Penelope’s Cardigan by Mimi Seyferth, from Knitting Traditions Spring 2016
I decided to design this child’s cardigan after reading a June 15, 1991, letter by Penelope Fitzgerald to Mary McClelland Lago (1919–2001), an eminent American scholar who shared Penelope’s interest in the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne Jones (1833–1898). In that letter, Penelope wrote: “I’ve been knitting a cardigan (which wasn’t particularly nice in the first place) for 2 years and the last grandchild will have grown out of it by the time it’s done.” I’m sure most knitters will identify with Penelope’s concern about finishing a child’s garment while it would still fit its intended recipient. I certainly did.
Her daughters believe that Penelope did, in fact, complete the cardigan mentioned in her 1991 letter—either for Tina’s daughter Jemima (1988– ) or Maria’s daughter Sophie (1988– ). If Penelope had decided not to complete the cardigan, she undoubtedly would have reclaimed the yarn for another purpose. Because Penelope had almost no money for most of her adult life, she was known to use and reuse everything, even buttons from discarded clothing. She wrote her novels in old school notebooks and kept her personal documents in old envelopes.
In her 1991 letter, Penelope may have exaggerated her dismay about the size of the unfinished child’s cardigan. Indeed, the tone of that letter is in direct contrast to Penelope’s more cavalier mindset about knitting reflected elsewhere. In a Sunday Telegraph article, also dating from 1991. Penelope’s former student Tiffany Daneff (now a noted columnist) said about Penelope’s living quarters: “Nothing goes to waste. On the sofa lies a half-finished piece of knitting, a multi-coloured jumper made from all her left-over scraps of wool. She is not bothered by the size, or when it will end: she has left that to fate and the wool ends. Her grandchildren’s ages range from two to 18, and it will certainly fit one of them.”
I hope that knitters who choose to make this child’s cardigan will be motivated to complete the project. For ease of knitting, the cardigan follows a traditional drop-shoulder structure and incorporates a simple baby cable-stitch pattern from a Japanese stitch dictionary. The allover stitch pattern honors Penelope’s fascination with designs and patterns in a variety of different media: pottery (she was a keen amateur potter), fabric (she loved sewing patchwork), and wallpaper (she was an expert on the Victorian designer William Morris [1834–1896]). Penelope’s daughter Tina advises that her mother would have approved of the cardigan—high praise, indeed!
Finished Size 24¼ (26¼, 27½, 28¾, 30)” chest circumference, buttoned. Shown in size 30″.
Yarn Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino (55% wool, 33% acrylic, 12% cashmere; 137 yd [125 m]/1¾ oz [50 g]): #59 mallard (blue; MC), 5 (6, 7, 8, 8) balls; #91 acid yellow (CC), 1 ball. Yarn distributed by Knitting Fever.
Needles Sizes 1½ (2.5 mm) and 3 (3.25 mm). Adjust needle size if necessary to obtain the correct gauge.
Notions Removable markers (m); cable needle (cn); stitch holders; tapestry needle; five (five, five, six, six) 5/8″ buttons.
Gauge 30 sts and 36 rows = 4″ in charted patt on larger needles.