up next in the “coming home” book is the stunning “canadee-i-o” cowl by Bristol Ivy. i really admire Bristol’s designs – she has a quirky approach to construction and a very clean design aesthetic that really speaks to me, so i was very happy when she agreed to design this beautiful cowl for my book.
When it comes to design inspiration, I often look around at what my peers are able to accomplish in awe (and sometimes with a wee bit of despair). Though prone to wild fits of fancy and daydreaming as a person, when it comes to my design work I tend to be pragmatic, almost clinical even. I love knitting for its ability to represent geometry in tactile form, for being a plastic, malleable artform that takes my “what if?” questions and makes them pretty (or makes them a pile in my closet waiting to be frogged, but that’s beside the point). But when it comes to designing something based on historical context, say, or a painting, or an emotion, or a bouquet of flowers, I am at sea. It’s not how my brain works, much to my disappointment. But the one intangible that I love, that I understand, that thrills me and sets my fingers sketching and my yarn winding, is music.
When Lilith first emailed about this project, she sent me a version of the song Canadee-i-o sung by Nic Jones. Now, I am an anglophile almost from birth, and grew up on a steady diet of folk music from both sides of the Atlantic. I daily exult in this music, in the sense of belonging, the sense of tradition, and the sense of stories told over and over and paths walked by hundreds of feet over hundreds of years. I love how this music is timeless, and the same song can be heard on scratchy wax cylinder recordings and new, spare, haunting orchestrations. This music resonates, the lyrics resonate, and I am whisked away to different worlds any time I hear it. And above any other source of inspiration, hearing this song made sense to me and sent my brain whirling down a new path of knitting inspiration.
In listening to the lyrics, I saw a connection that made so much sense to where I live, who I am, and the places I love. The story is about a young woman who disguises herself as a sailor and sails across the ocean to be with her lover. She is discovered along the way, either, depending on the version, by her lover or the ship’s crew, and as they threaten to drown her, the captain swoops in to save her (and eventually marry her). Aside from the romantic underpinnings that always make me go swoony, I love her fierceness and her independence. I love her determination to cross the ocean and get what she wants. But I also love the thread she brings of her old self, linking it together with her new life across the sea.
I am not far from the landing place for many ships such as the one mentioned in the song that crossed the Atlantic from the British Isles. My home of Portland, Maine was once the busiest sailing port on the eastern seaboard of the United States (and is still a working port to this day), and all along the Maine and Maritime Canadian coast are the choice fishing spots for many Scandinavian and British trawlers. Just like the sense of history that pervades these songs I listen to over and over, I love the sense of history under my feet and around me every day. It connects me back to the people who have walked these same sidewalks for hundreds of years before me, to the people who lived and loved and died in the house I live in 150 years ago, and it connects me all the way across the ocean to the other side of the Atlantic, to miles of fog and a rocky coastline that looks so similar to my own. Though it is hard for a humble piece of knitted fabric to encapsulate all of that, I tried my damndest with the Canadee-i-o Cowl.
First worked flat, the cowl is knit on the bias with an allover texture pattern. Simple, mellow, soothing, it reminds me of the ripple of wind on water or the gentle push and pull of the tide. When the body of the cowl is complete, the cast on and bind off are joined together with a panel of complex cables, interspersed with twists, shifts, and delicate yarnovers to add depth and a bit of wildness to the whole. It was inspired by the feeling that a deep breath of Atlantic sea air over a rocky coast gives me, and wish to link the two sides of the Atlantic together both metaphorically and literally. Scottish yarn, dyed in the colors of the clear blue-grey sky over the sea, sent over the waves to Maine, knit up into a warm and snuggly cowl, and sent back over the water to Scotland — sent home. All thanks to a little song about a woman making her way across the sea.
i think this might be one of my favourite patterns in the book (shhhh – i’m not sure i’m supposed to have favourites!) – it’s just wonderful to knit. the long strip for the main body of the cowl is worked in a simple knit and purl pattern, then (just when you might be thinking it’s all too easy!) the deeply textured cable and lace panel joins the two ends together and adds a little bit of a knitting challenge right at the end. it’s also hugely adaptable – since the main body of the cowl is worked first, you can add or subtract length as needed. work the pattern as written, or even longer, for a large double-loop cowl; knit a slightly shorter version to create a shoulder wrap/poncho (as it’s being modelled in the second photo), or knit it even shorter for a deep, snuggly neckwarmer. it works perfectly in the sturdy, woolly corriedale – i’m really happy to have this pattern in the book! you can see more of Bristol’s work on her website or on Ravelry.
p.s. it’s official – the book has just gone to the printers!!! this means (touch wood) that i should have hard copies in my hands by the start of february, which means that the book will be available for pre-order mid-february with books available either for pickup at Edinburgh Yarn Fest or posting mid-march!!! i’ll be posting more about that here later on so check back for more details.