The World's First Knitted Books
Reviews :: click links to read
Following the launch, the Stirlingshire village of Aberfoyle has shown a huge interest and enthusiasm for both books, £600 worth of books have been sold in this village alone. Mostly in our target age group 4-8. The children of Aberfoyle Primary P2/3 have all sent us book reviews, after their teacher read “The Unlikely Flying Object” to the class and it was voted ‘Book of the Week’ by the children.
This has provided invaluable feedback about both books.” Lelooni” is the book being read next week and the kids are really excited about it.
The next book ‘Naebeard’ features Aberfoyle, and we already have advance orders from everyone in the village who bought the first two titles. The orders we have had through our website would indicate that the surrounding towns and villages have become aware of the books, and that demand for them is rising and spreading. This indicates that our awareness campaign is working.
The Unlikely Flying Object and Lelooni by Susan Docherty
I am most impressed by these two very recent arrivals on the children's book scene, which are a delight. The illustrations are powerfully visual, very professional, colourful and imaginative, and absolutely original and innovative, showing Susan Docherty's enormous scope and expertise in a variety of crafts. They must have taken very great skill, vision, time and patience to produce, which is abundantly evident even to an untrained eye!
A huge asset to any library for children of nursery and primary age, these books capture children's imaginations with their imagery, and draw them into the stories, which are witty, whimsical and even contain clever versification and word-play, all of which make the books a valuable addition to any nursery or primary age bookshelf.
Oona Macmillan M.A. (with 32 years' experience in teaching, including Primary and Nursery teaching, and as a principal teacher of English and history in secondary schools, among a number of other qualifications.)
Oona McMillan, Greece
The Unlikely Flying Object and Lelooni by Susan Docherty
I was beginning to despair of finding something bright, original and fun for my grandchildren when I came across Susan Docherty's two recent kids' books. The stories are enormous fun, with, might I add, a whiff of mischief which children love, and some lovely verse and wordplay set them off just perfectly. The illustrations - well, what can one say? As one of a generation who benefited from being taught arts and crafts, I and many of my contemporaries, could not fail to appreciate the veritable feast of wonderful handcraft and the sheer huge volume of painstaking work and skill they must all have involved!
Not only that, the icing on the cake is that the children learn something from the books as they read them (or have them read to them)!
So when can we expect the next of these magic books?
Mary Macmillan (Mrs), Parent, Scotland
NEWS :: click to read
Article from Knitty Magazine
The Unlikely Flying Object | Lelooni
by Susan Docherty
All I need to say to you is Planet Intarsia is inhabited by the Sweaterheads and you'll buy these books, right?
But what if I add that 90% of the "illustrations" in the book are knitted? The characters and most of the backgrounds are knitted in fine detail.
The stories are charming and funny appealing to the kid in all of us. In The Unlikely Flying Object, the Mothership gets lonely on Planet Intarsia and begins creating the Sweaterheads (she's a knitting machine, after all) starting with Salvador Dali because he loves color.
In Lelooni , Leooni, the mischievous moon of Planet Intarsia, learns that practical jokes are not the way to make friends.
All knitters will enjoy the detail and skill that went into creating these books. Creative knitters will be inspired to knit their own book.
Get ready for summer now with an early peek at next season's textile trends.
The first ever knitted books are already a hit with the kids, who love the colourful characters.
It¹s never too early to discover the trendiest textiles for next season, starting with a nosey round London Design Week. Held in up-market Chelsea every year, it's a perfect place for spotting favourite Scottish designers' new collections or just getting a feel for what¹s adorning the most fashionable homes in the coming months.
To show off it¹s luxurious fabrics, Thomas Dare has launched a range of rattan furniture to compliment it's wonderful colonial prints. Scottish sports are brought to the fore with a fantastic range of wallpaper and fabrics from Lewis and Wood. Their huntin', shootin' and fishin' toiles will bring to mind rosy cheeks and Wellington boots.
However fresh air can be tiring, so curl up with the biggest textile trend this year: Knitted books, known as the Sweaterheads. These fantastic creations, which inhabit the knitted world of Intarsia, are the result of knitwear designer Susan Docherty's overactive imagination and were originally meant only for the eyes of her children. She created the whole world of knitted characters and spent 50,000 hours and £100,000 on hand-knitting every aspect of the individual characters, to the sun, wind moon and even clouds and snow. Susan knits without patterns and instead just starts knitting and creating, never quite knowing what's going to arrive on her needles. In her studio there¹s even a knitted and working miniature
The knitted world is then photographed and laid out in story form and it's utterly charming. Children are going wild for it, and there are more books in the pipeline, along with knitting patterns and a possible TV show. Start buying early as these could be the next SpongeBob SquarePants - just with a lot more style.
Olivia Johnson, 27 March 2005
A UFO, or Unlikely Flying Object, was sighted in Milngavie on Saturday 19th February 2005, but don’t be afraid, it was the Mothership, a knitted creation of local children’s author, Susan Docherty.
Appearing at the Milngavie bookshop to help them celebrate their first anniversary, Susan brought along some of the Sweaterheads characters from her first two children’s books ‘The Unlikely Flying Object’ and ‘Lelooni’.
Local children and parents alike were enthralled to meet Susan in person and hear her read extracts from her two new books.
Chelsey Gow from Milngavie came along with her mother Patricia, and was delighted when she got to hold the Mothership and talk to Susan. And Iona, Ross and Alice Macintyre-Beon couldn’t believe their eyes when they met Susan and she read aloud to them from ‘Lelooni’.
Milngavie bookshop owner, Susan Frieze, said,
“We are so happy that Susan could come along for our first anniversary opening and bring some of her wonderful creations.”
“It was wonderful to spend the day in Milngavie and meet the children. The whole day left me glowing inside. It’s so heart warming to see how children love books so much. My next book ‘Naebeard’ is about the Sweaterhead pirate who discovers the most amazing treasure – books. I’m sure the children will love it!”
Casting off into a new career
By Ross McKinnon
A Finnieston woman has spent 18 years creating characters for the world’s first “hand-knitted” books.
Susan Docherty has packed her house full of Sweaterheads – knitted characters – which will feature in the children’s books.
“It’s taken a whole lot of planning and I would definitely describe it as a big project,” said the 47-year-old granny!
“I starting off making up stories for my children about the knitted characters.
“They would then ask me where they came from and I got the idea of creating a word for these Sweaterheads.
“From there, it’s been a long 18 years, my children are now grown up and have children of their own.
“But it’s been worth it and it’s great to be able to launch the first two books.”
The Unlikely Flying Object and Lelooni were launched this week, based around The Sweaterheads, who live in the world of Intarsia.
Although the books are a work of fiction, Susan was determined to ground the storylines in Glasgow.
She said: “That’s one of the most important aspects of the books, I wanted to make them about people and places in Glasgow.
‘The Unlikely Flying Object featured a spaceship which comes to the city and copies people.
“There’s a lot of recognisable places like Scotland Street School Museum, Theatre Royal and the SECC in the books.
“I’ve got enough characters and ideas for 30 books.
‘I’ve already got two rooms in my home full of boxes of knitted characters – I might need to buy a bigger house.”
The books also feature some of the people Susan knows – including a printer who takes on the role of headmaster.
Another Glasgow institution, this newspaper, also makes an appearance.
‘The BBC are interested in developing my idea and I’m hopeful they will run with it at some point.
“The next two installments of the Sweaterheads series will come out in March or April next year.”
Each book costs £6.99 and is available from all good bookshops.
GLASGOW HERALD AUG 1988
By Anne Simpson
Susan Knits up a fashion boom
Designers make their entrance on the fashion world by various routes, some arriving via architecture, as is the case of Ferre and Courreges, while others , like Ralph Lauren, tred their path from the socks counter, or adapt their training as engineers to concentrate on the soft dynamics of the frock.
The late Laura Ashley began her revolutionary career by printing patterns on the kitchen table, and there is a formidable list of stylists, led by America’s Geoffrey Beene who chucked medical school and turned from cadavers to toile’s. But none so far as can be gauged, arrived in quite the manner of Susan Docherty, who in the past year has reached the fashion trade’s attention by way of the oven door.
Susan in her thirties and the mother of four, is a knitter, but a knitter of such witty and skilful invention she is now being wooed by Italian yarn spinners to promote some of their finest products. Her life though is the antithesis of the artist at work in some cloistered atelier. Her studio is scarcely more than a chair at the back of a shop set amid the babel of Glasgow’s commercial life. All of which makes her story more remarkable.
Down among the cookers of her husband’s business, she composes her fanciful high fashion knits, simultaneously juggling knitwear orders from Japan with making up staff wages and dealing with requests for hotplates and eye-level grills. Her clientele move warily through the crowded premises but what they find among the electrics is exceptional, albeit untrained talent with a ball of wool.
What makes Susan Docherty’s work special is that she is much more than someone with a pleasantly marketable aptitude for knitting. Her designs display an instinctive creativity, a strength which when tested by her own flinty discipline and criticism can overcome any lack of formal apprenticeship and learning.
But in the beginning the urge to knit was simply therapy. Two or so years ago Susan was in the grip of depression and like many women so cursed turned to shopping for distraction. “I’d always spent a lot of money on clothes,” she say’s. “And on this particular day I wanted to buy some quality knitwear. Well I must have been looking a terrible mess because the assistant more or less suggested that I was in was too sophisticated for the likes of me.”
Out of defiance as much as anything else, the notion struck Susan Docherty that she should make up a sweater of her own. “So I marched off to a wool shop , scooped up enough yarn until the weight felt about the same weight as a jumper, then I went home and started knitting a white angora top which I decorated with pearls.”
An effective style of course, is it’s own best advertisement as soon as that sweater was seen requests started reaching Susan Docherty’s door, but really that first design was nothing more than me teaching myself to shape a garment. Then once I got going I discovered graph paper which makes the technical side of knitting much easier.
But it was fair exposure, which rolled in the significant orders. Leading to commissions from two illustrious yarn companies. Illimani and Filatura De Crosa, plus contracts with a couple of London companies and one with Smith and Telford in Hawick for cashmere destined for Japan. “Quite honestly I cant believe the speed with which these designs are taking off. My husband cant believe it either, because he thought all this hand knitting was simply a hobby. But he has been marvellously supportive. He even enjoyed the first fashion show we had at home, and it wasn’t because the refreshments consisted of 12 different types of curry.”
Amazed but undaunted, Susan now finds her work exhibited alongside that of such fashion notables as Betty Jackson, Georgina von Etzdorf, Timney Fowler and Caroline Charles. “But I’m determined to keep my stuff away from posh shops,” she say’s, “otherwise the retail price would be far beyond most peoples means.’
“And anyway I don’t like the patter they give you in these smart places. If I see a woman choosing a sweater that I feel is totally wrong for her , then I just come out and say so. In fact I told one woman that she’d look like a big fat baby in one particular jumper so I wasn’t going to make it for her, and in the end she thanked me for protecting her dignity.
Its unlikely too that fashion will erode her common sense. She has now entered an exciting world but one too often overloaded with petulance and tantrums. Still, Susan Docherty knows she can keep both her practical nature and creativity intact if she remembers that people need cookers as much as they want sweaters.
KNITTING INTERNATIONAL 1998
Written by The Editor John Gibbon
A TOUCH OF ECCENTRICITY
Anyone who arrives for an appointment wearing a £1,000 dress and carrying another worth, £1,500 in a plastic carrier bag has to be either a little eccentric or very special.
Susan Docherty qualifies on both counts. She is certainly special: A self taught knitwear designer who creates exquisite and exotic hand knitted garments in luxury fibres, she not only has flair, but is also truly innovative.
And eccentric? Well how else would you describe someone who hops into a taxi on a Leicester street and tells the bemused driver ”Glasgow please.” ( She has an air ticket in her pocket,. There’s an air strike on and she can’t be bothered hanging about the airport waiting for the flight.)
From luxurious evening wear and cocktail outfits to day dresses and sweaters. Susan is a prolific designer.
Following a recent commission from one of the world’s top yarn companies for whom she made a show stopping evening dress, she was asked by an Italian spinner to submit designs for garments in their yarns. Within a week she had come up with no less than 60 ideas!
Her imaginative talent bubbles over in everything she does and she certainly has a sense of fun. One of her most admired sweaters features an Old English sheepdog worked into the pattern - and it comes complete with dog tag and dog licence!
The same sense of fun is apparent in the way she uses, feathers, leather, beading, diamante – even curtain rings – in some other garments. Nor are they necessarily only within the reach of the super rich. Susan’s designs start at under £50 and while they may go all the way up to £1,000 plus, there really is something for everyone in this collection.
And she is quite prepared to flaunt convention when she feels justified. Recently she made a one - off hand knitted wedding dress in mohair for a winter bride. That was absolutely unique and certainly special enough to make the bride’s day truly memorable.
Fashion knits are fun knitting International 1986
One of the brightest and most original talents to emerge on the craft knitting scene recently is Susan Docherty whose design flair and style have won widespread praise and acknowledgement.
Based in Glasgow, Susan uses luxury fibres from mohair to silk, embellishing many of her creations with beads, crystal fur, feathers even curtain rings!
It’s not just the imagination she brings to her designs which make them so outstanding, but her sense of fun too. That undoubtedly stems from her own ebullient personality, matched with a real determination to create a successful business.
Next month she stages her own fashion show in Glasgow, an event which is certain to bring her wider recognition.
DAILY RECORD 10th December 1987
By Fiona Black
Some like it hot- and Sue gets the style.
WOW! Granny’s knitting never looked like this. But now you can wrap up warm AND be glamorous as winter woollies come in from the cold… in sizzling style.
Beads, sequins pearls and feathers feature in Glasgow designer Susan Docherty’s box of tricks.
And he mohair wedding dresses, cotton knit cat suits and angora cocktail dresses, all add up to make this an exciting year for the knitwear industry.
“Most of my designs are one – offs, commissioned by people looking for something special,” said Susan from her workshop in Glasgow’s Howard Street.
With it’s sexy new image, knitwear is now as likely to de found gracing an elegant cocktail party as it is a chilly bus queue.
Teamed with lace petticoats, lace skirts or silky leggings, stylish woollens are sure to be seen at all the best parties over the festive season.
And although designer knitwear is big business these days, with almost one in two women enjoying knitting as a hobby, there’s plenty of scope for brightening up your own designs.
So why not take a little inspiration from these slinky stunners and put a little glamour into your needlework.
“It’s terrific having Susan as a sister because I get to try on all her clothes before anybody else and she let’s me keep my favourites,” said Diane. “What’s not so good is when she keeps me standing for hours while she measures me up and makes a pattern.”
Susan’s clothes, which include a vast range of dresses, suits and sweaters, are commissioned on an individual basis from her shop at 54 Howard Street.
Her romper suits start at £89 and for that you get an original work of art.
THE HERALD MAGAZINE 5 Dec 1998
Purls of wisdom
Fed up with Furbys, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan escape to Planet Intarsia to meet the Sweaterheads.
It’s Tuesday, it’s raining. One of those days when you wish you were a million miles away. We’re walking down a Georgian Terrace in the West End of Glasgow. The sky is dull and overcast; the buildings west and dark, their features washed over by the rain. Every door looks the same, but behind each is a very different story, especially behind the one belonging to Susan Docherty. On entering her home, one is immediately transported through a time and space portal to another dimension, a far away plane called Intarsia (the technical name for picture knitting), where the sun shines, the birds sing and the breeze is scented with flowers. No we haven’t lost our kinds, we’re on the set of an exciting new animated series for pre-school children, called The Sweaterheads, which is sure to follow the Teletubbies onto the nation’s screens and achieve mass status (we’re hooked).
The Sweaterheads are the brainchild of Docherty, who wrote the stories and designed and made the sets and characters. The entire planet and its inhabitants have been ‘knitted’ in wool and provide a tactile and visual 3D quality to illustrate her stories. Not until one actually sees Intarsia and its inhabitants can one start to appreciate the inventiveness and skill that have gone into their creation. The stories are imaginative and fun and have an educational content. They are delivered in an interactive way that Docherty hopes children will respond to and find entertaining.
So how on earth did this knitted colony from space come about? “About 12 years ago,” explains Docherty, “I was out shopping to buy jumpers for my kids, but couldn’t find anything suitable, so I decided to try my own hand at designing and knitting jumpers they would enjoy wearing.” The response from friends and family members was phenomenal, and soon Docherty was selling a range of knitted work, which grew to include jumpers for adults, kids, trousers and even a knitted wedding dress! Word spread, and Docherty found herself and her creations appearing in magazine and newspaper features, both nationally and internationally. A business woman at heart, she seized the opportunity to capitalise on this publicity and her creative hobby developed further to become a successful business.
Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get much better, disaster struck- Docherty contracted ME and found herself unable to continue working. Without her input, the business ceased trading and she became virtually housebound, unable to look after either herself or her children. This prompted Docherty’s husband to close down the other family business, an electrical firm, to care for his wife and children. Things seemed bleak, but looking back, Docherty explains that much good has come out of her adversity: “An illness like ME strips you of everything and leaves you with nothing. You exist in a new world where you grow to appreciate simpler things – family, people, love, the things we normally take for granted. You’re given a purer view of life.”
It was at this time Docherty started to write stories that involved the characters that would later become The Sweaterheads, first as bedtime stories for her children, then as a project to occupy her mind during her time of ill health.
Every night, she would dream about the Intarsian’s and their adventures. To illustrate these dreams she would knit; firstly the small characters themselves, progressing to their knitted spaceships, knitted towns and enormous knitted landscapes. Docherty’s family through she had flipped, butt were supportive of a “distraction” from her illness. After eight years of ill health, and as quickly as it had struck, the ME left, providing her with a new lease of life ad giving her the courage and confidence to chase her dreams and share them with us.
Currently, Docherty is in the process of producing an animated pilot programme through her company, Sweaterheads Productions. “I am looking into co-production with a TV production company, but for legal reasons I can’t reveal who I am negotiating with.” She continues, “I was tied to a contract with the BBC, who were interested but had no budget to commit. As this has now concluded, ownership has reverted back to me, which is a fortunate thing, as I can retain a degree of artistic control and hopefully make the programmes here in Scotland.”
Although it would seem to be a commercially viable idea, employing local animators and television crews, Docherty has been unable to secure any funding from organisations such as Glasgow City Council, the GDA or Glasgow Opportunities, so it looks likely that the programmes will be made elsewhere. Docherty did not intend to become involved in television, but now that she has, would not have it any other way. “We all need to fit in somewhere,” she smiles, “and this is where I feel I do.”
So what next for this talented all-rounder? Future plans are to publish The Sweaterheads as a range of beautifully photographed books, which will chronicle their adventures using words and pictures. Also in the planning is a range of accompanying merchandise that will utilise natural materials and be affordable to the nation’s parents by being available ready made or in ‘knit your own’ kit form.
Whatever else this future holds for Docherty; she is content to have found her true vocation in life and appreciates how fortunate she is. “Everything I do is testament to the support and love of family and friends who have been with me throughout the past years. These ‘real’ people are my heroes and the driving force behinds all my decisions.”
So when you’re next walking down the street, on a grey and wet Tuesday and you find yourself wishing you were somewhere else, remember The Sweaterheads…knit one, drop one, purl one and you too could find yourself whisked off to an exciting and colourful world. Think there’s a pattern forming here…?
GLASWEGIAN DEC. 1988
By Phil Millar
A real purl of a story
Susan Docherty knew her knitting was truly rewarding when it saved a wee girls life.
The west end woman behind the amazing Sweaterhead children’s stories and knitted characters originally made up the woollen tales for her children when they were growing up, to entertain and inform.
But one wee girl she knew refused to eat. She became so ill she was admitted to hospital and put on a drip. And that’s where one of Susan’s cute knitted characters came to the rescue...Incredible.
She told the Glaswegian ”One of my young relations refused to eat anything for ages.
So I made up, a story about a Sweaterhead that doesn’t eat his vegetables and fades away.” She believed it so much she started eating again- which was just incredible.”
These funny, strange and amusing characters are real PURLS of Susan’s imagination.
Susan’s Sweaterheads have mushroomed from a personal treat for her four kids to a potential world –wide kiddie phenomenon to rival the Tellytubbies or Furbys.
Her characters live in an almost entirely knitted world, their homes are wardrobes, their landscapes are knitted, and even their moon sun and stars are knitted.
Now they are to star in a CD Rom which will be available for kids to watch on their home computers, an animated film is being made and publishers and cartoon companies across the world are interested in Susan’s children’s tales.
Which is some turnaround for Susan who was laid low for years by a debilitating bout of ME. But the illness which makes you continually lethargic and tired, gave her time to write more of the stories.The Sweaterheads live in the world of Intarsia, a woolly place where characters such as Pimple, Kate Fit and Jersey the Cow run wild.
Susan explained ”I started the stories and characters to tell stories to my children.” “When my kids were growing up every time I needed to teach them anything important, I wrote them a Sweaterhead story. There was one where all the Sweaterheads leave home because their owners bedroom was so messy!
“The stories don’t patronise the children, but they are useful. One character Pimple had to go to the dentists to have a tooth removed because he hadn’t looked after them, the Sweaterheads had a funeral for the tooth, ”And that story about looking after your teeth let to me being endorsed by the Dental Health board.!”
Susan has been knitting since she was six years old. And despite getting no backing from the city council, the GDA or any other potential backer, her ideas have attracted the interest of the BBC and other entertainment companies.
The new CD Rom looks like the firs real interpretation of her knitted world to be available for all.
Kids’ toys these days revolve around gimmickry and play stations, computer games and hi-tech thrills. But these friendly characters hark back to the more innocent days of the Magic Roundabout and Bagpuss.
“Susan smiled: “I know it’s a whacky idea, but the kids love it. The fact is that the Sweaterheads are very friendly characters. “And I’ve always been careful with what I’ve fed to my kids and I think people are fed up with things like the Teletubbies and Furbys.
“This is a much softer idea, it’s not boring, it’s just good fun!.”