Why are knitting pattern pictures so rubbish?

knitting stripes
Woman in aran jumper and ugly trousers

She woke up hungover in a barn in 1890 and grabbed the farmer’s clothes. No other excuse for those trousers

I like to knit. Knitting is very Zen. It is hypnotic and soothing, you can do it while watching TV, so it appeals to the multi-tasking monster inside me, and – bonus – you get clothes out of it.

For the sad sacks who don’t knit, and think jumpers and gloves just appear like magic out of a pile of yarn and two pointy sticks, I need to point out that you need a pattern.

The pattern tells you how much yarn you need, what type, how many stitches to cast on, what to do with them, when to stop, when you’ve fucked it up so badly you need to unravel the whole sodding thing and start again (not bitter).

The pattern also has a nice big picture on it that shows you what the finished garment is supposed to look like.

These pictures are universally shite.

Look at some of these – would you ever want to knit anything that made you look like you just woke up naked in a stable and grabbed the first horse blanket you could see?

Woman in brown cardigan

A cardigan the colour of shite, with peach trousers. Mmmmm

Sewing patterns do not do this (yeah, I sew too, get me).

Sewing patterns are stylish, with slender models rocking the latest looks, or artist-drawn pictures of what the clothes will look like if you have a team of tailors at your disposal and can actually understand the instructions about putting in zips. Sewing pattern pictures are aspirational.

Butterick sewing pattern 6582. Who wouldn’t want to make this beauty, despite there being no photo and no-one has a 1950’s hourglass figure anymore?

Too many knitting pattern pictures look as if the knitwear has been shoved on top, like dressing a Twinkle doll in cut-out cardboard clothes with tabs to hold it in place (that dates me).

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some patterns – often from indie designers – look lovely and tempting and don’t scream I’M WEARING THIS BECAUSE SOMEONE OLD MADE IT FOR ME AND I’M TAKING IT OFF AS SOON AS THEY’VE GONE BACK TO THEIR CARE HOME.

The pink reminds me of travel sickness pills. And what’s with the foxy secretary look – in a pink short-sleeved jumper??

The thing is, most of these patterns are perfectly good designs. In the right colour, with the right clothes, without those massive brown plastic buttons you only get on home-knitted stuff, they will look OK. But you have to reimagine them.

The only way to do this is to take the pattern picture, hold it at arm’s length, squint and imagine it:

  • In a colour that isn’t lime green or diarrhoea brown.
  • On a model who isn’t 18 trying to look 70.
  • With a different background to the ‘walking across a field or standing by a barn door’ that seems to be essential if you are photographing knitwear.
  • With a model wearing normal clothes, not a tweed skirt last seen on Nancy Mitford in 1934 or some bizarre colour combination.

It can be done brilliantly, and lots of independent knitting designers come up with draw-dropping pattern photos that have you reaching for your cable needle.

Family in homemade aran cardigans

Be honest – if you saw them coming at you with that net, you’d run a mile

But a lot of the established companies (I’m looking at you, Sirdar and Wendy) have fallen way behind.

Or have they? The fact they are still going after all these years means they must be doing something right, yes?

Maybe they are appealing to a (much) older knitter, whose eyes are too feeble to see just how wince-inducing that lilac and pistachio Fair Isle jumper is.

Whoever it is, it isn’t me.

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Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #12 : Dick Turpin season 1 (1979)

Dick Turpin title sequence

When I was twelve, Dick Turpin was the most exciting programme on a TV calendar that included such classics as The Muppet Show, 3-2-1, Tales of the Unexpected and Not The Nine O’Clock News, as well as unappreciated gems Sapphire and Steel (sheer brilliance), It’s A Knockout and Rentaghost ***pause for misty-eyed reminiscences***.

Robin’s Nest and Man About The House – Richard O’Sullivan’s previous shows – had never darkened our black and white screen, which was fiercely policed by my father, who would have no truck with light comedy (Are You Being Served and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum excepted).

Therefore, I had no preconceived ideas about O’Sullivan as a lightweight beta male flummoxed by female flatmates and one-armed kitchen hands. To me, he was a dashing, dandy highwayman with a strong sword arm and a warm heart.

Dick Turpin & Swiftnick

Dick and Swiftnick. What larks they had

I loved the series so much I bought the book (see previous post), and reading must have cemented the storylines in my head, because I can remember every one of them. For someone who regularly forgets where the reverse gear is on my car, this is momentous.

I also discovered  that when it comes to fiction and drama, most of the things I love now are just a midnight gallop away back to Dick Turpin. Outlaws! Swords! Flintlocks! Dastardly plots! Rougeish heroes! Cunning tricks! Feisty women! Inns and ale and pies! Billowing white shirts! And I thought my finely honed writing style was the result of decades of experience and painful fine tuning.

Apart from the nostalgia hit, the programme itself has survived the last 38 years with surprising robustness. The acting is low key but solid, and while all the action seems to take place around the same field and tumbledown barn, it is still exciting and atmospheric.

A favourite episode is The Poacher, when Dick and his sidekick Swiftnick come across a perfumed fop called Wiloughby who has – apparently – just been robbed. Dick later fools Wiloughby by pretending to be a bewigged buffoon himself, but in a double twist, Wiloughby turns out to be a highwayman in disguise. The scene where they are trading quips while swordfighting back to back is sheer swashbuckling fun.

The Imposter, where Swiftnick’s uncle is shot and everyone blames Dick, is both shocking and satisfying, but the best episode is the last one of the series, The Jail-birds. The main characters – both good and nasty – end up locked in a cell together. There is very little action, just a lot of smart dialogue, some real history chucked in, a cunning twist and the re-emergence of a forgotten character as an unlikely saviour.

Scene from Dick Turpin

Richard O’Sullivan punching his way out of a brown paper bag

Dafter episodes involve Dick being mistaken for a prize-fighter and having to beat the local big bully (cue snorts of derision from my father, who hooted that Richard O’Sullivan couldn’t punch his way out of a brown paper bag. Why the colour of the bag mattered, I have no idea).

Having a rogue highwayman who turned out to be a beautiful woman (gasp! how could no-one tell?) in The Pursuit was an excuse to inject some frilly 17th Century lingerie into the show and The Hostages – where big baddy Sir John Glutton suddenly develops a never-before-mentioned niece and Swiftnick is involved in a half-arsed kidnap attempt – felt as if it had been dreamed up on the back of a beer mat.

I was gutted to discover Series 2 isn’t on YouTube, but there is a DVD – and Christmas is coming.

Definition of boredom

deflated yellow balloon in a tree

I was walking the dog across a field last week.
In the distance, where the trees began, I could see something orange, bright in the dreary November morning.
It was near the base of a tree, and as I got closer, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was so out of place, so different from the usual, flat landscape.
I often see dead balloons caught on hedgerows, their nasty shiny plastic and tangled ribbon never rotting, forever proclaiming A Baby Boy! and Happy Retirement!
This though, was too big to be a balloon and too far off the track to be flytippers. This was interesting.
Or not.
It turned out to be a teeny tiny tent – the kind you pitch over your firewood or food store. It had clothes pegs on it and had obviously blown off someone’s line. I found all of this fascinating.
This was the single most interesting thing that happened to me all week.
I have to get out more.

The four books I bought when I was 12

Book token ad

Christmas 1979 and someone gave me a £2 book token. It was a slip of pink paper, a bit like Monopoly money, stating CANNOT BE EXCHANGED FOR CASH and NO CHANGE GIVEN.
It came inside a card with a robin on the front, and to spend it I was taken into Sheffield to Hartley Seed, a big, proper bookshop.

books on a bookshelf

Go on, choose just four


I had never been in a bookshop to browse before.
My pocket money was saved up and spent one volume at a time at the local newsagent, and I was building up my collection of Enid Blyton’s Five Find Outer books (so much superior to the stupid Famous Five and their soppy dog and silly island). With £2 I could complete the set with ease.
I don’t remember getting anywhere near the Blyton shelf. I was distracted by the rows of enticing stories, beguiled by their exciting descriptions and bewitched by their entrancing covers.
I bought four books – four! That makes that £2 book token equivalent to, say, £25 today.
I don’t know whether it was my impressionable age or the novelty of the situation but those books have had a lifelong effect on me.
Dick Turpin by Richard Carpenter

At 75p, the most expensive book of the bunch, but oh so worth it


The first one I fell upon was Dick Turpin by Richard Carpenter. I hadn’t realised you could buy books of TV series that weren’t annuals, and Dick Turpin was, along with Tales of the Unexpected and Sapphire and Steel, compulsory viewing for me at the time.
It was pricy – 75p – but a quick flick through was like watching the series all over again (this is the pre-video age, and I only had my memory to rely on when reliving Dick and Swiftnick’s hair-raising adventures).
I can still remember the thrill when I started reading the first page – that someone had sat down somewhere and typed these words out, and here they were, in a book in my hands. One day, I knew, I’d write a book just as exciting.
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

Lesson: Don’t judge a book by its blurb

The second book was a dud. Overwhelmed with the opportunities open to me, I was beguiled by the blurb on the back of The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.
It was about two dogs and a cat who, for reasons I never fathomed, become separated from their owners and have to walk across Canada to be reunited.
I don’t like animal stories. I don’t even watch David Attenborough. It was a huge disappointment.
The three pets didn’t ‘escape death at almost every step’ and Bodger the bull terrier’s much vaunted ‘strong sense of humour’ must have lost a lot in Canadian translation.
In the following weeks I bitterly regretted not spending that 50p on The Mystery of the Invisible Prince by Enid Blyton.
The Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbitt

Oh lucky hand of fate that drew me to The Search For Delicious


But the third book was a dream. It, like Dick Turpin, made such a lasting impression on me I called the main character in Shriven after one of its characters. The Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbitt is a beautiful story, and the one by which I have measured all others, ever since.
It has everything a good fantasy story should have. The hero is a foundling abandoned at the castle gates. There are mythical creatures – a 900-year-old woldweller, cave-dwelling, apple-loving dwarves and a mermaid who lost her doll.
There is a baddie who brings war down upon the kingdom. There is a quest, a magic whistle and the most satisfying conclusion ever. The names are good. It even has a map.
The Search For Delicious was 50p. That left me with 25p. Even in 1979 it was going to be hard to find a book for 25p. But I persevered in the Ladybird section and came up trumps with Garden Flowers for 24p.
Garden Flowers, a Ladybird Book

Lovely pictures and non-patronising descriptions. A lesson for all childrens’ writers


This was written by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald and illustrated by John Leigh-Pemberton.
It isn’t a childish book, but a straightforward guide to some lovely English cottage garden flowers. I poured over the beautiful pictures for years, imagining I lived in the stately home you catch occasional glimpses of.
Many of the plants it features have done time in my own garden. Short sentences usually – I have the opposite to green fingers (blue toes?)and my lupins, pansies, lilies and alliums rarely last a year.
These were the four volumes I took to the till – dashing adventure, classic epic fantasy and the ultimate escapist garden. Oh, and a bunch of wet animals wandering about.
Their influence on what I read now, and how I strive to write, has been incredible – tight, clever plots, excitment, intriguing characters, tried and tested tropes, wry humour and a light sprinkling of magic. And no plodding pets.
And, despite the edict that no change would be given, the woman at the till took my voucher and gave me a penny change. Result.
Picture from Garden Flowers

The spark for a hundred stories


Picture from Garden Flowers

One day I will live here…

The tightness of time

I am writing a time travel novel with a chum. In fact, we have written TWO time travel novels and are just starting on the third.
They are really good, but what with working on Shriven Book IV (140,000 words and counting) as well as everything else work and family life throws at me, time is tight and we are finding it difficult to get them polished up and onto Amazon.
When I was at university, it was a constant struggle getting my essays in on time, and I had to negotiate an extension to one end-of-term missive. Why? What the hell else was I doing? What the hell else was there to do?

clocks on chains

You can have too much time

I lived in a tiny house with a friend (five rooms. Literally). So hardly any housework.
No meals to prepare (bakery across the road, Chinese two streets away).
No children or parents, no distracting PlayStation or Candy Crush. And what do I have to show for that three years? (Apart from a degree, obviously) Sod all.
I didn’t write any books, I wasn’t active in any societies or working nights with a swamp rock band. I didn’t even have a part-time job (this was the 80s).
Apart from the pile of Cosmopolitans I must have read, I did nothing apart from sit in smoky pubs and feel a bit sorry for myself.
I was single once for six whole months (serial monogamist, me), while living in my current house.
Just me to pick up after, to cook for (I lived on tortilla chips and Rolling Rock beer. Every now and then I would ‘cook’ – make pancakes), to wash and iron for (I lived in Lycra. Ironing took ten minutes once a fortnight).
Was my garden a lush haven of beautiful flowers and finely tended topiary? Nope, it was a chickweed-strangled netherworld.
Did I boast a finely honed yoga body thanks to the daily practise I had time to indulge in? Nope, my back was seizing up due to the marathon sofa sessions spent playing Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.
And the books I wrote…? You know the answer.
Resident Evil 2

Oh the happy, happy hours


Anyone who has ever spent a week in a tent knows you expand to fit the available space. The same goes for time. When it is all just stretching out around you, you automatically slow your pace.
If I had realised at the time how precious all those empty hours were, what could I have achieved? Sod all, actually. It’s only when you can feel the diminishing hours snapping away at your ankles that you find yourself moving fast enough to outrun them.

Did you squander virtue in a cubicle?

junk email

I went online to get double glazing quotes (yes, yes, NOW I know how bloody stupid this was) and the bastards sold my mobile number and email address on.
It turns out my spam filter is pretty good so this didn’t bother me much – until I was rooting around my inbox to try and find a real quote someone claimed to have sent me and opened my junk folder.
Oh wow, what a box of delights.
How do they come up with these things – by throwing a thesaurus at Google translate and seeing what comes out?
It was jammed full of spam email, and the subject lines were a joy.
Here’s a selection of the easiest to understand:

  • In event of you fail muscle on a bedchamber, this isn’t scary.
  • Require to bring about a fine offering to the mate?
  • If you hope gratify a monogamist in the bedchamber wasn’t an obstacle.
  • Would you be hankering to carry a mate in a cot?
  • Say NO! to droop, researchers got a plain decision.
  • I need to advise you, a choicest entity to clarify competition in bed.
Anne Boleyn's bedroom, Hever Castle

This is a bedchamber (at Hever Castle). No sign of failed muscles or ungratified monogamists

OK, so we’re offering something to treat erectile dysfunction here, yes? Although carrying a mate in a cot sounds like some Sheffield expression for not buying your round (“Nay lad, don’t ask him t’pub. He’s hankering to carry a mate in a cot, he is”).

‘Gratifying a monogamist’ may describe the act or married love, but it’s hardly romantic, is it?

Oh, and no-one has said ‘bedchamber’ since 1767.

Then we get these:

  • In case you squander virtue in a cubicle, this isn’t a botheration.
  • Demand to construct a neat boon to the yokefellow.

These are lost on me. Squander virtue in a cubicle – a cubicle?
I assumed yokefellow was some Medieval word for penis (as in ‘He claimed his yokefellow was of such a valiant design it could service three comely wenches in one night, so it could’). Then I looked it up and found it means close companion or colleague.
You won’t catch me giving any of my colleagues a neat boon anytime soon.

office cubicles

Cubicles. Well known for squandered virtue

  • Do you lack a corrective? Look here, we produce you a solve!
  • Awkward to animate your beloved? We can facilitate you!
  • Do you lack a medication? Click here, therein is a hit.
  • During you cut my injunction, you will not dissatisfy.
  • Meanwhile you take their tip-off and slap, you will not repentance.
  • Undergo mess in restroom? Workers own a best answer?

This last one was from someone called Emilio Mccluskey. If you know Emilio, I would advise you never follow him into the Gents.

These next ones follow a sporting theme:

  • The best girl is downcast? Acquire hers delight with our serve.
  • The wife is morbid? Grab hers entertainment with my contribute.
  • The girlfriend is pessimistic? Take hers fun with my serve?
  • The dear heart is distracted? Buy her satisfaction with my assist.

Then there are efforts to tackle the obesity crisis:

  • Did you inactive? Our concern is reappeared, groom your kindred with a little rate.
  • Did you flabby? We are refunded! Nurse healthiness with moderate prices!

And finally, I have no idea what this one is selling, but I’d love to know what an inveteracy lozenge tastes like.

  • Reputable frequenter! Inveteracy lozenge stand get new address!