Monday, 30 December 2013

Knitting for men

By this I mean knitting an item for a man to wear.  Recently I have been thinking about what I have learned about knitting for men.  I don’t have any clear recollections of my mum knitting for my dad, although I am sure she must have done so.  My best memories are of his delight in fair-isle all-overs purchased when in Shetland.  His love for all-overs began at the Cunningsburgh Show when he spied a first prize winning jumper knitted by Barbara Isbister.  It was love at first sight and began the purchase of a series of gorgeous jumpers over several years.  These were worn everywhere and could not be beaten for wearing at almost any time of the year.  Some of his prized jumpers have found new homes and have been equally valued by their new owners.  I have the original jumper that began the love affair and it is a delight.

Over the years, a sign of how much a family member was loved was when a fair isle all-over was purchased as a gift for that person.  I can remember clearly the day it was proposed to order one for my then boyfriend, now husband!  Again, it had to come from Barbara Isbister and is a beauty.

The first jumper I knitted for a man was for that same boyfriend.  I don’t know if he experienced any conflict of interest there when he was deciding which to wear! I do remember thinking that starting to knit for a man was a significant thing.  Significant in the amount of yarn, number of stitches and length of time spent knitting.  Not to mention the significance of the act of creating a garment – suggesting that this relationship would outlast the knitting of the garment and would survive the wearing of it too. I am sure I checked whether he liked the pattern. I don’t think I would have started it without being sure he would wear it.  His mum did like it – I heard that she sneaked it out of his room to show it off to his aunt.  I wasn’t privy to the comments it received!  I can’t remember the source of the pattern, but I think it was knitted in Jaeger Matchmaker yarn – now there’s a not so subliminal message if there ever was one!

Over the years since I have knitted two more jumpers for my husband.  The first one, a cabled jumper knitted in Cashsoft DK, he agreed to, said he liked the pattern and the colour and then never wore.  I quietly ripped it out and re-purposed it into something for myself, which, interestingly, I have never worn either.  The second he also agreed to, said he liked the pattern and the colour and has worn frequently and re-requested.  It was Charley from Rowan 37, knitted in All Seasons Cotton. Maybe it was a better colour and style. 

Every time I have seen a pattern for a knitted garment for a man I have shown it to John asking for his feedback on it. Invariably the response has been either – ‘No way!’ or ‘It’s OK, but could you change the sleeves, neck, body or make it a jumper instead?’.  So I gradually gave up and left him to get his knitted warmth elsewhere.

Interestingly, the most successful knitted items that I have given to men have been small things like scarves, hats and socks.  Socks.  Sometimes I have been asked to knit them (and knit them knee high!) and others I have given as a gift.  In almost every case I have had to knit a second pair to allow the first pair to be washed (!).  Indeed the way to a man’s heart would seem to be to keep his feet warm.  I just wish my dad was still here so I could knit socks for him. I know he would love them, but they would have to be knee high as well.  That would be a true labour of love that would have given me a lot of pleasure.
These experiences have taught me that it is safer and kinder to my knitter’s heart to knit small things for my men.  It helps that I love knitting socks and hats and scarves. There is almost instant gratification and almost no finishing or seaming.

Until now. 

Until I bought some discontinued Rowan Scottish Tweed yarn and proposed knitting a Scandinavian inspired jumper for John for Christmas. Little did I know that the ubiquitous Christmas jumper would be making such a huge comeback! So far it has been a great success – judge for yourselves:

And until I showed John the new look book of patterns for men from Brooklyn Tweed.  A look through that sparked an entirely different response – ‘I like that…and that…maybe a different colour…’.  I can live with changing the colour, so am bracing myself to engage again with the significance of knitting for a man.  No doubt you will hear how I am getting on.

Go over and have a look at the patterns from Brooklyn Tweed – you will be inspired, and if you need to get a man inspired about having a garment knitted for him – this is the best chance you might have!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My Mathilde blouse

For a while now I have been thinking about taking up sewing again. I say again as I loved GCSE Textiles which I chose over Home Economics. I think over the years our home economy has benefited more from what I knew about fabric than what I might have known about food, but that's for another day.

I had a fantastic teacher. Mrs Plummer was a designer and an artist and motivated us all to do our best and to develop an understanding and love for fabric, for cutting it up and sewing it all back together. As a result, there were several years when at least one item of clothing I wore every day was handmade. Believe it or not we still exchange Christmas cards and she sends me photos of her latest artwork. I love hearing about what she has been doing - it's 24 years since I was in her class! In the years since, I have sewn less and less clothing and more and more curtains and then, when there are only so many curtains you can hang, my trusty machine was retired for a while.

Recently, however, I have been getting frustrated with not finding clothes that I like or finding myself standing in a shop holding up some item of clothing and thinking 'look at how little fabric has been used here' or 'there are only a handful of seams in this - I could do that - in better fabric and maybe for less money'. Truth to say I was reminded of my sewing classes and my latent happiness in sewing when I watched some episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee - wow - I could never sew under pressure like that, but it was a great source of revision and motivation - each contestant was an inspiration to me.

So I bought the book, downloaded the patterns and found the fantastic Tilly and her blog - Tilly and the buttons. I couldn't pass her Mathide sewing pattern as it had almost everything I was looking for in a pattern for a top that was super wearable and just suited my style. So off went the sewing machine for a service and off went I for fabric. This is the result:

The pattern is excellent, so well laid out and the instructions are very clear - supplemented by photo tutorials on Tilly's blog. I found these so helpful in reminding me of techniques long forgotten. It is a top I will wear and wear and a pattern I will sew and sew again. Thank you Tilly!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Summer in Shetland

We love Shetland.  It’s where one half of my family lives and where we wish we could live for at least one half of the time.  Someday we are going to live there; we have made that promise to ourselves. We spent nearly 2 weeks there in July with my Mum – it was a small invasion, and it was a wonderful time of catching up and renewing links with everyone we love.  As always, inspiration and interesting things are to be found around every corner – except this year we were plagued by foggy weather conditions which meant that we couldn’t really just enjoy the best of the dramatic coastline we knew was just out there – out of sight.

One important visit was to Jamieson’s mill at Sandness to show them the Shade Card Blankets that Mum and I crocheted.  It was lovely to meet the Jamieson family and to see around the mill.  It was interesting to see all the processes the fleece goes through from clip to ball – all under one roof and, uniquely, all within the Shetland Isles.  Not only do they produce fantastic yarn, they also weave 100% Shetland wool tweed fabric.  I have come home with some to make a jacket - once I have dusted down my sewing skills.

We visited the Shetland Museum again on a day when the BBC were filming for the next series of ‘Shetland’ and we saw Simon King and his family when we were eating lunch in the restaurant there.  Shetland has always been a cosmopolitan place that continues to develop and the size of the islands belies the influence that they exert.

The Shetland Textile Museum is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in yarn and knitting.  Although small, it is packed with samples of Shetland knitting and is a great source of inspiration for any knitter keen to face a challenge. There are superb examples of original Fair Isle and lace patterns and garments on display. Don’t miss an examination of the fantastic tapestry chair seat!
On one of the best – warmest and clearest sunny days – we drove and sailed to the island of Yell, and spent some time on one of Shetland’s many beaches. I had forgotten just how wonderful they are – white, white sand, clear water and amazing blueness to the sea and sky – not just on Yell but also on the mainland at Grutness, Quendale and Levenwick. Enjoy!

We were told a visit to Yell would not be complete without calling in to make a purchase at the Aywick shop. It is said that there is almost nothing which cannot be found there or obtained for you.  It is truly a unique shopping experience – many shops in the mainland UK would be put to shame!  I’d also recommend a visit to the Shetland Gallery to see the original work of some talented artists and to be inspired by the creative gifts being used to record the landscape, the light and the changing seasons.
My aunt took me to visit two special craftswomen - Elizabeth of Shetland Handspun who spins, dyes and knits the most wonderful natural yarns and Doreen of the Shetland Collection who designs and knits original Fair Isle and lace garments and accessories. She was responsible for the Fair Isle clad Shetland ponies from the Visit Scotland promotions.  Such creativity and talent was really inspiring and encouraging to me.

Yes, we love Shetland, in fog or sunshine, and look forward to getting back again sometime soon.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit Zagreb with work. I'd never been to Croatia before and to be honest, I am really looking forward to going back with John for another visit, hopefully with some more time to spend exploring.

I was working with a group of other people on an accreditation panel, and it was a privilege to spend time in such an interesting place while meeting other people from all over Europe.

The main square is surrounded by some amazing colourful buildings with so many architectural details - each one different.

There is no shortage of museums, galleries and other places to see and spend time admiring. Plenty to fill a long weekend.

St Mark's Church is situated in a square surrounded by government buildings in the old Upper town, one of the oldest areas of the city, still lit at night by over 250 gas lamplights.

The front of the Cathedral is covered with carved stone filigree details - the craftsmanship is perfect.

I didn't get a chance to track down any yarn shops, so I do think another visit is in order to remedy that, don't you?

Friday, 19 April 2013


We visited London for the second ever time at Easter. I love the energy of the city and how the sense of history is combined with showcasing new and changing things to see. It feels to me the way the internet can feel - endless, everchanging and rushing on with more and more to see, never still. But it is a wonderful place for discoveries and experiences. We had a fantastic view from our hotel room:

Almost every day started here:

We walked and explored lots of fascinating places - Covent Garden, Camden Passage and St James (Piccadilly) markets, Fortnum and Mason's and the Burlington Arcade. And then we went from the subline to ...M&M World!


Seeing Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap made for a wonderful evening - and no, I can't tell you whodunnit!

We visited St Paul's Cathedral for the first time having visited Westminter Abbey last year. It is a very different place altogether. The mosaic ceilings are beautiful - a real sight to see. It is hard to imagine how much time and creativity went into the creation of such art. We climbed up to the very top of the dome of the cathedral for the most amazing bird's eye views of the city around us.
So for all the business and the hurry and bustle and the lovely out of the way corners that are to be found, all the contrasts that seem to make London what it is, we really love it and are looking forward to being able to visit again sometime...

I hope you've enjoyed a little look at London - what do you think of our capital city? Maybe you live there and know it too well, or maybe you would rather avoid it altogether? What is it that makes it what it is, in your eyes?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

What I learned about blogging in March

Now that the Blogging Your Way course has come to an end, I have been thinking about all I have learned, everything that has inspired me and what I would like to achieve through my blog. The course is excellent – not just in the standard of teaching provided by a range of inspiring and experienced role models and the variety of learning resources that are provided to challenge and motivate students, but in the way we were encouraged to think more deeply about ourselves and how we value creativity as part of our everyday life.
All images from the Blog Boss e-course content

I can honestly say it has changed the way I think about what I do and how I occupy my time and has encouraged me to focus on the things in life that have value and that will have a positive impact on my ability to be creative. I have also learned about tools that can be used to share that creativity here on my blog.
If you have a blog that you would like to re-ignite with a passion for your skill or talents, or would like to start one, I can so highly recommend the e-courses run by Holly Becker at Decor8!
It has changed the way I see my creativity as a gift of value that needs to be nurtured and developed. So I am hoping to move from saying ‘I wish’ and ‘I will’ to being able to say ‘I am’ and ‘I have’.
I’ll miss the on-going support and inspiration, but it is now down to us, as students, to get on with supporting and inspiring each other as we develop our blogs. I hope you will call back here often to see if I am following through on my new commitment and feel free to call me to account if I am not!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Colour Challenge

There are times when too much colour co-ordination is too much of a good thing. Over the years I grew tired of seeing lovely colour combinations and knowing that there was no way I could introduce them into my home without it becoming a mix-up. When it was time to change our bathroom and kitchen recently, it was my cue to put my plan for a home with a neutral base into action, ready for all the colour I could bring in to liven it all up. Well, that was the idea we signed up to. Now we have less of a neutral base and more of a blank canvas. We have left pale blue and yellow bedrooms (they were pretty at the time) and honey pine furniture behind to get to this:

Yes, now after coat after coat of primer and paint we are all white - even the furniture (for I couldn't decide what neutral shade would work out best) with natural oak flooring. I love it. It is very calming. It is clearly also missing something.

There are spots of colour here and there. Depending on how you look at it, my Shetland Shade Card blanket can be enough colour at times. We have an oil painting we bought from a street artist in Sorrento because it captured the amazing view of the harbours and dramatic coastline. Mum was given the embroidered cushion by our Ukrainian neighbour almost 30 years ago when we lived in England. She carried the patterns in her head and worked from the picture she had in her mind. The colours are so full of energy and vivid:

I have a newly designated creative place (it used to be our 'work at home' office space). I am not sure what it says about my current creative energy:

Despite this I struggle to choose colour properly. In my mind's eye I think I know how I would like the rooms to look, but despite that I shy away from adding in colour in case I get it wrong.  I know I am at risk of overthinking and should just get on with it, so I have sought literary advice. Hopefully I will be informed and motivated by these super books - all very different but equally inspiring. I will post what I learn and how I put it into practice as I try to be less colour challenged!

Do you have any advice? What has worked for you? Should I embrace the neutral or step out into the colour?

Have a lovely Easter!