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The 'Garden Pot' Cardi, and Thoughts on Mosaic Colourwork

LBHandknits

gardenpot1.jpg

A lot of people have asked me about this cardigan, and I kept neglecting to write about it. But when I took it off this afternoon I noticed the light in the garden was good. So perhaps it was time for a photoshoot and a proper introduction.

This garment, which I call the Garden Pot Cardi for reasons that will soon become apparent, was one of those experiments which gets worn quite a bit but was never meant to become a pattern. The main reason, is that the yoke motif is straight out of a stitch dictionary (and I prefer to be more original with my designs). You can find it in Mosaic Knitting, by Barbara Walker, and it’s ‘Mosaic 48: Garden Pot.’

A year or so ago I was asked to teach a workshop on mosaic colourwork, and this was one of the things I made in preparation for it. Or rather, I started making it, then got bored half way through and abandoned it, then came across it languishing in a bag months later and managed to finish it when I accidentally took said bag on a long bus trip instead of the project I actually meant to take. As one would!

gardenpot2.jpg

But anyhow: Mosaic colourwork, also known as slip stitch colourwork. It is undergoing a bit of a resurgence in popularity these days, but is still fairly unusual compared to ordinary (stranded) colourwork. The basic premise is: You work with one colour at a time on any given row, using slip stitches to display the colour from the previous row, thereby creating a colourwork effect.

If you are completely new to the technique, this article by Interweave offers and excellent introduction. And if you care to delve deeper, the aforementioned Mosaic Knitting by Barbara Walker is the tome you need.

Often presented as an ’easier’ alternative to stranded colourwork, mosaic knitting does eliminate the need to manage multiple strands of yarn simultaneously. It also produces a stretchier fabric, since there aren’t floats on the underside to constrain it. For these reasons, some see it as a clever substitute for stranded knitting.

However, to my eye slip stitch colourwork is so visually distinct from stranded colourwork, that the two are anything but interchangeable. It is also worth noting that slip stitch colourwork is governed by a rather restrictive set of spatial rules, which severely limits the range of forms this technique can be used to produce. These two things are in fact connected, and if you study the motifs produced with the slip stitch technique, you will notice a certain look of squarishness/ pixelation that is common to all the imagery. Whereas with stranded knitting it is possible to produce smooth, rounded, organic-looking shapes, with mosaic knitting any attempt at such a shape will ultimately result in a - well, distinctly mosaic - look. Even the flowers in my Garden Pot yoke look like tiled representations of flowers, which the eye keeps trying to break down into a rhythmic collection of squares and rectangles, rather than actual flowers.

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I don’t mean to make it sound as if I dislike the technique. I just feel that trying it because you think it will achieve the same result as stranded colourwork, but will be easier, is the wrong reason to try it. Mosaic knitting produces a rather specific look and texture, and if you like it then that’s a great reason to try it.

Me? Well, I like my Garden Pot cardigan (knitted out of some random skeins of DK Shetland, which Jenni of Apple Oak Fibre Works was clearing out of her shop a year ago). And I am happy to show interested folks how to work the technique. But for some reason, I do not feel inspired to design my own slip stitch colourwork motifs, whereas stranded colourwork designs come to me readily and constantly.

And if you want to knit your own Garden Pot cardi: Find a cardigan pattern with a circular yoke construction, which allows for a horizontal panel of 31 rows, with 16 stitch repeats, plus a few stitches left over on each side. Then fill that panel with repeats of the Mosaic 48 chart from Barbara Walker’s Mosaic Knitting. I believe this chart is top-down reversible, so you can use either a top-down or a bottom-up construction method, whichever you prefer. If anyone ends up giving it a try, I would love to see.

Meanwhile, the Garden Pot cardi is one of those ‘just for me’ garments which I enjoy wearing all the more, because it was made using a technique (and yarn) I do not often gravitate toward. Now, perhaps after 6 months of wear, it’s time to add those missing buttons…

Has anyone else tried mosaic - aka slip stitch - colourwork? If you are also a stranded colourwork knitter, I would love to know what you think of one vs the other.