I’ve been watching The Silk Road on BBC4. The fascinating story – squashed into three hours of television – of this ancient trade route from China to the West was told by Dr Sam Willis who, as well as being an engaging presenter, has the most beautiful handwriting.
I was left with several things buzzing about my head after seeing these programmes, among them:
- I really must take a long holiday to all the places mentioned (better start saving up! Better get the child used to camels!)
- I have coloured pencils, squared paper and, really, SO MUCH yarn…I could create a knitted textile with a paisley motif. Yes.
- Add some books to the book pile on this subject, and also read them.
- Don’t let’s lose the BBC shall we?
I’m tackling number 2. first.
As the journey reached Yazd in Iran we learned about the Zoroastrians and their eternal flame, which some say the flame shaped Boteh/Paisley motif represents (or it represents a pear, or other fruit). I have always loved paisley, so off I went.
I did some colouring in. Colouring in tiny squares is becoming a favourite thing of mine, especially since I found my ‘antique’ Caran D’ache pencils!:
[the other day I was in WH Smith where I found almost an ENTIRE WALL of grown-ups’ colouring books – who’d have thought it five years ago! – trying to distract me from the tiny squares. However I remain faithful to the tiny squares. Though I did buy more coloured pencils, because the antique ones are not all there, and mainly very little] I digress…
I cast on some lovely red and blue yarn, and lined up some golden yellow for the middles of the boteh motifs. I knew this would involve intarsia, I didn’t know how much gin and swearing it would also involve.
As you can see, I also tend to change things as I go along…
It started well enough, I did two repeats with steeks between each, as knitting on a circumference this small I find a challenge (unless it’s vanilla socks). I could have sworn I had a picture of that first few rounds but it has disappeared into the internet or something. Here’s the top corner once blocked. The colourwork is fine..
But then the intarsia sections are just awful. I had forgotten until I was a little bit into it that, when you do this in the round, you need to shift the stitches about and knit the intarsia sections back and forth (or, that’s how I’ve always done it).
I had some gin. I carried on, the intarsia didn’t improve. What happens is you get a ‘back and forth knitted panel sitting on top of the colourwork’ sort of thing, it’s very hard to do this well, I fear:
The small boteh motif I kind of got away with [no you didn’t, says a small voice], the large one is dreadful! Puckered and loose simultaneously, the motif is much too wide to cope with the colourwork floats in any sensible way:
It actually looks much better on the back, so this suggests I’m pretty good at stranded work, but – as I realise now – I need to work on intarsia. Quite a lot.
Here is the whole swatch, The colours I love, and I’m pleased with the design too. The execution makes me unhappy. I’ll start again. That’s the whole point in swatching though isn’t it.
We all learn by our mistakes eh? Now I’m back to colouring the little squares, drafting a new, more stranded colourwork-friendly design. And also practicing my intarsia.
As I write the whole series of The Silk Road is still on the BBC iPlayer – along with some half hour programmes called ‘Handmade on the Silk Road’ covering the work of 21st Century craftspeople along the route. Brilliant programmes all. Here’s the link:
Sam Willis kept a journal as he went, you can see it – with the beautiful handwriting – here.
More on Boteh /Paisley: