Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Birthday Jumper

My Dad had a significant birthday last week, what do you give something who has everything?  A jumper!  In the 1980s and early 90s in Shetland there was quite a high demand for Icelandic style yoked jumpers made of chunky yarn.  My Granny (Dad's Mum) used to hand knit them to sell to Anderson and Company in Lerwick who would then sell them through their shop and send them away.  I always remember Dad wearing her jumpers, they were very warm and thick and made an excellent garment for wearing when working outside.  This is the last jumper she made him, it is in a very good condition other than a bit of fraying around the hem and cuff.  This was my template for the Birthday jumper.


I chose Jamiesons of Shetland chunky yarn to recreate the jumper, in natural colours, shaela for the main colour and sholmit and ivory for the pattern.



There were several agents in Shetland buying these chunky style jumpers during the 1980s and 90s and many knitters made them to supplement their income.  Many Shetland women I spoke to about the Birthday jumper said they used to make them.  They knitted up relatively quickly; my Aunt Betty remembers how she would sometimes make two in a week, this was on top of all the other work that had to be done. The knitters would be given written instructions to follow like these below used by Granny's cousin, Aileen.  Her instructions were for a "Mens Quick Knit (Scalloway Jupy)" (Jupy being a jumper) for an agent in Scalloway.  The instructions were quite basic sometimes only with numbers giving the quantity of stitches and rows, assuming that the knitter had enough experience and knowledge to able to complete the jumper with minimal input from the designer.  I obtained a few different versions during my research of the Birthday jumper, all were quite different as different agents would have had their own designs. 
The jumpers were made in the round, making the body and sleeves first and then joining it up for the yoke.  Interestingly, in Fair Isle knitting a general rule is that only two colours are used in any particular row, in Icelandic knitting often three colours are used in a row.  This gives a very thick fabric particularly useful around the shoulders which provides an excellent barrier to the weather.

I found some old patterns among my Mum's things - the yoke of this pattern below is almost the same as the yoke of the Birthday jumper but the pattern around the sleeves and the waist is different.

Often the yokes were made with plain rows between the pattern, this would have been where the decreases were made.

And this booklet for the mere sum of 75p has several patterns.

The photos and colours of these patterns make the jumpers look very dated, but they are very fashionable again, there are several updated patterns available now such as the Asta Sollilja by Kate Davies in her latest book "Yokes", Strokkur by Ysolda Teague, the Icelandic designer Vedis Jonsdotter has a huge range including this free pattern for a yoked jumper.  A search for "Icelandic yokes" on Ravelry will give you a huge range to choose from.

This jumper almost became the "Belated Birthday Jumper" but I managed to get it washed and on the jumper board at 9 o clock the night before!  It was a close one though!

You can see details of the Birthday jumper on Ravelry.


Friday, 17 April 2015

The Baa-ble hat is here!

I am very pleased to announce that the pattern for the Baa-ble hat, the hat I designed for Shetland Wool Week, is now available to download!  If you go to you will be able to download it.

I have really enjoyed seeing your projects so far and am really looking forward to seeing your finished hats!  Even if you are not attending wool week this year, you can join us in spirit by making the hat, and if you are coming to Wool Week it will be fantastic to see baa-ble hats in the flesh so to speak! 

If you post your hat on Instagram or Twitter, please can you use #baable so we can see it!

 Thank you and happy knitting!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Woolly Round Up - March

Firstly, can I just say Thank You So Much for all the lovely comments on the Baa-ble hat pattern I designed for Shetland Wool Week.  In particular there was a fantastic response over on the Shetland Wool Week Facebook page - you really made me happy!  I don't always get a chance to reply to each comment, but I do read them so Thank You.  Thank You also for your patience in waiting for the pattern to become available online on the Shetland Wool Week website, you won't have much longer to wait.

March has been a busy month and I thought I would do a round up of the main things that have been happening textile wise and the some of the things I have found inspiring and interesting.

In the middle of March I travelled to Edinburgh with the lovely people from Shetland Wool Week to attend the fantastic Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  This is the second year of the festival, although this time is was much bigger and it was a roaring success.  Shetland Wool Week had a stand over the weekend, there was a constant stream of people going past I think we spoke constantly.  It was much busier than any show I have done before.

I met so many lovely people and saw so many inspiring things.  I am just waiting now until next year's dates are announced as I am definitely going.

As well as Shetland Wool Week, we were promoting Shetland Wool holidays.  The first one will run from 16th - 21st July and will consist of guided tours and workshops through Shetland.  I will be taking one of the workshops in the lovely long room in Busta House Hotel and think it would be a fantastic break for anyone interested in textiles (in fact I would like to go on this holiday!).

For details and how you can book go to

While I was away at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival I was vexed to miss an exhibition of Knitting and Spinning in the Ollaberry Hall, which is in the North mainland of Shetland.  Fortunately though, Ella Gordon went along, and wrote a blog post about it.  She takes beautiful photos and although I missed it I felt I had been there.

She also spotted a hap with a lace croft house similar to the one Aunty Emma made for me, you can see her version here.

I love exhibitions like this, they have been curated by members of the community and show a huge amount of talent.  Many of these garments would be seen as a day to day item but really they are works of art in their own right. 

Speaking about haps, I cast on the edging of mine and have finished that section.  I now need to get my instructions for the border and I will be off again. 

The Knitbritish Hap-Along starts on April 10th, but I have started early while Aunty Emma's instructions were fresh in my mind.  I quickly picked up the edging pattern and really enjoyed making this part.  I have chosen to make it in light grey lambswool, mainly as I have a few cones of it left over from some scarves I used to make to sell. 
You will find details of the Knitbritish Hap-along here as well as several of Louise's other posts.
(I love this illustration - isn't it great?)
I'm not much of a reader (I prefer to spend any free time I do have knitting) but there are occasions when I do read such as travelling.  Before I went to Edinburgh I bought Yarn Harlot, The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee and I certainly wasn't disappointed.  I had heard about her work through an online friend and have had several of the Yarn Harlot publications in my Amazon wishlist for a long time now. 
You probably need to be a knitter to appreciate it but if you are a knitter like me you can really appreciate it.  The book consists of very amusing short essays about the authors escapades with various projects and touches on many things I can relate to, such as she has so much yarn she has taken to stashing in the piano but still buys more (I don't have a piano but I can see why it would make a good place for hiding yarn).
And, I am also relived to hear that having lots of things on the wires at the same time while never actually finishing anything has a name: Startitis
"Startitis is defined as an unreasonable urge to begin new knitting projects without regard for the number of projects already begun, deadlines impending, or budgets imposed"
That being said, I need to start another project tonight - a jumper for my Dad's birthday which is in less than two weeks time -
wish me luck!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Introducing...The Baa-ble Hat

Do you remember this?

You might have seen it if you are on Facebook or Instagram.  I made this Baa-ble for the Shetland Wool Week team as part of a project to adorn the Christmas tree in the centre of Lerwick with woolly baubles, there was a very good response to the Baa-ble so the good people at Shetland Wool Week asked me if I could design a hat based on it - and here it is!

I have made two versions - this one in Jamiesons of Shetland Heather Aran....

It was a bit windy (and freezing cold) on the day we took the photos:
The pattern will be available to download as a free pdf document on the Home Page of the Shetland Wool Week website, they are working very hard to get it online as soon as possible.  To make sure you don't miss the pattern release, you could subscribe to the Shetland Wool Week newsletter by signing up to their mailing list, and/or you could sign up to this blog (in the box at the top right hand side of this page) and you will receive new posts straight into your inbox (I promise I won't inundate you with emails!).

Colours used:
Jamieson's of Shetland: Aran (50g balls): 1 x Autumn, 1 x  Highland Mist, 1 x  Natural White & 1 x Natural Black
Jamieson and Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Worsted Aran (50g balls); 2 x Peat, 1 x Snaa White, 1 x Coll Black, 1 x Silver Grey

I will be Baa-ck soon!

P.S. Many thanks to Felicity Ford of Knitsonik for the name Baa-ble!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Thinking About.....Haps

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about Shetland haps.  A hap is a hand knitted lace shawl, usually square but sometimes circular or triangular in shape.  The photographs below shows the hap my Great Aunt Emma knitted when my son was born three years ago.
Haps traditionally were worn as everyday garments, many photographs can be seen on the Shetland Museum website of women wearing these warm wraps around their shoulders when out walking,
Girl with foal
working on the croft or carrying the peats home in kishies. 
In recent years they have become more decorative and intricate and are generally made up of three sections, the centre, the border and the edging.

Last week I visited Aunty Emma, as I have asked her to show me her method of hap making.  She is now 93 and is still an amazing knitter churning out beautiful lace and Fair Isle items at high speed.  She began to knit at the age of five and remembers knitting spencers (plain knitted wool vests) and gloves and selling them to the grocery van that came around once a week.  They would get sugar, flour, tea and hens meal, in exchange, things that would supplement the items they grew on the croft.
Astonishingly she works from no patterns and has no notes written down at all, everything she makes is from memory and from a deep rooted understanding of the craft. 
She made her first hap in 1944 in anticipation of the birth of her first daughter and has probably made hundreds since!  Haps were used (and still are) for swaddling babies so makes an ideal gift for a new baby. 
Aunty Emma knits her haps using the old traditional method of knitting the edging first in a long strip, then knitting the border (the stitches of the straight edge of the edging are picked up and make the first row of the border) and then finally knitting the centre.  This method is referred to as the borders inwards method by Sharon Miller in her inspiring books on Shetland lace knitting.  More modern patterns are written starting at the centre first and working outwards.
 Here she is knitting a piece of the edging at lightning speed.  I tried to write down what she was doing but she was knitting far faster than I could write! 

And in a few minutes here are my instructions for the edging! 

 I could refer to a pattern but I would rather find out what she does.  It made me think about knitting being a language, it is like a code with series of stitches and rows on repeats.
I love the border in my hap, it is a croft house with waves below and flowers in the gaps between the roofs.

Here are some of Emma's photographs showing some examples of her haps:
Coincidentally, over on Twitter and Ravelry I spotted two KALs (Knit Alongs) for haps or Hap-Alongs, one is being run by Louise from Knit-British and the other is being run by Gudrun Johnston.
  Gudrun says a hap is a good thing to have on the go at the same time as other things which is good as I have so many things on the go!  The Knit-British KAL will begin on 10th April which gives people plenty of time to find a pattern or plan a design and finish what is currently on the wires! 
Louise has also been writing about Haps, you can read her blog posts here.
I will keep you updated on the progress! 
Useful resources:
Miller, Sharon (2002) Heirloom Knitting, The Shetland Times Ltd
Miller, Sharon (2008) Heirloom Knitting's Shetland Hap Shawls
Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers (2012) A Legacy of Shetland Lace, The Shetland Times Ltd


Friday, 13 February 2015

A Beret to Dress

I am often asked how I dress (block) the hats I make. I made this Polar Star Tam by Outi Kater sometime last year to match the Polar Star mittens and have taken some pictures to show how I dressed it.
 After all the ends were sewn in I ran a thread of green yarn through the ribbing at the edge of the hat. I am not sure what type of yarn it is (probably acrylic), it is from a cone I inherited and I use if for holding stitches and for pulling in edges when dressing garments such as this. 
 It is strong, doesn't stick to the Shetland yarn and it is colour fast - all important points to consider when choosing a yarn for this job.  
I soaked the hat in warm water with some wool wash for half an hour or so, gently wrung it out and then pulled the hat over a plate.  The plate is I use slightly smaller than a standard dinner plate, which allows the crown to be stretched without making the finished size too big.  I then drew in the green yarn to pull in the ribbing and tied it.  Once the hat was dry I removed it from the plate.  Many people would leave it like this but I feel it makes me look like I am wearing a flying saucer on my head.  I removed the green thread and dampened the sharp folds created by the edge of the plate, and then stuffed it with a few muslin cloths (you could use a towel or any fabric).   The hat was then left to dry again to give a nice rounded shape. Some might say I could have just done this stage, and you could, but placing it on the plate first means you can really flatten out the crown and even out the stitches.

Then it was ready to wear.  You can see more photos and read the pattern notes on Ravelry here.
I was really pleased to have the hat and mittens earlier today -

 its freezing out there!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Mittens to Dress

I recently finished a new pair of mittens, just in time for the wintery weather.  We haven't had much snow here in Shetland but we have had a lot of gales and it has generally been colder.  These mittens are Polar Star mittens designed by Outi Kater.
Outi lives in Shetland but is originally from Finland and she draws on inspiration from both places to create her designs.  I love the way she uses Shetland yarns and Fair Isle knitting techniques to create something contemporary, often geometric in style.  The motif on these mittens is a traditional Finnish pattern as is the knitting style of using only two colours, unlike Fair Isle knitting which traditionally uses several colours blended together.
The pattern was very easy to follow, and I would have had a pair of mittens in no time but this was my travelling project for a few months and I took it to work and away for a weekend, so I only knitted a few rows now and again.  The final result is very pleasing, the mittens are large and cosy as the pattern creates a thick fabric ideal for keeping out the cold.  For more details on needle size and yarn you the project is on here.
I could have just worn them as they were when I cast them off, but Shetland yarn (as does most wool projects) really does benefit from washing and blocking, or dressing as we say in Shetland.

I received these glove boards from a friend recently as she wanted them to go to someone who would use them, and luckily they were the perfect size for the mittens.  They are probably for men's mittens but as the Polar Star mittens are generously sized these were just right.  These boards would have been homemade, most houses in Shetland would probably have had several pairs in different sizes at one time when knitting provided people with an income.  These boards have thumbs, but I have heard of people using blunt kitchen knives. 

I soaked the mittens in water with a mild detergent for woollens for about twenty minutes then put the boards inside, flattening out any stitches that were uneven.  Shetland wool almost fluffs up and becomes more fuzzy when it's washed, helping patterns to blend together.  To keep the cuffs tight around the mitten I used two elastic bands, I could have sewn a thread into the cuff and pulled it tight but the bands were much quicker and easier.

Once they were dry I removed the mittens from the boards. Where the elastic bands had been had left some marks, a quick steam over the spout of the kettle sorted that out.  This is an ideal way of pulling in Shetland wool ribs that have been stretched during the dressing process. By holding the cuff over the steam for a few seconds, I could almost see the stitches flatten and shrink and then the cuff could be pulled into shape.  Garments often benefit from this if they have been work a lot and have started to stretch out of shape. 


These are some of my collection of wooden mitten and glove boards, it is lovely to think they have been used to dress many many things in the past, and they are beautiful objects in their own right.

I will speak about dressing the Polar tam next time. 
But for now have a good weekend!