Firth o’ Forth

cramond

Ahoy from the Firth o’ Forth! This cardigan is the second in my series of my Edinburgh-inspired designs, and it is named after the important estuary that marks the city’s northern boundary.

The Firth was a major feature of the decade we spent in Edinburgh: we lived in sight of it – just up the road from the fishing village of Newhaven – and its mists and breezes very much defined our weather. I think that one of the great things (of the many great things) about Edinburgh is that it is a city with a shoreline: as well as hills, and closes, and castles it is a place of beaches and seabirds and Sunday strolling. We spent many happy weekends on foot around the Firth, and, from Cramond in the West through to North Berwick in the East, it is a stretch of coast I know very well indeed. I find the North-Easterly prospect of the Firth lends the light a very distinctive quality and, at all seasons of the year, it is a wonderful place to be.

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This design was inspired by the creature for which the Firth was once world-renowned: the oyster. Firth o’ Forth oysters were, in fact, Edinburgh’s original street food – and in the booklet I’ve produced to accompany the design, you can find out more about their history.

oyster

This very oyster-y stitch pattern is one I’ve had a thing about for many years – it appears in Martha Waterman’s shawl book under the name of ‘Cocoon Stitch,’ and I knit myself this stole using it back in 2007. Like many of my favourite openwork patterns, it is a relatively simple stitch to memorise (‘action’ occurs only on two out of twelve rows) and yet its effect is quite dramatic. It creates a textured, structured fabric, yet, because of the yarnovers, it also feels wonderfully light and airy. I suppose some people may find it odd to create a cardigan inspired by a bivalve, but to me this is not odd at all.

cramondback

The yarn I used is Yomper laceweight – this is spun by John Arbon for Great British Yarns ‘Union’ range, and is a blend of 70% Falkland Islands Merino and 30% UK alpaca. It has an incredibly light and luxurious hand. While the majority-wool content gives it a pleasing spring and creamy-coloured undertones, the grey alpaca lends the yarn strength and smoothness and a mercurial silvery sheen. All I can say is that from the first moment I felt it in the skein I just wanted to wrap myself up in it.

cramondwrapped

My thinking behind this design was to create a sort of cardigan-equivalent of a shawl or wrap . . .

adjustedschematic
(schematic illustration by Felicity Ford)

. . . therefore the garment construction and shaping are relatively simple. The cardigan is worked back and forth, all in one piece to the underarms, then divided for fronts and back. A little shaping is worked around the neckline; the shoulders are joined and then sleeves are picked up and worked in the round down to the cuffs. There are no seams. Mel (who always has a knitterly trick to add to my designs) came up with the nifty idea of working the sleeves inside-out, which minimises purling.

cramondsleeve
(Sleeve join. Very nifty.)

If you like knitting lace, you’ll enjoy making this garment.

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The fronts can be worn open . . .

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Or drawn about the body.

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And in all ways, this is a garment that is very easy-to-wear.

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There’s a perhaps surprising amount of ease factored into this garment: I’m modelling it here with 7 ins positive ease, and I don’t recommend making it with less than 4 ins ease.

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. . . because it is meant to be loose and drapey and cosy and shawl-like.

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These photographs were taken down by the Firth at Cramond on a very windy day.

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But I was surprisingly warm in my Fith o’ Forth cardigan.

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The design booklet includes a short essay (exploring the history of the Edinburgh oyster and the Firth), pattern, charts & schematics, photographic lookbook, and the best eighteenth-century poem about oysters you will ever read.

The design booklet is now available digitally via Ravelry, and in print from my Magcloud store.

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Happy knitting! x

gang trigly

The easiest of Edinburgh’s hills (and therefore the first of my seven walks) is Castle Hill – the volcanic plug sitting at the highest point of the street that runs through the heart of the city’s old town and which is known as the Royal Mile. Our ascent (which, incidentally, covers a Scots not an English mile, and is therefore slightly longer) began at Holyrood – the site of the new parliament and the old palace. On one side of the street are the signs of monarchical privilege:

(the Queen’s golden unicorn rears it’s hooves above Arthur’s Seat / Mead Mountain)

And on the other, those of democracy:

(Hugh Macdiarmid’s poem Edinburgh is one of many set into the walls of the Scottish Parliament Building)

I was accompanied by Tom and our good friend the Mule, who is visiting this weekend. The Royal Mile abounds with much “Traditional” Scottish fayre – you just can’t move for bagpipes, whisky, tam o’ shanters, and tartan of questionable quality and authenticity. . .

This particular bagpipe shop is the real deal, though.

Further up, we passed the memorial statue of Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson (who you may remember from this post and whose poem, Braid Claith, provides today’s title). I was pleased to see him striding down the Cannongate as we were striding up, and stopped to say hello. Across the road is the White Horse bar which always puts me in mind of Dr Johnson. While staying here in 1773, he threw a sour glass of lemonade out of the window and almost got into a fight with a waiter. Things seemed a little quieter outside the Cannongate pubs today.

Here we are near the former site of the grim Old Tolbooth prison. . .

And speeding onward and upward as Cannongate turns into the High Street. . .

Walking became more tricky on the Lawnmarket (toward the top of the Royal Mile). Here the level pavement gives way to uneven cobbles which are difficult to pick one’s way over with a wonky leg and stick. The crowds are also dense and unpredictable – tourists struggle with their suitcases and drift in and out of gift shops. . .

Approaching the castle, we resisted the temptation to shake hands with a William Wallace who seemed much more obliging than pugnacious. . .

I was tired by this point, and it was great to reach the castle. By now, it was noon, and had turned into a lovely day . . .

I had a rest while Tom and Mule went to find some “traditional” Scottish ice-cream. Then it was time to head back to Holyrood again. While the gradients on the way up actually weren’t much of a problem, I found those on the way down much harder to manage. Descending is tougher on the knees and hips, and mine don’t have much stability as yet – I felt a little vulnerable and unbalanced negotiating the steep sections of the High Street, and by the time we were back on the Cannongate I was very tired indeed. Having been out and about for a few hours, however, fatigue was only to be expected, and overall I was very pleased with my progress up and down this first hill. I’ve only been walking on the flat with my splint and stick so far, and I was concerned about managing the gradients. But though the Royal Mile was certainly a little tough for my bad leg, I could walk up and down it no problem. Next week, however, I shall attempt Calton Hill – a shorter climb, but,with lots of steps and uneven ground, a steeper and much trickier affair.

Thanks for the photos, Mule!

braid claith

broadcloths

Since I wrote that piece about the Yorkshire woollen trade for The Knitter a while ago, I’ve had broadcloth on my mind. Broadcloth is a traditionally woollen, and and quintessentially British fabric. As the woven wool trade developed through the Sixteenth- and Seventeenth Centuries, broadcloth, in its several grades, kinds, and colours was popularly produced in the West Country, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in the Scottish Borders. By the early Eighteenth Century, it was spoken of in hallowed terms, as if it alone clothed Britain’s economic backbone. The broadcloth trade is at the heart of Daniel Defoe’s Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, and John Dyer went several steps further in the scale of broadcloth celebration in his massive, georgic encomium, The Fleece (1757). You can also see the immense national pride that this fabric inspired here, in a commercial sample book from 1770. The annotation above the scrap of Kersey broadcloth reads: “the most perfect cloth made in this kingdom.”

kersey

As well as the rampantly nationalist discourse that surrounds it, two other things interest me about eighteenth-century British broadcloth. First, it is always spoken of as a no-frills fabric: an unfussy and functional textile, that is nonetheless of exceptional quality. Second, it is most often celebrated as an outergarment, and particularly in association with the act of walking. In John Gay’s Trivia, or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London, for example, Kersey Broadcloth is the only thing the London pedestrian should wear to protect him from the vagueries of city Winter weather:

. . . who would wear
Amid the town the spoils of Russia’s Bear?
. . .Let the loop’d Bavaroy the Fop embrace,
Or his deep Cloak be spatter’d o’er with Lace.
That Garment best the Winter’s Rage defends,
Whose ample Form without one Plait depends;
By various Names in various Counties known,
Yet held in all the true Surtout alone:
Be thine of Kersey firm, though small the Cost,
Then brave unwet the Rain, unchill’d the Frost.

Gay’s Kersey broadcloth coat appears repeatedly in Trivia: a symbol of his national identity, his connection to the city, and his first-hand knowledge of London. Broadcloth saves the pedestrian narrator from rain and snow; from the ravages of gout (broadcloth makes him a determined walker in all weathers), and from the temptations of political and court corruption. He would rather have “sweet content on foot / Wrapt in my virtue, and a good surtout,” than rattle by in an ornate, Frenchified coach, detached from the life of the street.

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Broadcloth was a feature of the eighteenth-century Scottish life of the street as well. In fact, for me, the fabric’s everyday associations with city walking, with urban sociability, and with a general lack of pretension are best summed up in Robert Fergusson’s great Edinburgh poem, Braid Claith. (1772). I reproduce it here in full for you because 1) I doubt many of you will have seen it and 2) it is just so good. (If your knowledge of Scots is patchy or nonexistent, you will find a convenient translation tool here. )

Braid Claith

Ye wha are fain to hae your name
Wrote in the bonny book of fame,
Let merit nae pretension claim
To laurel’d wreath,
But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,
In gude Braid Claith.

He that some ells o’ this may fa,
An’ slae-black hat on pow like snaw,
Bids bauld to bear the gree awa’,
Wi’ a’ this graith,
Whan bienly clad wi’ shell fu’ braw
O’ gude Braid Claith.

Waesuck for him wha has na fek o’t!
For he’s a gowk they’re sure to geck at,
A chiel that ne’er will be respekit
While he draws breath,
Till his four quarters are bedeckit
Wi’ gude Braid Claith.

On Sabbath-days the barber spark,
When he has done wi’ scrapin wark,
Wi’ siller broachie in his sark,
Gangs trigly, faith!
Or to the meadow, or the park,
In gude Braid Claith.

Weel might ye trow, to see them there,
That they to shave your haffits bare,
Or curl an’ sleek a pickly hair,
Wou’d be right laith,
Whan pacing wi’ a gawsy air
In gude Braid Claith.

If only mettl’d stirrah green
For favour frae a lady’s ein,
He maunna care for being seen
Before he sheath
His body in a scabbard clean
O’ gude Braid Claith.

For, gin he come wi’ coat threadbare,
A feg for him she winna care,
But crook her bonny mou’ fu’ sair,
And scald him baith.
Wooers shou’d ay their travel spare
Without Braid Claith.

Braid Claith lends fock an unco heese,
Makes mony kail-worms butterflies,
Gies mony a doctor his degrees
For little skaith:
In short, you may be what you please
Wi’ gude Braid Claith.

For thof ye had as wise a snout on
As Shakespeare or Sir Isaac Newton,
Your judgment fouk wou’d hae a doubt on,
I’ll tak my aith,
Till they cou’d see ye wi’ a suit on
O’ gude Braid Claith.

Some critics find Fergusson’s account of eighteenth-century town life snide, but to me his bienly-clad Edinburgh pedestrians — their exuberance, their vim, and the witty confidence with which they are portrayed — seem entirely affectionate. Fergusson writes of a decent wool coat as a passport to urban sociability and ordinary respectability: the garment in which the working people of the city are clad on their day off, “ganging trigly” through the Meadows or the Park. And, as braid claith appears in the poem as a sort of no-frills identity enabler — transforming lowly caterpillars into lovely butterflies — so, as a subject, it seems to inspire Fergusson to butterfly-like levels of ability with his vernacular: one can but admire the sheer chutzpah of a poet who can successfully rhyme “snout on” with “Isaac Newton.”

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I am very fond of Fergusson’s poetry, as you can probably tell. I am also fond of
David Annand’s
memorial, which, if you are visiting Edinburgh’s Old Town, you can find toward the bottom of the Royal Mile, outside the churchyard in which Fergusson is buried. I’ve been thinking about Fergusson’s poetry this week, and took a walk over to the Canongate to visit him a few days ago. I love the youth and energy of the memorial: suitably characteristic of both the poetry and the man (Fergusson sadly died at the age of 24). But the best thing about Annand’s Fergusson to me is that he is so clearly a man of the street: a poet, and a pedestrian. He gangs trigly down the Canongate, his coat fluttering in the breeze, perhaps on his way to join his fellow eighteenth-century Edinburgh walkers on their Sunday promenade around Holyrood Park. His coat may be bronze, but it looks like braid claith to me.

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