Hello, happy Wednesday, and welcome to another My Place post! Today I’ve the very great pleasure of introducing Outi Kater, a designer whose work I’ve admired ever since I spotted one of her hats being worn around the streets of Lerwick around ten years ago, and had to immediately find out who had created this wonderfully bold piece with its combination of pinks, oranges and greens. The spectacular hat that I so admired back then was the Leaves Tam, and it’s a design that gives you some sense of what I love so much about the work of this talented colourwork designer. Outi has a particular way of bringing together small motifs with really interesting palettes and shade combinations and a distinctive aesthetic that always manages to suggest the qualities of delicacy and robustness simultaneously. Both qualities are definitely to the fore in Outi’s design for our My Place project: a piece that recalls Finnish childhood winters, restorative woodland spaces, and Outi’s own creative place as designer of useful and beautiful hand-knits. Here she is to tell you more about Out of the Woods.
My Place is in the land of utterly practical knitwear, made special by beautiful yarns and interesting stitch patterns. Many other knitters inhabit this land, which is not a physical place, but rather a guiding principle, where function and practical considerations come first, but don’t in the slightest impede creative play with colour, stitch pattern, texture and techniques. What I love about my place, is that the concept of something useful and necessary, that can simultaneously be beautiful and special, is also an idea lying at the heart of so much folk art and craft practice. Through the centuries, and all over the world, countless makers who worked hard to produce ordinary things necessary for the activities of everyday life, have still always had the urge to create extraordinarily beautiful objects to the best of their abilities. In all respects, such makers made the most of the materials that were available to them.
A beautiful example of this are the woollen, linen and cotton belts, woven with a rigid heddle in the 19th century, that are now in the collections of the National Museum of Finland. Another striking example are the carved wooden distaffs in the same museum. Distaffs were attached to the spinning wheel and used for holding the unspun linen or wool. Men often made them as presents for their bride-to-be.
In the Finland of my childhood, instead of a scarf, children often wore in wintertime, under the jacket, a plain knitted cowl, designed as a kind of turtleneck bib collar. The cowl stayed in place and it kept you warm, and that’s all that was required. This wonderfully down to earth, practical, no-nonsense, usually factory-made and shop-bought piece of Finnish knitwear was the starting point for my Out of the Woods cowl design. The combination of a soft pure wool and mohair yarn, dyed and blended into complex colours, together with an intricate slip-stitch pattern that produces a very satisfying fabric with pockets of air, are the things that make this simple design quite special.
The shades of Milarrochy Tweed chosen for the two colourways of the cowl reflect the rich colours found in forests and woodlands at different seasons of the year: greens of young spruce shoots and the first beech leaves in spring; browns and oranges of pine bark caught in sunshine; speckled whites and blacks of the birch trunks; purples of the blueberries that fill the woods in autumn, and the deep blues of the sky reflecting on a little lake in the deepest forest.
The slip-stitch motif consists of just ten rows, which are repeated throughout, only ever using one shade of yarn per row. This makes the pattern very accessible to knitters of all skill levels, with step-by-step instructions provided in the pattern.
In English, the saying goes that you are “out of the woods” once you have managed to clear a path and extricate yourself from trouble, a phrase that apparently dates back to the era of Roman occupation. In Nordic countries, where forests and woods cover up to three quarters of the land, this phrase does not exist, not least because forests and woods are there seen more as places of refuge and sources of plenty than as places to be feared or to escape from. In Nordic languages and cultures, woods tend to protect rather than threaten.
It is only recently that science has started to understand how complex and wonderful forests and woods are environmentally. Quite apart from the wider ecosystems such places support, it is a mind blowing thought that via underground root and fungal networks trees can actually communicate, send nutrients to each other and even warn their neighbours of impending danger. It seems that trees are capable of functions that benefit their whole community without always directly benefiting the individual.
In these unusual times, people in Finland – and in many other places in the world – have taken to the woods in unprecedented numbers for their daily exercise and relaxation. They have walked, jogged, cycled, skied, picked berries and mushrooms, observed nature and inhaled the oxygen rich air like never before. Humans have found their place in the woods and have taken out of the woods the many benefits that can be found there, for both their physical and mental well-being.
With my Out of the Woods cowl I want to celebrate necessity, which is the mother of all invention; the beauty of pure natural fibres; the joy of playing with colour and pattern; the benefits of the simple act of knitting, one stitch at a time, and, most especially, the woods that protect us all.
The Out of the Woods cowl pattern is available from my Ravelry store and you can also follow me on Instagram at @outikaterdesigns
Thank you so much, Outi, for this useful and beautiful design that is surely the perfect thing to wear for a woodland walk at this rather changeable time of year!