Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Visitors from Scotland

Last week the Knitting and Crochet Guild Archive (KCG) in West Yorkshire welcomed some visitors all the way from Scotland, Carol Christiansen, Shetland Museum curator and Roslyn Chapman from Glasgow University. The KCG archive holds an enviable collection of hand knitted "Shetland" lace shawls. Some of the most interesting and delicate examples had been selected in advance to show the visitors. 

First on the morning agenda customary, tea, coffee and biscuits in the office and a chance to discuss the archive in general.

Carol and Roslyn outlined the purpose of their visit which related to research started in 2016.  It centres around the traditions of Shetland lace knitting, cultural implications, branding and the marketing of "authentic" Shetland knitwear. 

Filmed and broadcast live, a study day held in 2016 about the research gives an overview of the project. The recording can be see here or by clicking on the image below. Background information to this film can be found here on the Shetland Museums website.

Following our refreshments we relocated to the main archive. Much discussion and information was exchanged around each knitted item displayed. Carol and Roslyn shared their in depth knowledge of Shetland lace shawls, haps and garment construction, along with insights on authenticity.  

Members of the KCG team shared information on the history and provenance of items in the collection. Much discussion followed which I haven't included here, but the following images hopefully give a snapshot of some of the lace knitting the team had prepared for the visitors.

The above images show two good examples of large shawl/haps with the knitting pattern for both shown below.

Knitting pattern books dating from the 1800's are held by the KCG archive.  The Edinburgh based author Jane Gaugain wrote extensively on "Shetland" lace knitting. A blog post by Kate Davies  "In the steps of Jane Gaugain" gives an insight into this prolific pattern writer.

Going off-piste at the end of the day, some knitted treats from the archive were retrieved to show the visitors. Three lovely examples of children's Fair Isle jumpers dating from the 1930's to 1950's.

Then some excellent examples of Bohus knitting from the collection. (I wrote a little piece about this style in an earlier blog post here).

And finally the group photo, (unfortunately some of the team had to leave early and are missing from the photo). 
From left to right Trish, Julia, Barbara, Ruth, Carol and Angharad.

Following a very informative and interesting day our visitors left for the long trip back north.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Shetland Lace Knitting

While browsing publications for instructions on lace shawl knitting I came across The Magic of Shetland Lace by Elizabeth Lovick. The  cover indicates the contents include stitches, techniques and projects for lighter than air shawls, just what I was looking for! However, it was the image on the front depicting light difused, delicate lace samples which inspired me to take a closer look inside. 

The book has a stitch directory of essential Shetland lace knitting patterns. These are arranged into four categories: insertions, motifs,  allover patterns and laces.  I particularly like the samples in pastel colours which are photographed on a white background. The directory shows all the samples side by side so you can make comparisons. Each sample is referenced with the number of stitches and a row count. There are charts and written instructions for each design along with a larger image. There's also a "concentration level" guide, from 1 to 3 for each pattern (3 requiring the most concentration).

If you can knit and purl, do yarn overs and knit two togethers, this book claims to show you that Shetland lace knitting is with in your reach.

A very detailed chapter on how to put together a shawl design with helpful guidelines and practical examples gave me the confidence to try this myself.

The yarn I chose was, Jamieson's of Shetland Ultra, (x5, 25g balls shade Waterlily #690) knitted with Knit Pro Symfonie Rose Cubics size 4mm needles. The needles have a square cross section and are supposed to be ergonomically designed for a comfortable grip and produce more even stitches. They were easy to use except the dark rose wood colour, which combined with the dark shade of yarn I had chosen made seeing the stitches clearly more difficult. Once started I persevered, suspecting a change of needles part way through may have altered my knitting tension. Something I need to to bear in mind for the future.

The following is a description of the shawl I knitted along with  the selection of stitches I used from the book. There's no coincidence that they all require the lowest level 1 category of concentration. That said, it was a project I needed to give my whole attention without distractions.

There are 20 edging patterns. Attracted by the word "easiest", I chose Brand Iron Lace for the edging. Described as, "a common, old lace pattern... which works well in any yarn" It's worked over 12 stitches and includes, yarn overs, knit two togethers, cast off stitches. It's not difficult, the crucial thing is to keep count of the rows to maintain the pattern, the effect is quite striking and just as effective as some of the more complex edges requiring more concentration.

Two types of insertion were used, "Ladder" and "Bead" from the total of 13 described. 

Next, the central panel uses an allover pattern called, "Fir Cone". This is worked over 10 stitches and 20 rows. It includes the instruction, knit three through the back loop, (k3tbl) and is much easier than it sounds.

Then, the previously mentioned insertions and edging are repeated on the other side.

While I chose the easiest patterns I liked from the book, the actual knitting required considerable concentration. Several errors remain, unfortunately, uncorrected after being discovered well after the event. 

I'd certainly like to have a go at some of the more challenging stitch patterns but perhaps next time reduce the number of different elements which might help reduce the number of mistakes (and the length of time to complete it). 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Tiny gift knitting...

Tiny gift knitting has been underway...

These cute gifts are made from the pattern Home Sweet Home Wee House Brooch and Key Ring.

Knitted on straight needles with sewn on embellishments. The brooch and key rings are similar in design but constructed slightly differently. Detailed instructions are given for both.

These gifts were made with Jamieson’s of Shetland DK but you could use other DK weight yarn. 

Small amounts of contrast yarn are needed for the roof and walls along with additional colours for windows and doors, 5 colours in total to complete each of the projects as shown.

Knitting skills required: cast on, cast off, knit stitch, purl stitch, working with changes of colour, picking up stitches. Some basic sewing skills.

Examples of the brooch version....

Here's one in action so to speak...think I'll be keeping one of these for myself.

Monday, 6 November 2017

What makes British sheep breeds special

Book titles and authors: The Fleece and Fibre Source Book Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius
Beautiful Sheep Kathryn Dun
British Sheep & Wool The British Wool Marketing Board

Britain has a rich heritage when it comes to sheep husbandry and fibre crafts. It’s wonderful to see so much renewed interest in the traditional breeds. 

With so many breeds however, it can be hard to know which fibre is right for a given project: some are hard wearing but rough against the skin, while others are among the softest in the world, but can’t take much wear. 

I’ve rounded up a beginner’s guide to some of my favourites, to help you get your bearings and shed a bit of light on what makes British breeds so special. 

If you read to the end, there’s a giveaway too if you'd like to win a box of knitting goodies!

Some of you may already know that I kept a small flock of Shetland sheep, so it’s no surprise that this breed is at the top of my list. 


Description: A small hardy hill breed with fine bone structure. Rams usually have rounded horns.
Uses: A Shetland’s fleece can be used to produce fine yarns suitable for lacework, most famous for it's use in beautiful fair isle sweaters. The fineness and the wide range of natural shades has led to Shetland being the wool of choice for sweaters through to traditional tweed.
Characteristics: With an average fibre diameter in the range of 20-30 microns, Shetland wool can be exceedingly fine for a British breed. Known for the wide range of colours. Staple length for coloured fleece is between 6 to 12 cm.


Description: A distinctive sheep, the Wensleydale has blue legs, ears and face, with a long, curly lustrous fleece. It is a large, bold sheep, but it is one of the UK’s rarest breeds.  
Uses: The wool from this particular breed is often blended with finer, but shorter stapled wools for a stronger yarn. Ideal for hand-spinning and hand-felting, it is used in a number of crafts, including rug making, knitting and crochet.
Characteristics: Wensleydale wool is arguably the finest, most lustrous long wool in the world. This is because the breed has an unusual feature in their DNA known as “central checking”, which prevents kemp, or coarse fibres, from being produced. This means that purebred sheep will produce completely kemp-free fleece. The staple length is between 15 -30 cm.


Description: Mashams are a cross breed originating in North Yorkshire. The progeny of a Teeswater ram and a Dalebred or a Swaledale ewe.
Uses: Masham wool is good for those who want to get started spinning their own yarn due to its good staple length. Despite this, Masham isn’t the softest wool around, so you’ll usually find it used in a blend with softer fibres, or used in carpets.  
Characteristics: The Masham is a hardy sheep, with a lustrous  soft fleece and a staple length of between 12 and 25 cm.


Description: Perhaps the hardiest British breed, the Herdwick can survive on high ground, like the Lake District fells. Born with a black fleece, they go grey as they get older, but they usually have a white head and legs. 
Uses: Herdwick wool is best suited for woven outerwear, hard-wearing carpets, and for filling furniture and mattresses. It does have a reputation for being harsh against the skin, but it’s great for accessories.
Characteristics: Their kemp fibres increase with age, making the wool brittle and coarse, so it’s never been too popular with knitters and dyers. Staple length is between 10 and 20 cm.

Lincoln Longwool

Description: A rare native sheep, the Lincoln Longwool is the largest British breed. It was bred, way back in the 1700s as a wool sheep, but it later became a dual-purpose breed. It is a docile sheep with a white face, dark ears and a broad forelock of wool that falls in it's face. 
Uses:  It has a strong and durable fibre, making it suitable for use in rugs, bags, cushions and outerwear.
Characteristics: Popular with hand spinners, especially the wool from Lincoln lambs. It is naturally a marbled grey, so is great for creating naturally variegated yarns and fabrics. It has a staple length between 15 -30 cm.


Description: Named after the Romney Marsh area in south east England. The Romney is a large sheep with a calm disposition.

Uses: Fleeces vary in fineness from next to the skin softness to courser more suited to upholstery purposes and floor coverings. This demi-lustrous fibre is a very popular and versatile fibre and works well for knitting, spinning, and weaving.  

Characteristics: Romney fleeces are generally of a uniform and consistent quality from top to tail. The staple length is between 10 and 20.5 cm.
If you’re a wool lover, the kind people over at herdy®sleep are giving away a bundle of knitting goodies! As keen supporters of traditional British crafts and breeds, they use a full herdwick fleece in each of their handmade luxury mattresses. 

This giveaway includes the following:

Herdy Pattern Booklet which includes the following 5 patterns: 
cushion cover
hot water bottle cover 
childs jumper
a beanie hat

x4 balls of Herdy chunky 100% British wool

x1 pair of bamboo knitting needles

x1 Herdy tape measure

To have a chance to win this lovely knitting kit simply click on the link belowA winner will be drawn at random and announced here.

The giveaway is open to UK entries only 
(sorry to all overseas readers) 
and runs from 
6th - 30th November 2017.

The Giveaway has ended.