(photo by me, courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust)

I’ve been swatching sea shells on-and-off for a few months now. To explain: when I visited Shetland in January, I fell in love with this stole, shown to me by the wonderful Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum and Archives (it is seen here from the wrong side). The colours were probably not those I would have personally chosen, but just look at the pattern! There was garter stitch! Openwork! Undulating hues! An intriguing effect created with what appeared to be dropped stitches! What wasn’t to like? After a few days on Shetland I realised that this stole showcased a pattern that would be immediately familiar to any local knitter — the cockleshell. I’m sure most experienced Shetland knitters would describe the cockleshell as one of the simplest openwork repeats there is, and it seems to be the scarf pattern of choice for many a beginner who is getting to grips with lace. On Shetland, you can’t move for cockleshell lace — it is everywhere! What a place to be.

When one goes looking for it, the pattern is pretty much everywhere, too – you’ll find one variant or another in most stitch dictionaries and introductions to knitted lace. Barbara Walker has it listed as “grand shell, or hoopskirt” in her Second Treasury, and darkly warns “raw beginners” to “stay away from this one” (the dropped yarnovers, perhaps?)

It is also a curiously mercurial pattern that, when knitted in different types of yarn, produces startlingly different effects. Above is “Margaret’s cockleshell scarf” from Carol Noble and Margaret Peterson’s Knits from the North Sea, which is worked in quite a heavy 4 ply merino. But when knitted in fine Shetland laceweight, the pattern can be light, airy, and delicate. To get a sense of just how beautiful the pattern can be, take a look at this gorgeous example, knitted in Supreme 1ply by Sandra at Jamieson & Smith.

Some versions of the Shetland cockleshell open up the lace with fine yarn and double yarnovers, while others create an effect that, with single yarnovers and kfb increases, is more ‘closed’, lending itself better to coloured stripes. For my purposes, I was more interested in the second version, and began to swatch using the variant described in Glady’s Amedro’s Shetland Lace.

I tried a few different yarn weights . . .

. . .and colours . . .

I liked some swatches more than others, but I felt that the fabric was a little too ‘closed’ and that my shells just weren’t shell-y enough. I returned to the stole I’d originally admired in the Shetland Museum . . .

(photo by me, courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust)

The stole formed its shell with a greater number of dropped yarnovers than Amedro’s variant, and there seemed to be a little more space between repeats. I charted up my own variant, using the stole as a guide. I began swatching again. BINGO! This really looked much more balanced. It was at this point I discovered Fleegle’s no-purl-in-the-round garter stitch, and plans for a twist on the traditional cockleshell were properly afoot. Energy levels permitting (I’m not quite out of the woods yet – bah) I’ll show you the final results of my Shetland sea-shell swatching this weekend!

To be continued. . .

47 thoughts on “she swatch sea shells

  1. I love the seashell pattern. I think I’m going to have to look into knitting something with seashells now.


  2. oh how funny! JUST last night i was looking up another stitch pattern in my barbra walker book, and came across this pattern. it gave me a few inspirations too! can’t wait to see what you come up with!


  3. I have recently started following your blog and just love your writing and knitting. Thank you for sharing your work and research.


  4. what a wonderful stitch pattern.
    I think I know what to do with a colorful laceweight yarn that I bought and then everytime I knitted it up was disappointed with it. this might be just the pattern if I couple it with the charcoal lace weight yarn I bought to use with it to tone down the colors.
    now I have to look up the no purl in the round link and see if it is what I do to avoid purling.


  5. Oh Kate,…….traditional and absolutely gorgeous! I am excited to see what you have done. I have been following you for quite a time and am so inspired. I have a family member who has travelled your path,……and I admire you both! Keep on keeping on….I am an addicted lace knitter and I cannot wait for the next little unveiling !


  6. oh! i could only dream of knitting this, like i dream of being a ballerina when i grow up. it just increases my pleasure in seeing you dance.


  7. What a cliff hanger! Cannot wait to see your results. I’ve never seen this stitch pattern before but I’m dreaming of all the new things I could make with it!


  8. Wow, I’m going to be lurking around Needled until you give us the second installment, I’m on tenterhooks!
    The museum piece is beautifully lacy, it looks like it would drape very nicely. I’m in awe of your swatches too, and they look like much firmer fabrics. My favourite is also the blues with the red, they’re a really pleasing blend.
    (Fingers crossed the fatigue crawls back under it’s stone and grants you some respite…)


  9. That’s such a gorgeous pattern!
    I just realized that I have a sweater done in a cockleshell variation of some sort that my grandmother picked up in England years ago–I’ve always wondered what that sort of design was actually called. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with this time!


  10. Very elegant. Love the original stole–and how its shells look rippling, not lumpy/old afghan/crocheted bathroom accessories. (I’m not sure where that last association came from.)


  11. I’m looking forward to the next installment, it all looks wonderful. I have to say my jaw dropped when I saw the first image, like you not necessarily ‘my’ colours but utterly lovely.


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