The photo is courtesy of Lise's blog, my Gallo speaking (and writing, but the link is her day-to-day blog in standard French) near neighbour; she is rather amused by them, as am I, suggesting they look as though they're arranged in someone's living room, and there ought to be a little table for aperitifs in the middle.
But as yet it's really rather a cold, wet and windy day, and not too conducive, but I may yet do it some time.
Knitting is something I've always done, since my teens anyway, from time to time, but not with any particular skill or enthusiasm, so the sudden craze I have developed for it now is rather odd, but very interesting. I suppose it started with the socks:
|Molly gets into the shot|
And I realise now that one of the reasons I never really enjoyed the practice as much as I might have was because I was just too lazy to do it properly, to take the trouble to learn the language and symbols of patterns, to prepare swatches and check gauges, and perhaps above all to count, count, count. I begin to wonder if the world isn't divided into those who do and those who don't care to count. I think it really is at the bottom of quite a lot of skills and gifts; including and especially music. Most children, I think, count compulsively at times, and for some people, as I understand, including certain advanced Buddhist practitioners, it continues to be a normal part of their internal landscape. For others continual counting inside their heads can become a torment, but it does seem to me that a predisposition to need and want to count can be turned to advantage. It can make you a better knitter, anyway, (and for crochet, which I learned to do before I even learned to knit, but which I'm holding in reserve, it's even more important). I'm still making mistakes owing to imperfect counting, but I'm improving, and this redirecting and pushing against my natural lazy tendencies is one of the things I'm welcoming.
Another thing which has discouraged me in the past, and which left any projects more complicated than straight scarves unworn or unfinished, is facing up to your mistakes and undoing them, in part or total. Time and again this comes up in the books and blogs and websites I'm discovering and collecting as part of my new-found preoccupation (I'm rather wary of the over-used word 'passion' but it's hard to avoid it): don't be afraid to unravel it; yes it represents a whole investment of time undone, but you're wasting more by abandoning it. There are some good lessons to be learned here.
Well, the socks are far from perfect; the tension is inconsistent between them, which leads to what's called pooling with variegated yarns like this, where there are uneven solid blocks of colour instead of the stripey transitions they're designed to produce, in one of them. The toe is simply cast off and seamed as I baulked at doing a Kitchener stitch graft. But they're quite wearable and comfortable, though the yarn, a thin blend of mostly cotton and wool, isn't particularly appealing, either to work with or wear. Which brings me to another thing I've learned: it really is worth getting hold of nicer materials. You can spend the earth on fabulous fibres, of course, and not everyone, myself included, can afford to, but shopping around, or sticking to small projects, you don't have to spend a fortune to get something which really is a pleasure to anticipate, to stroke and to visualise, to work with and ultimately to wear. And the small extra cost will also perhaps chivvy you enough with a sense of guilt to get you working on it.
The matter of anticipation leads one onto the subject of Stash. I hadn't quite grasped what a major element this was in knitting culture. I've always stashed stuff, of course, not so much wool but fabric (my mother's vice, hampers and drawers and boxes of it) and paper and paints. I just thought it was a bad habit, and indeed to excess it is. But in fact the imagining and touching and organising of one's stash of yarn is one of the intense pleasures of the activity, and in fact while working one's way through the more uneventful and potentially boring stretches of a piece of knitting, it's rather pleasant to think ahead to what one is going to make in the future.
Because it must be said that, lovely though the result of long, even stretches of fairly plain fine knitting are, some of what kept me away from it in the past has been the threat of boredom in their execution. I think this is less of a problem now than when I was younger, patience does grow with age, but I nevertheless need ways to avoid it. One of these is to have several different projects on the go at once. This is quite contrary to the way I feel one should to operate in other areas; I can't be doing with reading more than one book of the same kind at a time - though I might dip in and out of poetry while reading a novel, or make excursions into reference while reading history or biography. I've always been haunted by unfinished things, whether sewing or drawing and painting or whatever, that I've lost the application for and left half-done to chase after other things. But now my surroundings are dotted with paper carrier bags and baskets with various different pieces of knitting in at different stages of production; if one starts to get a bit onerous, I switch to another, and come back to the first one later. At the moment, and I hope it continues, it seems to be working.
There are other ways to maximise the value of time spent knitting and keep from tiring of it: watching telly is an obvious one, and the one I've in the past tended to reserve knitting for, particularly programmes I'm only moderately interested in and would feel a little guilty or restless just sitting and watching otherwise. Things which really do need one's full attention however - films where catching all the action is important, say - perhaps aren't ideal. Radio is great; I've been mining the In Our Time podcasts (the link is for the Philosophy archive, but those for culture, religion and science are on the sidebar), all of which for more than ten years are still available - I am converted to Melvyn Bragg in his mature years, he is confident but never patronising and holds his own admirably with all the specialist speakers they have on a vast array of subjects; I used to chuckle and concur with the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue joke about things found in the BBC lost property office including 'Melvyn Bragg's credibility. Still unclaimed...'. At 30 minutes a time, a couple of those and a knitting session after supper is very bliss.
Much the oddest thing, though, which I've discovered I can do, is to knit and read. I never used to think this would be possible, the movement of the eyes between page and needles would surely be too disruptive to both activities, and I couldn't imagine being able to knit by touch alone, but it's a revelation. It does mean I both read and knit a little more slowly than I otherwise would, but that's OK. I can do a lot of the knitting by feel, and find I make very few mistakes. My sensory awareness indeed seems to be improved by it, I realise how much of the sense of rhythm and tension involved is nothing to do with the visual faculty. The flitting between text and hands, every couple of sentences and every few stitches, perhaps, is surprisingly easy without losing my place in either, it's something that we do all the time in other activities, such as driving, and which I, for one, need to practise and sharpen. And I'm certain it improves my concentration on the reading, as if the fidgetty, distracted part of the mind which flickers away from the words, chasing off after distractions so that I find I've 'read' whole pages and not absorbed any of what I've read, is occupied and calmed by the hands' engagement with needles and wool, and a more tranquil and receptive faculty takes over.
Further, and I've yet to establish this, but I think it might also help to fix what I've read, or listened to, in my memory better. I remember my mum, who often used to sew with the radio on, picking up a piece of sewing and remarking on how the work actually contained the programme she was listening to the day before - 'it's held in it,' she said. This combining of the mind and the hands, of ideas and words touched by the fingers reminds me of Heather too, who said that when she read she always felt in quite a concrete way that the words were running through her fingers.
Reading from the Kindle is easier, though, as it rests more stably and doesn't need to be held open, and also I use the Kindle a lot for knitting patterns; with the 'send to Kindle' extension most forms of text on the computer can easily be transferred to it, so I can take the patterns outside or anywhere.
For a while now, I've felt that I needed something new, worthwhile, constructive to do. I suppose I assumed this would have to be either some surge of original and inspired artistic creativity or else something that would generate money. This sudden knitting jag is neither, and something of a surprise, not what I thought I was looking for. As a raison d'être and driving passion it might seem rather ridiculous. Despite the rather tongue-in-cheek (I assume...) re-branding of it as 'fibre art', I don't really think much knitting is art as such (not that I'm looking for a fight about what exactly art is or anything). It is craft and skill, for the makers of the patterns it is design, it can allow one to immerse oneself in beautiful colour and texture, some of the things you can make are quite beautiful, or amusing, or serviceable (some are ghastly, as perusing Ravelry has shown!). It can induce a quite meditative state, for many it becomes a source of social activity, for me it seems to be enabling me to engage more fully with other aspects of my life, I go about my other tasks with more energy and enthusiasm too. 'Creative' is in danger of being a fairly generalised, bland and over-used word; it is creative in a constructive if limited way, and it produces something solid and often useful. In fact I am welcoming the limits, the need to bend myself to forms of it, to abide by how it works, to follow other people's designs and use their materials, while at the same time making choices and adjustments which make it my own. To a point I suppose one might see it as a little like music; it is governed by quite mathematical rules and structures, relatively few musicians compose their own music, but they do interpret and reproduce it in their own unique way.
Whatever, it seems to answer a need for me just now. I'm aware I'm preaching to the converted - except I'm not preaching. But either you probably know much more about knitting than I do already or you aren't interested, but I thought I'd tell you what I've been doing, and why I might have been a bit patchy on the blogging front! Anyway, here are some more of the things I've been doing, or stashing and thinking about doing at least...
J said not to buy her anything for her birthday, but as she is addicted to useless cat kitsch, I thought I'd make her some more. The window cat is a good practice for knitting in the round and other sock-oriented techniques - it has a Kitchener graft between the ears. The blue ribbon is part of one which I tied round a box of wine for her late husband's eightieth birthday about ten years ago, since which time it has been recycled and circulated around our group of acquaintances and become a popular symbol of our general thriftiness and disinclination to waste a nice bit of gift-wrapping. The bottom of the cat is filled with a bag of black kidney beans I never cooked with and decided were too old to do so. She was pleased with it and is now using it as a door stop.
Mol was less impressed.
As I say, you can pick up some nice yarns shopping around, and clearances often provide some bargains. However, it tends to be the nurdy brownish colours that get left. I don't mind this too much, but decided this cotton/rayon/silk blend on sale at Black Sheep Yarns needed some patterning to lift it a bit. I played about with various patterns, designed a nice intarsia tulip motif with an on-line chart generator, but finally settled for a Greek key pattern which I lifted directly, only enlarging it by a factor of 2, from a page of motifs used in Roman mosaics. I'm quite pleased with it, though it does remind me a bit of hippy shoulder bags or those first rough alpaca jumpers which started coming out of South America in the 70s, which I loved at the time. The yarn has a lovely soft drapey feel and the hoodie sweater pattern I got from a book looks good. It's for me.
Initially, I ordered a ball of the only other colour still available for the patterning, which was called 'sunflower' and on the screen looked much more golden, but turned out to be zingy bright orange. This is a problem with ordering on-line, but then it means you get some nice surprises as well as the other kind, and you can stash it and look for something better. Then I saw a pumpkin baby hat and knew that was what the orange yarn was right for. Trouble is, no babies around at the moment, so I had to find one on the internet. So this will spoil the surprise for Rouchswalwe, who found me a suitable recipient, but not for the baby or her mother who I don't imagine read here. The pattern was originally devised by Suse from Peasoup, who I've known of in blogging circles for years, and has had a massive take-up as a Ravelry freebie.
This is the hat being blocked over a soup bowl. I didn't even know about blocking before, but it's amazing, it really works! My brother in Australia who does wood turning makes real hat blocks for milliners.
Anyway, I had to go and get some green cotton from the Phildar shop for the leaves, so then there was quite a bit left of that so I thought I could just make some socks to go with the hat...
Then I read somewhere that socks for babies this size need to be non-slip as they're always pulling themselves up and falling over, and as these were so thick as to be more like slippers anyway, I gave them soles with puffy paint.
The hat's being modelled by a melon.
Tom looked a bit worried to see me knitting baby clothes, fearing an onset of broodiness. I pointed out that at the age of 51 this was unlikely, and anyway, if I were feeling broody, I wouldn't be able to enjoy knitting things for other people's babies, now would I? But knitting on a small scale is fun, it comes off the needles so quickly and looks neat. However, I always remember my mother, who, having given birth to six of us, was not against motherhood, when I was admiring some dear little colourful baby dungarees somewhere, cautioning me that those same dear little dungarees with a big pooey nappy in then weren't nearly so cute.
The other work in progress is also for a small person, but the wool wasn't initially destined for that. The last time I saw Heather she was wearing a jumper of the most beautiful blue-violet colour. I admired it, and she said it was probably her favourite colour. She had been having trouble with her feet, the circulatory failure that was probably the forerunner of her final heart attack, so after I came off the phone to her the last time we spoke, I went into the Phildar shop in Lamballe, and found some very soft fine wool in the same shade, and thought I'd knit her some socks in it. She wasn't a woman to concern herself much with things like knitting or cooking or the domestic arts in general, but was always gratifyingly impressed with anyone who did and appreciative of the results. The socks were never started, but a mutual friend has a little boy of rather under a year at the moment, so I supplemented it with a stripe rich crimson, and it will be a slipover for him.
Stashed, but planned for: a chunky jumper for Princeling's sixth birthday in October. I've promised this so it shall be done. The body of it will be in the tweedy mix in the centre, and striping, I'm not sure of quite what kind, with the other solid colours which the tweedy one contains. I wondered if it might be a bit drab for a little chap, but the brighter solids will lift it, and at least it won't show the grass stains. It's wool and acrylic, washable and tough but soft, no point in putting six-year olds in cashmere.
And a final reckless extravagance, with as yet no end in mind, a skein of fabulous Noro Mossa. Holy ground. I only bought one as I couldn't justify the expense of any more, but it's worth having just to pick up and stroke and sniff at. It's impossible to do justice to the colours in a photo.
Thanks if you've borne with this thus far!