The Kerry Kyle

I have written before about the difficult choices and strange escapades that can be involved when photographing knitted blankets outdoors (in relation to The Shieling). Sometimes the weather conditions are against you, sometimes props thwart all your plans, but sometimes, just sometimes, you hit on what you are certain will be the perfect spot to photograph a blanket, and your wish simply cannot be denied.

I designed a blanket for Secret Coast club. It is called The Kerry Kyle: a local name for the west Kyle of Bute, and its Cowal coastline. Kerry is an anglicised variant of the Gaelic ceathramh, meaning quarter – and it signifies, in this context, an old unit of land measurement – a quarterland. As the Rev. Alexander McFarlane put it in 1795: “The whole parish often goes by the name of the parish of the Kerry and is fully as well known in the neighbourhood by that name as by its real one,” and yet, McFarlane noted ” it is never written so.” It is still rarely “written so”, and yet it certainly is so (as the number of local children in the area named Kerry would no doubt testify!)

Detail of Jan Jansson, Lorna, Knapdalia, Cantire, Jura, Ila, Glota, et Buthe insulae (1659). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

One of the issues I was interested in exploring in our Secret Coast project was the connection between naming, mapping, power and knowledge in this part of Scotland. I wrote an essay about the politics behind, and real-world effects of, historic maps of Argyll; talked about the different ways in which places might be brought into being through the mouths, feet, memories and hands of those who live there; and designed the blanket as, in part, a different approach to making-up a landscape – a bringing-into-being of a place.

It’s a blanket inspired by the motifs of local waymarkers, and governed entirely by four-fold symmetry: formed from squares within squares, with diagonals forming larger and smaller squares. A blanket for An Ceathramh Comhalach, the quarterland, the Kerry Kyle!

The Kerry Kyle is surely one of the most beautiful stretches of water in Argyll.   Enclosed by sheltering hills, and well-known for its calm, navigable waters, people have been drawn to Kerry to find safety for many centuries. Ideas of calmness, safety and shelter are surely the very definition of a blanket. I wanted to photograph our blanket above the Kerry Kyle itself, and I knew exactly where. . .

In the weeks prior to the UN climate change summit (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021, local woodsman and climate activist, David Blair, built Argyll an ark. As part of a series of wider acts of creative protest that were designed to draw attention to, and oppose, the UK government’s continuing investment in fossil fuels, Blair’s ark—with its central idea of a refuge against rising waters—is a structure whose message all can understand.

Blair’s ark – a thought-provoking frame for the beautiful Argyll seascape that surrounds it – has, in the months since its construction, become an important destination and space of contemplation for locals and visitors alike. Could we photograph the blanket there?

yes, we could!

Before we left the house, I threaded strands of yarn through each corner, and along the top of the blanket – just as I would as if blocking it on a hap-stretcher. I packed some scissors, more yarn, a small step stool. Tom reached high, and strung the blanket up . . .

. . . and a sort of gigantic hap-stretcher is what the ark became.

It was a cold day. The light was in the wrong place. It was rather windy.

But I think the pictures Tom took of the blanket and the ark that day are beautiful.

. . . and I also love the short film he made (in which myself and Bran are visible, if you look closely).

short film, of the blanket, the ark, the Kerry Kyle

One of my hopes for the Secret Coast project was that, inspired by the themes we were exploring, knitters might be inspired to visit Cowal to find out more about the place. I was thrilled when Simone travelled from Germany and did just that, photographing her club projects in the ark!

If, like Simone, you find yourself near Tighnabruaich, I highly recommend pausing to take a short walk up the hillside, and spend few contemplative moments with the ark and the Kerry Kyle. And, if you’d like to knit yourself a Kerry Kyle blanket, the pattern is available, and there are kits in the shop.