Knitted seas.

A long time ago I wrote this post which touched on the idea of connecting places and seasons to specific yarn colourways. I compared some of the fabled WOLLMEISE to the distinctive steely blues and ragged yellow leaves spotted around Weymouth and Portland late that Autumn.

Weymouth, October 2007

Much has happened since I coveted a skein of WOLLMEISE in Budgerigar bird feathers. For instance I have knitted the Lorna’s Laces Seaside colourway referenced in the post into Jaywalkers (that’s a Ravelry link, and those socks now very much darned) and have learned the fairisle technique I was apparently yearning to master back in 2007.

Jaywalkers, knit in Lorna’s Laces Seaside, Spring 2008

I still haven’t knit with WOLLMEISE, however, as my wonderings led me down other paths… into the territories of sheep history, natural dyes, site-specific socks and explorations of the links between the sound of walking and the socks on one’s feet.

Darned toe, Swaledale Sonic Socks, 2010

One frequent theme through all these meanderings is the Sea.

Caller Herrin’, Tam pattern by Kate Davies, 2010

I think the first seas that I really fell in love with was the sea around Clacton (where my Grandparents have lived all my life) and the sea along the South-east coast of the UK (we regularly escaped to Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Hastings, Brighton, Camber, Rye and Folkestone when I was a small girl.) What I think of most of all when I think of the sea is pottering along on my own, just in range of my parents but essentially free to roam around by myself. I never felt a greater sense of space or freedom than when I ran all around the flat stretches of Camber sands during one freezing February day when I was about ten years old. It was one of those extremely bright blue days with a low, savage sun and I distinctly remember watching the match-stick figures of my family in the distance on the empty beach and listening to the soft white roar of the waves. I ran along with the wind on my face thinking my own thoughts, savouring the effect of the the pale sky reflecting off the wet sand, and feeling like I could do anything at all. I recall the distinctive, happy tiredness that followed that day’s exertions, and the richness of thinking and wandering for hours, undisturbed.

I still experience a great sense of freedom whenever I am near the sea and I still enjoy how wide vistas of glittering blue invite daydreaming. The only thing that’s different is that now I find myself using this time to predominately daydream about knitting. There is no shortage of knitterly inspiration for the seaside strider; patterns like Laminaria, Seatangles and Shipwreck all testify with their windblown photoshoots and maritime themes to the wide appeal of the sea to knitwear designers. Also, colourways like Jack’s Beach (produced for Juniper Moon Farm by The Unique Sheep) attest to the lure of sandy beaches, distinctive watery blues and brown, strewn seaweed as rich visual inspiration to the yarn dyer.

But nowhere have the worlds of the sea, yarn, and knitting more neatly collided for me than in Kate’s latest pattern – Caller Herrin’. Starmore’s yarns are the perfect choice for this hat, with their uncanny resemblance to the very places which inspired Kate’s design, and I used almost exactly the same colours that Kate specified in the pattern, substituting only one shade (storm petrel for shearwater) for another in my rendition of this tam. I can relate very much to Kate’s descriptions of falling more and more in love with the Starmore shades throughout the process of knitting this design because there is something very satisfying about watching the blues morph into one another as each section changes into the next one, and because the colours are as vibrantly sensual in the yarns as they are in the coastal landscapes which they describe. I too have fallen in deep, enduring love with Hebridean 2-ply.

At the sound:site event which I co-organised earlier this year, Chris Clarke of the British Library said that one of his favourite UK SoundMap revelations is that the sea doesn’t sound the same all around the UK. He said that before the UK SoundMap, he felt he knew what ‘The Sea’ sounded like, but that now – with so many regional examples to compare – he realises that different places have distinctive, sonic qualities. I think this is true for colours and shades; for the wavelengths of light as well as of sound. Maybe this is how Stamore is able to capture an extremely specific resemblances between her yarn shades and the places that she writes about in the Hebridean 2-ply colourway stories on her website? However it works, knitting with Kittiwake, Solan Goose, Pebble Beach etc. makes me yearn to travel Northwards…

…One of the things I found totally amazing about Miami was how different the light was there; how alien the sea seemed when compared to the freezing blue seas of my childhood and the bright, steely blues of the south coast in the UK. It’s still the Atlantic Ocean, but in Miami the light which reflects from it is pink and gold.

Miami beach, sunrise, 2010

In contrast, Kate’s pattern in Starmore yarns describes a cool, blue sea, riven with blue-brown fishes. Knitting it recalled for me many maritime adventures. The beach at Tenby, when Mark took me to catch my own mackerel for tea in 2009; the comfortless exhileration of the pebble-beach at Cuckmere Haven where Mark and I made wild bread in a wild storm; the variegated blues of our New Year’s walk around Lulworth Cove at the start of 2010; and of course the joy of the Dymchurch beach walk which inspired the Swaledale Sonic Socks.

Mackerel I caught, 2009

I love, love, love this pattern; it is very easy to memorise the repeat, and there is something mesmeric about watching the fish-scales appear. The hat reminds me of shells and of waves as well as of fish… of certain aspects of light and water, and of the indescribable pleasure of the sea with all its colours. Knitting along with the yarn in my hands thinking my own thoughts, savouring the effects of blues and whites merging, I felt that familiar feeling of pleasureful meandering; like I could do anything at all.

Pattern: Caller Herrin’
Yarns: Alice Starmore’s Hebridean 2-ply
Needle: 3.25mm 40cm circular
Ravelled: here

12 Responses to Knitted seas.

  1. Mark says:

    Gorgeous post Felix, and I especially like the photos of you (and the mackerel)

    I was lucky to grow up with the sea down the end of my road from the age of 9 and spent many sulky teenage days tramping over the windswept clifftops with a dog, an army surplus coat, skinny roll-ups and thoughts of unfair parents and world domination. You are right – there is something about the wind and sea that really does make you feel like you can do anything.

    As someone who suffers the effects of passive knitting I am happy to report that you have been at your happiest knitting this hat – unlike those awful toe-last socks you are doing that boil-up a very dark cloud in the living room over the course of an evening. Progress has been swift and the only side-effect on me has been to indulge in appreciative murmurings at your frequent “look, look” moments!

    Cheers, Mark xxx

  2. JoannaD says:

    What a beautiful post. I need to read it again to do it justice. My stomach did a little somersault at the sentence ‘the sea doesn’t sound the same all around the UK.’ And I can so identify with running along the beach ‘feeling like I could do anything at all’. Now a question: I am in love with Caller Herrin’. Do you think it is suitable for a first foray into colourwork, or should I try something simpler first? And finally I must say that I also LOVE Mark’s comment above. I am still giggling over the concept of ‘passive knitting’.

  3. Kate says:

    What a wonderful post. It was a joy to recall wandering around the wintry seascape of Dymchurch with you, and I found your writing about the combined effects of water and light very powerful and evocative. I am so pleased you enjoyed knitting me hat – and your fish-heid looks superb!

    Re: Mark’s comment above, I do not like the sound of these toe-up socks of DOOM!

  4. Jo Spittler says:

    A fascinating post. I miss the sea and can go along with all you say. I love your blog so much as I do Kate’s, you both come across as such wise and fun people. Thanks for all you share!

  5. Liz T. says:

    Hat looks gorgeous – I love the fish scales/stylised little waves effect. I’m intrigued about the socks of DOOM – that’s some pretty dramatic knitting that conjures up its own weather system.

  6. Jo Spittler says:

    My first comment seems to have got lost! Just wanted to say what a lovely post. Lovely memories of the sea come back. Love how you – and Kate – integrate that into your knitting.

  7. Anna says:

    Love this post! Ought to be get round to writing one of my own about the seaside places I’ve found inspirational for my knitting – the beaches at Tankerton and Whitstable, where I grew up, the amazing beaches at Holy Island in Northumberland, and the azure waters off Harris.

  8. Lara says:

    I love love love this post and have been reading, rereading and mulling over it on my way into work this week. There are so many things I love in this post – the amazing sea adventures that are documented and the picture of the Atlantic in Miami looks beautiful. (I’ve always marvelled at the steely blue seas of the south coast and the beautiful crystal blue water near the Isle of Scilly as they don’t remotely look like the same sea!)

    The sea is amazing – I’ve always found it immensely inspiring and been exhilarated by many a walk along a beach. I still am certain that I am destined to live by the sea (probably in Cornwall).

    I love the idea that the sea doesn’t sound the same – I’ve got an old tape recording of the scillies which I bought from a potter who lived on the islands and he always argued that the field recordings he did on different islands sounded very different (which was true in the tapes I have) because each island had different birds etc. It also reminded me of my shipping forecast book where a photograph has taken an shot in every area of the shipping forecast – it would be awesome to do as a series of sound recordings.

    Finally, I berloody love the hat – genius pattern and looks gorgeous on. As predicted am itching to have a go (although am concerned by my insanely tight colourwork!)

    P.S I love Mark’s description of passive knitting and Liz’s comment about socks creating their own weather systems. Both made me chuckle a lot. CAST ASIDE THE SOCK OF DOOM!

  9. Wendolene says:

    I cannot back it up with my own experience, but I have no doubt whatsoever that the sea sounds different in different places. Thank you for a lovely post–I particularly like the BIG photos!

  10. colleen says:

    This took my breath away, just like when a sharp wind on the beach in winter hits you and makes you laugh and sniff and feel the strength of the sea all at the same time.

  11. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Brenda’s Mitts

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