‘”But it may be fine- I expect it will be fine” said Mrs Ramsay, making some little twist of the reddish-brown stocking she was knitting, impatiently. If she finished it tonight, if they did go to the Lighthouse after all, it was to be given to the Lighthouse keeper for his little boy…’
Virginia Woolf To The Lighthouse
Although set in Scotland, Virginia Woolf’s most celebrated novel is widely accepted as being based on memories of childhood holidays spent in Cornwall, the Lighthouse in question being the one in Carbis Bay whose beam she recalled sweeping across the waves to fall on the staircase of Talland House, St Ives, where her family stayed each summer.
This BBC radio programme explores and explains Woolf’s relationship with Cornwall from the starting point of the walking she did there. It makes the point that lighthouses hold a particular fascination because they are both a promise of safety and a reminder of danger. Presenter Alexandra Harris also speaks about how, years after the death of Woolf’s mother caused an abrupt halt to the family’s annual visits to St Ives, the author would return to the area to walk and think, finding it unchanged in the intervening years.
To The Lighthouse is a novel that, like St Ives itself, I first encountered in my late teens. Similarly, I find myself returning to it periodically, each time with different eyes, as while the novel is unchanging, my viewpoint and understanding of family life and relationships (the central theme) shifts.
The Lighthouse itself- or rather the light it emits- were the inspiration for this cardigan, the third piece in my St Ives collection. The lace pattern uses the geometric style of the Art Deco movement to suggest the light beaming across the waves. A soft pleating effect and textured triangles run in opposite directions from the centre back and front of a kimono-style, open fronted cardigan with positive ease and vintage-style femininity.
The cardigan has a slightly unconventional construction, which actually makes it a moderately easy knit. The back is knitted flat and without shaping, since the pleating effect of the lace pattern causes the finished fabric to gently skim over the curves of the body. The two fronts are also knitted flat with shaping at the top edge which, when seamed with the back section, forms the collar and makes the front hem drop down. Instead of being knitted cuff up or shoulder down, the sleeves are knitted lengthways, picking up stitches to join around the armhole as you go- no easing of sleeve caps and a little less seaming work to do!
Naturally, I looked to Cornwall to source the yarn for this design. Blacker Yarn’s Tamar Lustre 4ply proved perfect. It has the requisite sheen and drape I felt was needed for the feeling of 1930s elegance I wanted to evoke. I admit I got pretty overexcited after I blocked the first pieces I knitted up- blocking is super important for this project, by the way, so I’ve included a few tips in the pattern. The Tamar Lustre palette features some wonderful soft and classic colours, but it was the fabulous Sonja at Blacker Yarns who suggested Tala Water as the colourway for this sample, and it was an excellent choice, don’t you think?
When I styled To The Lighthouse for our photoshoot in St Ives I wanted to explore a couple of different ways to wear it. The first was using loose but voluminous layers, somewhat in the Japanese Mori style, with a dress from Toast under a t-shirt from People Tree. The cardigan is light enough to sit on top without overwhelming the light cotton fabrics and wearing plain white underneath allows the lace pattern to shine.
The second look is closer to my own everyday wardrobe- black skinny jeans and a black polo neck (both Marks and Spencer). I think this version shows that, despite the vintage references of this piece, it is very much wearable in a contemporary style as a lightweight layer. In warmer weather than the chilly November it was when these photos were taken I’ll be wearing To The Lighthouse over t-shirts or vests with those same skinny jeans.
At this point I’d just like to give a shout out to Jim Arnall-Culliford, the tech editor for this collection. This was my first time working with Jim (with Jen lending her valuable experience and expertise where needed). To The Lighthouse was the pattern I was most nervous about getting right, for reasons of size, sizing and complexity, but Jim helped me to create what I hope will be an accurate, clear and enjoyable knitting pattern to use- and showed endless patience and good humour in doing so. He was especially helpful in making sure that techniques were explained correctly, and no wonder, as Jim and Jen have been working on creating what looks like a marvellous resource- A Year of Techniques, featuring 12 patterns and tutorials to upgrade your knitting skills, complete with linked online tutorials. I have a feeling I might have to add this one to my bookshelf!