My (finally) finished shawl

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Remember the new-old project I wrote about in January last year? My aim was to knit a pattern I found in the archives at Southampton which dated back to 1867.

Round Shetland Veil

I’ll admit it – the project did get put on hold a little. I ordered and received the yarn in January 2014, and did a couple of swatches to determine my needle size and to familiarise myself with the pattern. That didn’t go as well as I had expected – it was really easy to make mistakes with the cobweb yarn and I found I needed long stretches of time and complete silence to make progress. So when I went to Australia for my three-month Institutional Visit I accidentally-on-purpose left the poor shawl in the UK…

The guilt got a bit much so when I got back I promised I would work on it. I started with a vengeance in June 2014. I worked fairly steadily on it for about two months before getting distracted by a pretty cardigan, some sock yarn that just had to be knitted and then Christmas gifts. When January rolled around I resolved not to cast on any new projects until everything already on the needles was finished. I didn’t quite stick to that promise, but by March it was off the needles! Hurrah! Considering I worked on it on-and-off (although mostly off) for ten months it’s pretty small. It did grow when I blocked it, but it still didn’t look like much.

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Looks are deceptive. This shawl is actually a lot. It is 53 repeats of a four-row pattern. Each row started off taking 15 minutes and ended up taking 1 hour (the length of the row gradually increased). That’s 96 hours on the body of the shawl, 9 hours on the border, and 2 hours sewing it together. I spent 8 hours swatching,12 hours making a sample version in aran weight yarn, 1 hour researching and buying the yarn. That’s 128 hours embodied in one shawl before even taking into account the research I did about the shawl, its designer, and the history of knitting.

The shawl isn’t just my time, either. It represents multiple histories colliding into one another. There’s Mlle. Riego‘s time designing the shawl in 1867, and relatedly, the leisure-time of the upper-class ladies who knitted from this very pattern. Then there’s the time of the Shetland women who made lace-knitting what it is, whilst they worked the land in the 1840s and simultaneously knitted in order to make an income. It’s the time of fashions, first seen in the Victorian era but now experiencing a resurgence as knitting re-gains popularity. It’s the time of the wool – grown and sorted in Shetland, spun in Yorkshire, posted to Bristol. It’s the time taken to learn a skill and do it properly, rather than reaching for a quick fix or buying a mass-produced item.

For something that’s only 4 months old, there’s a lot of history wrapped up in this little lace shawl. The process of making it taught me not only new knitting skills, but the histories and legacies of these skills too. I’m currently writing a couple of papers about what I learnt for publication, but between now and then I’ll do some short blog posts about some of the things I learned. Some of them are very practical and came from the process of knitting the shawl (such as the difference blocking lace work makes :-O), whilst others are more theoretical (such as how making can be considered as a qualitative method for social science research). For now, here are a few more photos of my finished shawl (Ravelled here).

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Open Mill Day at John Arbon

I’ve not felt much like writing on the blog recently. I’m in frantic writing mode with the PhD, and I’ve been keen not to waste writing energy on anything that isn’t the thesis. Sorry blog. Anyway, that isn’t to say that I’ve not been doing fun things too – quite the contrary. Given how all-encompassing the PhD can be I’ve been keener than ever to ensure weekends involve activities that can distract me from writing, writing, writing. A few weeks ago Colin and I drove down to South Molton for the John Arbon Mill open day. The event was really well organised; we were greeted by friendly staff, delicious homemade cakes, discounted yarn and fluff, and taken on a tour of the mill. We had a fabulous time learning about how wool goes from sheep to skein, and I can honestly say I had no idea there were so many stages involved in the production! I can’t remember all the technical names of the processes, and even if I could my descriptions wouldn’t be as good as John’s. So I’m going to use that as an excuse to stop writing and show off some photographs instead (I’ve also been learning to use a DSLR camera, and think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it…)

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Wonderwool 2015

On Saturday 26th April I headed up to Builth Wells with my boyfriend, mum and sister in tow to attend my second Wonderwool Wales festival!

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Fibre festivals are a fabulous place to pick up lots of gorgeous goodies from independent spinners and dyers. I often look (and lust) online over various skeins but am always a little wary of splashing my cash on something I’ve not had the chance to squish. Whereas when you get to these events everywhere you look there are people hugging skeins of yarn, poking, prodding, and sniffing fibre without a second thought. It’s lovely. These events also foster a lovely atmosphere, as people from all walks of life come together to indulge in a shared passion. There are Ravelry gatherings where online friends can meet in person, and plenty of stopping places for people to pause and share advice over coffee and cake. Some of our furrier friends are also usually present, and this year was no exception. Also at Wonderwool were two TOFT alpacas, plenty of sheep, and the fluffiest angora bunnies in all of Wales!

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Also on display was the cardigan of Cardigan:

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And the most incredibly intricate hand-knitted (life-sized!) gingerbread house!!!

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Colin, it has to be said, was mainly in it for the scotch eggs…

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But Chloe and I came away with armfuls of yarn (and a couple of cakes):

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I was remarkably restrained really. The 800g of maroon wool is mine, intended for a boxy, and the light pink semi-solid is an alpaca blend from easyknits which I just fell in love with. I also bought some pearly buttons and some more stitch markers and a replacement needle sizer from atomic knitting.

All in all it was a lovely day out!

Knitting and yarn festivals 2015

I’ve been planning out some things to look forward to throughout the year ahead recently, and as usual I’m keen to visit a yarn festival or two throughout the year. I thought it only right to research a good geographical spread and find out what is on and where and it seemed only right to share the results! I’m making no claims to it being a fully comprehensive list, but it’s definitely enough to keep even the speediest knitter busy and stocked-up with stash given that there’s at least one event a month that I’ve come across so far!

2015

29-31 Jan Craft 4 Crafters, Westpoint Arena, Exeter

20-22 Feb Unravel, Farnham Maltings, Farnham, Surrey

5-8 March Spring knitting and stitching show, Olympia Central, London

14-15 March Edinburgh Yarn Festival Edinburgh Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

25-26 April Wonderwool Wales, Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells

15-16 May I Knit Fandango Royal Horticultural Halls, London

23 May Highland WoolFest Dingwall Mart, Dingwall

30-31 May Proper Woolly Holsworthy, Devon

26-27 June Woolfest Mitchell’s Lakeland Livestock Centre, Cockermouth, Cumbria

25-26 July Fibre-East Ampthill, Bedfordshire

15 Aug Pop-Up Wool Show The Oval Leisure Centre, Bebington, Cheshire

2-6 Sept WI Centennial Fair Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate

11-13 Sept Bristol Wool Fair Washingpool Farm, nr. Bristol

18-20 Sept The Handmade Fair Hampton Court Palace

26-27 Sept Yarndale, Skipton Auction Mart, Yorkshire

26 Sept – 5 Oct Shetland Wool Week, Shetland

7-11 Oct The knitting and stitching show Alexandra Palace, London

17-18 Oct Bakewell Wool Gathering Bakewell Agricultural Centre, Derbyshire

12-15 Nov The knitting and stitching show Simmonscourt, RDS, Dublin

26-29 Nov The knitting and stitching show Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate

Giant knitting

Me – Giant knitting at Bristol Wool Fair 2014!

Where it begins: Knitting as creation story (Excerpt)

“It begins with the circle of friends. There is always something beyond your beyond, the aged parents and teenager who crack up the family cars on the selfsame day, the bone-picked divorce, the winter of chemo, the gorgeous mistake, the long unraveling misery that needs company, reading glasses and glasses of wine and all the chairs pulled into the living room. Project bags bulge like sacks of oranges, ripe for beginning. Cast on, knit two together girlfriendwise. Rip it, pick up the pieces where you can, along the headless yoke or scandalously loose button placket, pick up and knit. Always, you will have to keep two projects going: first, the no-brainer stockinette that can run on cruise control when the talk is delicious. And the other one, the brainer, a maddening intarsia or fussy fair-isle you’ll save for the day when the chat gets less interesting, though really it never does. Knitting only makes the talk go softer, as long as it needs to be, fondly ribbed and yarned-over, loosely structured or not at all, with embellishment on every edge. Laughter makes dropped stitches.”

Where it begins: knitting as creation story by Barbara Kingsolver. Published in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion magazine

My hoard of yarn

Happy 2015!

I’ve had a relatively quiet start to the year, and the days just seem to have slid by. Christmas was lovely but already seems like a distant memory, and the New Year rolled in without much fuss. I’m not really one for making resolutions (or for sticking to the ones I do make for that matter), but there is a certain little ritual I’m starting to get involved with. I expect a lot of knitters and crocheters are already familiar with the annual Ravelry ‘Flash your Stash’, but for those who are not I’ll briefly explain…

Let’s start with the basics. Knitters like yarn. A lot of knitters like to have a lot of yarn. It comes home from sales where the price is just too good to ignore, functions as a treasured souvenir from a special trip, gets given as gifts, or is the result of a day out at a fibre festival (or three). As a general rule of thumb, these stockpiles of yarn amount faster than the average knitter can knit them. Said yarn is therefore hoarded – or ‘stashed’ – until its day of reckoning arrives. So what does this have to do with rituals? Well, in the virtual world knitters gather to flash their stash on the Ravelry forums at the beginning of the year.  In this space members are invited, indeed encouraged, to photograph their stocks of yarn and fibre and show them to the rest of the group. The ‘stashes’ presented in this Ravelry thread vary in quality and quantity, but most people who take part are displaying implausibly large stockpiles, many of which are said to have grown rapidly. Whereas many forum posters admit hiding their stashes from friends and family, this thread is a place of openness, honesty, admiration, and even encouragement. People express wonder and jealousy, never judgement of people’s habits and hoards. Consequently, the thread has become a really interesting space in which hoards of materials cross the border from a private collection into a public display.

The rationale behind flash your stash is that it allows the crafter to get to grips with what they own – as usually it is stored in bags and boxes out of sight. However it is also an excuse to squish and admire the fabrics and make plans for the year ahead, even if they just turn out to be pipe dreams. I could write pages on the deliciousness of some of the stashes displayed on Ravelry, but for now I’ll leave you with an update on my own hoard.

My collection has grown in an interesting (well interesting to me) way. I started crocheting for my MSc project in 2011 when I was yarn bombing in Bristol, and at this time put out a plea for yarn donations. Amazingly, I was gifted about three huge black sacks full of yarn. I managed to get through a lot of it when yarn bombing, and after the project had finished re-gifted much of what was left. I started knitting seriously at the beginning of 2012 and haven’t stopped since. Since then I’ve received a fair bit of nice yarn in the way of gifts and acquired plenty more from various shops and yarn fairs. My early forays into the craft mainly used acrylic yarns due to the low price-point and my relative inability, but I’ve since become a little more discerning about what I use and chose to go for natural fibres – mainly wool and alpaca – where possible. This has involved a process of slowly using up and weeding out the cheaper bits to make way for nicer stuff.

 Last year was the first time I hauled all my yarn out for a good look and organise, and resulted in this:

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 It was more than I thought, but fairly modest by the standards of many stashes I’ve seen (excuses excuses!) My vague goal for 2014 was to reduce it, although I had no specific plan by which to do so. I knew I hadn’t been particularly good at not buying yarn in 2014, so when I hauled it all out this year I was quite pleased with the result:

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(Jan 2015)

It doesn’t take a genius to see that a lot of the same yarns are still present. Those cones of cotton for instance – goodness knows what I’ll do with them. There are 8 skeins of baby yarn in my stash, but no-one has afforded me the opportunity to let me knit for them this year (it should be noted none of the baby yarns were purchased but gifted to me as ‘payment’ for something, I’m not completely crazy). They take up an annoying amount of space, but are the sort of thing that might come in handy one day for making gifts. The massive ball of aran at the top has been reduced, although it doesn’t look like it. Then there are a load of leftovers from other projects which haven’t found themselves a secondary project yet. They will, one day.

These are the yarns which are new this year:

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The purple Lopi on the right was a gift from my sister when she went to Iceland and the purple alpaca at the bottom was a birthday gift from Colin. The 2 bamboo skeins are to make Mama Mann some socks and the red balls in the middle are souvenirs from my trip to Germany in December. A couple are leftover skeins from other completed projects. I did acquire more yarn than pictured here, but that was made straight into garments without languishing in the stash box.

At the moment it all fits into one box, and my aim for the year is to try and keep it that way. The only problem is the one resolution that I have made this year – not to cast on any new projects until my current ones are off the needles! This means that before I can go stash diving I need to finish:

1 green and grey sock

1 Shetland lace shawl

1 jumper

1 hat

It’s not masses, but that shawl is taking FOREVER. Indeed, the lack of progress on said shawl is the reason for the resolution because otherwise I keep casting on other items so I don’t have to finish it. Hopefully I’ll get it done before Wonderwool in April so I can justify buying some new goodies to add to the collection. In the meantime I’ll just have to settle for drooling over other people’s stashes on Ravelry…

Have a look for yourself at some of the wonderful collections of yarn at: http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/yarn/3103696/1-25

Work in progress – a viewpoint from the middle of the pile

Work in progress. I’ve got quite a lot of that at the moment! Writing, marking, knitting…. And I’ve realised that they’re not all that different. This is my pile of knitting WIPs:

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Here’s 7 of them. The jumper in the middle was technically finished, but I’ve decided I want it to be longer so it’s been moved out of the wardrobe and is hanging around waiting for me to be interested in it again. The white lace shawl, top left, is my long-term ongoing project of remaking the Shetland shawl. It’s so fiddly that I rarely pick it up – it’s been in this state for months now. I just need to make myself do it. Then there are the two obligatory single socks (I hate doing the second one – severe second sock syndrome always kicks in). Bottom left are some gingerbread men awaiting eyes and some hanging ribbon in time to decorate the flat for the festive season. Then, just because I didn’t have enough to do, I decided to cast on a cowl last night out of some gorgeous alpaca that I bought for a different project that didn’t work out so well. The red yarn in the top right isn’t technically mine, but is standing in to represent some of the Christmas gifts I have one the needles. Yes, there are more unfinished objects which haven’t made the picture. 10 WIPS in total maybe? I hadn’t realised there were so many ongoing projects until I sat amidst them all last night.

I do feel bad, I want the items to be finished so they can be used and loved as they’re intended to be. But equally I quite like having lots of projects on the go. Each one of these fulfils a different role and makes up a different component of my love of knitting. The lace shawl for instance is something I can do when I want a bit of a challenge, when I’m home alone and just listening to music or sitting quietly for a bit. At the other end of the spectrum is something like the jumper- just miles of stocking stitch in the round that I can do without thinking or looking – whilst watching tv or semi-supervising dinner simmering away. Socks make good travelling projects – simple, but portable. The gingerbread men are a bit of fun, and the cowl makes me feel like I’m using up stash yarn whilst giving the gratification of a quickly completed project. So depending on my mood or context, I’ve always got the perfect project to pick up! It just means that everything takes that much longer to finish, for they’re always competing with other projects.

What I’ve noticed though is that my academic work has started to resemble a pile of WIPs as well. I’m in the ‘writing-up’ stage of my PhD now, the part where it all gets serious. When I started writing I was using Microsoft word to type up chapters or sections of chapters, each in their own file. I was finding it quite muddily and slow, and so when I read about a programme called Scrivener designed to help with the writing process, I downloaded it at once. It suits me perfectly. All of my bitty little documents are now in one place, and it looks much more like a thesis. What is great about Scrivener though is the ability to focus down on small sections (whether that’s a chapter or a paragraph) and look at them in isolation or in context. So when I suddenly come across a quote that would be great in my literature review whilst working on my methodology I can quickly zoom to the section I want to insert it in without having to quit the programme and trawl through my documents to find the literature review and the appropriate section of it. (That’s a really bad description – I’d recommend looking at the Scrivener website if you’re interested, plus it does loads more cool stuff that I won’t even attempt to explain here.) Since switching to writing with Scrivener I’ve found myself to be more productive, but also a lot more jumpy. Whereas before I tended to try and focus on one chapter, I now switch between all the chapters. It’s good because I’ve started treating the thesis as a whole. But, like with my knitting projects, I’m not getting anything finished. I’m jumping between sections and chapters depending on what suits my mood or the situation. So if I’m not feeling particularly motivated I might label up all my figures in the almost-completed chapter 1. And then if a flash of inspiration strikes, I’ll go and fiddle with the structure in chapter 3, before adding in a linking paragraph at the end of chapter 2. I think I’m getting stuff done, but it’s quite difficult to tell for sure when you’re sat in the middle of the pile.

Anyway, I need to go and address a pile of marking. Which I’m also mid-way through. The biggest challenge is going to be ignoring the call of these newly-acquired beauties:

New yarn I’m thinking mittens?!

The City of Briswool

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The City of Briswool is a project to knit, crochet and needlefelt a huge model representing Bristol. Led by Vicky Harrison at Paper Village Arts this project has been in the making for over twelve months and has so far involved 90 makers, 4,000 hours of work, 10 workshops and hundreds of cups of tea! When the model initially went on display in May 2014 at Paper Village it managed to attract 4,000 visitors in just 10 days. The pictures I’ve included here are from that first exhibition, which really was a fabulous sight to behold. Since May the model has continued to evolve as people work on new contributions and expand upon the existing landscape. This weekend (4th and 5th October) the model is getting its second outing – this time at M-Shed. It’s open on both days from 11-4 so do pop in and have a look!

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Over the course of the weekend a series of workshops will be running called ‘how to craft a city’. If you want to join in you need to be able to knit or crochet, just bring along size 4mm hook or needles. Workshop attendees will be:
* Making Colston Hall and The Old Duke pub as a group
* Helping to sew together Queens Square, King Street, and Park Street
* Able to join groups such as Briswool makes Easton
* Assisted with identifying and designing their own contributions to the model

The photos here are just a taster of what will be in store, expect new contributions and a bigger city in a bigger space at M-Shed!

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The Colourful world of Kaffe Fassett

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I’ve had a few great yarn-based days out this summer, and have been vowing for months to blog about them. This is the first one, from back in July when I managed to get to the American Museum in Bath to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition. I read about it online whilst I was in Australia and was pretty excited to visit. Kaffe Fassett is such a big name in knitting, so much so that I had heard about him even before I really began knitting! His work has come to be well known for his rich palette of vibrant colours as he launched a fight against the grey and beige world. For me, however, Kaffe Fassett has always been one of those figures in knitting that I’ve been aware of, but not engaged with. His designs have always struck me as a bit shapeless and 70s, and not something I myself would want to make, let alone wear. But when the opportunity came up to learn a bit more about what he does, I jumped at the chance, keen to figure out what the fuss was about if nothing else.

I persuaded my partner to come along for the day, and after getting a bit (well, very) lost trying to find the place we were thrilled to be greeted by the most beautifully yarn bombed tree in the courtyard.

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As most readers of this blog will know, I started yarn bombing myself almost 4 years ago now. And truth be told – I’m pretty over it. Or I was, right up until I saw the cacophony of colour that shrouded this huge centrepiece! What a lovely welcome on a sunny day 🙂 The exhibition was housed in an unassuming building just beyond the tree and worked to plunge visitors into Kaffe’s colourful world from the moment they stepped over the threshold.

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The lighting and the layout of the exhibition was beautiful – greeting visitors with a recreation of Kaffe’s Klimt-esque studio before leading you around a series of sections which showed off a variety of his knitting, needlepoint, and quilting work. I thought the green room was particularly lovely and I especially enjoyed the collection of quotes adorning the back wall. I have a feeling some of those may work their way into a certain thesis… They gave a nice insight into some of his working practices and provided a chuckle to boot.

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Although I enjoyed the exhibition, I was disappointed with the lack of information that was provided to visitors. I expected to learn lots about KF, his career, his methods of designing, his preferred techniques, the story behind the garments…. but there was barely anything. It felt like a missed opportunity if nothing else. It also meant that the exhibition felt a bit disjointed, like a collection of things rather than a story.

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I went, dubious about the fashionability of Kaffe Fassett’s creations. I came away equally dubious. But, what the exhibition showed me more than anything else, was that these garments are (or were) more than fashionable – they’re pieces of art in their own right. And you know what…I might just add an extra colour or two to my next knitting project.

The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett is on at the American Museum in Bath until 2nd November 2014. More info can be found here. I’d love to know what you think of it!

Mlle. Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere

This poor blog has been pretty neglected for a while, so I thought I’d swing by with a short post to hopefully get me back into the habit of writing here!

Back in January I wrote about my latest new-old project. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, but it’s slowly coming along. It took me forever to get used to the small needles and 1 ply yarn, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now that I’ve got the hang of the pattern. I reckon I’m probably around 20% of the way through at the moment which isn’t so bad for a novice. There’s something quite humbling about working from a 147 year old pattern, especially when you think about how little the key techniques have changed, even if the circumstances under which it is knitted have completely changed. I’m constantly amazed at how clever the intricate pattern is and always find myself wondering how it was devised. Although I’ll probably never know exactly how the pattern came into being, I have been finding out a little more about the designer from whose book the pattern comes…

Mademoiselle Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere was born in England in 1828 to an Irish mother and a French father. She had a committed interest to all forms of needlework – knitting, crochet, tatting, and netting – and allegedly published her first book at the age of 12![1]

However, Mlle Riego (as she preferred to be called) was primarily known for her tatting work. Tatting is a handmade lace, formed of knots and loops made of thin thread to create items such as doilys, scarves, purses or parasol covers. Overall Mlle Riego published thirteen books on tatting, and in the process introduced new ideas and technical improvements to the craft which are still in use today.

At the age of 23 she lists herself in the 1851 census as an ‘authoress and designer’ living at 106 New Bond Street, London. In the same year her work appeared in the Great Exhibition, in Class 19: Tapestry, floor cloths, lace and embroidery. Hers is entry No: 17:

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For this she won the Prize Medal for ‘the skill displayed in the imitation of old Spanish and other costly laces’ An illustration of the Prize Medal, along with illustrations of those won at 1858 and 1862 expositions, are included on the first page of the Abergeldie Winter Book.

Mlle Riego medals

 This is the book from which my Shetland lace veil comes from. The Abergeldie Winter book itself was published 1867 in London. It was priced at one shilling and contains, amongst others, patterns for a cape, shawl, socks, vest, and, of course, a veil alongside stunning illustrations by W.D. Hornsby.

Given her interest in the fine lacy work of tatting it comes as no surprise to discover that many of her knitted lace patterns are equally as complex and beautiful. It is not known whether she ever visited Shetland to get inspiration for designing her veil, but it seems more likely that she was inspired by a design that reached her ‘fancy warehouse’ in London. From here Mlle Riego supplied lace-making and embroidery materials, most likely to the wealthier women of London given the relatively expensive cost of the pattern books.

By the time she died, Mlle Riego had published a staggering 72 books on various needle arts. You can view some of them for free here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/library/ldu/wsa.html

I only hope that in re-creating her veil I can do her wonderful work justice! Update to follow soon!

[1] The evidence for this is somewhat conflicting. Most sources claim that her first book was ‘Knitting, Crochet and Netting’ published in 1846, and that she published this at age 12. That would make her year of birth 1834. However, in the 1851 census she lists herself as being 23 years old, (giving the birth year of 1828) which would mean she was actually 18 when the book was published.