“There is a saying in Shetland that the longer the end of the yarn left over after casting on, the longer it will take to complete the garment” (Sarah Don, The Art of Shetland Lace, 1980, p25)
To this end, after reading this line, I continue to take a random chance without any hint of calculation and guess the length of yarn I may need each time that I cast on for hand lace knitting. Never once have I guessed the length correctly and either cast on in the hope that the length will be enough or, as mostly, I have over calculated leaving a tail left over. This line of text both fascinates and maps a story. An interpretation could be that a knitter’s overall experience and knowledge is marked / judged by their calculating the right amount of yarn that would be required for the amount of stitches to be cast on. Additionally, maybe when money and hand-spun yarn was scarce, the quote could have been born from careful frugality.
I imagine the sideways glances in a group gathering to knit together many years ago, at the cast on edge of each other’s knitting, and that the cast-on tail’s length did not go unnoticed.
I’m interested in process. I think I was working to a definite idea of a finished product but not now (it moves and flows like water) but my initial inspiration remains strong. Patience has grown to see what can or will evolve from what I am doing – allowing the process to dictate the end product. This has never been more apparent than when I tried to recreate a Spencer Vest both by hand and machine knitting. My Charity shop Spencer Vest purchase seemed such a simple utility item yet when you hold it and open it, you can see that it is skilfully knitted in the round with grafted shoulders and simple shaping to create a cared for design. I am in love with a simple vest that is far from simple.
I can knit, right? So I put a call out on a large facebook knitting group that I was a member, for a Spencer vest pattern so that I could understand its process. So many answers, all interesting but nothing was thrown up like the vest that I could hold or calculate. Ideas and patterns came in so I set to and knitted the front of a vest in a half size and liked it. I thought I could translate it on the domestic Silver Reed machine and came up with a forced, broken, unattractive disaster in which I learned that I was trying to make the machine do something that I could do by hand but everything was wrong. The tension, the shaping, the feel and outcome and at that point, I wondered why I was doing the course at all. I’d forgotten all I knew before and had no idea what I knew now and I questioned everything. But what came out of this was a discussion and a turning point to change my attitude and find out what can come out of the knitting from a machine without having any prior demand. Just to feel it, live it, make it, remake it, learn from it – warts and all.
Free -hand style knitting took over and the work began to grow a life. But I still wanted to make a vest inspired by the Charity shop vest and by the delicate lace patterns that I had seen in Shetland. I began to learn the processes of understanding how knitting by hand and domestic machine is different and then how power knit on the Shima machines is different again using CAD. I’ve had to relearn everything in a new language. The old knitting patterns are in long lines of words – a code deciphered by charts but the charts are in different languages to CAD.
Here is my new language. In the beginning, it is a story from a pattern library in CAD but a pattern library is not designing – just a starting point to learn how the stitch patterns move the needles to make a lace that will open up into the beginning of another story. It was an exciting start.
The simulations of the patterns opened up how the stitches lie and are formed – I followed their lines.
Until I made my own designs, inspired by Shetland patterns, written in a code that was new to me, opening up another process to the next stage. I knit with my eye and line of yarn like the stroke of a pencil. I’ve always done this with colours, shapes and patterns.
The place I am at now is no different. But I start from a 2D visual design drawing lines and patterns on a computer without any idea of outcome. The CAD process has loosened me up to go back to paper draw with a pen and paint and knitting needles and fine yarn.
I have drawn with knitting needles for years but my current journey is informing the loops and lines without any real end result in mind and this is where the journey takes on its own route.
It is in full circle.