a spencer dress

spencer1

It is a grey and murky day, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you my amazing Spencer dress!

spencer2

You’ll have probably seen that my Shetland friend, Ella, first scored one of these a few weeks ago in the Lerwick saleroom. She was then put in touch with Margaret Stuart, who originally designed these beautiful pieces in the 1970s and 1980s, and was able to buy a few more. Probably because I wouldn’t stop going on about it, Ella kindly allowed me to purchase one of her haul.

Mine is the same colourway as a Margaret Stuart dress held in the collections of the Shetland Museum.

smaguide
(Ella’s photo)

Although it was knitted over thirty years ago, the Jamieson and Smith shades that have been used in the dress are still immediately recognisable to me: FC14, 122, 1281, 141 (used in my Northmavine hap and hoody) and 125 (used in my Puffin Sweater). FC14 is one of those beautifully complex J&S shades (a deep blue with a slightly shimmering quality because of the way the yarn is composed of so many different colours) while shade 125 is one of my all-time J&S favourites (it is the exact colour of tinned tomato soup).

spencer5

The fabric of the dress is not dense at all, but really light and airy — the yarn has been worked at a much looser gauge than normal for, say, a Fairisle piece. As a consequence of the gauge, the dress has considerable drape and swing, but the lovely Shetland wool means that it is also soft and warm. The colourway lends the skirt a fabulous visual effect, and I love that the dress combines two traditional Shetland garments – a hap and a spencer – to create a piece which must have looked tremendously contemporary when it was made. It is a brilliant design.

The construction of the dress is also very interesting to me. The body and skirt appear to have been knit flat, in one piece to the armholes. Here you can see the side seam.

spencer3

The bodice has then been worked back and forth to the shoulders, and, though the sleeves have been picked up around the armholes, they too have been worked flat and seamed. The whole piece is worked over garter stitch, so I imagine the construction has been specifically designed to minimise purling. A one-piece garter-stitch spencer designed by Margaret Stuart appears in Madeleine Weston’s Classic British Knits – on this garment, the seam is worked up the centre, but the minimal-purl, one-piece construction appears very similar to that which has been used in my dress. But imagine the seamless fun that might be had working one of these pieces in the round using the no-purl garter stitch technique!

I am absolutely thrilled with my lovely new dress. Thankyou, Ella and thankyou Margaret for allowing me to acquire it! It will take pride of place in my growing collection of vintage Shetland knitwear!

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A comment on Ella’s blog from Margaret herself leads me to hope that she may, at some point, republish the pattern for this wonderful dress. I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to knit one.

For those of you interested in kits
The shop will be updated at 12 noon GMT tomorrow (Sunday December 8th) with more stock of Toatie Hotties, and another new seasonal design!

Sontag

I have a design published in the new Rowan Magazine! It is a simple triangular shawl or “Sontag” knit up in three tasty shades of Rowan Fine Tweed.

sontagfabric
(shades Wensley, Bedale, and Dent)

The garment is named after Henriette Sontag — a German singer, who brought this kind of shallow, front-crossing shawl to the attention of fashionable Victorians. The OED describes a “Sontag” as “a type of knitted or crocheted jacket or cape, with long ends which are crossed in front of the body and tied behind, worn by women in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.”

henriette

Curiously, I have been unable to find an image of Sontag sporting her signature garment . . .here’s a better representation of a Victorian woman wearing the shawl-style in question:

sontagphoto

Receipts for Sontags (also called “cache coeurs”, or “bosom friends”) are to be found in many women’s magazines from the 1860s onwards. They are, in fact, one of the first styles of shawl to be written up in modern pattern form.

1860+Sontag

But Sontags aren’t just Victorian. Here, for example, is a very similar garment being modelled in the Missoni A/W 2012 collection.

missoni
(I have strong feelings about high Fashion’s use of exceptionally thin models, and, confess to a degree of discomfort about this image.)

Mashing up these Victorian and contemporary influences, I came up with my design. Rather than being worked from side-to-side, my shawl is knit top down. It begins with a garter-tab cast on, and, following a simple stripe sequence, uses paired increases at the centre and outer edges to create a shallow, elongated triangle with front-crossing points. Optional ties can then be added to secure the garment around the waist.

This is the result:

wrap

My Sontag design appears in the magazine’s ‘Folk’ story, under the name ‘Nepal Wrap.’ If you’d like to knit it, Rowan 54 should be hitting shelves (and the doormats of subscribers) very soon!

rams and yowes

Hmmm . . . do I spy . . . some sheep?

. . . . many sheep?

. . . and many rams?

120 yowes and 48 rams?!!

Yes! It’s the rams and yowes lap blanket!

In case you were wondering, yowe means ewe in Shetland dialect and, just like the sheepheid design from which it emerged, the rams and yowes blanket is a celebration of the many-hued variety of Shetland sheep. The blanket uses all 9 natural shades of Jamieson & Smith Supreme jumper weight, and it is very simple to make: the body of the blanket is first knit up as a steeked, colourwork tube. When the colourwork is complete, the steek is cut, and stitches are picked up for the garter stitch edging. Increases and decreases create mitred corners, which fold to the back of the work, creating a neat facing inside which the steek is completely hidden. If you have never steeked before, this would be a good first project to try out the technique.

Here is the facing from the back with the steek hidden inside. To my mind, there are few things more lovely than graded shades of natural Shetland worked in garter stitch. So very pleasing!

Can you tell that I am stupidly happy with this design?

I love the way that the 120 yowes, worked in the graded Shetland shades, give the effect of a massive, ever-receding flock, and the rams lend a graphic, carpet-like aspect to the blanket’s centre

The finished blanket measures 3 feet square. It is just the right size for draping over your knees, or the back of the sofa, and can also be worn as a very cosy wrap or shawl.


The rams and yowes pattern has been expertly test-knitted by my friend Sarah (thankyou, Sarah!). If you’d like to make your own, the pattern is now up and available here, or here.

And in case you are wondering about my hand wear – yes, those are a pair of Muckle Mitts that I whipped up yesterday from a lovely free pattern – a new year’s treat from (who else?) Mary Jane Mucklestone – go and download yourself a copy!

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