Friday, February 14, 2014

Togetherness Cowl - a free Valentine pattern

Happy Valentine's Day!

Since 2009 when I started writing Hugs For Your Head, I've shared a free pattern in mid February as a thank you to you for spending some your time here.  Today I'd like to share instructions for a cowl, because I love them so much, and they fit almost everybody.

'Togetherness' features a very stable stitch that won't curl over in use, on a very soft DK-weight yarn - Duchess from Twisted Fiber Art - that is unlikely to be deemed itchy by anyone.

Like most of my patterns, this one has a story.  And since I designed it originally for Wayson who feels the stories are the best part of what I make, I'll share it with you.  If you end up knitting one in the circumstances I did, perhaps knowing will make it even more special.

Everything Starts With Guilt

Last fall I took a writing course with the excellent Humber School for Writers, and found myself knitting thank-yous for two of the faculty.  Then I felt guilty, because Wayson was my first teacher there and I haven't knit him anything new for him in ages.

The days I had set aside for designing and knitting this cowl for him coincided with the death of another extended family member, and in the end I did the prep work in the car on the way to and from his funeral.  As sometimes happens when you are doing creative work at an emotional time, I found that the insights I gained from the experience worked their way into the finished product.

Targets vs Webs

When I started to lose loved ones from the older generations of my family I developed the idea that an aerial view of our lives is similar - thankfully, only visually - to a target.  We begin our lives in the center of that target, protected by outer rings of older siblings and cousins and neighbours, and by parents and aunts and uncles and friends of their generation, and further still by grandparents and great-aunts and uncles and so on.  But as we get older, we find ourselves on wider rings as the protectors of younger people, and watching our progress to our own posts on the outermost ring.

At Jerry's funeral, I discovered something quite different.  As I moved around the reception room, chatting with older aunts and uncles and friends, and introducing younger people to other young people they did not yet know, it occurred to me that we are in fact in a web.  I am not in isolation in my generational ring at all - I have bonds with many in other generations and in fact reach out in both directions to hold them securely within our community.  I'm 90% certain that the young people I introduced will see each other again at many more funerals (for some reason, we don't gather as extensively for weddings) as we lose people from other parts of the web, and they will begin to reach out to each other too.

Admittedly this image still involves people leaving us, but it feels truer, and more secure as well.

Stitches and Ideas

Back in the car for the long drive home, I looked at the design I'd developed and saw that the knits and purls I was using to create a textured, stable fabric actually echoed the social structure of Jerry's mourners.

Pete thinks this looks like a William Morris print.  Love the idea, wish I could see it.

Each specific stitch is guarded by contrasting ones, up and down and across, and those guard stitches themselves are protected.  A series of solid lines, like spines, reach up through the whole giving stability and structures to them all.  It's a lot like a web.

Timely Knitting

It didn't take long to finish the cowl once I'd settled on the details, and soon after I let Wayson know I was putting it in the mail.  It was then I found out that he had just suffered a loss himself, and that a handknit cowl from a friend couldn't come at a better time.

(and that was before we found out what a cold winter we were going to have!)

So: on the one hand, Happy Valentine's Day with a nice warm simple cowl you can keep or give away.

And on the other, Happy Valentine's Day and thank you for being in my community web. 

Difficulty Level
Easy.  This cowl is knit in the round on either a 16" circular needle or a set of double-points.  If you can knit and purl and cast on and cast off (or have a friend who will do it for you), you're good to go. 

Semisolid shade of Twisted Fiber Art Duchess (100% superwash merino wool,
240 yds/100g) 1 skein, shown in Suede, a coordinate for Dapper self-striping yarn

US 6/4.0 mm 16” circular needle
stitch marker
darning needle 

20 sts, 28 rows = 4” in stocking stitch
Finished Dimensions 
19” circumference, 6” long 


Linda said...

Thank you for the lovely pattern. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on how this came about.

Mary Keenan said...

I'm so glad, Linda - thank you!

Kate/Massachusetts said...

What a beautiful cowl and stitch pattern! Thank you for sharing! It gives me an early start on next year's Christmas presents...that's the intent, anyways! :-)

Mary Keenan said...

Oh Kate... I know that intent well ;^)

Marianne said...

Thank you for sharing not only the pattern but the history of it's origin with us. Makes the pattern all the more dear.
I need to dig through my stash to find the right yarn for this project... oh wait, my LYS is having a sale.. hmm good reason to go shopping, right? ;-)

Mary Keenan said...

Shopping is in many ways the very best thing about a new pattern ;^)

Jezz said...

You look gorgeous in the photos!

Mary Keenan said...

Jezz, you are too sweet :^)

Sunflowers said...

Oh yes to be sure, this is simply a gorgeous pattern. So now must dig into my Stash and find a soft pretty yarn that will enhance the stitch pattern.
Thank you ever so much for sharing with us all.

Happy Knitting & Thank you.

Mary Keenan said...

So glad you like it, Sandy!

istuke said...

Thank you for sharing this pattern and story. Your first analogy of "targets" was well-described and made me feel cold and a bit frightened at the prospect of moving toward those outer rings. Your web analogy helped me feel much more connected - something I need as I feel the loss of a 96 year-old grandfather, who definitely left a hole in my "web." However, the connections (and "reconnections") we made at his memorial helped make that hole feel a bit smaller. Again, thank you for sharing. Sending you warm thoughts of healing and creating.

Mary Keenan said...

istuke, you said this so well - I felt very sad when I saw myself in a ring in a target, and more so when I described the feeling to a lady I'd never met before but was mourning at the same funeral and she agreed with me. She said she'd felt exactly that way ever since her mother's death, and still did - and this lady was over 90 herself! I felt so much safer when I saw the web instead.

sibbi yarger said...

I am reading this a bit late, but wanted you to know what a lovely morning I am having reading through your blogs. I have been gone from my computer for a family birth and decided this morning I would read through all your blogs that had collected. It has been such a special time. I am the only one awake so far and I can just enjoy myself and all your projects. I so enjoyed your target and web analogies of life/generations. I like the web one best. I am especially entralled with the cowl pattern. That seems like a strong word, but I have had yarn for a cowl but never settled on a pattern. Now I know why! Thank you so much for both!

Mary Keenan said...

Ohhh, thank you for this Sibbi, what nice things to say!

norwoodknits said...

Thank you for the lovely pattern and it's reason for being. Have started two of these for my for me. Will name them Rosie for Mom. Snuggling in with this cowl will be the reminder we both need that she is very close indeed.

Mary Keenan said...

Oh, that is SUCH a lovely story - it's so great to think of those sister cowls being a comfort to you both!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your pattern and for sharing the thoughts and the story behind it. The 'togetherness' works both ways for me. Giving the cowl to someone is a way of reaching out to them. And making one for myself has helped when I seem to be falling apart and need to pull myself together. It is good medicine for me.

Mary Keenan said...

Anon, I have found this exact same thing - sometimes giving yourself a knit is the best answer in a bad time. So glad this pattern helped you!