In Falkland, on Sunday, I bought these yarns.
I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. I’m not really a knitter, though I made my granddaughter a blanket and I’ve knit a few scarves in my life. Once, a sweater, under the guidance of the really experienced knitters I worked with at the Butchart Gardens back in the early 1970s — they always knit over the lunch break and I guess it was catching. I bought Lopi wool and made a sweater, coached through each difficult moment by their skill and kindness. But I was drawn to these particular yarns. The smaller balls are wool and nettle fibre. As a little girl, I loved the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Wild Swans
. In it, a young princess is guided to reverse a spell put on her eleven brothers which turned them into swans. Elise is told by a fairy queen that she should gather stinging nettles from graveyards and spin the fibre into yarn which she must then knit into shirts which are thrown over the swans, allowing them to return to human form. There are difficulties along the way, of course, and one of the shirt-sleeves is left unfinished so that one brother retains a wing for the rest of his life. I remember Elise’s blistered hands as she knits the shirts and her silence — a requirement of the spell-reversal — as she worked. I wondered if I’d be able to do the same for my own three brothers but given the length of time it took me to knit a single lumpy sweater, I have to say probably not.
The larger skeins are a blend of wool, angora, and silk and they are impossibly soft and lovely in the hands. I can imagine making some beautiful garment, textured and intricate, but I don’t think I have the skill. Still, it might not be too late to learn a little more about the process of knitting to a pattern and the thought of plunging my hands into such lovely yarn is inviting.
It makes me think about origins. Origins of words. I’ve discovered a little about yarn and its roots in language. The online etymology dictionary tells me this:
Old English gearn “spun fiber, spun wool,” from Proto-Germanic *garnan (cognates: Old Norse, Old High German, German garn, Middle Dutch gaern, Dutch garen “yarn”), from PIE root *ghere- “intestine, gut, entrail” (cognates: Old Norse gorn “gut,” Sanskrit hira “vein; entrails,” Latin hernia “rupture,” Greek khorde “intestine, gut-string,” Lithuanian zarna “gut”). The phrase to spin a yarn “to tell a story” is first attested 1812, from a sailors’ expression, on notion of telling stories while engaged in sedentary work such as yarn-twisting.
The thing about sedentary work is that it relaxes the mind. Knitting or quilting, you can dream your way into stories (and if they’re good, you can tell them to others). The wool in your hands is the ball of string Ariadne gave Theseus so he could find his way out of the Minotaur’s maze. Or it’s the material of the three Fates who spin, measure, and cut the threads of life. It’s the long tangle of garden strings, apron strings, heart strings, basting threads, twine to train beans and peas, the untidy skeins of geese gabbling their way across the autumn skies, which will be in your mind as you cast on, count rows, run your thumbs along the rough and clumsy textures of your work. Choose colours that you love and keep your basket close for any stray moment and know that the tension will never be consistent. Think of Emily Dickinson, her slant rhymes, and all the hidden (knitted) drama in her punctuation.
Autumn – overlooked my Knitting –
Dyes – said He – have I –
Could disparage a Flamingo –
Show Me them – said I –
Cochineal – I chose – for deeming
It resemble Thee –
And the little Border – Dusker –
For resembling Me