Sometimes I think I wish real knitting was as fast as imaginary knitting. Do you know what I mean?
When I launched the Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 Knitalong and Play along, I was filled with wild optimism that I would be able to finish my Indigo Lover hat in the first week, swatch for Woman In All The Blues in seaside colours in the second, and maybe bash out a new colourway/tune/swatch for Beadism. All while completing the video work, finalising the eBook, decorating our first room in the new home and nursing a sick chicken (Lauryn will be fine; she is having the best treatment known to all poultry in a warm bed lined with hay and getting the old folk medicine of a fried egg a day until she feels better).
As it is, here we are on 15th November and I am still on my Indigo Lover (Wondrous Waltz REMIX) hat.
Have you heard the superstition that, if you move house with a cat, you should cover its paws in butter? The idea is that butter is laborious (but tasty) to clean off, and that by the time the cat has completed the bothersome task of removing all the butter, it will have gotten used to its new surroundings. I’m not sure at all if that is true, or whether it would help in the real life scenario of moving house with a cat. And I’m not sure exactly where I even learnt of this strange idea. Yet when I sit down each night to work on my double-knit hat, tall and with many, many rounds, I do think that perhaps I AM THAT CAT, THIS PROJECT IS THE BUTTER ON MY PAWS and, what’s more, I LIKE BUTTER.
Double-knitting is slow work, as you are essentially knitting and purling two hats at the same time. Everything is worked in pairs, so a 120 stitch hat involves 240 stitches around.
You first knit the outer stitch that will be the one you can see on the outside of the hat, after which you purl the next stitch, which will be the corresponding stitch on the inside of the hat. One way to think of it is “knit outside hat, purl inside hat”. In between every knit and purl stitch, your pair of yarns must be moved to the back of the knit stitch then to the front of the purl stitch, so that no bits of yarn get trapped in the wrong place as you go. Every so often you have to lift your project up and allow the twists in the yarn from all this back and front action to untwist.
Progress is slow, but there is something absolutely joyous about the slow accrual of rounds, and watching the magical double-sided fabric grow on the needles.
I like peeking inside to see NO WRONG SIDE, but another smooth stockinette surface on the interior of the hat – one that will lend the final object lovely warmth, as well as making it fully reversible, and equally pretty worn inside out.
The work has its own rhythm, too; the fingers working in time to bring the yarns back and forth between the working needle tips; the time it takes to knit, move yarn, purl, move yarn; the little frisson of happiness when there is a DOT (in this case representing a note!) and the quiet actions required to swap the colours around.
This rhythm is emphasised because I have chosen to separate my pattern repeats using my favourite little sonic stitch-markers (they each have a tiny bell), so I even actually sound a bit like a cat licking butter off its paws as I knit.
Yet stitch by stitch, round by round, slowly and comfortingly this project is becoming the background to the weeks of truly settling in here.
It’s repetitive, but I like it.
The repetition of stitches – simple actions repeated over and over again – reminds me of a favourite piece of music. 18 Musicians by Steve Reich features many repeated motifs (yarn backwards, knit; yarn forward, purl) that unfurl in an exquisitely unrushed kaleidoscope of sound. The whole piece is based on a sequence of eleven chords that are repeated, reiterated and unfurled over the course of the work by an ensemble of 18 players. As with knitting, familiar patterns are repeated over and over again, yet there is a sense of progress and a sense of the thing forming and growing as it sounds. A penpal sent me a CDR copy of this work in the late 1990s. I was mesmerised by the sounds and remember lying on my bed in the dark transfixed by the patterns in the music.
Here we have a bit of both worlds, then: a circular, knitted garment, with the inimitably graphic logic of weaving thrown in. My FUGUE stitch pattern is inspired by one I saw used on a Latvian tablecloth, and it took me a few attempts to get just right. After knitting the tam, I stared at the finished knitted fabric for a long time and decided to rework a couple of points on the chart. So I got up very early a few Sundays ago to fiddle with it, and spent the morning thinking and knitting and listening to Bach. I had a sudden eureka moment with the stitch pattern, which is entirely attributable to the effect of Bach’s Art of Fugue — hence the design name. The pattern is actually very fugue-like — made up of alternating tones of dark and light; rhythmic, contrapuntal, and slightly mesmeric. Anyway, having experienced it, I highly recommend knitting FUGUE while listening to a FUGUE — the hands, ears and brain really work in harmony! – Kate Davies, Fugue
I’ve often thought about that post as the combination of KNIT and SONIK really spoke to me. I’m now listening to Bach’s Art of Fugue while I finish this one, reflecting on a similar relationship between my experience of knitting my Indigo Lover hat, and the mesmeric way that Steve Reich’s 18 Musicians strikes a chord for me.
The connection between textiles and sounds was not lost on Steve either; the cover of the 1978 release of 18 Musicians featured this stunning artwork: Weaver’s Notation by Beryl Korot, 1976. This video interview with Beryl Korot talking about the crossovers between film editing, weaving and computer languages is amazing, and speaks deeply to the amazing ways in which different media might inspire one another.
I started this post with “sometimes I think I wish” because the joy of a project like Indigo Lover is that it reminds me that – whatever it is I think I want – the careful work of going stitch by stitch, slowly in the timescale of the stitch-pattern and the yarn, is what I really like. And now, after writing this, I see that going full-tilt into all the projects at once could feel a bit like skipping through 18 Musicians without giving it the full 56 beautiful moments it needs to conclude.
Or wiping the butter off a cats’ paws before it had time to adjust and settle in, through its diligent (and delicious) work.
If you wish to join me on this luminous, mesmeric and incredibly pleasing knitting adventure, you can find the pattern here in the Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 eBook; it is Muriel’s remix of my (quicker to knit and more beanie-like) Wondrous Waltz design.
There you have it then, my responses to the three PAL prompts for 13, 14 and 15 November: REPETITIVE, BUT I LIKE IT (KNIT), REPETITIVE, BUT I LIKE IT (SOUND), and MINIMALIST ALBUM COVER.