Thursday, 19 September 2019

The 2019 Shetland Wool Week Jumper

This summer I have been working with natural dyeing  reds and now have 40 sample skeins (1). I initially thought my wool week jumper this year would be red based. I even dyed the yarn a good shade of red. 

However a key criteria for the projected jumper was that it co- ordinates with my Harris Tweed skirt. This particular colour of of red did not. Somehow this imagined red jumper was not to be this year. All sorts of hiccups had happened along the way to getting to this red and the fact that it was too red for the Harris Tweed skirt was the final straw. 

(I have actually found an idea for the red wool garment.  I am already working on it in my head and have different material for a skirt as well have plans for 2020 to work on post wool week organised is that? ) 

I wanted to knit another yoke jumper as the meadowsweet one had gone so well and it is still a favourite jumper. So I started knitting swatches for the yoke, initially I was determined to include some of the red.
This is the second swatch, still too much red dominating

Reluctantly I had to let my head rule my heart and agree even a tiny amount of red was not going to work out well, so on my 5th trial of putting colours together I was happy with the colours but then tweaked the order.......
This is swatch 4 at the bottom and 5 at the top. The bottom is some different madder but still too red and dominant to my mind. I like the top part of this swatch.

In the final sample - the grey of the jumper in the yoke pattern  is not working well nor the middle green but these can be sorted.   I thought I could improve on this and here is the final wrapping
This contains a combination of my Meadowsweet and Ground Elder yarns. 

I decided to use a cone of Shetland wool, this one from Jamieson’s for the base. I knitted a sample and liked it a lot with the skirt and the final jumper will be very different from the meadowsweet one. The grey will showcase the yoke. 

Part of my problem with the red as the base of the jumper, was that the jumper base colour was competing with the yoke for supremacy. This is rather strange as it did not seem to happen with the meadowsweet jumper where it all co-ordinated well. Another confirmation that trialling colours to go together, to go  with clothes you will wear to accompany the garment and for the whole set up to compliment your own colouring takes some time but when it works that is when you love your clothes!      

The final order of colours in order from outside in 
Grey base
Ground Elder and Logwood to give dark grey 
Natural white then for the motif colours:
Ground Elder and Madder
Ground Elder and Copper
Meadowsweet and Iron
Ground Elder and Iron
Ground Elder and Logwood
Meadowsweet for the central row of the motif 

The main posts showing the Meadowsweet  jumper are 3May16 and 17August16 and for the Ground Elder Cardigan 4April18 and 6April18 

I was interested to know how much time a jumper like this takes, so made a note of knitting times, very roughly

Drawing out the pattern and doing the calculations over size and stitch sizes - 2 hours

Knitting the jumper on the knitting machine, 4 pieces - 5 hours

Washing and blocking each piece 2-3 hours 

Tacking and stitching the lower part of each of the 4 raglan settings on the sewing machine - slight stretch stitch used as I always do 1 hour 

Yoke knitting - 
Planning where the stitches fall in relation to the centre front and centre back is key to getting a good look. Both the edge wavy pattern and motif pattern on the yoke need to be arranged around a centre stitch. The actual ‘join’ stitch for the round is situated somewhere on the left back shoulder. Checking and rechecking this works takes time. An hour would not be an underestimate.

Initially, to knit each round was taking 30 minutes, but this decreased to about 20 minutes. As got the pattern in my head and the stitches started being decreased. However, changing the colours and checking carefully meant it was still about 20 minutes. I used 3 dpns and used a knitting belt. There are 35 rows in the pattern- let’s say 11 hours! 

Whilst I was hand knitting the yoke, I found time to stitch up the main seams of the jumper. I do not include the ribbing and start machining about 1 cm above the ribbing to allow an invisible junction with the hand sewing.  I start joining  ribs ( eg front rib and back rib at side seam) in the middle and do a near invisible join like this. It is this sort of detail that I enjoy doing and I find makes such a difference to the overall look of a garment. (2)  I didn’t time this , let’s say an hour to include all  4. 
One of the completed  ribs

After the yoke I needed to insert some decreases as I wanted a close fit and ribbed neckband to go up my neck.  I chose points of the pattern where I would line up the decreases and using right or left sloping decreases centring  these on the centre front or centre back. This worked well. I did the  first half of the rib in the same size needles as the stocking stitch above the yoke and then went down a needle size to complete the ribbing. The final cast off was very stretchy bind off (3) 

I will let you do the final sums for time.. and then multiply that by a sum for a wage....
You can see how knit jumpers are expensive.... never expensive enough in my mind. 

I do not knit for sale, just for my own pleasure but I do appreciate the many who do knit for money and hence think everyone who does sell their work should respect these people and charge enough for their own work. 

(1) I will write about this project when the time is right- the project is not completed yet. 
(2) No names being mentioned here, but I have total respect for knitting colleagues who ask if they can look inside my completed garments). 
(3) Jenny’s surprisingly stretchy bind off. Fall 2009, 

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Shetland Wool Week 2019 Our Hats

They are both finished! 

As usual I managed to alter the main body of the pattern so they would fit the 24 stitch punchcard on my elderly knitting machine. 

Michael wanted a striking hat and this is what we came up with. 

There were a couple of samples, the main change for the initial knitting was to tweak the waves at the sheep/ boat transition, we decided big waves was in order after last year. 

I always use Shetland yarn and the same number of stitches for his head so was puzzled when the hat was clearly too big. I washed it and shrunk it down a bit but that was not going to feel either comfortable or stay on his head in the inevitable high winds. So, after knitting I took out a 12 stitch block and would seam  the hat after knitting the rib. The fit was much better.

I love the crown pattern and from looking at many finished hats knew we wanted the crown pattern to stand out well, so this is the final version. Following decreases to get to 7 ‘points’ worth I knitted the crown by hand, using dpns,  once the hat body and rib was constructed. I changed to smaller ones on the way up to tighten the middle slightly. 

The other design feature  he requested was a turn up brim, so I knitted this in plain 2x2rib downwards on the knitting machine before joining the hat body  together and did a lime green edge as I was concerned he would cover the contrasting ‘grass’ in the sheep’s field. 

I should be able to spot him in a crowd! 

Janet’s hat 

I always have to make the hats smaller for my head, so took out a whole pattern repeat of 24 stitches. I couldn’t start my hat until I had finally decided on my 2019 Wool week jumper design and colour combinations as I like the hat to co-ordinate with the jumper / cardigan I make. (More about this is finished but I was too close to the wire this year. However as a bonus I have the plan for next year’s knitwear in my head and planning on starting during the winter) 

I decided to make a slightly different shaped hat this year as I wanted to ‘showcase’ this crown pattern. 

All except for the  natural and grey, the colours are naturally dyed with ground elder, from the cardigan I knitted for wool week 2 years ago. 

I knitted the main body using the knitting machine, then did the back seam. I changed to a contrast yarn and did the decrease row, then a couple of purl rows (thank you very much Ina for the idea) and then knitted the crown, which I really love and think the colours have worked well. 

All that was left was the rib and as I have got into the habit of doing I used all the colours I had used in the hat and used  K1 P1 rib to pull the hat tighter....not wanting to loose it in a gale. 

So this is the finished hat.....

You’ll need to try and spot us to see them on our heads. 

Thank you to Oliver (and also Sandra and Ella) for this  pattern and to others who have posted about their hats. It is so lovely to see them all. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2019


This week is National Migraine Awareness Week and I would like to do just that - increase the awareness of Migraine. Migraine is not ‘just’ a headache, it is a very disabling complex neurological  condition that the ‘owner’ has  to learn to live with. Unfortunately, it is both the butt of jokes and can be the easy excuse for the work shy, which does migraine suffers and their families no favours at all. Everyone’s migraine is different.

As some of you know I am a migraine sufferer. I am fortunate in having seen some ‘top’ Doctors in my migraine career but the thing you learn is to help yourself. I thought my migraine started when I had an accident to my head in my first year of teaching. The accident ‘bruised’ my brain and left a small dent in my head. As I was living in London I was referred to Bart’s which In those days was a leading centre  of excellence. 

I learnt to live with the migraine, but it was life changing. I was more likely to develop migraine at weekends when I relaxed and if I had a lie in! I relied heavily on medication. 

But what I later learned was that migraine can change. Some people tend to grow out of it but for me retirement brought worsening migraine. The consultant I was referred too, announced on hearing my story that I had inherited  migraine. My father had been diagnosed with severe sinus problems, this is now thought to be what much undiagnosed migraine was called. So the accident to my head exacerbated it but I was going to have migraine for life, mine as a child was called ‘sinus problems too’. 

I went through a particularly bad period where I thought I was going mad, I was waking with migraine each morning, I could happily have banged my head against a wall. It was awful and I tried to distract  myself with sewing, knitting etc. I was on preventative medication, and had triptans which helped the pain  when it was really bad. The frequency of the migraine improved but I felt zombie like and tried to work out what was causing this near constant migraine. 

I came to believe it was other medication that I was prescribed for a gut each night I took a pill for that and each morning I had a migraine. So I started self medicating myself, ie weaned myself off the ‘gut’ tablets and hey ho the migraine improved. 

I have always felt that my migraine was closely connected with what and when I ate. Low blood sugar, through eating a meal late will be much more likely to give me migraine than virtually anything else. 

At this stage I attended one of The Migraine Trusts special Migraine Days (I went to York to attend one) where there are talks from a range of experts and I got lots of tips from this as well as realising that the day was a sell out, so lots of sufferers. 

But Migraine is a real beast and just as you think you have nailed it, it can change to a different form. One morning I woke up without a headache but feeling as if there was a line down the centre of my body, I could not feel my left side at all. My migraine had always had intense head pain, including my hair hurting....and now I had no pain but seemed to have ‘lost’ half my body. My first thought was that I was having a stroke. The answer was the Migraine  had now turned Hemiplegic. This was, and still is, quite scary. I usually get a warning, I get pins and needles in my left hand or more likely just my left lower leg bit.  I rarely  get the one sided thudding headache centred behind my right eye any more. The bad news is that the only medication I can take for such an attack is a massive aspirin dose, triptans  are out. (In my case I cannot take the normal ‘stomach lining’ tablets to counteract the effect of the aspirin as these induce migraine just as the gut tablets did). So I have to learn to do the best I can and realise that some days I loose the battle...for some reason the body needs a migraine. Frequently this lasts 3 days, the lead up, the migraine and then the feeling as if you are recovering from an anaesthetic day. 

I have always known  that eating regularly - little and often- works or rather is essential. I am best if I eat / drink every 2 hours and getting through the night without eating  leads to migraine. So this means I need supper, usually a bowl of cereal and I need to eat early in the morning. I have tried all sorts of things - cashew nuts, grapes, bananas.... but following a suggestion I have found a protein drink powder - really meant for bodybuilders - is just the thing. (I used to wake at 4.00 am and feel fine and then by 6.30 when I woke properly I would have a migraine. I suspect I ran out of fuel during that 2 hour period). I don’t much rate getting up and waking up enough to have a drink at 4.00am but if it means a no migraine day that is what I will do. 

I have, for some reason, had a particularly bad migraine summer, from April to August I have had lots of bad days. It has taken those 4-5 months to try and find out which combination of factors has been responsible for this latest migraine cycle. It is rarely one trigger that is responsible. I have thus  stopped running workshops and giving Textile talks. Both of these can disrupt my normal eating pattern and also mean I have several full days of activity together which can completely ‘wipe me out’. I have also spent time looking at every single thing I have been eating - I have virtually removed gluten from my diet and sulphites. You can’t believe how many things have sulphites slipped in, virtually all wine. I believe these three factors are helping me personally. 

I don’t write this for sympathy, there are people with far bigger health burdens to carry than me. I am writing this to try and help get the message out for all those genuine migraine suffers, and there are lots of us. Migraine is one of those invisible but very debilitating conditions affecting not just the suffer  but often the immediate family and friends. My advice, to sufferers, is be forensic in your approach to what is causing the migraine. Try and reduce your use of drugs as in time these can lead to even more migraine attacks. Particularly look carefully at your diet, read the small print on food labels. Is there a pattern developing? Learn to say ‘no’ when asked to do more than you know is sensible. You are likely to be very conscientious by nature and people will ‘expect’ things of you. I have been really surprised at some of the negative reactions   I have received as I have reduced my commitments  but I know myself I have done the right thing for my health. 

Useful sources of information

The Migraine Trust, do try and attend a day seminar if you can. It was invaluable for me and gave me more leads and things to try to help improve my situation. 

Dr T’s Migraine Miracle Group - on facebook - an American Doctor who is a migraine sufferer and who writes a lot about diet. 

Do feel free to contact me personally if you want to know more about some aspects of this.  


Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The red woven handbag and its story

Some time ago when we lived in Cheshire I decided to make my own handbag with pockets. I owned a handbag where I liked the design, 2 pockets on the outside (with magnetic closures) and 2 on the inside (with zips). The handles were long and it was great on my shoulder. It was also a good size.....I do not do a  small handbag! 

I deconstructed this as well as I could. Fortunately making notes of the order of construction, this was SO important as I found out later. Then I used this, as a starting point to make my own handbag. 

We had recently been to The Outer Hebrides and I had bought a skirt length of Harris Tweed from the weaver in her idyllic studio in Plockpool, Harris. I used the remains of the fabric with some matching brown fabric I bought from Linton Tweeds. (1)

This was handbag one, made in 2012

So when I made my blue tweed coat, post of 1 Feb 2012, and had some material left over, it was obvious I should make a blue tweed handbag too.  I have opened one of the pockets so you can see the lining. 

After this I decided to alter the brown handbag as I thought I would get more use from it. 

(Apologies for the less than perfect photo, it is 30C outside and this is the best I can do in terms of shade!) 

Both handbags are used all the time still I just decide which best matches my clothing. 

But what I really wanted to do was weave my own handbag. 2011 saw the arrival of my floor loom, which came as a massive kit from America, but that is another long story. After doing some trial weaving to get used to the loom, it was time to weave the fabric for the handbag. This time it was to be red and black and woven in Shetland wool (2ply jumper weight). I felt I needed to weave plenty of extra fabric....which I did.There was lots of fabric. Friends suggested I make a skirt instead, I resisted for awhile and finally saw sense and that was when I made the red and black skirt that I love and would not be without (front page of my web site).

We moved house, coming back to Norfolk in the autumn of 2014 and I decided once the loom was up and running that I would weave fabric for a handbag. It would be red and black in wool, the same wool  but not the same pattern as my skirt, and I would not weave enough for a skirt.  This took longer than I thought - there were house  things to sort and Norfolk to re-explore. 

The weaving design I used was Strickler number 13. (2) I had bought a  floor loom that would weave 97 cm wide but this time I would weave a just bit more than my pattern needed in both length and width. My handbag pattern needed 107 cm long by 76 cm wide. Calculations were done and checked and rechecked before I wound  the warp as I needed to allow for take up  on the loom, loss in washing and fulling  and to match the pattern where needed.

Beginning weaving

I firmly believe that the longer spent in planning and doing trials, the better the result. 
The cloth before washing 

The weaving was complete, it was washed and ready to be made into the handbag. 
Then the fabric sat as more life got in the way- I was doing a lot of natural dyeing as I had access to so many wonderful plants. 

I gathered the lining materials. I like to have special linings in the items I make, this time the silk I was going to use came from Cheshire, plain red for the main part of the lining and a super design that I had found at a silk sale from a mill outside Macclesfield in Cheshire and had used in the blue tweed handbag. The contrast fabric was going to be black linen and I had trouble sourcing the same quality for this. (In fact  this is still an ongoing search). I also needed iron on interfacing, stiffer interfacing for the base and leather handles (3). Then there were the 3 zips, the 2 large press studs and the studs for the base of the handbag.

In all 46 pattern pieces are needed for the handbag and it is not a quick make and I use both my normal sewing machine and overlocker and constant access to the iron and ironing board. I also make good use of this clapper- an essential item to my sort of bag making. 

After several days the bag was complete and I had only a tiny amount of fabric left and so made a couple of pockets for the back (side near me of the handbag). I have found these little afterthought pockets invaluable, for my bus pass, library card and linen handkerchief. Many years ago I used to crochet, in very thin cotton, an added fine lace edging to handkerchiefs  when my eyes were perfect....but that is another story. 

I love this bag even more than the other 2 as it is woven from Shetland Yarn and I did the weaving. It was first used in public  at Shetland Wool Week 2018. 
Completed bag. 

The next bag is going to be lime and moss green based, and has reached the ‘I am happy with the weaving sample’ stage. 

People ask me why  I do not sell what I make....if you have read all this you will know why! I enjoy the process as much as the product and wouldn’t want it any other way. 

1. Linton Tweeds are based in Carlisle, the firm is over 100 years old, they make super fabric and have sold, and still sell, to international fashion houses. They now have an online shop as well for fabrics and wool
2. A Weavers  Book of 8 Shaft  Patterns by Carol Strickler. A great book, from this a whole Facebook group has arisen called ‘Strickler in Colour’ which is inspirational reading for those of us that like her designs. 
3.  I get my leather handles from

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Pink Art School Jumper

Me at Shetland Wool Week, wearing the jacket - the only picture I have wearing the jacket from the week and then I wasn’t keeping still.

Each year I like to make a new garment for Shetland Wool Week which is at the end of September. Last year my intention was to dye shades of pink with cochineal as a natural dye. In previous years I had knitted a yoked jumper based on Meadowsweet as a dye (1) and a long  Fair isle cardigan using colours derived from ground elder (2). 

I was quite interested in trying Mosaic Knitting (sometimes called single jacquard) on the knitting machine. This involves using a colour changer and the back of the knitting has no floats, unlike Fair isle. I had heard Elaine Cater describe this some time ago at a Knitting Machine Show in Nottingham and had bought her booklet Mosaic Knitting.  There was a shape in the booklet that I liked. I knew I would need to modify this so took my basic knitwear bodice block and drafted out something similar. 

I liked the fact that the sleeves were fitted, ie. it was not a drop shoulder jacket. Based on my experience of my black and white cardigan (blog of 4 April 18 shows this) and the ground elder one I modified the sleeve head to ensure that any pattern would match for more of the sleeve. 

I made the pattern out of some stretch jersey fabric I had and after trying it on my  body duplicate and then on me, I was more than pleased with the result. 

I found a design for the yarn that I liked and tried this out with some black and  pink acrylic. At that time I owned a double bed colour changer but not a single bed one so did some head scratching and more reading, in particular Mosaic Floatless Fair Isle by Kathleen Kinder, and  came up with a plan. 


I would be using a punchcard for the patterning and the machine would knit two rows in pink and two rows in black, so getting the punchcard to do this demands  an understanding of that. Fortunately the courses I had taken at Metropolitan Knitting in Cheshire helped here. 

The knitting takes a lot of concentration and my DH knew not to interrupt me during this. Anyone who thinks machine knitting  is easy and ‘cheating’ at knitting needs to try this. 

I liked the sample a lot. Pink would be a good colour and I played with 2 shades of pink and tried different variations of the punchcard 

However, I liked the simplicity of the first design the most, with just one contrast colour. I had no desire to knit the cardigan in black wool and pink acrylic however and even if I did wish to use this pink there was only an oddment left on the cone. 

So I looked in my stash  and found some similar pink 4 ply cotton. The sample was washed and pressed and it looked very nice as the wool became denser as the oil was washed out and the cotton detail of the pattern stood out.  

Playing with different versions of the motifs.

Sample showing the back with no floats

At the same time  it was turning into  a VERY hot summer in East Anglia and the thoughts of not dyeing yarn became very attractive. I usually dye my yarn outside on the patio and for several days it became so hot that being outside was  not an option.

These were my initial samples with cochineal. I decided that the changed circumstances ie a heatwave, was going to work to my advantage. 

So the punchcard design was selected, the colours were selected and the sample was complete. 

Next I needed to work out the details, the start edge, the edges down the front and the neck edge and what order would I do the neck and front edges in. 

As I was experimenting with samples of these, I realised that it was going to be important just where the front edge fell compared to the pattern width. I would not want half a pattern showing at the fronts. Following this line of thought , how the side seams and the armhole and sleeve seam worked would need some thought too. 

The sample below shows a front edge- by sampling it was clear I did not want the real front to have just one vertical pink pattern line showing. More sums needed.

The front edges I would do in a similar way to the method I learnt on a course with the amazing and talented Australian Designer Tony Bennett. 

I would do a circular cast on for the fronts, back and sleeve edges as I did not need ribbing. The jacket did not need pulling in as with say a 2 x 2 rib 

I felt that the neck band needed a little more depth and modified the method and did a cut and sew version of that used by Elaine Cater in her pattern booklet. 

All these were individually trialled until I was entirely happy with the finish. 

So all that was left was to do the knitting. This was completed with no hiccups. (3) 

The construction of the main seams except for the edges of the pieces was, as usual for  me, completed using a sewing machine. I did try a sample using a linker but found the pieces parted and the overall effect was not so good as I can achieve with a sewing machine. Bottom and sleeve edges (at the equivalent of the ribbing)  were then finished by stitching from the outside to join back and fronts and underarm sleeves in an invisible stitch. 

The neck edge was completed by back stitching through live stitches. This has been very hard to photograph, I hope you can see enough detail! 

I hope the first photo of me wearing the jacket shows how the sleeves match the front and back horizontally and that the fit is good. 

Why the Art School Jacket? I  don’t know if it was inspired by the Glasgow School of Art building  or just fondly reminds me of this great place! Who knows but I call it the Art School Jacket. 

  1. The finished meadowsweet jumper can be seen on the post of 17 Aug 16.
  2. The finished ground elder cardigan can be seen on a post (there are two on that day) of 4 April 18 
  3. I do not sell my patterns but anyone who buys a pattern or a finished garment and complains about the cost of the pattern please take this planning into consideration. For me the planning and finishing take more time than the actual making, as you will understand from this. 
  4. Finally, this has been particularly difficult to photograph, apologies for the variable quality. 

Monday, 17 June 2019

Red Sunset Shawl

Buying knitwear is not something I do often as I prefer to make my own, either knitting by hand or machine, that  way I know it will fit and I won’t see anyone else wearing an identical or even similar item. I like  to hand knit only those textures that I can’t do with the knitting machine.

So to actually buy knitwear it has to be special and a couple of pieces took my eye last year. However, I have never found the right time to wear either and when I tried them on I recently I decided both were buying mistakes. One was rather like a poncho, I did wear it out to dinner one evening and got more and more frustrated. To me arms have sleeves for a reason, they are warmer in sleeves and basically it is easier to eat wearing sleeves than having them covered underneath a cape like structure. I decided this would be one of my items I donate to charity for my lent contribution (1). 

However, this has been a valuable experience and I thought more carefully about what I do like as an outer wrap around. I have 2 Liberty large square challis Shawls woven in wool and of the 60s/70s that I love and find both warm and functional. My other shawls  are knitted wool and I love those too. They are fine lace but very versatile, being useful in winter and summer. 

However, I decided to knit a thicker rectangular shawl - this would serve three functions:

Keep me awake as I knitted  and ‘ watched’ the TV in the evening (2) 

Use up some of my store of red yarns, I have several fancy ones that I have been tempted to buy but not found the right item for them

Produce a thicker shawl that could be thrown around the shoulders as I wished and be more of an outer garment. 

I worked out a suitable size and collected the yarns together. I had seen a pattern for a Sampler Shawl, I think on Ravelry and had downloaded the free pattern. (3) I tried to find the tension used so that I could work out if my yarns needed doubling or knitting treble. I looked up the yarn used, which turned out to be a variegated yarn. I was going to put together my, mainly, single colour yarns in I hoped a pleasing sequence. 

The pattern did not include the tension and the shawl was knit with 6mm needles. These seemed huge to me, my last knit item was a 1 ply shawl using 2.5mm needles. I tried to work backwards from the size given for the shawl with the row and stitch count but that did not prove useful either. I tried my yarns with the 6 mm needles and did not like the effect I was getting and did more sample pieces, finally deciding to use 5.5mm needles and doubling up my predominately  Shetland 2 ply  as 4 ply yarn as needed. I had a little moan to myself(4) and then decided to embrace the enforced creativity. After all this was a free pattern, it had given me some ideas to get going. So I worked a tension piece and this enabled me to get a size I was happy with for a shawl. I wanted it to be wider than the 12” the pattern suggested. 

I gathered together my yarns, many I had dyed, several hand spun too, fancy yarns and lots of Shetland yarn from Jamieson and Jamieson and Smiths. The yarns all had a warm undertone and several of the red I had were clearly not suitable for inclusion to my eye. 

The yarns

After the first inch or so it was clear I needed more yarn, but this provided a conundrum as I was trying to use up yarn not buy more. I ordered some by mail order using a shade card, but each of the three I had chosen were not suitable for this project to my supercritical eyes. Hence why I decided I would make my own yarn, based on Merino  tops. If I wasn’t going to diminish my yarn stock I could use up some of the Merino tops that I had had for felt making  when I did more of this. This would give me the change to blend in colours that would suit the warm tones of the bought yarns and also I could incorporate some of my hand dyed fleece. This hand dyed fleece was mainly naturally dyed but there were some acid dyed reds. 

Carding for the ‘designer yarn’

I also had some Colinette  yarn. Some years ago I was attracted to this, such as at early Woolfest events. However, I have never found a much use for it and I was very much hoping to incorporate some into this shawl. I found it too heavy to knit with and that the colours in the variations always contained at least one that I did not like when I started using it. So after much preparation I had enough yarn made to, I hoped, complete the shawl. 

The main yarn would be Shetland, there would also be merino, North Ronaldsay, mohair and some unknowns. 

I had to make a compromise that I was not happy with. The yarn was quite bulky and I needed a lot of stitches per row. So reluctantly I gave in and used a circular needle, when I would have much preferred to use double pointed needles and a knitting belt. 

The pattern is mainly In garter stitch , although some rows were in stocking stitch. This meant I would be careful on which rows I changed the yarns and the shawl would, to me at least, have a public and private side. 

In fact I misjudged just how much yarn was needed and in all it took 300g. This meany I had to have another designing yarn session, involving finding more suitable tops and fleece and more spinning during the project. This is very unlike me as I like to have everything prepared before the start.

I quite enjoyed the knitting, but not using a circular needle. However when finished I did not like the shawl at all. I decided it was too thick and I would finish it and donate it to a good cause. 

HoweverI carried on finishing it properly, washing and then blocking the shawl on my large board. I decided I was a fine yarn person and I would just have to not waste my time on this sort of idea again. 

But I was in for a nice surprise, once I unblocked it, it felt much better and I actually fell in love with it. It is a unique item, and most of the yarns have a story behind them. The whole shawl is a reminder I see from my house at certain times of the year. It has turned out to be a talking point when I have worn it out. 

I am now deciding whether I ought to knit another in blue possibly or purple. 



  1. I read somewhere (fb), rather than giving something up for lent, donating an item a day to charity would be a useful alternative. We are trying this in 2019. 
  2. If I just sit down to watch TV in the evening I just fall asleep, probably an age thing or the fact that I wake early each day. So I tend to knit or spin or sew or similar and that enables me to keep awake. 
  3. This was called ‘Stitch Sampler Shawl’. Unfortunately the pattern when downloaded does not have the designers name on it. 
  4. This was the second pattern in two days with either wrong or incomplete information, the other being a weaving draft. I must decide to check any pattern, with free or paid for, at least twice before I decide it is the next make for me! 

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Secret Hat Project - a Fair Isle Peaked Hat with an interesting development

Soon after we moved in to our current house a neighbour offered me a fleece, from the sheep he keeps on the field at the bottom of our garden. This was too good to refuse, although he noted he had sheared it himself. At that point he did not know what breed the sheep was. I washed the fleece by my favourite fermented suint method. (1)

In the late spring I dyed some  of the washed fleece with daffodil flowers and achieved ten colours. (2). I then spun each of the colours to produce yarn. The fleece was better than I thought possible from the  description by the neighbour and I was pleased with the colours I obtained. 

During the following three years I chatted to the neighbour about many things, and particularly  my natural dyeing and spinning. I detected that he would very much like a knitted hat, but this needed to have a peak. He always wore a baseball sort of hat with a peak. 

So I hatched a plan, which during the latter part of 2018 came to fruition. 

When I was in Shetland for Wool Week 2017, I saw the knitted hats in the Shetland  Museum that were part of the Theodora Coutts collection. 

These helped my ideas for the hat. Then when I went to the Shetland Teas on the last Sunday of Wool Week I saw that Ina Irvine had such a hat on display, she had hand spun and knitted the hat and called it a Sumburgh Bonnet. I bought this hat and  talked to her about it  and she arranged to send me a pattern and helped me understand the construction of the peak. 

So I now needed to spin the yarn, which I started, aiming to get close to the diameter of Shetland jumper weight yarn. 

However the fun was going to be dyeing the yarn to make the hat from. I wanted the neighbour to be able to wear the hat everyday doing his ‘smallholder duties’ so my use of colour would be important, including too much natural would not be practicable.

So, the yarn was spun and I did a calculation then added a good percentage to it, compared to the Mirrie Dancers hats I knitted for Shetland Wool Week 18 (3)  so I had some ideas on  how much yarn i needed in my dye colours. I choose to dye in six  different colours which with natural made 7 colours. 

So by this time it was August 18 and a friend and I were planning to dye yarn in preparation for Apple Day at Lopham and Redgrave Fen (4). Sue B was going to weave apple dyed yarn on her Saori Loom and I was going to knit more of the Secret Hat Project. For the weaving we bought Aran weight 100% Wool form the wool shop in Diss and in all dyed 200g. I would repeat this but with hand spun  yarn. We choose to use apple leaves to give us the base colour (yellow). The apple leaves were from a tree in the neighbours garden, and some of the branches draped into our garden. We had the apples identified at the Apple Day and they were named as Crispin.

The  dyed yarn for knitting. 

Once the yarn for the hat was dyed, samples were knitted to check the tension and hence the  size of the hat. 

This took us up to September 18 when  I took the pattern with me to Shetland as my ‘easy’ knitting as opposed to my fine lace knitting project. 

I would cast on in waste knitting, knit the body of the hat and then the crown and when complete would knit the ribs section downwards as I did the  Mirrie Dancers hats.  I  completed quite a bit of the body  of the hat but was not loving how the design was coming out. In my heart of hearts I knew it was not my own design.   So this was taken out and I decided to redraft the pattern to use my tried and tested favourite Fair isle design. This had the added bonus in that I could insert a row of ‘peerie’ motifs that include the owners initials- I like to do this in Fair isle knitwear that is to be worn.

As soon as I started knitting this hat again I fell in love with it.

I used the crown pattern of Ina’s hat pattern and used the colours to move through the values. I love how this part turned out. 

All went well and the majority d the hat was complete. 

The body of the hat                                                   The crown 


I decided to knit the rib as I had done the Mirrie Dancers pattern, downwards from my initial cast on in waste yarn. However, as I completed more of this I decided it was not going to stretch enough to stretch over the peak. It was just coming up too thick. 

So there was another rethink - I would do the rib in stripes in 2x 2 rib and make what was to be the underneath of the peak mirror the top. 

Eventually the knitting was complete, as I thought. 

As I had knitted the hat in the round, there was very little finishing off- just ends to darn in invisibly. I try and make the inside of my garments as good as the outside. The I needed to block the hat, I used the cold blocking method over a hat former. Then it was time to insert the peak, stitch the inner ribbing in place and add an invisible anchor stitch or two to ensure the peak stayed at the front of the hat. As I inserted the peak I realised the rib was far too thick. I was not happy with it. 

A third major rethink was needed. I would dye some more yarn and just use one colour, this would reduce the thickness considerably. So I dyed more yarn. I tried logwood to give me grey. However, I did not like how this went with the predominant browns of the hat, so I gave up in this and dyed some fresh yarn with madder and iron which gave a colour I was happy with. 

Eventually the hat was finished. 

Completed hat 

This has been a fun project and It will be going to its rightful home , the owner of the sheep (5) and the owner of the dyes for the colouring. It was a great pleasure to produce this unique hat from materials so close to my home. 

I managed to arrange so the hat was just another present under the Christmas Tree for my neighbour. 

I was aware I had based the hat on the head size of my husband and included a note with the hat, explaining its history and saying if it was too big or too small I could fix it. 

Chatting after Christmas the neighbour was clearly delighted with the hat and it had been quite a talking point  with his family over a Christmas. However, there was a ‘but’! It was too big. Eventually after many weeks I managed to extract the hat from the neighbour and got him to try it on. It was much, much too big in diameter and height. This was entirely my fault for not finding out his had size first. (how would it then have been a secret?). 

When I got this indoors I realised that I could not shrink it and there was only one thing to do, take it out and knit it again. I am very particular about finishing off my knitwear and aim to have it as good on the inside as the outside. So eventually I found all the ends and took out the yarn, re skeined  it, washed and re balled it again ready for knitting. This time I knew if it fitted me it would fit the neighbour. I decided to remove one complete set of patterning, 24 stitches and one of the sets of peerie patterns. One of the points  of the crown star was removed  too. I was surprised how easy the knitting was. I decided I needed a smaller peak too so had to recut a new peak former. 

So these are the pictures of the second finished hat. 

The hat

And the crown! 

There are many lessons from this hat, too many to list here! 

I have enjoyed knitting it and really like the peak. Perhaps this year my wool week hat will have a peak! 


  1. A description of my method of doing this can be found at blog posts of 1 Sept 13 and 8 Feb 14 
  2. Dyeing with daffodil blog post of 8 May 16
  3. Two posts  about Mirrie Dancers hats on 13 Sept 18 
  4. A local Fen in Suffolk, Redgrave and Lopham Fen as part of Suffolk Wildlife Trust,  has an apple day in October where I have volunteered showing my natural dyeing (and spinning and fine lace knitting etc)  
  5. When the shearer came this year, he identified the Sheep as Dorset. On looking up more about these I believe the sheep was a Dorset Down.