Back at the beginning of December I stated my knitterly intention to spend the Advent period starting and, hopefully, finishing a Tavis Cowl from Susan Crawford‘s latest publication Evolution, using the mini skeins I had dyed myself over the past year as part of my experiments in natural dyeing. So how do you think I did? Did my good intentions get me anywhere?
Well, yes they did. It seems a little bit of intentionality can get you a long way.
I said I may need to dye some extra skeins to get a little more contrast than I started with and that I was tempted to experiment with the marigolds that were coming to an end in the veggie patch. Below is my original selection of yarns and the three additional dyes I added: Blackberry leaf with iron, marigold and persimmon leaf.
I also said that I wasn’t going to impose any rules on myself and when I made that pledge I was mainly thinking about how much knitting I did each day, so that if I wanted to do more I could, and I did. There was something totally addictive about this pattern. The simple rhythm of the pattern itself combined with seeing how the colours worked together really drove me on and I found myself not wanting to knit on anything else.
All that said I did actually impose a rule on myself and that was ‘no going back’. I realised that if I changed my mind about a colour combination and started unpicking the 400+ stitch rounds I would never reach my goal and would be very demoralised very quickly. This is one of those cases where having a rule was so liberating. Once my choice of colours for a motif was made I just went with it and the more I did, the more I learnt about colour combining. I have been known to swatch, and swatch, and swatch, and swatch…. for colour work projects effectively swatching myself into paralysis.
Going with the process in this way meant that I learnt a number of important colourwork lessons including:
- You need to give the pattern chance. When still in the midst of it I thought there wasn’t enough contrast in the first motif for it to work. Had it not been so close to the provisional cast on, I may well have pulled it back and started again. In retrospect, there was much greater contrast than appeared when so close to the needles, it just needed a little more space to show through.
- Colours can look really different depending on the colour they’re placed next too. Motif 4 comprised apricot bark with iron, apricot bark without iron with golden walnut leaf through the centre, on a ground of olive leaf. In the skeins the apricots looked like orange and a dusky orange/brown. Once knitted up friends commented on liking the pink and purple in the motif, and indeed in place they take on a slightly different hue.
- Sometimes colours can surprised you and you like things you previously doubted. Thoughout this project I have repeatedly surprised myself by how much a like these warmer colours that blend together and produce a more subtle pattern. In the past I’ve often striven for really strong contrasts so the colourwork stands out. In this project the very simple graphic motifs with the vast array of shades achieved by natural dyeing from our garden plants has a subtle coherence I don’t think I could every have achieved had I actively tried.
The one thing about using so many colours however, was the number of ends to weave in. I had been gearing myself up for the graft and unpicking the provisional cast on when I remembered the ends.
I could have just knotted them and left them and they would be concealed on the inside of the cowl but I decided to sew them in a little and I think the right side of the fabric benefitted from it. Although perhaps I would say that having invested all that time in the exercise…
Anyway, it was a good job that I had allowed myself to get ahead on the knitting and had factored in some time for the finishing because even with the ends sorted I still had the rather daunting graft to do, this was no small sock toe! Tavis is grafted along the length of the cowl and this was always going to be a time consuming exercise. So, I took my time, and I was really pleased with the results: it was lovely and neat. So much so in fact that I realised I could fold it where I chose and not necessarily at the join.
Once this was done I couldn’t wait to block it and wear it. It took a little longer to dry that I’d hoped so it was Boxing Day rather than Christmas Day before it was dry, but I still consider that a win, and especially so since I’ve been wearing it daily.
I’m not sure any project the year has brought me such joy. It brought together so many special things just at the right time; my garden, love of plants and growing things, the opportunity to that transfer that literally into my yarn, friendship and knitting. These are all things that have got me through this most difficult of years and I also really appreciated having such a wonderful project to work on in the run up to what was for us, like so many, a pretty isolated ‘festive’ period.
Do you have a special project that you’ve worked on this year, one that came along at just the right time and was perfect for how you were feeling at what you needed? Sometimes our crafting takes us out of the situation we find ourselves in and sometimes it is totally a reflection of it. This year I feel so lucky that amongst everything else I had both the headspace to think of this project, and the time and opportunity to actually do it.
Wishing you and yours all the very best for the coming year. Stay safe and take care,