Sea Spray and Scallop Shells

A shawl for Michaela

This description of Sea Spray and Scallop Shells is written in the form of a letter to Margaret’s granddaughter

Seaspray and Scallop Shells shawl
Seaspray and Scallop Shells

The idea for this shawl goes back many years to when we lived at Arthur’s Pass and our annual excursion to the sea – usually Totaranui in Abel Tasman National Park – was an experience in sharp contrast to our alpine climate. The sun sparkling on the water, ‘popping’ seaweed and collecting scallops for tea were enjoyed by our whole family.

Your mother, Kristine (named after her great great grandmother, a spinner and knitter who came to New Zealand from Aarhus in Denmark when she was eighteen years old) was born in Hokianga and has returned several times.

Your father, Chance, belongs to Ngāti Tūwharetoa iwi of Taupo, and your ancestors arrived in the Te Arawa canoe which landed at Maketū. Your great grandmother Selina, lives at Te Awanga, in Hawkes Bay, a small seaside settlement where your father spent much of his childhood.

The fibres which I have spun for your shawl are superfine merino wool, which has been grown in the New Zealand high country, and silk from Japan. Your father has worked two Northern Hemisphere winters in Japan, and during his last trip was joined by your mother who returned to New Zealand two months before your birth so you could be born in Aotearoa (New Zealand)

The spiral of the sea spray is based on a very early design used in circular knitting. It was necessary to work out the approximate yardage of each shade of the blues, through turquoise into green, which was achieved by working samples and enlisting your grandfather’s mathematical expertise. The wool was dyed in the fleece and blended on English style wool combs to give a true worsted preparation. The wool and silk were spun as individual singles and then plied together so that the silk would give the impression of the sun sparkling on the water.

The border of the scallop shells was clear in my mind, right from the beginning, however it took some time for the turbulence at the water’s edge to clear sufficiently for the “Neptune’s Necklace” to appear and it was a walk along Sumner beach with your cousin Nathaniel which led to the discovery of Macrocystis (bladder kelp) for the border.

As I wanted to create the effect of shiny, wet seaweed, I knitted the seaweed areas in merino plied with silk which had not been dyed, and later painted this area with cold batch dyes. The shells were knitted from yarn where the wool had been dyed pink in a variety of shades and then spun from prepared staples which were plyed with silk. White was once again used as a border of foam.

Each of the pattern units was developed separately. The Neptune’s Necklace was based on a bobble stitch but used double knit fabric. Double knit was also used for the ‘bubble’ of Macrocystis , with the ribbon-like part expressed in a broken rib to simulate the ripple effect; this also kept it reversible and translucent.

The shells have ribs which look very like those that occur naturally. In fact when there was difficulty working out stitch numbers and placement of stitches, studying the solutions reached by nature invariably led to the answer.