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The Beautiful Balnaan by Emily Williams

‘Collaboration is at the very heart of my work. Being a knitwear designer is fundamentally a solitary occupation, with a lot of time spent in my studio by myself. As an out and out extrovert, I know that in order to keep myself focussed and engaged, I need to reach out and work with others in the community.

Emily Williams is a knitwear designer from the Scottish Highlands and is such a creative designer who we love to work with. Here’s your chance to find out more about her.

Emily, like many of us, learnt to knit when she was a child, but really got into it when she left University and had her first job: “A group of us would get together on a Sunday afternoon to knit and watch black and white films on BBC2. A couple of years later I discovered knitting blogs, then Ravelry came along and I became a technique junkie. I remember it blowing my mind that there was more than one way to cast on and knitting in the round seemed like a revolutionary act! At this point I pretty much stopped knitting other people’s patterns, mostly because they usually didn’t come in my size, and that progressed on to designing and writing patterns for other people.

Design Process

Emily’s design process starts with swatching: “I usually do a few tiny swatches to see what sort of thing I’d like to explore further and if I like the fabric, then as my ideas coalesce, I make a bigger swatch to get an accurate measure of the gauge. At that point I put all the stitch patterns I’ll use into the swatch to see them together. Finally, I sketch out my design in a fair amount of detail and start grading the garment. Once the maths is done and I have a bare bones pattern written, I knit the sample making any changes and filling in any gaps as I go.” 

The Balnaan sweater was very much inspired by exploring ways to hold two yarns together. I wanted to play with different colour combinations in the stripes, and then use the ribbing as a real contrast in texture. When it came to the design of the jumper, I chose a classic shape to allow all those details to shine.”  


Emily designed Balnaan as part of our Better Together, dedicated to yarn combining and her choice of name matches the spirit of the collection perfectly.

I usually pick my pattern names from a map, and Balnaan is where I enjoyed my last a creative retreat with a small group of fellow fibre folk. We spent five nights together just absorbing the most intense creative energy. There were evenings by the fire knitting, as well as days spent sewing or spinning or whatever took our fancy. And just the wonderful ability to be inspired by what everyone else was making, try out new ideas and to get help and suggestions for yours. The whole experience gave me a lift that I desperately needed after a difficult winter, and the support of that friendship group has been invaluable ever since. I cannot wait until we can all get back there together.”

This pattern is a great way to find out for yourself how easy German short rows are and how using them really improves the fit of your garment.

The matching Balnaan hat pattern is also great for checking that you get the right gauge before you knit the pullover and its fantastic bold strips are perfect for an eye-catching accessory complete with bobble. 

Desert Island Projects

For a bit of fun, we asked Emily what is her desert island knitting project—what would she choose to knit again and again and still enjoy? “My desert island project would definitely be a stranded colour work jumper! As long as I had a variety of colours to play with, I could just carry on improvising patterns to my heart’s content. I also find that I am constantly motivated to do another row just because it is so magic seeing the pattern emerging from the needles.” We certainly know that feeling!

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about Emily and her beautiful Balnaan design. You can find out more about Better Together on the collection page or by reading our ‘Magic of Yarn Combining‘ blog.

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