Cumbria Collection Feature: Seascale by Courtney Kelley

To say I have a fondness for history is an understatement. My car is a 1987 Mercedes diesel wagon, my house is a gothic 1860s farmhouse, and my vintage knitting library is enviable (if you're envious of an entire room of your house being devoted to knitting books!). 

When our design team got together to create a mood board the new Cumbria Collection, we decided to do what Kate and I do best: Reinterpret traditional knitting patterns for today's audiences to showcase this modern, yet rustic, yarn. This meant turning to some historical sources for inspiration, and as Cumbria in the north of England is the yarn's namesake, we settled on the knitting traditions of the British Isles for our source material. Ah...another chance to bring out the historical knitting books!

Similar to the thesis of Vintage Modern Knits, our first book with Interweave Press back in 2011, we wanted to evoke the rich history of knitting, while designing garments which utilized a blend of traditional and modern knitting techniques for today's knitter. 

This lovely gentleman above, a Cromer fisherman photographed in 1905, is wearing a classic fisherman's gansey sweater. Personally, I am enamored with this style of sweater. It's construction is innovative in it's simplicity. The garment is pure utility in construction, and each element takes into account the need for flexibility, strength, and warmth.

I wanted to capture the utility of the garment, while making the fit such that today's wearer - a woman or man, as this sweater is completely unisex - would feel comfortable. Seascale incorporates all of the traditional gansey elements of construction, including the underarm gusset. This gusset is an integral part of what makes a gansey and gansey, and I have always thought it was a fantastic design element, born out of necessity for ease of movement and ease of repair on a part of the garment sure to see hard wear.

This underarm gusset has one additional detail that the original patterns lack, a bit of short row shaping at the top of the gusset where the sleeve meets the body. You can see it above; it's the garter stitch right triangle to either side of the top half of the diamond underarm. This allows for some additional ease of fit and movement, which I feel is an improvement on the original design. It also helps to make the sleeve lay nicely in the body.

Another traditional element of Seascale is the Channel Island cast-on. The Channel Island cast-on is traditionally used on the hem of Gansey fisherman sweaters of the British Isles, and you can see it at the hem and cuffs of the design.

The cast-on creates a subtle picot edge and is most often followed by a band of garter stitch. It is a nice alternative to a ribbed hem, and I think has a more feminine look to it.

Practically, the bands were knit separately and were then joined for working the body in the round, maximizing movement and breathability for the wearer. The cast-on is elastic, yet firm, and along with the picots, it is both decorative and hard wearing. 

Kate developed a Tips and Tricks for the Channel Island cast-on, since it is a bit complex. Give it a few tries to get the tension right, and I think you'll really enjoy the way it looks!

But, when working on Vintage Modern Knits back in 2010 I ran into a snag with my cast-ons and bind-offs. Gansey construction is such that the body is knit first, in rounds. Then the work is divided and the yoke is worked back and forth, first the back then the front. The shoulders are then joined using a three needle bind-off, and then the sleeve stitches are picked up and knit down on double pointed needles. Now, here was my dilemma. I wanted the hem to match the sleeve cuffs, but I would be binding off the sleeves, not casting them on. My Channel Island cast on wasn't going to help me here. I agonized over this for days. Then I got out some books and started playing around with picot bind-offs, and bobble bind-offs, and all the bind-offs. I developed my own: the unofficial Channel Island bind off. I merged two different bind-offs; the Icelandic bind-off and a picot bind-off. When working on Vintage Modern Knits, I sent the bind off instructions to our editor, Ann Budd. She tried it out, and now regularly teaches my technique as part of her Cast-on and Bind-off Techniques class!

We have developed a Tips and Tricks for the Channel Island bind off, and we hope you'll give it a try! 

Suffice to say, a lot of heart and soul went into this design and I hope you enjoy knitting it as much as I did. If you've ever tried either of these hem treatments, or knit your own gansey sweater, let us know what you liked about it!

Happy Knitting,

Courtney