Lanatus: Speedy colourwork that only took a year!

This morning as I was making my to-do list and adding completing this blog post to it, I sidestepped onto instagram and saw that the pattern of my latest completed sweater, the subject of the post, was released exactly a year ago. So, I moved completing this post up my list to mark the anniversary.

The pattern is Lanatus from Susan Crawford’s Evolution collection, and I have to say I fell pretty hard for this pattern when it first came out. It was exactly the sweater I had been imagining in my head, but hadn’t quite found a pattern for. The silhouette was one I knew I’d like based on a 2 previous projects which I’d winged last year, and my Ranunculus. These 3 sweaters had taught me both:

  • how versatile and comfortable a wider more cropped silhouette is – getting the length right is key but once cracked, these garments fall nicely and have both a relaxed and ‘stylish’ look.
  • that I really do like knitting and wearing yoked sweaters as long at the neckline is just right and has short rows to raise the back neck.

So what stopped me from casting on immediately you may legitimately ask.

Well, I did the usual overthinking thing. I tried so hard to work out how I could knit the sweater in the Fenella yarn it was originally designed for, despite not really having enough of any colour in my stash to complete the pattern. Instead I got caught up in trying to think of a colourway that would work using all the little bits of yarn leftover from previous projects. I swatched first one option for an all over colour work version using all the colours, then another and then another. As usual, this level of overthinking and swatching and re-swatching led to paralysis and it never got from these colour placement exercises to the needles. Really, I think I simply started out so set on knitting the perfect sweater, in the perfect yarn, that I couldn’t see beyond that goal. I’ve said many times before how much I love Susan’s Fenella yarn for colourwork. I used it for both my Vaila and Yule Cardigans from the Vintage Shetland Project. I love the slightly lighter weight of it which creates a lovely fabric and the colours are just amazing.

In the end however, all I was left with from all this experimenting was a pattern full of notes and some swatches. Until, that is, it eventually occurred to me that if I just got on with it and substituted the yarn with yarn from my stash that I did have enough of, I could knit it the simpler 2 colour garment as designed!

Once that occurred to me it was plain sailing and I have been wearing my Lanatus almost constantly since I finished it. While friends pulled my leg about knitting a woollen sweater during this years unseasonably warm spring and just in time for summer, I actually finished it just in time for an unseasonably late cold snap during which it has been the perfect layering piece.

One of the things I do like about knitting is that it is full of teachable moments. Despite being a knitter for 40 years or so, there is always more for the knitter to learn about the craft, and knitting also seems to have a way of teaching the knitter about themselves.

This project was a case in point. The knitting lesson that I shouldn’t really have had to re-learn, yet again, but which never fails to astound me – and here you can decided whether the teachable moment is about the craft or the knitter and then insert your drumroll or ‘doh’ – is:

How quick is colourwork knitting!

I really do already know this, but it’s the kind of knowledge that fades into a hazy memory in the days after the completion of a project ready to catch you off guard next time around.

So for example, the yoke on my Lanatus (size Large) took a week, you see why that surprised me?

I’m still not sure, and not scientific enough in my approach to know whether:

a.) I’m just a speed demon when it comes to colourwork, or,

b.) The compulsive response to seeing the pattern emerge, means I actually knit more concentratedly during that part of the project, stealing time from other activities to squeeze in just one more round, in a way that I don’t when working the simple stocking stitch of the body.

If forced to choose between these two hypotheses, I probably go with the latter…

I have to say during this pandemic I have experienced glimpses into the world of monogamous knitting, a world in which things actually get finished. I would never have thought it but I’m feeling the pull of this world, gently tugging me away from the ‘cast on all the things’ world of my pre-pandemic knitting…

…and it’s not just knitting, I have also found that more a concentrated focus on completing tasks, whether they be the 2 minute jobs on my to-do list or knitting and entire large sweater within 3 weeks, has become one of my most relied on, and sustaining, coping mechanisms.

As I said above, I knit my Lanatus with considerable ease, much more than I’m used to. This was one of the things that drew me to the pattern, but also made me a little nervous. Lanatus is designed to be worn with 4-8 inches of positive ease, i.e. the final garment is 4 to 8 inches bigger than your body measurements. Given where I fell on the size range I had the option of knitting it to either 4 or 9 inches of positive ease. With a little trepidation I went for for the 9 inches. 4 would have been nice, and well within my comfort zone, 9 was uncharted territory, but something I wanted to explore.

As for my yarn choice, the thing I got so caught up in initially, the yarns I chose were what you might call “modest’ yarns. They were unlabelled, unbranded coned vintage woolen spun yarns that knit to a slightly lighter gauge that modern jumper weight wools. Perfect substitutes for the Fenella which itself was designed to replicate vintage garments knit in these slightly lighter yarns.

Both yarns were inexpensive yarns, bought in charity shops. Their price, I would argue, reflecting a wider under-valuation of such yams and perhaps knitting itself in this retail sector, one which can be advantageous to the thrifty knitter. This however, is where the modesty of these under-appreciated yarns ends. The richness of colour in both yarns may be hard to fully grasp from in pictures taken on a grey day, but when the sun comes out not only does it shine, so too do the many shades and hues of colour that make up these yarns.

The darker background colour presents purple, but on closer inspection combines, blues, reds, teals, and turquoise. The natural looking pale colour for the motifs is actually made of a strand of yellow and one of a grey blue colour plied together to create the subtlest marl.

While these yarns are not placed based yarns in the way that we’ve come to understand it, they do have stories that place them.

The purple yarn was a panic buy from the Age Concern shop in my home town. I was at my Mum’s last March and as the UK lockdown was approaching and I was repeatedly booking myself onto flights from the UK back to Italy that were then cancelled within hours. Amongst this we popped into town to make sure Mum was stocked up on books, puzzles and knitting yarn for what we envisaged would be a short, sharp lockdown (!). I had already bought a skein of Regia Pairfect from the local yarn store, but my worst case scenario imagination was nagging that if the flights continued to be cancelled every time I booked one, I might be stuck in the UK for longer than it would take to knit a pair of socks. However, my brain wasn’t really in a place to focus on a more significant project. So when I saw this cone of nice purple, slightly grubby and a little bit crunchy yarn I seized upon it. I knew from experience that it would most likely bloom and soften beautifully once washed. There were no loose strands that suggested it had been chewed at, and in the circumstances I thought £2.49 constituted a good price and one I wouldn’t need to chide myself for if my impulse didn’t amount to anything.

As it was, I made it back to the Italy as did my emergency cone of yarn. Re-united with my ‘wider’ stash, it sat for a year while I was knitting lace weight garments, some with added mohair and a number with a similar silhouette to Lanatus in simpler stripes and colourblocks. Pretty low investment quite experimental projects for me, I found these the perfect knitting distraction for the times we were experiencing and what’s more, these are the garments I’ve been wearing most and really enjoying since.

Returning to the Lanatus pattern I decided to go for a strong contrast and looked in my stash for a yarn that would work alongside my purple cone. The paler colour yarn emerged as the front runner. This too was a cone yarn, but there was much less left on the cone, but plenty for my purposes. This was bought from the Trinity Hospice charity shop in Blackpool for £1.00 some years ago. It was those two different coloured strands plied together that sold it to me then and attracted me back to it now.

Again an old cone yarn it was a bit dusty and crunchy but, like the purple, when I skeined it up and washed it prior to knitting, it bloomed beautifully. You can choose to knit straight from the cone and wash your work afterwards, but I think the little bit of time spent washing and drying the yarn first pays dividends in terms of the enjoyment of the knitting process. It also means you find out if there are breaks in the yarn or brittleness before you start. I’ve rarely found this to be the case and find that a little wash and condition does wonders for the hand of the yarn.

As such my Lanatus represents 2 special places for me. I both worked and, as a volunteer, ran a knitting group for vulnerable women in Blackpool for years before we moved to Italy. It’s a interesting place and many people have complex relationships with this quintessential northern seaside town. I went to work there because the town had a high level of drug related deaths. Far from the glitz of ‘Strictly‘ and the Tower ballroom, the town had high levels of poverty and deprivation, with the significant health inequalities and mental health needs from early years to older age that so often accompany such poverty and inequality. There I met and worked with some wonderful, totally committed people who repeatedly believed in our client group and would go the extra mile for them. I also met and worked with some amazing clients who despite the challenges and hurdles they faced, overcame them, often slowly and stutteringly, and then soared as they cemented their own recovery and went on to support that of others.

These are the stories my Lanatus holds for me. They are stories of people and place rather than sheep. The sheep who contributed their fleece to this yarn are long gone. The environmental impact of turning their wool into yarn is already written on our environment. Using this yarn is a statement of respect for both. It is also a demonstration that stunning wool yarn need not be a luxury product accessible only to a few. It also need not be substituted with cheaper synthetic yarns with a greater and more recent environmental impact.

I love how my Lanatus turned it. I’ve been wearing it so much. It’s perfect layered up for when I’m volunteering at the community library here in Siena, housed in a building that is routinely colder inside than out, and it’s great for when I venture out too. It’s amazing how it manages to be both warm and cool as needed. I’m already planning my next Lanatus. I’m thinking of combining the smaller size, with 4 inches of ease, and the charts from Ganson from the Vintage Shetland Project, and perhaps this time will go with more colours in the yoke. This time there won’t be quite so much expectation riding on the project and instead I can try to reproduce the positive aspects of Lanatus and the experience of knitting it, while producing a visibly different garment in colour, style and fit.

Do you think it will take me another year to get round to it? Do you have projects that have taken a bumpy road from inception to completion but that you love and contain so much of yourself and your values as a knitter? If so, I’d love to hear about them below.

Until next time, take care and happy knitting,

Tess xxx

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