It is a grey and murky day, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you my amazing Spencer dress!
You’ll have probably seen that my Shetland friend, Ella, first scored one of these a few weeks ago in the Lerwick saleroom. She was then put in touch with Margaret Stuart, who originally designed these beautiful pieces in the 1970s and 1980s, and was able to buy a few more. Probably because I wouldn’t stop going on about it, Ella kindly allowed me to purchase one of her haul.
Mine is the same colourway as a Margaret Stuart dress held in the collections of the Shetland Museum.
Although it was knitted over thirty years ago, the Jamieson and Smith shades that have been used in the dress are still immediately recognisable to me: FC14, 122, 1281, 141 (used in my Northmavine hap and hoody) and 125 (used in my Puffin Sweater). FC14 is one of those beautifully complex J&S shades (a deep blue with a slightly shimmering quality because of the way the yarn is composed of so many different colours) while shade 125 is one of my all-time J&S favourites (it is the exact colour of tinned tomato soup).
The fabric of the dress is not dense at all, but really light and airy — the yarn has been worked at a much looser gauge than normal for, say, a Fairisle piece. As a consequence of the gauge, the dress has considerable drape and swing, but the lovely Shetland wool means that it is also soft and warm. The colourway lends the skirt a fabulous visual effect, and I love that the dress combines two traditional Shetland garments – a hap and a spencer – to create a piece which must have looked tremendously contemporary when it was made. It is a brilliant design.
The construction of the dress is also very interesting to me. The body and skirt appear to have been knit flat, in one piece to the armholes. Here you can see the side seam.
The bodice has then been worked back and forth to the shoulders, and, though the sleeves have been picked up around the armholes, they too have been worked flat and seamed. The whole piece is worked over garter stitch, so I imagine the construction has been specifically designed to minimise purling. A one-piece garter-stitch spencer designed by Margaret Stuart appears in Madeleine Weston’s Classic British Knits – on this garment, the seam is worked up the centre, but the minimal-purl, one-piece construction appears very similar to that which has been used in my dress. But imagine the seamless fun that might be had working one of these pieces in the round using the no-purl garter stitch technique!
I am absolutely thrilled with my lovely new dress. Thankyou, Ella and thankyou Margaret for allowing me to acquire it! It will take pride of place in my growing collection of vintage Shetland knitwear!
A comment on Ella’s blog from Margaret herself leads me to hope that she may, at some point, republish the pattern for this wonderful dress. I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to knit one.
For those of you interested in kits
The shop will be updated at 12 noon GMT tomorrow (Sunday December 8th) with more stock of Toatie Hotties, and another new seasonal design!