Crofthoose Hat: a Q&A with Ella Gordon

In the “EYF over breakfast with Felix” Knit British podcast episode recently recorded by Louise Scollay, and in my own post about EYF, I mentioned Ella Gordon and her fantastic Crofthoose Hat Pattern. This pattern was designed by Ella for Shetland Wool Week and you can download it here. Crofthoose Hat continues the recent tradition whereby the patron of Shetland Wool Week designs a hat pattern in honour of the celebrations. This is a super tradition; it means that knitters who are in Shetland for Wool Week are instantly recognisable to one another, and that comrades outwith Shetland can join in by knitting the design.

Ella with Crofthoose hats
Ella with Crofthoose Hats

To me, the Crofthoose Hat pattern embodies Ella’s whole approach to Shetland textiles; it is joyful and fun, and it also speaks to Shetland’s heritage. If you watched Ella and Kate’s talk at Shetland Wool Week last year then you will have a sense of how she combines a stylish and contemporary appreciation for knitwear with respect, thoughtfulness, an eye for detail, and a love of the past. In 2014, Ella also curated a beautiful exhibition for the Shetland Textile Museum that referred to knitwear in Shetland worn during the Oil Boom.

A glimpse of some of the knitwear in the exhibition curated by Ella for the Shetland Textile Museum in 2014
A glimpse of some of the knitwear in the exhibition curated by Ella for the Shetland Textile Museum in 2014

Ella’s ability to combine joy and heritage in her work feel really appropriate for Wool Week.

Ella in her Crofthoose Hat
Ella in her Crofthoose Hat

I was so jazzed by Ella’s pattern that I had to make a version of my own the very second I got home from Edinburgh Yarn Festival. There are already 70 projects listed on Ravelry so I am clearly not alone in my appreciation for Ella’s design!

My Crofthoose Hat, based on the colours of my own house (hoose?)
My Crofthoose Hat, based on the colours of my own house (hoose?)

I thought you might enjoy hearing a little bit more about Ella’s design, and so have put together a small Q&A with Ella.

Crofthoose Cushion by Ella!
Crofthoose Cushion by Ella!

F: I love the Crofthoose hat pattern that you have designed for Shetland Wool Week 2016. The design is great fun to knit and can be easily customised, but it also speaks to the history of knitting and crofting in Shetland. I know you also make amazing Crofthoose cushions like the one pictured above; can you tell us a bit about why you like working with the symbol and shape of croft houses so much, and are there any croft houses in Shetland that hold particular significance for you?

E: I’m so glad you like it! I think I love the imagery of a croft house so much because it speaks to me of a simpler time in Shetland. Historically Shetland was known for crofting, fishing and knitting. Obviously times have changed but these things are still part of many Shetlander’s lives and to me the shape of a croft house sums up my culture and connection to this place. Another reason I love them so much is probably because I haven’t lived in one. We had family friends in Ollaberry who we used to visit when I was peerie, and they lived in one of the last of a certain kind of Shetland crofthouse.

Family friends in Ollaberry - photo from Tom Kidd's book
Family friend in Ollaberry (pictured left) – photo from a book of photos by Tom Kidd

I grew up in a time of immense change and wealth in Shetland thanks to the oil, and people didn’t want to live in old, tiny houses anymore so gradually as older generations died out they began to sit empty and fall apart. Of course many are still there and occupied but I think it’s important to remember in a way where we came from and not to forget it especially since the economic climate of living in Shetland has changed so much since the 90’s when I was growing up.

Ruined crofthouse, Shetland
Ruined crofthouse, Shetland

F: There is always a balance to be struck between conveying the idea and shape of something while also making charts that are pleasant to knit. I feel you’ve managed this perfectly with your elegant Crofthoose motif. You have pared it down to its essence and got all the main features of a croft house in! Did it take a few goes to get this just right and could you tell us a bit about your design process?

E: Yes it took a few goes, I know people and especially Fair Isle purists probably don’t think much of the 7 stitch float I have on the roof, haha! But I was really pleased with how it came out. I began by just charting out some ideas for the body of the hat and knitting a few swatches (not many, unlike you I’m not a fan haha!)

A swatch!
A swatch!

I was trying to strike a balance between looking like how I pictured it but also being enjoyable to knit which I think it is. For the crown I found I just had to chart out some ideas and try them because it’s very hard to visualise how they will turn out from just looking at a chart.

F: Was it difficult to know where to start with picking shades for your design from the huge range at Jamieson & Smith where you also work? How did you narrow it down to just five colours and do you have advice to comrades wishing to pick their own colours in which to knit your magnificent design?

E: Yes it’s always quite tricky picking colours especially when you have the design first; usually I have an idea of colours first then get inspired to find a pattern. I am constantly putting colour combinations together at work for customers and orders but also sometimes just for fun. I remember I picked out about 8 colours at first and tried to do lots of complicated shading for roofs and backgrounds but it was ending up too muddy and over complicated for my liking so I got it down to a main shade; two colours for roofs and houses; and two background colours which works well. If you are struggling for colours the main thing to think about is contrast. As long as you can have that contrast it will work!

The J&S colourway I did was the first one so I’ll explain that one to show you what I mean – I chose FC58 (the dark brown) as my main shade because it’s quite dark so gives a good background for the corrugated rib. Then I chose FC39 (blue) and FC11 (green) for the two contrast colours as they’re nice and bright, and then shade 2 (mid fawn) and 202 (light fawn) as the background shades as they are nice and light. All together they balance nicely off each other. But if you’re not sure about your shades, just have a go and see. I also think taking a photo in black and white on your phone of the colours and seeing if they look different enough tonally will help you see if you’re on the right track.

Ella's design, combining 1 dark (main) shade; 2 contrast shades; and 2 light background shades
Ella’s design, combining 1 dark (main) shade; 2 contrast shades; and 2 light background shades

F: That’s really interesting! When I was thinking about the colours for my version, I looked more at the shades you used (in terms of light and dark) than the colours. I took FC55 as my main and quite dark colour (dark cherry colour) and then FC38 and 1403 as my contrast colours (burnished orange and scarlet red). I used FC45 (light toffee colour) and 61 (cinnamon brown) as my two background colours.

My Crofthoose Hat with shades chosen by looking at the lights and darks in Ella's design
My Crofthoose Hat with shades chosen by looking at the lights and darks in Ella’s design

You’ve offered a selection of four different colourways in the Crofthoose hat pattern; can you speak about how you chose the colours for each one? Were your colourways inspired by real croft houses in Shetland or by the different types of yarns you used?

Four lovely versions of the Crofthoose Hat
Four lovely versions of the Crofthoose Hat

E: No, I didn’t want to be too literal with my interpretation so I kept the houses fun and colourful. I wanted to offer colourways in 4 different kinds of Shetland Wool and rather than trying to find similar shades in each yarn range I thought it would be better to do four totally different ones so people could get ideas. The Shetland Organics yarn is undyed so that was quite easy to put together as the natural Shetland colours go so well together; the Jamieson’s colourway was chosen because I don’t knit a lot with purpley shades so wanted to try sometime in those kinds of tones; and the Naturally dyed version was made from yarn I bought at a Craft Fair long before I designed the hat. They went so well together I just had to try it!

Naturally dyed yarn
Naturally dyed yarn

I did the J&S colourway first so that came to me quite easily and although it’s quite subtle I really like it.

F: There are already 70 Crofthoose hat projects on Ravelry! It must be really exciting to see so many versions of your pattern appearing. Do you find that when you see other people’s versions you find yourself having ideas for new colourways and do you think you will knit any more Crofthoose hats before Shetland Wool Week?

E: I know, it’s crazy! I love seeing people’s different colour choices and that’s really what I wanted, of course people can follow my suggested colourways but I’m really glad people are choosing their own and personalising their hats. I did knit another one which I recently finished knit in Brooklyn Tweed Loft with a plain crown for people not wanting to do a Fair Isle crown and I am working on some other designs featuring the motif, so although I’m not making a hat at the moment, I’m sure I will before Wool Week!

The plain crown version of Ella's hat for folks not wanting a fancy crown
The plain crown version of Ella’s hat for folks not wanting a fancy crown

F: Thanks so much to Ella for joining us here on the KNITSONIK blog today to talk about the wondrous Crofthoose Hat pattern, and to you for stopping by to read!

2 thoughts on “Crofthoose Hat: a Q&A with Ella Gordon

  1. really enjoyed this blog. Thanks to both for teking part. Loved EYF (especially seeing all the vast numbers of knitting folks just enjoying sharing both coffee & needles). Excited about going to woolweek.

  2. In many ways the way of life in Shetland has changed dramatically but the rich traditions are still there. In actual fact they are being recognised and appreciated more and more nowadays and in no small part it is due to Shetland Wool Week and the creation and development of Real Shetland Wool products. Crofters and sheep farmers have a guarantee of fair and super fast payment for their wool from Jamieson and Smith, The Woolbrokers and with the development of new and innovative products the future is looking better than it has for generations.
    My family and I are proud to have been part of that and will do our utmost to maintain and expand the influence of Real Shetland Wool around the world.
    Good luck for Shetland Wool Week 2016 and with extra strong support from the Campaign for Wool and the Real Shetland Company it will be bigger and better than ever!

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