A Love Story in Stitches: the Orkney Cardigan.

March 2014 628Apparently spring has sprung but here in Glasgow, winter refuses to let go. It has been overcast, drizzly and circa 8C all this week which is why it's taken almost a week for us to photograph the Orkney cardigan (or, as I like to call it, my opus magnum). First, a brief follow-up on my previous blog post wherein I discussed the whole "can I call this Fair Isle if I am not from Shetland" conundrum after a startling encounter with a lady whilst I was finishing up Orkney. Not only has Louise Scollay written an interesting take on the discussion (and she lives in Shetland, you know), but I also had the chance to discuss it with Carol Christensen and Roslyn Chapman at a recent event. Roslyn is writing a PhD on the idea of Shetland Lace Knitting and is tackling many of the same issues concerning "origin" and "tradition". Both Carol and Roslyn agreed that the notion of Traditional Fair Isle appear to be a commercial construct rather than a historical tradition - we also talked briefly about the many things currently squirrelled away at the Shetland Museum which do not really fit the traditional idea of Shetland knitting and so rarely see the light of day..

.. so in short, this is a Fair Isle cardigan I am sporting.

Pattern: Orkney from Rowan Magazine 52 by Marie Wallin.

Size: L (see notes)

Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed DK. Many colours (see notes)

Needles: 3.25mm and 3.75 mm (again, see notes)

Verdict: Oh hell yes.

March 2014 610

Notes: It is interesting to see the difference between this cardigan and the Bute cardigan from the same magazine. They are knitted in the same yarn but are designed by two different people. Orkney runs small where Bute runs big - thankfully I had read people's pattern notes on Ravelry before setting out on this adventure, but it also taught me to read "the fine print" and check tension vs schematics before beginning. Assumptions are a knitter's worst friends. So, I went up two needle sizes and a size up from my usual one. Orkney still came out neat (the arms are particularly tight) but I do not mind that so much. I won't have room to wear much underneath my cardigan but I don't think I need much anyway; the cardigan is so beautiful and warm.

Having knitted Bute flat, I decided to steek the heck out of this one. I cast on an additional seven stitches for front and arm scythes. It worked well, though I had to secure the stitches with a sewing machine rather than rely solely on a crochet steek (I have thoughts on crochet steeking that I need to write about). I added a buttonband and used 1950s bakelite (plastic?) buttons. I had bought some real beauties from Textile Garden but decided I did not need the buttons to compete with the cardigan. Sometimes less is more. I also added length to both the body and the sleeves. The sleeves always needed additional length (I have monkey arms) but I am so short-waisted that I was surprised by how many extra rows I had to incorporate to reach the body length I wanted (I had measured my favourite cardigan before setting out, so knew how many inches I needed). I was right on gauge, so that was a surprise.

March 2014 604Oh, and I completely changed the colours.

The original was quite bright when you saw it in real life and I wanted more muted colours. I started out by recharting the entire pattern using Excel. It was fairly labour intensive but it gave me an understanding of the distribution of colours and patterns. I also realised that the same sequence of patterns are used on the sleeves but knitted in different colours. If you are planning on substituting colours for Orkney, I think this is an indispensable step for understanding how the colours work and why. Tiny decisions will have a huge impact.

Having reached an understanding of which colours were used more than others, I put my Felted Tweed stash on the spare bed (reality check time!) and started sorting colours. I decided that I wanted Ancient (a blueish khaki green) to be a feature on the body with Phantom (a soft brown - one of my favourite Felted tweed colours) and Avocado (er, avocado green) for the corrugated ribs. On the sleeves I substituted Rage (a magnificent red) for whenever I had used Ancient on the body. It worked well. I also used Celadon, Ginger, Rage, Duck Egg, Gilt, Cinnamon and Camel. I used less than ball of these colours (and Avocado) but used approx 1.5 balls of Ancient, Phantom and Rage.

Would I knit this again? Oh yes. I'll go up to size XL for the sleeves but I think this is a real cracker of a pattern. I like the fit a lot better than Bute, the colours work with my entire wardrobe, and I feel good when I am wearing it. I probably won't reknit this for a few years (so many knitting patterns, so little time) but I'd love to do a brown/blue/green version of this. I have also fallen deeply in love with Felted Tweed (if I hadn't already..).

Let me just repeat what I said at the top

Verdict: Oh hell yes.