Anatomy of a design

My daughter Leah is into medieval history in a big way.  For a long time we have been discussing designing a sweater based on medieval motifs.  Leah and I thought that we had come up with an interesting design for a bottom-up yoked pullover with some Anglo-Saxon text worked across the yoke.  We spent a long time discussing texts, colour schemes, yarn choices, etc.  We also discussed shaping and style.  We had picked out a nice, deep red for the body of the pullover, and planned to make the text in a brown wool on a parchment-coloured background in a circle around the yoke.

As an aside to this discussion, Leah asked me whether we could work a small pattern into the pullover, around the neck and sleeves, in gold and red.  She was inspired by Anglo-Saxon jewellery.

The above piece was buried with an Anglo-Saxon princess over 1300 years ago.  This photo, along with a brief description, is from the BBC, A History of the World – an online archive of objects from the British Museum, which you can find here.  Here is another example, the Canterbury Pendant, also Anglo-Saxon, circa the early 7th century.

This type of cloisonné work, using garnet and gold, was popular in the period.  The above photo, can be found, along with a description of this piece, on the webpages of the World Gold Council, here.  If you run a search for Anglo-Saxon jewellery, or for Early Middle Ages jewellery, you will find many such pieces.

Leah asked if we could try to recreate the look of this technique for a narrow colour band around the neckline and cuffs of the pullover.  We searched for some appropriate yarn.  I wanted to use Cascade 220 for this pullover, and we found what we thought would be the perfect colours, which we ordered from Get Knitted in Bristol (along with the brown and parchment colours for the text planned for the yoke).

As they didn’t have all colours I wanted in stock, I waited a few weeks for the delivery.  (They have very nice customer service, by the way.) In the meantime, I had these pictures of Anglo-Saxon jewellery fermenting in the back of my brain.  One day, while rooting around Ravelry (my favorite occupation), I came upon a pattern for a pair of mittens, called Frank, designed by Lauren Osborne.  The Ravelry link is here.

I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw these, they reminded me of the medieval jewels.  I reasoned that one repeat of the design, knit in gold and red, would have much of the same feel as the jewellery I was trying to replicate.  My yarn arrived, and one night, while Doug and Leah sat watching a movie, I cast on a swatch and knit one pattern repeat from the Frank mitten pattern.

Isn’t that great?  Leah and I both fell in love with it.  It wasn’t, however, appropriate to our original conceptions of the pullover design.  The  cloisonné pattern was intended to form a very narrow ring near the neckline, just to add a bit of colour and flair to the main design element, which was intended to incorporate text from a medieval manuscript. This pattern repeat is 25 rows long, and coupled with the width of the Cascade 220 (a worsted weight wool), the resulting pattern was too wide.

However, the more we looked at it, the more we loved it.  Leah and I decided to put aside the medieval manuscript idea for the moment, and knit a pullover based on this pattern repeat, with the inspiration of the Anglo-Saxon jewellery in our heads.  Now we had a lovely band of colourwork, the yarn, but no sweater design.  The original idea, for a yoked pullover, didn’t mesh with this swatch. (The pattern knit in this wool is about 4 inches wide.  I didn’t see how I could incorporate a 4 inch pattern into a yoke without having decreases as an integral part of the pattern.  Furthermore, I didn’t feel as if the yoke was the appropriate placement for this pattern.)  I was left with two options; one, to design a pullover from scratch to incorporate this pattern, or two, to find a pullover design which I liked, into which I could incorporate this band of colourwork.  Again, Ravelry came to the rescue.

I had a pullover in my queue on Ravelry, which had been there for a very long time, always with the intent to make it some day for Leah.  It is the Astoria pullover designed by Marnie MacLean (Ravelry link here).  Here is a photo:

I love the shape of this and, once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop imagining it in deep red, with the gold and red pattern from the Frank mittens in place of the colourwork band.  Interestingly, just as I cast on for this project, Blair – one of the readers of this blog, who is a fabulous knitter and great blogger, posted her Astoria pullover.  Her blog, Blairistan, is great; go read it.  She and I have such similar tastes in sweaters, it is uncanny.

So began Leah’s Medieval Gems pullover. There ensued a lot of math (some of which will be described in the next post) and some knitting, and some ripping, and some re-knitting (some of which will also be described in the next post).

This was followed by some general admiration and photo-taking:

and also much fitting and refitting:

Since these photos were taken last weekend, I have ripped out and reknit the neckline, and am now considering re-ripping and re-re-knitting the neckline.  I have also knit down to the waist, and am about to rip and re-knit down to the waist, adding more waist decreases.  Despite all of the fiddling, both Leah and I are thrilled with how this one is developing.  This has been the anatomy of a design; stay tuned for the rest of the story.

12 thoughts on “Anatomy of a design

  1. You are a very brave woman, and Leah is a lucky girl. I love the design. It’s a lot of work, isn’t it? Makes you wonder how most patterns actually get written and knitted successfully. More power to you!

    • Hi, actually this sweater is coming along really fast. The fair isle bits are pretty slow-going because I am not very good at this yet, but the rest of it is flying off the needles. Hopefully, I’ll have it finished and blocked this week. (Leah’s birthday is next week, so that keeps me motivated.)

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