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Knitting Change Ringing Methods

Cables and Color work

by Mira Claire Whiting

Change ringing and knitting have something very important in common: they both revolve around patterns. It's no wonder, then, that quite a few knitters are attracted to change ringing. To some, it seems as if knitters should have an easier time than others at learning methods, since they are so used to following patterns and reading charts for knitting. One ringer in Boston, recently expressed some frustration at my inability to learn plain bob, for instance, and asked how I could learn and memorize lace charts but not ringing methods. In the past year, Boston has had an explosion in interest in combining the two hobbies. Many ringers who knit have been bringing their projects to the tower to work on when they're not ringing or looking at methods. It is something productive to do while sitting around chatting (a favorite pastime of ringers everywhere) and sometimes it can lead in interesting directions for both ringers and non-ringers alike.

Take, for instance, Asher Kaboth's A Scarf of Cambridge Major. Needing a warm scarf for the cold Boston winters, and having some lovely Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted lying around, Asher decided it would be fun to knit a scarf of a change ringing method. He chose Cambridge Surprise Major and determined that a texture pattern (cables) would show off the pattern nicely. In addition to creating a beautiful scarf is the particularly interesting way in which Asher chose to write up his pattern. If you click on the link above, you will see not only that he gives a brief explanation of change ringing and place notation for non-ringers, but also how this relates to the knitting technique of cabling. In addition to being fun to make, it also makes a lovely outreach tool, not in that it brings people into towers to learn to ring necessarily, but that it exposes people to change ringing who may never have heard of it before. On the knitting website eighty people have queued this pattern and 149 have marked it as a "favorite."

Last October, Asher and I went to hear Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, an author of knitting humor books, speak. What transpired at the end of her talk is an excellent example of how knitting can be used for outreach. While waiting in line to get our books signed, Asher made the connection that Ms. Pearl-McPhee (commonly called the Yarn Harlot, which is also the title of her enormously popular blog) was from Toronto, and that there is a tower in Toronto. Off Asher went on his bike to fetch his scarf to show her (it was a long line, and his house was only a five minute bike ride from the event). In this long line of people, she not only stopped to look at this scarf more closely, but we made such an impression that we even made it onto her blog! Although I don't believe she has done so yet, she said that at some point she might want to look into seeing for herself what this "change ringing thing" is all about.

It's all well and good to see how ringers knit change ringing, but in some ways it's even more fascinating to see how non-ringers represent change ringing in yarn. The Tsock Tsarina is a knitter who has never rung a bell, but is fascinated by change ringing methods and how she can knit them. When a ringer seeks to learn a new method, he or she presumably has many criteria for determining which one to learn, but I'm guessing that aesthetics of the blue line is not often one of them. The Tsock Tsarina, however, has created a beautiful sweater based on two obscure methods called Belshazzar Delight Maximus and Nemesis Delight Maximus. The sweater is thus unsurprisingly called Belshazzar's Nemesis.

One thing that I particularly like about the Tsock Tsarina's work is that not only does she translate methods into beautiful cables as Asher did with his scarf, but she turns them into gorgeous color work as well. Perhaps the best example of the change ringing color work she has designed was inspired by Dorothy Sayers's book The Nine Tailors. Here is her blog post with the finished photos of the sock. The color charts are truly amazing. As a knitter who has only recently delved into color work myself, the complexity of these designs (if you haven't clicked the link, it resembles the graphic on the "Ring Toronto, It's a Delight" t-shirts) is mind-boggling and makes the cables look downright easy!

One of the lovely things about both knitting and change ringing is that it often seems as there are almost endless possibilities. Once Asher had figured out how to make a cable chart for Cambridge, it was easy to add Bristol. It doesn't stop there, and you could knit just about any method that's out there in cables, as Asher did, color work as the Tsock Tsarina did, or even lace. Methods can also be used for embellishments on knitted items, even when they aren't the focus of the design, such as when Asher made me a hat and decided to put New Bob around the brim. Although it takes time, who knows, maybe this will be the next trendy way to learn methods? At the very least, it is a fun and different way to experience change ringing both for those who have been ringing for years and for those who have never touched a rope.

Posted Sep 22, 2009


Lyn BarnettSep 23 2009, 11:01 pm

Not a knitter but fascinated by how you all are combining seemingly diverse interests with such cleverness and ease! Brava for a most interesting and unusual article, Mira!

Sue DeVuystJul 31 2011, 10:42 pm

This is a great article. I must admit that when I first started hearing about change ringing, I visualized it as knitting!

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