Saturday, June 08, 2013


Today being Worldwide Knit in Public Day, or Journée Mondiale du Tricot, as it is known in French, I thought this would be an opportune moment to do a knitting post.  The nearest rendez-vous for this occasion are in Dinan or Morlaix, which are a bit far to go, though I do plan to get to Fil-de-Lune in Dinan, where it's being held, sometime soon.  I had a notion I might just go and sit somewhere with some knitting and see what happened, like these new benches in the centre of Quessoy, by the church, under the magnolia tree.

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
for which I bought the wool ages ago, a pack from Lidl, who often have good craft materials, including for knitting, I've some interesting pure wool felting yarn from there too, and needles and an excellent pack of stitch holders, markers and gauges.  I stored it and resolved to learn to knit socks one day, but the arcane knowledge of turning heels and shaping gussets and grafting toes daunted and eluded me.  Then a month or two ago I decided it was time to get me to the internet and learn.  At about the same time I discovered Pinterest and thence Ravelry, which are endless and fantastic sources of inspiration and information, and I suppose that was where it really took off.

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.

It may make a hat, perhaps with some of the regular blue mix.

Thanks if you've borne with this thus far!


Julia said...

Goodness Lucy, I shall have to save this post for bedtime when I can sit and read it properly...

But I like to knit, and to crochet, usually snowflake throws that take a year but are deeply satisfying to make...

And tension, I never got the hang of tension in knitting, tension at work, not that IS my thing!

Zhoen said...

Zen and the Art of Sock Knitting.

I love your idea of counting, that either comes naturally, or is learned, or becomes a toxic obsession. My neck would hate me if I tried knitting again, but my brain would probably wrap itself around it, as an exercise like sudoku. I don't count well, but I do better with the practice.

Good supplies. Yes. My theory of cooking is, Good Ingredients, don't (mess) them up. Seems to work pretty well.

Lucy said...

Thank you both ever so for reading such a long post about such a nerdy subject!

Rouchswalwe said...

I latched on to your comment about tension, and it brought to mind the time a friend of mine took me to a knitting supply store - "just a quick trip in to buy a skein of yarn." Well, we wound up spending almost 2 hours touching the various yarns, looking at the samples, and talking to the ladies who worked in the store. The calmest bunch of women I've ever met.

The melon does a fabulous job modelling the cute hat! Oh, my friend will be so surprised and pleased, dear Lucy! The puffy grippy stuff on the socks is genius. Thank you so, so much!

Lise said...

Yes! J'ai lu jusqu'au bout! Pas en Anglais avec cette mauvaise traduction du net.
Merci déjà de faire partager mon blog.
Et si on faisait un jour salon à Quessoy avec nos tricots?. ça serait amusant non?
Je trouve que vous faites de jolies choses. J'ai souvent plus jeune lu en tricotant, maintenant je regarde la télé ne nécessite pas autant d'attention que la lecture, de plus la vue baisse trop difficile !
Un temps je commençais trop de tricots en même temps, ce qui fait que beaucoup n'ont jamais été terminés.
Je ne suis pas les modèles , je copie au mieux; Quand je cherche des modèles je regarde juste si on a mit les dimensions. Je me débrouille avec ça.
Bon Dimanche

Ellena said...

Oh Lucy, I envy not your knitting talent but your writing ease.
The words flow like a refreshing spring.
Your knitting is beautiful. How about Etsy shop - Lucifer door stoppers to start with - easy,one size,one colour.
I knitted Pasha's skirts on circular needles. Just one more round and one more till wee hours. Kept me awake. Now that I need to be kept awake, my fingers cramp when I want to knit.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, you almost make me want to take up knitting! But I will resist the temptation since I know that giving in would turn into yet another of my displacement activities. Anyway I love your knitted cat - will you do one of Mol? Wearing multicoloured socks and that baby hat?

Unknown said...

Have you ever knit your brow?

Catalyst said...

I was worried for a time that your interest in knitting might interfere with your interest in blogging. But I find that is not true. While I have absolutely no interest in knitting, I read this post to the end and enjoyed it greatly. And I love that first pair of socks.

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

RR - I'll pop it in the post tomorrow. I toyed with modelling it on Mol but thought maybe not as I didn't want balck dog hairs in it! There's a great knitting culture in the US - in fact a good crafts scene generally, your yarn stores sound fantastic. 'Just one skein' is a bit like saying I'll just eat one peanut with this beer...

Lise - qu'est-ce que vous êtes fameuse de lire tout ça! Je serais plutôt curieuse de savoir comment va la traduction du net de mon blog - le langage des blogs est souvent très familier et peu évident - bien que je trouve le vôtre assez clair (mais pas toujours Torine et Fifine!), il y a certains en français où je ne peux pas réussir du tout. J'avais déja eu l'idée de vous inviter de me joindre sur les bancs de Quessoy pour tricoter, mais j'ai hésité, mais pourquoi pas? Si on va avoir enfin le temps d'été... autrefois il faudra rentrer au café! Vous êtes super-maline en faisant vos tricots sans les modèles.

Ellena - aw, thanks. I don't think Icouldn make anything to sell; as someone on Ravelry said, it's like sex, one can do it for love, but otherwise you couldn't pay me enough!

Natalie - is that a commission? :~)

Joe - Frequently! Indeed, we were discussing the past tense of 'knit' the other day, I thought it might be 'knat' as in 'I sat in the garden and knat', but of course the expression you cite indicates it doesn't change, like 'put' and 'cut', so beloved of learners of English.

Bruce - thanks for reading anyway! I don't suppose you have much call for warm knitted garments where you are do you?

Roderick Robinson said...

We are in the same country - separated by a mere 600 miles.

I knitted once: one sock for the child who was to grow up to be Professional Bleeder. VR who can simultaneously knit à toute vitesse, read, listen to Radio 3 and criticise me for my personal hygiene, decided this was an unhappy augury and knitted the other sock to match. I am glad to say that PB, now fifty-plus, still has both feet.

Anonymous said...

Those purple/ green/ blue shades for the jumper are lovely :) I'd love to get around to trying knitting again one day, my Nan taught me simple knitting when I was much younger but I didn't even get as far as learning how to cast on/ off really, I think I was a bit impatient at the time! I'd like to knit a nice big blanket and some interestingly patterned socks...

Another related thing I've recently been looking into more is spinning, the idea of spinning the wool then knitting with it is a lovely idea I think, though I fear it'd take me a rather long time to spin enough to knit anything like a blanket!

I'm sorry I've not managed to comment on your blog for a while, for some reason my internet connection has decided that it's not going to let me view certain blogs some days! x

zephyr said...

i adore this post!

i love knitting but don't enjoy small needles, so i suspect i shall never attempt socks.

i am so impressed that you can read while knitting!

Your newly acquired stash holds wonderful promise. and heart.


Lise said...

Pas si maline que ça. Je tricote depuis mes cinq ans avec la laine tendue sur le doigt. Maman nous habillait en tout , les mesures c'était sur nous qu'elle posait ses tricots pour voir où faire les emmanchures , les longueurs ETC...
Une bonne nouvelle Fifine et Torine seront elles aussi allées à Quessoy la semaine prochaine ( voir le Penthièvre du 20Juin prochain)
ça serait super de se rencontrer à Quessoy ou autre , avouez que s'asseoir sur ces bancs avec Soize et Quercus ce serai très amusant on ira au mélécasse ensuite prendre un petit thé!
A bientôt

zephyr said...

Can't believe i forgot to add how much i love your black cat. i must make one for honor of our 20 year old Spike (who is weaker by the day.) It reminds me of a "gift" from a friend of two kits for knitting a Peter Rabbit, with the blue jacket and carrot between paws. That's what confirmed for me that i don't like tiny needles. Took me years to complete the one--she thought i should make one for her and for me. i promptly gave the second kit away. i must also add that i did a good enough job to give her the completed Peter, who actually stood up all by himself!

Glenn said...

A friend of mine is expecting her first baby next month and I had thought it would be a good time for me to learn how to knit something easy peasy like socks as a gift, but I know I won't!
My mother used to embarrass me with home knits that I was forced to wear. However, she did three jumpers for me from a Kaffe Fassett book which were great, I'm currently in a long stage of life in which they don't fit me, but I will emerge from that in old age when I have no appetite and my carers can't get me to eat anything, and then the jumpers will fit me again. There was another lovely one she made me from bits of fleece which we harvested on Exmoor - little bits from the barbed wire, and larger hanks fron actual skeletons found on the moors when we were camping there each Easter. Mother would then exort the whole family to pick bits of lichen from oak boughs when we were walking near Lynmouth - and got some delicious muted hues after she had spun and dyed the wool. Anyway, the jumper is coarse, chewed away in places, darned by myself, and currently serves as a cushion cover! She no longer remembers any of this.

Lucy said...

I can't believe the lovely feedback I'm getting on this! I thought it would be far too long and specialised!

RR - I find it absurdly touching to think of you knitting a baby sock.

Chloë - knitting, on a small scale with additional embroidery, would be highly suited to your style of work, hmm, gets me thinking... I have tried a bit of spinning years ago, but it's too much of a drawn out process for someone like me to go from unspun fleece to finished item!

Zephyr - not necessarily; there is an on-line sock pattern generator, and other patterns, and you can knit socks as quick and chunky as you like, though they're probably better as house socks, maybe with the puffy paint to toughen up the soles. I deliberately over-ordered on the chunky wool for Princeling's sweater, with a view to trying to make some from that. I'll e-mail to get your foot measurements! The cat was quite fiddly in the yarn I used, and the black made it quite difficult to see what I was doing all the time, though also the mistakes don't show either! Follow the link in the text for 'the window cat' for the free pattern.

Lise - c'est noté! Je suis prete pour un rendez-vous des bloggers! Est-ce Soize est de notre coin aussi? Et Quercus, c'est un homme ou une femme? Et est-ce qu'il/elle tricote aussi?

Glenn - I adore you! Only you could have a sweater knitted from bits of wool and lichen picked from a sheep's skull! Those 80s Fassett designs, great extravagant tapestries and intarsias, have never been equalled, IMO. He really is a fibre artist. I'm on it with the baby socks...

Francesca said...

The hat is magnificent and witty. I am impressed that you knit and read. I knit and watch television, but it's not quite the same. This is a lovely blog post, full of joy and emotion. Thank you!

zephyr said...

Thank you, Lucy!

Soize said...

coucou ;-)
bon, j'avoue : je n'ai pas tout compris mais les photos sont très parlantes !
peut-être à un de ces jours à Quessoy alors ?!

Lise said...

Formidable! pour un RV. Mais je ne veux pas qu'il y ait confusion .
J'ai bien dit que Fifine et Torine seront à Quessoy La semaine prochaine , mais juste sur le papier.
Mais moi aussi , j'aimerai qu'on puisse se rencontrer Là ou ailleurs. Mais puisqu'il est question de Quessoy pourquoi pas ?
J'ai cherché à vous contacter en message privé, je n'ai pas trouvé la clé.
Je laisse le soin à Soize de donner ses propres infos. Si elle n'est pas de là, elle ne doit pas être de très loin.
Bonne soirée

Lucy said...

And again.

Franscesca - yes but your things are so small and fine and detailed, you probably don't have many long repetitive stretches you can do on automatic. In fact it's best not to watch telly where you need to see all the details - certain BBC4 documentaries which are more or less radio with pictures are fine, fast moving detective dramas probably less so!

Soize - salut, enchanté! - On se croise de temps en temps autrepart sur le net, je pense, mais peut être bientôt en réalité...

Lise - en progrès...

Anonymous said...

What a completely delightful post. I can't say I'm a knitter, but I do knit scarves, endless endless scarves, whenever I have to sit (meetings, church) - I concentrate better if the hands are occupied. Two things: that you planned to go sit on the benches, knit, and "see what happened." And that Jo is addicted to cat kitsch, so you knitted her up that fabulous black cat and filled it with unused beans. Everything about this makes me smile. Thank you, Lucy! (alison)