Back in the spring, I knew my ten year owliversary was coming up, so I decided to knit myself a new owl sweater.
These photographs were taken while we were in Berneray, back in May. It’s quite weird seeing myself with my ‘old’ hair – I suppose that must mean I’m now completely used to the new style!
Other things are new about me, too. When I designed this sweater ten years ago, I was keen on knitting (and wearing) quite neatly-fitting garments (having become somewhat frustrated with making sweaters from commercial patterns that never quite fitted me properly). I think that one of the things that made the owl sweater stand out a decade ago is that was made from bulky yarn, but did not look remotely bulky.
That’s because I put waist and bust shaping at the sides and back of the sweater, and wore it with a little negative ease.
The original owl sweater is still going strong a decade later, though I’ve not worn it so much over the past couple of years. One reason for this is that I definitely now prefer to wear a winter sweater with layers underneath, and a wee bit more ease.
My original owl sweater was knitted in the first size, with zero to slight negative ease. This new owl sweater sample is knitted in the third size, with 4 inches of positive ease. You can see it does not fit my body in the same way – and I simply ommitted the waist and bust shaping when working this sample (just leave out steps 2, 3 and 4 in the pattern if you wish to do the same).
I’m wearing two layers underneath my owl sweater here, and feel pretty comfortable. The curious thing (to my mind anyway) is that a sweater without shaping, knitted two sizes above my actual measurements definitely fits me just as ‘well’ as the original decade-old, and much more fitted sample. Or perhaps it is just that I like to wear my clothes slightly differently. And regarding the general fit of these garments on my body, it’s probably worth pointing out that I currently weigh much the same now as I did a decade ago.
But what about this fabulous tomato-coloured yarn, with it’s teal and egg-yolk-yellow tweedy-flecks? The yarn I used for my original owl sweater has been long since discontinued, but my new sample has been knitted in a great yarn that is very similar in character, and to my mind far surpasses it in quality – New Lanark Chunky.
I often feel New Lanark is an unsung hero of Scottish yarn and knitting – so it is perhaps time to tell you a little more about them. Situated south of Glasgow in the beautiful Clyde Valley, New Lanark’s yarns are spun on nineteenth-century mules in a mill which, because it was the birthplace of utopian socialism, is now a world heritage site. The electricity that powers the machines comes from the mighty Falls of Clyde and an historic waterwheel – meaning that all the yarns they spin are produced with renewable energy. The yarns are woollen spun from a blend of British fleeces, and have been designed and created by Alan Baraclough. As well as being someone with a real feel for fibre and an eye for colour and blending (the tweedy palette Alan has developed for New Lanark is superb) Alan probably knows more about the processes and practices of woollen spinning than anyone currently alive in Britain (really – that’s no exaggeration). His expertise is immense, wide-ranging, and frequently sought after by manufacturers creating everything from insulation to apparel. And as well as knowing an awful lot about production, Alan is also an extraordinarily energetic and creative man, who genuinely loves designing and making yarn. Here’s a picture of Alan with the beautiful (100% Organic) tartan he recently developed from the fleeces of the Prince of Wales’ flock at Highgrove.
You’ll find Alan’s beautiful, complex, saturated colours in the New Lanark yarn range, alongside a group of great natural shades that he’s created.
I used New Lanark chunky in my owligan sample a few years ago (above). It’s a yarn I’ve also featured in my Carbeth Swan dance pattern, and I thought it would be great to update the owls pattern with it too. New Lanark’s chunky yarn is an evenly-spun woollen-processed 2 ply. It’s robust in the hand when knitting, but it softens up considerably in the blocking, and after which it wears extraordinarily well and lasts for years. I love this yarn!
This shade is called ‘Roma’ and it’s one of a number of complex, deeply saturated shades with tweedy neps to which Alan has given Italian names. Here’s Mel wearing a new owligan sample in ‘Verona’.
Starting from just £49.00, including yarn, project bag and PDF pattern download, I reckon the kit prices are pretty reasonable. And even if you don’t fancy knitting yourself an owliversary owl, I heartily recommend exploring New Lanark’s range, and giving a skein a try (if you’ve not done so already). The yarns they spin are wonderful!
Happy Owliversary, everyone! x
And finally, if you’d like to know more about New Lanark, did you know I’d written an editorial feature for the Rowan magazine back in 2009, in which I discuss its history along with that of Cold Harbour Mill in Devon? If you’d like to read the piece, I’ve made it available for you to download. Just click the link to access the PDF.