'Tis the season...
for treats, complaints about the dark and cookies.
I’m writing this in a coffee shop at 9am, after dropping my little sister off at school. The sun officially rose half an hour ago, but that implies something more dramatic than the slowly brightening gloom. But there’s coffee, and twinkle lights, and the knit spotting from this window just got extra wonderful when a stranger walked past with her toddler on her shoulders and waved and pointed at her head. She was wearing a gorgeous version of my Newhaven hat. We exchanged nothing but grins and a thumbs up, but that little moment brought me such joy, and I’m holding onto those small moments so tightly in these turbulent times. So, unknown knitter, if you’re reading this, thank you! I hope your hat brings you as much happiness as seeing you wearing it brought me.
This is the third year I’ve done Knitworthy: a collection of patterns that are ideal for gifting which are released in a subscription format. You’d think by now I’d be accustomed to it, but it’s always a shock that in order to release eight patterns every other week before the end of the year you have to start in late Summer. This year we pushed that as much as possible, after an incredibly busy summer, but over the last few months I’ve loved the structure it’s given to the passing of the seasons. There’s one pattern left, and as we wind up the project, it feels like we’re coming to the end of the work year, with enough time left to pause and take stock.
I know many of you are small business owners, or freelancers too, and I’m sure you know how hard it is to take real breaks. I haven’t always taken more than a couple of days off over Christmas and New Year, but as my team has grown (we hired two new people this year! Nuala might have helped you with a pattern and, if you’ve ordered anything that needed shipping, Daniel made sure you got what you ordered) it’s become clear how important it is to have an official break. For everyone, without anyone trying to cover someone else’s tasks while they’re on holiday. It means you might have to wait a little longer for help with a pattern, or to receive an order, but this is, after all, only knitting.
Personally I’m going to try and make a dent in the pile of books threatening to topple off the bedside table, and finally get to know the sewing machine I bought as a birthday present to myself and haven’t turned on. Yes, you’re remembering correctly. My birthday is in July. Speaking of birthdays, you gave me the most wonderful gift, that’s been one of my highlights of 2016. Thanks to you my annual birthday sale raised £3 300 each for Stonewall UK and the Red Cross’s Refugee Crisis appeal. Thank you.
Have you ever named a knitting pattern? I don’t know how anyone handles the pressures of naming a person, but at least parents don’t generally have hundreds of names to come up with! Themes help, and to celebrate how global my audience is, we decided for the first Knitworthy collection to use words for gift in different languages. I was hoping that would keep us going beyond a single collection but it turns out that ‘gift’ is a word that shows up incredibly early in language development. It’s such a vital concept to any society. That’s rather wonderful, but it means many languages share the same root word and we rapidly ran out of pattern names.
Last year the theme morphed into sentiments that you might want a handknit gift to embody, and cheesiness aside, I loved the way it got us thinking about why we take the time to make a gift rather than just buying a hat. This year’s theme is light, when I first thought of it I was just thinking that at their root all of the December festivities, whether religious or secular, are really about light. But as the months have passed, that simple theme has taken on new meaning for me personally, as a constant reminder to consider how I can bring the light.
The latest pattern is something of a celebration of the connections knitting makes possible, between traditions and communities. More than anything, as I look at knitting traditions around the world, my favourite aspect is how much the sharing of patterns and ideas has always been part of that tradition.
Diarmuid from S Twist Wool works directly with Irish sheep farmers to create his unique yarns. The From Galway to Shetland gradient set I used for Ljós blends Galway, Jacob and Shetland fleece into four natural colours into a lofty single ply reminiscent of Icelandic Lopi. We have a lot of sheep in the British Isles, and although interest in their yarn is gradually increasing, the appreciation for the unique characteristics of that wool isn’t in any way at the level it is in the Nordic countries. I’ve long thought that part of it is that much of our wool was traditionally spun for weaving, or carpets, rather than hand-knitting. Taking a fibre like Jacob and giving it room to breathe results in a completely different fabric, and knitting experience, than spinning it tightly.
The hat practically designed itself — once the yarn arrived it clearly had to be Icelandic inspired colour work. The only real questions were whether it was worth the effort to blend the colours by working three at once in some rows, yes, and whether to add a pom-pom or not. We ended up shooting it with both, and I still can’t decide which I like better.
Want to make your own? There are still some yarn sets in stock here.
As you probably noticed, a few months ago I moved the patterns part of my site to a new platform. You can still add pdfs to your Ravelry library but this allows us to sell physical goods alongside the patterns and ebooks. The silly working title was “shit Ysolda likes” and that basically sums up my whole approach. It’s an excuse to order more of the stuff I love, and support projects I believe in, like Diarmuid’s. If you’re doing some gift shopping for knitters or crafters, or you deserve a treat *because 2016* I put together a handy collection of things I think would make especially nice presents. There’s also a list of last posting dates there, and as I mentioned we’ll be taking a break, so any orders placed after December 21st will ship in the new year.
Our studio neighbour Anna Wright grew up in Sanquhar, home of the famous gloves, and sheep keep finding their way into her work. This tote bag has quickly become my new favourite. I’m working on a bottom up, seamless pullover and I’m almost at the end of the yoke so I need a nice roomy bag to carry it.
I’m also delighted to introduce Katrinkles to the store. I’ve long admired her line of adorable laser cut notions and tools. My sister gets out of school at lunchtime on Fridays and we’ve been spending those afternoons crafting, baking and visiting the sheep and goats at the city farm. So happy she likes to do the things I love, even if it means I do more work at the weekends. This afternoon I think we’re going to get a Christmas tree, and I might have snuck one of these sweater ornaments for myself.
Yesterday Bex brought those thumbprint cookies in to the studio and I ate significantly more than my fair share before begging her for the recipe. Turns out Bex herself had begged it off a high school friend's mother after eating too many at a Christmas open house and until now it lived at her mum's house on a hand written recipe card. We thought they deserved to be shared more widely. They're a variation on traditional thumb print cookies with a wonderfully crunchy, nutty texture. As a bonus they're both vegan and gluten free.
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cups oat flour, or 1 cup whole wheat or buckwheat flour (you can make oat flour in the food processor from rolled oats before adding the almonds and remaining oats)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup maple syrup or brown rice syrup
1/2 cup sunflower, grape seed or coconut oil (melt coconut oil first)
1/2 cup jam
Preheat oven to 350F / 180C
Place almonds in food processor and grind to a meal. Add oats to food processor and grind to a meal. Add flour, cinnamon, maple syrup, and oil — pulse to combine.
Wet hands and form dough into walnut sized balls. Place on an oiled cookie sheet. Press an indentation into centre of each cookie with your thumb and fill with jam.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes or until golden. Yields at least 24 cookies.
If you’re thinking ahead and planning a nice toothsome selfish project, how about my Lunna Voe lace shawl? It was the final pattern in the 2015 club and we just released it as an individual pattern.