A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book

img_0566I guess by now you may have realised that I am completely addicted to Fair Isle knitting in all its forms.  In fact I am even designing a pair of stranded socks at the moment.  Something I never thought I would do!

I’m not sure why or how my love affair started but the idea of having a lovely yarn in each hand and being able to create the most delicious patterns satisfies my love for knitting and for graphics as well.

Thanks to Phil at The Twisted Yarn blog I was alerted to an amazing bit of Fair Isle porn, recently published by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers – God bless them, each and every one – with some help from The Shetland Times.

Not only is A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book In Colour essential reading (or should that be viewing) for incurable stranders like me, but it is a wonderful snapshot of patterns from the past that we can all share.

The book is dedicated to the many women and girls who knitted at all hours of the day and night, in all conditions, to keep the knitwear industry supplied with quality, hand-crafted garments. Please take a moment to salute them!

img_0571Most of the patterns go back to the 1930s an 40s from two notebooks belonging to Bill Henry at Anderson & Co, although he probably didn’t design the patterns.  The book tells us more about the company and the knitters that worked there as well as explaining where and how the patterns might have been used.

What follows is page after page of colourful designs mapped out on graph paper, some pages with dates or notes – a loving facsimile of the original books.  From simple 3 stitch and four row repeats to complex patterns often involving 3 colours on one row,  the designs from notebook one are a brilliant resource.

Notebook two gives a little more information showing which designs were for gloves (front and back), Norwegian inspired designs and which complemented clan tartans.

I could go on and on about the wonders of this publication but I won’t.  All I will say is you can buy it here.



Brioche Honeycomb Stitch – almost


When I travelled to the Faroe Islands in July we met a lovely designer who works under the name Shisa Brand. You see her window ornaments everywhere – silhouettes of puffins flying or landing laser cut out of black plexiglass that are very charming.  She also makes fantastic leather goods but the items that caught my eye were her knitwear designs.  One scarf and jumper featured a stitch that she described as a honeycomb stitch.  A quick bit of resarch and I found out it is called honeycomb brioche stitch.  There are lots of tutorials online but none of them looked as easy and straight forward as the method she showed us.

The instructions go something like this:

Cast on an even number of stitches.

Knit the first and last stitch at each end of every row – I won’t include these stitches in the instructions.

The pattern is a 4 row repeat.

Row 1: *k1, kb (knit the next stitch into the stitch below).  Repeat from * to the end of the row.

Row 2: *k1st with loop, k1. Repeat from * to the end of the row.

Row 3: *kb, k1 .  Repeat from * to the end of the row.

Row 4: *k1,k1st with loop. Repeat from * to the end of the row.

This is the lovely fabric you get as a result.


I have made a little video to help you get to grips with the instructions.





Over the summer walking our dogs has been squeezed in between assignments, often at the end of the day as a bit of a chore.

Today I needed to find some inspiration so after I had dropped Reef off at school I took the dogs up to our local wood.   Ours is a busy town with lots of commuters heading in to London and more coming in to WGC to work at places like Tesco’s HQ or Roche pharma.  It is too easy to forget how close we actually are to nature.



Sherrard’s Wood is located alongisde the A1 and is a real haven as well as being a wood of special scientific interest.  With the recent rain you can smell the dank earth that will soon be sprouting all kinds of mushrooms.  The leaves haven’t really started falling yet so it is lovely and green with the sun streaming through. There are scots pines, beech, birch, oak, sweet chestnut, hornbeam and other trees I don’t know.  We often meet other dog owners we know and do that oh so British thing – comment on the weather.

Walking helps me to think, to set my day in order and focus my mind.  Sometimes I find myself drafting a tricky sentence in my head and it’s often when I get my mad ideas. The dogs quite like it too.


Harris Tweed


My DH and I spent a glorious 2 weeks on the Isles of Lewis and Harris with our dogs (but no kids) about a month or so ago.  This post is giving me a wonderful opportunity to mull over our experience and the wonderful things we saw and did. The people are so friendly and welcoming and the scenery is something I will always remember and visit again, and again. I had a wonderful chance to catch up with design guru, Alice Starmore, and meet her highland cattle, and our dogs even won prizes at the local agricultural show!

We stayed in Lochside House overlooking the loch at Tosta Chaolais (pronounced Hoolish with a guttural H), a wonderful village on the west side of Lewis.  We couldn’t quite believe the view when we arrived – it was the highlight of each and every day.


The second day, when we walked through the village we heard the sounds of a weaving loom working, a sound you hear all over the island.  Being a bit of a textile nut I was determined to find out more about the legendary Harris Tweed.

We were lucky enough to be shown round Harris Tweed Hebrides, a relatively new company in Shawbost.  The mill spins the tweed yarn and designs the fabrics but the actual weaving, as determined by an act of Parliament, must be woven by crofters in their homes.  Just think about that for a moment.  Somewhere around 180 weavers, contracted and independent, weave the Harris Tweed in sheds and back rooms that is then exported as a much-prized fabric around the world.

Now I’ve seen a fair bit of spinning over the years but I have never seen a blow room where the fibres are literally blown together to begin the blending process before carding and spinning.  It takes a while to get your head round that the bunch of fibre on the left becomes the roving on the right.

The yarn is then wound onto a warping beam as per the fabric’s design and is then wound off on to the weaver’s beam before being delivered to the weaver with all the weft yarn they need to complete the fabric.  When I visited a weaver a few days after the trip to the factory, there was the beam ready to be woven, which really tickled me.

Each length of fabric is carefully finished and then authenticated by someone from the Harris Tweed Authority with a special iron stamp.  I think I actually squealed when I was allowed to iron the stamp on myself.


Lorna Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Authority was very generous with her time and I spent a fascinating morning hearing about the history and how the industry has changed.  In the 1960s over 7 million yards of Harris Tweed were produced each year.  In 2009 this had fallen to around 400,000 metres – a catastrophic decline.  But thanks to the Authority’s hard work and the emergence of Harris Tweed Hebrides, the industry now produces 1.2 million metres a year, which makes it sustainable and allows the crofters a regular income.  This growth is also encouraging younger people to move in to every aspect of the Harris Tweed process through a very well thought out programme which embeds vocational qualifications into the curriculum of the islands.

I came away with an even greater respect for Harris Tweed and all the wonderful people involved in its regeneration. They were all an inspiration and I really valued the time they gave me to share their passion.


Pretty Knitted Hands


From autumn to spring I always have a pair of fingerless mitts close at hand for chilly days, walking the dogs but mainly because I like them.  I tend to wear mainly black and grey so they are a great way to introduce a bit of colour. If I’m experimenting with a new pattern or yarn, I’ll often knit up a pair.  I would rarely splurge on something like cashmere for a garment but when it comes to mitts…..

Well this year I’m not going to have any problem finding patterns – my worry is whther I have enough scrumptious yarn – because of a great new book that arrived in the post called Pretty Knitted Hands by Clara Falk and Kamilla Svanlund.

The 27 patterns have been broken down into seasons and although some of the designs are definitely not my taste, there is enough variety for everyone. The techniques such as Latvian braid are explained clearly, and there is a nice mix of cables, lace and colour work, wrist warmers and full mittens.

To my mind this is a book to buy now for all that christmas gift knitting I’m sure you have already started planning.

Hello again

It has been a month since I last posted.  I had every intention of writing while I was away with work and on holiday, but dodgy internet connections put paid to that.  I think I also just needed a break, sitting and knitting while overlooking a beautiful loch on the Outer Hebrides.

But I am back and wanted to share a bit about where I have been. The first week was spent in the Faroe Islands with a group of knitters on an Arena Travel holiday.  We had such fun and learned a huge amount about the islands; they have a population of 50,000 and 75,000 sheep; they  wear their national dress at any opportunity; they like to eat a stew made from ‘fermented’ lamb’s meat; they learned how to cut peat and line fish from the Shetland islanders many hundreds of years ago; many houses have grass on the roof to help protect against the storm; they love to knit.

hut for drying food

We had a fantastic guide who took us to several museums, a walking tour of Torshavn (the capital) and to meet the producers of Snaeldan and Navia wool.  The historical knitted items were fascinating.

He was just so knowledgeable and happy to share the history of the islands.  I loved the lovely little churches dotted around the coast, two of which you can see here.

The ladies I was teaching came from all over the world and learned continental knitting, two-handed Fair Isle and steeking as well as a basic tutorial in Dorset buttons.

We packed so much in to our week on these amazing islands and I would love to go back.  If you want to read more I am currently writing an article for The Knitter

Holiday Dilemmas

As the holiday season approaches I am getting more and more stressed.  Not only will I be taking a break with DH (our first grown-up holiday in more than 20 years), but I am also travelling with Arena Travel to the Faroe Islands to teach.  It’s not the packing and remembering to pack the travel plug and ALL the chargers I need.  IT’s choosing which knitting and crochet projects to take with me.Of course I do have a list, but narrowing it down is giving me sleepless nights.

Here is the long, un-edited version.


I am a huge fan of Sofie Digard and have been crocheting different sizes of granny squares in Noro Sekku lace (now discontinued).  This project is crocheted on a 2.5mm hook and is very fine and portable.


I have cast on Stripes Gone Crazy by Atelier Alfa in Gomitoli’s 4 ply Lambswool (grey) and Lambswool Cashmere in a lovely light green.  This is a top down cardi and so far a very satisfying knit.

My relatively new sock addiction offers me lots of possibilities and I have a pair on the go in Zauberball.  It’s my own design incorporating a strong heel – kind of mindless knitting that I can remember off by heart and can pick up and put down without losing my place.

Gallret_20rott_small2Bohus Stickning’s Red Grillwork was a pressie to myself earlier in the year and I have wanted to get this started for a while.  I need to read the pattern thoroughly before I go to make sure I know what I am doing.


The Knitter have commissioned a wrap in Kauni Effektgarn lace featuring Transylvanian cross stitch designs, re-interpretated as Fair Isle.  It will have a very long steek so I can fringe it once it is cut.  This is a big knit and I really need to get on with it.

Then there’s a cushion I want to knit from Jamieson’s of Shetland to use up some stash, some socks for my neighbours little boy, a crocheted moebius wrap for the winter…… I could go on and on.

So my question to you is how many and which projects should I take?  I will undoubtedly knit less than I expect and I do want to finish something.

Ho hum, back to the list.