shieling styling

The question of how to style handknits can be a tricky one. Any knitwear stylist might wax lyrical on the question of just how difficult hands can be (if one doesn’t have a nice mug in the props basket you know those mitts won’t look their best!). In general, I really enjoy thinking about styling my designs (it is after all a kind of dressing up). But there are few designs I’ve thought more about how to style than this week’s pattern for my West Highland Way club – the Shieling Blanket.

This blanket is a fairisle showpiece. I loved working on it, and was (though I say so myself) totally blown away by the finished object. It’s a modular pattern, intended to celebrate the familiar thistle motif that appears on West Highland Way signs and waymarkers. One square is simple to whip up (just like knitting the crown of a hat) but when 30 squares are joined together the effect is pretty spectacular. When the finished blanket was constructed I saw how the thistly colours I’d chosen shimmered together like some gigantic Arts and Crafts tapestry . . .did I really design this thing? COR!

I had designed it, but how on earth were we going to photograph it? The blanket is large enough to cover a small double bed like ours, but I felt a bit weird about styling something in my own bedroom. And though I personally really like the interior of my own house, I feared that dog hair and general shabbiness might intrude on images whose only purpose should be to celebrate this amazing blanket. I also felt strongly that outdoor photography is a sort of signature of what we do – and perhaps particularly of our current project. The West Highland Way is about the great Scottish outdoors: surely the blanket should be photographed in an outdoor setting? But HOW?

I faced a similar conundrum when photographing the Birlinn blanket from our Inspired by Islay collection. There, I came up with the grand idea of taking a basket to the beach, placing the blanket on the sand, and setting up a sort of picnic, complete with tea pot and tunnocks tea cakes. This was, in itself not a bad notion . . . until I remembered just how bloody windy a Hebridean beach can be.

In these images, velocity had reached about force 8 and, when not wrapped about my wind-whipped person for necessary warmth, the blanket was in danger of transforming itself into an impromptu sand yacht and setting off with me to Ireland. There was no question of opening up the basket and playing at tea parties. Tom shouted instructions uselessly at me into the gale, I used my arse to anchor the blanket to the ground, I sat still and held on gamely. I kind of like these images – the colours and light are pleasing – but when I look at them I remember that there was no one else about on the beach that day for a reason.

(please to note the unopened picnic basket and skirt ballooning up around my thighs)

The Shieling is a much bigger blanket than Birlinn. There was no way I was going to be able to hold it out from each corner, and it looked a little odd just wrapped about me. What we needed was some sort of sofa, and some sort of outdoor setting. I mused for a while on the potential of our garden shed, but a backdrop of a few meagre winter cabbages was not what I really had in mind. Time was moving on. We had to photograph the blanket.

Then I came across some garden furniture dramatically reduced in the January sale. That sofa thing was really very cheap! I did not need an outdoor chaise longue but perhaps the blanket did.

“We’ll take it to the loch,” I told Tom “and photograph the blanket there.”

Tom wasn’t sure about my plan and even less so when it came to the time to share our living room with an outdoor chaise longue. This thing was much bigger and heavier than I’d realised. Were we even going to be able to carry it? Meanwhile, the weather was like it generally is in early January: grey, windy, lots of snow. And still, we’d not photographed the blanket.

“Tomorrow looks good,” I said brightly, looking at the forecast “we’ll photograph the blanket then.”

There was more than a foot of snow on the ground as we walked the chaise along the road, over the hill, and down toward the lochside. Three trips on foot were involved: one for the base, another for the sofa cushions, and a third for Tom’s camera, tripod, reflectors, and, of course, the blanket.

All right, then! Let’s get this shoot on the road!

I call this one “Victorian convalescent by a frozen lochside”

Yes, I am lounging casually in sub zero temperatures on a chaise longue by a loch . . . what of it?

The blanket really IS cosy though!

“Turn to the right”
“OK – like this?”
“Yes, that’s great. I’m making a sunstar.
“Eh? What?”

“I’m making a sunstar appear out of your eye”
“perhaps that’s a bit much?”
“well, in one way or another, all of these pictures are a bit much.”

“The blanket looks good though”

After about an hour’s photography we faced the return journeys, with the sofa cushions and equipment. Finally we began to hoik the chaise back up the hill on our backs. In the distance, snaking along the road, we spotted around thirty people from a local walking group. It was certainly a grand morning to get out for a walk, and the two figures struggling with the sofa made an unusual sight in the snow beside the loch. The whole group paused and gathered to watch our labours as slowly, hesitantly, we lugged the sofa up the hill towards them.

“What’s all this then?” asked one, making a witty remark about witnessing a burglary.

“Knitting,” I gasped, exhausted from beneath the sofa, “its a knitting photoshoot”
“For knitting?”

That’s right. For knitting.