It is Jen’s day! Hip Hap Hooray! When we began working on this project last year, Jen (Jen Arnall-Culliford) and I spent a considerable time musing on the brief that we sent out to designers. Haps were originally functional, working garments, and so we decided that the designers’ basic remit would be to create an “ordinary wrap” inspired by some element of the “everyday” that they would also like to write about (every pattern in the book is prefaced with a short piece written by its designer). We set no strict parameters as to the nature, size, or style of the design submissions – the idea was simply to create an ordinary, functional, wrappable textile inspired by some element of the everyday. Jen is, as you may know, a great lover of birds and wildlife, and the everyday inspiration behind her Nut-Hap is a British woodland bird – the nuthatch.
While the length, narrow expanse and short row shaping of Jen’s hap recall outstretched wings, the subtle multi-hued tucks that define its outer edge are beautifully suggestive of overlapping feathers. I know I am biased because Jen is my good pal, as well as my co-editor, but I really think the Nut-Hap is one of the best pieces of work she’s ever produced (and Jen is a great knitterly talent!) It is a completely seamless design, with no right or wrong side, and you can wear it any which way you like. The fabric is somehow completely fit-for-purpose: it stretches easily around the body or can be wrapped multiple times around the neck. And however it is worn, the Nut-Hap is the very definition of wrapping snugly, as well as being a genuinely lovely thing that, in different colourways, would look superb worn over any winter coat. To me, it seems one of those textiles that inspire one’s non-knitting acquaintances to say “wow, where did you get that?” and then react with a mixture of surprise and mild disappointment when they find out that yes, you actually made it. I recently caught up with Jen to talk to her about the Nut Hap.
KD There are many things I love about this design – the length, the classic feel of it, the beautiful bands of colour, but perhaps most particularly those tucks! Can you say a little about how they are created?
JAC I adore both tucks and pleats – the way that fabric can be folded for both appearance and function is endlessly interesting to me. Tucks are folds where the join runs parallel to the fold line, whereas pleats are joined perpendicular to the fold. So the neckline of your Manu or my Murcott designs both feature pleats, whereas the folds in my Nut-Hap are tucks. They are actually very straightforward to execute in knitting. You simply need to decide which parts of your fabric need to be joined, and then by one method or another, you need to have live stitches at both points. The two sets of live stitches are then worked together – much like a three-needle bind off, but without the binding off action. A folded hem is worked in the same way as a tuck, but with the join occurring at the cast-on edge rather than in the middle of the fabric. One of the aspects I most enjoyed about creating the tucks in my Nut-Hap, was the way that the stitches to be joined could work seamlessly with the ribbing. The stockinette stitch parts are worked on only half of the stitches compared to the rib – with the added bonus that the tucks work up really quickly!
KD Yours and Tom’s haps share the interesting quality of seamlessness and reversibility. Was this at the forefront of your mind when you began to design the hap, or was it a hap-py consequence of the design process?
JAC Yes it absolutely was. I really adore the tubular cast on for the fact that the stitches seem to appear from nowhere. I first came across the technique in a Knitting Daily email when I was a fairly new knitter, and then woke up in the middle of the night thinking about how I could use it. I was so excited about the possibilities that I woke Jim up to tell him about it. I’m not sure he shared my enthusiasm at the time, but he must have taken some of it in, as he now works as a technical editor with me! The tubular cast on led me to the general ideas of tucks and 1×1 rib, and then it just seemed to flow naturally that I could use the relative gauges and arrangements of stitches to make a hap that looked great from both sides, without a discernible start or end.
KD I’m interested generally in your design process, which I know is very different from mine! Can you describe how the idea for your hap finally evolved into a finished thing?
JAC I often start with a stitch pattern or a general idea of a stitch pattern. In this case, I knew I wanted my hap to be reversible, so I picked up my copy of Lynne Barr’s Reversible Knitting, and started browsing for stitch patterns. I loved the look of her Puffy Stitch, but when I swatched for it, the result wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and I didn’t love the process of it. So I started to play around, and worked out how I could achieve a similar tucked look in a way that might work with 1×1 rib. At the same time you and I were talking about birds, and I was musing on my desire to see a nuthatch, which led me to nut-hatch-y yarn colours from the beautiful palette of Felted Tweed. And from this, I meandered to using short rows to create a more wing-like shape. It was really a case of a number of elements all coming together at the same time. I knew that it was the right path as they all just fitted together in a pleasing way – tubular cast on, short rows in 1×1 rib, tucks, and a seamless finish. I can generally see when I’m on the right track with a design, as the parts just fit together. And in this case, my Nut-Hap was just the start, as I’ve taken the idea on in my next Cross-Country Knitting design. But you’ll have to wait a while for that!
KD We both love birds, and I’ve enjoyed working on an avian-themed collaboration with you already! Your hap is inspired by another bird – the nuthatch. Could you tell us a little about what makes this bird so appealing?
It’s just clever! The name nuthatch comes from the fact that it wedges nuts in the bark of a tree so that it can crack them open. The nuthatch is also the only bird to be able to walk headfirst down a tree! I would dearly love to see one, but when we go for woodland walks, the kids are generally too noisy for us to spot such a shy bird.
KD Do you have thoughts of other avian colourways that might work well for this hap?
There are endless possibilities! A friend knitted a blue tit version where the centre was pale yellow and shades of blue and grey for the tucks. I also have yarn in mind for a willow warbler or greenfinch in shades of green. Rowan do a fantastically bird-y palette for Felted Tweed, so you can customise to your heart’s content.
Wrapped round and round and round and round so that it covers your chin and nose on a chilly day – the tucks add to the insulating properties of the hap, so it’s a great one for later in the year!
KD As you know, I had lots of fun modelling your Nut-Hap when we were last in Shetland! Thanks, Jen