Every idea has to start somewhere… a spark of inspiration, a need, or just unfulfilled passion. Certainly Unravel started with such a spark and everything I design begins the same way. The revered William Morris (1835-1896) famously said: “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It’s a maxim to live by and it inspires my creativity every day. I hope it will inspire yours.
This is my first blog in a series I’m calling ‘Knit Design Story’. It outlines where the idea for BOINN, my Victorian inspired shawl, came from, all the way through to designing the pattern/kit which you can make today.
The BOINN shawl was born out of an idea to incorporate different yarn textures within one project. In particular, mixing Cotton Chenille and Bouclé Mohair. Both yarns are very different from each other in terms of yarn weight, texture and workability, and as such these yarns produce very different finished fabrics. Using both yarns in the same project was not going to be an easy task. If truth be told, I was nervous of undertaking such a project for it had the potential to be a disaster. But as with all designing, rising to the challenge is part of the fun and the frustration.
I designed the BOINN shawl during the Summer of 2015. It was at this time that Victorian inspired clothing was making a strong statement on the Autumn/Winter runway. Designers including Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Hiroki Uemura put their own modern spin on Victorian fashion with demure high-neck ruffled blouses and layers of lace to create fussy romantic pieces. Swoon, what’s not to love.
Following this trend I began to research actual vintage Victorian clothing with my best buddy Pinterest. Together we uncovered a feast for the eyes, from ornamental gowns and capelets embellished with beads, lace, ruffles and feathers, right down to the finest embroidered detail on handbags and gloves. If I had to choose one word to describe Victorian fashion, it would be opulence. A noteable feature in a Victorian lady’s wardrobe was the importance of a shawl… a fashion accessory I had yet to include in Unravel’s collection.
So I wanted to design a Victorian inspired shawl. But where to start? One distinct, yet common aspect between modern day Victorian inspired clothing and actual Victorian fashion is the use of layers and this was something that had real potential for my shawl. I felt the yarns I proposed to use in my project could definitely work together in layers. A crescent shaped shawl with a ruffled edge in Bouclé Mohair finished with an underskirt/layer of lace in Cotton Chenille offered elegance and versatility. There was only one thing for it… get making!
making it real
The sample ruffle knitted for my inspiration board was knitted from the bottom, up. Although it’s very easy to create ruffles this way, in my opinion it isn’t the easiest way to create a crescent shape shawl.
It’s very important to me that crafters find my patterns easy to follow and my kits easy to make. Elegant knitwear does not have to be complicated and that’s what the Unravel brand stands for. So, for ease of construction, I decided to design and knit the shawl cross-ways from left to right incorporating short row shaping (super easy technique) to create the crescent shape and to make the ruffled edge.
Using the Bouclé Mohair yarn, I began making tension squares using different size needles until I created a fabric that I was happy with. Following on from this, I began to design and knit the shawl itself. To my delight the Bouclé Mohair yarn combined with the short row technique created perfect fussy ruffles. The main body of the shawl was designed and knit in no time. An easy quick knit for sure!
However, the lace underskirt wasn’t so easy. Experience has taught me that Cotton Chenille yarn doesn’t lend itself to open lace knitting. The more open the lace work (i.e. more holes), the more you lose stitch definition grrrrrrr. Working with Cotton Chenille is a difficult balance between maintaining drape (flexible stitches create a soft drape) and maintaining a clearly defined lace pattern.
The original lace pattern worked for my inspiration board was based on an ‘arches and column’ pattern which is knit from the bottom, up. Although this pattern offered good stitch/lace definition and a soft drape, to follow through with the pattern would mean an enormous amount of stitches on a long wire, requiring serious concentration to work, not to mention the patience of a saint. Again for ease of construction, I felt it was better to knit the lace underskirt cross-ways from left to right, mirroring the direction of how the main body of the shawl was designed.
So, I needed a short row lace pattern, with a pretty edge, that offered good stitch definition in Cotton Chenille, while maintaining a soft drape. No tall order there! After a number of frustrating starts, stops, casting on, knitting, ripping, walking away, trying again… I finally cracked a simple 6 row repeat lace pattern that fulfilled my brief. Inhale… deep sigh of relief.
Once knitted to the required length, the long lace underskirt was sewn to the wrong side of the main body of the shawl to a suitable depth, which allowed it to hang and showcase its pretty edging below the fussy Bouclé Mohair ruffles. Ta Da… my BOINN shawl was finished – a gorgeous, elegant fashion accessory that I’m sure any Victorian lady would approve of.
The BOINN shawl is named after the Irish Goddess, BOINN who was Goddess of the River Boyne. It is this river which flows through my home town in Drogheda, County Louth. During a visit back home last summer, I took my kids to visit Newgrange which is in the heart of Brú na Boinne, a prehistoric site. Upon looking at a miniature model of the site, my youngest son, Cian made comment at the meanduring curves and rivulets of the River Boyne. The crescent shaped curve and ruffles on my shawl reminded me of Cian’s comments and so inspired me to name my new design ‘BOINN’.
I’m thrilled that you took the time to read my blog to learn about my design journey. Perhaps you would like to make your own ‘BOINN’ shawl, in colours of your own choosing. The pattern and kit is suitable for an intermediate knit level or a brave beginner who would like to learn lace work. You’ll find the kit here. I know you’ll enjoy the time it takes to create it… and love wearing it.