All about Escher – Metamorphose Cowl

 

When I was approached by Miss Babs to contribute a design to her 2016 Knitting Tour, and given the Netherlands as my country of inspiration, I knew instantly where to look for ideas: the work of the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher.

I’ve loved M. C. Escher’s work for as long as I can remember; possibly for longer than I was aware of his name, as he is one of those artists whose work is so distinctly unique (so much so that Escheresque exists as an adjective to describe artistic works derivative of his own) that its presence is still felt in popular culture (see, for example, the end scene of the 1986 film Labyrinth, inspired by Escher’s Relativity); to the extent that, even if you’ve never heard of Escher, you would likely recognise one of his prints.

Escher is known for his artistic explorations of mathematical concepts such as impossible objects, infinity, perspective, and hyperbolic geometry, which he executed in finely detailed wood-cuts, lithographs and mezzotints.

I find Escher fascinating as an artist, and as a person, mainly because of his astonishing mathematical intuition (and his humble attitude towards it). He always played down his mathematical abilities, pointing out that he had never excelled in it as a subject at school, and had no love of algebra, yet somehow he frequently gravitated towards exploring mathematical subjects through visual means.(see this lecture from Oxford University for a fascinating look at Escher’s intuitive grasp of these subjects).

Escher became obsessed with tessellations (which he referred to as ‘regular divisions of the plane’) after visiting the Alhambra and sketching the decorations there. When asked in 1951 about the symbolism in his print Day and Night, Escher replied:

“I think I have never yet done any work with the aim of symbolising a particular idea, but the fact that a symbol is sometimes discovered or remarked upon is valuable for me, because it makes it easier to accept the inexplicable nature of my hobbies, which constantly preoccupy me.

The regular division of the plane into congruent figures evoking an association in the observer with a familiar natural object is one of these hobbies or problems. This is really all there is to say about Day and Night. I have embarked on this geometric problem again and again over the years, trying to throw light on different aspects each time. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if this problem had never occurred to me; one might say that I am head over heels in love with it, and I still don’t know why.”

It’s worth noting that Escher specifies here ‘the regular division of the plane into congruent figures evoking an association in the observer with a familiar natural object‘, i.e. his obsession was not merely regular tessellation but involved finding tessellating shapes (‘jigsaw pieces’, as he referred to them sometimes) that evoked the shapes of familiar creatures or objects. Most often he played around with the shapes of birds, fish and reptiles, morphing in and out of negative space in increasingly complex ways, sometimes approaching infinity.

The sort of repeating patterns that are used to decorate fabric are, by their very nature, tessellations; indeed, all knitting stitch patterns are tessellations! When I began designing Metamorphose, I knew that I wanted to evoke that gradual morphing of shapes, emerging from negative space and almost becoming recognisable objects. I stopped short of trying to evoke an actual recognisable object, due to the complexity of knitting that this would involve! As always, when designing I’m trying to strike a balance between something that matches the idea in my mind, and is yet still enjoyable to knit without being too complicated. In this case, I sketched a basic morphing tessellation based on a triangle shape; reverse stocking stitch and seed stitch provide an alternating pattern (like the black and whites in Escher’s prints).

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The cowl/infinity scarf is worked as a seamless tube, with the ends grafted together with a twist, to form a Mobius-like loop. I feel like Escher would have been quite intrigued by the potential of knitted fabric to explore concepts like Mobius loops, tessellation and infinity. The way that the tessellating shapes repeat around the tube is very satisfying (albeit, a little tricky – some beginning-of-round marker shifts are necessary at points where the cables cross from one round to the next).

Delving into the world of Escher for inspiration for this design was great fun, and something I hope to return to in the future. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities for complex tessellating cable knitting, and I’d like to explore them.

Thanks to Miss Babs for inviting me on her Knitting Tour (and for the beautiful Killington yarn that she dyed in a special colourway for this design – fittingly named ‘Escher’).

Edited to add: if you’re interested in learning more about M. C. Escher, this documentary is a great starting point.

 

 

 

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Lindisfarne shawl

Yesterday I was really pleased to finally be able to launch Lindisfarne, the second pattern in Illuminated Knits

Lindisfarne is a large rectangular shawl, with an interesting construction. It’s worked in the round, with a steek, then cut open at the end to produce fringed edges.

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The shawl is worked from one side to the other, starting with a provisional cast-on and the edges are finished with an i-cord cast-off.

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Like the first pattern in Illuminated Knits (the Iona blanket), this pattern makes extensive use of slipped-stitch cable colourwork. I’ve really fallen in love with this technique, because it makes it so easy to get the effects of colourwork without having to resort to stranded knitting or intarsia (having devoted so much time to working with cables and lace, I’m a woefully underdeveloped colourwork knitter, all fingers and thumbs!). I took the technique a bit further with this design, by incorporating cable patterns in both of the shades used to stripe the background. The heavier weight cables are in Malabrigo Sock Marte and the delicate twisted stitch cables are in Malabrigo Sock Persia.

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In the central braid that runs down the length of the shawl, the twisted stitch cables wind in and out of the heavier cables. This is one of those marvellous knitting tricks that looks like it would involve fiddling around in a hopeless tangle with lots of balls of yarn at once – but magically, there is still only one strand of yarn being used on each round. I also managed to write the pattern in such a way that there are quite a few rest rounds – most of the cabling takes place on rounds where Marte is the main yarn, and the cables are worked for the twisted stitch cables by simply slipping them into position. On the next round, all that’s required is to k tbl.

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Above is a close-up of the fringe, after the steek has been cut and unravelled, blocked and then neatly knotted at regular intervals. I really love the effect of the two shades of yarn mingled together; it really gives the effect of a piece that has been woven, rather than knitted.

Another benefit of using slipped-stitch colourwork is that the back of the shawl looks really neat – just like striped garter stitch. There’s something very satisfying about looking on the reverse side of a complex multi-coloured piece, and being surprised by the complete lack of floats!

As with the Iona blanket, this design was an absolute monster to design, plan, knit and write up – it was several months in the making and went through a lot of permutations before settling into its final form. Originally I had envisaged the shawl being covered in a repeating pattern of triangular knots, inspired by a knot from the Lindisfarne manuscript. It was quite late in the design process when I suddenly had the vision of the central braid, with the twisted stitch cables lacing in and out. I had to rewrite the design to fit it in, but I think it was worth it in the end!

Here’s a few pics of the design in progress (note my utter inability to settle on a colour scheme!):

 

Iona blanket + Illuminated Knits

I’m delighted to announce the release of a new blanket pattern – Iona!

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This blanket was inspired by the richly decorated carpet pages of illuminated manuscripts; it’s assembled from individual squares, worked separately in the round from the centre out, and then attached with a three-needle cast-off or seamed together.

The contrasting colourwork effect is achieved by striping yarns of two different colours, and slipping the cabled stitches on every other round.

Whilst the cable pattern that forms the Celtic knot was certainly a challenge to design, I think it was actually more difficult to decide on the colours to use in the blanket! The pattern uses Malabrigo Sock, which comes in a gorgeous array of variegated and semi-solid shades. I love how the subtle changes in colour evoke a faded wash of ink – perfect for a design inspired by illuminated manuscripts.

Here are some of my original colour choices (along with some early sketches of the knot that I scribbled in my faithful Moleskine notebook!)

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Archangel (pink-orange) cable with Tiziano Red (background) – I like the combination but thought Archangel was slightly too variegated for the cable to show

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Lots of different colour squares! Think these are, clockwise from top: Lotus (cable) with Aguas (background); Lotus (cable) with Impressionist Sky (background); Lotus and Aguas again; and Impressionist Sky (cable) with Aguas (background).

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Impressionist Sky (cable) with Aguas (background) – really liked this combination but felt the blue was ever-so-slightly too dark to show the cable

After a lot of swatching, sketching and playing around with coloured pencils, I finally settled on a colour scheme that uses 5 colours for 4 differently arranged squares: Turner (green); Ochre (golden-yellow); Archangel (pink-purple-orange); Aguas (blue-green) and Rayon Vert (purple-green).

Once I’d decided on the colours, it was a lot of fun to work on the individual squares and watch the blanket slowly growing. I particularly love how the shade ‘Ochre’ really pops in contrast to the other colours – I used this shade  for the i-cord edging that completes the blanket.

e-book-coverIona is the first pattern in Illuminated Knits a mini-collection of designs inspired by the rich colours and decorations of Celtic illuminated manuscripts and using beautiful shades of Malabrigo yarn.

The collection will feature three accessory patterns (including the Iona blanket) and one garment pattern. It’s available to pre-order now as an e-book for £8.50 and you will receive the patterns as they are released over the coming months.

If you’d prefer to wait until all the patterns are released before buying the e-book, you can sign up to my newsletter to be notified when the collection is complete!

 

The Book of Haps – Uncia

Today I can finally reveal to you my design for Kate Davies’ The Book of Haps

Uncia is an unusually shaped shawl, based on a 1/12th arc shape and inspired by Gothic and Romanesque cathedral architecture.

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Photos by Tom Barr

The pictures for the book were taken on Calton Hill, Edinburgh (not far from where I live, in fact!)

I developed the cable and lace patterns based on cathedrals I visited last summer whilst travelling around France and Germany (in particular: Koln, Mont Saint-Michel and Carcassonne). It was a very fun challenge to try to capture the essence of these buildings in knitted stitches, and it’s probably something I’ll come back to in the future.

Here’s a few pictures of Uncia that I took myself, to show a little of the detail in the lace edging…

 

It was a real honour to be asked to contribute to this book, and to be featured amongst such a wonderfully varied and illustrious group of designers. Thanks to Kate and Jen, and all the team involved in bringing this book to life!

We’ll be having a book launch at Kathy’s Knits, Edinburgh, on Saturday June 11th (which coincides with the Indie Burgh Yarn Crawl!). Kate, Jen and myself will be there, along with some of the hap samples, and we’ll be signing copies of the book, so if you’re in/near Edinburgh, please do come along!

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Test-knitting opportunities (paid)

UPDATE (24th May): Thanks to everyone who applied! The deadline has now passed, so I’m closing the application process and will be sending out invites to the group over the coming week.

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Hello all! It’s all been a bit quiet from me lately, but I have lots of things up my sleeve to release in the near future (not least of all my design in Kate Davies’ upcoming The Book of Haps – more to be revealed in the coming weeks!)

I’ve been spending some time thinking about the process I go through when testing and editing my patterns. Due to the complex nature of my designs, I find I get the best results when using a combination of tech-editors and test-knitters from around the world (as I use some non-standard abbreviations and terminology, it’s very helpful to  get a feel for what may be confusing to someone who does not have English as a first language).

I’ve previously used some of the free test-knitting groups on Ravelry (and am immensely grateful to all the test-knitters there who have lent their time and skill to help improve my patterns – you know who you are!); however, I’ve increasingly felt that my test-knitters should be properly reimbursed for their time, and so I’ve decided to set up a private group where I can post paid opportunities for test-knitting.

I should point out that I don’t release patterns particularly regularly, so there won’t be a high volume of designs available to test, but if you feel like you’d be interested in working alongside me as I’m developing new patterns, then read on!

Some things to note:

  • I want to keep the testing group reasonably small, so I will probably not be able to accept everyone who applies (if you don’t hear back from me soon after the deadline, it’s safe to assume your application was unsuccessful – sorry!).
  • If you’re accepted, you’ll be added to the group and get e-mail updates whenever I post a new test. (Note – it’s a Google group, so I think you may need a Google account in order to join. If you don’t have one, you’ll likely be prompted to create one when you get the invitation to the group).
  • If you’ve test-knitted for me before, please mention it on the application form!
  • If you’ve never test-knitted before and are curious about what it entails: I’m looking for eagle-eyed knitters who can spot the kinks in a pattern, comment on anything that seems confusing, give suggestions about what might work better, etc. (You knit up the pattern with your own yarn and keep the finished product: all I need back from you is your feedback on the pattern).

Click here to apply! (Deadline is Tues 24th May).

 

 

 

The Tale of Taliesin

After a good few months of knitting, charting, testing, tech-editing… Taliesin is finally available!

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This shawl has quite a long back story, and I thought I would tell some of it here… the design is named after the Welsh poet Taliesin, but I will stick to prose!

It’s probably apparent from even a quick glance at some of my past designs that I’m completely obsessed with Celtic knotwork. I learnt how to draw it from the marvellous writings of George Bain (a truly wonderful artist, who inspired so many people with his books) and Aidan Meehan, and I love how the form is underpinnned with mathematical, grid-like structures, yet also allows for a lot of creativity. I don’t consider myself an artist and I’m not very good at drawing, but I can invent my own Celtic knots with relative ease, and I find it very relaxing.

Here are some early sketches of knotwork that I made back in April, with a view to turning them into a cabled shawl… originally my design was a little different.

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This was what my original swatch looked like:

Spot the mis-crossed cable!

Spot the mis-crossed cable!

I decided the different cables were just a bit too fussy, so I went back to the drawing board and simplified things a bit.

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I eventually ended up with the final design, and set about knitting it up with a beautiful skein of Old Maiden Aunt yarn that I got at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March. However, disaster struck when I ran out of yarn halfway through the cast-off!

Every knitter's nightmare...

Every knitter’s nightmare…

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise though, because the shawl was a little bit on the small side for my tastes, and I wanted to enlarge it, so I got another skein. Even though it was from the same dye lot, the colours seemed a little different, and I was worried it would be obvious, so I striped the skeins a bit and in the end it looked fine.

Here it is blocking:

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This is where things get decidedly bizarre. Somewhat foolishly, given my track record of losing handknitted objects, I decided to wear this shawl to the Beltane Fire Festival on April 30. At some point during all the revelry, I must have dropped my shawl, and didn’t notice until after the event had finished and the security guards were shepherding everyone down from Calton Hill, where the event takes place. I tried my best to get back onto the hill, so that I could look for the shawl, but security said no. They said my best bet was to check with the council next day, as they’d be sending in cleaners to clear up the hill.

Now, I had a sinking feeling in my heart that I would never see my shawl again. It was about 3 am by this point, pitch dark, and I was making my way home. The route back to my flat goes past one of the small roads that leads to the top of the hill. All the roads were blocked off with large metal gates, but I happened to notice that there was no guard on this particular road. So, I might have found myself squeezing past that gate and clambering up a pitch dark hill at 3 am in search of a hand-knitted shawl. Yes, perhaps not the most sensible or safe thing to do. But I was desperate to find it, and also reasonably sure that the only people still left up there would be security guards, and not anyone who would try to murder/rob/violently assault me. So, up I went.

I got up to the top of the hill and was completely disoriented. I couldn’t even remember where I might have been standing when I dropped the shawl. So I picked a spot, figuring I had to start somewhere, got out my phone, switched on the torch function and began sweeping it along the ground. Within approximately 10 seconds, I spotted something like knitted fabric. I think I may have actually shouted, “NO WAY!” in my disbelief, but yes, it was my shawl!

It still boggles my mind how it was that, by complete fluke, I happened to pick pretty much exactly the correct spot where I had dropped my shawl. A bit of Beltane magic, maybe, or just sheer luck. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to find something that I thought was lost for good!

Knit Now, issue 22 – Arianwen cardigan

I’m really delighted to have a design featured in the current issue (no. 22) of Knit Now magazine!

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© Photo copyright Dan Walmsley

Arianwen is a waterfall cardigan, knitted in Rowan Fine Lace – I love the versatility of lace-weight cardigans, and how they’re great for providing a bit of extra warmth and layering, whilst still being thin enough to fold up in a bag when not needed. Whilst I’m a big fan of waterfall cardigans, and love wearing them hanging open for a loose, casual look, I dislike having the wrong-side of a knitted pattern on display, so I deliberately chose a reversible cable for the front panels of the cardigan.

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Arianwen sample in progress…

It’s a little tricky to see from the magazine photos, but the sleeves feature a cuff with a matching cable design… here’s a close-up of the cuff from my original sample:

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Knit Now magazine is based in the UK, and available in newsagents, supermarkets, yarn shops, etc. You can also buy electronic copies of the magazine! More info on the Knit Now website.

I shall be releasing a single PDF version of this design soon (and I may include some extra options, such as three-quarter length sleeves). If you’d like to be notified of this, or any other future releases, you can sign up for my newsletter!