Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Allegorical knitting

Knitting has become my favoured way to unwind during long dark winter evenings;  slowly transforming beautiful yarns, from special places and people, into something wearable. 

I've just completed this shawl, the yarn was a swap with one of the other designer-makers at Made & Found last autumn – Debbie Orr, aka the Skein Queen, who dyes the most beautiful yarns in colours that have amazing depth and complexity. I searched Ravelry for a pattern, a shawl that would show off the silky camel and silk yarn, in grey the colour of faded driftwood and a wonderful sea-blue; the pattern I chose was Queen of the Underworld by Magdalena Kubatek.

I then realised the motifs included beadwork. Special yarn deserved special beads, so I enlisted the help of Emma (she knows a thing or two about gems) who took me to The Beaderie in Cambridge, where I selected Labradorite faceted beads. We also had a delicious lunch and went to lots of other little shops along Bridge Street – more lovely memories to knit into my shawl.

I was intrigued that the pattern starts with a paragraph about Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, so as I knitted I read more about the myth . . .

Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, she lived with her mother in a land of perpetual spring-time, surrounded by beautiful flowers. Her uncle, Hades the King of the Underworld, fancied Persephone and wanted her to be his wife; one day he thundered out of the Underworld in his chariot and abducted Persephone as she was picking flowers. It happened so swiftly that no-one knew where Persephone had gone, she'd just disappeared. Her mother, Demeter, was grief-stricken and angry; she roamed the earth in search of her daughter, destroying crops and and felling trees.

The Sun God, Helios, had seen what had happened and told Demeter that the King of the Underworld had taken Persephone to be his bride, this made Demeter even more angry and she forbade all plants to grow ever again – the earth would remain barren unless her daughter returned.

After a while, Zeus realised that mankind would die of starvation if this went on, so he sent his messenger Hermes down to the Underworld to find Persephone and bring her back. 

Persephone had refused to become Hades wife and had been on hunger-strike since arriving in the Underworld. When Hermes arrived to collect her, the King of the Underworld agreed to let her go home, then as a parting gesture Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate as a snack to give her strength for the journey home, she couldn't resist eating some of the juicy seeds . . . but it was a trick . . . anyone who eats the food of the Underworld can never leave! 

Persephone was stuck in the Underworld, the Earth was cold and dead – climate change of the most extreme kind!

Granny to the rescue . . . Rhea, Persephone's grandmother, came up with a sensible compromise - Persephone should return to the World and Demeter should allow the plants and crops to flourish, BUT each year for three months Persephone must go back down to the Underworld. Each time her daughter was absent, Demeter made the earth cold and the plants died – but when Persephone returned she made them grow again. Seasonal change restored.

Millennia ago, people needed to explain the seasons and give themselves hope that Spring would return and their food crops would grow. They needed someone to blame for the destructive power of nature – the cold weather and the dying plants. Without long-range weather forecasts and satellite images tracking the jet-stream, they needed hope that Persephone would return and that Demeter would allow the plants to grow again.

As I knitted and watched the evening news reports of the destructive power of storm after winter storm lashing Britain and floods destroying crops and threatening livestock with starvation, I thought about our confusion and need to blame something or someone.  

We are too educated to blame Hades abducting Persephone, too knowledgeable about weather patterns and anticyclones. But frightened by the realisation that there are powers of nature beyond our control. The stories of the great winter storms of 2013/14 are intertwined into my shawl.

The reverse side has a texture like an ancient woven kilim and the colours look faded by time.

My new shawl has the feel of an old treasured fabric.

I'll wear it in winter and know that Spring will come.



  1. Lovely story and an even lovlier shawl. You'll enjoy wearing that.

  2. Such a lovely shawl! For a view of Persephone with a twist, you might try renting the movie 'Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief' ;)

  3. This is such a beautiful shawl Celia - your knitting skills are topnotch……..and very fast!!!! It would take me years to knit such an heirloom. You will love wearing it I know and the mythical story behind the reason for winter and spring is one I'd forgotten the details of - so nice of you to share it, thank you.

    Hoping your area is not too damaged from the storms - I know my home in Devon and much of the southwest has had horrific damage - fortunately family and friends there live on hills and have stayed flood free.

    Happy week -
    Mary in North Carolina

  4. What a beautiful shawl and very interesting thoughts.

  5. Celia, that shawl is exquisite! Every single ingredient combines so well to create this luxurious, textured story telling beauty.

    I have always loved the Persephone tale and think that this shawl embodies it so very well. This has indeed been a winter for us to be inspired by Persephone.

    May I also let you know how delighted I was to receive your beautiful cards in the mail yesterday. Thank you so much for also using that lovely collection of stamps...your stamps are so much more well designed than ours! I love both cards and will keep them propped up on a book shelf for a while before I even consider actually mailing them to someone.


  6. Gorgeous shawl, well done, I really think it is beautiful! xoxo

  7. Beautiful knitting Celia and I love the colours you've used; how lovely to wear. I've always loved the story of Persephone, first hearing it when I was about 7 or 8.

  8. Wow, that's a really beautiful shawl. And such a lovely story too. I like a little knitting on a long cold dark winter evening, it's the perfect winter thing to do.

  9. It's beautiful Celia, and with so much myth and memory knitted into it ... such a special thing :)

  10. The colours are gorgeous. I am looking forward to casting on the wool I bought from Debbie!

  11. What a beautiful shawl and such glorious colours. That is one of my favourite myths.

  12. It's beautiful Celia. I love the colours.

  13. Oh Celia, I had lost track of you over the years. I'm delighted to see you too are still blogging. I always enjoyed your textile work and those darling chickens!

  14. oh and I should really comment on that beautiful shawl and the 'stories' woven within


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