Friday, June 24, 2011

The Waterhorse Sweater

If you've ever spent time in Ireland, England, or Scotland, you'll know that the only things keeping you from dying of consumption are:
  • peat fires
  • whiskey or Guinness
  • a densely knit wool sweater
It's wet in this part of the world. That famous green comes with a price: rain, fog, and mist, and lots of all three. There's a reason sheep thrive in the British Isles: their wool is warm, even when wet.

My husband's grandfather, in England, 1940s? The resemblance between this man and mine is astonishing. Note his beautiful sweater!

When I watch movies set in any of these places, I enjoy the scenery, the accents, the ruddy-cheeked men in tweed caps...but mostly, I enjoy the handknits. Think Molly Weasley's Christmas gifts to Harry and Ron, or the little wool caps and scarves Hermione wears. Think of Lucy's little cardigan when she meets Mr. Tumnus for the first time in Narnia. Think Nanny McPhee's charges during that beach picnic.

I have a fantasy of being an on-set knitter, recreating period knits for actors to wear.
So I practically drooled while watching "The Waterhorse" (based on the novel by Dick King Smith of "Babe" fame), set on Loch Ness during the Second World War. Forget that it stars Ben Chaplin (squee!), or that the little boy in it resembles my son with his dark hair, pale skin, and freckles.

Yarn posing with some wartime-era player piano rolls...

This little boy wears handknits! Lots of them, in varying shades of wartime grey. Sweaters and vests, in nearly every scene.

My young man has grown since I last knit him a sweater, so I have set out to make him what I've been calling his "Waterhorse Sweater". I'm making it up as I go, recording what I'm doing, so if it turns out, I'll share the pattern here.

I'm making it with a really rustic Canadian yarn, Briggs and Little "Heritage" (processed in New Brunswick), in a grey and white twist. Jude declares it a "little bit itchy", but I expect it will soften up with washing. The price is right, and I can buy it at our local feed and farm supply store!
Using Elizabeth Zimmerman's "Knitting Without Tears" as a guide, I've made the body from the bottom up, and have one sleeve done (from the cuff up). Once the second sleeve is done, I'll join them all in the round to create a raglan sleeve; the collar is something I'm picturing but have no name for. You'll see it when it's done. It buttons on an angle (along one raglan seam) with a split turtleneck collar that flips down...anyone? What is this called?

The appeal of knitting this way (checking your gauge, taking bits and pieces that you like from various sweaters, measuring your child as well as a favourite garment that fits about the way you hope your sweater will fit!) ensures that you'll get what you're hoping for. I try it on Jude as I go, and can decide to add a few inches here or there to accommodate his rapidly growing limbs. Note the tall drink of water that his great-grandfather is...his dad is the same way. Chances are, as the years go by, I'll just have to add inches to the cuffs and hem, and the width will fit just fine!

*Some of you may be wondering about Jude's Scrap Cardigan, started so many months ago. I started having visions of him becoming a social pariah at school, a la Dolly Parton in "Coat of Many Colours". I know. I should let him be an individual. But on the way to school, he asks me, "Do I look cool today, mom?" (with his Batman socks pulled up to his knees, his astronaut t-shirt tucked into his shorts, his sticky-uppy hair...) I always answer, "Of course!" If he was begging me for the sweater, I'd do it without hesitation. But as it grows more stripey and colourful and outrageous, he seems less and less willing to try it on for fittings. I'm not going to be one of those moms that says, "I slaved over this and you're going to WEAR IT!!", thus condemning my child to being known forevermore as "that geek in the itchy rainbow sweater". Yes, if I'd scrounged the yarn from ravelled old sweaters and he depended on the sweater for warmth, he might have to suck it up and wear it, like it or not. But we're not THAT broke. I'd rather make him something he'll wear and love. Enough said.


  1. with his Batman socks pulled up to his knees, his astronaut t-shirt tucked into his shorts, his sticky-uppy hair...) --LOVE LOVE LOVE

    I am looking forward to this sweater. Neither of my Bears want me to knit them one although Sister Bear rocks the hats and fingerless mitts I've made her. That movie is a great one...have to admit that I haven't read the book yet.

  2. Your son could wear the rainbow sweater at home or at any "rainbow"events that might occur at school. I had this really bright red sweater that my grandmother made me from Red Heart when I was in highschool. I wore it to our schools pep rally's because our school colors were red and black.

    As for the waterhorse sweater. I can't wait to see what it looks like. I love Briggs and Little yarn. Their colors are very tradtional.

  3. I am living way too far south! I spent two months in Ireland, and I love the smell of peat fires, the "liquid bread" quality of Guinness and thick, tightly knit woolens. I really do need a cooler climate!

    Of course, as you mention, there is a flip side: my mom's rented house had a puddle in the back yard that developed in October and never dried up before May!

    Someone in your family will ove the stripey sweater. We had a cute little rag doll that went through 3 babies without any love, and then came the fourth who attached himself to it. He is now 6 and it is still his beloved friend and comfort.

  4. I can't imagine ever being a good enough knitter to be able to knit without tears (or basically a pattern). I look forward to seeing the end result!
    I love Briggs and Little yarn - we don't sell it at the store anymore for some reason.

  5. We loved that movie! My oldest was so very interested in "Nessie" - I've bought a book with a "Nessie" knit pattern to make one for him. If.. you know.. I ever get around to it. (:

  6. Can't wait to see the finished sweater on him. I love it. And the final comment about the rainbow sweater...good for you for listening to and sensing your child's comfort and confidence levels. If his desire for that sweater has dwindled or changed, it could always be refashioned into something for Dusty and Max!

  7. Great post, nice handsome gent in the sweater, with such a happy look about him! Love the classic knitting you are doing and giggled at the description of your little creative dresser, good on you for not squelching his style. He sounds really creative.

  8. OK, I didn't even get finished reading your post before going to our library site to order The Waterhorse on DVD. Thankfully they have it and there are no other holds on it! Yay!

    Hope the sweater finishes coming together nicely for you. Yarn at the local farm store? How cool is that.

  9. Giggling over the sock description. My oldest loves to pull them up high, too. And his favourite shirt is a rainbow shirt that he's been wearing for two years now. For the sake of him not being teased, I can only hope that it will finally be too small before school starts!

    Maybe one of your girls will be more comfortable in the sweater? I'd wear it in a heartbeat if I could shrink back to childhood.

  10. Violet has high-sensitivity to "itch", and seeing as how the sweater is all wool...well...maybe I'll do a giveaway when it's done, if no one here will wear it! Then someone else's kid can be itchy and ostracized...heehee!!


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