About Arabella

There’s always a story.  Arabella’s story began when I was reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (again) and began daydreaming about playing with the idea of fantasy and fashion.  The world of the novel is set during the Regency, but with an alternate history of Britain that allows for magic and fairies and other things that sound very silly when I write about them here, but are very well set in the novel.  Although she’s not as fleshed out as some of the other characters, I really like the character of Arabella Strange.  I began thinking about making a shawl for Arabella, something related to Regency fashion, but not really of it.  It’s far more likely a Regency woman would wear a shawl made of fabric than a knitted lace shawl – perhaps an Indian silk or or a cashmere print.  A lace shawl like this one wouldn’t really fulfill the purpose of keeping the wearer warm.  But it does make me think of the brugh – the mound of earth the fairies live in, dancing away beautifully, but without purpose.

When I pictured the shawl I wanted to make, it was pink.  I don’t wear pink, and don’t often like pink, but this shawl was definitely pink.  It was also a Faroese style shawl, which, as you can see, is not where I ended, but the color never changed.  The particular shade of pink was vividly in my head.  It was a soft, old fashioned pink, not a baby pink or a vivid pink, but a faded rose.  A Verb for Keeping Warm had just the right shade, Elephanta, a soft pink shot through with greys.  The second, lace weight shawl I wanted to make in a sharply different and more modern shade, but one that went with the lovely pink.  The right shade showed up when I was looking at madelinetosh yarns: Norway Spruce tosh lace.

So the colors were taken care of, but the lace kept evolving.  I started with a traditional Shetland fern lace and started playing with it, but while I came up with some interesting laces, none of them were quite what I’d had in mind.  The Turkish Rug lace over the body of the shawl is a far departure from the original fern lace, but it did come out of my experiments with the ferns.  (And I still want to use some of my more fern like laces for a stole or something.  Some were quite pretty, but not really right for this project.)

When the time finally came to cast on, I was reading a different book, Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator, which coincidentally also has an Arabella as a main character, this one an anti heroine with single minded determination to marry well, even if it means betraying her current fiancee.  I liked the bad Arabella – she’s sort of a Victorian Becky Sharp, but with more shades to her character than I think Becky got.  (I like Becky, too, though.  She puts that milksop Amelia all to shame.)  Trollope’s a lot of fun.  He might have personally felt ambivalent about women (and Americans, it might be added), but he has more full and interesting female characters than almost any other writer of the period.  (Interestingly, when he wrote an angel in the house character in Lily Dale, his readers adored her, but Trollope called her “somewhat of a female prig.”  I have to agree with him, and I like that he still allowed her character to grow in a later novel.) His Arabella is meant to be shown as a moral lesson, but it’s admitted throughout the book that she’s a smart, talented, capable woman who is driven to her moral deficiency by the circumstance of being a woman in a society that allows no outlet for her talents other than in marriage.  Most of the English characters in the book are indolent to the point of immobility, but nearly everything Arabella does is described in terms of work or exertion.  Basically, this was another fictional woman who deserved a really cool shawl, in my opinion.

Anyway, that’s where this shawl came from.  I kept making little connections over and over again, that may or may not have felt relevant to another mind, and somehow it all came together in a pink shawl and a green shawl, meant to be worn by modern women but inspired by fictional women of the past.

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