It is always exciting to see projects I have been secretly working finally being revealed to the public. The Bletchley Collection is a collaboration between indie dyer, Victoria of Eden Cottage Yarns and designer, Joanne Scrace who you may also know as Not So Granny, and is inspired by Alan Turing and the team of ‘code-breakers’ who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II.
This six-piece capsule collection is a mixture of both knit and crochet patterns created for the Eden Cottage ‘Milburn’ yarn line, a blend of Blue Faced Leicester wool and silk. Shot on location at Bletchley Park itself, Joanne took her design inspiration from the history of Bletchley, the code breaker machines and incredible women who worked cracking codes to produce a vintage-inspired yet thoroughly modern collection.
There are so many clever details worked into the patterns; the small bobbles and lines in the shoulders of the crocheted Morse Code cardigan reflect the ‘dot dot dot’ and ‘dash dash dash’ of the code itself. A cypher hidden in the lace knit pattern of Baudot reads ‘knit’ and ‘tink’. The cogs of the Lorenz cypher appear in the crochet stitches of Tunny, and Joanne reveals her own coding obsession in the Hut 8 cardigan.
I managed to grab five minutes with Victoria and Joanne to find out a little more about The Bletchley Collection…
RA to Victoria: How did you two meet one another and what sparked the conversation about collaborating on a project – which came first the yarn or the idea?
Victoria: If I remember correctly, Simply Crochet published a gorgeous cardigan that Joanne had designed in my yarn. I really loved it, and decided to ask if she’d be interesting on collaborating on a small (hah) project. It escalated from there!
RA to Joanne: Why Bletchley? What was it about the Park that inspired you and set your designer mind whirring?
Joanne: Walking around Bletchley on my first visit my mind kept spotting patterns and textures and ideas. Perhaps it was a lucky coincidence with the mood I was in that day, I’m not sure but I knew I’d be using the theme at some point. I love that it links my past life in computing with my new career in knitwear.
RA to Victoria & Joanne: It’s really exciting to see a collaboration between two women celebrating the work of other women. Were there any particular aspects of the work done at Bletchley Park or stories you heard about the women that struck a chord?
Victoria: For me it was when I started to read about Joanne’s inspiration behind the designs that I became interested in the details within the work at Bletchley. I’ve learnt lots of interesting and inspiring things, and that’s without having made the effort to learn more, which I now really want to do! We used Bletchley Park for the photoshoot – myself and my partner David do all the photography for our patterns – and it was really great to visit and get a visual concept of the place. We didn’t get chance to properly look around, but what struck me whilst we were there was that just decades ago, the people there would have been busy, focused, and working hard, and there were us and many others, just milling about, so casual and without much to worry about.
Joanne: The ordinary admin women really struck a cord with me and that inspired Hut 8 cardigan. I wanted to find a way to celebrate them as secrecy would have prevented most from ever revealing their role in the war effort. I’ve always been drawn to Wrens who operated many of the machines too – I think its the uniform, they seemed ridiculously glamorous. Thoughts of what they might wear off duty inspired the shapes behind the collection. While researching I looked into the story of Joan Clarke, a female code breaker briefly engaged to Turing, and while I found her story interesting and ultimately rather sad (she was paid much less than her male colleagues and felt her career was hampered by her gender) I didn’t connect with her in the same way and the ideas didn’t flow for a design.
RA to Joanne: As I was working on the technical edits, it was obvious how much thought you had put into the details in the garments and how you cleverly brought key elements of Bletchley into the patterns. How did you go about translating an image or an idea taken from Bletchley into a design or design element?
Joanne: Thanks. I gathered images from the site and thought about what I thought would translate well into a knitwear story. I collected a mood board of the garment and accessory shapes I wanted that linked into the era and then spent a lot of time poring over stitch dictionaries and playing around with stitch combinations to get the details just right. I then married the three up and came up with a final sketch and swatch. When I sat down to design I didn’t know which story or theme would relate to which piece, with the exception of Hut 8 which came in a fully formed flash of inspiration.
RA to Victoria & Joanne: I keep returning to the knitted Bombe cowl and suspect it will wiggle its way onto my needles very soon. Can you pick a favourite or is there a particular design that is really important to you for one reason or another?
Victoria: Tough question! I would love to make a Bombe where each row of circles is a different colour, mostly because I want to raid the stock of little 5g Yarnlings we have! I’d like to make a Baudot in Askham 4ply as I think it would be really soft and drapey, suiting the pattern really well; and I’m definitely going to cast on Hut Eight soon. That being said, both crochet pieces are calling to me – particularly Tunny with it being a small project, ideal for a rookie crocheter like me. Realistically though, I don’t get very much knitting time. So I will probably go for Hut Eight first because it’ll be quick and I’ll get a cardigan out of it!
Joanne: Och! That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child! I’d love to find the time to knit a Hut 8 in every colour because I’m wearing it so much and its just so flattering. I think its because you don’t have to build the outfit around it, you just slip it over whatever. But I think if I went back to office work I’d be saying that about Colossus. Because of the bolder colours I have to plan what to wear with Morse so I tend to build an outfit around it but I always feel really special when I do. Bombe and Baudot go nicely with my warmest wet weather coat so have been worn daily but when the weather is drier Tunny will pair well with my smart coat. See I told you I couldn’t choose!
RA: Thank you both so much for taking time to chat to me, it has been a pleasure working with you on this collection and I wish you every success with it.
The Bletchley Collection is available now from Eden Cottage Yarns as a printed book or individual printed patterns, both of which include complimentary digital download codes, plus there are kits so you can get to work straight away! Check with your local Eden Cottage Yarn stockist for copies or download digital versions through Ravelry.
Victoria has very kindly offered a copy of the printed book to give away to one of my lucky, lucky readers. All you need to do to enter is reply to this post telling me which would be the first pattern you’d make from the collection. Entries close at midnight GMT on Sunday 8th January 2015 – no alternative prize is available.
All images © Victoria Magnus and used here with permission.
Disclaimer: I worked as the Technical Editor on The Bletchley Collection.