Christie Johnstone

This sweater is all about colour and pattern. I have already mentioned the unconscious influence of a blanket, but, in a conscious way at least, what I was inspired by were the shor’ goons (short gowns / blouses) that were worn by Newhaven fishwives. I’ve seen a couple of surviving late nineteenth-century examples, which are made of strippit (striped) or stamp-patterned linen, in soft pinks and greens (the colours of these garments would have been much more vibrant a century ago, of course). I’ve also seen some more recent examples, which, until a few decades ago, were worn as part of the gala costume of the women of Newhaven. These similarly feature stripes, sprigs, chevrons, or polka dots in a vertical arrangement, but are made of lighter, more delicate cottons (as would befit something worn for ‘best’ rather than work). In many different visual depictions of fishwives, the fabric of the shor’ goons is generally shown as cream or yellow, while pinks and greens predominate in the patterning. Here are a couple of examples.

(detail of J M McGhie’s portrait of Jessie Hughes, “The Fisher Lass” (c.1900))

I did not, in any sense, set out to make a shor’ goon, but rather wanted to design something that was suggestive of the pleasing colours and patterns I’d seen used on those garments. After a while with my Jamieson and Smith shade card, I settled on a faded, feminine palette, that I built around shades 2008 and 72.

I wanted to use a very simple repeat that had, like the patterned shor’ goons, a bit of vitality and movement. I settled on a frequently used peerie that I’d tried previously on this hat. I find this a particularly fun peerie to work because of the way it does a lot with very little. It is a multiple of five stitches, and each round is the same, basic 3×2 multiple, arranged in different ways. Essentially, all you have to remember is one round and where to place it.

I set myself a couple of other simple design-tasks, too. The first was to keep the pattern as continuous as possible through the shaping. You may remember my conundrum with the side-shaping of the Tortoise and Hare sweater. Here there are also convenient blank rounds in which to add the shaping, but, unlike the Tortoise and Hare with its long repeats, one can keep the pattern entirely continuous simply by increasing in multiples of five. Unlike many other Fairisle sweater designs, the incorporated shaping used here is very flexible, as one can adjust it to meet many different kinds of body measurements. There are some small losses in the sweater’s vertical arrangement (which the eagle-eyed will note is slightly different between the waist and bust because of the way the increases affect pattern placement) but this is, I think, offset by the considerable gains one makes in horizontal continuity. There is a six inch difference between waist and bust measurements, but no ugly pattern breaks at the side ‘seams’!

(I know you like to see how the sweater is shaped, so please excuse the shot of my armpit and its grafted stitches. Some stretching is inevitable there. )

My other task was to get the pattern to line up perfectly. This can be tricky with a multi-coloured allover pattern worked from bottom-up: one must knit exactly the same number of repeats for both sleeves and body before joining them together. My arms and body are reasonably proportionate, but this is not the case with everyone. One does not want a sweater whose patterns match up nicely, but which is finished off with half-mast sleeves, or a too-short waist. This sweater solves potential problems with proportion by casting body and sleeves on provisionally, then working the corrugated ribbing downward to the required length(s) when the rest of the garment is complete. See how the peeries match up on arms and body? I am all about small knitterly pleasures. . .

The neckline is square-ish, and formed with a steek, while the sleeves (sitting somewhere between raglan and set-in) are shaped to the yoke with lines of centred double decreases. By this point, I was so obsessed with keeping the peerie colours continuous, that I decided to work them across the decreases. This is a fudge which keeps (to an extent at least) the illusion of horizontal visual continuity, but I’m not sure about the final effect. It is possible and perhaps preferable to work the decreases as a sort of faux ‘seam’ in the background colour. It will probably look neater, and so I am considering it for when I write up the pattern. What do you think?

These pictures were taken at Cellardyke during our walk on Saturday. Despite the photographer’s quips about the shor’ goon in the shor’ goon, I love the colours and patterns of this sweater, and am really rather pleased with the design.

I shall shortly enter full on pattern-writing mode: first of all, Deco waits to be completed, and then I shall refine the design of this sweater, which will be called Christie Johnstone. This comes from Charles Reade’s 1853 book of the same name: a rather dodgy novel, but an incredibly interesting and influential publication. Christie Johnstone was Reade’s representation of a Newhaven fishwife who, in many ways, set the bar for the curious way in which these working women featured in Victorian popular culture. Tourists flocked to Newhaven in search of Christie Johnstone; men fell for the very idea of her, and women copied her distinctive ‘costume’ in their fashionable attire. I’ll hold fire on the rest of my thoughts about Christie Johnstone, as I intend to write a short piece about her and her peculiar place in the history of fishing and fashion – the sort of thing I’ve recently been producing for Rowan or The Knitter – which will accompany the pattern when it is published. More of this anon. In the meantime, you can find the sweater’s specs over on Ravelry.