Reading the Bones

November 22, 2017

Sometimes, knitting is divination. Like casting the bones or a tarot spread, many things can be read in a piece of knitting.  Not things to come but more Jungian type symbolic meanings giving deeper understanding of things that are.

I lay before you a recently finished cowl and read from its stitches.

The pattern is Balnarring by Whisky Bay Woollens, a pattern collection inspired by Victorian beaches. The yarn is Shilasdair Luxury 4ply from the Isle of Skye, in the UK, a blend of merino, alpaca and cashmere in the natural shade, Cloud, held together with my own handspun, a 2ply woollen spun, fingering weight from a Finnsheep fleece from Fairfield Finns. Project notes are raveled here.

Reading points:

  • Whilst we alone make the stitches, our work is entangled in the lives of others. Many hands were instrumental in this making: a knitting friend created the pattern, a dear friend held my hand after a long hiatus from knitting, helping me decide on a project and choose the yarn. She found me another skein of Shilasdair when I ran out of yarn. A spinning friend generously gave me her Finnsheep fleece samples when I ran out of  my hand spun yarn.

  • Whilst we think that we travel in a straight line, life is circular and we come back to the same place many times. The cowl is knit from end to end and grafted to make a circle. The first section was begun in our old neighbourhood in Melbourne, growing inch by inch through the selling process and the moving, to finally finish in Ballarat, but without close inspection, you can’t tell where it begins or ends for life is a great circle.
  • Deal carefully with the past or it shadows the present. Way back when I first carded the Finnsheep for an earlier project, I didn’t clean my tools properly. There was a small amount of black alpaca left on a carder. Years later, the alpaca has created a shadow on the otherwise clear white of cowl. It doesn’t seem a flaw though, just a reading point, another marked stone.

  • New challenges can be uncomfortable but persistence brings mastery and flow. When I began this project, with the added layers of complexity that selling our home and moving had brought to my CFS fogged brain, I was struggling with multiple concepts in knitting. So I chose an unshaped article with an interesting stitch pattern. For the longest time, I had to follow the chart stitch by stitch but eventually I learned the pattern and understood the movement of it. Without looking at the chart, just looking at the stitches themselves, I could knit confidently, understanding which stitch was required.

  • We have all that we need, trust to that. I didn’t really plan this project, I just knew I needed to cast on and knit something through the relocation process. I didn’t estimate yardage properly, just bought a couple of skeins and grabbed my Finnsheep leftovers from the Shackleton project. Despite running out of yarn multiple times, spinning more yarn twice, needing more fleece and more millspun yarn, at the point required in the pattern, I simply ran out of yarn with no hope of more. There were no more skeins of Shilasdair to be had, no more of that fleece to be had. I had enough to finish but no more.


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  1. The cowl is so beautiful. I have been to that gorgeous beach swept by wind and rain! Your writing is equally glorious and wonderful. And I agree that knitting is there to be read. It is one of the things I enjoy about darning–having that close view of another person’s stitches, the yarn they chose or created, decisions and perhaps mistakes made–or having the experience of revisiting my own previous work and the memories it holds.

    1. May I ask you: how could I mend a beautiful Cardigan in Brioche stich? I’m puzzling around for over two years, because my husband wants it to be completely invisible. I searched a lot, but did not find properly instructions. Do you have an idea?

      I agree, the cowl is beautiful. Your selfspun Yarn in addition with the Shilasdair gives a good substance and body.

      My last Shilasdair came from Loop in London, after my husband was told by the staff, that they are stopping doing their business. He knew how much I love this yarn, and did a proper purchase!

      1. Dear Klara, Firstly, my understanding is that Shilasdair is just taking a break in production while the current owners train the new owners in the business. Hopefully your husband can buy you some more in the near future!

        I do sympathise with your cardigan problem…sometimes these things do take years to work out. Can you stabilise the repair with darning first and then use duplicate stitch to camouflage the repair and make it look like the brioche. Or could you pick up stitches underneath the bit needing repair and knit a patch in the same yarn/brioche stitch. Brioche stitch is tricky to repair I guess because it creates such a textured fabric. I hope these suggestions have been of some help. Tom of Holland is THE knitwear mending guru, perhaps he might have a better suggestion. He does normally work in visible mending but has extraordinary invisible mending skills too.

    2. There are so many stories in stitches. Sometimes it overwhelms me Mary, there is so much life in yarn even before we stitch our lives into it or consider the stitches of others. So glad you know that beach, it is so marvellous that Kylie Robson translates those places into knitwear. Imagine a road trip of knitting place-based designs…I wonder what Keith would be or Dimboola?

    1. Thanks Audrey, I am so glad you enjoyed this post and it made a connection with you. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  2. Great post. As with life, in knitting, attitude is a big influence on outcome. Love the last photo – it puts the cowl to scale and it is a marvelous piece!

    1. Thanks Frith, knitting a metaphor for life and life for knitting. We are all intrinsically makers and I think making helps us make sense of our world and our place in it.

  3. oh my……what a story and I am reminded of that because I wore my RED Gansey tonight to go out with neighbors and the stitches were seen and appreciated 🙂 These are people who know I wear what I knit and I really appreciate it but always give credit to the people/friends who made the pattern. The cowl is so an enveloping and Life is a circle…….hugs from here.

    1. Thanks Susan, yes, you would certainly understand the stories we stitch into our garments. Fall is the perfect time for a red gansey, especially into the woodsy wild ways you are so fond of.

  4. Lovely to read your posts as always. And a wonderful reminder to look closely and perhaps see more of things as they truly are simply by paying attention.

    It was a touching reminder during a difficult and emotional week.

    1. Dear Becca, thanks for your words. It was a great joy for me to read about your work on Welford Purls. I hope your week gets better for you.

    1. Thank you kaydeerouge, I am glad the tone came through, that entire project was about acceptance and helped me get reconnected with the peace that knitting brings.

  5. Another beautiful expression of your thoughts and your process, Rebecca. I love that you reached a harmony witht the stitch pattern, and your choice of yarns has featured the stitches in such a gorgeous way. I can imagine how cosy the finished piece must be, too.
    Thank you for knitting my pattern xx

  6. Oh My! All of the above comments and more! You are a gifted knitter and writer. You expressed just so perfectly what many of us feel when we knit. No one has ever put it better. The connection between the practical and the spiritual is ever present in your work and I kneel before you in praise and awe. I recently discussed with a water colour artist the difference between art and craft (yes that old chestnut) I see now that you cross between the two back and forth and it’s wonderful. All hail (love the cowl more than my capacity for words can express).

  7. This is a wonderful and uplifting post. I kept saying, ‘Yes,’ to everything you wrote. I knit prayers, mantras, maths equations…so many scared inscriptions with my wooly string. Mostly I respond to your recovery. Thank-you for sharing x

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