Wednesday, March 11, 2009

After Long Silence

I have been quiet for a dreadful long time. Not much has been wrong - just that tiny bit of domestic uproar sufficient to eat up one's spare time. With my margin of leisure pretty much take up for the last several weeks, it was give up the knitting, dinner, laundry - or the blog. Guess what lost?

But now - adequately fed and endowed with enough underwear for a week - I can happily report that I have mastered socks! In fact, one of the main things I have been doing in my copious free time (ha!) has been committing socks to muscle memory - knitting sock after sock after sock, so as not to lose the knack of turning the heel.

It's been wonderful. I now understand why some of my knitting friends always have a pair of socks on the needles, and seem slightly obsessed with them. These things are fun! The whole process of turning the heel is a vast magic trick; it's the best exercise on topography I have ever seen - and the exhilaration of turning a flat plane into a concavity is amazing. There's no special stitch, or tool, or magic fabric or anything: if you follow the math and the pattern, the entire shape of the thing changes before your eyes! In your very hands! This is a creative miracle.

Of course, millions of knitters before me have discovered this. For lots and lots of them, the idea that this very necessary task of making footwear could be fun is ... well, kind of insane. Certainly the enthusiasm of an amateur. But I say: nope. This is a domestic sorcery right up there with baking and brewing - bread and beer being arguably the most magical stuff to come out of anyone's kitchen. This is raw mathematics, the notation of the music of the spheres, the shape of the Universe itself in miniature - because Einstein describes gravity pulling the fabric of the Universe into just the sort of pockets we knit to make the heel of a sock.

I know Dr. Einstein played the violin. That takes clever hands. I wonder what he knew about knitting socks?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Down The Rabbit Hole

Today is Lewis Carrrol's birthday, and is officially Down The Rabbit Hole Day. On this day, bloggers are encouraged to post blogs in a different style than their usual one. So I'm using a serif font and red type - not my usual style at all!

Nor will I write much about knitting (this is a great wrench, but I do love and admire Lewis Carroll). How about primate anatomy? Which is another passion of mine, but not nearly as easy to pursue while sitting on the couch ... for me, a casual layperson, it is mostly a reading activity. The architectural history of the human skeleton is an enduring fascination to me: humans, although built to the same basic specs as most other creatures on Earth, have nonetheless developed some interesting novelty items over the course of the last few millions of years.

No one but the primates, for instance (us and our cousins, the monkeys and apes) has developed the enlongated, multi-jointed digits that let us knit or wear flip-flops or hold bananas in our feet. Our lifelong buddies dogs and cats all walk tidily about on rounded little pads: cows and goats and pigs are down to 2 toes, and horses have gone for total minimalism: one big toe per foot. See, it's not the thumbs that let us knit - it's the several jointed toes ... hmmm, can't get off the knitting, can I? Oh, well, at least I can combine it with anatomy.

Octopuses (octopi? Octopodi?) have tentacles and have recently been shown to enjoy playing with toys - but no one has tried teaching them to knit. I think they'd be good at it, myself ... a knitter with 8 arms could more easily knit both socks of a pair at once. Or every single piece of a sweater simultaneously.

Parrots could knit, too, I think. They only have two hands, but they are composed entirely of thumbs! Four per hand, in fact, and all opposed to one another. If not for parrots being agents of chaos, they could be killer knitters ... instead of knitting killers ...

My, such strange things one thinks of sitting and trying not to knit!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ju Ju

I've taken the last several days off blogging, trying to get my house tidy enough to host a house guest this weekend. My anticipated guest is a knitter, too, and isn't going to fuss if there is yarn lying about - but it would be nice if she could see the floor here and there, and maybe sit down somewhere. Obviously, something had to give, and it wasn't going to be my knitting.

Then I got caught up in the Inauguration ceremonies. Amazing, how these things get more and more interesting as one grows up - I used to be terminally bored when I had to watch current events in school, but this one ... it was magic. It was engrossing. It was captivating.

So, of course, I knit through the entire thing as I watched CNN. How other? The ceremony was made for knitting. This was change, and at the same time it was the smooth continuity of our political system. It was order out of chaos. It was bringing things together to form a new unity. I use my knitting as a personal magic spell, sometimes: I deliberately knit during special times, at special places, to catch those unique and sacred moments in my web. It ties all the days of my life together.

I think most knitters do that. When you see a knitter working away during a wedding, a christening, a funeral, a reunion - they aren't ignoring the event, they are paying the closest possible attention: they are immortalizing it. The knitting is our prayer that this event will be commemorated forever; whatever it is that has been born, may it may live forever. We knot it to the fabric of the world with our strings and sticks.

There's a prayer in every stitch, and I knit hundreds as Barack Obama took his oath as our new President. And I didn't make a single error.

Here is a needlewoman's prayer:
May this new union live, take hold and grow strong! Let our country hold together like fine fabric. Let it thrive and increase row after row. We will all hold it together.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Obsession As An Art Form

I learned to knit when I was 9; knit madly for a year, and then was badly miffed by losing an argument with a teacher on whether or not I could knit in class. So I quit. Knitting, not class; might have made a different decision later in life, but at age 10 - in Catholic school - in 1963 - there was no question.

I didn't pick up knitting needles again for 40 years. When I did I made an appalling discovery. Among the many, many ways in which knitting is nothing like riding a bicycle is its effect on memory. You do forget. But obsession was waiting for me, and now it pounced; I had to knit.

I could remember how to cast on, but not to cast off - basically I didn't know how to stop.
Also, I could knit - but if I'd ever known how to purl, I had forgotten. Kind friends showed me how to cast off again (though I must say - all I've managed so far is to stop specific projects. Nothing seems about to make me stop knitting.) I learned how to purl from the excellent illustrations in my Reader's Digest Complete Book of Needlework, which is a vital resource for me.

I had to learn how to purl because I wanted to knit cables. So I spent a weekend sitting on my bed with the bedroom door closed, and practised purling until I got blisters. Then I knit cables until my fingers bled. Getting the tension right was harder than I'd anticipated. But by the end of three days, I could both purl and cable, in any direction or angle. I promptly went nuts and made an afghan that had just enough non-cables to hold the cables together; it was ecstacy.

Maybe it was the 4 decades of abstinance. Maybe I was at a good point in my life for an obsessive behaviour to surface. Maybe I just need something passionate, and was getting a little old for casual sex or mountain climbing. But it worked, and that crazed beginning has led to an entirely new portion of my life. There really aren't all that many opportunities given to any of us for life-changing experiences, you know? I'm grateful.

Gonna hold on tightly this time. I don't have time for another 40 year lapse!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Knit What You Like, Like What You Knit

There is so much variety in knitting. There's room for everyone's creative urges, even if they are the sort who only really want to make practical things. You can do so much with knitting, that the most sensible course of socks and mittens and dishclothes still leaves one plenty of room to experiment with colours and patterns and textures. I leaf through the dozens of magazines out there these days in awe (and sometimes terror) - people come up with so many ideas!

Myself, I've got no urge to knit sushi - but someone went to a lot of time and trouble to do so, and I've got the pattern. I'll never make any, but I have to admire the dedication and determination that went into it. Even tea cozies and stuffed lambs (which are absolute classics of knitting) strike me as only a few steps above total frivolity. I mean, all that time and effort and what are they for? I'll admit the necessity of happy babies and warm tea, but there have to be easier ways to get them. If I'm going to spend days knitting something - and let's face it, I am - I think I want the end result to be wearable by a person.

But that's all right: because for everyone like me who can't see the point in a draft excluder knit to look like a giant snake (got that pattern, too), there's the happy knitter who's making them for all her friends. She probably cannot understand the glee I feel knitting cables on just about anything at all. I've got friends who are addicted to the production of socks - is it the teeny stitches? The fiendish complexity of the heel? The stripes? I don't know, but their obsession with stockings leaves more room for me to fill the cosmic lack of knitted ties. And keeps me supplied with socks, too.

You don't have to justify knitting, of course - it's an end in itself, not a means to an end. There's nothing intrinsically silly about knitting a Dalek. Or an Elder God. Or my own personal demented goal of lace cafe curtains for the living room .... really. There's not.

Not for a knitter.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Making Art

A few years ago, I was attending a seminar on historical re-creation; essentially, classes, lectures and demos on how to be a recreator. Or at least how to look and act more authentic when you attended your local Renaissance Faire or Civil War event - unless you are one of those happily eccentric types who thinks any historical event is an excuse for Halloween, and like to dress up as a fairy or a Klingon ...

Naturally, there was a lively market section, with all manner of hand crafts, clothing, weapons and assorted accessories for sale. There was a needlework booth, where I naturally gravitated. Mind you, I was crocheting at this time, not knitting; but the yarns were all hand-spun and dyed and quite delicious. And there were wooden hooks, which at that time were harder to find than wooden knitting needles.

The proprietor was sitting and knitting socks. She was using 4 needles instead of a circular needle, and I was instantly captivated. The first time you see someone knitting in the round with multiple needles can take you like that - it just looks astounding! It only took a few minutes to see how the trick worked - you just divide what would be a continuous circle into several arcs - and I was enthralled. The play of the needles, as delicate as bird bones - the intricate geometry of the fabric shaped between the constantly shifting sticks - the psychotically tiny stitches!

I wanted to do that. Not necessarily to make a sock, but to make that kind of beauty. I wanted to be part of that overwhelming pattern, and let it flow through me.

I think it's one of the hallmarks of the artist or crafter, that urge. To look at something lovely and not say: That's beautiful and I want to possess it. But to say instead, That is Beauty and I want it to possess me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Not Much But I Manage

I'm not a brilliant knitter. Competent, yes - usually, anyway. I can work cables, have actually completed several projects, and can read a chart once I am sure which way is right side up.

But  I have grown resigned to needing three starts on any pattern before I get it right. My sisters and kids would testify that my colour sense should be taken away from me lest I hurt myself. I'm not fast, either. A friend gave me a wonderfully easy hat pattern over Christmas, assuring me that she usually knocked one out in about 90 minutes: it took me 4 hours. But 4 hours to complete an entire project was incredibly fast for me, and my hat was just as cute as hers always are. I managed to complete 3 of them before Christmas morning, too, and enjoyed every moment of the work.

If I have any knitting wisdom to impart, therefore (which is pretty unlikely anyway), it is from the viewpoint of the ordinary knitter. Of whom, I am sure, there are lots and lots. We're not casual knitters - our knitting matters as much to us as the award winners' does to them - but we are the ones who really do have to double-check their list of stitch definitions now and then. The ones who can take a year to finish a sweater. The ones who approach really iconic knitting - socks, or mittens, or cable work - with trepidation and hyperventilation.

None of which matters to the knitting, thank goodness. Yarn is a gracious hostess, and always seems happy with whatever we bring to it.