Gawthorpe Inspiration

The lovely team who look after the Rachel Kay Shuttleworth collection at Gawthorpe Hall are such an innovative bunch. Not only do they hold inspiring workshops and textile study days, they have cunning plan to use the historic collections to inspire new designs for knitting and crotchet patterns.

Those if us who know our museum history will be aware that this is a role for museums that the Victorians firmly believed in. How many museum studies students have written essays about the founding role of the South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and Albert, to inspire British designers?

Last Thursday I was able to join a small  group of designers as they pored over a wonderful selection of treasures from the museum collection.


They included Debbie Bliss who turned out to have a quietly wicked sense of humour and Kate Davies who writes one of my favourite blogs,  Claire Montgomerie and Emma Varnam, who encouraged me to start this blog.

I can’t wait to see the designs that materialise from the Gawthorpe inspiration.  Their plan is to sell the new patterns and to have them displayed – with the historic examples which inspired them – in the gallery.  It will be fascinating to see how the designers reinterpret the knitted and crocheted treasures of Gawthorpe for today.

Shown here is a tiny selection from the many examples the curators had set out for us to study.

 Image courtesy of Gawthorpe Textile Collection.  Not to be reproduced without permission.


Images of Knitters – 1880

 No-one told Effie about the sock knit-along

No-one told Elsie about the sock knit-along



























This illustration from a story in The Girl’s Own Paper shows Elsie, a Highland lass.  Orphaned and caring for a sick brother she supplements their meagre earning from growing vegetables by selling her knitting.

Although she went quickly, still she knitted by the way – it had become such a habit  with her, as she went to and fro along the little path to the farm, that she did not feel right unless she had the needles in her hands, and her feet had learned the way without the help of her eyes, which lately had got more into the habit of resting on her work….”

Stories of rural Scottish women knitting as they went about other work are well known.  I have seen photographs of women on Shetland knitting as they carried peat, as Elsie in this story carries her pail of milk.  This story is set in the West Highlands,  I suspect to the 19th century tourists who started to visit rural Scotland (made more popular by Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for the Highlands and the expansion of the railway) found the sight romantically picturesque. although in reality the life must have been grindingly harsh.

I’m not quite sure how Elsie’s ball of yarn is supported.  It seems to be suspended by something round her neck.  Something to investigate, but if anyone knows do tell me.

Holiday Knitting or Not

I’ve just got back from 10 lovely days in the Lot region of France. Of course I packed some knitting.  But I found alpaca yarn and hot weather is an uncomfortable combination so I doubt if I got more than a couple of inches added to my wrap.  Hey ho.

In the little villages we explored there were delightful food markets of course – but I didn’t come across any yarn shops so no  store review this time.

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But one evening I started to teach my niece to knit.  She is about to go off to art college to do a textile course so she probably has a an affinity with all things yarny and certainly she appeared to be a natural.  But it was hot and sticky for her too so we didn’t persevere for long.

I won’t see her again till Christmas. Next time I’m at a yarn store I intend to choose some needles, yarn and a beginner’s guide and post them to her. And at Christmas I’ll pick up on teaching her person to person again.

This is sheer self-interest.  It’s my bid for a little bit of immortality – you never forget who taught you to knit and hopefully when she is a little old lady wrapped on gorgeous hand-knits she’ll occasionally think of the batty auntie, long gone, who set her off.

Two Rows Forward, One Row Back

I’m about two thirds through a Stonecrop.  I’m not an experienced lace knitter although I can imagine myself becoming an enthusiast.  There is something very absorbing about it.  It’s  satisfying when it’s going well – and infuriating when it isn’t.

After completing a couple of projects with lacey borders Stonecrop is a step up for me as the whole thing is  lace, although every other row is plain knitting.  (I believe for purists ‘real’ knitted lace has no plain rows between the pattern rows.)  For the first foot or so of this shawl it was two rows forward and one back when I made a mistake but couldn’t work out where.  All I could see was that I had too many, or too few stitches on the needle.  The only thing to do was to tink back until I found a row that had the correct number of stitches.

And then gradually as I got further on I noticed that wan’t happening any more.  What had made the difference?

I had started to be able to read the chart more fluently.  I had also learnt how to see in my knitting the progression from the last few rows I had completed to the one I was working.  I could make the connection between, say, a diagonal row of eyelet holes to where I would do a yarn over in the current row.

I was a reluctant convert to charts.  I didn’t like charts!  I didn’t want to use charts! Why couldn’t designers provide a line by line written pattern?  Then I started to use charts.

It felt difficult at first.  But then I got the hang of them. Grudgingly I had to admit that all those people who tell you how brilliant charts are are right.  (More about how I was converted another day.)  And if I am going to eventually progress from the relatively simple Stonecrop to some of the fabulous lace creations that some Ravelry members have made, getting competent at using charts is essential.

But the knitting gods noticed I was getting complacent.  Even as I was taking a break from composing this post by taking up the knitting again sure enough ten minutes later I found I had 50 instead of 51 stitches in the centre panel.  With my newfound skills in ‘reading my knitting’ could I find the pesky missing stitch?

I could not.

Back to the tinking!

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As everyone will tell you knitted lace looks distinctly unimpressive until it has been competed and blocked.  This is my project in its current state.  Not a particularly pretty sight.  But I have faith in the transformational properties of a luke warn soak and careful pinning out to stretch the fabric to reveal the pattern.  But that’s for another day – I still have a way to go on this before I get to that stage.

The yarn I’m using here is a baby alpaca I bought in Florence last summer.  It is so soft and warm and a beautiful shade of crimson – deeper than it looks in this photo.  Autumn isn’t so far off now and I’m imagining how cosy it will feel and how it will brighten up my dark grey winter coat.

Are you knitting for winter now?

Stash Enhancements from Die Woll-Lust

I said I would show and tell from my visit to Die Woll-Lust on my trip to Berlin.

One of the things I particularly liked about the shop was the way the colours were arranged.  Everywhere I looked there were enticing juxtapositions of colours. I was drawn to these gorgeous hanks of Filace Seta Cash in shades of mauves and greys.


I think those colours just want to be made into a fine striped fabric.  I’m not sure what to make – a lightweight cardigan maybe?  But it will take a lot of knitting in such a fine gauge.  While I think about it I’ll enjoy playing with the skeins, arranging them in different order.


I have a weakness for Rowan Kidsilk Haze.  This yarn, Filace Setmo,  caught my eye as being somewhat similar.  It has a higher proportion of silk (50% silk, 50% mohair compared to KSH’s 30% silk, 70% mohair)  which gives it a little bit more lustre at the core.  Look at that brilliant  scarlet!

There was a lace shawl made of this yarn, Filace Quito,  in a different colour on display in the shop.  It had a lovely handle – soft but with a bit of body to it, as you would expect from a yarn which is 90% alpaca, 10% merino. This is a brilliant blue-green and the yarn just called out “Take me home!”  How could I resist?


It’s not usual for me to buy several yarns at one go – I tend to buy with a project in mind.  But there is something about being on holiday and knowing that I can’t pop back a few weeks later that makes me more susceptible to temptation.


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Berlin Yarn Store Bliss

In an earlier post I wrote about buying yarn in Florence.  I’ve just spent five days on a short holiday in Berlin and although I spent most of my time in the fabulous museums and art galleries (and the fassbender and rausch chocolate  store!), I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to check out one of the yarns stores.  A quick look on line showed several that looked promising but the one I most liked the look of, and which was within reasonable distance of where we were staying was Die-Woll Lust.

It’s in a quiet street, Mittenwalder Strasse, not far from the  Gneisenaustr U station. It was a small shop front but an enticing one.  The window display showed that the lace shawl craze has certainly caught on in this corner of Berlin.

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Aren’t these gorgeous?

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A clever touch – there is a comfortable bench outside to park waiting spouses! I left my husband reading a book and went inside.

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A closer view of the window display from inside the store.













What a lovely store!  At a table a small group was taking a sock knitting lesson.   Although I speak no German I instantly recognised the gentle burble of a small group of knitters chatting comfortably over the needles.  It must be international!

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I was amused by these  little knitted socks on the chair legs!






Just look at that wall of  colours!   And this is just a small part of the stock.  The shop is not enormous but packed with the most enticing yarns.  I would say that the shop is particularly strong on luxury quality lace weight and fingering weight yarns, much of it by Filace. They also had a good selection of sock yarns – Regia, Trekking and others.  They also had roving and yarn for felting.  They had a good stock of knitting needles, crotchet hooks and other tools by Knit-Pro, and a small but beautiful selection of shawl pins.

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.Did I buy anything?

Come on, what do you think?

It was difficult to choose.  But I’ll show off my purchases in my next post.

10,916 Ravellers Can’t be Wrong

It’s hardly original to comment about Citron – 10,916 Ravelry members have made one and it’s in over 7,500 queues. But it’s such a great little shawl, originally published on Knitty by Hilary Smith Callis. I made mine after sitting behind someone wearing one on a training course. I could hardly wait till the break to ask about it. And after seeing mine my sister also made one – so it appears to be a very seductive little garment. To see it is to want it!

I made mine in Juno Alice Lace in a colour called ‘Pot pourri’ which is just the right name – the semi-solid soft pink puts you in mind of the china bowls of slightly dusty dried rose petals you see in English stately homes. This yarn is beautifully soft and silky so my Citron is a real comfort on chilly days.  Best yet – Juno is a small British dying company based in Devon.  The colours are lovely.

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I tend to wear it slightly scrunched up as a scarf. Because the yarn is so soft and fine it is easy to wear under a coat. And because it is so light it also works very well as something to pop on when it starts to get cool at the end of a warm day. (I do just about remember a few of those last summer!)

OK, it has to be admitted that the miles of stockingette might not be to everyone’s taste but somehow it gets a bit addictive. And it’s pleasant TV knitting.



Be warned that towards the end of this project the rows get VERY long! I made the mad decision to end with a picot – I didn’t calculate how many stitches this involved but it took two evenings to complete. Having done that I was pleased I had as the resulting edge does not roll the way the original design does. It’s a matter of personal taste though.

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A Treat in the Post – Colours of Shetland

Kate Davies writes one of my favourite knitting blogs and when I was reading it recently I saw a mention that stocks of her book Colours of Shetland were getting low. I’ve been meaning to buy it for a while so I was spurred to order a copy.

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It arrived this morning and I’m so glad I did. It’s a lovely book and it makes me want to do two things – knit some of the beautiful designs and visit Shetland!

The two are closely connected as Kate’s designs are inspired by the landscape, and seascape, of Shetland and by its heritage traditions.  The ten patterns are more than worth the £14.99 the book costs, but an added pleasure are the stories of Shetland’s history, landscape and natural history that eloquently convey Kate’s love for the islands.

DSC_0093Kate uses Jamieson and Smith’s jumper yarn throughout.  This genuine Shetland yarn  (the company handles 80% of the wool produced on Shetland) is available in over 80 colours.  The company blog is also a mine of information about all things Shetland wooly.

Something Completely Different – Knitting Wire Jewellery

The Gawthorpe Textiles collection is one of the heritage gems of the North West of England.  It deserves to be better known.  Fabulous embroidery, quilts, lace and costume. The collection is housed at Gawthorpe Hall, a lovely JacobeanNational Trust property in Padiham, not far from Burnley.

This year they are running a series of artist-led workshops.  Eager to try something new I spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon at a knitted wire jewellery workshop.  The workshops are held in the lovely library which was very tantalising as there were so many enticing textile history lining the room.  However there wasn’t time to browse as we had a project to complete during the afternoon.


The workshop was led by textile artist Claire Ketteman who inspired us by showing some head-dresses she had made for dance performances. Check out her lovely blog, Textile Alchemy.


Our project for the afternoon was a pair of earrings in the form of fuchsia flowers.  First we tried out knitting with wire.  For many of us, including me, a big part of the pleasure of knitting is the tactile enjoyment of lovely soft yarn so knitting with fine wire is a very different type of experience.We were provided reels of red and purple copper wire to make the fuchsia flowers.  I didn’t quite finish a pair but I’m proud of the one I made! (below)


The earring hooks, wires and beads were provided and Claire helped those of us who were new to jewellery making put the earrings together.  They dangle just like real fuchsia flower heads do.  You can see a perfect example on Claire’s blog.





I haven’t been to many knitting workshops – a couple at Rowan in Holmfirth – and this one.  But when I do I always wonder why I don’t do it more often.  There is something about sitting round a big table with needles and yarn that is very conducive to amiable chatter.

As well as workshops the Gawthorpe programme also includes ‘Exploration  Days’ with opportunities to look closer at parts of the collection with a curator.  Sessions on lace, quilts and embroidery are coming up this summer – I’m sure they’ll be a real treat for historic textile enthusiasts.