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Filtering by Tag: design

Off the Needles: Ada



I have mentioned earlier that I've embarked on a series of collaborations with Jennifer Leinhard of Woolfinch Studio. Basically, I am designing some patterns using Woolfinch Studio yarns, and it is a tremendously satisfying project. One of the things I find uncanny about working with Jennifer, is that we have a similar design aesthetic - to the point that a few times we have emailed each other sketches simultaneously, and the sketches looked nearly identical. 

When designing a pattern for her merino Pastel Twist yarn, we both had the idea for a scoop neck top with 3/4 sleeves. Mine included ruffles and a flared hem. Hers was a more basic cropped top. But at the core, it seemed to me, they were really the same garment.

Inspired perhaps by my recent dealigns with sewing patterns, I then decided to design two versions of the same top. 

The result is 'Ada and Ardor.' Whether the literary reference makes you smile or cringe, the names feel apt to me. The Woolfinch Studio Pastel Twist is a soft, ethereal-looking yarn that has a sense of wistfulness and nostalgia about it. It makes me think of 'Old Europe.' Long summer nights. Walks through abandoned, overgrown gardens... It's a yarn that shows restraint, but also a hidden splendor. 

Ada is an elegantly modest cropped scoopneck pullover with 3/4 sleeves and subtle shaping through the bodice. Ardor is an exuberant cardigan with a deep ruffled neckline, dramatic waist shaping, and flared hem. 

The designs are essentially each other's alter egos.


Whether I can communicate all this in the finished pieces remains to be seen. But at any rate, I now have Ada mostly done, and the result looks pleasingly as-intended. After it's blocked and properly photographed, I will undo the neckband, cuffs and hem, and re-knit them, transforming the sweater into Ardor. 

As steeking will be involved to turn the pullover into a cardigan, the process will be irreversible and Ardor she shall remain from that point on... which I think is all right with me. 

I am not yet sure whether Ada and Ardor will be written as two separate patterns, or as one pattern with two options. But most likely the latter - allowing the knitter to make their way through a good chunk of the garment before deciding which version feels right. 

With Ada now laying out flat to dry, I look forward to completing this project and sharing the final result.





The Sweater Sequence


It was recently pointed out to me that I knit my (top down) sweaters in what is apparently not the usual sequence! The usual one, I suppose, being: yoke, bodice, sleeves, collar? In that case, true enough. I knit the yoke. Then the sleeves, one at a time. Then, if the design calls for picking up the collar, I knit the collar. And only then do I finish the bodice and hem. 

To be honest, I don't really think there is a correct vs an incorrect sequence to knitting a sweater, as long as you get all of it done in the end! Nevertheless, if my way of doing it seems weird I can explain the reason behind the madness: I am usually designing/improvising the sweater as I am knitting it. And when design-knitting the bodice, decisions about shaping and length need to be made. To make those decisions the sweater needs to hang properly off the shoulders - which it can't do without the sleeves present. Before the sleeves are attached, the empty armholes curl and the yoke puckers up a bit, changing the fit of the garment compared to how it will be when the weight of the sleeves pulls at both sides, if that makes sense.  So that's why I need the sleeves, you see, to get the rest of it just right.

Also? With the rest of the sweater done, I know exactly how much yarn I have left as I approach the hem, and whether I have the option of turning the sweater into a tunic or dress at the end. 

Of course, if you are working from a pattern and your knitting does not involve this type of decision-making, it might be handier to knit the whole thing top-down, and then add the sleeves. Although who is to say? One knitter I know prefers to do both sleeves in tandem with the bodice - work a few inches on the bodice, then a few inches on sleeve 1, then on sleeve 2, and so on round and round. Otherwise she gets bored with the monotony of doing an entire sleeve, or bodice, in one go.

In the end, it's to each their own. If we knit long enough, we all develop our own little methods that, whether or not they appear logical to others, make sense to us! 

That being said: What's your sweater sequence? 



Informative Failures: Sideways Sweater Construction


At any given point, there are so many knitting design ideas swimming around in my head that editing out 99% of them is crucial to being productive. For that reason, I find it very useful to know what I don't like to knit, so that I don't waste my brainpower even considering those types of projects. For instance: Shawls. Toe-up socks. Anything on a needle thicker than 10mm. Anything knitted flat.

And now I can add another thing to that list: sideways construction!

To discover that I dislike this type of knitting was a bit of a disappointment. Sideway sweaters and dresses just look so cool, and I could not wait to make one. I even came up with the perfect method to knit a sideways tunic almost-seamlessly, and here it is for anyone who wants to try it:

1. Starting on your front right, cast on your side stitches (from shoulder to hem) provisionally, on a straight needle. 
2. Knit back and forth across the front, inserting optional short rows to give the hem an A-line shape
3. When the fabric is long enough, place 1/3 stitches on scrap yarn for the left armhole. Then provisionally cast on the same number of stitches and continue knitting. 
4. Repeat Step 2 for the back.
5. Kitchner the side stitches, leaving arm holes open
6. Matrass stitch the shoulders.
7. Pick up stitches at armholes and knit sleeves top-down in the round.  

And Voila! 

Well, not so fast. I got as far Step 3, before an unbearable sense of Knitting Ennui overtook me. There is no legitimate reason why. My design seemed to be working out as I intended. When I draped the fabric over me everything looked right, and the yarn/gauge/style/colour were all playing together nicely. I just hated the actual act of working on it. Watching the fabric grow sideways was not as satisfying as watching it grow top down in the round. I also found it hard to cope with the realisation that I had no control over this garment's length after casting on! It really should not have mattered, as I got the length correct. But it did matter, and overall I just was not enjoying the experience of knitting this tunic. 

Considering I had already done half the torso, I did not want to act hastily, and so I set the project aside rather than ripping it out. But coming back to it a few weeks later, I am looking at the prospect of finishing it with the same sense of dread that I had when I left off. So... looks like it will get ripped out after all. And I can put 'sideways construction sweaters' on my list of Things I Don't Enjoy Knitting. It's a failure to be sure. But an informative failure.

That said, I still love the look of sideways sweaters, tunics and dresses, and my hat's off to anyone who enjoys making them. 

If you want to give it a try, there are loads of patterns up on ravelry if you do a search for 'sideways,' among my favourites this dress and this tunic. If you prefer to improvise your own patterns feel free to use my instructions, if you can make sense of them! And for a quick low-emotional investment experimental knit, try going with a DK or Aran weight yarn on oversized needles. 

'Top of the Morning' and Woolfinch Studio


Just so we are clear, I have never actually heard an Irish person utter the words 'Top of the morning!' But the phrase popped into my head the first time I wore this sweater. I had stepped out into my garden, and it was covered in dew - the drops reflecting the sky's blues and lilacs onto the green blades of grass. As the sun gained its strength the colours danced and shimmered, and it struck me how well this colour-play matched the yarn of the top I had just knitted. And so, both literal than tongue in cheek, 'Top of the Morning' it became. 

The yarn is a very special rustic cotton-linen blend from Woolfinch Studio - a County Clare-based yarn seller and dyer, with whom I am quite smitten at the moment!  

I am not exactly sure now how I discovered Jennifer of Woolfinch Studio, but it was probably either through instagram, or through browsing Etsy for indie yarn sellers based in Ireland. And as soon as I stumbled upon her shop, I remember being amazed that I liked nearly everything in it. From the yarn blends she chose to stock, to her colour schemes and other aesthetic choices, to the overall 'vibe.' It was all just so wonderful.

While I was seriously enticed by her plant-dyed silk, alpaca and yak blends, I managed to be sensible and ordered instead the stuff I was actually looking for: a moderately priced textured cotton-linen yarn for summer. There must be an official name for this type of yarn, because I see it in the fashion industry from time to time. Jennifer describes it as 'rustic,' so I will go with that. But basically the yarn is spun unevenly, so that it randomly alternates between lacy and chunky. In the knitted-up fabric the effect translates to a beautifully textured gauzy look. The yarn Jennifer stocks is produced for her in small batches, and is available either undyed or in several striking variegated colourways. I chose the 'Moonlight,' which is a mix of lavenders, greens, and blues, and ordered four 100g skeins. I didn't have a concrete idea of what I wanted to make out of it yet, but I knew it would be some sort of breezy summer top.

When the yarn arrived, I was stunned. The colours were somehow simultaneously muted and luminous. And the texture was so soft, I kept wanting to rub the skeins against my face. I remember that I actually went back and checked the product description to confirm that it was cotton-linen and not a silk blend. Amazing.

I experimented at first with some flowing, sleeveless, asymmetrical-hem designs. But for whatever reason this yarn didn't 'want' to become that. What it seemed to want was something basic, understated, and cropped. So I tried a simple raglan top with a round neckline and tapered waist and cuffs - kind of like an early-90s American sweatshirt. And as soon as I began to knit that, I knew that was it. The juxtaposition of this design's familiar simplicity and the yarn's exhuberance worked perfectly. Knit up on slightly oversized needles, the amount of drape and movement created by the yarn and pattern combination was also spot on. 

Knitting up quickly, the yarn was such a tactile pleasure to work with, that I sent a note to Woolfinch to tell her that. This set off a series of conversations, which eventually led to us deciding to work together. For some time now, I had been hoping to meet a small independent yarn seller with whom I could work with to create patterns. As it happened, Jennifer had been hoping to meet a pattern designer who could work with her yarns. So... here we are. I am delighted to now be working on some designs specific to Woolfinch Studio yarns.

As a start to our collaboration, we will be releasing the 'Top of the Morning' pattern at the end of May. It will be available as a standalone pattern, and also as a kit with Woolfinch Studio's stunning Rustic Cotton-Linen blend. Please stay tuned, and I will announce the release date shortly - along with more details about this easy summer pattern. In the meanwhile, do visit Woolfinch Studio either on instagram or at her etsy shop, to have a look at her beautiful plant-dyed yarns and other offerings. 

The Start of a Handknit Winter Wardrobe


Earlier this week, we were in the throes of a heatwave, and I used the opportunity to wash and air-dry my heavy winter knits before putting them away for the summer. This also gave me a chance to review what I had made for myself, and consider how successful it was. 

While I had made sweaters before on occasion, I began knitting them in earnest in 2014. The first one I made for myself at this time was a fluffy lilac thing, which I knit in super-bulky yarn on size 10mm needles, in an improvised bottom-up design in the round. I then immediately proceeded to crank out maybe half a dozen similar sweaters, which I either sold or gave as gifts. This brought more orders, and by 2016 I was all sweatered-out yet had only one, now tattered, self-knit sweater to my name! 

So... my goal for winter 2016-17 was to start a winter wardrobe for myself. Ideally I wanted to replace my remaining store-bought sweaters with handknits, and to no longer buy sweaters retail at all.

With this aim, I started to knit in September. I began with a bulky multi-coloured Rowan yarn, which I impulse-bought on sale at my friend Lisa's shop. Working on 10mm needles, it took me only a few days to turn it into a sweater ...and I regretted it immediately, as the resulting cheery rainbow-coloured thing wasn't really 'me.' However, I get so many compliments on this sweater, that over time I grew to like it!

After the bulky piece, I proceeded to 'get rid of' some dense heathery aran wool I had in my stockpile, the origins of which I no longer recall. Finally I dared to knit myself a cabled circular yoke sweater out of the Donegal tweed I had hitherto reserved for gifts and paid projects. 

Then came the dresses... the first of which was really an unintended outcome of my switch to top-down knitting! Once I got to the hips, I had yarn left over and thought 'might as well.' I then liked wearing the dress so much, that I wanted more of them. Two of the dresses I made in Donegal tweed, and one in another unknown-origins dense and sheepish mystery yarn that needed depleting.

All in all, my handknits for Winter 2016-2017 consisted of 3 funnel-neck pullover sweaters and 3 funnel-neck sweater dresses, all intentionally quite heavy and warm, as I spent a lot of time outdoors in the cold, wind, and rain. These 6 garments basically saw me through the worst of the cold season. I rotated between them, pairing them with woolen leggings, jeans, tights and various underlayers. I did not wear any store-bought sweaters over this past winter - not out of principle, but simply because the ones I made for myself fit better and proved better suited to my lifestyle.

Looking at these garments all together, I can see how much my knitting has 'come into itself' over the past year. The process of making these enhanced my love and appreciation of Donegal tweed, cemented my preference for top-down, over bottom-up construction, and reminded me how much I love to wear - and make - dresses. In the course of making these, I also - for the first time - began to note down my stitch counts, etc., and to envision some of these as future patterns.  

I have been making other things throughout 2016-2017 - including myriads of hats and socks, and a few sweaters and dresses for others. But prioritising my own wardrobe has proven incredibly useful. Not just in the obvious sense of supplying me with things to wear, but also in helping me hone my methods, improve my planning skills, and start thinking more consciously about design.

Goal for next winter: Ideally I would like to double my handmade winter garments. Wearing the same six again and again does run the risk of 'overdosing' on them, no matter how nice the knits!