Sometimes designing is an exercise in letting go. We go in with the best of intentions and think we know exactly what the outcome will be—only to have the knitted fabric tell us distinctly otherwise. For this shawl, I had all of these high-minded and complicated ideas about what it would represent and what it would mean and how it would be constructed. . . until the design itself told me to slow down, look around me, and celebrate the beauty in the things I already know. And you know what? I’m glad I listened.
I started this project aiming to make a shawl with a non-traditional construction, featuring stitches that made a gradual transition from more gathered and structural to more open and lacy. I wanted to bridge the gap between the woven fabric Schacht is known for and the knitted fabric that’s my happy place, slowly shifting from a fabric with texture and leno-weave-esque gathers to one that was truly fluid, knitted lace. All of this was in the service of this unbelievable yarn, which I fell head over heels for the first time I saw it. (And then fell even further when I touched it!) I tried knitting it this way, I tried knitting it that way, I added little clever (or so I thought) techniques to help aid my cause and get a fabric I liked, I frogged, I reknit, I frogged again, I blocked, I seamed, I put a border on. . .
. . . and I hated it.
There’s a series of quotes from Stephen Sondheim, the musical composer, that he uses as his tenets of lyric writing and that I like to use as my tenets of designing. They are as follows:
“In no particular order, and to be inscribed in stone:
Content Dictates Form
Less is More
God is in the Details
all in the service of
without which nothing else matters.”
– Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat
In my attempts to be clever, in my attempts to have this project be interesting and new, I’d blindly forged ahead past each of these dictums, and the soon-to-be-frogged piece was the result. So I took a deep breath, might have had a nice glass of bourbon, and started fresh. This time, though, I listened to that little voice that pointed me in a much clearer direction.
While I had been knitting the first version, a lyric from a song kept running through my head. From Emily Barker’s “Nostalgia” (fellow Anglophiles will recognize this as the theme song to Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander): oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay, shelter my love from the wind and the waves. Fair dues, I thought, I’ll call this “The Shape of a Bay”. But. . . it wasn’t. The first sample was triangular, the order of the stitch patterns was all wrong for anything ocean-related, and the shawl/scarf/cowl thing hid the motifs away in folds of fabric far more than letting them shine. So in the next version, I thought about all the bays surrounding me here in my hometown of Portland, Maine, and the pebbles along the shoreline that get gently tossed and shifted around in the waves. I thought of the gentle curve of the land out to sea, softly falling away into the distance. And I started reknitting.
The Shape of a Bay still holds that gradual transition between more solid and textural fabric to more fluid and lacy, moving from garter stitch, to a gathered stitch, to open and delicate lace. But instead of being the academic, brainy interpretation of weaving to knitting, I was thinking of those seashores I walk along all summer: the eddies and swirls of sand, the lines of pebbles, the delicate ripples of the first touches of the tide, and the slow, inexorable waves as they wash away the traces of the day. And instead of a geometric unconventional shape, it uses classic half-Pi shawl shaping to create a gentle sweep and curve. It learned me some good lessons, this shawl, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!
The Shape of a Bay is available on Ravelry here: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/the-shape-of-a-bay
Schacht blog readers can purchase a copy for 20% off through April 21st using the coupon code SANDINMYTOES. Happy knitting!
If you’d like to support the women in Tajikistan who spin this glorious yarn, head over to their GofundMe page.