From this post you may conclude that I don't get out much and perhaps should get out more, but the highlight of my week has been the anticipation and subsequent arrival of Colours of Shetland by Kate Davies.
I know, I know, so much excitement over a 'knitting' book, but I have grown to love Kate's designs... who wouldn't want to make or own and cherish a Rams and Yowes blanket or a Peerie Floooers hat or the Tortoise and Hare gauntlets.
The book arrived on my self-awarded Kitchen Day, when Bookhound is out helping the Gamekeeper for the day and I am home alone and bored and lonely (*ahem*) and force myself to sit in the Aga-warmth of the kitchen, and either 'make' things, or reluctantly wheel the chair up to the oven door and read. The radio trills along in the background, I get the urge to make proper cocoa, the day gets greyer and murkier outside, the animals sleep and I just have to woman-up and cope. In fact this week I was forced out by a 'no milk' scenario, so did the six mile round trip to the village shop only to find it was Swiss Day (yes in deepest Devon...we know about Switzerland) as evidenced by stollen and hot chocolate, so I sat and partook before persuading myself back home to the chair and the warmth and the Aga.
Colours of Shetland was waiting for me, and this home-alone day was good news because had Bookhound seen it he may just have snaffled it for one of my Christmas gifts. You couldn't go wrong adding this to your list (N.B. Listed on Amazon but only available direct from Kate) if you love intelligent knitting, because of course you knew I was going to say it, this is far more than 'just a knitting book.' Admittedly, ten signature hand-knit designs from the Shetlands do form the foundation of the book, but alongside each an essay offering some history and inspiration as well as background for the designs.
Kate Davies has a doctorate in Eighteenth Century studies, was a university lecturer and has written books on a wide variety of subjects including the American Revolution and the history of lace. When some research in Philadelphia, surrounding a group of women's letters, shifted the emphasis in her thinking from women's oppression to the way that textiles enriched their lives and created the bonds of friendship, Kate, remembering that she could knit, went from the library to the wool shop and almost hasn't stopped knitting since.
'Like those eighteenth century women whose letters I was reading, creating textiles enriched my life tremendously, opening paths of inspiration, and connections with people, that I would never have otherwise discovered.'
For me the connection between reading, landscape, history and creativity, and the way it all connects and inspires me and so many others so readily in this online world has felt increasingly seamless, so I felt completely in tune with Kate's observations.
But there is much much more to Kate's achievements than some knitting, some designing and the production of a book...any one of which I would be inordinately proud to have accomplished.
I doubt Kate would wish her readers and fellow knitters to define her by the major stroke that knocked her for six almost two years ago now; that stroke down to a really unique and rare combination of medical and life circumstances whilst only in her mid-thirties. However I would urge you to take a break from Christmas planning, settle down with a pot of tea and read Kate's account of that day, and her subsequent battle to learn to knit again and to challenge and face off off the disabilities with which she was left. I read it all a while back and felt humbled and privileged to have shared in her story, and I can only begin to imagine what some of those dark and dismal days of uncertainty about the future may have felt like for Kate, but I also know that to feast the eyes on colour, and know the tactile comfort of wool would be a tonic I would seek out too.
I often find myself feeling grateful for the solace-giving, restorative powers of sheepy wool and needles. When one is feeling ropey, knitting really comes into its own, I think.
This is a remarkable story of a remarkable woman and the self-published Colours of Shetland an absolute triumph in the light of all that.
The book itself is of the highest quality and production values and the designs themselves things of rare beauty, (all modelled wonderfully by Kate) inspired as they are by the sights, colours and landscape of the Northern Isles, and there I am back in Orkney in a flash and thinking 'Hmm, Shetland next,' as I covet the Northmavine Hap.
The Hap a shawl to most of us, and Northmavine a wild and rugged corner of Shetland, but the colours are those embedded in my mind from the waters around Orkney just a little further south... probably a few inches or so by sea on the map, if I was navigating and Bookhound was asking me how much further to go.
As Kate Davies explains,
'The hap was a garment with a function : to keep the body warm. Wrapped and tied around the torso, or tucked hood-like around the neck and chin, a good hap would effectively insulate its Shetland wearer against the exigencies of cold and wind...beautiful and striking in their simplicity...a timelessness of design.'
I want one of course, who wouldn't, but I have the challenge of Kate's Betty Mouat cowl in the queue too so first I plan to start with 'easy'. More about my starter for ten and Jamieson & Smith the Shetland Wool supplier when my wool arrives from them... and that will probably be my exciting don't-get-out-much highlight of next week.