Exhibitions, General, Knitted Art

Soft Engineering Exhibition, a review of Textiles Taking Shape

In Hampshire (UK) we have been gifted yet again by the Winchester Discovery Centre with another fabulous textile exhibition. This time it is a group show by soft engineers: Alison Ellen (hand knitting), Ann Richards (weaver) and Deirdre Wood (weaver). Together they are demonstrating the common threads between knitting and weaving and show how the materials they use in their methods, particularly when working with materials of very different qualities side by side, spontaneously shape the constructed fabric.

Deidre Wood weaves with materials of contrasting physical property. The work is straight during the weaving process but when cut from the loom and soaked in water it reshapes itself.

Deidre Wood interlocking circles low res
Deidre Wood, Interlocking Rings, silk, linen and wool.

In contrast Ann Richards work exploits the different spin directions of high twist yarns to create her sculptural effects. Again the work is woven straight and the properties of the yarns are allowed to exert their influence once it is cut out and wetted.

Ann Richards scarves low res
Ann Richards double cloth pleated scarf

I was fascinated by the work of these sculptural weavers, having not been exposed to it before. I was, however, more familiar with the work of hand knitter Alison Ellen who introduced me to the joys of modular knitting a number of years back when I attended a couple of her workshops at West Dean College.

At the time I was working through my City and Guilds Hand Knit Design course and was struggling a little with the process of translating seemingly unrelated visual inspiration into knitted fabric. As a life long knitter with no previous design training, I had always worked from the other way around. That is using an ongoing inquiring experimental process with yarns and stitches (a “I wonder what would happen if I did/used this to……”), creating samples, and the properties and appearance of those samples then suggesting to me what garment they would lend themselves to.

It was a relief when I met Alison as she also appeared to be working (successfully) in this direction too and while it wouldn’t have helped me to pass my City and Guilds, I have continued to use this process, particularly in my knitted art practice, alongside the more conventional design process which I am pleased to say with practice has now become second nature.

Alison Ellen sweater low res
Alison Ellen modular sweater in wool.

Alison’s garments allow the stitches to shape the fabric. She is well known for using a modular approach, allowing herself to effect the drape of the constructed fabric by changing the bias. I have had the pleasure of trying on some of her cardigans and sweaters at a previous workshop and have seen others in them too. They transform once a body is put inside them, and create the most flattering garments due to this bias and drape effect. She has a number of wonderful design books too so if this type of knitting excites you I highly recommend them.

Alison Ellen Books low res
Alison Ellen’s books (you can see my copies are well thumbed)

So my love affair with modular knitting is probably all Alison’s fault (thank you lovely lady!). Some of you will already be familiar with my Weimwood Shawl design (pattern available from Etsy here and if you would like to learn more about this type of knitting, I have two workshops coming up devoted to modules. The first is on Saturday 10 February at Wyvern College in Eastleigh. More details and booking is via the Ashcroft Centre here. The second is a slightly shorter session on Saturday 17 February 2018 at the fabulous Unravel Festival of Knitting in Farnham. More details can be found here.

modular scarf portrait low res
The Modular Scarf design for my upcoming workshops.

I highly recommend you visit this exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre if you can. It is free entry and I’m sure those of you interested in textile art and engineering will find it very interesting. If I have whetted your appetite for modular knitting it would also be lovely to see you on one of my workshops.

Until next time….




General, Knitting Know How

How to plan your approach to the New Year yarn sales

Happy 2018 to you!

As my inbox is currently full of e mails offering me lots of yummy yarn at discounted prices I thought it would be helpful if my first post of the year shared my previous mistakes and gave you some guidance on how to avoid a costly seasonal yarn binge. I’m not saying don’t buy as that would be hypocritical of me. But do go into it with a plan as the kiddy in a sweet shop approach, in my experience, doesn’t usually go well.

My first spot of advice would be, know what you want to knit first and find the appropriate yarn to make it with. Try not to be tempted by the bargain pack of 12 balls thinking you will be able to find something to make from it later. If you are anything like me, that pack will go into the stash cupboard and probably never see the light of day as other designs catch your attention before you get around to it. In a short space of time that yarn starts to look dated, or worse still becomes moth food.

Even if you are working pattern before yarn as I suggest above, there are still pitfalls to avoid with the sales, the biggest one being colour. We all have a favourite colour palette and if you have ever had your colours analysed on a style and colour day (great fun and highly recommended, particularly if you go along with another person who knows you well) you will be aware that some colours just don’t suit you. Isn’t it tempting when you look up the yarn you want and see that some of the colours are half price? The temptation to “save a fortune” can often override the knowledge that you never e.g. wear hot pink, and on that basis you don’t have anything else in your wardrobe that would go with it either! So that 100 hours of work on that beautiful sweater is all wasted.

Also, remember that the fashion industry works on annual colour palettes. You might have noticed that there tends to be a predominance of a certain colour or colours in all the high street windows at once. How did they all choose the same one? The answer is that Pantone release an annual colour palette and the fashion industry embrace it. Once the new season is upon us, the on trend colours of the previous year and/or season are often discounted to make way for the new ones. So even if you did bring yourself to wear your hot pink sweater, that colour could be sooo last year! And just for your information, Pantone’s colour of 2018 is Ultra Violet. Think Prince and his Purple Rain album cover. I can guarantee you’ll start to see it everywhere pretty soon.

Prince purple rain

Of course if your favourite colour is actually hot pink and you know you look great in it, fill your boots!

The last temptation to be aware of is trying to use a discounted yarn in place of the recommended yarn when actually the yarn type just isn’t suited to the pattern. By this I mean, if the sweater you are making is stranded colour work in Shetland wool, beware buying e.g. a cotton 4ply instead, on the basis that the ball band states the same tension ranges as your pattern, and it is in the sale. Now the finished item might actually look amazing, but the properties of the two yarn materials is so different that it won’t look anything like the picture on the pattern instructions. Be prepared for a surprise and also be aware that regardless of ball band information, it probably won’t work to the same tension either so if you do want to embark on this knitting adventure, swatch, swatch, swatch…..

I hope I haven’t been too much of a party pooper with this post? My aim was not to curtail your sales fun but rather suggest a planned approach to your sales yarn purchasing. Have fun buying, and most of all knitting, with your yummy yarn.

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Know your colour scheme (even if it is beige!)



My top five listening recommendations for knitting and stitching to

Knitting and stitching are wonderful meditative practices and sometimes peace and quiet (or a gently snoring dog) is the most soothing accompaniment. However, for me, having my hands busing working on something repetitive actually improves my listening skills.

I am one of those doodlers in a meeting who, far from being bored and distracted, is concentrating harder on what is  being said through the use of a physical focus. I would have taken knitting to meetings when I worked in an office but I think that would have been tolerated less and misinterpreted even more than drawing on my hand outs. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon involving different parts of the brain, which I have yet to look into. In the meantime I thought I would share with you my current top five things to listen to while knitting.

Doodling, an age old meeting survival tactic. Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash


I am a massive fan of these and have a 24 book (which only lasts me about 9 months!) annual subscription with audible.co.uk. Many people view listening to audiobooks as something less productive than reading. However, I have found that some stories really come to life with the right narrator. Some of my regular readers will know already what a massive fan of Terry Pratchett I am and his books definitely fall into this category.

At this time of the year I usually indulge in a Charles Dickens novel as nothing quite beats his witty observations of Victorian England to put me in the festive mood. Last Christmas I enjoyed Great Expectations one of my favourite novels from childhood. This December I am listening to Hard Times. Both of these novels are expertly narrated by Martin Jarvis and if you haven’t read a Dickens novel for a while I throughly recommend you listen to one of these.

Your listening friend, what did we do without them? Photo by William Iven on Unsplash


Being more of an enjoyer of fiction than chat, I came quite late to the podcast genre but am now finding myself listening to more and more of these interview and magazine style programmes. The first I’d like to recommend to you is “Tea and Tattle” a marvellously feminine lifestyle podcast (I was put off to start with, expecting make up and fashion tips but was pleasantly surprised after listening to it). It is presented by best friends Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler and really does feel like you are having a chat over a cup of tea in a cosy kitchen about things ranging from literature to business to hygge.

At the other end of the spectrum I love listening to “Under the Skin” a sometimes risky and occasionally controversial podcast hosted by Russell Brand. I know he is a bit Marmite but I find him honest and entertaining and the subjects he discusses are current and thought provoking.

All you need is a mic and a computer. Photo by Elliot Sloman on Unsplash

Radio Six Music.

For times when I am likely to be moving around a bit more and can’t concentrate quite so hard on the spoken word I choose the radio as my background. For many years my choice of station has been the fabulous Six Music. This is a digital only station where the DJs are all passionate about music either having been in, or currently still in, bands themselves (Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Huey Morgan etc) or music journalists e.g. Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe. The result is a station which looks at music as a whole, not restricting itself to one or two genres, and where current releases are played alongside great and inspiring music from previous decades. I have been introduced to so many new bands through this station as well as authors, comedians and actors who have either been interviewed or have guest hosted their own show.

Radio is still my sound salvation Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash


I was brought up in a household where music was the constant background courtesy of my father and his extremely wide taste in music. This is a man who went halves with me when I bought Prince’s Purple Rain album as a teenager, was extremely fond of Pink Floyd (I can’t hear Shine on you Crazy Diamond without remembering Dad and my childhood), was just as likely to have a classical album on as a rock/pop one, and who initiated my love of Jazz, a musical taste that I share with Mr B and indulge in regularly through visits to local live music venues in our locality. The most recent of these was a trip to the wonderful Turner Sims music venue at Southampton University to see the extremely talented jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and his trio. I have since been playing rather a lot of his 2015 album, Space, Time, Continuum. Dad would have loved it.

Enjoying the talent of others. Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

Midsomer Murders re runs.

And finally, here comes the guilty pleasure. If the TV remote is the only form of entertainment at your fingertips, you can’t beat a bit of Midsomer Murders to stitch to. Its wonderfully formulaic structure, the 95% likelihood of Wogan’s Law coming true (i.e. the most famous actor did it) and the chance that you have seen the episode a number of times before, makes it the perfect programme to have on in the background. If you get stuck on a tricky bit of stitching and have to focus concentration away from the screen, it is unlikely that you won’t catch right back up when your attention can return to it.

The good old TV. Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

What do you like to listen to while you are creating? Do share in the comments. I’d love to hear.

Happy listening.

Exhibitions, General

Christmas Craft Fair in Winchester, Saturday 9 December 2017

I’ve been a busy bee over the past month making Weim and kitty inspired artwork to share with you wonderful folks at the Winchester Discovery Centre Christmas Craft Fair next Saturday 9 December. I love the build up to Christmas and while Mr B is secretly watching the Christmas 24 channel all the way through November, I hold back until 1 December and then let loose with gusto on fairy lights, snuggly knitwear and photos of Weimadogs in antlers. I can not lie, I get a little excited.

The only in person sales event (my Etsy shop is open as usual) I am doing this Christmas is an art and craft fair at the Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday 9 December. It’s free entry so I hope that lots of you can pop in and say hi while you combine it with a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition (see previous post) which is in the same building, and of course a wander around the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.

I’ll be there with my textile sculptures, brooches (new!) and cards, all perfect for one of a kind, hand made, Christmas gifting purposes. Of course there will be lots of other talented makers there too. I hope some of you local lovelies can make it.

Winchester Discovery Centre
A perfect opportunity to pick up one of a kind gifts


Exhibitions, General

Alice Kettle Exhibition “Threads”, an inspiring afternoon in Winchester

I was fortunate to have a whole Saturday to play with this weekend so after convincing Mr B that he would like to have brunch out, we made a cheeky little trip to Winchester. My main motivation was a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition, “Threads”, so after a rather lovely breakfast, we parted company for an hour or so and I made my way to the Discovery Centre.

Alice Kettle is well known in the area due to her links with the City and the Winchester School of Art. A large piece of her work has been hanging in the Discovery Centre for a number of years, although due to its massive size it is probably more visible from the bus as it drives past the building than when up close to it inside the building itself.

The first few pieces of work had me transfixed for quite some time. They were two of her 2011 “Heads”, “Agape” and “Coeus”, consisting of re-cycled offcuts from another huge piece, stitched (incompletely in places) onto folded and pleated fabric backgrounds to create an image that we can’t help but interpret as a face. They are described as being a “remembering” and a “representation of feelings and encounters”. I spent some time sketching “Agape”, an image that really stood out for me (not least because it has a three dimensional quality due to the fabric manipulation) in the exhibition despite it’s relatively small size.

Alice Kettle, my digital drawing after Agape
My drawing of Agape using line where Alice Kettle uses stitch and collaged fabric pieces

The write ups on the walls between the pieces were interesting to read and some of the comments given quite pertinent. Prof Simon Olding from the University of the Creative Arts refers to stitch as “a method of repetition, coverage and endlessness” while Sara Viersen-Corsa makes comment on how embroidery art imitates painting and how painters imitate embroidery in their work.

Alice Kettle is a leading protagonist in the field of collaborative works and a number of the pieces on display in this exhibition illustrate the dynamics of working with another Creative. In “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” a large scale, somewhat disturbing image is calmed by Kirsteen Aubrey’s line of “Glass Grasses” which sit in front and cast beautiful shadows, in places, on the wall behind.

Alice Kettle The Dog Louckanikos
Alice Kettle’s “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” with Kirsteen Aubrey’s “Glass Grasses”

Much of the work shown is the artist’s observation of current affairs. In “Golden Dawn” Kettle marries a Greek myth with current Greek politics in a 360cm long, stitched narrative.

Alice Kettle Golden Dawn
Alice Kettle’s “Golden Dawn”

More comment on the current political landscape is made with a huge piece (792x284cm) called “Sea”. This is Kettle’s attempt at making some sense of the migrant crisis, reflecting both how the UK media have been reporting the events and her own meetings with refugees in the south of England. The result is a piece exploring the differences between people being viewed as anonymous groups via a media complete with it’s own bias, and the impact of the crisis and resulting displacement on individuals. The work also represents the sense of helplessness of the viewer as a witness. I encourage you to go and sit in front of this huge piece of art for a while to get a true sense of its scale.

Other pieces on display include “Orphrey”, a 2006 work done on the Schiffli multi needle commercial embroidery machine. The Schiffli Series of works apparently marked a change in the artist’s approach to creating: “I have liberated the fabric as it was no longer covered in stitch”.

Alice Kettle Schiffli Series Orphrey
Alice Kettle’s “Orphrey”

Another piece that drew my eye, partly because it is predominantly blue and I have a weakness for this particular colour, and partly because it can be seen as a representation of the current turmoil in the UK regarding our exit from the EU and our drift away from the main European continent, was “Sea Figure – Island”.

Alice Kettle Sea Figure Island
Alice Kettle’s “Sea Figure – Island”

The last piece of work I want to show you is a ceramics collaboration with Alex McErlain, inspired by the late medieval “Tring Tiles” on display at the British Museum. For these works the artists have developed their own sgraffito technique in the production of a ceramics collection decorated with narrative imagery.

Alice Kettle ceramics with Alex McErlain
One of the ceramic tiles on display as part of the collaboration with Alex McErlain

My aim of this post is to give you a taster of what to expect and I strongly urge you if you are in the area to go and visit this exhibition yourself. Digital representations taken in low lighting can not do justice to the vibrancy and scale of the works on display. I came away throughly inspired by this talented artist’s work and I hope that you too get to enjoy this exhibition. There is also a rather lovely exhibition book to accompany it which I personally shall be using as a source of inspiration for quite some time.

Alice Kettle’s “Threads” is on until 14 January 2018 and more information can be found here.


General, Knitting Know How

How to work a provisional cast on

Nicky Barfoot presents

Provisional cast ons are a fabulous way of deferring decisions, creating symmetry and producing a cast on edge that mirrors a cast off edge if kept permanent. Let me explain a little more before I show you how I do a crochet chain provisional cast on.

Deferring Decisions

One of the frustrations of working a bottom up design, let’s say a sweater, is that a firm decision needs to be made on the cast on edge and the welt before the main body of the sweater is worked. If one has done their sketching and sampling this should not prove to be a problem but for those of us who have a plan but are easily persuaded to “I wonder what would happen if I just did this …..” half way through said plan, it is near on impossible to change the welt (design, length etc) after the main body has been worked. This is where the provisional cast on really comes into its own. If you have an idea of the main part of the sweater but wish to defer a decision on the welt until the end, you can cast on provisionally, work the body upwards and then come back to the cast on edge, release the stitches and work the welt downwards. Brilliant!

Creating Symmetry

Sometimes a stitch pattern needs to be worked in a certain direction to create the desired effect. Where a mirror image of the stitch pattern is required to complete another side the provisional cast on is, once again, your friend. A great example of this is my leaf and lace scarf design. The way to achieve the leaf motif at both ends of the scarf is to cast on provisionally at the centre back neck and work one side of the scarf to the motif. You then return to the provisional cast on, release the stitches, and work the other side of the scarf down to the leaf motif thereby creating a symmetrical design.

Leaf and Lace scarf. Pattern available in my Etsy Shop here

A decorative cast on edge

As the provisional cast on I am going to show you is a crochet chain, it can look rather decorative especially where teamed with a cast off (also effectively a crochet chain) and/or when worked in a contrast colour. Of course in these circumstances the cast on is no longer provisional but permanent, however it is worked in the same way. I have just finished designing this hat (pattern to come soon once test knitting is completed) where I have used this effect.

Permanent “provisional cast on” teamed with cast off stripes

So, now to the knitty gritty:

How to work a provisional cast on

  1. Using smooth waste yarn and a suitable sized crochet hook start a single crochet chain and work a few repeats (the number is irrelevant here as the cast on has yet to begin). It is really useful if the waste yarn contrasts well with the main yarn as it will make it easier to see when releasing the stitches at the end. Smooth yarns also help prevent snagging, catching and splitting when releasing the chain. I often use a mercerised cotton in a light colour.

    Crochet chain
    Working a few repeats of a crochet chain before starting the cast on over the needle.
  2. Introduce your knitting needle and begin to work the crochet chains over the top of the needle. It is a bit fiddly at first but once you get a rhythm going and remember to swing the working yarn behind the needle again after each chain is pulled through it becomes easier.
    provisional cast on 1
    Start to crochet the chains over the top of the knitting  needle for the cast on stitches.

    provisional cast on sepia2
    Continue until the correct number of stitches are over the knitting needle.
  3. Continue working the required number of chains over the knitting needle until the correct cast on number has been reached. If the cast on is going to be removed at a later date i.e. it is provisional, then continue for a few crochet chains more without the knitting needle before cutting the yarn and pulling through the final chain. Don’t pull too tightly as this will be undone later.

    provisional cast on 3
    After all cast on stitches have been worked, continue the crochet chain for a few stitches before breaking yarn and pulling through.

If the cast on is going to be permanent then obviously it is worked in the correct yarn for the garment. There is no need to work additional stitches at each end of the chain and the last chain loop created is the last cast on stitch and gets slipped onto the knitting needle.

Once all the stitches are in place, knitting can begin using the correct yarn for the garment. When it comes to unravelling the provisional cast on, the tail end of the yarn is slipped back through the last chain and gently pulled. The chain will unravel leaving the first row of garment stitches live, one by one, which need to be carefully placed on to a knitting needle as they appear. Care needs to be taken not to twist the stitches as you put them on to the needle and I suggest counting as you go to ensure you don’t miss any. Once all of the stitches are on the needle, work can commence in the opposite direction.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. Provisional cast ons are such a useful tool to get the hang of and I use them a lot so I encourage you to get practicing. I have shown you my favourite way of doing this cast on. However, if you don’t get on with this method there are others so please don’t give up as a bit of research will reveal another way which might suit you better.

Exhibitions, General

Ally Pally Knit and Stitch Show 2017, Roundup (and three awesome Textile Artists to look out for)

An October highlight for UK textile enthusiasts is the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London. Not only do we get to fill our boots with yarny goodness, it is also an opportunity to catch up with fellow enthusiasts from the Textile World, find out who is new and inspiring, and some of us get to spend a day with our wonderful Mums!

I was particularly excited this year as a friend of mine, the super talented and rather lovely Sarah Waters, had a solo exhibition in the textile gallery. I couldn’t wait to see what she had done with it and as expected it was amazing.

Sarah Waters Stones pairing
Sarah Waters from her exhibition: Stone

Sarah is an experienced felt artist based in the UK’s New Forest. Her work is inspired by our connection to nature and she has a particular interest in sustainability. Her exhibition at the Knit and Stitch shows this year consists of large scale wall hangings, rich with texture and full of beautiful natural colours, depicting stone, the natural inspiration behind it. Felt sculptures add a three dimensional element to the exhibition. Sarah’s exhibition will be at the sister shows in Dublin and Harrogate so if you are lucky enough to be going to these I highly recommend you pay her a visit. More information about Sarah and her work can be found on her website here.

Sarah Waters Stones beige hanging
Sarah Waters

Another gallery which stopped me in my tracks for a better look was Ann Small’s Layered Cloth exhibition. She has recently published a book of the same name and the work she had on display tempted me to add it to my Christmas List. Beautiful ruffles, folds, puffs, slashes, you name it, anything you can do to create a three dimensional effect from stitching and fabric was here.

Ann Small Blue sea urchin
Ann Small “Blue Sea Urchin”

Her work made me smile, it had a sense of fun to it as well as a technical wow factor hence I wasn’t surprised when I read that she has a background in theatre and fancy dress costume making.

Ann Small White shell
Ann Small’s “White Shell”

More about Ann and her work can be found here.

The final artist I’d like to introduce you to in this post is possibly my new favourite textile artist having not come across her work before. Rachael Howard’s gallery “Red Work” consisted of large scale grids of colourful, simplistic illustrations depicting everyday family life. Her inspiration for the exhibition was taken from 19th century red work story quilts and she likens the effect of these historical textiles to modern day Instagram.

Rachel Howard Red Work wall quilt
Rachael Howard

Her work is rich in humour, is very accessible and evokes a personal narrative from the viewer. If you get a chance to check out Rachael’s art she has a website here.

Rachel Howard Red Work dog in suit
Rachael Howard

In this post I’ve mentioned three of my favourite galleries from this year’s Ally Pally. There was so much to see I always wish I can have another day to fully appreciate everything but unfortunately dog dinners awaited and we had to dash off. We didn’t leave without a bit of shopping though (my Mum is such a bad influence on me!).

Kniting and Stitching Show, Ally Pally, 2017
Some of the goodies I had to hide from Mr B when I got home

Please feel free to leave a comment on this post if would like to share a highlight from this year’s show and if you are visiting the Dublin or Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Shows I hope you have a wonderful time.

Until next time……

Exhibitions, General

Kaffe Fassett’s Colour Exhibition at Mottisfont, National Trust

I was so excited about Kaffe Fassett’s “Colour” exhibition at Mottisfont this month that I booked a cheeky day off today to go have a look. Kaffe Fassett (apparently pronounced as “safe asset” for those of us who have been getting this wrong for over thirty years!) has been a huge influence on my creativity over the years and as such could probably be described as one of my artistic heroes. His bold and vibrant designs have inspired me from childhood to the present day. I remember as a teenager drooling over his cabbage and frog tapestry kits wondering how many weeks of paper round wages until I could afford one. And his fabulous 1980s sweaters drove my first tatty attempts at intarsia. Overall his creative career has spanned more than 50 years and he is still a highly respected name and sought after public speaker by knitters and stitchers worldwide.

This exhibition has been beautifully curated with each room focused on a specific colour scheme and painted accordingly to show case the fabulous knitwear, tapestries and quilts. As you enter the first room there is a wonderful quote from the man himself to put you in the right frame of mind: “like so many other crafts, knitting has the potential to create magic in our lives”. I couldn’t agree more.

kaffe fasset blue and white pic
Kaffe Fassett exhibition: from the blue and white room

The theme for the first room of the exhibition is set by the quote “the older I get the more classic blue and white appeals to me”. Something I can certainly relate to myself. He also discusses his love of neutrals in this room, likening them to stonework. I guess this is not something we usually associate with the man but there is no denying the power of beige even to those with such an elevated design status!

kaffe fasset veg room
Kaffe Fasset exhibition: the fruit and veg room, tapestry chair

The next room makes the wonderful statement that “vegetables have such elegant shapes” and is full of the cabbage, aubergine, beetroot et al images and designs that I remember fondly from early Rowan magazines.

kaffe fasset veg cushions
Kaffe Fassett exhibition: the fruit and veg room, tapestry cushions

More colour themed rooms unfold as you wander through the upper floors of this richly historic house, including a yellow corridor (unfortunately not enough natural light for photos in there) where he comments on the mood enhancing properties of this sunny hue. Also a richly coloured blue room, and then finally a  pink room.

kaffe fasset vibrant blue
Kaffe Fasset exhibition: the blue and purple room
kaffe fasset pink room
Kaffe Fasset exhibition: the pink and orange room

One of the reasons for Kaffe Fassett’s enduring appeal is his fearless use of colour. A quote from the man himself from his 2003 book “Kaffe  Fassett’s Pattern Library” explains his approach to an area that many people find quite scary and intimidating.

“The main thing is to have a go at trying out colours, the wilder the better. None of us designers really know what works until we see it, so sampling becomes wonderfully exciting as you stumble on really unpredictable and interesting colouring.”

In my recent knitting workshops we have concentrated on the use of sampling both as a means of gathering technical skills but also for design inspiration.  Sampling is a wonderfully safe environment (after all we don’t have to wear the end product if it doesn’t work) for putting together different textures, colours and yarn types in a playful way. We were all excited by some of the outputs.

If you are local and are interested in colour and design do try and get to see this collection in the flesh as the photographs I have shown you don’t really do the textiles justice. Above all I for one can take a bit of advice from this talented man and while I do love a bit of beige he always inspires me to live a little more dangerously. Pink, red and orange!? Hell Yes!


General, Knitting Know How

How to work Short Row Shaping

The wonderful thing about knitting your own fabric is the ability to shape and manipulate it as you go. One of the methods to do this is called Short Row Shaping. Simply put, short rows are areas of the knitting where incomplete rows are worked to create more volume than elsewhere in the fabric. This results in a curved or shaped section, with perhaps the most obvious example being the heel of a sock when knitted in the round.

Why Short Rows?

As well as creating a heel, short rows have many other uses:

  • Shoulder shaping without the stepped effect of the more usual cast off method.
  • A colour work technique creating non linear areas of colour.
  • Adding three dimensional texture effects.
  • Knitting Circles and other curvy 2 dimensional shapes

Working a short row shoulder

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Short row shoulder shaping

A common way to create the slope of a shoulder seam in a sweater is to cast off a certain number of stitches every other row in a stepped fashion as shown in the top diagram. So for example, over 20 stitches, for a right slant, 5sts are cast off at the beginning of each wrong side row four times.

Using short rows, the same slant could be achieved by working 15sts on the first right side row (leaving 5 sts unworked), turning and working back on those 15 sts. On the next right side row, only 10sts would be worked (leaving 10sts unworked), turning and working back on those 10sts. On the next RS row, 5 sts are worked (leaving 15sts unworked), turned and 5sts worked back. On the final RS row all of the 20sts are once again worked, and then all 20sts are cast off on the next row. This achieves a smooth slant versus the stepped one in the first example.

Read on for more clarification on how to do this.

Creating non linear areas of colour

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Short rows used for colour work.

The photo above shows a short row panel on the front of one of my sweater designs. Here I have used short rows to create non linear areas of different colour and texture. “Stripes” can take on a whole new meaning!

Three dimensional texture stitches

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A textural stitch created using short rows

The blue section in the photo above shows a lovely textured bobble stitch which is created using short rows to add volume to parts of the fabric. It can be seen from this example that a hole/gaping stitch is visible at the start and finish of the bobbles. In this particular design, this is desirable and forms part of the overall texture. However, as you can imagine, a holey stitch in a shaped area of stocking stitch e.g. on the shoulder shaping or the colour work examples above, would not be desirable. Thankfully there is a method to prevent those elongated, gaping stitches from occurring. This is called “wrap and turn“.

How to Wrap and turn

On a Knit side:

  • Knit the required number of stitches to the turning point (so using the e.g. of the shoulder shaping above it would be knit 15sts).
  • Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles (diagram 1). Return the slipped stitch to the left needle over the top of the working yarn. Bring the working yarn to the back between the needles, ready to purl. Turn the work and purl back. One stitch has been wrapped (W1) (diagram 2).
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Diagram 1, beginning the wrap (on the 16th stitch)
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Diagram 2, the wrapped stitch (stitch 16) showing the horizontal bar across it. The work is now turned and the purl row worked on these 15 stitches.
  • When it is time to work across the wrapped stitch in a later row, the horizontal bar which is visible across it will be hidden by working it together with the wrapped stitch (diagram 3).
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Diagram 3, working the wrapped stitch (stitch 16) knitwise

On a Purl side:

  • Purl to the turning point.
  • Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the back of the work. Return the slipped stitch to the left needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles. Turn the work to knit back. One stitch has been wrapped.
  • When it is time to hide the wrap on a subsequent purl row, work to the wrapped stitch. Use the tip of the right needle to pick up the turning yarn from the back. Place it on the left needle (diagram 4) and purl it together with the wrapped stitch.
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Diagram 4, working the wrapped stitch purlwise

This is the basis for the wrap and turn method of short row shaping. I hope this post has given you the confidence to give it a try. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never have a bulky shoulder seam ever again!

I am teaching a workshop on this technique at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham (Hampshire) on Saturday 7th October where we shall be using short rows to knit a circle (diagram 5). If you are in the area and you would like to come along, booking is available on their website here. It would be lovely to see you!

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Diagram 5, the short row wheel sample we shall be making on 7th October

If you have anything you would like to share about short rows or this post generally, please do leave a comment.



Making, a mediation


I’m going to make a confession to you. I am an unsociable knitter. Knitting combined with nattering is not for me and while wonderful supportive multi generation communities have evolved around a common love of the craft (and even a genre of “chick lit” has been inspired by these gatherings) it transpires that I can’t stitch n’ bitch. Even the careful selection of specific projects suited as a background activity hasn’t helped me to join in with these social and sociable events and I have come to the realisation that the act of knitting for me is no longer the distraction activity of a hand wringer and cuticle picker but has evolved into an all absorbing meditation.

Finding an inner peace

Quite when this happened I couldn’t tell you. In my twenties I was a keen student of yoga. During this time I was never able to undertake a satisfactory guided meditation at the end of a workout in a smelly school hall, wrapped in a prickly blanket. Perhaps it was the idea of all that sand sticking to me (we were always told to imagine ourselves on a beach!) and the possibility of bugs crawling into my sweaty hair, which left me more tense than relaxed. Similarly the action of staring at a candle flame only resulted in a headache despite plenty of disciplined practice, while chanting just left me feeling self-conscious.

What is relaxing anyway?

My wonderful husband often berates me for my inability to relax as he equates relaxing with doing nothing (something that I actually find quite stressful). I disagree with him as I think that I relax very well but I do have to be concentrating on something repetitive and methodical in order to still my mind. If I have needles in my hand I will be fully engrossed in the action of creating a piece of fabric, slowly, one stitch at a time and as long as I am not struggling with a particularly difficult pattern, what is more relaxing than that?

Enjoying the Journey

Now I am not an unsociable person but I do enjoy my own company and the quiet companionship of my four legged friends. The term “journey” is probably much overused these days as a way of expressing an involvement and investment in a learning experience (of which life, of course, is the ultimate), but I believe it is a word which explains how I have come to view my knitting and other creative pursuits over the years.

Gone is the focus on an end product. This is quite possibly influenced by years of mild disappointment when that final stitch is placed and the physical result never fully lives up to the time, skill and effort involved not just in the making of this particular item but also in all of those items that were involved in the learning and practice to get to this place. Perhaps there is also a mourning of the end of an enjoyable process with the inevitable what to do now state. And of course for those of us who have tried to sell hand made goods there is also the realisation of the very low value that others put on our invested time and skill when the only comparison they have is how much a “similar” item would cost them if they bought it in Primark.

Meditation in the making

While it would be a bit of fib to suggest, when pattern and exhibition deadlines are looming, that a physical end result is not important. However, there is so much to be gained from the process. There is something wonderful about that suspended state where the only thing that matters is total absorption in creating which I can only really describe as a sense of zoning out. Knitting and drawing are the two activities that really bring on this internalised state for me (running with the dog in the local woods has a similar effect although a higher sense of alertness to my external environment is required for obvious safety reasons) and allow me a temporary escape from the outside world. The great thing about this drug free induced state of calm and meditation is that it can be achieved very easily with practice just about anywhere (I never travel on public transport without a set of sock needles and 4ply in my handbag). The downside is that it can become very addictive and some discipline is required if cooking and cleaning also feature on your list of job priorities. It can also lead to the occasional missed train station stop and appointment but hopefully the calming effect of the preceding meditation will over ride the stress of these hopefully infrequent downsides.

me knitting with Squatch
“I guess I’ll have to get my own dinner, she’s meditating again!”

I’d love to hear what drives your making. Is it the creation of an end product, or are you all about the process? Please leave me a comment and let me know.