A joy o’ creation

Your mind haes a joy o’creation 
laek writin a rhyme — hit’s nae lee — 
whin your fingers and wires in relation 
maks da colours an patterns agree! 

Stella Sutherland, Da Allover

In her wonderful Shetland poem Da Allover, Stella Sutherland captures the distinctive pleasures of knitting colourwork, which she describes as the result of two different relationships. First, there’s the foundational kinship of the hands of the skilled maker and her working tools (her “wires” or needles). Next, just as importantly, there’s the creative relationship that exists between the allover’s patterns (the motifs which decorate its surface) and its colours (the particular shades of yarn that have been selected for its knitting). When all four things—hands, tools, patterns and colours—are brought together, something truly magical takes place, something whose harmonious accord seems akin to poetry or song.


If you love knitting colourwork, then I think it is very likely you’ll have experienced the distinctive joy that Sutherland describes. You’ll understand the fun of choosing yarn shades, the diverting activity of putting a palette together, the thoughtful consideration of the shifting rapports or imparities of an experimental swatch. Which colours really work together? What level of contrast is required? Which shades would you like to assert themselves, and which to play supporting roles? Would you like something bold or subtle? Do you prefer a look that’s quiet and understated, or do you enjoy a graphic effect that really strikes the eye? This exploratory phase is one thing, but then actually making colourwork is quite another. For, it is only when the work is actually on your needles that you begin to experience a very unusual kind of knitterly enchantment. The motif’s rhythms work their way into your fingers until their symmetry feels instinctive; each shade change carries its own small thrill, and watching the pattern develop under your two hands becomes a strange form of addictive revelry. Just one more row. One more row.


Stella Sutherland’s “joy o’ creation”—the very particular pleasure of making allover colourwork—is what I have wanted to share with you in this club and its accompanying design collection. I don’t regard my approach to pattern as anything that’s particularly sophisticated, and nor do I think that I have some kind of mystical colour “sense” that marks me out as special. What I do have, though, is a fondness for knitting colourwork that borders on an obsession, combined with a genuine love of using shades and hues as a basis for experiment. I know that many of you possess similar knitterly traits, and this club has been for you!


My approach to pattern is fairly playful and eclectic, and in the Allover collection I’ve combined several forms of stranded colourwork that one might broadly describe in terms of their association with different northern regions. Small patterns of two-tone dots and trellises, for example, are very common in Norwegian and Swedish knitting, as are larger motifs like stars or snowflakes (SkiftieSolas Biorach, Kaav). Big, bold, lozenge shapes feature in Icelandic colourwork (YompSiorr), while Fair Isle knitting is well known for its corrugated rib, banded patterning and frequent colour changes (PouzleSchene). You’ll find all of these colourwork styles in Allover, alone or in combination.


Drawing on different colourwork traditions allowed me, in turn, to ask different kinds of questions of myself when I set out to develop a design. What would happen if I used the familiar monochrome motifs of Selbu accessories in a colour-blocked Scottish Argyle vest that was knitted up in a 1970s palette (Starnkeeker)? Could I take a small motif that’s more often used as a “filler” and make it into a two-tone pattern’s main attraction (Tìoraidh)?


And how about knitting a single glove with seventeen different shades of yarn? (Starkin)? This last example might seem somewhat excessive as an exercise, but, as many club members have discovered, a glove or mitt’s small palette provides a brilliant low-stakes space for experimenting with colour, and is also a great way of using up small scraps of yarn.


In developing my Allover designs, I continually challenged myself to “mak da colours and patterns agree”—and, if you are up for a little experimentation, I encourage you to use this collection to challenge yourself similarly.

Thanks to our brilliant team of test knitters, many of the patterns include samples and charts in many different colourways.


Why not swap out some shades, choose a palette you wouldn’t be drawn to ordinarily, and see how much you like it when worked up? Or perhaps you’d prefer to pick a motif you like from one design and mash it up to create something completely different?


The large stars and crosses of Starnkeeker might easily be adapted for a mitten, for example; Astragal and Fittygomash’s interlocking motifs would look amazing on an oversized pullover, while the eighteen-stitch repeat that features on Mirlin and Solas Biorach could find new life on a pair of socks or cowl.

Solas Biorach

I’ve spent so many happy hours experiencing the “joy o’ creation” in the company of these patterns. I hope that the time that you spend knitting from Allover is full of such joy as well.


Thanks to all of our wonderful club members for sharing this journey with us. The Allover book has now gone to press, and will begin shipping in just a few weeks time. If you are not a club member, but are interested in the Allover book, knitting kits, or individual pattern downloads, these will all be available to purchase from the beginning of March.