Katara is the third Hat from the Elemental collection, and represents water.

 
 

Katara and Opal share a key feature, and that is is that it's not the short row forms that create the details, but the lines around them. It'll become evident more going forward, but the types of short row forms used in these patterns (i.e. the shapes created by the short rows) are generally used as the detail, the colour that stands out. With these two Hats, those forms sit back and shape the lines around them.

 
 

Katara was the first Hat I designed this way, thinking about line, and the effect on the line by the short rows. It took a little juggling at first but once I'd got to grips with it, I rather enjoyed looking at the short rows differently. The easiest way to manage this would be to have the lines run the full length of the Hat (which you'll see later in the final design) but doing it this way affects the balance of the fabric quite differently.

 
 

The effect is that of gentle waves, or lightly drifting sea plants, being directed by the ebb and flow of the water. I'm really pleased with this deign, it has a strong yet gentle effect; striking but not overpowering.

 
 

I'd say we photographed this one Hat more than any of the others. We shot it against three different murals, in different lights. Tom shot these and had us use the reflectors, as the light was still so strong at 8pm. I don't like reflectors, I don't like the result of flat light on the face, and we shot extras to give us more choice. The best photos of the Hat with the best light (in my opinion!) had a large mural that ended up looking very odd within the frame, so they got ditched. My absolute favourite shots were taken inside one of the old structures with the most amazing graffiti, but the shots are too grainy and not so sharp, even if the mood, light and environment were perfect. I've settled on these now, though - they show the Hat off well which is the most important thing.

 
 

One of the things that strikes me as I look through all of the Hat photographs together is the way Beth lends her mood so well and yet so differently to each. There's something so gentle and natural about these, yet strong and powerful at the same time. 

The crown is softly gathered leaning towards flat, and the longest lines from the body reach in towards the centre like tentacles. Did I mention already that I really like the way the lines dance around the body of this one?

 
 

Katara is a water bending master, and one of the original characters in Avatar. Infact, the very first scene opens with her, and the story unfolds around her and her brother. She's arguably one of the more mature characters with a strong sense of what needs to be done. Kind brave and passionate, she's an early heroine of the series.

 
 

Shape wise, you're looking at slightly slouchy - a little longer in the body and not so roomy in the circumference, but just enough room not to squash the head. The crown isn't mathematically a flat circle, but it's close-ish (there's only so far you can push those short rows at gauge, y'know!)

Yarn wise, this one uses a skein of Bloomsbury DK in Surf and a few yards in Sand. And like all the others, it's graded through gauge, so you'll want to check your needle size and gauge before starting. The sideways knit garter stitch makes for an incredibly stretchy rib, and the not-so-rabid short rows don't really tighten up the fabric (the same can't be said for Azula) so there's definitely some forgiveness in the fabric.

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Opal is the 2nd Hat from the Elemental collection, and it's the quiet Hat of the 5.

 
 

Opal was the final Hat of the collection that I designed, and it was the hardest. The hardest to try and think about how I could represent the concept of air. Air is everywhere yet it has no real tangible essence.

 
 

I started by drawing out types of clouds in a very representative way, but they didn't work for me, I didn't like the result. Fire worked that way because it was dramatic and strong, but the clouds didn't really look all that effective, more like blobs of white against blobs of grey. It might be more achievable with a finer gauge yarn, where there's more room to add in that many more short rows and create different forms, but here it wasn't working.

 
 

I really liked the idea of working with storms, the angrier side of the air element, but again visually that was hard to do effectively. There wasn't quite the room to create large swirling storms clouds, with or without lightening strikes.

 
 

In the end, I figured it was better to move away from trying to hammer this one out literally, and go with a more symbolic angle. The symbol for air is generally 3 wavy lines, representing the invisible movement of air. Throw in some dark swirly forms to represent stormy clouds, and Opal was born.

 
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The background to these photos is an old mural of a large pink butterfly inside a very derelict room at the nearby quarry. I'll talk about the photoshoot location more in another post, but as much as I like the pink against this Hat, it was the hardest Hat to get right. The editing, the shoot itself, so many things proved challenging. Everyone who's written a book, especially a pattern book or design collection, will tell you that there's always one that won't behave.

 
 

Series one of the Avatar starts with the story of how the fire tribe have all but wiped out the air tribe. In fact Avatar is commonly known as The Last Airbender, and it seems rather apt that this design should be the most elusive of them all.

Opal is from the second series, and is a distance relative of other characters that have Hats named from them. In this series the air tribe have grown strong and their lost skills returned, although it took Opal some time to come to terms with her skills and heritage. Like many of the air tribe, her nature is on the gentler side, and this Hat is certainly a more tranquil knit.

 
 

Yarn wise, you'll need a skein of Bloomsbury DK in Soot, and a small amount in Sand. This Hat tripped me up on my yardage estimations (mostly because I'd planned a more even balance of the colours with clouds and such) and so I had to ask the folks at LoveKnitting for a few extra yards! They came to the rescue and I got it all done it time for the photoshoot, which was a mighty relief.

I mention this as a warning that you will be able to get all 5 Hats from one skein each of the 6 colours except you may need a bit more of the dark grey (depending on your gauge, naturally).

The cover is almost done, and we've started working on the layout! (I say we, as I'm not doing the legwork here - team Woolly is in action). The patterns are all through their first round of tech editing and for the final round, we'll have a small army of editors to make triply sure that these patterns are top notch. Normally, I'd do an extra round of editing with one or two editors - this way, I get the same kind of attention to detail only quicker (at least, that's the plan).

We're still aiming for the first week of September for publication, and it's all coming together well.

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Last year it felt like I taught more than I usually do. It was still a pretty low amount relatively (teaching made up 8% of my turnover) - having been there and done that with full time teaching and the inevitable burnout, I've always been adamant that teaching will only be an occasional thing for me.

 
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Going forward, I'm going to be doing less. Over the next year I've got 4 weekends, possibly 5, booked and that's the limit. Last year I squeezed in around 12 teaching days, which was only a day or two above my annual average, and they were pretty spread out - this year I'm making sure those teaching days are grouped into whole weekends, not single days or evenings. In reality it won't be that much less teaching, but it will be that much less travelling.

One of the hardest things about this is that I won't now take bookings for a venue unless I'm booked for a minimum of 3 x 3hr workshops, not including Hat Clinic. It's tough because I want to support smaller shops and venues yet they don't always have the budget for a weekend of workshops, and I feel like I'm letting them down. But logistically for me, it makes so much more sense.

Besides the day lost (minimum) travelling to a venue and the day lost travelling back, there's a heck of a lot of preparation that goes into planning new workshops, or even preparing for existing ones. I like to turn up with well presented notes and lots of samples, and continually add to these. Once the teaching is done, I need a good few days to recover, and all in all a weekend of teaching can cost me a week in time, easy. I love meeting folk and sharing new skills and seeing that moment when it all clicks into place, but it's also exhausting. And lugging luggage around is painful!

If I can make my teaching weekends more effective, they will feel a lot less disruptive.

I've been wanting to change how I approach teaching for some time, and going over my figures last week helped me see things a little more clearly. Right now, I can afford to not teach at all. If I took the teaching aspect out of the figures my turnover would still be way up on previous years. Self publishing is my strength, and hiding away in my cave with my head down and focussed does me the world of good.

When the trend in this industry, and likely many creative industries, is to diversify and have different income streams, it feels bold to be doing the opposite and be trimming down. For a good few years I was lacking confidence in what I should be doing, in how I should be trying to earn more. And when I'm adrift like that I'm more easily persuaded to try things I don't really want to try, and I end up going round in negative circles. At some point last year though things fell into place, and I've never felt more confident about the direction I want to be going in, and what I don't need to be doing. And it feels so good.

So what does this mean for you? I'm still going to be getting out and meeting knitters and teaching new skills. It means that you'll meet a less tired, more focussed me, which can only be a good thing, right?

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My want to reduce the amount of knitting I do, and in particular knitting with finer yarns, hasn't dampened my yarn buying!

 
 

I was keen to visit River Knits and check out her yarns, and I wasn't disappointed. With her family she lives on a canal boat and I can't not support another nomadic creative sort, and I came away with these DK yarns.

The speckles is right out of my comfort zone, and I've already wound it for some mindless knitting to keep my fingers busy as we travel this summer, for what will likely be a future free pattern come grafting tutorial.

Both yarns are gorgeous, this is one talented dyer.

 
 

I'm rather excited about this yarn, I must say. It's from 3rd Vault Yarns and I kinda wish at this point that I hadn't already busted my budget as there were more gorgeous colours! All of her yarns are Sci-Fi inspired, and being the Sci-Fi fans that we are (though not total geeks - I'd fail any quiz) they struck a chord.

This is definitely going in the future design stash - those flashes of colour are sublime.

 
 

And finally, I couldn't not buy any SparkleDuck yarn. 

I didn't know Michael would be at the show until the saturday morning, and as soon as I had the chance I went to find him in their usual spot to give him a hug. It made me cry; I can't imagine how Michael would have felt or managed throughout the show but he did, with so much support from the Cambridge knitters and Fibre East regulars. So many knitters went home with SparkleDuck yarn in their bags, to do wonderful things with them in Heather's memory.

These yarns don't belong in my stash; Michael took SparkleDuck to the show because Heather would have wanted her yarns in the hands of knitters, being used, and I didn't want to buy them only to have them sit in my boxes. So I bought them to give away as random lucky dip type prizes during my MKAL this year. Buying them to share felt like the right thing for me to do.

I generally only get the chance to buy yarn as shows these days, and thankfully I'm not visiting anymore for a while, as there's not much more space in my studio! Working with indie dyers is my preference when it comes to designing and yarn choices, and I'll always try to buy a few skeins when I can - some become designs, some prizes or gifts. 

And now I'm going to spend the rest of my Saturday knitting some RiverKnits speckles, watching CSI back to back.

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