A profusion of cockleshells

At Christmas, Mel sent me an amazing hand-knitted stole.

It is knitted from Jamieson & Smith 2 Ply Lace Weight and Noro Kirameki Singles yarns in a palette ranging from earthy browns and greys through to mysterious, shimmery, pinkish mauves and lilacs.

Mel’s design features the vintage Shetland cockleshell lace pattern of recent Textisles 2 Kate Davies Designs fame. The Betty Mouat Cowl and the Betty Mouat sweater by Kate both use cockleshell lace, and when I stayed with Mel last Autumn, she was test-knitting two versions of the sweater; a short-sleeved version in lush purples and this long-sleeved version in blue milk cotton.

With all those Betty Mouats on the go, there was a lot of cockleshell lace getting knitted through all our chats and the good time we spent with each other and Gordon and Kate and the superlative catfriend that is Moose.

Mel said in the note that accompanied the scarf that knitting it had reminded her of me, because of all the cockleshells knitted back in September during my stay.

I really love the stole.

In the run up to the launch of the Wonder of Wool exhibition at Rheged, I did not sleep for several days in order to get Hûrd – A KNITSONIK™ PRODUKTION made in time for the exhibition launch. Like a woman possessed, I stayed in my hotel room frenetically knitting speaker-cosies, editing sounds and forcing speaker wires into skinny little tubes of knitted i-cord. Unsurprisingly, when it came to the opening of the show I was completely exhausted. The distressing tiredness was bearable, though, because I had friends around me; one of the shepherds whom I’d met turned up to show me his flock book; and I had the stole.

I am very tired in this photo, but also happy because of having triumphantly finished the knitted speakers and because of having the stole. The stole made me feel glamorous enough to deal with being at an exhibition launch and having to speak to strangers in my sleep-deprived state.

One of the many things that I love about Textisles is the history and context which Kate gives to her designs via her amazing writings. Reading the directions for the Betty Mouat patterns in Textisles 2 I remembered reading on Kate’s blog that the cockleshell lace-pattern was often used in traditional Shetland knitting for making stoles.

Today I found what I think is a traditional shetland cockleshell stole in a junk shop near here, and I bought it along with a second piece of knitting – by the same knitter, I think – for a paltry £2.50.

This is a much shorter stole than the one that Mel knit – it will only go once around my neck – and it has that slightly brittle feeling of old wool.

It is unmistakeably the same lace pattern, but it looks so different in these fuzzy, sheepy, Shetland yarns.

What intrigued me about the shorter, older stole when I saw it in the shop, was that the knitter who made it had the exact same idea as Mel re: the middle of the stole. Instead of simply repeating the pattern for many repeats until a decent scarf-length is reached, both knitters have found a canny way of grafting the stitches in the middle so that the wavy pattern extends outwards from the centre of the stole.

I love how different the centre of the stole looks, depending on where that nifty graft is placed.

The vintage piece had a buddy with it, which I felt compelled to buy, because the two pieces of knitting together seemed so clearly to represent a progression of knitterly ideas. I’m not sure which came first – the cockleshell lace stole or this second piece – but it seems to me that they are related in the imagination of the knitter who made them.

Any ideas of what this stitch pattern is?

All of my knitting buddies seem to think as much through physically knitting as through thinking about knitting, and so I feel that the lovely stole that Mel knit is not just a finely-made thing, but also thoughts made manifest about colours and combinations and construction and shades and textures.

They are beautiful thoughts.

I feel really lucky that today I found some tactile history of the cockleshell lace pattern to put beside Kate’s words on the subject and Mel’s contemporary creation.

All the stoles will come with me to Estonia as part of the wool-exchange project in May. The main idea for my month-long residency in Estonia is to exchange sounds, lore and history from the British Wool trade for sounds, lore and history from the Estonian Wool trade. It is going to be amazing.

And yet in spite of the happy prospect of this trip, I have been feeling extremely sad of late.

I am perhaps a little less sad, though, for having a stole to wear which reminds me of dear friends; and for having found some inspiring knitting in a junk shop today.

12 Responses to A profusion of cockleshells

  1. emily says:

    Your “junk shops” are quite the treasure trove at times! Wow! I hear you on the feeling sad of late :/
    Thanks for your wonderful blog… I’ve been lurking awhile and love your work & writing!

  2. colleen says:

    These are indeed beautiful thoughts, and beautiful pieces of work, soothing I hope when you are feeling sad.

    Here are some sounds that you may like from the past hour here: the tinkling, pinging, then light drumming of hail against the windows; thunder, the drip dripping of a leaking roof onto the bed, then into a cooking pot and bowl; cats jumping up from beds; the tapping of fingers on a keyboard; a blackbird singing.

  3. tomofholland says:

    Felix, what a gorgeous collection of shawls. It makes me want to knit cockleshell lace now! Your observation on how two knitters came up with the graft in the middle, so that the scarf/stole is mirrorred, is actually not that surprising to me. It’s a traditional (Shetland?) construction, and when you wear a stole around your shoulders in the traditional manner, with both ends hanging down over your shoulders, you can see why: the left and the right side will now have the same direction (does that make sense?) It’s used when the stitch pattern is directional, which cockleshell obviously is.

    I remember you showed me the scarf your friend Mel has knitted for you, as it left such an impression. Her finishing is absolutely meticulous and her colour choices really do it for me.

    I had a quick rummage through all my lace pattern books, but the unidentified lace stitch is not to be found. But weirdly, the cockle shell is also rather elusive! Although I did find “grand shell” in B Walker’s Second Treasury, which appears to be the same as cockle shell. I shall keep an eye out for the Unknown Stitch.

    I hope this profusion of cockeshell will lead to a profusion of other lovely warming thoughts and feelings and cheer you up.


  4. Joanna says:

    What beautiful knitting and what beautiful words. I have been thinking of you often lately as I have been very busy and having to confine my almost-daily walks to one particular piece of woodland near our home. But I am discovering an incredible richness in returning to the same spot again and again and noticing how not only the sights but also the sounds are gradually changing in response to spring. It is as though the sounds gather pace along with all the more obvious signs of growth on the trees and in the undergrowth. Birdsong becomes more intense and insistent. The woodpeckers drum louder and louder. Also, we have had masses of glorious rain and the sound of the stream has changed completely. I find evenings are particularly rich times for all this listening – it’s like being in a kind of cathedral with a sort of natural Evensong going on all around! Your trip to Estonia sounds amazing – hope you can get some rest and refreshment before you leave.

  5. Kate says:

    Wow – so interesting! And what a find! Tom is right: both about the grafting that is a characteristic Shetland lace finish, and about the “grand shell” in Barbara Walkers dictionary. There are variants of the cockleshell in other Shetland lace books – like Sarah Don’s… I devised my own variant, which is a little less “open” than these, in order for it to work on a garment. I think your found stole uses yos and double yos for the increases, whereas Mels uses kfbs and wrapped sts. It is fascinating seeing the differences in the two stoles.

    Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and speak soon.
    K x

  6. Allison says:

    Thank you for brightening my morning with such pretty knitting! If I may suggest, a nap when one is feeling low is very nice 🙂

  7. CAROLINE says:

    Sorry to hear you have been sad. What beautiful stoles to cheer you up though. Absolutely gorgeous present. Great finds in the charity shop too.
    Hope the knitting can bring some cheer. Enjoyed your happy list too and was glad to be part of it!
    Big love at you and hope you are smiling more…

  8. Meredith MC says:

    What an incredible find. It makes me believe a little bit that we attract what we are- you have been thinking about cockles and then you find some randomly in a junk shop? A little more than random chance maybe. I’m gratified that the junk store stoles found a truly appreciative home. It makes me wonder about all of the needle work that has been abandoned to attics, basements and junk stores. If these items are thoughts, ideas and feelings made manifest, what does it mean that they’ve been relegated to these hiding places?
    Sad to think of. It makes me even happier to think that you’ve rescued not only these items, but the intention of the knitter who created them. Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. K. says:

    How wonderful to hear that you are coming to Estonia! Please let me know if you have some spare time to meet up with additional knitters.

  10. Bethany says:

    The second stole looks to be the same pattern as the first but in stockinette instead of garter stitch, and also possibly with less elongated stitches at the point of each cockleshell where the knit x # of stitches together is.

    I’m a bit late in posting a reply, but was googling Shetland lace motifs and found your beautiful stoles–thought my reply might be of some help. 🙂

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