Island Song – v.4

The final trio of colours in the Island Song collection take us into the purple range of hues. They are Bramble, Penrhyn and Guernsey.

Bramble

Spiky thorn                                                                                                                                                    and tangled scrub;                                                                                                                                   sweet purple stains her lips and tiny hands.

Our family has always enjoyed gathering food from the wild. When we lived in town, dog walks and picnics in the country always seemed to involve foraging for wild food for some kind of meal or preserve or other. I don’t know if we were odd in doing this or not, for us it’s normal. My father had a well-thumbed copy of Food For Free by Richard Mabey which he would consult as to the more dubious species; sometime he could persuade us to partake of them and sometimes he would just have to plough into whatever it was on his own. One of our parents friends was convinced we were trying to poison him by serving slices of Giant Puffball fried with slabs of traditionally cured gammon and refused to eat it although it was perfectly delicious and quite safe. But though I love seafood, even I baulked at picking winkles out of their shells with a pin; I remember watching fascinated as my dad thoughtfully chewed and swallowed before admitting to “rubbery and gritty”.

Some of the more mainstream flavours of the wild are favourites across all our families now; my nephews and nieces have been initiated in the annual excitement that is exploding bottles of Elderflower Champagne, so full of sugar it can dissolve your teeth but delicious and yeasty, even when you have to strain out the tiny insects that were hidden in the frothy white blossoms you pick in full sun. We’ve also bred the next generation of prawners – something of a competitive sport across our much wider extended family as to who can get the longest prawn or biggest haul (weighed in ounces, shell on) and whose successes have been diligently recorded in pencil on the kitchen cupboard door for longer than I’ve been alive (my aunty still seems to hold the current record from August 2000 which appears to have been a bumper year).

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Blackberry picking is probably the most acceptable form of foraging though and isn’t just confined to slightly bonkers forager families like ours. My father and oldest brother were the best and most dedicated at blackberry picking, I was never as keen. The headlands are thick with wild bramble scrub and those blackberries are tainted with salty sea spray and less palatable. But around the cottage the bramble thickets yield sweeter, plumper berries and despite the savage thorns that lacerate unwary little bare legs, the brambles are never completely eradicated to supply the delicately scented berries to colour and flavour the ever popular blackberry-and-apple compote, crumbles and pies.

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Penrhyn

Heather grey                                                                                                                                              riven cold rock;                                                                                                                                              yet warmed by fire, the hearthstone welcomes home.

Most of us think of slate as a blueish grey. Slate of course comes in many greyish hues though depending on the minerals present in the rock as it was formed and for a grey fanatic like me I find this endlessly fascinating.

Welsh slate is famous throughout the world for its beauty and quality as a building material and for decorative use. It’s very smooth and durable and has been exported widely. Although a lot of slate that is used in Britain now is imported from India and China because it’s cheaper, Welsh slate is still highly sought after  – if you can afford it!

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There are several slate quarries in Wales, Penrhyn Quarry the one that inspired this shade is still active and is in Bethesda just on mainland North Wales below Anglesey. The slate from here is generally considered to be the finest slate in the world. It’s also the quarry that I photographed the quarry lake blue in from yesterday’s post. Whilst the slate quarrying business continues further up, the lower section now houses the activity centre Zip World where you can fly over the quarry and lake on a zip wire … if that’s your idea of thrills!

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The steps to the cottage and other areas are in the gorgeous purple shade known as Penrhyn Purple (or Heather Blue or Bangor Blues) and to me it’s a comforting and soft shade that seems warmer than the stone itself. A cool 590 million years old, it’s so old it’s beyond imagining and puts human history into its perspective of having only just happened by comparison. The slate steps themselves having only been in situ for a mere 130 years…

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This soft purple grey is the first shade I envisioned to dye for this collection. It’s the one I’ve had to dye most often to get right and it’s an elusive colour to photograph. Perhaps that’s fitting for such an ancient colour; it’s allowed to be a tad awkward!

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Guernsey

Horizon,                                                                                                                                                     waves slap the keel;                                                                                                                                 hand on tiller, a sailor tacks for shore.

This is a slightly odd one but nevertheless it is a very strong association of colour for me. Guernsey is for the warm navy blue shade of guernsey jumpers or jerseys – the Channel Islands seem to have had a monopoly on the naming of these sea faring sweaters!

Made from densely spun smooth 5-ply wool yarn knitted at tight gauge, they’re designed to keep out wind and with wool’s characteristic of being warm even when wet; guernseys must have saved lives of seafaring folks by staving off hypothermia. Now most people will go to sea wearing quite technical manmade fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable. But even when I was little, all our jumpers were made of wool and we all seemed to have guernseys for pottering around on the shoreline or in boats. Flicking back through our family photo albums for this project, it struck me that in the earlier photos, all of us were in guernseys, my parents, us, family friends. Later photos from the 1980’s as we grew, we children were in cotton sweatshirts although my parents continued to wear wool. This photo taken of me in Anglesey on the headland with the sea behind shortly before my first birthday shows me in my first guernsey – oversized to grow into with rolled up sleeves! My mum tells me it was a pale blue shade – I don’t remember this jumper, just the later dark blue ones I had to wear at my first school. It’s possibly the only photo I can show you of me as a small child, rather embarrassingly I was somewhat averse to wearing clothes as a littl’un as scores of family photos show! There is another amusing photo of me half naked having a sitz bath in the washing up bowl on the lawn … but still wearing my guernsey…

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My father wore his guernsey as his not-at-the-office clothing for weekends and around the house so to me it is the one garment that is inseparable in my mind from him. My mother has it still and I asked her if I could photograph it to show the colour I had in mind when I was dyeing the shades. Despite years of regular wear, it’s still in excellent condition, just a tiny bit of fraying at the neck where it grazed his neck which I need to darn. Otherwise – perfect. A really sustainable garment which just shows how economic a well designed and constructed wool garment can be – in stark contrast to the sad throwaway culture of fashion we have now where garments can wear out in a matter of months or even weeks.

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Guernseys (also known as ganseys) and other similar tightly knit wool sweaters were worn all over Britain and other coastal areas of maritime countries and so are a part of our collective heritage for lots of us regardless of where we live. Some have wonderful intricate stitch patterns; lore suggests they could be regional to allow identification of lost fishermen although I don’t know how true this really is. Nevertheless the beautiful patterning of ganseys is a massive subject on which I personally know little but has been explored extensively by modern knitwear designers to as a rich mine of textile culture. It is something I’d like to explore in my own knitting in due course. They can also be different colours – there are some gorgeous shades available now in traditional gansey yarn.

To my mind though a traditional guernesy  is a simply constructed tight knit, plain stitch jumper with the ribbed neck and cuffs, split hem, straight neck line and the simple rib and garter pattern at the armscye. And it’s always always deep navy blue…

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So there you have the final three shades – I’ve finished up on the colours that are perhaps most personal to my memories of being “in a place” rather than the ones that are directly inspired by Anglesey itself. But that is my hiraeth; the true meaning of longing for the place in time that you can only visit in your memory but never truly return to.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the background to the colours too. I will do another post with the colours all together so you can see how they work that way. In time I’d like to do more of just a few of the colours in different combinations to help those who might find it harder to visualise how they work.

But for now I need to get back to finalising the yarn itself, there’s still work to be done on labelling and skeining and dyeing and the product listings so there will be a little pause before it comes into the shop. Thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane; I’m so looking forward to seeing how you take the colours into the future in your knitting projects!

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