What’s your favourite colour?

slc_3051

It’s probably one of the first questions you’re asked as a child: what’s your favourite colour? And it continues to be asked through your teenage years and into adulthood. From the photograph above, I think you can easily guess that I like pink. With a splash of khaki or purple.

It hasn’t always been so. Until recently I never wore pink! Black, grey and yellow dominated my wardrobe. But, on two occasions when I’ve been asked about my favourite colour, it’s caused me to pause and think about my colour “choices” and how they have evolved since I was a teenager.

In my twenties, after graduating with a Masters degree in Engineering Geology, I worked onshore and inshore supervising drilling investigations. Under my overalls, I wore subdued muted browns, blues and greens. Nothing that would stand out or draw attention to me. It was hard enough being the only woman on site, the only woman engineer in the office, the only woman at design meetings. I always remember my first day at a prestigious consultancy, my dream job. One of the directors appeared and asked me what my initials stood for. Before I could answer, Sarah Barlow, he responded with Silly Bitch. Yup, wearing the same colours as everyone else rather than pink or purple seemed the only way to go.

slc_3053

Through my next decade, I worked for the Scottish government and helped oversee the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, as I’d started to specialise in contaminated land engineering. This involved frequent trips to London and Whitehall, or Brussels and the European Parliament. Again, I was usually the only woman and the youngest person in the room. Wrongly or rightly, I felt I needed “serious” clothes for a “serious” job: navy or grey suits, white shirt, flat shoes, briefcase like everyone else in the office.

My early forties: children and a return to uni! I’d had enough of government. I decided to pursue one of my two loves, plant-based medicine like my great grandfather. My other love, art and textiles, would have to wait. Going back to school at the age of forty is quite an eye-opener as was studying herbal medicine. There were two camps: the students and tutors who wanted a wee bit of science stirred into their medicine; and those who perhaps didn’t. My friend, Pam and I tightrope walked down the middle. But, what could I wear? I think we can safely say that my colour choices and style during these years were transitional to the point of confusion. Who was I? Geologist? Mum? Mature student? Herbalist? Scientist?

Mid forties and I transferred my medical knowledge and counselling training to becoming an outreach welfare rights adviser visiting the parts of Edinburgh that tourists didn’t see. This was a serious job. I felt I should wear muted colours in simple designs. Nothing distracting. Nothing intimidating. I didn’t want anyone coming to see me for advice, for support, for a shoulder to cry on, to feel uncomfortable. It takes a huge amount of courage to talk to a complete stranger about your physical or mental health issues; to ask for help; to detail your overwhelming debts; to step across the doorway into which ever room I’d be assigned that day by the health centre. I wanted to be in the background. So, greys, blacks, white and a flash of Citizens Advice yellow dominated. And, again simply styled clothes.

And, now my fifties. Breakout time! In the background since my teenage years, I’d been studying art and design: evening classes; weekend courses; daytime practise. Buying a secondhand knitting machine in April 2015 was life-changing. Yarns, design, colour, pattern, texture all took over my life without asking. Woolly Originals was born. In November 2016, I said goodbye to the NHS and Citizens Advice, and hello to full-time self-employment. But my clothes and colour choices remained behind. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t able to walk the creativity of my Woolly designs into my wardrobe. Look at photos of me at EYF2017. I’m wearing grey, grey and more grey!

Until July 2017 when I was visiting London. Susan at Loop, chatting about a wholesale order, asked me what’s my favourite colour. I was dressed in grey, white and yellow. Yellow and grey I said. She replied that she like muted pinks. I returned to my hotel room and looked in the mirror. A switch flicked in my brain. I didn’t like grey and yellow anymore! It wasn’t “me”. The now me. It was the previous me. As I only had grey, black and yellow clothes with me, I spent the next day uncomfortably walking round London. I couldn’t wait to get home and sort out my wardrobe.

IMG_5827

Oh my, did I do that! The local Shelter charity shop was probably overwhelmed with my now rejected clothes. My wardrobe was Mother-Hubbard-esque! Except for my hand knits. Those I no longer wanted to wear were distributed to family and friends, or folded and placed on a back shelf. So, what colours did I want to wear? I had no idea! So I just started hand knitting. I chose a Gamaldags cardigan by Hélène Magnússon in Lettlopi khaki with pink and purple. A Laine magazine Nuuk sleeveless sweater in beautiful pink Yeavering Bell yarn from Whistlebare followed. Next, a pink and khaki Break Cowl by Donna Smith in Little Grey Sheep mini skeins. And so it began. An unconscious drift to the Pink Side!

In June this year, I went on a knitting and hiking trip to north Iceland organised by Hélène Magnússon. She rightly pointed out that my favourite colour was pink. I was about to deny this but the evidence was somewhat against me. She was right. When I now reached for a cardigan or a hat, it wasn’t a choice between light grey, dark grey or mid grey, but pink or purple or a mix of both.

It recently set me thinking again. Not so much that I loved wearing pink now but how my colour choices have changed over the decades. The influences of my various careers and the people around me have all contributed to what colours I felt I could or should wear. And whilst I have always encouraged and aided my sons to wear whatever they liked or wanted to whenever, in a bizarre double-standard, until recently I didn’t seem capable of that for myself.

Colour plays such an important part in our emotions and in who we consider ourselves to be. But society does keep making up colour rules. Mourning clothes? Black or white depending on your cultural background. Getting married? White dress or red. Want to be a Goth? That’ll be black then. What about gender? The list could go on and on. But I’ll simply finish with…..I wear pink because I like pink. I’m in my fifties. I’m a self- employed designer. And at this particular moment in time, it’s me.

So what’s your favourite colour?

Yarnporium 2018

Woolly Originals is delighted to be attending Yarnporium at Central Hall, Westminster, London on 2nd and 3rd November 2018. We’ll be bringing a range of our Woolly bags and badges, plus iPad mini cover knitting patterns.

If you’re coming along, please pop over to our stand and say hello, and show us what you’re knitting or crocheting, what you’re wearing, or what you’ve bought! We love chatting about all things Woolly!

CLOTH 18

Next on the Woolly calendar is CLOTH18, on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th August 2018. This curated selling event for handmade textiles will take place at the Dovecot Studios on Infirmary Street, Edinburgh. The event has been organised by weaver, James Donald of Pick One and co-owner of the wonderful craft shop, Concrete Wardrobe on Broughton Street, Edinburgh.

There will be a range of Woolly bags to purchase, from tool/pencil case to large hand-embellished shopper size, plus some of my badges made from offcuts of fabric. I’m so looking forward to this event, as the Dovecot is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh!

Lava Landscape

Last week, my friend Fu and I returned from an amazing holiday to Iceland. We had a fantastic fortnight despite the cold and rather wet weather. The first week involved an Hélène Magnússon hiking and knitting tour of the Tröllaskagi mountains, north of Akureyri. Under Hélène’s knowledgeable guidance, we walked along beautiful trails, admired numerous Icelandic plants and knitted our way to a pair of lace weight mittens!

img_7856-3          slc_2072

img_7823-1       img_7843-1

After a stopover in Reykjavík, we headed for the Volcano Trails in the Þórsmörk valley. The scenery was stunning: dark volcanic river beds; basaltic slopes; and ancient lava flows. And the plants: pink and purple alpine flowers; white lichens; and green mosses of every hue.

img_8113

img_8222-1         img_8230

img_8232         img_8134

Inspired by the colours and shapes that surrounded us, I started thinking about a new design which encompassed: the volcanic sand and rocks; the mosses; the lichens; and the flowering plants.

I first designed the background of black igneous rocks encircling moss mounds, which I machine knit in Spindrift Shetland wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland. Flowers and lichens were added by hand using Swedish linen embroidery thread from Linladan, and French Knot or Seed stitches. Finally, I sewed the bag together with a contrasting pink linen/cotton lining fabric from Scottish Linen in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

A small number of these limited edition bags will be available to purchase on Saturday 28th July 2018 at the Indie Burgh Craft Crawl evening party at Akva in Edinburgh. I’ll also be available to talk about machine knitting and the design process.

Woolly Originals – The Next Step

I started Woolly Originals in June 2015. Never in my sanest dreams, let alone the wild ones, did I expect the success that has materialised. After the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March, I realised that I was struggling to meet demand. I love making my Woolly bags, from machine knitting the outer fabric, to sewing the wool and linen components together, to labelling the bag with its Woolly swing-tag. I make every bag as though it was for my own use. But, in order to make my bags, I was close to making myself ill.

So, I decided in April that I needed more help. Many of you have met, either personally or through social media, Jo @angleoftheforth. She knits up some of my Woolly fabric and attends yarn festivals either with me or more recently on her own! We both love our knitting machines and I wanted us to continue to make the outer fabric. So, that left the sewing up. Could I find someone who valued the environment, who felt the importance of community, who understood that people were more important than profit? And, the answer is yes!

The Kalopsia Collective is an amazing company. Established in 2012 by British/Swedish duo, Robertson & Falk, Kalopsia began as a textiles and design organisation to challenge the way textiles were seen. Today, Kalopsia operates as a Social Enterprise in Edinburgh’s busy creative and cultural port, Leith, with the aim to batch manufacture textiles products in Britain. Waste management, micro manufacturing, ethical production, sustainability, the love of textiles, and combining innovation with tradition all play an important part in Kalopsia’s business ethos.

So, Jo and I will continue to knit up our Woolly fabric and Kalopsia will now sew this in Edinburgh into a Woolly Originals bag with a beautiful linen or cotton lining from Scottish Linen with the same Opti zips. And, with the free time that I’ll now have, I can design new patterns and make my hand-decorated larger bags.

The only remaining question is, why didn’t I do this sooner!