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My mother taught me how to knit when I was small. As far as I can remember, at the time I only knitted one item. It started as a square (about 4" across) but I decided it was to be a 'sweater', so it got a neck hole and short sleeves, and I stitched the sides together.
I don't remember knitting anything else significant for the next 40 years, though I possibly did the odd repair. Then in 1989, in the magazine of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line , I saw an advertisement for a kit for knitting a sweater with Ribblehead Viaduct on the chest. My wife bought it for me as a Christmas present. It contained the pattern for the sweater, a diagram on small squared paper showing the design for the front, and copious balls of wool. All of the wool was naturally coloured, not dyed. There were four colours ranging from black to white: Black Welsh (black), Jacob (grey), Suffolk (off white) and Aran (white). They had very different textures, with the Aran and Black Welsh being full bodied and soft, and the Suffolk rather thin and rough.
I started with the sleeves, which were plain apart from ribbing on the cuffs. I soon realised that I had a high rate of making mistakes, which didn't bode well for completing a whole sweater, let alone one with a complex pattern on the front, so I thought of alternatives.
When I was young, my mother bought a very early (and therefore very basic) knitting machine, which we subsequently acquired (to save it from being thrown out) so I decided to try it for my new sweater. The sequence of actions to knit a row was quite complex: move one knob across, lay the wool in the channel between the hooks, move the other knob across, invert the needle bar, pull down the body of the knitting, re-invert the needle bar, then lift it and move it in a circular motion through the hooks. It sounds hard, but it was quite easy, and a lot faster than knitting hundreds of stitches by hand. Unfortunately, the machine was designed for thinner wool, so it was heavy going, and the wool needed help to flow along the hooks. The machine also had a habit of dropping a few stitches if you weren't careful (or even if you were) - I remember my mother struggling with it. But it was better than knitting by hand, especially for the patterned part, because I could lay out the wool for a whole row before knitting it, and double check the number of stitches of each colour.
The picture with the kit only showed about half of the viaduct’s 24 arches, and it only went on the front of the sweater. That wasn’t good enough for me, so I designed a matching picture for the back. It shows the remaining arches, and the southern embankment leading to the viaduct, with Ingleborough in the distance. In the foreground, looking across Batty Moss towards the viaduct, are a couple of hikers (which I like to think of as my wife and me).
Knitting the back required more white and black wool than I had in the kit (the back was supposed to be all grey) so I asked the supplier for more. I also offered to let her include my design as an option with the kit, but she declined. She felt most people would be relieved that the back was plain, and that the front would be enough pattern for them. So as far as I know, mine is the only sweater in existence that shows the full span of Ribblehead Viaduct, with all 24 arches!
I took a picture of it before sewing the two halves completely together and knitting the neck, because once completed, the whole picture can never be viewed all together.
I spent much of the Christmas and New Year holiday working on the sweater, along with most free time for the next few weeks, and I completed it just in time to wear it to the Valentine’s Day Barn Dance organised by All Saints Wokingham Bellringers .
Copyright © 2005 John Harrison
Sweater before completion
I also give an illustrated talk about the Settle-Carlisle line to groups who are interested.
For more information, you can go to the Settle-Carlisle Line website .
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