Northmavine in Baffin

I don’t know if I can talk about the sweater I’m working on without talking about how hard this year has been. Maybe that’s why I’ve been putting it off.

There have been lots of wonderful things about this year, the chief being:

Baby D is worth it. (Before you ask, yes I have help and support. Take PPD seriously; it can hit anyone.)

For some reason, during the down parts of this year, I keep thinking about Shetland. At first because it sounded like such a beautiful, wonderful place to be, but later because I realized it’s probably also a very difficult place to be. It’s also windy (probably much more so than here), with tough weather, with a dialect that would be unfamiliar to me, and with people who are accustomed to making their lives through serious difficulty.

I kept accidentally running into articles and book chapters about Shetland. I spent hours on the amazing Shetland.org website, and then started checking out the excellent Nunavut tourism website. Both places have dark winters and long summer days.

Image from Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting. She grew up on Lewis, so she knows what she’s writing about.

So what started as escapism became an opportunity for reflection.

The idea for this sweater came from one of those connections. My longings to go elsewhere knitted into thankfulness for where I am.

It started when I remembered that my mom can dye the exact color of paunnait, the dwarf fireweed that grows outside my house every summer. That turned into a conversation with my mom, which turned into some emails, which turned into eight glorious skeins of yarn.

I’m using those skeins of yarn to knit the Northmavine Hoody by Kate Davies. (Yep I’m still on a Kate kick. Don’t know when it’ll end, possibly not for a while!) It’s exciting to finally be using the Colors of Shetland book.

After collaborating with my mom to design this special yarn, I definitely wanted to swatch properly. My first swatch, with the recommended needle size, came to gauge, but made a fabric that was much too flimsy. This would have been great fabric for a shawl (maybe Northmavine Hap with leftovers?) but in a sweater it would have disintegrated, and been too light to even hang properly.

So I knitted it down on US 1.5s (2.5mm I think). My favorite sock needles made the fabric I wanted. I made the swatch nice and big and weighted it after it was dry, a new trick I learned to simulate how your gauge changes when you have the weight of a whole garment on the fabric.

I took this second swatch as an opportunity to play with stripes. I thought I’d want a more random-looking, complex stripe sequence, but it was too complicated and imbalanced-looking. I decided to just do as the pattern said and repeat two pairings:

Purple Pizazz and Blue Spruce for the paunnait and their leaves,

And Indigo and Mystic Mauve for clouds over stormy water, like how they look from my favorite views over the bay. In addition to being symbolic, this pairs the closest colors in value, which will allow the hue to stand out over value.

The main color is Black Bean Blue, in a dyelot that can’t quite decide if it’s blue or grey. It depends on the light. That’s how I feel about our sky and landscape a lot of the time.

Now, alterations!

Because the gauge was smaller, I had to redo all the numbers. That’s fine, just a large quantity of simple algebra. While I was at it, I redid the shaping to be in bust and back darts, a-la Amy Herzog, instead of at the side seams.

I also ditched the interesting pockets placed in the side seam. To me, the main (and excellent) purpose of a pocket in a sweater is to hold one’s phone, and I didn’t trust even this more solid fabric to carry my silly rectangle in its Otterbox.

I keep going back and forth on whether to keep the hood. I have a while to decide. Right now I’m leaning towards yes.

Getting all of that established and worked out took the first part of March, and I’ve been cruising away on the body ever since. I polished off all 16″ the below-armholes body last week. It is a big chunk of fabric.

I’ve now gotten the sleeves established. I’m doing them flat, two at a time, because that’s what floats my boat.

It should be noted that every single one of those tiny stripes has two ends. On the body, I just let them be; the button band is knit in an interesting way such that I should just be able to tie them off, cut them shortish, and they’ll be trapped inside the band. No such luck on the sleeves, but I worked a way to weave in the ends as I go as well, on both edges; I’m pretty pleased about that.

This started as a bit of escapism, but has ended up being very close to home. I really want to finish it before we move, and I hope very much that the paunnait come out one more time for us on our little hill.


3 thoughts on “Northmavine in Baffin

  1. I really enjoyed this post! I have been knitting more as I’m on maternity leave, and I’m finding that I can actually escape more into the knitting if the pattern is more complex. As a result, my knitting skills are growing, and I understand more of what you are talking about! Plus I love Scotland and this post made me really want to go back… Good luck with the move!
    -Sarah Hawthorne (Fjord’s wife)

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    1. Hi Sarah! I hope you are enjoying your mat leave with your little guy. It’s great when you’re in a position to get absorbed into a complex project. We’ll have to trade notes next time we make it out west!

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  2. I’m always honored to be part of your creative projects. So you will knit them flat, then sew up the side seems, then knit the raglan top with sleeves and body together? I don’t know why I had that idea…

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