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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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

 

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

 

Hove Actually, The Knitter issue 112

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Well, just like buses, you don’t design anything for a couple of years and when your creative mojo does finally return both designs hit the shops in the same month. No complaints from me though. Given how life looked at this point last year I realise how very blessed I am.

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My latest design Hove Actually has just been published in issue 112 of The Knitter. It was  originally submitted back in March of last year when I was blissfully unaware of the interesting turn the year would take just a couple of months later with the diagnosis of two brain tumours. Understandably this meant that I couldn’t complete the commission but fortunately when I approached Kirsty McLeod ( The Knitter’s Commissioning Editor) back in January of this year, she still wanted to use it.

In a lot of ways this design reflects how my life has changed over the last 12 months. I really wanted to create a simply shaped, relaxed jumper. You know, the sort you’d throw on with a pair of linen trousers if you were going for a beach walk on a bright sunny day. (And in a strange echo of things to come, although it wasn’t the case when I came up with the design, we now live just 3 minutes from the sea). Worked in one of my all time favourite yarns, Rowan Denim, along with Handknit Cotton it has a boxy body and slash neck that help to give it a relaxed feel.

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In terms of techniques both body and sleeves begin with a 3 colour braided cast on then continue with a 2 colour border worked in mosaic stitch that splits at the sides just above the hips. The main body uses the same chart as the border but it’s worked in a single colour in simple knit & purl texture that will develop in character as the denim yarn fades beautifully with each wash.  In fact the whole garment will age gently the more it’s worn and washed, it’s one of the reasons I chose to use the denim yarn.

I tend not to name my designs until after I’ve knitted them but wanted to celebrate something of a new beginning having been given a clear bill of health (again), our move to the seaside and of course the standing joke that if you ask a Hove resident if they live in Brighton, the reply usually comes back in a flash. ‘No, Hove actually’.

 

I love the way the garment turned out and the styling in the magazine suits the design perfectly. As I said it’s been a while since my work has featured in The Knitter and this issue sees the launch of a new look cover along with a new series of 8 page pullout booklets. Issue 112 also has designs by Liz Lovick, Emma Vining, Kaffe Fassett, Mary Henderson, Penny Hemingway, Pat Menchini, Kyle Kunnecke, Chloe Webster, Helen Ardley. So understandably I’m truly honoured that they chose to feature Hove Actually along with an interview I did with the lovely Helen Spedding just a couple of months ago in the first of these spreads.

I’m not sure how worthy I am of being described as ‘inspirational’ I but felt very humbled (and more than a little bit emotional)  when it arrived in the post this morning. The weather is supposed to be ‘scorchio’ here this weekend so grab a copy, get down to the beach (or just sit in the sun) and enjoy!

Jx

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On The Tiles Clutch Bag

Well hello!

Yes I remember back in January when I did the #31daychallenge that it was meant to get me blogging more regularly but over the past week the building work has had to take priority. We’re still living on ready meals (albeit very delicious ones from Cook), we’re still at the mercy of a temperamental immersion heater that produces water so hot it’s like standing under a boiling kettle so we switch it off 8 hours before we actually want to shower and yes I’m still washing the dishes in a plastic crate in the bath. BUT we’re definitely on the home straight.

The walls have now been plastered and the first ‘miscoats’ of white emulsion paint applied. I’m actually a little worried about how much light bounces around the newly extended kitchen / dining / lounge room. When I was painting last week it was so eye piercingly bright that it actually caused a migraine – no really,  I’m serious. I had to take two Sumatriptan and go to bed for an hour. Thankfully Sam and my nephew Jas were both around to pick up the slack, it’s amazing how hard a 19 year old will work when there’s hard cash involved. Anyway we’re definitely making progress – well the builders are – and we may even take delivery of the new kitchen by the end of the week. So with all this going on I completely forgot that my latest design has just been published in the July issue of Knitting Magazine.

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On The Tiles is a simply shaped clutch bag knitted in a pure wool yarn that’s then felted in a washing machine. It’s knitted in The Little Grey Sheep Hampshire Chunky which is a yarn I first saw when I visited Unravel back in February and I have to admit it was love at first sight. It’s rounded with a soft, lofty feel and a hints of black/grey and ecru that add lots of interest to the colour. I normally start with a sketch of the design but in this case we (that’s my editor Christine and I) had got chatting to Emma from TLGS about the possibility of a design and I had to select the colours then and there.  It wasn’t easy as the range of shades that Emma has put together is truly tempting and although I went for my usual spicy combinations of rust, reds and pinks I thought it would be interesting to venture in a different direction colourwise.

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Each of the 19 colours is intriguingly named after places and people in Hampshire so rather than my default combo of Mickelmersh (a weathered rust) and Sense and Sensibility (pinky brick red) I eventually plumped for Dragon Racing (a dirty teal) and Walking the St Swithuns Way  (a gobliny green with a touch of yellow).

 

fullsizeoutput_526Having chosen colours I knew that I wanted a stitch that would work as a stripe with some sort of texture where one colour ‘intruded’ in some way onto the next. I absolutely love the swatching process and after a few experiments found the combination of slipping certain stitches then eventually knitting them ‘out of order’ created an elongated stitch that worked as I’d imagined. As an added bonus it also created a scalloped edge that could be used as a feature cast on at the opening edge of the finished bag. I’ll admit that the stitch pattern does take a while to get your brain around it but if my wonky brain can manage then I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.

Once knitted the bag is felted and then the making up process begins. Now I really am not a fan of saggy knitted bags so as well as felting I thought that lining the bag with a heavyweight interfacing would help the bag keep it’s shape when used. I’ve recommended pelmet interfacing but since making the bag have found that Decovil interfacing has a nice heavyweight that works better. It’s slightly more expensive than standard interfacing but worth it for the quality, I found it here at Cotton Patch where you can buy it by the 1/4 metre. As it’s not the most straight forward making up process to interface and insert the lining into the bag so I’ll be posting a tutorial over on the website (which is currently being updated) so keep an eye out for that. I’d be interested to hear what you think about the design and would love to see what colour combinations you’ll be coming up with when you make your version of On The Tiles ( use #onthetilesclutchbag on twitter and Instagram and I’ll find you). Oh and the name? The way that one coloured stripe stacks on top of the next reminded me of tiles, plus it’s a great sized bag for carry the basics when you’re on a night out. Or perhaps it’s the influence of all this building work….

In the meantime I’d better get some knitting done, I’ve got a couple of design submissions to work on….and kitchen appliances to source.

J x

 

SLOANmade & Artists Open Houses

Yet again I should start this blog post with an apology for not writing it sooner. BUT I reckon that as you’re here reading it, you know me well enough by now and that given the events of the last year you’ll understand why I’m not going to beat myself up when life gets in the way of a planned blogpost.

So speaking of the last year, back when I was recovering from surgery and I couldn’t do much more than wash and dress myself without needing to lie down for the rest of the day I decided that if I got the opportunity I’d really like to get back to the process of ‘making’. It’s been a good few years since I made ready to wear accessories under my ‘duppdupp’ label in Scotland and whilst I don’t want to buried under  mountain of coned yarn knitting endless hats, scarves and bags I missed the joy of designing, sampling, making and finishing an item. Plus of course my newly liberated brain was coming up with some new ideas. This is how SLOANmade was born.

SLOANmade  is really an opportunity for me to explore my sometimes random ideas, techniques, shapes and designs that will be translated into a small collection of ready to wear accessories. As well as focussing on a slower, hand crafted approach to items that are carefully and lovingly hand made,  it’ll be an ideal way for me to explore new techniques and generally get back the ‘making mojo’ I’d lost way before my brain tumours were diagnosed. Plus it will be another way in which I can celebrate my new, less-stressed approach to life and, to be honest, the fact that I’m still here at all.

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The first collection of bags revisits one of my favourite stitches that I developed back in the days of ‘duppdupp’. The Seersucker clutch bags are machine knitted in fine lambswool on a hand flat knitting machine before being felted in a washing machine to  make the fabric more durable. It’s then interfaced, lined and made up into the new clutch bag shape and if I’m honest – given the way my head works now – I’m really pleased with both the look and feel of the bag.

As you can see from the pictures the bags are fully lined and this provides a contrast piped effect on the outside of the flap plus the natural curve at the knitted cast and cast off edges provides a really pretty edge detail which is tipped in a contrast colour on many of the bags. The pinched bottom shape allows the bag to sit upright when full, plus there’s also a small inside pocket and it closes securely with a magnetic clasp.

As I mentioned in a previous post I’m showing the SLOANmade collection as part of Brighton’s Artists Open House event. Along with my husband Sam who’s showing some of his brilliant photography and Ben King who crafts  handmade furniture from a selection of English woods we’re collectively exhibiting as ‘Created’ at  Digital Freelance  in Kemp Town so if you’re in the East Sussex area why not pop down and see us?

To celebrate the new making me I designed a new business card and it arrived yesterday. I”m really pleased with them, what do you think?

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I’m also in the process of updating the website so you’ll also be able to view and buy the SLOANmade collection from there. I promise there will be a blog post soon about that!

Have a great weekend

J x

 

Knitting IOU – paid

31 Day Challenge Day 20

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Back on Day 12 of this 31 day blog challenge I mentioned an IOU given to Sam for a hat to match a pair of fingerless gloves I’d made for him previously. Well, I’ve actually managed to finish the hat despite my brain’s best (or should that be worst) efforts. It was challenging, not because the pattern was particularly complex but mainly because it’s the first thing I’ve designed since my craniotomy. My tumours were in each of the frontal lobes of my brain and since that can affect, amongst other things, problem solving and memory it means that I have spectacular blank moments whilst I’m slap, bang in the middle of working something out.

There was a little bit of ‘ripe’ language when I had to rip back the crown shaping not once, but three times but frogging and the odd pattern glitch aside I’m pleased with the way it’s turned out. And better still so is Sam.

What project have you finished this week? And what’s next on your needles…

J x