Yarns on Yarns

The Nordic child teaches the adult

the well heeled politely nod

and heed the warning

as the poor vote for more oppression

believing that old yarns and lies

will save them.

Simple cowl in alternating moss stitch and garter stitch. 100 grams of Aran weight wool, size 5 needles. Celtic pin by local silversmith, Tony Fitton.

I knit and weave this ancient yarn, heath tinted and Celtic hued, with tired hands, deeply immersed in a timeless pastime. Now mindfully, now mindlessly, knit one purl one, the art of ancient knotting soothes my disquiet. As the pattern turns more complex, a row of hieroglyphics looms ahead, demanding more attention, a knitter’s code from an another era. The emerging fabric begins to twist and turn in an interlacing helix as new cables form and cross paths. How did those women of olde translate designs from painted page or stone to yarn, the Book of Kells to knitting?

Post election blues

‘Knit with your hearts an unslipping knot’.  Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra. Act 11, Scene 11.

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We sleep, curled around each other like a loosely formed hank of wool, weaving hands, legs and toes, fingers threading through hair and soft skin: then we unravel, in search of cooler planes of sheet, only to reform like lost souls soon after.

Fishing and Knitting

My grandparents come from wild sea

One knits fine wool to wear

The other knots hard rope to fish

My grandmother was a quiet soul, her stern appearance not helped by her refusal to wear her dentures. She looked ancient before her time. She retreated to the front room early in the evening, to knit or read, or to keep warm in a softer space under a colourful crocheted Afghan blanket. Outside the winds roared across the strait, black ocean and wild tides tempered by isolated islands rising on horizon, Sphinx like, at dusk. Living in the oldest port of Victoria, she made a paltry income from her knitting. Heavy cabled Aran pullovers were bartered or sold to fishermen for a few shillings. Pure woolen garments were water resistant and insulation against the wild winds and inclement weather of Bass Strait. The textured cable pattern, apart from being decorative and evocative of another era, provided more thickness than a plain knitted garment. Perhaps she knew those cousins who ‘met their watery graves’ out at sea as they fished the wild Strait. Maybe she retreated into the rhythm of knit one purl one for sanity, privacy, a safe haven for hands and mind.

Grace and Charles Robinson with Cocky.

My grandfather was a boat builder who knew that sea, its tides, anger and calm. He worked with the sea and on the sea. In his spare time he tied knots from ropes, strong yarns of another kind. In his old age, he taught me to twist fine wool into chord, to create little pom poms and other trims and tassels. His skills, like hers, were timeless.

The Little Black Doll

One year, my grandmother gave my younger sister a gift. This was odd, as she never really gave presents to her grandchildren- the wild sea and the fish, flounder fish as big as a plate, and wild prawns netted from the incoming tide in the channel, were gift enough. The gift was a small black baby doll made of hardened plastic. She had knitted a costume for the doll- a little outfit of yellow and green wool in the finest of ply. The shirt was in moss stitch and the long shorts were in basket stitch, each alternating square less than 50 mm, with tiny buttons sewn down the front. The tension was precise, the hand stitched joining invisible. I was jealous, not of the doll- I was well over dolls as an 8 year old child- but of the beautiful fine work that my sister received, and will most likely not remember. Today, when I knit in basket stitch or moss, I think of Grace, my grandmother, the finest of knitters, the quietest of souls.

Global optimism cowl. Knitted one week prior to the election.

Knitting in the 1950s

It would all begin with choosing the wool. Every suburban shopping strip had a little wool shop in the 1950s and 60s, stocking the latest wools and patterns. Now those shops have long gone. Making clothes for the family was not a pastime or a hobby- it was often a necessity. I’m not sure if wool was as expensive as it is today, I doubt it, but the cost for one garment was staggered through the handy system of Laybuy. The cellophane wrapped wool was put aside in the back of the shop, all in the same dye lot, with just enough balls for the project. Then a little money from the weekly budget was set aside to buy a few balls as needed.

We knitted as a family and could knock up a jumper in a weekend, especially if someone was off to a party. My mother would usually cast on, do the ribbing, the sleeves and the neck, while my sisters and I would knit the main body, perfecting our tension along the way. We produced plain garments in stocking stitch, usually with 8 ply wool from Australian companies such as Patons and Cleckheaton.

It was a cool weather occupation and the annual accompaniment to the onset of late Autumn or the first frost. Even today, as the weather begins to turn, I search for my wool stash and begin a project, even if only to make a cowl or fingerless gloves. My mother, now 96, with stiff, inward curling fingers, a Viking gene she tells me, is calling out for plain yarn to knit. Now it’s my turn to cast on for her and do the first row. I understand her need; it’s ingrained in our history, our DNA.

Discards for small projects, found at op shops.

Knitting versus Kmart

I don’t have anything against Kmart, or other cheap stores such as Target or Big W. These stores have their place and provide basic and affordable goods. But somewhere along the way over the last 2 decades, these stores have made clothing so cheap that knitting has became an anachronism, a pastime of the well heeled. Industrial clothes are pumped out at such volume, exploiting cheap labour, that clothing is often bought on a whim and discarded without a thought.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate about 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles are discarded each year, amounting to 23 kilograms each, and only a fraction of this appears to be being recovered through recycling.¹

As pure wool or cotton yarn very rarely appears in most garments these days, this mountain of discarded clothing ends in landfill, a major plastic microfibre pollutant. The textile industry is the second largest global polluter after oil. Food for thought.

Information and quotes from Slow Clothing, Finding meaning in what we wear  by Jane Milburn.

I hear my yarn calling, “to knit up that raveled sleave of (post election) care.” Do you enjoy Knitting and Crochet dear reader or have you taken up the Japanese art of darning? Does winter draw you to craft or barley soup? Is knitting meditation and when does it turn stressful?

Lost in the Garden

I lose all sense of time in the garden, and then I lose myself. It’s a common enough experience among gardeners. After the first flurry of harvesting, tying back overgrown tomatoes and moving hoses about, observing life’s cycle from seed to flower to fruit then back to seed, and all the while conscious of my own aging body as it bends and complains within this bounteous space, another state emerges. My pragmatic self surrenders to a semi- conscious meditation on the essence of being. Through silent awareness and invisibility, the sounds and signals of earth- primordial, spiritual, supreme- reinforce the idea of Anattā, that Buddhist concept of non-being.

It begins with a chive flower waving in the gentle breeze, now taller than the blanketing pumpkin leaves, insisting on more light. The delicate white coriander flowers belie the true pungency of their leaves, roots and seeds. Things are not what they seem. Then a strange bird call punctures the silence. High pitched like a creaking table, the sound is urgent but not bleak. I look up and see a flash of yellow underneath a broad wing span of black. It’s the yellow -tailed black cockatoo, an infrequent visitor to these lightly wooded lands. Now one, now two more, followed by a train of rasping sound, they are on their way to a distant pine tree. Word is out that the nuts are ready to strip. The guard cocky stands alert, signalling from the highest branch, a two-dimensional black stencil, a wayang puppet, an inked picture outlined in the early morning sky.

The bluest of blue of the radicchio flower is a call to the bees. I can never find the word for this blue: constructs such as Cobalt or Persian or Cornflower might have to do. And the little gem of a beetle, friend or foe, travels across a furry field that is an eggplant leaf. The mauve and white bean flowers peep from the darkness of their leafy canopy, an arrangement, a posy, a boutoniere. The beans can wait.

 

Bridges of Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

The most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming, Yunnan Province, is Yuantong Temple, which was first built in the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty.  After two major restorations and expansions, in 1465-1487 and in 1686, the temple took on its present design, with covered corridors, bridges and grand halls. Bridges feature prominently throughout the complex.

Many elderly Chinese spend time meditating at Yuantong Temple, Kunming. 

Wandering around the grounds, soft Buddhist music plays in the background. Om Mani Padme Hum, the repetitive mantra of Buddhist meditation, inundates my consciousness. As I drift over the many bridges, turtles rise to greet me. Peace caresses me, I am at home in these foreign grounds.

Bridges of Yuantong Temple, Kunming.

The Golden Gate opens into two mountain ranges.
A silver stream is hanging down to three stone bridges
Within sight of the mighty Tripod Falls.
Ledges of cliff and winding trails lead to blue sky
And a flush of cloud in the morning sun.

extract from A Song of Lu Mountain to Censor Lu Xuzhou. Li Bai, ( 701-762) from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.

Bridges and walkways of Yuantong Temple, Kunming.

A Saturday Perspective. Fave Beans and Protest.

I’m sitting at a small table in the dappled sunlight, shelling hundreds of broadbeans. Gentle music plays from behind the wire screen door, soft enough to barely enter my consciousness. There is a hint of movement on the verandah, a slight zephyr stirs the heads of the tall-growing lavender out along the fence line. This continual podding, the gentle gouging out with index finger, is a meditative business. Tiny beans fall from their white fur-lined capsules: the pile of discarded pods growing larger as little grey-green gems fall into another basket. Is this the good life? Sitting quietly in the sun, performing an ancient, repetitive task that brings a few vibrant green meals to the table? Or is it the calm before the storm?

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A basket of broadbeans and some time to reflect.

Repetitive tasks enable the overloaded brain to sort out the events, conversations and news of the week. To put things into perspective. To discard the useless husks from the good, life giving nuggets. As America, the land that once was great, or so we were led to believe by the myth makers, accepts the shocking reality of Trump’s election, the crude facts of this result spread throughout the globe. American voters have willingly and consciously elected a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a LGBT hater, a narcissistic billionaire braggart with extremely dangerous views of the world and of America’s place in it.  All this cheap talk about getting on with business as usual, and being positive seems a bit vacuous to me.

A nice task on a sunny morning
A nice task on a sunny morning. Two kilo of broadbeans, podded, steamed open and shelled, makes 350 grams. More beans wait for me in the garden below.

I’ve read enough and I’ve heard enough. I don’t believe we should sit back, wait and see, be nice to one another and be thankful that we don’t live in that country. I don’t believe that a navel gazing approach, a quiet meditation on the real things in life, the metaphorical shelling of fave beans, will get us very far. Time to join the revolution. Time, if you are a worker, to join a union and fight for the things you hold dear, time to pay subscription fees for our independent press so that the Murdochs and Trumps of this world won’t stamp out our ability to reason or to see events clearly. Time to join protest groups in the streets, to speak up loudly against racism and sexism when they occur closer to home, time to take action to reduce our own personal energy consumption while simultaneously pressuring our government to take climate change more seriously, especially here in Australia. Maintain your rage, speak out against injustice, inequality and hatred. And we can meditate and be nice to one another too.

All views are derivative and many of mine are too. These two articles inspired me this morning.

The Best Time of the Day

Few words are required to describe the serenity of dawn. My eastern sky and garden in Autumn, as I wait for the bread to prove.

Facing East
Some time after first light. 6.30 AM, April 18
 a setting for breakfast on a still morning in Autumn
A setting for tea on a warm verandah in Autumn
A pot of succulents pciks up the rosy hues of dawn
A pot of succulents picks up the rosy hues of dawn