Thursday, 28 November 2013

Ann Kingstone, taking the Eek! out of Steeking

Illustration by Adriana Hernandez

I've only met Ann Kingstone a couple of times in person. I've been so bowled over by her friendliness that I already consider her one of my closest knitting buddies and I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to review her latest book 'Stranded Knits - Smart skills for colourwork knitting, 16 glorious designs'. Her warmth and supportive nature come out in her writing too, so in knitting up her designs, you just know that she is willing you on to succeed, providing you with all the information, advice and hand-holding you need to take your skills to the next level. In her instructions she makes everything as easy as possible. Concise and unambiguous instructions. Extra explanations and diagrams for the techniques that until now you thought of as 'advanced.' Clear and beautifully coloured charts. 

So, in Stranded Knits you get all that as well as 16 to-die-for colourwork designs in which to practise your new skills. Ann shows the endless variations possible just by stranding two colours across a row of knitting (and she even helps you with deciding which two colours!) Despite the complexity of some of the garments, they are all achievable due to the help in the skills section, which covers steeking (cutting into your knitting), two-handed colourwork knitting, short rows, cast on techniques and more. This book provides everything except needles and yarn!

Field Study Photo by Verity Britton

So, which are my favourites? I love the patterning in Field Study and how one section of pattern merges into the next. Knitted in just two colours throughout and worked in the round (as are all the designs in the book) and steeked at the neck it would take me an age, but it's a jumper worth attempting for its sheer beauty.

Thomasina Photo by Verity Britton

Alternatively, for a smaller project, Thomasina combines stranding with increases and decreases to create directional knitting within the pattern. This is probably the one I'll make up, because I don't have too much time for personal knitting.

William Photo by Verity Britton

And I love, love, love the rabbits in William. Traditionally motifs like this would be knitted in the intarsia technique, using separate strands of yarn for each section of colour, but if you prefer to strand, Ann shows you where to trap the yarn at the back of the work so the floats aren't over long.

Well, all this does sound rather gushing, so to balance it out I do have a couple of niggles. Firstly, the colour wheel, which Ann calls 'basic' isn't a standard wheel as the primary and secondary colours aren't in the usual, regularly spaced places. But her accompanying explanations make up for this for me. Secondly, some of the adult necklines seem rather wide, and although I personally prefer wider necks, these seem to be wide to the point of falling off the shoulders. In a collection of this type, where the emphasis is on the stranded colourwork, I might have hoped to see at least an option for a more traditional neckline. But never fear, because Ann has provided advice for altering necklines in her Ravelry group. I told you she was supportive!

I asked Ann how the idea for the book came about ...
"The idea for Stranded Knits came because I specialise in stranded colourwork, and realised I need to share some of my techniques with knitters. Many folk don't realise there are things they can do to make stranded knitting easy and fun. I wanted to take the fear out of it for folk."
I was interested in her method of placing stitch counts in a table rather than in the main text. It certainly makes the instructions easier to read, especially as the adult designs are written up from 32" to 58" bust - that's 14 sizes! 
"I learnt pattern writing by trial and error. I'm sad to say that I am embarrassed by the quality of the instructions for some of the stuff I published back when I started designing. I've always been committed to excellence, and they were the best I knew how to do at the time. It's just that I've developed a lot since! I have a great relationship with my technical editor, Karen, and working with her has really helped improve my style.
The placement of the sizing information in tables is something I wondered about doing when I wrote the patterns for my first two jumper designs. I covered such a huge range of sizes that the text in the pattern was awkward to format. There were so many numbers in brackets everywhere! I thought it would make the pattern a lot less confusing if the sizing information was in tables instead of in the main text. However, as a newbie designer I didn't dare risk doing something so unorthodox until I had seen it done very effectively by Ysolda Teague in Little Red In The City."

Lastly I asked Ann where she is going in the future and what's the next book all about - because I for one can't wait!!
"I'm working on a book of seamless garments for beginner plus and intermediate knitters. The idea is to teach seamless constructions through designs that are approachable for new knitters, and knitters that are new to seamless knitting. The challenge is to also make those designs attractive and exciting! It's an interesting discipline for me... ;o)"

What makes this book essential for any adventurous knitter's bookshelf is the 'smart skills' section - this book will give you the confidence to start (and the skills to complete) any of the 16 'glorious' designs for women, children and men. 
Put Stranded Knits on your Christmas list ...

... but while you are waiting, you could knit some of these - Ann Kingstone's Wesley Bobs (Wesley Bob is the traditional Yorkshire name for a Christmas decoration, and as an authentic Yorkshire lass Ann is rightly proud of her heritage). I'm casting on for my Wesley Bob as soon as this blog is published.

Wesley Bobs Photo by Ann Kingstone

Buy the pattern for Wesley Bobs here.

See all the designs in Stranded Knits on Ravelry.

Buy Stranded Knits by Ann Kingstone from good yarn shops. All the designs in the book are shown knitted up in Rowan yarns.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Plaid revisited

1. A rectangular woollen scarf of a tartan pattern worn over the left shoulder by Scottish Highlanders.
a. Cloth with a tartan or checked pattern.
b. A pattern of this kind.

Tartan and plaid wool fabrics go back a long way in British history - the ancient Celts of Boudica's Iron Age era wove checked textiles, which we think they wrapped and draped around their bodies and shoulders very much like the Scots wear their tartan fabric in kilts today. 

Top fashion designers, too, periodically use checks in their collections. Vivienne Westwood has always been fascinated by tartan, from the original punk designs for her Sex shop in the 70s to the Anglomania collections. Westwood even designed her own tartan, Mac Andreas, named for her husband, in 1993. Seen represented in a UK stamp design, this outfit is famous for Naomi Campbell's fall from grace on the catwalk.

The Pre-Fall and Winter 2013/4 collections are full of the look - lots of tartans and draped check fabrics worn on top of each other from Chanel, and angled checks from Junya Watanabe. I love these multi-layered tartans and pattern mixes - it's probably a throw back to my days as a punk.

Chanel Pre-fall 2013
Chanel Pre-fall 2013
Watanabe A/W 2013/14

But what if you want a simpler look? To give a more sophisticated nod to the story, my tartan and kilt inspired Plaid Scarf gives an understated extra layer. Focusing on texture in one colour, with an interesting-to-knit angled construction, it was designed for Knit Now magazine, for their Best of British issue, where the magazine celebrates all things home-grown and sheepy.

Photo by Dan Walmsley 
It suits both men and women, and I love that Knit Now magazine have shown it on a man. It’s a really versatile design that can also be draped and fastened with a pin - try a lucky heather brooch or traditional kilt pin.

A little bit about the yarn - Blacker Swan Falkland Islands DK is a joint venture between Blacker Yarns and the Swan Inlet Farm near Stanley on the Falkland Islands, where Andrez and Ali Short herd their merino sheep on horseback across the tree-less landscape. It is a beautifully soft and squishy yarn to knit with, highly recommended for when you need good stitch definition, and comes in a range of natural-inspired colours. Loads more information and a list of stockists are available from the Blacker Yarns website.

And, to end with more stamps, these from the
Falkland Islands in 1976 show the sheep
farming industry there at the time

Knit Now issue 19 is due out 7th March 2013.

Buy Knit Now magazine from all good newsagents, supermarkets or direct from the website, here. Or alternatively, you can now buy a digital copy via the new app for iPhone and iPad. 

See the whole range of Great British Fashion stamps, issued in 2012, here.

Vivienne Westwood's 1993 tartan design Mac Andreas can be seen at the Tartan Register, here.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Viñoly Beret

The firstsite building, a contemporary art gallery and community education space in Colchester, Essex, opened in September 2011.

The firstsite building

The curves and diagonally pleated panels of the building have inspired me to design the Viñoly Beret - a modular, ridged hat knitted on two needles and with a picked up brim.

© Dan Walmsley for
Practical Publishing

The hat in the magazine is knitted in Colinette Art (how appropriate is that!), but I've also since knitted up the design in Rowan Silk Twist (sadly discontinued, but still available in some LYSs) and in Lang Yarns Mille Colori, and it looks great in all three. You could use any aran-weight yarn - as long as stocking stitch knits to 18 sts and 24 rows to 10cm using 5mm needles.

The Viñoly Beret
knitted in Rowan Silk Twist

So, why Viñoly? 
"My design philosophy is rooted in the development of architectural ideas that are powerful, distinctive, and relevant to the specifics of both program and context."
Rafael Viñoly
Originally from Uruguay, the architect Rafael Viñoly won the competition to design a new contemporary art space in Colchester. The brief was to provide a building that could also be used as an educational facility and importantly would not damage the ground on which it was built - Colchester has a rich archeology, and a Roman mosaic found on the site has been reinstalled as the only permanent exhibit. (For anyone that's more interested in the Berryfield mosaic than the beret, this series of videos shows the conservation process and installation into its new home.)

Abstract shots of the building

The instructions to knit the beret are published in this month's Knit Now magazine, due in shops on the 10th January, and not only that ... I've also written all about where I got the idea from and how I worked out the geometry of the knitting, illustrated with pages of my sketchbook. A bit of a peep inside my design mind. 

If you'd like a peep into Viñoly's mind too, he discusses his work here.

For details of current exhibitions and events at firstsite visit or take a tour of the building with RVA Project Architect Julin Kinal at

Knit Now magazine can be bought from all good newsagents and most supermarkets, or online direct from the publisher here.