Chapter 2 part 2: Deborah Gray’s Willow pattern china flags, worked two-at-a-time

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post, today I want to reveal the other special section tucked inside chapter 2 of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook: Deborah Gray’s pattern hack for working 2 flags at a time featuring her gorgeous motifs derived from looking at Willow pattern china.

This photo was taken at the inaugural KNITSONIK Quotidian Colourwork Workshop, and my first book – the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – happened largely because of a very encouraging conversation I had with Deborah Gray afterwards. Over a delicious curry in the Ghurkha Kitchen in Lerwick I confessed to Deborah that I felt we’d not had time in the workshop to fully explore the topic of translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork and asking her if she thought anyone would be interested in a book on the subject. She replied with an emphatic YES and was immensely supportive during the Kickstarter campaign that enabled me to publish the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Thank you, Deborah!

Deborah came to my workshop bearing a precious set of fragments of worn Willow pattern china she’d found on the beach in Shetland, and a vast soup bowl bearing the iconic design, which had belonged to her mother.

She made some self-effacing jokes at the time about the madness of bringing a huge piece of chinaware on the small plane to Shetland, but her instinct to do so immediately spoke to me. I also own some special Willow pattern china which belonged to my dearly loved Aunty Hilary, so Deborah’s wish to celebrate the everyday objects of the women in her family tree really resonated. Also, you just can’t argue with that kind of commitment to creative process! Things passed down through families hold real significance, and there is no substitute for bringing REAL THINGS from which to work when translating them into stranded colourwork.

In the months following that workshop, I was inspired to see the many ways in which Deborah creatively applied, and continued to explore, her theme. If you don’t know her work already, Deborah is a thorough and thoughtful maker and, like myself, seems to enjoy creative processes that span long distances of time and develop ideas along a theme. Her Traces series is inspired and she has written a lovely post about it here in which she ties together histories of Shetland, of her family, and the past and present of tea-drinking vessels.

A few years ago I went to Shetland for the first time, and on several beaches I found sea-worn fragments of blue and white china. Much of it I recognised as Willow Pattern – a design which links back to my childhood when my mother used to tell me the story of the two runaway lovers depicted on the plates she collected

When Liz revealed the amazing wedding KNITSONIK Bunting to me, I instantly identified Deborah’s flags with her now iconic stranded colourwork interpretations of Willow pattern china.

I was also intrigued by how this set of flags – and another one based on bananas, made for Monkl, and instantly recognisable to me as Deborah’s work – seemed to have been worked cleverly in pairs. I thought this technique was really rather nifty and asked if she would allow me to include her instructions and charts in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook. I’m so happy Deborah agreed. Her elegant designs, based on Willow pattern china will find resonance, I feel, with anyone who remembers or uses chinaware bearing this design. I also wanted to offer knitters who are less enthusiastic than myself about tarmac to see bunting flags derived from a totally different (yet still everyday) inspiration source.

As I mentioned earlier, Deborah seems to like developing nice long-term projects along a certain theme and, after making the Traces mug cosy series and a pair of beautiful flags for our wedding bunting, she went on to make a truly lovely tea-cosy using the same motif as a wedding gift for myself and Mark. It is gorgeous and very special with its many layers of memories and meanings. Thank you, Deborah!

I visited with Deborah last year after EYF and was really touched to see, in her lovely place in Oban, all the evidence of the beach-combing that continues to inspire her work.

Staying with her, in a beautiful space filled with things she has made or is making, I was filled with nostalgia. I realised I was being reminded of the beloved home of my Aunty Hilary, whose house was full of her oil-paintings and of things she had collected in her travels. When I got home with out lovely teapot and its bespoke cosy, I couldn’t wait to combine my warm memories of both these amazing women in a refreshing yet ceremonial cup of tea.

I hope that in studying Deborah’s charts and notes in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, you may be similarly inspired.



1 thought on “Chapter 2 part 2: Deborah Gray’s Willow pattern china flags, worked two-at-a-time

  1. Dear Felix. You have brought together my favorite things here: knitting, broken blue willow china, and whimsy. I have that very Spode Italian large teacup–alas, handle-less now.

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