In the spring of 2018, after a hard winter in which I’d been struggling with my depression, I spent some time in Berneray and North Uist. You can get a sense of how much I immediately loved the place, and how very much I enjoyed meeting Meg Rodger and learning more about her work – as artist, wool producer and crofter – by reading this post that I wrote at the time. What I don’t mention in the post was that during my visit I’d had an idea, on the back of which Meg and I had concocted a wee plan. To explain.
Meg had suggested that I’d enjoy a walk out to Udal — a North Uist peninsula, whose landscape and archeological remains, scattered about the shore and machair, told a fascinating story of the relationship between humans and the Hebridean landscape from the Neolithic through the Norse periods. The remains included a wheelhouse, about which I have a thing, and Meg told us that this wheelhouse was really pretty special.
Getting out to Udal involves a 3 mile walk across a spectacular shoreline, backed by fertile machair, upon which cattle graze and flowers bloom.
Then, turning inland, and rising up and out of the peninsula’s rolling dunes, you really get a sense of the liminal nature of this landscape.
The sea carves out its own space from dune and rock and machair and grassy sward
Flocks of plovers gather by the shoreline. Otters fish at the edges of bays and inlets, each more beautiful than the last.
The weather moves quickly here. The skies suddenly darkening in the west can turn to a furious hailstorm in an instant.
Then, just as quickly, the wind might shift and lift, and the world is bright again.
In all weathers, across the peninsula’s white-sand shallows, the sea seems lit from within: a glorious, luminous green-blue.
Walking in this spectacular landscape on that blustery spring day really helped to blow away my winter cobwebs. And the archaeology was inspiring too.
In the 1960s, archaeologist Iain Crawford began a 30 year project of excavation at the Udal. With the help of local volunteers and students, Crawford investigated three interrelated sites which together told an important story of changing ways of island life. A first site revealed that during the Neolithic period, people lived and worked right by the shore, moving inland in the period of climactic change during which the machair was laid down.
At a second site, a well-preserved wheelhouse revealed evidence of human occupation on the machair from the late Bronze age through the late Iron Age, or Pictish period. Local beach stone and driftwood provided material for building, and finds at the site included pottery, bronzes, bone pins and needles, and some stone tools. North of the wheelhouse, a third site yielded many intriguing artefacts: pottery and quernstones, bangles and brooches, decorated combs, coins, cloak pins, and a range of textile-making tools, whittled from deer antler and whalebone. This site told a rich and complex story of humans living and working, making and trading, from their home out on the machair for over a thousand years.
We spent a whole day exploring this inspiring landscape, and as I walked I got to thinking that I’d like to knit a pullover with Meg’s yarn, from wool grown in this landscape in a shade that matched the colours of the sea. Perhaps the sweater might use a circular yoke construction, echoing Udal’s circular wheelhouse. And perhaps it could feature a familiar Hebridean gansey motif, such as the tree of life.
When, windswept and happy, we returned to Berneray that evening, I told Meg what I’d been thinking. We’d already enjoyed learning about each other’s ideas and processes, and, in the spirit of creative exchange, we decided to swap our work: I’d make Meg a sweater in return for one of Meg’s wind drawings, that had been made that very day, as I walked out to Udal.
Meg’s wind drawing hangs above our table, and every time I look at it, I remember the wind, the weather, the landscape and my thoughts.
So then I knitted a pullover for Meg, and wrote a pattern.
And we photographed it at Udal.
The Udal sweater features many elements I enjoy in my design work: twisted rib; a bottom-up construction; a big, bold motif; the use of centred double decreases to shape the yoke around the body, and a nifty turned neckline.
The sweater is knitted in Meg’s own yarn, grown by her Hebridean sheep.
Like the sheep who grew it, the yarn is hardy, but the circular yoke and openwork motifs also lend an element of delicacy to a very wearable outdoor sweater.
From start to finish, this was a really inspiring collaboration with which to be involved. Meg is a complete joy to work with, and the joyful nature of our creative exchange really helped me start to think about how I might start to develop, and involve myself in, different kinds of collaborative activities – activities that are much more about ideas, mutually-respectful conversations, and ways of celebrating each other than they are about commerce or profit. You’ll see much more of such activities from me in coming months.
Kits for the Udal pullover – containing both yarn and pattern – are available from Meg’s shop and prices start at just £63.00.
You can also buy a standalone PDF pattern download from Meg’s shop or Ravelry store.
Udal is a design about a distinctive landscape, its unique history, and our personal creative connections to each other. Meg and I both hope that you enjoy it!