Stash Busting 1940s style (or the British weather, the folly of a beetroot addiction, caravan claustrophobia and a feminist applause)

In this country one of our favourite pastimes is complaining about the weather, particularly at this time of year. We love a good whinge about what a terrible Summer we had last year, are having this year and will probably have again next year, particularly how it rained EVERY weekend and for MOST of the school holidays. You may be forgiven for thinking that if it is like this every year we as a nation would have resigned ourselves to this fact and would no longer point it out as the opening greeting at every meeting from May until September but I guess in our own strange way (to the much asked polite greeting of “how are you?” how many times do we get a response of “not too bad” or “could be worse“) it is a sign of an enduring if slightly warped optimism.

As a family we gave up going on holiday when I was in my early teens when the challenge of trying to find alternative care for a house full of pets and horses far outweighed the “relaxation” of sitting in a caravan in rainy Devon playing Monopoly. The final straw occurred when Mum in her wisdom and strange addiction decided that what a family of five and a dog in a caravan in Devon could not possibly be without for two weeks was jars of beetroot. On arrival, after a particularly swervy journey avoiding head on collisions on the narrow West country lanes, we opened up the caravan door to find open cupboards and yes, you guessed it, purple everywhere! Dad decided after this incident that he would probably find his precious two weeks off work a year far more relaxing sitting in his armchair at home listening to Jazz. I for one had way too many horse competitions and stuff to do at the stables during the Summer months to miss the tradition of 2am starts to travel across the country with the prospect of enforced time with family members in an enclosed space with no bolt hole or bicycle for escape, and secretly applauded his decision.

Personally I love the British weather. Cited by many of my friends and clients as a potential reason to flee these green shores, I look forward to the changing seasons and the energy associated with the unpredictability of what we might awake to each morning.  I enjoy the full spectrum of possibilities from snow through to heat wave but with none of them out staying their welcome or being too extreme (usually!). Whenever I have flown to hotter climates I am always struck by how dry, dusty and brown everything appears and can’t wait for the lushness of the British countryside underneath the plane as I arrive home. I guess always having had animals to look after and exercise, one becomes somewhat immune to rain and cold as outdoor jobs still have to be done and as the famous saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (who did say that anyway?).


the sky may be grey but the garden is lovely and green (except for the piddle patches!)

Anyhoo, neutral introductory ramblings over, let’s get back (briefly) to the political situation in good old GB which continues to fuel the headlines. So, we now have a new Prime Minister and while in my opinion she was probably the best choice out of the prospective candidates, the Brexit farce has somewhat dampened down what a significant time for women in politics this currently is. Theresa May is only the second female to take on the role in British history and one of her first trips as new PM was to visit Scotland’s female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in an attempt to avoid us becoming the DUK that I spoke of in my previous post.  This, along with the prospect (everyone please cross your fingers for this one because the alternative is just too awful to consider) of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the US, and Angela Merkel already firmly ensconced as the first female Chancellor in Germany makes this an unprecedented time for woman in prominent positions of power in political history.  With particularly challenging times ahead I don’t envy them but politics aside, as an inspiration to the homogametic sex I applaud them and wish them good luck and judgement in their roles.

If you are still with me (I thank you for that!), this is where the relevance of the past four paragraphs will hopefully now become apparent in the context of creating.  Regarding the weather: I have no sweaters of a suitable weight and sleeve length to cope with chilly British Summer evenings (yes, really!).  Regarding all the political stuff: I needed a calming creative pursuit to lose myself in over the past month or so while escaping into the imaginary world of audiobooks. As far as the beetroot is concerned, that was just a childhood memory that surfaces from time to time at family functions and still causes much amusement.

I have a strange shape for knitwear, having a square body with broad shoulders, minimal bust and a high almost non existent waist (when I was in my early twenties I remember a Summer of baring midriffs completely passing me by despite having a rather splendid belly button ring at the time which I was desperate to show off as non of the T shirts or tops on sale in the shops were short enough to expose any of my flesh!).  I dread fashion returning to high waisted trousers which might as well be over the shoulder dungarees as far as I’m concerned.  Over the years I have learned that while I may lust after flowing or chunky knits, the only way to avoid the “Yikes, what was I thinking?” moment when first trying on the masterpiece that took 100 hours to knit, cost £100 in yarn, and made me look like I was wearing my Dad’s old gardening sweater, is to stick to 4ply and keep it small, fitted and neat. Hence you will not be surprised to hear that my favourite knitwear era is the 1940s which was by necessity a time of stash busting and colour work with unpicking and reworking and slim, neat silhouettes. I am a collector of 1940s patterns and while perusing my library I came across this in “Knitting Illustrated” by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster published in 1948.


from Knitting Illustrated by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster (Odhams Ltd, 1948)

After taking a quick stash inventory it occurred to me that I had enough Hobbycraft Women’s Institute Shetland 4ply (made in the UK by JC Rennie and Co Ltd and now sadly discontinued) to recreate this rather striking design so after a couple of false starts while I worked out that I needed a purple to complement the blues and green (luckily I had some Rowan Felted Tweed DK which worked well for this) and a provisional cast on so I didn’t have to decide on welt stitch or overall length until the end, this is how it came out.


Fair Isle sweater in Shetland 4ply and Rowan Felted Tweed DK

And of course, since I finished it on Friday night, we have had a mini heat wave in the South of England with temperatures soaring (comparatively) to 25 degrees or more. You are welcome!

So, folks (Mum), thanks again for reading my ramblings. I am now without any knitting to do and feeling distinctly twitchy so I feel this afternoon I may be returning to my stash to see what else I can conjure up.  This little beauty also arrived in the post yesterday so I think a cup of coffee, a little sit down and a bit of a riffle is next on the to do list. Until next time…..


New book!

Leaf and lace Scarf (Winter 2015/16)

My leaf and lace scarf pattern was given a 2015 makeover prior to the Harrogate Knit and Stitch show with two current shades of the wonderfully soft and cosy Rowan Felted Tweed DK. It proved to be so popular at the show that I have now made the pattern available in my Etsy shop as a pdf download.

Leaf and Lace scarf lower res (Rob)

Leaf and Lace scarf in Rowan Felted Tweed DK shades 152 and 175

Originally inspired by my somewhat mature (some would say overgrown!) garden, and worked from the centre back downwards the scarf features a symmetrical leaf pattern finishing with the leaf motif at each end. Simple lace provides a border to the scarf. Using two 50g balls of each colour, this would be a perfect Christmas holiday project. Simple enough to do while holding a conversation or “watching” TV but with enough interest to keep you motivated to create a nice long, wrapable neck warmer.


A Tudor Felting Adventure

The lovely Emma Vining posted a flyer on her blog a month or so back advertising a Knitted Tudor Merchant’s Hat workshop at the London College of Fashion run by the Knitting History Forum.  Emma had told me about the forum before and interested to learn more about it and always up for a day of knitting, last Saturday I packed up my 7mm circular needles and set out for the Big Smoke.

The workshop was led by the charismatic Gary Hayton, a man of many talents including lecturing/teaching on sound design and editing, and writing knitting patterns.  The idea for the workshop came from Gary’s involvement with designing and creating knitted accessories for Shakespearean productions by the Brownsea Open Air Theatre and resulted in a fun and relaxing day for a group of knitting enthusiasts recreating their very own Tudor hats whilst learning a little about the latest developments in film and TV sound production!

"Tudor Merchant's Hat: before felting"

Knitted in the round using 3 ends of 2/11nm Shetland wool (JC Rennie Supersoft yarn)


"Tudor Merchant Knitted hat: after felting"

The felted version, modelled by a 21st Century Merchant 

OK so I might not be wearing this out on a regular basis (although the husband seemed quite taken by it as you can see in the photo, probably because it took him back to his days as a child actor!), it might make a good pot holder.  It has also prompted me to revisit the technique of felting knitted fabric to create form ahead of a textile/soft sculpture workshop which I am attending in the very near future (more about this in a week or so).  I have also properly fallen in love with JC Rennie’s yarn!

"Knitted circular lace before felting"

Hand knitted lace before felting


"Knitted circular lace after felting"

The same piece of knitted lace after felting in the washing machine



Rowan Design Competition 2013

"nicky barfoot's entry to the Rowan Design Competition 2013"

My take on the Great Gatsby theme

More exciting news came this week, this time from Rowan.  I came second in their 2013 design competition the theme being to design a garment/accessory in their lovely yarns inspired by the Great Gatsby film.  I was lucky to be able to visit the Willis Museum in Basingstoke as part of my research where they were displaying Hampshire County Council’s collection of 1920s dresses.  This resulted in my take on the brief being a modular design incorporating a bit of sparkle (in the 1920s dresses there were plenty of beads adding to the glitz).  The overall winner was Sigita Burskyte-Oliver with a lovely tunic knitted using Rowan Fine Lace and Kidsilk Haze.

More Summer Knitting: Rowan Panama

"rowan panama yarn"

Shade 310 and shade 314

I have recently been experimenting with one of Rowan’s non wool yarns, “panama”, a lovely blend of viscose, cotton and linen, perfect for Summer knitting (no sweaty hands with this one!).  It is also a 4ply weight which makes it the perfect partner for my 1940’s inspired designs and has a fantastic texture and sheen which catches the light and creates the illusion of subtle colour changes.

I was lucky enough to pick up a few balls each of shades 310, Aster, and 314, Mizzle in the local John Lewis sale a couple of months back, just enough to create this textured stripe sleeveless sweater (a similar design is called a “jerkin” in one of my treasured books of 1940s patterns).

"texture stripe jerkin"

Nicky Barfoot 1940s inspired stocking stitch and moss stitch stripe sweater design.


The design is a simple sweater featuring alternating stocking stitch and moss stitch stripes, which uses the deep rib welt to create a waistline.  With our unpredictable British Summer weather in mind, I wanted to design a versatile sweater which could be worn with bare arms during warmer days, but would also fit easily under a jacket for chillier evenings and more Autumnal weather.  I also wanted a top that could equally be worn casually with jeans, or more formally with a skirt suit.

If you would like to make this design for yourself, I have just added the pattern (pdf download) to my shop.  It is available in a size 86-91cm (34-36in) bust and takes just 5 balls of panama.


Summer Knitting

Wow, Summer has definitely arrived in this part of the World as demonstrated by Sas the Sun Worshipper.


While I am not a sit in the garden knitter, I also don’t let the heat put me off production, and instead I use it as an opportunity to put down the wool and alpaca for a few months in order to experiment with some of the lovely summer blend yarns on offer.  Rowan Summer Tweed has to be one of my favourites and I was lucky enough this month to get a Kaffe Fassett design to knit up for Rowan in this fabulous yarn.  In typical Mr Fassett style, the design has a huge number of colour changes and while I can’t give too much away, (you’ll have to wait until Rowan publish the pattern to see it in it’s full glory) here is a glimpse of the back showing how I will be spending a few hours today (sewing in intarsia ends has to be my least favourite knitting  job!).

"Wrong side of a Kaffe Fassett design in Rowan Summer Tweed"

Ends, ends and more ends……….

Vintage Textures

I have been having great fun recently working through “Practical Family Knitting Illustrated”, a wonderful book of knitting patterns from 1947, experimenting with the different textures featured therein.  It has proved to be somewhat challenging attempting to interpret the patterns using my modern day knitting language.  A certain amount of knowledge and knitting sense is assumed by the authors, but that is part of the fun, not quite knowing how things will turn out.  I particularly like the fitted nature of the garments, and the use of stitch patterns and needle size to create shaping.  Below is an example of some of my favourite stitch patterns so far, sampled in modern day yarns.  As the brighter weather has arrived perhaps now is the time to look at the knitted swimsuit section!

"knitted vintage stitch patterns"

Pods, boxes and holes

Dora has arrived!

Meet Dora, my new display dummy, who arrived this morning.  I am now able to take photographs of my knitwear designs without having to wait for the long suffering husband to wield the camera and you, dear viewer, will not be subjected to my cheesy grin and attempts at modelling on such a regular basis.  So here is Dora sporting my two latest creations, the Nicky Barfoot Leaf and Lace scarf (Summer version), and a top down lace bolero designed as part of a recent Craftsy course.  Both are in Debbie Bliss Prima.

"hand knitted textured scarf with lace edging and leaf motif"

knitted in Debbie Bliss Prima

"hand knitted lace bolero"

top down design knitted in Debbie Bliss Prima