Book Review: The Artisan by Helga Isager

*This is an unpaid/ unsponsored book review

fullsizeoutput_68cFrom the moment you turn the first page this book screams absolute class. The simple, elegant designs aren’t over styled and this allows you to see the clever details that will make you want to cast on as  quickly as you can find the yarn. The title of the collection ‘Artisan’ sums the book up perfectly as it’s evocative of the skilled craft and attention to detail that’s evident in every single design.

Whether it’s the innovative yarn combinations that bring together contrasting or complimentary textures from across the Isager yarn range or a clever stitch detail that draws the eye to a shoulder seam or neckline I found something in every design that made me do a double take. I’ve got a milestone birthday at the beginning of next year and have been promising to find a real ‘hero’ pattern to knit for myself as a treat – well it’s definitely coming from this book. The trouble is, which one to choose?

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There’s the Pearls sweater which is a highly textured raglan design where the dipped stripes of the pearls(bobbles) echo the shallow ‘V’ neck which is edged in a 3 x 3 rib. The body of the sweater starts with a 3 x 3 rib that gently rises at the sides forming a triangular shape above each hip when the garment is made up. The sleeves also begin with a 3 x 3 rib but rather than creating a hard horizontal band across the edge of the sleeve the rib, as on the body, rises up on the inside to create a V shape when the seam is joined whilst the pearl textured stripes on the top focus the eye down the centre of the sleeve towards the back of the hand when the garment is worn.

When it comes to yarn the garment is worked in a combination of Spinni (a single ply 100% wool) knitted with a single end of Alpaca 1 ( a 2 ply 100% alpaca) which creates a intriguing ‘rustic/luxurious’ feel.

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Another design that had my eyes popping out on stalks is the Lace Blouse. Admittedly it’s been quite a few years since I knitted anything this fine but again it’s the details that made me fall in love with this pattern. It’s a wide, scoop neck sweater that employs lace holes to create a faux ‘V’ shape at the neck which is in-filled with 1 x 1 rib that’s echoed on each side of the garment’s shoulder seam.  There are vertical stripes of Bear Track pattern at the centre of the jumper that travel up the garment body cleverly widening out towards the shoulders and these are echoed by a single line of Bear Track on both sleeves. I don’t usually go for ‘pretty’ knits but this is both elegant & feminine but could easily be elevated to funky by using a really punchy colour. The yarn used for this design is Spinni but this time it’s used singly (just for the record this yarn shouldn’t be used singly if you’re knitting in the round).

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Although there’s a lot of yarn combining in this collection none of the designs requires you to knit on anything larger than a 4.50 mm needle so even the 2 long jacket styles are  lightweight and well fitting rather than heavy, shapeless and sloppy. I love the refined layout of this book; the clearly written instructions, the simple hanger shots at the start of each pattern that allow you to see the finish project ‘unstyled’ plus the charming line illustrations within the individual instructions that have a lovely hand drawn quality. As an avid note maker I like that there are several lined pages throughout the book where you can jot down details of tension etc and in the back of the book the ‘Knitting School’ gives details of some of the techniques used in the collection as well as advice on how to care for the finished items.

I lost my knitting mojo a couple of years ago and really didn’t think I’d want to knit let alone design anything again but this collection of designs literally fills my heart with joy. It makes me wish that the UK had the sort of Scandinavian Winters that would allow me to hunker down and knit my way through the book from front to back. You’ll find the book and the full range of Isager yarns online at www.isagerstrik.dk

 

The details

Title: The Artisan

Designer:  Helga Isager

Number of designs: 10 ( 8 garments, 2 accessories)

Instructions: Combination of written and charted

Language: English, Danish, German

Price: 199.00 DK (Around £24.00)

 

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Where’ve you been?

It’s been a while hasn’t it, where’ve you been?!

Ok so it’s not you, it’s me (I remember an ex-boyfriend saying that to me once…..just before he unceremoniously dumped me). Life has been busy as ever looking after Ma & Pa Trot but now they’re settled in their flat and FINALLY have a landline (though no broadband) due to me nagging BT for over a month I’m trying to fit in some work too.

As well as working on a couple of freelance design commissions for this Winter season I’m also going to be submitting a couple more for Spring / Summer 2018. Yes I know the clocks haven’t yet gone back and I’ve mentioned Summer already. That’s just how it is in the lovely design world, always looking forward whilst somehow, frequently looking back.

On the subject of looking back last Thursday I had the great pleasure of spending the day on the Erika Knight stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend the day with Erika & Bella, two of my favourite people, and meet lots of fantastic knitters, stitchers and all round lovers of creativity who were attending the show and drinking in all of the inspiring kits, yarns, buttons, patterns, fabrics and countless other products, teach-ins & workshops that were packed into the five day event.

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Yours truly with my Constance Cowl design

Having missed out on the show last year due to the ‘brain squatters’ I was really proud to be on the stand along with my Constance cowl pattern which formed part of the design collection made using Erika’s British Blue 100 yarn. Although I wasn’t expecting it the show was also a great opportunity to catch up with lots of friends from my days as a Rowan Design Consultant which brought back so many truly warm and fond memories.

Despite meaning to take a lot more pictures and make a sneaky yarn purchase I didn’t do  either but here’s a peek of what I did see, sorry there aren’t more. As they used to say in school, must try harder next time. If you managed to get to the show I really hope you had a great time and you’re busily working away at your new projects.

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Katia Lace yarn…with added stainless steel

This is a stunning collection of bags from a selection of well known fashion designers including Patrick Cox, Henry Holland & Lulu Guinness each embroidered by London company Hand & Lock.

Probably the highlight of my day was meeting the warm, funny and hugely talented Sarah Hazell. Somehow, despite us both having worked for Rowan as DCs, both designed for Erika and following each other on social media we’d never met until last week. As you can see we were pretty pleased to have put that right.

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I know this post may seem a little aimless (sorry) but the head is a little squiffy today having had a migraine yesterday plus I’m getting a lot of words back to front and I’ve still got my column for Knitting still to write.

As I said I’ll do better next time.

J x

A Winged Collective

 

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A Winged Collective is an A – Z of the collective nouns of birds from all over the world and although you’ve probably never wondered what to call a group of eagles…..or swifts …or magpies for that matter, I challenge you not to be captivated by it.

0e717cdc-b4ab-4442-8ec0-e3e1ae5d3b56With words by Polly Pullar explaining a bit about the birds and why they have their respective collective nouns complimented by witty, beautifully drawn illustrations by Clare Mackie you honestly don’t need to be a bird enthusiast to appreciate this book. It’s both informative and exquisitely detailed, in fact having been privileged to see all of the illustrations up close I am fascinated by Clare’s patience and eye for detail. I also love that she’s imbued each of her ‘colourings in’ (her words not mine) with her brilliant and cheeky sense of humour. In fact Clare is one of the funniest people I know and despite her huge and obvious talent is very self deprecating about her work.

abda80b4-ecdd-4589-8a1b-9b69b341e13dThe book is published by Boddington & Royall, costs £29.99 and can be ordered through the website here with an option for personalising should you wish to purchase it as a very special gift.

I know how many long hours of work went into this project Clare, congratulations hen! It’s brilliant and so are you… definitely another of my Design Heroes.

To see more of here work visit her website Clare Mackie Illustration

J x

 

Constance cowl for Erika Knight

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Even as recently as 10 years ago I was never really one for wearing neck accessories – you know, scarves, cowls, shawls and the like. That was of course until I cut all my hair off (if you know my medical history I won’t need to go into why) and it’s not until you have no hair at all that you appreciate having something warm and snuggly around your neck to keep you warm. Yes, whilst a hat may be the obvious option for some reason hats just aren’t my ‘go to’ accessory.

So as a proud wearer of neckwear I’m really pleased to present the Constance cowl, my second design produced for  the Erika Knight yarn range.

Now as I mentioned in the previous post on the Camellia sweater these designs were commissioned/knitted around the time of my ‘brain squatters’ so even now some of the details are a bit hazy. I remember (I think) knitting it before my op then sewing it up and despite my best efforts to write notes for everything when I came to write up the pattern I couldn’t remember or see if it was knitted flat or in the round – so I had to search for and eventually undo the seam to confirm how it was made. Annoying at the time but it does say something for my expert mattress stitch technique.

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Browsing through the many books in my library of stitch patterns always sparks off lots of ideas and in this case the stitch came before the project itself. I wanted to create a rib based stitch that had a touch of lace but with the advantage of being reversible. A couple of hours, a bit of graph tinkering and a few swatches later I was happy with the results.  The 30 row repeat stitch pattern combines simple knit & purl with double yarn overs and slip stitches to create an unusual slanted rib structure that creates a lovely zig zag side edge that disappears when the project is sewn up after knitting.

The design is knitted in Erika’s British Blue 100 which is a beautifully soft DK weight yarn spun from 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool. It’s available in a choice of 10 shades and the cowl shown on the front of the pattern is knitted in Regent’s Park.

It’s generously sized so that it can be looped twice around the neck and of course you could always add a few extra repeats to the length if you wanted to make it deeper. 

I hope you like the pattern and would love to see what colours you choose for your version #Constancecowl

Have a great weekend

J x 

 

Camellia sweater for Erika Knight

*Before we start I should pre-warn you that there may be a bit of waywardness in this post

It’s been quite a whirlwind of a year, in fact that’s a bit of an understatement. I try not to look back too often and dwell in the past but as you’ll know if you (hopefully) read this blog regularly I occasionally have days when my brain doesn’t work as it should. Mind you whose brain does?

Mum often tells me that I don’t allow myself to recover properly when I’v been ill and to be honest she’s probably right. Since my craniotomy following the brain tumour diagnosis last May we’ve moved house (hooray), overseen a major renovation on the kitchen from hell (even more hoorays) and this Friday we’ll finally be moving my elderly parents from Essex to East Sussex so we can look after them. Understandably at ages 87 & 93 respectively  Mum and Dad are excited and more than a little anxious. They’ve lived in and around London since they came to England from Barbados at the end of the 1950’s and I think they’ve only visited Brighton on day trips to the seaside with the church…..a church they attended for the last time yesterday having been members of the congregation for over 35 years. So it’s fair to say there’s been a lot going on and somehow I’ve also managed to do what seems to be lot of design work. (More by luck than careful planning take my word for it).

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Camellia is the latest design to be published but the first I’m proud to say that I’ve designed for Erika Knight. As I mentioned in my previous post I met Erika at a yarn festival here in Brighton and we got on so well we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Erika has a very understated, modern design style and her eponymous yarn range focuses on the highest quality, natural fibre yarns produced (where possible) in Britain. To be asked to design in any of her yarns really is like being a kid in a sweet shop; from big fat Maxi Wool to the wonderfully hairy Fur Wool my creativity went into overdrive and I soon scrambled to sketch out more designs than I’d done in a long, long time.

Camellia sketch J Sloan

Oh yes, that brings us back to Camellia. Knitted in Erika’s Studio Linen it’s a long sleeve, scoop neck sweater with a very simple silhouette that allows the characteristics of the yarn to shine through.  Made from 85% recycled linen and 15% premium linen fibre this is an extremely special yarn and an absolute dream to knit with as it’s not only soft but has a wonderful slinky handle that means it drapes beautifully . I chose a really subtle rib stitch for the sleeves and yoke and contrasted it with good old stocking stitch for the body but just to make things a bit interesting added a small gather detail at the centre of the bust at the start of the rib section. I’ve used a long tail cast on for both body and sleeves to keep the edges nice and soft and there’s gentle ruffle on the cuffs where the stocking stitch gives way to the rib.

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It’s been a long process to get this design published as it was originally designed before my diagnosis and to be honest it was a bit of a struggle to get back into my pre-op headspace. Whilst I really enjoyed knitting the garment myself it was, at times, really frustrating that notes I’d made before no longer made sense to me. In fact even 14 months after my surgery it’s like looking at someone else’s work and I still can’t remember whether it was knitted before or after the op. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Erika and Bella for their patience and understanding, it wasn’t easy getting this done but I’m so pleased with the results and hopefully you knitters will be too.

The garment has been sized from S – XL oh yes and I should also thank Bronagh Miskelly for her brilliant tech editing skills, I really couldn’t have done this without her help.

You can buy the pattern for Camellia #camelliasweater from your nearest stockist of the Erika Knight range or from the Erika Knight Pattern Store over on Ravelry

Have a great week

J x

 

On meeting your heroes

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I’m not sure who it was that one said you should never meet your heroes. No doubt it’s because they often don’t live up to our far-too-high expectations and are therefore not worthy of the pedestal on which we’ve placed them. Or they’re just bloody rude. This is a case however where any expectations I had were far, far exceeded.

I first met Erika Knight in 2014 (I think) at the Unwind yarn festival here in Brighton and have to admit to being a little star struck. At the time I’d been trying in vain to get the Jeanette Sloan yarn range off the ground and was feeling more than a little jaded about my work and my place in the ‘knitting community’. So meeting someone whose work I’ve admired since being a design student was no small deal but I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead just a few years later. We chatted over the course of the show and did that ‘oh we should meet for coffee’ kind of thing, you know the one that normally never transpires. Thankfully though it did and we’ve met up on more than one occasion over coffee, gin and cake (not at the same time mind).

As someone who is incredibly modest she won’t thank me for talking about her in great detail so I won’t embarrass her by doing so. Instead I’ll simply say that she is a genuinely warm, funny, beautiful  and classy lady whose personality is reflected in her designs which are timeless whilst at the same time feeling current. (Right Erika, no more gushing I promise).

When I was asked by Erika to do a couple of designs using yarns from her own range you literally could have picked me up off the floor. In fact I was still pinching myself when I rushed home – again starry eyed – to tell Sam. Life however got in the way of our best laid plans and last year when I was diagnosed with the ‘brain squatters’ it meant that I couldn’t meet the original deadline set for the designs.

Fast forward around 14 months and thanks to a bit of re-jigging and a lot of patience from this incredible lady and her fantastic daughter Bella – her right hand woman – the designs have finally been published. (I’m planning to write a longer post to talk about the designs in more detail).

Erika you are definitely a design hero to me. I hadn’t really thought of exploring my yarn / design heroes before but I think it would make for some interesting blog posts as creatively we take influences and inspiration  from countless diverse sources.

Ms Knight, I owe you so much. Thank you…xxx

 

 

Garden sheds and curious finds

As you may know we’ve been undergoing some pretty major renovations in an effort to turn the kitchen-from-hell, inherited when we bought the house, into my kitchen-from-heaven. Now back in the early days of my recovery I swore last year that I was going to have a much less stressful life and take things at a more leisurely pace. Well that’s what I told myself (and my mother who’s turned worrying about me into a career). We’ve barely owned this house for a year and the kitchen-from-heaven is now a reality although there are still things like flooring to be laid and doors to be hung which is why there are no pictures yet. Well as one major upheaval comes to a close another is about to dawn on us with the moving of my elderly parents down from Essex to a new home in East Sussex. It’s a hell of a move for anyone who’s lived in and around London for over 50 years but at 87 and 93 realistically it’s the last move either Mum & Dad will make but it’s worth it to have them live just around the corner where we can keep and eye and look after them.

What this move also means of course that Sam and I are spending many hours at my parents’ bungalow rooting through long forgotten boxes trying to de-clutter prior to packing everything into boxes. Going through the garden shed we came across what you’d expect; 3 sets of secateurs, 3 forks, 2 hoes, enough lawn care products to see the Lawn Tennis Association through the Wimbledon fortnight and countless tins of paint. ‘It’s good paint’ my Dad protested when I told him we’d have to dump the lot. ‘Yes it is good paint Dad, but only if it’s the right colour’.

Digging towards the dusty, spider ridden corners of the shed what I didn’t expect to come across was a folder containing photos recording some of the first pieces of design work I produced as a freelance knitwear designer.

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Now back in the golden days of swatching I used to sell both machine & hand knitted, crochet and embroidery designs through a couple of agents that sold internationally to fashion companies like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan & Etro. In those days the samples produced were really source pieces from which the companies could take a number of ideas that could then be put into production and this meant that sometimes the swatches were a bit over the top in terms of colour, texture and embellishment. I didn’t always find out where each swatch eventually ended up  and I wasn’t the most prolific designer (my friend Wendy H’s swatch count literally ran into the hundreds) but I’d like to think that even now someone, somewhere is wearing a beautiful piece of 90’s knitwear, crochet or embroidery that was at least inspired by one of my designs.

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Now before you go judging me on my colour and stitch choices every collection was based on a storyboard provided by the agent and this meant that I didn’t always love the colours I was working with. That’s just the job of a designer, to work to the brief you’re given.

As you can see, even back then I loved knitting intarsia…and vivid colour…oh and a bit of embellishment. In fact some of the designs didn’t sell because there was so much going on they were too expensive to manufacture. Ah, the mistakes of youth.

Thankfully my design ethos is much less ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ nowadays but these were a real blast from the past, in some cases I can remember every yarn used and where I bought it.

How have your creative tastes changed over the years, would you be embarrassed now by what you were knitting 30 years ago? Hopefully not!

J x