Today I’m showing you the Wilhelmina cardigan, previously also referred to on the blog as “my magnificent fluff monster”. I worked on this cardigan during the great winter storm of late February last year when the snow was building up against my windows and long artfully sculpted icicles hung from the upper window panels. I had at that point just started working on the snowflakes and stars on the upper part of the body and felt very chuffed to be so extremely in step with the seasons. I thought I would write about her here now another winter is coming up and I’ll reach for her more often with the cold setting in.
Knitting this project brought back a lot of memories and feelings from back when I was a beginner knitter and made me ponder how my life looked like back then. Let me take you on a trip through time and space and conquer the seas of emotion and nostalgia! I remembered the hopes, ideas and aspirations I had at the time as a knitter, crafter and even more general about my life. It’s uncanny how something like the memories of pining for the skills, experience and materials to make a certain pattern has such an avalanche of emotions attached to it even years and years later.
I vividly remember seeing this book, Rowan Nordic Tweed, for the first time. The booklet was published as part of the Rowan Autumn-winter collection in 2011, so around August-September of that year. At that point I had been knitting for a few years, had a couple of garments under my belt, and I was becoming more serious about garment knitting. This was during a time I was very much still puzzling together what kind of maker I was going to be, how I wanted to present myself and how to connect that to my abilities and skills.
Seeing this collection felt like a homecoming and looking back it seems like the starting point of things falling into place for me in terms of knitting and general style (although that process still took years). In many ways it feels like the start of finding myself in this craft. Even though that booklet is not a direct blueprint for the things I wear and make today I can trace many things back to this book. It was a starting point of my development into the knitter I am these days and a springboard towards finding designers, yarns and traditional knitting styles that have become the foundation of my knit style. Also, in part, the booklet does reflect my current style pretty well still so there is that too. All this is to say that I have lots of feelings about this booklet, which in part is definitely clouded in rose tinted nostalgia.
This brings me to this design; Wilhemina by Marie Wallin ( Ha, talk about a familiar name in my current knitting queue!). The design stuck with me from the first moment I saw the book. What stopped me from knitting it then was twofold. The first reason was skill related: I had never done so much colourwork, and definitely not such involved colourwork. My most substantial colourwork up at that point had been two yoke sweaters and a jumper with some intarsia bits that I fudged my way through ( the inside looked like my cats attacked it, before said attack happened is all I’m going to say about it). So instead I tackled Halla and Finna (now frogged) in the collection that seemed more manageable, given the skills I had.
The second reason was simply that I could not afford the yarn. I don’t always feel a strong connection between pattern and recommended yarn, as I substitute a lot of yarn, but for this design I felt that a lot of what I liked about it and what elevated it above similar patterns is the yarn. The colours and how they work together, the resulting muted colourwork and the halo and feel of the fabric… I don’t always feel like the yarn has so much to say in a design and if I do I don’t always think it’s a good thing, but I feel in this case the dynamic between yarn and design works in both’s favour.
The yarn is Rowan Colourspun, and it was a whole saga to eventually get it here in my hands. From what I read on ravelry this yarn was quite popular and is still a much looked out for yarn. I think that is in part because it is so hard to substitute in designs, and the yarn line itself has been discontinued for years since a huge cull by Rowan in 2016, as part of their whole overhaul (personally the new direction speaks less to me). The yarn is unlike any I have ever seen with its plumb single, plied with a tonal mohair. It makes for a unique knitted fabric; quite thick, very warm but at the same time light and airy. The mohair content makes it fluffy – my working title for this project was ‘fluff monster’ – yet the woollen plump single gives it body. I read that each shade is produced by blending two solid and two printed colours together. To my eye it creates tonal colour shifts in the yarn, that gives a heathered appearance when knit up. The colour palette of the yarn is quite particular and limiting with lots of moody pinks. In the ball it looks like a colour madness, as if someone let my three year old self loose with a bunch of coloured pencils on a yarn ball, but it knits up surprisingly cohesive.
Over the years I occasionally looked out for the recommended yarn on websites like ebay, but what I found was usually not enough for a main colour, never mind finding enough for both the main colour and the various contrast colours. I also kept looking for sort-of-similar yarns to sub it with, but that proved a difficult task as well. When I picked up spinning it even went through my mind that somewhere down the line when my skills had improved enough I could try spinning something similar.
Imagine my surprise when, by chance, I stumbled on this yarn in the sale section of a yarn store in my own country! They had several colours in stock and enough of two colourways to be used as a main colour, one of which was my favourite colourway of the whole range! I couldn’t believe my luck. So much so, that I was still somewhat dubious of it throughout ordering it and still sort of expected a cancellation email (the website looked almost… ancient, I figured they might just have not updated their stock for ages). Well, when that email never came, and the package was actually send out to me… it was promptly lost by our mail carrier! Sad trombone! It stayed lost long enough that I got a refund, as they had no idea where it was and not enough stock to resend it. “Well, that was that,” I thought, “a good moment to put the entire idea of making this pattern to rest.” Until a long while later, when I got an email that the package had unexpectedly been returned to the store again and if I still wanted it they would resend it. Couple of days later I actually had the yarn in my house. Phew…can you imagine the adventures the yarn must have had out there frolicking in the land without time and space?
After catching up with the skeins on all their sightseeing I pretty much cast on on the spot and the Wilhelmina was my main knitting project for the end of winter and beginning of spring this year. It’s an oversized colourwork cardigan with a Nordic moose pattern on the lower half of the body and Norwegian star and snowflake patterning on the upper half of the body. The sleeves are left plain which I usually don’t opt for but in this style spun yarn you hardly even notice it. The shape of the cardigan make the dropped sleeves drape and sit on the body differently than my other cardigans and jumpers with this sleeve style and I think it would have been hard to pattern it satisfactory in this style, so I think I even prefer the plain sleeves over other options for this sweater.
Pattern is written to be knit flat, but I knit it in the round. I picked up stitches for the sleeves from the armhole and knitted them top down to the cuff. The armholes are intentionally comparatively quite small to the oversized-ness of the rest of cardigan. After I sewed the first armhole for steeking I noticed the thread was sewn over the knitting almost without stretching it, causing an extremely short and non-elastic armhole. So I unpicked the seam and resewed it slightly pulling the fabric as I went. What a difference that made! It’s odd because I’ve sewed my fair share of armhole steeks and I never encountered this problem before so either this armhole is very small or this is unconsciously the first time that I sewed the steek without giving it any stretch.
I knit the first half of the cardigan in a mix of intarsia and stranded colourwork techniques, and the other half in regular stranded colourwork. So you can imagine the first bit takes a bit more effort and focus. The colourwork in general is quite intense on this one, lots of long floats, 3 or 4 colours in some rows and not super intuitive repetitions made even more so because I modified it to be knit in the round. So it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, however the resulting fabric and colourwork are beautiful so if you are up for it you have my blessing!
I don’t know how well the colours of the yarn come across on the photos but there is a rich variety in tones of the yarn and I absolutely love it. My main colour is Appletreewick, a warm heather pink with hints of terracotta, olive green and beige. It reminds me of a heath landscape in late autumn. When the heather is just past its bloom but the warm pinks and purples of what was still remain, but the brown and beige of the grassland and sand are slowly taking over. The predominant contrast colour is Buttertups, a light camel with tones of pink and sage. The other two colours are used only sparsely. Semerwater is a dark mix of black, purple, blue and grey and reminds me of cold stormy winter nights or the absolute deepest point in a big lake. The final colour is Hubberholme, which is a rich mix of jewel colours purple and jade green and some hints of brown.
After looking at people’s comments on Ravelry and having a look at the finished measurements of the garment I decided to knit the smallest size. I literally never do this, my body measurements never put me even close to that size bracket and also I ~like~ positive ease so gimme oversizedness! However this one is really, VERY, oversized. So I measured a few of my garments and decided to size down a bit to get a slightly less oversized but still oversized jacket. I was nervous about it and tried it on a few times while it was in progress just to be sure and it work out so hurrah! Despite knitting a smaller size than initially planned, I still needed all the balls of my main colour, conversely I’ve got 2 balls of my camel contrast colour left. My gauge is pretty much spot on so that can’t be it either. I saw a few other commenting on it on Ravelry so I’m going to assume something weird happened on Rowan’s end there.
I’m pleased with the cardigan and it came out pretty much exactly as I envisioned it. I’ve been really into these muted earthy colours of heathery pinks, browns and greens lately and this fits perfectly in that theme. Combining these earthy colours with striking jewel colours gives it a bit of a mystique and majestic air, like some of Alice Starmore’s colour combinations. I don’t often veer towards figurative knitting in sweaters, but I really like it in Norwegian style knitwear and it’s on my (loooooong) list to do more of it.
It’s a really warm cardigan with its mohair content and the plumpness trapping a lot of air. Now I know that you could describe this as a shapeless blanket of oversized cardigan with muted washed out colourwork that I wouldn’t give a second look on the rack of the second hand store’s sweater department. But wouldn’t you know? Those are exactly some of the things why I like it so much. I’m more and more cultivating a mindset in which I pretend my apartment is a cabin in the woods and prancing around in this oversized cosy floof monster fits that. Here is to a winter being covered by fluff!
Finally I cannot ignore my emotional attachment to this pattern collection and what it means to me to basically come full circle and fulfil a long hold knitting dream for myself that I could not fulfil 10 years ago in my knitting infancy. At the same time it feels as a sort of ode to a certain period in my time, to the person I was then, the dreams and aspirations I had. I cannot tell you how much it has taken and how wonderful it is to have arrived at a time and place where I can speak of my pride and love for the person I was in that period. Taking on this project was above all an act of self love and being able to do that and state it here is worth celebrating in and of itself. Knitting this project was worth it for more than just coming away with a warm cardigan at the end of it.