My Ninilchick Swoncho
The story of a sweater that you don’t particularly like whilst making but reminds you of home halfway through and then you love it.
I love the Ninilchick Swoncho pattern by Caitlin Hunter. I loved it when it first came out and I love it now. I longed to knit this pattern immediately after it’s release back in February of 2017. I was only able to cast it on with yarn support from my knitting patron (my generous mother-in-law), which she provided back in March. However, March is not the time to knit a swoncho, so I waited until September to cast on this woolly mammoth – and it was so so satisfying.
First about this yarn: Arranmore Light from The Fibre Company. It’s soft and beautifully dyed. The tweed flecks are out-of-this-world gorgeous. It has little memory, but it drapes beautifully (you win some you lose some…). I have admired the Fibre Co. for a while, however they yarns are definitely out of my usual price range (aka $6 sweaters from the thrift store). So, after my yarn patron ordered herself a batch, she kindly (oh so generously) offered to plop some skeins in her cart for me! The only stipulation, use the skeins she already had of Raspberry red. I knew I wanted to knit the Ninilchick Swoncho asap, and with Arranmore Light weighing in at a perfect DK, it was obvious that the other skeins I chose should round out my swoncho colorwork. So starting with the Raspberry as my main color, I perused the Fiber Co site to determine which trio I should order to make the perfect Swoncho. I was leaning towards a pink and purple vibe (I unashamedly love this color combo), however, something pulled me in the vibrant primary direction. I decided on a teal blue, sunflower yellow, and basic white would compliment my Raspberry red main color. The original swoncho pattern has two lighter and two darker colors. I knew my body color would count as a dark color, so I paired it with the blue to round out the dark camp. The white and yellow both cover the light requirements.
With my four bold colors, I set out deciding which would be contrast one, two, and three. I decided contrast one should be yellow, as a cheery grounding color next to the raspberry. Contrast one is the most used contrast color in the pattern and the yellow matches the red in vibrancy while being slightly lighter in weight, so it does well to introduce the colorwork in this sweater. White would be contrast two, which provided a true contrast with the red in those beautiful and central diamond patterns. Finally, blue would be my contrast color three, which is used the least but pops the most. Deciding which colors to put where was surprisingly challenging. I felt very unsure of myself, doubting if I chose the right color placement or even the right colors at all.
Doubt was the theme of this project. At first, I doubted I would ever be able to get the yarn to cast on in the first place. My wonderful knitting patron granted that wish. Second, I doubted my ability to choose colors that would be interesting yet wearable. Third, I doubted my tension throughout the whole thing – it seemed so loose especially after knitting so many pairs of colorwork mittens. Blocking works miracles, so I knew this doubt would ease once I submerged this babe in some water. So, while I could ease some of my worries, my concern about color kept coming back, creeping into my dreams, and making the knitting process altogether unpleasant.
Through expressing my doubts to friends and the knitting internet land, my fears slowly subsided. I’m grateful for those who took my concerns seriously. Many times, I am hesitant to share my concerns or misgivings about a project for fear that I’ll be perceived as fishing for a compliment. I see the use of complements to treat concerns frequently in the comment sections of instagram – someone says something isn’t quite right about a work in progress and commenters flood in with “you look great” or “Totally love it.” However, these compliments don’t actually get at the root of what created the doubt in that current project. That doubt could be rooted in an actual technical error, or lack of knowledge. It could be rooted in physical discomfort from poor technique or poorly functioning tools. And, frequent in my case, it could be from lack of confidence in my own opinions or decisions. Positive affirmations do not change the fact that many of my doubts are rooted in insecurities about my own decision-making. In order for this doubt to evaporate, I must feel confident in my decisions. However, the compliments of others don’t lead me to identify decisions I am happy with, they lead me to decisions that make other people happy. But only seemingly happy, because these compliments are, most likely, a cultural form of addressing discomfort (push it away and move on!). Addressing concerns or doubts with compliments does not actually get at the root of our concerns, it merely covers it up and prevents us from actually having a sense of agency in the world. As a woman, and a knitter, I am all about actively participating in my world – so how I see my own agency matters. If we want to inspire ourselves and others to be active and make change in the world, it has to start with our own doubts.
My doubts about the colors of this sweater were only put to rest when these colors finally had some meaning. That meaning came in the form of a quick reply on instagram stories from my friend Anna who mentioned that these colors reminded her of a lodge she visited during her trip to the Minnesota north shore this past summer. While she forgot the name of the lodge, I knew it right away – Naniboujou.
I visited this stunning building when I was 12. I don’t remember much, some wildflowers, agate hunting, and the ceiling of the Naniboujou lodge dining hall. This ceiling is absolutely stunning: vibrant, geometric, and bold. The colors of this sweater mirror the feeling of the dining hall at this Minnesotan historical site. While I don’t have any strong feelings of attachment to this lodge, I do have strong attachments to Minnesota and Minnesotan history. I am especially intrigued by the facts of this ceiling. It was painted in the 1920’s by a french artist who was inspired by Cree artwork. I would like to know where this artist saw Cree artwork, which pieces he saw, and if he studied them rigorously before using them as inspiration. The lodge is also known as the “Cree” lodge, but I’m doubtful there was any involvement from the Cree people in the creation or preservation of this lodge… If anyone knows differently please comment below. The use and celebration of Native American art in this building concerns me especially because there is no mention to the present day Cree people or their interests or art. This lodge is beautiful, and it’s history is complicated. It’s more of an hommage to the luxuries of the Jazz age and modernity than any traditional people groups. The story of this lodge, like Minnesota, and all European presence in the Americas is complicated – however the complicated social history of a place cannot deter me from loving its trees, rivers, lakes, birds, and even people, no matter how complex they are.
The instant Anna mentioned the lodge, my feelings towards my Ninilchick Swoncho changed. Suddenly, I was in love with this sweater that reminded me of home (and all the complexities that come from interpreting traditional art in a modern style). This sweater also represents a kind of liberation from my own indecision and insecurities. I made something bold AND I love to wear it. I can be bold while being myself. This is a true revelation, as events in the past years have made me shrink back and protect myself rather than walk with pride. I will always be surprised by how much meaning is knit into each handmade project – hours of self-love are working their way into my soul and making me feel confident in myself and my decisions. And they say clothes are frivolous…