Christie Johnstone

This sweater is all about colour and pattern. I have already mentioned the unconscious influence of a blanket, but, in a conscious way at least, what I was inspired by were the shor’ goons (short gowns / blouses) that were worn by Newhaven fishwives. I’ve seen a couple of surviving late nineteenth-century examples, which are made of strippit (striped) or stamp-patterned linen, in soft pinks and greens (the colours of these garments would have been much more vibrant a century ago, of course). I’ve also seen some more recent examples, which, until a few decades ago, were worn as part of the gala costume of the women of Newhaven. These similarly feature stripes, sprigs, chevrons, or polka dots in a vertical arrangement, but are made of lighter, more delicate cottons (as would befit something worn for ‘best’ rather than work). In many different visual depictions of fishwives, the fabric of the shor’ goons is generally shown as cream or yellow, while pinks and greens predominate in the patterning. Here are a couple of examples.

(detail of J M McGhie’s portrait of Jessie Hughes, “The Fisher Lass” (c.1900))

I did not, in any sense, set out to make a shor’ goon, but rather wanted to design something that was suggestive of the pleasing colours and patterns I’d seen used on those garments. After a while with my Jamieson and Smith shade card, I settled on a faded, feminine palette, that I built around shades 2008 and 72.

I wanted to use a very simple repeat that had, like the patterned shor’ goons, a bit of vitality and movement. I settled on a frequently used peerie that I’d tried previously on this hat. I find this a particularly fun peerie to work because of the way it does a lot with very little. It is a multiple of five stitches, and each round is the same, basic 3×2 multiple, arranged in different ways. Essentially, all you have to remember is one round and where to place it.

I set myself a couple of other simple design-tasks, too. The first was to keep the pattern as continuous as possible through the shaping. You may remember my conundrum with the side-shaping of the Tortoise and Hare sweater. Here there are also convenient blank rounds in which to add the shaping, but, unlike the Tortoise and Hare with its long repeats, one can keep the pattern entirely continuous simply by increasing in multiples of five. Unlike many other Fairisle sweater designs, the incorporated shaping used here is very flexible, as one can adjust it to meet many different kinds of body measurements. There are some small losses in the sweater’s vertical arrangement (which the eagle-eyed will note is slightly different between the waist and bust because of the way the increases affect pattern placement) but this is, I think, offset by the considerable gains one makes in horizontal continuity. There is a six inch difference between waist and bust measurements, but no ugly pattern breaks at the side ‘seams’!

(I know you like to see how the sweater is shaped, so please excuse the shot of my armpit and its grafted stitches. Some stretching is inevitable there. )

My other task was to get the pattern to line up perfectly. This can be tricky with a multi-coloured allover pattern worked from bottom-up: one must knit exactly the same number of repeats for both sleeves and body before joining them together. My arms and body are reasonably proportionate, but this is not the case with everyone. One does not want a sweater whose patterns match up nicely, but which is finished off with half-mast sleeves, or a too-short waist. This sweater solves potential problems with proportion by casting body and sleeves on provisionally, then working the corrugated ribbing downward to the required length(s) when the rest of the garment is complete. See how the peeries match up on arms and body? I am all about small knitterly pleasures. . .

The neckline is square-ish, and formed with a steek, while the sleeves (sitting somewhere between raglan and set-in) are shaped to the yoke with lines of centred double decreases. By this point, I was so obsessed with keeping the peerie colours continuous, that I decided to work them across the decreases. This is a fudge which keeps (to an extent at least) the illusion of horizontal visual continuity, but I’m not sure about the final effect. It is possible and perhaps preferable to work the decreases as a sort of faux ‘seam’ in the background colour. It will probably look neater, and so I am considering it for when I write up the pattern. What do you think?

These pictures were taken at Cellardyke during our walk on Saturday. Despite the photographer’s quips about the shor’ goon in the shor’ goon, I love the colours and patterns of this sweater, and am really rather pleased with the design.

I shall shortly enter full on pattern-writing mode: first of all, Deco waits to be completed, and then I shall refine the design of this sweater, which will be called Christie Johnstone. This comes from Charles Reade’s 1853 book of the same name: a rather dodgy novel, but an incredibly interesting and influential publication. Christie Johnstone was Reade’s representation of a Newhaven fishwife who, in many ways, set the bar for the curious way in which these working women featured in Victorian popular culture. Tourists flocked to Newhaven in search of Christie Johnstone; men fell for the very idea of her, and women copied her distinctive ‘costume’ in their fashionable attire. I’ll hold fire on the rest of my thoughts about Christie Johnstone, as I intend to write a short piece about her and her peculiar place in the history of fishing and fashion – the sort of thing I’ve recently been producing for Rowan or The Knitter – which will accompany the pattern when it is published. More of this anon. In the meantime, you can find the sweater’s specs over on Ravelry.

90 thoughts on “Christie Johnstone

  1. That is quite, quite possibly my favourite design of yours. I have a very different body shape to yours, though, so I need to ponder how I can incorporate bust shaping whilst retaining that pretty pattern..

  2. Love it…found it on Ravelry in the early hours of a sleepless night…and it made me smile.

    I hate clothes with non-matching patterns , probably because my grandmother always made her fair isles match back in my 1950s childhood and Dad taught me to cut fabrics to match. I remember her knitting cuffs down but don’t remember how she picked stitches up. I replace worn cuffs on favourite hand knits by picking up and knitting down.

    As I need a new jumper this one is top of my list…and I promised myself a trip to Shetland to buy wool in celebration of this year’s landmark birthday. It’s too long since I last visited and your trip made me yearn. I’m thinking that will save me postage..teehee, haha……

  3. I just spent an inordinate time starting at the picture of your…chest. But I finally see what you mean about the pattern not lining up vertically, and you’re right about the horizontal pattern being strong enough to not even notice the vertical jog. I’m curious about the increases. Do you do a clump of increases at the side seams? Space them out over the plain row? This is an instance where I just want to read through the pattern to see how you do it!

    Remember how we both were knitting diamond patterns at the same time? Well just the other day I was in a vintage clothing store and saw a hand sewn dress with a fabric design that I thought would translate well into a colorwork pattern. Of course, it was eerily similar to this new sweater of yours. Weird!

    1. In this instance I alternated the increases around the side ‘seam’ point on each plain round: 2 on the left, 3 on the right; then 2 on the right, 3 on the left. I want to see the fabric of that dress! Don’t suppose you took a sneaky pic?

  4. I just discovered your blog, it is full of life and colour, I love it.
    This sweater is superb, as many others of your drawings.
    I will follow you with interest.

  5. Beautiful! I love all of the thought you put into the shaping details (something I’m rather obsessed with in my own knitting). I’m so excited at the prospect of this pattern!

  6. This is a perfect example of the fact that sometimes simple is better, it’s perfect! I love this sweater and I totally understand about wanting the pattern to be continuous around…..

    I too struggle with this type of stuff in my knitting as I love stranded (aka fair isle) type knitting. Lately I’ve been thinking that sometimes strict symmetry is not necessary – the Lidiya scarf and dress in Rowan 48 got me thinking about this — a small pattern, repeated allover – but each repeat is just slightly off the other – at first it annoyed me to no end and I REFUSED to knit it LOL…..but others in my knitting group are knitting it and it is lovely…..and slightly unexpected…..which adds great interest.

    Right now I’m knitting a large and complicated repeat – and I had to make some decisions – I chose to treat it like fabric – center the pattern on the sweater, horizontally as well as vertically – and let the side “seams” fall as they may…..I’m wondering now if a purl stitch side seam would have added to the illusion – maybe next time.

    Thoroughly enjoying your blog….can’ wait for your new patterns.

  7. Nice. I never realized how much thought goes into the design process. Always pictured it as a more sprung full-blown from the head of Zeus sort of thing. Dumb question, but why do fair isles always have to be in carpal tunnel inducing needle sizes?

    1. I was on verge of ops on both hands for carpel tunnel but course of craniosacral therapy treatment means I no longer have pain. I was lucky enough to get it on NHS. It’s several years since my treatment and I no longer work as a puppeteer which did most of damage. I knit a lot and mainly on small bamboo needles.

      1. Wow, Laura. I had carpal tunnel from pounding a keyboard as a biz journalist. And, did acupuncture for the pain. When I left the job no more pain. But, I don’t like to use 3mm needles for anything but socks, which I do very seldom.

  8. Lovely sweater. Your designs seem to give me a nice and calm feeling.

    It is encouraging to see that it’s not only me who try to do waist shaping without disturbing a fair isle pattern too much. I’m planning to knit a cardigan in the traditional Norwegian Fana pattern, but will definitely want some waist shaping. I think I know how to do it, and your method mostly confirms my theories.

  9. I am so pleased that I now have not one, (deco) but two sweaters to look forward to knitting!!!

    The colours you chose are just lovely and I have a feeling J + S may find themselves inundated with orders from your fans!!

  10. I think the continuation of the peerie pattern on the yolk decreases is fantastic. It lines up beautifully on the upper pink row. I love the pic of you and Tom!

  11. Lovely jumper and pattern and made more interesting with the historical background.

    When I saw the photo of the ‘Musselburgh Lassies’ with their matching blouses and pockets the pattern of the pocket made me remember seeing something similar on Antiques Roadshow. It was a pocket made to be worn under a long skirt and had the same construction, cut in a curve but flat with a slit opening. A reference was made back to the nursery rhyme ‘Lucy Locket lost her pocket’. From what I remember the shape was the same only the wearing was different.

  12. I love the softness of the colours – slightly faded and wonderfully quiet.
    I wonder if the ‘bait’ referred to food rather than fish bait. I have heard of packed lunches or ‘pieces’ referred to as bait and wonder if there may be a connection.

    1. I like your armhole shaping solution, a background interuption for the shaping is far too ordinary for ordinary.
      Lovely pattern, will there be child sizes too?

  13. Ooh, two posts since I last checked you yesterday morning! Loved the Fisheries Museum report – another addition to the “where to go when I get to go” list.

    Your pictures are striking, especially the shot of you against the bright buildings and the blue-gray sky. The sweater palette and shape are great. Yes, pattern on sleeves must align with pattern on body. I don’t mind a faux seam in background color, however – in fact I rather like it. And could you tell us something about your handsome gloves as well?

  14. Thank you again for introducing me to the Newhaven fishwives. I’m pretty sure the Boston fishwives were only famous for foul mouths and tight purse strings, but I’m going to look into it. And the sweater is beautiful too.

  15. Oh, dear, I posted my comment about the hat mentioned in today’s blog entry on yesterday’s blog entry. Jumping around from day to day, does tend to make one dizzy. Anyway, I love the hat and bought the yarn from Alice Starmore, just in case you decide to make it an official pattern. Call me hopeful.

  16. I very much look forward to both this design and Deco being available for pattern purchase. I like long sleeved sweaters and didn’t want to modify your Paperdolls or Tortoise and Hare to take away from their original design.

  17. I just recently found your blog, but will now be a regular reader. I love the sweater. I can tell you put a lot thought into the design and construction. The final result is stunning.

  18. gorgeous! i love the colors, of course, and the square-ish neckline especially. i think the decreases at the sleeves look great; i’m impressed with your dedication to making sure everything lines up!

  19. I love it millions! Absolutely gorgeous palette and a really simple design. Now I just need to get to the end of this pregnancy and I can start knitting it…

  20. I think this is absolutely gorgeous. I love the restrained palette, the all-over pattern, and the regional history that inspired it.

    Cunning plan, viz increases at the sides. I spent all of today wondering how to incorporate increases neatly into a rework of Carolyn’s Gansey.

    I intend to steek up the front and use bands between stitch patterns to work up increases and decreases for some tasty shaping. But whereas mine is still theoretical, your cunning decs are KNITTED UP into a joyous grand thing of wonderment.


  21. I can’t wait to be able to knit this pattern. It is definitely in my queue. And I too, love the sense of history that goes with it – and the literary connexion.

  22. As I stand here reading this entry in my O W L S sweater, I’m quite smitten. I love how this latest research path has influenced your design process.

    I am curious, having regrafted my sleeves once, and still having troubles, how you keep the stretching from undoing the graft.

    As to the shoulder seam – it does look a little sloppy (hoping, of course you understand this as constructive criticism vice a critique of the pattern). However I wonder how strong the dissonance of a background color seam that breaks up the peeries would be, given the attention to continuity in all other parts of the sweater. I don’t suppose it’s possible to knit up a small sample and pin it over the existing sweater? From a distance, that break in peeries may be more noticeable than the colored seams; my guess is the shortcomings of the seams might only be noticeable when upclose and investigative, as you did in the photo.

    Alas, this is an intellectual discussion for me at present, since I’m still working on my first colorwork mitten; this project may be beyond my capacity and/or patience at the moment. I’m still looking forward to tackling callin’ herrin when I’m able to pick up the appropriate yarn (started the yarn diet only to find some weights were woefully represented…).

  23. What a lovely design! But I am so happy to read that Deco is still on your to do list. I fell in love with that one immediately and have been trying to be patient.

  24. Oh, how scrumptiously beautiful! I can not wait to knit that sweater… I must have it!
    And if you’re still looking for opinions, I like the shoulder seams as is. I think that a solid colour might just make it stand out too much.

  25. Oh my goodness. Finally I can no longer lurk about. 1. I love the pattern continuing on the seem. I love garments where there is that meticulous continuation on pockets and where a collar lands. I search for such amazing stuff in thrift shops and rescue them. Please leave it or have both options? 2. Kate your blog is my Homepage as I am anxious always to see your thoughts, pictures, patterns. I work in healthcare in the US where it is in many ways a huge mess at the same time as miraculous (sigh) so your posts nourish me in many ways. I have to figure out (with my local yarn shop helpers) How to make your designs into cardigans. I cannot wear sweaters that are not cardigans as I am a 36DDD on a short 5 foot frame so I get terrible uniboob. I want to do tortoise and the hare—when I get my act together I will send a pic. Thank you for all. KPH

  26. Oh Kate you kill me. You are so incredibly talented. I am still trying to rattle around in my brain the logistics of a seamless shoulder like you made here…and you did in pattern? Bravo! and Bellissima!

  27. It’s amazing that you can design and construct something this detailed, finicky, and pretty just a year after a major stroke. To say nothing of the tortoise and hare sweater….

  28. Hi, Kate. I’m a new reader, having been led here by a fellow Raveler (sarahw.) I have been reading through the accounts of your recovery, and the courage and determination you show are both humbling and inspiring. It is a privilege to peep into this window on your life -thank you for also having the guts to share so much.

    The sweater is stunning. I have yet to attempt colorwork but I sense your designs are about to shove me over the edge-I also love the fish-scales hat. And I too love Orla, but I am a handbag collector, no clothing as yet. Your terrific style also has me thinking I need to expand my own a bit. But I am a lot older than you!

    I will continue to read regularly now. And oh, your pictures make me long for our UK trip, planned for 2012 . I can’t wait.

  29. That is absolutely gorgeous and the colours are wonderful – working out the colours is one of the most enjoyable aspects of fair isle knitting, IMO, and I think you’ve nailed it there (yup, again). Oh, and Jamieson and Smith rule. I just had to go and fondle their shade card.

    I’m just willing my hand to carry on improving so I can knit fair isle again soon and have a go at this…

  30. Beautiful work. I think you should keep the sleeve seam as you did, with the colours. A single coloured might stand out too much and add unwanted detail to your lovely pattern.

  31. You are so clever. I have knitted Fair Isle type knits in the past and had the match-up problems happen, which you have overcome in your design.
    Lovely colours and design, and story.

  32. This is positively transcendent–a masterpiece! This lovely sweater has total structural, aesthetic, and thematic integrity. It’s a perfect woolly distillate of research, aesthetic, and knitterly expertise—and something else–There is at once a delicacy and sturdiness to this design which echoes the strength of its creator and the stripey-skirted muses who inspired it. Stunning!!!

    Also–What a lovely skirt–Is there (be still, my 19th c.-clothing-besotted-heart) a crinoline anywhere involved???? ((sigh)).
    Thank you for your absolute treat of a blog. Following it is a joy. : )

  33. I love that you show pictures of what the arm pits look like with the grafting! No one ever shows those areas or for that matter, the inside of garments. As a relatively new knitter (just over a year) I’d like to know if my grafts look like everyone else’s or if my stranding looks like total cockamamie crap!

    I have been reading your blog for some months and I recently went back to read your recovery account from last year and I have to say that I truly admire your tenacity and will, not to mention talent! Thanks for your designs, your unwillingness to give up, your honesty and your openness. I’m a fan for sure!

  34. Dear Kate,

    The sweater looks beautiful, but I also look forward to the “Deco” pattern. I love it!!

    Greetings from Germany

  35. Such a pretty pattern! The mention of steeking is a bit frightening since I’ve yet to try it, but the sweater is so darn nice I may just have to take the plunge.
    Is it really warm enough there to wear just a sweater and a skirt with tights or are you freezing in those photos? It’s still freezing here in Ontario. It was -15C this morning when I left for school.

  36. What an absolutely beautiful sweater. The colors, the thought behind those colors, the pattern, and how it all plays so nicely together. After lurking for a while, this is the design that makes me come out of hiding. Maybe someday when I get up the courage, I can make one of my own.

  37. Beautiful!
    Will you include waist measurements in the pattern, too? I’m afraid my bust/waist ratio is even smaller, and I’d love to be able to adjust the clever shaping to that. I know it’s a matter of tension only, but it would just be nice to know if I can follow the pattern blindly or if I have to think :)

  38. Just stunning Kate! I love the colours and the peeries remind me of dried, split cod fish here in Newfoundland – very fishy!

  39. I love it. And I think the sleeve seam looks great as it is. Although a background color faux-seam might be tidier I suppose, this is pretty and subtle.
    I’ve never done a fairisle sweater before–mostly because it’s too warm where I live for heavy sweaters. But this is so lightweight and beautifully shaped. I may have to take the plunge now! I see from your comments that I’m not the only one :)
    And that tortoise/hare sweater is calling to me, too.

  40. Striking! Yes, please, hurry and finish this sweater and Deco. I’ve been (un)patiently waiting for Deco since you introduced it, and now I’ll be doing the same with this one. They are both so beautiful. Thank you!

  41. You did it again! This sweater is so cute! (and I’m not even a pastel OR patterned garments gal!) I love the arm seams as they are now and think they might be more visible in the lighter yarn.

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)