Sweater

Kent, or the beauty of humility

Last summer was the summer of sweaters. Not wearing them of course, but knitting them. For some strange reason I knit up a storm, and so over the next few months I’ll be posting patterns here, along with the usual thoughts about design, knitting, yarn, etc.

The first sweater of the series is Kent. Why is it called Kent? I’ve decided that every sweater in this series will be named after a Shakespeare character (because I am a huge nerd), and this one is named after the Earl of Kent from King Lear. When I think of this week’s sweater I think of Kent, the man who said:

I do profess to be no less than I seem, to serve him truly
that will put me in trust, to love him that is honest, to
converse with him that is wise and says little, to fear
judgment, to fight when I cannot choose, and to eat no fish.
— Shakespeare, King Lear I.iv

 

This week’s sweater is a simple knit. The gauge and straightforward knitting techniques mean it won’t take you long to make. Yet as Kent teaches us, humility is its own sort of power.

If you’re not familiar with the story of King Lear, here are the very basics. Lear is a king entering the third act of his life, and looking to split his kingdom up among his daughters. He asks them, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (King Lear I.i). His two eldest daughters (Goneril and Regan) wax poetic about how great and deep their love is for their father trying to one-up the other. His youngest, Cordelia, instead is honest and does nothing to embellish her feelings for Lear. For this he disowns her. When he does the Earl of Kent tries to stop Lear from doing irreparable harm to Cordelia and to Lear himself. Lear then banishes Kent. Once Lear gives up his power the people he thought loved him turn on him, and he loses everything.

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In the scene which this quote comes from Kent returns to Lear in disguise. His goal is to serve the King whom he loves, to protect a man who has ruined his own life, and the lives of those who were loyal to him. Notice that even when he is deceiving Lear he never lies. He says “I am no less than I seem,” and indeed in this moment it doesn’t matter what his name or title is. What matters is what he is willing to do, and what his values are. Unlike Regan and Goneril he is interested in people who are honest, who say little, and who love someone who for their values.  By withholding his name, Kent can tell Lear who he is.

If you haven’t read King Lear (or haven’t read it in a while) you should go and read it. Without getting too much into the twists of the plot, one of the play’s themes is sight. What do we see, and how does that inform us or deceive us. What is blindness, what is sight? That’s something that we have to think about as human beings to be sure, but is a practical question when you design any form of clothing. A good design can divert the gaze of others, or it can reveal something. A friend and teacher of mine likes to say that we have two truths. An outer truth, the truth that other people see, and an internal truth, the truth of how we see ourselves. So to put this into those terms: clothing has the power to shape the outer truth, or to express an internal truth.

 

The power of this piece, and others like it, is that its humility is what allows it to express something internal. There’s nothing wrong with adornment, Shakespeare’s prose shows us that he’d agree with that, but if you want to get the core of something simplicity is often the best way. This cardigan is for the most-part stockinette stitch, the simplest stitch in knitting. But its one flourish is in the upper part, where it switches to Double Moss stitch, and front open up with a wide shawl collar. These elements focus the viewers attention to the face of the wearer and allow the sweater itself to fade into the background.

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This kind of sweater works in service. It works in service of the wearer, and whatever clothing you’re wearing underneath. It’s great to have sweaters that show off your skill, that exist to be admired, if for no other reason besides the fact that you worked hard to make it, and your skills deserve a little love. But don’t underestimate the simple pieces, the ones that may seem boring. They are incredibly powerful, just in a different way.

So whether you’re just starting out knitting, or you’ve been at it for a while I hope you give this one a try. I’ve included the pattern in the link below, and now that I have access to InDesign you’re going to notice a marked improvement in the quality of the layout of these patterns. As before these stunning pictures are brought to you by the incomparable Stephen Mosher. Please come back next week for more knitting goodness, and possible Shakespearean rambles

Kent Cardigan

P.S. despite everything you can eat fish while wearing this sweater, if you want to.