Category Archives: Knitting

What a great weekend that was!

9 days on and I’m just about recovered from a very exciting working week – and thought I ought to let you know about it all.


On Friday 9th September I was lucky enough to spend the evening with the fabulous Erika Knight and Arabella from her team! They came to do a pop-up shop at Fringe, where I teach my workshops and generally sort out the knitty things. We had such a lovely time – we invited our regular knitting fans, and people from the twice-monthly Meet and Make group. There were sample garments to adore, gorgeous yarns to squish and lovely books to leaf through. Erika and Arabella are just so interesting and fun to be with, everyone loved talking with them. AND – [drum roll] – as they really love Edna, and Erika is working on some dog sweater designs, I think she has her first modelling gig! She was not entirely with the program about this, but I’m sure she will get into the swing of it once she is being fussed at their studio. So watch this space, she may become a diva.

Then, after a hectic day of the pop-up shop the following day, I headed up to Avenue Mews where my studio now is. It was the annual MewsFest, a really fun event that’s organised by  Jet from Can’t Buy Me Love, and Ruth and Meghan from ChaChaCha Vintage. There’s music, food, vintage clothes and cocktails, all with a cool retro vibe inspired by the little news community. Open studios were planned, and at Lavender White, my next door neighbours, they had book readings organised. Can’t Buy Me Love had a DJ and old-school decks, and a mojito bar.


By 5.30 it was absolutely chucking it down with rain, so my ever-patient partner put up my gazebo in the wet, and we tried to set up my little stall of wares out on the mews. It was extremely soggy, and I was soaking and bedraggled. I felt like packing up. All around me others were setting up food and vintage stalls, and the valiant musicians were starting to tune up. By about 7.30pm the rain finally cleared, JUST as I’d got to the point of thinking I might give up and go home – and suddenly, within a few minutes, the tiny mews was packed with people. The mojitos were flowing, the ukulele band got going, tasty food smells started wafting about and we all got much more into the party vibe.

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by 11.00 I’d had more than a few mojitos, I’d sold lots of things, met new customers who want to come to commission pieces and have lessons, seen brave friends who came to support me (thanks Kelly, Monica, Nic, John and Jude!) and generally had a really great time. Dismantling our stall was a lot quicker than putting it up had been, and we trundled off home in a very good mood indeed. I’m already planning how we can do a Christmas version – Phil Spector anyone?


The lure of a new season

So it’s July, and I’m making fluffy winter hats. Maybe it’s a little deranged, it’s certainly a hot business, but there’s method in this madness. You see, the warm, wool-free summer months are the best time to devise and make a new winter collection. Not only do you have the luxury of feeling you have time to play, to experiment and get things wrong (because nobody needs to actually wear this stuff yet, right?, I’m looking at you, English summers!) but it feels exciting to be using a new selection of materials, colour combinations, textures and fibres. In case you are wondering about my process, it starts with a lot of trend research. A little snooping and being a flaneur in the right parts of town. And a degree of gut feeling. Twice a year, I will treat myself to the new issue of Textile View magazine, which I have used for years. It’s a textile nerd’s delight and probably dull as dishwater to anyone looking over my shoulder and seeing  photos of squares of fabric and linear fashion doodles. But to me, it’s like breaking news. I love it, and I spend days poring over it, absorbing the new season’s feel so that I really understand it before I go on.  Then, I’ll look in edgy stores and I’ll people watch in the East End, Brixton, or wherever a new vibe seems to be going on, and I’ll make notes on any new street trends I can see. Finally, I’ll come back to the studio and start gathering yarns, colour chips, images and swatches. I’ll doodle and sketch before playing about on my needles, hooks and machines to produce some samples. Then tweaking goes on for a bit, before I decide whether to put a design into my shop or not. This coming season, there are 4 main stories, only one of which I don’t think I’ll use much. It’s pale and neutral and doesn’t really suit my work much.     There’s a bright story, full of unexpected yarn combinations, like sheer striped with thick and chunky, and with blocky, graphic colours, some of which haven’t been round for a while (I really like that emerald green). So far, my work on this one has yielded thoughts about geometric patterned knitted ties, colour work crochet purses, 80s Memphis-type patterns knitted into socks and bags, and busy patterned scarves. I’m enjoying playing about with these ideas.       There’s also a very wearable country-tweed with a twist story, that knits fine yarns together to produce subtly-changing shadowy stripes. I’ve done some pieces like this before, and I’m adding in more texture this time, to keep it fresh. The colours of peacock, grass green and gold are really new and lovely to combine. I’m still at the early stages with this story but it feels like it will inspire some new colour combinations.               Finally, my favourite story is season has to be the ‘interesting darks’ theme. Maybe it’s the old Goth in me but I am so happy when colors you can’t quite define come into vogue like this: a plum shot with deep violet, a greeny-black that is as rich as a beetle shell, a dark grey petrol…Within this theme there is the idea of adding a toot of metallic or glitter somewhere. Just a touch, mind, nothing ostentatious. When paired with the fluffy, furry and feathery textures that are also in fashion, this is intriguing, as the glint of metals iridescence peeps out at irregular intervals. I’ve been gathering yarns for this theme, and am leaning towards fluffy hats, snoods and big cosy scarves, all with a hint of shine somewhere. It’s fun combining yarns I wouldnt have paired before, and I am even using some of my archive Italian yarns from the 1990s, which seem to suit this look so well. I’ll add photos of the new finished pieces to my gallery page as they are complete, and they will be in my shops by the start of September. Just in time for the really early bird shoppers! So you see, it’s not so mad after all to be knitting warm hats in July….

As publishing day approaches…

I’m allowed to now share some sneak peeks of some of the projects from my upcoming book, Knitting Basics, to be published by CICO Books in April 2015. Over the next few weeks I will show you a few images from the photo shoot, and some of my own process photos taken on the journey.

Let’s start with the cover, shown above.

Besides the project shots on the cover you can see some of the instructional diagrams taken from the workshops. There are 20 workshops in all, and each has a project that follows on and gets you putting the skills learned into practice. If you’ve seen any of CICO’s other successful books in this series, Sewing Basics, Sewing School Basics, Sewing Machine Basics and Crochet Basics you’ll be familiar with the concept. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to seek them out.

OK, so here’s the first project I’m going to share: it’s from workshop 3, which covers various ways to combine knit and purl stitches into a rib pattern, amongst other things. The project is a sweet baby beanie, topped off with a very oversized pompom. I was a bit worried that the pom would be too big but it worked out OK. If you use a pompom maker then it’s easy-peasy to chop down your pompom to the size you want. I use the Clover large size pompom maker and find it saves a ton of time. It’s really easy to use too.

Baby bobble hat

photo © PENNY WINCER, KNITTING BASICS published by CICO Books (£14.99)

And here is a sneak peek of some of the detail of another project, from workshop 16, which focuses on the colour work technique of intarsia: a terrifying prospect for some knitters, but with patience and careful organisation of your yarns it’s a really exciting technique. I’d say it’s like painting with yarn, because you can create whatever you like. We cover this step by step, but a top tip if you’re going to start designing your own intarsia motifs is to get hold of some knitter’ s graph paper, which will make the whole process much more intuitive.

This project is a child’s sweater with a central animal motif: what do you think it is? I’ve used lovely Debbie Bliss Rialto DK to knit this up: gorgeous colours and great stitch definition.

photo TRACEY LORD, KNITTING BASICS published by CICO Books (£14.99)

More sneak peeks to come over the next few weeks, and details of where I’ll be talking about the book, and which publications you can find excerpts in. Let me know what you think!

In praise of purple

Purple has always figured large in my family. It’s been my favourite colour since I was a child, and my maternal grandmother was completely obsessed with it. So much so that she would go to her weekly bingo nights dressed in an extravagant range of hues from lilac to deep violet (occasionally bordering on gaudy) but we loved her for her refusal to dress like an old lady, something she kept up until she was very old indeed. By the way, she never won at the bingo, due to her refusal to admit she needed to wear her hearing aid….

Last week would have been her birthday. I have a ritual of buying purple flowers for her on the day; they were in short supply this year for some reason, but I managed to find a sweet-scented hyacinth. She would have liked that. And I love coming into the living room in the morning and inhaling the soft perfume.


As I’ve got older, I still treasure purple. But I’ve refined my preferences to a particular area of the purple spectrum: towards blue rather then red, with my absolute favourite being that almost Yves Klein [link takes you to Tate website] violet/ultramarine hue. Funnily enough I don’t often wear purple, but I just love looking  at it.

According to the colour theorist and psychologist Faber Birren, in his work Colour and Human Response [1978], to show a preference for purple as your favourite colour indicates that you are “sensitive and have above-average taste. While vanity may be involved, the purple lovers have unusual endowments, are fond of all the arts, of philosophy, the ballet, symphony, and other such refined pursuits. They may be temperamental, but easy to live with if one is accepted by them. They carefully avoid the mores sordid and vulgar aspects of life and have high ideas for themselves and for everyone else- but to their standards.” Now, I’m not going to pretend that either my grandmother or myself spent a lot of time engaging in “the ballet” or “symphony and other such refined pursuits”. But I’ll take some of the other insights!

On the other hand, Birren says that to dislike purple indicates “difficulty separating spiritual qualities in others from that which is wordly” and people who dislike purple are “enemies of pretense [sic], vanity, conceit, and will readily disparage things cultural, which to them may be purely artificial”. I’d prefer to view Birren’s analyses of colour preference as something to be taken with a pinch of salt (as indeed, he also seems to) – but it’s nice to hear that purple is associated with the arts, at any rate!

Did you know that the origin of the word purple is Purpura, a mollusc that was used to dye purple cloth in ancient times, and one whose dye was very highly valued.

Purple is one of the few colours that has a similar message across many cultures: purple does tend to signify royalty, richness and empire, and sometimes piety. It has absolutely no sense of frugality or restraint about it. It’s associated with silks, satins, velvets and tulles. If you want a rustic hairshirt, look elsewhere.

There’s probably never been a time when I didn’t use violet or purple in my work, and I have to actually restrain myself from always gravitating towards it in a yarn shop. Here are some recent impulse purchases – notice a theme?


sized for toddlers age 1 to 3, all cotton

from top: sized for 6-12 months, 0-6 months, 1 to 3 years, all cotton: from my Cheese at Fourpence Etsy shop

So I was very happy to see that British Vogue are touting purple as one of their key trends for spring summer 2015. The perfect excuse to indulge myself in working with my favourite! Here are a few recent pieces I’ve made that are influenced by this trend and also the trend for geisha/kimono designs. I’m in the process of adding them to my online shops and I’ll be at craft fairs with them in the next few months, details to come soon.


I think my dog shares my love of purple: she singled this skein of yarn out for some naughty play when I was out recently…

Oh yes, one last violet indulgence for you: if you want the complete violet experience, seek out Penhaligons’ Violetta perfume, which is the absolute essence of Parma Violets.  Some might call it “a bit old lady” but when I think about the particular old lady it reminds me of, I’m proud to wear it.