows are busy, everybody is tired & stressed, and even the nicest person can be startled by a full-on approach coming out of nowhere. Start off with an email, a PM, or a tweet.
  • DON’T spend all your interactions on complaining or being negative. It is fine to raise worries or complaints, but always try to be pro-active and turn negatives into positive action points.
  • DON’T be intimidated. Even super-successful people are just people.
  • DON’T gossip. What is said at peer group stays at peer group.
  • DON’T expect magic answers. Mentors and peers can help you analyse your portfolio or help you figure out your niche. They cannot make you successful overnight.
  • DON’T be a bully. If negative feedback is unavoidable, make sure your criticism is constructive and relevant.
  • DON’T seek answers just from knitting designers. Read the business section, borrow books on how to juggle a portfolio career, and ask other sectors smart questions.
  • DON’T give up. If you don’t find the right mix of people or if you fail to find a more experienced designer willing to mentor you, just keep trying.

Comments are always welcome and discussions are encouraged x

Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

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Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC’s Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme – it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

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Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

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And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it’s a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.

Weekend Bliss: A West Coast Knitting Retreat

This is beginning to be an annual thing. My good friends and I grabbed our current knitting projects, packed some food, and made our merry way to the West Coast of Scotland.

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We had booked a little house with some magnificent views.

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This is the view from my sea-front bedroom window. I could have stared at this all weekend long. Wait. I think that’s actually what I ended up doing.

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Watching the weather report like hawks, we decided to go for a walk on Saturday morning. I quickly decided to just ramble about on the nearby shore.

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I really wasn’t wearing the right shoes for rambling.

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Later same day we realised we had made the right decision when .. what we know in Scotland as “weather” .. rolled in.

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Huzzah for staying indoors with good friends. Some travelled quite far just to be part of our little group and it felt so special just to have to time to talk, work on crafty projects, and forget all about the outside world. I enjoyed the open fire and the assorted 1980s films we watched. I had never seen Labyrinth or Flash Gordon before. My life is definitely enriched.

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The little house had some really fantastic needlework and upholstery. Whoever had lived there previously had loved needlework and had collected a nice variety of display items – including this sampler from 1844.

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Sadly, by the time we were heading home, the weather had turned even worse and we caught the very last ferry back to the mainland.

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We are already talking about next year’s retreat but we think we might try to find somewhere on the mainland as some of my friends did not enjoy the choppy seas. But it is becoming an annual tradition and I am grateful. The beginning of the year is always a bit bleak as we wait for spring to arrive. The knitting retreat gives us all a boost when we need it the most.

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Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a ‘keen interest in knitting’ (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP’s Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – just like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I’m very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically – and wittily – to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather’s design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights – I always like when this is given as an option. The ‘Bianca’ option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid’s duties and this shrug is now on the list of ‘cover up them shoulders’ options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.

Copenhagen Dreaming

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I moved to Copenhagen in 1995 to start university. It was a hot July day, but my student hall kitchen had a fire escape from which you could watch the Tivoli Garden fireworks and the Vor Frelsers Kirke spire. I listened a lot to the Danish band Love Shop while I biked around town. I sat in cemeteries/parks reading the massive Victorian novels required for my coursework and met some of the best people I know in small cafes. Copenhagen remained my base as I travelled a lot from Norway, Sweden and Scotland to New Zealand. I always returned home to the fire escape and the best view in town. I graduated and bought a flat on the other side of town. I spent most of my time with friends in the Nørrebro and Vesterbro districts – and occasionally biked across my beloved Langebro (obligatory Love Shop link). I left Copenhagen for Glasgow in 2006, but Copenhagen is still home. DSC00820

On Saturday night one of my oldest and dearest friends ran for his life in Inner Copenhagen. Without going into details, I am so very grateful that he is still alive and well. I have very mixed feelings about how the media narrative surrounding the incidents was set up from the get-go, how things were interpreted on the ground, the extent of the media coverage and what the probable aftermath in Danish politics will be. But, I don’t write about politics on this blog and I have no intention of starting. I just feel very far away from a city I love so much and my friends who are all so very dear to me.

So, I’m (yet again) restarting my project of sharing beautiful things and celebrating all the things in life that matter to me.

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This is my first “selfish” project in a very, very long time. I’m knitting the Hetty cardigan by Andi Satterlund in Cascade 220 (shade “Birch Heather”). I am hoping to complete it in time for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I chose Hetty because I love the silhouette but also because I wanted to learn more about a structured top-down construction. The pattern is fun to knit (though I freely admit rewriting it so it suits my brain) and the construction is interesting. I have four skeins of the yarn and I’ve opted for the L size (though it does look tiny and I should maybe have gone for the size up, but I trust Andi’s sizing comments).

In other news, I released the second instalment of the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann 2015 Sock Club on Friday. The pattern is called Mad Larks and it is knitted in a gorgeous, rich and layered brown shade. The Byatt KAL is going great over in my group – please do join in! We are having great fun discussing colour options, how to customise Byatt and if anybody would freely admit to being a Hufflepuff!

Finally, I am exceptionally honoured to announce that The Island Wool Company has set up a Designer Collective and that I am one of the six designers involved. We are all very passionate about North Atlantic knitting traditions and we are huge fans of the yarns that the Island Wool Company works so hard to bring to a larger audience. I look forward to reinterpreting and communicating a very strong knitting heritage – one in which I am lucky to have a very small stake.

Beauty exists and I’ll do my very best to keep bringing more beauty into this world.

Colour Ideas for Byatt

I’m already seeing a lot of Byatts in the KAL thread on Ravelry, but I also get quite a few questions about yarn and colour combinations. If you are planning on casting on Byatt, this post is for you.

First, let’s grab that ghastly photo I took of Byatt flat, crank up the contrast and look at the anatomy of the shawl.

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So, as you can see, there are a few key things to think about when choosing a colour combination:

  • The majority of the shawl focuses on the MC (only the edge really lets CC shine).
  • MC and CC needs to work together but have a good amount of contrast.
  • CC needs to work in semi-solid lace.

Add to that, the fact that the shawl is designed to use as much of that gorgeous hand-dyed yarn as possible, and you will want to weigh your skeins to make sure you have enough yardage. I’ve included suggestions on how to include a third colour (CC2) in the pattern notes too.

My original colour combination was OMA 100% merino in Crazy Ivan and Afraid of the Woods. The colours look very different in the picture above, but that is due to a) the shawl being photographed on snow and b) me cranking up the contrast, so you can see the details.

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Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt is currently knitting Byatt in a combination of Lon-Dubh and Grellow.

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And her studio assistant, the incredibly lovely Helen is using a heady combination of Army+Navy and Cherry Lips. I love this combination so much that I might just steal it off Helen once it’s done.

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If I were to knit a second Byatt, I’d be tempted to use Famous Blue Raincoat and Moody. I really like the idea of Moody as the lace edging.

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At the moment I am all about teal, it seems. Different versions of teal, but definitely teal. I am working on a colourwork project that uses a great deal of teal and I just cannot seem to get enough. Is teal my new moss green, I wonder? For a while I just bought and knitted moss-green yarn. We shall see.

If you are knitting Byatt, please post in the KAL thread. We have a great discussion going and I’m loving seeing all the colour combinations. I especially loved the knitter who said she was off to look at her book shelves to see which colour combination appealed!

PS. Thanks to the wonder of Photoshop, I just came up with another colour combination for Byatt. Going back to the moss-green yarn again..

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Proof of the Pudding – Or What Do You Do All Day?!

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I knit a lot but probably not as much as people assume. Like most knitters, I knit when I’ve finished work for the day and I need some downtime. The difference is that my day job involves writing, editing, and designing knitting patterns. The fact that I don’t knit during my work day surprises people. Most of my day is spent on the computer answering emails, chasing invoices, entering data into a spreadsheet, and working with various software programmes (chart editors, layout programmes and word processors). Occasionally I head outside for photo shoots or teaching appointments, but mostly my work is desk-based in front of a computer.

Being my own employer, I have had to learn to do a lot of things because if I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. This include things like payroll, marketing, customer service, distribution, procurement etc. Just because I am a one-woman business, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about how I do taxes, how I tell people about the things I do, how I can help people with any problems they may encounter, how I get my hard-copy patterns printed, where and when to buy office supplies etc. I have also had to learn how to put together a professional-looking layout and what changes I have to make from getting it ready as a PDF and a hard copy pattern.

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A typical day runs from 9.30am to 5.30pm with breakfast & lunch at the desk. I try to deal with emails/messages at the start and end of every day. I could probably spend every single day just on emails and messages! I look at specific customer support requests – these range from “what do you think of these colours?” to “could you explain what a garter stitch tab cast-on is? I’ve looked at videos and still do not get it”.

I then spend time on the latest pattern I’m designing (I’ll talk about design process in a later post). I open up the chart editor and the spreadsheet. Depending upon the complexity of the design, I can spend a fortnight crunching numbers before it is time to start writing a pattern. I spend lunchtime catching up with social media – some people regard it as marketing but I think of social media as a great way to have social interactions with great people without leaving the house. Twitter is a lifeline of joy when you work on your own.

After lunch, I get back to my spreadsheets and my number crunching. I make sure to transfer key numbers from my spreadsheet to a pattern template so I can tell if a pattern makes narrative sense (no need to start talking about neckline numbers when people are still working the bottom rib – even if I need to know the basic neckline numbers at this stage). I double-check the chart in my chart editor and may correct the stitch pattern, so it will work with armhole shaping further up. Spreadsheets are magic, I tell you. I may also be working on other people’s patterns as a technical editor.

I dip into social media and check my email to make sure I am not missing any urgent business. A yarn company may have emailed me to let me know they are out of a shade I wanted for a future design, and I have to open up my design proposal to see what I could use instead. A customer may have emailed me about problems buying the pattern and I have to liaise with Ravelry and LoveKnitting to solve the customer’s problems. I try to get on top of emails by 4pm.

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After 4pm, I focus more on the “soft side” of my work. I browse Ravelry to check out colour and texture trends. I spend time on Pinterest looking through recent pins (I subscribe to a number of trend forecasters’ feeds). I look at dyers’ websites to check out new stock and if I can see any colour trends. I also spend the 90 minutes between 4pm and 5.30pm on doodling and playing around with ideas in the chart editor or on paper. I browse RSS feeds via Feedly where I subscribe to a large number of blogs and websites ranging from knitting and fashion to art, design and technology. I don’t always get my daily 90 minutes of inspiration because I may be in the middle of a complex project, but I love when I am able to set aside time.

By the time 5.30pm rolls around, my partner is home and we spend some time decompressing over a cup of tea. We get dinner sorted and by 7.30pm I am usually sat in the sofa with my work knitting. And that is another day over and done with. I work like this Monday to Friday but I may teach at a festival or at a LYS Saturday or Sunday, so my day off may fall on a Monday or a Wednesday instead.

This post was written in response to a ‘what do you actually do all day long?’ request from a couple of readers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section!

Hello Byatt KAL (and Other Things)

Thank you so much for all the lovely words regarding the Byatt shawl. It is my first real stand-alone release after I completed the Doggerland collection and I was nervous about what people might think. Doggerland was all about a very pared-down design vocabulary and Byatt is positively decadent by contrast. I am relieved that people appear willing to tag along with me on my new design adventures and I cannot wait to see which colour combinations you choose. I have already seen quite a few people comment that Byatt is perfect for stash-diving (we all have those one-off skeins in our stash, don’t we?) while other people have been searching on their book shelves for colour inspiration.

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Here is the challenge for all of you going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival: can you knit a Byatt before then? I have a few incentives in store for you. Firstly, you’ll get a 10% discount on Old Maiden Aunt yarns if you show up in a Byatt knitted in OMA. Secondly, if you show up in a Byatt and you manage to grab a photo of yourself and me at EYF, you get a staggering 50% off my next pattern.

And the final challenge is open to everybody regardless of whether you can make it to EYF or not: finish a Byatt shawl before March 31, post a photo and you enter into a really exciting prize draw. I’ll be picking out a few goodies from EYF vendors and you get to help me design a shawl. I designed Byatt partly because a few people had told me they wanted a two-skein shawl. What would you like to see? Cables? Triangular shawl? Semi-circle? A shawl in a DK or worsted-weight shawl? You tell me.

Now , there is a very good reason why I let David take photographs of all my knitted things. I took the photo below and it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was surprisingly hard to take a photo of the Byatt shawl flat – I have worn it quite a bit (so it’s a bit crumpled) and it’s rather big (so it’s hard to capture in one fell swoop). Still, I hope this helps those of you who wanted to see the shawl shape (though a schematic is included).   January 2015 183

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have heard I got up this morning to a very cold flat (8°C / 46°F). It’s really pretty outside with all the snow, but our old-fashioned (and very pretty) Victorian tenement flat has no double-glazing, very high ceilings and two badly-sealed fireplaces. I’ve turned on the heating and it’s now a staggering 12°C/53°F. Hooray for wool! Yet again I am a complete convert to woolly socks, I’m wearing my old pair of Fetchings and my bedraggled Noro jumper which fits nobody (and especially not me). Nothing like winter to make me break out the old knitted things that are now so tatty I cannot wear them in public anymore.

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Look! Baby Karie! So young & so pleased with her fingerless mitts! Awwww.

I hope you’ll join me for the Byatt KAL and I am really looking forward to being gazoomped at EYF by you all. Stay tuned for colour combo suggestions and ideas. I’m off to speed-knit another pair of woolly socks.

Authors & Artists: the Byatt Shawl

January 2015 112After a few teasing posts, I am happy to say that the Byatt shawl is now available from Ravelry (and will soon be available from LoveKnitting too).

The shawl is named after one of my favourite novelists, A.S. Byatt.  I first encountered her books when I was a young woman on the cusp of starting university. I read her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession in translation by Claus Bech. I later learned Bech had been awarded the Prix Baudelaire for his work, but that was no help to me as I diligently worked my way through dense poetry sections.

A few years later I read Possession in its original English and Byatt’s book was transformed. While Bech’s work was lauded, I could not connect with it in the same way I could connect with Byatt’s own language. It was rich, layered, warm, gently witty, and wonderful. The book became a touchstone and I have read it eight or nine times now.

And so Byatt’s novels became part of my life.

The Frederica Potter novels – The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman – kept me company as I grew from a young woman to whoever it is I am now. I read The Biographer’s Tale whilst travelling around New Zealand (it remains my least favourite Byatt novel to date). And I curled up with her short stories – Angels and Insects and the Matisse Stories, among others, when I lived in a suitcase trying to figure out who I was going to be. Reading Byatt quietens that voice inside my head that urges me to be less bookish, less arty, and more .. normal. I owe her much for writing about quiet, creative people with complex inner lives who muddle through life trying to remain intact. We exist too.

The Byatt shawl takes its main design cues from the cover design of  The Children’s Book. The rich teal and the golden brown are obvious nods towards the teal and gold found on the cover. Insects recur often as motifs in Byatt’s books – the slip stitch pattern forms braids on top of the garter stitch, but the individual stitches can also resemble tiny wings or delicate leaves.

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The horseshoe edging was my toughest design decision. I wanted the shawl to have an Art Nouveau feel, so I first added leaves to the edging. Interestingly, I found that very open lace patterns clashed with the remainder of the shawl and I experimented with bold chevrons until my eye was caught by the classic horseshoe pattern. Its light chevron feel and close/open movement worked both within the context of the fabric and also with the design inspiration. The edge is finished off with a picot edging which just adds a touch of polish.

I’ve had a few questions about the shape of the shawl. Funnily enough, neither my photographer, my tech editor nor myself even considered that issue, so I have uploaded the schematic to my Rav project page to tide things over until I can get my photographer (also known as David, the boyfriend) to shoot some photos. Many apologies for the oversight. On the other hand, it is the sort of feedback that improves my patterns, so thank you for getting in touch!

The only other issue is that I am currently waiting for my lovely friends at LoveKnitting to publish the pattern, so it becomes available in all EU countries. I am keeping tabs on the situation and am exceedingly frustrated that not all you lovely people can buy the pattern straight away. Maybe an excuse to go stash-diving or plan colour combinations?

Stay tuned for colour combination suggestions from Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. If you are planning on going to the Edinburgh Festival, you will want to stay tuned to learn why knitting a Byatt shawl might be a good idea. I did say plans were afoot, non?

Introducing Byatt

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The first pattern in my Authors and Artists series is called Byatt. It is an asymmetrical shawl that starts with just one stitch. Most of the shawl is knitted in garter stitch and it uses two colours of hand-dyed 4ply sock yarn. You never work more than one colour at any time, as the braided effect is obtained using a slip-stitch pattern. Byatt is finished off with a lacy edge in the contrast colour and a picot cast-off.

Hand on heart, I knitted most of Byatt during pub quizzes and knit nights. I found it a very soothing, relaxing knit – yet it looks quite complex when it is done. I chose to work with Old Maiden Aunt merino 4ply as I was after depth of colour and excellent drape. Several people had asked me to design a shawl that used more than one skein of hand-dyed sock yarn, and I was happy to comply.

The combination of a deep blue-grey main colour and a coppery brown contrast is not an accident. This shawl takes its name from the British novelist A.S. Byatt whose books are not just full of beautiful, rich details but are also beautifully designed. I shall write more about Byatt (the novelist) when Byatt (the shawl pattern) is released tomorrow.

I have had a very rough week, but I am very happy to say that working with some most excellent collaborators on this project has really made a difference. It is so incredibly nice when people come together in an organic way and all get aboard my rather vague concept of “contemporary pomo Victoriana but in a minimalist way”. (Sometimes I wish I was more of a cupcake hat designer, but you cannot change who you are.)

More pictures and details and general Byatt enthusiasm tomorrow. Tomorrow!