Today I want to re-introduce you to my latest pattern release, a shawl I designed over 3 years ago back in October 2017, and to re-visit the design process behind it. So much has happened since then, sometimes it’s good to look back and see things in a wider perspective, to appreciate our achievements, and celebrate our strength and capacity to overcome.
The pattern was certainly designed as a celebration, marking the completion of my good friend Susan Crawford’s cancer treatment, but also to honour the amazing women with whom she shared that journey, and to raise funds for the local Cancer Care charity that brought them together to support them and each other through that most challenging of times.
The pattern was originally released, alongside the #FUBC shawl No.1 designed by Susan herself, as part of a kit that also comprised two skeins of Lancashire Lonk single farm yarn ‘Ghyll‘, 1 x 100g skein of undyed yarn and 1 x 100g dyed by 4 fabulous indie dyers. There are still a very few remaining skeins in the colourway modelled by Susan here available from Susan Crawford Vintage.
The Design Brief
In terms of the design process, the brief was relatively simple; a shawl that made the most of the qualities of the yarn and took the impressive horns of the Lonk sheep as its inspiration.
If you’re not familiar with the Lonk breed, and to be fair it doesn’t stray that far from Lancashire, it’s a pretty solid stocky sheep of the blackfaced mountain family and has very impressive horns. Whilst the horns give you something to grip onto when managing the sheep, they can be turned on you quickly if the sheep in question doesn’t want to be managed. I probably don’t need to go into the details of how I know this…
As good a looking sheep as it is, we all know the key thing around here is the wool. The lonk has a pretty amazing fleece, up to 3 kilos of crimpy locks with a little lustre for good measure. Susan’s Ghyll, yarn came from a single farm on the slopes of Clougha Pike, where Jeffrey has kept Lonks for over 60 years, breeding them to improve their wool; his knowledge and experience shows. In 2016, Susan bought all of Jeffrey’s shearling fleece and it was this first shearing that was spun into Ghyll by the Natural Fibre Company. The resulting yarn is heavy 4 ply/sport weight yarn that is surprisingly soft. It also takes dye beautifully as evidenced by the wonderfully varied colourways the dyers achieved, and which the knitter in me thoroughly enjoyed working with.
The Design Process
As much as I loved working with the yarn the design process wasn’t the smoothest. Susan and I had decided that she would work her design top down and I would work sideways tip to tip. I had worked in this direction with both my Lewth and Hawserlaid shawls, and had really enjoyed it, both in terms of the design process and the knitting. If you haven’t knit a sideways shawl I do recommend it.
That said, both Lewth and Hawserlaid are single colour, side to side triangles which, it turned out is a lot more straight forward than a two coloured arcing horn inspired shape. Suffice it to say there was a lot of swatching and ripping back involved. Thankfully the yarn was incredibly resilient and forgiving of these multiple knittings and rippings.
Swatching revealed that the yarn worked wonderfully in textured stitches, cables and lace, and at multiple gauges so you can see that the possibilities were a little overwhelming. Add to that the feeling that I wanted to create something that did justice to the aims of the #fubc shawl kits, and you can probably see why the final shawl was at least the third iteration as the design was progressively pared back.
The crux of the challenge was how to:
– combine the beautifully dyed yarns with the natural undyed yarn in a way that allowed both the shine
– get the shaping just right with the correct amount of curl and taper for maximum wearability
– do so in a way that could be written into a pattern with its own rhythm to make it an enjoyable, perhaps even intuitive knit.
Sometimes when you work on designs over a period of time, especially quite intensively, there may be elements that you like, that you feel work well but you can also be highly critical, or dare I say, a tad perfectionist about it. The benefit of hindsight, when others have knitted the pattern and happily worn the shawl is that you can dismiss the doubts and simply enjoy the successful design elements. For example, from the moment I swatched this element of the shawl, I loved this transition from simple lace edging to main colour.
It looks so simple doesn’t it? Two wonderful lines of stitches, one in each of the the two colours side by side, a strong symmetrical line separating the 2 sections of open work on either side of them. While I love how it looks, I also love (and perhaps even a little more) what it does in terms of the knitting experience. Working this column of stitches in dyed yarn after the natural lace edging, even when working both the lace edging and then the main body rows in the natural yarn, eradicates any untidy yarn management issues – there’s no dilemma about whether to carry the yarn or to cut and rejoin it as you swap colours (with the resultant ends to sew in), the yarn is always carried within the pattern and ready and waiting for you at each step of the way.
I also rather like how these stitches continue through the final section where you knit the edging while decreasing. Here you also have a series of yarn overs worked along the end section as lace sweeps round from the bottom edge to the top, and which echo those along the length, and the top edge. Simple design elements that I think pull the design together.
Finally I do think the balance between the natural and the hand dyed yarn works nicely with the natural setting off the complexity of the hand dyed colours but neither overwhelming the other.
In terms of the knitting experience the pattern comprises a series of repeats that allow you to get into a nice rhythm and this, combined with the graphic nature of the design, means it’s easy to read your knitting and keep track that way too. But for all I say, again looking back also allows other knitters to share their thoughts with feedback* including:
I really enjoyed knitting this clever pattern.
Very interesting construction using both colors on each row, fun and pretty easy with a nice effect.
Took me a couple of false starts to get going but soon got into the rhythm.
The best things about designing knitting patterns however, is when you see someone take your design and make it their own, only then do you really know that it’s worked. You get an insight into this during the photoshoot process, but it’s really when patterns are being knitted, and seeing other people liking the final shawl, seeing how easily they style it themselves and want to wear it, and seeing how good it looks on them that, that are the true signs of whether a design has worked…
The fubc 2 shawl is now available as an individual pattern from both my pattern store here – where you can also browse a slideshow of images, see all the technical specs and buy from your preferred site, or from Susan’s website where you can snap up the last of the original Ghyll yarn or peruse the gorgeous hand dyed shades of Bluem or Byre, both 4 ply yarns that would be lovely for this shawl.
It’s been fun sharing my design work with you. It’s been a while…
But now we are moved and settled the largely unintended design sabbatical that accompanied our preparations to move, the move itself and this last year will be coming to an end. My design mojo has returned and I’ve had chance to work through the large number of designs that stalled in the works at various stages and I’m really excited to be in a position to see them through to publication in the coming year.
I hope you are starting the year with a similar sense of purpose.
All the best,
*Feedback from Ravelry completed project pages