Posted on

Knitting Fire and Fury

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 20, Spring 2017. Illustration by Elena Skoreyko Wagner,used with kind permission.

Here’s to 2017! Last year has unanimously been called an annus horribilis. We lost a number of high-profile creative souls far too soon, and even more passed on at a ripe old age. David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Mohammed Ali, Prince, Phife Dawg and Carrie Fisher, to name but a few we collectively mourned last year.

In their creative and public lives these artists challenged the status quo and extended what was possible. They opened up avenues many of us struggled to walk alone and inspired us to speak up, sing out, laugh together, and dance a better world into being. At the same time, elections and referendums across the globe threw up results that removed the luxury of ignoring some disturbing realities. Many have become ‘woke’ to the need for vocal and creative action in their everyday lives. We entered 2017 with our eyes open, knowing we may need to stand up and stand together In new ways. Undoubtedly, difficult and uncomfortable confrontations lie ahead. Knitting will provide a solace, as it always does, but can it also provide the fire?

The meditative, mindful and therapeutic qualities of knitting are well established. Researchers have repeatedly shown that a hobby or a craft practice, and particularly one involving textiles (knitting especially), can provide relief from depression, anxiety and chronic pain. These activities tend to engender supportive communities and friendships, and crafting itself offers a focused pause in our increasingly complicated, fast-moving and busy lives. Intuitively, we know that beauty and its creation are powerful and important endeavours. Prominent figures like William Morris have also highlighted the social value of arts and crafts. Perhaps the role of knitting is to further this cause. But how can we ensure that we aren’t just sweeping our problems under a stunning hand-tufted carpet?

So much of what I currently read and listen to on crafting emphasises its ability to help process, relieve, control, and distract us from our stress and misery as an end in itself.
I firmly believe in the curative and transformative potential of making things, but among all this earnestness it can be hard to find a constructive voice and use for the fire and fury I also see at the heart of our crafting community.

For many handcrafting no longer plays a central role in the building of our homes and working lives. It is no longer essential to the production of furniture, tools, clothing and a roof over our heads. For the majority, knitting, crochet, quilting, pottery, spoon carving and sewing are now firmly ‘hobbies’. I say this not to belittle such endeavours in anyway; the world needs more hobbyists, hobbies and the time to engage in them.
But perhaps many of us crafters are still questing for a function, a focus to our passion. Of course, we can satisfy our generosity and desire to ‘do something’ with acts of charitable kindness like knitting for the homeless, premature babies or oil-slicked penguins. Though these are much needed and appreciated, where are the earth-shattering, life-changing actions we get to play an essential role in?

We regularly look longingly to times when the power of crafting seemed clearer. We study pamphlets and photography documenting knitting for the troops during both world wars, admire the way Land Girls dressed themselves in lean times, and find inspiration in the honesty of workwear from the interwar period. We look to Honsestrik, an act of rebellion against prescriptive, proprietary patterns in a time of economic downturn in Denmark in the 1970s. Whether historically correct or not, we love the gruesome tales of distinctive patterns knitted into fisherman’s sweaters to enable their bodies to be sent back to their villages should they be washed up on faraway beaches. All of these instances combine necessity, resourcefulness, and design in invaluable ways. As craft has ceased to be the main form of production, it seems unsurprising that our handiwork and focus has turned inwards to self-care and betterment. These are important, but without social necessity, can knitting provide anything on a wider scale? In these times of struggle, how will knitting answer today’s calls to action?

Crafting is undeniably used as a form of highly productive escapism. However, our current ideas of escape are curious. We like it when our knitwear models languish on fences or in fields, wistfully gazing off into the distance, cracking only a discrete smile if any. Pattern books, profiles and websites are typically populated by the slender, pale-skinned and able-bodied under titles like Perfect and Essentially Feminine Knits, Girly Knits and plenty of variations on ‘vintage’, ‘romantic’, ‘countryside’ and the like. Where are the alternative – or some might say, realistic – titles? Nasty Knitters? Cool Knits for Hot Flashes and the Furies that Accompany Them? Fault-Free Knitting for the Pedantic and Difficult? A Compendium of Colourwork in the Struggle for Racial Diversity?

I’m sure you can come up with a few more. We have Sweater Girls covered, but no ‘Sweaty Girls. ‘Knits for Nerds starts inching in the right direction. We get closer with Confessions of a Knitting Heretic, Knitting for Anarchists and of course, The Opinionated Knitter, yet cursory reads and common quotes from even these will soon throw up ‘gentle’ and ‘soothe’, rather than ‘focus’, ‘channel’ and ‘question’.

If knitting is so simpering, so demure, so well controlled, then why does “I knit so I don’t kill people” strike a chord with so many? So prevalent on t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, pendants, stitch markers, badges, mugs and keyrings, it’s hard to know the exact origin of this phrase we like to utter with a chuckle. Perhaps its popularity arises from its ability to simultaneously function as an acknowledgement between knitters and a warning to the outside world: a warning that you are prepared to offer a deft kick in the teeth to anyone with the view that crafters aren’t badass.

We’ve all watched enough of the likes of Star Wars and Karate Kid to know that anger isn’t the way, but we certainly feel it and it’s never far away. “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” wrote William Congreve in his play The Mourning Bride in 1697. Often misquoted and misattributed to William Shakespeare, these words were written for a tragic tale of love and deception between people, but could just as easily describe the fury of a maker when their project goes awry. Though every WIP starts with desire, promise and excitement, it can quickly turn to confusion and dislike, then remorse and disdain, even hate. Many a frustrated beginner would gladly throw their work across the room because it’s just not turning out the way they imagined. More advanced knitters may experience deep dissatisfaction with the pattern description, knots or weakness in the yarn, the relationship between swatch and garment, the pilling, the size, the cast-on/off, the ethics, the interruptions, or the way the colours work together. All these can quickly spark flashes of intense anger.

A lot of this anger is focused on ourselves in our personal quests for perfectionism in life and craft. You may be familiar with the phrases: I’m not patient enough”; “I knew I should have frogged it way back when”; or “I should have known better.” These frustrations are personal reflections on ourselves and our projects, but our crusade for perfection can extend outward. Spending a little time on Ravelry forums, in the comments section after blog posts or on Twitter, will show that knitters are not always nicey-nicey or calm. Among skilled, intelligent, committed crafters with passionate opinions, forums can very quickly turn ugly. There’s usually a hefty dose of thinly-veiled judgement and passive aggressive camaraderie, but I do wonder: if our feistiness were laid bare, might it offer up more creative fuel? Instead of petty griping, what can we cast on to direct our anger towards agency and change?

What could such projects look like? One answer is Pussy Hats.

On January 21,2017 the Women’s March took place in Washington DC, with solidarity marches across the globe. Thanks to the beautifully worded call and proposal that kicked off the Pussy Hat Project, knitters, crocheters and assorted other crafters have been busy making hundreds of thousands of pink hats with feline ears to be worn in the streets on this day of dissent. The idea is for everyone present to have their heads kept warm by a handmade hat, whether made by the marcher’s own hands, a gift from a fellow marcher, or from someone unable to attend (as a representation of their commitment). Worn after the fact, these hats will continue to be emblems of solidarity, ignite conversations, identify allies, visualise dissent and bring beauty, laced with humour, to winters for years to come.

I hope we can create more such avenues to channel our anger in the coming days. With our wits and our skills we can turn our fear and despair into a positive collective strategy. So, what’s next? What else can we put our anger and our passion to…

Posted on 3 Comments


It has been thrilling to watch the crafting world turn our hands to making pussy hats in a collective show of creativity and dissent initiated by the Pussy Hat Project in a beautiful, well worded and inspiring call to craft. The founding Pussy Hat Project knitting pattern was designed by Kat Coyle of The Little Knittery in Atwater Village, Los Angeles, USA. It’s an ingeniously simple design, knitted flat in worsted weight yarn with a long rib section and stocking stitch body.

Throughout the project, which was only started in November 2016 with the aim of making over a million hats to be worn at the Women’s March in Washington DC, many knitters, crocheters and sewers have speedily added their alternate hat designs, recipes, hacks, riffs, adaptations and suggestions to the mix along with a growing pile of finished hats. Apparently we’ve caused a national shortage of pink yarn in the USA. This is particularly appropriate if we think that much of that yarn was bought from independent local yarn shops, often women-owned and specifically supporting women in their communities. We’ve also made use of what we have in our stashes and those of friends. It has encouraged many to learn or return to knitting. Whoop whoop!

When I first heard about the project, I immediately stash dived what I thought was all my thick(ish) pink yarn. You can see it here in a picture I took of my pink yarn and groceries last year. It’s nice for me to look back at that picture and realise how much of that yarn I’ve knitted in the interim.

The woolly pink yarn that remained I offered it up to knitters for free via Instagram to make pussy hats with. It has been lovely to see all that yarn being used; transformed into hats across the UK and sent off, to be worn by marchers on the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21st, 2017. Here are a few of the projects it became:


I thought I’d sent off all my pink yarn, but I found a little more!

Having missed the safe postal deadline to get my hat to the USA on time (for a justifiable rate), I decided to make myself one to wear to the sister march in London. There are solidarity marches happening all over the USA and in cities across the globe. You can find details on the main march in Washington and the sister marches here: There is currently a glitch in that website for the international marches, but they are happening (places like Facebook might help fill in some details whether there is one, big or small, local to you). I’ll be at the one in London starting at noon outside the US Embassy on Grosvenor Square and ending with a rally on Trafalgar Square. I do hope the weather will be more conducive than it is today!

Some intense hours of knitting later and we have Pussy Hats.

In an uncharacteristically speedy move on my part, I’ve put together a really bare-bones free pattern for them. It hasn’t gone through the rigorous rounds of testing, editing, photography and graphic design that I usually put my patterns through, but you can find it on Ravelry as Kettunøsin.

Our pussy hats are knitted in the round from the brim to the ears in heavy DK/worsted weight yarn. I give a couple of options for the rib at the beginning of the hat (and accompanying cast on suggestions), because options are good. I’ve stuck with Kat’s super simple shape of a straight-across finish at the top of the hat. While her pattern is folded, then seamed at the edges, this top is made by using a 3-needle cast off. The simple shape seems to communicate the urgency of the situation and the short deadline. And the ears are decent. If you fancy getting more shapely in the ear department, there are a lot of fantastic cat ear hat patterns to be found (and invented) with all sorts of clever approaches to shaping the ears.

Since my remaining yarn was 3 shades pink Navia Trio from the Faroe Islands, I remembered there’s a cathead motif in Føroysk Bindingarmynstur, THE book of traditional Faroese knitting motifs collected by Hans M Debes and published (for many decades) by Føroyst Heimavirki in Torshavn. The chart you’ll find in my pattern is adapted from the ‘Kettunøsin’ pattern in that book. The name of the hat is the name of the pattern, which is Faroese for ‘the cat nose’.

I love the sharing nature of this project from conception through to realisation and the strong, colourful mass the marchers will create wearing them. I hope enough hats will arrive in DC on time to have the desired visual impact. I’m sorry mine won’t be there to join them, but I’ll put it to good use in London to help friends locate me. One of them has never been to a demonstration before. I’m old hat in comparison – I can remember being taken to the marches in support of the minors strike in the mid 1980s in my pushchair as a wee one.

The Pussy Hat Project is all about caring, warmth, support and friendship (with a good dose of humour and politics thrown in), while at the same time channelling a call to action which is the result of fear and anger. The hats represent not only the people who are present, but the engagement of those unable to be in DC. They’ve given people a way to feel productive while thinking through their despair. Even after the march, the hats will stay symbolic for years to come. It’s been a while since there’s been such a unified cause to knit for.

Posted on

Fitting Reflections

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 19, Winter 2016

I have a long-standing, unsubstantiated theory that the rise of mass-produced clothing has brought about a rise in dissatisfaction with our bodies. There are many associated reasons, but it boils down to the fact that, like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, rather than finding the clothes (or glass slipper) to fit us, we try to change ourselves to fit the clothes. Before the Industrial Revolution, and a good number of decades following, we made our own clothes, or had them made for us by a seamstress or tailor, according to our own body shape. With the advent of ready-to-wear clothing and mass production, the vast majority of us now dress in impersonal pre-made garments. That is not a shift to be taken lightly if you consider how many of us feel oddly-sized and shaped when looking at our reflections wearing these standardised clothes.

My hope is that with the current resurgence of making garments for ourselves, coupled with increasing interest in the origins of the garments we buy, we can start to readdress the balance. One of the pitfalls we need to be wary of is letting pre-made pattern sizes of the clothes we sew or knit make us feel just as skinny/ fat, tall/short, etc, as the pre-made clothing we buy. True, this will require some skill and bravery on the part of the maker to read and adjust patterns to make them fit as they would like them to, but when you consider how many generations of humans have made body coverings, it can’t be the rocket science it sometimes seems.

There was a time when it was considered generous if a knitting pattern came in 3 sizes – which still holds true in some handknitting communities. A sweater or cardigan that appears in Pom Pom will generally have 5 sizes and elsewhere it isn’t unheard of to come across patterns that offer well upwards of 7 sizes. This is amazingly convenient and inclusive, but I would urge every maker to share the responsibility of making their garment fit their own body. Just because a pattern fits across a wide spectrum of sizes, doesn’t mean it is tailored to your body and fit tastes. Sometimes I wonder whether the inclusion of so many sizes lulls us into a false sense of hope that it will actually fit us the way we want it to. If there are a smaller number of sizes, it makes it clearer that we have a shared responsibility for creating our desired fit.

The idea of a ‘perfect fit’ is as loaded as the term ‘beautiful’. Sure, we have to be able to get into a garment and move our body parts to a lesser or greater degree, but so much of fit, as well as other elements of garment style, is based on current fashion, historical precedent and cultural tastes. At the very least, we can all agree that clothing should be designed to stay on, come off when needed, and not cut off oxygen or blood circulation, at least not since corsetry (fetish wear is another debate altogether). Though there are blips of oversized dressing, for over a hundred years in the UK, we’ve been preoccupied with clothing that fits with comparatively little ease or even negative ease around our bodies. This is the opposite of the trends of many cultures and eras, where clothes fit with a lot of space around the body or have no shaping at all, relying on the body to make their shape. Think of sarongs, sarees, huipil, togas – these are ostensibly flat lengths of cloth, wrapped or draped over our bodies to achieve their fit. When wearing such garments, your body size would have to change dramatically to notice if, for example, your waist had grown or shrunk.

As well as being cultural, fit is also personal and professional, based on how our bodies occupy our clothes, and the environment and movements the clothes have to allow for – climbing a tree, withstanding sub-zero temperatures, sitting in a chair all day, dancing all night… The body we are most familiar with dressing is the one we see in the mirror on a daily basis. It’s not a far leap to assume that a designer also holds their own body and fit taste most clearly in their mind, no matter how skilled they are at catering to other body sizes and shapes. That’s the beauty of it. Take a look at your favourite designers and there’s a chance their bodies are not wildly dissimilar from your own. I wouldn’t look to someone with a ballet dancer’s physique to design a sweater for a busty broad, or the reverse. Sure, designers have honed their skills, basing their patterns on standardised sizing, but is it a far stretch to suppose they are also informed by their experiences of occupying their own bodies?

The sizes given on the Yarn Council of America’s website are often used as the basis of pattern sizing. They’re not shrouded by membership requirements or buried deep within a website, so I encourage you to take a look and compare them to your body’s measurements. I’ll hazard to say there will be differences. These are standardised sizes, developed from averages; they are not your body. Statistics will vary from country to country and company to company and there are no laws that dictate what sizes should be. This helps explain why you might find trousers that fit perfectly at a certain shop, and then the following year they suddenly don’t – a change of factory or approach to sizing may cause discrepancies. Certainly a change in the country of production will change the understanding of a standard body.

Luckily, the absolute beauty of wool and knitting in combination is that they stretch; they have generosity and give worked into their fabric structure. Switch out the fibre and you’ll notice a change: if you have tried knitting with cotton or linen, you will feel, while knitting and in the resulting stitches, how much less natural flex these fibres have. If you stick with wool but change to a weave, you will notice that the stretch is gone. Woven fabric is formed by a grid of threads that make for a more stable structure, rather than loops of knitting that allow for movement. Stick with wool, but try switching to crochet and you’ll also generally find the stitches have a solidity knit doesn’t. Each is perfect for a different type of garment, but the forgivingness of wool and knit together are, in my opinion, something special. So, before you get all worried that you have to calculate everything yourself for a personal fit, you can also rest assured that your knitted items will allow for a lot of shaping. In fact, often I would be more inclined to trust the natural stretch of the garment than trust a designer to know exactly where my waist is in relationship to my bust and the bottom of a garment. Personally, I would rather have a straight up-and-down garment and allow the stretch over my body to shape it, OR put my own shaping in where it needs to be.

I am a long-time collector of old knitting patterns. Single-patterns and booklets, printed over the course of nearly the last hundred years. The knit is only a small part of the overall greatness of knitting patterns and it is the combination that I derive the most happiness from: the instructions, graphic design, styling, locations, hair, poses, props and interactions of the people in the photographs. Sometimes I like to get them down from their files and spread them out on the floor, sitting cross- legged among them. Bicycles, soap bubbles, beer, guns, stuffed animals, pipes and musical instruments all make regular appearances. But you can also trace the specific fashions and cultural preferences of the different eras and the subgroups within them. You can notice specific tastes for body shapes, from the rectangular silhouette of the 20s, to the wasp waists and pointy bras of the 50s, morphing into flatter chests in the 60s. Hairstyles change dramatically from kiss curls to beehives, a rare afro, centre partings and sideburns, to perms and feather cuts. They are documents of their time, but unlike a standard magazine or advertisement, they are a call to activity. They are about making something yourself, your own version, regardless of if it is a copy. They might be aspirational, but you’ve got a hand in it. The real difference from fashion and lifestyle magazines is that in knitting patterns you can often readily see that somebody roped in their partner, offspring, parent, colleague, neighbour or sibling for the photoshoot, and I love it.

Sure, my collection also includes knitting patterns with early pictures of a youthful Joanna Lumley, Diana Rigg and Kate Moss, who all went on to have illustrious careers based in large part on a consensus that their physical appearance and proportions worked well on camera. I am skirting around the use of a word like ‘beauty’ here, because it is such a flexible and taste-based term. The reality is we have become practised at evaluating clothing as depicted on a very narrow view of beauty. I think the variety of models found in knitting patterns should be celebrated and perpetuated. In fact, I think even more diversity should be encouraged. For that to happen, like sharing responsibility for a knit to fit our bodies, we must also respect the difference and learn how to judge how a garment may fit us on a wider range of shapes, not just the ones we have been trained to desire more than our own.

We should reflect on our reflections and celebrate them. In the skill and thrill of making a garment for our own bodies we can help to challenge the way things are in the world – starting with the way we feel about ourselves.

Posted on

Witches, Friends and Fugitives

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 18, Autumn 2016

Anna Maltz talks to legendary natural dyer Kristin Vejar

There is something wonderfully witchy about dyeing, especially natural dyeing. Turning weeds and peelings into shimmering gold is a type of alchemy. Every dyer I know keeps at least one book of spells, and consults yet more. Whether cryptically scrawled or fastidiously ordered, they contain recipes for summoning up their desired colours with precision. Bubbling pots are part of the package. Whether or not you choose to call them cauldrons, they steam and bring forth potent smells, followed by colour.

Witchery has long been derided and condemned by the straight-laced powers that be: caricatured as crones all in black with pointy hats and crooked-tailed cats, up to all sorts of nefarious activities. This can throw us off the scent from the fact that these characters of fable and history are actually wise, creative women with knowledge of the sort that comes from experience and deep understanding. They are skilled, resourceful women, in tune with their environments and able to combine elements to achieve results greater than the sum of their parts, and with lasting implications. And really, warts on noses should be welcome (while not obligatory) in any inclusive society.

With that in mind, I have to resist the temptation to proclaim them a coven (since it is preferable to let individuals and groups choose their own descriptive): Kristine Vejar and her partner Adrienne Rodriguez, together with a team of women, have created a magical space called A Verb For Keeping Warm (AVFKW or simply, Verb). Their familiars are two dachshunds, Cleo and Calliope, and Marcel, a veteran French Angora rabbit. Located on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, it’s a dye kitchen and garden, a classroom and shop, and a hub for the incredible community of conscientious makers that emanate from it. I wish it had been there when I lived in the California Bay Area for 5 years. However, I was lucky enough to give a talk there when I was last in town.

It’s hard to keep an introduction to Kristine brief; she is always up to so many things with other thoughtful, dedicated folk across a range of disciplines and cultures. Kristine’s personal adventure with natural dyeing started in the North of India and changed the course of her studies from a more academic approach (art history) to a hands-on one. Through her initially extra-curricular study of textile techniques with the Rabari tribe, she gained a deeper understanding of how colour and cloth can be embedded in a community’s traditions and identity. The creation of colours using locally collected natural dyes makes them even more rooted in a place. This experience changed Kristine’s focus.

During my visit in November 2014, Kristine let me in on a beautiful secret: I got to see a mock-up of The Modern Natural Dyer. Even in its rough state, it was clearly a craft book with a difference. More of a coffee table cookbook in appearance, it is infused with

Kristine’s generosity and belief in community. The intervening year and a bit has seen the release of the book and the rise and rise in an interest in natural dyeing, due, in no small part, to the book itself. It’s a spellbinding book: inspiring, enabling, invigorating and beautiful. It whets your appetite to make colour and to find out more about Kristine, so here are some insights from the woman herself…

AM: Why use natural dyes? Why not use Rit, Dylon or whatever brand of synthetic dye is available at your local chemist or hardware shop?
KV: There are so many reasons why I think using natural dyes is a worthwhile venture. Personally, I love to cook and enjoy all of the steps leading up to making the meal. I like to go to the farmers market, to choose my ingredients, to learn how ingredients come together to create delicious meals, and then to share these meals with friends. I find natural dyeing is very similar to cooking. I enjoy growing, shopping, and sourcing the ingredients – like onion skins, marigolds, and madder root – because I want to know what creates these colours and where they come from. I like thinking about how to create new colours through different combinations of these ingredients. I also like how each of these ingredients has its own story to share, instead of being made in a factory or a lab. I like to know the farmer who grows my dye plants. These stories are embedded into the yarn, fabric, or clothing I am dyeing. Ultimately, I think it makes the colour more interesting. Using natural dyes I’ve foraged myself gives me a greater connection to the place I inhabit. I’ve always enjoyed nature and hiking. I gain an even greater appreciation for a particular tree when I have also been able to use its leaves or bark for colour. It’s a way of carrying that tree and nature with me throughout my day.

AM: Is your favourite colour the same as the colour you most enjoy dyeing?
KV: My favourite colour tends to shift quite a bit. Currently, my favourite colours are neutrals and blues. I do enjoy dyeing these colours. I love madder – the colour, the way it smells when I am dyeing with it – yet, I don’t wear a lot of red. If I did, I would be in heaven!

AM: Is there a difference between a stain and a dye? And what is a fugitive colour?
KV: Absolutely! Not all plants are created equally when it comes to dyeing. The measurement of how long a colour lasts is referred to as colourfastness. The longer the colour lasts, the better the colourfastness. A stain is a colour which fades quickly – let’s say over the course of a few days with light exposure to the sun, or within a few washings. Often times you can see this happen with colour from blueberries or beets, where the vibrant purple colour made by these ingredients will fade to a brown or cream mark. A dye is a colour which stays on longer than that – hopefully much longer. I would describe a fugitive colour as a state in between a stain and a dye, so it stays longer than a few days or a few washes but leaves within a year or so.

AM: How do you encourage the colours to stick around?
KV: Before heading to the dyepots, there are two important steps in preparing the fabric to accept dye: scouring and mordanting. By completing both of these steps, colourfastness improves drastically for some stains and certainly for all dyes!

AM: ‘Scouring’? I think of that as a process of cleaning really dirty pots when I am doing the dishes by hand. How does it mean in the context of fabric preparations for natural dyeing?
KV: Scouring means to pre-wash.

AM: Just pre-wash? Nothing else? Just in soap and water, like normal laundry?
KV: Protein-based (wool, silk, etc) = stovetop, pot, water, liquid dishwashing detergent, heat.
Cellulose-based fibers (cotton, linen, etc) = stovetop, pot, water, soda ash preferably, heat. Or a very hot, long cycle in washing machine. All of this said, I really do believe it is best to keep curiosity alive and to create room at the table for everyone who is interested in natural dyeing. And that it really comes down to a conversation about expectations regarding colourfastness. Some people want their dyed colour to stay on for a very long time (for 50+ years), I advise them to use dyes with a long historical record, like madder and other dyes which I included in my book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Then, there are people for whom the process of natural dyeing, or that day’s dyeing anyway, is about wandering, and exploring the garden or forest. There might be some great colours out there, though they might not be very colourfast. I think as long as people know this risk, and can look at it more as an experiment then there is less disappointment when the colour fades. One important thing to note is that once the yarn, fabric, or clothing is mordanted once, it can be re-dyed over and over again. So, if the colour fades, just dye it again.

AM: Mordanting is permanent?! Does it really only need to be done once? So you can’t undo it?
KV: Yes and yes. And really, for the health of the planet and the people who are dyeing cloth around the world, colour should fade – all colour. There are some really heavy-duty chemicals and metals that go into creating dyes with the sole purpose of staying vibrant past a trillion days and washes.

AM: If you could step outside of your busy schedule of spreading the love of natural dyeing and ethical textiles, where would you go to learn from a different local dyeing community?
KV: Oh, that list is so long! One of the core reasons I find natural dyeing so fascinating is that it is alive around the world, and in each place there are similarities – just like cooking, due to kitchen chemistry – and then differences based upon what is readily available in terms of ingredients. I would love to visit Oaxaca, Japan, Southern China, and Indonesia.

AM: What has been most satisfying about the wonderful reception of your book, The Natural Dyer?
KV: Seeing people try natural dyeing! Being a natural dyer is kind of like living on a small island, which in some ways is great, because there is a tight-knit community with which to discuss natural dyeing. That said, it has been absolutely wonderful to be able to speak my language with more people and to have a new infusion of ideas and creativity into the natural dyeing process!

It sounds like an unfamiliar boat has arrived on the remote shores of Natural Dyeing and that it’s time to fire up our cauldrons, and conscientiously gather what we can from our gardens and forests, in preparation for sharing a great potluck feast of colour. Witches, friends and fugitives are welcome round the table. For some, the party will last for the night, for others, it will never end.

Posted on

Seductive & Slow

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 17, Summer 2016

It’s time to start a summer knitting romance where time need not be of the essence.

Hopefully your summer plans include a decent smattering of lazy days to kick back, switch off and take time out from the un-fun musts in life (not the fun musts: fresh air; good conversations with interesting people; deliciously nourishing food; engaging your brain by learning exciting new things; sleeping – keep doing those in abundance). We all need proper breaks – at least a few days where we try to quiet the laundry list of to-dos in our head. Ideally the summer months are a time to lay aside our need for speed and just enjoy, well, being. And clearly there should be knitting involved.

Knitting has a funny old relationship to speed, both to onlookers and those who engage in it. There exist speed-knitting contests to decide the world’s fastest knitter, yet it is its rather slow nature that entices many of us to hand knit. Be it a way to step outside of fast-fashion, a reminder that off-screen activities exist, or a way to blissfully apply our concentration, focus and zone out, knitting knows how to hit the spot. We start slow and then we want to get quicker at it. You can work on it alone, but there are also forums and classes to help you achieve this end by matching you up with your perfect technique. With regular practice you will achieve quicker results with most things, but why not slow down? That’s what summer is for, after all.

There are only a handful of pursuits I can think of for which the marker of proficiency is being able to do it slowly. Generally, outside of the bedroom, being quick at something is interlinked with being good at it. However, to take a leaf from between the sheets, rather than racing for the finish, how about lovingly caressing your project, cradling it in your lap, savouring every stitch and forming each eyelet with gentle care, slipping slowly? Fumbling even has its place. So how about a sun-warmed, epic, languorous summer knitting romance? Slow those knits right down and be adventurous. You could stay on cloud nine from May to September. Then, like a good book, the bittersweet moment will inevitably come when your project is finished. While you’re still basking in the glow, someone will go ahead and spoil the moment by asking, “How long did that take you?” It’s happened to you too, right? No matter how romantic we get about knitting, there will always be someone to drag you straight back to clockwatching reality. I don’t begrudge the question or the curiosity it stems from, but I do find it quite odd and distracting. There are many things we choose to do that take a significant amount of time, yet no one cares to quantify them, at least not with the same regularity as a knitted item. Why is it OK to ask this about knitting? Unless you are a close friend, it is often considered rude to enquire about the timing of many other activities. When confronted with a beautiful baby (or even a funny-looking one), consider whether one would ask how long it took to make. If someone is looking particularly polished, who would deny them the right to feign effortlessness and ask them how long it took? Though tempting, and surprisingly common practice, it’s equally unhelpful to ask the heartbroken how long their relationship lasted – we all know there’s judgement in that there question.

Without picking apart the psychology of it too much, I think as human beings we’re fascinated by what others do. One of the ways to gauge commitment is by how much time someone chooses to dedicate to something. With this in mind, I try to answer the question generously and honestly, even after the 1,000th time. I fluctuate between approaches to answering. The first entails explaining: “It’s hard to tell – I don’t knit with a stopwatch by my side. Plus, it’s an activity I can partake in while doubling up on certain other necessary activities, for example sitting on the bus, in waiting rooms and chatting to my parents on the phone”. Alternatively, if I do decide to give an idea of a timeframe, I’ll say something like: “I did it over the course of two weeks. I didn’t work on it constantly, but I did do it a few hours a day”. When I happen to know specifically, I say: “40 hours give or take”. I tend to err on the side of declaring more, rather than fewer, hours. I think it’s important to disclose that things can take a long time.

Regardless of how I describe it, the curious non-knitting party usually follows up with a statement along the lines of “you must be very patient”. This is the part of the conversation that really winds me up, because, yes, when it comes to knitting (and sometimes answering questions politely), I have a wealth of patience, but it’s silly to think that means I’m a patient person across the board. I’d like to respond curtly by pointing out that I am sure there are things they do that don’t interest me enough to dedicate my time to them. Indeed, there are a million-and-one commonplace activities I can’t imagine doing or sitting through for fear of dying of frustration and boredom (especially if I didn’t have my knitting with me). Almost any sports match on telly, for instance. Grown-up conversations about buying houses and mortgages lose me at “if only we’d bought five years ago”. I have admiration for those who spend an hour plus each morning doing their hair and applying makeup – I can’t imagine giving so much time over to that method of beautifying, while I’ll gladly put in an hour a day to knitting a jumper that makes me look great (or joyously weird). Ironing takes FOREVER, so I try to ignore it. Clean, minimal houses leave me wondering whether people don’t have anything better to do.

Clocks, industrialisation and computerisation also have a lot to answer for in our obsession with how long things take. Time is money, right? Saving money takes a long time. My father is an inveterate bargain hunter, obsessed with sales, last minute markdowns, loss leaders, loopholes, misprints, multi-buys, bulk buys, coupons, points, membership cards and dividends, flash sales and introductory offers. It’s an essential skill for getting by on a budget and I’m glad I learnt the techniques. But my dad’s constant thriftiness can get frustrating. If time really was money, it might not be cost-effective. Rather than strictly a waste of time, I think this puts it in the entertainment category. I can understand the need for this shopping behaviour out on the flamboyantly capitalist high street. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Most of us are well practiced at it. It makes us feel like we’re winning just a little against the relentless onslaught of consumerism. Playing the system. People have embraced shopping with the fervour and zeal of a hobby or sport. But what effect does this shopping behaviour have when combined with our crafty hobbies? If we shop in the creative community with the same approach as we hit the supermarket, who is winning?

Constant sales, limited editions, special releases, exclusives – these things are not relaxing, they are work for those involved on both sides of the equation. Do we always need bells and whistles to get us going? In the UK we joke that if there is a queue, people will stand in it, regardless of whether they know what it’s for. It must be special! Yes, people need to be reminded and enticed to buy, especially when there’s stiff competition in a diverse market, but it seems that it is easier to sell something if people have to set their alarm clock to wake up at an ungodly hour, for example for festival tickets to go live or a yarn update. Though comparable range and quality may be reliably available next door, we opt for the exotic tryst over the staycation. Consumerist culture relies partially on the allure of scarcity and time limits.

The yarn market goes through an inverted hibernation in the summer. While winter months are hopefully both productive and fruitful, in the summer we do not venture out for sustenance as often. Summer is often thought of as a dead time in regards to knitting. Another way to think of it is that knitters are taking a moment out of the shopping frenzy to focus on their stitches and really get to know them without the distractions of commerce. It can be a time to reacquaint ourselves with our crafting passion – not just to consume, but to create. Knitting is a relationship we nurture. It provides a pleasure beyond the timed functionality of what we will get out of the union (even though the hats and scarves and jumpers are lovely). It need not even be a monogamous partnership. There are so many approaches to love. The best thing about a holiday is that you don’t need your alarm clock, and don’t need to clock in and out. No clockwatching for the day to end and no one to notice whether your lunch lasted longer than it should have. Your accountability to time dances to a different rhythm. Therefore, I’d like to ask for a summer hiatus from the question: “How long did that take to knit?” And don’t even get me started on strangers asking “Is that for me?”

Posted on

Bigger Sheep to Dye

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 16, Spring 2016

Anna Maltz talks lambs, natural colours, and the ethics of our crafty lifestyle.

Palettes can be found and palettes can be created in many different ways, naturally or chemically, with or without intervention. Though not quite as old as death itself, dyeing is an ancient tradition, practised in countless cultures throughout the ages. For the entertainment and beauty that colour brings, we have explored the boundaries of the organic environment and stretched the horizons of science.

Wool doesn’t need to be dyed: it comes straight off the beast in a range of delicious colours from full cream milk, through warm shades of caramel, to near black of the treacle variety. Not to mention an exhaustive palette of greys from mildly overcast, through the tones of delicate mould on cave-aged cheese, to highly faceted charcoal. These are all super close to my heart. Undyed yarn is spectacular and it’s about time we reinvigorated it seriously, from a style perspective as well as the ethical. All the patterns in this issue are knit in natural fleece colours, as are the majority of patterns in my brand new book Penguin: a Knit Collection. For a colour lover such as myself, this was a choice that surprised more than a few, but it makes perfect sense to me. In fact, I think I know exactly where it stems from.

When I was 5, my family went to the Lake District on a springtime holiday to visit friends. I remember snippets of that trip – catching a glimpse of a badger behind a caravan, proudly keeping pace with the adults on a 10-mile walk, and, cuddling a lamb. That cuddle was the highlight of the trip and remains a pivotal life experience. It happened when the friends we were visiting brought us to visit the neighbours’ farm. It was lambing season and the landscape was dotted with mother-and-child duos (and sometimes trios) of fluff. As part of our tour, we were shown where the orphaned and abandoned lambs were hand-reared.

For sheep, as for humans, the mother and child relationship isn’t always straightforward. After the good fortune of reaching a healthy full-term pregnancy, either mother or child can be lost in the process of birthing, even with experienced assistance. If both survive, it remains to be seen whether the mother takes to parenting her child. I remember the farmer explaining that occasionally lambs that had no mother could be paired with ewes that had lost their lambs, but still some unfortunate little’uns were left with humans as their primary carers.

On the day of the farm visit I was wearing the cardigan that my mother and Oma had teamed up to make for me. My mother had spun the wool and my Oma had done the knitting. This was the continuation of a creative relationship begun in my mother’s youth. She remembers spinning the wool to be woven into cloth and sewn together by her mother (who would later become my Oma). My cardigan had a long body and sleeves I had to roll up (a bit of a knitting signature of hers) and a funnel neck. It closed with a chunky zipper that made a satisfying clanking chug as the plastic teeth interlocked. The wool came from a brown sheep and still smelled richly of lanolin. I believe that is why the cuddle came about. As soon as I entered the enclosure, a small lamb whose fleece was a matching shade of dark chocolate made a beeline for me. I sat down and it crawled into my lap, nuzzling into my handspun cardigan. We blissed out. As desperate as I was to take it home with me and keep it as a pet, the adults knew better. But in an indelible way, this taught me about the beauty and worth of undyed wool.

And so to the question: to dye or not to dye? For the conscientious crafter this option is dually a simple pleasure and a great luxury. Colour is a wonderful thing. The more the merrier. They are mood-enhancing and magical to create and work with. They can also be fraught with turmoil. On the mass production scale of the fashion industry the environmental impact of dyeing is a major concern. However, even with serious delusions of grandeur, we handmakers are nowhere near that league. Rather than spend too much time worrying about a little dyestuff between crafting friends, there are much worse things we could direct our fretting energies towards. Some things we should take to the streets for. Cancer and access to healthcare, nukes, hatred, deforestation, violence, sweatshops, mass overconsumption, war, waste and enormous disparities of wealth all spring to mind.

On bad days, I’m apt to dwell on the interwoven-ness of everything. How we are on our way down a helter-skelter of hopelessness and should prepare for a rough landing in a post-apocalyptic future that may or may not involve zombies. To help myself claw out of that pit of despair I try to remember that, comparatively speaking, I’m engaged in the good stuff: small-scale, social, hands-on, creative and filled with positive curiosity. Wool, yarn, dyeing, knitting – these things we use and how we use them are not the problem.

By creating with our hands we are already postponing (or are we preparing for?) the inevitable demise of biodiversity, safe food and fresh air. I am not designing weapons of mass (or minor) destruction, developing seeds that grow for just one year, building walls to keep people out/in or other systems of control. For these reasons, I try not to get too hung up on the global environmental impact of buying or dyeing a few skeins of yarn. Yes, these are things to consider in a perfect world, but in our current situation, I think it’s OK to feel a little smug about making beautiful things. I tell myself there are bigger concerns to get caught up in and not to worry about whether to use Dylon in comparison to the toxicity of the mordant that fixes the colour derived from the onion skins I’ve been scrupulously saving. And I try to class passing commentary, or getting my knickers in a twist about how someone else chooses to engage their crafty side, as another form of entertainment, rather than a world-changing endeavour. It can be distracting at best and, at worst, depressing, divisive and elitist. For what? There are bigger fish to fry, or perhaps that should be bigger sheep to dye. Besides, at least when it comes to colouring yarn, it is possible to circumvent those dilemmas by leaving yarn undyed. It’s beautiful just the way it is.

Posted on

PENGUIN: Introducing PINGLEWIN & friends

I almost feel like I don’t need to introduce Pinglewin, but I realize you might not have met her yet. If you’re lucky, you might have met one of her friends.

Perhaps, Jacob, who Jeni has made using her handspun from a single fleece.

Or Lady Pennyspotter, who has been on a cruise with her maker Leslie, for whom she was the first toy she’d ever made. You can follow her adventures at #ladypennyspotter

Or Winona, who lives at Fluph with Leona and really likes to be social. (And contrary to what Jacob sometimes says, she is not a runt at all).

Or Kristin’s Pinglewin, who’s getting good and cuddled.

Or Ellinor’s who has gotten to hang out with Kristin’s. (FYI, the blond one is Kristin, not a penguin.)

I can’t wait for them all to meet one day. It would be so dreamy to get to actually all be together and share a glass of wine and maybe something fishy for the birds.

You see, a wonderful gang of test knitters all made their own little penguin and we had a whole lot of lovely communication online. For a brief moment, I thought it’d make a fun Mystery KAL, as there are very distinct sections to the pattern that are a little well, mysterious at times as to how they will link up. I trailed it on a little group and we all decided it was too fun to know it was a penguin to keep it a secret. But hang on a minute, is that a penguin?


The thing is Pinglewin lost her family in an oil spill. The shock of it turned her permanently white. She doesn’t always fancy dealing with the curiosity of others, who stare at her because she is an all-white penguin, and so she has knitted herself a tuxedo hoodie. Wearing it helps her blend in when she doesn’t feel like answering questions. On other days, depending on her mood, you might see her wearing a pink, chartreus or violet one.

So, firstly you will knit a little single colour penguin in the round on DPNs or circular needles (your choice) and then make her little outfit. The reverse stocking stitch tuxedo hoodie is knitted separately, inside out, so you can knit the whole thing, rather than purl.

Making your own Pinglewin will be a little adventure encompassing a range of techniques you may or may not be familiar with. If you have them down pat, it’s a great opportunity to apply your skills. If they are new to you, you’ll find them a joy to have in your arsenal for next time. All of the techniques come in small doses, so if one takes a little practice or requires a redo, you’re not frogging a sweater or even a socks worth and you’ll have that skill at your disposal for future projects.

As penguins are very social creatures, I love the idea that the Fleece White and Charcoal Snældan 3-Ply comes in the right size skeins to knit yourself two Pinglewins. That way they can keep each other company or one can go live abroad. Or you could split the skein with a friend, so you can each make one. You’ll need a very small oddment of the Viking Gold (approx. 5g required), so I’d suggest borrowing that from another project, like the Rockhopper shawl (only a 1-Ply, so you’d have to use 3 strands to equal a 3-Ply) or the Flower King hat or Antifreeze socks (the weight of Navia Trio is an easy substitute). You can get all the yarns from The Island Wool Company and Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

I’m so looking forward to seeing your #pinglewinadventure.

Posted on 2 Comments


I sort of couldn’t believe there was only one other pattern called Antifreeze on Ravelry. I was inspired to call these socks Antifreeze because somehow penguins’ feet don’t freeze on all that ice, but you’ll need these socks to help you. I suffer from serious cold feet and spend my winters in two pairs of socks – thin cotton underneath and a thick wool pair on top. I’m not much of a sock knitter, so I wanted to design a pattern that I could return to again and again. I think it’s good to remember that if I like it and it works for me (or don’t like it and it doesn’t work for me) I am probably not alone in that, so I put the pattern in Penguin: a Knit Collection.

They are basic top-down socks. The trickiest they get is making sure your cast-on is stretchy enough (so your foot can get in) and an afterthought heel (which isn’t tricky at all). You decide if you want to DPN or magic loop them. They’re comparatively quick to make and extra warm as they are knitted in Navia DK weight wool. Navia Sock and Trio are the same weight, but Sock contains a strengthening 20% nylon. I’ve used it for the areas that experience the most wear: heels and toes basically. Trio is used for the cuff and foot of the sock as it comes in a wider range of shades, including the pale pink and bright yellow of penguin feet. I got both from The Island Wool Company.

These fine penguin feet are photographed by Chuck Graham. He and Lori let me use some of their amazing photographs of penguins in my book, which really made it for me. They meant I could actually show my inspiration points, not just allude to them.

As for the socks, they are thick and stripy, who could ask for more? To avoid stripes that jog, a vertical ‘seam’ runs down the fully ribbed leg – something I worked out when designing the Humboldt sweater. The first pair I knitted didn’t have the seam down the back. I’d used the jogless stripes technique I picked up from tech-Knitter. If you use that technique, you could ditch the seam, though the seam is the whole fun of these socks. You could also pass up on the stripes altogether.

I specify 2 balls of each colour to play it safe, but certain 
pick ‘n’ mix combos can be done using just a single ball in each colour if you don’t mind playing yarn chicken (or should that be yarn penguin?). To play it slightly safer, you can use 2 balls of yarn A and 1 ball of yarn B for the stripes, heels and toes. Safety wise, 2 balls of each colour is like wearing a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and teeth guards. (Unless you are tweaking the pattern to make anything bigger or longer…)

The ribbed cuffs are there to help keep the socks in place by giving some more elasticity. The foot is worked in stocking stitch – you wouldn’t want ribbing under your foot. That would be tempting blisters like nobodies business. One of the reasons socks are knitted to a tighter tension (than say sweaters), is to avoid giving you blisters – your delicate footsies won’t be able to discern the individual stitches which might otherwise cause irritation.

The pattern is given in 3 widths, with 3 suggested lengths, which you can mix as you wish. That first test knit pair I made went straight on to Adam’s feet. His feet are so wide as to almost be square. Trips to the shoe shop always end up leaving him in a sad disappointed mood because none of the cool ones fit him. I’d planned to keep that first set as a sample for a bit, but he was so absolutely thrilled and excited to have had a pair of socks made just for him, to fit his flappers, that I didn’t have the heart to make him wait. He uses them all the time now. They are his cosy socks.

We had so much fun modelling these socks for the images in the book. I say we, but really I should probably say I (and the other women present – Elle with her camera and Ania making us look good) had so much fun, but Adam might have suffered just a little. This may have added just a teensy bit to the hilarity of the situation, not to mention when Giovanni (whose bedroom we were shooting in), walked in to find us in our smalls, legs entangled, on his bed. I think we succeeded in coming up with a way to shake up the usual sock pattern poses. And really, in honesty, no partners were harmed in the filming of this book – last night I heard Adam tell his parents about it in a who’d-have-thought-I’d-ever-be-a-sock-model kind of way with a distinct note of pride.

In the introduction to the Antifreeze sock pattern in the book I talk a lot about my English grandmother who was technically neither English or my grandmother. She passed away this summer at a ripe old age, but sadly Alzheimer’s didn’t allow her to enjoy the last bit very much at all. She certainly forgot she used to knit all my winter socks for me, in fact, she forgot she had known how to knit at all. At the onset of her Alzheimer’s, I remember my mum reminding her how to knit each time they got together. The last time I saw her, she flat out refused to believe she knitted the socks I was wearing over a decade before and now heavily darned. It’s been a funny summer – 3 funerals and a cancer scare, balanced out by only one wedding and bookended by babies being born and now a book!

You can find the pattern details for the Antifreeze sock on Ravelry and GET your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE! or soon purchase it from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already arranged to stock it).

Posted on


I sort of think of this set as the wallflower of my Penguin: a Knit Collection book. While the other patterns are busting out some crazy moves in the middle of the dance floor, Pinglette Set it watching from the side lines: the quiet hot chick.

You can magic loop or DPN this baby round the dance floor, it’s up to you. The fun of it is you get to use a lot of different needle sizes. In the book, I use this as a moment to reflect on how much we have grown and how far we have come during this current knitting renaissance. Just imagine if I’d suggested a hat pattern using 4 sizes of needle a decade ago? Some might still balk, but many of us have them in our quiver of needles and I wanted to provide a good opportunity to get them out. I see it as a total celebration of the fact that this wave of knitting seems to be rolling and rolling with no shore in sight. And that’s truly a reason to get up on the dance floor.


The deep cowl and matching beret are knitted from a single skein of Snældan 2-ply (which is like a 4ply/sport weight in 100% wool which gives you 360m / 394yds per 100g). You will need approximately 35g of yarn for the hat and 65g for the cowl. I was a little torn whether to suggest knitting the beret or the cowl first. If you knit the cowl first, it will allow you to get the rhythm of the stitch down, before you need to work decreases in it, BUT then you wouldn’t be able to engage in the utmost satisfaction of knitting the cowl as long as you can until you have just enough yarn left to cast off, which you can only do if you have already knitted the beret.

There’s something really supple and springy about the stitch/tension/yarn combo that is just dreamy and quite unexpected and it feels really appropriate that the shade of grey is called, Cloud. It’s one of the joys of Snældan yarn that it comes in 5 natural, undyed greys. You can get them all from The Island Wool Company. Both beret and cowl are fully reversible if you are neat about how you sew in the two ends you’ll have for each (one from casting-on, the other from casting-off). I highly recommend spit-splicing if you come across an unexpected knot in your yarn or are working from smaller balls/skeins. It’s nicest to not have any unnecessary ends poking out to disrupt the flow, especially since they reversible. Reversible, not because the stitch is identical on both sides, but because it is interesting on both sides – little ‘v’s and dashes on one side, moss stitch-esque on the other. Held up to the light and stretched a little, it looks a bit like honeycomb.

For the beret you start with smaller needles to achieve the density you will be used to seeing Linen Stitch in and work up in needle size to uncharted lace territory (hence I’ve called it Expanded Linen Stitch). You might recognise that it’s a method I’ve used for my Treble Linen Cowl, a cowl with totally different proportions and suggested fibre, because, yes, the Treble Linen is made in linen. It is long, so you can wrap it twice (or even more), whereas the Pinglette Cowl is more like a long funnel.


Pinglette is my made up word for a baby penguin, because there isn’t a specific one, unlike, say, swans who hatch cygnets and geese hatch goslings, while ducks hatch ducklings. The top of the hat is a bit like a sea urchin, which I bet a penguin wouldn’t turn its beak up at as a snack.


And to end again with my wallflower analogy, the Pinglette Set is photographed against the amazing, geometric, black, white and yellow mural just off Columbia Road on the side of Clutch, a posh chicken joint. Just after I did the photoshoot for the Pinglette Set – they were the last knits to be captured for the book (with a sick child in the car and fading light) – I found the exact same wall being used as a backdrop for another beret, this time in crochet, in another craft manual type book, by another Anna… spookey.

This beret is in Learn to Crochet, Love to Crochet by Anna Wilkinson. You can find the pattern details for my Pinglette Set on Ravelry. Soon you’ll be able to purchase it from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already arranged to stock it). You can order the book here, from me.

Posted on


I had so much fun working out the unusual construction of this shawl. When I say fun, let me qualify what sort – the sort of fun that comes from trying to puzzle something into existence that isn’t already a standard and isn’t immediately clear that it’s possible. I wanted a shawl with a jagged edge in a different colour that intersected with stripes travelling at a different angle and I didn’t want to use any sort of stranded colourwork or instarsia.


I cut and folded a lot of pieces of paper (recycled envelopes from dismal bank statements, to be precise) to work out how to do it. Folding paper really helps me to understand how I need to manipulate stitches to get a particular shape. The shawl is triangular, made up of a series of descending steps created by mitred corners. The contrast edging hops along them for an extra-bright pop of colour in a zigzag of triangles that fills in the gaps between the steps. The shawl is knitted flat, in loose garter stitch, using three colours. The idea was that the construction would be entertaining to work while the garter stitch is very soothing.


In what Stephen West has described as my signature move, I’ve placed eyelets at the transition between the two main colours. It’s a trick I picked up while learning machine knitting. This technique perfectly disguises the change between colours, adding interest and making the shawl reversible. I’ve used it in both my Diagonapples (below) and Kermis patterns.

Anna Maltz

The Rockhopper shawl is named after the rockhopper penguin, not the bicycle brand (though I imagine both penguin and bike were named after the fact they can hop between rocks). It comes in one nice big size. The joy of shawls is the flexibility of the yarn and tension you can work them in. You don’t have to work out what size will fit you and they tend to encourage people to throw caution to the wind and cast on without swatching. I’m a bit finicky with my tension and like it just so, even for garter stitch. On this occasion it needed to be quite loose to make it drape nicely and knit up quicker than a dense garter stitch. Garter stitch is always denser than a stocking stitch or lace, because of the way the rows snuggle together.

I used 3 colours of Snældan 1-ply for the shawl pictured in the book. That’s equivalent to a laceweight, but not a superfine one. It’s a lovely mix of Faroese and Falkland wool, spun at the one mill on Faroe. I absolutely adore this yarn and am so happy The Island Wool Company stock it in the UK and supported me making this book.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and equally it’s wrong to judge a yarn by it’s label, but I love the fact that the Snældan labels have remained virtually unchanged since the company started in the 1940s. I know Karina Westermann is an equally big fan and designed her whole Doggerland collection using it.


It’s good to note that the natural colours of Snældan are sold in 100g skeins which gives you 720m / 787yds and dyed colours in 50g skeins (so that gives you half the length). If substituting colours or yarns you will need about 380m / 415yds in colour A (that’s pictured in Charcoal), 350m / 382yds in colour B (pictured in Natural Fleece) and 200m / 219yds in colour C (pictured in Curry).

The Rockhopper shawl is one of 10 other patterns from Penguin: a Knit Collection – my new (and first) book. I’ve tried to pack it as full as possible with photographs, illustrations and stories, all inspired by penguins. You can find the Rockhopper pattern details on Ravelry and soon purchase it from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already arranged to stock it).

Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

Posted on


I’m going to tell you about my Teenguin pattern from Penguin: a Knit Collection today, because it has a party feel to it and today is the day I launch the book with a celebration at Wild & Woolly in Clapton. I’m hoping to see some of you there.

This pattern was the one that had bobbed around in my head for the longest, even before the teenage penguin link became apparent. I love the first version, Indigo Loops, that I made for myself without a pattern and still wear a lot. There were various issues I wanted to address, when it came to making a pattern. Mainly the squareness of the yoke, where the loop section is a bit too long and the fact I knitted the white bottom-half in Wensleydale Longwool, which sadly means I can’t wear it while cooking, cause it sheds like a fancy Persian cat.

I do think the semi-solid indigo hand-dyed merino I bought in Brooklyn years ago worked perfectly for the top half. It was my way of combining a real fancy treat yarn that was a holiday souvenir with something more local and affordable. I really like working elements like that into my patterns. By having two distinctly different zones, you can use two different yarns without where they meet being an issue. This is great either as a way of stash busting or to spread costs – splurge on the shoulder zone and save on the body.

I also felt like I could up the lace game from simple butterfly eyelets to something more grown up. The loops however were there to stay. They’re so fun to do! I’m a really taken with loop stitch and like the challenge of working it into garments without having you look like a 1950s poodle gin bottle cosy or a 1970s muppet.

I love gin poddles, but for gin! This one is made by Tanis Smith, who goes by the moniker of GinPoodle and you can meet its other gin poodle friends on instagram and etsy.

I’ve been having a hard time remembering exactly when the plan to make a collection of penguin patterns solidified, but I think it was when I discovered images of moulting teenage penguins and realised that was the answer to this cardigan. It made the colours fall into place and I could choose a perfect lace stitch that would mimic the the structure of penguin feathers.

Pictures of teenage penguins as they moult from chicks into adulthood ending up being an elegant knitted garment so appeals to me. It feels like the Ugly Duckling story additionally proving that even penguins have an awkward teenage phase. I think the result is totally contemporary, yet vintage feeling. Susan Crawford has, on occasion, referred to this as “my cardigan” when offering encouragement and checking in on the progress of Penguin: a Knit Collection. I’m so excited she has been one of the first people to pre-order the book and I know this is the pattern she is looking forward to knitting.

Teenguin is worked in two colours of heavy DK weight yarn, the gorgeous Snældan 3-Ply, which you can get from The Island Wool Company. I think it’s the perfect occasion to use two of the beautiful colours it comes in, perhaps even 2 of the 5 greys in the undyed part of the range, but you could stick with just one. The body and sleeves of this cardigan are worked flat in a lacy chevron stitch incorporating an unusual amount of garter stitch. This means the delicate lines of lace don’t need to be disrupted by ribbed cuffs, as the stitch sits flat of its own accord.

I felt like Kay wrote her recent post to Ann on Mason Dixon Knitting (about working the sleeves of her Monomania cardigan flat rather than in the round as specified) was written for me. Or maybe the flat knitted sleeves of the Teenguin were made for her? I know there has been a mass embrace of the circular needle, but I would encourage people to get out their old straights on occasion, whenever you can really, as I think it’s good to mix things up for your posture and wrists.


Teenguin is designed to be worn with zero or slight negative ease (allowing the stretch of the fabric to give the space needed for movement). Belinda Boaden and I had many a good chat about the dispensability of shaping in knitwear. We agreed that for the most part, the stretch of the fabric can provide the shaping you need, or rather, your body provides the shape and the knit will fit to it. If you prefer more ease, go up a size.

I’m thrilled with how this one looks on all sorts of body types. If you really crave bust or waist darts, add them in where your actual bust and waist is, rather than where I, as the designer, think they might be based on my own body and standardised measurements. I miss Belinda so much: she was always filled with constructive critical opinions, humour and care. The book is dedicated to her, in loving memory.


You can find the pattern details for Teenguin on Ravelry and soon purchase it from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already arranged to stock it).

Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

Posted on 1 Comment


So yesterday, something very exciting and unexpected happened, Clara Parke’s put Penguin: a Knit Collection on her 2015 Gift List for The Knitter’s Review. Turns out that a penguin was her high-school mascot and I’m her favourite instagrammer – high praise indeed from a woman I have utmost respect and admiration for. That feels momentous enough that it could be the only thing I tell you today, but there are patterns to introduce you to!

I love stranded colourwork and yet it’s not featured highly in my book. Only 2 of the 11 projects in Penguin: a Knit Collection are stranded: the Fledgling mittens and this, the Flower King hat. (Mind you, only 3 patterns are shown in a single colour.) I started the #fairilsefriday hashtag over on Instagram about 2.5 years ago now with a very inclusive and welcoming understanding of what constitutes Fair Isle. Therefore it feels right to share this stranded project today, on a Friday, regardless of the fact it doesn’t feature any remotely traditional Shetland motifs. It is stranded, and to many folks, correct/blasphemous/misguided or not, Fair Isle is still the catch-all term for knitting two colours in the same row. And really, what an honour – that one little island gets to lend its name to a whole approach to knitting that has it’s origins and use spread all over the place!

I think one of the reasons I felt relieved of doing penguin stranded colourwork motifs was thanks to the amazing Mörgasir/Penguins pattern by Linda Konráòsdóttir from Istex and on Ravelry. Can’t beat it for covering a yoke with penguins! Here it is, knitted by my instagram friend, @schvung, who is elajna on Ravelry

I also hope it’s becoming clear by now, that though united by a deep fascination and appreciation of the penguin, the majority of the patterns in my book do not actually look like one. They were the jumping off point or perhaps more correctly, the diving in point. When I was looking at the king penguin for inspiration, things took on an unexpectedly floral twist. King penguins have what looks like a large yellow inverted petal on each side of their face. In using this shape to form the colourwork patterning on the crown of this hat, I found myself with a flower. This of course means that a pompom was compulsory, as it becomes the heart of the flower ­– a treat for those with an aerial view.

Flowerking_hat_top_webThe hat is worked in the round from the brim up, starting with 1×1 ribbing. The colourwork chart is repeated around the hat 5 times. There are undeniably long floats, so there are tips to advise where and why to manage these. Unlike the other patterns in the book, this hat is given for a single size only – a good middle ground adult head size of 56-58cm / 22-22¾”. Guidance is given for creating different sizes. Changes in the yarn you chose and your tension can make the little tweaks you might need and adding repeats of the colourwork chart can make more dramatic adjustments, as would removing them.

You’ll want 3 colours to knit with and another one for the pompom. All the patterns in the book use Faroese yarns from The Island Wool Company. This hat uses Navia Trio, a Faroese 3-ply yarn that is equivalent to a DK/worsted weight. It’s 100% wool, spun from a mix of Faroese, Shetland and Australian fleeces. You’re looking for a tension of 20 sts x 24 rows = 10cm / 4” over colourworked Stocking Stitch on 4.5mm needles, or whatever needle you need to get that tension.

I’m really excited to see this pattern knitted up in more classically floral colours. Maybe a green background with darker green “Vs” and a hot pink flower with a yellow heart. I’m also experiencing a distinct desire to knit one using a specifically ombré yarn to make shaded petals. For example this one, from The Wool Kitchen:

The knitting pattern includes a lengthy section on making successful pompoms, something I couldn’t resist putting in. I am known to wax lyrical about making pompoms. (I do write a regular column for PomPom Quarterly, which, contrary to what the name might suggest, isn’t about making pompoms at all, though they do occasionally appear on the gorgeous knits you will find in there.) Speaking of which, I’ll be signing copies of the book and showing off the samples at the PomPom Xmas party on Friday, 11 December. Clara Parke’s will also be there and I will finally get to meet her in person!

Pom Pom Christmas Party 2015 Flyer Web-1


You can find the Flower King pattern details on Ravelry

Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!.