Sark (n) a simple shirt or chemise
Sark (v) to clothe, to provide with clothing
Sark (n) the underlying structure of a roof or building
Sark (v) to line or underpin
In Scots, sark is a word with an interesting range of meanings. As a verb, it suggests the act of getting dressed, or clothing generally, while as a noun it can refer either to a man’s shirt or to a woman’s shift or chemise. A sark, then, is a foundational garment, the essential layer beneath any outfit. In Scots (and some northern English dialects), to sark a roof is to carefully underpin it, laying plain boards beneath the slates or tiles, while to sark a coat or jacket is to line it, usually with a simple woven cloth of wool or linen. With centuries of layered meanings in reference to attire and architecture, to human buildings and human bodies, sark is a word that chimes with ideas of basic structure, foundations, underpinnings. Our Sark book is an exploration of such ideas, through hand-knitting and through photography.
For me, thinking about Sark began when I picked up Norah Gaughan’s brilliant Twisted Stitch Sourcebook and discovered a completely new-to-me technique of creating texture. By knitting stitches through their back loops, and working increases and decreases in a way that allows pairs of stitches to swap places, you can produce a fabric with strong graphic lines and a beautifully embossed appearance. While Norah’s creative brio was infectious, I found the swatched motifs she’d developed in her Sourcebook completely stunning. Before I knew it, I was a twisted-stitch enthusiast, and, very much inspired by Norah, I began exploring the design potential of this simple and very versatile technique.
When I first really got into knitting, I found myself continually astounded by the commonplace wonder of taking a single strand of yarn and transforming it into a three-dimensional object. I felt a similar sense of wonder when I began working with twisted stitches, for I could take a simple line and move it in any direction!
A twisted-stitch line might carry the eyes and hands on an engaging journey around a piece of knitted fabric, moving purposefully or meandering, criss-crossing or coming to a standstill; turning sudden corners; shifting into angles less acute or more oblique. Sometimes the line’s movement might seem completely organic, as a motif fused with other lines, or flowed out of a section of ribbing.
But the line also seemed equally capable of taking advantage of artifice, by, for example, allowing a garter-stitch row to create the illusion of horizontal continuity. I discovered other nifty, linear transformations: purl stitches placed beside a line lent it a pleasing shaded or shadowed appearance, while slipped stitches and centred double decreases could be used to integrate shaping while maintaining a line’s unceasing direction.
I thought often, in my twisted-stitch experiments, about how the technique felt to me to have the aesthetic effect of putting the inside on the outside, of rendering the hidden interior framework of an object visible. Creating twisted-stitch zig-zags and chevrons around a yoke sweater, for example, felt very much like making the circle’s geometric underpinnings tangible . . .
. . .while, when working a long, twisted-stitch gauntlet, the interlocking lines and angles seemed to me to suggest the supportive internal structure of the human hand and arm.
Sometimes, when knitting twisted stitches, I found myself thinking about the natural lines of bark and branches, of shells and carapaces, of the wings of birds. On other occasions, I felt that the structure-making work of my own working hands echoed other kinds of constructive labour, laying boards, raising beams, or carving stone.
And, when I’d finished a piece, its lines, angles and completed architecture seemed to echo other kinds of infrastructure: pipelines, bridges, grids.
The images that I called to mind when knitting my twisted stitches did not arise out of nowhere. In fact, in large part, they were images with which I was already very familiar through Tom’s photographic work. For example, when knitting Gruggle, I immediately recalled the photographs Tom had created during some experiments with light and folded paper;
working on the crown of Easwas, I saw his bold monochrome images of pylons,
while the deeply textured motifs of Carp-beth and of Esk both brought to mind some of Tom’s black-and-white meditations on leaves, skin and feathers.
Tom is someone who sees frames and line in everything and whose monochrome images often have the powerful effect of bringing structure closer, creating a simultaneous feeling of familiarity and dislocation that can enable us to look at things anew.
Certainly, Tom’s work often makes me see and think about things differently – and one of the many interesting aspects of working on this project has been discovering how my own familiarity with Tom’s individual way of seeing has sparked a different aesthetic appreciation in me, and perhaps a different (and very rewarding) creative approach to design.
It seemed only appropriate, then, to select a collection of Tom’s photographs of structures, foundations and underpinnings to accompany my group of Sark designs – and I hope you find them as inspiring and thought-provoking as I do.
Tom’s monochrome Sark images also chime with the monochrome nature of my Sark collection: six garments and six accessories, all created, in one way or another, with foundational ideas of structure, underpinning and linear simplicity at their heart. These designs have been specifically developed for, and knitted in, the three natural greys of our Ooskit yarn.
This wonderfully woolly wool is grown, sourced and worsted-spun for us in Yorkshire, and its 4-ply structure and smooth, round hand really suit the nature of the twisted stitches, allowing the motifs to stand out in high relief (if substituting yarns, choose one that knits to gauge and is spun similarly). To my mind, you can’t go wrong with greys in designs that are all about the texture … and you might well notice that the monochrome theme continues through the hair of the two models, that is, myself and Claire.
It was Claire’s fabulous natural hair colour that, a few years ago, inspired me to embrace my own – and she remains my grey-haired guru. The pages of this book are filled, then, with images of grey-haired women, wearing grey, but (we hope) quietly defying ideas of the dull or muted.
. . . for this grey, monochrome project has arisen out of the colourful creative energy that defines the whole KDD team and, for all involved, has been the source of much joy and illumination. We hope you enjoy discovering, with us, the inspiring structures of Sark!