I can’t remember when I first heard of Kaffe Fassett or saw his designs, but it was many years ago, certainly before I could knit. I think I read about Kaffe and saw one of his designs in my mother’s magazine. Then I was given ‘Glorious Needlepoint’ as a present; this introduced me to a fantastically colourful world. Eventually, in the mid 80’s I taught myself to knit – maybe I was inspired by Kaffe Fassett or maybe I was just determined to learn, I don’t remember. My first jumper was a stocking stitch crew-neck drop-sleeve – and I twisted every stitch – accidentally of course! The next was a similar style but with a leaf pattern and no twisted stitches. Meanwhile, definitely inspired by Kaffe, I was collecting odd balls of yarn buying them at a reduced price when the shade was discontinued – soon I had a good range of colours in Patons Cotton Top.
My first multi-coloured knit was a checked top adapted from ‘Spring Fever’ (Pins magazine). The original was a black and white check with red ribs. My version was somewhat more colourful in an analogous palette of blues, greens and lilac (the photo is unfortunately yellow-tinged!). More by luck than judgement, this was a good choice for a first go at intarsia since there are only a few rows where the colours change.
In the early 1990’s I discovered Rowan magazines; a flatmate who was studying at the Glasgow School of Art gave me one and I was hooked. At the time, as a student I couldn’t afford Rowan yarns, so I delved into my stash of Cotton Top and chose some colours for another intarsia design. This time I combined two Rowan designs to make a flowery cardigan. The cardigan shape was from Ce Soir by Louisa Harding (magazine No 13) and the intarsia pattern from Bloom also by Louisa Harding (magazine No 15 – still one of my favourite Rowan magazines). I still love this cheerful colour combination.
‘Icon’ (Rowan Knitting magazine No. 1) was the first Kaffe Fassett design I knitted. I used the Icelandic yarn, Alafoss lopi, which I bought from the post office on the Isle of Arran (the Scottish island – the Irish ones are the Aran Islands). I tweaked the pattern so that the crosses matched across the side and shoulder seams.
As a teenager I did a few needlepoints and between yarn left-over from those projects and yarn inherited from my grandmother I had quite a collection. If you don’t do needlepoint, you may be wondering how the yarn is different from that for knitting. Some needlepoint brands sell the yarn pre-cut into short lengths, which is good for needlepoint, but not for knitting. My cushion design was a simple one inspired by flowers – no particular species, just a ‘typical’ flower. I did have to buy extra yarn for the background and unfortunately it was a different dye lot, which shows, but I decided I could live with it!
I mentioned that the first Kaffe Fassett book I owned was ‘Glorious Needlepoint’. I spent many a happy hour looking at the beautiful images. For about a year I lived near Longleat; at the time there was a craft shop there which sold Appleton tapestry wool – the ones used for the projects in ‘Glorious Needlepoint’. So, I decided it was a good time to do one of those needlepoints – there were charts for some of the projects while others were available as kits. I chose the ‘Pear cushion’, working from the chart in the book and then did the ‘Plum cushion’. Embarrassingly the latter has not yet been made up into a cushion! If you have read my post ‘Stitching not Knitting!‘ you will know that since then I have been given the kits for the ‘Apple cushion’ and ‘Cherries Cushion’. I think I shall make up the remaining cushions together, so that I use the same backing materials and methods.
Early this century (doesn’t that sound funny) I attended a weekend workshop at Green Lane Mill (Rowan Yarns) called ‘Knit a project in a weekend’. The tutor was Debbie Abrahams; her brief was to use an existing Rowan pattern as a starting point to make a bag. I adapted ‘Stone Circles’ by Kaffe Fassett (Rowan Knitting Magazine, No. 28). This design is unusual for Kaffe Fassett, in that the original version used only four subtle colours instead of the many bright colours for which he is known. The original colours were blues and beiges (DK Soft: Tawny, Luna, Glacier and Sage). The circles were all worked in Tawny and the three other colours were used to make an irregular striped background.
We chose our yarns from an enormous pile of Rowan and Jaeger yarns of many weights, textures, fibres and colours. I decided to make “magic balls” by cutting lengths of approximately 1 m and tying them together in a random order. I chose mainly 4-ply and DK cotton, but used a few other fibres to add interest. I made two balls, one in a green and yellow palette for the background and the second in peaches and browns for the circles. I used the Fair Isle technique. And I did finish the bag but over a year later!
The next garment I made was Gypsy by Kim Hargreaves (Rowan Knitting Magazine No. 24); this design had been on my knitting wish list for a long while. As with any multicoloured knit, there are so many colours, but sometimes only part of a ball is actually needed, the consequence being that a multicoloured knit is more expensive than the same style in one colour. The cost was putting me off, but I had a plan! I noticed that some yarn shops sold discontinued colours (back to where I started) in the required yarns (Designer DK and Magpie Aran) cheaply, and for a design like this it does not matter if balls of one shade are from different dye lots, so I only paid full price for a third of the required yarn. I should say that I think this project put me off intarsia – I know there’s not much of it, but all the flowers are outlined in black and the leaves in dark green – this was so hard to do neatly. If I were to knit this again, I would use Swiss darning for the black, but at the time I did not know that this could be done neatly.
Kaffe Fassett’s designs still inspire me and frequently appear on my knitting ‘wish list’. He has has inspired my knitting and needlepoint and … stash accumulation! You can imagine that I was very excited when I heard that there was to be an exhibition of his work at the Fashion and Textile Museum. So, coming soon are my thoughts about that exhibition.