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!




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  1. Hello from Shetland! You have done a great job here, a fantastic interpretation of a lovely pattern. And I loved reading about the background of the project and the wattle! Donna

  2. Such a beautiful knit! I love how you were able to adapt the design to feature wattle and I love the pic of the Queen that you shared with that gorgeous gown.

  3. Oh that is just amaaazing, Rebecca! I love the way you’ve customised it with the wattle (so interesting to read all about wattle and its place in the Australian identity), and was really interested to see how you worked out the colourway so patiently and carefully. You look just great in it, and I guess it’s just what you need as you travel into winter so you’ll be wearing it a lot. Best of all, sounds like your knitting mojo is back!

  4. Oh you are so talented! What a beautiful garment. And it suits you very, very well.

    I have a confession: I’m too scared to try colourwork. My desperate desire for a patterned vest will overcome my fear eventually; until then, I am deeply impressed by other people’s beautiful knitting.

  5. oh how lovely! I spied this amidst the morning madness the other day and while admiring it (and you, of course) was reminded of a handknit of very similar colours and design that i wore as a poppet – must check if it’s mothballed away at my folks, would probably be about the right size for the young ‘uns by now…whether they’ll be willing is another matter of course. Another considered and inspiring post and product Rebecca – thank you!

  6. I may have to overcome my fear that yokes will make me look even bigger, Rebecca… your cardigan is inspiring!

    We had a slightly different poem to honour Wattle Day, which is not nearly as, well, poetic.

    “Behold the golden wattle!
    ‘Tis the symbol of our land.
    You can put it in a bottle,
    Or hold it in your hand.”

    Always recited with much gusto and emphasis on the glottal stops in ‘bottle’. 🙂

  7. Rebecca you have done such a fine job with this cardigan, I marvel at your ability to adapt a pattern to both your needs and interests. Thanks for the informative post and wonderful photos – I’m especially fond of the last one – blurry with happiness! ; ) xo

  8. Such a beautiful sweater and I loved the info about the Wattle. I guess the bumps along the road you (and a lot of us!) experienced just make all of us better knitters.
    Amy’s books are marvelous and also made me rethink what type of sweater pattern looks best on me.

  9. That is a lovely cardigan and your adaptation with the wattle design is especially appealing. Looking at the final result, I would not have known how many “corrections” it went through because you make it look effortless. Bravo!

  10. A brilliant post, Rebecca, along with a great set of comments. I bet Ms. Davies will be stoked to see her book open up another vein of historic exploration. Doubly nice to read your commentary about the back and forth of garment knitting. It is so not one-two-three wear!

    I have Kate’s book. I’m a fan of the way she weaves history and design into contemporary garment making. That’s makes the knit all the richer as you’ve so aptly demonstrated. Now you’ve inspired me to knit a local yoke of my own.

  11. This is such a wonderful adaptation! I feel like Kate Davies would love to see this post. It fits you perfectly and I love your color palette.

  12. This was an excellent blog post, thank you again! I love to read about the landscape you are living in because my own landscape is so imporant for me too.

  13. Good grief woman, your talent is boundless, this is stunning! I imagine you are over the moon with it, I know I would be but in all honesty I doubt I have your knitting mettle. Well done you!

  14. What a great re-over, as my kids would say, to accommodate the Wattle. Great colours and it looks so well on you. Nice steek/grosgrain work and a great picture of you en face! Happy!
    I am terrible about following patterns to the letter…not sure what I think will happen if I don’t but you did a great shaping job.
    The picture of the Queen’s gown and Jim Williams song added to the history of it all. The flower really should have a prettier name 🙂

  15. R, it’s fabulous!!! It looks funky and retro all at once and it’s so clever you made this yourself and gave it an Aussie spin. Well done on the re-kint, the final wattle flowers pop against the background and look very wattle-y indeed.

  16. Very nice job with the personalization and I enjoyed the history lesson! It’s funny because foxglove is the one sweater from that book that I had considered making, but was going to personalize with lupins for my mom. I think I am going in a different direction now with a different design, but it is neat to see yours. Lovely job.

  17. What a smart and thoughtful modification, Rebecca! I absolutely love how you brought the local flowers into your yoke and did such a great job on the fit and color combo! Splendid work!!!

  18. What a lovely cardigan! I love the wattle adaptation and I think you have made a little work of art. Wattle grows all over the place here… I have also knitted the Foxgloves cardigan – the only change I have made is to knit the background colour in blue…. then I faced the steek challenge!!!! I am still facing the steek challenge!!!

    Now I have seen your gorgeous little garment I feel I must press on… and stare down the steekface! Seriously though, do I spy your new kilt? Have a great weekend from Over Here in the West….

  19. Looks great and wattle history i didnt know ,Maybe we should try and start up wattle day again. I know when we come over the hill at a certain time of year the forest has a yellow hazy skirt, as the wattles are lower than the gum trees here . It is beautiful. hope you get a lot of wear out of your cardigan.
    I have just bought her Colours of Shetland book and look forward to reading it soon

  20. Lovely cardigan, interesting back story – like Kate Davies’ designs!

    Questions: i) How does one do a steek with a crochet hook?
    and ii) does it have to be faced with grosgrain ribbon or would ‘ordinary’ ribbon do?

  21. Oh my, Wattle you think of next? This is such a gorgeous cardigan!! The wattle yoke is so clever, and is set off so beautifully with the red/plum colour and green buttons. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never really known about Wattle Day, but thanks to you I now know to celebrate spring with a sprig of wattle and a poem or two.

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