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.

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