Karie Bookish Dot Net

A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

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Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

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Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

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I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

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Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

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Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

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A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

So, a Few Words About Ball Bands

I have had a couple of conversations lately about gauge and yarn subs, so I thought I’d write briefly about how to read ball band labels.

First, though, two things.

1) The Seaforth hat is now free to download from Ravelry. Go on! One skein of kettle-dyed loveliness will net you a fabulous hat for Spring (or Autumn if you’re on the other side of the world to me). This one’s on me.

2) I’ve updated the workshop page with the last few workshops of Spring 2015. I’m currently developing new classes, so this will be your last chance for some of these. I think that’s a fair warning!

Now about those ball bands.

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A snapshot of what’s on my table this afternoon! I also liked the array of languages. from L to R: Danish sock yarn (or at least a Danish ball-band), British Black Yarns Classic DK, Faroese Sirri Art Yarn, and Malabrigo Rios from Uruguay. Knitting is a global language.

Firstly, you need to understand that the ball band gauge is more a guideline than anything.

Suggested gauge on the ball band works to categorise yarns: this is double-knitting, this is a worsted-weight yarn and so forth. It is helpful for yarn companies as it’s easier to sell a line of yarn if it falls into a category than if it’s an outlier (many LYSs have sections based on yarn weights: “this is the lace section and here are the 4ply/fingering-weight yarns”). This way of categorising yarns makes sense for LYSs – quite simply, categories helps if you stock more than 10 different yarns. Not only can LYS employees confidently recommend yarn substitutions (“Oh, this hat is knitted in Unicorn Yarn DK? We don’t stock that yarn, but you could try this DK from Glitter Kitten Yarns”) but it makes life easier for everybody to agree on what a DK is and how it’s different from a lace-weight yarn.

So there is a definite interest in having standard weights with standard gauges.

However, one thing is what we can all agree upon and another thing is reality. I am not saying this happens but yarn companies may sometimes “force” a yarn into a category even it is actually just a smidgen too fine or heavy to fall into a category. When I worked with LYSs here in the UK, I recommended they always swatched their yarns to learn the handle of the yarn and also (coughs) if a yarn actually worked up nicely at a certain gauge. I am not naming actual examples but there is one UK DK yarn with a recommended gauge of 23-22 sts that I always felt belonged to the sport category with a gauge of 25-24sts.

So, you have a ball band gauge that is a ballpark figure and occasionally a marketing tool. Keep that in mind. The stated ballband gauge does not always spell the truth and should be considered a guideline more than anything else.

Secondly, in a pattern you should always pay attention to a designer’s gauge

Every designer has different gauge and the knitter should try to get gauge (esp. something like clothing, oh my). I often liken knitting to handwriting: we can all agree on what a handwritten R looks like, but it’ll always look slightly different from person to person. Designers are individuals too and as such their knitting gauge is also slightly different from designer to designer.

My favourite example is a Rowan magazine. I knitted two fair isle cardigans out of Rowan Felted Tweed. One cardigan used 3.25mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4” – the other cardigan used 4mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4”. Same company, same magazine, same yarn, two different designers. The ball band says a third thing, by the way.

Sometimes a designer may also deliberately play around with a yarn to get a completely different fabric than a ‘standard’ stocking stitch (whatever the agreed standard is, of course!). These days I think the most common deviation from recommended gauge is 4ply/fingering weight which many people are now happy to knit on 4mm needles at a gauge miles away from 28-30 sts over 4″. On the flipside of the coin I had a pattern where I used a yarn I’d normally knit at 16-15 sts over 4” where I took it down to something ridiculous like 28 sts – it was dense. I explained in the notes that I wanted a very firm fabric and people were generally really happy. For me, it was about communicating why I had chosen such a dense fabric and not followed the ball band gauge.

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So, how to decode a ball band – in brief

Another yarn from the pile on the table is the Rowan Creative Focus Worsted. I thought it made a good little intro to ball bands (especially if you are not a confident knitter).

  • product code: this one always baffles people. When you work with masses of yarn (say, as a buyer or as a LYS owner), you need product codes so you can keep track of stock, do orders, and track best-sellers. Most shade cards also have corresponding product codes.
  • recommended gauge: CFW comes in at 20 sts and 24 rows over 4″/10 cm. That’s pretty much standard for a worsted-weight yarn which is slightly heavier than a DK (which is 22 sts) and an Aran (which is typically 18 sts). Interestingly I get 21sts across 4″ when I knit with CFW. One stitch out over 4″ doesn’t sound like much but it does actually matter when you are working with hundreds of stitches – then that one stitch can mean the difference between a well-fitting cardigan and a sad-looking thing at the back of the wardrobe.
  • recommended needles: guideline, folks, guideline. If you are a loose knitter, you go down a needle size and if you are a tight knitter, you go up a needle size .. after you have looked at the designer’s chosen needle size and swatched.
  • product name: sometimes the actual name of the yarn gives you a clue as to the weight of the beastie. Creative Focus Worsted. Classic DK. Snowflake Chunky. Sometimes you have to look closer, though: Baby Cashmerino? Cocoon? Cascade 220?

If you are unsure about the various weights, the Craft Council of America has a great page about the North American system. The UK system is different (as is the Australian method, the Scandinavian system etc). The best person to ask about the yarn you are contemplating buying will always be your LYS employee (because they should know their stock better than anyone!) and I also recommend asking at your knitting group and, obviously, the designer!

Ah, my few words about ball bands turned out to be 1000+ words. So it goes.

Have a great weekend, folks!

Let It Go, Let It Go – On Stash Accumulation & Destashing

Disclaimer: I’ve not seen Disney’s Frozen but my local coffee pusher wears a necklace saying “Let It Go”, so I am sure that counts as pop-cultural immersion.

I opened the door to my stash cupboard this morning and my stomach clenched. I was looking at boxes upon boxes of yarn – and then various plastic bags stacked on top of the boxes or squished between them. I watched a loose ball from goodness-know-where slip down and head towards my feet. I was looking for a particular yarn but I did not know where to start – and I also realised that if I pulled out a box, the whole system* would collapse on top of my head.

(* I use this word loosely)

Yarn is all about beauty and story-telling for me. One of the many pleasure of my life in knitting is that I get to work with yarn that feels alive in my hands and connects me to its place of origin. But when I look at all the boxes, I don’t see stories waiting to be written or items waiting to get worn – I see fragments of who I used to be as a knitter.

Most of my yarn stash stems from when I rediscovered knitting. I would hit the sales with friends, score bargains on the internet, and pick up random balls of yarn whenever I visited a new LYS. Then I began working for a yarn company and I accumulated so much yarn – far more than I could actually managed to knit. I was lucky to have access to yarn – but I also ended up with a lot of summer yarns that don’t lend themselves to my lifestyle. I live in Scotland and, crucially, I am always cold. Even though that cotton/silk yarn looks and feels amazing, I think it’s time I admitted to myself that I’m probably never going to make that casual summer cardigan.

Nowadays I work as an independent knitting designer. This change in environment means that I no longer think of yarn as something to be stashed: I have work yarn and work yarn makes me happy. I am lucky enough to work with yarns that I feel truly passionate about and I do not put those yarns into my yarn stash. Work yarn goes into the box next to my favourite arm chair and each yarn is assigned to a specific project. When I work on future projects, I derive great pleasure from researching yarns and finding the right one for the specific job. Occasionally I will have the right yarn in the stash – but I will know exactly where to find it because it was always destined for one specific design.

I’ve changed the way I think about yarn, in other words. It is time for a destash and luckily this urge coincides with my knitting group’s annual destash evening. I think I am about to shock my friends. Let it go, let it goooo…

Knitting in Wartime – A Study Day Retrospect

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another of Knitting in the Round’s Public Study Days: The Kitchener Stitch: Knitting in Wartime – Wartime Knitting. The whole day was a delight with many friendly faces in the audience and some cracking speakers.

Dr Jane Tynan gave an absolutely fascinating talk on military uniforms, modernity and knitting as craftivism during the First World War. Dr Tynan is an expert on military uniforms and her research on ‘khaki’ in WW1 led her to discover how knitting served as supplement to official wartime military issue and how this led to unexpected tensions at home between the War Office and women who volunteered their time and skills. I was particularly interested in how conservative gender roles were promoted (this in an age of Suffragettes, lest we forget) and female activist efforts were soon turned into an achievement of the War Office. However, I was mostly enthused by Dr Tynan’s work on the disembodiment found throughout knitting patterns and wartime propaganda. I have been interested in modernity, modernism and the Body for many years and it was exciting to see certain recurrent (and familiar) themes pop up in an unexpected context.

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The other speakers were absolutely excellent too – Wendy Turner on the importance of Glasgow Women’s Library; the irrepressible Joyce Meader with her extensive collection of war-related knitting patterns, knitting paraphernalia, and her knitted ‘comforts’ from vintage patterns; Professor Maggie Andrews on the WI, domesticity and knitting as war effort; and Barbara Smith on items found in the Knitting and Crochet Guild’s archives (including one of my favourite pieces: warships depicted in filet crochet for a table cloth). I was particularly excited about Barbara speaking as I really enjoy reading her knitting history blog.

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I was fortunate enough to spend my lunchtime  together with Barbara (and we discovered we have friends in common), the ever-lovely Susan Crawford and my partner David. We sat outside in the sunshine discussing many of the issues the morning had uncovered – particularly knitting as a gendered pursuit and the politicising of knitting during the World Wars. It was absolutely lovely to discuss these things with smart, engaged people who all brought different perspectives to the table. While Dave does not knit (and has no interest in starting!), he does have a life-long interest in textiles and how war affects the production & design of textiles. I really enjoyed having him join me at the event – he also took the majority of these photographs!

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After the Study Day concluded, I spent a very happy evening with Susan and Dave. First we went vintage shopping (word of warning: Susan WILL put you in various 1950s frocks), then had a very relaxing meal during which we talked about everything between heaven and earth. What an enjoyable day meeting so many fantastic people, thinking about knitting in new & unexpected ways, and then spending time with good folks.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting this event together.

Review: Liz Lovick (ed.) – Centenary Stitches – Knitting in Wartime.

Tomorrow I am at Glasgow’s The Lighthouse design centre for a study day on Knitting in Wartime. No better time to take a look at Liz Lovick’s excellent Centenary StitchesCentenary Stitches is the result of Lovick’s work on providing historically accurate costuming for a film set during World War One, and the book is as comprehensive and authoritative as you’d expect from Liz Lovick.

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Leading a team of more than one hundred volunteers from the UK and the US, Lovick has pulled together a book that features more than 70 patterns – most of which are lovingly updated vintage patterns from the 1910s. Together with over one hundred volunteer knitters and a strong technical team, Lovick undertook the mammoth task of not just updating the knitting terminology, but also offering a larger selection of sizes. I really enjoyed reading the little notes to each pattern – for instance, Liz Lovick says this about the cream shawl pictured above:

Although most of the shawls at the time were square, there were some triangular ones. I found this one in Columbia Yarn books. Like many patterns of the time, this one had several mistakes in the lace section. These have been corrected!

Maybe it’s just my sense of humour, but I found these glimpses of ‘behind the scenes’ very entertaining. A lot of work clearly went into transcribing and ‘translating’ the patterns with some amount of good-willed frustration thrown in for good measure.

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The patterns themselves are interesting. Some are clearly period pieces, but other patterns seem ageless. As you’d expect, I really found the array of shawls fascinating. The children’s patterns are good, basic garments – I chose to highlight this gansey which is a Liz Lovick original design. I like its simplicity and versatility. It really feels timeless – even with the flat cap and the plaid trousers. Other patterns are really interesting because of their specific context: riflemen’s gloves, helmet/balaclava patterns and simple cushions for the soldiers to bring into the trenches.

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And war does cast its shadow all over this book. Lovick provides plenty of context for the patterns. The photography is handled with much sensitivity and includes screen captures from the film, Tell Them of Us. The book benefits from several long essays that lends context to some of the editorial choices – from where the film was shot to which patterns were selected. The film tells the story of one Lincolnshire family and how World War One affected them. If you are someone who usually skips straight to the patterns, I recommend taking your time. The essays are very good and meaty.

I rarely come across knitting books like Centenary Stitches but I think we need to celebrate efforts like this book. I am always very, very pleased to see ambitious knitting books that seek to treat knitting as both craft and social history – and Lovick’s book certainly delivers that. The book was clearly a labour of love for the people involved with it and I applaud the tenacity behind its existence.

It is not your standard knitting book and it is all the better for it.

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(Thank you to Liz Lovick and Elly Doyle who both suggested I would enjoy the book. You were so very right. All photos by Pauline Loven and published with permission)

Spring Yarns & Colours, Oh My

Jamiesons at Queen of Purls

Earlier today I was having a long conversation with Jo of the Shinybees podcast, and I know you’ll be shocked to hear that we lapsed into a long conversation about yarn. It wasn’t a big, clever discussion about the economics of the yarn industry or an in-depth analysis of current hand-dyeing trends. We just had a full-on yarn love discussion. This is what I love about my life in knitting: people understand you when you lapse into a long, rapturous monologue about Yarns That You Love. I don’t do small-talk very well, but I can talk about yarn at great length. And sometimes you just need pictures to go along with the full-on yarn love. Look at the WALL of Jamieson’s – I took the photo at The Queen of Purls this past weekend when I ran a class there. I could just bury myself in that WALL OF COLOUR.

This is very much the Week After the Week After Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I have finally caught up on sleep and I feel back in sync once more. The organisers of EYF have announced they will be back next year – I am simultaneously excited and ‘but I have only just recovered from the last one’. As you may remember, I was too busy to do any shopping during EYF so I allowed myself a small post-EYF treat. Ms Knit British alerted me to a new yarn base/colour combo from Skein QueenGotland Rustic in Emerald City. In SQ’s own words:

This rustic Gotland Wool comes from Swedish Gotland sheep and is spun in Denmark. This traditional Scandinavian wool is somewhat hairy yet has the typical silky lustre of the Gotland sheep, and drapes very well. It’s warm and hard-wearing. Gotland sheep are naturally grey, so hand-dyed colourways obtain an extra depth and richness. Emerald green on the grey base.

In other words, that yarn had my name all over it and I know exactly what I will be doing with it (an Authors & Artists design).

Skein Queen Gotland loveliness

 

But first I need to finish a commissioned design that I am knitting out of a GLORIOUS shade of Malabrigo Rios. I cannot say much beyond that (because, you know, commissions) so I’m just going to talk briefly about Japanese short rows that I’ve been using a lot recently and which look amazing in garter stitch.

malabrigo rios & short rows

I often find standard wrap-and-turn short rows really cumbersome and annoying to work. Standard w&t became especially annoying when I worked short row “set-in” sleeves for my recent Hetty cardigan, so I knew I wanted to explore other techniques with this new design. Japanese short rows turned out to be exactly what I needed – they were quick to work, super-intuitive and worked a treat both worked flat and in the round (if you are unfamiliar with this method, Carol Feller has a great tutorial).

Ah, soul feasting on colours and textures and all the beautiful sunshine here in Glasgow. Spring is here. What are you knitting?

 

Textile Conservation & Further Thoughts

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Yesterday I was invited to an event at Glasgow University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History. Not only did this mean I got to meet students and see the objects they were working on, but I also learned about the science behind what we see in museums and private collections. Some things were familiar to me (like dye pots!) and then I ran into a Ph.D. student who showed me a fantastically complicated machine that extracted chemical profiles from 17th century China textiles. The Centre had only invited people working with textiles one way or another, and I found it hugely invigorating to see the multiple ways we can approach textiles (it’s been a very good week for that!). If I had not been absolutely shattered, I would have stayed much, much longer.

But I have been very shattered this weekend thanks to a very hectic weekend. EYF has rippled into this week with plenty of emails and a lot of follow-ups – I am still trying to get to grips with those, apologies. I have also been curled up in my favourite arm chair thinking about stuff. I spent the past weekend in the company of some rather incredible people. The Edinburgh Yarn Festival was home to a lot of strong, bold and interesting people with Thoughts and Ideas. I came away encouraged by the positivity, the warm support, and the ingenuity of the people I met. I spoke with some very smart people who gave me plenty food for thought. I was surrounded by people who did not fit into society’s preconceived ideas of what we should think, believe or do – and I feel so encouraged to see people questioning all the big narratives surrounding gender, fashion, consumerism, and technology.

These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the Thing-ness of Things, too. What materiality means and how the physical nature of Things impact our perception of them. A weighty tome. That yarn has a nice handle. I have a favourite knitting needle that ‘sits right’ in my hand as I work with it. I will need to think more about these Things and start figuring out what the Thing-ness of Things mean when it comes to my work. Maybe when my brain is back to full speed.

Plans for the rest of the week: tomorrow I’m releasing the very last instalment in the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann sock club (this last sock pattern happens to be my favourite..) and Saturday I am teaching Continental Knitting at Glasgow’s The Queen of Purls, so do pop along to that one!

Oh My Darling EYF2015

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The past weekend saw the second Edinburgh Yarn Festival happen. Just like the first EYF, it was absolutely brilliant. I don’t have many photos to show you. I was too busy to take photos and, while appreciative, David does not feel like taking 9500 photos of yarn stalls. I don’t quite know why.

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Old Maiden Aunt

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Baa Ram Ewe

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Podcaster Plutonium Muffin was drop-spindling this beauty

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The Evening Ca-BAA-Ret with the dream team, KNITSONIK and Ms Y.

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Lovely to see rustic Scandinavian yarns in the UK

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This photo cracks me up because it makes me look like a photo-bomber.

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Weaving is the new spinning is the new knitting is the new yoga

Because I was so incredibly busy, I did not have time to make any purchases and I also missed out on seeing many, many friends (you know who you are). However, I did meet an incredible amount of amazing people and I had some really thought-provoking conversations. I honestly never knew so many of you read this blog and I am blown away by some of the insightful comments you made to me. It really made me think about big, hard things and on my way home on Sunday night, I wrote the first draft of the preface to my next big, big collection.

EYF 2015 was incredible. I have already thanked the organisers profusely, but I also want to thank Louise Scollay who really came through for me when I hit my Wall of Stress. The Podcast Lounge was a sanctuary for many people and I loved hearing all the small conversations between total strangers. EYF also had a very strong community feel with an emphasis on smart, bold people who march to a different beat. It was inclusive and positive – and it felt very personal and warm despite its size. I took a lot from it (not least hugs and chocolate).

Over the weekend I worked 35 hours, slept for seven hours, and travelled for six hours – and I would happily do it all over again. Just give me a week to recover from this one.

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Loved this bridge right by the EYF venue. Look at it!

An Edinburgh Yarn Festival Surprise!

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Pattern: Proserpine (An Autobiographical Note)

Growing up I was a bit of an odd child. I preferred reading to playing with the neighbours’ kids, and I had strong imaginative/romantic streak which manifested itself in archaeological digs in the backyard and an unhealthy obsession with medieval architecture. As a teenager, I became even more of a bookworm and, thanks to my school’s eclectic library, I fell in love with Rupert Brooke (hot; dead; wrote poetry) and Lord Byron (hot; dead; wrote poetry).

On a trip to Copenhagen, I bought a slim volume of love poetry which turned out to be one of the key book purchases of my life. The slim volume introduced me to a wealth of poetry beyond the “hot & dead” category. One of my new discoveries was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a 19th century English poet and artist. I never imagined that years later I’d be designing knitting patterns inspired by his work.

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Proserpine is a half-circle shawl inspired by Rossetti’s painting by the same name (and also a tiny bit by the Daydream painting). Both feature contemplative women dressed in blue-green drapes surrounded by nature. I wanted to capture the drape and flow in my shawl design, and also introduce a leaf motif in a way that was subtle. As I was originally commissioned to design this pattern for Knit Now‘s Arts & Crafts issue, I also wanted my design to reflect the Arts & Crafts Movement’s ‘truth to materials’ tenet – I needed the shawl to show off the quality and beauty inherent in hand-dyed yarn.

The pattern is now available in general release. It uses roughly 850 yrds of 4-ply/fingering-weight yarn (this equates to 2 skeins of hand-dyed gorgeousness) and is knitted on 4.5mm needles to ensure drape. The pattern is both charted and contains full written instructions (because that is how I roll). Most of the pattern uses soothing stocking stitch, and the increases are worked EZ-style, though the lace cleverly disguises this. I know I go on about my patterns being relaxed knits, but this is another one of those (sorry folks).

Some of you have asked if this is the next instalment in Authors & Artists? I suppose I could easily have added Proserpine to the series, but I have decided that Authors & Artists will be featuring women writers and authors. I may have grown up being enamoured by hot, dead poet guys but now I find strong, smart women far more cool. If you are going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I will be talking to Louise Scollay in the Podcast Lounge about Authors & Artists, you’ll be able to see the Proserpine shawl sample at the Old Maiden Aunt stall, and I’ll be wearing the original magazine sample too.

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