Common’s Drape is my new shawl launched to mark the 175th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset.
The name comes from the poem, ‘On a Heath’,
I could hear a gown-skirt rustling
Before I could see her shape,
Rustling through the heather
That wove the common’s drape,
On that evening of dark weather
When I hearkened, lips agape.
And the town-shine in the distance
Did but baffle here the sight,
And then a voice flew forward:
Dear, is’t you? I fear the night!”
And the herons flapped to norward
In the firs upon my right.
There was another looming
Whose life we did not see;
There was one stilly blooming
Full nigh to where walked we;
There was a shade entombing
All that was bright of me.
Heathlands are an environment which loom large in the works of Hardy. Most notably Egdon Heath is the setting for the Return of the Native, the first of Hardy’s novels I read (at school) and which sowed the seed of a lifelong love of his work. Egdon Heath also appears in the Mayor of Casterbridge. Heaths were not simply a physical environment, although Hardy’s work renders them a robust physical presence in his work, but also a place that shaped the emotional and psychological nature of its inhabitants as much as they shaped it through sparse habitation and gorse cutting. Hardy was less interested in ‘natural’ landscapes than he was in lived rural environments, focussing on the impact of, for example agricultural practices. Whilst there was a small amount of healthland near Higher Bockhampton, the fictional Egdon Heath is identified as covering a much larger area, such that its expanse contributed to the isolation it could create in the lives of characters.
Hardy ordered his novels into three categories, one of which was ‘Novels of Character and Environment’ which included The Return of the Native, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Far From the Madding Crowd. This descriptive category reflected an interest in the relationship between human agents or characters and an environment with agency, which played an active part in determining the lives of the characters that inhabited it.
Much of the land originally identified by Hardy as part of Egdon Heath has long since been developed. Our school geography trip looking at the diverse geology and habitats of Dorset took us to Bovington, where much of the heath was, and still is, fenced off as tank training ranges and yet more was part of the site of the Winfrith Atomic Energy Establishment, then still operational but currently part way through a 26 year de-commissioning process. Restoration projects are now underway in some areas and Slepe Heath has been acquired by the National Trust.
The Common’s Drape shawl is a wide ‘V’ shape and a result of further explorations in shawl shaping. Knitted top down starting with a garter tab, it combines 3 textured sections with garter stripes. The textured sections are made from small repeats which are easy to memorise and knitted up on 4mm needles, it knits up nice and quickly.
I’ve used Old Maiden Aunt 4 ply Shetland yarn for my sample in the Jasper and Blow Winds Blow colour ways. I was keen to try this yarn so ordered a number of skeins and within a few weeks, three skeins (2 of Jasper and 1 of Blow Winds Blow) had become this shawl and the rest was knitted up too. The yarn base is spun from Shetland wool in the UK into a lovely smooth yarn with a soft hand and gentle lustre. It is then hand dyed by Lilith who layers the colours beautifully. The richness and depth of colour Lilith achieves is really quite remarkable and she wrote about what goes into this process here. I’m aware that I’m gushing a bit here so feel I should declare that I bought this yarn myself and am in no way beholden to give it a good review, but doe believe that credit should be given where credit is due – this is a fabulous yarn – so much so that I had to re-stock my stash when I was at Edinburgh Yarn Festival.
I also want to thank Susan Crawford for the pattern photography and for the use of her farm as the location. The purple shed in the background is where another favourite yarn of mine, Fenella is wound into perfect little skeins. It also provided a pretty good wind break on what was a very blowy day. Thanks also to Charlie for modelling so patient as the wind blew havoc with the shawl.
You can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. (You do not need to be a member of Ravelry to make a purchase from the site.)
The PDF pattern costs £4
4mm (US6) needles
2 x Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 4 ply 50g, 200yds / 183m in Jasper
1 x Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 4 ply 50g, 200yds / 183m in Blow Winds Blow
22 ½ sts x 32 rows = 10 x 10cm (4 x 4 inches in garter stitch.