Harefields

When I visited Aunty Hilary in Hospital, I took some knitting with me.

What I took was this hat – Harefields – which I was making for Mark. It is his annual Christmas-present hat, and it was completed for just after Christmas as is now seemingly an annual tradition round here.

The hat is knit in Alice Starmore’s gorgeous 2-ply Hebridean yarn, mixed with some Shetland handspun that I purchased over the Summer. The handspun yarns gleam with a silvery quality, because they are made from oatmeal and grey fleeces and overdyed using plants.

The design of the hat is meant to evoke several, highly-prized sights from our walks together; namely hares, larks, wide blue summery skies, and fields of grain.

Mark near Chazey Heath around the A4074 this Summer, in the most gorgeous field of Barley

Wheat and Barley fields were a major feature of this Summer’s walks around the A4074 road, and on many occasions of walking through fields, we were accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of skylarks all around us. (Incidentally, is it just me or do you sometimes think that the distinctive, high-pitched twitterings of the Skylark resemble the high-frequency melody towards the end of Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness?)

The nightwalks which I did around the A4074 – firstly by myself and secondly with Mark – revealed the habits of some of the hares who dwell around the road. If you wander around the fields between the A4074 and Ipsden at dawn, you might see the pair who raced around the fields in front of us. And if you walk further yet, beyond Brazier’s Park and up into the forests that lead to Checkendon and Chazey, you might see this fine fellow whom I saw at first light in the woods. Apologies for the terrible image quality; I was obliged to zoom in greatly, and the light was dismal.

There is a yarn in the Starmore collection called Mountain Hare which I have included in my design, and although the gently rolling hills of the Chilterns are most definitely not mountains, her account of the changeable qualities of the hare’s colouring resonates with my own experience of the hares I have spotted round these parts. According to Starmore, the Mountain Hare is also known as Varying Hare. When Starmore saw one, she describes how it melded “seamlessly” into a patch of grass and heather and “seemed to be composed of hundreds of colours which shift according to light and wetness.” The hares that I saw at different times around the A4074 seemed to be redder, browner, purplier, sandier or silverier depending on the time of day and the environments in which I found them. For instance the hare pictured above matches the browns and purples in the grasses around him very well as he warms his furs in the first morning light.

I wanted to capture the sedentary state of grace and power that I felt when I saw this animal sitting proudly in the corn, and so the hares in Harefields are seated.

The larks are really more a tiny suggestion of something in the summery blue sky than anything else, since – although I have heard them many times – I have rarely had the opportunity to properly see one at close quarters. Mark likes the way that they dart about in the sky, and so my larks are a very simple 6-stitch motif giving only the most rudimentary hint at birds, and leaving plenty of room for lush summery blues in the background.

The wheat and barley bands which break up the hares and larks are also simple patterns.

The part of the design which needs most work is the crown-decreases section. Mark does not favour a billowy tam or slouchy beret style for his man-head, and so I am obliged to work with a more square-ish architecture. I have always loved Jared Flood’s Turn a Square pattern for this purpose, but for the purposes of Harefields, I wanted to reference the corn-dollies that are created from wheat stems to celebrate the annual harvest, and to create a sense of the design being woven around a central spiral.

My chosen method of decreasing at the crown creates the nice swirling effect I was after, but I feel that its overall effect on the colourwork needs extra work… in the meantime, Mark seems very happy with his (late) Christmas present.

Specs: Harefields hat, pattern to be released May Day 2011!
Yarns: Alice Starmore’s Virtual Yarns in Crotal, Mountain Hare, Golden Plover, Solan Goose, Bogbean, Witchflower, Strabhann and Calluna. Also, pale gold and deep blue shetland handspun yarns.
Needles: 3.25mm
Ravelled: Here

I have attached a mixdown of some recordings I made around the time when I photographed the hare in the field above.

To picture the scene you must imagine it is very early in the morning – around 5am, on the shortest night of the year. You have been walking since 7pm the previous night. The light is arriving at a pace which seems at once very slow and very fast. Although it never seemed to completely fade from the sky, the sun is now definitely encroaching on the dimness above, staining everything pink and gold as it rises behind a hill. As well as lighting the sky, it pushes its pink warmth into your body and you realise you are very cold, tired and thirsty. You hear your breath and your heart loudly in your ears, and the changing light lends a hallucinatory quality to the vivid greens of the trees arching up over your head and before you. The branches above you are filled with the cries of Red Kites, Owls, Woodpeckers, Crows, and many other kinds of birds whose songs you do not recognise. Not too far off, you can hear the traffic gradually filtering onto the A4074 as people awaken and begin their journeys. And as you walk, you see something brown and lithe moving through the leaves to your right. Peering through an arch of branches into a field, you realise this something is a hare and you watch it for a while as it sits motionless in the corn and the rising light. You do not know if it is just waking up, or enjoying a last look at the day before retiring to its home. But you do know that the long quiet of the night is over, and you are surprised by how early the forest wakes.

This is what I was thinking of when I was knitting the hat; I hope it gives Mark many happy Midsummer Dreams when he is wearing it, and that the backstory of Summer walks lends extra warmth during the dingy dark days that are left between now and the end of woolly-hat season.

9 Responses to Harefields

  1. Joanna says:

    Absolutely beautiful. We occasionally see hares here on the edge of the Peak District – on one occasion I saw one leap over a dry stone wall. I find them almost magical.

  2. Liz T. says:

    Fantastic hat – I love the way those colours pop, especially the blues.

  3. colleen says:

    Sitting here as the light fades, I read your lyrical description of the story behind the shapes and colours of Harefields, thought about the hares I’d seen on Sheppey this year (they are truly wondrous fellows), put on your mixdown, listened with my eyes closed and thought of summertime. Filled me up.

    That Mark is a lucky man.

  4. Shandy says:

    I love the blue you have used in this hat. We walk the Essex Way and there are lots of stretches through arable fields just like that. We are never there at dawn though!

  5. Lara says:

    I love the hat – its so beautiful and the story of Midsummer walking is fantastic. I’ve been happily listening to the sounds of your early morning walk and its made me think of lovely summer days and gorgeous countryside.

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  9. Padraig says:

    Josh Wink… skylark. 100%. I first noticed this in the Dublin mountains. My hiking buddies just shift uncomfortably in their boots when I try to convey the tune to convince them. Awkward for everyone really :’)

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