A couple of weeks ago, I gathered a big bunch of rhubarb stems, to harvest their skins because I wanted to make cord, or string. Hoping for red.
I washed the rhubarb stems in a bucket of water then tried to peel the skins off. Some lengths were successful, some less so, but I saved all the strands and hung them on a string across the kitchen window. I froze the rhubarb in the hope of making crumble when the apples come. ( I might do a crumble party – with ice cream) Crumble party in the autumn anyone?
I left the skins hanging on the string until they became dry / brittle.
After my unsuccessful attempt at making a tiny basket out of lily leaves, I turned to the red rhubarb skins, soaked them briefly so that they were pliable again, and twisted them into a length of string. (string, I can do)
I love the tactile act of twisting the natural fibres and the anticipation of what it might look like when it dries.
Above is after twisting the fibres, below is the dried little bundle a few days later. It kept most of its colour
Now I have two tiny bundles of hand made string and I am on the lookout to collect more fibres. It’s addictive. The Iris leaves are definitely going to be next and I have my eye on long grasses.
One month of knitting, writing, remembering and the colour blue.
It is the 30th April – It has been one week and one day, since the sudden death of a great Shetland friend and two weeks since I received a message from her telling me that she had just received results from a CT scan and ultimately, her diagnosis. The above post on Instagram by her daughter, Susan.
Fiona was kind, loving, supportive, honest and intuitive as well as being creative. She reached out to me when I was living in Shetland and offered me the hand of friendship and the loyal ear of a friend.
Just before I left Shetland, we arranged to meet on Bressay, where she lived. I caught the seven minute inter island ferry from Lerwick to Bressay and she met me off the boat. We did beautiful ordinary things – we went to the Speldiburn café for a cuppa and a look at her many weaving, knitting and sewing projects on view there, particularly the lace. She bought cake for Peter and us. With her, I found a safe harbour in which to share my thoughts about leaving the island. To be able to share thoughts in words with others whilst living on the island, was rare for me. A couple of people were the only ones I could share in what I was feeling at the end of my stay in Levenwick. Fiona already understood without me saying anything.
After I left Shetland, to return to the city, we kept in touch and she supported me in every way, checking in on me and joining my online workshops and follow up re group sessions. We both supported charities with our ability to sell creativity – and even at the end of February, we both sent £625 each to the British Red Cross to support the earth quake disaster in Turkey / Syrian border. I sold knitting patterns and Fiona wove cloth in the colours of both countries and made the fabric into little cosmetic purses. In February, she seemed well and active. So, it was a great shock to me that Fiona messaged me on Sunday 16th April with the saddest and bravest message I have ever read in my life. I couldn’t understand the message – read it three times then asked my friend to explain it to me. It highlighted her scan results and that she wasn’t angry or frustrated. That she had lived a beautiful life with love around her in a beautiful home. I messaged her back to ask if I could call, but Fiona had family staying and was understandably tired, so we arranged a call on the Thursday, only four days later. I sent her a little gift. But things changed, by Wednesday, Fiona was in Lerwick Gilbert Bain, hospital in and out of consciousness, so I couldn’t call on Thursday and by Friday, she had stopped eating and drinking and on Saturday morning, 22nd April, 6 days after her message to me, Fiona died. Understandably, her partner and daughter were devastated by this shocking loss; they had not left her side for a week.
I was also devestated at this cruel turn.
The decline was so fast straight after a shocking out of the blue diagnosis that I was left sifting through a thousand thoughts on loss and waste and why and how? I could hardly breathe and felt winded, almost punched by extreme sadness. The strength of my feelings, I now understand coming from experiencing the kindness of a woman who cared about everyone, her family, community and even me and now she was gone. Gone. She was one of life’s unconditional givers, she was positive, engaged and engaging, creative, loving and enjoyed her life. She was too young to die – yet, in her message to me, she said that she wasn’t angry or frustrated by the CT scan findings. But I was.
I now realise that the message she sent me on 16th April, was a goodbye.
After Susan (Fiona’s daughter) messaged on the Saturday, to say that she had died, I drove the car from the city to Bretton, to a little pub called the Barrel Inn overlooking the valley and there, the hang gliders were swooping low and rising high in the thermals. It was cold and windy – just like Shetland, and there, sitting on a bench, periodically crying, below the gliders, I truly felt the presence of Fiona rising in the winds, swirling, swooping free. She was in the wind, then, she was the wind.
Fiona had the bluest of eyes. So blue.
I haven’t knitted anything new for some time, haven’t felt like it or had the need to but I felt compelled to try to make some attempt to capture the pure blue eyes and the joy of Fiona. I am adapting a previous pattern of mine – Smola beanie, scarf and gloves – from when I lived in Shetland. I was going to knit socks but thought they would be too chunky in shoes or boots so I adapted the pattern into little mitts. The pattern has developed into symmetry.
There have been days, before and since her death, when I have heard Fiona’s words, gently correcting any negative bias I have into positive thoughts. She had a knack for doing that, like, ending some of my sentences with – Not Yet.
Here, is to a wonderful woman – Fiona – sadly and greatly missed 1,000 miles away. Just thank you for being kind. I think I will find you in the winds.
8th May – The little pattern that I have knitted is here. It took many hours to design, write, balance, make symetrical for two hands, and knit to as good as I can make them for Fiona. A wonderful test knitter (Karensprenger on instagram has test knitted these mitts, Karen is from Sheffield and both she and Erickaeckles on instagram have gone over the text and charts of the pattern for me – both of whom have taken my online colour blending workshops and both chose their own colours for this pattern and I will share them on Instagram.
Friday 19th May – I have finally finished writing, photographing and knitting the little Mitts in honour of Fiona. Here they are with the blue glass star that Fiona gave me as a leaving Shetland present. Here is the pattern
In total, I knitted 3 mitts. The first one, needed alterations on the thumb placement and cast off. Then I made a new left mitt and then a new right one. The last one is the neatest.
The pattern includes photo tutorials on how to make the little thumb and here is a quick clip of those stages.
I have decided that after paypal have taken their cut and after Ravelry have charged me for each sale – I will donate 50% of the income money that this little pattern makes (about £1.50 per pattern) over the next month over May and June to Macmillan Cancer support.
It’s Wednesday afternoon. It’s sunny and a time for sitting, reflecting, rebooting and rebuilding.
I finished the little knitted cowl this week, just in time for the freezing morning weather to have passed. I made it for a number of reasons:-
1, my face is freezing in the wind when I bike at 6:30am to the gym in all weathers (it was), it has warmed up this week.
2, to see if I could plan a knitted piece that fits my around my chin and face comfortably
3, to incorporate 8 different Fair Isle patterns in one round, using 4 repeated blocks of colour with 4 colours in each block – equalling 16 colours with a couple of extra colours for the softer rounds in between the fair Isle OXO patterns.
4, i was using this piece as a sampler for both colour and to see if I liked the outcome of the pattern to see if I would use it in a vest – to look like a persian carpet.
I have already written a blog on how I started this project, which is here, so I will finish off with how it was knitted, what I found out along the way and the outcome.
I cast on 200 stitches and worked a corrugated rib in Peony and Maroon. Then knitted 3 plain rounds, then 5 rounds of the little blocks pattern edged in 2 rounds of a stone colour, then 3 more rounds of colour before starting the Fair Isle motifs. The first rounds were simple – even though the division of the amount of the 200 stitches by the amount of stitches to each repeat didn’t always work, therefore, needed adjusting.
The first 18 rounds utilised the same colours for each round and just flew on the circular needle but when I got to the Fair Isle patterns, the first round was knit easily and as I am using 8 different blocks of colour, I joined the blocks by twisting the colours together at the joins, in an intarsia fashion. But, the second round had to be knitted in purl because the yarn tails were at the end of the knitted blocks, and not left at the beginning (this turnaround to purl going back is ok for me as before knitting everything in the round, I knitted in the flat for many years but it is not the Shetland way.)
To also join each Fair Isle block at the change of a new set of colours on the return, I twisted the yarns of each block going back on the purl round with the yarns in the previous block, in an intarsia fashion for each of the blocks to successfully join them together.
I suppose this is a bit of a bodge job. If I had knitted it in the flat, it might have been neater at the join and easier to knit. But I learned this as I went along.
Finally, it was finished, after a few nights in front of the tele, making sure my yarns were ready if any changes of colours were needed as it isn’t possible to get the correct colours at night time.
The motifs were chosen from the below book and I carefully calculated them many times with many alternative X sections to fit within the stitch count.
I don’t normally choose motifs in this unemotional way. I design in a more connected, authentic way, either from a museum piece or photograph, concept or vintage piece but I was just making a sampler so it is ok to pick and choose patterns. I played around with the X part of the Fair Isle patterns a lot and the amount of stitches in each block.
So, I started with 200 stitches, decreased to 198 for the little blocks pattern then decreased again to 192 for the Fair Isle rounds – this is because I was trialling the Fair Isle patterns on paper and starting the project at the same time. A start of 200 stitches, makes the rib wider than the 192 for the pattern by 8. It makes the rib roll.
If you want a go at this, start the rib at 192 stitches. Work 2 x 2 corrugated rib – the 6 stitches of the block pattern also work with 192 stitches, as does 8 blocs of 24 stitches for the Fair Isle patterns.
In the end, I enjoyed knitting it but don’t really like the outcome of the trial of different colours. I thought that it would be interesting for a vest but I don’t like it. Some colours work for me, – the pinks, the brown and ochre and the blues. But not all in those colours either.
I am still sitting here, in this city, on my tiny patch of ground looking out to a wall situated over the road, when once I looked out from a croft house towards the sea. In Shetland, I often used to let my mind wander southwards, down roads, over walls, into the gentle gardens of flowers growing by trees. But today, my entire thoughts are drifting up North to the islands of Shetland, particularly to the Island of Bressay and to the Gilbert Bain in Lerwick.
I am thinking of a wonderful woman with blue eyes who is kind and thoughtful and creative and who made me feel welcome. I am sending her all the love from this city world.
If I were to make a pattern for a vest, using this sampler, it would be called Fiona.
May. It’s faintly snowing. The old ginger cat sits upon the second rung of a ladder to get off the cold ground.
Puffins are everywhere about the island, particularly at the north end, so I walk to sit with a hundred or so, amongst their burrows just above north haven beach. Three are in a huddle, clattering their beaks together. Their movements and sounds make me smile.
From the hill, a ewe is calling and calling for her lost lamb. It’s not long before I come upon it. Stomach ripped open by a black backed gull, its innards freshly eaten and its ribcage picked clean. What can I do?
At the croft, the caddy lamb and the orphan lamb are in the garden hard box pen, bleating before the four hours’ time up for the next feed, just as a baby does. They follow us clattering around the kitchen floor on their hoof toes, their stomachs bloated from the formula milk, ready to pop.
The dog is barking at nothing in particular.
The woman is in the kitchen and the man has gone to sea.
Familiarity of the small flock as if family.
Early evening, in the lambing park, when the heaving of the birth pushing and the pulling of the lamb that could not be born, I sink in the mud to sit at the head of the ewe to stroke her forehead between her bulging eyes, making comforting noises to sooth an animal that would normally run away from me.
Any woman who has given birth would empathetically feel the movement of the heaving and grunting of the ewe against or with each contraction. The young man, having not yet been a father, gently waits for the contraction to subside, allowing the ewe to release so that he may pull the unborn lamb again. The ewe pants and groans repeatedly at the man aiding the birth of the big lamb, too big for the mother, having been crossed with a huge texel. I cannot look at the sagging birth hole, the birthing sack coming away, the placenta hanging like a blood liver that she will turn to eat, to stop the buzzards from coming to feast, first on the blood sack then on the new born.
She turns away, so, her head is forced towards to the limp new born to lick a love connection but the ewe, lifeless from the shattering, traumatising, experience, lies unmoving with fearful and unknowing eyes, neither lifting her head nor licking the new lamb. The limp new life in front bleating –
you are both alive,
you both still live.
The woman pushing and pushing for hours and days in labour, at the young age of 23 years, her first child, big in the womb, stuck back-to-back, until she is lifeless after the rupture and eclamptic fit. Surgeons cutting, nurses monitoring, air is given, the baby is ripped out with forceps, mother unresponsive slips into unconsciousness. Two days later, after finally waking, the baby is passed to me like a lamb wrapped in the skin of another, with the words, ‘this is your son’.
At the side of the lamb being born on FI, I think of Levenwick last week, where the young man, without any feeling or kindness grabbed the new mother ewe by the scruff of the neck, her back legs skidding on her blood and urine collected in pools in the back of the truck, she, pushed into a pen in the lambing shed that was once a house. The new lamb is brought in behind her, hanging by its back legs.
Welcome to the world young one covered in yellow sticky sack of life only minutes old, blood threads entwined bleating for dear life.
A few words on designing a knitted piece that you would like to make. (including mistakes, errors, bodge)
When I was a child, I always made stuff. No one taught me, I just went for it. I remember seeing a large yellow cloth hard backed book on the shelf at the newsagents with 365 things to make in it. I ran to that book every time we went in that news agents and poured over the photos and asked for for the book for Christmas – I remember my mother answering, ‘You want a book?’ I was about 8 years old and loved that book. I sewed rag dolls, made resin ashtrays, made tiny doll dresses and sold them to my sister for her pocket money (which my mother made me give back) collected four / five / six / seven leafed clovers, pressed flowers, made cards – you name it, I made it. A loner’s kind of life then too.
I also remember my mother getting a Singer sewing treadle machine and I used it to make the entire miles and miles of the bunting for our estate jubilee party in 1977 – I was just 14 and could hardly reach the treadle peddle – no one taught me how to use it – I just got on with it coordinating foot and hand movements for miles of bunting, which seems simple but not when you embark on it as a young person – there is a responsiblity that I was unaware of. I also made very unattractive, shapeless, square t shirts for my dad out of the left over fabric, which were never worn.
Later, I taught myself to knit. There was no Youtube. Then I got a knitting machine, then I started knitting intricate patterns by hand, going directly ‘off piste’ every time with my own alterations. Making stuff has been a lifestyle. Now, I spend hours and hours ‘designing’ a few knitting patterns for small knitted articles. I’ve tried to stop but I just can’t. So I’ll share how I think I will make something – from scratch, from an idea, from a light bulb moment.
Just now, I want to make a very intricate pullover in an infinite number of colours, using traditional Fair Isle motifs – so to test how this will look, I will make a cowl. Already, I have learned from this exercise of knitting in the round, where the yarn tails end up after knitting blocks of different blocks of colour – not in the right place – that’s where.
My initial ideas are inspired by any number of things. Honestly, my ideas of colour and pattern come from deeply inspired thoughts of connecting to a person or place in history – ie my‘Dear Susan’ jumper, or from the sunrises when I was staying on Fair Isle – how the light cuts between the horizon line of the sea world and sky in‘Fair Isle Sunrise’or from the beautiful natural crustation of sea urchin shells that I collected from the discarded meals of gulls on Sea Urchin Hill in Brindister, which became the ‘Sea Urchin’ pattern.
But now I don’t live in Shetland. So what of inspiration? I’m still taken by how the light falls, both on my walls or even on the roof top of my daughter’s flat in London. So, I never stop. The excitement of light and colour never stops.
Lately, I have been really taken by a traditional fair Isle jumper that I saw in a museum because of its quality and integrity. Each motif in the row was different and repeated randomly in other rows. I counted about 15 Fair Isle patterns in the entire project. So, I studied them and began to graph them with an idea to draw on my love of colour (blending)and my memories of knitting Patricia Roberts intricate work in the 80’s to drawing on my use of Shetland yarn and love of traditional patterns.
I am wondering if you would like to join me on a journey of making your own design pattern? Go for it. Let’s start with a cowl. Easy.
I’ll show you how I have started project and what it looks like now – admittedly, some weeks have already passed and due to my writing schedule, many more will pass before it is finished. People can think that buying a knitting pattern from Ravelry for £3-£4 can be expensive, but behind it, for me, is hours and hours and hours of trial and error to find the right colour, tension, feel, drape, size and outcome. Then, I’ll let you know, that Paypal take a cut, quite a big cut and that Ravelry then charge at the end of the month for the patterns sold – so a £4 pattern can end up being about £2.90 and if I offer a discount, which I often do, then I will end up with about £2.00 for each sold pattern (they are cheapter than a cup of tea in town) so, you see, that Pattern designing can be just for the love of it (Unless you are a famous ‘knitter’) Fortunately, Knitting is one of my loves – and I share that love in patterns.
I said to someone yesterday, that I am not a knitter – I just knit, then move on.
So, let’s start at the beginning of this project, which may or may not work. What I used for this project is an inspirational image of a Fair Isle Jumper that I admired and wanted to develop into a project.
I wanted to use my colours – lots of colours and my methods of ‘colour blending’ and tiny needles to create a Persian carpet look. Already, the starting image will be forgotten within half a day’s developmental work.
Here we go.
What you’ll need for this project ( I am making a cowl – because my face is cold on the bike in the early mornings)
Your idea of which motifs you would like to knit
A notepad of graph sheets
Pencil, with rubber / sharpie, regular pen, tape measure
A stash of yarn (all the same quality of yarn)
and Hello Fresh does work too.
boys and colour
Start by looking at the motifs that you like and start replicating them on graph paper. You can also graph out patterns using excel spreadsheets, but that comes later for me, if I choose to put a pattern out. Initially, I like the tactile act of using paper and pencils. Graph the motifs by studying your image of knitted inspiration and working out the pattern or by looking in ‘The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting’ book by Sheila McGregor or the cute little ‘Shetland Pattern book’ by Mary Smith and Maggie Twatt. Both books are pretty old. I have a copy of both ( I used to have 2 copies of each but…)
Start graphing out your desired motifs and be prepared to make mistakes. I start with pencil and do a lot of rubbing out. Then I go over the pencil with a sharpie and still sometimes make errors. Making errors at this stage is also learning how the motif works, if this is the first time that you have knitted this kind of pattern.
Then, start to choose your colours. If you have attended any of my colour blending sessions, you will know how this goes. It can be complicated, it can also be easy but if you haven’t – then I suggest to firstly think of harmony, then contrast. And do not buddy up the colours.
Knit some of your drawn out motifs into swatches. Use different size needles too, to see how the swatch looks. This is not supposed to be torture, this is the first fun bit after you have painstakingly drawn out the motifs on paper. The swatch is to check colour then tension (as a bi product)
When you have knitted random swatches in varying colours, you can see how the pattern stands – are there too many stitches in the block for the feel I want? – is there a harmony in colour, is there enough contrast? How does it feel? – yes, really, how does it feel in your heart? Is it better with dark motif on light back ground or vice versa? How the do the colours blend – oh, and never, never choose your colours under tungsten light or whilst watching the tele or not really looking – always choose your colours under natural daylight – ignore this last bit at your own peril.
When you have knitted the swatch, then you can measure it to figure out how many motifs you need for the size you want to knit – simples? Using the needles that you like for the outcome you like. Easy? Or just stick with figuring out your colours in the swatch. The size will take care of itself – right?
When you have knitted quite a few swatches in a number of colours, then you will have an idea if any adjustments need to be made to the motif or where it falls within the pattern or what motifs will go before or after the main motifs.
Anyway, here is a start – this is where I am with my project – round 3 of the first round of Fair Isle Motifs. It looks messy but I am in full control.
It is a cowl with 8 different hand drawn out Fair Isle motifs joined by seed stitches because I didn’t like how geometric the original Fair Isle joining sections looked. I am using a different set of colours for each block of motif, like I used to with Patricia Roberts’ patterns and even with I used to knit Kaffe Fassett jumpers in the 80’s.
Let me know how you get on. Leave me a comment on your thoughts.
On Friday, I set off just before 7am. A sky of midnight blue, changing through a line of tangerine and peach until the sun rose, a golden ball accompanied by a never ending line of staggered planes flying north, whilst the sky turned pale pink, lilac, pure blue and the stag watched it all beside the edge of the tree line. I felt a pure energy like I used to on my doorstep at sunrise in Shetland, except I was one mile from the edge of a city on an old Roman road crossing Houndkirk moor.
I walked as far as the stone way marker with the skull and crossbones carved in the side facing Sheffield but the weather hasn’t been kind and the marks are now eroded away.
On the moor, I felt the same energy being drawn from living within a pure hour of anticipating the first tip of the rising sun on the horizon surrounded by many colours of a changing sky across a visible 180 degree sky line. Instead of sea creatures, I saw the stag watching me and the night before I had watched the young badger and fox in the city. Finally, I felt back at home.
In the afternoon, I spoke with my agent, Jenny from Jenny Brown Associates about my book proposal, which I am quietly excited by. I have recently been added to their website as a new author. My proposal will go to publishers next week. It contains my first three chapters of the book I am writing about my year in Shetland. I have recently had some great support from Hannah, and The Writers Workshop who helped with editing and the synopsis.
Writing the book has allowed me to rethink what happened that year.
The House of Two Women
A journey to and from Shetland
‘I stand for a second to take in the moment, to look at the old plank-board door with a square wooden knob which I finally turn sharply to the right. The simple mechanism lifts a wooden latch inside. Human touch has left tangible traces of every hand that has opened this door before me. The sound of the sneck – a door latch hitting its casing – is what I will always remember of this place. I understand that it is a unique sound to this house, one that will forever embody a simple place of great beauty. In this exact moment, I am sold on the sound of a wooden latch and the view of the stone flag floor in front of me. Before the agent has even arrived, I know that I will not pull out of this crazy unfinished deal to buy this house and change my life forever. I won’t admit to the agent that it is the sound of the sneck that sealed the deal, but it is.’
This book is a love letter to Shetland and its extreme elemental landscapes; to an old croft house and three generations of the same family who lived there for more than 140 years. It is my story: a single, 57-year-old Yorkshire woman and knitter who dared to follow a dream against all odds; to sell up and risk all to move lock, stock and two cats from a small city flat to a home facing the sea, in the northernmost reaches of Scotland, the islands of Shetland.
This is also Susan Halcrow’s story – a strong, independent woman who lived in the same house for eighty-three years, from 1876 to 1960 – and how I came to know her through exploring the history of the home we shared. I write a letter to her in each chapter.
Each page is an invitation to share in my arrival on the island and to experience a full year of living through the seasons. It unfolds in monthly instalments, beginning on the very first day I visited the house, and heard the sneck, in August 2020, to my last sunrise in October 2021, when I had to leave. I dreamed of living on the island to be closer to nature, creativity and a life less ordinary, with my knitting practice at the heart of every day; of moving through slow travel across sea and natural beauty, to come to a personal understanding of both inner and outer landscapes. I never dreamed I would want to leave.
I will tell stories about sunrises and sea swimming; island hopping, whales and perfect Groatie Buckie shells; the night sky full of the milky way and a moon as big as a dinner plate; Easter blizzards coating the front of the house with a sheet of icy snow; of knitting and making a home in an old stone house, where learned so much about myself.
I will also share how emotionally challenging it is to make such a seismic life-change from city to island life and how my being an incomer, made it hard to find community both with some islanders and with some other local incomers.
The book, written entirely from the islands of Shetland, ending in October 2021 and offering an insight into island life and, finally explaining the reasons why I had to sell up and leave, to never look back again
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver.
Since September, on and off, I have been working on a new little hat pattern. The colours have been inspired by the dusky pink hue that I painted my new little wooden kitchen, with highlights of rich magentas and wine for the motifs and pale background colours – just as I painted the insides of kitchen cupboard doors.
When I went back to stay with Mati in Fair Isle in September, I started with ideas for colours and motifs because I was, at that time, painting the kitchen too. But it wasn’t until December that the hat finally took on a full body of a good colour blending work throughout the motifs. I was then happy with it.
When I teach on my online colour blending workshops, I teach the principles of how I choose and blend my colours in my knitting projects to enable the participants to harmoniously choose colours for their own new work. After the principles, I give ideas of how to choose colours with ‘your heart’ – to go out and find your own true inspiration and work with those colours and the feeling from the inspiration, rather than to just reach for a big pile of coloured yarn in front of the TV or buy from a shop without forethought, then to just knit anything that looks good together.
Knitting and designing takes planning, and thought, and even love to get it all right. To knit a project and work with colours ‘with your heart’ adds another dimension to the work – it becomes art – my art – your art.
The new little hat pattern sings -and I think it is my favourite design to date. I worked on the motifs for some time so that I felt happy with the design and so that the patterns built up and worked together well.
I’ve kept a uniformity of colour changes and carried those through each motif in the same way, which is not really like me. I am normally more random but I am thinking of knitting a vest with these colours and patterns so this is a taster of things to come.
The pattern for the hat also has a new detail that I haven’t done before, and that is to have a b/w chart as well as colour coded charts for the body and crown of the hat – so that the knitter can use the chart to design their own colours and rows where the colours change. This addition is quite exciting for me because I am hoping that knitters will take this pattern and develop their own colours for the patterns and that I will see many different combinations. If you do knit the pattern in your own colour choices, please tag me on Instagram with @traceydoxey so that I can see your work – I share some on my stories and I would love to share your work too.
The new pattern went to two test knitters, one in Sheffield, who came around to my flat and chose her own colours from my box of yarn, and one friend in Nova Scotia, who knitted the hat using her stash. I’m grateful to Karen and Shona for test knitting – here are their works of art.
For anyone who has attended a colour blending workshop – you still get 20% discount off all of my patterns with a code that I have already sent you after the workshop. But, if you don’t have your code for discount, please email me and I’ll send it to you.
Thank you for reading this little mention of this little knitting project. If you would like to read up to date information on how my book is moving along, please sign up to this blog to be updated, by submitting your email in the box below.
The cat woke me with his heavy weight transferred through his fat kneading front paws alternately pressing into my sticking up right shoulder.
Alfie joined in the attempt to get me to feed them by his repetitive bipping noise. The old, cheap, mantle clock chimed six so I turned face down in the pillows.
The forecast (a habit I have from Shetland of checking) read that we were to expect fog in the city first thing, then a ball of sun most of the day. I lay there for a while, my tired body ignoring the purring and bipping cats. At 7, I gave in and got up, fed and watered the boys, made tea then dressed hurriedly to get out onto the moors. Fog in the city is boring, I wanted to remember what fog was like in Shetland – to remember some part of it that used to haunt me for days on end, so I drove up to Burbage fog chasing. But, at the edge of Ringinglow, bordering on the Derbyshire boundary, the fog started to clear and within seconds, I’d driven through it into pure blue sky and bright sunshine. Another world.
At Burbage, both the moon and the sun hung in the sky casting their natural magic. Fog was nowhere to be seen. A real warmth came from the sun high on the peaks at 8:30am.
I walked towards Stanage Edge where the clear moon tilted over the rocks in a beckoning way. The path was bordered by long dead bog grass, heavy with water, looking like a prairie. Then the fog started to drift in below Stanage rocks, blown gently and slowly from the left, in a long soft ribbon, thick enough for the most magnificent natural thing to happen created by the collision of two things – the bright unhindered sun hit the fog and created a fog bow.
I actually squeaked with joy, turned to look back at that sun, then saw all the fronds on the low-lying fluffy grasses hanging in tiny droplets of water shining like glistening small crystals.
The fog bow came fully into sight.
High up on the rocks, at the Edge, the fog rested in the valley over Hope and Hathersage. Every passing person had a photo at the trig, including me. And every passing person was excited by the energy of the sparkling light and visible moving shifting fog. Until, finally, the gentle wind pushed the fog up and over the edge of Stanage, covering both left and right and finally the trig.
Today is the anniversary of me leaving an island and returning to a city.
It doesn’t matter much to me and certainly not to anyone else about this fact – not really. But, I suppose it is a personal landmark, and seemingly one that matters enough for me to dwell upon the date when I cannot normally manage to remember the day of the week. Too many things have happened since I returned, most of the first six months, I’d rather forget. What matters, I suppose, is that we get on with things in life, whatever happens, even when it takes longer than we hoped, even if we rise more slowly than we used to – we still rise. Even now, I am still a work in progress.
If there is no need to mark this anniversary, then why put words to paper?
People generally mark time by anniversaries. Today, I reflect, I take stock, I take a pause, to be grateful for the place I am now at, both physically and emotionally. As I sit here, I can hear the neighbour practicing his mandolin with Fleetwood Mac playing on his stereo in the background and later, I will hear the Chinese lady teaching piano class, Alfie sleeps peacefully beside me, clouds drift, dogs are out being walked. Life, for me, carries on here. It is not just me and fog and wind in a beautiful house.
Our experiences are like beads on a necklace. Some beads shine, some are dull, some broken, chipped, rough or smooth but the beads mark our journey. Shetland is a large, multi-faceted, rich bead on my necklace of life, one I will never forget and one that my life would not have been fulfilled without doing, whatever the cost.
I think what it boils down to is me accepting that I do feel this one-year anniversary of leaving a place I thought I would never leave. I do feel the passing of the year between arriving and now. I know that not one other person will be interested and although I didn’t think that this anniversary was important to me, as I write, I find a growing personal importance in honouring this day today and that day, one year ago. I remember the adrenalin of that day before leaving the croft house in Shetland, counting the hours, of two great friends visiting me as I was packing the car, helping me, bringing food and secret presents. And when I left, I did not look back.
The last morning shone with a burning scarlet sunrise
Here are the words I wrote one year ago – almost to the minute.
A last Shetland sunrise Its flaring red, pink, lilac and blue skyscape performs to remind the boys and I of perfect untainted natural beauty. I smile I walk out to greet the glow Sky, wind, cold envelope me. Sheltering from the Baltic wind in a steadfast porch that faces east, I watch To etch the view forever. A basin of ice cold sea wraps the surface of a world below a rippled dancing sky. Alfie by my feet on the age old stones. The red sky does not fade, it glows, it sings, it morphs
It shouts to me “Goodbye, do not forget me, For I am in your soul”
This September, one month ago, I returned to Shetland; to draw a line, to closes the circle, to see if I made a mistake leaving. I found beauty and wind and I met friends in Lerwick and I remembered memories. But on the day of leaving, when the bus went past my house in Levenwick on the way to the airport, in the dark and wind and rain, I felt nothing.
When I saw the lights on in the windows of the homes of the friends that I knew, I thought about the sweetness of them, of Lynn and of our sea swimming and walks, of Martin and how I regularly got in his truck to go out to feed his beautiful sheep, of Jimmy and Archie and our talks on art and Carol who lived in the house behind me, but as the bus approached the back of the house, I craned my neck to see the roof and the chimneys, the bus moving at the same slow, meandering pace as my mind – I felt nothing. I mainly looked forward to my return to the city, to my small flat, to my cats. I looked forward to a peace that I am finally finding in myself – mainly because I finally found a small home, a place of safety, a place to think and grow again. I have a simple city life with a lot to do. I have a peace I did not find in Shetland.
Yesterday, I sat around a table in a small room, in the centre of Sheffield with a group of people who joined to spend time together talking about non fiction works. There were at least 5 nationalities bringing their joys in a shared pastime and I inwardly celebrated being back in the land of cultural difference, acceptance, and open ness. In the city, there is still a thread of autonomy. Last Friday, I dipped my toe into the realms of writing by entering a novel slam organised as part of Off the Shelf festival. I’ve never read in front of anyone, let alone on a stage, I’ve never used a microphone before, let alone on a stage in front of a judging audience to read my own work and I’ve never entered a competition like this before.
I had to get through stage one with a one minute pitch. After round one. The audience voted 8 people through to round two. I went with no one, just in case I couldn’t do it. I noticed that the other participants had gone with friends who not only cheered them on but voted for them to go through to round two. It was then that I realised that maybe I had missed a trick. Surprisingly, I got through round one, and read my 3 minute pitch in round 2 and even more surprisingly, I came 3rd
What this did for me – was make me realise that I owned the act that I am writing. That was my prize. I quietly thought, I can do this.
Here’s my one minute pitch.
Dear Susan, A house of two women
In the 57th year of my life, I bought a 200 yr old croft house, facing the sea in Shetland and moved in with one bag and two cats, my furniture following on a lorry in the hold of a ferry.
The tactile house was made of stone and wood, with latches and sounds echoing back in time. It had hardly changed from its beginning. In the archives, I found that a woman had been born there in 1876, living for 83 years, 50 of those, alone.
This is a love letter to an old house, the everchanging landscapes of a year 60 degrees north, the way that light falls when there is nothing in its path, the tactile art of knitting with colour, the drifting scent of peat fires, sea swimming, watching moon beams across my wooden floors, a woman called Susan who loved the house as much as I did, and why I had to leave.
It’s about what we find out when we set out to live our dreams…
In writing a book about my year in Shetland, I am re learning about my journey, why I did it and why I left. I’m seeing it retrospectively with hindsight through a year of journalling, photographs and blogs. Instead of rushing outward to find a sensation or a life less ordinary to feed me, I seem to be taking my free time more slowly doing the basics, setting up a home – to plant myself firmly back into this world. I’ve been painting a lot of pink
I have been offering 25% off all of my knitting patterns until midnight on Sunday 23rd October. I’ll extend the 25% off offer for another 24 hours – until midnight tomorrow, Monday 24th October to celebrate this anniversary and because I am trying to save to buy tiles for my kitchen – basic. 😊
link to patterns is below – no code needed – 25% taken off bill in basket.
I have returned to Shetland, initially on the invitation of Mati because she was heading off Fair Isle for a trip off the Island and offered me a couple of weeks to stay in her house, look after Lola and the cats and write – that changed for her but the dates for me did not.
I travelled to Shetland, ironically, or not, exactly two years to the day of travelling the same journey to live on the Island in the house I bought in Levenwick. On that journey, in 2020, I travelled north by car and the North Link ferry with my beloved cats – I was filled with hope and excitement at a new life by the sea. But, I left the island 13 months later, and in many ways, I am still coming to terms with those 2 years. I never thought that I would do this return journey to Shetland after selling up and leaving, but here I am, back again. There is something that seems to draw me back to this extreme place – I think, maybe, it is love, which, in itself, shows me that my move to live here was the right one at that time.
When I booked all of the details to get here, three planes, two taxis, one bus, and a car and an overnight in Lerwick (and the same for the return), I wasn’t really feeling much at all, then, when the final detail was arranged, I almost felt excited.
Each stage of the travel up north began to remind me how far, both geographically and emotionally, I have moved. When the 32 seater plane touched down at Sumburgh, I felt slightly emotional, as if coming home. This surge of, almost tearful, emotion has happened to me every single time of returning to Shetland since 2016 – usually on the top deck of the Northlink when passing Bressay lighthouse. Maybe the feeling was relief that I made it after all the practical things that could alter on such a long journey or maybe it was connecting with an island that I do know intimately after living here – walking West Voe beach by the airstrip and watching the planes coming in or when collecting buckies at Grutness waving to the many different aircrafts that flew overheard. So many things have happened here for me. Or maybe, it was the emotion of meeting a long lost friend – the islands of Shetland. My connection runs deep to the islands, as deep as with my most precious son and daughter. If this is the case, then, the emotion I felt on landing is one of love.
My next emotional meeting to overcome was catching the bus from Sumburgh to Lerwick because it diverts to go through Levenwick, right past my old house but somehow, I was offered a lift by a visiting councillor in the taxi – I accepted. This meant that we didn’t painfully and slowly drive through Levenwick, stop outside Jimmy’s house where I walked his dog every day, then, opposite Herbert’s old house, at the shop where you can’t really buy anything in date, and then by the surgery. The taxi passed, unemotionally and unconnectedly, above the hamlet of Levenwick, on the one and only road south to north, onward to Lerwick. When we passed the village, at a fair speed, I fleetingly caught sight of the community hall and the foot-channelled, tufted grass path beside it that I walked every day for over a year, to the beautiful crescent beach and I felt nothing. I have no idea how some emotions build or slip away but I really just looked over my shoulder, then concentrated looking forward as the taxi driver cut almost every corner possible. I thought of all the road kill I had seen on this road to Lerwick over the 13 months of living here, mostly hedgehogs by the dozen, birds, and one day a magnificent otter. I sat in the back of the taxi whilst the councillor and the driver talked of things I could not hear and wasn’t interested in.
They dropped me at the Lerwick hotel. I got out, thanked them then walked to the hostel. In Lerwick, I couldn’t believe that the Queen had died. I shared this disbelief with the lady at Isleburgh hall, reception who stoically replied, ‘well, she lived a long life and she’ll get a good send off.’ Which put an end to any additional conversation and, in itself was not incorrect but I felt a little sharp or matter of fact or just plain Shetland pragmatism. This far up north, whatever you think of the United Kingdom, here is a very different land, structure and feeling – especially to royalty, Boris or Liz, or bank holidays. I kept the thoughts of the Queen to myself and shared them with my kids and my lovely neighbour looking after my boys back home. Home seemed a long way away with different thoughts and feelings to that of here. At home, the Queen means something even to folks who don’t care about royalty. The Queen was a very special woman in her own right and our country of England will miss her presence and continuity.
It didn’t feel strange to be back in Lerwick at all, I didn’t bother with walking around – there was no point, the whole reason for being here was for a stopover before the plane from Tingwall to Fair Isle.
In the morning, before sunrise, Bains beach called. It is a small place of great beauty in the town. Always crystalline in clear turquoise water, crescent in beach and clear in view towards the island of Bressay, (even if fog) Bains beach is flanked by The Queens Hotel and the most famous house on the island – the Lodberry or Perez’s house. I think it must be the most photographed house in Shetland too. What a rich and full life these places have had, going back centuries. Both buildings have stone stores built in to the sea. I remember my first visit back in 2015 where I found out that Jimmy Moncrieff, his brother and parent’s used to live in the Lodberry. His brother still does. I called Jimmy at his office at the Amenity Trust and went to visit him. He photocopied information about the Lodberries and I suppose my love of Shetland started around that time, Sept 2015. In January, 2016, I returned for Up Helly Aa and Jimmy got myself and a friend tickets for one of the hall’s dancing and party all night. Since then, I have built up my love of Shetland to the point of buying a home, living by the sea and leaving again.
I was lucky with the flight from Tingwall to Fair Isle. They sometimes don’t go because of wind or wind or even more wind and sometimes, they are delayed. The flight on Friday was a dream flight. 25 minutes inside, over and below blue – blue plane, blue sea, blue sky, blue clouds, little wind – perfect conditions. We landed and I was greeted by people I have long known who both live and work on the island of Fair Isle in a number of jobs. One of them being Fire officers to meet the plane or guide it in. Fair Isle islanders work really hard, in all weathers, relentlessly. Their commitment to community is extra and above. Without the community working together to make things work, no one could live here – as it is, I think there are about 50 islanders though the island population is now swelled by contractors working on the water and building the new Bird Observatory after it burned down in 2019. They are an impressive bunch of people with a vast array of skills to survive here. I think that these extra characteristics are some of the things that I also fell in love with here. Shetland creates stoic, pragmatic people who survive in the harshest of conditions as well as the most beautiful extreme terrains.
This trip, I felt was to ‘draw a line’ so to speak, on my whole Shetland life but since being here, I find that Shetland, in all its many facets, is in my heart, though my emotions are like a pendulum, anxious at all the wind again, drinking in the familiar sights and enjoying the unexpected. But I do know where I am best placed now, and it is not in Shetland. I nipped for a cup of tea with Marie, she mentioned that I am maybe ‘closing the circle’ and that seems a really nice way of looking at this whole cycle and journey in my life.
As my stay on Fair Isle beds in, I note that I fluctuate from bitter/sweet thoughts about my life 60 degrees north and wonder how I could have made it better for myself when I lived here, but really, on my own, I could not have sustained it for another ten years and I missed access to my son and daughter. The isolation and the relentless wild winds began to drive me crazy.
We are guided by the weather here. Holidaying or staying for a few weeks or even months is not fully understanding what it is to live here. So many things affect a life on the islands, least of all the weather and quite frankly, that part is enormous.
For now, I am beyond grateful to have returned to both Shetland and this rock 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, to have friends who welcome me, to have a place of great beauty and creativity to stay and think and breathe. It is a gift of love, learning, personal growth and time.
If you are a knitter and would like to knit any of my small patterns, I am offereing 20% off all patterns on ravelry, while I am here on Fair Isle, link here