I'm about to light to fire for the first time in six weeks, ironic considering it's the spring equinox. The windows I flung open in a spring frenzy are now tightly shut and rattling thanks to gusty sea winds and threatening skies. Those warm, airy days of the past month teased us with their sun and light - thank goodness I didn't pack away the woollens, it would have been a premature move.
Documenting the seasons is something I've always done in this space. I enjoy the new beginning that accompanies a change in weather; possibilities and opportunities abound. But I'm always aware of my followers in the North who read my words and are preparing, in their own way, for the opposite. Strange and wonderful, isn't it?!
We may be coming to the end of the cool here but I'm still harping on about socks on feet and warm lower backs. Quality knitwear has and always will be a staple in my children's wardrobe but unfortunately my knitting skills leave much to be desired. I'm grateful therefore for designers like Aino Korhonen, creator of the Finnish label, Nieva, who creates warm yet lightweight knitwear that is stylish and nostalgic.
"For me, style is about comfort, functionality and beauty - the feeling of a garment is as important as it looks," she says. "My sons (Pau, 7 and Alvar, 4) are so picky when it comes to knitwear; if a garment is too thick or the wool too tickly it's a big 'No' from them. I have taken note and tried to make products they would approve of and wear with pleasure. Naturally they have been my biggest inspiration from the most practical viewpoint."
A big believer in simple clothes that adapt to every day living (and wear and tear), Aino set about designing a collection of essential pieces with beautiful details. She admits that she prioritises simplicity and deep quality - fragile and precious aren't her thing. "In the end, clothes are to be used as much as possible and they have to be comfortable and functional. For me, it's much more interesting to upgrade the ordinary than to design extraordinary things that don't make sense," she says. Her fall/winter collection has a base of calming, natural hues with a few pops of colours - rose and navy - here and there.
Aino spent a long time searching for the finest yarns available and opted to use two different kinds: a blend of 95 per cent extra fine geelong lambswool with 5 per cent cashmere and 100 per cent alpaca. Wool clothing is essential for children in the Nordic countries and layering little ones is part and parcel of dressing for the season. "When designing it was essential that the knits were lightweight enough to fit nicely under winter jackets and outdoor pants - because of this the designs are quite refined; there's no frills or excessive adornment of any kind. Several products have generous roll down cuffs for extra growing room and we are big fans of sizing up and getting as much as possible out of a garment," she says.
Designed in Finland and manufactured in an honest and fair manner by artisans in Portugal, Bolivia and Finland, the collection is small yet utterly beautiful. I've always dressed the children in vests (they are brilliant at keeping the core warm but allowing play to go on, unencumbered) so when Aino sent Poet and Percy a Woodpecker Vest I was thrilled. I adore the fact that it's reversible, there weren't any complaints about tickling or itchiness and if my judgement is correct, they should fit next winter, too. And then, of course, there are the Cloudberry Socks, which are as delightful as the story that goes with them:
In 1940, Finland was at war with the Soviet Union. A woman called Kertuu Kylmanen was travelling by train with her two-month-old daughter, Tuula, escaping the war. The bombings had destroyed the train tracks and they had to wait several hours on the train. Sitting opposite them was a retired handicrafts teacher. She was worried about the little baby travelling without warm socks and undid some yarn from her own cardigan so she could make a pair of socks for the baby.
Since then, these "train socks" have become a staple amongst Finnish babies. The socks stay well put on little feet and because of the ribbing structure they usually last for the whole first year.