We used to attend a Maths Conference, every year organised by a teaching association. At one particular conference we attended a workshop about Roman surveying. We should have been outside using equipment such as the Romans would have used but there was a howling gale so we had to work on a smaller scale inside. It was still geometry on a very large scale so was very appealing. Although we were not able to do the planned activities, the tutor was obviously accustomed to the vagaries of the British weather and was very well-equipped with other material. There was a great deal of discussion loosely related to the topic and some of it revolved around tessellations of various kinds, including mosaic floors. The Roman name for one of the small blocks used in a mosaic is ‘tessera’. This is the derivation of our word ‘tessellation’, which means fitting shapes together. We saw many other patterns and tessellations that we were to return to later.
At the same conference we bought a little book called Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics: and how to draw them, by Robert Field. It had lots of photographs but it also had black and white drawings showing mosaic designs simply broken up into their light and dark areas. One of the mosaics was theSea God which is in Verulamium Museum, St. Albans. There are some pictures on the mosaic but I chose to ignore these and concentrate on the interlocking lines and borders surrounding them. All these lines had square corners so were ideal for transferring to knitting and I was heard to utter words that later became very familiar “I could knit that”.
I did knit! I used the Kaffe Fassett method with two ‘magic balls’. I had quite a lot of oddments of yarn but had now reached the stage where I had to go out specially to buy oddments. These can often be bought cheaply as it doesn’t matter if they are damaged, or without their bands, or even part balls. Quite a lot of balls are needed to get a good range of closely related shades. I used cream, beige, light brown and stone-coloured yarns for the background and the darkest possible not-quite-black yarns for the lines. I used Robert’s grid as the back of my jacket, using two stitches by two rows for each of his squares. This does not give squares in stocking stitch but that was to my advantage. The resulting piece wasn’t quite big enough to make the back of my jacket but I knew that before I started. I added extra stone-coloured borders to make it up to the right size. The front was the same design split in two. The sleeves had lines of pattern taken from repeating parts of the mosaic. When the jacket was finished the curators of the museum were kind enough to allow me to be photographed standing in front of the actual mosaic, which is now attached to a wall.
Shortly after it was finished I was persuaded to go to the AGM of the Knitting and Crochet Guild and to take something to display. I duly went, with my jacket, and was dumbstruck at the end of the day when I was told I had won the prize for the Best in Show. I hadn’t even realised it was any kind of competition. I had broken away from all conventional knitting and this was turning me into an eccentric kind of person. Having lost the feeling that one always has to conform made a big difference. In earlier years I couldn’t have even imagined entering any kind of competition. Neither could I have imagined doing what I did next. Anglia Television was screening a series of programmes about knitting and crochet and one of the later programmes in the series was to be called Inspirations. I sent photographs of my mosaic jacket. They wrote back asking to see the jacket itself. Soon afterwards I was invited to go to the television studio in Norwich to talk about my inspiration and how I had come to win a competition I didn’t know I’d entered. It was an interesting experience.
I had a lot of yarn left over, after buying so many shades, so went on to make another sweater based on the meander mosaic at Herculaneum.