Here’s another of my favourite designs from the Secret Coast collection – Pollphail
This simple, top-down cardigan was the last in the collection to be released, but the first to be conceived. A few years ago, I read about Pollphail, the ‘ghost village’ on the Cowal peninsula which had been built by the British Government in the 1970s to house construction workers from the oil industry. Never used or inhabited, the site fell into decay when the contracts and the workers never came, but was transformed decades later by creative collective, Agents of Change, into what they described as a public gallery, where the concrete walls were canvases, and you could enjoy art for free.
Pollphail had been removed from the landscape by the time I read about it. Tom and I then visited the empty site.
And, though I couldn’t experience it in the landscape in which it had been created, I was able to appreciate the transformative artwork of Agents of Change by exploring Canmore , the online database managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Archaeologist, Alex Hale and his colleagues had spent some time carefully documenting Pollphail and its artwork prior to its demolition. It was really inspiring to see the work of Agents of Change, and I found the work Historic Environment Scotland had done inspiring too–preserving a now-lost and significant group of artistic interventions for our collective memory. I asked Alex if he’d write about Pollphail for our book, and was thrilled when he agreed.
I also immediately knew I wanted to create a garment that, like the bare walls of Pollphail, treated knitted fabric as a blank canvas awaiting decoration. I had tried my hand at crewelwork in the past, and had tried a few creative mends of my own knits, but had very little experience of embroidering directly onto hand-knitted fabric. So I got myself a copy of this.
This is a brilliant book. It’s not in any sense an exhaustively technical how-to tome — but it is extraordinarily inspiring. What I love about Christofferson’s work is that, unlike some other kinds of embroidery, her straight lines and bold motifs seem to respond directly to the natural qualities of hand-knitted fabric.
Like counted cross-stitch, you can use the rows and stitches of the knitted fabric as a guide when working such motifs. This was the kind of embroidery I could get on board with! I also liked that, while maintaining its folksy-vibe, this colourful stitching looked cleaner, and less fussy, than some other kinds of embroidery I’d seen. Inspired by Christoffersson, I spent a bit of time experimenting, and eventually came up with this.
Three rows of horizontal strands cross three knitted stitches and are couched in the centre by a strand of a contrasting shade, which, carried up the back of the work, forms the next motif.
I feel confident in saying that this is a technique that, even if completely new to embroidery, any knitter might accomplish with a tapestry needle.
Once I’d developed the motifs, I asked Claire to join me test-knitting the design. I wrote up a pattern and we both knit ourselves a cardigan.
I like to wear slightly cropped cardigans that I can throw on over dresses. Claire prefers her cardigans to land at hip-height, working with a top and trousers. So the pattern is written for two lengths – cropped and regular.
Modified raglan shaping around the top of the shoulders gives the cardigan a polished, tailored shape.
And the garment edges–knit all in one piece–are finished with garter stitch and i-cord, for stability. You could easily slot in i-cord buttonholes here if you prefer to wear your cardis closed.
I knitted my Pollphail in the Crowdie shade of Schiehallion, with contrast shades of Mooring, Daunder, Rhubarb and Faded Overalls.
Claire used exactly the same palette, but with Faded Overalls as the main colour.
Claire also chose to work two vertical bands of embroidery on her front panels, while I adopted three. The choice is yours!
When I’d finished Pollphail, and put it on, I was very surprised by how immediately smart the garment felt. I think the shape and structure really help with this, and if you don’t fancy trying your hand at embroidery any time soon, it is a cardigan I could definitely see knitted in a single colour. On the other hand, the embellishment really makes the process of finishing this cardigan lots of fun: Claire and I were definitely pleased with ourselves at the end!
Pollphail was really enjoyable to develop and produce. In its combination of initial research, creative process, engaging making, and the end result of a garment that’s both practical and stylish, it really is my ideal kind of project! Huge thanks to Claire for coming along with me for the ride, to Tom, as always, for photography, and to Alex Hale for sharing the story of Pollphail in a brilliant and thought-provoking piece that you can read in our Secret Coast book.
Tom also produced a short film of the site as it is today, which you can view (together with all of his films from the Secret Coast project) on this page.
If you’d like to try your hand at knitting (and embroidering) a Pollphail, we have kits in both the Faded Overalls and Crowdie colourways available in the shop, and the pattern can be downloaded there, or from Ravelry.