We were able to put quite a few things in the KDD shop last week, including our brand new 10 Years in the Making book. The book is now available for wholesale too, so if you are a bookshop or yarn store (or know a bookshop or yarn store) who would like to stock this (or any of our other titles) please do get in touch with Sam and he’ll sort you out: (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is a book I and the whole KDD team are super-pleased with. In terms of simple numbers, with 18 patterns, it’s the largest collection we’ve yet produced, and all of the garments are graded across an inclusive size range. From the slow development of Schiehallion (our new yarn featured in the book), through design ideas, pattern writing and editing, the knitting of multiple samples, photography, layout, and production, this is a project that has involved an awful lot of hard work – and time. Here’s what I wrote about that topic in the introduction to 10 Years in the Making:
This collection marks the ten-year anniversary of my life as a maker. It’s a document and celebration of what I’ve happily spent the past decade doing: finding design inspiration in everything from stones to seabirds; testing and developing ideas; taking interesting creative projects forward, and sharing the end results as patterns, yarns and books with a community of readers and knitters all over the world. A decade might seem like a long time, or simultaneously feel as if its no time at all, and when I’m knitting (not a day goes by in which I don’t work with yarn and needles) I often find myself thinking about the relationship between my craft and time.
I have very clear recollections of working on my original Paper Dolls sweater, which is included in this collection, and which was published as my first paid-for pattern more than ten years ago. I recall falling in love with the Welsh Bowmont yarn I used to knit it, and happily buying a sweater quantity for myself at Cumbria’s Woolfest. I remember my first experience of unwinding the first strand from the yarn cake, casting on, working a long swatch of different stitches, and enjoying the plush, plump, sheepy hand of this lovely local wool. I recollect the lightbulb moment of my string-of-paper-dolls-around-a-yoke idea (having come across a chart in one of Margaret Murray and Jane Koster’s wonderful books from the 1930s) and the feeling of excitement at giving my idea a go. I can call to mind the particular fall of light, the textures, the sensations, of the many places in which the first Paper Dolls was knitted—trains, cafés, meeting rooms, the shop that housed my knitting group, the quiet spaces of my own home. I remember pulling back a row as the train pulled out of Berwick; an enthusiastic conversation about the rhythms of stranded colourwork; the needles I was using, what I was wearing at the time. Vivid now as then is the cold morning in 2009 that I insisted Tom take some photos of my new Paper Dolls sweater, as I leapt about on a scrubby patch of verdage between two cycle paths.
The original Paper Dolls still sits here, in my wardrobe and if I hold it in my hands or wear it on my body, I sense not just the shape and texture of this thing my hands created over a decade ago, but can feel all of the times-past that contributed to the sweater’s production, completion, and years of subsequent wear. To a greater or lesser extent, every sweater I’ve ever made similarly embodies its own moments, and I often reflect upon the fact that, in so many different senses, our hand-knits are objects that make time. When we first pick up our needles, we quickly become familiar with the progressive movement of one stitch after the next, and experience the craft’s routine yet magical ability to turn time back upon itself, as we unravel early errors and get to begin all over again. Then, as we figure out how to modify, adapt and fix our work, we also start to understand how the time of knitting is always both advancement and retreat, expansion and diminishment, turn and turn about. And however fast we learn, however speedily we work, all knitters come to know that the time of knitting is necessarily measured, and that the growth of a project will always be determined by the limited pace of our own two hands. As experienced knitters, too, we gain a profound understanding of just how slow knitting can be, and of the fact that its time might lapse, cease, or adopt an intermittent motion, as long-neglected projects are at last abandoned, or finally returned to for completion. Time, for a hand knitter, accrues attenuates, shifts gradually, moving on in its own folds and gathers rather than straight lines
I have always found this distinctive gathering time of knitting deeply purposeful, meaningful, and inspiring. As individuals, the private activity of knitting can allow us to experience both attention and repose in a space that’s importantly separate from the tick-tock time-bound pressures of our busy daily lives. Yet knitting can be as sociable and reciprocal as it is meditative and reflective. It’s an activity that often takes place among a gathering of friends, and our projects slowly grow within the supportive context of exchanged words and ideas. Yet whether we work on our projects alone or in company, the slow process of knitting inevitably gathers so much time within it that each made-thing becomes a material anchor for our memories. Each sweater contains within it a constellation of different moments, each hand-knit is its own archive of feelings, experiences and thoughts.
In knitting, we make meaningful, memory-rich time for ourselves, and we often also use our craft as an opportunity to make time for other people: knitting a blanket for a new baby, working on a pair of socks to warm an elderly relative’s cold feet. And it is interesting to reflect upon the stark differences between this intentional, time-making work and the designedly time-obliterating process of fast fashion. We live at a moment when the duration of the making of a t-shirt by a skilled machinist in a factory in Bangladesh or Vietnam might be measured as 5.12 SMV (standard minute value); when the UK retailer who commissions such garments from the factory might boast of the mere 12 days it takes to bring such garments from drawing board to sales rack, and when more than a quarter of such t-shirts purchased by British consumers will never even be worn at all. There’s something particularly eye-opening in the temporal journey of a “fast” fashion garment from capital’s over-accelerated demand, through rigidly synchronised labour, to the end-point of throwaway consumption. In such contexts, fashion seems to belittle time not just as “fast” but meaningless, if the time of a T-shirt’s development and making is touted for its negligibility, and the time of its wearing is in fact no time at all.
Because knitters know about what it means to make time, I think we have a particularly acute kind of understanding of the grotesque and unsustainable pace of contemporary fast fashion. Indeed, many knitters regard their own slow, intentional forms of making as acts of quiet resistance to the weird, simultaneous 24/7 present in which fashion now seems to exist. The experience of the slow process certainly teaches all knitters that, however quickly you may want to produce something, certain aspects of time will remain immutable. Just as one’s hands and needles can only move so quickly, so flax and cotton must be raised and harvested over the course of several seasons, and it takes many months for a sheep to grow its woolly fleece.
Roland Barthes described fashion’s relentless annual cycle as “a vengeful present which each year sacrifices the signs of the preceding year.” One of the aspects of the culture and practice of knitting that I find most personally refreshing is that, far from being trapped in a “vengeful present”, our temporal cycles seem much more about continuity and renewal. This is not to deny that knitting can be very powerfully trend-led, or that today’s knitters love discovering innovative construction methods and fresh, new garment styles (they certainly do!) But there is something very telling in the fact that I might receive an appreciative email from a knitter who has taken the time to tell me that she’s recently enjoyed working from a pattern I first published several years ago, and who is looking forward to many years of wearing the sweater she’s just made. Each kind exchange of this nature feels like a genuine gift to me, and reminds me that one of the great joys of what I do is being able to experience the communicative reciprocity that exists, in the world of knitting, between designers and practitioners, who are, in the end, simply both makers. In a world where the distribution of agency seems in many respects increasingly uneven, and politics all too frequently collapses into narrowly-defined issues of consumer identity, this makerly mutuality is somewhat unusual, and I cherish it as something of a value that far exceeds the economic. It brings me huge pleasure to see my patterns take off through time in other’s hands, or be surprised by how an “old” design might be renewed through a talented knitter’s individual creative enterprise.
If the knitting of a sweater proceeds slowly, then the designing of a pattern for that sweater is also—in my case at least—an essential part of that slow process. In her memoirs, Mary Quant talks about how the fast pace and pressurised environment of 1960s fashion helped her to produce what she regarded as her best work, but we are all different, and it will come as no surprise to find that in my own experience the opposite is the case. For me, taking a long time over the production of each piece is deeply enjoyable as well as completely necessary, and that’s because so much of that process is collaborative. From first to last, every one of the almost 200 designs that I’ve produced over the past decade has been developed with and alongside Melanie Patton, who knits and tests out everything I create. With Mel’s help, I can often find a much clearer and more “knitterly” way of describing an instruction, and I know that the slow time that Mel and I spend together, working with our hands and mulling over pattern development, really makes a difference that’s discernible in each finished piece.
Mel and I make time by taking time over the process of developing each design. Again, this process is certainly not linear or progressive, but full of its own layers and lacunae, told in the half-development of ideas that did not quite work out, or part-knitted pieces to which we may well return at some point in the future. Time is never going to move quickly if you are involved in every stage of the design and making process, but I feel that the very slowness of this work is in itself a mark of care. For me, each stage of knitting’s slow process is a way of enacting respect: respect for the craft I love, for its history, for the talented designers who went before, and especially for knitters, now and in the future, who may want to pick up one of my books and make something. And in the end, surely one of the best things about knitting (moths notwithstanding) is its peculiarly longevity, the way it can abide through time? We experience knitting’s distinctive ability to extend itself across time when we choose to knit ourselves a sweater from an original 1940s pattern with vintage Shetland yarn, unravel a garment that our mother or grandmother knitted many years ago to create something completely new, or repair a worn patch on an elbow to ensure a sweater’s continued life. The making time of knitting is uneven, desultory, circuitous, rambling, but most of all, very long indeed.
Little did I think, when I first cast on my Paper Dolls, that a decade later, I’d be publishing an anniversary collection including this design. Time has its own tricks to play on all of us, and back then when I was enjoying my first experiments with yokes and colourwork, designing sweaters was certainly not how I saw my future. That knitting then became the way I spend and make my time is, despite the strange and difficult route I took to get here, something for which I’ll be forever grateful.
This collection includes many personal favourites, but is framed by the very first pattern I designed – Owls – and the pattern I designed last, in the closing months of 2020 – Sterntaucher. Two sweaters, inspired by birds. Time flies.
All the designs depicted here are included in the 10 Years in the Making book, as well as being available as complete kits (including yarn and pattern), or as individual downloads from the KDD shop or Ravelry,