In the Spring of 2017 our family moved to Cottars, the wonky, renovation project of a cottage we had fallen in love with and bought earlier that year. Ever since our son was born ten years ago, our little family boat has been rather at the mercy of storms built up far away in the world of big business and finance. We’ve moved and moved again, but, now, finally- hopefully- we are putting down roots. The journey was not in any sense they way we planned, but strangely we seem to have ended up more or less where we originally aimed to be- with a bit of space to grow things; a house which needs a bit of our own graft put into it and will accommodate not only us, but the people we want to have visiting. There is green space around us, yet we are close enough to walk into the small but perfectly formed city we are on the edge of. There is unfinished plumbing; a roof that needs replacing; walls that are yet to have plasterboard installed yet; not a room in the house that doesn’t need decoration finishing (or starting); all we’ve achieved in the garden so far is a lawn (rather than building rubble), a plum tree, some flowers and garlic and the budget is now pretty much non-existent…none of which matters, because we are fools in love with this place.
So Cottars has absolutely entered my soul, and perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s inspired me to knit. Since we’ve moved, I’ve found that certain knitted garments and accessories I already had in my wardrobe have really seemed to have found their true purpose in a lifestyle that involves a lot more outdoors and practical stuff than previously. In addition, I’ve been giving more and more thought recently to building up an ethically sourced wardrobe, which also gives consideration to the environmental issues surrounding waste and is stuff I actually enjoy wearing. I want things that are suited to the season and the task, will last for ages but will also make me smile.
The result of all this is the Cottars Almanac- yes, that title gives a very respectful nod to the seminal work by Elizabeth Zimmermann– a year of garment and accessory patterns inspired by the place where I live. And while these are designs I have come up with for my own wardrobe through the year, I hope there will be items that find a useful place in the wardrobes of many others, even if our lifestyles and climate are different. Most of the patterns will involve one or other or both of my favourite features of knitted items- stranded colourwork and textured stitches. The yarns I’ve used for the patterns so far have have often been British wool or at least from British companies, as I wanted to keep that sense of geographical rootedness, and I’ve been working with some of my favourite suppliers in this respect. That said, many of these patterns will work with hand-spun or home-dyed yarn and the weights used will easily translate to local-to-you yarns.
And so to the first design (because as far as I’m concerned, the knitting year begins in September): September Mitts.
One of my favourite places to stand in our house is in front of our range cooker. When we moved in, the kitchen was a long, narrow, rather dingy space at the back of the house. Meanwhile, the room assigned as a dining room was light, airy and had views out over the garden to hills beyond. I remember standing in the centre of the room when the house was still empty, damp and not yet ours, declaring ‘This is where my cooker will be.’ Now it is indeed where my cooker is and I have spent a lot of time there, stirring pots, keeping an eye on the children clambering up the trees outside and watching the weather marching towards us from those distant hills.
Over our first year living here we’ve had everything from snow storms to heatwaves, but the most changeable month seems to be September. We can begin the day with eerie mist across the field over the road, which then burns off to what feels like midsummer blue skies, then the next day torrential rain or a bite of winter in the air. I think everyone sees September on the calendar and thinks of soup and corduroy, but most of us have had those occasions in this month when we’ve dressed for the chill of the morning, then found ourselves sweating in too-heavy layers by the middle of the day.
My September mitts are about meeting the changing weather of September. Added to a t-shirt and jeans, their mid-forearm length and the extra insulation from stranded colour and a gently undulating textured pattern will warm you almost as much as a sweater, but they can quickly and easily be shed and stashed if the sun comes out. On the other hand (no pun intended), whenever Autumn really does start to kick in towards the end of the month, and beyond, these are hard-wearing and warming mitts to keep the cold winds from sneaking up your coat sleeves.
On September afternoons, the sun- when it is out- hits the other side of the house, so as rainclouds scud towards us, that spot by the stove is the best place to spot rainbows. Hence September mitts are rainbow striped, with the colour work softly merging one colour into the next as we see on the spectrum. For the sample of these, I used Milarrochy Tweed yarn by Kate Davies Designs, the names of which evoke their own landscape: Campion (red); Buckthorn (orange); Stockiemuir (yellow); Garth (green); Ardlui (blue) and Gloamin’ (purple). It produces a richly coloured, warm yet light fabric, and I love the way the colours of the tweedy flecks in this 70% wool, 30% mohair 4ply/fingering weight yarn makes one shade speak to another within the stripes, as well as adding more texture. However, using a smoother, sock-type yarn would give another effect again, bringing out the vertical pattern of textured purl stitches which wave their way up the glove. I found I used only around half of the 50g/100m ball of each of the colours except Gloamin’ in my small/medium sized sample (the pattern also includes a medium/large size), so this could absolutely be a stash busting or mini-skein suited project.
More details about the pattern can be found on Ravelry, where to celebrate the launch you can get an automatic 50% discount on the regular price at checkout if you buy it before midnight on Tuesday 11th September. Next month- the first garment in the Cottars Almanac.