Wattle Day Cardigan

June 5, 2015

After reading Kate Davies Yokes (2015), I was compelled to cast on for a yoked cardigan, both to reinvigorate my knitting passion which was wallowing in the doldrums and to extend my savouring of the book itself. Yokes is a book to be relished, especially for its scholarly contribution to our knowledge of knitting as a craft. There are not that many knitting books that achieve this.

IMG_0599Yokes is an investigation into the origins of the yoked sweater as well as a pattern book for yoked designs. Davies traces the development of this method of knitted construction to a curious yet wonderfully modern moment: the interpretation of a traditional Greenland beaded collar worn by a Swedish actress, Mona Martenson, in a seminal Danish-Norwegian film called Eskimo (1930) by Norwegian knitwear designer Annichen Sibbern, into a knitting pattern.

This Eskimo design was interpreted and reinterpreted and became the iconic knitwear of Norway and Iceland, invested with expressing national and regional identities. As a high fashion garment, the yoked sweater reached its ascendency in the 1950s with the designs from the Swedish Bohus Stickning group being worn by socialites and movie stars. Its popularity as garment to knit and wear has experienced a renaissance in recent years. A search for yoke in Ravelry yields over 5000 designs and over 80,000 individual projects.

IMG_0659From all the enticing designs in the book, I chose to knit Foxglove mainly because I had the perfect yarn in my stash already…yes, destiny was calling again. Foxglove is a pretty, floral cardigan with a colourwork yoke and steeked front.

IMG_0630Mine does look a bit different though, doesn’t it? I replaced the foxglove flowers with sprays of wattle. Yokes is all about how the yoked sweater had its origins as a canvas for exploring national identity. So, just as Davies decided to use a local wildflower as her inspiration, I thought it would be appropriate to use a common Australian wildflower as my motif. I used the Foxglove chart, preserving all its shaping and stitch counts and worked out a design for a wattle spray.

IMG_0600The wattle depicted is the Golden Wattle, Acacia pycantha.  It is indigenous to south eastern Australia, I can see it every day in the bushland along the creek. It is the floral emblem of Australia and was the foundation of the lucrative tanin industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Australia.

Image from National Museum of Australia from the official commemorative book of the Royal Visit.

So iconic is the Golden Wattle flower for Australia, it featured in the official gown for Queen Elizabeth’s Commonwealth Tour in 1954. It is embroidered amongst lyrebird feathers on the curtains of the State Theatre in Melbourne. It is the gold, in our Green and Gold sporting colours.

Wattle fervour was at its height in early part of last century as a recently colonised country tried to find its identity. An annual Wattle Day celebration was inaugurated on September 1, 1910. The Sydney Morning Herald called on people to

Let the wattle hence forth be a sacred charge to every Australian. Let us foster and protect and cherish it. Let us plant it in all our parks and reserves and pleasure grounds, so that we may make pilgrimages to its groves in blossom time.

Wattle Day used to be a significant celebration with folks wearing sprays of wattle in their button holes, school children holding commemorations, competitions for the best blossoms and lots of wattle poetry. This one by Veronica Mason, written in 1912, was a school child staple for many decades.

The bush was grey
A week to-day
(olive-green and brown and grey);
But now its sunny all the way,
For, oh! the spring has come to stay,
With blossom for the wattle!

It is not really celebrated much now but still appears in the federal government’s calendar of gazetted dates.

IMG_0388Thus historically empassioned, I cast on and knit up to the yoke. I cobbled together a set of yoke colours from what I had in stash. Once I finished the yoke, I realised with horror the colours didn’t read well against the background and it didn’t look like wattle at all on the knit fabric.

This is why folks swatch and swatch and swatch. This is why swatchy folks don’t have to rip out a completed yoke.

IMG_0507Luckily, I was able to find a local source for Jamieson and Smith yarn at The Purl Box and replaced the background colour.  I redrew the design, did a tiny swatch to check the contrast and reknit the yoke. I finished the yoke only to realise that I had two different ribbed cuffs. I had to cut the wrong one off and pick up the stitches and reknit it top down the correct way.

IMG_0504Then I was done! Well, almost…I also had to cut off the crochet steek edge and rebind, as it was rippling and bulging beneath the facing. I had not used a fine enough crochet hook. The only other modifications I made were for sleeve length and shaping placement.

IMG_0652After reading Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog, I have been looking at sweater patterns a little differently and seeing how I can tweek the shaping to better suit my body shape. I shortened the sleeves on Foxglove to 3/4 length and changed the placement of the body shaping to the fronts and back rather than the sides to better accommodate my chesticles and narrow back.

IMG_0603Steeks were faced in cotton grosgrain from L’ucello and buttons were matched by Buttonmania, both located in the Nicholas Building. Specific knitterly details can be found on Ravelry.

Foxglove is an excellent design. It is well written and a sturdy canvas for personalising. The yoke construction is in the Shetland style with sets of raglan decreases before the yoke and then four sets multiple decreases in pattern within the yoke. Short rows under and above the yoke lift the back neck. The yoke is much shallower than a traditional Shetland yoke, emphasising the shoulders and minimising the chest. This is a flattering yoke style for the significant chested among us.

I will wear this cardigan often and always on Wattle Day!