Wednesday 31 December 2014

Traces (part 1)

For my last post of 2014 I want to give you a glimpse of a long - running project - or really a series of projects, under the title of TRACES.

A few years ago I went to Shetland for the first time, and on several beaches I found sea-worn fragments of blue and white china. Much of it I recognised as Willow Pattern - a design which links back to my childhood when my mother used to tell me the story of the two runaway lovers depicted on the plates she collected.
In the museum in Lerwick I found a display about the importance of tea in the Shetland knitting economy, illustrated by a tea table set with Willow Pattern china and knitted cakes.
I started to think of a project that would incorporate the fragments, placing them in to the whole design of the intact pieces in the collection,
I was thinking about the variations in the design on different pieces and how the fragments, some with the transferred design almost completely worn away, represented traces of the lives of people who had used, and ultimately broken and discarded, the china. And about involving knitting, of course. I started to think about translating elements of the designs on the china fragments into knitting, using stranded colourwork which is a technique so closely linked to Shetland. So the china fragments came home with me and ideas percolated slowly in my brain...

On my next visit to Shetland, for Wool Week 2013, I was signed up for Felicity Ford's Quotidian Colourwork workshop. Felicity invited us to bring our 'everyday' inspiration, and she would help us translate it into a stranded colourwork design. Bingo! And so, carefully packed in my hand luggage for the flight to Shetland I had not only the precious bag of fragments, but also the smallest item from my late mother's collection of Willow Pattern - which turned out to be a large and heavy soup plate!

The class was just what I needed to start getting the first design down on paper, and most importantly to start actually knitting it. The Jamieson & Smith palette of colours in their jumper weight Shetland wool yarn provided three perfect shades of blue, as well as the natural white and a soft yellowy beige for some of the stained areas. After a few rows I knew I would have to revise the chart, but I was a bit stuck. Felix carefully considered the problem and came up with a very simple but effective solution. This time the swatch was just what I had had in mind! So Traces 1 was born.

Once I returned from Shetland, life, and other more pressing projects got in the way of any further work on Traces until it was almost time for Shetland Wool Week 2014. I charted another design based on a different fragment - not Willow Pattern, so I will have to look out for the design that this one is from. I restocked my supply of blue and white Shetland yarn, and cast on the swatch. Traces 2 has parts which require three colours per row which makes it more fiddly to knit, but I do prefer it to the sample I knitted using just one shade of blue throughout.

When I got home I wanted to experiment with different combinations of blues, but Christmas was also approaching with the need for some small knitted gifts for friends and family. By starting and ending each swatch with a few rows of corrugated rib in blue and white, and adding a steek, the swatches became mug cosies.
L-R 1b, 1a, 2a, 2b

I worked three colour variations of each design - my favourites are 1a, the very first one, and 2c which uses a greyer blue for one of the contrasts - unfortunately this was just a scrap in my stash and I don't think it is a J&S colour.
L-R: 1a, 2c, 1c

I have more fragments with different design elements to work on, and also ideas for using the designs in different projects, so Traces will be continuing for some time. Its a great excuse for beachcombing!


  1. Stupendo lavoro Deborah, auguri per un sereno 2015.

  2. Wonderful! Wonderful how everything connects. The colours, the history of you and the island, the wool and the yarns. And your designs are great!